Of Fish & Men

Septuagint. Book of Habakkuk. 1.13-16.

Does your pure eye not see wrong? Can’t it see suffering? Why do you look on the deceitful and stay silent while the ungodly devour the righteous?

You’ve made humans like the fish of the sea, and like beasts without a master.  

He [the enemy] pulls up the lot of them with his fish-hook, hauls them out with his net, and collects them in his seine.  This makes him glad; his heart rejoices. 

And so he makes offerings to his seine, and he burns incense to his net. For after all, thanks to them he has bettered his portion and his victuals are excellent.

Philo. On the Creation. XXI. 65-66.

Of the forms of life, the most undeveloped and least formed is the race of fish, and the most complete and the best in all respects is the race of humans . . .

Of living things, God created fish first. Their essence, however, is more that of a body than a living thing. In a way they are alive and not alive. They are capable of movement yet lacking in life. The principle of life is scattered in them as if by chance and solely for the preservation of their bodies–just as they say salt is put on meat to prevent it easily spoiling.


καθαρὸς ὀφθαλμὸς τοῦ μὴ ὁρᾶν πονηρά, καὶ ἐπιβλέπειν ἐπὶ πόνους οὐ δυνήσῃ: ἵνα τί ἐπιβλέπεις ἐπὶ καταφρονοῦντας; παρασιωπήσῃἐν τῷ καταπίνειν ἀσεβῆ τὸν δίκαιον; καὶ ποιήσεις τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ὡς τοὺς ἰχθύας τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ ὡς τὰ ἑρπετὰ τὰ οὐκ ἔχοντα ἡγούμενον.  συντέλειαν ἐν ἀγκίστρῳ ἀνέσπασεν καὶ εἵλκυσεν αὐτὸν ἐν ἀμφιβλήστρῳ καὶ συνήγαγεν αὐτὸν ἐν ταῖς σαγήναις αὐτοῦ: ἕνεκεν τούτου εὐφρανθήσεται καὶ χαρήσεται ἡ καρδία αὐτοῦ: ἕνεκεν τούτου θύσει τῇ σαγήνῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ θυμιάσει τῷ ἀμφιβλήστρῳ αὐτοῦ ὅτι ἐναὐτοῖς ἐλίπανεν μερίδα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ βρώματα αὐτοῦ ἐκλεκτά.


φυχής γάρ ή μέν άργοτάτη καΐ ήκιστα τετυπωμένη τω γένει τών Ιχθύων προσκεκλήρωται, ή δ ‘ ακριβέστατη και κατά πάντα άριστη τω τών ανθρώπων . . . διό τών έμφύχων πρώτους έγέννησεν ιχθύας, πλέον μετέχοντας σωματικής ή φυχικής ουσίας, τρόπον τινά ζώα καΐ ού ζώα, κινητά άφυχα, προς αυτό μόνον τήν τών σωμάτων διαμονήν παρασπαρέντος αύτοΐς του φυχοειδοΰς, καθάπερ φασι τούς άλας τοις κρέασιν, Ινα μή ραδίως φθείροιντο.

  1. Black and white photograph of a young girl looking down at a fish, vertical in her hands
    Ingar Krauss. Untitled (Hannah with Fish). 2001

    Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Fathers and Mothers of the Gods?

Philodemos, On Piety, 4688-4707

“In the verses we attribute to Epimenides, the rest [of creation] comes from Air and night. But Homer says that Okeanos produced the younger generation of gods from Tethys (“Okeanos and birth of the gods and their mother Tethys”, [Il. 14.201]). Yet, Abaris thinks it was Kronos and Rhea, while others claim that Zeus and Hera are father and mother of the gods. Pindar thinks that they come from mother Kybele when he sings “queen Kybele, mother…”

