The Origin of the Term “Swan Song”

Aelian, History of Animals 2.32

“The Swan, which the poets and many prose authors make an attendant to Apollo, has some other relationship to music and song I do not understand. But it was believed by those before us that the swan died after he sang what was called its “swan-song”. Nature truly honors it more than noble and good men and for good reason: for while others praise and morn people, the swans take care of themselves, if you will.”

Κύκνος δέ, ὅνπερ οὖν καὶ θεράποντα Ἀπόλλωνι ἔδοσαν ποιηταὶ καὶ λόγοι μέτρων ἀφειμένοι πολλοί, τὰ μὲν ἄλλα ὅπως μούσης τε καὶ ᾠδῆς ἔχει εἰπεῖν οὐκ οἶδα· πεπίστευται δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν ἄνω τοῦ χρόνου ὅτι τὸ κύκνειον οὕτω καλούμενον ᾄσας εἶτα ἀποθνήσκει. τιμᾷ δὲ ἄρα αὐτὸν ἡ φύσις καὶ τῶν καλῶν καὶ ἀγαθῶν ἀνθρώπων μᾶλλον, καὶ εἰκότως· εἴ γε τούτους μὲν καὶ ἐπαινοῦσι καὶ θρηνοῦσιν ἄλλοι, ἐκεῖνοι δὲ εἴτε τοῦτο ἐθέλοις εἴτε ἐκεῖνο, ἑαυτοῖς νέμουσιν.

Michael Apostolios, Proverbs 10.18

“Singing the swan song”: [this proverb] is applied to those who are near death. For swans sing as they die and they know then the end of life is coming upon them and so, in this way, they face that arrival bravely. But human beings fear what they do not know and think that it is the greatest evil. But swans sing out at death the kind of song sung at a funeral…”

     Κύκνειον ᾆσμα: ἐπὶ τῶν ἐγγὺς θανάτου ὄντων. οἱ γὰρ κύκνοι θνήσκοντες ᾄδουσι Καὶ ἴσασιν ὁπότε τοῦ βίου τὸ τέρμα ἀφικνεῖται αὐτοῖς, καὶ μέντοι καὶ εὐθύμως φέρουσιν αὐτὸ προσιόν. ἄνθρωποι δὲ ὑπὲρ οὗ οὐκ ἴσασι δεδοίκασι καὶ ἡγοῦνται μέγιστον εἶναι κακὸν αὐτό. ἀναγηρύονται δὲ ἐπὶ τῇ τελευτῇ οἷον ἐπικήδειόν τι μέλος…

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 14 (616b)

“Chrysippos was writing about something like this again in the same work. When someone who loved to make fun of people was about to be killed by the executioner, he said that he wanted one thing, to die after singing his ‘swan-song’. After the executioner agreed, the man made fun of him.”

περὶ δὲ τοιούτου τινὸς πάλιν ὁ Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ γράφει· φιλοσκώπτης τις μέλλων ὑπὸ τοῦ δημίου σφάττεσθαι ἔτι ἕν τι ἔφη θέλειν ὥσπερ τὸ κύκνειον ᾄσας ἀποθανεῖν. ἐπιτρέψαντος δ᾿ ἐκείνου ἔσκωψεν

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951, Folio 3r

Dabbling in the Occult: Odysseus, Necromancer

It is the right time of the year for raising the dead. 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

Revealed by the Character of His Snake

Diogenes Laerius, Lives of the Philosophers 5.6 [Heraclides 89-90]

 “He seems to have freed his country from tyranny by killing the monarch, as Demetrius of Magnesia claims in his People with the Same Names. Demetrius also tells this next story about him.

From the time he was a child he raised a pet snake. When he was near death he told one of the people he trusted to hide his body but to put the snake on his funeral litter so that he might seem to have transitioned to a place among the gods.

They did this, but while the people were taking Heracleides in his procession and were shouting out, the snake heard it and came out of the shroud, troubling people. Once everything was uncovered, Heracleides was known as he truly was, not as he seemed to be.”

Δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ τὴν πατρίδα τυραννουμένην ἐλευθερῶσαι, τὸν μόναρχον κτείνας, ὥς φησι Δημήτριος ὁ Μάγνης ἐν Ὁμωνύμοις. ὃς καὶ τοιόνδε ἱστορεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ· “θρέψαι αὐτὸν δράκοντα ἐκ νέου καὶ αὐξηθέντα, ἐπειδὴ τελευτᾶν ἔμελλε, κελεῦσαί τινι τῶν πιστῶν αὑτοῦ τὸ σῶμα κατακρύψαι, τὸν δὲ δράκοντα ἐπὶ τῆς κλίνης θεῖναι, ἵνα δόξειεν εἰς θεοὺς μεταβεβηκέναι. ἐγένετο δὲ πάντα. καὶ μεταξὺ παραπεμπόντων Ἡρακλείδην τῶν πολιτῶν καὶ εὐφημούντων, ὁ δράκων ἀκούσας τῆς ἐπιβοῆς ἐξέδυ τῶν ἱματίων καὶ διετάραξε τοὺς πλείστους. ὕστερον μέντοι ἐξεκαλύφθη πάντα καὶ ὤφθη Ἡρακλείδης οὐχ οἷος ἐδόκει, ἀλλ᾿ οἷος ἦν.”

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 35r

The Sad Death of Hesiod and His Body’s Afterlife

According to the following account, Hesiod died for another man’s crimes. His corpse was moved by dolphins. 

Plutarch, Dinner of the Seven Wise Men 19 (= Moralia 162d-e)

“Hesiod’s misfortune was rather human and like our own—you have probably heard the story”

‘No, I have not’, I said.

‘Well, it is really worth hearing. It seems that Hesiod was sharing hospitality and a place with a man from Miletus when they were in Lokris. When the other guy was secretly having sex with their host’s daughter and was caught, he had suspicion that Hesiod knew from the beginning and conspired to hide the offense—even though he was responsible for nothing, he wrongly encountered untimely rage and slander. For the brothers of the girl killed him after they ambushed him near the Nemeion in Lokris, and they killed his servant, named Troilos, too.

After the bodies were pushed out into the river Daphnos, Troilos’ was carried to a boulder washed by water, positioned a little bit out into the sea. And to this day the boulder is called Troilos. A pod of dolphins took Hesiod’s body right away and conveyed it first to Rhion and Molykria. It just happened that the Lokrian sacrifice at Rhion and their assembly, which they hold occasionally even to our time in that place, was in progress at that time. When the body showed up, carried as it was, they were amazed at the chance and they ran down and, when they recognized the corpse since it was still rather fresh, they considered everything secondary to investigating the murder, all because of Hesiod’s fame

They accomplished this quickly by discovering the murderers [a dog went barking and hunting the murderers with a shout]. They put them still alive in the sea and destroyed their homes. Hesiod was then buried near Nemeia. Many people foreign to the region do not know where the grave is. It is hidden because, as they claim, it was sought by the people of Orkhomenos who wanted to transfer the remains to their vicinity in accordance with an oracle.”

Image result for Ancient Greek dolphin vase

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Plutarchi sept. sap. conv. 19 (Hercher): ἀνθρώπινον δὲ καὶ πρὸς ἡμᾶς τὸ τοῦ ῾Ησιόδου πάθος· ἀκήκοας γὰρ ἴσως τὸν λόγον. Οὐκ ἔγωγε, εἶπον. ᾿Αλλὰ μὴν ἄξιον πυθέσθαι.

