How to Live from Ashurbanipal

In the midst of a nearly endless discussion of fish in the 8th book of his Deipnosophistai, Athenaeus has his banqueters bandy about epigrammatic advice about the nature of human life. One of his speakers quotes Chrysippus who alleges that Sardanapallos (the Greek name for the Syrian king Ashurbanipal) had the following as an epitaph:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

The speakers critique the dead king’s sentiments and propose that the epitaph could be emended with more elevated aims.

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in words: nothing is useful once eaten.
For even I am now but rages though I ate and took as much pleasure as possible.
I keep whatever I learned and the thoughts I had and the fine things
I experienced with them. Everything else, however pleasing, is gone.”

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος μύθοισι· φαγόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ῥάκος εἰμί, φαγὼν ὡς πλεῖστα καὶ ἡσθείς.
ταῦτ’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔμαθον καὶ ἐφρόντισα καὶ μετὰ τούτων
ἔσθλ’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ καὶ ἡδέα πάντα λέλειπται.

Some other epitaphs (fictional or not) are included:

“Drink. Play. Your life is mortal and time on earth is but short.
Death itself is everlasting once a man has died.”

πῖνε, παῖζε· θνητὸς ὁ βίος, ὀλίγος οὑπὶ γῇ χρόνος·
ὁ θάνατος δ’ ἀθάνατός ἐστιν, ἂν ἅπαξ τις ἀποθάνῃ.

“Drink. Eat. Yield everything to your soul.
For I am the stone that stands in place of Bachidas.”

πιέν, φαγὲν καὶ πάντα τᾷ ψυχᾷ δόμεν·
κἠγὼ γὰρ ἕστακ’ ἀντὶ Βακχίδα λίθος.

Strabo combines the two, 14.5.9

“Next is Zephurion which has the same name as a place near Kalydnos.  Nearby, not far from the sea, is Ankhialê, founded by Sardanapallos according to Aristoboulos. There he claims is a monument of Sardanapallos, a stone sculpture that shows the fingers of his right hand as if they are snapping. Beneath is an epigraph in Assyrian letters reading: “Sardanapallos the son of Anakundaraxes / founded Ankhialê and Tarsos in a single day. / Eat. Drink. Play, because no other things are worthy of this”, indicating the snapping fingers.

Khoirilos also mentions these things–and the following verses are known everywhere. “Everything I have eaten, the insults I have made, and the delights I have taken in love are mine. These numerous blessings I leave behind.”

Εἶτα Ζεφύριον ὁμώνυμον τῷ πρὸς Καλύδνῳ· εἶτ’ ᾿Αγχιάλη μικρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς θαλάττης, κτίσμα Σαρδαναπάλλου, φησὶν ᾿Αριστόβουλος· ἐνταῦθα δ’ εἶναι μνῆμα τοῦ Σαρδαναπάλλου καὶ τύπον λίθινον συμβάλλοντα τοὺς τῆς δεξιᾶς χειρὸς δακτύλους ὡς ἂν ἀποκροτοῦντα, καὶ ἐπιγραφὴν εἶναι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι τοιάνδε „Σαρδανάπαλλος ὁ ᾿Ανακυνδαράξεω παῖς „᾿Αγχιάλην καὶ Ταρσὸν ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε πῖνε „παῖζε, ὡς τἆλλα τούτου οὐκ ἄξια,” τοῦ ἀποκροτήματος. μέμνηται δὲ καὶ Χοιρίλος τούτων· καὶ δὴ καὶ περιφέρεται τὰ ἔπη ταυτί „ταῦτ’ ἔχω, ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ „ἀφύβρισα, καὶ μετ’ ἔρωτος τέρπν’ ἔπαθον, τὰ δὲ „πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια κεῖνα λέλειπται.”

The Man. The Myth.

Among certain Greek writers (starting as early as Aristophanes: Birds 1021) Sardanapallus was proverbially a glutton


“Sardanapallos: Nearly everyone writes that this guy was a slave to every kind of excess and delicacy. They say that this is recorded on his on monument in Assyrian letters in Ninevah, Assyria.”

