Homer In India, Performance, and Sparta: Three Passages from Aelian

Aelian’s Varia Historia


“[Men say] that the Indians have translated the words of Homer into their own native language and they sing them; and they aren’t the only ones: the Persian kings do too, if we can trust those who write about these things.”

῞Οτι ᾿Ινδοὶ τῇ παρά σφισιν ἐπιχωρίῳ φωνῇ τὰ ῾Ομήρου μεταγράψαντες ᾄδουσιν οὐ μόνοι ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ Περσῶν βασιλεῖς, εἴ τι χρὴ πιστεύειν τοῖς ὑπὲρ τούτων ἱστοροῦσιν.


“The tradition is that the ancients used to sing Homeric epics in separate parts. For example, they sang the “Battle By the Ships”, the “Doloneia”, the “Aristeia of Agamemnon”, the “Catalogue of Ships,” the “Patrokleia” and the “Ransoming” or the “Contest for Patroklos” and the “Breaking of the Oaths”. These were from the Iliad. From the other poem they sang “Events at Pylos” and “Events at Sparta” “Calpyso’s Cave,” “The Raft Story”, “The Tales of Alkinoos” and “The Kyklopeia” and the “Nekyuia” or “Events with Kike”, “the Washing”, “The Murder of the Suitors,” “The Events in the Country”, “Laertes’ Tale”.

Rather late, Lyrkourgos the Spartan was the first to bring the poetry of Homer together into Greece; He brought them back with him from Ionia when he was living abroad. Later, Peisistratos collected them and had the Iliad and the Odyssey performed.”

῞Οτι τὰ ῾Ομήρου ἔπη πρότερον διῃρημένα ᾖδον οἱ παλαιοί. οἷον ἔλεγον Τὴν ἐπὶ ναυσὶ μάχην καὶ Δολώνειάν τινα καὶ ᾿Αριστείαν ᾿Αγαμέμνονος καὶ Νεῶν κατάλογον καὶ Πατρόκλειαν καὶ Λύτρα καὶ ᾿Επὶ Πατρόκλῳ ἆθλα καὶ ῾Ορκίων ἀφάνισιν. ταῦτα ὑπὲρ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος. ὑπὲρ δὲ τῆς ἑτέρας Τὰ ἐν Πύλῳ καὶ Τὰ ἐν Λακεδαίμονι καὶ Καλυψοῦς ἄντρον καὶ Τὰ περὶ τὴν σχεδίαν καὶ ᾿Αλκίνου ἀπολόγους καὶ Κυκλώπειαν καὶ Νέκυιαν καὶ Τὰ τῆς Κίρκης καὶ Νίπτρα καὶ Μνηστήρων φόνον καὶ Τὰ ἐν ἀγρῷ καὶ Τὰ ἐν Λαέρτου. ὀψὲ δὲ Λυκοῦργος ὁ Λακεδαιμόνιος ἀθρόαν πρῶτος ἐς τὴν ῾Ελλάδα ἐκόμισε τὴν ῾Ομήρου ποίησιν· τὸ δὲ ἀγώγιμον τοῦτο ἐξ ᾿Ιωνίας, ἡνίκα ἀπεδήμησεν, ἤγαγεν. ὕστερον δὲ Πεισίστρατος συναγαγὼν ἀπέφηνε τὴν ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ ᾿Οδύσσειαν.


“Cleomenes the Laconian asserted—in the manner of Spartans—that Homer was a Spartan poet because he spoke about the right way to go to war and that Hesiod was the Helot’s poet, since he talks about how best to farm.”

῎Ελεγεν ὁ Κλεομένης Λακωνικῶς κατὰ τὸν ἐπιχώριον τρόπον τὸν ῞Ομηρον Λακεδαιμονίων εἶναι ποιητήν, ὡς χρὴ πολεμεῖν λέγοντα· τὸν δὲ ῾Ησίοδον τῶν Εἱλώτων, λέγοντα ὡς χρὴ γεωργεῖν.