Μιλησίου γὰρ ὡς ἔοικεν ἀνδρός, ᾧ ξενίας ἐκοινώνει ὁ ῾Ησίοδος καὶ διαίτης ἐν Λοκροῖς, τῇ τοῦ ξένου θυγατρὶ κρύφα συγγενομένου καὶ φωραθέντος, ὑποψίαν ἔσχεν ὡς γνοὺς ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς καὶ συνεπικρύψας τὸ ἀδίκημα, μηδενὸς ὢν αἴτιος ὀργῇ δ’ ἀκαίρῳ καὶ διαβολῇ περιπεσὼν ἀδίκως. ἀπέκτειναν γὰρ αὐτὸν οἱ τῆς παιδίσκης ἀδελφοὶ περὶ τὸ Λοκρικὸν Νέμειον ἐνεδρεύσαντες καὶ μετ’ αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀκόλουθον ᾧ Τρωίλος ἦν ὄνομα. τῶν δὲ σωμάτων εἰς τὸν Δάφνον ποταμὸν ὠσθέντων τὸ μὲν τοῦ Τρωίλου εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἔξω φορούμενον ἐπεσχέθη περικλύστῳ χοιράδι  μικρὸν ὑπὲρ τὴν θάλασσαν ἀνεχούσῃ· καὶ μέχρι νῦν Τρωίλος ἡ χοιρὰς καλεῖται. τοῦ δ’ ῾Ησιόδου τὸν νεκρὸν εὐθὺς ἀπὸ γῆς ὑπολαβοῦσα δελφίνων ἀγέλη πρὸς τὸ ῾Ρίον ἐκόμιζε καὶ τὴν Μολυκρίαν. ἐτύγχανε δὲ Λοκροῖς ἡ τῶν ῾Ρίων καθεστῶσα θυσία καὶ πανήγυρις, ἣν ἄγουσιν ἔτι νῦν περιφανῶς περὶ τὸν τόπον ἐκεῖνον. ὡς δ’ ὤφθη προσφερόμενον τὸ σῶμα, θαυμάσαντες ὡς εἰκὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ἀκτὴν κατέδραμον καὶ γνωρίσαντες ἔτι πρόσφατον τὸν νεκρόν, ἅπαντα δεύτερα τοῦ ζητεῖν τὸν φόνον ἐποιοῦντο διὰ τὴν δόξαν τοῦ ῾Ησιόδου. καὶ τοῦτο μὲν ταχέως ἔπραξαν εὑρόντες τοὺς φονέας (add. Plut. de soll. an. 36: τοῦ κυνὸς ὑλακτοῦντος καὶ μετὰ βοῆς ἐπιφερομένου τοῖς φονεῦσιν)· αὐτούς τε γὰρ κατεπόντισαν ζῶντας καὶ τὴν οἰκίαν κατέσκαψαν. ἐτάφη δ’ ὁ ῾Ησίοδος πρὸς τῷ Νεμείῳ· τὸν δὲ τάφον οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν ξένων οὐκ ἴσασιν, ἀλλ’ ἀποκέκρυπται, ζητούμενος ὑπ’ ᾿Ορχομενίων, ὥς φασι, βουλομένων κατὰ χρησμὸν ἀνελέσθαι τὰ λείψανα καὶ θάψαι παρ’ αὑτοῖς.

The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod has a similar account but with some differences

“After the contest [with Homer] was over, Hesiod went to Delphi to get an oracle and to make a thanks-offering for the victory to the god. When he arrived at the shrine, people claim that the prophetess was inspired and said:

“This lucky man who travels to my home
Is Hesiod, honored by the divine Muses.
His fame will spread as far as the sun shines.
But guard against the gorgeous grove of Nemeian Zeus.
It is there where your fated death will come.”

Hesiod, after he heard this oracle, went retreating from the Peloponnese because he believed  that the god meant the oracle there. He went to Oinoê in Lokris and rested with Amphiphanes and Ganuktôr, the children of Phêgeus,  and he really did not understand the oracle. For this place was called the shrine of Zeus Nemeios. After he spent a period of time with the Oineans, the youths, because they suspected that Hesiod fornicated with their sister, killed him and through hem into the sea between Euboia and Lokris.

When the abandoned corpse was carried by dolphins to land, there was some local festival happening and everyone ran to the shore. Once they recognized who this was, they grieved and buried him—and then they began to seek his murderers. The brothers, because they feared the rage of the citizens, made off with a fishing skiff and sailed toward Krêtê. Zeus struck that vessel in the middle with lightening and submerged them in the sea, as Alkidamas says in the Mouseion.

Eratosthenes says in his epode that Ktimenos and Antiphon, the sons of Ganuktôr, were arrested for the aforementioned reason and sacrificed to the gods of hospitality by Eurukles the prophet. According to the same author, The virgin sister of these men hanged herself after she was raped—and Eratosthenes says she was raped by some stranger on the road who was named Hesiod, the son of Dêmades. He was also killed by the same men. Later, the Orkhomenians, in accordance with an oracle, transferred Hesiod and buried them in their land….”

Cert. Hom. et Hes. v. 214 West. (unde eadem Tzetzes

 τοῦ δὲ ἀγῶνος διαλυθέντος διέπλευσεν ὁ ῾Ησίοδος εἰς Δελφοὺς χρησόμενος καὶ τῆς νίκης ἀπαρχὰς τῷ θεῷ ἀναθήσων. προσερχομένου δὲ αὐτοῦ τῷ ναῷ ἔνθεον γενομένην τὴν προφῆτίν φασιν εἰπεῖν

ὄλβιος οὗτος ἀνήρ, ὃς ἐμὸν δόμον ἀμφιπολεύει,

῾Ησίοδος Μούσῃσι τετιμένος ἀθανάτῃσι·

τοῦ δή τοι κλέος ἔσται ὅσην τ’ ἐπικίδναται ἠώς.

