Alternative Facts in Myth: Penelope’s (In)Fidelity

Elsewhere, I posted a bit from Pausanias that discuses Penelope’s gravesite in Arcadia. It also mentions a Mantinean tradition that Penelope was expelled from Ithaca on a suspicion of infidelity. This story is in part reported by Apollodorus, (Ep. 7.38-39)

“Some say that Penelope was corrupted by Antinoos and that Odysseus sent her back to her father Ikarios. When she came to Mantinea in Arcadia she had Pan with Hermes. Others allege that she was killed by Odysseus because of Amphinomos, who seduced her. There are also those who say that Odysseus was charged by the relatives of those he had killed who took Neoptolemos as judge, then king of the islands near Epirus. He handed down a judgment of exile and Odysseus went to Thoas the son of Andraimôn who married him to his daughter. When he died from old age, he left a son Leontophonos.

τινὲς δὲ Πηνελόπην ὑπὸ Ἀντινόου φθαρεῖσαν λέγουσιν ὑπὸ Ὀδυσσέως πρὸς τὸν πατέρα Ἰκάριον ἀποσταλῆναι, γενομένην δὲ τῆς Ἀρκαδίας κατὰ Μαντίνειαν ἐξ Ἑρμοῦ τεκεῖν Πᾶνα: [39] ἄλλοι δὲ δι᾽ Ἀμφίνομον ὑπὸ Ὀδυσσέως αὐτοῦ τελευτῆσαι: διαφθαρῆναι γὰρ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ τούτου λέγουσιν. [40] εἰσὶ δὲ οἱ λέγοντες ἐγκαλούμενον Ὀδυσσέα ὑπὸ τῶν οἰκείων ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀπολωλότων δικαστὴν Νεοπτόλεμον λαβεῖν τὸν βασιλεύοντα τῶν κατὰ τὴν Ἤπειρον νήσων, τοῦτον δέ, νομίσαντα ἐκποδὼν Ὀδυσσέως γενομένου Κεφαλληνίαν καθέξειν, κατακρῖναι φυγὴν αὐτοῦ, Ὀδυσσέα δὲ εἰς Αἰτωλίαν πρὸς Θόαντα τὸν Ἀνδραίμονος παραγενόμενον τὴν τούτου θυγατέρα γῆμαι, καὶ καταλιπόντα παῖδα Λεοντοφόνον ἐκ ταύτης γηραιὸν τελευτῆσαι.

Image result for Penelope ancient greek

The detail about Amphinomos might be drawn from a passage in the Odyssey where the narrative provides some insight into Penelope’s mind (16.394-398):

Amphinomos rose and spoke among them,
The dashing son of Nisos, the son of lord Arêtiades,
Who joined the suitors from grain-rich and grassy
Doulikhos. He was especially pleasing to Penelope
For he made good use of his brains.”

τοῖσιν δ’ ᾿Αμφίνομος ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπε,
Νίσου φαίδιμος υἱός, ᾿Αρητιάδαο ἄνακτος,
ὅς ῥ’ ἐκ Δουλιχίου πολυπύρου ποιήεντος
ἡγεῖτο μνηστῆρσι, μάλιστα δὲ Πηνελοπείῃ
ἥνδανε μύθοισι· φρεσὶ γὰρ κέχρητ’ ἀγαθῇσιν·

It is somewhat amusing to compare this to what Telemachus says earlier when he describes the suitors.

Homer, Odyssey 15.518-524

“But I will tell you of another man you might encounter,
Eurymakhos, the shining son of sharp-minded Polyboios,
Whom the Ithakans now look upon the way they would a god.
He is by far the best man remaining and the best
To marry my mother and receive my father’s geras.
But Zeus is the one who knows these things as he rules on high”
Whether or not he will bring about a deadly day for them before a marriage.”

ἀλλά τοι ἄλλον φῶτα πιφαύσκομαι, ὅν κεν ἵκοιο,
Εὐρύμαχον, Πολύβοιο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
τὸν νῦν ἶσα θεῷ ᾿Ιθακήσιοι εἰσορόωσι·
καὶ γὰρ πολλὸν ἄριστος ἀνὴρ μέμονέν τε μάλιστα
μητέρ’ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ ᾿Οδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν.

What to make of this difference? Telemachus’ evaluation appears to be based on Eurymakhos’ standing among the Ithakans. Penelope seems to favor someone who is not Ithakan and whose traits are like her own and her absent husband.

