“Dying is the Sweetest Thing”: The Gods Love Those Who Give The Most

This poem moves from praising the victory of Hiero’s horses at Olympos to the tale of Croesus’ reaction to the sacking of Sardis. In this version of the tale, he prepares to sacrifice his family on a pyre. The story is, well, a bit horrifying.

Bacchylides, Victory Odes 3.1-60

“Kleio, sweetness-giver, sing of Demeter
Who rules rich-grained Sicily, and also
Her purple-crowned daughter, and the swift
Olympic-racing horses of Hiero.

For they rushed with overwhelming Victory
And Glory alongside the broad-eddying
Alpheos where they made the blessed son of Deinomenes
A master of the crowns.

And the people shouted out:
“Oh, thrice-blessed man
Who obtained from Zeus
The widest-ruling power of all the Greeks
And knows not to hide his towered health
With black-cloaked shadow.

The temples overflow with sacrificial feasts
And the streets overflow with hospitality.
And god shines too in glancing light
From the tall-wrought tripods which were set up

In front of the temple where the Delphians
Take care of the greatest grove of Apollo
Alongside the waters of Kastalia—let someone
Glory in god, in god—this is the best of the blessings.

For once there was a time when
Even though the Sardians were sacked by the Persian army
Because Zeus had brought to an end
The judgment which was fated,
The leader of the horse-taming
Lydians, Kroisos, golden-sworded

Apollo protected. For Kroisos,
When he had come to that lamentable, unhoped for day
Was not about to wait for slavery any more. But he
Had a pyre built up in front of his bronze-walled yard.

There he climbed up with his dear wife
And his well-tressed daughters who were
Mourning uncontrollably. Then he raised his hands
Up to the high sky above

And he shouted: “Powerful god
Where is divine gratitude now?
Where is Leto’s son the lord?
Alyattes’ halls are falling down.
[what of the] myriad [gifts I gave you?]
[What trust can mortals give to gods?]

[Look now, the enemy has sacked my] city,
And the gold-eddying Paktôlos runs red
With blood and women are shamefully dragged away
From the well-built halls.

What was hated before is now dear. Dying is the sweetest thing.”
So much he said, and he ordered his light-stepping attendant
To Set fire to the wooden home. Then the girls were crying out
And they were throwing their hands to their

Mother. For mortals most hateful death
Is the one we see coming.
But as the shining strength
Of the terrible fire was leaping forth
Zeus sent over a dark-covering cloud
To extinguish the yellow flame.

Nothing is unbelievable when divine care
Makes it. Then Delian-born Apollo
Carried the old man to the Hyperboreans
And settled him there with his thin-ankled daughters

Because of his piety, because he sent to sacred Pytho
Gifts greatest of all the mortals.

᾿Αριστο[κ]άρπου Σικελίας κρέουσαν
Δ[ά]ματρα ἰοστέφανόν τε Κούραν
ὕμνει, γλυκύδωρε Κλεοῖ, θοάς τ’ ᾿Ο-
[λυμ]πιοδρόμους ῾Ιέρωνος ἵππ[ο]υς.

[Σεύον]το γὰρ σὺν ὑπερόχῳ τε Νίκᾳ
[σὺν ᾿Αγ]λαΐᾳ τε παρ’ εὐρυδίναν
[᾿Αλφεόν, τόθι] Δεινομένεος ἔθηκαν
ὄλβιον τ[έκος στεφάνω]ν κυρῆσαι·

θρόησε δὲ λ[αὸς ]
[] ἆ τρισευδαίμ[ων ἀνὴρ]
ὃς παρὰ Ζηνὸς λαχὼν πλείστ-
αρχον ῾Ελλάνων γέρας
οἶδε πυργωθέντα πλοῦτον μὴ μελαμ-
φαρέϊ κρύπτειν σκότῳ.

