Sardonic Sardinia and Homer

 

Homer, Odyssey 20.299-302

“He said this and threw a cow’s hoof with his strong hand,
Once he took it up from where it was lying in a basket.
Odysseus moved while leaning on his head, but he grinned in his heart,
That kind of Sardonian smile. The hoof hit the well-made wall.”

ὣς εἰπὼν ἔρριψε βοὸς πόδα χειρὶ παχείῃ,
κείμενον ἐκ κανέοιο λαβών· ὁ δ’ ἀλεύατ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
ἦκα παρακλίνας κεφαλήν, μείδησε δὲ θυμῷ
σαρδάνιον μάλα τοῖον· ὁ δ’ εὔδμητον βάλε τοῖχον.

The assertion from the tweet comes from explanatory scholarship

Schol B. Ad Od. 20.302

“Sardonion: a grin, sarcastic, in pretense. The lips curl only, not to laugh.

Σαρδόνιον] σεσηρὸς, σαρκαστικὸν, ἐπίπλαστον. παρὰ τὸ μόνον σεσηρέναι τὰ χείλη, μὴ μέντοι γελᾶν.

Schol B. Ad Od. 20.302

“That kind of Sardonian smile”: A grin at ruin. They say that Hephaestus’ creation, Talon, was placed as a guard by Zeus for Europe to punish those trying to go to Crete. Leaping into the fire and warming them, he grabbed them around the chests. While they burned, he smiled. Some people say that a certain kind of parsley grows on the Island of Sardinia that makes foreigners die while grinning in a spasm. But Timaois claims that they take the elderly of their parents to a hole and throw them into it, and that they smile while dying as if they are happy. Different people claim other things about this. A better take is this: someone pretending a smile in mockery, like a grin, which is an opening of the lips.”

Σαρδάνιον μάλα τοῖον] σεσηρὸς ἐπ’ ὀλέθρῳ. φασὶ Τάλων τὸν ἡφαιστότευκτον ὑπὸ Διὸς Εὐρώπῃ δοθέντα φύλακα τοὺς ἐπιβαίνοντας τῇ Κρήτῃ ἰδίως τιμωρεῖσθαι. πηδῶντα γὰρ εἰς πῦρ καὶ θερμαίνοντα τὸ στῆθος περιπτύσσεσθαι αὐτούς. ὧν καιομένων ἐκεῖνον σεσηρέναι. ἔνιοι δὲ γίνεσθαι λέγουσιν ἐν Σαρδοῖ τῇ νήσῳ σέλινον τοιοῦτον, ὃ τοὺς φαγόντας ξένους μετὰ σπασμοῦ σεσηρότας ἀπόλλυσθαι ποιεῖ. Τίμαιος δέ φησι τοὺς γεγηρακότας τῶν γονέων ἄγειν αὐτοὺς πρὸς βόθρον καὶκαταβάλλειν εἰς αὐτὸν, τοὺς δὲ ὡς μακαρίως ἀποθνήσκοντας γελᾶν. ἄλλοι δὲ ἄλλως. ἄμεινον δὲ, τὸν ἐπὶ καταμωκήσει προσποίητον γέλωτα, παρὰ τὸ σεσηρέναι, ὅ ἐστιν ἀνοίγειν τὰ χείλη.

“The people who inhabit Sardinia who are actually from Carthage make use of certain foreign custom also taken up by many Greeks. For they sacrifice to Kronos on certain established nights, not only the best of their warriors, but also those of their elders who are over seventy years old. It seems to be shameful and cowardly for those who are being sacrificed to weep, instead it is noble and brave to welcome and laugh at the end. For this reason, when people force a grin when facing evil, it is called Sardonian. This is Dêmon’s account.”

οἱ τὴν Σάρδον κατοικοῦντες ἀπὸ Καρχηδονίων ὄντες χρῶνται νόμῳ τινὶ βαρβαρικῷ καὶ πολὺ τῶν ῾Ελληνικῶν διηλλαγμένῳ. τῷ γὰρ Κρόνῳ θύουσιν ἡμέραις τισὶ τεταγμέναις, οὐ μόνον τῶν αἰχμαλώτων τοὺς καλλίστους, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τοὺς ὑπὲρ ἑβδομήκοντα ἔτη γεγενημένους. τούτοις δὲ θυομένοις τὸ μὲν δακρύειν αἰσχρὸν εἶναι δοκεῖ καὶ δειλὸν, τὸ δὲ ἀσπάζεσθαι καὶ γελᾶν ἔσχατον καὶ προϊόντων ἀνδρῶδές τε καὶ καλόν. ὅθεν φασὶ καὶ τὸν ἐπὶ κακῷ προσποίητον γέλωτα κληθῆναι Σαρδόνιον. ἡ δὲ ἱστορία παρὰ Δήμωνι.

