Fortunate Is the One Who Is Happy Today

Euripides Bacchae, Fourth Chorus (862-912)

“Will I ever lift my white foot
As I dance along
In the all night chorus—
Shaking my head at the dewy sky
Like the fawn who plays
In a meadow’s pale pleasures
When she has fled the frightful hunt
Beyond the well-woven nets of the guard—
With a holler, the hunter
Recalls the rush of his hounds
And she leaps
With the swift-raced lust of the winds
Across the riverbounded plain,
Taking pleasure in the places free
Of mortals and in the tender shoots
Of the shadow grove?

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Scarcely, but still surely,
The divine moves its strength
It brings mortals low
When they honor foolishness
And do not worship the gods
Because of some insane belief
They skillfully hide
The long step of time
As they hunt down the irreverent.
For it is never right
To think or practice stronger
Than the laws.
For it is a light price
To believe that these have strength—
Whatever the divine force truly is
And whatever has been customary for so long,
This will always be, by nature.

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Fortunate is the one who flees
The swell of the sea and returns to harbor.
Fortunate is the one who survives through troubles
One is greater than another in different things,
He surpasses in fortune and power—
But in numberless hearts still
Are numberless hopes: some result
In good fortune, but other mortal dreams
Just disappear.

Whoever has a happy life to-day,
I consider fortunate.

Χο. ἆρ’ ἐν παννυχίοις χοροῖς
θήσω ποτὲ λευκὸν
πόδ’ ἀναβακχεύουσα, δέραν
αἰθέρ’ ἐς δροσερὸν ῥίπτουσ’,
ὡς νεβρὸς χλοεραῖς ἐμπαί-
ζουσα λείμακος ἡδοναῖς,
ἁνίκ’ ἂν φοβερὰν φύγηι
θήραν ἔξω φυλακᾶς
εὐπλέκτων ὑπὲρ ἀρκύων,
θωύσσων δὲ κυναγέτας
συντείνηι δράμημα κυνῶν,
μόχθοις δ’ ὠκυδρόμοις ἀελ-
λὰς θρώισκηι πεδίον
παραποτάμιον, ἡδομένα
βροτῶν ἐρημίαις σκιαρο-
κόμοιό τ’ ἔρνεσιν ὕλας;
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
ὁρμᾶται μόλις, ἀλλ’ ὅμως
πιστόν <τι> τὸ θεῖον
σθένος· ἀπευθύνει δὲ βροτῶν
τούς τ’ ἀγνωμοσύναν τιμῶν-
τας καὶ μὴ τὰ θεῶν αὔξον-
τας σὺν μαινομέναι δόξαι.
κρυπτεύουσι δὲ ποικίλως
δαρὸν χρόνου πόδα καὶ
θηρῶσιν τὸν ἄσεπτον· οὐ
γὰρ κρεῖσσόν ποτε τῶν νόμων
γιγνώσκειν χρὴ καὶ μελετᾶν.
κούφα γὰρ δαπάνα νομί-
ζειν ἰσχὺν τόδ’ ἔχειν,
ὅτι ποτ’ ἄρα τὸ δαιμόνιον,
τό τ’ ἐν χρόνωι μακρῶι νόμιμον
ἀεὶ φύσει τε πεφυκός.
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
εὐδαίμων μὲν ὃς ἐκ θαλάσσας
ἔφυγε χεῖμα, λιμένα δ’ ἔκιχεν·
εὐδαίμων δ’ ὃς ὕπερθε μόχθων
ἐγένεθ’· ἕτερα δ’ ἕτερος ἕτερον
ὄλβωι καὶ δυνάμει παρῆλθεν.
μυρίαι δ’ ἔτι μυρίοις
εἰσὶν ἐλπίδες· αἱ μὲν
τελευτῶσιν ἐν ὄλβωι
βροτοῖς, αἱ δ’ ἀπέβασαν·
τὸ δὲ κατ’ ἦμαρ ὅτωι βίοτος
εὐδαίμων, μακαρίζω.

Image result for ancient greek good fortune
Cornucopia

Lucky if Blessed By Dionysus

Euripides’ Bacchae, First Chorus (part 1): 64-119

From the Asian land
After leaving sacred Tmôlos I speed— 65

A toil for Bromios that is sweet,
And a worn but happy weariness—
Crying out to the Bacchic god.

Who is in the road? Who is on the road?
Who is in the palace? Have every person come out!
Have each one hold a quiet tongue in sacred silence. 70

I am hymning Dionysus
In the customs that are always used.

You are blessed if you are lucky
To know the rites of the gods
And lead a pure life;
And join your soul to the band 75
Of Bacchic revelers on the mountains
In the sacred cleansing worship.
Taking care of the Great mother’s mysteries
Shaking the thyrsus all about 80
once you are wreathed in ivy,
you tend to Dionysus!

Go, Bacchae, Go Bacchae,
Lead on this Bromios, a divine child of a god,
Dionysus 85
From the Phrygian mountains on
To the streets of Greece, wide-enough for dances.

