Custom, Violence, and Law

Pindar fr. 169a [=P. Oxy. 2450 (26, 1961), vv. 6–62; = Plato, Gorg. 484b]

“Custom, the king of everything,
Of mortals and immortal alike,
Guides them with the final hand
To the most violent kinds of justice.
I’ll prove this
With the deeds of Herakles
Since he drove the cattle of Geryon
To the Cyclopean gates of Eurystheus
Unpunished and unpaid.

Νόμος ὁ πάντων βασιλεύς
θνατῶν τε καὶ ἀθανάτων
ἄγει δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον
ὑπερτάτᾳ χειρί. Τεκμαίρομαι
ἔργοισιν Ἡρακλέος·
ἐπεὶ Γηρυόνα βόας
Κυκλώπειον ἐπὶ πρόθυρον Εὐρυσθ̣έος
ἀνατεί τε] καὶ ἀπριάτας ἔλασεν

Plato, Gorgias 484a-b

“But when a person comes around with sufficient nature, he shakes off and shatters all these things [laws], escaping them. He tramples all over our precedents and edicts, our pronouncements and all the laws that a contrary to his nature, and our slave rises up to become our master and clearly shows the justice of nature. This is what Pindar seems to indicate in that song when he says…”

ἐὰν δέ γε, οἶμαι, φύσιν ἱκανὴν γένηται ἔχων ἀνήρ, πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσεισάμενος καὶ διαρρήξας καὶ διαφυγών, καταπατήσας τὰ ἡμέτερα γράμματα καὶ μαγγανεύματα καὶ ἐπῳδὰς καὶ νόμους τοὺς παρὰ φύσιν ἅπαντας, ἐπαναστὰς ἀνεφάνη δεσπότης ἡμέτερος ὁ δοῦλος, καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἐξέλαμψε τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιον. δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ Πίνδαρος ἅπερ ἐγὼ λέγω ἐνδείκνυσθαι ἐν τῷ ᾄσματι ἐν ᾧ λέγει ὅτι…

Fragmentary marble relief sculpture with bearded figure looking forward holding a boar's carcass on his shoulder
Roman; Relief of Herakles and the boar; Stone Sculpture

Death, Sleep, and Our Bodies’ Recyclable Clay

Plutarch, Moralia. A Letter of Condolence to Apollonius, 106e-f

“For when is death not present among us? Truly, as Heraclitus says, “living and dying is the same and so is being awake and asleep or youth and old age. For each turns back into the other again.”

Just as someone can make shapes of living things from the same clay and then collapse them and shape something new again repeatedly, so too did nature shape our ancestors from the same material, collapse it, and reshape it to make our parents and us in turn”

πότε γὰρ ἐν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ θάνατος; καί, ᾗ φησιν Ἡράκλειτος, “ταὐτό γ᾿ ἔνι ζῶν καὶ τεθνηκὸς καὶ τὸ ἐγρηγορὸς καὶ τὸ καθεῦδον καὶ νέον καὶ γηραιόν· τάδε γὰρ μεταπεσόντα ἐκεῖνά ἐστι, κἀκεῖνα πάλιν μεταπεσόντα ταῦτα.” ὡς γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ πηλοῦ δύναταί τις πλάττων ζῷα συγχεῖν καὶ πάλιν πλάττειν καὶ συγχεῖν καὶ τοῦθ᾿ ἓν παρ᾿ ἓν ποιεῖν ἀδιαλείπτως, οὕτω καὶ ἡ φύσις ἐκ τῆς αὐτῆς ὕλης πάλαι μὲν τοὺς προγόνους ἡμῶν ἀνέσχεν, εἶτα συνεχεῖς αὐτοῖς3 ἐγέννησε τοὺς πατέρας, εἶθ᾿ ἡμᾶς,

black and white photo of an artist sitting in a studio looking at a sculpture. The woman is sitting on a stool looking at a small figurine on a high table in front of home

The Soul and Its Heroic Return, Two Fragments from Pindar

Pindar, Dirges Fr. 131b [= Plut. consol. ad Apoll. 35.120C]

“Every human’s body is a servant to death–
Yet a shadow of life goes on living still.
This part alone
Comes from the gods. It sleeps while our limbs move
But when we sleep it shows us
in multiple dreams a choice of things to come,
Some of pleasure, some of pain.”

