The Advantages of a Well-Spoken Liar

Antiphon, On the Murder of Herodes, 1

“I would wish, men of the jury, that I might possess a power of speech and experience of events equal both to my misfortune and the events that occurred. But now I have experienced the latter beyond what is fitting and I lack more of the former than is advantageous. When it was necessary that I endure physical suffering because of the unjustified charge, experience didn’t help me at all; and since it is necessary now that I tell you want happened truthfully, my limited speaking ability undermines me. For many of those who are bad at speaking are disbelieved regarding the truth and they perish because of this, because they cannot make the true events clear. But many people who can speak well are credible by lying and save themselves in that way, because they lied! Therefore, whenever someone has no experience in speaking publicly, his challenge is more the words of his accusers than the events themselves and the truth of the matter.

I would, then, ask you, men, not what many of those who go to court ask for, to be heard, these men who don’t trust themselves and who believe something unjust about you beforehand—for it is right that a defendant will get a fair hearing among good men without asking for it since even the prosecution obtains this without asking—No, I need these things from you. If I make a mistake in my speech, pardon me and take it more as inexperience than a deliberate injustice. If I say something correctly, assume it spoken truly rather than cleverly. For it is not right that the one who does wrong in deed be saved through speech any more than it is that the one who has done rightly in deed perish through speech. For a word is a slip of the tongue, but a deed is an error in judgment. Someone in danger necessarily makes some mistakes. For he not only is forced to think about what has been said, but about what will happen, since all the things that may still happen are subject to chance for than to good planning. This is why someone in danger is out of sorts. For I also see people very familiar with talking in public speaking much worse about themselves whenever they are in danger. When they act without any danger, they speak more correctly.”

Ἐβουλόμην μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες, τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ λέγειν καὶ τὴν ἐμπειρίαν τῶν πραγμάτων ἐξ ἴσου μοι καθεστάναι τῇ τε συμφορᾷ καὶ τοῖς κακοῖς τοῖς γεγενημένοις· νῦν δὲ τοῦ μὲν πεπείραμαι πέρᾳ τοῦ προσήκοντος, τοῦ δὲ ἐνδεής εἰμι μᾶλλον τοῦ συμφέροντος. οὗ μὲν γάρ με ἔδει κακοπαθεῖν τῷ σώματι μετὰ τῆς αἰτίας τῆς οὐ προσηκούσης, ἐνταυθοῖ οὐδέν με ὠφέλησεν ἡ ἐμπειρία· οὗ δέ με δεῖ σωθῆναι μετὰ τῆς ἀληθείας εἰπόντα τὰ γενόμενα, ἐν τούτῳ με βλάπτει ἡ τοῦ λέγειν ἀδυνασία.πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἤδη τῶν οὐ δυναμένων λέγειν, ἄπιστοι γενόμενοι τοῖς ἀληθέσιν, αὐτοῖς τούτοις ἀπώλοντο, οὐ δυνάμενοι δηλῶσαι αὐτά· πολλοὶ δὲ τῶν λέγειν δυναμένων πιστοὶ γενόμενοι τῷ ψεύδεσθαι, τούτῳ ἐσώθησαν, διότι ἐψεύσαντο. ἀνάγκη οὖν, ὅταν τις ἄπειρος ᾖ τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι, ἐπὶ τοῖς τῶν κατηγόρων λόγοις εἶναι μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἔργοις καὶ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ τῶν πραγμάτων.

