A Mythical Monday: The Minotaur’s Origin

Since Erik posted about Moonface’s Album of Songs about the Minotaur, I have been listening to it while driving my children to school. (They love it. They keep asking to listen to it. I think I have ruined them). The actual material about the Minotaur from ancient remains is mostly about Theseus. Here are some passages about Pasiphae and the Minotaur.

Hesiod, Fr. 145.13–17

“When he looked in her eyes he longed for her
[and she gave herself over to the bull]
After she was impregnated, she gave birth to a powerful son to Minos,
A wonder to see: for he had the appearance of man
Down to his feet, but a bull’s head grew on top.”

τῆς δ’ ἄρ’ [ἐν ὀ]φθαλμοῖσιν̣ ἰ̣δὼν ἠράσ̣[σατο
†ταύρωι̣.[…]ρ̣ι̣μενησ̣κ̣α̣μ̣ε̣ρ̣μ̣ιδαο̣τα̣[†
ἣ δ’ ὑποκ̣[υσα]μένη Μίνωι τέκε κα[ρτερὸν υἱόν,
θαῦμα ἰ[δεῖν·] σ̣α μὲν γὰρ ἐπ̣έ̣κ̣λ̣ι̣ν̣[εν δέμας ἀνδρὶ
ἐς πόδα̣[ς], α̣ὐ̣τ̣ὰρ ὕ̣π̣ε̣ρθε κάρ̣η τ̣α̣[ύροιο πεφύκει

Suda, Epsilon 1421

“In every myth there is also Daidalos’ corruption”: People say that because Pasiphae lusted after a bull, she begged Daidalos to make her a wooden cow and, once he had set it up, to put her in it. When the bull mounted her as a cow he made her pregnant. The Minotaur was born from this. For certain reasons Minos was angry at the Athenians and he took from them seven maidens and the same number of youths. They were thrown to the beast. Since origin and responsibility for these evils were attributed to Daidalos and he was hated for them, this was translated into the proverb.”

᾿Εν παντὶ μύθῳ καὶ τὸ Δαιδάλου μύσος· Πασιφάην φασὶν ἐρασθεῖσαν ταύρου Δαίδαλον ἱκετεῦσαι ποιῆσαι ξυλίνην βοῦν καὶ κατασκευάσαντα αὐτὴν ἐνθεῖναι· ἣν ἐπιβαίνων ὡς βοῦν ὁ ταῦρος ἐγκύμονα ἐποίησεν. ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη ὁ Μινώταυρος. Μίνως δὲ διά τινας αἰτίας ὀργιζόμενος τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίοις ἑπτὰ παρθένους καὶ ἴσους νέους ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐδασμολογεῖτο· οἳ παρεβάλλοντο τῷ θηρίῳ. εἰς Δαίδαλον οὖν ἀρχηγὸν τούτων τῶν κακῶν καὶ αἴτιον γενόμενον καὶ μυσαχθέντα ἐξηνέχθη εἰς παροιμίαν.

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 γεγο-
νυῖα ἔγγυος, ἐγέννησε καθ’ ὁμοιότητα τοῦ Ταύρου
<υἱόν>, ὃν οἱ πολλοὶ Μίνω μὲν ἐκάλουν, Ταύρῳ δὲ
εἴκαζον· κατὰ δὲ σύνθεσιν Μινώταυρος ἐκλήθη.

Bacchylides, Dith. 26 (P.Oxy. 2364 fr. 1)

“[in] Pasiphae
The Kyprian goddess [sewed]
Longing [….]
To the son Eupalamos
The wisest of the craftsmen
She told Daidalos [about]
Her sickness. Credible oaths
She ordered him to make [so that]
So that she might have sex with the bull
But keep it secret from her husband
Minos, the oppressive-archer,
The general of the Knossians.
But when he learned of the tale,
He was overtaken by worry and
[about his] wife….

[ ]θεα̣ καὶ γ[.].[ ]
φρα.[ ]
Πασι[φ]ά̣[α]
εν Κύπ[ρις]
πόθον [ ]
Εὐπαλά[μοι’] υἱε[ῖ]
τεκτόν[ω]ν σοφω̣[τάτῳ]
φράσε Δαιδάλῳ ά.[ ]
νόσον· ὅρκια πισ[τ]
[ τ]ε τεύχειν κέλευ[σε]
μ̣είξειε ταυρείῳ σ[ ]
κρύπτουσα σύννο̣[μον]
Μίνωα [τ]οξοδάμαν[τα]
Κνωσσίων στρατα[γέταν·]
ὁ δ’ ἐπεὶ μάθε μῦθο[ν]
σχέτο φροντίδι· δε[ ]
[ ]ἀλόχου[ ]

Image result for greek minotaur vase baby

This is the most superior image of the Minotaur by far. Pasiphae’s expression is perfect.

 

Murderous Odysseus and His Murderous Sons

Joannes Malalas, Chronographia, 5.21 6-7 (=Diktys BNJ 49 F 10)

“Some time passed and Odysseus began to see dreams which told of his death. After he woke, he summoned everyone who had experience in interpreting dreams—among whom was Kleitophon of Ithaka and Polyphemos of Argos. He told the dream to them and said what he thought:

“I was not lying on my own bed but instead there was a beautiful and frightening divine creature which could not keep the shape of a grown man. I saw it happily. But I was also disoriented by it. That bed from which it took life was no longer obvious to me from my familiarity with it or by knowledge. Therefore, once I recognized this, I wanted to throw my arms around it eagerly. But it spoke using a human voice and said there was a connection and binding of relationship between us and that it was my fate to be destroyed by him. As I was thinking about this a sudden stab came at me from the sea, targeted at me by his order. I became paralyzed by my great panic and I died shortly. These are the things I saw and you need to fear nothing when you offer me an interpretation. I know well that the vision is not a good one.

Then those who were there were examining the interpretation and they said that Telemachus should not be there. When he left, they said that Odysseus would be struck by his own child and die. He immediately rushed toward Telemachus because he wanted to kill him. But when he saw his son crying and begging him and he returned to a paternal mindset, he decided to have his son sent away and he ordered him to guard himself. Then he himself returned to the farthest part of Kephalenia, believing he would protect himself from fear of death.”

