“Magnetic Inspiration”: My Favorite Passage (and Metaphor) from Plato

Plato’s Ion 533d-534e

“I also see, Ion, and I am about to show you what I think this means. For talking well about Homer is not some skill within you—as I was just saying—but it is a divine power that moves you, just as in that stone which Euripides calls a ‘Magnet” but which most people call Herakleian. For this stone not only moves iron rings but it also imbues the rings with the same power so that they can do the same thing as the stone in turn—they move other rings and as a result there is a great chain of iron and rings connected to each other. But the power from that stone runs through them all. In this way, the Muse herself makes people inspired, and a linked chain of inspired people extend from her.

All the good poets of epic utter those beautiful poems not because of skill but because they are inspired and possessed—the good lyric poets are the same, just as the Korybantes do not dance when they are in their right minds, so too the lyric poets do not compose their fine lines when they are sensible, but when they embark upon their harmony and rhythm, they are in revelry and possessed. They are just like the bacchants who draw honey and milk from rivers when they are possessed, not when they are in their normal state of mind. The soul of the lyric poets does this too, which they themselves admit: for they claim, as I see it, that they bring to us their songs by gathering from the honey-flowing springs from certain gardens and glades of the Muses like bees—and they fly too!

And they speak the truth. For a poet is an empty thing—winged, and sacred and not capable of composing before it is inspired and out of mind, when thought is no longer inside. Until one has gained this state, every person is incapable of composing or giving oracles. Because they compose not by skill—when they say many fine things about their subjects—but by divine dispensation, as you do about Homer, each is only capable of composing well in the arena where the Musa compels—one person composes dithyramb, one encomia, another dance songs, another epic and another iambic poetry. But each is useless in the other genres.”

     ΣΩ. Καὶ ὁρῶ, ὦ ῎Ιων, καὶ ἔρχομαί γέ σοι ἀποφανούμενος ὅ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦτο εἶναι. ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τέχνη μὲν οὐκ ὂν παρὰ σοὶ περὶ ῾Ομήρου εὖ λέγειν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, θεία δὲ δύναμις ἥ σε κινεῖ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ λίθῳ ἣν Εὐριπίδης μὲν Μαγνῆτιν ὠνόμασεν, οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ῾Ηρακλείαν. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς, ἀλλὰ καὶ δύναμιν ἐντίθησι τοῖς δακτυλίοις ὥστ’ αὖ δύνασθαι ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ὅπερ ἡ λίθος, ἄλλους ἄγειν δακτυλίους, ὥστ’ ἐνίοτε ὁρμαθὸς μακρὸς πάνυ σιδηρίων καὶ δακτυλίων ἐξ ἀλλήλων ἤρτηται· πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις ἐξ ἐκείνης τῆς λίθου ἡ δύναμις ἀνήρτηται. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται.

πάντες γὰρ οἵ  τε τῶν ἐπῶν ποιηταὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ οὐκ ἐκ τέχνης ἀλλ’ ἔνθεοι ὄντες καὶ κατεχόμενοι πάντα ταῦτα τὰ καλὰ λέγουσι ποιήματα, καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ὡσαύτως, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες ὀρχοῦνται, οὕτω καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες τὰ καλὰ μέλη ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὰν ἐμβῶσιν εἰς τὴν ἁρμονίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ῥυθμόν, βακχεύουσι καὶ κατεχόμενοι, ὥσπερ αἱ βάκχαι ἀρύονται ἐκ τῶν ποταμῶν μέλι καὶ γάλα κατεχόμεναι, ἔμφρονες δὲ οὖσαι οὔ, καὶ τῶν μελοποιῶν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦτο ἐργάζεται, ὅπερ αὐτοὶ λέγουσι. λέγουσι γὰρ δήπουθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς οἱ ποιηταὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ κρηνῶν μελιρρύτων ἐκ Μουσῶν κήπων τινῶν καὶ ναπῶν δρεπόμενοι τὰ μέλη ἡμῖν φέρουσιν ὥσπερ αἱ μέλιτται, καὶ αὐτοὶ οὕτω πετόμενοι· καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγουσι. κοῦφον γὰρ χρῆμα ποιητής ἐστιν καὶ πτηνὸν καὶ ἱερόν, καὶ οὐ πρότερον οἷός τε ποιεῖν πρὶν ἂν ἔνθεός τε γένηται καὶ ἔκφρων καὶ ὁ νοῦς μηκέτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐνῇ· ἕως δ’ ἂν τουτὶ ἔχῃ τὸ κτῆμα, ἀδύνατος πᾶς ποιεῖν ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν καὶ χρησμῳδεῖν. ἅτε οὖν οὐ τέχνῃ ποιοῦντες καὶ πολλὰ λέγοντες καὶ καλὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, ὥσπερ σὺ περὶ ῾Ομήρου, ἀλλὰ θείᾳ μοίρᾳ, τοῦτο μόνον οἷός τε ἕκαστος ποιεῖν καλῶς ἐφ’ ὃ ἡ Μοῦσα αὐτὸν ὥρμησεν, ὁ μὲν διθυράμβους, ὁ δὲ ἐγκώμια, ὁ δὲ ὑπορχήματα, ὁ δ’ ἔπη, ὁ δ’ ἰάμβους· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα φαῦλος αὐτῶν ἕκαστός ἐστιν.

