Achilles’ (Missing) Sister

Reading over Merkelbach and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea often reminds me of many things I have forgotten. I am too young to blame this forgetfulness on senility; and yet too old to blame it on youthful ignorance.

Today’s particular disturbance comes from fragment 213 which tells us that Achilles, like Odysseus, has a sister (fragment included within the scholia below).

At first, I thought that this was some sort of Lykophrontic fantasy. But, alas, upon looking into the details, she is actually mentioned in the Iliad!

Iliad, 16.173-178

“Menestheus of the dancing-breastplate led one contingent,
son of the swift-flowing river Sperkheios
whom the daughter of Peleus, beautiful Poludôrê bore
when she shared the bed with the indomitable river-god, Sperkheios
although by reputation he was the son of Boros, the son of Periêrês
who wooed her openly by offering countless gifts.”

τῆς μὲν ἰῆς στιχὸς ἦρχε Μενέσθιος αἰολοθώρηξ
υἱὸς Σπερχειοῖο διιπετέος ποταμοῖο·
ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ καλὴ Πολυδώρη
Σπερχειῷ ἀκάμαντι γυνὴ θεῷ εὐνηθεῖσα,
αὐτὰρ ἐπίκλησιν Βώρῳ Περιήρεος υἷι,
ὅς ῥ’ ἀναφανδὸν ὄπυιε πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.

The confusion, shock and horror of this detail—which I presume the vast majority of Homer’s audiences have overlooked or forgotten as with the sad fate of Odysseus’ sister—can be felt as well in the various reactions of the Scholia where we encounter (a) denial—it was a different Peleus!; (b) sophomoric prevarication—why doesn’t Achilles talk about her, hmmm?; (c) conditional acceptance through anachronistic assumptions—she’s suppressed because it is shameful that she is a bastard; (d) and, finally, citation of hoary authorities to insist upon a ‘truth’ unambiguous in the poem.

I have translated the major scholia below. Note that we can see where the ‘fragments’ of several authors come from here (hint: they’re just talked about by the scholiasts). We can also learn a bit about the pluralistic and contradictory voices to be found in the Homeric scholia. The bastard child bit is my favorite part.

 

Schol A. ad Il. 16.175

“Pherecydes says that Polydora was the sister of Achilles. There is no way that this has been established in Homer. It is more credible that this is just the same name, as in other situations, since [the poet] would have added some sign of kinship with Achilles.”

ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ὅτι Φερεκύδης (Fr. 61-62) τὴν Πολυδώραν φησὶν ἀδελφὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως. οὐκ ἔστι δὲ καθ’ ῞Ομηρον διαβεβαιώσασθαι. πιθανώτερον οὖν ὁμωνυμίαν εἶναι, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπ’ ἄλλων, ἐπεὶ προσέθηκεν ἂν τεκμήριον τῆς πρὸς ᾿Αχιλλέα συγγενείας.

 

Schol T. ad Il. 16.175

”  “Daughter of Peleus”: A different Peleus, for if he were a nephew of Achilles, this would be mentioned in Hades when they speak about his father and son or in the allegory of the Litai when he says “a great spirit compelled me there” or “my possessions and serving women” he might mention the pleasure of having a sister. The poet does not recognize that Peleus encountered some other woman. Neoteles says that Achilles’ cousin leads the first contingent and gives evidence of knowledge of war. And he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles. Should he not mentioned her in Hades? Odysseus does not mention Ktimene [his sister].

Pherecydes says that [Polydore] was born from Antigonê, the daughter of Eurytion; the Suda says her mother was Laodameia the daughter of Alkmaion; Staphulos says she was Eurudikê the daughter of Aktôr. Zenodotos says the daughter’s name was Kleodôrê; Hesiod and everyone else calls her Poludôrê.”

ex. Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ἑτέρου Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, καὶ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ ἐρωτῶν (cf. λ 494—537), καὶ ἐν ταῖς Λιταῖς, φάσκων „ἔνθα δέ μοι μάλα <πολλὸν> ἐπέσσυτο θυμός” (Ι 398), „κτῆσιν ἐμὴν δμῶάς τε” (Τ 333), ἔφασκεν ἂν καὶ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἀπόλαυσιν. Πηλέα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς ἑτέρᾳ γυναικὶ συνελθόντα. Νεοτέλης δὲ ὡς ἀδελφιδοῦν᾿Αχιλλέως φησὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖσθαι, ὡς καὶ μαρτυρεῖ ἐπιστήμην πολέμου· †ὡς ἀχιλλέως τε ἀδελφὴν γαμεῖν† ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν ἕδνα (cf. Π 178). εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἐν ῞Αιδου· οὐδὲ γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς Κτιμένης (cf. ο 363 cum λ 174—9). Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 61 b) δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, Σουίδας (FGrHist 602, 8) ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος, Στάφυλος (FGrHist 269,5) ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς῎Ακτορος. Ζηνόδοτος (FGrHist 19,5) δὲ Κλεοδώρην φησίν, ῾Ησιόδου (fr. 213 M.—W.) καὶ τῶν ἄλλων Πολυδώρην αὐτὴν καλούντων.

