Before 78 Was the New 28

Mimnermus fr. 1

what is life, and what pleasure is there, without golden Aphrodite?
let me die when I stop caring about these things:
secret love, and gentle gifts, and the bed.
things like these are the blooms of youth –
delicious to men and women alike.

but then old age comes bounding.
always it makes a man a disfigured thing, a base thing.
ugly cares press at his soul nonstop.
when he looks on the rays of the sun, no joy.
no, instead boys hate him,
and women, they scorn him.

such are the ways god made old age a pain in the ass.

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς Ἀφροδίτης,
τεθναίην ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ᾽ ἥβης ἄνθ εα γίγνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν: ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθῃ
γῆρας, ὅ τ᾽ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ᾽ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν,
οὕτως ἄργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Life After Insurrection

“This president is guilty of inciting insurrection. He has to pay a price for that.” – Nancy Pelosi

Is there life after political excommunication in the wake of a failed insurrection (particularly for a man who likes beauty pageants)?

Alcaeus 130B

. . . I’m a wretched man.
I’m living the lot of a rustic
But yearning to hear the assembly
Called, O Agesilaidas, and the council—

Privileges my father and my father’s father
Grew old having, even among countrymen
Who were wicked to one another,
And of which I’m now dispossessed.

I’ve fled to the hinterlands, like Onymakles.
And although I’m alone, a wolf-man,
I’ve made a home here after quitting the fight.
After all, isn’t it better to put an end to insurrection?

In the precinct of the blessed gods
I’ve made a home and tread the black earth.
In these gatherings I’ve found a place.
And here I’m keeping my feet out of trouble—

Here where the women of Lesbos judged on beauty
Parade, their robes trailing,
And the divine sound of the women’s holy ululations
rings out from every quarter—
a yearly affair.

Ἀγνοις . . σβιότοις . . ις ὀ τάλαις ἔγω
ζώω μοι̑ραν ἔχων ἀγροϊωτίκαν
ἰμέρρων ἀγόρας ἄκουσαι
καρυ[ζο]μένας ὠ̑ (᾿Α)γεσιλαΐδα

καὶ β[ό]λλας· τὰ πάτηρ καὶ πάτερος πάτηρ
κα<γ>γ[ε]γήρασ’ ἔχοντες πεδὰ τωνδέων
τὼν [ἀ]λλαλοκάκων πολίταν
ἔγ[ω ἀ]πὺ τούτων ἀπελήλαμαι

φεύγων ἐσχατίαισ’, ὠς δ᾿ Ὀνυμακλέης
ἔνθα[δ’] οἰ̑ος ἐοίκησα λυκαιχμίαις
[φεύγων t]ον [π]όλεμον· στάσιν γὰρ
πρὸς κρ . [. . . . ] . οὐκ †ἄμεινον† ὀννέλην·

. ] . [ . . . ] . [. . ] . μακάρων ἐς τέμ[ε]νος θέων
ἐοι[κησα] με[λ]αίνας ἐπίβαις χθόνος
χλι . [. ] . [ . ] . [.]ν συνόδοισί μ’ αὔταις
οἴκημι κ[ά]κων ἔκτος ἔχων πόδας,

ὄππαι Λ[εσβί]αδες κριννόμεναι φύαν
πώλεντ’ ἐλκεσίπεπλοι, περὶ δὲ βρέμει
ἄχω θεσπεσία γυναίκων
ἴρα[ς ὀ]λολύγας ἐνιαυσίας

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

The Will to Dance: The Knees of Old Poets

Sappho 58

The heart in me is now a burden
The knees can’t carry.
They were once quite quick to dance,
The equal of fauns.
These are the things I grieve,
Time and again.
Yet, can I achieve anything,
Doing this?

An unaging mortal being—
This is not possible.
In the old times people said
Dawn with the roseate arms, for love,
Went to the ends of earth leading Tithonus,
A beautiful being,
And young!
But even him,
A man with an immortal wife,
Grey old age got hold of at last!

Alcman 26

O sweet-voiced girls with miraculous song,
these legs can carry me no longer.
How I wish I were a kingfisher,
One who flits across the flowering sea swell
In the company of halcyons,
Fearless in heart,
Sea-colored,
A divine bird.

