The Child-Killing Lamia: What’s Really Scary on Halloween is Misogyny

This is the second post about ancient Greek Vampires. The first looked at the Empousa. 

Lucian, Lover of Lies 2

“…these are various and disturbing tales, able to rattle the minds of children who still fear Mormo and Lamia.”

πάνυ ἀλλόκοτα καὶ τεράστια μυθίδια παίδων ψυχὰς κηλεῖν δυνάμενα ἔτι τὴν Μορμὼ καὶ τὴν Λάμιαν δεδιότων.

The Lamia (or, just Lamia to her friends) is one of the figures from Greek myth who seems like a frightening monster but really is a particular distillation of misogyny. She is often called a Greek ‘vampire’ along with Empousa. Unlike the latter, however, Lamia is specifically associated with killing children.

Diodorus Siculus, 20.40

“At the rock’s root there was a very large cave which was roofed with ivy and bryony in which the myths say the queen Lamia, exceptional for her beauty, was born. But, because of the beastliness of her soul, they say that her appearance has become more monstrous in the time since then.

For, when all her children who were born died, she was overwhelmed by her suffering and envied all the women who were luckier with their children. So she ordered that the infants be snatched from their arms and killed immediately. For this reason, even in our lifetime, the story of that women has lingered among children and the mention of her name is most horrifying to them.

But, whenever she was getting drunk, she would allow people to do whatever pleased them without observation. Because she was not closely watching everything at that time, the people in that land imagined that she could not see. This is why the myth developed that she put her eyes into a bottle, using this story a metaphor for the carelessness she enacted in wine, since that deprived her of sight.”

 περὶ δὲ τὴν ῥίζαν αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἦν εὐμέγεθες, κιττῷ καὶ σμίλακι συνηρεφές, ἐν ᾧ μυθεύουσι γεγονέναι βασίλισσαν Λάμιαν τῷ κάλλει διαφέρουσαν· διὰ δὲ τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀγριότητα διατυπῶσαί φασι τὴν ὄψιν αὐτῆς τὸν μετὰ ταῦτα χρόνον θηριώδη. τῶν γὰρ γινομένων αὐτῇ παίδων ἁπάντων τελευτώντων βαρυθυμοῦσαν ἐπὶ τῷ πάθει καὶ φθονοῦσαν ταῖς τῶν ἄλλων γυναικῶν εὐτεκνίαις κελεύειν ἐκ τῶν ἀγκαλῶν ἐξαρπάζεσθαι τὰ βρέφη καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀποκτέννειν. διὸ καὶ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς μέχρι τοῦ νῦν βίου παρὰ τοῖς νηπίοις διαμένειν τὴν περὶ τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης φήμην καὶ φοβερωτάτην αὐτοῖς εἶναι τὴν ταύτης προσηγορίαν. ὅτε δὲ μεθύσκοιτο, τὴν ἄδειαν διδόναι πᾶσιν ἃ βούλοιντο ποιεῖν ἀπαρατηρήτως. μὴ πολυπραγμονούσης οὖν αὐτῆς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον τὰ γινόμενα τοὺς κατὰ τὴν χώραν ὑπολαμβάνειν μὴ βλέπειν αὐτήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἐμυθολόγησάν τινες ὡς εἰς ἄρσιχον ἐμβάλοι τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, τὴν ἐν οἴνῳ συντελουμένην ὀλιγωρίαν εἰς τὸ προειρημένον μέτρον μεταφέροντες, ὡς τούτου παρῃρημένου τὴν ὅρασιν.

Euripides, fr. 472m (=Diodorus Siculus 20.41.6)

“Who does not know my name, most hateful to men,
The Lamia, a Libyan by birth?”

τίς τοὐ<μὸν ὄ>νομα τοὐπονείδιστον βροτοῖς
οὐκ οἶδε Λαμίας τῆς Λιβυστικῆς γένος;

The story of why Lamia killed children gets a little more depressing in the Fragments of the Greek Historians

Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]

“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”

ταύτην ἐν τῆι Λιβύηι Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέρωι Λιβυκῶν ἱστορεῖ γυναῖκα καλὴν γενέσθαι, μιχθέντος δ᾽ αὐτῆι Διὸς ὑφ᾽ ῞Ηρας ζηλοτυπουμένην ἃ ἔτικτεν ἀπολλύναι· διόπερ ἀπὸ τῆς λύπης δύσμορφον γεγονέναι καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων παιδία ἀναρπάζουσαν διαφθείρειν.

Elsewhere, the evidence of narratives about Lamia are rather limited. She becomes just another negative, female monster.

Suda, Lambda 85

“Lamia: a monster. The name comes from having a gaping throat, laimia and lamia. Aristophanes: “It has the smell of a seal, the unwashed balls of a Lamia.” For testicles are active—and he is making a fantasy image of Lamia’s balls, since she is female.

Λάμια: θηρίον. ἀπὸ τοῦ ἔχειν μέγαν λαιμόν, λαίμια καὶ λάμια. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· φώκης δ’ εἶχεν ὀσμήν, λαμίας ὄρχεις ἀπολύτους. δραστικοὶ γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις. εἰδωλοποιεῖ δέ τινας ὄρχεις λαμίας· θῆλυ γάρ.

Unlike Empousa and some others, Lamia is interestingly integrated in some other genealogical traditions.

Schol. G ad Ap. Rhodes 4.825-831

“Stesichorus says in his Skylla, regarding her form, that Skylla is the daughter of Lamia.”

Στησίχορος δὲ ἐν τῇ Σκύλλῃ †εἶδός τινος† Λαμίας τὴν Σκύλλαν φησὶ θυγατέρα εἶναι.

Pausanias on Phocis, 12

“There is a crag rising up over the ground on which the Delphians claim that a woman stood singing oracles, named Hêrophilê but known as Sibyl. There is the earlier Sibyl, the one I have found to be equally as old as the others, whom the Greeks claim is the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon. She was the first woman to sing oracles and they say that she was named Sibyl by the Libyans. Hêrophilê was younger than here, but she was obviously born before the Trojan War since she predicted Helen in her oracles, that was raised up in Sparta as the destruction for Asia and Europe and that Troy would be taken by the Greeks because of her.”