Schol. BCE ad Il. 16.175

“They say that she is from another Peleus. For if he were a nephew of Achilles wouldn’t this be mentioned or wouldn’t he ask about his sister in Hades along with his father and son? At the same time, the poet does not know that Peleus encountered some other women. More recent poets say that Menestheus is his nephew and that this is the reason he leads the first contingent and shows knowledge of war and that ‘he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles’. But if he does not mention it, it is not necessarily foreign to him. For the poet is rather sensitive to certain proprieties.”

ἑτέρου, φασί, Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, πῶς οὐκ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἢ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐρωτῶν καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ; ἅμα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς Πηλέα ἑτέρᾳ συνελθόντα γυναικί. οἱ δὲ νεώτεροι ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτοῦ λέγουσιν· ὅθεν καὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖται καὶ πολέμων ἐπιστήμων μαρτυρεῖται, καὶ ὡς †ἀχιλλέως ἀδελφὴν γαμῶν ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν. εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἢ τούτου, οὐ ξένον· περὶ γὰρ τῶν καιριωτέρων αὐτῷ ἡ φροντίς.

Schol. b ad Il. 16.175

“Since, otherwise, if Polydora were his sister, she would be a bastard and he would not want to mention her. Or, maybe it is because she has already died.”

ἄλλως τε ἐπειδὴ νόθη ἦν ἡ Πολυδώρη αὐτοῦ ἀδελφή, τάχα οὐδὲ μνημονεύειν αὐτῆς ἐβουλήθη. ἢ ὅτι καὶ αὐτὴ ἤδη τετελευτηκυῖα ἦν.

Schol D ad Il. 16.175

“Did Peleus have a daughter Polydôrê from another? Staphulos says in the third book of his Thessalika that she was born from Eurydike the daughter of Aktôr. Pherecydes says it was the daughter of Eurytion; others says Laodameia, the daughter of Alkmaion.”

ἐκ τίνος Πηλεὺς Πολυδώρην ἔσχεν; ὡς μὲν Στάφυλός φησιν ἐν τῇ τρίτῃ Θεσσαλικῶν, ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς ῎Ακτορος θυγατρός. Φερεκύδης δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, ἄλλοι δὲ ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος.

What happened to Peleus’ first wife—if they were married? According to John Tzetzes (see Fowler 2013, 444) Peleus accidentally killed his father-in-law during the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, so he had to go abroad and in Iolkos the king’s wife tried to seduce him and told Antigone that Peleus would abandon her. Antigone killed herself, leaving Peleus free to marry Thetis. (But who took care of their daughter?).

It can get more confusing: some traditions (Apollodorus, 3.163 and 168) make a Polymele the daughter of Peleus and Patroklos’ mother whereas Polydora is Peleus’ wife in between Antigone and Thetis. Whatever the case, we can do our own scholiastic justification for Achilles not talking about his sister without creating a second Peleus. She must have been a bit older than Achilles since by all accounts Peleus fathered her before (1) the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, (2) the sacking of Iolkos and (3) the Voyage of the Argo. She would likely have been raised in a separate household from Achilles and married off before he went to study with the centaur Cheiron!

(More importantly: In the poetic world of Homer, sisters just don’t matter. Brothers do. Helen does not mention missing her sisters. Hektor talks to multiple brothers, but where are his sisters? In the Odyssey, Achilles asks about his father and son because Odysseus is interested in fathers and sons. This may make it more, not less, appropriate that Achilles says nothing of his sister: Odysseus just doesn’t care about sisters. Nor, it seems, does Homer.)

Works Consulted (apart from the Greek Texts).

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.
Robert Fowler. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2:Commentary, 2013.

