From the Restroom: He Thunders Beneath the Earth

Suetonius, Life of Lucan

“When he was at the beginning of adolescence and learned that his father lived in the country because of a terrible marriage…Although when he was recalled from Athens by Nero he was included among his group of friends and even honored with a quaestorship, he still did not remain in his good graces.

Because he took it badly when Nero suddenly left while he was giving a reading for the sake of holding a senate meeting but for no other real reason accept for chilling the reading, he did not later on restrain himself from either words or deeds against the prince, some of which are well-known.

For instance, once when he was in the public restrooms, he followed a rather clear and loud fart to empty his bowels with a half-line written by Nero as the great crowd of those around him fled: “you could believe that it thundered beneath the earth.”

Hic initio adolescentiae, cum ob infestum matrimonium patrem suum ruri agere longissime cognovisset*** Revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. Siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: Sub terris tonuisse putes.

Defecatory thunder may or may not have been a trope in the ancient world. If you are interested in this kind of content, you may want to consider the Panfarticon.

Nero 1.JPG
An Epoch defining neck-beard

Porphyry’s Royal name and Fabulous Style

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.19

“Although some philosophers conceal their teachings in obscure phrase, just as poets hide theirs in myth, Porphyry praised clarity as a cure-all, and because he had sampled it in his own experience, he inscribed it in his work and brought it back to daylight.”

τῶν δὲ φιλοσόφων τὰ ἀπόρρητα καλυπτόντων ἀσαφείᾳ, καθάπερ τῶν ποιητῶν τοῖς μύθοις, ὁ Πορφύριος τὸ φάρμακον τῆς σαφηνείας ἐπαινέσας καὶ διὰ πείρας γευσάμενος, ὑπόμνημα γράψας εἰς φῶς ἤγαγεν.

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.55-4.56

Porphyry

“Porphyry’s birthplace was Tyre—the first city of the ancient Phoenicians—and his forebears were not men of low status. He received a fitting education and  advanced so far and gained so much that when he became a student of Longinus, he was even an adornment to his teacher in a short time.  At that time, Longinus was a kind of living library or a mobile museum. He was tasked with editing ancient authors, as many others before him had been, like Dionysius the Karian who was the most famous of them all. In his Syrian town, Porphyry was at first called Malkhos, a word that can mean king. It was Longinus who named him Porphyry, changing his name to the emblem of royal raiment.”

Alongside Longinus, Porphyry achieved the summit of education—the pinnacle of grammar and even rhetoric, the skill Longinus had achieved. He did not prefer that subject the most, but he learned every type of philosophy thoroughly.  For Longinus was by far the best man at that time at everything—the majority of his books are still circulated and people wonder at them. And if anyone criticized an ancient author, his opinion had no strength before Longinus’ judgment completely supported it.”

<ΠΟΡΦΥΡΙΟΣ>. Πορφυρίῳ Τύρος μὲν ἦν πατρίς, ἡ πρώτη τῶν ἀρχαίων Φοινίκων πόλις, καὶ πατέρες δὲ οὐκ ἄσημοι. τυχὼν δὲ τῆς προσηκούσης παιδείας, ἀνά τε ἔδραμε τοσοῦτον καὶ ἐπέδωκεν, ὡς—Λογγίνου μὲν ἦν ἀκροατής—καὶ ἐκόσμει τὸν διδάσκαλον ἐντὸς ὀλίγου χρόνου. Λογγῖνος δὲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ἐκεῖνον βιβλιοθήκη τις ἦν ἔμψυχος καὶ περιπατοῦν μουσεῖον, καὶ κρίνειν γε τοὺς παλαιοὺς ἐπετέτακτο, καθάπερ πρὸ ἐκείνου πολλοί τινες ἕτεροι, καὶ ὁ ἐκ Καρίας Διονύσιος πάντων ἀριδηλότερος. Μάλχος δὲ κατὰ τὴν Σύρων πόλιν ὁ Πορφύριος ἐκαλεῖτο τὰ πρῶτα (τοῦτο δὲ δύναται βασιλέα λέγειν)· Πορφύριον δὲ αὐτὸν ὠνόμασε Λογγῖνος, ἐς τὸ βασιλικὸν τῆς ἐσθῆτος παράσημον τὴν προσηγορίαν ἀποτρέψας. παρ’ ἐκείνῳ δὴ τὴν ἄκραν ἐπαιδεύετο παιδείαν, γραμματικῆς τε εἰς ἄκρον ἁπάσης, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνος, ἀφικόμενος καὶ ῥητορικῆς· πλὴν ὅσον οὐκ ἐπ’ ἐκείνην ἔνευσε, φιλοσοφίας γε πᾶν εἶδος ἐκματτόμενος. ἦν γὰρ ὁ Λογγῖνος μακρῷ τῶν τότε ἀνδρῶν τὰ πάντα ἄριστος, καὶ τῶν βιβλίων τε αὐτοῦ πολὺ πλῆθος φέρεται, καὶ τὸ φερόμενον θαυμάζεται. καὶ εἴ τις κατέγνω τινὸς τῶν παλαιῶν,  οὐ τὸ δοξασθὲν ἐκράτει πρότερον ἀλλ’ ἡ Λογγίνου πάντως ἐκράτει κρίσις.

