Fire, Fools, and Lesser Fates: A Heatwave Special

CW: Profanity. This revised re-post goes out to all the politicians, plutocrats, and CEOs who continue to do nothing about climate change. Special recognition for the party of stupidity that denies climate change science.

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

An interlude

Euripides, Hippolyus 916

“Oh humanity! You pointlessly fuck up so often!”

ὦ πόλλ᾽ ἁμαρτάνοντες ἄνθρωποι μάτην

This phrase is attributed to the Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero.

Suda tau 552 [cribbing Dio Cassius]

“And Tiberius uttered that ancient phrase, “when I am dead, the earth can be fucked with fire”, and he used to bless Priam because he died with his country and his palace.”

τοῦτο δὲ τὸ ἀρχαῖον ἐφθέγξατο· ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί. καὶ τὸν Πρίαμον ἐμακάριζεν, ὅτι μετὰ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἀπώλετο.

Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta
From Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta

Here’s one explanation:

Appendix Proverbiorum 2.56

“When I am dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.” Note that this [proverb is used] to express that it isn’t necessary to think or worry about the future

᾿Εμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί: ὅτι οὐ δεῖ περὶ τῶν μελλόντων φροντίζειν ἢ δεδιέναι.

The saying seems to predate the Roman Emperors, however. Cicero riffs on this sentiment.

Cicero, De Finibus 3.64

“In turn, they believe that the universe is ruled by the will of the gods and that it is like a city or state shared by humans and gods and that everyone of us is a member of this universe. This is the reason that it is natural for us to put shared good before the personal. Truly, just as the laws prefer the safety of the collective over that of individuals, so too a good and wise person, obedient to the laws and not ignorant of his civic duty, pursues the advantage of the collective over that of an individual or himself.

A traitor to a state need not be hated more than one who undermines common advantage or safety on account of his own. This is why the person who faces death for the republic must be praised, because it bestows glory upon us to care more for our country than ourselves. And this is why it seems an inhuman and criminal voice when people say that they don’t care if all of everything burns when they are dead—as it is typically construed with that common Greek verse—and it is also certainly true that we must care for those who will live in the future for their own sake.”

Mundum autem censent regi numine deorum eumque esse quasi communem urbem et civitatem hominum et deorum, et unumquemque nostrum eius mundi esse partem; ex quo illud natura consequi ut communem utilitatem nostrae anteponamus. Ut enim leges omnium salutem singulorum saluti anteponunt, sic vir bonus et sapiens et legibus parens et civilis offici non ignarus utilitati omnium plus quam unius alicuius aut suae consulit. Nec magis est vituperandus proditor patriae quam communis utilitatis aut salutis desertor propter suam utilitatem aut salutem. Ex quo fit ut laudandus is sit qui mortem oppetat pro re publica, quod deceat cariorem nobis esse patriam quam nosmet ipsos. Quoniamque illa vox inhumana et scelerata ducitur eorum qui negant se recusare quo minus ipsis mortuis terrarum omnium deflagratio consequatur (quod vulgari quodam versu Graeco pronuntiari solet), certe verum est etiam iis qui aliquando futuri sint esse propter ipsos consulendum.

Homer, Odyssey 1.32–34

“Fools! Mortals are always blaming the gods.
They say that sufferings come from us but they have pain
Beyond their fate thanks to their own stupidity.”

“ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι· οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

A note about the translation: I use the English profane “fuck” for mikhthênai here for two reasons. First, mignumi is often used in periphrases or euphemism for sex. Second, I think the speaker is effecting a dismissive and aggressively narcissistic stance towards the world which will exist after his death. Such narcissism and self-absorption is so perverse and twisted and yet so utterly common as to demand obscenity and plunge us all into the painfully profane.

We are living in a perverse and obscene time. Effective language, a man once said, is when the sound is an echo of the sense.

Seneca gets the same sense, but makes it a bit more active in his Medea.