ἀλλὰ Διὸς πεφύλαξο Νεμείου κάλλιμον ἄλσος·

κεῖθι δέ τοι θανάτοιο τέλος πεπρωμένον ἐστίν.

ὁ δὲ ῾Ησίοδος ἀκούσας τοῦ χρησμοῦ τῆς Πελοποννήσου μὲν ἀνεχώρει νομίσας τὴν ἐκεῖ Νεμέαν τὸν θεὸν λέγειν, εἰς δὲ  Οἰνόην τῆς Λοκρίδος ἐλθὼν καταλύει παρὰ ᾿Αμφιφάνει καὶ Γανύκτορι, τοῖς Φηγέως παισίν, ἀγνοήσας τὸ μαντεῖον· ὁ γὰρ τόπος οὗτος ἐκαλεῖτο Διὸς Νεμείου ἱερόν. διατριβῆς δ’ αὐτῷ πλείονος γενομένης ἐν τοῖς Οἰνεῶσιν, ὑπονοήσαντες οἱ νεανίσκοι τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῶν μοιχεύειν τὸν ῾Ησίοδον, ἀποκτείναντες εἰς τὸ μεταξὺ τῆς Εὐβοίας καὶ τῆς Λοκρίδος πέλαγος κατεπόντισαν.

τοῦ δὲ νεκροῦ τριταίου πρὸς τὴν γῆν ὑπὸ δελφίνων προσενεχθέντος, ἑορτῆς τινὸς ἐπιχωρίου παρ’ αὐτοῖς οὔσης ἀριαδνείας πάντες ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν ἔδραμον καὶ τὸ σῶμα γνωρίσαντες ἐκεῖνο μὲν πενθήσαντες ἔθαψαν, τοὺς δὲ φονεῖς ἀνεζήτουν. οἱ δὲ φοβηθέντες τὴν τῶν πολιτῶν ὀργήν, κατασπάσαντες ἁλιευτικὸν σκάφος διέπλευσαν εἰς Κρήτην. οὓς κατὰ μέσον τὸν πλοῦν ὁ Ζεὺς κεραυνωθεὶς κατεπόντωσεν, ὥς φησιν ᾿Αλκιδάμας ἐν μουσείῳ φησιν ᾿Αλκιδάμας ἐν Μουσείῳ.

᾿Ερατοσθένης δέ φησιν ἐν † ἐνηπόδω † Κτίμενον καὶ ῎Αντιφον τοὺς Γανύκτορος ἐπὶ τῇ προειρημένῃ αἰτίᾳ ἀνελόντας σφαγιασθῆναι θεοῖς τοῖς  ξενίοις ὑπ’ Εὐρυκλέους τοῦ μάντεως. τὴν μέντοι παρθένον τὴν ἀδελφὴν τῶν προειρημένων μετὰ τὴν φθορὰν ἑαυτὴν ἀναρτῆσαι, φθαρῆναι δὲ ὑπό τινος ξένου συνόδου τοῦ ῾Ησιόδου Δημώδους ὄνομα· ὃν καὶ αὐτὸν ἀναιρεθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν αὐτῶν φησιν. ὕστερον δὲ ᾿Ορχομένιοι κατὰ χρησμὸν μετενέγκαντες αὐτὸν παρ’ αὑτοῖς ἔθαψαν καὶ ἐπέγραψαν ἐπὶ τῷ τάφῳ·

Naps Can Be Deadly: or, Acilius Aviola’s Flame Out

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Sayings and Deeds, 1.8.12

“Another spectacle for our state was the pyre of Acilius Aviola. Doctors and his servants believed that he was dead since he had stretched out still in his house for some time. When he was taken out for burial, once the fire overtook his body, he yelled that he was alive and asked for help from his teacher—for he had remained there alone. But, because he was already surrounded by flames, he could not be saved from his death.”

1.8.12a Aliquid admirationis civitati nostrae Acilii etiam Aviolae rogus attulit, qui et a medicis et a domesticis mortuus creditus, cum aliquamdiu domi iacuisset, elatus, postquam corpus eius ignis corripuit, vivere se proclamavit auxiliumque paedagogi sui—nam is solus ibi remanserat—invocavit, sed iam flammis circumdatus fato subtrahi non potuit.

Pliny the Elder presents a shortened version of this  (Natural History, 1.173)

“Aviola the consul revived on the funeral pyre and since it was not possible to help him because the fire was too strong, he was cremated alive.”

