Old Drunks On the Dance Floor

Anacreonta 47

“I might be an old man
But I drink more than these kids.
And if you ask me to dance,
I make like Silenus
Dancing in the middle of the floor
Holding my flask like a scepter.
Since my fennel-stalk is weak.

Anyone want to fight?
Let him come out and try me.

Mix the honey-sweet wine
In the cup, Son,
And bring it to me.”

ἐγὼ γέρων μέν εἰμι,
νέων πλέον δὲ πίνω·
κἂν δεήσῃ με χορεύειν,
Σειληνὸν ἐν μέσοισι
μιμούμενος χορεύσω
σκῆπτρὸν ἔχων τὸν ἀσκόν·
ὁ νάρθηξ δ᾿ οὐδέν ἐστιν.
ὁ μὲν θέλων μάχεσθαι
παρέστω καὶ μαχέσθω.
ἐμοὶ κύπελλον, ὦ παῖ,
μελίχρουν οἶνον ἡδὺν
ἐγκεράσας φόρησον.

Peter Paul Reubens, “Drunken Silenus” 1618

Drink Your Vergil!

Pietro Bembo, Letter to Pico della Mirandola (1530)

We cannot say the same thing about Vergil, namely, that he is fit to be emulated by everyone who takes pleasure in his poems. For those who write elegies or lyric poems, or those who are held by an enthusiasm for writing comedies or tragedies, will find very little help from the Vergilian structure, meter, or poetic program. Rather, they should imitate those whom they consider to be the chief poets in each individual genre of writing, and should give themselves wholly to the project of following them and even overcoming them. To be sure, I myself have done this. In writing my elegies, I imitated the poet who seemed to me to be the best in that genre. But for the poet who commits himself to heroic verse, then surely Vergil is to be learned, drunk in, and expressed as much as possible, as I had once personally told you was my opinion on the matter.

Pietro Bembo - Wikipedia

De Virgilio vero non idem possumus dicere, ut idoneus sit, quem, qui carminibus delectantur, imitari omnes queant. Neque enim qui aut elegos aut lyricos conficiunt versus, quique vel comoediarum vel tragoediarum scribendarum studio detinentur, horum ullos Virgiliana carminum structura, numerus, ratio ipsa multum iuvabit. Sed imitentur ii quidem eos quos habent principes singulis in scriptorum generibus singulos atque illis assequendis superandisque dedant. Quod profecto nos aliquando fecimus, ut in elegis pangendis, qui optimus eo in genere poematis nobis visus est, eum imitaremur. Heroicis autem conscribendis carminibus qui se dederit, huic certe erit Virgilius ediscendus, ebibendus et quam maxime fieri poterit exprimendus, quemadmodum coram tibi dixeram mihi videri.

Declaring War on the Morning Birds

Anacreonta 10

“What do you want me to do with you,
What’s left, chatty bird?
Should I grab your light wings
And take my scissors to them?
Or should I take out your tongue
Like that Tereus?

Why do you steal Bathyllus
From my sweet dreams
With your good-morning songs?”

τί σοι θέλεις ποιήσω,
τί σοι, λάλη χελιδόν;
τὰ ταρσά σευ τὰ κοῦφα
θέλεις λαβὼν ψαλίξω;

ἢ μᾶλλον ἔνδοθέν σευ
τὴν γλῶσσαν, ὡς ὁ Τηρεὺς
ἐκεῖνος, ἐκθερίξω;
τί μευ καλῶν ὀνείρων

ὑπορθρίαισι φωναῖς
ἀφήρπασας Βάθυλλον;

Dawn at Rhine river foreland at Huissen with hundreds of gooses in the air

To His Own Drunk Self, a Song

Anacreonta 9: To His Own Drunk Self [εἰς ἑαυτὸν μεμεθυσμένον]

“Dear gods, let me drink,
Let me drink without pausing.
I want to go crazy, I do.

Alkmaion went crazy
And so did white-footed Orestes,
After they killed their mothers.

I haven’t killed anyone
drinking my red wine
I want to go crazy, I do.

Herakles went crazy once
Shaking his awful quiver
And Iphitus’ bow.
Ajax went crazy too
Holding up Hektor’s sword
With his shield.

I have this little cup
And this crown on my hair.
Not a bow or a sword.
I want to go crazy, I do.”