Sappho 58

βάρυϲ δέ μ’ ὀ [θ]ῦμο̣ϲ̣ πεπόηται, γόνα δ’ [ο]ὐ φέροιϲι,
τὰ δή ποτα λαίψηρ’ ἔον ὄρχηϲθ’ ἴϲα νεβρίοιϲι.
τὰ ⟨μὲν⟩ ϲτεναχίϲδω θαμέωϲ· ἀλλὰ τί κεν ποείην;
ἀγήραον ἄνθρωπον ἔοντ’ οὐ δύνατον γένεϲθαι.
καὶ γάρ π̣[ο]τ̣α̣ Τίθωνον ἔφαντο βροδόπαχυν Αὔων
ἔρωι φ̣ ̣ ̣α̣θ̣ε̣ιϲαν βάμεν’ εἰϲ ἔϲχατα γᾶϲ φέροιϲα[ν,
ἔοντα̣ [κ]ά̣λ̣ο̣ν καὶ νέον, ἀλλ’ αὖτον ὔμωϲ ἔμαρψε
χρόνωι π̣ό̣λ̣ι̣ο̣ν̣ γῆραϲ, ἔχ̣[ο]ν̣τ̣’ ἀθανάταν ἄκοιτιν.

Alcman 26

οὔ μ᾿ ἔτι, παρσενικαὶ μελιγάρυες ἱαρόφωνοι,
γυῖα φέρην δύναται· βάλε δὴ βάλε κηρύλος εἴην,
ὅς τ᾿ ἐπὶ κύματος ἄνθος ἅμ᾿ ἀλκυόνεσσι ποτήται
νηδεὲς ἦτορ ἔχων, ἁλιπόρφυρος ἱαρὸς ὄρνις.

FILE — Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou dance on the 89th birthday of the poet Langston Hughes at the The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where Hughes’ ashes were buried beneath the floor, in New York, Feb. 22, 1991. Baraka, a poet and playwright of pulsating rage, whose long illumination of the black experience in America was called incandescent in some quarters and incendiary in others, died Jan. 9, 2014. He was 79. (Chester Higgins, Jr./The New York Times)

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

The Ship of State, Operated by Fools

Schol. ad. Od. 8.17 (On why Odysseus is only responsible for the companions in his particular ship)

“According to the proverb “Common ship, common safety”

κατὰ τὴν παροιμίαν “κοινὴ ναῦς κοινὴ σωτηρία,”

Sophocles, Antigone 175–190 (Creon speaking)

“It is impossible to really learn a man’s
mind, thought and opinion before he’s been initiated
into the offices and laws of the state.
Indeed—whoever attempts to direct the country
but does not make use of the best advice
as he keeps his tongue frozen out of fear
Seems to me to be the worst kind of person now and long ago.

Anyone who thinks his friend is more important than the country,
I say that they live nowhere.
May Zeus who always sees everything witness this:
I could never be silent when I saw ruin
Overtaking my citizens instead of safety.

And I could never make my country’s enemy a friend
For myself, because I know this crucial thing:
The state is the ship which saves us
And we may make friends only if it remains afloat.”

ἀμήχανον δὲ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐκμαθεῖν
ψυχήν τε καὶ φρόνημα καὶ γνώμην, πρὶν ἂν
ἀρχαῖς τε καὶ νόμοισιν ἐντριβὴς φανῇ.
ἐμοὶ γὰρ ὅστις πᾶσαν εὐθύνων πόλιν
μὴ τῶν ἀρίστων ἅπτεται βουλευμάτων,
ἀλλ᾿ ἐκ φόβου του γλῶσσαν ἐγκλῄσας ἔχει,
κάκιστος εἶναι νῦν τε καὶ πάλαι δοκεῖ·

καὶ μείζον᾿ ὅστις ἀντὶ τῆς αὑτοῦ πάτρας
φίλον νομίζει, τοῦτον οὐδαμοῦ λέγω.
ἐγὼ γάρ, ἴστω Ζεὺς ὁ πάνθ᾿ ὁρῶν ἀεί,
οὔτ᾿ ἂν σιωπήσαιμι τὴν ἄτην ὁρῶν
στείχουσαν ἀστοῖς ἀντὶ τῆς σωτηρίας,
οὔτ᾿ ἂν φίλον ποτ᾿ ἄνδρα δυσμενῆ χθονὸς
θείμην ἐμαυτῷ, τοῦτο γιγνώσκων ὅτι
ἥδ᾿ ἐστὶν ἡ σῴζουσα καὶ ταύτης ἔπι
πλέοντες ὀρθῆς τοὺς φίλους ποιούμεθα.

