On Homer’s Poverty and Lies

Dio Chrysosthom, Oration 11. 15-19

“First, people claim that Homer was a beggar in Greece because of his poverty and lack of means. But they believe that this sort of a man is incapable of lying for the sake of those who gave him things, that he would not say the sorts of things he would intend only to please them! Yet people say that beggars today say nothing credible, and no one ever provides one as a witness on anything, nor do they ever accept praise from them as something true. For they know that beggars say everything to manipulate, by necessity.

And then they say that some people gave money to a beggar while others gave money to a madman and that they think the people then decided he was crazy when he was speaking truth rather than lying. Really, I am not so much rebuking Homer in these things. For nothing prevents a wise man from begging or seeming insane. But I am saying that, according to the belief people hold about Homer and these sort of people, nothing they say is believable.

Furthermore, they do not believe that lying is in Homer’s nature or that he employs this sort of thing at all. Yet he makes Odysseus lie the most, a man he praises, and he says that Autolykos even breaks an oath and that this was granted to him by Hermes! Nearly everyone agrees that Homer says nothing true about the gods, even those who praise him, and they try to offer various defenses, that he does not say these things because he means them but because he is riddling and using metaphor. What keeps him from speaking this way about men too?

For, whoever speaks nothing manifestly true about the gods, but so much to the contrary that people who encounter them take them as lies—and which bring no help to the singer—how would he hesitate to utter any kind of falsehood about men too? Many have previously noted that he has created gods grieving and groaning, wounded and nearly dying, and has added divine adulteries, bonding, and vows. I don’t wish to prosecute Homer, only to show what the truth was. I will also defend the matters as they seem to me. I say that he showed no hesitation in lying and did not think it a shame. I will move now to consider whether he was right or not.”

πρῶτον μὲν οὖν φασι τὸν ῞Ομηρον ὑπὸ πενίας τε καὶ ἀπορίας προσαιτεῖν ἐν τῇ ῾Ελλάδι· τὸν δὲ τοιοῦτον ἀδύνατον ἡγοῦνται ψεύσασθαι πρὸς χάριν τῶν διδόντων, οὐδ’ ἂν τὰ τοιαῦτα λέγειν ὁποῖα ἔμελλεν ἐκείνοις καθ’ ἡδονὴν ἔσεσθαι· τοὺς δὲ νῦν πτωχοὺς οὐδέν φασιν ὑγιὲς λέγειν, οὐδὲ μάρτυρα οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐκείνων οὐδένα ποιήσαιτο ὑπὲρ οὐδενός, οὐδὲ τοὺς ἐπαίνους τοὺς παρ’ αὐτῶν ἀποδέχονται ὡς ἀληθεῖς. ἴσασι γὰρ ὅτι πάντα θωπεύοντες ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης λέγουσιν. ἔπειτα δὲ εἰρήκασι τοὺς μὲν ὡς πτωχῷ, τοὺς δὲ ὡς μαινομένῳ ἀπάρχεσθαι, καὶ μᾶλλον οἴονται τοὺς τότε καταγνῶναι αὐτοῦ μανίαν τἀληθῆ λέγοντος ἢ ψευδομένου. οὐ μὴν ὅσον γε ἐπὶ τούτοις ψέγω ῞Ομηρον· κωλύει γὰρ οὐθὲν ἄνδρα σοφὸν πτωχεύειν οὐδὲ μαίνεσθαι δοκεῖν· ἀλλ’ ὅτι κατὰ τὴν ἐκείνων δόξαν, ἣν ἔχουσι περὶ ῾Ομήρου καὶ περὶ τῶν τοιούτων, εἰκός ἐστι μηθὲν ὑγιὲς εἶναι τῶν εἰρημένων ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

