Fantastic Friday 3: Truffles in Thunder and Other Things Worth Knowing

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.  Some of these translations are pretty rough, so suggestions and corrections are welcome.

46 “In the fifth book of his Natural Causes, Theophrastos says that the covering of beans when they are placed near the roots of trees dry out the things that are growing. He also adds that native birds who eat these things constantly become barren. Therefore, for this reason and eventually because of many others the Pythagoreans prohibited the use of the bean. For it makes someone flatulent, and dyspeptic, and brings us bad dreams.

46 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῇ ε′ τῶν φυτικῶν αἰτιῶν φησιν τὰ κελύφια τῶν κυάμων περὶ τὰς ῥίζας τῶν δένδρων περιτιθέμενα ξηραίνειν τὰ φυόμενα. καὶ αἱ κατοικίδιαι δὲ ὄρνιθες συνεχῶς ταῦτα ἐσθίουσαι ἄτοκοι γίγνονται. ὅθεν καὶ διὰ ταύτην τὴν αἰτίαν, τάχα δὲ καὶ δι’ ἄλλας οἱ Πυθαγόρειοι ἀπηγορεύκασιν τῷ κυάμῳ χρῆσθαι· καὶ γὰρ πνευματοποιὸν καὶ δύσπεπτον, καὶ τοὺς ὀνείρους τεταραγμένους ἡμῖν ἐμποιεῖ.

47 “Truffles become harder when there is continuous thunder, just as Theophrastos says in his work On Plants.”

47 Τὰ ὕδνα βροντῶν συνεχῶν γιγνομένων σκληρότερα γίγνεται, καθάπερ Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν εἴρηκεν.

48“Theophrastos says in his work On Plants that when the frankincense plant is wrapped with cloths it hinders moths from implanting.”

48 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν φησιν· ἡ λιβανωτὶς βοτάνη συντιθεμένη μετὰ ἱματίων κωλύει σῆτας ἐγγίγνεσθαι.

50 “In his work On Plants, in the last part of the material, Theophrastos says that Eunomos, the Khian and purveyor of drugs, did not [cleanse himself/die] while drinking many doses of hellebore. Once, even, when together with his fellow craftsmen he took over 22 drinks in one day as he sat in the agora and he did not return from his implements. Then he left to wash and eat, as he was accustomed, and did not vomit. He accomplished this after being in this custom for a long time, because he started from small amounts until he got to so many large ones. The powers of all drugs are less severe for those used to them and for some they are even useless.”

50 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν, ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ τῆς πραγματείας· Εὔνομος, φησίν, ὁ Χῖος, ὁ φαρμακοπώλης, ἐλλεβόρου πίνων πλείονας πόσεις οὐκ ἐκαθαίρετο. καὶ ποτέ, ἔφη, ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ συνθέμενος τοῖς ὁμοτέχνοις περὶ δύο καὶ εἴκοσι πόσεις ἔλαβεν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ καθήμενος καὶ οὐκ ἐξανέστη ἀπὸ τῶν σκευῶν <μέχρι δείλης>. τότε δ’ ἀπῆλθεν λούσασθαι καὶ δειπνῆσαι, ὥσπερ εἰώθει, καὶ οὐκ ἐξήμεσεν.

 τοῦτο δὲ ἔπραξεν ἐν πολυχρονίῳ συνηθείᾳ γεγονώς, ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ ὀλίγων ἕως τοσούτων πόσεων.πάντων δὲ τῶν φαρμάκων αἱ δυνάμεις ἀσθενέστεραι τοῖς συνειθισμένοις, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ ἄπρακτοί εἰσιν.

51 “This is a matter worth knowing which Aristotle mentions in his Natural Problems. He says that a person who has eaten and drunk weighs the same as when he is fasting. He tries to provide a reason for this occurrence.”

51῎Αξιον δὲ ἐπιστῆσαι πρᾶγμα <ὃ> ᾿Αριστοτέλης, ἐν τοῖς φυσικοῖς προβλήμασιν, εἴρηκεν· τὸν ἄνθρωπόν φησιν βεβρωκότα καὶ πεπωκότα τὸν αὐτὸν σταθμὸν ἄγειν καὶ ὅτε νήστης ὑπῆρχεν. πειρᾶται δὲ καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν τοῦ γιγνομένου ἀποδιδόναι.


Fantastic Friday 2: “Lady-Killers” and Bee Funerals

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.  Some of these translations are pretty rough, so suggestions and corrections are welcome.

40 “Aristoxenos the scholar writes in his Life of Telestes (a very man he happened to meet in Italy) that he was undergoing sufferings at the time. Of these there was one as well which was the strangest event and it transpired concerning  the women.

For these women were ecstatic to the point that once they were sitting and dining because they were heeding someone who was bidding them, but then they leapt up and became unconquerable and ran out of the city.

To the Locrians and the Rhegians seeking a prophecy about the resolution of this sickness the god said that they had to sing the spring paeans for twelve days. For this reason there are many Paean-writers in Italy.”

40 ᾿Αριστόξενος ὁ μουσικὸς ἐν τῷ Τελέστου βίῳ φησίν, ᾧπερ ἐν ᾿Ιταλίᾳ συνεκύρησεν, ὑπὸ τὸν αὐτὸν καιρὸν γίγνεσθαι πάθη, ὧν ἓν εἶναι καὶ τὸ περὶ τὰς γυναῖκας γενόμενον ἄτοπον· ἐκστάσεις γὰρ γίγνεσθαι τοιαύτας, ὥστε ἐνίοτε καθημένας καὶ δειπνούσας ὡς καλοῦντός τινος ὑπακούειν, εἶτα ἐκπηδᾶν ἀκατασχέτους γινομένας καὶ τρέχειν ἐκτὸς τῆς πόλεως.

μαντευομένοις δὲ τοῖς Λοκροῖς καὶ ῾Ρηγίνοις περὶ τῆς ἀπαλ-λαγῆς τοῦ πάθους εἰπεῖν τὸν θεόν, παιᾶνας ᾄδειν ἐαρινοὺς [δωδεκάτης] ἡμέρας ξ′. ὅθεν πολλοὺς γενέσθαι παιανογράφους ἐν τῇ ᾿Ιταλίᾳ.

41 “Theophrastos says in the eighth book of his On Plants that the grass scorpion—which people call the lady-killer—attacks scorpions to drain them completely.”

41 Θεόφραστος, ἐν τῷ η′ περὶ φυτῶν, τὸ σκορπίον βοτάνιον —οἱ δὲ θηλυφόνον καλοῦσιν—ἐπιτιθέμενον τοῖς σκορπίοις ξηραίνειν αὐτοὺς εὐθέως.

