If A Poem Is Written in the Forest….

Martial, 3.8

“Quintus Loves Thais, Which one? The One-eyd Thais.
She’s missing one eye but he’s lost two.”

Thaida Quintus amat. ‘quam Thaida?’ Thaida luscam.
unum oculum Thais non habet, ille duos.

3. 9

“Someone says Cinna writes little poems against me.
No one really writes if nobody reads their poems.”

Versiculos in me narratur scribere Cinna.
Non scribit, cuius carmina nemo legit.

Bonus Epigram from the Greek Anthology

11.252 Lucilius

“If you kiss me, you hate me. And if you hate me, you kiss me.
But if you don’t hate me, dearest friend, don’t kiss me!”

Εἴ με φιλεῖς, μισεῖς με· καὶ εἰ μισεῖς, σὺ φιλεῖς με·
εἰ δέ με μὴ μισεῖς, φίλτατε, μή με φίλει.

File:Marble plaque with epigram of Sopatros MET DP132678.jpg
Marble epigram of Sopatros

Shame on the Tip of the Tongue

Sappho Fr. 137 [Arist. Rhet. 1367a (p. 47 Römer)]

“I want to say something but shame
Stops me.

But if you had a taste for the noble or kind
And not some tongue ready to hiss evil,
Then shame wouldn’t cover your eyes
And you would be saying something right.”

θέλω τί τ᾿ εἴπην, ἀλλά με κωλύει
αἴδως . . .
. . .
αἰ δ᾿ ἦχες ἔσλων ἴμερον ἢ κάλων
καὶ μή τί τ᾿ εἴπην γλῶσσ᾿ ἐκύκα κάκον,
αἴδως † κέν σε οὐκ † ἦχεν ὄππατ᾿,
ἀλλ᾿ ἔλεγες † περὶ τῶ δικαίω †

Three gargoyle sculptures: one covering its eyes, one holding its mouth, and the third covering its ears
3 Gargoyles from Paisley Abbey

Angry Poet and Killer Songs

CW: Suicide 

Greek Anthology, 7.351, Dioscorides

“By this holy tomb of the dead we daughters of Lykambes
Who received a hateful reputation, make this oath:
We didn’t shame our virginity or our parents
Nor Paros, the highest of the sacred islands.

No: Archilochus spat hateful rumor
And frightening insult against our family.
By the gods and the spirits: we never saw Archilochus
On the streets or in Hera’s great sanctuary.

If we were truly so lustful and reckless, that guy
Never would have wanted to have children with us.”

Οὐ μὰ τόδε φθιμένων σέβας ὅρκιον αἵδε Λυκάμβεω,
αἳ λάχομεν στυγερὴν κληδόνα, θυγατέρες
οὔτε τι παρθενίην ᾐσχύναμεν οὔτε τοκῆας
οὔτε Πάρον, νήσων αἰπυτάτην ἱερῶν,

ἀλλὰ καθ᾿ ἡμετέρης γενεῆς ῥιγηλὸν ὄνειδος
φήμην τε στυγερὴν ἔφλυσεν Ἀρχίλοχος.
Ἀρχίλοχον, μὰ θεοὺς καὶ δαίμονας, οὔτ᾿ ἐνἀγυιαῖς
εἴδομεν οὔθ᾿ Ἥρης ἐν μεγάλῳ τεμένει.
εἰ δ᾿ ἦμεν μάχλοι καὶ ἀτάσθαλοι οὐκ ἂν ἐκεῖνος
ἤθελεν ἐξ ἡμέων γνήσια τέκνα τεκεῖν.

Schol. C ad Ovid, Ibis 53-54

“Lycambes offered his daughter Neobule to Archilochus and promised a dowry which he refused to give later. So Archilochus composed invective in iambic meter about him and talked so savagely about him and his wife and his daughter that he compelled them to hanging. For they preferred dying over living with such foul abuses.”

Lycambes Neobulen, filiam suam, Archilocho desponsavit et dotem promisit; quam quia postea negavit, Archilochus in iambico metro invectivam in ipsum fecit et tam turpia de eo dixit quod ipsum et uxorem et filiam ad laqueos coegit: maluerunt enim mori quam sub turpibus obprobriis vivere.

