Intense Thinking Makes Him a Prometheus

Herman Melville, Moby Dick:

“But as the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab’s case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth. Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light, to be sure, but without an object to colour, and therefore a blankness in itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.”

Theodoor Rombouts, Prometheus

Fragmentary Friday: Heraclitus Explains Pasiphae, the Chimaera, and Circe

Among the paradoxographers there was a trend of referring to fantastic material and then rationalizing it in some way. Palaephatus is one of the best examples of this, but there was also Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, not to be confused with the pre-socratic Philosopher, the Homeric commentator, or even the Byzantine emperor of the same name.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, 7 Concerning Pasiphae

“People claim that [Pasiphae] lusted after the Bull, not, as many believe, for an animal in a herd—for it would be ridiculous for a queen to desire such uncommon intercourse—instead she lusted for a certain local man whose name was Tauro [the bull]. She used as an accomplice for her desire Daidalos and she was impregnated. Then she gave birth to a son whom many used to call “Minos” but they would compare him to Tauro because of his similarity to him. So, he was nicknamed Mino-tauros from the combination.”

Περὶ Πασιφάης.

 Ταύτην φασὶν ἐρασθῆναι Ταύρου, οὐχ, ὡς πολλοὶ νομίζουσι, τοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἀγέλην ζῴου (γελοῖον γὰρ ἀκοινωνήτου συνουσίας ὠρέχθαι τὴν βασίλισσαν), ἑνὸς δέ τινος τῶν ἐντοπίων, ᾧ Ταῦρος ἦν ὄνομα. συνεργῷ δὲ χρησαμένη πρὸς τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν Δαιδάλῳ καὶ γεγονυῖα ἔγγυος, ἐγέννησε καθ’ ὁμοιότητα τοῦ Ταύρου<υἱόν>, ὃν οἱ πολλοὶ Μίνω μὲν ἐκάλουν, Ταύρῳ δὲ εἴκαζον· κατὰ δὲ σύνθεσιν Μινώταυρος ἐκλήθη.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 15 On the Chimaera

“Homer provides an image of the Khimaira when he says that in the front she was a lion, in the rear a serpent and in the middle a goat. This sort of thing could be the truth. A woman who ruled over those places had two brothers who helped her named Leo and Drako. Because she was an oath-breaker and guest-killer, she was killed by Bellerophon.”

Περὶ Χιμαίρας.

     Ταύτην ῞Ομηρος εἰκονογραφῶν φησι πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα. γένοιτο δ’ ἂν τὸ ἀληθὲς τοιοῦτον. γυνὴ τῶν τόπων  κρατοῦσα δύο πρὸς ὑπηρεσίαν ἀδελφοὺς εἶχεν ὀνόματι Λέοντα καὶ Δράκοντα. παράσπονδος δὲ οὖσα καὶ ξενοκτόνος ἀνῃρέθη ὑπὸ Βελλεροφόντου.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 16 Concerning Circe

“Myth has handed down the idea that Kirkê transformed people with a drink. But she was a prostitute and by charming guests at first with every kind of delight she would mold them towards good will, and once they were in a state of passion, she would keep them there by means of their desires as long as they were carried away with pleasures. Odysseus bested even her.”

Περὶ Κίρκης.

     Ταύτην ὁ μῦθος παρ<αδ>έδωκε ποτῷ μεταμορφοῦσαν ἀνθρώπους. ἦν δὲ ἑταίρα, καὶ κατακηλοῦσα τοὺς ξένους τὸ πρῶτον ἀρεσκείᾳ παντοδαπῇ ἐπεσπᾶτο πρὸς εὔνοιαν, γενομένους δὲ ἐν προσπαθείᾳ κατεῖχε ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλογίστως φερομένους πρὸς τὰς ἡδονάς. ἥττησε δὲ καὶ ταύτην ᾿Οδυσσεύς.

Image result for ancient greek Chimera

Pssssst: I am not real.

What Does Helen Look Like?