42 “From what has been observed the wounds which scar the least happen to those who are pregnant, splenetic, or have enlarged veins and women who have white veins around their thighs.”

42 Τῶν παρατετηρημένων ἐστὶ τὸ δυσκατούλωτα ἕλκη γίγνεσθαι ταῖς τε κυούσαις καὶ σπληνικοῖς καὶ τοῖς κιρσοὺς ἔχουσιν καὶ ταῖς γυναιξίν, ὅσαις ἰξίαι περὶ τοὺς μηροὺς ἄν εἰσιν.

44 “Theophrastos in his work On Plants records about the Soloi of Kilikia near a river which is called the Pinaros where there was a battle of Alexander against Dareios, poppies grow without seeds. And, in general in Egypt, pomegranate seeds have the smell of wine.”

43 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν· περὶ Σόλους τῆς Κιλικίας παρὰ τὸν ποταμὸν τὸν λεγόμενον Πίναρον, οὗ ἡ μάχη ᾿Αλεξάνδρου πρὸς Δαρεῖον ἐγένετο, αἱ ῥόαι ἀπύρηνοι γίγνονται· δι’ ὅλου δ’ ἐ<ν Αἰγύπτῳ> οἱ κόκκοι τὸ οἰνίζον ἔχουσιν.

44 “In his books About Animals, Aristotle remarks that the bee dies after shedding its stinger. And then the bees carry it out of the beehive.”

44᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τοῖς περὶ ζῴων· ἡ μέλισσα, φησίν, ἀποβάλλουσα τὸ κεντρίον ἀποθνῄσκει, αἱ δὲ βαστάζουσιν ἔξω τοῦ σμηνιῶνος.

45 “From the observed things, there is also the burning of wicks on white flowers or wreaths so that these remain unfaded right up to dawn. And the garland-weavers make it.”

45 Τῶν παρατετηρημένων ἐστὶν καὶ τὸ τοῖς λευκοΐοις ἄνθεσιν ἢ στεφάνοις διὰ νυκτὸς λύχνους παρακαίεσθαι, ἵνα εἰς τὴν πρωίαν ταῦτα παραμένει ἀμάραντα. ποιοῦσι δὲ τοῦτο οἱ στεφανηπλόκοι.

Image result for medieval manuscript scorpion

Image taken from this site.


Fantastic Friday: Magic Stones and Human Honey

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.  Some of these translations are pretty rough, so suggestions and corrections are welcome.

36 “Sotakos in his book On Stones records that there is a stone which is called Karystios which has outgrowths which are woolly and downy—from these hand-cloths are woven and spun. They also braid from these lampwicks which burn brightly and without burning out completely. The washing of these hand-cloths happens when they are covered in dirt and not in water, and then brush is burned and the cloth is placed on them. Then they become white and clean thanks to fire and are returned for use to the same women [?]. The candle wicks remain incompletely used up for all time as long as they are burned with olive oil.

The smell of the candlewicks as they burn makes people think they are about to fall. That stone is also in Karystos and took is name from the place, but there are many in Kypros [for those going up from the Gerander, as if  towards those traveling on the left of Elmaios below the cliffs. [Solous?]. This stone also increases during the full-moon and diminishes again as the moon wanes.”

36 Σώτακος ἐν τῷ περὶ λίθων· ὁ Καρύστιος, φησίν, λεγόμενος λίθος ἐπιφύσεις ἔχει ἐριώδεις καὶ χνοώδεις, ἐξ οὗ νήθεται καὶ ὑφαίνεται χειρεκμαγεῖα. στρέφουσι δὲ ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐλλύχνια, καὶ ἔστιν καιόμενα λαμπρὰ καὶ ἀκατάκαυστα. τῶν δὲ ἐκμαγείων τῶν ῥυπαινομένων ἡ πλύσις γίγνεται οὐ δι’ ὕδατος, ἀλλὰ κληματὶς κάεται καὶ τότε τὸ ἐκμαγεῖον ἐπιτίθεται, καὶ ὁ μὲν ῥύπος ἀπορρεῖ, αὐτὸ δὲ λευκὸν καὶ καθαρὸν γίνεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πυρὸς καὶ πάλιν εἰς τὰς αὐτὰς ἐγχρήζει χρείας.  τὰ δ’ ἐλλύχνια μένει τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον ἀκατάσβεστα καιόμενα μετ’ ἐλαίου.

δοκιμάζει δὲ καὶ τοὺς πτωματιζομένους ἡ ὀσμὴ τοῦ ἐλλυχνίου καιομένου.γίγνεται δὲ ὁ λίθος οὗτος καὶ ἐν Καρυστῷ μέν, ἀφ’ οὗ καὶ τοὔνομα ἔλαβεν, πολὺς δὲ ἐν Κύπρῳ, [καταβαινόντων] ἀπὸ τοῦ Γεράνδρου ὡς ἐπὶ Σόλους πορευομένοις ἐν ἀριστερᾷ <τῶν> τοῦ ᾿Ελμαίου ὑποκάτω πετρῶν. καὶ κατὰ τὸ πανσέληνον αὔξεται καὶ πάλιν φθίνοντος τοῦ σεληνίου μειοῦται καὶ ὁ λίθος.

37 “Aristotle in his natural problems writes: the respiration of [humpbacks?] goes heavily through the mouth. He also provides a reason for why this happens.”

37᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν φυσικοῖς προβλήμασιν· τῶν κυρτῶν βαρεῖα ἡ ἀναπνοὴ διὰ τοῦ στόματος ἐξέρχεται. ἀποδέδωκεν δὲ καὶ τοῦ γιγνομένου τὴν αἰτίαν.

38 “Eudoxos the Knidian in the seventh book of his Circuit of the Earth [writes] there is a certain tribe in most of Libya which lies down beyond the Syrteoi and the Carthaginians near the West; these people are called the Guzantes. They practice a skill [whereby] they gather flowers in their regions to make honey so great and of such a kind that it is similar to that which is made by bees.”

38 Εὔδοξος δὲ ὁ Κνίδιος ἐν τῷ ζ′ γῆς περιόδου· ἔστιν ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ἐν Λιβύῃ τι ἔθνος, [ὃ] ὑπεράνω Σύρτεων τε καὶ Καρχηδόνος πρὸς ἀνατολὰς κείμενον, οἳ καλοῦνται Γύζαντες· οἵτινες τέχνην ἐπιτηδεύουσιν τὰ ἄνθη συλλέγοντες τὰ ἐν τοῖς τόποις μέλι ποιεῖν τοσοῦτον καὶ τοιοῦτον, ὥστε γίγνεσθαι οἷον τὸ ὑπὸ τῶν μελισσῶν γιγνόμενον.

