Ancient Greek Abstract Art

The title of this post will most likely strike the reader as nonsensical. The canon of Graeco-Roman art, populated with statues of athletes, friezes of battles, a Pompeian fresco or two of dancing fauns, seems to leave no space for abstraction. Most of us think of classical art as uniformly figurative, and we perceive this mimetic tradition as unbroken until the nineteenth century, when experimental figures like J. M. W. Turner begin to display an ever-lesser interest in the minute reproduction of the visually perceptible world.

The likes of Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich, it is commonly thought, deal the final blow to the formerly unchallenged tradition of representational art as they start to paint pure abstractions, art bearing no trace of reference to anything recognizable. This straightforward narrative of linear development is challenged in a striking story told by Pliny in his Natural History. In a fascinating anecdote, surprisingly little-known given the extraordinary evidence it presents, Pliny introduces us to the world’s first abstract painting, composed by the celebrated painters Apelles and Protogenes in the fourth century BC.

The story goes as follows. Apelles, the most accomplished painter of all time according to Pliny, once visited the studio of the likewise respected Protogenes, curious to see the works he had so far only heard rumors of. He found nobody there except an old slave and an empty canvas ready for painting. Instead of telling the slave to inform Protogenes of his arrival, Apelles simply drew an exquisitely fine line on the empty canvas and left. When Protogenes returned and examined the line, he instantly knew that Apelles had been there, as only he could have drawn something that perfect.

In reply, Protogenes drew an even finer line in different color upon the previous one and went out again. Soon, Apelles returned and found himself surpassed in Protogenes’ reply. He took up another color and drew an even finer, barely discernible line upon the previous two, leaving no space for anything more delicate to be executed, and left. At this point, Protogenes conceded defeat and went out in search of Apelles to finally make his acquaintance. Left behind in the studio was a piece of abstract art.

Sharing the fate of the vast majority of classical art, not a single painting by either Apelles or Protogenes has survived until the present day. Some believe that we can catch a glimpse of Apelles’ work in the Pompeian Venus Rising from the Sea, speculating that it is a copy of the artist’s renowned version of the motif.

So far, there is nothing exceptional in this story. The Natural History is full of such more or less believable anecdotes of artistic dexterity. Pliny, marvelling at the extraordinary verisimilitude in the finest examples of realist painting, relates how horses would neigh when confronted with Apelles’ painting of a horse, and how birds would peck at Zeuxis’ likeness of grapes. Apelles’ Pollock-like technique of throwing a wet sponge at his canvas to create the effect of foam sounds more unorthodox, yet ultimately results in a meticulously realistic reproduction of the recognizable world as well.

Apelles’ and Protogenes’ painting makes no such attempt at mimesis. This would still be nothing surprising in a mere display of artistic skill, and so far the story has not suggested that the painters perceived their competition as anything more. But in a tantalizing twist at the end, Pliny recounts how Apelles and Protogenes thought it appropriate to treat this exercise as a finished work of art, and how it was displayed to an admiring and appreciative public, even only recently at the Imperial palace on the Palatine:

Among the most elaborate works it had all the appearance of a blank space; and yet by that very fact it attracted the notice of everyone, and was held in higher estimation than any other painting there.

audio … [tabulam] spatiose nihil aliud continentem quam lineas visum effugientes, inter egregia multorum opera inani similem et eo ipso allicientem omnique opere nobiliorem.
Naturalis Historia 35.36.83

(Full Latin text available on the Scaife Viewer)

Although the fame of the artists and the virtuosity manifest in the minuteness of the lines must have contributed to the painting’s charm, these features were not of most interest to the ancient audience according to Pliny. It was rather the very emptiness of the painting that was admired, and it was its very blankness that earned it the estimation as the finest piece of art in the exquisite Imperial collection. The abstract composition was clearly perceived as art. The three solitary lines were weighed with reference to the surrounding figurative pieces and chosen as the finest among them. The spectators perceived the abstract, non-representational piece as capable of giving the same kind of aesthetic pleasure as the figurative art they were used to, and they even found the pleasure derived from contemplating this absence of presence in some way superior. For a modern reader, this anecdote conjures up the extraordinary image of ancient Romans crowding around and admiring a minimalist abstract painting, oblivious of the surrounding portraits of gods and goddesses.

The simplicity of The Magic of Color (Joan Miró, 1930), showing three circles of different size and color on a vast empty surface, is a modern parallel to the almost bare canvas once exhibited on the Palatine.

Unsurprisingly, the story of Apelles and Protogenes’ experiment did not gain particular traction with early modern artists. Its oddity and simplicity provided little opportunity for opulent classicising compositions and were for a long time overshadowed by tales such as Apelles’ painting and falling in love with Alexander’s mistress Campaspe, subject of numerous renaissance and baroque nudes. One may expect a sudden surge of interest in the anecdote to appear with the emergence of abstract art, yet it does not seem to have resonated with early avantgardists except Guillaume Apollinaire.

In a short 1912 article, Apollinaire writes on the elusiveness of the subject in cubist art and calls this absence of representation ‘pure painting’, providing admirers with ‘artistic sensations due exclusively to the harmony of lights and shades and independent of the subject depicted in the picture’. He finds a precedent of such practice in the piece by Apelles and Protogenes, yet nevertheless calls cubism ‘an entirely new plastic art’, apparently uninterested in tracing continuities and eager to portray the avantgarde as a revolutionary breakthrough.