Seneca, Medea 426–428

“…The only rest
Is if I see the whole world uprooted along with my ruin.
Let everything depart with me. It is pleasing to destroy while you die.”

…Sola est quies,
mecum ruina cuncta si video obruta;
mecum omnia abeant. trahere, cum pereas, libet.

 

Naps Can Be Deadly: or, Acilius Aviola’s Flame Out

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Sayings and Deeds, 1.8.12

“Another spectacle for our state was the pyre of Acilius Aviola. Doctors and his servants believed that he was dead since he had stretched out still in his house for some time. When he was taken out for burial, once the fire overtook his body, he yelled that he was alive and asked for help from his teacher—for he had remained there alone. But, because he was already surrounded by flames, he could not be saved from his death.”

1.8.12a Aliquid admirationis civitati nostrae Acilii etiam Aviolae rogus attulit, qui et a medicis et a domesticis mortuus creditus, cum aliquamdiu domi iacuisset, elatus, postquam corpus eius ignis corripuit, vivere se proclamavit auxiliumque paedagogi sui—nam is solus ibi remanserat—invocavit, sed iam flammis circumdatus fato subtrahi non potuit.

Pliny the Elder presents a shortened version of this  (Natural History, 1.173)

“Aviola the consul revived on the funeral pyre and since it was not possible to help him because the fire was too strong, he was cremated alive.”

 Aviola consularis in rogo revixit et, quoniam subveniri non potuerat praevalente flamma, vivus crematus est

Image result for Ancient Roman Funeral pyre

Saving the Spark for Tomorrow’s Fire

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

This is one of the two greatest similes in the Odyssey, in my humblest of opinions. The other occurs right before the slaughter in book 21 (407-409):

“Just as a man who knows both lyre and song
easily stretches a string on a new peg
as he attaches the twisted sheep-gut to both sides
just so, without haste, Odysseus strung the great bow”

ὡς ὅτ’ ἀνὴρ φόρμιγγος ἐπιστάμενος καὶ ἀοιδῆς
ῥηϊδίως ἐτάνυσσε νέῳ περὶ κόλλοπι χορδήν,
ἅψας ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἐϋστρεφὲς ἔντερον οἰός,
ὣς ἄρ’ ἄτερ σπουδῆς τάνυσεν μέγα τόξον ᾿Οδυσσεύς.

The Truth and Curative Fire

Sophocles, Trachiniae 453-454 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“But tell me the whole truth: it is not noble
For a free person to be called a liar.”

ἀλλ᾿ εἰπὲ πᾶν τἀληθές· ὡς ἐλευθέρῳ
ψευδεῖ καλεῖσθαι κὴρ πρόσεστιν οὐ καλή.

582-3

“May I never know anything about evil deeds
Nor learn them. I hate those women who commit them.”

κακὰς δὲ τόλμας μήτ᾿ ἐπισταίμην ἐγὼ
μήτ᾿ ἐκμάθοιμι, τάς τε τολμώσας στυγῶ.

710-11

“I have only gained knowledge of these things
Too late, now that it is no longer useful?”

….ὧν ἐγὼ μεθύστερον,
ὅτ᾿ οὐκέτ᾿ ἀρκεῖ, τὴν μάθησιν ἄρνυμαι.

734-728

“Mother, I wish I could choose one of three things:
That you were no longer alive, or, if you lived
That you would be someone else’e mother, or at least
Change your thoughts to something better than you have now.”

ὦ μῆτερ, ὡς ἂν ἐκ τριῶν σ᾿ ἓν εἱλόμην,
ἢ μηκέτ᾿ εἶναι ζῶσαν, ἢ σεσωμένην
ἄλλου κεκλῆσθαι μητέρ᾿, ἢ λῴους φρένας
τῶν νῦν παρουσῶν τῶνδ᾿ ἀμείψασθαί ποθεν.

1004-7

“Let me be, let the miserable sleep
Let me be here unhappy
Where are you touching me? Where are you putting me down?
You’re killing me, you’re killing me.”

