Cicero and ‘Big Bow-Wow’ Style

Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition (18):

With the beginning of the Renaissance, the amazing strength and flexibility of Cicero’s style was recognized once more. It was copied by writers of Latin prose on almost every subject. For centuries the diplomacy of the European chanceries was carried on not only in the language, but in the precise vocabulary, and word order, and cadences of Cicero’s speeches. There was a long and fierce dispute between scholars who held that Cicero was an unchallengeable ‘authority’ and that no modern writer could use Latin words or constructions not found in his works, and those, more liberal, who pointed out that Latin was still a living language which modern authors could expand and alter to their own needs. Since this was a dispute about the use of the Latin language, it does not come within the scope of our book. But it was closely connected with another dispute which does.

Many writers in the vernacular languages felt that the ‘big bow-wow’ style of speaking and writing was bogus. All style is artificial, no doubt; but they held that prose should at least give the appearance of being natural. They therefore turned away from Cicero and most of the devices he had developed, and, as models for modem prose, picked Seneca and Tacitus. Some of them went farther back, to Demosthenes and Plato. The aim of them all was to be personal, to avoid formalism. On the models of Seneca’s moral essays and Tacitus’ histories — and, to a much smaller extent, Demosthenes’ plainer speeches and Plato’s quieter dialogues — they created the prose of most modem essays and character-sketches, the prose in which some great modem sermons have been written.

Tell Me Aristotle, Why Do We Have Butts?

Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Raphael for sharing this passage on the teleology of the human ass with me. This is mostly for distraction, but it also functions as a timely reminder of some of the absurd conclusions that can arise from teleological thinking.

Aristotle, Parts of Animals 689b

“A human being is has no tail, but does have buttocks although the quadruped does not. A human being also has legs which are fleshy in the thighs and calves, while all the rest of the animals have fleshless legs—and not only those animals which have live births, but as many of the other animals who have legs—and they are covered with sinew, are bony, and full of spines.

There is one explanation, you might say, for these differences and that is that humans are the only animal to stand upright. So, nature removed some of the fleshy parts from above and transferred the weight below in order to make the upper portions of human beings easier to bear. This is why nature made human butts fleshy along with their thighs and their calves. With the same act, it made the nature of the buttocks useful for taking a break.

For it is not a problem for the rest of the quadrupeds and they do not get tired from doing that continually.  This is because they have four supports holding them up, it works the same as if they are lying down.But human beings do not easily remain standing upright: our bodies need rest and need to sit down.

This is why a human being has a fleshy butt and thighs and the same reason why we don’t have tails. All the nutrition which heads that way is spent on butts and thighs. The need and use of a tail, moreover, is negated by having butts and thighs. In quadrupeds and the rest of the animals, the situation is the opposite: because they are like dwarfs, all their weight is centered in their upper parts and it is separated from the lower section. For this reason, they have no butt and have hard legs.

