The Proverbial Wisdom of Envy and Pity

Pindar, Pyth. 1.85

“Envy is stronger than pity

κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος

This line is something I bounce around twitter every few months or so. As with many of our tweets, it is divorced from its context and takes on a new meaning in our own time (one, I think, which is less than positive since people are motivated more by an acquisitive, begrudging impulse than one of empathy).

A twitter correspondent (@History_Twerp) noted that this line was echoed in Herodotus.

Herodotus 3.52

Periander speaks to his son and says “since you have learned how much being envied is better than being pitied, and also what it is like to be angry at your parents and your betters, come home…”

Σὺ δὲ μαθὼν ὅσῳ φθονέεσθαι κρέσσον ἐστὶ ἢ οἰκτίρεσθαι, ἅμα τε ὁκοῖόν τι ἐς τοὺς τοκέας καὶ ἐς τοὺς κρέσσονας τεθυμῶσθαι, ἄπιθι ἐς τὰ οἰκία.» Περίανδρος

The notes on Perseus for Pindar’s Pythian 1 refer to the passage from Herodotus as “proverbial” without any additional evidence. The passages do seem proverbial since they use the same basic lexical items to express the same basic idea. Nevertheless, there is not additional evidence for a proverb. Instead, I think we probably have evidence of a general cultural value immanent among aristocratic classes during the early Classical period.

Here’s a fuller context for Pindar, Pyth. 1.84-86

“Satiety reshapes
Fast and easy expectations—
And the citizens’ secret witness grows especially burdened over foreign wealth.
But still, since envy is stronger than pity,
Do not overlook noble things, but guide the people
With a just rudder. Make your tongue
Bronze on an truthful anvil.”

….ἀπὸ γὰρ κόρος ἀμβλύνει
αἰανὴς ταχείας ἐλπίδας:
ἀστῶν δ᾽ ἀκοὰ κρύφιον θυμὸν βαρύνει μάλιστ᾽ ἐσλοῖσιν ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοτρίοις.
ἀλλ’ ὅμως, κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος,
μὴ παρίει καλά. νώμα δικαίῳ
πηδαλίῳ στρατόν· ἀψευ-
δεῖ δὲ πρὸς ἄκμονι χάλκευε γλῶσσαν.

In the context of the Pythian ode, the brevity of the statement along with the epexegetical γὰρ gives the impression of a proverb drawn from elsewhere. But it is my sense, from reading through a lot of Pindar and Bacchylides, that the epinician genre is in the business of sounding proverbial  (it lends itself towards gnomic utterances because of the lyric brevity of expression, lack of epic-style repetition, and limited syntax). The trick of epinician poetry is to sound old and authoritative without actually being so.

The positive valence attributed to envy over pity is present as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where two types of Strife are distinguished in order to mark one type of human conflict as good and one type as bad.

Hesiod, Works and Days, 26-7

“And a potter is angry with a potter, and a carpenter with a carpenter;
Even a beggar will envy a beggar and a singer a singer.”

καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

So the general attitude projected by Herodotus’ Periander and Pindar is harmonious with the Archaic Greek notion that ‘envy’ produces a type of rivalry that has positive effects. It is better than pity because pity is something which people in a stronger position have over those in a weaker position (and who wants to be in the weaker position?). For Pindar, envy is better because it imbues Hiero’s people with a spirit of rivalry; for Periander, who uses the statement in an attempt to get his son to come home, it is an attempt to convince him to give up the ways of a mendicant and return the palace. Interestingly, according to Herodotus, Periander fails.

The relationship between pity and envy appears in Diogenes as well.

Diogenes Laertius, Life of Zeno of Citium 7.111

“[they claim] that grief is an irrational reaction. Its variations include: pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, annoyance, bitterness, anger, and distraction. Pity is pain for someone who suffers evil unworthily; envy is grief over someone else’s good fortunes; jealousy is pain over what another possesses when you want it yourself; and rivalry is pain over what another has and which you possess too…”

Καὶ τὴν μὲν λύπην εἶναι συστολὴν ἄλογον· εἴδη δ’ αὐτῆς ἔλεον, φθόνον, ζῆλον, ζηλοτυπίαν, ἄχθος, ἐνόχλησιν, ἀνίαν, ὀδύνην, σύγχυσιν. ἔλεον μὲν οὖν εἶναι λύπην ὡς ἐπ’ ἀναξίως κακοπαθοῦντι, φθόνον δὲ λύπην ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς, ζῆλον δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ὧν αὐτὸς ἐπιθυμεῖ, ζηλοτυπίαν δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ καὶ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ἃ καὶ αὐτὸς ἔχει, ἄχθος δὲ λύπην

At first sight, there is little value judgment in this summary. But pity and envy are collocated as emotional or unreasoning impulses distinguished by their frames of reference but united by the fact that both are a type of pain. The comparison between pity and envy, does not seem otherwise common in Greek literature. (But this conclusion is extremely tentative. Please let me know of any other passages.)

A fragment of Plutarch (quoted in Stobaeus) established what turns out to be somewhat proverbial, that envious people risk two sources of pain.

Πλουτάρχου ἐκ τοῦ διαβάλλειν (Plut. fr. 155a = Hippias fr. 16).

Hippias says that there are two types of envy. One is just, whenever someone envies evil men who have been honored. The other is unjust, whenever someone envies good people who are honored. Men who envy suffer twice as much as others; for they are troubled not only by their own evils, but by others’ good fortunes.”

῾Ιππίας λέγει δύο εἶναι φθόνους· τὸν μὲν δίκαιον, ὅταν τις τοῖς κακοῖς φθονῇ τιμωμένοις· τὸν δὲ ἄδικον, ὅταν τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς. καὶ διπλᾶ τῶν ἄλλων οἱ φθονεροὶ κακοῦνται· οὐ γὰρ μόνον τοῖς ἰδίοις κακοῖς ἄχθονται, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς.

This sentiment is rather similar to one attributed to Anacharsis the Skythian by the Gnomologium Vaticanum:

“When asked by someone why envious men are always in pain, he said “because not only do their own evils bite them, but the good fortunes of those near them cause them grief too…”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί οἱ φθονεροὶ ἄνθρωποι ἀεὶ λυποῦνται, ἔφη· „ὅτι οὐ μόνον τὰ ἑαυτῶν αὐτοὺς κακὰ δάκνει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν πέλας ἀγαθὰ λυπεῖ”.