οὐ τοίνυν οὐδὲ τόδε νομίζουσιν, οὐκ εἶναι ἐν τῇ ῾Ομήρου φύσει τὸ ψεῦδος οὐδὲ ἀποδέχεσθαι αὐτὸν τοιοῦτον <οὐδέν>· πλεῖστα γοῦν τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα πεποίηκε ψευδόμενον, ὃν μάλιστα ἐπῄνει, τὸν δὲ Αὐτόλυκον καὶ ἐπιορκεῖν φησι, καὶ τοῦτ’ αὐτῷ παρὰ τοῦ ῾Ερμοῦ δεδόσθαι. περὶ δὲ θεῶν πάντες, ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν, ὁμολογοῦσι μηθὲν ἀληθὲς λέγειν ῞Ομηρον καὶ οἱ πάνυ ἐπαινοῦντες αὐτόν, καὶ τοιαύτας ἀπολογίας πειρῶνται πορίζειν, ὅτι οὐ φρονῶν ταῦτ’ ἔλεγεν, ἀλλ’ αἰνιττόμενος καὶ μεταφέρων. τί οὖν κωλύει καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων αὐτὸν οὕτως εἰρηκέναι; ὅστις γὰρ περὶ θεῶν οὐ φανερῶς τἀληθῆ φησιν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον οὕτως ὥστε τὰ ψευδῆ μᾶλλον ὑπολαμβάνειν τοὺς ἐντυγχάνοντας, καὶ ταῦτα μηδὲν ὠφελούμενος, πῶς ἂν περί γε ἀνθρώπων ὀκνήσειεν ὁτιοῦν ψεῦδος εἰπεῖν; καὶ ὅτι μὲν πεποίηκεν ἀλγοῦντας τοὺς θεοὺς καὶ στένοντας καὶ τιτρωσκομένους καὶ ἀποθνῄσκοντας σχεδόν, ἔτι δὲ μοιχείας καὶ δεσμὰ καὶ διεγγυήσεις θεῶν, οὐ λέγω, πρότερον εἰρημένα πολλοῖς. οὐδὲ γὰρ βούλομαι κατηγορεῖν ῾Ομήρου, μόνον δὲ ἐπιδεῖξαι τἀληθὲς ὡς γέγονεν· ἐπεί τοι καὶ ἀπολογήσομαι περὶ αὐτοῦ τὰ ἐμοὶ δοκοῦντα. ὅτι δὲ τὸ ψεῦδος οὐκ ὤκνει πάντων μάλιστα οὐδὲ αἰσχρὸν ἐνόμιζε, τοῦτο λέγω· πότερον δὲ ὀρθῶς ἢ μὴ παρίημι νῦν σκοπεῖν.

 

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Mythical Masks: Paris’ Menelaos Costume

 In the Helen, Euripides pursues the version of events favored by Stesichorus and mentioned by Herodotus too: that Helen was replaced by a cloud-Helen (whom I call a Cylon). The fake-Helen went to Troy while the real one went to Egypt.

Apparently there was also a tradition that has Aphrodite pulling a Zeus-Amphitryon trick with Paris and Menelaos.

Nikias of Mallos, BNJ 60 F 2a [=Schol. V ad Od. 23.218]

“Priam’s child Alexander  left Asia and went to Sparta with the plan of abducting Helen while he was a guest there. But she, because of her noble and husband-loving character, was refusing him and saying that she would honor her marriage with the law and thought more of Menelaos. Because Paris was ineffective, the story is that Aphrodite devised this kind of a trick: she exchanged the appearance of Alexander for Menelaos’ character to persuade Helen in this way. For, because she believed that this was truly Menelaos, she was not reluctant to leave with him. After she went to the ship before him, he took her inside and left. This story is told in Nikias of Mallos’ first book”

᾽Αλέξανδρος ὁ Πριάμου παῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ᾽Ασίας κατάρας εἰς τὴν Λακεδαίμονα διενοεῖτο τὴν ῾Ελένην ξενιζόμενος ἁρπάσαι· ἡ δὲ γενναῖον ἧθος καὶ φίλανδρον ἔχουσα ἀπηγόρευε καὶ προτιμᾶν ἔλεγε τὸν μετὰ νόμου γάμον καὶ τὸν Μενέλαον περὶ πλείονος ἡγεῖσθαι. γενομένου δὲ τοῦ Πάριδος ἀπράκτου φασὶ τὴν ᾽Αφροδίτην ἐπιτεχνῆσαι τοιοῦτόν τι, ὥστε καὶ μεταβάλλειν τοῦ ᾽Αλεξάνδρου τὴν ἰδέαν εἰς τὸν τοῦ Μενελάου χαρακτῆρα, καὶ οὕτω τὴν ῾Ελένην παραλογίσασθαι· δόξασαν γὰρ εἶναι ταῖς ἀληθείαις τὸν Μενέλαον μὴ ὀκνῆσαι ἅμα αὐτῶι ἕπεσθαι, φθάσασαν δὲ αὐτὴν ἄχρι τῆς νεὼς ἐμβαλλόμενος ἀνήχθη. ἡ ἱστορία παρὰ Νικίαι †τῶι πρώτωι†.

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This kind of doubling and uncertainty about identity is certainly at home in any discussion of Euripides’ Helen (well, at least the first third where no one knows who anybody is). But it is also apt for the Odyssey where Odysseus cryptically insists (16.204):

“No other Odysseus will ever come home to you”

οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ’ ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς,

Homer Lies! And He was Poor!

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11. 15-19

“First, men claim that Homer was a beggar in Greece because of poverty and lack of means. But they believe that this sort of a man is incapable of lying for the sake of those who gave him things, that he would not say the sorts of things he would intend only to please them!

