“Aphrodite has many shades:
She can please or aggrieve men wholly.”
τῇ δ’ ᾿Αφροδίτῃ πόλλ’ ἔνεστι ποικίλα·
τέρπει τε γὰρ μάλιστα καὶ λυπεῖ βροτούς.
“Should we be surprised if men dismiss us when they see such mockable and annoying gods?”
Εἶτα θαυμάζομεν εἰ καταφρονοῦσιν ἡμῶν οἱ ἄνθρωποι ὁρῶντες οὕτω γελοίους θεοὺς καὶ τεραστίους;
In this dialogue, Lucian imagine the gods assembling to debate the strange and countless gods worshipped throughout the world and the concomitant loss of Olympian dignity and human reverence. The gods vote to clean out the divine ranks.
Hermione writes to Orestes but addresses her long absent mother too:
“As a small child I was without my mother
And my father was always at war.
Even though they were alive—I was bereft of both.
Mother: in those first years I never brought you
loving words from the uncertain mouth of a little girl.
I never reached around your neck with too short arms
Nor sat as a welcome burden in your lap.”
parva mea sine matre fui; pater arma ferebat;
et duo cum vivant, orba duobus eram.
non tibi blanditias primis, mea mater, in annis
incerto dictas ore puella tuli.
non ego captavi brevibus tua colla lacertis,
nec gremio sedi sarcina grata tuo.
Previously, our amphibious friend Bellowmouth introduced himself to a certain mouse at the edge of a pond. Now the mouse responds. There are some textual problems here. We have decided to include the interpolations. Who doesn’t want more Batrakhomuomakhia?
Then Crumbthief [Psikharpaks] answered and spoke:
“Why do you seek out my lineage? It’s known
To all men, gods and flying things in the sky.
I am known as Crumbthief, and I am the son
Of great-hearted Breadnibbler and my mother Mill-Licker,
who was daughter of king Ham-nibbler.
She birthed me in a hidey-hole and nourished me with food
like figs and nuts and all kinds of delectables. 30
How could you make me your friend when our nature is so different?
I have been obsessed with tracking down the names of Odysseus’ children. Here’s a list of them, their mothers and the sources so far. In a few days I will start posting full references:
The sons of Odysseus:
Telemakhos and Arkesilaos/Ptoliporthes (Penelope) [Eustathius/Pausanias]
Agrios, Latinus and Telegonos (Kirke) or Auson [Lykophron]
Rhomos, Antias, Ardeas (Kirke) [Dionysus of Halicarnassos]
Nausithoos and Nausinoos (Kalypso) [Hesiod]
Leontophron or Dorukles or Euryalos (Euippê, Epirote Princess) [Eustathius]
Polypoitês (Kallidikê, Thesprotian Princess) [Proklos]
Leontophronos (Daughter of Thoas, Aitolian Princess) [Apollodoros]
And one daughter:
Kassiphone (Kirke) [Lykophron]
Before we’ve discussed Odysseus’ sister, his death by feces, and his lesser-known grandson. For a while, I have also been a little obsessed about his geography and politics. Of course, this will tell us a bit more about his family and home. In the Odyssey we find what seems to be a formulaic combination of three islands near Ithaca. When Odysseus describes where he’s from, he names his home and then adds (9.23-4):
“Many islands are inhabited right near each other
Doulikhion, Samê, and forest-covered Zakunthos.”
πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι μάλα σχεδὸν ἀλλήλῃσι,
Δουλίχιόν τε Σάμη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος.
And earlier during his discussion with Telemachus, Odysseus hears the suitors similarly described as (16.122-125; cf. 19.130-1):
“However so many of the best men who rule among the islands,
Doulikhion, Samê, and forest-covered Zakunthos.
Alongside all the men who lord over steep Ithaka—
This many men are wooing my mother and ruining my home”
ὅσσοι γὰρ νήσοισιν ἐπικρατέουσιν ἄριστοι,
Δουλιχίῳ τε Σάμῃ τε καὶ ὑλήεντι Ζακύνθῳ,
ἠδ’ ὅσσοι κραναὴν ᾿Ιθάκην κάτα κοιρανέουσι,
τόσσοι μητέρ’ ἐμὴν μνῶνται, τρύχουσι δὲ οἶκον.