Apollinaire was right in not ascribing too much weight to Pliny’s story and treating it as nothing more than a fascinating curiosity. The painting by Apelles and Protogenes was an isolated case rather than an example of a flourishing abstract tradition in ancient Greek art. The fame of the artists and the ancient admiration of finesse must have been pivotal in enabling this extraordinary, one-off abstract exhibition.

Yet this does not mean that we should not take the story seriously. Rather, it can serve as a reminder that simplistic, traditionalist narratives often overlook the most fascinating details, in the case of art history negating the variety and diversity of artistic expression. Western artbooks skimp over the striking impressionism of Song Dynasty splashed-ink paintings, preceding Turner’s first works by over half a millennium. Women like Georgiana Houghton and Hilma af Klint painted pure abstractions before Kandinsky and Malevich but still gain little recognition for their work. Just so, visitors to the Imperial palace were capable of enjoying ‘artistic sensations due exclusively to the harmony of lights and shades’ long before the first cubist exhibition.

Hilma af Klint’s The Ten Biggest No 7 (1907) predates abstract attempts by Kandinsky, Picabia and others.

Alex Tadel is a recent graduate from an MSt in Greek and Latin Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford. Stationed in Ljubljana, Slovenia, she is taking a short break from academia and working as a freelance writer, researcher and tutor.

An Ancient Greek Horror Story to Make You Scream

CW: Violence against children; infanticide; violence against an intersex person. There are a range of intersex tales in ancient Greece, for ancient criticism of their superstitious and salacious nature, go here.

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.”

When the mob ran together in strife over surrendering the monster, he reached for the child and and pushed off most of the people 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.

Rider BM B1.jpg

Write This Down: You are the City. You Are the people

Aeschylus, Suppliants 179-180

“I suggest you safeguard my words by writing them on tablet in your minds”
αἰνῶ φυλάξαι τἄμ᾿ ἔπη δελτουμένας

Aeschylus, Suppliants, 200-204

“Don’t be too aggressive or broken in speech:
These people are especially ready to be angry.
Remember to be accommodating: you are a foreign refugee in need.
To speak boldly is not a fitting move for the weak.”

καὶ μὴ πρόλεσχος μηδ᾿ ἐφολκὸς ἐν λόγῳ
γένῃ· τὸ τῇδε κάρτ᾿ ἐπίφθονον γένος.
μέμνησο δ᾿ εἴκειν· χρεῖος εἶ, ξένη, φυγάς·
θρασυστομεῖν γὰρ οὐ πρέπει τοὺς ἥσσονας.

Aeschylus, Suppliants, 370-375

“You are the city, really. You are the people.
An unjudged chief of state rules
The altar, the city’s hearth,
With only your votes and nods,
With only your scepter on the throne
You judge every need. Be on guard against contamination!”

σύ τοι πόλις, σὺ δὲ τὸ δάμιον·
πρύτανις ἄκριτος ὢν
κρατύνεις βωμόν, ἑστίαν χθονός,
μονοψήφοισι νεύμασιν σέθεν,
μονοσκήπτροισι δ᾿ ἐν θρόνοις χρέος
πᾶν ἐπικραίνεις· ἄγος φυλάσσου.

File:Nicolas Bertin - The Danaides in Hell.jpg

The Danaides in hell, by Nicolas Bertin

Aeschylus, Suppliants 991-997

“Write this down with the many other notes
In your mind of the wisdoms from your father:
An unfamiliar mob is evaluated by time,
But everyone has an evil tongue prepared to lash out
over immigrants and speaking foully is somehow easy.
I advise you not to bring me shame
Now that you are in the age which turns mortal gazes.”

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν γράψασθε πρὸς γεγραμμένοις
πολλοῖσιν ἄλλοις σωφρονίσμασιν πατρός,
ἀγνῶθ᾿ ὅμιλον ἐξελέγχεσθαι χρόνῳ·
πᾶς δ᾿ ἐν μετοίκῳ γλῶσσαν εὔτυκον φέρει
κακήν, τό τ᾿ εἰπεῖν εὐπετὲς μύσαγμά πως.
ὑμᾶς δ᾿ ἐπαινῶ μὴ καταισχύνειν ἐμέ,
ὥραν ἐχούσας τήνδ᾿ ἐπίστρεπτον βροτοῖς

Trojan Fan Fic: Astyanax, The Boy Who Lived

In the tradition of Greek Myth, Hektor’s son Astyanax is well-known for being killed during the sack of the city. Other traditions weren’t having this. To wit, Servius:

Servius Danielis on Vergil, Aeneid, 9.264

devicta genitor (sc. Aeneas) quae cepit Arisba]

“Which his father took once Arisba was conquered…”

“(And yet, according to Homer, Arisba sent aid to the Trojans and was overcome by Achilles)…the city is called Arisba after the daughter of Merpos or Macareus who was the first wife of Paris. According to some authors, Abas, who wrote the Troika, related that after the Greeks left Troy, the rule of this city was given to Astyanax. Antenor expelled him once he had allied himself with the states neighboring where Arisba’s location. Aeneas took this badly and took up arms for Astyanax; once the expedition was prosecuted successfully, he returned the kingdom to Astyanax.”

