Murofamy: More Rat Facts

Plutarch, Natural Phenomena 4 912 F

“Cargoes of salt on ships generate rats because of their frequent copulation.”

καὶ τὰ ἁληγὰ τῶν πλοίων πλείους τρέφει μῦς διὰ τὸ πολλάκις συμπλέκεσθαι.

 

Pliny, Natural History 44.116

“The smoke of a yew tree kills rodents.”

taxi arboris fumus necat mures.

 

Plutarch, Table Talk 5 685 E

“Salt-ferrying vessels produce an endless multitude of rats—as some people claim—because the female rats get pregnant without intercourse whenever they lick the salt.”

τὰ δ᾿ ἁληγὰ πλοῖα πλῆθος ἐκφύει μυῶν ἄπλετον, ὡς μὲν ἔνιοι λέγουσι, τῶν θηλειῶν καὶ Eδίχα συνουσίας κυουσῶν, ὅταν τὸν ἅλα λείχωσιν·

 

Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 17.17

“Amyntas in his work which he named Stages writes that in the Caspian land there are many herds of cattle and horses almost beyond counting. He adds this as well, that in some seasons an unconquerable plague of rats blights the land. He continues with evidence, saying that even though the rivers flow at that of year with a huge surge, the rats swim fearlessly and they even hold on to each other’s tales, biting down on one another, to form a bridge and they they cross the strait in this way.

After swimming into the farmland, he says, they grind down the roots of crops and swarm over trees and once they use their fruits for their meals they sever the branches too just because they are not able to eat them. For this reason, the Caspians—in order to ward off this invasion of rats and the ruin they bring—do not kill the predatory birds which come in turn, flying down from the clouds, and fulfill their nature by freeing the Caspians of this plague.

Caspian foxes are so numerous that they frequent both the sheepfolds in the country and they also appear in cities. By Zeus, a fox will show up in a house not to steal something or ruin it, but like some kind of pet. The Caspian foxes wag their tails just like pet dogs in our land.

The rats of the terrible plague afflicting the Caspians are almost the same in size when you look a them as the ikhneumenos of Egypt, but they are wild, and terrible, and they have teeth strong enough to cut and even eat metal. The rats in Teridon, Babylonia are like this too—and traders bring their skins to sell among the Persians. Indeed, these skins are soft and can be sewn together as a tunic to warm people. And they call them kandutanes, because it is dear to them.

Here is something amazing about these rats: if a pregnant female is caught and her fetus is removed, when the female fetus is dissected and examined, it also has a baby.”

᾽Αμύντας ἐν τοῖς ἐπιγραφομένοις οὕτως ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ Σταθμοῖς κατὰ τὴν γῆν τὴν Κασπίαν καὶ βοῶν ἀγέλας λέγει πολλὰς καὶ κρείττονας ἀριθμοῦ εἶναι καὶ ἵππων. ἐπιλέγει δὲ ἄρα καὶ ἐκεῖνο, ἐν ὡρῶν τισι περιτροπαῖς μυῶν ἐπιδημίας γίνεσθαι πλῆθος ἄμαχον· καὶ τὸ μαρτύριον ἐπάγει λέγων, τῶν ποταμῶν τῶν ἀεννάων σὺν πολλῶι τῶι ῥοίζωι φερομένων, τοὺς δὲ καὶ μάλα ἀτρέπτως ἐπινήχεσθαί τε αὐτοῖς καὶ τὰς οὐρὰς ἀλλήλων ἐνδακόντας ἕρμα τοῦτο ἴσχειν, καὶ τοῦ διαβάλλειν τὸν πόρον σύνδεσμόν σφισιν ἰσχυρότατον ἀποφαίνει τόνδε.