σῶμα μὲν πάντων ἕπεται θανάτῳ περισθενεῖ,
ζωὸν δ᾿ ἔτι λείπεται αἰῶνος εἴδωλον·
τὸ γάρ ἐστι μόνον
ἐκ θεῶν· εὕδει δὲ πρασσόντων μελέων, ἀτὰρ εὑδόντεσσιν
ἐν πολλοῖς ὀνείροις
δείκνυσι τερπνῶν ἐφέρποισαν χαλεπῶν τε κρίσιν.

Pindar, Dirges Fr. 133 [=Plat. Men. 81B]

“When Persephone has taken the payment for that ancient pain,
From people, after nine years she gives their souls back
To the light of the sun above and from them come

Proud kings and men fast in strength and best in mind
And people call them holy heroes
for all that remains of time.”

οἷσι δὲ Φερσεφόνα ποινὰν παλαιοῦ πένθεος
δέξεται, ἐς τὸν ὕπερθεν ἅλιον κείνων ἐνάτῳ ἔτεϊ
ἀνδιδοῖ ψυχὰς πάλιν, ἐκ τᾶν βασιλῆες ἀγαυοί
καὶ σθένει κραιπνοὶ σοφίᾳ τε μέγιστοι
ἄνδρες αὔξοντ᾿· ἐς δὲ τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον ἥροες ἁ-
γνοὶ πρὸς ἀνθρώπων καλέονται.

A somewhat impressionistic oil painting with outlines of two partial figures. One looks down and left, the other is seen only by an elbow in the upper right. The canvas is split between dark blue on top and tan on the bottom
“The freedom of new thinking”, by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas,80 x 100 cm

Wine Makes You King of the World

Bacchylides, fr. 20B [=P. Oxy. 1361 frr. 1 al]

To Alexander, son of Amyntas*

“Lyre, don’t hang on your peg any longer,
Keeping your seven-toned voice still–
Here are my hands! I want to send
Alexander something, a golden wing of the Muses,
A centerpiece for the parties to end the month,
When the sweet pressure of fast cups
Warms the sensitive hearts of young men,
And expectation of Aphrodite mixed up
with Dionysian gifts shakes up their thoughts.

Wine makes the thoughts of men blast off!
Suddenly one is tearing down a city’s walls,
And another thinks he is king of the world!”

[ΑΛΕΞΑ]Ν[ΔΡΩΙ ΑΜΥΝΤ]Α
ὦ βάρβιτε, μηκέτι πάσσαλον φυ[σων
ἑπτάτονον λ[ι]γυρὰν κάππαυε γᾶρυν·
δεῦρ᾿ ἐς ἐμὰς χέρας· ὁρμαίνω τι πέμπ[ειν
χρύεον Μουσᾶν Ἀλεξάνδρωι πτερό
καὶ συμπο[ίαι]σιν ἄγαλμ᾿ [ἐν] εἰκάδε[σιν,
εὖτε νέων ἁ[παλὸν γλυκεῖ᾿ ἀ]νάγκα
σευομενᾶν κ[υλίκων θάλπη]σι θυμ[όν,
Κύπριδος τ᾿ ἐλπ[ὶς <δι>αιθύσσηι φρέ]νας,
ἀμμειγνυμέν[α Διονυσίοισι] δώροις·
ἀνδράσι δ᾿ ὑψο[τάτω πέμπει] μερίμν[ας·
αὐτίκ[α] μὲν π[ολίων κράδε]μνα λ[ύει,
πᾶσ[ι δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις μοναρ]χήσ[ειν δοκεῖ·

*This Alexander was King of Macedon from 498-456

inside of a shallow drinking vessel. Black background. One red figure stands over a nude man who is drunk and confused/sick
Getty Villa Museum, Los Angeles, California: Roman, Greek, and Etruscan Antiquities. Kylix, red figure

On Knowledge, Wealth and Fortune

Bacchylides Epinicia, fr. 10.38-53

“Human knowledge has countless forms—
whether learned in some prophetic art
or allotted the Graces’ honor,
the wise man certainly flourishes with golden hope.

