How Not To Defend Oneself (Lucian’s Apology)

“Before all else, it is necessary that those who criticize me remember that they do not criticize a wise man—if, indeed, there is someone wise anywhere—but instead a man of the regular people who has prepared arguments and received some limited praise for them, even though he has not at all been trained in that pinnacle of virtue of the highest men. And, by Zeus, it would be sufficient for me not to be upset on this count, that I have not encountered some man yet who has paid in full a promise of wisdom. Certainly, I would be surprised if you were to find fault with my current life, if you would criticize the fact which you knew long ago, that I was earning a great deal of money for teaching rhetoric in public when you went to visit the Western Sea and the Celts and you met me, I was one of the highest-charging sophists!

These are the words, friend, which I offer as a defense to you, even amidst my rather busy schedule, since I think it is not at all a minor matter to acquire a clean slate from you. As for the others, even if they all accuse me at once, let this be enough of an answer: “Hippocleides don’t care”.  *

Πρὸ δὲ τῶν ὅλων μεμνῆσθαι χρὴ τοὺς ἐπιτιμῶντας ὅτι οὐ σοφῷ ὄντι μοι—εἰ δή τις καὶ ἄλλος ἐστί που σοφός—ἐπιτιμήσουσιν ἀλλὰ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ πολλοῦ δήμου, λόγους μὲν ἀσκήσαντι καὶ τὰ μέτρια ἐπαινουμένῳ ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς, πρὸς δὲ τὴν ἄκραν ἐκείνην τῶν κορυφαίων ἀρετὴν οὐ πάνυ γεγυμνασμένῳ. καὶ μὰ Δί’ οὐδ’ ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἀνιᾶσθαί μοι ἄξιον, ὅτι μηδὲ ἄλλῳ ἐγὼ γοῦν ἐντετύχηκα τὴν τοῦ σοφοῦ ὑπόσχεσιν ἀποπληροῦντι. σοῦ μέντοι καὶ θαυμάσαιμ’ ἂν ἐπιτιμῶντός μου τῷ νυνὶ βίῳ, εἴ γε ἐπιτιμῴης, ὃν πρὸ πολλοῦ ᾔδεις ἐπὶ ῥητορικῇ δημοσίᾳ μεγίστας μισθοφορὰς ἐνεγκάμενον, ὁπότε κατὰ θέαν τοῦ ἑσπερίου ᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ τὴν Κελτικὴν ἅμα ἐπιὼν ἐνέτυχες ἡμῖν τοῖς μεγαλομίσθοις τῶν σοφιστῶν ἐναριθμουμένοις.

Ταῦτά σοι, ὦ ἑταῖρε, καίτοι ἐν μυρίαις ταῖς  ἀσχολίαις ὢν ὅμως ἀπελογησάμην, οὐκ ἐν παρέργῳ θέμενος τὴν λευκὴν παρὰ σοῦ καὶ πλήρη μοι ἐνεχθῆναι· ἐπεὶ πρός γε τοὺς ἄλλους, κἂν συνάμα πάντες κατηγορῶσιν, ἱκανὸν ἂν εἴη μοι τό οὐ φροντὶς ῾Ιπποκλείδῃ.

*A quote from Herodotus 6.127-129.

Myths of Marathons: Herodotus, Lucian, Plutarch and Us

If one were inspired to ‘research’ the origin of our modern Marathon on the Internet, one might find it possible to escape the story that it comes from Pheidippides’ run to Athens after the battle against the Persians in 490 BCE. As the story goes, as he arrived before the assembled citizens, Pheidippides announced “we have conquered” (nenikêkamen) and then then expired.

The problem is that this story is total hogwash. There was no Pheidippides (except in Aristophanes, and he was obsessed with horses). No one is ever recorded saying in ancient Greek “we have conquered” after the battle. I know where some of this comes from (Plutarch and Lucian, see below) but I don’t know where the rest does. Altough some authors do have a messenger announcing the victory, the present form of nikâo is used. And the name changes.

Furthermore, the message of the story changes radically from its different context. In the first account of running and Marathon, Herodotus tells of an Athenian Philippides who ran 140 miles to Sparta and back to try to get help:

Herodotus, 6.105-6

“First, the generals who were still in the city sent the herald Philippidês[1] to Sparta, an Athenian man, a long-distance runner [hêmerodromên[2]] who made a career of it. Pan appeared to him—as Philippidês claimed and reported to the Athenians—around the Parthenian mountain past Tegea. He claimed that Pan shouted out the name of Philippidês and ordered him to ask the Athenians why they were paying him no attention even though he was well-disposed toward them and was often helpful to them and would be again in the future. And because they believed these things to be true, since their affairs were going well, they established a temple to Pan on the akropolis and they honor him for that message with annual sacrifices and a race by torchlight. 

When Philipiddes was sent by the generals, that time when he said that Pan appeared to him, he arrived in Sparta on the next day.[3] He went straight to the officials and said “Spartans, the Athenians need you to help them and not tolerate that one of the oldest cities among the Greeks fall into slavery at the hands of Barbarian. Eretria has already been enslaved and Greece has become weaker by the loss of a significant city.” He announced what he had been ordered to announce and it was to their taste to help the Athenians but they were incapable of doing so immediately because they did not want to violate the custom: for it was the ninth day of the current month, and they said that on that day they could not leave until the moon was full.”

