Forgetfulness, Cures, and Growing Concerns: Some Ancient Greek Drugs

From the Suda

“The oblivion of dogs”: [This is a proverb] for drugs that bring forgetfulness

Λήθην κυνῶν: λήθην ἐμποιούντων φαρμάκων.

Drug [Pharmakon]: this can mean persuasion, conversation: the etymology is said to be from bearing [pherein] the cure [akos]. Others claim that it comes from flowers.

Φάρμακον: παραμυθία, ὁμιλία, εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ φέρειν τὴν ἄκεσιν: εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθέων.

The Sea-horse, a natural high

Aelian, De Natura Animalium 14.20

“Some people who know a lot about fishing claim that the stomach of a sea-horse—if someone dissolves it in wine after boiling it and gives it to someone to drink—is an extraordinary potion combined with wine, when compared to other medicines. For, at first, the most severe retching overcomes anyone who drinks it and then a dry coughing fit takes over even though he vomits nothing at all, and then: the upper part of his stomach grows and swells; warm spells roll over his head; and, finally, snot pours from his nose and releases a fishy smell. Then his eyes turn blood-red and heated while his eye-lids swell up.

They claim that a desire to vomit overwhelms him but that he can bring nothing up. If nature wins, then he evades death and slips away into forgetfulness and insanity. But if the wine permeates his lower stomach, there is nothing to be done, and the individual dies eventually. Those who do survive, once they have wandered into insanity, are gripped by a great desire for water: they thirst to see water and hear it splashing. And this, at least, soothes them and makes them sleep. Then they like to spend their time either by endlessly flowing rivers or near seashores or next to streams or some lakes. And even though they don’t want to drink, they love to swim, to put their feet in the water, and to wash their hands.”

  1. Λέγουσι δὲ ἄνδρες ἁλιείας ἐπιστήμονες, τὴν τοῦ ἱπποκάμπου γαστέρα εἴ τις ἐν οἴνῳ κατατήξειενἕψων καὶ τοῦτον δοίη τινὶ πιεῖν, φάρμακον εἶναι τὸν οἶνον ἄηθες ὡς πρὸς τὰ ἄλλα φάρμακα ἀντικρινόμενον· τὸν γάρ τοι πιόντα αὐτοῦ πρῶτον μὲν καταλαμβάνεσθαι λυγγὶ σφοδροτάτῃ, εἶτα βήττειν ξηρὰν βῆχα, καὶ στρεβλοῦσθαι μέν, ἀναπλεῖν δὲ αὐτῷ οὐδὲ ἕν, διογκοῦσθαι δὲ καὶ διοιδάνειν τὴν ἄνω γαστέρα, θερμά τε τῇ κεφαλῇ ἐπιπολάζειν ῥεύματα, καὶ διὰ τῆς ῥινὸς κατιέναι φλέγμα καὶ ἰχθυηρᾶς ὀσμῆς προσβάλλειν· τοὺς δὲ ὀφθαλμοὺς ὑφαίμους αὐτῷ γίνεσθαι καὶ πυρώδεις, τὰ βλέφαρα δὲ διογκοῦσθαι. ἐμέτων δὲ ἐπιθυμίαι ἐξάπτονταί φασιν, ἀναπλεῖ δὲ οὐδὲ ἕν. εἰ δὲ ἐκνικήσειεν ἡ φύσις, τὸν μὲν <τὸ> ἐς θάνατον σφαλερὸν παριέναι, ἐς λήθην δὲ ὑπολισθαίνειν καὶ παράνοιαν. ἐὰν δὲ ἐς τὴν κάτω γαστέρα διολίσθῃ, μηδὲν ἔτι εἶναι, πάντως δὲ ἀποθνήσκειν τὸν ἑαλωκότα. οἱ δὲ περιγενόμενοι ἐς παράνοια ἐξοκείλαντες ὕδατος ἱμέρῳ πολλῷ καταλαμβάνονται, καὶ ὁρᾶν διψῶσιν ὕδωρ καὶ ἀκούειν λειβομένου· καὶ τοῦτό γε αὐτοὺς καταβαυκαλᾷ καὶ κατευνάζει. καὶ διατρίβειν φιλοῦσιν ἢ παρὰ τοῖς ἀενάοις ποταμοῖς ἢ αἰγιαλῶν πλησίον ἢ παρὰ κρήναις ἢ λίμναις τισί, καὶ πιεῖν μὲν οὐ πάνυ <τι>7 γλίχονται, ἐρῶσι δὲ νήχεσθαι καὶ τέγγειν τὼ πόδε ἢ ἀπονίπτειν τὼ χεῖρε.

 

Judicious use of medicinal drugs

Galen, Method of Medicine 816k

“There is, therefore, a safe limit of medical treatment for one struggling admirably according to the practice of medicine against a sickness—and it is also the safeguard of ability for the one who is trying to soothe the pain. Beyond this is the work of a poor doctor, resulting in the end of the patient’s life with the sickness.

It is a flatterer’s act to try to please the patient, because this places pleasure not health as the primary aim. Practitioners descend into these kinds of extremes in many ways but especially in different types of treatments among which are chiefly the so-called anodyne medicines which are made from the poppy or seed of henbane, the root of mandrake, the storax or any other kind of thing.

Doctors who yield to the sick and use too much of these sorts of drugs destroy their patients with the pains as much as those who give them at the wrong time, in the wrong measure, or not at all.

Therefore, just as in everything else in life—in habits and actions—here the appropriate guideline to take is “nothing in excess”. The appropriate marker is the health of the sick…”

ὅρος οὖν ἐπὶ καμνόντων τῷ κατὰ τὸν λόγον τῆς τέχνης ἀγωνιζομένῳ γενναίως πρὸς τὸ νόσημα τὸ τῆς Kἰάσεως | ἀσφαλές· ὥσπερ γε καὶ τῷ πραΰνοντι τὰς ὀδύνας ἡ τῆς δυνάμεως φυλακή. τὸ δ᾿ ἐπέκεινα τῶνδε σκαιοῦ μὲν ἀνδρὸς ἔργον ἐστίν, ἅμα τῷ νοσήματι καὶ τὴν ζωὴν ἀφελέσθαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον· κόλακος δὲ τὸ χαρίζεσθαι τῷ νοσοῦντι, σκοπὸν ὧν πράττει θέμενον ἡδονήν, οὐχ ὑγείαν. ἐμπίπτουσι δ᾿ εἰς τὰς τοιαύτας ὑπερβολὰς ἐν πολλαῖς μὲν καὶ ἄλλαις ὕλαις βοηθημάτων οἱ ἰατροί, μάλιστα δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς καλουμένοις ἀνωδύνοις φαρμάκοις, ὅσα δι᾿ ὀποῦ μήκωνος, ἢ ὑοσκυάμουσπέρματος, ἢ μανδραγόρου ῥίζης, ἢ στύρακος, ἤ τινος τοιούτου συντιθέασιν. οἵ τε γὰρ χαριζόμενοι τοῖς νοσοῦσι πλεονάζουσιν ἐν τῇ χρήσει τῶν τοιούτων φαρμάκων, οἵ τ᾿ ἀκαίρως καὶ ἀμέτρως γενναῖοι μηδ᾿ ὅλως χρώμενοι διαφθείρουσιν ὀδύναις τοὺς κάμνοντας. ὥσπερ οὖν ἐν ἁπάσαις ταῖς καθ᾿ ὅλον τὸν βίον ἕξεσί τε καὶ πράξεσιν, οὕτω κἀνταῦθα τὸ μηδὲν ἄγαν αἱρετέον, ὅρον ἔχοντα τὴν ὠφέλειαν τοῦ κάμνοντος.