A twitter friend asked me about the appearance of Helen recently:

This comes at a time when many are talking about the ethnicity of Homeric heroes and rightly arguing that so many of our ideas about race, color, and identity have little to do with the ancient world and everything to do with our own. (See also the discussion on Pharos.) Within this debate is the important realization that ancient concepts of hue and range of color-representation may have been altogether different from our own. In addition to Tim Whitmarsh’s essay (cited above) Maria Michel Sassi’s recent essay does well to explore gaps between how we conceive of color and how the ancients may have.

As @spannycat notes, Greek poetry describes Helen as xanthê and kuanopis. An insensitive and simplistic reading of these facts might claim that she was “blonde” with “blue eyes” (and I am not at all implying that @spannycat is doig this). Not only is the situation far more interesting and complicated than this, but I am pretty sure that even if we accept these two words as applying to Helen they would not be equivalent to the appearance these two terms denote in modern English.

Let’s start with the barest fact. What Helen actually looks like is never stated in Homer. When the Trojans look at her, they say she has the “terrible appearance of goddesses” (αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν). This, of course, is not terribly specific.

Elsewhere, she is “argive Helen, for whom many Achaeans [struggled]” (᾿Αργείην ῾Ελένην, ἧς εἵνεκα πολλοὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν, Il. 2.161) she has “smooth” or “pale/white” arms (῏Ιρις δ’ αὖθ’ ῾Ελένῃ λευκωλένῳ ἄγγελος ἦλθεν, 3.121), but this likely has to do with a typical depiction of women in Archaic Greece (they are lighter in tone than men because they don’t work outside) or because of women’s clothing (arms may have been visible). Beyond that? In the Odyssey, She has “beautiful hair” (῾Ελένης πάρα καλλικόμοιο, 15.58) and a long robe (τανύπεπλος, 4.305).

If anyone is looking for a hint of the ideal of beauty from the legend who launched a thousand ships, they will be sorely disappointed. Why? I think the answer to this partly has to do with the nature of Homeric poetry and with good art in general. Homeric poetry developed over a long duration of time and appealed to many different peoples. To over-determine Helen’s beauty by describing it would necessarily adhere to some standards of beauty while alienating others.

In addition, why describe her beauty at all when the audience members themselves can craft an ideal in their mind. As a student of mine said while I mused over this, Helen “Cannot have descriptors because she is a floating signifier”. She is a blank symbol for desire upon which all audience members (ancient and modern, male and female) project their own (often ambiguous) notions of beauty. To stay with the ancient world, think of that seminal first stanza in Sappho fr. 16:

Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
[whatever] you love

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

As long as beauty is relative and in the eye of the beholder any time we disambiguate it by saying that it is one thing and not another we depart from an abstract timeless idea and create something more bounded and less open to audience engagement. I think that part of what makes Homeric poetry work so well is that it combines a maximum amount of specificity within a maximized amount of ambiguity.

Outside of Homer, Helen is described with a little more detail, but in each case the significance of the signifier is less than it appears. In Hesiod, she has nice hair again (῾Ελένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο,Works and Days 165; this is repeated a lot in the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue). In fr. 9 of the Cypria she is merely a “Wonder for mortals” (θαῦμα βροτοῖσι·). Much later she has “spiraling eyebrows/lashes” (῾Ελένης ἑλικοβλεφάροιο, Quintus Smyrnaeus, 13.470).

If we want to learn more about Helen, she has additional features outside of epic poetry in lyric. I would be bold enough to claim that the more personal and erotic character of the genre is a better explanation for this specificity than anything else.

In lyric (e.g. Mesomedes, κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας,) Helen is “cyan-eyed”, but if we look at the semantic range of this nominal root—which describes dark stones and eyes of water divinities—I think we can argue fairly that this indicates a dark and shiny, even watery texture (like lapis lazuli). I suspect this is about the sheen of eyes rather than their hue.

