The Soul and Its Heroic Return, Two Fragments from Pindar

Pindar, Dirges Fr. 131b [= Plut. consol. ad Apoll. 35.120C]

“Every human’s body is a servant to death–
Yet a shadow of life goes on living still.
This part alone
Comes from the gods. It sleeps while our limbs move
But when we sleep it shows us
in multiple dreams a choice of things to come,
Some of pleasure, some of pain.”

σῶμα μὲν πάντων ἕπεται θανάτῳ περισθενεῖ,
ζωὸν δ᾿ ἔτι λείπεται αἰῶνος εἴδωλον·
τὸ γάρ ἐστι μόνον
ἐκ θεῶν· εὕδει δὲ πρασσόντων μελέων, ἀτὰρ εὑδόντεσσιν
ἐν πολλοῖς ὀνείροις
δείκνυσι τερπνῶν ἐφέρποισαν χαλεπῶν τε κρίσιν.

Pindar, Dirges Fr. 133 [=Plat. Men. 81B]

“When Persephone has taken the payment for that ancient pain,
From people, after nine years she gives their souls back
To the light of the sun above and from them come

Proud kings and men fast in strength and best in mind
And people call them holy heroes
for all that remains of time.”

οἷσι δὲ Φερσεφόνα ποινὰν παλαιοῦ πένθεος
δέξεται, ἐς τὸν ὕπερθεν ἅλιον κείνων ἐνάτῳ ἔτεϊ
ἀνδιδοῖ ψυχὰς πάλιν, ἐκ τᾶν βασιλῆες ἀγαυοί
καὶ σθένει κραιπνοὶ σοφίᾳ τε μέγιστοι
ἄνδρες αὔξοντ᾿· ἐς δὲ τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον ἥροες ἁ-
γνοὶ πρὸς ἀνθρώπων καλέονται.

A somewhat impressionistic oil painting with outlines of two partial figures. One looks down and left, the other is seen only by an elbow in the upper right. The canvas is split between dark blue on top and tan on the bottom
“The freedom of new thinking”, by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas,80 x 100 cm

Wine Makes You King of the World

Bacchylides, fr. 20B [=P. Oxy. 1361 frr. 1 al]

To Alexander, son of Amyntas*

“Lyre, don’t hang on your peg any longer,
Keeping your seven-toned voice still–
Here are my hands! I want to send
Alexander something, a golden wing of the Muses,
A centerpiece for the parties to end the month,
When the sweet pressure of fast cups
Warms the sensitive hearts of young men,
And expectation of Aphrodite mixed up
with Dionysian gifts shakes up their thoughts.

Wine makes the thoughts of men blast off!
Suddenly one is tearing down a city’s walls,
And another thinks he is king of the world!”

[ΑΛΕΞΑ]Ν[ΔΡΩΙ ΑΜΥΝΤ]Α
ὦ βάρβιτε, μηκέτι πάσσαλον φυ[σων
ἑπτάτονον λ[ι]γυρὰν κάππαυε γᾶρυν·
δεῦρ᾿ ἐς ἐμὰς χέρας· ὁρμαίνω τι πέμπ[ειν
χρύεον Μουσᾶν Ἀλεξάνδρωι πτερό
καὶ συμπο[ίαι]σιν ἄγαλμ᾿ [ἐν] εἰκάδε[σιν,
εὖτε νέων ἁ[παλὸν γλυκεῖ᾿ ἀ]νάγκα
σευομενᾶν κ[υλίκων θάλπη]σι θυμ[όν,
Κύπριδος τ᾿ ἐλπ[ὶς <δι>αιθύσσηι φρέ]νας,
ἀμμειγνυμέν[α Διονυσίοισι] δώροις·
ἀνδράσι δ᾿ ὑψο[τάτω πέμπει] μερίμν[ας·
αὐτίκ[α] μὲν π[ολίων κράδε]μνα λ[ύει,
πᾶσ[ι δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις μοναρ]χήσ[ειν δοκεῖ·

*This Alexander was King of Macedon from 498-456

inside of a shallow drinking vessel. Black background. One red figure stands over a nude man who is drunk and confused/sick
Getty Villa Museum, Los Angeles, California: Roman, Greek, and Etruscan Antiquities. Kylix, red figure

No Time For the Weekend: On the Spartan Way of Drinking

Critias, fr. 6 [=Ath. 10.432d–33b]

“Drinking toasts that stretch beyond reason bring
Pleasure for the moment but pain for all time.