Once, his mother went
Into the forced labors of birth
From Zeus’ thunder in flight 90
She released him from her womb
Too early, and lost her life
At the lightning’s strike.

But Zeus, Kronos’ son
Immediately welcomed him
Into his hands
And hid him in his thigh—
He sewed him up with golden pins
To keep him a secret from Hera.
When the Fates made him grow,
He gave birth 100
To a bull-horned god
And crowned him with wreaths of snakes.

This is why the Maenads weave
Beast-eating serpents in their hair.

Thebes, the nurse of Semele, 105
Crown yourselves with ivy!
Flourish, Grow with the green
Leaves flush with fruit.
Make yourselves Bacchae too
With branches of oak or pine. 110
Adorn your clothes of stitched fawn
With strands of white wool.
Make sacred the arrogant wands.
Right now the whole earth will dance
As Bromios leads out his bands 115
To the mountain, to the mountain where
the woman-born mob stands
driven mad from their shuttles and looms
by Dionysus.

᾿Ασίας ἀπὸ γαίας
ἱερὸν Τμῶλον ἀμείψασα θοάζω
Βρομίωι πόνον ἡδὺν
κάματόν τ’ εὐκάματον, Βάκ-
χιον εὐαζομένα.
τίς ὁδῶι, τίς ὁδῶι; τίς
μελάθροις; ἔκτοπος ἔστω,
στόμα τ’ εὔφημον ἅπας ἐξοσιούσθω·
τὰ νομισθέντα γὰρ αἰεὶ
Διόνυσον ὑμνήσω.
ὦ μάκαρ, ὅστις εὐδαί-
μων τελετὰς θεῶν εἰ-
δὼς βιοτὰν ἁγιστεύει
καὶ θιασεύεται ψυ-
χὰν ἐν ὄρεσσι βακχεύ-
ων ὁσίοις καθαρμοῖσιν,
τά τε ματρὸς μεγάλας ὄρ-
για Κυβέλας θεμιτεύων
ἀνὰ θύρσον τε τινάσσων
κισσῶι τε στεφανωθεὶς
Διόνυσον θεραπεύει.
ἴτε βάκχαι, ἴτε βάκχαι,
Βρόμιον παῖδα θεὸν θεοῦ
Διόνυσον κατάγουσαι
Φρυγίων ἐξ ὀρέων ῾Ελλάδος εἰς εὐ-
ρυχόρους ἀγυιάς, τὸν Βρόμιον·
ὅν ποτ’ ἔχουσ’ ἐν ὠδί-
νων λοχίαις ἀνάγκαι-
σι πταμένας Διὸς βροντᾶς
νηδύος ἔκβολον μά-
τηρ ἔτεκεν, λιποῦσ’ αἰ-
ῶνα κεραυνίωι πλαγᾶι·
λοχίαις δ’ αὐτίκα νιν δέ-
ξατο θαλάμαις Κρονίδας Ζεύς,
κατὰ μηρῶι δὲ καλύψας
χρυσέαισιν συνερείδει
περόναις κρυπτὸν ἀφ’ ῞Ηρας.
ἔτεκεν δ’, ἁνίκα Μοῖραι
τέλεσαν, ταυρόκερων θεὸν
στεφάνωσέν τε δρακόντων
στεφάνοις, ἔνθεν ἄγραν θηρότροφον μαι-
νάδες ἀμφιβάλλονται πλοκάμοις.
ὦ Σεμέλας τροφοὶ Θῆ-
βαι, στεφανοῦσθε κισσῶι·
βρύετε βρύετε χλοήρει
μίλακι καλλικάρπωι
καὶ καταβακχιοῦσθε δρυὸς
ἢ ἐλάτας κλάδοισι,
στικτῶν τ’ ἐνδυτὰ νεβρίδων
στέφετε λευκοτρίχων πλοκάμων
μαλλοῖς· ἀμφὶ δὲ νάρθηκας ὑβριστὰς
ὁσιοῦσθ’· αὐτίκα γᾶ πᾶσα χορεύσει,
Βρόμιος εὖτ’ ἂν ἄγηι θιάσους
εἰς ὄρος εἰς ὄρος, ἔνθα μένει
θηλυγενὴς ὄχλος
ἀφ’ ἱστῶν παρὰ κερκίδων τ’
οἰστρηθεὶς Διονύσωι.

 

Related image
Pompeian Wall Painting

Hektor’s Bastards and His “Good” Wife

Listen, I know Hektor gets a lot of love in the world and he is often seen as the one good man in a rather bad world. So, I hate to share this with you, but he’s not perfect either…

Euripides Andromache, 222-227

“Dearest Hektor, I tried for your sake
With your love affairs if Kupris made you stumble,
And often then I offered my breast to your bastards
So that I might demonstrate no bitterness for you.
And by doing these things I attracted my husband
To my virtue…”

ὦ φίλταθ᾿ Ἕκτορ, ἀλλ᾿ ἐγὼ τὴν σὴν χάριν
σοὶ καὶ ξυνήρων, εἴ τί σε σφάλλοι Κύπρις,
καὶ μαστὸν ἤδη πολλάκις νόθοισι σοῖς
ἐπέσχον, ἵνα σοι μηδὲν ἐνδοίην πικρόν.
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶσα τῇ ἀρετῇ προσηγόμην
πόσιν·

Scholia in Eur. Andromache 224 [=BNJ 307 F1]

“For they claim that this is against the history—for there is no history of sons born to Hektor from another woman. But those who say these things have not done their research. For Anaksikratês says in the second book of his Argive Affairs that those with Aineias and Skamandrios, Hektor’s son and an older son […] that first was his bastard who was taken away…[and the legitimate son] was killed.