Antigone au chevet de Polynice

Heraclitus the Commentator, in defending the application of allegorical readings to Homer, argues that allegory is of considerable antiquity—used clearly by Archilochus when he compares the troubles of a war (fr. 54) and by Alcaeus when he compares the troubles of a tyranny to a storm at sea. He writes that Alcaeus “compares the troubles of a tyranny to the turmoil of a stormy sea.” (τὰς γὰρ τυραννικὰς ταραχὰς ἐξ ἴσου χειμερίῳ προσεικάζει καταστήματι θαλάττης, Homeric Problems 5.8)

Alcaeus fr. 326

“I cannot make sense of the clash of the winds
One wave whirls from this side,
Another wave comes from the other, and we in the middle
Are borne in our dark ship
Toiling ever on in this great storm.
The swell has taken he mast
And the sail is completely transparent—
There are great tears through it
And the anchors have broken free…”

ἀσυννέτημμι τὼν ἀνέμων στάσιν,
τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔνθεν κῦμα κυλίνδεται,
τὸ δ’ ἔνθεν, ἄμμες δ’ ὂν τὸ μέσσον
νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα σὺν μελαίναι
χείμωνι μόχθεντες μεγάλωι μάλα·
πὲρ μὲν γὰρ ἄντλος ἰστοπέδαν ἔχει,
λαῖφος δὲ πὰν ζάδηλον ἤδη,
καὶ λάκιδες μέγαλαι κὰτ αὖτο,
χόλαισι δ’ ἄγκυρραι

Alcaeus, fr. 6a [P. Oxy. 1789 1 i 15–19, ii 1–17, 3 i, 12 + 2166(e)4]

“Now this higher wave comes harder than the one before
And will bring us much toil to face
When it overcomes the ship

Let us strengthen the ship’s sides
As fast as we can and hurry into a safe harbor.
Let no weak hesitation take anyone.
For a great contest is clearly before us.
Recall your previous toil.
Today, let every man be dedicated.
And may we never cause shame
To our noble parents who lie beneath the earth”

τόδ’ αὖ]τε κῦμα τὼ π[ρ]οτέρ̣[ω †νέμω
στείχει,] παρέξει δ’ ἄ[μμι πόνον π]όλυν
ἄντλην ἐπ]εί κε νᾶ[ος ἔμβαι
[ ].όμεθ’ ἐ[
[ ]..[..]·[
[ ]

φαρξώμεθ’ ὠς ὤκιστα̣[τοίχοις,
ἐς δ’ ἔχυρον λίμενα δρό[μωμεν,
καὶ μή τιν’ ὄκνος μόλθ[ακος
λάχηι· πρόδηλον γάρ· μεγ[ἀέθλιον·
μνάσθητε τὼ πάροιθα μ[όχθω·
νῦν τις ἄνηρ δόκιμος γε̣[νέσθω.
καὶ μὴ καταισχύνωμεν [ἀνανδρίᾳ
ἔσλοις τόκηας γᾶς ὔπα κε̣[ιμένοις

The text in Heraclitus’ Homeric Problems reads somewhat differently for the first line:

Τὸ δ’ ηὖτε κῦμα τῶν προτέρων ὄνω

Theognis 855-856

“This state has often run to ground like a failing ship
Thanks to the wickedness of its leaders.”

πολλάκις ἡ πόλις ἥδε δι᾿ ἡγεμόνων κακότητα
ὥσπερ κεκλιμένη ναῦς παρὰ γῆν ἔδραμεν.

Plato, Republic 6 488a7-89a2

[This was inspired by a”Ship of Fools” post at LitKicks]

Consider this how this could turn out on many ships or even just one: there is a captain of some size and strength beyond the rest of the men in the ship, but he is deaf and similarly limited at seeing, and he knows as much about sailing as these qualities might imply. So, the sailors are struggling with one another about steering the ship, because each one believes that he should be in charge, even though he has learned nothing of the craft nor can indicate who his teacher was nor when he had the time to learn. Some of them are even saying that it is not teachable, and that they are ready to cut down the man who says it can be taught.

They are always hanging all over the captain asking him and making a big deal of the fact that he should entrust the rudder to them. There are times when some of them do not persuade him, and some of them kill others or kick them off the ship, and once they have overcome the noble captain through a mandrake, or drugs, or something else and run the ship, using up its contents drinking, and partying, and sailing just as such sort of men might. In addition to this, they praise as a fit sailor, and call a captain and knowledgeable at shipcraft the man who is cunning at convincing or forcing the captain that they should be in charge. And they rebuke as useless anyone who is not like this.

