The Weakest Slave: The Millwoman’s Sorrowful Sign

In this often overlooked scene we find an unnamed slave at the end of a long night’s work. 

Odyssey 20.97-120

[Odysseus] carried it outside and then prayed
while raising his hands to Zeus,
“Zeus, father, if you have willingly led me
over the soil and swell to this land,
after you have made me a much lesser man,
let someone of those gathered within utter my fame
and let some other sign of Zeus appear without.”

So he spoke while praying and Zeus the advisor was listening to him.
He immediately thundered from shining Olympus
high above from the clouds. And brilliant Odysseus smiled.
A woman from the house near the mill released a sound [phêmê]
where the twelve mills were set for the shepherd of the host.
There were twelve women working there
regularly working the barley and the wheat, men’s marrow.
The others were sleeping, since they had finished grinding their grain.
But she alone was not yet stopping, since she was the weakest of all.
But then she stopped her mill and spoke, a sign for her master.

“Zeus, father, you who rule over the gods and people,
how you have thundered from the starry sky
where there is no cloud! In this you show your sign.
Now grant to wretched me this word which I speak:
may this be the last and final day on which the suitors
take their lovely feast in the halls of Odysseus.
These men wear the knees of tired, heart-pained me
as I make their meal. Let them dine now for the last.”

So she spoke and Odysseus took pleasure in the speech and the thunder. For he was thinking that he would pay the guilty back.”

θῆκε θύραζε φέρων, Διὶ δ’ εὔξατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ μ’ ἐθέλοντες ἐπὶ τραφερήν τε καὶ ὑγρὴν
ἤγετ’ ἐμὴν ἐς γαῖαν, ἐπεί μ’ ἐκακώσατε λίην,
φήμην τίς μοι φάσθω ἐγειρομένων ἀνθρώπων
ἔνδοθεν, ἔκτοσθεν δὲ Διὸς τέρας ἄλλο φανήτω.”
ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος· τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς,
αὐτίκα δ’ ἐβρόντησεν ἀπ’ αἰγλήεντος ᾿Ολύμπου,
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων· γήθησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
φήμην δ’ ἐξ οἴκοιο γυνὴ προέηκεν ἀλετρὶς
πλησίον, ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ μύλαι εἵατο ποιμένι λαῶν.
τῇσιν δώδεκα πᾶσαι ἐπερρώοντο γυναῖκες
ἄλφιτα τεύχουσαι καὶ ἀλείατα, μυελὸν ἀνδρῶν·
αἱ μὲν ἄρ’ ἄλλαι εὗδον, ἐπεὶ κατὰ πυρὸν ἄλεσσαν,
ἡ δὲ μί’ οὔ πω παύετ’, ἀφαυροτάτη δὲ τέτυκτο·
ἥ ῥα μύλην στήσασα ἔπος φάτο, σῆμα ἄνακτι·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσεις,
ἦ μεγάλ’ ἐβρόντησας ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί· τέρας νύ τεῳ τόδε φαίνεις.
κρῆνον νῦν καὶ ἐμοὶ δειλῇ ἔπος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω·
μνηστῆρες πύματόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἤματι τῷδε
ἐν μεγάροισ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος ἑλοίατο δαῖτ’ ἐρατεινήν,
οἳ δή μοι καμάτῳ θυμαλγέϊ γούνατ’ ἔλυσαν
ἄλφιτα τευχούσῃ· νῦν ὕστατα δειπνήσειαν.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
Ζηνός τε βροντῇ· φάτο γὰρ τείσασθαι ἀλείτας.
αἱ δ’ ἄλλαι δμῳαὶ κατὰ δώματα κάλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος
ἐγρόμεναι ἀνέκαιον ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ ἀκάματον πῦρ.

This scene illustrates the extent to which minor characters exist and in fact suffer pointlessly for Odysseus’ benefit: we get the briefest glimpse into the life and suffering of one of the mill-working women in order to satisfy Odysseus’ own desire to hear that he is remembered.  For me, this scene is a metonym for the narrative’s use of marginalized peoples in the generic instrumentalization of another’s pain to satisfy Odysseus’ narrative ends.