535e-536a

“Do you understand that the audience is the last of the rings which I was describing as transmitting through one another the power from the Herakleian stone and that you are the middle as the rhapsode and interpreter—that the poet himself is the first ring? The god moves the soul of all of these people wherever he wants, stringing the power from one into another.”

οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής ὁ δὲ θεὸς διὰ πάντων τούτων ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν ὅποι ἂν βούληται τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν.

Fresco of women dancing in a line

Fresco, Museo Nationale, Naples. c. 400 BCE

Like Land to a Drowning (Wo)man?

Odyssey 23.230-242

“So she spoke, and his longing for mourning swelled within him—
He wept holding the wife fit to his heart, a woman who knew careful thoughts.

As when the land appears welcome to men as the swim
Whose well-made ship Poseidon has dashed apart on the sea,
As it is driven by the wind and a striking wave.
Then few men flee from the grey sea to the shore
As they swim and the bodies are covered with brine on their skin,
They happily climb on the shore, escaping evil.

So welcome a sight was her husband to her as she looked upon him
And she would not pull her white arms away from his neck.”

ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.

This simile is exceptional because it starts out making us think that it is about Odysseus but then shifts during its telling to be about Penelope’s reaction.

Image result for Medieval Manuscript woman swimming

St Omer Psalter, England (Norfolk), c. 1330-c. 1440, Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 70v 

 

Poets, Fishmongers and Memes

Are memes “viruses of the mind?”

Luke, 5.37

“No one puts new wine into old containers…”

 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς

Xenarchus’ Porphyra fr. 7 (preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, 6. 224-225)

“Poets are ridiculous. They never invent
anything new—each one of them simply
remixes the same things again and again.
But there is no race more creative or profane
than the fish-sellers!
Since it is no longer permitted to them to dampen
Their fish, a practice forbidden by the law,
When some man completely hateful to the gods
Saw that his fish were drying, well,
He started a brawl among them quite intentionally
There were punches; he acted as if he were hit hard,
Fell to the ground pretending to pass out lying
Among his fish. Someone shouted “water, water”!
And a different guy grabbed a pitcher and poured it out—
A little on the man, but the rest on the fish!
You would have claimed they’d just been caught!”

Fish Vase

Google “Ancient Greek Fish Vase”

οἱ μὲν ποιηταὶ (φησὶ) λῆρός εἰσιν· οὐδὲ ἓν
καινὸν γὰρ εὑρίσκουσιν, ἀλλὰ μεταφέρει
ἕκαστος αὐτῶν ταὔτ’ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω.
τῶν δ’ ἰχθυοπωλῶν φιλοσοφώτερον γένος
οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν οὐδὲ μᾶλλον ἀνόσιον.
ἐπεὶ γὰρ αὐτοῖς οὐκέτ’ ἔστ’ ἐξουσία
ῥαίνειν, ἀπείρηται δὲ τοῦτο τῷ νόμῳ,
εἷς τις θεοῖσιν ἐχθρὸς ἄνθρωπος πάνυ
ξηραινομένους ὡς εἶδε τοὺς ἰχθῦς, μάχην
ἐποίησ’ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἐξεπίτηδες εὖ πάνυ.
ἦσαν δὲ πληγαί, καιρίαν δ’ εἰληφέναι
δόξας καταπίπτει καὶ λιποψυχεῖν δοκῶν
ἔκειτο μετὰ τῶν ἰχθύων. βοᾷ δέ τις
‘ὕδωρ <ὕδωρ.>’ ὃ δ’ εὐθὺς ἐξάρας πρόχουν
τῶν ὁμοτέχνων τις τοῦ μὲν ἀκαρῆ παντελῶς
κατέχει, κατὰ δὲ τῶν ἰχθύων ἁπαξάπαν.
εἴποις γ’ ἂν αὐτοὺς ἀρτίως ἡλωκέναι.