39 “Aristotle writes in his Selections of Anatomies that there was a snake observed in Paphos with two feet similar to a land crocodile.”

39᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν ταῖς ἐκλογαῖς τῶν ἀνατομῶν φησιν· ὄφις ὤφθη ἐν Πάφῳ πόδας ἔχων δύο ὁμοίους χερσαίῳ κροκοδείλῳ.

Image result for medieval manuscripts human bees

from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c.1440.

Tawdry Tuesday: Sidedishes for [Obscenity] (NSFW)


Plato the Comic Poet, fr. 43 [=Athenaeus 9. 367c-d]

[1] A woman who is asleep is boring
[2] I am learning this.
[1] But there are, uh, side-dishes when she is awake
And these alone are much more useful for pleasure than anything else
[2] What are fucking’s sidedishes, may I ask you?

Α. γυνὴ καθεύδουσ’ ἐστὶν ἀργόν. Β. μανθάνω.
Α. ἐγρηγορυίας δ’ εἰσὶν αἱ παροψίδες,
αὗται μόνον κρείττους πολὺ χρῆμ’ εἰς ἡδονὴν
ἠταλλαβεῖν. οὐ γάρ τινες παροψίδες
εἴσ’, ἀντιβολῶ σε;

Image result for ancient greek vase with sex scene

#MondayMotivation: Where Does Happiness Come From?

The following essay by Dio Chrysostom is fragmentary. I can imagine where it goes from where it starts, but I might be wrong. One of the seductive things about fragments is their lure to be ‘completed’ or ‘restored’. Here’s one about happiness–a topic perhaps profitably left unfinished for each of us to write our own endings.

Dio Chrysostom, 24 Discourse on Happiness

“The majority of people have generally given no thought regarding what kind of people they should be nor what at all is best for a person, nor what it is right to do in all other things. Instead, they have spent their lives in private pursuits—some dedicate themselves to horses; others to military leadership; others to athletic competition. Some are devoted to music; while others look to farming; and others to being able to speak well. But they neither know nor try to figure out what use each of these pursuits has for them or what profit might come from it.

As a result, while some people do become good horsemen—the kinds of people who love to work at it and care about it completely—and while others are better than some at wrestling and boxing, and running, and the rest of the athletic games, or in not screwing up planting, or sailing without ruining a ship, and some know the matters of the art of better than others—it is not possible to find among them a good and prudent man who also knows what makes a good and intelligent person.

Start first with the example of oratory—there are many people altogether of noble families who also seem to be ambitious who are dedicated to it so much that they compete in public courts, even speaking to the people and because of this have gained more than others and can do what they want while others [endeavor] so that they might be considered clever on account of the fame of their field.

But there are some people who say that they want what they get from experience, and some of these are speakers some are only writers, people whom someone of former times said were on the border of philosophy and politics. Whatever advantage their work brings them or what use their reputation is or what the profit of their experience might be, they do not examine.

But I claim that all the rest is worthless without this kind of care and examination  For the person who has considered and understood this, it is clear that the advantage of public speaking or military leadership or any other thing we do comes when it it directed towards good.

For being praised by ignorant people in itself—for most people are like that—or having power among them or living pleasurably will not bring any more happiness than being rebuked by these people, having no power among them, or living a hard life.”

Οἱ πολλοὶ ἄνθρωποι καθόλου μὲν οὐδὲν πεφροντίκασιν ὁποίους χρὴ εἶναι οὐδὲ ὅ τι βέλτιστον ἀνθρώπῳ ἐστίν, οὗ ἕνεκα χρὴ πάντα τἄλλα πράττειν, ἰδίᾳ δὲ ἐσπουδάκασιν οἱ μὲν ἱππεύειν, οἱ δὲ στρατηγεῖν, οἱ δὲ περὶ ἀγωνίαν, οἱ δὲ περὶ μουσικήν, ἄλλοι περὶ γεωργίαν, ἄλλοι δύνασθαι λέγειν. ἥντινα δὲ χρείαν αὐτοῖς ἔχει τούτων ἕκαστον ἢ τί τὸ ὄφελος ἐξ αὐτοῦ γίγνοιτ᾿ ἄν, οὐκ ἴσασιν οὐδὲ ζητοῦσιν. τοιγαροῦν ἱππεῖς μὲν ἀγαθοὶ γίγνονταί τινες, οἳ ἂν φιλοπονῶσιν αὐτὸ καὶ ἐκμελετῶσι, καὶ παλαῖσαι ἄλλοι ἄλλων ἱκανώτεροι καὶ πυκτεῦσαι καὶ δραμεῖν καὶ τἄλλα ἀγωνίσασθαι, καὶ τοῦ σπόρου μὴ διαμαρτεῖν, καὶ πλέοντες μὴ διαφθεῖραι τὴν ναῦν, καὶ τὰ κατὰ μουσικήν τινες ἐπίστανται βέλτιον ἑτέρων· ἀγαθὸν δὲ ἄνδρα καὶ φρόνιμον, καὶ αὐτὸ τοῦτο εἰδότα ὅστις ἐστὶν ὁ χρηστὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ νοῦν ἔχων, οὐδένα τούτων ἔστιν εὑρεῖν.

Αὐτίκα περὶ τὸ λέγειν πάντως ἐσπουδάκασι πολλοὶ τῶν ἐλευθέρων, καὶ φιλοτίμων εἶναι δοκούντων, οἱ μὲν ὥστε ἐν δικαστηρίοις ἀγωνίζεσθαι, καὶ πρὸς δῆμον λέγοντες, διὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἰσχύειν πλέον τῶν ἄλλων καὶ πράττειν ὅ τι ἂν αὐτοὶ θέλωσιν, οἱ δὲ τῆς δόξης ἕνεκα τῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ πράγματος, ὅπως δεινοὶ νομίζωνται. τινὲς δὲ αὐτῆς φασι τῆς ἐμπειρίας ἐπιθυμεῖν, καὶ τούτων οἱ μὲν λέγοντες, οἱ δὲ συγγράφοντες μόνον, οὓς ἔφη τις τῶν πρότερον μεθόρια εἶναι τῶν φιλοσόφων καὶ τῶν πολιτικῶν. ὅτι δὲ συμφέρει πράττουσιν ἢ πρὸς ὅ τι ἡ δόξα αὐτοῖς ὠφέλιμος ἢ τί τῆς ἐμπειρίας ταύτης ὄφελος, οὐ σκοποῦσιν.

