“Ox-Skinning Days”: Hesiod’s Strange View of Winter

[Lenaion is the month that occupies the end of January and beginning of February.]

 Hesiod, Works and Days 504-528

“Avoid the month of Lenaion, terrible days, all of them ox-skinning,
Avoid it and the frosts which grow cruelly
Over the earth as Boreas blows them on.
Boreas, through horse-breeding Thrace and the wide sea
Raises the cold, blowing on, and the earth and trees whimper.
He fells many high-headed oaks and broad pines
As he leaps over the much-nourishing earths and forest glens,
And the whole forest roars then in anguish.
The beasts bristle, they tuck their tails beneath their legs,
Even those with skin covered in fur. He goes cold
Straight threw them, even when they are covered in wool.
He pierces an ox-hide which cannot hold him;
He blows straight through a thin-coated got. But not sheep—
No, because their hair is lush and thick, the might
Of the wind Boreas cannot pierce it. But it makes an old man
Curved. Boras does not touch the tender maiden’s skin
If she stays at home, inside, next to her dear mother,
Where she does not know the deeds of golden Aphrodite
As she bathes her fine skin and anoints with olive oil,
Rubbing herself down in the deepest room of her home,
On that day when the boneless cold grates his foot
In his fireless home and his harsh pastures.
No sun promises to rise on his pastures,
But he turns slowly on the countries and cities of
The darker men, and shines sluggishly for all the Greeks.”

Μῆνα δὲ Ληναιῶνα, κάκ’ ἤματα, βουδόρα πάντα,
τοῦτον ἀλεύασθαι καὶ πηγάδας, αἵ τ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
πνεύσαντος Βορέαο δυσηλεγέες τελέθουσιν,
ὅς τε διὰ Θρῄκης ἱπποτρόφου εὐρέι πόντῳ
ἐμπνεύσας ὤρινε, μέμυκε δὲ γαῖα καὶ ὕλη·
πολλὰς δὲ δρῦς ὑψικόμους ἐλάτας τε παχείας
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃς πιλνᾷ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ
ἐμπίπτων, καὶ πᾶσα βοᾷ τότε νήριτος ὕλη·
θῆρες δὲ φρίσσουσ’, οὐρὰς δ’ ὑπὸ μέζε’ ἔθεντο·
τῶν καὶ λάχνῃ δέρμα κατάσκιον· ἀλλά νυ καὶ τῶν
ψυχρὸς ἐὼν διάησι δασυστέρνων περ ἐόντων·
καί τε διὰ ῥινοῦ βοὸς ἔρχεται οὐδέ μιν ἴσχει,
καί τε δι’ αἶγα ἄησι τανύτριχα· πώεα δ’ οὔτι,
οὕνεκ’ ἐπηεταναὶ τρίχες αὐτῶν, οὐ διάησι
ἲς ἀνέμου Βορέω· τροχαλὸν δὲ γέροντα τίθησιν
καὶ διὰ παρθενικῆς ἁπαλόχροος οὐ διάησιν,
ἥ τε δόμων ἔντοσθε φίλῃ παρὰ μητέρι μίμνει,
οὔπω ἔργα ἰδυῖα πολυχρύσου ᾿Αφροδίτης,
εὖ τε λοεσσαμένη τέρενα χρόα καὶ λίπ’ ἐλαίῳ
χρισαμένη μυχίη καταλέξεται ἔνδοθι οἴκου,
ἤματι χειμερίῳ, ὅτ’ ἀνόστεος ὃν πόδα τένδει
ἔν τ’ ἀπύρῳ οἴκῳ καὶ ἤθεσι λευγαλέοισιν·
οὐ γάρ οἱ ἠέλιος δείκνυ νομὸν ὁρμηθῆναι,
ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ κυανέων ἀνδρῶν δῆμόν τε πόλιν τε
στρωφᾶται, βράδιον δὲ Πανελλήνεσσι φαείνει.

Boreas the north-wind | Athenian red-figure pelike C5th B.C. | Martin von Wagner Museum, University of Würzburg

Werewolf Week Continues: Byzantine Verse on Lycanthropy

Surrounded by the Halloween spirit because I have small children and I like trashy television, I got interested (again) in continuities between ancient monsters and modern storytelling. Inadvertently, this week has become werewolf week. I started with a reference to turning into wolves in Plato. Then, led by the Oxford Classical Dictionary, I delighted in the werewolf tale from Petronius. This led of course to Pliny the Elder.

But the werewolf hunt does not end there.  I have some Pausanias (that shares some aspects with Pliny and Plato) for later in the week. Along the way, I have found a trove of late antique and Byzantine medical treatises on Lycanthropy. (Those are coming tomorrow). I could not wait to force this upon the world: a Byzantine didactic poem based on those medical treatises!

