Miser Catulle?  Making a Powerless Catullus & a Powerful Lesbia 

Editor’s note: we are happy to bring you this essay from Plum Luard. If you are interested in posting on SA, just reach out.

Catullus’s love affairs are a central theme of  his poems–illustrating tales of beautiful, amorous relationships as well as the pain they inflict upon him. Much scholarship on Catullus’s poems aims to unpack his unending depictions and lamentations of his love for Lesbia.

Meghan O. Drinkwater’s “The Woman’s Part: The Speaking Beloved in Roman Elegy,” expands on the idea of a powerful beloved in elegy. She points out that whenever the domina in elegy speaks, she does so in a manner meant “to destabilize” (Drinkwater, 32 ) and keep her lover interested. Judith P. Hallet’s “The Role of Women in Roman Elegy: Counter-Cultural Feminism” gives us an insight into the true meaning of the word domina–explaining that a domina describes a “‘woman in command of household slaves”’ and thus asserts that the domina has an intrinsically enslaving power (Hallet, 112 ). Christel Johnson’s “Mistress & Myth: Catullus 68,” asserts that domina appears closely linked to domus, and thus characterizes the woman in the sphere of the domus–proving men powerless in this realm.

Johnston also explains that in poem 68, line 136, Catullus calls Lesbia an era “mistress of slaves,” which further supports the claim that Catullus’s domina possesses a powerful enslaving capability. Adding onto the work of these scholars, I will examine how Catullus inflates both the beauty and the intelligence of his female beloved in order to justify his position as the servus amoris, “the servant of love.” The theme of domination by a strong, female beloved suggested by Catullus continues to have resonance in today’s sex work industry, especially as seen by men’s desire to seek Dominatrixes–women who take on the sadistic role of sadomasocistic sex. 

Catullus 8 is a poem in which the poet encourages himself to obdura, to “man up,” and to forget Lesbia; however, the hyperbolic illustrations of his misery exemplify his role as the servus amoris

Nunc iam illa non vult: tu quoque impotens noli,
nec quae fugit sectare, nec miser vive,
sed obstinata mente perfer, obdura.
Vale puella, iam Catullus obdurat,
nec te requiret nec rogabit invitam.
At tu dolebis, cum rogaberis nulla. (9-14)

Now she no longer wants these things, you being powerless, must not want them either, and do not chase after the one who flees, don’t live as a miserable man, but endure and be firm with a resolute mind, be strong. Farewell girl, now Catullus is strong, he doesn’t require you and he will not ask out an unwilling person.

The poem is written in limping iambics (Garrison, 98 ) which immediately allows the listener to recognize the pain, suffering, and defeat that Catullus is subject to because of the powerful Lesbia. Catullus repeats the word miser (along with its cognates) 42 times throughout the entire poem and this excessive usage results in the poem becoming characterized by a ridiculous sense of hyperbole. Although throughout the poem Catullus encourages himself to obdurat or be strong, the poem is riddled with claims of his miserableness and the obsessiveness of his love for Lesbia, suggesting he is either utterly failing in his effort to obdurat or actually does not genuinely want to succeed. The excessive use of miser supports the latter claim as it shows that Catullus is utterly obsessed with his miserableness. Furthermore, although miser can simply mean miserable, it also connote intense erotic love (Garrison, 98) which suggests that these two qualities–miserableness and infatuation–are intrinsically connected. Poem 8 exemplifies Catullus’s desire to be dominated by a powerful woman–his unending declarations of his misery and his lamentations of his absolute love for Lesbia illustrate an obsession with his role as the servus amoris

Catullus 86, a poem in which Catullus compares the beauty of Lesbia to that of Quinta, explains how Catullus defines beauty: Lesbia formosa est, quae cum pulcherrima tota est, / tum omnibus una omnis surripuit Veneres.  “Lesbia is beautiful, she is not only entirely beautiful, but she alone has stolen all the charms from everyone” (5-6). 

Catullus employs Veneres to explain the reason for Lesbia’s beauty. Although Veneres is most logically translated as “charms,” we cannot ignore the obvious illusion Catullus is making to Venus–goddess of love, sex, and fertility. By employing Veneres here, Catullus paints Lesbia as goddess-like and thus both emphasizes her fantastic beauty as well as her immense power.

Similarly, he again casts Lesbia as a goddess in poem 68, calling her candida diua, “a beautiful goddess.” And also refers to Venus saying: “nam, mihi quam dederit duxplex Amathusia curam, / scitis, et in quo me torruerit genere” (68.51-52), “Well, you know the heartache that double-edged Venus has given to me and how she scorched me.” Duplex can mean both “treacherous;” “two-faced;” or “deceitful.” And as Johnson writes, “all these readings cast Venus as a dominating force who brings both dreadful and joyous events into the lover’s life”  (151 ). His repeated illusions to Venus work both to illustrate a connection between pleasure and pain in Catullus’s eyes AND to overtly emphasize Lesbia’s magnificent beauty and seductive power. Catullus thereby aims to justify his role as the servus amoris–painting himself both as adoring of and subject to the immense power of goddess-like lover. 

In poem 75, Catullus describes his vulnerability and weaknesses in his relationship. 

Huc est mens deducta tua mea, Lesbia, culpa
atque ita se officio perdidit ipsa suo,
ut iam nec bene velle queat tibi, si optima fias,
nec desistere amare, omnia si facias.

Now is my mind brought down to this point, my Lesbia, by your fault, and has so lost itself by its devotion, that now it cannot wish you well, were you to become most perfect, nor can it cease to love you, whatever you do. (1-4; Leonard C. Smithers )

Catullus’s claim that his mind has perdidit ipsa, “lost itself ” because of Lesbia serves as yet another example of the pain that his relationship has inflicted upon him. Even stronger than to lose, perdo can also signify to destroy, and thus Clark believes this passage to mean that Catullus’s “mind has been destroyed (perdidit) by doing its duty to her” (Clark 269). 

Catullus next vows his eternal devotion for Lesbia, saying nec desistere amare, “nor can it cease to love you.” But avowing his love to Lesbia following his description of her destructive power, Catullus asserts that he is absolutely infatuated by her damaging ability. He concludes with a concession that typifies the powerless–omnia si facias, “whatever you do.” Despite the unending claims of the pain Catullus endures in his relationship with Lesbia, he cannot and will forever be unable to stop loving her–he is obsessed with her beauty, obsessed with her mind, obsessed with her power. 

Throughout his works, Catullus paints himself as a miserable, lamentable, and destroyed man subject to the will and desires of the powerful Lesbia and thereby takes on the role of the servus amoris, a trope in which the elegist feigns inferiority and a servile position to bolster the power of his mistress. Despite all the claims of his pitifulness, he continues to love Lesbia regardless, proving that, despite all the supposed pain he endures, he continues to be infatuated with her and even enjoys suffering under her power.

Catullus’s desire to receive pain and to embrace his status as a servus amoris echoes the modern day desire for a Dominatrix. Instead of reading elegy as men who are trying to uplift women, we should understand that male sexual pleasure can be derived from creating, theorizing, and fantasizing a woman with such immense power. Elegy is often examined through a feminist canon because it seems to present a genre of literature in which women uniquely come off as powerful; however, studying elegy in comparison to the phenomena of a Dominatrix forces us to question the truthfulness of this power women seem to posses in their elegiac love affairs.

The conversation around whether the construction of a powerful, dominating woman is empowering remains very much alive today when we consider whether or not sex work is an industry that is inherently feminist. Interestingly, since elegy is written from the male perspective where we rarely–if ever–hear the woman’s voice, we are only able to understand the effect that this giving of female power has on the male perspective. We now hear the female voice from memoirs and articles written by Dominatrixes and it is interesting to examine the words of these women whose job titles and clients imagine them as strong and powerful.

