Another Casualty of Childbirth

Amyntas, Lit. Pap. 107 = P.Oxy iv.1904

Tell me, woman, who you are, who is your father, and your country.
What kind of great sickness did you die from?

“Stranger, my name is Praksô, and I am Samian
My father was Calliteles and I died giving birth”

Who provided for your tomb? “Theocritus, the man
To whom they married me.” What age did you reach?

“I was three-times-seven plus one.” Were you then childless”
“No, but I left a three year-old child in my home.”

φράζε, γύναι, τίς ἐοῦσα καὶ ἐκ τίνος, εἰπέ τε πάτρην,
καὶ ποίας ἔθανες νούσου ὑπ᾿ ἀργαλέης.
οὔνομα μὲν Πραξὼ Σαμίη, ξένε, ἐκ δὲ γονῆος
Καλλιτέλευς γενόμαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἔθανον τοκετῶι.
τίς δὲ τάφον στάλωσε; Θεόκριτος, ὧι με σύνευνον
ἀνδρὶ δόσαν. ποίην δ᾿ ἦλθες ἐς ἡλικίην;
ἑπταέτις τρὶς ἑνὸς γενόμαν ἔτι. ἦ ῥά γ᾿ἄτεκνος;
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ τριετῆ παῖδα δόμωι λιπόμαν.

Image result for medieval manuscript childbirth
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Fathers, Children, and a Story’s End

“To remember the past, you tell a story about it. And in recalling the memory, you tell the story again. It is not always the same story, as the person telling it does not always want the same things….As children become better storytellers, they become better rememberers. But their memory system also becomes more susceptible to distortion.”

Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light, 98

He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα· Homer, Odyssey 19.203

When Odysseus returns to Ithaca in the second half of the Odyssey, he spends seven books in disguise. Part of the motivation for this is to give him the ability to test the loyalty of the people in Ithaca and justify the murder of the suitors and the slaughter of the handmaids at the end. But another part is that Odysseus explores who he is by reflecting on others’ stories. He uses his narratives in the second half of the epic to negotiate different parts of identity, to imagine different lives for himself, and to distance himself from the trauma of war and wandering.

In studying memory Martin Conway suggests that there are two forces in human recall: correspondence, which is about equivalence between details of ‘reality’ (or experience) and details of a story and coherence, which means that details make sense together in a narrative. When we tell stories about ourselves, we are not repeating a one-to-one correspondence between what happened and what we say about it. Instead we are engaging in the creation of autobiographical memory to create a coherent sense of ourselves.

The problem with seeing Odysseus as doing this in the second half of the Odyssey, of course, is that his stories are only obliquely about himself. They are mostly lies and they change depending on who he talks to: he shifts in narratives from Eumaios, to the suitors, and to his father at the epic’s end. His lies say something about him, certainly; but they also say something about how he views others.

The stories he tells lets him mirror and then use others. And he uses them to complete the hardest (and most violent) parts of his homecoming.

“I don’t know. No one ever knows his own father himself.”

οὐκ οἶδ’· οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω. Homer, Odyssey 1.201

There are a series of days each year when my father’s memory presses upon me: father’s day, his birthday, the day(s) he died, and holidays. I miss him deeply; but I also spend the years pondering the questions I don’t have answers to, wondering how much of what he was shapes me still.

When my father died, it was a shock both for its suddenness and then for the series of minor mysteries that followed. The first was the uncertainty of what happened. He died at 61 after a sudden bout with pneumonia. The autopsy revealed his lungs were filled with sawdust from years of fiddling around with woodworking, mask-less in a garage with no circulation. He also had Lyme disease. And years of smoking and drug use had made his breathing weaker and his sense of his own health attenuated.

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We search out he causes of things but often find no clear answer. So, often, we choose a simple answer to help us get by. How and why he died suddenly gave way to a series of mundane, pressing questions: funeral arrangements, financial concerns. Packing up a life is never easy; the secrets left behind are entangled in ways the living didn’t imagine and the dead will never learn.

After my father’s death, I expected some trouble. He was a man who shifted easily between lives. He had a rich fantasy life—always dreaming that he would accomplish something great, that he would end up someone different. As the oldest of three, it fell to me to try to make sense of the mess: years of unpaid taxes; a maze of debt and collection bureaus; accounts tied to strange addresses; unopened summonses and bills.

At one point, I had to log in into my father’s email account, at first to contact some business associates who owed him money, and later to sift through his last few weeks of correspondence to try to figure out whether or not he knew how sick he was. (He did. Forty-eight hours before his death he sent an email to his older sister, writing “This is the sickest I have ever been.” He still waited another 36 hours to go to the doctor.)

There was a strange type of voyeurism in the process. I suspected some of what I would find, but not everything. Infidelity, I knew about. Debt and delinquency? This had been the story of our lives. But during the process of arranging for my father’s funeral, writing a eulogy, and trying to make an initial reckoning of his accounts, I started emailing with one of my father’s business associates, a man I will call Felix.

“There is one universal law among mortals
And one that is right to the gods, I believe truly—
And to all animals as well: to love the children we bear.
In everything else, we follow different laws.”

εἷς γάρ τις ἔστι κοινὸς ἀνθρώποις νόμος
καὶ θεοῖσι τοῦτο δόξαν, ὡς σαφῶς λέγω,
θηρσίν τε πᾶσι, τέκνα τίκτουσιν φιλεῖν·
τὰ δ’ ἄλλα χωρὶς χρώμεθ’ ἀλλήλων νόμοις. Euripides

Upon his return to Ithaca, Odysseus spends a significant amount of time enjoying hospitality of his enslaved swineherd, Eumaios. He tells Eumaios some terrific stories: he was a warrior from Crete who made the wrong decision to go to war and after years of suffering and betrayal he ended up enslaved and sold. Part of that story is true, of course; and the enslavement can function as a metaphor for his pains at sea and how he was subject to cruel fate. But the story also serves to endear Odysseus to Eumaios by anticipating Eumaios’ own story: how he was kidnapped as a child by a devious nurse and sold off to slavers who brought him to Ithaca.

