Insanity and the Rules of Grammar

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 179

“Just as when there is a certain local currency which is accepted in a city, the person who uses this is able to complete whatever his business obligations are in that city without too much bother, but the one who refuses to use it but creates for himself some new strange currency and tries to use that as currency instead is a feel, so too in life the person who does not want to use customary modes of discourse, like the currency, and tries to coin some particular kind of his own, is nearly insane.

And so, if the grammarians agree to give us some skill which they call analogy by which they compel us to speak with one another in accordance with some “Hellenism” then we must show that this skill has no support and that those who want to speak correctly must speak in a non-technical way, using a simple style in life and following the rules which are used by the majority of people.”

ὥσπερ γὰρ ἐν πόλει νομίσματός τινος προχωροῦντος κατὰ τὸ ἐγχώριον ὁ μὲν τούτῳ στοιχῶν δύναται καὶ τὰς ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ πόλει διεξαγωγὰς ἀπαραποδίστως ποιεῖσθαι, ὁ δὲ τοῦτο μὲν μὴ παραδεχόμενος ἄλλο δέ τι καινὸν χαράσσων ἑαυτῷ καὶ τούτῳ νομιστεύεσθαι θέλων μάταιος καθέστηκεν, οὕτω κἀν τῷ βίῳ ὁ μὴ βουλόμενος τῇ συνήθως παραδεχθείσῃ, καθάπερ νομίσματι, ὁμιλίᾳ κατακολουθεῖν ἀλλ᾿ ἰδίαν αὑτῷ τέμνειν μανίας ἐγγὺς ἐστίν. διόπερ εἰ οἱ γραμματικοὶ ὑπισχνοῦνται τέχνην τινὰ τὴν καλουμένην ἀναλογίαν παραδώσειν, δι᾿ ἧς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον ἡμᾶς τὸν ἑλληνισμὸν ἀναγκάζουσι διαλέγεσθαι, ὑποδεικτέον ὅτι ἀσύστατός ἐστιν αὕτη ἡ τέχνη, δεῖ δὲ τοὺς ὀρθῶς βουλομένους διαλέγεσθαι τῇ ἀτέχνῳ καὶ ἀφελεῖ κατὰ τὸν βίον καὶ τῇ κατὰ τὴν κοινὴν τῶν πολλῶν συνήθειαν παρατηρήσει προσανέχειν.

Image result for medieval manuscript grammarian
British Library Royal 16 G V f.

#NANAIHB Round 2, Archer-fest! Odysseus vs. Teucer

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces four heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax, Patroklos, and Diomedes.


Round 2, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Teucer. Ajax’s illegitimate brother gets to face the grandson of Sisyphus after quickly dispatching the braggart Heraklid, Tlepolemos, in the first round. All the smart money is in the tyrant king of Ithaca, but any archer’s got a chance, right?

“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”

φημὶ γὰρ Ὅμηρον πεποιηκέναι ἄριστον μὲν ἄνδρα Ἀχιλλέα τῶν εἰς Τροίαν ἀφικομένων, σοφώτατον δὲ Νέστορα, πολυτροπώτατον δὲ Ὀδυσσέα. #Plato


I know, I know. Laertes’ heroic son killed 108 unarmed suitors with Athena’s help when he got back home. And this is after he watched over the deaths of 12 ships of Kephallanian warriors! The man is a mighty machine of death. For sake of argument, let’s consider what Odysseus actually accomplishes in battle in the Iliad.

Book 1: Takes Chryseis Back to Chryses

Book 2: Gives a big speech, beats Thersites (and any other non-compliant commoner)

Book 3: Gets described by Helen as being like a snow storm when he speaks

Book 4: Agamemnon finds him hanging back from battle

Book 5: He decides between fighting “some Lykian” redshirts or Tlepolemos. He does not fight Tlepolemos (668-678)

Book 7: He does not win the lot to face Hektor

Book 8: He does not stop to help Nestor (8.97)

Book 9: We don’t have time to talk about Odysseus’ shenanigans in book 9

Book 10: He and Odysseus lie to Dolon, kill him, and kill Rhesus and his men in their sleep. Well, he has Diomedes do most of that

Book 11: He gets Diomedes to stay and fight with him

Book 14: He yells at Agamemnon for suggesting running away

Book 19: He tells Achilles that eating is good.