Plato in the Timaeus detracts from envy a little too (29e) when discussing the attributes of a creating deity.

“He was good. And no envy ever develops in a good man about anything.

᾿Αγαθὸς ἦν· ἀγαθῷ δὲ οὐδεὶς περὶ οὐδενὸς οὐδέποτε ἐγγίνεται φθόνος.

Later paroemiographers do record some proverbs on envy, with an interesting variation.

Arsenius, Cent. 6.1a1

“Democritus says that envy is a wound from the truth”

Δημόκριτος τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ἀληθείας.

Stobaeus 3.38

“Socrates says that envy is a wound from the soul”

Σωκράτης τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς.

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 48 The Seven Vices - Envy - WGA09275.jpg
A 14th Century Fresco from Padua illustrating the deadly sin of Eny

Aiakos Built A Wall…And the Gods Paid for It

According to some authors Aiakos, who ends up as a judge of the dead in the underworld, was the son of Zeus and Europa. According to others (Pindar, Corinna) he was son of Zeus and Aegina (Or Poseidon and Aegina). When Poseidon and Apollo went to build the walls of Troy, they took Aiakos along to help them. A scholiast reports that it had to happen this way: since a mortal helped build the walls, they were not wholly invincible.

Pindar’s account of this emphasizes an omen that appeared at the completion of the walls. In his telling, Apollo interprets the omen as indicating that the descendants of Aiakos will be instrumental in the destruction of the city. Who are his descendants? Ajax, Achilles. Oh, Neoptolemos and Epeius the builder of the Trojan horse too!
(go here for the full Ode and a good commentary).

Pindar, Ol. 8.24-54

“For whatever weighs a great deal is hard
To judge with a fair mind at the right time.
But some law of the gods established this sea-protected land [Aegina]
As a sacred pillar
For every kind of stranger.
May rising time never tire
Of making this true
for this land tended by the Dorian people since Aiakos’ time.
It was Aiakos that Leto’s son and wide-ruling Apollo took
When they were going to build a wall around Troy. They summoned him
As a coworker for the wall. For it was fated that
When wars arose in the city-sacking battles,
That the wall would breathe out twisting smoke.
When the wall was just built, three dark serpents
Leapt up at it: two fell against it
and, stunned, lost their lives.
One rose up with cries of mourning.
Apollo interpreted this sign immediately and said:
“Pergamos will be sacked, hero, by your hands’ deeds:
So this sacred vision says to me
Sent by loud-thundering Zeus.
And it won’t be done without your sons: the city will be slaughtered by the first
And the third generations.*” So the god spoke clearly
And he rode Xanthus to the well-horsed Amazons and to the Danube.
The trident-bearer directed his swift-chariot.
To the sea by the Isthmus
Bearing Aiakos here
With golden horses,
Gazing upon the ridge of Corinth, famous for its feasts.
But nothing is equally pleasing among men.”

… ὅ τι γὰρ πολὺ καὶ πολλᾷ ῥέπῃ,
ὀρθᾷ διακρίνειν φρενὶ μὴ παρὰ καιρόν,
δυσπαλές: τεθμὸς δέ τις ἀθανάτων καὶ τάνδ᾽ ἁλιερκέα χώραν
παντοδαποῖσιν ὑπέστασε ξένοις
κίονα δαιμονίαν
ὁ δ᾽ ἐπαντέλλων χρόνος
τοῦτο πράσσων μὴ κάμοι
Δωριεῖ λαῷ ταμιευομέναν ἐξ Αἰακοῦ:
τὸν παῖς ὁ Λατοῦς εὐρυμέδων τε Ποσειδᾶν,
Ἰλίῳ μέλλοντες ἐπὶ στέφανον τεῦξαι, καλέσαντο συνεργὸν
τείχεος, ἦν ὅτι νιν πεπρωμένον
ὀρνυμένων πολέμων
πτολιπόρθοις ἐν μάχαις
λάβρον ἀμπνεῦσαι καπνόν.
γλαυκοὶ δὲ δράκοντες, ἐπεὶ κτίσθη νέον,
πύργον ἐσαλλόμενοι τρεῖς, οἱ δύο μὲν κάπετον,
αὖθι δ᾽ ἀτυζομένω ψυχὰς βάλον:
εἷς δ᾽ ἀνόρουσε βοάσαις.
ἔννεπε δ᾽ ἀντίον ὁρμαίνων τέρας εὐθὺς, Ἀπόλλων:
‘ Πέργαμος ἀμφὶ τεαῖς, ἥρως, χερὸς ἐργασίαι ἁλίσκεται:
ὣς ἐμοὶ φάσμα λέγει Κρονίδα
πεμφθὲν βαρυγδούπου Διός:
οὐκ ἄτερ παίδων σέθεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα πρώτοις ῥάζεται
καὶ τερτάτοις.’ ὣς ἆρα θεὸς σάφα εἴπαις
Ξάνθον ἤπειγεν καὶ Ἀμαζόνας εὐίππους καὶ ἐς Ἴστρον ἐλαύνων.
Ὀρσοτρίαινα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Ἰσθμῷ ποντίᾳ
ἅρμα θοὸν τανύεν,
ἀποπέμπων Αἰακὸν
δεῦρ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἵπποις χρυσέαις,
καὶ Κορίνθου δειράδ᾽ ἐποψόμενος δαιτικλυτάν.
τερπνὸν δ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἴσον ἔσσεται οὐδέν.

*First and Third generation: Aiakos had two sons (Telemon and Peleus) with Endeis and one with another woman (Phocus). Telemon and Peleus killed their half-brother; but the three sons fathered Ajax, Achilles and Panopeus (Phocus). The latter two grandsons fathered Neoptolemus and Epeios. Achilles’ son Neoptolemus helped take Troy; Epeios built the wooden horse.

Zeus – Aegina
|
Endeis – Aiakos – Psamathe
|                 |
Telamon Peleus                  Phocus
|                |                               |
Ajax       Achilles                  Panopeus
|                                  |
Neoptolemus                 Epeios

Image result for Medieval Manuscript walls of troy

The Proverbial Wisdom of Envy and Pity

Pindar, Pyth. 1.85

“Envy is stronger than pity

κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος

This line is something I bounce around twitter every few months or so. As with many of our tweets, it is divorced from its context and takes on a new meaning in our own time (one, I think, which is less than positive since people are motivated more by an acquisitive, begrudging impulse than one of empathy).

