A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth

In honor of mother’s day and missed parents everywhere, a repost inspired by Paul’s Mom. 

“To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.”

πρὸς τὸ φλυαροῦν μειράκιον, “διὰ τοῦτο,” εἶπε, “δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείονα μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν.”

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Read More

Cheesy Positions: The Shameful Lioness on a Kitchen Knife

Suda, Tau 1197

“Turoknêstis: a cheesegrater. A type of knife. There is also a proverb: “I will not position myself like a lioness on a cheese-grater”* This means “in the way a lioness would”, and it is a shameful and whorish sexual position.

A cheese-grater is a knife. On the hilts of some kitchen knives lionesses used to be carved out of ivory, in a squatting position, so that their feet might not be broken off as they might be if they were made standing up. So, the speaker is saying I will not position myself like a prostitute awaiting a man, the way a lioness is positioned on a cheese-grater.”

Τυρόκνηστις: ἡ μάχαιρα. καὶ παροιμία: οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν’ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος. ἀντὶ τοῦ ὡς λέαινα. σχῆμα δέ ἐστιν ἀκόλαστον καὶ ἑταιρικόν. τυρόκνηστις δὲ ἡ μάχαιρα. ἐπὶ δὲ ταῖς λαβαῖς τῶν μαχαιρῶν ἐλέφαντες λέοντες ἐγλύφοντο ὀκλάζοντες, ὅπως μὴ ἀποθραύοιντο αὐτῶν οἱ πόδες, εἰ ὀρθοὶ ἑστῶτες γλύφοιντο. λέγει οὖν ὅτι οὐκ ἐπ’ ἀνδρὶ στήσομαι πορνεύουσα, ὡς λέαινα ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος.

*Aristophanes, Lysistrata 231

 

From Henderson, The Maculate Muse

bent over 1

bent over 2

Image result for lioness ready for sex
Ugh. 

Pythagorean Self-Invention

Scholion to Sophocles Electra 62.2

“Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. After that, once he reappeared again later, he was telling fantastic tales of reincarnation and the people Hades, explaining to the living about the matters of the dead. From these stories, he created that kind of repute for himself that, before the Trojan War, he was Aithalidês the son of Hermes and then Euphorbos, and then Hermotimos of Samos, then Delian Pythios and after all of them, Pythagoras.”

…Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα, ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ᾅδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο, διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων, οἷς ἐν ᾅδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν. ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν, ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωϊκῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ Ἑρμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα Ἑρμότιμος Σάμιος, εἶτα Πύθιος Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας.Monday

Newly Discovered Text: A Late Antique Dialogue on “The Etymology of ‘Mimosa'”

The following late antique text, recently discovered in a restaurant basement, is surmised to be a lost part of Macrobius’ Saturnalia, possibly from discussion, in book 5, of Virgil’s borrowings from Greek authors (e.g., one notes similarities to the etiological mode of Aeneid 7.112-19, where the fulfillment of a prophecy is simultaneously the origin of pizza). It is presented here in the form in which it has been preserved–namely, a loose debate among several scholars, many of them pseudonymous and not a few of them ridiculous, in the tradition of lampoons of intellectual life including Plato’s Symposium and Aristophanes’ Clouds. The accompanying image offers a reconstruction of a painting described by one of the speakers in an ekphrasis.

An interjection from a noted linguistic charlatan:

“Ah, I always thought it was the nominative singular present active feminine participle of μιμάω (“I drink in the morning”), accented like this: μιμῶσα But, with your explanation, I get to use it on myself.”

Consider:

Μιμάω: “I brunch”
μιμήσω: “I will brunch”
ἐμίμησα: “I brunched”
μεμίμηκα: “I have brunched”
μεμίμημαι: “I have been brunched”
ἐμιμήθην: “I was brunched”; but contrast with middle ἐμιμησάμην: “I made brunch available for others”

GreekMimosa

 

[Dr. Benjamin Eldon Stevens works on classical receptions, especially in contemporary fictionscience fiction, and fantasy (most recently co-editing a volume of essays on Frankenstein, while upcoming is a volume on ‘displacement’); underworlds and afterlives; Latin poetry; and histories of the senses. He has also published translations of Spanish poetry and French fiction. Hailing from Colorado and Nebraska, and having taught in Washington DC, New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, Dr. Stevens is currently at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.]

Ancient Biological 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 diarrhea
Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai 1338-1344.

