A Greek Horror Story to Make You Wish For the Summer

This might be the most disturbing thing I have read all summer. When I was reading the Greek for the final sentence below, I actually uttered “what the f*ck” aloud. Go here for the second part.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 2 (Part 1)

Hieron the Alexandrian or Ephesian tells of the following wonder which occurred in Aitolia.

There was a certain citizen, Polykritos, who was voted Aitolian arkhon by the people. His fellow citizens considered him worthy for three years because of the nobility of his forebears. During the time he was in that office, he married a Lokrian woman. After he shared a bed with her for three nights, he died on the fourth.

The woman remained in their home widowed. When she gave birth, she had a child who had two sets of genitals, both male and female, which was alarmingly different from nature. The parts up top were completely rough and masculine and those near the thighs were feminine and softer.

Awestruck by this, her relatives forced the child to the agora and held an assembly to take advice about this, calling together the omen readers and interpreters. Some were claiming that this meant there would be dissent between Aitolians and Lokrians, since the mother was Lokrian and the father was Aitolian. But others believed that it was necessary to take the child and mother to the frontier and have them burned.

While the people were deliberating, suddenly the dead Polykritos appeared in the assembly dressed in black near his child. Even though the citizens were thunderstruck by this apparition and many of them were rushing to flight, he asked the citizens to be brave and not to be rattled by the sight which appeared. Then a bit of the chaos and the uproar receded, and he said these things in a slight voice:

“My fellow citizens, although I am dead in my body, I live among you in goodwill and thanks. And now I am present imploring those people who have power of this land to your collective benefit. I advise you who are citizens not to be troubled or angry at the impossible miracle which has happened. And I ask all of you, vouching for the safety of each, is to give  me the child who was born from me so that no violence may come from those who make some different kind of plans and that there may be no beginning of malicious and hard affairs because of a conflict on my part.

It would not be possible for me to overlook the burning of my child thanks to the shock of these interpreters who are advising you. I do have some pity, because you are at a loss when you see this kind of unexpected sight as to how you might respond to it correctly for current events. If you assent to me without fear, you will be relieved of the present anxieties and of the evils to come. But if you fall prey to another opinion, then I have fear for you that you will come into some incurable sufferings because you did not trust me.

Therefore, because of the goodwill I experienced while I was alive and the unexpectedness of the current situation, I am predicting the suffering to you. I think it is right that you do not delay any longer but that, once you deliberate correcly and obey the things I have said, you should hand over the child to me with a blessing. It is not fitting for me to waste any more time because of the men who rule this land.”

After he said these things, he kept quiet for a bit as he awaited what kind of decision there would be once they deliberated about it. Some were thinking it was right to give him the child and consider the sight sacred and the influence of a deity; but most of them denied this, claiming that it was necessary to deliberate in a calmer atmopshere when they were not at so great a loss, because the affair was a big deal.

When he saw that they were not moving in his favor but were actually impeding the decision there, he spoke these things in turn: “Fellow Citizens. If something more terrible happens to you because of a lack of decision, do not blame me, but this fate which directs you to something worse—it sets you in opposition to me and compels me to transgress against my child.”

There was a great mist and a portent of strife as he reached for the child and and grabbed most of it up boldly before butchering and eating the child.

  ῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ καὶ ῾Ιέρων ὁ ᾿Αλεξανδρεὺς ἢ ᾿Εφέσιος καὶ ἐν Αἰτωλίᾳ φάσμα γενέσθαι.  Πολύκριτος γάρ τις τῶν πολιτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου Αἰτωλάρχης, ἐπὶ τρία ἔτη τῶν πολιτῶν αὐτὸν ἀξιωσάντων διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν ἐκ προγόνων καλοκαγαθίαν. ὢν δὲ ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ ταύτῃ ἄγεται γυναῖκα Λοκρίδα, καὶ συγκοιμηθεὶς τρισὶν νυξὶ τῇ τετάρτῃ τὸν βίον ἐξέλιπεν.

 ἡ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἔμενεν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ χηρεύουσα, ἡνίκα δὲ ὁ τοκετὸς ἤπειγεν, τίκτει παιδίον αἰδοῖα ἔχον δύο, ἀνδρεῖόν τε καὶ γυναικεῖον, καὶ τὴν φύσιν θαυμαστῶς διηλλαγ-μένον· τὰ μὲν ἄνω τοῦ αἰδοίου ὅλως σκληρά τε καὶ ἀνδρώδη ἦν, τὰ δὲ περὶ τοὺς μηροὺς γυναικεῖα καὶ ἁπαλώτερα. ἐφ’ ᾧ καταπλαγέντες οἱ συγγενεῖς ἀπήνεγκαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν τὸ παιδίον καὶ συναγαγόντες ἐκκλησίαν ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ αὐτοῦ, θύτας τε καὶ τερατοσκόπους συγκαλέσαντες. τῶν δὲ οἱ μὲν ἀπεφήναντο διάστασίν τινα τῶν Αἰτωλῶν καὶ Λοκρῶν ἔσεσθαι—κεχωρίσθαι γὰρ ἀπὸ μητρὸς οὔσης Λοκρί-δος καὶ πατρὸς Αἰτωλοῦ—οἱ δὲ δεῖν ᾤοντο τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἀπενέγκοντας εἰς τὴν ὑπερορίαν κατακαῦσαι. ταῦτα δὲ αὐτῶν βουλευομένων ἐξαίφνης φαίνεται ὁ Πολύκριτος ὁ προτεθνηκὼς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πλησίον τοῦ τέκνου ἔχων ἐσθῆτα μέλαιναν.

τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν καταπλαγέντων ἐπὶ τῇ  φαντασίᾳ καὶ πολλῶν εἰς φυγὴν τραπομένων παρεκάλεσε τοὺς πολίτας θαρρεῖν καὶ μὴ ταράττεσθαι ἐπὶ τῷ γεγονότι φάσματι. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔληξε τὸ πλέον τοῦ θορύβου καὶ τῆς ταραχῆς, ἐφθέγξατο λεπτῇ τῇ φωνῇ τάδε· «ἐγὼ, ἄνδρες πολῖται, τῷ μὲν σώματι τέθνηκα, τῇ δὲ εὐνοίᾳ καὶ τῇ χάριτι <τῇ> πρὸς ὑμᾶς ζῶ. καὶ νῦν πάρειμι <ὑμῖν> παραιτησάμενος τοὺς κυριεύοντας τῶν κατὰ γῆν ἐπὶ τῷ συμφέροντι τῷ ὑμετέρῳ. παρακαλῶ τοίνυν ὑμᾶς πολίτας ὄντας ἐμαυτοῦ μὴ ταράττεσθαι μηδὲ δυσχεραί-νειν ἐπὶ τῷ παραδόξῳ γεγονότι φάσματι. δέομαι δὲ ὑμῶν ἁπάντων, κατευχόμενος πρὸς τῆς ἐκάστου σωτηρίας, ἀποδοῦναί μοι τὸ παιδίον τὸ ἐξ ἐμοῦ γεγεννημένον, ὅπως μηδὲν βίαιον γένηται ἄλλο τι βουλευσαμένων ὑμῶν, μηδ’ ἀρχὴ πραγμάτων δυσχερῶν καὶ χαλεπῶν διὰ τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ φιλονεικίαν ὑμῖν γένηται. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι περιιδεῖν κατακαυθὲν τὸ παιδίον ὑφ’ ὑμῶν διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐξαγγελλόντων ὑμῖν μάντεων ἀποπληξίαν. συγγνώμην μὲν οὖν ὑμῖν ἔχω, ὅτι τοιαύτην ὄψιν ἀπροσδόκητον ἑωρακότες ἀπορεῖτε πῶς ποτε τοῖς παροῦσι πράγμασιν ὀρθῶς χρήσεσθε. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐμοὶ πεισθήσεσθε ἀδεῶς, τῶν παρόντων φόβων καὶ τῶν ἐπερχομένων κακῶν ἔσεσθε ἀπηλλαγμένοι. εἰ δὲ ἄλλως πως τῇ γνώμῃ προσπεσεῖσθε, φοβοῦμαι περὶ ὑμῶν μήποτε εἰς ἀνηκέστους συμφορὰς ἀπειθοῦντες ἡμῖν ἐμπέσητε. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὔνοιαν ὅτ’ ἔζων καὶ νῦν ἀπροσδοκήτως παρὼν προείρηκα τὸ συμφέρον ὑμῖν. ταῦτ’ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἀξιῶ μὴ πλείω με χρόνον παρέλκειν, ἀλλὰ βουλευσαμένους ὀρθῶς καὶ πεισθέντας τοῖς εἰρημένοις ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ δοῦναί μοι μετ’ εὐφημίας τὸ παιδίον. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι πλείονα μηκύνειν χρόνον διὰ τοὺς κατὰγῆν ὑπάρχοντας δεσπότας.»

 ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἡσυχίαν  ἔσχεν ἐπ’ ὀλίγον, καραδοκῶν ποίαν ποτὲ ἐξοίσουσιν αὐτῷ γνώμην περὶ τῶν ἀξιουμένων. τινὲς μὲν οὗν ᾤοντο δεῖν ἀποδοῦναι τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἀφοσιώσασθαι τό τε φάσμα καὶ τὸν ἐπιστάντα δαίμονα, οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι ἀντέλεγον, μετὰ ἀνέσεως δεῖν βουλεύσασθαι φάσκοντες, ὡς ὄντος μεγάλου τοῦ πράγματος καὶ οὐ τῆς τυχούσης αὐτοῖς ἀπορίας.  συνιδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς οὐ προσέχοντας, ἀλλ’ ἐμποδίζοντας αὐτοῦ τὴν βούλησιν, ἐφθέγξατο αὖθις τάδε· «ἀλλ’ οὖν γε, ὦ ἄνδρες πολῖται, ἐὰν ὑμῖν συμβαίνῃ τι τῶν δυσχερεστέρων διὰ τὴν ἀβουλίαν, μὴ ἐμὲ αἰτιᾶσθε, ἀλλὰ τὴν τύχην τὴν οὕτως ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ὑμᾶς ποδηγοῦσαν, ἥτις ἐναντιουμένη κἀμοὶ παρανομεῖν ἀναγκάζει με εἰς τὸ ἴδιον τέκνον.»

τοῦ δὲ ὄχλου συνδραμόντος καὶ ἔριν περὶ [τὴν ἄρσιν] τοῦ τέρατος ἔχοντος, ἐπιλαβόμενος τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τοὺς πλείστους αὐτῶν ἀνείρξας ἰταμώτερον διέσπασέ τε αὐτὸ καὶ ἤσθιε.

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

A Reminder: Western Medical and Philosophical Traditions Consider Women Not Fully Human

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

 

A Friend in the Game: Odysseus’ Discus Throw

Odyssey 8.186-200

“So he spoke, and stripping off his cloak he grabbed a discus,
Larger and wider, not a little heavier than the ones
Which the Phaeacians where throwing among one another.
He turned around and whirled it from his strong hand
And the stone boomed. But the oar-wielding Phaeaians
Leapt to the ground, those men famous for their ships,
At the hurl of the stone. Then it flew past all of their markers,
Swiftly hurling it from his hand. Then Athena set the boundary
After taking on the form of a man, and she spoke a word and called out:

“Even a blind person, friend could find this marker
As he felt all around, since it is not at all mixed in with the others—
No, it is first by far. Be happy at this competition
None of the Phaeacians will come close or surpass it.”

So much-enduring Odysseus said and he laughed
Taking pleasure in the fact that he had a real friend in the game.”

ἦ ῥα, καὶ αὐτῷ φάρει ἀναΐξας λάβε δίσκον
μείζονα καὶ πάχετον, στιβαρώτερον οὐκ ὀλίγον περ
ἢ οἵῳ Φαίηκες ἐδίσκεον ἀλλήλοισι.
τόν ῥα περιστρέψας ἧκε στιβαρῆς ἀπὸ χειρός·
βόμβησεν δὲ λίθος· κατὰ δ’ ἔπτηξαν ποτὶ γαίῃ
Φαίηκες δολιχήρετμοι, ναυσικλυτοὶ ἄνδρες,
λᾶος ὑπὸ ῥιπῆς· ὁ δ’ ὑπέρπτατο σήματα πάντων,
ῥίμφα θέων ἀπὸ χειρός· ἔθηκε δὲ τέρματ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ἀνδρὶ δέμας εἰκυῖα, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·
“καί κ’ ἀλαός τοι, ξεῖνε, διακρίνειε τὸ σῆμα
ἀμφαφόων, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι μεμιγμένον ἐστὶν ὁμίλῳ,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτον. σὺ δὲ θάρσει τόνδε γ’ ἄεθλον·
οὔ τις Φαιήκων τόν γ’ ἵξεται οὐδ’ ὑπερήσει.”
ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
χαίρων οὕνεχ’ ἑταῖρον ἐνηέα λεῦσσ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι.

Schol. VT ad Od. 8.192 ex

“Signs, footprints. For many were hurling the discus previously. The signs are the impressions left by the discuses”

σήματα] σημεῖα. τινὲς δὲ, βήματα. V. πολλοὶ γὰρ προεδίσκευσαν. σήματα δὲ τὰ πηγνύμενα τοῖς δίσκοις. T.

Od. 8.201-235

“Now, match that, young men. Soon, I think I will throw another
As far as that or even farther still.
Of the rest of you whoever’s heart and spirit moves you
Come on, test yourself, since you raised my anger,
Either in boxing or wrestling or racing, I won’t refuse anything,
Of all the Phaeacians, except Laodamas himself.
For he is my host. Who would fight someone who loves you?
That man is a fool and a nobody
Who imposes the strife of contests on a guest-friend
In a foreign land. He merely undermines all his own plans.
But I will not refuse nor shy away from any of the rest.
For I am in no way incapable among the men who win prizes.
I know how to aim well the contoured bow.
I could strike a man first after aiming into a throng
Of ill-fated men, even if there were very many companions
Standing near me and shooting at people too.
Only Philoktetes surpassed me with the bow
In the land if the Trojans when we Achaeans were shooting.
I say that I am much better than the rest
However so many mortals now eat bread on the earth.
I would not wish to pit myself against the earlier men,
Neither Herakles nor Eurutos the son of Oikhalios,
Those who rivaled even the immortals in archery.
Thus even great Eurutos died early and old age
Never came to his home. For Apollo, angered, killed him
Because he challenged the god to an archery contest.
I throw a javelin as far as no other shoots an arrow.
In only the foots races I fear that one of the Phaeacians
May beat me. For I have been hobbled terribly
On the many waves where there was no lasting supply of food
In my ship and my dear limbs have grown weaker.”
So he spoke and they were all silent.”

“τοῦτον νῦν ἀφίκεσθε, νέοι· τάχα δ’ ὕστερον ἄλλον
ἥσειν ἢ τοσσοῦτον ὀΐομαι ἢ ἔτι μάσσον.
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ὅτινα κραδίη θυμός τε κελεύει,
δεῦρ’ ἄγε πειρηθήτω, ἐπεί μ’ ἐχολώσατε λίην,
ἢ πὺξ ἠὲ πάλῃ ἢ καὶ ποσίν, οὔ τι μεγαίρω,
πάντων Φαιήκων πλήν γ’ αὐτοῦ Λαοδάμαντος.
ξεῖνος γάρ μοι ὅδ’ ἐστί· τίς ἂν φιλέοντι μάχοιτο;
ἄφρων δὴ κεῖνός γε καὶ οὐτιδανὸς πέλει ἀνήρ,
ὅς τις ξεινοδόκῳ ἔριδα προφέρηται ἀέθλων
δήμῳ ἐν ἀλλοδαπῷ· ἕο δ’ αὐτοῦ πάντα κολούει.
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων οὔ πέρ τιν’ ἀναίνομαι οὐδ’ ἀθερίζω,
ἀλλ’ ἐθέλω ἴδμεν καὶ πειρηθήμεναι ἄντην.
πάντα γὰρ οὐ κακός εἰμι, μετ’ ἀνδράσιν ὅσσοι ἄεθλοι·
εὖ μὲν τόξον οἶδα ἐΰξοον ἀμφαφάασθαι·
πρῶτός κ’ ἄνδρα βάλοιμι ὀϊστεύσας ἐν ὁμίλῳ
ἀνδρῶν δυσμενέων, εἰ καὶ μάλα πολλοὶ ἑταῖροι
ἄγχι παρασταῖεν καὶ τοξαζοίατο φωτῶν.
οἶος δή με Φιλοκτήτης ἀπεκαίνυτο τόξῳ
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ὅτε τοξαζοίμεθ’ ᾿Αχαιοί·
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ἐμέ φημι πολὺ προφερέστερον εἶναι,
ὅσσοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπὶ χθονὶ σῖτον ἔδοντες.
ἀνδράσι δὲ προτέροισιν ἐριζέμεν οὐκ ἐθελήσω,
οὔθ’ ῾Ηρακλῆϊ οὔτ’ Εὐρύτῳ Οἰχαλιῆϊ,
οἵ ῥα καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἐρίζεσκον περὶ τόξων.
τῶ ῥα καὶ αἶψ’ ἔθανεν μέγας Εὔρυτος οὐδ’ ἐπὶ γῆρας
ἵκετ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροισι· χολωσάμενος γὰρ ᾿Απόλλων
ἔκτανεν, οὕνεκά μιν προκαλίζετο τοξάζεσθαι.
δουρὶ δ’ ἀκοντίζω ὅσον οὐκ ἄλλος τις ὀϊστῷ.
οἴοισιν δείδοικα ποσὶν μή τίς με παρέλθῃ
Φαιήκων· λίην γὰρ ἀεικελίως ἐδαμάσθην
κύμασιν ἐν πολλοῖσ’, ἐπεὶ οὐ κομιδὴ κατὰ νῆα
ἦεν ἐπηετανός· τῶ μοι φίλα γυῖα λέλυνται.”
ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἱ δ’ ἄρα πάντες ἀκὴν ἐγένοντο σιωπῇ·

Schol. T ad Od. 8.206 ex 2-4

“Now he uses speech more freely because he wishes not to seem simple and easily dismissed. For this alone is his passage to safety—seeming thoughtful in serious pursuits.”

νῦν δὲ παρρησίᾳ χρῆται ὁ βουλόμενος μὴ εὐτελὴς φανῆναί τις καὶ εὐκαταφρόνητος· τοῦτο γὰρ αὐτῷ μόνον ἐφόδιον πρὸς σωτηρίαν, τὸ δόξαι φρόνιμον εἶναι τοῖς σπουδαίοις ἐπιτηδεύμασιν. T.

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus discus

Pssst. Someone else throws things wicked far…(The Cyclops Polyphemus by Annibale Carracci)

 

Just Some Fun and Games After Dinner

Homer, Odyssey 8.97-103 (Alkinoos speaking)

“Now, let us go out and test ourselves at every kind of competition so that this stranger may tell his friends once he gets home how much we are better than the rest at boxing and wrestling, and jumping and running.”

