Letters Like Thersites’ Speech: Libanius Throws Some Epistolary Shade

Libanius, Letter 81

To Anatolios

“You used to insist that I be free in my speech because you would endure whatever might come from my mouth. But Aeschylus has changed my mind by saying that it is not right for lesser men to speak boldly. But Euripides also says that powerful men take the words of their inferiors badly. But, still, since you ask for responses, I will accede both to you and the poets by not revealing everything to them nor hiding everything from you.

First,  I have this to say about the length of our letters. You are angry about the brevity of mine, and I despise the length of yours. Sparta inspires mine, and you have called it the “Laconic letter”. But, remind me of the models for your nonsense. You have none but that unmeasured man* who bawled during the Achaeans’ assembly.”


Σὺ μὲν παρεκάλεις με πρὸς παρρησίαν ὡς πᾶν οἴσων ὅ τι ἂν ἐξ ἐμοῦ λέγηται, Αἰσχύλος δὲ ἀποτρέπει λέγων μὴ δεῖν τοὺς ἥττους θρασυστομεῖν. ἀλλὰ καὶ Εὐριπίδης φησίν, ὡς οἱ μεγάλα πνέοντες, περὶ ὑμῶν δή που λέγων, πικρῶς φέρουσι λόγους παρ᾿ ἐλαττόνων κρείσσονας. ὅμως φέρουσι λόγους παρ’ ἐλαττόνων κρείσσονας. ὅμως δέ, ἐπειδὴ τῶν ἀμοιβαίων ἐπιθυμεῖς, σοί τε χαριοῦμαι καὶ τοῖν ποιηταῖν, τοῖς μὲν οὐ πάντα εἰπών, σοὶ δὲ οὐ πάντα κρύψας.

πρῶτον μὲν οὖν περὶ τοῦ μέτρου τῶν γραμμάτων ἐκεῖνο λέγω, ὅτι σὺ μὲν τῶν ἐμῶν τὴν βραχύτητα δυσχεραίνεις, ἐγὼ δὲ τῶν σῶν τὸ μῆκος. τὸ μὲν οὖν ἐμὸν ἡ Σπάρτη παραμυθεῖται, καὶ σὺ προσείρηκας Λακωνικὴν τὴν ἐπιστολήν, τῆς δὲ σῆς φλυαρίας εἰπὲ τοὺς ἡγεμόνας· ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἂν ἔχοις πλὴν εἰ τὸν ἀκριτόμυθον τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῶν Ἀχαιῶν κλάοντα.

*Thersites; an allusion to Il. 2.246 Θερσῖτ’ ἀκριτόμυθε, λιγύς περ ἐὼν ἀγορητής.


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