Yet people say that beggars today say nothing credible, no one ever provides one as a witness on anything, nor do they ever accept praise from them as something true. For they know that beggars say everything to manipulate, by necessity. And then they say that some people gave money to a beggar while others gave money to a madman and that they think the people then decided he was crazy when he was speaking truth rather than lying.

Really, I am not so much rebuking Homer in these things. For nothing prevents a wise man from begging or seeming insane. But I am saying that, according to the belief people hold about Homer and these sort of men, nothing they say is believable.”

“Furthermore, they do not believe that lying is in Homer’s nature or that he employs this sort of thing at all. Yet he makes Odysseus lie the most, a man he praises, and he says that Autolykos even breaks an oath and that this was granted to him by Hermes! Nearly everyone agrees that Homer says nothing true about the gods, even those who praise him, and they try to offer various defenses, that he does not say these things because he means them but because he is riddling and using metaphor. What keeps him from speaking this way about men too?

For, whoever speaks nothing manifestly true about the gods, but so much to the contrary that that people who encounter them take them as lies—and which bring no help to the singer—how would he hesitate to utter any kind of falsehood about men too? Many have previously noted that he has created gods grieving and groaning, wounded and nearly dying, and has added divine adulteries, bonding, and vows. I don’t wish to prosecute Homer, only to show what the truth was. I will also defend the matters as they seem to me. I say that he showed no hesitation in lying and did not think it a shame. I will move now to consider whether he was right or not.”

πρῶτον μὲν οὖν φασι τὸν ῞Ομηρον ὑπὸ πενίας τε καὶ ἀπορίας προσαιτεῖν ἐν τῇ ῾Ελλάδι· τὸν δὲ τοιοῦτον ἀδύνατον ἡγοῦνται ψεύσασθαι πρὸς χάριν τῶν διδόντων, οὐδ’ ἂν τὰ τοιαῦτα λέγειν ὁποῖα ἔμελλεν ἐκείνοις καθ’ ἡδονὴν ἔσεσθαι· τοὺς δὲ νῦν πτωχοὺς οὐδέν φασιν ὑγιὲς λέγειν, οὐδὲ μάρτυρα οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐκείνων οὐδένα ποιήσαιτο ὑπὲρ οὐδενός, οὐδὲ τοὺς ἐπαίνους τοὺς παρ’ αὐτῶν ἀποδέχονται ὡς ἀληθεῖς. ἴσασι γὰρ ὅτι πάντα θωπεύοντες ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης λέγουσιν. ἔπειτα δὲ εἰρήκασι τοὺς μὲν ὡς πτωχῷ, τοὺς δὲ ὡς μαινομένῳ ἀπάρχεσθαι, καὶ μᾶλλον οἴονται τοὺς τότε καταγνῶναι αὐτοῦ μανίαν τἀληθῆ λέγοντος ἢ ψευδομένου. οὐ μὴν ὅσον γε ἐπὶ τούτοις ψέγω ῞Ομηρον· κωλύει γὰρ οὐθὲν ἄνδρα σοφὸν πτωχεύειν οὐδὲ μαίνεσθαι δοκεῖν· ἀλλ’ ὅτι κατὰ τὴν ἐκείνων δόξαν, ἣν ἔχουσι περὶ ῾Ομήρου καὶ περὶ τῶν τοιούτων, εἰκός ἐστι μηθὲν ὑγιὲς εἶναι τῶν εἰρημένων ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

οὐ τοίνυν οὐδὲ τόδε νομίζουσιν, οὐκ εἶναι ἐν τῇ ῾Ομήρου φύσει τὸ ψεῦδος οὐδὲ ἀποδέχεσθαι αὐτὸν τοιοῦτον <οὐδέν>· πλεῖστα γοῦν τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα πεποίηκε ψευδόμενον, ὃν μάλιστα ἐπῄνει, τὸν δὲ Αὐτόλυκον καὶ ἐπιορκεῖν φησι, καὶ τοῦτ’ αὐτῷ παρὰ τοῦ ῾Ερμοῦ δεδόσθαι. περὶ δὲ θεῶν πάντες, ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν, ὁμολογοῦσι μηθὲν ἀληθὲς λέγειν ῞Ομηρον καὶ οἱ πάνυ ἐπαινοῦντες αὐτόν, καὶ τοιαύτας ἀπολογίας πειρῶνται πορίζειν, ὅτι οὐ φρονῶν ταῦτ’ ἔλεγεν, ἀλλ’ αἰνιττόμενος καὶ μεταφέρων. τί οὖν κωλύει καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων αὐτὸν οὕτως εἰρηκέναι; ὅστις γὰρ περὶ θεῶν οὐ φανερῶς τἀληθῆ φησιν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον οὕτως ὥστε τὰ ψευδῆ μᾶλλον ὑπολαμβάνειν τοὺς ἐντυγχάνοντας, καὶ ταῦτα μηδὲν ὠφελούμενος, πῶς ἂν περί γε ἀνθρώπων ὀκνήσειεν ὁτιοῦν ψεῦδος εἰπεῖν; καὶ ὅτι μὲν πεποίηκεν ἀλγοῦντας τοὺς θεοὺς καὶ στένοντας καὶ τιτρωσκομένους καὶ ἀποθνῄσκοντας σχεδόν, ἔτι δὲ μοιχείας καὶ δεσμὰ καὶ διεγγυήσεις θεῶν, οὐ λέγω, πρότερον εἰρημένα πολλοῖς. οὐδὲ γὰρ βούλομαι κατηγορεῖν ῾Ομήρου, μόνον δὲ ἐπιδεῖξαι τἀληθὲς ὡς γέγονεν· ἐπεί τοι καὶ ἀπολογήσομαι περὶ αὐτοῦ τὰ ἐμοὶ δοκοῦντα. ὅτι δὲ τὸ ψεῦδος οὐκ ὤκνει πάντων μάλιστα οὐδὲ αἰσχρὸν ἐνόμιζε, τοῦτο λέγω· πότερον δὲ ὀρθῶς ἢ μὴ παρίημι νῦν σκοπεῖν.