 Aviola consularis in rogo revixit et, quoniam subveniri non potuerat praevalente flamma, vivus crematus est

Image result for Ancient Roman Funeral pyre

The Death of Augustus

Velleius Paterculus, 2.123

“This is the time attended by the most fear. Augustus had sent his own grandson Germanicus to Germany to handle the end of the conflict there. And he was about to send his son Tiberius to Illyricum to shore up the peace where he had subjugated with war. Following him and at the same time intending to visit the athletic competitions which had been established in his honor by the Neapolitans, Augustus traveled to Campania. Although he had already at that point felt the growth of weakness and sensed the beginning of his own deterioration, he followed his son with a resolute strength of spirit—he parted from him at Beneventum and left for Nola. There, as his strength dissipated by the day, and he recognized whom it was necessary to summon if he wished for everything to remain safe once he was gone, he quickly recalled his son.

Tiberius returned to the father of his fatherland more quickly than he was expected. Then, confessing that he has more content because he was surrounded by the embrace of his son, he entrusted to him their common efforts without any kind of an end, allowing that, if the fates demanded, he was ready. Even though he was renewed at first by the sight of his son and at the voice of someone dearest to him, soon, since the fates can conquer every kind of care, he released his elements and returned his divine soul to heaven in his seventy-sixth year, during the consulship of Pompeius and Apuleius” (14 CE).

Venitur ad tempus, in quo fuit plurimum metus. Quippe Caesar Augustus cum Germanicum nepotem suum reliqua belli patraturum misisset in Germaniam. Tiberium autem filium missurus esset in Illyricum ad firmanda pace quae bello subegerat, prosequens eum simulque interfuturus athletarum certaminis ludicro, quod eius honori sacratum a Neapolitanis est, processit in Campaniam. Quamquam iam motus imbecillitatis inclinataeque in deterius principia valetudinis senserat, tamen obnitente vi animi prosecutus filium digressusque ab eo Beneventi ipse Nolam petiit: et ingravescente in dies valetudine, cum sciret, quis volenti omnia post se salva remanere accersendus foret, festinanter revocavit filium; ille ad patrem patriae expectato revolavit maturius. 2 Tum securum se Augustus praedicans circumfususque amplexibus Tiberii sui, commendans illi sua atque ipsius opera nec quidquam iam de fine, si fata poscerent, recusans, subrefectus primo conspectu alloquioque carissimi sibi spiritus, mox, cum omnem curam fata vincerent, in sua resolutus initia Pompeio Apuleioque consulibus septuagesimo et sexto anno animam caelestem caelo reddidit.

Augustus - Wikipedia

The Origin of the Term “Swan Song”

Aelian, History of Animals 2.32

“The Swan, which the poets and many prose authors make an attendant to Apollo, has some other relationship to music and song I do not understand. But it was believed by those before us that the swan died after he sang what was called its “swan-song”. Nature truly honors it more than noble and good men and for good reason: for while others praise and morn people, the swans take care of themselves, if you will.”

Κύκνος δέ, ὅνπερ οὖν καὶ θεράποντα Ἀπόλλωνι ἔδοσαν ποιηταὶ καὶ λόγοι μέτρων ἀφειμένοι πολλοί, τὰ μὲν ἄλλα ὅπως μούσης τε καὶ ᾠδῆς ἔχει εἰπεῖν οὐκ οἶδα· πεπίστευται δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν ἄνω τοῦ χρόνου ὅτι τὸ κύκνειον οὕτω καλούμενον ᾄσας εἶτα ἀποθνήσκει. τιμᾷ δὲ ἄρα αὐτὸν ἡ φύσις καὶ τῶν καλῶν καὶ ἀγαθῶν ἀνθρώπων μᾶλλον, καὶ εἰκότως· εἴ γε τούτους μὲν καὶ ἐπαινοῦσι καὶ θρηνοῦσιν ἄλλοι, ἐκεῖνοι δὲ εἴτε τοῦτο ἐθέλοις εἴτε ἐκεῖνο, ἑαυτοῖς νέμουσιν.

Michael Apostolios, Proverbs 10.18

“Singing the swan song”: [this proverb] is applied to those who are near death. For swans sing as they die and they know then the end of life is coming upon them and so, in this way, they face that arrival bravely. But human beings fear what they do not know and think that it is the greatest evil. But swans sing out at death the kind of song sung at a funeral…”

     Κύκνειον ᾆσμα: ἐπὶ τῶν ἐγγὺς θανάτου ὄντων. οἱ γὰρ κύκνοι θνήσκοντες ᾄδουσι Καὶ ἴσασιν ὁπότε τοῦ βίου τὸ τέρμα ἀφικνεῖται αὐτοῖς, καὶ μέντοι καὶ εὐθύμως φέρουσιν αὐτὸ προσιόν. ἄνθρωποι δὲ ὑπὲρ οὗ οὐκ ἴσασι δεδοίκασι καὶ ἡγοῦνται μέγιστον εἶναι κακὸν αὐτό. ἀναγηρύονται δὲ ἐπὶ τῇ τελευτῇ οἷον ἐπικήδειόν τι μέλος…

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 14 (616b)

“Chrysippos was writing about something like this again in the same work. When someone who loved to make fun of people was about to be killed by the executioner, he said that he wanted one thing, to die after singing his ‘swan-song’. After the executioner agreed, the man made fun of him.”

περὶ δὲ τοιούτου τινὸς πάλιν ὁ Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ γράφει· φιλοσκώπτης τις μέλλων ὑπὸ τοῦ δημίου σφάττεσθαι ἔτι ἕν τι ἔφη θέλειν ὥσπερ τὸ κύκνειον ᾄσας ἀποθανεῖν. ἐπιτρέψαντος δ᾿ ἐκείνου ἔσκωψεν

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951, Folio 3r

Dabbling in the Occult: Odysseus, Necromancer

It is the right time of the year for raising the dead. A few years back, 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

A Shot in the Gut not the Foot!

Eustathius, Comm. ad Hom. Odyssey, 11.538 1696, 50

“The story is that Paris killed Achilles by shooting him with his bow. Sôstratos records that Alexandros was lusted after by Apollo and was his student in Archery. He was holding an ivory bow he got from Apollo when he shot Achilles in the stomach.”

᾽Αχιλλέα δὲ ὅτι ΙΙάρις ἀνεῖλε τοξεύσας καθωμίληται. Σώστρατος δὲ ἱστορεῖ ᾽Αλέξανδρον ᾽Απόλλωνος ἐρώμενον καὶ μαθητὴν τοξείας, ὑφ᾽ οὗ τόξον ἐλεφάντινον σχόντα τοξεῦσαι ᾽Αχιλλέα κατὰ γαστρός.

From the Decembrists’ “July July”

And I say your uncle was a crooked french Canadian
And he was gut-shot runnin’ gin
And how his guts were all suspended in his fingers
And how he held ’em
How he held ’em held, ’em in

Image result for paris shooting achilles vase

I talk a little bit about the symbolic value of foot wounds in “Diomedes’ Foot-wound and the Homeric Reception of Myth.”

Spectators, a Warning: Stay Hydrated

Diogenes Laertius, Thales 39

“[Thales] the wise died while watching a sporting contest because of heat, thirst, weakness, and old age. This is inscribed on his tomb:

While Thales lies in this small tomb on the ground
The fame of his wisdom spans the sky without bound

And I can also add this epigram of my own from my Epigrams of Various Meters:

As wise Thales watched the athletic games
The sun came to the stadium to tack him away
That you took him Zeus I praise
For he could not see the stars from earth because of age.

Ὁ δ᾿ οὖν σοφὸς ἐτελεύτησεν ἀγῶνα θεώμενος γυμνικὸν ὑπό τε καύματος καὶ δίψους καὶ ἀσθενείας, ἤδη γηραιός. καὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπιγέγραπται τῷ μνήματι·

ἦ ὀλίγον τόδε σᾶμα—τὸ δὲ κλέος οὐρανόμακες
—τῶ πολυφροντίστω τοῦτο Θάλητος ὅρη.

ἔστι καὶ παρ᾿ ἡμῖν ἐς αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ τῶν Ἐπιγραμμάτων ἢ Παμμέτρῳ τόδε τὸ ἐπίγραμμα·

γυμνικὸν αὖ ποτ᾿ ἀγῶνα θεώμενον, ἠέλιε Ζεῦ,
τὸν σοφὸν ἄνδρα Θαλῆν ἥρπασας ἐκ σταδίου.
αἰνέω ὅττι μιν ἐγγὺς ἀπήγαγες· ἦ γὰρ ὁ πρέσβυς
οὐκέθ᾿ ὁρᾶν ἀπὸ γῆς ἀστέρας ἠδύνατο.

Irony strikes

Thales, Fr. 22

“Water is the beginning and the end of everything.”

[οὕτος ἔφη] ἀρχὴν τοῦ παντὸς εἶναι καὶ τέλος τὸ ὕδωρ

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