The World is Crazy: Let’s Write Limericks on Byzantine Scholars

A few years back, we made some limericks (with bad rhymes contingent on odd pronunciations) based on Byzantine scholars and historical figures. Yesterday I brought them back. Here are some of ours and others’

The eminent John Tzetzes
must have had remarkable testes.
That he weighs all the same
myriad dubious claims
attests to a nice pair of hefties.

The poet and teacher Psellos
Had a lot he wanted to tell us
So he dressed up the words
Of medicine in verse
But his collections no longer compel us.

I am in love with the myriad words of the Suda
It has something for every kind of mood, uh
When I don’t know a name
Or I think some text is too tame
I use this odd fortress as shield and my tutor

Because I am a part-adolescent who lives in the internet age, I had to tweet about it.

I thought this might be the end, but, mirabile dictu, a twitter friend joined in:

…rounding it out with: “that his ‘sore’-name should so entertain us”.

In my own maturity, I could not help but continue (with a little rhyming help from my friend):

The Byzantine Bishop Eustathius
lived some time after the cretaceous.
He wrote on both Homer’s poems
but never left home
and as a result his rump was curvaceous.

Any one else want to play?

[and many do answer the call….]

Continue reading

Addictive Reading: Etymologies for Kirke and Pharmakon in the Suda

Yesterday a review I wrote of the Suda On Line was published on the SCS website. A longer version of the review (which was edited) included a bit of a paean to the wonder and strangeness of the Byzantine Encyclopedia. Here are some tidbits I found searching the word “drugs”.


“Walled off”: This means “blocking”. As in the [unknown author’s line] “Because I have walled off my stomach, I am no longer susceptible to any drug.”

Ἀποτειχίζων: ἀποφράσσων. ἀποτειχίσας δὲ τὴν γαστέρα οὐδενὶ τῶν φαρμάκων ἔτι εἰμὶ ἁλώσιμος


Kirkê: This comes from “the woman who mixes [kirnôsa] the drugs. Or it is from kerkis [shuttle] from the verb kerkô. We call women who are especially subtle Kirkes.

Κίρκη: ἡ κιρνῶσα τὰ φάρμακα. ἢ παρὰ τὴν κερκίδα: κερκὶς δὲ παρὰ τὸ κρέκω. τὰς δὲ παιπαλώσεις γυναῖκας Κίρκας φαμέν.


“The oblivion of dogs”: [This is a proverb] for drugs that bring forgetfulness

Λήθην κυνῶν: λήθην ἐμποιούντων φαρμάκων.


Drug [Pharmakon]: this can mean persuasion, conversation: the etymology is said to be from bearing [pherein] the cure [akos]. Others claim that it comes from flowers.

Φάρμακον: παραμυθία, ὁμιλία, εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ φέρειν τὴν ἄκεσιν: εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθέων.


Image result for Ancient Greek Circe

Absurd Etymologies for Comedy And Tragedy

From the introduction to the Scholia to Lykophron’s Alexandra by John Tzetzes or his brother Isaac:

“Comedy is named either because of the time of the revel (kôma), since it was developed near sleep; because of the neighborhoods which are in the narrow streets (kômais); because of the villages (kômais) in the open countries; or because it developed in the vales (kômais) and places of Dionysus. But tragedy takes its name from the tragos or truga which is new wine: since in early times they anointed their heads with the raw wine. Or, they call it tragedy because they stand in a square (tetragônôs); or it turns from trakhodia into tragodia because they take their laments from harsh songs. Satyr-play is named from the satyrs who invented it or from the farmers and poor men.”

καὶ κωμωδία δὲ κλήθη ἢ ὅτι κατὰ τὸν καιρὸν τοῦ κώματος ἤτοι τοῦ ὕπνου εὑρέθη ἢ ὅτι ἐν ταῖς κώμαις τουτέστι ταῖς στενωπαῖς ἢ ὅτι ἐν ταῖς κώμαις τουτέστι τοῖς μεγίστοις χωρίοις ἢ ὅτι ἐν ταῖς κώμαις καὶ τόποις τοῦ Διονύσου εὑρέθη. ἡ δὲ τραγωδία  ἀπὸ τοῦ τράγον ἢ τρύγα λαμβάνειν τουτέστι *νέον* οἶνον ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ τρύγα χρίεσθαι τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν κατ’ ἀρχάς· ἢ ὅτι τετραγώνως ἵσταντο, τετραγωδία ἐκλήθη ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ τραχείας ὠδὰς ἔχειν τοὺς θρήνους τραχωδία καὶ τραγωδία. ἡ σατυρικὴ δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν σατύρων ἐκλήθη τῶν εὑρόντων αὐτὴν ἤτοι γεωργῶν καὶ εὐτελῶν ἀνθρώπων.