Eustathius, Commentary in Hom. Od. 11.277 (1684.45)

“You should know that many have hanged themselves over grief. This is why the ancient account has the daughters of Lykambes doing so thanks to Archilochus’ poems because they could not endure the rumors from his insults. The man was skilled at offending. For this reason we have the proverb “you’ve tread on Archilochus” which is for people who are good at insults, as if someone claims you stepped on snake or a sharp thorn.”

ἰστέον δὲ ὅτι πολλῶν προσώπων ἁψαμένων βρόχους ἐπὶ λύπαις ἔπαθον οὕτω κατὰ τὴν παλαιὰν ἱστορίαν καὶ αἱ Λυκαμβίδαι ἐπὶ τοῖς Ἀρχιλόχου ποιήμασι, μὴ φέρουσαι τὴν ἐπιφορὰν τῶν ἐκείνου σκωμμάτων· ἦν γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ δεινὸς ὑβρίζειν· ὅθεν καὶ παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν οὕτω σκώπτειν εὐφυῶν τό, Ἀρχίλοχον πεπάτηκας, ὡς εἴ τις εἴπῃ, σκορπίον ἢ ὄφιν ἢ κακὴν ἄκανθαν.

Cave of Archilochos on the Paros island, near Sacred cape in front of the entrance to the harbor of Parikia.

Slander and Salt

Demetrius, On Style 301

“Because he wanted to slander his enemies, [Hipponax] broke his meter and made it stumble instead of straight: he made the rhythm irregular. This is appropriate for surprise and attack. For rhythmic and smooth composition is more appropriate for praise than for blame. This is all I have to say about hiatus.”

 (301) καὶ ὥσπερ τὸ διαλελυμένον σχῆμα δεινότητα ποιεῖ, ὡς προλέλεκται, οὕτω ποιήσει ἡ διαλελυμένη ὅλως σύνθεσις. σημεῖον δὲ καὶ τὸ Ἱππώνακτος· λοιδορῆσαι γὰρ βουλόμενος τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ἔθραυσεν τὸ μέτρον, καὶ ἐποίησεν χωλὸν ἀντὶ εὐθέος καὶ ἄρυθμον, τουτέστι δεινότητι πρέπον καὶ λοιδορίᾳ· τὸ γὰρ ἔρρυθμον καὶ εὐήκοον ἐγκωμίοις ἂν πρέποι μᾶλλον ἢ ψόγοις. τοσαῦτα καὶ περὶ συγκρούσεως.

Com. Adesp. 842 Σ Aristophanes Birds 281

“Philokles was a tragic poet, the son of Philopeithes and Aeschylus’ sister. Whoever calls him “Salt’s son” does it because he was bitter and salt is bitter.”

ἔστι δὲ ὁ Φιλοκλῆς τραγῳδίας ποιητὴς, καὶ Φιλοπείθους υἱὸς ἐξ Αἰσχύλου ἀδελφῆς. ὅσοι δὲ Ἁλμίωνος αὐτόν φασιν, ἐπιθετικῶς λέγουσι διὰ τὸ πικρὸν εἶναι. ἅλμη γὰρ ἡ πικρία.

File:Hipponax of Ephesus.jpg

Love it When They Hate Me

Martial, 6.60

“My Rome praises, loves, and sings my little books—
Every pocket, every hand holds me.
Look: someone turns red, yellow, is dumbstruck, looks again, and hates!
This is what I long for: now my songs have pleased even me.”

Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
Hoc uolo: nunc nobis carmina nostra placent.

Perhaps shit-talking is a trope in Roman poetry

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Profiteers Tearing Apart the Republic

Ps. Sallust Against Cicero

“Where should I protest, whom should I implore, Senators, because the republic is being torn apart for any kind of audacious profiteer? Should I complain to the Roman people? They are so corrupted by bribes that they offer themselves and their fortunes for sale.

Should I appeal to you, Senators? You whose authority is a joke to any kind of criminal miscreant in this place where Marcus Tullius defends the laws, the courts and the state and acts like he is in charge here as if he were the only man left from a family of the most famous man, Scipio Africanus, and not some orphan found on the street, summoned here, and only just recently rooted in this city?”

