Instructors of Evil

Euripides, Andromache 940-951

“I had great wealth and I was ruling my home.
I would have had noble children some day
And she would only give birth to half-slave bastards for them.
But never and I say it over and over, never
Should anyone who has any sense at all and a wife
Allow other women to come to visit them!

These women are instructors of evils.
One ruins a marriage because she hopes to gain something,
While another who’s afflicted wants someone to be sick with.
Many more act because of native vice—and this is how
The homes of men grow diseased.”

πολὺς μὲν ὄλβος, δωμάτων δ᾿ ἠνάσσομεν,
παῖδας δ᾿ ἐγὼ μὲν γνησίους ἔτικτον ἄν,
ἡ δ᾿ ἡμιδούλους τοῖς ἐμοῖς νοθαγενεῖς.
ἀλλ᾿ οὔποτ᾿ οὔποτ᾿ (οὐ γὰρ εἰσάπαξ ἐρῶ)
χρὴ τούς γε νοῦν ἔχοντας, οἷς ἔστιν γυνή,
πρὸς τὴν ἐν οἴκοις ἄλοχον ἐσφοιτᾶν ἐᾶν
γυναῖκας· αὗται γὰρ διδάσκαλοι κακῶν·
ἡ μέν τι κερδαίνουσα συμφθείρει λέχος,
ἡ δ᾿ ἀμπλακοῦσα συννοσεῖν αὑτῇ θέλει,
πολλαὶ δὲ μαργότητι· κἀντεῦθεν δόμοι
νοσοῦσιν ἀνδρῶν. …

954-6

“You’ve laid into your kindred with your tongue too much!
Such things are forgivable for you now, but still
Women must work to cover up women’s afflictions!”

ἄγαν ἐφῆκας γλῶσσαν ἐς τὸ σύμφυτον.
συγγνωστὰ μέν νυν σοὶ τάδ᾿, ἀλλ᾿ ὅμως χρεὼν
κοσμεῖν γυναῖκας τὰς γυναικείας νόσους.

Frederic Leighton, “Captive Andromache”

and here’s a performance of sections of this play from Reading Greek Tragedy Online:

 

A Wise Doctor, a Final Word

Sophocles, Ajax 581-582

“Close it quickly: it is not a sign of a wise doctor
To chant spells over a wound that needs cutting.”

πύκαζε θᾶσσον. οὐ πρὸς ἰατροῦ σοφοῦ
θρηνεῖν ἐπῳδὰς πρὸς τομῶντι πήματι.

691-2

“You, do what I advise and perhaps you will quickly learn
That even if I am unlucky, I have survived.”

ὑμεῖς δ᾿ ἃ φράζω δρᾶτε, καὶ τάχ᾿ ἄν μ᾿ ἴσως
πύθοισθε, κεἰ νῦν δυστυχῶ, σεσωμένον.

864-5

“This is the final word your Ajax ever says
I’ll tell the rest below in Hades to the dead.”

τοῦθ᾿ ὑμὶν Αἴας τοὔπος ὕστατον θροεῖ,
τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλ᾿ ἐν Ἅιδου τοῖς κάτω μυθήσομαι.

Ajax (Carstens).jpg
Asmus Jakob Carstens, Sorrowful Ajax with Termessa and Eurysakes

Dishonoring the Gods

Sophocles, Antigone 280–288

“Stop speaking before you fill me with rage!
And you’re revealed as a fool as well as an old man.

You speak of unendurable things, claiming that the gods
Have some plan for this corpse.
Did they do it to honor him so greatly for his fine work,
Concealing him, the man who came here
To burn their temples and their statutes,
To ruin their land and their laws?
Do you see the gods honoring evil people?”