 

From Twitter today:

Media preview

Iliad 1 english

Don’t Sleep on Plutarch: Sourcing a Mysterious Hexameter

Plutarch, Life of Lucullus 499

“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.

εἰς δὲ Τρῳάδα καταχθεὶς ἐσκήνωσε μὲν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης, κατακοιμηθεὶς δὲ νύκτωρ ἐδόκει τὴν θεὰν ὁρᾶν ἐφεστῶσαν αὐτῷ καὶ λέγουσαν·

Τί κνώσσεις, μεγάθυμε λέον; νεβροὶ δε τοι ἐγγύς.

ἐξαναστὰς δὲ καὶ τοὺς φίλους καλέσας διηγεῖτο τὴν ὄψιν ἔτι νυκτὸς οὔσης. καὶ παρῆσαν ἐξ Ἰλίου τινὲς ἀπαγγέλλοντες ὦφθαι περὶ τὸν Ἀχαιῶν λιμένα τρισκαίδεκα πεντήρεις τῶν βασιλικῶν ἐπὶ Λῆμνον πλεούσας. εὐθὺς οὖν ἀναχθεὶς τούτους μὲν εἷλε καὶ τὸν στρατηγὸν αὐτῶν Ἰσίδωρον ἀπέκτεινεν, ἐπὶ δὲ τοὺς ἄλλους ἔπλει πρῳρέας.

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:

Τυδεΐδη μεγάθυμε τί ἢ γενεὴν ἐρεείνεις; Il. 6.145
Πηλεΐδη μεγάθυμε τί ἦ γενεὴν ἐρεείνεις; Il. 21.153

Κοιαντίς, μεγάθυμε, πολυλλίστη βασίλεια, Orph. Hym. 35 (To Leto)
Αἴγυπτε μεγάθυμε· ἀτὰρ πάλι ταῦτα βοήσω, Orac. Sib. 11.119 (2nd BCE=4th CE)
«Πριαμίδη μεγάθυμε, δέμας μακάρεσσιν ἐοικώς, Q.S 6.309
«Κλῦθι, θεὰ μεγάθυμε, σάου δ’ ἐμὲ καὶ τεὸν ἵππον.», Q.S. 12.153
Σεῖο βίβλους μεγάθυμε Κομητὰς ῞Ομηρε δύ’ ἄρδην, Anth. Gr. 15.37
ῥηιδίως, μεγάθυμε, καὶ ἐσσύμενον κατερύκων, Anth. Gr. 16.65

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:

knosso

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

Image result for medieval manuscript lion and fawns

Detail of a miniature of a manticore from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 24v

Aristotle Against the Machine

Aristotle, Poetics 1454a

“Clearly, the resolution of the plots should come from the plot itself and not, as in the Medea, from some divine contrivance or as in the Iliad during the rush to the ships (Il. 2.155). The divine device should instead be used for events that are outside the drama either for those that come before what people could know or those that come later which require prophecy and revelation—since we allow that the gods may see everything. There should be nothing illogical in the events, unless it comes from outside the tragedy itself as in Sophocles’ Oedipus.”

φανερὸν οὖν ὅτι καὶ τὰς λύσεις τῶν μύθων ἐξ αὐτοῦ δεῖ τοῦ μύθου συμβαίνειν, καὶ μὴ ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ Μηδείᾳ ἀπὸ μηχανῆς καὶ ἐν τῇ ᾿Ιλιάδι τὰ περὶ τὸν ἀπόπλουν. ἀλλὰ μηχανῇ χρηστέον ἐπὶ τὰ ἔξω τοῦ δράματος, ἢ ὅσα πρὸ τοῦ γέγονεν ἃ οὐχ οἷόν τε ἄνθρωπον εἰδέναι, ἢ ὅσα ὕστερον, ἃ δεῖται προαγορεύσεως καὶ ἀγγελίας· ἅπαντα γὰρ ἀπο-δίδομεν τοῖς θεοῖς ὁρᾶν. ἄλογον δὲ μηδὲν εἶναι ἐν τοῖς πράγμασιν, εἰ δὲ μή, ἔξω τῆς τραγῳδίας, οἷον τὸ ἐν τῷ Οἰδίποδι τῷ Σοφοκλέους.