Lykophron in his Alexandra takes the view that Penelope was not faithful (768-773)

“For he will come, he will come to the harbor shelter of Reithron
And the cliffs of Nêritos. And he will see
His whole house upturned from its foundations
By wife-stealing adulterers. And that vixen
Will hollow out his home with shameless whoring,
Pouring out the wretch’s fortune feast by feast”.

ἥξει γάρ, ἥξει ναύλοχον ῾Ρείθρου σκέπας
καὶ Νηρίτου πρηῶνας. ὄψεται δὲ πᾶν
μέλαθρον ἄρδην ἐκ βάθρων ἀνάστατον
μύκλοις γυναικόκλωψιν. ἡ δὲ βασσάρα
σεμνῶς κασωρεύουσα κοιλανεῖ δόμους,
θοίναισιν ὄλβον ἐκχέασα τλήμονος.

Lykophron is positively chaste compared to the account provided in the Scholia:

“And Douris writes in his work on the lewdness of Agathokleos that Penelope had sex with all of the suitors and then gave birth to the goat-shaped Pan whom they took up to be one of the gods.  He is talking nonsense about Pan, for Pan is the child of Hermes and a different Penelope. Another story is that Pan is the child of Zeus and Hubris.”

Καὶ Δοῦρις δὲ ἐν τῷ περὶ ᾿Αγαθοκλέους μάχλον φησὶ τὴν Πηνελόπην καὶ συνελθοῦσαν πᾶσι τοῖς μνηστῆρσι γεννῆσαι τὸν τραγοσκελῆ Πᾶνα ὃν εἰς θεοὺς ἔχουσιν (FHG II 47942). φλυαρεῖ δὲ περὶ τοῦ Πανός· ὁ Πὰν γὰρ ῾Ερμοῦ καὶ Πηνελόπης ἄλλης †T. καὶ ἕτερος δὲ Πὰν Διὸς καὶ ῞Υβρεως.

Silly Debaters, Life is to be Lived!

Seneca, Moral Epistles 45.10-13

“Why do you detain me with that thing you call the liar’s paradox about which so many books have been written? Look, my whole life is a lie. Argue against that for, return to the truth, if you are precise enough. This judges things to be necessary when the greater portion is superfluous. And the part that is not superfluous possesses nothing of consequence in it, it has no potential to make someone fortunate and happy.

Something is not essentially good just because it is necessary. If that were the case, we would debase what good is, calling bread and oatmeal and other things needed for life ‘good’. The good must be necessary but what is necessary is not always good since rather basic things are needed to live. No one is so unaware of the true value of the good as to reduce it to daily needs.

What? Should you not rededicate your energy to showing all people what a tremendous waste of time superfluous things are and that many have moved through life merely collecting tools for living? Think about individuals, examine people altogether, there is no life not looking ahead to tomorrow.

How much of a problem is this, you ask? It is endless–for these people don’t live, they are always about to live. They put everything off. Even if we were constantly vigilant, life would outpace us. But now life sees us delaying and it passes us as if it were someone else’s and although it ends on our last day, it is dying on every day before it.”

Quid me detines in eo, quem tu ipse pseudomenon appellas, de quo tantum librorum conpositum est? Ecce tota mihi vita mentitur; hanc coargue, hanc ad verum, si acutus es, redige. Necessaria iudicat, quorum magna pars supervacua est. Etiam quae non est supervacua, nihil in se momenti habet in hoc, ut possit fortunatum beatumque praestare. Non enim statim bonum est, si quid necessarium est; aut proicimus bonum, si hoc nomen pani et polentae damus et ceteris, sine quibus vita non ducitur. Quod bonum est, utique necessarium est; quod necessarium est, non utique bonum est, quoniam quidem necessaria sunt quaedam eadem vilissima. Nemo usque eo dignitatem boni ignorat, ut illud ad haec in diem utilia demittat.

Quid ergo? Non eo potius curam transferes, ut ostendas omnibus magno temporis inpendio quaeri supervacua et multos transisse vitam, dum vitae instrumenta conquirunt? Recognosce singulos, considera universos; nullius non vita spectat in crastinum. Quid in hoc sit mali, quaeris? Infinitum. Non enim vivunt, sed victuri sunt. Omnia dififerunt. Etiamsi adtenderemus, tamen nos vita praecurreret; nunc vero cunctantes quasi aliena transcurrit et ultimo die finitur, omni perit.

meme from Dazed and confused with Matthew mcconaughey saying "what is necessary is not always good" in latin

Rushing Ahead To Fall Behind

Seneca, Moral Epistles 45.6-7

“If there is anything that can make a life happy, it is the good in its own right. For it cannot be debased into evil. How do we mess this up, when everyone wants a happy life? It is because people mistake the means to happiness for the thing itself–while they seek it, they flee it.

