An Ancient Greek Horror Story to Make You Scream

This might be the most disturbing thing I have read all summer. When I was reading the Greek for the final sentence below, I actually uttered “what the f*ck” aloud. Go here for the second part.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 2 (Part 1)

Hieron the Alexandrian or Ephesian tells of the following wonder which occurred in Aitolia.

There was a certain citizen, Polykritos, who was voted Aitolian arkhon by the people. His fellow citizens considered him worthy for three years because of the nobility of his forebears. During the time he was in that office, he married a Lokrian woman. After he shared a bed with her for three nights, he died on the fourth.

The woman remained in their home widowed. When she gave birth, she had a child who had two sets of genitals, both male and female, which was alarmingly different from nature. The parts up top were completely rough and masculine and those near the thighs were feminine and softer.

Awestruck by this, her relatives forced the child to the agora and held an assembly to take advice about this, calling together the omen readers and interpreters. Some were claiming that this meant there would be dissent between Aitolians and Lokrians, since the mother was Lokrian and the father was Aitolian. But others believed that it was necessary to take the child and mother to the frontier and have them burned.

While the people were deliberating, suddenly the dead Polykritos appeared in the assembly dressed in black near his child. Even though the citizens were thunderstruck by this apparition and many of them were rushing to flight, he asked the citizens to be brave and not to be rattled by the sight which appeared. Then a bit of the chaos and the uproar receded, and he said these things in a slight voice:

“My fellow citizens, although I am dead in my body, I live among you in goodwill and thanks. And now I am present imploring those people who have power of this land to your collective benefit. I advise you who are citizens not to be troubled or angry at the impossible miracle which has happened. And I ask all of you, vouching for the safety of each, is to give me the child who was born from me so that no violence may come from those who make some different kind of plans and that there may be no beginning of malicious and hard affairs because of a conflict on my part.

It would not be possible for me to overlook the burning of my child thanks to the shock of these interpreters who are advising you. I do have some pity, because you are at a loss when you see this kind of unexpected sight as to how you might respond to it correctly for current events. If you assent to me without fear, you will be relieved of the present anxieties and of the evils to come. But if you fall prey to another opinion, then I have fear for you that you will come into some incurable sufferings because you did not trust me.

Therefore, because of the goodwill I experienced while I was alive and the unexpectedness of the current situation, I am predicting the suffering to you. I think it is right that you do not delay any longer but that, once you deliberate correcly and obey the things I have said, you should hand over the child to me with a blessing. It is not fitting for me to waste any more time because of the men who rule this land.”

After he said these things, he kept quiet for a bit as he awaited what kind of decision there would be once they deliberated about it. Some were thinking it was right to give him the child and consider the sight sacred and the influence of a deity; but most of them denied this, claiming that it was necessary to deliberate in a calmer atmopshere when they were not at so great a loss, because the affair was a big deal.

When he saw that they were not moving in his favor but were actually impeding the decision there, he spoke these things in turn: “Fellow Citizens. If something more terrible happens to you because of a lack of decision, do not blame me, but this fate which directs you to something worse—it sets you in opposition to me and compels me to transgress against my child.”

When the mob ran together in strife over surrendering the monster, he reached for the child and and grabbed most of it up boldly before butchering and eating the child.

῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ καὶ ῾Ιέρων ὁ ᾿Αλεξανδρεὺς ἢ ᾿Εφέσιος καὶ ἐν Αἰτωλίᾳ φάσμα γενέσθαι. Πολύκριτος γάρ τις τῶν πολιτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου Αἰτωλάρχης, ἐπὶ τρία ἔτη τῶν πολιτῶν αὐτὸν ἀξιωσάντων διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν ἐκ προγόνων καλοκαγαθίαν. ὢν δὲ ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ ταύτῃ ἄγεται γυναῖκα Λοκρίδα, καὶ συγκοιμηθεὶς τρισὶν νυξὶ τῇ τετάρτῃ τὸν βίον ἐξέλιπεν.

ἡ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἔμενεν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ χηρεύουσα, ἡνίκα δὲ ὁ τοκετὸς ἤπειγεν, τίκτει παιδίον αἰδοῖα ἔχον δύο, ἀνδρεῖόν τε καὶ γυναικεῖον, καὶ τὴν φύσιν θαυμαστῶς διηλλαγ-μένον· τὰ μὲν ἄνω τοῦ αἰδοίου ὅλως σκληρά τε καὶ ἀνδρώδη ἦν, τὰ δὲ περὶ τοὺς μηροὺς γυναικεῖα καὶ ἁπαλώτερα. ἐφ’ ᾧ καταπλαγέντες οἱ συγγενεῖς ἀπήνεγκαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν τὸ παιδίον καὶ συναγαγόντες ἐκκλησίαν ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ αὐτοῦ, θύτας τε καὶ τερατοσκόπους συγκαλέσαντες. τῶν δὲ οἱ μὲν ἀπεφήναντο διάστασίν τινα τῶν Αἰτωλῶν καὶ Λοκρῶν ἔσεσθαι—κεχωρίσθαι γὰρ ἀπὸ μητρὸς οὔσης Λοκρί-δος καὶ πατρὸς Αἰτωλοῦ—οἱ δὲ δεῖν ᾤοντο τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἀπενέγκοντας εἰς τὴν ὑπερορίαν κατακαῦσαι. ταῦτα δὲ αὐτῶν βουλευομένων ἐξαίφνης φαίνεται ὁ Πολύκριτος ὁ προτεθνηκὼς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πλησίον τοῦ τέκνου ἔχων ἐσθῆτα μέλαιναν.

τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν καταπλαγέντων ἐπὶ τῇ φαντασίᾳ καὶ πολλῶν εἰς φυγὴν τραπομένων παρεκάλεσε τοὺς πολίτας θαρρεῖν καὶ μὴ ταράττεσθαι ἐπὶ τῷ γεγονότι φάσματι. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔληξε τὸ πλέον τοῦ θορύβου καὶ τῆς ταραχῆς, ἐφθέγξατο λεπτῇ τῇ φωνῇ τάδε· «ἐγὼ, ἄνδρες πολῖται, τῷ μὲν σώματι τέθνηκα, τῇ δὲ εὐνοίᾳ καὶ τῇ χάριτι <τῇ> πρὸς ὑμᾶς ζῶ. καὶ νῦν πάρειμι <ὑμῖν> παραιτησάμενος τοὺς κυριεύοντας τῶν κατὰ γῆν ἐπὶ τῷ συμφέροντι τῷ ὑμετέρῳ. παρακαλῶ τοίνυν ὑμᾶς πολίτας ὄντας ἐμαυτοῦ μὴ ταράττεσθαι μηδὲ δυσχεραί-νειν ἐπὶ τῷ παραδόξῳ γεγονότι φάσματι. δέομαι δὲ ὑμῶν ἁπάντων, κατευχόμενος πρὸς τῆς ἐκάστου σωτηρίας, ἀποδοῦναί μοι τὸ παιδίον τὸ ἐξ ἐμοῦ γεγεννημένον, ὅπως μηδὲν βίαιον γένηται ἄλλο τι βουλευσαμένων ὑμῶν, μηδ’ ἀρχὴ πραγμάτων δυσχερῶν καὶ χαλεπῶν διὰ τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ φιλονεικίαν ὑμῖν γένηται. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι περιιδεῖν κατακαυθὲν τὸ παιδίον ὑφ’ ὑμῶν διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐξαγγελλόντων ὑμῖν μάντεων ἀποπληξίαν. συγγνώμην μὲν οὖν ὑμῖν ἔχω, ὅτι τοιαύτην ὄψιν ἀπροσδόκητον ἑωρακότες ἀπορεῖτε πῶς ποτε τοῖς παροῦσι πράγμασιν ὀρθῶς χρήσεσθε. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐμοὶ πεισθήσεσθε ἀδεῶς, τῶν παρόντων φόβων καὶ τῶν ἐπερχομένων κακῶν ἔσεσθε ἀπηλλαγμένοι. εἰ δὲ ἄλλως πως τῇ γνώμῃ προσπεσεῖσθε, φοβοῦμαι περὶ ὑμῶν μήποτε εἰς ἀνηκέστους συμφορὰς ἀπειθοῦντες ἡμῖν ἐμπέσητε. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὔνοιαν ὅτ’ ἔζων καὶ νῦν ἀπροσδοκήτως παρὼν προείρηκα τὸ συμφέρον ὑμῖν. ταῦτ’ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἀξιῶ μὴ πλείω με χρόνον παρέλκειν, ἀλλὰ βουλευσαμένους ὀρθῶς καὶ πεισθέντας τοῖς εἰρημένοις ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ δοῦναί μοι μετ’ εὐφημίας τὸ παιδίον. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι πλείονα μηκύνειν χρόνον διὰ τοὺς κατὰγῆν ὑπάρχοντας δεσπότας.»

ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἡσυχίαν ἔσχεν ἐπ’ ὀλίγον, καραδοκῶν ποίαν ποτὲ ἐξοίσουσιν αὐτῷ γνώμην περὶ τῶν ἀξιουμένων. τινὲς μὲν οὗν ᾤοντο δεῖν ἀποδοῦναι τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἀφοσιώσασθαι τό τε φάσμα καὶ τὸν ἐπιστάντα δαίμονα, οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι ἀντέλεγον, μετὰ ἀνέσεως δεῖν βουλεύσασθαι φάσκοντες, ὡς ὄντος μεγάλου τοῦ πράγματος καὶ οὐ τῆς τυχούσης αὐτοῖς ἀπορίας. συνιδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς οὐ προσέχοντας, ἀλλ’ ἐμποδίζοντας αὐτοῦ τὴν βούλησιν, ἐφθέγξατο αὖθις τάδε· «ἀλλ’ οὖν γε, ὦ ἄνδρες πολῖται, ἐὰν ὑμῖν συμβαίνῃ τι τῶν δυσχερεστέρων διὰ τὴν ἀβουλίαν, μὴ ἐμὲ αἰτιᾶσθε, ἀλλὰ τὴν τύχην τὴν οὕτως ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ὑμᾶς ποδηγοῦσαν, ἥτις ἐναντιουμένη κἀμοὶ παρανομεῖν ἀναγκάζει με εἰς τὸ ἴδιον τέκνον.»

τοῦ δὲ ὄχλου συνδραμόντος καὶ ἔριν περὶ [τὴν ἄρσιν] τοῦ τέρατος ἔχοντος, ἐπιλαβόμενος τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τοὺς πλείστους αὐτῶν ἀνείρξας ἰταμώτερον διέσπασέ τε αὐτὸ καὶ ἤσθιε.

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)
Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

Four Years of Precious Memory: Children, Afraid of Masks

Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus 3.22

“Look at the children who are scared of masks….”

