The Most Evil Pain: A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dining and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for human beings: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

Image result for Ancient Persian feast

A Double Mind With a Single Tongue: Elegiac Advice on Vetting People

Theognis, Elegies

77-78

“A man you can trust, Kurnos, is equal to his weight in silver and gold
Kurnos, during a time of of painful civil strife.”

πιστὸς ἀνὴρ χρυσοῦ τε καὶ ἀργύρου ἀντερύσασθαι
ἄξιος ἐν χαλεπῇ, Κύρνε, διχοστασίῃ.

91-92

“Kurnos, whoever has a double mind with a single tongue is a
Terrible companion: a better enemy than a friend.”

ὃς δὲ μιῇ γλώσσῃ δίχ᾿ ἔχει νόον, οὗτος ἑταῖρος
δεινός, Κύρν᾿· ἐχθρὸς βέλτερος ἢ φίλος ὤν.

113-114

“Never make an evil man into a dear friend:
Avoid him always, like a bad harbor.”

μήποτε τὸν κακὸν ἄνδρα φίλον ποιεῖσθαι ἑταῖρον,
ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ φεύγειν ὥστε κακὸν λιμένα

117-118

“Nothing is harder than recognizing a counterfeit.
But, Kurnos, there is nothing more urgent than guarding against one.”

κιβδήλου δ᾿ ἀνδρὸς γνῶναι χαλεπώτερον οὐδέν,
Κύρν᾿, οὐδ᾿ εὐλαβίης ἐστὶ περὶ πλέονος.

161-164

“Many people have worthless minds but enjoy good luck
And what seems like misfortune ends up good.
And there are others with good plans who have wretched luck
and success never accompanies their deeds.”

Πολλοί τοι χρῶνται δειλαῖς φρεσί, δαίμονι δ’ ἐσθλῶι,
οἷς τὸ κακὸν δοκέον γίνεται εἰς ἀγαθόν.
εἰσὶν δ’ οἳ βουλῆι τ’ ἀγαθῆι καὶ δαίμονι δειλῶι
μοχθίζουσι, τέλος δ’ ἔργμασιν οὐχ ἕπεται.

 

Gemini. From the Hunterian Psalter, produced in England ca. 1170. Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 229, folio 3r.
University Library MS Hunter 229, folio 3r.

A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power: Herodotus on the Most Evil Pain

Because this conversation happens after a shared meal, it is thematically appropriate for this month.

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dying and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for men: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

Image result for Ancient Persian feast

Homer, Odyssey 11.100-117: Teiresias implies that the Arrival of the Suitors is Odysseus’ Fault

[Today the Almeida Theater in the UK is presenting a live reading of the Odyssey. Duly inspired, we are re-posting some of our favorite Odyssey themed posts]

“You seek a thought-softening homecoming, Odysseus: but the god has made it hard for you, since I do not think that the earth-shaker will forget anger he set in his heart, enraged as he is because you blinded his dear son. But still, even now, though you have suffered evils, you may come home, if indeed you wish to save your own life and your companions. When your well-made ship first nears the island of Thrinakia as you wander over the dark sea, you will find the cattle and fat flocks of Helios who oversees and witnesses everything. If you leave them alone and think of your homecoming, then you will return to Ithaca, even though you have suffered evils. If you harm them, that will be a sign of ruin for your ship and companions. Even if you survive yourself, you will come home badly, after losing all of your companions, and you will find pain in your house: arrogant men who consume your household, suitors of your godly wife and bringers of bridegifts.”

‘νόστον δίζηαι μελιηδέα, φαίδιμ’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ• 100
τὸν δέ τοι ἀργαλέον θήσει θεός. οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
λήσειν ἐννοσίγαιον, ὅ τοι κότον ἔνθετο θυμῷ,
χωόμενος ὅτι οἱ υἱὸν φίλον ἐξαλάωσας.
ἀλλ’ ἔτι μέν κε καὶ ὧς, κακά περ πάσχοντες, ἵκοισθε,
αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃς σὸν θυμὸν ἐρυκακέειν καὶ ἑταίρων, 105
ὁππότε κεν πρῶτον πελάσῃς εὐεργέα νῆα
Θρινακίῃ νήσῳ, προφυγὼν ἰοειδέα πόντον,
βοσκομένας δ’ εὕρητε βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα
᾿Ηελίου, ὃς πάντ’ ἐφορᾷ καὶ πάντ’ ἐπακούει.
τὰς εἰ μέν κ’ ἀσινέας ἐάᾳς νόστου τε μέδηαι, 110
καί κεν ἔτ’ εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην, κακά περ πάσχοντες, ἵκοισθε•
εἰ δέ κε σίνηαι, τότε τοι τεκμαίρομ’ ὄλεθρον
νηΐ τε καὶ ἑτάροισ’. αὐτὸς δ’ εἴ πέρ κεν ἀλύξῃς,
ὀψὲ κακῶς νεῖαι, ὀλέσας ἄπο πάντας ἑταίρους,
νηὸς ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίης• δήεις δ’ ἐν πήματα οἴκῳ, 115
ἄνδρας ὑπερφιάλους, οἵ τοι βίοτον κατέδουσι
μνώμενοι ἀντιθέην ἄλοχον καὶ ἕδνα διδόντες.

(1) Some god made your homecoming hard (100); Poseidon is angry (101-102); Helios will be angry (109-110)
(2) You blinded Polyphemos (making Poseidon angry, 103)
(3) Your men might harm the flocks (angering Helios, 108-11)
(4) They will suffer and so will you

The divine actions are positioned as reactions to human action (itself unmotivated by the divine). So if Odysseus had not angered Poseidon then they would not end up on Thrinakia where his companions would not have the option to anger Helios by eating his sacred cows.

All of this is in accord with Zeus’ opening statement in the Odyssey where he complains that Aigisthus ignored divine warnings (1.32-34)

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

Mortals! They are always blaming the gods and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.