An article by Melissa Febos, a woman who worked as a Dominatrix for three years, entitled “I Spent My Life Consenting to Touch I Didn’t Want,” explores the story of a woman who had a hard time deciding whether her work as a Dominatrix was inherently empowering or feminist. Febos writes that she felt “nothing” (Febos, NYT) after her sessions suggesting that her work didn’t instill her with the sense of power and domination that the name promises. Although, of course, Dominatrixes inevitably differ in their beliefs on whether their work is empowering, the narrative of Febos illustrates that for some, their work does not live up to its title–they are not transformed into all powerful dominas. Thus elegy’s portrayal of the female beloved as sadists perhaps can be explained through this phenomena of a desire for Dominatrix–the role that Lesbia assumes throughout Catullus’s poetry is not in fact an attempt to instill her with a powerful status, it is a Catullan tool to demonstrate his sexual desires and he never provides a glimpse of Lesbia’s reaction to being placed in this role of male-manufactured power. 

Catullus and Lesbia, 1809 Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard (Museum: Nivaagaard Museum)


DRINKWATER, MEGAN O. “THE WOMAN’S PART: THE SPEAKING BELOVED IN ROMAN ELEGY.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 63, no. 1, 2013, pp. 329–338., http://www.jstor.org/stable/23470088. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021. 

Clark, Christina A. “The Poetics of Manhood? Nonverbal Behavior in Catullus 51.” Classical Philology, vol. 103, no. 3, 2008, pp. 257–281. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/596517. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021. 

Hallett, Judith P. “THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN ROMAN ELEGY: COUNTER-CULTURAL FEMINISM.” Arethusa, vol. 6, no. 1, 1973, pp. 103–124. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26307466. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021. 

JOHNSON, CHRISTEL. “MISTRESS AND MYTH: CATULLUS 68B.” The Classical Outlook, vol. 85, no. 4, 2008, pp. 151–154. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43939232. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021. 

Catullus, Gaius Valerius, and Daniel H. Garrison. The Student’s Catullus. University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 

Catullus. The Carmina of Gaius Valerius Catullus. Leonard C. Smithers. London. Smithers. 1894 

Febos, Mellissa, “I Spent My Life Consenting to Touch I Didn’t Want.” New York Times, 31 March 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/magazine/consent.html. Accessed 26 April 2021. 

Miller, Paul Allen. Latin Erotic Elegy. London, Routledge, 2002.

Plum Luard is a senior at Friends Seminary studying Latin, Ancient Greek, and Spanish.  She is particularly fascinated by gendered power structures in elegy and the degree to which we can understand the elegists as feminists.  Plum is passionate about translation—what is lost and what is elucidated.  This is her first publication.

Annual Top 10: Into The Fire out Of The Fire

“No one is so old that he thinks he could not live another year”

nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere #Cicero

2021 has kept us busy: from another year of Reading Greek Tragedy Online, to the debut of Pasts Imperfect, to a new baby, minor medical incidents, and just making it through each day, there’s been a lot of busyness in the second year of our COVID. Somehow, we kept this page up and running. Shit, if COVID, an insurrection, and a pandemic baby won’t kill this page, only Zeus knows what will.

So, another year, another list.  Here are the new posts that got the most attention in 2021. Notable is that this is the first year when a majority of the top posts are by guests.

  1. Just a Girl: Being Briseis: an anonymous post on the challenges of teaching the Iliad when students (and instructor) have encountered sexual violence.
  2. Save the Humanities with this One Simple Trick: A take-down of Eric Adler’s milquetoast and limited The Battle of the Classics.
  3. Classics Beyond Whiteness: An Interview: Amy Lather and  T. H. M. Gellar-Goad discuss a course at Wake Forest and Challenges in Classical Studies
  4. Heroic Grief: Celebrating a New Book on the Iliad: A few reflections on Emily Austin’s new book on the Iliad: Grief and the Hero: The Futility of Longing in the Iliad 
  5. On the Linda Lindas, GenX and Classical Reception Studies: Arum Park’s fantastic discussion of identity, reception, and the Linda Lindas.
  6. Hektor’s Body and the Burden: A reflection on physical trauma the rereading of Hektor’s actions in the Iliad
  7. The Rest Can Go to Hell: Some Funerary Epigrams: A throw-back post!
  8. There’s Only One City: Istanbul: one of Arie Amaya Akkermans’ fabulous, ranging essays
  9. Add/Drop/Keep: A Classics Conversation: A conversation between Nandini Pandey and  Ethan Ganesh Warren imagining the future of Classical Studies.
  10. The Wave of All Waves: Another fantastic essay by Arie Amaya Akkermans

“The coming years bring us many comforts, and take many away as they pass.”

Multa ferunt anni uenientes commoda secum,
multa recedentes adimunt. #Horace

If you can’t get enough of me, I published some things

At the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, ancient Greece and Rome can tell us a lot about the links between collective trauma and going to war.” The Conversation September 3, 2021

with Sarah E. Bond, “The Man Behind the Myth: Should We Question the Hero’s Journey?” LA Review of Books, August 12, 2021 

Not everyone cheered the ancient Olympic games, but the sacred games brought together rival societies.” The Conversation, July 28, 2021

What Greek epics taught me about the special relationship between fathers and sons.” The Conversation, June 15, 2021

How theater can help communities heal from the losses and trauma of the pandemic.The Conversation, May 20, 2021

What Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ can teach us about reentering the world after a year of isolation.” The Conversation, April 22, 2021

I spent too much time talking

On Podcasts

Movies We Dig!

A Bit Lit, April 2021

Ithaca Bound, On Achilles

Ithaca Bound, On Paris

Being Curious with Jonathan Van Ness (21 July 2021, with Sarah E. Bond)

Let’s Talk About Myths Baby with Liv Albert

On YouTube

Myth Salon, June 10, 2021 (or see this website)

Contra Campbell, December 13th, 2021 (Dan Schneider Interview 332)

On the Radio

WNHN’s The Attitude, May 6th, 2021

WORT’s The O’Clock Buzz, May 24th 2021

WNHN’s “The Attitude, May 27th 2021

WNHN’s “The Attitude, June 17th, 2021

WORT’s The 8 O’Clock Buzz, June 21, 2021

WNHN’s “The Attitude, July 12th, 2021

WORT “The 8 OClock Buzz, September 6th, 2021

WNHN’s “The Attitude”, September 8th, 2021

WNHN’s “The Attitude,” Nov 24, 2021

Some conventional things were published too, email or DM for a copy

“Beautiful Bodies, Beautiful Minds: Some Applications of Disability Studies to Homer.” Classical World 114.4

 “Catharsis During Covid-19: Learning about Greek Tragedy Online.’ Teaching Classics in Pandemic Times (Didaskalika 7) edited by Wolfgang Polleichtner. 2021 Speyer: Kartoffeldruck. 34–48.

  (With E.T.E. Barker) “Heracles in Epic.” The Oxford Handbook to Heracles, edited by Daniel Ogden.

  “Odysseus’ ‘Right’: Failed Transition and Political Power in the Odyssey” SAGE Business Cases

No Mortal is Ever Free: Reading Euripides’ “Hecuba” Online

Euripides, Hecuba 1-2 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“I have come from the hidden places of corpses, darkness’ gates,
Once I left the place where Hades lives separate from the gods.
I am Polydorus, a child of Hecuba, the daughter of Kisseus,
And my father was Priam who sent me to this Phrygian city
When danger pressed upon us with a Greek spear.
Because he was afraid he sent me from the Trojan land
To the home of his guest friend Polymestor.”