6 χρόνου δὲ διεληλυθότος ὁρᾶι ᾽Οδυσσεὺς ἐνύπνια τὴν αὐτοῦ τελευτὴν σημαίνοντα· καὶ διυπνισθεὶς συγκαλεῖ πάντας τοὺς πεῖραν ἔχοντας, ὅπως διακρίνωσι τὰ ὀνείρατα, ὧν ἦν καὶ Κλειτοφῶν ὁ ᾽Ιθακήσιος καὶ ὁ Ἀργεῖος Πολύφημος. τούτοις ἀπαγγέλλει τὸ ὄναρ καί φησι νομίζειν ῾μὴ ἐπὶ τῆς ἰδίας εὐνῆς με κατακεῖσθαι, <ἦν δὲ> εὐμορφόν τι καὶ φοβερὸν ζῶον θεοειδές, οὐκ ἀνθρώπου τελείου σχῆμα σώζειν δυνάμενον, ὅπερ ἑώρων ἡδέως· καὶ εἶχον αὐτοῦ δυσνοήτως. τὸ δὲ λέχος ἐκεῖνο ὅθεν ἐζωογονήθη οὐκ ἦν μοι φανερὸν οὐτε τῆι συνηθείαι τῆι ἐμῆι οὐτε τῆι γνώσει. γνοὺς οὖν ἠβουλήθη<ν> τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶι περιπλέξαι σπουδαίως· τὸ δὲ ἀνθρωπίνηι φωνῆι χρηματισάμενον ἔφη θεσμὸν εἶναι καὶ σύνδεσμον οἰκειότητος ἀμφοτέρων ἡμῶν, καὶ εἱμαρμένον εἶναι ὑπ᾽ ἐκείνου με ἀφανισθῆναι. ἐμφροντίστως δέ μου ἔχοντος περὶ αὐτοῦ αἰφνίδιόν τι κέντρον ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκείνου ἐπιταγῆς ἀοράτως ἀναδειχθὲν ἐπ᾽ ἐμὲ ἦλθεν· ἐγὼ δὲ ὑπὸ πολλῆς ἐκπλήξεως ἐγενόμην ἀδρανής, καὶ μετ᾽ ὀλίγον ἔθανον. ταῦτά ἐστιν ἅπερ ἐθεασάμην· ὑμεῖς δὲ διακρίνατε μηδὲν δεδιότες· ἐπίσταμαι γὰρ ὡς οὐκ αἴσιον τὸ ὅραμα.

7 οἱ δὲ καθ᾽ ἑαυτοὺς γενόμενοι ἐσκόπουν τὴν διήγησιν καὶ ἔφασαν ἵνα ἐκ ποδῶν γένηται ὁ Τηλέμαχος· τοῦ δὲ ὑποχωρήσαντος ἔφησαν ὑπὸ ἰδίου παιδὸς πληγέντα τελευτήσειν. ὁ δὲ εὐθὺς ὥρμησεν ἐπὶ τὸν Τηλέμαχον ἀνελεῖν αὐτὸν βουλόμενος. θεασάμενος δὲ τὸν υἱὸν δακρύοντα καὶ δεόμενον, εἰς ἔννοιαν πατρικὴν ἐλθών, προέκρινεν ἀφεῖναι τὸν παῖδα, ἐκέλευσε δὲ αὐτὸν φυλάττεσθαι· εἶτα μετώικισεν αὑτὸν εἰς τὰ ἔσχατα τῆς Κεφαληνίας χωρία, ῥυσάμενος αὑτὸν τῆς ὑπονοίας τοῦ θανάτου.

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus and telemachus

A Greek Horror Story to Make You Wish For the Summer

This might be the most disturbing thing I have read all summer. When I was reading the Greek for the final sentence below, I actually uttered “what the f*ck” aloud. Go here for the second part.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 2 (Part 1)

Hieron the Alexandrian or Ephesian tells of the following wonder which occurred in Aitolia.

There was a certain citizen, Polykritos, who was voted Aitolian arkhon by the people. His fellow citizens considered him worthy for three years because of the nobility of his forebears. During the time he was in that office, he married a Lokrian woman. After he shared a bed with her for three nights, he died on the fourth.

The woman remained in their home widowed. When she gave birth, she had a child who had two sets of genitals, both male and female, which was alarmingly different from nature. The parts up top were completely rough and masculine and those near the thighs were feminine and softer.

Awestruck by this, her relatives forced the child to the agora and held an assembly to take advice about this, calling together the omen readers and interpreters. Some were claiming that this meant there would be dissent between Aitolians and Lokrians, since the mother was Lokrian and the father was Aitolian. But others believed that it was necessary to take the child and mother to the frontier and have them burned.

While the people were deliberating, suddenly the dead Polykritos appeared in the assembly dressed in black near his child. Even though the citizens were thunderstruck by this apparition and many of them were rushing to flight, he asked the citizens to be brave and not to be rattled by the sight which appeared. Then a bit of the chaos and the uproar receded, and he said these things in a slight voice:

“My fellow citizens, although I am dead in my body, I live among you in goodwill and thanks. And now I am present imploring those people who have power of this land to your collective benefit. I advise you who are citizens not to be troubled or angry at the impossible miracle which has happened. And I ask all of you, vouching for the safety of each, is to give  me the child who was born from me so that no violence may come from those who make some different kind of plans and that there may be no beginning of malicious and hard affairs because of a conflict on my part.

It would not be possible for me to overlook the burning of my child thanks to the shock of these interpreters who are advising you. I do have some pity, because you are at a loss when you see this kind of unexpected sight as to how you might respond to it correctly for current events. If you assent to me without fear, you will be relieved of the present anxieties and of the evils to come. But if you fall prey to another opinion, then I have fear for you that you will come into some incurable sufferings because you did not trust me.

Therefore, because of the goodwill I experienced while I was alive and the unexpectedness of the current situation, I am predicting the suffering to you. I think it is right that you do not delay any longer but that, once you deliberate correcly and obey the things I have said, you should hand over the child to me with a blessing. It is not fitting for me to waste any more time because of the men who rule this land.”

After he said these things, he kept quiet for a bit as he awaited what kind of decision there would be once they deliberated about it. Some were thinking it was right to give him the child and consider the sight sacred and the influence of a deity; but most of them denied this, claiming that it was necessary to deliberate in a calmer atmopshere when they were not at so great a loss, because the affair was a big deal.

When he saw that they were not moving in his favor but were actually impeding the decision there, he spoke these things in turn: “Fellow Citizens. If something more terrible happens to you because of a lack of decision, do not blame me, but this fate which directs you to something worse—it sets you in opposition to me and compels me to transgress against my child.”

There was a great mist and a portent of strife as he reached for the child and and grabbed most of it up boldly before butchering and eating the child.

  ῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ καὶ ῾Ιέρων ὁ ᾿Αλεξανδρεὺς ἢ ᾿Εφέσιος καὶ ἐν Αἰτωλίᾳ φάσμα γενέσθαι.  Πολύκριτος γάρ τις τῶν πολιτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου Αἰτωλάρχης, ἐπὶ τρία ἔτη τῶν πολιτῶν αὐτὸν ἀξιωσάντων διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν ἐκ προγόνων καλοκαγαθίαν. ὢν δὲ ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ ταύτῃ ἄγεται γυναῖκα Λοκρίδα, καὶ συγκοιμηθεὶς τρισὶν νυξὶ τῇ τετάρτῃ τὸν βίον ἐξέλιπεν.

