Don’t. Betray. Sappho.

Sappho, fr. 55

“When you die you will lie there and no one will remember you.
And there will no longing for you later on. You will not receive
Any roses from Pieria. But you will wander unseen through Hades’ home
Flitting away from the dirty corpses.”

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσηι οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχηις βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας· ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν ᾿Αίδα δόμωι
φοιτάσηις πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Image result for ancient greek underworld scene sarcophagus
Roman Sarcophagus, Abduction of Persephone

Two Perspectives on Slavery

The starkest of contrasts: an anonymous Hellenistic epigram depicting a grateful slave and his benevolent master, and an Athenian letter recounting a slave’s desperation and his master’s brutality.

Anonymous Epigram 7.179 (Greek Anthology)

Even now from under the earth, master,
I remain obedient to you.
Your kindness I haven’t forgotten:
Three times you saw me from sickness to health;
And now you’ve gone so far as to lay me
Under this sheltering stone, announcing:
Medes, a Persian.
You’ve done right by me.
For that, you’ll have willing slaves in your debt.

In 1972, excavation of the Athenian Agora turned up a unique c.4th-century-BC letter inscribed on a lead tablet: the speaker is an actual slave describing the actual conditions of bondage. (Presumably the letter was dictated to a scribe, and since it was found in a well, presumably it was never delivered.)

As in the fanciful epigram, δεσπότης (“master”) designates the man who command’s the slave’s life. But unlike the fictional δεσπότης whose kindness can never be repaid, the real δεσπότης is a man of limitless brutality.

The letter reads:

“Lesis sends a letter to Xenochles and his mother saying do not overlook that he’s dying in the forge, but come to his masters and find him something better. For I have been handed over to an entirely bad man: I’m dying from the whippings; I’m tied up; I’m horribly abused. And more, more!”

7.179 (Greek Anthology)

σοὶ καὶ νῦν ὑπὸ γῆν, ναί, δέσποτα, πιστὸς ὑπάρχω,
ὡς πάρος, εὐνοίης οὐκ ἐπιληθόμενος,
ὥς με τότ᾽ ἐκ νούσου τρὶς ἐπ᾽ ἀσφαλὲς ἤγαγες ἴχνος,
καὶ νῦν ἀρκούσᾐ τῇδ᾽ ὑπέθου καλύβῃ,
Μάνην ἀγγείλας, Πέρσην γένος. εὖ δέ με ῥέξας
ἕξεις ἐν χρείῃ δμῶας ἑτοιμοτέρους.

Lead tablet letter from the Athenian agora, c.4th BC. (quoted in Edward Harris, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Classical Athens, page 271)

Detail of lines 2-4 of the slave’s lead tablet letter. Reproduced from David Jordan’s “A Personal Letter Found in the Athenian Agora,” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 2000), pp. 91-103.

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.

Don’t. Betray. Sappho.

Sappho, fr. 55

“When you die you will lie there and no one will remember you.
And there will no longing for you later on. You will not receive
Any roses from Pieria. But you will wander unseen through Hades’ home
Flitting away from the dirty corpses.”

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσηι οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχηις βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας· ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν ᾿Αίδα δόμωι
φοιτάσηις πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Image result for ancient greek underworld scene sarcophagus
Roman Sarcophagus, Abduction of Persephone

A Curse from Teos For One of Our National Disasters: Woe for the Drug-Makers!

SGDI 15632 (Teos, c. 475 BCE; from Buck, Greek Dialects: Ionic Inscriptions, 3)

“Whoever should make deadly drugs for the Teian community or for an individual, destroy him and his family. Whoever stops the importation of grain into the Teian land or repels it as it is being imported either with skill or device and on sea or on land, destroy him and his family.”

Tean

Here’s the inscription from PHI Greek Inscriptions, Teos 261

ὅστις ∶ φάρμακα ∶ δηλητήρια ∶ ποιοῖ ∶ ἐπὶ Τηΐοισιν ∶ τὸ ξυνὸν ∶ ἢ ἐπ’ ἰδιώτηι, ∶ κε͂νον ∶ ἀπόλλυσθαι ∶ καὶ αὐτὸν ∶ καὶ γένος ∶ τὸ κένο ∶ ὅστις ∶ ἐς γῆν ∶ τὴν Τηΐην ∶ κωλύοι ∶ σῖτον ∶ ἐσάγεσθαι ∶ἢ τέχνηι ∶ ἢ μηχανῆι ∶ ἢ κατὰ θάλασσαν ∶ ἢ κατ’ ἤπειρον ∶ ἢ ἐσαχθέντα ∶ ἀνωθεοίη, ∶ ἀπόλλυσθαι ∶ καὶ αὐτὸν ∶ καὶ γένος ∶ τὸ κένο.