Καὶ πρῶτα μὲν ἐόντες ἔτι ἐν τῷ ἄστεϊ οἱ στρατηγοὶ ἀποπέμπουσι ἐς Σπάρτην κήρυκα Φιλιππίδην, ᾿Αθηναῖον μὲν ἄνδρα, ἄλλως δὲ ἡμεροδρόμην τε καὶ τοῦτο μελετῶντα. Τῷ δή, ὡς αὐτός τε ἔλεγε Φιλιππίδης καὶ ᾿Αθηναίοισι ἀπήγγελλε, περὶ τὸ Παρθένιον ὄρος τὸ ὑπὲρ Τεγέης ὁ Πὰν περιπίπτει· βώσαντα δὲ τὸ οὔνομα τοῦ Φιλιππίδεω τὸν Πᾶνα ᾿Αθηναίοισι κελεῦσαι ἀπαγγεῖλαι δι’ ὅ τι ἑωυτοῦ οὐδεμίαν ἐπιμελείην ποιεῦνται, ἐόντος εὐνόου ᾿Αθηναίοισι καὶ πολλαχῇ γενομένου σφι ἤδη χρησίμου, τὰ δ’ ἔτι καὶ ἐσομένου. Καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ᾿Αθηναῖοι, καταστάντων σφι εὖ ἤδη τῶν πρηγμάτων, πιστεύσαντες εἶναι ἀληθέα ἱδρύσαντο ὑπὸ τῇ ᾿Ακροπόλι Πανὸς ἱρόν, καὶ αὐτὸν ἀπὸ ταύτης τῆς ἀγγελίης θυσίῃσί τε ἐπετείοισι καὶ λαμπάδι ἱλάσκονται. Τότε δὲ πεμφθεὶς ὑπὸ τῶν στρατηγῶν ὁ Φιλιππίδης οὗτος, ὅτε πέρ οἱ ἔφη καὶ τὸν Πᾶνα φανῆναι, δευτεραῖος ἐκ τοῦ ᾿Αθηναίων ἄστεος ἦν ἐν Σπάρτῃ, ἀπικόμενος δὲ ἐπὶ τοὺς ἄρχοντας ἔλεγε· «῏Ω Λακεδαιμόνιοι, ᾿Αθηναῖοι ὑμέων δέονται σφίσι βοηθῆσαι καὶ μὴ περιιδεῖν πόλιν ἀρχαιοτάτην ἐν τοῖσι ῞Ελλησι δουλοσύνῃ περιπεσοῦσαν πρὸς ἀνδρῶν βαρβάρων· καὶ γὰρ νῦν ᾿Ερέτριά τε ἠνδραπόδισται καὶ πόλι λογίμῳ ἡ ῾Ελλὰς γέγονε ἀσθενεστέρη.» ῾Ο μὲν δή σφι τὰ ἐντεταλμένα ἀπήγγελλε, τοῖσι δὲ ἕαδε μὲν βοηθέειν ᾿Αθηναίοισι, ἀδύνατα δέ σφι ἦν τὸ παραυτίκα ποιέειν ταῦτα οὐ βουλομένοισι λύειν τὸν νόμον· ἦν γὰρ ἱσταμένου τοῦ μηνὸς εἰνάτη, εἰνάτῃ δὲ οὐκ ἐξελεύσεσθαι ἔφασαν μὴ οὐ πλήρεος ἐόντος τοῦ κύκλου.

This story is all about the Spartan failure to help the Greeks and the origin of a certain shrine to Pan. (In fact, in most authors who even mention this tale, it is the later aspect that draws attention). There is running from Marathon to Athens. But in Herodotus’ story, the entire Athenian army goes on a fast-march from the battle to defend the city against the Persian fleet:

Herodotus, 116

“The Persians sailed around Cape Sounion, but the Athenians went to help the city as fast as their feet were able; they arrived before the barbarians did and made their camp as soon as they appeared in the temple of Herakles, the one in Kynosarges. The barbarians, who had been at anchor near the Athenian port at that time, Phaleron, retreated and sailed their ships back toward Asia.”

Οὗτοι μὲν δὴ περιέπλεον Σούνιον· ᾿Αθηναῖοι δὲ ὡς ποδῶν εἶχον τάχιστα ἐβοήθεον ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, καὶ ἔφθησάν τε ἀπικόμενοι πρὶν ἢ τοὺς βαρβάρους ἥκειν, καὶ ἐστρατοπεδεύσαντο ἀπιγμένοι ἐξ ῾Ηρακλείου τοῦ ἐν Μαραθῶνι ἐν ἄλλῳ ῾Ηρακλείῳ τῷ ἐν Κυνοσάργεϊ. Οἱ δὲ βάρβαροι τῇσι νηυσὶ ὑπεραιωρηθέντες Φαλήρου (τοῦτο γὰρ ἦν ἐπίνειον τότε τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων), ὑπὲρ τούτου ἀνακωχεύσαντες τὰς νέας ἀπέπλεον ὀπίσω ἐς τὴν ᾿Ασίην.

This tale is actually more impressive and meaningful than the apocryphal one. The entire army ran the distance of 26 or so miles as a group to defend their homes. This isn’t about individual sacrifice or excellence, but rather about the collective will and glory of a city ruled by the people and for the people (to wax poetic a bit). This is, I think, a much more interesting and inspiring tale if it is taken seriously.

But sometime between the Peloponnesian War (421-404 BCE) and the Early Roman Empire (1st Century CE), the story changes. It takes on some of the elements of the false tale circulated widely. The two most well-known accounts are from Plutarch and Lucian. Plutarch, in typical style, distances himself from the tale by saying that one guy alleges that another guy says that…:

Plutarch, On the Glory of Athens, 347c (2nd Century CE)

“Heracleidês of Pontikos writes that Thersippos the Erkhian reported back about the battle of Marathon; but most say that it was Eukles who ran hot from battle in his arms and who, just after entering the gates could say only “Greetings” and “we are rejoicing” and then die.”

τὴν τοίνυν ἐν Μαραθῶνι μάχην ἀπήγγειλεν, ὡς μὲν ῾Ηρακλείδης ὁ Ποντικὸς (fr. 81) ἱστορεῖ, Θέρσιππος ὁ ᾿Ερχιεύς· οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι λέγουσιν Εὐκλέα δραμόντα σὺν τοῖς ὅπλοις θερμὸν ἀπὸ τῆς μάχης καὶ ταῖς θύραις ἐμπεσόντα τῶν πρώτων τοσοῦτον μόνον εἰπεῖν ‘χαίρετε’ καὶ ‘χαίρομεν,’ εἶτ’ εὐθὺς ἐκπνεῦσαι.

