“If you immerse a red mullet in wine while it is still alive and a man drinks this, he will be impotent, as Terpsikles records in his work On Sexual Matters. If a woman drinks the same mixture, she will not get pregnant. The same thing does not happen with a chicken.”
“The night pervades them and infolds them”—Walt Whitman, “The Sleepers”
Alcman fr. 89
mountain peaks and valleys are asleep,
jutting places and mountain streams too—
the tribes of crawling things
and as many creatures as black earth bears—
beasts which lay in wait in mountains
and the race of bees alike—
monsters at the dark sea’s bottom,
and also tribes of long-winged preying birds,
they are asleep.
LarryBenn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.
Schol. ad. Od. 8.17 (On why Odysseus is only responsible for the companions in his particular ship)
“According to the proverb “Common ship, common safety”
κατὰ τὴν παροιμίαν “κοινὴ ναῦς κοινὴ σωτηρία,”
Sophocles, Antigone 175–190 (Creon speaking)
“It is impossible to really learn a man’s
mind, thought and opinion before he’s been initiated
into the offices and laws of the state.
Indeed—whoever attempts to direct the country
but does not make use of the best advice
as he keeps his tongue frozen out of fear
Seems to me to be the worst kind of person now and long ago.
Anyone who thinks his friend is more important than the country,
I say that they live nowhere.
May Zeus who always sees everything witness this:
I could never be silent when I saw ruin
Overtaking my citizens instead of safety.
And I could never make my country’s enemy a friend
For myself, because I know this crucial thing: The state is the ship which saves us And we may make friends only if it remains afloat.”
Heraclitus the Commentator, in defending the application of allegorical readings to Homer, argues that allegory is of considerable antiquity—used clearly by Archilochus when he compares the troubles of a war (fr. 54) and by Alcaeus when he compares the troubles of a tyranny to a storm at sea. He writes that Alcaeus “compares the troubles of a tyranny to the turmoil of a stormy sea.” (τὰς γὰρ τυραννικὰς ταραχὰς ἐξ ἴσου χειμερίῳ προσεικάζει καταστήματι θαλάττης, Homeric Problems 5.8)
Alcaeus fr. 326
“I cannot make sense of the clash of the winds
One wave whirls from this side,
Another wave comes from the other, and we in the middle
Are borne in our dark ship
Toiling ever on in this great storm.
The swell has taken he mast
And the sail is completely transparent—
There are great tears through it
And the anchors have broken free…”
Alcaeus, fr. 6a [P. Oxy. 1789 1 i 15–19, ii 1–17, 3 i, 12 + 2166(e)4]
“Now this higher wave comes harder than the one before
And will bring us much toil to face
When it overcomes the ship
Let us strengthen the ship’s sides
As fast as we can and hurry into a safe harbor.
Let no weak hesitation take anyone.
For a great contest is clearly before us.
Recall your previous toil.
Today, let every man be dedicated.
And may we never cause shame
To our noble parents who lie beneath the earth”
Consider this how this could turn out on many ships or even just one: there is a captain of some size and strength beyond the rest of the men in the ship, but he is deaf and similarly limited at seeing, and he knows as much about sailing as these qualities might imply. So, the sailors are struggling with one another about steering the ship, because each one believes that he should be in charge, even though he has learned nothing of the craft nor can indicate who his teacher was nor when he had the time to learn. Some of them are even saying that it is not teachable, and that they are ready to cut down the man who says it can be taught.
They are always hanging all over the captain asking him and making a big deal of the fact that he should entrust the rudder to them. There are times when some of them do not persuade him, and some of them kill others or kick them off the ship, and once they have overcome the noble captain through a mandrake, or drugs, or something else and run the ship, using up its contents drinking, and partying, and sailing just as such sort of men might. In addition to this, they praise as a fit sailor, and call a captain and knowledgeable at shipcraft the man who is cunning at convincing or forcing the captain that they should be in charge. And they rebuke as useless anyone who is not like this.
Such men are unaware what a true helmsman is like, that he must be concerned about the time of year, the seasons, the sky, the stars, the wind and everything that is appropriate to the art, if he is going to be a leader of a ship in reality, how he might steer the ship even if some desire it or not, when they believe that it is not possible to obtain art or practice about how to do this, something like an art of ship-steering. When these types of conflicts are occurring on a ship, don’t you think the one who is a true helmsman would be called a star-gazer, a blabber, or useless to them by the sailors in the ships organized in this way?
“Our fated nature is identified by Empedocles as the force behind this remaking, “wrapping [us] in a tunic of strange flesh” and transferring souls to a new place. Homer has called this circular revolution and the return of rebirth by the name Kirke, a child of Helios, the one who unites every destruction with birth and destruction again, binding it endlessly.
The Island Aiaia is that place which revives the person who dies, a place where the souls first step when they are wandering and feel like strangers to themselves as they mourn and cannot figure out which direction is west nor where the “sun which brings life to people over the land / descends again into the earth.”
These souls long for their habits of pleasure and their life in the flesh and the way they lived with their flesh and they fall again into that mixture where birth swirls together and truly stirs into one the immortal and moral, the material of thought and experience, elements of heaven and earth. The souls are enchanted but also weakened by the pleasures that pull them to birth again. At that time, souls require a great amount of good luck and much wisdom to find some way to resist and depart from their worst characters and become bound to their most base parts or passions and take up a terrible and beastly life.”
“I don’t know and it does not seem right to labor over things we haven’t learned”
Οὐκ οἶδ’, οὐδ’ ἐπέοικεν ἃ μὴ μάθομες πονέεσθαι.
Bion fr. 8 [=Stobaeus 4.16.15]
“If my songs are good, then these few
Fate has granted as a safeguard for what I have done.
If they are not pleasing, why should I toil any longer?
If Kronos’ son or devious Fate had granted to us
Two lifetimes, so that we could dedicate
The first to happiness and pleasure and the second to work,
Then it would be right to work first and sample happiness later.
But since the gods have decreed that one time come
For human life and that this is brief and minor too,
How long, wretches, should we toil tirelessly at work.
How long will we throw our soul and hearts into
Profit and skill, longing always for more and greater wealth?
Truly, have we all forgotten that we are mortal?
Have we all forgotten our lifetime is brief?”
A sweet force overcomes
The heart in the dances of the cups.
And hope for Aphrodite courses through the thoughts
All mixed up with the gifts of Dionysus.
It raises people’s thoughts to the highest points:
And suddenly: a man seems to sack city walls
And to rule over all men as king.
His homes shine with gold and ivory,
And grain-bearing ships lead home the greatest wealth
From Egypt over the shining sea—
That’s how the mind of a drinker leaps…”
Sophokles says that “drinking is a pain-reliever” and other poems add “pleasant wine, fruit of the earth’ (Il. 3.246). And the king of the poets even has his Odysseus say “whoever fills himself with wine and food may fight all day long with a full heart…” etc.
This is why Simonides says that the origin of wine and music is the same. From drinking, as well, came the discovery of comedy and tragedy in Ikarion in Attica in the season of the grape-harvest [trugês], which is why comedy was first called trug-oidia.
“He gave mortals the pain-relieving vine.
But when there is no more wine, there is no Aphrodite
Nor any other pleasure left for human beings.”
That’s what Euripides says in the Bacchae (771). Astyadamas also says
“He also showed to mortals
The vine, wine-mother, and cure for pain.
If someone fills with wine endlessly, he becomes careless.
If he drinks only a bit, he becomes deeply reflective”.
And then Antiphanes says:
“I am not too drunk to think, but just enough that
I can’t pronounce letters clearly with my mouth.”
Students often complain about the lack of verisimilitude in the heroic diet–even though the Odyssey mentions that Odysseus’ companions fish and hunt birds before they kill the cattle in Thrinacia, students find something odd about a diet of meat, bread and wine.
Apparently ancient comic poets did too–and they were concerned about the reality of heroic sexual habits as well. Obviously, as the beginning of book 1 of the Iliad makes clear, eligible ladies were not in excess supply.
[Warning: this next passage is a little, well, explicit] Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.46
“Sarpedon makes it clear that they ate fish when he says that being captured is similar to hunting with a fishing net. In the comic charm, Eubolos also says jokingly:
Where dies Homer say that any of the Achaeans Ate fish? They only ever roast meat—he never has Anyone of them boil it at all! And not a one of them sees a single prostitute— They were stroking themselves for ten years! They knew a bitter expedition, those men who After taking a single city went back home With assholes much wider than the city they captured.
The heroes also didn’t allow freedom to the birds in the air, but they set snares and nets for thrushes and doves. They practices for bird hunting when they tied the dove to the mast of the ship and shot arrows at it, as is clear from the Funeral Games. But Homer leaves out their consumption of vegetables, fish and birds because of gluttony and because cooking is inappropriate, he judged it inferior to heroic and godly deeds.”
“Have you ever seen a pomegranate seed in drifts of snow?”
ἤδη τεθέασαι κόκκον ἐν χιόνι ῥόας;
Pindar, Pythian 1. 20
“Snowy Aetna, perennial nurse of bitter snow”
νιφόεσσ᾿ Αἴτνα, πάνετες χιόνος ὀξείας τιθήνα
Plutarch, Moralia 340e
“Nations covered in depths of snow”
καὶ βάθεσι χιόνων κατακεχωσμένα ἔθνη
Herodotus, Histories 4.31
“Above this land, snow always falls…
τὰ κατύπερθε ταύτης τῆς χώρης αἰεὶ νίφεται
Diodorus Siculus, 14.28
“Because of the mass of snow that was constantly falling, all their weapons were covered and their bodies froze in the chill in the air. Thanks to the extremity of their troubles, they were sleepless through the whole night”
“I stood on a high mountain and I saw one tall person and another short one. And I heard something like a thunder’s sound and I went closer to hear it. He addressed me and said: “I am you and you are me and wherever you are I am there; and I am implanted in all things. So you can gather me from wherever you want. And when you harvest me, you harvest yourself.”
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’!).