The Omen Before the Wall

Homer, Iliad 12. 195–229

“As long as they were stripping them of their gleaming weapons,
The young men who were the best and the greatest in number were following
Poulydamas and Hektor, they were especially eager to break the wall
And set fire to the ships. They were still struggling standing before the wall
When a bird went over them as they were struggling to cross it,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive, breathing: it had not yet lost its fighting spirit.
For it struck back at the bird who held him in the skin along the chest
As it bent double. And the bird tossed him away to the ground
tortured with pains. It dropped the snake in the middle of the throng
But flew away on the breath of the wind, sounding out in pain.
The Trojans shivered when they saw the winding serpent
Lying there, a sign from Aegis-bearing Zeus.

Then Polydamas stood aside and addressed bold Hektor:
“Hektor, you are always threatening me in the public assemblies for some reason,
Even when I advise well, since it is not ever deemed proper
For some member of the people to advise differently, either in council
Or in war. Instead, we must always increase your strength.
But now I will tell you what seems to me to be best.
Let’s not go to fight the Danaans around their ships.
I think that it will turn out this way, if truly this bird
Came over the Trojans as we struggled to cross the wall,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive. For it dropped it before it could return to its dear home
And did not complete the task of giving it to his children.
In the same way we, if we break through the gates and walls
Of the Achaeans by means of great strength and the Achaeans yield
So too we will not find the same paths in order among the ships.
We will lose many Trojans there as the Achaeans
Strike them down with bronze will defending the ships/
This is how a prophet would interpret, one who clearly understands
In his heart divine signs and one the people obey.”

῎Οφρ’ οἳ τοὺς ἐνάριζον ἀπ’ ἔντεα μαρμαίροντα,
τόφρ’ οἳ Πουλυδάμαντι καὶ ῞Εκτορι κοῦροι ἕποντο,
οἳ πλεῖστοι καὶ ἄριστοι ἔσαν, μέμασαν δὲ μάλιστα
τεῖχός τε ῥήξειν καὶ ἐνιπρήσειν πυρὶ νῆας,
οἵ ῥ’ ἔτι μερμήριζον ἐφεσταότες παρὰ τάφρῳ.
ὄρνις γάρ σφιν ἐπῆλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωὸν ἔτ’ ἀσπαίροντα, καὶ οὔ πω λήθετο χάρμης,
κόψε γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔχοντα κατὰ στῆθος παρὰ δειρὴν
ἰδνωθεὶς ὀπίσω· ὃ δ’ ἀπὸ ἕθεν ἧκε χαμᾶζε
ἀλγήσας ὀδύνῃσι, μέσῳ δ’ ἐνὶ κάββαλ’ ὁμίλῳ,
αὐτὸς δὲ κλάγξας πέτετο πνοιῇς ἀνέμοιο.
Τρῶες δ’ ἐρρίγησαν ὅπως ἴδον αἰόλον ὄφιν
κείμενον ἐν μέσσοισι Διὸς τέρας αἰγιόχοιο.
δὴ τότε Πουλυδάμας θρασὺν ῞Εκτορα εἶπε παραστάς·
῞Εκτορ ἀεὶ μέν πώς μοι ἐπιπλήσσεις ἀγορῇσιν
ἐσθλὰ φραζομένῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδὲ ἔοικε
δῆμον ἐόντα παρὲξ ἀγορευέμεν, οὔτ’ ἐνὶ βουλῇ
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐν πολέμῳ, σὸν δὲ κράτος αἰὲν ἀέξειν·
νῦν αὖτ’ ἐξερέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα.
μὴ ἴομεν Δαναοῖσι μαχησόμενοι περὶ νηῶν.
ὧδε γὰρ ἐκτελέεσθαι ὀΐομαι, εἰ ἐτεόν γε
Τρωσὶν ὅδ’ ὄρνις ἦλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωόν· ἄφαρ δ’ ἀφέηκε πάρος φίλα οἰκί’ ἱκέσθαι,
οὐδ’ ἐτέλεσσε φέρων δόμεναι τεκέεσσιν ἑοῖσιν.
ὣς ἡμεῖς, εἴ πέρ τε πύλας καὶ τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν
ῥηξόμεθα σθένεϊ μεγάλῳ, εἴξωσι δ’ ᾿Αχαιοί,
οὐ κόσμῳ παρὰ ναῦφιν ἐλευσόμεθ’ αὐτὰ κέλευθα·
πολλοὺς γὰρ Τρώων καταλείψομεν, οὕς κεν ᾿Αχαιοὶ
χαλκῷ δῃώσωσιν ἀμυνόμενοι περὶ νηῶν.
ὧδέ χ’ ὑποκρίναιτο θεοπρόπος, ὃς σάφα θυμῷ
εἰδείη τεράων καί οἱ πειθοίατο λαοί.

Eagle with Snake from Olympia, c. 5th Century BCE

Who Was the Second Most Beautiful Greek At Troy?