“νῦν δ’ ἐξέλθωμεν καὶ ἀέθλων πειρηθῶμεν
πάντων, ὥς χ’ ὁ ξεῖνος ἐνίσπῃ οἷσι φίλοισιν
οἴκαδε νοστήσας, ὅσσον περιγινόμεθ’ ἄλλων
πύξ τε παλαιμοσύνῃ τε καὶ ἅλμασιν ἠδὲ πόδεσσιν.”

Schol. EQ ad 8.100 ex 6 asks

[now, let us go out..]“Why were the Phaeacians after dinner competing in the bare competition, the race and the double race, and not any other sport? For these are wholly the activities of leisurely people. Perhaps because it was necessary to make this suitable to their character, since the poetry is imitation [mimesis], [the poet] composed it thus. For they say “the feast and the cithara and dances are always dear to us”

νῦν δ’ ἐξέλθωμεν] διὰ τί οἱ Φαίακες εὐωχηθέντες ἠγωνίζοντο γυμνικὸν ἀγῶνα, δρόμον καὶ δίαυλον καὶ οὐ τὴν ἄλλην ἄθλησιν; παντελῶς γὰρ ἀπόνων ἀνθρώπων ταῦτα. ἴσως δὲ, ἁρμόττον τοῖς ἤθεσι δέον ποιεῖν, ἐπειδὴ μίμησις ἡ ποίησις, οὕτω πεποίηκεν. ὅτι δὲ τοιοῦ-τοι δῆλον. ἔφασαν γὰρ “ἀεὶ δ’ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη κίθαρίς τε χοροί τε” (248.).

Schol. HQ ad Od. 8.102 ex

[lemma] And how does he say later “For we are not preeminent at boxing or wrestling”? Certainly, in however much they are inexperienced with Odysseus, they think they conquer all of them in these games when in the actual performance once he speaks of himself, Odysseus boasted about the rest of the competitions, begging out only in the race and responding to the praise of Alkinoos when he said “but we run swiftly with our feet and are best at ships..” (247)

ὅσον περιγιγνόμεθ’ ἄλλων πύξ τε παλαιμοσύνῃ τε] καὶ πῶς φησιν “οὐ γὰρ πυγμάχοι εἰμὲν ἀμύμονες οὐδὲ παλαισταί” (246.); ἐν ὅσῳ τοίνυν ἄπειροί εἰσιν ᾿Οδυσσέως οἴονται νικᾶν ἅπαντας ἐν τούτοις, ὅτε δὲ τῇ πείρᾳ δείξας ἑαυτὸν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐκαυχήσατο περὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἄθλων μόνον παραιτησάμενος τὸν δρόμον, ἀντιμεταλαβὼν τὰ ἐγκώμια ᾿Αλκίνους φησὶν “ἀλλὰ ποσὶ κραιπνῶς θέομεν καὶ νηυσὶν ἄριστοι, ἀεὶ δ’ ἡμῖν δαίς τε φίλη, εἵματά τ’ ἐξημοιβά” (247—249.).
H.Q.

Od. 8.131–139

“When they had all delighted their minds with the competitions,
Then Laodamas, the child of Alkinoos, spoke to them:
“Come, friends, let us ask the guest if he knows any sport
And excels at it. For he is not bad in respect to his form at least:
His thighs and shins and both hands above—
He has strong neck and great strength. He lacks little of youth
But he has been broken by many troubles.
For I say that nothing else overwhelms a man more terribly
Than the sea, even if he is very strong.”

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ πάντες ἐτέρφθησαν φρέν’ ἀέθλοις,
τοῖσ’ ἄρα Λαοδάμας μετέφη, πάϊς ᾿Αλκινόοιο·
“δεῦτε, φίλοι, τὸν ξεῖνον ἐρώμεθα, εἴ τιν’ ἄεθλον
οἶδέ τε καὶ δεδάηκε· φυήν γε μὲν οὐ κακός ἐστι,
μηρούς τε κνήμας τε καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
αὐχένα τε στιβαρὸν μέγα τε σθένος· οὐδέ τι ἥβης
δεύεται, ἀλλὰ κακοῖσι συνέρρηκται πολέεσσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγώ γέ τί φημι κακώτερον ἄλλο θαλάσσης
ἄνδρα γε συγχεῦαι, εἰ καὶ μάλα καρτερὸς εἴη.”

Scholia T
[Lemma] [he got these things are also from meeting [him]. For they are using irony because they believe they are superior in this pursuit. And, moreover, he also suggests a good character, so that, if he should do poorly, he might have a good excuse in the ruining of the body.”

φυήν γε μὲν] καὶ ταῦτα ἐκ συμβαίνοντος· κατειρωνεύονται γὰρ οἱ ἔν τινι ἐπιτηδεύματι προὔχειν οἰόμενοι. μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ χρηστὸν ἦθος ὑποβάλλει, ἵνα, ἐὰν ἀποτύχῃ, συγγνώμης δικαίας τύχῃ διὰ τὸ κεκακῶσθαι τὸ σῶμα. T.

8.140-142

“Euryalus responded and answered to him.
‘Laodamas, you have spoken this plan according to what is right.
Now go out and call to him and tell him this idea.”

τὸν δ’ αὖτ’ Εὐρύαλος ἀπαμείβετο φώνησέν τε·
“Λαοδάμαν, μάλα τοῦτο ἔπος κατὰ μοῖραν ἔειπες.
αὐτὸς νῦν προκάλεσσαι ἰὼν καὶ πέφραδε μῦθον.”

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus discus

The Death of Thersites

Proclus, Chrestomathia 178–184

“Then Achilles killed Thersites because he was mocked by him when he reproached him, claiming he loved Penthesileia. A conflict arose among the Achaeans over the murder of Thersites. After that Achilles went sailing to Lesbos where, after he made a sacrifice to Apollo, Artemis and Leto, he was cleansed of the murder by Odysseus.”

καὶ Ἀχιλλεὺς Θερσίτην ἀναιρεῖ λοιδορηθεὶς πρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ὀνειδισθεὶς τὸν ἐπὶ τῆι Πενθεσιλείαι λεγόμενον ἔρωτα. καὶ ἐκ τούτου στάσις γίνεται τοῖς Ἀχαιοῖς περὶ τοῦ Θερσίτου φόνου. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἀχιλλεὺς εἰς Λέσβον πλεῖ, καὶ θύσας Ἀπόλλωνι καὶ Ἀρτέμιδι καὶ Λητοῖ καθαίρεται τοῦ φόνου ὑπ᾿ Ὀδυσσέως.

In some traditions, Penthesileia bore Achilles a child before she died.

Cf. Apollodorus, Epitome E 5

“…And later on, [Penthesileia] died at Achilles’ hands and he killed Thersites who was mocking him after her death because he had loved the Amazon.”

 εἶθ᾿ ὕστερον θνήσκει ὑπὸ Ἀχιλλέως, ὅστις μετὰ θάνατον ἐρασθεὶς τῆς Ἀμαζόνος κτείνει Θερσίτην λοιδοροῦντα αὐτόν.

Quintus Smyrnaeus fleshes out some of the story in his Posthomerica: see the post on maicar.com.

Image result for ancient greek thersites

Living Today and Talking About Death

Living Today and Talking About Death

Gnom. Vat.160 “Biôn used to say that [we have] two teachers for death: the time before we were born and sleep.”

Βίων ἔλεγε δύο διδασκαλίας θανάτου εἶναι, τόν τε πρὸ τοῦ γενέσθαι χρόνον καὶ τὸν ὕπνον.

446 “Plato said that sleep was a short-lived death but death was a long-lived sleep.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφησε τὸν μὲν ὕπνον ὀλιγοχρόνιον θάνατον, τὸν δὲ θάνατον πολυχρόνιον ὕπνον.

Recently, I saw my grandfather, who is 91, at a family wedding. He told me he does not even like to buy green bananas any more because he can’t be sure he will be around to eat them when they ripen. This made me remember and then question that old Ciceronian claim that “no one is so old that he does not think he will live another year” (nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere, de Senectute 24)

A few of my students do this thing where they—only half-jokingly, I think—ask if I am ok, like really, really ok, after I make some quip about how we are all going to die or mention Seneca’s or Plutarch’s thoughts on life and death. When I talk about the Odyssey being obsessed with the death of Odysseus, or the Iliad deeply impacted by the precarity and scarcity of human existence, they seem to worry instead that I am the one obsessed, that I have some sort of morbid fixation.

Indeed, I would not be surprised if readers of this blog or the twitter feed have a similar suspicion when I ask questions like what text you would read if you knew you could only read one before you died or when I repeatedly post the dirges of Simonides. But the fact is, I am really acting with restraint here. If I were not sure that it would alienate most followers, I would set up the twitter feed to remind us of death every day, if not every hour.

Ok, this might be a little obsessive. But unlike what I think my students fear, I am not depressed about it. And I know I am not depressed because I spent a large part of my life depressed and fighting the feeling of the ultimate futility of life. One of my earliest memories of this is of being in third grade and lying awake at night trying to imagine what it was like to be nothing. I grew up in a fairly (but perhaps not deeply) religious family. We were Scandinavian protestants, though. This means we went to church frequently, but we didn’t really talk about it.

In fourth grade I remember talking with our minister about my doubts and objections. We went through the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds line by line and she told me I could leave out the words I did not believe in if it really bothered to say something aloud when I was uncertain. When I told her that I just could not make sense of the resurrection as a phenomenon, she told me that doubt was an important part of faith.

