Sinister Letters and Sore Feet

Anonymous Parodic Epic fr. 3-7 (Brandt)

Poverty, be brave and endure the foolish talkers.
For a multitude of sweets and pleasureless hunger overwhelm you.
Whomever the Muses taught their letters backward
Walked having chilblains under his feet
Hermokaikoxanthos prayed to father Zeus:
“Oh man-slayer: how many mortals have you assigned to Hell?”

τέτλαθι δὴ πενίη καὶ ἀνάσχεο μωρολογούντων·
ὄψων γὰρ πλῆθός σε δαμᾷ καὶ λιμὸς ἀτερπής.
οὓς ἐδίδαξαν ἀριστερὰ γράμματα Μοῦσαι
ἔστειχε δ’ ἔχων ὑπὸ ποσσὶ χίμεθλα
῾Ερμοκαϊκόξανθος ἐπευξάμενος Διὶ πατρί·
ὦ βροτολοιγέ, πόσους σὺ <βρο>τῶν ῎Αιδι προΐαψας;

The “backward letters” above (ἐδίδαξαν ἀριστερὰ γράμματα) is more precisely “left-side letters”, with either the pejorative sense of Latin sinister or just a general notion of wrongness. I took the comic lines below as inspiration.

Theognetus, fr. 1.7-8

“Wretch, you learned your letters backwards.
Your books have turned your life upside down.”

ἐπαρίστερ’ ἔμαθες, ὦ πόνηρε, γράμματα·
ἀνέστροφέν σου τὸν βίον τὰ βιβλία.

Suda

“Right-hand of the lord”: this phrase means influence coming from on high and good action in the holy writings. For the ancients used to call right-hand things prudent but left-hand things foolish. Sophocles writes: “You never walked to the left because of your mind, son of Telamôn.”

Δεξιὰ κυρίου: ἡ ἄνωθεν ῥοπὴ καὶ ἡ ἀγαθὴ ἐνέργεια παρὰ τῇ θείᾳ γραφῇ. Δεξιὰ ἔλεγον οἱ παλαιοὶ τὰ συνετά, ἀριστερὰ δὲ τὰ μωρά. Σοφοκλῆς· οὔποτε γὰρ φρένοθέν γ’ ἐπ’ ἀριστερά, παῖ Τελαμῶνος ἔβης.

Image result for ancient greek boustrophedon writing

Boustrophedon Style from the 5th Century BCE

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