Feeling Old? A Story about Bellerophon Probably Won’t Help

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.

Bellerophon

Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

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Character: Aristotle, Cognitive Theory and the Man of Many-Ways

Euripides, Bacchae 369

“A fool says foolish things.”

μῶρα γὰρ μῶρος λέγει.

Aristotle Poetics 1450a

“Since it is the imitation of action, it is performed by those who act, by those types of people who necessarily [do those things] due to character and thought. For we believe that actions are the sorts of things which have two causes, thought and character, and that through these things everyone either succeeds or fails. And thus the story [or plot, muthos] is imitation of an action, for I claim that myth is a connection of deeds and that “characters” are those reasons that certain people do certain things, and that thought is that in which they display in talking or when they communicate an opinion.”

ἐπεὶ δὲ πράξεώς ἐστι μίμησις, πράττεται δὲ ὑπὸ τινῶν πραττόντων, οὓς ἀνάγκη ποιούς τινας εἶναι κατά τε τὸ ἦθος καὶ τὴν διάνοιαν (διὰ γὰρ τούτων καὶ τὰς πράξεις εἶναί φαμεν ποιάς τινας [πέφυκεν αἴτια δύο τῶν πράξεων εἶναι, διάνοια καὶ ἦθος] καὶ κατὰ ταύτας καὶ τυγχάνουσι καὶ ἀποτυγχάνουσι πάντες), ἔστιν δὲ τῆς μὲν πράξεως ὁ μῦθος ἡ μίμησις, λέγω γὰρ μῦθον τοῦτον τὴν  σύνθεσιν τῶν πραγμάτων, τὰ δὲ ἤθη, καθ’ ὃ ποιούς τινας εἶναί φαμεν τοὺς πράττοντας, διάνοιαν δέ, ἐν ὅσοις λέγοντες ἀποδεικνύασίν τι ἢ καὶ ἀποφαίνονται γνώμην…

 

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

Turner 1996, 133: The stories minds tell (the ways in which we interpret the world) are based on roles and character, “formed by backward inference from such a role, according to the folk theory of “the Nature of Things,” otherwise known as “Being Leads to Doing.” In this folk theory, glass shatters because it is brittle and fragile. Water pours because it is liquid. Someone forgives because she is forgiving. A dog guards the house because it is watchful. A fool acts like a fool because he is foolish. In general, doing follows from being; something behaves in a certain way because its being leads it to behave in that way…

Character is a pattern of connections we expect to operate across stories about a particular individual with that character or across stories about a group of individual with that character. People of a particular character are expected to inhabit similar roles in different stories…

[134] A role in one story is not isolated but connects to the same role in other stories…Focus, viewpoint, role and character in narrative imagining give us ways of constructing our own meaning, which is to say, ways of understanding who we are, what it means to be us, to have a particular life. The inability to locate one’s own focus, viewpoint, role, and character with respect to conventional stories of leading a life is thought to be pathological and deeply distressing. It is a principal reason for recommending psychotherapy to people not obviously insane.”

[136] “We do not live in a single narrative mental space, but rather dynamically and variably across over very many…realism can indicate that a specific life is never contained within a single story space or even a collection of such spaces whose corresponding generic space tells us everything we want to know. The real is in the blend.”

Homer,Odyssey: Epithets of Odysseus

“Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many ways…”
1.1     ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ

 

“Send many-minded Odysseus to his own home”
1.83  νοστῆσαι ᾿Οδυσῆα πολύφρονα ὅνδε δόμονδε,

“Ah, you are Odysseus of many-ways….
10.330 ἦ σύ γ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς ἐσσι πολύτροπος, ὅν τέ μοι αἰεὶ

 

“[Odysseus] will know how to return, since he is a man of many-devices”
1.205 φράσσεται ὥς κε νέηται, ἐπεὶ πολυμήχανός ἐστιν.

“Divine-raced, son of Laertes, many-deviced Odysseus
5.203 “διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,

 

“If very-clever Odysseus were in these rooms again…”
4.763 εἴ ποτέ τοι πολύμητις ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

 

“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus shivered”
5.171     ὣς φάτο, ῥίγησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,

 

“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus laughed”
13.250      ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

“And you, many-pained old man, since a god brought you my way…”
14.386 καὶ σύ, γέρον πολυπενθές, ἐπεί σέ μοι ἤγαγε δαίμων,

 

“They would not conquer me. I am truly much-enduring”
18.319 οὔ τί με νικήσουσι· πολυτλήμων δὲ μάλ’ εἰμί.”

 

“…I am a man of many-sorrows…”
19.118 μνησαμένῳ· μάλα δ’ εἰμὶ πολύστονος· οὐδέ τί με χρὴ

 

“…he is much-prayed for…”
19.404 παιδὸς παιδὶ φίλῳ· πολυάρητος δέ τοί ἐστι.”