ἄφες με, τοὺς θεούς σοι,
πιεῖν, πιεῖν ἀμυστί·
θέλω, θέλω μανῆναι.
ἐμαίνετ᾿ Ἀλκμαίων τε
χὠ λευκόπους Ὀρέστης
τὰς μητέρας κτανόντες·
ἐγὼ δὲ μηδένα κτάς,
πιὼν δ᾿ ἐρυθρὸν οἶνον
θέλω, θέλω μανῆναι.

ἐμαίνετ᾿ Ἡρακλῆς πρὶν
δεινὴν κλονῶν φαρέτρην
καὶ τόξον Ἰφίτειον.
ἐμαίνετο πρὶν Αἴας
μετ᾿ ἀσπίδος κραδαίνων
τὴν Ἕκτορος μάχαιραν·

ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔχων κύπελλον
καὶ στέμμα τοῦτο χαίτης,
οὐ τόξον, οὐ μάχαιραν,
θέλω, θέλω μανῆναι.

Drunken Hercules. A detail from the Baccanalia mosaic, Tsipory.

Stop Talking Like a Professor

Erasmus, Adagia 1.39:

Less Cultivated and More Clearly:

Indeed, that phrase is put less elegantly by the Greeks, but it has the same force: Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ [speak less learnedly and more clearly], which is found in Gellius as well. He says,

‘For you know, I think, that ancient and commonly circulated phrase, Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ,’

that is, Speak less learnedly and more plainly, and say it more openly and clearly. It appears to be taken from from a comedy of Aristophanes, titled Βάτραχοι, that is, The Frogs:

Ἀμαθέστερον πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

that is, Speak less learnedly and more clearly. In this song, Bacchus chides the obscurity of Euripides, who had proposed something or other with insufficient lucidity. Suidas and an interpreter advise us that there is a proverb underlying it, which runs:

Σαφέστερόν μοι κἀμαθέστερον φράσον,

that is, Speak to me more openly and less learnedly. I suspect that it was taken from the fact that in antiquity, those sophists (as they call them) were accustomed to exert a fair amount of labor in covering over the mysteries of wisdom with certain enigmatical entanglements, clearly with the intention of keeping the profane mob not yet initiated into the sacred secrets of philosophy from following it. Nay, even today, some professors of philosophy and theology, when they are about to relate what any little old lady or workman might say, tangle and wrap up the matter with little spikes and portents of words so that they will seem learned. Thus Plato with his numbers obscured his own philosophy. Thus Aristotle, with all of his learned collections, made a lot of things more obscure.

640px-Frogs_of_Aristophanes_Playbill

RVDIVS AC PLANIVS     

Inelegantius quidem est illud apud Graecos, sed idem tamen pollet: Ἀμαθέστερον καὶ σαφέστερον εἰπέ, quod apud eundem refertur Gellium.

Nosti enim, inquit, credo, verbum illud vetus et peruulgatum, μαθέστερον εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

id est Indoctius rudiusque quodammodo loquere et apertius ac clarius fare. Sumptum apparet ex Aristophanis comoedia, cui titulus Βάτραχοι, id est Ranae:

Ἀμαθέστερον πως εἰπὲ καὶ σαφέστερον,

id est  Indoctius proloquitor atque clarius. Quo carmine Bacchus Euripidis obscuritatem taxat, qui nescio quid parum dilucide proposuerat. Suidas et interpres admonent subesse prouerbium, quod hunc ad modum feratur:

Σαφέστερόν μοι κἀμαθέστερον φράσον,

id est  Apertius mihi loquere atque indoctius. Suspicor inde sumptum, quod antiquitus illi σοφοί, quos vocant, soleant mysteria sapientiae quibusdam aenigmatum inuolucris data opera obtegere, videlicet ne prophana turba ac nondum philosophiae sacris initiata posset assequi. Quin et hodie nonnulli philosophiae ac theologiae professores, cum ea quandoque tradant, quae quaeuis muliercula aut cerdo dicturus sit, tamen quo docti videantur, rem spinis quibusdam ac verborum portentis implicant et inuoluunt. Sic Plato numeris suis obscurauit suam philosophiam. Sic Aristoteles multa mathematicis collationibus reddidit obscuriora.

 

 

Homer’s Lyre and the Lyric Muse

Anacreonta 2

“Give me Homer’s lyre
Without its bloody strings–
Hand me cups of laws
mixed with rules for things.

That way, I will dance when I’m drunk
wisely out of my mind,
I will sing to the fingers playing
And shout the songs for drinking
Just give me Homer’s lyre
Without its bloody strings.”