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

 

Let Aeneas Bee Worne in the Tablet of Your Memorie

Philip Sydney, Defence of Poesie: 

“The incomparable Lacedemonians, did not onelie carrie that kinde of Musicke ever with them to the field, but even at home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to be singers of them: when the lustie men were to tell what they did, the old men what they had done, and the yoong what they would doo. And where a man may say that Pindare many times praiseth highly Victories of small moment, rather matters of sport then vertue, as it may be answered, it was the fault of the Poet, and not of the Poetrie; so indeed the chiefe fault was, in the time and custome of the Greekes, who set those toyes at so high a price, that Philip of Macedon reckoned a horse-race wonne at Olympus, among his three fearfull felicities. But as the unimitable Pindare often did, so is that kind most capable and most fit, to awake the thoughts from the sleepe of idlenesse, to embrace honourable enterprises. Their rests the Heroicall, whose verie name I thinke should daunt all backbiters. For by what conceit can a tongue bee directed to speake evil of that which draweth with him no lesse champions then Achilles, Cirus, Aeneas, Turnus, Tideus, Rinaldo, who doeth not onely teache and moove to a truth, but teacheth and mooveth to the most high and excellent truth: who maketh magnanimitie and justice, shine through all mistie fearfulnesse and foggie desires.

Who if the saying of Plato and Tully bee true, that who could see vertue, woulde be woonderfullie ravished with the love of her bewtie. This man setteth her out to make her more lovely in her holliday apparell, to the eye of anie that will daine, not to disdaine untill they understand. But if any thing be alreadie said in the defence of sweete Poetrie, all concurreth to the mainteining the Heroicall, which is not onlie a kinde, but the best and most accomplished kindes of Poetrie. For as the Image of each Action stirreth and instructeth the minde, so the loftie Image of such woorthies, moste enflameth the minde with desire to bee woorthie: and enformes with counsaile how to bee woorthie. Onely let Aeneas bee worne in the Tablet of your memorie, how hee governeth himselfe in the ruine of his Countrey, in the preserving his olde Father, and carrying away his religious Ceremonies, in obeying Gods Commaundment, to leave Dido, though not onelie all passionate kindeness, not even the humane consideration of vertuous gratefulnesse, would have craved other of him: how in stormes, how in sports, how in warre, how in peace, how a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how beseiging, how to straungers, how to Allies, how to enemies, how to his owne. Lastly, how in his inwarde selfe, and how in his outwarde government, and I thinke in a minde moste prejudiced with a prejudicating humour, Hee will bee founde in excellencie fruitefull.”

Sir Philip Sidney from NPG.jpg

Look How Much I Suffered! Odysseus Minimizes Slavery (And Eumaios’ Life Story)

Odyssey 15.494–485

Then god-born Odysseus responded to him with a speech:
“Eumaios, you have really raised the spirit in my thoughts
By saying each of these things, how much you suffered grief in you heart.
But Zeus has certainly added some good to your trouble
Since you came and have worked much in the home of a mild man,
Who provides food and drink rightly. You live a good life.
But I have come her after wandering through many cities of men”
So they spoke saying these kinds of things
And they stayed awake not much more, only a little.

τὸν δ’ αὖ διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεὺς ἠμείβετο μύθῳ·
“Εὔμαι’, ἦ μάλα δή μοι ἐνὶ φρεσὶ θυμὸν ὄρινας
ταῦτα ἕκαστα λέγων, ὅσα δὴ πάθες ἄλγεα θυμῷ.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι σοὶ μὲν παρὰ καὶ κακῷ ἐσθλὸν ἔθηκε
Ζεύς, ἐπεὶ ἀνδρὸς δώματ’ ἀφίκεο πολλὰ μογήσας
ἠπίου, ὃς δή τοι παρέχει βρῶσίν τε πόσιν τε
ἐνδυκέως, ζώεις δ’ ἀγαθὸν βίον· αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
πολλὰ βροτῶν ἐπὶ ἄστε’ ἀλώμενος ἐνθάδ’ ἱκάνω.”
ὣς οἱ μὲν τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἀγόρευον,
καδδραθέτην δ’ οὐ πολλὸν ἐπὶ χρόνον, ἀλλὰ μίνυνθα·

Schol. HQ ad Od. 15.488

Q. “But Zeus did not give you only evil, but good too.
H. He added some good to your misfortune.

ἀλλ’ ἤτοι σοὶ] ἀλλὰ σοὶ μὲν ὁ Ζεὺς οὐ κακὸν μόνον παρέθηκεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀγαθόν. Q. τῇ δυστυχίᾳ σου παρέθηκε τι ἀγαθόν. H.

This is the response Odysseus gives to Eumaios’ story of his enslavement as a child.