 ἡ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἔμενεν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ χηρεύουσα, ἡνίκα δὲ ὁ τοκετὸς ἤπειγεν, τίκτει παιδίον αἰδοῖα ἔχον δύο, ἀνδρεῖόν τε καὶ γυναικεῖον, καὶ τὴν φύσιν θαυμαστῶς διηλλαγ-μένον· τὰ μὲν ἄνω τοῦ αἰδοίου ὅλως σκληρά τε καὶ ἀνδρώδη ἦν, τὰ δὲ περὶ τοὺς μηροὺς γυναικεῖα καὶ ἁπαλώτερα. ἐφ’ ᾧ καταπλαγέντες οἱ συγγενεῖς ἀπήνεγκαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν τὸ παιδίον καὶ συναγαγόντες ἐκκλησίαν ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ αὐτοῦ, θύτας τε καὶ τερατοσκόπους συγκαλέσαντες. τῶν δὲ οἱ μὲν ἀπεφήναντο διάστασίν τινα τῶν Αἰτωλῶν καὶ Λοκρῶν ἔσεσθαι—κεχωρίσθαι γὰρ ἀπὸ μητρὸς οὔσης Λοκρί-δος καὶ πατρὸς Αἰτωλοῦ—οἱ δὲ δεῖν ᾤοντο τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἀπενέγκοντας εἰς τὴν ὑπερορίαν κατακαῦσαι. ταῦτα δὲ αὐτῶν βουλευομένων ἐξαίφνης φαίνεται ὁ Πολύκριτος ὁ προτεθνηκὼς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πλησίον τοῦ τέκνου ἔχων ἐσθῆτα μέλαιναν.

τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν καταπλαγέντων ἐπὶ τῇ  φαντασίᾳ καὶ πολλῶν εἰς φυγὴν τραπομένων παρεκάλεσε τοὺς πολίτας θαρρεῖν καὶ μὴ ταράττεσθαι ἐπὶ τῷ γεγονότι φάσματι. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔληξε τὸ πλέον τοῦ θορύβου καὶ τῆς ταραχῆς, ἐφθέγξατο λεπτῇ τῇ φωνῇ τάδε· «ἐγὼ, ἄνδρες πολῖται, τῷ μὲν σώματι τέθνηκα, τῇ δὲ εὐνοίᾳ καὶ τῇ χάριτι <τῇ> πρὸς ὑμᾶς ζῶ. καὶ νῦν πάρειμι <ὑμῖν> παραιτησάμενος τοὺς κυριεύοντας τῶν κατὰ γῆν ἐπὶ τῷ συμφέροντι τῷ ὑμετέρῳ. παρακαλῶ τοίνυν ὑμᾶς πολίτας ὄντας ἐμαυτοῦ μὴ ταράττεσθαι μηδὲ δυσχεραί-νειν ἐπὶ τῷ παραδόξῳ γεγονότι φάσματι. δέομαι δὲ ὑμῶν ἁπάντων, κατευχόμενος πρὸς τῆς ἐκάστου σωτηρίας, ἀποδοῦναί μοι τὸ παιδίον τὸ ἐξ ἐμοῦ γεγεννημένον, ὅπως μηδὲν βίαιον γένηται ἄλλο τι βουλευσαμένων ὑμῶν, μηδ’ ἀρχὴ πραγμάτων δυσχερῶν καὶ χαλεπῶν διὰ τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ φιλονεικίαν ὑμῖν γένηται. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι περιιδεῖν κατακαυθὲν τὸ παιδίον ὑφ’ ὑμῶν διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐξαγγελλόντων ὑμῖν μάντεων ἀποπληξίαν. συγγνώμην μὲν οὖν ὑμῖν ἔχω, ὅτι τοιαύτην ὄψιν ἀπροσδόκητον ἑωρακότες ἀπορεῖτε πῶς ποτε τοῖς παροῦσι πράγμασιν ὀρθῶς χρήσεσθε. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐμοὶ πεισθήσεσθε ἀδεῶς, τῶν παρόντων φόβων καὶ τῶν ἐπερχομένων κακῶν ἔσεσθε ἀπηλλαγμένοι. εἰ δὲ ἄλλως πως τῇ γνώμῃ προσπεσεῖσθε, φοβοῦμαι περὶ ὑμῶν μήποτε εἰς ἀνηκέστους συμφορὰς ἀπειθοῦντες ἡμῖν ἐμπέσητε. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὔνοιαν ὅτ’ ἔζων καὶ νῦν ἀπροσδοκήτως παρὼν προείρηκα τὸ συμφέρον ὑμῖν. ταῦτ’ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἀξιῶ μὴ πλείω με χρόνον παρέλκειν, ἀλλὰ βουλευσαμένους ὀρθῶς καὶ πεισθέντας τοῖς εἰρημένοις ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ δοῦναί μοι μετ’ εὐφημίας τὸ παιδίον. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι πλείονα μηκύνειν χρόνον διὰ τοὺς κατὰγῆν ὑπάρχοντας δεσπότας.»

 ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἡσυχίαν  ἔσχεν ἐπ’ ὀλίγον, καραδοκῶν ποίαν ποτὲ ἐξοίσουσιν αὐτῷ γνώμην περὶ τῶν ἀξιουμένων. τινὲς μὲν οὗν ᾤοντο δεῖν ἀποδοῦναι τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἀφοσιώσασθαι τό τε φάσμα καὶ τὸν ἐπιστάντα δαίμονα, οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι ἀντέλεγον, μετὰ ἀνέσεως δεῖν βουλεύσασθαι φάσκοντες, ὡς ὄντος μεγάλου τοῦ πράγματος καὶ οὐ τῆς τυχούσης αὐτοῖς ἀπορίας.  συνιδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς οὐ προσέχοντας, ἀλλ’ ἐμποδίζοντας αὐτοῦ τὴν βούλησιν, ἐφθέγξατο αὖθις τάδε· «ἀλλ’ οὖν γε, ὦ ἄνδρες πολῖται, ἐὰν ὑμῖν συμβαίνῃ τι τῶν δυσχερεστέρων διὰ τὴν ἀβουλίαν, μὴ ἐμὲ αἰτιᾶσθε, ἀλλὰ τὴν τύχην τὴν οὕτως ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ὑμᾶς ποδηγοῦσαν, ἥτις ἐναντιουμένη κἀμοὶ παρανομεῖν ἀναγκάζει με εἰς τὸ ἴδιον τέκνον.»

