Eustathius, Comm. ad Hom. Odyssey, 11.538 1696, 50
“The story is that Paris killed Achilles by shooting him with his bow. Sôstratos records that Alexandros was lusted after by Apollo and was his student in Archery. He was holding an ivory bow he got from Apollo when he shot Achilles in the stomach.”
The discovery of a new and substantial musical papyrus lifts the heart even as it raises the eyebrows. The papyrus under discussion first came to light in California in the 1930s but seems mirabile dictu to have attracted no notice since then; this brief editio princeps, it is hoped, will serve as a stimulus to the learned readership of Sententiae Antiquae in the elucidation of the papyrus’ history and its place in the fields of ancient religion and music.
The text, I claim, preserves the transcript of a magical ceremony, one that has few outright parallels but many mysterious connections to those attested in Greek Macaronical Papyri. The ceremony seems to involve an officiant performing an unusual baptism upon a layman, whom the officiant addresses throughout (λῇς ‘you desire’ 4, 8, 19; λαικέ ‘layman’ 5, 6, πάσσ’ ‘sprinkle’ 13-16) with particularly hydrological phrasing (σεῖν ‘piss’ 2, τέγγ’ ‘drench’ 4, 8, 9, 19, βρέχομαι ‘I’m getting wet’ 12, ἅμας ‘water-buckets’ 14, 16). Syncretism is of course to be expected in a magical document of this sort, but the combination of Egyptian proper nouns (Neith 3, Ailou 15) with Pythagoreanism (καλὰ δέκα ‘the beautiful ten’, 18) and cryptic references to the sacred chickens of Roman divination (5, 7) bespeaks a wider spectrum of cultural borrowing than usual.
Perhaps most mysterious of all is the single line of Latin text (17). Bilingual papyri are “very rare”; the present example, however, seems to be unique in preserving, via a second language, not a simple translation of another part of the text but a comment from the text’s author on the nature of the text itself. (Peculiar as the ceremony seems, there is no easy way to include the material of this line within the narrative of the baptismal events.) Here the anonymous author proudly proclaims to his readership the excellence of his text and, in coining a maxim on the topic of wasted effort (cf. γλαῦκ’ εἰς Ἀθήνας, “coals to Newcastle”, vendre des coquilles à ceux qui viennent de Saint-Michel), he defies anyone to improve upon it.
What to make of the brief notation in line 20? Unless the digamma—in other words, two gammas—is some sort of code by which to identify the composer of the music (though I do not know of any such use of initials in ancient papyri), perhaps it is best, as the following translation assumes, simply to interpret it as a vocalized comment on the nature of the papyrus itself.
I suggest that the four brief lines preserved at the bottom edge of the papyrus are a sort of index, providing the incipits of other magical ceremonies, perhaps even ones with music written by the same unknown composer of the music under discussion. But whether any papyri preserving these other ceremonies will ever be discovered, only time or more heuretic papyrologists can tell.
I have said that this papyrus preserves musical notation throughout the text—and so it does; for certain technical reasons, however, I have been unable to reproduce the notation in this edition. Even so, those who take the time to speak the Greek text out loud may find themselves uncannily able to reproduce the original music on their own.
P.Hollywood.inv.2019 H x W = 29 x 22 cm California, ca. 1937 CE
Go, spring, for the lady who goes; heaven is upon destiny.
Whoopie! Piss! Go, spring! Yes, a wild animal is upon destiny!
Go, spring, heaven! Neith, spring, yes, a wild animal!
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!
Whoopie, layman! Two birds (fulfillments, layman!) were finally insatiate!
Whoopie, layman! Cutting; shall I set (it)? Fulfillments, layman! Shall I set sharp things?
Two birds were finally insatiate! Cutting; shall I set it? Shall I set sharp things?
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!
Let beautiful things go to the eyebrow; drench for the god what was seen;
both the mind-strap and together
Let me bind on the eyebrow what was put on the liver,
and I sit for myself; I’m getting wet, bread!
Your pair with strength: whoopie, layman! Besprinkle us!
Fulfillments, layman! Besprinkle the water-buckets!
The spring in Ailou; besprinkle us!
I said, he/she said, “Besprinkle the water-buckets.”
I speak via strength! I know! You would add some egg to the nests!
B, the beautiful ten, twang, ah, ah!
Nessus denied that he had seen (it); shall I pity (him)?
But, Nature, those (in) the
Oh, both the goat, only something along the
I thought, I have thrown
 Idunno, Oracles, Curses, and Risk among the Ancient Greeks (2007) 45.
 See Zeitschrift für papyrologische Enttaüschungen 36 (1979) 75-76.
N.B. The papyrus under discussion may not be real. This post is brought to you by Christopher Brunelle (@BrunelleMN), who taught Classics for decades and prefers Ovid to Vergil. Don’t you?
