“A terrible disease came over our people thanks to angry Juno
Who hated us because our land was named after her husband’s mistress.
As long as the evil was hidden because it seemed of mortal cause,
We tried to fight it with the art of medicine.
But the destruction was exceeding our stockpiles, which lay there open, conquered.”
dira lues ira populis Iunonis iniquae
incidit exosae dictas a paelice terras.
dum visum mortale malum tantaeque latebat
causa nocens cladis, pugnatum est arte medendi:
exitium superabat opem, quae victa iacebat.
“Let us now examine the thing at the center of this, that very place of the ambush where they came together and for which party had an advantage. Is it still possible to have any doubt about this or to think about it any longer? Was it in front of Clodius’ home—a home where a thousand people could easily be housed because of those insanely large basements—was it there where Milo decided that he would choose this enemy on his higher ground when he was in a weaker position and for this very reason selected it as the best place for a fight?
The fact itself, sirs, is always pretty strong. If you were not listening to these matters but instead were viewing a picture it should still be clear which one of them was the aggressor…”
Videamus nunc id, quod caput est, locus ad insidias ille ipse, ubi congressi sunt, utri tandem fuerit aptior. Id vero, iudices, etiam dubitandum et diutius cogitandum est? Ante fundum Clodii, quo in fundo propter insanas illas substructiones facile hominum mille versabantur valentium, edito adversarii atque excelso loco superiorem se fore putarat Milo, et ob eam rem eum locum ad pugnam potissimum elegerat? An in eo loco est potius exspectatus ab eo, qui ipsius loci spe facere impetum cogitarat? Res loquitur ipsa, iudices, quae semper valet plurimum. Si haec non gesta audiretis, sed picta videretis, tamen appareret uter esset insidiator,
The conventional reading of the lyric assumes that the speaker is a lover (name: Sappho) who needs Aphrodite’s help to win (or punish) a reluctant beloved. An alternative interpretation: Sappho is a singer who needs Aphrodite’s help not to win a lover but to compose a persuasive love song. This reading turns first on the summons “come here” and “come”, and then on the god’s epiphany—or rather, the unexpected sounding of the god’s voice.
The temptation is to hear in the call to Aphrodite the traditional summons of lyric hymn. There, the suppliant speaker calls on the god to perform some beneficial task. For example, Anacreon 357:
On my knees I beg you,
Come to me,
Listen to my pleasing prayer:
To Cleobulus be
A good counselor so that he accepts
My love, O Dionysus.
In Sappho 1, things are somewhat different. The call to Aphrodite more resembles an invocation to the muse, the plea to enable song making (not find a lover). We might associate this practice with epic, but of course it exists in Archaic lyric too. Alcman 27:
Come, Muse Calliope, daughter of Zeus—
Begin with lovely verses—
Put charm into our hymn—
And make our dance a graceful one.
In Alcman’s figural language, the muse is to “begin” the very song Alcman himself is beginning to sing. Hesiod says of the muses, “they breathed into me wonderous song,” (Theog. 31-32) and Alcman asks the same of his muse. And so does Sappho. But what’s distinctive about Sappho is that she makes literal what is only metaphorical in the tradition. The voice of her responsive god literally issues from her throat as she sings her song (strophes 5 and 6). This is what it means for the god to have come: it is Aphrodite who “begins” when Sappho sings, enabling her song. The struggle of song-making: That’s the fight in which she needs an ally. In the absence of the allied muse, song-making would be an exercise in “vexations and frustrations.”
I was convinced there had been no common sense nor common honesty in the world for these last fifteen hundred years; but that they were totally extinguished with the ancient Greek and Roman governments. Homer and Virgil could have no faults, because they were ancient; Milton and Tasso could have no merit, because they were modern. And I could almost have said, with regard to the ancients, what Cicero, very absurdly and unbecomingly for a philosopher, says with regard to Plato, ‘Cum quo errare malim quam cum aliis recte sentire’. Whereas now, without any extraordinary effort of genius, I have discovered that nature was the same three thousand years ago as it is at present; that men were but men then as well as now; that modes and customs vary often, but that human nature is always the same. And I can no more suppose that men were better, braver, or wiser, fifteen hundred or three thousand years ago, than I can suppose that the animals or vegetables were better then than they are now.
