Graves, Signs, and Glory

Homer, Iliad 7.89-91

“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”

σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Iliad 24.801–804

“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”

χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
῝Ως οἵ γ’ ἀμφίεπον τάφον ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

Hektor’s grave is described a little differently earlier. (I explain the “emptiness” of the tomb in another post)

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

Odyssey 11.72-78 (Elpenor asking to be buried)

“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”

μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.’

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Image result for ancient Greek funeral mounds
Tumulus of Marathon.

Paris’ Ships and Metapoetics

Homer, Iliad 5.59-68 

“Mêrionês then killed Phereklos, the son of the carpenter,
Son of Joiner, who knew who to fashion all sorts of intricate tings
With his hands. Pallas Athena loved him especially.
He is the one who designed Alexander’s fantastic ships,
Those kindlers of evil which brought evil on all the Trojans
And on him especially, since he understood nothing of the divine prophecies.
Well, Mêrionês, once he overtook him in pursuit,
Struck him through the right buttock. The sharp point
Went straight through his bladder under the bone.
He fell to his knee and groaned. Then death overtook him.

Μηριόνης δὲ Φέρεκλον ἐνήρατο, τέκτονος υἱὸν
῾Αρμονίδεω, ὃς χερσὶν ἐπίστατο δαίδαλα πάντα
τεύχειν· ἔξοχα γάρ μιν ἐφίλατο Παλλὰς ᾿Αθήνη·
ὃς καὶ ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ τεκτήνατο νῆας ἐΐσας
ἀρχεκάκους, αἳ πᾶσι κακὸν Τρώεσσι γένοντο
οἷ τ’ αὐτῷ, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι θεῶν ἐκ θέσφατα ᾔδη.
τὸν μὲν Μηριόνης ὅτε δὴ κατέμαρπτε διώκων
βεβλήκει γλουτὸν κατὰ δεξιόν· ἣ δὲ διαπρὸ
ἀντικρὺ κατὰ κύστιν ὑπ’ ὀστέον ἤλυθ’ ἀκωκή·
γνὺξ δ’ ἔριπ’ οἰμώξας, θάνατος δέ μιν ἀμφεκάλυψε.

Whole Schol. bT ad Il.5.59 glosses the name Phereklos as “one who brings the turmoil of war through the ships” (Φέρεκλος ὁ φέρων κλόνον διὰ τῶν νέων), I would also like to believe that name Phere-klos, might make someone think of ‘fame-bringer’. And the connection between poetic fame and the activity of the war arises elsewhere in this passage two.

Note that the this Phere-klos is the son of Harmonidês, a man who, according to the passage, is the one who build the ships “the bringers of evil” (ἀρχεκάκους) for Paris (those ships which carried him from Troy to Sparta…). The name Harmonidês is not insignificant: Gregory Nagy has etymologized Homer as “one who fits the song together”. Phereklos’ father is a “craftsman” (“tektôn”) who built the very ships that allowed his son (and Paris) to bring the conflict to Troy and generate the fame of the songs it generated. Here, the ships are positioned as the first steps in evil, but I would suggest, that as the means by which the songs themselves travel across the sea, the ships are, as products of specialized craftsmen, both metonymns for the stories themselves and necessary vehicles for their transmission.

If this is not too blinkered or mad a suggestion, perhaps Phereklos’ death here is a reassertion of the poetic power of song over the pragmatic craft of shipwrights….

Image result for ancient greek shipbuilding

Graves, Signs, and Glory

Homer, Iliad 7.89-91

“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”

σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Iliad 24.801–804

“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”

χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
῝Ως οἵ γ’ ἀμφίεπον τάφον ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

Hektor’s grave is described a little differently earlier. (I explain the “emptiness” of the tomb in another post)

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

Odyssey 11.72-78 (Elpenor asking to be buried)

“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”

μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.’

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Image result for ancient Greek funeral mounds
Tumulus of Marathon.