In Plutarch’s tale, the name of the runner is Eucles and he says χαίρομεν instead of anything about victory before dying. The full kernel of our modern canard can be found in the work of Lucian, a well-known fabulist.

Lucian, On Mistakes in Greetings (2nd Century CE)

“First, Philippidês the day-runner is said to have run from Marathon reporting the victory to the archons who were seated and awaiting news about the end of the battle, saying “Rejoice, we are victorious” and after saying that he died with the news, expiring with his greeting.”

Πρῶτος δ’ αὐτὸ Φιλιππίδης ὁ ἡμεροδρομήσας λέγεται ἀπὸ Μαραθῶνος ἀγγέλλων τὴν νίκην εἰπεῖν πρὸς τοὺς ἄρχοντας καθημένους καὶ πεφροντικότας ὑπὲρ τοῦ τέλους τῆς μάχης, Χαίρετε, νικῶμεν, καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν συναποθανεῖν τῇ ἀγγελίᾳ καὶ τῷ χαίρειν συνεκπνεῦσαι.

What are we to make of this story? The Byzantine Suda has no patience for either Plutarch or Lucian. This encyclopedia, whose authors certainly knew of both, provides an account drawn entirely from Herodotus:

Suda (Byzantine Encyclopedia)

“Philippidês, an Athenian; day-runner: he ran 15 thousand stades in a single night and day (140 miles) as he traveled to Sparta. But the law did not allow them to go to war before the full-moon.”

Φιλιππίδης, ᾿Αθηναῖος, ἡμεροδρόμος· ὃς χίλια πεντακόσια στάδια ἤνυσε διὰ μιᾶς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας, πρὸς Λακεδαιμονίους ἀφικόμενος. ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ εἴα στρατεύειν αὐτοὺς πρὸ πανσελήνου.

What does it say about our culture and that of the second sophistic (the period of Plutarch and Lucian) that the individual tale is so much more attractive or that the Herodotean account is so quickly discounted? I bring this up for a few reasons. First, I always have students who think they know things question the Herodotean account. And, insanely or not, I am running a Marathon this weekend.

I know that the founding legends of modern sporting events often have little to do with truth, but I wonder about the individualistic and extreme versions popularized to the detriment of other possible stories. By Herodotus’ account, Philippides was a professional runner who could cover 140 miles in two days. Isn’t that impressive enough? By his account, we should memorialize the extraordinary battle of Marathon through collective acts of sacrifice. (Which happens to an extent, but modern amateur Marathon culture is not exactly altruistic and noble).

But it is probably the pedant in me who protests at the faked Greek online, the complaining students, and the favoring of something newer (you know, recent like Lucian) over something truly old.

Whatever the reason, I will probably be cursing the names Eukles, Pheidippides, Philippides and Lucian on Sunday morning.

Some Notes:

[1] How and Wells’s commentary on 6.105.1 “Φιλιππίδης, though only found in the second family of MSS., is supported by the other authorities (Paus. i. 28. 4, viii. 54-6; Plut. Herod. Malign. 26, &c.), and almost certainly right. It is a common Athenian name (C. I. A.), whereas Pheidippides is a witticism of Aristophanes (Nub. 67), which he would hardly have dared to make had the name been consecrated in the tale of Marathon.”

[2] Literally: “day-runner”

[3] How and Wells: “According to Isocrates the distance traversed was 150 miles.”

Mile-By-Mile Quotes for a Marathon


Sentantiae Antiquae is running a Marathon today (For real, Rock N’ Roll San Antonio). Here’s a quote for every mile.


Mile 1: Feeling Irrational Noble Thoughts


Hesiod Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν



Actual Shirt Worn During Marathon
Actual Shirt Worn During Marathon Last Year


Mile 2: Positive Feelings Continue


Horace, Epistles 1.4.12-14

“Amidst hope and anxiety, fear and rage, believe that every day has risen as your last: pleasant is the arrival of the hour which was never expected”.

inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum: grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora


Mile 3: When I try to Check Myself

Plutarch, Agesilaos 2.2

“His weakness made his desire for glory manifest: he would refuse no labor and shirk no deed.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν φιλοτιμίαν ἐκδηλοτέραν ἐποίει, πρὸς μηδένα πόνον μηδὲ πρᾶξιν ἀπαγορεύοντος αὐτοῦ διὰ τὴν χωλότητα.

Mile 4: Self-Righteous Thoughts Get Delirious

Cicero, Pro Sestio 143

“Let us spurn the rewards of today and look to future glory; let us deem best what is most honorable; let us hope for what we want, but bear what befalls us; finally, let us consider that even the bodies of brave men and great citizens are mortal; but that activity of the mind and the glory of virtue are forever.”

praesentis fructus neglegamus, posteritatis gloriae serviamus; id esse optimum putemus quod erit rectissimum; speremus quae volumus, sed quod acciderit feramus; cogitemus denique corpus virorum fortium magnorum hominum esse mortale, animi vero motus et virtutis gloriam sempiternam

Mile 5: When I start to Make Jokes to Myself about Pheidippides

Lucian, On Mistakes in Greeting

“After saying ‘hello’ he died with his greeting a gasped out a final farewell”

καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν συναποθανεῖν τῇ ἀγγελίᾳ καὶ τῷ χαίρειν συνεκπνεῦσαι

Continue reading “Mile-By-Mile Quotes for a Marathon”

A Plague Like No Other:The Seven-Day Tragic Fever

Lucian, How to Write History 1


“Dear Philo—people say that during the time of King Lysimachus a plague afflicted the people of Abdera. At first, everyone had a fever that was immediately intense and burned fiercely until around the seventh day the fever subsided—for some when a great deal of blood flowed from their nose, for others when their sweat broke out. But their minds remained in an absurd state of suffering: everyone was crazy for tragedy and they were screaming out iambics and shouting loudly. They were especially singing solos from Euripides’ Andromeda and they adapted Perseus’ speech to song too. The city was full of these pale, thin, seventh-day tragedians singing:

“Lust, you tyrant of gods and men!”

