“A Body With Wings:” Returning to Euripides’ “Helen”

Euripides, Helen

I am called Helen. And I should tell you the evils
I have suffered. Three goddesses went to the folds
O Mt. Ida to Alexander about their beauty,
Hera, the Kyprian, and the Zeus-born maiden,
Because they wanted him to complete a judgement of their ‘form’.
My beauty–if misfortune is beautiful–
Is what the Kyprian offered, for Alexander to marry,
In order to win. After Idaian Paris left the cow-stall
He went to Sparta seeking my bed.

Ελένη δ’ ἐκλήθην. ἃ δὲ πεπόνθαμεν κακὰ
λέγοιμ’ ἄν. ἦλθον τρεῖς θεαὶ κάλλους πέρι
᾿Ιδαῖον ἐς κευθμῶν’ ᾿Αλέξανδρον πάρα,
῞Ηρα Κύπρις τε διογενής τε παρθένος,
μορφῆς θέλουσαι διαπεράνασθαι κρίσιν.
τοὐμὸν δὲ κάλλος, εἰ καλὸν τὸ δυστυχές,
Κύπρις προτείνασ’ ὡς ᾿Αλέξανδρος γαμεῖ,
νικᾶι. λιπὼν δὲ βούσταθμ’ ᾿Ιδαῖος Πάρις
Σπάρτην ἀφίκεθ’ ὡς ἐμὸν σχήσων λέχος.

Over a year ago, the Center for Hellenic Studies sponsored the creation of Reading Greek Tragedy Online with Out of Chaos Theatre, led by Paul O’Mahony. Our first performance was Euripides’ Helen and from there we went on to present readings from every extant Greek tragedy. In that first gathering, we talked about how important it is to retain human contact and communication to stay sane, how the arts help us reflect on being human and how in these frightening times the humanities have no less a purchase on our imaginations and our needs than at any other.

This year we return to the scene of the crime: Egypt, with Helen, and a whole host of questions of who we are after so much time on the sidelines.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0IP_wc3y_0https://t.co/MAD7GUJFAn?amp=1

Euripides, Helen 605

“Your wife has gone invisible, lifted up
To the folds of the sky. She is hidden by heaven,
After leaving the sacred cave where we watched her
once she said this: ‘Wretched Phrygians
And all the Greeks who were dying for me
On the Scamandrian banks thanks to Hera’s devices,
All because you thought that Paris had Helen when he didn’t.
But I, since I was here for as long as was necessary,
have finished my purpose, and I am going to the father
In the sky. The wretched daughter of Tyndareus
Has evil fame wrongly, when it is not her fault.’

Oh, hello, daughter of Leda. You were really here.
I was announcing that you went to the glens of the stars
Even though I knew that you didn’t really have
A body with wings. I won’t allow you to mock us
In this again—the way you were creating plenty of toils
To your husband and his allies.”

βέβηκεν ἄλοχος σὴ πρὸς αἰθέρος πτυχὰς
ἀρθεῖσ᾿ ἄφαντος· οὐρανῷ δὲ κρύπτεται
λιποῦσα σεμνὸν ἄντρον οὗ σφ᾿ ἐσῴζομεν,
τοσόνδε λέξασ᾿· Ὦ ταλαίπωροι Φρύγες
πάντες τ᾿ Ἀχαιοί, δι᾿ ἔμ᾿ ἐπὶ Σκαμανδρίοις
ἀκταῖσιν Ἥρας μηχαναῖς ἐθνῄσκετε,
δοκοῦντες Ἑλένην οὐκ ἔχοντ᾿ ἔχειν Πάριν.
ἐγὼ δ᾿, ἐπειδὴ χρόνον ἔμειν᾿ ὅσον μ᾿ ἐχρῆν,
τὸ μόρσιμον σώσασα πατέρ᾿ ἐς οὐρανὸν
ἄπειμι· φήμας δ᾿ ἡ τάλαινα Τυνδαρὶς
ἄλλως κακὰς ἤκουσεν οὐδὲν αἰτία.