Ἐγὼ οὖν, ὦ ἄνδρες, αἰτήσομαι ὑμᾶς, οὐχ ἅπερ οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ἀγωνιζομένων ἀκροᾶσθαι σφῶν αὐτῶν αἰτοῦνται, σφίσι μὲν αὐτοῖς ἀπιστοῦντες, ὑμῶν δὲ προκατεγνωκότες ἄδικόν τι—εἰκὸς γὰρ ἐν ἀνδράσι γε ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἄνευ τῆς αἰτήσεως τὴν ἀκρόασιν ὑπάρχειν τοῖς φεύγουσιν, οὗπερ καὶ οἱ διώκοντες ἔτυχον ἄνευ αἰτήσεως·—τάδε δὲ δέομαι ὑμῶν, τοῦτο μὲν ἐάν τι τῇ γλώσσῃ ἁμάρτω, συγγνώμην ἔχειν μοι, καὶ ἡγεῖσθαι ἀπειρίᾳ αὐτὸ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀδικίᾳ ἡμαρτῆσθαι, τοῦτο δὲ ἐάν τι ὀρθῶς εἴπω, ἀληθείᾳ μᾶλλον ἢ δεινότητι εἰρῆσθαι. οὐ γὰρ δίκαιον οὔτ᾿ ἔργῳ ἁμαρτόντα διὰ ῥήματα σωθῆναι, οὔτ᾿ ἔργῳ ὀρθῶς πράξαντα διὰ ῥήματα ἀπολέσθαι· τὸ μὲν γὰρ ῥῆμα τῆς γλώσσης ἁμάρτημά ἐστι, τὸ δ᾿ ἔργον τῆς γνώμης. ἀνάγκη δὲ κινδυνεύοντα περὶ αὑτῷ καί πού τι καὶ ἐξαμαρτεῖν. οὐ γὰρ μόνον τῶν λεγομένων ἀνάγκη ἐνθυμεῖσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἐσομένων· ἅπαντα γὰρ τὰ ἐν ἀδήλῳ ἔτ᾿ ὄντα ἐπὶ τῇ τύχῃ μᾶλλον ἀνάκειται ἢ τῇ προνοίᾳ. ταῦτ᾿ οὖν ἔκπληξιν πολλὴν παρέχειν 7ἀνάγκη ἐστὶ τῷ κινδυνεύοντι. ὁρῶ γὰρ ἔγωγε καὶ τοὺς πάνυ ἐμπείρους τοῦ ἀγωνίζεσθαι πολλῷ χεῖρον ἑαυτῶν λέγοντας, ὅταν ἔν τινι κινδύνῳ ὦσιν· ὅταν δ᾿ ἄνευ κινδύνων τι διαπράσσωνται, μᾶλλον ὀρθουμένους.


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Longing for a Time of Peace

The consummate artistry of the Homeric poems, and their relevance to contemporary life, are perfectly illustrated in the following lines from the Iliad (22.153-156):

“There, right next to the springs, there were broad and beautiful washing-basins made of stone, where the beautiful wives and daughters of the Trojans used to wash dirty clothes, back in the time of peace before the sons of the Achaians came.”

ἔνθα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ αὐτάων πλυνοὶ εὐρέες ἐγγὺς ἔασι
καλοὶ λαΐνεοι, ὅθι εἵματα σιγαλόεντα
πλύνεσκον Τρώων ἄλοχοι καλαί τε θύγατρες
τὸ πρὶν ἐπ᾽ εἰρήνης πρὶν ἐλθεῖν υἷας Ἀχαιῶν.

Homer does not rely on cheap and easy effects to develop deep, gut-wrenching pathos. The simplicity of the scene from daily life reminds the listener/reader of exactly what the Trojan women were no longer able to do after the commencement of the war – a troublesome daily chore, to be sure, but one which comes to represent a happier time.

But it is the last line quoted which evokes so much without stating it explicitly. The informed reader, armed with the knowledge of the war’s outcome, knows that these washing basins will never be used again, and so the phrase ‘before the sons of the Achaians came’ calls to mind not just a minor inconvenience in the Trojan women’s lives; it reminds us that the lives of these women are already, effectively, over. Moreover, the use of the phrase ‘previously, at a time of peace,’ (which is balanced so clearly in the Greek against the word ‘before’ with ‘to prin…prin’) underscores the fact that after the sons of the Achaeans arrive, the Trojans never know peace again – their entire city is destroyed, and most of the citizens wiped from the face of the planet.

The destruction of an entire polity is horrific, whether it result from ten years of brawling or from ten minutes of bombing. It is easy to blame the Trojan War on Helen, or Paris, or Aphrodite, but the real causes were folly and intransigence; these are immortal, and in no shorter supply than they were three thousand years ago. This passage brings tears to my eyes every time I read it and remember that, though they did not yet know it, the ‘time of peace’ was forever lost to the Trojans – never again would they visit the washing basins; rape, death, and slavery were all that remained. I sincerely hope that we do not find ourselves in the same position of longing for our own ‘time of peace, before the sons of the Achaians came.’

Zooglossia 7: Roosters, Cuckoos, Ravens and Crows

Yes. More animal sounds. When they stop making noise, I will stop searching for it…

The representation of birdsong tends to be onomatopoetic for fairly obvious reasons. There are other examples to add, but below are just a few instances of what birds say in ancient Greek. In English, birds caw; roosters cockle-doodle-do. In Greek, crows and ravens kro and krag-; roosters and cuckoos kokku kokku. Birds in general pip pip while birds giving birth go kakka.

