Failed Poet, Philosopher Prince

Aelian, Varia Historia 2.30

“Plato, the son of Ariston, at first pursued poetry and used to write heroic verse. But he soon burned it all because he despised it, since he reckoned that his poetry was far inferior when compared to Homer’s. He then tried tragedy and even completed a tetralogy, and he was about to enter the competition, even to the point of giving the verses to actors. But right before the Dionysia, he went and heard Socrates; and once he was seized by that Siren, he not only withdrew from the competition, but he also gave up the writing of tragedy for good to immerse himself in philosophy.”

Πλάτων ὁ ᾿Αρίστωνος τὰ πρῶτα ἐπὶ ποιητικὴν ὥρμησε, καὶ ἡρωϊκὰ ἔγραφε μέτρα• εἶτα αὐτὰ κατέπρησεν ὑπεριδὼν αὐτῶν, ἐπεὶ τοῖς ῾Ομήρου αὐτὰ ἀντικρίνων ἑώρα κατὰ πολὺ ἡττώμενα. ἐπέθετο οὖν τραγῳδίᾳ, καὶ δὴ καὶ τετραλογίαν εἰργάσατο, καὶ ἔμελλεν ἀγωνιεῖσθαι, δοὺς ἤδη τοῖς ὑποκριταῖς τὰ ποιήματα. πρὸ τῶν Διονυσίων δὲ παρελθὼν ἤκουσε Σωκράτους, καὶ ἅπαξ αἱρεθεὶς ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκείνου σειρῆνος, τοῦ ἀγωνίσματος οὐ μόνον ἀπέστη τότε, ἀλλὰ καὶ τελέως τὸ γράφειν τραγῳδίαν ἀπέρριψε, καὶ ἀπεδύσατο ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν.

Although he did not master poetry, Plato could still deal out a sick burn:

Aelian 4.9

“Plato used to call Aristotle Pôlos [the Foal]. What did he wish with that name? Everyone knows that a foal, when it has had its fill of baby’s milk, kicks its mother. Thus Plato was signaling a certain ingratitude on Aristotle’ part. Indeed, Aristotle received the greatest seeds of Philosophy from Plato and then, though he was filled to the brim with the best ideas, he broke with Plato rebelliously. He founded his own house, took his friends on Plato’s walk, and set himself up to be Plato’s rival.”

῾Ο Πλάτων τὸν ᾿Αριστοτέλη ἐκάλει Πῶλον. τί δὲ ἐβούλετο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα ἐκεῖνο; δηλονότι ὡμολόγηται τὸν πῶλον, ὅταν κορεσθῇ τοῦ μητρῴου γάλακτος, λακτίζειν τὴν μητέρα. ᾐνίττετο οὖν καὶ ὁ Πλάτων ἀχαριστίαν τινὰ τοῦ ᾿Αριστοτέλους. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος μέγιστα ἐς φιλοσοφίαν παρὰ Πλάτωνος λαβὼν σπέρματα καὶ ἐφόδια, εἶτα ὑποπλησθεὶς τῶν ἀρίστων καὶ ἀφηνιάσας, ἀντῳκοδόμησεν αὐτῷ διατριβὴν καὶ ἀντιπαρεξήγαγεν ἐν τῷ περιπάτῳ ἑταίρους ἔχων καὶ ὁμιλητάς, καὶ ἐγλίχετο ἀντίπαλος εἶναι Πλάτωνι.

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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.

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George Whiter, Deus Ex Machina

Epic Contests and Metal Books

Plutarch, Symp. 5,2 675 AB

“Setting aside the proposal that Achilles was offering out prizes for speeches at the funeral, I said that when he was burying Pelias, Akastas his son put on a context of poetry and that the Sibyl was victor. When many people gathered around me and were asking where my proof was for so unbelievable and impossible an account, I was lucky enough to remember that Aleskandros provides this account in his On Libya.

I was adding, “This story is not a well-known one either, but I think that it will appeal to many of you to read the writing of Polemon the Athenian called On the Treasures of Delphi….There, you will discover the account written that in the Treasury of the Sikyonians there once was a golden book dedicated by Aristomakhe of Erythiai who was victor twice in epic poetry at the Isthmian games.”