But these men were saved. For Skamandrios arrived in Ida and Aineias—along with his son Askanios—and Ankhises his father, and his other sons and, and Aigestas who was Ankhises’ servant moved to Dardanos. Therefore Euripides does not oddly claim that [Hektor] had illegitimate sons.”

τοῦτο παρὰ τὴν ἱστορίαν φασὶν εἰρῆσθαι· μὴ γὰρ ἱστορεῖσθαι ῞Εκτορι ἐξ ἄλλης γυναικὸς γεγενῆσθαι υἱούς. ἀπερίσκεπτοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ ταῦτα λέγοντες. ᾿Αναξικράτης γὰρ διὰ τῆς β τῶν ᾿Αργολικῶν [frg. 1] οὕτως λέγει· ‘οἱ δ’ ἀμφὶ Αἰνείαν καὶ Σκαμάνδριον τὸν ῞Εκτορος υἱὸν καὶ παλαίτερον ** ἦσαν δὲ αὐτῷ οὗτος μὲν νόθος, ὃς αὐτοῦ κατελήφθη καὶ ἀπόλλυται ** οὗτοι δὲ διασῴζονται· Σκαμάνδριος γὰρ ἀφικνεῖται εἰς τὰ ἐν ῎Ιδῃ, Αἰνείας δὲ <καὶ ᾿Ασκάνιος ὁ υἱὸς> καὶ ᾿Αγχίσης ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἄλλοι τινὲς παῖδες αὐτοῦ καὶ Αἰγέστας οἰκεῖος ὢν τῷ ᾿Αγχίσῃ [καὶ Αἰνείας] εἰς Δάρδανον μετανίστανται’. οὐκ ἀτόπως οὖν νῦν Εὐριπίδης νόθους φησὶν αὐτὸν ἐσχηκέναι παῖδας: —MOA

Anatole Mori in her commentary on this fragment for Brill’s New Jacoby notes that there are several later mythographical traditions that put Askanios and Skamandrios together:

“According to the fifth-century mythographer Hellanikos of Lesbos, Neoptolemos released Skamandrios and other descendants of Hektor, who returned with Askanios to Troy (BNJ 4 F 31 = Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Antiquities of Rome 1.47.53). The joint foundation of Skepsis by Skamandrios and Askanios is likewise noted by the geographer Strabo (Geography 13.1.52; Geography 14.5.29… On the various sources for the tradition of Skamandrios as a Trojan survivor, see P. M. Smith, ‘Aineiadai as Patrons of Iliad XX and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite’, HSCPh 85 (1981), 17-58, at 53-58. C.”

As Mori also notes, this name might be familiar to readers of the Iliad which takes pain to not that “Hektor used to call his son Skamandrios but the rest / called him Astyanax, for he alone kept Ilion safe” (τόν ῥ’ ῞Εκτωρ καλέεσκε Σκαμάνδριον, αὐτὰρ οἱ ἄλλοι
/ ᾿Αστυάνακτ’· οἶος γὰρ ἐρύετο ῎Ιλιον ῞Εκτωρ. 6.402–403). The Homeric scholia are silent on this. This seems a likely case of an instance where the Iliad knowingly suppresses details from myth to streamline the themes in its narrative (so, here, conflating multiple sons of Hektor into one). Indeed, Homeric epic seems to have a thing with eliminating second sons (as with Telegonus in the Odyssey.)

When it comes to the act of nursing a husband’s illegitimate children, the scholia to Euripides do bring up a Homeric example:

“[and I often then [gave my] breast]: This is the kind of woman Antênor’s wife was. For Homer has “Megês killed Pedaios, the son of Antênor / who was actually a bastard, but shining Theanô raised him carefully / equal to her own dear children, because she wanted to please her husband.”

