Sometimes You Might be Too Pretty to Be Loved (Sappho to Phaon; Ovid Heroides, 15.31-40)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“If unfair nature denied beauty to me,
Take in exchange for appearance my wit.
I am short, but my name stretches across all lands:
I am the measure of my fame not my height.
If I am not pale enough, well, Cepheian Andromeda,
Dark with the color of her country, pleased Perseus!
White doves often mate with different colors:
The dark turtle-dove has a love dressed in green.
If no one who cannot be worthy of you in beauty alone
will be yours, then no one will ever be yours.”

si mihi difficilis formam natura negavit,
ingenio formae damna repende meae.
sum brevis. at nomen, quod terras impleat omnes,
est mihi: mensuram nominis ipsa fero.
candida si non sum, placuit Cepheia Perseo
Andromede patriae fusca colore suae.
et variis albae iunguntur saepe columbae
et niger a viridi turtur amatur ave.
si nisi quae facie poterit te digna videri,
nulla futura tua est, nulla futura tua est!

Sappho writes this letter, according to Ovid, to Phaon.

Bellerophon from Fragments to Falling to the Ground

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.

Bellerophon

Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

This fragment does not tell a significant part of this heroic narrative witnessed elsewhere by Hesiod, Bellerophon’s magical birth. This is recounted in the fragmentary Catalogue of Women (Hes. Fr. 43a 81-91).

“She [Eurynomê, daughter of Nisus] after having sex in Poseidon’s embrace
Gave birth to Glaukos blameless Bellerophon
Who excelled all men on the boundless earth in virtue.
His father […] gave him the horse Pegasos,
The swiftest one […]
Everywhere […]
With him he [overcame the] fire [of the Khimaira]
And he married the child […]
Of the revered king […]
The master […]
She gave birth to […]”

ἣ δὲ Ποσε[ιδάωνος ἐν] ἀγκοίνηισι μιγεῖ[σα
Γλαύκωι ἐν̣[….. …]ἀμύμονα Βελλε[ροφόντην,
ἔξοχον ἀνθ̣[ρώπων ἀρ]ε̣τῆι ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γ[αῖαν.
τῶι δὲ καὶ η[…… πα]τὴρ πόρε Πήγασο[ν ἵππον
ὠκύτατον [….. ….. ….]μ̣ινεπτε[
πάντηι ἀν[….. ….. ….]ε̣.τα…[
σὺν τῶι πῦρ̣ [πνείουσαν Χίμαιραν.
γῆμε δὲ πα̣[ῖδα φίλην μεγαλήτορος ᾿Ιοβάταο
αἰδοίου βασ[ιλῆος
κοίρανος α[
ἣ τέ[κε

In this fragment we find the core elements of his story (Pegasos and the killing of the Khimaira) combined with two typical elements of the heroic narrative (divine parent, winning of princess) but without the elaborations of the Homeric narrative where Bellerophon is an exile and eventually falls out of divine favor.

Bellerophon’s fall from grace becomes a major aspect of his narrative presentation in the fifth century. The Epinician poet Pindar from Thebes presents him as an example to be avoided:

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“In seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end,
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, he is too brief himself to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos threw his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
for injustice however sweet.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

This passage assumes some basic knowledge on the part of its audience, for instance: the connection between Bellerophon and Pegasos and how the former was in a position to fall from the latter. It is clear from the use of the figure as a negative example that the story had both broad currency and a typical understanding. A Scholiast in writing on Pindar’s 13th Olympian ode elaborates on the details of the fall (Schol. In Pindar Ol. 13.130c)

“For it is reported that when he planned to fly up on Pegasos and put himself in danger on high, he fell when Pegasos was bitten by a fly according to Zeus’ plan and he was crippled. So Homer says that he wandered crippled on the Alêion plain (Il. 6.201).

