The Worst Form of Arrogance

Petrarch, Secretum 4.12 (Augustine speaking)

“Insulting other people is by far a more importunate type of arrogance than elevating yourself beyond your merits; I would have much preferred that you talked everyone else up (though you placed yourself ahead of them) than that you arrogantly took up the shield of humility after stomping  everyone under your heel.”

Multo quidem importunius superbie genus est alios deprimere quam se ipsum debito magis attollere; longeque maluissem ceteros magnificares, te quanquam ceteris anteferres, quam calcatis omnibus ex alieno superbissime tibi clipeum humilitatis assumeres.

Medea’s Magic Was Really a Spa Treatment

Yesterday we posted some varying accounts on Medea’s power over rejuvenation. Here’s another alternative account.

Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Things

Palaephatus was a Hellenistic mythographer who tried to rationalize archaic myths by attributing their fantastic aspects to exaggeration and linguistic confusion.

“People say that Medeia used to make old men young by boiling them, but she didn’t actually make anyone young. Whomever she boiled, she killed. Something like this did happen. Medeia was the first to introduce the use of a red and black flower. She used it to make old men change from gray to dark again: for she dyed their white hair and changed it to black and red. She [also] was the first to discover that a hot bath was useful for people. She used a hot bath to treat those who wanted it, but not out in the open—so that none of the doctors would learn about it—and after she gave them a bath, she made them swear not to tell anyone. The name [people gave] to this warm bath was “parboiling” [parepsêsis]. Because people who took warm baths felt lighter and healthier afterwards, those who saw her cauldron and fire, were convinced that she boiled men. But Pelias, who was an old and weak, died during his bath. This is where the myth comes from.”


῾Η Μήδεια φασὶ <μὲ>ν ὡς ἀφέψουσα τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους νέους ἐποίει, οὐδένα δὲ δείκνυται νέον ποιήσασα· ὃν δὲ ἥψησε πάντως ἀπέκτεινεν. ἐγένετο δέ τι τοιοῦτον. Μήδεια πρώτη ἐφεῦρεν ἄνθος τὸ πυρρὸν καὶ τὸ μέλαν. τοὺς οὖν γέροντας ἐκ πολιῶν μέλανας <καὶ πυρροὺς> ἐποίει φαίνεσθαι· βάπτουσα γὰρ αὐτοὺς τὰς λευκὰς τρίχας εἰς μελαίνας  καὶ πυρρὰς μετέβαλεν. *** πυρίαν πρώτη Μήδεια ἐφεῦρεν ἀνθρώποις ὄφελος. ἐπυρία οὖν τοὺς βουλομένους, οὐκ ἐν τῷ προφανεῖ, ἵνα μή τις μάθῃ τῶν ἰατρῶν, πυριῶσα δὲ ὥρκου μηδενὶ μηνύειν. ὄνομα δὲἦν τῷ πυριάματι παρέψησις. ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ κουφότεροι καὶ ὑγιεινότεροι ἐγίνοντο οἱ ἄνθρωποι πυριώμενοι. ἐκ δὴ τούτου, ὁρῶντες παρ’ αὐτῇ λέβητας καὶ πῦρ, ἐπείσθησαν ὡς ἕψει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ὁ δὲ Πελίας, ἄνθρωπος γέρων καὶ ἀσθενής, πυριώμενος ἀπέθανεν. ἐντεῦθεν ὁ μῦθος.

Image result for Medea Pelias

Just a bath, nothing to fear.

The Fable of the Exploding Frog

Phaedrus 1.24 The Exploding Frog

A poor man, when he tries to imitate the powerful, dies.
Once in a meadow a frog saw a bull
Whose great size exerted on her such a pull
That she inflated her wrinkled skin and asked
Her children whether she was bigger than that.
They denied it and she puffed herself out self again
But when she asked who was bigger, they said “him”.
Finally angry, she didn’t want to blow it,
She puffed again and her body exploded.”


I.24. Rana Rupta

Inops, potentem dum vult imitari, perit.
In prato quondam rana conspexit bovem,
et tacta invidia tantae magnitudinis
rugosam inflavit pellem. Tum natos suos
interrogavit an bove esset latior.
Illi negarunt. Rursus intendit cutem
maiore nisu, et simili quaesivit modo,
quis maior esset. Illi dixerunt “bovem”.
Novissime indignata, dum vult validius
inflare sese, rupto iacuit corpore.