ζήτει τὰ παιδία· ἐκείνοις τὰ προσωπεῖα φοβερά ἐστιν…

Plutarch, Moralia (On Exile) 300 D

“If we truly encounter some pain and grief, we need to force cheer and ease from the good things we have left to us, smoothing away everything from the outside with our inner strength.

But for those things whose nature bears no evil, but whose pain is completely and simply fashioned from empty opinion, we need to behave as with children who fear masks, putting them into their hands and turning them over, training them not to think too much of them. In this way, by touching things and submitting them to reason, we can uncover their weakness, their emptiness, and their histrionic facade.”

Διὸ κἂν ἀληθῶς κακῷ τινι καὶ λυπηρῷ περιπέσωμεν, ἐπάγεσθαι δεῖ τὸ ἱλαρὸν καὶ τὸ εὔθυμον ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων καὶ ὑπολειπομένων ἀγαθῶν, τῷ οἰκείῳ τὸ ἀλλότριον ἐκλεαίνοντας· ὧν δὲ ἡ φύσις οὐδὲν ἔχει κακόν, ἀλλὰ ὅλον καὶ πᾶν τὸ λυποῦν ἐκ κενῆς δόξης ἀναπέπλασται, ταῦτα δεῖ, καθάπερ τοῖς δεδοικόσι τὰ προσωπεῖα παιδίοις ἐγγὺς καὶ ὑπὸ χεῖρα ποιοῦντες καὶ ἀναστρέφοντες ἐθίζομεν καταφρονεῖν, οὕτως ἐγγὺς ἁπτομένους καὶ συνερείδοντας τὸν λογισμόν, τὸ σαθρὸν καὶ τὸ κενὸν καὶ τετραγῳδημένον ἀποκαλύπτειν.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto to Antoninus Augustus Ambr. 390 17

“Aesopus the tragedian reportedly never put a mask on his face until he had looked at it for awhile from the other side so that he might change his gestures and alter his voice in line with the appearance of the mask.”

Tragicus Aesopus fertur non prius ullam suo induisse capiti personam, antequam diu ex adverso contemplaret, ut pro personae voltu gestum sibi capessere ac vocem <adsimulare posset>

Diogenes Laertius, Ariston 160

“[He compared] the wise man to a good actor who could take up the role of both Thersites and Agamemnon and play either appropriately

εἶναι γὰρ ὅμοιον τὸν σοφὸν τῷ ἀγαθῷ ὑποκριτῇ, ὃς ἄν τε Θερσίτου ἄν τε Ἀγαμέμνονος πρόσωπον ἀναλάβῃ, ἑκάτερον ὑποκρίνεται προσηκόντως.

Epictetus, Discourses 1.29

“There will soon be a time when the tragic actors will believe that their masks and costumes are their real selves. You have these things as material and a plot. Say something so we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a comedian. For they have the rest of their material in common [apart from the words]. If one, then, should deprive the actor of his buskins and his masks and introduce him to the stage as only a ghost, has the actor been lost or does he remain? If he has a voice, he remains.”

ἔσται χρόνος τάχα, ἐν ᾧ οἱ τραγῳδοὶ οἰήσονται ἑαυτοὺς εἶναι προσωπεῖα καὶ ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ σύρμα. ἄνθρωπε, ταῦτα ὕλην ἔχεις καὶ ὑπόθεσιν. φθέγξαι τι, ἵνα εἰδῶμεν πότερον τραγῳδὸς εἶ ἢ γελωτοποιός· κοινὰ γὰρ ἔχουσι τὰ ἄλλα ἀμφότεροι. διὰ τοῦτο ἂν ἀφέλῃ τις αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ προσωπεῖον καὶ ἐν εἰδώλῳ αὐτὸν προαγάγῃ, ἀπώλετο ὁ τραγῳδὸς ἢ μένει; ἂν φωνὴν ἔχῃ, μένει.

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 17

“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, whatever kind the playwright desires. If he wishes it to be short, it is short. If he wants it to be long, it is long.

If he wants you to act as a beggar, act even that part seriously. And the same if you are a cripple, a ruler, or a fool. This is your role: to play well the part you were given. It is another’s duty to choose.”

Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὑποκριτὴς εἶ δράματος, οἵου ἂν θέλῃ ὁ διδάσκαλος· ἂν βραχύ, βραχέος· ἂν μακρόν, μακροῦ· ἂν πτωχὸν ὑποκρίνασθαί σε θέλῃ, ἵνα καὶ τοῦτον εὐφυῶς ὑποκρίνῃ· ἂν χωλόν, ἂν ἄρχοντα, ἂν ἰδιώτην. σὸν γὰρ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστι, τὸ δοθὲν ὑποκρίνασθαι πρόσωπον καλῶς· ἐκλέξασθαι δ᾿ αὐτὸ ἄλλου.

Teles the Philosopher, On Self-Sufficiency (Hense, 5)

“Just as a good actor will carry off well whatever role the poet assigns him, so too a good person should manage well whatever chance allots. For chance, as Biôn says, just like poetry, assigns the role of the first speaker and the second speaker, now a king and then a vagabond. Don’t long to be the second speaker when you have the role of the first. Otherwise, you will create disharmony.”

Δεῖ ὥσπερ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ὑποκριτὴν ὅ τι ἂν ὁ ποιητὴς περιθῇ πρόσωπον τοῦτο ἀγωνίζεσθαι καλῶς, οὕτω καὶ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα ὅ τι ἂν περιθῇ ἡ τύχη. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη, φησὶν ὁ Βίων, ὥσπερ ποιήτρια, ὁτὲ μὲν πρωτολόγου, ὁτὲ δὲ δευτερολόγου περιτίθησι πρόσωπον, καὶ ὁτὲ μὲν βασιλέως, ὁτὲ δὲ ἀλήτου. μὴ οὖν βούλου δευτερολόγος ὢν τὸ πρωτολόγου πρόσωπον· εἰ δὲ μή,  ἀνάρμοστόν τι ποιήσεις.

File:Ancient Greek theatrical mask of Zeus, replica (8380375983).jpg
replica of Theatrical Mask of Zeus

The Fox and the Tragic Mask, Phaedrus 1.7

By chance a fox had seen a tragic mask:
What a sight, he has no brains inside!–he gasped.
To whomever fortune grants honor and glory,
It deprives of common sense, as in this story.


Personam tragicam forte vulpes viderat:
O quanta species, inquit, cerebrum non habet!
Hoc illis dictum est, quibus honorem et gloriam
Fortuna tribuit, sensum communem abstulit.

A Vote Against Pericles is a Vote Against Plague

N.B. I saw a few threads from the amazing Flint Dibble earlier in the year and invited him to put them together here. Just in time for an epidemic spike, he delivered! – Joel

There are lessons to be learned from the failed leadership of Pericles during the plague of Athens in 430 B.C.E. Despite his popularity and great deeds, his mismanagement of the plague and the resulting misery inflicted on the Athenian people led to him losing his election the following year and losing his leading role in the city.

While the situations are very different, there is value in looking to the past to help contextualize our present. Given the unique nature of our own historical moment, this is a key test for the old adage that history repeats for those who don’t learn from it.

Bust of Pericles. Picture credit: Jastrow

The disease first struck in the summer of the second year of the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta. It ravaged the Athenians as their entire population was crowded in the besieged city. The specific disease is still debated by scholars, but we know it caused fever, blisters, and sores. Due to the histories of Thucydides (and despite the risk of being infected with Thucyd-431), we have a reasonably detailed record of these events from 2500 years ago (all translations from Mynott 2013). 

Thucydides’ eyewitness narrative includes a personal appeal: 

I will say what it was like as it happened and will describe facts that would enable anyone investigating any future outbreak to have some prior knowledge and recognize it. I speak as someone who had the disease myself and witnessed others suffering from it.

Thucydides 2.48

The parallels to our perilous situation today are immediately obvious.

The physicians were not able to help at its outset since they were treating it in ignorance, and indeed they themselves suffered the highest mortality since they were the ones most exposed to it. Nor were other human arts of any avail. Whatever supplications people made at sanctuaries and whatever oracles or the like they consulted, all were useless and in the end they abandoned them, defeated by the affliction.

Thucydides 2.47

With no cure from ancient medicine or religion, many people blamed foreigners:

It first came, so it is said, out of Ethiopia beyond Egypt, and then spread into Egypt and Libya and into most of the territory of the Persian King. When it got to Athens it struck the city suddenly, taking hold first in the Peiraeus, so that it was even suggested by the people there that the [Spartans] had put poison in the rain-water tanks… Later on it reached the upper city too and then the mortality became much greater.

Thucydides 2.48

Unfortunately, this is true of most epidemics. It’s really easy to blame others, whether or not they deserve the blame. It’s harder to accept responsibility and deal with the problem. Then and now, us humans need to work at being better to others.

Thucydides’ emotions still resonate with us today: “The most terrible thing of all in this affliction, however, was the sense of despair when someone realised that they were suffering from it; for then they immediately decided in their own minds that the outcome was hopeless” (2.51).

The plague tore at the fabric of society:

There was also the fact that one person would get infected as a result of caring for another so that they died in their droves like sheep, and this caused more death than anything else. If in fear they were unwilling to go near each other they died alone… but if they did make contact they lost their lives anyway.

Thucydides 2.51

These are some of the first historical descriptions of the need for social distancing during an epidemic. The invading Spartans recognized the need and “made haste to leave the territory through their fear of the plague” (2.57).

The Athenians trusted in Pericles to lead them through their own unique historical moment. From the wealthy Alcmaeonid family and blessed with powerful oratory skills and nativist and populist policies, he had led the city-state for over two decades. He consolidated Athenian control over the far-flung anti-Persian alliance known as the Delian League turning it into what some historians call the Athenian Empire.

Taking control of the League’s treasury, he oversaw a monumental building program that included lavish marble temples such as the Parthenon (which Shaquille O’Neal once called Greece’s most forgettable nightclub) and also a massive urbanization program that brought water, food, and security for those lucky enough to be citizens (you only had to be born a free male to two Athenian parents and wealth enough to own land).

Photo Credit: Konstantinos Tzortzinis and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Pericles’ confidence in Athenian power helped spur the start of the Peloponnesian Wars. Tensions had been building up between Athens and Sparta for decades, and as war was debated among the people, Pericles harnessed an innovative strategy to win.

It relied on big, beautiful walls and convenient, at-home delivery.

Sparta had the dominant army, while Athens had the dominant navy. Pericles thought to rely on the city walls to keep Sparta’s army away. The bustling port at Piraeus was also walled and connected by “The Long Walls” to the city, creating a protected corridor for commerce.