ἐς τὰς ἀρούρας δὲ ἀπονηξάμενοι, φησί, καὶ τὰ λήια ὑποκείρουσι καὶ διὰ τῶν δένδρων ἀνέρπουσι καὶ τὰ ὡραῖα δεῖπνον ἔχουσι καὶ τοὺς κλάδους δὲ διακόπτουσιν, οὐδὲ ἐκείνους κατατραγεῖν ἀδυνατοῦντες. οὐκοῦν ἀμυνόμενοι οἱ Κάσπιοι τὴν ἐκ τῶν μυῶν ἐπιδρομήν τε ἅμα καὶ λύμην φείδονται τῶν γαμψωνύχων, οἵπερ οὖν καὶ αὐτοὶ κατὰ νέφη πετόμενοι εἶτα αὐτοὺς ἀνασπῶσιν, καὶ ἰδίαι τινὶ φύσει τοῖς Κασπίοις ἀναστέλλουσι τὸν λιμόν. ἀλώπηκες δὲ αἱ Κάσπιαι, τὸ πλῆθος αὐτῶν τοσοῦτόν ἐστιν ὡς καὶ ἐπιφοιτᾶν οὐ μόνον τοῖς αὐλίοις τοῖς κατὰ τοὺς ἀγρούς, ἤδη γε μὴν καὶ ἐς τὰς πόλεις παριέναι. καὶ ἐν οἰκίαι ἀλώπηξ φανεῖται οὐ μὰ Δία ἐπὶ λύμηι οὐδὲ ἁρπαγῆι, ἀλλὰ οἷα τιθασός· καὶ ὑποσαίνουσί τε αἱ Κάσπιοι καὶ ὑπαικάλλουσι τῶν παρ᾽ ἡμῖν κυνιδίων <δίκην>.

οἱ δὲ μύες οἱ τοῖς Κασπίοις ἐπίδημον ὄντες κακόν, μέγεθος αὐτῶν ὅσον κατά γε τοὺς Αἰγυπτίων ἰχνεύμονας ὁρᾶσθαι, ἄγριοι δὲ καὶ δεινοὶ καὶ καρτεροὶ τοὺς ὀδόντας, καὶ διακόψαι τε καὶ διατραγεῖν οἷοί τε εἰσὶ καὶ σίδηρον. τοιοῦτοι δὲ ἄρα καὶ οἱ μύες οἱ ἐν τῆι Τερηδόνι τῆς Βαβυλωνίας (F 7) εἰσίν, ὧνπερ οὖν καὶ τὰς δορὰς οἱ τούτων κάπηλοι ἐς Πέρσας ἄγουσι φόρτον. εἰσὶ δὲ ἁπαλαί, καὶ συνερραμέναι χιτῶνές τε ἅμα γίνονται καὶ ἀλεαίνουσιν αὐτούς. καλοῦνται δὲ ἄρα οὗτοι κανδυτᾶνες, ὡς ἐκείνοις φίλον.

θαυμάσαι δὲ τῶν μυῶν τῶνδε ἄξιον ἄρα καὶ τοῦτο· ἐὰν ἁλῶι μῦς κύουσα, κἆιτα ἐξαιρεθῆι τὸ ἔμβρυον, αὐτῆς δὲ διατμηθείσης ἐκείνης εἶτα μέντοι καὶ αὐτὸ διανοιχθῆι, καὶ ἐκεῖνο ἔχει βρέφος.

Rats

How Fast A Rotten Foundation Falls

Epictetus, Discourses 2.15 (Go here for the full text)

“If you put down a rotten foundation, already falling apart, not even a little shack can be built upon it, and the greater and more forceful thing you build upon it, the faster it will fall to the ground.

So you are depriving this dear person of life without any reason, a citizen of the very same state, both the larger one and the local one. Then, as you commit an act of murder and destroy another human being who did no wrong, you claim that “you have to stick to what was decided!”  If it ever occurred to you to kill me, would you have to stick to your decisions then?

That kind of a person is scarcely persuaded to change his mind. But it is impossible to transform others today. So, now, I think I understand that proverb that used to confuse me, that “you can’t persuade or break a fool!”

May I never have a wise fool as a friend, there’s nothing harder to deal with. He says, “I have decided.” Well, people who are out of their minds decided too. But just as much as they believe that what isn’t true is solid, that’s how much hellebore they need to drink.”

ἂν δὲ σαπρὸν ὑποστήσῃ καὶ καταπῖπτον, οὐκ οἰκοδομημάτιον, ὅσῳ δ᾿ ἂν πλείονα καὶ ἰσχυρότερα ἐπιθῇς, τοσούτῳ θᾶττον κατενεχθήσεται. ἄνευ πάσης αἰτίας ἐξάγεις ἡμῖν ἄνθρωπον ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν φίλον καὶ συνήθη, τῆς αὐτῆς πόλεως πολίτην καὶ τῆς μεγάλης 11καὶ τῆς μικρᾶς· εἶτα φόνον ἐργαζόμενος καὶ ἀπολλύων ἄνθρωπον μηδὲν ἠδικηκότα λέγεις ὅτι τοῖς κριθεῖσιν ἐμμένειν δεῖ. εἰ δ᾿ ἐπῆλθέν σοί πώς ποτ᾿ ἐμὲ ἀποκτεῖναι, ἔδει σε ἐμμένειν τοῖς κριθεῖσιν;