τοῦ δὲ ὄχλου συνδραμόντος καὶ ἔριν περὶ [τὴν ἄρσιν] τοῦ τέρατος ἔχοντος, ἐπιλαβόμενος τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τοὺς πλείστους αὐτῶν ἀνείρξας ἰταμώτερον διέσπασέ τε αὐτὸ καὶ ἤσθιε.

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)

Achilles’ Name(s), When He Was A Girl

From the Fragments of the Greek Historians–Mythical traditions record that Thetis hid Achilles at Skyros to prevent him from getting taken to fight at Troy where she knew he would die. Most retellings of this focus on how Odysseus tricked him into revealing himself. But it turns out Achilles also took on a girl’s name while he was there.

Aristonikos of Tarentum (57; appearing in Photios)

Aristonikos of Tarentum reports that Achilles, when he was spending time  with the girls at Lykomedes’ home, used to be called Kerkysera and Issa and Pyrrha. He was also called Aspetos and Prometheus.

ὡς ᾽Αχιλλέα μὲν ᾽Αριστόνικος ὁ Ταραντῖνος διατρίβοντα ἐν ταῖς παρθένοις παρὰ Λυκομήδει Κερκυσέραν καλεῖσθαί φησιν καὶ ῎ Ἴσσαν καὶ Πύρραν ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ  καὶ ῎Ασπετος καὶ Προμηθεύς.

The names he takes on surely deserve a little more contemplation. Why did he also have male names while he was there?

Ken Dowden, in his commentary on this fragment, provides the following explanation of the female names:

“The name Pyrrha (red-head, like Pyrrhos the alternative name of his son Neoptolemos) is also found in Hyginus, Fabulae 96. The name Kerkysera is held to be a ‘joke’ (i.e., of Ptolemy Chennos) by A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World (Oxford 2004), 141, presumably by association with κέρκος (a tail or penis). M. van der Valk, Researches on the Text and Scholia of the Iliad (Leiden 1963), 369 n. 228, regards the name as corrupt–it should, according to him, be Κερκουρᾶς (Kerkouras) ‘he who urinates by means of his tail’. Even if this is right, it does not, of course, show that the name was invented by Ptolemy Chennos. Cameron, Mythography, 141, views Issa as an out-of-place Latin term of endearment. But it appears in Greek as the name of a Dalmatian island and, more appropriately to Achilles, of a city on Lesbos (named after a daughter of MakarSteph. Byz., s.v. Issa). ‘There is also a feminine form Issas on Lesbos found in Partheniosin his Herakles’ (ἔστι καὶ θηλυκὸν Ἰσσάς ἐπὶ τῆς Λέσβου παρὰ Παρθενίῳ ἐν Ἡρακλεῖ) according to Steph. Byz. ibid. A real Aristonikos, given the range of possible dates (see Biographical Essay), might well have been reading Parthenios, or even vice-versa.”

This text is from Brill’s new Jacoby, a collection of the Fragments of the Greek historians

Image result for Achilles at Skyros

 

Now is the time

Now is the time

ὡς ἐνταῦθ᾽ †ἐμέν
ἵν᾽ οὐκέτ᾽ ὀκνεῖν καιρός, ἀλλ᾽ ἔργων ἀκμή. (Sophocles, Electra 21-22)

We’re at the point
where it’s no longer the time to shrink back, but the moment for action.

Thus the Paidagogus, the nameless “Tutor” in Sophocles’s play, ends his introductory address to Orestes (and to us, the audience) in the prologue to Electra. It sets the tone for the play. Soon after we hear Orestes—the ever willing student out to impress—repeat back his tutor’s language, as he brings his own opening declaration to an end with the words: “The two of us will go; for it is the time, which is for men the greatest leader of every action” (νὼ δ᾽ ἔξιμεν· καιρὸς γάρ, ὅσπερ ἀνδράσιν / μέγιστος ἔργου παντός ἐστ᾽ ἐπιστάτης, 75-76).

And shortly after this, when Orestes is yet moved to shrink back as he hears the offstage cries of his sister, the Paidagogus urges him on, ventriloquizing Aeschylus’s Pylades in his injunction to obey Apollo’s commands: for Orestes there are libations to be poured to his father, victory and power to be won. (80-85). No communal libation here, as in Aeschylus’s Choephoroi; here Electra and the chorus enter, only after Orestes and his support team have already departed. These men are doers. The women follow in their wake.

3_Electra+chorus

I watched a performance of Sophocles’s tragedy this summer in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki (all photographs are taken from the production stills). It was the second time that I had seen the play, after the 2001 Cambridge Greek play (co-starring a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston) which was memorable for creating a stage like a petri dish, as if the actors were under a microscope, their actions and arguments open for dissection. Aristotle famously relegates spectacle, or opsis (ὄψις), to the least important of the six component parts of a tragedy (after plot, character, diction, thought and song: Poetics 1450a9-10). “Spectacle”, he writes, “while highly seductive, is the least technical [of the parts] and the one that is least to do with poetry” (ἡ δὲ ὄψις ψυχαγωγικὸν μέν, ἀτεχνότατον δὲ καὶ ἥκιστα οἰκεῖον τῆς ποιητικῆς, 1450b18-20).

Aristotle’s terms of reference here (his emphasis on poetry) must play a role in the downgrading of spectacle, as too must his concern to recoup tragedy from Plato’s criticism of the art form as leading aside the soul (cf. ψυχαγωγικὸν). And spectacle, arguably, still continues to attract less comment, even though reception studies and the use of performance theory (as in Rush Rehm’s Play of Space) have gone some way to refocusing attention on to the play in (as) action.

It was the spectacle of the Greek national theatre company’s Electra (under the direction of Thanos Papakonstantinos) that took my breath away. On the surface it appeared quite a traditional adaptation: it wasn’t located in a contemporary setting; the costumes were simple, bordering on the stylised; it used music throughout; the chorus sung *and* danced; the text wasn’t excised or adapted in any way (other than it being a modern Greek translation). But it was like no other adaptation of Greek tragedy that I had seen. The director’s vision of the tragedy drew on elements that are only ever hinted at in the text, and showed to me, a textual scholar, the life and power of a play beyond the text. Let me give two examples that go back to that opening scene I discussed above.

Papakonstantinos’s play began before the first lines of Sophocles’s script were even delivered. Out came the musicians, the chorus, and two actors (Orestes and Pylades), who proceeded to parade sombrely around the stage to a funereal drumbeat, led by the Paidagogus, who all the time very slowly, and very deliberately, turned his head this way and that to glare at the audience seated in the theatre, challenging us to hold his gaze (or to look away). We immediately fell under the thrall of this imposing figure, as Orestes does in Sophocles’s play. As for Orestes: when the musicians and chorus had taken up their positions, Pylades (notably mute again after his brief, but momentous, pronouncement of Apollo’s command in Aeschylus’s Choephoroi) makes a performance of binding the hero and blindfolding him. All this before the play (as in Sophocles’s text of the play) had actually begun!

