Plutarch, Moralia: Table-Talk, Question 3, Book 2—Whether the Bird or the Egg Came First
“I had been refraining from eggs for a very long time because of a certain dream. In this, I meant to test by an egg as a Carian would this dream which had come to me vividly and often. When I was dining at the home of Sossios Senecius, the guests developed some suspicion that I was done in by Orphic beliefs of Pythagorean notions and that I thought the egg should be sacred, like a heart or a brain, because it was the initial principle of creation. Alexander the Epicurean joked “Eating beans is like eating your parents’ heads”.
See, these call eggs ‘beans’, playing on the word for conception (kuêsis) and they believe that eating eggs is not at all different from dining on the creatures who gave birth to the eggs. To tell my dream to an Epicurean was probably a less logical as an explanation than the cause itself. Or this reason, I said nothing against their beliefs but messed with Alexander a little. For he was a charming man and a fine philologist.”
Plutarch, Moralia 644e: Table-Talk, On the Usefulness of Drinking for Getting to Know People
“When the Poet Simonides, my Sossios Senecios, saw a stranger at a drinking party sitting there in silence and talking to no one he said “Man, if you are a fool, you are doing something wise; but if you are wise, you are doing a foolish thing.” For, as Heraclitus says, “it is better to hide ignorance” and it is really hard to do this while drinking “which makes even a very wise man sing / and causes him to laugh gently and dance /and then to speak whatever word which was unsaid” [Hom. Od. 14.464-6).
In this, it seems to me, the poet demonstrates the differences between being a little tipsy and drunkenness. For song, merriment, dancing and dancing are coming to those who have drunk moderately. But talking too much and saying what is better kept silent is the work of too much wine, of being drunk. For this reason also, Plato believes that we can see the character of most men while drinking, as Homer said, “those two did not learn one another’s nature even at the table”.
It is clear that Homer knows the talkativeness of wine and how it creates much conversation. For it is not possible to know people who sit eating and drinking in silence. Drinking leads to chatting, and by chatting someone emerges and much that is otherwise hidden is disclosed—drinking together provides some way of getting to know each other.
For this reason, it is not wrong to chastise Aesop, “Why are you searching out these gateways, sir, through which different people can gaze upon the mindset of one another? This lays waste our well made modes of behavior, from the most basic custom by which we were trained, as if by a teacher.” This is why drinking is useful to both Aesop and Plato, and for anyone else looking for a method of inquiry.
The Lamia (or, just Lamia to her friends) is one of the figures from Greek myth who seems like a frightening monster but really is a particular distillation of misogyny. She is often called a Greek ‘vampire’ along with Empousa. Unlike the latter, however, Lamia is specifically associated with killing children.
Diodorus Siculus, 20.40
“At the rock’s root there was a very large cave which was roofed with ivy and bryony in which the myths say the queen Lamia, exceptional for her beauty, was born. But, because of the beastliness of her soul, they say that her appearance has become more monstrous in the time since then.
For, when all her children who were born died, she was overwhelmed by her suffering and envied all the women who were luckier with their children. So she ordered that the infants be snatched from their arms and killed immediately. For this reason, even in our lifetime, the story of that women has lingered among children and the mention of her name is most horrifying to them.
But, whenever she was getting drunk, she would allow people to do whatever pleased them without observation. Because she was not closely watching everything at that time, the people in that land imagined that she could not see. This is why the myth developed that she put her eyes into a bottle, using this story a metaphor for the carelessness she enacted in wine, since that deprived her of sight.”
The story of why Lamia killed children gets a little more depressing in the Fragments of the Greek Historians
Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]
“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”
Elsewhere, the evidence of narratives about Lamia are rather limited. She becomes just another negative, female monster.
Suda, Lambda 85
“Lamia: a monster. The name comes from having a gaping throat, laimia and lamia. Aristophanes: “It has the smell of a seal, the unwashed balls of a Lamia.” For testicles are active—and he is making a fantasy image of Lamia’s balls, since she is female.
“There is a crag rising up over the ground on which the Delphians claim that a woman stood singing oracles, named Hêrophilê but known as Sibyl. There is the earlier Sibyl, the one I have found to be equally as old as the others, whom the Greeks claim is the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon. She was the first woman to sing oracles and they say that she was named Sibyl by the Libyans. Hêrophilê was younger than here, but she was obviously born before the Trojan War since she predicted Helen in her oracles, that was raised up in Sparta as the destruction for Asia and Europe and that Troy would be taken by the Greeks because of her.”