παῦσαι, πρὶν ὀργῆς καί με μεστῶσαι λέγων,
μὴ ᾿φευρεθῇς ἄνους τε καὶ γέρων ἅμα.
λέγεις γὰρ οὐκ ἀνεκτὰ δαίμονας λέγων
πρόνοιαν ἴσχειν τοῦδε τοῦ νεκροῦ πέρι.
πότερον ὑπερτιμῶντες ὡς εὐεργέτην
285ἔκρυπτον αὐτόν, ὅστις ἀμφικίονας
ναοὺς πυρώσων ἦλθε κἀναθήματα
καὶ γῆν ἐκείνων καὶ νόμους διασκεδῶν;
ἢ τοὺς κακοὺς τιμῶντας εἰσορᾷς θεούς;

 Sophocles, Antigone 72–77

“It is noble for me to do this and then die.
I will lie with him because I belong to him, with him,
Once I have completed my sacred crimes. There’s more time
When I must please those below than those here,
Since I will lie there forever. You? Go head,
Dishonor what the gods honor if it seems right.”

… καλόν μοι τοῦτο ποιούσῃ θανεῖν.
φίλη μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ κείσομαι, φίλου μέτα,
ὅσια πανουργήσασ᾿· ἐπεὶ πλείων χρόνος
ὃν δεῖ μ᾿ ἀρέσκειν τοῖς κάτω τῶν ἐνθάδε·
ἐκεῖ γὰρ αἰεὶ κείσομαι. σὺ δ᾿ εἰ δοκεῖ
τὰ τῶν θεῶν ἔντιμ᾿ ἀτιμάσασ᾿ ἔχε.

Sébastien Norblin, Antigone donnant la sépulture à Polynice

Natural Logic and the Nature of Death

Cicero, Tusc. Disp 1.30

“Moreover, this seems to be the strongest point to offer on why we believe that there are gods—the fact there is no people so savage, no one in the world so bestial, that no though of the gods touches his mind. While it is true that many people believe silly things about the gods—which customarily happens because of corrupted customs—still all people believe in divine power and divine nature. Furthermore, human conferences and consensus do not create this, nor is the idea affirmed by practices or laws, but in every matter the shared belief of all peoples must be considered a natural law.

Is there anyone who does not mourn the death of their loved ones because he believes that they have been deprived of life’s pleasures? Remove this belief and you will remove mourning. No one mourns for their own discomfort. People do feel pain, but the mourning and tears of sorrow come from that fact that we believe that a person whom we love has lost access to life’s pleasures and are aware of this. We are led by nature to believe this, not by any teaching or act of reason.”

Ut porro firmissimum hoc adferri videtur, cur deos esse credamus, quod nulla gens tam fera, nemo omnium tam est immanis, cuius mentem non imbuerit deorum opinio—multi de dis prava sentiunt, id enim vitioso more effici solet, omnes tamen esse vim et naturam divinam arbitrantur, nec vero id collocutio hominum aut consensus effecit, non institutis opinio est confirmata, non legibus, omni autem in re consensio omnium gentium lex naturae putanda est—quis est igitur qui suorum mortem primum non eo lugeat, quod eos orbatos vitae commodis arbitretur? Tolle hanc opinionem, luctum sustuleris. Nemo enim maeret suo incommodo: dolent fortasse et anguntur: sed illa lugubris lamentatio fletusque maerens ex eo est, quod eum, quem dileximus, vitae commodis privatum arbitramur idque sentire. Atque haec ita sentimus natura duce, nulla ratione nullaque doctrina.

File:New England death Head (c).jpg
Puritan death head in New England

The Shoot That Rises from the Fire

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

As few years ago I posted this passage as wildfires burned through Attica. As with most non-US and non-Trump related disasters, these fires went under-reported). The recent coverage of the conflagration that is claiming Australia right now is even worse in the US. Part of it is our own myopia and narcissism; the rest is that we are in deep denial that we have crossed some pretty terrible lines. Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this.

Image result for australia fires

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. This last year saw another season of devastation in the Western US, costing $163 million just to suppress. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and their bereaved families.

Image result for australia fires

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

The fire in this simile–that promise of life, the seed of the future–is a domesticated fire, one controlled and contingent on human relationships. It is a symbol for human potential to create and in its dormancy suppresses the urge to destroy. The promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it. When I posted these passages a few years back, I was hopeful, somehow, that something might arise out of them. I am unsure that Herodotus’ historic view or Homer’s heroic vision can encapsulate what we’re facing at all: an unmaking of the world as we know it. This is primordial.