Ἐκεῖνος μὲν οὖν μόγις μετεπείσθη. τῶν δὲ νῦν τινας οὐκ ἔστι μεταθεῖναι. ὥστε μοι δοκῶ ὃ πρότερον ἠγνόουν νῦν εἰδέναι, τί ἐστι τὸ ἐν τῇ συνηθείᾳ λεγόμενον· μωρὸν οὔτε πεῖσαι οὔτε ῥῆξαι ἔστιν. μή μοι γένοιτο φίλον ἔχειν σοφὸν μωρόν. δυσμεταχειριστότερον οὐδέν ἐστιν. “κέκρικα.” καὶ γὰρ οἱ μαινόμενοι· ἀλλ᾿ ὅσῳ βεβαιότερον κρίνουσι τὰ οὐκ ὄντα, τοσούτῳ πλείονος ἐλλεβόρου δέονται.

Epictetus

A Terrible Post for Mother’s Day: Phlegon of Tralles on Multiple Births

Antiquity has bequeathed to us a collection of works on ‘wonders’: some are mere lists of amazing things; others are rationalizing explanations of myths (for which the Hellenistic Palaephaetus is most famous). Here is on list from the mysterious Phlegon of Tralles

Phlegon of Trailes, On Amazing Things:  Multiple Births 28-32 

“Antigonos also records that in Alexandria one woman gave birth to twenty children in four labors and that she raised most of them

Another woman in the same city produced five children in a single birth; three were male and two were female. The emperor Trajan ordered for them to be raised on his own funds.

Another woman gave birth to three different children in one year.

Hippostratos says in his work On Minos, that Aiguptos fathered fifty sons from Eururroê, the daughter of the Nile.

Similarly, Danaus had fifty daughters from one wife, Eurôpê, the daughter of the Nile.

Krateros, the brother of Antigonos that king, says that he knew of a certain person who in a seven year period was a child, an adolescent, a man and an old man and that he died after getting married and having children.

Megasthenes claims that the women who live in Padaia give birth when they are seven years old.”

Καὶ ᾿Αντίγονος δὲ ἱστορεῖ ἐν ᾿Αλεξανδρείᾳ μίαν γυναῖκα ἐν τέτρασιν τοκετοῖς εἴκοσι τεκεῖν καὶ τὰ πλεῖστα τούτων ἐκτραφῆναι.

Καὶ ἑτέρα τις γυνὴ κατὰ τὴν αὐτὴν πόλιν πέντε ἐν ἑνὶ τοκετῷ ἀπεκύησεν παῖδας, τρεῖς μὲν ἄρρενας, δύο δὲ θηλείας, οὓς αὐτοκράτωρ Τραιανὸς ἐκέλευσεν ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων χρημάτων τρέφεσθαι.

 πάλιν δὲ μετ’ ἐνιαυτὸν ἄλλα τρία ἡ αὐτὴ γυνὴ ἔτεκεν.

 ῾Ιππόστρατος δέ φησιν, ἐν τῷ περὶ Μίνω, Αἴγυπτον ἐκ μιᾶς γυναικὸς Εὐρυρρόης τῆς Νείλου πεντήκοντα υἱοὺς γεννῆσαι.

Δαναός τε ὁμοίως ἐκ μιᾶς γυναικὸς τῆς Νείλου Εὐρώπης πεντήκοντα θυγατέρας ἕσχεν.

Κρατερὸς δέ φησιν, ὁ ᾿Αντιγόνου τοῦ βασιλέως ἀδελφός, γινώσκειν τινὰ ἄνθρωπον, ὃν ἐν ἑπτὰ ἔτεσιν παῖδα γενέσθαι καὶ μειράκιον καὶ ἄνδρα καὶ γέροντα καὶ γήμαντα καὶ παιδοποιησάμενον ἀποθανεῖν.

Μεγασθένης δέ φησιν τὰς ἐν Παδαίᾳ κατοικούσας γυναῖκας ἑξαετεῖς γενομένας τίκτειν.