δότε μοι λύρην Ὁμήρου
φονίης ἄνευθε χορδῆς,
φέρε μοι κύπελλα θεσμῶν,
φέρε μοι νόμους κεράσσας,

μεθύων ὅπως χορεύσω,
ὑπὸ σώφρονος δὲ λύσσης
μετὰ βαρβίτων ἀείδων
τὸ παροίνιον βοήσω.
δότε μοι λύρην Ὁμήρου
φονίης ἄνευθε χορδῆς.

Anacreonta 3

“Come here, best of painters
Listen to the Lyric muse!
Paint cities first
Happy ones, laughing ones,
And Bacchantes at play,
Breathing into their double pipes.
Then if the wax can manage,
Trace out the lovers’ ways.”

ἄγε, ζωγράφων ἄριστε,
λυρικῆς ἄκουε Μούσης·
γράφε τὰς πόλεις τὸ πρῶτον
ἱλαράς τε καὶ γελώσας,
φιλοπαίγμονάς τε Βάκχας
†ἑτεροπνόους ἐναύλους·†
ὁ δὲ κηρὸς ἂν δύναιτο,
γράφε καὶ νόμους φιλούντων.

Peter Paul Reubens “Minerva protects Pax from Mars” 1629/30

We Deserve More Praise For Our Latin

Gianfrancesco Pico, Letter to Pietro Bembo:

To be sure, both Greek and Latin were effectively innate to the ancients, but we must seek these languages from their books, and thus we should receive a greater accession of legitimate praise for learning them. For they, even if they were unwilling, spoke Greek in Greece and Latin in Italy; but we Italians who speak Latin (not to mention Greek) have earned and acquired that skill through our industry. Thus it will happen that, should our age happen to get a fair judge of these matters, those who now speak even in a fairly middling way will be justly preferred to those outstanding champions of old, since the men of today, having had commerce with the Goths, Vandals, and the Huns, yet retain that ancient mode of speech worn down by so many centuries, or at any rate they attempt to retain it through continual imitation, in which pursuit there is perchance a marvelous – nay, even excessive mental subtlety.

Detail from one of the graffiti images

Lingua certe veteribus illis cum Graeca tum Latina quasi nativa adfuit, quam ab eorum libris petere nos oportet, quibus maior ea de re legitimae laudis accesio. Illi enim vel nolentes et in Hellade Graece et in Italia Latine loquebantur; nobis Italis qui Latine loquamur, nedum Graece, id nostra est partum et elaboratum industria. Inde fiet aequum rerum aestimatorem si sortiatur nostra aetas, posse eos qui nunc mediocriter loquuntur praecipuis illis et antesignanis iure praeferri, qui scilicet inter Gothos, Vandalos, Hunnosque versati priscam illam et tot saeculis abolitam dicendi rationem aut teneant aut tenere conentur imitatione continua, qua etiam in re mira subtilitas et forte nimia.

The Dream of Love that Lingers

Anacreonta, 1

“That Teian singer, Anacreon,
saw me in a dream
as I was running to kiss and embrace him,
He spoke to me.

He was an old man, but still fine,
Fine and loving still,
His lips scented with wine.
And as he trembled, Love

Led him by the hand.
He lifted the flowers from his crown
And gave them to me–
Oh, they smelled of Anacreon!

Just like the fool I am, I took them
And placed them on my brow
And thanks to that, I never stopped loving
right up to now.”

Ἀνακρέων ἰδών με
ὁ Τήιος μελῳδὸς
ὄναρ λέγων προσεῖπεν,
κἀγὼ δραμὼν πρὸς αὐτὸν

περιπλάκην φιλήσας.
γέρων μὲν ἦν, καλὸς δέ,
καλὸς δὲ καὶ φίλευνος·
τὸ χεῖλος ὦζεν οἴνου,
τρέμοντα δ᾿ αὐτὸν ἤδη

Ἔρως ἐχειραγώγει.
ὁ δ᾿ ἐξελὼν καρήνου
ἐμοὶ στέφος δίδωσι·
τὸ δ᾿ ὦζ᾿ Ἀνακρέοντος.
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ὁ μωρὸς ἄρας

ἐδησάμην μετώπῳ·
καὶ δῆθεν ἄχρι καὶ νῦν
ἔρωτος οὐ πέπαυμαι.

