Justice and Hurting People

He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

from a NY Times article on the impact of the US government shutdown.

Homer, Od. 6.181-185

“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν, ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν· οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ’ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή· πόλλ’ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ’ εὐμενέτῃσι· μάλιστα δέ τ’ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.

Plato, Republic, 1. 333d

“So, [Simonides] means that justice is helping your friends and hurting your enemies?”

Τὸ τοὺς φίλους ἄρα εὖ ποιεῖν καὶ τοὺς ἐχθροὺς κακῶς δικαιοσύνην λέγει;

Plato, Republic, 4. 433b

“And, really, justice is each person taking care of his own business and not meddling in too many things. We have heard this from many others and said it ourselves many times”

“Yes, we have said this.”

Then, I said, “so, then, justice runs the risk in some way of just being taking care of your own business?”

Καὶ μὴν ὅτι γε τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν καὶ μὴ πολυπραγμονεῖν δικαιοσύνη ἐστί, καὶ τοῦτο ἄλλων τε πολλῶν ἀκηκόαμεν καὶ αὐτοὶ πολλάκις εἰρήκαμεν. Εἰρήκαμεν γάρ. Τοῦτο τοίνυν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὦ φίλε, κινδυνεύει τρόπον τινὰ γιγνόμενον ἡ δικαιοσύνη εἶναι, τὸ τὰ αὑτοῦ πράττειν.

Plato, Gorgias 473a5

“Committing harm is worse than suffering it”

τὸ ἀδικεῖν τοῦ ἀδικεῖσθαι κάκιον εἶναι

Thucydides, 3.82.7-8

“To exact vengeance from someone was thought to be more important than not suffering at all. If oaths were ever taken in turn, were strong because each person was at a loss and had no power at all. But as soon as one of them had the advantage, he attached if he saw anyone unguarded: it was sweeter to take vengeance despite a pledge than to do so openly. It was thought generally to be safe and to have won a prize for intelligence, prevailing by deceit. Many wicked people become famous for being clever than good people do for being ingenuous. Men are ashamed by the latter but delight in the former.

To blame for all of these things the love of power and a love of honor. From both, they fell into a voluntary love of conflict. For those who were in charge of the state each claimed identities for themselves, some the equal rights of the masses, the others the wisdom of the aristocrats; while guarding the common goods in word, they were making them the contest’s prize, competing with one another to be pre-eminent, they dared the most terrible things—and they surpassed them with greater acts of vengeance too. They did not regard either justice or advantage for the city…”

ἀντιτιμωρήσασθαί τέ τινα περὶ πλείονος ἦν ἢ αὐτὸν μὴ προπαθεῖν. καὶ ὅρκοι εἴ που ἄρα γένοιντο ξυναλλαγῆς, ἐν τῷ αὐτίκα πρὸς τὸ ἄπορον ἑκατέρῳ διδόμενοι ἴσχυον οὐκ ἐχόντων ἄλλοθεν δύναμιν· ἐν δὲ τῷ παρατυχόντι ὁ φθάσας θαρσῆσαι, εἰ ἴδοι ἄφαρκτον, ἥδιον διὰ τὴν πίστιν ἐτιμωρεῖτο ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ προφανοῦς, καὶ τό τε ἀσφαλὲς ἐλογίζετο καὶ ὅτι ἀπάτῃ περιγενόμενος ξυνέσεως ἀγώνισμα προσελάμβανεν. ῥᾷον δ’ οἱ πολλοὶ κακοῦργοι ὄντες δεξιοὶ κέκληνται ἢ ἀμαθεῖς ἀγαθοί, καὶ τῷ μὲν αἰσχύνονται, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ἀγάλλονται. πάντων δ’ αὐτῶν αἴτιον ἀρχὴ ἡ διὰ πλεονεξίαν καὶ φιλοτιμίαν· ἐκ δ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐς τὸ φιλονικεῖν καθισταμένων τὸ πρόθυμον. οἱ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι προστάντες μετὰ ὀνόματος ἑκάτεροι εὐπρεποῦς, πλήθους τε ἰσονομίας πολιτικῆς καὶ ἀριστοκρατίας σώφρονος προτιμήσει, τὰ μὲν κοινὰ λόγῳ θεραπεύοντες ἆθλα ἐποιοῦντο, παντὶ δὲ τρόπῳ ἀγωνιζόμενοι ἀλλήλων περιγίγνεσθαι ἐτόλμησάν τε τὰ δεινότατα ἐπεξῇσάν τε τὰς τιμωρίας ἔτι μείζους…

justice

Weekend Plans with Alcaeus

Alcaeus, Fr. 38A (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 1 ii 8–20 + 2166(b)1)

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.