 

Schol. ad Demosthenes. Orat. 20

“For a man of many ways changes himself in accordance with the nature of the matters at hand.”

πολύτροπος γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν πραγμά-των φύσιν συμμεταβάλλεται.

 

Schol. ad Odysseam 1.50 ex

“Antisthenes in interpreting this asks “why, then, is wretched Odysseus called polytropos? Really, this is the way to mark him out as wise. Isn’t it true that his manner never indicates his character, but that instead it signals his use of speech? The man who has a character difficult to penetrate is well-turned. These sorts of inventions of words are tropes/ways/manners

λύων οὖν ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης φησὶ, Τί οὖν; ἆρά γε πονηρὸς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὅτι πολύτροπος ἐκλήθη; καὶ μὴν διότι σοφὸς οὕτως αὐτὸν προσείρηκε. μήποτε οὖν ὁ τρόπος τὸ μέν τι σημαίνει τὸ ἦθος, τὸ δέ τι σημαίνει τὴν τοῦ λόγου χρῆσιν; εὔτροπος γὰρ ἀνὴρ ὁ τὸ ἦθος ἔχων εἰς τὸ εὖ τετραμμένον· τρόποι δὲ λόγων αἱ ποιαὶ πλάσεις.

John Peradotto. Man in the Middle Voice: Name and Narration in the Odyssey. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990: 44

“Events in a narrative are determined by its end. In the telling, however, a narrative gives us the illusion of being motivated, as a historical account appears to be motivated, from the opposite direction, from beginning to end…It is in effect a process of retroactive necessity in composition generating in performance, the illusion of progressive contingency.”

 

“The Dog’s Grave”: Did Odysseus Kill Hecuba?

At the end of Euripides’ Trojan Women, Hektor’s mother Hekabe (Hecuba) is taken as a servant by Odysseus. Hekabe, however, does not make it back to Ithaka or appear in the Odyssey. What happens?

 

Apollodorus Epitome, 5.23

“After killing the Trojan men, they burned the city and divided the spoils. Once they had sacrificed to all the gods, they threw Astyanax from the towers and sacrificed Polyxena on Achilles’ tomb. As a reward, Agamemnon took Kasandra, Neoptolemos took Andromakhe, and Odysseus took Hekabê. Some report that Helenos took her and he crossed to the Chersonnese with her and buried her there after she turned into a dog. This place is now called “Dog’s Grave”.

[23] κτείναντες δὲ τοὺς Τρῶας τὴν πόλιν ἐνέπρησαν καὶ τὰ λάφυρα ἐμερίσαντο. καὶ θύσαντες πᾶσι τοῖς θεοῖς Ἀστυάνακτα ἀπὸ τῶν πύργων ἔρριψαν, Πολυξένην δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ Ἀχιλλέως τάφῳ κατέσφαξαν. λαμβάνει δὲ Ἀγαμέμνων μὲν κατ᾽ ἐξαίρετον Κασάνδραν, Νεοπτόλεμος δὲ Ἀνδρομάχην, Ὀδυσσεὺς δὲ Ἑκάβην. ὡς δὲ ἔνιοι λέγουσιν, Ἕλενος αὐτὴν λαμβάνει, καὶ διακομισθεὶς εἰς Χερρόνησον σὺν αὐτῇ κύνα γενομένην θάπτει, ἔνθα νῦν λέγεται Κυνὸς σῆμα.

This story seems a bit strange, but it is not the only passage that combines a remarkable burial place for Hecuba and Odysseus’ winning of her.

Suda

“Dog’s Grave”: Odysseus, once he sailed to Marôneia during the departure from Troy and because he did not agree to leave the ships assailed them in war and took all their wealth. There, because she was cursing the army and making a ruckus, he killed Hekabe by stoning her and buried her near the sea, naming the place the “Bitch’s Grave”.

 
Κυνὸς σῆμα: ᾿Οδυσσεὺς κατὰ τὸν ἀπόπλουν παραπλεύσας εἰς Μαρώνειαν καὶ μὴ συγχωρούμενος τῶν νεῶν ἀποβῆναι διακρίνεται τούτοις πολέμῳ καὶ λαμβάνει τὸν πλοῦτον αὐτῶν ἅπαντα. ἐκεῖ δὲ τὴν ῾Εκάβην καταρωμένην τῷ στρατῷ καὶ θορύβους κινοῦσαν λίθων βολαῖς ἀνεῖλε καὶ παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν καλύπτει, ὀνομάσας τὸν τόπον Κυνὸς σῆμα.

 

Why did Hecuba turn into a dog?

