Homeric Sexual Healing: Margites fragments 1-3 and More!

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We are near the end of a semester at my University and I seem to be limping to the end. As a tonic for tired days, I turned to the Homeric Margites today. What’s more therapeutic than laughing at a fool? (Well, maybe we should ask Margites’ wife…)

“Some old man, a divine singer, came to Kolophon,
An assistant of the Muses and Apollo
Holding a sweet-singing lyre in his dear hands.
The gods didn’t make him an excavator or a ploughman
Nor wise in anything at all: he screwed up every kind of craft:
He knew many deeds, but he knew all of them badly.”

ἦλθέ τις ἐς Κολοφῶνα γέρων καὶ θεῖος ἀοιδός,
Μουσάων θεράπων καὶ ἑκηβόλου ᾿Απόλλωνος,
φίληις ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν εὔφθογγον λύρην.
τὸν δ’ οὔτ’ ἂρ σκαπτῆρα θεοὶ θέσαν οὔτ’ ἀροτῆρα
οὔτ’ ἄλλως τι σοφόν· πάσης δ’ ἡμάρτανε τέχνης.
πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα.

Actual T-Shirt, Game-worn Condition

Actual T-Shirt, Game-worn Condition

And yes, I do own a t-shit proudly emblazoned with the motto: πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα. I would not be so proud to be known for the following details, however.

According to the testimonies part of Margites’ ignorance extended to carnal acts (from Dio Chrys. Or. 67.5 (On Reputation)):

“He would be much more foolish than Margites, who was ignorant about what to do with a woman after being married.”

Πολύ γε ἂν εἴη τοῦ Μαργίτου μωρότερος, ἀγνοοῦντος ὅ,τι χρὴ γήμαντα χρῆσθαι τῇ γυναικί.

Hesychius (the Alexandrian Lexicographer, not the Monk!) adds another detail for titillation: his wife told him she had been bitten in her genitals by a scorpion and that she needed, well, sexual healing. Eustathius (Comm ad Od. 1.395), as one might expect, repeats this anecdote with relish.

“We have learned a similar thing about the fool Margites, thanks to whom “raging” (margainein) means also “to be a fool”. The poet who bears Homer’s name makes him a son of extremely wealthy parents who, after he got married, did not climb upon his wife until she persuaded him that she had been wounded in her nether regions. She said that no medicine would help her except she act of fitting male genitals into that place. And in this way he laid next do his wife, for the sake of therapy.”

οὕτως ἔγνωμεν καὶ τὸν ἄφρονα Μαργίτην τὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ μαργαίνειν ὅ ἐστι μωραίνειν. ὃν ὁ ποιήσας τὸν ἐπιγραφόμενον ῾Ομήρου Μαργίτην ὑποτίθεται εὐπόρων μὲν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν γονέων φῦναι, γήμαντα δὲ μὴ συμπεσεῖν τῇ νύμφῃ ἕως ἀναπισθεῖσα ἐκείνη τετραυματίσθαι τὰ κάτω ἐσκήψατο. φάρμακόν τε μηδὲν ὠφελήσειν ἔφη, πλὴν εἰ τὸ ἀνδρεῖον αἰδοῖον ἐκεῖ ἐφαρμοσθείη. καὶ οὕτω θεραπείας χάριν ἐκεῖνος ἐπλησίασεν.

And if you didn’t expect some Marvin Gaye now, well, you’re worse off than Margites:

Tiberius and the Limits of Flattery: Cassius Dio, 57.18.2

“When the plan was laid out to the emperor Tiberius that the month of November, on the sixteenth of which month he was born, should be renamed Tiberius, he said, ‘And what will you do, should there be thirteen Caesars?’”

τῷ δὲ Τιβερίῳ τῆς βουλῆς ἐγκειμένης, καὶ τὸν γοῦν μῆνα τὸν Νο-

έμβριον, ἐν ᾧ τῇ ἕκτῃ ἐπὶ δέκα ἐγεγέννητο, Τιβέριον καλεῖσθαι ἀξιού-

σης, “καὶ τί” ἔφη “ποιήσετε, ἂν δεκατρεῖς Καίσαρες γένωνται;”

Education and Religion Can Corrupt: Augustine, Confessions IV,1

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“Through the same nine-year span from my nineteenth year until my twenty-eighth, we were seduced and we were seducing, tricked and tricking others with a variety of desires: we did this openly through the teachings that we call ‘liberal’ but also secretly under the name of a false religion. In the first, we were haughty; in the other, superstitious—but we were arrogant everywhere. In the liberal education, we were pursuing the emptiness of popular glory, even for applause for our performances, our songs for the competitions, contests for brief-lived crowns, the sideshows of spectacle and unrestrained desires. In our ‘religion’ we were longing to be cleansed from those filthy acts when we used to bring meals to the men who were considered chosen and holy. In the factories of their stomachs they were going to create the angels and gods who would free us. And I was pursuing these things and I did it with the friends who were deceived with me and by me.”

