Don’t Worry, Everything Turns Out Awful in the End!

Euripides, Hecuba 956-961

“Shit.
Nothing is credible, not a good reputation
Nor that one who is lucky will not do badly in the end.
The gods churn these waters up back and forth
Mixing in confusion so that we worship them
In our ignorance. But why mourn at all?
It has no effect on our sufferings to come.”

φεῦ·
οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν πιστόν, οὔτ᾿ εὐδοξία
οὔτ᾿ αὖ καλῶς πράσσοντα μὴ πράξειν κακῶς.
φύρουσι δ᾿ αὐτὰ θεοὶ πάλιν τε καὶ πρόσω
ταραγμὸν ἐντιθέντες, ὡς ἀγνωσίᾳ
σέβωμεν αὐτούς. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν τί δεῖ
θρηνεῖν, προκόπτοντ᾿ οὐδὲν ἐς πρόσθεν κακῶν;

1023-31

“You haven’t paid up, but perhaps you’ll pay soon.
Like a man who has fallen into water with no harbor
You’ll fall far from your heart’s desire
And lose your life. The meeting place
Of debt to Justice and to the gods
Is a terrible, terrible place.”

οὔπω δέδωκας, ἀλλ᾿ ἴσως δώσεις δίκην·
ἀλίμενόν τις ὡς ἐς ἄντλον πεσὼν
λεχριος ἐκπεσῇ φίλας καρδίας,
ἀμέρσας βίον. τὸ γὰρ ὑπέγγυον
Δίκᾳ καὶ θεοῖσιν οὗ ξυμπίτνει,
ὀλέθριον ὀλέθριον κακόν.

1187-1194

“Agamemnon, it’s not right for people
To possess tongues stronger than deeds.

If someone has done good things, then they ought to speak well
If they do evil things, well, their words are rotten too,
And they are incapable of ever speaking of injustice well.

Wise are those who have become masters of precise speech!
But even they cannot be wise all the way to the end.
They all die terribly. There’s no escape from that.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισιν οὐκ ἐχρῆν ποτε
τῶν πραγμάτων τὴν γλῶσσαν ἰσχύειν πλέον·
ἀλλ᾿ εἴτε χρήστ᾿ ἔδρασε, χρήστ᾿ ἔδει λέγειν,
εἴτ᾿ αὖ πονηρά, τοὺς λόγους εἶναι σαθρούς,
καὶ μὴ δύνασθαι τἄδικ᾿ εὖ λέγειν ποτέ.
σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν εἰσ᾿ οἱ τάδ᾿ ἠκριβωκότες,
ἀλλ᾿ οὐ δύνανται διὰ τέλους εἶναι σοφοί,
κακῶς δ᾿ ἀπώλοντ᾿· οὔτις ἐξήλυξέ πω.

 

Achilles and Agamemnon, Roman Mosaic from Pompeii

Check out these readings from Hecuba

Graves, Signs, and Glory

Homer, Iliad 7.89-91

“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”

σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Iliad 24.801–804

“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”

χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
῝Ως οἵ γ’ ἀμφίεπον τάφον ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

Hektor’s grave is described a little differently earlier. (I explain the “emptiness” of the tomb in another post)

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

Odyssey 11.72-78 (Elpenor asking to be buried)

“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”

μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.’

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Image result for ancient Greek funeral mounds
Tumulus of Marathon.

How Many Eyes Did The Cyclops Have? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

The scholia present some debates about what exactly a Cyclops looks like. 

Schol. ad Od. 9.106

“Aristotle examines how the Cyclops Polyphemos came to be a cyclops when neither his father nor his mother was a cyclops. He resolved the issue with a different myth. For, he asserted, horses came from Boreas but Pegasos was born from Poseidon and Medousa. Why, then, would it be strange that this wild beast be born from Poseidon? Similarly, other wild beasts were born from him in the sea, as well as marvels and unusual things.

Hesiod laughably etymologizes [the Kyklopes], saying “They were given the nickname Kyklopes / because they have one single circle eye in the middle of their forehead.” But Homer clearly describes  their nature.

For, if it was of that sort, just as he described the other particular features of the Cyclops, like his size, his cruelty, he would have also described his eye! Philoxenos says that he diverged from Hesiod in that the fact he could not see because he was blinded in one eye. For Homer does not say this about all the other Cyclopes. It is likely that Polyphemos lost his other eye for some other reason before Odysseus’ arrival.