The Catiline of America

Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott (December 16, 1800)

“He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandisement per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power and with it wealth. He is truly the Cataline [sic] of America—& if I may credit Major Wilcocks, he has held very vindictive language respecting his opponents.”

Classics Teachers and The HistoryMakers

Note: See other posts about the HistoryMakers Project here, here, here, and here.

Stories about Latin, Greek, and Classics teachers frequently occur among the references to Classics we have found in the HistoryMakers archive. Interviewees from a wide array of backgrounds situate these teachers in narratives of their formative education and as influential mentors.

Of course, praise for Latin teachers and the commonly cited benefits of learning Latin appear, as Marie Johnson-Calloway, a painter and art professor, describes:

“And I never could understand why we learned Latin, but I will defy anybody to question my grammar now, because she taught grammar, English grammar, through teaching Latin to us.  And she was just an outstanding teacher.  My Latin teacher, after her, was also outstanding.  I had a lot of teachers who I thought were excellent.  And they introduced us to things that our children nowadays don’t get.  And we learned these classic things, and you know, you don’t forget them.”


Marie Johnson-Calloway ©TheHistoryMakers


Historian Lonnie Bunch relates a more particular experience when he talks about Howard University’s history program, influenced in part by a Howard professor in Classics, Frank Snowden:

“What I learned about was, first of all, I learned not just–this is what Howard was good at, I didn’t just learn black history.  And while I learned those things, I also learned new lenses of understanding history, that it wasn’t black history and white history, but that rather there were lenses of black life that illuminate all aspects of the American past… So I learned a lot of that kind of thing.  And I also learned, candidly, because there was a lot of work that was being done by Frank Snowden on the black presence in the ancient world of Greece and Rome, you began to suddenly ask different questions.  Why wasn’t that ever discussed?  Why don’t we know that history?  So it really just stimulated this sort of real interest in learning about the past for me.”


Lonnie Bunch ©TheHistoryMakers



Marie Johnson-Calloway (The HistoryMakers A2005.083), interview by Loretta Henry, 03/29/2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 2, Marie Johnson-Calloway describes influential teachers at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Lonnie Bunch (The HistoryMakers A2003.212), interview by Julieanna Richardson, 09/05/2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 10, Lonnie Bunch discusses Howard University’s history department in the early 1970s.


Scholars and their Silly Questions

The following poems are taken from the Greek Anthology.  Both provide interesting possible origins for the phrase “bookworm”. A google search for the origin of the term is rather disappointing and points to book-eating species. But what if the species were named for scholars?

Philippos, 11.321

“Grammarians, children of hateful Blame, thorn-worms
Book-monsters, whelps of Zenodotus,
Soldiers of Kallimakhos, a man you project like a shield
But do not spare from your tongue,
Hunters of grievous conjunctions who take pleasure
In min or sphin* and in asking if the Cyclops kept dogs,
May you wear out your lives, wretches, muttering over the abuse
Of others. Come sink your arrow in me!”

Γραμματικοὶ Μώμου στυγίου τέκνα, σῆτες ἀκανθῶν,
τελχῖνες βίβλων, Ζηνοδότου σκύλακες,
Καλλιμάχου στρατιῶται, ὃν ὡς ὅπλον ἐκτανύσαντες,
οὐδ’ αὐτοῦ κείνου γλῶσσαν ἀποστρέφετε,
συνδέσμων λυγρῶν θηρήτορες, οἷς τὸ „μὶν” ἢ „σφὶν”
εὔαδε καὶ ζητεῖν, εἰ κύνας εἶχε Κύκλωψ,
τρίβοισθ’ εἰς αἰῶνα κατατρύζοντες ἀλιτροὶ
ἄλλων· ἐς δ’ ἡμᾶς ἰὸν ἀποσβέσατε.

Antiphanes, 11.322

“Useless race of grammarians, digging at the roots of
Someone else’s poetry, luckless worms who walk on thorns,
Perverters of great art, boasting over your Erinna*,
Bitter, parched watchdogs of Kallimakhos,
Rebukes to poets, death’s shade to children learning,
Go to hell, you fleas that secretly bite eloquent men.”