…..] ἐν δὲ τοῖς
εἰς ᾽Επι]μενίδην
ἐξ ᾽Αέρος] καὶ Νυκτὸς
τἆλλα σ]υστῆναι,
ἀλλὰ δὴ] ῞Ομηρος
ἀποφαί]νετ᾽ ᾽Ωκεα-
νὸν ἐκ] Τη[θ]ύ[[οε]]ος
τοὺς νέ]ους γεννᾶν
θεούς· «᾽Ω]κεανόν τε
θεῶν γέ]νεσιν καὶ
μητέρα] Τ[ηθύ]ν» εἰ
πών. ῎Αβα]ρ̣ις δὲ Κρό-
νον τε κ]αὶ [῾Ρ]έαν, οἱ δὲ
Δία καὶ]῞Ηραν πατέ-
ρα καὶ] μητέρα θε-
ῶν νο]μίζουσιν. Πίν-
δαρος] δ᾽ [ἐκ] Κυβέ-
λης μ]ητρὸς ἐν τῶι
«δέσπ]οιν[αν] Κυβέ-
λαν] ματ[έρα»] …

Cybèle Potnia theron.jpg
Hellenistic Cybele, 3rd Century BCE, Naples Archaeological Museum

Magic Men: Poets, Healers, Prophets and Mages, Another Wondrous Wednesday

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.

Apollonios Paradoxographus,  Historiae Mirabiles 3

1 Epimenides of Crete is said to have been sent by his father and uncles to the field to bring sheep to the city. Once night came upom him he varied his custom and slept for 57 years as many others have written and Theopompos records this in his histories about amazing things in regions.

After this it happened that Epimenides’ family believed he was dead in the intervening years. When he woke from sleep he went in search of the sheep he had been sent for. When he did not find it he went to the field. He was imagining that he had woken on the same day on which he went to sleep. When he came upon a ruined field and a a decaying shelter, he went to the city. After he arrived at he home he recognized everyone there among those who were there in the time when he disappeared.

The Cretans claim—as Theopompos says—that he lived 150 years and then died. There are not a few other impossible stories told about the same man.”

᾿Επιμενίδης ὁ Κρὴς λέγεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν τοῦ πατρὸς ἀποσταλεὶς εἰς ἀγρὸν πρόβατον ἀγαγεῖν εἰς τὴν πόλιν· καταλαβούσης αὐτὸν νυκτὸς παραλλάξαι τῆς τρίβου καὶ κατακοιμηθῆναι ἔτη ἑπτὰ καὶ πεντήκοντα, καθάπερ ἄλλοι τε πολλοὶ εἰρήκασιν, ἔτι <δὲ> καὶ Θεόπομπος ἐν ταῖς ἱστορίαις ἐπιτρέχων τὰ κατὰ τόπους θαυμάσια.

ἔπειτα συμβῆναι ἐν τῷ μεταξὺ χρόνῳ τοὺς μὲν οἰκείους τοῦ ᾿Επιμενίδου ἀποθανεῖν, αὐτὸν δὲ ἐγερθέντα ἐκ τοῦ ὕπνου ζητεῖν ἐφ’ ὃ ἀπεστάλη πρόβατον, μὴ εὑρόντα δὲ πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὸν ἀγρόν—ὑπελάμβανεν δὲ ἐγηγέρθαι τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ, ᾗπερ ἔδοξεν κεκοιμῆσθαι—καὶ καταλαβόντα τὸν ἀγρὸν πεπραμένον καὶ τὴν σκευὴν ἠλλαγμένην ἀπαίρειν εἰς τὴν πόλιν. καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν ἐκεῖθεν πάντα ἔγνω, ἐν οἷς καὶ τὰ περὶ τοῦ χρόνου, καθ’ ὃν ἀφανὴς ἐγένετο.

λέγουσι δὲ οἱ Κρῆτες, ὥς φησιν ὁ Θεόπομπος, ἔτη βιώσαντα αὐτὸν ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα <καὶ ἑπτὰ> ἀποθανεῖν.  λέγεται δὲ περὶ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τούτου καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ὀλίγα παράδοξα.

Epimenides is famous for his sleeping trick in the ancient world–but he was also known for composing a Cretan Theogony.