I dare assert too, in defiance of the favorers of the ancients, that Homer’s hero, Achilles, was both a brute and a scoundrel, and consequently an improper character for the hero of an epic poem; he had so little regard for his country, that he would not act in defense of it, because he had quarreled with Agamemnon about a w—-e; and then afterward, animated by private resentment only, he went about killing people basely, I will call it, because he knew himself invulnerable; and yet, invulnerable as he was, he wore the strongest armor in the world; which I humbly apprehend to be a blunder; for a horse-shoe clapped to his vulnerable heel would have been sufficient. On the other hand, with submission to the favorers of the moderns, I assert with Mr. Dryden, that the devil is in truth the hero of Milton’s poem; his plan, which he lays, pursues, and at last executes, being the subject of the poem.
From all which considerations I impartially conclude that the ancients had their excellencies and their defects, their virtues and their vices, just like the moderns; pedantry and affectation of learning decide clearly in favor of the former; vanity and ignorance, as peremptorily in favor of the latter. Religious prejudices kept pace with my classical ones; and there was a time when I thought it impossible for the honestest man in the world to be saved out of the pale of the Church of England, not considering that matters of opinion do not depend upon the will; and that it is as natural, and as allowable, that another man should differ in opinion from me, as that I should differ from him; and that if we are both sincere, we are both blameless; and should consequently have mutual indulgence for each other.
“The best sweat is one that breaks a fever on the necessary day, but one that brings relief is also useful. A cold sweat developing only around the head and neck is not good and also indicates limited time and danger.”
Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son (Letter 30):
Some learned men, proud of their knowledge, only speak to decide, and give judgment without appeal; the consequence of which is, that mankind, provoked by the insult, and injured by the oppression, revolt; and, in order to shake off the tyranny, even call the lawful authority in question. The more you know, the modester you should be: and (by the bye) that modesty is the surest way of gratifying your vanity. Even where you are sure, seem rather doubtful; represent, but do not pronounce, and, if you would convince others, seem open to conviction yourself.
Others, to show their learning, or often from the prejudices of a school education, where they hear of nothing else, are always talking of the ancients, as something more than men, and of the moderns, as something less. They are never without a classic or two in their pockets; they stick to the old good sense; they read none of the modern trash; and will show you, plainly, that no improvement has been made, in any one art or science, these last seventeen hundred years. I would by no means have you disown your acquaintance with the ancients: but still less would I have you brag of an exclusive intimacy with them. Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their ages; and if you happen to have an Elzevir classic in your pocket neither show it nor mention it.
Some great scholars, most absurdly, draw all their maxims, both for public and private life, from what they call parallel cases in the ancient authors; without considering, that, in the first place, there never were, since the creation of the world, two cases exactly parallel; and, in the next place, that there never was a case stated, or even known, by any historian, with every one of its circumstances; which, however, ought to be known, in order to be reasoned from. Reason upon the case itself, and the several circumstances that attend it, and act accordingly; but not from the authority of ancient poets, or historians. Take into your consideration, if you please, cases seemingly analogous; but take them as helps only, not as guides. We are really so prejudiced by our education, that, as the ancients deified their heroes, we deify their madmen; of which, with all due regard for antiquity, I take Leonidas and Curtius to have been two distinguished ones. And yet a solid pedant would, in a speech in parliament, relative to a tax of two pence in the pound upon some community or other, quote those two heroes, as examples of what we ought to do and suffer for our country. I have known these absurdities carried so far by people of injudicious learning, that I should not be surprised, if some of them were to propose, while we are at war with the Gauls, that a number of geese should be kept in the Tower, upon account of the infinite advantage which Rome received IN A PARALLEL CASE, from a certain number of geese in the Capitol. This way of reasoning, and this way of speaking, will always form a poor politician, and a puerile declaimer.