[[atqui secundum Homerum Arisba Troianis misit auxilia et ab Achille subversa est …]] dicta est Arisba ab Meropis vel Macarei filia, quam primum Paris in coniugio habuit. quidam ab Abante, qui Troica scripsit, relatum ferunt, post discessum a Troia Graecorum Astyanacti ibi datum regnum. hunc ab Antenore expulsum sociatis sibi finitimis civitatibus, inter quas et Arisba fuit. Aeneam hoc aegre tulisse et pro Astyanacte arma cepisse, ac prospere gesta re Astyanacti restituisse regnum.

 

Image result for astyanax greek vase
Image taken from this article by Mary Louise Hart

Miraculous Things and Gullible People

Palaephatus, Peri Apistôn 1

“I have composed this work about unbelievable things because rather gullible people believe everything that is said because they are unfamiliar with wisdom or knowledge—but those who are naturally sharper and concerned with many things disbelieve that anything like these things happened at all.

It seems to be that everything which has been narrated happened—for names do not develop on their own when no story exists about them, instead the fact is there first and then a story develops later—but however many shapes and notions are described and existed in the past but do not exist now, these sorts of things never existed at all. For if anything existed at some point in the past, then it also exists now and will again in the future.

And I am always praising the authors Melissos and Lamiskos of Samos who say “What there was in the beginning exists now and will be. But the poets and the storytellers twisted what happened to more unbelievable and amazing things for the sake of surprising people. But I know that if these things couldn’t have happened at all they would not be stories.”

Τάδε περὶ τῶν ἀπίστων συγγέγραφα. ἀνθρώπων γὰρ οἱ μὲν εὐπειθέστεροι πείθονται πᾶσι τοῖς λεγομένοις, ὡς ἀνομίλητοι σοφίας καὶ ἐπιστήμης, οἱ δὲ πυκνότεροι τὴν φύσιν καὶ πολυπράγματοι ἀπιστοῦσι τὸ παράπαν μηδὲ γενέσθαι τι τούτων. ἐμοὶ δὲ δοκεῖ γενέσθαι πάντα τὰ λεγόμενα (οὐ γὰρ ὀνόματα μόνον ἐγένοντο, λόγος δὲ περὶ αὐτῶν οὐδεὶς ὑπῆρξεν· ἀλλὰ πρότερον ἐγένετο τὸ ἔργον, εἶθ’ οὕτως ὁ λόγος ὁ περὶ αὐτῶν)· ὅσα δὲ εἴδη καὶ μορφαί εἰσι λεγόμεναι καὶ γενόμεναι τότε, αἳ νῦν οὐκ εἰσί, τὰ τοιαῦτα οὐκ ἐγένοντο. εἰ γάρ <τί> ποτε καὶ ἄλλοτε ἐγένετο, καὶ νῦν  τε γίνεται καὶ αὖθις ἔσται. ἀεὶ δὲ ἔγωγε ἐπαινῶ τοὺς συγγραφέας Μέλισσον καὶ Λαμίσκον τὸν Σάμιον „ἐν ἀρχῇ” λέγοντας „ἔστιν ἃ ἐγένετο, καὶ νῦν ἔσται”. γενομένων δέ τινα οἱ ποιηταὶ καὶ λογογράφοι παρέτρεψαν εἰς τὸ ἀπιστότερον καὶ θαυμασιώτερον, τοῦ θαυμάζειν ἕνεκα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ἐγὼ δὲ γινώσκω ὅτι οὐ δύναται τὰ τοιαῦτα εἶναι οἷα καὶ λέγεται·

A bonnacon uses feces for weapons. 

Helen’s Other Sisters

Ever wondered why Helen left Menelaos or why her sister Klytemnestra cheated on Agamemnon (other than the obvious)? Ancient poetry traced it back to a sin of their father

Schol. Ad Euripides’ Orestes 249:

“Stesichorus says that when Tyndareus was sacrificing to the gods he overlooked Aphrodite. For this reason, the angry goddess made his daughters thrice and twice married abandoners of husbands. The segment reads like this:

“Because when Tyndareus was sacrificing to all the gods
He neglected only the gentle-giving Kyprian
She was enraged and she made the daughters of Tyndareus
Twice and thrice married deserters of husbands.”

A fragment of Hesiod agrees with this (fr. 176):

“Smile-loving Aphrodite
Was enraged when she saw them: then she hung bad fame upon them.
After that, Timandra abandoned Ekhemos and left;
She went to Phyleus who was dear to the holy gods.
And so Klytemnestra abandoned shining Agamemnon
To lie alongside Aigisthos as she chose a lesser husband;
In the same way, Helen shamed the marriage-bed of fair Menelaos…”

Στησίχορός φησιν ὡς θύων τοῖς θεοῖς Τυνδάρεως ᾿Αφροδίτης ἐπελάθετο• διὸ ὀργισθεῖσαν τὴν θεὸν διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους καὶ λειψάνδρους αὐτοῦ τὰς θυγατέρας ποιῆσαι. ἔχει δὲ ἡ χρῆσις οὕτως [frg. 26]•
‘οὕνεκά ποτε Τυνδάρεως
ῥέζων πᾶσι θεοῖς μόνης λάθετ’ ἠπιοδώρου
Κύπριδος, κείνα δὲ Τυνδάρεω κούραις
χολωσαμένη διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους τίθησι
καὶ λιπεσάνορας’.

