What Happened to Thersites (The Origin of His Deformity)

Thersites, the ugliest man at Troy, may not have always been so.

Schol. T ad Hom. Il. 212a1 ex

“Thersites: the name is made from the Aiolic [version of tharsos] audacity, thersos.
ex. Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι: ὠνοματοποίησε τὸ ὄνομα παρὰ τὸ θέρσος Αἰολικόν

Schol. D ad Hom. Il. 2.212 [= Euphorion fr. 82]

“Because the goddess was enraged at Oineus’ lack of concern for sacrifices to Artemis, she sent a wild boar against the city. A band of the best of Greece when against it when it was ruining the country, as the poet says in the ninth book. Among them was also Thersites who, because he was coward, abandoned his assigned guard post and went instead hunting safety in some high position. He was being reproached and pursued by Meleager and fell from a cliff; [this is how] he became the sort of man Homer describes him as. Euphorion tells this story.”

Οἰνεῖ ἀμελήσαντι τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος θυσιῶν ἕνεκα ἡ θεὸς ὀργισθεῖσα ἔπεμψε τῇ πόλει σῦν ἄγριον. ἐφ᾿ ὃν ἦλθεν στρατεία τῶν ἀρίστων τῆς Ἑλλάδος, ἐπειδὴ ἐλυμαίνετο τῇ χώρᾳ ὥς φησιν αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητὴς ἐν τῇ Ι΄ [533], μεθ᾿ ὧν ἦν καὶ ὁ Θερσίτης, ὃς δειλωθεὶς κατέλειψεν τὴν παραφυλακὴν ἐφ᾿ ἧς ἦν καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἐπί τινα τόπον ὑψηλὸν τὴν σωτηρίαν θηρώμενος. ὀνειδιζόμενος δὲ ὑπὸ Μελεάγρου ἐδιώκετο καὶ κατὰ κρημνοῦ πεσὼν τοιοῦτος ἐγένετο οἷον Ὅμηρος αὐτὸν παρίστησιν. ἱστορεῖ Εὐφορίων.

Schol AbT 212b1-2 ex

“they say that [Thersites] is the poet’s agent, that he appropriates his essence.”

Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι: ἐπίτροπον τοῦ ποιητοῦ φασιν αὐτόν, σφετερισάμενον τὴν οὐσίαν…

Schol. bT ad Hom. Il 212b ex

“… as when Zeus assails Hera with threats in book 1 and Hephaistos appears as a joke; now too, then, the poet took up Thersites to resolve the hatred in the assembly and to insult Agamemnon. For it is right. But he cannot cause [Agamemnon] pain since he [Thersites] is unworthy. Mockeries, then, were not made by Xenophanes [first] but already by Homer among which he makes a mockery of Thersites and Thersites mocks the best men.”

ὡς καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν θεῶν ἐν τῇ Α τὴν ῞Ηραν καταστέλλει Ζεὺς μὲν ἀπειλῶν, ῞Ηφαιστος δὲ γελοῖος φανείς. καὶ νῦν οὖν τὸν Θερσίτην ὁ ποιητὴς παρέλαβε πρὸς τὸ διαλῦσαι
τὸ στυγνὸν τῆς ἐκκλησίας καὶ ὑβρίσαι τὸν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα· δίκαιον γάρ· ἀλλ’ οὐ λυπεῖ ἀνάξιος ὤν. ἤδη δὲ οὐ Ξενοφάνει (cf. Vors.6 21A), ἀλλ’ ῾Ομήρῳ πρώτῳ σίλλοι πεποίηνται, ἐν οἷς αὐτόν τε τὸν Θερσίτην σιλλαίνει καὶ ὁ Θερσίτης τοὺς ἀρίστους. οὐκέτι δὲ μέμνηται αὐτοῦ, ἐπεὶ σεσωφρόνισται τοῦ λοιποῦ „νεικείειν βασιλῆας” (Β 277). Φερεκύδης δὲ καὶ τοῦτον

Schol. bT ad Il. 2.212b ex. 12–19 [= FGrH 3.123]

“Pherecydes says that [Thersites] was one of those who gathered to hunt the Kalydonian boar but that he was avoiding the fight with the boar and was thrown from a cliff by Meleager. This is how his body was deformed. People say he is a child of Agrios and the daughter of Porthaon. But if he is Diomedes’ relative, there is no way Odysseus would beat him. For he would only hit common soldiers. Hence, [the poet] has deployed him not [because of] his father or his country but only because of his manner and form, the things which the current situation needs.”