ἐᾶτέ με ἐᾶτέ με
δύσμορον εὐνᾶσθαι,
ἐᾶτέ με δύστανον.
πᾷ <πᾷ> μου ψαύεις; ποῖ κλίνεις;
ἀπολεῖς μ᾿, ἀπολεῖς.

1210

“How could I cure your body by lighting it afire?”

καὶ πῶς ὑπαίθων σῶμ᾿ ἂν ἰῴμην τὸ σόν;

1230-1231

“Shit. It is bad to get angry with one who is sick
But it is hard to see someone thinking like this.”

οἴμοι. τὸ μὲν νοσοῦντι θυμοῦσθαι κακόν,
τὸ δ᾿ ὧδ᾿ ὁρᾶν φρονοῦντα τίς ποτ᾿ ἂν φέροι;

Death of Hercules, Raoul Lefevre, Histoires de Troyes, 15 century

The Shoot That Rises from the Fire

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

As few years ago I posted this passage as wildfires burned through Attica. As with most non-US and non-Trump related disasters, these fires went under-reported). The recent coverage of the conflagration that is claiming Australia right now is even worse in the US. Part of it is our own myopia and narcissism; the rest is that we are in deep denial that we have crossed some pretty terrible lines. Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this.

Image result for australia fires

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. This last year saw another season of devastation in the Western US, costing $163 million just to suppress. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and their bereaved families.

Image result for australia fires

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

The fire in this simile–that promise of life, the seed of the future–is a domesticated fire, one controlled and contingent on human relationships. It is a symbol for human potential to create and in its dormancy suppresses the urge to destroy. The promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it. When I posted these passages a few years back, I was hopeful, somehow, that something might arise out of them. I am unsure that Herodotus’ historic view or Homer’s heroic vision can encapsulate what we’re facing at all: an unmaking of the world as we know it. This is primordial.

Hesiod Theogony 853-867

“When Zeus filled with strength and took his weapons,
That thunder, lightning, and the shining thunderbolt,
He leapt down from Olympos and attacked. He burned
All the divine heads of the terrible beast around him.
Once Zeus overcame him, slamming him down with his fists,
He fell, bent back, and the great Earth gasped beneath him.
Flame rose up from the thunder-beaten god
On the tops of the mountain ridges in the dry places
where he was struck and the great Earth burned beneath
because of the unbearable force and it melted there—
the way tin melts when fired with skill in the well-made channels
or the way iron—which is the strongest thing of all—
contracts when overcome by bright fire on mountain ridges
only to melt in the rich earth under Hephaistos’s hands—
that’s how the Earth melts in the glare of the burning fire”

Ζεὺς δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν κόρθυνεν ἑὸν μένος, εἵλετο δ’ ὅπλα,
βροντήν τε στεροπήν τε καὶ αἰθαλόεντα κεραυνόν,
πλῆξεν ἀπ’ Οὐλύμποιο ἐπάλμενος· ἀμφὶ δὲ πάσας
ἔπρεσε θεσπεσίας κεφαλὰς δεινοῖο πελώρου.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δή μιν δάμασε πληγῇσιν ἱμάσσας,
ἤριπε γυιωθείς, στονάχιζε δὲ γαῖα πελώρη·
φλὸξ δὲ κεραυνωθέντος ἀπέσσυτο τοῖο ἄνακτος
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃσιν † ἀιδνῆς παιπαλοέσσης
πληγέντος, πολλὴ δὲ πελώρη καίετο γαῖα
αὐτμῇ θεσπεσίῃ, καὶ ἐτήκετο κασσίτερος ὣς
τέχνῃ ὑπ’ αἰζηῶν ἐν ἐυτρήτοις χοάνοισι
θαλφθείς, ἠὲ σίδηρος, ὅ περ κρατερώτατός ἐστιν,
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃσι δαμαζόμενος πυρὶ κηλέῳ
τήκεται ἐν χθονὶ δίῃ ὑφ’ ῾Ηφαίστου παλάμῃσιν·
ὣς ἄρα τήκετο γαῖα σέλαι πυρὸς αἰθομένοιο.