A twitter correspondent (@History_Twerp) noted that this line was echoed in Herodotus.

Herodotus 3.52

Periander speaks to his son and says “since you have learned how much being envied is better than being pitied, and also what it is like to be angry at your parents and your betters, come home…”

Σὺ δὲ μαθὼν ὅσῳ φθονέεσθαι κρέσσον ἐστὶ ἢ οἰκτίρεσθαι, ἅμα τε ὁκοῖόν τι ἐς τοὺς τοκέας καὶ ἐς τοὺς κρέσσονας τεθυμῶσθαι, ἄπιθι ἐς τὰ οἰκία.» Περίανδρος

The notes on Perseus for Pindar’s Pythian 1 refer to the passage from Herodotus as “proverbial” without any additional evidence. The passages do seem proverbial since they use the same basic lexical items to express the same basic idea. Nevertheless, there is not additional evidence for a proverb. Instead, I think we probably have evidence of a general cultural value immanent among aristocratic classes during the early Classical period.

Here’s a fuller context for Pindar, Pyth. 1.84-86

“Satiety reshapes
Fast and easy expectations—
And the citizens’ secret witness grows especially burdened over foreign wealth.
But still, since envy is stronger than pity,
Do not overlook noble things, but guide the people
With a just rudder. Make your tongue
Bronze on an truthful anvil.”

….ἀπὸ γὰρ κόρος ἀμβλύνει
αἰανὴς ταχείας ἐλπίδας:
ἀστῶν δ᾽ ἀκοὰ κρύφιον θυμὸν βαρύνει μάλιστ᾽ ἐσλοῖσιν ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοτρίοις.
ἀλλ’ ὅμως, κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος,
μὴ παρίει καλά. νώμα δικαίῳ
πηδαλίῳ στρατόν· ἀψευ-
δεῖ δὲ πρὸς ἄκμονι χάλκευε γλῶσσαν.

In the context of the Pythian ode, the brevity of the statement along with the epexegetical γὰρ gives the impression of a proverb drawn from elsewhere. But it is my sense, from reading through a lot of Pindar and Bacchylides, that the epinician genre is in the business of sounding proverbial  (it lends itself towards gnomic utterances because of the lyric brevity of expression, lack of epic-style repetition, and limited syntax). The trick of epinician poetry is to sound old and authoritative without actually being so.

The positive valence attributed to envy over pity is present as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where two types of Strife are distinguished in order to mark one type of human conflict as good and one type as bad.

Hesiod, Works and Days, 26-7

“And a potter is angry with a potter, and a carpenter with a carpenter;
Even a beggar will envy a beggar and a singer a singer.”

καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

So the general attitude projected by Herodotus’ Periander and Pindar is harmonious with the Archaic Greek notion that ‘envy’ produces a type of rivalry that has positive effects. It is better than pity because pity is something which people in a stronger position have over those in a weaker position (and who wants to be in the weaker position?). For Pindar, envy is better because it imbues Hiero’s people with a spirit of rivalry; for Periander, who uses the statement in an attempt to get his son to come home, it is an attempt to convince him to give up the ways of a mendicant and return the palace. Interestingly, according to Herodotus, Periander fails.

The relationship between pity and envy appears in Diogenes as well.

Diogenes Laertius, Life of Zeno of Citium 7.111

“[they claim] that grief is an irrational reaction. Its variations include: pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, annoyance, bitterness, anger, and distraction. Pity is pain for someone who suffers evil unworthily; envy is grief over someone else’s good fortunes; jealousy is pain over what another possesses when you want it yourself; and rivalry is pain over what another has and which you possess too…”

Καὶ τὴν μὲν λύπην εἶναι συστολὴν ἄλογον· εἴδη δ’ αὐτῆς ἔλεον, φθόνον, ζῆλον, ζηλοτυπίαν, ἄχθος, ἐνόχλησιν, ἀνίαν, ὀδύνην, σύγχυσιν. ἔλεον μὲν οὖν εἶναι λύπην ὡς ἐπ’ ἀναξίως κακοπαθοῦντι, φθόνον δὲ λύπην ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς, ζῆλον δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ὧν αὐτὸς ἐπιθυμεῖ, ζηλοτυπίαν δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ καὶ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ἃ καὶ αὐτὸς ἔχει, ἄχθος δὲ λύπην

At first sight, there is little value judgment in this summary. But pity and envy are collocated as emotional or unreasoning impulses distinguished by their frames of reference but united by the fact that both are a type of pain. The comparison between pity and envy, does not seem otherwise common in Greek literature. (But this conclusion is extremely tentative. Please let me know of any other passages.)

A fragment of Plutarch (quoted in Stobaeus) established what turns out to be somewhat proverbial, that envious people risk two sources of pain.

Πλουτάρχου ἐκ τοῦ διαβάλλειν (Plut. fr. 155a = Hippias fr. 16).

Hippias says that there are two types of envy. One is just, whenever someone envies evil men who have been honored. The other is unjust, whenever someone envies good people who are honored. Men who envy suffer twice as much as others; for they are troubled not only by their own evils, but by others’ good fortunes.”

῾Ιππίας λέγει δύο εἶναι φθόνους· τὸν μὲν δίκαιον, ὅταν τις τοῖς κακοῖς φθονῇ τιμωμένοις· τὸν δὲ ἄδικον, ὅταν τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς. καὶ διπλᾶ τῶν ἄλλων οἱ φθονεροὶ κακοῦνται· οὐ γὰρ μόνον τοῖς ἰδίοις κακοῖς ἄχθονται, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς.

This sentiment is rather similar to one attributed to Anacharsis the Skythian by the Gnomologium Vaticanum:

“When asked by someone why envious men are always in pain, he said “because not only do their own evils bite them, but the good fortunes of those near them cause them grief too…”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί οἱ φθονεροὶ ἄνθρωποι ἀεὶ λυποῦνται, ἔφη· „ὅτι οὐ μόνον τὰ ἑαυτῶν αὐτοὺς κακὰ δάκνει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν πέλας ἀγαθὰ λυπεῖ”.