Βρύει μὲν ἱερὰ βουθύτοις ἑορταῖς,
βρύουσι φιλοξενίας ἀγυιαί·
λάμπει δ’ ὑπὸ μαρμαρυγαῖς ὁ χρυσός,
ὑψιδαιδάλτων τριπόδων σταθέντων

πάροιθε ναοῦ, τόθι μέγι[στ]ον ἄλσος
Φοίβου παρὰ Κασταλίας [ῥ]εέθροις
Δελφοὶ διέπουσι. Θεόν, θ[εό]ν τις
ἀγλαϊζέθὠ γὰρ ἄριστος [ὄ]λβων·

ἐπεί ποτε καὶ δαμασίπ-
[π]ου Λυδίας ἀρχαγέταν,
εὖτε τὰν πεπ[ρωμέναν] Ζη-
νὸς τελέ[σσαντος κρί]σιν
Σάρδιες Περσᾶ[ν ἁλίσκοντο στρ]ατῷ,
Κροῖσον ὁ χρυσά[ορος]

φύλαξ’ ᾿Απόλλων. [῾Ο δ’ ἐς] ἄελπτον ἆμαρ
μ[ο]λὼν πολυδ[άκρυο]ν οὐκ ἔμελλε
μίμνειν ἔτι δ[ουλοσύ]ναν, πυρὰν δὲ
χαλκ[ο]τειχέος π[ροπάροι]θεν αὐ[λᾶς]
ναήσατ’, ἔνθα σὺ[ν ἀλόχῳ] τε κεδ[νᾷ]
σὺν εὐπλοκάμοι[ς τ’] ἐπέβαιν’ ἄλα[στον]
[θ]υ[γ]ατράσι δυρομέναις· χέρας δ’ [ἐς]
[αἰ]πὺν αἰθέρα σ[φ]ετέρας ἀείρας

[γέ]γ[ω]νεν· «῾Υπέρ[βι]ε δαῖ-
μον, [πο]ῦ θεῶν ἐστι[ν] χάρις;
[πο]ῦ δὲ Λατοίδ[ας] ἄναξ; [ἔρ-]
[ρουσ]ιν ᾿Αλυά[τ]τα δόμοι

[] μυρίων
[]ν.
[]ν ἄστυ,
[ἐρεύθεται αἵματι χρυσο]δίνας
Πακτωλός, ἀ[ε]ικελίως γυνα[ῖ]κες
ἐξ ἐϋκτίτων μεγάρων ἄγονται·

τὰ πρόσθεν [ἐχ]θρὰ φίλα· θανεῖν γλύκιστον.»
Τόσ’ εἶπε, καὶ ἁβ[ρο]βάταν κ[έλε]υσεν
ἅπτειν ξύλινον δόμον. ῎Εκ[λα]γον δὲ
παρθένοι, φίλας τ’ ἀνὰ ματρὶ χεῖρας

ἔβαλλον· ὁ γὰρ προφανὴς
θνατοῖσιν ἔχθιστος φόνων·
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ δεινο[ῦ π]υρὸς λαμ-
πρὸν διάϊ[σσεν μέ]νος,
Ζεὺς ἐπιστάσας [μελαγκευ]θὲς νέφος
σβέννυεν ξανθὰ[ν φλόγα.]

῎Απιστον οὐδὲν ὅ τι θ[εῶν μέ]ριμνα
τεύχει· τότε Δαλογενὴ[ς ᾿Από]λλων
φέρων ἐς ῾Υπερβορέο[υς γ]έροντα
σὺν τανισφύροις κατ[έν]ασσε κούραις

δι’ εὐσέβειαν, ὅτι μέ[γιστα] θνατῶν
ἐς ἀγαθέαν <ἀν>έπεμψε Π[υθ]ώ.

Image result for Croesus king of lydia

 

“Dying is the Sweetest Thing”: The Gods Love Those Who Give The Most

This poem moves from praising the victory of Hiero’s horses at Olympos to the tale of Croesus’ reaction to the sacking of Sardis. In this version of the tale, he prepares to sacrifice his family on a pyre. The story is, well, a bit horrifying.

Bacchylides, Victory Odes 3.1-60

Kleio, sweetness-giver, sing of Demeter
Who rules rich-grained Sicily, and also
Her purple-crowned daughter, and the swift
Olympic-racing horses of Hiero.

For they rushed with overwhelming Victory
And Glory alongside the broad-eddying
Alpheos where they made the blessed son of Deinomenes
A master of the crowns.

And the people shouted out:
“Oh, thrice-blessed man
Who obtained from Zeus
The widest-ruling power of all the Greeks
And knows not to hide his towered health
With black-cloaked shadow.

The temples overflow with sacrificial feasts
And the streets overflow with hospitality.
And god shines too in glancing light
From the tall-wrought tripods which were set up

In front of the temple where the Delphians
Take care of the greatest grove of Apollo
Alongside the waters of Kastalia—let someone
Glory in god, in god—this is the best of the blessings.