ὦ χαῖρε, Λήδας θύγατερ, ἐνθάδ᾿ ἦσθ᾿ ἄρα.
ἐγὼ δέ σ᾿ ἄστρων ὡς βεβηκυῖαν μυχοὺς
ἤγγελλον εἰδὼς οὐδὲν ὡς ὑπόπτερον
δέμας φοροίης. οὐκ ἐῶ σε κερτομεῖν
ἡμᾶς τόδ᾿ αὖθις· ὡς ἅδην ἐν Ἰλίῳ
πόνους παρεῖχες σῷ πόσει καὶ συμμάχοις.

Performers (Diane Rayor’s translation)

Helen – Evelyn Miller
Menelaos – Rene Thornton
Theoklymenos – Richard Neale
Woman – Eunice Roberts
Theonoe/Chorus/Shadow – Hannah Barrie
Teucer/Messenger – Zack Dictakis
Servant – Paul O’Mahony
Director: Tabatha Gayle

Euripides, Helen 698-699

“if you find good luck in the time that is left
Perhaps it will be solace for the things in the past”

εἰ καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῆς τύχης εὐδαίμονος
τύχοιτε, πρὸς τὰ πρόσθεν ἀρκέσειεν ἄν.

Special Guests: Lyndsay Coo, Ria Modak, and Pria Jackson

Euripides, Helen 483–491

‘What am I saying? What can I say? I am learning
terrible troubles on top of my old ones.
If I brought my wife, captured from Troy,
When I came here and she is safe in a cave,
Then someone else has the same name as my wife
And lives in this house here.
But this old lady said that she is the child of Zeus.
Is there some dude named Zeus who lives
On the banks of the Nile? There’s only one in heaven.

Με. τί φῶ; τί λέξω; συμφορὰς γὰρ ἀθλίας
ἐκ τῶν πάροιθε τὰς παρεστώσας κλύω,
εἰ τὴν μὲν αἱρεθεῖσαν ἐκ Τροίας ἄγων
ἥκω δάμαρτα καὶ κατ’ ἄντρα σώιζεται,
ὄνομα δὲ ταὐτὸν τῆς ἐμῆς ἔχουσά τις
δάμαρτος ἄλλη τοισίδ’ ἐνναίει δόμοις.
Διὸς δ’ ἔλεξε παῖδά νιν πεφυκέναι·
ἀλλ’ ἦ τις ἔστι Ζηνὸς ὄνομ’ ἔχων ἀνὴρ
Νείλου παρ’ ὄχθας; εἶς γὰρ ὅ γε κατ’ οὐρανόν.

Production Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Production Assistant: Francesca Bellei (Harvard University)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturgical Support: Emma Pauly and Emma Joy Hill
Associate Directors: Beth Burns, Liz Fisher, Tabatha Gayle, Laura Keefe, and Toph Marshall
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

Euripides, Helen

M: After killing you over the back of this grave I will kill myself.
But first we will fight a great fight over your bed.
Let any man who wants to come near.
I will not bring shame to my Trojan fame,
Nor will I have left Greece to get great blame,
I, the man who deprived Thetis of Achilles,
Who saw Telamonian Ajax slaughter himself
And saw Neleus’ son made childless! Should I not
Think it right that I should die for my own wife?

Με. τύμβου ‘πὶ νώτοις σὲ κτανὼν ἐμὲ κτενῶ.
πρῶτον δ’ ἀγῶνα μέγαν ἀγωνιούμεθα
λέκτρων ὑπὲρ σῶν· ὁ δὲ θέλων ἴτω πέλας.
τὸ Τρωϊκὸν γὰρ οὐ καταισχυνῶ κλέος
οὐδ’ ῾Ελλάδ’ ἐλθὼν λήψομαι πολὺν ψόγον,
ὅστις Θέτιν μὲν ἐστέρησ’ ᾿Αχιλλέως,
Τελαμωνίου δ’ Αἴαντος εἰσεῖδον σφαγὰς
τὸν Νηλέως τ’ ἄπαιδα· διὰ δὲ τὴν ἐμὴν
οὐκ ἀξιώσω κατθανεῖν δάμαρτ’ ἐγώ;