Homer, Iliad. 2.673–674

“Nireus who was the most beautiful man who came to Troy
Of the rest of the Danaans, after Peleus’ blameless son.
But he was weak and a small army followed him.”

Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε
τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα·
ἀλλ’ ἀλαπαδνὸς ἔην, παῦρος δέ οἱ εἵπετο λαός.

Scholia b. ad Il.2.673 ex

<Lemma> his beauty in reputation was not of a kind with his family; Achilles, however, was adorned in both ways. Because [the poet] was a philhellene, he was trying to make everyone worthy of memory and used to praise everyone as far as he might be believed and so that we might imagine the Greeks to be differentiated in their manliness, or their body, or their beauty.”

ex. <Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος—μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλείωνα:> οὐδὲ ἓν πρὸς δόξαν κάλλος ἀγεννές· ᾿Αχιλλεὺς δὲ ἀμφοτέροις κεκόσμηται. φιλέλλην δὲ ὢν πάντας ἀξιομνήστους ποιεῖ καὶ πάντας ἐπαινεῖ, ὅπως πιστεύοιτο, καὶ ἵνα τοὺς ἐν ἀνδρείᾳ καὶ σώματι καὶ κάλλει διαφέροντας εἰδῶμεν ῞Ελληνας. b(BCE3E4)

Schol. A ad Hom. Il. 2.673 ex

“Diplai have been applied to question these three lines because Zenodotus athetized two of them, although he did not mark the middle one, (674) because Homer always strove to have Achilles stand out far in front of the rest.”

Νιρεὺς ὃς κάλλιστος<—εἵπετο λαός>: τρισὶ στίχοις παράκεινται διπλαῖ περιεστιγμέναι, ὅτι ἐκ τῶν τριῶν τοὺς δύο (sc. 673. 675) ἠθέτηκε Ζηνόδοτος, τὸν δὲ μέσον (sc. 674) οὐδὲ ἔγραφεν, τοῦ ῾Ομήρου φιλοτιμουμένου ἐν πᾶσι τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα προτεροῦντα στῆσαι. A

Galen, Adhortio ad artes addiscendas 8.28

“And because of that, Homer mentioned [Nireus] only once and in the Catalog Of Ships, as it seems to me, to make a demonstration of the uselessness of the most beautiful men, when they have none of the other things that are useful for life.”

καὶ διὰ τοῦθ’ ἅπαξ αὐτοῦ μόνον ἐμνημόνευσεν ῞Ομηρος ἐν νεῶν καταλόγῳ πρὸς
ἐπίδειξιν, ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν, τῆς τῶν καλλίστων ἀνδρῶν ἀχρηστίας, ὅταν αὐτοῖς ὑπάρχῃ
μηδὲν ἄλλο τῶν εἰς τὸν βίον χρησίμων.

From the Suda

Nireus: the beautiful and handsome man. Neireus, a snail. Nêreus, the man of the sea.

Νιρεύς: ὁ καλὸς καὶ εὔμορφος. Νειρεύς, ὁ κόχλος, Νηρεύς, ὁ
θαλάσσιος.

Image result for ancient greek vase beautiful man
MFA: Caskey-Beazley, Attic Vase Paintings (MFA), no. 002.

Of Testament and Testicles: How to Make a Binding Oath

Natalis Comes, Mythologiae, 6.23

“Tyndareus allegedly called Helen’s suitors together and had them swear over the testicles of a castrated horse that they would defend Helen….

After they took the oath, they buried the horse on site as Pausanias writes in talking about Laconia. Indeed, it was a common practice of the ancients to take oaths over the testicles of sacrificial animals. This is why when Herakles made a treaty with the sons of Neleus, they swore an oath over the testicles of the sacrificed boar and the dual pledge to provide confirmation of the oath, as Hekataios writes in his Phoroneus.”

Tyndarus dicitur procos Helenae convocasse, qui super equi execti testibus iurarunt se Helenam defensuros … post illud iuramentum Tyndarus equum in eo loco infodit, sicuti scripsit Pausanias in Laconicis. fuit enim antiquorum consuetudo ut super testibus victimarum plerunque iuraretur, cum foedera inter aliquos percuterentur. idcirco ubi Hercules foedus iniit cum liberis Nelei, fide ultro citroque data, sue mactato, super eius testibus et ipse et illi iurarunt atque confirmarunt iuramentum insuper factum, ut scripsit in Phoroneo Hecataeus.

Greek Gallery, Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany. Complete indexed photo collection at WorldHistoryPics.com.

She Used to Love Him, Then She Had to Kill Him…

Tellis BNJ 61 F 1a (=Eustathios Comm. Ad Hom. Od.11.538, p. 1696, 51)

“But Tellis records that Penthesileia killed Achilles and, after Thetis begged him, Zeus returned him to life and he killed her instead. Penthesileia’s father, Ares, took Thetis to court. Poseidon was the judge and he ruled against Ares.”