Penelope On the Brevity of Life and Immortal Fame

Penelope speaks to the disguised stranger in the Odyssey

Homer, Od. 19.325–324

“Stranger, how could you learn about me, if I am in any way
Superior to other women in my thought and clever wit,
Especially if you dine dressed terribly in the halls?
For human beings have short lives.
One who is harsh and knows harsh things,
All mortals will wish for him to have pains later
While alive and when he is dead everyone mocks him.
But whoever is blameless and thinks blameless thoughts.
Guests carry his kleos wide and far to all people.
And many say that he is a good man.”

πῶς γὰρ ἐμεῦ σύ, ξεῖνε, δαήσεαι, εἴ τι γυναικῶν
ἀλλάων περίειμι νόον καὶ ἐπίφρονα μῆτιν,
εἴ κεν ἀϋσταλέος, κακὰ εἱμένος ἐν μεγάροισι
δαινύῃ; ἄνθρωποι δὲ μινυνθάδιοι τελέθουσιν.
ὃς μὲν ἀπηνὴς αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀπηνέα εἰδῇ,
τῷ δὲ καταρῶνται πάντες βροτοὶ ἄλγε’ ὀπίσσω
ζωῷ, ἀτὰρ τεθνεῶτί γ’ ἐφεψιόωνται ἅπαντες·
ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀμύμων αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀμύμονα εἰδῇ,
τοῦ μέν τε κλέος εὐρὺ διὰ ξεῖνοι φορέουσι
πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, πολλοί τέ μιν ἐσθλὸν ἔειπον.”

Schol. ad Od. 19.328

“Human beings are short-lived”: she says this as a euphemism and is really talking about glory. For, since human beings have brief lives, they need to do well in their life and leave a good fame about themselves behind them.”

ἄνθρωποι δὲ μινυνθάδιοι τελέθουσι] τοῦτο πρὸς τὴν εὐφημίαν εἴρηκεν, καὶ ἀναφέρεται ἐπὶ τὸ κλέος. ὀλιγοχρόνιοι δὲ ὑπάρχοντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι ὀφείλουσιν εὖ πράττειν ἐν τῷ βίῳ, καὶ φήμην ἀγαθὴν περὶ ἑαυτῶν ἀπολείπειν. V.

redfigurepyxis
A red figure pyxis from c. 430 BCE

 

 

Hektor’s “Empty” Grave

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker, around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

In Iliad seven, Hector challenges the ‘best of the Achaeans’ to a duel. There he imagines that, once he had won the contest, the dead hero’s tomb would be a monument to, and sign of, his everlasting glory. Ironically, the dead hero’s tomb turns out to be his, once the Trojans construct it at the epic’s end

But what kind of sign is it? Homer describes how the Trojans’ burial mound for Hector leaves ‘a mark’—the word here is sêma (from which we get the words ‘semantics’ or ‘semaphore’), and also means a sign or symbol. In the end, then, the epic leaves us with a symbol of some kind. Ostensibly, of course, that is Hector’s burial mound, a physical marker of his fame—and the fame of all the heroes who fought at Troy. Yet, its immediate referent, the physical thing it describes, is a ‘hollow grave’ (koilên kapeton).

hector_brought_back_to_troy

An English speaker might wonder whether or not the hollowness of the grave marks some sort of empty meaning and thus offers some judgment on the vanity and meaninglessness of the conflict, perhaps evoking ambivalence. But part of the trick in translating metaphors from one culture to another is understanding that a cognitive valence can be very different. In English, ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ tend to refer to the absence of substance within something else. (Hence, our use for it to describe depression or anhedonia.)

But in ancient Greek, the word koilê is used to describe the shape made by a thing that allows it to hold something else. It can sometimes then come to shift to point to the absence of that something else, but it is, more often, a marker for the vessel which can carry something, even when it is carrying it. In conjunction with Hektor’s grave, consider the following lyric mentions of the ‘hollow ships’ of the Trojan War:

Consider:

Ibycus fr. 1a 16-19

Nor yet the overreaching virtue
of heroes whom the hollow,
many-benched ships brought
as the destruction of Troy.