Book 23: He wrestles Ajax to a draw

Odysseus’ reputation is for his cleverness and lies. (He might be a necromancer too.)  He knows how to suffer and he knows how to get revenge. And I am pretty sure he would shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. (Yes, he’s a lot more than that. And, yes, I have a good deal to say about him. But we don’t have that much evidence he’s a great fighter.)

Let’s not forget that Teucer kills nine men in the pace of three lines in book 8 (273-275)! He may only be the second-best Salaminian, but is that nearly as good as being king of an island good mostly for goats.

So, go ahead, cast your vote for Odysseus like you want to, like you need to because he’s already in your head. But, remember, Teucer’s got an archer’s chance. And that’s something even Odysseus should worry about.

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly: For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί #Sophocles

Grumpy and Irritable: An Encyclopedia Entry on Euripides

Suda, s.v. Euripides, Εὐριπίδης, Epsilon 3695

“Euripides was the son of Mnêsarkhos or Mnêsarkhidês and Kleitô, who settled in Boiotia as exiles and then in Attica. It is not true that his mother was a vegetable vendor. For she was actually of real highborn lineage as Philokhoros demonstrates.

His mother became pregnant when Xerxes was crossing the Hellespont and gave birth the day the Greeks routed the Persians. At first, he was a painter and then a student of Prodikos among the orators and Socrates for ethics and philosophy. He also learned from Anaxagoras the Klazomenian. But he tried his hand at tragedy after he observed the dangers Anaxagoras faced because of the beliefs he introduced.

Euripides had a grumpy character and was irritable and avoided people. For this reason, he was also believed to be a misogynist. Still, first he married Mnêsilokhos’ daughter Khoirine. With her he fathered Mnesilokhos and Mnesikhardê as well as little Euripidês. He divorced her and remarried another woman whom he also discovered to be unfaithful

He left Athens and when to the court of Arkhelaos, king of the Macedonians, where he lived enjoying the highest honors. But he died thanks to the plot of Arribaios the Macedonian and Krateuas of Thessaly, two poets who were jealous of him and who used 10 minai to convince one of the king’s servants, Lysimakhos, to set the king’s dogs—animals he had trained himself—on Euripides.

But some people record that he was torn apart at night by women instead of dogs when he was sneaking out for a late night meeting with Krateros, Archelaus’ lover [since he was enamored with him too and had a lot of these kinds of lovers]. But there are those who say he was on his way to meet the wife of Nikodikos of Arethousa.

Euripides lived until he was 75 years old and the king had his bones interred at Pella. He wrote 75 plays—although some claim 92—but there are 77 attributed to him. He was victorious 5 times, 4 while alive and once after his death when his nephew, also named Euripides, staged his play. He staged plays for 22 years in a row and performed his last in the 93rd Olympiad.”

Εὐριπίδης, Μνησάρχου ἢ Μνησαρχίδου καὶ Κλειτοῦς, οἳ φεύγοντες εἰς Βοιωτίαν μετῴκησαν, εἶτα ἐν τῇ Ἀττικῇ. οὐκ ἀληθὲς δέ, ὡς λαχανόπωλις ἦν ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ: καὶ γὰρ τῶν σφόδρα εὐγενῶν ἐτύγχανεν, ὡς ἀποδείκνυσι Φιλόχορος.

ἐν δὲ τῇ διαβάσει Ξέρξου ἐκυοφορεῖτο ὑπὸ τῆς μητρὸς καὶ ἐτέχθη καθ’ ἣν ἡμέραν Ἕλληνες ἐτρέψαντο τοὺς Πέρσας. γέγονε δὲ τὰ πρῶτα ζωγράφος, εἶτα μαθητὴς Προδίκου μὲν ἐν τοῖς ῥητορικοῖς, Σωκράτους δὲ ἐν τοῖς ἠθικοῖς καὶ φιλοσόφοις. διήκουσε δὲ καὶ Ἀναξαγόρου τοῦ Κλαζομενίου.