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Ammonius, On Improper Speech 2

“There is a difference between speaking and howling—speaking is used for humans; howling is for wolves. We should not the proper name for each of the rest, for example, we say goats , sheep bleat, cows moo, donkeys bray, horses whinny, lions roar, a dog barks among the Athenians from the sound ar of his voice, while we say they howl. For other birds: ravens and crows crow [krôzein], roosters go kok kuo as do the cuckoo birds. Doves [trugonoi] trill. The rest of the animals are similar.”

     διαφέρει μὲν οὖν τὸ φωνεῖν τοῦ ὠρύεσθαι, ὅτι τὸ μὲν φωνεῖν ἐπὶ ἀνθρώπου, τὸ δὲ ὠρύεσθαι ἐπὶ λύκων. παρατηρητέον οὖν καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν λοιπῶν τὸ οἰκεῖον ἑκάστου ὄνομα οἷον μηκᾶσθαι ἐπὶ αἰγῶν, βληχᾶσθαι ἐπὶ προβάτων, μυκᾶσθαι ἐπὶ βοῶν, βρωμᾶσθαι ἐπὶ ὄνων, χρεμετίζειν ἐπὶ ἵππων, βρυχᾶσθαι ἐπὶ λεόντων, ἀρρίζειν ἐπὶ κυνῶν παρ’ ᾿Αθηναίοις ἀπὸ τῆς αρ φωνῆς, παρ’ †ἡμῶν† τούτοις τὸ ὑλακτεῖν λέγεται. καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν πτηνῶν κρώζειν μὲν ἐπὶ κορωνῶν καὶ κοράκων, κοκκύζειν δὲ ἐπὶ ἀλεκτρυόνων καὶ κοκκύγων, τρύζειν δὲ ἐπὶ τρυγόνων. καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ὁμοίως.


Krôzein: to cry like a raven.”

*κρώζειν· ὡς κόραξ κράζειν

Etym. Gud.

“To krôzein: to make a sound like a raven, or, as a crow cries”

Κρώζειν, ὡς κόραξ, ἢ ὡς κορώνη κράζειν.

Crow Sounds

Rooster and Cuckoo

Cratinus, fr. 311

“They cannot endure the rooster crooning”

κοκκύζειν τὸν ἀλεκτρυόν’ οὐκ ἀνέχονται.

Aristophanes the Grammarian

kokkuzein is for the sound of a rooster”

Καὶ κοκκύζειν ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀλεκτρυόνος.

Hes. Works and Days, 486

“When the cuckoo cuckoos on the leaves of the oak tree.”

ἦμος κόκκυξ κοκκύζει δρυὸς ἐν πετάλοισι


General Chirping and Stranger Things


Pipiazein: “chirping, this lexical item is formed from the sound of birds. People also say potizein or pipiskein

πιπίζειν· κατὰ μίμησιν ἡ λέξις πεποίηται τῆς τῶν ὀρνέων φωνῆς.

     λέγουσι δὲ τὸ ποτίζειν, ἢ πιπίσκειν


The following terms are also likely onomatopoetic and may be similar to English “quack”. Note the reduplication common of other animal sounds. Also, note the strange assertion that there is a sound particular of birds producing offspring.


“Kakkazein: an imitation of the sound of birds producing young.”

Κακκάζειν: μίμησις τικτουσῶν ὀρνίθων φωνῆς.

“Kikkabizein: Aristophanes uses this sound for the noise of owls”

Κικκαβίζειν: τὴν τῶν γλαυκῶν φωνὴν οὕτως καλεῖ ᾿Αριστοφάνης.

Kakka 1


Zooglossia 6: A Dog Goes Βαὺ Ϝαύ

This is yet another entry in the search for Greek animal sounds. You can find earlier notes on goats, pigs, sheep, donkeys and cows.

Aristophanes Wasps, 902-3

Ph.“Where is the plaintiff, the Kudathênaian dog?

Dog: Ow, Ow!

ποῦ δ’ ὅ γε διώκων, ὁ Κυδαθηναιεὺς κύων;

ΚΥΩΝ   αὖ αὖ.