Eustathius remarks that the epithet κυανώπιδα is common (κατὰ κοινὸν ἐπίθετον) and is often used for dark sea creatures, describing as well his hair (Ποσειδῶνα κυανοχαίτην, Ad Hom. Il 1.555.23). Indeed, nymphs in general are “dark-eyed” in lyric (καὶ Νύμφαι κυανώπιδες, Anacr. fr. 12.2) and water deities remain so in Homer (κῦμα μέγα ῥοχθεῖ κυανώπιδος ᾿Αμφιτρίτης, Il. 12.60). Outside of Homer marriageable women also receive this epithet, including Helen’s sister Klytemnestra (Hes. Fr. 23a κού[ρην Τυνδαρέοιο Κλυταιμήσ]τρην κυανῶπ[ιν· cf. fr. 23.27 and for Althaia, 25.14, Elektra (169).

From Robert Beekes. Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Leiden: Brill, 2010


So, in lyric, Helen has dark pools for eyes. But what about her hair? At Sappho fr. 23 Helen is described as “xanthai” ([ ] ξάνθαι δ’ ᾿Ελέναι σ’ ἐίσ[κ]ην; cf. Stesichorus Fr. S103: [ξ]α̣νθὰ δ’ ῾Ελένα̣ π̣ρ[ ; Ibycus, fr. 1a.5: ξα]νθᾶς ῾Ελένας περὶ εἴδει ). But it is important to note that in this context there is a first-person narrator speaking (“I liken you to fair Helen…”). Note as well that there is something formulaic in these lyric lines: the epithet seems to begin the phrase each time.

When it comes to Hair color, xanthus is used in Homer to describe heroes, but not Helen (Menelaos is Xanthus, for example). A byzantine etymological dictionary suggests that the core meaning of this root has something to do with fire (Ξανθὴν, πυῤῥοειδῆ) and argues that the hair “symbolizes the heat and irascibility of the hero” (αἰνίττεται, τὸ θερμὸν καὶ ὀργίλον τοῦ ἥρωος, Etym. Gud, s.v.). But outside the Iliad and Odyssey the adjective is applied to goddesses: both Demeter (H. Dem. 302) and Aphrodite (Soph. fr. 255) are called Xanthê. Modern etymology sees this as anywhere from yellow to brown. But this is altogether relative again. “Light hair” in a group of people who are blond is almost white; among black/brown haired people, light hair can merely be a different shade of brown.

Again, from Beekes 2010:


In the second book of Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem Trilogy” The Dark Forest, one of the main characters Luo Ji creates an ideal woman to love in his mind and goes so far as to converse with her, leave his actual girlfriend for her, and go on a trip with her. When he consults a psychologist about this, his doctor tells him his is lucky because everyone is in love with an idea–where the rest of the world will inevitably be disillusioned when they realize this, Luo Ji will never suffer this loss.

Trying to make Helen look like an actual person is not only impossible, but it is something which Homeric epic avoids for good reason.

Special thanks to .@spannycat for asking the question. Her own conclusions on the topic are pretty much the same.


What the !? Wednesday: Heraclitus on the True Story of Lamia

This story probably needs trigger warnings. Here, the legend of the Lamia is explained by the Paradoxographer Heraclitus (not the same figure as the philosopher).  Antiquity has bequeathed to us a collection of works on ‘wonders’: some are mere lists of amazing things; others are rationalizing explanations of myths (for which the Hellenistic Palaephaetus is most famous). This summer I am going to post material from the paradoxographers periodically since there is very little of it translated and free online.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 34: On Lamia

“They tell the story that after Zeus had sex with [Lamia], Hera turned her into a beast and further, when she went crazy, she ripped out her eyes and threw them into a cup and, in addition, that she ate flesh and dined on human beings.

It really could have gone this way: Zeus, who was a king, got intimate with her because she was pretty. Then Hera abducted her, gauged out her eyes, and left her on a mountain. For this reason she was living a painful life and had no help at all. Because she was living unwashed and unhealed in desolate places, she seemed to be a beast.”

Περὶ Λαμίας.