Before the war began, Pericles called the entire rural population and the inhabitants of nearby towns into the city. He figured that with the wealth of Athens and a strong naval empire, they could just import everything they needed.

This was a big deal! Thucydides writes (2.16-7) that most Athenians had

lived in the countryside in the traditional way and therefore did not find it at all easy to make the move with their entire households… changing their way of life and leaving behind what each of them felt to be the equivalent of their native city. When they arrived in Athens only a few had homes or places they could take refuge with friends or relatives. Most settled in unoccupied parts of the city and occupied sanctuaries…. [or] in the towers of the city walls or wherever else each of them could. The city could not cope with this general influx; indeed they later divided up the long walls and most of Piraeus into lots and occupied those too. 

Thucydides 2.16-7

Pericles’ strategy worked for a year. The Spartan army pillaged the Athenian countryside. The Athenian navy raided the Spartan coastal settlements. But most people were safe. Pericles wrapped up the first year with his famous Funeral Oration, encouraging them to fight on.

The plague struck Athens in the summer of the second year (430 B.C.). Pericles’ wartime strategy was a terrible strategy for containing a contagious disease. Most Athenians, rich or poor, were living in the ancient equivalent of a refugee camp in a besieged city.

Yet, Thucydides’ descriptions, despite not having our germ theory, demonstrate that the Athenians recognized that this disease was spread through close contact. Like today, responsible people knew they needed to socially distance during a plague.

Their general misery was aggravated by people crowding into the city from the fields, and the worst affected were the new arrivals. There were no houses for them but they lived in huts that were stifling in the heat of summer and they were visited by death in conditions of total disorder…. The bodies of those dying were heaped on each other, and in the streets and around the springs half-dead people reeled about…. The sanctuaries in which they had taken shelter were full of the bodies of those who had died there

Thycidides 2.52

Greek archaeologists have uncovered clear archaeological evidence for this dire situation in the form of a mass grave, or plague pit, in which bodies were heaped together. But Pericles ignored the need for social distancing and kept going with his original strategy, letting the Spartans pillage the Attic countryside, while the navy raided Spartan coastlands. The plague didn’t care, it continued to spread through Athens.


The Athenians had undergone a change of heart… feeling the combined pressure of the plague and the war. They now began to criticize Pericles, holding him responsible for persuading them to go to war and for being the agent of the misfortunes they had encountered. They became eager to come to terms with the Spartans. They even sent ambassadors to them, though to no effect. And in complete despair they turned their anger on Pericles


As Joel Christensen has written, there’s a long tradition in Greek mythology and tragedy of blaming the leader for plague. Pericles recognized this and gave the last of his famous speeches.

It’s amazing really, but it can really be boiled down to: “I take no responsibility.”

I have been expecting your outbreak of feeling against me – and I know the reasons for it. I mean to administer some reminders to you and take you to task for any misplaced resentment against me or any undue weakening in the face of difficulties.” Continuing: “Even though this plague has been inflicted on us, coming out of nowhere (it is in fact the only thing out of all that has happened to have defied prediction). I know it is largely because of this that I am even more a hated figure now – unjustly so.

Thucydides 2.60 and 2.64

He argues to ignore the plague: “We must treat afflictions sent by the gods as necessary ills and bear with courage those that come from our enemies” (2.64) in order to protect their empire.

Thucydides concludes,

With such words Pericles tried to dispel the anger the Athenians felt towards him and distract them from their present troubles…. Indeed the people as a whole did not put aside their anger towards him.

Thucydides 2.65

After this, Pericles’ power as a demagogue waned. This is the last point Thucydides mentions the deeds of Pericles, ending the section by saying “Pericles lived on two years and six months longer.”

We find out from Plutarch’s later biography of Pericles (translated here by Waterfield 1999) how he watched his family died of plague, and eventually caught it himself and died. As Plutarch notes (176) he lost his next election and was relieved of his command: “But he did not succeed in getting them to shed their anger or change their minds before they had taken their ballots in their hands.”

They had been persuaded by his political enemies that the plague was caused by packing crowds of refugees from the countryside into the city, where, at the height of summer, large numbers of people were being forced to stay all jumbled together in stifling tents…. The man responsible for all this, his enemies said, was Pericles: because of the war he had squeezed the rustic rabble inside the city walls and … left them penned up like cattle, to infect one another with death.

Plutarch, Life of Pericles, 34

If Pericles had not ignored the devastation of the plague and sued for peace, they could have protected their refugee population. Ancient history would look very different. Instead, the plague ravaged them and – weakened – then they still lost the war.

History shows that the decisions leaders make matter. We can see this with the Athenian plague and, in front of our own eyes, in our current historical moment.

We must learn from history and entrust our fate to a leader who will take our pandemic seriously, listen to scientists (and historians), and enforce mask-wearing and social distancing. Thucydides and the ancient Athenians knew this. They voted out of office the greatest leader their city had known. While our situation is different, our misery is similar. It is time to vote.

Picture Credit: Jonida Martini

Flint Dibble is currently Lecturer in the Department of Classics at Dartmouth College. He is an environmental archaeologist who studies food trash (animal bones) from ancient Greece and is Field Director for the Histria Multiscalar Archaeological Project in Romania. For more on how ancient animal bones can answer important questions into the past, check out his recent interview with the Peopling the Past podcast: No Bones About It: Climate Change in the Ancient World. Also, check him out on Twitter (@FlintDibble) or YouTube where he shares his archaeological research and teaching with the broader public. But right now, he’s mostly hoping you’ll vote – if you’re able to – because it does matter. 

Four Years of Presidential Memories: Asylum, Greek and Latin Word, Sacred Right

Appian, Roman History, 9.8

“…By the shared law of all humans, according to which even you accept those who are refugees from other places.”

κοινῷ γε πάντων ἀνθρώπων νόμῳ, καθὰ καὶ ὑμεῖς τοὺς ἑτέρωθεν φεύγοντας ὑποδέχεσθε.


Aeschylus, Suppliants 605-622

It seemed best to the Argives and it was so unanimous
that I felt young again in my old heart
for the air was thick with the right hands
of the whole people as they approved this plan:
that we strangers should have the right to settle
here freely, safe from arrest or attack from mortals,
that no one domestic or foreign might drive us away.
And if force is used against us,
that any citizen who does not help us
may lose his rights in exile from this country.

The leader of the Pelasgians persuaded the people
when he spoke about us, warning about how the rage
of Zeus the suppliant god might fall in future days
on the city, promising a double curse
on citizen and foreigner alike, emerging for the city
to be an insatiable parent of pain.
When they heard this, the Argive public voted
without the official call to approve the asylum.”

ἔδοξεν Ἀργείοισιν, οὐ διχορρόπως,
ἀλλ᾿ ὥστ᾿ ἀνηβῆσαί με γηραιᾷ φρενί—πανδημίᾳ
γὰρ χερσὶ δεξιωνύμοις
ἔφριξεν αἰθὴρ τόνδε κραινόντων λόγον—ἡμᾶς
μετοικεῖν τῆσδε γῆς ἐλευθέρους
κἀρρυσιάστους ξύν τ᾿ ἀσυλίᾳ βροτῶν,
καὶ μήτ᾿ ἐνοίκων μήτ᾿ ἐπηλύδων τινὰ
ἄγειν· ἐὰν δὲ προστιθῇ τὸ κάρτερον,
τὸν μὴ βοηθήσαντα τῶνδε γαμόρων
ἄτιμον εἶναι ξὺν φυγῇ δημηλάτῳ.
τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔπειθε ῥῆσιν ἀμφ᾿ ἡμῶν λέγων
ἄναξ Πελασγῶν, Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότον.

Euripides, Medea 727-728

“If you can make it to my home on your own,
You may stay there safely [in asylum]; I will surrender you to no one.”

αὐτὴ δ᾿ ἐάνπερ εἰς ἐμοὺς ἔλθῃς δόμους,
μενεῖς ἄσυλος κοὔ σε μὴ μεθῶ τινι.

From Lewis and Short: A Latin Dictionary

ăsȳlum , i, n., = ἄσυλον,

I.a place of refugea sanctuaryan asylum: “servusqui in illud asylum confugisset,” Cic. Verr. 2, 1, 33: “Romulus asylum aperit,” Liv. 1, 8: “lucum asylum referre,” Verg. A. 8, 342: “Junonis asylum,” id. ib. 2, 761: “asyla statuere,” Tac. A. 3, 60: “lucus asyli,” id. H. 3, 71Gell. 6, 2 fin.: de asylo procedere, * Vulg. 2 Macc. 4, 34 al.

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 32.13

“Here, the convoy fleeing from their own homes met an armed force which was being taken for the food-gathering there to be safer; the disorganized and unarmed crowd which was mixed as well with noncombatants was murdered by armed men.”

hoc sedibus suis extorre agmen in praesidium incidit quod ad Thaumacos quo tutior frumentatio esset ducebatur: incondita inermisque multitudo, mixta et imbelli turba, ab armatis caesa est

From The Walters Museum MS W 188

Four Years of Presidential Memories: Candidates for Impeachment?

Cicero, De Oratore II. 167

This is a kind of argument deduced from connected notions: “If the highest praise must be given to piety, then you should be moved when you see Quintus Metellus grieving so dutifully”. And, as for a deduction from generalities, “if magistrates owe their power to the Roman people, then why impeach Norbanus when he depends on the will of the citizenry?”

Ex coniunctis sic argumenta ducuntur: ‘si pietati summa tribuenda laus est, debetis moveri, cum Q. Metellum tam pie lugere videatis.’ Ex genere autem: ‘si magistratus in populi Romani potestate esse debent, quid Norbanum accusas, cuius tribunatus voluntati paruit civitatis?’

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 1.30

“Others claim that he feared being compelled to provide a defense for the things he had done in his first consulate against auspices, laws, and legislative actions. For Marcus Cato often announced with an oath that he would impeach Caesar by name, as soon as he dismissed his army.”

Alii timuisse dicunt, ne eorum, quae primo consulatu adversus auspicia legesque et intercessiones gessisset, rationem reddere cogeretur; cum M. Cato identidem nec sine iure iurando denuntiaret delaturum se nomen eius, simul ac primum exercitum dimisisset

Accius, Fr. 598 (From Oedipus)


“They impeach him voluntarily and they separate him
From his good fortune and all his wealth,
A man isolated, bereft, depressed and tortured”

Incusant ultro, a fortuna opibusque omnibus
desertum abiectum adflictum exanimum expectorant.

Image result for Roman Oedipus

Four Years of Presidential Memories: Apropos of Nothing, Achilles Calls the Commander-in-Chief a Dog[-face]

Tuesdays seem to be tawdry enough these days without Greek and Latin profanity. Here are some dog insults from ancient Greece and and a little bit on how their meaning relies on immanent misogyny.