Master Psellos, What can you tell us about wolves about men and anything else you embellish?
Master Psellos,
What can you tell us
about wolves
about men
and anything else you embellish?

The poem is from a collection of didactic verses attributed to Michael Psellos of Constantinople who lived and worked in the 11th century CE. The text comes from the Teubner edition of his poems edited by L. G. Westernik (1982).

Poemata 9.841

“One kind of melancholy is lykanthropy.
And it is clearly a type of misanthropy.
Mark thus a man who rushes from the day
When you see him at night running round graves,
With a pale face, dumb dry eyes, not a care in his rage.”

Μελάγχολόν τι πρᾶγμα λυκανθρωπία·
ἔστι γὰρ αὐτόχρημα μισανθρωπία,
καὶ γνωριεῖς ἄνθρωπον εἰσπεπτωκότα
ὁρῶν περιτρέχοντα νυκτὸς τοὺς τάφους,
ὠχρόν, κατηφῆ, ξηρόν, ἠμελημένον.

Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: Hesiod, Works and Days, 217-229

“Oath runs right alongside crooked judgments.
But a roar comes from Justice as she is dragged where
bribe-devouring men lead when they apply laws with crooked judgments.
She attends the city and the haunts of the hosts
weeping and cloaked in mist, bringing evil to men
who drive her out and do not practice righteous law.
For those who give fair judgments to foreigners and citizens
and who do not transgress the law in any way,
cities grow strong, and the people flourish within them;
A child-nourishing peace settles on the land, and never
Does wide-browed Zeus sound the sign of harsh war.”

αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει ῞Ορκος ἅμα σκολιῇσι δίκῃσιν·
τῆς δὲ Δίκης ῥόθος ἑλκομένης ᾗ κ’ ἄνδρες ἄγωσι
δωροφάγοι, σκολιῇς δὲ δίκῃς κρίνωσι θέμιστας·
ἣ δ’ ἕπεται κλαίουσα πόλιν καὶ ἤθεα λαῶν,
ἠέρα ἑσσαμένη, κακὸν ἀνθρώποισι φέρουσα,
οἵ τέ μιν ἐξελάσωσι καὶ οὐκ ἰθεῖαν ἔνειμαν.
οἳ δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν
ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου,
τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις, λαοὶ δ’ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ·
εἰρήνη δ’ ἀνὰ γῆν κουροτρόφος, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτοῖς
ἀργαλέον πόλεμον τεκμαίρεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς·

Half is Greater than the Whole: Hesiod on Corruption in the Courtroom

Works and Days, 27-41

“O Perses, keep these things in your mind
and don’t let the evil-hearted strife keep your heart from work
while you lurk about observing conflict in the assembly.
For the season of conflicts and assemblies is a short one
for any man whose life is not abundantly stocked at home
in time, when the earth produces Demeter’s bounty.
After you have made your fill of that, you can reap conflicts and strife
over another’s possessions. It will not be possible for you a second time
to act like this. But let us bring our conflict to a resolution,
with straight judgements, whichever ones are best from Zeus.
For we have already divided up our inheritence, but you
made off with much more as you kowtowed to bribe-taking
kings, the men who long judge this kind of case.
The fools, they do not know how much half is greater than the whole
Nor how much wealth is in mallow and asphodel.”

῏Ω Πέρση, σὺ δὲ ταῦτα τεῷ ἐνικάτθεο θυμῷ,
μηδέ σ’ ῎Ερις κακόχαρτος ἀπ’ ἔργου θυμὸν ἐρύκοι
νείκε’ ὀπιπεύοντ’ ἀγορῆς ἐπακουὸν ἐόντα.
ὤρη γάρ τ’ ὀλίγη πέλεται νεικέων τ’ ἀγορέων τε
ᾧτινι μὴ βίος ἔνδον ἐπηετανὸς κατάκειται
ὡραῖος, τὸν γαῖα φέρει, Δημήτερος ἀκτήν.
τοῦ κε κορεσσάμενος νείκεα καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλοις
κτήμασ’ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις. σοὶ δ’ οὐκέτι δεύτερον ἔσται
ὧδ’ ἔρδειν• ἀλλ’ αὖθι διακρινώμεθα νεῖκος
ἰθείῃσι δίκῃς, αἵ τ’ ἐκ Διός εἰσιν ἄρισται.
ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ’, ἄλλα τε πολλὰ
ἁρπάζων ἐφόρεις μέγα κυδαίνων βασιλῆας
δωροφάγους, οἳ τήνδε δίκην ἐθέλουσι δικάσσαι.
νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς
οὐδ’ ὅσον ἐν μαλάχῃ τε καὶ ἀσφοδέλῳ μέγ’ ὄνειαρ.

This passage occurs right after Hesiod has described the two different types of Eris. By implication, a man attended by the better strife works hard to put up his own food and does not have time to be sated by strife and conflict over someone else’s possessions (τοῦ κε κορεσσάμενος νείκεα καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλοις / κτήμασ’ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις). Only after establishing these principles does Hesiod turn back to the personal conflict: they have already divided their inheritance (ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ’) but his brother has engaged bribe-taking officials to make a judgment against him to get more.

Strife (Eris) Has Two Different Genealogies, But They Both Mess Us Up: Hesiod

The poet Hesiod provides two different stories for the genealogy of Strife (Conflict, Competition). One appears in the Theogony and is mostly about War and Violence. The other comes from the Works and Days and is probably a free-market economist’s mythical dream come true. Both, doubtlessly, cause pain.

Hesiod, Theogony, 224-232

“Ruinous night then gave birth to Deception and Sex
And destructive Old Age, and also strong-hearted Strife.
Then hateful Strife gave birth to grief-causing toil,
And Forgetfulness, and Hunger, and tearful Pains,
Battles, Wars, Murders, and Mankillings,
Conflicts, Lies, Arguments, Doubletalk,
Bad-government, Blindness, and Gatherings with others,
And even Oath, who pains mortal men the most of all
Whenever someone willingly breaks a sworn word.”

Νὺξ ὀλοή• μετὰ τὴν δ’ ᾿Απάτην τέκε καὶ Φιλότητα
Γῆράς τ’ οὐλόμενον, καὶ ῎Εριν τέκε καρτερόθυμον.
αὐτὰρ ῎Ερις στυγερὴ τέκε μὲν Πόνον ἀλγινόεντα
Λήθην τε Λιμόν τε καὶ ῎Αλγεα δακρυόεντα
῾Υσμίνας τε Μάχας τε Φόνους τ’ ᾿Ανδροκτασίας τε
Νείκεά τε Ψεύδεά τε Λόγους τ’ ᾿Αμφιλλογίας τε
Δυσνομίην τ’ ῎Ατην τε, συνήθεας ἀλλήλῃσιν,
῞Ορκόν θ’, ὃς δὴ πλεῖστον ἐπιχθονίους ἀνθρώπους
πημαίνει, ὅτε κέν τις ἑκὼν ἐπίορκον ὀμόσσῃ•

Works and Days, 11-26

“There isn’t only a single child called Strife, but there are two
on the earth. Whoever recognizes the first, praises her;
But the other is much-to-blame. They have distinct characters.
The first marshals terrible war and conflict, the wicked witch,
No mortal loves her, I think, but forced by the plans of the gods
They honor the burdensome Strife.
Dusky night bore the other one first
And Kronos’ high-throned son who lives on high
Set her in the roots of the earth and made her much better for men.
She readies even those who are lazy to go to work.
For, whenever a man who shirks hard work sees
Another man who is wealthy, he hurries to plow and plant
And order his house well. Neighbor envies his neighbor
As he becomes comfortable. This is the good Strife for men.
Now, a potter strives with a potter and a carpenter with carpenter—
Even a beggar rivals a beggar, and a singer another singer.”

Οὐκ ἄρα μοῦνον ἔην ᾿Ερίδων γένος, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
εἰσὶ δύω• τὴν μέν κεν ἐπαινήσειε νοήσας,
ἣ δ’ ἐπιμωμητή• διὰ δ’ ἄνδιχα θυμὸν ἔχουσιν.
ἣ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμόν τε κακὸν καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλει,
σχετλίη• οὔ τις τήν γε φιλεῖ βροτός, ἀλλ’ ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης
ἀθανάτων βουλῇσιν ῎Εριν τιμῶσι βαρεῖαν.
τὴν δ’ ἑτέρην προτέρην μὲν ἐγείνατο Νὺξ ἐρεβεννή,
θῆκε δέ μιν Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων,
γαίης [τ’] ἐν ῥίζῃσι καὶ ἀνδράσι πολλὸν ἀμείνω•
ἥ τε καὶ ἀπάλαμόν περ ὁμῶς ἐπὶ ἔργον ἐγείρει•
εἰς ἕτερον γάρ τίς τε ἴδεν ἔργοιο χατίζων
πλούσιον, ὃς σπεύδει μὲν ἀρόμεναι ἠδὲ φυτεύειν
οἶκόν τ’ εὖ θέσθαι• ζηλοῖ δέ τε γείτονα γείτων
εἰς ἄφενος σπεύδοντ’• ἀγαθὴ δ’ ῎Ερις ἥδε βροτοῖσιν.
καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.