λέγεται γὰρ ὅτι ἀναπτῆναι βουληθεὶς τῷ Πηγάσῳ, κούφως παρακινδυνεύσας, κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ Διὸς οἰστρωθέντος τοῦ Πηγάσου ἐκπίπτει καὶ χωλοῦται•
καὶ ἐπλανᾶτο κατὰ τὸ ᾿Αλήιον χωλός. καὶ ῞Ομηρός φησιν (Ζ 201).

The story of Bellerophon’s exile, told in Homer, is clarified or re-envisioned with the story of his downfall as articulated as a moral in Pindar. In Athenian Tragedy, Bellerophon became a popular figure (we have fragmentary plays by Sophocles and Euripides). Bellerophon’s eventual vengeance upon Sthenboia (an alternative for Anteia, Proitios’ wife) is the man story in Euripides’ play of that name that starts with a rumination on the trouble women cause for men:


Euripides, Stheneboia Fr. 661-662

“There is no man who is lucky in all things.
Either a man born noble has no livelihood
Or the baseborn ploughs fertile fields.
And many who boast of their wealth or birth
Are shamed by a foolish woman in their homes.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις πάντ’ ἀνὴρ εὐδαιμονεῖ•
ἢ γὰρ πεφυκὼς ἐσθλὸς οὐκ ἔχει βίον,
ἢ δυσγενὴς ὢν πλουσίαν ἀροῖ πλάκα.
πολλοὺς δὲ πλούτῳ καὶ γένει γαυρουμένους
γυνὴ κατῄσχυν’ ἐν δόμοισι νηπία.

Just as Pindar uses Bellerophon as a vehicle to deliver a moralizing message, so too Euripides uses the hero to voice general concerns. In a second play on Bellerophon, Euripides returns to the moral content of Pindar’s complaint but, rather than simply portraying an instance of hubris, he offers a hero challenging the nature of divinity.

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις•
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν.
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

What’s A Heaven For? Falling from Pegasos (Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

“Seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end.
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

Dio Quotes Homer and Trajan Loves Him as Himself (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 1.488)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

“[Dio] frequently visited military encampments dressed poorly according to his custom. When he noticed that the troops turning to revolt after the assassination of Domitian, he could not restrain himself as he looked upon the churning disorder. So he leapt naked onto the high rostrum and began his speech like this:

“Then very-clever Odysseus was stripped of his rags..” (Od. 22.1)

And after he said this and made clear that he was not a beggar nor who they thought he was, but instead was Dio the wise man, then he produced a great indictment of the tyrant Domitian and he persuaded the soldiers that it was better to act with the interests of the Roman people in mind. Truly, the persuasiveness of this man was such that it bewitched even those who had no great knowledge of Hellenic matters. For example, when the emperor Trajan seated him beside himself in the golden chariot in which the emperors join the victory procession of a triumph, he often turned to Dio and said: “I don’t know what you’re saying, but I love you as I love myself.”

θαμίζων δὲ ἐς τὰ στρατόπεδα, ἐν οἷσπερ εἰώθει τρύχεσθαι, καὶ τοὺς στρατιώτας ὁρῶν ἐς νεώτερα ὁρμῶντας ἐπὶ Δομετιανῷ ἀπεσφαγμένῳ οὐκ ἐφείσατο ἀταξίαν ἰδὼν ἐκραγεῖσαν, ἀλλὰ γυμνὸς ἀναπηδήσας ἐπὶ βωμὸν ὑψηλὸν ἤρξατο τοῦ λόγου ὧδε•

„αὐτὰρ ὁ γυμνώθη ῥακέων πολύμητις ᾿Οδυσσεύς,”