Σαρδανάπαλ(λ)ος· πάντες σχεδὸν ἁπάσης ἀκολασίας καὶ τρυφῆς
δοῦλον τοῦτον ἀναγράφουσι γεγονέναι. καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ μνήματι αὐτοῦ ἐν
τῇ ᾿Ασσυρίᾳ ἐν Νίνῳ φασὶν ἐπιγεγράφθαι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι·

Suda S.v. Sardanapolous

“Kallisthenes claims in the second book of his Persian Histories that there were two men named Sardapapalos [Assurbanipal], one was active and well-born, but the other was a dandy. In Ninevah, his memorial bears the inscription

“The son of Anakundaraxes built Tarsos and Ankhialê in a single day.
Eat, drink, screw because other things are not worthy of this.”

That is, [worthy of] a snap of his fingers. For when he set up the statue in his memory it was made with its hands over its head, as if it were snapping its fingers. The same thing is inscribed in Ankhialê and Tarsos, which is called Zephurion now.

There is also a proverb: “May you grow older than Tithonos, wealthier than Kinyras, and more industrious than Sardanopalos. Then you can prove the proverb: Old men are children twice.”  This is used for the very old, since Tithonos avoided aging with a prayer and became a cicada. Kinyras was a descendant of king Pharakes of the Cypriots and he was distinguished for his wealth. And Sardanapalos, king of the Assyrians, destroyed his own kingdom while he lived in luxury and immoderation. He was the son of Anakyndarakes, the king of Ninevah which falls within Persian lands. The story is that he founded Tarsos and Ankhilaê in a single day. And that, shamefully, he was too proud to be seen by his servants unless they were girls or eunuchs. He rotted himself with wine and was found after he died indoors.”

Σαρδαναπάλους ἐν β′ Περσικῶν δύο φησὶ γεγονέναι Καλλισθένης, ἕνα μὲν δραστήριον καὶ γενναῖον, ἄλλον δὲ μαλακόν. ἐν Νίνῳ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῦ μνήματος αὐτοῦ τοῦτ’ ἐπιγέγραπται· ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου παῖς Ταρσόν τε καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε, πίνε, ὄχευε, ὡς τά γε ἄλλα οὐδὲ τούτου ἐστὶν ἄξια. τουτέστι τοῦ τῶν δακτύλων ἀποκροτήματος· τὸ γὰρ ἐφεστὼς τῷ μνήματι ἄγαλμα ὑπὲρ τῆς κεφαλῆςἔχον τὰς χεῖρας πεποίηται, ὥστ’ ἂν ἀποληκοῦν τοῖς δακτύλοις. ταυτὸ καὶ ἐν ᾿Αγχιάλῳ τῇ πρὸς Ταρσῷ ἐπιγέγραπται, ἥτις νῦν καλεῖται Ζεφύριον. καὶ παροιμία· καταγηράσαις Τιθωνοῦ βαθύτερον, Κινύρου πλουσιώτερος καὶ Σαρδαναπάλου τρυφηλότερος, ὅπως τὸ τῆς παροιμίας ἐπὶ σοὶ πληρωθῇ, δὶς παῖδες οἱ γέροντες. ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπεργήρων· ὁ γὰρ Τιθωνὸς κατ’ εὐχὴν τὸ γῆρας ἀποθέμενος εἰς τέττιγα μετέβαλε· Κινύρας δέ, ἀπόγονος Φαρνάκου βασιλέως Κυπρίων, πλούτῳ διαφέρων· Σαρδανάπαλος δέ, ᾿Ασσυρίων βασιλεύς, ὃς ἐπ’ ἀκολασίᾳ καὶ τρυφῇ διαβιοὺς

κατέλυσε τὴν ἰδίαν ἀρχήν. ὁ δὲ Σαρδανάπαλος οὗτος υἱὸς ἦν ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου, βασιλέως Νίνου, Περσικῆς χώρας· ὃς ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ Ταρσὸν καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔκτισε. φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν αἰσχρῶς καλλωπίζεσθαι τοῖς τε  οἰκείοις μὴ ὁρᾶσθαι, εἰ μὴ εὐνούχοις καὶ κόραις. πεπυρπολημένος δὲ τῷ οἴνῳ, ἔνδον εὑρεθεὶς ἀπέθανε.


Perhaps someone should write a song about him….

One Country, One World

Meleager, Greek Anthology, 7.417

“My nurse was the Island of Tyre but the country which bore me
Was Atthis which rests in Assyrian Gadara.
I, Meleager, came as a shoot of the Muses from Eukrates
And I ran first in play with the Menippiean Graces.

If I am Syrian, why is it a surprise? Friend, we inhabit
One country, the world. One Khaos gave all mortals this life.