Another man aims his dabbled bow at boys.
Others fortify their hearts in the field
Or with herds of cattle.
But the future bears ends that make the path of fortune
unmeasurable.

This thing is best: to be a noble man
envied by many men.

I know something about wealth’s great power:
It makes even the most useless man useful.

But why do I pilot my great tongue so
and drive off the road?
When the moment of victory is appointed for mortals,
only then the wise man must…[ ]
With flutes [pay back the favor of the gods]
And mingle [among those who may envy]

… Μυρίαι δ’ ἀνδρῶν ἐπιστᾶμαι πέλονται·
ἦ γὰρ σ[ο]φὸς ἢ Χαρίτων τιμὰν λελογχὼς
ἐλπίδι χρυσέᾳ τέθαλεν
ἤ τινα θευπροπίαν ἰ-
δώς· ἕτερος δ’ ἐπὶ παισὶ
ποικίλον τόξον τιταίνει·
οἱ δ’ ἐπ’ ἔργοισίν τε καὶ ἀμφὶ βοῶν ἀ[γ]έλαις
θυμὸν αὔξουσιν. Τὸ μέλλον
δ’ ἀκρίτους τίκτει τελευτάς,
πᾶ τύχα βρίσει. Τὸ μὲν κάλλιστον, ἐσθλὸν
ἄνδρα πολλῶν ὑπ’ ἀνθρώπων πολυζήλωτον εἶμεν·
οἶδα καὶ πλούτου μεγάλαν δύνασιν,
ἃ καὶ τ[ὸ]ν ἀχρεῖον τί[θησ]ι
χρηστόν. Τί μακρὰν γ̣[λ]ῶ[σ]σαν ἰθύσας ἐλαύνω
ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ; Πέφαται θνατοῖσι νίκας
[ὕστε]ρον εὐφροσύνα,
αὐλῶν []
μειγν[υ]

χρή τιν[]

The last few lines of this poem are completely fragmentary. In italics I put in something just to complete the sentence. I think that the reference to flutes probably indicates some ritual celebration, but I also wanted the end to repeat the note of warning about the mutability of fortune. 

No Time For the Weekend: On the Spartan Way of Drinking

Critias, fr. 6 [=Ath. 10.432d–33b]

“Drinking toasts that stretch beyond reason bring
Pleasure for the moment but pain for all time.

The Spartan style is one of moderation:
To eat and drink with limits so people can still
Work and think. They don’t set apart a day
To soak the body with excessive drinking.”

αἱ γὰρ ὑπὲρ τὸ μέτρον κυλίκων προπόσεις παραχρῆμα
τέρψασαι λυποῦσ᾿ εἰς τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον·
ἡ Λακεδαιμονίων δὲ δίαιθ᾿ ὁμαλῶς διάκειται,
ἔσθειν καὶ πίνειν σύμμετρα πρὸς τὸ φρονεῖν
καὶ τὸ πονεῖν εἶναι δυνάτους· οὐκ ἔστ᾿ ἀπότακτος
ἡμέρα οἰνῶσαι σῶμ᾿ ἀμέτροισι πότοις.

Red figure vase with two figures. Black background.  A servant girl unhappily carries a full wineskin and jug, while an older woman drinks from a large vessel; the reverse of the cup establishes a (rare) interior scene of a storeroom.
Skyphos with a Woman Drinking in a Storeroom (Greek, Athens, 470-460 BC).
Also, image of me sneaking drinks if I lived in Sparta

Beauty and Love, A Wedding Song

Theognis, fr. 1-18

“Lord, son of Leto, child of Zeus, I will never
Forget you when beginning or ending my song.
But I sing you first and last and in the middle too
Hear me now and grant me good things.