ἐπὶ τραγῳδίαν δὲ ἐτράπη τὸν Ἀναξαγόραν ἰδὼν ὑποστάντα κινδύνους δι’ ἅπερ εἰσῆξε δόγματα. σκυθρωπὸς δὲ ἦν τὸ ἦθος καὶ ἀμειδὴς καὶ φεύγων τὰς συνουσίας: ὅθεν καὶ μισογύνης ἐδοξάσθη. ἔγημε δὲ ὅμως πρώτην μὲν Χοιρίνην, θυγατέρα Μνησιλόχου: ἐξ ἧς ἔσχε Μνησίλοχον καὶ Μνησαρχίδην καὶ Εὐριπίδην. ἀπωσάμενος δὲ ταύτην ἔσχε καὶ δευτέραν, καὶ ταύτης ὁμοίως ἀκολάστου πειραθείς. ἀπάρας δὲ ἀπ’ Ἀθηνῶν ἦλθε πρὸς Ἀρχέλαον τὸν βασιλέα τῶν Μακεδόνων, παρ’ ᾧ διῆγε τῆς ἄκρας ἀπολαύων τιμῆς.

ἐτελεύτησε δὲ ὑπὸ ἐπιβουλῆς Ἀρριβαίου τοῦ Μακεδόνος καὶ Κρατεύα τοῦ Θετταλοῦ, ποιητῶν ὄντων καὶ φθονησάντων αὐτῷ πεισάντων τε τὸν βασιλέως οἰκέτην τοὔνομα Λυσίμαχον, δέκα μνῶν ἀγορασθέντα, τοὺς βασιλέως, οὓς αὐτὸς ἔτρεφε, κύνας ἐπαφεῖναι αὐτῷ. οἱ δὲ ἱστόρησαν οὐχ ὑπὸ κυνῶν, ἀλλ’ ὑπὸ γυναικῶν νύκτωρ διασπασθῆναι, πορευόμενον ἀωρὶ πρὸς Κρατερὸν τὸν ἐρώμενον Ἀρχελάου [καὶ γὰρ σχεῖν αὐτὸν καὶ περὶ τοὺς τοιούτους ἔρωτας], οἱ δέ, πρὸς τὴν γαμετὴν Νικοδίκου τοῦ Ἀρεθουσίου. ἔτη δὲ βιῶναι αὐτὸν οε#, καὶ τὰ ὀστᾶ αὐτοῦ ἐν Πέλλῃ μετακομίσαι τὸν βασιλέα. δράματα δὲ αὐτοῦ κατὰ μέν τινας οε#, κατὰ δὲ ἄλλους #4β#: σῴζονται δὲ οζ#. νίκας δὲ ἀνείλετο ε#, τὰς μὲν δ# περιών, τὴν δὲ μίαν μετὰ τὴν τελευτήν, ἐπιδειξαμένου τὸ δρᾶμα τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ Εὐριπίδου. ἐπεδείξατο δὲ ὅλους ἐνιαυτοὺς κβ#, καὶ τελευτᾷ ἐπὶ τῆς #4γ# Ὀλυμπιάδος.

File:Euripides Statue.jpg

The Cyclops Had Three Eyes and They Were His Brothers

John Malalas, Chronographia, V

“The wise Euripides put in his poetic drama about the Cyclops that he had three eyes, indicating by this that he had three brothers and that they cared for one another and kept a watchful eye on one another’s places in the island, fought together, and avenged one another.

And he also adds that he made the Cyclops drunk and unable to flee, because Odysseus made that very Cyclops “drunk” with a ton of money and gifts so he would not “eat those with him up”, which is not actually to consume them with slaughter.

He also says that Odysseus blinded his one eye with torch fire, really meaning that he stole away the only daughter of Polyphemos’ brother, a maiden named Elpê, with “fire”, which means he seized her on fire with burning lust. This is what it means that he burned Polyphemos in one of his eyes, he really deprived him of his daughter. The very wise Pheidias of Corinth provided this interpretation saying that Euripides explained this poetically because he did not agree with what the wisest Homer said about the wandering of Odysseus.”

