Less Human Apart: Isolation and Civilization in Myth, Science Fiction and RL

I am reposting this entry from early in the pandemic in honor of the panel “The Powers and Perils of Solitude in Greek Literature” at the SCS Annual Meeting. My paper “Being Human, Being Alone: Isolation and Heroic Exceptionality in the Odyssey” draws on it.

Here’s the roster of talks

The Post

 

Iliad, 2.721–723

“Philoktetes lies there on the island suffering harsh pains
In holy Lemnos where the sons of the Achaeans left him
suffering with an evil wound from a murderous watersnake.”

ἀλλ’ ὃ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖτο κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων
Λήμνῳ ἐν ἠγαθέῃ, ὅθι μιν λίπον υἷες ᾿Αχαιῶν
ἕλκεϊ μοχθίζοντα κακῷ ὀλοόφρονος ὕδρου

Odyssey 5.13–15

“He lies there on the island suffering harsh pains
In the halls of Calypso the nymph who holds him
under compulsion. He is not capable of returning to his paternal land.”

ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν νήσῳ κεῖται κρατέρ’ ἄλγεα πάσχων
νύμφης ἐν μεγάροισι Καλυψοῦς, ἥ μιν ἀνάγκῃ
ἴσχει· ὁ δ’ οὐ δύναται ἣν πατρίδα γαῖαν ἱκέσθαι

Isolation. “Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos,” By Jean Germain Drouais

The figure of the isolated hero in ancient Greek myth and poetry is one who is set apart, on an island, separated from other humans and, by extension, from human culture. The impact of isolation is often communicated through the heroic body, even if it is offered in some way as a cause: Philoktetes’ dehumanization is reflected in the wound whose antisocial attributes cause him to be abandoned (described like a disease in Sophocles’ play). Odysseus seems arguably less human insofar as he is stripped of agency and, until Hermes comes to move him, clearly more an object of interest than a subject of his own.

Indeed, the Odyssey has deep ethnographic concerns, focusing on how people make their livings and how they live their lives. When Odysseus describes the island of the Cyclopes, he remarks on how it might be a good place to live, but the Cyclopes themselves are “arrogant and lawless” (ὑπερφιάλων ἀθεμίστων, 9.106). They aren’t human because of the  way they live (they do not cultivate the land, 108-111). And they are less than human because of how they organize their lives (Odyssey 9.112–115):

 “They don’t have council-bearing assemblies or laws,
But instead they inhabit homes on high hills
In hollow caves, and each one makes laws
For his children and wives—they do not have concern for one another.”

τοῖσιν δ’ οὔτ’ ἀγοραὶ βουληφόροι οὔτε θέμιστες,
ἀλλ’ οἵ γ’ ὑψηλῶν ὀρέων ναίουσι κάρηνα
ἐν σπέεσι γλαφυροῖσι, θεμιστεύει δὲ ἕκαστος
παίδων ἠδ’ ἀλόχων, οὐδ’ ἀλλήλων ἀλέγουσι.

In a way, Odysseus anticipates here the later Greek use of the term idiotês for the person who fails to understand that the commonwealth directly impacts individual possessions—indeed, it makes possible the existence of individual goods. The ancient idiot, in this political sense, is a kind of naïve libertarian who is incapable of conceiving of shared human society as the very thing that makes life possible and also worth living.

*          *          *          *

Current events are forcing us to explore some of the same tensions: inasmuch as some are aghast that we are not willing to die to preserve the economy, the rest of us remain horror stricken at how much our public health and collective good have been sacrificed to prop up the wealth of a very few. Even though my training directs my thoughts consistently to the past for parallels to cope with the present, my own reading history and proclivity for speculative fiction keep taking me to narrative futures. In my impatience to be done with the now, I am busy manufacturing anxieties about what will become of us later.

In Isaac Asimov’s Robot novel The Naked Sun (1957), the detective Elijah Bailey is dispatched to one of the “spacer” worlds to investigate a murder. In Asimov’s world, humankind lives in a mixed future where billions are crowded into cities on earth while a select elite escape to fifty “Spacer” worlds. Over time, the antagonism between Spacer and Earther expands as the former use their greater resources and technology to dominate the latter. And Earthers suffer from a fear of the outside, a reluctance to leave the comfort of their cities.

The Spacers, those libertarian techno-overlords, fear contagion and disease and contact with the human rabble left on earth. When Baily meets with the widow of the murdered scientist on her planet Solaria, Gladia, she will at first only see him through “viewing” (a video screen). Eventually she breaks Solarian taboo and comes to him in person and to help solve the crime. (No spoiler, but it wasn’t a robot.)

Many years later (in our world) Asimov returns to Solaria generations later in his Foundation and Earth (1986). In the intervening years, the Spacer planets were eclipsed by the rapid expansion of the population of Earth into the galaxy, fading quickly into obsolescence and obscurity. The Solaria found here is populated by a few human beings who intentionally developed hermaphroditic qualities so they would never have to encounter other human beings in person again. The Solarian world is expansive—each person lives on massive estates, engaging with others only through mediated viewing and using technology to ritualize isolation.

E. M. Forster in his short story “The Machine Stops” (1909, 1928) puts humankind in a sub-terrestrial, dystopic future. People must live in isolation, in basic rooms from which they engage in the world only through video conferencing. One of the main characters, Vashti, spends a great deal of her time broadcasting her ideas over this ersatz internet, recycling and repackaging ideas for consumption and replacing most human relationship with a distanced presentation of the ‘self’. The main plot of this tale, of course, is about the “machine” which supports all of this life collapsing, but the lingering sense it leaves is one of the panopticon in which the ability to broadcast, to send a message, is traded for being watched and people live separate from one another both out of fear and out of habit.

I have been thinking about both of these speculative narratives over the past few weeks as my work has converted online completely and my social life has blended into it. I “zoom” with colleagues, skype with friends, and merely text-message with my extended family. I watch as my children are habituated to the same kind of mediated existence. There is an hour each day when three of us are on zoom simultaneously, in the same house but in separate rooms, sometimes irked that the sound of another intrudes on our distanced engagement.

We have been living with some of the rapid consequences of these kinds of mediated communication networks for years. Is something as bizarre as pizza-gate possible without facebook or other online fora? Do these media ever produce anything but the strangest and saddest common denominator?

Modern science fiction is no stranger to this too. In his post-apocalpytic Seveneves, Neal Stephenson—an author a bit too libertarian and soft on techo-capitalists generally—puts a surviving remnant of humanity in space, isolated in a network of space capsules connected by a communication network dubbed “spacebook”. In order to survive, these clutches of life have to preserve resources and follow a very basic plan. But paranoia explodes in the social network: one week, a thought leader proposes that in space humans do not need legs, so they should cut them off and eat them to preserve the protein. Soon, a critical number of people depart with precious resources to try to make it to Mars because they convinced themselves in their echo chamber of madness that this was a good plan, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary.