This kept me going for a long time. But my doubts did not fade and talking about them in a religious context seemed only to make things worse. By the time I was in high school, I would regularly spend nights awake nearly paralyzed by fear and sorrow. Even though I had a delightful undergraduate career by all measures, some of my strongest memories from those years remain breaking down and laboring under the weight of the depression.

Solon, fr. 18

“I grow old, always learning many things.”

γηράσκω δ’ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος·

Graduate school is not a good place for mental health. It is a great place to develop harmful coping mechanisms (narcissism, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.). Again, I think I probably seemed functional as a graduate student (and early career professor), but like many of us I was on a very precarious tight-rope. Even to this day, I know it was sheer luck that I did not suffer some kind of irreparable harm.

In graduate school, however, I did start to read more widely and to lean on my reading more to make sense of life in general. I started reading pre-Socratic philosophers and Roman writers like Seneca. When I was an undergraduate and I first read Plato’s Socrates asserting that “death is one of two things” either a dreamless sleep or the transformation of the soul in Greek, I was elated because here was something I could relate to. When we talked about Plato in philosophy classes, however, this topic rarely came up. When it did, it was discussed only briefly and almost elliptically.

But what is more important than talking about death? How many errors do we make because we refuse to do so? How many days are wasted in pursuits we might otherwise discredit if we really considered our lives in their entirety?

We have a cultural taboo about talking about death. When we do so individually and outside rather narrow confines, we are pathologized as quirky, morbid, or mentally ill. Even in psychological research, there is a reluctance to study how we think about death and its impact on our lives. As Solomon, Greenberg and Pyszczynski 2015 argue, however, this taboo itself is pathological and it has a wide impact on the well-being of individuals and whole cultures. We don’t want to talk about death because it is painful; but by not talking about death we collectively suffer more pain than we need to. Even Galen notes the paradox that fear of death can become a depressive obsession which robs us of the very thing we don’t want death to take.

So, for a great part of my life I did not talk about death because no one else wanted to. But this had a harmful effect–it meant that I bottled it up, I ruminated over it, and it would come bubbling out, uncontrollably, at the worst times.

In graduate school, I did finally find some professors who would talk about death, but only in the terms laid out by ancient authors. Here, there was an acceptable, but indirect way to have a conversation. There is this basic idea which I have seen described as Epicurean and Stoic but which really emerges as a regular part of Roman eclecticism that death should not be feared because when it comes we will not experience it. Seneca (EM 30.17-18) asserts that we do not fear death itself, but the thought of death (Non mortem timemus, sed cogitationem mortis), which I guess is true in a way, but it is still a prevarication. Is it not the thought of anything that we initially and mostly fear or desire? (Seneca actually cites Lucretius here, not a Stoic exemplar.) Of course, Plutarch rightly asks us whether we are more moved by fear of death or love of life.

Sophocles, fr. 65

“No one loves living as much as a man growing old”

τοῦ ζῆν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡς ὁ γηράσκων ἐρᾷ

Elsewhere, Seneca says that death is either “the end or a transformation” (EM 65) and that the former should not be feared because it is the same as never having begun (Aut finis aut transitus. Nec desinere timeo, idem est enim, quod non coepisse). This is the same as the basic assertion that we know what death is because it is a return to what we were before we were alive. In response to this notion, even the Stoic master Marcus Aurelius insists that we should consider we might die in every action we take. But, as Erik notes in an essay on “Frost, Horace and Death”, lyric poets like Catullus and Horace muse on the cyclical nature of the natural world only to conclude that our conscious lives are something different—As Catullus puts it, when the time comes “we must sleep one endless night” (nox est perpetua una dormienda, Carm. 5)

I wish my story involved going to therapy because I think that step is something which is a little easier to offer to others instead of prescribing that people spend a decade reading Seneca and Greek poetry. But this would be a lie. Like many of my generation, I was raised considering therapy for mental health a sign of weakness. I don’t rationally believe this, but the level of my disinclination to seek any kind of assistance is certainly problematic. Also, I do believe that, while therapy is absolutely the right move for people afflicted by depression, the injunction to do so is unrealistic for so many people because of costs and access issues.

On Timon, D. L. 9.12

“Antigonos says that Timon was fond of drinking; and, whenever he had free time from philosophizing, he wrote poems”

Ἦν δέ, φησὶν ὁ Ἀντίγονος, καὶ φιλοπότης καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν φιλοσόφων εἰ σχολάζοι ποιήματα συνέγραφε

The truth is that I only emerged from what was almost decades of suffering through slow, deliberate change. And reading—especially reading philosophy and poetry—was instrumental in helping me along the way. At some point, I learned to make thinking about death a practice. Obviously, some of this is just growing older and more stable—one chief antidote to depression is having a sense of belonging and something to do. And having children is a double-gift: it provides that sense of belonging and purpose while also allowing us to remember that life is full of real, precious wonder.

(The importance of belonging and purpose should make us even more aware of the position we put undergraduate and graduate students in: they are necessarily in precarious positions when it comes to social roles and cultural capital; but they also often have limited access to support services.)

Cicero, de Senectute

“Every age is burdensome to those who have no means of living well and happily”

Quibus enim nihil est in ipsis opis ad bene beateque vivendum

It is not really classical reflections on the nature of death that I have found especially enlightening or moving, but rather the constant reminder that, given what we know (or don’t know) about death, learning how to live is critical. Once you absorb this lesson, it seems like it should have been patently obvious from the beginning. It is as simple as this: we really don’t know anything about what happens after death, but we are certain we are alive now and that this life is limited. Is it not absolute insanity to do anything but try to live it well?

I don’t want to moralize much here or in any way denigrate systems of thought that bring people comfort when facing that starkest of uncertainties, but belief systems that deprive us of joy and (non-harmful) pleasure in this life steal from us by trading on the promise of the unknown. Yes, these systems of thought can do us good by enforcing standards of behavior that make us treat each other better than we would in a state of nature. And, yes, many of them do provide true comfort against that chilling fear of the endless night. But I think many of us make this deal before we can possibly understand the value of what we are bargaining.

The problem is that we wonder at death and we think it is something remarkable. What is remarkable is that each of our individual consciousnesses exist. The miracle is that we live at all. This should be celebrated and life should be enjoyed—we should revel in the fact that we are because we know for certain that we once were not and must understand the very good chance that we will not be.

This does not, of course, mean we have to be destructive. We can live fully and experience life well without taking the same opportunities from others. We don’t need to wear out life, heeding a refrain we hear from Pliny who admits his own fear of death and implores “So, while life remains to us, let’s make it so that death discovers as little as possible to destroy.” (Proinde, dum suppetit vita, enitamur ut mors quam paucissima quae abolere possit inveniat, Epistle 5.5). But we must take some stock of what it means to live.

Plato, Critias 108d

“I need to do this already, I can’t procrastinate anymore!”

τοῦτ᾿ οὖν αὐτὸ ἤδη δραστέον, καὶ μελλητέον οὐδὲν ἔτι.

This is in part why I love the two epitaphs assigned to Ashurbanipal in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists. Both feature the King known for his legendary wealth reminding his addressee that we are mortal and that even the wealthy and powerful like himself die. He continues by asserting “I kept whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy / I took from sex. My wealth and limitless blessings are gone” (κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι / τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται). The variant has a slightly less hedonistic take: “I keep whatever I learned and the thoughts I had and the fine things / I experienced with them. Everything else, however pleasing, is gone.” (ταῦτ’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔμαθον καὶ ἐφρόντισα καὶ μετὰ τούτων / ἔσθλ’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ καὶ ἡδέα πάντα λέλειπται).

I think that these two options belong together—that the dueling versions do not present opposite ways of living, but instead mark out that one life is incomplete without the other. We are bodies and we are minds and the two are entwined. This is why the extreme Cyrenaic claim that life’s balance of pleasure and pain should be considered as a reason for suicide is suspect. It underestimates the value of being able to ask and answer this question in the first place.

When people ask how I ended up pursuing a career in academia in general and, in particular, why Classics, I usually tell them about my deep love of literature and how I ended up pursuing Classics as an undergraduate degree because I wanted the same type of education as my favorite authors. This is true, but not complete. When I was younger I decided that a life spent doing something that did not have a meaningful connection to what I believed life was all about was a life wasted. (Yes, I was a lot of fun in high school too.)

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon 18

“For when beauty, wealth and sex converge upon you, you better not sit or procrastinate!”

κάλλος γὰρ καὶ πλοῦτος καὶ ἔρως εἰ συνῆλθον ἐπὶ σέ, οὐχ ἕδρας οὐδὲ ἀναβολῆς

The problem with this statement is figuring out what life is “all about”. My short answer was—and remains—that having the time and allowing yourself the freedom to think about what life is for is an essential part of living fully and well. When I considered a future life as an adolescent, I wanted more time and I did not want to be in a subculture where thinking was discouraged. I wanted to be able to read and write. I wanted to have access to ancient thoughts on the same problems. Moment by moment, becoming a Classicist became almost inevitable. Indeed, Petrarch certainly sees the transience of human life through a Classical frame.

Instead, what I want to point out is there is at the base of Classical Humanism a deep and abiding contemplation of what it means to be human (including what it means to be mortal). I fear too often that Philology and many current academic practices emphasize minutiae and actually disincentivize any thought about larger pictures. To return again to Seneca, he laments that too many of us turn “to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology” (adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est, EM 108).