καὶ ῾Ησίοδος δέ [frg. 117]•
τῆισιν δὲ φιλομμειδὴς ᾿Αφροδίτη
ἠγάσθη προσιδοῦσα, κακῆι δέ σφ’ ἔμβαλε φήμηι.
Τιμάνδρη μὲν ἔπειτ’ ῎Εχεμον προλιποῦσ’ ἐβεβήκει,
ἵκετο δ’ ἐς Φυλῆα φίλον μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν•
ὣς δὲ Κλυταιμνήστρη <προ>λιποῦσ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονα δῖον
Αἰγίσθῳ παρέλεκτο, καὶ εἵλετο χείρον’ ἀκοίτην.
ὣς δ’ ῾Ελένη ᾔσχυνε λέχος ξανθοῦ Μενελάου…

This passage provides an explanation for why the daughters of Tyndareus—Helen and Andromache—were unfaithful: it was Aphrodite’s game from the beginning because their father did not worship her correctly. A few interesting aspects here: first, Helen is “thrice-married” because after Paris dies, she marries Deiphobus (although some accounts associate her with Theseus too). Second, Hesiod’s fragmentary poems seems to be in the process of cataloging women who leave their husbands.

The first woman in the tale is Timandra, who, according to only this passage, was a third daughter of Tyndareus who left her husband Ekhemos, a king of Arcadia. They had a son together, named Leodocus before she eloped with Phyleus. In another fragment from Hesiod (fr. 23) we learn more about the family of Tyndareus and Leda:

“After climbing into the lush bed of Tyndareus
Well-tressed Leda, as fair as the rays of the moon,
Gave birth to Timandra, cow-eyed Klytemnestra,
And Phylonoe whose body was most like the immortal goddesses.
Her…the arrow bearing goddesss
Made immortal and ageless for all days.”

ἣ μὲν [Τυνδαρέου θαλερὸν λέχο]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα
Λήδη ἐ̣[υπλόκαμος ἰκέλη φαέεσσ]ι σελήνης
γείνατ[ο Τιμάνδρην τε Κλυταιμήστρ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν
Φυλο̣[νόην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀθαν]άτηισι.
τ̣ὴ̣ν[ ἰο]χέαιρα,
θῆκ[εν δ’ ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀγήραον ἤ]ματα πάντ̣[α. (7-12)

Later on in the same fragment –after hearing about the marriage and children of Klytemnestra—we learn about Timandra:

“Ekhemos made Timandra his blooming wife,
The man who was the lord of all Tegea and Arcadia, wealthy in sheep,
A rich man who was dear to the gods.
She bore to him Laodakos, the horse-taming shepherd of the host,
After she was subdued by golden Aphrodite.”

Τιμάνδρην δ’ ῎Εχεμος θαλερὴν ποιήσατ’ ἄκοιτιν,
ὃς πάσης Τεγ[έης ἠδ’ ᾿Αρκαδίης] πολυμήλου
ἀφνειὸς ἤνασ[σε, φίλος μακάρεσσι θ]ε̣ο[ῖ]σ̣ιν•
ἥ οἱ Λαόδοκον̣ μ[εγαλήτορα ποιμέν]α̣ λαῶν
γ]είνα[θ]’ ὑποδμη[θεῖσα διὰ] χρυσῆν ᾿Αφ[ροδίτην (28-31)

This section of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women seems to be mentioning only Leda’s children with Tyndareus and not those possibly fathered by Zeus (Helen, Kastor, Polydeukes). But we hear nothing of the future of Leda’s attractive daughter Phylonoe (also spelled Philonoe) other than that Artemis made her immortal. The ancient sources? Nothing at all to explain this.

Here’s what Apollodorus has to say (3.126):

“The sons of Ikarios and the Naiad nymph Periboia were Thoas, Damasippos, Imeusimos, Aletes, Perileôs, and a daughter Penelope, whom Odysseus married. Tyndareus and Lêda had Timandra, whom Ekhemos married, and Klytemnestra, whom Agamemnon married, and also Pylonoê, whom Artemis made immortal.”

᾿Ικαρίου μὲν οὖν καὶ Περιβοίας νύμφης νηίδος Θόας Δαμάσιππος ᾿Ιμεύσιμος ᾿Αλήτης Περίλεως, καὶ θυγάτηρ Πηνελόπη, ἣν ἔγημεν ᾿Οδυσσεύς· Τυνδάρεω δὲ καὶ

Λήδας Τιμάνδρα, ἣν ῎Εχεμος ἔγημε, καὶ Κλυταιμνήστρα, ἣν ἔγημεν ᾿Αγαμέμνων, ἔτι τε Φυλονόη, ἣν ῎Αρτεμις ἀθάνατον ἐποίησε.