ὡς δὴ καὶ λόγων ἆθλα τοῦ ᾽Αχιλλέως προθέντος ἀφείς, εἶπον ὅτι καὶ Πελίαν θάπτων ῎Ακαστος ὁ υἱὸς ἀγῶνα ποιήματος παράσχοι, καὶ Σίβυλλα νικήσειεν. ἐπιφυομένων δὲ πολλῶν καὶ τὸν βεβαιωτὴν ὡς ἀπίστου <καὶ> παραλόγου τῆς ἱστορίας ἀπαιτούντων, ἐπιτυχῶς ἀναμνησθεὶς ἀπέφαινον ᾽Ακέσανδρον ἐν τῶι Περὶ Λιβύης ταῦθ᾽ ἱστοροῦντα. ῾καὶ τοῦτο μέν᾽ ἔφην ῾τὸ ἀνάγνωσμα τῶν οὐκ ἐν μέσωι ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ Πολέμωνος τοῦ ᾽Αθηναίου Περὶ τῶν ἐν Δελφοῖς θησαυρῶν (IV) οἴμαι [ὅτι] πολλοῖς ὑμῶν ἐντυγχάνειν ἐπιμελές ἐστι ….· ἐκεῖ νῦν εὑρήσετε γεγραμμένον, ὡς ἐν τῶι Σικυωνίων θησαυρῶι χρυσοῦν ἀνέκειτο βιβλίον, ᾽Αριστομάχης ἀνάθημα τῆς ᾽Ερυθραίας, ἐπικῶι ποιήματι δὶς ῎Ισθμια νενικηκυίας.

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An Etruscan book of gold

One Country, One World

Meleager, Greek Anthology, 7.417

“My nurse was the Island of Tyre but the country which bore me
Was Atthis which rests in Assyrian Gadara.
I, Meleager, came as a shoot of the Muses from Eukrates
And I ran first in play with the Menippiean Graces.

If I am Syrian, why is it a surprise? Friend, we inhabit
One country, the world. One Khaos gave all mortals this life.

I inscribe these words on a tablet before my tomb, now very old.
For old age is Hades’ neighbor next door.
Offer a word to bid this chatty old man farewell,
And may you come to a chatty old age too.”

Νᾶσος ἐμὰ θρέπτειρα Τύρος· πάτρα δέ με τεκνοῖ
᾿Ατθὶς ἐν ᾿Ασσυρίοις ναιομένα Γαδάροις·
Εὐκράτεω δ’ ἔβλαστον ὁ σὺν Μούσαις Μελέαγρος
πρῶτα Μενιππείοις συντροχάσας Χάρισιν.
εἰ δὲ Σύρος, τί τὸ θαῦμα; μίαν, ξένε, πατρίδα κόσμον
ναίομεν, ἓν θνατοὺς πάντας ἔτικτε Χάος.
πουλυετὴς δ’ ἐχάραξα τάδ’ ἐν δέλτοισι πρὸ τύμβου·
γήρως γὰρ γείτων ἐγγύθεν ᾿Αίδεω.
ἀλλά με τὸν λαλιὸν καὶ πρεσβύτην σὺ προσειπὼν
χαίρειν εἰς γῆρας καὐτὸς ἵκοιο λάλον.

For more on “citizen of the world” in ancient literature, see this post.

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Apamea, Greek City in Syria

Porphyry’s Royal name and Fabulous Style

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.19

“Although some philosophers conceal their teachings in obscure phrase, just as poets hide theirs in myth, Porphyry praised clarity as a cure-all, and because he had sampled it in his own experience, he inscribed it in his work and brought it back to daylight.”

τῶν δὲ φιλοσόφων τὰ ἀπόρρητα καλυπτόντων ἀσαφείᾳ, καθάπερ τῶν ποιητῶν τοῖς μύθοις, ὁ Πορφύριος τὸ φάρμακον τῆς σαφηνείας ἐπαινέσας καὶ διὰ πείρας γευσάμενος, ὑπόμνημα γράψας εἰς φῶς ἤγαγεν.

Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers 4.55-4.56

Porphyry

“Porphyry’s birthplace was Tyre—the first city of the ancient Phoenicians—and his forebears were not men of low status. He received a fitting education and  advanced so far and gained so much that when he became a student of Longinus, he was even an adornment to his teacher in a short time.  At that time, Longinus was a kind of living library or a mobile museum. He was tasked with editing ancient authors, as many others before him had been, like Dionysius the Karian who was the most famous of them all. In his Syrian town, Porphyry was at first called Malkhos, a word that can mean king. It was Longinus who named him Porphyry, changing his name to the emblem of royal raiment.”