Erik and I have been talking about various ways in which we can use our site to amplify good work going on in classics related fields and to feature the remarkable efforts of the thousands of teachers working with the over 200k students who study Latin and the ancient world at the primary and secondary level. In part, we are inspired and called to task by the words of Dani Bostick. Our field faces many difficult challenges, but one thing that separates us from other disciplines is that we have a long-standing tradition of collaboration and respect between those who teach at the University level and those who meet and inspire students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Indeed, some of our professional organizations like ACL and CAMWS do a good job of supporting this structurally.
So, if you have student projects you want to tell the world about, remarkable classrooms you’d like to share, or efforts you’d like some help and support with from our platform, please email us. We have day jobs, so we can’t always promise we will respond as fast as we should, but we are committed to doing what we can to help build relationships and share our ideas with one another.
Over the past few months, I have followed the twitter feed of Bettina Joy de Guzman and I have been just overwhelmed by her kindness, her enthusiasm for the ancient world, and her talent. She released most recent album Athanatos recently and is donating a percentage directly to students.
Below are excerpts from an email she sent me about it (reproduced with her permission). If you can, purchase the album. If you can’t, post something about it on social media.
At close of day, 32 people had bought my album. Thank you. I still have a way to go and I will buy more postcards. 😊(Giraffes are cool) https://t.co/lPfZKyUk4j Twitter can be quite magical. I connected with cool people through music! 😃🎼Music is magical. pic.twitter.com/iy9mB0w50B
[italics are my additions; non-Italic text is her own]
What can people expect from this album?
Homer. Sappho. Vergil. Ovid. Sumerian poetry. Myths. When goddesses wove heartbreak, hope, and life. Ancient lyre, voice, and drum evoke forgotten worlds, transporting back you to primal dreams of gods and mortals. (Performed and composed by Bettina Joy de Guzman. Featuring: Michael Levy, Nikos Xanthoulis, Thanasis Kleopas, Peter Hanna, and Roberto Catalano. Lyres by Luthieros Music Instruments.)
Tell me more!
17 songs in Ancient Greek, Latin, Sumerian.
1) epics and hymns were meant to be sung. 2) I want people to enjoy ancient poetry, explore ancient world with music. 3) Muses/music come to me, unsolicited. 4) I am sharing something different and unique. 5) undying, immortal MYTH.
The following are a Q and A she gave me
Q: Why not in Tagalog?
A: Ancient Greek and Latin texts are more accessible because ancient Tagalog texts and script were essentially wiped out by colonists. Only in recent decades had there been opportunity to unearth, decipher, and piece them together. I do sing Tagalog songs, and those will be sung with proper Ancient Tagalog stringed instruments.
Q: Do you play those?
A: I have requested several relatives to ship them to me. I keep getting promises, but no delivery. Hopefully, I can connect with Filipino academics or musicologists who can help me out.
Q: I thought you were Hawaiian?
A: I sing Hawaiian songs, play Polynesian instruments, perform Polynesian dances, walked Hawaii’s hikes and swam its beaches since childhood. I am more culturally Hawaiian than Filipina. But I do not feel comfortable releasing Hawaiian songs— Hawaiians are rightfully protective of their culture.
Q: How do the Greeks feel about your singing their songs?
A: Greeks are amazing, warm, welcoming people. They greeted me with open arms and said it was an honor that I wished to learn their culture and songs.
Q: You call yourself a writer, as well?
A: I write poetry, mythology. I am working on a mythology book now. It’s written— and I am working with a fabulous illustrator! It’s exciting! I’m also compiling my poetry and trying to find a good fit for its illustrations.
What about the musicians you work with?
These artists are phenomenal. They can be found on all the major music platforms. And you can find their websites easily. I am honored to be working with such caliber.
What are you donating the proceeds for?
I’m donating $2 per album to our Classics scholarship fund— to our chapter of JCL, Junior Classical League, National Latin Honors Society. No student should have to pay for buses if they cannot afford it, and every student should have the opportunity to go to museums, competitions, and see guest speakers, and shows that enrich their experience. We dream of traveling to Greece and Rome someday!
“Periander was ruling Korinth as a tyrant. For the Korinthians claim (and the Lesbians agree with them) that the most wonderful thing happened in his life: Arion of Methymna was carried to Tainaron on a dolphin. He was a kithara player second to none at that time and the first man we know of who composed, named and taught the dithyramb at Corinth.
They say that this Arion spent much time at Periander’s palace but desired to sail to Italy and Sicily. After he made a lot of money there, he wanted to return to Korinth again. He left from Tarentum and hired a ship of Korinthian men because he trusted no one more than Korinthians. But once on the sea, they conspired to throw Arion out to keep his money. After he learned this, he was begging, offering money to them, trying to bargain for his life. But he was not able to persuade him—the sailors commanded him either to do himself in, so that he might have a burial on ground, or to leap into the sea as soon as possible.