For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.

As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”

πῶνε [καὶ μέθυ᾿ ὦ] Μελάνιππ᾿ ἄμ᾿ ἔμοι· τί [φαῖς †
ὄταμε[. . . .]διννάεντ᾿ † Ἀχέροντα μέγ[αν πόρον
ζάβαι[ς ἀ]ελίω κόθαρον φάος [ἄψερον
ὄψεσθ᾿; ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ μεγάλων ἐπ[ιβάλλεο·
καὶ γὰρ Σίσυφος Αἰολίδαις βασίλευς [ἔφα
ἄνδρων πλεῖστα νοησάμενος [θανάτω κρέτην·
ἀλλὰ καὶ πολύιδρις ἔων ὐπὰ κᾶρι [δὶς
δ̣ιννάεντ᾿ Ἀχέροντ᾿ ἐπέραισε, μ[έμηδε δ᾿ ὦν
αὔτῳ μόχθον ἔχην Κρονίδαις βα [σίλευς κάτω
ελαίνας χθόνος· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ τά[δ᾿ ἐπέλπεο·
θᾶς] τ᾿ ἀβάσομεν αἴ ποτα κἄλλοτα ν [ῦν χρέων
φέρ]ην ὄττινα τῶνδε πάθην τά[χα δῷ θέος.

Image result for medieval manuscript acheron
Dante Being rowed across Acheron, 5th c, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 6r. B.L.

Some of us can’t say this any more…

Asylum: Greek and Latin Word, Sacred Right

Appian, Roman History, 9.8

“…By the shared law of all humans, according to which even you accept those who are refugees from other places.”

κοινῷ γε πάντων ἀνθρώπων νόμῳ, καθὰ καὶ ὑμεῖς τοὺς ἑτέρωθεν φεύγοντας ὑποδέχεσθε.

asulon

Aeschylus, Suppliants 605-622

It seemed best to the Argives and it was so unanimous
that I felt young again in my old heart
for the air was thick with the right hands
of the whole people as they approved this plan:
that we strangers should have the right to settle
here freely, safe from arrest or attack from mortals,
that no one domestic or foreign might drive us away.
And if force is used against us,
that any citizen who does not help us
may lose his rights in exile from this country.

The leader of the Pelasgians persuaded the people
when he spoke about us, warning about how the rage
of Zeus the suppliant god might fall in future days
on the city, promising a double curse
on citizen and foreigner alike, emerging for the city
to be an insatiable parent of pain.
When they heard this, the Argive public voted
without the official call to approve the asylum.”

ἔδοξεν Ἀργείοισιν, οὐ διχορρόπως,
ἀλλ᾿ ὥστ᾿ ἀνηβῆσαί με γηραιᾷ φρενί—πανδημίᾳ
γὰρ χερσὶ δεξιωνύμοις
ἔφριξεν αἰθὴρ τόνδε κραινόντων λόγον—ἡμᾶς
μετοικεῖν τῆσδε γῆς ἐλευθέρους
κἀρρυσιάστους ξύν τ᾿ ἀσυλίᾳ βροτῶν,
καὶ μήτ᾿ ἐνοίκων μήτ᾿ ἐπηλύδων τινὰ
ἄγειν· ἐὰν δὲ προστιθῇ τὸ κάρτερον,
τὸν μὴ βοηθήσαντα τῶνδε γαμόρων
ἄτιμον εἶναι ξὺν φυγῇ δημηλάτῳ.
τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔπειθε ῥῆσιν ἀμφ᾿ ἡμῶν λέγων
ἄναξ Πελασγῶν, Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότον.

