We Don’t Have Justice, But We Still have Hope

Theognis, Elegies 1135-1150

“Hope is the only noble god left among mortals:
The rest of have abandoned us to go to Olympos.
Trust, a great god, left; Prudence has left men.
The Graces, my friend, have surrendered the earth.

Oaths in a court of law can no longer be trusted;
And no one fears shame before the immortal gods
As the race of righteous men has disappeared.
People no longer recognize precedents or sacred duties.

But as long as someone lives and sees the light of the sun,
Let him foster Hope and act righteously before the gods.
Let him pray to the gods and, while burning shining thigh bones,
Sacrifice to Hope first and last.

And let each person always look out for the crooked word of unjust men:
Those men who do not fear the rage of the gods at all,
Who forever conspire in their thoughts against others’ property,
Men who make shameful agreements for future evil deeds.”

᾿Ελπὶς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι μόνη θεὸς ἐσθλὴ ἔνεστιν,
ἄλλοι δ’ Οὔλυμπόν<δ’> ἐκπρολιπόντες ἔβαν·
ὤιχετο μὲν Πίστις, μεγάλη θεός, ὤιχετο δ’ ἀνδρῶν
Σωφροσύνη, Χάριτές τ’, ὦ φίλε, γῆν ἔλιπον·
ὅρκοι δ’ οὐκέτι πιστοὶ ἐν ἀνθρώποισι δίκαιοι,
οὐδὲ θεοὺς οὐδεὶς ἅζεται ἀθανάτους.
εὐσεβέων δ’ ἀνδρῶν γένος ἔφθιτο, οὐδὲ θέμιστας
οὐκέτι γινώσκουσ’ οὐδὲ μὲν εὐσεβίας.
ἀλλ’ ὄφρα τις ζώει καὶ ὁρᾶι φῶς ἠελίοιο,
εὐσεβέων περὶ θεοὺς ᾿Ελπίδα προσμενέτω·
εὐχέσθω δὲ θεοῖσι, καὶ ἀγλαὰ μηρία καίων
᾿Ελπίδι τε πρώτηι καὶ πυμάτηι θυέτω.
φραζέσθω δ’ ἀδίκων ἀνδρῶν σκολιὸν λόγον αἰεί,
οἳ θεῶν ἀθανάτων οὐδὲν ὀπιζόμενοι
αἰὲν ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κτεάνοισ’ ἐπέχουσι νόημα,
αἰσχρὰ κακοῖσ’ ἔργοις σύμβολα θηκάμενοι.

Recueil de prose et de vers concernant Alexandre, Annibal et Scipion, Hector et Achille, Dagobert, Clovis II et Charles VIII, Philippe le Beau, roi d'Espagne, les comtes de Dammartin.


Testing a Goddess, Fooling the Scholia

After Athena reveals herself to Odysseus when he has arrived in Ithaka, he takes a moment to imply that she wasn’t very helpful during a period of his life. Oh, and he questions whether or not she’s just messing with him about the whole Ithaka thing. A scholiast takes issue with the authenticity of the passage. Modern editions retain it.

Odyssey, 13.316-328

“But after we sacked Priam’s high city
And went in our ships, a god scattered the Achaians,
And I no longer saw you, daughter of Zeus, I did not notice
You coming aboard my ship so you might ward some pain from me.
But always as I wandered I kept an expectant heart
That the gods would release me from evil—
Until that day when in the rich land of the Phaeacian people
You encouraged me with words and led me into the city yourself.
Now I beg you by your father—for I do not think
I have come to beautiful Ithaca, but I have turned up
In some other land. I think you are mocking me
When you say this so you might deceive my mind.”

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Πριάμοιο πόλιν διεπέρσαμεν αἰπήν,
βῆμεν δ’ ἐν νήεσσι, θεὸς δ’ ἐκέδασσεν ᾿Αχαιούς,
οὔ σ’ ἔτ’ ἔπειτα ἴδον, κούρη Διός, οὐδ’ ἐνόησα
νηὸς ἐμῆς ἐπιβᾶσαν, ὅπως τί μοι ἄλγος ἀλάλκοις.
ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἔχων δεδαϊγμένον ἦτορ
ἠλώμην, εἷός με θεοὶ κακότητος ἔλυσαν·
πρίν γ’ ὅτε Φαιήκων ἀνδρῶν ἐν πίονι δήμῳ
θάρσυνάς τ’ ἐπέεσσι καὶ ἐς πόλιν ἤγαγες αὐτή.
νῦν δέ σε πρὸς πατρὸς γουνάζομαι· —οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
ἥκειν εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην εὐδείελον, ἀλλά τιν’ ἄλλην
γαῖαν ἀναστρέφομαι· σὲ δὲ κερτομέουσαν ὀΐω
ταῦτ’ ἀγορευέμεναι, ἵν’ ἐμὰς φρένας ἠπεροπεύῃς· —
εἰπέ μοι εἰ ἐτεόν γε φίλην ἐς πατρίδ’ ἱκάνω.”