When we meet new people, we eagerly find common ground through personal stories: we grew up in the same/similar place; we went to school in the same city; we worked in similar industries, etc. But as relationships deepen, we share those harder stories. Sometimes, to identify with people, or even to upstage them, we embellish or reshape our stories.

Even false tales can arise from real pain. Life leaves physical markers on us as literal as Odysseus’ scar. But the marks that define us are more often than not unseen. Just as the year’s calendar eventually becomes a catalog of days for the lost and gone, so too can our memories become a latticework of scars and open wounds. The facts of the stories we tell can be less meaningful than the truth they are trying to convey.

Odysseus and his father

My father’s colleague Felix confided in me that my dad had become a close friend, in part because of his empathy regarding Felix’s daughter. His daughter had suffered from an “unknown progressive neuro-muscular disorder causing severe dystonia” and the pain she endured alongside the uncertainty of her diagnosis (which seemed to indicate a shortened life) wracked him and his family with the kind of suffering that only parents can imagine.

Felix made it clear that my father changed his life because he was always there just to listen and because he inspired him with his love of his family and his expressions of religious faith. He also inspired him, he revealed, because he shared with him his own story of loss, the loss of his daughter Rachel.

“There is a good time for lies and god honors it”

ψευδῶν δὲ καιρὸν ἔσθ’ ὅπου τιμᾷ θεός #Aeschylus

I never had a sibling named Rachel. But I didn’t say this to Felix because he had forwarded me an email where my father wrote:

“Every day I wake up thinking of my daughter –Rachel – go to bed thinking of Rachel. We had 4 children – now 3 but the blessings and gifts they have brought blow my mind […] but always Rachel is the background- never goes away- but I have still have joy and overwhelmed with blessings.”

Felix assured me that he had never mentioned this email to anyone. Even as I type this now I can smell the stale smoke in my father’s office where I read this for the first time. I remember calling my wife in to read it. Under the pall of our grief, we couldn’t process this, we couldn’t make sense of what it meant or whether it was possible. Soon, like my father, I was waking up and thinking about Rachel.

“If I tell the truth, I won’t make you happy.
But if I am to make you happy, I will say nothing true.”

εἰς μὲν φράσω τἀληθές, οὐχί σ’ εὐφρανῶ·
εἰ δ’ εὐφρανῶ τί σ’, οὐχὶ τἀληθὲς φράσω. #Agathon

There’s a scholarly tradition of dismissing the end of the Odyssey. Ancient scholars complain that the Odyssey ended properly with the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope, while the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Eustathius, observed that book 24 is full of really important things, like “the recognition scene between Odysseus and Laertes.” Odysseus’ reunions take him through the major roles he plays in life as part of re-establishing an Ithakan identity. In book 24, he must reconcile with his community and his dad.

Infant and Skull, Medieval, Louvre

When I talk about the Odyssey publicly and I get to its end, I explain that I never really understood the reunion scene until I became a father and lost my father in the same year. Odysseus tests and teases his father cruelly, only to panic and give up the ruse when he makes Laertes cry. Odysseus’ scar is a necessary but insufficient proof of his identity to his father. To confirm their relationship, they rehearse the stories of the groves and trees they used to tend together when Odysseus was young.

My father spent a good deal of the last few decades of his life clearing and planting in the woods of southern Maine. His primary engagement with my brother and me was this land: planting grass, mowing the lawn, developing gardens, planning for the future. The land my mother and brother still live on is also a map of memory: the places where we played games; the trees we climbed; where we fought; where we buried pets. In my father’s absence, there was one fewer person in the world who could attest to the truth of our stories.

So I was left with new stories for this landscape. Eventually, I tried to make ‘Rachel’ cohere with reality. My mother had miscarriages before me and after me and, as family lore goes, was told she wasn’t able to have children. When I was younger and the whole family was more religious, they told me (the oldest) that they hadn’t had a child until they joined a new church and started to pray. I was baptized and confirmed in that church. The minister was my godfather. I have a picture of him holding my daughter.

But when I asked my mother, in a probably less than sensitive way, if there were any other children or if they had planned on naming one of the miscarriages Rachel, she thought it was absurd. It didn’t seem to me likely that my father had spent years brooding in secret over a lost child when he had three healthy children.

But as a recent father, I could imagine the possibility at least. From the moment I knew my wife was pregnant, I would feel a deep, gut-wrenching fear at even imagining the death of a child. In this I have found the ultimate failure of Stoic prior contemplation: I cannot conceive of a world where I knit myself back together after losing a child. Is that what happened with my father?

As we approached his funeral, I daydreamed a future story where I interviewed distant relatives and friends about may father’s past, the type of people who might know about a lost child, or about a baby born out of wedlock whose brief existence had been hidden from my mother. As the long hours past, I thought that maybe this was Rachel: a brief alternative life in the past whose loss had festered in my father as a metonym for all of the other lives he could have lived. Or, as that fourth child, that extra helping of happiness that might have tipped the scales in a middling life.

“I once lived in a house among men, a blessed man in a
wealthy house, and I used to give much to a wanderer”

καὶ γὰρ ἐγώ ποτε οἶκον ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ἔναιον
ὄλβιος ἀφνειὸν καὶ πολλάκι δόσκον ἀλήτῃ 17.419–20

There is a cold empathy in Odysseus’ stories—he is a kind of predating narrator in echoing Eumaios’ greatest sorrow, his kidnapping and enslavement as a child. When Odysseus tells his lies to manipulate Eumaios or test the suitors, he instrumentalizes narrative. He plays upon their suspicions and experiences to put himself in a better position. But that’s an oversimplification of the story too. He also can be seen tracing out he story of his own life, exploring different ways of thinking about what happened to him. As the fugitive Cretan, he tells Eumaios that his men forced him to go to the Trojan War (14.261), he laments that he cared too much for war, and laments how cruel fate has been to him.

Lovis Corinth “Odysseus Fighting the Beggar” 1903

In my own narrative quest, I emailed a woman my father had an affair with and asked her directly if she knew anything about ‘Rachel’. She, who had known my father quite well for years, said she would have been shocked if there were or had been another child, that my father loved his children so much that it would be inconceivable that he would have never mentioned Rachel. And, then, she added enigmatically, “He did say last summer that he would have named your [daughter] Rachel, if it was up to him.”