1_Beginning_Paidagogus+Orestes

Even after this point, the director’s “extra-textual” imagination continued to frame our response to the events on stage: for, rather than disappearing from view as in Sophocles’s play (when the actor would have had to play another role) Orestes, still blindfolded and bound, is led back around the stage by Pylades to that same funereal beat, while the action unfolds around them. It was only when meeting his sister, some two thirds of the way through the play that his bonds and blindfold are removed, as if offering a very concrete instantiation of his psychology: he has been trained (blinded and bound) to kill his mother; these bonds fall from him as meeting his sister reveals repressed ties of affection for her.

But this is only a fleeting glimpse of his humanity, as the Paidagogus suddenly reappears to berate the two “stupid unthinking children” (ὦ πλεῖστα μῶροι καὶ φρενῶν τητώμενοι, 1326), for talking a lot (τῶν μακρῶν λόγων, 1335) when “it is the moment to be delivered from these matters” (ἀπηλλάχθαι δ᾽ ἀκμή, 1338). As Electra desperately tries to engage in dialogue also with him, the Paidagogus firmly slaps her down: “That’s enough, I think” (ἀρκεῖν δοκεῖ μοι, 1364). In our performance, his reappearance at the top of the stage encapsulated once again his dominance over, and orchestration of, the proceedings.

As you’ll see from the photographs, the stage was stark in its simplicity, an effect that was further amplified by the simple, almost abstract costuming of all the actors. Not only did this help focus attention on the gestures, movement and interactions of the actors; it also helped to defamiliarise the action and detach it from any particular setting, whether classical (as when actors wear chitons) or modern. This is something, I think, that Greek tragedy generally manages to do: that is, to speak to audiences not bound by a particular place or time. But one costume did possibly have a contemporary resonance: the clothing of the chorus seemed to me, at least, to be a pristine white version of the clothing worn by the handmaids in the renowned TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

The chorus were the other significant reason for the impact of this drama. Controlled and in control, this was a chorus of and for our time, gaining power through their collective action. Unlike every other chorus I’ve ever seen, this chorus sung and chanted in metre throughout in unison. They spoke, as it were, with one voice, though that voice sometimes seemed to be stretched to the absolute limit, to the point of almost fracturing, using the technique of close dissonant harmonies familiar from Balkan singing. They also moved as one, like polished mannequins, often with minimal gesture of forefinger touching the thumb, as if a Greek orthodox Christ were blessing his congregation. Then, as the play hurtles towards its terrifying climax (the matricide; the forever deferred murder of Aegisthus), they transform, as Electra’s hatred and bitterness finally comes to affect and infect them. A *spoiler alert* #metoo movement with bite.

2_Electra+Chrysothemis_chorus

I had always read the chorus in the final scenes of the play as providing the only lingering vestige of empathy in an increasingly desperate and hateful (hate-filled) world. As Orestes does his thing (murdering his mother) offstage, and Electra comments on, and incites, the violence onstage in shockingly impersonal terms (“someone shouts within… someone screams”, 1406, 1409: the someone in question being her mother), it’s the chorus who remind us of what’s at stake: “I heard a cry that shouldn’t have been heard, enough to make me shiver” (1407); “o city, o wretched family” (1414). They sum up this fractured replaying of Aeschylus’s trilogy (Sophocles’s Clytemnestra “quotes” Aeschylus’s Agamemnon as she is struck, and struck again: ὤμοι πέπληγμαι / ὤμοι μάλʼ αὖθις, 1415-1417; cf. Aesch. Ag. 1343-45), by recalling the curses of those previously murdered (1419-21):

τελοῦσʼ ἀραί· ζῶσιν οἱ γᾶς ὑπαὶ κείμενοι.
παλίρρυτον γὰρ αἷμʼ ὑπεξαιροῦσι τῶν
κτανόντων οἱ πάλαι θανόντες.
The curses are working out. They who lie under the earth live.
For those who died long ago are draining the blood
—blood that flows in recompense—from their killers.

In a manner that again strongly evokes Aeschylus, this time the sarcastic reply by the Choephoroi Orestes’s to his mother: “I think that the dead are killing the living” (Aesch. Cho. 886), the chorus’s mention of curses reworks the language of generational violence and familial revenge that dominates that trilogy. Those earlier plays culminate in the instantiation of the curses in the form of the Furies/Erinyes of the Eumenides. One of the insoluble problems of Sophocles’s Electra is, precisely, the absence of the Erinyes from the drama. Although they are mentioned on four occasions (112, 276, 491, 1080) and alluded to once (1388), the fact that they don’t seem to appear after Clytemnestra’s murder has led many critics to conclude that Sophocles sanctions the matricide (as if it’s ever ok to kill your mother).

The masterstroke of Thanos Papakonstantinos in his direction of the play was, again, to make real what is only ever hinted at in the text. Thus, as the chorus attempt to make sense of the matricide and Electra’s conducting of the events offstage, they transform into the very curses to which they refer. At this very moment in the performance, they discarded their pristine white cloaks and began to writhe on the ground before Electra, sullying their inner garments on a stage that was slowly filling up with a viscous oily liquid—a black blood slick. They became in appearance like Electra herself, dreadful and deranged. They became, in essence, the Erinyes.

4_Orestes+Aegisthus+chorus

This transformation of the chorus into Sophocles’s missing Furies—as if the Eumenides‘s chorus had been invoked and brought back on stage by the constant incantations of Aeschylus’s earlier plays—was both utterly mesmeric and breathtakingly terrifying. It reminded me more of a horror film than a conventional tragedy, and it struck me that horror, too, must have played a role in these plays’ impact. And it wasn’t only a gut reaction; the horror-inflected climax got me thinking a lot harder about what *was* in the text. And, reading the play again at home, I noticed how the chorus from this point on assume a far more active role, first warning the siblings of Aegisthus’s arrival (1429), and then offering advice how to get him to drop his guard (1439-41). Even in their customarily generic last words, the chorus evoke the urgency (τῇ νῦν ὁρμῇ τελεωθέν, 1510) on which the Paidagogus has constantly insisted.

But—and this is important—their cue came not from him but from Electra. It’s when the men go off stage to do their thing and leave the women shut out onstage that they—the women—take control. It’s Electra’s commentary on the matricide that is the focus, not the event itself. It’s the sister, so long left home alone and shut off from the plot as soon as the play begins, who, forced to testify about her experience, her suffering before a (hostile?) hearing of male judges (us, the audience), dominates the play. And she dominates its ending with a group of women whose furious shedding of their demure costumes presages their transformation into curses, as if she, and not the Paidagogus, were now the orchestrator of the action.