καὶ εἰπὼν ταῦτα καὶ δηλώσας ἑαυτόν, ὅτι μὴ πτωχός, μηδὲ ὃν ᾤοντο, Δίων δὲ εἴη ὁ σοφός, ἐπὶ μὲν τὴν κατηγορίαν τοῦ τυράννου πολὺς ἔπνευσεν, τοὺς δὲ στρατιώτας ἐδίδαξεν ἀμείνω φρονεῖν τὰ δοκοῦντα ῾Ρωμαίοις πράττοντας. καὶ γὰρ ἡ πειθὼ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς οἵα καταθέλξαι καὶ τοὺς μὴ τὰ ῾Ελλήνων ἀκριβοῦντας• Τραιανὸς γοῦν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ ἀναθέμενος αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ῾Ρώμης ἐς τὴν χρυσῆν ἅμαξαν, ἐφ’ ἧς οἱ βασιλεῖς τὰς ἐκ τῶν πολέμων πομπὰς πομπεύουσιν, ἔλεγε θαμὰ ἐπιστρεφόμενος ἐς τὸν Δίωνα „τί μὲν λέγεις, οὐκ οἶδα, φιλῶ δέ σε ὡς ἐμαυτόν”.

Dio? Dio of Prusa, AKA Dio Chyrsostom, friend of philosophy, exiled under Domitian. Champion of Nerva.

On Drug Culture in Homer’s Odyssey: Long, Strange Trips

Tags

, , , , ,

“…One could imagine the poet deciding that drugs, too, are a part of experience, and maybe one could learn even from them. And, that being granted, given the poem’s frequent points of contact with a drug culture of some kind, it is not altogether implausible that in book 11 the poet conducts his hero on a hallucinogenic trip to the Underworld precisely when and where it will do him the most good. But only then, and for very special reasons, does it earn something like his grudging respect”

-Douglas J. Stewart. The Disguised Guest. 1976, 212.

Stewart makes this conclusion after analyzing drug use in the Odyssey: nepenthe in Sparta (administered to wine by Helen; compared by some to opiates); Lotus (book nine, he calls it “cannabis-like”); Circe’s drug (like LSD, according to Stewart) and Hermes’ antidote moly (book 10); dangerous wine (Polyphemos and Elpenor are undone); The Underworld “trip” (which Stewart suggests might be viewed as a grand hallucination which “shows signs of having been a drug experience”, 208).

Using Archaic Words is as Bad as Using Made-Up New Ones (Aulus Gellius, Attics Nights 11.7)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

“One Should Avoid Very Archaic Words That Have Become Antiquated and Fallen Out of Use”

“Using words that are obsolete and worn down seems as affected as using uncustomary or new ones of harsh or unpleasant character. Personally, I find more annoying and offensive those words that are new, unknown, or previously unheard rather than those that are merely colloquial and vulgar. I do insist, however, that phrases seem new when they are unused and abandoned, even if they are really ancient. In truth, it is a common vice of learning late in life, what the Greeks call opsimathia, when there’s something you’ve never said and of which you were ignorant for a while, which, once you have begun to understand it, you manage to work it into any place or into any matter you’re discussing.

For example, at Rome we met an experienced man famous for his work as a public defender who had achieved a rapid and incomplete education. When he was speaking to the prefect of the city and wanted to say that a certain many lived on poor and miserable food—he ate bread made of bran and drank old, spoiled wine—he said “this Roman knight eats apluda and drinks flocces.” Everyone who was there looked at one another, at first rather severely and with confused, inquiring faces wondering what either word meant: then, as if he had spoken in Etruscan or Gallic, they all laughed together. That man had read that ancient farmers had called grain apluda—the word is used by Plautus in a comedy called Astraba, if that is a Plautine comedy. Similarly, “flocces” in ancient usage indicated the lees of a vine pressed from grapes, like the fruit from olives, a thing he read in Caecilius’ Polumeni. And he had saved these two words for decorating a speech!”