Image result for ancient greek achilles

“Two Beautiful Girls”: The Song of Achilles and Deidamia

I really wish antiquity had bequeathed to us this entire poem…

Bion, The Wedding song of Achilles and Deidamia

Mursôn
Lukidas, will you sing me some sweet Sicilian song,
A love song full of sweetness and longing—the very kind
The Kyklôps Polyphemos once sang on the shore for Galatea?

Lucidas
I’d love to play too, Myrsôn, but what should I sing?

Mursôn
The love story of Skyros, which you used to be praised for singing,
Peleus’ son’s secret kisses, his secret love affair,
how the boy dressed in a robe to disguise his form
And how among those daughters of Lucomêdes who had no worries
Dêidameia knew Achilles in her bedroom.

Lucidas
When the cowboy Paris kidnapped Helen and took her to Ida
It was terrible for Oinônê. And Sparta was filled with rage,
Enough to gather the whole Achaean host—no Greek
From Mycenaea or Elis or Sparta was staying
At his own home to flee miserable Ares.

But Achilles all alone escaped notice among the daughters of Lykomêdes
Where he learned about weaving instead of weapons
And held a maiden’s tools in his white hand—he looked just like a girl.
For he acted as feminine as the daughters did—the bloom
Which reddened on his white cheeks was as great, he walked
With a maiden’s step, and he covered his hair with a veil.

But he possessed a man’s heart and he had a man’s lust too.
From dawn until dusk he used to sit next to Deidameia—
Then he used to kiss her hands and often he would
Lift the fine warp and compliment her intricate weaving,
He never ate with another friend and did everything he could
To get her to sleep with him. He actually used to say this to her,

“Other sisters sleep in bed with one another,
But I sleep alone and you, princess, you sleep alone.
We are two girls of the same age, two beautiful girls,
But we sleep along in separate beds—that wicked
Space keeps me carefully distant from you…”

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
Λῇς νύ τί μοι, Λυκίδα, Σικελὸν μέλος ἁδὺ λιγαίνειν,
ἱμερόεν γλυκύθυμον ἐρωτικόν, οἷον ὁ Κύκλωψ
ἄεισεν Πολύφαμος ἐπ’ ᾐόνι <τᾷ> Γαλατείᾳ;

ΛΥΚΙΔΑΣ
κἠμοὶ συρίσδεν, Μύρσων, φίλον, ἀλλὰ τί μέλψω;

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
Σκύριον <ὅν>, Λυκίδα, ζαλώμενος ᾆδες ἔρωτα,
λάθρια Πηλεΐδαο φιλάματα, λάθριον εὐνάν,
πῶς παῖς ἕσσατο φᾶρος, ὅπως δ’ ἐψεύσατο μορφάν,
χὤπως ἐν κώραις Λυκομηδίσιν οὐκ ἀλεγοίσαις
ἠείδη κατὰ παστὸν Ἀχιλλέα Δηιδάμεια.

ΛΥΚΙΔΑΣ
ἅρπασε τὰν Ἑλέναν πόθ’ ὁ βωκόλος, ἆγε δ’ ἐς Ἴδαν,
Οἰνώνῃ κακὸν ἄλγος. ἐχώσατο <δ’> ἁ Λακεδαίμων
πάντα δὲ λαὸν ἄγειρεν Ἀχαϊκόν, οὐδέ τις Ἕλλην,
οὔτε Μυκηναίων οὔτ’ Ἤλιδος οὔτε Λακώνων,
μεῖνεν ἑὸν κατὰ δῶμα φυγὼν δύστανον Ἄρηα.
λάνθανε δ’ ἐν κώραις Λυκομηδίσι μοῦνος Ἀχιλλεύς,
εἴρια δ’ ἀνθ’ ὅπλων ἐδιδάσκετο, καὶ χερὶ λευκᾷ
παρθενικὸν κόρον εἶχεν, ἐφαίνετο δ’ ἠύτε κώρα·
καὶ γὰρ ἴσον τήναις θηλύνετο, καὶ τόσον ἄνθος
χιονέαις πόρφυρε παρηίσι, καὶ τὸ βάδισμα
παρθενικῆς ἐβάδιζε, κόμας δ’ ἐπύκαζε καλύπτρῃ.
θυμὸν δ’ ἀνέρος εἶχε καὶ ἀνέρος εἶχεν ἔρωτα·
ἐξ ἀοῦς δ’ ἐπὶ νύκτα παρίζετο Δηιδαμείᾳ,
καὶ ποτὲ μὲν τήνας ἐφίλει χέρα, πολλάκι δ’ αὐτᾶς
στάμονα καλὸν ἄειρε τὰ δαίδαλα δ’ ἄτρι’ ἐπῄνει·
ἤσθιε δ’ οὐκ ἄλλᾳ σὺν ὁμάλικι, πάντα δ’ ἐποίει
σπεύδων κοινὸν ἐς ὕπνον. ἔλεξέ νυ καὶ λόγον αὐτᾷ·
“ἄλλαι μὲν κνώσσουσι σὺν ἀλλήλαισιν ἀδελφαί,
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ μούνα, μούνα δὲ σύ, νύμφα, καθεύδεις.
αἱ δύο παρθενικαὶ συνομάλικες, αἱ δύο καλαί,
ἀλλὰ μόναι κατὰ λέκτρα καθεύδομες, ἁ δὲ πονηρά
†νύσσα† δολία με κακῶς ἀπὸ σεῖο μερίσδει.
οὐ γὰρ ἐγὼ σέο. . . . .”