Neal Stephenson's SEVENEVES — Dennis D. McDonald's Web Site

(they all die. A mere handful of people survive their stupidity.)

Of the many ways in which COVID-19 will change our lives, one is how it will accelerate our embrace of life online. Children are having playdates online: ours have had dance classes, piano lessons, and speech therapy in just the last week to go along with 2-3 ‘Montessori’ zoom lessons a day. Although I am deeply grateful to these teachers and instructors for bringing some sense of normalcy to our children’s days, I worry that this will be their baseline: no playgrounds, no playmates, but video-streamed encounters and mediated experiences. They will be open to the supercharged pathways of disinformation that propagate quack cures for plagues and easy arguments for denying collective action against global warming.

Asimov’s Solarians are independent-minded elitists whose fear of disease and love of long lives pushes them further and further apart; Forster’s subterraneans are addicted to the comfort of their regulated lives and distracted by the ability to be ‘experts’ and temporary celebrities in the global machine. Stephenson’s human race barely survives an apocalypse followed by human caused ruin thanks to individual heroics and fantastic evolutionary science. The Coronavirus won’t suddenly turn us into any of these groups, but it may make us just that much less human.

*          *          *          *

Modern studies in narrative emphasize how our identity develops from social relationships and studies in cognitive psychology show how isolation can have damaging effects on us emotionally and mentally. When separated from others we can experience an increase in fear and paranoia (See Andersen et al. 2000, 19.); studies in the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners demonstrate a marked increase in the development of psychopathology under the influence of isolation which can eventuate in neurobiological transformations. The brain of an isolated human being may demonstrate fewer neural connections and correlate with distortions in memory and a deterioration of language abilities. Isolation, to put it simply, can break down those very things that make people who they are. (see Ravindran 2014, Gilmore and Nanon 2014; Kaba et al. 2014)

Ancient Greek myth and poetry seems to communicate this through figures like Philoktetes—who languishes for a decade after being marooned on the island of Lemnos—and Odysseus, who suffers in quasi-isolation for seven years, weeping on the edge of the sea (but having sex with Calypso at night). Odysseus cannot return home directly from this. His journey home requires him to repeatedly tell stories about himself and to reaffirm his identity step-by-step through reunions with the important people in his life. It is Odysseus too who brings Philoktetes back into society in Sophocles’ play.

I think ancient audiences saw the sufferings of both figures as a result from their isolation, from their separation from communion with other human beings. Both Homer’s epic and Sophocles’ play emphasize political themes and social consequences: Odysseus and Philoktetes are at times calculating and full of rage, leaving characters in the poems (and audiences outside them) unsure of if or when they will lash out.

What each narrative emphasizes, however, is that the isolated figure needs fellowship and partnership to return to human society. Odysseus’ return home is not complete until he is recognized—and recognizes himself—in his son, spouse, and father. Philoktetes needs to be persuaded to return, to be cajoled and guided and distracted from the fact he is being used.

This is, perhaps, cold comfort for those of us isolated now. But it does remind us that having other people around us is important and that, when the time comes to reintegrate, it won’t be simple or easy. We will have to tell each other our stories and listen to who we confirm in each other we are.

And perhaps it will force us to think about the world we create for ourselves. The plot which drives Asimov’s Foundation and Earth is a choice about the future of life in the galaxy: whether it will continue on as it has, with everyone charting separate courses of self interest or it will change radically, adopting the life-form model of a planet called Gaia where all inhabitants shared consciousness and fate, yielding some sense of free will.

When I read this choice to its conclusion in the late 80s, I was horrified because it seemed (spoiler alert) that the protagonist was choosing communism! But it did not take many years for the wisdom of this choice to make a little more sense. At the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus returns home and murders 108 suitors. The epic almost ends with a civil war but for the intervention of Athena and Zeus who declare an amnesty, insisting that the Ithakans and Odysseus need to live together (24.486, πλοῦτος δὲ καὶ εἰρήνη ἅλις ἔστω). In this, the individual leader is forced to change his ways; but the people have to submit to forgetting and forgetting the violence and malice which brought a generation to ruin.

What choices will we face? Which ones will we be able to make?

Some things to read

Andersen, H. S., Sestoft, D. D., Lillebæk, T. T., Gabrielsen, G. G., Hemmingsen, R. R., & Kramp, P. P. 2000. “A Longitudinal Study of Prisoners on Remand: Psychiatric Prevalence, Incidence and Psychopathology in Solitary vs. Non-Solitary Confinement.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 102:19.

Foundation and Earth (Foundation #5) by Isaac Asimov

Barker, E.T.E. and Christensen J. P. Homer’s Thebes. Washington, D.C. 2019.

Gilmore, Betty and Williams, Nanon M. 2014. The Darkest Hour: Shedding Light on the Impact of Isolation and Death Row in Texas Prisons. Dallas.

Kaba, Fatos et al. 2014. “Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates.” American Journal of Public Health: March 2014, Vol. 104, No. 3, pp. 442–447.

Ravindran, Shruti 2014. “Twilight in the Box.” Aeon 27.

Shay, Jonathan. 2002. Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. New York.

Thiher, Allen. 1999. Revels in Madness: Insanity in Medicine and Literature. Ann Arbor.

Underwood, Charles. 2018. Mythos and Voice: Displacement, Learning, and Agency in Odysseus’ World. Lanham: Lexington Books

Weekend Plans with Alcaeus

Alcaeus, Fr. 38A (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 1 ii 8–20 + 2166(b)1)

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.

For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.

As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”

πῶνε [καὶ μέθυ᾿ ὦ] Μελάνιππ᾿ ἄμ᾿ ἔμοι· τί [φαῖς †
ὄταμε[. . . .]διννάεντ᾿ † Ἀχέροντα μέγ[αν πόρον
ζάβαι[ς ἀ]ελίω κόθαρον φάος [ἄψερον
ὄψεσθ᾿; ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ μεγάλων ἐπ[ιβάλλεο·
καὶ γὰρ Σίσυφος Αἰολίδαις βασίλευς [ἔφα
ἄνδρων πλεῖστα νοησάμενος [θανάτω κρέτην·
ἀλλὰ καὶ πολύιδρις ἔων ὐπὰ κᾶρι [δὶς
δ̣ιννάεντ᾿ Ἀχέροντ᾿ ἐπέραισε, μ[έμηδε δ᾿ ὦν
αὔτῳ μόχθον ἔχην Κρονίδαις βα [σίλευς κάτω
ελαίνας χθόνος· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ τά[δ᾿ ἐπέλπεο·
θᾶς] τ᾿ ἀβάσομεν αἴ ποτα κἄλλοτα ν [ῦν χρέων
φέρ]ην ὄττινα τῶνδε πάθην τά[χα δῷ θέος.