And shouting the rest of these lines at the top of their lungs endlessly until the winter and the great cold stopped their wailing. I suspect that the actor Archelaos created the cause of this affliction. He was very popular then and he had performed the Andromeda for them when it was the middle of the summer, during the hottest part of the year. I think that they contracted the fever in the theater and later reverted into tragedy when they rose from their beds, since the Andromeda was lurking in their memory and Perseus was flitting around everyone’s thoughts with Medousa’s head in his hands.”


᾿Αβδηρίταις φασὶ Λυσιμάχου ἤδη βασιλεύοντος ἐμπεσεῖν τι νόσημα, ὦ καλὲ Φίλων, τοιοῦτο· πυρέττειν μὲν γὰρ τὰ πρῶτα πανδημεὶ ἅπαντας ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης εὐθὺς ἐρρωμένως καὶ λιπαρεῖ τῷ πυρετῷ, περὶ δὲ τὴν ἑβδόμην τοῖς μὲν αἷμα πολὺ ἐκ ῥινῶν ῥυέν, τοῖς δ’ ἱδρὼς ἐπιγενόμενος, πολὺς καὶ οὗτος, ἔλυσεν τὸν πυρετόν. ἐς γελοῖον δέ τι πάθος περιίστα τὰς γνώμας αὐτῶν· ἅπαντες γὰρ ἐς τραγῳδίαν παρεκίνουν καὶ ἰαμβεῖα ἐφθέγγοντο καὶ μέγα ἐβόων· μάλιστα δὲ τὴν Εὐριπίδου᾿Ανδρομέδαν ἐμονῴδουν καὶ τὴν τοῦ Περσέως ῥῆσιν ἐν μέλει διεξῄεσαν, καὶ μεστὴ ἦν ἡ πόλις ὠχρῶν ἁπάντων καὶ λεπτῶν τῶν ἑβδομαίων ἐκείνων τραγῳδῶν,

σὺ δ’ ὦ θεῶν τύραννε κἀνθρώπων ῎Ερως,

καὶ τὰ ἄλλα μεγάλῃ τῇ φωνῇ ἀναβοώντων καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πολύ, ἄχρι δὴ χειμὼν καὶ κρύος δὲ μέγα γενόμενον ἔπαυσε ληροῦντας αὐτούς. αἰτίαν δέ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦ τοιούτου παρασχεῖν ᾿Αρχέλαος ὁ τραγῳδός, εὐδοκιμῶν τότε, μεσοῦντος θέρους ἐν

πολλῷ τῷ φλογμῷ τραγῳδήσας αὐτοῖς τὴν ᾿Ανδρομέδαν, ὡς πυρέξαι τε ἀπὸ τοῦ θεάτρου τοὺς πολλοὺς καὶ ἀναστάντας ὕστερον ἐς τὴν τραγῳδίαν παρολισθαίνειν, ἐπὶ πολὺ ἐμφιλοχωρούσης τῆς ᾿Ανδρομέδας τῇ μνήμῃ αὐτῶν καὶ τοῦ Περσέως ἔτι σὺν τῇ Μεδούσῃ τὴν ἑκάστου γνώμην περιπετομένου.


They got married in a fever.  Strange plagues indeed….

Son of Dang Me or…Dang Me Rides Again

When we left Valens, Theodorus, and their little trained minions, no one was having a good day [previous Dang Me post.] One just imagines a chorus, not saying That Phrase, but rather “set up!”. Remember, that was fourth century AD, and they should have known better. Oracles had been directing such droll japes against clueless mortals for a very long time. So we’re going to look at a few earlier victims of oracular banter.

[Aside. Introducing a new post format here. Texts first with a very brief introduction, then at their end, some comments. So those who just want to read the texts can do so. Those who want more can easily find the More. Your comments, pro or con, are especially welcome; we aim to please]

Sparta, early seventh century BC

The Spartans chose Tegea for their first expansion into the Peloponnese. They sent to the oracle….

“They were not content to live in peace, but, confident that they were stronger than the Arcadians, asked the oracle at Delphi about gaining all the Arcadian land. [2] She replied in hexameter:
‘You ask me for Arcadia? You ask way too much; in your dreams.
There are many men in Arcadia, eaters of acorns,
Who will hinder you. But I grudge you not.
I will give you Tegea to dance the Spartan Two-Step,
And its fair plain to measure with a rope (great selection at Home Depot).’
[3] When the Lacedaemonians heard the oracle reported they yelled “hot, damn!”, forgot the other Arcadians and marched on Tegea carrying chains, relying on the deceptive oracle. They were confident they would enslave the Tegeans, but they were defeated in battle. [4] Those taken alive were bound in the very chains they had brought with them, and they measured the Tegean plain with a rope by working the fields. The chains in which they were bound were still preserved in my day, hanging up at the temple of Athena Alea.”
Herootus 1.66.1-3