Aristotle, Poetics 1460a26

“Narratives ought to prefer likely events, even if impossible, to improbable possible ones. Stories should not be made from illogical parts: in the best case, they should contain nothing illogical, unless it comes from outside the plot itself as when Oedipus is not aware how Laios died, instead of in the play itself, as when they report the events at Delphi in the Elektra or when the silent man comes from Tegea to Mysia in the Mysians. To say that otherwise the plot would be wrecked is ridiculous—it isn’t right to set up these sorts of events from the beginning. If a poet does this, and there is a more logical option available, it is strange. Even those illogical events in the Odyssey when Odysseus is put ashore [asleep by the Phaeacians] would have been manifestly intolerable if a lesser poet had created it. In the poem now, Homer softens and erases the strangeness with his other good traits.”

προαιρεῖσθαί τε δεῖ ἀδύνατα εἰκότα μᾶλλον ἢ δυνατὰ ἀπίθανα· τούς τε λόγους μὴ συνίστασθαι ἐκ μερῶν ἀλόγων, ἀλλὰ μάλιστα μὲν μηδὲν ἔχειν ἄλογον, εἰ δὲ μή, ἔξω τοῦ μυθεύματος, ὥσπερ Οἰδίπους τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι πῶς ὁ Λάιος ἀπέθανεν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ἐν τῷ δράματι, ὥσπερ ἐν ᾿Ηλέκτρᾳ οἱ τὰ Πύθια ἀπαγγέλλοντες ἢ ἐν Μυσοῖς ὁ ἄφωνος ἐκ Τεγέας εἰς τὴν Μυσίαν ἥκων. ὥστε τὸ λέγειν ὅτι ἀνῄρητο ἂν ὁ μῦθος γελοῖον· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ οὐ δεῖ συνίστασθαι τοιούτους. †ἂν δὲ θῇ καὶ φαίνηται εὐλογωτέρως ἐνδέχεσθαι καὶ ἄτοπον† ἐπεὶ καὶ τὰ ἐν ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ ἄλογα τὰ περὶ τὴν ἔκθεσιν ὡς οὐκ ἂν ἦν ἀνεκτὰ δῆλον  ἂν γένοιτο, εἰ αὐτὰ φαῦλος ποιητὴς ποιήσειε· νῦν δὲ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀγαθοῖς ὁ ποιητὴς ἀφανίζει ἡδύνων τὸ ἄτοπον.

Image result for Medieval manuscript deus ex machina

George Whiter, Deus Ex Machina

Let Poets Be Our Teachers

Strabo Geography 1.2.3

“[Eratosthenes] said that the poet arranges everything for delighting the mind and not for education. Quite the opposite—ancients used to say that poetry was the first philosophy which integrates us into life from youth and teaches our characters, informs our experiences, and our actions in a pleasurable way.

The scholars of our day claim that the poet is the only wise person. For this reason too, the cities of Greece educate their children at the earliest stages through poetry, not only of course for the sake of entertaining them, but for nurturing wisdom as well. Indeed, for this reason too, music teachers who instruct those who play strings, lyre, and pipes help to shape their character. For these teachers say that they are also reformers of their ways. It is not only common to hear Pythagoreans making such claims, but even Aristoxenos asserts this, and Homer said that the singers were the wisest people of his day.”

Ποιητὴν γὰρ ἔφη πάντα στοχάζεσθαι ψυχαγωγίας, οὐ διδασκαλίας. τοὐναντίον δ’ οἱ παλαιοὶ φιλοσοφίαν τινὰ λέγουσι πρώτην τὴν ποιητικήν, εἰσάγουσαν εἰς τὸν βίον ἡμᾶς ἐκ νέων καὶ διδάσκουσαν ἤθη καὶ πάθη καὶ πράξεις μεθ’ ἡδονῆς· οἱ δ’ ἡμέτεροι καὶ μόνον ποιητὴν ἔφασαν εἶναι τὸν σοφόν. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ τοὺς παῖδας αἱ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων πόλεις πρώτιστα διὰ τῆς ποιητικῆς παιδεύουσιν, οὐ ψυχαγωγίας χάριν δήπουθεν ψιλῆς, ἀλλὰ σωφρονισμοῦ· ὅπου γε καὶ οἱ μουσικοὶ ψάλλειν καὶ λυρίζειν καὶ αὐλεῖν διδάσκοντες μεταποιοῦνται τῆς ἀρετῆς ταύτης· παιδευτικοὶ γὰρ εἶναί φασι καὶ ἐπανορθωτικοὶ τῶν ἠθῶν. ταῦτα δ’ οὐ μόνον παρὰ τῶν Πυθαγορείων ἀκούειν ἐστὶ λεγόντων, ἀλλὰ καὶ ᾿Αριστόξενος οὕτως ἀποφαίνεται. καὶ ῞Ομηρος δὲ τοὺς ἀοιδοὺς σωφρονιστὰς εἴρηκε.