Others oppose this, claiming that if he had two eyes and Odysseus blinded one, how would he say what is attributed to him, “Cyclops, if any mortal man asks you who is the blinder of your eye…” He does not say eyes. And in return the Cyclops says “My father is able to heal my eye.” For if he had another eye, properly, and Odysseus were speaking to him in this way, how would he not have taken care of the other eye? But he said “the earth-shaker will not heal [my] eye.” For this very reason people argue about his eye being completely pierced, because of what is said here, if he did not take care of the eye when it was first compromised, he would never be able to heal it.”

From the MFA in Boston, taken artfully on my phone.

 

ζητεῖ ᾿Αριστοτέλης πῶς ὁ Κύκλωψ ὁ Πολύφημος μήτε πατρὸς ὢν Κύκλωπος, Ποσειδῶνος γὰρ ἦν, μήτε μητρὸς, Κύκλωψ ἐγένετο. αὐτὸς δὲ ἑτέρῳ μύθῳ ἐπιλύεται. καὶ γὰρ ἐκ Βορέου ἵπποι γίνονται, καὶ ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος καὶ τῆς Μεδούσης ὁ Πήγασος ἵππος. τί δ’ ἄτοπον ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος τὸν ἄγριον τοῦτον γεγονέναι; ὥσπερ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἐξ αὐτοῦ ἀναλόγως τῇ θαλάσσῃ ἄγρια γεννᾶται ἢ τερατώδη ἢ παρηλλαγμένα. γελοίως δ’ αὐτοὺς ἐτυμολογεῖ ῾Ησίοδος “Κύκλωπες δ’ ὄνομ’ ἦσαν ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρω σφέων κυκλοτερὴς ὀφθαλμὸς ἕεις ἐνέκειτο μετώπῳ.” ὁ δ’ ῞Ομηρος φαίνεται φύσιν αὐτῶν λέγων· εἰ γὰρ ἦν τι τοιοῦτον, ὥσπερ τὰς ἄλλας ἰδιότητας τῶν ὀφθέντων ἔγραψεν ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ Κύκλωπος, τὸ μέγεθος, τὴν ὠμότητα, οὕτω κἂν τὸ περὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ ἔγραψε. φησὶ δὲ ὁ Φιλόξενος ὅτι ἐπλάνησε τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸ τὸν ἕνα ὀφθαλμὸν τυφλωθέντα μηκέτι ὁρᾶν. οὔτε δὲ περὶ πάντων τῶν Κυκλώπων εἶπε τοῦτο ῞Ομηρος, εἰκός τε τὸν Πολύφημον κατά τινα ἄλλην αἰτίαν τὸν ἕτερον τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἀπολωλεκέναι πρὸ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀφίξεως. οἱ δὲ ἀντιλέγοντες τούτῳ φασὶν, εἰ δύο εἶχεν ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὸν ἕνα ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐτύφλωσε, πῶς συμφωνήσει τὸ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ λεγόμενον, “Κύκλωψ, εἰ καί τίς σε καταχθονίων ἀνθρώπων ὀφθαλμοῦ εἴρηται ἀεικελίην ἀλαωτύν” (502.); οὐκ εἶπεν ὀφθαλμῶν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ τὸ προκείμενον παρὰ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι δύναταί μου ὁ Ποσειδῶν ἰάσασθαι τὸν ὀφθαλμόν. εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἑτερόφθαλμος ἤδη ὑπάρχων, ἔλεγεν ἂν αὐτῷ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς, καὶ πῶς τὸν ἕτερον οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν; ἀλλ’ εἶπεν “ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων” (525.). δι’ αὐτοῦ δὲ τούτου ἀπολογοῦνται περὶ τοῦ εἶναι αὐτὸν διόφθαλμον, διὰ τοῦ εἰπεῖν, εἰ τὸν πρῶτον πηρωθέντα ὀφθαλμὸν οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν, οὐδὲ τοῦτον ἰάσεται. H.Q.

These are, of course, the types of investigations for which Seneca would have the most disdain:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too. This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Mocking the quibbles of scholars is where the pejorative use of the term ‘academic’ comes. This is an ancient tradition!