Hesiod Theogony 853-867

“When Zeus filled with strength and took his weapons,
That thunder, lightning, and the shining thunderbolt,
He leapt down from Olympos and attacked. He burned
All the divine heads of the terrible beast around him.
Once Zeus overcame him, slamming him down with his fists,
He fell, bent back, and the great Earth gasped beneath him.
Flame rose up from the thunder-beaten god
On the tops of the mountain ridges in the dry places
where he was struck and the great Earth burned beneath
because of the unbearable force and it melted there—
the way tin melts when fired with skill in the well-made channels
or the way iron—which is the strongest thing of all—
contracts when overcome by bright fire on mountain ridges
only to melt in the rich earth under Hephaistos’s hands—
that’s how the Earth melts in the glare of the burning fire”

Ζεὺς δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν κόρθυνεν ἑὸν μένος, εἵλετο δ’ ὅπλα,
βροντήν τε στεροπήν τε καὶ αἰθαλόεντα κεραυνόν,
πλῆξεν ἀπ’ Οὐλύμποιο ἐπάλμενος· ἀμφὶ δὲ πάσας
ἔπρεσε θεσπεσίας κεφαλὰς δεινοῖο πελώρου.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δή μιν δάμασε πληγῇσιν ἱμάσσας,
ἤριπε γυιωθείς, στονάχιζε δὲ γαῖα πελώρη·
φλὸξ δὲ κεραυνωθέντος ἀπέσσυτο τοῖο ἄνακτος
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃσιν † ἀιδνῆς παιπαλοέσσης
πληγέντος, πολλὴ δὲ πελώρη καίετο γαῖα
αὐτμῇ θεσπεσίῃ, καὶ ἐτήκετο κασσίτερος ὣς
τέχνῃ ὑπ’ αἰζηῶν ἐν ἐυτρήτοις χοάνοισι
θαλφθείς, ἠὲ σίδηρος, ὅ περ κρατερώτατός ἐστιν,
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃσι δαμαζόμενος πυρὶ κηλέῳ
τήκεται ἐν χθονὶ δίῃ ὑφ’ ῾Ηφαίστου παλάμῃσιν·
ὣς ἄρα τήκετο γαῖα σέλαι πυρὸς αἰθομένοιο.

Here at the end of Hesiod’s Theogony, Zeus uses his overwhelming force and intelligence to face an existential challenge: the destructive potential of the universe contained within one figure, Typhoios (an elemental threat reflecting Zeus’ own surpassing power). Zeus brings order to the kosmos by subduing Typhoios and, in part thanks to this, gets to reign as king, father of gods and men. We don’t live in a poem of the gods; we can’t hope for myths to save our future. We need to do things now.

Or, we can just throw in with the reckless plutocrats and embrace that old Freudian death drive and keep on spending and burning until we’re all dead….

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

This is the voice that says only the now matters, that this quarter’s profits are more important than sustainability and justice, that today’s ends justify any kinds of means. Unsurprisingly, it is attributed to the Roman Emperors Tiberius and Nero:

Suda tau 552 [cribbing Dio Cassius]

“And Tiberius uttered that ancient phrase, “when I am dead, the earth can be fucked with fire”, and he used to bless Priam because he died with his country and his palace.”

τοῦτο δὲ τὸ ἀρχαῖον ἐφθέγξατο· ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί. καὶ τὸν Πρίαμον ἐμακάριζεν, ὅτι μετὰ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἀπώλετο.

A Book Replaced By No Other

Libanius, Autobiography 148-149

“Another detail, small, yet not small, is worth adding to these things. For, I will perhaps seem to be pedantic to some of you, but I, bitten deep, know that I feel this way because of a serious matter.

See, I had a copy of Thucydides, with charming and small writing. The whole thing was easy enough to lift that I used to carry it myself with a slave following me and the burden was a delight. I learned enough of the war of the Spartan and Athenians in it to feel what, perhaps, others have felt too. I would never even come near to the same pleasure from another copy of the book.