Apart from the appearance in the fragment from Hesiod, the only other mention of Phylonoê in classical literature is in the work of the early Christian philosopher and apologist, Athenagoras of Athens (3rd Century CE) who wrote works to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus defending Christianity. In his Legativo sive Suppliatio pro Christianis he writes of how to foreigners it may seem laughable if “a Lakedaimonian honors Zeus-Agamemnon or Phylonoê, the daughter of Tyndareus.” (ὁ δὲ Λακεδαιμόνιος ᾿Αγαμέμνονα Δία καὶ Φυλονόην τὴν Τυνδάρεω θυγατέρα καὶ τεννηνοδίαν † σέβει, 1.1.6).

But there is no other information about why Phylonoê was made immortal or what her cult-rites (if they existed were like).  Now, given the motifs usually associated with Artemis and the story told by Hesiod about the daughters of Tyndareus and their curse, the following scenario is possible. Perhaps Phylonoê, conscious of the curse, dedicated herself to Artemis and was saved from her sisters’ fate before her first marriage.

If we return to that passage from Hesiod (fr. 23) we can see just how much is reconstructed. Below is the text with and without the supplements

ἣ μὲν [Τυνδαρέου θαλερὸν λέχο]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα                     7
Λήδη ἐ̣[υπλόκαμος ἰκέλη φαέεσσ]ι σελήνης                        8
γείνατ[ο Τιμάνδρην τε Κλυταιμήστρ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν              9
Φυλο̣[νόην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀθαν]άτηισι.                     10
τ̣ὴ̣ν[                             ἰο]χέαιρα,                    11
θῆκ[εν δ’ ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀγήραον ἤ]ματα πάντ̣[α.                 12

ἣ μὲν [                                               ]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα                     7
Λήδη ἐ̣[                                              ]ι σελήνης                         8
γείνατ[                                              ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν                     9
Φυλο̣[                                                 ]άτηισι.                           10
τ̣ὴ̣ν[                             ἰο]χέαιρα,                                              11
θῆκ[                                                   ]ματα πάντ̣[α.                     12

It is clear that without the passage from Apollodorus and the slight bit from Athenagoras, there wouldn’t be too much to go on here. The reconstruction of line 12 seems fairly safe based on the classic formula used there (note line 24 in the same fragment: θῆκεν δ’ ἀθάνατο[ν καὶ ἀγήρ]αον ἤμα[τα πάντα). Line seven is a rather decent restoration based on Leda in the next line. Line 11 seems like I might need at least a name for the goddess (although, this is not necessary, see line 21 in the same fragment: εἴδω[λον· αὐτὴν δ’ ἐλαφηβό]λο̣ς ἰοχέαιρα) leaving room for some allusion to what transpired to earn Phylonoê immortality.

But the whole passage seems a bit strange to me because it proceeds with a mirrored catalogue: the daughters are listed (A) Timandra, (B) Klytemnestra and (C) Phylonoê. The following elaborations are (C) Pholonoê 10-12, (B) Klytemnestra, 13-30, (A) Timandra, 31-36. This puts the most elaborated story in the middle, as well as offering a mirrored tale.

Helen boarding a ship for Troy, wall painting from Pompeii

A Tunic of Flesh and Kirke as an Allegory

Plutarch’s Moralia Fr. 200

“Our fated nature is identified by Empedocles as the force behind this remaking, “wrapping [us] in a tunic of strange flesh” and transferring souls to a new place. Homer has called this circular revolution and the return of rebirth by the name Kirke, a child of Helios, the one who unites every destruction with birth and destruction again, binding it endlessly.

The Island Aiaia is that place which revives the person who dies, a place where the souls first step when they are wandering and feel like strangers to themselves as they mourn and cannot figure out which direction is west nor where the “sun which brings life to people over the land / descends again into the earth.”

These souls long for their habits of pleasure and their life in the flesh and the way they lived with their flesh and they fall again into that mixture where birth swirls together and truly stirs into one the immortal and moral, the material of thought and experience, elements of heaven and earth. The souls are enchanted but also weakened by the pleasures that pull them to birth again. At that time, souls require a great amount of good luck and much wisdom to find some way to resist and depart from their worst characters and become bound to their most base parts or passions and take up a terrible and beastly life.”

Αὐτῆς γὰρ τῆς μετακοσμήσεως εἱμαρμένη καὶ φύσις ὑπὸ Ἐμπεδοκλέους δαίμων ἀνηγόρευται σαρκῶν ἀλλογνῶτι περιστέλλουσα χιτῶνι καὶ μεταμπίσχουσα τὰς ψυχάς, Ὅμηρος δὲ τὴν ἐν κύκλῳ περίοδον καὶ περιφορὰν παλιγγενεσίας Κίρκην προσηγόρευκεν, Ἡλίου παῖδα τοῦ πᾶσαν φθορὰν γενέσει καὶ γένεσιν αὖ πάλιν φθορᾷ συνάπτοντος ἀεὶ καὶ συνείροντος. Αἰαίη δὲ νῆσος ἡ δεχομένη τὸν ἀποθνήσκοντα μοῖρα καὶ χώρα τοῦ περιέχοντος, εἰς ἣν ἐμπεσοῦσαι πρῶτον αἱ ψυχαὶ πλανῶνται καὶ ξενοπαθοῦσι καὶ ὀλοφύρονται καὶ οὐκ ἴσασιν ὅπῃ ζόφος οὐδ᾿ ὅπῃ ἠέλιος φαεσίμβροτος εἶσ᾿ ὑπὸ γαῖαν,ποθοῦσαι δὲ καθ᾿ ἡδονὰς τὴν συνήθη καὶ σύντροφον ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ μετὰ σαρκὸς δίαιταν ἐμπίπτουσιν αὖθις εἰς τὸν κυκεῶνα, τῆς γενέσεως μιγνύσης εἰς ταὐτὸ καὶ κυκώσης ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀίδια καὶ θνητὰ καὶ φρόνιμα καὶ παθητὰ καὶ ὀλύμπια καὶ γηγενῆ, θελγόμεναι καὶ μαλασσόμεναι ταῖς ἀγούσαις αὖθις ἐπὶ τὴν γένεσιν ἡδοναῖς, ἐν ᾧ δὴ μάλιστα πολλῆς μὲν εὐτυχίας αἱ ψυχαὶ δέονται πολλῆς δὲ σωφροσύνης, ὅπως μὴ τοῖς κακίστοις ἐπισπόμεναι καὶ συνενδοῦσαι μέρεσιν ἢ πάθεσιν αὑτῶν κακοδαίμονα καὶ θηριώδη βίον ἀμείψωσιν.

