Speaking of Centaurs…Nestor’s Tale in Iliad 1

In the first book of the Iliad, Nestor attempts to intervene in the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. He eventually tells both men to simmer down—Achilles should act insubordinately and Agamemnon shouldn’t take Briseis. Neither of them listen to him. The reason—beyond the fact that neither of them are in a compromising state of mind—may in part be because of the story Nestor tells.

Il. 1.259–273

“But listen to me: both of you are younger than me; for long before have I accompanied men better than even you and they never disregarded me. For I never have seen those sort of men since, nor do I expect to see them; men like Perithoos and Dryas, the shepherd of the host, and Kaineus and Exadios and godly Polyphemos and Aigeus’ son Theseus, who was equal to the gods; indeed these were the strongest of mortal men who lived—they were the strongest and they fought with the strongest, mountain-inhabiting beasts, and they destroyed them violently. And I accompanied them when I left Pylos far off from a distant land when they summoned me themselves; and I fought on my own. No one could fight with them, none of those mortals who now are on the earth. Even they listened to my counsel and heeded my speech.”

ἀλλὰ πίθεσθ’· ἄμφω δὲ νεωτέρω ἐστὸν ἐμεῖο·
ἤδη γάρ ποτ’ ἐγὼ καὶ ἀρείοσιν ἠέ περ ὑμῖν
ἀνδράσιν ὡμίλησα, καὶ οὔ ποτέ μ’ οἵ γ’ ἀθέριζον.
οὐ γάρ πω τοίους ἴδον ἀνέρας οὐδὲ ἴδωμαι,
οἷον Πειρίθοόν τε Δρύαντά τε ποιμένα λαῶν
Καινέα τ’ ᾿Εξάδιόν τε καὶ ἀντίθεον Πολύφημον
Θησέα τ’ Αἰγεΐδην, ἐπιείκελον ἀθανάτοισιν·
κάρτιστοι δὴ κεῖνοι ἐπιχθονίων τράφεν ἀνδρῶν·
κάρτιστοι μὲν ἔσαν καὶ καρτίστοις ἐμάχοντο
φηρσὶν ὀρεσκῴοισι καὶ ἐκπάγλως ἀπόλεσσαν.
καὶ μὲν τοῖσιν ἐγὼ μεθομίλεον ἐκ Πύλου ἐλθὼν
τηλόθεν ἐξ ἀπίης γαίης· καλέσαντο γὰρ αὐτοί·
καὶ μαχόμην κατ’ ἔμ’ αὐτὸν ἐγώ· κείνοισι δ’ ἂν οὔ τις
τῶν οἳ νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπιχθόνιοι μαχέοιτο·
καὶ μέν μευ βουλέων ξύνιεν πείθοντό τε μύθῳ·

lapiths-and-centaurs

Ancient commentators praise Nestor elsewhere for his ability to apply appropriate examples in his persuasive speeches:

Schol. Ad Il. 23.630b ex. 1-6: “[Nestor] always uses appropriate examples. For, whenever he wants to encourage someone to enter one-on-one combat, he speaks of the story of Ereuthaliôn (7.136-56); when he wanted to rouse Achilles to battle, he told the story of the Elean war (11.671¬–761). And here in the games for Patroklos, he reminds them of an ancient funeral contest.”

ex. ὡς ὁπότε κρείοντ'<—᾿Επειοί>: ἀεὶ οἰκείοις παραδείγμασι χρῆται· ὅταν μὲν γάρ τινα ἐπὶ μονομάχιον ἐξαναστῆσαι θέλῃ, τὰ περὶ ᾿Ερευθαλίωνα (sc. Η 136—56) λέγει, ὅταν δὲ ᾿Αχιλλέα ἐπὶ τὴν μάχην, τὰ περὶ τὸν ᾿Ηλειακὸν πόλεμον (sc. Λ 671—761)·
καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἐπὶ Πατρόκλῳ ἄθλοις παλαιοῦ ἐπιταφίου μέμνηται ἀγῶνος.
b(BCE3E4)T

The scholia also assert that such use of stories from the past is typical of and appropriate to elders:

Schol. ad Il. 9.447b ex. 1-2 : “The elderly are storytellers and they persuade with examples from the past. In other cases, the tale assuages the anger…”

μυθολόγοι οἱ γέροντες καὶ παραδείγμασι παραμυθούμενοι. ἄλλως τε ψυχαγωγεῖ τὴν ὀργὴν ὁ μῦθος.