Scene of childbirth in relief on an ivory plaque attached to one end of a papyrus winder (a roller for holding the papyrus while reading). The pregnant woman sits on a birthing chair. Behind her, a standing woman holds her steady as she lifts her left arm backwards to grasp the attendant. The midwife kneels in front of the mother with a sponge in her right hand. Behind her stands a veiled woman who extends her hands toward the mother. Roman. From Pompeii, Region I, Insula 2, first century…
Ivory Carving from Pompeii (Vroma.org)

Dedicating What To Your Stepmother? Mother’s Day With Some Ancient Greek

Lucian, On the Syrian Goddess 16

“These things seem quite entertaining to me, but they are not true. I have also heard another reason for the bit, much more credible.  I am happy with what is said by those who generally agree in Greece, who believe that the goddess is Hera and the work was made by Dionysus. For Dionysus went into Syria on the road that goes to Ethiopia. There are many signs left by Dionysus in the Shrine, among them are foreign clothing and Indian stones and Elephant horns which Dionysus brought from Ethiopia. There are also two really big phalluses that stand up at the entrance gates. This epigram has been inscribed upon them. ‘Dionysus dedicated these phalluses to Hera, his stepmother.’

This remains enough for me, but I will tell you of another oddity in the temple of Dionysus. The Greeks bear phalloi in honor of Dionysus, and they carry something in front of it, a little man carved out of wood which has huge genitals. These are called puppets. There is also one of these in the temple. On the right side of the temple, there is a small bronze man that has giant genitals.”

[Thanks to the commander of trash for making me look at this passage]

Τὰ δέ μοι εὐπρεπέα μὲν δοκέει ἔμμεναι, ἀληθέα δὲ οὔ· ἐπεὶ καὶ τῆς τομῆς ἄλλην αἰτίην ἤκουσα πολλὸν πιστοτέρην. ἁνδάνει δέ μοι ἃ λέγουσιν τοῦ ἱροῦ πέρι τοῖς ῞Ελλησι τὰ πολλὰ ὁμολογέοντες, τὴν μὲν θεὸν ῞Ηρην δοκέοντες, τὸ δ’ ἔργον Διονύσου τοῦ Σεμέλης ποίημα· καὶ γὰρ δὴ Διόνυσος ἐς Συρίην ἀπίκετο κείνην ὁδὸν τὴν ἦλθεν ἐς Αἰθιοπίην. καὶ ἔστι πολλὰ ἐν τῷ ἱρῷ Διονύσου ποιητέω σήματα, ἐν τοῖσι καὶ ἐσθῆτες βάρβαροι καὶ λίθοι ᾿Ινδοὶ καὶ ἐλεφάντων κέρεα, τὰ Διόνυσος ἐξ Αἰθιόπων ἤνεικεν, καὶ φαλλοὶ δὲ ἑστᾶσι ἐν τοῖσι προπυλαίοισι δύο κάρτα μεγάλοι, ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπίγραμμα τοιόνδε ἐπιγέγραπται, “τούσδε φαλλοὺς Διόνυσος ῞Ηρῃ μητρυιῇ ἀνέθηκα.” τὸ ἐμοὶ μέν νυν καὶ τόδε ἀρκέει, ἐρέω δὲ καὶ ἄλλ’ ὅ τι ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ νηῷ Διονύσου ὄργιον. φαλλοὺς ῞Ελληνες Διονύσῳ ἐγείρουσιν, ἐπὶ τῶν καὶ τοιόνδε τι φέρουσιν, ἄνδρας μικροὺς ἐκ ξύλου πεποιημένους, μεγάλα αἰδοῖα ἔχοντας· καλέεται δὲ τάδε νευρόσπαστα. ἔστι δὲ καὶ τόδε ἐν τῷ ἱρῷ· ἐν δεξιῇ τοῦ νηοῦ κάθηται μικρὸς ἀνὴρ χάλκεος ἔχων αἰδοῖον μέγα.

Some Fragments on mothers to make up for this atrocity

Sophocles, Fr. 685 (Phaedra)

“Children are the anchors of a mother’s life”

ἀλλ’ εἰσὶ μητρὶ παῖδες ἄγκυραι βίου

Euripides’ Meleager Fr. 527

“The only things you can’t get with money
Are nobility and virtue. A noble child
Can be born from a poor woman’s body.”

μόνον δ’ ἂν ἀντὶ χρημάτων οὐκ ἂν λάβοις
γενναιότητα κἀρετήν• καλὸς δέ τις
κἂν ἐκ πενήτων σωμάτων γένοιτο παῖς.

Euripides, fr. 358 (Erechtheus)

“Children have nothing sweeter than their mother.
Love your mother children, there is no kind of love anywhere
Sweeter than this one to love.”