“The knowledge of man has countless forms—
whether learned in some prophetic art
or allotted the Graces’ honor,
the wise man certainly flourishes with golden hope.
Another man aims his dabbled bow at boys.
Others fortify their hearts in the field
Or with herds of cattle.
But the future bears ends that make the path of fortune
This thing is best: to be a noble man
envied by many men.
I know something about wealth’s great power:
It makes even the most useless man useful.
But why do I pilot my great tongue so
and drive off the road?
When the moment of victory is appointed for mortals,
only then the wise man must…[ ]
With flutes [pay back the favor of the gods]
And mingle [among those who may envy]
… Μυρίαι δ’ ἀνδρῶν ἐπιστᾶμαι πέλονται·
ἦ γὰρ σ[ο]φὸς ἢ Χαρίτων τιμὰν λελογχὼς
ἐλπίδι χρυσέᾳ τέθαλεν
ἤ τινα θευπροπίαν ἰ-
δώς· ἕτερος δ’ ἐπὶ παισὶ
ποικίλον τόξον τιταίνει·
οἱ δ’ ἐπ’ ἔργοισίν τε καὶ ἀμφὶ βοῶν ἀ[γ]έλαις
θυμὸν αὔξουσιν. Τὸ μέλλον
δ’ ἀκρίτους τίκτει τελευτάς,
πᾶ τύχα βρίσει. Τὸ μὲν κάλλιστον, ἐσθλὸν
ἄνδρα πολλῶν ὑπ’ ἀνθρώπων πολυζήλωτον εἶμεν·
οἶδα καὶ πλούτου μεγάλαν δύνασιν,
ἃ καὶ τ[ὸ]ν ἀχρεῖον τί[θησ]ι
χρηστόν. Τί μακρὰν γ̣[λ]ῶ[σ]σαν ἰθύσας ἐλαύνω
ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ; Πέφαται θνατοῖσι νίκας
The last few lines of this poem are completely fragmentary. In italics I put in something just to complete the sentence. I think that the reference to flutes probably indicates some ritual celebration, but I also wanted the end to repeat the note of warning about the mutability of fortune. Any other suggestions?
Here’s the second Installment of our translation of the Batrakhomuomakhia
Once upon a time, a thirsty mouse escaped the danger of a cat
and then lowered his greedy chin down to a pond 10
To take pleasure in the honey-sweet water. A pond-loving frog,
Bellowmouth, saw him and uttered something like this:
“Friend, who are you? From where have you come to our shore? Who sired you?
Tell me everything truly so I don’t think you’re a liar.
If I consider you a worthy friend, I’ll take you home,
where I will give you many fine gifts of friendship.
I am King Bellowmouth, and I am honored
throughout the pond as leader of frogs for all days.
My father Mudman raised me up after he had sex
with Watermistress along the banks of the Eridanus. 20
I see that you are noble and brave beyond the rest,
and also a scepter-bearing king and a warrior in battles.
Come closer and tell me of your lineage.”
9 Μῦς ποτε διψαλέος γαλέης κίνδυνον ἀλύξας,
10 πλησίον ἐν λίμνῃ λίχνον προσέθηκε γένειον,
11 ὕδατι τερπόμενος μελιηδέϊ• τὸν δὲ κατεῖδε
12 λιμνόχαρις πολύφημος , ἔπος δ’ ἐφθέγξατο τοῖον•
13 Ξεῖνε τίς εἶ; πόθεν ἦλθες ἐπ’ ἠϊόνας; τίς ὁ φύσας;
14 πάντα δ’ ἀλήθευσον, μὴ ψευδόμενόν σε νοήσω.
15 εἰ γάρ σε γνοίην φίλον ἄξιον ἐς δόμον ἄξω•
16 δῶρα δέ τοι δώσω ξεινήϊα πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλά.