καὶ μαστὸν ἤδη πολλάκις: ὁποία ἦν ἡ Θεανὼ ἡ ᾿Αντήνορος γυνή. ῞Ομηρος [Ε 69]·
‘Πηδαῖον δ’ ἂρ ἔπεφνε Μέγης, ᾿Αντήνορος υἱὸν,
ὅς ῥα νόθος μὲν ἔην, πύκα δ’ ἔτρεφε δῖα Θεανὼ
ἶσα φίλοισι τέκεσσι χαριζομένη πόσεϊ ᾧ’:

(Note some linguistic similarity to Euripides’ passage above in the phrases χαριζομένη πόσεϊ ᾧ and τὴν σὴν χάριν.) The Homeric epics are not wholly silent on bastard sons--they feature Menelaos’ son Megapenthes. According to the scholion to this passage (Schol. A ad Hom. 5.70b) “it was the foreign custom to have children with a lot of women. (Ariston. ὅς ῥα νόθος μὲν ἔην: ὅτι βαρβαρικὸν ἔθος τὸ ἐκ πλειόνων γυναικῶν παιδοποιεῖσθαι. A). The bT Scholion to the same passage goes further:

“It is the foreign custom to have sex with many women—indeed, Laertes* “avoids the wrath of his wife” (1.433) Or she must quickly make it right through the priesthood. But the poetry attributes this custom to women—for it is a mark of a wise woman to cover the mistake her husband has made.”

ex. | ex. βάρβαρον ἔθος τὸ ταῖς πολλαῖς γυναιξὶ μίγνυσθαι· Λαέρτης γοῦν
„χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός” (α 433). | ἢ τάχα ἥγνευεν αὐτὴ διὰ τὴν ἱερωσύνην. νόμον δὲ τοῦτον ὑπογράφει ταῖς γυναιξὶν ὁ ποιητής· σώφρονος γὰρ γυναικὸς τὸ γεγονὸς ἁμάρτημα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς σκέπειν.

*The Odyssey specifically remarks that Laertes did not sleep with Antikleia, his very attractive slave, because he did not want to anger Eurykleia, his wife.

So, in Euripides’ play, Andromache’s nursing of her husbands’ bastards is both a sign of her foreignness and of her dedication to her husband (and, perhaps here, a mark of her quality as a slave since she was already so accustomed to supporting another….).

A few Bonus Bastard Passages from Euripides (and here for the language of illegitimacy in Greek)

Andromache, 636–639 [Peleus speaking]

“For as often as the dry ground surpasses
deep earth in the life it brings forth,
so many a bastard is better than legitimate children.”

…πολλάκις δέ τοι
ξηρὰ βαθεῖαν γῆν ἐνίκησε σπορᾷ,
νόθοι τε πολλοὶ γνησίων ἀμείνονες.

Fr. 824

“They say that step-mothers think nothing helpful
About bastard children—I will guard against their rebuke.”

ὡς οὐδὲν ὑγιὲς φασὶ μητρυιὰς φρονεῖν
νόθοισι παισίν, ὧν φυλάξομαι ψόγον.

Image result for astyanax and hector
A vase painting similar to a famous scene in Iliad 6

Thanks to Theo Nash for sending this passage to me:

Also, check this out:

Fragmentary Friday: The Invention of Writing

Euripides, Palamedes (fr. 578)

“Alone once I set out drugs of forgetfulness,
Voiceless, yet speaking—when I made the syllabus
I discovered as letters for men to see
So one who was not present over the wide sea
Knows well everything happening in his home,
And as someone dies he speaks for those writing the measure of his wealth
For his children and for the one who accepts it to know.
And the evils that cause people to fall into strife,
A record dissolves–it does not permit the speaking of lies.”

Τὰ τῆς γε λήθης φάρμακ’ ὀρθώσας μόνος
ἄφωνα καὶ φωνοῦντα συλλαβάς τε θεὶς
ἐξεῦρον ἀνθρώποισι γράμματ’ εἰδέναι,
ὥστ’ οὐ παρόντα ποντίας ὑπὲρ πλακὸς
τἀκεῖ κατ’ οἴκους πάντ’ ἐπίστασθαι καλῶς,
παισίν τ’ ἀποθνῄσκοντα χρημάτων μέτρον
γράψαντας εἰπεῖν, τὸν λαβόντα δ’ εἰδέναι.
ἃ δ’ εἰς ἔριν πίπτουσιν ἀνθρώποις κακά,
δέλτος διαιρεῖ, κοὐκ ἐᾷ ψευδῆ λέγειν.

fr. 580

“Agamemnon, human beings have every kind
Of luck—but it comes together in this one thing.
Everyone—both those who love art and those
Who live without it toil over money
And whoever has the most is the wisest.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισι πᾶσαν αἱ τύχαι
μορφὴν ἔχουσι, συντρέχει δ᾿ εἰς ἓν τόδε·
†τούτου† δὲ πάντες, οἵ τε μουσικῆς φίλοι
ὅσοι τε χωρὶς ζῶσι, χρημάτων ὕπερ
μοχθοῦσιν, ὃς δ᾿ ἂν πλεῖστ᾿ ἔχῃ σοφώτατος.

581

“Endless numbers of us might become leaders
But in a long time only one or two might become wise.”

στρατηλάται τἂν μυρίοι γενοίμεθα,
σοφὸς δ᾿ ἂν εἷς τις ἢ δύ᾿ ἐν μακρῷ χρόνῳ.

Image result for ancient greek palamedes
Palamedes before Agamemnon in a 1626 painting by Rembrandt

Falling from Pegasos: Or, What’s a Heaven For (Pindar, Browning,Gilbert and Friends)

This is a repost. But I never get sick of these poems. And many of my students and colleagues might need some inspiration this time of year.