Drugs as therapy for pain

Morphine, “Cure for Pain” (1993)
“Where is the ritual
And tell me where where is the taste
Where is the sacrifice
And tell me where where is the faith
Someday there’ll be a cure for pain
That’s the day I throw my drugs away…”

 

Homer, Odyssey 4.219–232

“But then Zeus’ daughter Helen had different plans.
She immediately cast into the wine they were drinking a drug,
A pain neutralizer and anger reducer, an eraser of all evils.
Whoever consumes this drug once it is mixed in the wine,
Could not let a single tear loose upon their cheeks for a whole day.
Not even if their mother or father died,
Nor again if they lost their brother and dear son,
Cut down by bronze right their in front of their own eyes.
These are the kinds of complex drugs, good ones, Zeus’s daughter
Possesses. Polydamna, the wife of Thôn, gave them to her
In Egypt where the fertile land grows the most drugs—
Many there are mixed fine; but many cause pain too.
Each man there is a doctor whose knowledge surpasses most men,
For they are the offspring of Paieon.”

ἔνθ’ αὖτ’ ἄλλ’ ἐνόησ’ ῾Ελένη Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα·
αὐτίκ’ ἄρ’ εἰς οἶνον βάλε φάρμακον, ἔνθεν ἔπινον,
νηπενθές τ’ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων.
ὃς τὸ καταβρόξειεν, ἐπὴν κρητῆρι μιγείη,
οὔ κεν ἐφημέριός γε βάλοι κατὰ δάκρυ παρειῶν,
οὐδ’ εἴ οἱ κατατεθναίη μήτηρ τε πατήρ τε,
οὐδ’ εἴ οἱ προπάροιθεν ἀδελφεὸν ἢ φίλον υἱὸν
χαλκῷ δηϊόῳεν, ὁ δ’ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῷτο.
τοῖα Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἔχε φάρμακα μητιόεντα,
ἐσθλά, τά οἱ Πολύδαμνα πόρεν, Θῶνος παράκοιτις,
Αἰγυπτίη, τῇ πλεῖστα φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
φάρμακα, πολλὰ μὲν ἐσθλὰ μεμιγμένα, πολλὰ δὲ λυγρά,
ἰητρὸς δὲ ἕκαστος ἐπιστάμενος περὶ πάντων
ἀνθρώπων· ἦ γὰρ Παιήονός εἰσι γενέθλης.

rhyme

Drugs for and by Animals

Aelian, Varia Historia 1.7

“There are boars in the wild who are also not uninformed about the art of medicine. These animals, as it seems, whenever they forget themselves and eat henbane, they drag themselves backwards in their weakness. Even though they are experiencing spasms, they still make it to the water and there they grab crabs and eat them eagerly. These creatures are the antidote for their suffering and they make themselves healthy again.”

Ἦσαν ἄρα οἱ σῦς οἱ ἄγριοι καὶ θεραπείας ἅμα καὶ ἰατρικῆς οὐκ ἀπαίδευτοι. οὗτοι γοῦν ὅταν αὑτοὺς λαθόντες ὑοσκυάμου φάγωσι, τὰ ἐξόπισθεν ἐφέλκουσι, παρειμένως ἔχοντες [οὕτως] αὐτῶν. εἶτα σπώμενοι ὅμως ἐπὶ τὰ ὕδατα παραγίνονται, καὶ ἐνταῦθα τῶν καρκίνων ἀναλέγουσι καὶ ἐσθίουσι προθυμότατα. γίνονται δὲ αὐτοῖς οὗτοι τοῦ πάθους φάρμακον καὶ ἐργάζονται ὑγιεῖς αὐτοὺς αὖθις.

 

Drugs and Sex Magic

Magical Papyri, 7.185

“To be able to fuck a lot: mix fifty [pine nuts] with two measures of honey and seeds of pepper and drink it. To have an erection whenever you want: mix pepper with honey and rub it on your thing.”

Πολλὰ βι[ν]εῖν δύνασθαι· στροβίλια πεντήκοντα μετὰ δύο κυά[θ]ων γλυκέος καὶ κόκκους πεπέρεως τρίψας πίε. Στ[ύ]ειν, ὅτε θέλεις· πέπερι μετὰ μέλιτος τρίψας χρῖέ σου τὸ πρᾶ̣γ̣μ̣α.

Apollonios Paradoxographus, Historiae Mirabiles

14“Phylarkhos writes in the eighth book of his Histories that there is a spring of water  near the Gulf of Arabia from which if anyone ever anoints their feet what transpires miraculously is that their genitals extend pretty far. And for some they do not contract completely, and for others they are put back to shape with great suffering and medical attention.”

14 Φύλαρχος ἐν τῇ η′ τῶν ἱστοριῶν [καὶ] κατὰ τὸν ᾿Αράβιόν φησι κόλπον πηγὴν εἶναι ὕδατος, ἐξ οὗ εἴ τις τοὺς πόδας χρίσειεν, συμβαίνειν εὐθέως ἐντείνεσθαι ἐπὶ πολὺ τὸ αἰδοῖον, καί τινων μὲν μηδ’ ὅλως συστέλλεσθαι, τινῶν δὲ μετὰ μεγάλης κακοπαθείας καὶ θεραπείας ἀποκαθίστασθαι.

Aelian, Nature of the Animals  9.48

“Guardians who want the reproduction of their animals to increase when it is time to mate take handfuls of salt and sodium carbonate and rub them on the genitals of female sheep, and goats and horses. From these [animals] get more eager for sex. Others rub them down with pepper and honey; and others with sodium carbonate and nettle-seed. Some even rub them down with myrrh. From this kind of stimulation the females lose control and go crazy for the males.”

  1. ‘Υπὲρ τοῦ πλείονα τὴν ἐπιγονὴν τῶν ζῴων σφίσι γίνεσθαι οἱ τούτων μελεδωνοὶ τὰ ἄρθρα τῶν θηλειῶν καὶ οἰῶν καὶ αἰγῶν καὶ ἵππων ἀνατρίβουσι κατὰ τὸν τῆς ὀχείας καιρὸν ἁλῶν καὶ λίτρουτὰς χεῖρας ἀναπλήσαντες. ἐκ τούτων ὄρεξις αὐτοῖς γίνεται περὶ τὴν ἀφροδίτην μᾶλλον. ἕτεροι δὲ πεπέριδι καὶ μέλιτι τὰ αὐτὰ χρίουσι, λίτρῳ δὲ ἄλλοι καὶ κνίδης καρπῷ· σμυρνίῳ δὲ ἤδη τινὲς ἔχρισαν καὶ λίτρῳ. ἐκ δὴ τοῦδε τοῦ ὀδαξησμοῦ ἀκράτορες ἑαυτῶν γίνονται αἱ θήλειαι ποῖμναι, καὶ ἐπιμαίνονται τοῖς ἄρρεσιν.

 

Drugs in Warfare

Suda, sigma 777

Solon: They [the Amphiktyones] selected this man to be their adviser for war against the Kirrhaians. When they were consulting the oracle about victory, the Pythia said: “you will not capture and raze the tower of this city before the wave of dark-eyed Amphitritê washes onto my precinct as it echoes over the wine-faced sea.”

Solon persuaded them to make Kirrhaia sacred to the god so that the sea would become a neighbor to Apollo’s precinct. And another strategy was devised by Solon against the Kirrhaians. For he turned a river’s water which used to flow in its channel into the city elsewhere.

The Kirrhaians withstood the besiegers by drinking water from wells and from rain. But [Solon] filled the river with hellebore roots and when he believed the water had enough of the drug, he returned it to its course. Then the Kirrhaians took a full portion of this water. And when they went AWOL because of diarrhea, the Amphiktyones who were stationed near the wall took it and then the city.”