Here at the end of Hesiod’s Theogony, Zeus uses his overwhelming force and intelligence to face an existential challenge: the destructive potential of the universe contained within one figure, Typhoios (an elemental threat reflecting Zeus’ own surpassing power). Zeus brings order to the kosmos by subduing Typhoios and, in part thanks to this, gets to reign as king, father of gods and men. We don’t live in a poem of the gods; we can’t hope for myths to save our future. We need to do things now.

Or, we can just throw in with the reckless plutocrats and embrace that old Freudian death drive and keep on spending and burning until we’re all dead….

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

This is the voice that says only the now matters, that this quarter’s profits are more important than sustainability and justice, that today’s ends justify any kinds of means. Unsurprisingly, it is attributed to the Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero:

Suda tau 552 [cribbing Dio Cassius]

“And Tiberius uttered that ancient phrase, “when I am dead, the earth can be fucked with fire”, and he used to bless Priam because he died with his country and his palace.”

τοῦτο δὲ τὸ ἀρχαῖον ἐφθέγξατο· ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί. καὶ τὸν Πρίαμον ἐμακάριζεν, ὅτι μετὰ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἀπώλετο.

Singing While the House Burns Down

Aesop, Fab. 54 (Perry=Chambry 172) Boy and Snails

“A farmer’s child was roasting snails. When he heard them trilling as they cooked, he said, “Most pathetic creatures, You are singing as your homes burn?”

This story makes it clear that everything done at the wrong time should be mocked.”

γεωργοῦ παῖς κοχλίας ὤπτει. ἀκούσας δὲ αὐτῶν τριζόντων ἔφη· „ὦ κάκιστα ζῷα, τῶν οἰκιῶν ὑμῶν ἐμπιπραμένων αὐτοὶ ᾄδετε;”

ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ, ὅτι πᾶν τὸ παρὰ καιρὸν δρώμενον ἐπονείδιστον.

This looks like it has jumped to a proverb in Modern Greek which attributes it to Thucydides and changes the person of the verb, rendering it. “you sing while your homes are burning.” [«Των οικιών ημών εμπιπραμένων, ημείς άδομεν»]. I retweeted  thinking it did not sound much like the ancient historian, but just had to check for it.

https://twitter.com/Andreas50805488/status/1161574040554868736?s=20

So, I think this qualifies on my rating scale as Delphian Graffiti Fake: It has antiquity, but has been reassigned for authority in a new context. I mean, really, who wants to cite Aesop and his animals when we have the gravity of Thucydides.  And, let’s be honest, this is a good line for any age, but especially apt for ours.

Kid should have been careful. Snails are dangerous.Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor, c 1315-1325 via British Library

Here’s some singing about burning down a house:

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704 [=see here for more]

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

 

 

Singing While the House Burns Down

Aesop, Fab. 54 (Perry=Chambry 172) Boy and Snails

“A farmer’s child was roasting snails. When he heard them trilling as they cooked, he said, “Most pathetic creatures, You are singing as your homes burn?”

This story makes it clear that everything done at the wrong time should be mocked.”

γεωργοῦ παῖς κοχλίας ὤπτει. ἀκούσας δὲ αὐτῶν τριζόντων ἔφη· „ὦ κάκιστα ζῷα, τῶν οἰκιῶν ὑμῶν ἐμπιπραμένων αὐτοὶ ᾄδετε;”

ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ, ὅτι πᾶν τὸ παρὰ καιρὸν δρώμενον ἐπονείδιστον.

This looks like it has jumped to a proverb in Modern Greek which attributes it to Thucydides and changes the person of the verb, rendering it. “you sing while your homes are burning.” [«Των οικιών ημών εμπιπραμένων, ημείς άδομεν»]. I retweeted it earlier today thinking it did not sound much like the ancient historian, but just had to check for it.

https://twitter.com/Andreas50805488/status/1161574040554868736?s=20

So, I think this qualifies on my rating scale as Delphian Graffiti Fake: It has antiquity, but has been reassigned for authority in a new context. I mean, really, who wants to cite Aesop and his animals when we have the gravity of Thucydides.  And, let’s be honest, this is a good line for any age, but especially apt for ours.