Such men are unaware what a true helmsman is like, that he must be concerned about the time of year, the seasons, the sky, the stars, the wind and everything that is appropriate to the art, if he is going to be a leader of a ship in reality, how he might steer the ship even if some desire it or not, when they believe that it is not possible to obtain art or practice about how to do this, something like an art of ship-steering. When these types of conflicts are occurring on a ship, don’t you think the one who is a true helmsman would be called a star-gazer, a blabber, or useless to them by the sailors in the ships organized in this way?

νόησον γὰρ τοιουτονὶ γενόμενον εἴτε πολλῶν νεῶν πέρι εἴτε μιᾶς· ναύκληρον μεγέθει μὲν καὶ ῥώμῃ ὑπὲρ τοὺς ἐν τῇ νηὶ πάντας, ὑπόκωφον δὲ καὶ ὁρῶντα ὡσαύτως βραχύ τι καὶ γιγνώσκοντα περὶ ναυτικῶν ἕτερα τοιαῦτα, τοὺς δὲ ναύτας στασιάζοντας πρὸς ἀλλήλους περὶ τῆς κυβερνήσεως, ἕκαστον οἰόμενον δεῖν κυβερνᾶν, μήτε μαθόντα πώποτε τὴν τέχνην μέτε ἔχοντα ἀποδεῖξαι διδάσκαλον ἑαυτοῦ μηδὲ χρόνον ἐν ᾧ ἐμάνθανεν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις φάσκοντας μηδὲ διδακτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν λέγοντα ὡς διδακτὸν ἑτοίμους κατατέμνειν, αὐτοὺς δὲ αὐτῷ ἀεὶ τῷ ναυκλήρῳ περικεχύσθαι δεομένους καὶ πάντα ποιοῦντας ὅπως ἂν σφίσι τὸ πηδάλιον ἐπιτρέψῃ, ἐνίοτε δ’ ἂν μὴ πείθωσιν ἀλλὰ ἄλλοι μᾶλλον, τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ἢ ἀποκτεινύντας ἢ ἐκβάλλοντας ἐκ τῆς νεώς, τὸν δὲ γενναῖον ναύκληρον μανδραγόρᾳ ἢ μέθῃ ἤ τινι ἄλλῳ συμποδίσαντας τῆς νεὼς ἄρχειν χρωμένους τοῖς ἐνοῦσι, καὶ πίνοντάς τε καὶ εὐωχουμένους πλεῖν ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς τοὺς τοιούτους, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἐπαινοῦντας ναυτικὸν μὲν καλοῦντας καὶ κυβερνητικὸν καὶ ἐπιστάμενον τὰ κατὰ ναῦν, ὃς ἂν συλλαμβάνειν δεινὸς ᾖ ὅπως ἄρξουσιν ἢ πείθοντες ἢ βιαζόμενοι τὸν ναύκληρον, τὸν δὲ μὴ τοιοῦτον ψέγοντας ὡς ἄχρηστον, τοῦ δὲ ἀληθινοῦ κυβερνήτου πέρι μηδ’ ἐπαΐοντες, ὅτι ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ποιεῖσθαι ἐνιαυτοῦ καὶ ὡρῶν καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἄστρων καὶ πνευμάτων καὶ πάντων τῶν τῇ τέχνῃ προσηκόντων, εἰ μέλλει τῷ ὄντι νεὼς ἀρχικὸς ἔσεσθαι, ὅπως δὲ κυβερνήσει ἐάντε τινες βούλωνται ἐάντε μή, μήτε τέχνην τούτου μήτε μελέτην οἰόμενοι δυνατὸν εἶναι λαβεῖν ἅμα καὶ τὴν κυβερνητικήν. τοιούτων δὴ περὶ τὰς ναῦς γιγνομένων τὸν ὡς ἀληθῶς κυβερνητικὸν οὐχ ἡγῇ ἂν τῷ ὄντι μετεωροσκόπον τε καὶ ἀδολέσχην καὶ ἄχρηστόν σφισι καλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ταῖς οὕτω κατεσκευασμέναις ναυσὶ πλωτήρων;

Image result for ship of fools
Hieronymus Bosch, “Ship of Fools”

Somebody to Drink With: Anacreon’s Epitaph and Some Poems

Greek Anthology 7.26, Antipater of Sidon

“Stranger passing by the humble grave of Anakreon,
If my books were of any use to you,
Pour some wine on my ashes, pour it out in drops
So that my bones can smile, refreshed a bit by wine,
so I, who loved the shouting raves of Dionysus,
so I, who was a partner of music matched to drink,
may not lie dead apart from Bacchus in this place below,
the land which all the race of mortals one day must know.”