per idem tempus annorum novem, ab undevicensimo anno aetatis meae usque ad duodetricensimum, seducebamur et seducebamus, falsi atque fallentes in variis cupiditatibus, et palam per doctrinas quas liberales vocant, occulte autem falso nomine religionis, hic superbi, ibi superstitiosi, ubique vani, hac popularis gloriae sectantes inanitatem, usque ad theatricos plausus et contentiosa carmina et agonem coronarum faenearum et spectaculorum nugas et intemperantiam libidinum, illac autem purgari nos ab istis sordibus expetentes, cum eis qui appellarentur electi et sancti afferremus escas de quibus nobis in officina aqualiculi sui fabricarent angelos et deos per quos liberaremur. et sectabar ista atque faciebam cum amicis meis per me ac mecum deceptis.

Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 8: Lines 99-109

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This is the eighth installation of our working Commentary on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice.” As always, comments, corrections and additions are welcome.

99 ῝Ως εἰπὼν ἀπέπνευσεν ἐν ὕδασι• τὸν δὲ κατεῖδεν
100 Λειχοπίναξ ὄχθῃσιν ἐφεζόμενος μαλακῇσιν•
101 δεινὸν δ’ ἐξολόλυξε, δραμὼν δ’ ἤγγειλε μύεσσιν.
102 ὡς δ’ ἔμαθον τὴν μοῖραν ἔδυ χόλος αἰνὸς ἅπαντας.
103 καὶ τότε κηρύκεσσιν ἑοῖς ἐκέλευσαν ὑπ’ ὄρθρον
104 κηρύσσειν ἀγορήνδ’ ἐς δώματα Τρωξάρταο,
105 πατρὸς δυστήνου Ψιχάρπαγος, ὃς κατὰ λίμνην
106 ὕπτιος ἐξήπλωτο νεκρὸν δέμας, οὐδὲ παρ’ ὄχθαις
107 ἦν ἤδη τλήμων, μέσσῳ δ’ ἐπενήχετο πόντῳ.
108 ὡς δ’ ἦλθον σπεύδοντες ἅμ’ ἠοῖ, πρῶτος ἀνέστη
109 Τρωξάρτης ἐπὶ παιδὶ χολούμενος, εἶπέ τε μῦθον•

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Plato Was a Bad Poet, so He Turned to Philosophy: Aelian, Varia Historia 2.30

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“Plato, the son of Ariston, at first pursued poetry and used to write heroic verse. But he soon burned it all because he despised it, since he reckoned that his poetry was far inferior when compared to Homer’s. He then tried tragedy and even completed a tetralogy, and he was about to enter the competition, even to the point of giving the verses to actors. But right before the Dionysia, he went and heard Socrates; and once he was seized by that Siren, he not only withdrew from the competition, but he also gave up the writing of tragedy for good to immerse himself in philosophy.”

Πλάτων ὁ ᾿Αρίστωνος τὰ πρῶτα ἐπὶ ποιητικὴν ὥρμησε, καὶ ἡρωϊκὰ ἔγραφε μέτρα• εἶτα αὐτὰ κατέπρησεν ὑπεριδὼν αὐτῶν, ἐπεὶ τοῖς ῾Ομήρου αὐτὰ ἀντικρίνων ἑώρα κατὰ πολὺ ἡττώμενα. ἐπέθετο οὖν τραγῳδίᾳ, καὶ δὴ καὶ τετραλογίαν εἰργάσατο, καὶ ἔμελλεν ἀγωνιεῖσθαι, δοὺς ἤδη τοῖς ὑποκριταῖς τὰ ποιήματα. πρὸ τῶν Διονυσίων δὲ παρελθὼν ἤκουσε Σωκράτους, καὶ ἅπαξ αἱρεθεὶς ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκείνου σειρῆνος, τοῦ ἀγωνίσματος οὐ μόνον ἀπέστη τότε, ἀλλὰ καὶ τελέως τὸ γράφειν τραγῳδίαν ἀπέρριψε, καὶ ἀπεδύσατο ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν.

Aristotle on the Complete Plot: Stories Have Beginnings, Middles, and Ends!

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I’ve had this bit of Aristotle bouncing in my head about the frustration caused by a tale without an end since I recently read Daniel Mendelsohn’s clever analysis of the “plottiness” of television shows like Downton Abbey after they have passed their natural end.

Poetics 1450b-1451a

“After the elements have been distinguished, let us comment on what sort of organization is needed for the events of the plot, since this is the foremost and greatest feature of tragedy. Our proposal is that tragedy is the imitation of a complete and whole deed, and one that has some kind of magnitude (since it is possible for a thing to be whole and to lack magnitude). A story that is whole has a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is the very thing which does not necessarily follow something else but after which something else naturally follows or happens. The end, in contrast, is the very thing that happens after something else either as a necessary result or, is most common companion, but after which nothing else occurs. A middle is that thing which comes after something else and has something follow it. It is necessary that a well-constructed tale does not begin or just end anywhere but will apply the conditions I have described.”