Because I used to praise this possession too much to too many people and was delighting it more than Polykrates did his ring, I attracted thieves to it, some of whom I caught. But the last one of them started a fire to avoid being caught and so I stopped searching but I could not let go of grief. In fact, every profit I had from Thucydides began to shrink once I found him in different writing with displeasure.”

  1. Τούτοις ἄξιον ἐκεῖνο προσθεῖναι σμικρόν τε καὶ οὐ σμικρόν· ὑμῶν μὲν γὰρ ἴσως τῳ μικρολογεῖσθαι δόξω, δηχθεὶς δὲ αὐτὸς τὴν ψυχὴν οἶδα καὶ ἐπὶ μεγάλῳ τοῦτο παθών. ἦν μοι ἡ Θουκυδίδου συγγραφή, γράμματα μὲν ἐν μικρότητι χαρίεντα, τὸ δὲ σύμπαν οὕτω ῥᾴδιον φέρειν ὥστ᾿ αὐτὸς ἔφερον παιδὸς ἀκολουθοῦντος καὶ τὸ φορτίον τέρψις ἦν. ἐν τούτῳ τὸν πόλεμον τῶν Πελοποννησίων καὶ Ἀθηναίων μαθὼν ἐπεπόνθειν ὅπερ ἴσως ἤδη τις καὶ ἕτερος· οὐ γὰρ ἂν ἐξ ἑτέρας βίβλου ταῦτ᾿ ἂν αὖθις ἐπῆλθον πρὸς ἡδονήν.
  2. ἐπαινῶν δὴ πολλὰ καὶ πρὸς πολλοὺς τὸ κτῆμα καὶ εὐφραινόμενος μᾶλλον ἢ Πολυκράτης τῷ δακτυλίῳ κλέπτας αὐτῷ τοῖς ἐπαίνοις ἐπῆγον, ὧν τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους εὐθὺς ᾕρουν, ὁ δέ γε τελευταῖος πῦρ1ἀνῆψε τοῦ μὴ ἁλῶναι, καὶ οὕτω δὴ τοῦ ζητεῖν μὲν ἐπεπαύμην, τὸ μὴ λυπεῖσθαι δὲ οὐκ εἶχον. ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ κέρδος μοι τὸ παρὰ τοῦ Θουκυδίδου μέγα ἂν γενόμενον μεῖον ἤρχετο διὰ τὸ σὺν ἀηδίᾳ γράμμασιν ἑτέροις ὁμιλεῖν.

 

Image result for codex of thucydides
Alas, not Libanius’ text:

This tale reminds me of the box-Iliad:

Plutarch, Life of Alexander 26.4

“When a small box was brought to him—which seem more valuable than the rest of the possessions and baggage they had taken from Dareios, [Alexander] asked his friends what thing seem especially worthy of being put in it. Although many of them made many suggestions, Alexander said that he would keep the Iliad safe by placing it inside. Not a few of the most credible sources claim this.

If, as the Alexandrians say is true—since they believe Herakleides—Homer was no lazy or unprofitable travel companion…”

Κιβωτίου δέ τινος αὐτῷ προσενεχθέντος, οὗ πολυτελέστερον οὐδὲν ἐφάνη τοῖς τὰ Δαρείου χρήματα καὶ τὰς ἀποσκευὰς παραλαμβάνουσιν, ἠρώτα τοὺς φίλους, ὅ τι δοκοίη μάλιστα τῶν ἀξίων σπουδῆς εἰς αὐτὸ καταθέσθαι. πολλὰ δὲ πολλῶν λεγόντων, αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν ᾿Ιλιάδα φρουρήσειν ἐνταῦθα καταθέμενος· καὶ ταῦτα μὲνοὐκ ὀλίγοι τῶν ἀξιοπίστων μεμαρτυρήκασιν. εἰ δ’, ὅπερ ᾿Αλεξανδρεῖς λέγουσιν ῾Ηρακλείδῃ (fr. 140 W.) πιστεύοντες, ἀληθές ἐστιν, οὔκουν [οὐκ] ἀργὸς οὐδ’ ἀσύμβολος αὐτῷ συστρατεύειν ἔοικεν ῞Ομηρος.

