Books Are Oysters and Words Are Pearls: Some ‘Poetry’ from John Tzetzes

John Tzetzes, Chiliades (“Thousands”) 11.393-399

“I also know specialized pearls beyond the pearls.
They shatter and release small pearls in their craft
As they roll out other pearls. These things are about pearls.
I now call books oysters full of words.
You note, I suspect, that words are the pearls that come from them.”

Chiliades 11

If for some, inexplicable, reason, you would like to read the whole poem, it is available online.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 14429, Folio 117v

An Eclipse in the Odyssey? [Updated]

When he arrives in Odysseus’ household, the seer Theoklymenos gets a little judgy:

Homer, Odyssey 20.351-57

“Wretches! What evil is this you are suffering? Now your heads
Are covered with night along with your faces and legs below.
A wailing burns and your cheeks streak with tears
As the walls and fine rafters are sprayed with blood.
The entryway is filled with ghosts, the courtyard is filled with ghosts
Heading to Erebos under the darkness. The sun has perished
From the sky and a wicked mist rushes over us.”

“ἆ δειλοί, τί κακὸν τόδε πάσχετε; νυκτὶ μὲν ὑμέων
εἰλύαται κεφαλαί τε πρόσωπά τε νέρθε τε γοῦνα,
οἰμωγὴ δὲ δέδηε, δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί,
αἵματι δ’ ἐρράδαται τοῖχοι καλαί τε μεσόδμαι·
εἰδώλων δὲ πλέον πρόθυρον, πλείη δὲ καὶ αὐλή,
ἱεμένων ῎Ερεβόσδε ὑπὸ ζόφον· ἠέλιος δὲ
οὐρανοῦ ἐξαπόλωλε, κακὴ δ’ ἐπιδέδρομεν ἀχλύς.”

A suitor’s response is appropriately dismissive: 20.360-362

“A crazy stranger has just arrived from somewhere else.
Come, quick, young men, send him out of the house
To to to the assembly since he thinks this is like the night!”

“ἀφραίνει ξεῖνος νέον ἄλλοθεν εἰληλουθώς.
ἀλλά μιν αἶψα, νέοι, δόμου ἐκπέμψασθε θύραζε
εἰς ἀγορὴν ἔρχεσθαι, ἐπεὶ τάδε νυκτὶ ἐΐσκει.”

People have, of course, figured out which eclipse this might have been. Despite, you know, that this is poetry.  A scholion is having nothing to do with that:

Schol. B ad Od. 20.356

“A solar eclipse did not happen but Theoklymenos sees it this way as he tells a prophecy under divine influence since the sun will eclipse for these guys.”

ἠέλιος δὲ οὐρανοῦ ἐξαπόλωλε] οὐ γὰρ ἡλίου ἔκλειψις ἐγένετο,
ἀλλὰ Θεοκλύμενος οὕτως ὁρᾷ ὑπό τινος ἐνθουσιασμοῦ μαντευόμενος
ὅτι ἐκλείψει αὐτοῖς ὁ ἥλιος.

People cite Plutarch (On the Face in the Moon 19), suggesting that he presents this scene as being an eclipse: but he is, in my opinion, satirizing a man who marshals an excess of questionable poetic ‘proofs’ to display his own erudition about eclipses. You can read a free version of this at Lacus Curtius.

Image result for Ancient Greek Odyssey eclipse
“I’ll put your lights out….”

Peter Gainsford has a great piece about this from 2012 (TAPA 142 1-22). Over twitter, he pointed out that he did not include P. Oxy. 53, 3710 (M.W. Haslam, 1986) which contains a lot of information about eclipses in conjunction with the passage from the Odyssey.

I have read a good deal of scholia and I am not convinced that the passage changes anything about whether or not this part of Odyssey refers to an eclipse. Some ancient scholars may have thought so—and the scholion implies that—but scholiasts also tend to fill commentary with displays of erudition and minutiae. But, here’s my [hasty] translation of a section of the fragment. You can view the whole fragment here. Also, I welcome any suggestions for cleaning up this translation.

“Aristonikos says that it was the new moon then, from which [we get?] Apollo, since he is the sun himself. Aristarkhos of Samos writes that this is because eclipses happen on the new moon. Thales says that the sun goes into eclipse when the moon is in front of it and when the day [….] marks it, on which it makes the eclipse which some call the thirtieth day and others call the new moon.

Heraclitus says as follows: when the months come together [the eclipse?] appears then before the second new moon and then they grow sometimes less and at other times more. Diodorus explains the same thing. For, after the moon is hidden it moves towards the sun during the final [days] of the month until it impedes the rays of the sun and…..makes it disappear and then in turn….”

