Feeling Old? A Story about Bellerophon Probably Won’t Help

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.


Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

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All-About-Athena: Hymns, Prayers, Cult Names


Solon, fr. 4.4-5 (6th Century BCE)
Solon emphasizes Athena’s power as a protector and connection with Zeus

“This sort of a great-hearted overseer, a daughter of a strong-father
Holds her hands above our city, Pallas Athena”

τοίη γὰρ μεγάθυμος ἐπίσκοπος ὀβριμοπάτρη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη χεῖρας ὕπερθεν ἔχει•

Euripides, Heracleidae 770-72 (5th Century BCE)
Euripides echoes Solon but also refers to Athena as a maternal figure

“Queen, the foundation of the land
and the city is yours, you are its mother,
mistress and guardian..”

ἀλλ’, ὦ πότνια, σὸν γὰρ οὖ-
δας γᾶς καὶ πόλις, ἆς σὺ μά-
τηρ δέσποινά τε καὶ φύλαξ…

Aristophanes, Knights 581-585 (5th Century BCE)
Aristophanes echoes the defender motif and connects it with the glory of Athens as a martial and creative center (perhaps under influence of a more robust Panathenaia)

“O Pallas, protector of the city,
The most sacred city-
and defender of a land
that surpasses all others
in war and poetry.”

῏Ω πολιοῦχε Παλλάς, ὦ
τῆς ἱερωτάτης ἁπα-
σῶν πολέμῳ τε καὶ ποη-
ταῖς δυνάμει θ’ ὑπερφερού-
σης μεδέουσα χώρας,

Homeric Hymn to Athena 1 (Allen 11)
The shorter of the extant Homeric hymns focuses on Athena’s connection with war and heroes

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena the dread
defender of cities, to whom the acts of war are a concern with Ares:
the cities sacked, the shrill sound, and the battles,
She rescues the host when it leaves and when it returns”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
δεινήν, ᾗ σὺν ῎Αρηϊ μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα
περθόμεναί τε πόληες ἀϋτή τε πτόλεμοί τε,
καί τ’ ἐρρύσατο λαὸν ἰόντα τε νισόμενόν τε.
Χαῖρε θεά, δὸς δ’ ἄμμι τύχην εὐδαιμονίην τε.

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No Poem Without a Penis: Martial 1.35

“Cornelius, you complain that I write poems which are not serious enough, and which a teacher would not read in school: but my poems, just like a husband with his wife, cannot please without a penis. Would you have me write a wedding song without mentioning a wedding? Who would require clothes at the Floralia, or would put a long dress on a whore? This is the rule with funny poems: they are no good unless they have something a bit licentious. So put away your serious glare and please, cut my games and jokes a little slack, and don’t cut the balls off my books. There is nothing uglier than a castrated Priapus.”

Versus scribere me parum seueros
nec quos praelegat in schola magister,
Corneli, quereris: sed hi libelli,
tamquam coniugibus suis mariti,
non possunt sine mentula placere.              5
Quid si me iubeas thalassionem
uerbis dicere non thalassionis?
quis Floralia uestit et stolatum
permittit meretricibus pudorem?
Lex haec carminibus data est iocosis,              10
ne possint, nisi pruriant, iuuare.
Quare deposita seueritate
parcas lusibus et iocis rogamus,
nec castrare uelis meos libellos
Gallo turpis est nihil Priapo.

Philosophers Steal from Poets; And Poets have Crazy Ideas

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, 1.272-273

“[Of those philosophers who dispute the utility of learning grammar], Pyrrho is recorded to have been constantly reading Homeric poetry, a thing he would not have done if he did not recognize that it was useful and that, for that reason, studying grammar is compulsory. And Epicurus has been caught red-handed snatching the best of his beliefs from the poets”.

