Medea’s Magic Was Really a Spa Treatment

Yesterday we posted some varying accounts on Medea’s power over rejuvenation. Here’s another alternative account.

Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Things

Palaephatus was a Hellenistic mythographer who tried to rationalize archaic myths by attributing their fantastic aspects to exaggeration and linguistic confusion.

“People say that Medeia used to make old men young by boiling them, but she didn’t actually make anyone young. Whomever she boiled, she killed. Something like this did happen. Medeia was the first to introduce the use of a red and black flower. She used it to make old men change from gray to dark again: for she dyed their white hair and changed it to black and red. She [also] was the first to discover that a hot bath was useful for people. She used a hot bath to treat those who wanted it, but not out in the open—so that none of the doctors would learn about it—and after she gave them a bath, she made them swear not to tell anyone. The name [people gave] to this warm bath was “parboiling” [parepsêsis]. Because people who took warm baths felt lighter and healthier afterwards, those who saw her cauldron and fire, were convinced that she boiled men. But Pelias, who was an old and weak, died during his bath. This is where the myth comes from.”


῾Η Μήδεια φασὶ <μὲ>ν ὡς ἀφέψουσα τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους νέους ἐποίει, οὐδένα δὲ δείκνυται νέον ποιήσασα· ὃν δὲ ἥψησε πάντως ἀπέκτεινεν. ἐγένετο δέ τι τοιοῦτον. Μήδεια πρώτη ἐφεῦρεν ἄνθος τὸ πυρρὸν καὶ τὸ μέλαν. τοὺς οὖν γέροντας ἐκ πολιῶν μέλανας <καὶ πυρροὺς> ἐποίει φαίνεσθαι· βάπτουσα γὰρ αὐτοὺς τὰς λευκὰς τρίχας εἰς μελαίνας  καὶ πυρρὰς μετέβαλεν. *** πυρίαν πρώτη Μήδεια ἐφεῦρεν ἀνθρώποις ὄφελος. ἐπυρία οὖν τοὺς βουλομένους, οὐκ ἐν τῷ προφανεῖ, ἵνα μή τις μάθῃ τῶν ἰατρῶν, πυριῶσα δὲ ὥρκου μηδενὶ μηνύειν. ὄνομα δὲἦν τῷ πυριάματι παρέψησις. ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ κουφότεροι καὶ ὑγιεινότεροι ἐγίνοντο οἱ ἄνθρωποι πυριώμενοι. ἐκ δὴ τούτου, ὁρῶντες παρ’ αὐτῇ λέβητας καὶ πῦρ, ἐπείσθησαν ὡς ἕψει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ὁ δὲ Πελίας, ἄνθρωπος γέρων καὶ ἀσθενής, πυριώμενος ἀπέθανεν. ἐντεῦθεν ὁ μῦθος.

Image result for Medea Pelias

Just a bath, nothing to fear.

The Fable of the Exploding Frog

Phaedrus 1.24 The Exploding Frog

A poor man, when he tries to imitate the powerful, dies.
Once in a meadow a frog saw a bull
Whose great size exerted on her such a pull
That she inflated her wrinkled skin and asked
Her children whether she was bigger than that.
They denied it and she puffed herself out self again
But when she asked who was bigger, they said “him”.
Finally angry, she didn’t want to blow it,
She puffed again and her body exploded.”


I.24. Rana Rupta

Inops, potentem dum vult imitari, perit.
In prato quondam rana conspexit bovem,
et tacta invidia tantae magnitudinis
rugosam inflavit pellem. Tum natos suos
interrogavit an bove esset latior.
Illi negarunt. Rursus intendit cutem
maiore nisu, et simili quaesivit modo,
quis maior esset. Illi dixerunt “bovem”.
Novissime indignata, dum vult validius
inflare sese, rupto iacuit corpore.