Ξεῖνε, τάφον παρὰ λιτὸν ᾿Ανακρείοντος ἀμείβων,
εἴ τί τοι ἐκ βίβλων ἦλθεν ἐμῶν ὄφελος,
σπεῖσον ἐμῇ σποδιῇ, σπεῖσον γάνος, ὄφρα κεν οἴνῳ
ὀστέα γηθήσῃ τἀμὰ νοτιζόμενα,
ὡς ὁ Διωνύσου μεμελημένος εὐάσι κώμοις,
ὡς ὁ φιλακρήτου σύντροφος ἁρμονίης
μηδὲ καταφθίμενος Βάκχου δίχα τοῦτον ὑποίσω
τὸν γενεῇ μερόπων χῶρον ὀφειλόμενον.

Fr. 395

“Hades’ hall is horrifying
And the passage there is hard.
Worse: it is decided that
who ventures there does not return.”

Ἀίδεω γάρ ἐστι δεινὸς
μυχός, ἀργαλῆ δ᾿ ες αὐτὸν
κάτοδος. και γὰρ ἐτοῖμον
καταβάντι μὴ ἀναβῆναι

Anacreon. Marble. Roman copy of the 2nd century A.D. after a Greek original of the 5th century B.C. Inv. No. 491. Copenhagen, New Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Anacreon fr. 2

“I don’t love the man who while drinking next to a full cup
Talks about conflicts and lamentable war.
But whoever mixes the shining gifts of Aphrodite and the Muses
Let him keep in mind loving, good cheer.”

οὐ φιλέω, ὃς κρητῆρι παρὰ πλέωι οἰνοποτάζων
νείκεα καὶ πόλεμον δακρυόεντα λέγει,
ἀλλ’ ὅστις Μουσέων τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρ’ ᾿Αφροδίτης
συμμίσγων ἐρατῆς μνήσκεται εὐφροσύνης.

Fr. 428

“I love and again do not love
I am insane and yet sane too”

ἐρέω τε δηὖτε κοὐκ ἐρέω
καὶ μαίνομαι κοὐ μαίνομαι

This last fragment recalls (the much later) Carmen 85 of Catullus:

“I hate and I love: you might ask why I do this–
I don’t know, but I see it happen and it’s killing me.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

A Lyric Take on the Death of Agamemnon

Pind. Pyth. 11.17-37

“The nurse Arsinoe took [Orestes]
from his father murdered
by the strong hands of Klytemnestra
by the grievous trick
when she sent the Dardanian girl, Kassandra,
with Agamemnon’s soul by means of grey bronze
to the dusty banks of Acheron,
the pitiless woman.

Was it Iphigenia, slaughtered
far away from her home near the Euripos
that moved her to heavy-handed rage?
Or was she overwhelmed by another bed,
made crazy by their nightly ‘sharing’?
This is the most hateful mistake
of young brides
and it is impossible to keep from other people’s tongues.
Citizens are vile-gossips.

Prosperity brings with it an equal-sized envy;
while the man who breathes close to the ground moves by unseen.
The hero son of Atreus himself died
when he came after a long time to famous Amyklai.
And he destroyed the prophetic girl too
after he despoiled the homes of the Trojans, burned for Helen.”

agdeath

Β′ τὸν δὴ φονευομένου πατρὸς ᾿Αρσινόα Κλυταιμήστρας
χειρῶν ὕπο κρατερᾶν
ἐκ δόλου τροφὸς ἄνελε δυσπενθέος,
ὁπότε Δαρδανίδα κόραν Πριάμου
Κασσάνδραν πολιῷ χαλκῷ σὺν ᾿Αγαμεμνονίᾳ
ψυχᾷ πόρευ’ ᾿Αχέροντος ἀκτὰν παρ’ εὔσκιον
νηλὴς γυνά. πότερόν νιν ἄρ’ ᾿Ιφιγένει’ ἐπ’ Εὐρίπῳ
σφαχθεῖσα τῆλε πάτρας
ἔκνισεν βαρυπάλαμον ὄρσαι χόλον;
ἢ ἑτέρῳ λέχεϊ δαμαζομέναν
ἔννυχοι πάραγον κοῖται; τὸ δὲ νέαις ἀλόχοις
ἔχθιστον ἀμπλάκιον καλύψαι τ’ ἀμάχανον
ἀλλοτρίαισι γλώσσαις·
κακολόγοι δὲ πολῖται.
ἴσχει τε γὰρ ὄλβος οὐ μείονα φθόνον·
ὁ δὲ χαμηλὰ πνέων ἄφαντον βρέμει.
θάνεν μὲν αὐτὸς ἥρως ᾿Ατρεΐδας
ἵκων χρόνῳ κλυταῖς ἐν ᾿Αμύκλαις,
Γ′ μάντιν τ’ ὄλεσσε κόραν, ἐπεὶ ἀμφ’ ῾Ελένᾳ πυρωθέντας
Τρώων ἔλυσε δόμους.