ὁ δ᾿ ἄνθρωπος ἄκερκον μέν ἐστιν, ἰσχία δ᾿ ἔχει, τῶν δὲ τετραπόδων οὐδέν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ τὰ σκέλη ὁ μὲν ἄνθρωπος σαρκώδη καὶ μηροὺς καὶ κνήμας, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα πάντ᾿ ἄσαρκα ἔχει, οὐ μόνον τὰ ζῳοτόκα ἀλλ᾿ ὅλως ὅσα σκέλη ἔχει τῶν ζῴων· νευρώδη γὰρ ἔχει καὶ ὀστώδη καὶ ἀκανθώδη. τούτων δ᾿ αἰτία μία τίς ἐστιν ὡς εἰπεῖν ἁπάντων, διότι μόνον ἐστὶν ὀρθὸν τῶν ζῴων ἄνθρωπος. ἵν᾿ οὖν φέρῃ ῥᾳδίως τἄνω κοῦφα ὄντα, ἀφελοῦσα τὸ σωματῶδες ἀπὸ τῶν ἄνω πρὸς τὰ κάτω τὸ βάρος ἡ φύσις προσέθηκεν· διόπερ τὰ ἰσχία σαρκώδη ἐποίησε καὶ μηροὺς καὶ γαστροκνημίας. ἅμα δὲ τήν τε τῶν ἰσχίων φύσιν καὶ πρὸς τὰς ἀναπαύσεις ἀπέδωκε χρήσιμον· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ τετράποσιν ἄκοπον τὸ ἑστάναι, καὶ οὐ κάμνουσι τοῦτο ποιοῦντα συνεχῶς (ὥσπερ γὰρ κατακείμενα διατελεῖ ὑποκειμένων τεττάρων ἐρεισμάτων), τοῖς δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις οὐ ῥᾴδιον ὀρθῶς ἑστῶσι διαμένειν, ἀλλὰ δεῖται τὸ σῶμα ἀναπαύσεως καὶ καθέδρας. ὁ μὲν οὖν ἄνθρωπος ἰσχία τ᾿ ἔχει καὶ τὰ σκέλη σαρκώδη διὰ τὴν εἰρημένην αἰτίαν, καὶ διὰ ταῦτα ἄκερκον (ἥ τε γὰρ ἐκεῖσε τροφὴ πορευομένη εἰς ταῦτα ἀναλίσκεται, καὶ διὰ τὸ ἔχειν ἰσχία ἀφῄρηται ἡ τῆς οὐρᾶς ἀναγκαία χρῆσις), τὰ δὲ τετράποδα καὶ τἆλλα ζῷα ἐξ ἐναντίας· νανώδεσι γὰρ οὖσι πρὸς τὸ ἄνω τὸ βάρος καὶ τὸ σωματῶδες ἐπίκειται πᾶν, ἀφῃρημένον ἀπὸ τῶν κάτωθεν· διόπερ ἀνίσχια καὶ σκληρὰ τὰ σκέλη ἔχουσιν.

Image result for ancient greek statue rear end
Motya Charioteer


Starting Fights with Doctors

Horace, Epistles 1.8

“Celsus Albinovanus: Hello! I hope this finds you well.

Muse, take this message to Nero’s friend and secretary,
Should he ask how I’m doing, tell him that even though I threatened
Many fine things, I don’t live rightly or pleasantly.

And this isn’t because hail ruined my vines or heat shrank my olives
Or because my flock is getting sick in a far-away field.
No, it’s that my mind is less well than any part of my body.

I don’t want to listen or learn about anything that relieves the disease.
I start fights with doctors; I fly into a rage with friends
Over why they want to get me out of this deadly funk.
I keep stalking what hurt me, I avoid anything I suspect will help.
I flit back and forth, wanting the Tibur in Rome and in Rome the Tibur.

After that, ask him if he’s well, how he and his stuff are,
How his standing is with the young man and his crew.
If he says “well”, first, rejoice! But then
Leave this reminder in his little ears:
“As you bear fortune, Celsus, we’ll bear you.”

Celso gaudere et bene rem gerere Albinovano
Musa rogata refer, comiti scribaeque Neronis.
si quaeret quid agam, dic multa et pulchra minantem
vivere nec recte nec suaviter; haud quia grando
contuderit vitis oleamque momorderit aestus,
nec quia longinquis armentum aegrotet in agris;
sed quia mente minus validus quam corpore toto
nil audire velim, nil discere, quod levet aegrum;
fidis offendar medicis, irascar amicis,
cur me funesto properent arcere veterno;
quae nocuere sequar, fugiam quae profore credam;
Romae Tibur amem ventosus, Tibure Romam.
Post haec, ut valeat, quo pacto rem gerat et se,
ut placeat iuveni percontare utque cohorti.
si dicet, “recte,” primum gaudere, subinde
praeceptum auriculis hoc instillare memento:
“ut tu fortunam, sic nos te, Celse, feremus.”

Fresco from “House of Sirico” Pompeii (Aeneas with Dr, Iapyx)

Mekonion: Prepared Poppy Seeds. Or Newborn Poop

Pliny, Natural History 22 

“A poppy is boiled and consumed for insomnia. The same water is used for the face. Poppies grow best in dry conditions where it does not often rain. When the heads themselves are boiled with the leaves, the juice is called meconium and is a lot less potent than opium.”

decoquitur et bibitur contra vigilias, eademque aqua fovent ora. optimum in siccis et ubi raro pluat. cum capita ipsa et folia decocuntur, sucus meconium vocatur multum opio ignavior.


