Ashurbanipal Was Better Than You…

A few months back I posted Athenaeaus’ record of the epitaphs of Sardanapalos, the Greek name for Ashurbanipal. The King of Ninevah reigned in the 7th century BCE and was famed for the library he collected in his city (no largely held in the British Museum).  The Greek poetic fragments mark him for his decadence and pleasure. The Suda seem to imply he had a bit of swagger too.

S.v. Sardanapolous

“Kallisthenes claims in the second book of his Persian Histories that there were two men named Sardapapalos [Assurbanipal], one was active and well-born, but the other was a dandy. In Ninevah, his memorial bears the inscription

“The son of Anakundaraxes built Tarsos and Ankhialê in a single day.
Eat, drink, screw because other things are not worthy of this.”

That is, [worthy of] a snap of his fingers. For when he set up the statue in his memory it was made with its hands over its head, as if it were snapping its fingers. The same thing is inscribed in Ankhialê and Tarsos, which is called Zephurion now.

There is also a proverb: “May you grow older than Tithonos, wealthier than Kinyras, and more industrious than Sardanopalos. Then you can prove the proverb:Old men are children twice.”  This is used for the very old, since Tithonos avoided aging with a prayer and became a cicada. Kinyras was a descendent of king Pharakes of the Cypriots and he was distinguished for his wealth. And Sardanapalos, king of the Assyrians, destroyed his own kingdom while he lived in luxury and immoderation. He was the son of Anakyndarakes, the king of Ninevah which falls within Persian lands. The story is that he founded Tarsos and Ankhilaê in a single day. And that, shamefully, he was too proud to be seen by his servants unless they were girls or eunuchs. He rotted himself with wine and was found after he died indoors.”

Don’t. Even. Try.

Σαρδαναπάλους ἐν β′ Περσικῶν δύο φησὶ γεγονέναι Καλλισθένης, ἕνα μὲν δραστήριον καὶ γενναῖον, ἄλλον δὲ μαλακόν. ἐν Νίνῳ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῦ μνήματος αὐτοῦ τοῦτ’ ἐπιγέγραπται· ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου παῖς Ταρσόν τε καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε, πίνε, ὄχευε, ὡς τά γε ἄλλα οὐδὲ τούτου ἐστὶν ἄξια. τουτέστι τοῦ τῶν δακτύλων ἀποκροτήματος· τὸ γὰρ ἐφεστὼς τῷ μνήματι ἄγαλμα ὑπὲρ τῆς κεφαλῆςἔχον τὰς χεῖρας πεποίηται, ὥστ’ ἂν ἀποληκοῦν τοῖς δακτύλοις. ταυτὸ καὶ ἐν ᾿Αγχιάλῳ τῇ πρὸς Ταρσῷ ἐπιγέγραπται, ἥτις νῦν καλεῖται Ζεφύριον. καὶ παροιμία· καταγηράσαις Τιθωνοῦ βαθύτερον, Κινύρου πλουσιώτερος καὶ Σαρδαναπάλου τρυφηλότερος, ὅπως τὸ τῆς παροιμίας ἐπὶ σοὶ πληρωθῇ, δὶς παῖδες οἱ γέροντες. ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπεργήρων· ὁ γὰρ Τιθωνὸς κατ’ εὐχὴν τὸ γῆρας ἀποθέμενος εἰς τέττιγα μετέβαλε· Κινύρας δέ, ἀπόγονος Φαρνάκου βασιλέως Κυπρίων, πλούτῳ διαφέρων· Σαρδανάπαλος δέ, ᾿Ασσυρίων βασιλεύς, ὃς ἐπ’ ἀκολασίᾳ καὶ τρυφῇ διαβιοὺς

κατέλυσε τὴν ἰδίαν ἀρχήν. ὁ δὲ Σαρδανάπαλος οὗτος υἱὸς ἦν ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου, βασιλέως Νίνου, Περσικῆς χώρας· ὃς ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ Ταρσὸν καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔκτισε. φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν αἰσχρῶς καλλωπίζεσθαι τοῖς τε  οἰκείοις μὴ ὁρᾶσθαι, εἰ μὴ εὐνούχοις καὶ κόραις. πεπυρπολημένος δὲ τῷ οἴνῳ, ἔνδον εὑρεθεὶς ἀπέθανε.


Compare with the epitaph recorded by Athenaeus (attributed to Chrysippus):

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

The geographer Strabo combines the two versions:




“Next is Zephurion which has the same name as a place near Kalydnos.  Nearby, not far from the sea, is Ankhialê, founded by Sardanapallos according to Aristoboulos. There he claims is a monument of Sardanapallos, a stone sculpture that shows the fingers of his right hand as if they are snapping. Beneath is an epigraph in Assyrian letters reading: “Sardanapallos the son of Anakundaraxes / founded Ankhialê and Tarsos in a single day. / Eat. Drink. Play, because no other things are worthy of this”, indicating the snapping fingers.

Khoirilos also mentions these things–and the following verses are known everywhere. “Everything I have eaten, the insults I have made, and the delights I have taken in love are mine. These numerous blessings I leave behind.”

Εἶτα Ζεφύριον ὁμώνυμον τῷ πρὸς Καλύδνῳ· εἶτ’ ᾿Αγχιάλη μικρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς θαλάττης, κτίσμα Σαρδαναπάλλου, φησὶν ᾿Αριστόβουλος· ἐνταῦθα δ’ εἶναι μνῆμα τοῦ Σαρδαναπάλλου καὶ τύπον λίθινον συμβάλλοντα τοὺς τῆς δεξιᾶς χειρὸς δακτύλους ὡς ἂν ἀποκροτοῦντα, καὶ ἐπιγραφὴν εἶναι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι τοιάνδε „Σαρδανάπαλλος ὁ ᾿Ανακυνδαράξεω παῖς „᾿Αγχιάλην καὶ Ταρσὸν ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε πῖνε „παῖζε, ὡς τἆλλα τούτου οὐκ ἄξια,” τοῦ ἀποκροτήματος. μέμνηται δὲ καὶ Χοιρίλος τούτων· καὶ δὴ καὶ περιφέρεται τὰ ἔπη ταυτί „ταῦτ’ ἔχω, ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ „ἀφύβρισα, καὶ μετ’ ἔρωτος τέρπν’ ἔπαθον, τὰ δὲ „πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια κεῖνα λέλειπται.”