When I was in graduate school I had a few table lecterns built by my late father who used to spend time under the influence working in the woodshop in his later years. He made a series of unfinished lecterns that worked to various degrees. One of them had some of my favorite lines from Greek scrawled on them—as I worked my way through the PhD reading list, I would throw fragments on it when they entertained me. (This practice, if any, represents the extreme origin of this blog and the twitter feed).

The dog’s comment above from the Wasps was one of a dozen on it. For years, I thought of ancient Greek dogs as saying au au until, last week, in a fit of fancy over animal noises, I posted this on twitter and was corrected. Ancient Greek dogs don’t say au au. They probably spoke the same language our dogs do and said Βαὺ Ϝαύ.

There was a lively twitter conversation about this.

As usual, the Suda would have helped explain the confusion. According to it (and a comment repeated in the scholion to Aristophanes’ Wasps), “au au is the imitation of the howling of dogs” (αὖ αὖν: μίμημα ὑλακῆς κυνῶν). The verb   ὑλακτεῖν—a secondary formation from the onomatopoetic ὑλάω—is, as any student of Athenaze would know, used at times to mean “bark”, but it more properly means to howl. From Beekes:


Aristonicus, De Signis Iliadis ad 21.575

“The howl is the special sound of dogs.”

ὁ γὰρ ὑλαγμὸς ἴδιος κυνῶν.

Zonaras, beta 379

“Barking: ulaktôn: In Aristophanes [Thesm. 173] “Barking, for I was like this….”

Βαΰζων. ὑλακτῶν. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· βαΰζων γὰρ καὶ ἐγὼ τοιοῦτος ἦν.

That Greek dogs likely said bau wau like our own is confirmed by a few fragments and the existence of another onomatopoetic verb, βαΰζειν. The loss of the digamma in Greek obscures the similarity, but, as we have seen from other Greek words for animal sounds, there is a tendency to represents them through reduplication. There is probably something interesting to say about this and Greek phonetic representations of linguistic otherness, as in the reduplicated bar-bar-os.

BauFCG Anonymous Fragments, Fr. 195 (=IEG fr. 50)

“Bau, bau—you also utter the sound of a dog!”

Βαὺ βαὺ καὶ κυνὸς φωνὴν ἱείς.

Pseudo-Herodian, De prosida Catholica 3.1.495

“The bau is accented in imitation of a dog….from this too comes the word “to bark”

καὶ τὸ βαύ κατὰ μίμησιν κυνὸς ὀξύνεται «βαὺ βαὺ καὶ κυνὸς φωνὴν ἱείς». ἐξ οὗ καὶ τὸ βαύζω ῥῆμα.

Aristophanes, Thesmo. 173-4

“Stop barking at him. I was also the like this
When I was that age, when I was beginning to compose.”

ΕΥ.                Παῦσαι βαΰζων· καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ τοιοῦτος ἦν
ὢν τηλικοῦτος, ἡνίκ’ ἠρχόμην ποεῖν.

Cause of Death? Bullshit.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 9.1.2-4:

“Hermippus says that Heraclitus asked the doctors if one could, by emptying his bowels, dry out the moisture [from dropsy]. When they denied that it could be done, he laid himself out in the sun and ordered some boys to smother him in cow shit. On the next day, he died stretched out in that way, and was buried in the agora. Neanthes of Cyzicus says that because he was unable to get it off, the shit remained on him; because of this change in his appearance, he was unrecognized, and was eaten by dogs.”

Ἕρμιππος δέ φησι λέγειν αὐτὸν τοῖς ἰατροῖς εἴ τις δύναται <τὰ> ἔντερα κεινώσας τὸ ὑγρὸν ἐξερᾶσαι: ἀπειπόντων δέ, θεῖναι αὑτὸν εἰς τὸν ἥλιον καὶ κελεύειν τοὺς παῖδας βολίτοις καταπλάττειν: οὕτω δὴ κατατεινόμενον δευτεραῖον τελευτῆσαι καὶ θαφθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ. Νεάνθης δ᾽ ὁ Κυζικηνός φησι μὴ δυνηθέντ᾽ αὐτὸν ἀποσπάσαι τὰ βόλιτα μεῖναι καὶ διὰ τὴν μεταβολὴν ἀγνοηθέντα κυνόβρωτον γενέσθαι.

Zooglossia 5: Cows Go Moo in Mycenae

Another entry in an animal obsession. Sheep go baa, baa. Ancient Greek cows may have said moo….

Did Ancient Greek cows say Μῦ μῦ?