Continue reading “Speaking of Centaurs…Nestor’s Tale in Iliad 1”

Nameless Altars and Human Sacrifice

Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum 1.110 [Epimenides]

“Epimenides was known among the Greeks and was thought to be extremely beloved to the gods. For this reason, when the Athenians were once afflicted by a plague and the Pythian oracle prophesied that they should cleanse their city, they sent a ship along with Nikias the son of Nikêratos, summoning Epimenides.

He made it to Athens at the time of the 46th Olympiad [c. 596 BCE] and cleansed the city. He stopped it in the following manner. After obtaining white and black sheep, he led them to the Areopagos and then allowed them to go wherever they wanted there. He ordered the people following them to sacrifice the sheep to whichever god was proper to the place where each sheep laid down.

This is how the plague stopped. For this reason it is still even today possible to find altars without names in certain Athenian neighborhoods as a commemoration of that ancient cleansing. Some people report that Epimenides indicated the pollution from the Kylon scandal as the cause of the plague along with a resolution for it. For this reason, they killed two youths, Kratinos and Ktêsibios and the suffering was relieved.”

(110) γνωσθεὶς δὲ παρὰ τοῖς ῞Ελλησι θεοφιλέστατος εἶναι ὑπελήφθη. ὅθεν καὶ Ἀθηναίοις ποτὲ λοιμῶι κατεχομένοις ἔχρησεν ἡ Πυθία καθῆραι τὴν πόλιν, οἱ δὲ πέμπουσι ναῦν τε καὶ Νικίαν τὸν Νικηράτου εἰς Κρήτην, καλοῦντες τὸν Ἐπιμενίδην. καὶ ὃς ἐλθὼν ὀλυμπιάδι τεσσαρακοστῆι ἕκτηι ἐκάθηρεν αὐτῶν τὴν πόλιν, καὶ ἔπαυσε τὸν λοιμὸν τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον· λαβὼν πρόβατα μέλανά τε καὶ λευκά, ἤγαγεν πρὸς τὸν ῎Αρειον πάγον, κἀκεῖθεν εἴασεν ἰέναι οἷ βούλοιντο, προστάξας τοῖς ἀκολούθοις, ἔνθα ἂν κατακλινῆι αὐτῶν ἕκαστον, θύειν τῶι προσήκοντι θεῶι· καὶ οὕτω λῆξαι τὸ κακόν· ὅθεν ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἔστιν εὺρεῖν κατὰ τοὺς δήμους τῶν Ἀθηναίων βωμοὺς ἀνωνύμους, ὑπόμνημα τῆς τότε γενομενης ἐξιλάσεως. οἱ δὲ τὴν αἰτίαν εἰπεῖν τοῦ λοιμοῦ τὸ Κυλώνειον ἄγος σημαίνειν τε τὴν ἀπαλλαγήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἀποθανεῖν δύο νεανίας Κρατῖνον καὶ Κτησίβιον, καὶ λυθῆναι τὴν συμφοράν

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 Kylix showing an armored youth offering a sacrifice. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens, around 480 BC

Skipping the Passive for the Straight-Up Aggressive

Pliny, Letters 2.1

“I am super mad and whether or not it is right I’m not sure but I’m super mad. You know how unfair love is frequently, often powerless always quick to be offended. But my reason is still serious whether I believe it’s right and I am as mad as I would be if it were right since I have had no letter from you for such a long time.