Schol. HQ ad Od. 13. 320-323

“These lines are inauthentic. First, instead of “my thoughts” it has “his thoughts”, which is third person and the poet always pays attention to the difference in these things. The second problem is that [Odysseus] attributes his rescue to the gods when Athena is present. The third and fourth are because he did not know that the goddess appeared to him among the Phaeacians and that she has not encouraged him, but rather the opposite.”

ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἔχων] νοθεύονται δ′ στίχοι. ὁ μὲν πρῶτος ὅτι ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐμῇσιν ἔχει τὸ ᾗσιν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τρίτου προσώπου, τηροῦντος ἀεὶ τοῦ ποιητοῦ τὴν ἐν τούτοις διαφοράν· ὁ δεύτερος ὅτι ᾿Αθηνᾶς παρούσης θεοῖς ἀνατίθησι τὴν σωτηρίαν· ὁ δὲ τρίτος καὶ τέταρτος ὅτι οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν ὡς ἡ φανεῖσα αὐτῷ παρὰ Φαίαξι θεὰ ἦν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐθάρσυνεν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον

A geometric oinochoe in Munich once alleged to show Odysseus

Blinding, Boasting and Justice: The Scholia on Odysseus and Poseidon

Od. 9.523-525

“I wish I could separate you from your soul
And your life and send you down to Hades’ home,
Then not even the earth-shaker would heal your eye”

‘αἲ γὰρ δὴ ψυχῆς τε καὶ αἰῶνός σε δυναίμην
εὖνιν ποιήσας πέμψαι δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἴσω,
ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων.’

Image result for ancient greek cyclops

Schol. ad Od. 9.525

he would not heal your eye”: [this is because] he does not want to, not because he is not capable. For Poseidon did not want to help his own son because he believed that it is right for him to be paid back for his wickedness. So the thought is ‘Poseidon will not heal you because you are evil’

Why did Odysseus so thoughtlessly demean Poseidon in saying “not even the earth-shaker will heal your eye?” Is it because he knowns that Poseidon is not a healer, but Apollo is? Or is it because he will not help him because of his wickedness?”

Why did Odysseus so thoughtlessly demean Poseidon when he said to the Kyklôps “not even the earth-shaker will heal your eye”? Antisthenes says that it is because he knows that Poseidon is not a doctor, but Apollo is; Aristotle says that it is not because he is not capable but because he is not willing, due to the Kyklôps’ wickedness.

Then why was Poseidon angry? Surely he is not upset because of the statement but because of the blinding, as the epic says “He was angry over the Kyklôps, because he had put out his eye” (Od. 1.69) even though he was completely wretched and had eaten Odysseus’ companions? Aristotle solves this problem in saying that [in terms of behavior] [responsibilities] are not the same for a free man toward a slave or for a slave toward a free man, nor again for those near to the gods toward those far away. Therefore, the Kyklôps deserved a penalty, but he didn’t need to be chastised by Odysseus, but by Poseidon, if he had any thought to help his son as he was harmed—it was the companions who started the wrongdoing.”

οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται] μὴ βουλόμενος, οὐ γὰρ μὴ δυνάμενος. οὐκ ἐβούλετο δὲ Ποσειδῶν τὸν ἴδιον υἱὸν θεραπεῦσαι, δίκαιον ἡγούμενος τιμωρεῖσθαι αὐτὸν τῆς πονηρίας. ὁ δὲ νοῦς, οὐδὲ Ποσειδῶν ἰάσεταί σε κακὸν ἐόντα. B.Q.

διὰ τί ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς οὕτως ἀνοήτως εἰς τὸν Ποσειδῶνα ὠλιγώρησεν εἰπὼν “ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων;” (525.) ἢ διὰ τὸ γινώσκειν ὡς οὐκ ἦν ἰατρὸς ὁ Ποσειδῶν, ἀλλ’ ὁ ᾿Απόλλων, ἢ ὅτι οὐ θεραπεύσει αὐτὰ διὰ τὴν πονηρίαν αὐτοῦ. M.

διὰ τί ᾿Οδυσσεὺς πρὸς τὸν Κύκλωπα οὕτως ἀνοήτως εἰς τὸν Ποσειδῶνα ὠλιγώρησεν τῷ λόγῳ εἰπὼν “ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων” (525.).