Ἥκω νεκρῶν κευθμῶνα καὶ σκότου πύλας
λιπών, ἵν᾿ Ἅιδης χωρὶς ᾤκισται θεῶν,
Πολύδωρος, Ἑκάβης παῖς γεγὼς τῆς Κισσέως
Πριάμου τε πατρός, ὅς μ᾿, ἐπεὶ Φρυγῶν πόλιν
κίνδυνος ἔσχε δορὶ πεσεῖν Ἑλληνικῷ,
δείσας ὑπεξέπεμψε Τρωικῆς χθονὸς
Πολυμήστορος πρὸς δῶμα Θρῃκίου ξένου

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with discussion and interpretation during our time of isolation and social distancing. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well.

Euripides’ Hecuba was performed in 424 BCE during the first part of the Peloponnesian War in a period when Athens and Sparta had both suffered reversals. The play tells the story of Hecuba coming to terms with the deaths of her children Polyxena and Polydoros after the end of the Trojan War and before her own death. Euripides’ use of both characters exemplifies well his adaptation of myth: Polyxena’s sacrifice on Achilles’ grave is only one part of a revenge fantasy that has Hecuba plotting the murder of her son’s killer, Polymestor. In the Homeric tradition, Polydoros is Priam’s bastard son. But Euripides’ play maximizes on the appearance of the child’s ghost and the rage of a woman at the end of a disastrous war.Hecuba

Homer, Iliad 20.407-418 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“Then Achilles charged with his spear at godlike Polydoros,
Priam’s son. His father did not want him to fight at all
Because he was the youngest of his children
And was dearest to him: he could beat everyone with his feet
And he was foolishly showing off the excellence of his speed
As he raced through the fighters in front, until he lost his life.
Shining, swift-footed Achilles struck him right in the middle of the back
As he tried to leap past, in that place where the belt’s golden buckle
Comes together and the double-thick tunic meets.
The tip of the spear drove straight through to his navel
And he fell to his knees with a groan as a grey cloud
Overshadowed him. He fell forward holding his bowels in his hands.”

αὐτὰρ ὃ βῆ σὺν δουρὶ μετ’ ἀντίθεον Πολύδωρον
Πριαμίδην. τὸν δ’ οὔ τι πατὴρ εἴασκε μάχεσθαι,
οὕνεκά οἱ μετὰ παισὶ νεώτατος ἔσκε γόνοιο,
καί οἱ φίλτατος ἔσκε, πόδεσσι δὲ πάντας ἐνίκα
δὴ τότε νηπιέῃσι ποδῶν ἀρετὴν ἀναφαίνων
θῦνε διὰ προμάχων, εἷος φίλον ὤλεσε θυμόν.
τὸν βάλε μέσσον ἄκοντι ποδάρκης δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεὺς
νῶτα παραΐσσοντος, ὅθι ζωστῆρος ὀχῆες
χρύσειοι σύνεχον καὶ διπλόος ἤντετο θώρηξ·
ἀντικρὺ δὲ διέσχε παρ’ ὀμφαλὸν ἔγχεος αἰχμή,
γνὺξ δ’ ἔριπ’ οἰμώξας, νεφέλη δέ μιν ἀμφεκάλυψε
κυανέη, προτὶ οἷ δ’ ἔλαβ’ ἔντερα χερσὶ λιασθείς.

 Homer, Iliad 22. 46-48

“I do not see the two boys Lykaon and Polydoros,
At all here in the city of the Trojans,
Those boys whom Laothoê, mistress of women, bore me.”

καὶ γὰρ νῦν δύο παῖδε Λυκάονα καὶ Πολύδωρον
οὐ δύναμαι ἰδέειν Τρώων εἰς ἄστυ ἀλέντων,
τούς μοι Λαοθόη τέκετο κρείουσα γυναικῶν.

Scenes (From this translation)

59-97: Hecuba
177-443: Hecuba, Polyxena, Chorus, Odysseus
953-1295: Polymestor, Chorus, Hecuba, Agamemnon

Euripides, Hecuba 130-135

“The passion of the debate burned equally
On both sides, until that craft-minded
Criminal, the sweet-talking salesman of the people
The son of Laertes persuaded the army
Not to reject the best of all the Danaans
Over slaughtered slaves…”

σπουδαὶ δὲ λόγων κατατεινομένων
ἦσαν ἴσαι πως, πρὶν ὁ ποικιλόφρων
κόπις ἡδυλόγος δημοχαριστὴς
Λαερτιάδης πείθει στρατιὰν
μὴ τὸν ἄριστον Δαναῶν πάντων
δούλων σφαγίων οὕνεκ᾿ ἀπωθεῖν,


Hecuba – Eunice Roberts
Polyxena – Evelyn Miller
Chorus – Tamieka Chavis
Odysseus – Tajh Bellow
Polymestor – Tim Delap
Agamemnon – Carlos Bellato

Special Guest: Toph Marshall

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

 Neoptolemus sacrificing Polyxena after the capture of Troy. Attic black-figure Tyrrhenian amphora, ca. 570-550 BC.

Euripides, Hecuba 369-378 [Polyxena speaking]

“Ok, then, take me Odysseus, take me to die.
For I see no little hope or expectation here
That I will ever live well at all.
Mother, don’t put any kind of obstacle in my way
By saying anything, by doing anything. Share my plan
To die before meeting some shame I don’t deserve
Someone who is unaccustomed to facing troubles
Endures them but it hurts to bend the neck to the yoke.
One like this who dies is much luckier than being alive:
For not living well is terrible toil.”

ἄγ᾿ οὖν μ᾿, Ὀδυσσεῦ, καὶ διέργασαί μ᾿ ἄγων·
οὔτ᾿ ἐλπίδος γὰρ οὔτε του δόξης ὁρῶ
θάρσος παρ᾿ ἡμῖν ὥς ποτ᾿ εὖ πρᾶξαί με χρή.
μῆτερ, σὺ δ᾿ ἡμῖν μηδὲν ἐμποδὼν γένῃ
λέγουσα μηδὲ δρῶσα, συμβούλου δέ μοι
θανεῖν πρὶν αἰσχρῶν μὴ κατ᾿ ἀξίαν τυχεῖν.
ὅστις γὰρ οὐκ εἴωθε γεύεσθαι κακῶν
φέρει μέν, ἀλγεῖ δ᾿ αὐχέν᾿ ἐντιθεὶς ζυγῷ·
θανὼν δ᾿ ἂν εἴη μᾶλλον εὐτυχέστερος
ἢ ζῶν· τὸ γὰρ ζῆν μὴ καλῶς μέγας πόνος.

Euripides, Hecuba 159-168

“Who defends me? What family do I have?
What kind of city? The old man is gone.
Our children are gone.
What kind of path do I take?
This one? That one? Where would I be saved?
Where is there some god or spirit to help?
Trojan women who have endured evils,
Oh, the evil pains you’ve gone through,
You are dead, you have killed—
A life in the light no longer surprises me.”

τίς ἀμύνει μοι; ποία γενεά,
ποία δὲ πόλις; φροῦδος πρέσβυς,
φροῦδοι παῖδες.
ποίαν ἢ ταύταν ἢ κείναν
στείχω; ποῖ δὴ σωθῶ; ποῦ τις
θεῶν ἢ δαίμων ἐπαρωγός;
ὦ κάκ᾿ ἐνεγκοῦσαι
Τρῳάδες, ὦ κάκ᾿ ἐνεγκοῦσαι
πήματ᾿, ἀπωλέσατ᾿ ὠλέσατ
βίος ἀγαστὸς ἐν φάει.