From Apollonios Paradoxographus

“In his work On Plants, in the last part of the material, Theophrastos says that Eunomos, the Khian and purveyor of drugs, did not [cleanse himself/die] while drinking many draughts of hellebore. Once, even, when together with his fellow craftsmen he took over 22 drinks in one day as he sat in the agora and he did not return from his implements. Then he left to wash and eat, as he was accustomed, and did not vomit. He accomplished this after being in this custom for a long time, because he started from small amounts until he got to so many large ones. The powers of all drugs are less severe for those used to them and for some they are even useless.”

50 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ τῆς πραγματείας· Εὔνομος, φησίν, ὁ Χῖος, ὁ φαρμακοπώλης, ἐλλεβόρου πίνων πλείονας πόσεις οὐκ ἐκαθαίρετο. καὶ ποτέ, ἔφη, ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ συνθέμενος τοῖς ὁμοτέχνοις περὶ δύο καὶ εἴκοσι πόσεις ἔλαβεν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ καθήμενος καὶ οὐκ ἐξανέστη ἀπὸ τῶν σκευῶν <μέχρι δείλης>. τότε δ’ ἀπῆλθεν λούσασθαι καὶ δειπνῆσαι, ὥσπερ εἰώθει, καὶ οὐκ ἐξήμεσεν.

 τοῦτο δὲ ἔπραξεν ἐν πολυχρονίῳ συνηθείᾳ γεγονώς, ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ ὀλίγων ἕως τοσούτων πόσεων. πάντων δὲ τῶν φαρμάκων αἱ δυνάμεις ἀσθενέστεραι τοῖς συνειθισμένοις, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ ἄπρακτοί εἰσιν.

Hegesias, The Death-Persuader

In an earlier post I talked about “threshold” theory and some of the very different beliefs Ancient Greeks and Romans had about suicide. This excerpt from Cicero touches upon some of the philosophical ideas about taking one’s own life while also reflecting in part on the group effect. While Hegesias’ arguments are extreme, they have some affinity with Epicurean doctrines against fearing death. In this formulation, however, the argument that death is preferable because it frees us from evils reaches a bit of an absurd conclusion. Diogenes Laertius provides an over of the Cyrenaic School.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.83-84

“Therefore, death removes us from evils not from goods, if we are seeking the truth. This, in fact, is argued by Hegesias the Cyrenaic so fully that it is said he was prohibited from speaking on these matters in schools because many people killed themselves after they heard him speak.

There is also an epigram attributed to Callimachus on the topic of Cleombrotus the Ambracian who, he says, even though nothing bad happened to him, he threw himself from the wall into the see after reading a book of Plato. From that book of Hegesias I mentioned—Starving to Death—there is a person who while in the process of leaving life by starvation is called back by his friends to whom he responds by listing the unpleasantries of human life.

I could do the same, although I will not go as far as he who thinks that there is no point for anyone to live at all. I am overlooking all others—is it still meaningful for me to continue on? I live deprived of the comfort and decoration of a family or of a public life and, certainly, if I had died previously, death would have saved me from evils not from good.”

A malis igitur mors abducit, non a bonis, verum si quaerimus. Et quidem hoc a Cyrenaico Hegesia sic copiose disputatur, ut is a rege Ptolemaeo prohibitus esse dicatur illa in scholis dicere, quod multi iis auditis mortem sibi ipsi consciscerent. Callimachi quidem epigramma in Ambraciotam Cleombrotum est, quem ait, cum ei nihil accidisset adversi, e muro se in mare abiecisse lecto Platonis libro. Eius autem, quem dixi, Hegesiae liber est, ᾽Αποκαρτερῶν, in quo a vita quidam per inediam discedens revocatur ab amicis, quibus respondens vitae humanae enumerat incommoda. Possem idem facere, etsi minus quam ille, qui omnino vivere expedire nemini putat. Mitto alios: etiamne nobis expedit? qui et domesticis et forensibus solaciis ornamentisque privati certe, si ante occidissemus, mors nos a malis, non a bonis abstraxisset.

Suda, pi 1471

“Hegesias is called the ‘death-persuader’

Πεισιθάνατος ὁ ῾Ηγησίας ἐλέγετο.

If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Tawdry Tuesday: Proctological Proverb Edition

Arsenius, 34a1

“May you fall into Hades’ asshole”: [a curse]: may you die.

῞Αιδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσῃς: ἤγουν τελευτήσῃς.