Homer, Iliad 1.158–168 [Achilles addressing Agamemnon]

“But, you great shamepot, we follow you so that you feel joy,
As we collect honor for Menelaos and you, dog-face,
From the Trojans—you don’t shudder at this, you don’t care.”

ἀλλὰ σοὶ ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδὲς ἅμ’ ἑσπόμεθ’ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε κυνῶπα
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζεις·

Iliad 1.224–228 [Achilles Addressing Agamemnon]

“Wine-sod! Dog-eyes! You have the heart of a deer!
You never suffer to arm yourself to enter battle with the army
Nor to set an ambush with the best of the Achaeans.
That seems like death itself to you!”

οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων, κραδίην δ’ ἐλάφοιο,
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα λαῷ θωρηχθῆναι
οὔτε λόχον δ’ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν ᾿Αχαιῶν
τέτληκας θυμῷ· τὸ δέ τοι κὴρ εἴδεται εἶναι.

Elsewhere in Homer, the insult is used primarily for women and it builds on basic Greek associations between women and dogs—dogs as animals of shame who are expected to be loyal.

Odyssey 4.154-146 [Helen speaking]

“…Telemachus, whom that man left when he was just born,
In his house, when the Achaeans went down to Troy
On account of dog-faced me, raising up their audacious war.”

Τηλεμάχῳ, τὸν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
κεῖνος ἀνήρ, ὅτ’ ἐμεῖο κυνώπιδος εἵνεκ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἤλθεθ’ ὑπὸ Τροίην, πόλεμον θρασὺν ὁρμαίνοντες.”

Odyssey, 11.424-426

“…that dog-face
Went away and did not dare—even though I was on my way to Hades
To close my eyes with her hands or cover my mouth.”

… ἡ δὲ κυνῶπις
νοσφίσατ’ οὐδέ μοι ἔτλη, ἰόντι περ εἰς ᾿Αΐδαο,
χερσὶ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑλέειν σύν τε στόμ’ ἐρεῖσαι.

In Greek myth , the ‘dog’ nature of women comes as well from forces outside the home—a dog is a thieving creature.

Hesiod, Works and Days 67–68 [from the creation of Pandora]

“And Hermes, the slayer of Argos, that master guide,
Ordered that she possess a dog’s mind and a thief’s nature.”

ἐν δὲ θέμεν κύνεόν τε νόον καὶ ἐπίκλοπον ἦθος
῾Ερμείην ἤνωγε, διάκτορον ᾿Αργεϊφόντην.

But in the crown jewel of Greek mythology, Semonides’ “Diatribe against women”—which presents a lists of complaints about women categorized by different kinds of animals—emphasizes the inability of men to control female voices through the symbol of a dog. Note, as well, that violence is described as a regular reaction but is considered useless.

Semonides of Amorgos, fragment 7

“One women is from a dog, a sinful beast, a thorough mother—
She listens to everything and wants to know everything,
Lurking around everywhere and wandering
She barks even when she doesn’t see anyone.
She can’t stop this, not even if her husband threatens her
Nor if he is angry enough to bash her teeth
With a stone. You can’t change her by talking nicely either.
Even when she happens to be sitting among guests,
She keeps on an endless, impossible yapping.”

τὴν δ’ ἐκ κυνός, λιτοργόν, αὐτομήτορα,
ἣ πάντ’ ἀκοῦσαι, πάντα δ’ εἰδέναι θέλει,
πάντηι δὲ παπταίνουσα καὶ πλανωμένη
λέληκεν, ἢν καὶ μηδέν’ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾶι.
παύσειε δ’ ἄν μιν οὔτ’ ἀπειλήσας ἀνήρ,
οὐδ’ εἰ χολωθεὶς ἐξαράξειεν λίθωι
ὀδόντας, οὐδ’ ἂν μειλίχως μυθεόμενος,
οὐδ’ εἰ παρὰ ξείνοισιν ἡμένη τύχηι,
ἀλλ’ ἐμπέδως ἄπρηκτον αὑονὴν ἔχει.

Franco, Cristina. 2014. Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Translated by Michael Fox. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

4: “In the ancient Greek imagination the figure of the dog seems, in fact, to be interwoven with the disparaging discourse on the nature of woman in afar from casual manner…Moreover, the dog appears as a paradigm for the base nature of women in two cornerstone texts of Greek misogyny” (referring to the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and Agamemnon’s comments on Clytemnestra in the Odyssey).

To call a woman–and a person of color–a dog is to use an ancient dehumanizing symbol which expresses implicitly the expectation that the insulted party should be subservient and under control of the speaker. The frustration evoked is both about controlling the ability to speak and the ability to consume. To make such a comment is baldly misogynistic and clearly also racist in the modern context.

See also:

Graver, Margaret. 1995. “Dog-Helen and Homeric Insult.” Classical Antiquity 14: 41–61.


Image result for ancient greek dogs

Some Roman stuff too:

The Child-Killing Lamia: What’s Really Scary on Halloween is Misogyny

This is the second post about ancient Greek Vampires. The first looked at the Empousa. 

Lucian, Lover of Lies 2

“…these are various and disturbing tales, able to rattle the minds of children who still fear Mormo and Lamia.”

πάνυ ἀλλόκοτα καὶ τεράστια μυθίδια παίδων ψυχὰς κηλεῖν δυνάμενα ἔτι τὴν Μορμὼ καὶ τὴν Λάμιαν δεδιότων.

The Lamia (or, just Lamia to her friends) is one of the figures from Greek myth who seems like a frightening monster but really is a particular distillation of misogyny. She is often called a Greek ‘vampire’ along with Empousa. Unlike the latter, however, Lamia is specifically associated with killing children.

Diodorus Siculus, 20.40

“At the rock’s root there was a very large cave which was roofed with ivy and bryony in which the myths say the queen Lamia, exceptional for her beauty, was born. But, because of the beastliness of her soul, they say that her appearance has become more monstrous in the time since then.

For, when all her children who were born died, she was overwhelmed by her suffering and envied all the women who were luckier with their children. So she ordered that the infants be snatched from their arms and killed immediately. For this reason, even in our lifetime, the story of that women has lingered among children and the mention of her name is most horrifying to them.

But, whenever she was getting drunk, she would allow people to do whatever pleased them without observation. Because she was not closely watching everything at that time, the people in that land imagined that she could not see. This is why the myth developed that she put her eyes into a bottle, using this story a metaphor for the carelessness she enacted in wine, since that deprived her of sight.”

 περὶ δὲ τὴν ῥίζαν αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἦν εὐμέγεθες, κιττῷ καὶ σμίλακι συνηρεφές, ἐν ᾧ μυθεύουσι γεγονέναι βασίλισσαν Λάμιαν τῷ κάλλει διαφέρουσαν· διὰ δὲ τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀγριότητα διατυπῶσαί φασι τὴν ὄψιν αὐτῆς τὸν μετὰ ταῦτα χρόνον θηριώδη. τῶν γὰρ γινομένων αὐτῇ παίδων ἁπάντων τελευτώντων βαρυθυμοῦσαν ἐπὶ τῷ πάθει καὶ φθονοῦσαν ταῖς τῶν ἄλλων γυναικῶν εὐτεκνίαις κελεύειν ἐκ τῶν ἀγκαλῶν ἐξαρπάζεσθαι τὰ βρέφη καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀποκτέννειν. διὸ καὶ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς μέχρι τοῦ νῦν βίου παρὰ τοῖς νηπίοις διαμένειν τὴν περὶ τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης φήμην καὶ φοβερωτάτην αὐτοῖς εἶναι τὴν ταύτης προσηγορίαν. ὅτε δὲ μεθύσκοιτο, τὴν ἄδειαν διδόναι πᾶσιν ἃ βούλοιντο ποιεῖν ἀπαρατηρήτως. μὴ πολυπραγμονούσης οὖν αὐτῆς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον τὰ γινόμενα τοὺς κατὰ τὴν χώραν ὑπολαμβάνειν μὴ βλέπειν αὐτήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἐμυθολόγησάν τινες ὡς εἰς ἄρσιχον ἐμβάλοι τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, τὴν ἐν οἴνῳ συντελουμένην ὀλιγωρίαν εἰς τὸ προειρημένον μέτρον μεταφέροντες, ὡς τούτου παρῃρημένου τὴν ὅρασιν.

Euripides, fr. 472m (=Diodorus Siculus 20.41.6)

“Who does not know my name, most hateful to men,
The Lamia, a Libyan by birth?”

τίς τοὐ<μὸν ὄ>νομα τοὐπονείδιστον βροτοῖς
οὐκ οἶδε Λαμίας τῆς Λιβυστικῆς γένος;

The story of why Lamia killed children gets a little more depressing in the Fragments of the Greek Historians

Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]

“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”

ταύτην ἐν τῆι Λιβύηι Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέρωι Λιβυκῶν ἱστορεῖ γυναῖκα καλὴν γενέσθαι, μιχθέντος δ᾽ αὐτῆι Διὸς ὑφ᾽ ῞Ηρας ζηλοτυπουμένην ἃ ἔτικτεν ἀπολλύναι· διόπερ ἀπὸ τῆς λύπης δύσμορφον γεγονέναι καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων παιδία ἀναρπάζουσαν διαφθείρειν.

Elsewhere, the evidence of narratives about Lamia are rather limited. She becomes just another negative, female monster.

Suda, Lambda 85

“Lamia: a monster. The name comes from having a gaping throat, laimia and lamia. Aristophanes: “It has the smell of a seal, the unwashed balls of a Lamia.” For testicles are active—and he is making a fantasy image of Lamia’s balls, since she is female.

Λάμια: θηρίον. ἀπὸ τοῦ ἔχειν μέγαν λαιμόν, λαίμια καὶ λάμια. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· φώκης δ’ εἶχεν ὀσμήν, λαμίας ὄρχεις ἀπολύτους. δραστικοὶ γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις. εἰδωλοποιεῖ δέ τινας ὄρχεις λαμίας· θῆλυ γάρ.

Unlike Empousa and some others, Lamia is interestingly integrated in some other genealogical traditions.

Schol. G ad Ap. Rhodes 4.825-831

“Stesichorus says in his Skylla, regarding her form, that Skylla is the daughter of Lamia.”

Στησίχορος δὲ ἐν τῇ Σκύλλῃ †εἶδός τινος† Λαμίας τὴν Σκύλλαν φησὶ θυγατέρα εἶναι.

Pausanias on Phocis, 12

“There is a crag rising up over the ground on which the Delphians claim that a woman stood singing oracles, named Hêrophilê but known as Sibyl. There is the earlier Sibyl, the one I have found to be equally as old as the others, whom the Greeks claim is the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon. She was the first woman to sing oracles and they say that she was named Sibyl by the Libyans. Hêrophilê was younger than here, but she was obviously born before the Trojan War since she predicted Helen in her oracles, that was raised up in Sparta as the destruction for Asia and Europe and that Troy would be taken by the Greeks because of her.”

