Life and the Great Game: Some Ancient Passages on Spectacles

Homer, Odyssey 8.147-8

“For as long as he lives, a man has no greater glory
than that which he wins with his own hands and feet”

οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.

Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras 8.1

“Sosikrates in his Successions writes that when Pythagoras was asked by Leon the Tyrant of Plius what he was, he said “A philosopher”. And he was in the custom of comparing life to the Great Games because while some go there to compete, others go there to make money, even as some of the best go to watch. In the same way, in life, some grow up in servile positions, Pythagoras used to say, hunting for fame and profit while the philosopher hunts for the truth. That’s enough of that.”

Σωσικράτης δ᾿ ἐν Διαδοχαῖς φησιν αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ Λέοντος τοῦ Φλιασίων τυράννου τίς εἴη, φιλόσοφος, εἰπεῖν. καὶ τὸν βίον ἐοικέναι πανηγύρει· ὡς οὖν εἰς ταύτην οἱ μὲν ἀγωνιούμενοι, οἱ δὲ κατ᾿ ἐμπορίαν, οἱ δέ γε βέλτιστοι ἔρχονται θεαταί, οὕτως ἐν τῷ βίῳ οἱ μὲν ἀνδραποδώδεις, ἔφη, φύονται δόξης καὶ πλεονεξίας θηραταί, οἱ δὲ φιλόσοφοι τῆς ἀληθείας. καὶ τάδε μὲν ὧδε.

Tertullian, De Spectaculis

“This will be enough regarding the stained origin of games in idolatry”
Sed haec satis erunt ad originis de idololatria reatum.

“How many ways have we shown that nothing which has to do with these games pleases god!”

Quot adhuc modis probavimus, nihil ex his quae spectaculis deputantur placitum deo esse!

Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 79F

Once when Aeschylus was watching a boxing match at the Isthmian games, one of the men was hit and the audience screamed out. He elbowed Ion of Chios and said, “Do you see what training is like? The man who was hit stays silent and the spectators yell!”

Αἰσχύλος μὲν γὰρ Ἰσθμοῖ θεώμενος ἀγῶνα πυκτῶν, ἐπεὶ πληγέντος τοῦ ἑτέρου τὸ θέατρον ἐξέκραγε, νύξας Ἴωνα τὸν Χῖον “ὁρᾷς,” ἔφη, “οἷον ἡ ἄσκησίς ἐστιν; ὁ πεπληγὼς σιωπᾷ, οἱ δὲ θεώμενοι βοῶσιν.”

Pindar, Nem. 4.6

“The story of deeds lives longer than deeds themselves”

ῥῆμα δ’ ἐργμάτων χρονιώτερον βιοτεύει

Cicero, De Senectute 58

“Let others have weapons, horses, spears, fencing-foils, ball games, swimming competitions, races, and leave to the old men dice and knucklebones for games. Or let that go too since old age can be happy without it.”

Sibi habeant igitur arma, sibi equos, sibi hastas, sibi clavam et pilam, sibi natationes1 atque cursus; nobis senibus ex lusionibus multis talos relinquant et tesseras; id ipsum ut2 lubebit, quoniam sine eis beata esse senectus potest.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.973-984

“And whenever people for many days in a row
Have given endless attention to games, we see that many
Have stopped actually absorbing these things with their senses
Even though there are paths still open in the mind
By which the representations of things may enter.
For many days in this way the same things are seen
Before their eyes and they stay awake so that they might seem
To see dancers moving their gentle limps
Or brush with their ears the liquid song of the lyre
And the talking chords, and to sense again that same concord
And the wild spectacular with its bright scene.”

Et quicumque dies multos ex ordine ludis
adsiduas dederunt operas, plerumque videmus,
cum iam destiterunt ea sensibus usurpare,
relicuas tamen esse vias in mente patentis,
qua possint eadem rerum simulacra venire.
per multos itaque illa dies eadem obversantur
ante oculos, etiam vigilantes ut videantur
cernere saltantis et mollia membra moventis,
et citharae liquidum carmen chordasque loquentis
auribus accipere, et consessum cernere eundem
scenaique simul varios splendere decores.

Horace, Epistles 1.19.48-9

“Sport tends to give rise to heated strife and anger, anger in turns brings savage feuds and war to the death”.

ludus enim genuit trepidum certamen et iram, ira truces inimicitias et funebre bellum.

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

Image result for Ancient Greek athletic competitions

“Can’t Hold [This] Back Anymore”: “Let it Go” in Ancient Greek, Part 1

The last few weeks–indeed, the last 18 months or so–have been generally stressful. So why not distract ourselves with a spirited debate about how to put “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen into Ancient Greek? This has been done before, but I find the translation generally uninspiring even if the performance is superb.

The following is the result of discussions at the end of a prose composition course. I considered trying t put it in meter, but unlike our friends in the UK, we don’t get much practice in this in the US. In fact, we don’t do much composition at all. (My sole experience was in a graduate composition course with the wonderful Hardy Hansen). The following is a work in progress. Please, post your responses, suggestions, complaints. But, please, consult the translation commentary first. Then, ἐρρέτω.

 ἡ μὲν χιὼν τῇδε νυκτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ὄρει λευκῶς λαμπρύνεται·
ἐστ᾽ ἔτ᾽οὐδὲν ἴχνος τὸ φανερόν.
ἐν τῇ δὲ τῆς ἐρημίας ἀρχῇ
ἐμ᾿ ἄρα ποτνί᾽ εἶναι δοκεῖ.

ὁ δ᾿ ἄνεμος ὥσπερ ὅδε χείμων ἔνδον ἀναστρέφων ὀλολύζει 5
[τὸνδε] οὐχ οἵη τ᾽ εἰμι κατέχειν,
νὴ τοὺς Θεοὺς, ἱέμενή περ·

μὴ εἰσελθόντων·
μὴ ἰδόντων
ἴσθι ἐκείνη καλὴ κόρη ἣ ἀεὶ δεῖ σοι εἶναι.     10
κρύψασα τι μὴ ἔχε,
καὶ μὴ μαθόντων–
εἴεν νῦν μανθάνουσιν.

ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω
οὐκέτι οἵη τ᾽ εἰμι κατέχειν                                 15
ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω
ἀποτρεψαμένη μὲν πάκτου τὴν θύρα,
οὐ δὲ φροντίς μοι
τὰ [ύπὸ ἐκείνων] λεχθησόμενα
μαινέσθω ὁ χείμων,
ὁ ῥὰ ψύχος οὐδέπω μοι μέλει.                           20

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen,
A kingdom of isolation,
and it looks like I’m the Queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside 5
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be 10
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore 15
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway 20

[There is another verse and a bridge. So, some day, maybe I will post it…]

Some Notes

1. We considered ἡ νῦν/μὲν/ῥᾶ for the opening and καίει/λάμπει for the verb. There was division about the comparatively rare adverbial λευκῶς vs a predicative λευκή. Adverbial neuters were also on the table.

2. I suggested a genitive absolute here and am not completely convinced by the combination ἐστ᾽ ἔτ᾽ οὐδὲν ἴχνος τὸ φανερόν.

3. Originally students went with what I guess is a nominative absolute (ἡ δὲ τῆς ἐρημίας ἀρχὴ), but I was uncomfortable with the lack of syntactic connection, so I modified it. The adjective should probably be dative, but I guess we went for a genitive of description like the English.

4. We debated using φαίνομαι for the verb and βασιλὶς for the noun, but ποτνία carries a much stronger resonance with semi-divine power in the wilderness. Originally I had ἐγ᾿ ἄρα ποτνί᾽ εἶναι δοκῶ, but the elision is pretty severe. I took the current line from a friend on Twitter.

5. I was thinking about using κυλίνδων instead of ἀναστρέφων to recall Alcaeus fr. 326 (ἀσυννέτημμι τὼν ἀνέμων στάσιν/ τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔνθεν κῦμα κυλίνδεται). But I like the use of the latter at Euripides Helen 1557 for a rolling eye (ἀλλ’ ἐξεβρυχᾶτ’ ὄμμ’ ἀναστρέφων κύκλωι).

6. There are many ways to do this. One clever suggestion altered the meaning a bit with ἄν μὴ κρύπτοιμι (but maintained the sense of Elsa as a dangerous goddess, cf. Calypso). Various impersonal constructions were considered.

7. This phrase was a little difficult. The student consensus was something likeοἱ θεοὶ εἴδονται μ᾽ ἐπιχειρεῖν, which might be better. But I wanted a concessive participle clause with an oath. “Heaven knows” is an English idiom which we just leveled out to “by the gods”. This might not be the best choice. We considered ἐπιχειρησαμένη/πειρασαμένη for the participle and both are probably better, but on a whim I went with ἱέμενή περ to echo Odyssey 1.6 (ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·)

8-9. After considering other options, I went for the third person imperatives because they echo the Lord’s Prayer. I am conflicted about putting a subject in for the “they”. I chose not to.

10. We considered the imperative and infinitive: ἴσθι/εἶναι. I am not convinced that ἣ ἀεὶ χρῆ σοι εἶναι is the best way to do it. We considered ἀεὶ ἐσομένη and δεῖ.

14. I have thought this was the best way to translate “Let it go” for a while for a few reasons. For one, I think Elsa is really saying “fuck it” and that Archilochus’ shield poem best echoes this (5.4: ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω). Cf. Il. 20.349; Od. 5.139.

15-16. There are probably many better options for this.

17. οὐ δὲ φροντίς μοι: This is all about Hippocleides not caring. The δέ is not absolutely necessarily, but I didn’t want that previous μέν to be all solitary.

18. I went back and forth about this line, but if we are going to use οὐ δὲ φροντίς μοι in the previous, then, strictly speak, “what they are going to say” is a subject. I considered keeping it singular, ὅ τι ἐκείνοι λέγωσιν with the subjunctive for the indefinite clause.

19. I was distracted by what “let the storm rage on” means here. A student suggested θυμούτω, but I wanted something that was more externally destructive and out of control. So, I chose Μαινέσθω based on Il. 14.605-606 (μαίνετο δ’ ὡς ὅτ’ ῎Αρης ἐγχέσπαλος ἢ ὀλοὸν πῦρ / οὔρεσι μαίνηται βαθέης ἐν τάρφεσιν ὕλης·) For this form, see John Chrystostom: α′. Πολλὰ τὰ κύματα καὶ χαλεπὸν τὸ κλυδώνιον· ἀλλ’ οὐ δεδοίκαμεν, μὴ καταποντισθῶμεν· ἐπὶ γὰρ τῆς πέτρας ἑστήκαμεν. Μαινέσθω ἡ θάλασσα, πέτραν διαλῦσαι οὐ δύναται· ἐγειρέσθω τὰ κύματα, τοῦ ᾿Ιη-

20 For this, students suggested οὔ ἀμελῶς μοι φροντις περὶ τοῦ ψύχους. I don’t hate it. But I wanted something punchier.

There is a scholar in the UK who translates Disney songs into Latin and Greek much more competently:

Image result for Disney's frozen in Greek movie poster

“What is Love”? A Break from One Madness…

Alexis (fr.386k from his Phaedrus; found at Athenaeus 13.13)

“As I was walking from the Peiraios beset
By troubles and despair, philosophy came over me.
And all the painters now seem to me to be ignorant
About love, and, to put it simply, so is everyone else
Who fashions images of him as a god.
For he is neither female nor male, and again,
He is not a god or mortal; nor is he foolish
Or wise, but he is drawn together from everywhere
And carries many shapes in one form.
For he has a man’s boldness with a woman’s restraint;
he has the senselessness of madness
But the reason of a thinker; he has a beast’s ferocity,
The toil of the unbreakable, and the avarice of a god.
Indeed, by Athena and the gods, I do not understand
What love is, but still it is the type of thing
I have said only without this name.”

πορευομένῳ δ᾽ ἐκ Πειραιῶς ὑπὸ τῶν κακῶν
καὶ τῆς ἀπορίας φιλοσοφεῖν ἐπῆλθέ μοι.
καί μοι δοκοῦσιν ἀγνοεῖν οἱ ζωγράφοι
τὸν Ἔρωτα, συντομώτατον δ᾽ εἰπεῖν, ὅσοι
τοῦ δαίμονος τούτου ποιοῦσιν εἰκόνας.
ἐστὶν γὰρ οὔτε θῆλυς οὔτ᾽ ἄρσην, πάλιν
οὔτε θεὸς οὔτ᾽ ἄνθρωπος, οὔτ᾽ ἀβέλτερος
οὔτ᾽ αὖθις ἔμφρων, ἀλλὰ συνενηνεγμένος
πανταχόθεν ἑνὶ τύπῳ <τε> πόλλ᾽ εἴδη φέρων.
ἡ τόλμα μὲν γὰρ ἀνδρός, ἡ <δὲ> δειλία
γυναικός, ἡ δ᾽ ἄνοια μανίας, ὁ δὲ λόγος
φρονοῦντος, ἡ σφοδρότης δὲ θηρός, ὁ δὲ πόνος
ἀδάμαντος, ἡ φιλοτιμία δὲ δαίμονος.
καὶ ταῦτ᾽ ἐγώ, μὰ τὴν Ἀθηνᾶν καὶ θεούς,
οὐκ οἶδ᾽ ὅ τι ἐστίν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἔχει γέ τι
τοιοῦτον, ἐγγύς τ᾽ εἰμὶ τοὐνόματος.

Cf. the philosopher Haddaway

And Foreigner’s desperate plea:



Pace the rejoiner from Turner 1984:


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