 In his Homeric QuestionsPorphyry presents a classic formulation for how to ‘read’ Homer (1.12-14):

“Because I think to best to make sense of Homer through Homer, I usually show by example how he may interpret himself, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in other ways.”

᾿Αξιῶν δὲ ἐγὼ ῞Ομηρον ἐξ ῾Ομήρου σαφηνίζειν αὐτὸν ἐξηγούμενον ἑαυτὸν ὑπεδείκνυον, ποτὲ μὲν παρακειμένως, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐν ἄλλοις.

 

Although this is our earliest extant reference to what is attributed now to the principles of the Alexandrian librarian and editor Aristarchus, the D Scholia to the Iliad (5.385) provide an important testimonium:

“Aristarchus believed it best to make sense of those things that were presented more fantastically by Homer according to the poet’s authority, that we not be overwhelmed by anything outside of the things presented by Homer.”

᾿Αρίσταρχος ἀξιοῖ τὰ φραζόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ μυθικώτερον ἐκδέχεσθαι, κατὰ τὴν Ποιητικὴν ἐξουσίαν, μηδὲν ἔξω τῶν φραζομένων ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ περιεργαζομένους.

From the Restroom: He Thunders Beneath the Earth

Suetonius, Life of Lucan

“When he was at the beginning of adolescence and learned that his father lived in the country because of a terrible marriage…Although when he was recalled from Athens by Nero he was included among his group of friends and even honored with a quaestorship, he still did not remain in his good graces.

Because he took it badly when Nero suddenly left while he was giving a reading for the sake of holding a senate meeting but for no other real reason accept for chilling the reading, he did not later on restrain himself from either words or deeds against the prince, some of which are well-known.

For instance, once when he was in the public restrooms, he followed a rather clear and loud fart to empty his bowels with a half-line written by Nero as the great crowd of those around him fled: “you could believe that it thundered beneath the earth.”

Hic initio adolescentiae, cum ob infestum matrimonium patrem suum ruri agere longissime cognovisset*** Revocatus Athenis a Nerone cohortique amicorum additus atque etiam quaestura honoratus, non tamen permansit in gratia. Siquidem aegre ferens, recitante se subito ac nulla nisi refrigerandi sui causa indicto senatu recessisse, neque verbis adversus principem neque factis exstantibus post haec temperavit, adeo ut quondam in latrinis publicis clariore cum strepitu ventris emissi hemistichium Neronis magna consessorum fuga pronuntiarit: Sub terris tonuisse putes.

Defecatory thunder may or may not have been a trope in the ancient world. If you are interested in this kind of content, you may want to consider the Panfarticon.

Nero 1.JPG
An Epoch defining neck-beard

Paris’ Weakness and the Glory of Education

Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 42

“For when the barbarians and the Greeks were struggling against each other around Troy because of one man’s lack of self-control they endured the most terrible calamities—some in war, some in the return home—and the god assigned a punishment for that single injustice for one thousand and ten years, providing an oracle for the sack of Troy and requesting the journey of maidens from Locris to the temple of Athena in Troy.

[Pythagoras] used to harangue the young men regarding education too, demanding that they consider how strange it would be to judge rational thought the most desirable of all things when one must judge concerning everything else using it, yet people spend no time nor toil in practicing it. And this is when care given to the body is similar to worthless friends in abandoning you quickly; education, however, is like the most good and noble companions who stay by your side right up to death—and, for some, it provides immortal glory after life is over.”

