The Shoot That Rises from the Fire

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

As few years ago I posted this passage as wildfires burned through Attica. As with most non-US and non-Trump related disasters, these fires went under-reported). The recent coverage of the conflagration that is claiming Australia right now is even worse in the US. Part of it is our own myopia and narcissism; the rest is that we are in deep denial that we have crossed some pretty terrible lines. Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this.

Image result for australia fires

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. This last year saw another season of devastation in the Western US, costing $163 million just to suppress. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and their bereaved families.

Image result for australia fires

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

The fire in this simile–that promise of life, the seed of the future–is a domesticated fire, one controlled and contingent on human relationships. It is a symbol for human potential to create and in its dormancy suppresses the urge to destroy. The promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it. When I posted these passages a few years back, I was hopeful, somehow, that something might arise out of them. I am unsure that Herodotus’ historic view or Homer’s heroic vision can encapsulate what we’re facing at all: an unmaking of the world as we know it. This is primordial.

Hesiod Theogony 853-867

“When Zeus filled with strength and took his weapons,
That thunder, lightning, and the shining thunderbolt,
He leapt down from Olympos and attacked. He burned
All the divine heads of the terrible beast around him.
Once Zeus overcame him, slamming him down with his fists,
He fell, bent back, and the great Earth gasped beneath him.
Flame rose up from the thunder-beaten god
On the tops of the mountain ridges in the dry places
where he was struck and the great Earth burned beneath
because of the unbearable force and it melted there—
the way tin melts when fired with skill in the well-made channels
or the way iron—which is the strongest thing of all—
contracts when overcome by bright fire on mountain ridges
only to melt in the rich earth under Hephaistos’s hands—
that’s how the Earth melts in the glare of the burning fire”

Ζεὺς δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν κόρθυνεν ἑὸν μένος, εἵλετο δ’ ὅπλα,
βροντήν τε στεροπήν τε καὶ αἰθαλόεντα κεραυνόν,
πλῆξεν ἀπ’ Οὐλύμποιο ἐπάλμενος· ἀμφὶ δὲ πάσας
ἔπρεσε θεσπεσίας κεφαλὰς δεινοῖο πελώρου.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δή μιν δάμασε πληγῇσιν ἱμάσσας,
ἤριπε γυιωθείς, στονάχιζε δὲ γαῖα πελώρη·
φλὸξ δὲ κεραυνωθέντος ἀπέσσυτο τοῖο ἄνακτος
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃσιν † ἀιδνῆς παιπαλοέσσης
πληγέντος, πολλὴ δὲ πελώρη καίετο γαῖα
αὐτμῇ θεσπεσίῃ, καὶ ἐτήκετο κασσίτερος ὣς
τέχνῃ ὑπ’ αἰζηῶν ἐν ἐυτρήτοις χοάνοισι
θαλφθείς, ἠὲ σίδηρος, ὅ περ κρατερώτατός ἐστιν,
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃσι δαμαζόμενος πυρὶ κηλέῳ
τήκεται ἐν χθονὶ δίῃ ὑφ’ ῾Ηφαίστου παλάμῃσιν·
ὣς ἄρα τήκετο γαῖα σέλαι πυρὸς αἰθομένοιο.

Here at the end of Hesiod’s Theogony, Zeus uses his overwhelming force and intelligence to face an existential challenge: the destructive potential of the universe contained within one figure, Typhoios (an elemental threat reflecting Zeus’ own surpassing power). Zeus brings order to the kosmos by subduing Typhoios and, in part thanks to this, gets to reign as king, father of gods and men. We don’t live in a poem of the gods; we can’t hope for myths to save our future. We need to do things now.

Or, we can just throw in with the reckless plutocrats and embrace that old Freudian death drive and keep on spending and burning until we’re all dead….

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

This is the voice that says only the now matters, that this quarter’s profits are more important than sustainability and justice, that today’s ends justify any kinds of means. Unsurprisingly, it is attributed to the Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero:

Suda tau 552 [cribbing Dio Cassius]

“And Tiberius uttered that ancient phrase, “when I am dead, the earth can be fucked with fire”, and he used to bless Priam because he died with his country and his palace.”

τοῦτο δὲ τὸ ἀρχαῖον ἐφθέγξατο· ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί. καὶ τὸν Πρίαμον ἐμακάριζεν, ὅτι μετὰ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἀπώλετο.