Σόλων: τοῦτον εἵλοντο οἱ Κιρραίοις πολεμεῖν ᾑρημένοι σύμβουλον. χρωμένοις δὲ σφίσι περὶ νίκης ἀνεῖπεν ἡ Πυθώ: οὐ πρὶν τῆσδε πόληος ἐρείψετε πύργον ἑλόντες, πρίν κεν ἐμῷ τεμένει κυανώπιδος Ἀμφιτρίτης κῦμα ποτικλύζοι, κελαδοῦν ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον. ἔπεισεν οὖν ὁ Σόλων καθιερῶσαι τῷ θεῷ τὴν Κίρραιαν, ἵνα δὴ τῷ τεμένει τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος γένηται γείτων ἡ θάλαττα. εὑρέθη δὲ καὶ ἕτερον τῷ Σόλωνι σόφισμα ἐς τοὺς Κιρραίους: τοῦ γὰρ ποταμοῦ τὸ ὕδωρ ῥέον δι’ ὀχετοῦ ἐς τὴν πόλιν ἀπέστρεψεν ἀλλαχόσε. καὶ οἱ μὲν πρὸς τοὺς πολιορκοῦντας ἔτι ἀντεῖχον ἔκ τε φρεάτων καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ἐκ θεοῦ πίνοντες. ὁ δὲ τοῦ ἑλλεβόρου τὰς ῥίζας ἐμβαλὼν ἐς τὸν ποταμόν, ἐπειδὴ ἱκανῶς τοῦ φαρμάκου τὸ ὕδωρ ᾔσθετο ἔχον, ἀντέστρεψεν αὖθις ἐς τὸν ὀχετόν, καὶ ἐνεφορήσαντο ἀνέδην οἱ Κιρραῖοι τοῦ ὕδατος. καὶ οἱ μὲν ὑπὸ τῆς διαρροίας ἐξέλιπον, οἱ δὲ ἐπὶ τοῦ τείχους τῆς φρουρᾶς Ἀμφικτύονες εἷλον τὴν φρουρὰν καὶ τὴν πόλιν.

Image result for medieval manuscript opium

Helen’s Sisters Were Unfaithful, But it Was Their Father’s Fault

Ever wondered why Helen left Menelaos or why her sister 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 deserters 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 Klytemnestra—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 goddess
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.

Image result for helen and her sisters greek
The Rape of Helen by Francesco Primaticcio (c. 1530–1539, Bowes Museum)

The Names of Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigenia

The sacrifice of Iphigenia is a pivotal moment in the tale of the House of Atreus—it motivates Agamemnon’s murder and in turn the matricide of Orestes—and the Trojan War, functioning as it does as a strange sacrifice of a virgin daughter of Klytemnestra in exchange for passage for a fleet to regain the adulteress Helen, Iphigeneia’s aunt by both her father and mother. The account is famous in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the plays Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides. Its earliest accounts, however, provide some interesting variations:

Hes. Fr. 23.13-30

“Agamemnon, lord of men, because of her beauty,
Married the dark-eyed daughter of Tyndareus, Klytemnestra.
She gave birth to fair-ankled Iphimede in her home
And Elektra who rivaled the goddesses in beauty.
But the well-greaved Achaeans butchered Iphimede
on the altar of thundering, golden-arrowed Artemis
on that day when they sailed with ships to Ilium
in order to exact payment for fair-ankled Argive woman—
they butchered a ghost. But the deer-shooting arrow-mistress
easily rescued her and anointed her head
with lovely ambrosia so that her flesh would be enduring—
She made her immortal and ageless for all days.
Now the races of men upon the earth call her
Artemis of the roads, the servant of the famous arrow-mistress.
Last in her home, dark-eyed Klytemnestra gave birth
after being impregnated by Agamemnon to Orestes,
who, once he reached maturity, paid back the murderer of his father
and killed his mother as well with pitiless bronze.”

γ̣ῆμ̣[ε δ’ ἑὸν διὰ κάλλος ἄναξ ἀνδρ]ῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων
κού[ρην Τυνδαρέοιο Κλυταιμήσ]τρην κυανῶπ[ιν•
ἣ̣ τ̣[έκεν ᾿Ιφιμέδην καλλίσφυ]ρον ἐν μεγάρο[ισιν
᾿Ηλέκτρην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀ[θανά]τηισιν.
᾿Ιφιμέδην μὲν σφάξαν ἐυκνή[μ]ιδες ᾿Αχαιοὶ
βωμῶ[ι ἔπ’ ᾿Αρτέμιδος χρυσηλακ]ά̣τ[ου] κελαδεινῆς,
ἤματ[ι τῶι ὅτε νηυσὶν ἀνέπλ]εον̣ ῎Ιλιον ε̣[ἴσω
ποινὴ[ν τεισόμενοι καλλισ]φύρου ᾿Αργειώ̣[νη]ς̣,
εἴδω[λον• αὐτὴν δ’ ἐλαφηβό]λο̣ς ἰοχέαιρα
ῥεῖα μάλ’ ἐξεσά[ωσε, καὶ ἀμβροσ]ίην [ἐρ]ατ̣ε̣[ινὴν
στάξε κατὰ κρῆ[θεν, ἵνα οἱ χ]ρ̣ὼς̣ [ἔ]μ̣πε[δ]ο̣[ς] ε̣[ἴη,
θῆκεν δ’ ἀθάνατο[ν καὶ ἀγήρ]αον ἤμα[τα πάντα.
τὴν δὴ νῦν καλέο[υσιν ἐπὶ χ]θ̣ονὶ φῦλ’ ἀν̣[θρώπων
῎Αρτεμιν εἰνοδί[ην, πρόπολον κλυ]τοῦ ἰ[ο]χ[ε]αίρ[ης.
λοῖσθον δ’ ἐν μεγά[ροισι Κλυτ]αιμ̣ή̣στρη κυα[νῶπις
γείναθ’ ὑποδμηθ[εῖσ’ ᾿Αγαμέμν]ον[ι δῖ]ον ᾿Ορέ[στην,
ὅς ῥα καὶ ἡβήσας ἀπε̣[τείσατο π]ατροφο[ν]ῆα,
κτεῖνε δὲ μητέρα [ἣν ὑπερήν]ορα νηλέι [χαλκῶι.

This fragment presents what is possibly the earliest account of the tale of Iphigenia and contains the major elements: the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter is tied to vengeance against Helen; the daughter is rescued by Artemis, made immortal and made her servant. [In some traditions she is either made immortal or made into a priestess of Artemis at Tauris]. Orestes kills the murderer of his father and his mother.
Continue reading “The Names of Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigenia”

Gender, Smell and Lemnos: More Misogyny from Greek Myth

A proverb from the Suda

“By a Lemnian Hand: [meaning] cruelly and lawlessly. This is from a story: for they say that the women in Lemnos allegedly killed their husbands because they weren’t having sex with them”

Λημνίᾳ χειρί: ὠμῇ καὶ παρανόμῳ. ἀπὸ τῆς ἱστορίας· φασὶ γὰρ τὰς ἐν Λήμνῳ γυναῖκας τοὺς ἄνδρας αὐτῶν ἀνελεῖν αἰτιωμένας, ὅτι αὐταῖς οὐκ ἐμίγνυντο.

A few years ago I was looking up some odd word or another in the work of the lexicographer Hesychius (ok, to be honest, I was looking up words for feces and was looking at κοκκιλόνδις· παιδὸς ἀφόδευμα; kokkilondis: “a child’s excrement”). I found the following words which are pretty much absent from all modern lexica.

Kikkasos: the sweat flowing from between the thighs

κίκκασος· ὁ ἐκ τῶν παραμηρίων ἱδρὼς ῥέων.

Kikkê: Sex. Or the bad smell [that comes] from genitals

κίκκη· συνουσία. ἡ ἀπὸ τῶν αἰδοίων δυσοσμία

Obviously, the specificity of these two lexical items is amusing. But their very existence perplexed me a bit. Where did they come from? How were they used? (They don’t actually appear anywhere but in Hesychius.) After some contemplation and a little restraint, I can only conclude that the words emerge from a generally misogynistic context which also considered sex in some way unclean.