17 εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ βασιλεὺς Φυσίγναθος, ὃς κατὰ λίμνην
18 τιμῶμαι βατράχων ἡγούμενος ἤματα πάντα•
19 καί με πατὴρ Πηλεὺς ἀνεθρέψατο, ῾Υδρομεδούσῃ
20 μιχθεὶς ἐν φιλότητι παρ’ ὄχθας ᾿Ηριδανοῖο.
21 καὶ σὲ δ’ ὁρῶ καλόν τε καὶ ἄλκιμον ἔξοχον ἄλλων,
22 σκηπτοῦχον βασιλῆα καὶ ἐν πολέμοισι μαχητὴν
23 ἔμμεναι• ἀλλ’ ἄγε θᾶσσον ἑὴν γενεὴν ἀγόρευε.
After tweeting in desperation last night, I awoke with a mission: to learn more about birthdays in ancient Greek (whether they observed them, how and what, if anything, they said). I sent some emails and then started in two logical places: a Greek phrase book and the Oxford Classical Dictionary.
H. W. Auden’s Greek Phrase Book provides a phrase for observing birthday sacrifices: τὰ γενέθλια ἑστιᾶν (1963, 44)
Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd Edition (s.v. Birthday): γενέθλιος ἡμέρα: The ancient Greeks celebrated the birthdays of some of the Olympian gods during the days of the month. Birthdays, according to this entry, became more significant along with ruler-cults and biographical traditions. The Romans seem to have celebrated birthdays from an early period.
Then the Homerist and all-around good-guy Erwin Cook told me via email that we know little about the birthday sacrifices held in the Archaic and early Classical periods, but he pointed me to Aeschylus’ mention in the Eumenides of giving a birthday gift to Apollo (8-9):
Φοίβη• δίδωσι δ’ ἣ γενέθλιον δόσιν
Φοίβῳ• τὸ Φοίβης δ’ ὄνομ’ ἔχει παρώνυμον.
Euripides also mentions birthday sacrifices (Ion 805): παιδὸς προθύσων ξένια καὶ γενέθλια. Our friend, Platosparks, tells me that modern Greeks use καλά γενέθλια as a benediction, which seems like a nice derivation from the sacrifice. But multiple respondents have reported something like the following for modern Greek usage:
All of which is good to know. Phrynichus tells us a little about the Athenian practice–but not enough (Eklogai, 75.1-3):
“Genesia are not strictly speaking on the day of birth. Among the Athenians, the genesia are a festival. It is better to call them days of birth or birth-day sacrifices.”
Γενέσια οὐκ ὀρθῶς τίθεται ἐπὶ τῆς γενεθλίου ἡμέρας• Γενέσια γὰρ ᾿Αθήνησιν ἑορτή. λέγειν οὖν δεῖ τὰς γενεθλίους ἡμέρας ἢ γενέθλια.
But, as with many rituals from the ancient world, we know little about what they entailed and what they meant to the individuals who practiced them. The historian Appian gives us the kernel of the phrase ‘birthday’ (γενέθλιον ἦμαρ) as well:
εἰσὶ δ’ οἳ καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτὸν εἰσηγήσασθαι τὴν ἡμέραν θέσθαι τῇ πόλει γενέθλιον
Plato (Alcibiades 121c7) notes that all of Asia celebrates the birthday of the great King:
ὧν ἂν ἄρχῃ, εἶτα εἰς τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ταύτῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ βασιλέως γενέθλια πᾶσα θύει καὶ ἑορτάζει ἡ ᾿Ασία• ἡμῶν
Lucian, Gallos 9.10 writes of gathering together to celebrate a daughter’s birthday:, “Μίκυλλε,” φησί, “θυγατρὸς τήμερον ἑστιῶ γενέθλια καὶ παρεκάλεσα τῶν φίλων μάλα πολλούς• ἐπεὶ δέ τινά φασιν αὐτῶν. See also Hermotimus 11.12 for a daughter’s birthday feast.
