A Bad Combination of Good Things

Lucian, You’re a Prometheus in Words

I am afraid that my work too is a camel in Egypt and people admire its bridle and its sea-purple, since even the combination of those two very fine creations, dialogue and comedy, is not enough for beauty of form if the blending lacks harmony and symmetry.

The synthesis of two fine things can be a freak—the hippocentaur is an obvious example: you would not call this creature charming, rather a monstrosity, to go by the paintings of their drunken orgies and murders. Well then, can nothing beautiful come from the synthesis of two things of high quality, as the mixture of wine and honey is exceedingly pleasant? Yes, certainly. But I cannot maintain that this is the case with my two: I’m afraid that the beauty of each has been lost in the blending.

Dialogue and comedy were not entirely friendly and compatible from the beginning.

Δέδοικα δὲ μὴ καὶ τοὐμὸν κάμηλος ἐν Αἰγυπτίοις ᾖ, οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι τὸν χαλινὸν ἔτι αὐτῆς θαυμάζωσι καὶ τὴν ἁλουργίδα, ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ τὸ ἐκ δυοῖν τοῖν καλλίστοιν συγκεῖσθαι, διαλόγου καὶ κωμῳδίας, οὐδὲ τοῦτο ἀπόχρη εἰς εὐμορφίαν, εἰ μὴ καὶ ἡ μῖξις ἐναρμόνιος καὶ κατὰ τὸ σύμμετρον γίγνοιτο. ἔστι γοῦν ἐκ δύο καλῶν ἀλλόκοτον τὴν ξυνθήκην εἶναι, οἷον ἐκεῖνο τὸ προχειρότατον, ὁ ἱπποκένταυρος· οὐ γὰρ ἂν φαίης ἐπέραστόν τι ζῷον τουτὶ γενέσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὑβριστότατον, εἰ χρὴ πιστεύειν τοῖς ζωγράφοις ἐπιδεικνυμένοις τὰς παροινίας καὶ σφαγὰς αὐτῶν. τί οὖν; οὐχὶ καὶ ἔμπαλιν γένοιτ᾿ ἂν εὔμορφόν τι ἐκ δυοῖν τοῖν ἀρίστοιν ξυντεθέν, ὥσπερ ἐξ οἴνου καὶ μέλιτος τὸ ξυναμφότερον ἥδιστον; φημὶ ἔγωγε. οὐ μὴν περί γε τῶν ἐμῶν ἔχω διατείνεσθαι ὡς τοιούτων ὄντων, ἀλλὰ δέδια μὴ τὸ ἑκατέρου κάλλος ἡ μῖξις συνέφθειρεν.

Prometeusz.jpg
Prometheus Stauros. That bird doesn’t look so bad….

More Wonder for A Wednesday: Whose Intestines Sing?

From the Paradoxagraphus Palatinus Admiranda 20

“Antigonos says [of sheep intestines] that those of rams are voiceless, but those from females can sing. This fact has not escaped the poet, for he says “He stretched the seven strings from female sheep.”

Επὶ τῶν <ἐντέρων τῶν> προβάτων φησὶν ᾿Αντίγονος τὰ μὲν τῶν κριῶν ἄφωνα εἶναι, τὰ δὲ τῶν θηλέων ἔμφωνα· οὐ λεληθέναι δὲ τοῦτο τὸν ποιητήν. φησὶ γάρ· ἑπτὰ δὲ θηλυτέρων οἴων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

This last line is a variant for the Homeric Hymn to Hermes 51

“He stretched out seven symphonic sheep-gut strings”

ἑπτὰ δὲ συμφώνους ὀΐων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

Zodiac Sign: Aries | Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Writing Advice from Odysseus and David Byrne

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Homer, Odyssey 12.447-453

“From there I was carried for nine days and on the tenth
The gods drove me at night to the island where Kalypso,
That nymph with the good hair, the dread goddess lives.
She was loving me and taking care of me. But why should I tell that story again?
I already told the tale of these things yesterday in this house
To you and your wife. It is super annoying for me
To say something again once it was already said clearly.”