The Spartan style is one of moderation:
To eat and drink with limits so people can still
Work and think. They don’t set apart a day
To soak the body with excessive drinking.”

αἱ γὰρ ὑπὲρ τὸ μέτρον κυλίκων προπόσεις παραχρῆμα
τέρψασαι λυποῦσ᾿ εἰς τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον·
ἡ Λακεδαιμονίων δὲ δίαιθ᾿ ὁμαλῶς διάκειται,
ἔσθειν καὶ πίνειν σύμμετρα πρὸς τὸ φρονεῖν
καὶ τὸ πονεῖν εἶναι δυνάτους· οὐκ ἔστ᾿ ἀπότακτος
ἡμέρα οἰνῶσαι σῶμ᾿ ἀμέτροισι πότοις.

Red figure vase with two figures. Black background.  A servant girl unhappily carries a full wineskin and jug, while an older woman drinks from a large vessel; the reverse of the cup establishes a (rare) interior scene of a storeroom.
Skyphos with a Woman Drinking in a Storeroom (Greek, Athens, 470-460 BC).
Also, image of me sneaking drinks if I lived in Sparta

Lock Up Your Winds! A Song for Safe Passage

Anonymous, To The Rhodian Winds [P. Oxy. xi. 1915, no. 1383, p. 236.]

“I used to give orders to the Rhodian winds
And the neighborhoods of the sea
When I wanted to sail
When I wanted to stay there

I used to sing to the corners of the sea:
Don’t let the waters strike me!
Put the waves at the command of the sailors!
The whole wind is pressing on us!

Night, Lock up your winds and
make safe our way.”

Ῥοδίοις ἐκέλευον ἀνέμοις
καὶ μέρεσι τοῖς πελαγίοις
ὅτε πλέειν ἤθελον ἐγώ,
ὅτε μένειν ἤθελον ἐκεῖ,
ἔλεγον μέρε(σιν) πελαγίο(ις)·
μὴ τύπηι τὰ πελάγη·
ἅλ᾿ ὑποτάξατε ναυσιβά[τ]αις.
ὅλος ἄρ᾿ ἄνεμος ἐπείγεται.
ἀπόκλειε τὰ πνεύματα καί, Ν[ύ]ξ,
δὸς τὰ [. .]ατ᾿ εὔβατα.

Black figure vase. Sailing vessel in the middle of a red vase with dolphins around. A beareded figure sits in the middle
Dionysos in a ship, sailing among dolphins. Attic black-figure kylix, ca. 530 BC. From Vulci.

An Archaic Love Song

Sophocles, Antigone, 781-800.

Love, unbeatable in war,
Love, who ravishes wealth,
Who in the soft cheeks
Of girls keeps vigil,
And who roams the seas
And rustic hideaways:
Gods can’t elude you,
Nor can mortal men.
Who admits you goes mad.

You wrench just men’s minds
Into shameful wrongs.
(This family strife between men,
It’s you who stirred it.)
Desire, clear in the eyes
Of a fetching bride, prevails.
Desire reigns
Beside the great laws.
Irresistible god
Aphrodite frolics.