Upcoming Performances (go here for previous episodes or to youtube for the full playlist)

Wednesday, April 28 | Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica with Jackie Murray (University of Kentucky)

Wednesday, May 26 | TBA

Our Unexamined Fears: Reading Euripides’ “Trojan Women” online

Euripides, Trojan Women 25-27

“I am leaving famous Ilion and my altars.
Whenever terrible isolation overtakes a city
The gods’ places turn sick and don’t want to receive worship”

λείπω τὸ κλεινὸν Ἴλιον βωμούς τ᾽ ἐμούς:
ἐρημία γὰρ πόλιν ὅταν λάβῃ κακή,
νοσεῖ τὰ τῶν θεῶν οὐδὲ τιμᾶσθαι θέλει.

Trojan Women Poster

I have been helping  the Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre to present scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’  in our time of isolation. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.” But this experience also helps us thing about how changes we understand the tragic genre and its performance, how the themes and concerns of ancient tragedy communicate to us today, especially in a time of crisis, and, most importantly, how important it is to stay occupied and engaged with one another.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well

Euripides, Trojan Women, 95-98

“Any mortal fool enough to sack cites,
Their temples, shrines and the graves of those they killed,
Dies later on in self-made isolation.”

μῶρος δὲ θνητῶν ὅστις ἐκπορθεῖ πόλεις,
ναούς τε τύμβους θ᾽, ἱερὰ τῶν κεκμηκότων,
ἐρημίᾳ δοὺς αὐτὸς ὤλεθ᾽ ὕστερον.

This play was performed in the same year that Athens razed the island of Melos, in the same year as the disastrous Sicilian Expedition. Both of these events are worth mentioning because they feature Athens at the height of its power, aggressive, haughty, and driven by the rhetoric of power.

For obvious reasons of context, then, Euripides’ Trojan Women is often read as a response to the same forces arguing that might makes right in Thucydides’ famous Melian dialogue.  For me, the outcome of the Melian decision, that a democratic people voted to destroy an allied city, kill all the men, and enslave all the women and children for the crime of resisting their power, stands with Odysseus’ hanging of the enslaved women in the Odyssey and Achilles’ sacrifice of Trojan youths over Patroclus’ funeral pyre as horrors transmitted by the ancient world that we have all too often minimized or ignored altogether in our reception of the past.

Scenes (using this translation for performance)

98-155 Hecuba’ first speech
235-460 Hecuba, Talthybius, Cassandra, Chorus
686-797 Hecuba, Andromache, Talthybius, Chorus
1118-1335 Hecuba, Talthybius, Chorus

395-399

“Listen how it is with Hektor’s mournful tale:
He died, leaving a reputation as the best man.
The coming of the Greeks made this happen.
If they had stayed home, his value would have stayed hidden.”

τὰ δ᾽ Ἕκτορός σοι λύπρ᾽ ἄκουσον ὡς ἔχει:
395δόξας ἀνὴρ ἄριστος οἴχεται θανών,
καὶ τοῦτ᾽ Ἀχαιῶν ἵξις ἐξεργάζεται:
εἰ δ᾽ ἦσαν οἴκοι, χρηστὸς ὢν ἐλάνθανεν.

This Week’s Actors and Crew

Chorus – Danai Epithymiadi

Hecuba – Eunice Roberts
Talthybios – Robert Matney
Cassandra – Evelyn Miller
Andromache – Tabatha Gayle

Special Guest: Robin Mitchell-Boyask

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

630-634

Andromache: “She is dead, she is dead. But even dead
She has a better fate than I do still alive

Hecuba: “Being dead is not the same as seeing the world still, child:
One is to be nothing, while hope remains in the other.”