Although the summit of a happy life may be unshakeable safety, unbothered by events, most people collect the causes of anxiety and don’t merely carry their baggage through the dangerous journey of life, but gather more! They are always falling further away from the state they seek and the more they try the more they get in their own way and fall back. This is how it goes if you rush into a labyrinth: speed itself ensnares you. Goodbye.”

 Si quid est, quod vitam beatam potest facere, id bonum est suo iure. Depravari enim in malum non potest. Quid est ergo, in quo erratur, cum omnes beatam vitam optent? Quod instrumenta eius pro ipsa habent et illam, dum petunt, fugiunt. Nam cum summa vitae beatae sit solida securitas et eius inconcussa fiducia, sollicitudinis colligunt causas et per insidiosum iter vitae non tantum ferunt sarcinas, sed trahunt; ita longius ab effectu eius, quod petunt, semper abscedunt et quo plus operae inpenderunt, hoc se magis impediunt et feruntur retro. Quod evenit in labyrintho properantibus; ipsa illos velocitas inplicat. Vale.

gif of a stick figure sisphyus trying to push a stone up a hill and having it fall back

From Feces to Flowers And Back Again

Seneca, Moral Epistles 44.3

“Each of us has the same number of ancestors–everyone’s origin sits beyond human memory. Plato says that “every king has come from slaves and every slave descends from kings.” The long course of time mixed everything up and fortune turned them over again.

Who is noble? Someone who is naturally well-suited to virtue. This is the only thing that needs to be examined. If you look back to the ancients, every search comes to a place where there’s nothing. From the first foundations of the universe to this day, we have passed through origins that were sometimes lofty and other times base. A gallery full of smoke-stained ancestors doesn’t make someone noble.

No one has lived from past glory to today and nothing from before belongs to us. Only the soul makes us noble and it can rise up beyond fortune from whatever condition it was in before.”

Omnibus nobis totidem ante nos sunt; nullius non origo ultra memoriam iacet. Platon ait neminem regem non ex servis esse oriundum, neminem servum non ex regibus. Omnia ista longa varietas miscuit et sursum deorsum fortuna versavit. Quis est generosus? Ad virtutem bene a natura conpositus. Hoc unum intuendum est; alioquin si ad vetera revocas, nemo non inde est, ante quod nihil est. A primo mundi ortu usque in hoc tempus perduxit nos ex splendidis sordidisque alternata series. Non facit nobilem atrium plenum fumosis imaginibus. Nemo in nostram gloriam vixit nec quod ante nos fuit, nostrum est; animus facit nobilem, cui ex quacumque condicione supra fortunam licet surgere.

color photograph of line of busts in vatican museum
Hall of Busts, Vatican Museum

Praksô, the Samian, Gone at 22

ΑΜΥΝΤΑΣ [P. Oxy.iv. 1904, no. 662, p. 64. ]

“Tell me, woman, who are you and who is your father?
Tell me what kind of terrible sickness you died from.

My name is Praksô, the Samian, Friend.
I was an offspring of Kalliteleus, but I died in childbirth.

Who provided this tomb? Theokritos, the man
They married me to. What age did you make to?

I was three times seven plus one. Were you childless?
No, I left a three-year old behind at home.”

(1)φράζε, γύναι, τίς ἐοῦσα καὶ ἐκ τίνος, εἰπέτε πάτρην,
καὶ ποίας ἔθανες νούσου ὑπ᾿ ἀργαλέης.
οὔνομα μὲν Πραξὼ Σαμίη, ξένε, ἐκ δὲ γονῆος
Καλλιτέλευς γενόμαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἔθανον τοκετῶι.
τίς δὲ τάφον στάλωσε; Θεόκριτος, ὧι με σύνευνον
ἀνδρὶ δόσαν. ποίην δ᾿ ἦλθες ἐς ἡλικίην;
ἑπταέτις τρὶς ἑνὸς γενόμαν ἔτι. ἦ ῥά γ᾿ ἄτεκνος;
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ τριετῆ παῖδα δόμωι λιπόμαν

The funerary stele of Thrasea and Euandria, c. 365 BC

The Spirit in the Sky is Inside You!

Seneca, Moral Epistles 41.1-2

“You are doing the best thing, the heathy thing, for yourself if, as you write, you persist in pursuing a good state of mind. This is something it is foolish to hope for, when you are capable of achieving it on your own. We don’t need to raise our hands to heaven or to go beg in a temple to approach the idol’s ear, as if we can be heard better in this way. No, God is near us, with us, inside us.