οὐκ ἔστι μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἥδιον τέκνοις•
ἐρᾶτε μητρός, παῖδες, ὡς οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔρως
τοιοῦτος ἄλλος ὅστις ἡδίων ἐρᾶν.

Sophocles, Electra 770-771

“Even if she suffers terribly, a mother cannot hate her child.”

οὐδὲ γὰρ κακῶς
πάσχοντι μῖσος ὧν τέκῃ προσγίγνεται.

And a somewhat nicer passage

According to the Greek Anthology there was a temple to Apollônis, the mother of Attalos and Eumenes, at Cyzicos. The temple had at least nineteen epigrams inscribed on columns with accompanying relief images. All of the epigrams have mothers from myth and poetry as their subjects. The Eighth Epigram is on Odysseus’ mother Antikleia.

On the eighth tablet is the underworld visit of Odysseus. He addressed is own mother and asked her for news of his home (Greek Anthology 3.8)

“Wise-minded mother of Odysseus, Antikleia
You didn’t welcome your son home to Ithaka while alive.
Instead, he is shocked when his glance falls upon his sweet mother
Now wandering along the banks of Akheron.”

᾿Εν τῷ Η ἡ τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως νεκυομαντεία• καθέστηκεν τὴν ἰδίαν μητέρα ᾿Αντίκλειαν περὶ τῶν κατὰ τὸν οἶκον ἀνακρίνων

Μᾶτερ ᾿Οδυσσῆος πινυτόφρονος, ᾿Αντίκλεια,
ζῶσα μὲν εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην οὐχ ὑπέδεξο πάιν•
ἀλλά σε νῦν ᾿Αχέροντος ἐπὶ ῥηγμῖσι γεγῶσαν
θαμβεῖ, ἀνὰ γλυκερὰν ματέρα δερκόμενος.

Of course, this scene plays upon book 11 of the Odyssey doubly: the image recalls Odysseus describing his mother in the Odyssey and it also plays upon the Odyssey’s catalogue of heroic mothers motif, which it in turn shares with the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue Of Women.

11.84-89

“Then came the spirit of my mother who had passed away,
The daughter of great-hearted Autolykos, Antikleia
Whom I left alive when I went to sacred Troy.
When I saw her I cried and pitied her in my heart,
But I could not allow her to come forward to touch
The blood before I had learned from Teiresias.”

ἦλθε δ’ ἐπὶ ψυχὴ μητρὸς κατατεθνηυίης,
Αὐτολύκου θυγάτηρ μεγαλήτορος ᾿Αντίκλεια,
τὴν ζωὴν κατέλειπον ἰὼν εἰς ῎Ιλιον ἱρήν.
τὴν μὲν ἐγὼ δάκρυσα ἰδὼν ἐλέησά τε θυμῷ•
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς εἴων προτέρην, πυκινόν περ ἀχεύων,
αἵματος ἄσσον ἴμεν πρὶν Τειρεσίαο πυθέσθαι.

Attalos, Eumenes and Apollônis? These were members of the Attalid clan who ruled from Pergamon during the Hellenistic period (after 241 BCE). Attalus I married Apollônis who was from Cyzicos.

Image result for Ancient Greek mother
Achilles and his mom–a story for a different day.

The Sweetest Day and the Marriage of the Sun

Homer, Od. 6.181-185

“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν, ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν· οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ’ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή· πόλλ’ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ’ εὐμενέτῃσι· μάλιστα δέ τ’ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.

Hipponax, Fr. 68

“A woman has two days which are the sweetest:
When someone marries her and when someone carries her out dead.”

δύ᾿ ἡμέραι γυναικός εἰσιν ἥδισται,
ὅταν γαμῇ τις κἀκφέρῃ τεθνηκυῖαν.

Babrius, Fable 24: Frogs at the Sun’s Wedding

“It was the time of the wedding of the summer Sun
And the animals held charming revels for the god.
Even the frogs were putting on choruses in their pond.
But a toad stopped and said to them, “this is no time
For our hymns of praise! This is for worry and grief.
For the sun nearly dries up every pool when he is alone—
What kind of evils we will suffer if, once he’s married,
He fathers a child who is something like himself?

Many people, thanks to an excess of empty-headedness
Delight at things which in the future they will not love, to the extreme.”