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“Seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end.
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

File:Red-figure plate showing Bellerophon riding Pegasus and a Chimera, by the Baltimore painter, second half of the 4th century BC, Monsters. Fantastic Creatures of Fear and Myth Exhibition, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome (12836992534).jpg
Red Figure by the Baltimore Painter, 4th Century BCE

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
The passage above from Pindar assumes some basic knowledge on the part of its audience, for instance: the connection between Bellerophon and Pegasos and how the former was in a position to fall from the latter. It is clear from the use of the figure as a negative example that the story had both broad currency and a typical understanding. A Scholiast in writing on Pindar’s 13th Olympian ode elaborates on the details of the fall (Schol. In Pindar Ol. 13.130c).

 

“For it is reported that when he planned to fly up on Pegasos and put himself in danger on high, he fell when Pegasos was bitten by a fly according to Zeus’ plan and he was crippled. So Homer says that he wandered crippled on the Alêion plain (Il. 6.201).

λέγεται γὰρ ὅτι ἀναπτῆναι βουληθεὶς τῷ Πηγάσῳ, κούφως παρακινδυνεύσας, κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ Διὸς οἰστρωθέντος τοῦ Πηγάσου ἐκπίπτει καὶ χωλοῦται•
καὶ ἐπλανᾶτο κατὰ τὸ ᾿Αλήιον χωλός. καὶ ῞Ομηρός φησιν (Ζ 201).

The story of Bellerophon’s exile, told in Homer, is clarified or re-envisioned with the story of his downfall as articulated as a moral in Pindar. In Athenian Tragedy, Bellerophon became a popular figure (we have fragmentary plays by Sophocles and Euripides). Bellerophon’s eventual vengeance upon Sthenboia (an alternative for Anteia, Proitios’ wife) is the man story in Euripides’ play of that name that starts with a rumination on the trouble women cause for men:


Euripides, Stheneboia Fr. 661-662

“There is no man who is lucky in all things.
Either a man born noble has no livelihood
Or the baseborn ploughs fertile fields.
And many who boast of their wealth or birth
Are shamed by a foolish woman in their homes.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις πάντ’ ἀνὴρ εὐδαιμονεῖ•
ἢ γὰρ πεφυκὼς ἐσθλὸς οὐκ ἔχει βίον,
ἢ δυσγενὴς ὢν πλουσίαν ἀροῖ πλάκα.
πολλοὺς δὲ πλούτῳ καὶ γένει γαυρουμένους
γυνὴ κατῄσχυν’ ἐν δόμοισι νηπία.

Just as Pindar uses Bellerophon as a vehicle to deliver a moralizing message, so too Euripides uses the hero to voice general concerns. In a second play on Bellerophon, Euripides returns to the moral content of Pindar’s complaint but, rather than simply portraying an instance of hubris, he offers a hero challenging the nature of divinity.

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις•
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν.
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

PSA: Some Things Not to Say While Trick-or-treating

Want to know how to say “trick-or-treat” in Ancient Greek or Latin? We’ve got you covered. Here are some classical things not to say.

Aristophanes, Wasps 4

“Don’t you know what kind of a beast we’re guarding?”

ἆρ᾿ οἶσθά γ᾿ οἷον κνώδαλον φυλάττομεν;

Euripides, Cyclops 656-660

“Heave ho, let’s go
Strike bravely, fast now
Incinerate the brow
Of this guest-feasting beast.
Blind him, burn out
The shepherd of Aetna.
Turn it, pull it, so that because of pain
He can’t hurt you any more.”

ἰὼ ἰώ·
ὠθεῖτε γενναιότατα,
σπεύδετ᾿, ἐκκαίετ᾿ ὀφρὺν
θηρὸς τοῦ ξενοδαίτα.
τύφετ᾿ ὦν, καίετ᾿ ὦ
τὸν Αἴτνας μηλονόμον.
τόρνευ᾿ ἕλκε, μὴ ᾿ξοδυνη-
θεὶς δράσῃ τι μάταιον.

Seneca, Phoenician Women 121-2

“Put a greater monster there so the dread seat will not be empty”

…dira ne sedes vacet,/ monstrum repone maius…

Jerome, Letters 7.3

“We are still food for the beast who creeps by god’s will to eat.”

nos serpenti terram ex divina sententia comedenti adhuc cibo sumus.

 

Image result for ancient roman monsters

You Thought Paris Had Helen, He Didn’t: Cylon Helen Speaks

The Scene: Menelaos is very confused because he is talking to a human who looks like Helen and says she is his wife but he knows that he left his wife in a cave under guard. A messenger comes to report that this Helen left in the direction of the sky (she is the fake Helen switched out by Hermes with the real one before Paris took her to Troy). The messenger is a little agitated by what he has witnessed.