τῶν γὰρ βαρβάρων καὶ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων  περὶ τὴν Τροίαν ἀντιταξαμένων ἑκατέρους δι’ ἑνὸς ἀκρασίαν ταῖς δεινοτάταις περιπεσεῖν συμφοραῖς, τοὺς μὲν ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ, τοὺς δὲ κατὰ τὸν ἀνάπλουν, καὶ μόνης <ταύτης> τῆς ἀδικίας τὸν θεὸν δεκετῆ καὶ χιλιετῆ τάξαι τὴν τιμωρίαν, χρησμῳδήσαντα τήν τε τῆς Τροίας ἅλωσιν καὶ

τὴν τῶν παρθένων ἀποστολὴν παρὰ τῶν Λοκρῶν εἰς τὸ τῆς ᾿Αθηνᾶς τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἱερόν. παρεκάλει δὲ τοὺς νεανίσκους καὶ πρὸς τὴν παιδείαν, ἐνθυμεῖσθαι κελεύων ὡς ἄτοπον ἂν εἴη πάντων μὲν σπουδαιότατον κρίνειν τὴν διάνοιαν καὶ ταύτῃ βουλεύεσθαι περὶ τῶν ἄλλων, εἰς δὲ τὴν ἄσκησιν τὴν ταύτης μηδένα χρόνον μηδὲ πόνον ἀνηλωκέναι, καὶ ταῦτα τῆς μὲν τῶν σωμάτων ἐπιμελείας τοῖς φαύλοις τῶν φίλων ὁμοιουμένης καὶ ταχέως ἀπολειπούσης, τῆς δὲ παιδείας καθάπερ οἱ καλοὶ κἀγαθοὶ τῶν ἀνδρῶν μέχρι θανάτου παραμενούσης, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν ἀθάνατον δόξαν περιποιούσης.

Image result for Paris decision troy greek vase

Paris’ Weakness and the Glory of Education

Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 42

“For when the barbarians and the Greeks were struggling against each other around Troy because of one man’s lack of self-control they endured the most terrible calamities—some in war, some in the return home—and the god assigned a punishment for that single injustice for one thousand and ten years, providing an oracle for the sack of Troy and requesting the journey of maidens from Locris to the temple of Athena in Troy.

[Pythagoras] used to harangue the young men regarding education too, demanding that they consider how strange it would be to judge rational thought the most desirable of all things when one must judge concerning everything else using it, yet people spend no time nor toil in practicing it. And this is when care given to the body is similar to worthless friends in abandoning you quickly; education, however, is like the most good and noble companions who stay by your side right up to death—and, for some, it provides immortal glory after life is over.”

τῶν γὰρ βαρβάρων καὶ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων  περὶ τὴν Τροίαν ἀντιταξαμένων ἑκατέρους δι’ ἑνὸς ἀκρασίαν ταῖς δεινοτάταις περιπεσεῖν συμφοραῖς, τοὺς μὲν ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ, τοὺς δὲ κατὰ τὸν ἀνάπλουν, καὶ μόνης <ταύτης> τῆς ἀδικίας τὸν θεὸν δεκετῆ καὶ χιλιετῆ τάξαι τὴν τιμωρίαν, χρησμῳδήσαντα τήν τε τῆς Τροίας ἅλωσιν καὶ

τὴν τῶν παρθένων ἀποστολὴν παρὰ τῶν Λοκρῶν εἰς τὸ τῆς ᾿Αθηνᾶς τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἱερόν. παρεκάλει δὲ τοὺς νεανίσκους καὶ πρὸς τὴν παιδείαν, ἐνθυμεῖσθαι κελεύων ὡς ἄτοπον ἂν εἴη πάντων μὲν σπουδαιότατον κρίνειν τὴν διάνοιαν καὶ ταύτῃ βουλεύεσθαι περὶ τῶν ἄλλων, εἰς δὲ τὴν ἄσκησιν τὴν ταύτης μηδένα χρόνον μηδὲ πόνον ἀνηλωκέναι, καὶ ταῦτα τῆς μὲν τῶν σωμάτων ἐπιμελείας τοῖς φαύλοις τῶν φίλων ὁμοιουμένης καὶ ταχέως ἀπολειπούσης, τῆς δὲ παιδείας καθάπερ οἱ καλοὶ κἀγαθοὶ τῶν ἀνδρῶν μέχρι θανάτου παραμενούσης, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν ἀθάνατον δόξαν περιποιούσης.

Image result for Paris decision troy greek vase

The Sophist Aelian: Bachelor, Homebody, and Cowardly Wit

We’ve quoted a lot on this site from the Varia Historia of Claudius Aelianus. Here’s the mixed praise delivered in his honor.