ὁ γὰρ σοφὸς Εὐριπίδης <ποιητικῶς> δρᾶμα ἐξέθετο περὶ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι τρεῖς ἔσχεν ὀφθαλμούς, σημαίνων τοὺς τρεῖς ἀδελφοὺς (50 F 2) ὡς συμπαθοῦντας ἀλλήλοις καὶ διαβλεπομένους τοὺς ἀλλήλων τόπους τῆς νήσου καὶ συμμαχοῦντας καὶ ἐκδικοῦντας ἀλλήλους. (2) καὶ ὅτι οἴνωι μεθύσας τὸν Κύκλωπα ἐκφυγεῖν ἠδυνήθη, διότι χρήμασι πολλοῖς καὶ δώροις ἐμέθυσε τὸν αὐτὸν Κύκλωπα ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς πρὸς τὸ μὴ κατεσθίειν τοὺς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ, <τουτέστι μὴ καταναλίσκειν σφαγαῖς>. (3) καὶ ὅτι λαβὼν ᾽Οδυσσεὺς λαμπάδα πυρὸς ἐτύφλωσε τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν ἕνα, διὁτι τὴν θυγατέρα τὴν μονογενῆ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ Πολυφήμου ῎Ελπην, παρθένον οὖσαν, λαμπάδι, πυρὸς ἐρωτικοῦ καυθεῖσαν ἥρπασε, τουτέστιν ἕνα τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν τοῦ Κύκλωπος ἐφλόγισε τὸν Πολύφημον τὴν αὐτοῦ θυγατέρα ἀφελόμενος. (4) ἥντινα ἑρμηνείαν ὁ σοφώτατος Φειδίας(?) ὁ Κορίνθιος ἐξέθετο, εἰρηκὼς ὅτι ὁ σοφὸς Εὐριπίδης ποιητικῶς πάντα μετέφρασε, μὴ συμφωνήσας τῶι σοφωτάτωι ῾Ομήρωι ἐκθεμένωι τὴν ᾽Οδυσσέως πλάνην.

Ok, this story might be totally nuts, but there was a scholiastic debate about how many eyes Polyphemos had.

Get Ready for the #NANAIHB Elite Eight

This is the final day of round 1 of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans. 

“Achilles would not have had long hair if Thersites had not been bald.”

καὶ οὐκ ἂν ἦν Ἀχιλλεὺς κομήτης εἰ μὴ φαλακρὸς Θερσίτης. #Plutarch

The Achaean camp assembled with a buzz for the best match-up of round 1. Standing in one corner was the Lokrian speedster, a man known for his fast spear and his scatological mouth. In the other? The ugly scourge of leaders and kings, the wild son of Agrios, the sharp-tongued, fast witted Thersites. Bold words, fast feet–who wins?

As the two faced off, all were surprised by Thersites’ silence. The bent-over figure stood with his shield raised and two spears in the ground, his hand on his sword hilt. The Lokrian runner shouted, “Aitolian, bold-of-speech with a sparrow’s heart / where are your taunts now when you said you’d put your sword right into my belly? / I’m hungry for murder and no man or god alive will keep me from you”. As he said his last words he ran forward, releasing one spear, then another.

The first spear hit Thersites’ shield on the left side, drawing him to that side as the second spear landed into his exposed right thigh. As the crowd gasped, Thersites stood motionless and everyone was shocked when they realized Ajax the lesser was sprawled out near Thersites’ feet. He tripped and no one could see how he fell. Their gaze turned quickly to Thersites, calmly lowering his blade into the fallen man’s spine.

Uncharacteristically, Thersites said little as he drew his sword, and turned away with only the shadow of a grin on his face. Only Diomedes noticed Odysseus backing away from the contest ground, obscuring the print of his foot where the Lokrian had lost his way. Gazing at Odysseus, Diomedes said to Thersites, “Be bold and sit down*–you need to rest up to fight me next”

*θαρσέων καθίζευ, a play on Thersites’ name.



Recap the Action!

Day 6: Thersites evades Oilean Ajax

Day 5: Antilokhos defeats Thoas

Day 4: Patroklos annihilates Makhaon

Day 3: Ajax crushes Meriones

Day 2: Idomeneus bruises Sthenelos

Day 1: Teucer silences Tlepolemos

Bruni: “Theologians Today Are Illiterate Blockheads”

Leonardo Bruni de studiis et litteris II

“By ‘erudition,’ I do not mean that common, confused sort of learning, which theologians now profess, but a real and liberal understanding, which joins experience in literature with knowledge of the world. This is the sort of learning which we find in Lactantius, Augustine, and Jerome – to be sure, the best theologians, and the men of the highest literary attainment. But now, we should be ashamed at how little the theologians of today know of literature.”

