Alcibiades (and Trump!): Asking Questions, Punching Teachers

Quick question: What does Donald Trump have in common with a ‘great’ figure from Greek history? They both punched their teachers.

Seriously, according to The Art of the Deal, Master Trump assaulted a music teacher who did not know enough about music.

Thanks to a twitter friend for the revelation:


Plutarch, Alcibiades 7.1

“As Alcibiades passed from childhood he visited a teacher and asked for a book of Homer. When that teacher said that he didn’t have any Homer, Alcibiades set upon him with his fist and left. When another teacher said that he had a copy of Homer which he had corrected himself, Alcibiades said, “Why do you teach the alphabet when you’re good enough to correct Homer,–why don’t you teach young men?”

Τὴν δὲ παιδικὴν ἡλικίαν παραλλάσσων ἐπέστη γραμματοδιδασκαλείῳ καὶ βιβλίον ᾔτησεν ῾Ομηρικόν. εἰπόντος δὲ τοῦ διδασκάλου μηδὲν ἔχειν ῾Ομήρου, κονδύλῳ καθικόμενος αὐτοῦ παρῆλθεν. ἑτέρου δὲ φήσαντος ἔχειν ῞Ομηρον ὑφ’ ἑαυτοῦ διωρθωμένον, „εἶτα” ἔφη „γράμματα διδάσκεις ῞Ομηρον ἐπανορθοῦν ἱκανὸς ὤν, οὐχὶ τοὺς νέους παιδεύεις;”

In Plutarch, these anecdotes serve to characterize the brash character of Alcibiades, one that combines daring and intelligence in a way that anticipates his later deeds. (Because, as we know, Plutarch thinks anecdotes are more telling than great deeds).

In Plato’s spurious Alcibiades 1, Socrates asks his younger interlocutor if he has heard about justice and injustice from Homer (112b2) and in Alcibiades 2 he focuses on the riddle of Homer in the Margites:

Alcibiades II 147 D

“For surely you don’t seem to be ignorant that Homer, the most divine and wisest poet, is not able to know badly—for he says in the Margites that he knows many things but he knows them all badly—but instead I think that he riddles by using the adverb badly instead of the noun “base”, and using “he knew” instead of “knowing”….

οὐ γὰρ δήπου ῞Ομηρόν γε τὸν θειότατόν τε καὶ σοφώτατον ποιητὴν ἀγνοεῖν δοκεῖς ὡς οὐχ οἷόν τε ἦν ἐπίστασθαι κακῶς—ἐκεῖνος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ λέγων τὸν Μαργίτην πολλὰ μὲν ἐπίστασθαι, κακῶς δέ, φησί, πάντα ἠπίστατο—ἀλλ’ αἰνίττεται οἶμαι παράγων τὸ κακῶς μὲν ἀντὶ τοῦ κακοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἠπίστατο ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐπίστασθαι·

So it may be that Alcibiades was expecting a philosopher and just got a school teacher.  But what do I know? I teach γράμματα, but sometimes τοὺς νέους.


According to Aelian (Varia Historia, 3.28), Socrates attempted to deal with Alcibiades’ ego by invoking geography:

“When Socrates noticed that Alkibiades was all puffed up because of his wealth and proud thanks to his property especially because of his lands, he led him to some part of the city where a tablet stood marked with an outline of the earth. He requested for Alkibiades to find Attica. When he found it, he asked him to find his own properties. When he responded “but they are not marked on here,” Socrates said “You think so highly of these things which don’t even amount to a fragment of the earth?”

῾Ορῶν ὁ Σωκράτης τὸν ᾿Αλκιβιάδην τετυφωμένον ἐπὶ τῷ πλούτῳ καὶ μέγα φρονοῦντα ἐπὶ τῇ περιουσίᾳ καὶ ἔτι πλέον ἐπὶ τοῖς ἀγροῖς, ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν ἔς τινα τῆς πόλεως τόπον ἔνθα ἀνέκειτο πινάκιον ἔχον γῆς περίοδον, καὶ προσέταξε τῷ ᾿Αλκιβιάδῃ τὴν ᾿Αττικὴν ἐνταῦθ’ ἀναζητεῖν. ὡς δ’ εὗρε, προσέταξεν αὐτῷ τοὺς ἀγροὺς τοὺς ἰδίους διαθρῆσαι. τοῦ δὲ εἰπόντος ‘ἀλλ’ οὐδαμοῦ γεγραμμένοι εἰσίν’ ‘ἐπὶ τούτοις οὖν’ εἶπε ‘μέγα φρονεῖς, οἵπερ οὐδὲν μέρος τῆς γῆς εἰσιν;’