Φερεκύδης δὲ καὶ τοῦτον ἕνα τῶν ἐπὶ τὸν Καλυδώνιον κάπρον στρατευσάντων φησίν. ἐκκλίνοντα δὲ τὴν τοῦ συὸς μάχην ὑπὸ Μελεάγρου κατακρημνισθῆναι· διὸ καὶ λελωβῆσθαι τὸ σῶμα. ᾿Αγρίου δὲ καὶ Δίας τῆς Πορθάονος αὐτόν φασιν. εἰ δὲ συγγενὴς ἦν Διομήδους, οὐκ ἂν αὐτὸν ἔπληξεν ᾿Οδυσσεύς· τοὺς γὰρ ἰδιώτας μόνον ἔτυπτεν. εὖ δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἀπὸ πατρὸς αὐτὸν συνέστησεν, οὐδ’ ἀπὸ πατρίδος, ἀλλ’ ἀπὸ
τοῦ τρόπου μόνου καὶ τῆς μορφῆς, ὧν χρεία τὰ νῦν. b(BCE3E4)T

 

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“How Does a Stone Mourn”? Achilles, Priam and Niobe

In the final book of the Iliad, Achilles tells Priam a story about the death of the Niobids. The story he tells is a bit strange–but the reaction of ancient scholars may be a bit tone-deaf.

Iliad 24.596-620

“And then shining Achilles went back into his dwelling
And sat on the finely decorated bench from where he had risen
near the facing wall. Then he began his speech [muthon] to Priam:

‘Old man, your son has been ransomed as you were pleading—he
Lies now on the platform. You will see him at dawn yourself
When you lead him away. But now, we should remember our meal.
For fair-tressed Niobê, too, remembered to eat,
Even though her twelve children perished at home.
Six daughters and six sons.
Apollo killed them with his silver bow
Because he was angry at Niobê, and Artemis helped too,
Because their mother had considered herself equal to fair-cheeked Leto.
She claimed that Leto birthed two children while she had many.
And so those mere two ended the lives of many.
They lingered in their gore for nine days and no one went
To bury them—Kronos’ son turned the people into stone.
On the tenth day, the Olympian gods buried them.
And she remembered to eat, after she wore herself out shedding tears.
And now somewhere in the isolated crags on the mountains
Of Sipylus where men say one finds the beds of goddesses,
Of the nymphs who wander along the Akhelôis,
She turns over the god-sent sufferings, even though she remains a stone.
So, come, now, shining old man, let’s the two of us remember
Our meal. You can mourn your dear son again
After you take him to Troy—he will certainly be much-wept.”

῏Η ῥα, καὶ ἐς κλισίην πάλιν ἤϊε δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἕζετο δ’ ἐν κλισμῷ πολυδαιδάλῳ ἔνθεν ἀνέστη
τοίχου τοῦ ἑτέρου, ποτὶ δὲ Πρίαμον φάτο μῦθον·
υἱὸς μὲν δή τοι λέλυται γέρον ὡς ἐκέλευες,
κεῖται δ’ ἐν λεχέεσσ’· ἅμα δ’ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφιν
ὄψεαι αὐτὸς ἄγων· νῦν δὲ μνησώμεθα δόρπου.
καὶ γάρ τ’ ἠΰκομος Νιόβη ἐμνήσατο σίτου,
τῇ περ δώδεκα παῖδες ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ὄλοντο
ἓξ μὲν θυγατέρες, ἓξ δ’ υἱέες ἡβώοντες.
τοὺς μὲν ᾿Απόλλων πέφνεν ἀπ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖο
χωόμενος Νιόβῃ, τὰς δ’ ῎Αρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα,
οὕνεκ’ ἄρα Λητοῖ ἰσάσκετο καλλιπαρῄῳ·
φῆ δοιὼ τεκέειν, ἣ δ’ αὐτὴ γείνατο πολλούς·
τὼ δ’ ἄρα καὶ δοιώ περ ἐόντ’ ἀπὸ πάντας ὄλεσσαν.
οἳ μὲν ἄρ’ ἐννῆμαρ κέατ’ ἐν φόνῳ, οὐδέ τις ἦεν
κατθάψαι, λαοὺς δὲ λίθους ποίησε Κρονίων·
τοὺς δ’ ἄρα τῇ δεκάτῃ θάψαν θεοὶ Οὐρανίωνες.
ἣ δ’ ἄρα σίτου μνήσατ’, ἐπεὶ κάμε δάκρυ χέουσα.
νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν ἐν οὔρεσιν οἰοπόλοισιν
ἐν Σιπύλῳ, ὅθι φασὶ θεάων ἔμμεναι εὐνὰς
νυμφάων, αἵ τ’ ἀμφ’ ᾿Αχελώϊον ἐρρώσαντο,
ἔνθα λίθος περ ἐοῦσα θεῶν ἐκ κήδεα πέσσει.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ καὶ νῶϊ μεδώμεθα δῖε γεραιὲ
σίτου· ἔπειτά κεν αὖτε φίλον παῖδα κλαίοισθα
῎Ιλιον εἰσαγαγών· πολυδάκρυτος δέ τοι ἔσται.