…Τέλλις δὲ ἱστορεῖ Πενθεσίλειαν ἀνελεῖν τὸν ᾽Αχιλλέα, αἰτησαμένης δὲ Θέτιδος τὸν Δία ἀναστῆναι αὐτὸν καὶ ἀντανελεῖν ἐκείνην. ῎Αρεα δὲ πατέρα Πενθεσιλείας δίκην λαχεῖν Θέτιδι· κριτὴν δὲ γενόμενον Ποσειδῶνα κατακρῖναι ῎Αρην.

Photios, Novel History 

“The Sixth book has the following table of contents: how Achilles, killed by Penthesileia, returned to life after his mother made this request, and then returned to Hades after killing Penthesileia”

τὸ δὲ ς̄ βιβλίον (sc. Πτολεμαίου) κεφάλαια περιέχει τάδε· ὡς ᾽Αχιλλεὺς ὑπὸ Πενθεσιλείας ἀναιρεθείς, δεηθείσης αὐτοῦ τῆς μητρὸς Θέτιδος, ἀναβιοῖ, καὶ ἀνελὼν Πενθεσίλειαν εἰς ῞Αιδου πάλιν ὑποστρέφει.

Penthesileia in Agrigento https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarah_c_murray/5556332339

Dio Chrysostom on Preferring Even Unpleasant Lies to the Truth

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11 (“On the Fact that Troy Was Never Sacked”)

“I know with some certainly that it is hard to teach all people, but easy to deceive them. And if they learn anything, they scarcely learn it from the few who do really know, while they are easily deceived by many who know nothing, and not only by others, but by themselves too. For the truth is bitter and unpleasant to the ignorant; a lie, however, is sweet and appealing. In the same way, I suppose, light is unpleasant for those with diseased eyes to see, while the darkness is harmless and dear, even if they cannot see. Or, how else would lies often be stronger than the truth, unless they prevailed because of pleasure? Although it is hard to teach, as I was saying, it is harder in every way to re-teach when people have heard lies for a long time and, even worse, when they have not been alone in their delusion, but their fathers, grandfathers and nearly every forebear has been deceived with them.

For it is not easy to take a false belief from them, not even if someone should refute it completely. Similarly, I imagine that, when children have been raised with superstitious beliefs, it is hard for someone to speak the truth later regarding the very things they would not have accepted if someone had just told them in the beginning. This impulse is so strong that many prefer wicked things and agree that they belong to them properly, if they have previously believed so, instead of good things they hear later on.”

Image result for Trojan Horse ancient Greek

Οἶδα μὲν ἔγωγε σχεδὸν ὅτι διδάσκειν μὲν ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντας χαλεπόν ἐστιν, ἐξαπατᾶν δὲ ῥᾴδιον. καὶ μανθάνουσι μὲν μόγις, ἐάν τι καὶ μάθωσι, παρ’ ὀλίγων τῶν εἰδότων, ἐξαπατῶνται δὲ  τάχιστα ὑπὸ πολλῶν τῶν οὐκ εἰδότων, καὶ οὐ μόνον γε ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑφ’ αὑτῶν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς πικρόν ἐστι καὶ ἀηδὲς τοῖς ἀνοήτοις, τὸ δὲ ψεῦδος γλυκὺ καὶ προσηνές. ὥσπερ οἶμαι καὶ τοῖς νοσοῦσι τὰ ὄμματα τὸ μὲν φῶς ἀνιαρὸν ὁρᾶν, τὸ δὲ σκότος ἄλυπον καὶ φίλον, οὐκ ἐῶν βλέπειν. ἢ πῶς ἂν ἴσχυε τὰ ψεύδη πολλάκις πλέον τῶν ἀληθῶν, εἰ μὴ δι’ ἡδονὴν ἐνίκα;

χαλεποῦ δέ, ὡς ἔφην, ὄντος τοῦ διδάσκειν, τῷ παντὶ χαλεπώτερον τὸ  μεταδιδάσκειν, ἄλλως τε ὅταν πολύν τινες χρόνον ὦσι τὰ ψευδῆ ἀκηκοότες καὶ μὴ μόνον αὐτοὶ ἐξηπατημένοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ πατέρες αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ πάπποι καὶ σχεδὸν πάντες οἱ πρότερον. οὐ γάρ ἐστι ῥᾴδιον τούτων ἀφελέσθαι τὴν δόξαν, οὐδ’ ἂν πάνυ τις ἐξελέγχῃ. καθάπερ οἶμαι τῶν τὰ ὑποβολιμαῖα παιδάρια θρεψάντων χαλεπὸν ὕστερον ἀφελέσθαι τἀληθῆ λέγοντα ἅ γε ἐν ἀρχῇ, εἴ τις αὐτοῖς ἔφρασεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἀνείλοντο. οὕτω δὲ τοῦτο ἰσχυρόν ἐστιν ὥστε πολλοὶ τὰ κακὰ μᾶλλον προσποιοῦνται καὶ ὁμολογοῦσι καθ’ αὑτῶν, ἂν ὦσι πεπεισμένοι πρότερον, ἢ τἀγαθὰ μετὰ χρόνον ἀκούοντες.