Others in Athens were less constructive in remonstrating with the dashing young man. We have a line mocking him from the comedian Pherecrates (fr. 164):

“Even though Alcibiades isn’t a man, as it seems, he’s already husband to all the ladies.”
οὐκ ὤν ἀνὴρ γὰρ Ἀλκιβιάδης, ὡς δοκεῖ,
ἀνὴρ ἁπασῶν τῶν γυναικῶν ἐστι νῦν…

This plays on the dual connotations of ἀνὴρ as sexually mature man and husband. In the modern world, such a line might not be considered insulting. But in certain circles in Athens, manly men were mainly interested in men.

Minor Deeds of Serious Men: On Anecdotes

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists (Introduction, 453)


“Xenophon the philosopher, the only philosopher who blessed philosophy in both word and deed (in respect to words he still exists in letters and writes of moral excellence; and he was the best in deeds, and through his examples he fathered generals. Alexander, I suggest, would not have been great if not for Xenophon), Xenophon says that it is necessary to record the minor deeds of serious men.”

Ξενοφῶν ὁ φιλόσοφος, ἀνὴρ μόνος ἐξ ἁπάντων φιλοσόφων ἐν λόγοις τε καὶ ἔργοις φιλοσοφίαν κοσμήσας (τὰ μὲν ἐς λόγους ἔστι τε ἐν γράμμασι καὶ ἠθικὴν ἀρετὴν γράφει, τὰ δὲ ἐν πράξεσί τε ἦν ἄριστος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐγέννα στρατηγοὺς τοῖς ὑποδείγμασιν• ὁ γοῦν μέγας ᾿Αλέξανδρος οὐκ ἂν ἐγένετο μέγας, εἰ μὴ Ξενοφῶν) καὶ τὰ πάρεργά φησι δεῖν τῶν σπουδαίων ἀνδρῶν ἀναγράφειν.

Speaking of Alexander, the sentiment of this passage reminds me of what Plutarch says in his Life of Alexander.

Plutarch Life of Alexander 1. 2-3

“A brief deed or comment or even some joke often shows the imprint of a man’s character more than battles of a thousand corpses, the greatest campaigns or sieges of cities.”

ἀλλὰ πρᾶγμα βραχὺ πολλάκις καὶ ῥῆμα καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθους ἐποίησε μᾶλλον ἢ μάχαι μυριόνεκροι καὶ παρατάξεις αἱ μέγισται καὶ πολιορκίαι πόλεων.

Teachers Are Better than Parents: Some of Aristotle’s Sayings

A selection of Aristotle’s sayings from Diogenes Laertius’ biography (Vitae Philosophorum 5.21):

The following especially pleasant sayings have been attributed to Aristotle.

When asked what profit there is to lying, he said “Whenever we speak the truth, no one believes us”. After he was reproached for giving money to a wretched man, he said, “It wasn’t the character, but the man I pitied.”

He always used to say to his friends and his students whenever or wherever he was lecturing that “as sight takes the light from surrounding air, the soul draws on learning”. Often he used to remark that although the Athenians discovered wheat and laws, they used wheat but not their laws.

He said that the root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet. When he was asked what grows old quickly, he said “thanks”. When asked what hope is, he said “It is dreaming while awake.” When Diogenes was trying to give him figs, he know that if he did not take them that Diogenes had prepared an insult. He took them and said that Diogenes had his insult but lost his figs. When he took them as they were offered a different time, he raised them up as if they were infants and said “Great is Diogenes” and he returned them.

He used to say that three things are needed for education: innate ability, study, and practice. After he heard that he was mocked by someone, he said, “Let him insult me when I am absent.”  He claimed that beauty was more effective than any letter of recommendation.  Others claim that this came from Diogenes and that he said that good looks are gifts from the gods. He said that Socrates was a short-lived tyrant, Plato was naturally superior, and Theophrastus was a silent lie. Theocritus he called an ivory-decked punishment and Carneadas a kingdom requiring no guard.