Aristotle, Historia Animalium 587a 31

“[Newborns] also discharge excrement right away, pretty soon, or at least within the same day. This material is greater than one might expect from the size of the infant and the women call it “poppy-juice” [mêkonion]. Its color is similar to blood but very dark and like pitch. Later on, it is milk-like once the baby immediately eats from the breast. Before it comes out, the newborn does not cry, even if the birth is difficult and the head sticks out while the whole body is inside.”

ἀφίησι δὲ καὶ περιττώματα τὰ μὲν εὐθὺς τὰ δὲ διὰ ταχέων, πάντα δ᾿ ἐν ἡμέρᾳ· καὶ τοῦτο τὸ περίττωμα πλέον ἢ τοῦ παιδὸς κατὰ μέγεθος· ὃ καλοῦσιν αἱ γυναῖκες μηκώνιον. χρῶμα δὲ τούτου αἱματῶδες καὶ σφόδρα μέλαν καὶ πιττῶδες, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἤδη γαλακτῶδες· σπᾷ γὰρ εὐθὺς καὶ τὸν μαστόν. πρὶν δ᾿ ἐξελθεῖν οὐ φθέγγεται τὸ παιδίον, κἂν δυστοκούσης τὴν κεφαλὴν μὲν ὑπερέχῃ 35τὸ δ᾿ ὅλον σῶμα ἔχῃ ἐντός.

If you want more words for excrement in ancient Greek, we have you covered.

After oxidation, the juice of a poppy turns from white to, well, this:

Etymology of Mêkôn from Beekes (2010):


Here’s a Plan: Evict the Rich, Feed Everyone

Cicero, Pro Sestio 103

“The people were certain that their freedom was at risk. Their leaders did not agree. As far as a matter concerned the safety of the aristocrats, they were afraid of the rashness of the masses and the liberty in the vote. Tiberius Gracchus was introducing his agrarian law. It was welcomed by the people since it appeared to firm up the fortunes of the lower classes.

The aristocrats were against it because they believed it created unrest and imagined that the State would be disarmed of its greatest protectors once the rich were evicted from their long-term holdings. Gaius Gracchus was introducing a grain law. It was also welcome to the people for it provided plentiful food without labor. The Nobles were aghast because they believed that such a law disincentivized work in favor of laziness and that it would drain the treasury.”

Populus libertatem agi putabat suam. Dissentiebant principes et in salute optimatium temeritatem multitudinis et tabellae licentiam pertimescebant. Agrariam Ti. Gracchus legem ferebat. Grata erat populo; fortunae constitui tenuiorum videbantur. Nitebantur contra optimates, quod et discordiam excitari videbant et, cum locupletes possessionibus diuturnis moverentur, spoliari rem publicam propugnatoribus arbitrabantur. Frumentariam legem C. Gracchus ferebat. Iucunda res plebei; victus enim suppeditabatur large sine labore. Repugnabant boni, quod et ab industria plebem ad desidiam avocari putabant et aerarium exhauriri videbant.

Agrarian Law: Tiberius Gracchus  introduced a law in 133 BCE that no holder of public land (ager publicus populi Romani) should have more than 500 iugera and that land should be re-distributed to the poor.

Not to ruin it, but things did not turn out well for the Gracchi

Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi

I Came, I Drank, I Died

Aurelius Victor, de Caesaribus 2:

Claudius Tiberius, son of Livia, stepson of Octavian, ruled for twenty three years. Because he was called Claudius Tiberius Nero, the more jocular citizens wittily called him Caldius Biberius Mero (Warmius Drinkius Wino) because of his tippling tendencies. He was smart enough in battle, and fortunate enough before power was taken up under Augustus, so that the dominion over the republic was not undeservedly committed to him.