After my father’s funeral, things spiraled downhill for my family. We eventually got most of the finances under control by writing off credit debt and paying federal and state taxes; two new grandchildren were born over the next year. I left the issue of Rachel quiet to protect my mother and the rest of us from the uncertainty. But I never really stopped thinking about it

“No other Odysseus will ever come home to you”

οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ’ ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς Homer, Odyssey 16.204

When Telemachus first sees Odysseus revealed in the Odyssey, he refuses to believe it his father. Odysseus appears suddenly and he looks too good. There’s a slight delay before Odysseus gets angry, but then Telemachus accepts him, even though he has no proof. Penelope, however, delays acknowledging her husband to the point that when she knows who he is remains an interpretive knot of the poem. I like to imagine her suspecting from the beginning, but resisting seeing in this old, broken beggar the man who left her so many years ago. Even after the slaughter of the suitors—or perhaps, especially after it—she makes him wait, testing him first to see how he reacts when she claims to have moved the bed around which their home was built.

I eventually concluded that there were three possibilities: (1) that my father had emotionally connected with a miscarriage, naming it Rachel and keeping the pain to himself; (2) that he had fathered another child who died (or was estranged); or (3) that he had made up the child drawing on his experiences to empathize with Felix. Given the absence of any evidence for the first two options, I decided that the last was most likely.

When Odysseus lies to his father, crafting a tale that echoes the pain they have both gone through, it is a step too far. As his father cries, Odysseus breaks in and says, “I myself, I am the one about whom who you ask / I have come home in this twentieth year to my paternal land” (κεῖνος μὲν δὴ ὅδ’ αὐτὸς ἐγώ, πάτερ, ὃν σὺ μεταλλᾷς, / ἤλυθον εἰκοστῷ ἔτεϊ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν, 24.321–22). But this is not enough for Laertes after so many lies: he asks for a clear sign (σῆμά τί μοι νῦν εἰπὲ ἀριφραδές, 329) and Odysseus shows him his scar and tells him the story of the trees his father described to him when he was a child (333–45). Laertes’ limbs give away as he “recognizes the signs” (σήματ’ ἀναγνόντος … ).

What does it mean to believe that your father was the kind of man who would fabricate a dead child in order to make a connection with someone? Is this even possible? What was the name Rachel to him and why did it recur in different contexts?

Sirens and Odysseus by Fracesco Primaticcio, 1560

My father was a man cut off from many people by his deafness and his aloofness (interconnected). He was also capable of long-term deceit (for self-defense) and short-term confabulation (to try to keep others happy). If he did manufacture the memory of a child, I am almost certain he did it with a full range of emotions drawn from the rest of his life and that part of him wanted to believe it. We make up stories all the time. We all bend the truth and introduce new details into old stories. If he invented a Rachel to console Felix, he did it because he wanted to feel with him, to be his friend, and through grief to be more fully human.

But perhaps this conclusion is still just more evidence of me creating the father I wanted to have rather than acknowledging the man he really was. To some, inventing a dead child might sound diabolical. But, given the other options, it speaks to me of someone who wanted to feel, of a man who into his last days was trying to be something real.

And this in turn is a lesson on the complexity of what makes each one of us who we are.

Many of the concepts in this entry come from this book

here is its dedication page

 

A Funerary Inscription for a Twelve-Year Old Girl

This inscription is from Attica, dating to around 350 BCE.

SEG 25:298 (SEG 23.166 Peek: Greek from the PHI Website)

“Traveler, weep for the age of this dead girl—
For she left when she was only twelve, causing her friends much grief
And leaving behind immortal pain. The rest of it
This memorial announces to everyone who passes by.

Much-wept Hades, why did you take Kleoptolemê when she
Was still a girl, at an ill-fated age? Didn’t you feel any shame?
You left for her dear mother Mnêsô everlasting grief
In exchange for mortal misfortune.

Dear Mother and sisters and Meidotelês who fathered you
As a source of pain for himself, Kleoptolemê,–
They look forward only to grief, and not your bed-chamber, now that you’ve died,
but a lament instead of a husband, a funeral instead of a marriage.”

ἡλικίαν δάκ[ρυσον, ὁδοιπόρε, τῆσδε θανούσης]·
δωδεκέτις [γὰρ ἐοῦσ’ ὤιχετο, πολλὰ φίλοις]
στερχθεῖσ’, ἀθά[νατον δὲ λιποῦσ’ ἄλγος· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ]
πᾶσι τόδ’ ἀγγέλλει [μνῆμα παρε]ρ[χομένοις]·

ὦ πολύκλαυθ’ Ἅιδη, τ[ί Κλεοπτολ]έμη[ν ἔτι κούραν]
ἥρπασας ἡλικίας δύσ̣[μορον; οὐ] σέ[βεαι];
μητρὶ δὲ τεῖ μελέαι πένθ[ο]ς Μνη[σοῖ προλέλοι]πας
ἀθάνατον θνητῆς εἵνεκα συν[τυχία]ς

ὦ μελέα μῆτερ καὶ ὁμαίμονες ὅς τέ σ’ ἔφυσεν
Μειδοτέλης αὑτῶι πῆμα, Κλεοπτολέμη·
οἳ γόον, οὐ θάλαμον τὸν σὸν προσορῶσι θανούσης,
θρῆνόν τε ἀντ’ ἀνδρὸς καὶ τάφον ἀντὶ γάμου.

Image result for funerary inscription Greek attica
Grave Relief for Naiskos of Sime at the Getty

Achilles’ Other Son, a Dream

Eustathius, on Homer, Odyssey, 11.538, 1696.40

“You should know that while Homer and many other authors say that the only child of Achilles and Deidameia was Neoptolemos, Demetrios of Ilion records that here were two, Oneiros [“dream”] and Neoptolemos.

They say that Orestes killed him in Phôkis accidentally and when he recognized that he did, he built him a tomb near Daulis. He dedicated the sword he killed him with there and then went to the “White Island”, which Lykophron calls the “foaming cliff”, and propitiated Achilles.”