Scholars and their Silly Questions

The following poems are taken from the Greek Anthology.  Both provide interesting possible origins for the phrase “bookworm”. A google search for the origin of the term is rather disappointing and points to book-eating species. But what if the species were named for scholars?

Philippos, 11.321

“Grammarians, children of hateful Blame, thorn-worms
Book-monsters, whelps of Zenodotus,
Soldiers of Kallimakhos, a man you project like a shield
But do not spare from your tongue,
Hunters of grievous conjunctions who take pleasure
In min or sphin* and in asking if the Cyclops kept dogs,
May you wear out your lives, wretches, muttering over the abuse
Of others. Come sink your arrow in me!”

Γραμματικοὶ Μώμου στυγίου τέκνα, σῆτες ἀκανθῶν,
τελχῖνες βίβλων, Ζηνοδότου σκύλακες,
Καλλιμάχου στρατιῶται, ὃν ὡς ὅπλον ἐκτανύσαντες,
οὐδ’ αὐτοῦ κείνου γλῶσσαν ἀποστρέφετε,
συνδέσμων λυγρῶν θηρήτορες, οἷς τὸ „μὶν” ἢ „σφὶν”
εὔαδε καὶ ζητεῖν, εἰ κύνας εἶχε Κύκλωψ,
τρίβοισθ’ εἰς αἰῶνα κατατρύζοντες ἀλιτροὶ
ἄλλων· ἐς δ’ ἡμᾶς ἰὸν ἀποσβέσατε.

Antiphanes, 11.322

“Useless race of grammarians, digging at the roots of
Someone else’s poetry, luckless worms who walk on thorns,
Perverters of great art, boasting over your Erinna*,
Bitter, parched watchdogs of Kallimakhos,
Rebukes to poets, death’s shade to children learning,
Go to hell, you fleas that secretly bite eloquent men.”

Γραμματικῶν περίεργα γένη, ῥιζωρύχα μούσης
ἀλλοτρίης, ἀτυχεῖς σῆτες ἀκανθοβάται,
τῶν μεγάλων κηλῖδες, ἐπ’ ᾿Ηρίννῃ δὲ κομῶντες,
πικροὶ καὶ ξηροὶ Καλλιμάχου πρόκυνες,
ποιητῶν λῶβαι, παισὶ σκότος ἀρχομένοισιν,
ἔρροιτ’, εὐφώνων λαθροδάκναι κόριες.

*An Alexandrian poet.

Philippus, 11.347

“Goodbye, men whose eyes have wandered over the universe,
And you thorn-counting worms of Aristarchus.
What’s it to me to examine which paths the Sun takes
Or whose son Proteus was or who was Pygmalion?
I would know as many works whose texts are clean. But let
The dark inquiry rot away the Mega-Kallimakheis!”

Χαίροιθ’, οἱ περὶ κόσμον ἀεὶ πεπλανηκότες ὄμμα
οἵ τ’ ἀπ’ ᾿Αριστάρχου σῆτες ἀκανθολόγοι.
ποῖ γὰρ ἐμοὶ ζητεῖν, τίνας ἔδραμεν ῞Ηλιος οἴμους
καὶ τίνος ἦν Πρωτεὺς καὶ τίς ὁ Πυγμαλίων;
γινώσκοιμ’, ὅσα λευκὸν ἔχει στίχον· ἡ δὲ μέλαινα
ἱστορίη τήκοι τοὺς Περικαλλιμάχους.


Rejuvenate This: Medea’s Marvelous Magic

The typical tale of Medea has her trick the daughter’s of Pelias–the man who deprived Jason of a kingdom–into killing their father. She cuts and boils an old goat, mixes in some drugs, and a young goat emerges. The daughters of wicked Pelias try to do the same as a surprise for their father. And, surprise, they get daddy stew.

The scholia to Euripides’ Medea record other traditions where Medea uses her magic.

Schol ad Eur. Med. Arg. 10-22

“Pherekudês reports that Mêdeia made Jason young again by boiling him. The poet of the Nostoi says about his father Aisôn:

[She] quickly made Aison a dear young man
After wiping away old age with her clever plans
By boiling him with many drugs in a golden container.