niobid-vase

Some Scholia on this passage:
bT ad Il. 24.601 “now—dinner”: not in the midst of pain, but as a general rule.
The length of the narrative is persuasive. For the comparison of the suffering makes [Priam’s suffering] lighter”
ex. νῦν—δόρπου: οὐκ ἐν τῷ πένθει, ἀλλὰ καθόλου.
b(BCE3E4)T παραμυθητικὸν δὲ τὸ τῆς διηγήσεως μῆκος (sc. Ω 602—17)· ἐπικουφίζεται γὰρ τὰ πάθη πρὸς ἀλλοτρίας συμφορὰς συγκρινόμενα. b(BE3E4)T

bT ad. 24.602a ex

“Some say that this Niobê is the daughter of Pelops; others say she is the daughter of Tantalos. Others claim that she is the wife of Amphion or of Zethus. Still more claim that she is the wife of Alalkomeneus. Among the Lydians she is called Elumê. And this event occurred, as some claimed, in Lydia; or, as some claim, in Thebes. Sophokles writes that the children perished in Thebes and that she returned to Lydia afterwards. And she perished, as some claim, after she swore a false oath about the dog of Pandareus because [….] or later when she had been ambushed by the Spartoi in Kithaira. There were two Niobes, one of Pelops and one of Tantalus. He explains the whole tale because the story is Theban and unknown to Priam.”

ex. | ex. <καὶ γάρ τ’ ἠΰκομος Νιόβη:> τὴν Νιόβην οἱ μὲν Πέλοπος, οἱ δὲ Ταντάλου· γυναῖκα δὲ οἱ μὲν ᾿Αμφίονος, οἱ δὲ Ζήθου, [οἱ δὲ] ᾿Αλαλκομένεω. ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ παρὰ Λυδοῖς ᾿Ελύμην. ἡ δὲ συμφορὰ αὐτῆς, ὡς μέν τινες, ἐν Λυδίᾳ, ὡς δὲ ἔνιοι, ἐν Θήβαις. Σοφοκλῆς (cf. T.G.F. p. 228 N.2; II p. 95 P.) δὲ τοὺς μὲν παῖδας ἐν Θήβαις ἀπολέσθαι, νοστῆσαι <δὲ> αὐτὴν εἰς Λυδίαν. ἀπώλετο [δέ], ὥς τινες, συνεπιορκήσασα Πανδάρ[εῳ] περὶ τοῦ κυνός, ὡς δὲ [..], ἐνεδρευθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῶν Σπαρτῶν ἐν Κιθαιρῶ[νι]. οἱ δὲ δύο Νιόβας, Πέλοπος καὶ Ταντάλου. T | ὡς Θηβαῖον ὄντα τὸν μῦθον καὶ ἀγνοούμενον Πριάμῳ ἐπεξεργάζεται. b(BE3E4)T
bT ad. 605b ex

“He expands the narrative rhetorically, essentially “eat, for Niobê ate. Who was she? She lost twelve children. Because of whom? Apollo and Artemis. Why? Because of arrogance.”

ex. τοὺς μὲν ᾿Απόλλων <πέφνεν>: ῥητορικῶς ἀνέστρεψε τὴν διήγησιν· φάγε· καὶ γὰρ Νιόβη. τίς αὕτη; ἀπολέσασα δώδεκα παῖδας. ὑπὸ τίνος; ὑπὸ ᾿Απόλλωνος καὶ ᾿Αρτέμιδος. διὰ τί; δι’ ὑπερηφανίαν. b(BCE3E4)T

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Siblings Sunday: Like Odysseus, Achilles Had A Sister! (Homer, Hesiod, Pherecydes and More!)