The only solution to this is if you write me many really long letters right now. This is the only way I will forgive you. Other things seem fake. I won’t even hear “I was in Rome” or “I was busy”. But Gods forbid you say, “I’ve been sick.”

I’ve been in my country-house enjoying my two delights that come from leisure: reading and resting. Bye!”

Plinius Paulino Suo S.

1Irascor, nec liquet mihi an debeam, sed irascor. Scis, quam sit amor iniquus interdum, impotens saepe μικραίτιος semper. Haec tamen causa magna est, nescio an iusta; sed ego, tamquam non minus iusta quam magna sit, graviter irascor, quod a te tam diu litterae nullae. Exorare me potes uno modo, si nunc saltem plurimas et longissimas miseris. Haec mihi sola excusatio vera, ceterae falsae videbuntur. Non sum auditurus “non eram Romae” uel “occupatior eram”; illud enim nec di sinant, ut “infirmior”. Ipse ad villam partim studiis partim desidia fruor, quorum utrumque ex otio nascitur. Vale.

File:Ancient Roman villa of Salar 012 (30512518878).jpg ...
This is a Villa. It is not Pliny’s. 

Little Sparks of Virtue

Cicero, De Finibus 5. 43

“There is certainly seems to be natural power for humans for attaining every kind of virtue and for these reasons small children are motivated by the attraction of virtues whose seeds they possess without teaching. These are surely the fundamental aspects of human nature which increase and grow as if planted. This is because we are made in such a way at birth that we already possess the basic impulses of doing something, of loving some people, and with qualities of liberality, and giving things. We also receive spirits which reach toward knowledge, wisdom, and bravery, already disinclined toward the opposites.

It is not without reason that we see those things I have mentioned in children like little sparks of virtue from which the philosopher’s reason must be kindled—the child must find their way to nature’s end by following their divine guide. As I have often said in the early period when our minds are still weak, we see nature’s power as if through fog. But once the mind progresses and gets stronger, it recognizes the power of its nature, that it may still proceed further and has become only half-finished on its own.”

 Est enim natura sic generata vis hominis ut ad omnem virtutem percipiendam facta videatur, ob eamque causam parvi virtutum simulacris quarum in se habent semina sine doctrina moventur; sunt enim prima elementa naturae, quibus auctis virtutis quasi germen efficitur. Nam cum ita nati factique simus ut et agendi aliquid et diligendi aliquos et liberalitatis et referendae gratiae principia in nobis contineremus atque ad scientiam, prudentiam, fortitudinem aptos animos haberemus a contrariisque rebus alienos, non sine causa eas quas dixi in pueris virtutum quasi scintillas videmus, e quibus accendi philosophi ratio debet, ut eam quasi deum ducem subsequens ad naturae perveniat extremum. Nam ut saepe iam dixi in infirma aetate imbecillaque mente vis naturae quasi per caliginem cernitur; cum autem progrediens confirmatur animus, agnoscit ille quidem naturae vim, sed ita ut progredi possit longius, per se sit tantum inchoata.

 

Sarcophagus, Roma, Musei Vaticani, Museo Chiaramont

Plato Says It’s Like We’re Drunk All The Time

Plato Phadeo 79c2-c8

“Therefore, weren’t we saying this long before that the mind, whenever it uses the body for examining anything—either through seeing or hearing or any other kind of perception, since examining a thing through the body is to examine it through the senses—at that moment the mind is dragged down by body towards things that never exist in the same way and it wanders and is troubled and gets dizzy as if it’s drunk, since it has been contaminated by those sorts of things.”