 

Aristotle (On Plants) and Galen (varia) define deleterious medicines (δηλητήρια φάρμακα) as those that are fatal to human beings, such as poisonous venom or substances coming from hemlock (or concentrations of opium, henbane etc.). Of course, such things are weaponized fairly early in human history as this threatening inscription above from Teos illustrates.

Early medical authors understood the moral obligations of physicians and pharmacologists:

Galen, Method of Medicine 816k

“There is, therefore, a safe limit of medical treatment for one struggling admirably according to the practice of medicine against a sickness—and it is also the safeguard of ability for the one who is trying to soothe the pain. Beyond this is the work of a poor doctor, resulting in the end of the patient’s life with the sickness.

It is a flatterer’s act to try to please the patient, because this places pleasure not health as the primary aim. Practitioners descend into these kinds of extremes in many ways but especially in different types of treatments among which are chiefly the so-called anodyne medicines which are made from the poppy or seed of henbane, the root of mandrake, the storax or any other kind of thing.

Doctors who yield to the sick and use too much of these sorts of drugs destroy their patients with the pains as much as those who give them at the wrong time, in the wrong measure, or not at all.

Therefore, just as in everything else in life—in habits and actions—here the appropriate guideline to take is “nothing in excess”. The appropriate marker is the health of the sick…”

ὅρος οὖν ἐπὶ καμνόντων τῷ κατὰ τὸν λόγον τῆς τέχνης ἀγωνιζομένῳ γενναίως πρὸς τὸ νόσημα τὸ τῆς Kἰάσεως | ἀσφαλές· ὥσπερ γε καὶ τῷ πραΰνοντι τὰς ὀδύνας ἡ τῆς δυνάμεως φυλακή. τὸ δ᾿ ἐπέκεινα τῶνδε σκαιοῦ μὲν ἀνδρὸς ἔργον ἐστίν, ἅμα τῷ νοσήματι καὶ τὴν ζωὴν ἀφελέσθαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον· κόλακος δὲ τὸ χαρίζεσθαι τῷ νοσοῦντι, σκοπὸν ὧν πράττει θέμενον ἡδονήν, οὐχ ὑγείαν. ἐμπίπτουσι δ᾿ εἰς τὰς τοιαύτας ὑπερβολὰς ἐν πολλαῖς μὲν καὶ ἄλλαις ὕλαις βοηθημάτων οἱ ἰατροί, μάλιστα δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς καλουμένοις ἀνωδύνοις φαρμάκοις, ὅσα δι᾿ ὀποῦ μήκωνος, ἢ ὑοσκυάμουσπέρματος, ἢ μανδραγόρου ῥίζης, ἢ στύρακος, ἤ τινος τοιούτου συντιθέασιν. οἵ τε γὰρ χαριζόμενοι τοῖς νοσοῦσι πλεονάζουσιν ἐν τῇ χρήσει τῶν τοιούτων φαρμάκων, οἵ τ᾿ ἀκαίρως καὶ ἀμέτρως γενναῖοι μηδ᾿ ὅλως χρώμενοι διαφθείρουσιν ὀδύναις τοὺς κάμνοντας. ὥσπερ οὖν ἐν ἁπάσαις ταῖς καθ᾿ ὅλον τὸν βίον ἕξεσί τε καὶ πράξεσιν, οὕτω κἀνταῦθα τὸ μηδὲν ἄγαν αἱρετέον, ὅρον ἔχοντα τὴν ὠφέλειαν τοῦ κάμνοντος.

Scholia bT ad Il. 1.594

“[The Sintian men]: Philokhoros says that because they were Pelasgians they were called this because after they sailed to Brauron they kidnapped the women who were carrying baskets. For they call “harming” [to blaptein] sinesthai.

But Eratosthenes says that they have this name because they are wizards who discovered deadly drugs. Porphyry says that they were the first people to make weapons, the things which bring harm to men. Or, because they were the first to discover piracy.”

Σίντιες ἄνδρες] Φιλόχορός φησι Πελασγοὺς αὐτοὺς ὄντας οὕτω προσαγορευθῆναι, ἐπεὶ πλεύσαντες εἰς Βραυρῶνα κανηφόρους παρθένους ἥρπασαν· σίνεσθαι δὲ τὸ βλάπτειν λέγουσιν. ᾽Ερατοσθένης δέ, ἐπεὶ γόητες ὄντες εὗρον δηλητήρια φάρμακα. ὁ δὲ Πορφύριος, ἐπεὶ πρῶτοι τὰ πολεμιστήρια ἐδημιούργησαν ὅπλα, ἃ πρὸς βλάβην ἀνθρώπων συντελεῖ· ἢ ἐπεὶ πρῶτοι ληιστήρια ἐξεῦρον.