Ἐγὼ δέ φημι πάντα τἄλλα δίχα τῆς τοιαύτης ἐπιμελείας καὶ ζητήσεως ὀλίγου ἄξια εἶναι, τῷ δὲ ἐκεῖνο ἐννοήσαντι καὶ ξυνέντι, τούτῳ καὶ τὸ λέγειν καὶ τὸ στρατηγεῖν καὶ ὅ τι ἂν ἄλλο ποιῇ, ξυμφέρον τε εἶναι καὶ ἐπ᾿ ἀγαθῷ γίγνεσθαι. ἐπεὶ τό γε ἐπαινεῖσθαι καθ᾿ ἑαυτὸ ὑπὸ ἀνθρώπων ἀνοήτων, οἷοίπερ εἰσὶν οἱ πολλοί, ἢ τὸ δύνασθαι ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις ἢ τὸ ἡδέως ζῆν οὐδὲν ἂν διαφέροι πρὸς εὐδαιμονίαν τοῦ ψέγεσθαι καὶ μηδὲν ἰσχύειν καὶ ἐπιπόνως ζῆν.

Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 174, detail of f. 3r (Isis gathering Osiris’ body parts). Boccaccio, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes. 15th century

Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 174, detail of f. 3r (Isis gathering Osiris’ body parts)

An Elephant’s Love for a Child

When I first started translating this I did not consider it allegory from a slightly different reality.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 13.85, 606F–607A [BNJ 81 F36]

“The same Phylarkhos also reports in his twentieth book how great a love an elephant once had for a child. He writes this: “There was a female elephant which was tended with that elephant, and they used to call her Nikaia. When the wife of the Indian who cared for her was dying, she handed her child who was 30 days old to her.

After she died, the animal’s love for the child was striking. It could not endure the child being separated from her; and whenever she did not see the child, she despaired. When the nurse fed the child milk, she put it in a cradle in the middle of the animal’s feet. If she failed to do this, the elephant would refuse to eat. After this, all day long the elephant would take reeds from the nearby grasses and chase away flies while the child was sleeping. Whenever the child cried, the elephant would move the cradle with her trunk and help him sleep. The male elephant often did the same thing.”

ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς ἱστορεῖ Φύλαρχος διὰ τῆς εἰκοστῆς ὅσην ἐλέφας τὸ ζῶιον φιλοστοργίαν ἔσχεν εἰς παιδίον. γράφει δὲ οὕτως· «τούτωι δὲ τῶι ἐλέφαντι συνετρέφετο θήλεια ἐλέφας, ἣν Νίκαιαν ἐκάλουν· ἧι τελευτῶσα ἡ τοῦ τρέφοντος ᾽Ινδοῦ γυνὴ παιδίον αὑτῆς τριακοσταῖον παρακατέθετο. ἀποθανούσης δὲ τῆς ἀνθρώπου δεινή τις φιλοστοργία γέγονε τοῦ θηρίου πρὸς τὸ παιδίον· οὐτε γὰρ ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ χωριζόμενον τὸ βρέφος ὑπέμενεν, τὸ δὲ εἰ μὴ βλέποι τὸ παιδίον ἤσχαλλεν. ὅτ᾽ οὖν ἡ τροφὸς ἐμπλήσειεν αὐτὸ τοῦ γάλακτος, ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ποδῶν τοῦ θηρίου ἐτίθει αὐτὸ ἐν σκάφηι. εἰ δὲ μὴ τοῦτο πεποιήκοι, τροφὴν οὐκ ἐλάμβανεν ἡ ἐλέφας. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα δι᾽ ὅλης τῆς ἡμέρας [τοὺς] καλάμους λαμβάνων ἐκ τῶν παρατιθεμένων χορτασμάτων καθεύδοντος τοῦ βρέφους τὰς μυίας ἀπεσόβει· ὅτε δὲ κλαίοι, τῆι προβοσκίδι τὴν σκάφην ἐκίνει καὶ κατεκοίμιζεν αὐτό. τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ ἐποίει καὶ ὁ ἄρρην ἐλέφας πολλάκις.»

Homer, Divine Not Human

Yesterday I made the mistake of playing along with a twitter game and I submitted;

This wasn’t a big mistake–I was just surprised how many people don’t agree. But the upside was that a twitter correspondent W. Graham Claytor (@graham_claytor ) let me know about this:

Homer Theios

This is a a writing exercise on an ostrakon listing some names and words (from the website: “Stranger; Dios; Stranger; Herodes; Ptolemaios; Herodes;;Homer is a god, not a man.”. Note the absence of diacritical marks.

Homer theios close up

Here is the Greek as printed:


Here’s the Greek with the accents and breathings:

θεῖος οὐκ ἄνθρωπος Ὅμηρος

“Homer is divine not a human being”

I can’t tell if there is a ligature for -ος after θει or if it is a ligature of -ος after θε- (so, “divine” vs. noun “god”). But to break with the published translation, Greek anthrôpos is less gendered than anêr (“man”, sometimes “husband”) and is here opposed to “divine”. So, the contrast and meaning here is mortal/immortal. “Human being” is a better translation.

ὁ θεῖος ῞Ομηρος (“divine Homer”) is not an uncommon phrase in Ancient Greek (appearing in Classical Greece and then becoming increasingly common from the poems of the Greek Anthology through to letters of Julian the Apostate).

Here’s a dedicatory inscription from the Appendix of the Greek Anthology (Epigram 61)

“This is the divine Homer, who adorned all of boastful Greece
With wisdom of the beautiful word.
But especially the Argives who took down
The god-walled Troy, as payback for well-tressed Helen.
For his sake a great-citied people have set this up
And they apportion to him the honors of the gods.”

Θεῖος ῞Ομηρος ὅδ’ ἐστίν, ὃς ῾Ελλάδα τὴν μεγάλαυχον
πᾶσαν ἐκόσμησεν καλλιεπεῖ σοφίῃ,
ἔξοχα δ’ ᾿Αργείους, οἳ τὴν θεοτείχεα Τροίην
ἤρειψαν, ποινὴν ἠυκόμου ῾Ελένης·
οὗ χάριν ἔστησεν δῆμος μεγαλόπτολις αὐτὸν
ἐνθάδε, καὶ τιμαῖς ἀμφέπει ἀθανάτων.

Here is a nice bit too….