Later

“But the nature of the poet is yoked to that of the human being—therefore, one cannot be a good poet unless first established as a good person.”

ἡ δὲ ποιητοῦ συνέζευκται τῇ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ οὐχ οἷόν τε ἀγαθὸν γενέσθαι ποιητὴν μὴ πρότερον γενηθέντα ἄνδρα ἀγαθόν.

Tension and Precarity: The Iliad’s Simile of the Weaving Woman

Recently, I posted about the simile that helped to make me spend the last twenty years studying Homer. I did not provide the full context that really got to me for sake of brevity. After Homer compares the sides of the battle over the wall to two men struggling over a corner of a field, the slaughter is also compared to the scales of a woman measuring out wool for weaving.

Iliad 12.427-438

“Many were struck across their flesh by pitiless bronze
Whenever they turned and bared their backs
As they struggled, although many were also struck through their shields.
The towers and walls were decorated everywhere with the blood
Of men from both sides, from Trojans and Achaeans.

Yet, they still could not force the Achaians to flee—
No, it held as when an honest weaving woman holds
The balance and draws out the weight and the wool on both sides
to make them equal so she might earn some wretched wage for her children.
So the battle and the war was stretched even on each side
Until Zeus gave the glory over to Hektor
Priam’s son, who first broke through the wall of the Achaeans.”

πολλοὶ δ’ οὐτάζοντο κατὰ χρόα νηλέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἠμὲν ὅτεῳ στρεφθέντι μετάφρενα γυμνωθείη
μαρναμένων, πολλοὶ δὲ διαμπερὲς ἀσπίδος αὐτῆς.
πάντῃ δὴ πύργοι καὶ ἐπάλξιες αἵματι φωτῶν
ἐρράδατ’ ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἀπὸ Τρώων καὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν.
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἐδύναντο φόβον ποιῆσαι ᾿Αχαιῶν,
ἀλλ’ ἔχον ὥς τε τάλαντα γυνὴ χερνῆτις ἀληθής,
ἥ τε σταθμὸν ἔχουσα καὶ εἴριον ἀμφὶς ἀνέλκει
ἰσάζουσ’, ἵνα παισὶν ἀεικέα μισθὸν ἄρηται·
ὣς μὲν τῶν ἐπὶ ἶσα μάχη τέτατο πτόλεμός τε,
πρίν γ’ ὅτε δὴ Ζεὺς κῦδος ὑπέρτερον ῞Εκτορι δῶκε
Πριαμίδῃ, ὃς πρῶτος ἐσήλατο τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν.

Schol D + bT ad Il. 12.433-435 ex.

“The equal balance of those fighting, [Homer] compared to the beam of a loom, again. For nothing is so precisely similar to an even balance. And the one weighing this out is not the mistress of the household—for she does not often trouble this much for so small an equal bit—nor is it one of the household maids—for they would not seek to make so precise a measure since they are fed by the household’s master and do not risk their nourishment if they mess up on the loom weights—but it is a woman for hire who must provide what is needed for living by the effort of her hands.”

ex. | D ἀλλ’ ἔχον ὥς τε τάλαντα<—μισθὸν ἄρη-ται>: πάλιν τὸ ἰσοπαλὲς τῶν μαχομένων παρέβαλε ζυγῷ· οὐδὲν γὰρ οὕτως ἀκριβὲς πρὸς ἰσότητα. καὶ ἡ ταλαντεύουσα οὐκ ἔστι δέσποινα οἰκίας (ταύτην γὰρ οὐ λυπεῖ πολλάκις τὸ παρὰ βραχὺ ἴσον), ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ θεραπαινίς (οὐ γὰρ αὗται ζητοῦσι τὸ ἀκριβὲς εἰς τοσοῦτον, ἅτε δὴ ὑπὸ τοῦ δεσπότου τρεφόμεναι b [BCE3E4] T καὶ οὐκ ἐν τῷ διαμαρτεῖν περὶ τὸν σταθμὸν κινδυνεύουσαι περὶ τροφήν), T χερνῆτις (433) δέ, ἡ χειρὶ τὰ πρὸς τὸ ζῆν πορίζουσα, ἵνα παισὶν ἀεικέα (435) φησίν.