καὶ δή σφι οὐκέτι ἀπέχρα ἡσυχίην ἄγειν, ἀλλὰ καταφρονήσαντες Ἀρκάδων κρέσσονες εἶναι ἐχρηστηριάζοντο ἐν Δελφοῖσι ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ Ἀρκάδων χωρῇ. [2] ἡ δὲ Πυθίη σφι χρᾷ τάδε. ‘Ἀρκαδίην μ᾽ αἰτεῖς: μέγα μ᾽ αἰτεῖς: οὐ τοι δώσω.
πολλοὶ ἐν Ἀρκαδίῃ βαλανηφάγοι ἄνδρες ἔασιν,
οἵ σ᾽ ἀποκωλύσουσιν. ἐγὼ δὲ τοι οὔτι μεγαίρω:
δώσω τοί Τεγέην ποσσίκροτον ὀρχήσασθαι
καὶ καλὸν πεδίον σχοίνῳ διαμετρήσασθαι.’
[3] ταῦτα ὡς ἀπενειχθέντα ἤκουσαν οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι,Ἀρκάδων μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἀπείχοντο, οἳ δὲ πέδας φερόμενοι ἐπὶ Τεγεήτας ἐστρατεύοντο, χρησμῷ κιβδήλῳ πίσυνοι, ὡς δὴ ἐξανδραποδιούμενοι τοὺς Τεγεήτας. [4] ἑσσωθέντες δὲ τῇ συμβολῇ, ὅσοι αὐτῶν ἐζωγρήθησαν, πέδας τε ἔχοντες τὰς ἐφέροντο αὐτοὶ καὶ σχοίνῳ διαμετρησάμενοι τὸ πεδίον τὸ Τεγεητέων ἐργάζοντο. αἱ δὲ πέδαι αὗται ἐν τῇσι ἐδεδέατο ἔτι καὶ ἐς ἐμὲ ἦσαν σόαι ἐν Τεγέῃ περὶ τὸν νηὸν τῆς Ἀλέης Ἀθηναίης κρεμάμεναι.

Lydia, middle sixth century BC

This is a famous one. Croesus, king of Lydia, was alarmed at the growing power of his neighbor Persia,  recently under new management by Cyrus. Nothing does it like a preemptive strike, and Croesus got the same answer from two oracles….

“[2] When the Lydians came to the places where they were sent, they presented the offerings, and asked: “Croesus, big-ass king of Lydia and other nations, believing that here are the only true places of divination among men, endows you with such gifts as your wisdom deserves. And now he asks you whether he should send an army against the Persians, and whether he is to add an army of allies.” [3] Such was their inquiry; and the judgment given to Croesus by each of the two oracles was the same: namely, that if he should send an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire.”
Herodotus 1.52-3

[2] ὡς δὲ ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὰ ἀπεπέμφθησαν, οἱ Λυδοὶ ἀνέθεσαν τὰ ἀναθήματα, ἐχρέωντο τοῖσι χρηστηρίοισι λέγοντες ‘Κροῖσος ὁ Λυδῶν τε καὶ ἄλλων ἐθνέων βασιλεύς, νομίσας τάδε μαντήια εἶναι μοῦνα ἐν ἀνθρώποισι, ὑμῖν τε ἄξια δῶρα ἔδωκε τῶν ἐξευρημάτων, καὶ νῦν ὑμέας ἐπειρωτᾷ εἰ στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας καὶ εἴ τινα στρατὸν ἀνδρῶν προσθέοιτο σύμμαχον.’ 3] οἳ μὲν ταῦτα ἐπειρώτων, τῶν δὲ μαντηίων ἀμφοτέρων ἐς τὠυτὸ αἱ γνῶμαι συνέδραμον, προλέγουσαι Κροίσῳ, ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν μιν καταλύσειν: τοὺς δὲ Ἑλλήνων δυνατωτάτους συνεβούλευόν οἱ ἐξευρόντα φίλους προσθέσθαι.

Silly Croesus. You lost, you dumb cluck.  But Cyrus spared your sorry ass and allowed you to bitch and moan to Delphi….

“[4] When Croesus heard this, he sent Lydians to Delphi, telling them to lay his chains on the doorstep of the temple, and to ask the god if he were not ashamed to have persuaded Croesus to attack the Persians, telling him that he would destroy Cyrus’ power; of which power (they were to say, showing the chains) these were the first-fruits. They should ask this; and further, if it were the way of the Greek gods to be ungrateful. And added that as far as Croesus was concerned, the oracle sucked, big time.”
Herodotus 1.90.4

4] ὡς δὲ ταῦτα ἤκουσε ὁ Κροῖσος, πέμπων τῶν Λυδῶν ἐς Δελφοὺς ἐνετέλλετο τιθέντας τὰς πέδας ἐπὶ τοῦ νηοῦ τὸν οὐδὸν εἰρωτᾶν εἰ οὔ τι ἐπαισχύνεται τοῖσι μαντηίοισι ἐπαείρας Κροῖσον στρατεύεσθαι ἐπὶ Πέρσας ὡς καταπαύσοντα τὴν Κύρου δύναμιν, ἀπ᾽ ἧς οἱ ἀκροθίνια τοιαῦτα γενέσθαι, δεικνύντας τὰς πέδας: ταῦτά τε ἐπειρωτᾶν, καὶ εἰ ἀχαρίστοισι νόμος εἶναι τοῖσι Ἑλληνικοῖσι θεοῖσι.

You really don’t get it, do you, Big-C? The sun boy upstairs has all the cards. You’ve got nothing. It’s a good thing you didn’t really piss Apollo off…thing about that wonderful plague he sent to Agamemnon. Obamacare wouldn’t have saved him and the army.