Alongside Longinus, Porphyry achieved the summit of education—the pinnacle of grammar and even rhetoric, the skill Longinus had achieved. He did not prefer that subject the most, but he learned every type of philosophy thoroughly.  For Longinus was by far the best man at that time at everything—the majority of his books are still circulated and people wonder at them. And if anyone criticized an ancient author, his opinion had no strength before Longinus’ judgment completely supported it.”

<ΠΟΡΦΥΡΙΟΣ>. Πορφυρίῳ Τύρος μὲν ἦν πατρίς, ἡ πρώτη τῶν ἀρχαίων Φοινίκων πόλις, καὶ πατέρες δὲ οὐκ ἄσημοι. τυχὼν δὲ τῆς προσηκούσης παιδείας, ἀνά τε ἔδραμε τοσοῦτον καὶ ἐπέδωκεν, ὡς—Λογγίνου μὲν ἦν ἀκροατής—καὶ ἐκόσμει τὸν διδάσκαλον ἐντὸς ὀλίγου χρόνου. Λογγῖνος δὲ κατὰ τὸν χρόνον ἐκεῖνον βιβλιοθήκη τις ἦν ἔμψυχος καὶ περιπατοῦν μουσεῖον, καὶ κρίνειν γε τοὺς παλαιοὺς ἐπετέτακτο, καθάπερ πρὸ ἐκείνου πολλοί τινες ἕτεροι, καὶ ὁ ἐκ Καρίας Διονύσιος πάντων ἀριδηλότερος. Μάλχος δὲ κατὰ τὴν Σύρων πόλιν ὁ Πορφύριος ἐκαλεῖτο τὰ πρῶτα (τοῦτο δὲ δύναται βασιλέα λέγειν)· Πορφύριον δὲ αὐτὸν ὠνόμασε Λογγῖνος, ἐς τὸ βασιλικὸν τῆς ἐσθῆτος παράσημον τὴν προσηγορίαν ἀποτρέψας. παρ’ ἐκείνῳ δὴ τὴν ἄκραν ἐπαιδεύετο παιδείαν, γραμματικῆς τε εἰς ἄκρον ἁπάσης, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνος, ἀφικόμενος καὶ ῥητορικῆς· πλὴν ὅσον οὐκ ἐπ’ ἐκείνην ἔνευσε, φιλοσοφίας γε πᾶν εἶδος ἐκματτόμενος. ἦν γὰρ ὁ Λογγῖνος μακρῷ τῶν τότε ἀνδρῶν τὰ πάντα ἄριστος, καὶ τῶν βιβλίων τε αὐτοῦ πολὺ πλῆθος φέρεται, καὶ τὸ φερόμενον θαυμάζεται. καὶ εἴ τις κατέγνω τινὸς τῶν παλαιῶν,  οὐ τὸ δοξασθὲν ἐκράτει πρότερον ἀλλ’ ἡ Λογγίνου πάντως ἐκράτει κρίσις.

 In his Homeric QuestionsPorphyry presents a classic formulation for how to ‘read’ Homer (1.12-14):

“Because I think to best to make sense of Homer through Homer, I usually show by example how he may interpret himself, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in other ways.”

᾿Αξιῶν δὲ ἐγὼ ῞Ομηρον ἐξ ῾Ομήρου σαφηνίζειν αὐτὸν ἐξηγούμενον ἑαυτὸν ὑπεδείκνυον, ποτὲ μὲν παρακειμένως, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐν ἄλλοις.

 

Although this is our earliest extant reference to what is attributed now to the principles of the Alexandrian librarian and editor Aristarchus, the D Scholia to the Iliad (5.385) provide an important testimonium:

“Aristarchus believed it best to make sense of those things that were presented more fantastically by Homer according to the poet’s authority, that we not be overwhelmed by anything outside of the things presented by Homer.”

᾿Αρίσταρχος ἀξιοῖ τὰ φραζόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ μυθικώτερον ἐκδέχεσθαι, κατὰ τὴν Ποιητικὴν ἐξουσίαν, μηδὲν ἔξω τῶν φραζομένων ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ περιεργαζομένους.