For once there was a time when
Even though the Sardians were sacked by the Persian army
Because Zeus had brought to an end
The judgment which was fated,
The leader of the horse-taming
Lydians, Kroisos, golden-sworded

Apollo protected. For Kroisos,
When he had come to that lamentable, unhoped for day
Was not about to wait for slavery any more. But he
Had a pyre built up in front of his bronze-walled yard.

There he climbed up with his dear wife
And his well-tressed daughters who were
Mourning uncontrollably. Then he raised his hands
Up to the high sky above

And he shouted: “Powerful god
Where is divine gratitude now?
Where is Leto’s son the lord?
Alyattes’ halls are falling down.
[what of the] myriad [gifts I gave you?]
[What trust can mortals give to gods?]

[Look now, the enemy has sacked my] city,
And the gold-eddying Paktôlos runs red
With blood and women are shamefully dragged away
From the well-built halls.

What was hated before is now dear. Dying is the sweetest thing.”
So much he said, and he ordered his light-stepping attendant
To Set fire to the wooden home. Then the girls were crying out
And they were throwing their hands to their

Mother. For mortals most hateful death
Is the one we see coming.
But as the shining strength
Of the terrible fire was leaping forth
Zeus sent over a dark-covering cloud
To extinguish the yellow flame.

Nothing is unbelievable when divine care
Makes it. Then Delian-born Apollo
Carried the old man to the Hyperboreans
And settled him there with his thin-ankled daughters

Because of his piety, because he sent to sacred Pytho
Gifts greatest of all the mortals.

᾿Αριστο[κ]άρπου Σικελίας κρέουσαν
Δ[ά]ματρα ἰοστέφανόν τε Κούραν
ὕμνει, γλυκύδωρε Κλεοῖ, θοάς τ’ ᾿Ο-
[λυμ]πιοδρόμους ῾Ιέρωνος ἵππ[ο]υς.

[Σεύον]το γὰρ σὺν ὑπερόχῳ τε Νίκᾳ
[σὺν ᾿Αγ]λαΐᾳ τε παρ’ εὐρυδίναν
[᾿Αλφεόν, τόθι] Δεινομένεος ἔθηκαν
ὄλβιον τ[έκος στεφάνω]ν κυρῆσαι·

θρόησε δὲ λ[αὸς ]
[] ἆ τρισευδαίμ[ων ἀνὴρ]
ὃς παρὰ Ζηνὸς λαχὼν πλείστ-
αρχον ῾Ελλάνων γέρας
οἶδε πυργωθέντα πλοῦτον μὴ μελαμ-
φαρέϊ κρύπτειν σκότῳ.

Βρύει μὲν ἱερὰ βουθύτοις ἑορταῖς,
βρύουσι φιλοξενίας ἀγυιαί·
λάμπει δ’ ὑπὸ μαρμαρυγαῖς ὁ χρυσός,
ὑψιδαιδάλτων τριπόδων σταθέντων

πάροιθε ναοῦ, τόθι μέγι[στ]ον ἄλσος
Φοίβου παρὰ Κασταλίας [ῥ]εέθροις
Δελφοὶ διέπουσι. Θεόν, θ[εό]ν τις
ἀγλαϊζέθὠ γὰρ ἄριστος [ὄ]λβων·

ἐπεί ποτε καὶ δαμασίπ-
[π]ου Λυδίας ἀρχαγέταν,
εὖτε τὰν πεπ[ρωμέναν] Ζη-
νὸς τελέ[σσαντος κρί]σιν
Σάρδιες Περσᾶ[ν ἁλίσκοντο στρ]ατῷ,
Κροῖσον ὁ χρυσά[ορος]

φύλαξ’ ᾿Απόλλων. [῾Ο δ’ ἐς] ἄελπτον ἆμαρ
μ[ο]λὼν πολυδ[άκρυο]ν οὐκ ἔμελλε
μίμνειν ἔτι δ[ουλοσύ]ναν, πυρὰν δὲ
χαλκ[ο]τειχέος π[ροπάροι]θεν αὐ[λᾶς]
ναήσατ’, ἔνθα σὺ[ν ἀλόχῳ] τε κεδ[νᾷ]
σὺν εὐπλοκάμοι[ς τ’] ἐπέβαιν’ ἄλα[στον]
[θ]υ[γ]ατράσι δυρομέναις· χέρας δ’ [ἐς]
[αἰ]πὺν αἰθέρα σ[φ]ετέρας ἀείρας