There was in him ample literary knowledge. He was fairly renowned for his speech, but had the worst mind – truculent, greedy, treacherous – pretending that he wanted things that he didn’t. He appeared to be opposed to those from whom he wanted counsel, and seemed totally benevolent to those whom he hated. He was better in his immediate responses and plans than in those which had been thought out.

When the principate was offered to him by the senators (which he had brought about with some cunning), he pretended to decline it, savagely asking each one individually what they had to say or what they thought about it. This ruined some good men. For they supposed that it was from his own mind that he declined the magnitude of imperial bother with a long speech, and when they offered opinions on this wish, they happened ultimately upon destruction.

He returned Cappadocia to the condition of a province by removing their king, Archelaus. He repressed the robberies of the Gaetuli. He cunningly circumvented Marobodus, the king of the Suebi. While he punished alike with savage fury both innocent and guilty, his own people and others, the strength of the military was sapped and Armenia was taken by the Parthians, Moesia by the Dacians, Pannonia by the Sarmatians, and Gaul by neighboring tribes. He himself was snuffed out by the treachery of Caligula in the fourth month of his eighty eighth year.

Claudius Tiberius, Liviae filius, Caesaris Octaviani privignus, imperavit annos viginti tres. Iste, quia Claudius Tiberius Nero dicebatur, eleganter a iocularibus Caldius Biberius Mero ob vinolentiam nominatus est. Satis prudens in armis satisque fortunatus ante sumptum imperium sub Augusto fuit, ut non immerito reipublicae dominatus ei committeretur. Inerat ei scientia litterarum multa. Eloquio clarior, sed ingenio pessimo truci avaro insidioso, simulans ea se velle quae nollet; his quasi infensus, quibus consultum cupiebat, his vero, quos oderat, quasi benivolus apparens. Repentinis responsionibus aut consiliis melior quam meditatis. Denique delatum a patribus principatum (quod quidem astu fecerat) ficte abnuere, quid singuli dicerent vel sentirent, atrociter explorans: quae res bonos quosque pessumdedit. Aestimantes enim ex animo eum longa oratione imperialis molestiae magnitudinem declinare, cum sententias ad eius voluntatem promunt, incidere exitia postrema. Iste Cappadocas in provinciam remoto Archelao rege eorum redegit. Gaetulorum latrocinia repressit. Marobodum, Suevorum regem, callide circumvenit. Cum immani furore insontes noxios, suos pariter externosque puniret, resolutis militiae artibus Armenia per Parthos, Moesia a Dacis, Pannonia a Sarmatis, Gallia a finitimis gentibus direptae suntIpse post octogesimum octavum annum et mensem quartum insidiis Caligulae exstinctus est.

Murdered Immigrant Children and a Plague: A Different Medea Story

Child murder, worries about immigrants, and paranoia about drugs. Why are the ancients so weird?

Scholia B on Euripides, Medea 264

Parmeniskos writes as follows: “The story is that because the Korinthian women did not want to be ruled by a foreign woman and poison-user, they conspired against her and killed her children, seven male and seven female. Euripides says that Medea had only two. When the children were being pursued, they fled to the temple of Hera Akraia and sheltered in the shrine. But the Korinthians did not restrain themselves even there—they slaughtered the children over the altar.

Then a plague fell upon the city and many bodies were ruined by the disease. When they went to the oracle, it prophesied that they should appease the god for the slaughter of Medea’s children. For this reason, even in our day, the Korinthians send seven young men and seven young women from the most illustrious families each year to spend the year in the sanctuary to appease the rage of the children and the divine anger which arose because of them.”

But Didymos argues against this and provides Kreophylos’ writings: “For Medea is said to have killed the leader of Korinth at the time, Kreon, with drugs, when she was living there. Because she feared his friends and relatives, she fled to Athens, but left her sons who were too young and incapable of accompanying here, at the altar of Hera Akraia. She thought that their father would provide for their safety. But once Kreon’s relatives killed them they circulated the tale that Medea not only killed Kreon but murdered her own children too.”