When asked what the difference was between those who were educated and those who were not, Aristotle said “as great as between the living and the dead.” He used to say that education was an ornament in good times and a refuge in bad. He also believed that teachers should be honored more than parents who merely gave birth. The latter give life, but the former help us live well. To a man boasting that he was from a great city, he said “Don’t look at this, but instead who is worthy of a great country.” When he was asked what a friend is, he replied “one soul occupying two bodies.”

He used to say that some people are sparing as if they will live forever while others spend as if they will die right away. To the man inquiring why we pursue beautiful things so much, he said. “This is a blind man’s question.” When asked what he had gained from philosophy, he said “doing unbidden what some do for fear of the law.”

When asked how students can advance, he said “if they pursue those in front of them and ignore those behind.” To the man talking endlessly when he assailed him with words and asked “Have a worn you out with nonsense”, he said “By Zeus, no! I wasn’t listening to you.” When someone blamed him for giving membership to a base man, he said, “I didn’t give it to a man, but to humanity.” When asked how we should act towards friends, he said “as we would pray they act towards us!” He defined justice as the virtue of a soul arranged in a worthwhile way. He used to say that education was the best provision for old age. In his Memorabilia, Favorinus records that he used to say “the man who has friends is no friend.”


᾿Αναφέρεται δ’ εἰς αὐτὸν καὶ ἀποφθέγματα κάλλιστα ταυτί. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί περιγίνεται κέρδος τοῖς ψευδομένοις, “ὅταν,” ἔφη, “λέγωσιν ἀλήθειαν, μὴ πιστεύεσθαι.” ὀνειδιζόμενός ποτε ὅτι πονηρῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐλεημοσύνην ἔδωκεν, “οὐ τὸν τρόπον,” εἶπεν “ἀλλὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἠλέησα.” συνεχὲς εἰώθει λέγειν πρός τε τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς φοιτῶντας αὐτῷ, ἔνθα ἂν καὶ ὅπου διατρίβων ἔτυχεν, ὡς ἡ μὲν ὅρασις ἀπὸ τοῦ περιέχοντος [ἀέρος] λαμβάνει  τὸ φῶς, ἡ δὲ ψυχὴ ἀπὸ τῶν μαθημάτων. πολλάκις δὲ καὶ ἀπο-τεινόμενος τοὺς ᾿Αθηναίους ἔφασκεν εὑρηκέναι πυροὺς καὶ νόμους· ἀλλὰ πυροῖς μὲν χρῆσθαι, νόμοις δὲ μή.

Τῆς παιδείας ἔφη τὰς μὲν ῥίζας εἶναι πικράς, τὸν δὲ καρπὸν γλυκύν. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί γηράσκει ταχύ, “χάρις,” ἔφη. ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστιν ἐλπίς, “ἐγρηγορότος,” εἶπεν, “ἐνύπνιον.” Διογένους ἰσχάδ’ αὐτῷ διδόντος νοήσας ὅτι, εἰ μὴ λάβοι, χρείαν εἴη μεμελετηκώς, λαβὼν ἔφη Διογένην μετὰ τῆς χρείας καὶ τὴν ἰσχάδα ἀπολωλεκέναι· πάλιν τε διδόντος λαβὼν καὶ μετεωρίσας ὡς τὰ παιδία εἰπών τε “μέγας Διογένης,” ἀπέδωκεν αὐτῷ. τριῶν ἔφη δεῖν παιδείᾳ, φύσεως, μαθήσεως, ἀσκήσεως. ἀκούσας ὑπό τινος λοιδορεῖσθαι, “ἀπόντα με,” ἔφη, “καὶ μαστιγούτω.” τὸ κάλλος παντὸς ἔλεγεν ἐπιστολίου συστατικώτερον. οἱ δὲ τοῦτο μὲν Διογένην φασὶν ὁρίσασθαι, αὐτὸν δὲ θεοῦ δῶρον εἰπεῖν εὐμορφίαν· Σωκράτην δὲ ὀλιγοχρόνιον τυραννίδα· Πλάτωνα προτέρημα φύσεως· Θεόφραστον σιωπῶσαν ἀπάτην· Θεόκριτον ἐλεφαντίνην ζημίαν· Καρνεάδην ἀδορυφόρητον βασιλείαν. ἐρωτηθεὶς τίνι διαφέρουσιν οἱ πεπαιδευμένοι τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων, “ὅσῳ,” εἶπεν, “οἱ ζῶντες τῶν τεθνεώτων.” τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγεν ἐν μὲν ταῖς εὐτυχίαις εἶναι κόσμον, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἀτυχίαις καταφυγήν. τῶν γονέων τοὺς παιδεύσαντας ἐντιμοτέρους εἶναι τῶν μόνον γεννησάντων· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ τὸ ζῆν, τοὺς δὲ τὸ καλῶς ζῆν παρασχέσθαι. πρὸς τὸν καυχώμενον ὡς ἀπὸ μεγάλης πόλεως εἴη, “οὐ τοῦτο,” ἔφη, “δεῖ σκοπεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὅστις μεγάλης πατρίδος ἄξιός ἐστιν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστι φίλος, ἔφη, “μία ψυχὴ δύο σώμασιν ἐνοικοῦσα.”

τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἔλεγε τοὺς μὲν οὕτω φείδεσθαι ὡς ἀεὶ ζησομένους, τοὺς δὲ οὕτως ἀναλίσκειν ὡς αὐτίκα τεθνηξομένους. πρὸς τὸν πυθόμενον διὰ τί τοῖς καλοῖς πολὺν χρόνον ὁμιλοῦμεν, “τυφλοῦ,”  ἔφη, “τὸ ἐρώτημα.” ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ποτ’ αὐτῷ περιγέγονεν ἐκ φιλοσοφίας, ἔφη, “τὸ ἀνεπιτάκτως ποιεῖν ἅ τινες διὰ τὸν ἀπὸτῶν νόμων φόβον ποιοῦσιν.” ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς ἂν προκόπτοιεν οἱ μαθηταί, ἔφη, “ἐὰν τοὺς προέχοντας διώκοντες τοὺς ὑστεροῦντας μὴ ἀναμένωσι.” πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα ἀδολέσχην, ἐπειδὴ αὐτοῦ πολλὰ κατήντλησε, “μήτι σου κατεφλυάρησα;” “μὰ Δί’,” εἶπεν· “οὐ γάρ σοι προσεῖχον.” πρὸς τὸν αἰτιασάμενον ὡς εἴη μὴ ἀγαθῷ ἔρανον δεδωκώς—φέρεται γὰρ καὶ οὕτως—“οὐ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ,” φησίν, “ἔδωκα, ἀλλὰ τῷ ἀνθρωπίνῳ.” ἐρωτηθεὶς πῶς ἂν τοῖς φίλοις προσφεροίμεθα, ἔφη, “ὡς ἂν εὐξαίμεθα αὐτοὺς ἡμῖν προσφέρεσθαι.” τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἔφη ἀρετὴν ψυχῆς διανεμητικὴν τοῦ κατ’ ἀξίαν. κάλλιστον ἐφόδιον τῷ γήρᾳ τὴν παιδείαν ἔλεγε. φησὶ δὲ Φαβωρῖνος ἐν τῷ δευτέρῳ τῶν ᾿Απομνημονευμάτων (FHG iii. 578) ὡς ἑκάστοτε λέγοι, “ᾧ φίλοι οὐδεὶς φίλος”·

Solon Wanted Sappho To be His Final Song

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

And, with poems like these below, who could disagree?


Frag. 31 (go here for the Catullan ‘translation’)

“That man seems like the gods
To me—the one who sits facing
You and nearby listens as you
sweetly speak—

and he hears your lovely laugh—this then
makes the heart in my breast stutter,
when I glance even briefly, it is no longer possible
for me to speak—

but my tongue sticks in silence
and immediately a slender flame runs under my skin.
I cannot see with my eyes, I hear
A rush in my ears—

A cold sweat breaks over me and a tremble
Takes hold of me. Then I am paler than grass,
I think that I have died
Just a little.”