 

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Dio Chrysostom on Preferring Even Unpleasant Lies to the Truth

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11 (“On the Fact that Troy Was Never Sacked”)

“I know with some certainly that it is hard to teach all people, but easy to deceive them. And if they learn anything, they scarcely learn it from the few who do really know, while they are easily deceived by many who know nothing, and not only by others, but by themselves too. For the truth is bitter and unpleasant to the ignorant; a lie, however, is sweet and appealing. In the same way, I suppose, light is unpleasant for those with diseased eyes to see, while the darkness is harmless and dear, even if they cannot see. Or, how else would lies often be stronger than the truth, unless they prevailed because of pleasure? Although it is hard to teach, as I was saying, it is harder in every way to re-teach when people have heard lies for a long time and, even worse, when they have not been alone in their delusion, but their fathers, grandfathers and nearly every forebear has been deceived with them.

For it is not easy to take a false belief from them, not even if someone should refute it completely. Similarly, I imagine that, when children have been raised with superstitious beliefs, it is hard for someone to speak the truth later regarding the very things they would not have accepted if someone had just told them in the beginning. This impulse is so strong that many prefer wicked things and agree that they belong to them properly, if they have previously believed so, instead of good things they hear later on.”

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Οἶδα μὲν ἔγωγε σχεδὸν ὅτι διδάσκειν μὲν ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντας χαλεπόν ἐστιν, ἐξαπατᾶν δὲ ῥᾴδιον. καὶ μανθάνουσι μὲν μόγις, ἐάν τι καὶ μάθωσι, παρ’ ὀλίγων τῶν εἰδότων, ἐξαπατῶνται δὲ  τάχιστα ὑπὸ πολλῶν τῶν οὐκ εἰδότων, καὶ οὐ μόνον γε ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑφ’ αὑτῶν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς πικρόν ἐστι καὶ ἀηδὲς τοῖς ἀνοήτοις, τὸ δὲ ψεῦδος γλυκὺ καὶ προσηνές. ὥσπερ οἶμαι καὶ τοῖς νοσοῦσι τὰ ὄμματα τὸ μὲν φῶς ἀνιαρὸν ὁρᾶν, τὸ δὲ σκότος ἄλυπον καὶ φίλον, οὐκ ἐῶν βλέπειν. ἢ πῶς ἂν ἴσχυε τὰ ψεύδη πολλάκις πλέον τῶν ἀληθῶν, εἰ μὴ δι’ ἡδονὴν ἐνίκα;

χαλεποῦ δέ, ὡς ἔφην, ὄντος τοῦ διδάσκειν, τῷ παντὶ χαλεπώτερον τὸ  μεταδιδάσκειν, ἄλλως τε ὅταν πολύν τινες χρόνον ὦσι τὰ ψευδῆ ἀκηκοότες καὶ μὴ μόνον αὐτοὶ ἐξηπατημένοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ πατέρες αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ πάπποι καὶ σχεδὸν πάντες οἱ πρότερον. οὐ γάρ ἐστι ῥᾴδιον τούτων ἀφελέσθαι τὴν δόξαν, οὐδ’ ἂν πάνυ τις ἐξελέγχῃ. καθάπερ οἶμαι τῶν τὰ ὑποβολιμαῖα παιδάρια θρεψάντων χαλεπὸν ὕστερον ἀφελέσθαι τἀληθῆ λέγοντα ἅ γε ἐν ἀρχῇ, εἴ τις αὐτοῖς ἔφρασεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἀνείλοντο. οὕτω δὲ τοῦτο ἰσχυρόν ἐστιν ὥστε πολλοὶ τὰ κακὰ μᾶλλον προσποιοῦνται καὶ ὁμολογοῦσι καθ’ αὑτῶν, ἂν ὦσι πεπεισμένοι πρότερον, ἢ τἀγαθὰ μετὰ χρόνον ἀκούοντες.