Eumaios’ Story: Odyssey, 15.389–484

Then the swineherd, marshal of men, responded:
“Friend, since you have asked me and inquired truly of these things,
Listen now in silence and take some pleasure and drink your wine
While you sit there. These nights are endless. There is time for sleep
And there is time to take pleasure in listening. It is not at all necessary
For you to sleep before it is time. Even a lot of sleep can be a burden.
Let whoever of the rest the heart and spirit moves
Go out and sleep. For as soon as the down shows itself
Let him eat and follow the master’s swine.
As we two drink and dine in this shelter
Let us take pleasure as we recall one another’s terrible pains.
For a man finds pleasure even in pains later on
After he has suffered so very many and survived many too.
I will tell you this because you asked me and inquired.

There is an island called Suriê, if you have heard of it,
Above Ortygia, where the rays of the sun rise.
It is not too filled, but it is a good place
Well stocked with cows, sheep, with much wine and grain too.
Poverty never curses the people there, nor does any other
Hateful sickness fall upon the wretched mortals,
But when the race of humans grow old in the city
Apollo silverbow comes with Artemis
And kills them with his gentle arrows.

There are two cities there and everything is divided between them.
My father used to rule both of them as king
Ktêsios the son of Ormenos, a man equal to the immortal gods.
The ship-famous Phaeacians used to to frequent there
Pirates, bringing countless treasures in their black ships.
There was a Phoenician woman in my father’s house
Beautiful and broad and skilled in wondrous works.
The devious Phoenicians were corrupting her.
First, one of them joined her for sex while she was washing clothes
Near the swift ship—these things mix up the thoughts
For the female sex even when one of them is work-focused.

Continue reading

Plautus and Terence: Not for Fools

Lope de Vega, Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo

“It is true that I have written sometimes following that art which few people know, but then I see monsters spring forth from the other part, full in appearance, where the vulgar mass and the women go to canonize this sad exercise, and I turn myself just as much to that barbaric habit. And, when I have to write a comedy, I lock up those old precepts with their keys; I banish Terence and Plautus from my study, because they do not give me a voice (the truth usually shouts from silent books), and I write through the art which those who strove for vulgar applause have invented, because, as the mob pays for them, it is right to speak in the character of fools in order to afford them pleasure.”

Image result for lope de vega arte nuevo

Verdad es que yo he escrito algunas veces
siguiendo el arte que conocen pocos,
mas luego que salir por otra parte 35
veo los monstruos, de apariencia llenos,
adonde acude el vulgo y las mujeres
que este triste ejercicio canonizan,
a aquel hábito bárbaro me vuelvo;
y, cuando he de escribir una comedia, 40
encierro los preceptos con seis llaves;
saco a Terencio y Plauto de mi estudio,
para que no me den voces (que suele
dar gritos la verdad en libros mudos),
y escribo por el arte que inventaron 45
los que el vulgar aplauso pretendieron,
porque, como las paga el vulgo, es justo
hablarle en necio para darle gusto.

Reader Request: Insults in Plutarch’s Pericles

Plutarch, Life of Pericles:

§1:

“In most other matters, it does not immediately follow that one who marvels at a work should be urged on to pursue that work; indeed, much to the contrary, it often happens that while rejoicing in a work we despise the person who performed it. We are delighted by certain perfumes and dyes, yet we consider dyers and perfumers to be servile and vulgar people. For that reason, Antisthenes, upon hearing that Ismenias was an excellent pipe-player, responded, ‘Sure – but he is also a degenerate; it is only thus that he achieved his excellence as a pipe-player.’ Philip once said to Alexander, who was playing with grace and skill at some party, ‘Are you not ashamed to play so well?’ It is all perfectly well for a king to listen to music at his leisure, and he does far more for the Muses by sitting as a spectator while others engage in such bouts.