Vacation: Putting the Skholê back into Scholarship

Dio Chrysostom, On Retirement 3

“No, these guys are obviously running away and going AWOL. They have no excuse and could expect no pardon for this kind of vacation and desertion.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὗτοι μὲν δῆλον ὅτι φεύγουσί τε καὶ δραπετεύουσι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴη πρόφασις αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ συγγνώμη τῆς τοιαύτης σχολῆς τε καὶ ἀποδράσεως.

scholar 2

As many people know, the word scholarship is somewhere in the past derived from the Ancient Greek skholê for “leisure” (since literary and linguistic studies were both the sorts of things people did in their leisure time and you had to be a person with leisure time to do them). This also happens to be the word that Woodhouse’s English-Greek Dictionary provides as the translation for English “vacation”.

(also, just ruminate on the Latin etymology of vacation for a minute, the implied emptiness…)

Vacation

One of the popular—and politically expedient—myths about people who teach (both at the college level and lower) is that we are people of leisure—we have too much idle time to engage in (1) not doing ‘real’ work or (2) brainwashing those naïve children society entrusts to us. The truth—especially for college faculty on contract or in contingent positions, for those early in their career or looking for jobs, or for anyone who teaches elementary through high school—is that the past generation has seen the slow but steady erosion of the boundary between leisure and work.

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“When will this year end?” One man gives games and even though he set a great worth on being able to do so, now says, “When will I flee them?” Another lawyer is praised over the whole forum and attracts a great crowd extending farther than they can hear, yet he complains, “When will I get a break?”

Everyone hurries life on and suffers a desire for the future and a weariness from the present. But the one who dedicates all his time to his own use, who orders every day as if it is the last one, neither desires nor fears tomorrow.”

“Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio. At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet.

This boundary has moved not in our favor but in the direction of creating an environment in which teachers and academics never stop working. This is true for many fields where technology and the unholy god of efficiency has extended work hours and expected employees to take work home and to answer work communication at all hours. But it is especially damaging for mental health in higher ed and high school where we buy in to the idea of the life of the mind and willingly submit to the elision between our personal and professional selves.

This means that high school teachers grade until 9 or 10 at night (on an early night) because they are with students until almost dinner time. This means that professors teaching adjunct courses still feel compelled to answer emails at 1 AM because they don’t want lower teaching evaluations. This means that early career professors in the tenure track put off having children or being in relationships for decades because they don’t have the time. This means that life passes us by because we are trying so hard to make the most out our lives.

A few years back in Facebook, Dr. S. Culpepper Stroup (a fantastic name of which I am very jealous) makes a great point about the difference between otium (leisure) and negotium (business) in Latin. The long-and-short of it is that the Roman lexicon reflects an inverse relationship between our work and vacation. But, here are her finer words (quoted with permission):

Speaking of *otium* (as I always do) and its centrality to the Roman intellectual sphere, consider its opposite: *negotium*. Latin instructors often team *otium* as “leisure” and *negotium* as “business,” both of which absolutely miss the train in terms of semantic designation.

(Leisure comes from the Latin *licet*, so it indicates a time when one is *allowed* to do a specific activity, which absolutely lacks the strong autonomous sense of *otium*.)

Anyway, *negotium* is—obviously—the privative of *otium* (early on we see it in Plautus as “nec otium mihi”). *Negotium* is the time when you are deprived of *otium*.

The English “vacation” completely reverses that, making work the “full” thing (full of work, that is), and vacation the privative.

I far prefer the Roman sense of *otium*, as a self-owned time that needed no apologies.

Euripides, Hippolytus 383-384

“Life has many pleasures
Long talks and leisure, a pleasant evil…”

… εἰσὶ δ’ ἡδοναὶ πολλαὶ βίου,
μακραὶ δὲ λέσχαι καὶ σχολὴ τερπνὸν κακόν.

Smarter and more well-informed people than I can make the argument about the evils of neo-liberal capitalism and the commodification of everything. They can point out the insidious culture that insists us to see our online persona as our actual selves and to envision the ‘life’ we pursue there as a never ending process of branding and re-branding to ensure that we will never be less than fully commodifiable. I can merely confess that the anxiety, workload, and self-identification has shaped me in such a way that it is really, really hard to take any time off.

I was grading exams the days both of my children were born (and I got reprimanded by my chair for not entering grades soon enough after). When my daughter was learning to walk, I cheered her on as I furiously finished a book and a few articles to ensure I received tenure. I took one week off when my father died suddenly. I have brought sick kids to class repeatedly. I took one day off when my grandmother died.. None of this is necessary, admirable, or worthy of praise; all of it is from guilt, pressure, and our toxic work culture. And I know I don’t have it particularly bad. I have tenure. I have a place in the world, job security, and safety.