XII. Πέτρα δέ ἐστιν ἀνίσχουσα ὑπὲρ τῆς γῆς· ἐπὶ ταύτῃ Δελφοὶ στᾶσάν φασιν ᾆσαι τοὺς χρησμοὺς γυναῖκα ὄνομα Ἡροφίλην, Σίβυλλαν δὲ ἐπίκλησιν. τὴν δὲ πρότερον γενομένην, ταύτην ταῖς μάλιστα ὁμοίως οὖσαν ἀρχαίαν εὕρισκον, ἣν θυγατέρα Ἕλληνες Διὸς καὶ Λαμίας τῆς Ποσειδῶνός φασιν εἶναι, καὶ χρησμούς τε αὐτὴν γυναικῶν πρώτην ᾆσαι καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Λιβύων Σίβυλλαν λέγουσιν ὀνομασθῆναι. ἡ δὲ Ἡροφίλη νεωτέρα μὲν ἐκείνης, φαίνεται δὲ ὅμως πρὸ τοῦ πολέμου γεγονυῖα καὶ αὕτη τοῦ Τρωικοῦ, καὶ Ἑλένην τε προεδήλωσεν ἐν τοῖς χρησμοῖς, ὡς ἐπ᾿ ὀλέθρῳ τῆς Ἀσίας καὶ Εὐρώπης τραφήσοιτο ἐν Σπάρτῃ, καὶ ὡς Ἴλιον ἁλώσεται δι᾿ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ Ἑλλήνων.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 6

“Foremost he differed from previous authors in this, by which I mean how he took on a subject that was not a single thread nor one divided in many different and also disconnected parts. And then, because did not include mythical material in his work and he did not use his writing for the deception and bewitchment of many, as every author before him did when they told the stories of certain Lamiai rising up from the earth in groves and glens and of amphibious Naiads rushing out of Tartaros, half-beasts swimming through the seas and then joining together in groups among humans, and producing offspring of mortals and gods, demigods—and other stories which seem extremely unbelievable and untrustworthy to us now.”

πρῶτον μὲν δὴ κατὰ τοῦτο διήλλαξε τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ συγγραφέων, λέγω δὲ κατὰ τὸ λαβεῖν ὑπόθεσιν μήτε μονόκωλον παντάπασι μήτ᾿ εἰς πολλὰ μεμερισμένην καὶ ἀσυνάρτητα κεφάλαια· ἔπειτα κατὰ τὸ μηδὲν αὐτῇ μυθῶδες προσάψαι, μηδ᾿ εἰς ἀπάτην καὶ γοητείαν τῶν πολλῶν ἐκτρέψαι τὴν γραφήν, ὡς οἱ πρὸ αὐτοῦ πάντες ἐποίησαν, Λαμίας τινὰς ἱστοροῦντες ἐν ὕλαις καὶ νάπαις ἐκ γῆς ἀνιεμένας, καὶ Ναΐδας ἀμφιβίους ἐκ Ταρτάρων ἐξιούσας καὶ διὰ πελάγους νηχομένας καὶ μιξόθηρας, καὶ ταύτας εἰς ὁμιλίαν ἀνθρώποις συνερχομένας, καὶ ἐκ θνητῶν καὶ θείων συνουσιῶν γονὰς ἡμιθέους, καὶ ἄλλας τινὰς ἀπίστους τῷ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς βίῳ καὶ πολὺ τὸ ἀνόητον ἔχειν δοκούσας ἱστορίας.

There is another variant name–she might get her own entry some day

Suda, s.v.Μορμώ 

Mormô, in the genitive Mormous, declined like Sappho. There is also the form Mormôn, genitive Mormonos. Aristophanes says “I ask you, take this Mormo away from me”. This meant to dispel frightening things. For Mormo is frightening. And again in Aristophanes: “A Mormo for courage”. There is also a mormalukeion which they also call a Lamia. They also frightening things this.

Μορμώ: λέγεται καὶ Μορμώ, Μορμοῦς, ὡς Σαπφώ. καὶ Μορμών, Μορμόνος. Ἀριστοφάνης: ἀντιβολῶ σ’, ἀπένεγκέ μου τὴν Μορμόνα. ἄπο τὰ φοβερά: φοβερὰ γὰρ ὑπῆρχεν ἡ Μορμώ. καὶ αὖθις Ἀριστοφάνης: Μορμὼ τοῦ θράσους. μορμολύκειον, ἣν λέγουσι Λαμίαν: ἔλεγον δὲ οὕτω καὶ τὰ φοβερά.

 In some traditions, Lamia became proverbial

Plutarch, De Curiositate [On Being a Busybod y] 516a

“Now, just as in the myth they say that Lamia sleeps at home, putting her eyes set aside in some jar, but when she goes out she puts them back in and peers around, in the same way each of us puts his curiosity, as if fitting in an eye, into meanness towards others. But we often stumble over our own mistakes and faults because of ignorance, since we fail to secure sight or light for them.

For this reason, a busybody is rather useful to his enemies, since he rebukes and emphasizes their faults and shows them what they should guard and correct, even as he overlooks most of his own issues thanks to his obsession with everyone else. This is why Odysseus did not stop to speak with his mother before he inquired from the seer about those things for which he had come to Hades. Once he had made his inquiry, he turned to his own mother and also the other women, asking who Tyro was, who beautiful Khloris was, and why Epikaste had died.”

Lamia is not well-attested in art and myth

νῦν δ’ ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ τὴν Λάμιαν λέγουσιν οἴκοι μὲν εὕδειν τυφλήν, ἐν ἀγγείῳ τινὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχουσαν ἀποκειμένους, | ἔξω δὲ προϊοῦσαν ἐντίθεσθαι καὶ βλέπειν, οὕτως ἡμῶν ἕκαστος ἔξω καὶ πρὸς ἑτέρους τῇ κακονοίᾳ τὴν περιεργίαν ὥσπερ ὀφθαλμὸν ἐντίθησι, τοῖς δ’ ἑαυτῶν ἁμαρτήμασι καὶ κακοῖς πολλάκις περιπταίομεν ὑπ’ ἀγνοίας, ὄψιν ἐπ’ αὐτὰ καὶ φῶς οὐ ποριζόμενοι. διὸ καὶ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ὠφελιμώτερός ἐστιν ὁ πολυπραγμονῶν· τὰ γὰρ ἐκείνων ἐλέγχει καὶ προφέρεται καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτοῖς ἃ δεῖ φυλάξασθαι καὶ διορθῶσαι, τῶν δ’ οἴκοι τὰ πλεῖστα παρορᾷ διὰ τὴν περὶ τὰ ἔξω πτόησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς (λ 84 sqq.) οὐδὲ τῇ μητρὶ διαλεχθῆναι πρότε- ρον ὑπέμεινεν ἢ πυθέσθαι παρὰ τοῦ μάντεως, ὧν ἕνεκ’ ἦλθεν εἰς ῞Αιδου, πυθόμενος δὲ οὕτω πρός τε ταύτην ἔτρεψεν αὑτόν, καὶ τὰς ἄλλας γυναῖκας ἀνέκρινε, τίς ἡ Τυρὼ καὶ τίς ἡ καλὴ Χλωρὶς καὶ διὰ τί ἡ ᾿Επικάστη ἀπέθανεν…

Image result for Ancient Greek Lamia vase
Skylla, relative of Lamia. More Misogyny.