 

ἐπεὶ τῶν γ’ ἄλλων οὐκ εὐθὺς ἀκολουθεῖ τῷ θαυμάσαι τὸ πραχθὲν ὁρμὴ πρὸς τὸ πρᾶξαι, πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τοὐναντίον χαίροντες τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ δημιουργοῦ καταφρονοῦμεν, ὡς ἐπὶ τῶν μύρων καὶ τῶν ἁλουργῶν τούτοις μὲν ἡδόμεθα, τοὺς δὲ βαφεῖς καὶ μυρεψοὺς ἀνελευθέρους ἡγούμεθα καὶ βαναύσους. διὸ

καλῶς μὲν ᾿Αντισθένης ἀκούσας ὅτι σπουδαῖός ἐστιν αὐλητὴς ᾿Ισμηνίας, „ἀλλ’ ἄνθρωπος” ἔφη „μοχθηρός· οὐ γὰρ ἂν οὕτω σπουδαῖος ἦν αὐλητής·” ὁ δὲ Φίλιππος πρὸς τὸν υἱὸν ἐπιτερπῶς ἔν τινι πότῳ ψήλαντα καὶ τεχνικῶς εἶπεν· „οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ καλῶς οὕτω ψάλλων;” ἀρκεῖ γάρ, ἂν βασιλεὺς ἀκροᾶσθαι ψαλλόντων σχολάζῃ, καὶ πολὺ νέμει ταῖς Μούσαις ἑτέρων ἀγωνιζομένων τὰ τοιαῦτα θεατὴς γιγνόμενος.

 

 

§2:

“No well-born youth, after seeing the statue of Zeus in Pise, ever wished to become Phidias, nor did anyone see the Hera in Argos and wish to be Polycleitus, nor indeed did anyone ever want to be Anacreon or Philemon or Archilochus just because they found pleasure in their poems. Though a work be pleasing, it is not therefore true that the one who made it is worth any eager consideration.”

 

οὐδεὶς εὐφυὴς νέος ἢ τὸν ἐν Πίσῃ θεασάμενος Δία γενέσθαι Φειδίας ἐπεθύμησεν, ἢ τὴν ῞Ηραν τὴν ἐν ῎Αργει Πολύκλειτος, οὐδ’ ᾿Ανακρέων ἢ Φιλήμων ἢ ᾿Αρχίλοχος ἡσθεὶς αὐτῶν τοῖς ποιήμασιν. οὐ γὰρ ἀναγκαῖον, εἰ τέρπει τὸ ἔργον ὡς χαρίεν, ἄξιον σπουδῆς εἶναι τὸν εἰργασμένον.

 

§3:

“His mother dreamed that she gave birth to a lion, and a few days later gave birth to Pericles, who was in most respects endowed with a faultless appearance, though his head was bulbous and lacking a sense of symmetry. For this reason, all of his statues have helmets on them, since the sculptors did not wish to openly dishonor him. The Attic poets called him Onion-Head, for they mean by “schinos” the sea-onion. Of the comic poets, Cratinus in his Chirons writes, ‘Strife and Kronos copulated and gave birth to the greatest tyrant, whom the gods call the Cranium-Compeller.’ Again, in his Nemesis, he writes ‘Come, o Zeus, hospitable and heady.’ Telekleides, says that when he was at a loss in managing the city’s affairs, he sat down ‘heavy-headed, since he alone sent a load of disturbance from his eleven-couched head.’ Eupolis, in his Demoi, learning about all of the demagogues who have come back from Hades, names Pericles as the last, says ‘Since you have now brought the list of those below to a head.’

αὕτη κατὰ τοὺς ὕπνους ἔδοξε τεκεῖν λέοντα, καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ὀλίγας ἔτεκε Περικλέα, τὰ μὲν ἄλλα τὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ σώματος ἄμεμπτον, προμήκη δὲ τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ ἀσύμμετρον. ὅθεν αἱ μὲν εἰκόνες αὐτοῦ σχεδὸν ἅπασαι κράνεσι περιέχονται, μὴ βουλομένων ὡς ἔοικε τῶν τεχνιτῶν ἐξονειδίζειν. οἱ δ’ ᾿Αττικοὶ ποιηταὶ σχινοκέφαλον αὐτὸν ἐκάλουν· τὴν γὰρ σκίλλαν ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ σχῖνον ὀνομάζουσι. τῶν δὲ κωμικῶν ὁ μὲν Κρατῖνος ἐν Χείρωσι (fr. 240 CAF I 86) „Στάσις δὲ (φησί) καὶ πρεσβυγενὴς Κρόνος ἀλλήλοισι μιγέντε μέγιστον τίκτετον τύραννον, ὃν δὴ  Κεφαληγερέταν θεοὶ καλέουσι”, καὶ πάλιν ἐν Νεμέσει (fr. 111 CAF I 49)· „μόλ’ ὦ Ζεῦ ξένιε καὶ καραϊέ.” Τηλεκλείδης δὲ „ποτὲ μὲν” ὑπὸ τῶν πραγμάτων ἠπορημένον καθῆσθαί φησιν (fr. 44 CAF I 220) αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ πόλει „καρηβαροῦντα, ποτὲ δὲ μόνον ἐκ κεφαλῆς ἑνδεκακλίνου θόρυβον πολὺν ἐξανατέλλειν”, ὁ δ’ Εὔπολις ἐν τοῖς Δήμοις (fr. 93 CAF I 280) πυνθανόμενος περὶ ἑκάστου τῶν ἀναβεβηκότων ἐξ ῞Αιδου δημαγωγῶν, ὡς ὁ Περικλῆς ὠνομάσθη τελευταῖος· ὅ τί περ κεφάλαιον τῶν κάτωθεν ἤγαγες.