Γραμματικῶν περίεργα γένη, ῥιζωρύχα μούσης
ἀλλοτρίης, ἀτυχεῖς σῆτες ἀκανθοβάται,
τῶν μεγάλων κηλῖδες, ἐπ’ ᾿Ηρίννῃ δὲ κομῶντες,
πικροὶ καὶ ξηροὶ Καλλιμάχου πρόκυνες,
ποιητῶν λῶβαι, παισὶ σκότος ἀρχομένοισιν,
ἔρροιτ’, εὐφώνων λαθροδάκναι κόριες.

*An Alexandrian poet.

Philippus, 11.347

“Goodbye, men whose eyes have wandered over the universe,
And you thorn-counting worms of Aristarchus.
What’s it to me to examine which paths the Sun takes
Or whose son Proteus was or who was Pygmalion?
I would know as many works whose texts are clean. But let
The dark inquiry rot away the Mega-Kallimakheis!”

Χαίροιθ’, οἱ περὶ κόσμον ἀεὶ πεπλανηκότες ὄμμα
οἵ τ’ ἀπ’ ᾿Αριστάρχου σῆτες ἀκανθολόγοι.
ποῖ γὰρ ἐμοὶ ζητεῖν, τίνας ἔδραμεν ῞Ηλιος οἴμους
καὶ τίνος ἦν Πρωτεὺς καὶ τίς ὁ Πυγμαλίων;
γινώσκοιμ’, ὅσα λευκὸν ἔχει στίχον· ἡ δὲ μέλαινα
ἱστορίη τήκοι τοὺς Περικαλλιμάχους.


Rejuvenate This: Medea’s Marvelous Magic

The typical tale of Medea has her trick the daughter’s of Pelias–the man who deprived Jason of a kingdom–into killing their father. She cuts and boils an old goat, mixes in some drugs, and a young goat emerges. The daughters of wicked Pelias try to do the same as a surprise for their father. And, surprise, they get daddy stew.

The scholia to Euripides’ Medea record other traditions where Medea uses her magic.

Schol ad Eur. Med. Arg. 10-22

“Pherekudês reports that Mêdeia made Jason young again by boiling him. The poet of the Nostoi says about his father Aisôn:

[She] quickly made Aison a dear young man
After wiping away old age with her clever plans
By boiling him with many drugs in a golden container.

Aiskyulos in his Nurses of Dionysos recounts that she also remade Dionysos’ nurses along with their husbands by boiling them. Staphulos says that Jason was killed in a certain way by Medea. For, he says, she told him to lie beneath the prow of the Argo because the ship was about to fall apart because of time. When the prow fell upon him, Jason died.”

Φερεκύδης [frg. 74] δὲ καὶ Σιμωνίδης [frg. 204] φασὶν ὡς ἡ Μήδεια ἀνεψήσασα τὸν ᾿Ιάσονα νέον ποιήσειε. περὶ δὲ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Αἴσονος ὁ τοὺς Νόστους ποιήσας φησὶν οὕτως [frg. 6]·

αὐτίκα δ’ Αἴσονα θῆκε φίλον κόρον ἡβώοντα
γῆρας ἀποξύσασ’ εἰδυίῃσι πραπίδεσσι
φάρμακα πόλλ’ ἕψουσ’ ἐπὶ χρυσείοισι λέβησιν.

Αἰσχύλος δ’ ἐν ταῖς Διονύσου τροφοῖς [frg. 50] ἱστορεῖ ὅτι καὶ τὰς Διονύσου τροφοὺς μετὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν αὐτῶν ἀνεψήσασα ἐνεοποίησε. Στάφυλος [frg. 5] δέ φησι τὸν ᾿Ιάσονα τρόπον τινὰ ὑπὸ τῆς Μηδείας ἀναιρεθῆναι. ἐγκελεύσασθαι γὰρ αὐτὴν οὕτως ὑπὸ τῇ πρύμνῃ τῆς ᾿Αργοῦς αὐτὸν κατακοιμηθῆναι μελλούσης τῆς νεὼς διαλύεσθαι ὑπὸ τοῦ χρόνου. ἐπιπεσούσης γοῦν τῆς πρύμνης τῷ ᾿Ιάσονι τελευτῆσαι αὐτόν

Pottery: black-figured hydria (water-jar): Medea, Pelias and Peliad (shoulder: men and women with goat).

A hydria in the British Museum