But at this point, I am what I do and I do what I am. I take articles to read at the playground. I proof articles while my kids are at swimming lessons. I have dragged work to Italy, India, France, Germany. Somehow I have not totally ruined my relationship with my spouse by slinking out of bed regularly at 5 am or answering emails after the children are asleep. I have lived through my work and despite my work. And I worry about the long-term consequences.

But I keep going because I love my material, because I love my students and my institution, and because of the fear and guilt: I know there are many others who are smarter, who have worked harder, but who have not had some of the dumb luck I have (or the privilege to which I was born) to end up where I am.

Cicero, Pro Murena 28

“No one can be famous for being wise if it is concerning the type of knowledge which is worthless anywhere beyond Rome and even at Rome too during a vacation. No one can be an expert on something which everyone knows because there can’t be any disagreement on the matter. A subject cannot be considered difficult just because it exists in a very few and rather obscure documents.”

Sapiens existimari nemo potest in ea prudentia quae neque extra Romam usquam neque Romae rebus prolatis quicquam valet. Peritus ideo haberi nemo potest quod in eo quod sciunt omnes nullo modo possunt inter se discrepare. Difficilis autem res ideo non putatur quod et perpaucis et minime obscuris litteris continetur.

At the end of the day (and a life!), I cannot be sure that work that I do is worth the emotion I have put into it. But, of course, this does not mean I can or will stop. I can, however, try to reset definitions a bit and remember to enjoy life a little more and take time off.

So, I am not going to go all memento mori and carpe diem today. (My students already think I have some sort of death-obsessed insanity.) And I won’t claim to be especially unlucky when I know the opposite is true. But I will say that we have a problem in education, especially: we spend a lot of time claiming that we can teach about the value of human life even as we fail so terribly at honoring the worth of our own.

So, the next week of posts will be repeats, cleverly repackaged along with a few retrospective posts I threw together earlier. I am going to try not to do work for a week. Again.

Ok, wait, Screw it. We are ALL GOING TO DIE. Here’s some advice from Ashurbanipal:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

Image result for Ancient Greek Leisure
It is a race, but we all know where it ends.

While We Live, Sing a Song for Me

These are fragments which may or may not be a whole. They made me think of Bettina Joy de Guzman. There’s nothing like death obsession in the Fall….

P. Oxy. xv. 1921, no. 1795, p. 113 [Anonymous = LCL Anonymous Hexamers 125]

“Don’t try to do injustice nor to return injustice done
Avoid murders and avoid battles, don’t deign to argue—
Then you will hurt only a short time and you won’t think about it later.

Play a song for me.

You saw the spring, winter, the summer. These are eternal.
Even the sun has set and night is taking what’s owed her.
Don’t try to find where the sun comes from or where the water’s home,
But where you can buy some fragrance and and wreaths.

Play a song for me.

I used to want to have three free-flowing honey springs,
five milk rivers, ten of wine, twelve of perfume
two from clear fountains and three from snow.
I used to want a boy and a girl near a fountain.

Play a song for me.

The Lydian pipe and the Lydian games of the lyre work for me.
The Phrygian reed and the leather-topped drum work for me too.
As long as I live I love to sing these things and when I die
Put a flute above my head and a lyre near my feet.

Play a song for me.

Who has ever discovered how to measure wealth and poverty?
Or who again has ever found how much gold human beings need?
Today, still, whoever has money always wants more of it
And the wretch is tortured like the poor even though he’s rich.

Play a song for me.

If you ever see a corpse or walk by quiet graves,
That’s when you look into the mirror we all share: the dead expected this.
Time is on loan and life’s lender is a prick.
Whenever he demands repayment, you must pay the bill by grieving.

Play a song for me.

It was the king Xerxes who said he shared everything with god,
But he crossed the Lemnian water in defeat with a single rudder.
Midas was rich; Kinyras was triply blest,
But who has ever gone to Hades with more than a single coin?

Play a song for me.,.”

μηδ᾿ ἀδικεῖν ζήτει, μηδ᾿ ἂν ἀδι[κῆι πρ]οσερίσηις·
φεῦγε φόνους καὶ φεῦγε μάχας, φ[εῖ]σαι διαφρονε[ῖ]ν,
εἰς δ᾿ ὀλίγον πονέσεις, καὶ δεύτερον οὐ μεταμέληι.