XII. Πέτρα δέ ἐστιν ἀνίσχουσα ὑπὲρ τῆς γῆς· ἐπὶ ταύτῃ Δελφοὶ στᾶσάν φασιν ᾆσαι τοὺς χρησμοὺς γυναῖκα ὄνομα Ἡροφίλην, Σίβυλλαν δὲ ἐπίκλησιν. τὴν δὲ πρότερον γενομένην, ταύτην ταῖς μάλιστα ὁμοίως οὖσαν ἀρχαίαν εὕρισκον, ἣν θυγατέρα Ἕλληνες Διὸς καὶ Λαμίας τῆς Ποσειδῶνός φασιν εἶναι, καὶ χρησμούς τε αὐτὴν γυναικῶν πρώτην ᾆσαι καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Λιβύων Σίβυλλαν λέγουσιν ὀνομασθῆναι. ἡ δὲ Ἡροφίλη νεωτέρα μὲν ἐκείνης, φαίνεται δὲ ὅμως πρὸ τοῦ πολέμου γεγονυῖα καὶ αὕτη τοῦ Τρωικοῦ, καὶ Ἑλένην τε προεδήλωσεν ἐν τοῖς χρησμοῖς, ὡς ἐπ᾿ ὀλέθρῳ τῆς Ἀσίας καὶ Εὐρώπης τραφήσοιτο ἐν Σπάρτῃ, καὶ ὡς Ἴλιον ἁλώσεται δι᾿ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ Ἑλλήνων.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 6

“Foremost he differed from previous authors in this, by which I mean how he took on a subject that was not a single thread nor one divided in many different and also disconnected parts. And then, because did not include mythical material in his work and he did not use his writing for the deception and bewitchment of many, as every author before him did when they told the stories of certain Lamiai rising up from the earth in groves and glens and of amphibious Naiads rushing out of Tartaros, half-beasts swimming through the seas and then joining together in groups among humans, and producing offspring of mortals and gods, demigods—and other stories which seem extremely unbelievable and untrustworthy to us now.”

πρῶτον μὲν δὴ κατὰ τοῦτο διήλλαξε τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ συγγραφέων, λέγω δὲ κατὰ τὸ λαβεῖν ὑπόθεσιν μήτε μονόκωλον παντάπασι μήτ᾿ εἰς πολλὰ μεμερισμένην καὶ ἀσυνάρτητα κεφάλαια· ἔπειτα κατὰ τὸ μηδὲν αὐτῇ μυθῶδες προσάψαι, μηδ᾿ εἰς ἀπάτην καὶ γοητείαν τῶν πολλῶν ἐκτρέψαι τὴν γραφήν, ὡς οἱ πρὸ αὐτοῦ πάντες ἐποίησαν, Λαμίας τινὰς ἱστοροῦντες ἐν ὕλαις καὶ νάπαις ἐκ γῆς ἀνιεμένας, καὶ Ναΐδας ἀμφιβίους ἐκ Ταρτάρων ἐξιούσας καὶ διὰ πελάγους νηχομένας καὶ μιξόθηρας, καὶ ταύτας εἰς ὁμιλίαν ἀνθρώποις συνερχομένας, καὶ ἐκ θνητῶν καὶ θείων συνουσιῶν γονὰς ἡμιθέους, καὶ ἄλλας τινὰς ἀπίστους τῷ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς βίῳ καὶ πολὺ τὸ ἀνόητον ἔχειν δοκούσας ἱστορίας.

There is another variant name–she might get her own entry some day

Suda, s.v.Μορμώ 

Mormô, in the genitive Mormous, declined like Sappho. There is also the form Mormôn, genitive Mormonos. Aristophanes says “I ask you, take this Mormo away from me”. This meant to dispel frightening things. For Mormo is frightening. And again in Aristophanes: “A Mormo for courage”. There is also a mormalukeion which they also call a Lamia. They also frightening things this.

Μορμώ: λέγεται καὶ Μορμώ, Μορμοῦς, ὡς Σαπφώ. καὶ Μορμών, Μορμόνος. Ἀριστοφάνης: ἀντιβολῶ σ’, ἀπένεγκέ μου τὴν Μορμόνα. ἄπο τὰ φοβερά: φοβερὰ γὰρ ὑπῆρχεν ἡ Μορμώ. καὶ αὖθις Ἀριστοφάνης: Μορμὼ τοῦ θράσους. μορμολύκειον, ἣν λέγουσι Λαμίαν: ἔλεγον δὲ οὕτω καὶ τὰ φοβερά.

 In some traditions, Lamia became proverbial

Plutarch, De Curiositate [On Being a Busybod y] 516a

“Now, just as in the myth they say that Lamia sleeps at home, putting her eyes set aside in some jar, but when she goes out she puts them back in and peers around, in the same way each of us puts his curiosity, as if fitting in an eye, into meanness towards others. But we often stumble over our own mistakes and faults because of ignorance, since we fail to secure sight or light for them.

For this reason, a busybody is rather useful to his enemies, since he rebukes and emphasizes their faults and shows them what they should guard and correct, even as he overlooks most of his own issues thanks to his obsession with everyone else. This is why Odysseus did not stop to speak with his mother before he inquired from the seer about those things for which he had come to Hades. Once he had made his inquiry, he turned to his own mother and also the other women, asking who Tyro was, who beautiful Khloris was, and why Epikaste had died.”

Lamia is not well-attested in art and myth

νῦν δ’ ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ τὴν Λάμιαν λέγουσιν οἴκοι μὲν εὕδειν τυφλήν, ἐν ἀγγείῳ τινὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχουσαν ἀποκειμένους, | ἔξω δὲ προϊοῦσαν ἐντίθεσθαι καὶ βλέπειν, οὕτως ἡμῶν ἕκαστος ἔξω καὶ πρὸς ἑτέρους τῇ κακονοίᾳ τὴν περιεργίαν ὥσπερ ὀφθαλμὸν ἐντίθησι, τοῖς δ’ ἑαυτῶν ἁμαρτήμασι καὶ κακοῖς πολλάκις περιπταίομεν ὑπ’ ἀγνοίας, ὄψιν ἐπ’ αὐτὰ καὶ φῶς οὐ ποριζόμενοι. διὸ καὶ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ὠφελιμώτερός ἐστιν ὁ πολυπραγμονῶν· τὰ γὰρ ἐκείνων ἐλέγχει καὶ προφέρεται καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτοῖς ἃ δεῖ φυλάξασθαι καὶ διορθῶσαι, τῶν δ’ οἴκοι τὰ πλεῖστα παρορᾷ διὰ τὴν περὶ τὰ ἔξω πτόησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς (λ 84 sqq.) οὐδὲ τῇ μητρὶ διαλεχθῆναι πρότε- ρον ὑπέμεινεν ἢ πυθέσθαι παρὰ τοῦ μάντεως, ὧν ἕνεκ’ ἦλθεν εἰς ῞Αιδου, πυθόμενος δὲ οὕτω πρός τε ταύτην ἔτρεψεν αὑτόν, καὶ τὰς ἄλλας γυναῖκας ἀνέκρινε, τίς ἡ Τυρὼ καὶ τίς ἡ καλὴ Χλωρὶς καὶ διὰ τί ἡ ᾿Επικάστη ἀπέθανεν…

Image result for Ancient Greek Lamia vase
Skylla, relative of Lamia. More Misogyny.

Some other misogynistic tales from myth with telling variants

The Lemnian Women and their Terrible Smell

The Privileging of Klytemnestra’s Infamy

The Terrible Tale of Asclepius’ Two Mothers

Pretty Much Everything about Medea

Kassandra’s Prophecy and Life

Kassandra’s Children

The Death of Hecuba

Helen and Iphigenia

Werewolf Week, JAMA Edition: Diagnosis and Therapy

This week in honor of Halloween we are returning to an obsession with lycanthropy. There is a trove of ancient Greek medical treatises on the diagnosing and treatment of the disease.


Oribasius (Pergamum, c. 4th Century CE)

Oribasius is said to have studied medicine in Alexandria; he later served as the court doctor to Julian the Apostate. He wrote several encyclopedic summaries of medical knowledge at the time. The text produced for a friend’s son (Synopsis ad Eustathium) is identical to that attributed to Paulus of Aegina and seems to form the core of medical treatises on lycanthropy.

On Lycanthropy:

“Men who are afflicted with lycanthropy go out at night and imitate wolves in every way, spending time until daybreak among the gravestones. You will recognize that someone is suffering from this by the following symptoms. They appear pale and look weak; they have dry eyes and cannot cry. You may observe that their eyes are hollow and their tongue is especially dry: they cannot really produce saliva. They are thus thirsty and in addition they have wounded shins from scraping the ground frequently.

These are the symptoms; for treatment it is important to recognize that this is a type of melancholy which you may treat at the time the disease is noticed by cutting open the veins and draining blood until the patient almost passes out. Let him be washed in a sweet bath. After rubbing him down with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve* to him on the second and third day. Following these cleansings, anoint him with the antidote for viper-venom and do the rest of the things prescribed for melancholy. When they disease has already come over those who are accustomed to sleepwalk, anoint them with lotion. And rub opium on their ears and nostrils when they are ready to sleep.”

Περὶ λυκανθρωπίας.

Οἱ τῇ λυκανθρωπίᾳ κατεχόμενοι νυκτὸς ἐξίασι τὰ πάντα λύκους μιμούμενοι καὶ μέχρις ἡμέρας περὶ μνήματα διατρίβουσιν. γνωριεῖς δὲ τὸν οὕτω πάσχοντα διὰ τῶνδε· ὠχροὶ τυγχάνουσι καὶ ὁρῶσιν ἀδρανὲς καὶ ξηροὺς τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχουσι καὶ οὐδὲ δακρύουσιν· θεάσῃ δ’αὐτῶν κοίλους τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὴν γλῶσσαν ξηροτάτην, καὶ σίελον οὐδ’ ὅλως προχωροῦν αὐτοῖς· εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ διψώδεις καὶ τὰς κνήμας διὰ τὸ πολλάκις προσπταίειν ἀνιάτως ἡλκωμένας ἴσχουσιν.

