Fragmentary Friday: Early Accounts of Perseus

Perseus, Andromeda, and a Sea Monster

Perseus, Andromeda, and a Sea Monster

Hesiod, Fr. 129.8-18

“And she bore both Proitos and king Akrisios
And the father of gods and men established them in different places
Akrisos ruled in well-built Argos…
[three broken lines describing the marriage of Akrisios to Eurydike, daughter of Lakedaimon]
She gave birth to fine-ankled Danae in her home
Who in turn was the mother of Perseus, the mighty master of fear.
Proitos lived in the well-built city of Tiryns
and married the daughter of the great-hearted son of Arkas
the fine-haired Stheneboia…”
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Guns on Campus? Here’s ‘Dildo’ in Ancient Greek

In a long-running response to guns on campus and after a federal judge denied faculty arguments to keep guns from classrooms, students at UT Austin today are protesting the recently enacted ‘Campus Carry’ law by carrying dildos strapped to their backpacks (because, according to obscenity laws, dildos are forbidden).

In support of these efforts in my former state, here’s how to say ‘dildo’ in Ancient Greek.

From the Suda

Olisbos: Genitals made from leather which the Milesian women used to use as tribades(!) and shameful people do. Widowed women also use them. Aristophanes writes “I did not see an eight-fingered dildo*/ which might be our leathered aid.”** This second part is drawn from the proverb “fig-wood aid” applied to weak people.

῎Ολισβος: αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον, ᾧ ἐχρῶντο αἱ Μιλήσιαι γυναῖκες, ὡς τριβάδες καὶ αἰσχρουργοί· ἐχρῶντο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· οὐκ εἶδον οὐδ’ ὄλισβον ὀκταδάκτυλον, ὃς ἂν ἡμῖν σκυτίνη ‘πικουρία. παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν.

Another proverb from the Suda, s.v. misêtê:

“And Kratinus said somewhere: “hated women use dildoes.”

καὶ ὁ Κρατῖνός που τοῦτο ἔφη: μισῆται δὲ γυναῖκες ὀλίσβωσι χρήσονται

(!) tribades: see the Suda again s.v. Hetairistai:

“Courtesanizers: The women who are called ‘rubbers'” [or ‘grinders’? i.e. Lesbians] Ἑταιρίστριαι: αἱ καλούμεναι τριβάδες. See also Hesychius s.v. dietaristriai: “Women who rub themselves against girls in intercourse the way men do. For example, tribades.”

διεταρίστριαι· γυναῖκες αἱ τετραμμέναι πρὸς τὰς ἑταίρας ἐπὶ συνουσίᾳ, ὡς οἱ ἄνδρες. οἷον τριβάδες (Plat. conv. 191 e).

*this is not an eight-shafted instrument but may instead point to the instrument’s length. See the note on the Suda-online.

**Lysistrata 109-110.


The Lexicographer Photius repeats only the following definition:

Olisboi: Leather dicks

῎Ολισβοι: δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα.

The Scholia to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 109-110 basically presents the same information:

Olisbon: A leather penis. And that is for the Milesian women. He is joking that they use dildos. The next part, “leathery aid” plays upon the proverb “fig-tree aid”, used for the weak. He has changed it to “leathery” because dildos are made of leather. They are leather-made penises which widowed women use.”

ὄλισβον: Αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον. καὶ τοῦτο εἰς τὰς Μιλησίας. παίζει δὲ ὡς τοῖς ὀλίσβοις χρωμέναις. σκυτίνη ἐπικουρία: Παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία, ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν. ὁ δὲ εἰς τὴν σκυτίνην μετέβαλε. σκύτινοι γὰρ οἱ ὄλισβοι. εἰσὶ δὲ δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα, οἷς χρῶνται αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες.

And, the chaste H. Liddell could do no better than give this a Latin name:

ὄλισβος , ὁ, A.penis coriaceus, Cratin.316, Ar.Lys.109, Fr.320.13.

Feeling Old? A Story about Bellerophon Probably Won’t Help

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.


Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

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All-About-Athena: Hymns, Prayers, Cult Names


Solon, fr. 4.4-5 (6th Century BCE)
Solon emphasizes Athena’s power as a protector and connection with Zeus

“This sort of a great-hearted overseer, a daughter of a strong-father
Holds her hands above our city, Pallas Athena”

τοίη γὰρ μεγάθυμος ἐπίσκοπος ὀβριμοπάτρη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη χεῖρας ὕπερθεν ἔχει•

Euripides, Heracleidae 770-72 (5th Century BCE)
Euripides echoes Solon but also refers to Athena as a maternal figure

“Queen, the foundation of the land
and the city is yours, you are its mother,
mistress and guardian..”