ὧν ὁ μὲν Πύρρων ἱστορεῖται τὴν ῾Ομηρικὴν διὰ παντὸς ποίησιν ἀναγινώσκων, μὴ ἄν ποτε τοῦτο ποιήσας εἴπερ μὴ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν χρησίμην καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τὴν γραμματικὴν ἀναγκαίαν, ὁ δὲ ᾿Επίκουρος φωρᾶται τὰ κράτιστα τῶν δογμάτων παρὰ ποιητῶν ἀνηρπακώς• τόν τε γὰρ ὅρον τοῦ μεγέθους τῶν


“But anyone who investigates it will find that the ideas of poets are much worse than common sense of regular men.”

ἂν δὲ καὶ ἐξετάσῃ τις, πολλῷ χείρονα τῆς τῶν ἰδιωτῶν ὑπολήψεως εὑρήσει τὰ
τῶν ποιητῶν.

Sextus who?

Salutati Continues the Attack on Aristotelian Impostors

(Note: This is a follow-up to the previous post, Salutati Attacks Aristotelian Impostors )

(3.) It is a shame to see those men in their disputes, as they fabricate and propose a silly question in unintelligible and totally contrived terms. They cut up many things in a joking way, as though they meant to take them back up, and exercise themselves by responding to them in turn; they sprinkle around some propositions, they toss in some corollaries, and they heap up the conclusions.

(4.) And you can see them confirm their proofs of all of these things with various added (or perhaps I should say that they are winged, and flying) calculations. Aye indeed, it is a true shame to hear them in their disputes, when you perceive that because they lack any substance, they rely on their terms alone and seek nothing more than to bark as loud as the rest. But why should I talk about them as debaters? When they are in the mood to say nothing, or at any rate very little, about the question at hand, they instead contrive to capture their opponent in the snare of some idle sophistry.

(3.) Pudor est ipsos disputantes aspicere cum texentes quandam quodam modo cantilenam questionem verbis inintelligibilibus formatisque proponunt. Multa cavillosis sectionibus, in quarum alternatione respondendo versentur, quasi resumenda premittunt, propositiones spargunt, corollaria adiciunt, conclusiones accumulant.

(4.) Et horum omnium probationes allatis, ne dicam alatis et evolantibus, rationibus eos videas confirmare. Et vere pudor est ipsos disputantes audire, cum rebus inanes cernas solum inniti terminis et nichil magis appetere quam in equivoco delatrare. Quid de arguentibus loquar? Qui cum de questione nichil aut paucissima dicturi sint, alicuius sophysmatis laqueo nituntur capere disputantem.

Zonaras 7.8 Part V: The Sons of Marcius Return

Tarquinius is slain by the sons of Marcius for usurping their throne:

The sons of Marcius then set upon Tarquinius, since he did not pass the throne on to them, but instead preferred a certain Tullius who was born to him by a captive woman. This indeed was a thing which had caused the nobles substantial distress. The sons of Marcius therefore enlisted the help of some of these nobles and plotted against Tarquinius; their plan was to send, in rustic fashion, two men armed with axes and sickles to attack Tarquinius. When it happened that they did not encounter Tarquinius in public, they went to the doors of his regal home, indeed striving against each other as they needed to come into his presence. When they met him, they fell into an argument with each other, and while Tarquinius paid attention to one of the men as he was pleading his case, the other man slew him.

᾿Επέθεντο μέντοι τῷ Ταρκυνίῳ οἱ τοῦ Μαρκίου παῖδες, ἐπεὶ μὴ τῆς ἀρχῆς αὐτοῖς παρεχώρει, ἀλλά τινα Τούλλιον τεχθέντα οἱ ἐξ αἰχμαλωτίδος προῆγε πάντων· ὃ δὴ μάλιστα τοὺς εὐπατρίδας ἐλύπει. ὧν τινας προσεταιρισάμενοι αὐτῷ ἐπεβούλευσαν, δύο
τινὰς χωριτικῶς ἐσταλμένους, ἀξίναις καὶ δρεπάνοις ὡπλισμένους, αὐτῷ ἐπιθέσθαι παρασκευάσαντες. οἳ ἐπεὶ μὴ ἀγοράζοντι τῷ Ταρκυνίῳ ἐνέτυχον, ἐπὶ τὰς θύρας τῶν βασιλείων ἧκον, ἀλλήλοις δῆθεν διαμαχόμενοι, καί οἱ ἐλθεῖν εἰς ὄψιν ἐδέοντο. καὶ τυχόντες τούτου εἰς λόγους ἀλλήλοις ἀντικατέστησαν, καὶ δικαιολογουμένῳ τῷ ἑνὶ προσέχοντα τὸν Ταρκύνιον ὁ ἕτερος κατειργάσατο.