ἡρ]ώων ἀρετὰν
ὑπ]εράφανον οὕς τε κοίλα[ι
νᾶες] πολυγόμφοι ἐλεύσα[ν
Τροί]αι κακόν, ἥρωας ἐσ̣θ̣[λούς·

Pindar, Ol. 6.1

“Unrisked virtue becomes honored
Neither among men nor in the empty ships.
But many a man is remembered
When something noble has been tried.”

… ἀκίνδυνοι δ’ ἀρεταί
οὔτε παρ’ ἀνδράσιν οὔτ’ ἐν ναυσὶ κοίλαις
τίμιαι· πολλοὶ δὲ μέμναν-
ται, καλὸν εἴ τι ποναθῇ.

In both these passages, the ships are marked out for their potential to carry something and their ability to do so. It is also arguable that the ships carry ethical content of the heroes they convey to Troy as well. Of course, in the Iliad the ships are often invoked as empty in their capacity to carry things as well as people—but these moments are also seen as critical in telling the story, as when the Trojan herald Idaios refers to the beginning of the conflict:

Il. 7.399-400

“However many possessions Alexandros led in his hollow ships
To troy. Oh, how I wish he had died first!”

κτήματα μὲν ὅσ’ ᾿Αλέξανδρος κοίλῃς ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἠγάγετο Τροίηνδ’· ὡς πρὶν ὤφελλ’ ἀπολέσθαι·

So, when the word used to describe that ‘hollow trench’ (koilein kápeton) is the same used for the ships that brought the Achaeans to Troy and will take their stories away, the grave is being marked out as a vessel for Hector’s fame. The message of Hektor’s “empty grave” is not like the elegiac regret of T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men”, but instead it represents the potential of an empty vessel to be filled by the audience in its reception of the poem.

In addition to Hector’s grave itself, however, this vessel, this sêma, may also refer to the Iliad itself. The epic is a vessel of fame, of Hector’s, Achilles’, and Agamemnon’s, but it is also a marker for the death of a world, for the end of a bygone time. On the one hand, it marks the transition from the heroic age to the present day. On the other, it acts as a grave marker of an entire tradition of epic poetry which would have sung about the wars at Troy and Thebes.

The hollowness of this thing is not about being empty, but about having the power to carry something. As the Tao Te Ching states, “We shape clay into a pot / but it is the emptiness inside / that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space / that makes it livable” (Chapter 11; Stephen Mitchell, 1988). Thus, Hector’s grave carries with it everything he was or could be; and the Iliad, far from empty and devoid of meaning, is that vessel that carries so much unknown across the oceans of time.

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11
translated by Stephen Mitchell (1988)

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being
but non-being is what we use.

Rumors and RUMOR! A Plautine Road Leads to Vergil (Aeneid 4. 173-188)

Earlier today, I tweeted a quote from Plautus

An old and dear friend of mine, probably still licking wounds from high school Latin responded asking about Vergil’s Rumor. His description in the Aeneid is memorable.

 

“Rumor traveled immediately through the cities of Libya–
Rumor, no other evil can move more quickly:
She grows with speed and acquires strength in motion,
At first, she is small from fear, but soon she raises herself to the sky
and walks onto the land hiding her head among the clouds.
The Earth gave birth to her because she was nursing rage at the gods,
This final daughter—as they claim—a sister to Coeus and Enceladus,
Her feet are swift and her wings are hateful,
A dread creation whose huge body bristles with feathers.
And beneath them all are watchful eyes, chilling to describe
And as many tongues within whispering mouths and between attentive ears.
At night she flights mid-sky and over the shadowed earth,
Hissing, refusing to rest her eyes in sweet sleep.
At day she stands guard at the highest roof-peak
Or on looming towers as she brings the cities terror.
She sticks at times to base lies and other times to truth.”