 

“I would not even be surprised, Trojan men, that you believed Homer was more trustworthy when he told the harshest lies about you than me when I told that truth—since you believe him to be a divine man and wise and you have taught your children epic right from the beginning, even though he has only curses for your city, and untrue ones at that. But you wouldn’t accept that I describe things as they are and have been, because I am many years younger than Homer. Certainly, most people say that time is also the best judge of affairs, and, whenever they hear something after a long time, they disbelieve it for this very reason.

If I were dare to speak against Homer among the Argives and to show in addition that his poetry was false concerning the greatest matters, chances are they would be rightfully angry with me and expel me from the city if I appeared to be erasing and cleansing their fame. But it is right that you have some gratitude towards me and listen eagerly. I have stood in defense of your ancestors. I say at the outset to you that these stories have by necessity already been recited by others and that many have learned them. Some of those men will not understand them; others will pretend to discount them, even though they do not, and still others will try to refute them, especially, I think, those ill-fated sophists. But I know clearly that they will not be pleasing to you. For most men have their minds corrupted by fame to the extent that they would prefer to be infamous for the greatest failures rather than be unknown and suffer no evil.”

οὐκ ἂν οὖν θαυμάσαιμι καὶ ὑμᾶς, ἄνδρες ᾿Ιλιεῖς, εἰ πιστότερον ἡγήσασθαι ῞Ομηρον τὰ χαλεπώτατα ψευσάμενον καθ’ ὑμῶν ἢ ἐμὲ τἀληθῆ λέγοντα, κἀκεῖνον μὲν ὑπολαβεῖν θεῖον ἄνδρα καὶ σοφόν, καὶ τοὺς παῖδας εὐθὺς ἐξ ἀρχῆς τὰ ἔπη διδάσκειν οὐθὲν ἄλλο ἢ κατάρας ἔχοντα κατὰ τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ταύτας οὐκ ἀληθεῖς, ἐμοῦ δὲ μὴ ἀνέχοισθε τὰ ὄντα καὶ γενόμενα λέγοντος, ὅτι πολλοῖς ἔτεσιν ὕστερον ῾Ομήρου γέγονα. καίτοι φασὶ μὲν οἱ πολλοὶ τὸν χρόνον τῶν πραγμάτων * καὶ κριτὴν ἄριστον εἶναι, ὅτι δ’ ἂν ἀκούωσι μετὰ πολὺν χρόνον, διὰ τοῦτο ἄπιστον νομίζουσιν. εἰ μὲν οὖν παρ’ ᾿Αργείοις ἐτόλμων ἀντιλέγειν ῾Ομήρῳ, καὶ τὴν ποίησιν αὐτοῦ δεικνύναι ψευδῆ περὶ τὰ μέγιστα, τυχὸν ἂν εἰκότως ἤχθοντό μοι καὶτῆς πόλεως ἐξέβαλλον εἰ τὴν παρ’ ἐκείνων δόξαν ἐφαινόμην ἀφανίζων καὶ καθαιρῶν· ὑμᾶς δὲ δίκαιόν ἐστί μοι χάριν εἰδέναι καὶ ἀκροᾶσθαι προθύμως· ὑπὲρ γὰρ τῶν ὑμετέρων προγόνων ἐσπούδακα. προλέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι τοὺς λόγους τούτους ἀνάγκη καὶ  παρ’ ἑτέροις ῥηθῆναι καὶ πολλοὺς πυθέσθαι· τούτων δὲ οἱ μέν τινες οὐ συνήσουσιν, οἱ δὲ προσποιήσονται καταφρονεῖν, οὐ καταφρονοῦντες αὐτῶν, οἱ δέ τινες ἐπιχειρήσουσιν ἐξελέγχειν, [μάλιστα δὲ οἶμαι τοὺς κακοδαίμονας σοφιστάς.] ἐγὼ δὲ ἐπίσταμαι σαφῶς ὅτι οὐδὲ ὑμῖν πρὸς ἡδονὴν ἔσονται. οἱ γὰρ πλεῖστοι τῶν ἀνθρώπων οὕτως ἄγαν εἰσὶν ὑπὸ δόξης διεφθαρμένοι τὰς ψυχὰς ὥστε μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσι περιβόητοι εἶναι ἐπὶ τοῖς μεγίστοις ἀτυχήμασιν ἢ μηδὲν κακὸν ἔχοντες ἀγνοεῖσθαι.

