This Unforgetting Stone (Another Epitaph)

Iscr. di Cos (Fun.) EF 518  From Kos, 2nd/1st Century BCE

“Previously Homeric grooves [arrows] were sounding out
The master-loving habit of Eumaios on golden tablets,
But now this stone, repeating the unforgetting word,
Will sing your wise wit even into Hades, Inakhos.

Philoskos, who reveres your home, will always increase
The fine gifts and honor you both among the living and the dead—
Along with your wife who honors your son who is weeping,
A young child who draws deep from the spring of her breasts.

O, inescapable Hades, why do you hoard this kind of blessing,
Taking away the famous son of Kleumakhis?”

1 π̣ρὶν μ̣ὲν Ὁμήρειο[ι γλυφί]δες φιλ[οδέσποτ]ο̣ν̣ ἦ̣θ̣[ο]ς
Εὐμαίου χρ̣υσέαις̣ ἔ̣κλαγον ἐν σ̣ε̣λίσ̣ι̣ν̣·
σεῦ δὲ καὶ εἰν Ἀΐδαο σαόφρονα μῆτιν ἀείσει
Ἴν̣αχ̣’ ἀείμνηστον γ̣ρ̣άμ̣μ̣α λαλεῦσ̣α̣ πέ̣τρ̣η·
5 καί σε πρὸς εὐσεβέ̣ων δ̣όμ̣ον ἄξ̣ε̣ται ἐσθλὰ Φ̣ιλίσκος̣
δῶρα καὶ ἐν ζῳοῖς κἂμ φθιμένοισι τίνων·
σήν τ̣’ ἄλοχ̣ον κλείουντ’ αὐτόν σοι παῖδα τίο̣υσαν
π̣ηγῆς ἧς μασ̣τ̣ῶν ε̣ἴ̣λ̣κυ̣σ̣ε νηπίαχο̣ς̣.
[ὦ] δυσάλικτ’ Ἀΐδα, τὶ τὸ τηλίκον ἔσχ̣ες ὄνειαρ̣,
10 κλεινὸν Κλευμαχίδο̣ς̣ κοῦρον ἀειρ̣ά̣μενο̣ς̣;

Image result for ancient greek arrows

“I Lived a Sweet Life…”

CIRB 1192   (North Black Sea, 1st Century BCE)

“Gasteis and Adeimantos
The children of Khorêgiôn, hail!
Before, when I was alive I Gasteis was living a sweet life,
Leaving behind two children with my spouse.

But now my dear brother follows me to Hades’ home
Leaving a reverent daughter as a possession to his wife.
In imitating the deeds of the wondrous men of our country,
We have both obtained Hades’ pain.”

1  Γάστεις καὶ Ἀδε[ίμαντος?]
οἱ Χορηγίωνος, χ[αίρετε].
πρόσθε μὲν ἡδὺν ἐγὼ {ι} φ[αιδρῶς Γάστεις βίον ἔζων]
συμβίωι κουριδίωι τέκ[να δύο προλιπών].
5 νῦν δέ μοι εἰς Ἀΐδαο [δόμον φίλος ἕσπετ’ ἀδελφός],
σεμνὴν θυγατέρα κ[τῆμ’ ἀφιεὶς γαμετῆι].
θαυμασίους πάτρας μ̣[ιμούμενοι ἔργμασι φῶτας],
ἀϊδίου τύχ[ο]μεν κήδ[εος ἀμφότεροι].

Image result for funerary epitaph Hades greek
Pluto on a cinerary altar

Why Weep Without Reason? All Mortals Die

IMT Kyz Kapu Dağ 1694  [= Greek Anthology 7.334] (Cyzicos, 2/3 Century CE)

“Pitiless god, why did you show me the light
Only for a brief number of few years?
Is it because you wanted to afflict my poor mother
With tears and laments through my short life?

She bore me and raised me and paid much more
Mind to my education than my father.
For he left me as a small orphan in this home
While she endured every kind of labor for me.

It would have been dear for me to have had success
Before our respected leaders with speeches in the law courts.
But the adolescent bloom of lovely youth did not
Reach my face. There was no marriage, no torches.

She did not sing the famous marriage song for me,
And the ill-fated woman never saw a child, a remnant
Of our much-lamented family. And it hurts me even when dead
My mother Polittê’s still growing grief
In her mourning thoughts over Phronto, the child she bore
Swift-fated, the empty pride of a dear country.

B. “Pôlittê, endure your grief, rein in your tears.
Many mothers have seen dead sons.
But they were not like him in their ways and life,
They were not so reverent toward their mother’s sweet face.
But why mourn so uselessly? Why weep without purpose?
All mortals will go to Hades in common.”