Horace’s Minor Madness

Horace, Epistles 2.118-125

“This mistake, this minor madness, still possesses
This many advantages—consider them. The poet is
Not one with a greedy heart. He loves his lines, and desires
This alone. He mocks lost money, the flight of slaves and fires
There’s no thought of fraud against his friend or his ward
He lives as well as thin gruel and dry bread can afford.
Although he’s slow and a bad soldier, he’s still of use,
If you believe this: that grand affairs are helped by small matters too.

Hic error tamen et levis haec insania quantas
virtutes habeat, sic collige. vatis avarus
non temere est animus; versus amat, hoc studet unum;
detrimenta, fugas servorum, incendia ridet;
non fraudem socio puerove incogitat ullam
pupillo; vivit siliquis et pane secundo;
militiae quamquam piger et malus, utilis urbi,
si das hoc, parvis quoque rebus magna iuvari.

Horace reads before Maecenas, by Fyodor Bronnikov

The Most Musical and Bellicose Men

Pindar, Fragments from Uncertain Places, 199

“Where the plans of the old
And the spears of young men are the best,
Along with the choruses and the Mouse and Aglaia…”

ἔνθα βουλαὶ γερόντων
καὶ νέων ἀνδρῶν ἀριστεύοισιν αἰχμαί,
καὶ χοροὶ καὶ Μοῖσα καὶ ᾿Αγλαΐα

This is quoted by Plutarchin the Life of Lycurgus (21.3) where he says

“For he has composed this about the Spartans, “where the spear of the young flourishes along with the clear-voiced Muse, and wide-wayed justice”

Pindar also says, “where the councils of the old and the spears of the young are the best along with the choruses and the Muse and Aglaia…”

For these lines demonstrate that they are the most musical and the most bellicose people at the same time.”

ὁ μὲν γὰρ οὕτως πεποίηκε περὶ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων·

῎Ενθ’ αἰχμά τε νέων θάλλει καὶ μοῦσα λίγεια
καὶ δίκα εὐρυάγυια— —

Πίνδαρος δέ φησιν·

῎Ενθα βουλαὶ γερόντων
καὶ νέων ἀνδρῶν ἀριστεύοντι αἰχμαὶ
καὶ χοροὶ καὶ Μοῦσα καὶ ἀγλαΐα.

Μουσικωτάτους γὰρ ἅμα καὶ πολεμικωτάτους ἀποφαίνουσιν αὐτούς

JordanImage from:

Jordan, Borimir. “The Honors for Themistocles after Salamis.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 109, no. 4, 1988, pp. 547–571. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/295081.

 

Who knows what Pindar poem this may have come from or what the context was–chances are it cannot be taken too seriously considering the on-again-off-again relationship between Sparta and Thebes and the fact that everything Pindar composed has to be understood from the perspective of the goal of the overall poem, to praise someone in particular by praising their country, their family, and their patron gods. (See Elroy Bundy’s Studia Pindarica for the clearest explanation of this.)

Peoples of Much Suffering: Look

Euripides, Orestes 1-3

“There is nothing so terrible, as the saying goes,
No suffering or affliction sent by the gods
No burden that a human cannot naturally endure.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν δεινόν, ὧδ᾿ εἰπεῖν ἔπος,
οὐδὲ πάθος οὐδὲ ξυμφορὰ θεήλατος,
ἧς οὐκ ἂν ἄραιτ᾿ ἄχθος ἀνθρώπου φύσις.

100

“You have spoken rightly, but you don’t speak kindly to me”

ὀρθῶς ἔλεξας· οὐ φίλως δέ μοι λέγεις.