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.22

“You know that somewhere Timo the Philasian calls the Museum a birdcage as he mocks the scholars who are supported there because they were fed like the priciest birds in a big cage:

Many are fed in many-peopled Egypt,
The paper-pushers closed up waging endless war
in the bird-cage of the Muses.

ὅτι τὸ Μουσεῖον ὁ Φιλιάσιος Τίμων ὁ σιλλογράφος (fr. 60 W) τάλαρόν πού φησιν ἐπισκώπτων τοὺς ἐν αὐτῷ τρεφομένους φιλοσόφους, ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν  πανάγρῳ τινὶ σιτοῦνται καθάπερ οἱ πολυτιμότατοι ὄρνιθες·

πολλοὶ μὲν βόσκονται ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πολυφύλῳ
βιβλιακοὶ χαρακῖται ἀπείριτα δηριόωντες
Μουσέων ἐν ταλάρῳ.

The Most Musical and Bellicose Men

Pindar, Fragments from Uncertain Places, 199

“Where the plans of the old
And the spears of young men are the best,
Along with the choruses and the Mouse and Aglaia…”

ἔνθα βουλαὶ γερόντων
καὶ νέων ἀνδρῶν ἀριστεύοισιν αἰχμαί,
καὶ χοροὶ καὶ Μοῖσα καὶ ᾿Αγλαΐα

This is quoted by Plutarchin the Life of Lycurgus (21.3) where he says

“For he has composed this about the Spartans, “where the spear of the young flourishes along with the clear-voiced Muse, and wide-wayed justice”

Pindar also says, “where the councils of the old and the spears of the young are the best along with the choruses and the Muse and Aglaia…”

For these lines demonstrate that they are the most musical and the most bellicose people at the same time.”

ὁ μὲν γὰρ οὕτως πεποίηκε περὶ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων·

῎Ενθ’ αἰχμά τε νέων θάλλει καὶ μοῦσα λίγεια
καὶ δίκα εὐρυάγυια— —

Πίνδαρος δέ φησιν·

῎Ενθα βουλαὶ γερόντων
καὶ νέων ἀνδρῶν ἀριστεύοντι αἰχμαὶ
καὶ χοροὶ καὶ Μοῦσα καὶ ἀγλαΐα.

Μουσικωτάτους γὰρ ἅμα καὶ πολεμικωτάτους ἀποφαίνουσιν αὐτούς

JordanImage from:

Jordan, Borimir. “The Honors for Themistocles after Salamis.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 109, no. 4, 1988, pp. 547–571. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/295081.

 

Who knows what Pindar poem this may have come from or what the context was–chances are it cannot be taken too seriously considering the on-again-off-again relationship between Sparta and Thebes and the fact that everything Pindar composed has to be understood from the perspective of the goal of the overall poem, to praise someone in particular by praising their country, their family, and their patron gods. (See Elroy Bundy’s Studia Pindarica for the clearest explanation of this.)

Reputable Tales about Ariadne; And Strange Ones

The following account is interesting for the variations in the story of Ariadne and Theseus but also for the strange detail of the ritual where young men imitate a woman in childbirth. Also, the counterfeit letters bit is precious. What would they say?.

Other tales about Ariadne, According to Plutarch (Theseus 20)

“There are many other versions circulated about these matters still and also about Ariadne, none of which agree. For some say that she hanged herself after she was abandoned by Theseus. Others claim that after she was taken to Naxos by sailors she lived with Oinaros a priest of Dionysus and that she was abandoned by Theseus because he loved another.

“A terrible lust for Aiglê the daughter of Panopeus ate at him” [fr. 105]—this is a line Hereas the Megarean claims Peisistratus deleted from the poems of Hesiod, just as again he says that he inserted into the Homeric catalogue of dead “Theseus and Perithoos, famous children of the gods” [Od. 11.631] to please the Athenans. There are some who say that Ariadne gave birth to Oinipiôn and Staphulos with Theseus. One of these is Ion of  Khios who has sung about his own city “Oinopiôn, Theseus’ son, founded this city once.” [fr. 4D]

The most reputable of the myths told are those which, as the saying goes, all people have in their mouths. But Paiôn the Amathousian has handed down a particular tale about these events. For he says that Theseus was driven by a storm, to Cyprus and that he had Ariadne with him, who was pregnant and doing quite badly because of the sea and the rough sailing. So he set her out alone and he was carried back into the sea from the land while he was tending to the ship. The native women, then, received Ariadne and they tried to ease her depression because of her loneliness by offering her a counterfeit letter written to her by Theseus and helping her and supporting her during childbirth. They buried her when she died before giving birth.