ἰστέον δὲ ὅτι ῾Ομήρου καὶ τῶν πλειόνων ἕνα παῖδα λεγόντων Δηιδαμείας καὶ ᾽Αχιλλέως τὸν Νεοπτόλεμον, Δημήτριος ὁ ᾽Ιλιεὺς δύο ἱστορεῖ, ῎Ονειρόν τε καὶ Νεοπτόλεμον· ὃν ἀνελών φησιν ἐν Φωκίδι ᾽Ορέστης ἀγνοίαι, ὕστερον δὲ γνούς, τάφον αὐτῶι ἐποίησε περὶ Δαυλίδα, καὶ ἀναθεὶς τὸ ξίφος ὧι ἀνεῖλεν αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὴν Λευκὴν νῆσον, ἣν ὁ Λυκόφρων (Al. 188) ῾φαληριῶσαν σπῖλον᾽ καλεῖ, καὶ τὸν ᾽Αχιλλέα ἐξιλεώσατο.

 

BNJ 59 F 1b Ptolemy ChennosNovel History, Book 3 = Photios, Bibliotheca 190, 148b21

“And [he says] that there were two children of Achilles and Deidamia, Neoptolemos and Oneiros. Oneiros was killed accidentally by Orestes in Phôkis while they fighting over erecting a tent.”

καὶ ὡς ᾽Αχιλλέως καὶ Δηιδαμίας δύο ἐγενέσθην παῖδες Νεοπτόλεμος καὶ ῎Ονειρος· καὶ ἀναιρεῖται κατ᾽ ἄγνοιαν ὑπὸ ᾽Ορέστου ἐν Φωκίδι ὁ ῎Ονειρος, περὶ σκηνοπηγίας αὐτῶι μαχεσάμενος.

Achilles fathered these children when he was sheltered at Skyros. Bion wrote a poem about the romance.Achilles also had a sister…

Fresco from the House of the Dioscuri in Pompei depicting Achilles between Diomedes and Odysseus at Scyros

Poison Proofs

Aelian (Claudius Aelianus), On the Nature of Animals, 16, 27 (= BNJ 86F 21b)

“Agatharkhides claims that there is a group of people in Libya–and that they are also called the Psylli–in most ways they aren’t really different from the rest of humankind in their lifestyle except that their body has a strange and incredible quality that sets them apart. You see, creatures that sting as part of attacking don’t harm these people at all!

Indeed, they don’t even notice a snakebite or a spider-bite that might be fatal to other people, nor even a scorpion’s sting. When one of the creatures gets near them and touches them, it acts like it has taken some sleep-causing drug as soon as it smells them! They contract a kind of drowsiness or drugged state and become weak and slow until the person walks away.

Also, when they want to test whether their babies are trueborn or bastards, they leave them in the middle of snakes just as I said above, the way gold-workers test metal in fire.”

᾽Αγαθαρχίδης φησὶν εἶναι γένος ἐν τῆι Λιβύηι τινῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ μέντοι καὶ καλεῖσθαι αὐτοὺς Ψύλλους. καὶ ὅσα μὲν κατὰ τὸν ἄλλον βίον τῶν λοιπῶν ἀνθρώπων διαφέ̣ρειν οὐδὲ ἕν, τὸ δὲ σῶμα ἔχειν ξένον τε καὶ παράδοξον ὡς πρὸς τοὺς ἑτεροφύλους ἀντικρινόμενον. τὰ γάρ τοι ζῶια τὰ δακετὰ καὶ τὰ ἐγχρίμπτοντα πάμπολλα ὄντα μηδὲν αὐτοὺς μόνους ἀδικεῖν. οὐτε γοῦν ὄφεως δακόντος ἐπαίουσιν οὐτε φαλαγγίου νύξαντος [ὡς] τοὺς ἄλλους ἐς θάνατον οὐτε μὴν σκορπίου κέντρον ἀπερείσαντος. ἐπὰν δὲ ἄρα τούτων προσπελάσηι τι καὶ παραψαύσηι τοῦ σώματος καὶ ἅμα καὶ τῆς ὀσμῆς τῆς ἐκείνων [ψαύσηι ἢ] σπάσηι, ὥσπερ οὖν φαρμάκου γευσάμενον ὑπνοποιοῦ κάρωσίν τινα ἑλκτικὴν ἐς ἀναισθησίαν ἐμποιοῦντος, ἐξασθενεῖ καὶ παρεῖται, ἔστ᾽ ἂν παραδράμηι ὁ ἄνθρωπος. ὅπως δὲ ἐλέγχουσι τὰ ἑαυτῶν βρέφη εἴτε ἐστὶ γνήσια εἴτε καὶ νόθα, ἐν τοῖς ἑρπετοῖς βασανιζοντες ὡς ἐν τῶι πυρὶ τὸν χρυσὸν οἱ βάναυσοι χρυσουργοί, ἀνωτέρω εἶπον.

This is one of several scenes in the Church of Ura Kidane Mihret depicting snake-like creatures. In this panel, the snake appears to have gotten out of hand, and the man on the right is in the process of lopping off the snake’s head with what look like metal shears.
Zeghie Peninsula, Lake Tana, Ethiopia.

Hermione and Heroic Sons

Lysimachos BNJ 382 F 10b Scholia Ad Andromache, 32

Proksenos in the first book of Epirote Histories says that Pielos was born from Neoptolemos, also named Peleus, and not from Hermione as is told.

Πρόξενος δὲ ἐν τῆι πρώτηι τῶν ᾽Ηπειρωτικῶν Νεοπτολέμου μὲν Πίελόν φησι γεγονέναι, τὸν καὶ Πηλέα· οὐ μὴν ὅτι ἐξ ῾Ερμιόνης, <ὡς> προδεδήλωται.

 

Eustathios, Commentarii ad Homeri Odysseam 1.141, vv. 26-3

“People say that Sophocles records, in his Hermione, that when Menelaos was still in Troy, Tyndareus gave her to Orestes. Later on, she was seized from him and given to Neoptolemus to honor the promise made in Troy. After Neoptolemos was killed by Makhaireus, who was asking Apollo to pay him back for his father’s murder, she was returned to Orestes again. Tisamenos was born from them.”