When I read Seneca’s Moral Epistles now, part of what emerges is the sense of a writing practice to remind oneself that life must be lived. From his first letter to Lucilius, Seneca emphasizes that time is the only thing we really have and that most people do not realize how valuable it is. Even though he insists in the de Brevitate Vitae that life is plenty long and the problem is that most people waste it, it argues in the Epistles that we must still “embrace every hour” (omnes horas complectere). Indeed, in a different essay, Seneca begs his reader to seize life because not even the next hour is guaranteed.

And how Seneca himself does this is an object lesson. He does not mean we should spend every hour in pleasure or its pursuit—indeed, he would be a hypocrite if he meant this. No, what he means is the living of life with intention and meaning. His writing of the Moral Epistles is actually a demonstration of this, of a life lived through and for contemplation but not in contempt of the experiences of the body and of others.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“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.”

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.

Plato famously has one of his speakers say that “In truth, those who practice philosophy correctly practice dying” (τῷ ὄντι ἄρα, ἔφη, ὦ Σιμμία, οἱ ὀρθῶς φιλοσοφοῦντες ἀποθνῄσκειν μελετῶσι, Phaedo 67e). I cannot disagree with this, but I think that it needs to be explained a bit. Cicero’s gloss on this “that the life of philosophers, as the same man says, is a contemplation of death” Tota enim philosophorum vita, ut ait idem, commentatio mortis est (Tusc. Disp. 30.74-31.71.5) gets a little closer to what Montaigne understands: that without understanding death and acknowledging it for what it likely is, we make the mistake every day of not remembering to live. To contemplate death is to remind ourselves every day that life must be lived and should be lived well. To ignore it, is pretty much the opposite. This practice is not about learning how to die but instead about learning to accept that we are mortal and through that acceptance to learn truly how to live.

I started writing this in honor of turning 40 this week. I am not delighted about this number—even though I know that this is irrational and that 39 was in no real material way that different. Oh, how strange the number 40 is! My students think I’m old; my older colleagues think I am still young. I feel generally the same as I have for years, except I know rationally that the number of years which have passed are most likely now to outnumber those that remain.

To celebrate this, I am leaving the country. My wife surprised me with a trip to Greece and this is a big deal because, somehow, I have never actually made it to Greece. I know it is ridiculous that a Hellenist has never been to Greece and I am sure that this among many other things exposes what a charlatan I am, but there are plausible explanations. My parents never possessed passports; a good deal of my travel abroad was funded by someone else. Etc. etc.

When my wife told me she had booked a trip to Greece to mark (or perhaps avoid?) this auspicious occasion, I had to wonder aloud if we could afford to go. She said, can we afford not to? Who am I to argue with wisdom so deep?

So, for the next week there will be a series of pre-scheduled posts about Athens, a place I deeply love from texts, but a world to which I have never truly been. Until then, a reminder from Martial.

Martial, 5.58

“Postumus, you always say that you will live tomorrow, tomorrow!
But that ‘tomorrow’ of yours – when does it ever come?
How far off is that ‘tomorrow’! Where is it, or where should it be sought?
Does it lie hidden among the Parthians, or the Armenians?
That ‘tomorrow’ is as old as Priam or Nestor.
For how much can ‘tomorrow’ be purchased?
You will live tomorrow, you say?
Postumus, even living today is too late;
he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.

Cras te uicturum, cras dicis, Postume, semper:
dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando uenit?
Quam longe cras istud! ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami uel Nestoris annos. 5
Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est:
ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri.

06d31-mosaic2bhatay

Fantastic Friday: Talking Severed Heads and Prophecies of Doom (Part 2)

In the first half of this tale, a young politician died after getting married and his wife gave birth to a hermaphrodite. When the townspeople considered burning the mother and child, the husband rose from the dead and warned the people to listen to him. They dithered, so he ate the child.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 2 (Part 2)

There was a great cry and stones were thrown at him and they tried to make him turn him back. But he was not frightened off by the stones and he destroyed all of the child’s body except for the head and immediately disappeared.

While they were upset by the events and had fallen into confusion because of failing to capture him and were planning to go to Delphi, the head of the child spoke where it was sitting on the ground and provided a prophecy of what would happen:

Numberless people who inhabit a much-sung land
Do not go to the precinct of Phoibos and his smokey temple.
For your hands stand unclean in the air because of blood.
The path laid before your feet is corrupted.
Learn from me the journey the oracle foretells.
On this very day after the passing of a year
Death is fated for all of you, but the souls
Of Lokrians and Aitolians will live mixed together by Athena’s plans.
There will be no break from evil, not even a short one.
For already there is murderous blood pouring over your heads.
Night now hides everything as a dark sky races over us.
Immediately dark night overshadows the whole land.
All the widoes at home are resting their limbs on the ground.
No woman will be ever feel grief, nor will the children
Now in the homes mourn, as they cling to dear fathers.
For this sort of wave will wash over the whole land.
Oh, Oh, I always groan for my country suffering terrible things,
And my most wretched mother, who weeps last while still alive.
All the gods will make the race nameless
Of Lokrians and Aitolians whatever kind of seed is left.
Because death left my dear head and did not make
All of my mixed up limbs disappear, but left me on the earth.
But come and show my head to the sun as it rises.
Do not cover it below the shadowed earth.
You—leave this land after this is done
And go to another land and the people of Athena
If you choose to avoid death by fate’s decree.

After the Aitolians heard this oracle, they sent away their wives, children and elderly wherever each was able. But many remained to await what would happen. In the next year it happened that there was a war between the Aitolians and the Acarnanians and there was a great destruction of both peoples.

τοῦ δὲ ὄχλου συνδραμόντος καὶ ἔριν περὶ [τὴν ἄρσιν] τοῦ τέρατος ἔχοντος, ἐπιλαβόμενος τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τοὺς πλείστους αὐτῶν ἀνείρξας ἰταμώτερον διέσπασέ τε αὐτὸ καὶ ἤσθιε.

κραυγῆς δὲ γενομένης καὶ λίθων ἐπ’ αὐτὸν ἐκριπτομένων ὑπελάμβανον τροπὴν αὐτοῦ ποιήσασθαι. ὁ δὲ ἄπληκτος ὢν ὑπὸ τῶν λίθων τὸ σῶμα πᾶν παιδίου κατανάλωσε πλὴν τῆς κεφαλῆς καὶ αὐτίκα ἀφανὴς ἐγένετο. δυσφορούντων δ’ αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τοῖς γενομένοις καὶ ἐν ἀπορίᾳ καθεστηκότων οὐ τῇ τυχούσῃ, βουλομένων τε ἀποστεῖλαι εἰς Δελφούς, φθέγγεται ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ παιδίου ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐδάφους κειμένη καὶ λέγει χρησμῷ τὰ ἀποβησόμενα·

ὦ πολυύμνητον ναίων χθόνα λαὸς ἀπείρων,
μὴ στεῖχ’ ἐς Φοίβου τέμενος ναόν τε θυώδη·
οὐ γάρ σοι καθαραὶ χέρες αἵματος αἰθέρ’ ἔχουσιν,
ἀλλὰ μύσος προπάροιθε ποδῶν ἔντοσθε κελεύθου.
φράζεο δ’ ἐξ ἐμέθεν, τρίποδος δ’ ἀπόειπε κέλευθον·
μαντοσύνης πᾶσαν γὰρ ἐφετμήν σοι καταλέξω.
ἤματι γὰρ τούτῳ περιτελλομένου ἐνιαυτοῦ
ὥρισται πᾶσιν θάνατος, ψυχαὶ δὲ βίονται
Λοκρῶν Αἰτωλῶν τ’ ἀναμὶξ βουλῇσιν ᾿Αθήνης.
οὐδ’ ἀναπαύλησις κακοῦ ἔσσεται οὐδ’ ἠβαιόν·
ἤδη γὰρ ψακάδες φόνιαι κατὰ κρᾶτα κέχυνται,
νὺξ δ’ ἐπὶ πάντα κέκευθε, μέλας δ’ ἐπιδέδρομεν αἴθρη.
αὐτίκα νὺξ δ’ ἔρεβος πᾶσαν κατὰ γαῖαν ὄρωρεν,
χῆροι δ’ οἴκοι πάντες ἐπ’ οὔδεϊ γυῖα κλινοῦσιν,
οὐδὲ γυνὴ πένθος ποτὲ λείψεται, οὐδέ νυ παῖδες
ἃν μεγάροις γοόωσι, φίλους πατέρας περιφύντες·

τοῖον γὰρ τόδε κῦμα κατέδραμε πᾶσι κατ’ ἄκρης.
αἲ αἲ πατρίδ’ ἐμὴν αἰεὶ στένω αἰνὰ παθοῦσαν
μητέρα τ’ αἰνοτάτην, ἣν ὕστερον ἔκλυσεν αἰών.
νώνυμνόν τε θεοὶ γένεσιν θήσουσιν ἅπαντες
Λοκρῶν τ’ Αἰτωλῶν θ’ ὅ τί που καὶ σπέρμα λίποιτο,
οὕνεκ’ ἐμὴν κεφαλὴν λίποι αἰών, οὐδέ νυ πάντα
σώματος ἠφάνικεν μέλε’ ἄκριτα, λεῖπε δὲ γαῖαν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγ’ ἐμὴν κεφαλὴν θέμεν’ ἠοῖ φαινομένῃφι,
μηδέ θ’ ὑπὸ ζοφερὴν γαῖαν κατακρυπτέμεν ἔνδον·
αὐτοὺς δὲ προλιπόντας ἑὸν χῶρον μετόπισθεν
στείχειν εἰς ἄλλον χῶρον καὶ λαὸν ᾿Αθήνης,
εἴ τινά που θανάτοιο λύσιν κατὰ μοῖραν ἕλησθε.