᾿Αντισθένης μέν φησι διὰ τὸ εἰδέναι ὅτι οὐκ ἦν ἰατρὸς ὁ Ποσειδῶν, ἀλλ’ ὁ᾿Απόλλων, ᾿Αριστοτέλης δὲ οὐχ ὅτι οὐ δυνήσεται, ἀλλ’ ὅτι οὐ βουληθήσεται διὰ τὴν πονηρίαν τοῦ Κύκλωπος. H.Q.T.

διὰ τί οὖν ὁ Ποσειδῶν ὠργίσθη, καίτοι μὴ χαλεπαίνων διὰ τὸ ἀπόφθεγμα, ἀλλὰ διὰ τὴν τύφλωσιν, “Κύκλωπος γὰρ κεχόλωται, ὃν ὀφθαλμοῦ ἀλάωσε” (Od. α, 69.), καὶ παμπονήρου ὄντος καὶ τοὺς ἑταίρους κατεσθίοντος; λύων δὲ ὁ ᾿Αριστοτέλης φησὶ μὴ ταυτὸν εἶναι ἐλευθέρῳ πρὸς δοῦλον καὶ δούλῳ πρὸς ἐλεύθερον, οὐδὲ τοῖς ἐγγὺς τῶν θεῶν οὖσι πρὸς τοὺς ἄπωθεν. ὁ δὲ Κύκλωψ ἦν μὲν ζημίας ἄξιος, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ᾿Οδυσσεῖ κολαστέος, ἀλλὰ τῷ Ποσειδῶνι, εἰ πανταχοῦ νόμιμον τῷ διαφθειρομένῳ βοηθεῖν, τῷ υἱῷ, καὶ ἦρχον ἀδικίας οἱ ἑταῖροι. H.M.T.

Archilochus, Fr. 15: I don’t need Money, Gods or Politics

Archilochus declares his lack of concern for most things in one fragment:


“Wealthy Gyges’ stuff doesn’t matter to me.
Jealousy never holds me and I don’t wonder
at the works of the gods. I don’t seek some great tyranny.
These things are far from my eyes.”


οὔ μοι τὰ Γύγεω τοῦ πολυχρύσου μέλει,
οὐδ’ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος, οὐδ’ ἀγαίομαι
θεῶν ἔργα, μεγάλης δ’ οὐκ ἐρέω τυραννίδος·
ἀπόπροθεν γάρ ἐστιν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐμῶν.


But what is it that he wants?  Maybe he just wants to be left alone:


Archilochus, Fragment 14

“No one ever got much pleasure from listening to the public complain”


Αἰσιμίδη, δήμου μὲν ἐπίρρησιν μελεδαίνων
οὐδεὶς ἂν μάλα πόλλ’ ἱμερόεντα πάθοι.



Or maybe he just doesn’t want to be one of the monkeys who lose out to the fox:


Archilochus, fab 81 (Fox and the Monkey)

“After he danced at a gathering of unreasoning animals and earned a reputation, a monkey was elected their king.”


ἐν συνόδῳ τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων πίθηκος ὀρκησάμενος καὶ εὐδοκιμήσας βασιλεὺς ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη

Solon and Critias on Fortune, Fate and Good Sense

Solon, (fr. 11 1-4) seems to echo Zeus’ comments from the Odyssey (that men are always blaming the gods).

“If you have suffered grief through your own wickedness
Don’t blame the gods for this fate.”

εἰ δὲ πεπόνθατε λυγρὰ δι’ ὑμετέρην κακότητα,
μὴ θεοῖσιν τούτων μοῖραν ἐπαμφέρετε·

The later Presocratic Critias (fr. 10.3) is more explicit in his play Pirithous:

“Fortune is a friend to men of good sense.”

ὡς τοῖσιν εὖ φρονοῦσι συμμαχεῖ τύχη

This is no Terminator ethic (“no fate but what we make”) but it is a long way off from oracular predestination!

Bellerophon from Fragments to Falling to the Ground

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.


Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

This fragment does not tell a significant part of this heroic narrative witnessed elsewhere by Hesiod, Bellerophon’s magical birth. This is recounted in the fragmentary Catalogue of Women (Hes. Fr. 43a 81-91).