“Angel Appearing to St. Jerome” by Guido Reni

Eruditionem autem intelligo non vulgarem istam et perturbatam, quali utuntur ii qui nunc theologiam profitentur, sed legitimam illam et ingenuam, quae litterarum peritiam cum rerum scientia coniungit; qualis in Lactantio Firmiano, qualis in Aurelio Augustino, qualis in Hieronymo fuit, summis profecto theologis ac perfectis in litteris viris. Nunc vero, qui eam scientiam profitentur, pudendum est quam parum persciant litterarum.

Cicero, I Used to Believe in You!

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 24.3:

Francesco Petrarch sends greetings to his own Cicero

It was with the utmost avidity that I read through your letters, ‘sought for long and hard’, and found where I had hardly suspected to find them. I heard you saying many things, deploring many things, altering many things, Marcus Cicero, and I who had long ago known what a teacher you had been to others now at last recognized what you were to yourself. In turn, hear this – it’s not advice, but a lament, stemming from sincere affection. Wherever you are, hear what one of your posterity, one who loves your name most dearly, poured forth not without tears.

O, you who were always ill at ease and anxious, or – in your own words – ‘o rash and calamitous old man’, what did you want from so many contests and quarrels which were to do you no good? Where did you leave behind the leisure so suited to your age, your profession, and your fortune? What false splendor of glory wrapped you, an old man, up in the wars of the young and snatched you off, tossed about through all kinds of misfortunes, to a death unbecoming a philosopher?

Alas! So unmindful of your brother’s counsel and your own salutary precepts, bearing a lantern in the shadows like a nighttime wanderer, you showed your persecutors the footpath on which you miserably fell. I omit Dionysius, I omit your brother and grandson, I even omit Dolabella himself if I may, whom you now bear to the sky with your praise and now lacerate with your sudden curses; perhaps even these things were tolerable. I will even skip over Julius Caesar, whose well-known clemency was itself a harbor for your harassers. I even remain silent of Pompey the Great, with whom you seemed to be able to engage in some little bit of familiarity. It must have been your love of the republic, which you used to say had collapsed to its foundations. Because if pure faith, if liberty drew you on, why were you on such chummy terms with Augustus? What will you say to your Brutus? ‘If indeed’, he says, ‘Octavius meets your approval, you will not seem to have fled a master but to have sought a more friendly lord.’ This remained, and this was the last horror, unlucky Cicero, that you would badmouth this man who was so praised, and who, while he may not have done you ill, certainly did not stand in the way of those who did you ill. I mourn your fate, my friend, and I regret and lament your errors, and now with that same Brutus, ‘I attribute nothing to these arts, in which I know that you had been instructed.’ Indeed, what good does it do to teach others, or what good is it to go around talking all the time about virtue in the most ornate speeches, if at that same time you don’t even hear yourself? Ah, how much better it would have been especially for a philosopher to have grown old in a quiet country home, ‘thinking’, as you yourself write in some place, ‘about that eternal life, and not this little one which we have here.’ How much better to have had no fasces, not to have stood open-mouthed at triumphs, not to have had any Catilines to puff your mind up. But all of this is in vain. Farewell forever, my Cicero.

Petrarch - Wikipedia

[1] Franciscus Ciceroni suo salutem. Epystolas tuas “diu multumque perquisitas” atque ubi minime rebar inventas, avidissime perlegi. Audivi multa te dicentem, multa deplorantem, multa variantem, Marce Tulli, et qui iampridem qualis preceptor aliis fuisses noveram, nunc tandem quis tu tibi esses agnovi. Unum hoc vicissim a vera caritate profectum non iam consilium sed lamentum audi, ubicunque es, quod unus posterorum, tui nominis amantissimus, non sine lacrimis fundit. [2] O inquiete semper atque anxie, vel ut verba tua recognoscas, “o preceps et calamitose senex”, quid tibi tot contentionibus et prorsum nichil profuturis simultatibus voluisti? Ubi et etati et professioni et fortune tue conveniens otium reliquisti? Quis te falsus glorie splendor senem adolescentium bellis implicuit et per omnes iactatum casus ad indignam philosopho mortem rapuit?