Aiskyulos in his Nurses of Dionysos recounts that she also remade Dionysos’ nurses along with their husbands by boiling them. Staphulos says that Jason was killed in a certain way by Medea. For, he says, she told him to lie beneath the prow of the Argo because the ship was about to fall apart because of time. When the prow fell upon him, Jason died.”

Φερεκύδης [frg. 74] δὲ καὶ Σιμωνίδης [frg. 204] φασὶν ὡς ἡ Μήδεια ἀνεψήσασα τὸν ᾿Ιάσονα νέον ποιήσειε. περὶ δὲ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Αἴσονος ὁ τοὺς Νόστους ποιήσας φησὶν οὕτως [frg. 6]·

αὐτίκα δ’ Αἴσονα θῆκε φίλον κόρον ἡβώοντα
γῆρας ἀποξύσασ’ εἰδυίῃσι πραπίδεσσι
φάρμακα πόλλ’ ἕψουσ’ ἐπὶ χρυσείοισι λέβησιν.

Αἰσχύλος δ’ ἐν ταῖς Διονύσου τροφοῖς [frg. 50] ἱστορεῖ ὅτι καὶ τὰς Διονύσου τροφοὺς μετὰ τῶν ἀνδρῶν αὐτῶν ἀνεψήσασα ἐνεοποίησε. Στάφυλος [frg. 5] δέ φησι τὸν ᾿Ιάσονα τρόπον τινὰ ὑπὸ τῆς Μηδείας ἀναιρεθῆναι. ἐγκελεύσασθαι γὰρ αὐτὴν οὕτως ὑπὸ τῇ πρύμνῃ τῆς ᾿Αργοῦς αὐτὸν κατακοιμηθῆναι μελλούσης τῆς νεὼς διαλύεσθαι ὑπὸ τοῦ χρόνου. ἐπιπεσούσης γοῦν τῆς πρύμνης τῷ ᾿Ιάσονι τελευτῆσαι αὐτόν

Pottery: black-figured hydria (water-jar): Medea, Pelias and Peliad (shoulder: men and women with goat).

A hydria in the British Museum

Hungry Dogs, Old Lions: More Fables for Our Time

Phaedrus Fabulae

The Hungry Dogs, 1.20

“A foolish plan not only lacks a happy end,
But it invokes doom too for mortal men.
Some dogs saw a hide half sunk in a stream,
In order to get it and eat it with ease
They began to drink the water up: but they burst
And died before they could grab what they wanted first.”

I.20. Canes Famelici

Stultum consilium non modo effectu caret,
sed ad perniciem quoque mortalis devocat.
Corium depressum in fluvio viderunt canes.
Id ut comesse extractum possent facilius,
aquam coepere ebibere: sed rupti prius
periere quam quod petierant contingerent.

The Elderly Lion, 1.21

“Whoever has lost his ancient dignity
Is a joke to baser men in the midst of grave mistake.
A lion worn by years and deprived of his strength,
Was at last lying prone and ready to take
His last breath as a boar came foaming with bright teeth
And avenged an ancient wound with a strike.
Soon a bull gored him too with horns beneath
His enemy flesh. Even a donkey, when he knew
He could hurt him without harm, kicked his head anew.
But as he breathed out at last, the lion said:
“Without merit I endured the insults of the strong.
But, because of you, nature’s joke, I now seem twice-dead!”


I.21. Leo Senex

Quicumque amisit dignitatem pristinam,
ignavis etiam iocus est in casu gravi.
Defectus annis et desertus viribus
leo cum iaceret spiritum extremum trahens,
aper fulmineis spumans venit dentibus,
et vindicavit ictu veterem iniuriam.
Infestis taurus mox confodit cornibus
hostile corpus. Asinus, ut vidit ferum
impune laedi, calcibus frontem extudit.
At ille exspirans “Fortis indigne tuli
mihi insultare: Te, Naturae dedecus,
quod ferre certe cogor bis videor mori”.