I say it this way, Lucilius: a sacred force sits within us as a witness  of our good and evil and a guardian. It handles us, the way we handle it. Really, no person is good without God, how else can someone surpass fortune unless god helps them rise up?”

Facis rem optimam et tibi salutarem, si, ut scribis, perseveras ire ad bonam mentem, quam stultum est optare, cum possis a te impetrare. Non sunt ad caelum elevandae manus nec exorandus aedituus, ut nos ad aurem simulacri, quasi magis exaudiri possimus, admittat; prope est a te deus, tecum est, intus est.

Ita dico, Lucili: sacer intra nos spiritus sedet, malorum bonorumque nostrorum observator et custos. Hic prout a nobis tractatus est, ita nos ipse tractat. Bonus vero vir sine deo nemo est; an potest aliquis supra fortunam nisi ab illo adiutus exurgere?

Color photograph intense closeup of a marble human face, focusing on the left eye, with just a little eyebrow, nose, and cheek

Popular Speech and Philosophy

Seneca, Moral Epistle 40.5-8

“This popular form of speech possesses no truth: it wishes only to move the crowd, to grab ahold of uninformed ears through speed–it does not offer itself for conversation, but discourages it. How can speech like that govern people when it is ungovernable itself? Shouldn’t any kind of speech, moreover, that tries to heal our minds, be able to sink down into them? They cannot offer remedies if they do not linger in our thoughts.

That kind of speech also contains an excess of nonsense and silliness, it makes more noise than impact. The things that scare me should be soothed; the things that irritate, softened; the desires that deceive me, should be inhibited; my greed should be curbed. What of these can be treated quickly? What kind of doctor rushes through a visit with the sick? On top of that, how can such a hodgepodge of poorly chosen sounds bring any kind of pleasure?

It is the same as you find some delight in witnessing tricks you thought were impossible to complete, so too it is possible to hear these word acrobats perform only once. What can someone want to learn or imitate in these people? What could you think of their minds, when their speech rushes out in complete chaos, impossible to keep in control?

Just as when someone is running down the hill, it is impossible to stop where they wanted too, and their steps roll along with the force of their body and are carried beyond where they wanted to stop, so too does speed of speaking operate beyond its own control. It is not right for philosophy, since philosophy should compose words with care, not throwing them around, but moving carefully, step by step.

Haec popularis nihil habet veri; movere vult turbam et inconsultas aures inpetu rapere, tractandam se non praebet, aufertur. Quomodo autem regere potest, quae regi non potest? Quid, quod haec oratio, quae sanandis mentibus adhibetur, descendere in nos debet? Remedia non prosunt, nisi inmorantur.

Multum praeterea habet inanitatis et vani, plus sonat quam valet. Lenienda sunt, quae me exterrent, conpescenda, quae inritant, discutienda, quae fallunt, inhibenda luxuria, corripienda avaritia; quid horum raptim potest fieri? Quis medicus aegros in transitu curat? Quid, quod ne voluptatem quidem ullam habet talis verborum sine dilectu ruentium strepitus? Sed ut pleraque, quae fieri posse non crederes, cognovisse satis est, ita istos, qui verba exercuerunt, abunde est semel audisse. Quid enim quis discere, quid imitari velit? Quid de eorum animo iudicet, quorum oratio perturbata et inmissa est nec potest reprimi? Quemadmodum per proclive currentium non ubi visum est, gradus sistitur, sed incitato corporis pondere se rapit1 ac longius quam voluit effertur; sic ista dicendi celeritas nec in sua potestate est nec satis decora philosophiae, quae ponere debet verba, non proicere, et pedetemptim procedere.

Person sitting at a desk outside debate me meme with Latin on his sign saying "Haec popularis nihil habet veri" the popular kind of speech possesses no truth."

Can We Be Good?

Is it within human capacity to be good?

Judging from a lyric fragment on the subject, Simonides (c.556-468 BC) thought goodness was possible (however hard), while Pittacus (c.640-568 BC), whom he references, held the opposing view.

We’ll let Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Reformer, decide between the two positions.

Simonides Fr. 542 (PMG)

It’s hard for a man to be truly good
in hands, feet, and mind,
a square, as it were, drawn without blemish . . .

Yet Pittacus’ maxim does not suit me,
though it was spoken by a wise man:
it’s hard, he said, to be good,
an honor only a god could enjoy . . .

Martin Luther. On Christian Liberty (ed.1521).

The Commandments teach us what is good but we do not straightaway follow their teachings. That is because the Commandments point out what we ought to do, but they do not give us the strength to do it. The Commandments were put in place to reveal an individual to himself: through them he discovers his inability to do good, and he despairs of his own strength . . .