200-207

“We are ruined, like corpses, we are dead.
This one goes among the dead and the greater share
Of my life goes there too
In weeping and mourning
And tears in the night
Unmarried without children I drag out
An unlivable life for the rest of my time.”

ὀλόμεθ᾿ ἰσονέκυες ὀλόμεθα.
ὅδε γὰρ ἐν νεκροῖς τό τ᾿ ἐμὸν οἴχεται
βίου τὸ πλέον μέρος· ἐν
στοναχαῖσι δὲ καὶ γόοισι
δάκρυσί τ᾿ ἐννυχίοις
ἄγαμος ἄτεκνος ἔτι <βίον ἀ>βίοτον ἁ
μέλεος ἐς τὸν αἰὲν ἕλκω χρόνον.

231-1

“Sit me up again. Turn my body around.
It is hard to make the sick feel better because of this helplessness.”

αὖθίς μ᾿ ἐς ὀρθὸν στῆσον, ἀνακύκλει δέμας·
δυσάρεστον οἱ νοσοῦντες ἀπορίας ὕπο.

418

“We are slaves of the gods, whatever it is that “gods” are.”

δουλεύομεν θεοῖς, ὅ τι ποτ᾿ εἰσὶν οἱ θεοί.

977-981

“Peoples of much suffering: look how fate
Tramples on your hopes.
Different pains visit different people
Over the span of time:
The whole expanse of mortal lives cannot be measured”

ἔθνη πολύπονα, λεύσσεθ᾿ ὡς παρ᾿ ἐλπίδας
μοῖρα βαίνει.
ἕτερα δ᾿ ἕτερον ἀμείβεται
πήματ᾿ ἐν χρόνῳ μακρῷ,
βροτῶν δ᾿ ὁ πᾶς ἀστάθμητος αἰών.

Death and the Miser, Hieronymus Bosch

What Does Helen Look Like?

Last year twitter friend asked me about the appearance of Helen recently:

This came at a time when many are talking about the ethnicity of Homeric heroes and rightly arguing that so many of our ideas about race, color, and identity have little to do with the ancient world and everything to do with our own. (See also the discussion on Pharos.) Within this debate is the important realization that ancient concepts of hue and range of color-representation may have been altogether different from our own. In addition to Tim Whitmarsh’s essay (cited above) Maria Michel Sassi’s  essay does well to explore gaps between how we conceive of color and how the ancients may have.

As @spannycat notes, Greek poetry describes Helen as xanthê and kuanopis. An insensitive and simplistic reading of these facts might claim that she was “blonde” with “blue eyes” (and I am not at all implying that @spannycat is doig this). Not only is the situation far more interesting and complicated than this, but I am pretty sure that even if we accept these two words as applying to Helen they would not be equivalent to the appearance these two terms denote in modern English.

Let’s start with the barest fact. What Helen actually looks like is never stated in Homer. When the Trojans look at her, they say she has the “terrible appearance of goddesses” (αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν). This, of course, is not terribly specific.

Elsewhere, she is “argive Helen, for whom many Achaeans [struggled]” (᾿Αργείην ῾Ελένην, ἧς εἵνεκα πολλοὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν, Il. 2.161) she has “smooth” or “pale/white” arms (῏Ιρις δ’ αὖθ’ ῾Ελένῃ λευκωλένῳ ἄγγελος ἦλθεν, 3.121), but this likely has to do with a typical depiction of women in Archaic Greece (they are lighter in tone than men because they don’t work outside) or because of women’s clothing (arms may have been visible). Beyond that? In the Odyssey, She has “beautiful hair” (῾Ελένης πάρα καλλικόμοιο, 15.58) and a long robe (τανύπεπλος, 4.305).

If anyone is looking for a hint of the ideal of beauty from the legend who launched a thousand ships, they will be sorely disappointed. Why? I think the answer to this partly has to do with the nature of Homeric poetry and with good art in general. Homeric poetry developed over a long duration of time and appealed to many different peoples. To over-determine Helen’s beauty by describing it would necessarily adhere to some standards of beauty while alienating others.

In addition, why describe her beauty at all when the audience members themselves can craft an ideal in their mind. As a student of mine said while I mused over this, Helen “Cannot have descriptors because she is a floating signifier”. She is a blank symbol for desire upon which all audience members (ancient and modern, male and female) project their own (often ambiguous) notions of beauty. To stay with the ancient world, think of that seminal first stanza in Sappho fr. 16:

Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
[whatever] you love

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

As long as beauty is relative and in the eye of the beholder any time we disambiguate it by saying that it is one thing and not another we depart from an abstract timeless idea and create something more bounded and less open to audience engagement. I think that part of what makes Homeric poetry work so well is that it combines a maximum amount of specificity within a maximized amount of ambiguity.