When Arion realized he was at the end, he asked, since it might seem right to them, that he appear in full dress standing on the benches singing. And he promised to kill himself after singing. This came as a delight to them if they could hear the best mortal singer at work. They retreated to the middle of the ship from the stern and he donned all his equipment and took up the kithara. While standing on the benches he sang the entire Orthian nome. When he was done with it, he threw himself into the sea in full costume.
They sailed back to Korinth but people claim a dolphin picked him up and took him to Tainaros. Once he got to land, he went to Koronth with all his stuff and when he got there told the whole story. Since Periander distrusted him, he held Arion under guard, separated from everyone. He waited for the sailors. When they were present, they were asked if they could say anything about Arion. When they were claiming that they left him safe somewhere in Italy and he was doing well in Tarentum, he appeared to them looking just like he did when he leaped out of the boat. The sailors were shocked and were not able to deny it since they had been completely refuted. The Korinthians and Lesbians say these things. And there is a bronze dedication of Arion in Tarentum, not very large: a man riding a dolphin.”
Apollonius Paradoxographus, Historiae Mirabiles 49
“These things are worth knowing. Theophrastos has explained them in is work On Enthusiasm. For he says that music heals when suffering afflicts the soul and the body such as desperation, phobias, and the madnesses of belief which are more serious. For instrumental flute music, he continues, heals both hip pain and epilepsy.
Similarly is the power attributed to Aristoxenos the musician when he came—for he was getting a prophecy from the prophet of his sister Pasiphilê—for resuscitated a person in Thebes who was bewitched by the sound of a trumpet. For when he heard it he yelled out so much that he behaved indecently. If someone at any point even in war should blow the trumpet, then he should suffer much worse in his madness. So, he exposed him bit by bit to the flute—and, as one might say, he used this as an introduction for him to endure the trumpet as well.
The flute heals even if some part of the body is in pain. When the body is subject to flute music, let the instrumental music persist for five days at least. The toil will be surprisingly less on the first day and the second. This application of the flute treatment is common even elsewhere, but especially so in Thebes up to this day.”
There are similar accounts from Pythagorean Traditions
Porphyry, On the Life of Pythagoras
30. “[Pythagoras] healed psychic and bodily sufferings with rhythm, songs, and incantations. He adapted these treatments to his companions, while he himself heard the harmony of everything because he could understand the unity of the spheres and the harmonies of the stars moving with them. It is not our nature to hear this in the least.”
32. “Diogenes says that Pythagoras encouraged all men to avoid ambition and lust for fame, because they especially inculcate envy, and also to stay away from large crowds. He used to convene gatherings at his house at dawn himself, accompanying his singing to the lyre and singing some ancient songs of Thales. And he also sang the songs of Hesiod and Homer, as many as appeared to calm his spirit. He would also dance some dances which he believed brought good mobility and health to the body. He used to take walks himself but not with a crowd, taking only two or three companions to shrines or groves, finding the most peaceful and beautiful places.”
33. “He loved his friends overmuch and was the first to declare that friends possessions are common and that a friend is another self. When they were healthy, he always talked to them; when they were sick, he took care of their bodies. If they were mentally ill, he consoled them, as we said before, some with incantations and spells, others by music. He had songs and paeans for physical ailments: when he sang them, he relieved fatigue. He also could cause forgetfulness of grief, calming of anger, and redirection of desire.”
“Pythagoras believed that music produced great benefits for health, should someone apply it in the appropriate manner. For he was known to use this kind of cleansing and not carelessly. And he also called the healing from music that very thing, a purification. And he used a melody as follows during the spring season. He sat in the middle someone who could play the lyre and settled around him in a circle people who could sing. They would sing certain paeans as he played and through this they seemed to become happy, unified, and directed.
At another time they used music in the place of medicine, and there were certain songs composed against sufferings of the mind, especially despair and bitterness—songs which were created as the greatest aids. He also composed others against rage, desires, and every type of wandering of the soul. There was also another kind of performance he discovered for troubles: he also used dancing.
He used the lyre as an instrument since he considered flutes to induce arrogance as a dramatic sound which had no type of freeing resonance. He also used selected words from Homer and Hesiod for the correction of the soul.”
“In India, if an adult elephant is caught it is difficult to tame—it gets murderous from longing for freedom. If you bind it in chains too, it gets even more agitated and will not tolerate its master. But Indians try to pacify it with food and to soften it with a variety of pleasing items, making an effort to fill its stomach and delight its heart. But it remains angry with them and ignores them. What then do they devise and do? They encourage it with their native music and sing to a certain instrument they use. It is called a skindapsos. The instrument strikes the ears and enchants the animal—his anger softens and his spirit yields and bit by bit it pays attention to its food. At this point it is released from its chains and it waits, enthralled by the music, and it eats eagerly, like a guest in love with a banquet. The elephant will no longer leave because of his love of music.”