Image result for medieval manuscript acheron
Dante Being rowed across Acheron, 5th c, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 6r. B.L.

Some of us can’t say this any more…

Odysseus’s Sister and Names for In-Laws

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

We have posted before about Odysseus’ sister Ktimene. She is mentioned by the swineherd Eumaios but never by Odysseus. The scholia connect her to one of Odysseus’ companions. The evidence for this seems to be the fact that Ktimene was sent to Same for marriage (where Eurylochus is from) and a kinship term used for him by Odysseus. Also of interest, according to the scholion, Odysseus may have had more sisters.

Homer, Odyssey 15.364-41

Strong Ktimenê, the youngest of the children she bore.
I was raised with her, and she honored me little less.
But when we both made it to much-praised youth,
They gave her to Samê and received much in return
But she gave me a cloak, tunic and clothing
Dressing me finely and give me sandals for my feet
And sent me to the field. But she loved me more in her heart.

οὕνεκά μ’ αὐτὴ θρέψεν ἅμα Κτιμένῃ τανυπέπλῳ
θυγατέρ’ ἰφθίμῃ, τὴν ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων·
τῇ ὁμοῦ ἐτρεφόμην, ὀλίγον δέ τί μ’ ἧσσον ἐτίμα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ἥβην πολυήρατον ἱκόμεθ’ ἄμφω,
τὴν μὲν ἔπειτα Σάμηνδ’ ἔδοσαν καὶ μυρί’ ἕλοντο,
αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ χλαῖνάν τε χιτῶνά τε εἵματ’ ἐκείνη
καλὰ μάλ’ ἀμφιέσασα ποσίν θ’ ὑποδήματα δοῦσα
ἀγρόνδε προΐαλλε· φίλει δέ με κηρόθι μᾶλλον.

Schol. BW ad Od. 15.364 ex

“Ktimenê is the proper name of Odysseus’ sister, whom Eurylochus is supposed to have married.”

Κτιμένη] Κτιμένη κυρίως ἐκαλεῖτο ἡ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφὴ, ἧς
ὁ Εὐρύλοχος ὑπονοεῖται ἀνήρ. λέγει γὰρ “καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα
σχεδόν” (κ, 441.). B.Q.

“She bore the youngest of the children”: [this means] of the female children. For his father only had Odysseus [for a son]. There were more sisters of Odysseus.”

ὁπλοτάτην τέκε παίδων] θηλειῶν γοῦν. μόνον δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Οδυσσέα πατὴρ τέκε (π, 119.). καὶ πλείους οὖν αἱ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφαί. Q.

Homer, Odyssey 10.438-442

“So he spoke, and I was turning over in my thoughts
As I began to draw the sharp-edged sword next to my thick thigh,
Whether I should cut off his head and drive him to the ground
Even though he really was my relative. But our companions
Were restraining me with gentle words from all sides.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε μετὰ φρεσὶ μερμήριξα,
σπασσάμενος τανύηκες ἄορ παχέος παρὰ μηροῦ,
τῷ οἱ ἀποτμήξας κεφαλὴν οὖδάσδε πελάσσαι,
καὶ πηῷ περ ἐόντι μάλα σχεδόν· ἀλλά μ’ ἑταῖροι
μειλιχίοισ’ ἐπέεσσιν ἐρήτυον ἄλλοθεν ἄλλος·

Schol. QVB ad Od 10.441 ex

Q “Instead of the genitive here, “even though he was an in-law”.

V. “Relative”

QV For he married Odysseus’ sister Ktimene.
B “even though he was my brother-in-law by my sister Ktimenê.”

καὶ πηῷ] ἀντὶ τοῦ, καὶ πηοῦ περ ἐόντος. Q. συγγενεῖ. V.
Κτιμένην γὰρ γεγαμήκει τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀδελφήν. Q.V. γαμβρῷ
μοι ὄντι ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδελφῇ Κτιμένῃ. B.

Suda

“Pêos: A relative by marriage. In-law. Also, “in-lawness” [Pêosunê], relation-by-marriage. There is also Pêôn [genitive plural], for “of relatives-by-marriage. Homer has: “relatives and friends” [Il. 3.163]

Πηός: ὁ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενής. καὶ Πηοσύνη, ἡ συγγαμβρία.
καὶ Πηῶν, τῶν συγγενῶν. ῞Ομηρος· πηούς τε φίλους τε.

Etymologicum Gudianum

“…There is a difference between in-law and friend. People who have no connection to you by birth are friends. In-laws are related to you through marriage.”

διαφέρει δὲ πηὸς φίλου· φίλοι μὲν λέγονται οἱ μηδὲν τῷ γένει προσήκοντες·  πηοὶ δὲ οἱ κατ’ ἐπιγαμίαν συγγενεῖς.

peos

For a beautiful narrative re-imagining of the life of Ktimene, see Mary Ebbot’s “Seeking Odysseus’ Sister”

How Many Eyes Did The Cyclops Have? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Erik has a beautiful post about the Cyclops Polyphemos. The scholia present some debates about what exactly a Cyclops looks like. 

Schol. ad Od. 9.106

“Aristotle examines how the Cyclops Polyphemos came to be a cyclops when neither his father nor his mother was a cyclops. He resolved the issue with a different myth. For, he asserted, horses came from Boreas but Pegasos was born from Poseidon and Medousa. Why, then, would it be strange that this wild beast be born from Poseidon? Similarly, other wild beasts were born from him in the sea, as well as marvels and unusual things.

Hesiod laughably etymologizes [the Kyklopes], saying “They were given the nickname Kyklopes / because they have one single circle eye in the middle of their forehead.” But Homer clearly describes  their nature.

For, if it was of that sort, just as he described the other particular features of the Cyclops, like his size, his cruelty, he would have also described his eye! Philoxenos says that he diverged from Hesiod in that the fact he could not see because he was blinded in one eye. For Homer does not say this about all the other Cyclopes. It is likely that Polyphemos lost his other eye for some other reason before Odysseus’ arrival.