Extemplo Libyae magnas it Fama per urbes—
Fama, malum qua non aliud velocius ullum;
mobilitate viget, viresque adquirit eundo,
parva metu primo, mox sese attollit in auras,
ingrediturque solo, et caput inter nubila condit.
Illam Terra parens, ira inritata deorum,
extremam (ut perhibent) Coeo Enceladoque sororem
progenuit, pedibus celerem et pernicibus alis,
monstrum horrendum, ingens, cui, quot sunt corpore plumae
tot vigiles oculi subter, mirabile dictu,
tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit aures.
Nocte volat caeli medio terraeque per umbram,
stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno;
luce sedet custos aut summi culmine tecti,
turribus aut altis, et magnas territat urbes;
tam ficti pravique tenax, quam nuntia veri.

Sometimes You Might be Too Pretty to Be Loved (Sappho to Phaon; Ovid Heroides, 15.31-40)

“If unfair nature denied beauty to me,
Take in exchange for appearance my wit.
I am short, but my name stretches across all lands:
I am the measure of my fame not my height.
If I am not pale enough, well, Cepheian Andromeda,
Dark with the color of her country, pleased Perseus!
White doves often mate with different colors:
The dark turtle-dove has a love dressed in green.
If no one who cannot be worthy of you in beauty alone
will be yours, then no one will ever be yours.”

si mihi difficilis formam natura negavit,
ingenio formae damna repende meae.
sum brevis. at nomen, quod terras impleat omnes,
est mihi: mensuram nominis ipsa fero.
candida si non sum, placuit Cepheia Perseo
Andromede patriae fusca colore suae.
et variis albae iunguntur saepe columbae
et niger a viridi turtur amatur ave.
si nisi quae facie poterit te digna videri,
nulla futura tua est, nulla futura tua est!

Sappho writes this letter, according to Ovid, to Phaon.

Lucian, On the Death of Peregrinus by Fire

 

“The ill-starred Peregriunus, or as he preferred naming himself, Proteus, has suffered the very same fate as that Homeric Proteus: turning in to everything for the sake of repute and acquiring countless forms, in the end turning even into fire. By such a great lust for fame he was possessed! And now? Now your best friend has burnt to a crisp like Empedocles….”

 

῾Ο κακοδαίμων Περεγρῖνος, ἢ ὡς αὐτὸς ἔχαιρεν ὀνομάζων ἑαυτόν, Πρωτεύς, αὐτὸ δὴ ἐκεῖνο τὸ τοῦ ῾Ομηρικοῦ Πρωτέως ἔπαθεν· ἅπαντα γὰρ δόξης ἕνεκα γενόμενος καὶ μυρίας τροπὰς τραπόμενος, τὰ τελευταῖα ταῦτα καὶ πῦρ ἐγένετο· τοσούτῳ ἄρα τῷ ἔρωτι τῆς δόξης εἴχετο. καὶ νῦν ἐκεῖνος ἀπηνθράκωταί σοι ὁ βέλτιστος κατὰ τὸν ᾿Εμπεδοκλέα

 

 

Lucian wrote more than most people will read in a lifetime. (Well, still less than Galen. And more exciting). Peregrinus was a cynic philosopher who eventually converted to Christianity before he recanted and fell in love with Indian philosophy. He cremated himself at Olympia in 165 CE. Lucian makes a joke about it…

Homer Odyssey, 13.248-249

 

 

“Just so, Stranger, the name of Ithaca has traveled to Troy,

that place they say is far from our Achaean soil.”

 

τῷ τοι, ξεῖν᾽, Ἰθάκης γε καὶ ἐς Τροίην ὄνομ᾽ ἵκει,
τήν περ τηλοῦ φασὶν Ἀχαιΐδος ἔμμεναι αἴης.

 

This oft-overlooked passage ends Athena’s speech to the bewildered Odysseus in book 13 of the Odyssey when he has awoken, believing the Phaeacians left him somewhere other than home. The lines nicely invert the refrain of the Trojan War–the events of which have been broadcast all over the world, according to the conversations of books 1-12–and instead extend the locus of the second half of this epic outward. The poetic effect is to reframe epic fame: from this point on it is the story of Ithaca and not the story of Troy that will be known.

 

Don’t believe it? Here’s the full text.