Διωρισμένων δὲ τούτων, λέγωμεν μετὰ ταῦτα ποίαν τινὰ δεῖ τὴν σύστασιν εἶναι τῶν πραγμάτων, ἐπειδὴ τοῦτο καὶ πρῶτον καὶ μέγιστον τῆς τραγῳδίας ἐστίν. κεῖται δὴ ἡμῖν τὴν τραγῳδίαν τελείας καὶ ὅλης πράξεως εἶναι μίμησιν ἐχούσης τι μέγεθος• ἔστιν γὰρ ὅλον καὶ μηδὲν ἔχον μέγεθος. ὅλον δέ ἐστιν τὸ ἔχον ἀρχὴν καὶ μέσον καὶ τελευτήν. ἀρχὴ δέ ἐστιν ὃ αὐτὸ μὲν μὴ ἐξ ἀνάγκης μετ’ ἄλλο ἐστίν, μετ’ ἐκεῖνο δ’ ἕτερον πέφυκεν εἶναι ἢ γίνεσθαι• τελευτὴ δὲ τοὐναντίον ὃ αὐτὸ μὲν μετ’ ἄλλο πέφυκεν εἶναι ἢ ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἢ ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολύ, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἄλλο οὐδέν• μέσον δὲ ὃ καὶ αὐτὸ μετ’ ἄλλο καὶ μετ’ ἐκεῖνο ἕτερον. δεῖ ἄρα τοὺς συνεστῶτας εὖ μύθους μήθ’ ὁπόθεν ἔτυχεν ἄρχεσθαι μήθ’ ὅπου ἔτυχε τελευτᾶν, ἀλλὰ κεχρῆσθαι ταῖς εἰρημέναις ἰδέαις.

Later on, Aristotle takes the Odyssey to task because it combines comedic and tragic arcs. He thinks only a lesser audience would be pleased by this. I can only imagine how he would feel about Downton (1453a)

“Second is the plot which is preferred by some, the story that has a double structure like that of the Odyssey which terminates in opposite ways for the better and worse men. It seems to be first it is due to the feebleness of the audience. For poets follow the audience in crafting a tale according to their wishes. For there it is not the same pleasure that comes from tragedy, but that which is properly suited to comedy, since in that genre the most opposed men in myth, like Orestes and Aigisthus, depart at the end after becoming friends and no one is killed by anyone.”

δευτέρα δ’ ἡ πρώτη λεγομένη ὑπὸ τινῶν ἐστιν σύστασις, ἡ διπλῆν τε τὴν σύστασιν ἔχουσα καθάπερ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια καὶ τελευτῶσα ἐξ ἐναντίας τοῖς βελτίοσι καὶ χείροσιν. δοκεῖ δὲ εἶναι πρώτη διὰ τὴν τῶν θεάτρων ἀσθένειαν• ἀκολουθοῦσι γὰρ οἱ ποιηταὶ κατ’ εὐχὴν ποιοῦντες τοῖς θεαταῖς. ἔστιν δὲ οὐχ αὕτη ἀπὸ τραγῳδίας ἡδονὴ ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον τῆς κωμῳδίας οἰκεία• ἐκεῖ γὰρ οἳ ἂν ἔχθιστοι ὦσιν ἐν τῷ μύθῳ, οἷον ᾿Ορέστης καὶ Αἴγισθος, φίλοι γενόμενοι ἐπὶ τελευτῆς ἐξέρχονται, καὶ ἀποθνῄσκει οὐδεὶς ὑπ’ οὐδενός.

Three Dramatic Fragments from Naevius: Money, Swords and Testicles

Fabulae Palliatae (Comedies in Greek Dress) — Agitatoria (The Driver)

“I have always valued and much preferred freedom to money”

…Semper pluris feci ego
Potioremque habui libertatem multo quam pecuniam

Tragedy: Hesiona (Herakles)

Herakles: “May I not seem to pursue my cause with tongue instead of sword”

Ne mihi gerere morem videar lingua verum lingula!”

Comedy: Testicularia (A Play About Testicles)

“No! The ones we’ve cut off, I’ll chop up and throw away”

Immo quos scicidimus conscindam atque abiciam.

Naevius? A poet from between the first two Punic Wars who ended up exiled to Tunisia. He was still making trouble with his epitaph!

Bumptious, Second-Rate Scholarship

“[W.A. Merrill] published in 1907 an edition of Lucretius, containing nothing original, but collecting the works of others with that bibliographical fulness in which Americans excel. He has since changed his opinions on the text and developed originality as a reactionary, and his obtuseness enables him to stick to the reading of the manuscripts in many places where the critics whom he formerly followed abandoned them. I have a very low opinion of his intelligence, and he is bumptious into the bargain…”

-A.E. Housman in a letter to Grant Richards, recorded in The Letters of A.E. Housman, ed. Henry Mass (London : Rupert Hart-Davis, 1971) p. 143 (2 March 1916)

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