“Foremost he differed from previous authors in this, by which I mean how he took on a subject that was not a single thread nor one divided in many different and also disconnected parts. And then, because did not include mythical material in his work and he did not use his writing for the deception and bewitchment of many, as every author before him did when they told the stories of certain Lamiai rising up from the earth in groves and glens and of amphibious Naiads rushing out of Tartaros, half-beasts swimming through the seas and then joining together in groups among humans, and producing offspring of mortals and gods, demigods—and other stories which seem extremely unbelievable and untrustworthy to us now.”
Mormô, in the genitive Mormous, declined like Sappho. There is also the form Mormôn, genitive Mormonos. Aristophanes says “I ask you, take this Mormo away from me”. This meant to dispel frightening things. For Mormo is frightening. And again in Aristophanes: “A Mormo for courage”. There is also a mormalukeion which they also call a Lamia. They also frightening things this.
Plutarch, De Curiositate [On Being a Busybody] 516a
“Now, just as in the myth they say that Lamia sleeps at home, putting her eyes set aside in some jar, but when she goes out she puts them back in and peers around, in the same way each of us puts his curiosity, as if fitting in an eye, into meanness towards others. But we often stumble over our own mistakes and faults because of ignorance, since we fail to secure sight or light for them.
For this reason, a busybody is rather useful to his enemies, since he rebukes and emphasizes their faults and shows them what they should guard and correct, even as he overlooks most of his own issues thanks to his obsession with everyone else. This is why Odysseus did not stop to speak with his mother before he inquired from the seer about those things for which he had come to Hades. Once he had made his inquiry, he turned to his own mother and also the other women, asking who Tyro was, who beautiful Khloris was, and why Epikaste had died.”
The following account is interesting for the variations in the story of Ariadne and Theseus but also for the strange detail of the ritual where young men imitate a woman in childbirth. Also, the counterfeit letters bit is precious. What would they say?.
Other tales about Ariadne, According to Plutarch (Theseus 20)
“There are many other versions circulated about these matters still and also about Ariadne, none of which agree. For some say that she hanged herself after she was abandoned by Theseus. Others claim that after she was taken to Naxos by sailors she lived with Oinaros a priest of Dionysus and that she was abandoned by Theseus because he loved another.
“A terrible lust for Aiglê the daughter of Panopeus ate at him” [fr. 105]—this is a line Hereas the Megarean claims Peisistratus deleted from the poems of Hesiod, just as again he says that he inserted into the Homeric catalogue of dead “Theseus and Perithoos, famous children of the gods” [Od. 11.631] to please the Athenans. There are some who say that Ariadne gave birth to Oinipiôn and Staphulos with Theseus. One of these is Ion of Khios who has sung about his own city “Oinopiôn, Theseus’ son, founded this city once.” [fr. 4D]
The most reputable of the myths told are those which, as the saying goes, all people have in their mouths. But Paiôn the Amathousian has handed down a particular tale about these events. For he says that Theseus was driven by a storm, to Cyprus and that he had Ariadne with him, who was pregnant and doing quite badly because of the sea and the rough sailing. So he set her out alone and he was carried back into the sea from the land while he was tending to the ship. The native women, then, received Ariadne and they tried to ease her depression because of her loneliness by offering her a counterfeit letter written to her by Theseus and helping her and supporting her during childbirth. They buried her when she died before giving birth.
Paiôn claims that when Theseus returned he was overcome with grief and he left money to the island’s inhabitants, charging them to sacrifice to Ariadne and to have two small statues made for her—one of silver and one of bronze. During the second day of the month of Gorpiaon at the sacrifice, one of the young men lies down and mouns and acts as women do during childbirth. They call the grove in which they claim her tomb is that of Ariadne Aphrodite.
Some of the Naxians claim peculiarly that there were two Minoses and two Ariadnes. They claim one was married to Dionysus on Naxos and bore the child Staphulos, and the young one was taken by Theseus and left when he came to Naxos with a nurse named Korkunê—whose tomb they put on display. They claim that Ariadne died there and has honors unequal to those of the earlier one. The first has a festival of singing and play; the second has one where sacrifices are performed with grief and mourning.”
“When a small box was brought to him—which seem more valuable than the rest of the possessions and baggage they had taken from Dareios, [Alexander] asked his friends what thing seem especially worthy of being put in it. Although many of them made many suggestions, Alexander said that he would keep the Iliad safe by placing it inside. Not a few of the most credible sources claim this.
If, as the Alexandrians say is true—since they believe Herakleides—Homer was no lazy or unprofitable travel companion…”
This passage refers to an earlier moment in the Life. Coincidentally, I also sleep the same way…
“[Alexander] was also naturally a lover of language, a lover of learning, and a lover of reading. Because he believed that the Iliad was a guidebook for military excellence—and called it that too—he took a copy of it which had been edited by Aristotle which they used to refer to as “Iliad-in-a-Box”. He always kept it with his dagger beneath his pillow—as Onêsikritos tells us.