Plato in the Timaeus detracts from envy a little too (29e) when discussing the attributes of a creating deity.

“He was good. And no envy ever develops in a good man about anything.

᾿Αγαθὸς ἦν· ἀγαθῷ δὲ οὐδεὶς περὶ οὐδενὸς οὐδέποτε ἐγγίνεται φθόνος.

Later paroemiographers do record some proverbs on envy, with an interesting variation.

Arsenius, Cent. 6.1a1

“Democritus says that envy is a wound from the truth”

Δημόκριτος τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ἀληθείας.

Stobaeus 3.38

“Socrates says that envy is a wound from the soul”

Σωκράτης τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς.

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 48 The Seven Vices - Envy - WGA09275.jpg
A 14th Century Fresco from Padua illustrating the deadly sin of Eny

Some Greek Passages on Work for May 1st

Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.15-16

“Critoboulos, Some say that whenever the great king gives gifts, he calls in first those who proved their excellence at war because there is no advantage to plowing many fields unless they defend them. After them, he rewards those who prepare and work the land best, because brave men cannot survive unless someone works the land.”

Φασὶ δέ τινες, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὦ Κριτόβουλε, καὶ ὅταν δῶρα διδῷ ὁ βασιλεύς, πρῶτον μὲν εἰσκαλεῖν τοὺς πολέμῳ ἀγαθοὺς γεγονότας, ὅτι οὐδὲν ὄφελος πολλὰ ἀροῦν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἀρήξοντες· δεύτερον δὲ τοὺς κατασκευάζοντας τὰς χώρας ἄριστα καὶ ἐνεργοὺς ποιοῦντας λέγοντα, ὅτι οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἱ ἄλκιμοι δύναιντο ζῆν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι. λέγεται δὲ καὶ Κῦρός ποτε, ὅσπερ εὐδοκιμώτατος δὴ βασιλεὺς γεγένηται, εἰπεῖν τοῖς ἐπὶ τὰ δῶρα κεκλημένοις, ὅτι αὐτὸς ἂν δικαίως τὰ ἀμφοτέρων δῶρα λαμβάνοι· κατασκευάζειν τε γὰρ ἄριστος εἶναι ἔφη χώραν καὶ ἀρήγειν τοῖς κατεσκευασμένοις.

Plutarch, fr. 43

“Let no one find fault with this line because wealth is made to be much praised ahead of virtue. Know that wealth here is the product workers get from their labors—it is a just portion gathered from their personal toil.”

Μηδεὶς λοιδορείτω τὸν στίχον εἰς τὸν πολυάρατον πλοῦτον ὁρῶν τὸν πόρρω τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐσκηνημένον, ἀλλὰ πλοῦτον οἰέσθω νῦν λέγεσθαι τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων πορισθεῖσαν ἀφθονίαν τοῖς ἐργαζομένοις δικαίαν οὖσαν καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν οἰκείων πόνων ἠθροισμένην.

Plutarch, Perikles 1.4 5-6

“Often and quite contrarily, we look down on a laborer while delighting in his work”

πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τοὐναντίον χαίροντες τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ δημιουργοῦ καταφρονοῦμεν

Hesiod, Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι·

 

Pindar, Isthmian 1. 47

“People find different payment sweet for different work.”

μισθὸς γὰρ ἄλλοις ἄλλος ἐπ’ ἔργμασιν ἀνθρώποις
γλυκύς

 

Hesiod, Works and Days, 303

“Gods and men alike dislike a lazy man.”

τῷ δὲ θεοὶ νεμεσῶσι καὶ ἀνέρες ὅς κεν ἀεργὸς.

Image result for Ancient Greek sisyphus vase

When an aristocrat co-opts the language of the proletariat…

Odyssey 15.321-324

“No mortal could rival me in work:
No one could best me at building a fire or dry wood,
At serving at the table, cooking meat or serving wine–
All those tasks lesser men complete for their betters.”

δρηστοσύνῃ οὐκ ἄν μοι ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος,
πῦρ τ’ εὖ νηῆσαι διά τε ξύλα δανὰ κεάσσαι,
δαιτρεῦσαί τε καὶ ὀπτῆσαι καὶ οἰνοχοῆσαι,
οἷά τε τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι παραδρώωσι χέρηες.”

Odyssey, 18.366-383

“Eurymachus: I wish the two of us could have a labor-contest
In the height of spring when the days are drawing longer,
In the thickening grass. I would grip the curved scythe
And you could hold the same thing, so we could test each other
At work, fasting right up to dusk where the grass was thick.
And then the next day we could drive the oxen, the strongest ones,
Bright and large, both stuffed full with their food,
A pair of the same age, equally burdened, their strength unwavering.
I’d wish for a four-acre parcel to put under the plow.
Then you’d see me, how I would cut a furrow straight from end to end.
Or if, instead, Kronos’ son would send me a war today,
And I would have a shield and two spears
Matched with a bronze helmet well-fit to my temples.
Then you’d see me mixing it up in the front lines
And you wouldn’t bawl about, belittling my hungry stomach.”

“Εὐρύμαχ’, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ’ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη·
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ βόες εἶεν ἐλαυνέμεν, οἵ περ ἄριστοι,
αἴθωνες μεγάλοι, ἄμφω κεκορηότε ποίης,
ἥλικες ἰσοφόροι, τῶν τε σθένος οὐκ ἀλαπαδνόν,
τετράγυον δ’ εἴη, εἴκοι δ’ ὑπὸ βῶλος ἀρότρῳ·
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις, εἰ ὦλκα διηνεκέα προταμοίμην.
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ πόλεμόν ποθεν ὁρμήσειε Κρονίων
σήμερον, αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ σάκος εἴη καὶ δύο δοῦρε
καὶ κυνέη πάγχαλκος ἐπὶ κροτάφοισ’ ἀραρυῖα,
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις πρώτοισιν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι μιγέντα,
οὐδ’ ἄν μοι τὴν γαστέρ’ ὀνειδίζων ἀγορεύοις.

Aiakos Built A Wall…And the Gods Paid for It

According to some authors Aiakos, who ends up as a judge of the dead in the underworld, was the son of Zeus and Europa. According to others (Pindar, Corinna) he was son of Zeus and Aegina (Or Poseidon and Aegina). When Poseidon and Apollo went to build the walls of Troy, they took Aiakos along to help them. A scholiast reports that it had to happen this way: since a mortal helped build the walls, they were not wholly invincible.