Herodian, 3. 5

“He also gave them some deadly drugs to give to him in secret if they were able to persuade some of the cooks or waiters, even though [Albinus’] friends were suspicious and advising him to safeguard himself against a deceptively clever adversary.”

ἔδωκε δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ δηλητήρια φάρμακα, ὅπως τινὰς πείσαιεν, εἰ δυνηθεῖεν, ἢ τῶν ὀψοποιῶν ἢ τῶν πρὸς ταῖς κύλιξι, λαθεῖν καὶ ἐπιδοῦναι αὐτῷ <καίτοι> ὑποπτευόντων τῶν περὶ αὐτὸν φίλων καὶ4 συμβουλευόντων αὐτῷ φυλάττεσθαι ἄνδρα 6ἀπατεῶνα σοφόν τε πρὸς ἐπιβουλήν·

Image result for ancient greek Teos
A coin from Teos

F*** Off Friday: Hipponax’s Curse for a Former Friend

Hipponax fr. 115 (P. Argent. 3 fr. 1.16, ed. Reitzenstein)

“Once he is struck by the wave,
And [comes] naked to a kind reception at Salmydessos
Where the top-knotted Thracians
Grab him—where he will suffer many evils
Eating the bread of slavery
He will shiver struck by the cold. When he emerges from the foam
May he puke up much seaweed
And let his teeth chatter, as he lies on his face
Like a dog in his weakness
At the farthest end of the sea…
I want him to see all of these things
Because he wronged me and broke his oath,
Even though he was once my friend before.”

κύμ[ατι] πλα[ζόμ]ενος̣·
κἀν Σαλμυδ[ησσ]ῶ̣ι̣ γυμνὸν εὐφρονε̣.[
Θρήϊκες ἀκρό[κ]ομοι
λάβοιεν—ἔνθα πόλλ’ ἀναπλήσαι κακὰ
δούλιον ἄρτον ἔδων—
ῥίγει πεπηγότ’ αὐτόν· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ χνόου
φυκία πόλλ’ ἐπέ̣χοι,
κροτέοι δ’ ὀδόντας, ὡς [κ]ύ̣ων ἐπὶ στόμα
κείμενος ἀκρασίηι
ἄκρον παρὰ ῥηγμῖνα κυμα….δ̣ο̣υ̣·
ταῦτ’ ἐθέλοιμ’ ἂ̣ν ἰδεῖ̣ν,
ὅς μ’ ἠδίκησε, λ̣[ὰ]ξ δ’ ἐπ’ ὁρκίοις ἔβη,
τὸ πρὶν ἑταῖρος [ἐ]ών.

I have placed in bold just a few of the fragments that remind me of Odyssean language. Although the phrase δούλιον ἄρτον does not appear in Homer, it does recall for me the phrase “day of slavery” (δούλιον ἦμαρ).

Image result for ancient greek curse
A curse tablet featuring Hekate from the Museo Archeologico Civico di Bologna

 

A Curse on a Lover: Or, Sappho Goes Goth

Sappho, fr. 55

“When you die you will lie there and no one will remember you.
And there will no longing for you later on. You will not receive
Any roses from Pieria. But you will wander unseen through Hades’ home
Flitting away from the dirty corpses.”

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσηι οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχηις βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας· ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν ᾿Αίδα δόμωι
φοιτάσηις πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Image result for ancient greek underworld scene sarcophagus
Roman Sarcophagus, Abduction of Persephone

A Curse from Teos: Woe for the Drug-Makers!

SGDI 15632 (Teos, c. 475 BCE; from Buck, Greek Dialects: Ionic Inscriptions, 3)

“Who ever should make deadly drugs for the Teian community or for an individual, destroy him and his family. Whoever stops the importation of grain into the Teian land or repels it as it is being imported either with skill or device and on sea or on land, destroy him and his family.”

Tean

Aristotle (On Plants) and Galen (varia) define deleterious medicines (δηλητήρια φάρμακα) as those that are fatal to human beings, such as poisonous venom or substances coming from hemlock (or concentrations of opium, henbane etc.). Of course, such things are weaponized fairly early in human history as this threatening inscription above from Teos illustrates.

Scholia bT ad Il. 1.594

“[The Sintian men}: Philokhoros says that because they were Pelasgians they were called this because after they sailed to Brauron they kidnapped the women who were carrying baskets. For they call “harming” [to blaptein] sinesthai.

But Eratosthenes says that they have this name because they are wizards who discovered deadly drugs. Porphyry says that they were the first people to make weapons, the things which bring harm to men. Or, because they were the first to discover piracy.”