When there were no other books in -and, he sent to Harpalos for some more. Then Harpalus sent him Philistos’ books along with some tragedies of Euripides, Sophokles and Aeschylus and the dithyrambs of Telestes and Philoxenos.”
Plutarch tells a slightly different story in the Moralia
Plutarch, On the Fortune—or Virtue—of Alexander 327f-328a
“Yes, indeed, the accoutrements he possessed thanks to Aristotle were greater than what he got from Phillip when he went against the Persians. But, while we believe those who claim that Alexander said that the Iliad and the Odyssey went with him as guides on his expedition—since we do think that Homer is sacred—don’t we dismiss anyone who claims that the epics followed him as his solace and distraction from work with sweet leisure when the true guide was the reason he had from philosophy and his ‘baggage’ was his notes on Bravery, Prudence, and greatness of spirit?”
“After he was brought to the Troad, he set up camp in the shrine of Aphrodite. Once he fell asleep at night, he dreamed he say that goddess standing over him and speaking: “Why are you sleeping, great-hearted lion? The fawns are near [for you]”.
After he woke up and called his friends, he explained the dream while it was still night. And then there were some men from Troy who were announcing that thirteen of the king’s ships had been seen sailing near the harbor of the Achaeans going toward Lemnos. Lucuss then went out immediately and captured them and killed their general Isodorus, and then he was sailing after the other captains.
I received an email about this passage from a friend (Aaron Beek) who was wondering where this line came from. Plutarch is famous for his quotation of other ancient others. His Lives are filled with figures who quote constantly; his own essays in the Moralia sometimes seem to be mere thin pretext for the assemblage of ancient sententiae. So, it is more than reasonable to imagine that when he places Lucullus near Troy and has that Trojan-loving Aphrodite speak in a dream, she might speak a line from a Trojan tale of Old.
The problem Aaron and I face that this line seems to have no attestation beyond this scene. The Suda lists this line twice (s.v. Κνώσσω and Λούκουλλος) and it appears in the Oracular Appendix of the Greek Anthology (231). All three appearances undoubtedly have Plutarch as the source. But what was Plutarch’s source? Rather than keeping this question to ourselves, we are bringing it to the world….
Others may contemplate the content of this line and how it might pertain to some moment in the Trojan War narrative (Aaron has suggested that it might work as something said by Aphrodite to Hektor when the Greeks first appear which would be a cool intertext). Since I am a Homeric philologist by training, I need to start by looking at the language.
The thing the strikes me first about this is the epithet. It shows up twice in the Iliad when Glaukos and Asteropaios respond to Diomedes and Achilles (respectively: 6.145, 21.153). Indeed, the epithet is rather popular after Homer too. Here are the lines with the vocative:
There are other aspects of this line, however, which make me doubt an Archaic or even classical origin. The first is the meter. Here’s how to get six feet (Unless I have missed something here)* Τί κνώ / σσεις ‖ μεγά / θυμε λέ /ον; νεβ / ροὶ δε τοι / ἐγγύς. The adverb ἐγγύς can end the line in Homer, but the combination δε τοι as part of the fifth foot is just dreadful. We do have this combination, however much I hate it. (e.g. Il. 7.48Q ἦ ῥά νύ μοί τι πίθοιο, κασίγνητος δέ τοί εἰμι·cf. 8.104: ἠπεδανὸς δέ νύ τοι θεράπων, βραδέες δέ τοι ἵπποι.)
A second problem for me is the verb κνώσσω, which is highly defective and does not seem to appear much in hexameter (although it appears twice in Pindar [κνώσσοντί, Ol. 13.72; κνώσσων, Pyth. 1.9] and once in Epic. Adesp.[ 2.34: εὖτε νέους κνώσσοντας̣ [ἐποτρύνειε κατ’ αὖλιν]]).
Here’s Beekes on the verb:
Other brief observations: heroes are called lion-hearted in early poetry (in the Iliad: Agenor, Hektor, Achilles and Epeios):, but lions are not really called “great hearted”. To me, this looks like later “paint-by-number” versification: so, the work of a literate writer imitating oral composition rather than a genuinely early line. To add to this–the address “great-hearted lion, there are fawns…” is the use of a metaphor in a way we don’t really find in early epic. There are lots of antecedents in similes etc, but this device seems more Hellenistic. I don’t think I would claim that Plutarch composed this–the fact that he does not provide a source implies that (1) it is so well known that he does not need to or (2) there isn’t one and Plutarch is presenting this as the oracular content of a dream (or it is in fact part of a tradition handed down in the annals of Lucullus).
So, just to recap: to me, this line seems post-classical because of its meter, its address of the figure as a lion, and its diction. That said: my sense is based on privileging the Homeric epics we have (which are Ionian and then standardized a bit to Attic). Other localized traditions might have slightly different vocabulary and conventions. So, if for example, this line did come from the Cypria, it might indeed exhibit different qualities.