αὔ[λει μοι

Ἶδες ἔαρ, χειμῶνα, θέρος· ταῦτ᾿ ἐστι διόλου·
ἥλιος αὐτὸς [ἔδυ], καὶ νὺξ τὰ τεταγμέν᾿ ἀπέχει·
μὴ κοπία ζητεῖν πόθεν ἥλιος ἢ πόθε[ν] ὕδωρ,
ἀλλὰ π[ό]θεν τ[ὸ] μύρον καὶ τοὺς στεφάνου[ς] ἀγοράσηις.

αὔλει μο[ι.

Κρήνας αὐτορύ[το]υς μέλ[ιτ]ος τρεῖς ἤθελον ἔχειν,
πέντε γαλακτορύτους, οἴνου δέκα, δ[ώδε]κα μύρου,
καὶ δύο πηγαίων ὑδάτων, καὶ τρεῖς χιονέων·
παῖδα κατὰ κρήνην καὶ παρθένον ἤθελον ἔχειν.
αὔλει μο[ι.

Λύδιος αὐλὸς ἐμοὶ τὰ δὲ Λύδια παίγματα λύρας
κα[ὶ] Φρύγ[ιο]ς κάλαμος τὰ δὲ ταύρεα τύμπανα πονεῖ·
ταῦτα ζῶν ἆισαί τ᾿ ἔραμαι καὶ ὅταν ἀποθάνω
αὐλὸν ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς θέτε μοι παρὰ ποσ(σ)ὶ δὲ λύρη[ν.

αὔλει μοι.

Μέτρα τί[ς] ἀν πλούτου, τίς ἀνεύρατο μέτρα πενίας
ἢ τίς ἐν ἀνθρώποις χρυσοῦ πάλιν εὕρατο μέτρον;
νῦν γὰρ ὁ χρήματ᾿ ἔχων ἔτι πλε[ί]ονα χρήματα θέλει,
πλούσιος ὢν δ᾿ ὁ τάλας βασανίζεται ὥσπερ ὁ πένης.

αὔλ[ει μοι.

Νεκρὸν ἐάν ποτ᾿ ἴδηις καὶ μνήματα κωφὰ παράγηις
κοινὸν ἔσοπτρον ὁρᾶι(ς)· ὁ θανὼν οὕτως προσεδόκα.
ὁ χρό[ν]ος ἐστὶ δάνος, τὸ ζῆν πικρός ἐσθ᾿ ὁ δανίσας,
κἂν τότ᾿ ἀπαιτῆσαί σε θέληι, κλαίων [ἀ]ποδιδοῖς.

αὔλει μοι.

Ξέρξης ἦν βασιλε[ὺ]ς ὁ λέγων Διὶ πάντα μερίσαι,
ὃς δυσ(ὶ) πηδαλ[ί]ο[ι]ς μόνος ἔσχισε Λήμνιον ὕδωρ.
ὄλβι(ο)ς ἦν ὁ Μίδας, τρὶς δ᾿ ὄλβιος ἦν ὁ [Κ]ινύρ[α]ς,
ἀλλὰ τίς εἰς Ἀίδα ὀβολοῦ πλέον ἤλυθεν ἔχων;

αὔλει μοι.

Memento mori
Mosaic from Pompeii

Then, there’s always this:

How to Live from Ashurbanipal

In the midst of a nearly endless discussion of fish in the 8th book of his Deipnosophistai, Athenaeus has his banqueters bandy about epigrammatic advice about the nature of human life. One of his speakers quotes Chrysippus who alleges that Sardanapallos (the Greek name for the Syrian king Ashurbanipal) had the following as an epitaph:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

The speakers critique the dead king’s sentiments and propose that the epitaph could be emended with more elevated aims.

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in words: nothing is useful once eaten.
For even I am now but rages though I ate and took as much pleasure as possible.
I keep whatever I learned and the thoughts I had and the fine things
I experienced with them. Everything else, however pleasing, is gone.”

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος μύθοισι· φαγόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ῥάκος εἰμί, φαγὼν ὡς πλεῖστα καὶ ἡσθείς.
ταῦτ’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔμαθον καὶ ἐφρόντισα καὶ μετὰ τούτων
ἔσθλ’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ καὶ ἡδέα πάντα λέλειπται.

Some other epitaphs (fictional or not) are included:

“Drink. Play. Your life is mortal and time on earth is but short.
Death itself is everlasting once a man has died.”

πῖνε, παῖζε· θνητὸς ὁ βίος, ὀλίγος οὑπὶ γῇ χρόνος·
ὁ θάνατος δ’ ἀθάνατός ἐστιν, ἂν ἅπαξ τις ἀποθάνῃ.

“Drink. Eat. Yield everything to your soul.
For I am the stone that stands in place of Bachidas.”