2 “It is said that Aristeas the Prokonnesian died on some early morning in Prokennesos and on that same day and hour was seen by many in Sicily teaching reading. From there, because this sort of thing occurred with him and he appeared over many years and the phenomenon grew more frequent, the Sicilians built a temple to him an sacrificed to him as a god.”

2᾿Αριστέαν δὲ ἱστορεῖται τὸν Προκοννήσιον ἔν τινι γναφείῳ τῆς Προκοννήσου τελευτήσαντα ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ὥρᾳ ἐν Σικελίᾳ ὑπὸ πολλῶν θεωρηθῆναι γράμματα διδάσκοντα. ὅθεν, πολλάκις αὐτῷ τοῦ τοιούτου συμβαίνοντος καὶ περιφανοῦς γιγνομένου διὰ πολλῶν ἐτῶν καὶ πυκνότερον ἐν τῇ Σικελίᾳ φανταζομένου, οἱ Σικελοὶ ἱερόν τε καθιδρύσαντο αὐτῷ καὶ ἔθυσαν ὡς ἥρωϊ.

Aristeas is also believed to have been an epic poet who traveled great distances.

I have posted Apollonios’ similar tales about Hermotimos (Wonder 3) and Pythagoras (Wonder 7) before.

4 “Abaris was from the Hyperboreans and he himself was a theologer. He also composed oracles as he traveled around the lands, and these survive even to our times. That guy also prophesied earthquakes and famines and similar things and events in the sky.

It is said that he appeared in Lakedaimon and told the Lakonians to make some preventive sacrifices to the gods. And from that time on there was no famine in Lakedaimon.”

4῎Αβαρις δὲ ἐξ ῾Υπερβορέων ἦν μὲν καὶ αὐτὸς τῶν θεολόγων, ἔγραφε δὲ καὶ χρησμοὺς τὰς χώρας περιερχόμενος, οἵ εἰσιν μέχρι τοῦ νῦν ὑπάρχοντες· προέλεγεν δὲ καὶ οὗτος σεισμοὺς καὶ λοιμοὺς καὶ τὰ παραπλήσια καὶ τὰ γιγνόμενακατ’ οὐρανόν. λέγεται δὲ τοῦτον εἰς Λακεδαίμονα παραγενόμενον εἰρηκέναι τοῖς Λάκωσι κωλυτήρια θῦσαι τοῖς θεοῖς, καὶ ἐκ τούτου ὕστερον ἐν Λακεδαίμονι λοιμὸς οὐκ ἐγένετο.

Abaris was also a poet and healer.

5 “Some tales like the following are presented concerning Pherecydes. Once on the island Suros when he was thirsty he  asked for water from one of his relatives. While he was drinking, he said that there would be an earthquake on the island on the third day. Because this happened, the man earned great fame.

When he was returning to Samos to see the temple of Hera and his ship was being taken into the harbor, he said to his fellow passengers that the ship would not make it into the harbor.  As he was still saying this, the darkness fell all around and finally the ship disappeared.”

5 Τὰ δὲ περὶ Φερεκύδην τοιαῦτά τινα ἱστορεῖται. ἐν Σύρῳ ποτὲ τῇ νήσῳ διψῶντα ὑδάτιον αἰτῆσαι παρά τινος τῶν γνωρίμων· τὸν δὲ πιόντα εἰπεῖν σεισμὸν ἐσόμενον ἐν τῇ νήσῳ μετὰ τρίτην ἡμέραν. τούτου δὲ συμβάντος μεγάλην δόξαν αὐτὸν ἀπενέγκασθαι.

πάλιν δὲ εἰς Σάμον πορευόμενον εἰς τὸ τῆς ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν ἰδεῖν πλοῖον εἰς τὸν λιμένα καταγόμενον, καὶ εἰπεῖν τοῖς συνεστῶσιν, ὡς οὐκ εἰσελεύσεται ἐντὸς τοῦ λιμένος· ἔτι δὲ λέγοντος αὐτοῦ καταρραγῆναι γνόφον καὶ τέλος ἀφανισθῆναι τὴν ναῦν.