This passage has always moved me because, as with the earlier simile, the great ‘epic’ themes and images of war were reduced to something simple, daily, and completely understandable. Even in the ancient world where many members of the audiences probably had considerably more experience of violence than we do and where most aristocratic audience members would certainly have nothing but contempt for working for a living, many probably heard a crucial echo of their own lives in this surprising comparison.

I also appreciate the way that the scholiasts here home in on how dire this woman’s position is, making the dubious but nonetheless striking claim that the household servants led less precarious lives than the woman of the simile who draws the weight so precisely because her pay—and the lives of her children—depend upon it. In a crucial way, this simile evokes the same sense of scarcity as that of the men on the field—but it adds that an all too familiar anxiety from the precarity that emerges when one lives constantly with the sense of how scarce those things we value are.

It may seem a stretch, but the image of the weaving woman evokes for me the creative power of women presented elsewhere in Homer–Helen weaves the story of her own kleos, Penelope weaves shroud whose images are never revealed. In a way, the tension prepared by the woman’s hands within the simile is a comparison for the balance of war and a metaphor for an act of creation. The epic’s plot and the audience’s experience are similarly drawn out in the narrator’s hands.

Indeed, the scarcity and precarity evoked by this simile and the one that precedes it extends the transitional moment begun with the image of the farmers to create anticipatory tension in the audience. At the epic’s middle, before we move from book 12 to 13 and to the slaughter of the Achaeans at the ships, the balance hangs ever briefly before it breaks. Hektor surges through the Achaean fortification: the balance of action fails just as the balance of the plot will too—the story of Achilles’ withdrawal will now translate into the slaughter he asked Zeus to precipitate leading to the death of Patroklos, Hektor and, ultimately, Achilles too.

 

Weaving, spinning, carding wool, and combing flax. MS Royal 16 Gv, f. 56, British Library, London  France 1400s

MS Royal 16 Gv 56 British Library (France, 15th Century)

“Magnetic Inspiration”: My Favorite Passage (and Metaphor) from Plato

Plato’s Ion 533d-534e

“I also see, Ion, and I am about to show you what I think this means. For talking well about Homer is not some skill within you—as I was just saying—but it is a divine power that moves you, just as in that stone which Euripides calls a ‘Magnet” but which most people call Herakleian. For this stone not only moves iron rings but it also imbues the rings with the same power so that they can do the same thing as the stone in turn—they move other rings and as a result there is a great chain of iron and rings connected to each other. But the power from that stone runs through them all. In this way, the Muse herself makes people inspired, and a linked chain of inspired people extend from her.

All the good poets of epic utter those beautiful poems not because of skill but because they are inspired and possessed—the good lyric poets are the same, just as the Korybantes do not dance when they are in their right minds, so too the lyric poets do not compose their fine lines when they are sensible, but when they embark upon their harmony and rhythm, they are in revelry and possessed. They are just like the bacchants who draw honey and milk from rivers when they are possessed, not when they are in their normal state of mind. The soul of the lyric poets does this too, which they themselves admit: for they claim, as I see it, that they bring to us their songs by gathering from the honey-flowing springs from certain gardens and glades of the Muses like bees—and they fly too!

And they speak the truth. For a poet is an empty thing—winged, and sacred and not capable of composing before it is inspired and out of mind, when thought is no longer inside. Until one has gained this state, every person is incapable of composing or giving oracles. Because they compose not by skill—when they say many fine things about their subjects—but by divine dispensation, as you do about Homer, each is only capable of composing well in the arena where the Musa compels—one person composes dithyramb, one encomia, another dance songs, another epic and another iambic poetry. But each is useless in the other genres.”