ἔνθεν δ’ ἐννῆμαρ φερόμην, δεκάτῃ δέ με νυκτὶ
νῆσον ἐς ᾿Ωγυγίην πέλασαν θεοί, ἔνθα Καλυψὼ
ναίει ἐϋπλόκαμος, δεινὴ θεὸς αὐδήεσσα,
ἥ μ’ ἐφίλει τ’ ἐκόμει τε. τί τοι τάδε μυθολογεύω;
ἤδη γάρ τοι χθιζὸς ἐμυθεόμην ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
σοί τε καὶ ἰφθίμῃ ἀλόχῳ· ἐχθρὸν δέ μοί ἐστιν
αὖτις ἀριζήλως εἰρημένα μυθολογεύειν.”

Odysseus Yearns for Ithaca by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

The Talking Heads, Psycho Killer 14-17

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?

David Byrne

Writing Advice from Odysseus and David Byrne

Homer, Odyssey 12.447-453

“From there I was carried for nine days and on the tenth
The gods drove me at night to the island where Kalypso,
That nymph with the good hair, the dread goddess lives.
She was loving me and taking care of me. But why should I tell that story again?
I already told the tale of these things yesterday in this house
To you and your wife. It is super annoying for me
To say something again once it was already said clearly.”

ἔνθεν δ’ ἐννῆμαρ φερόμην, δεκάτῃ δέ με νυκτὶ
νῆσον ἐς ᾿Ωγυγίην πέλασαν θεοί, ἔνθα Καλυψὼ
ναίει ἐϋπλόκαμος, δεινὴ θεὸς αὐδήεσσα,
ἥ μ’ ἐφίλει τ’ ἐκόμει τε. τί τοι τάδε μυθολογεύω;
ἤδη γάρ τοι χθιζὸς ἐμυθεόμην ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
σοί τε καὶ ἰφθίμῃ ἀλόχῳ· ἐχθρὸν δέ μοί ἐστιν
αὖτις ἀριζήλως εἰρημένα μυθολογεύειν.”

Odysseus Yearns for Ithaca by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

The Talking Heads, Psycho Killer 14-17

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed
Say something once, why say it again?

David Byrne

A Bad Combination of Good Things

Lucian, You’re a Prometheus in Words

I am afraid that my work too is a camel in Egypt and people admire its bridle and its sea-purple, since even the combination of those two very fine creations, dialogue and comedy, is not enough for beauty of form if the blending lacks harmony and symmetry.

The synthesis of two fine things can be a freak—the hippocentaur is an obvious example: you would not call this creature charming, rather a monstrosity, to go by the paintings of their drunken orgies and murders. Well then, can nothing beautiful come from the synthesis of two things of high quality, as the mixture of wine and honey is exceedingly pleasant? Yes, certainly. But I cannot maintain that this is the case with my two: I’m afraid that the beauty of each has been lost in the blending.

Dialogue and comedy were not entirely friendly and compatible from the beginning.

Δέδοικα δὲ μὴ καὶ τοὐμὸν κάμηλος ἐν Αἰγυπτίοις ᾖ, οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι τὸν χαλινὸν ἔτι αὐτῆς θαυμάζωσι καὶ τὴν ἁλουργίδα, ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ τὸ ἐκ δυοῖν τοῖν καλλίστοιν συγκεῖσθαι, διαλόγου καὶ κωμῳδίας, οὐδὲ τοῦτο ἀπόχρη εἰς εὐμορφίαν, εἰ μὴ καὶ ἡ μῖξις ἐναρμόνιος καὶ κατὰ τὸ σύμμετρον γίγνοιτο. ἔστι γοῦν ἐκ δύο καλῶν ἀλλόκοτον τὴν ξυνθήκην εἶναι, οἷον ἐκεῖνο τὸ προχειρότατον, ὁ ἱπποκένταυρος· οὐ γὰρ ἂν φαίης ἐπέραστόν τι ζῷον τουτὶ γενέσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ὑβριστότατον, εἰ χρὴ πιστεύειν τοῖς ζωγράφοις ἐπιδεικνυμένοις τὰς παροινίας καὶ σφαγὰς αὐτῶν. τί οὖν; οὐχὶ καὶ ἔμπαλιν γένοιτ᾿ ἂν εὔμορφόν τι ἐκ δυοῖν τοῖν ἀρίστοιν ξυντεθέν, ὥσπερ ἐξ οἴνου καὶ μέλιτος τὸ ξυναμφότερον ἥδιστον; φημὶ ἔγωγε. οὐ μὴν περί γε τῶν ἐμῶν ἔχω διατείνεσθαι ὡς τοιούτων ὄντων, ἀλλὰ δέδια μὴ τὸ ἑκατέρου κάλλος ἡ μῖξις συνέφθειρεν.