Beware all transgressors. #wetoo are coming for you.

chorus+orestes

No, Virginia, There is No Tragic Flaw

Aristotle, Poetics 1452e34-1453a9

“Since it is right that the structure of the best tragedy not be simple but be complex instead and evoking both fearful and pitiful emotions—for that is the particular power of this kind of artistic representation—as an initial principle, it is clear that decent men should not be  be shown undergoing a change from good fortune to bad fortune, for that is repugnant rather than pitiful or fearful. And it is also not right for depraved people to enjoy a change from bad fortune to good fortune, because that is the least tragic notion of all and has none of the necessary qualities. Such a plot does not create empathy and fails to produce pity or fear.

[Tragedy] should also not show an especially bad person falling from good fortune to bad—for this might engender empathy but without pity or fear since the first is felt for someone who is unworthy of bad fortune and the second is for someone who is similar [to us] (pity is for someone unworthy of suffering; fear is for someone like us suffering). The response to [a wicked person] falling is not pitiful or fearful. What remains [for tragedy] is the person in between. A person like this is not impeccable in terms of justice nor for his wickedness and evil, but he falls into misfortune because of some kind of mistake. This kind of person is from those well-known families, like Oedipus or Thyestes.”

γον, ἐφεξῆς ἂν εἴη λεκτέον τοῖς νῦν εἰρημένοις. ἐπειδὴ οὖν δεῖ τὴν σύνθεσιν εἶναι τῆς καλλίστης τραγῳδίας μὴ ἁπλῆν ἀλλὰ πεπλεγμένην καὶ ταύτην φοβερῶν καὶ ἐλεεινῶν εἶναι μιμητικήν (τοῦτο γὰρ ἴδιον τῆς τοιαύτης μιμήσεώς ἐστιν), πρῶτον μὲν δῆλον ὅτι οὔτε τοὺς ἐπιεικεῖς ἄνδρας δεῖ μεταβάλλοντας φαίνεσθαι ἐξ εὐτυχίας εἰς δυστυχίαν, οὐ γὰρ φοβερὸν οὐδὲ ἐλεεινὸν τοῦτο ἀλλὰ μιαρόν ἐστιν· οὔτε τοὺς μοχθηροὺς ἐξ ἀτυχίας εἰς εὐτυχίαν, ἀτραγῳδότατον γὰρ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ πάντων, οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔχει ὧν δεῖ, οὔτε γὰρ φιλάνθρωπον οὔτε ἐλεεινὸν οὔτε φοβερόν ἐστιν· οὐδ’ αὖ τὸν σφόδρα πονηρὸν συμβαῖνον. ὁ μεταξὺ ἄρα τούτων λοιπός. ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ὁ μήτε ἀρετῇ διαφέρων καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μήτε διὰ κακίαν καὶ μοχθηρίαν μεταβάλλων εἰς τὴν δυστυχίαν ἀλλὰ δι’ ἁμαρτίαν τινά, τῶν ἐν μεγάλῃ δόξῃ ὄντων καὶ εὐτυχίᾳ, οἷον Οἰδίπους καὶ Θυέστης καὶ οἱ ἐκ τῶν τοιούτων γενῶν ἐπιφανεῖς ἄνδρες.

This passage (and a few others) have been misread since the rise of Christianity to mean that the tragic protagonist “suffers a fall because of a tragic flaw”. This is essentially bogus for lexicographical and contextual reasons. In early Greek, hamartia means to make a mistake: it comes from an archery metaphor and is related to the verb hamartanô, which means “to miss the mark”. This is a mistake that is not connected to an essential character goodness or badness.

from Beekes 2010

hamartano

The Christian use of hamartia is “sin”, which, as we all know from our Sunday School, is innate and a sign of our essential badness. Wanting to have sex with people is a sin; driving badly and hitting someone from inattention is an accident. In my understanding of tragedy, hamartia means the latter. Yes, one might be distractable and an essentially bad driver and we may see this as in some way a flaw, but this is a cultural perspective that mixes determinism and responsibility in a strange way.

Contextually, Aristotle makes the specific point that the tragic hero should not be essentially wicked. If one is essentially wicked, the audience cannot make the key identification necessary to feel pity or fear. Now, one could argue that in a Christian context where everyone is flawed because of sin, the doctrine might still be said to apply. But this is not the Aristotelian context and this is not what Aristotle had in mind.

[The Wikipedia article is pretty good on this]

“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

A Friend in the Game: Odysseus’ Discus Throw

Odyssey 8.186-200

“So he spoke, and stripping off his cloak he grabbed a discus,
Larger and wider, not a little heavier than the ones
Which the Phaeacians where throwing among one another.
He turned around and whirled it from his strong hand
And the stone boomed. But the oar-wielding Phaeaians
Leapt to the ground, those men famous for their ships,
At the hurl of the stone. Then it flew past all of their markers,
Swiftly hurling it from his hand. Then Athena set the boundary
After taking on the form of a man, and she spoke a word and called out:

“Even a blind person, friend could find this marker
As he felt all around, since it is not at all mixed in with the others—
No, it is first by far. Be happy at this competition
None of the Phaeacians will come close or surpass it.”

So much-enduring Odysseus said and he laughed
Taking pleasure in the fact that he had a real friend in the game.”

ἦ ῥα, καὶ αὐτῷ φάρει ἀναΐξας λάβε δίσκον
μείζονα καὶ πάχετον, στιβαρώτερον οὐκ ὀλίγον περ
ἢ οἵῳ Φαίηκες ἐδίσκεον ἀλλήλοισι.
τόν ῥα περιστρέψας ἧκε στιβαρῆς ἀπὸ χειρός·
βόμβησεν δὲ λίθος· κατὰ δ’ ἔπτηξαν ποτὶ γαίῃ
Φαίηκες δολιχήρετμοι, ναυσικλυτοὶ ἄνδρες,
λᾶος ὑπὸ ῥιπῆς· ὁ δ’ ὑπέρπτατο σήματα πάντων,
ῥίμφα θέων ἀπὸ χειρός· ἔθηκε δὲ τέρματ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ἀνδρὶ δέμας εἰκυῖα, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·
“καί κ’ ἀλαός τοι, ξεῖνε, διακρίνειε τὸ σῆμα
ἀμφαφόων, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι μεμιγμένον ἐστὶν ὁμίλῳ,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτον. σὺ δὲ θάρσει τόνδε γ’ ἄεθλον·
οὔ τις Φαιήκων τόν γ’ ἵξεται οὐδ’ ὑπερήσει.”
ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
χαίρων οὕνεχ’ ἑταῖρον ἐνηέα λεῦσσ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι.