I inscribe these words on a tablet before my tomb, now very old.
For old age is Hades’ neighbor next door.
Offer a word to bid this chatty old man farewell,
And may you come to a chatty old age too.”

Νᾶσος ἐμὰ θρέπτειρα Τύρος· πάτρα δέ με τεκνοῖ
᾿Ατθὶς ἐν ᾿Ασσυρίοις ναιομένα Γαδάροις·
Εὐκράτεω δ’ ἔβλαστον ὁ σὺν Μούσαις Μελέαγρος
πρῶτα Μενιππείοις συντροχάσας Χάρισιν.
εἰ δὲ Σύρος, τί τὸ θαῦμα; μίαν, ξένε, πατρίδα κόσμον
ναίομεν, ἓν θνατοὺς πάντας ἔτικτε Χάος.
πουλυετὴς δ’ ἐχάραξα τάδ’ ἐν δέλτοισι πρὸ τύμβου·
γήρως γὰρ γείτων ἐγγύθεν ᾿Αίδεω.
ἀλλά με τὸν λαλιὸν καὶ πρεσβύτην σὺ προσειπὼν
χαίρειν εἰς γῆρας καὐτὸς ἵκοιο λάλον.

For more on “citizen of the world” in ancient literature, see this post.

Related image
Apamea, Greek City in Syria

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

An Epitaph for Aristophanes

Greek Anthology, Antipater of Thessaloniki 9. 186

“The books of Aristophanes—divine labor—over which
Archanean ivy dangled its massive green hair.
See how much of Dionysus a page holds, how the stories
Echo, full of frightening charms.
Comic poet, best of heart, equal to the characters of Greece,
You both hated and mocked things that deserved it.”

Βίβλοι Ἀριστοφάνευς, θεῖος πόνος, αἷσιν Ἀχαρνεὺς
κισσὸς ἐπὶ χλοερὴν πουλὺς ἔσεισε κόμην.
ἠνίδ᾿ ὅσον Διόνυσον ἔχει σελίς, οἷα δὲ μῦθοι
ἠχεῦσιν, φοβερῶν πληθόμενοι χαρίτων.
ὦ καὶ θυμὸν ἄριστε, καὶ Ἑλλάδος ἤθεσιν ἶσα,
κωμικέ, καὶ στύξας ἄξια καὶ γελάσας.

Image result for Aristophanes

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

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

An Unmarried, Childless Corpse

IC I xxii 58  Crete, 2nd or 2rd Century CE

“Kratinos, the Son of Zôpuros

This dust holds Kratinos the son of Zôpuros, Traveler,
A child who brought the least pain to all mortals
And when he was just 18 years old he was killed
By a strong disease and went to the Hagesilan home.

You left groans and griefs for you mother and will not return,
Nor will they be diminished by your marriage [?]
But Sôsitô mourned while weeping much with her kin
When she saw your unmarried and childless corpse.

O toilsome daughter Aphrodisia, what kind of a child
You raised in your home! Chance did not allot a fate
But he could have lived enough, Zeus, with faith….
Of Zôpuros….”

Κρατῖνος Ζωπύρου.
Ζωπύρου ἅδε Κρατῖνον ἔχει κόνις, ὦ παροδῖτ[α],
παῖδα τὸν ἐν θνατοῖς πᾶσιν ἀλυπότατον
ὀκτὼ καὶ δεχέτης παρεὼν κρατερᾶς ὑπὸ νούσω

ἦλθ’ εἰς Ἁγεσίλα δῶμα βιαζόμενος,
ματρὶ λιπὼν στεναχὰς καὶ πένθεα κοὐκ ἐπανῆλ[θ]ες
οὔτε γάμοισι τεοῖς οἱ τυτθηνάμενοι·
πολλὰ δὲ ὀδυρομένη σὺν ὁμαίμοις ἐστενάχησε
Σωσιτὼ ὡς ἄγαμον κἄτεκνον εἶδε νέκυν.

ὦ θύγατερ πολύμοχθε Ἀφροδισία, οἶον ἔθραψας
παῖδα δόμοις· μοῖρα̣[ν δ’] ο̣[ὐ]κ’ ἐπέ[κλω]σε Τύχη,
ἀλ’ ἱκανῶς γίνοιτο, ὦ Ζεῦ, πίστει εσδ̣․․ε̣․ελλον
Ζωπύρου [— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —]
[— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —]

Image result for ancient greek vase hades
Persephone with Hermes