Σοφοκλῆς δέ φασιν ἐν Ἑρμιόνῃ ἱστορεῖ, ἐν Τροίᾳ ὄντος ἔτι Μενελάου, ἐκδοθῆναι τὴν Ἑρμιόνην ὑπὸ τοῦ Τυνδάρεω τῷ Ὀρέστῃ. εἶτα ὕστερον ἀφαιρεθεῖσαν αὐτοῦ, ἐκδοθῆναι τῷ Νεοπτολέμῳ κατὰ τὴν ἐν Τροίᾳ ὑπόσχεσιν. αὐτοῦ δὲ Πυθοῖ ἀναιρεθέντος ὑπὸ Μαχαιρέως ὅτε τὸν Ἀπόλλω τινύμενος τὸν τοῦ πατρὸς ἐξεδίκει φόνον, ἀποκαταστῆναι αὖθις αὐτὴν τῷ Ὀρέστῃ. ἐξ ὧν γενέσθαι τὸν Τισαμενόν.

From Wikimedia: By Class of Cambridge 49 – Jastrow (2006), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=511079

First-Wives’ Club: Oinone and Her Son

Here’s some mythical-grade misogyny, with a variation on the Potiphar’s wife motif, and some infanticide.

Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3.155

“Hektor married Andromache, Êetiôn’s daughter, and Alexandros [Paris] married Oinônê the daughter of Kebren the river. She learned the power of prophecy from Rhea and warned Alexander not to sail to Helen. Because she did not persuade him, she said that if he was wounded, he should come to her because she alone would be able to heal him.

But he did steal Helen from Sparta and, while Troy was attacked, he was struck by Herakles’ arrows from Philoktêtes. He went to Oinône in Ida. She, because she took delight in his suffering, said she would not heal him. Alexandros returned to Troy and was dying, but Oinônê changed her mind and was bringing medicine to heal him only to find him dead. She hanged herself.”

῞Εκτωρ μὲν οὖν ᾿Ανδρομάχην τὴν ᾿Ηετίωνος γαμεῖ, ᾿Αλέξανδρος δὲ Οἰνώνην τὴν Κεβρῆνος τοῦ ποταμοῦ θυγατέρα. αὕτη παρὰ ῾Ρέας τὴν μαντικὴν μαθοῦσα προέλεγεν ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ μὴ πλεῖν ἐπὶ ῾Ελένην. μὴ πείθουσα δὲ εἶπεν, ἐὰν τρωθῇ, παραγενέσθαι πρὸς αὐτήν· μόνην γὰρ θεραπεῦσαι δύνασθαι. τὸν δὲ ῾Ελένην ἐκ Σπάρτης ἁρπάσαι, πολεμουμένης δὲ Τροίας τοξευθέντα ὑπὸ Φιλοκτήτου τόξοις ῾Ηρακλείοις πρὸς Οἰνώνην ἐπανελθεῖν εἰς ῎Ιδην. ἡ δὲ μνησικακοῦσα θεραπεύσειν οὐκ ἔφη. ᾿Αλέξανδρος μὲν οὖν εἰς Τροίαν κομιζόμενος ἐτελεύτα, Οἰνώνη δὲ μετανοήσασα τὰ πρὸς θεραπείαν φάρμακα ἔφερε, καὶ καταλαβοῦσα αὐτὸν νεκρὸν ἑαυτὴν ἀνήρτησεν.

This story is the one basically told in Parthenius (Love Tales, 4.7). Another version of the tale is preserved in Photios but is attributed to the historian and mythographer Konon (BNJ 26 F1 = Photios, Bibliotheka 186). A few notes of caution: Konon is dated to the 1st century CE; Photios to the 9th Century CE

 Konon BNJ 26 F1 = Photios, Bibliotheka 186

[This section] is about how a child Koruthos, who surpassed his father in beauty, was born from Alexander/Paris and Oinône, the woman he married before he kidnapped Helen. His mother sent him to Helen to make Alexandros jealous and devise some evil for Helen. When Koruthos got to ‘know’ Helen, Alexandros arrived in the bedroom, and saw Koruthos sitting near her, and, already enraged out of suspicion, he killed him.

Because of the outrage against herself and the killing of her child, she cursed Alexandros a lot and predicted—for she had the inspiration of prophecy and was skilled in preparing medicines—that he would be wounded by one of the Achaeans some day and because he could not find treatment, he would need her and come home.

Later on, Alexander was wounded in the battle against the Achaeans in front of Troy by Philoktetes and he was suffering terribly. He was brought in a wagon to Idea and sent a herald to ask for Oinône. She arrogantly reproached him, saying that he should go back to Helen. Then Alexander died along the road because of the wound.

A powerful change of mind over took her at the time of his death before she heard of it, and once she gathered some medicine, she rushed to overtake him. Once she learned from the herald that he was dead and that she had killed him, she killed the herald for his arrogance by smashing a stone on his head. She threw herself over Alexander’s corpse and, after repeatedly blaming their shared fate, she hanged herself with her belt.”

 

[23] Οἰνώνη. ἡ κ̄γ̄· ὡς ᾽Αλεξάνδρου τοῦ Πάριδος καὶ Οἰνώνης, ἣν ἐγήματο πρὶν ἢ τὴν ῾Ελένην ἁρπάσαι, παῖς Κόρυθος γίνεται, κάλλει νικῶν τὸν πατέρα. τοῦτον ἡ μήτηρ ῾Ελένηι προσέπεμψε, ζηλοτυπίαν τε κινοῦσα ᾽Αλεξάνδρωι καὶ κακόν τι διαμηχανωμένη ῾Ελένηι. ὡς δὲ συνήθης ὁ Κόρυθος πρὸς ῾Ελένην ἐγένετο, ᾽Αλέξανδρός ποτε παρελθὼν εἰς τὸν θάλαμον καὶ θεασάμενος τὸν Κόρυθον τῆι ῾Ελένηι παρεζόμενον καὶ ἀναφλεχθεὶς ἐξ ὑποψίας εὐθὺς ἀναιρεῖ.