There is another species of learned men, who, though less dogmatical and supercilious, are not less impertinent. These are the communicative and shining pedants, who adorn their conversation, even with women, by happy quotations of Greek and Latin; and who have contracted such a familiarity with the Greek and Roman authors, that they, call them by certain names or epithets denoting intimacy. As OLD Homer; that SLY ROGUE Horace; MARO, instead of Virgil; and Naso, Instead of Ovid. These are often imitated by coxcombs, who have no learning at all; but who have got some names and some scraps of ancient authors by heart, which they improperly and impertinently retail in all companies, in hopes of passing for scholars. If, therefore, you would avoid the accusation of pedantry on one hand, or the suspicion of ignorance on the other, abstain from learned ostentation. Speak the language of the company that you are in; speak it purely, and unlarded with any other. Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. Wear your learning, like your watch, in a private pocket: and do not pull it out and strike it; merely to show that you have one. If you are asked what o’clock it is, tell it; but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.
Upon the whole, remember that learning (I mean Greek and Roman learning) is a most useful and necessary ornament, which it is shameful not to be master of; but, at the same time most carefully avoid those errors and abuses which I have mentioned, and which too often attend it. Remember, too, that great modern knowledge is still more necessary than ancient; and that you had better know perfectly the present, than the old state of Europe; though I would have you well acquainted with both.
“It is understandable that he brought a prejudice on the highest offices in the land, which would no longer allow people to return the characters they started with, but instead could make them mean, boastful, and inhumane. Whether this is a movement or a change of nature because of chance or it is an unmasking of the truth when there is evil in authority, some other investigation will discover.”
This perverse epigram in the form of a sepulchral inscription is preserved without attribution in the Greek Anthology.
7.179 (Greek Anthology)
Even now, from beneath the earth, master,
I’m steadfast in my devotion to you,
Just like in the old days.
I haven’t forgotten how you got me
Back on my feet, three times, when I was sick.
Now you’ve laid me under this sheltering
Cover, which declares: Manes, a Persian.
You did right by me, master, and for that
You’ll have slaves who are indebted to you
And who are all the more eager to serve.
Plato on the Docile Slave. For Plato the problem of slavery isn’t ethical, but practical: how to make a human being “readily accept the condition of servitude” (ῥᾷον δουλεύσειν) and become “as docile as possible” (εὐμενεστάτους)? (Laws 777d and 776d, respectively). To accomplish this, he counsels “the best strategy is to treat them properly” (εἰς δύναμιν ὅτι μάλιστα, τρέφειν δ᾽ αὐτοὺς ὀρθῶς), by which he means masters should not physically injure their slaves (Laws 777d). Plato’s assumption is that “kind” treatment would induce obedience.
Aristotle on Asian Slaves. For Aristotle, non-Greeks comprise “a community of slaves, male and female alike” (ἡ κοινωνία αὐτῶν δούλης καὶ δούλου) and Greeks are their rightful masters (Politics I.1252b7-8). But Asians come in for particularly harsh judgement: “Concerning the people of Asia, although they are intelligent and capable, they lack spirit, and as a consequence they are always ruled over and enslaved (τὰ δὲ περὶ τὴν Ἀσίαν διανοητικὰ μὲν καὶ τεχνικὰ τὴν ψυχήν, ἄθυμα δέ, διόπερ ἀρχόμενα καὶ δουλεύοντα διατελεῖ [Politics VII. 1327b27-28]).
The Idealized Slave: There’s congruence between Plato’s exhortation to good treatment (his admonition against injury) and the epigram’s account of the master nursing the sick slave. Also, the epigram’s slave isn’t just docile, but ideally so. We can say that if there were two routes out of slavery, manumission and death, the master denied the slave the former, but this fictional slave denied himself the latter. Even death is not the end of his happy servitude. It’s no wonder that the grave marker identifies him as Persian–his race (γένος), according to Aristotle, marked him out for servitude. The epigram is a fantasy about servitude, and it’s as distasteful as Plato’s and Aristotle’s views.