Scholia to Lykophron’s Alexandra, 1176. 14-17

“They say that Hekabe was a witch and a follower of Hekate and for this reason, even if they are speaking nonsense, Hekabe turned into a dog when she was killed with stones. They also say that black, frightening dogs accompanied Hekate.”

ἑπωπίδα δὲ καὶ ἀκόλουθον τῆς ῾Εκάτης φησὶ τὴν ῾Εκάβην, ὅτι, καθάπερ ληροῦσιν (13128), ἡ ῾Εκάβη κύων γεγονυῖα λίθοις ἀνῃρέθη· καὶ τῇ ῾Εκάτῃ δέ
φασιν ἕπεσθαι κύνας μελαίνας φοβεράς. (Ap. Γ 1217)

 

It is not always the case that Odysseus stoned Hekabe:

Scholia to Euripides’ Hecuba 1259.10-12

“The story is that Hecuba was turned into a dog’s shape and then climbed down to the lowest part of the mast or the sailyard. He threw her into the sea and she drowned.”

μυθεύεται γὰρ ὡς εἰς κυνὸς εἶδος μεταβληθεῖσα ῾Εκάβη καὶ ἀνελθοῦσα ἐν τῷ ἀνωτάτῳ τοῦ ἱστοῦ, ἤτοι τοῦ κέρατος, ἔρριψεν αὑτὴν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ἀπεπνίγη.

 

And some see Euripides’ play Hecuba as anticipating the famous tomb:

Scholia to Euripides’Hecuba, 1271-2:

The tomb will have your name: You grave, he means, will take your name in popular knowledge. For everyone will call it the tomb of the dog. Asclepiades says that people call it the “Tomb of the Ill-fated Dog”

An enchanter of form”: Instead of a nickname based on my form, the grave will be named for what I have now or something else you said. As Polymestor predicts. The grave will not be named for Hekabe, but will be known to sailors as the “Dog’s Grave”. Whenever sailors come to that place where Hekabe’s grave is, then they will know they are nearing dry land.”

† τύμβῳ δ’ ὄνομα σὸν κεκλήσεται: ὁ τάφος σου, φησὶν,τὸ σὸν ὄνομα εἰς κλῆσιν λάβῃ. πάντες γὰρ κυνὸς τάφον αὐτὸν καλοῦσι, καὶ ᾿Ασκληπιάδης φησὶν ὅτι κυνὸς καλοῦσι δυσμόρου σῆμα: —A

† μορφῆς ἐπῳδόν: ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐπώνυμον τῆς ἐμῆς μορφῆς κληθήσεται τὸ σῆμα ἧς ἔχω νῦν, ἢ τί ἕτερον εἴπῃς. καί φησι Πολυμήστωρ· οὐ τάφος ῾Εκάβης κληθήσεται, ἀλλὰ κυνὸς σημεῖον τοῖς ναύταις ἐπίδηλον· ὅταν γὰρ ἀπέλθωσιν εἰς ἐκεῖνον τὸν τόπον οἱ ναῦται ἔνθαἐστὶν ὁ τῆς ῾Εκάβης τάφος, τότε γινώσκουσιν ὡς εἰς ξηράν εἰσιν: —A

Schol. to Euripides’ Hecuba 1273.1-2

“Of a wretched dog”: Asclepiades also says concerning the Dog’s Grave that some people call it the “Tomb of the Ill-Fated Dog.

κυνὸς ταλαίνης: περὶ τοῦ κυνὸς σήματος καὶ ᾿Ασκληπιάδηςφησὶν ὅτι κυνὸς καλοῦσι δυσμόρου σῆμα: —B

 

Polyxena

Polyxena. Another one of Hecuba’s children slaughtered

Fragmentary Friday: Fire For Women

Euripides, fr. 429

“In exchange for fire we women
Were made, another fire, greater
Much harder to fight.”

ἀντὶ πυρὸς γὰρ ἄλλο πῦρ
μεῖζον ἐβλάστομεν γυναῖ-
κες πολὺ δυσμαχώτερον.

Fr. 464

“Get married already, get married, and then die
Either by poison or a trick from your wife.”

γαμεῖτε νῦν, γαμεῖτε, κᾆτα θνῄσκετε
ἢ φαρμάκοισιν ἐκ γυναικὸς ἢ δόλοις.

Fr. 493

“Hating the female race is the most painful thing.
If those who have fallen share shame
With the women who have not and the wicked ones
Share repute with those who are not, and they don’t
Seem to men to be trustworthy when it comes to marriage.”

ἄλγιστόν ἐστι θῆλυ μισηθὲν γένος·
αἱ γὰρ σφαλεῖσαι ταῖσιν οὐκ ἐσφαλμέναις
αἶσχος γυναιξὶ καὶ κεκοίνωνται ψόγον
ταῖς οὐ κακαῖσιν αἱ κακαί· τὰ δ’ εἰς γάμους
οὐδὲν δοκοῦσιν ὑγιὲς ἀνδράσιν φρονεῖν.