What was Achilles’ name when he was living as a girl?

Achilles on Skyros, 1656 painting by Nicolas Poussin

Achilles’ Name(s), When He Was A Girl

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

Aristonikos of Tarentum (57; appearing in Photios)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Achilles at Skyros

 

How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishapen, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

See here for a handout for a talk using Thersites to explore Homeric poetry from the perspective of disability studies.

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase Thersites comic
A seated terracotta slave from the British Museum (743)

How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishaped, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase Thersites comic
A seated terracotta slave from the British Museum (743)

Achilles’ Name(s), When He Was A Girl

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

Aristonikos of Tarentum (57; appearing in Photios)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Achilles at Skyros

 

Achilles’ (Missing) Sister

Reading over Merkelbach and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea often reminds me of many things I have forgotten. I am too young to blame this forgetfulness on senility; and yet too old to blame it on youthful ignorance.

Today’s particular disturbance comes from fragment 213 which tells us that Achilles, like Odysseus, has a sister (fragment included within the scholia below).

At first, I thought that this was some sort of Lykophrontic fantasy. But, alas, upon looking into the details she is actually mentioned in the Iliad!

Iliad, 16.173-178

“Menestheus of the dancing-breastplate led one contingent,
son of the swift-flowing river Sperkheios
whom the daughter of Peleus, beautiful Poludôrê bore
when she shared the bed with the indomitable river-god, Sperkheios
although by reputation he was the son of Boros, the son of Periêrês
who wooed her openly by offering countless gifts.”

τῆς μὲν ἰῆς στιχὸς ἦρχε Μενέσθιος αἰολοθώρηξ
υἱὸς Σπερχειοῖο διιπετέος ποταμοῖο·
ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ καλὴ Πολυδώρη
Σπερχειῷ ἀκάμαντι γυνὴ θεῷ εὐνηθεῖσα,
αὐτὰρ ἐπίκλησιν Βώρῳ Περιήρεος υἷι,
ὅς ῥ’ ἀναφανδὸν ὄπυιε πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.

The confusion, shock and horror of this detail—which I presume the vast majority of Homer’s audiences have overlooked or forgotten as with the sad fate of Odysseus’ sister—can be felt as well in the various reactions of the Scholia where we encounter (a) denial—it was a different Peleus!; (b) sophomoric prevarication—why doesn’t Achilles talk about her, hmmm?; (c) conditional acceptance through anachronistic assumptions—she’s suppressed because it is shameful that she is a bastard; (d) and, finally, citation of hoary authorities to insist upon a ‘truth’ unambiguous in the poem.

I have translated the major scholia below. Note that we can see where the ‘fragments’ of several authors come from here (hint: they’re just talked about by the scholiasts). We can also learn a bit about the pluralistic and contradictory voices to be found in the Homeric scholia. The bastard child bit is my favorite part.

Continue reading “Achilles’ (Missing) Sister”

Fragmentary Friday, Latin Edition: Accius’ Achilles

 

 Achilles Schools Antilochus in Word Choice (Accius, Myrmidons, 452-7)

“Antilochus, this behavior that you declare obstinacy
I call constancy and desire to practice it.
To conquer and to be called constant
Is something I suffer happily; but I do not tolerate being called obstinate.
Constancy qualifies the brave; untrained men are obstinate.
You add the sense of fault and erase what should be praised.”

Tu pertinaciam esse, Antiloche, hanc praedicas,
Ego pervicaciam aio et ea me uti volo;
Nam pervicacem dici me esse et vincere
Perfacile patior, pertinacem nihil moror.
Haec fortis sequitur, illam indocti possident.
Tu addis quod vitio est, demis quod laudi datur.

