How Many Angels on the Head of a Pin? How Many Oarsmen on Achilles’ Ships?

Scholia T ad Homer Iliad 16.170

“Achilles, dear to Zeus, had fifty ships which he led to Troy. In each of the ships there were fifty companions at the benches.” How, people ask, is it that the Poet who typically augments Achilles elsewhere, diminishes him in this passage? Is it because there is no excellence in numbers?

Aristarchus, however, says that there are fifty rowers [only] because of the phrase “on the benches”, meaning sailors as support crew. Dionysus, still, claims that the greatest number of rowers possible was 120 and that most ships had between these two numbers, so that the average amount was 86 men.”

πεντήκοντ᾽ ἦσαν νῆες θοαί, ἧισιν ᾽Αχιλλεὺς ἐς Τροίην ἡγεῖτο διίφιλος· ἐν δὲ ἑκάστηι πεντήκοντ᾽ ἔσαν ἄνδρες ἐπὶ κληῖσιν ἑταῖροι] πῶς, φασίν, ἐν ἅπασιν αὔξων ᾽Αχιλλέα τούτωι μειοῖ; τινὲς μὲν οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν πλήθει ἡ ἀρετή … ᾽Αρίσταρχος δέ φησιν ν̄ ἐρέτας εἶναι διὰ τὸ ῾ἐπὶ κληῖσιν᾽ ἢ ναύτας πρὸς ὑπηρεσίαν. Διονύσιος δὲ τὸν μέγιστον ἀριθμὸν ρ̄κ̄ τιμᾶι, τὸ δὲ λοιπὸν ἐν τῶι μεταξὺ τούτων ἄγεσθαι, ὡς φθάνειν πάσας ἀπὸ π̄ε̄ ἀνδρῶν.

Ah, another case study of that “morbus Graecorum”

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too.

This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oarsmen Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Lenormant Relief, c. 410 BCE

Some Surprising Plot Twists from Servius

Servius Danielis, schol. ad Vergil’s Aeneid, 1.273,

“There are different accounts provided by different authors on the origin and the founding of the city. Clinias reports that the daughter of Telemachus, named Rhomê, was Aeneas’ wife and that the city was named after her. [….] claims that Latinus, a child of Ulysses and Circe, called the state Rome in honor of his dead sister.”

sed de origine et conditore urbis diversa a diversis traduntur. Clinias refert Telemachi filiam Romen nomine Aeneae nuptam fuisse, ex cuius vocabulo Romam appellatam. ** dicit1 Latinum ex Ulixe et Circe editum de nomine sororis suae mortuae Romen civitatem appellasse.

Servius Danielis, schol ad. Vergil’s Aeneid, 6.14

“Menekrates claims that Daedalus went to Crete after he killed his paternal cousin and that his son Icarus, driven from Attica, died by shipwreck while looking for his father. This is why the sea got its name.”

Menecrates Daedalum occiso patruele fratre Cretam petisse dicit; Icarum filium eius ab Atticis pulsum, dum patrem petit, naufragio perisse, unde mari nomen.

Maurus Servius Honoratus is the original commentator and all-around learned man from Rome. “Danielis” is given to a set of additions that creep into his manuscript tradition around the 10th and 11th centuries.

Icarus 1
Daedalus constructs wings for Icarus
 Andrea Sacchi

 

 

God-hunters! Seeing Divine Footprints

Homer, Iliad 13.71–72

“For I easily recognized the prints from his feet and legs
As he was leaving. The gods are really conspicuous.”

ἴχνια γὰρ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων
ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ·

Porphyry, Quest. Homer. 396-7

“They say it is impossible that Aphrodite changes her skin into the form of an old women and that Helen recognizes instead the goddess. The explanation is that the poen toften shows the demigods reading the forms of the gods in disguise as when Poseidon appears similar to Kalkhas and Aias says “this is not the prophet Kalkhas, for I easily recognized….”