Aristotle, Physiognomics 808b

“[in this case] the soul and the body would experience things together, but they would not have the same reactions as one another. But, now, it is entirely clear that one follows another. This is especially obvious from the following. For madness seems to be a matter of the mind; doctors, however, respond to it by cleansing the body with medicines and also by telling them to pursue certain habits in life which may relieve the mind of madness.

So, the form of the body is relieved by treatments to the body at the very same time that the soul is freed from madness. Since they are both relieved together, it is clear that their reactions are in synchrony. It is also clear from this that the forms special to the body are similar to the capabilities of the mind, with the result that all similarities in living things are clear signs of some kind of sameness.”

ἡ ψυχή τε καὶ τὸ σῶμα συμπαθῆ, οὐ μέντοι συνδιατελοῦντα ἀλλήλοις. νῦν δὲ καταφανὲς ὅτι ἑκάτερον ἑκατέρῳ ἕπεται. μάλιστα μέντοι ἐκ τοῦδε δῆλον γένοιτο. μανία γὰρ δοκεῖ εἶναι περὶ ψυχήν, καὶ οἱ ἰατροὶ φαρμάκοις καθαίροντες τὸ σῶμα καὶ διαίταις τισὶ πρὸς αὐτοῖς χρησάμενοι ἀπαλλάττουσι τὴν ψυχὴν τῆς μανίας. ταῖς δὴ τοῦ σώματος θεραπείαις καὶ ἅμα ἥ τε τοῦ σώματος μορφὴ λέλυται καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ μανίας ἀπήλλακται. ἐπειδὴ οὖν ἅμα ἀμφότερα λύονται, δῆλον ὅτι συνδιατελοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις. συμφανὲς δὲ καὶ ὅτι ταῖς δυνάμεσι τῆς ψυχῆς ὅμοιαι αἱ μορφαὶ τοῖς σώμασιν ἐπιγίνονται, ὥστ᾿ ἐστὶν ἅπαντα ὅμοια ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις τοῦ αὐτοῦ τινὸς δηλωτικά.

Epictetus, Fr. 26

“Epictetus used to say, ‘you’re a tiny soul lugging around a corpse’.”

Ψυχάριον εἶ βαστάζον νεκρόν, ὡς Ἐπίκτητος ἔλεγεν.

Related image
Wright Barker (British, 1863-1941) – “Circe” c.1889

#NANAIHB Final Results, Diomedes Wins! (Or, does he?)

Welcome to the semifinal of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round was equally lopsided, leaving us with two ‘classic’ matches. Odysseus vs. Ajax and Patroklos vs. Diomedes. Ajax prevailed in the first match. Today, the final left Tydeus’ son at 52.5% and Ajax the Great behind at 47.5.

NANAIHB Day 12

In nearly a decade of war and distractions only Muse-blessed singers can imagine, the Achaeans had previously believed that they had witnessed every wonder available for mortal witnesses. But as the day turned to night and Ajax and Diomedes stood facing each other in arms, they stood  and yelled loudly to one another about the fight between Telamon’s giant of a son, and the city-sacking, horse-taming son of Tydeus. To think, what short memories mortals have when they quickly forget the wonders that have come before!

Ajax pushed his brother Teucer and Ajax away from him and motioned for Agamemnon to leave the circle, speaking first: “Diomedes, strong son of Tydeus, let’s skip the boasting and taunting and save our breaths. No mortal knows what the next way will bring. So let us fight now and then join again in wine as friends before this day is over.” The Achaeans cheered at Ajax’s greeting and Diomedes smiled, yelling in response, “Aye, you massive tower of an Achaean, proud Telamon’s son. It is no boast to claim that one of us will win, any more than it is to say that one day we both will die. May Athena who loves Argos and Poseidon who watches the Salaminian straits favor each of us today!”

The two heroes entered battle without spears and immediately clashed together. The sound of bronze striking bronze rang out once, twice, and then three times, echoing over the fields no less than when Typhoeus came rushing down from the Sky or when the Hundred-handers scoured the Titans from the earth. On the walls of Troy, Priam trembled as he watched, that such warriors awaited his people and Hektor cried tears of sorrow that he was not a champion on that day. Only Helen was still, lost in thoughts that with such two heroes alive, she had married Menelaos and Paris in turn.