     ΣΩ. Καὶ ὁρῶ, ὦ ῎Ιων, καὶ ἔρχομαί γέ σοι ἀποφανούμενος ὅ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦτο εἶναι. ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τέχνη μὲν οὐκ ὂν παρὰ σοὶ περὶ ῾Ομήρου εὖ λέγειν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, θεία δὲ δύναμις ἥ σε κινεῖ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ λίθῳ ἣν Εὐριπίδης μὲν Μαγνῆτιν ὠνόμασεν, οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ῾Ηρακλείαν. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς, ἀλλὰ καὶ δύναμιν ἐντίθησι τοῖς δακτυλίοις ὥστ’ αὖ δύνασθαι ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ὅπερ ἡ λίθος, ἄλλους ἄγειν δακτυλίους, ὥστ’ ἐνίοτε ὁρμαθὸς μακρὸς πάνυ σιδηρίων καὶ δακτυλίων ἐξ ἀλλήλων ἤρτηται· πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις ἐξ ἐκείνης τῆς λίθου ἡ δύναμις ἀνήρτηται. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται.

πάντες γὰρ οἵ  τε τῶν ἐπῶν ποιηταὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ οὐκ ἐκ τέχνης ἀλλ’ ἔνθεοι ὄντες καὶ κατεχόμενοι πάντα ταῦτα τὰ καλὰ λέγουσι ποιήματα, καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ὡσαύτως, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες ὀρχοῦνται, οὕτω καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες τὰ καλὰ μέλη ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὰν ἐμβῶσιν εἰς τὴν ἁρμονίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ῥυθμόν, βακχεύουσι καὶ κατεχόμενοι, ὥσπερ αἱ βάκχαι ἀρύονται ἐκ τῶν ποταμῶν μέλι καὶ γάλα κατεχόμεναι, ἔμφρονες δὲ οὖσαι οὔ, καὶ τῶν μελοποιῶν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦτο ἐργάζεται, ὅπερ αὐτοὶ λέγουσι. λέγουσι γὰρ δήπουθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς οἱ ποιηταὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ κρηνῶν μελιρρύτων ἐκ Μουσῶν κήπων τινῶν καὶ ναπῶν δρεπόμενοι τὰ μέλη ἡμῖν φέρουσιν ὥσπερ αἱ μέλιτται, καὶ αὐτοὶ οὕτω πετόμενοι· καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγουσι. κοῦφον γὰρ χρῆμα ποιητής ἐστιν καὶ πτηνὸν καὶ ἱερόν, καὶ οὐ πρότερον οἷός τε ποιεῖν πρὶν ἂν ἔνθεός τε γένηται καὶ ἔκφρων καὶ ὁ νοῦς μηκέτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐνῇ· ἕως δ’ ἂν τουτὶ ἔχῃ τὸ κτῆμα, ἀδύνατος πᾶς ποιεῖν ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν καὶ χρησμῳδεῖν. ἅτε οὖν οὐ τέχνῃ ποιοῦντες καὶ πολλὰ λέγοντες καὶ καλὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, ὥσπερ σὺ περὶ ῾Ομήρου, ἀλλὰ θείᾳ μοίρᾳ, τοῦτο μόνον οἷός τε ἕκαστος ποιεῖν καλῶς ἐφ’ ὃ ἡ Μοῦσα αὐτὸν ὥρμησεν, ὁ μὲν διθυράμβους, ὁ δὲ ἐγκώμια, ὁ δὲ ὑπορχήματα, ὁ δ’ ἔπη, ὁ δ’ ἰάμβους· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα φαῦλος αὐτῶν ἕκαστός ἐστιν.

535e-536a

“Do you understand that the audience is the last of the rings which I was describing as transmitting through one another the power from the Herakleian stone and that you are the middle as the rhapsode and interpreter—that the poet himself is the first ring? The god moves the soul of all of these people wherever he wants, stringing the power from one into another.”

οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής ὁ δὲ θεὸς διὰ πάντων τούτων ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν ὅποι ἂν βούληται τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν.

Fresco of women dancing in a line

Fresco, Museo Nationale, Naples. c. 400 BCE

Lies Like the Truth: Correspondence and Coherence?

Theogony 26-28

“Rustic shepherds, wretched reproaches, nothing but bellies,
We know how to say many lies similar to the truth
And we know how to speak the truth when we want to.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

In studying memory systems, Martin Conway suggests that there are two forces in human memory: correspondence, which is about equivalence between details of ‘reality’ (or experience) and details of a story and coherence, which means that details make sense together in a narrative. When it comes to the way these systems operate in the human mind, not only does he argue that the memory systems have different neuro-anatomy, but he suggests that the episodic memory system (which prizes correspondence) developed earlier and is more basic to day-to-day survival than the autobiographical memory system which focuses more on coherence and is essential for the development of a goal or ‘identity’ driven self. The two systems are not exclusive—autobiographical memory selects from episodic memory in the creation of a coherent self.