From the Suda:

“Sardinian Laugh”: A proverb used for people who laugh at their own death. According to Demôn it developed from the fact that the Sardinians used to sacrifice the best and the oldest of their captives each year to Cronus as they laughed to display their courage. Timaios, on the other hand, claims that men who had lived a long enough time were in the habit of laughing when they were pushed by their sons into the trenches in which they would bury them. But others claim the saying comes from smiling with devious intent.

Others say—and this includes Cleitarchus—that when they place a small child in Kronos’ hand in Carthage during their most important prayers (a bronze statue is set out with hands stretched out over a cooking pot) and after they light the fire, the boy seems to laugh as he is shriveled by the fire. But Simonides says that when the Sardinians were not willing to hand over Talos—the fabricated man—to Minos, that Talos leapt into the fire, because he was bronze, clutched them to his chest and killed them as they gasped for air.

Silenus argues in the fourth book of his On the Syracusans that there is a sweet plant similar celery which when people eat it they bite off segments of their own faces.  There are also some who say that this is to laugh at danger. This is what happens when Homer says that “shining Odysseus grinned sardonically” and in other places,” she laughed with her lips, but she was not pleased under her dark brows”

Σαρδάνιος γέλως: παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπ’ ὀλέθρῳ τῷ σφῶν αὐτῶν γελώντων· ἣν Δήμων μὲν διαδοθῆναι, ὅτι οἱ Σαρδόνα κατοικοῦντες αἰχμαλώτων τε τοὺς καλλίστους καὶ πρεσβυτέρους ὑπὲρ ο′ ἔτη τῷ Κρόνῳ ἔθυον, γελῶντας, ἕνεκα τοῦ τὸ εὔανδρον ἐμφῆναι (τουτ έστιν ἀνδρεῖον). Τίμαιος δέ, τοὺς ἱκανὸν βεβιωκότας χρόνον ἐν Σαρδοῖ συνωθουμένους σχίζαις ὑπὸ τῶν υἱῶν εἰς ὃν ἔμελλον θάπτεσθαι βόθρον γελᾶν. οἱ δέ, ἀπὸ τοῦ σεσηρέναι μετὰ ἀνίας. καί φασιν ἄλλοι τε καὶ Κλείταρχος, ἐν Καρχηδόνι ἐν ταῖς μεγάλαις εὐχαῖς παῖδα ταῖς χερσὶ τοῦ Κρόνου ἐπιτιθέντας (ἵδρυται δὲ χαλκοῦς, προβεβλημένας ἔχων τὰς χεῖρας ὑφ’ ᾧ κρίβανος), ἔπειτα ὑποκαίειν· τὸν δὲ συνελκόμενον ὑπὸ τοῦ πυρὸς δοκεῖν γελᾶν. Σιμωνίδης δὲ Τάλων τὸν ἡφαιστότευκτον Σαρδωνίους οὐ βουλομένους περαιῶσαι πρὸς Μίνῳα, εἰς πῦρ καθαλλόμενον, ὡς ἂν χαλκοῦν, προστερνιζόμενον ἀναιρεῖν ἐπιχάσκοντας. Σιληνὸς δὲ ἐν δ′ τῶν περὶ Συρακούσας λάχανον εἶναι παρὰ Σαρδωνίοις ἡδύ, σελίνῳ ἐμφερές· οὗ τοὺς γευσαμένους τάς τε σιαγόνας καὶ τὰς σάρκας ἑαυτῶν ἀποδάκνειν. ἔνιοι δὲ τοὺς ἐπὶ κακῷ γελῶντας· ὡς καὶ ᾿Οδυσσέα φησὶν ῞Ομηρος· μείδησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς Σαρδώνιον. καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις· ἡδὺ γέλασσε χείλεσσιν, οὐδὲ μέτωπον ἐπ’ ὀφρύσι κυανέῃσιν ἰάνθη.

Upper part of an equestrian Kouros, Acropolis Museum, Athens.