The story that I kept thinking of was that of the Lemnian women—it is one of the few connections I could make between sex and bad smells. It is also one of my least favorite myths because it echoes modern misogynistic taboos which marginalize and alienate female bodies. So, I almost didn’t write this post. But I do think that it is worth making these connections, however uncomfortable they are.

Here are two versions of the Lemnian women tale.

Apollodorus, 1.114

“Jason was the captain of the ship as they disembarked and neared Lemnos. The island then happened to be bereft of men and was ruled by Hypsipyle, Thoas’ daughter, for the following reason. The Lemnian women used not to honor Aphrodite. She cast a terrible smell upon them and, for this reason, their husbands acquired spear-won women from Thrace and slept with them.

Because they were dishonored, the Lemnian women slaughtered their fathers and husbands. Hypsipyle alone spared her father Thoas by hiding him. After they landed on the women-controlled island, they slept with the women. Hypsipyle gave birth to sons after sleeping with Jason: Eunêos and Nebrophonos.”

οὗτοι ναυαρχοῦντος ᾿Ιάσονος ἀναχθέντες προσίσχουσι Λήμνῳ. ἔτυχε δὲ ἡ Λῆμνος ἀνδρῶν τότε οὖσα ἔρημος, βασιλευομένη δὲ ὑπὸ ῾Υψιπύλης τῆς Θόαντος δι’ αἰτίαν τήνδε. αἱ Λήμνιαι τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην οὐκ ἐτίμων· ἡ δὲ αὐταῖς ἐμβάλλει δυσοσμίαν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οἱ γήμαντες αὐτὰς ἐκ τῆς πλησίον Θρᾴκης λαβόντες αἰχμαλωτίδας συνευνάζοντο αὐταῖς. ἀτιμαζόμεναι δὲ αἱ Λήμνιαι τούς τε πατέρας καὶ τοὺς ἄνδρας φονεύουσι· μόνη δὲ ἔσωσεν ῾Υψιπύλη τὸν ἑαυτῆς πατέρα κρύψασα
Θόαντα. προσσχόντες οὖν τότε γυναικοκρατουμένῃ τῇ Λήμνῳ μίσγονται ταῖς γυναιξίν. ῾Υψιπύλη δὲ ᾿Ιάσονι συνευνάζεται, καὶ γεννᾷ παῖδας Εὔνηον καὶ Νεβρο-φόνον.

Image result for Jason argonauts greek vase

Schol ad. Pind. P4 88b

“The story goes like this: Because the Lemnian women had carried out the honors for Aphrodite improperly, the goddess inflicted a bad smell upon them: for this reason, men turned them away. They all worked together and killed their husbands in a plot. Then the Argonauts, as they were travelling to Skythia, arrived in in Lemnos; when they found that the island was bereft of men, they slept with the women and then left. The sons who were born from them went to Sparta in search of their fathers and, once they were accepted among the Lakonians, they became citizens there and settled in Sparta.

ἱστορία τοιαύτη· ταῖς Λημνίαις γυναιξὶν ἀσεβῶς διακειμέναις περὶ τὰς τῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης τιμὰς ἡ θεὸς δυσοσμίαν προσέπεμψε, καὶ οὕτως αὐτὰς οἱ ἄνδρες ἀπεστράφησαν· αἱ δὲ συνθέμεναι πρὸς ἑαυτὰς ἐξ ἐπιβουλῆς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀνεῖλον. τηνικαῦτα δὲ οἱ ᾿Αργοναῦται τὸν εἰς Σκυθίαν στελλόμενοι πλοῦν προσωρμίσθησαν τῇ Λήμνῳ, καὶ εὑρόντες ἔρημον ἀρσένων τὴν νῆσον συνελθόντες ταῖς γυναιξὶν ἀπηλλάγησαν. οἱ δὲ φύντες ἐξ αὐτῶν ἦλθον εἰς Λακεδαίμονα κατὰ ζήτησιν τῶν πατέρων, καὶ προσδεχθέντες παρὰ Λάκωσι καὶ πολιτευσάμενοι συνέθεντο ἐπιθέσθαι τῇ Σπάρτῃ…

This tale seems to combine with a larger treatment of Lemnos as clear from the proverb above and this one:

A proverb from Zenobius (4.91)

“A Lemnian evil”: A proverb which they say comes from the lawless acts committed against husbands by the women of Lemnos. Or it derives from the story of the women who were abducted from Attica by the Pelasgians and settled in Lemnos. Once they gave birth, they taught their sons the ways and the language of the Athenians. They honored each other and ruled over those who descended from Thracians. Then the Pelasgians, because they were angry over this, killed them and their mothers. Or the proverb derives from the bad smell of the Lemnian women.”

Λήμνιον κακόν: παροιμία, ἣν διαδοθῆναι φασὶν ἀπὸ τῶν παρανομηθέντων εἰς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐν Λήμνῳ ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ τὰς ἁρπαγείσας ὑπὸ Πελασγῶν ἐκ τῆς ᾿Αττικῆς γυναῖκας εἰς Λῆμνον ἀπαχθῆναι· ἃς ἀποτεκούσας τρόπους τε τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων διδάξαι τοὺς παῖδας καὶ γλῶτταν· τούτους δὲ τιμωρεῖν ἀλλήλοις καὶ τῶν ἐκ τῶν Θρᾳσσῶν γεγενημένων ἐπικρατεῖν· τοὺς δὲ Πελασγοὺς ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἀχθομένους κτεῖναι αὐτοὺς καὶ τὰς μητέρας αὐτῶν. ῍Η διὰ τὴν δυσωδίαν τῶν Λημνιάδων γυναικῶν τὴν παροιμίαν διαδοθῆναι.

The story of the Lemnian crimes (Lêmnia Erga) is told by Herodotus (6.137-138): the Pelasgians were driven out of Attic and took Lemnos; then they got their revenge by abducting Athenian women during a festival. When the sons of these women grew up, they frightened the native Pelasgians and they were all killed.

In the major tales, it is clear that the women are not completely at fault, but they are the ones who seem to suffer the most. Within the broader narrative of the Argonaut tale, especially, we can see how women are defined by their bodies as loci of sexual interest or disinterest, the ability to produce children, and anxiety that they might not remain subordinate to male desire. The casual detail of the Pelasgian tale is especially harrowing.

“Feminine Fame”: Homer on Why We Disbelieve Women

After the suitor Amphimedon arrives in the underworld and tells the story of Penelope’s shroud and Odysseus’ return, Agamemnon responds:

Odyssey 24.192-202:

“Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus,
You really secured a wife with magnificent virtue!
That’s how good the brains are for blameless Penelope,
Ikarios’ daughter, how well she remembered Odysseus,
Her wedded husband. The fame of her virtue will never perish,
And the gods will craft a pleasing song
Of mindful Penelope for mortals over the earth.
This is not the way for Tyndareos’ daughter.
She devised wicked deeds and since she killed
Her wedded husband, a hateful song
Will be hers among men, she will attract harsh rumor
To the race of women, even for those who are good.”

“ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,
ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν·
ὡς ἀγαθαὶ φρένες ἦσαν ἀμύμονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
κούρῃ ᾿Ικαρίου, ὡς εὖ μέμνητ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος,
ἀνδρὸς κουριδίου. τῶ οἱ κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται
ἧς ἀρετῆς, τεύξουσι δ’ ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἀοιδὴν
ἀθάνατοι χαρίεσσαν ἐχέφρονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
οὐχ ὡς Τυνδαρέου κούρη κακὰ μήσατο ἔργα,
κουρίδιον κτείνασα πόσιν, στυγερὴ δέ τ’ ἀοιδὴ
ἔσσετ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, χαλεπὴν δέ τε φῆμιν ὀπάσσει
θηλυτέρῃσι γυναιξί, καὶ ἥ κ’ εὐεργὸς ἔῃσιν.”