Dio Chrysostom, On Homer (Discourse 53)

Democritus says this about Homer: “Homer, who was granted a divine nature, crafted a universe of verses of every kind.” This means it is not possible for him to have created poems so beautiful and wise without divine and immortal nature. Many others have also written about this—some who directly praise the poet and also select for illustration some of his sayings while others attempt to interpret his very manner of thinking…”

Ὁ μὲν Δημόκριτος περὶ Ὁμήρου φησὶν οὕτως· Ὅμηρος φύσεως λαχὼν θεαζούσης ἐπέων κόσμον ἐτεκτήνατο παντοίων· ὡς οὐκ ἐνὸν ἄνευ θείας καὶ δαιμονίας φύσεως οὕτως καλὰ καὶ σοφὰ ἔπη ἐργάσασθαι. πολλοὶ δὲ καὶ ἄλλοι γεγράφασιν οἱ μὲν ἄντικρυς ἐγκωμιάζοντες τὸν ποιητὴν ἅμα καὶ δηλοῦντες ἔνια τῶν ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ λεγομένων, οἱ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὴν διάνοιαν ἐξηγούμενοι

The Homeric poems as part of an oral tradition is not new in Post-enlightenment scholarship–F. A. Wolf was probably the first ‘modern’ author to get really into it. But the persistence of the insistence that because the Homeric poems are complex and meaningful, they must have been designed by an author to be that way is both a reflection of our own views about genius a creation and a misapprehension of the deep and complexity possible from oral traditions.

The work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord helps in part to explain how oral poetry may works compositionally, but this does little to address the larger issue which is the confirmation bias that shapes what we think ‘art’ is and how we think it is made (the works of John Miles Foley and Egbert J. Bakker are really helpful too; for the creation of the idea of Homer, I know of no better text than Barbara Graziosi’s The Invention of Homer).

I do think it is entirely possible for different modern interpreters to believe radically different things about the creation of the texts we possess and still come to similar conclusions about their meanings. Elton Barker and I cover this rather ecumenically in our introductory book to Homer. In our book Homer’s Thebes, out with the Center for Hellenic Studies next spring we are going to be a bit less so.)

Agnosticism on the issue is likely the wisest route. Ultimately, what we have are poems that have been treated as texts with a unifying authority behind them for two thousand years. Yet, I must confess a frustration that we so reflexively insist that the genius of any work is due to the genius of an individual and not a cultural context and its inheritance. Because we see the world as individuals and are culturally and biologically conditioned to imagine ourselves as agents acting individually within it, we assume a view of causality that reinforces our view of self. (And this is culturally reinforced by religious beliefs.)

What I teach, I approach the issue the way Elton and I do in the introductory book–I tell the full story and transparently say what I believe (without expecting followers). But I also ask students to consider why it is important that we have a Homer behind the Homeric poems. Why do we feel so strongly we need an author? What does it do for us? What do we lose without it?

[But it is fine if we disagree! I actually do treat this the way I do religion. Who can rightly judge what no mortal can ever truly know? Although an atheist, my spouse is Muslim, I was raised Lutheran and I have known as many religious people clearly smarter than I am as I have known atheists to be fools.]

Here is a full citation: “O.Mich.inv. 9353; Recto.” University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed: July 05, 2018.

Addendum [3 hours after original post]:

When I was visiting graduate schools as a precocious soon-to-be college graduate, I got in an argument with a 3rd year graduate student about “Homer” which ended with me suggesting that he only wanted to believe in a singular, monumental genius because he wanted to believe that he was a genius too. (The story has a happy ending, we are now friends.)

My comments on twitter about the non-existence of Homer drew more ire and rejection than I expected. I am in part grateful for this because it reminds me that I write and work and teach in a rather closed circle. I have for too long taken the tenets of my belief about Homer to be standard, when it seems that they are not.

From my experience, the Homeric poems are qualitatively and quantitatively different from anything else I have ever read. This knowledge emerged with the belief that their origins in an oral-performance culture help to explain this. When I first read Homer in Greek after years of reading Latin epic and a lifetime of reading English poetry and prose widely, I was floored by how different it was. It was so different that I despised Homer in translation before I read the Iliad in Greek and would only have imagined myself dedicating the next decades of my life to the study of Homer as a nightmare or joke.

The explanation for the genius was unfolded for me slowly. My Greek teacher, mentor, and eventually friend, Leonard Muellner, handed me a concordance of Homer and told me to take any ten lines and look for repetitions and similarity elsewhere (e.g. formulae). Only after seeing the building blocks of Homeric language up close, did I then read Milman Parry, Albert Lord, and Lenny’s own brilliant work on Homeric eukhomai and mênis.

(There are other authors whose work should be added here: the work of John Miles Foley on oral poetry, the linguistic informed books of Egbert Bakker, the work of Casey Dué, Olga Levaniouk, Sheila Murnaghan, and dozens of others too.)

I’m not exactly a dilettante when it comes to Homer (as I am with most Greek and Roman authors). But I do realize that I probably seem to be the member of a hardline approach. I must emphasize again that I think the problem of authorship is ultimately without a solution.

What is not without a solution is a careful reflection on why we believe what we believe about (1) Homer, (2) the nature of creative production, (3) authorship, and (4) the relationship between the individual and collective culture. The reason I bring this up is that some of the most strident responses to my comments about the non-existence of Homer come from the same voices who have objected to my assertions that the Homeric poems are misogynistic or that they don’t necessarily reflect the same assumptions about race and ethnicities as our own.

It is not surprising that some of the same people who have a knee-jerk reaction that Homer is only about European people and cannot be taken to task for being part of a misogynistic culture are those who so desperately cleave to a notion of Homer as genius. These beliefs are rooted in an essential conservatism, a patriarchal view of culture, and a rigidly individualistic view of cultural production.

[As an anecdotal aside, in addition to similar voices complaining about Homer as misogyny, etc. I got antisemitic hate tweets for the twitter thread associated with this post. The poster was a follower of one of the original culture haters.]

I do not mean that everyone who thinks there was a Homer is a racist of misogynist or that they hold their beliefs about Homer because they are conservative and close-minded. Indeed, I know and know of many well-educated, progressive, and intensely kind people who believe there was a Homer who wrote one or both of the epics.

But I did want to point out the curious overlap between cultural chauvinists and the cult of genius. My apologies to the good people who believe in Homer but do not fall into this group. Whatever we believe about the origin of the Homeric poems, we must rigorously examine why we believe it. What assumptions do we make about personhood and the relationship between individual and community in the human species? Why do we need an author for the Iliad or the Odyssey? Why do we need to identify a designer if we sense beauty and design? Do we see design because we are part of an aesthetic continuum that has been shaped by the Iliad and the Odyssey and by later cultural reflections on those poems?


For flavor, a conventional of Homer:

Number 6, part 1part 2

Also, I made a poll, this will solve everything.