Others oppose this, claiming that if he had two eyes and Odysseus blinded one, how would he say what is attributed to him, “Cyclops, if any mortal man asks you who is the blinder of your eye…” He does not say eyes. And in return the Cyclops says “My father is able to heal my eye.” For if he had another eye, properly, and Odysseus were speaking to him in this way, how would he not have taken care of the other eye? But he said “the earth-shaker will not heal [my] eye.” For this very reason people argue about his eye being completely pierced, because of what is said here, if he did not take care of the eye when it was first compromised, he would never be able to heal it.”

From the MFA in Boston, taken artfully on my phone.

 

ζητεῖ ᾿Αριστοτέλης πῶς ὁ Κύκλωψ ὁ Πολύφημος μήτε πατρὸς ὢν Κύκλωπος, Ποσειδῶνος γὰρ ἦν, μήτε μητρὸς, Κύκλωψ ἐγένετο. αὐτὸς δὲ ἑτέρῳ μύθῳ ἐπιλύεται. καὶ γὰρ ἐκ Βορέου ἵπποι γίνονται, καὶ ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος καὶ τῆς Μεδούσης ὁ Πήγασος ἵππος. τί δ’ ἄτοπον ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος τὸν ἄγριον τοῦτον γεγονέναι; ὥσπερ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἐξ αὐτοῦ ἀναλόγως τῇ θαλάσσῃ ἄγρια γεννᾶται ἢ τερατώδη ἢ παρηλλαγμένα. γελοίως δ’ αὐτοὺς ἐτυμολογεῖ ῾Ησίοδος “Κύκλωπες δ’ ὄνομ’ ἦσαν ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρω σφέων κυκλοτερὴς ὀφθαλμὸς ἕεις ἐνέκειτο μετώπῳ.” ὁ δ’ ῞Ομηρος φαίνεται φύσιν αὐτῶν λέγων· εἰ γὰρ ἦν τι τοιοῦτον, ὥσπερ τὰς ἄλλας ἰδιότητας τῶν ὀφθέντων ἔγραψεν ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ Κύκλωπος, τὸ μέγεθος, τὴν ὠμότητα, οὕτω κἂν τὸ περὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ ἔγραψε. φησὶ δὲ ὁ Φιλόξενος ὅτι ἐπλάνησε τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸ τὸν ἕνα ὀφθαλμὸν τυφλωθέντα μηκέτι ὁρᾶν. οὔτε δὲ περὶ πάντων τῶν Κυκλώπων εἶπε τοῦτο ῞Ομηρος, εἰκός τε τὸν Πολύφημον κατά τινα ἄλλην αἰτίαν τὸν ἕτερον τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἀπολωλεκέναι πρὸ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀφίξεως. οἱ δὲ ἀντιλέγοντες τούτῳ φασὶν, εἰ δύο εἶχεν ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὸν ἕνα ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐτύφλωσε, πῶς συμφωνήσει τὸ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ λεγόμενον, “Κύκλωψ, εἰ καί τίς σε καταχθονίων ἀνθρώπων ὀφθαλμοῦ εἴρηται ἀεικελίην ἀλαωτύν” (502.); οὐκ εἶπεν ὀφθαλμῶν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ τὸ προκείμενον παρὰ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι δύναταί μου ὁ Ποσειδῶν ἰάσασθαι τὸν ὀφθαλμόν. εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἑτερόφθαλμος ἤδη ὑπάρχων, ἔλεγεν ἂν αὐτῷ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς, καὶ πῶς τὸν ἕτερον οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν; ἀλλ’ εἶπεν “ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων” (525.). δι’ αὐτοῦ δὲ τούτου ἀπολογοῦνται περὶ τοῦ εἶναι αὐτὸν διόφθαλμον, διὰ τοῦ εἰπεῖν, εἰ τὸν πρῶτον πηρωθέντα ὀφθαλμὸν οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν, οὐδὲ τοῦτον ἰάσεται. H.Q.

These are, of course, the types of investigations for which Seneca would have the most disdain:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too. This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Mocking the quibbles of scholars is where the pejorative use of the term ‘academic’ comes. This is an ancient tradition!

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.22

“You know that somewhere Timo the Philasian calls the Museum a birdcage as he mocks the scholars who are supported there because they were fed like the priciest birds in a big cage:

Many are fed in many-peopled Egypt,
The paper-pushers closed up waging endless war
in the bird-cage of the Muses.

ὅτι τὸ Μουσεῖον ὁ Φιλιάσιος Τίμων ὁ σιλλογράφος (fr. 60 W) τάλαρόν πού φησιν ἐπισκώπτων τοὺς ἐν αὐτῷ τρεφομένους φιλοσόφους, ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν  πανάγρῳ τινὶ σιτοῦνται καθάπερ οἱ πολυτιμότατοι ὄρνιθες·

πολλοὶ μὲν βόσκονται ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πολυφύλῳ
βιβλιακοὶ χαρακῖται ἀπείριτα δηριόωντες
Μουσέων ἐν ταλάρῳ.

Greek Nostos and English Nostalgia

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Someone asked me to put together a post on nostos. Here’s what I got. I am happy to add anything someone else can find. This is far from exhaustive.

The Greek noun nostos (“homecoming”) is mostly reconstructed as a reflex of a verbal root neomai (“to come or go”) but its semantic range drifts to include ideas of salvation and rescue.

From Beekes’ Etymological Dictionary of Ancient Greek (2010)

nostos beeks

In early Greek poetry, nostos is a song that is about homecoming. On this, see Nagy 1999 [1997], 97; Murnaghan 2002, 147. Douglas Frame (1978) argues that it also means “return to light and life” whereas Anna Bonifazi adds “salvation not death”. For more on the nostoi as a tradition, see the discussion and bibliography in Barker and Christensen 2015. Gregory Nagy surveys the meaning of the term nostos in the Odyssey as return and a song of homecoming in his Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.

In later Greek, the term retained much of this meaning but, as I will show below, it can also mean “sweetness”. The thematic and proverbial power of the poetic tradition seems to have kept this specialized meaning as primary as the language developed.

From E.A. Sophocles “Dictionary of Byzantine Greek”

nostos med

Our English word nostalgia comes from a post-classical Latin compound which has deep resonance with Greek epic, especially Odysseus. Odysseus has thematic associations with algea (neuter plural for algos, “grief, pain”). Our modern meaning of “acute longing for familiar surroundings” or “sentimental longing for a period of the past (OED online)” may draw on ancient poetic associations. A nostos is a return to the home, which is symbolically a return to the past. Ultimately, it is partly a futile wish because neither home nor person (neither the past, nor the rememberer) remain the same.