But nowhere could I find an indication of how to wish good fortune on the birthday. We know then that a birthday gift was a thing; that birthday sacrifices and eventually feasts were also culturally recognized phenomena. But no benediction was to be found. (which doesn’t mean that there isn’t one somewhere!)
So, using the Latin Felix Dies Natalis as a model (and the phrase γενέθλιον ἦμαρ from Appian, paralleled in the Greek Anthology as PlatoSparks notes in the comments) and choosing the neuter form to hedge as to whether this is accusative (in an absolute sense) or nominative, I decided to make it up myself (and I take Palaiophron’s comments below to heart, this is an anachronistic somewhat silly exercise, but once down the rabbit-hole….):
μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ [sc. εἴη σοι]
καλὸν (based on καλά γενέθλια)
Of the three, I think I like this combination the most: γενέθλιον ἦμαρ εὐτυχὲς
I also like the rhythm of this one: μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ.
But with the parallel καλά γενέθλια from PlatoSparks, perhaps καλὸν γενέθλιον ἦμαρ is good too
And we can add particles for flavor and force:
εἰ γὰρ μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
μακάριον δὴ γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
εἰ γὰρ καλὸν γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
καλὸν δὴ γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
To be sure, it is highly unlikely that any Ancient Greek ever said this. But no ancient Greek used twitter either. Any suggestions for improvement?
This site and its twitter feed is three years old today. We have passed from diapers (nappies in the UK!) and a liquid diet to full sentences and a different kind of liquid diet. Here are some quotations from our first few months.
The first post we ever put up:
“May I not die without a fight and without glory but after doing something big for men to come to learn about”
μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,
ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.
A good one for Halloween:
“No one can wear a mask for very long; affectation soon returns to true nature”
nemo enim potest personam diu ferre, ficta cito in naturam suam recidunt
And this made an appearance again in our aggregation of Seneca quotes.
A reminder to carpere diem, but in Greek:
“We have ample time to be dead yet we live our few years badly”
πολλὸς γὰρ ἥμιν ἐστι τεθνάναι χρονος
ζῶμεν δ᾿ ἀριθμῷ παῦρα κακῶς ἔτεα
One of our many lines about friendship:
“Wanting the same thing and also not wanting the same thing: this, ultimately, is true friendship”
idem velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est
Proof that U2 plagiarizes:
“I can’t live with you or without you”
nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te
A necessary does of humility:
“Knowing much doesn’t teach you how to think.”
πολυμαθίη νόον ἔχειν οὐ διδάσκει.
“What is a person? What is not a person? Man is a dream of a shadow”
τί δέ τις; τί δ’ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ / ἄνθρωπος.
Pithy Rumsfeldian Response:
“Every unknown is overblown”
omne ignotum pro magnifico est
Because we still don’t understand this:
“You can’t reason with Centaurs”
νοῦς οὐ παρὰ Κενταύροισι
Because to err is human:
“All men make mistakes; but it is fools who persist in them”
cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis perseverare in errore
This is for Cicero and Seneca who came to unhappy ends:
“Death isn’t the most hateful thing. Worse is when someone wants to die but cannot.”
οὐ γὰρ θανεῖν ἔχθιστον, ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν θανεῖν
χρῄζων τις εἶτα μηδὲ τοῦτ᾽ ἔχῃ λαβεῖν.
A rejected motto:
“Trivialities occupy fickle minds”
para leves capiunt animos
From a quotable but less well-known sage:
“A bad plan is one that can’t be changed”
malum est consilium quod mutari non potest
The eternal troll of anonymous wit:
“I am amazed, wall, that you have not fallen in ruins,
you who bear the weight of so many boring inscriptions.”
admiror, paries, te non cecidisse ruinis,
qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas.
Something that may or may not be true about quotation:
“The origin and source of good writing is good judgment”.
scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.
As good a way to start as to end:
“The path of all things goes backwards.”
…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.
Thanks to everyone who has read, commented and retweeted over the past three years!
Πόλλ’ ἀγαθὰ γένοιτό ὑμῖν!