A.1 νηλεὲς ὦ δαῖμων, τί δέ μοι καὶ φέγγος ἔδειξας
εἰς ὀλίγων ἐτέων μέτρα μινυνθάδια;
ἦ ἵνα λυπήσῃς δι’ ἐμὴν βιότοιο τελευτήν
μητέρα δειλαίην δάκρυσι καὶ στοναχαῖς,
5 ἥ μ’ ἔτεχ’, ἥ μ’ ἀτίτηλε καὶ ἣ πολὺ μείζονα πατρός
φροντίδα παιδείης ἤνυσεν ἡμετέρης;
ὃς μὲν γὰρ τυτθόν τε καὶ ὀρφανὸν ἐν μεγάροισι
κάλλιπεν, ἣ δ’ ἐπ’ ἐμοὶ πάντας ἔτλη καμάτους·
ἦ μὲν ἐμοὶ φίλον ἦεν ἐφ’ ἁγνῶν ἡγεμονήων
10  ἐμπρεπέμεν μύθοις ἀμφὶ δικασπολίαις·
ἀλλά μοι οὐ γενύων ὑπεδέξατο κούριμον ἄνθος
ἡλικίης ἐρατῆς, οὐ γάμον, οὐ δαΐδας·
οὐχ ὑμέναιον ἄεισε περικλυτόν, οὐ τέκος εἶδε
δύσποτμος, ἐκ γενεῆς λείψανον ἡμετέρης
15 τῆς πολυθρηνήτου· λυπεῖ δέ με καὶ τεθνεῶτα
μητρὸς Πωλίττης πένθος ἀεξόμενον
Φρόντωνος γοεραῖς ἐπὶ φροντίσιν, ἣ τέκε παῖδα
ὠκύμορον, κενεὸν χάρμα φίλης πατρίδος.

B.19 Πωλίττα, τλῆθι πένθος, εὔνασον δάκρυ·
20 πολλαὶ θανόντας εἶδον υἱεῖς μητέρες· ——
ἀλλ’ οὐ τοιούτους τὸν τρόπον καὶ τὸν βίον,
οὐ μητέρων σέβοντας ἡδίστην θέαν· ——
τί περισσὰ θρηνεῖς, τί δὲ μάτην ὀδύρεαι;
εἰς κοινὸν Ἅιδην πάντες ἥξουσι βροτοί.

Image result for cyzicus ruins greece
Ruins at Cyzicos

An Early Death from Mourning

IG II² 12335  [=CEG 526] 360 BCE (Attica, Piraeus)

 “Noble Xenokleia.
After leaving behind two young daughters
Xenokleia the daughter of Nikarkhos lies here dead—
Even after she grieved the death of her son Phoinix
Who died at eight in the wide sea.

[….]

Who is inexperienced of mourning, Xenokleia
And does not pity your fate? You left two daughters
And died because of longing for a son who
Has a pitiless grave where he lies in the dark sea.”

1 Ξενόκλεια χρηστή.
ἠιθέους προλιποῦσα κόρας δισσὰς Ξενόκλεια
Νικάρχου θυγάτηρ κεῖται ἀποφθιμένη
οἰκτρὰν Φοίνικος παιδὸς πενθο͂σα τελευτήν,
5 ὃς θάνεν ὀκταέτης ποντίωι ἐν πελάγει.
5a
6 τίς θρήνων ἀδαής, ὃς σὴν μοῖραν, Ξενόκλεια,
οὐκ ἐλεεῖ, δισσὰς ἣ προλιποῦσα κόρας
ἠιθέους παιδὸς θνείσκεις πόθωι, ὃς τὸν ἄνοικτον
τύμβον ἔχει δνοφέρωι κείμενος ἐμ πελάγει.

Related image
A funerary relief from the getty museum

“To live in Flight”: ‘Carpe Diem’ is Too Cautious

Seneca, Consolation ad Marciam 10.5

“The spirit must be warned that it loves things which will one day leave—no, they are already leaving. Whatever is granted to you by fortune, take it as if it has no guaranty. Seize up the pleasures of your children and allow your children to enjoy you in turn. And drink down every bit of joy without stopping.

Nothing is promised to you for this evening—I have granted too much a pledge—nothing is promised for this hour. You must hurry, we are being chased from behind. Soon this friend will be elsewhere, soon these friendships will be lost lost when the battle’s cry is raised. In truth, everything is stolen away. Poor are you fools who do not know how to live in flight.”

Saepe admonendus est animus, amet ut recessura, immo tamquam recedentia. Quicquid a fortuna datum est, tamquam exempto auctore possideas. Rapite ex liberis voluptates, fruendos vos in vicem liberis date et sine dilatione omne gaudium haurite; nihil de hodierna nocte promittitur—nimis magnam advocationem dedi—, nihil de hac hora. Festinandum est, instatur a tergo. Iam disicietur iste comitatus, iam contubernia ista sublato clamore solventur. Rapina verum omnium est; miseri nescitis in fuga vivere!

It's #MorbidMonday and here comes death riding a skeletal horse @BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137
@BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137

Don’t Even Say it–Little Atthis, Eight Years Old

SEG 15:174  = IG II² 13124 (Attica, 2nd Century BCE)

“Don’t say it, if you look upon here,
The little Atthis…
Woe for the muse whose fine gifts she knew—
Her soul went to heaven when she was eight years old.

She left tears and moans of grief for her dear parents
Who, terribly, made her this monument instead of a marriage
When she went down to deep Acheron and Hades’ home,
All their hopes were poured into the fire and ash.”

1 [μ]ὴ̣ φῆτ’, ἢν̣ [ἐσίδητε ⏑–⏑⏑–⏑⏑–⏑]
Ἀτθίδα τὴν ὀλ[ίγην –⏑⏑–⏑⏑–]
αἰαῖ τῆς Μούσης [ἤδη καλὰ δῶρ’ εἰδυῖαν]
ὀκταέτιν· ψυχ[ὴ δ’ οὐρανὸν εἰσανέβη].
5 δάκρυα δὲ στον[αχάς τε φίλοις λείπουσα γονεῦσιν]
ἀντὶ γάμων οἴμ[οι τοῦτο τὸ σῆμ’ ἔλαχον],
τὸμ βαθὺν <ε>ἰς Ἀχ[έροντα μολοῦσ’ Ἀΐδαό τε δῶμα]·
εἰς πῦρ δὲ σπ[οδιάν τ’ ἐλπίδες ἐξεχύθεν].

Some liberties taken here

The Proverb Behind Silenus’ Wisdom

According to Plutarch, this conversation is taken from a lost dialogue ascribed to Aristotle, entitled, On the Soul. This passage also shows up in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy chapter 3.

Plutarch Consolation to Apollonius [Moralia, 115a-c]

“There is also the saying you know has been passed around the mouth of many humans over the years.” “what is that?” he asked. The other one, interrupted, “that it is best of all not to exist and then second it is better to die than to live. This has been demonstrated by many examples from the divine.

For certainly they say this concerning Midas after the hunt when he caught Silenus and was asking him and finding out from him what is best for mortals and what should be most preferred. But Silenus was willing to say nothing, but remained stubbornly silent.

After he tried nearly every kind of approach, he persuaded him to provide some answer—so compelled, he said, “brief-lived offspring of a laboring god and harsh fate, why do you force me to tell you what it is better not to know? A life lived in ignorance of your most intimate griefs is the least painful.

But for humans it is not at all possible to have the best thing of all or to have any share of the best nature—since the best thing for all men and women is not to be born. But the second best thing after this and the first available to mortals, is to die as soon as possible after being born.” It is clear that he said this because the way that exists in death is better than the one in life.”

τὸ διὰ στόματος ὂν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ὁρᾷς ὡς ἐκ πολλῶν ἐτῶν περιφέρεται θρυλούμενον.” “τί τοῦτ᾿;” ἔφη. κἀκεῖνος ὑπολαβών “ὡς ἄρα μὴ γενέσθαι μέν,” ἔφη, “ἄριστον πάντων, τὸ δὲ τεθνάναι τοῦ ζῆν ἐστι κρεῖττον. καὶ πολλοῖς οὕτω παρὰ τοῦ δαιμονίου μεμαρτύρηται. τοῦτο μὲν ἐκείνῳ τῷ Μίδᾳ λέγουσι δήπου μετὰ τὴν θήραν ὡς ἔλαβε τὸν Σειληνὸν διερωτῶντι καὶ πυνθανομένῳ τί ποτ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ βέλτιστοντοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ τί τὸ πάντων αἱρετώτατον, τὸ μὲν πρῶτον οὐδὲν ἐθέλειν εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ σιωπᾶν ἀρρήτως· ἐπειδὴ δέ ποτε μόγις πᾶσαν μηχανὴν μηχανώμενος προσηγάγετο φθέγξασθαί τι πρὸς αὐτόν, οὕτως ἀναγκαζόμενον εἰπεῖν, ‘δαίμονος ἐπιπόνου καὶ τύχης χαλεπῆς ἐφήμερον σπέρμα, τί με βιάζεσθε λέγειν ἃ ὑμῖν ἄρειον μὴ γνῶναι; μετ᾿ ἀγνοίας γὰρ τῶν οἰκείων κακῶν ἀλυπότατος ὁ βίος. ἀνθρώποις δὲ πάμπαν οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι τὸ πάντων ἄριστον οὐδὲ μετασχεῖν τῆς τοῦ βελτίστου φύσεως (ἄριστον γὰρ πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι)· τὸ μέντοι μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ πρῶτον τῶν ἀνθρώπῳ ἀνυστῶν, δεύτερον δέ, τὸ γενομένους ἀποθανεῖν ὡς τάχιστα.’ δῆλον οὖν ὡς οὔσης κρείττονος τῆς ἐν τῷ τεθνάναι διαγωγῆς ἢ τῆς ἐν τῷ ζῆν, οὕτως ἀπεφήνατο.”

This comment seems proverbial–split in similar attributions in hexameter and elegiac poetry.

In the Contest of Homer and Hesiod

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”
Homer answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

ἀρ υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
῞Ομηρος·
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.

The passage floats around some. Stobaeus (4.52.22) attributes it to Alcidamas’ Mousaion but the most widely cited source is Theognis. It is listed without attribution by the paroemiographer Michael Apostolos, with the explanation that this is a proverb “[attributed] to people living in misfortune”  (ἐπὶ τῶν δυστυχῶς βιούντων, 3.85.3)

Theognis, 425-428

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
Not to see the rays of the piercing sun
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.
And to lie with a great pile of earth heaped above you.

πάντων μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
μηδ᾿ ἐσιδεῖν αὐγὰς ὀξέος ἠελίου,
φύντα δ᾿ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι
καὶ κεῖσθαι πολλὴν γῆν ἐπαμησάμενον.

The Loeb note to this passage suggest that Theognis is merely adding to the hexameter lines, since the pentameter lines add nothing. But I think this is problematic. Consider the similar doublet to the first 2 lines above in Bacchylides.

Bacchylides 5.159–161

“And answering him, he said:
“It is best for mortals not to be born
Nor to see the sun.”

καί νιν ἀμειβόμενος
τᾶδ᾿ ἔφα· ‘θνατοῖσι μὴ φῦναι φέριστον
μηδ᾿ ἀελίου προσιδεῖν

Note how Bacchylides acknowledges the proverbial–or at least ‘other’–status of these lines by putting it into the mouths of one of his characters. Notice the stability of the infinitive construction μὴ φῦναι with the mobility of the dative θνατοῖσι and the lexical variations of θνατοῖσι instead of ἐπιχθονίοισιν and φέριστον instead of ἄριστον.

Sophocles, Oedipus Colonos 1225–1227

“Not being born conquers
every argument. But, then, if someone does emerge,
to return where you came from as fast as possible
is second best by far.”

Μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νι-
κᾷ λόγον· τὸ δ’, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,
βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥ-
κει, πολὺ δεύτερον, ὡς τάχιστα.

Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism 3.230–231) compares the Theognis passage to this fragment from Euripides (fr. 449)

“We should have a gathering to mourn
Someone when they are born, when they come to so many evils
And when someone has died and found a break from evils,
We should be happy and bless them as we carry them from their homes.”

ἐχρῆν γὰρ ἡμᾶς σύλλογον ποιουμένους
τὸν φύντα θρηνεῖν, εἰς ὅσ᾿ ἔρχεται κακά,
τὸν δ᾿ αὖ θανόντα καὶ κακῶν πεπαυμένον
χαίροντας εὐφημοῦντας ἐκπέμπειν δόμων.

Valerius Maximus claimed that Thracians actually did mourn births and celebrate funerals.

A clearer reflection on the proverb is Euripides fr. 235 (from Bellerophon):

“I agree with the thing reported everywhere,
That it is best for a mortal not to be born.”

ἐγὼ τὸ μὲν δὴ πανταχοῦ θρυλούμενον
κράτιστον εἶναι φημὶ μὴ φῦναι βροτῷ·

Note the different superlative at the beginning of the phrase and the singular βροτῷ. Based on the flexibility of the expression and the riffing on it, I would suggest that this is a broadly dispersed cultural idea that has proverbial status at a very early period. Note how Euripides, in another fragment, toys with the more broadly used phrase:

Euripides, fr. 908

“Not existing is better for mortals than being born.”

Τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι κρεῖσσον ἢ φῦναι βροτοῖς.

Epicurus (Diogenes Laertius, 10.127) thinks that anyone who believes this and says it is a fool since “if he says it because he believes it, how is it he does not just stop living? For this is ready for him to do, if it is completely believed by him.” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως).

And there is, of course, the Ancient Near Eastern context to consider!

Statue of Silenus