Upcoming Readings (Go here for the project page)

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

Euripides, Andromache, July 8

Aristophanes, Clouds, July 15

Euripides, Alcestis, July 22

Hecuba Kill Kill
An alternate poster by John Koelle

Euripides, Hecuba 864-871

No one who is mortal is free—
We are either the slave of money or chance;
Or the majority of people or the city’s laws
Keep us from living by our own judgment.
Since you feel fear and bend to the masses,
I will make you free of fear:
Understand anything wicked I plan against
My son’s murderer, but don’t help me do it.”

οὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἔστ᾿ ἐλεύθερος·
ἢ χρημάτων γὰρ δοῦλός ἐστιν ἢ τύχης
ἢ πλῆθος αὐτὸν πόλεος ἢ νόμων γραφαὶ
εἴργουσι χρῆσθαι μὴ κατὰ γνώμην τρόποις.
ἐπεὶ δὲ ταρβεῖς τῷ τ᾿ ὄχλῳ πλέον νέμεις,
ἐγώ σε θήσω τοῦδ᾿ ἐλεύθερον φόβου.
σύνισθι μὲν γάρ, ἤν τι βουλεύσω κακὸν
τῷ τόνδ᾿ ἀποκτείναντι, συνδράσῃς δὲ μή.

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th
Euripides, Trojan Women May 20th
Sophocles’ Ajax, May 27th
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion,  June 17th

Euripides, Hecuba 1187-1194

“Agamemnon, it’s not right for people
To possess tongues stronger than deeds.
If someone has done good things, then they ought to speak well
If they do wretched things, well, their words are rotten to,
And they are incapable of ever speaking of injustice well.
Wise are those who have become masters of precise speech!
But they cannot be wise all the way to the end.
They all die terribly. There’s no escape from that.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισιν οὐκ ἐχρῆν ποτε
τῶν πραγμάτων τὴν γλῶσσαν ἰσχύειν πλέον·
ἀλλ᾿ εἴτε χρήστ᾿ ἔδρασε, χρήστ᾿ ἔδει λέγειν,
εἴτ᾿ αὖ πονηρά, τοὺς λόγους εἶναι σαθρούς,
καὶ μὴ δύνασθαι τἄδικ᾿ εὖ λέγειν ποτέ.
σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν εἰσ᾿ οἱ τάδ᾿ ἠκριβωκότες,
ἀλλ᾿ οὐ δύνανται διὰ τέλους εἶναι σοφοί,
κακῶς δ᾿ ἀπώλοντ᾿· οὔτις ἐξήλυξέ πω.

Our Unexamined Fears: Reading Euripides’ “Trojan Women” online

Euripides, Trojan Women 25-27

“I am leaving famous Ilion and my altars.
Whenever terrible isolation overtakes a city
The gods’ places turn sick and don’t want to receive worship”

λείπω τὸ κλεινὸν Ἴλιον βωμούς τ᾽ ἐμούς:
ἐρημία γὰρ πόλιν ὅταν λάβῃ κακή,
νοσεῖ τὰ τῶν θεῶν οὐδὲ τιμᾶσθαι θέλει.

Trojan Women Poster

I have been helping  the Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre to present scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’  in our time of isolation. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.” But this experience also helps us thing about how changes we understand the tragic genre and its performance, how the themes and concerns of ancient tragedy communicate to us today, especially in a time of crisis, and, most importantly, how important it is to stay occupied and engaged with one another.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well

Euripides, Trojan Women, 95-98

“Any mortal fool enough to sack cites,
Their temples, shrines and the graves of those they killed,
Dies later on in self-made isolation.”

μῶρος δὲ θνητῶν ὅστις ἐκπορθεῖ πόλεις,
ναούς τε τύμβους θ᾽, ἱερὰ τῶν κεκμηκότων,
ἐρημίᾳ δοὺς αὐτὸς ὤλεθ᾽ ὕστερον.

This play was performed in the same year that Athens razed the island of Melos, in the same year as the disastrous Sicilian Expedition. Both of these events are worth mentioning because they feature Athens at the height of its power, aggressive, haughty, and driven by the rhetoric of power.

For obvious reasons of context, then, Euripides’ Trojan Women is often read as a response to the same forces arguing that might makes right in Thucydides’ famous Melian dialogue.  For me, the outcome of the Melian decision, that a democratic people voted to destroy an allied city, kill all the men, and enslave all the women and children for the crime of resisting their power, stands with Odysseus’ hanging of the enslaved women in the Odyssey and Achilles’ sacrifice of Trojan youths over Patroclus’ funeral pyre as horrors transmitted by the ancient world that we have all too often minimized or ignored altogether in our reception of the past.

Scenes (using this translation for performance)

98-155 Hecuba’ first speech
235-460 Hecuba, Talthybius, Cassandra, Chorus
686-797 Hecuba, Andromache, Talthybius, Chorus
1118-1335 Hecuba, Talthybius, Chorus


“Listen how it is with Hektor’s mournful tale:
He died, leaving a reputation as the best man.
The coming of the Greeks made this happen.
If they had stayed home, his value would have stayed hidden.”

τὰ δ᾽ Ἕκτορός σοι λύπρ᾽ ἄκουσον ὡς ἔχει:
395δόξας ἀνὴρ ἄριστος οἴχεται θανών,
καὶ τοῦτ᾽ Ἀχαιῶν ἵξις ἐξεργάζεται:
εἰ δ᾽ ἦσαν οἴκοι, χρηστὸς ὢν ἐλάνθανεν.

This Week’s Actors and Crew

Chorus – Danai Epithymiadi

Hecuba – Eunice Roberts
Talthybios – Robert Matney
Cassandra – Evelyn Miller
Andromache – Tabatha Gayle

Special Guest: Robin Mitchell-Boyask

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone


Andromache: “She is dead, she is dead. But even dead
She has a better fate than I do still alive

Hecuba: “Being dead is not the same as seeing the world still, child:
One is to be nothing, while hope remains in the other.”

ὄλωλεν ὡς ὄλωλεν: ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἐμοῦ
ζώσης γ᾽ ὄλωλεν εὐτυχεστέρῳ πότμῳ.

οὐ ταὐτόν, ὦ παῖ, τῷ βλέπειν τὸ κατθανεῖν:
τὸ μὲν γὰρ οὐδέν, τῷ δ᾽ ἔνεισιν ἐλπίδες.

Upcoming Readings (Wednesdays at 3PM EDT, Unless otherwise noted; the project page))
Sophocles, Ajax, May 29th

Euripides, Andromache, June 3rd

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion, June 17th[10 AM EDT/3PM GMT]

Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st



“Any mortal is a fool who takes some pleasure
From imagining their good luck is safe: in its turns
Fortune’s like a crazed person leaping this way one day
And then another, no one ever keeps the same good luck.”

θνητῶν δὲ μῶρος ὅστις εὖ πράσσειν δοκῶν
βέβαια χαίρει: τοῖς τρόποις γὰρ αἱ τύχαι,
ἔμπληκτος ὡς ἄνθρωπος, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἄλλοσε
πηδῶσι, κοὐδεὶς αὐτὸς εὐτυχεῖ ποτε.

Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes  May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th


“You fear a child this young? I can’t praise fear
When someone is frightened without examining why.”

βρέφος τοσόνδ᾽ ἐδείσατ᾽: οὐκ αἰνῶ φόβον,
ὅστις φοβεῖται μὴ διεξελθὼν λόγῳ.

Slandering this Fake Socrates Quote is Perfectly Fine

So, a twitter correspondent (.@stustin) asked me about this one:


This is so fake that it has been debunked by Snopes and Politifact, which traced the simplistic sentiment to a goodreads account in 2008. A simple google books search shows that the misattribution made the leap to books a few years ago and seems to be growing like a virus or cancer.