Henri Rousseau. The Dream. 1910. MOMA

The Travails of an Untimely Tongue

A greek proverb, ascribed to an unknown poet

Strabo, Geography 1.14

“It certainly wasn’t proper for Hesiod to never speak nonsense but to pursue
Established opinions while Homer “sang whatever occurred to an untimely tongue”

ἢ καὶ Ἡσιόδῳ μὲν ἔπρεπε μὴ φλυαρεῖν ἀλλὰ ταῖς κατεχούσαις δόξαις ἀκολουθεῖν, Ὁμήρῳ δὲ
πᾶν ὅττι κεν ἐπ᾿ ἀκαιρίμαν
γλῶσσαν ἴῃ κελαδεῖν;

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 5.217c

“Plato clearly makes a lot of chronological errors in many examples. For, in the words of the poet, “he follows an untimely tongue” and writes things down without discrimination.”

ὁ Πλάτων παρὰ τοὺς χρόνους ἁμαρτάνει δῆλόν ἐστιν ἐκ πολλῶν· κατὰ γὰρ τὸν εἰπόντα ποιητήν
ὅττι κεν ἐπ᾿ ἀκαιρίμαν
γλῶτταν ἔλθῃ,
τοῦτο μὴ διακρίνας γράφει. οὐ γὰρ ἀγράφως τι ἔλεγεν,

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Literary Composition 1

“Students need a great deal of thoughtful oversight and instruction if they are going to avoid writing “whatever word comes to an untimely tongue” and composing randomly any sudden thoughts, instead selecting words that are clear and sophisticated, fitting them together in a way that mixes pleasure with pride.”

οἷς πολλῆς πάνυ καὶ ἔμφρονος δεῖ τῆς πρώτης ἐπιστάσεώς τε καὶ ἀγωγῆς, εἰ μέλλουσι μὴ πᾶν ‘ὅ τι κεν ἐπ’ ἀκαιρίμαν γλῶσσαν ἔπος ἔλθῃ᾿ λέγειν μηδ᾿ εἰκῇ συνθήσειν τὰ προστυχόντα ἀλλήλοις, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκλογῇ τε χρήσεσθαι καθαρῶν ἅμα καὶ γενναίων ὀνομάτων καὶ συνθέσει ταῦτα κοσμήσειν μεμιγμένον ἐχούσῃ τῷ σεμνῷ τὸ ἡδύ.

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 18

“Whenever someone also asks you to speak and others present propose some topics and starting points for the conversation, complain about the difficult ones and mock them as wholly unmanly. When the conversation has started, don’t delay in saying “whatever comes to your untimely tongue…”

“Ἐπειδὰν δὲ καὶ δέῃ λέγειν καὶ οἱ παρόντες ὑποβάλωσί τινας ὑποθέσεις καὶ ἀφορμὰς τῶν λόγων, ἅπαντα μὲν ὁπόσα ἂν ᾖ δυσχερῆ, ψεγέσθω καὶ ἐκφαυλιζέσθω ὡς οὐδὲν ὅλως ἀνδρῶδες αὐτῶν. ἑλομένων δέ, μὴ μελλήσας λέγε ὅττι κεν ἐπ᾿ ἀκαιρίμαν γλῶτταν ἔλθῃ,

Gnomologium Vaticanum 382

“[Kratês] the Cynic used to say that it is better to slip with your foot than your tongue.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη κρεῖττον εἶναι τῷ ποδὶ ὀλισθῆσαι ἢ τῇ γλώττῃ.

Life & Death at the Tip of the Tongue (painting) by Omer Toledano, 2001

The Ancients Say Talk Less

Hesiod, Works & Days 760-764.

Do this: stay clear of men’s awful talk.
Talk’s evil: airy and easy to take up,
But trouble to sustain, and hard to put down.
No talk ever dies once the bulk of men
Get going. In a way Talk too is a god.

ὧδ᾽ ἔρδειν: δεινὴν δὲ βροτῶν ὑπαλεύεο φήμην:
φήμη γάρ τε κακὴ πέλεται, κούφη μὲν ἀεῖραι
ῥεῖα μάλ᾽, ἀργαλέη δὲ φέρειν, χαλεπὴ δ᾽ ἀποθέσθαι.
φήμη δ᾽ οὔτις πάμπαν ἀπόλλυται, ἥν τινα πολλοὶ
λαοὶ φημίξουσι: θεός νύ τίς ἐστι καὶ αὐτή.

Heraclitus Fragments:
#47

Let’s not join in speaking breezily about the most important things.

μὴ εἰκῆ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων συμβαλλώμεθα

#87

A foolish person loves to be distracted by all that’s said.

βλὰξ ἄνθρωπος ἐπὶ παντὶ λόγῳ ἐπτοῆσθαι φιλεῖ

Mosaic of Hesiod. 3rd Century CE.
Rhineland Museum, Trier Germany.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.