Again and again sword struck shield and the only difference anyone could see was the slow changes in speed. Ajax’s massive shield was not meant for leaping and defending against Tydeus’ furious son. With each clash, the Telamonian’s left fell slightly lower. Diomedes knew and he rushed. Again and again he struck his opponent’s shield with sword and shield of his own. Ajax roared and slipped back too slow. Diomedes leapt over his shield, drew a long line of blood from Ajax’s shoulder and stood facing him from behind.

Ajax nodded his head and knelt, yielding. Patroklos shouted out*:

“Telamonian Ajas was indeed best of men
As long as Achilles was in rage. For he is so strong!
But now, see here one who seems to be the best of the Achaeans
And of the rest of the Danaans after Peleus’ blameless son.
This overawing son of Tydeus, Diomedes!

ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας,
ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν· ὃ γὰρ πολὺ φέρτατος ἦεν,
νῦν δ’ ἴδεν ὃς μέγ’ ἄριστος ᾿Αχαιῶν φαίνεται εἶναι,
τῶν τ᾿ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα·
οὕτος τε Τυδέος υἱὸς ὑπέρθυμος Διομήδης

The Achaeans roared in assent to Patroklos’ declaration and they all marveled at godlike Diomedes as he stood like a pillar in the middle of the assembly.

Diomedes with the Palladion

Amid the fervor, Nestor heard what sounded like distant weeping. He looked to see Odysseus sitting apart from the men, covering his face to muffle the sound of his groaning. Diomedes also heard and approached Odysseus, drawing the Achaeans’ attention along with him. Exuberant from his win, Diomedes briskly slapped his comrade on the arm and said “Wily Odysseus! Why do you heave these tears? You may have lost the day, but this war will be a song for men to come! Troy has not yet fallen. Perhaps one day they will sing how you became the best of the Achaeans—after Achilles and myself!”

Odysseus and Diomedes Steal the Palladion

Some men laughed, but Odysseus wept even louder. He now had the whole army’s attention, and they all fell silent as the contest slipped into memory. Achilles alone understood and whispered to Diomedes “My mother told me more than my own fate. He does not weep for his loss, but for theirs.” As Odysseus collected himself and rose he said “Friends, I am not accustomed to defeat, but Diomedes has proven to be the better of us. No man among men will soon overshadow this day.” Odysseus then embraced Diomedes and only Achilles caught his smile over other the hero’s shoulder.

Diomedes (on the left) exchanging weapons with Glaucus, a captain of the Lycian army. Attic red-figure pelike by the Hasselmann Painter, ca. 420 BC. 

*These lines are creatively adapted from the Iliad

**Special thanks to Justin Arft for helping with the ending

Odysseus slays Diomedes?

#NANAIHB The Final Smackdown: Ajax vs. Diomedes

Welcome to the semifinal of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round was equally lopsided, leaving us with two ‘classic’ matches. Odysseus vs. Ajax and Patroklos vs. Diomedes. Ajax prevailed in the first match. Today, the match we were all waiting for.

NANAIHB Day 12

Ajax

In the Odyssey, Ajax is best in size and looks / of all the Danaans after Peleus’ blameless son” Αἴαντός θ’, ὃς ἄριστος ἔην εἶδός τε δέμας τε / τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα. (11.469-470) and in the Iliad he is curiously the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 1.768-769). I think that these moments acknowledge how important Ajax is in the Trojan War, but indicate, perhaps, that this importance is softened in the Iliad. In iconography of the 6th and 5th Centuries BCE, Ajax appears in some of the most memorable repeated images: seated, playing a game with Achilles; carrying Achilles’ corpse from the battle field; fighting with Odysseus over Achilles’ weapons; and taking his own life on Hektor’s sword. In the Iliad, he is really important in book 9 (when he is part of the embassy to Achilles) but on the battle field, he lags behind Diomedes, Odysseus, Patroklus, and Achilles (check this info-graphic). Ajax is a versatile killer: in the Iliad he slays with spear, sword and stone. Compared to Diomedes, however, Ajax may be just a replacement level Achilles.

So, maybe Ajax’s secondariness was always important in the Homeric tradition? Well, now we have a chance to make it official

Achilles Ajax dice Louvre MNB911 n2.jpg
Achilles (on the left) and Ajax the Great (on the right) playing dice, identified by inscriptions. Detail of a white-figure Attic lekythos.

Diomedes has some important presence in myth outside of the Iliad too, most famously for taking Thebes with the Epigonoi (a lost epic), giving him the right to claim himself better than his father. He is important following the events of the Iliad where he helps Odysseus get the palladion from Troy (only to almost get murdered for it.

Homer seems to have a special place for Diomedes. He is there doing what Achilles should be when Peleus’ son is absent; and he mostly disappears when Achilles is gone. (He even gets wounded in the foot by Paris!) He has the greatest number of kills of all the Achaeans, but, a good third of them are against unarmed men. There may be a little two much Odysseus to this figure—which may be the point. Diomedes is, in a way, something of a compromise between the ruthless intelligence of Odysseus and the brute force of Achilles. Importantly, Diomedes accomplishes a lot of his action through speech, perhaps allowing him to become the kind of political figure Achilles could have been, if not for his overpowering rage.

 

May the (second) best hero win.

Aias Carrying Body of Achilles - detail from Francois vase c 565 BCE fForence Italy Arch Museum.jpg
Large Attic Black-figure volute-krater dating to c. 570-565 BC

Ajax body Achilles Louvre F201.jpg
Ajax carrying the dead Achilleus, protected by Hermes (on the left) and Athena (on the right). Side 1 from an Attic black-figure neck-amphora, ca. 520-510 BC.

#NANAIHB Semifinals, Match 2: Patroklos vs. Diomedes

Welcome to the semifinal of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round was equally lopsided, leaving us with two ‘classic’ matches. Odysseus vs. Ajax and Patroklos vs. Diomedes. Ajax prevailed in the first match. Today Diomedes meets Patroklos

NANAIHB Day 12

Semifinal 2 Results: Diomedes Prevails!

The Achaean assembly was buzzing like a hive in adoration of its queen as Patroklos and Diomedes prepared to face one another. In the seasdie corner, Achilles helped Patroklos put on his armor, talking constantly with encouragement and advice about Diomedes’ tendency to drop his shield arm when parrying to the left. Those near him could hear Achilles tell Patroklos that Diomedes was far superior with his sword and it would be best to finish him quickly.

Aged Nestor and Sthenelos stood next to Diomedes as he watch the preparations. Tydeus’ son had been standing in full armor for over an hour. Many of the Achaeans had arrived at the assembly to find him already there, staring out towards the sea.

As Agamemnon stepped into the center to call the contest’s start, those near Diomedes could hear him praying:

“Hear me, Atrutônê, dear child of Aegis bearing Zeus.
If ever you also stood alongside my father in concern
Amid the violent battle, care for me now in turn, Athena.”

κλῦθί μευ αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς τέκος ᾿Ατρυτώνη,
εἴ ποτέ μοι καὶ πατρὶ φίλα φρονέουσα παρέστης
δηΐῳ ἐν πολέμῳ, νῦν αὖτ’ ἐμὲ φῖλαι ᾿Αθήνη·

Across from him, Patroklos turned and raised his hands to the sea, intoning:

“Hear me, fine haired Thetis, mother of Achilles,
Hear me, goddess, come as a good helper for my feet.”

κλῦθί μευ καλλιπλοκάμε Θέτι μῆτερ Ἀχιλῆος
κλῦθι θεά, ἀγαθή μοι ἐπίρροθος ἐλθὲ ποδοῖιν.

As Agamemnon called out, Patrklos hurled his spear first and Diomedes redirected it with his shield only to barely dodge the next spear headed for his right thigh. Patroklos had sent the first spear wide left to draw Diomedes’ spear arm. Tydeus’ son was saved from a quick injury by a gust of wind that left the errant spear to graze the strong belt near his hip.

Diomedes took careful aim and launched one spear after another, missing easily each time as Patroklos sped from side to side, racing towards him. Diomedes leaned down and picked up a stone with one hand so large two men with a cart and a bar could not move it today and he waited. Patroklos was closing on him and when he was two strides away, Diomedes launched the stone in the air, dropped his shield and punched Patroklos square in the chest. As the hero fell back, the stone plummeted, narrowly missed Patroklos’ head, but landing on the end of his left foot, crushing the toes.

Diomedes vaunted, “Patroklos, yield, the fame of your fury will reach your father’s ears.” And the Achaeans laughed because Diomedes’ wordplay had exceeded Agamemnon’s earlier attempts as much as his valor in war surpassed the Atreids’. Patroklos, yelled back “Son of Tydeus, you are certainly strong in war, but you have not beat me yet.” As Patroklos got to his feet, Achilles roared from the sideline, “Be careful Diomedes, you can scar his face, but I don’t want another wound to his legs!” And, as expected, the gathered Achaeans started laughing again.

Patroklos drew his sword and the two began to circle, feinting and parrying. Diomedes kept pressing him to move on his injured foot, and Menoitios’ son stayed light and fast, but his sword work was slower and his shield arm was wearing from the relentless strikes meted out by Tydeus’ son.NANAIHB Day 12 (2)

The crowd was restless and calling out to Diomedes to finish it. But Patroklos kept fighting. To everyone’s surprise, Patroklos faked slipping on his injured foot and came around to cut deeply into Diomedes’ left arm. Diomedes dropped his shield and stood there, surprised and suddenly still. Patroklos roared in victory and rushed at him. Diomedes stepped aside, parried the charge, and let Patrklos’ speed take him forward. He brought the butt of his sword back around and smashed it into his opponent’s helmet. Patroklos crumpled to the ground.

Achilles yelled, “Stay your sword, violent son of Tydeus. My Patroklos yields.” The Achaeans erupted in cheers as Sthenelos helped Diomedes tend to his wound and Achilles came over to lift Patroklos from the ground.

*τὸ κλέος μένεος ὦτα εἰς πατρὶδος ἔρχοιτο! Diomedes echoed the name of Menoitios in “fury to ears” [Meneos ota] while also echoing Patroklos’ name with “fame [kleos] to your father [patridos]”

Achilles tending Patroclus’ wound

The final round starts tomorrow: Ajax vs. Diomedes for the title of Second best of theAchaeans!