Reader Request: Insults in Plutarch’s Pericles

Plutarch, Life of Pericles:


“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.




“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.



“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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