 

“I would not even be surprised, Trojan men, that you believed Homer was more trustworthy when he told the harshest lies about you than me when I told that truth—since you believe him to be a divine man and wise and you have taught your children epic right from the beginning, even though he has only curses for your city, and untrue ones at that. But you wouldn’t accept that I describe things as they are and have been, because I am many years younger than Homer. Certainly, most people say that time is also the best judge of affairs, and, whenever they hear something after a long time, they disbelieve it for this very reason.

If I were dare to speak against Homer among the Argives and to show in addition that his poetry was false concerning the greatest matters, chances are they would be rightfully angry with me and expel me from the city if I appeared to be erasing and cleansing their fame. But it is right that you have some gratitude towards me and listen eagerly. I have stood in defense of your ancestors. I say at the outset to you that these stories have by necessity already been recited by others and that many have learned them. Some of those men will not understand them; others will pretend to discount them, even though they do not, and still others will try to refute them, especially, I think, those ill-fated sophists. But I know clearly that they will not be pleasing to you. For most men have their minds corrupted by fame to the extent that they would prefer to be infamous for the greatest failures rather than be unknown and suffer no evil.”

οὐκ ἂν οὖν θαυμάσαιμι καὶ ὑμᾶς, ἄνδρες ᾿Ιλιεῖς, εἰ πιστότερον ἡγήσασθαι ῞Ομηρον τὰ χαλεπώτατα ψευσάμενον καθ’ ὑμῶν ἢ ἐμὲ τἀληθῆ λέγοντα, κἀκεῖνον μὲν ὑπολαβεῖν θεῖον ἄνδρα καὶ σοφόν, καὶ τοὺς παῖδας εὐθὺς ἐξ ἀρχῆς τὰ ἔπη διδάσκειν οὐθὲν ἄλλο ἢ κατάρας ἔχοντα κατὰ τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ταύτας οὐκ ἀληθεῖς, ἐμοῦ δὲ μὴ ἀνέχοισθε τὰ ὄντα καὶ γενόμενα λέγοντος, ὅτι πολλοῖς ἔτεσιν ὕστερον ῾Ομήρου γέγονα. καίτοι φασὶ μὲν οἱ πολλοὶ τὸν χρόνον τῶν πραγμάτων * καὶ κριτὴν ἄριστον εἶναι, ὅτι δ’ ἂν ἀκούωσι μετὰ πολὺν χρόνον, διὰ τοῦτο ἄπιστον νομίζουσιν. εἰ μὲν οὖν παρ’ ᾿Αργείοις ἐτόλμων ἀντιλέγειν ῾Ομήρῳ, καὶ τὴν ποίησιν αὐτοῦ δεικνύναι ψευδῆ περὶ τὰ μέγιστα, τυχὸν ἂν εἰκότως ἤχθοντό μοι καὶτῆς πόλεως ἐξέβαλλον εἰ τὴν παρ’ ἐκείνων δόξαν ἐφαινόμην ἀφανίζων καὶ καθαιρῶν· ὑμᾶς δὲ δίκαιόν ἐστί μοι χάριν εἰδέναι καὶ ἀκροᾶσθαι προθύμως· ὑπὲρ γὰρ τῶν ὑμετέρων προγόνων ἐσπούδακα. προλέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι τοὺς λόγους τούτους ἀνάγκη καὶ  παρ’ ἑτέροις ῥηθῆναι καὶ πολλοὺς πυθέσθαι· τούτων δὲ οἱ μέν τινες οὐ συνήσουσιν, οἱ δὲ προσποιήσονται καταφρονεῖν, οὐ καταφρονοῦντες αὐτῶν, οἱ δέ τινες ἐπιχειρήσουσιν ἐξελέγχειν, [μάλιστα δὲ οἶμαι τοὺς κακοδαίμονας σοφιστάς.] ἐγὼ δὲ ἐπίσταμαι σαφῶς ὅτι οὐδὲ ὑμῖν πρὸς ἡδονὴν ἔσονται. οἱ γὰρ πλεῖστοι τῶν ἀνθρώπων οὕτως ἄγαν εἰσὶν ὑπὸ δόξης διεφθαρμένοι τὰς ψυχὰς ὥστε μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσι περιβόητοι εἶναι ἐπὶ τοῖς μεγίστοις ἀτυχήμασιν ἢ μηδὲν κακὸν ἔχοντες ἀγνοεῖσθαι.

 

“For I think that the Argives themselves would not wish for the matters concerning Thyestes, Atreus and the descendants of Pelops to have been any different, but would be severely angry if someone were to undermine the myths of tragedy, claiming that Thyestes never committed adultery with Atreus wife, nor did the other kill his brother’s children, cut them up, and set them out as feast for Thyestes, and that Orestes never killed his mother with his own hand. If someone said all of these things, they would take it harshly as if they were slandered.