The Life and Sayings of Anacharsis the Skythian

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10.50

“Anacharsis the Skythian, when a they had a drinking contest at Periander’s house, asked for the first prize because he was the first of the drinkers to get drunk, believing that the  goal of a drinking contest was the same as running: being first.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις δ’ ὁ Σκύθης παρὰ Περιάνδρῳ τεθέντος ἄθλου περὶ τοῦ πίνειν ᾔτησε τὸ νικητήριον πρῶτος μεθυσθεὶς τῶν συμπαρόντων, ὡς ὄντος τέλους τούτου καὶ τῆς ἐν τῷ πότῳ νίκης ὥσπερ καὶ τῆς ἐν τῷ τρέχειν.


“Anacharsis has shown that getting drunk keeps our eyes from seeing clearly—that opinions of the drunk tend to be wrong. For when a fellow drinker saw his wife at a party, he said “Anacharsis, you have married an ugly woman.” And he responded, “That’s quite clear to me. But pour me a stronger drink, child, and I’ll make her pretty!”

ὅτι δὲ τὸ μεθύειν καὶ τὰς ὄψεις ἡμῶν πλανᾷ σαφῶς ἔδειξεν ᾿Ανάχαρσις δι’ ὧνεἴρηκε, δηλώσας ὅτι ψευδεῖς δόξαι τοῖς μεθύουσι γίγνονται. συμπότης γάρ τις ἰδὼν αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα ἐν τῷ συμποσίῳ ἔφη· ‘ὦ ᾿Ανάχαρσι, γυναῖκα γεγάμηκας αἰσχράν.’ καὶ ὃς ἔφη· ‘πάνυ γε κἀμοὶ δοκεῖ· ἀλλά μοι ἔγχεον, ὦ παῖ, ποτήριον ἀκρατέστερον, ὅπως αὐτὴν καλὴν ποιήσω.’


“I also know that Anacharsis the Skythian, when comedians were performing at a dinner party, sat there without laughing. But when a monkey came in, he laughed and said “This is funny by nature; but the man has to practice.”

καίτοι γε οἶδα καὶ ᾿Ανάχαρσιν τὸν Σκύθην ἐν συμποσίῳ γελωτοποιῶν εἰσαχθέντων ἀγέλαστον διαμείναντα, πιθήκου δ’ ἐπεισαχθέντος γελάσαντα φάναι, ὡς οὗτος μὲν φύσει γελοῖός ἐστιν, ὁ δ’ ἄνθρωπος ἐπιτηδεύσει.



s.v. Angkura: Note that Anakharsis, a Skythian philosopher, invented the anchor and the potter’s wheel. He lived around the time of Kroisos.

Ἄγκυραν: ὅτι Ἀνάχαρσις Σκύθης φιλόσοφος εὗρεν ἄγκυραν καὶ τὸν κεραμεικὸν τροχόν. ἦν δὲ ἐπὶ Κροίσου.

“s.v. Anacharsis, the son of Gnuros, and a Greek woman. A Skythian, philosopher, and brother of the king of the Skythians, Kadouias. He wrote Laws of the Scythians in epic verse, On the Simplicity of the Affairs of Human Life, adding up to around eight hundred lines. He invented the anchor and the potter’s wheel. He died while performing Greek rites because his brother was conspiring against him. According to others, he died in deep old age, nearly 100 years old.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις, Γνύρου, μητρὸς δὲ ῾Ελληνίδος, Σκύθης, φιλόσοφος, ἀδελφὸς Καδουΐα τοῦ Σκυθῶν βασιλέως. ἔγραψε Νόμιμα Σκυθικὰ δι’ ἐπῶν, Περὶ εὐτελείας τῶν εἰς τὸν ἀνθρώπινον βίον ἔπη πάντα ω′. εὗρε δὲ οὗτος ἄγκυραν καὶ τὸν κεραμεικὸν τροχόν. ἦν δὲ ἐπὶ Κροίσου. καὶ τετελεύτηκεν ῾Ελληνικὰς τελετὰς ἐπιτελῶν ἐν Σκύθαις, ἐπιβουλεύσαντος αὐτῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ· κατὰ δέ τινας ἐν γήρᾳ βαθεῖκαὶ μέχρις ἐτῶν ρ′.