(2) καὶ Οἰνώνη τῆς τε εἰς αὐτὴν ὕβρεως καὶ τῆς τοῦ παιδὸς ἀναιρέσεως πολλὰ ᾽Αλέξανδρον ἀρασαμένη καὶ ἐπειποῦσα (καὶ γὰρ ἦν ἐπίπνους μαντείας καὶ τομῆς φαρμάκων ἐπιστήμων) ὡς τρωθείς ποτε ὑπ᾽ ᾽Αχαιῶν καὶ μὴ τυγχάνων θεραπείας δεήσεται αὐτῆς, οἴκαδε ἤιει. (3) ὕστερον δ᾽ ᾽Αλέξανδρος ἐν τῆι πρὸς ᾽Αχαιοὺς ὑπὲρ Τροίας μάχηι τρωθεὶς ὑπὸ Φιλοκτήτου καὶ δεινῶς ἔχων δι᾽ ἀπήνης ἐκομίζετο πρὸς τὴν ῎Ιδην· καὶ προεκπέμψας κήρυκα ἐδεῖτο Οἰνώνης· ἡ δὲ ὑβριστικῶς μάλα τὸν κήρυκα διωσαμένη πρὸς ῾Ελένην ἰέναι ᾽Αλέξανδρον ἐξωνείδιζε. καὶ ᾽Αλέξανδρος μὲν κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὑπὸ τοῦ τραύματος τελευτᾶι. τὴν δὲ μήπω πεπυσμένην τὴν τελευτὴν μειάμελος ὅμως δεινὸς εἶχε, καὶ δρεψαμένη τῆς πόας ἔθει φθάσαι ἐπειγομένη. ὡς δ᾽ ἔμαθε παρὰ τοῦ κήρυκος ὅτι τεθνήκοι καὶ ὅτι αὐτὴ αὐτὸν ἀνήιρηκεν, ἐκεῖνον μὲν ἀντὶ τῆς ὕβρεως λίθωι τὴν κεφαλὴν πατάξασα ἀναιρεῖ, τῶι δ᾽ ᾽Αλεξάνδρου νεκρῶι περιχυθεῖσα καὶ πολλὰ τὸν κοινὸν ἀμφοῖν καταμεμψαμένη δαίμονα ἑαυτὴν ἀνήρτησε τῆι ζώνηι.

A couple of takeaways from this one. First, it seems that Oinône knew about Paris’ lust for Helen before he departed for Sparta and remained behind on Mt. Ida once he returned to Troy. Second, it is entirely unclear when the child returns to Troy to tempt Helen. This story is a variation on the same story told about Phoinix in book 9 (his mother had him seduce his father’s lover; his father exiled him). No one in this story looks great (except for Koruthos, he looks real great). Paris is, well, a jerk. Poor Oinône is depicted as a witch-prophetess who, despite all the abuse, still loves her terrible husband.

Like Apollodorus’ version above, Ovid’s Heroides (5) do not mention the son. The earliest extant reference to Oinône seems to be Hellanicus, but some speculation links her to Bacchylides fr. 20d (where three letters OIN[….] seem to refer to a wife of Paris. See Gantz Early Greek Myth, 1993 n. 67 on page 839

Image result for Ancient Greek vase paris
This guy? Helen and Paris. Side A from an Apulian (Tarentum?) red-figure bell-krater, 380–370 BC.

First-Wives’ Club: Oinone and Her Son

Here’s some mythical-grade misogyny, with a variation on the Potiphar’s wife motif, and some infanticide.

Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3.155

“Hektor married Andromache, Êetiôn’s daughter, and Alexandros [Paris] married Oinônê the daughter of Kebren the river. She learned the power of prophecy from Rhea and warned Alexander not to sail to Helen. Because she did not persuade him, she said that if he was wounded, he should come to her because she alone would be able to heal him.

But he did steal Helen from Sparta and, while Troy was attacked, he was struck by Herakles’ arrows from Philoktêtes. He went to Oinône in Ida. She, because she took delight in his suffering, said she would not heal him. Alexandros returned to Troy and was dying, but Oinônê changed her mind and was bringing medicine to heal him only to find him dead. She hanged herself.”

῞Εκτωρ μὲν οὖν ᾿Ανδρομάχην τὴν ᾿Ηετίωνος γαμεῖ, ᾿Αλέξανδρος δὲ Οἰνώνην τὴν Κεβρῆνος τοῦ ποταμοῦ θυγατέρα. αὕτη παρὰ ῾Ρέας τὴν μαντικὴν μαθοῦσα προέλεγεν ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ μὴ πλεῖν ἐπὶ ῾Ελένην. μὴ πείθουσα δὲ εἶπεν, ἐὰν τρωθῇ, παραγενέσθαι πρὸς αὐτήν· μόνην γὰρ θεραπεῦσαι δύνασθαι. τὸν δὲ ῾Ελένην ἐκ Σπάρτης ἁρπάσαι, πολεμουμένης δὲ Τροίας τοξευθέντα ὑπὸ Φιλοκτήτου τόξοις ῾Ηρακλείοις πρὸς Οἰνώνην ἐπανελθεῖν εἰς ῎Ιδην. ἡ δὲ μνησικακοῦσα θεραπεύσειν οὐκ ἔφη. ᾿Αλέξανδρος μὲν οὖν εἰς Τροίαν κομιζόμενος ἐτελεύτα, Οἰνώνη δὲ μετανοήσασα τὰ πρὸς θεραπείαν φάρμακα ἔφερε, καὶ καταλαβοῦσα αὐτὸν νεκρὸν ἑαυτὴν ἀνήρτησεν.

This story is the one basically told in Parthenius (Love Tales, 4.7). Another version of the tale is preserved in Photios but is attributed to the historian and mythographer Konon (BNJ 26 F1 = Photios, Bibliotheka 186). A few notes of caution: Konon is dated to the 1st century CE; Photios to the 9th Century CE

 Konon BNJ 26 F1 = Photios, Bibliotheka 186

[This section] is about how a child Koruthos, who surpassed his father in beauty, was born from Alexander/Paris and Oinône, the woman he married before he kidnapped Helen. His mother sent him to Helen to make Alexandros jealous and devise some evil for Helen. When Koruthos got to ‘know’ Helen, Alexandros arrived in the bedroom, and saw Koruthos sitting near her, and, already enraged out of suspicion, he killed him.