Ἔρως ἀνίκατε μάχαν,
Ἔρως, ὃς ἐν κτήμασι πίπτεις,
ὃς ἐν μαλακαῖς παρειαῖς
νεάνιδος ἐννυχεύεις,
φοιτᾷς δʼ ὑπερπόντιος ἔν τʼ
ἀγρονόμοις αὐλαῖς·
καί σʼ οὔτʼ ἀθανάτων φύξιμος οὐδεὶς
οὔθʼ ἁμερίων σέ γʼ ἀν-
θρώπων. ὁ δʼ ἔχων μέμηνεν.

σὺ καὶ δικαίων ἀδίκους
φρένας παρασπᾷς ἐπὶ λώβᾳ·
σὺ καὶ τόδε νεῖκος ἀνδρῶν
ξύναιμον ἔχεις ταράξας·
νικᾷ δʼ ἐναργὴς βλεφάρων
ἵμερος εὐλέκτρου
νύμφας, τῶν μεγάλων πάρεδρος ἐν ἀρχαῖς
θεσμῶν. ἄμαχος γὰρ ἐμ-
παίζει θεὸς Ἀφροδίτα.

Tarnished bronze statuette: Nude venus holding hand of winged cupid
Aphrodite Spanking Eros.
c.1st Century BC. Bronze.
J. Paul Getty Museum.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

If A Poem Is Written in the Forest….

Martial, 3.8

“Quintus Loves Thais, Which one? The One-eyd Thais.
She’s missing one eye but he’s lost two.”

Thaida Quintus amat. ‘quam Thaida?’ Thaida luscam.
unum oculum Thais non habet, ille duos.

3. 9

“Someone says Cinna writes little poems against me.
No one really writes if nobody reads their poems.”

Versiculos in me narratur scribere Cinna.
Non scribit, cuius carmina nemo legit.

Bonus Epigram from the Greek Anthology

11.252 Lucilius

“If you kiss me, you hate me. And if you hate me, you kiss me.
But if you don’t hate me, dearest friend, don’t kiss me!”

Εἴ με φιλεῖς, μισεῖς με· καὶ εἰ μισεῖς, σὺ φιλεῖς με·
εἰ δέ με μὴ μισεῖς, φίλτατε, μή με φίλει.

File:Marble plaque with epigram of Sopatros MET DP132678.jpg
Marble epigram of Sopatros

Beauty and Love, A Wedding Song

Theognis, fr. 1-18

“Lord, son of Leto, child of Zeus, I will never
Forget you when beginning or ending my song.
But I sing you first and last and in the middle too
Hear me now and grant me good things.

Lord Phoebus, when the goddess Leto first gave birth to you,
The finest of the gods, she was holding close to the palm tree
with her slight arms, next to the curve of the lake—
and all of Delos was overwhelmed with a divine scent
as the expansive earth laughed beneath,
and the see delighted in its salty depths.

Artemis, slayer of beasts, daughter of Zeus, the one
Agamemnon honored with a temple as he sailed to Troy in swift ships
Hear me as I pray to you—ward off the evil spirts of death.
It is a minor thing for you, goddess; but a big deal for me.”

Muses and Graces, daughters of Zeus, who once
Went to the marriage of Kadmos and sang this beautiful line:
“Whatever is beautiful is loved; and what isn’t beautiful isn’t loved’
That’s the line that rang from your immortal mouths.”

῏Ω ἄνα, Λητοῦς υἱέ, Διὸς τέκος, οὔποτε σεῖο
λήσομαι ἀρχόμενος οὐδ’ ἀποπαυόμενος,
ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ πρῶτόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἔν τε μέσοισιν
ἀείσω· σὺ δέ μοι κλῦθι καὶ ἐσθλὰ δίδου.

Φοῖβε ἄναξ, ὅτε μέν σε θεὰ τέκε πότνια Λητώ
φοίνικος ῥαδινῆις χερσὶν ἐφαψαμένη
ἀθανάτων κάλλιστον ἐπὶ τροχοειδέι λίμνηι,
πᾶσα μὲν ἐπλήσθη Δῆλος ἀπειρεσίη
ὀδμῆς ἀμβροσίης, ἐγέλασσε δὲ Γαῖα πελώρη,
γήθησεν δὲ βαθὺς πόντος ἁλὸς πολιῆς.

