Sheltered the sacred offspring
Of the goddess in secret
From crooked-monded Kronos
When blessed Rhea stole him
And earned great honor among
The immortal gods….”
He sang those things.
Immediately the Muses told
The gods to cast their secret
Votes into the gold-gleaming urns.
They all rose up at once.
Then Kithairôn took the greater number.
Hermes quickly announced
By shouting that he had won
His longed-for victory
And the gods decorated him
And his mind filled with joy.
But the other, Helikon,
Overcome by hard griefs,
Ripped out a smooth rock
and the mountain [shook].
He broke it from on high
Painfully into ten thousand stones…”
An Anonymous Grammarian, De Adfinium Vocabulorum Differentia (“On Similar but different words”) 120
“Marrying [gêmai] is different from ‘getting married’ [gêmasthai] in that a man marries but a woman gets married. Homer has made the difference between them clear when he said of getting married: “once she [Epikastê] got married to her own son; and he married her / after killing his father.”
And Anakreon [demonstrates the distinction] when he mocks someone for being effeminate: “and the bedroom in which that guy didn’t marry but got married instead.”
Aeschylus too in his Amumône writes: “it is your fate to be married but it is mine to marry.”
The distinction between gêmai [or gamein] and gêmasthai [gameisthai] is an important example of Greek active versus mediopassive voice. The active here means “to take a spouse”; while the mediopassive form [according to LSJ] means to “offer to have your child made a spouse” or, “to give oneself in marriage”. This is also a good example of how gendered difference in agency and personhood is structured into basic linguistic distinctions.
As I teach my students, the middle voice is often about indirect agency* (when the agent of an action is not the same as the grammatical subject of the sentence). So, with the verb luô, it means in the active “I release” and in the passive “I am released” but in the middle “ransom”, because in the background is the idea that “x arranges for y to release z”. (And this is a pretty ancient meaning: Chryses appears to the Achaeans in book 1 of the Iliad “for the purpose of ransoming his daughter” [λυσόμενός τε θύγατρα]).
In two examples cited by the anonymous grammarian above words are morphologically middle (γημαμένη and ἐγήματο are aorists, one of the two tenses that has distinct middle and passive morphology in Greek), but the semantics of the words seem less middle than passive to me. At the very least, we have Epikaste “[allowing herself] to be married” in the Homeric example. Anacreon’s joke emasculates the target by taking agency away from him and Aeschylus attests to a similar distinction in the fragment. But the point to take away is that it would be striking in ancient Greece to say that a woman marries someone else as an active agent.
*Often, but not always! The middle voice can be causative, alternate with the active for transitive/intransitive meanings, be quasi-reflexive, or just downright weird (‘idiomatic’!).
“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.
For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.
As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”
“The lame man is the best lover.” They say that the Amazons crippled their male offspring by cutting off either a leg or a hand. When the Skythians were fighting them and they offered to make a treaty, they promised the Amazons that they would not be married to any Skythians who were crippled or mutilated. The leader of the Amazons, Antianeira, responded “The lame man is the best lover.” Mimnermus preserves this proverb.”
“The lame man is the best lover.” They say that the Amazons crippled their male offspring by cutting off either a leg or a hand. When the Skythians were fighting them and they wanted to deceive them, they said that they would have no crippled or mutilated men marry them, since their husbands were all mutilated. In response to this, the leader of the Amazons, said “A cripple fucks the best” instead of using “sunosiazei” [to have sex with]
“This proverb is used for those who choose local evils rather than foreign goods. For when the Skythians were warring against the Amazons and there was a ceasefire, while they were considering other things they were also saying to the woman that if they consented to them they would have un-disabled husbands instead pf the mutilated, lame, and useless men who were already among them. Antineira, who was leading them, was both bold and persistent, and she said to them: “A lame man fucks the best” instead of using the term for intercourse. For the Amazons handicap those male children born to them in either their legs or their right hands. [hence it is clear they they have lame husbands.]”
A short lexical note to explain why I should translate οἰφεῖ as “fuck”.
In the fourth translation of the proverb I introduce a vulgar variation that I think is probably closer to what is going on with the anecdote. I think the point is that the Amazon queen is being vulgar to put off the Skythians. The verb used here, oiphein, is rare and vulgar enough that the LSJ does not provide a decent translation.
Henderson (Maculate Muse, 157) follows LSJ in translating as “mount”
But Beekes (2010) seems to see the verb as more specific and active:
Some additional Thoughts:
There is an interesting cultural dynamic behind these statements that engages with some of the myths from Ancient Greece that I have mentioned recently, especially in the tension between heroic beauty and disabled bodies. In ancient Greek myth and poetry there is a problematic fetish of the perfect heroic body and within this system, a disfigured body is non-heroic. As a result of an overlap between heroic virtue and the body, negative ethics and character are expressed through a symbolic disfigurement of the body as with Thersites. The Odyssey, of course, adjusts this and deploys Odysseus as a compromised heroic body: he is nearly lamed and thus is capable of demonstrating intelligence instead of force. In the Odyssey, the beautiful and perfect bodies of the suitors are contrasted with Odysseus’ older, scarred body: their perfection becomes a type of deformity and their morals are accordingly distorted.
What I think is going on with this anecdote and the connected proverb is that there is a basic assumption that the disabled are morally corrupt and here that their moral corruption emerges in the form of licentiousness. But the Amazon queen turns the tables on the heroized Skythian leaders and privileges the disabled bodies for their sexual ability over the promised domination of the proper marriage to the able-bodied men. In addition, there is the symbolic valence of the disabled man, who does not represent the threatened violence implicit in the able-bodied man. In a way, this may also help us to think about Odysseus’ value as a husband.
What ought one who is mortal do, I beg,
Other than live life pleasurably day by day
If he has any way to do it? But we should examine
This very thing when looking into human matters
Rather than fretting over what tomorrow will bring.
It is altogether bizarre to hoard money
For the next day at home.
And the same poet says in Winedrinker:
Mortals who live poorly when they have plentiful wealth,
Well, I say that they are wretches.
When you’re dead, truly, you won’t be eating eel.
No wedding cakes are baked among the dead.
And Apollodorus the Carystian writes in his Tabletmakers:
Humans, all of you—why do you dismiss living happily
And work so hard at living badly
By waging war against each other? Dear gods!
Has some savage type of Fortune taken control
Of our lives, who knows nothing of education at all,
and is completely ignorant of anything
good or evil and just jerks us around
in whatever direction chance governs?
I think so. For how could a Fortune that was truly Greek
Prefer to watch them torn apart by themselves
And falling down among the corpses,
When it were possible for them to be happy, playing,
Getting drunk and listening to music. Tell me, sweetest one—
Rebuke our Fortune as the savage she is!”