While reading through Merkelbach and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea I have encountered many details that have proved to me the depth of my own ignorance and illustrated an unwavering ability to be surprised and things I must have seen at some point in the last twenty years. Today’s particular disturbance comes from fragment 213 which tells us that Achilles, like Odysseus, has a sister (fragment included within the scholia below).

At first, I thought that this was some sort of Lykophrontic fantasy. But, alas, upon looking into the details she is actually mentioned in the Iliad!

Iliad, 16.173-178

“Menestheus of the dancing-breastplate led one contingent,
son of the swift-flowing river Sperkheios
whom the daughter of Peleus, beautiful Poludôrê bore
when she shared the bed with the indomitable river-god, Sperkheios
although by reputation he was the son of Boros, the son of Periêrês
who wooed her openly by offering countless gifts.”

τῆς μὲν ἰῆς στιχὸς ἦρχε Μενέσθιος αἰολοθώρηξ
υἱὸς Σπερχειοῖο διιπετέος ποταμοῖο·
ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ καλὴ Πολυδώρη
Σπερχειῷ ἀκάμαντι γυνὴ θεῷ εὐνηθεῖσα,
αὐτὰρ ἐπίκλησιν Βώρῳ Περιήρεος υἷι,
ὅς ῥ’ ἀναφανδὸν ὄπυιε πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.

The confusion, shock and horror of this detail—which I presume the vast majority of Homer’s audiences have overlooked or forgotten as with the sad fate of Odysseus’ sister—can be felt as well in the various reactions of the Scholia where we encounter (a) denial—it was a different Peleus!; (b) sophomoric prevarication—why doesn’t Achilles talk about her, hmmm?; (c) conditional acceptance through anachronistic assumptions—she’s suppressed because it is shameful that she is a bastard; (d) and, finally, citation of hoary authorities to insist upon a ‘truth’ unambiguous in the poem.

I have translated the major scholia below. Note that we can see where the ‘fragments’ of several authors come from here (hint: they’re just talked about by the scholiasts). We can also learn a bit about the pluralistic and contradictory voices to be found in the Homeric scholia. The bastard child bit is my favorite part.

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How Did Odysseus Marry Penelope? Pherecydes vs. Apollodorus

A fragment of the mythographer Pherecydes provides an interesting account for how Odysseus came to be married to Penelope (hint: it wasn’t his choice):

Pherecydes, fr. 90 (= Fowler 129)
“Ikarios, the son of Oibalos, married Dôrodokhês, the daughter of Ortilokhos or, according to Pherecydes, Asterôdia, the daughter of Eurypylos, the son of Telestôr. When Laertes heard about Penelope—that she differed from all women in both her beauty and her intelligence, he arranged for her to marry his son Odysseus. She possessed so much virtue that she surpassed even Helen who was born from Zeus in some degree. This is the account of Philostephanos and Pherecydes.”
Schol. Homer. Odyss. Ο, 16: ᾿Ικάριος ὁ Οἰβάλου γαμεῖ Δωροδόχην τὴν ᾿Ορτιλόχου, ἢ κατὰ Φερεκύδην, ᾿Αστερωδίαν τὴν Εὐρυπύλου τοῦ Τελέστορος. Πυθόμενος δὲ Λαέρτης περὶ τῆς Πηνελόπης ὅτι καὶ τῷ κάλλει καὶ ταῖς φρεσὶ διαφέρει πασῶν τῶν καθ’ ἑαυτὴν γυναικῶν, ἄγεται αὐτὴν τῷ παιδὶ ᾿Οδυσσέϊ πρὸς γάμον· ἣ τοσαύτην εἶχεν ἀρετὴν, ὥστε καὶ τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν ἐκ Διὸς οὖσαν τῷ τῆς ἀρετῆς ὑπερβάλλειν. ῾Η δὲ ἱστορία παρὰ Φιλοστεφάνῳ καὶ Φερεκύδῃ.