Some other misogynistic tales from myth with telling variants

The Lemnian Women and their Terrible Smell

The Privileging of Klytemnestra’s Infamy

The Terrible Tale of Asclepius’ Two Mothers

Pretty Much Everything about Medea

Kassandra’s Prophecy and Life

Kassandra’s Children

The Death of Hecuba

Helen and Iphigenia

Iliad vs. Odyssey? An Essential Complementarity

A few days back I ran a twitter poll setting the Iliad against the Odyssey. I figured that the Iliad would win, but I did not expect this to be as close as it was.

If we were to evaluate the popularity of the epics based on their mentions (using the Google ngram function), we would see that a few centuries ago, the Iliad had a pretty impressive lead over the Odyssey.

ngram

Here’s a different Ngram provided by Kyle Sanders ()which indicates the Odyssey overtook the Iliad in the late 1960s

NGram od 2

In the past century the mentions of the epics started to draw closer together. Is this because more people had less experience of war? Is there something more modern or simpler about the Odyssey?

the manuscript tradition for the Iliad is much better–there are more copies surviving from almost every period for which we have evidence. The epics were different enough that Samuel Butler (only partly joking) proposed that the Odyssey was composed by a woman. The epics differences were sensed in antiquity as well. Here’s how Aristotle puts it:

Aristotle, Poetics, 1459b

“for [Homer’s] two poems are complementary in structure, the Iliad being simple in plot and a poem of passion, and the Odyssey complex (it has recognitions throughout) and a poem of character; moreover they surpass all other poems in excellent of language and thought.”

πρῶτος καὶ ἱκανῶς. καὶ γὰρ τῶν ποιημάτων ἑκάτερον συνέστηκεν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἁπλοῦν καὶ παθητικόν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια πεπλεγμένον (ἀναγνώρισις γὰρ διόλου) καὶ ἠθική· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις λέξει καὶ διανοίᾳ πάντα ὑπερβέβληκεν.

To pit one poem against another is, to my mind, to imagine a combat between day and night, land and sea, or life and death. These contrasts can be seen as polar–opposites canceling each other out–or they can be treated as binary where one can only exist because the other is there first. But it may be best not to think of them at all in terms of opposition, but instead as contrastive complements. This works on the level of content:

“This complementarity extends into other areas too. The so-called Monro’s Law states that the Odyssey never refers to any incident recounted in the Iliad, which at the very least strongly suggests that the Odyssey knew of the Iliad and deliberately stayed off its territory. Indeed, at the times when the Odyssey threatens to sing of Iliadic material, the moments are marked as highly problematic.” Barker and Christensen 2013

For all the years I have taught Homer in literature and myth courses, I have emphasized their complementarity in slightly different ways. Sometimes, I follow Aristotle’s emphasis on plots, pointing out that the Iliad ends in a funeral and the Odyssey ends in a wedding, anticipating in turn the plot structures of tragedy and comedy respectively. At other times, I have instead described the Iliad as a poem of death and the Odyssey as a poem of life. The former explores what is (and mostly what isn’t) worth fighting and dying for; the latter helps s understand what we live for and who we are outside of war.

Together, the epics teach how to live and how to die. One is essentially and forever incomplete without the other. But in concert, they reflect on the totality of life. (And I am so bold as to believe that this characteristic is part of why these two epics surpassed all others and survived antiquity: any other epic from their period would have been redundant).

I spent the first decade or more of my study of Homer passionately dedicated to the Iliad. I started working on the Odyssey primarily because I found students responding to it more easily than to the Iliad. I also grew more interested in how that epic engaged with other traditions, specifically those of Thebes and the so-called epic cycle. And then, when writing an introductory book about the epic with my friend Elton Barker, I was forced to think more deeply about the Telemachy and the importance of the reunions in epic’s second half.

Image result for medieval manuscript odysseus
Harley MSS 4431

But what really changed my relationship with the Odyssey was my own life. When I was writing on the Iliad in the 2000s, we were living a new state of war, sending our soldiers from the west to kill and be killed in a dwindling “coalition of the willing” in the east. The Iliad made sense to me. I used to mock the Odyssey too as that ‘other’ epic.

In 2010-11, I taught that other epic three times. We also welcomed two children into the world and lost my father to a sudden sickness in between. There is nothing like losing a parent and becoming one in the same year to force a reconsideration of life. These years also marked half a decade in Texas and a decade since I left New England. The Odyssey‘s exploration of who we are and nostalgia started to resonate with me like never before.

But I also started to see more in the epic itself. If the Iliad is a raging maelstrom of fire and blood, the Odyssey is a lit fuse which may or may not ever lead to a detonation. If the Iliad is loud and brash and confusing, the Odyssey is so subtle that many of us make the mistake of thinking it is simple. It is extremely sensitive to human mental function, to how we create ourselves through narrative, and to the therapeutic function of stories.

In antiquity, traditions of allegory were extremely influential among various approaches to the epics. Among these, one of my favorite readings of the epics as complements frames one as a narrative concerned with the development and excellence of the body and the other about the virtues of the mind.

Pseudo-Plutarch, De Homero 31–32

“Of these poems, the Iliad features the acts of the Greeks and the Barbarians over the abduction of Helen, especially the valor demonstrated by Achilles in that war; the Odyssey details Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War and how much he endured wandering during his nostos and how he avenged himself on those plotting against him in his home. From these summaries it is clear that the Iliad is really about the bravery of the body while the Odyssey concerns the nobility of the soul.

It is not right to fault the poet if he does not only present virtues in his poem, but includes as well weaknesses of spirit, pains, pleasures, fears and desires. For it is necessary that the poet show not just noble characters but weak ones too—without these unexpected accomplishments do not appear—from all of these it is possible that an audience will choose the better ones.”