Prometeusz.jpg
Prometheus Stauros. That bird doesn’t look so bad….

Paris’ Ships and Metapoetics

Homer, Iliad 5.59-68 

“Mêrionês then killed Phereklos, the son of the carpenter,
Son of Joiner, who knew who to fashion all sorts of intricate tings
With his hands. Pallas Athena loved him especially.
He is the one who designed Alexander’s fantastic ships,
Those kindlers of evil which brought evil on all the Trojans
And on him especially, since he understood nothing of the divine prophecies.
Well, Mêrionês, once he overtook him in pursuit,
Struck him through the right buttock. The sharp point
Went straight through his bladder under the bone.
He fell to his knee and groaned. Then death overtook him.

Μηριόνης δὲ Φέρεκλον ἐνήρατο, τέκτονος υἱὸν
῾Αρμονίδεω, ὃς χερσὶν ἐπίστατο δαίδαλα πάντα
τεύχειν· ἔξοχα γάρ μιν ἐφίλατο Παλλὰς ᾿Αθήνη·
ὃς καὶ ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ τεκτήνατο νῆας ἐΐσας
ἀρχεκάκους, αἳ πᾶσι κακὸν Τρώεσσι γένοντο
οἷ τ’ αὐτῷ, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι θεῶν ἐκ θέσφατα ᾔδη.
τὸν μὲν Μηριόνης ὅτε δὴ κατέμαρπτε διώκων
βεβλήκει γλουτὸν κατὰ δεξιόν· ἣ δὲ διαπρὸ
ἀντικρὺ κατὰ κύστιν ὑπ’ ὀστέον ἤλυθ’ ἀκωκή·
γνὺξ δ’ ἔριπ’ οἰμώξας, θάνατος δέ μιν ἀμφεκάλυψε.

Whole Schol. bT ad Il.5.59 glosses the name Phereklos as “one who brings the turmoil of war through the ships” (Φέρεκλος ὁ φέρων κλόνον διὰ τῶν νέων), I would also like to believe that name Phere-klos, might make someone think of ‘fame-bringer’. And the connection between poetic fame and the activity of the war arises elsewhere in this passage two.

Note that the this Phere-klos is the son of Harmonidês, a man who, according to the passage, is the one who build the ships “the bringers of evil” (ἀρχεκάκους) for Paris (those ships which carried him from Troy to Sparta…). The name Harmonidês is not insignificant: Gregory Nagy has etymologized Homer as “one who fits the song together”. Phereklos’ father is a “craftsman” (“tektôn”) who built the very ships that allowed his son (and Paris) to bring the conflict to Troy and generate the fame of the songs it generated. Here, the ships are positioned as the first steps in evil, but I would suggest, that as the means by which the songs themselves travel across the sea, the ships are, as products of specialized craftsmen, both metonymns for the stories themselves and necessary vehicles for their transmission.

If this is not too blinkered or mad a suggestion, perhaps Phereklos’ death here is a reassertion of the poetic power of song over the pragmatic craft of shipwrights….

Image result for ancient greek shipbuilding

More Wonder for A Wednesday: Whose Intestines Sing?

From the Paradoxagraphus Palatinus Admiranda 20

“Antigonos says [of sheep intestines] that those of rams are voiceless, but those from females can sing. This fact has not escaped the poet, for he says “He stretched the seven strings from female sheep.”