Like Epimenides, Pherecydes was credited with composing a cosmogony.



Three Alternative Cosmogonic Myths

Acusilaus, fr. 6b.

“Hesiod seems to me in his account to have made Khaos the first element, and then he developed Gaia [earth] first from there. But Acusilaos, as I understand it, posited that it was unknown in most places that Khaos was the first principle. And [he added] that two things came after this single beginning: Erebos [darkness, which was male, and Night, which was female. From these two having sex, he claimed that Aithera [sky/air], Erôs [sex] and Mêtis [wisdom] were born. According to the account of Eudêmos, [he claims] a great number of the rest of the gods were born in addition to these from those first [parents] too.”

῾Ησίοδος δέ μοι δοκεῖ πρῶτον γενέσθαι τὸ Χάος ἱστορῶν … τὴν δὲ Γῆνπρώτην ἐκεῖθεν παράγειν … ᾿Ακουσίλαος δὲ Χάος μοι ὑποτίθεσθαι δοκεῖ τὴν πρώτην ἀρχὴν ὡς πάντηι ἄγνωστον. τὰς δὲ δύο μετὰ τὴν μίαν·῎Ερεβος μὲν τὴν ἄρρενα, τὴν δὲ θήλειαν Νύκτα … ἐκ δὲ τούτων φησὶ
μιχθέντων Αἰθέρα γενέσθαι καὶ ῎Ερωτα καὶ Μῆτιν … παράγει δὲ ἐπὶτούτοις ἐκ τῶν αὐτῶν καὶ ἄλλων θεῶν πολὺν ἀριθμὸν κατὰ τὴν Εὐδήμου ἱστορίαν (F 117 Sp.).

Derveni Papyrus, Fr. 14F Benarbé

“Zeus was first born, Zeus with bright lightning was born last.
Zeus is the head, the middle, and from him all things come.
Zeus is the breath of all things and is the fate of all things.
Zeus is the king. Zeus of bright lightning is the ruler of everything.”

Ζεὺς πρῶτος <γένετο, Ζεὺς> ὕστατος <ἀργικέραυνος>
Ζεὺς κεφα<λή, Ζεὺς μέσ>σα, Διὸς δ’ ἐκ <π>άντα τέτ<υκται,>
<Ζεὺς πνοιὴ πάντων, Ζεὺς πάντων ἔπλετο> μοῖρα
Ζεὺς βασιλεύς, Ζεὺς δ’ ἀρχὸς ἁπάντων ἀργικέραυνος.

Procl. Comm. On Plato’s Rep. v.1-1= fr. 111f Benarbé

“Time [Khronos], that ageless, imperishable wit, gave birth to Sky [Aithêr]
And then great Void [Khasm], a monster here and there,
There was no boundary, no floor, nor any foundation.”

Αἰθέρα μὲν Χρόνος οὗτος ἀγήραος, ἀφθιτόμητις
γείνατο καὶ μέγα Χάσμα πελώριον ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα,
οὐδέ τι πεῖραρ ὑπῆν, οὐ πυθμήν, οὐδέ τις ἕδρα.



Euripides,fr. 484 (Melanippe Wise): Alternative Cosmogony

“The story is not mine, but from my mother:
Sky and Earth were once a single form.
When they were split apart from one another
They created and delivered all things to the light:
Trees, birds, beasts the sea supports
And the race of mortal men.”

κοὐκ ἐμὸς ὁ μῦθος, ἀλλ’ ἐμῆς μητρὸς πάρα,
ὡς οὐρανός τε γαῖά τ’ ἦν μορφὴ μία•
ἐπεὶ δ’ ἐχωρίσθησαν ἀλλήλων δίχα,
τίκτουσι πάντα κἀνέδωκαν εἰς φάος,
δένδρη, πετεινά, θῆρας οὕς θ’ ἅλμη τρέφει
γένος τε θνητῶν.

Euripides wrote more than one play about Melanippe. If this cosmogonic account sounds familiar, it is close to some ancient Indic traditions–everyone say Hiranyagarbha!