Nostalgia was originally coined by Johannes Hofer in 1688 for a pathological mental disorder, a type of mania that involved longing for the past. Some modern psychological studies still examine the phenomenon. It has been described as both parafunctional in undermining a sense of well-being and rootedness in the future (Verplanken 2012) and as a useful resource of memory which can help reinforce identity against existential threats (Routledge et al 2012 and Sedikedis and Wildschut 2016).

The ancient etymological dictionaries pretty much provide the same information as the Byzantine Suda:

Suda, Nu 500

“Nostos: The return to home. From the sweetness of a homeland. Or it comes from the giving of flavor. But also “the poets who sang the songs of Return follow Homer to the extent they are capable. It seems that not only one poet composed and wrote the homecoming of the Achaeans, but some others did too.

Νόστος: ἡ οἴκαδε ἐπάνοδος. παρὰ τὸ τῆς πατρίδος ἡδύ.

ἢ ἡ ἀνάδοσις τῆς γεύσεως. καὶ οἱ ποιηταὶ δὲ οἱ τοὺς Νόστους ὑμνήσαντες ἕπονται τῷ ῾Ομήρῳ ἐς ὅσον εἰσὶ δυνατοί. φαίνεται ὅτι οὐ μόνος εἷς εὑρισκόμενος ἔγραψε νόστον ᾿Αχαιῶν, ἀλλὰ καί τινες ἕτεροι.

Nu 501

“Homecoming: in regular use it is “sweetness”, applied to edibles. This comes from the [sweetness] of returning and coming back again home. From the sweetness of your homeland, for nothing is sweeter than your fatherland, according to Homer. From nostos in customary use we also have nostimon, which can mean “pleasant”, “sweet”. And there is a certain god, Eunostos, a divinity of the mill. The poetic term nostos comes from neô [to go], in, for example “now I am not going home.” This means “I do not return” [epanerkhomai]. There is also the form nostô, which provides the compounds palinostô, and aponostô.”

Νόστος: παρὰ τῇ συνηθείᾳ ὁ γλυκασμός, ἐπὶ τῶν ἐδεσμάτων. ὡς ἀπὸ τῆςοἴκαδε ἀνακομιδῆς καὶ ἀναστροφῆς· παρὰ τὸ τῆς πατρίδος γλυκύ. οὐδὲν γὰρ γλύκιον ἧς πατρίδος, καθ’ ῞Ομηρον. ἐκ δὲ τοῦ κατὰ τὴν συνήθειαν νόστου καὶ νόστιμον, τὸ ἡδύ. καὶ Εὔνοστος, θεός τις, φασίν, ἐπιμύλιος. ὁ δὲ ποιητικὸς  νόστος παρὰ τὸ νέω γίνεται. οἷον, νῦν δ’ ἐπεὶ οὐ νέομαι γε. ἤγουν οὐκ ἐπανέρχομαι. ἔστι δὲ καὶ ῥῆμα νοστῶ, οὗ σύνθετα παλινοστῶ καὶ ἀπονοστῶ

 

Some things cited in this post:

Barker, Elton T. E. and Christensen, Joel P. 2015. “Odysseus’s Nostos and the Odyssey’s Nostoi,” in G. Scafoglio, Studies on the Epic Cycle. Rome. 85–110.

Bonifazi, A. 2009. “Inquiring into nostos and its cognates.” American Journal of Philology 130: 481–510.

Frame, Douglas. 1978. The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic. New Haven.

Murnaghan, Sheila. 2002. “The Trials of Telemachus: Who Was the Odyssey Meant for?” Arethusa 35: 133–153.

Nagy, Gregory. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore.

Routledge, Clay, Wildschut Tim, Sedikides, Constantine, Juhl, Jacob, , and  Arndt, Jamie. 2012”The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource.” Memory, 1-9.

Sedikides, Constantine and Wildschut, Tim. 2016. ”Nostalgia: A Bittersweet Emotion that Confers Psychological Health Benefits.” The Wiley Handbook of Positive Clinical  Psychology, 126–136.

Verplanken, Bas. 2012. “When bittersweet turns sour: Adverse effects of nostalgia on habitual worriers.” European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 285–289.

Tawdry Tuesday: What Did the Greeks Eat and Screw for 10 Years at Troy?

Students often complain about the lack of verisimilitude in the heroic diet–even though the Odyssey  mentions that Odysseus’ companions fish and hunt birds before they kill the cattle in Thrinacia, students find something odd about a diet of meat, bread and wine.

Apparently ancient comic poets did too–and they were concerned about the reality of heroic sexual habits as well. Obviously, as the beginning of book 1 of the Iliad makes clear, eligible ladies were not in excess supply.

[Warning: this next passage is a little, well, explicit]
Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.46

“Sarpedon makes it clear that they ate fish when he says that being captured is similar to hunting with a fishing net. In the comic charm, Eubolos also says jokingly:

Where dies Homer say that any of the Achaeans
Ate fish? They only ever roast meat—he never has
Anyone of them boil it at all!
And not a one of them sees a single prostitute—
They were stroking themselves for ten years!
They knew a bitter expedition, those men who
After taking a single city went back home
With assholes much wider than the city they captured.

The heroes also didn’t allow freedom to the birds in the air, but they set snares and nets for thrushes and doves. They practices for bird hunting when they tied the dove to the mast of the ship and shot arrows at it, as is clear from the Funeral Games. But Homer leaves out their consumption of vegetables, fish and birds because of gluttony and because cooking is inappropriate, he judged it inferior to heroic and godly deeds.”

prostitute
The Achaeans did not have this option…

ὅτι δὲ καὶ ἰχθῦς ἤσθιον Σαρπηδὼν δῆλον ποιεῖ (Ε 487), ὁμοιῶν τὴν ἅλωσιν πανάγρου δικτύου θήρᾳ. καίτοι Εὔβουλος κατὰ τὴν κωμικὴν χάριν φησὶ παίζων (II 207 K)·

ἰχθὺν δ’ ῞Ομηρος ἐσθίοντ’ εἴρηκε ποῦ
τίνα τῶν ᾿Αχαιῶν; κρέα δὲ μόνον ὤπτων, ἐπεὶ
ἕψοντά γ’ οὐ πεποίηκεν αὐτῶν οὐδένα.
ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ μίαν ἀλλ’ ἑταίραν εἶδέ τις
αὐτῶν, ἑαυτοὺς δ’ ἔδεφον ἐνιαυτοὺς δέκα.
πικρὰν στρατείαν δ’ εἶδον, οἵτινες πόλιν
μίαν λαβόντες εὐρυπρωκτότεροι πολὺ
τῆς πόλεος ἀπεχώρησαν ἧς εἷλον τότε.