Anacharsis the Scythian, Diogenes Laertius 1.8 103-105

“He said that the vine bears three grapes: pleasure, inebriation, and disgust. He said that he was surprised how among the Greeks experts competed and amateurs judged them. When he asked how someone could avoid being a drunk, he said “if you keep the shame of drunks before you.” He also used to say that he was surprised how the Greeks make laws against arrogance when they honor athletes for hitting each other. When he learned that a ship’s side was four-fingers thick, he said that the sailors were only that far from death.

He used to say that olive oil was a drug of madness since Athletes went crazy at each other when they rubbed it on themselves. He used to ask how we outlaw lies, but lie openly in commerce. And he used to wonder at how the Greeks drink from small cups at the beginning of the feast, but big ones when they are full.  This is inscribed on his statues: Master your tongue, your stomach, and your genitals.” When asked if there were pipes in Skythia, he said “No, nor grapevines.” When asked what kind of boats were safest, he said “those on shore.” And he said that the most amazing thing he saw among the Greeks was that they leave the smoke on the mountains and take the wood into the cities.

When asked whether there were more men living or dead he asked, “Where would you count the men on the sea?” When he was reproached by some Attic man for being Skythian, he said, “my country is a reproach to me; but you are a reproach to your country.” When asked what is good and what is bad for men, he said “the tongue.” He used to say that it was better to have one friend worth much than many worth little. He called the market a place designated for deceiving and depriving one another. When he was insulted over wine by a young man he said, “boy, if you can’t handle wine when you’re young, you’ll be carrying water when you’re old.”


Οὗτος τὴν ἄμπελον εἶπε τρεῖς φέρειν βότρυς: τὸν πρῶτον ἡδονῆς: τὸν δεύτερον μέθης: τὸν τρίτον ἀνδίας. θαυμάζειν δὲ ἔφη πῶς παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἀγωνίζονται μὲν οἱ τεχνῖται, κρίνουσι δὲ οἱ μὴ τεχνῖται. ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς οὐκ ἂν γένοιτό τις φιλοπότης, “εἰ πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν,” εἶπεν, “ἔχοι τὰς τῶν μεθυόντων ἀσχημοσύνας.” θαυμάζειν τε ἔλεγε πῶς οἱ Ἕλληνες νομοθετοῦντες κατὰ τῶν ὑβριζόντων, τοὺς ἀθλητὰς τιμῶσιν ἐπὶ τῷ τύπτεινἀλλήλους. μαθὼν τέτταρας δακτύλους εἶναι τὸ πάχος τῆς νεώς, τοσοῦτον ἔφη τοῦ θανάτου τοὺς πλέοντας ἀπέχειν.