On my fake quotation scale, this stands somewhere between Peisistratos Fake–because it has been obviously manufactured–and Racist Fake because it is used in political debates by those trying to prevaricate when their interlocutors mention the moral turpitude of someone like a Supreme Court Justice who likes beer and putting his genitals in people’s faces. This is just another one of those lame, nitpicking logic-memes which put on a false mantle of antiquity for authority.

Socrates does talk a lot about slander, but he is usually worried about how slander prejudices audiences against speakers before a debate even happens (he says this in the Apology). In this case, the concern is the opposite of that in the spurious quotation: the quotation fears that debate devolves into name-calling and away from fact whereas Socrates is actually worried that previous name-calling and unquestioned assumptions makes it impossible for his audiences to apprehend the facts of a case.

Plato, Apology 19a

“Well, so be it. I need to defend myself, Athenians, and I need to try to take from you the slander you have absorbed over so long a period in such little time.”

Εἶεν· ἀπολογητέον δή, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, καὶ ἐπιχειρητέον ὑμῶν ἐξελέσθαι τὴν διαβολὴν ἣν ὑμεῖς ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ ἔσχετε ταύτην ἐν οὕτως ὀλίγῳ χρόνῳ.


“The knife cuts, but slander separates friends: a saying of Democritus”

῾Η μὲν μάχαιρα τέμνει· ἡ δὲ διαβολὴ χωρίζει φίλους Δημοκρίτου.

Here’s some more imaginary Socrates from Real Plato:

“I think that I am wiser by this very small bit: I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know.”

ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.

Homer: Poet, Parent, Parodist?

If you want to read more about Homer and the “Battle of Frogs and Mice”, you can check out the page on the blog. And you can also check out our book…

Greek Anthology, Exhortative Epigrams 90

“Because he wanted to exercise his mind,
Homer made up the tale of frogs and mice,
Which he then gave to children to imitate.”

῞Ομηρος αὐτοῦ γυμνάσαι γνῶσιν θέλων,
τῶν βατράχων ἔπλασε καὶ μυῶν μῦθον
ἔνθεν παρορμῶν πρὸς μίμησιν τοὺς νέους.

The problematic biographies, the various Lives of Homer, include some similar information.

Vita Herodotea 332-4

“The man from Khios had children around the same age. They were entrusted to Homer for education. He composed these poems: the Kekropes, Batrakohmuomakia, Psaromakhia, Heptapaktikê, and Epikikhlides and as many other poems as were playful.”

ἦσαν γὰρ τῷ Χίῳ παῖδες ἐν ἡλικίῃ. τούτους οὖν αὐτῷ παρατίθησι παιδεύειν. ὁ δὲ ἔπρησσε ταῦτα· καὶ τοὺς Κέρκωπας καὶ Βατραχομυομαχίαν καὶ Ψαρομαχίην καὶ ῾Επταπακτικὴν καὶ ᾿Επικιχλίδας καὶ τἄλλα πάντα ὅσα παίγνιά ἐστιν.

Vita Plutarchea 1.98-100

“He wrote two poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey and, as some say, though not truthfully, he added the Batrakhomuomakhia and Margites for practice and education.”

ἔγραψε δὲ ποιήματα δύο, ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ ᾿Οδύσσειαν, ὡς δέ τινες, οὐκ ἀληθῶς λέγοντες, γυμνασίας καὶ παιδείας ἕνεκα Βατραχομυομαχίαν προσθεὶς καὶ Μαργίτην.

Vita Quinta, 22-24

“Some also say that two school poems were attributed to him, the Batrakhomuomakhia and the Margites.”

τινὲς δ’ αὐτοῦ φασιν εἶναι καὶ τὰ φερόμενα δύο γράμματα, τήν τε Βατραχομυομαχίαν καὶ τὸν Μαργίτην.

The Margites is another epic parody we have only in fragmentary form.  Aristotle attributes it to Homer in his Poetics (1448b28-1449a3):

“We aren’t able to say anything about [parody] before Homer—but it is likely there were many—but we must start from Homer who leaves us the Margites and other works of this sort. It is fitting that among these works he also developed the iambic meter—for this is the very reason that iambos is called this today, since men are always mocking each other in that meter. Some of the ancient poets wrote heroic poetry, others wrote iambic.  Just as Homer was the exceptional poet in serious matters—for he didn’t only do it well in other ways but he also made his representations dramatic—in the same way he was the first to display the character of comedy in dramatizing something funny, not reproachful. And his Margites completes an analogy for us: just as the Iliad and the Odyssey are to tragedy, so to the Margites is to comedy.”

τῶν μὲν οὖν πρὸ ῾Ομήρου οὐδενὸς ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν τοιοῦτον ποίημα, εἰκὸς δὲ εἶναι πολλούς, ἀπὸ δὲ ῾Ομήρου ἀρξαμένοις ἔστιν, οἷον ἐκείνου ὁ Μαργίτης καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα. ἐν οἷς κατὰ τὸ ἁρμόττον καὶ τὸ ἰαμβεῖον ἦλθε μέτρον—διὸ καὶ ἰαμβεῖον καλεῖται νῦν, ὅτι ἐν τῷ μέτρῳ τούτῳ ἰάμβιζον ἀλλήλους. καὶ ἐγένοντο τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ μὲν ἡρωικῶν οἱ δὲ ἰάμβων ποιηταί. ὥσπερ δὲ καὶ τὰ σπουδαῖα μάλιστα ποιητὴς ῞Ομηρος ἦν (μόνος γὰρ οὐχ ὅτι εὖ ἀλλὰ καὶ μιμήσεις δραμαικὰς ἐποίησεν), οὕτως καὶ τὸ τῆς κωμῳδίας σχῆμα πρῶτος ὑπέδειξεν, οὐ ψόγον ἀλλὰ τὸ γελοῖον δραματοποιήσας· ὁ γὰρ Μαργίτης ἀνάλογον ἔχει, ὥσπερ ᾿Ιλιὰς καὶ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια πρὸς τὰς τραγῳδίας, οὕτω καὶ οὗτος πρὸς τὰς κωμῳδίας.

The Batrakhomuomakhia, however, is not clearly ascribed to Homer until the first century CE.


The Iliad’s Three Asioi

Asios 1 is from Lydia, son of Kotyon, king of the Lydians

Schol. Ad Il. A 2.261

“Asios was the son of Kotus and Muiô, the king of the Lydians, as Khristodôros claims in his Lydian Histories: “Kotus took another wife to share his bed, the white-armed girl named Muio / and she bore the son Asios.”

[Asios] was from Asios, the son of Kotus the king of Ludia. Kaüstros was son of Penthesilea the Amazon, [and it was he] who married Derketô in Askalôn and had Semiramis from her. Among the Syrians, Derketô is called Atargatîs”

ex. <᾿Ασίω:> ῎Ασιος υἱὸς Κότυος καὶ Μυιοῦς, Λυδῶν βασιλεύς, ὥς φησι Χριστόδωρος ἐν τοῖς Λυδιακοῖς (FGrHist 283, 1)· „Κότυς λευκώλενον ἄλλην / ἤγετο κουριδίην ὁμοδέμνιον, οὔνομα Μυιοῦν· / ἡ δ’ ῎Ασιον τέκε κοῦρον”. A

Ep. Hom. | <᾿Ασίω:> ἀπὸ τοῦ ᾿Ασίου τοῦ Κότυος βασιλέως Λυδίας ex. (Porph. ?) Κάϋστρος υἱὸς Πενθεσιλείας τῆς ᾿Αμαζόνος, ὃς ἐν ᾿Ασκάλωνι ἔγημεν τὴν Δερκετὼ καὶ ἐξ αὐτῆς ἔσχεν τὴν Σεμίραμιν. | ἡ δὲ Δερκετὼ παρὰ Σύροις καλεῖται᾿Αταργατῖς. A


Asios 2 is the son of Hurtakos, also Phrygia or from Arisbê

Schol. Ad Il. 2. 838

“Asios the son of Hurtakos, the marshal of men”: there is a fact that this Asios has the same name as a brother of Hekabê. Aristarchus indicates the same named men in work about Pulaimenos. And regarding the repetition, that this is something extra in the Iliad.”