Euripides, Helen 605

“Your wife has gone invisible, lifted up
To the folds of the sky. She is hidden by heaven,
After leaving the sacred cave where we watched her
once she said this: ‘Wretched Phrygians
And all the Greeks who were dying for me
On the Scamandrian banks thanks to Hera’s devices,
All because you thought that Paris had Helen when he didn’t.
But I, since I was here for as long as was necessary,
have finished my purpose, and I am going to the father
In the sky. The wretched daughter of Tyndareus
Has evil fame wrongly, when it is not her fault.’

Oh, hello, daughter of Leda. You were really here.
I was announcing that you went to the glens of the stars
Even though I knew that you didn’t really have
A body with wings. I won’t allow you to mock us
In this again—the way you were creating plenty of toils
To your husband and his allies.”

βέβηκεν ἄλοχος σὴ πρὸς αἰθέρος πτυχὰς
ἀρθεῖσ᾿ ἄφαντος· οὐρανῷ δὲ κρύπτεται
λιποῦσα σεμνὸν ἄντρον οὗ σφ᾿ ἐσῴζομεν,
τοσόνδε λέξασ᾿· Ὦ ταλαίπωροι Φρύγες
πάντες τ᾿ Ἀχαιοί, δι᾿ ἔμ᾿ ἐπὶ Σκαμανδρίοις
ἀκταῖσιν Ἥρας μηχαναῖς ἐθνῄσκετε,
δοκοῦντες Ἑλένην οὐκ ἔχοντ᾿ ἔχειν Πάριν.
ἐγὼ δ᾿, ἐπειδὴ χρόνον ἔμειν᾿ ὅσον μ᾿ ἐχρῆν,
τὸ μόρσιμον σώσασα πατέρ᾿ ἐς οὐρανὸν
ἄπειμι· φήμας δ᾿ ἡ τάλαινα Τυνδαρὶς
ἄλλως κακὰς ἤκουσεν οὐδὲν αἰτία.

ὦ χαῖρε, Λήδας θύγατερ, ἐνθάδ᾿ ἦσθ᾿ ἄρα.
ἐγὼ δέ σ᾿ ἄστρων ὡς βεβηκυῖαν μυχοὺς
ἤγγελλον εἰδὼς οὐδὲν ὡς ὑπόπτερον
δέμας φοροίης. οὐκ ἐῶ σε κερτομεῖν
ἡμᾶς τόδ᾿ αὖθις· ὡς ἅδην ἐν Ἰλίῳ
πόνους παρεῖχες σῷ πόσει καὶ συμμάχοις.

Image result for Ancient Greek Vase Helen

Words, Friends, and the Future: Solace and Distraction for the Pain

Of late, the number of events that send us reeling and looking for comfort, solace, and, too often, just distraction seem to be increasing and intensifying. I will leave it for future generations to debate whether or not this is objectively true-the feeling of being under siege is enough to require some type of response.

I was in my first semester of graduate school in lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2001. I am uncomfortable claiming any sort of trauma as my own since many others lost loved ones and many more saw their worlds overturned. Nevertheless, the first weeks after were surreal. I can say without a doubt that when I decided to stop reading for my classes and just read-the Iliad from opening to close in GreekI found some solace and comfort in a ragged world.

I still turn to Classical texts for context and understanding. The comfort they bring, however, is not a warm one. A twitter friend today asked for some classical topoi on solace in a time of suffering and I am embarrassed at the poverty of my offerings when I can rattle off words for excrement and flatulence with no effort. Here are some meager words for a mean world. I will happily post better ones when they are offered.

From the Suda

“Pharmakon [medicine]: conversation, consoling, it comes from pherein [bringing] akos [relief/cure]. But it is also said to come from flowers.”

Φάρμακον: παραμυθία, ὁμιλία, εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ φέρειν τὴν ἄκεσιν: εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθέων

 

Euripides, Helen 698-699

“if you find good luck in the time that is left
Perhaps it will be solace for the things in the past”

εἰ καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῆς τύχης εὐδαίμονος
τύχοιτε, πρὸς τὰ πρόσθεν ἀρκέσειεν ἄν.

Basil, Letter 131

“Since we both need consolation, may we be solace to one another.”

ἐπεὶ οὖν ἀμφότεροι χρῄζομεν παρακλήσεως, ἀλλήλοις γενώμεθα παραμυθία

Letter 302

“Since he has left you a memory of his particular virtue, believe that this is a sufficient solace for your pain.”

Ἐπεὶ οὖν κατέλιπέ σοι τὴν μνήμην τῆς οἰκείας αὐτοῦ4ἀρετῆς, ἀρκοῦσαν νόμιζε ἔχειν παραμυθίαν τοῦ πάθους.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9

“If you want a private passage at hand to soothe your heart, the knowledge of the world around you will give you some solace at death, the world you leave and the kind of people your soul will no longer be associated with…..”