4 [104] Τὸ ἔλαιον μανίας φάρμακον ἔλεγε διὰ τὸ ἀλειφομένους τοὺς ἀθλητὰς ἐπιμαίνεσθαι ἀλλήλοις. πῶς, ἔλεγεν, ἀπαγορεύοντες τὸ ψεύδεσθαι ἐν ταῖς καπηλείαις φανερῶς ψεύδονται; καὶ θαυμάζειν φησὶ τῶς Ἕλληνες ἀρχόμενοι μὲν ἐν μικροῖς πίνουσι, πλησθέντες δὲ ἐν μεγάλοις. ἐπιγράφεται δὲ αὐτοῦ ταῖς εἰκόσι: “γλώσσης, γαστρός, αἰδοίων κρατεῖν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς εἰ εἰσὶν ἐν Σκύθαις αὐλοί, εἶπεν, “ἀλλ᾽ οὐδὲ ἄμπελοι.” ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνα τῶν πλοίων εἰσὶν ἀσφαλέστερα, ἔφη, “τὰ νενεωλκημένα.” καὶ τοῦτο ἔφη θαυμασιώτατον ἑωρακέναι παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ὅτι τὸν μὲν καπνὸν ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσι καταλείπουσι, τὰ δὲ ξύλα εἰς τὴν πόλιν κομίζουσιν. ἐρωτηθεὶς πότεροι πλείους εἰσίν, οἱ ζῶντες ἢ οἱ νεκροί, ἔφη, “τοὺς οὖν πλέοντας ποῦ τίθης;” ὀνειδιζόμενος ὑπὸ Ἀττικοῦ ὅτι Σκύθης ἐστίν, ἔφη, “ἀλλ᾽ ἐμοῦ μὲν ὄνειδος ἡ πατρίς, σὺ δὲ τῆς πατρίδος.” 5 [105] ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστιν ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἀγαθόν τε καὶ φαῦλον, ἔφη, “γλῶσσα.” κρεῖττον ἔλεγεν ἕνα φίλον ἔχειν πολλοῦ ἄξιον ἢ πολλοὺς μηδενὸς ἀξίους. τὴν ἀγορὰν ὡρισμένον ἔφη τόπον εἰς τὸ ἀλλήλους ἀπατᾶν καὶ πλεονεκτεῖν. ὑπὸ μειρακίου παρὰ πότον ὑβρισθεὶς ἔφη, “μειράκιον, ἐὰν νέος ὢν τὸν οἶνον οὐ φέρῃς, γέρων γενόμενος ὕδωρ οἴσεις.”

Breakfast of Champions (NSFW)?

This is probably not safe for work.

Aristophanes, Wealth 295

“You’re following with your dicks out; and you will eat breakfast [like] goats”

ἕπεσθ’ ἀπεψωλημένοι· τράγοι δ’ ἀκρατιεῖσθε.

From the Suda

“You will breakfast”: Aristophanes in Wealth has “You will breakfast like goats”. This means you will breakfast with an exposed penis: you will do wild things like goats, since after sex, goats lick the penis. [So this means] you will lick the end of a dick like a goat.”

Ἀκρατιεῖσθε: Ἀριστοφάνης Πλούτῳ: τράγοι δ’ ἀκρατιεῖσθε. τουτέστιν ἀπεψωλημένοι ἀκρατιεῖσθε: ἀντὶ τοῦ ὡς τράγοι ἀκρατῆ πράξετε, ἐπεὶ μετὰ τὴν συνουσίαν οἱ τράγοι λείχουσι τὸ αἰδοῖον. τὸ ἄκρον λείξετε ὡς τράγοι.

The scholia to this passage have a few different interpretations:
Scholia ad. Arist. Plut.

“[They used to thing it means] “You are licking your balls like goats”. Clearly, this means: you are licking genitals.”

ἤγουν δίκην τράγων τοὺς ὄρχεις λείχετε. P. λείχετε τὰ αἰδοῖα δηλονότι. Br.

Scholia recentiora Tzetzae

“akratieisthe” stands in for “you would eat”. For akratismos means eating first thing in the morning. Or, “you will do wild things”, since after intercourse, goats lick their own genitals.”

τὸ δ’ “ἀκρατιεῖσθε” ἀντὶ τοῦ “φάγοιτε”· ἀκρατισμὸς γὰρ λέγεται τὸ πρωϊνὸν φαγεῖν. ἢ “ἀκρατῆ πράσσετε”, ἐπειδὴ μετὰ συνουσίαν οἱ τράγοι λείχουσι τὰ αἰδοῖα ἑαυτῶν.

Image result for Ancient Greek goat