I imagine that things would go the same among the Thebans, if someone were to declare that their misfortunes were lies, that Oedipus never killed his father nor had sex with his mother, nor then blinded himself, and that his children didn’t die in front of the wall at each other’s hands, and the Sphinx never came and ate their children. No! instead, they take pleasure in hearing that the Sphinx came and ate their children, sent to them because of Hera’s anger, that Laios was killed by his own son, and Oedipus did these things and wandered blind after suffering, or how the children of previous king of theirs and founder of the city, Amphion, by Artemis and Apollo because they were the most beautiful men. They endure musicians and poets singing these things in their presence at the theater and they make contests for them, whoever can sing or play the most stinging tales about them. Yet they would expel a man who claimed these things did not happen. The majority has gone so far into madness that their obsession governs them completely. For they desire that there be the most stories about them—and it does not matter to them what kind of story it is. Generally, men are not willing to suffer terrible things because of cowardice, because they fear death and pain. But they really value being mentioned as if they suffered.”

 

αὐτοὺς γὰρ οἶμαι τοὺς ᾿Αργείους μὴ ἂν ἐθέλειν ἄλλως γεγονέναι τὰ περὶ τὸν Θυέστην καὶ τὸν ᾿Ατρέα καὶ τοὺς Πελοπίδας, ἀλλ’ ἄχθεσθαι σφόδρα, ἐάν τις ἐξελέγχῃ τοὺς μύθους τῶν τραγῳδῶν, λέγων ὅτι οὔτε Θυέστης ἐμοίχευσε τὴν τοῦ ᾿Ατρέως οὔτε ἐκεῖνος ἀπέκτεινε τοὺς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ παῖδας οὐδὲ κατακόψας εἱστίασε τὸν Θυέστην οὔτε ᾿Ορέστης αὐτόχειρ ἐγένετο τῆς μητρός. ἅπαντα ταῦτα εἰ λέγοι τις, χαλεπῶς ἂν φέροιεν ὡς λοιδορούμενοι.

τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο κἂν Θηβαίους οἶμαι παθεῖν, εἴ τις τὰ παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἀτυχήματα ψευδῆ ἀποφαίνοι, καὶ οὔτε τὸν πατέρα Οἰδίπουν ἀποκτείναντα οὔτε τῇ μητρὶ συγγενόμενον οὔθ’ ἑαυτὸν τυφλώσαντα οὔτε τοὺς παῖδας αὐτοῦ πρὸ τοῦ τείχους ἀποθανόντας ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων, οὔθ’ ὡς ἡ Σφὶγξ ἀφικομένη κατεσθίοι τὰ τέκνα αὐτῶν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον ἥδονται ἀκούοντες καὶ τὴν Σφίγγα ἐπιπεμφθεῖσαν αὐτοῖς διὰ χόλον ῞Ηρας καὶ τὸν Λάϊον ὑπὸ τοῦ υἱέος ἀναιρεθέντα καὶ τὸν Οἰδίπουν ταῦτα ποιήσαντα καὶ παθόντα τυφλὸν ἀλᾶσθαι, καὶ πρότερον ἄλλου βασιλέως αὐτῶν καὶ τῆς πόλεως οἰκιστοῦ, ᾿Αμφίονος, τοὺς παῖδας, ἀνθρώπων καλλίστους γενομένους, κατατοξευθῆναι ὑπὸ ᾿Απόλλωνος καὶ ᾿Αρτέμιδος· καὶ ταῦτα καὶ αὐλούντων καὶ ᾀδόντων ἀνέχονται παρ’ αὑτοῖς ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ, καὶ τιθέασιν ἆθλα περὶ τούτων, ὃς ἂν οἰκτρότατα εἴπῃ περὶ αὐτῶν ἢ αὐλήσῃ· τὸν δὲ εἰπόντα ὡς οὐ γέγονεν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἐκβάλλουσιν. εἰς τοῦτο μανίας οἱ πολλοὶ ἐληλύθασι καὶ οὕτω πάνυ ὁ τῦφος αὐτῶν κεκράτηκεν. ἐπιθυμοῦσι γὰρ ὡς πλεῖστον ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν γίγνεσθαι λόγον· ὁποῖον δέ τινα, οὐθὲν μέλει αὐτοῖς. ὅλως δὲ πάσχειν μὲν οὐ θέλουσι τὰ δεινὰ  διὰ δειλίαν, φοβούμενοι τούς τε θανάτους καὶ τὰς ἀλγηδόνας· ὡς δὲ παθόντες μνημονεύεσθαι περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται.

Boredom and Death: Ovid’s Briseis

Here’s a bit from Ovid’s Briseis as I read my way through antiquity’s versions of Homer’s unnamed Hippodameia (inspired by this essay). Ovid is a clever writer and capable of deep understanding and empathy. I don’t see a lot of that in this poem. A full translation is available on Theoi.com.  The Latin text is available through Perseus’ Scaife Viewer.

Ovid, Heroides 3. 135-148 [Briseis to Achilles]

“Still now—I hope your father Peleus lives every year he can
And that Pyrrhus come to the same good luck in weapons as you
But just notice worried Briseis, brave Achilles,
And don’t torture the miserable with painful delay.