[γέ]γ[ω]νεν· «῾Υπέρ[βι]ε δαῖ-
μον, [πο]ῦ θεῶν ἐστι[ν] χάρις;
[πο]ῦ δὲ Λατοίδ[ας] ἄναξ; [ἔρ-]
[ρουσ]ιν ᾿Αλυά[τ]τα δόμοι

[] μυρίων
[]ν.
[]ν ἄστυ,
[ἐρεύθεται αἵματι χρυσο]δίνας
Πακτωλός, ἀ[ε]ικελίως γυνα[ῖ]κες
ἐξ ἐϋκτίτων μεγάρων ἄγονται·

τὰ πρόσθεν [ἐχ]θρὰ φίλα· θανεῖν γλύκιστον.»
Τόσ’ εἶπε, καὶ ἁβ[ρο]βάταν κ[έλε]υσεν
ἅπτειν ξύλινον δόμον. ῎Εκ[λα]γον δὲ
παρθένοι, φίλας τ’ ἀνὰ ματρὶ χεῖρας

ἔβαλλον· ὁ γὰρ προφανὴς
θνατοῖσιν ἔχθιστος φόνων·
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ δεινο[ῦ π]υρὸς λαμ-
πρὸν διάϊ[σσεν μέ]νος,
Ζεὺς ἐπιστάσας [μελαγκευ]θὲς νέφος
σβέννυεν ξανθὰ[ν φλόγα.]

῎Απιστον οὐδὲν ὅ τι θ[εῶν μέ]ριμνα
τεύχει· τότε Δαλογενὴ[ς ᾿Από]λλων
φέρων ἐς ῾Υπερβορέο[υς γ]έροντα
σὺν τανισφύροις κατ[έν]ασσε κούραις

δι’ εὐσέβειαν, ὅτι μέ[γιστα] θνατῶν
ἐς ἀγαθέαν <ἀν>έπεμψε Π[υθ]ώ.

Image result for Croesus king of lydia

 

The Most Evil Pain: A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dining and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for human beings: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

Image result for Ancient Persian feast

A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power: Herodotus on the Most Evil Pain

Because this conversation happens after a shared meal, it is thematically appropriate for this month.

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dying and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for men: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

Image result for Ancient Persian feast

Stuff the Suda Says: Medea’s Oil

The Suda is a Byzantine Encyclopedia presenting a great deal of information about Greco-Roman antiquity. Some of the material is invaluable; much of it is strange.But if you want more, a translation is available for free in the amazing Suda Online.

 

Mêdea: Genitals; also, plans.”

Μήδεα: τὸ αἰδοῖον καὶ τὰ βουλεύματα.

 

Mêdeia: Kolkhian, daughter of Aietes, most talented of women at magic potions. She made Jason unharmed when he yoked the fire-breathing bulls to plow the earth. And after he took the golden fleece, he also took Medeia with him. This is why Greeks call naphtha [flammable oil] Mêdea’s oil.

Μήδεια, Κολχίς, ἡ Αἰήτου θυγάτηρ, φαρμακιστάτη γυναικῶν· ἥτις ἀσινῶς ἐποίησε τὸν ᾿Ιάσονα ζεύξαντα τοὺς πυριπνόους ταύρους ἀρόσαι τὴν γῆν. καὶ λαβὼν τὸ χρυσόμαλλον δέρας ἠγάγετο τὴν Μή-δειαν. ὅτι οἱ ῞Ελληνες τὴν νάφθαν καλοῦσι Μηδείας ἔλαιον.

 

Naphtha: this has three forms. Commonly it is called naptha [feminine]. It is also found in the neuter form, though in Plutarch we find the masculine naphthos. The Greeks also call it Mêdeia’s oil, while the Persians call it naphtha.”

Νάφθα: τριγενὲς τοῦτο· κοινῶς μὲν γὰρ ἡ νάφθα, εὕρηται δὲ καὶ οὐδετέρως τὸ νάφθα, παρὰ Πλουτάρχῳ δὲ καὶ ὁ νάφθος. ὅτι οἱ μὲν ῞Ελληνες Μηδείας ἔλαιον ταύτην καλοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Μῆδοι νάφθαν.

 

Medea Dagons