τῶν αὖθ’ ῾Υρτακίδης <ἦρχ’ ῎Ασιος, ὄρχαμος ἀνδρῶν, / ῎Ασιος ῾Υρτακίδης>: ὅτι ὁ ῎Ασιος οὗτος ὁμώνυμός ἐστι τῷ ῾Εκάβης ἀδελφῷ (cf. Π 717). ἐσημειοῦτο δὲ ὁ ᾿Αρίσταρχος τὰς ὁμωνυμίας πρὸς τὰ <περὶ> Πυλαιμένους. καὶ πρὸς τὴν ἐπανάληψιν, ὅτι πλεονάζει ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι. A ex. (Ariston.?) <῎Ασιος ῾Υρτακίδης:> τῇ ἐπαναλήψει ἐσημειώσατο τὸν ἥρωα ὡς λέξων περὶ αὐτοῦ. καὶ ὅτι διὰ τοὺς ἵππους ὀλεῖται (cf.Ν 392). b(BCE3)

“He is Phrygian. The younger poets say that Troy and Phrygia are the same. But Homer does not say this. Aeschylus agrees. These are from a smaller part of Phrygia. The greater part lies along the Sangarios where Asios “who is the maternal uncle of Hektor tamer of horses.”

Ariston. | ex. Φρύγας: ὅτι οἱ νεώτεροι τὴν Τροίαν καὶ τὴν Φρυγίαν τὴν αὐτὴν λέγουσιν, ὁ δὲ ῞Ομηρος οὐχ οὕτως. Αἰσχύλος (fr. 446 N.2 242c M. = 446 R.) δὲ συνέχεεν. | οὗτοι δὲ τῆς μικρᾶς εἰσι Φρυγίας. ἡ δὲ μεγάλη παρὰ τῷ Σαγγαρίῳ κεῖται, ὅθεν καὶ ῎Ασιος, „ὃς μήτρως ἦν ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο” (Π 717). A

Schol ad. Il. 12.96

Asios the son of Hurtakos whom horses brought from Arisbe.”…he is about the describe his bold dead, and he has properly designated him through his horses and his father. Arisbê is a city on the Hellespont. He is saying that it was bold for them to come to Troy by foot.

Aristonicus: Asios the son of Hyrtakos: there is a bit extra in the Iliad in the repetitions of this [name]. in the Odyssey it only comes up once.

ex. ῎Ασιος ῾Υρτακίδης, ὃν ᾿Αρίσβηθεν φέρον ἵπποι </ αἴθωνες μεγάλοι>: μέλλων αὐτοῦ θρασεῖαν διηγεῖσθαι πρᾶξιν, εἰκότως ἐπεσημειώσατο αὐτὸν διὰ τῶν ἵππων καὶ πατρός. b(BCE3) T ᾿Αρίσβη δὲ πόλις ῾Ελλησπόντου. φησὶν δὲ ὅτι θαρρῶν αὐτοῖς πεζὸς ἧκεν εἰς ῎Ιλιον.
Ariston. ῎Ασιος ῾Υρτακίδης: ὅτι πλεονάζει ἐν ᾿Ιλιάδι τὰς ἐπαναλήψεις, ἐν ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ δὲ ἅπαξ (sc. α 23).

Attic cup depicting a greek sailing ship. Upper detail. Black figures decoration. Archaic Greek art. Ceramics. Date: Source: FRANCE. Paris. Louvre Museum.

Asios 3 is Hektor’s Uncle

Il. 16.715-719

“Apollo then stood next to him as he was thinking,
Appearing in the shape of a noble and strong man,
Asios, who was the maternal uncle of Hektor the tamer of horses,
One who was a brother of Hekabê, the son of Dumas.
He used to live in Phrygia along the course of the Sangarios.”

ταῦτ’ ἄρα οἱ φρονέοντι παρίστατο Φοῖβος ᾿Απόλλων
ἀνέρι εἰσάμενος αἰζηῷ τε κρατερῷ τε
᾿Ασίῳ, ὃς μήτρως ἦν ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο
αὐτοκασίγνητος ῾Εκάβης, υἱὸς δὲ Δύμαντος,
ὃς Φρυγίῃ ναίεσκε ῥοῇς ἔπι Σαγγαρίοιο·

Schol ad. Il. 16.718b

“the brother of Hekabe, the “son of Dumas”. Of Dumas and the nymph Euthoê, according to Pherecydes. But according to Athenaion, he was the son of Kisseus and Têlekleia. Unless Asios is a son of the same mother as Hekabe. For Asios is recently present. Therefore, he does not mention him in the Catalogue.”

ex. αὐτοκασίγνητος ῾Εκάβης, <υἱὸς δὲ Δύμαντος>: Δύμαντος καὶ Εὐθόης νύμφης, ὡς Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 136b)· ᾿Αθηναίων (FGrHist 546,2) δὲ Κισσέως καὶ Τηλεκλείας, εἰ μὴ ἄρα ὁμομήτριος αὐτῇ ὁ ῎Ασιος. νεωστὶ δὲ πάρεστιν ὁ ῎Ασιος· διὸ οὐδὲ ἐν τῷ Καταλόγῳ αὐτοῦ μέμνηται. T



The Weakest Slave: The Millwoman’s Sorrowful Sign

In this often overlooked scene we find an unnamed slave at the end of a long night’s work. 

Odyssey 20.97-120

[Odysseus] carried it outside and then prayed
while raising his hands to Zeus,
“Zeus, father, if you have willingly led me
over the soil and swell to this land,
after you have made me a much lesser man,
let someone of those gathered within utter my fame
and let some other sign of Zeus appear without.”

So he spoke while praying and Zeus the advisor was listening to him.
He immediately thundered from shining Olympus
high above from the clouds. And brilliant Odysseus smiled.
A woman from the house near the mill released a sound [phêmê]
where the twelve mills were set for the shepherd of the host.
There were twelve women working there
regularly working the barley and the wheat, men’s marrow.
The others were sleeping, since they had finished grinding their grain.
But she alone was not yet stopping, since she was the weakest of all.
But then she stopped her mill and spoke, a sign for her master.

“Zeus, father, you who rule over the gods and people,
how you have thundered from the starry sky
where there is no cloud! In this you show your sign.
Now grant to wretched me this word which I speak:
may this be the last and final day on which the suitors
take their lovely feast in the halls of Odysseus.
These men wear the knees of tired, heart-pained me
as I make their meal. Let them dine now for the last.”

So she spoke and Odysseus took pleasure in the speech and the thunder. For he was thinking that he would pay the guilty back.”

