“Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” in Ancient Greek

A student recently asked me how to say “don’t let the bastards grind you down” in Greek (and in my head I changed it to the ‘variant’ “wear you down”). I think the request stems either from the rather famous fake Latin illegitimi non carborundum or the appearance of the only slightly less problematic. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Whatever the provenance of this question, it distracted me.

There are various Greek verbs and constructions one could use: prohibitive subjunctive or 2nd person imperative; third person imperative; impersonal constructions of obligation (δεῖ/χρή). The verbal adjective (to imitate the fake Latin Passive periphrastic seems unwieldy.

Someone also suggested a future wish construction:

1. I got hooked on the idea of bastards being burdensome, so here are some prohibitives and imperatives plurals playing with the root akhthos:

ἄγε δὴ μὴ ἄχθῃ νόθοις
ἄγετε δὴ μὴ ἄχθησθε νόθοις

ἄγε δὴ μὴ ἄχθῃ νόθοις
ἄγετε δὴ μὴ ἄχθεσθε νόθοις

2. Some third person imperatives

μὴ νόθοι ὑμῶν ἄχθοι ἔστων

I used the genitive here based on the usage in the Iliad: ἀλλ’ ἧμαι παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης, 18;104.

Here are some other verbs which might work:

μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς λυπέντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ἐπιτριβέντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς δακνόντων
μὴ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ὁχλέντων

Another fine suggestion from twitter was to use ἐπιτρίβειν (as I did above). I think we could use the verb ἐάω + infinitive, but that construction is not as common, I think, as prohibitives and third person imperatives.

μὴ ἐᾶτε νόθους ὑμᾶς ἐπιτρίβειν

3. Impersonal/obligative constructions

οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς λυπεῖν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς ἐπιτρίβειν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς δάκνειν
οὐ δεῖ/ χρὴ τοὺς νόθους ὑμᾶς ὀχλεῖν

4. Wish

εἴθε μὴ οἱ νόθοι ὑμᾶς ἐπιτριβεῖεν* [ἐπιτριβοῖεν]

*this form occurs in Lucian


And a variant from the ever ready Armand D’Angour (in iambic trimeter, no less)

An object clause of effort variant:

5. Another idiom I like

μὴ νόθους χάλεπως φέρετε
μὴ νόθους χάλεπως φέρητε

A few grammatical notes:

Tense: for the imperatives and infinitives I have stayed with the present tense forms to express a durative or progressive ongoing resistance against bastards getting one down. I do think that the aorist could be substituted gnomically to express the timeless truth of the necessity of avoiding the burden of bastards.

Number: I have also mostly used the 2nd person plural in Greek. Although I think that if this were actually an archaic Greek sentiment it would likely use the second person singular to express something of an intimacy with the recipient, I wanted to keep it plural for general applicability in English.

Particles: Most of the statements above have insufficient flavoring for Ancient Greek. I kept the common ἄγε δή for strengthening commands, but I think there is probably more I could do.

There has been some uncertainty about my obsession with the ancient nothos (“bastard”) and some fine suggestions for other nouns. Beyond the fact that I like the Greek word, nothos does function metaphorically in ancient Greek as “spurious” or “illegitimate”.

Image result for medieval manuscript bastards
A royal bastard

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