“Be The Best”: Wonderful, Terrible Advice

This year I taught my last class at my first institution and soon I will teach my first at a very different school. Although I am happy to start anew, there will be many people to miss and among them stand many of the students who have impacted my life. This time of year teachers are mostly worn down—it is often hard to see the good we do in the midst of it. Indeed, as I tell my students, we are conditioned to see our failures (of which there are many without a doubt) and to minimize our successes.

I tried to downplay my departure—my department held a small gathering to mark it and a few students were invited. One of the students brought a card from a student who graduated several years ago:

Be the best.jpg

The bit about “be the best” is a truth that makes me shudder a bit because it can be terrible advice to set someone up for disappointment. I remember the conversation distinctly—the student had finished a senior thesis and was ready to go to law school but the process had been frustrating for us both. After letting the student know she had done just fine, I told her law school was going to be harder and she had a choice of doing well (which she would) or doing great. Then I quoted the Iliad.

Il. 6.206-208

“Hippolochus fathered me—I claim him as my father.
He sent me to Troy and gave me much advice,
To always be the best and to be better than the rest.”

῾Ιππόλοχος δέ μ’ ἔτικτε, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ φημι γενέσθαι·
πέμπε δέ μ’ ἐς Τροίην, καί μοι μάλα πόλλ’ ἐπέτελλεν
αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων…

And also:


“Old Peleus advised his son Achilles
To always be the best and be better than the rest.
And to you in turn your father Menoitios, Aktor’s son, advised:
‘My child, Achilles is superior to you by birth,
But you are older. And he is much stronger than you.
But you must do well to speak and give him a close word,
And to advise him. He will obey you to a good end.”

Πηλεὺς μὲν ᾧ παιδὶ γέρων ἐπέτελλ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ
αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων·
σοὶ δ’ αὖθ’ ὧδ’ ἐπέτελλε Μενοίτιος ῎Ακτορος υἱός·
τέκνον ἐμὸν γενεῇ μὲν ὑπέρτερός ἐστιν ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
πρεσβύτερος δὲ σύ ἐσσι· βίῃ δ’ ὅ γε πολλὸν ἀμείνων.
ἀλλ’ εὖ οἱ φάσθαι πυκινὸν ἔπος ἠδ’ ὑποθέσθαι
καί οἱ σημαίνειν· ὃ δὲ πείσεται εἰς ἀγαθόν περ.

In the first passage, Glaukos is telling Diomedes who he is and they ‘bond’ over their shared background (really, I think Glaukos comes out on top—though he exchanges gold armor for bronze, he lives to fight another day). In the second, Nestor is attempting to persuade Patroklos that he too is responsible for Achilles’ behavior because of their fathers’ injunctions.

Most of us who teach are more like Nestor than Patroklos, but we have Patroklos’ ability to advice, apply a convincing word here and there and hope (sometimes against all logic) that what we say will have some “good” outcome. While we watch hundreds (if not thousands) of students pass through our classrooms over the years, we remember mostly those we don’t seem to move, the good we seem not to have accomplished.

But every once in a while, we are lucky enough to hear that what we do makes a real difference. And it is often not in the exam we set, the lecture we give, or the grades we dole out. We make impacts in those human interactions between the scripted moments. Don’t get me wrong—everything else is important too: the scripted moments allow us to “be the best” in one way, to offer that “close-kept word”. But our unassessed, unquantified, and unmandated contributions help to take our work from the classroom to the world our students (and we) inhabit.

In nearly a decade at my first job I was honored to have many students like the one who sent me this thank-you note—bright young people who will go on to make their lives better and improve the lives of those around them. I am thankful to have had this opportunity and humbled that I too have been able to make a difference.