Σίντιες ἄνδρες] Φιλόχορός φησι Πελασγοὺς αὐτοὺς ὄντας οὕτω προσαγορευθῆναι, ἐπεὶ πλεύσαντες εἰς Βραυρῶνα κανηφόρους παρθένους ἥρπασαν· σίνεσθαι δὲ τὸ βλάπτειν λέγουσιν. ᾽Ερατοσθένης δέ, ἐπεὶ γόητες ὄντες εὗρον δηλητήρια φάρμακα. ὁ δὲ Πορφύριος, ἐπεὶ πρῶτοι τὰ πολεμιστήρια ἐδημιούργησαν ὅπλα, ἃ πρὸς βλάβην ἀνθρώπων συντελεῖ· ἢ ἐπεὶ πρῶτοι ληιστήρια ἐξεῦρον.

Herodian, 3. 5

“He also gave them some deadly drugs to give to him in secret if they were able to persuade some of the cooks or waiters, even though [Albinus’] friends were suspicious and advising him to safeguard himself against a deceptively clever adversary.”

ἔδωκε δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ δηλητήρια φάρμακα, ὅπως τινὰς πείσαιεν, εἰ δυνηθεῖεν, ἢ τῶν ὀψοποιῶν ἢ τῶν πρὸς ταῖς κύλιξι, λαθεῖν καὶ ἐπιδοῦναι αὐτῷ <καίτοι> ὑποπτευόντων τῶν περὶ αὐτὸν φίλων καὶ4 συμβουλευόντων αὐτῷ φυλάττεσθαι ἄνδρα 6ἀπατεῶνα σοφόν τε πρὸς ἐπιβουλήν·

Image result for ancient greek Teos
A coin from Teos

F*** Off Friday: Hipponax’s Curse for a Former Friend

Hipponax fr. 115 (P. Argent. 3 fr. 1.16, ed. Reitzenstein)

“Once he is struck by the wave,
And [comes] naked to a kind reception at Salmydessos
Where the top-knotted Thracians
Grab him—where he will suffer many evils
Eating the bread of slavery
He will shiver struck by the cold. When he emerges from the foam
May he puke up much seaweed
And let his teeth chatter, as he lies on his face
Like a dog in his weakness
At the farthest end of the sea…
I want him to see all of these things
Because he wronged me and broke his oath,
Even though he was once my friend before.”

κύμ[ατι] πλα[ζόμ]ενος̣·
κἀν Σαλμυδ[ησσ]ῶ̣ι̣ γυμνὸν εὐφρονε̣.[
Θρήϊκες ἀκρό[κ]ομοι
λάβοιεν—ἔνθα πόλλ’ ἀναπλήσαι κακὰ
δούλιον ἄρτον ἔδων—
ῥίγει πεπηγότ’ αὐτόν· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ χνόου
φυκία πόλλ’ ἐπέ̣χοι,
κροτέοι δ’ ὀδόντας, ὡς [κ]ύ̣ων ἐπὶ στόμα
κείμενος ἀκρασίηι
ἄκρον παρὰ ῥηγμῖνα κυμα….δ̣ο̣υ̣·
ταῦτ’ ἐθέλοιμ’ ἂ̣ν ἰδεῖ̣ν,
ὅς μ’ ἠδίκησε, λ̣[ὰ]ξ δ’ ἐπ’ ὁρκίοις ἔβη,
τὸ πρὶν ἑταῖρος [ἐ]ών.

I have placed in bold just a few of the fragments that remind me of Odyssean language. Although the phrase δούλιον ἄρτον does not appear in Homer, it does recall for me the phrase “day of slavery” (δούλιον ἦμαρ).

Image result for ancient greek curse
A curse tablet featuring Hekate from the Museo Archeologico Civico di Bologna

 

Theseus Laments that Words Pervert the Truth (Euripides’ fr. 439)

“Alas! I wish facts had a voice for people
So that clever speakers would be nothing.
Now instead men with turning tongues steal away
The truest things: and what should seem true cannot.”

φεῦ φεῦ, τὸ μὴ τὰ πράγματ’ ἀνθρώποις ἔχειν
φωνήν, ἵν’ ἦσαν μηδὲν οἱ δεινοὶ λέγειν.
νῦν δ’ εὐτρόχοισι στόμασι τἀληθέστατα
κλέπτουσιν, ὥστε μὴ δοκεῖν ἃ χρὴ δοκεῖν

This is from Euripides’ lost Hippolytus Veiled, a play in which the deception of Theseus results in the death of his son. His words sound idealist and almost noble, but as the story goes his wife Phaedra lies about sexual advances from her stepson Hippolytus and Theseus curses him. One of Theseus’ interlocutors replies (fr. 440):

“Theseus, I advise you that this is best, if you think through it:
Don’t ever believe that you hear the truth from a woman.”

Θησεῦ, παραινῶ σοὶ τὸ λῷστον, εἰ φρονεῖς,
γυναικὶ πείθου μηδὲ τἀληθῆ κλύων.

Nope. Not very nice, Euripides.