Pindar’s account of this emphasizes an omen that appeared at the completion of the walls. In his telling, Apollo interprets the omen as indicating that the descendants of Aiakos will be instrumental in the destruction of the city. Who are his descendants? Ajax, Achilles. Oh, Neoptolemos and Epeius the builder of the Trojan horse too!
(go here for the full Ode and a good commentary).

Pindar, Ol. 8.24-54

“For whatever weighs a great deal is hard
To judge with a fair mind at the right time.
But some law of the gods established this sea-protected land [Aegina]
As a sacred pillar
For every kind of stranger.
May rising time never tire
Of making this true
for this land tended by the Dorian people since Aiakos’ time.
It was Aiakos that Leto’s son and wide-ruling Apollo took
When they were going to build a wall around Troy. They summoned him
As a coworker for the wall. For it was fated that
When wars arose in the city-sacking battles,
That the wall would breathe out twisting smoke.
When the wall was just built, three dark serpents
Leapt up at it: two fell against it
and, stunned, lost their lives.
One rose up with cries of mourning.
Apollo interpreted this sign immediately and said:
“Pergamos will be sacked, hero, by your hands’ deeds:
So this sacred vision says to me
Sent by loud-thundering Zeus.
And it won’t be done without your sons: the city will be slaughtered by the first
And the third generations.*” So the god spoke clearly
And he rode Xanthus to the well-horsed Amazons and to the Danube.
The trident-bearer directed his swift-chariot.
To the sea by the Isthmus
Bearing Aiakos here
With golden horses,
Gazing upon the ridge of Corinth, famous for its feasts.
But nothing is equally pleasing among men.”

… ὅ τι γὰρ πολὺ καὶ πολλᾷ ῥέπῃ,
ὀρθᾷ διακρίνειν φρενὶ μὴ παρὰ καιρόν,
δυσπαλές: τεθμὸς δέ τις ἀθανάτων καὶ τάνδ᾽ ἁλιερκέα χώραν
παντοδαποῖσιν ὑπέστασε ξένοις
κίονα δαιμονίαν
ὁ δ᾽ ἐπαντέλλων χρόνος
τοῦτο πράσσων μὴ κάμοι
Δωριεῖ λαῷ ταμιευομέναν ἐξ Αἰακοῦ:
τὸν παῖς ὁ Λατοῦς εὐρυμέδων τε Ποσειδᾶν,
Ἰλίῳ μέλλοντες ἐπὶ στέφανον τεῦξαι, καλέσαντο συνεργὸν
τείχεος, ἦν ὅτι νιν πεπρωμένον
ὀρνυμένων πολέμων
πτολιπόρθοις ἐν μάχαις
λάβρον ἀμπνεῦσαι καπνόν.
γλαυκοὶ δὲ δράκοντες, ἐπεὶ κτίσθη νέον,
πύργον ἐσαλλόμενοι τρεῖς, οἱ δύο μὲν κάπετον,
αὖθι δ᾽ ἀτυζομένω ψυχὰς βάλον:
εἷς δ᾽ ἀνόρουσε βοάσαις.
ἔννεπε δ᾽ ἀντίον ὁρμαίνων τέρας εὐθὺς, Ἀπόλλων:
‘ Πέργαμος ἀμφὶ τεαῖς, ἥρως, χερὸς ἐργασίαι ἁλίσκεται:
ὣς ἐμοὶ φάσμα λέγει Κρονίδα
πεμφθὲν βαρυγδούπου Διός:
οὐκ ἄτερ παίδων σέθεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα πρώτοις ῥάζεται
καὶ τερτάτοις.’ ὣς ἆρα θεὸς σάφα εἴπαις
Ξάνθον ἤπειγεν καὶ Ἀμαζόνας εὐίππους καὶ ἐς Ἴστρον ἐλαύνων.
Ὀρσοτρίαινα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Ἰσθμῷ ποντίᾳ
ἅρμα θοὸν τανύεν,
ἀποπέμπων Αἰακὸν
δεῦρ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἵπποις χρυσέαις,
καὶ Κορίνθου δειράδ᾽ ἐποψόμενος δαιτικλυτάν.
τερπνὸν δ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἴσον ἔσσεται οὐδέν.

*First and Third generation: Aiakos had two sons (Telemon and Peleus) with Endeis and one with another woman (Phocus). Telemon and Peleus killed their half-brother; but the three sons fathered Ajax, Achilles and Panopeus (Phocus). The latter two grandsons fathered Neoptolemus and Epeios. Achilles’ son Neoptolemus helped take Troy; Epeios built the wooden horse.

Zeus – Aegina
|
Endeis – Aiakos – Psamathe
|                 |
Telamon Peleus                  Phocus
|                |                               |
Ajax       Achilles                  Panopeus
|                                  |
Neoptolemus                 Epeios

Image result for Medieval Manuscript walls of troy

Envy and Pity: Proverbial Wisdom?

Pindar, Pyth. 1.85

“Envy is stronger than pity

κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος

This line is something I bounce around twitter every few months or so. As with many of our tweets, it is divorced from its context and takes on a new meaning in our own time (one, I think, which is less than positive since people are motivated more by an acquisitive, begrudging impulse than one of empathy).

A twitter correspondent (@History_Twerp) noted that this line was echoed in Herodotus.

Herodotus 3.52

Periander speaks to his son and says “since you have learned how much being envied is better than being pitied, and also what it is like to be angry at your parents and your betters, come home…”

Σὺ δὲ μαθὼν ὅσῳ φθονέεσθαι κρέσσον ἐστὶ ἢ οἰκτίρεσθαι, ἅμα τε ὁκοῖόν τι ἐς τοὺς τοκέας καὶ ἐς τοὺς κρέσσονας τεθυμῶσθαι, ἄπιθι ἐς τὰ οἰκία.» Περίανδρος

The notes on Perseus for Pindar’s Pythian 1 refer to the passage from Herodotus as “proverbial” without any additional evidence. The passages do seem proverbial since they use the same basic lexical items to express the same basic idea. Nevertheless, there is not additional evidence for a proverb. Instead, I think we probably have evidence of a general cultural value immanent among aristocratic classes during the early Classical period.