Lord Phoebus, when the goddess Leto first gave birth to you,
The finest of the gods, she was holding close to the palm tree
with her slight arms, next to the curve of the lake—
and all of Delos was overwhelmed with a divine scent
as the expansive earth laughed beneath,
and the see delighted in its salty depths.

Artemis, slayer of beasts, daughter of Zeus, the one
Agamemnon honored with a temple as he sailed to Troy in swift ships
Hear me as I pray to you—ward off the evil spirts of death.
It is a minor thing for you, goddess; but a big deal for me.”

Muses and Graces, daughters of Zeus, who once
Went to the marriage of Kadmos and sang this beautiful line:
“Whatever is beautiful is loved; and what isn’t beautiful isn’t loved’
That’s the line that rang from your immortal mouths.”

῏Ω ἄνα, Λητοῦς υἱέ, Διὸς τέκος, οὔποτε σεῖο
λήσομαι ἀρχόμενος οὐδ’ ἀποπαυόμενος,
ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ πρῶτόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἔν τε μέσοισιν
ἀείσω· σὺ δέ μοι κλῦθι καὶ ἐσθλὰ δίδου.

Φοῖβε ἄναξ, ὅτε μέν σε θεὰ τέκε πότνια Λητώ
φοίνικος ῥαδινῆις χερσὶν ἐφαψαμένη
ἀθανάτων κάλλιστον ἐπὶ τροχοειδέι λίμνηι,
πᾶσα μὲν ἐπλήσθη Δῆλος ἀπειρεσίη
ὀδμῆς ἀμβροσίης, ἐγέλασσε δὲ Γαῖα πελώρη,
γήθησεν δὲ βαθὺς πόντος ἁλὸς πολιῆς.

῎Αρτεμι θηροφόνη, θύγατερ Διός, ἣν ᾿Αγαμέμνων
εἵσαθ’, ὅτ’ ἐς Τροίην ἔπλεε νηυσὶ θοῆις,
εὐχομένωι μοι κλῦθι, κακὰς δ’ ἀπὸ κῆρας ἄλαλκε·
σοὶ μὲν τοῦτο, θεά, σμικρόν, ἐμοὶ δὲ μέγα.

Μοῦσαι καὶ Χάριτες, κοῦραι Διός, αἵ ποτε Κάδμου
ἐς γάμον ἐλθοῦσαι καλὸν ἀείσατ’ ἔπος,
‘ὅττι καλόν, φίλον ἐστί· τὸ δ’ οὐ καλὸν οὐ φίλον ἐστί,’
τοῦτ’ ἔπος ἀθανάτων ἦλθε διὰ στομάτων.

Small clay figure of larger divine woman holding human male in arms.
Artemis Kourotrophos. Small terracotta . 430-400 BC. Archaeological Museum of Brauron.

Rock-Covered Dreams and Divine Vengeance

Alcman, fr. 1. 36-49

“There is something called divine payback.
The happy person is one
Who piously weaves to the end of his day
Without weeping.

But I am singing of the light
Of Agido–I see her
Like the sun, the sun Agido
Invites to observe us
By shining.

But the famous leader of our dance,
Does not let me praise her
Nor rebuke her at all
For she appears outstanding
On her own just as if
Someone were to place
A tall, prize winning horse
With thundering hooves,
A product of rock-covered dreams*,
Amid a grazing herd.”

ἔστι τις σιῶν τίσις·
ὁ δ᾿ ὄλβιος, ὅστις εὔφρων
ἁμέραν [δι]απλέκει
ἄκλαυτος· ἐγὼν δ᾿ ἀείδω
Ἀγιδῶς τὸ φῶς· ὁρῶ
ϝ᾿ ὥτ᾿ ἄλιον, ὅνπερ ἇμιν
Ἀγιδὼ μαρτύρεται
φαίνην· ἐμὲ δ᾿ οὔτ᾿ ἐπαινῆν

οὔτε μωμήσθαι νιν ἁ κλεννὰ χοραγὸς
οὐδ᾿ ἁμῶς ἐῆι· δοκεῖ γὰρ ἤμεν αὔτα
ἐκπρεπὴς τὼς ὥπερ αἴτις
ἐν βοτοῖς στάσειεν ἵππον
παγὸν ἀεθλοφόρον καναχάποδα
τῶν ὑποπετριδίων ὀνείρων.

*Dionysus of Sidon, in recording a comment of Herodian, suggests that what I have translated here as “rock-covered dreams” is really a syncope or metathesis of “winged” so, the strange ὑποπετριδίων ὀνείρων is equivalent to τῶν ὑποπτεριδίων. Martin West, preferring to argue for the strange, suggests that the sense of “rock-covered dreams” is that people shelter under rocks to nap during the day. As a metaphor in a choral poem, it seems more likely to me that this is a linguistic variant than a unique image.

image of a cliff face with a cave opening in the lower right corner
What dreams may come?

This is the Way: Perishing Because of Evil Plans

Alcman Fr. 1 [= P. Louvr. E 33201]

“…Polydeukes.
I do not care that Lukaisin is among the dead*
And Enasphoros and swift-footed Sebros
The violent one….
The helmeted one…

Or Euteikhes and lord Areios
Exceptional among the Heroes.
The summoner
Great Eurotos in the chaos of Ares
And Alkon, and the best men
We will certainly not ignore them.

Yet Fate and the Way
Those most ancient ones
Overcame them all
And their untethered courage
Perished.

No human should fly to the heaven
Nor try to marry Aphrodite
The Kyprian Queen
Nor some child of Porkos, the sea-god

The Graces with loving eyes
Go to visit the house of Zeus.

A deity….
For friends…
Gives gifts…

In vain…
One went, another of them dead by arrow
Another by a marble millstone…
In Hades now…
Those people
Suffered unforgettable pain
Because they had evil plans.”

] Πωλυδεύκης·
οὐκ ἐγὼ]ν Λύκαισον ἐν καμοῦσιν ἀλέγω
Ἐνα]ρσφόρον τε καὶ Σέβρον ποδώκη
]ν τε τὸν βιατὰν
]. τε τὸν κορυστὰν
Εὐτείχη] τε ϝάνακτά τ᾿ Ἀρήιον
]ά τ᾿ ἔξοχον ἡμισίων·
καὶ ]ν τὸν ἀγρέταν
] μέγαν Εὔρυτόν τε
Ἄρεος ἂν] πώρω κλόνον
Ἄλκωνά] τε τὼς ἀρίστως
οὐδ᾿ ἁμῶς] παρήσομες·
κράτησε γ]ὰρ Αἶσα παντῶν
καὶ Πόρος] γεραιτάτοι,
λύθη δ᾿ ἀπ]έδιλος ἀλκά.
μή τις ἀνθ]ρώπων ἐς ὠρανὸν ποτήσθω
μηδὲ πη]ρήτω γαμῆν τὰν Ἀφροδίταν
Κυπρίαν ϝ]άν[α]σσαν ἤ τιν᾿
] ἢ παίδα Πόρκω
εἰναλίω· Χά]ριτες δὲ Διὸς δόμον
ἀμφιέπου]σιν ἐρογλεφάροι·
]τάτοι
]α δαίμων
]ι φίλοις
ἔδ]ωκε δῶρα
]γαρέον
]ώλεσ᾿ ἥβα
]ρονον
μ]ταίας
]έβα· τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλος ἰῶι
]μαρμάρωι μυλάκρωι
]. εν Ἀΐδας
]αυτοι
]΄πον· ἄλαστα δὲ
ϝέργα πάσον κακὰ μησαμένοι.

Red figure vase: three figures pictured: a lyre player, identified as Orpheus, seated on left, a thracian standing with spear in the middle, a woman standing talking to the thracian on right

Greek, Attic; Bell-krater; Vases; Obverse, Orpheus among the Thracians; Reverse, libation scene. C 440 BCE, Painter of London E 497

 

*I may be obtuse or too lazy to follow it up, but I cannot make sense of the Loeb translation that takes the reconstructed οὐκ ἐγὼ]ν Λύκαισον ἐν καμοῦσιν ἀλέγω as “I do not reckon L. among the dead”. It seems atypical for the semantics of the verb and thematically unrelated to the judgment of this poem.

A Treatise on Human Beings, Rejected by a Life of Virtue

Suda, s.v. Theognis,[=ii .692 Adler]

“Theognis of Megara, from Megara in Sicily. He lived around the time of the 59th Olympiad [ c/ 540 BCE]. He composed elegy for those who were saved from the Syracusans during the siege, around 2800 elegiac proverbs, a group of elegiac advice addressed to his lover Kyrnos, and other kinds of advisory lines. Theognis is useful because he wrote advice, but in the midst of this are interwoven foul and pederastic erotic lines too and many other things rejected by clean living.”

Θέογνις, Μεγαρεύς, τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ Μεγάρων, γεγονὼς ἐν τῇ νθ΄ ὀλυμπιάδι. ἔγραψεν ἐλεγείαν εἰς τοὺς σωθέντας τῶν Συρακουσίων ἐν τῇ πολιορκίᾳ, γνώμας δι᾿ ἐλεγείας ὡς (εἰς ed. pr.) ἔπη ̗βω΄, καὶ πρὸς Κύρ<ν>ον τὸν αὐτοῦ ἐρώμενον γνωμολογίαν δι᾿ ἐλεγείων, καὶ ἑτέρας ὑποθήκας παραινετικάς, τὰ πάντα ἐπικῶς (ἔπη ̗βω΄ Ditzen). ὅτι μὲν παραινέσεις ἔγραψε Θέογνις, <χρήσιμος·> ἀλλ᾿ ἐν μέσῳ τούτων παρεσπαρμέναι μιαρίαι καὶ παιδικοὶ ἔρωτες καὶ ἄλλα ὅσα ὁ ἐνάρετος ἀποστρέφεται βίος.

Harpocration 126-7

Theognis: This dude is Megarian, from Megara in Attica. The poet says this himself [783]. Plato didn’t acknowledge this when he claimed in Laws Book 1 that Theognis was from MEgara in Sicily. Not a few have followed Plato in this.”

Θέογνις· οὗτος δ᾿ ἦν Μεγαρεύς, ἀπὸ τῶν πρὸς τῇ Ἀττικῇ Μεγάρων. αὐτὸς γάρ φησιν ὁ ποιητής (v. 783). ὃ μὴ ἐπιστήσας Πλάτων ἐν α΄ Νόμων (test. 2) τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ Μεγαρέων πολίτην ἔφασκεν. κατηκολούθησαν δὲ τῷ Πλάτωνι οὐκ ὀλίγοι.

Stobaeus, 4.29.53

“This is what Xenophon says about Theognis: “The words of Megarian Theognis: This poet has composed about nothing else except for human excellence and wickedness. This poetry is a treatise on people, as if an equestrian were to write about horses.”

Ξενοφῶντος ἐκ τοῦ περὶ Θεόγνιδος. “Θεόγνιδός ἐστιν ἔπη τοῦ Μεγαρέως” (22–23). οὗτος δὲ ὁ ποιητὴς περὶ οὐδενὸς ἄλλου λόγον πεποίηται ἢ περὶ ἀρετῆς καὶ κακίας ἀνθρώπων, καί ἐστιν ἡ ποίησις σύγγραμμα περὶ ἀνθρώπων, ὥσπερ εἴ τις ἱππικὸς ὢν συγγράψειεν περὶ ἱππικῆς. 

Black and white picture of a scrap of papyrus containing parts of fifteen lines of greek poetry
P.Berol.21220 This is one of the two papyrus fragments of Theognis. It contains the verses 917-933 (Bekker’s numbering)