Note: Even though Ancient Greek prôktos can merely mean “rear end” (as in butt), it most often means ‘anus’ in comedy and insults. Also, I wanted to use something profane and given the British/American divide on arse/ass, I decided just to go with “asshole” because it is funnier.

Diogenianus (v.1 e cod. Marz. 2.42)

“I wish you’d fall into Hades’ asshole”: this is clear

῞Αιδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσοις: δῆλον.

Diogenianus (v.2 e cod. Vindob. 133, 1.97 )

“I wish you’d fall into Hades’ asshole”: Used for cursing someone

Αἵδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσοις: ἐπὶ τῶν καταρωμένων τινί.

Diogenianus, 3.58

“The asshole survives the bath” [or, “Ass surpasses the bath”]. Whenever someone is not able to wash himself, but his bowels still assail him. This is a proverb used for things done uselessly.

Πρωκτὸς λουτροῦ περιγίνεται: ὅταν τις μὴ δύνηται ἀπονίψασθαι, ἀλλ’ ἡ κοιλία αὐτῷ ἐπιφέρηται. λέγεται ἡ παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνωφελῶς πραττομένων.

Michael Apostolius, 14.78

“The asshole survives the bath”: This proverb is used for things done uselessly and done for show. For people with thick asses and potbellies are not able to wash themselves off easily.”

Πρωκτὸς λουτροῦ περιγίνεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνωφελῶν καὶ εἰκῇ πραττομένων ἐλέγετο· οἱ γὰρ παχύπρωκτοι καὶ προγάστορες οὐ δύνανται ἑαυτοὺς ἀπονίψασθαι εὐπετῶς.

Zenobius, Vulg. 1.52

“It was cured by Akesias”: this is a proverb for when things are healed for the worse. Aristotle provides the proverb in tetrameters: “Akesias healed his asshole.”

Ἀκεσίας ἰάσατο· ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἰωμένων. ὅλην δὲ Ἀριστοφάνης ἐν τετραμέτροις τὴν παροιμίαν ἐκφέρει, λέγων· Ἀκεσίας τὸν πρωκτὸν ἰάσατο.

Suda, s.v. Ἀφευθεὶς

“Singed around the asshole:” Aristophanes has this instead of being “all burned up”

Ἀφευθεὶς τὸν πρωκτόν: Ἀριστοφάνης ἀντὶ τοῦ φλογισθείς.

Balneum Tripergulae – particolare da miniatura del Codice Angelico del “De Balneis Puteolanis� di Pietro da Eboli.

Bonus: Suda on defecation (And there is more of this)

Apopatêma: this is the same as ‘dung’ Eupolis has in his Golden Age: “What is that man? Shit of a fox.” And Kratinus has in Runaway Slaves: I knocked Kerkyon out at dawn when I found him shitting in the vegetables.” We also find the participle apopatêsomenoi (“they are about to shit”) which means they are going to evacuate the feces from their bodies. But patos also means path.

Aristophanes writes “No one sacrifices the old way any more or even enters the temple except for the more than ten thousand who want to shit. So, apopatos is really the voiding of the bowels. Aristophanes also says about Kleonymous: “He went off to shit after he got he army and shat for ten months in the golden mountains? For how long was he closing his asshole? A whole turn of the moon?”

Ἀποπάτημα: αὐτὸ τὸ σκύβαλον. Εὔπολις Χρυσῷ γένει: τί γάρ ἐστ’ ἐκεῖνος; ἀποπάτημ’ ἀλώπεκος. Κρατῖνος Δραπέτισι: τὸν Κερκύονά τε ἕωθεν ἀποπατοῦντ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς λαχάνοις εὑρὼν ἀπέπνιξα. καὶ Ἀποπατησόμενοι, τὴν κόπρον κενώσοντες. πάτος δὲ ἡ ὁδός. Ἀριστοφάνης: οὐδεὶς θύει τοπαράπαν οὐδ’ εἰσέρχεται, πλὴν ἀποπατησόμενοί γε πλεῖν ἢ μύριοι. Ἀπόπατος γὰρ ἡ κένωσις τῆς γαστρός. καὶ Ἀριστοφάνης περὶ Κλεωνύμου φησίν: εἰς ἀπόπατον ᾤχετο στρατιὰν λαβὼν κἄχεζεν ὀκτὼ μῆνας ἐπὶ χρυσῶν ὄρων. πόσου δὲ τὸν πρωκτὸν χρόνου ξυνήγαγε; τῇ πανσελήνῳ.

From Henderson’s Maculate Muse

proktos