Επὶ τῶν <ἐντέρων τῶν> προβάτων φησὶν ᾿Αντίγονος τὰ μὲν τῶν κριῶν ἄφωνα εἶναι, τὰ δὲ τῶν θηλέων ἔμφωνα· οὐ λεληθέναι δὲ τοῦτο τὸν ποιητήν. φησὶ γάρ· ἑπτὰ δὲ θηλυτέρων οἴων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

This last line is a variant for the Homeric Hymn to Hermes 51

“He stretched out seven symphonic sheep-gut strings”

ἑπτὰ δὲ συμφώνους ὀΐων ἐτανύσσατο χορδάς.

Zodiac Sign: Aries | Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Breviary | Belgium, Bruges | ca. 1500 | The Morgan Library & Museum

The Arrow Flight of Songs

Henry W. Longfellow “The Arrow and the Song”,

I breathed a song into the air
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong
That it can follow the flight of song?

Horace, Ars Poetica 347

“The string does not always return the sound that the hand and mind desire”.

neque chorda sonum reddit quem volt manus et mens.

Homer, Odyssey 21.407-409

“Just as a man who knows both lyre and song
easily stretches a string on a new peg
as he attaches the twisted sheep-gut to both sides
just so, without haste, Odysseus strung the great bow”

ὡς ὅτ’ ἀνὴρ φόρμιγγος ἐπιστάμενος καὶ ἀοιδῆς
ῥηϊδίως ἐτάνυσσε νέῳ περὶ κόλλοπι χορδήν,
ἅψας ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἐϋστρεφὲς ἔντερον οἰός,
ὣς ἄρ’ ἄτερ σπουδῆς τάνυσεν μέγα τόξον ᾿Οδυσσεύς.

Pindar, Olympian 2, 83-88

“Many are the swift arrows
Within the quiver
Under my arm—
They speak to those who understand,
But they lack interpreters
In every direction. Wise is the one who knows many things
by nature…”

…. πολλά μοι ὑπ’
ἀγκῶνος ὠκέα βέλη
ἔνδον ἐντὶ φαρέτρας
φωνάεντα συνετοῖσιν· ἐς δὲ τὸ πὰν ἑρμανέων
χατίζει. σοφὸς ὁ πολλὰ εἰδὼς φυᾷ·

Schol. Ad Pin. Ol. 2

“Swift arrows”: these are an allegory for poems from an archery metaphor. The quiver is his mind; the arrows are words.”

A ὠκέα βέλη: ἀλληγορεῖ ἀπὸ τῶν τόξων μεταφέρων ἐπὶ τὰ ποιήματα· φαρέτρα μὲν γὰρ ἡ διάνοια, βέλη δὲ οἱ λόγοι.

Image result for ancient greek archery vase

 

Poets, Fishmongers and Memes

Are memes “viruses of the mind?”

Luke, 5.37

“No one puts new wine into old containers…”

 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς

Xenarchus’ Porphyra fr. 7 (preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, 6. 224-225)

“Poets are ridiculous. They never invent
anything new—each one of them simply
remixes the same things again and again.
But there is no race more creative or profane
than the fish-sellers!
Since it is no longer permitted to them to dampen
Their fish, a practice forbidden by the law,
When some man completely hateful to the gods
Saw that his fish were drying, well,
He started a brawl among them quite intentionally
There were punches; he acted as if he were hit hard,
Fell to the ground pretending to pass out lying
Among his fish. Someone shouted “water, water”!
And a different guy grabbed a pitcher and poured it out—
A little on the man, but the rest on the fish!
You would have claimed they’d just been caught!”