If your desire for me has turned to boredom,
Force me to die rather than live without you.
You’re forcing it as you act now—my body and complexion are ruined;
This bit of breath that keeps me upright is only hope in you.

If that leaves me? I’ll meet my brothers and husband
And it won’t be glory for you to order a woman to die.
Why bother to tell me to? Strike at my body with bared steel.
There’s blood here to pour once my chest is opened.
Let that sword of yours find me, the very one the goddess stopped
From entering the breast of Atreus’ son.”

Nunc quoque—sic omnes Peleus pater inpleat annos,
sic eat auspiciis Pyrrhus ad arma tuis! —
respice sollicitam Briseida, fortis Achille,
nec miseram lenta ferreus ure mora!
aut, si versus amor tuus est in taedia nostri,
quam sine te cogis vivere, coge mori!
utque facis, coges. abiit corpusque colorque;
sustinet hoc animae spes tamen una tui.
qua si destituor, repetam fratresque virumque—
nec tibi magnificum femina iussa mori.
cur autem iubeas? stricto pete corpora ferro;
est mihi qui fosso pectore sanguis eat.
me petat ille tuus, qui, si dea passa fuisset,
ensis in Atridae pectus iturus erat!

Léon Cogniet, Briséis rendue à Achille découvre dans sa tente le corps de Patrocle, 1815, Orléans, musée des Beaux-Arts

Betrayed by Men; Saved By Dolphins–The Story of Arion

Herodotus 1.35

“Periander was ruling Korinth as a tyrant. For the Korinthians claim (and the Lesbians agree with them) that the most wonderful thing happened in his life: Arion of Methymna was carried to Tainaron on a dolphin. He was a kithara player second to none at that time and the first man we know of who composed, named and taught the dithyramb at Corinth.

They say that this Arion spent much time at Periander’s palace but desired to sail to Italy and Sicily. After he made a lot of money there, he wanted to return to Korinth again. He left from Tarentum and hired a ship of Korinthian men because he trusted no one more than Korinthians. But once on the sea, they conspired to throw Arion out to keep his money. After he learned this, he was begging, offering money to them, trying to bargain for his life. But he was not able to persuade him—the sailors commanded him either to do himself in, so that he might have a burial on ground, or to leap into the sea as soon as possible.

When Arion realized he was at the end, he asked, since it might seem right to them, that he appear in full dress standing on the benches singing. And he promised to kill himself after singing. This came as a delight to them if they could hear the best mortal singer at work. They retreated to the middle of the ship from the stern and he donned all his equipment and took up the kithara. While standing on the benches he sang the entire Orthian nome. When he was done with it, he threw himself into the sea in full costume.

They sailed back to Korinth but people claim a dolphin picked him up and took him to Tainaros. Once he got to land, he went to Koronth with all his stuff and when he got there told the whole story. Since Periander distrusted him, he held Arion under guard, separated from everyone. He waited for the sailors. When they were present, they were asked if they could say anything about Arion. When they were claiming that they left him safe somewhere in Italy and he was doing well in Tarentum, he appeared to them looking just like he did when he leaped out of the boat. The sailors were shocked and were not able to deny it since they had been completely refuted. The Korinthians and Lesbians say these things. And there is a bronze dedication of Arion in Tarentum, not very large: a man riding a dolphin.”

ἐτυράννευε δὲ ὁ Περίανδρος Κορίνθου· τῷ δὴ λέγουσι Κορίνθιοι (ὁμολογέουσι δέ σφι Λέσβιοι) ἐν τῷ βίῳ θῶμα μέγιστον παραστῆναι, Ἀρίονα τὸν Μηθυμναῖον ἐπὶ δελφῖνος ἐξενειχθέντα ἐπὶ Ταίναρον, ἐόντα κιθαρῳδὸν τῶν τότε ἐόντων οὐδενὸς δεύτερον, καὶ διθύραμβον πρῶτον ἀνθρώπων τῶν ἡμεῖς ἴδμεν ποιήσαντά τε καὶ ὀνομάσαντα καὶ διδάξαντα ἐν Κορίνθῳ. τοῦτον τὸν Ἀρίονα λέγουσι, τὸν πολλὸν τοῦ χρόνου διατρίβοντα παρὰ Περιάνδρῳ, ἐπιθυμῆσαι πλῶσαι ἐς Ἰταλίην τε καὶ Σικελίην, ἐργασάμενον δὲ χρήματα μεγάλα θελῆσαι ὀπίσω ἐς Κόρινθον ἀπικέσθαι. ὁρμᾶσθαι μέν νυν ἐκ Τάραντος, πιστεύοντα δὲ οὐδαμοῖσι μᾶλλον ἢ Κορινθίοισι μισθώσασθαι πλοῖον ἀνδρῶν Κορινθίων· τοὺς δὲ ἐν τῷ πελάγει ἐπιβουλεύειν τὸν Ἀρίονα ἐκβαλόντας ἔχειν τὰ χρήματα· τὸν δὲ συνέντα τοῦτο λίσσεσθαι, χρήματα μέν σφι προϊέντα, ψυχὴν δὲ παραιτεόμενον. οὐκ ὦν δὴ πείθειν αὐτὸν τούτοισι, ἀλλὰ κελεύειν τοὺς πορθμέας ἢ αὐτὸν διαχρᾶσθαί μιν, ὡς ἂν ταφῆς ἐν γῇ τύχῃ, ἢ ἐκπηδᾶν ἐς τὴν θάλασσαν τὴν ταχίστην. ἀπειληθέντα δὲ τὸν Ἀρίονα ἐς ἀπορίην παραιτήσασθαι, ἐπειδή σφι οὕτω δοκέοι, περιιδεῖν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ σκευῇ πάσῃ στάντα ἐν τοῖσι ἑδωλίοισι ἀεῖσαι· ἀείσας δὲ ὑπεδέκετο ἑωυτὸν κατεργάσεσθαι. καὶ τοῖσι ἐσελθεῖν γὰρ ἡδονὴν εἰ μέλλοιεν ἀκούσεσθαι τοῦ ἀρίστου ἀνθρώπων ἀοιδοῦ, ἀναχωρῆσαι ἐκ τῆς πρύμνης ἐς μέσην νέα. τὸν δὲ ἐνδύντα τε πᾶσαν τὴν σκευὴν καὶ λαβόντα τὴν κιθάρην, στάντα ἐν τοῖσι ἑδωλίοισι διεξελθεῖν νόμον τὸν ὄρθιον, τελευτῶντος δὲ τοῦ νόμου ῥῖψαί μιν ἐς τὴν θάλασσαν ἑωυτὸν ὡς εἶχε σὺν τῇ σκευῇ πάσῃ. καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἀποπλέειν ἐς Κόρινθον, τὸν δὲ δελφῖνα λέγουσι ὑπολαβόντα ἐξενεῖκαι ἐπὶ Ταίναρον. ἀποβάντα δὲ αὐτὸν χωρέειν ἐς Κόρινθον σὺν τῇ σκευῇ καὶ ἀπικόμενον ἀπηγέεσθαι πᾶν τὸ γεγονός. Περίανδρον δὲ ὑπὸ ἀπιστίης Ἀρίονα μὲν ἐν φυλακῇ ἔχειν οὐδαμῇ μετιέντα, ἀνακῶς δὲ ἔχειν τῶν πορθμέων· ὡς δὲ ἄρα παρεῖναι αὐτούς, κληθέντας ἱστορέεσθαι εἴ τι λέγοιεν περὶ Ἀρίονος. φαμένων δὲ ἐκείνων ὡς εἴη τε σῶς περὶ Ἰταλίην καί μιν εὖ πρήσσοντα λίποιεν ἐν Τάραντι, ἐπιφανῆναί σφι τὸν Ἀρίονα ὥσπερ ἔχων ἐξεπήδησε· καὶ τοὺς ἐκπλαγέντας οὐκ ἔχειν ἔτι ἐλεγχομένους ἀρνέεσθαι. ταῦτα μέν νυν Κορίνθιοί τε καὶ Λέσβιοι λέγουσι, καὶ Ἀρίονος ἔστι ἀνάθημα χάλκεον οὐ μέγα ἐπὶ Ταινάρῳ, ἐπὶ δελφῖνος ἐπεὼν ἄνθρωπος.

 

3rd Century Mosaic from Tunisia, Getty

Just a Girl: Being Briseis

Note: This essay was sent to me to be published anonymously. It is a powerful reminder that who you are fundamentally changes what the Iliad means and that the loudest voices are often the abusive ones.

CW: Sexual Assault

You hadn’t heard of Agamemnon when you started college. You didn’t know about the embassy to Achilles or Briseis or the wrath of the gods. You did know that you really liked this guy, let’s call him Carl, and you’d been hanging out with him for a while and you were excited to go to a party at his frat house.

If you had read the Iliad, you might have noticed that Briseis and Chryseis play an awfully big role for people who barely even speak. You might have thought it was weird that Agamemnon insists that he prefers Chryseis to Clytemnestra, but he would part with her if it’s for the best (εἰ τό γ᾽ ἄμεινον), because he’s so worried about the λαός—the people, but really the men. Turns out that sometimes men are only concerned about the well-being of men. But you didn’t see that on a first read anyway, and Homer couldn’t have really helped you navigate the men or the lions.

Briseis and Phoenix, red-figure kylix, c. 490 BCE, Louvre (G 152)[1]
There’s a lot you don’t know about that party, but you do know that you had a lot to drink, and he took you down to his room and left you there. You might have fallen asleep, you may as well have. When you woke up, there was a stranger on top of you. “Stranger” is a bit strong – it was his ‘big brother,’ a relationship that apparently means quite a lot in a fraternity.

Agamemnon doesn’t want to part with Chryseis, but he will for a price. Or, more precisely, he will if he’s given a prize, a γέρας. Achilles and Agamemnon mention this all-important γέρας thirteen times in Book 1, and Agamemnon makes it very clear that he will not be prize-less (ἀγέραστος). We get another fourteen mentions of honor or dishonor (ἀτιμάω, τιμή, etc.), all of which have to do with the men involved. That’s a lot more than we hear about the women, the girls, whose feelings are inconsequential when men have their honor to worry about. The only feelings we hear anything about are the men—men cry, while women are bartered by men whose feelings are hurt.