Ubi querar, quos implorem, patres conscripti, diripi rem publicam atque audacissimo cuique esse praedae? apud populum Romanum? qui ita largitionibus corruptus est, ut se ipse ac fortunas suas venales habeat. an apud vos, patres conscripti? quorum auctoritas turpissimo cuique et sceleratissimo ludibrio est; ubi M. Tullius leges, iudicia, rem publicam defendit atque in hoc ordine ita moderatur quasi unus reliquus e familia viri clarissimi, Scipionis Africani, ac non reperticius, accitus, ac paulo ante insitus huic urbi civis.

Morgan Library, MS M.81, Folio 79r

Have You Heard about Lesbia?

Catullus 58a

Caelius, our Lesbia, that Lesbia,
that Lesbia, whom alone Catullus loved
more than himself and all of his family,
now, at street corners and in alleyways
pleasures the grandsons of great-souled Remus.

*Pleasures: the latin is “glubit,” and whether this vulgarity involves the hands or the mouth is anybody’s guess.

Caeli, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam
plus quam se atque suos amauit omnes,
nunc in quadriuiis et angiportis
glubit magnanimi Remi nepotes.

Picasso. Bust of a Woman. 1931. Not especially subtle.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

O Yuck, Archilochus

The First Cologne Epode, the longest fragment attributed to the archaic poet Archilochus, offends modern sensibilities and no doubt it had something like shock value in the poet’s own time.

The opening lines are lost. There’s no consensus on how to fill the most meaningful of the text’s many lacunae. There are also colloquialisms, euphemisms, allusions and irresolvable ambiguities which challenge, and charm. (The “glossary” following the poem should answer a few questions.)

Nonetheless, we can discern enough to say: the poem takes the form of a carefully constructed dialogue in which an unmarried young woman tries to turn a sexually eager man’s attention to someone else–unsuccessfully.

Archilochus: fr. 196a West

“…while you abstain completely, wait for requited love.
But, if you’re in a rush, your passion in charge,
There’s someone in our house brimming with yearning,
A lovely virgin, and tender. Her figure’s flawless,
I would say. Make her your beloved.”

That’s what she said. And I replied with this:
“Daughter of Amphimedo, that noble woman
Whom the moldy earth now holds:
Young men have many pleasures from the goddess,
Beside the divine thing. One of them will do.

You and I will plan this calmly, with god’s help.
I’ll do what you say, eager as I am
To be first under your cornice and inside your gate.
Don’t begrudge me this, my dear,
For I’ll keep to your grassy meadow.

And know this: as for that Neoboule,
Another man can have her! She’s too ripe.
Her virgin bloom, her former loveliness,
Have fallen away. She’s not reined in her lust.
The raving woman’s shown the scale of her madness.

Damn her! May Zeus not make me a joke to my neighbors,
With such a wife. I prefer you: one not inconstant
or two-faced. She’s biting, and as for all her men…
I fear fathering blind, untimely children with her,
My zeal and rush to blame, just like the famed bitch.”

That’s what I said, and clutched the virgin girl—
Laid her down among the blooming flowers—
Covered her with my soft cloak—
Cradled her neck in my arms—
A girl as frightened as a fawn.

My hands gently clasped her breasts
And exposed youth’s fresh flesh.
As I felt up her gorgeous body
I discharged my white might,
Lightly touching her fair hair.

A glossary of archaic smut:

“Under your cornice and inside your gate”: Euphemism for sex.

“Pleasures from the goddess/Beside the divine thing”: Aphrodite’s gifts are the amorous pleasures, with intercoutse presumably the highest of them (“the divine thing”).

“I’ll keep to your grassy meadow”: Euphemism for a sex act short of penetration but involving the pubic area.

”I fear fathering blind, untimely children . . . like the famed bitch”: Allusion to what’s regarded as the world’s oldest proverb–“the hasty bitch [female dog] brings forth blind puppies.” The expression means something done without due care produces a bad result.