Euripides, Medea 727-728

“If you can make it to my home on your own,
You may stay there safely [in asylum]; I will surrender you to no one.”

αὐτὴ δ᾿ ἐάνπερ εἰς ἐμοὺς ἔλθῃς δόμους,
μενεῖς ἄσυλος κοὔ σε μὴ μεθῶ τινι.

From Lewis and Short: A Latin Dictionary

ăsȳlum , i, n., = ἄσυλον,

I.a place of refugea sanctuaryan asylum: “servusqui in illud asylum confugisset,” Cic. Verr. 2, 1, 33: “Romulus asylum aperit,” Liv. 1, 8: “lucum asylum referre,” Verg. A. 8, 342: “Junonis asylum,” id. ib. 2, 761: “asyla statuere,” Tac. A. 3, 60: “lucus asyli,” id. H. 3, 71Gell. 6, 2 fin.: de asylo procedere, * Vulg. 2 Macc. 4, 34 al.

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 32.13

“Here, the convoy fleeing from their own homes met an armed force which was being taken for the food-gathering there to be safer; the disorganized and unarmed crowd which was mixed as well with noncombatants was murdered by armed men.”

hoc sedibus suis extorre agmen in praesidium incidit quod ad Thaumacos quo tutior frumentatio esset ducebatur: incondita inermisque multitudo, mixta et imbelli turba, ab armatis caesa est

flight
From The Walters Museum MS W 188

“A Ball Game With Body Parts”: The Death of Pentheus

Euripides, Bacchae 1125-1136

“[Agave] grabbed his left hand in her arms
As she tread onto the ribs of that unlucky man
And then ripped his arm from his shoulder, not with her own strength
But the power which the god placed in her hands.
Ino was working through his other side,
Breaking apart his flesh, and Autonoê and the whole mob
Of the Bacchae was attacking—there was just a single cry everywhere.
He was moaning out as much of the breath he happened to have,
And they were exulting. One woman was holding an arm;
Another had a foot still in its shoes; his sides were stripped
Nude, with flesh gone. Every woman’s hands was bloodied
As they played a ball game with Pentheus’ body’s parts.”

λαβοῦσα δ’ ὠλέναισ’ ἀριστερὰν χέρα,
πλευροῖσιν ἀντιβᾶσα τοῦ δυσδαίμονος
ἀπεσπάραξεν ὦμον, οὐχ ὑπὸ σθένους
ἀλλ’ ὁ θεὸς εὐμάρειαν ἐπεδίδου χεροῖν.
᾿Ινὼ δὲ τἀπὶ θάτερ’ ἐξηργάζετο
ῥηγνῦσα σάρκας, Αὐτονόη τ’ ὄχλος τε πᾶς
ἐπεῖχε βακχῶν· ἦν δὲ πᾶσ’ ὁμοῦ βοή,
ὁ μὲν στενάζων ὅσον ἐτύγχαν’ ἐμπνέων,
αἱ δ’ ὠλόλυζον. ἔφερε δ’ ἡ μὲν ὠλένην,
ἡ δ’ ἴχνος αὐταῖς ἀρβύλαις, γυμνοῦντο δὲ
πλευραὶ σπαραγμοῖς, πᾶσα δ’ ἡιματωμένη
χεῖρας διεσφαίριζε σάρκα Πενθέως.

Image result for agave pentheus vase
From here
Image result for agave pentheus vase
Death Pentheus Louvre G445

Riddles and Drinking Games

Athenaeus Deipn 10 457 c-d

“Also in the first book of On Proverbs, he writes in this way: “an examination of riddles is not foreign to philosophy and the ancients made a display of their education through them. For during their drinking they used to toss riddles around not as people do now when they question one another which sexual position is the best or which or what kind of fish is tastiest or in season or which is best for eating after Arcturus rises or the pleiades or the dog star. And then as a prize they give those who answer kisses worthy of condemnation by anyone with good sense; and as a punishment to those who are defeated, they make them drink unmixed wine, a thing which is more delightful for them to drink than the cup of Health.”