῎Αρτεμι θηροφόνη, θύγατερ Διός, ἣν ᾿Αγαμέμνων
εἵσαθ’, ὅτ’ ἐς Τροίην ἔπλεε νηυσὶ θοῆις,
εὐχομένωι μοι κλῦθι, κακὰς δ’ ἀπὸ κῆρας ἄλαλκε·
σοὶ μὲν τοῦτο, θεά, σμικρόν, ἐμοὶ δὲ μέγα.

Μοῦσαι καὶ Χάριτες, κοῦραι Διός, αἵ ποτε Κάδμου
ἐς γάμον ἐλθοῦσαι καλὸν ἀείσατ’ ἔπος,
‘ὅττι καλόν, φίλον ἐστί· τὸ δ’ οὐ καλὸν οὐ φίλον ἐστί,’
τοῦτ’ ἔπος ἀθανάτων ἦλθε διὰ στομάτων.

Small clay figure of larger divine woman holding human male in arms.
Artemis Kourotrophos. Small terracotta . 430-400 BC. Archaeological Museum of Brauron.

Solon, Family Physician

Solon, fr. 27 (=Philo, de opif. mundi 104)

“A child, when still young and small, grows
a bulwark of teeth and loses them in his first seven years
When the god brings about the second seven years
He starts to show the signs of adolescence

In the third set of seven, his chin starts to fuzz
As his limbs thicken and skin changes color.

In the fourth seven, every one is seriously the best
In terms of strength, and men begin to show the signs of excellence.

In the fifth season, it is the time for a man to think about marriage
And to seek the generation of children afterwards.

In the six season, a man’s mind is fit for everything,
And he no longer wishes to act out in reckless deeds.

In the seventh season, and the eighth each is best
In thinking and speaking–fourteen years for both!

In the ninth season, a man can do anything, but
His speech and mind are less sharp, beneath peak excellence.

If someone completes the tenth stage and comes to the end,
his appointment with death is not out of season.”

παῖς μὲν ἄνηβος ἐὼν ἔτι νήπιος ἕρκος ὀδόντων
φύσας ἐκβάλλει πρῶτον ἐν ἕπτ᾿ ἔτεσιν.
τοὺς δ᾿ ἑτέρους ὅτε δὴ τελέσῃ θεὸς ἕπτ᾿ ἐνιαυτούς,
ἥβης ἐκφαίνει σήματα γεινομένης.

τῇ τριτάτῃ δὲ γένειον ἀεξομένων ἔτι γυίων
λαχνοῦται, χροιῆς ἄνθος ἀμειβομένης.
τῇ δὲ τετάρτῃ πᾶς τις ἐν ἑβδομάδι μέγ᾿ ἄριστος
ἰσχύν, ᾗ τ᾿ ἄνδρες σήματ᾿ ἔχουσ᾿ ἀρετῆς.
πέμπτῃ δ᾿ ὥριον ἄνδρα γάμου μεμνημένον εἶναι
καὶ παίδων ζητεῖν εἰσοπίσω γενεήν.
τῇ δ᾿ ἕκτῃ περὶ πάντα καταρτύεται νόος ἀνδρός,
οὐδ᾿ ἔρδειν ἔθ᾿ ὁμῶς ἔργ᾿ ἀπάλαμνα θέλει.
ἑπτὰ δὲ νοῦν καὶ γλῶσσαν ἐν ἑβδομάσιν μέγ᾿ἄριστος
ὀκτώ τ᾿· ἀμφοτέρων τέσσαρα καὶ δέκ᾿ ἔτη.