More than half of this speech praises Penelope for being a loyal, ‘good’ wife (and that is another issue of its own). Of course, this makes Agamemnon think of Klytemnestra. There’s a lot to be said about how this passage sets up the end of the Odyssey, but Agamemnon’s words are striking because they reflect a sad reality not just about misogynistic thinking but about the operation of human thought.

Let’s start with the misogyny: Agamemnon says here, quite clearly, that because of the behavior of one woman (well, two if we hear ambiguity in the phrase “Tyndareos’ daughter” and think of Helen too) all women have bad fame, even if they are “good”? A simple response to this is to wonder whether the same applies to men (of course not…) Let’s pass over the fact that the murder of Agamemnon was probably well deserved.  I think this passage also reflects human cognition: the story of Klytemnestra is paradigmatic. We learn basic patterns about people and the world and apply these patterns (prejudices) as substitutions for deeper thought.

I am not sure whether this serves as a bit of an anticipatory apologetic on the part of epic–that the tale of Penelope cannot match up to negative messages about women. It probably stands as an acknowledgement of a “negative expectancy effect”–we are primed to hear negative tales and to believe negative things. I suspect that on Homer’s part this is probably less about women and more about anticipating the reception of this poem.

But, at the very least, this is a clear indication that Homer knows the way it goes: we live in a cultural system that discounts positive stories about women in favor of negative ones and which, accordingly, downgrades the authority of the stories they tell. In our responses to the testimonies of men and women, men have the privilege of being individuals whose lives might be ruined by rumor and false claims, while women are always already undermined. This is is an example of structural misogyny.

For discussions of this passage see: On the contrasting fame of Klytemnestra and Penelope, see Franco 2012, 60–61. For invocations of Klytemnestra as an example of how a woman can ruin a nostos, see Murnaghan 2011, chapter 4 and Nagy 1999, 36–39.

orestes
Classical myth deserves trigger warnings.

Franco, Cristina. 2012. “Women in Homer,” in Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon, eds., A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. London. 55­–65.

Marquardt, Patricia. 1989. “Love’s Labor’s Lost: Women in the Odyssey,” in Robert Sutton, ed., Daidalikon: Studies in Honor of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Chicago. 239-248.

Murnaghan, Sheila. 2011. Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey, Second Edition. Lanham.

Nagy, Gregory 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge

Achilles’ (Missing) Sister

Reading over Merkelbach and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea often reminds me of many things I have forgotten. I am too young to blame this forgetfulness on senility; and yet too old to blame it on youthful ignorance.

Today’s particular disturbance comes from fragment 213 which tells us that Achilles, like Odysseus, has a sister (fragment included within the scholia below).

At first, I thought that this was some sort of Lykophrontic fantasy. But, alas, upon looking into the details, she is actually mentioned in the Iliad!

Iliad, 16.173-178

“Menestheus of the dancing-breastplate led one contingent,
son of the swift-flowing river Sperkheios
whom the daughter of Peleus, beautiful Poludôrê bore
when she shared the bed with the indomitable river-god, Sperkheios
although by reputation he was the son of Boros, the son of Periêrês
who wooed her openly by offering countless gifts.”

τῆς μὲν ἰῆς στιχὸς ἦρχε Μενέσθιος αἰολοθώρηξ
υἱὸς Σπερχειοῖο διιπετέος ποταμοῖο·
ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ καλὴ Πολυδώρη
Σπερχειῷ ἀκάμαντι γυνὴ θεῷ εὐνηθεῖσα,
αὐτὰρ ἐπίκλησιν Βώρῳ Περιήρεος υἷι,
ὅς ῥ’ ἀναφανδὸν ὄπυιε πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.

The confusion, shock and horror of this detail—which I presume the vast majority of Homer’s audiences have overlooked or forgotten as with the sad fate of Odysseus’ sister—can be felt as well in the various reactions of the Scholia where we encounter (a) denial—it was a different Peleus!; (b) sophomoric prevarication—why doesn’t Achilles talk about her, hmmm?; (c) conditional acceptance through anachronistic assumptions—she’s suppressed because it is shameful that she is a bastard; (d) and, finally, citation of hoary authorities to insist upon a ‘truth’ unambiguous in the poem.

I have translated the major scholia below. Note that we can see where the ‘fragments’ of several authors come from here (hint: they’re just talked about by the scholiasts). We can also learn a bit about the pluralistic and contradictory voices to be found in the Homeric scholia. The bastard child bit is my favorite part.

 

Schol A. ad Il. 16.175

“Pherecydes says that Polydora was the sister of Achilles. There is no way that this has been established in Homer. It is more credible that this is just the same name, as in other situations, since [the poet] would have added some sign of kinship with Achilles.”

ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ὅτι Φερεκύδης (Fr. 61-62) τὴν Πολυδώραν φησὶν ἀδελφὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως. οὐκ ἔστι δὲ καθ’ ῞Ομηρον διαβεβαιώσασθαι. πιθανώτερον οὖν ὁμωνυμίαν εἶναι, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπ’ ἄλλων, ἐπεὶ προσέθηκεν ἂν τεκμήριον τῆς πρὸς ᾿Αχιλλέα συγγενείας.

 

Schol T. ad Il. 16.175

”  “Daughter of Peleus”: A different Peleus, for if he were a nephew of Achilles, this would be mentioned in Hades when they speak about his father and son or in the allegory of the Litai when he says “a great spirit compelled me there” or “my possessions and serving women” he might mention the pleasure of having a sister. The poet does not recognize that Peleus encountered some other woman. Neoteles says that Achilles’ cousin leads the first contingent and gives evidence of knowledge of war. And he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles. Should he not mentioned her in Hades? Odysseus does not mention Ktimene [his sister].

Pherecydes says that [Polydore] was born from Antigonê, the daughter of Eurytion; the Suda says her mother was Laodameia the daughter of Alkmaion; Staphulos says she was Eurudikê the daughter of Aktôr. Zenodotos says the daughter’s name was Kleodôrê; Hesiod and everyone else calls her Poludôrê.”

ex. Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ἑτέρου Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, καὶ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ ἐρωτῶν (cf. λ 494—537), καὶ ἐν ταῖς Λιταῖς, φάσκων „ἔνθα δέ μοι μάλα <πολλὸν> ἐπέσσυτο θυμός” (Ι 398), „κτῆσιν ἐμὴν δμῶάς τε” (Τ 333), ἔφασκεν ἂν καὶ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἀπόλαυσιν. Πηλέα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς ἑτέρᾳ γυναικὶ συνελθόντα. Νεοτέλης δὲ ὡς ἀδελφιδοῦν᾿Αχιλλέως φησὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖσθαι, ὡς καὶ μαρτυρεῖ ἐπιστήμην πολέμου· †ὡς ἀχιλλέως τε ἀδελφὴν γαμεῖν† ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν ἕδνα (cf. Π 178). εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἐν ῞Αιδου· οὐδὲ γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς Κτιμένης (cf. ο 363 cum λ 174—9). Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 61 b) δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, Σουίδας (FGrHist 602, 8) ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος, Στάφυλος (FGrHist 269,5) ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς῎Ακτορος. Ζηνόδοτος (FGrHist 19,5) δὲ Κλεοδώρην φησίν, ῾Ησιόδου (fr. 213 M.—W.) καὶ τῶν ἄλλων Πολυδώρην αὐτὴν καλούντων.