κἀν τῷ πρώτῳ δὲ Περὶ Παροιμιῶν γράφει οὕτως· τῶν γρίφων ἡ ζήτησις οὐκ ἀλλοτρία φιλοσοφίας ἐστί, καὶ οἱ παλαιοὶ τὴν τῆς παιδείας ἀπόδειξιν ἐν τούτοις ἐποιοῦντο. προέβαλλον γὰρ παρὰ τοὺς πότους οὐχ ὥσπερ οἱ νῦν ἐρωτῶντες ἀλλήλους, τίς τῶν ἀφροδισιαστικῶν συνδυασμῶν ἢ τίς ἢ ποῖος ἰχθὺς ἥδιστος ἢ τίς ἀκμαιότατος, ἔτι δὲ τίς μετ᾿ Ἀρκτοῦρον ἢ μετὰ Πλειάδα ἢ τίς μετὰ Κύνα μάλιστα βρωτός; καὶ ἐπὶ τούτοις ἆθλα μὲν τοῖς νικῶσι φιλήματα μίσους ἄξια τοῖς ἐλευθέραν αἴσθησιν ἔχουσι, ζημίαν δὲ τοῖς ἡττηθεῖσιν τάττουσιν ἄκρατον πιεῖν, ὃν ἥδιον τῆς Ὑγιείας πίνουσι·

 

Eubulus, fr. 106

“This is an asshole and you are always full of nonsense.
For the asshole is tongueless and chatty at the same time.

(A.) πρωκτὸς μὲν οὖν οὗτός <γε>· σὺ δὲ ληρεῖς ἔχων.
οὗτος γὰρ αὑτός ἐστιν ἄγλωττος λάλος,

Hermippus, TrGFF4

“There are two sisters and one gives birth
To the other and she in turn is born from that sister she bore.”

εἰσὶ κασίγνηται δισσαί, ὧν ἡ μία τίκτει ǁ
τὴν ἑτέραν, αὐτὴ δὲ τεκοῦσ᾿ ὑπὸ τῆσδε τεκνοῦται.

 

Image result for medieval manuscript riddles
Odin had riddles too.

Which Season is Sweetest?

Bion, fr. 2 (preserved in Stobaeus 1.8.39)

Kleodamos

Myrsôn, what do you find sweet in the spring,
The winter, fall, or summer? Which do you pray for the most?
Is it summer when everything we have worked for is done,
Or is fall sweeter, when hunger is light for men,
Or is it winter, bad for work, when because of the season
Many warm themselves delighting in laziness and relaxation—
Or, surely, is it noble spring which pleases you more?
Tell me what’s on your mind, since leisure has allowed us to chat.

Myrsos

It is not right for mortals to judge divine deeds—
For all these things are sacred and sweet. But for you, Kleodamos,
I will confess what seems sweeter to me than the rest.
I do not wish for the summer, since the sun cooks me then.
I do not wish for the Fall, since that season brings disease.
The Winter brings ruinous snow—and I have chilling fear.
I long for  Spring three times as much for the whole year,
When neither the cold nor the heat weigh upon me.
Everything is pregnant in the spring, everything grows sweet in springtime
When humans have nights and days as equal, nearly the same.”

ΚΛΕΟΔΑΜΟΣ
Εἴαρος, ὦ Μύρσων, ἢ χείματος ἢ φθινοπώρω
ἢ θέρεος τί τοι ἁδύ; τί δὲ πλέον εὔχεαι ἐλθεῖν;
ἦ θέρος, ἁνίκα πάντα τελείεται ὅσσα μογεῦμες,
ἢ γλυκερὸν φθινόπωρον, ὅκ’ ἀνδράσι λιμὸς ἐλαφρά,
ἢ καὶ χεῖμα δύσεργον—ἐπεὶ καὶ χείματι πολλοί
θαλπόμενοι θέλγονται ἀεργίᾳ τε καὶ ὄκνῳ—
ἤ τοι καλὸν ἔαρ πλέον εὔαδεν; εἰπὲ τί τοι φρήν
αἱρεῖται, λαλέειν γὰρ ἐπέτραπεν ἁ σχολὰ ἄμμιν.