τῇ δ᾿ ἐνάτῃ ἔτι μὲν δύναται, μαλακώτερα δ᾿ αὐτοῦ
πρὸς μεγάλην ἀρετὴν γλῶσσά τε καὶ σοφίη.
τὴν δεκάτην δ᾿ εἴ τις τελέσας κατὰ μέτρον ἵκοιτο,
οὐκ ἂν ἄωρος ἐὼν μοῖραν ἔχοι θανάτου.

Black and white wood cut print showing men at stages from infancy to old age.
The stages of life from infancy to old age. Woodcut from De proprietatibus rerum by Bartholomeus Anglicus, 1846

I checked with my wife–a pediatric dentist–and first dentition is complete between ages 3-6. Also, we got married when I was 29 and had kids in our 30s (oops, another in our 40s). And then, in my seventh season I am definitely the best so far at speaking and thinking (and I can’t bench what I could at 25), so Solon is onto something.

This is hard to convey to someone who hasn’t read a lot of Greek poetry, but Solon is not much of a poet.

This is the Way: Perishing Because of Evil Plans

Alcman Fr. 1 [= P. Louvr. E 33201]

“…Polydeukes.
I do not care that Lukaisin is among the dead*
And Enasphoros and swift-footed Sebros
The violent one….
The helmeted one…

Or Euteikhes and lord Areios
Exceptional among the Heroes.
The summoner
Great Eurotos in the chaos of Ares
And Alkon, and the best men
We will certainly not ignore them.

Yet Fate and the Way
Those most ancient ones
Overcame them all
And their untethered courage
Perished.

No human should fly to the heaven
Nor try to marry Aphrodite
The Kyprian Queen
Nor some child of Porkos, the sea-god

The Graces with loving eyes
Go to visit the house of Zeus.

A deity….
For friends…
Gives gifts…

In vain…
One went, another of them dead by arrow
Another by a marble millstone…
In Hades now…
Those people
Suffered unforgettable pain
Because they had evil plans.”

] Πωλυδεύκης·
οὐκ ἐγὼ]ν Λύκαισον ἐν καμοῦσιν ἀλέγω
Ἐνα]ρσφόρον τε καὶ Σέβρον ποδώκη
]ν τε τὸν βιατὰν
]. τε τὸν κορυστὰν
Εὐτείχη] τε ϝάνακτά τ᾿ Ἀρήιον
]ά τ᾿ ἔξοχον ἡμισίων·
καὶ ]ν τὸν ἀγρέταν
] μέγαν Εὔρυτόν τε
Ἄρεος ἂν] πώρω κλόνον
Ἄλκωνά] τε τὼς ἀρίστως
οὐδ᾿ ἁμῶς] παρήσομες·
κράτησε γ]ὰρ Αἶσα παντῶν
καὶ Πόρος] γεραιτάτοι,
λύθη δ᾿ ἀπ]έδιλος ἀλκά.
μή τις ἀνθ]ρώπων ἐς ὠρανὸν ποτήσθω
μηδὲ πη]ρήτω γαμῆν τὰν Ἀφροδίταν
Κυπρίαν ϝ]άν[α]σσαν ἤ τιν᾿
] ἢ παίδα Πόρκω
εἰναλίω· Χά]ριτες δὲ Διὸς δόμον
ἀμφιέπου]σιν ἐρογλεφάροι·
]τάτοι
]α δαίμων
]ι φίλοις
ἔδ]ωκε δῶρα
]γαρέον
]ώλεσ᾿ ἥβα
]ρονον
μ]ταίας
]έβα· τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλος ἰῶι
]μαρμάρωι μυλάκρωι
]. εν Ἀΐδας
]αυτοι
]΄πον· ἄλαστα δὲ
ϝέργα πάσον κακὰ μησαμένοι.