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 31

“Aelian was a Roman, but he used Attic just as well as the Athenians in the middle of the region. This man seems to me to be worthy of praise, first because he toiled to achieve a pure version of Greek even though he lived in a city that spoke a different language; and, second, because, although he was called sophist by those who flatter in this way, he did not believe them and he neither kept the same opinion of himself nor was inflated by the title—even though it is impressive—but once he examined himself well as unsuited for public speeches, he set himself to writing and earned wide respect from this. Simplicity is the overwhelming nature of the style, at times nearing the attractions of Nikostratos, at others he favors Dio and his tone.

Once Philostratos of Lemnos* met him when he had a book in hand and was reading it aloud with anger and a striking voice—he asked Aelian what he was pursuing and he answered “I have written a condemnation of Gynnis*, for that’s what I call the tyrant who has just been killed, since he shamed the Roman Empire with every type of disgusting behavior.” And Philostratus answered, “I would be more impressed if you had condemned him when he was alive!” For it takes a brave man to stand up to a living tyrant, while anyone can attack him when he’s dead.

Aelian used to say  that he had never traveled abroad anywhere outside of the Italian peninsula, and that he had never stepped on a ship or got to know the sea—for this reason he was praised in Rome on the grounds that he valued their lifestyle. He was a student of Pausanias but he respected Herodes the most varied of sophists. He lived until he was sixty years old and without children, for he avoided child-rearing by never marrying. Whether this is a blessing or a curse it is not the right time to consider.”

*Likely a relative of the Philostratus writing this Vita.

*”Womanly-Man”, for the Emperor Heliogabulus who was assassinated in 222 (and ascended to power at age 14!).

Elagabalus
Yo, Aelian…

λα′. Αἰλιανὸς δὲ ῾Ρωμαῖος μὲν ἦν, ἠττίκιζε δέ, ὥσπερ οἱ ἐν τῇ μεσογείᾳ ᾿Αθηναῖοι. ἐπαίνου μοι δοκεῖ ἄξιος ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος, πρῶτον μέν, ἐπειδὴ καθαρὰν φωνὴν ἐξεπόνησε πόλιν οἰκῶν ἑτέρᾳ φωνῇ χρωμένην, ἔπειθ’, ὅτι προσρηθεὶς σοφιστὴς ὑπὸ τῶν χαριζομένων τὰ τοιαῦτα οὐκ ἐπίστευσεν, οὐδὲ ἐκολάκευσε τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γνώμην, οὐδὲ ἐπήρθη ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀνόματος οὕτω μεγάλου ὄντος, ἀλλ’ ἑαυτὸν εὖ διασκεψάμενος ὡς μελέτῃ οὐκ ἐπιτήδειον τῷ ξυγγράφειν ἐπέθετο καὶ ἐθαυμάσθη ἐκ τούτου. ἡ μὲν ἐπίπαν ἰδέα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀφέλεια προσβάλλουσά τι τῆς Νικοστράτου ὥρας, ἡ δὲ ἐνίοτε, πρὸς Δίωνα ὁρᾷ καὶ τὸν ἐκείνου τόνον.

᾿Εντυχὼν δέ ποτε αὐτῷ Φιλόστρατος ὁ Λήμνιος  βιβλίον ἔτι πρόχειρον ἔχοντι καὶ ἀναγιγνώσκοντιαὐτὸ σὺν ὀργῇ καὶ ἐπιτάσει τοῦ φθέγματος ἤρετο αὐτόν, ὅ τι σπουδάζοι, καὶ ὃς „ἐκπεπόνηταί μοι” ἔφη „κατηγορία τοῦ Γύννιδος, καλῶ γὰρ οὕτω τὸν ἄρτι καθῃρημένον τύραννον, ἐπειδὴ ἀσελγείᾳ πάσῃ τὰ ῾Ρωμαίων ᾔσχυνε.” καὶ ὁ Φιλόστρατος „ἐγώ σε” εἶπεν „ἐθαύμαζον ἄν, εἰ ζῶντος κατηγόρησας”. εἶναι γὰρ δὴ τὸ μὲν ζῶντα τύραννον ἐπικόπτειν ἀνδρός, τὸ δὲ ἐπεμβαίνειν κειμένῳ παντός.

