Homeric Sexual Healing: Margites fragments 1-3 and More!

We are near the end of a semester at my University and I seem to be limping to the end. As a tonic for tired days, I turned to the Homeric Margites today. What’s more therapeutic than laughing at a fool? (Well, maybe we should ask Margites’ wife…)

“Some old man, a divine singer, came to Kolophon,
An assistant of the Muses and Apollo
Holding a sweet-singing lyre in his dear hands.
The gods didn’t make him an excavator or a ploughman
Nor wise in anything at all: he screwed up every kind of craft:
He knew many deeds, but he knew all of them badly.”

ἦλθέ τις ἐς Κολοφῶνα γέρων καὶ θεῖος ἀοιδός,
Μουσάων θεράπων καὶ ἑκηβόλου ᾿Απόλλωνος,
φίληις ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν εὔφθογγον λύρην.
τὸν δ’ οὔτ’ ἂρ σκαπτῆρα θεοὶ θέσαν οὔτ’ ἀροτῆρα
οὔτ’ ἄλλως τι σοφόν· πάσης δ’ ἡμάρτανε τέχνης.
πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα.

Actual T-Shirt, Game-worn Condition
Actual T-Shirt, Game-worn Condition

And yes, I do own a t-shirt proudly emblazoned with the motto: πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔργα, κακῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα. I would not be so proud to be known for the following details, however.

According to the testimonies part of Margites’ ignorance extended to carnal acts (from Dio Chrys. Or. 67.5 (On Reputation)):

“He would be much more foolish than Margites, who was ignorant about what to do with a woman after being married.”

Πολύ γε ἂν εἴη τοῦ Μαργίτου μωρότερος, ἀγνοοῦντος ὅ,τι χρὴ γήμαντα χρῆσθαι τῇ γυναικί.

Hesychius (the Alexandrian Lexicographer, not the Monk!) adds another detail for titillation: his wife told him she had been bitten in her genitals by a scorpion and that she needed, well, sexual healing. Eustathius (Comm ad Od. 1.395), as one might expect, repeats this anecdote with relish.

“We have learned a similar thing about the fool Margites, thanks to whom “raging” (margainein) means also “to be a fool”. The poet who bears Homer’s name makes him a son of extremely wealthy parents who, after he got married, did not climb upon his wife until she persuaded him that she had been wounded in her nether regions. She said that no medicine would help her except the act of fitting male genitals into that place. And in this way he laid next do his wife, for the sake of therapy.”

οὕτως ἔγνωμεν καὶ τὸν ἄφρονα Μαργίτην τὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ μαργαίνειν ὅ ἐστι μωραίνειν. ὃν ὁ ποιήσας τὸν ἐπιγραφόμενον ῾Ομήρου Μαργίτην ὑποτίθεται εὐπόρων μὲν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν γονέων φῦναι, γήμαντα δὲ μὴ συμπεσεῖν τῇ νύμφῃ ἕως ἀναπισθεῖσα ἐκείνη τετραυματίσθαι τὰ κάτω ἐσκήψατο. φάρμακόν τε μηδὲν ὠφελήσειν ἔφη, πλὴν εἰ τὸ ἀνδρεῖον αἰδοῖον ἐκεῖ ἐφαρμοσθείη. καὶ οὕτω θεραπείας χάριν ἐκεῖνος ἐπλησίασεν.

And if you didn’t expect some Marvin Gaye now, well, you’re worse off than Margites:

Dio Quotes Homer and Trajan Loves Him as Himself (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 1.488)

“[Dio] frequently visited military encampments dressed poorly according to his custom. When he noticed that the troops turning to revolt after the assassination of Domitian, he could not restrain himself as he looked upon the churning disorder. So he leapt naked onto the high rostrum and began his speech like this:

“Then very-clever Odysseus was stripped of his rags..” (Od. 22.1)

And after he said this and made clear that he was not a beggar nor who they thought he was, but instead was Dio the wise man, then he produced a great indictment of the tyrant Domitian and he persuaded the soldiers that it was better to act with the interests of the Roman people in mind. Truly, the persuasiveness of this man was such that it bewitched even those who had no great knowledge of Hellenic matters. For example, when the emperor Trajan seated him beside himself in the golden chariot in which the emperors join the victory procession of a triumph, he often turned to Dio and said: “I don’t know what you’re saying, but I love you as I love myself.”

θαμίζων δὲ ἐς τὰ στρατόπεδα, ἐν οἷσπερ εἰώθει τρύχεσθαι, καὶ τοὺς στρατιώτας ὁρῶν ἐς νεώτερα ὁρμῶντας ἐπὶ Δομετιανῷ ἀπεσφαγμένῳ οὐκ ἐφείσατο ἀταξίαν ἰδὼν ἐκραγεῖσαν, ἀλλὰ γυμνὸς ἀναπηδήσας ἐπὶ βωμὸν ὑψηλὸν ἤρξατο τοῦ λόγου ὧδε•

„αὐτὰρ ὁ γυμνώθη ῥακέων πολύμητις ᾿Οδυσσεύς,”

καὶ εἰπὼν ταῦτα καὶ δηλώσας ἑαυτόν, ὅτι μὴ πτωχός, μηδὲ ὃν ᾤοντο, Δίων δὲ εἴη ὁ σοφός, ἐπὶ μὲν τὴν κατηγορίαν τοῦ τυράννου πολὺς ἔπνευσεν, τοὺς δὲ στρατιώτας ἐδίδαξεν ἀμείνω φρονεῖν τὰ δοκοῦντα ῾Ρωμαίοις πράττοντας. καὶ γὰρ ἡ πειθὼ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς οἵα καταθέλξαι καὶ τοὺς μὴ τὰ ῾Ελλήνων ἀκριβοῦντας• Τραιανὸς γοῦν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ ἀναθέμενος αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ῾Ρώμης ἐς τὴν χρυσῆν ἅμαξαν, ἐφ’ ἧς οἱ βασιλεῖς τὰς ἐκ τῶν πολέμων πομπὰς πομπεύουσιν, ἔλεγε θαμὰ ἐπιστρεφόμενος ἐς τὸν Δίωνα „τί μὲν λέγεις, οὐκ οἶδα, φιλῶ δέ σε ὡς ἐμαυτόν”.

Dio? Dio of Prusa, AKA Dio Chyrsostom, friend of philosophy, exiled under Domitian. Champion of Nerva.