Continue reading “Solon Wanted Sappho To be His Final Song”

Obligatory Ides of March Post: Caesar Wanted to Go Out With A Bang, Not A Whimper

Suetonius, Divus Julius Caesar 86-7

“Caesar left certain of his friends the impression that he did not want or desire to live longer because  of his worsening health. This is why he ignored what the omens warned and what his friends revealed. Others believe that he dismissed the Spanish guards who accompanied him with swords because he was confident in the Senate’s recent decree and their sworn oath. Others report that he preferred to face the plots that threatened him at once rather than cower before them. There are those who assert that he used to say that his safety should be of more importance to the state than to himself: he had acquired an abundance of power and glory already, but the state, should anything happen to him, would have no rest and would suffer civil war in a worse condition than before.

The following is generally held to be the case, however: his manner of death was scarcely against his desire. For, when he read Xenophon’s account of how in the final days of illness Cyrus gave the plans for his own funeral, Caesar expressed disdain for so slow a death and wished that his own would be sudden and fast. And on the day before he died during dinner conversation at the home of Marcus Lepidus on the topic of the most agreeable end to life, Caesar said he preferred one that was sudden and unexpected.”

Julius Caesar

Suspicionem Caesar quibusdam suorum reliquit neque uoluisse se diutius uiuere neque curasse quod ualitudine minus prospera uteretur, ideoque et quae religiones monerent et quae renuntiarent amici neglexisse. sunt qui putent, confisum eum nouissimo illo senatus consulto ac iure iurando etiam custodias Hispanorum cum gladiis †adinspectantium se remouisse. [2] alii e diuerso opinantur insidias undique imminentis subire semel quam cauere … solitum ferunt: non tam sua quam rei publicae interesse, uti saluus esset: se iam pridem potentiae gloriaeque abunde adeptum; rem publicam, si quid sibi eueniret, neque quietam fore et aliquanto deteriore condicione ciuilia bella subituram.

illud plane inter omnes fere constitit, talem ei mortem paene ex sententia obtigisse. nam et quondam, cum apud Xenophontem legisset Cyrum ultima ualitudine mandasse quaedam de funere suo, aspernatus tam lentum mortis genus subitam sibi celeremque optauerat; et pridie quam occideretur, in sermone nato super cenam apud Marcum Lepidum, quisnam esset finis uitae commodissimus, repentinum inopinatumque praetulerat.

Cato Said He Needed Little And Proved It

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.24


24: The words of Marcus Cato who says that he lacks many things but he desires nothing


“The consul and censor Marcus Cato says that when the state and private citizens had abundant wealth, his own country home was plain and simple and that it was not even whitewashed even when he was nearly seventy-years old.  And later, he uses these words, saying: “I have no expensive building, tool or piece of clothing—nor a costly slave or maid. If there is anything to use, I use it.  If there is not, I lack it. I believe that everyone should use and enjoy what he possesses.” He adds to this: “Some complain that I lack many things; but I fault those who cannot go without.”

This plain honesty of the Tusculan man, who says that he lacks many things but still desires nothing, does more in encouraging thrift and happiness with modest possession than the treatises of those Greeks who claim to be philosophers, forming empty shadows of words, declaring that they have nothing, and still need nothing, and desire nothing when they are burning with having, needing, and desiring.”

Cato Also Did Not Have Good Looks

XXIV. Verba M. Catonis, egere se multis rebus et nihil tamen cupere dicentis

M. Cato consularis et censorius publicis iam privatisque opulentis rebus villas suas inexcultas et rudes ne tectorio quidem praelitas fuisse dicit ad annum usque aetatis suae septuagesimum. Atque ibi postea his verbis utitur: “Neque mihi” inquit “aedificatio neque vasum neque vestimentum ullum est manupretiosum neque pretiosus servus neque ancilla. Si quid est,” inquit “quod utar, utor; si non est, egeo. Suum cuique per me uti atque frui licet”. Tum deinde addit: “Vitio vertunt, quia multa egeo; at ego illis, quia nequeunt egere”. II. Haec mera veritas Tusculani hominis egere se multis rebus et nihil tamen cupere dicentis plus hercle promovet ad exhortandam parsimoniam sustinendamque inopiam quam Graecae istorum praestigiae philosophari sese dicentium umbrasque verborum inanes fingentium, qui se nihil habere et nihil tamen egere ac nihil cupere dicunt, cum et habendo et egendo et cupiendo ardeant.