As in the case of dithyramb, this seems largely summarized from a contemporary dictionary, as in:

Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. tragodia:

“Tragedy: This is the dramatic performance of heroic lives and stories. It is called tragoidia because the prize that was given to the song was a goat [tragos têi oidê]. The song was thus the tragoidia. Or, those who won the competition took truga [“ripe grapes; or new wine”] as a prize. The ancients used to call new wine truga. Or, it is called this because the chorus had a four-sided shape [tetragônon]. Or because the choruses were composed of satyrs whom they used to call ‘goats’ [tragous] because they resembled them either because of their hairy bodies or because of their sexual zeal. For the animal was like that. Or tragedy is from the lees of wine [trugos]. This name has something in common with comedy, so the names of each type of poetry should be distinguished.

There was one prize for the latter, which is the truks [“new wine, lees”]. Later, tragedy had a common name [for the two?]. But the latter was named comedy since they used to perform them in the revels during the festivals for Dionysus and Demeter. This name came from “reveling” [kômazein] which is the song at the revel. This was developed at the time near sleep. Or it is the song of villagers [komêtai]. For larger rustic settlements are called kômai. Some farmers who were harmed by the citizens of Athens departed near the time of sleep. And those who lived near the roads used to refer to these wrongs which they suffered periphrastically. Thus, someone waits there and performs these deeds and others; as a results, there was to the injustice.

Τραγωιδία: ῎Εστι βίων τε καὶ λόγων ἡρωϊκῶν μίμησις. Κέκληται δὲ τραγῳδία, ὅτι τράγος τῇ ᾠδῇ ἆθλον ἐτίθετο· ᾠδὴ γὰρ ἡ τραγῳδία. ῍Η ὅτι τρύγα ἆθλον ἐλάμβανον οἱ νικῶντες· τρύγα γὰρ ἐκάλουν οἱ παλαιοὶ τὸν νέον οἶνον. ῍Η ὅτι τετράγωνον εἶχον οἱ χοροὶ σχῆμα· ἢ ὅτι τὰ πολλὰ οἱ χοροὶ ἐκ σατύρων συνίσταντο· οὓς ἐκάλουν τράγους, σκώπτοντες, ἢ διὰ τὴν τοῦ σώματος δασύτητα, ἢ διὰ τὴν περὶ τὰ ἀφροδίσια σπουδήν· τοιοῦτον γὰρ τὸ ζῷον. ῍Η ὅτι οἱ χορευταὶ τὰς κόμας ἀνέπλεκον, σχῆμα τράγων μιμούμενοι. ῍Η ἀπὸ τῆς τρυγὸς τρυγῳδία. ῏Ην δὲ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦτο κοινὸν καὶ πρὸς τὴν κωμῳδίαν· ἐπεὶ οὔπω διεκέκριτο τὰ τῆς ποιήσεως ἑκατέρας· ἀλλ’ εἰς αὐτὴν ἓν ἦν τὸ ἆθλον, ἡ τρύξ· ὕστερον δὲ τὸ μὲν κοινὸν ὄνομα ἔσχεν ἡ τραγῳδία· ἡ δὲ κωμῳδία ὠνόμασται, ἐπειδὴ πρότερον κατὰ κώμας ἔλεγον αὐτὰ ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς τοῦ Διονύσου καὶ τῆς Δήμητρος· ἢ παρὰ τὸ κωμάζειν, ἡ ἐπὶ τῷ κώματι ᾠδή· ἐπειδὴ ἐπὶ τὸν καιρὸν τοῦ ὕπνου τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐφευρέθη· ἢ ἡ τῶν κωμητῶν ᾠδή· κῶμαι γὰρ λέγονται οἱ μείζονες ἀγροί. Βλαπτόμενοι γάρ τινες γεωργοὶ παρὰ τῶν ἐν ᾿Αθήνῃσι πολιτῶν, κατῄεσαν περὶ τὸν καιρὸν τοῦ ὕπνου· καὶ περιϊόντες τὰς ἀγυιὰς, ἔλεγον ἀνωνυμὶ τὰς βλάβας ἃς ἔπασχον ὑπ’ αὐτῶν· οἷον, ἐνταῦθα μένει τὶς τὰ καὶ τὰ ποιῶν· καὶ ἐκ τούτου ἀνοχὴ τῶν ἀδικιῶν ἐγίνετο.