Here’s a fuller context for Pindar, Pyth. 1.84-86

“Satiety reshapes
Fast and easy expectations—
And the citizens’ secret witness grows especially burdened over foreign wealth.
But still, since envy is stronger than pity,
Do not overlook noble things, but guide the people
With a just rudder. Make your tongue
Bronze on an truthful anvil.”

….ἀπὸ γὰρ κόρος ἀμβλύνει
αἰανὴς ταχείας ἐλπίδας:
ἀστῶν δ᾽ ἀκοὰ κρύφιον θυμὸν βαρύνει μάλιστ᾽ ἐσλοῖσιν ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοτρίοις.
ἀλλ’ ὅμως, κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος,
μὴ παρίει καλά. νώμα δικαίῳ
πηδαλίῳ στρατόν· ἀψευ-
δεῖ δὲ πρὸς ἄκμονι χάλκευε γλῶσσαν.

In the context of the Pythian ode, the brevity of the statement along with the epexegetical γὰρ gives the impression of a proverb drawn from elsewhere. But it is my sense, from reading through a lot of Pindar and Bacchylides, that the epinician genre is in the business of sounding proverbial  (it lends itself towards gnomic utterances because of the lyric brevity of expression, lack of epic-style repetition, and limited syntax). The trick of epinician poetry is to sound old and authoritative without actually being so.

The positive valence attributed to envy over pity is present as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where two types of Strife are distinguished in order to mark one type of human conflict as good and one type as bad.

Hesiod, Works and Days, 26-7

“And a potter is angry with a potter, and a carpenter with a carpenter;
Even a beggar will envy a beggar and a singer a singer.”

καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

So the general attitude projected by Herodotus’ Periander and Pindar is harmonious with the Archaic Greek notion that ‘envy’ produces a type of rivalry that has positive effects. It is better than pity because pity is something which people in a stronger position have over those in a weaker position (and who wants to be in the weaker position?). For Pindar, envy is better because it imbues Hiero’s people with a spirit of rivalry; for Periander, who uses the statement in an attempt to get his son to come home, it is an attempt to convince him to give up the ways of a mendicant and return the palace. Interestingly, according to Herodotus, Periander fails.

The relationship between pity and envy appears in Diogenes as well.

Diogenes Laertius, Life of Zeno of Citium 7.111

“[they claim] that grief is an irrational reaction. Its variations include: pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, annoyance, bitterness, anger, and distraction. Pity is pain for someone who suffers evil unworthily; envy is grief over someone else’s good fortunes; jealousy is pain over what another possesses when you want it yourself; and rivalry is pain over what another has and which you possess too…”

Καὶ τὴν μὲν λύπην εἶναι συστολὴν ἄλογον· εἴδη δ’ αὐτῆς ἔλεον, φθόνον, ζῆλον, ζηλοτυπίαν, ἄχθος, ἐνόχλησιν, ἀνίαν, ὀδύνην, σύγχυσιν. ἔλεον μὲν οὖν εἶναι λύπην ὡς ἐπ’ ἀναξίως κακοπαθοῦντι, φθόνον δὲ λύπην ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς, ζῆλον δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ὧν αὐτὸς ἐπιθυμεῖ, ζηλοτυπίαν δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ καὶ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ἃ καὶ αὐτὸς ἔχει, ἄχθος δὲ λύπην

At first sight, there is little value judgment in this summary. But pity and envy are collocated as emotional or unreasoning impulses distinguished by their frames of reference but united by the fact that both are a type of pain. The comparison between pity and envy, does not seem otherwise common in Greek literature. (But this conclusion is extremely tentative. Please let me know of any other passages.)

A fragment of Plutarch (quoted in Stobaeus) established what turns out to be somewhat proverbial, that envious people risk two sources of pain.

Πλουτάρχου ἐκ τοῦ διαβάλλειν (Plut. fr. 155a = Hippias fr. 16).

Hippias says that there are two types of envy. One is just, whenever someone envies evil men who have been honored. The other is unjust, whenever someone envies good people who are honored. Men who envy suffer twice as much as others; for they are troubled not only by their own evils, but by others’ good fortunes.”

῾Ιππίας λέγει δύο εἶναι φθόνους· τὸν μὲν δίκαιον, ὅταν τις τοῖς κακοῖς φθονῇ τιμωμένοις· τὸν δὲ ἄδικον, ὅταν τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς. καὶ διπλᾶ τῶν ἄλλων οἱ φθονεροὶ κακοῦνται· οὐ γὰρ μόνον τοῖς ἰδίοις κακοῖς ἄχθονται, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς.

This sentiment is rather similar to one attributed to Anacharsis the Skythian by the Gnomologium Vaticanum:

“When asked by someone why envious men are always in pain, he said “because not only do their own evils bite them, but the good fortunes of those near them cause them grief too…”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί οἱ φθονεροὶ ἄνθρωποι ἀεὶ λυποῦνται, ἔφη· „ὅτι οὐ μόνον τὰ ἑαυτῶν αὐτοὺς κακὰ δάκνει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν πέλας ἀγαθὰ λυπεῖ”.

Plato in the Timaeus detracts from envy a little too (29e) when discussing the attributes of a creating deity.

“He was good. And no envy ever develops in a good man about anything.

᾿Αγαθὸς ἦν· ἀγαθῷ δὲ οὐδεὶς περὶ οὐδενὸς οὐδέποτε ἐγγίνεται φθόνος.

Later paroemiographers do record some proverbs on envy, with an interesting variation.

Arsenius, Cent. 6.1a1

“Democritus says that envy is a wound from the truth”

Δημόκριτος τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ἀληθείας.

Stobaeus 3.38

“Socrates says that envy is a wound from the soul”

Σωκράτης τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς.

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 48 The Seven Vices - Envy - WGA09275.jpg
A 14th Century Fresco from Padua illustrating the deadly sin of Eny

Water Words

Pindar, Ol. 1 1–7

“Water is best, yet gold shining as a fire
Clear in the night is beyond all noble wealth—
But if you desire,
Dear heart, to sing of contests,
Don’t look farther than the sun
For any bright star warmer by day, alone in the sky.
And let us sing no contest greater than Olympia.”