Schol. VT ad Od. 8.192 ex

“Signs, footprints. For many were hurling the discus previously. The signs are the impressions left by the discuses”

σήματα] σημεῖα. τινὲς δὲ, βήματα. V. πολλοὶ γὰρ προεδίσκευσαν. σήματα δὲ τὰ πηγνύμενα τοῖς δίσκοις. T.

Od. 8.201-235

“Now, match that, young men. Soon, I think I will throw another
As far as that or even farther still.
Of the rest of you whoever’s heart and spirit moves you
Come on, test yourself, since you raised my anger,
Either in boxing or wrestling or racing, I won’t refuse anything,
Of all the Phaeacians, except Laodamas himself.
For he is my host. Who would fight someone who loves you?
That man is a fool and a nobody
Who imposes the strife of contests on a guest-friend
In a foreign land. He merely undermines all his own plans.
But I will not refuse nor shy away from any of the rest.
For I am in no way incapable among the men who win prizes.
I know how to aim well the contoured bow.
I could strike a man first after aiming into a throng
Of ill-fated men, even if there were very many companions
Standing near me and shooting at people too.
Only Philoktetes surpassed me with the bow
In the land if the Trojans when we Achaeans were shooting.
I say that I am much better than the rest
However so many mortals now eat bread on the earth.
I would not wish to pit myself against the earlier men,
Neither Herakles nor Eurutos the son of Oikhalios,
Those who rivaled even the immortals in archery.
Thus even great Eurutos died early and old age
Never came to his home. For Apollo, angered, killed him
Because he challenged the god to an archery contest.
I throw a javelin as far as no other shoots an arrow.
In only the foots races I fear that one of the Phaeacians
May beat me. For I have been hobbled terribly
On the many waves where there was no lasting supply of food
In my ship and my dear limbs have grown weaker.”
So he spoke and they were all silent.”

“τοῦτον νῦν ἀφίκεσθε, νέοι· τάχα δ’ ὕστερον ἄλλον
ἥσειν ἢ τοσσοῦτον ὀΐομαι ἢ ἔτι μάσσον.
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ὅτινα κραδίη θυμός τε κελεύει,
δεῦρ’ ἄγε πειρηθήτω, ἐπεί μ’ ἐχολώσατε λίην,
ἢ πὺξ ἠὲ πάλῃ ἢ καὶ ποσίν, οὔ τι μεγαίρω,
πάντων Φαιήκων πλήν γ’ αὐτοῦ Λαοδάμαντος.
ξεῖνος γάρ μοι ὅδ’ ἐστί· τίς ἂν φιλέοντι μάχοιτο;
ἄφρων δὴ κεῖνός γε καὶ οὐτιδανὸς πέλει ἀνήρ,
ὅς τις ξεινοδόκῳ ἔριδα προφέρηται ἀέθλων
δήμῳ ἐν ἀλλοδαπῷ· ἕο δ’ αὐτοῦ πάντα κολούει.
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων οὔ πέρ τιν’ ἀναίνομαι οὐδ’ ἀθερίζω,
ἀλλ’ ἐθέλω ἴδμεν καὶ πειρηθήμεναι ἄντην.
πάντα γὰρ οὐ κακός εἰμι, μετ’ ἀνδράσιν ὅσσοι ἄεθλοι·
εὖ μὲν τόξον οἶδα ἐΰξοον ἀμφαφάασθαι·
πρῶτός κ’ ἄνδρα βάλοιμι ὀϊστεύσας ἐν ὁμίλῳ
ἀνδρῶν δυσμενέων, εἰ καὶ μάλα πολλοὶ ἑταῖροι
ἄγχι παρασταῖεν καὶ τοξαζοίατο φωτῶν.
οἶος δή με Φιλοκτήτης ἀπεκαίνυτο τόξῳ
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ὅτε τοξαζοίμεθ’ ᾿Αχαιοί·
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ἐμέ φημι πολὺ προφερέστερον εἶναι,
ὅσσοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπὶ χθονὶ σῖτον ἔδοντες.
ἀνδράσι δὲ προτέροισιν ἐριζέμεν οὐκ ἐθελήσω,
οὔθ’ ῾Ηρακλῆϊ οὔτ’ Εὐρύτῳ Οἰχαλιῆϊ,
οἵ ῥα καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἐρίζεσκον περὶ τόξων.
τῶ ῥα καὶ αἶψ’ ἔθανεν μέγας Εὔρυτος οὐδ’ ἐπὶ γῆρας
ἵκετ’ ἐνὶ μεγάροισι· χολωσάμενος γὰρ ᾿Απόλλων
ἔκτανεν, οὕνεκά μιν προκαλίζετο τοξάζεσθαι.
δουρὶ δ’ ἀκοντίζω ὅσον οὐκ ἄλλος τις ὀϊστῷ.
οἴοισιν δείδοικα ποσὶν μή τίς με παρέλθῃ
Φαιήκων· λίην γὰρ ἀεικελίως ἐδαμάσθην
κύμασιν ἐν πολλοῖσ’, ἐπεὶ οὐ κομιδὴ κατὰ νῆα
ἦεν ἐπηετανός· τῶ μοι φίλα γυῖα λέλυνται.”
ὣς ἔφαθ’, οἱ δ’ ἄρα πάντες ἀκὴν ἐγένοντο σιωπῇ·

Schol. T ad Od. 8.206 ex 2-4

“Now he uses speech more freely because he wishes not to seem simple and easily dismissed. For this alone is his passage to safety—seeming thoughtful in serious pursuits.”

νῦν δὲ παρρησίᾳ χρῆται ὁ βουλόμενος μὴ εὐτελὴς φανῆναί τις καὶ εὐκαταφρόνητος· τοῦτο γὰρ αὐτῷ μόνον ἐφόδιον πρὸς σωτηρίαν, τὸ δόξαι φρόνιμον εἶναι τοῖς σπουδαίοις ἐπιτηδεύμασιν. T.

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Pssst. Someone else throws things wicked far…(The Cyclops Polyphemus by Annibale Carracci)

 

The Death of Thersites

Proclus, Chrestomathia 178–184

“Then Achilles killed Thersites because he was mocked by him when he reproached him, claiming he loved Penthesileia. A conflict arose among the Achaeans over the murder of Thersites. After that Achilles went sailing to Lesbos where, after he made a sacrifice to Apollo, Artemis and Leto, he was cleansed of the murder by Odysseus.”