τοιαῦτα μὲν αὐτῶν τὰ γνωρίσματα· γινώσκειν δὲ χρὴ εἶδος μελαγχολίας εἶναι τὴν λυκανθρωπίαν, ἣν θεραπεύσεις κατὰ τὸν χρόνον τῆς ἐπισημασίας τέμνων φλέβα καὶ κενῶν τοῦ αἵματος ἄχρι λειποθυμίας καὶ διαιτῶν τὸν κάμνοντα εὐχύμοις τροφαῖς. κεχρήσθω δὲ τοῖς λουτροῖς γλυκέσιν· εἶτ’ ὀρῷ γάλακτος χρησάμενος ἐπὶ τρεῖς ἡμέρας κάθαιρε τῇ διὰ τῆς κολοκυνθίδος ἱερᾷ, καὶ δεύτερον καὶ τρίτον· μετὰ δὲ τὰς καθάρσεις καὶ τῇ διὰ τῶν ἐχιδνῶν θηριακῇ χρήσῃ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα παραλήψῃ ὅσα ἐπὶ τῆς μελαγχολίας εἴρηται. ἐπερχομένης δ’ ἤδη τῆς νόσου τοῖς ὕπνους ἐμποιεῖν εἰωθόσιν ἐπιβρέγμασι χρήσῃ· καὶ ὀπίῳ δὲ χρῖσον ὦτα καὶ μυκτῆρας εἰς ὕπνον τρεπομένοις.

* The pumpkin or gourd (Gr. kolokunthos) was associated with life and health due to its “juicy nature”; see LSJ s.v. This may explain its ritual/therapeutic use both in cleansing an association with death and with treating a patient exhibiting extreme symptoms of dryness.

Dolon the Trojan Wears a Wolf Skin on a Red Figure Vase...His 'treatment' was less than therapeutic...
Dolon the Trojan Wears a Wolf Skin on a Red Figure Vase…His ‘treatment’ was less than therapeutic…


Aëtius (Amida, 6th Century CE)


Aetius was a Byzantine doctor and writer who may have lived as early as the fifth century CE.He also studied at Alexandria and collated sixteen books of medicine—much of which was drawn from Galen and Oribasius. His indebtedness to the latter is clear from his passage on lycanthropy, but there are interesting additions. I have marked the significant additions in bold.

On Lykanthropy or Kynanthropy, following Marcellus*

Those who are afflicted by the disease once-called kynanthropy or lycanthropy go out at night during the month Pheurouarion** and imitate wolves or dogs in every way as they spend time until daybreak around gravestones especially. You will recognize people who suffer in this way from the following symptoms: They are pale, they look weak, they have dry eyes and a dry tongue and they don’t completely secrete saliva. They are thirsty and they have festering wounds on their shins from falling continuously and from dog bites.

Such are the symptoms. For treatment, you need to understand that lycanthropy is a type of melancholy. You treat it at the time the disease is noticed by cutting open the veins and draining the blood until the point when the patient passes out, then treat the sick with well-flavored food. Let him be washed in a sweet bath, and after rubbing him with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve to him from [Rouphos, Archigenos, or Ioustos]. After these cleansings, anoint him with the viper-venom antidote. Also do all the other things that are prescribed earlier for melancholy.

When the disease comes on in the evening, rub down the heads of those who tend to sleepwalk with a lotion and for those who hunt by scent, smear some opium on their nostrils. Sometimes it is also necessary to administer a sleeping medicine.”

Περὶ λυκανθρωπίαϲ ἤτοι κυνανθρωπίαϲ Μαρκέλλου.

οἱ τῇ λεγοένῃ κυνανθρωπίᾳ ἤτοι λυκανθρωπίᾳ νόϲῳ κατεχόμενοι κατὰ τὸν Φευρουάριον μῆνα νυκτὸϲ ἐξίαϲι τὰ πάντα μιμούμενοι λύκουϲ ἢ κύναϲ καὶ μέχριϲ ἡμέραϲ περὶ τὰ μνήματα μάλιϲτα διατρίβουϲι. γνωρίϲειϲ δὲ τοὺϲ οὕτω πάϲχονταϲ διὰ τῶνδε· ὠχροὶ τυγχάνουϲι καὶ ὁρῶϲιν ἀδρανὲϲ καὶ ξηροὺϲ τοὺϲ ὀφθαλμοὺϲ ἔχουϲι καὶ οὐδὲν δακρύουϲι. θεάϲῃ δὲ αὐτῶν καὶ κοίλουϲ τοὺϲ ὀφθαλμοὺϲ καὶ γλῶϲϲαν ξηρὰν καὶ οὐδὲ ὅλωϲ ϲίελον προχέουϲιν. εἰϲὶ δὲ καὶ διψώδειϲ καὶ τὰϲ κνήμαϲ ἔχουϲιν ἡλκωμέναϲ ἀνιάτωϲ διὰ τὰ ϲυνεχῆ πτώματα καὶ τῶν κυνῶν τὰ δήγματα.

τοιαῦτα μὲν αὐτῶν τὰ γνωρίϲματα· γινώϲκειν δὲ χρὴ μελαγχολίαϲ εἶδοϲ εἶναι τὴν λυκανθρωπίαν, ἣν θεραπεύϲειϲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον τῆϲ ἐπιϲημαϲίαϲ τέμνων φλέβα καὶ κενῶν τοῦ αἵματοϲ ἄχρι λειποθυμίαϲ καὶ διαιτῶν τὸν κάμνοντα ταῖϲ εὐχύμοιϲ τροφαῖϲ. κεχρήϲθω δὲ λουτροῖϲ γλυκέϲιν, εἶτα ὀρρῷ γάλακτοϲ χρηϲάμενοϲ ἐπὶ τρεῖϲ ἡμέραϲ κάθαιρε τῇ διὰ τῆϲ κολυκυνθίδοϲ ἱερᾷ ῾Ρούφου ἢ ᾿Αρχιγένουϲ ἢ ᾿Ιούϲτου, δεύτερον καὶ τρίτον παρέχων ἐκ διαϲτημάτων. μετὰ δὲ τὰϲ καθάρϲειϲ καὶ τῇ διὰ τῶν ἐχιδνῶν θηριακῇ χρηϲτέον. καὶ τὰ ἄλλα παραληπτέον ὅϲα ἐπὶ τῆϲ μελαγχολίαϲ προείρηται. εἰϲ ἑϲπέραν δὲ ἐπερχομένηϲ ἤδη τῆϲ νόϲου τοῖϲ ὕπνον εἰωθόϲιν ἐμποιεῖν ἐπιβρέγμαϲι τῆϲ κεφαλῆϲ χρῆϲθαι καὶ ὀϲφραντοῖϲ τοιούτοιϲ καὶ ὀπίῳ διαχρίειν τοὺϲ μυκτῆραϲ, ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ ποτίζειν τινὰ τῶν ὑπνωτικῶν.

*According to the Suda, Marcellus was a doctor of Marcus Aurelius (2nd Century) who wrote two books on medicine in dactylic hexameter.

**Presumably this coincides with the month February and may have a special connection with Lycanthropy due to the Lupercalia.

Paulus (of Aegina, c. 7th Century CE)
A 7th Century CE Byzantine Physician who wrote De Re Medica Libri Septem) The Suda (s.v. Paulus) writes: Παῦλος, Αἰγινήτης, ἰατρός. ἔγραψεν ἰατρικὰ βιβλία διάφορα (“Paulos, from Aeigina, a doctor. He wrote various medical books”).

The text below is identical to that attributed to Oribasius:

“Men who are afflicted with lycanthropy go out at night and imitate wolves in every way, spending time until daybreak among gravestones. You will recognize that someone is suffering from this by the following symptoms. They appear pale and look weak; they have dry eyes and cannot cry. You may observe that their eyes are hollow and their tongue is especially dry: they cannot really produce saliva. They are thus thirsty and in addition they have wounded shins from scraping the ground frequently.

These are the symptoms; for treatment it is important to recognize that this is a type of melancholy, which you may treat at the time the disease is noticed by cutting open the veins and draining blood almost until the patient passes out. Let him be washed in a sweet bath. After rubbing him down with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve to him on the second and third day. Following these cleansings, anoint him with the antidote for viper-venom and do the rest of the things prescribed for melancholy. When the disease has already come over those who are accustomed to sleepwalk, anoint them with lotion. And rub opium on the ears and nostrils of those preparing to sleep.”

Περὶ λυκάονοϲ ἢ λυκανθρώπου.

Οἱ τῇ λυκανθρωπίᾳ κατεχόμενοι νυκτὸϲ ἐξίαϲι τὰ πάντα λύκουϲ μιμούμενοι καὶ μέχριϲ ἡμέραϲ περὶ τὰ μνήματα διατρίβουϲι. γνωριεῖϲ δὲ τὸν οὕτω πάϲχοντα διὰ τῶνδε· ὠχροὶ τυγχάνουϲι καὶ ὁρῶϲιν ἀδρανὲϲ καὶ ξηροὺϲ τοὺϲ ὀφθαλμοὺϲ ἔχουϲι καὶ τὴν γλῶϲϲαν ξηροτάτην, καὶ ϲίελον οὐδ’ ὅλωϲ προχωροῦν αὐτοῖϲ· εἰϲὶ δὲ καὶ διψώδειϲ, καὶ τὰϲ κνήμαϲ διὰ τὸ πολλάκιϲ προϲπταίειν ἀνιάτωϲ ἡλκωμέναϲ ἴϲχουϲιν. τοιαῦτα μὲν τὰ γνωρίϲματα·

γινώϲκειν δὲ χρὴ εἶδοϲ μελαγχολίαϲ εἶναι τὴν λυκανθρωπίαν, ἣν θεραπεύϲειϲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον τῆϲ ἐπιϲημαϲίαϲ τέμνων φλέβα καὶ κενῶν τοῦ αἵματοϲ ἄχρι λειποθυμίαϲ καὶ διαιτῶν τὸν κάμνοντα ταῖϲ εὐχύμοιϲ τροφαῖϲ· κεχρήϲθω δὲ τοῖϲ λουτροῖϲ γλυ-κέϲιν. εἶτα ὀρῷ γάλακτοϲ χρηϲάμενοϲ ἐπὶ τρεῖϲ ἡμέραϲ κάθαιρε τῇ διὰ τῆϲ κολοκυνθίδοϲ ἱερᾷ καὶ δεύτερον καὶ τρίτον· μετὰ δὲ τὰϲ καθάρϲειϲ καὶ τῇ διὰ τῶν ἐχιδνῶν θηριακῇ χρήϲῃ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα παραλήψῃ, ὅϲα ἐπὶ τῆϲ μελαγχολίαϲ εἴρηται. ἐπερχομένηϲ δὲ ἤδη τῆϲ νόϲου τοῖϲ ὑπνοποιεῖν εἰωθόϲιν ἐπιβρέγμαϲι χρήϲῃ· καὶ ὀπίῳ δὲ χρῖϲον τοὺϲ μυκτῆραϲ εἰϲ ὕπνον τρεπομένοιϲ.