Γάμοι μὲν ἦσαν Ἡλίου θέρους ὥρῃ,
τὰ ζῷα δ᾿ ἱλαροὺς ἦγε τῷ θεῷ κώμους.
καὶ βάτραχοι δὲ λιμνάδας χοροὺς ἦγον·
οὓς εἶπε παύσας φρῦνος “οὐχὶ παιάνων
τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἡμῖν, φροντίδων δὲ καὶ λύπης·
ὃς γὰρ μόνος νῦν λιβάδα πᾶσαν αὐαίνει,
τί μὴ πάθωμεν τῶν κακῶν ἐὰν γήμας
ὅμοιον αὑτῷ παιδίον τι γεννήσῃ;”
Χαίρουσι πολλοὶ τῶν ὑπερβολῇ κούφων
ἐφ᾿ οἷς ἄγαν μέλλουσιν οὐχὶ χαιρήσειν.

Euripides,  Fr. 464

“Get married already, get married, and then die
Either by poison or a trick from your wife.”

γαμεῖτε νῦν, γαμεῖτε, κᾆτα θνῄσκετε
ἢ φαρμάκοισιν ἐκ γυναικὸς ἢ δόλοις.

Hipponax Fr. 182

“The strongest marriage for a wise man
Is to take a woman of noble character—
This dowry alone safeguards a home.
[But whoever takes a fancy woman home…]

The wise man has a partner instead of a mistress
A woman with a good mind, reliable for a lifetime.”

γάμος κράτιστός ἐστιν ἀνδρὶ σώφρονι
τρόπον γυναικὸς χρηστὸν ἕδνον λαμβάνειν·
αὕτη γὰρ ἡ προὶξ οἰκίαν σώιζει μόνη.
ὅστις δὲ †τρυφῶς τὴν γυναῖκ’ ἄγει λαβών

<                                 >

συνεργὸν οὗτος ἀντὶ δεσποίνης ἔχει
εὔνουν, βεβαίαν εἰς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον.

Image result for Ancient Greek wedding vase
Wedding Procession on an oil flask

Stay Home, Philocomus!

Alciphron (ca. 170-220 CE) wrote fictional prose letters depicting scenes from the lives of ordinary people. Like the epigrams on which they were modeled, the letters offer snapshots of experience, portraits of vivid emotions. They are pictures rather than meditations. 

I’ve paired Alciphron’s letter about a rural youth’s desire to travel to the city with a letter from an 18th century epistolary novel about an urban youth’s move to the country. Alciphron’s letter is a portrait of naive yearning; and Goethe’s, a portrait of sober reflection. 

Alciphron: Letter 2.28

From Philocomus to Astyllus

Since I’ve never yet gone into town, I don’t know what this thing called “a city” is. I so want to see the fresh spectacle of people living close together, as if in a web; and I want to learn the many other ways city and country life differ. If you should have occasion to go into town, do go, and take me along this time. I’ll surely experience to the full what it has to offer. After all, my first beard is coming out! And really, is there anyone more qualified to introduce me to the multitude of city things than you, one who wanders about inside its gates?

Goethe: The Sorrows of Young Werther June 21

Dear Wilhelm,

I have thought over all kinds of things: about man’s desire to spread himself, make new discoveries, wander about. And then also about his inner impulse to willingly surrender himself to his limitations, to continue on with the same habits, and not to worry about what’s to his left or right . . . O, distance is like the future! Something enormous and dark rises before our soul, our emotions become blurred, and our eyes too . . . And alas! When we hurry to it, when the “there” becomes “here,” everything is just as before, and we stand there in our poverty, in our limitation, and our soul thirsts for an elusive balm.

Alciphron, Φιλόκωμος Ἀστύλλῳ

Οὐπώποτε εἰς ἄστυ καταβὰς οὐδὲ εἰδὼς ὅ τί ποτε ἐστὶν ἡ λεγομένη πόλις, ποθῶ τὸ καινὸν τοῦτο θέαμα ἰδεῖν, ὑφʼ ἐνὶ περιβόλῳ κατοικοῦντας ἀνθρώπους, καὶ τἆλλα ὅσα διαφέρει πόλις ἀγροικίας μαθεῖν. εἰ οὖν σοι πρόφασις ὁδοῦ ἄστυδε γένοιτο, ἧκε ἀπάξων νῦν κἀμέ. καὶ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἄγειν οἶμαι τοῦ πλέον τι μαθεῖν, ἤδη μοι βρύειν θριξὶ τῆς ὑπήνης ἀρχομένης. τίς οὖν δή με τἀκεῖθι μυσταγωγεῖν ἐπιτηδειό<τερο>ς ἢ σὺ ὁ τὰ πολλὰ εἴσω πυλῶν ἀλινδούμενος;

Goethe, Am 21. Junius.