1 Παρμενίσκος γράφει κατὰ λέξιν οὕτως·

« <…>1 ταῖς [δὲ] Κορινθίαις οὐ βουλομέναις ὑπὸ βαρβάρου καὶ φαρμακίδος γυναικὸς ἄρχεσθαι αὐτῆι τε ἐπιβουλεῦσαι καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς ἀνελεῖν, ἑπτὰ μὲν ἄρσενα, ἑπτὰ δὲ θήλεα. [Εὐριπίδης δὲ δυσὶ μόνοις φησὶν αὐτὴν κεχρῆσθαι]. ταῦτα δὲ διωκόμενα καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ τῆς Ἀκραίας ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ ἱερὸν καθίσαι· Κορινθίους δὲ αὐτῶν οὐδὲ οὕτως ἀπέχεσθαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσφάξαι. λοιμοῦ δὲ γενομένου εἰς τὴν πόλιν, πολλὰ σώματα ὑπὸ τῆς νόσου διαφθείρεσθαι· μαντευομένοις δὲ αὐτοῖς χρησμωιδῆσαι τὸν θεὸν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὸ τῶν Μηδείας τέκνων ἄγος. ὅθεν Κορινθίοις μέχρι τῶν καιρῶν τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς καθ᾽ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν ἑπτὰ κούρους καὶ ἑπτὰ κούρας τῶν ἐπισημοτάτων ἀνδρῶν ἐναπενιαυτίζειν ἐν τῶι τῆς θεᾶς τεμένει καὶ μετὰ θυσιῶν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὴν ἐκείνων μῆνιν καὶ τὴν δι᾽ ἐκείνους γενομένην τῆς θεᾶς ὀργήν. »

2 Δίδυμος δὲ ἐναντιοῦται τούτωι καὶ παρατίθεται τὰ Κρεωφύλου ἔχοντα οὕτως·

« τὴν γὰρ Μήδειαν λέγεται διατρίβουσαν ἐν Κορίνθωι τὸν ἄρχοντα τότε τῆς πόλεως Κρέοντα ἀποκτεῖναι φαρμάκοις. δείσασαν δὲ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς συγγενεῖς αὐτοῦ φυγεῖν εἰς ᾽Αθήνας, τοὺς δὲ υἱούς, ἐπεὶ νεώτεροι ὄντες οὐκ ἠδύναντο ἀκολουθεῖν, ἐπὶ τὸν βωμὸν τῆς ᾽Ακραίας ῞Ηρας καθίσαι, νομίσασαν τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν φροντιεῖν τῆς σωτηρίας αὐτῶν. τοὺς δὲ Κρέοντος οἰκείους ἀποκτείναντας αὐτοὺς διαδοῦναι λόγον ὅτι ἡ Μήδεια οὐ μόνον τὸν Κρέοντα ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἑαυτῆς παῖδας ἀπέκτεινε. »

It has long been a favorite anecdote that Euripides was paid off by the Korinthians to make Medea look bad. For other accounts of Medea: Here’s one about her saving lives, another about her losing a beauty contest to Achilles’ mother Thetis, another account of it being Jason’s fault, an earlier scholion explaining how much the Korinthian women hated Medea, rationalizing accounts about Medea’s magic and her treatment of Pelias.

Medea by Corrado Giaquinto

Like Something Written By a Child: Self-Publishing Rich Guys

Pliny, Letters 4.7

To My Friend Catius Lepidus,

I have often told you about the force of Regulus. It is a wonder how he completes whatever he dreams up. It was to his taste to mourn his son, so he mourns as no one does. It was to his taste to have as many statues and images of him made as possible. He assigned this to all the shops: he makes boy in colors, the boy in wax, the boy in bronze, the boy in silver, the boy in gold, ivory, marble.

He also recently recited a book on the life of his son to a huge audience he had summoned. It was about he life of a boy, but he read it still. And then he sent that same story copied out countless times through all of Italy and the provinces. He wrote openly to the members of the town leaderships so that the most eloquent of their number would read the book in public: it is done!

If he had used this force—or by whatever other name the desire to get what we want should be called—if he had focused on better things, how much good he could have accomplished! A good person is just less forceful than a bad one, as the saying goes, “ignorance makes you bold, thought makes you hesitate. A sense of propriety weakens right thinking people; depravity encourages rash daring.”