ὄλωλεν ὡς ὄλωλεν: ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἐμοῦ
ζώσης γ᾽ ὄλωλεν εὐτυχεστέρῳ πότμῳ.

οὐ ταὐτόν, ὦ παῖ, τῷ βλέπειν τὸ κατθανεῖν:
τὸ μὲν γὰρ οὐδέν, τῷ δ᾽ ἔνεισιν ἐλπίδες.

Upcoming Readings (Wednesdays at 3PM EDT, Unless otherwise noted; the project page))
Sophocles, Ajax, May 29th

Euripides, Andromache, June 3rd

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion, June 17th[10 AM EDT/3PM GMT]

Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

 

1203-1206

“Any mortal is a fool who takes some pleasure
From imagining their good luck is safe: in its turns
Fortune’s like a crazed person leaping this way one day
And then another, no one ever keeps the same good luck.”

θνητῶν δὲ μῶρος ὅστις εὖ πράσσειν δοκῶν
βέβαια χαίρει: τοῖς τρόποις γὰρ αἱ τύχαι,
ἔμπληκτος ὡς ἄνθρωπος, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἄλλοσε
πηδῶσι, κοὐδεὶς αὐτὸς εὐτυχεῖ ποτε.

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes  May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th

1165-66

“You fear a child this young? I can’t praise fear
When someone is frightened without examining why.”

βρέφος τοσόνδ᾽ ἐδείσατ᾽: οὐκ αἰνῶ φόβον,
ὅστις φοβεῖται μὴ διεξελθὼν λόγῳ.

A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth

In honor of mother’s day, our separation from each other, and missed parents everywhere, a re-post inspired by Paul’s Mom. I keep these words in mind all the time now when I reconnected with friends: we all have stories, we all want to be heard. As Arsenius records the proverb, “Conversation [ or ‘reason’] is the doctor for suffering in the soul” (Λόγος ἰατρὸς τοῦ κατὰ ψυχὴν πάθους.) To listen to another–and hear them– is a sacred act.  

“To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.”

πρὸς τὸ φλυαροῦν μειράκιον, “διὰ τοῦτο,” εἶπε, “δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείονα μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν.”

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Continue reading “A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth”

A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth

In honor of mother’s day and missed parents everywhere, a repost inspired by Paul’s Mom. 

“To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.”

πρὸς τὸ φλυαροῦν μειράκιον, “διὰ τοῦτο,” εἶπε, “δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείονα μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν.”

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Continue reading “A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth”

Now More than Ever: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth

In public discourse–especially this week–we probably all need a reminder to listen more and talk less. This advice goes far back to a proverb attributed to Zeno “we have two ears, but one mouth” (δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν). Here’s a story about the proverb

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

Continue reading “Now More than Ever: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth”

Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: An Ancient Course on Leadership

Archilochus, fr. 114

“I don’t love a tall leader, or one striding far,
Or one who takes pride in his hair or shaved head.
No, give me a shorter man, who looks bowed near the shins
But who is sure on his feet, and strong of heart.”

οὐ φιλέω μέγαν στρατηγὸν οὐδὲ διαπεπλιγμένον
οὐδὲ βοστρύχοισι γαῦρον οὐδ’ ὑπεξυρημένον,
ἀλλά μοι σμικρός τις εἴη καὶ περὶ κνήμας ἰδεῖν
ῥοικός, ἀσφαλέως βεβηκὼς ποσσί, καρδίης πλέως.

In this famous fragment from Archilochus, many readers have sensed the kernel of a debate about what kind of a man should lead. Even more, this has been seen as a possible debate between an Achilles-type and an Odysseus. Regardless of the specific reference, it is clear from this poem and many others that the ancient Greeks were intensely involved with exploring what kind of a man should wield power in their cities and why.