Fr. 162

“When a young man faces up to Aphrodite,
He is unguardable: even if he is useless in everything else,
Every man is very clever about sex.”

ἢν ἀνδρὸς δ’ ὁρῶντος εἰς Κύπριν νεανίου
ἀφύλακτος ἡ τήρησις, ὡς κἂν φαῦλος ᾖ
τἄλλ’, εἰς ἔρωτα πᾶς ἀνὴρ σοφώτατος·

If the New Year Makes You Feel Old, Don’t Read This

Euripides, fr. 25 (Aeolus):

“Alas, the ancient proverb holds well:
We old men are nothing other than a sound
and an image, lurking imitations of dreams.
We have no mind and but we think we know how to think well.”

φεῦ φεῦ, παλαιὸς αἶνος ὡς καλῶς ἔχει·
γέροντες οὐδέν ἐσμεν ἄλλο πλὴν ψόφος
καὶ σχῆμ’, ὀνείρων δ’ ἕρπομεν μιμήματα·
νοῦς δ’ οὐκ ἔνεστιν, οἰόμεσθα δ’ εὖ φρονεῖν.

This is certainly uplifting. Not sure if I prefer to age with Euripides in mind or this:

Democritus, fr. 296

“Old age is the perfect handicap: it has everything and lacks everything.”

γῆρας ὁλόκληρός ἐστι πήρωσις·
πάντ’ ἔχει καὶ πᾶσιν ἐνδεῖ.

If not, maybe we can take some solace in Pindar:

Pindar, Olympian 4.25-27

“Sometimes even young men grow grey hair before the right time of life”

φύονται δὲ καὶ νέοις
ἐν ἀνδράσιν πολιαί
θαμάκι παρὰ τὸν ἁλικίας ἐοικότα χρόνον

But if we get too high on that, we can always rely on Cicero to bring us back to earth:

Sophocles,  fr. 65

“No one loves living as much as a man growing old”

τοῦ ζῆν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡς ὁ γηράσκων ἐρᾷ

 

Cicero, On Old Age 24

“No one is so old that he thinks he could not live another year”

nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere

Euripides, Fr. 462 (Cretan Women): Only Death is Friend to the Poor

With the US presidential primary right around the corner, it might do some good to start up a debate about poverty–which will likely be mentioned far more here than by the candidates….

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Euripides, obviously, might disagree with Tibullus (1.1-6):

“Let someone else pile up gleaming gold
And hold as many lots of well-plowed land,
Let constant labor frighten him when an enemy’s near
As war’s clarion blasts send his sleep to flight.
But may my poverty guide me through a settled life
as long as my hearth shines with a tireless light.”

Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
Et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
Quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
Me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti, 5
Dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus.

Although, in a different fragment, Euripides notes the corrupting force of wealth:

Euripides, fr. 54 (Alexander): On the Educational Merits of Poverty?

“Wealth and too much luxury
Are the wrong lessons for manly men.
Poverty is wretched but at least it raises up
Children better at working and getting things done.”

κακόν τι παίδευμ’ ἦν ἄρ’ εἰς εὐανδρίαν
ὁ πλοῦτος ἀνθρώποισιν αἵ τ’ ἄγαν τρυφαί·
πενία δὲ δύστηνον μέν, ἀλλ’ ὅμως τρέφει
μοχθεῖν τ’ ἀμείνω τέκνα καὶ δραστήρια.

The fabulously wealthy Seneca might agree:

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

Manic Monday: Euripidean Fragments on Fortune, Suffering and Intelligence

Euripides, fr. 102 (Alcmene)

“We are all wiser at weighing our neighbor’s bad luck than our own.”

σοφώτεροι γὰρ συμφορὰς τὰς τῶν πέλας
πάντες διαθρεῖν ἢ τύχας τὰς οἴκοθεν.

Euripides fragment

Euripides,fr. 205 (Antiope)

 

“I know that I suffer and this is no small pain:
Not to know, now that brings some pleasure to
The troubled—ignorance is an advantage amid grief.”

φρονῶ δ’ ὃ πάσχω, καὶ τόδ’ οὐ σμικρὸν κακόν·
τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι γὰρ ἡδονὴν ἔχει τινὰ
νοσοῦντα, κέρδος δ’ ἐν κακοῖς ἀγνωσία.

 

Euripides, fr. 290 (Bellerophon)

“I always fear less a dull man who is naturally strong
Than someone who is weak and clever.”

ἀεὶ γὰρ ἄνδρα σκαιὸν ἰσχυρὸν φύσει
ἧσσον δέδοικα τἀσθενοῦς τε καὶ σοφοῦ.