Paiôn claims that when Theseus returned he was overcome with grief and he left money to the island’s inhabitants, charging them to sacrifice to Ariadne and to have two small statues made for her—one of silver and one of bronze. During the second day of the month of Gorpiaon at the sacrifice, one of the young men lies down and mouns and acts as women do during childbirth. They call the grove in which they claim her tomb is that of Ariadne Aphrodite.

Some of the Naxians claim peculiarly that there were two Minoses and two Ariadnes. They claim one was married to Dionysus on Naxos and bore the child Staphulos, and the young one was taken by Theseus and left when he came to Naxos with a nurse named Korkunê—whose tomb they put on display. They claim that Ariadne died there and has honors unequal to those of the earlier one. The first has a festival of singing and play; the second has one where sacrifices are performed with grief and mourning.”

Πολλοὶ δὲ λόγοι καὶ περὶ τούτων ἔτι λέγονται καὶ περὶ τῆς Ἀριάδνης, οὐδὲν ὁμολογούμενον ἔχοντες. οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἀπάγξασθαί φασιν αὐτὴν ἀπολειφθεῖσαν ὑπὸ τοῦ Θησέως, οἱ δὲ εἰς Νάξον ὑπὸ ναυτῶν κομισθεῖσαν Οἰνάρῳ τῷ ἱερεῖ τοῦ Διονύσου συνοικεῖν, ἀπολειφθῆναι δὲ τοῦ Θησέως ἐρῶντος ἑτέρας· Δεινὸς γάρ μιν ἔτειρεν ἔρως Πανοπηΐδος Αἴγλης. τοῦτο γὰρ τὸ ἔπος ἐκ τῶν Ἡσιόδου Πεισίστρατον ἐξελεῖν φησιν Ἡρέας ὁ Μεγαρεύς, ὥσπερ αὖ πάλιν ἐμβαλεῖν εἰς τὴν Ὁμήρου νέκυιαν τὸ Θησέα Πειρίθοόν τε θεῶν ἀριδείκετα τέκνα,χαριζόμενον Ἀθηναίοις· ἔνιοι δὲ καὶ τεκεῖν ἐκ Θησέως Ἀριάδνην Οἰνοπίωνα καὶ Στάφυλον· ὧν καὶ ὁ Χῖος Ἴων ἐστὶ περὶ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ πατρίδος λέγων· Τήν ποτε Θησείδης ἔκτισεν Οἰνοπίων.

Ἃ δ᾿ ἐστὶν εὐφημότατα τῶν μυθολογουμένων, πάντες ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν διὰ στόματος ἔχουσιν. ἴδιον δέ τινα περὶ τούτων λόγον ἐκδέδωκε Παίων ὁ Ἀμαθούσιος. τὸν γὰρ Θησέα φησὶν ὑπὸ χειμῶνος εἰς Κύπρον ἐξενεχθέντα καὶ τὴν Ἀριάδνην ἔγκυον ἔχοντα, φαύλως δὲ διακειμένην ὑπὸ τοῦ σάλου καὶ δυσφοροῦσαν, ἐκβιβάσαι μόνην, αὐτὸν δὲ τῷ πλοίῳ βοηθοῦντα πάλιν εἰς τὸ πέλαγος ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς φέρεσθαι. τὰς οὖν ἐγχωρίους γυναῖκας τὴν Ἀριάδνην ἀναλαβεῖν καὶ περιέπειν ἀθυμοῦσαν ἐπὶ τῇ μονώσει, καὶ γράμματα πλαστὰ προσφέρειν, ὡς τοῦ Θησέως γράφοντος αὐτῇ, καὶ περὶ τὴν ὠδῖνα συμπονεῖν καὶ βοηθεῖν· ἀποθανοῦσαν δὲ θάψαι μὴ τεκοῦσαν. ἐπελθόντα δὲ τὸν Θησέα καὶ περίλυπον γενόμενον τοῖς μὲν ἐγχωρίοις ἀπολιπεῖν χρήματα, συντάξαντα θύειν τῇ Ἀριάδνῃ, δύο δὲ μικροὺς ἀνδριαντίσκους ἱδρύσασθαι, τὸν μὲν ἀργυροῦν, τὸν δὲ χαλκοῦν. ἐν δὲ τῇ θυσίᾳ τοῦ Γορπιαίου μηνὸς ἱσταμένου δευτέρᾳ κατακλινόμενόν τινα τῶν νεανίσκων φθέγγεσθαι καὶ ποιεῖν ἅπερ ὠδίνουσαι γυναῖκες· καλεῖν δὲ τὸ ἄλσος Ἀμαθουσίους, ἐν ᾧ τὸν τάφον δεικνύουσιν, Ἀριάδνης Ἀφροδίτης.