Works and Days, 217-229

“Oath runs right alongside crooked judgments.
But a roar comes from Justice as she is dragged where
bribe-devouring men lead when they apply laws with crooked judgments.
She attends the city and the haunts of the hosts
weeping and cloaked in mist, bringing evil to men
who drive her out and do not practice righteous law.
For those who give fair judgments to foreigners and citizens
and who do not transgress the law in any way,
cities grow strong, and the people flourish within them;
A child-nourishing peace settles on the land, and never
Does wide-browed Zeus sound the sign of harsh war.”

αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει ῞Ορκος ἅμα σκολιῇσι δίκῃσιν·
τῆς δὲ Δίκης ῥόθος ἑλκομένης ᾗ κ’ ἄνδρες ἄγωσι
δωροφάγοι, σκολιῇς δὲ δίκῃς κρίνωσι θέμιστας·
ἣ δ’ ἕπεται κλαίουσα πόλιν καὶ ἤθεα λαῶν,
ἠέρα ἑσσαμένη, κακὸν ἀνθρώποισι φέρουσα,
οἵ τέ μιν ἐξελάσωσι καὶ οὐκ ἰθεῖαν ἔνειμαν.
οἳ δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν
ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου,
τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις, λαοὶ δ’ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ·
εἰρήνη δ’ ἀνὰ γῆν κουροτρόφος, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτοῖς
ἀργαλέον πόλεμον τεκμαίρεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς·

We have blogged before about how one can use texts from the ancient world to explore modern questions about leadership. We have also blogged about an ongoing project with Norman Sandridge on teaching a course about Leadership in the Ancient World. Over the past year a group of us have pursued these ideas further. This fall, a new  course on Leadership, designed and offered collaboratively at seven universities, looks at the questions, problems, and promises of using the ancient world to reflect on our modern politics, leadership, and social organization.

Here’s a link to the open-source material for the course.

Here’s Norman’s discussion of it, it rocks.

And here are some more passages to think about!

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

new

Xenophon, on Leadership and Rebellion (Cyropaedia, 1.1-3)

“Consider how many democracies have been dissolved by people who wish to be governed in some other way than democracy and also how many monarchies and oligarchies are torn down by the people and how, of those who have attempted to rule as tyrants, some have quickly failed on their own while others who rule for any amount of time at all are a source of wonder, considered to be wise and lucky men. Expect to learn the same things in private homes: both masters who have more and those who have less, still are not able to rely on even a few to obey them for long.

[Xenophon extends the analogy to herdsmen and notes that animals rely on men and trust them against external threats…]

Men rise up against no one more readily than those they believe are trying to rule them. When we reflect on these facts, we conclude only that man naturally is better at governing all the other living things except for himself.”

῎Εννοιά ποθ’ ἡμῖν ἐγένετο ὅσαι δημοκρατίαι κατελύθησαν ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλως πως βουλομένων πολιτεύεσθαι μᾶλλον ἢ ἐν δημοκρατίᾳ, ὅσαι τ’ αὖ μοναρχίαι, ὅσαι τε ὀλιγαρχίαι ἀνῄρηνται ἤδη ὑπὸ δήμων, καὶ ὅσοι τυραννεῖν ἐπιχειρήσαντες οἱ μὲν αὐτῶν καὶ ταχὺ πάμπαν κατελύθησαν, οἱ δὲ κἂν ὁποσονοῦν χρόνον ἄρχοντες διαγένωνται, θαυμάζονται ὡς σοφοί τε καὶ εὐτυχεῖς ἄνδρες γεγενημένοι. πολλοὺς δ’ ἐδοκοῦμεν καταμεμαθηκέναι καὶ ἐν ἰδίοις οἴκοις τοὺς μὲν ἔχοντας καὶ πλείονας οἰκέτας, τοὺς δὲ καὶ πάνυ ὀλίγους, καὶ ὅμως οὐδὲ τοῖς ὀλίγοις τούτοις πάνυ τι δυναμένους χρῆσθαι πειθομένοις τοὺς δεσπότας…