Perhaps rather than considering these moments from the Theogony and the Odyssey as reflections of a tension between “fact and fiction”, we might find the relationship of correspondence and coherence more illuminating. Just as the Theogonic narrative selects from the range of mythical episodes to create a coherent narrative that is goal-driven, so too does Odysseus select and reintegrate details throughout books 13–19 in order to reintegrate into his community and complete a narrative of vengeance.

Image result for Ancient Greek Memory

Some things to read

Martin A. Conway. “Memory and the Self,” Journal of Memory and Language 53 (2005) 594-628.

Charles Fernyhough. Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Past. London: Profile, 2012.

David C. Rubin. “The Basic-systems Model of Episodic Memory,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1 (2006) 277-311.

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

Reading Out, Reading In, Or Not At All: Plato and Porphyry on Interpretation

Plato, Protagoras 347e

“Thus as well, these kinds of gatherings, if they have men the likes of which most of us claim to be, require no other voice, not even from poets, whom it is not possible to interrogate about what they mean, and when their works are introduced some people say the poet meant these things, some say they meant something different, and they dispute about a matter which they are incapable of testing.”

οὕτω δὲ καὶ αἱ τοιαίδε συνουσίαι, ἐὰν μὲν λάβωνται ἀνδρῶν, οἷοίπερ ἡμῶν οἱ πολλοί φασιν εἶναι, οὐδὲν δέονται ἀλλοτρίας φωνῆς οὐδὲ ποιητῶν, οὓς οὔτε ἀνερέσθαι οἷόν τ᾿ ἐστὶ περὶ ὧν λέγουσιν, ἐπαγόμενοί τε αὐτοὺς οἱ πολλοὶ ἐν τοῖς λόγοις οἱ μὲν ταῦτά φασι τὸν ποιητὴν νοεῖν, οἱ δ᾿ ἕτερα, περὶ πράγματος διαλεγόμενοι ὃ ἀδυνατοῦσιν ἐξελέγξαι·

From Porphyry’s “Concerning Styx” [Preserved by Stobaeus, 2.1.32]

“The poet’s belief is not easily understood as someone might believe. For all the ancient authors communicated about the gods and the goddesses through riddles—and Homer especially cloaked material about them even more by not talking about them straightforwardly and by using the things he said for the indirect expression of different things. Of the people who have tried to revive the things which he said by such secondary meaning, the Pythagorean Kronios seems the most adept at working them out. Still, generally, he applies different material in his interpretations of the established texts since he cannot apply Homer’s: he has not dedicated himself to deriving his beliefs from the poet but instead he interprets the poet by his own beliefs.”

     Πορφυρίου ἐκ τοῦ Περὶ Στυγός.

     ῎Εστι δὲ ἡ τοῦ ποιητοῦ δόξα οὐχ ὡς ἄν τις νομίσειεν εὔληπτος. Πάντες μὲν γὰρ οἱ παλαιοὶ τὰ περὶ τῶν θεῶν καὶ δαιμόνων δι’ αἰνιγμῶν ἐσήμαναν, ῞Ομηρος δὲ καὶ μᾶλλον τὰ περὶ τούτων ἀπέκρυψε, τῷ μὴ προηγουμένως περὶ αὐτῶν διαλέγεσθαι, καταχρῆσθαι δὲ τοῖς λεγομένοις εἰς παράστασιν ἄλλων. Τῶν οὖν ἀναπτύσσειν ἐπιχειρησάντων τὰ δι’ ὑπονοίας παρ’ αὐτῷ λεγόμενα ἱκανώτατα δοκῶν ὁ Πυθαγόρειος Κρόνιος τοῦτ’ ἀπεργάσασθαι, ὅμως ἐν τοῖς πλείστοις ἄλλα τε ἐφαρμόζει ταῖς τεθείσαις ὑποθέσεσι,  τὰ ῾Ομήρου μὴ δυνάμενος, οὔ<τε τοῖς> παρὰ τοῦ ποιητοῦ τὰς δόξας, τοῖς δὲ παρ’ ἑαυτοῦ προσάγειν τὸν ποιητὴν πεφιλοτίμηται.

Image result for Ancient Greek Plato and poetry

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