ὧν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἔχει τὰς ἐν ᾿Ιλίῳ πράξεις ῾Ελλήνων τε καὶ βαρβάρων διὰ τὴν ῾Ελένης ἁρπαγὴν καὶ μάλιστα τὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τούτῳ διαδειχθεῖσαν ἀλκήν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀνακομιδὴν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἀπὸ τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου καὶ ὅσα πλανώμενος ἐν τῷ νόστῳ ὑπέμεινε καὶ ὅπως τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ ἐτιμωρήσατο. ἐξ ὧν δῆλός ἐστι παριστὰς διὰ μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἀνδρείαν σώματος, διὰ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ψυχῆς γενναιότητα.

     Εἰ δὲ μὴ μόνον ἀρετὰς ἀλλὰ καὶ κακίας ψυχῆς ἐν ταῖς ποιήσεσι παρίστησι, λύπας τε καὶ χαρὰς καὶ φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας, οὐ χρὴ αἰτιᾶσθαι τὸν ποιητήν· <ποιητὴν> γὰρ ὄντα δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι οὐ μόνον τὰ χρηστὰ ἤθη ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα (ἄνευ γὰρ τούτων παράδοξοι πράξεις  οὐ συνίστανται), ὧν ἀκούοντα ἔνεστιν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ βελτίω.

Of course, not all contrasts made between the two epics were positive. (Pseudo)-Longinus believed that the differences in the poem were results of the senility of the Iliad poet as he turned to the Odyssey.

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power.  Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience. It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που  προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

I think Longinus is on to something here. But rather than being a sign of senility, the Odyssey‘s differences are indications of maturity. I don’t mean ‘mature’ as a sign of greater progress, necessarily; but I mean that the Odyssey is a poem that appeals more to those who have lived more in life, who have, like its hero, “suffered much on the seas and learned the minds of many people”.

So, if I had to save only 1, I would save the Odyssey, not because it is better than or superior to the Iliad but because its existence presupposes the existence of the other. And, one is, for better or worse, currently more meaningful to me.

Annual Atopia: The Non Top Ten Posts We Loved

Atopia: “Strangeness,” from a-topos, “out of place”

Hesychius
*ἄτοπα· πονηρά, αἰσχρά: “wretched, shameful”
*ἀτοπία· αἰσχρότης. πονηρία: “shamefulness, wretchedness”

Etymologicum Genuinum
“Atopon: atopon is used in place of something that is amazing or illogical”
῎Ατοπον· τὸ ἄτοπον ἀντὶ τοῦ θαυμαστοῦ ἢ ἀλόγου τάττεται

Earlier today, I posted a list of the most-read posts on this site. Here’s a list of my favorite posts to write (of the nearly thousand posts we made this year), prompted by a twitter friend.

1.  Sharknado in Ancient Greek

This might not have made the top ten, but it was on Neville Morley’s annual retrospective. And, it was fun to work on: it was absurd. Friends helped out with it. A good day.

2. The Zooglossia Posts

This year we did several thematic sequences (one for AP Latin, another for Halloween, a series for Thanksgiving etc.) None of these were really planned. Palaiophron and I just kind of did them.

3. Mermaids in Martha’s Vineyard

I had a taxi driver who claimed their was a worldwide conspiracy to conceal the existence of mermaids. I wrote a post about it. I used to love X-Files. It was foggy and in the late-winter. This had a very 1990’s occult show feel to it.

4. Κ᾿ <ά>π ε᾿φη[φ]ε: A Future Scholion on #Covfefe

Future generations will struggle to understand what this post was about or why it had to be written. I will probably struggle about it in five years time. But it had to be done.

5. SententiaeAntiquae Go to a Museum!

When I still lived in San Antonio, Palaiophron and I would regularly get together to read, translate, laugh. etc. Sometimes we’d drink. It was really one of the best things about living there. Dio Chrysostom would have understood. This summer, he came to visit Boston and we went to the MFA. It was fun.

6. How Do You Say trick Or Treat in Latin and Greek?

This one was the eleventh most read post. Like the Sharknado post, I used crowdsourcing a bit here. I think this will probably continue to be a perennial favorite.

7. Science This! Some Ancient Theories on Eclipses

This post was fun because I learned something about Science. Hooray!

8. Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Sex Manual

Sometimes posts emerge out of random thoughts or research dead-ends. Before I started this blog, I might have spent weeks researching and then giving up on an idea. Now, I write about it, think a bit, post and then let it simmer. Most of the material fizzles.

Some posts come out of classes, preparing for teaching, or conversations from students. This post was a gift from a student. I learned something. I have an anecdote that will never get old. 

9. Latin and Greek Passages on Treason for No Particular Reason

This post on treason was important to write and consider over the past year for no particular reason that I can think of.

10. Neither Cowards Nor Nobodies: A Rant on Classics and Politics

The twitter version of this rant was probably more impactful, but the experience helped to articulate for us what we are doing and why. It was worth doing.

11. Here’s a Problem, Now I’ll Solve It

I have a general idea when a post is going to be popular (hint: feces, phalluses and farting). Sometimes, I think something is hilarious, but it just doesn’t hit. For instance, this post on aporia and lusis in the Homeric Scholia using Vanilla Ice as a comparandum. Why didn’t this make me famous? Also, not the only time R. M. Van Winkle appeared on the blog this year.

Some of Palaiophron’s posts I think should be read regularly

Palaiophron [Erik] has, in my humble opinion, emerged as an important voice not just in selecting and commenting on ancient literature but in discussing its use and import in the modern world. If someone were foolish enough to write a history of this blog, they would note that his posts from when they first started in 2013 helped to transform this site incredibly. I am lucky to have Erik as a partner and collaborator in this endless project; I am luckier to have him as a friend

1. From Homer to Game of Thrones: Atrocity in Art

This is a deep, sensitive, and important reflection on the aesthetics of violence and atrocity in art. I am still surprised that this is not one of the number 1 posts on the site.

2. Antiquity for Everyone: How Classics is Misappropriated for Evil Ends

As I battled nazis on twitter, Palaiophron developed a pointed, disarming style of essay to contend with the larger cultural issues regarding the intersection of the study of the ancient world, modern politics, and racist appropriation. We took a political turn over the past year. Erik’s clarity and bravery provided us with the confidence to do so.

3. I am Not Sorry for Spending my Life on Greek

One of the things Palaiophron does so well is to excerpt from scholarship on scholars. He provides amusing, illuminating, sometimes depressing, and sometimes inspiring anecdotes. Since I first met Erik, one of his hobbies has been learning about the lives and thoughts of scholars in the classical tradition. He has really tapped into general interest with this. 