ἄνθρωποι δὲ ἐπ’ οὐδένας μᾶλλον συνίστανται ἢ ἐπὶ τούτους οὓς ἂν αἴσθωνται ἄρχειν αὑτῶν ἐπιχειροῦντας. ὅτε μὲν δὴ ταῦτα ἐνεθυμούμεθα, οὕτως ἐγιγνώσκομεν περὶ αὐτῶν, ὡς ἀνθρώπῳ πεφυκότι πάντων τῶν ἄλλων ῥᾷον εἴη ζῴων ἢ ἀνθρώπων ἄρχειν

 

Onasander on A General’s Power of Speech (Strat. 1.16)

 

Onasander was a Greek writer of the first century CE who wrote on Plato put also wrote a short treatise on the art of Generalship. That’s pretty much the beginning and the end of what is known about him.

“[A general] should be prepared to speak. It is from this that I believe the greatest aid will come from a leader’s work. For, if a general is stationing his men in battle, his persuasive words make them contemptuous of danger and eager for honors. A strident trumpet does not move the soul to the throng of battle in the same way as a speech uttered on the contest of bravery instills a combative spirit against danger. If some hardship should befall the army, the comfort of a speech will shore up their souls; and a general’s rather deft speech is not less capable of treating the suffering of soldiers than the doctors who attend to wounds. For doctors minister to these men only with medicine while the general reinvigorates the weary and restores those who have lost heart. Just as it is harder to treat unseen diseases than obvious ones, it is also more difficult to restore a spirit from despair with an encouraging speech that it is to address a clear physical malady. No land nor city will field an army without generals nor even choose a general who cannot speak effectively.”

[ι′] λέγειν δ’ ἱκανόν· ἔνθεν γὰρ ἡγοῦμαι τὸ μέγιστον ὠφελείας ἵξεσθαι διὰ στρατεύματος· ἐάν τε γὰρ ἐκτάττῃ πρὸς μάχην στρατηγός, ἡ τοῦ λόγου παρακέλευσις τῶν μὲν δεινῶν ἐποίησε κατα-φρονεῖν, τῶν δὲ καλῶν ἐπιθυμεῖν, καὶ οὐχ οὕτως ἀκοαῖς ἐνηχοῦσα σάλπιγξ ἐγείρει ψυχὰς εἰς ἅμιλλαν μάχης, ὡς λόγος εἰς προτροπὴν ἀρετῆς ἐναγωνίου ῥηθεὶς αἰχμάζουσαν ἀνέστησε πρὸς τὰ δεινὰ τὴν διάνοιαν, ἄν τέ τι συμβῇ πταῖσμα περὶ τὸ στρατόπεδον, ἡ τοῦ λόγου παρηγορία τὰς ψυχὰς ἀνέρρωσε, καὶ πολὺ δὴ χρησιμώτερός ἐστι στρατηγοῦ λόγος οὐκ ἀδύνατος ὥστε παραμυθεῖσθαι τὰς ἐν στρατοπέδοις συμφοράς, τῶν ἑπομένων τοῖς τραυματίαις ἰατρῶν· οἱ μὲν γὰρ ἐκείνους μόνους τοῖς φαρμάκοις θεραπεύουσιν, ὁ δὲ καὶ τοὺς κάμνοντας εὐθυμοτέρους ἐποίησεν καὶ τοὺς ἐρρωμένους ἀνέστησε· καὶ ὥσπερ τὰ ἀόρατα νοσήματα τῶν ὁρωμένων δυσχερεστέραν ἔχει τὴν θεραπείαν, οὕτως ψυχὰς ἐξ ἀθυμίας ἰάσασθαι λόγῳ παρηγορήσαντα δυσκολώτερον, ἢ σωμάτων φανερὰν ἐξ ἐπιπολῆς θεραπεῦσαι νόσον. οὐδὲ χωρὶς στρατηγῶν οὐδὲ μία πόλις ἐκπέμψει στρατόπεδον, οὐδὲ δίχα τοῦ δύνασθαι λέγειν αἱρήσεται στρατηγόν.