ἀκούσαντες δὲ οἱ Αἰτωλοὶ τοῦ χρησμοῦ, γυναῖκας μὲν καὶ τὰ νήπια τέκνα τούς τε ὑπεργήρως ὑπεξέθεντο οὗ ἕκαστος ἐδύνατο, αὐτοὶ δὲ ἔμενον καραδοκοῦντες τὸ ἀποβησόμενον. καὶ συνέβη τῷ ἑξῆς ἔτει Αἰτωλοῖς καὶ ᾿Ακαρνᾶσι συστῆναι πόλεμον καὶ φθορὰν πολλὴν ἑκατέρων γενέσθαι.

Image result for medieval manuscript severed head

Psalter, MS M.79 fol. 111v

Fantastic Friday: Politics, Deaths, Omens and Infanticide, The Worst Story You’ll Read Today (Part 1)

This might be the most disturbing thing I have read all summer. When I was reading the Greek for the final sentence below, I actually uttered “what the f*ck” aloud. Go here for the second part.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 2 (Part 1)

Hieron the Alexandrian or Ephesian tells of the following wonder which occurred in Aitolia.

There was a certain citizen, Polykritos, who was voted Aitolian arkhon by the people. His fellow citizens considered him worthy for three years because of the nobility of his forebears. During the time he was in that office, he married a Lokrian woman. After he shared a bed with her for three nights, he died on the fourth.

The woman remained in their home widowed. When she gave birth, she had a child who had two sets of genitals, both male and female, which was alarmingly different from nature. The parts up top were completely rough and masculine and those near the thighs were feminine and softer.

Awestruck by this, her relatives forced the child to the agora and held an assembly to take advice about this, calling together the omen readers and interpreters. Some were claiming that this meant there would be dissent between Aitolians and Lokrians, since the mother was Lokrian and the father was Aitolian. But others believed that it was necessary to take the child and mother to the frontier and have them burned.

While the people were deliberating, suddenly the dead Polykritos appeared in the assembly dressed in black near his child. Even though the citizens were thunderstruck by this apparition and many of them were rushing to flight, he asked the citizens to be brave and not to be rattled by the sight which appeared. Then a bit of the chaos and the uproar receded, and he said these things in a slight voice:

“My fellow citizens, although I am dead in my body, I live among you in goodwill and thanks. And now I am present imploring those people who have power of this land to your collective benefit. I advise you who are citizens not to be troubled or angry at the impossible miracle which has happened. And I ask all of you, vouching for the safety of each, is to give  me the child who was born from me so that no violence may come from those who make some different kind of plans and that there may be no beginning of malicious and hard affairs because of a conflict on my part.

It would not be possible for me to overlook the burning of my child thanks to the shock of these interpreters who are advising you. I do have some pity, because you are at a loss when you see this kind of unexpected sight as to how you might respond to it correctly for current events. If you assent to me without fear, you will be relieved of the present anxieties and of the evils to come. But if you fall prey to another opinion, then I have fear for you that you will come into some incurable sufferings because you did not trust me.

Therefore, because of the goodwill I experienced while I was alive and the unexpectedness of the current situation, I am predicting the suffering to you. I think it is right that you do not delay any longer but that, once you deliberate correcly and obey the things I have said, you should hand over the child to me with a blessing. It is not fitting for me to waste any more time because of the men who rule this land.”

After he said these things, he kept quiet for a bit as he awaited what kind of decision there would be once they deliberated about it. Some were thinking it was right to give him the child and consider the sight sacred and the influence of a deity; but most of them denied this, claiming that it was necessary to deliberate in a calmer atmopshere when they were not at so great a loss, because the affair was a big deal.

When he saw that they were not moving in his favor but were actually impeding the decision there, he spoke these things in turn: “Fellow Citizens. If something more terrible happens to you because of a lack of decision, do not blame me, but this fate which directs you to something worse—it sets you in opposition to me and compels me to transgress against my child.”

There was a great mist and a portent of strife as he reached for the child and and grabbed most of it up boldly before butchering and eating the child.

  ῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ καὶ ῾Ιέρων ὁ ᾿Αλεξανδρεὺς ἢ ᾿Εφέσιος καὶ ἐν Αἰτωλίᾳ φάσμα γενέσθαι.  Πολύκριτος γάρ τις τῶν πολιτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου Αἰτωλάρχης, ἐπὶ τρία ἔτη τῶν πολιτῶν αὐτὸν ἀξιωσάντων διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν ἐκ προγόνων καλοκαγαθίαν. ὢν δὲ ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ ταύτῃ ἄγεται γυναῖκα Λοκρίδα, καὶ συγκοιμηθεὶς τρισὶν νυξὶ τῇ τετάρτῃ τὸν βίον ἐξέλιπεν.

 ἡ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἔμενεν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ χηρεύουσα, ἡνίκα δὲ ὁ τοκετὸς ἤπειγεν, τίκτει παιδίον αἰδοῖα ἔχον δύο, ἀνδρεῖόν τε καὶ γυναικεῖον, καὶ τὴν φύσιν θαυμαστῶς διηλλαγ-μένον· τὰ μὲν ἄνω τοῦ αἰδοίου ὅλως σκληρά τε καὶ ἀνδρώδη ἦν, τὰ δὲ περὶ τοὺς μηροὺς γυναικεῖα καὶ ἁπαλώτερα. ἐφ’ ᾧ καταπλαγέντες οἱ συγγενεῖς ἀπήνεγκαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν τὸ παιδίον καὶ συναγαγόντες ἐκκλησίαν ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ αὐτοῦ, θύτας τε καὶ τερατοσκόπους συγκαλέσαντες. τῶν δὲ οἱ μὲν ἀπεφήναντο διάστασίν τινα τῶν Αἰτωλῶν καὶ Λοκρῶν ἔσεσθαι—κεχωρίσθαι γὰρ ἀπὸ μητρὸς οὔσης Λοκρί-δος καὶ πατρὸς Αἰτωλοῦ—οἱ δὲ δεῖν ᾤοντο τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἀπενέγκοντας εἰς τὴν ὑπερορίαν κατακαῦσαι. ταῦτα δὲ αὐτῶν βουλευομένων ἐξαίφνης φαίνεται ὁ Πολύκριτος ὁ προτεθνηκὼς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πλησίον τοῦ τέκνου ἔχων ἐσθῆτα μέλαιναν.

τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν καταπλαγέντων ἐπὶ τῇ  φαντασίᾳ καὶ πολλῶν εἰς φυγὴν τραπομένων παρεκάλεσε τοὺς πολίτας θαρρεῖν καὶ μὴ ταράττεσθαι ἐπὶ τῷ γεγονότι φάσματι. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔληξε τὸ πλέον τοῦ θορύβου καὶ τῆς ταραχῆς, ἐφθέγξατο λεπτῇ τῇ φωνῇ τάδε· «ἐγὼ, ἄνδρες πολῖται, τῷ μὲν σώματι τέθνηκα, τῇ δὲ εὐνοίᾳ καὶ τῇ χάριτι <τῇ> πρὸς ὑμᾶς ζῶ. καὶ νῦν πάρειμι <ὑμῖν> παραιτησάμενος τοὺς κυριεύοντας τῶν κατὰ γῆν ἐπὶ τῷ συμφέροντι τῷ ὑμετέρῳ. παρακαλῶ τοίνυν ὑμᾶς πολίτας ὄντας ἐμαυτοῦ μὴ ταράττεσθαι μηδὲ δυσχεραί-νειν ἐπὶ τῷ παραδόξῳ γεγονότι φάσματι. δέομαι δὲ ὑμῶν ἁπάντων, κατευχόμενος πρὸς τῆς ἐκάστου σωτηρίας, ἀποδοῦναί μοι τὸ παιδίον τὸ ἐξ ἐμοῦ γεγεννημένον, ὅπως μηδὲν βίαιον γένηται ἄλλο τι βουλευσαμένων ὑμῶν, μηδ’ ἀρχὴ πραγμάτων δυσχερῶν καὶ χαλεπῶν διὰ τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ φιλονεικίαν ὑμῖν γένηται. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι περιιδεῖν κατακαυθὲν τὸ παιδίον ὑφ’ ὑμῶν διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐξαγγελλόντων ὑμῖν μάντεων ἀποπληξίαν. συγγνώμην μὲν οὖν ὑμῖν ἔχω, ὅτι τοιαύτην ὄψιν ἀπροσδόκητον ἑωρακότες ἀπορεῖτε πῶς ποτε τοῖς παροῦσι πράγμασιν ὀρθῶς χρήσεσθε. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐμοὶ πεισθήσεσθε ἀδεῶς, τῶν παρόντων φόβων καὶ τῶν ἐπερχομένων κακῶν ἔσεσθε ἀπηλλαγμένοι. εἰ δὲ ἄλλως πως τῇ γνώμῃ προσπεσεῖσθε, φοβοῦμαι περὶ ὑμῶν μήποτε εἰς ἀνηκέστους συμφορὰς ἀπειθοῦντες ἡμῖν ἐμπέσητε. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὔνοιαν ὅτ’ ἔζων καὶ νῦν ἀπροσδοκήτως παρὼν προείρηκα τὸ συμφέρον ὑμῖν. ταῦτ’ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἀξιῶ μὴ πλείω με χρόνον παρέλκειν, ἀλλὰ βουλευσαμένους ὀρθῶς καὶ πεισθέντας τοῖς εἰρημένοις ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ δοῦναί μοι μετ’ εὐφημίας τὸ παιδίον. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι πλείονα μηκύνειν χρόνον διὰ τοὺς κατὰγῆν ὑπάρχοντας δεσπότας.»

 ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἡσυχίαν  ἔσχεν ἐπ’ ὀλίγον, καραδοκῶν ποίαν ποτὲ ἐξοίσουσιν αὐτῷ γνώμην περὶ τῶν ἀξιουμένων. τινὲς μὲν οὗν ᾤοντο δεῖν ἀποδοῦναι τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἀφοσιώσασθαι τό τε φάσμα καὶ τὸν ἐπιστάντα δαίμονα, οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι ἀντέλεγον, μετὰ ἀνέσεως δεῖν βουλεύσασθαι φάσκοντες, ὡς ὄντος μεγάλου τοῦ πράγματος καὶ οὐ τῆς τυχούσης αὐτοῖς ἀπορίας.  συνιδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς οὐ προσέχοντας, ἀλλ’ ἐμποδίζοντας αὐτοῦ τὴν βούλησιν, ἐφθέγξατο αὖθις τάδε· «ἀλλ’ οὖν γε, ὦ ἄνδρες πολῖται, ἐὰν ὑμῖν συμβαίνῃ τι τῶν δυσχερεστέρων διὰ τὴν ἀβουλίαν, μὴ ἐμὲ αἰτιᾶσθε, ἀλλὰ τὴν τύχην τὴν οὕτως ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ὑμᾶς ποδηγοῦσαν, ἥτις ἐναντιουμένη κἀμοὶ παρανομεῖν ἀναγκάζει με εἰς τὸ ἴδιον τέκνον.»

τοῦ δὲ ὄχλου συνδραμόντος καὶ ἔριν περὶ [τὴν ἄρσιν] τοῦ τέρατος ἔχοντος, ἐπιλαβόμενος τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τοὺς πλείστους αὐτῶν ἀνείρξας ἰταμώτερον διέσπασέ τε αὐτὸ καὶ ἤσθιε.

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

Ancient Greek Depression and the Brain: Galen and Hippocrates

Galen, De Locis Affectis 8.190-191

“Fear always plagues people with melancholy but they don’t always have the same kind of abnormal (para phusin) thoughts. For example, one person believes that he has grown a shell and because of this he avoids everyone who nears him so that he might not break it. When another hears the roosters singing, just as if the birds strike their wings before their song, he also slaps his arms against his sides and imitates the animals’ voice. Fear comes to another that Atlas who is supporting the universe might drop it because he is worn out and for this reason he will be crushed and he will destroy us with him.

But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.

For this reason it seems right that Hippocrates divided all of these symptoms into two groups: fear (phobos) and despair (dusthumia). Because of this sort of despair, they hate everyone they see and are always gloomy and they are afraid like children are frightened in deep darkness and uneducated adults too. As external darkness makes nearly all people afraid, except for those who are bold by nature or have been well-educated for it, so too the color of the black bile overshadows places of thought with darkness and makes people afraid.

The fact that the humors and altogether the equilibrium (krâsis) of the body may alter the reality of the mind is agreed upon by the best doctors and philosophers and I have shown already in one publication in which, by pursuing the body’s balances, I demonstrated the abilities of the mind. For this reason, those who are ignorant about the power of humors do not dare to write anything about melancholy. Of these, there are also those of the school of Erasistratos. It is right to be amazed at him for people’s common thoughts, as with many other beliefs about which not a few philosophers and doctors are ignorant. Therefore, nearly everyone calls melancholy a sickness, indicating through this name that its cause is bile.”

ἀεὶ μὲν οὖν  οἱ φόβοι συνεδρεύουσι τοῖς μελαγχολικοῖς, οὐκ ἀεὶ δὲ ταὐτὸν εἶδος τῶν παρὰ φύσιν αὐτοῖς γίγνεται φαντασιῶν, εἴγε ὁ μέν τις ὀστρακοῦς ᾤετο γεγονέναι, καὶ διὰ τοῦτ’ ἐξίστατο τοῖς ἀπαντῶσιν, ὅπως μὴ συντριβείη· θεώμενος δέ τις ἄλλος ἀλεκτρυόνας ᾄδοντας, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνοι τὰς πτέρυγας προσέκρουον πρὸ ᾠδῆς, οὕτω καὶ αὐτὸς τοὺς βραχίονας προσκρούων ταῖς πλευραῖς ἐμιμεῖτο τὴν φωνὴν τῶν ζώων. φόβος δ’ ἦν ἄλλῳ, μή πως ὁ βαστάζων τὸν κόσμον ῎Ατλας ἀποσείσηται κεκμηκὼς αὐτὸν, οὕτως τε καὶ αὐτὸς συντριβείη καὶ ἡμᾶς αὐτῷ συναπολέσειεν·

ἄλλα τε μυρία τοιαῦτα φαντασιοῦνται. διαφέρονται δὲ ἀλλήλων οἱ μελαγχολικοὶ, τὸ μὲν φοβεῖσθαι καὶ δυσθυμεῖν καὶ μέμφεσθαι τῇ ζωῇ καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντες ἔχοντες, ἀποθανεῖν δ’ ἐπιθυμοῦντες οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ’ ἔστιν ἐνίοις αὐτῶν αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο κεφάλαιον τῆς μελαγχολίας, τὸ περὶ τοῦ θανάτου δέος· ἔνιοι δὲ ἀλλόκοτοί σοι δόξουσιν, ἅμα τε καὶ δεδιέναι τὸν θάνατον καὶ θανατᾷν. ὥστε ὀρθῶς ἔοικεν ὁ ῾Ιπποκράτης εἰς δύο ταῦτα ἀναγαγεῖν τὰ συμπτώματα αὐτῶν πάντα, φόβον καὶ δυσθυμίαν· ἐπί γέ τοι τῇ τοιαύτῃ δυσθυμίᾳ  μισοῦσιν πάντας, οὓς ἂν βλέπωσιν, καὶ σκυθρωποὶ διὰ παντός εἰσι, δειμαίνοντες, ὥσπερ ἐν σκότῳ βαθεῖ τά τε παιδία φοβεῖται καὶ τῶν τελείων οἱ ἀπαίδευτοι. καθάπερ γὰρ καὶ τὸ ἔξωθεν σκότος εἰς φόβον ἄγει σχεδὸν ἅπαντας ἀνθρώπους, πλὴν τῶν ἤτοι πάνυ φύσει τολμηρῶν, ἢ πεπαιδευμένων, οὕτως καὶ τῆς μελαίνης χολῆς τὸ χρῶμα παραπλησίως σκότῳ τὸν φρονοῦντα τόπον ἐπισκιάζον ἐργάζεται τοὺς φόβους.

ὅτι γὰρ οἵ τε χυμοὶ καὶ ὅλως ἡ τοῦ σώματος κρᾶσις ἀλλοιοῖ τὰς ἐνεργείας τῆς ψυχῆς, ὡμολόγηται τοῖς ἀρίστοις ἰατροῖς τε καὶ φιλοσόφοις, ἐμοί τε δι’ ἑνὸς ὑπομνήματος ἀποδέδεικται, καθ’ ὃ ταῖς τοῦ σώματος κράσεσιν ἀκολουθούσας ἀπέδειξα τὰς τῆς ψυχῆς δυνάμεις· ὅθεν οὐδὲ γράψαι τι περὶ μελαγχολίας ἐτόλμησαν οἱ τὴν τῶν χυμῶν δύναμιν ἀγνοήσαντες, ἐξ ὧν εἰσι καὶ οἱ περὶ τὸν ᾿Ερασίστρατον.  ἄξιον δέ ἐστι κᾀν τούτῳ θαυμάσαι τὰς κοινὰς ἐννοίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὥσπερ καὶ τἄλλα πολλὰ δόγματα, περὶ ὧν ἠγνόησαν οὐκ ὀλίγοι φιλοσόφων τε καὶ ἰατρῶν· ἅπαντες γοῦν ὀνομάζουσιν τὸ πάθος τοῦτο μελαγχολίαν, ἐνδεικνύμενοι διὰ  τῆς προσηγορίας τὸν αἴτιον αὐτοῦ χυμόν.

 

*Erasistratos was a doctor and author during the Hellenistic period.

I found this passage from reading: Patricia A. Clark and M. Lynn Rose. 2016. “Psychiatric Disability in the Galenic Medical Matrix.” In Christian Laes, Chris Goodey, and M. Lynn Rose (eds.). Disabilities in Roman Antiquity: Disparate Bodies a Capite Ad Calcem. Leiden: 45-72.

The modern debate about “mind” verses “brain” has its origins in antiquity and notions of the “soul” and the “body”. Hippocrates presents one of the earliest arguments that everything is physical and biological.

Hippocrates of Cos, On the Sacred Disease 14

 “People should know that our pleasures, happiness, laughter, and jokes from nowhere else [but the brain] and that our griefs, pains, sorrows, depressions and mourning come from the same place. And through it we think especially, and ponder, and see and hear and come to perceive both shameful things and noble things and wicked things and good things as well as sweet and bitter, at times judging them so by custom, at others by understanding what is advantageous based on distinguishing what is pleasurable and not in the right time and [that] these things are not the same to us.

By this very organ we become both sane and delirious and fears and horrors attend us sometimes at night and sometimes at day. This brings us bouts of sleeplessness and makes us mistake-prone at terrible times,  bringing thoughts we cannot follow, and deeds which are unknown, unaccustomed or untried.