Schol. BCE ad Il. 16.175

“They say that she is from another Peleus. For if he were a nephew of Achilles wouldn’t this be mentioned or wouldn’t he ask about his sister in Hades along with his father and son? At the same time, the poet does not know that Peleus encountered some other women. More recent poets say that Menestheus is his nephew and that this is the reason he leads the first contingent and shows knowledge of war and that ‘he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles’. But if he does not mention it, it is not necessarily foreign to him. For the poet is rather sensitive to certain proprieties.”

ἑτέρου, φασί, Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, πῶς οὐκ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἢ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐρωτῶν καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ; ἅμα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς Πηλέα ἑτέρᾳ συνελθόντα γυναικί. οἱ δὲ νεώτεροι ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτοῦ λέγουσιν· ὅθεν καὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖται καὶ πολέμων ἐπιστήμων μαρτυρεῖται, καὶ ὡς †ἀχιλλέως ἀδελφὴν γαμῶν ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν. εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἢ τούτου, οὐ ξένον· περὶ γὰρ τῶν καιριωτέρων αὐτῷ ἡ φροντίς.

Schol. b ad Il. 16.175

“Since, otherwise, if Polydora were his sister, she would be a bastard and he would not want to mention her. Or, maybe it is because she has already died.”

ἄλλως τε ἐπειδὴ νόθη ἦν ἡ Πολυδώρη αὐτοῦ ἀδελφή, τάχα οὐδὲ μνημονεύειν αὐτῆς ἐβουλήθη. ἢ ὅτι καὶ αὐτὴ ἤδη τετελευτηκυῖα ἦν.

Schol D ad Il. 16.175

“Did Peleus have a daughter Polydôrê from another? Staphulos says in the third book of his Thessalika that she was born from Eurydike the daughter of Aktôr. Pherecydes says it was the daughter of Eurytion; others says Laodameia, the daughter of Alkmaion.”

ἐκ τίνος Πηλεὺς Πολυδώρην ἔσχεν; ὡς μὲν Στάφυλός φησιν ἐν τῇ τρίτῃ Θεσσαλικῶν, ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς ῎Ακτορος θυγατρός. Φερεκύδης δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, ἄλλοι δὲ ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος.

What happened to Peleus’ first wife—if they were married? According to John Tzetzes (see Fowler 2013, 444) Peleus accidentally killed his father-in-law during the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, so he had to go abroad and in Iolkos the king’s wife tried to seduce him and told Antigone that Peleus would abandon her. Antigone killed herself, leaving Peleus free to marry Thetis. (But who took care of their daughter?).

It can get more confusing: some traditions (Apollodorus, 3.163 and 168) make a Polymele the daughter of Peleus and Patroklos’ mother whereas Polydora is Peleus’ wife in between Antigone and Thetis. Whatever the case, we can do our own scholiastic justification for Achilles not talking about his sister without creating a second Peleus. She must have been a bit older than Achilles since by all accounts Peleus fathered her before (1) the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, (2) the sacking of Iolkos and (3) the Voyage of the Argo. She would likely have been raised in a separate household from Achilles and married off before he went to study with the centaur Cheiron!

(More importantly: In the poetic world of Homer, sisters just don’t matter. Brothers do. Helen does not mention missing her sisters. Hektor talks to multiple brothers, but where are his sisters? In the Odyssey, Achilles asks about his father and son because Odysseus is interested in fathers and sons. This may make it more, not less, appropriate that Achilles says nothing of his sister: Odysseus just doesn’t care about sisters. Nor, it seems, does Homer.)

Works Consulted (apart from the Greek Texts).

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.
Robert Fowler. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2:Commentary, 2013.

Image result for ancient greek achilles

Likemindedness and Trees: An Excerpt from a Wedding Homily for Valentine’s Day

Late in 2021, I had the great honor of being asked to preside over the wedding of a former student and friend, Zach as he married his long time partner, Molly. In the midst of COVID19 still and all the chaos in the world, it was a moment of respite and celebration and a sign that life continues on. Here’s the better part of it to mark a commercial holiday with all the meaning that we make of it.

Welcome friends, family, and all of you who gather today to celebrate Molly and Zack. After nearly two years of uncertainty and fear, there are few things more life affirming and hopeful than this–two people confirming their love for each other and asking their community to stand with them to recognize that in a shifting and unsettled world, this is something to count on.

As a sage once said, how did we get here? When Zach first asked me before the Pandemic to officiate I said yes without hesitation–not because I have any authority or experience in doing so, but because I can think of an honor no greater than this, to stand here and help Molly and Zach speak into existence something they made for themselves, something to shape, define and comfort them for the rest of their lives. 

As is the custom with these things, I am in a position to offer some reflection and advice to the soon to be wed couple on what marriage means. Three short stories; three things to think about: politics, passion, and age.

I was Zach’s teacher in the Department of Brandeis University in the Department of Classical Studies. I used to joke to Zach that the nicest thing said about marriage in all of classical literature comes in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus, naked and bedraggled, gives a blessing to the young princess Nausikaa

“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν: οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ᾽ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή: πόλλ᾽ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
185χάρματα δ᾽ εὐμενέτῃσι, μάλιστα δέ τ᾽ ἔκλυον αὐτοί. 6. Od. 180-185

Doesn’t this sound great! The  lesson here, it’s a political one, the promise of the married couple working as a team to achieve their goals and punish all those who oppose them.  But there’s a limit too-a close reading shows that homophrosyne, likemindedness, means having shared aims and plans, but it really looks externally, to surviving the world outside the home.

If the Odyssey tells us about the politics of marriage, and dominating your neighbors, another famous story is about passion. Ovid’s Metamorphoses gives us the Babylonian Pyramus and Thisbe. Two young lovers, forbidden to be with each other, housed right next door. When they sneak out to meet, Thisbe runs from a lioness and leaves her veil behind only to have Pyramus arrive to see what he thinks is a predator with a bloody grin. The two end up taking their own lives in sorrow and inspiring tales like Romeo and Juliet. 

Pyramus and Thisbe, House of Dionysus

This story is in a way an warning allegory about passion and excess–it reflects the kind of love that burns bright and then fades. The frantic love of youth is a memory. It inflames, but is hard to sustain.

The one story from the ancient world that has always seemed to me to understand love the most is Baucis and Philemon, also told by Ovid. They were an aging couple in a wicked city and when the gods came to test them, they were the only ones who offered strangers hospitality. In thanks, Hermes and Zeus turned their home into a temple and when they died, they turned into two trees, rooted near each other, and over time they grew so intertwined that you couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended but you could still clearly see the wood and character of each tree.

Jan van den Hoecke, “Peasants Philemon and Baucis visited by Jupiter and Mercury.”

This too is an allegory for love: the way people grow together and change, shaping and shaped in turn, creating a life and story that is so intertwined that you cannot remember where one starts and the other ends. As I have learned in spending more than half my life with my partner, few gifts are more comforting and sustaining, to be part of something bigger while still yet becoming yourself. Passion inspires us to love; life requires us to team up and face the daily struggle, age and the passage of time brings this great, unexpected gift: becoming more than yourself by loving someone else.

May you bring joy to your friends and eliminate your enemies, may you feel the passion of youth for as long as it burns, and may you grow so close and strong together that no power on earth can move you apart.

 

I am presiding over another wedding this spring (!) and will have to come up with new stories to tell. 

Alexis, What is Love?

Alexis (fr.386k from his Phaedrus; found at Athenaeus 13.13)

“As I was walking from the Peiraios beset
By troubles and despair, philosophy came over me.
And all the painters now seem to me to be ignorant
About love, and, to put it simply, so is everyone else
Who fashions images of him as a god.

For he is neither female nor male, and again,
He is not a god or mortal; nor is he foolish
Or wise, but he is drawn together from everywhere
And carries many shapes in one form.