Καὶ Ναξίων δέ τινες ἰδίως ἱστοροῦσι δύο Μίνωας γενέσθαι καὶ δύο Ἀριάδνας, ὧν τὴν μὲν Διονύσῳ γαμηθῆναί φασιν ἐν Νάξῳ καὶ τοὺς περὶ Στάφυλον τεκεῖν, τὴν δὲ νεωτέραν ἁρπασθεῖσαν ὑπὸ τοῦ Θησέως καὶ ἀπολειφθεῖσαν εἰς Νάξον ἐλθεῖν, καὶ τροφὸν μετ᾿ αὐτῆς ὄνομα Κορκύνην, ἧς δείκνυσθαι τάφον. ἀποθανεῖν δὲ καὶ τὴν Ἀριάδνην αὐτόθι καὶ τιμὰς ἔχειν οὐχ ὁμοίας τῇ προτέρᾳ. τῇ μὲν γὰρ ἡδομένους καὶ παίζοντας ἑορτάζειν, τὰς δὲ ταύτῃ δρωμένας θυσίας εἶναι πένθει τινὶ καὶ στυγνότητι μεμιγμένας.

Image result for Ariadne and Theseus ancient
Athena, Ariadne, and Theseus: IL MUSEO ARCHEOLOGICO NAZIONALE DI TARANTO

Destroyer, Born on the Ground, Pitiable: Etymologies for Helen

In a choral ode from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, we find a folk etymology implied for Helen’s name. Where I have translated “killer”, the Greek has versions of the aorist of αἵρεω (εἶλον) which, without its augment looks like the beginning of Helen’s name (ἑλ-).

 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
Helen?
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois
For a bloody strife.”

Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
πολύανδροί
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Ancient etymologies do not follow this Aeschylean play.

Etym. Gudianum

“Helenê. From attracting [helkein] many to her beauty. Or it is from helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos].”

     ῾Ελένη· … ἀπὸ τοῦ πολλοὺς ἕλκειν ἐν τῷ κάλλει αὐτῆς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἑλκύουσα τοὺς νέους ἀνθρώπους· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγεννῆσθαι.

Etym.  Magnum

“Helenê: A heroine. From helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos]. Or because she was thrown in a marshy [helôdei] place by Tyndareus once she obtained some divine prescience and she was taken back up by Leda. Helenê was named from pity [heleos].”

     ῾Ελένη: ῾Η ἡρωΐς· παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἕλκουσα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους· διὰ τὸ πολλοὺς ἑλεῖν τῷ κάλλει· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγενῆσθαι, ἡ ὑπὸ τοῦ Τυνδάρεω ἐν ἑλώδει τόπῳ ῥιφθεῖσα, θείας δέ τινος προνοίας τυχοῦσα, καὶ ἀναληφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Λήδας. ᾿Εκ τοῦ ἕλους οὖν ῾Ελένη ὠνομάσθη.

Modern linguistics show that Helen’s name is just really hard to figure out.

Some Modern Material

In Lakonia, Helen was original spelled with a digamma. (And this may have extended to Corinth and Chalcidice too Cf. R. Wachter Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions 2001, §251).

74 Von Kamptz 1958, 136 suggests that her name is a “cognate of σέλας” to evoke a sense of “shining”, as in her beauty. Cf. Kanavou 2015, 72

Vedic Saranyu: Skutsch 1987, 189; Puhvel 1987, 141–143 (The initial breathing in Greek often points to a lost initial *s but the digamma in certain dialects confuses this) The Vedic name means swift. The PIE root suggested here is *suel-.