Οὐκοῦν καὶ τόδε πάλαι ἐλέγομεν, ὅτι ἡ ψυχή, ὅταν μὲν τῷ σώματι προσχρῆται εἰς τὸ σκοπεῖν τι ἢ διὰ τοῦ ὁρᾶν ἢ διὰ τοῦ ἀκούειν ἢ δι’ ἄλλης τινὸς αἰσθήσεως—τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ διὰ τοῦ σώματος, τὸ δι’ αἰσθήσεως σκοπεῖν τι—τότε μὲν ἕλκεται ὑπὸ τοῦ σώματος εἰς τὰ οὐδέποτε κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔχοντα, καὶ αὐτὴ πλανᾶται καὶ ταράττεται καὶ εἰλιγγιᾷ ὥσπερ μεθύουσα, ἅτε τοιούτων ἐφαπτομένη;

Illumination from AM 147 4to of two intoxicated 15th century Icelanders

The Brevity and Quickness of Life

Pliny, Letters 3.7 To Caninius Rufus

“I have just learned that Silius Italicus ended his life by starvation in Naples. Sickness was the cause of death, really: he had an untreatable tumor whose pain made him escape by death. He made it to his final day happy and fortunate, except that he lost his two younger songs. He left the older and better son successful and already of consular rank.

Silius harmed his reputation under Nero—for he was believed to have accused people willingly—but he conducted himself in his friendship with Vitellius wisely and with kindness. He earned some fame for his proconsulate in Asia and cleansed the stain of his earlier activity with a praiseworthy retirement.

He was among our top citizens without holding power or incurring envy. He was visited and much sought out, nearly always reclining on his couch in a room crowded not by accident. He filled his days with the most educated conversation whenever he took a break from writing. He used to write his poems more with effort than inspiration, and did not spare himself from critical judgment thanks to his recitations.

In recent years, he left Rome in a concession to old age. Once he made his home in Campania, he did not leave, not even for the coming of a new Emperor. This is reason for great praise for Caesar since he allowed this freedom and for Silius himself since he dared to take it.

He was a lover of things to the extent that he was mocked for excessive purchases. He owned multiple homes in the same neighborhood and overlooked the older ones in his excitement for the new ones. In each he had plenty books, statues, paintings and busts, each of which meant much to him, especially the one of Vergil, whose birthday he celebrated more religiously than his own, especially at Naples where he used to visit his grave as if it were a temple.

He completed his seventy-fifth year in this peaceful place. His body was solicitously tended even though he was not disabled. He was the final consul Nero appointed and the last of Nero’s consuls to die. It is remarkable that not only did Nero’s final consul die with him but that Nero died when he was consul!

Pity for human fragility fills me as I tell you this. Nothing is as brief and quick as the longest human life. Doesn’t it seem to you that Nero just died? But not one of the men who were consuls in his time remain alive today. I should not be so surprised! Only recently did Lucius Piso, the father of the Piso who was killed so evilly by Valerius Festus in Italy, used to say that none of those men he used to ask to speak when he was consul were still in the Senate!

The boundaries of life are so narrow that even in a community of great size I think we could forgive the Persian king for his famous tears—or maybe even admire him for them. For it is reported that after Xerxes reviewed his immense army, he wept when he thought that so many would die in so short a time.

This is why we should draw out our passing minutes with reading and writing, since we don’t have any control over them and action seems futile. Since we cannot live a long life, let us leave something to declare we have lived.

I know that you don’t need to be encouraged. But my concern for you still drives me to encourage you, like a horse eager to run, as you urge me in turn. Competition is good when friends push each other on with shared exhortations on the love of immortal memory.”

Plinius Caninio Rufo Suo S.

Modo nuntiatus est Silius Italicus in Neapolitano suo inedia finisse vitam. Causa mortis valetudo. Erat illi natus insanabilis clavus, cuius taedio ad mortem inrevocabili constantia decucurrit usque ad supremum diem beatus et felix, nisi quod minorem ex liberis duobus amisit, sed maiorem melioremque florentem atque etiam consularem reliquit. Laeserat famam suam sub Nerone (credebatur sponte accusasse), sed in Vitelli amicitia sapienter se et comiter gesserat, ex proconsulatu Asiae gloriam reportaverat, maculam veteris industriae laudabili otio abluerat.