Comedy Vase

All Just Fools For Words

Zonaras 7.2 – Alba Longa Retaken

Romulus and Romus come of age; their identity is revealed; Amulius is expelled.

When they [Romulus and Romus] grew up, they were both manly and high-spirited. Romulus seemed more distinguished for his intelligence and was more inclined to command than obey. When a dispute arose between the cowherds of Numitor and those of Amulius, the brothers beat them and took a great share of the cattle. The cowherds of Numitor then laid a trap for Romus when he was walking alone with a few others; they captured him and brought him to Numitor. He feared retribution for coming up against Amulius, being his brother and often maltreated by the members of his household. But Amulius gave Romus to Numitor to do with him as he wished. As Numitor was returning home and gazing upon Romus, who was distinguished for his size and strength, he marveled at his boldness and indomitable nature, and then asked him in a low voice who he was and who his parents were. Romus boldly replied, ‘We are twin brothers; our lineage is said to be unspeakable, and our rearing and nursing is even more incredible, since we were nursed by beasts and birds after being set in a tiny cradle next to the great river; indeed, it still exists, with some faint words engraved on the bronze ribs which hold it together.’

Numitor was then led on by both the speech and appearance of Romus to think about the exposure of his daughter’s children. When Faustulus learned of the seizure of Romus, he urged Romulus to help him, and at that time told him clearly about his own lineage which was previously kept secret in order to prevent them from becoming small-minded. He then got the cradle and brought it to Numitor in the full bloom of zeal and anxiety. When he was seen by the guards posted outside the gates of Amulius, and appeared to be anxious under their questioning, it did not escape notice that he was hiding the cradle underneath his mantle. Thinking that he was concealing something which he had stolen, they brought the cradle out into the open. There happened to be present one of the men who had exposed the boys. He recognized the cradle, and ran to tell Amulius. When Faustulus was interrogated by the king, he laid out that the boys were alive, and further were cowherds in Alba Longa. He brought the cradle to Ilia, the mother of the boys, who wanted to see it. Disturbed by all of this, Amulius sent a man to Numitor to find out whether he could learn anything of the boys, since they were still alive. The man who had been sent on this expedition was one of Numitor’s friends. He went away and found Numitor lost in the complicated puzzle about Romus; he then urged Numitor on and counseled that there should be no delay, and he himself helped with the deed. Just then, Romulus arrived with a large band of rustics. A few of the city dwellers had also joined him from hatred of Amulius. Since matters had fallen out those, Amulius – neither doing nor contriving anything – ran away to save his life.

Αὐξανόμενοι δὲ θυμοειδεῖς ἦσαν καὶ ἀνδρώδεις ἀμφότεροι· ὁ δὲ ῾Ρωμύλος ἐδόκει συνέσει διαφορώτερος καὶ ἡγεμονικὸς μᾶλλον τὴν φύσιν ἢ πειθαρχικός.γενομένης δέ ποτε πρὸς τοὺς Νομίτωρος βουκόλους τοῖς τοῦ ᾿Αμουλίου διαφορᾶς, συγκόπτουσιν αὐτοὺς οἱ ὁμαίμονες καὶ τῆς ἀγέλης συχνὴν ἀποτέμνονται μοῖραν. μόνῳ δὲ τῷ ῾Ρώμῳ σὺν ὀλίγοις ἄλλοις βαδίζοντι οἱ τοῦ Νομίτωρος βουκόλοι λοχήσαντες συνέλαβον αὐτὸν καὶ ἀπήγαγον πρὸς Νομίτωρα· καὶ ὃς πρὸς ᾿Αμούλιον ἐλθὼν ἐδεῖτο τυχεῖν δίκης, ἀδελφὸς ὢν καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν οἰκείων αὐτοῦ ὑβρισμένος. ὁ δὲ παραδίδωσι τῷ Νομίτωρι τὸν ῾Ρῶμον ὡς βούλοιτο χρήσασθαι. ὃς οἴκοι ἐλθὼν καὶ τὸν νεανίσκον ὁρῶν ὑπερφέροντα μεγέθει καὶ ῥώμῃ, καὶ τὸ θαρραλέον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀδούλωτον τῆς ψυχῆς θαυμάζων, ἀνέκρινεν ὅστις εἴη καὶ ὅθεν γένοιτο, φωνῇ πραείᾳ. ὁ δὲ θαρρῶν ἔλεγεν ὡς “δίδυμοι μέν ἐσμεν ἀδελφοί, γοναὶ δὲ ἡμῶν ἀπόρρητοι λέγονται καὶ τροφαὶ καὶ τιθηνήσεις θαυμασιώτεραι, θηρίοις καὶ οἰωνοῖς τραφέντων παρὰ τὸν μέγαν ποταμὸν ἐν σκάφῃ τινὶ κειμένων, ἣ ἔτι σώζεται, χαλκοῖς ὑποζώμασι γραμμάτων ἀμυδρῶν ἐγκεχαραγμένων.”