This story, of course, runs against a more famous version that isn’t exactly compatible (although one could imagine finding some way to match the two tales):

Apollodorus, 3.132

“When Tyndareus saw the mass of suitors, he feared that once one was selected the rest would start fighting. But then Odysseus promised that if he aided him in marrying Penelope, he would propose a way through which there would be no fight—and Tyndareus promised to help him. Odysseus said that he should have the suitors swear an oath to come to the aid if the man who was selected as bridegroom were done wrong by any other man regarding his marriage. After he heard that, Tyndareus had the suitors swear an oath and he himself chose Menelaos as the bride groom and he suited Penelope from Ikarios’ on Odysseus’ behalf.”

τούτων ὁρῶν τὸ πλῆθος Τυνδάρεως ἐδεδοίκει μὴ κριθέντος ἑνὸς στασιάσωσιν οἱ λοιποί. ὑποσχομένου δὲ ᾿Οδυσσέως, ἐὰν συλλάβηται πρὸς τὸν Πηνελόπης αὐτῷ γάμον, ὑποθήσεσθαι τρόπον τινὰ δι’ οὗ μηδεμία γενήσεται στάσις, ὡς ὑπέσχετο αὐτῷ συλλήψεσθαι ὁ Τυνδάρεως, πάντας εἶπεν ἐξορκίσαι τοὺς μνηστῆρας βοηθήσειν, ἐὰν ὁ προκριθεὶς νυμφίος ὑπὸ ἄλλου τινὸς ἀδικῆται περὶ τὸν γάμον. ἀκούσας δὲ τοῦτο Τυνδάρεως τοὺς μνηστῆρας ἐξορκίζει, καὶ Μενέλαον μὲν αὐτὸς αἱρεῖται νυμφίον, ᾿Οδυσσεῖ δὲ παρὰ ᾿Ικαρίου μνηστεύεται Πηνελόπην.

Mythography Madness: Oedipus Had Three Wives (!) and the Heroic Life of Erginos

The following fragment of Pherecydes, the fifth century mythographer, is from a Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenissae 53. Fowler (Early Greek Mythography, 2001) prints this as Pherecydes fr. 95):

“Pherecydes says these things about the children and the marriages of Oedipus: “Kreon,” he says, “gave the kingdom and Laios’ wife, his own mother Iokasta to Oedipus, and from here were born Phrastôr and Laonutos, who died thanks to the Minyans and Erginos. Then a year had passed, Oedipus married Euryganeia, the daughter of Periphas, and from her were born Antigone and Ismene, the girl Tydeus took at the stream and for that reason the stream is called Ismene. The sons Eteokles and Polyneices were also born to Oedipus from here. When Euryganeia died, Oedipus married Astymedea, the daughter of Stenelos. And some people add that Euryganeia was the sister of Oedipus’ mother Iokaste.”

γαμεῖ δὲ τὴν τεκοῦσαν: Φερεκύδης τὰ κατὰ τοὺς Οἰδίποδος παῖδας καὶ τὰς γημαμένας οὕτως ἱστορεῖ· ‘Οἰδίποδι, φησὶ, Κρέων δίδωσι τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα Λαΐου, μητέρα δ’ αὐτοῦ ᾿Ιοκάστην, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ Φράστωρ καὶ Λαόνυτος, οἳ θνῄσκουσιν ὑπὸ Μινυῶν καὶ ᾿Εργίνου. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐνιαυτὸς παρῆλθε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους Εὐρυγάνειαν τὴν Περίφαντος, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ ᾿Αντιγόνη καὶ ᾿Ισμήνη, ἣν ἀναιρεῖ Τυδεὺς ἐπὶ κρήνης καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ἡ κρήνη ᾿Ισμήνη καλεῖται. υἱοὶ δὲ αὐτῷ ἐξ αὐτῆς ᾿Ετεοκλῆς καὶ Πολυνείκης. ἐπεὶ δὲ Εὐρυγάνεια ἐτελεύτησε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους ᾿Αστυμέδουσαν τὴν Σθενέλου.’ τινὲς δὲ Εὐρυγάνειαν ἀδελφὴν λέγουσιν εἶναι ᾿Ιοκάστης τῆς μητρὸς Οἰδίποδος: —

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