“πάμπαν ἀποσχόμενος· ἶσον δὲ τόλμ[ησον ποθεῖν.]
εἰ δ ̓ ὦν ἐπείγεαι καί σε θυμὸς ἰθύει,
ἔστιν ἐν ἡμετέρου, ἣ νῦν μέγ ̓ ἱμείρε[ι ]
καλὴ τέρεινα παρθένος· δοκέω δέ μι[ν]
εἶδος ἄμωμον ἔχειν τὴν δὴ σὺ ποίη[σαι φίλην.”] [5]
Tοσαῦτ ̓ ἐφώνει· τὴν δ ̓ἐγὼ ἀνταμει[βόμην·]
“Ἀμφιμεδοῦς θύγατερ, ἐσθλῆς τε καὶ [ ]
γυναικός, ἣν̣ νῦν γῆ κατ’ εὐρώεσσ’ ἔ[χει,]
[τ]έρψιές εἰσι θεῆς πολλαὶ νέοισιν ἀνδ[ράσιν]
π̣αρὲξ τὸ θεῖον χρῆμα· τῶν τ̣ι̣ς ἀρκέσε[ι.] [10]
τ]αῦτα δ’ ἐπ’ ἡσυχίης εὖτ’ ἂν μελανθη[ ]
[ἐ]γώ τε καὶ σὺ σὺν θεῷ βουλεύσομε[ν·]
[π]είσομαι ὣς με κέλεαι· πολλόν μ’ ἐ[ποτρύνει πόθος]
[θρ]ιγκοῦ δ’ ἔνερθε καί πυλέων ὑποφ[θάνειν]
[μ]ή τι μέγαιρε, φίλη· σχήσω γὰρ ἐς ποη[φόρους] [15]
κ]ήπους. τὸ δὴ νῦν γνῶθι· Νεοβούλη[ν μὲν ὦv]
[ἄ]λλος ἀνὴρ ἐχέτω· αἰαῖ, πέπειρα δ[ὴ πέλει,]
[ἄν]θος δ’ἀπερρύηκε παρθενήϊον
[κ]αὶ χάρις ἣ πρὶν ἐπῆν· κόρον γὰρ οὐ κ[ατέσχε πω],
[ατ]ης δὲ μέτρ’ ἔφηνε μαινόλ̣ι̣ς̣ γυνή·[20]
[ἐς] κόρακας ἄπεχε· μὴ τοῦτ’ ἐφεῖτ’ ἄν[αξ θεῶν]
[ὅπ]ως ἐγὼ γυναῖκα τ[ο]ιαύτην ἔχων
[γεί]τοσι χάρμ’ ἔσομαι· πολλὸν σὲ βούλο[μαι ]·
[σὺ] μὲν γὰρ οὔτ’ ἄπιστος οὔτε διπλόη,
[ἡ δ]ὲ μάλ ̓ ὀξυτέρη, πολλοὺς δὲ ποιεῖτα[ι ] [25]
[δέ]δοιχ ̓ ὅπως μὴ τυφλὰ κἀλιτήμερα
[σπ]ουδῇ ἐπειγόμενος τὼς ὤσπερ ἡ κ[ύων τέκω.”]
[τοσ]αῦτ ̓ ἐφώνεον· παρθένον δ ̓ ἐν ἄνθε[σιν]
[τηλ]εθάεσσι λαβὼν ἔκλινα· μαλθακῇ δ[έ μιν]
[χλαί]νῃ καλύψας, αὐχέν ̓ ἀγκάλῃς ἔχω[ν] [30]
[δεί]μ̣ατι πα[ ]μέ̣ν̣ην τὼς ὥστε νέβρ̣[ον ]
[μαζ]ῶν τε χ̣ερσὶν ἠπίως ἐφηψάμη̣ν
[ ]ρ̣ ἔφην̣ε νέον ἥβης ἐπήλυ̣σις χρόα·̣
[ τ]ε̣ σῶμ̣α καλὸν ἀμφαφώμενος
[λευκ]ὸν ἀφῆκα μένος, ξανθῆς ἐπιψαύ[ων τριχός.] [35]


Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Throwing Some Homeric Shade: Sparta is Teucer to an Athenian Ajax

Aelius Aristides, Panathenaic Oration, 282-285

“But [the Spartans] dealt with those who entrusted their safety to them so that they defended themselves best of all people against those charges which at certain times were brought against our city. The explanation for this is not their savagery nor any of those common things which one might easily say to fault them, but the basic failure of their nature to measure up to ours. While the Athenians, furthermore, were in control for more than 70 years, the Spartans could not even hold their empire for three Olympiads. And this would not have even been a true statement if they had not taken over while the first Olympiad period ongoing!