     ῾Ιστοροῦσιν ὅτι, Διὸς αὐτῇ συμμιγέντος, ῞Ηρα ἀπεθηρίωσεν αὐτήν, καὶ ὅτι ἡνίκα ἂν μανῇ, τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐξαιρεῖ καὶ εἰς κοτύλην βάλλει, καὶ ὅτι σαρκοφαγεῖ καὶ ἀνθρώπους ἐσθίει. εἴη δ’ ἂν τάδε. καλῇ αὐτῇ οὔσῃ ὁ Ζεὺς ἐπλησίασε βασιλεύων, ῞Ηρα δὲ συναρπάζουσα αὐτήν, τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐξώρυξε καὶ εἰς τὰ ὄρη ἔρριψεν· ὅθεν ἐπιπόνως ἔζη ἐπικουρουμένη δὲ οὐδέν· <διὰ δὲ τὸ> ὑπὸ ταῖς ἐρημίαις καταγινομένην αὐτὴν ἄλουτον καὶ ἀθεράπευτον εἶναι, ἐδόκει θηρίον ὑπάρχειν.

Here is another account:

Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]

“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”

ταύτην ἐν τῆι Λιβύηι Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέρωι Λιβυκῶν ἱστορεῖ γυναῖκα καλὴν γενέσθαι, μιχθέντος δ᾽ αὐτῆι Διὸς ὑφ᾽ ῞Ηρας ζηλοτυπουμένην ἃ ἔτικτεν ἀπολλύναι· διόπερ ἀπὸ τῆς λύπης δύσμορφον γεγονέναι καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων παιδία ἀναρπάζουσαν διαφθείρειν.

Image result for ancient greek lamia

“Used to Love Her…” Achilles, Penthesileia, and a Love-Child?

While discussing unexpected variants in Greek myths today with twitter friends Carly Silver and Emily Hauser (whose forthcoming third book For the Immortal takes its readers to the world of the Amazons, just as her earlier For the Winner and For the Most Beautiful retell the tales of Atalanta and Helen respectively), I learned another new thing today: some traditions give Achilles a “love-child” with Penthesileia [Carly’s great phrase].. And the child’s name is Kaustros (Causter/Cayster).

One of the very humbling things about studying myth–once you accept that there is no central version and realize that audiences kept writing themselves and their local traditions into myth (and vice versa)–is that it is pretty much impossible to know it all. Rather than get discouraged by this, I actually find it exciting–it infuses some work with child-like wonder and makes other work feel like an episode of CSI: Ancient Greece  (or something like that).

The sources for this child are pretty limited–and it does not seem that any specifically name Achilles as father (which is ok–I look forward to seeing what she does with the character):

Schol A ad. Il. 2.461d ex [cf. Eusth. Comm ad I 1.387]

“Kaüstros is a son of Penthesileia the Amazon. He married Derketô in Askalon and fathered from her Semiramis. Among the Syrians, Derketô is called Atargatis.”

(Porph. ?) Κάϋστρος υἱὸς Πενθεσιλείας τῆς ᾿Αμαζόνος, ὃς ἐν ᾿Ασκάλωνι ἔγημεν τὴν Δερκετὼ καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἔσχεν τὴν Σεμίραμιν. | ἡ δὲ Δερκετὼ παρὰ Σύροις καλεῖται ᾿Αταργατῖς. A

Atargatis is sometimes a mermaid-like deity (as is Derketô).

Pretty much the same information is repeated in several different texts, for example:

Etym. Magn. [=Kallierges 493.10, s.v. Kaüstros; cf. Ps. Herod.]

“Kaüstros: a river in Lydia, from Kaüstros. And Kaüstros is a son of Penthesileia the Amazon. He married Derketô in Askalon and fathered from her Semiramis. She’s the one who had the walls of Babylon built.”

     Κάϋστρος: Ποταμὸς Λυδίας· ἀπὸ Καΰστρου· Κάϋστρος δέ ἐστιν υἱὸς Πενθεσιλείας τῆς ᾿Αμαζόνος, ὃς ἐν ᾿Ασκάλωνι ἔγημε τὴν Δερκετὼ, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἔσχε τὴν Σεμίραμιν, ἥτις καὶ τὰ Βαβυλώνια τείχη κατεσκεύασε.