ἀλλ’, ὦ πότνια, σὸν γὰρ οὖ-
δας γᾶς καὶ πόλις, ἆς σὺ μά-
τηρ δέσποινά τε καὶ φύλαξ…

Aristophanes, Knights 581-585 (5th Century BCE)
Aristophanes echoes the defender motif and connects it with the glory of Athens as a martial and creative center (perhaps under influence of a more robust Panathenaia)

“O Pallas, protector of the city,
The most sacred city-
and defender of a land
that surpasses all others
in war and poetry.”

῏Ω πολιοῦχε Παλλάς, ὦ
τῆς ἱερωτάτης ἁπα-
σῶν πολέμῳ τε καὶ ποη-
ταῖς δυνάμει θ’ ὑπερφερού-
σης μεδέουσα χώρας,

Homeric Hymn to Athena 1 (Allen 11)
The shorter of the extant Homeric hymns focuses on Athena’s connection with war and heroes

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena the dread
defender of cities, to whom the acts of war are a concern with Ares:
the cities sacked, the shrill sound, and the battles,
She rescues the host when it leaves and when it returns”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
δεινήν, ᾗ σὺν ῎Αρηϊ μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα
περθόμεναί τε πόληες ἀϋτή τε πτόλεμοί τε,
καί τ’ ἐρρύσατο λαὸν ἰόντα τε νισόμενόν τε.
Χαῖρε θεά, δὸς δ’ ἄμμι τύχην εὐδαιμονίην τε.

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Philosophers Steal from Poets; And Poets have Crazy Ideas

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, 1.272-273

“[Of those philosophers who dispute the utility of learning grammar], Pyrrho is recorded to have been constantly reading Homeric poetry, a thing he would not have done if he did not recognize that it was useful and that, for that reason, studying grammar is compulsory. And Epicurus has been caught red-handed snatching the best of his beliefs from the poets”.

ὧν ὁ μὲν Πύρρων ἱστορεῖται τὴν ῾Ομηρικὴν διὰ παντὸς ποίησιν ἀναγινώσκων, μὴ ἄν ποτε τοῦτο ποιήσας εἴπερ μὴ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν χρησίμην καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τὴν γραμματικὴν ἀναγκαίαν, ὁ δὲ ᾿Επίκουρος φωρᾶται τὰ κράτιστα τῶν δογμάτων παρὰ ποιητῶν ἀνηρπακώς• τόν τε γὰρ ὅρον τοῦ μεγέθους τῶν


“But anyone who investigates it will find that the ideas of poets are much worse than common sense of regular men.”

ἂν δὲ καὶ ἐξετάσῃ τις, πολλῷ χείρονα τῆς τῶν ἰδιωτῶν ὑπολήψεως εὑρήσει τὰ
τῶν ποιητῶν.

Sextus who?

Zonaras 7.8 Part V: The Sons of Marcius Return

Tarquinius is slain by the sons of Marcius for usurping their throne:

The sons of Marcius then set upon Tarquinius, since he did not pass the throne on to them, but instead preferred a certain Tullius who was born to him by a captive woman. This indeed was a thing which had caused the nobles substantial distress. The sons of Marcius therefore enlisted the help of some of these nobles and plotted against Tarquinius; their plan was to send, in rustic fashion, two men armed with axes and sickles to attack Tarquinius. When it happened that they did not encounter Tarquinius in public, they went to the doors of his regal home, indeed striving against each other as they needed to come into his presence. When they met him, they fell into an argument with each other, and while Tarquinius paid attention to one of the men as he was pleading his case, the other man slew him.