Further Lyric Inducements to Drink

PMG 900

“Ah, but I wish I were a large bit of gold
And a beautiful lady would wear me with a pure mind.”

εἴθ᾿ ἄπυρον καλὸν γενοίμην μέγα χρυσίον |
dκαί με καλὴ γυνὴ φοροίη καθαρὸν θεμένη νόον

PMG 901

“Drink with me. Be Young with me. Love with Me. Wear crowns with me.”
σύν μοι πῖνε, συνήβα, συνέρα, συστεφανηφόρει

PMG 902

“Be crazy with me when I’m crazy
Be sensible when I have sense.”

σύν μοι μαινομένῳ μαίνεο, σὺν σώφρονι
σωφρόνει.

Greek Anthology, 7.415 [=Callimachus 37]

“You are walking over the grave of a man who knew how to sing,
Callimachus, who also could laugh at the right time with a drink.”

Βαττιάδεω παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδας, εὖ μὲν ἀοιδὴν
εἰδότος, εὖ δ᾿ οἴνῳ καίρια συγγελάσαι.

Alcaeus, Fr. 38A (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 1)

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?

πῶνε [καὶ μέθυ᾿ ὦ] Μελάνιππ᾿ ἄμ᾿ ἔμοι· τί [φαῖς †
ὄταμε[. . . .]διννάεντ᾿ † Ἀχέροντα μέγ[αν πόρον
ζάβαι[ς ἀ]ελίω κόθαρον φάος [ἄψερον

Anacreon, fr. 412

“I’m drunk, won’t you let me go home?”

οὐ δηὖτέ μ᾿ ἐάσεις μεθύοντ᾿ οἴκαδ᾿ ἀπελθεῖν;

From medievalists.net

On Rivers and Poets: Quintilian And Callimachus

Quintilian, An Orator’s Education 10.1.47

“Hence, as Aratus believes that we must begin with Zeus, we think that it is right to begin with Homer. For, truly, just as what he says about the ocean, which he says is the source and the force of every river and stream, so too does Homer furnish the model and origin for every type of eloquence. No one has exceeded him for sublimity in the large themes or quiet sense in the personal ones. At the same time he is ebullient and terse, joyful and severe, a source of wonder for his expansions and his brevity—preeminent by far for both his poetic and rhetorical mastery.”

Igitur, ut Aratus ab Iove incipiendum putat, ita nos rite coepturi ab Homero videmur. Hic enim, quem ad modum ex Oceano dicit ipse 〈omnium〉 amnium fontiumque cursus initium capere, omnibus eloquentiae partibus exemplum et ortum dedit. Hunc nemo in magnis rebus sublimitate, in parvis proprietate superaverit. Idem laetus ac pressus, iucundus et gravis, tum copia tum brevitate mirabilis, nec poetica modo sed oratoria virtute eminentissimus.

Callimachus, Hymn to Apollo 2.108-112

“Envy spoke surreptitiously into Apollo’s ears:
“I don’t love the singer who doesn’t sing as wide as the sea”
Apollo then kicked Envy with his foot and said this:
“The flowing of the Assyrian river is huge, but it carries a great deal
Of trash from the earth and hauls garbage with its water.
The bees do not carry water from just anywhere to Demeter
But only that which is clean and unmixed and flows down
From a sacred fountain, a little stream from a high peak.”

ὁ Φθόνος ᾿Απόλλωνος ἐπ’ οὔατα λάθριος εἶπεν·
‘οὐκ ἄγαμαι τὸν ἀοιδὸν ὃς οὐδ’ ὅσα πόντος ἀείδει.’
τὸν Φθόνον ὡπόλλων ποδί τ’ ἤλασεν ὧδέ τ’ ἔειπεν·
‘᾿Ασσυρίου ποταμοῖο μέγας ῥόος, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλά
λύματα γῆς καὶ πολλὸν ἐφ’ ὕδατι συρφετὸν ἕλκει.
Δηοῖ δ’ οὐκ ἀπὸ παντὸς ὕδωρ φορέουσι μέλισσαι,
ἀλλ’ ἥτις καθαρή τε καὶ ἀχράαντος ἀνέρπει
πίδακος ἐξ ἱερῆς ὀλίγη λιβὰς ἄκρον ἄωτον.’

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