ἀδύνατόν φασιν εἰς γραῦν μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ νοῆσαι τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν τῆς θεᾶς δειρήν. λύσις· πολλαχοῦ ποιεῖται τοὺς ἡμιθέους τεκμαιρομένους τὰς τῶν θεῶν μορφάς, ὡς ὅταν ὁ Ποσειδῶν Κάλχαντι ἀπεικασθεὶς φαίνηται ὅ τε Αἴας φησίν· οὐδ’ ὅγε Κάλχας ἐστὶ θεοπρόπος· ἴχνια δὲ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ

Image result for medieval manuscript poseidon neptune

Why Does the Iliad Begin with Rage?

D Schol. ad ll 1.1

“Sing the rage..” [People] ask why the poem begins from rage, so ill-famed a word. It does for two reasons. First, so that it might [grab the attention] of that particular portion of the soul and make audiences more ready for the sublime and position us to handle sufferings nobly, since it is about to narrate wars.

A second reason is to make the praises of the Greeks more credible. Since it was about to reveal the Greeks prevailing, it is not seemly to make it more worthy of credibility by failing to make everything contribute positively to their praise.”

 Μῆνιν ἄειδε: ζητοῦσι, διὰ τί ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος ἤρξατο, οὕτω δυσφήμου ὀνόματος. διὰ δύο ταῦτα, πρῶτον μέν, ἵν’ ἐκ τοῦ πάθους †ἀποκαταρρεύσῃ† τὸ τοιοῦτο μόριον τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ προσεκτικωτέρους τοὺς ἀκροατὰς ἐπὶ τοῦ μεγέθους ποιήσῃ καὶ προεθίσῃ φέρειν γενναίως ἡμᾶς τὰ πάθη, μέλλων πολέμους ἀπαγγέλλειν· δεύτερον δέ, ἵνα τὰ ἐγκώμια τῶν ῾Ελλήνων πιθανώτερα ποιήσῃ. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔμελλε νικῶντας ἀποφαίνειν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας, εἰκότως †οὐ κατατρέχει ἀξιοπιστότερον† ἐκ τοῦ μὴ πάντα χαρίζεσθαι τῷ ἐκείνων ἐπαίνῳ. |

 

“It begins with rage, which itself was a summary for the events. Otherwise, [the poet] would have found a tragic introduction for tragedies. For the narration of misfortunes makes us more attentive, just as the best doctor exposes maladies of the spirit and then later applies treatment. So, the Greek anticipates the pleasures near the end.”

ἤρξατο μὲν ἀπὸ μήνιδος, ἐπείπερ αὕτη τοῖς πρακτικοῖς ὑπόθεσις γέγονεν· ἄλλως τε καὶ τραγῳδίαις τραγικὸν ἐξεῦρε προοίμιον· καὶ γὰρ προσεκτικοὺς ἡμᾶς ἡ τῶν ἀτυχημάτων διήγησις ἐργάζεται, καὶ ὡς ἄριστος ἰατρὸς πρῶτον ἀναστέλλων τὰ νοσήματα τῆς ψυχῆς ὕστερον τὴν ἴασιν ἐπάγει. ῾Ελληνικὸν δὲ τὸ πρὸς τέλει τὰς ἡδονὰς ἐπάγειν. |

Menis, “rage” is a big deal in Greek epic and myth thematically. The ancient scholiasts may not have it all figured out. But my first Greek teacher, Lenny Muellner, has some pretty good ideas on this one.

(c. 300 BC) Achilles killing the Ethiopian king Memnon

 

The Truth about Daedalus and Icarus

Servius Danielis,  Commentary on the Aeneid, 6, 14

“Phanodikos says that Daidalos—on account of the aforementioned reasons—went on a ship as he was fleeing and when those who were pursuing him drew near, he spread wide a piece of cloth for gaining the help of the winds and escaped them in this way. When they got back, those who were following him said he had escaped them with wings.”

Phanodicos Deliacon Daedalum propter supradictas causas fugientem navem conscendisse et, cum imminerent qui eum sequebantur, intendisse pallium ad adiuvandum ventos et sic evasisse: illos vero qui insequebantur reversos nuntiasse pinnis illum evasisse.