Ἀριστόνικός11 φησι̣ν ὅτι νουμη̣νία ἦν̣ τότε,
35 ὅθεν Ἀ[πόλ]λ̣ωνος, ἐπεὶ ὁ α̣ὐτὸς ἡλίωι·
36 ὅτι ἐν νο̣υ̣μη̣ν̣ίαι αἱ ἐκλείψεις12 δηλο̣[ῖ]
37 Ἀρίσταρχ̣ο̣ς̣ ὁ Σάμ[ι]ος γράφων· ἔφη τε
38 ὁ μὲν Θαλῆς ὅτι ἐκλείπει̣ν τὸν ἥλ[ι]‐
39 ον σ̣ελήνης ἐπίπροσθεν̣ αὐτῶι γεν̣ο̣‐
40 μένης, σημ̣ειουμέ̣[νης ] ̣ ̣ ̣ τῆς
41 ἡμέρα̣ς̣, ἐν ἧ̣ι ποιεῖτα̣ι̣ τ̣ὴν ἔκλει̣ψιν13,
42 ἣ[ν] ο̣ἱ̣ μ̣ὲν τ̣ριακάδα καλοῦσιν ο[ἱ] δὲ νου‐
43 μηνί̣α̣ν. Ἡράκλειτος· συνϊόντ̣ων 〉
44 τῶν μηνῶν ἡμέρας ἐξ [ὅ]τ̣ου̣14 φαί‐ 〉
45 ν̣ε̣ται15 προτέρην νουμην[ί]ην̣ δ̣ευ‐16
46 τέρ̣ην ἄλλοτ’ ἐλάσσονας μ̣εταβάλ̣λ̣ε‐
47 τ̣α̣ι̣ ἄλλοτε πλεῦνας. Διόδωρος οὕτω̣ς̣
48 α̣ὐ̣τ̣ὸ εξαγει̣το17· ἐπεὶ γὰρ ἀπ[ο]κρύπτετ̣αι
49 μ̣ὲν ἡ18 σ̣ελήνη προσάγουσ̣α τῶι ἡλίωι
50 κ̣α̣τ̣ὰ̣ τὰς τῶν μην̣ῶν τελ̣ευτάς, ὅτ̣αν
51 ε̣ἰς τὰς̣ α̣ὐγὰς19 ἐμπέσηι τὰ̣ς̣ τοῦ ἡλίου, 〉
52 ̣ ̣] ̣χρον̣[ ] ̣α̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ῖ̣σα20, πάλιν
53 ] ̣ ̣ ̣να[ ̣] ̣ωνεκφα ̣[ ] ̣ ̣τ̣ι̣
54 ]μεισοταντηνεκτων 〉
55 ] ̣πρωτωσπ[ ̣ ̣ ̣]ηταιν[ ]υ

Notes from the site: 34 n. 11 Ἀριστόνικός res : αριΝι P
36 n. 12 αἱ ἐκλείψεις add m2 : εκλειψεις m1
41 n. 13 ἔκλει̣ψιν corr : εγλει̣ψιν P
44 n. 14 ἐξ [ὅ]τ̣ου̣ : ἑξ[ῆς] γ̣̅ οὐ̣ Mouraviev
45 n. 15 ν̣ε̣ται : / ν̣ε̣ται Mouraviev
45 n. 16 προτέρην νουμην[ί]ην̣ δ̣ευ‐ del m1 : προτέρην νουμην[ί]α̣νην̣ δ̣ευ P : προτέρη νουμηνίη vel νεομηνίη ἐς δευ‐ corr West
48 n. 17 εξαγει̣το : ἐξηγεῖτο corr Mouraviev
49 n. 18 μ̣ὲν ἡ : μὴν ἢ corr Mouraviev
51 n. 19 α̣ὐγὰς corr : α̣υτας P
52 n. 20 α̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ῖ̣σα : ἀ̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ὶ̣ς del Mouraviev
05 n. 21 ̣εωσμεσο̣ del m1 : ̣εωσμεσαι̣ο̣ P

Tawdry Tuesday (NSFW): A Terrible, Awful Poem

Nikarkhos, Greek Anthology 11.7

No one, Kharidêmos, can keep screwing his wife
And enjoy it deep in his soul.
Our nature is so fond of novelty, of foreign flesh,
That it is always seeking exotic pussy on the side.

Οὐδεὶς τὴν ἰδίην συνεχῶς, Χαρίδημε, γυναῖκα
βινεῖν ἐκ ψυχῆς τερπόμενος δύναται·
οὕτως ἡ φύσις ἐστὶ φιλόκνισος, ἀλλοτριόχρως,
καὶ ζητεῖ διόλου τὴν ξενοκυσθαπάτην.

κινεῖν: is printed in many manuscripts, but βινεῖν (“to screw”) is clearly preferable here.


Love Is Tearing Me Apart: Tibullus, II.IV (1-12)

“Here I see my addiction, my mistress ready for me;
And so: farewell to my inherited freedom.
Here a sad slavery is granted and I am held by chains,
as Love never removes his bonds, though he burns me
whether I have earned it or made no mistake at all.
I burn, Oh I burn: remove the brands, you savage girl.
Oh, if I were but able not to feel such sorrow,
I would rather be a stone on the frozen cliffs
where the waves of the ruinous sea crush the shipwrecks!
Now the day is bitter and night’s shadow bitterer too.
Every second is dyed with a stinging poison.”

Hic mihi seruitium uideo dominamque paratam:
iam mihi, libertas illa paterna, uale.
seruitium sed triste datur, teneorque catenis,
et numquam misero uincla remittit Amor,
et seu quid merui seu nil peccauimus, urit.
uror, io, remoue, saeua puella, faces.
o ego ne possim tales sentire dolores,
quam mallem in gelidis montibus esse lapis,
stare uel insanis cautes obnoxia uentis,
naufraga quam uasti tunderet unda maris!
nunc et amara dies et noctis amarior umbra est:
omnia nam tristi tempora felle madent.

I have been in a longstanding debate with Palaiophron about the merits of Tibullus versus Propertius. I don’t know whether this segment proves his case, but it certainly does not help mine.

Here’s some Joy Division as an antidote. Or accelerant.