Regulus is a good example of this. His lungs are weak, his mouth is muddled, his tongue isn’t fluent, he is really slow at composing with a worthless memory and has nothing apart from a crazy wit. But his lack of shame has won him so much passion that he is considered an orator. For this reason, Herennius Senecio has marvelously altered that Catonian comment on an oratory for him: “This orator is a bad man, untrained at speaking.” My god, Cato himself did not define an orator as well as Senecio described Regulus!

Are you at all able of making a letter equal to this one in thanks? You are if you will write about whether any of my friends in your town—even you—has been forced to read out Regulus’ mournful book like a carnival barker in the forum or, putting it the way Demosthenes does, “crying out and harmonizing his voice”. For it is so ridiculous that it is as likely to elicit laughter as sorrow. You would think it was written by a boy not about one! Goodbye!

C. Plinius Catio Lepido Suo S.

Saepe tibi dico inesse vim Regulo. Mirum est quam efficiat in quod incubuit. Placuit ei lugere filium: luget ut nemo. Placuit statuas eius et imagines quam plurimas facere: hoc omnibus officinis agit, illum coloribus illum cera illum aere illum argento illum auro ebore marmore effingit. Ipse vero nuper adhibito ingenti auditorio librum de vita eius recitavit; de vita pueri, recitavit tamen. Eundem in exemplaria mille transcriptum per totam Italiam provinciasque dimisit. Scripsit publice, ut a decurionibus eligeretur vocalissimus aliquis ex ipsis, qui legeret eum populo: factum est. Hanc ille vim, seu quo alio nomine vocanda est intentio quidquid velis optinendi, si ad potiora vertisset, quantum boni efficere potuisset! Quamquam minor vis bonis quam malis inest, ac sicut ἀμαθíα μὲν θράσoς, λoγισμòς δὲ ὄκνoν φέρει, ita recta ingenia debilitat verecundia, perversa confirmat audacia. Exemplo est Regulus. Imbecillum latus, os confusum, haesitans lingua, tardissima inventio, memoria nulla, nihil denique praeter ingenium insanum, et tamen eo impudentia ipsoque illo furore pervenit, ut orator habeatur. Itaque Herennius Senecio mirifice Catonis illud de oratore in hunc e contrario vertit: “Orator est vir malus dicendi imperitus.” Non mehercule Cato ipse tam bene verum oratorem quam hic Regulum expressit. Habesne quo tali epistulae parem gratiam referas? Habes, si scripseris num aliquis in municipio vestro ex sodalibus meis, num etiam ipse tu hunc luctuosum Reguli librum ut circulator in foro legeris, ἐπάρας scilicet, ut ait Demosthenes, τὴν φωνὴν καì γεγηθὼς καì λαρυγγíζων. Est enim tam ineptus ut risum magis possit exprimere quam gemitum: credas non de puero scriptum sed a puero. Vale.

Image result for roman funeral masks

Pliny’s Slightly Less Stupid Treatments for Sickness


Pliny the Elder Natural History, 28.33

“The treatment is for their hands to be washed in water first and then for that water to be sprinkled on patients. However, those who are struck at some point by a scorpion are never attacked again by wasps and bees. Someone who knows that clothes worn at a funeral are never touched by moths or that snakes are only with great labor pulled out out of their holes except by the left hand will not be shocked by this.

Of the discoveries of Pythagoras, this will not prove false: an unequal number of vowels foretells lameness, blindness, or some similar disability on the right side; an even number predicts this on the left. People claim that a difficult birth labor will result in an immediate delivery if a stone or a missile which has killed three animals with a single strike (a human, a boar and a bear) is thrown over the home containing the pregnant woman. This is done with more success with a spear that has been pulled from a human body and has not touched the ground. This works the same if the spear is carried inside.”