῎Εφασκε δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος μηδ’ ἀποδεδημηκέναι ποι τῆς γῆς ὑπὲρ τὴν ᾿Ιταλῶν χώραν, μηδὲ ἐμβῆναι ναῦν, μηδὲ γνῶναι θάλατταν, ὅθεν καὶ λόγου πλείνος κατὰ τὴν ῾Ρώμην ἠξιοῦτο ὡς τιμῶν τὰ ἤθη. Παυσανίου μὲν οὖν ἀκροατὴς ἐγένετο, ἐθαύμαζε δὲ τὸν ῾Ηρώδην ὡς ποικιλώτατον ῥητόρων. ἐβίω δὲ ὑπὲρ τὰ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη καὶ ἐτελεύτα οὐκ ἐπὶ παισίν,  παιδοποιίαν γὰρ παρῃτήσατο τῷ μὴ γῆμαί ποτε. τοῦτο δὲ εἴτε εὔδαιμον εἴτε ἄθλιον οὐ τοῦ παρόντος καιροῦ φιλοσοφῆσαι.

Homer’s Name and the Cause of His Blindness

(This is the second half of the so-called Roman Life of Homer)

“Concerning the dates for Homer’s life, the following is reported. Heraclides argues that he is older than Hesiod; Pyrander and Hypsicrates of Amisos claim he was the same age. Krates of Mallos says that he was full-grown sixty years after the end of the Trojan War; but Eratosthenes says it was a hundred years after the Ionian migration; Apollodorus makes it eighty years.

From birth Homer was called Melesigenes or Melesagoras. Later he was called Homer in the Lesbian dialect because of the harm that came to his eyes–the Lesbians call the blind Homeroi. Another account is that the name came because he entrusted to the king as a hostage (Homeros can mean a guarantee).

They say that he was blinded in the following way. When he came to the tomb of Achilles he prayed that he might see the hero as he was when he went into battle arrayed with his second set of arms. When Achilles appeared to him, Homer was blinded by the weapons’ gleam. Because Thetis and the Muses took pity on him, they endowed him with the poetic art.

Others say that he suffered this thanks to to the rage of Helen who was angry at him because he claimed that she abandoned her first husband to follow Alexander. For this reason, the ghost of Helen appeared to him at night and advised him to burn his poems to make himself safe. He could not make himself do this.

People say that he died on the island of Ios when he found himself undone because he could not solve the riddle of the fishing boys. The riddle was: “We left whatever we caught and carry whatever we didn’t”. On his tomb the following epigram is inscribed:

“Here the earth covers the sacred head
of divine Homer, the artist of heroic men”

[For the answer to the Riddle, see below]

περὶ δὲ τῶν χρόνων καθ’ οὓς ἤκουεν ὧδε λέγεται. ῾Ηρακλείδης μὲν οὖν αὐτὸν ἀποδείκνυσι πρεσβύτερον ῾Ησιόδου, Πύρανδρος δὲ καὶ ῾Υψικράτης ὁ ᾿Αμισηνὸς ἡλικιώτην. Κράτης δ’ ὁ Μαλλώτης μεθ’ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη τοῦ ᾿Ιλιακοῦ πολέμου φησὶν ἀκμάσαι, ᾿Ερατοσθένης δὲ μεθ’ ἑκατὸν τῆς ᾿Ιώνων ἀποικίας, ᾿Απολλόδωρος δὲ μετ’ ὀγδοήκοντα.

ἐκαλεῖτο δ’ ἐκ γενετῆς Μελησιγένης ἢ Μελησαγόρας, αὖθις δ’ ῞Ομηρος ἐλέχθη κατὰ τὴν Λεσβίων διάλεκτον, ἕνεκεν τῆς περὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς συμφορᾶς, οὗτοι γὰρ τοὺς τυφλοὺς ὁμήρους λέγουσιν, ἢ διότι παῖς ὢν ὅμηρον ἐδόθη βασιλεῖ, ὅ ἐστιν ἐνέχυρον.

τυφλωθῆναι δ’ αὐτὸν οὕτω πως λέγουσιν• ἐλθόντα γὰρ ἐπὶ τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέως τάφον εὔξασθαι θεάσασθαι τὸν ἥρωα τοιοῦτον ὁποῖος προῆλθεν ἐπὶ τὴν μάχην τοῖς δευτέροις ὅπλοις κεκοσμημένος• ὀφθέντος δ’ αὐτῷ τοῦ ᾿Αχιλλέως τυφλωθῆναι τὸν ῞Ομηρον ὑπὸ τῆς τῶν ὅπλων αὐγῆς, ἐλεηθέντα δ’ ὑπὸ Θέτιδος καὶ Μουσῶν τιμηθῆναι πρὸς αὐτῶν τῇ ποιητικῇ.