Any other ideas?
Some responses from twitter below. My impression of this being post-classical is, as I suspected, a bit warped by my strict focus to Homer. The passage might be typical of oracle speech. In this case, it might not then hail from a Trojan War narrative, unless of course it comes from a section of the narrative that draws on oracular language
Have a look at Iliad 16.485-90 for a stout-hearted bull.
If indeed the verse is post-classical (but none of the good versifiers would admit to it; even the so-so versifiers are capable of 'better') I think that one of the Oracular writers would be capable of releasing that into the wild.
Linguistically, not sure. Vocative μεγάθυμε is paralleled in Il. 21.153, line-final ἐγγύς 3x in Homer. Maybe a slight hitch: Hdt. 5.56 has vocative λέων, not λέον, in a (para)chresmologic line – but not disastrous. I've not checked the history of κνώσσω, but I guess you have?
Crapulous:def. 2: Sick from excessive indulgence in liquor.
From the Suda:
“Kraipalê: The pounding that comes from drinking too much wine. We also have the participle “carousing” which is when someone acts poorly because of drinking, or just being drunk. It derives from the word “head” (kara) and “pound” (pallein). Or, it could also come from screwing up (sphallesthai) timely matters (kairiôn)
Kraipalôdês: “Prone to drunkenness”: The ancients knew well the weaknesses of the spirit, weather it was a person who was prone to excessive drinking or a love-seeker who has his brain in his genitals.”
“Wine (being of a wet nature) stretches those who are slow and makes them quick, but it tends to restrain those who are quick already. On that account, some who are melancholic by nature become entirely dissipated in drunken stupors (kraipalais). Just as a bath can make those who are all bound up and stiff more readily able to move, so does it check those who are already movable and loose, so too does wine, which is like a bath for your innards, accomplish this same thing.
Why then does cabbage prevent drunkenness (kraipale)? Either because it has a sweet and purgative juice (and for this reason doctors use it to clean out the intestines), even though it is itself of a cold nature. Here is a proof: doctors use it against exceptionally bad cases of diarrhea, after preparing it by cooking it, removing the fiber, and freezing it. It happens in the case of those suffering from the effects of drunkenness (kraipalonton) that the cabbage juice draws the wet elements, which are full of wine and still undigested, down to their stomachs, while the body chills the rest which remains in the upper part of the stomach. Once it has been chilled, the rest of the moist element can be drawn into the bladder. Thus, when each of the wet elements has been separated through the body and chilled, people are likely to be relieved of their drunkenness (akraipaloi). For wine is wet and warm.”
“Those who are suffering bodily from drinking and being hungover can find relief from sleeping immediately, warmed with a cover. On the next day, they can be restored with a bath, a massage, and whatever food does not cause agitation but restores the warmth dispelled and lost from the body by wine.”
“But why am I standing here, a sweating fool?
Maybe I should leave here for Venus’ temple to sleep off this hangover
I got because I drank more than I intended?
Neptune soaked us with the sea as if we were Greek wines
And he hoped to relieve us with salty-beverages.
Shit. What good are words?”
sed quid ego hic asto infelix uuidus?
quin abeo huc in Veneris fanum, ut edormiscam hanc crapulam,
quam potaui praeter animi quam lubuit sententiam?
quasi uinis Graecis Neptunus nobis suffudit mare,
itaque aluom prodi sperauit nobis salsis poculis;
quid opust uerbis?
Plautus, Stichus 226-230
“I am selling Greek moisturizers
And other ointments, hangover-cures
Little jokes, blandishments
And a sycophant’s confabulations.
I’ve got a rusting strigil, a reddish flask,
And a hollowed out follower to hide your trash in.”
uel unctiones Graecas sudatorias
uendo uel alias malacas, crapularias;
ac periuratiunculas parasiticas;
robiginosam strigilim, ampullam rubidam,
parasitum inanem quo recondas reliquias.
Advice more useful the day before
John of Damascus, Sacra Parallela 96.161:
“When the membranes become full of the vapors which wine produces when it is vaporized, the head is stricken with unbearable pains. No longer can it stay upright upon the shoulders, but it constantly drops this way and that, slipping around upon its joints. But who would say such things to those stricken by wine? Their heads are heavy from drunkenness (kraipale), they nod off, they yawn, they see through a fog, and they feel nauseous. On that account, they do not listen to their teachers yelling out to them all of the time. Don’t get drunk on wine, in which there is profligacy. Therein lie trembling and weakness, the breath is beaten out by immoderate indulgence in wine, the nerves are slackened, and the entire mass of the body is put into disorder. “