Helen has variously been suggested as coming from a vegetation goddess (see Helena Dendritis, Paus. 3.19.9–10; Herodotus 6.61; cf. Skutsch 1987) or a goddess of light.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen

Rich People Need the Poor

Lucian, Saturnalia 33 (for more Lucian go to the Scaife viewer)

“See that they don’t blame you any longer but honor you and have affection for you because they take part in these things. While the cost is of little account to you, the gift in their time of need will always be remembered. Furthermore, you would not be able to live in cities if the poor did not live there with you and make your happiness possible in countless ways. You would have no one to amaze with your wealth if you were rich alone, in private, and without anyone knowing.

So, let the masses gaze upon and wonder at your silver, your fine tables, and then, when you are toasting them, have them weigh their cups while they drink, consider the weight of the gold applied with skill, and contemplate the truth of the story it tells. In addition to hearing them call you noble and philanthropic, you will fall outside their envy. For who begrudges someone who shares and gives a little portion? And who wouldn’t pray for him to live as long as possible, benefiting from his goods? Right now, your blessings go unwitnessed, your wealth is an object of envy, and your life is not pleasant.”

Ὁρᾶτε οὖν ὅπως μηκέτι ὑμᾶς αἰτιάσωνται, ἀλλὰ τιμήσωσι καὶ φιλήσωσι τῶν ὀλίγων τούτων μεταλαμβάνοντες· ὧν ὑμῖν μὲν ἡ δαπάνη ἀνεπαίσθητος, ἐκείνοις δὲ ἐν καιρῷ τῆς χρείας ἡ δόσις ἀείμνηστος. ἄλλως τε οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἰκεῖν δύναισθε τὰς πόλεις μὴ οὐχὶ καὶ πενήτων συμπολιτευομένων καὶ μυρία πρὸς τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν ὑμῖν συντελούντων, οὐδ᾿ ἂν ἔχοιτε τοὺς θαυμάζοντας ὑμῶν τὸν πλοῦτον, ἢν μόνοι καὶ ἰδίᾳ καὶ ὑπὸ σκότῳ πλουτῆτε. ἰδέτωσαν οὖν πολλοὶ καὶ θαυμασάτωσαν ὑμῶν τὸν ἄργυρον καὶ τὰς τραπέζας καὶ προπινόντων φιλοτησίας, μεταξὺ πίνοντες περισκοπείτωσαν τὸ ἔκπωμα καὶ τὸ βάρος ἴστωσαν αὐτοὶ διαβαστάσαντες καὶ τῆς ἱστορίας τὸ ἀκριβὲς καὶ τὸν χρυσὸν ὅσος, ὃς ἐπανθεῖ τῇ τέχνῃ. πρὸς γὰρ τῷ χρηστοὺς καὶ φιλανθρώπους ἀκούειν καὶ τοῦ φθονεῖσθαι ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἔξω γενήσεσθε. τίς γὰρ ἂν φθονήσειε τῷ κοινωνοῦντι καὶ διδόντι τῶν μετρίων; τίς δ᾿ οὐκ ἂν εὔξαιτο εἰς τὸ μήκιστον διαβιῶναι αὐτὸν ἀπολαύοντα τῶν ἀγαθῶν; ὡς δὲ νῦν ἔχετε, ἀμάρτυρος μὲν ἡ εὐδαιμονία, ἐπίφθονος δὲ ὁ πλοῦτος, ἀηδὴς δὲ ὁ βίος.

Midas, transmitting all gold into paper, print by James Gillray

 

Fantastic Friday: Why Crows Are Banned from The Acropolis

We have posted about the strange story of Erikhthonios before, but this account not only contains an aetiological myth for the absence of crows but also has some strange details, like Athena trying to bring a mountain to Athens. Antigonus of Carystus allegedly compiled his collections of wonders in the 3rd Century BCE.

Antigonus Paradoxographus, Historiae Mirabiles 12

 “Amelêsagoras the Athenian, author of the Atthis, claims that the crow does not fly to the Akropolis and that no one can say he has seen it happen. He provides the cause of this as a myth.

