Lykophron, Alexandra 815-819: A Lament for Odysseus

“Poor man—it would have been better for you to remain at home,
Driving oxen and keeping the working donkey
Still under the yoke alongside them.
Better to languish in your pretended madness
than to endure the limits of such great pains.”

ὦ σχέτλι’, ὥς σοι κρεῖσσον ἦν μίμνειν πάτρᾳ
βοηλατοῦντα καὶ τὸν ἐργάτην μύκλον
κάνθων’ ὑπὸ ζεύγλαισι μεσσαβοῦν ἔτι
πλασταῖσι λύσσης μηχαναῖς οἰστρημένον
ἢ τηλικῶνδε πεῖραν ὀτλῆσαι κακῶν.

Lykophron is a bit strange and quite obscure, but this bit is nice. In some traditions, Odysseus acted crazy and plowed his field in circles (until, with a threat to his infant son Telemachus, he was shown to be faking it). According to Lykophron, the odd thing is that he yoked a donkey in with the oxen. Obviously, some things get lost in the cultural translations.

8 thoughts on “Lykophron, Alexandra 815-819: A Lament for Odysseus

  1. Is it possible that the oxen and the donkey are used one after the other rather than at the same time. Homer mentions mule ploughing.

    But when he was as close as the range of mules for they are better than oxen at drawing the fitted plough through the deep fallow land.

    ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δή ῥ᾽ ἀπέην ὅσσόν τ᾽ ἐπὶ οὖρα πέλονται
    ἡμιόνων: αἱ γάρ τε βοῶν προφερέστεραί εἰσιν
    ἑλκέμεναι νειοῖο βαθείης πηκτὸν ἄροτρον:

    Iliad 10.351

    I found this very old comment on these lines.

    The Grecians did not plow in the manner now in use. They first broke up the ground with oxen and then plow’d it more lightly with mules.

    Of course even if that were the case I don’t know whether you could use a single donkey rather than a team of mules. Maybe an image of a donkey ploughing would seem comical.

    1. Great questions. I know so very little about this that I am not going to try to answer this. All I know is that Lykophron presents this as strange. I think the fact is that they’re teamed together, and that is odd.

      But if you figure anything out else, let me know!

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