“[4] But as to the oracle that was given to him, Croesus need getting straight; he is wrong to complain concerning it. For Loxias declared to him that if he led an army against the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. Therefore he should, if he had wanted to not be a total jerk, to have sent and asked whether the god spoke of Croesus’ or of Cyrus’ empire. But he did not understood what was spoken, or make further inquiry: for which now let him blame himself. What an asshole.
Herodotus 1.91.4”

[4] κατὰ δὲ τὸ μαντήιον τὸ γενόμενον οὐκ ὀρθῶς Κροῖσος μέμφεται. προηγόρευε γὰρ οἱ Λοξίης, ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν αὐτὸν καταλύσειν. τὸν δὲ πρὸς ταῦτα χρῆν εὖ μέλλοντα βουλεύεσθαι ἐπειρέσθαι πέμψαντα κότερα τὴν ἑωυτοῦ ἢ τὴν Κύρου λέγοι ἀρχήν. οὐ συλλαβὼν δὲ τὸ ῥηθὲν οὐδ᾽ ἐπανειρόμενος ἑωυτὸν αἴτιον ἀποφαινέτω

Second Century AD: “I Got the Drop on the Oracle”

Alexander of Abonuteichos set up an nifty oracle in Asia Minor which involved a prophecy-giving snake. It was wildly popular, and not just with the locals. TwoRoman proconsuls bought into it, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius as well. The snake (Glycon) turns up on coins of the period. Lucian will have none of it. After recounting what he considers to be Alexander’s fraud, he puts it to a nasty test….

“Many were the traps which I and others contrived for him. For example, I contrived but one question and wrote upon the outside of the scroll, following the usual form: “Eight questions from Jack Meoff,” using a fictitious name and sending the eight drachmas and whatever it came to besides. Relying upon the fee that had been sent and upon the inscription on the roll, to the single question: “When will Alexander be caught cheating?” he sent me eight responses which, as the saying goes, had no connection with earth or with heaven, but were inane and senseless, each and every one came right off the stable floor. When he found out about all this afterward, and also that it was I who was attempting to dissuade Rutilianus from the marriage and from his great dependence upon the hopes inspired by the shrine, then Alexander began to hate me, with good reason, and thought of me as his bitter enemy.”
Lucian, Alexander, 54

πολλὰ γὰρ τοιαῦτα καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπεμηχανησάμην αὐτῷ, οἷον καὶ ἐκεῖνο: μίαν ἐρώτησιν ἐρωτήσας ἐπέγραψα τῷ βιβλίῳ κατὰ τὸ ἔθος: ‘ τοῦ δεῖνος χρησμοὶ ὀκτώ,’ ψευσάμενός τι ὄνομα, καὶ τὰς ὀκτὼ δραχμὰς καὶ τὸ γιγνόμενον ἔτι πρὸς ταύταις πέμψας: ὁ δὲ πιστεύσας τῇ ἀποπομπῇ τοῦ μισθοῦ καὶ τῇ ἐπιγραφῇ τοῦ βιβλίου, πρὸς μίαν ἐρώτησιν — ἦν δὲ αὕτη: ‘ πότε ἁλώσεται μαγγανεύων Ἀλέξανδρος ;’ — ὀκτώ μοι χρησμοὺς ἔπεμψεν, οὔτε γῆς φασιν οὔτε οὐρανοῦ ἁπτομένους, ἀνοήτους δὲ καὶ δυσνοήτους ἅπαντας. ἅπερ ὕστερον αἰσθόμενος, καὶ ὅτι Ῥουτιλιανὸν ἐγὼ ἀπέτρεπον τοῦ γάμου καὶ τοῦ πάνυ προσκεῖσθαι ταῖς τοῦ χρηστηρίου ἐλπίσιν, ἐμίσει, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, καὶ ἔχθιστον ἡγεῖτο.


Sparta. They ultimately defeated Tegea, with the help of the oracle, this time interpreting it correctly: 565-60 BC. This marked the start of the mighty Peloponnesian League, and this was what went to war with Athens in the fifth century.

Croesus. There were two previous oracular responses on related matters of he conquest, and Croesus, and Croesus managed to dick them up as well. One is especially interesting. An ancestor of Croesus seized power in Lydia by murder and started a miasma, which emptied its load for very bad karma straight onto Croesus’ head.

Alexander. He’s usually taken in the scholarship to be a fraud. I, and a few others, have argued for a revisionist view. Lucian starts with the fraud a priori. We don’t really hear the other side of it. And after all, noted supra, Marcus Aurelius bought into it, and  Marcus Aurelius was no jerk (= the opposite of Croesus).

By the way. Although these texts imply otherwise, not just the One Percent consulted Delphi. Most of the queries, in fact, were pretty humdrum and personal.

So everyone is saying “Dang Me.” It’s the common lot mortals who seek to know more than they should. We’ve had that song in the previous post in this series. So let’s celebrate Lucian and his winning shootout with Alexander.

Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 13.3: Alexander Plays the Fool

“Shouldn’t I laugh, Alexander, when I see you still acting like a fool even in Hades, believing that you are Anubis or Osiris? Don’t hope too much about these things, most divine man: it is not permitted that anyone who has sailed into our harbor once and passed into our anchorage should return.”

Μὴ γελάσω οὖν, ὦ ᾿Αλέξανδρε, ὁρῶν καὶ ἐν ᾅδου ἔτι σε μωραίνοντα καὶ ἐλπίζοντα ῎Ανουβιν ἢ ῎Οσιριν γενήσεσθαι; πλὴν ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μέν, ὦ θειότατε, μὴ ἐλπίσῃς· οὐ γὰρ θέμις ἀνελθεῖν τινα τῶν ἅπαξ διαπλευσάντων τὴν λίμνην καὶ εἰς τὸ εἴσω τοῦ στομίου παρελθόντων·

(Yes, reading the Dialogues of the Dead around a birthday is not necessarily the most uplifting experience. But it is an experience. And, to paraphrase Alcman, an experience is the first step of learning…or something like that.)