“She [Eurynomê, daughter of Nisus] after having sex in Poseidon’s embrace
Gave birth to Glaukos blameless Bellerophon
Who excelled all men on the boundless earth in virtue.
His father […] gave him the horse Pegasos,
The swiftest one […]
Everywhere […]
With him he [overcame the] fire [of the Khimaira]
And he married the child […]
Of the revered king […]
The master […]
She gave birth to […]”

ἣ δὲ Ποσε[ιδάωνος ἐν] ἀγκοίνηισι μιγεῖ[σα
Γλαύκωι ἐν̣[….. …]ἀμύμονα Βελλε[ροφόντην,
ἔξοχον ἀνθ̣[ρώπων ἀρ]ε̣τῆι ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γ[αῖαν.
τῶι δὲ καὶ η[…… πα]τὴρ πόρε Πήγασο[ν ἵππον
ὠκύτατον [….. ….. ….]μ̣ινεπτε[
πάντηι ἀν[….. ….. ….]ε̣.τα…[
σὺν τῶι πῦρ̣ [πνείουσαν Χίμαιραν.
γῆμε δὲ πα̣[ῖδα φίλην μεγαλήτορος ᾿Ιοβάταο
αἰδοίου βασ[ιλῆος
κοίρανος α[
ἣ τέ[κε

In this fragment we find the core elements of his story (Pegasos and the killing of the Khimaira) combined with two typical elements of the heroic narrative (divine parent, winning of princess) but without the elaborations of the Homeric narrative where Bellerophon is an exile and eventually falls out of divine favor.

Bellerophon’s fall from grace becomes a major aspect of his narrative presentation in the fifth century. The Epinician poet Pindar from Thebes presents him as an example to be avoided:

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“In seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end,
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, he is too brief himself to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos threw his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
for injustice however sweet.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

This passage assumes some basic knowledge on the part of its audience, for instance: the connection between Bellerophon and Pegasos and how the former was in a position to fall from the latter. It is clear from the use of the figure as a negative example that the story had both broad currency and a typical understanding. A Scholiast in writing on Pindar’s 13th Olympian ode elaborates on the details of the fall (Schol. In Pindar Ol. 13.130c)

“For it is reported that when he planned to fly up on Pegasos and put himself in danger on high, he fell when Pegasos was bitten by a fly according to Zeus’ plan and he was crippled. So Homer says that he wandered crippled on the Alêion plain (Il. 6.201).

λέγεται γὰρ ὅτι ἀναπτῆναι βουληθεὶς τῷ Πηγάσῳ, κούφως παρακινδυνεύσας, κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ Διὸς οἰστρωθέντος τοῦ Πηγάσου ἐκπίπτει καὶ χωλοῦται•
καὶ ἐπλανᾶτο κατὰ τὸ ᾿Αλήιον χωλός. καὶ ῞Ομηρός φησιν (Ζ 201).

The story of Bellerophon’s exile, told in Homer, is clarified or re-envisioned with the story of his downfall as articulated as a moral in Pindar. In Athenian Tragedy, Bellerophon became a popular figure (we have fragmentary plays by Sophocles and Euripides). Bellerophon’s eventual vengeance upon Sthenboia (an alternative for Anteia, Proitios’ wife) is the man story in Euripides’ play of that name that starts with a rumination on the trouble women cause for men:

Euripides, Stheneboia Fr. 661-662

“There is no man who is lucky in all things.
Either a man born noble has no livelihood
Or the baseborn ploughs fertile fields.
And many who boast of their wealth or birth
Are shamed by a foolish woman in their homes.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις πάντ’ ἀνὴρ εὐδαιμονεῖ•
ἢ γὰρ πεφυκὼς ἐσθλὸς οὐκ ἔχει βίον,
ἢ δυσγενὴς ὢν πλουσίαν ἀροῖ πλάκα.
πολλοὺς δὲ πλούτῳ καὶ γένει γαυρουμένους
γυνὴ κατῄσχυν’ ἐν δόμοισι νηπία.

Just as Pindar uses Bellerophon as a vehicle to deliver a moralizing message, so too Euripides uses the hero to voice general concerns. In a second play on Bellerophon, Euripides returns to the moral content of Pindar’s complaint but, rather than simply portraying an instance of hubris, he offers a hero challenging the nature of divinity.

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις•
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν.
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

Lucian, The Assembly of the Gods, 5: Too Many Laughable, Strange Deities!

“Should we be surprised if men dismiss us when they see such mockable and annoying gods?”



Εἶτα θαυμάζομεν εἰ καταφρονοῦσιν ἡμῶν οἱ ἄνθρωποι ὁρῶντες οὕτω γελοίους θεοὺς καὶ τεραστίους;

In this dialogue, Lucian imagine the gods assembling to debate the strange and countless gods worshipped throughout the world and the concomitant loss of Olympian dignity and human reverence. The gods vote to clean out the divine ranks.