θῆκε θύραζε φέρων, Διὶ δ’ εὔξατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ μ’ ἐθέλοντες ἐπὶ τραφερήν τε καὶ ὑγρὴν
ἤγετ’ ἐμὴν ἐς γαῖαν, ἐπεί μ’ ἐκακώσατε λίην,
φήμην τίς μοι φάσθω ἐγειρομένων ἀνθρώπων
ἔνδοθεν, ἔκτοσθεν δὲ Διὸς τέρας ἄλλο φανήτω.”
ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος· τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς,
αὐτίκα δ’ ἐβρόντησεν ἀπ’ αἰγλήεντος ᾿Ολύμπου,
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων· γήθησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
φήμην δ’ ἐξ οἴκοιο γυνὴ προέηκεν ἀλετρὶς
πλησίον, ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ μύλαι εἵατο ποιμένι λαῶν.
τῇσιν δώδεκα πᾶσαι ἐπερρώοντο γυναῖκες
ἄλφιτα τεύχουσαι καὶ ἀλείατα, μυελὸν ἀνδρῶν·
αἱ μὲν ἄρ’ ἄλλαι εὗδον, ἐπεὶ κατὰ πυρὸν ἄλεσσαν,
ἡ δὲ μί’ οὔ πω παύετ’, ἀφαυροτάτη δὲ τέτυκτο·
ἥ ῥα μύλην στήσασα ἔπος φάτο, σῆμα ἄνακτι·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσεις,
ἦ μεγάλ’ ἐβρόντησας ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί· τέρας νύ τεῳ τόδε φαίνεις.
κρῆνον νῦν καὶ ἐμοὶ δειλῇ ἔπος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω·
μνηστῆρες πύματόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἤματι τῷδε
ἐν μεγάροισ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος ἑλοίατο δαῖτ’ ἐρατεινήν,
οἳ δή μοι καμάτῳ θυμαλγέϊ γούνατ’ ἔλυσαν
ἄλφιτα τευχούσῃ· νῦν ὕστατα δειπνήσειαν.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
Ζηνός τε βροντῇ· φάτο γὰρ τείσασθαι ἀλείτας.
αἱ δ’ ἄλλαι δμῳαὶ κατὰ δώματα κάλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος
ἐγρόμεναι ἀνέκαιον ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ ἀκάματον πῦρ.

This scene illustrates the extent to which minor characters exist and in fact suffer pointlessly for Odysseus’ benefit: we get the briefest glimpse into the life and suffering of one of the mill-working women in order to satisfy Odysseus’ own desire to hear that he is remembered.  For me, this scene is a metonym for the narrative’s use of marginalized peoples in the generic instrumentalization of another’s pain to satisfy Odysseus’ narrative ends.

Pottery: black-figured amphora showing a scene of olive-gathering. A naked youth seated in a tree shakes down olives with sticks. Two bearded figures beat the trees with sticks, and a naked youth collects the fallen olives in a basket. The other side show
A vase from the British Museum

“My Mother Is Like This…”

The scene: Telemachus is asking Euryklea how she treated the beggar (who is Odysseus) over night. He does not know that she knows that it is Odysseus. It is not clear whether or not she knows that he knows that this is Odysseus. So, Telemachus takes the opportunity to complain about his mom.

Odyssey 20.128-145

“She stood once she went to the threshold and he addressed addressed Eurykleia
“Dear auntie, how did you honor the guest in our home
With sleep and food—or does he lie there uncared for?
For this is the way my mother is even though she is really intelligent.
She madly honors one man of the mortal human race
Who is worse and then she dishonors another by sending him away.”

Then wise Eurykleia addressed him in turn.

“You shouldn’t blame the blameless now child.
For he sat and was drinking her as long as he wanted
And he said that he was no longer hungry—for she asked him.
But when they were thinking about going to be and sleep
She ordered the slave women to law out blankets for him
But he, just like someone who is completely wretched and poor,
Would not sleep on a bed and on blankets,
But on unworked oxhide and fleeces of sheep
He slept in the front hall. We put a cloak on him.”
So she spoke and Telemachus went out of the bedroom
With a spear in his hand. The swiftfooted dogs were following him.

στῆ δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπ’ οὐδὸν ἰών, πρὸς δ’ Εὐρύκλειαν ἔειπε·
“μαῖα φίλη, πῶς ξεῖνον ἐτιμήσασθ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
εὐνῇ καὶ σίτῳ, ἦ αὔτως κεῖται ἀκηδής;
τοιαύτη γὰρ ἐμὴ μήτηρ, πινυτή περ ἐοῦσα·
ἐμπλήγδην ἕτερόν γε τίει μερόπων ἀνθρώπων
χείρονα, τὸν δέ τ’ ἀρείον’ ἀτιμήσασ’ ἀποπέμπει.”
τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε περίφρων Εὐρύκλεια·
“οὐκ ἄν μιν νῦν, τέκνον, ἀναίτιον αἰτιόῳο.
οἶνον μὲν γὰρ πῖνε καθήμενος, ὄφρ’ ἔθελ’ αὐτός,
σίτου δ’ οὐκέτ’ ἔφη πεινήμεναι· εἴρετο γάρ μιν.
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ κοίτοιο καὶ ὕπνου μιμνῄσκοντο,
ἡ μὲν δέμνι’ ἄνωγεν ὑποστορέσαι δμῳῇσιν,
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’, ὥς τις πάμπαν ὀϊζυρὸς καὶ ἄποτμος,
οὐκ ἔθελ’ ἐν λέκτροισι καὶ ἐν ῥήγεσσι καθεύδειν,
ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀδεψήτῳ βοέῃ καὶ κώεσιν οἰῶν
ἔδραθ’ ἐνὶ προδόμῳ· χλαῖναν δ’ ἐπιέσσαμεν ἡμεῖς.”
ὣς φάτο, Τηλέμαχος δὲ διὲκ μεγάροιο βεβήκει
ἔγχος ἔχων· ἅμα τῷ γε κύνες πόδας ἀργοὶ ἕποντο.

Schol. Q ad Od. 20.131 ex.

“This is what my mother is like…” He is not slandering his mother but he means that she honors those beggars who bring good tidings about Odysseus even though they are lying but then does not honor those good ones because they don’t lie.”

τοιαύτη γὰρ ἐμοὶ μήτηρ] οὐ διαβάλλει τὴν μητέρα, ἀλλὰ λέγει ὅτι τοὺς μὲν πτωχοὺς εὐαγγελιζομένους περὶ ᾿Οδυσσέως τιμᾷ καίπερ ψευδομένους, τοὺς δὲ ἀγαθοὺς διὰ τὸ μὴ ψεύδεσθαι ἀτιμάζει. Q.


An ancient Greek vase showing Medea in the act of murdering one of her children.
Maybe his mother should have been like this…. (Ixion Painter, Medea killing a son, c. 330 BC (Louvre, Paris).)

Commentary on the Batrakhomuomakhia, Part 5: Lines 56-66

This is installment five of a working commentary on the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice. We have posted a translation elsewhere and welcome comments or suggestions on any part of this project.


56 Πρὸς τάδε μειδήσας Φυσίγναθος ἀντίον ηὔδα•
57 ξεῖνε λίην αὐχεῖς ἐπὶ γαστέρι• ἔστι καὶ ἡμῖν
58 πολλὰ μάλ’ ἐν λίμνῃ καὶ ἐπὶ χθονὶ θαύματ’ ἰδέσθαι.
59 ἀμφίβιον γὰρ ἔδωκε νομὴν βατράχοισι Κρονίων,
60 σκιρτῆσαι κατὰ γαῖαν, ἐν ὕδασι σῶμα καλύψαι,
61 στοιχείοις διττοῖς μεμερισμένα δώματα ναίειν.
62 εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις καὶ ταῦτα δαήμεναι εὐχερές ἐστι•
63 βαῖνέ μοι ἐν νώτοισι, κράτει δέ με μήποτ’ ὀλίσθῃς,
64 ὅππως γηθόσυνος τὸν ἐμὸν δόμον εἰσαφίκηαι.
65 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ νῶτ’ ἐδίδου• ὁ δ’ ἔβαινε τάχιστα
66 χεῖρας ἔχων τρυφεροῖο κατ’ αὐχένος ἅμματι κούφῳ.


