“Muse, send a glorifying wind right at that home–
For songs and stories safeguard noble deeds
When men have passed on.
And these things are not scarce for the Bassidae.
This ancient-famed family
Has a private store of victory songs to fill ships,
Capable of inspiring many a Pieriean plowman
With hymns thanks to their glorious deeds.”
“Older poets found these things
To be an elevated roadway;
I follow it even though I have concern–
The wave that is always turning
Right into the front of the ship
Is said to cause everyone’s heart
The most trouble.”
“Now recognize the wisdom of Oedipus:
If someone could cleave the branches from
A giant oak tree with a sharp-edged axe
And wreck its eye-catching beauty,
It would still weigh in about itself even though
It could no longer bear fruit
If it came face to face with a winter’s fire in the end
Or if set upon columns for some master,
It provides the labor for someone else’s walls,
Leaving its place deserted.
But you are the most timely healer and Paian
Honors your light.
You need a soft touch to work on
An open wound.
It is easy for cowards to shake up a state,
But it is hard indeed to make it stable again,
Unless the leaders suddenly have a god
For a pilot.”
“Now recognize the wisdom of Oedipus”: Pindar encourages Arkesilaos to examine his own riddle. For he wants him to consider the wisdom of Oedipus because he solved the riddle of the Sphinx. And he is riddling here, and he means this kind of thing. Some people were in revolt in Kyrene during Arkesilaos’ reign because they wanted to expel him from power. But because he was stronger than them, he sent them into exile from the country. Demophilos was among the rebels because he was an insurrectionist himself. He also went as exile into Thebes. Some people thought—since others claim that he gave money to Pindar for the victory ode—that Pindar was using the poem to reconcile him to Arkesilaos
Father: That’s great, dear. We’re so happy for you. Tell us all about it.
Child: I’ve never felt this way about another person. I’m giddy with joy at the idea that we can be together forever!
Mother: Who is it? Do we know the family?
Child: I can’t wait for you to meet. I know you’ll love each other so much.
Father: Go ahead; describe your new love.
Child: I hope you will approve. Will you?
Mother: What do you mean? Of course we will approve.
Child: I mean… Well… I’ll just say it: It’s… a third declension.
Father: What?! I can’t believe it… our child falling in love with one of them?
Mother: Calm yourself, dear. I’m sure we can get our child to see reason.
Child: Reason? I’m in love!
Father: But see here, you know this is a shock to your mother and me. You must understand… Her family has been first declension for generations, and my own family has been second declension longer than anybody can remember.
Child: But we’re all NOUNS, right? Can’t we accept one another, no matter what declension we are?
Mother: Of course we’re all nouns, dear, but…
Child: And don’t we all have gender, number, and case?
Father: Yes, that all goes without saying, but the third declensions… Well…
They’re a DIFFERENT KIND of noun.
Child: But aren’t first and second declensions also different from one another in some ways?
Mother: Yes, of course we’re different in small ways, but we are compatible. It’s just… Well, you know what they say about third declensions… They’re… Well, they’re irregular.
Child: Are you prejudiced against the stem change? Is that it? Just because they have stems and endings a little bit different than yours doesn’t make them monsters.
Father: Yes, but a group that has all three genders is a bit tough for us traditionalists to handle.
Child: Don’t be hypocritical; what about some of my second declension uncles and aunts on your side who are masculine or feminine, depending on the context?
Father: Please, I told you not to mention them in polite company. Let’s not discuss that.
Child: And what about some of my first declension cousins who have what look like masculine endings, but are feminine? I won’t mention any names, but you know who they are. And now that I think about it, what about some of my cousins who are masculine first declensions (that’s your side Mom), who have what look like feminine plural endings? Do you call them irregular? Do you love them any less because of that little quirk?
Mother: Of course we love them, dear. They’re our family, bless their hearts. We accept them… But third declensions… I just don’t know. And what would our friends say?
Father: Now see here; we have known some third declensions, but never socialized with them, let alone become intimate with them. I just can’t imagine having them permanently in our lives. Would we invite them to the beach house? Imagine a bunch of them lying out there sunbathing – and
FULLY DECLINED – I don’t know if I could bear the sight. Sorry, I know that my saying this hurts you, but I’m only being honest.
Child: Well I love my third declension, and we’re going to marry and raise a family and be happy together for the rest of our lives, whether you like it or not.
Mother: You would have children with a third declension?
Child: I love my third declension, Momma! Don’t you remember what first love is like? Don’t you remember the thrill of first exploring all the cases of your beloved, both singular and plural? Remember when you first saw Daddy’s dative plural?
Mother: [sighs] You’re right. That gave me the shivers, in a wonderfully happy way. Yes, new love is a beautiful thing. And really, we all ARE nouns, aren’t we? And we should not let something like this break up our family.
Father: Yes, dear; you’re right, too. [sighs] I remember the thrill when your vocative first crossed my lips. What love! Our child is right; we must love everyone in our family, regardless of the status of their stems or endings. Love is love. Besides, our older children have already married within their own declensions, so I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the youngest brings in someone different. Dear child, I’m sure we will learn to love your spouse. You have our blessings.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Daniel B. Levine (BA Minnesota 1975; PhD Cincinnati 1980) is University Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Arkansas, where he has taught Classical Studies, Humanities, Greek, and Latin since 1980. His publications include essays on Greek comedy, tragedy, and epic poetry, and modern literary receptions of ancient Greek and Roman literature, including works by Rita Mae Brown, V. T. Hamlin, and Michael Chabon. He has received teaching and service awards from the Society for Classical Studies, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, and the University of Arkansas. He has directed 19 study abroad programs.
“Read me aloud the name of the Olympian victor,
The child of Arkhestratos, from the place where
It is entered in my thoughts since
He’s owed a sweet song and
It has been forgotten.