Fish Vase
Google “Ancient Greek Fish Vase”

οἱ μὲν ποιηταὶ (φησὶ) λῆρός εἰσιν· οὐδὲ ἓν
καινὸν γὰρ εὑρίσκουσιν, ἀλλὰ μεταφέρει
ἕκαστος αὐτῶν ταὔτ’ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω.
τῶν δ’ ἰχθυοπωλῶν φιλοσοφώτερον γένος
οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν οὐδὲ μᾶλλον ἀνόσιον.
ἐπεὶ γὰρ αὐτοῖς οὐκέτ’ ἔστ’ ἐξουσία
ῥαίνειν, ἀπείρηται δὲ τοῦτο τῷ νόμῳ,
εἷς τις θεοῖσιν ἐχθρὸς ἄνθρωπος πάνυ
ξηραινομένους ὡς εἶδε τοὺς ἰχθῦς, μάχην
ἐποίησ’ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἐξεπίτηδες εὖ πάνυ.
ἦσαν δὲ πληγαί, καιρίαν δ’ εἰληφέναι
δόξας καταπίπτει καὶ λιποψυχεῖν δοκῶν
ἔκειτο μετὰ τῶν ἰχθύων. βοᾷ δέ τις
‘ὕδωρ <ὕδωρ.>’ ὃ δ’ εὐθὺς ἐξάρας πρόχουν
τῶν ὁμοτέχνων τις τοῦ μὲν ἀκαρῆ παντελῶς
κατέχει, κατὰ δὲ τῶν ἰχθύων ἁπαξάπαν.
εἴποις γ’ ἂν αὐτοὺς ἀρτίως ἡλωκέναι.

 

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Iliad 1 english

Surpassing the Signs of All Others

Homer, Odyssey 8.186-200

“So he spoke, and stripping off his cloak he grabbed a discus,
Larger and wider, not a little heavier than the ones
Which the Phaeacians where throwing among one another.
He turned around and whirled it from his strong hand
And the stone boomed. Then the oar-wielding Phaeacians
Leapt to the ground, those men famous for their ships,
At the hurl of the stone. Then it flew past all of their markers,
Swiftly hurling it from his hand. Then Athena set the boundary
After taking on the form of a man, and she spoke a word and called out:

“Even a blind person, friend, could find this marker
As he felt all around, since it is not at all mixed in with the others—
No, it is first by far. Be happy at this competition–
None of the Phaeacians will come close or surpass it.”

So much-enduring Odysseus said and he laughed
Taking pleasure in the fact that he had a real friend in the game.”

ἦ ῥα, καὶ αὐτῷ φάρει ἀναΐξας λάβε δίσκον
μείζονα καὶ πάχετον, στιβαρώτερον οὐκ ὀλίγον περ
ἢ οἵῳ Φαίηκες ἐδίσκεον ἀλλήλοισι.
τόν ῥα περιστρέψας ἧκε στιβαρῆς ἀπὸ χειρός·
βόμβησεν δὲ λίθος· κατὰ δ’ ἔπτηξαν ποτὶ γαίῃ
Φαίηκες δολιχήρετμοι, ναυσικλυτοὶ ἄνδρες,
λᾶος ὑπὸ ῥιπῆς· ὁ δ’ ὑπέρπτατο σήματα πάντων,
ῥίμφα θέων ἀπὸ χειρός· ἔθηκε δὲ τέρματ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ἀνδρὶ δέμας εἰκυῖα, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·

“καί κ’ ἀλαός τοι, ξεῖνε, διακρίνειε τὸ σῆμα
ἀμφαφόων, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι μεμιγμένον ἐστὶν ὁμίλῳ,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτον. σὺ δὲ θάρσει τόνδε γ’ ἄεθλον·
οὔ τις Φαιήκων τόν γ’ ἵξεται οὐδ’ ὑπερήσει.”

ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
χαίρων οὕνεχ’ ἑταῖρον ἐνηέα λεῦσσ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι.

Schol. VT ad Od. 8.192 ex

“Signs, footprints. For many were hurling the discus previously. The signs are the impressions left by the discuses”

σήματα] σημεῖα. τινὲς δὲ, βήματα. V. πολλοὶ γὰρ προεδίσκευσαν. σήματα δὲ τὰ πηγνύμενα τοῖς δίσκοις. T.

 

Red-Figure Kylix, MFA Boston