4. A New Apologia for Latin

Another fine essay on learning and teaching an ancient language.

5. Smutty Saturday: A Real Chatter Box

Erik finds some pretty amazing poems. His ability to balance smut with the sublime is not only one of his most attractive traits, it is also part of what makes this site fun.

Image result for ancient greek and roman miscellany

The Child-Killing Lamia: What’s Really Scary on Halloween is Misogyny

This is the second post about ancient Greek Vampires. The first looked at the Empousa. 

Lucian, Lover of Lies 2

“…these are various and disturbing tales, able to rattle the minds of children who still fear Mormo and Lamia.”

πάνυ ἀλλόκοτα καὶ τεράστια μυθίδια παίδων ψυχὰς κηλεῖν δυνάμενα ἔτι τὴν Μορμὼ καὶ τὴν Λάμιαν δεδιότων.

The Lamia (or, just Lamia to her friends) is one of the figures from Greek myth who seems like a frightening monster but really is a particular distillation of misogyny. She is often called a Greek ‘vampire’ along with Empousa. Unlike the latter, however, Lamia is specifically associated with killing children.

Diodorus Siculus, 20.40

“At the rock’s root there was a very large cave which was roofed with ivy and bryony in which the myths say the queen Lamia, exceptional for her beauty, was born. But, because of the beastliness of her soul, they say that her appearance has become more monstrous in the time since then.

For, when all her children who were born died, she was overwhelmed by her suffering and envied all the women who were luckier with their children. So she ordered that the infants be snatched from their arms and killed immediately. For this reason, even in our lifetime, the story of that women has lingered among children and the mention of her name is most horrifying to them.

But, whenever she was getting drunk, she would allow people to do whatever pleased them without observation. Because she was not closely watching everything at that time, the people in that land imagined that she could not see. This is why the myth developed that she put her eyes into a bottle, using this story a metaphor for the carelessness she enacted in wine, since that deprived her of sight.”

 περὶ δὲ τὴν ῥίζαν αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἦν εὐμέγεθες, κιττῷ καὶ σμίλακι συνηρεφές, ἐν ᾧ μυθεύουσι γεγονέναι βασίλισσαν Λάμιαν τῷ κάλλει διαφέρουσαν· διὰ δὲ τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀγριότητα διατυπῶσαί φασι τὴν ὄψιν αὐτῆς τὸν μετὰ ταῦτα χρόνον θηριώδη. τῶν γὰρ γινομένων αὐτῇ παίδων ἁπάντων τελευτώντων βαρυθυμοῦσαν ἐπὶ τῷ πάθει καὶ φθονοῦσαν ταῖς τῶν ἄλλων γυναικῶν εὐτεκνίαις κελεύειν ἐκ τῶν ἀγκαλῶν ἐξαρπάζεσθαι τὰ βρέφη καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀποκτέννειν. διὸ καὶ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς μέχρι τοῦ νῦν βίου παρὰ τοῖς νηπίοις διαμένειν τὴν περὶ τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης φήμην καὶ φοβερωτάτην αὐτοῖς εἶναι τὴν ταύτης προσηγορίαν. ὅτε δὲ μεθύσκοιτο, τὴν ἄδειαν διδόναι πᾶσιν ἃ βούλοιντο ποιεῖν ἀπαρατηρήτως. μὴ πολυπραγμονούσης οὖν αὐτῆς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον τὰ γινόμενα τοὺς κατὰ τὴν χώραν ὑπολαμβάνειν μὴ βλέπειν αὐτήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἐμυθολόγησάν τινες ὡς εἰς ἄρσιχον ἐμβάλοι τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, τὴν ἐν οἴνῳ συντελουμένην ὀλιγωρίαν εἰς τὸ προειρημένον μέτρον μεταφέροντες, ὡς τούτου παρῃρημένου τὴν ὅρασιν.

Euripides, fr. 472m (=Diodorus Siculus 20.41.6)

“Who does not know my name, most hateful to men,
The Lamia, a Libyan by birth?”

τίς τοὐ<μὸν ὄ>νομα τοὐπονείδιστον βροτοῖς
οὐκ οἶδε Λαμίας τῆς Λιβυστικῆς γένος;

The story of why Lamia killed children gets a little more depressing in the Fragments of the Greek Historians

Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]

“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”

ταύτην ἐν τῆι Λιβύηι Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέρωι Λιβυκῶν ἱστορεῖ γυναῖκα καλὴν γενέσθαι, μιχθέντος δ᾽ αὐτῆι Διὸς ὑφ᾽ ῞Ηρας ζηλοτυπουμένην ἃ ἔτικτεν ἀπολλύναι· διόπερ ἀπὸ τῆς λύπης δύσμορφον γεγονέναι καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων παιδία ἀναρπάζουσαν διαφθείρειν.

Elsewhere, the evidence of narratives about Lamia are rather limited. She becomes just another negative, female monster.

Suda, Lambda 85

“Lamia: a monster. The name comes from having a gaping throat, laimia and lamia. Aristophanes: “It has the smell of a seal, the unwashed balls of a Lamia.” For testicles are active—and he is making a fantasy image of Lamia’s balls, since she is female.

Λάμια: θηρίον. ἀπὸ τοῦ ἔχειν μέγαν λαιμόν, λαίμια καὶ λάμια. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· φώκης δ’ εἶχεν ὀσμήν, λαμίας ὄρχεις ἀπολύτους. δραστικοὶ γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις. εἰδωλοποιεῖ δέ τινας ὄρχεις λαμίας· θῆλυ γάρ.

Unlike Empousa and some others, Lamia is interestingly integrated in some other genealogical traditions.

Schol. G ad Ap. Rhodes 4.825-831

“Stesichorus says in his Skylla, regarding her form, that Skylla is the daughter of Lamia.”

Στησίχορος δὲ ἐν τῇ Σκύλλῃ †εἶδός τινος† Λαμίας τὴν Σκύλλαν φησὶ θυγατέρα εἶναι.

Pausanias on Phocis, 12

“There is a crag rising up over the ground on which the Delphians claim that a woman stood singing oracles, named Hêrophilê but known as Sibyl. There is the earlier Sibyl, the one I have found to be equally as old as the others, whom the Greeks claim is the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon. She was the first woman to sing oracles and they say that she was named Sibyl by the Libyans. Hêrophilê was younger than here, but she was obviously born before the Trojan War since she predicted Helen in her oracles, that was raised up in Sparta as the destruction for Asia and Europe and that Troy would be taken by the Greeks because of her.”