Because of the outrage against herself and the killing of her child, she cursed Alexandros a lot and predicted—for she had the inspiration of prophecy and was skilled in preparing medicines—that he would be wounded by one of the Achaeans some day and because he could not find treatment, he would need her and come home.

Later on, Alexander was wounded in the battle against the Achaeans in front of Troy by Philoktetes and he was suffering terribly. He was brought in a wagon to Idea and sent a herald to ask for Oinône. She arrogantly reproached him, saying that he should go back to Helen. Then Alexander died along the road because of the wound.

A powerful change of mind over took her at the time of his death before she heard of it, and once she gathered some medicine, she rushed to overtake him. Once she learned from the herald that he was dead and that she had killed him, she killed the herald for his arrogance by smashing a stone on his head. She threw herself over Alexander’s corpse and, after repeatedly blaming their shared fate, she hanged herself with her belt.”

 

[23] Οἰνώνη. ἡ κ̄γ̄· ὡς ᾽Αλεξάνδρου τοῦ Πάριδος καὶ Οἰνώνης, ἣν ἐγήματο πρὶν ἢ τὴν ῾Ελένην ἁρπάσαι, παῖς Κόρυθος γίνεται, κάλλει νικῶν τὸν πατέρα. τοῦτον ἡ μήτηρ ῾Ελένηι προσέπεμψε, ζηλοτυπίαν τε κινοῦσα ᾽Αλεξάνδρωι καὶ κακόν τι διαμηχανωμένη ῾Ελένηι. ὡς δὲ συνήθης ὁ Κόρυθος πρὸς ῾Ελένην ἐγένετο, ᾽Αλέξανδρός ποτε παρελθὼν εἰς τὸν θάλαμον καὶ θεασάμενος τὸν Κόρυθον τῆι ῾Ελένηι παρεζόμενον καὶ ἀναφλεχθεὶς ἐξ ὑποψίας εὐθὺς ἀναιρεῖ.

(2) καὶ Οἰνώνη τῆς τε εἰς αὐτὴν ὕβρεως καὶ τῆς τοῦ παιδὸς ἀναιρέσεως πολλὰ ᾽Αλέξανδρον ἀρασαμένη καὶ ἐπειποῦσα (καὶ γὰρ ἦν ἐπίπνους μαντείας καὶ τομῆς φαρμάκων ἐπιστήμων) ὡς τρωθείς ποτε ὑπ᾽ ᾽Αχαιῶν καὶ μὴ τυγχάνων θεραπείας δεήσεται αὐτῆς, οἴκαδε ἤιει. (3) ὕστερον δ᾽ ᾽Αλέξανδρος ἐν τῆι πρὸς ᾽Αχαιοὺς ὑπὲρ Τροίας μάχηι τρωθεὶς ὑπὸ Φιλοκτήτου καὶ δεινῶς ἔχων δι᾽ ἀπήνης ἐκομίζετο πρὸς τὴν ῎Ιδην· καὶ προεκπέμψας κήρυκα ἐδεῖτο Οἰνώνης· ἡ δὲ ὑβριστικῶς μάλα τὸν κήρυκα διωσαμένη πρὸς ῾Ελένην ἰέναι ᾽Αλέξανδρον ἐξωνείδιζε. καὶ ᾽Αλέξανδρος μὲν κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ὑπὸ τοῦ τραύματος τελευτᾶι. τὴν δὲ μήπω πεπυσμένην τὴν τελευτὴν μειάμελος ὅμως δεινὸς εἶχε, καὶ δρεψαμένη τῆς πόας ἔθει φθάσαι ἐπειγομένη. ὡς δ᾽ ἔμαθε παρὰ τοῦ κήρυκος ὅτι τεθνήκοι καὶ ὅτι αὐτὴ αὐτὸν ἀνήιρηκεν, ἐκεῖνον μὲν ἀντὶ τῆς ὕβρεως λίθωι τὴν κεφαλὴν πατάξασα ἀναιρεῖ, τῶι δ᾽ ᾽Αλεξάνδρου νεκρῶι περιχυθεῖσα καὶ πολλὰ τὸν κοινὸν ἀμφοῖν καταμεμψαμένη δαίμονα ἑαυτὴν ἀνήρτησε τῆι ζώνηι.

A couple of takeaways from this one. First, it seems that Oinône knew about Paris’ lust for Helen before he departed for Sparta and remained behind on Mt. Ida once he returned to Troy. Second, it is entirely unclear when the child returns to Troy to tempt Helen. This story is a variation on the same story told about Phoinix in book 9 (his mother had him seduce his father’s lover; his father exiled him). No one in this story looks great (except for Koruthos, he looks real great). Paris is, well, a jerk. Poor Oinône is depicted as a witch-prophetess who, despite all the abuse, still loves her terrible husband.

Like Apollodorus’ version above, Ovid’s Heroides (5) do not mention the son. The earliest extant reference to Oinône seems to be Hellanicus, but some speculation links her to Bacchylides fr. 20d (where three letters OIN[….] seem to refer to a wife of Paris. See Gantz Early Greek Myth, 1993 n. 67 on page 839

Image result for Ancient Greek vase paris
This guy? Helen and Paris. Side A from an Apulian (Tarentum?) red-figure bell-krater, 380–370 BC.

A Funerary Inscription for a Twelve-Year Old Girl

This inscription is from Attica, dating to around 350 BCE.

SEG 25:298 (SEG 23.166 Peek: Greek from the PHI Website)

“Traveler, weep for the age of this dead girl—
For she left when she was only twelve, causing her friends much grief
And leaving behind immortal pain. The rest of it
This memorial announces to everyone who passes by.

Much-wept Hades, why did you take Kleoptolemê when she
Was still a girl, at an ill-fated age? Didn’t you feel any shame?
You left for her dear mother Mnêsô everlasting grief
In exchange for mortal misfortune.