Accius, Lucius Accius? A Romen tragedian and scholar who was born before the third Punic War and lived through the time of Sulla.

AChillesAjax
“You go first.” “No, YOU go first”…

If You Feel Rage Coming On, Sing Yourself a Song!

Aelian, Varia Historia 14.23 Achilles plays the Lyre to Calm his Rage

“Kleinias was serious in his manner and he was a Pythagorean in his philosophical training. If he was ever driven towards rage or had a sense of getting hot-headed, immediately before he became too overwhlemed with anger and before it was clear it was coming, he picked up the lyre and began to play. In response to people asking what the reason for this was, he responded melodiously, “I am calming myself”. Achilles in the Iliad seems to me to put his rage sleep when he sings along to a lyre and brings reminds himself of the famous tales of former men through his song. For, since he was a musical man, he chose the lyre first out of all the spoils.”

Κλεινίας ἀνὴρ ἦν σπουδαῖος τὸν τρόπον, Πυθαγόρειος δὲ τὴν σοφίαν. οὗτος εἴ ποτε ἐς ὀργὴν προήχθη καὶ εἶχεν αἰσθητικῶς ἑαυτοῦ ἐς θυμὸν ἐξαγομένου, παραχρῆμα πρὶν ἢ ἀνάπλεως αὐτῷ ἡ ὀργὴ καὶ ἐπίδηλος γένηται ὅπως διάκειται, τὴν λύραν ἁρμοσάμενος ἐκιθάριζε. πρὸς δὲ τοὺς πυνθανομένους τὴν αἰτίαν ἀπεκρίνετο ἐμμελῶς ὅτι ‘πραΰνομαι.’ δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ ὁ ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι ᾿Αχιλλεύς, ὁ τῇ κιθάρᾳ προσᾴδων καὶ τὰ κλέα τῶν προτέρων διὰ τοῦ μέλους ἐς μνήμην ἑαυτῷ ἄγων, τὴν μῆνιν κατευνάζειν• μουσικὸς γὰρ ὢν τὴν κιθάραν πρώτην ἐκ τῶν λαφύρων ἔλαβε.

Aelian is referring to the following passage from Homer when the embassy from Agamemnon comes to treat with Achilles in book 9. Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix arrive and find Achilles singing.

Iliad, 9.185-191

“They came to the dwellings and the ships of the Myrmidons
And they found [Achilles] delighting his heart with the clear-voiced lyre,
A finely wrought one which was silver on the bridge,
The one he chose as a prize after sacking the city of Êetiôn.
He delighted his heart with that and sang the famous stories of men.
But Patroklos sat alone opposite him in silence,
Waiting for time when the grandson of Aiakos would stop his songs.”

Μυρμιδόνων δ’ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δ’ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃ, ἐπὶ δ’ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετ’ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν ᾿Ηετίωνος ὀλέσσας•
τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δ’ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.
Πάτροκλος δέ οἱ οἶος ἐναντίος ἧστο σιωπῇ,
δέγμενος Αἰακίδην ὁπότε λήξειεν ἀείδων,

Aelian’s interpretation is interesting in part because it makes sense—Achilles is often seen as resting, or taking up time with the singing. But modern interpretations put a lot more weight into Achilles’ words, and what exactly it means to sing the “famous stories of men”. In the same book, Phoenix chastises Achilles by saying: “This is not what we have heard before in the famous stories of men/ heroes, whenever a powerful anger overtook someone” (οὕτω καὶ τῶν πρόσθεν ἐπευθόμεθα κλέα ἀνδρῶν / ἡρώων, ὅτε κέν τιν’ ἐπιζάφελος χόλος ἵκοι, 9.524-5). And in the Odyssey, the same phrase is used to indicate Demodokos’ ability to sing songs from the Trojan War, right before he sings about the conflict between Odysseus and Achilles. (Μοῦσ’ ἄρ’ ἀοιδὸν ἀνῆκεν ἀειδέμεναι κλέα ἀνδρῶν, 8.73)

So, the basic argument is that the phrase kléa andrôn is a metonym for tales from myth or epic and that Achilles is not merely entertaining himself but, just as Phoenix invites him to consider the lessons from “the famous stories of men” as precedents to help correct his behavior, Achilles is singing in order to figure out where his story fits in the pantheon of tales he knows. And, against Aelian’s interpretation, Achilles doesn’t seem to have overcome his anger for very long once Odysseus begins to speak…

Far Better People than You Have Died (Lucretius and Homer)