[3] Heu et fraterni consilii immemor et tuorum tot salubrium preceptorum, ceu nocturnus viator lumen in tenebris gestans, ostendisti secuturis callem, in quo ipse satis miserabiliter lapsus es. Omitto Dyonisium, [4] omitto fratrem tuum ac nepotem, omitto, si placet, ipsum etiam Dolabellam, quos nunc laudibus ad celum effers, nunc repentinis malidictis laceras: fuerint hec tolerabilia fortassis. Iulium quoque Cesarem pretervehor, cuius spectata clementia ipsa lacessentibus portus erat; Magnum preterea Pompeium sileo, cum quo iure quodam familiaritatis quidlibet posse videbare. Sed quis te furor in Antonium impegit? [5] Amor credo reipublice, quam funditus iam corruisse fatebaris. Quodsi pura fides, si libertas te trahebat, quid tibi tam familiare cum Augusto? Quid enim Bruto tuo responsurus es? «Siquidem» inquit, «Octavius tibi placet, non dominum fugisse sed amiciorem dominum quesisse videberis». [6] Hoc restabat, infelix, et hoc erat extremum, Cicero, ut huic ipsi tam laudato malidiceres, qui tibi non dicam malifaceret, sed malifacientibus non obstaret. Doleo vicem tuam, amice, et errorum pudet ac miseret, iamque cum eodem Bruto «his artibus nichil tribuo, quibus te instructissimum fuisse scio». Nimirum quid enim iuvat alios docere, quid ornatissimis verbis semper de virtutibus loqui prodest, si te interim ipse non audias? [7] Ah quanto satius fuerat philosopho presertim in tranquillo rure senuisse, de “perpetua illa”, ut ipse quodam scribis loco, “non de hac iam exigua vita cogitantem”, nullos habuisse fasces, nullis triumphis inhiasse, nullos inflasse tibi animum Catilinas. Sed hec quidem frustra. Eternum vale, mi Cicero.

What Binds Uncertain Minds

Lucan, Pharsalia 5.249-259

“Caesar did not learn better in any other struggle
How he looked down from an unstable, shaky precipice
And that even the ground he stood on was trembling.

Undone by so many hands cut down, left only
His own sword, this man who forced so many peoples to war
He understood that the drawn sword is the soldier’s not the general’s.

The murmur was no longer timid, no more was anger
Hidden in the heart: for what binds together uncertain minds,
That each person fears the others he causes terror
And everyone thinks that they alone are oppressed by injustice,
Was no longer a cause to restrain people.”

Haud magis expertus discrimine Caesar in ullo est,
Quam non e stabili tremulo sed culmine cuncta
Despiceret staretque super titubantia fultus.
Tot raptis truncus manibus gladioque relictus
Paene suo, qui tot gentes in bella trahebat,
Scit non esse ducis strictos sed militis enses.
Non pavidum iam murmur erat, nec pectore tecto
Ira latens; nam quae dubias constringere mentes
Causa solet, dum quisque pavet, quibus ipse timori est,
Seque putat solum regnorum iniusta gravari,
Haud retinet.

Julius Caesar on Horseback, Writing and Dictating Simultaneously to His Scribes. Painted by artist Jaques de Gheyn II (1565–1629).

Pliny on the Utility of Gossip

Pliny, Epistle 18 to Fadius Rufinus 12

“You now have all the city’s rumors: for all our gossip is Tullus. His estate sale is hotly anticipated. For he had so much that on that day when he purchased the largest gardens he also filled them with the most and most ancient statues. These were works of finest beauty in which he had forgotten!

If you have any news you think is worthy of sharing, don’t keep it from me. For human ears are always pleased by news, and we use these examples to learn the art of living. Farewell.”

Habes omnes fabulas urbis; nam sunt omnes fabulae Tullus. Exspectatur auctio: fuit enim tam copiosus, ut amplissimos hortos eodem quo emerat die instruxerit plurimis et antiquissimis statuis; tantum illi pulcherrimorum operum in horreis quae neglegebat. Invicem tu, si quid istic epistula dignum, ne gravare. Nam cum aures hominum novitate laetantur, tum ad rationem vitae exemplis erudimur. Vale.