56 μειδήσας: “Grinning”, often appears in responses to speeches in Homer, e.g. Il. 23.555 ( ῝Ως φάτο, μείδησεν δὲ ποδάρκης δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεὺς). This masculine participle seems a bit more popular in the Hellenistic period, see Ap. Rhodes 2.61 and Gr. Anth. 12.126.3.

ἀντίον ηὔδα: “He responded, answered back”; a typical Homeric speech introduction for answering.

57 ξεῖνε λίην αὐχεῖς ἐπὶ γαστέρι
λίην: “excessively”, adv.
αὐχεῖς: “You brag about ..” with ἐπὶ γαστέρι. αὐχεῖς is not a Homeric word, but it does appear in Aeschylus (Ag. 1497; cf. Eur. Her. 31 Χο. εἰ σὺ μέγ’ αὐχεῖς).

ἐπὶ γαστέρι: “on your belly” with the sense of “because of”. See Smyth §1689.2c. This is not a typical use of the preposition in Homer. The phrase does appear in the Odyssey (7.216: οὐ γάρ τι στυγερῇ ἐπὶ γαστέρι κύντερον ἄλλο) but the sense there seems more one of addition or comparison (“there is nothing more shameful beyond a belly”).

ἔστι καὶ ἡμῖν: Dative of possession with subject enjambed in the next line.

58 θαύματ’ ἰδέσθαι: This plural (θαύματ’) does not occur in Homer. For the singular with this infinitive, see Hom. Od. 13.108: φάρε’ ὑφαίνουσιν ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι. The phrase-pattern may have a certain antiquity, however. Cf. the plural at Hes. Th. 834. The rhythmic shape is the same with either ending.

59 ἀμφίβιον…νομὴν: “amphibious realm”; lit. “a double-lived pasture”
Κρονίων: “Son of Kronos”, Zeus, a typical Homeric epithet for Zeus in this position.

60 σκιρτῆσαι κατὰ γαῖαν, ἐν ὕδασι σῶμα καλύψαι: The verb δίδωμι (here, ἔδωκε) often takes an infinitive (i.e. “Zeus grants that we dance upon the earth”). But combined here with the object ἀμφίβιον…νομὴν it seems a bit forced. The chiastic structure of this line (infinitive-prepositional phrases-infinitive) seems rather characteristic of Hellenistic play. Note as well the possible humorous foreshadowing in “covering the body in water” (σῶμα καλύψαι).

61 στοιχείοις: “Parts, or elements”; this is a lengthened or diminutive of στοῖχος which means “row or rank”. The meaning “parts” or “elements” is rather common in philosophical prose. But it also appears more colloquially as well, and a few times in Aesop as in Fab 32.2.9 (“The story shows that no place, no land, no sky nor any part of the water safekeeps murders of men”, ὁ μῦθος δηλοῖ, ὅτι τοὺς φονεῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων οὔτε γῆς οὔτε ἀέρος οὔτε ὕδατος στοιχεῖον οὔτε τόπος ἄλλος φυλάττει). The root noun certainly was available as early as Homer, cf. “in a ranked line” μεταστοιχί (Il. 23.358)
᾿Αναξίμανδρος Πραξιάδου Μιλήσιος. οὗτος ἔφασκεν ἀρχὴν
καὶ στοιχεῖον τὸ ἄπειρον, οὐ διορίζων ἀέρα ἢ ὕδωρ ἢ ἄλλο τι (Diog. Laert. 2.1)

διττοῖς: Un-Homeric. A word such διπλόος would be more common epic usage. Theognis has the non-Attic Δισσαί (837)

δώματα ναίειν: “to inhabit homes”, still governed by ἔδωκε, i.e. “Zeus has granted that we inhabit…” Cf. Hes. Th. 303: ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ δάσσαντο θεοὶ κλυτὰ δώματα ναίειν and νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, θεὰ δ’ ἐν δώματα ναίει (Odyssey 1.51)

μεμερισμένα: “divided” from μερίζω, “to divide”. This participle does not occur in Homer, but it can be found in a scholion to The Odyssey, which says of the Aethiopians: Αἰθίοπες ἀνατολικοὶ καὶ δυσμικοί. κατοικοῦσι δὲ ἀμφότεροι πρὸς τῷ ὠκεανῷ. τούτου χάριν φησὶν “ἔσχατοι ἀνδρῶν.” E. νενέμηνται, μεμερισμένοι εἰσίν. (Scholia in Odysseam, Book 1 Line 23.)This gives the boast of Phusignathos a comic effect by extending his range between the real and semi-mythical worlds. See also line 20, where Okeanoio is a given as a variant of Eridanoio.

62 δαήμεναι: from δάω Homeric infinitive, “to learn”, often with a genitive direct object in Homer Cf. Il. 21.487 (εἰ δ’ ἐθέλεις πολέμοιο δαήμεναι…)

εὐχερές: Lit. “ready-to-hand”, i.e. “easy”

63 βαῖνέ… ἐν: tmesis is common in Homer; ἐμβαίνω is often used with getting on ships.

ἐν νώτοισι: “on my back”. The plural is often used metaphorically in Homer for the sea (e.g. Od. 17.146: οἵ κέν μιν πέμποιεν ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάσσης.) but this dative form appears twice in references to portions of meat (Il. 7.321; Od. 14.437), although archaic poetry also uses it with horses (see Theognis 249: οὐχ ἵππων νώτοισιν ἐφήμενος• ἀλλά σε πέμψει)

κράτει δέ με μήποτ’ ὀλίσθῃς: from κρατέω (imperative singular, often confused with the third person indicative κρατεῖ); “Hold me tight so you don’t slip off”; The verb κράτει has no parallels in Homer but appears with a genitive object in Sophocles (Philokt. 1292: πρότεινε χεῖρα, καὶ κράτει τῶν σῶν ὅπλων).

64 γηθόσυνος: “Happy”, a Homeric adjective, e.g. Il. 4.272 ( ῝Ως ἔφατ’, ᾿Ατρεΐδης δὲ παρῴχετο γηθόσυνος κῆρ).

ὅππως …εἰσαφίκηαι: Uncontracted middle aorist optative from ὰφικνέομαι (optative because of ὅππως (lengthened from ὅπως for metrical reasons), object clause of effort). This is a Homeric form, though rare: μὴ καὶ ὑπὲρ μοῖραν δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἰσαφίκηαι, 30.336). In Homer, object clauses may take the subjunctive or optative where Attic might use future forms. See Smyth §2217.

65 ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ: A typical speech conclusion, cf. Il. 1.584 (῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη καὶ ἀναΐξας δέπας ἀμφικύπελλον)

ὁ δ’: The particle δέ is frequently used to signal a subject change.

ἐδίδου: Imperfect, 3rd singular active. This form occurs once in Homer (Od. 11.289).

66 χεῖρας ἔχων τρυφεροῖο κατ’ αὐχένος:
τρυφεροῖο: Some manuscripts ἀπαλοῖο. Restored, the phrase recalls Iliadic battle language: ἀντικρὺ δ’ ἁπαλοῖο δι’ αὐχένος ἤλυθ’ ἀκωκή, Il.17.49.

κατ’ αὐχένος: “around, along the neck”. This combination is rare in the Classical period.

ἅμματι κούφῳ: “ghostly brine”; Some manuscripts have ἀλματι καλω̣῀,