Music Heals the Suffering of the Soul

Apollonius Paradoxographus, Historiae Mirabiles 49

“These things are worth knowing. Theophrastos has explained them in is work On Enthusiasm. For he says that music heals when suffering afflicts the soul and the body such as desperation, phobias, and the madnesses of belief which are more serious. For instrumental flute music, he continues, heals both hip pain and epilepsy.

Similarly is the power attributed to Aristoxenos the musician when he came—for he was getting a prophecy from the prophet of his sister Pasiphilê—for resuscitated a person in Thebes who was bewitched by the sound of a trumpet. For when he heard it he yelled out so much that he behaved indecently. If someone at any point even in war should blow the trumpet, then he should suffer much worse in his madness. So, he exposed him bit by bit to the flute—and, as one might say, he used this as an introduction for him to endure the trumpet as well.

The flute heals even if some part of the body is in pain. When the body is subject to flute music, let the instrumental music persist for five days at least. The toil will be surprisingly less on the first day and the second. This application of the flute treatment is common even elsewhere, but especially so in Thebes up to this day.”

49 ῎Αξια δ’ ἐστὶν ἐπιστάσεως [τὰ εἰρημένα.] <ἃ> Θεόφραστος ἐν τῷ περὶ ἐνθουσιασμοῦ ἐξεῖπεν. φησὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος τὴν μουσικὴν πολλὰ τῶν ἐπὶ ψυχὴν καὶ τὸ σῶμα γιγνομένων παθῶν ἰατρεύειν, καθάπερ λιποθυμίαν, φόβους καὶ τὰἐπὶ μακρὸν γιγνομένας τῆς διανοίας ἐκστάσεις. ἰᾶται γάρ, φησίν, ἡ καταύλησις καὶ ἰσχιάδα καὶ ἐπιληψίαν·

καθάπερ πρὸς ᾿Αριστόξενον τὸν μουσικὸν ἐλθόντα—χρήσασθαι αὐτὸν† τοῦ μαντίου τοῦ τῆς Πασιφίλης δαμωτι ἀδελφῆς † —λέγεται [τὸν μουσικὸν] καταστῆναί τινα ἐξιστάμενον ἐν Θήβαις ὑπὸ τὴν τῆς σάλπιγγος φωνήν· ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον γὰρ ἐβόησεν ἀκούων, ὥστε ἀσχημονεῖν· εἰ δέ ποτε καὶ πολεμικὸν σαλπίσειέ τις, πολὺ χεῖρον πάσχειν μαινόμενον. τοῦτον οὖν κατὰ μικρὸν  τῷ αὐλῷ προσάγειν, καὶ ὡς ἄν τις εἴποι ἐκ προσαγωγῆς ἐποίησεν καὶ τὴν σάλπιγγος φωνὴν ὑπομένειν.

θεραπεύει δὲ ἡ καταύλησις καὶ ἐάν τι μέρος τοῦ σώματος ἐν ἀλγήματι ὑπάρχῃ· καταυλουμένου τοῦ σώματος καταύλησις γιγνέσθω ἡμέρας ε′ ὡς ἐλάχιστα, καὶ εὐθέως τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ ἐλάττων ὁ πόνος γενήσεται καὶ τῇ δευτέρᾳ. τὸ δὲ γιγνόμενον διὰ τῆς καταυλήσεως ἐπιχωριάζει καὶ ἀλλαχῇ, μάλιστα δὲ ἐνΘήβαις μέχρι τῶν νῦν χρόνων.

There are similar accounts from Pythagorean Traditions

Porphyry, On the Life of Pythagoras

30. “[Pythagoras] healed psychic and bodily sufferings with rhythm, songs, and incantations. He adapted these treatments to his companions, while he himself heard the harmony of everything because he could understand the unity of the spheres and the harmonies of the stars moving with them. It is not our nature to hear this in the least.”

30. κατεκήλει δὲ ῥυθμοῖς καὶ μέλεσι καὶ ἐπῳδαῖς τὰ ψυχικὰ πάθη καὶ τὰ σωματικά. καὶ τοῖς μὲν ἑταίροις ἡρμόζετο ταῦτα, αὐτὸς δὲ τῆς τοῦ παντὸς ἁρμονίας ἠκροᾶτο συνιεὶς τῆς καθολικῆς τῶν σφαιρῶν καὶ τῶν κατ’ αὐτὰς κινουμένων ἀστέρων ἁρμονίας, ἧς ἡμᾶς μὴ ἀκούειν διὰ σμικρότητα τῆς φύσεως.

32. “Diogenes says that Pythagoras encouraged all men to avoid ambition and lust for fame, because they especially inculcate envy, and also to stay away from large crowds. He used to convene gatherings at his house at dawn himself, accompanying his singing to the lyre and singing some ancient songs of Thales. And he also sang the songs of Hesiod and Homer, as many as appeared to calm his spirit. He would also dance some dances which he believed brought good mobility and health to the body. He used to take walks himself but not with a crowd, taking only two or three companions to shrines or groves, finding the most peaceful and beautiful places.”

32. Διογένης φησὶν ὡς ἅπασι μὲν παρηγγύα φιλοτιμίαν φεύγειν καὶ φιλοδοξίαν, ὥπερ μάλιστα φθόνον ἐργάζεσθαι, ἐκτρέπεσθαι δὲ τὰς μετὰ τῶν πολλῶν ὁμιλίας. τὰς γοῦν διατριβὰς καὶ αὐτὸς ἕωθεν μὲν ἐπὶ τῆς οἰκίας ἐποιεῖτο, ἁρμοζόμενος πρὸς λύραν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ φωνὴν καὶ ᾄδων παιᾶνας ἀρχαίους τινὰς τῶν Θάλητος. καὶ ἐπῇδε τῶν ῾Ομήρου καὶ ῾Ησιόδου ὅσα καθημεροῦν τὴν ψυχὴν ἐδόξαζε. καὶ ὀρχήσεις δέ τινας ὑπωρχεῖτο ὁπόσας εὐκινησίαν καὶ ὑγείαν τῷ σώματι παρασκευάζειν ᾤετο. τοὺς δὲ περιπάτους οὐδ’ αὐτὸς ἐπιφθόνως μετὰ πολλῶν ἐποιεῖτο, ἀλλὰ δεύτερος ἢ τρίτος ἐν ἱεροῖς ἢ ἄλσεσιν, ἐπιλεγόμενος τῶν χωρίων τὰ ἡσυχαίτατα καὶ περικαλλέστατα.

33. “He loved his friends overmuch and was the first to declare that friends possessions are common and that a friend is another self. When they were healthy, he always talked to them; when they were sick, he took care of their bodies. If they were mentally ill, he consoled them, as we said before, some with incantations and spells, others by music. He had songs and paeans for physical ailments: when he sang them, he relieved fatigue. He also could cause forgetfulness of grief, calming of anger, and redirection of desire.”

33.τοὺς δὲ φίλους ὑπερηγάπα, κοινὰ μὲν τὰ τῶν φίλων εἶναι πρῶτος ἀποφηνάμενος, τὸν δὲ φίλον ἄλλον ἑαυτόν. καὶ ὑγιαίνουσι μὲν αὐτοῖς ἀεὶ συνδιέτριβεν, κάμνοντας δὲ τὰ σώματα ἐθεράπευεν, καὶ τὰς ψυχὰς δὲ νοσοῦντας παρεμυθεῖτο, καθάπερ ἔφαμεν, τοὺς μὲν ἐπῳδαῖς καὶ μαγείαις τοὺς δὲ μουσικῇ. ἦν γὰρ αὐτῷ μέλη καὶ πρὸς νόσους σωμάτων παιώνια, ἃ ἐπᾴδων ἀνίστη τοὺς κάμνοντας. ἦν <δ’> ἃ καὶ λύπης λήθην εἰργάζετο καὶ ὀργὰς ἐπράυνε καὶ ἐπιθυμίας ἀτόπους ἐξῄρει.


Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 111–112

“Pythagoras believed that music produced great benefits for health, should someone apply it in the appropriate manner. For he was known to use this kind of cleansing and not carelessly. And he also called the healing from music that very thing, a purification. And he used a melody as follows during the spring season. He sat in the middle someone who could play the lyre and settled around him in a circle people who could sing. They would sing certain paeans as he played and through this they seemed to become happy, unified, and directed.

At another time they used music in the place of medicine, and there were certain songs composed against sufferings of the mind, especially despair and bitterness—songs which were created as the greatest aids. He also composed others against rage, desires, and every type of wandering of the soul. There was also another kind of performance he discovered for troubles: he also used dancing.

He used the lyre as an instrument since he considered flutes to induce arrogance as a dramatic sound which had no type of freeing resonance. He also used selected words from Homer and Hesiod for the correction of the soul.”

     ῾Υπελάμβανε δὲ καὶ τὴν μουσικὴν μεγάλα συμβάλλεσθαι πρὸς ὑγείαν, ἄν τις αὐτῇ χρῆται κατὰ τοὺς προσήκοντας τρόπους. εἰώθει γὰρ οὐ παρέργως τῇ τοιαύτῃ χρῆσθαι καθάρσει· τοῦτο γὰρ δὴ καὶ προσηγόρευε τὴν διὰ τῆς μουσικῆς ἰατρείαν. ἥπτετο δὲ περὶ τὴν ἐαρινὴν ὥραν τῆς  τοιαύτης μελῳδίας· ἐκάθιζε γὰρ ἐν μέσῳ τινὰ λύρας ἐφαπτόμενον, καὶ κύκλῳ ἐκαθέζοντο οἱ μελῳδεῖν δυνατοί, καὶ οὕτως ἐκείνου κρούοντος συνῇδον παιῶνάς τινας, δι’ ὧν εὐφραίνεσθαι καὶ ἐμμελεῖς καὶ ἔνρυθμοι γίνεσθαι ἐδόκουν. χρῆσθαι δ’ αὐτοὺς καὶ κατὰ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον τῇ μουσικῇ ἐν ἰατρείας τάξει, καὶ εἶναί τινα μέλη πρὸς τὰ ψυχῆς πεποιημένα πάθη, πρός τε ἀθυμίας καὶ δηγμούς, ἃ δὴ βοηθητικώτατα ἐπινενόητο, καὶ πάλιν αὖ ἕτερα πρός τε τὰς ὀργὰς καὶ πρὸς τοὺς θυμοὺς καὶ πρὸς πᾶσαν παραλλαγὴν τῆς τοιαύτης ψυχῆς, εἶναι δὲ καὶ πρὸς τὰς ἐπιθυμίας ἄλλο γένος μελοποιίας ἐξευρημένον. χρῆσθαι δὲ καὶ ὀρχήσεσιν. ὀργάνῳ δὲ χρῆσθαι λύρᾳ· τοὺς γὰρ αὐλοὺς ὑπε-λάμβανεν ὑβριστικόν τε καὶ πανηγυρικὸν καὶ οὐδαμῶς ἐλευθέριον τὸν ἦχον ἔχειν. χρῆσθαι δὲ καὶ ῾Ομήρου καὶ ῾Ησιόδου λέξεσιν ἐξειλεγμέναις πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν ψυχῆς.

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Cat playing a bagpipe in a Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1460



Fantastic Friday: Diets of Salt and A Tortoise without a Heart

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE. Some of these translations are pretty rough. Here I am pretty uncertain about number 22

Apollonius, Historiae Mirabiles 21-27

21 “Of those observed animals there is the fact that cloven-hoofed creatures alone of the animals have backward-facing ankles. In his Natural Problems, Aristotle explains that the reason for this is in the hind-legs and not the front legs. For nature has made nothing in vain.”

21 Τῶν παρατετηρημένων δ’ ἐστὶ τὸ τὰ δίχηλα μόνα τῶν ζῴων εἰς τοὺς ὀπισθίους πόδας ἀστραγάλους ἔχειν. ἀποδέδωκεν τὴν αἰτίαν ᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τοῖς φυσικοῖς προβλήμασιν, διὰ τί ἐν τοῖς ὀπισθίοις καὶ οὐκ ἐμπροσθίοις· οὐδὲν γὰρ μάτην ἡ φύσις ἐποίησεν.

22 “It has also been observed in life that none of the horn-bearing animals make noises. Aristotle gives the explanation for this in his Problems.”

22 Συνῶπται δ’ ἐν τῷ βίῳ καὶ τὸ μηδὲν τῶν κερασφόρων ζῴων ἀποψοφεῖν· ἀποδέδωκεν δὲ καὶ τούτων τὴν αἰτίαν ᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τοῖς προβλήμασιν.

23“It is especially wondrous how the sun shines upon us—that it is not holy fire, and the adamant does not warm when it is inflamed; and also marvelous is the fact that the magnet stone attracts when it is day and at night it attracts less or not completely” [?]

23 Θαυμαστὸν δὲ καὶ τὸν ἥλιον ἐπικαίειν ἡμᾶς, τὸ δὲ πῦρ μηδ’ ὅλως, καὶ τὸ τὸν ἀδάμαντα μὴ θερμαίνεσθαι πυρούμενον, καὶ μάγνητα λίθον ἡμέρας μὲν οὔσης ἕλκειν, νυκτὸς δὲ ἧττον ἢ οὐδὲ ὅλως ἕλκειν.