Lieber Wilhelm, ich habe allerlei nachgedacht, über die Begier im Menschen, sich auszubreiten, neue Entdeckungen zu machen, herumzuschweifen; und dann wieder über den inneren Trieb, sich der Einschränkung willig zu ergeben, in dem Gleise der Gewohnheit so hinzufahren und sich weder um Rechts noch um Links zu bekümmern . . . O es ist mit der Ferne wie mit der Zukunft! Ein großes dämmerndes Ganze ruht vor unserer Seele, unsere Empfindung verschwimmt darin wie unser Auge . . . und ach! Wenn wir hinzueilen, wenn das Dort nun Hier wird, ist alles vor wie nach, und wir stehen in unserer Armut, in unserer Eingeschränktheit, und unsere Seele lechzt nach entschlüpftem Labsale.

The Acropolis and surrounding area, Athens.
Neil Beer/Getty Images

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Fragmentary Friday: Heraclitus Explains Pasiphae, the Chimaera, and Circe

Among the paradoxographers there was a trend of referring to fantastic material and then rationalizing it in some way. Palaephatus is one of the best examples of this, but there was also Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, not to be confused with the pre-socratic Philosopher, the Homeric commentator, or even the Byzantine emperor of the same name.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, 7 Concerning Pasiphae

“People claim that [Pasiphae] lusted after the Bull, not, as many believe, for an animal in a herd—for it would be ridiculous for a queen to desire such uncommon intercourse—instead she lusted for a certain local man whose name was Tauro [the bull]. She used as an accomplice for her desire Daidalos and she was impregnated. Then she gave birth to a son whom many used to call “Minos” but they would compare him to Tauro because of his similarity to him. So, he was nicknamed Mino-tauros from the combination.”

Περὶ Πασιφάης.

 Ταύτην φασὶν ἐρασθῆναι Ταύρου, οὐχ, ὡς πολλοὶ νομίζουσι, τοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἀγέλην ζῴου (γελοῖον γὰρ ἀκοινωνήτου συνουσίας ὠρέχθαι τὴν βασίλισσαν), ἑνὸς δέ τινος τῶν ἐντοπίων, ᾧ Ταῦρος ἦν ὄνομα. συνεργῷ δὲ χρησαμένη πρὸς τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν Δαιδάλῳ καὶ γεγονυῖα ἔγγυος, ἐγέννησε καθ’ ὁμοιότητα τοῦ Ταύρου<υἱόν>, ὃν οἱ πολλοὶ Μίνω μὲν ἐκάλουν, Ταύρῳ δὲ εἴκαζον· κατὰ δὲ σύνθεσιν Μινώταυρος ἐκλήθη.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 15 On the Chimaera

“Homer provides an image of the Khimaira when he says that in the front she was a lion, in the rear a serpent and in the middle a goat. This sort of thing could be the truth. A woman who ruled over those places had two brothers who helped her named Leo and Drako. Because she was an oath-breaker and guest-killer, she was killed by Bellerophon.”

Περὶ Χιμαίρας.

     Ταύτην ῞Ομηρος εἰκονογραφῶν φησι πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα. γένοιτο δ’ ἂν τὸ ἀληθὲς τοιοῦτον. γυνὴ τῶν τόπων  κρατοῦσα δύο πρὸς ὑπηρεσίαν ἀδελφοὺς εἶχεν ὀνόματι Λέοντα καὶ Δράκοντα. παράσπονδος δὲ οὖσα καὶ ξενοκτόνος ἀνῃρέθη ὑπὸ Βελλεροφόντου.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 16 Concerning Circe

“Myth has handed down the idea that Kirkê transformed people with a drink. But she was a prostitute and by charming guests at first with every kind of delight she would mold them towards good will, and once they were in a state of passion, she would keep them there by means of their desires as long as they were carried away with pleasures. Odysseus bested even her.”

Περὶ Κίρκης.

     Ταύτην ὁ μῦθος παρ<αδ>έδωκε ποτῷ μεταμορφοῦσαν ἀνθρώπους. ἦν δὲ ἑταίρα, καὶ κατακηλοῦσα τοὺς ξένους τὸ πρῶτον ἀρεσκείᾳ παντοδαπῇ ἐπεσπᾶτο πρὸς εὔνοιαν, γενομένους δὲ ἐν προσπαθείᾳ κατεῖχε ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλογίστως φερομένους πρὸς τὰς ἡδονάς. ἥττησε δὲ καὶ ταύτην ᾿Οδυσσεύς.