καὶ Ἀχιλλεὺς Θερσίτην ἀναιρεῖ λοιδορηθεὶς πρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ ὀνειδισθεὶς τὸν ἐπὶ τῆι Πενθεσιλείαι λεγόμενον ἔρωτα. καὶ ἐκ τούτου στάσις γίνεται τοῖς Ἀχαιοῖς περὶ τοῦ Θερσίτου φόνου. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἀχιλλεὺς εἰς Λέσβον πλεῖ, καὶ θύσας Ἀπόλλωνι καὶ Ἀρτέμιδι καὶ Λητοῖ καθαίρεται τοῦ φόνου ὑπ᾿ Ὀδυσσέως.

In some traditions, Penthesileia bore Achilles a child before she died.

Cf. Apollodorus, Epitome E 5

“…And later on, [Penthesileia] died at Achilles’ hands and he killed Thersites who was mocking him after her death because he had loved the Amazon.”

 εἶθ᾿ ὕστερον θνήσκει ὑπὸ Ἀχιλλέως, ὅστις μετὰ θάνατον ἐρασθεὶς τῆς Ἀμαζόνος κτείνει Θερσίτην λοιδοροῦντα αὐτόν.

Quintus Smyrnaeus fleshes out some of the story in his Posthomerica: see the post on maicar.com.

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What Happened to Thersites (The Origin of His Deformity)

Thersites, the ugliest man at Troy, may not have always been so.

Schol. T ad Hom. Il. 212a1 ex

“Thersites: the name is made from the Aiolic [version of tharsos] audacity, thersos.
ex. Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι: ὠνοματοποίησε τὸ ὄνομα παρὰ τὸ θέρσος Αἰολικόν

Schol. D ad Hom. Il. 2.212 [= Euphorion fr. 82]

“Because the goddess was enraged at Oineus’ lack of concern for sacrifices to Artemis, she sent a wild boar against the city. A band of the best of Greece when against it when it was ruining the country, as the poet says in the ninth book. Among them was also Thersites who, because he was coward, abandoned his assigned guard post and went instead hunting safety in some high position. He was being reproached and pursued by Meleager and fell from a cliff; [this is how] he became the sort of man Homer describes him as. Euphorion tells this story.”

Οἰνεῖ ἀμελήσαντι τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος θυσιῶν ἕνεκα ἡ θεὸς ὀργισθεῖσα ἔπεμψε τῇ πόλει σῦν ἄγριον. ἐφ᾿ ὃν ἦλθεν στρατεία τῶν ἀρίστων τῆς Ἑλλάδος, ἐπειδὴ ἐλυμαίνετο τῇ χώρᾳ ὥς φησιν αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητὴς ἐν τῇ Ι΄ [533], μεθ᾿ ὧν ἦν καὶ ὁ Θερσίτης, ὃς δειλωθεὶς κατέλειψεν τὴν παραφυλακὴν ἐφ᾿ ἧς ἦν καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἐπί τινα τόπον ὑψηλὸν τὴν σωτηρίαν θηρώμενος. ὀνειδιζόμενος δὲ ὑπὸ Μελεάγρου ἐδιώκετο καὶ κατὰ κρημνοῦ πεσὼν τοιοῦτος ἐγένετο οἷον Ὅμηρος αὐτὸν παρίστησιν. ἱστορεῖ Εὐφορίων.

Schol AbT 212b1-2 ex

“they say that [Thersites] is the poet’s agent, that he appropriates his essence.”

Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι: ἐπίτροπον τοῦ ποιητοῦ φασιν αὐτόν, σφετερισάμενον τὴν οὐσίαν…

Schol. bT ad Hom. Il 212b ex

“… as when Zeus assails Hera with threats in book 1 and Hephaistos appears as a joke; now too, then, the poet took up Thersites to resolve the hatred in the assembly and to insult Agamemnon. For it is right. But he cannot cause [Agamemnon] pain since he [Thersites] is unworthy. Mockeries, then, were not made by Xenophanes [first] but already by Homer among which he makes a mockery of Thersites and Thersites mocks the best men.”

ὡς καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν θεῶν ἐν τῇ Α τὴν ῞Ηραν καταστέλλει Ζεὺς μὲν ἀπειλῶν, ῞Ηφαιστος δὲ γελοῖος φανείς. καὶ νῦν οὖν τὸν Θερσίτην ὁ ποιητὴς παρέλαβε πρὸς τὸ διαλῦσαι
τὸ στυγνὸν τῆς ἐκκλησίας καὶ ὑβρίσαι τὸν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα· δίκαιον γάρ· ἀλλ’ οὐ λυπεῖ ἀνάξιος ὤν. ἤδη δὲ οὐ Ξενοφάνει (cf. Vors.6 21A), ἀλλ’ ῾Ομήρῳ πρώτῳ σίλλοι πεποίηνται, ἐν οἷς αὐτόν τε τὸν Θερσίτην σιλλαίνει καὶ ὁ Θερσίτης τοὺς ἀρίστους. οὐκέτι δὲ μέμνηται αὐτοῦ, ἐπεὶ σεσωφρόνισται τοῦ λοιποῦ „νεικείειν βασιλῆας” (Β 277). Φερεκύδης δὲ καὶ τοῦτον

Schol. bT ad Il. 2.212b ex. 12–19 [= FGrH 3.123]

“Pherecydes says that [Thersites] was one of those who gathered to hunt the Kalydonian boar but that he was avoiding the fight with the boar and was thrown from a cliff by Meleager. This is how his body was deformed. People say he is a child of Agrios and the daughter of Porthaon. But if he is Diomedes’ relative, there is no way Odysseus would beat him. For he would only hit common soldiers. Hence, [the poet] has deployed him not [because of] his father or his country but only because of his manner and form, the things which the current situation needs.”

Φερεκύδης δὲ καὶ τοῦτον ἕνα τῶν ἐπὶ τὸν Καλυδώνιον κάπρον στρατευσάντων φησίν. ἐκκλίνοντα δὲ τὴν τοῦ συὸς μάχην ὑπὸ Μελεάγρου κατακρημνισθῆναι· διὸ καὶ λελωβῆσθαι τὸ σῶμα. ᾿Αγρίου δὲ καὶ Δίας τῆς Πορθάονος αὐτόν φασιν. εἰ δὲ συγγενὴς ἦν Διομήδους, οὐκ ἂν αὐτὸν ἔπληξεν ᾿Οδυσσεύς· τοὺς γὰρ ἰδιώτας μόνον ἔτυπτεν. εὖ δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἀπὸ πατρὸς αὐτὸν συνέστησεν, οὐδ’ ἀπὸ πατρίδος, ἀλλ’ ἀπὸ
τοῦ τρόπου μόνου καὶ τῆς μορφῆς, ὧν χρεία τὰ νῦν. b(BCE3E4)T

 

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