For many, this story is surprising and strange, because the famous vase images and the tales that are told in most of the citations above are that Achilles fell in love with Penthesileia while or after killing her

Image result for Greek Vase Achilles and Penthesilea

A Black-figure vase from the British Museum: 1836,0224.127

We do, however, have other versions of this.

Eustathius, Comm. Ad Od. 11.538, 1696.51

“Tellis tells the tale that Penthesileia killed Achilles but that, after Thetis asked Zeus, he resurrcted him and Achilles killed her in turn. Penthesileia’s father sued Thetis for this but Poseidon judged 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 = BNJ 61 F 1a

“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.

The story of Achilles and Penthesileia is likely the inspiration for this song by Guns n’ Roses

How Could A Stone Mourn or Eat? The Story of Niobe and Some Reactions

In the final book of the Iliad, Achilles tells Priam a story about the death of the Niobids. The story he tells is a bit strange–but the reaction of ancient scholars may be a bit tone-deaf.

Iliad 24.596-620

“And then shining Achilles went back into his dwelling
And sat on the finely decorated bench from where he had risen
near the facing wall. Then he began his speech [muthon] to Priam:

‘Old man, your son has been ransomed as you were pleading—he
Lies now on the platform. You will see him at dawn yourself
When you lead him away. But now, we should remember our meal.
For fair-tressed Niobê, too, remembered to eat,
Even though her twelve children perished at home.
Six daughters and six sons.
Apollo killed them with his silver bow
Because he was angry at Niobê, and Artemis helped too,
Because their mother had considered herself equal to fair-cheeked Leto.
She claimed that Leto birthed two children while she had many.
And so those mere two ended the lives of many.
They lingered in their gore for nine days and no one went
To bury them—Kronos’ son turned the people into stone.
On the tenth day, the Olympian gods buried them.
And she remembered to eat, after she wore herself out shedding tears.
And now somewhere in the isolated crags on the mountains
Of Sipylus where men say one finds the beds of goddesses,
Of the nymphs who wander along the Akhelôis,
She turns over the god-sent sufferings, even though she remains a stone.
So, come, now, shining old man, let’s the two of us remember
Our meal. You can mourn your dear son again
After you take him to Troy—he will certainly be much-wept.”

῏Η ῥα, καὶ ἐς κλισίην πάλιν ἤϊε δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἕζετο δ’ ἐν κλισμῷ πολυδαιδάλῳ ἔνθεν ἀνέστη
τοίχου τοῦ ἑτέρου, ποτὶ δὲ Πρίαμον φάτο μῦθον·
υἱὸς μὲν δή τοι λέλυται γέρον ὡς ἐκέλευες,
κεῖται δ’ ἐν λεχέεσσ’· ἅμα δ’ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφιν
ὄψεαι αὐτὸς ἄγων· νῦν δὲ μνησώμεθα δόρπου.
καὶ γάρ τ’ ἠΰκομος Νιόβη ἐμνήσατο σίτου,
τῇ περ δώδεκα παῖδες ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ὄλοντο
ἓξ μὲν θυγατέρες, ἓξ δ’ υἱέες ἡβώοντες.
τοὺς μὲν ᾿Απόλλων πέφνεν ἀπ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο
χωόμενος Νιόβῃ, τὰς δ’ ῎Αρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα,
οὕνεκ’ ἄρα Λητοῖ ἰσάσκετο καλλιπαρῄῳ·
φῆ δοιὼ τεκέειν, ἣ δ’ αὐτὴ γείνατο πολλούς·
τὼ δ’ ἄρα καὶ δοιώ περ ἐόντ’ ἀπὸ πάντας ὄλεσσαν.
οἳ μὲν ἄρ’ ἐννῆμαρ κέατ’ ἐν φόνῳ, οὐδέ τις ἦεν
κατθάψαι, λαοὺς δὲ λίθους ποίησε Κρονίων·
τοὺς δ’ ἄρα τῇ δεκάτῃ θάψαν θεοὶ Οὐρανίωνες.
ἣ δ’ ἄρα σίτου μνήσατ’, ἐπεὶ κάμε δάκρυ χέουσα.
νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν ἐν οὔρεσιν οἰοπόλοισιν
ἐν Σιπύλῳ, ὅθι φασὶ θεάων ἔμμεναι εὐνὰς
νυμφάων, αἵ τ’ ἀμφ’ ᾿Αχελώϊον ἐρρώσαντο,
ἔνθα λίθος περ ἐοῦσα θεῶν ἐκ κήδεα πέσσει.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ καὶ νῶϊ μεδώμεθα δῖε γεραιὲ
σίτου· ἔπειτά κεν αὖτε φίλον παῖδα κλαίοισθα
῎Ιλιον εἰσαγαγών· πολυδάκρυτος δέ τοι ἔσται.