ΜΥΡΣΩΝ
κρίνειν οὐκ ἐπέοικε θεήια ἔργα βροτοῖσι,
πάντα γὰρ ἱερὰ ταῦτα καὶ ἁδέα· σεῦ δὲ ἕκατι
ἐξερέω, Κλεόδαμε, τό μοι πέλεν ἅδιον ἄλλων.
οὐκ ἐθέλω θέρος ἦμεν, ἐπεὶ τόκα μ’ ἅλιος ὀπτῇ·
οὐκ ἐθέλω φθινόπωρον, ἐπεὶ νόσον ὥρια τίκτει.
οὖλον χεῖμα φέρει νιφετόν, κρυμὼς δὲ φοβεῦμαι.
εἶαρ ἐμοὶ τριπόθητον ὅλῳ λυκάβαντι παρείη,
ἁνίκα μήτε κρύος μήθ’ ἅλιος ἄμμε βαρύνει.
εἴαρι πάντα κύει, πάντ’ εἴαρος ἁδέα βλαστεῖ,
χἀ νὺξ ἀνθρώποισιν ἴσα καὶ ὁμοίιος ἀώς.

Season Words

Spring: ἔαρ, τὸ: from IE *ves-r, cf. vernal.

Summer: θέρος, τὸ: from a root meaning “warm, heat”

Winter: χεῖμα, τὸ (ancient word for winter)

Fall: φθινόπωρον, τό:  from φθιν (φθίω “decay, waste, dwindle”)+ ὀπώρα (“end of summer, harvest”)

Ecclesiastes, 3 Latin Vulgate

omnia tempus habent et suis spatiis transeunt universa sub caelo
tempus nascendi et tempus moriendi tempus plantandi
et tempus evellendi quod plantatum est

 

London, British Library, MS Sloane 2435, f. 23r.

Argumentation and Belief: Not a just a Modern Malady

Euenus of Paros, fr. 1

“Many people habitually
argue about everything whatever they know,
But it is not their habit to argue as is right,
In their case the ancient saying will suffice
“Go ahead, you think these things, but I believe those”

Someone who speaks well finds persuading the intelligent within reach
Since they are especially easy to teach.”

πολλοῖς δ’ ἀντιλέγειν (μέν)
ἔθος περὶ παντὸς ὁμοίως,
ὀρθῶς δ’ ἀντιλέγειν, οὐκέτι τοῦτ’ ἐν ἔθει.
καὶ πρὸς μὲν τούτους ἀρκεῖ λόγος εἷς ὁ παλαιός·
“σοὶ μὲν ταῦτα δοκοῦντ’ ἔστω, ἐμοὶ δὲ τάδε.”
τοὺς ξυνετοὺς δ’ ἄν τις πείσειε τάχιστα λέγων εὖ,
οἵπερ καὶ ῥήιστης εἰσὶ διδασκαλίης.

Attic black-figure stamnos depicting boxers, c.520-500 BC (pottery) (see also 100575) Creator Michigan painter (fl.520-500 BC) Nationality Greek Location Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, UK
‘Twas but a difference of opinion, Attic black-figure stamnos depicting boxers, c.520-500 BC (Ashmolean Museum)

Becoming Pasiphae

Euripides, Pasiphae fr. 82.1-13

“Even if I deny it, I could not persuade you–
since it is abundantly clear how things turned out.
If I would have offered myself to a man,
Vending out my secret sex to him,
Then I would already clearly appear to be an adultress.
But know, since I am crazy from a god’s attack,
I grieve, but I grieve over an unwilling crime.
There’s no probability to it! What did I see in that bull
bull to be bitten by the most wretched disease?”