The Haggling Power of Fire: Tarquin the Proud and the Origin of the Sibylline Books

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.19

19. The account of the Sibylline Books and King Tarquin the Proud

This story is preserved in the ancient accounts concerning the Sibylline books. An old woman, unknown, approached king Tarquin the Proud with new books which she was claiming were divine oracles (and she wished to see them). Tarquin asked the price.  The woman asked for an enormous, excessive amount. The King, as if he believed she was senile, laughed. Then she placed a brazier already lit before him, burned three of the nine books and asked whether the King wished to buy the remaining six for the same amount. But Tarquin laughed even more and said that he’d lost all doubt that the woman was insane. She woman then burned up three more books immediately and calmly aked him the same thing again, to buy the three remaining books for that price. Tarquin then became more serious and attentive, believing that this insistence and confidence ought not to be ignored: he bought the remaining books for no less than the price which had been sought for all of them!

But it is agreed that after the woman departed from Tarquin, she was never seen again.  The Three books, which were placed in a shrine, are called “The Sibylline Books”. The Fifteen [priests] turn to them for oracles whenever the gods must be consulted for the public good.”

XIX. Historia super libris Sibyllinis ac de Tarquinio Superbo rege.

1 In antiquis annalibus memoria super libris Sibyllinis haec prodita est: 2 Anus hospita atque incognita ad Tarquinium Superbum regem adiit novem libros ferens, quos esse dicebat divina oracula; eos velle venundare. 3 Tarquinius pretium percontatus est. Mulier nimium atque inmensum poposcit; 4 rex, quasi anus aetate desiperet, derisit. 5 Tum illa foculum coram cum igni apponit, tris libros ex novem deurit et, ecquid reliquos sex eodem pretio emere vellet, regem interrogavit. 6 Sed enim Tarquinius id multo risit magis dixitque anum iam procul dubio delirare. 7 Mulier ibidem statim tris alios libros exussit atque id ipsum denuo placide rogat, ut tris reliquos eodem illo pretio emat. 8 Tarquinius ore iam serio atque attentiore animo fit, eam constantiam confidentiamque non insuper habendam intellegit, libros tris reliquos mercatur nihilo minore pretio, quam quod erat petitum pro omnibus. 9 Sed eam mulierem tunc a Tarquinio digressam postea nusquam loci visam constitit. 10 Libri tres in sacrarium conditi “Sibyllini” appellati; 11 ad eos quasi ad oraculum quindecimviri adeunt, cum di immortales publice consulendi sunt.

The Sibylline books had 15 priestly interpreters by the time of Cicero.  Why? Maybe because they were in Greek!

A Quip, The Sense of a Man; A Sip, The Character of a Wine: Philostratus on Anecdotes

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 537

“This is another wonderful saying of that Lucius:

The Emperor Marcus [Aurelius] was excited about the philosopher Sextus from Boeotia, appearing at his lectures and visiting his home. Lucius, who had recently arrived in Rome, asked the emperor as he approached where he was going and why and Marcus responded “Learning is good, even for a man growing old. I am going to learn what I do not yet know from Sextus the Philosopher.” Then Lucius raised his hand to the sky and said “Zeus! The aging Emperor of Rome dons a writing tablet and goes to school, but my king Alexander died at thirty-two!”

These sayings suffice to show the character of the work Lucius performed in his philosophy. Such anecdotes, I suppose, give a sense of the man the way a taste betrays the character of a wine.”

Λουκίου τούτου κἀκεῖνο θαυμάσιον·

ἐσπούδαζε μὲν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ Μάρκος περὶ Σέξτον τὸν ἐκ Βοιωτίας φιλόσοφον, θαμίζων αὐτῷ καὶ φοιτῶν ἐπὶ θύρας, ἄρτι δὲ ἥκων ἐς τὴν ῾Ρώμην ὁ Λούκιος ἤρετο τὸν αὐτοκράτορα προιόντα, ποῖ βαδίζοι καὶ ἐφ’ ὅ τι, καὶ ὁ Μάρκος „καλὸν” ἔφη „καὶ γηράσκοντι τὸ μανθάνειν· εἶμι δὴ πρὸς Σέξτον τὸν φιλόσοφον μαθησόμενος, ἃ οὔπω οἶδα.” καὶ ὁ Λούκιος ἐξάρας τὴν χεῖρα ἐς τὸν οὐρανὸν „ὦ Ζεῦ,” ἔφη „ὁ ῾Ρωμαίων βασιλεὺς γηράσκων ἤδη δέλτον ἐξαψάμενος ἐς διδασκάλου φοιτᾷ, ὁ δὲ ἐμὸς βασιλεὺς ᾿Αλέξανδρος δύο καὶ τριάκοντα ἐτῶν ἀπέθανεν.” ἀπόχρη καὶ τὰ εἰρημένα δεῖξαι τὴν ἰδέαν, ἣν ἐφιλοσόφει Λούκιος, ἱκανὰ γάρ που ταῦτα δηλῶσαι τὸν ἄνδρα, καθάπερ τὸν ἀνθοσμίαν τὸ γεῦμα.