οὐδὲ τὸν ἀέρα δ’ <οἱ> ἥρωες τοῖς ὄρνισιν εἴων ἐλεύθερον, παγίδας καὶ νεφέλας ἐπὶ ταῖς κίχλαις καὶ πελειάσιν ἱστάντες. ἐγυμνάζοντο δὲ πρὸς ὀρνεοθηρευτικὴν [καὶ] τὴν πελειάδα τῇ μηρίνθῳ κρεμάντες ἀπὸ νηὸς ἱστοῦ καὶ τοξεύοντες ἑκηβόλως εἰς αὐτήν, ὡς ἐν τῷ ἐπιταφίῳ δηλοῦται (Ψ 852). παρέλιπε δὲ τὴν χρῆσιν τῶν λαχάνων καὶ ἰχθύων καὶ τῶν ὀρνίθων διά τε τὴν λιχνείαν καὶ προσέτι τὴν ἐν ταῖς σκευασίαι ἀπρέπειαν, ἐλάττω κεκρικὼς ἡρωικῶν καὶ θείων ἔργων.

You Might Even Say It’s Good To Be King: Odysseus’ Geras

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Odysseus on his geras, 11.174–176:

“Tell me of the father and son I left behind,
does my geras still belong to them or does some other man
already have it because they think I will not come home?”

εἰπὲ δέ μοι πατρός τε καὶ υἱέος, ὃν κατέλειπον,
ἢ ἔτι πὰρ κείνοισιν ἐμὸν γέρας, ἦέ τις ἤδη
ἀνδρῶν ἄλλος ἔχει, ἐμὲ δ’ οὐκέτι φασὶ νέεσθαι.

From Beekes 2010

geras

Telemachus on Eurymakhos, 15.518–522:

“… Eurymakhos, the shining son of sharp-minded Polyboios,
whom the Ithakans now look upon the way they would a god.
He is by far the best man remaining and the best
to marry my mother and receive my father’s geras.”

Εὐρύμαχον, Πολύβοιο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
τὸν νῦν ἶσα θεῷ ᾿Ιθακήσιοι εἰσορόωσι·
καὶ γὰρ πολλὸν ἄριστος ἀνὴρ μέμονέν τε μάλιστα
μητέρ’ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ ᾿Οδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν.”

Antinoos on kingship, 1.383–387:

“Then Antinoos, the son of Eupeithes, answered him,
“Telemachus, the gods themselves have taught you
to be a big speaker and to address us boldly.
May Zeus never make you king in sea-girt Ithaca
which is your inheritance by birth.”

τὸν δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αντίνοος προσέφη, Εὐπείθεος υἱός·
“Τηλέμαχ’, ἦ μάλα δή σε διδάσκουσιν θεοὶ αὐτοὶ
ὑψαγόρην τ’ ἔμεναι καὶ θαρσαλέως ἀγορεύειν.
μὴ σέ γ’ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ ᾿Ιθάκῃ βασιλῆα Κρονίων
ποιήσειεν, ὅ τοι γενεῇ πατρώϊόν ἐστιν.”

Telemachus on his geras, 1.388–398:

“Antinoos, even if you are annoyed at whatever I say,
I would still pray to obtain this should Zeus grant it.
Do you really think that this is the worst thing among people?
To be king is not at all bad. A king’s house grows rich quickly
and he is more honored himself. But, certainly, there are other kings of the Achaeans, too, many on sea-girt Ithaka, young and old,
who might have this right, since shining Odysseus is dead.
But I will be master of my household and my servants,
the ones shining Odysseus obtained for me.”

“᾿Αντίνο’, εἴ πέρ μοι καὶ ἀγάσσεαι ὅττι κεν εἴπω,
καί κεν τοῦτ’ ἐθέλοιμι Διός γε διδόντος ἀρέσθαι.
ἦ φῂς τοῦτο κάκιστον ἐν ἀνθρώποισι τετύχθαι;
οὐ μὲν γάρ τι κακὸν βασιλευέμεν· αἶψά τέ οἱ δῶ
ἀφνειὸν πέλεται καὶ τιμηέστερος αὐτός.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι βασιλῆες ᾿Αχαιῶν εἰσὶ καὶ ἄλλοι
πολλοὶ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ ᾿Ιθάκῃ, νέοι ἠδὲ παλαιοί,
τῶν κέν τις τόδ’ ἔχῃσιν, ἐπεὶ θάνε δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν οἴκοιο ἄναξ ἔσομ’ ἡμετέροιο
καὶ δμώων, οὕς μοι ληΐσσατο δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.”

Some things to read

Elton Barker. Entering the Agôn: Dissent and Authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy. Oxford, 2009.

Colleen Chaston. “Three Models of Authority in the “Odyssey”.” CW 96 (2002) 3-19.

J. Halverson. “The Succession Issue in the Odyssey.” Greece and Rome 33 (1986) 119–28.

Johannes Haubold. Homer’s People: Epic Poetry and Social Formation. Cambridge: 2000.

Daniel Silvermintz. “Unravelling the Shroud for Laertes and Weaving the Fabric of the City: Kingship and Politics in Homer’s Odyssey.” Polis 21 (2004) 26-41.

“Why Do I Recount Odysseus’ Troubles?”

In the following passage Kassandra prophesies Odysseus’ travails in returning home. Although she seems to refer to a few events not in our Odyssey (fast rocks, talking meat), what I find interesting is the possible poetic engagement with Kassandra’s presentation in the Odyssey where she is not mentioned as the cause of Athena’s anger or marked as a prophet. 

Euripides, Trojan Women 424–447

“Really, a clever servant. Why do heralds have
the name they have, when one hatred is common to people:
the servants of tyrants and their regimes?
You say that my mother will arrive at
Odysseus’ home? Where then are Apollo’s words
which say—when I have translated them—
that she will die here? I will not insult her with the rest.
The wretched man, he doesn’t know what suffering awaits him—
how even these Phrygian horrors of mine will seem
golden to him. For ten years after sailing out added to ten
spent here he will finally arrive at his fatherland alone
< >
where the swiftest rocks [make] the passage narrow,
and dreadful Charybdis, near the man-eating, cliff-walking [Skyla],
The Kyklops, and the Ligurian, swine-witch
Kirkê, and shipwrecks over the salted-sea,
lusts for lotus, and the sacred cattle of Helios,
whose flesh will sing in human voice one day
a bitter song for Odysseus—I will cut this short:
he will go into Hades still alive and though feeling the water’s flow
he will come home and find countless evils at home.
But why do I enumerate the toils of Odysseus?
Take me right away, let me marry a bridegroom for Hades’ home.
You are evil and you will be evilly buried at night, not at day
Captain of the Danaid women, believing you are doing something good.”