Outside of Homer, Helen is described with a little more detail, but in each case the significance of the signifier is less than it appears. In Hesiod, she has nice hair again (῾Ελένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο,Works and Days 165; this is repeated a lot in the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue). In fr. 9 of the Cypria she is merely a “Wonder for mortals” (θαῦμα βροτοῖσι·). Much later she has “spiraling eyebrows/lashes” (῾Ελένης ἑλικοβλεφάροιο, Quintus Smyrnaeus, 13.470).

If we want to learn more about Helen, she has additional features outside of epic poetry in lyric. I would be bold enough to claim that the more personal and erotic character of the genre is a better explanation for this specificity than anything else.

In lyric (e.g. Mesomedes, κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας,) Helen is “cyan-eyed”, but if we look at the semantic range of this nominal root—which describes dark stones and eyes of water divinities—I think we can argue fairly that this indicates a dark and shiny, even watery texture (like lapis lazuli). I suspect this is about the sheen of eyes rather than their hue.

Eustathius remarks that the epithet κυανώπιδα is common (κατὰ κοινὸν ἐπίθετον) and is often used for dark sea creatures, describing as well his hair (Ποσειδῶνα κυανοχαίτην, Ad Hom. Il 1.555.23). Indeed, nymphs in general are “dark-eyed” in lyric (καὶ Νύμφαι κυανώπιδες, Anacr. fr. 12.2) and water deities remain so in Homer (κῦμα μέγα ῥοχθεῖ κυανώπιδος ᾿Αμφιτρίτης, Il. 12.60). Outside of Homer marriageable women also receive this epithet, including Helen’s sister Klytemnestra (Hes. Fr. 23a κού[ρην Τυνδαρέοιο Κλυταιμήσ]τρην κυανῶπ[ιν· cf. fr. 23.27 and for Althaia, 25.14, Elektra (169).

From Robert Beekes. Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Leiden: Brill, 2010

kuane

So, in lyric, Helen has dark pools for eyes. But what about her hair? At Sappho fr. 23 Helen is described as “xanthai” ([ ] ξάνθαι δ’ ᾿Ελέναι σ’ ἐίσ[κ]ην; cf. Stesichorus Fr. S103: [ξ]α̣νθὰ δ’ ῾Ελένα̣ π̣ρ[ ; Ibycus, fr. 1a.5: ξα]νθᾶς ῾Ελένας περὶ εἴδει ). But it is important to note that in this context there is a first-person narrator speaking (“I liken you to fair Helen…”). Note as well that there is something formulaic in these lyric lines: the epithet seems to begin the phrase each time.

When it comes to Hair color, xanthus is used in Homer to describe heroes, but not Helen (Menelaos is Xanthus, for example). A byzantine etymological dictionary suggests that the core meaning of this root has something to do with fire (Ξανθὴν, πυῤῥοειδῆ) and argues that the hair “symbolizes the heat and irascibility of the hero” (αἰνίττεται, τὸ θερμὸν καὶ ὀργίλον τοῦ ἥρωος, Etym. Gud, s.v.). But outside the Iliad and Odyssey the adjective is applied to goddesses: both Demeter (H. Dem. 302) and Aphrodite (Soph. fr. 255) are called Xanthê. Modern etymology sees this as anywhere from yellow to brown. But this is altogether relative again. “Light hair” in a group of people who are blond is almost white; among black/brown haired people, light hair can merely be a different shade of brown.

Again, from Beekes 2010:

xanthe

In the second book of Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem Trilogy” The Dark Forest, one of the main characters Luo Ji creates an ideal woman to love in his mind and goes so far as to converse with her, leave his actual girlfriend for her, and go on a trip with her. When he consults a psychologist about this, his doctor tells him his is lucky because everyone is in love with an idea–where the rest of the world will inevitably be disillusioned when they realize this, Luo Ji will never suffer this loss.

Trying to make Helen look like an actual person is not only impossible, but it is something which Homeric epic avoids for good reason.

Special thanks to .@spannycat for asking the question. Her own conclusions on the topic are pretty much the same.

Image result for ancient greek helen
From Wikipedia