The sentiment in the final line is similar to the more famous assertion of Plutarch in the Life of Alexander (1.2-3)

“A brief deed or comment or even some joke often shows the imprint of a man’s character more than battles of a thousand corpses, the greatest campaigns or sieges of cities.”

ἀλλὰ πρᾶγμα βραχὺ πολλάκις καὶ ῥῆμα καὶ παιδιά τις ἔμφασιν ἤθους ἐποίησε μᾶλλον ἢ μάχαι μυριόνεκροι καὶ παρατάξεις αἱ μέγισται καὶ πολιορκίαι πόλεων.

The full text.


Naming Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigeneia

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.
Continue reading “Naming Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigeneia”

Messing More with Homer: Megara, Salamis, Athens and Solon

A few weeks back we posted a passage from Plutarch implying that Athenians manipulated the Homeric epics to political ends. Here’s another accusation from Plutarch’s Life of Solon (10.2-3).

“Many report that the record of Homer was introduced into the contest by Solon. They say that he read this line he interpolated this line into the Catalogue of Ships at the trial

“Ajax led twelve ships from Salamis
And after he arrived he stationed his troops where the Athenians were”

But the Athenians themselves believe that this assertion [i.e. that Solon interpolated lines] is nonsense.”

οἱ μὲν οὖν πολλοὶ τῷ Σόλωνι συναγωνίσασθαι λέγουσι τὴν ῾Ομήρου δόξαν· ἐμβαλόντα γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔπος εἰς νεῶν κατάλογον ἐπὶ τῆς δίκης ἀναγνῶναι (Il. 2. 557)·

Αἴας δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν δυοκαίδεκα νῆας,
στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ ᾿Αθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες.

αὐτοὶ δ’ ᾿Αθηναῖοι ταῦτα μὲν οἴονται φλυαρίαν εἶναι

The context of the anecdote is a trial over Athenian claims to the island of Salamis. Solon insisted that the Salaminian and Athenian contingents were together and thus had a shared history, justifying Athenian control over the island. For other versions of this ‘trial’, see Aristotle Rhet. 1335b26-30; Strabo 9.1.9-10; and Diogenes Laertius. 1.48.

Strabo’s version, in fact, gives the Megarians a Homeric response of their own:

“The Athenians seemed to have provided this kind of a testimony from Homer, but the Megarians sang in response that “Ajax, led ships from Salamis, Polikhnê, and from Aigeiroussê, Nisaia, and Tripodes”. These are Megarian lands, of which they say that “Tripodes” is the Tripodiskion where the marketplace of the Magarians is currently situated.”

οἱ μὲν δὴ ᾿Αθηναῖοι τοιαύτην τινὰ σκήψασθαι μαρτυρίαν παρ’ ῾Ομήρου δοκοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Μεγαρεῖς ἀντιπαρῳδῆσαι οὕτως „Αἴας „δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν νέας, ἔκ τε Πολίχνης, ἔκ τ’ „Αἰγειρούσσης Νισαίης τε Τριπόδων τε.” ἅ ἐστι χωρία Μεγαρικά, ὧν οἱ Τρίποδες Τριποδίσκιον λέγονται, καθ’ ὃ ἡ νῦν ἀγορὰ τῶν Μεγάρων κεῖται.

Here, the people of Megara claim that Ajax’s contingent included men from their lands. Thus, their connection is closer! For a great article on this exchange, see Carolyn Higbie. “The Bones of a Hero, the Ashes of a Politician: Athens, Salamis, and the Usable Past.” Classical Antiquity 16 (1997) 278-307.

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