For he says that when Athena was given to Hephaestos that she disappeared right after she laid down with him and Hephaistos ejaculated his seed on the ground. The earth later produced for Hephaestos Erikhthonios whom Athena cared for but then closed in a basket and handed over to the daughters of Kekrops, Agraulos, Pandrosos, and Hersê.  She told them not to open the basket until she returned.

When she left for Pellênê to bring back a mountain in order to make a defensive barrier before the city, two of Kekrops’ daughters—Agraulos and Pandrosos—opened the basket and saw two snakes around Erikhthonios.

[Amelêsagoras] claims that a crow went to Athena as she was carrying the mountain which is now called Lykabettos and told her that Erikhthonios was in the open. When she heard this, she threw the mountain to where it is now, said tat it would no longer right for the crow to go to the Akropolis because of his evil message.”

᾿Αμελησαγόρας δὲ ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος, ὁ τὴν ᾿Ατθίδα συγγεγραφώς, οὔ φησι κορώνην προσίπτασθαι πρὸς τὴν ἀκρόπολιν, οὐδ’ ἔχοι ἂν εἰπεῖν ἑωρακὼς οὐδείς.  ἀποδίδωσιν δὲ τὴναἰτίαν μυθικῶς. φησὶν γάρ, ῾Ηφαίστῳ δοθείσης τῆς ᾿Αθηνᾶς, συγκατακλιθεῖσαν αὐτὴν ἀφανισθῆναι, τὸν δὲ ῞Ηφαιστον εἰς γῆν πεσόντα προΐεσθαι τὸ σπέρμα, τὴν δὲ γῆν ὕστερον αὐτῷ ἀναδοῦναι ᾿Εριχθόνιον, ὃν τρέφειν τὴν ᾿Αθηνᾶν καὶ εἰς κίστην καθεῖρξαι καὶ παραθέσθαι ταῖς Κέκροπος παισίν, ᾿Αγραύλῳ καὶ Πανδρόσῳ καὶ ῞Ερσῃ, καὶ ἐπιτάξαι μὴ ἀνοίγειν τὴν κίστην, ἕως ἂν αὐτὴ ἔλθῃ. ἀφικομένην δὲ εἰς Πελλήνην φέρειν ὄρος, ἵνα ἔρυμα πρὸ τῆς ἀκροπόλεως ποιήσῃ, τὰς δὲ Κέκροπος θυγατέρας τὰς δύο, ῎Αγραυλον καὶ Πάνδροσον, τὴν κίστην ἀνοῖξαι καὶ ἰδεῖν δράκοντας δύο περὶ τὸν ᾿Εριχθόνιον· τῇδὲ ᾿Αθηνᾷ φερούσῃ τὸ ὄρος, ὃ νῦν καλεῖται Λυκαβηττός, κορώνην φησὶν ἀπαντῆσαι καὶ εἰπεῖν ὅτι ᾿Εριχθόνιος ἐν φανερῷ, τὴν δὲ ἀκούσασαν ῥίψαι τὸ ὄρος ὅπου νῦν ἐστιν, τῇ δὲ κορώνῃ διὰ τὴν κακαγγελίαν εἰπεῖν ὡς εἰς ἀκρόπολιν οὐ θέμις αὐτῇ ἔσται ἀφικέσθαι.

Related image
Apollo with Crow (or Raven), 5th Century BCE

Porn-Songs and Camel-Sparrows: The Suda’s Strange Sirens

From the Suda, s.v. Seirênas

“The Sirens were some Greek women with beautiful voices in ancient Greek myth who sat on some island and so delighted passers-by with their euphony that they stayed there until death.  From the chest up they had the shape of sparrows but their lower halves were woman.

The mythographers claim that they were small birds with female faces who deceived passers-by, beguiling the ears of those who heard them with pornographic songs. And the song of pleasure has no end that is good, only death.

But the true story is this: there are certain places in the sea, narrowed between hills, which release a high song when the water is compressed into them. When people who sail by hear them they entrust their souls to the water’s swell and they die along with their ships.

The creatures who are called Sirens and Donkey-centaurs in Isaiah are some kind of demons who are foretold for abandoned cities which fall under divine wrath. The Syrians say they are swans. For after swans bathe, they fly from the water and sing a sweet melody in the air. This is why Job says, “I have become the Sirens’ brother, the companion of ostriches. This means that I sing my sufferings just like the ostriches.”