XII. Πέτρα δέ ἐστιν ἀνίσχουσα ὑπὲρ τῆς γῆς· ἐπὶ ταύτῃ Δελφοὶ στᾶσάν φασιν ᾆσαι τοὺς χρησμοὺς γυναῖκα ὄνομα Ἡροφίλην, Σίβυλλαν δὲ ἐπίκλησιν. τὴν δὲ πρότερον γενομένην, ταύτην ταῖς μάλιστα ὁμοίως οὖσαν ἀρχαίαν εὕρισκον, ἣν θυγατέρα Ἕλληνες Διὸς καὶ Λαμίας τῆς Ποσειδῶνός φασιν εἶναι, καὶ χρησμούς τε αὐτὴν γυναικῶν πρώτην ᾆσαι καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Λιβύων Σίβυλλαν λέγουσιν ὀνομασθῆναι. ἡ δὲ Ἡροφίλη νεωτέρα μὲν ἐκείνης, φαίνεται δὲ ὅμως πρὸ τοῦ πολέμου γεγονυῖα καὶ αὕτη τοῦ Τρωικοῦ, καὶ Ἑλένην τε προεδήλωσεν ἐν τοῖς χρησμοῖς, ὡς ἐπ᾿ ὀλέθρῳ τῆς Ἀσίας καὶ Εὐρώπης τραφήσοιτο ἐν Σπάρτῃ, καὶ ὡς Ἴλιον ἁλώσεται δι᾿ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ Ἑλλήνων.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 6

“Foremost he differed from previous authors in this, by which I mean how he took on a subject that was not a single thread nor one divided in many different and also disconnected parts. And then, because did not include mythical material in his work and he did not use his writing for the deception and bewitchment of many, as every author before him did when they told the stories of certain Lamiai rising up from the earth in groves and glens and of amphibious Naiads rushing out of Tartaros, half-beasts swimming through the seas and then joining together in groups among humans, and producing offspring of mortals and gods, demigods—and other stories which seem extremely unbelievable and untrustworthy to us now.”

πρῶτον μὲν δὴ κατὰ τοῦτο διήλλαξε τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ συγγραφέων, λέγω δὲ κατὰ τὸ λαβεῖν ὑπόθεσιν μήτε μονόκωλον παντάπασι μήτ᾿ εἰς πολλὰ μεμερισμένην καὶ ἀσυνάρτητα κεφάλαια· ἔπειτα κατὰ τὸ μηδὲν αὐτῇ μυθῶδες προσάψαι, μηδ᾿ εἰς ἀπάτην καὶ γοητείαν τῶν πολλῶν ἐκτρέψαι τὴν γραφήν, ὡς οἱ πρὸ αὐτοῦ πάντες ἐποίησαν, Λαμίας τινὰς ἱστοροῦντες ἐν ὕλαις καὶ νάπαις ἐκ γῆς ἀνιεμένας, καὶ Ναΐδας ἀμφιβίους ἐκ Ταρτάρων ἐξιούσας καὶ διὰ πελάγους νηχομένας καὶ μιξόθηρας, καὶ ταύτας εἰς ὁμιλίαν ἀνθρώποις συνερχομένας, καὶ ἐκ θνητῶν καὶ θείων συνουσιῶν γονὰς ἡμιθέους, καὶ ἄλλας τινὰς ἀπίστους τῷ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς βίῳ καὶ πολὺ τὸ ἀνόητον ἔχειν δοκούσας ἱστορίας.

There is another variant name–she might get her own entry some day

Suda, s.v.Μορμώ 

Mormô, in the genitive Mormous, declined like Sappho. There is also the form Mormôn, genitive Mormonos. Aristophanes says “I ask you, take this Mormo away from me”. This meant to dispel frightening things. For Mormo is frightening. And again in Aristophanes: “A Mormo for courage”. There is also a mormalukeion which they also call a Lamia. They also frightening things this.

Μορμώ: λέγεται καὶ Μορμώ, Μορμοῦς, ὡς Σαπφώ. καὶ Μορμών, Μορμόνος. Ἀριστοφάνης: ἀντιβολῶ σ’, ἀπένεγκέ μου τὴν Μορμόνα. ἄπο τὰ φοβερά: φοβερὰ γὰρ ὑπῆρχεν ἡ Μορμώ. καὶ αὖθις Ἀριστοφάνης: Μορμὼ τοῦ θράσους. μορμολύκειον, ἣν λέγουσι Λαμίαν: ἔλεγον δὲ οὕτω καὶ τὰ φοβερά.

 In some traditions, Lamia became proverbial

Plutarch, De Curiositate [On Being a Busybod y] 516a

“Now, just as in the myth they say that Lamia sleeps at home, putting her eyes set aside in some jar, but when she goes out she puts them back in and peers around, in the same way each of us puts his curiosity, as if fitting in an eye, into meanness towards others. But we often stumble over our own mistakes and faults because of ignorance, since we fail to secure sight or light for them.

For this reason, a busybody is rather useful to his enemies, since he rebukes and emphasizes their faults and shows them what they should guard and correct, even as he overlooks most of his own issues thanks to his obsession with everyone else. This is why Odysseus did not stop to speak with his mother before he inquired from the seer about those things for which he had come to Hades. Once he had made his inquiry, he turned to his own mother and also the other women, asking who Tyro was, who beautiful Khloris was, and why Epikaste had died.”

Lamia is not well-attested in art and myth

νῦν δ’ ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ τὴν Λάμιαν λέγουσιν οἴκοι μὲν εὕδειν τυφλήν, ἐν ἀγγείῳ τινὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχουσαν ἀποκειμένους, | ἔξω δὲ προϊοῦσαν ἐντίθεσθαι καὶ βλέπειν, οὕτως ἡμῶν ἕκαστος ἔξω καὶ πρὸς ἑτέρους τῇ κακονοίᾳ τὴν περιεργίαν ὥσπερ ὀφθαλμὸν ἐντίθησι, τοῖς δ’ ἑαυτῶν ἁμαρτήμασι καὶ κακοῖς πολλάκις περιπταίομεν ὑπ’ ἀγνοίας, ὄψιν ἐπ’ αὐτὰ καὶ φῶς οὐ ποριζόμενοι. διὸ καὶ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ὠφελιμώτερός ἐστιν ὁ πολυπραγμονῶν· τὰ γὰρ ἐκείνων ἐλέγχει καὶ προφέρεται καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτοῖς ἃ δεῖ φυλάξασθαι καὶ διορθῶσαι, τῶν δ’ οἴκοι τὰ πλεῖστα παρορᾷ διὰ τὴν περὶ τὰ ἔξω πτόησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς (λ 84 sqq.) οὐδὲ τῇ μητρὶ διαλεχθῆναι πρότε- ρον ὑπέμεινεν ἢ πυθέσθαι παρὰ τοῦ μάντεως, ὧν ἕνεκ’ ἦλθεν εἰς ῞Αιδου, πυθόμενος δὲ οὕτω πρός τε ταύτην ἔτρεψεν αὑτόν, καὶ τὰς ἄλλας γυναῖκας ἀνέκρινε, τίς ἡ Τυρὼ καὶ τίς ἡ καλὴ Χλωρὶς καὶ διὰ τί ἡ ᾿Επικάστη ἀπέθανεν…