For he has a man’s boldness with a woman’s restraint;
he has the senselessness of madness
But the reason of a thinker; he has a beast’s ferocity,
The toil of the unbreakable, and the avarice of a god.

Indeed, by Athena and the gods, I do not understand
What love is, but still it is the type of thing
I have said only without this name.”

πορευομένῳ δ᾽ ἐκ Πειραιῶς ὑπὸ τῶν κακῶν
καὶ τῆς ἀπορίας φιλοσοφεῖν ἐπῆλθέ μοι.
καί μοι δοκοῦσιν ἀγνοεῖν οἱ ζωγράφοι
τὸν Ἔρωτα, συντομώτατον δ᾽ εἰπεῖν, ὅσοι
τοῦ δαίμονος τούτου ποιοῦσιν εἰκόνας.
ἐστὶν γὰρ οὔτε θῆλυς οὔτ᾽ ἄρσην, πάλιν
οὔτε θεὸς οὔτ᾽ ἄνθρωπος, οὔτ᾽ ἀβέλτερος
οὔτ᾽ αὖθις ἔμφρων, ἀλλὰ συνενηνεγμένος
πανταχόθεν ἑνὶ τύπῳ <τε> πόλλ᾽ εἴδη φέρων.
ἡ τόλμα μὲν γὰρ ἀνδρός, ἡ <δὲ> δειλία
γυναικός, ἡ δ᾽ ἄνοια μανίας, ὁ δὲ λόγος
φρονοῦντος, ἡ σφοδρότης δὲ θηρός, ὁ δὲ πόνος
ἀδάμαντος, ἡ φιλοτιμία δὲ δαίμονος.
καὶ ταῦτ᾽ ἐγώ, μὰ τὴν Ἀθηνᾶν καὶ θεούς,
οὐκ οἶδ᾽ ὅ τι ἐστίν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἔχει γέ τι
τοιοῦτον, ἐγγύς τ᾽ εἰμὶ τοὐνόματος.

Cf. the philosopher Haddaway

And Foreigner’s desperate plea:

 

 

Pace the rejoinder from Turner 1984:

Related image
From here

“If He Survives, He Will Rule the Land”

Aeschylus, Persians 210-214

“For me, this was frightening to see,
And for you to hear. Know well that my child
Would be wondrous to behold if he did well but,
He’s not beholden to the state:
he will rule the land if he merely survives.”

ταῦτ᾿ ἐμοί τε δείματ᾿ εἰσιδεῖν
ὑμῖν τ᾿ ἀκούειν. εὖ γὰρ ἴστε, παῖς ἐμὸς
πράξας μὲν εὖ θαυμαστὸς ἂν γένοιτ᾿ ἀνήρ·
κακῶς δὲ πράξας—οὐχ ὑπεύθυνος πόλει,
σωθεὶς δ᾿ ὁμοίως τῆσδε κοιρανεῖ χθονός.

Euripides, Andromache 391-393

“Won’t you kill him,
The cause of these things? No, you ignore the cause
And just charge against the symptom that came later…”

…οὐ κεῖνον κτενεῖς,
τὸν αἴτιον τῶνδ᾽, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἀφεὶς
πρὸς τὴν τελευτὴν ὑστέραν οὖσαν φέρῃ;

Euripides, Andromache 479-485

“When strong winds carry sailors forward
Divergent opinions steering the ship
Or a mob thick with wise men is feebler
Than a single mind with self-control.
In city and under a single
Authority should be one person’s
Whenever we want to find success.”

πνοαὶ δ᾽ ὅταν φέρωσι ναυτίλους θοαί,
κατὰ πηδαλίων δίδυμαι πραπίδων γνῶμαι,
σοφῶν τε πλῆθος ἀθρόον ἀσθενέστερον
φαυλοτέρας φρενὸς αὐτοκρατοῦς.
ἑνὸς ἄρ᾽ ἄνυσις ἀνά τε μέλαθρα
κατά τε πόλιας, ὁπόταν εὑ-
ρεῖν θέλωσι καιρόν.

834-845

“My speech is lacking one thing still.
I wish I had the voice in my limbs
And hands and hair and the march of my feet
Or the skills of Daidalos or some god
So I could completely grasp you by your knees
Wailing, laying about you with every kind of argument.
Master, great hope of life for the Greeks,
Heed me—lend an avenging hand to an old woman
Even if she is nothing at all.
For it is right that a good man serve justice
And always do evil everywhere to evil men.”

ἑνός μοι μῦθος ἐνδεὴς ἔτι·
εἴ μοι γένοιτο φθόγγος ἐν βραχίοσιν
καὶ χερσὶ καὶ κόμαισι καὶ ποδῶν βάσει
ἢ Δαιδάλου τέχναισιν ἢ θεῶν τινος,
ὡς πάνθ᾿ ἁμαρτῇ σῶν ἔχοιτο γουνάτων
κλαίοντ᾿, ἐπισκήπτοντα παντοίους λόγους.
ὦ δέσποτ᾿, ὦ μέγιστον Ἕλλησιν φάος,
πιθοῦ, παράσχες χεῖρα τῇ πρεσβύτιδι
τιμωρόν, εἰ καὶ μηδέν ἐστιν ἀλλ᾿ ὅμως.
ἐσθλοῦ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς τῇ δίκῃ θ᾿ ὑπηρετεῖν
καὶ τοὺς κακοὺς δρᾶν πανταχοῦ κακῶς ἀεί.

Aeschylus, Persians 266-7

“I was present there—not merely hearing other’s words
Persians, I can tell you what kinds of terrible things occurred.”

καὶ μὴν παρών γε κοὐ λόγους ἄλλων κλυών,
Πέρσαι, φράσαιμ᾿ ἂν οἷ᾿ ἐπορσύνθη κακά.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greek_Bireme_500BC.jpg

Hymning the Praises of Women and Men: A Lost Singer in the Odyssey

Homer Odyssey 3. 265-72

“Shining Klytemnestra was resisting the shameful deed
Previously, for she had use of some good advice for her mind.
See, a man was there beside her, a singer whom Agamemnon
Ordered much to safeguard his wife when he went to Troy.
But when the fate of the gods was bound to overcome him,
Then [he*] packed off the singer to some lonely island
And left him there as food and booty for the birds
And he, willingly, took her willing to his own home”

ἡ δ’ ἦ τοι τὸ πρὶν μὲν ἀναίνετο ἔργον ἀεικές,
δῖα Κλυταιμνήστρη· φρεσὶ γὰρ κέχρητ’ ἀγαθῇσι·
πὰρ δ’ ἄρ’ ἔην καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀνήρ, ᾧ πόλλ’ ἐπέτελλεν
᾿Ατρεΐδης Τροίηνδε κιὼν εἴρυσθαι ἄκοιτιν.
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δή μιν μοῖρα θεῶν ἐπέδησε δαμῆναι,
δὴ τότε τὸν μὲν ἀοιδὸν ἄγων ἐς νῆσον ἐρήμην
κάλλιπεν οἰωνοῖσιν ἕλωρ καὶ κύρμα γενέσθαι,
τὴν δ’ ἐθέλων ἐθέλουσαν ἀνήγαγεν ὅνδε δόμονδε.

*note how carefully the Homeric text leaves the subject of the action in doubt until the final line.

Schol. EM ad Od. 3.267

“In olden days, singers used to hold the position of philosopher, everyone used to consider them wise and they entrusted their kind to them to be educated. When gathering in festivals and to rest for many days, they used to listen to them if any famous or noble deed had happened. So, the singer who was left with Klytemnestra was trying to hinder wicked thoughts from happening by narrating the virtues of men and women. And she was acting prudently as long as that singer was present. Some people say that the singer did not have genitals, wrongly. Some named him Khariades, others call him Demodokos, others Glaukos.”