BL MS Royal 6 E VII


#NANAIHB Day 6: Thersites vs. Oilean Ajax

This is the 6th day of the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket tournament to once and for all establish the second best of the Achaeans. 

What turned out to be the closest contest of this tournament of favorites drew some strong interest from the crowd. Odysseus gave the Aitolian Thoas some advice as he prepared to face Antilokhos who could not seem to get away from his father Nestor. Indeed, the match itself was almost called off as that old Gerenian horseman could be heard extolling the importance of deep breaths and visualizing success to his youngest son.

AvTh poll

Once he broke away from his father, he rushed straight at Thoas, dodging the first spear only to the second spear break straight through his shield and graze his thigh. The wound was minor, but Antilokhos slipped and fell on the ground, breaking his shield. For a moment, it looked like Antilokhos’ speed was nullified and in the stunned silence you could hear Achilles grumbling about how he should change his name to Antilakhos* since luck wasn’t on his side.

But as Thoas turned, dropped his shield and drew his sword, Antilokhos rolled quickly to his left where Thoas’ first spear had been deflected, and pulled it up just as Andraimon’s son tried to bring his sword down on him. Result? Aitolian with dislocated shoulder, and shredded muscles around the joint.

*lokhos means “ambush”, lakhos means “lot”.


This just might be the juiciest match-up of the first round. Indeed, there’s no way we’ll find another meeting of two potential wrestling heels: Thersites, a man so hated he unites Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus, and Ajax, son of Oileus, the Lokrian Homer sees fit to cover in cow-shit.

NANAIHB Day 6a (3)

Thersites, from Aitolia is the son of Agrios who was the brother of Oineus, the king of Aitolia. If you’re keeping track, that makes him a kinsman of sorts with both Thoas and Diomedes. He does not show up in the catalogue of ships and we never actually see him fight. But we do hear a bit about him. Homer doesn’t describe many of the heroes physically, but Thersites gets six lines (2.216-221):

And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was misshaped, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them.

….αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε·

Modern scholars have written a lot about him too! Just because he’s most shameful does not mean he can’t be the second best too, does it? (The T scholion for this line helpfully notes: “most shameful: this is also said of an ape.” αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου). The scholia report that Thersites fell off a cliff running from a boar and so his name—meaning “bold, audacious” might just be a joke. But in the criticisms he makes, another scholion also claims they say that [Thersites] is the poet’s agent, that he appropriates his essence ”Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι: ἐπίτροπον τοῦ ποιητοῦ φασιν αὐτόν, σφετερισάμενον τὴν οὐσίαν. Because, Thersites may look scarier, but it is more frightening when you speak the Truth.
Ajax, the lesser: The son of Oileus. Also called Lokrian Ajax. Another hero Homer spends time describing physically:

“The fast son of Oileus was leading the Lokrians
Smaller, not in any way as big as Telamonian Ajax
But much smaler. He was small and wore linen armor.
But he surpassed All the Greeks and the Achaeans in spear-play.”

Λοκρῶν δ’ ἡγεμόνευεν ᾿Οϊλῆος ταχὺς Αἴας
μείων, οὔ τι τόσος γε ὅσος Τελαμώνιος Αἴας
ἀλλὰ πολὺ μείων· ὀλίγος μὲν ἔην λινοθώρηξ,
ἐγχείῃ δ’ ἐκέκαστο Πανέλληνας καὶ ᾿Αχαιούς·

So, the narrative takes pains to emphasize his smallness and his swiftness, but his character emerges elsewhere. He participates in the battles well and kills the “most” men at the end of book 13 thanks to his swiftness. But he argues nastily with Idomeneus during the chariot games, receiving in turn the address “Ajax, best at the quarrel, shit-for-brains…” (Αἶαν νεῖκος ἄριστε κακοφραδὲς…23.483.” And when he competes in the footrace, he slips in cow manure and falls in a pile of it (thanks to Athena). Of course, the assembled Greeks look on and laugh as he spits the shit from his mouth (23.780-784). Ajax is, of course, most famous for raping Kassandra on the altar of Athena and helping to derail the homecoming of the Achaeans. So, not a good guy.

So what’s the choice here? A bold-talker with no fighting history or a fast-running, linen-covered, creep-fest? And, to be honest, how much does it matter? The prize for this context is to get crushed by Diomedes.