He calls the Sirens strouthoi, but he means what we call ostriches [strouthokamêmlos: “sparrow-camel”]. This is a bird which has the feet and neck of a donkey. There is a saying in the Epigrams “that chatter is sweeter than the Sirens’”. The Sirens were named Thelksiepeia, Peisinoê, and Ligeia. The Island they inhabited was called Anthemousa.”

Σειρῆνας: γυναῖκάς τινας εὐφώνους γεγενῆσθαι μῦθος πρὶν ῾Ελληνικός, αἵ τινες ἐν νησίῳ καθεζόμεναι οὕτως ἔτερπον τοὺς παραπλέοντας διὰ τῆς εὐφωνίας, ὥστε κατέχειν ἐκεῖ μέχρι θανάτου. εἶχον δὲ ἀπὸ μὲν τοῦ θώρακος καὶ ἄνω εἶδος στρουθῶν, τὰ δὲ κάτω γυναικῶν.

οἱ μυθολόγοι Σειρῆνας φασὶ θηλυπρόσωπά τινα ὀρνίθια εἶναι, ἀπατῶντα τοὺς παραπλέοντας, ᾄσμασί τισι πορνικοῖς κηλοῦντα τὰς ἀκοὰς τῶν ἀκροωμένων. καὶ τέλος ἔχει τῆς ἡδονῆς ἡ ᾠδὴ ἕτερον μὲν οὐδὲν χρηστόν, θάνατον δὲ μόνον. ὁ δὲ ἀληθὴς λόγος τοῦτο βούλεται, εἶναι τόπους τινὰς θαλαττίους, ὄρεσί τισιν ἐστενω-μένους, ἐν οἷς θλιβόμενον τὸ ῥεῖθρον λιγυράν τινα φωνὴν ἀποδίδωσιν· ἧς ἐπακούοντες οἱ παραπλέοντες ἐμπιστεύουσι τὰς ἑαυτῶν ψυχὰς τῷ ῥεύματι καὶ αὔτανδροι σὺν ταῖς ναυσὶν ἀπόλλυνται.

αἱ δὲ παρὰ τῷ ᾿Ησαΐᾳ εἰρημέναι Σειρῆνες καὶ ᾿Ονοκένταυροι δαίμονές τινές εἰσιν, οὕτω χρηματιζόμενοι ἐπ’ ἐρημίᾳ πόλεως, ἥτις χόλῳ θεοῦ γίνεται. οἱ δὲ Σύροι τοὺς κύκνους φασὶν εἶναι. καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι λουσάμενοι καὶ ἀναπτάντες ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ τοῦ ἀέρος ἡδύ τι μέλος ᾄδουσιν. ὁ  οὖν ᾿Ιὼβ λέγει, ἀδελφὸς γέγονα Σειρήνων, ἑταῖρος δὲ στρουθῶν. τουτέστιν ᾄδω τὰς ἐμαυτοῦ συμφοράς, ὥσπερ Σειρῆνες.

στρουθοὺς δὲ λέγει, ὃν ἡμεῖς στρουθοκάμηλον λέγομεν, ὄρνεον μὲν ὄντα, πόδας δὲ καὶ τράχηλον ὄνου κεκτημένον. καὶ ἐν ᾿Επιγράμμασι· καὶ τὸ λάλημα κεῖνο τὸ Σειρήνων γλυκύτερον. ὀνόματα Σειρήνων· Θελξιέπεια, Πεισινόη, Λιγεία· ἡ δὲ νῆσος ἣν κατῴκουν ᾿Ανθεμοῦσα.

Image result for Medieval manuscript Greek Sirens
Mirror of History, a MS from Ghent (J. Paul Getty Museum)

Some Useful Principles On Science and Fear

Some of Epicurus’ Maxims (taken from Diogenes Laertius‘ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers)

  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

  1. “There is no profit in making yourself secure against other people as long as you fear what happens above and below the earth or elsewhere in the endless universe.”

XIII. Οὐθὲν ὄφελος ἦν τὴν κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἀσφάλειαν κατασκευάζεσθαι τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑπόπτων καθεστώτων καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ ἁπλῶς τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ.

Marble head of Epicurus, 2nd century A.D. copy of greek statue of the 1st half of the 3rd century B.C. MET Museum, Wikimedia Commons