 

“For I think that the Argives themselves would not wish for the matters concerning Thyestes, Atreus and the descendants of Pelops to have been any different, but would be severely angry if someone were to undermine the myths of tragedy, claiming that Thyestes never committed adultery with Atreus wife, nor did the other kill his brother’s children, cut them up, and set them out as feast for Thyestes, and that Orestes never killed his mother with his own hand. If someone said all of these things, they would take it harshly as if they were slandered.

I imagine that things would go the same among the Thebans, if someone were to declare that their misfortunes were lies, that Oedipus never killed his father nor had sex with his mother, nor then blinded himself, and that his children didn’t die in front of the wall at each other’s hands, and the Sphinx never came and ate their children. No! instead, they take pleasure in hearing that the Sphinx came and ate their children, sent to them because of Hera’s anger, that Laios was killed by his own son, and Oedipus did these things and wandered blind after suffering, or how the children of previous king of theirs and founder of the city, Amphion, by Artemis and Apollo because they were the most beautiful men. They endure musicians and poets singing these things in their presence at the theater and they make contests for them, whoever can sing or play the most stinging tales about them. Yet they would expel a man who claimed these things did not happen. The majority has gone so far into madness that their obsession governs them completely. For they desire that there be the most stories about them—and it does not matter to them what kind of story it is. Generally, men are not willing to suffer terrible things because of cowardice, because they fear death and pain. But they really value being mentioned as if they suffered.”

 

αὐτοὺς γὰρ οἶμαι τοὺς ᾿Αργείους μὴ ἂν ἐθέλειν ἄλλως γεγονέναι τὰ περὶ τὸν Θυέστην καὶ τὸν ᾿Ατρέα καὶ τοὺς Πελοπίδας, ἀλλ’ ἄχθεσθαι σφόδρα, ἐάν τις ἐξελέγχῃ τοὺς μύθους τῶν τραγῳδῶν, λέγων ὅτι οὔτε Θυέστης ἐμοίχευσε τὴν τοῦ ᾿Ατρέως οὔτε ἐκεῖνος ἀπέκτεινε τοὺς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ παῖδας οὐδὲ κατακόψας εἱστίασε τὸν Θυέστην οὔτε ᾿Ορέστης αὐτόχειρ ἐγένετο τῆς μητρός. ἅπαντα ταῦτα εἰ λέγοι τις, χαλεπῶς ἂν φέροιεν ὡς λοιδορούμενοι.

τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο κἂν Θηβαίους οἶμαι παθεῖν, εἴ τις τὰ παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἀτυχήματα ψευδῆ ἀποφαίνοι, καὶ οὔτε τὸν πατέρα Οἰδίπουν ἀποκτείναντα οὔτε τῇ μητρὶ συγγενόμενον οὔθ’ ἑαυτὸν τυφλώσαντα οὔτε τοὺς παῖδας αὐτοῦ πρὸ τοῦ τείχους ἀποθανόντας ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων, οὔθ’ ὡς ἡ Σφὶγξ ἀφικομένη κατεσθίοι τὰ τέκνα αὐτῶν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον ἥδονται ἀκούοντες καὶ τὴν Σφίγγα ἐπιπεμφθεῖσαν αὐτοῖς διὰ χόλον ῞Ηρας καὶ τὸν Λάϊον ὑπὸ τοῦ υἱέος ἀναιρεθέντα καὶ τὸν Οἰδίπουν ταῦτα ποιήσαντα καὶ παθόντα τυφλὸν ἀλᾶσθαι, καὶ πρότερον ἄλλου βασιλέως αὐτῶν καὶ τῆς πόλεως οἰκιστοῦ, ᾿Αμφίονος, τοὺς παῖδας, ἀνθρώπων καλλίστους γενομένους, κατατοξευθῆναι ὑπὸ ᾿Απόλλωνος καὶ ᾿Αρτέμιδος· καὶ ταῦτα καὶ αὐλούντων καὶ ᾀδόντων ἀνέχονται παρ’ αὑτοῖς ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ, καὶ τιθέασιν ἆθλα περὶ τούτων, ὃς ἂν οἰκτρότατα εἴπῃ περὶ αὐτῶν ἢ αὐλήσῃ· τὸν δὲ εἰπόντα ὡς οὐ γέγονεν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἐκβάλλουσιν. εἰς τοῦτο μανίας οἱ πολλοὶ ἐληλύθασι καὶ οὕτω πάνυ ὁ τῦφος αὐτῶν κεκράτηκεν. ἐπιθυμοῦσι γὰρ ὡς πλεῖστον ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν γίγνεσθαι λόγον· ὁποῖον δέ τινα, οὐθὲν μέλει αὐτοῖς. ὅλως δὲ πάσχειν μὲν οὐ θέλουσι τὰ δεινὰ  διὰ δειλίαν, φοβούμενοι τούς τε θανάτους καὶ τὰς ἀλγηδόνας· ὡς δὲ παθόντες μνημονεύεσθαι περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται.