Κα. ἦ δεινὸς ὁ λάτρις. τί ποτ’ ἔχουσι τοὔνομα
κήρυκες, ἓν ἀπέχθημα πάγκοινον βροτοῖς,
οἱ περὶ τυράννους καὶ πόλεις ὑπηρέται;
σὺ τὴν ἐμὴν φὴις μητέρ’ εἰς ᾿Οδυσσέως
ἥξειν μέλαθρα; ποῦ δ’ ᾿Απόλλωνος λόγοι,
οἵ φασιν αὐτὴν εἰς ἔμ’ ἡρμηνευμένοι
αὐτοῦ θανεῖσθαι; τἄλλα δ’ οὐκ ὀνειδιῶ.
δύστηνος, οὐκ οἶδ’ οἷά νιν μένει παθεῖν·
ὡς χρυσὸς αὐτῶι τἀμὰ καὶ Φρυγῶν κακὰ
δόξει ποτ’ εἶναι. δέκα γὰρ ἐκπλήσας ἔτη
πρὸς τοῖσιν ἐνθάδ’ ἵξεται μόνος πάτραν
< >
†οὗ δὴ στενὸν δίαυλον ὤικισται πέτρας†
δεινὴ Χάρυβδις ὠμοβρώς τ’ ὀρειβάτης
Κύκλωψ Λιγυστίς θ’ ἡ συῶν μορφώτρια
Κίρκη θαλάσσης θ’ ἁλμυρᾶς ναυάγια
λωτοῦ τ’ ἔρωτες ῾Ηλίου θ’ ἁγναὶ βόες,
αἳ σαρξὶ φοινίαισιν ἥσουσίν ποτε
πικρὰν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ γῆρυν. ὡς δὲ συντέμω,
ζῶν εἶσ’ ἐς ῞Αιδου κἀκφυγὼν λίμνης ὕδωρ
κάκ’ ἐν δόμοισι μυρί’ εὑρήσει μολών.
ἀλλὰ γὰρ τί τοὺς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἐξακοντίζω πόνους;
στεῖχ’ ὅπως τάχιστ’· ἐν ῞Αιδου νυμφίωι γημώμεθα.
ἦ κακὸς κακῶς ταφήσηι νυκτός, οὐκ ἐν ἡμέραι,
ὦ δοκῶν σεμνόν τι πράσσειν, Δαναϊδῶν ἀρχηγέτα.
κἀμέ τοι νεκρὸν φάραγγες γυμνάδ’ ἐκβεβλημένην
ὕδατι χειμάρρωι ῥέουσαι νυμφίου πέλας τάφου
θηρσὶ δώσουσιν δάσασθαι, τὴν ᾿Απόλλωνος λάτριν.

Kassandra is most famous in ancient art and myth for the sexual violence she suffers at Oilean Ajax’s hands. But when there is an opportunity to refer to this, the Odyssey avoids it. Instead, it creates a new reason for Ajax to suffer:

Continue reading ““Why Do I Recount Odysseus’ Troubles?””

The Truth about Daedalus and Icarus

Servius Danielis,  Commentary on the Aeneid, 6, 14

“Phanodikos says that Daidalos—on account of the aforementioned reasons—went on a ship as he was fleeing and when those who were pursuing him drew near, he spread wide a piece of cloth for gaining the help of the winds and escaped them in this way. When they got back, those who were following him said he had escaped them with wings.”

Phanodicos Deliacon Daedalum propter supradictas causas fugientem navem conscendisse et, cum imminerent qui eum sequebantur, intendisse pallium ad adiuvandum ventos et sic evasisse: illos vero qui insequebantur reversos nuntiasse pinnis illum evasisse.

Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Things 12

“People claim that Minos imprisoned Daidalos and Ikaros, his son, for a certain reason, but that Daidalos, after he fashioned wings as prosthetics for both of them, flew off with Ikaros. It is impossible to think that a person flies, even one who has prosthetic wings. What it really means, then, is the following kind of thing.

Daidalos, when he was in prison, escaped through a small window and hauled down his son too; once he got on a boat, he left. When Minos found out, he sent ships to pursue him. Then they understood that they were being pursued and there was a furious and driving wind, they seemed to be flying. And while they were sailing with the Kretan wind, they flipped over into the sea. While Daidalos survived onto land, Ikaros died. This is why the sea there is named Ikarion for him. His father buried him after he was tossed up by the waves.”

[Περὶ Δαιδάλου καὶ ᾿Ικάρου.]

     Φασὶν ὅτι Μίνως Δαίδαλον καὶ ῎Ικαρον τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ καθεῖρξε διά τινα αἰτίαν, Δαίδαλος δὲ  ποιήσας πτέρυγας ἀμφοτέροις προσθετάς, ἐξέπτη μετὰ τοῦ ᾿Ικάρου. νοῆσαι δὲ ἄνθρωπον πετόμενον, ἀμήχανον, καὶ ταῦτα πτέρυγας ἔχοντα προσθετάς. τὸ οὖν λεγόμενον ἦν τοιοῦτον. Δαίδαλος ὢν ἐν τῇ εἱρκτῇ, καθεὶς ἑαυτὸν διὰ θυρίδος καὶ τὸν υἱὸν κατασπάσας, σκαφίδι ἐμβάς, ἀπῄει. αἰσθόμενος

δὲ ὁ Μίνως πέμπει πλοῖα διώξοντα. οἱ δὲ ὡς ᾔσθοντο διωκόμενοι, ἀνέμου λάβρου καὶ φοροῦ ὄντος, πετόμενοι ἐφαίνοντο. εἶτα πλέοντες οὐρίῳ Κρητικῷ νότῳ ἐν τῷ πελάγει περιτρέπονται· καὶ ὁ μὲν Δαίδαλος περισῴζεται εἰς τὴν γῆν, ὁ δὲ ῎Ικαρος διαφθείρεται (ὅθεν ἀπ’ ἐκείνου ᾿Ικάριον πέλαγος ἐκλήθη), ἐκβληθέντα δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων ὁ πατὴρ ἔθαψεν.

Image result for daedalus and icarus image
Anthony Van Dyck, 1625 “Daedalus and Icarus”

In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

The Terrible Origin of Oedipus’ Family Curse

Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenician Women 1760 = FGrHist 16 F10

“Peisander records that the sphinx was sent to Thebes in accordance with Hera’s rage from the farthest parts of Aethiopia, because Laios had committed sacrilege in his abnormal lust for Khrusippos* whom he abducted from Pisa but they did not avenge. It was the sphinx, who, as it is written, had the tail of a dragon. She seized and gobbled up great and small men, among whom was Haimon, Kreon’s son and Hippion, the son of Eurunomos who had fought against the Kentaurs. (Eurunomos and Êioneus were sons of Magnêtês the son of Aolos and Phylodikê.) Then Hippios, who was a foreigner, was seized by the Sphinx; but Êioneus, the son by Oinomaus, was killed in the same way along with many suitors [i.e. men who came to solve the riddle].