Dear Mother and sisters and Meidotelês who fathered you
As a source of pain for himself, Kleoptolemê,–
They look forward only to grief, and not your bed-chamber, now that you’ve died,
but a lament instead of a husband, a funeral instead of a marriage.”

ἡλικίαν δάκ[ρυσον, ὁδοιπόρε, τῆσδε θανούσης]·
δωδεκέτις [γὰρ ἐοῦσ’ ὤιχετο, πολλὰ φίλοις]
στερχθεῖσ’, ἀθά[νατον δὲ λιποῦσ’ ἄλγος· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ]
πᾶσι τόδ’ ἀγγέλλει [μνῆμα παρε]ρ[χομένοις]·

ὦ πολύκλαυθ’ Ἅιδη, τ[ί Κλεοπτολ]έμη[ν ἔτι κούραν]
ἥρπασας ἡλικίας δύσ̣[μορον; οὐ] σέ[βεαι];
μητρὶ δὲ τεῖ μελέαι πένθ[ο]ς Μνη[σοῖ προλέλοι]πας
ἀθάνατον θνητῆς εἵνεκα συν[τυχία]ς

ὦ μελέα μῆτερ καὶ ὁμαίμονες ὅς τέ σ’ ἔφυσεν
Μειδοτέλης αὑτῶι πῆμα, Κλεοπτολέμη·
οἳ γόον, οὐ θάλαμον τὸν σὸν προσορῶσι θανούσης,
θρῆνόν τε ἀντ’ ἀνδρὸς καὶ τάφον ἀντὶ γάμου.

Image result for funerary inscription Greek attica
Grave Relief for Naiskos of Sime at the Getty

The Homeric Narrator Attempts to Soften Slavery with Toys

Homer, Od. 18.321-340

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully.
Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her. She treated her like her own child and used to give her delights* [athurmata] for her heart.
But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope,
But she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurumakhos.
She was reproaching Odysseus with abusive words.

“Wretched stranger, you are completely insane—
You don’t want to go sleep in the smith’s house
Or into a lodge but instead you say so much boldly
Here among the many men. And you are not at all afraid
In your heart. Really, wine has overtaken your thoughts or else
Your mind is always the kind to babble meaningless things.
Are you so confident because you defeated the beggar Iros?
May no other better than Iros quickly arise
Who might bash your head between his two strong hands
And drive you out of the house once he drenches you with so much blood.”

Then very-clever Odysseus answered as he glared at her:
“I will quickly tell Telemachus what you are saying, bitch,
After he comes here so that he can tear you apart by the limbs.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.
ἥ ῥ’ ᾿Οδυσῆ’ ἐνένιπεν ὀνειδείοισ’ ἐπέεσσι·
“ξεῖνε τάλαν, σύ γέ τις φρένας ἐκπεπαταγμένος ἐσσί,
οὐδ’ ἐθέλεις εὕδειν χαλκήϊον ἐς δόμον ἐλθὼν
ἠέ που ἐς λέσχην, ἀλλ’ ἐνθάδε πόλλ’ ἀγορεύεις
θαρσαλέως πολλοῖσι μετ’ ἀνδράσιν, οὐδέ τι θυμῷ
ταρβεῖς· ἦ ῥά σε οἶνος ἔχει φρένας, ἤ νύ τοι αἰεὶ
τοιοῦτος νόος ἐστίν, ὃ καὶ μεταμώνια βάζεις.
ἦ ἀλύεις ὅτι ῏Ιρον ἐνίκησας τὸν ἀλήτην;
μή τίς τοι τάχα ῎Ιρου ἀμείνων ἄλλος ἀναστῇ,
ὅς τίς σ’ ἀμφὶ κάρη κεκοπὼς χερσὶ στιβαρῇσι
δώματος ἐκπέμψῃσι φορύξας αἵματι πολλῷ.”
τὴν δ’ ἄρ’ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη πολύμητις ᾿Οδυσσεύς·
“ἦ τάχα Τηλεμάχῳ ἐρέω, κύον, οἷ’ ἀγορεύεις,
κεῖσ’ ἐλθών, ἵνα σ’ αὖθι διὰ μελεϊστὶ τάμῃσιν.”
ὣς εἰπὼν ἐπέεσσι διεπτοίησε γυναῖκας.

Schol ad 18.323

[athurmata] Melanthô used to get ornaments and toys, and Penelope did not deprive her of delights, but instead was doing these things to please her—it is clear, this means material for children. For athurmata are the games of children.

δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ] ἡ Μελανθὼ χλιδὰς καὶ παιδιὰς ἐλάμβανεν, ἀλλ’ οὐ συνεχώρει αὐτῇ ἡ Πηνελόπη ἀθύρματα, ἀλλὰ τὰ πρὸς ἡδονὴν αὐτῆς ἔπραττε, δηλονότι νηπία ὑπάρχουσα. ἀθύρματα γάρ εἰσι τὰ τῶν νηπίων παίγνια. B.H.Q.

Suda

“Athurma: a children’s toy. Josephus writes: “[the man who] was a toy of the king and was put on display for jokes and laughter while drinking.” And elsewhere: “it is not the place of men to waste time with children’s toys” In the Epigrams: “They stripped it clean and dedicated it near the road as a fine toy.” Instead of dedication: in Cratinus’ Odysseuses: “a new-fangled delight was made.”

Ἄθυρμα: παίγνιον. Ἰώσηπος. ὃς ἦν τοῦ βασιλέως ἄθυρμα καὶ πρὸς τὰ σκώμματα καὶ τοὺς ἐν τοῖς πότοις γέλωτας ἐπεδείκνυτο. καὶ αὖθις: οὐκ ἔστιν ἀνδρῶν ἀθύρμασιν ἐμφιλοχωρεῖν παιδίων. καὶ ἐν Ἐπιγράμμασι: Πανὶ δέ μιν ξέσσαντες ὁδῷ ἔπι καλὸν ἄθυρμα κάτ- θεσαν. ἀντὶ τοῦ ἄγαλμα. Κρατῖνος Ὀδυσσεῦσι: νεοχμὸν παρῆχθαι ἄθυρμα.

Bilderesultat for ancient roman wicker chair