For example, through the Commandment ”You must not covet” we are all heaped together as sinners, for there’s no one who does not have strong desires, whatever his efforts to the contrary. The consequence is this: in order not to be covetous and to satisfy the commandment, an individual learns to despair of himself and looks elsewhere for help.

What this one Commandment accomplishes all the others accomplish too, for all of them are equally impossible for us.

Simonides. Fr. 542 (PMG).

ἄνδρ᾿ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι
χαλεπὸν χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόῳ
τετράγωνον ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον.
οὐδέ μοι ἐμμελέως τὸ Πιττάκειον
νέμεται, καίτοι σοφοῦ παρὰ φωτὸς εἰρημένον·
χαλεπὸν φάτ᾿ ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι.
θεὸς ἂν μόνος τοῦτ᾿ ἔχοι γέρας . . .

Luther. De Libertate Christiana.

Praecepta docent quidem bona, sed non statim fiunt, quae docta sunt, ostendunt enim, quid facere nos oporteat, sed uirtutem faciendi non donant, in hoc autem sunt ordinata ut hominem sibi ipsi ostendant, per quae suam impotentiam ad bonum cognoscat,et de suis viribus desperet . . . Exempli causa: Non concupisces, praeceptum est, quo nos omnes esse peccatores coniungimur cum nemo possit non concupiscere, quicquid contra molitus fuerit, ut ergo, non concupiscat et praeceptum impleat, cogitur de sese desperare, et alibi ac per alium quarere auxilium, quod in se non invenit . . . Quod autem hoc uno praecepto agitur, idem omnibus agitur, aeque enim sunt impossibila nobis omnia.

Color photograph of oil painting of bust of Martin Luther
Luther, not Simonides.

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

A Soul Awake! Or, Seneca is Asked Notes

Seneca, Moral Epistle 39.1.-2

“I will prepare the notes you ask for, carefully ordered and effectively brief. But think about whether the regular way of doing things is better than this thing now called the abstract, which once in Latin was called a ‘summary’. A longer course is required for someone who is learned while the other is for someone who knows. I will give you plenty of both. You should not ask me for this idea or for that. Whoever provides a stand-in remains unknown.

I will write what you want, but I’ll do it my way. In the meantime, you have many authors whose writings provide enough direction. Take into your hand a list of philosophers. This act itself will wake you up, once you see how many have worked hard for you. You will want to become one of these yourself. For the noble soul exhibits this best quality in its self: it can be incited to purse admirable things.”

Commentarios, quos desideras, diligenter ordinatos et in angustum coactos ego vero conponam. Sed vide, ne plus profutura sit ratio ordinaria quam haec, quae nunc vulgo breviarium dicitur, olim cum latine loqueremur, summarium vocabatur. Illa res discenti magis necessaria est, haec scienti. Illa enim docet, haec admonet. Sed utriusque rei tibi copiam faciam. Tu a me non est quod illum aut illum exigas; qui notorem dat, ignotus est. Scribam ergo quod vis,

sed meo more; interim multos habes, quorum scripta nescio an satis ordinent. Sume in manus indicem philosophorum; haec ipsa res expergisci te coget, si videris, quam multi tibi laboraverint. Concupisces et ipse ex illis unus esse. Habet enim hoc optimum in se generosus animus, quod concitatur ad honesta.

modified "for dummies" book with indicem philosophorum (list of philosophers) as a title and Lucius Annaeus Seneca as the author

The Problem with the Ides of March: Not Enough Cicero, Not Enough MURDER

Cicero, Epistulae Familiares 10.28.1 (To Trebonius)

“How I wish that you had invited me to that most sumptuous feast on the Ides of March! We would now have no little scraps if you had. But now you have with them such difficulty in preventing that divine benefit which you bestowed upon the Republic from exciting some complaint. But, though it is hardly right, I am on occasion angry with you, because it was by you – a noble man indeed – it was by you and by your good service that this pest [Marc Antony] was led away and still lives. Now you have left behind more trouble for me alone than for everyone else.”

Image result for ides of march cicero

Quam vellem ad illas pulcherrimas epulas me Idibus Martiis invitasses! reliquiarum nihil haberemus. at nunc cum iis tantum negoti est ut vestrum illud divinum <in> rem publicam beneficium non nullam habeat querelam. quod vero a te, viro optimo, seductus est tuoque beneficio adhuc vivit haec pestis, interdum, quod mihi vix fas est, tibi subirascor; mihi enim negoti plus reliquisti uni quam praeter me omnibus.