Α′ ῎Αριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ
ἅτε διαπρέπει νυκτὶ μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου·
εἰ δ’ ἄεθλα γαρύεν
ἔλδεαι, φίλον ἦτορ,
μηκέτ’ ἀελίου σκόπει
ἄλλο θαλπνότερον ἐν ἁμέρᾳ φαεν-
νὸν ἄστρον ἐρήμας δι’ αἰθέρος,
μηδ’ ᾿Ολυμπίας ἀγῶνα φέρτερον αὐδάσομεν·

As many current parents likely are, I am generally befuddled by obsession with child hydration. Our children take water bottles with them to school; we cannot take even a short trip without water in the car. Although I have no memory of every carrying a water bottle before 2005, I fret over how much water my children are not drinking. Where did this water-worry come from? Here are some water compounds as a tonic.

ὑδατόλουτος: “washed in water”

ὑδατοπλήξ: “water-beaten”

ὑδατοπότης: “water drinker”

ὑδατόχλοος: “pale as water”

ὑδραλέτης: “water-mill”

ὑδράλμη: “salt-water”

ὑδράρπαξ: “water clock”

ϋδραυλις: “hydraulic organ”

ὑδρέλαιον: “oil mixed with water”

ὑδρημερία: “water distribution”

ὑδρόγαστωρ: “water on the belly”

ὑδρόδρομος: “water-running”

ὑδροειδής: “like water”

ὑδρόεις: “fond of the water”

ὑδροθηρία: “hunting in water” (i.e. “fishing”)

ὑδροκέφαλον: “water in the head” (hydrocephalic)

ὑδροκήλη: “water in the scrotum”

ὑδροκιρσοκήλη: “an aneurysm of the vessels of the testicles” !

ὑδρομανία = ὑδροφοβία

ὑδρομέλαθρος: “living in water”

ὑδρόμελι: a type of mead (lit. “water-honey”)

ὑδρόμφαλος: “water in the umbilical region” (prefered translation: “water-button”)

ὑδροπαραστάται: those who serve water instead of wine during Holy Communion

ὑδροπέπερι: “water pepper”

ὑδροποσία: “water drinking”

ὑδρορόδινον: “rose oil mixed with water”

ὑδροσκόπος: “water seeker”

ὑδροσφράντης: “water-smeller”

ὑδροφοβία: “fear of water”

ὑδροφόρος: “water-bearer”

ὑδροφύλαξ: “water guard”

Image result for Ancient Greek water bearers
North Cornice of Parthenon

Some Ancient Greek Passages on Work for May 1st

Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.15-16

“Critoboulos, Some say that whenever the great king gives gifts, he calls in first those who proved their excellence at war because there is no advantage to plowing many fields unless they defend them. After them, he rewards those who prepare and work the land best, because brave men cannot survive unless someone works the land.”

Φασὶ δέ τινες, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὦ Κριτόβουλε, καὶ ὅταν δῶρα διδῷ ὁ βασιλεύς, πρῶτον μὲν εἰσκαλεῖν τοὺς πολέμῳ ἀγαθοὺς γεγονότας, ὅτι οὐδὲν ὄφελος πολλὰ ἀροῦν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἀρήξοντες· δεύτερον δὲ τοὺς κατασκευάζοντας τὰς χώρας ἄριστα καὶ ἐνεργοὺς ποιοῦντας λέγοντα, ὅτι οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἱ ἄλκιμοι δύναιντο ζῆν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι. λέγεται δὲ καὶ Κῦρός ποτε, ὅσπερ εὐδοκιμώτατος δὴ βασιλεὺς γεγένηται, εἰπεῖν τοῖς ἐπὶ τὰ δῶρα κεκλημένοις, ὅτι αὐτὸς ἂν δικαίως τὰ ἀμφοτέρων δῶρα λαμβάνοι· κατασκευάζειν τε γὰρ ἄριστος εἶναι ἔφη χώραν καὶ ἀρήγειν τοῖς κατεσκευασμένοις.

Plutarch, fr. 43

“Let no one find fault with this line because wealth is made to be much praised ahead of virtue. Know that wealth here is the product workers get from their labors—it is a just portion gathered from their personal toil.”

Μηδεὶς λοιδορείτω τὸν στίχον εἰς τὸν πολυάρατον πλοῦτον ὁρῶν τὸν πόρρω τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐσκηνημένον, ἀλλὰ πλοῦτον οἰέσθω νῦν λέγεσθαι τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων πορισθεῖσαν ἀφθονίαν τοῖς ἐργαζομένοις δικαίαν οὖσαν καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν οἰκείων πόνων ἠθροισμένην.

Plutarch, Perikles 1.4 5-6

“Often and quite contrarily, we look down on a laborer while delighting in his work”

πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τοὐναντίον χαίροντες τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ δημιουργοῦ καταφρονοῦμεν

Hesiod, Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι·

 

Pindar, Isthmian 1. 47

“Men find different payment sweet for different work.”

μισθὸς γὰρ ἄλλοις ἄλλος ἐπ’ ἔργμασιν ἀνθρώποις
γλυκύς

 

Hesiod, Works and Days, 303

“Gods and men alike dislike a lazy man.”

τῷ δὲ θεοὶ νεμεσῶσι καὶ ἀνέρες ὅς κεν ἀεργὸς.

Image result for Ancient Greek sisyphus vase

When an aristocrat co-opts the language of the proletariat…

Odyssey 15.321-324

“No mortal could rival me in work:
No one could best me at building a fire or dry wood,
At serving at the table, cooking meat or serving wine–
All those tasks lesser men complete for their betters.”

δρηστοσύνῃ οὐκ ἄν μοι ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος,
πῦρ τ’ εὖ νηῆσαι διά τε ξύλα δανὰ κεάσσαι,
δαιτρεῦσαί τε καὶ ὀπτῆσαι καὶ οἰνοχοῆσαι,
οἷά τε τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι παραδρώωσι χέρηες.”