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1034-1053

“You may on occasion say this to yourself:
Noble Ancus* loosed the light from his eyes,
A man who was better than imperfect you in many ways.
And from there, many other kings and luminaries
Died too, men who ruled over great nations.
That very man* who once laid a great road across a vast sea
To provide a path for his armies upon the deep
And taught them to dance across the crescent salt
As he pranced with his horses and dismissed the sea’s roar—
He poured out his soul when his body died and he was robbed of the light.
Clan Scipio’s son, the bolt of war, the scourge of Carthage,
Gave his bones to the earth just as a humble servant would.
Add to these men the inventors of theories and beauty,
Add as well the friends of the Muses whose single Homer,
the sceptered lord, has been quieted in sleep like the rest.
Democritus, too, when advanced age finally warned him
That the moving memories of his mind were fading,
He freely offered his own head to his end.
Epicurus as well departed when the light of his life ran its course,
He surpassed the race of man with his genius, who overshown
The light of all men the way the sun washes out the stars—
And now you will hesitate and be angry to die?
You whose life is already nearly dead, though you live and see,
You who squander the greater part of life in sleep
And snore wide-awake, never breaking from seeing dreams,
As you carry a mind tortured by empty fear.
You can’t figure out what ails you, you poor drunk,
When you are oppressed by so many anxieties everywhere
As you wander adrift on the uncertain compulsions of your mind.”

Hoc etiam tibi tute interdum dicere possis.
‘lumina sis oculis etiam bonus Ancus reliquit,
qui melior multis quam tu fuit, improbe, rebus.
inde alii multi reges rerumque potentes
occiderunt, magnis qui gentibus imperitarunt.
ille quoque ipse, viam qui quondam per mare magnum
stravit iterque dedit legionibus ire per altum
ac pedibus salsas docuit super ire lucunas
et contempsit equis insultans murmura ponti,
lumine adempto animam moribundo corpore fudit.
Scipiadas, belli fulmen, Carthaginis horror,
ossa dedit terrae proinde ac famul infimus esset.
adde repertores doctrinarum atque leporum,
adde Heliconiadum comites; quorum unus Homerus
sceptra potitus eadem aliis sopitus quietest.
denique Democritum post quam matura vetustas
admonuit memores motus languescere mentis,
sponte sua leto caput obvius optulit ipse.
ipse Epicurus obit decurso lumine vitae,
qui genus humanum ingenio superavit et omnis
restinxit stellas exortus ut aetherius sol.
tu vero dubitabis et indignabere obire?
mortua cui vita est prope iam vivo atque videnti,
qui somno partem maiorem conteris aevi,
et viligans stertis nec somnia cernere cessas
sollicitamque geris cassa formidine mentem
nec reperire potes tibi quid sit saepe mali, cum
ebrius urgeris multis miser undique curis
atque animo incerto fluitans errore vagaris.’

This passage reminds me in part of Achilles’ famous vaunt to Lykaon (a man he had previously ransomed) in the Iliad (21.106-113)

“But you die too, friend. Really, why are you grieving thus?
Patroklos also died, and he was much better than you.
Don’t you see how handsome and large I am?
I come from a noble father and a goddess mother bore me—
But, even now, death and compelling fate await me.
The time will come at dawn, dusk, or the middle of the day
When someone rips the life even from me with Ares’ power
As he strikes with a spear or an arrow from its string.”

ἀλλὰ φίλος θάνε καὶ σύ· τί ἦ ὀλοφύρεαι οὕτως;
κάτθανε καὶ Πάτροκλος, ὅ περ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων.
οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;
πατρὸς δ’ εἴμ’ ἀγαθοῖο, θεὰ δέ με γείνατο μήτηρ·
ἀλλ’ ἔπι τοι καὶ ἐμοὶ θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα κραταιή·
ἔσσεται ἢ ἠὼς ἢ δείλη ἢ μέσον ἦμαρ
ὁππότε τις καὶ ἐμεῖο ῎Αρῃ ἐκ θυμὸν ἕληται
ἢ ὅ γε δουρὶ βαλὼν ἢ ἀπὸ νευρῆφιν ὀϊστῷ.

 

*Ancus was the fourth king of Rome

*Xerxes (who built pontoon bridge across the Hellespont to bring an army into Greece c. 480 BCE)

 

Post-Script: I can’t really say that either passages offer much solace to me. It is a given that everyone dies, true, but however unimpressive I am, it still seems absurd at all to exist rather than not exist. To close the circle by ending it seems, even if appropriate, equally absurd.  I’m with Dylan Thomas, I fear, raging….