Homeric Epigrams: Unknowable Minds; Pitiable Sailors; Dog-Feeding Instructions

Three Epigrams from the Pseudo-Herodotean Life of Homer

Epigram 5

“Thestorides, though men encounter many unexpected things,
There is nothing more unknowable than the human mind.”

Θεστορίδης θνητοῖσιν ἀνωΐστων πολέων περ,
οὐδὲν ἀφραστότερον πέλεται νόου ἀνθρώποισιν.

Epigram 9

“Sea-traveling sailors with your hateful task,
Living an unenviable life on the shimmering waves,
Revere Zeus the guest-god who rules from on high.
For Zeus Xenios’ rage is great for the man who crosses him”

ναῦται ποντοπόροι στυγερῇ ἐναλίγκιοι ἄτῃ,
πτωκάσιν αἰθυίῃσι βίον δύσζηλον ἔχοντες,
αἰδεῖσθε ξενίοιο Διὸς σέβας ὑψιμέδοντος•
δεινὴ γὰρ μέτ’ ὄπις ξενίου Διός, ὅς κ’ ἀλίτηται.

Rhyton_en_forme_de_tête_de_chien

Epigram 11

“Glaukos, overseer, I will place another saying in your thoughts:
Give the dogs dinner first near the courtyard’s gates.
This is better: for the dog hears first when a man
Approaches or if a wild beast dares near the fence.”

Γλαῦκε πέπων, ἐπιών τοι ἔπος τι ἐνὶ φρεσὶ θήσω•
πρῶτον μὲν κυσὶ δεῖπνον ἐπ’ αὐλείῃσι θύρῃσι
δοῦναι• ὣς γὰρ ἄμεινον• ὃ γὰρ καὶ πρῶτον ἀκούει
ἀνδρὸς ἐπερχομένου καὶ ἐς ἕρκεα θηρὸς ἰόντος.

Performing Prophecies

Schol. bT ad Hom. Il. 2.350 ex

“Odysseus properly, as he speaks to the public, offers the prophecy of Kalkhas to please the people, since he was hateful to the sons of Atreus but sweet to the masses. Nestor, because he is trying to please the king, offers the signs of the king of the gods. For this reason Odysseus is praised by the Greeks but Nestor is praised by the king.”

οἰκείως ὁ μὲν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς δημοχαριστικῶς δημηγορῶν τοῦ Κάλχαντος προβάλλεται τὴν μαντείαν, ὃς ἦν τοῖς ᾿Ατρείδαις ἐχθρός, τῷ δὲ πλήθει γλυκύς· ὁ δὲ Νέστωρ τῷ βασιλεῖ χαριζόμενος τὰ τοῦ βασιλέως τῶν θεῶν προβάλλεται· διὸ ὁ μὲν παρὰ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων, ὁ δὲ Νέστωρ παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ἐγκωμιάζεται

Homer, Iliad 2.299–330 (Odysseus)

“Endure, friends, and wait some time so we may learn,
Whether Kalkhas prophesied truly or not.
For we all know this well in our minds: you were all
Witnesses, at least those of you the fates of death have not carried off.
On that day long ago when the ships of the Achaeans gathered
At Aulis preparing troubles for Priam and the Trojans:
We were all around the sacred altars along a spring
Completing sacrifices to the immortal gods
Under a beautiful plane tree from where the sparkling water issued.
A great omen appeared there: a serpent with a deep-red back,
Terrible, which the Olympian himself sent to the light,
Crept up from under the altar and moved toward the plane tree.
There were newborn sparrow-chicks, immature ones
Were peering out under the leaves on the topmost bow.
There eight of them but the mother who bore them made it nine.
Then the serpent gulped them all down as they tweeted pitifully.
Their mother hopped around mourning over her dear offspring.
Well, he coiled up and grabbed her by the wing as she cried over them.
When it had swallowed the sparrow’s children and her too.
Then the god who exposed the serpent made it disappear—
The son of crooked-minded Kronos made it into stone.
We all stood in awe at the thing that happened,
That’s how terrible the portents of the gods were over our sacrifices.
Kalkhas immediately addressed us, offering his interpretation:
“Why are you silent, you long-haired Achaeans?
The great counsellor Zeus has shown us this sign:
Late coming, late completed, and its’ fame will never die.
Just as it ate up the sparrow’s children and her too,
Eight of them and the mother who bore them was the ninth,
So too we will war here for that many years
And in the tenth we will take the wide-wayed city.”
That’s how Kalkhas interpreted. Now all these things are being completed.”

τλῆτε φίλοι, καὶ μείνατ’ ἐπὶ χρόνον ὄφρα δαῶμεν
ἢ ἐτεὸν Κάλχας μαντεύεται ἦε καὶ οὐκί.
εὖ γὰρ δὴ τόδε ἴδμεν ἐνὶ φρεσίν, ἐστὲ δὲ πάντες
μάρτυροι, οὓς μὴ κῆρες ἔβαν θανάτοιο φέρουσαι·
χθιζά τε καὶ πρωΐζ’ ὅτ’ ἐς Αὐλίδα νῆες ᾿Αχαιῶν
ἠγερέθοντο κακὰ Πριάμῳ καὶ Τρωσὶ φέρουσαι,
ἡμεῖς δ’ ἀμφὶ περὶ κρήνην ἱεροὺς κατὰ βωμοὺς
ἕρδομεν ἀθανάτοισι τεληέσσας ἑκατόμβας
καλῇ ὑπὸ πλατανίστῳ ὅθεν ῥέεν ἀγλαὸν ὕδωρ·
ἔνθ’ ἐφάνη μέγα σῆμα· δράκων ἐπὶ νῶτα δαφοινὸς
σμερδαλέος, τόν ῥ’ αὐτὸς ᾿Ολύμπιος ἧκε φόως δέ,
βωμοῦ ὑπαΐξας πρός ῥα πλατάνιστον ὄρουσεν.
ἔνθα δ’ ἔσαν στρουθοῖο νεοσσοί, νήπια τέκνα,
ὄζῳ ἐπ’ ἀκροτάτῳ πετάλοις ὑποπεπτηῶτες
ὀκτώ, ἀτὰρ μήτηρ ἐνάτη ἦν ἣ τέκε τέκνα·
ἔνθ’ ὅ γε τοὺς ἐλεεινὰ κατήσθιε τετριγῶτας·
μήτηρ δ’ ἀμφεποτᾶτο ὀδυρομένη φίλα τέκνα·
τὴν δ’ ἐλελιξάμενος πτέρυγος λάβεν ἀμφιαχυῖαν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κατὰ τέκνα φάγε στρουθοῖο καὶ αὐτήν,
τὸν μὲν ἀρίζηλον θῆκεν θεὸς ὅς περ ἔφηνε·
λᾶαν γάρ μιν ἔθηκε Κρόνου πάϊς ἀγκυλομήτεω·
ἡμεῖς δ’ ἑσταότες θαυμάζομεν οἷον ἐτύχθη.
ὡς οὖν δεινὰ πέλωρα θεῶν εἰσῆλθ’ ἑκατόμβας,
Κάλχας δ’ αὐτίκ’ ἔπειτα θεοπροπέων ἀγόρευε·
τίπτ’ ἄνεῳ ἐγένεσθε κάρη κομόωντες ᾿Αχαιοί;
ἡμῖν μὲν τόδ’ ἔφηνε τέρας μέγα μητίετα Ζεὺς
ὄψιμον ὀψιτέλεστον, ὅου κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.
ὡς οὗτος κατὰ τέκνα φάγε στρουθοῖο καὶ αὐτὴν
ὀκτώ, ἀτὰρ μήτηρ ἐνάτη ἦν ἣ τέκε τέκνα,
ὣς ἡμεῖς τοσσαῦτ’ ἔτεα πτολεμίξομεν αὖθι,
τῷ δεκάτῳ δὲ πόλιν αἱρήσομεν εὐρυάγυιαν.
κεῖνος τὼς ἀγόρευε· τὰ δὴ νῦν πάντα τελεῖται.

2.350–356 (Nestor)

“I say that the over-powering son of Kronos assented
On that day when the Argives took to the fast-faring ships
Bringing murder and death to the Trojans,
Showing clear and favorable signs by flashing lightning.
So let no one be compelled to return home,
Because each one has taken a Trojan wife to bed
As payback for Helen’s writhing and moans.”

φημὶ γὰρ οὖν κατανεῦσαι ὑπερμενέα Κρονίωνα
ἤματι τῷ ὅτε νηυσὶν ἐν ὠκυπόροισιν ἔβαινον
᾿Αργεῖοι Τρώεσσι φόνον καὶ κῆρα φέροντες
ἀστράπτων ἐπιδέξι’ ἐναίσιμα σήματα φαίνων.
τὼ μή τις πρὶν ἐπειγέσθω οἶκον δὲ νέεσθαι
πρίν τινα πὰρ Τρώων ἀλόχῳ κατακοιμηθῆναι,
τίσασθαι δ’ ῾Ελένης ὁρμήματά τε στοναχάς τε.

Ilias Kodex.jpg
Iliad Codex

The Odyssey is Still News

Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading:

Years ago a musician said to me: ‘But isn’t there a place where you can get it all [meaning all of poetry] as in Bach?’

There isn’t. I believe if a man will really learn Greek he can get nearly ‘all of it’ in Homer.

I have never read half a page of Homer without finding melodic invention, I mean melodic invention that I didn’t already know. I have, on the other hand, found also in Homer the imaginary spectator, which in 1918 I still thought was Henry James’ particular property.

Homer says, ‘an experienced soldier would have noticed ‘. The sheer literary qualities in Homer are such that a physician has written a book to prove that Homer must have been an army doctor. (When he describes cer­tain blows and their effect, the wounds are said to be accurate, and the description fit for coroner’s inquest.) Another French scholar has more or less shown that the geography of the Odyssey is correct geography; not as you would find it if you had a geography book and a map, but as it would be in a ‘periplum’, that is, as a coasting sailor would find it.

The news in the Odyssey is still news. Odysseus is still ‘very human’, by no means a stuffed shirt, or a pretty figure taken down from a tapestry. It is very hard to describe some of the homeric conversation, the irony, etc., without neologisms, which my publishers have suggested I eschew. The only readable translation of this part of Homer known to me was made by Amadis Jamyn, secre­taire et lecteur ordinaire du Roy (Henry III of France). He refers to Odysseus as ‘ce rusé personnage’.

You can’t tuck Odysseus away with Virgil’s Aeneas. Odysseus is emphatically ‘the wise guy’, the downy, the hard-boiled Odysseus. His companions have most of them something that must have been the Greek equivalent of shell-shock.

And the language of the conversations is just as alive as when one of Edgar Wallace’s characters says, ‘We have lost a client’.

W. B. Yeats is sufficiently venerated to be cited now in a school book. The gulf between Homer and Virgil can be illustrated profanely by one of Yeats’ favourite anecdotes.

A plain sailor man took a notion to study Latin, and his teacher tried him with Virgil; after many lessons he asked him something about the hero.

Said the sailor: ‘What hero?’

Said the teacher: ‘What hero, why, Aeneas, the hero. ‘

Said the sailor: ‘Ach, a hero, him a hero? Bigob, I t’ought he waz a priest.’

Image result for homer odyssey woodcut

Read Homer and Vergil – Everything Else is Crap

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.1:

We should take the same order through the Roman authors, too. And so, as among the Greek authors Homer gives one the most auspicious beginning, so too does Vergil among the Romans. Of all the Greek and Roman poets of that time, Vergil is undoubtedly the closest to Homer. I will employ the very words which I took from Domitius Afer as a youth, who told me when I asked him who in his opinion came closest to Homer, ‘Vergil is second to Homer; but he’s much closer to first place than to third.’ And indeed, as we have ceded to that celestial and immortal nature, so perhaps there is more care and diligence in Vergil because he had to work harder than Homer, and although we are overcome by his outstanding passages, perhaps we can compensate for this with the evenness of Vergil’s work. Everyone else follows far behind him.

Image result for quintilian

Idem nobis per Romanos quoque auctores ordo ducendus est. Itaque ut apud illos Homerus, sic apud nos Vergilius auspicatissimum dederit exordium, omnium eius generis poetarum Graecorum nostrorumque haud dubie proximus. LXXXVI. Vtar enim verbis isdem quae ex Afro Domitio iuvenis excepi, qui mihi interroganti quem Homero crederet maxime accedere “secundus” inquit “est Vergilius, propior tamen primo quam tertio”. Et hercule ut illi naturae caelesti atque inmortali cesserimus, ita curae et diligentiae vel ideo in hoc plus est, quod ei fuit magis laborandum, et quantum eminentibus vincimur, fortasse aequalitate pensamus. Ceteri omnes longe sequentur.

Homer? Hell Yes! But Horace Needs the Old Heave-Ho!

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 1.8:

It was most excellently set down that a student’s reading should begin with Homer and Vergil, even though one needs a firmer judgment for understanding the virtues of those poets, for there will be time to develop it, since they will not be read just once. Meanwhile, the mind should rise up with the sublimity of heroic song, and it should raise the spirit with the greatness of the subject matter, and be filled with the finest examples. Tragedies are useful: even lyric poetry can afford some nourishment, if you make a careful selection not just of the authors but also of the parts of the work. For a lot of the Greek lyrics are licentiously written, and I would not really want some of the bawdier parts of Horace explained.

Image result for horace latin poet

Ideoque optime institutum est ut ab Homero atque Vergilio lectio inciperet, quamquam ad intellegendas eorum virtutes firmiore iudicio opus est: sed huic rei superest tempus, neque enim semel legentur. Interim et sublimitate heroi carminis animus adsurgat et ex magnitudine rerum spiritum ducat et optimis inbuatur. VI. Vtiles tragoediae: alunt et lyrici, si tamen in iis non auctores modo sed etiam partes operis elegeris: nam et Graeci licenter multa et Horatium nolim in quibusdam interpretari.

“Windblown dreams and shadows of glory”: Human Life

Arsenius, 17.66

“Windblown dreams and shadows of glory”: A proverb applied to those hoping for things in vain.

῾Υπηνέμια ὀνείρατα καὶ ἐπαίνων σκιαί: ἐπὶ τῶν μάτην ἐλπιζόντων.

 

Some Words

ἀνεμώδης: “windy”

ἀνεμοσκεπής: “shelter from the wind”

ἀνεμόστρεφος: “whirling in the wind”

ἀνεμόπους: “wind-footed” [i.e. “fast”]

ἀνεμοδούλιον: “Slave to the wind”

ἀνεμαμαχία: “meeting of contrary winds”

 

Sophocles, fr. 945

“O wretched and mortal race of men:
We are nothing more than image of shadows,
Wandering back and forth, an excessive weight on the earth.”

ὦ θνητὸν ἀνδρῶν καὶ ταλαίπωρον γένος,
ὡς οὐδέν ἐσμεν πλὴν σκιαῖς ἐοικότες,
βάρος περισσὸν γῆς ἀναστρωφώμενοι

The passage from Sophocles above made me think of the following lines from Homer

Homer. Od. 10.495

“Persephone allowed him to have a mind, even though he is dead,
He alone is able to think. The others leap like shadows”

τῷ καὶ τεθνηῶτι νόον πόρε Περσεφόνεια
οἴῳ πεπνῦσθαι· τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν.’

The scholia have a few interesting things to add to this.

Schol. ad Hom. Od. 10.495

“They leap like shadows”: The rest of the dead apart from Teiresias are shadows and they move like shadows, just like the shadows that follow men who are moving. This term is used instead of souls [psukhai]. Certainly the poet has the rest of the dead come forward for comparison in this, but the rest of the dead move like shadows”

τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν] οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νεκροὶ πλὴν τοῦ Τειρεσίου σκιαί εἰσι καὶ ὡς σκιαὶ ὁρμῶσι, καθάπερ αὗται παρέπονται τοῖς κινουμένοις. Q. ἀντὶ τοῦ αἱ ψυχαί. ὁ μέντοι ποιητὴς πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους νεκροὺς ποιεῖται τὴν σύγκρισιν ἐν τῷ, οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νεκροὶ ὡς σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν. B.Q.T.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia

Stobaeus (1.49.54) in discussing shadows and death, notes that “if they meet their near and dear, they cannot see them nor can they converse with them, but they are walled off from aesthetic reality, they appear to them something like shadows”

Εἰ δὴ τοῖς οἰκείοις ἐντυγχάνοντες οὔτε ὁρῶσιν αὐτοὺς οὔτε προσδιαλέγονται, ἀνενέργητοι δέ εἰσιν αἰσθητικὴν ἐνέργειαν, πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἐοικότες εἶεν <ἂν> ταῖς σκιαῖς·

He also brings up the image of smoke evoked in the Iliad (23.100-101)

“He could not grasp him, but his soul went over the earth,
Twisted, just like smoke…”

οὐδ’ ἔλαβε· ψυχὴ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς ἠΰτε καπνὸς
ᾤχετο τετριγυῖα…

 

Humanizing a Monster (or Monsters Deserve Love Too)

As a high-school Latin teacher, I am tasked with guiding young minds through the world’s finest piece of propaganda literature, Vergil’s Aeneid. We read through substantial portions of the text in preparation for the AP Latin exam, but this reading is largely dictated by a syllabus of readings which do not include the part of the poem which I regard as the most emotionally affecting scene in all of Latin literature. This is the scene in which Aeneas describes his first glimpse of the cyclops Polyphemus:

“Hardly had he spoken, when we saw the pastor Polyphemus moving himself in a great mass among his flocks and seeking the well-known beach – a horrible monster, deformed, huge, whose eye had been taken. A broken pine guided his hand and firmed his step, while his woolly sheep kept him company; that was his one pleasure, the one solace in his suffering.” (Aeneid 3.655-661)

Vix ea fatus erat summo cum monte videmus
ipsum inter pecudes vasta se mole moventem
pastorem Polyphemum et litora nota petentem,
monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.
trunca manum pinus regit et vestigia firmat;
lanigerae comitantur oves; ea sola voluptas
solamenque mali.

To be sure, Polyphemus is described as an object of horror, but lines 660-1 (ea sola voluptas solamenque mali) turn Polyphemus into an object of pity rather than revulsion. [Indeed, I think that this is intentional; throughout the poem, Ulysses is portrayed as an unequivocal villain, and Polyphemus can be read as one of his many victims here.] I made sure to include this scene on my class syllabus (though not required for the course), because I think that it is an excellent example of subtle psychological complexity on Vergil’s part. Yet, as I was discussing the scene with my students, it occurred to me that this complexity was not Vergil’s invention it all – Homer had already built this into the character of Polyphemus! In Odyssey Book IX, Odysseus is attempting to escape from Polyphemus’ cave by hiding on the underside of a ram, which is moving slowly in response to the burden. Polyphemus then addresses the ram:

“Oh gentle ram, why do you come from the cave behind the rest of the flock? You never before tarried behind the other skeep, but striding far before the others you snatched the mild blossoms, you came first to the banks of the rivers, and you ever desired first to return home in the evening. But now you are last by far. Are you worried about my eye, which that rotten bastard Noone and his awful friends took from me after wrecking my mind with wine – I do not say that he has escaped death. Would that you could be of one mind with me, and could tell me where that man has fled from my wrath. Once slain, his brain would drip through my cave here and there to the ground, and it would ease my heart from those troubles which that worthless bastard Noone gave me.” (Odyssey 9.446-460)

κριὲ πέπον, τί μοι ὧδε διὰ σπέος ἔσσυο μήλων
ὕστατος; οὔ τι πάρος γε λελειμμένος ἔρχεαι οἰῶν,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτος νέμεαι τέρεν᾽ ἄνθεα ποίης
μακρὰ βιβάς, πρῶτος δὲ ῥοὰς ποταμῶν ἀφικάνεις,
πρῶτος δὲ σταθμόνδε λιλαίεαι ἀπονέεσθαι
ἑσπέριος: νῦν αὖτε πανύστατος. ἦ σύ γ᾽ ἄνακτος
ὀφθαλμὸν ποθέεις, τὸν ἀνὴρ κακὸς ἐξαλάωσε
σὺν λυγροῖς ἑτάροισι δαμασσάμενος φρένας οἴνῳ,
Οὖτις, ὃν οὔ πώ φημι πεφυγμένον εἶναι ὄλεθρον.
εἰ δὴ ὁμοφρονέοις ποτιφωνήεις τε γένοιο
εἰπεῖν ὅππῃ κεῖνος ἐμὸν μένος ἠλασκάζει:
τῷ κέ οἱ ἐγκέφαλός γε διὰ σπέος ἄλλυδις ἄλλῃ
θεινομένου ῥαίοιτο πρὸς οὔδεϊ, κὰδ δέ κ᾽ ἐμὸν κῆρ
λωφήσειε κακῶν, τά μοι οὐτιδανὸς πόρεν Οὖτις.

As horrifying as his earlier behavior had been, and as menacing as his threats to repaint his walls with Odysseus’ blood may sound, this speech is nevertheless given in the context of a much more deeply humanizing emotion: Polyphemus’ solicitous concern for his ram. He knows these animals, and evinces a tender regard for their well-being even in the midst of his own suffering. Indeed, this affectionate concern for his ram serves as a stark counterpoint to the actions of Odysseus, who throughout the poem shows no apparent serious regard for his companions. At no point in the poem does Odysseus show any outward emotional attachment to his men, and it is notable that even in his own tale of his sufferings, the loss of his men is primarily framed as something which happened to him. Polyphemus is thus portrayed as being, despite his monstrous qualities, a more compassionate figure than Odysseus.

Yet, putting Odyssean knavery aside, I think that the lines in the Aeneid reflect a very close reading of the Odyssey. Polyphemus tells his ram that murdering Odysseus would alleviate the sufferings in his heart (κὰδ δέ κ᾽ ἐμὸν κῆρ λωφήσειε κακῶν), but once the ram has left the cave, he is deprived of his chance at attaining this relief. Consequently, it is literally true that his flocks are now his only comfort. So, while it may appear that the phrase “that was his one pleasure, his one solace in his suffering” (ea sola voluptas solamenque mali) is included simply to heighten the pathos of the scene and underscore the humanity of even a monster like Polyphemus, it turns out that this brilliant psychological conceit is deeply rooted in a few lines of Homer.