Alcman, fr. 125 (Schol ad Pind. Isthm 1.56)

“Trying is the first step of learning”

πῆρά τοι μαθήσιος ἀρχά

I was always a little partial to one of the first lessons to be learned in graduate school (and life):

“Learn by Suffering”

… πάθει μάθος

(Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 177)

Lucian, “Dialogues of the Dead” Achilles Whines to Antilochus


Apparently, after Odysseus leaves the underworld, Achilles has a conversation with his friend, Nestor’s son Antilochus. Antilochus is confused that Achilles spoke so disparagingly of glory in the previous day’s exchange with Odysseus. Achilles explains:


“Son of Nestor, when I was alive I wasn’t experienced in this place [Hades] and I was ignorant about which world was better, even preferring that miserable vision of glory to life. But now I know that glory is useless, even if living men endlessly praise it. Among the corpses there is equality, and neither that beauty nor strength remains, but we all wait the same under this darkness and differ from one another in no way. The Trojan dead do not fear me; the Achaian corpses are not solicitous of me. Instead, there is unsparing freedom of speech and every corpse is equal: “both base and noble man alike” [Il. 9.319] This causes me pain and I am annoyed that I don’t serve a lesser man, still alive.”


     ῏Ω παῖ Νέστορος, ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν ἄπειρος ἔτι τῶν ἐνταῦθα ὢν καὶ τὸ βέλτιον ἐκείνων ὁπότερον ἦν ἀγνοῶν τὸ δύστηνον ἐκεῖνο δοξάριον προετίμων τοῦ βίου, νῦν δὲ συνίημι ἤδη ὡς ἐκείνη μὲν ἀνωφελής, εἰ καὶ ὅτι μάλιστα οἱ ἄνω ῥαψῳδήσουσιν. μετὰ νεκρῶν δὲ ὁμοτιμία, καὶ οὔτε τὸ κάλλος ἐκεῖνο, ὦ ᾿Αντίλοχε, οὔτε ἡ ἰσχὺς πάρεστιν, ἀλλὰ κείμεθα ἅπαντες ὑπὸ τῷ αὐτῷ ζόφῳ ὅμοιοι καὶ κατ’ οὐδὲν ἀλλήλων διαφέροντες, καὶ οὔτε οἱ τῶν Τρώων νεκροὶ δεδίασίν με οὔτε οἱ τῶν ᾿Αχαιῶν θεραπεύου-σιν, ἰσηγορία δὲ ἀκριβὴς καὶ νεκρὸς ὅμοιος, “ἠμὲν κακὸς ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσθλός.” ταῦτά με ἀνιᾷ καὶ ἄχθομαι, ὅτι μὴ θητεύω ζῶν.



This may all seem a little silly, but it is actually a close—though at times absurdist—reading of Odyssey 11 and Iliad 9. It keeps going too….but Antilochus shuts Achilles down when the latter claims that his annoyance at their situation in the underworld proves his own superiority:



“No, this shows we’re better, Achilles. For we recognize that speaking is useless. It has seemed best to us to be quiet, to bear up and endure, not to become an object of ridicule like you whenever you wish for these sorts of things”


     Οὔκ, ἀλλ’ ἀμείνους, ὦ ᾿Αχιλλεῦ· τὸ γὰρ ἀνωφελὲς τοῦ λέγειν ὁρῶμεν· σιωπᾶν γὰρ καὶ φέρειν καὶ ἀνέχεσθαι δέδοκται ἡμῖν, μὴ καὶ γέλωτα ὄφλωμεν ὥσπερ σὺ τοιαῦτα εὐχόμενος.



How To Say “Happy Birthday” in Ancient Greek

This is our first post from an airplane. And it is a re-post. It is my wife’s birthday. Thanks to the insanity of this site, I can now wish her happy birthday in Ancient Greek.

After tweeting in desperation last night, I awoke with a mission: to learn more about birthdays in ancient Greek (whether they observed them, how and what, if anything, they said). I sent some emails and then started in two logical places: a Greek phrase book and the Oxford Classical Dictionary.

H. W. Auden’s Greek Phrase Book provides a phrase for observing birthday sacrifices: τὰ γενέθλια ἑστιᾶν (1963, 44)

Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd Edition (s.v. Birthday): γενέθλιος ἡμέρα: The ancient Greeks celebrated the birthdays of some of the Olympian gods during the days of the month. Birthdays, according to this entry, became more significant along with ruler-cults and biographical traditions. The Romans seem to have celebrated birthdays from an early period.

Then the Homerist and all-around good-guy Erwin Cook told me via email that we know little about the birthday sacrifices held in the Archaic and early Classical periods, but he pointed me to Aeschylus’ mention in the Eumenides of giving a birthday gift to Apollo (8-9):

Φοίβη• δίδωσι δ’ ἣ γενέθλιον δόσιν
Φοίβῳ• τὸ Φοίβης δ’ ὄνομ’ ἔχει παρώνυμον.

Euripides also mentions birthday sacrifices (Ion 805): παιδὸς προθύσων ξένια καὶ γενέθλια.   Our friend, Platosparks, tells me that modern Greeks use καλά γενέθλια as a benediction, which seems like a nice derivation from the sacrifice. But multiple respondents have reported something like the following for modern Greek usage:

All of which is good to know. Phrynichus tells us a little about the Athenian practice–but not enough (Eklogai, 75.1-3):

“Genesia are not strictly speaking on the day of birth. Among the Athenians, the genesia are a festival. It is better to call them days of birth or birth-day sacrifices.”

Γενέσια οὐκ ὀρθῶς τίθεται ἐπὶ τῆς γενεθλίου ἡμέρας• Γενέσια γὰρ ᾿Αθήνησιν ἑορτή. λέγειν οὖν δεῖ τὰς γενεθλίους ἡμέρας ἢ γενέθλια.