Some Scholia on this passage:

Schol. bT ad Il. 24.601

“now—dinner”: not in the midst of pain, but as a general rule.
The length of the narrative is persuasive. For the comparison of the suffering makes [Priam’s suffering] lighter

ex. νῦν—δόρπου: οὐκ ἐν τῷ πένθει, ἀλλὰ καθόλου.
b(BCE3E4)T παραμυθητικὸν δὲ τὸ τῆς διηγήσεως μῆκος (sc. Ω 602—17)· ἐπικουφίζεται γὰρ τὰ πάθη πρὸς ἀλλοτρίας συμφορὰς συγκρινόμενα. b(BE3E4)T

bT ad. 24.602a ex

“Some say that this Niobê is the daughter of Pelops; others say she is the daughter of Tantalos. Others claim that she is the wife of Amphion or of Zethus. Still more claim that she is the wife of Alalkomeneus. Among the Lydians she is called Elumê. And this event occurred, as some claimed, in Lydia; or, as some claim, in Thebes.

Sophokles writes that the children perished in Thebes and that she returned to Lydia afterwards. And she perished, as some claim, after she swore a false oath about the dog of Pandareus because [….] or later when she had been ambushed by the Spartoi in Kithaira. There were two Niobes, one of Pelops and one of Tantalus. He explains the whole tale because the story is Theban and unknown to Priam.”

ex. | ex. <καὶ γάρ τ’ ἠΰκομος Νιόβη:> τὴν Νιόβην οἱ μὲν Πέλοπος, οἱ δὲ Ταντάλου· γυναῖκα δὲ οἱ μὲν ᾿Αμφίονος, οἱ δὲ Ζήθου, [οἱ δὲ] ᾿Αλαλκομένεω. ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ παρὰ Λυδοῖς ᾿Ελύμην. ἡ δὲ συμφορὰ αὐτῆς, ὡς μέν τινες, ἐν Λυδίᾳ, ὡς δὲ ἔνιοι, ἐν Θήβαις. Σοφοκλῆς (cf. T.G.F. p. 228 N.2; II p. 95 P.) δὲ τοὺς μὲν παῖδας ἐν Θήβαις ἀπολέσθαι, νοστῆσαι <δὲ> αὐτὴν εἰς Λυδίαν. ἀπώλετο [δέ], ὥς τινες, συνεπιορκήσασα Πανδάρ[εῳ] περὶ τοῦ κυνός, ὡς δὲ [..], ἐνεδρευθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῶν Σπαρτῶν ἐν Κιθαιρῶ[νι]. οἱ δὲ δύο Νιόβας, Πέλοπος καὶ Ταντάλου. T | ὡς Θηβαῖον ὄντα τὸν μῦθον καὶ ἀγνοούμενον Πριάμῳ ἐπεξεργάζεται. b(BE3E4)T

Schol. bT ad. 605b ex

“He expands the narrative rhetorically, essentially “eat, for Niobê ate. Who was she? She lost twelve children. Because of whom? Apollo and Artemis. Why? Because of arrogance.”

ex. τοὺς μὲν ᾿Απόλλων <πέφνεν>: ῥητορικῶς ἀνέστρεψε τὴν διήγησιν· φάγε· καὶ γὰρ Νιόβη. τίς αὕτη; ἀπολέσασα δώδεκα παῖδας. ὑπὸ τίνος; ὑπὸ ᾿Απόλλωνος καὶ ᾿Αρτέμιδος. διὰ τί; δι’ ὑπερηφανίαν. b(BCE3E4)T

Schol. A ad. Il. 24.614-617a ex

“These four lines have been athetized [marked as spurious] because it does not make sense for her to “remember to eat” “after she wore herself out shedding tears.” For, if she had been turned into a stone, how could she take food?