24“Eudoxos the Rhodian says that there is a certain tribe near Keltikê which does not see the day but does see the night”

24 Εὔδοξος ὁ ῾Ρόδιος περὶ τὴν Κελτικὴν εἶναί τι ἔθνος φησίν, ὃ τὴν ἡμέραν οὐ βλέπειν, τὴν δὲ νύκτα ὁρᾶν.

25 “Aristotle says in his work On Drunkenness that Andrôn the Argive ate many salty things through his entire life and died without thirst and without drinking. While he was going to Ammon for a second time on a road without water and dining on dry grain, he brought no liquid. He did this for his entire life.”

25᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τῷ περὶ μέθης· ῎Ανδρων, φησίν, ᾿Αργεῖος ἐσθίων πολλὰ καὶ ἁλμυρὰ καὶ ξηρὰ δι’ ὅλου τοῦ βίου ἄδιψος καὶ ἄποτος διετέλεσεν.  ἔτι δὶς πορευθεὶς εἰς ῎Αμμωνα διὰ τῆς ἀνύδρου [ὁδοῦ] ἄλφιτα ξηρὰ σιτούμενος οὐ προσηνέγκατο ὑγρόν. τοῦτο δὲ ἐποίησεν δι’ ὅλου τοῦ βίου.

26 “In his work On Life and Death, Aristotle says that a tortoise lives when deprived of a heart.  But he nevertheless does not specify what kind of tortoise, whether it is a land animal or one who lives in the sea.”

26 ᾿Αριστοτέλης δ’ ἐν τῷ περὶ [τῆς] ζωῆς καὶ θανάτου φησὶν τὴν χελώνην στερισκομένην τῆς καρδίας ζῆν· οὐκ ἔτι δὲ διώρισεν ποίαν αὐτῶν, ἢ τὴν χερσαίαν ἢ τὴν ἔνυδρον.

27 “Aristotle, in his works on Animal Matters—for he has two publications, one On Animals and another, On Animal Matters—says that lice do not die on heads because of disease in long lives, but when they are about to die while they are suffering, they are find their way to the base of the head and leave it.”

27 ᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τοῖς ζωϊκοῖς—δύο γάρ εἰσιν αὐτῷ πραγματεῖαι, ἡ μὲν περὶ ζῴων, ἡ δὲ περὶ τῶν ζωϊκῶν—· οἱ φθεῖρες, φησίν, ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ ἐν ταῖς μακραῖς οὐ φθίνουσιν νόσοις, μελλόντων τελευτᾶν τῶν πασχόντων, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὰ προσκεφάλαια εὑρίσκονται προλελοιπότες τὴν κεφαλήν.

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Compendium Salernitanum, M.873 fol. 87v, from the Morgan Library and Museum

Sex Prophet: The Origin of Teiresias’ Power

Phlegon of Tralles writes about the rape and sex change of Kaineus and records a series of intersex stories from the ancient world. He also includes an account of Teiresias’ sex changes.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 4

“Hesiod—along with Dikaiarkhos, Klearkhos, Kallimakhos and some others—relates these things about Teiresias. When Teiresias the son of Euêros in Arcadia was a young man he saw snakes copulating, he wounded one and immediately changed his form. He changed into a woman from a man and then had sex with a man.

But after Apollo prophesied to him that, if he saw snakes copulating again and wounded one in the same way, he would be as he was before, Teiresias took care to do the things which were prophesied by the god and thus regained his older form.

When Zeus was fighting with Hera and saying that in sex a wife surpassed her husband in the pleasures of intercourse—even while Hera was claiming the opposite—it seemed right to them to send for Teiresias because he had tried out both ways. When they questioned him, he responded that if there were ten portions, a man took pleasure in one and a woman took pleasure in ten.

In her rage over this, Hera took out his eyes and made him blind. But Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy and to live for seven generations.”

῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ ῾Ησίοδος καὶ Δικαίαρχος καὶ Κλέαρχος καὶ Καλλίμαχος καὶ ἄλλοι τινὲς περὶ Τειρεσίου τάδε. Τειρεσίαν τὸν Εὐήρους ἐν ᾿Αρκαδίᾳ [ἄνδρα ὄντα] ἐν τῷ ὄρει τῷ ἐν Κυλλήνῃ ὄφεις ἰδόντα ὀχεύοντας τρῶσαι τὸν ἕτερον καὶ παραχρῆμα μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν· γενέσθαι γὰρ ἐξ ἀνδρὸς γυναῖκα καὶ μιχθῆναι ἀνδρί.

 τοῦ δὲ ᾿Απόλλωνος αὐτῷ χρήσαντος ὡς, ἐὰν τηρήσας ὀχεύοντας ὁμοίως τρώσῃ τὸν ἕνα, ἔσται οἷος ἦν, παραφυλάξαντα τὸν Τειρεσίαν ποιῆσαι τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ῥηθέντα καὶ οὕτως κομίσασθαι τὴν ἀρχαίαν φύσιν.

 Διὸς δὲ ἐρίσαντος ῞Ηρᾳ καὶ φαμένου ἐν ταῖς συνουσίαις πλεονεκτεῖν τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τῇ τῶν ἀφροδισίων ἡδονῇ, καὶ τῆς ῞Ηρας φασκούσης τὰ ἐναντία, δόξαι αὐτοῖς μεταπεμψαμένοις ἔρεσθαι τὸν Τειρεσίαν διὰ τὸ τῶν τρόπων ἀμφοτέρων πεπειρᾶσθαι. τὸν δὲ ἐρωτώμενον ἀποφήνασθαι, διότι μοιρῶν οὐσῶν δέκα τὸν ἄνδρα τέρπεσθαι τὴν μίαν, τὴν δὲ γυναῖκα τὰς ἐννέα.

 τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν ὀργισθεῖσαν κατανύξαι αὐτοῦ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ ποιῆσαι τυφλόν, τὸν δὲ Δία δωρήσασθαι αὐτῷ τὴν μαντικὴν καὶ βιοῦν ἐπὶ γενεὰς ἐπτά.

The tale occurs most famously in book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (339-510).  But, as this fragment indicates, we have fragments of a Hesiodic version as well. Apollodorus also reports the version favored by Pherecydes and Callimachus–that Teiresias was blinded after seeing Athena naked.

What is a little different about this version is the presence of Apollo and the claim that Zeus lengthened Teiresias’ life as part of his ‘reward’. This second part helps to explain Tiresias’ presence from the birth of Dionysus to the fall of Thebes with the Epigonoi.


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