Joannes Actuarius, De Diagnosi (Constantinople 13th to 14th Century)

Johannes Zacharias Actuarius was also a Byzantine doctor. He composed many works on medicine that drew on Galen, Aëtius and Paulus—which is clear from his text on lycanthropy. Significant differences from Aëtius’ text are in bold.

De Diagnosi 1.34.24

A type of this madness is called lycanthropy—it convinces those so afflicted to go outside in the middle of the night, among the graves and desolate places, like wolves and to return at night, to become themselves again, and to remain at home. But some of them have feet and shins marked up from touching stones and thorns and they have dry eyes and tongue. They are thirsty, and they look weak. I will pass over how much the others suffer—but some of them die after fearing death for long while others desire it fiercely. In the same way, some avoid large groups of people and maintain the strictest silence, while the others, if they are not among a crowd where they remain calm, they make a racket and seem out of their minds. These things happen when some kind of humor is imbalanced, and the place which reddens when it comes to the surface and returns energy to the person’s spirit.”

Ταύτης δέ γε εἶδος καὶ ἡ λυκανθρωπία καλουμένη, ἀναπείθουσα τοὺς ἁλόντας μέσον νυκτῶν ὧδε κἀκεῖσε περιϊέναι, ἔν τε μνήμασι καὶ ἐρημίαις κατὰ τοὺς λύκους, μεθ’ ἡμέραν δὲ ἐπιστρέφειν τε καὶ πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς γίνεσθαι, καὶ οἴκοι διατρίβειν. ἀλλ’ οἵδε μέν, τούς τε πόδας καὶ τὰς κνήμας ἔχουσιν ἡμαγμένους τῷ προσπταίειν τοῖς λίθοις καὶ ταῖς ἀκάνθαις, καὶ ξηροὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὴν γλῶτταν καὶ διψώδεις, καὶ ἀδρανὲς βλέπουσιν. ἐῶ δὲ λέγειν ὅσα πάσχουσιν ἕτεροι, ὧν οἱ μὲν ἀεὶ τὸν θάνατον φοβούμενοι διατελοῦσιν, οἱ δ’ αὖ τούτου ἐπιθυμοῦντες, ὥσπερ ἕτεροι τὰς τῶν πολλῶν ὁμιλίας φεύγουσι, καὶ ἄκραν σιωπὴν ἀσκοῦσιν, αὖθις δὲ ἕτεροι, ἢν μὴ ὁμιλῶσιν ἄλλοις καὶ διαχεόμενοι ὦσι, θορυβούμενοί τε καὶ ἐκθαμβούμενοι. καὶ ταῦτα γίνεται παρὰ τὸ ποιὸν τοῦ ἐνοχλοῦντος χυμοῦ, ἔτι τε τὸν τόπον, ὃν ἐγγίσας ἐρεθίζει καὶ διανιστᾷ τὴν κατ’ ἐκείνον τῆς ψυχῆς ἐνέργειαν.

Anonymi Medici, A Collection of ancient treatises on disease and treatments. Some tracts are dated to the first century CE. There are some textual issues I have only barely tried to solve. The additions and differences seem to imply a text later than Paulus or Aëtius.

“Lycanthropy is a type of madness when people go out at night and spend time among graves. You will recognize those who suffer from it thus. Their skin is pale and they appear weak. They have dry eyes and they neither cry nor produce moisture. You may note that their eyes are hollow and their forehead is damp; they may have an extremely dry tongue and may not completely produce saliva. They are thirsty and they have open wounds on their shins from striking them frequently. Their body bears the particular marks of melancholy sometimes, since this is melancholic in nature, and they have been afflicted [with this] by some thought or sleeplessness, or spoiled food, or contact with birth fluids [?], bloody discharge, or menstrual blood. These are the indications and signs of lycanthropy.

This is how you treat it: I cut the veins at the elbows and I drain blood almost until the patient passes out then treat the sick with well-flavored food. Let him be washed in a sweet bath. After rubbing him down with milk-whey for three days, apply pumpkin salve to him on the second and third day. After running him down with milk-whey for three days, apply a pumpkin salve to him on the second and third day. After these cleansings, I would anoint him with the antidote for viper-venom and do the rest of the things prescribed for melancholy. In addition, I would suggest draining off any bloody discharge and avoiding any menstrual blood in order to stop the conditions that created the disease. Also commendable is furnishing diuretics and cleaning any pustules.”

Εἶδος μανίας ἐστὶν ἡ λυκανθρωπία, καὶ νυκτὸς ἐξίασι τὰ πάντα καὶ τάφους διατρίβουσι. γνωριεῖς δὲ τοὺς οὕτω πάσχοντας. τοῖς δὲ ὠχροὶ τυγχάνουσιν καὶ ὁρῶσιν ἁδρανὲς καὶ ξηροὺς τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχουσι, οὔτε δακρύουσιν

οὔτε ὑγραίνονται. θεάσῃ δὲ αὐτῶν καὶ κοίλους τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον ὑγρὸν καὶ τὴν γλῶτταν ξηροτάτην καὶ σιέλον οὐδ’ ὅλως προχωρῶν αὐτοῖς. εἰσὶ δὲ καὶ διψώδεις ξηροὶ καὶ τὰς κνήμας, διὰ τὸ πολλάκις προςπίπτειν ἀνία αὐτοὺς καὶ ἑλκομένας ἔχουσιν. ἴδια δὲ σημεῖα τῶν μελαγχολικῶν τότε κατισχναίνειν τὸ σῶμα καὶ μελαγχολικὸν εἶναι τῇ φύσει, ἢ καὶ ἐξεπήκτη [?] τὸν διά τινος φροντίδος ἢ ἀγρυπνίας ἢ μοχθηρῶν σιτίων ἢ προφορᾶς ἢ ἐπίσχεσιν αἱμορροΐδων καὶ καταμηνίων γυναικῶν. τοιαῦτα μὲν δεῖ συμβαίνειν καὶ τὰ τῆς λυκανθρωπίας σημεῖα.

Πῶς οὖν θεραπεύσεις. Κατὰ μὲν οὖν τὸν πρῶτον χρόνον τῆς ἐπισημασίας τέμνω φλέβα τὴν ἐξ ἀγκώνων καὶ κενῶ τοῦ αἵματος ἄχρι λειποθυμίας καὶ διαίτησιν τὸν κάμνοντα ταῖς εὐχύμοις τροφαῖς· καὶ χρῆσθαι λουτροῖς γλυκέσι ἢ ὀρρῷ γάλακτος χρησάμενος ἐπὶ τρίτην ἡμέραν. καὶ καθαίρων δὲ τῇ διὰ τῆς κολοκυνθίδος ἱερᾷ καὶ β′ καὶ γ′ καὶ μετὰ τὰς καθάρσεις τῇ διὰ τῶν ἐχιδνῶν θηριακῇ χρήσομαι καὶ τὰ ἄλλα παραλήψομαι ὅσα ἐπὶ τῆς μελαγχολίας εἴρηται καὶ τὰς αἰμορροΐδας ἀναστομῶσαι καὶ καταμήνια γυναικῶν προπέσθαι κελεύω διὰ τὴν τούτων ἐπίσχεσιν, τὴν γεγενημένην εἰς τὸ πάθος· ἀγαθὰ δὲ καὶ αἱ διουρητικαὶ δυνάμεις καὶ τῶν ἱδρώτων κάθαρσις.

Lingering problems:

As a Homerist, my experience in late Greek prose is limited; my experience in medical terminology is worse. I believe I have made sense of all of this, but I am happy to have suggestions or additions.

  1. τῇ διὰ τῆς κολοκυνθίδος ἱερᾷ: This phrase has given me fits. I at first made the mistake of taking ἱερᾷ to mean something sacred (e.g. rite, but not “shrine”, because that would be neuter!). But the LSJ lists ἱερὰ ἡ: a kind of serpent adding “II. A name for many medicines in the Greek pharmacopia…of a plaster; esp. of aloes.” So, since it does not seem likely that the treatment being prescribed is a “snake through a pumpkin”. In addition, later Greek prose uses dia + genitive to denote the thing from which something was made (LSJ s.v. dia A.III.c.2). So, I have settled on a “pumpkin salve”
  1. τῇ διὰ τῆϲ κολυκυνθίδοϲ ἱερᾷ ῾Ρούφου ἢ ᾿Αρχιγένουϲ ἢ ᾿Ιούϲτου: I have no idea what is going on with the three proper names here: are these places or people that produce the pumpkin poultice?

Ancient Greek Vampires 1: Empousa

The classic Transylvanian-style vampire—male, nocturnal, fanged—is really a product of folklore and gothic horror after the middle ages (with garlic, mirrors, crosses and stakes coming at various times from various places). But human blood-eating creatures of pleasure were present in ancient folktales as well. They are not prominent, but the Lamia and the Empousa, both female creatures of death who live off the life-force of the young, are attested as early as the 5th century BCE. Our best references, however, come from later antiquity. For ease, I am just going to translate them both as ‘vampire’. (There will be a second post about Lamia.) Here are some facts about Empousa.

Vampires live in the East. They can be Frightened off with mockery.

Eusebius, Contra Hieroclem 382.11 4th Century CE 

“These things are from the first book. Let us move on to the material in the second. The story picks up and follows the journey from Persia to India—there, they experienced something surprising—he says that [Apollodorus] saw something paranormal, what he calls a vampire [empousa], on the road and that they drove it away with mockery

Καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ πρώτου συγγράμματος, ἐπίωμεν δὲ καὶ τὰ ἐκ τοῦ δευτέρου. τὴν ἀπὸ Περσίδος ἐπ᾿ Ἰνδοὺς πορείαν ἄγει παραλαβὼν αὐτὸν ὁ λόγος. εἶτά τι πεπονθὼς ἀπειρόκαλον, ὥσπερ τι παράδοξον, δαιμόνιόν τι, ὃ καὶ ἔμπουσαν ὀνομάζει, κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἰδόντα λοιδορίαις ἅμα τοῖς ἀμφ᾿ αὐτὸν ἀπελάσαι φησί,

Vampires are Shapeshifters

Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana II, 4 2nd Century CE 

“After they went over the Caucasus they saw people who were four-lengths tall and who already dark-skinned. Once they crossed the river into India, they saw others who were five lengths tall. In the journey up to this river, I have picked out these things as worthy of investigation. For they were traveling in the clear moonlight when a phantom of a vampire [empousa] met them, changing into this scary thing and then another and then nothing! Apollonius understood what thing it was and mocked the vampire himself and ordered his companions—for this is the response to this kind of attack. The apparition went into flight like a ghost.”