Fuit inter principes civitatis sine potentia, sine invidia: salutabatur colebatur, multumque in lectulo iacens cubiculo semper, non ex fortuna frequenti, doctissimis sermonibus dies transigebat, cum a scribendo vacaret. Scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio, non numquam iudicia hominum recitationibus 6experiebatur. Novissime ita suadentibus annis ab urbe secessit, seque in Campania tenuit, ac ne adventu quidem novi principis inde commotus est: magna Caesaris laus sub quo hoc liberum fuit, magna illius 8qui hac libertate ausus est uti.

Erat ϕιλόκαλος usque ad emacitatis reprehensionem. Plures isdem in locis villas possidebat, adamatisque novis priores neglegebat. Multum ubique librorum, multum statuarum, multum imaginum, quas non habebat modo, verum etiam venerabatur, Vergili ante omnes, cuius natalem religiosius quam suum celebrabat, Neapoli maxime, ubi monimentum eius adire ut templum solebat. In hac tranquillitate annum quintum et septuagensimum excessit, delicato magis corpore quam infirmo; utque novissimus a Nerone factus est consul, ita postremus ex omnibus, quos Nero consules fecerat, decessit. Illud etiam notabile: ultimus ex Neronianis consularibus obiit, quo consule Nero periit. Quod me recordantem fragilitatis humanae miseratio subit.

Quid enim tam circumcisum tam breve quam homini vita longissima? An non videtur tibi Nero modo modo fuisse? cum interim ex iis, qui sub illo gesserant consulatum, nemo iam superest. Quamquam quid hoc miror? Nuper L. Piso, pater Pisonis illius, qui a Valerio Festo per summum facinus in Africa occisus est, dicere solebat neminem se videre in senatu, quem consul ipse sententiam rogavisset.

Tam angustis terminis tantae multitudinis vivacitas ipsa concluditur, ut mihi non venia solum dignae, verum etiam laude videantur illae regiae lacrimae; nam ferunt Xersen, cum immensum exercitum oculis obisset, inlacrimasse, quod tot milibus tam brevis immineret occasus. Sed tanto magis hoc, quidquid est temporis futilis et caduci, si non datur factis (nam horum materia in aliena manu), certe studiis proferamus, et quatenus nobis denegatur diu vivere, relinquamus aliquid, quo nos vixisse testemur. Scio te stimulis non egere: me tamen tui caritas evocat, ut currentem quoque instigem, sicut tu soles me. ’Αγαθὴ δ’ ἔρις cum invicem se mutuis exhortationibus amici ad amorem immortalitatis exacuunt. Vale.

Vergil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright

A Beggar King

Plutarch, Stoics Talk More Paradoxically than Poets 6

“And then, while the Ithakan King begs for money because he wants to hide his identity and he is attempting to make himself as much as possible “like a pathetic beggar,”  this guy shouts from the Stoa, screaming out, “I alone am king, I alone am wealthy” and is often seen crying at other people’s doors, “Give Hipponax a cloak. I am cold and my teeth are chattering.”

Καὶ ὁ μὲν Ἰθακησίων βασιλεὺς προσαιτεῖ λανθάνειν ὅς ἐστι βουλόμενος καὶ ποιῶν ἑαυτὸν ὡς μάλιστα “πτωχῷ λευγαλέῳ ἐναλίγκιον,” ὁ δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς Στοᾶς βοῶν μέγα καὶ κεκραγὼς “ἐγὼ μόνος εἰμὶ βασιλεύς, ἐγὼ μόνος εἰμὶ πλούσιος” ὁρᾶται πολλάκις ἐπ᾿ ἀλλοτρίαις θύραις λέγων

δὸς χλαῖναν Ἱππώνακτι· κάρτα γὰρ ῥιγῶκαὶ βαμβακύζω.

Image result for ancient greek beggar king
Odysseus from the Vatican Museum