Εἰ δὲ καὶ ἰδιωτικὸν παράπηγμα ἁψικάρδιον ἐθέλεις, μάλιστά σε εὔκολον πρὸς τὸν θάνατον ποιήσει ἡ ἐπίστασις ἡ ἐπὶ τὰ ὑποκείμενα, ὧν μέλλεις ἀφίστασθαι, καὶ μεθ᾿ οἵων ἠθῶν οὐκέτι ἔσται ἡ <σὴ ψυχὴ> συμπεφυρμένη…

Thucydides, book 5

“Hope is indeed a comfort in danger: it may harm people who use it from abundance it does not destroy them. But for those who risk everything on one chance—since hope is expensive by nature—they will only know her nature when they suffer…”

Ἐλπὶς δέ, κινδύνῳ παραμύθιον οὖσα, τοὺς μὲν ἀπὸ περιουσίας χρωμένους αὐτῇ, κἂν βλάψῃ, οὐ καθεῖλε, τοῖς δὲ ἐς ἅπαν τὸ ὑπάρχον ἀναρριπτοῦσι (δάπανος γὰρ φύσει) ἅμα τε γιγνώσκεται σφαλέντων…

Plutarch, Dion, 53

“…for whom daily feasts and distractions provide are a consolation for their labors and risks.”

οἷς αἱ καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν πλησμοναὶ καὶ ἀπολαύσεις παραμυθία τῶν πόνων καὶ τῶν κινδύνων εἰσίν

This last bit reminds me of Thetis’ words to Achilles (24.128-132)

“My child, how long will you consume your heart
Grieving and mourning, thinking little of food
Or of sleep? It is good too to join a woman in love—
For you will not live with me long, but already
Death and strong fate loom around you.”

τέκνον ἐμὸν τέο μέχρις ὀδυρόμενος καὶ ἀχεύων
σὴν ἔδεαι κραδίην μεμνημένος οὔτέ τι σίτου
οὔτ’ εὐνῆς; ἀγαθὸν δὲ γυναικί περ ἐν φιλότητι
μίσγεσθ’· οὐ γάρ μοι δηρὸν βέῃ, ἀλλά τοι ἤδη
ἄγχι παρέστηκεν θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα κραταιή.

Whether we accomplish a little or a lot–as Achilles complains in book 9–we still will die. The modern horror of mass killings is especially disorienting and terrifying because it seems to strip us of agency over what happens between birth and death. And though it may be hard to remember it, the words Athenaeus attributes to the epitaph of Ashurbanipal are still not untrue:

“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.]

Image result for Greek mourning vase
Terracotta Funeral Plague, Metropolitan Museum of Art

From an Earlier post:

Some Proverbs from Arsenius, Paroemiographer

“Only words [reason] is medicine for grief”

Λόγος μέν ἐστι φάρμακον λύπης μόνος.

“Conversation [ or ‘reason’] is the doctor for suffering in the soul”

Λόγος ἰατρὸς τοῦ κατὰ ψυχὴν πάθους.

Euripides, fr. 1079

“Mortals have no other medicine for pain
Like the advice of a good man, a friend
Who has experience with this sickness.
A man who troubles then calms his thoughts with drinking,
Finds immediate pleasure, but laments twice as much later on.”

Οὐκ ἔστι λύπης ἄλλο φάρμακον βροτοῖς
ὡς ἀνδρὸς ἐσθλοῦ καὶ φίλου παραίνεσις.
ὅστις δὲ ταύτῃ τῇ νόσῳ ξυνὼν ἀνὴρ
μέθῃ ταράσσει καὶ γαληνίζει φρένα,
παραυτίχ’ ἡσθεὶς ὕστερον στένει διπλᾶ.

Menander (fr. 591 K.).

“The man who is sick in the body needs a doctor;
someone who is sick in the mind needs a friend
For a well-meaning friend knows how to treat grief.”

Τῷ μὲν τὸ σῶμα † διατεθειμένῳ κακῶς
χρεία ‘στ’ ἰατροῦ, τῷ δὲ τὴν ψυχὴν φίλου·
λύπην γὰρ εὔνους οἶδε θεραπεύειν φίλος.

Attributed to Socrates (in Stobaeus)

“The sick need doctors; the unlucky need encouragement from friends.”

Τοῖς μὲν νοσοῦσιν ἰατρούς, τοῖς δ’ ἀτυχοῦσι φίλους δεῖ παραινεῖν.

“A Contest of Steel Itself”: Untranslatable Euripides

For a few lines in the second choral ode from Euripides’ Helen, the fine Bryn Mawr Commentary (J. W. Ambrose and A. D. Wooley 1992) almost give up: “Virtually untranslatable.

BrynMawr

Here is the full passage where Helen sings (348-359)

Ελ. σὲ γὰρ ἐκάλεσα, σὲ δὲ κατόμοσα
τὸν ὑδρόεντι δόνακι χλωρὸν
Εὐρώταν, θανόντος
εἰ βάξις ἔτυμος ἀνδρὸς
†ἅδε μοι τί τάδ’ ἀσύνετα†,
φόνιον αἰώρημα
διὰ δέρας ὀρέξομαι,
ἢ ξιφοκτόνον διωγμὸν
αἱμορρύτου σφαγᾶς
αὐτοσίδαρον ἔσω πελάσω διὰ σαρκὸς ἅμιλλαν,
θῦμα τριζύγοις θεαῖσι
τῶι τε σήραγγας ῎Ι-
δας ἐνίζοντι Πριαμί-
δαι ποτ’ ἀμφὶ βουστάθμους.