Odyssey, 18.366-383

“Eurymachus: I wish the two of us could have a labor-contest
In the height of spring when the days are drawing longer,
In the thickening grass. I would grip the curved scythe
And you could hold the same thing, so we could test each other
At work, fasting right up to dusk where the grass was thick.
And then the next day we could drive the oxen, the strongest ones,
Bright and large, both stuffed full with their food,
A pair of the same age, equally burdened, their strength unwavering.
I’d wish for a four-acre parcel to put under the plow.
Then you’d see me, how I would cut a furrow straight from end to end.
Or if, instead, Kronos’ son would send me a war today,
And I would have a shield and two spears
Matched with a bronze helmet well-fit to my temples.
Then you’d see me mixing it up in the front lines
And you wouldn’t bawl about, belittling my hungry stomach.”

“Εὐρύμαχ’, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ’ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη·
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ βόες εἶεν ἐλαυνέμεν, οἵ περ ἄριστοι,
αἴθωνες μεγάλοι, ἄμφω κεκορηότε ποίης,
ἥλικες ἰσοφόροι, τῶν τε σθένος οὐκ ἀλαπαδνόν,
τετράγυον δ’ εἴη, εἴκοι δ’ ὑπὸ βῶλος ἀρότρῳ·
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις, εἰ ὦλκα διηνεκέα προταμοίμην.
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ πόλεμόν ποθεν ὁρμήσειε Κρονίων
σήμερον, αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ σάκος εἴη καὶ δύο δοῦρε
καὶ κυνέη πάγχαλκος ἐπὶ κροτάφοισ’ ἀραρυῖα,
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις πρώτοισιν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι μιγέντα,
οὐδ’ ἄν μοι τὴν γαστέρ’ ὀνειδίζων ἀγορεύοις.

Hektor’s “Empty” Grave

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker, around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

In Iliad seven, Hector challenges the ‘best of the Achaeans’ to a duel. There he imagines that, once he had won the contest, the dead hero’s tomb would be a monument to, and sign of, his everlasting glory. Ironically, the dead hero’s tomb turns out to be his, once the Trojans construct it at the epic’s end

But what kind of sign is it? Homer describes how the Trojans’ burial mound for Hector leaves ‘a mark’—the word here is sêma (from which we get the words ‘semantics’ or ‘semaphore’), and also means a sign or symbol. In the end, then, the epic leaves us with a symbol of some kind. Ostensibly, of course, that is Hector’s burial mound, a physical marker of his fame—and the fame of all the heroes who fought at Troy. Yet, its immediate referent, the physical thing it describes, is a ‘hollow grave’ (koilên kapeton).

hector_brought_back_to_troy

An English speaker might wonder whether or not the hollowness of the grave marks some sort of empty meaning and thus offers some judgment on the vanity and meaninglessness of the conflict, perhaps evoking ambivalence. But part of the trick in translating metaphors from one culture to another is understanding that a cognitive valence can be very different. In English, ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ tend to refer to the absence of substance within something else. (Hence, our use for it to describe depression or anhedonia.)

But in ancient Greek, the word koilê is used to describe the shape made by a thing that allows it to hold something else. It can sometimes then come to shift to point to the absence of that something else, but it is, more often, a marker for the vessel which can carry something, even when it is carrying it. In conjunction with Hektor’s grave, consider the following lyric mentions of the ‘hollow ships’ of the Trojan War:

Consider:

Ibycus fr. 1a 16-19

Nor yet the overreaching virtue
of heroes whom the hollow,
many-benched ships brought
as the destruction of Troy.

ἡρ]ώων ἀρετὰν
ὑπ]εράφανον οὕς τε κοίλα[ι
νᾶες] πολυγόμφοι ἐλεύσα[ν
Τροί]αι κακόν, ἥρωας ἐσ̣θ̣[λούς·

Pindar, Ol. 6.1

“Unrisked virtue becomes honored
Neither among men nor in the empty ships.
But many a man is remembered
When something noble has been tried.”

… ἀκίνδυνοι δ’ ἀρεταί
οὔτε παρ’ ἀνδράσιν οὔτ’ ἐν ναυσὶ κοίλαις
τίμιαι· πολλοὶ δὲ μέμναν-
ται, καλὸν εἴ τι ποναθῇ.

In both these passages, the ships are marked out for their potential to carry something and their ability to do so. It is also arguable that the ships carry ethical content of the heroes they convey to Troy as well. Of course, in the Iliad the ships are often invoked as empty in their capacity to carry things as well as people—but these moments are also seen as critical in telling the story, as when the Trojan herald Idaios refers to the beginning of the conflict:

Il. 7.399-400

“However many possessions Alexandros led in his hollow ships
To troy. Oh, how I wish he had died first!”

κτήματα μὲν ὅσ’ ᾿Αλέξανδρος κοίλῃς ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἠγάγετο Τροίηνδ’· ὡς πρὶν ὤφελλ’ ἀπολέσθαι·

So, when the word used to describe that ‘hollow trench’ (koilein kápeton) is the same used for the ships that brought the Achaeans to Troy and will take their stories away, the grave is being marked out as a vessel for Hector’s fame. The message of Hektor’s “empty grave” is not like the elegiac regret of T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men”, but instead it represents the potential of an empty vessel to be filled by the audience in its reception of the poem.

In addition to Hector’s grave itself, however, this vessel, this sêma, may also refer to the Iliad itself. The epic is a vessel of fame, of Hector’s, Achilles’, and Agamemnon’s, but it is also a marker for the death of a world, for the end of a bygone time. On the one hand, it marks the transition from the heroic age to the present day. On the other, it acts as a grave marker of an entire tradition of epic poetry which would have sung about the wars at Troy and Thebes.

The hollowness of this thing is not about being empty, but about having the power to carry something. As the Tao Te Ching states, “We shape clay into a pot / but it is the emptiness inside / that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space / that makes it livable” (Chapter 11; Stephen Mitchell, 1988). Thus, Hector’s grave carries with it everything he was or could be; and the Iliad, far from empty and devoid of meaning, is that vessel that carries so much unknown across the oceans of time.

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11
translated by Stephen Mitchell (1988)

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being
but non-being is what we use.

One-Percent-Pindar: Scholion to Olympian 1.1

“He was rather in the habit of praising riches, and we can say that he was a slave to his own wealth-loving nature.”

Authentic portrait of Pindar

ἀλλὰ πολύς ἐστιν ἐγκωμιάζων τὸν πλοῦτον, καί φαμεν ἡττᾶσθαι αὐτὸν τῆς ἑαυτοῦ φύσεως φιλοχρημάτου τυγχανούσης.