Πασιφά(η), Fragment 82.1-13

ἀρνουμένη μὲν οὐκέτ’ ἂν πίθοιμί σε•
πάντως γὰρ ἤδη δῆλον ὡς ἔχει τάδε.
ἐγ[ὼ] γὰρ εἰ μὲν ἀνδρὶ προύβαλον δέμας
τοὐμὸν λαθραίαν ἐμπολωμένη Κύπριν,
ὀρθῶς ἂν ἤδη μάχ̣[λο]ς̣ οὖσ’ ἐφαινόμην•
νῦν δ’, ἐκ θεοῦ γὰρ προσβολῆς ἐμηνάμην,
ἀλγῶ μέν, ἐστὶ δ’ οὐχ ἑκο[ύσ]ιον κακόν.
ἔχει γὰρ οὐδὲν εἰκός• ἐς τί γὰρ βοὸς
βλέψασ’ ἐδήχθην θυμὸν αἰσχίστηι νόσωι;

Image result for ancient greek vase pasiphae

Greek Anthology 9.456

“If you have taught me to love a bull who wanders in the mountains,
Teach me to moo so that I might call my dear husband.”

Εἰ ποθέειν μ᾿ ἐδίδαξας ἐν οὔρεσι ταῦρον ἀλήτην,
μυκηθμόν με δίδαξον, ὅτῳ φίλον ἄνδρα καλέσσω.

Falling from Pegasos: Or, What’s a Heaven For (Pindar, Browning,Gilbert and Friends)

This is a repost. But I never get sick of these poems. And many of my students and colleagues might need some inspiration this time of year.

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“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, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

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.

File:Red-figure plate showing Bellerophon riding Pegasus and a Chimera, by the Baltimore painter, second half of the 4th century BC, Monsters. Fantastic Creatures of Fear and Myth Exhibition, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome (12836992534).jpg
Red Figure by the Baltimore Painter, 4th Century BCE

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
The passage above from Pindar 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.

“A Contest of Steel Itself”: Untranslatable Euripides

For a few lines in the second choral ode from Euripides’ Helen, the fine Bryn Mawr Commentary (J. W. Ambrose and A. D. Wooley 1992) almost give up: “Virtually untranslatable.

BrynMawr

Here is the full passage where Helen sings (348-359)

Ελ. σὲ γὰρ ἐκάλεσα, σὲ δὲ κατόμοσα
τὸν ὑδρόεντι δόνακι χλωρὸν
Εὐρώταν, θανόντος
εἰ βάξις ἔτυμος ἀνδρὸς
†ἅδε μοι τί τάδ’ ἀσύνετα†,
φόνιον αἰώρημα
διὰ δέρας ὀρέξομαι,
ἢ ξιφοκτόνον διωγμὸν
αἱμορρύτου σφαγᾶς
αὐτοσίδαρον ἔσω πελάσω διὰ σαρκὸς ἅμιλλαν,
θῦμα τριζύγοις θεαῖσι
τῶι τε σήραγγας ῎Ι-
δας ἐνίζοντι Πριαμί-
δαι ποτ’ ἀμφὶ βουστάθμους.

“I call on you, I swear on you,
Eurotas, green with watery reed,
If the report of my husband dying
Is true—and how could I misunderstand these things?—
Then, I will stretch around my neck
A murderous noose.
Or, I will bring home
The sword-death mission
Of blood-flowing slaughter.
A contest of steel itself through my flesh,
A sacrifice to the three-yoked goddesses
And to Priam’s son sitting in the Idaian cave
Near the cow-folds.”

William Allan in his Cambridge commentary (2008) is a bit more circumspect:

Allan.jpg

Earlier, (in disputed lines, deleted for sense and propriety more than anything else) Helen compares forms of suicide (298-302). This passage seems to correspond well to the contemplation and expansion of slaughter above.

“It is best to die? How could I not die well?
Hanging high in the air is improper,
It is thought unmannerly even by slaves.
Stabbing has something noble and fine about it.
It is a short time to gain freedom from life”

[θανεῖν κράτιστον· πῶς θάνοιμ’ ἂν οὖν καλῶς;
ἀσχήμονες μὲν ἀγχόναι μετάρσιοι,
κἀν τοῖσι δούλοις δυσπρεπὲς νομίζεται·
σφαγαὶ δ’ ἔχουσιν εὐγενές τι καὶ καλόν,
σμικρὸν δ’ ὁ καιρὸς †ἄρτ’† ἀπαλλάξαι βίου.]

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen sculpture