“I call on you, I swear on you,
Eurotas, green with watery reed,
If the report of my husband dying
Is true—and how could I misunderstand these things?—
Then, I will stretch around my neck
A murderous noose.
Or, I will bring home
The sword-death mission
Of blood-flowing slaughter.
A contest of steel itself through my flesh,
A sacrifice to the three-yoked goddesses
And to Priam’s son sitting in the Idaian cave
Near the cow-folds.”

William Allan in his Cambridge commentary (2008) is a bit more circumspect:

Allan.jpg

Earlier, (in disputed lines, deleted for sense and propriety more than anything else) Helen compares forms of suicide (298-302). This passage seems to correspond well to the contemplation and expansion of slaughter above.

“It is best to die? How could I not die well?
Hanging high in the air is improper,
It is thought unmannerly even by slaves.
Stabbing has something noble and fine about it.
It is a short time to gain freedom from life”

[θανεῖν κράτιστον· πῶς θάνοιμ’ ἂν οὖν καλῶς;
ἀσχήμονες μὲν ἀγχόναι μετάρσιοι,
κἀν τοῖσι δούλοις δυσπρεπὲς νομίζεται·
σφαγαὶ δ’ ἔχουσιν εὐγενές τι καὶ καλόν,
σμικρὸν δ’ ὁ καιρὸς †ἄρτ’† ἀπαλλάξαι βίου.]

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen sculpture

“If Misfortune is Beautiful…” Helen on The Trojan War

This semester I am reading Euripides’ Helen with my advanced Greek students. The opening speech presents Helen herself on stage retelling the “alternate-fact” version of the Trojan War (told as well by Stesichorus and Herodotus) that she herself never went to Troy. This monologue is pretty amusing, both for the plays of meaning presented within it and the playful treatment of the Trojan War tradition.

16–36

“The land of my father is not nameless,
Sparta, nor my father Tyndareus. And, indeed, there is
a certain story that Zeus flew to my mother Leda
after he took the form of a swan, a bird,
when he completed this ‘bedding’ deceptively
under the pretext of fleeing an eagle, if the story is true.

I am called Helen. And I should tell you the evils
I have suffered. Three goddesses went to the folds
O Mt. Ida to Alexander about their beauty,
Hera, the Kyprian, and the Zeus-born maiden,
Because they wanted him to complete a judgement of their ‘form’.
My beauty–if misfortune is beautiful–
Is what the Kyprian offered, for Alexander to marry,
In order to win. After Idaian Paris left the cow-stall
He went to Sparta seeking my bed.
But Hera, miffed because she did not defeat the goddesses,
Made my bed with Alexander an empty thing.
She did not give me, but instead, she made
A breathing ghost like me, crafting it from the sky,
For tyrant Priam’s son. He seemed to have me,
And it was an empty thing, because he did not have me….”

ἡμῖν δὲ γῆ μὲν πατρὶς οὐκ ἀνώνυμος
Σπάρτη, πατὴρ δὲ Τυνδάρεως· ἔστιν δὲ δὴ
λόγος τις ὡς Ζεὺς μητέρ’ ἔπτατ’ εἰς ἐμὴν
Λήδαν κύκνου μορφώματ’ ὄρνιθος λαβών,
ὃς δόλιον εὐνὴν ἐξέπραξ’ ὑπ’ αἰετοῦ
δίωγμα φεύγων, εἰ σαφὴς οὗτος λόγος·
῾Ελένη δ’ ἐκλήθην. ἃ δὲ πεπόνθαμεν κακὰ
λέγοιμ’ ἄν. ἦλθον τρεῖς θεαὶ κάλλους πέρι
᾿Ιδαῖον ἐς κευθμῶν’ ᾿Αλέξανδρον πάρα,
῞Ηρα Κύπρις τε διογενής τε παρθένος,
μορφῆς θέλουσαι διαπεράνασθαι κρίσιν.
τοὐμὸν δὲ κάλλος, εἰ καλὸν τὸ δυστυχές,
Κύπρις προτείνασ’ ὡς ᾿Αλέξανδρος γαμεῖ,
νικᾶι. λιπὼν δὲ βούσταθμ’ ᾿Ιδαῖος Πάρις
Σπάρτην ἀφίκεθ’ ὡς ἐμὸν σχήσων λέχος.
῞Ηρα δὲ μεμφθεῖσ’ οὕνεκ’ οὐ νικᾶι θεὰς
ἐξηνέμωσε τἄμ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρωι λέχη,
δίδωσι δ’ οὐκ ἔμ’ ἀλλ’ ὁμοιώσασ’ ἐμοὶ
εἴδωλον ἔμπνουν οὐρανοῦ ξυνθεῖσ’ ἄπο
Πριάμου τυράννου παιδί· καὶ δοκεῖ μ’ ἔχειν,
κενὴν δόκησιν, οὐκ ἔχων….

 

Attic red-figure krater c. 450–440 BC (ParisLouvre)