Suda, cf. Photius s.v. Μυκηθμός

“Mukêthmos: the sound of bulls”

Μυκηθμός: ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή.

Cf. Schol. Q ad Hom. Od. 10.413:  μυκώμεναι] βοῶσαι· μυκηθμὸς γὰρ ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή. Q.

We also have independent confirmation that cows may have said mu as early as the Mucynean period:

This nominal root, likely onomatopoetic from the sound of animals, has a few verbal reflexes in Greek, including μυκάομαι and μύζω. There are additional derivatives: μυκητής (“bellower”, μυκήμων “bellow”, μύκημα (“lowing, bellowing”; used of lions and thunder too). The upsilon is long to contrast with the short vowel in μύκης (“mushroom”) and Μυκήνη (Mycenae).  Here’s Beekes again:

Mu 1Mu 2

Perhaps this is not a sound exclusive to cattle, however. Consider Suda mu 1390:

Mycalê and Mukalêsos: name for a city. It comes from the fact that the Gorgons bellowed here.”

Μυκάλη καὶ Μυκαλησός, ὄνομα πόλεως. παρὰ τὸ ἐκεῖ μυκᾶσθαι τὰς Γοργόνας.

The verb is also used to indicate the low sound of objects or the roar of a lion. See Suda, mu 1394

Mukêsantos: “after it sounded”—Homer has “on their own, the gates of heaven sounded, the gates the seasons hold” and in the Epigrams, “after the drum sounded deeply, the boldest of the rest of the animals ran off faster than a deer.”

Μυκήσαντος: ἠχήσαντος. Ὅμηρος: αὐτόμαται δὲ πύλαι μύκον οὐρανοῦ, ἃς ἔχον Ὧραι. καὶ ἐν Ἐπιγράμμασι: οὗ βαρὺ μυκήσαντος, ὁ θαρσαλεώτερος ἄλλων τετραπόδων ἐλάφων ἔδραμεν ὀξύτερον.

And the sound moo seems to be used for non-verbal soundmaking for humans too:

Aristophanes, Thesm. 231-231   

Kê: Moo, Moo

Eu: Why are you mootering? Everything has been done well.

 ΚΗ.                Μῦ μῦ.

 ΕΥ.                       Τί μύζεις; Πάντα πεπόηται καλῶς.

There might be multiple layers of onomatopoetic derivatives here—one for the cow and another for the human moan, and even this is probably a simplification.

Zonaras, s.v. Μῦ (=Etymologicum Magnum s.v)

Moo: a simple sound, this utterance imitates a moan. A moan is an echo of moo, a sound coming from the nose.”

Μῦ. τὸ στοιχεῖον, ὅτι μυγμόν τινα ἔχει ἡ τούτου ἐκφώνησις. μυγμὸς δέ ἐστιν ὁ τοῦ μῦ ἦχος, διὰ τοῦ μυκτῆρος ἐξερχόμενος.

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Not a Plea for Greek

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“I am not going to plead for Greek, even if it were only for the Grecians in this audience; for if there is one thing that a classical scholar cares less to read than another, it is a plea for classical scholarship; if there is one thing that a Grecian would fain be excused from hearing, it is an impassioned oration in behalf of Greek studies. For every classical scholar has himself had to plead for classical scholarship, and every Hellenist has lifted up his voice in behalf of Hellenism. We are aweary of our own arguments, our own illustrations; and only a short time since, being called on for some confirmatory remarks on an orthodox exposition of the value of the Greek language and the Greek literature, I felt stirred to pro-test against the whole thing. If the study is doomed, I said, let it die. Living is the test of vitality, for that is the sum and substance of pragmatism, the latest phase of what I may venture to call truistic philosophy — truistic philosophy to match altruistic ethics, of which one hears so much, which one practices so little. If classical culture has outlived its usefulness; if its teachers are squeaking and gibbering ghosts and not real men, let in the light, turn on the current and have done with it. So I am not to make a speech pro domo, for my house, which is my castle, my fortress. Everybody knows every redoubt, every salient. The gabions are all counted, and the fascines all numbered, and the chevaux de frise all roughshod, and the fosse all flooded with ditchwater eloquence. This then is to be no vindication of Greek as a study. Call it an exemplification of Greek as a study and I will not protest so strenuously, Invidious as It may be to set one’s self up as an example of anything, especially when critics have proved triumphantly that I have not profited by my lifelong studies, and that the chaste reserve of my classic models has not properly regulated my style.”