Παραμείψαντες δὲ τὸν Καύκασον τετραπήχεις ἀνθρώπους ἰδεῖν φασιν, οὓς ἤδη μελαίνεσθαι, καὶ πεντεπήχεις δὲ ἑτέρους ὑπὲρ τὸν Ἰνδὸν ποταμὸν ἐλθόντες. ἐν δὲ τῇ μέχρι τοῦ ποταμοῦ τούτου ὁδοιπορίᾳ τάδε εὗρον ἀφηγήσεως ἄξια· ἐπορεύοντο μὲν γὰρ ἐν σελήνῃ λαμπρᾷ, φάσμα δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐμπούσης ἐνέπεσε τὸ δεῖνα γινομένη καὶ τὸ δεῖνα αὖ καὶ οὐδὲν εἶναι, ὁ δὲ Ἀπολλώνιος ξυνῆκεν, ὅ τι εἴη, καὶ αὐτός τε ἐλοιδορεῖτο τῇ ἐμπούσῃ, τοῖς τε ἀμφ᾿ αὑτὸν προσέταξε ταὐτὸ πράττειν, τουτὶ γὰρ ἄκος εἶναι τῆς προσβολῆς ταύτης· καὶ τὸ φάσμα φυγῇ ᾤχετο τετριγός ὥσπερ τὰ εἴδωλα.

Vampires like to eat the young (their blood is better)

4.5-6 “She said “be quiet and go away” and seemed to be disgusted at what she heard. And, I think, she was mocking philosophers for always talking nonsense. When, afterward, the golden bowls and what seemed to be silver was shown to be unreal—when everything flew from our eyes as the cup-bearers, the cooks, and every kind of servant disappeared as they were cross-examined by Apollonios—then the apparition seemed to be crying and was pleading that he not test her or compel her to agree what kind of thing she was. But when Apollonius laid on the pressure, she confessed that she was a vampire [empousa] who had been fattening Menippus with delights to eat on his body since she typically ate fine young bodies because their blood was more vital.

I have drawn out this tale, which happens to be the best known concerning Apollonius, out of necessity—most know that it occurred somewhere in the middle of Greece, but they have acquired only a summary account of how he once trapped a Lamia in Korinth. They don’t know what she was doing and that it was for Melanippus. The story is told by Damis and now by me from his records.”

Ἡ δὲ “εὐφήμει” ἔλεγε “καὶ ἄπαγε,” καὶ μυσάττεσθαι ἐδόκει, ἃ ἤκουε, καί που καὶ ἀπέσκωπτε τοὺς φιλοσόφους, ὡς ἀεὶ ληροῦντας. ἐπεὶ μέντοι τὰ ἐκπώματα τὰ χρυσᾶ καὶ ὁ δοκῶν ἄργυρος ἀνεμιαῖα ἠλέγχθη, καὶ διέπτη τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἅπαντα, οἰνοχόοι τε καὶ ὀψοποιοὶ καὶ ἡ τοιαύτη θεραπεία πᾶσα ἠφανίσθησαν, ἐλεγχόμενοι ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἀπολλωνίου, δακρύοντι ἐῴκει τὸ φάσμα καὶ ἐδεῖτο μὴ βασανίζειν αὐτό, μηδὲ ἀναγκάζειν ὁμολογεῖν, ὅ τι εἴη, ἐπικειμένου δὲ καὶ μὴ ἀνιέντος ἔμπουσά τε εἶναι ἔφη καὶ πιαίνειν ἡδοναῖς τὸν Μένιππον ἐς βρῶσιν τοῦ σώματος, τὰ γὰρ καλὰ τῶν σωμάτων καὶ νέα σιτεῖσθαι ἐνόμιζεν, ἐπειδὴ ἀκραιφνὲς αὐτοῖς τὸ αἷμα.

Τοῦτον τὸν λόγον γνωριμώτατον τῶν Ἀπολλωνίου τυγχάνοντα ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἐμήκυνα, γιγνώσκουσι μὲν γὰρ πλείους αὐτόν, ἅτε καθ᾿ Ἑλλάδα μέσην πραχθέντα, ξυλλήβδην δὲ αὐτὸν παρειλήφασιν, ὅτι ἕλοι ποτὲ ἐν Κορίνθῳ λάμιαν, ὅ τι μέντοι πράττουσαν καὶ ὅτι ὑπὲρ Μενίππου, οὔπω γιγνώσκουσιν, ἀλλὰ Δάμιδί τε καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἐκείνου λόγων ἐμοὶ εἴρηται.

Vampires like to have sex with mortals and then eat them

4.4 “What I was saying is that this woman is one of the vampires [empousai], whom most people think are the same as Lamiae or werewolves. Vampires feel desire, but they long for human sex and flesh most of all. They use sex to catch the ones they want to eat.”

ὃ λέγω, ἡ χρηστὴ νύμφη μία τῶν ἐμπουσῶν ἐστιν, ἃς λαμίας τε καὶ μορμολυκεῖα οἱ πολλοὶ ἡγοῦνται. ἐρῶσι δ᾿ αὗται καὶ ἀφροδισίων μέν, σαρκῶν δὲ μάλιστα ἀνθρωπείων ἐρῶσι καὶ παλεύουσι τοῖς ἀφροδισίοις, οὓς ἂν ἐθέλωσι δαίσασθαι.”

7.29 “King, would someone who is covetous enough of honor to appear to be a sorcerer seem to credit to a god what he had done himself? What awestruck audiences for his skill would there be if he were to hand the wonder to a god? What kind of a sorcerer would pray to Herakles? These wicked devils credit their kinds of acts to ditches and underworld gods from whom Herakles must be separated since he is cleansed and it good to people. I prayed to him at some point in the Peloponnese for there was some apparition of a vampire [lamia] there too eating the fine forms of young men….”

“Τίς ἂν οὖν σοι, βασιλεῦ, δοκεῖ φιλοτιμούμενος γόης φαίνεσθαι θεῷ ἀναθεῖναι, ὃ αὐτὸς εἴργαστο; τίνας δ᾿ ἂν κτήσασθαι θαυμαστὰς τῆς τέχνης θεῷ παρεὶς τὸ θαυμάζεσθαι; τίς δ᾿ ἂν Ἡρακλεῖ εὔξασθαι γόης ὤν; τὰ γὰρ τοιαῦτα οἱ κακοδαίμονες βόθροις ἀνατιθέασι καὶ χθονίοις θεοῖς, ὧν τὸν Ἡρακλέα ἀποτακτέον, καθαρὸς γὰρ καὶ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις εὔνους. ηὐξάμην αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν Πελοποννήσῳ ποτέ, λαμίας γάρ τι φάσμα κἀκεῖ περὶ τὴν Κόρινθον ἤλυε σιτούμενον τῶν νέων τοὺς καλούς…”


Suda, Epsilon 1049 [=Hesychius in the beginning]

Empousa: A devilish apparition sent by Hekate and appearing to the unlucky. It seems to take on many different forms. In the Frogs, Aristophanes [mentions this]. The name Empousa comes from that fact that it goes on one leg [hen podizein]—for people think that the other one is bronze. Or, because she used to appear [eph-aineto] to the those initiated in the mysteries [muomenois]. She was also named Oinopôlê. But some say that she changed her form [to get this name]. She seems to appear in the middle of the day as people offer sacrifices to those who have died. Others claim that she is Hekate. There is also the name Onokôle because she has a donkey leg which they refer to as bolitinon because that is donkey-manure. Bolitos is the specific name for donkey feces.

Ἔμπουσα: φάντασμα δαιμονιῶδες ὑπὸ τῆς Ἑκάτης ἐπιπεμπόμενον καὶ φαινόμενον τοῖς δυστυχοῦσιν. ὃ δοκεῖ πολλὰς μορφὰς ἀλλάσσειν. Ἀριστοφάνης Βατράχοις. Ἔμπουσα δὲ παρὰ τὸ ἑνὶ ποδίζειν, ἤγουν τοῦ τὸν ἕτερον πόδα χαλκοῦν ἔχειν. ἢ ὅτι ἀπὸ σκοτεινῶν τόπων ἐφαίνετο τοῖς μυουμένοις. ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ αὕτη καὶ Οἰνοπώλη. οἱ δέ, ὅτι ἐξηλλάττετο τὴν μορφήν. δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ ταῖς μεσημβρίαις φαντάζεσθαι, ὅταν τοῖς κατοιχομένοις ἐναγίζωσιν. ἔνιοι δὲ τὴν αὐτὴν τῇ Ἑκάτῃ. Ὀνοκώλη δέ, ὅτι ὄνου πόδα ἔχει: ὃ λέγουσι βολίτινον, τουτέστιν ὄνειον. βόλιτος γὰρ κυρίως τῶν ὄνων τὸ ἀποπάτημα.

Cf. Aristoph. Frogs 285-295; Assemblywomen 1056.

Beekes on the uncertain etymology of both Empousa and Lamia:


Lamia is associated more frequently with attacking children. This, of course, merits a separate post.


Image result for Ancient Greek Lamia
Lamia, carrying off infant

We get by with a little help from our friends

No Mountain High Enough

Pliny, Natural History 36.1:

Everything that we have dealt with up to this volume seems to have been made for humanity’s sake. Nature made the mountains for herself so as joints of the earths for compressing its inner parts, as well as for taming the force of rivers, breaking the waves, and coercing the least restful parts of the world with its own hardest material. Yet we cut these down and cart them off for no other purpose than pleasure, but it was once a marvel that people even crossed them.

Our ancestors regarded it as almost a portent that the Alps were crossed by Hannibal, and later by the Cimbri. Now they are cut into a thousand types of marble. Promontories are opened to the sea, and the nature of the world is flattened out. We carry away those things which had been fashioned as boundaries for separating nations. Indeed, ships are built for the sake of marble, and they carry full mountain ranges through the waves, that most savage part of nature, with an even greater concession than when vessels are sought in the clouds for cold drinks, and when the nearby cliffs are cut out so that we can drink with ice.

How did Hannibal cross the alps?

omnia namque, quae usque ad hoc volumen tractavimus, hominum genita causa videri possunt: montes natura sibi fecerat ut quasdam compages telluris visceribus densandis, simul ad fluminum impetus domandos fluctusque frangendos ac minime quietas partes coercendas durissima sui materia, caedimus hos trahimusque nulla alia quam deliciarum causa, quos transcendisse quoque mirum fuit.

in portento prope maiores habuere Alpis ab Hannibale exsuperatas et postea a Cimbris: nunc ipsae caeduntur in mille genera marmorum. promunturia aperiuntur mari, et rerum natura agitur in planum; evehimus ea, quae separandis gentibus pro terminis constituta erant, navesque marmorum causa fiunt, ac per fluctus, saevissimam rerum naturae partem, huc illuc portantur iuga, maiore etiamnum venia quam cum ad frigidos potus vas petitur in nubila caeloque proximae rupes cavantur, ut bibatur glacie.