Muse, you and Truth, Zeus’ daughter,
Keep me from harming a friend with lies.
For the coming future approached from far away
And shamed me for my debt.
Yet interest paid can has the power to release us
From sharp critique.
Let him see now how, just as a wave
Washes over a pebble as it rolls through the sea,
So too do I pay back shared speech
As a dear favor.”
“He speaks allegorically comparing his own power to the flow of the sea. For, just as a wave washes over a stone whirled up, expelled on the shore, so in the same way, he claims, I wash away blame circulated like that stone.”
παραβάλλει δὲ ἀλληγορῶν τῷ τῆς θαλάσσης ῥεύματι τὴν ἑαυτοῦ δύναμιν. ὡς
“Certainly, whenever there is some mass or malignancy of humors or a blockage or some wasting force invades the body, there is a danger previously absent that a person will get sick and there are times when this risk is severe. These types of causes are hard to diagnose because the person doesn’t feel any pain yet.
This is like the infection from a rabid dog: there’s no particular sign in the body before the person afflicted comes near madness. These kinds of causes make it necessary, therefore, that the doctor inquire from patients about everything that happened to them.”
“You mustn’t harm anyone–but if you are to blame
This story warns that you will suffer the same.
The story goes that a fox invited a stork to dine
And offered her a thin soup on a marble table
Which the hungry story had no way to taste.
So the stork invited the fox to eat in turn
And served him a narrow jar stuff with food
And slipped her beak in to torture her guest
With hunger while she satisfied herself.
While the fox lapped at the jar’s neck in vain,
The bird–as we have heard–said to him, please
Everyone should suffer their own example in peace.”
Nulli nocendum; si quis vero laeserit,
multandum simili iure fabella admonet.
Ad cenam vulpes dicitur ciconiam
prior invitasse, et liquidam in patulo marmore
posuisse sorbitionem, quam nullo modo
gustare esuriens potuerit ciconia.
quae vulpem cum revocasset, intrito cibo
plenam lagonam posuit; huic rostrum inserens
satiatur ipsa et torquet convivam fame,
quae cum lagonae collum frustra lamberet,
peregrinam sic locutam volucrem accepimus:
“Sua quisque exempla debet aequo animo pati.”
“The rational part of the soul, which is established in the head, [Plato] made the charioteer of the whole, when he says this (Tim. 90a2-5):
Concerning the most lordly part of our soul, we should concern of its form like this: God has granted to each of us that very spirit which we say lives among us at the highest part of our body, to raise us from the earth closer to our relative, heaven, since we are not an earth-bound growth but a heavenly creature.
Plato sprinkles these things into his own dialogues from the Homeric epics as if drawing from a spring.”
“Avoid Kharybdis and come close to Skyla.” This is similar to the saying, “I avoided it by finding a better evil”
They say about Skyla that she was a Tyrrhenian woman, something if a beast, who was a woman down to the navel but she grew dog heads beneath that point. The rest of her body was a serpent. This kind of a cerature is very silly to imagine. But here is the truth. There were the islands of the Tyrrenians, which used to raid the coasts of Sicily and the Ionian bay. There was a trirereme which had the named Skyla. That trireme used to overtake other ships often and use their food and there was many a story about it. Odysseus fled that ship. trusting a strong and favorable wind and he told this story in Corcyra to Alkinoos, how he was pursued and how he fled and what the shape of the ship was. From these stories, the myth was formed.”
“Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. “
“But you, go away from “the smoke and the wave” and depart the ridiculous concerns of mortal life as from that fearsome Charybdis without touching it at all, don’t even, as the people say, brush it with your littlest toe.”
“For satiety seems to be becoming worn out in pleasures from the soul suffering in some way with the body, since the soul does not shirk from its pleasures. But when it is interwoven, as it is said, with the body, it suffers the same things as Odysseus, just as he was held, clinging to the fig tree, not because he desired it or delighted in it, but because he feared Charybdis lurking below him. The soul clings to the body and embraces it in this way not because of goodwill or gratitude but because it fears the uncertainty of death.
As wise Hesiod says, “the gods keep life concealed from human beings.” They have not tied the soul to the body with fleshly bonds, but they have devised and bound around the mind one cell and one guard, our uncertainty and distrust about our end. If a soul had faith in these things—“however so many await men when they die”, to quote Heraclitus—nothing would restrain it at all.”
Aesop: The Monkey and the Fisherman: ΑΛΙΕΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΘΗΞ
“Some fisherman was setting is net for fish along the seashore. A monkey was watching him and wanted to copy what he was doing. When the man went into some cave to take a nap and left his net on the beach, the monkey came down, and was trying to fish in the same way. Ignorant of the skill, he was using the net poorly and just wrapped it all around himself. He immediately fell into the sea and drowned. When the fisherman found him already drowning, he said, “fool, your ignorance and bad planning ruined you.”
The moral of the story is that people who try to imitate acts beyond their ability bring disaster upon themselves.”
“For me, this was frightening to see,
And for you to hear. Know well that my child
Would be wondrous to behold if he did well but,
He’s not beholden to the state:
he will rule the land if he merely survives.”
“When strong winds carry sailors forward
Divergent opinions steering the ship
Or a mob thick with wise men is feebler
Than a single mind with self-control.
In city and under a single
Authority should be one person’s
Whenever we want to find success.”
“My speech is lacking one thing still.
I wish I had the voice in my limbs
And hands and hair and the march of my feet
Or the skills of Daidalos or some god
So I could completely grasp you by your knees
Wailing, laying about you with every kind of argument.
Master, great hope of life for the Greeks,
Heed me—lend an avenging hand to an old woman
Even if she is nothing at all.
For it is right that a good man serve justice
And always do evil everywhere to evil men.”