Thus, the attempt at persuasion is absurd—“eat, since Niobê also ate and she was petrified, literally!” This is Hesiodic in character, moreover: “they wander about Akhelôion. And the word en occurs three times. How can Niobê continue pursuing her sorrow if she is made out of stone? Aristophanes also athetized these lines.

Ariston. | Did. νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν<—πέσσει>: ἀθετοῦνται στίχοι τέσσαρες, ὅτι οὐκ ἀκόλουθοι τῷ „ἡ δ’ ἄρα σίτου μνήσατ’, <ἐπεὶ κάμε δάκρυ χέουσα>” (Ω 613)· εἰ γὰρ ἀπελιθώθη, πῶς σιτία προ<σ>ηνέγκατο; καὶ ἡ παραμυθία γελοία· φάγε, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἡ Νιόβη ἔφαγε καὶ ἀπελιθώθη. ἔστι δὲ καὶ ῾Ησιόδεια τῷ χαρακτῆρι, καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τὸ ἀμφ’ ᾿Αχελώϊον ἐρρώσαντο (616). καὶ τρὶς κατὰ τὸ συνεχὲς τὸ ἔν (614. 615). πῶς δὲ καὶ λίθος γενομένη θεῶν ἐκ κήδεα πέσσει (617); | προηθετοῦντο δὲ καὶ παρ’ ᾿Αριστοφάνει. A

Schol. bT ad Il. 24. 614-617

“these four lines are athetized. For how could a stone taste food? Also, why does the poet place a river from Aetolia on Sipylos?”

ex. νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν<—πέσσει>: ἀθετοῦνται τέσσαρες· b(BCE3)T πῶς γὰρ ἡ λίθος τροφῆς ἐγεύσατο (cf. Ω 602. 613); b(BCE3E4)T τί δὲ ὁ Αἰτωλῶν ποταμὸς ἐνΣιπύλῳ ποιεῖ (cf. 616); T πῶς τε λίθος οὖσα κήδεα πέσσει (617); b(BCE3E4)T

Schol bT ad Il. 24.617a

“Senseless. For how does a stone mourn? The comic poet Philêmon also writes:

“I never believed, by the gods,
Nor will I believe that Niobe
A human being, became a stone.
No—because of her wretched troubles
And the ongoing suffering
She was incapable of speaking to anyone
And because of her speechlessness
She was called a stone.”

ex. <ἔνθα λίθος περ ἐοῦσα θεῶν ἐκ> κήδεα πέσσει:
ἀκύρως· πῶς γὰρ ἡ λίθος πέσσει; b(BCE3E4)T καὶ ὡς Φιλή-μων ὁ κωμικός (fr. 101 [II p. 510 K.])· „ἐγὼ λίθον μὲν τὴν Νιόβην, μὰ τοὺς θεούς, / οὐδέποτ’ ἐπείσθην οὐδὲ †νῦν πείθομαι† / ὡς τοῦτ’ ἐγένετ’ ἄνθρωπος· ὑπὸ δὲ τῶν κακῶν / τῶν συμπεσόντων τοῦ τε συμβάντος πάθους / οὐδὲν λαλῆσαι δυναμένη πρὸς οὐδένα / προσηγορεύθη διὰ τὸ μὴ φωνεῖν λίθος.” b(BE3E4)T

Pherecydes, fr. 3.38

Pherecydes records that “Niobê retreated to Sipylos because of grief and saw the city destroyed and the stone hanging over Tantalos. She prayed to Zeus to make her into a stone. Tears flowed from her and she looked to the north.” But Lydos claims that Assonidês lusted for her and because she was not persuaded he called her children out and set them on fire. Once she fled, she prayed to be turned to stone. Some say that she was turned into crystal.”

Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 38) δὲ ἐν η′· „ἡ δὲ Νιόβη ὑπὸ τοῦ ἄχεος ἀναχωρεῖ εἰς
Σίπυλον καὶ ὁρᾷ τὴν πόλιν ἀνεστραμμένην καὶ Ταντάλῳ λίθον ἐπικρεμάμενον· ἀρᾶται δὲ τῷ Διῒ λίθος γενέσθαι. ῥεῖ δὲ ἐξ αὐτῆς δάκρυα αὶ πρὸς ἄρκτον ὁρᾷ.” T ὁ δὲ Λυδὸς (i. e. Xanthus [FGrHist 765] fr. 20 b) φησὶν ὅτι ᾿Ασσωνίδης ἐρασθεὶς αὐτῆς καὶ μὴ πεισθείσης ἐπ’ ἄριστον τοὺς παῖδας καλέσας ἐνέπρησεν. ἡ δὲ φυγοῦσα ηὔξατολιθωθῆναι. b(BE3E4)T τινὲς δὲ εἰς κρύσταλλον αὐτὴν μεταβεβλῆσθαί φασιν. T

A Kingly Negotiator Buying Books

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.19

19. The account of the Sibylline Books and King Tarquin the Proud

This story is preserved in the ancient accounts concerning the Sibylline books. An old woman, unknown, approached king Tarquin the Proud with new books which she was claiming were divine oracles (and she wished to see them). Tarquin asked the price.  The woman asked for an enormous, excessive amount. The King, as if he believed she was senile, laughed. Then she placed a brazier already lit before him, burned three of the nine books and asked whether the King wished to buy the remaining six for the same amount. But Tarquin laughed even more and said that he’d lost all doubt that the woman was insane. The woman then burned up three more books immediately and calmly asked him the same thing again, to buy the three remaining books for that price. Tarquin then became more serious and attentive, believing that this insistence and confidence ought not to be ignored: he bought the remaining books for no less than the price which had been sought for all of them!

But it is agreed that after the woman departed from Tarquin, she was never seen again.  The Three books, which were placed in a shrine, are called “The Sibylline Books”. The Fifteen [priests] turn to them for oracles whenever the gods must be consulted for the public good.”

XIX. Historia super libris Sibyllinis ac de Tarquinio Superbo rege.

1 In antiquis annalibus memoria super libris Sibyllinis haec prodita est: 2 Anus hospita atque incognita ad Tarquinium Superbum regem adiit novem libros ferens, quos esse dicebat divina oracula; eos velle venundare. 3 Tarquinius pretium percontatus est. Mulier nimium atque inmensum poposcit; 4 rex, quasi anus aetate desiperet, derisit. 5 Tum illa foculum coram cum igni apponit, tris libros ex novem deurit et, ecquid reliquos sex eodem pretio emere vellet, regem interrogavit. 6 Sed enim Tarquinius id multo risit magis dixitque anum iam procul dubio delirare. 7 Mulier ibidem statim tris alios libros exussit atque id ipsum denuo placide rogat, ut tris reliquos eodem illo pretio emat. 8 Tarquinius ore iam serio atque attentiore animo fit, eam constantiam confidentiamque non insuper habendam intellegit, libros tris reliquos mercatur nihilo minore pretio, quam quod erat petitum pro omnibus. 9 Sed eam mulierem tunc a Tarquinio digressam postea nusquam loci visam constitit. 10 Libri tres in sacrarium conditi “Sibyllini” appellati; 11 ad eos quasi ad oraculum quindecimviri adeunt, cum di immortales publice consulendi sunt.

The Sibylline books had 15 priestly interpreters by the time of Cicero.  Why? Maybe because they were in Greek!

Image result for medieval manuscript sibylline books

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