Image result for Ancient Greek Lamia vase
Skylla, relative of Lamia. More Misogyny.

Some other misogynistic tales from myth with telling variants

The Lemnian Women and their Terrible Smell

The Privileging of Klytemnestra’s Infamy

The Terrible Tale of Asclepius’ Two Mothers

Pretty Much Everything about Medea

Kassandra’s Prophecy and Life

Kassandra’s Children

The Death of Hecuba

Helen and Iphigenia

The Classics Are Not Driftwood

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia:

“A detached American is for the most part a pitiful spectacle. But it is precisely because we stand in our place with our own day here that we cannot dismiss the past so cavalierly as Whitman has done. To the dead all things are dead. To him that is alive there is no dead poetry, no dead language. ‘Only those languages,’ said Lowell in a famous discourse, ‘only those languages can be called dead in which nothing living was ever written.’ There is no need of crediting the past, as Whitman calls it. The past collects its interest by the inevitable process of eternal laws. Classical antiquity is not driftwood, as Whitman intimates, not driftwood out of which to build fires to warm ourselves and dream by, calling up the figures of Jason and Medea, of Paris and Helen, and listening to Arion in his singing-robes. The classical caravel is still seaworthy. No Captain Courageous of Gloucester, Mass., is more popular than Odysseus of Ithaca. Retell the story of the wanderings of the much-enduring to a popular audience, if you wish to find out whether Homer is dead, and what Kipling calls his bloomin’ lyre has ceased to bloom. No happier hours in my long career can I recall than those I spent in repeating the tale of Old Audacious to a sympathetic audience thirty years ago. Tennyson’s Ulysses I need not mention. Stephen Phillips’s Ulysses I mention merely to protest against his perversion of the only true story of Odysseus in Hades. It is then precisely because we stand in our own place here, precisely because we are Americans and Walt Whitman is our prophet, that we insist on our inheritance of the precious past, on which and by which we live.”

Image result for classical greek literature

#DeadClassics Party: A Wonderful, Terrible Idea

P. Oxy. 1485.

“The Exegete would love for you to dine today, the ninth day, at the temple of Demeter at the seventh hour”

Ἐρωτᾷ σαι διπν[ῆ-]σαι ὁ ἐξηγητὴ[ς] ἐν τῷ Δημητρίῳ σήμερον ἥτις ἐσ-τὶν θ ἀπὸ ὥρ(ας) ζ.

Today we started something a little silly (after being serious for a few hours this morning). I think I was hungry, but I tweeted the following:

As you can probably imagine, the responses were fast coming, erudite and funny. I probably should have not been surprised by the eagerness of the responses. Unlike the other classics game which requires and even prizes a knowledge of the obscure–where people talk about the lost texts from antiquity–this one is fair game for almost anyone.

And it also has the imprint of antiquity: think of all the banquets that are settings for the remains of ancient literature, the Symposia of Xenophon and Plato, Petronius’ absurd feast, the imagined, endless meals of Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists and Plutarch’s Dinner of the Seven Wise Men. Who doesn’t fantasize about a perfect, endless, raucous meal?

Seneca, Contr. 9.11

“A man was killed so that this asshole might dine more pleasantly with his girlfriend?”

Ut iste cum amica cenaret iucundius homo occisus est.

Martial, 2.18

“Eh, I am ashamed, but I’m looking, I’m looking for a your dinner invitation, Maximus.
And you’re looking for a different one. Now, for once, we are equal.”

Capto tuam, pudet heu, sed capto, Maxime, cenam.
tu captas aliam: iam sumus ergo pares.

Image result for Ancient dinner party

Here are just a few below. I storified the first few hours’ worth

Here are just a few tweets, to get you going.

 

Everyone knows that Catullus made the best dinner invitation ever. Here’s a post about Simonides’ memory and a disastrous dinner.

The Design of Penelope’s Web

In the Iliad, Helen appears weaving a pharos that depicts “The many struggles of the horse-taming Trojans and the bronze-girded Achaeans / All the things they had suffered for her at Ares’ hands.” Τρώων θ’ ἱπποδάμων καὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων, οὕς ἑθεν εἵνεκ’ ἔπασχον ὑπ’ ῎Αρηος παλαμάων, 3.121-128). And elsewhere she seems keenly aware that her story will be the subject of future songs (ὡς καὶ ὀπίσσω / ἀνθρώποισι πελώμεθ’ ἀοίδιμοι ἐσσομένοισι, 6.537-538).

Andromache, too, in the Iliad, weaves a garment whose imagery is described, even if briefly (22.437-441):

“So she spoke in mourning—but Hektor’s wife did not yet know anything.
For no one had come to her as a trusty messenger
To announce that her husband remained outside of the gates.
But she was weaving in the innermost part of her high-roofed home,
A double-folded raiment, on which she embroidered delicate flowers.”

῝Ως ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἄλοχος δ’ οὔ πώ τι πέπυστο
῞Εκτορος· οὐ γάρ οἵ τις ἐτήτυμος ἄγγελος ἐλθὼν
ἤγγειλ’ ὅττί ῥά οἱ πόσις ἔκτοθι μίμνε πυλάων,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ ἱστὸν ὕφαινε μυχῷ δόμου ὑψηλοῖο
δίπλακα πορφυρέην, ἐν δὲ θρόνα ποικίλ’ ἔπασσε.

There is weaving throughout the Odyssey. Helen gives Telemachus a garment to give to his future wife (Od. 15.123-130). Calypso (5.62) and Circe (10.222) also weave while singing (what songs might they sing?). Nausicaa leaves a robe for Odysseus (6.214) which Arete recognizes because she made it (7.234-235). We even hear that the Naiads who live on the shore in Ithaca weave “sea-purple garments, wondrous to see” (φάρε’ ὑφαίνουσιν ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι, 13.108).