Paris Donned a Menelaos Disguise to Convince Helen to Go To Troy!

I recently gave my upper level Greek students a mythography assignment. Since we’re reading Euripides’ Helen, the assignment was to research some part of her story. In the Helen, Euripides pursues the version of events favored by Stesichorus and mentioned by Herodotus too: that Helen was replaced by a cloud-Helen (whom I call a Cylon). The fake-Helen went to Troy while the real one went to Egypt.

One of the passages a student found was completely new to me. Apparently there was a tradition that has Aphrodite pulling a Zeus-Amphitryon trick with Paris and Menelaos.

Nikias of Mallos, BNJ 60 F 2a [=Schol. V ad Od. 23.218]

“Priam’s child Alexander  left Asia and went to Sparta with the plan of abducting Helen while he was a guest there. But she, because of her noble and husband-loving character, was refusing him and saying that she would honor her marriage with the law and thought more of Menelaos. Because Paris was ineffective, the story is that Aphrodite devised this kind of a trick: she exchanged the appearance of Alexander for Menelaos’ character to persuade Helen in this way. For, because she believed that this was truly Menelaos, she was not reluctant to leave with him. After she went to the ship before him, he took her inside and left. This story is told in Nikias of Mallos’ first book”

᾽Αλέξανδρος ὁ Πριάμου παῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ᾽Ασίας κατάρας εἰς τὴν Λακεδαίμονα διενοεῖτο τὴν ῾Ελένην ξενιζόμενος ἁρπάσαι· ἡ δὲ γενναῖον ἧθος καὶ φίλανδρον ἔχουσα ἀπηγόρευε καὶ προτιμᾶν ἔλεγε τὸν μετὰ νόμου γάμον καὶ τὸν Μενέλαον περὶ πλείονος ἡγεῖσθαι. γενομένου δὲ τοῦ Πάριδος ἀπράκτου φασὶ τὴν ᾽Αφροδίτην ἐπιτεχνῆσαι τοιοῦτόν τι, ὥστε καὶ μεταβάλλειν τοῦ ᾽Αλεξάνδρου τὴν ἰδέαν εἰς τὸν τοῦ Μενελάου χαρακτῆρα, καὶ οὕτω τὴν ῾Ελένην παραλογίσασθαι· δόξασαν γὰρ εἶναι ταῖς ἀληθείαις τὸν Μενέλαον μὴ ὀκνῆσαι ἅμα αὐτῶι ἕπεσθαι, φθάσασαν δὲ αὐτὴν ἄχρι τῆς νεὼς ἐμβαλλόμενος ἀνήχθη. ἡ ἱστορία παρὰ Νικίαι †τῶι πρώτωι†.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase Paris and Helen

This kind of doubling and uncertainty about identity is certainly at home in any discussion of Euripides’ Helen (well, at least the first third where no one knows who anybody is). But it is also apt for the Odyssey where Odysseus cryptically insists (16.204):

“No other Odysseus will ever come home to you”

οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ’ ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς,

Cities and Women With the Same Name: The Ever-Clever Menelaos

The scene: Menelaos has been shipwrecked in Egypt. He left Helen—the fake one sent to Troy before the beginning of the war—in a cave for safekeeping before coming to town. Outside the house of Proteus, he meets an old servant who tells him that Proeteus’ son is not home, but that Helen, Zeus’ daughter from Sparta, is inside. Menelaos is dumfounded.

Euripides, Helen 483–499

‘What am I saying? What can I say? I am learning
terrible troubles on top of my old ones.
If I brought my wife, captured from Troy,
When I came here and she is safe in a cave,
Then someone else has the same name as my wife
And lives in this house here.
But this old lady said that she is the child of Zeus.
Is there some dude named Zeus who lives
On the banks of the Nile? There’s only one in heaven.
Where on earth is there a Sparta except where
The steams flow from only one lovely-reeded Eurotas?

Does the famous Tyndareion name have a twin?
Is there any place with the same name as Lakedaimon
Or Troy? I don’t know what to say.
Many things, I guess, over the great earth
have the same names: cities named the same,
Women named the same. Nothing should be surprising.”

Με. τί φῶ; τί λέξω; συμφορὰς γὰρ ἀθλίας
ἐκ τῶν πάροιθε τὰς παρεστώσας κλύω,
εἰ τὴν μὲν αἱρεθεῖσαν ἐκ Τροίας ἄγων
ἥκω δάμαρτα καὶ κατ’ ἄντρα σώιζεται,
ὄνομα δὲ ταὐτὸν τῆς ἐμῆς ἔχουσά τις
δάμαρτος ἄλλη τοισίδ’ ἐνναίει δόμοις.
Διὸς δ’ ἔλεξε παῖδά νιν πεφυκέναι·
ἀλλ’ ἦ τις ἔστι Ζηνὸς ὄνομ’ ἔχων ἀνὴρ
Νείλου παρ’ ὄχθας; εἶς γὰρ ὅ γε κατ’ οὐρανόν.
Σπάρτη δὲ ποῦ γῆς ἐστι πλὴν ἵνα ῥοαὶ
τοῦ καλλιδόνακός εἰσιν Εὐρώτα μόνον;
διπλοῦν δὲ Τυνδάρειον ὄνομα κλήιζεται,
Λακεδαίμονος δὲ γαῖά τις ξυνώνυμος
Τροίας τ’; ἐγὼ μὲν οὐκ ἔχω τί χρὴ λέγειν.
πολλοὶ γάρ, ὡς εἴξασιν, ἐν πολλῆι χθονὶ
ὀνόματα ταὔτ’ ἔχουσι καὶ πόλις πόλει
γυνὴ γυναικί τ’· οὐδὲν οὖν θαυμαστέον.

Image result for Ancient Greek Menelaus

“If Misfortune is Beautiful…” Helen on The Trojan War

This semester I am reading Euripides’ Helen with my advanced Greek students. The opening speech presents Helen herself on stage retelling the “alternate-fact” version of the Trojan War (told as well by Stesichorus and Herodotus) that she herself never went to Troy. This monologue is pretty amusing, both for the plays of meaning presented within it and the playful treatment of the Trojan War tradition.

16–36

“The land of my father is not nameless,
Sparta, nor my father Tyndareus. And, indeed, there is
a certain story that Zeus flew to my mother Leda
after he took the form of a swan, a bird,
when he completed this ‘bedding’ deceptively
under the pretext of fleeing an eagle, if the story is true.

I am called Helen. And I should tell you the evils
I have suffered. Three goddesses went to the folds
O Mt. Ida to Alexander about their beauty,
Hera, the Kyprian, and the Zeus-born maiden,
Because they wanted him to complete a judgement of their ‘form’.
My beauty–if misfortune is beautiful–
Is what the Kyprian offered, for Alexander to marry,
In order to win. After Idaian Paris left the cow-stall
He went to Sparta seeking my bed.
But Hera, miffed because she did not defeat the goddesses,
Made my bed with Alexander an empty thing.
She did not give me, but instead, she made
A breathing ghost like me, crafting it from the sky,
For tyrant Priam’s son. He seemed to have me,
And it was an empty thing, because he did not have me….”

ἡμῖν δὲ γῆ μὲν πατρὶς οὐκ ἀνώνυμος
Σπάρτη, πατὴρ δὲ Τυνδάρεως· ἔστιν δὲ δὴ
λόγος τις ὡς Ζεὺς μητέρ’ ἔπτατ’ εἰς ἐμὴν
Λήδαν κύκνου μορφώματ’ ὄρνιθος λαβών,
ὃς δόλιον εὐνὴν ἐξέπραξ’ ὑπ’ αἰετοῦ
δίωγμα φεύγων, εἰ σαφὴς οὗτος λόγος·
῾Ελένη δ’ ἐκλήθην. ἃ δὲ πεπόνθαμεν κακὰ
λέγοιμ’ ἄν. ἦλθον τρεῖς θεαὶ κάλλους πέρι
᾿Ιδαῖον ἐς κευθμῶν’ ᾿Αλέξανδρον πάρα,
῞Ηρα Κύπρις τε διογενής τε παρθένος,
μορφῆς θέλουσαι διαπεράνασθαι κρίσιν.
τοὐμὸν δὲ κάλλος, εἰ καλὸν τὸ δυστυχές,
Κύπρις προτείνασ’ ὡς ᾿Αλέξανδρος γαμεῖ,
νικᾶι. λιπὼν δὲ βούσταθμ’ ᾿Ιδαῖος Πάρις
Σπάρτην ἀφίκεθ’ ὡς ἐμὸν σχήσων λέχος.
῞Ηρα δὲ μεμφθεῖσ’ οὕνεκ’ οὐ νικᾶι θεὰς
ἐξηνέμωσε τἄμ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρωι λέχη,
δίδωσι δ’ οὐκ ἔμ’ ἀλλ’ ὁμοιώσασ’ ἐμοὶ
εἴδωλον ἔμπνουν οὐρανοῦ ξυνθεῖσ’ ἄπο
Πριάμου τυράννου παιδί· καὶ δοκεῖ μ’ ἔχειν,
κενὴν δόκησιν, οὐκ ἔχων….

 

Attic red-figure krater c. 450–440 BC (ParisLouvre)