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No Disaster Greater Than This…

Thucydides 7.29-30

“And there in Mycalessus was a great disturbance and every kind of ruin took root. [The Thracians] even attacked a school for children which was the largest in the region, when the children had just entered, and they cut down all of them. No greater suffering affected the whole state than this; it was terrible and unexpected more than any other.”

[5] καὶ τότε ἄλλη τε ταραχὴ οὐκ ὀλίγη καὶ ἰδέα πᾶσα καθειστήκει ὀλέθρου, καὶ ἐπιπεσόντες διδασκαλείῳ παίδων, ὅπερ μέγιστον ἦν αὐτόθι καὶ ἄρτι ἔτυχον οἱ παῖδες ἐσεληλυθότες, κατέκοψαν πάντας: καὶ ξυμφορὰ τῇ πόλει πάσῃ οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων μᾶλλον ἑτέρας ἀδόκητός τε ἐπέπεσεν αὕτη καὶ δεινή.

A twitter correspondent sent me this passage number last night after I tweeted:

This passage is affecting and Thucydides’ Greek is really powerful here. But when compared to the situation of school shootings in the United States, it is more troubling. For Thucydides, the Thracians have been sent home by the Athenians and are at best only quasi-civilized: he writes right before this passage that the Thracians “are a race which are most bloody in whatever they dare, similar to the most extreme of the barbarians” (τὸ γὰρ γένος τὸ τῶν Θρᾳκῶν ὁμοῖα τοῖς μάλιστα τοῦ βαρβαρικοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἂν θαρσήσῃ, φονικώτατόν ἐστιν, 7.29.4).

So this murderous rampage is performed by a people, marked judgmentally as barbarians, in a time of war. (Yes, we try to “other” the murderers by marking them as insane or disturbed in some way.) More importantly, even in a narrative about one of the greatest wars of all times (from Thucydides’ perspective) the murder of children is seen as an (1) unexpected calamity for the (2) whole civic entity. Can we honestly say our acts of violence are unexpected when they happen with such frequency?

Once the cities of central Greece heard of the Thracian activities, the Thebans sent out an army and put down the Thracians with some difficulty. Thucydides, no sucker for hyperbole, concludes (7.30):

“These things which Mycalessus suffered turned out to be the kinds of events worthy of lamenting more than any other during the war because of the city’s size.”

τὰ μὲν κατὰ τὴν Μυκαλησσὸν πάθει χρησαμένην οὐδενὸς ὡς ἐπὶ μεγέθει τῶν κατὰ τὸν πόλεμον ἧσσον ὀλοφύρασθαι ἀξίῳ τοιαῦτα ξυνέβη.

But maybe we should rethink what atrocity and ‘war’ is. Every year 1300 children die from gun shot wounds in the US. That means that since 2001 the number of children who have been killed is nearly six times the adults who perished on 9/11. The terrorist attacks were largely unexpected. Gun violence is not.

Here’s the note from Charles F. Smith presented on Perseus:

καὶ ξυμφορὰ τῇ πόλεικαὶ δεινή : Thuc. sums up the horror of the whole affair in the most impressive manner, the subst. placed first, followed by the phrases οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων and μᾶλλονἑτέρας, which have the force of sups., and the dem. pron. The position of the subst. gives it a character of generality with nearly the effect of the part. gen. See on i.1.8. This passage differs, however, from those cited at i.1.8 in this respect, that here two qualities in their highest expression unite in a single case, viz. the extent of the destruction (οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων) and the complete unexpectedness of it (μᾶλλον ἑτέρας ἀδόκητος). “And so this blow, than which no greater ever affected a whole city, was in the highest degree both unexpected and terrible.” μᾶλλον . . . ἀδόκητος and δεινή stand in pred. relation to ἐπέπεσεν.

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