 

Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Things 12

“People claim that Minos imprisoned Daidalos and Ikaros, his son, for a certain reason, but that Daidalos, after he fashioned wings as prosthetics for both of them, flew off with Ikaros. It is impossible to think that a person flies, even one who has prosthetic wings. What it really means, then, is the following kind of thing.

Daidalos, when he was in prison, escaped through a small window and hauled down his son too; once he got on a boat, he left. When Minos found out, he sent ships to pursue him. Then they understood that they were being pursued and there was a furious and driving wind, they seemed to be flying. And while they were sailing with the Kretan wind, they flipped over into the sea. While Daidalos survived onto land, Ikaros died. This is why the sea there is named Ikarion for him. His father buried him after he was tossed up by the waves.”

[Περὶ Δαιδάλου καὶ ᾿Ικάρου.]

     Φασὶν ὅτι Μίνως Δαίδαλον καὶ ῎Ικαρον τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ καθεῖρξε διά τινα αἰτίαν, Δαίδαλος δὲ  ποιήσας πτέρυγας ἀμφοτέροις προσθετάς, ἐξέπτη μετὰ τοῦ ᾿Ικάρου. νοῆσαι δὲ ἄνθρωπον πετόμενον, ἀμήχανον, καὶ ταῦτα πτέρυγας ἔχοντα προσθετάς. τὸ οὖν λεγόμενον ἦν τοιοῦτον. Δαίδαλος ὢν ἐν τῇ εἱρκτῇ, καθεὶς ἑαυτὸν διὰ θυρίδος καὶ τὸν υἱὸν κατασπάσας, σκαφίδι ἐμβάς, ἀπῄει. αἰσθόμενος

δὲ ὁ Μίνως πέμπει πλοῖα διώξοντα. οἱ δὲ ὡς ᾔσθοντο διωκόμενοι, ἀνέμου λάβρου καὶ φοροῦ ὄντος, πετόμενοι ἐφαίνοντο. εἶτα πλέοντες οὐρίῳ Κρητικῷ νότῳ ἐν τῷ πελάγει περιτρέπονται· καὶ ὁ μὲν Δαίδαλος περισῴζεται εἰς τὴν γῆν, ὁ δὲ ῎Ικαρος διαφθείρεται (ὅθεν ἀπ’ ἐκείνου ᾿Ικάριον πέλαγος ἐκλήθη), ἐκβληθέντα δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων ὁ πατὴρ ἔθαψεν.

Image result for daedalus and icarus image
Anthony Van Dyck, 1625 “Daedalus and Icarus”

“A Safe Harbor for the Soul”: On Poetry and Reason

Philo, On Dreams 1.233

“Perhaps this is not sung truly, but it is wholly profitable and advantageous”

καὶ τάχα μὲν οὺκ ἀληθῶς, πάντως δὲ λυσιτελῶς καὶ συμφερόντως ᾄδεται

 

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides 1025.29-37

“Our soul experiences many wanderings and turns—one comes from the imagination, another emerges in the beliefs before these, and other occurs in understanding. But the life governed by the mind is free from vagrancy and this is the mystical harbor of the soul into which the poem leads Odysseus after the great wandering of his life and where we too, if we want to be saved, may find our mooring.”

Πολλαὶ οὖν αἱ πλάναι καὶ αἱ δινεύσεις τῆς ψυχῆς· ἄλλη γὰρ ἡ ἐν ταῖς φαντασίαις, ἄλλη πρὸ τούτων ἡ ἐν δόξαις, ἄλλη ἡ ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ διανοίᾳ· μόνη δὲ ἡ κατὰ νοῦν ζωὴ τὸ ἀπλανὲς ἔχει, καὶ οὗτος ὁ μυστικὸς ὅρμος τῆς ψυχῆς, εἰς ὃν καὶ ἡ ποίησις ἄγει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μετὰ τὴν πολλὴν πλάνην τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἐὰν ἄρα σώζεσθαι θέλωμεν, μᾶλλον ἑαυτοὺς ἀνάξομεν.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus mind song
National Archaeological Museum, Athens 1130

Even Heroes Dabble in the Black Arts: Odysseus, Necromancer

A student paper on the Elpenor Pelike at the MFA in Boston drew my attention to the following passage.