῾Ο μὲν οὖν Νομίτωρ τοῖς τε λόγοις τοῦ ῾Ρώμου καὶ τῇ ὄψει πρὸς ἔννοιαν τῆς ἐκθέσεως τῶν τῆς θυγατρὸς ἐνήγετο παίδων, ὁ δὲ Φαυστοῦλος τὴν τοῦ῾Ρώμου μαθὼν σύλληψιν τὸν μὲν ῾Ρωμύλον βοηθεῖν παρεκάλει, τότε σαφῶς διδάξας αὐτὸν περὶ τῆς γενέσεως, πρότερον γὰρ ὑπῃνίττετο, ὥστ’ αὐτοὺς μὴ μικροφρονεῖν, αὐτὸς δὲ τὴν σκάφην κομίζων ἐχώρει πρὸς τὸν Νομίτωρα σπουδῆς καὶ δέους μεστός. τοῖς δὲ περὶ τὰς πύλας τοῦ ᾿Αμουλίου φρουροῖς ὑφορώμενος, καὶ ταραττόμενος περὶ τὰς ἀποκρίσεις, οὐκ ἔλαθε τὴν σκάφην τῷ χλανιδίῳ περικαλύπτων. ὑπολαβόντες δὲ κλοπιμαῖόν τι φέρειν αὐτόν, εἰς μέσον τὴν σκάφην προήγαγον. ἔτυχε δέ τις παρὼν ἐκεῖ τῶν τὰ παιδάρια ἐκθεμένων· ὃς τὴν σκάφην γνωρίσας, δραμὼν φράζει τῷ ᾿Αμουλίῳ. καὶ ὁ Φαυστοῦλος ἀνακρινόμενος παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως σώζεσθαι μὲν τοὺς παῖδας κατέθετο, πόρρω δὲ τῆς ῎Αλβης νέμοντας εἶναι· τὴν δὲ σκάφην πρὸς τὴν ᾿Ιλίαν κομίζειν τὴν τῶν παίδων μητέρα, ποθοῦσαν ἰδεῖν. τεταραγμένος δὲ τούτοις ᾿Αμούλιος ἄνδρα πρὸς τὸν Νομίτωρα πέπομφε πυνθανόμενος εἴ τι μάθοι περὶ τῶν παίδων ὡς περιόντων. ἦν δὲ τῶν φίλων ὁ πεμφθεὶς τοῦ Νομίτωρος. ἀπελθὼν οὖν καὶ ἐν περιπλοκαῖς τοῦ῾Ρώμου εὑρηκὼς τὸν Νομίτωρα, παρεθάρρυνέ τε καὶ μὴ μέλλειν αὐτοῖς συνεβούλευε, καὶ αὐτὸς δὲ συνέπραττεν. ἄρτι δὲ καὶ ὁ ῾Ρωμύλος ἐγγὺς ἦν, χεῖρα συχνὴν ἀγροικικὴν ἐπαγόμενος· καὶ τῶν πολιτῶν δὲ αὐτῷ οὐκ ὀλίγοι προσῄεσαν μίσει τοῦ ᾿Αμουλίου. ὃς οὕτω τῶν πραγμάτων συνενεχθέντων οὐδὲν οὔτε πράξας οὔτε βουλεύσας σωτήριον ἀνῃρέθη.

New Hobby: Limericks on Byzantine (and Hellenistic?) Scholars

Earlier, Palaiophron quoted a dubious and amusing etymology from the inimitable John Tzetzes. Because I might never stop being at least partly an adolescent, I started coming up with a limerick

The eminent John Tzetzes
must have had remarkable testes.
That he weighs all the same
myriad dubious claims
attests to a nice pair of hefties.

Continue reading

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