remedio est ablui prius manus eorum aquaque illa eos quibus medearis inspergi. rursus a scorpione aliquando percussi numquam postea a crabronibus, vespis apibusve feriuntur. minus miretur hoc qui sciat vestem a tineis non attingi quae fuerit in funere, serpentes aegre praeterquam laeva manu extrahi. e Pythagorae inventis non temere fallere, inpositivorum nominum inparem vocalium numerum clauditates oculive orbitatem ac similes casus dextris adsignare partibus, parem laevis. ferunt difficiles partus statim solvi, cum quis tectum in quo sit gravida transmiserit lapide vel missili ex his qui tria animalia singulis ictibus interfecerint, hominem, aprum,  ursum. probabilius id facit hasta velitaris evulsa corpori hominis, si terram non attigerit. eosdem enim inlata effectus habet.

Image result for medieval manuscript pliny natural history
From Arundel_ms_98_f085v

What Became of Lais?

There are at least seven poems preserved in the Greek Anthology ‘celebrating’ a courtesan named Lais. The poem controversially attributed to Plato is elegant, compact, and clever. The poem attributed to Antipater is some combination of prosaic, creepy, and cruel.

Plato 6.1 (Greek Anthology)

That Lais who proudly laughed at Hellas
And had swarms of young lovers at her door,
Now gives to Aphrodite this mirror—
Since I won’t look at myself as I am,
And can’t look at myself as I used to be.

ἡ σοβαρὸν γελάσασα καθ᾽ Ἑλλάδος, ἥ ποτ᾽ ἐραστῶν
ἑσμὸν ἐπὶ προθύροις Λαῒς ἔχουσα νέων,
τῇ Παφίῃ τὸ κάτοπτρον: ἐπεὶ τοίη μὲν ὁρᾶσθαι
οὐκ ἐθέλω, οἵη δ᾽ ἦν πάρος οὐ δύναμαι.

Antipater 7.218 (Greek Anthology)

Debauched woman robed in purple and gold,
Love’s accomplice, softer than soft Kypris—
Corinthian Lais, it’s she I hold.
More dazzling than the tumbling waters
Of Peirene’s pellucid spring.
That mortal Cythereia: more pursued
By noble suitors than the unwed
Daughter of Sparta’s king, Tyndarius.
Men enjoyed her favors, her paid-for love.
Now, her saffron-scented tomb: the moist bones
Still redolent with incense unguents,
And her oiled hair exhales its fragrant breath.
For her, Aphrodite scratched her lovely face,
And in his mourning Eros groaned and cried.
If only she hadn’t made of her bed
A slave to money, and open to all—
Hellas would have endured ordeals for her,
Just as it had for Helen.

τὴν καὶ ἅμα χρυσῷ καὶ ἁλουργίδι καὶ σὺν Ἔρωτι
θρυπτομένην, ἁπαλῆς Κύπριδος ἁβροτέραν
Λαΐδ᾽ ἔχω, πολιῆτιν ἁλιζώνοιο Κορίνθου,
Πειρήνης λευκῶν φαιδροτέραν λιβάδων, [p. 124]
τὴν θνητὴν Κυθέρειαν, ἐφ᾽ ᾗ μνηστῆρες ἀγαυοὶ
πλείονες ἢ νύμφης εἵνεκα Τυνδαρίδος,
δρεπτόμενοι χάριτάς τε καὶ ὠνητὴν ἀφροδίτην:
ἧς καὶ ὑπ᾽ εὐώδει τύμβος ὄδωδε κρόκῳ,
ἧς ἔτι κηώεντι μύρῳ τὸ διάβροχον ὀστεῦν,
καὶ λιπαραὶ θυόεν ἄσθμα πνέουσι κόμαι
ᾗ ἔπι καλὸν ἄμυξε κάτα ῥέθος Ἀφρογένεια,
καὶ γοερὸν λύζων ἐστονάχησεν Ἔρως.
εἰ δ᾽ οὐ πάγκοινον δούλην θέτο κέρδεος εὐνήν,
Ἑλλὰς ἄν, ὡς Ἑλένης, τῆσδ᾽ ὕπερ ἔσχε πόνον.

Marble statue of an old woman. 1st Century AD Roman copy of a 2nd Century BC Greek original. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

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