Servius ad Aen. 6.107

“For this reason the place is named without joy since, as people claim, it would not have been there but for necromancy or spell-craft. For, Aeneas completed these sacred rites when Misenus was killed and Ulysses did it with the death of Elpenor.

This very scene Homer himself presented falsely from the detail of its location which he specifies along with the length of time of the journey. For he claims that Ulysses sailed for one night and came to the place where he completed these sacrifices. For this reason it is abundantly clear that he doesn’t mean the ocean but Campania.”

sine gaudio autem ideo ille dicitur locus, quod necromantia vel sciomantia, ut dicunt, non nisi ibi poterat fieri: quae sine hominis occisione non fiebant; nam et Aeneas illic occiso Miseno sacra ista conplevit et Vlixes occiso Elpenore. quamquam fingatur in extrema Oceani parte Vlixes fuisse: quod et ipse Homerus falsum esse ostendit ex qualitate locorum, quae commemorat, et ex tempore navigationis; dicit enim eum a Circe unam noctem navigasse et ad locum venisse, in quo haec sacra perfecit: quod de Oceano non procedit, de Campania manifestissimum est.

The relevant passages from the Odyssey don’t give any hint that Elpenor was intentionally killed for black magic. When Odysseus actually does summon the dead, now that gets a little dark.

Odyssey, 10.552–560

“I could not even lead my companions unharmed from there.
The youngest of my companions was a certain Elpênor,
He was neither especially brave in battle or composed in his thoughts.
He separated himself from the companions in Kirkê’s holy home
Because he needed some air; then he fell asleep because he was drunk.
When he heard the noise and trouble of our companions moving out,
He got up immediately and it completely escaped his thoughts
To climb down again by the long ladder—
So he fell straight from the roof and his neck
Shattered along his spine; then his spirit flew down to Hades.”

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδ’ ἔνθεν περ ἀπήμονας ἦγον ἑταίρους.
᾿Ελπήνωρ δέ τις ἔσκε νεώτατος, οὔτε τι λίην
ἄλκιμος ἐν πολέμῳ οὔτε φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἀρηρώς,
ὅς μοι ἄνευθ’ ἑτάρων ἱεροῖσ’ ἐν δώμασι Κίρκης,
ψύχεος ἱμείρων, κατελέξατο οἰνοβαρείων·
κινυμένων δ’ ἑτάρων ὅμαδον καὶ δοῦπον ἀκούσας
ἐξαπίνης ἀνόρουσε καὶ ἐκλάθετο φρεσὶν ᾗσιν
ἄψορρον καταβῆναι ἰὼν ἐς κλίμακα μακρήν,
ἀλλὰ καταντικρὺ τέγεος πέσεν· ἐκ δέ οἱ αὐχὴν
ἀστραγάλων ἐάγη, ψυχὴ δ’ ῎Αϊδόσδε κατῆλθεν.

Elpênor appears twice more in the epic: 11.51–80 (Odysseus meets Elpênor’s ghost when he summons the dead); 12.9-15 (Odysseus buries Elpênor).

MFA Boston, Accession Number 34.79; Caskey-Beazley, Attic Vase Paintings (MFA), no. 111; Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 070-071.

Nekuomanteia, glossed by Hesychius as nekromanteia (i.e. “necromancy”) is an alternate name for the Nekyuia, the parade of the dead in book 11 of the Odyssey. From the Greek Anthology: ᾿Εν τῷ Η ἡ τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως νεκυομαντεία· (3.8); Scholia to the Odyssey, Hypotheses: Λ. Νεκυομαντεία, ἢ, Νεκυία. Cf. Eustathius, Comm. Ad Od. 1.396.10