πιέν, φαγὲν καὶ πάντα τᾷ ψυχᾷ δόμεν·
κἠγὼ γὰρ ἕστακ’ ἀντὶ Βακχίδα λίθος.

Strabo combines the two, 14.5.9

“Next is Zephurion which has the same name as a place near Kalydnos.  Nearby, not far from the sea, is Ankhialê, founded by Sardanapallos according to Aristoboulos. There he claims is a monument of Sardanapallos, a stone sculpture that shows the fingers of his right hand as if they are snapping. Beneath is an epigraph in Assyrian letters reading: “Sardanapallos the son of Anakundaraxes / founded Ankhialê and Tarsos in a single day. / Eat. Drink. Play, because no other things are worthy of this”, indicating the snapping fingers.

Khoirilos also mentions these things–and the following verses are known everywhere. “Everything I have eaten, the insults I have made, and the delights I have taken in love are mine. These numerous blessings I leave behind.”

Εἶτα Ζεφύριον ὁμώνυμον τῷ πρὸς Καλύδνῳ· εἶτ’ ᾿Αγχιάλη μικρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς θαλάττης, κτίσμα Σαρδαναπάλλου, φησὶν ᾿Αριστόβουλος· ἐνταῦθα δ’ εἶναι μνῆμα τοῦ Σαρδαναπάλλου καὶ τύπον λίθινον συμβάλλοντα τοὺς τῆς δεξιᾶς χειρὸς δακτύλους ὡς ἂν ἀποκροτοῦντα, καὶ ἐπιγραφὴν εἶναι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι τοιάνδε „Σαρδανάπαλλος ὁ ᾿Ανακυνδαράξεω παῖς „᾿Αγχιάλην καὶ Ταρσὸν ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε πῖνε „παῖζε, ὡς τἆλλα τούτου οὐκ ἄξια,” τοῦ ἀποκροτήματος. μέμνηται δὲ καὶ Χοιρίλος τούτων· καὶ δὴ καὶ περιφέρεται τὰ ἔπη ταυτί „ταῦτ’ ἔχω, ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ „ἀφύβρισα, καὶ μετ’ ἔρωτος τέρπν’ ἔπαθον, τὰ δὲ „πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια κεῖνα λέλειπται.”

Ashurbanipal
The Man. The Myth.

Among certain Greek writers (starting as early as Aristophanes: Birds 1021) Sardanapallus was proverbially a glutton

Hesychius

“Sardanapallos: Nearly everyone writes that this guy was a slave to every kind of excess and delicacy. They say that this is recorded on his on monument in Assyrian letters in Ninevah, Assyria.”

Σαρδανάπαλ(λ)ος· πάντες σχεδὸν ἁπάσης ἀκολασίας καὶ τρυφῆς
δοῦλον τοῦτον ἀναγράφουσι γεγονέναι. καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ μνήματι αὐτοῦ ἐν
τῇ ᾿Ασσυρίᾳ ἐν Νίνῳ φασὶν ἐπιγεγράφθαι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι·

Suda S.v. Sardanapolous

“Kallisthenes claims in the second book of his Persian Histories that there were two men named Sardapapalos [Assurbanipal], one was active and well-born, but the other was a dandy. In Ninevah, his memorial bears the inscription

“The son of Anakundaraxes built Tarsos and Ankhialê in a single day.
Eat, drink, screw because other things are not worthy of this.”

That is, [worthy of] a snap of his fingers. For when he set up the statue in his memory it was made with its hands over its head, as if it were snapping its fingers. The same thing is inscribed in Ankhialê and Tarsos, which is called Zephurion now.

There is also a proverb: “May you grow older than Tithonos, wealthier than Kinyras, and more industrious than Sardanopalos. Then you can prove the proverb: Old men are children twice.”  This is used for the very old, since Tithonos avoided aging with a prayer and became a cicada. Kinyras was a descendant of king Pharakes of the Cypriots and he was distinguished for his wealth. And Sardanapalos, king of the Assyrians, destroyed his own kingdom while he lived in luxury and immoderation. He was the son of Anakyndarakes, the king of Ninevah which falls within Persian lands. The story is that he founded Tarsos and Ankhilaê in a single day. And that, shamefully, he was too proud to be seen by his servants unless they were girls or eunuchs. He rotted himself with wine and was found after he died indoors.”