But, as with many rituals from the ancient world, we know little about what they entailed and what they meant to the individuals who practiced them. The historian Appian gives us the kernel of the phrase ‘birthday’ (γενέθλιον ἦμαρ) as well:

εἰσὶ δ’ οἳ καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτὸν εἰσηγήσασθαι τὴν ἡμέραν θέσθαι τῇ πόλει γενέθλιον

Plato (Alcibiades 121c7) notes that all of Asia celebrates the birthday of the great King:

ὧν ἂν ἄρχῃ, εἶτα εἰς τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ταύτῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ βασιλέως γενέθλια πᾶσα θύει καὶ ἑορτάζει ἡ ᾿Ασία• ἡμῶν

Lucian, Gallos 9.10 writes of gathering together to celebrate a daughter’s birthday:, “Μίκυλλε,” φησί, “θυγατρὸς τήμερον ἑστιῶ γενέθλια καὶ παρεκάλεσα τῶν φίλων μάλα πολλούς• ἐπεὶ δέ τινά φασιν αὐτῶν. See also Hermotimus 11.12 for a daughter’s birthday feast.

But nowhere could I find an indication of how to wish good fortune on the birthday. We know then that a birthday gift was a thing; that birthday sacrifices and eventually feasts were also culturally recognized phenomena. But no benediction was to be found. (which doesn’t mean that there isn’t one somewhere!)

So, using the Latin Felix Dies Natalis as a model (and the phrase γενέθλιον ἦμαρ from Appian, paralleled in the Greek Anthology as PlatoSparks notes in the comments) and choosing the neuter form to hedge as to whether this is accusative (in an absolute sense) or nominative, I decided to make it up myself (and I take Palaiophron’s comments below to heart, this is an anachronistic somewhat silly exercise, but once down the rabbit-hole….):

μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ [sc. εἴη σοι]
καλὸν (based on καλά γενέθλια)

Of the three, I think I like this combination the most: γενέθλιον ἦμαρ εὐτυχὲς
I also like the rhythm of this one: μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ.
But with the parallel καλά γενέθλια from PlatoSparks, perhaps καλὸν γενέθλιον ἦμαρ is good too

And we can add particles for flavor and force:

εἰ γὰρ μακάριον γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
μακάριον δὴ γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!

εἰ γὰρ καλὸν γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!
καλὸν δὴ γενέθλιον ἦμαρ!

To be sure, it is highly unlikely that any Ancient Greek ever said this. But no ancient Greek used twitter either. Any suggestions for improvement?

Or Youtube:

The Sons of Odysseus Part 4, Telegonos

(This is a continuation of a search for all the children of Odysseus)

In our version of Hesiod’s Theogony, Telegonos appears in a disputed line as one of the sons of Kirkê and Odysseus. It is thought that the line was interpolated to keep Hesiod ‘current’ with the Cyclic poem the Telegony by Eugammon of Cyrene (which is lost):
“Kirkê, the daughter of Helios, Hyperion’s son,
After having sex with Odysseus, gave birth to
Agrios and Latînos, blameless and strong.
And she also gave birth to Telegonos thanks to golden Aphrodite.
Her sons rule far away in the recess of the holy islands
Among the glorious Tursênians.”

Κίρκη δ’ ᾿Ηελίου θυγάτηρ ῾Υπεριονίδαο
γείνατ’ ᾿Οδυσσῆος ταλασίφρονος ἐν φιλότητι
῎Αγριον ἠδὲ Λατῖνον ἀμύμονά τε κρατερόν τε•
[Τηλέγονον δὲ ἔτικτε διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην•]
οἳ δή τοι μάλα τῆλε μυχῷ νήσων ἱεράων
πᾶσιν Τυρσηνοῖσιν ἀγακλειτοῖσιν ἄνασσον.

West (1966, 434-5) considers the line about Telegonos to be a Byzantine interpolation. Though I do not aim to argue strenuously against troubling this line, it is important to note that Telegonos’ name (“born far away”; “begotten far away”) may be echoed in the line after the supposed interpolation (μάλα τῆλε). Both his and Telemakhos’ names in marking their distance, their ‘farness’, seem to echo the far-flung traveling nature of their father.

(And though Telemakhos is obviously in the Odyssey and mentioned in the Iliad, neither he nor Telegonos have a large presence in the larger body of myth. Both are largely absent from Archaic and Classical Greek art…)

Eustathius (Comm. Ad Od.1.142.35) explains such naming for sons: “Concerning being born far off, it is sufficiently clear in the Iliad. And now it will be addressed to an extent. Among the ancients, that someone is far-born is not only about where he was born, as the only son of Menelaos was Megapenthes, but that he was born when he father was far away or grew up in this way after he was born. A first example of this is Telegonos who was born from Kirkê when Odysseus was far away.”

Περὶ δὲ τοῦ τηλύγετος, ἱκανῶς ἡ ᾿Ιλιὰς δηλοῖ. νῦν δὲ εἰς τοσοῦτον ῥητέον. ὡς τηλύγετος παῖς παρὰ τοῖς παλαιοῖς, οὐ μόνον μεθ’ ὃν οὐκ ἔστι τεκνώσασθαι, ἢ ὁ μόνος υἱὸς ὡς ὁ Μεγαπένθης ἐνταῦθα τῷ Μενελάῳ, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ τῆλε ὄντι τῷ πατρὶ γεννηθεὶς, ἢ καὶ αὐξηθεὶς μετὰ γέννησιν. παράδειγμα τοῦ πρώτου, Τηλέγονος ὁ ἐκ Κίρκης τῆλέ που γεννηθεὶς τῷ ᾿Οδυσσεῖ.

Continue reading “The Sons of Odysseus Part 4, Telegonos”

Lucian, The Assembly of the Gods, 5: Too Many Laughable, Strange Deities!

“Should we be surprised if men dismiss us when they see such mockable and annoying gods?”



Εἶτα θαυμάζομεν εἰ καταφρονοῦσιν ἡμῶν οἱ ἄνθρωποι ὁρῶντες οὕτω γελοίους θεοὺς καὶ τεραστίους;

In this dialogue, Lucian imagine the gods assembling to debate the strange and countless gods worshipped throughout the world and the concomitant loss of Olympian dignity and human reverence. The gods vote to clean out the divine ranks.