Years later, you’d start to realize that words like assault and rape fit what happened to you that night, but that was after years of your pain being used as a punch line and a bargaining token among the brothers at this fraternity. Years of this being a story about how you were a slut and you shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. Years of ‘jokes’ about how you were ‘given’ to that man as a present, from little brother to big brother.

Briseis seated Red Figure Vase, London, British Museum 1843,1103.92 Cat. Vases E 76

And really, the important thing is that Briseis doesn’t end up ruining the Greek army’s chance to win the war. Eventually, the men realize that it’s not worth getting upset over something as meaningless as a girl. As Achilles spits out the words ‘I will not fight with you for the sake of a girl’ (1.298), you feel it in your gut. Ajax says this to Achilles later too – you’re doing this over only a girl (9.637). What a senseless reason to disrupt the unity of the men. Bros before hoes has a longer history than you realized.

Over the next several years, you would remain friends with everyone at the fraternity. You were a liberated college student and not someone who would make a big deal about whatever happened to you. You’re not that kind of girl, and what did it matter that something happened to you that night, that something was taken from you, but you would never – still don’t – know what?

If you look through the Iliad to see what we actually hear about Briseis, you see that she mostly shows up in Book 1 and Book 9, which makes sense. But she gets mentioned in Book 24 in passing. Or, it would be in passing until you start to look for her, and you see that Briseis is sleeping near Achilles, after Priam’s visit. Until you read Silence of the Girls, you didn’t really give this much thought. You fell into the same trap that the Greek men do, you only thought that the men mattered. You don’t like that women are seen as objects, but it is what it is and, anyway, it was a long time ago. But what must it have been like for Briseis to sleep next to this man every night? The man who gave her to Agamemnon – did it matter that Achilles was mad about it? He still handed her over –and now possessed her again. What must it be like to lay next to him every night?

File:Wall painting - Briseis taken away from Achilles - Pompeii (VI 8 5) - Napoli MAN 9105 - 03.jpg
Briseis taken away from Achilles – Pompeii (VI 8 5) – Napoli MAN 9105

As it happens, you were such a cool girl who would never get hung up on silly things that happen at parties – honestly, what a funny mistake it all was! You were so cool about it that you kept coming back to Carl over the following years. Agonized over how he just wasn’t sure you two could date, because seeing you being assaulted was hard for him. You see, he felt like you’d betrayed him, and you were so sorry that you’d caused so much trouble. You kept seeing him, sleeping with him, understanding why he couldn’t date you, because this was really your fault anyway, and maybe you could show him that you could be trusted.

Now you teach students, and while you’ve always warned students about triggering content, you never really knew what that experience was actually like, to have old trauma wash over you with no warning. Not until Christine Blasey Ford testified about Brett Kavanaugh, and women in your life started holding each other tight to withstand the onslaught of stories about sexual assault and how boys will be boys. Something about the volume of women who were reliving their abuse at the same time was too much, and your body couldn’t hold it. A decade of grief poured out in gasping, shuddering tears that you didn’t know were being held in.

Briseis and the other enslaved women mourn for Patroclus, but Homer tells us that they’re also mourning their own pain. Like they needed something else to center their grief on, and once Patroclus was a vessel from grief, their own unexpressed grief poured out. You know that your students can’t prop you up if all this grief comes out in class, and you make it through the end of the class session, but your distance from this text is gone. You’ve fallen out of your own story and into this one. It’s safer not to talk about Briseis’ trauma in class anymore.

File:Briseis restored to Achilles - modello.jpg
Briseis restored to Achilles, Peter Paul Reubens, 16th/17th Century

There’s no amount of philological rigor that can talk a body down that’s feeling dredged up trauma. You know that you aren’t enslaved and your family hasn’t been killed. You know that almost nothing about the Iliad is a particularly good fit for that night, but it’s not clear if you can separate the two stories anymore. You haven’t taught the Iliad since that day, but presumably you will have to again one day, and the thought is terrifying. Your body still holds the grief and the rage that you like to think your brain has processed, and what kind of a classicist can’t teach Homer anymore?

The academic part of your brain knows that no text is about one thing. The Iliad is about a million things, but for you, right now, it’s really just a story about how women have to pay terrible prices for what men want. How women have to suffer physical and psychological violence because men don’t want to be told no. For gold or glory or honor or because the gods were mad – what does it actually matter why? In the end, every woman in (or even just near) Troy is going to suffer because Paris and Agamemnon and Achilles want to take things that aren’t theirs. And how do you pull yourself out of that story enough to actually teach it?

 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and would like to talk to someone, there are a range of resources available from RAINN.org. (or call 1-800-656-HOPE) or NSVRC.

Briseis
Eurybates and Talthybios Lead Briseis to Agamemmon – Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770)

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.