7 Verbis antiquissimis relictisque iam et desitis minime utendum.

1 Verbis uti aut nimis obsoletis exculcatisque aut insolentibus novitatisque durae et inlepidae par esse delictum videtur. Sed molestius equidem culpatiusque esse arbitror verba nova, incognita, inaudita dicere quam involgata et sordentia. 2 Nova autem videri dico etiam ea, quae sunt inusitata et desita, tametsi sunt vetusta. 3 Est adeo id vitium plerumque serae eruditionis, quam Graeci opsimathian appellant, ut, quod numquam didiceris, diu ignoraveris, cum id scire aliquando coeperis, magni facias quo in loco cumque et quacumque in re dicere. Veluti Romae nobis praesentibus vetus celebratusque homo in causis, sed repentina et quasi tumultuaria doctrina praeditus, cum apud praefectum urbi verba faceret et dicere vellet inopi quendam miseroque victu vivere et furfureum panem esitare vinumque eructum et fetidum potare, “hic” inquit “eques Romanus apludam edit et flocces bibit”. 4 Aspexerunt omnes, qui aderant, alius alium, primo tristiores turbato et requirente voltu, quidnam illud utriusque verbi foret; post deinde, quasi nescio quid Tusce aut Gallice dixisset, universi riserunt. 5 Legerat autem ille “apludam” veteres rusticos frumenti furfurem dixisse idque a Plauto in comoedia, si ea Plauti est, quae Astraba inscripta est, positum esse. 6 Item “flocces” audierat prisca voce significare vini faecem e vinaceis expressam, sicuti fraces oleis, idque aput Caecilium in Poltimenis legerat, eaque sibi duo verba ad orationum ornamenta servaverat. 7

Golden Rain or Incest? Early Fragments on Perseus

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Perseus, Andromeda, and a Sea Monster

Perseus, Andromeda, and a Sea Monster

Hesiod, Fr. 129.8-18

“And she bore both Proitos and king Akrisios
And the father of gods and men established them in different places
Akrisos ruled in well-built Argos…
[three broken lines describing the marriage of Akrisios to Eurydike, daughter of Lakedaimon]
She gave birth to fine-ankled Danae in her home
Who in turn was the mother of Perseus, the mighty master of fear.
Proitos lived in the well-built city of Tiryns
and married the daughter of the great-hearted son of Arkas
the fine-haired Stheneboia…”
Continue reading

The Value of Knowledge: Persius, 1.25-26

“O, our silly ways! Is knowledge worthless, unless someone else knows that you know it?”

o mores, usque adeone

scire tuum nihil est nisi te scire hoc sciat alter?

Editorial note: Like many Classicists (whether they will admit it or not), I am myself very favorably disposed to the cultivation of ornamental knowledge, especially in the form of fine Classical quotations which can be produced in conversation. Although I therefore disagree with Persius on this point, I will retain this quotation in memory for the disingenuous chastisement of other vain scholars.

I Love it When They Hate Me (Martial, 6.60)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

“My Rome praises, loves, and sings my little books—
Every pocket, every hand holds me.
Look: someone turns red, yellow, is dumbstruck, looks again, and hates!
This is what I long for: now my songs have pleased even me.”

Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
Hoc uolo: nunc nobis carmina nostra placent.

Yes, but can you publish hate?

Why Fools Remain Fools: Plato, Symposium 204a

Tags

“Nor moreover do the unlearned love wisdom or desire to become wise, and this is is exactly why ignorance is such a bad thing: a man who is not noble, good, or sensible will be satisfied with himself as he is. When someone is unconscious of the fact that he lacks a particular thing, he naturally does not desire it.”

οὐδ᾽ αὖ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς φιλοσοφοῦσιν οὐδ᾽ ἐπιθυμοῦσι σοφοὶ γενέσθαι: αὐτὸ γὰρ τοῦτό ἐστι χαλεπὸν ἀμαθία, τὸ μὴ ὄντα καλὸν κἀγαθὸν μηδὲ φρόνιμον δοκεῖν αὑτῷ εἶναι ἱκανόν. οὔκουν ἐπιθυμεῖ ὁ μὴ οἰόμενος ἐνδεὴς εἶναι οὗ ἂν μὴ οἴηται ἐπιδεῖσθαι.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,024 other followers