᾿Επέθεντο μέντοι τῷ Ταρκυνίῳ οἱ τοῦ Μαρκίου παῖδες, ἐπεὶ μὴ τῆς ἀρχῆς αὐτοῖς παρεχώρει, ἀλλά τινα Τούλλιον τεχθέντα οἱ ἐξ αἰχμαλωτίδος προῆγε πάντων· ὃ δὴ μάλιστα τοὺς εὐπατρίδας ἐλύπει. ὧν τινας προσεταιρισάμενοι αὐτῷ ἐπεβούλευσαν, δύο
τινὰς χωριτικῶς ἐσταλμένους, ἀξίναις καὶ δρεπάνοις ὡπλισμένους, αὐτῷ ἐπιθέσθαι παρασκευάσαντες. οἳ ἐπεὶ μὴ ἀγοράζοντι τῷ Ταρκυνίῳ ἐνέτυχον, ἐπὶ τὰς θύρας τῶν βασιλείων ἧκον, ἀλλήλοις δῆθεν διαμαχόμενοι, καί οἱ ἐλθεῖν εἰς ὄψιν ἐδέοντο. καὶ τυχόντες τούτου εἰς λόγους ἀλλήλοις ἀντικατέστησαν, καὶ δικαιολογουμένῳ τῷ ἑνὶ προσέχοντα τὸν Ταρκύνιον ὁ ἕτερος κατειργάσατο.

“Be The Best”: Wonderful, Terrible Advice

This year I taught my last class at my first institution and soon I will teach my first at a very different school. Although I am happy to start anew, there will be many people to miss and among them stand many of the students who have impacted my life. This time of year teachers are mostly worn down—it is often hard to see the good we do in the midst of it. Indeed, as I tell my students, we are conditioned to see our failures (of which there are many without a doubt) and to minimize our successes.

I tried to downplay my departure—my department held a small gathering to mark it and a few students were invited. One of the students brought a card from a student who graduated several years ago:

Be the best.jpg

The bit about “be the best” is a truth that makes me shudder a bit because it can be terrible advice to set someone up for disappointment. I remember the conversation distinctly—the student had finished a senior thesis and was ready to go to law school but the process had been frustrating for us both. After letting the student know she had done just fine, I told her law school was going to be harder and she had a choice of doing well (which she would) or doing great. Then I quoted the Iliad.

Il. 6.206-208

“Hippolochus fathered me—I claim him as my father.
He sent me to Troy and gave me much advice,
To always be the best and to be better than the rest.”

῾Ιππόλοχος δέ μ’ ἔτικτε, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ φημι γενέσθαι·
πέμπε δέ μ’ ἐς Τροίην, καί μοι μάλα πόλλ’ ἐπέτελλεν
αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων…

And also:


“Old Peleus advised his son Achilles
To always be the best and be better than the rest.
And to you in turn your father Menoitios, Aktor’s son, advised:
‘My child, Achilles is superior to you by birth,
But you are older. And he is much stronger than you.
But you must do well to speak and give him a close word,
And to advise him. He will obey you to a good end.”

Πηλεὺς μὲν ᾧ παιδὶ γέρων ἐπέτελλ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ
αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων·
σοὶ δ’ αὖθ’ ὧδ’ ἐπέτελλε Μενοίτιος ῎Ακτορος υἱός·
τέκνον ἐμὸν γενεῇ μὲν ὑπέρτερός ἐστιν ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
πρεσβύτερος δὲ σύ ἐσσι· βίῃ δ’ ὅ γε πολλὸν ἀμείνων.
ἀλλ’ εὖ οἱ φάσθαι πυκινὸν ἔπος ἠδ’ ὑποθέσθαι
καί οἱ σημαίνειν· ὃ δὲ πείσεται εἰς ἀγαθόν περ.

In the first passage, Glaukos is telling Diomedes who he is and they ‘bond’ over their shared background (really, I think Glaukos comes out on top—though he exchanges gold armor for bronze, he lives to fight another day). In the second, Nestor is attempting to persuade Patroklos that he too is responsible for Achilles’ behavior because of their fathers’ injunctions.

Most of us who teach are more like Nestor than Patroklos, but we have Patroklos’ ability to advice, apply a convincing word here and there and hope (sometimes against all logic) that what we say will have some “good” outcome. While we watch hundreds (if not thousands) of students pass through our classrooms over the years, we remember mostly those we don’t seem to move, the good we seem not to have accomplished.

But every once in a while, we are lucky enough to hear that what we do makes a real difference. And it is often not in the exam we set, the lecture we give, or the grades we dole out. We make impacts in those human interactions between the scripted moments. Don’t get me wrong—everything else is important too: the scripted moments allow us to “be the best” in one way, to offer that “close-kept word”. But our unassessed, unquantified, and unmandated contributions help to take our work from the classroom to the world our students (and we) inhabit.

In nearly a decade at my first job I was honored to have many students like the one who sent me this thank-you note—bright young people who will go on to make their lives better and improve the lives of those around them. I am thankful to have had this opportunity and humbled that I too have been able to make a difference.