τὸ ἀρχαῖον οἱ ἀοιδοὶ φιλοσόφου τάξιν ἐπέσχον καὶ πάντες αὐτοῖς προσεῖχον ὡς σοφοῖς, καὶ παιδευθῆναι τούτοις παρεδίδοσαν τοὺς ἀναγκαίους· ἔν τε ταῖς ἑορταῖς ἔν τε ταῖς ἀναπαύσεσιν ἐπὶ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συλλεγόμενοι τούτων ἤκουον εἴ που γέγονεν ἐπιφανὲς ἢ καλὸν ἔργον. καὶ ὁ καταλειφθεὶς οὖν παρὰ τῇ Κλυταιμνήστρᾳ ᾠδὸς πονηρὰς ἐπινοίας ἐγγίνεσθαι ἐκώλυε, διηγούμενος ἀνδρῶν καὶ γυναικῶν ἀρετάς. καὶ ἕως τούτου ἐσωφρόνει ἕως αὐτῇ παρῆν οὗτος. τινὲς ἀοιδὸν τὸν μὴ αἰδοῖα ἔχοντα, κακῶς. τοῦτόν τινες Χαριάδην, οἱ δὲ Δημόδοκον καλοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Γλαῦκον.

Woodcut illustration of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdering Agamemnon and their subsequent deaths at the hand of Orestes
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woodcut_illustration_of_Clytemnestra_and_Aegisthus_murdering_Agamemnon_and_their_subsequent_deaths_at_the_hand_of_Orestes_-_Penn_Provenance_Project.jpg

Schol MQV 3.267

“A singer was stationed with her too. For in ancient times, singers used to have the position of philosophers. Some people who know things badly report that he was a Eunuch”

συμπαρῆν γὰρ αὐτῇ καὶ ᾠδός. τὸ γὰρ ἀρχαῖον οἱ ᾠδοὶ φιλοσόφων τάξιν ἐπεῖχον. τινὲς δὲ κακῶς νοήσαντες τὸν εὐνοῦχον ἀπέδοσαν.

Schol. M. ad Od. 3.367

“There some people report he was a Eunuch from the alpha privative morios and aidoios for singer, that his genitals were removed.”

ἐνταῦθα δέ τινες ἀοιδὸν τὸν εὐνοῦον νοοῦσιν ἐκ τοῦ α στερητικοῦ μορίου καὶ τοῦ αἰδοίου, τὸν ἐστερη-μένον τῶν αἰδοίων.

Schol P. ad Od. 3.367

“Some say that the singers were tragedians. For the ancients treated these people with honor. And others say that the singer he mentions was a eunuch”

ἀοιδὸς] οἱ μὲν ἀοιδοὺς λέγουσι τοὺς τραγῳδούς. διὰ τιμῆς γὰρ οἱ παλαιοὶ τούτους ἦγον· οἱ δὲ …. φασὶν εἶναι εὐνοῦχον λέγοντα τὸν ἀοιδὸν εἶναι τῆς Κλυταιμνήστρας.

Schol. EHMQR Ad Od. 3.267

“Demetrius of Phalerum has as follows: “Menelaos, when he went with Odysseus to Delphi asked about the expedition which was about to happen against Troy. At that time, in fact, Kreon was running the nine-year contest of the Pythian games. The Spartan Demodokos won, a student of Automedon of Mycenae who was the first who composted the Battle of Amphritryon against the Teleboans and the Conflict of Kithairon and Helikon for whom the mountains in Boiotia are named. He was also a student of Perimedes the Argive who taught the Mycenean Automedes himself along with Likymnios the Bouprasian and Sinis along with Dôrieus, the Laconian Pharides and the Spartan Probolos.

At that time, Menelaos dedicated the expedition for Helen to Athena thanks to forethought. Agamemnon led Demodokos to Mycenae and ordered him to watch over Klytemnestra.

People used to honor singers excessively as teachers of the gods and other ancient acts of good men and they used to delight in the lyre beyond the other instruments. Klytemnestra clearly honored him—she didn’t have him murdered but instead ordered him to be exiled. Timolaus suggest that he was the brother of Phemios who accompanied Penelope to Ithaca to keep a watch over her. He sang for the suitors under compulsion.”

οὕτω Δημήτριος ὁ Φαληρεύς· Μενέλαος ἅμα τῷ ᾿Οδυσσεῖ ἐλθὼν εἰς Δελφοὺς τὸν θεὸν ἤρετο περὶ τῆς μελλούσης ἔσεσθαι εἰς ῎Ιλιον στρατείας. τότε δὴ καὶ τὸν ἐνναετηρικὸν τῶν Πυθίων ἀγῶνα ἀγωνοθετεῖ Κρέων, ἐνίκα δὲ Δημόδοκος Λάκων μαθητὴς Αὐτομήδους τοῦ Μυκηναίου, ὃς ἦν πρῶτος δι’ ἐπῶν γράψας τὴν ᾿Αμφιτρύωνος πρὸς Τηλεβόας μάχην καὶ τὴν ἔριν Κιθαιρῶνός τε καὶ ῾Ελικῶνος, ἀφ’ ὧν δὴ καὶ τὰ ἐν Βοιωτίᾳ ὄρη προσαγορεύεται· ἦν δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς μαθητὴς Περιμήδους ᾿Αργείου, ὃς ἐδίδαξεν αὐτόν τε τὸν Μυκηναῖον Αὐτομήδην, καὶ Λικύμνιον τὸν Βουπράσιον καὶ Σίνιν, καὶ τὸν Δωριέα, καὶ Φαρίδαν τὸν Λάκωνα, καὶ Πρόβολον τὸν Σπαρτιάτην. τότε δὴ Μενέλαος τῇ προνοίᾳ τῆς ῾Ελένης ἀνέθηκεν ὅρμον ᾿Αθηνᾷ. τὸν δὲ Δημόδοκον εἰς Μυκήνας λαβὼν ᾿Αγαμέμνων ἔταξε τὴν Κλυταιμνήστραν τηρεῖν. ἐτίμων δὲ λίαν τοὺς ᾠδοὺς ὡς διδασκάλους τῶν τε θείων καὶ παλαιῶν ἀνδραγαθημάτων, καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὀργάνων πλέον τὴν λύραν ἠγάπων. δηλοῖ δὲ καὶ Κλυταιμνήστρα τὴν εἰς αὐτὸν τιμήν· οὐ γὰρ φονεύειν, ἀλλ’ ἀφορίζειν αὐτὸν ἐκέλευσε. Τιμόλαος δὲ ἀδελφὸν αὐτόν φησιν εἶναι Φημίου, ὃν ἀκολουθῆσαι τῇ Πηνελόπῃ εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην πρὸς παραφυλακὴν αὐτῆς· διὸ καὶ βίᾳ τοῖς μνηστῆρσιν ᾄδει.

Schol. EQ ad. Od. 3.367

“The music of rhapsodes applied so much to political matters that people report that the city of Sparta used it especially to encourage like-mindedness and preservation of the customs. They also say that once the Pythia, when a disturbance developed, told people to listen a Lesbian song and stop their rivalry.”

τοσοῦτον δὲ καὶ πρὸς τὰ πολιτικὰ διέτεινεν ἡ τῶν κιθαρῳδῶν μουσικὴ ὡς τῶν Σπαρτιατῶν τὴν πόλιν ὠφελεῖσθαι λέγουσιν ὑπὸ τούτων τῶν ἀνδρῶν τὰ μέγιστα καὶ πρὸς ὁμόνοιαν καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν νόμων φυλακήν. ὡς καὶ τὴν Πυθὼ, αὐτόθι φυομένης ταραχῆς, εἰπεῖν, τὸν Λέσβιον ᾠδὸν ἀκούειν καὶ παύσασθαι τῆς φιλονεικίας. ὃ καὶ γέγονεν. E.Q.