Kid should have been careful. Snails are dangerous.Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor, c 1315-1325 via British Library

Here’s some singing about burning down a house:

 

 

 

Rebirth From the Fire

Philo, The Eternity of the World 85-86 (504)

“And this is also not unworthy of consideration: what will be the way of rebirth when everything has been destroyed by fire? For, when substance is completely burned up, then it is necessary that the fire burns out because it no longer has anything to feed it.

If the fire remains, then the essential logic of an orderly creation is preserved; but if fire is removed, then that disappears too. This is a double sacrifice and sacrilege—not only to ask for the destruction of the world but also to eradicate rebirth as if god took joy in disorder, lethargy, and all kinds of error.”

Ἐκεῖνο δ᾿ οὐκ ἀνάξιον διαπορῆσαι, τίνα τρόπον ἔσται παλιγγενεσία, πάντων εἰς πῦρ ἀναλυθέντων· ἐξαναλωθείσης γὰρ τῆς οὐσίας ὑπὸ πυρός, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὸ πῦρ οὐκέτ᾿ ἔχον τροφὴν ἀποσβεσθῆναι. μένοντος μὲν οὖν, ὁ σπερματικὸς τῆς διακοσμήσεως ἐσῴζετ᾿ <ἂν> λόγος, ἀναιρεθέντος δὲ συνανῄρηται. τὸ δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἔκθεσμον καὶ ἀσέβημα ἤδη διπλοῦν, μὴ μόνον φθορὰν τοῦ κόσμου κατηγορεῖν ἀλλὰ καὶ παλιγγενεσίαν ἀναιρεῖν, ὥσπερ ἐν ἀκοσμίᾳ καὶ ἀπραξίᾳ καὶ τοῖς πλημμελέσι πᾶσι χαίροντος θεοῦ.

Image result for medieval manuscript reincarnation
Medieval Wheel of Fortune

The Shoot That Rises from the Fire: Some Herodotus and Homer for the Fires in Greece

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

 Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

There are terrible wildfires in Attica, as many news outlets have reported (although in the US the events are incredibly under-reported). Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this. I will add to this post any suggestions for responsible charities to help with the suffering and the recovery. Words can do no justice to the suffering and loss in Attica this week.

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and bereaved families.

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

For those who are able, let’s be the good neighbors the Greeks need right now. For the rest of us, let’s remember that the promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it.

Image taken from this site

From a Greek correspondent:

Image result for athens burning
From the Washington Post

PSA: Naps Can Kill You

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Sayings and Deeds, 1.8.12

“Another spectacle for our state was the pyre of Acilius Aviola. Doctors and his servants believed that he was dead since he had stretched out still in his house for some time. When he was taken out for burial, once the fire overtook his body, he yelled that he was alive and asked for help from his teacher—for he had remained there alone. But, because he was already surrounded by flames, he could not be saved from his death.”

1.8.12a Aliquid admirationis civitati nostrae Acilii etiam Aviolae rogus attulit, qui et a medicis et a domesticis mortuus creditus, cum aliquamdiu domi iacuisset, elatus, postquam corpus eius ignis corripuit, vivere se proclamavit auxiliumque paedagogi sui—nam is solus ibi remanserat—invocavit, sed iam flammis circumdatus fato subtrahi non potuit.

Pliny the Elder presents a shortened version of this  (Natural History, 1.173)

“Aviola the consul revived on the funeral pyre and since it was not possible to help him because the fire was too strong, he was cremated alive.”

 Aviola consularis in rogo revixit et, quoniam subveniri non potuerat praevalente flamma, vivus crematus est

Image result for Ancient Roman Funeral pyre