ἄλλοι δέ φασι τοῦτο αὐτὸν πεπονθέναι διὰ μῆνιν τῆς ῾Ελένης ὀργισθείσης αὐτῷ διότι εἶπεν αὐτὴν καταλελοιπέναι μὲν τὸν πρότερον ἄνδρα, ἠκολου-θηκέναι δ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ• οὕτως γοῦν ὅτι καὶ παρέστη αὐτῷ φασὶν νυκτὸς ἡ ψυχὴ τῆς ἡρωίνης παραινοῦσα καῦσαι τὰς ποιήσεις αὐτοῦ … εἰ τοῦτο ποιήσοι πρόσχοι. τὸν δὲ μὴ ἀνασχέσθαι ποιῆσαι τοῦτο.

ἀποθανεῖν δ’ αὐτὸν λέγουσιν ἐν ῎Ιῳ τῇ νήσῳ ἀμηχανίᾳ περιπεσόντα ἐπειδήπερ τῶν παίδων τῶν ἁλιέων οὐχ οἷός τ’ ἐγένετο αἴνιγμα λῦσαι• ἔστι δὲ τοῦτο•
ἅσσ’ ἔλομεν λιπόμεσθ’ ἅσσ’ οὐχ ἕλομεν φερόμεσθα.
καὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῷ τάφῳ ἐπιγέγραπται ἐπίγραμμα τοῦτο•
ἐνθάδε τὴν ἱερὴν κεφαλὴν κατὰ γαῖα καλύπτει
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων κοσμήτορα θεῖον ῞Ομηρον.

In case any readers are overwhelmed by the riddle and may suffer faint-hearted Homer’s fate, other Homeric Lives provide an interpretation of the riddle. In the Pseudo-Plutarchean Vita (71) we get the following explanation:

“They were obscuring in riddle the fact they actually had discarded whichever of the lice they had caught and killed; but they would still be carrying the lice they did not catch in their clothing. Because he was not able to interpret this, Homer died because of despair.”

αἰνισσόμενοι ὡς ἄρα οὓς μὲν ἔλαβον τῶν φθειρῶν ἀποκτεί-ναντες κατέλιπον· οὓς δ’ οὐκ ἔλαβον ἐν τῇ ἐσθῆτι φέροιεν. ὅπερ οὐ δυνηθεὶς συμβαλεῖν ῞Ομηρος διὰ τὴν ἀθυμίαν ἐτελεύτησε.

The Vita Herodotea contains a similar explanation but contests the cause of Homer’s death:

“When those who were present were not able to interpret what had been said, the boys explained that they were able to catch nothing while fishing but that they were attacked while sitting on land. And they left behind however many of the lice they caught but were carrying home all those they couldn’t. Homer, when he heard these things, spoke these verses:

You are born from the blood of the kinds of fathers
Who are neither wealthy nor tend numerous flocks.

Then it happened that Homer died because of a sickness on Ios, not because he couldn’t interpret what the children said, as some believe, but because of weakness.”

οὐ δυναμένων δὲ τῶν παρεόντων γνῶναι τὰ ῥηθέντα, διηγήσαντο οἱ παῖδες ὅτι ἁλιεύοντες οὐδὲν ἐδύναντο ἑλεῖν, καθήμενοι δὲ ἐν γῇ ἐφθειρίζοντο, καὶ ὅσους μὲν ἔλαβον τῶν  φθειρῶν κατέλιπον· ὅσους δὲ μὴ ἐδύναντο ἐς οἴκους ἀπεφέροντο. ὁ δὲ ῞Ομηρος ἀκούσας ταῦτα ἔλεξε τὰ ἔπεα τάδε·

τοίων γὰρ πατέρων ἐξ αἵματος ἐκγεγάασθε,
οὔτε βαθυκλήρων οὔτ’ ἄσπετα μῆλα νεμόντων.

᾿Εκ δὲ τῆς ἀσθενείας ταύτης συνέβη τὸν ῞Ομηρον τελευτῆσαι ἐν ῎Ιῳ, οὐ παρὰ τὸ μὴ γνῶναι τὸ παρὰ τῶν παίδων ῥηθέν, ὡς οἴονταί τινες, ἀλλὰ τῇ μαλακίῃ.

(There are other versions as well, but all variations on the same idea.)

Image result for Medieval manuscript blind homer
Homer and His Guide (1874) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau