On Rivers and Poets: Quintilian And Callimachus

Quintilian, An Orator’s Education 10.1.47

“Hence, as Aratus believes that we must begin with Zeus, we think that it is right to begin with Homer. For, truly, just as what he says about the ocean, which he says is the source and the force of every river and stream, so too does Homer furnish the model and origin for every type of eloquence. No one has exceeded him for sublimity in the large themes or quiet sense in the personal ones. At the same time he is ebullient and terse, joyful and severe, a source of wonder for his expansions and his brevity—preeminent by far for both his poetic and rhetorical mastery.”

Igitur, ut Aratus ab Iove incipiendum putat, ita nos rite coepturi ab Homero videmur. Hic enim, quem ad modum ex Oceano dicit ipse 〈omnium〉 amnium fontiumque cursus initium capere, omnibus eloquentiae partibus exemplum et ortum dedit. Hunc nemo in magnis rebus sublimitate, in parvis proprietate superaverit. Idem laetus ac pressus, iucundus et gravis, tum copia tum brevitate mirabilis, nec poetica modo sed oratoria virtute eminentissimus.

Callimachus, Hymn to Apollo 2.108-112

“Envy spoke surreptitiously into Apollo’s ears:
“I don’t love the singer who doesn’t sing as wide as the sea”
Apollo then kicked Envy with his foot and said this:
“The flowing of the Assyrian river is huge, but it carries a great deal
Of trash from the earth and hauls garbage with its water.
The bees do not carry water from just anywhere to Demeter
But only that which is clean and unmixed and flows down
From a sacred fountain, a little stream from a high peak.”

ὁ Φθόνος ᾿Απόλλωνος ἐπ’ οὔατα λάθριος εἶπεν·
‘οὐκ ἄγαμαι τὸν ἀοιδὸν ὃς οὐδ’ ὅσα πόντος ἀείδει.’
τὸν Φθόνον ὡπόλλων ποδί τ’ ἤλασεν ὧδέ τ’ ἔειπεν·
‘᾿Ασσυρίου ποταμοῖο μέγας ῥόος, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλά
λύματα γῆς καὶ πολλὸν ἐφ’ ὕδατι συρφετὸν ἕλκει.
Δηοῖ δ’ οὐκ ἀπὸ παντὸς ὕδωρ φορέουσι μέλισσαι,
ἀλλ’ ἥτις καθαρή τε καὶ ἀχράαντος ἀνέρπει
πίδακος ἐξ ἱερῆς ὀλίγη λιβὰς ἄκρον ἄωτον.’

Image result for Okeanos ancient Greek

Keep Your War Away from My Wine: Anacreonta

From the fragmentary Anacreonta (imitations of Anacreon once thought to be real), we have another mention of Thebes and Troy together:

Anacreonta, fr. 26

“You narrate the events of Thebes;
he tells Trojan tales;
but I tell my conquests.
No horse has destroyed me,
nor foot soldier, nor ships,
nor will any other new army
hurl me from my eyes.”

Σὺ μὲν λέγεις τὰ Θήβης,
ὃ δ’ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς,
ἐγὼ δ’ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις.
οὐχ ἵππος ὤλεσέν με,
οὐ πεζός, οὐχὶ νῆες,
στρατὸς δὲ καινὸς ἄλλος
ἀπ’ ὀμμάτων με βάλλων.

This complaint is a generic and contextual one: the narrator doesn’t want a mixing of the themes of war with his own, which are love, drinking and the feast. Another fragment of Anacreon makes this clear:

Anacreon fr. 2

“I don’t love the man who while drinking next to a full cup
Talks about conflicts and lamentable war.
But whoever mixes the shining gifts of Aphrodite and the Muses
Let him keep in mind loving, good cheer.”

οὐ φιλέω, ὃς κρητῆρι παρὰ πλέωι οἰνοποτάζων
νείκεα καὶ πόλεμον δακρυόεντα λέγει,
ἀλλ’ ὅστις Μουσέων τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρ’ ᾿Αφροδίτης
συμμίσγων ἐρατῆς μνήσκεται εὐφροσύνης.

Such prescriptions against certain content in sympotic entertainment can be serious too. Xenophanes makes similar points, but with a less playful tone:

Krater.jpg
This is a krater for mixing wine. it has a war scene on it.

Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24

“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence.
It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants
nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears,
Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”

χρὴ δὲ πρῶτον μὲν θεὸν ὑμνεῖν εὔφρονας ἄνδρας
εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις,
σπείσαντάς τε καὶ εὐξαμένους τὰ δίκαια δύνασθαι
πρήσσειν• ταῦτα γὰρ ὦν ἐστι προχειρότερον,
οὐχ ὕβρεις• πίνειν δ’ ὁπόσον κεν ἔχων ἀφίκοιο
οἴκαδ’ ἄνευ προπόλου μὴ πάνυ γηραλέος.
ἀνδρῶν δ’ αἰνεῖν τοῦτον ὃς ἐσθλὰ πιὼν ἀναφαίνει,
ὡς ἦι μνημοσύνη καὶ τόνος ἀμφ’ ἀρετῆς,
οὔ τι μάχας διέπειν Τιτήνων οὐδὲ Γιγάντων
οὐδὲ Κενταύρων, πλάσμα τῶν προτέρων,
ἢ στάσιας σφεδανάς• τοῖς οὐδὲν χρηστὸν ἔνεστιν•
θεῶν προμηθείην αἰὲν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν.

 

Don’t Talk about Centaurs! Xenophanes on Proper Songs at a Symposium

 

Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24

“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence.
It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants
nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears,
Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”

χρὴ δὲ πρῶτον μὲν θεὸν ὑμνεῖν εὔφρονας ἄνδρας
εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις,
σπείσαντάς τε καὶ εὐξαμένους τὰ δίκαια δύνασθαι
πρήσσειν• ταῦτα γὰρ ὦν ἐστι προχειρότερον,
οὐχ ὕβρεις• πίνειν δ’ ὁπόσον κεν ἔχων ἀφίκοιο
οἴκαδ’ ἄνευ προπόλου μὴ πάνυ γηραλέος.
ἀνδρῶν δ’ αἰνεῖν τοῦτον ὃς ἐσθλὰ πιὼν ἀναφαίνει,
ὡς ἦι μνημοσύνη καὶ τόνος ἀμφ’ ἀρετῆς,
οὔ τι μάχας διέπειν Τιτήνων οὐδὲ Γιγάντων
οὐδὲ Κενταύρων, πλάσμα τῶν προτέρων,
ἢ στάσιας σφεδανάς• τοῖς οὐδὲν χρηστὸν ἔνεστιν•
θεῶν προμηθείην αἰὲν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν.

 

Aristotle Poetics, 1451b1-6: Poetry is Better than History. And More Philosophical.

“It is clear from what we’ve said that the work of the poet doesn’t concern relaying what has happened but instead consists in communicating what might happen and what is possible according to likelihood or necessity. Accordingly, the historian and the poet differ from one another not because one composes in meter and one doesn’t—for if the work of Herodotus were set in verse it would be no less some kind of History with meter than without it. The poet and historian differ in this: one communicates events that have actually happened and the other relays those kind of events that might happen. Because of this, poetry is more philosophical and serious than history.”

Φανερὸν δὲ ἐκ τῶν εἰρημένων καὶ ὅτι οὐ τὸ τὰ γενόμενα λέγειν, τοῦτο ποιητοῦ ἔργον ἐστίν, ἀλλ’ οἷα ἂν γένοιτο καὶ τὰ δυνατὰ κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς ἢ τὸ ἀναγκαῖον. ὁ γὰρ ἱστορικὸς καὶ ὁ ποιητὴς οὐ τῷ ἢ ἔμμετρα λέγειν ἢ ἄμετρα διαφέρουσιν (εἴη γὰρ ἂν τὰ ῾Ηροδότου εἰς μέτρα τεθῆναι καὶ οὐδὲν ἧττον ἂν εἴη ἱστορία τις μετὰ μέτρου ἢ ἄνευ μέτρων)• ἀλλὰ τούτῳ διαφέρει, τῷ τὸν μὲν τὰ γενόμενα λέγειν, τὸν δὲ οἷα ἂν γένοιτο. διὸ καὶ φιλοσοφώτερον καὶ σπουδαιότερον ποίησις ἱστορίας ἐστίν•

Yes, Aristotle was engaged in one of the earliest disciplinary pissing contests. No one caused so much grief until Callimachus complained about that dirty river.

(That’s all hyperbole. Callimachus’ dirty river? The Hellenistic poet and librarian believed that lyric was superior to epic and that epic could no longer be written. Cue Apollonius of Rhodes’ exile and writing of the Argonautica).

For those who don’t know, here’s the (somewhat unclear) passage in question from Callimachus, Hymn to Apollo 105-112

And Envy deviously whispers to Apollo’s ears:
“I do not take pleasure in the singer who sings as wide as the sea.”
And Apollo drives Envy back with his foot as he says:
“Great is the flow of the Assyrian river, but it darkens itself
Dragging so much filth and debris from the land in its water.
It isn’t as pleasing when bees draw water from everyplace
As when a small clean and unpolluted drink flows
From a sacred stream onto a petal’s tender tip.”

ὁ Φθόνος ᾿Απόλλωνος ἐπ’ οὔατα λάθριος εἶπεν•
‘οὐκ ἄγαμαι τὸν ἀοιδὸν ὃς οὐδ’ ὅσα πόντος ἀείδει.’
τὸν Φθόνον ὡπόλλων ποδί τ’ ἤλασεν ὧδέ τ’ ἔειπεν•
‘᾿Ασσυρίου ποταμοῖο μέγας ῥόος, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλά
λύματα γῆς καὶ πολλὸν ἐφ’ ὕδατι συρφετὸν ἕλκει.
Δηοῖ δ’ οὐκ ἀπὸ παντὸς ὕδωρ φορέουσι μέλισσαι,
ἀλλ’ ἥτις καθαρή τε καὶ ἀχράαντος ἀνέρπει
πίδακος ἐξ ἱερῆς ὀλίγη λιβὰς ἄκρον ἄωτον.’