This passage refers to an earlier moment in the Life. Coincidentally, I also sleep the same way…

8.4

“[Alexander] was also naturally a lover of language, a lover of learning, and a lover of reading. Because he believed that the Iliad was a guidebook for military excellence—and called it that too—he took a copy of it which had been edited by Aristotle which they used to refer to as “Iliad-in-a-Box”. He always kept it with his dagger beneath his pillow—as Onêsikritos tells us.

When there were no other books in -and, he sent to Harpalos for some more. Then Harpalus sent him Philistos’ books along with some tragedies of Euripides, Sophokles and Aeschylus and the dithyrambs of Telestes and Philoxenos.”

ἦν δὲ καὶ φύσει φιλόλογος καὶ φιλομαθὴς καὶ φιλαναγνώστης, καὶ τὴν μὲν  ᾿Ιλιάδα τῆς πολεμικῆς ἀρετῆς ἐφόδιον καὶ νομίζων καὶ ὀνομάζων, ἔλαβε μὲν ᾿Αριστοτέλους διορθώσαντος ἣν ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος καλοῦσιν, εἶχε δ’ ἀεὶ μετὰ τοῦ ἐγχειριδίου κειμένην ὑπὸ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον, ὡς ᾿Ονησίκριτος ἱστόρηκε (FGrH 134 F 38)· τῶν δ’ ἄλλων βιβλίων οὐκ εὐπορῶν ἐν τοῖς ἄνω τόποις, ῞Αρπαλον ἐκέλευσε πέμψαι, κἀκεῖνος ἔπεμψεν αὐτῷ τάς τε Φιλίστου βίβλους καὶ τῶν Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους καὶ Αἰσχύλου τραγῳδιῶν συχνάς, καὶ Τελέστου καὶ Φιλοξένου διθυράμβους.

 

The Shoot That Rises from the Fire: Some Herodotus and Homer for the Fires in Greece

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

 Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

There are terrible wildfires in Attica, as many news outlets have reported (although in the US the events are incredibly under-reported). Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this. I will add to this post any suggestions for responsible charities to help with the suffering and the recovery. Words can do no justice to the suffering and loss in Attica this week.

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and bereaved families.

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

For those who are able, let’s be the good neighbors the Greeks need right now. For the rest of us, let’s remember that the promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it.

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From a Greek correspondent:

Image result for athens burning
From the Washington Post

Speech for the Speechless

Photius, s.v. aphasia

“Wordlessness (aphasia): voicelessness (aphônia)

᾿Αφασία· ἀφωνία.

Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1280-4

“Wretched brother, tell him what you need.
A multitude of words can be pleasurable,
Burdensome, or they can arouse pity somehow—
They give a kind of voice to the voiceless

έγ᾿, ὦ ταλαίπωρ᾿, αὐτὸς ὧν χρείᾳ πάρει.
τὰ πολλὰ γάρ τοι ῥήματ᾿ ἢ τέρψαντά τι,
ἢ δυσχεράναντ᾿, ἢ κατοικτίσαντά πως,
παρέσχε φωνὴν τοῖς ἀφωνήτοις τινά.

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Ovid, Amores 3.12: 13-20: Hating Verse, Loving Corinna

“Whether my songs help me or hurt me I am not sure:
But they have been an obstacle to my good fortune.
Though there was Thebes, Troy or Caesar’s deed,
It was Corinna alone who moved me.
I wish the Muses has turned away when I began my songs,
Or that Apollo had refused the work begun.
It is still not the custom to admit a poet as a witness;
I wish that my words had lacked all weight.”

An prosint, dubium, nocuerunt carmina semper;
invidiae nostris illa fuere bonis.
cum Thebae, cum Troia foret, cum Caesaris acta,
ingenium movit sola Corinna meum.
aversis utinam tetigissem carmina Musis,
Phoebus et inceptum destituisset opus!
Nec tamen ut testes mos est audire poetas;
malueram verbis pondus abesse meis.