Yes, we suffer all these things from or brain when it is not health but is hotter than natural, too cold or too wet or too dry or suffers any other kind of thing contrary to its custom. We go insane because of its moistness. For whenever it is wetter than natural, it is forced to move. And when it moves, neither sight can be still nor hearing. Instead, we hear and see different things at different times and the tongue talks about the kinds of things it sees and hears each time. But a person can think as long as the brain remains still.”

 Εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ὅτι ἐξ οὐδενὸς ἡμῖν αἱ ἡδοναὶ γίνονται καὶ αἱ εὐφροσύναι καὶ γέλωτες καὶ παιδιαὶ ἢ ἐντεῦθεν καὶ λῦπαι καὶ ἀνίαι καὶ δυσφροσύναι καὶ κλαυθμοί. Καὶ τούτῳ φρονεῦμεν μάλιστα καὶ νοεῦμεν καὶ βλέπομεν καὶ ἀκούομεν καὶ γινώσκομεν τά τε αἰσχρὰ καὶ τὰ καλὰ καὶ τὰ κακὰ καὶ ἀγαθὰ καὶ ἡδέα καὶ ἀηδέα, τὰ μὲν νόμῳ διακρίνοντες, τὰ δὲ τῷ ξυμφέροντι αἰσθανόμενοι, τῷ δὲ καὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς καὶ τὰς ἀηδίας τοῖσι καιροῖσι διαγινώσκοντες, καὶ οὐ ταὐτὰ ἀρέσκει ἡμῖν. Τῷ δὲ αὐτῷ τούτῳ καὶ μαινόμεθα καὶ παραφρονέομεν, καὶ δείματα καὶ φόβοι παρίστανται ἡμῖν τὰ μὲν νύκτωρ, τὰ δὲ μεθ’ ἡμέρην, καὶ ἐνύπνια καὶ πλάνοι ἄκαιροι, καὶ φροντίδες οὐχ ἱκνεύμεναι, καὶ ἀγνωσίη τῶν καθεστεώτων καὶ ἀηθίη καὶ ἀπειρίη. Καὶ ταῦτα πάσχομεν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου πάντα, ὅταν οὗτος μὴ ὑγιαίνῃ, ἀλλ’ ἢ θερμότερος τῆς φύσιος γένηται ἢ ψυχρότερος ἢ ὑγρότερος ἢ ξηρότερος, ἤ τι ἄλλο πεπόνθῃ πάθος παρὰ τὴν φύσιν ὃ μὴ ἐώθει. Καὶ μαινόμεθα μὲν ὑπὸ ὑγρότητος· ὅταν γὰρ ὑγρότερος τῆς φύσιος ᾖ, ἀνάγκη κινεῖσθαι, κινευμένου δὲ μήτε τὴν ὄψιν ἀτρεμίζειν μήτε τὴν ἀκοήν, ἀλλ᾿ ἄλλοτε ἄλλα ὁρᾶν καὶ ἀκούειν, τήν τε γλῶσσαν τοιαῦτα διαλέγεσθαι οἷα ἂν βλέπῃ τε καὶ ἀκούῃ ἑκάστοτε· ὅσον δ᾿ ἂν ἀτρεμήσῃ ὁ ἐγκέφαλος χρόνον, τοσοῦτον καὶ φρονεῖ ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

On the Sacred Disease, 9

“For these reasons I think that the brain has the most power in the human being. For when it happens to be healthy, it is our interpreter of all the things that happen from the air. And air furnishes intelligence. The eyes, and ears, and tongue and hands and feet do the kinds of things the brain decides. Indeed, the portion of intelligence distributed throughout the body comes from the air. The brain is the emissary to understanding. For whenever a person draws breath inside it rushes first to the brain and then it spreads through the rest of the body once it leaves its distilled form in the brain, that very thing which is thought and has judgment. If it were to enter the body first and the rain later, it would leave understanding in the flesh and the arteries and then go hot and impure into the brain, all mixed up with the bile from flesh and blood, with the result that it would uncertain.”

Κατὰ ταῦτα νομίζω τὸν ἐγκέφαλον δυναμιν ἔχειν πλείστην ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ· οὗτος γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐστι τῶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἠέρος γινομένων ἑρμηνεύς, ἢν ὑγιαίνων τυγχάνῃ· τὴν δὲ φρόνησιν ὁ ἀὴρ παρέχεται. οἱ δὲ ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ τὰ ὦτα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες καὶ οἱ πόδες οἷα ἂν ὁ ἐγκέφαλος γινώσκῃ, τοιαῦτα πρήσσουσι·† γίνεται γὰρ ἐν ἅπαντι τῷ σώματι τῆς φρονήσιος, ὡςἂν μετέχῃ τοῦ ἠέρος.† ἐς δὲ τὴν σύνεσιν ὁ ἐγκέφαλός ἐστιν ὁ διαγγέλλων· ὅταν γὰρ σπάσῃ τὸ πνεῦμα ὥνθρωπος ἐς ἑωυτόν, ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον πρῶτον ἀφικνεῖται, καὶ οὕτως ἐς τὸ λοιπὸν σῶμα σκίδναται ὁ ἀήρ, καταλελοιπὼς ἐν τῷ ἐγκεφάλῳ ἑωυτοῦ τὴν ἀκμὴν καὶ ὅ τι ἂν ᾖ φρόνιμόν τε καὶ γνώμην ἔχον· εἰ γὰρ ἐς τὸ σῶμα πρῶτον ἀφικνεῖτο καὶ ὕστερον ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον, ἐν τῇσι σαρξὶ καὶ ἐν τῇσι φλεψὶ καταλελοιπὼς τὴν διάγνωσιν ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον ἂν ἴοιθερμὸς ἐὼν καὶ οὐκ ἀκραιφνής, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπιμεμιγμένος τῇ ἰκμάδι τῇ ἀπό τε τῶν σαρκῶν καὶ τοῦ αἵματος, ὥστε μηκέτι εἶναι ἀκριβής.

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Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’sSeptember 2014, 49-52.

“The self does not exist as a paranormal being living on its own within the brain. It is, instead, the central dramatic character of the confabulated scenarios. In these stories, it is always on center stage—if not as participant, then as observer and commentator—because that is where all of the sensory information arrives and is integrated.”

For a good overview of issues of brain, mind and consciousness from multiple disciplinary perspectives, see Dennett, Dale C. 2017. From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. New York.

The Difference of A Year: Some Links to Classicists Fighting the Good Fight Online

As Classicists we like to focus on the long view of history and to see ourselves in the deeper and stronger currents of time. But if we are honest, we know that we are equally, if not more, shaped by the eddies of our own day and its current events.

The increase in publicly pronounced and tolerated–if not also valorized–racism over the past few years has been shocking to many, although perhaps not to our friends and family who have faced bigotry their entire lives. The most recent year especially has seen a casualization of the rhetoric and political action of the far right in a way I once thought impossible.

Media outlets feed on the extreme voices because they don’t know how to report the news in the modern world. They have a vested financial interest in observing if not perpetuating the controversy. As a result, voices that spew ignorance and hate get more notice than they merit and they can do more harm in causing trauma to those who are marginalized already and, as part of their design, attracting the ignorant, insane or hopeless to their ideas.

When we started this blog, I never imagined I would spend so much time arguing with Nazis online or writing about politics. Last year, following events in Charlottesville, we did both: defending writing about Classics and politics, dismissing charges of political correctness as a tone policing act of the status quo, defending the humanities against conservative attacks, and, recently, arguing that the voices that reject literary theory are also those who align with conservative viewpoints.

Part of this has come from responding to current events, but it has also been inspired by hate speech directed our way. Last year, a week after the Charlottesville event, we received a comment accusing us of supporting “white genocide” or being a “Jewish supremacist”. The antisemitic harassment online has been fairly consistent since; as has a struggle over what it means to be a Classicist.

If we have responded haphazardly and sometimes reactively, we have also been inspired by dozens of other who are doing braver and more rigorous work to question the boundaries of our discipline, the voices within it, and its historical meanings. So, today, if you are feeling shocked or sick at media coverage, take a break and look at the critical work being done by the Classics Community online.

The work of these students, scholars and friends has been inspiring, edifying, and comforting over the past year.

 

Sarah Teets’ fine piece in Eidolon, Classical Slavery and Jeffersonian Racism

Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s talk on White Supremacy and Classics Scholarship or “On nationalisms Classical Antiquity, and Our Inhumanity” or On Genetics and Ancient Greeks, or on “Blood & Soil”

Pretty much everything Pharos and Curtis Dozier has done over the past year

John Bracey’s exploration of “Why Students of Color Don’t take Latin

Dan-El Padilla Peralta’s “The Colorblind Bard” discussion

Denise Eileen McCoskey’s post on Racist Use of DNA in work on Classical Antiquity

Brandeis Student Helen Wong’s reflections on being a student of color studying classics

Yung In Chae’s “White People Explain Classics to Us

Sarah Bond’s analysis of the Modern Romance with Sparta

The fine work of Sportula to raise microgrants for students pursuing Classical Studies

The work of Classics and Social Justice

Daniel Walden’s “Dismantling the West”

Podcasts from The Endless Knot and Scott Lepisto’s Itinera, which tells the stories of a diverse range of classicists

The public advocacy of Matthew Sears against hatred and ignorance

Mathura Umachandran’s analysis of Fragility in Classics (and, today is as good a day as any to read Robin DiAngelo’s article that defines and explains white fragility).

A little  outside of Classics, but still important, many posts from Everyday Orientalism

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