But nowhere in the Odyssey is the imagery on any of these garments described. This might be less confounding if the works were not so prized, if those in the Iliad were not clearly described as bearing decoration and if an ancient scholar had not recognized in Helen’s weaving an embedded metaphor for Homer’s own art, which he calls “a worthy archetype for his own poetry” (ἀξιόχρεων ἀρχέτυπον ἀνέπλασεν ὁ ποιητὴς τῆς ἰδίας ποιήσεως, Schol. bT ad Il. 3.126-127)

The most famous woven garment in the Odyssey is Penelope’s delaying trick which she weaves and unweaves over nearly four years to avoid committing to a marriage. The famous stratagem is mentioned three times. At no time is any image on the cloth mentioned—in its final appearance, it is described as “shining like the sun or the moon”, but that is likely because it has just been cleaned. Here are the three passages:

Read More

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

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

Hes. Fr. 23.13-30

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

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

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

More #MythMonth: Agamemnon Killed Klytemnestra’s First Husband (and Child!)

In comments to a recent post a reader mentioned a story I had forgotten to mention. According to just a few sources, Klytemnestra was married and had a child before she married Agamemnon. As one might expect, the story is not a happy one and includes many of the themes from the unhappy marriage between the two, including husband-killing and child-murder.

The most famous accounts of this come from the 12th Century CE Chiliades by John Tzetzes and the Epitome of Apollodorus (both of which are available on Perseus or in translation on Theoi.com).

Chiliades, 1.456-465

“The nurse took Agamemnon with Menelaos
To Polypheides who ruled Sikyon
and who sent them in turn to Aitolian Oeneus.
Not much later Tyndareus brought them back again
and they drove Thysetes away to live in Cytheria
after he fled to the altar of Hera and they took an oath from him.
They both became sons-in-law to Tyndareus:
Agamemnon made Klytemnestra his wife
after he killed her husband, Thyestes’ son Tantalos
along with their new-born child. And Menelaos married Helen.”

τὸν δ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνονα τροφὸς μετὰ τοῦ Μενελάου
ἄγει πρὸς Πολυφείδεα, κρατοῦντα Σικυῶνος,
ὃς πάλιν τούτους πέπομφε πρὸς Αἰτωλὸν Οἰνέα.
μετ᾽ οὐ πολὺ Τυνδάρεως τούτους κατάγει πάλιν,
οἳ τὸν Θυέστην μὲν αὐτὸν Ἥρας βωμῷ φυγόντα
ὁρκώσαντες διώκουσιν οἰκεῖν τὴν Κυθηρίαν.
οἱ δὲ Τυνδάρεω γαμβροὶ γίνονται θυγατράσιν,
ὁ Ἀγαμέμνων μὲν λαβὼν σύνευνον Κλυταιμνήστραν,
κτείνας αὐτῆς τὸν σύζυγον Τάνταλον τὸν Θυέστου
σὺν τέκνῳ πάνυ νεογνῷ, Μενέλαος Ἑλένην.

Epitome 2.16

“Agamemnon ruled as king of the Mycenaeans and married Tyndareus’ daughter Klytemnestra—but first he killed her husband, Tyndareus’ son with their child. They had a son Orestes and daughters Chrysothemus, Elektra and Iphigenia. Menelaos married Helen and ruled Sparta after Tyndareus gave him the kingship.

Ἀγαμέμνων δὲ βασιλεύει Μυκηναίων καὶ γαμεῖ Τυνδάρεω θυγατέρα Κλυταιμνήστραν, τὸν πρότερον αὐτῆς ἄνδρα Τάνταλον Θυέστου σὺν τῷ παιδὶ κτείνας, καὶ γίνεται αὐτῷ παῖς μὲν Ὀρέστης, θυγατέρες δὲ Χρυσόθεμις Ἠλέκτρα Ἰφιγένεια. Μενέλαος δὲ Ἑλένην γαμεῖ καὶ βασιλεύει Σπάρτης, Τυνδάρεω τὴν βασιλείαν δόντος αὐτῷ.

 

I searched scholia and fragments for other references but came up with little to ‘confirm’ this story apart from a few mentions in Pausanias:

Pausanias, 2.18.2

“I cannot say with precision whether Aigisthus began the wrongdoing or whether it was preceded by Agamemnon’s murder of Thyestes’ son Tantalos. For they say that he lived with Klytemnestra when she was a virgin, receiving her from Tyndareus. I don’t want to say that these men were wicked by nature….”

ὕστερον δὲ οὐκ ἔχω σαφὲς εἰπεῖν πότερον ἀδικίας ἦρξεν Αἴγισθος ἢ προϋπῆρξεν ᾿Αγαμέμνονι φόνος Ταντάλου τοῦ Θυέστου· συνοικεῖν δέ φασιν αὐτὸν Κλυταιμνήστρᾳ παρθένῳ παρὰ Τυνδάρεω λαβόντα. ἐγὼ δὲ καταγνῶναι μὲν οὐκ ἐθέλω φύσει σφᾶς γενέσθαι κακούς· –

2.22.3

“Others maintain that the bones of Tantalos are in this bronze container. This would be Tantalus the son of Thyestes or Broteas—for both stories are common—who lived with Klytemnestra before Agamemnon.  I won’t deny that this Tantalos is buried there. I know that the other Tantalos, the son of Zeus and Plouto, has his tomb in Sipylos because I saw it and it is worth seeing.”

ἑτέροις δέ ἐστιν εἰρημένον ὀστᾶ ἐν τῷ χαλκείῳ κεῖσθαι Ταντάλου. τὸν μὲν δὴ Θυέστου παῖδα ἢ Βροτέου—λέγεται γὰρ ἀμφότερα—, ὃς Κλυται-μνήστρᾳ πρότερον ἢ ᾿Αγαμέμνων συνῴκησε, τοῦτον μὲν <τὸν> Τάνταλον οὐ διοίσομαι ταφῆναι ταύτῃ· τοῦ δὲ λεγομένου Διός τε εἶναι καὶ Πλουτοῦς ἰδὼν οἶδα ἐν Σιπύλῳ τάφον θέας ἄξιον.

 

Clyt
Murdering Agamemnon Makes Even More Sense Now!

 

#MythMonth: Agamemnon’s Daughter

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

Hes. Fr. 23.13-30

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

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

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