Image result for ancient greek Chimera
Pssssst: I am not real.

Thirsty Thursday: Wondrous Waters and Wine

Some more amazing tales for a Summer of Wonder. 

Paradoxagraphus Florentinus: Mirabilia de Aquis

12 “Among the Kleitorians [Isigonos] says there is a spring and whenever anyone drinks its water, he cannot bear the smell of wine.”

Παρὰ Κλειτορίοις ὁ αὐτός φησιν εἶναι κρήνην, ἧς ὅταν τις τοῦ ὕδατος πίῃ, τοῦ οἴνου τὴν ὀσμὴν οὐ φέρει.

14 “Similarly, near Kosê there is a spring which, if you place a container filled with wine in it until it covers the mouth, then it becomes more bitter than vinegar right away according to the same author.”

῾Ομοίως ἐγγὺς Κόσης ἔστι κρήνη, εἰς ἣν ἐὰν θῇς κεράμιον οἴνου γέμον, ὥστε ὑπερχεῖν τὸ στόμα, παντὸς ὄξους εἶναι δριμύτερον παραχρῆμα, ὡς ἱστορεῖ ὁ αὐτός.

20 “Theopompos says that in Lugkêstai there is a spring which tastes like vinegar but when people drink it they get drunk as if from wine.”

Θεόπομπος ἐν Λυγκήσταις φησὶ πηγὴν εἶναι τῇ μὲν γεύσει ὀξίζουσαν, τοὺς δὲ πίνοντας μεθύσκεσθαι ὡς ἀπὸ οἴνου.

 

Paradoxographus Palatinus: Admiranda

5“There is a spring among the Kleitori which if someone drinks from he will reject and hate drinking wine”

Τῆς ἐν Κλείτορι κρήνης ἄν τις πίῃ τοῦ ὕδατος, ἀποστρέφεται καὶ μισεῖ τὴν τοῦ οἴνου πόσιν.

7 “In Naxos Aglaosthenês says that wine bubbles up on its own for the earth and when it goes into rivers it does not mix with water. The person who tastes it goes crazy”

Εν Νάξῳ φησὶν ᾿Αγλαοσθένης οἶνον ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἀναβλύζειν αὐτόματον καὶ διὰ ποταμοῦ φερόμενον μὴ συμμίσγεσθαι ὕδατι. τὸν δὲ γευσάμενον αὐτοῦ παραφρονεῖν.

From Li Livres dou Santé by Aldobrandino of Siena (France, late 13th century).

Growing Old In The Classroom

Some passages for the end of another strange semester

Solon, fr. 18

“I grow old, always learning many things.”

γηράσκω δ’ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος·

Kim Stanley Robinson The Years of Rice and Salt (2003: 758)

“Over time, Bao came to understand that teaching too was a kind of reincarnation, in that years passed and students came and went, new young people all the time, but always the same age, taking the same class; the class under the oak trees, reincarnated. He began to enjoy that aspect of it. He would start the first class by saying, “Look, here we are again.” They never knew what to make of it; same response, every time.

He learned, among other things, that teaching was the most rigorous form of learning. He learned to learn more from his students than they did from him; like so many other things, it was the reverse from what it seemed to be, and colleges existed to bring together groups of young people to teach some chosen few of their elders the things that they knew about life, that the old teachers had been in danger of forgetting.”

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher?

You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb, as long as you live. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum.

Image result for ancient greek old age

More Wonder for A Wednesday: Whose Intestines Sing?

From the Paradoxagraphus Palatinus Admiranda 20

“Antigonos says [of sheep intestines] that those of rams are voiceless, but those from females can sing. This fact has not escaped the poet, for he says “He stretched the seven strings from female sheep.”

Επὶ τῶν <ἐντέρων τῶν> προβάτων φησὶν ᾿Αντίγονος τὰ μὲν τῶν κριῶν ἄφωνα εἶναι, τὰ δὲ τῶν θηλέων ἔμφωνα· οὐ λεληθέναι δὲ τοῦτο τὸν ποιητήν. φησὶ γάρ· ἑπτὰ δὲ θηλυτέρων οἴων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

This last line is a variant for the Homeric Hymn to Hermes 51

“He stretched out seven symphonic sheep-gut strings”

ἑπτὰ δὲ συμφώνους ὀΐων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

Zodiac Sign: Aries | Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum