Hades’ Newest Bride: A Remarkable Epitaph

This poem actually inspired me to type “just wow” when I was looking through the PHI Epigraphic Database.

CIRB 130 from the N. Black Sea ca. 50 BC-50 AD — GVI 1989

“Theophilê Hekataiou gives her greeting.

They were wooing me, Theiophilê the short-lived daughter of
Hekataios, those young men [seeking] a maiden for marriage.
But Hades seized me first, since he was longing for me
When he saw a Persephone better than Persephone.

[….]

And when the message is carved on the stone
He weeps for the girl, Theiophilê the Sinopian,
Whose father, Hekataios, gave the torch-holding bride-to-be
To Hades and not a marriage.

[…]

Maiden Theiophilê, no marriage awaits you, but a land
With no return; not as the bride of Menophilos,
But as a partner in Persephone’s bed. Your father Hekataios
Now has only the name of the pitiable lost girl.

And as he looks on your shape in stone he sees
The unfulfilled hopes Fate wrongly buried in the ground.

Theiophilê, a girl allotted beauty envied by mortals,
A tenth Muse, a Grace for marriage’s age,
A perfect example of prudence.
Hades did not throw his dark hands around you.

No, Pluto lit the flames for the wedding torches
With his lamp, welcoming a most desired mate.

Parents, stop your laments now, stop your grieving,
Theiophilê has found an immortal bed.”

1           Θεοφίλη Ἑκαταίου, / χαῖρε.
Θειοφίλην με θύγατρα μινυνθαδίην Ἑκαταίου
ἐμνώοντο, γάμωι παρθένον ἠΐθεοι,
5 ἔφθασε δ’ ἁρπάξας Ἀΐδης, ἠράσσατο γάρ μευ,
Φερσεφόνας ἐσιδὼν κρέσσονα Φερσεφόναν.
6a ———

7 καὶ γράμμα πέτρης ἐκγλυφὲν στηλίτιδος
κόρην δακρύει Θεοφίλην Σινωπίδα
τὰς μελλονύμφους ἧς πατὴρ δαιδουχίας
10   Ἑκαταῖος Ἅιδηι καὶ οὐ γάμωι συνάρμοσεν.
10a ———

11 παρθένε Θειοφίλα, σὲ μὲν οὐ γάμος, ἀλλ’ ἀδίαυλος
χῶρος ἔχει νύμφη δ’ οὐκέτι Μηνοφίλου,
[ἀ]λλὰ Κόρης σύλλεκτρος· ὁ δὲ σπείρας Ἑκαταῖος
οὔνομα δυστήνου μοῦνον ἔχει φθιμένης,
15 [μ]ορφὰν δ’ ἐν πέτραι λεύ<σ>σει σέο τὰς δ’ ἀτελέστους
ἐλπίδας οὐχ ὁσίη Μοῖρα κατεχθόνισεν.

τὴν κάλλος ζηλωτὸν ἐνὶ θνατοῖσι λαχοῦσαν
Θειοφίλην, Μουσῶν τὴν δεκάτην, Χάριτα,
πρὸς γάμον ὡραίαν, τὴν σωφροσύνης ὑπόδειγμα,
20   οὐκ Ἀΐδας ζοφεραῖς ἀμφέβαλεν παλάμαις,

Πλούτων δ’ εἰς θαλάμους τὰ γαμήλια λαμπάδι φέγγη
ἇψε, ποθεινοτάτην δεξάμενος γαμέτιν.
[ὦ γ]ονέες, θρήνων νῦν λήξατε, παύετ’ ὀδυρμῶν·
Θειοφίλη λέκτρων ἀθανάτων ἔτυχεν.

Image result for hades persephone grave relief
A relief of Persephone and Hades from the Hierapolis Archaeological Museum

Sappho & Catullus on Brothers

Sappho Fr.5

Revered Nereids, grant that my brother
Comes to me alive and well;
What in his heart he wants to happen,
Grant that it be realized;
As many wrongs as he did before,
Make him atone for them all;
And make of him a joy to his [friends],
But [a torment] to enemies.
Let there be not one [problem] for us.

Catullus 101

Through many nations and across many seas
I’ve come, my brother, for these sad burial rites—
To pay you the final tribute owed the dead,
And to speak, in vain, with your speechless ashes,
Since fortune has snatched you—you!—away from me.
Oh! My poor brother, cruelly taken from me!
Still, there’s the matter of the burial rites,
Preserved in antique customs of our line
And passed on in the melancholic tribute:
Receive them, though quite wet with fraternal tears.
And now, for all time, my brother,
I salute you and say goodbye.

Sappho:

Πότνιαι Νηρήιδες ἀβλάβη[ν μοι
τὸν κασί]γνητον δ[ο]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεσθα[ι
κὤσσα Ϝ]οι θύμωι κε θέληι γένεσθαι
πάντα τε]λέσθην,

ὄσσα δὲ πρ]όσθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦσα[ι
καὶ φίλοισ]ι Ϝοῖσι χάραν γένεσθαι
. . . . . . . ἔ]χροισι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι
. . . . . . . μ]ηδ’ εἴς·

Catullus:

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem.
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

Seated Terracotta Figure Mali; Inland Niger Delta 13th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The figure suggests a person in the act of mourning, and may therefore have funereal significance.

Catullus and Sappho are a good pair.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

The Evening Commute

Mimnermus Fr.12

because it is the sun’s lot to toil all day,
there’s no rest for his horses, nor for him,
from the time rose-fingered Dawn,
leaving the ocean behind,
ascends the sky.
it’s like this:
quite a handsome hollow bed, and winged too,
forged of precious gold by the hands of Hephaestus,
carries him, while he sleeps to his heart’s contents, atop the waters:
from the country of the Hesperides to the land of the Ethiopians.
there his horses and swift chariot stand
until Dawn, an early riser, gets on her way.
the son of Hyperion mounts his chariot then.

ἠέλιος μὲν γὰρ πόνον ἔλλαχεν ἤματα πάντα
οὐδέ κοτ᾽ ἄμπαυσις γίγνεται οὐδεμία
ἵπποισίν τε καὶ αὐτῷ, ἐπεὶ ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠὼς
ὠκεανὸν προλιποῦσ᾽ οὐρανὸν εἰσαναβῇ:
5τὸν μὲν γὰρ διὰ κῦμα φέρει πολυήρατος εὐνὴ
κοιΐλη, Ἡφαίστου χερσὶν ἐληλαμένη
χρυσοῦ τιμήεντος, ὑπόπτερος, ἄκρον ἐφ᾽ ὕδωρ
εὕδονθ᾽ ἁρπαλέως χώρου ἀφ᾽ Ἑσπερίδων
γαῖαν ἐς Αἰθιόπων, ἵνα οἱ θοὸν ἅρμα καὶ ἵπποι
10ἑστᾶσ᾽, ὄφρ᾽ Ἠὼς ἠριγένεια μόλῃ:

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Ancient Advice for a Rich Woman

Solon Fr. 24

listen up:
equal in riches to the woman
who has piles of silver and gold,
fields of wheat-bearing land,
and horses and mules to boot,
is the woman who has only this:
nice things for her belly, sides, and feet—
and also a season with a lover-boy and a spouse,
while she’s got the necessary vigor,
when it comes around, that season.
this is riches to mortals.
after all, nobody goes into Hades
lugging all her countless stuff.
add to that, she can’t hope to escape
death, or unbearable sickness,
or the coming of awful old age,
by paying a fee.

ἶσόν τοι πλουτοῦσιν ὅτῳ πολὺς ἄργυρός ἐστι
καὶ χρυσὸς καὶ γῆς πυροφόρου πεδία
ἵπποι θ᾽ ἡμίονοί τε, καὶ ᾧ μόνα τ᾽αῦτα πάρεστι,
γαστρί τε καὶ πλευρῇς καὶ ποσὶν ἁβρὰ παθεῖν:
παιδός τ᾿ ἠδὲ γυναικός, ἐπὴν καὶ ταῦτ᾿ ἀφίκηται,
ὥρη, σὺν δ᾿ ἥβη γίνεται ἁρμοδίη.
ταῦτ᾽ ἄφενος θνητοῖσι: τὰ γὰρ περιώσια πάντα
χρήματ᾽ ἔχων οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδεω:
οὐδ᾽ ἂν ἄποινα διδοὺς θάνατον φύγοι οὐδὲ βαρείας
νούσους οὐδὲ κακὸν γῆρας ἐπερχόμενον.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Some Victories Persist Through Defeat

Solon Fr. 34

If I spared my fatherland,
And I wasn’t criticized for tyranny and unending violence,
And my reputation wasn’t tarnished and dishonored,
I have no cause for shame, then.
In this regard, I think I’ll rank above everyone.

εἰ δὲ γῆς ἐφεισάμην
πατρίδος, τυραννίδος δὲ καὶ βίης ἀμειλίχου
οὐ καθηψάμην, μιάνας καὶ καταισχύνας κλέος,
οὐδὲν αἰδεῦμαι: πλέον γὰρ ὧδε νικήσειν δοκέω
πάντας ἀνθρώπους.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Hesiod’s Warning to Judges & Legislators

Hesiod, Works & Days, 213-224

O Perses, hear what is the right way
and do not add to the sum of its violations.
action contrary to right is always bad for an ignoble man,
but even a good man can’t readily bear it:
it mixes with madness and the burden crushes him.

the better path goes round the other way,
towards justice:
for right prevails over injustice
until the very end.
only by suffering does a fool learn this.
so, in the meanwhile, Oath rushes to crooked judgments,
never missing a beat.

but there are confused cries when Justice is hauled
where bribe-devouring men in congress
hand down corrupt judgments.
and there’s a ruckus when mist-shrouded Justice
goes into the capitol and the other places men gather,
bringing misfortune to people,
the ones, that is, who would drive her away
and who are not square in their dealings.

ὦ Πέρση, σὺ δ᾽ ἄκουε δίκης, μηδ᾽ ὕβριν ὄφελλε:
ὕβρις γάρ τε κακὴ δειλῷ βροτῷ: οὐδὲ μὲν ἐσθλὸς
ῥηιδίως φερέμεν δύναται, βαρύθει δέ θ᾽ ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς
ἐγκύρσας ἄτῃσιν: ὁδὸς δ᾽ ἑτέρηφι παρελθεῖν
κρείσσων ἐς τὰ δίκαια: Δίκη δ᾽ ὑπὲρ Ὕβριος ἴσχει
ἐς τέλος ἐξελθοῦσα: παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω.
αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει Ὅρκος 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 τε μιν ἐξελάσωσι καὶ οὐκ ἰθεῖαν ἔνειμαν.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

The Fool-Me-Once Principle of Democracy

“I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.” –Senator Susan Collins of Maine speaking after President Trump’s first impeachment trial. 1 year later, she’s a juror in his second impeachment trial.

Solon Fr.10

If you’ve suffered through your destructive wickedness,
Don’t blame the gods for any of it.
For you gave protection to your enemies,
Strengthening them in the very process.
And so you brought evil subjugation to the city.
Each of you walks with the steps of a fox,
Yet each of you have got a mind altogether shallow:
You look at the tongue and at the speech of shifty men,
Yet never do you see their words become action.

εἰ δὲ πεπόνθατε λυγρὰ δί᾽ ὑμετέρην κακότητα,
μή τι θεοῖς τούτων μόμφον ἐπαμφέρετε:
αὐτοὶ γὰρ τούτοις ηὐξήσατε ῥύματα δόντες
καὶ διὰ ταῦτα κακὴν ἔσχετε δουλοσύνην:
5ὑμέων δ᾽ εἷς μὲν ἕκαστος ἀλώπεκος ἴχνεσι βαίνει
σύμπασιν δ᾽ ὑμῖν χαῦνος ἔνεστι νόος:
εἰς γὰρ γλῶσσαν ὁρᾶτε καὶ εἰς ἔπος αἰόλον ἀνδρός,
εἰς ἔργον δ᾽ οὐδὲν γιγνόμενον βλέπετε.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

A People & Their Despot

Solon Fr. 9

the power of hail and snow come from a cloud.
thunder happens from bright lightning.
and a city is brought to ruin by influential men,
while the people, because they do not know better,
fall to a despot’s subjugation.
to put one who’s been raised up high back into his place,
that’s not very easy.
so now–not later–one must reflect on these things.

ἐκ νεφέλης πέλεται χιόνος μένος ἠδὲ χαλάζης,
βροντὴ δ᾽ ἐκ λαμπρᾶς γίγνεται ἀστεροπῆς:
ἀνδρῶν δ᾽ ἐκ μεγάλων πόλις ὄλλυται, εἰς δὲ μονάρχου
δῆμος ἀϊδρείῃ δουλοσύνην ἔπεσεν.
5λίην δ᾽ ἐξάραντ᾽ οὐ ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι κατασχεῖν
ὕστερον, ἀλλ᾽ ἤδη χρὴ τάδε πάντα νοεῖν.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Mood Swings of A Man in Love

Theognis 1329-1334

my boy, as long as your chin is smooth
I won’t stop courting you.
not even if it means the death of me.
for you, the one yielding, this is something beautiful.
for me, the one loving, there’s no shame in begging.
but on my father, I make this prayer:
respect me, beautiful boy, and grant me your favor.
otherwise, if one day you come
needing the gifts of violet-wreathed Aphrodite,
as you run after another,
god grant that you meet with the same words I have!

1337-1340
I’m no longer in love with the boy!
I’ve shrugged off hard sorrows!
I’ve gladly escaped the tiresome work!
I’ve been sprung from desire!
all thanks to well-wreathed Aphrodite.
your beauty, my boy, is nothing to me!

1341-1344
ugh! I’m in love with the smooth-skinned boy.
doubtless he tells all my friends,
though that’s not what I want.
but I’ll put up with things not being secret–
many things, contrary to my will and unwelcome.
after all, it’s not over some two-bit boy I seem a broken man.

1329-1334:
ὦ παῖ, ἕως ἂν ἔχῃς λείαν γένυν, οὔποτε σαίνων
παύσομαι, οὐδ᾽ εἴ μοι μόρσιμόν ἐστι θανεῖν.
σοί τε διδόντι τι καλὸν ἐμοί τ᾽ οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἐρῶντι
αἰτεῖν. ἀλλὰ γονεω ν λίσσομαι ἡμετέρων,
αἴδεό μ᾽, ὦ παῖ καλὲ, διδοὺς χάριν, ἢ εἴ ποτε καὶ σὺ
ἥξεις Κυπρογενοῦς δῶρον ἰοστεφάνου
χρηΐζων, καὶ ἐπ᾽ ἄλλον ἐλεύσεαι, ἀλλά σε δαίμων
δοίη τῶν αὐτῶν ἀντιτυχεῖν ἐπέων.

1337-1340:
οὐκέτ᾽ ἐρῶ παιδός, χαλεπὰς δ᾽ ἀπελάκτισ᾽ ἀνίας,
μοχθούς τ᾽ ἀργαλέους ἄσμενος ἐξέφυγον,
ἐκλέλυμαι δὲ πόθου πρὸς ἐϋστεφάνου Κυθερείης:
σοὶ δ᾽, ὦ παῖ, χάρις ἔστ᾽ οὐδεμία πρὸς ἐμοῦ.

1341-1344:
αἰαῖ, παιδὸς ἐρῶ ἁπαλόχροος, ὅς με φίλοισιν
πᾶσι μάλ᾽ ἐκφαίνει κοὐκ ἐθέλοντος ἐμοῦ.
τλήσομαι οὐ κρύψας ἀεκούσια πολλὰ βίαια:
οὐ γὰρ ἐπ᾽ αἰκελίῳ παιδὶ δαμεὶς ἐφάνην

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

What Exactly is Justice?

Theognis 543-546

I must decide the matter at hand along the edge, as it were,
of a carpenter’s rule and square.
Kyrnos, I must give both sides justice and what is fair,
relying on seers, auguring birds and burnt offerings,
so I don’t face shameful reproach for a mistake.

χρή με παρὰ στάθμην καὶ γνώμονα τήνδε δικάσσαι,
Κύρνε, δίκην, ἶσόν τ᾽ ἀμφοτέροισι δόμεν,
μάντεσί τ᾽ οἰωνοῖς τε καὶ αἰθομένοις ἱεροῖσιν,
ὄφρα μὴ ἀμπλακίης αἰσχρὸν ὄνειδος ἔχω.

An Interpretation:

Does the speaker want A and not-A at the same time? Contrast the stated obligation of precision in decision-making with the imprecision of the decision-making procedures (seers, augurs, and sacrifices to the gods). Or, put it this way: contrast objective methods (e.g., drawing a line along the edge of a carpenter’s square) with subjective ones (e.g., reading bird omens). The two approaches are in conflict and yet the speaker presents the latter (subjective) as the means of achieving the former (objectivity). 

So, what’s justice? A strict obligation is laid on the speaker, but the instruments available for satisfying it are unreliable: the carpenter’s edge guarantees a straight line, the bird omen guarantees nothing. This of course the speaker knows. But what’s the alternative? The speaker is stating, however indirectly, a problem fundamental to law: justice is a strict obligation, but there are no infallible procedures for its production. What exists are procedures (maybe reading the birds, maybe empaneling a jury), and fidelity to them is what justice more or less is (i.e., more process than outcome).  Therefore interpret the poem’s final line not as “omens and the like save me from mistakes” but as “because I follow the established practice of omens and the like, even when I make mistakes I’m spared the worst criticisms.” 

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.