This is why I get annoyed at those who want to compare the two cities. I might in fact seem strange to some of you in criticizing them and then proceeding to do the same thing myself all while saying these things for the very same reasons that I claim they shouldn’t be said. But this illustrates clearly that whatever favor they believe they bestow on the city is not at all remarkable and that these sorts of arguments are not be made freely. So, if someone thinks that I should not have said these things, this is why I said them. In addition, these statements were made without personal attack and because of a pressing need—for there was no other way to show what I wanted to and I was compelled to say what I said for the very reasons I tried not to.

For the Spartans seem to me to have suffered in comparison to this city what Teucer did from Ajax at Homer’s hands. For Teucer retreats to Ajax when he risks his life in front of the rest and at the same time is famous and then sullied by this. In the same way, the Spartans, who stood in front and endangered themselves for the Greeks in a time of need, are still children when compared to our city.”

οἱ δ’ οὕτω τοὺς παραδόντας αὑτοὺς διέθηκαν ὥστε κάλλιστ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀπελογήσαντο ὑπὲρ τῶν κατὰ καιρούς τινας αἰτιῶν γενομένων παρ’ ἐνίων τῇ πόλει. αἴτιον δ’ οὐκ ὠμότης οὐδ’ ἅ τις ἂν φαίη τῶν ῥᾳδίως εἰωθότων ἐπιτιμᾶν, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὴ ἐξικνεῖσθαι τὰς φύσεις ἄχρι τοῦ ἴσου. καὶ μὴν οἱ μὲν πλέον ἢ ἑβδομήκοντα ἔτη κατέσχον, οἱ δ’ οὐδ’ εἰς τρεῖς Ὀλυμπιάδας διεφύλαξαν τὴν ἀρχήν. οὔκουν ὡς ἀληθῶς ἄλλως γε ἂν εἴη, εἰ μὴ τὸ πρῶτον Ὀλυμπίων προσαγόντων παρέλαβον.

ταῦτ’ ἐστὶν ἁγὼ τοῖς παρεξετάζειν βουλομένοις ἄχθομαι. ἴσως μὲν οὖν κἀγώ τισι ποιεῖν ἄτοπον δοκῶ, μεμφόμενος μὲν, αὐτὸς δ’ εἰς τοὺς ὁμοίους λόγους προεληλυθώς, καὶ δι’ αὐτά γε ταῦτ’ εἰρηκὼς αὐτοὺς δι’ ἅ φημι δεῖν μὴ λέγειν. οὐ μὴν ἀλλ’ ἐξ αὐτῶν τούτων καὶ μάλιστ’ ἄν τις κατίδοι ὡς οὔτε ἡ χάρις θαυμαστή, ἣν οἴονται τῇ πόλει κατατίθεσθαι, οὔτ’ ἐξεπίτηδες τά γε τοιαῦτα ἀγωνιστέον. ὥστ’ εἴ τις ἀξιοῖ καὶ ἡμῖν ἄρρητα ταῦτ’ εἶναι, σχεδὸν τούτου χάριν εἴρηται. χωρὶς δὲ τούτων ἄνευ βλασφημίας οἱ λόγοι γεγόνασι καὶ τῆς παραπεσούσης χρείας ἕνεκα. οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἄλλως ὃ προειλόμην ἀποδεῖξαι, ὥστ’ ἐξ ὧν ἔφευγον, ἐκ τούτων προήχθην εἰπεῖν.

δοκοῦσι γάρ μοι Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὸ τοῦ παρ’ Ὁμήρῳ Τεύκρου πρὸς τὸν Αἴαντα πεπονθέναι πρὸς τὴν πόλιν. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος τῶν ἄλλων προκινδυνεύων ὡς τὸν Αἴαντα ἀναχωρεῖ καὶ δι’ ἐκείνου φαίνεται, ὡς δ’ αὕτως καὶ κρύπτεται, καὶ Λακεδαιμόνιοι οἱ τῶν Ἑλλήνων προέχοντες καὶ προκινδυνεύοντες ἐν ταῖς χρείαις παῖδες τῇ πόλει παραβαλεῖν εἰσίν.

Image result for teucer and ajax
Statue of Teucer by Sir William Hamo Thornycroft

A Fine Poem on Friendship

Martial 12.40

“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”

Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.

Image result for medieval manuscript friendship
Royal 19 C II f. 59v