Red figure vase: three figures pictured: a lyre player, identified as Orpheus, seated on left, a thracian standing with spear in the middle, a woman standing talking to the thracian on right

Greek, Attic; Bell-krater; Vases; Obverse, Orpheus among the Thracians; Reverse, libation scene. C 440 BCE, Painter of London E 497

 

*I may be obtuse or too lazy to follow it up, but I cannot make sense of the Loeb translation that takes the reconstructed οὐκ ἐγὼ]ν Λύκαισον ἐν καμοῦσιν ἀλέγω as “I do not reckon L. among the dead”. It seems atypical for the semantics of the verb and thematically unrelated to the judgment of this poem.

A Treatise on Human Beings, Rejected by a Life of Virtue

Suda, s.v. Theognis,[=ii .692 Adler]

“Theognis of Megara, from Megara in Sicily. He lived around the time of the 59th Olympiad [ c/ 540 BCE]. He composed elegy for those who were saved from the Syracusans during the siege, around 2800 elegiac proverbs, a group of elegiac advice addressed to his lover Kyrnos, and other kinds of advisory lines. Theognis is useful because he wrote advice, but in the midst of this are interwoven foul and pederastic erotic lines too and many other things rejected by clean living.”

Θέογνις, Μεγαρεύς, τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ Μεγάρων, γεγονὼς ἐν τῇ νθ΄ ὀλυμπιάδι. ἔγραψεν ἐλεγείαν εἰς τοὺς σωθέντας τῶν Συρακουσίων ἐν τῇ πολιορκίᾳ, γνώμας δι᾿ ἐλεγείας ὡς (εἰς ed. pr.) ἔπη ̗βω΄, καὶ πρὸς Κύρ<ν>ον τὸν αὐτοῦ ἐρώμενον γνωμολογίαν δι᾿ ἐλεγείων, καὶ ἑτέρας ὑποθήκας παραινετικάς, τὰ πάντα ἐπικῶς (ἔπη ̗βω΄ Ditzen). ὅτι μὲν παραινέσεις ἔγραψε Θέογνις, <χρήσιμος·> ἀλλ᾿ ἐν μέσῳ τούτων παρεσπαρμέναι μιαρίαι καὶ παιδικοὶ ἔρωτες καὶ ἄλλα ὅσα ὁ ἐνάρετος ἀποστρέφεται βίος.

Harpocration 126-7

Theognis: This dude is Megarian, from Megara in Attica. The poet says this himself [783]. Plato didn’t acknowledge this when he claimed in Laws Book 1 that Theognis was from MEgara in Sicily. Not a few have followed Plato in this.”

Θέογνις· οὗτος δ᾿ ἦν Μεγαρεύς, ἀπὸ τῶν πρὸς τῇ Ἀττικῇ Μεγάρων. αὐτὸς γάρ φησιν ὁ ποιητής (v. 783). ὃ μὴ ἐπιστήσας Πλάτων ἐν α΄ Νόμων (test. 2) τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ Μεγαρέων πολίτην ἔφασκεν. κατηκολούθησαν δὲ τῷ Πλάτωνι οὐκ ὀλίγοι.

Stobaeus, 4.29.53

“This is what Xenophon says about Theognis: “The words of Megarian Theognis: This poet has composed about nothing else except for human excellence and wickedness. This poetry is a treatise on people, as if an equestrian were to write about horses.”

Ξενοφῶντος ἐκ τοῦ περὶ Θεόγνιδος. “Θεόγνιδός ἐστιν ἔπη τοῦ Μεγαρέως” (22–23). οὗτος δὲ ὁ ποιητὴς περὶ οὐδενὸς ἄλλου λόγον πεποίηται ἢ περὶ ἀρετῆς καὶ κακίας ἀνθρώπων, καί ἐστιν ἡ ποίησις σύγγραμμα περὶ ἀνθρώπων, ὥσπερ εἴ τις ἱππικὸς ὢν συγγράψειεν περὶ ἱππικῆς. 

Black and white picture of a scrap of papyrus containing parts of fifteen lines of greek poetry
P.Berol.21220 This is one of the two papyrus fragments of Theognis. It contains the verses 917-933 (Bekker’s numbering)