Laios first conceived of this lawless lust. But Khrusyppos, out of shame, used his sword on himself. Then, Teiresias, because he was a prophet, knew that Laios was hated by the gods, and he sent him on the road to Apollo where it was proper to make sacrifices to the goddess Hera as the maker-of-marriages. He dishonored this. Then, when he was coming home, he was murdered in the narrowest part of the road along with his charioteer after he struck Oedipus with a goad. After killing them, Oedipus buried them with their clothing but stripped Laios’ belt and sword and took it with him. He collected up the chariot and gave it to Polybos. Then he married his mother after solving the riddle.

After that, once he had completed the sacrifices at Kithaira, he was coming home with Iokastê in his carriage. He remembered the place where the events had happened in the narrowest part of the road and he showed it to Iocasta and explained the event and showed her the belt. She handled it poorly but was silent. For she did not know he was her son. After that, an old horse-hand came from Sikyon and told Oedipus everyone: how he found him, took him, and gave him to Meropê. He also showed him the swaddling clothes and goad and asked for a reward for saving him. In this way, the whole truth was understood. They say that after Iokastê’s death and his blinding, he married Euruganeia, a virgin, and that the four children were born from her. Peisander records these things.”

*Khrusippos=Chrysippus, Pelop’s first child before Atreus and Thyestes

laiuschrysippuspelops

ὃς μόνος Σφιγγὸς κατέσχον: ἱστορεῖ Πείσανδρος ὅτι κατὰ χόλον τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐπέμφθη ἡ Σφὶγξ τοῖς Θηβαίοις ἀπὸ τῶν ἐσχάτων μερῶν τῆς Αἰθιοπίας, ὅτι τὸν Λάιον ἀσεβήσαντα εἰς τὸν παράνομον ἔρωτα τοῦ Χρυσίππου, ὃν ἥρπασεν ἀπὸ τῆς Πίσης, οὐκ ἐτιμωρήσαντο. ἦν δὲ ἡ Σφὶγξ, ὥσπερ γράφεται, τὴν οὐρὰν ἔχουσα δρακαίνης· ἀναρπάζουσα δὲ μικροὺς καὶ μεγάλους κατήσθιεν, ἐν οἷς καὶ Αἵμονα τὸν Κρέοντος παῖδα καὶ ῞Ιππιον τὸν Εὐρυνόμου τοῦ τοῖς Κενταύροις μαχεσαμένου. ἦσαν δὲ Εὐρύνομος καὶ ᾿Ηιονεὺς υἱοὶ Μάγνητος τοῦ Αἰολίδου καὶ Φυλοδίκης. ὁ μὲν οὖν ῞Ιππιος καὶ ξένος ὢν ὑπὸ τῆς Σφιγγὸς ἀνῃρέθη, ὁ δὲ ᾿Ηιονεὺς ὑπὸ τοῦ Οἰνομάου, ὃν τρόπον καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι μνηστῆρες. πρῶτος δὲ ὁ Λάιος τὸν ἀθέμιτον ἔρωτα τοῦτον ἔσχεν. ὁ δὲ Χρύσιππος ὑπὸ αἰσχύνης ἑαυτὸν διεχρήσατο τῷ ξίφει. τότε μὲν οὖν ὁ Τειρεσίας ὡς μάντις εἰδὼς ὅτι θεοστυγὴς ἦν ὁ Λάιος, ἀπέτρεπεν αὐτὸν τῆς ἐπὶ τὸν ᾿Απόλλωνα ὁδοῦ, τῇ δὲ ῞Ηρᾳ μᾶλλον τῇ γαμοστόλῳ θεᾷθύειν ἱερά. ὁ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐξεφαύλιζεν. ἀπελθὼν τοίνυν ἐφονεύθη ἐν τῇ σχιστῇ ὁδῷ αὐτὸς καὶ ὁ ἡνίοχος αὐτοῦ, ἐπειδὴ ἔτυψε τῇ μάστιγι τὸν Οἰδίποδα. κτείνας δὲ αὐτοὺς ἔθαψε παραυτίκα σὺν τοῖς ἱματίοις ἀποσπάσας τὸν ζωστῆρα καὶ τὸ ξίφος τοῦ Λαΐου καὶ φορῶν· τὸ δὲ ἅρμα ὑποστρέψας ἔδωκε τῷ Πολύβῳ, εἶτα ἔγημε τὴν μητέρα λύσας τὸ αἴνιγμα. μετὰ ταῦτα δὲ θυσίας τινὰς ἐπιτελέσας ἐν τῷ Κιθαιρῶνι κατήρχετο ἔχων καὶ τὴν ᾿Ιοκάστην ἐν τοῖς ὀχήμασι. καὶ γινομένων αὐτῶν περὶ τὸν τόπον ἐκεῖνον τῆς σχιστῆς ὁδοῦ ὑπομνησθεὶς ἐδείκνυε τῇ ᾿Ιοκάστῃ τὸν τόπον καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα διηγήσατο καὶ τὸν ζωστῆρα ἔδειξεν. ἡ δὲ δεινῶς φέρουσα ὅμως ἐσιώπα· ἠγνόει γὰρ υἱὸν ὄντα. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθέ τις γέρων ἱπποβουκόλος ἀπὸ Σικυῶνος, ὃς εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ πᾶν ὅπως τε αὐτὸν εὗρε καὶ ἀνείλετο καὶ τῇ Μερόπῃ δέδωκε, καὶ ἅμα τὰ σπάργανα αὐτῷ ἐδείκνυε καὶ τὰ κέντρα ἀπῄτει τε αὐτὸν τὰ ζωάγρια· καὶ οὕτως ἐγνώσθη τὸ ὅλον. φασὶ δὲ ὅτι μετὰ τὸν θάνατον τῆς ᾿Ιοκάστης καὶ τὴν αὐτοῦ τύφλωσιν ἔγημεν Εὐρυγάνην παρθένον, ἐξ ἧς αὐτῷ γεγόνασιν οἱ τέσσαρες παῖδες. ταῦτά φησι Πείσανδρος:

There is a tradition that quotes the Sphinx’s riddle, but few accept it as ‘genuine’.

For a fine discussion of this, see Malcolm Davies’ piece on the Oidipodea.