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

Athlete and Singer

Pindar. Olympian 11: For Hagesidamus of Western Locri.

There’s a time when people most need wind.
And a time when they most need heavenly waters,
The rainy offspring of clouds.
But if with hard work someone succeeds,
Then sweet-voiced hymns, the ground of future fame
And a true pledge of great achievement, rise up.

This hymn is full-throated praise for Olympic victors.
My tongue wants to preserve their achievements,
But only through a god does a man brim with the skill.
This is true for Olympic victors too.

Know this, Hagesidamus, son of Archestratus,
Your boxing is the reason I will descant sweet song,
Ornament for your golden-olive crown,
And tribute to the Western-Locrian tribe.

Join the celebrations there, O Muses.
I promise you will find a people not hostile to guests
And not unfamiliar with beauty, but wise and warlike.
Believe what I say, for neither fire-colored fox
Nor loud-roaring lions change character.

Comment:

It’s only when Pindar addresses Hagesidamus by name is the hymn unambiguously concerned with the athlete and not the singer himself.

After all, the composition of a hymn is as much the product of a singer’s hard work as it is a reward for the athlete’s. The hymn supports both a singer’s and an athlete’s future renown. And, Pindar tells us, athletes and singers have an identical reliance on the god.

The blending of singer and athlete goes on. I render Pindar’s line as “my tongue wants to preserve their achievements,” but the Greek ambiguously says, “preserve it” (τὰ . . . ποιμαίνειν). “It” could be (as I’ve interpreted the word) the athletic feat, but equally it could be Pindar’s own hymn.

The word I render as “to preserve,” ποιμαίνειν, literally means “to shepherd.” I follow the scholiast in assuming that Pindar uses “shepherd” to mean something like “protect.” But “to shepherd” also means “to guide,” or “to be responsible for.” If we interpret “to shepherd” in one of these other senses, we can read Pindar as saying he wishes he were responsible for (and not just singing about) Olympic victories.

And so when Pindar says his praise of athletes is ἀφθόνητος, “without envy” (I render it “full-throated”), he might be signaling just the opposite.

ἔστιν ἀνθρώποις ἀνέμων ὅτε πλείστα
χρῆσις, ἔστιν δ᾽ οὐρανίων ὑδάτων,
ὀμβρίων παίδων νεφέλας.
εἰ δὲ σὺν πόνῳ τις εὖ πράσσοι, μελιγάρυες ὕμνοι
ὑστέρων ἀρχὰ λόγων
τέλλεται καὶ πιστὸν ὅρκιον μεγάλαις ἀρεταῖς.
ἀφθόνητος δ᾽ αἶνος Ὀλυμπιονίκαις
οὗτος ἄγκειται. τὰ μὲν ἁμετέρα
γλῶσσα ποιμαίνειν ἐθέλει:
ἐκ θεοῦ δ᾽ ἀνὴρ σοφαῖς ἀνθεῖ πραπίδεσσιν ὁμοίως.
ἴσθι νῦν, Ἀρχεστράτου
παῖ, τεᾶς, Ἁγησίδαμε, πυγμαχίας ἕνεκεν
κόσμον ἐπὶ στεφάνῳ χρυσέας ἐλαίας
ἁδυμελῆ κελαδήσω,
Ζεφυρίων Λοκρῶν γενεὰν ἀλέγων.
ἔνθα συγκωμάξατ᾽: ἐγγυάσομαι
ὔμμιν, ὦ Μοῖσαι, φυγόξενον στρατὸν
μηδ᾽ ἀπείρατον καλῶν,
ἀκρόσοφον δὲ καὶ αἰχματὰν ἀφίξεσθαι. τὸ γὰρ
ἐμφυὲς οὔτ᾽ αἴθων ἀλώπηξ
οὔτ᾽ ἐρίβρομοι λέοντες διαλλάξαντο ἦθος.

Pierre Bonnard. The Boxer (Self Portrait). 1931.

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.

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