Σαρδαναπάλους ἐν β′ Περσικῶν δύο φησὶ γεγονέναι Καλλισθένης, ἕνα μὲν δραστήριον καὶ γενναῖον, ἄλλον δὲ μαλακόν. ἐν Νίνῳ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῦ μνήματος αὐτοῦ τοῦτ’ ἐπιγέγραπται· ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου παῖς Ταρσόν τε καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε, πίνε, ὄχευε, ὡς τά γε ἄλλα οὐδὲ τούτου ἐστὶν ἄξια. τουτέστι τοῦ τῶν δακτύλων ἀποκροτήματος· τὸ γὰρ ἐφεστὼς τῷ μνήματι ἄγαλμα ὑπὲρ τῆς κεφαλῆςἔχον τὰς χεῖρας πεποίηται, ὥστ’ ἂν ἀποληκοῦν τοῖς δακτύλοις. ταυτὸ καὶ ἐν ᾿Αγχιάλῳ τῇ πρὸς Ταρσῷ ἐπιγέγραπται, ἥτις νῦν καλεῖται Ζεφύριον. καὶ παροιμία· καταγηράσαις Τιθωνοῦ βαθύτερον, Κινύρου πλουσιώτερος καὶ Σαρδαναπάλου τρυφηλότερος, ὅπως τὸ τῆς παροιμίας ἐπὶ σοὶ πληρωθῇ, δὶς παῖδες οἱ γέροντες. ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπεργήρων· ὁ γὰρ Τιθωνὸς κατ’ εὐχὴν τὸ γῆρας ἀποθέμενος εἰς τέττιγα μετέβαλε· Κινύρας δέ, ἀπόγονος Φαρνάκου βασιλέως Κυπρίων, πλούτῳ διαφέρων· Σαρδανάπαλος δέ, ᾿Ασσυρίων βασιλεύς, ὃς ἐπ’ ἀκολασίᾳ καὶ τρυφῇ διαβιοὺς

κατέλυσε τὴν ἰδίαν ἀρχήν. ὁ δὲ Σαρδανάπαλος οὗτος υἱὸς ἦν ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου, βασιλέως Νίνου, Περσικῆς χώρας· ὃς ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ Ταρσὸν καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔκτισε. φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν αἰσχρῶς καλλωπίζεσθαι τοῖς τε  οἰκείοις μὴ ὁρᾶσθαι, εἰ μὴ εὐνούχοις καὶ κόραις. πεπυρπολημένος δὲ τῷ οἴνῳ, ἔνδον εὑρεθεὶς ἀπέθανε.

 

Perhaps someone should write a song about him….

“Windblown dreams and shadows of glory”: Human Life

Arsenius, 17.66

“Windblown dreams and shadows of glory”: A proverb applied to those hoping for things in vain.

῾Υπηνέμια ὀνείρατα καὶ ἐπαίνων σκιαί: ἐπὶ τῶν μάτην ἐλπιζόντων.

 

Some Words

ἀνεμώδης: “windy”

ἀνεμοσκεπής: “shelter from the wind”

ἀνεμόστρεφος: “whirling in the wind”

ἀνεμόπους: “wind-footed” [i.e. “fast”]

ἀνεμοδούλιον: “Slave to the wind”

ἀνεμαμαχία: “meeting of contrary winds”

 

Sophocles, fr. 945

“O wretched and mortal race of men:
We are nothing more than image of shadows,
Wandering back and forth, an excessive weight on the earth.”

ὦ θνητὸν ἀνδρῶν καὶ ταλαίπωρον γένος,
ὡς οὐδέν ἐσμεν πλὴν σκιαῖς ἐοικότες,
βάρος περισσὸν γῆς ἀναστρωφώμενοι

The passage from Sophocles above made me think of the following lines from Homer

Homer. Od. 10.495

“Persephone allowed him to have a mind, even though he is dead,
He alone is able to think. The others leap like shadows”

τῷ καὶ τεθνηῶτι νόον πόρε Περσεφόνεια
οἴῳ πεπνῦσθαι· τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν.’

The scholia have a few interesting things to add to this.

Schol. ad Hom. Od. 10.495

“They leap like shadows”: The rest of the dead apart from Teiresias are shadows and they move like shadows, just like the shadows that follow men who are moving. This term is used instead of souls [psukhai]. Certainly the poet has the rest of the dead come forward for comparison in this, but the rest of the dead move like shadows”

τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν] οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νεκροὶ πλὴν τοῦ Τειρεσίου σκιαί εἰσι καὶ ὡς σκιαὶ ὁρμῶσι, καθάπερ αὗται παρέπονται τοῖς κινουμένοις. Q. ἀντὶ τοῦ αἱ ψυχαί. ὁ μέντοι ποιητὴς πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους νεκροὺς ποιεῖται τὴν σύγκρισιν ἐν τῷ, οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νεκροὶ ὡς σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν. B.Q.T.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia

Stobaeus (1.49.54) in discussing shadows and death, notes that “if they meet their near and dear, they cannot see them nor can they converse with them, but they are walled off from aesthetic reality, they appear to them something like shadows”

Εἰ δὴ τοῖς οἰκείοις ἐντυγχάνοντες οὔτε ὁρῶσιν αὐτοὺς οὔτε προσδιαλέγονται, ἀνενέργητοι δέ εἰσιν αἰσθητικὴν ἐνέργειαν, πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἐοικότες εἶεν <ἂν> ταῖς σκιαῖς·

He also brings up the image of smoke evoked in the Iliad (23.100-101)

“He could not grasp him, but his soul went over the earth,
Twisted, just like smoke…”

οὐδ’ ἔλαβε· ψυχὴ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς ἠΰτε καπνὸς
ᾤχετο τετριγυῖα…

 

Shadows and Breath: Lyrics on Human Life

A Repeated idea in classical Greek poetry

Aeschylus, fr. 399.1-2

“Humanity thinks only about temporary seeds,
Its pledge is nothing more than the shadow of smoke”

τὸ γὰρ βρότειον σπέρμ’ ἐφήμερα φρονεῖ,
καὶ πιστὸν οὐδὲν μᾶλλον ἢ καπνοῦ σκιά

Sophocles, fr. 13.

“Man is only breath and shadow.”

ἄνθρωπός ἐστι πνεῦμα καὶ σκιὰ μόνον

Pindar, Pythian 8.95

“Alive for a day: What is a person? What is not a person? Man is a dream of a shadow”
ἐπάμεροι· τί δέ τις; τί δ’ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ

Euripides, fr. 532

“Do good while people are alive; when each man dies
He is earth and shadow. What is nothing changes nothing.”

τοὺς ζῶντας εὖ δρᾶν• κατθανὼν δὲ πᾶς ἀνὴρ
γῆ καὶ σκιά• τὸ μηδὲν εἰς οὐδὲν ῥέπει.

fr. 509

“What else? An old man is voice and shadow.”

τί δ’ ἄλλο; φωνὴ καὶ σκιὰ γέρων ἀνήρ.

Tragic Adesp. Fr. 95

“I want to advise all mortals
To live our temporary life sweetly. For after you die,
You are nothing more than a shadow over the earth.”

πᾶσιν δὲ θνητοῖς βούλομαι παραινέσαι
τοὐφήμερον ζῆν ἡδέως· ὁ γὰρ θανὼν
τὸ μηδέν ἐστι καὶ σκιὰ κατὰ χθονός·

Sophocles, fr. 945 (suggested by twitter’s @equiprimordial)

“O wretched and mortal race of men:
We are nothing more than image of shadows,
Wandering back and forth, an excessive weight on the earth.

ὦ θνητὸν ἀνδρῶν καὶ ταλαίπωρον γένος,
ὡς οὐδέν ἐσμεν πλὴν σκιαῖς ἐοικότες,
βάρος περισσὸν γῆς ἀναστρωφώμενοι

Image result for Ancient Greek burial sites

Homer. Od. 10.495

“Persephone allowed him to have a mind, even though he is dead,
He alone is able to think. The others leap like shadows”

τῷ καὶ τεθνηῶτι νόον πόρε Περσεφόνεια
οἴῳ πεπνῦσθαι· τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν.’

The scholia have a few interesting things to add to this.

Schol. ad Hom. Od. 10.495

“They leap like shadows”: The rest of the dead apart from Teiresias are shadows and they move like shadows, just like the shadows that follow men who are moving. This term is used instead of souls [psukhai]. Certainly the poet has the rest of the dead come forward for comparison in this, but the rest of the dead move like shadows”

τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν] οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νεκροὶ πλὴν τοῦ Τειρεσίου σκιαί εἰσι καὶ ὡς σκιαὶ ὁρμῶσι, καθάπερ αὗται παρέπονται τοῖς κινουμένοις. Q. ἀντὶ τοῦ αἱ ψυχαί. ὁ μέντοι ποιητὴς πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους νεκροὺς ποιεῖται τὴν σύγκρισιν ἐν τῷ, οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι νεκροὶ ὡς σκιαὶ ἀΐσσουσιν. B.Q.T.

Democritus, fr. B145

“A story is the shadow of the deed”

λόγος ἔργου σκιή

Arsenius, 6.33a

“The shadow of Doiduks”: A proverb applied to nothing.”

Δοίδυκος σκιά: ἐπὶ τοῦ μηδενός.

Michael Apostolios, 5.74

“Shadow instead of a body”: A Proverb applied to those who seem strong but have no power.”

Σκιὰ ἀντὶ τοῦ σώματος: ἐπὶ τῶν δοκούντων κρα-
τεῖν τι, οὐδὲν δ’ ὅμως κρατούντων.

The motif of man as ephemeral is prior to the classical period

Homer, Iliad 6.145-151

“Oh, you great-hearted son of Tydeus, why are you asking about pedigree?
The generations of men are just like leaves on a tree:
The wind blows some to the ground and then the forest
Grows lush with others when spring comes again.
In this way, the race of men grows and then dies in turn.
But if you are willing, learn about these things so you may know
My lineage well—many are the men who know me.”

Τυδεΐδη μεγάθυμε τί ἢ γενεὴν ἐρεείνεις;
οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοίη δὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν.
φύλλα τὰ μέν τ’ ἄνεμος χαμάδις χέει, ἄλλα δέ θ’ ὕλη
τηλεθόωσα φύει, ἔαρος δ’ ἐπιγίγνεται ὥρη·
ὣς ἀνδρῶν γενεὴ ἣ μὲν φύει ἣ δ’ ἀπολήγει.
εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις καὶ ταῦτα δαήμεναι ὄφρ’ ἐὺ εἰδῇς
ἡμετέρην γενεήν, πολλοὶ δέ μιν ἄνδρες ἴσασιν

Stobaeus (1.49.54) in discussing shadows and death, notes that “if they meet their near and dear, they cannot see them nor can they converse with them, but they are walled off from aesthetic reality, they appear to them something like shadows”

Εἰ δὴ τοῖς οἰκείοις ἐντυγχάνοντες οὔτε ὁρῶσιν αὐτοὺς οὔτε προσδιαλέγονται, ἀνενέργητοι δέ εἰσιν αἰσθητικὴν ἐνέργειαν, πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἐοικότες εἶεν <ἂν> ταῖς σκιαῖς·

He also brings up the image of smoke evoked in the Iliad (23.100-101)

“He could not grasp him, but his soul went over the earth,
Twisted, just like smoke…”

οὐδ’ ἔλαβε· ψυχὴ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς ἠΰτε καπνὸς
ᾤχετο τετριγυῖα…

An uplifting proverb to close:

Arsenius, 17.66

“Windblown dreams and shadows of glory”: A proverb applied to those hoping for things in vain.

῾Υπηνέμια ὀνείρατα καὶ ἐπαίνων σκιαί: ἐπὶ τῶν μάτην ἐλπιζόντων.

It’s Thursday: An Eternal Death Awaits, No Matter What

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1076-1094

“Finally, what great and vile desire for life compels us
To quake so much amidst doubts and dangers?
Mortals have an absolute end to our lives:
Death cannot be evaded—we must leave.

Nevertheless, we move again and still persist—
No new pleasure is procured by living;
But while what we desire is absent, that seems to overcome
All other things; but later, when we have gained it, we want something else—

An endless thirst for life grips us as we gasp for it.
It remains unclear what fortune life will offer,
What chance may bring us and what end awaits.
But by extending life we do not subtract a moment
Of time from death nor can we shorten it
So that we may somehow have less time after our ends.

Therefore, you may continue as living as many generations as you want,
But that everlasting death will wait for you still,
And he will be there for no less a long time, the man who
Has found the end of life with today’s light, than the man who died
Many months and many years before.”

Denique tanto opere in dubiis trepidare periclis
quae mala nos subigit vitai tanta cupido?
certe equidem finis vitae mortalibus adstat
nec devitari letum pote, quin obeamus.
praeterea versamur ibidem atque insumus usque
nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas;
sed dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
cetera; post aliud, cum contigit illud, avemus
et sitis aequa tenet vitai semper hiantis.
posteraque in dubiost fortunam quam vehat aetas,
quidve ferat nobis casus quive exitus instet.
nec prorsum vitam ducendo demimus hilum
tempore de mortis nec delibare valemus,
quo minus esse diu possimus forte perempti.
proinde licet quod vis vivendo condere saecla,
mors aeterna tamen nihilo minus illa manebit,
nec minus ille diu iam non erit, ex hodierno
lumine qui finem vitai fecit, et ille,
mensibus atque annis qui multis occidit ante.

Illustration for article titled Ancient Roman funeral masks made from wax were freakishly lifelike
Ancient Roman Funeral Masks