“The One You Love”: The Best Love Poem Ever

Sappho, fr. 16

Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
the one you love

It is altogether simple to make this understood
since she whose beauty outmatched all,
Helen, left her husband
a most noble man

And went sailing to Troy
Without a thought for her child and dear parents
[Love] made her completely insane
And led her astray

This reminds me of absent Anaktoria

I would rather watch her lovely walk
and see the shining light of her face
than Lydian chariots followed by
infantrymen in arms

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ’· ἀ γὰρ πολὺ περσκέθοισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
τὸν πανάριστον
/ [κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον

καλλίποισ’ ἔβας ‘ς Τροίαν πλέοισα
/ ὂσ τὸ πὰν] σέβασ τροΐα[σ ὄ]λεσσ[ε,
κωὐδὲ παῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων τοκήων
πάμπαν ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγαγ’ αὔταν
οὐκ ἀέκοισαν
/ πῆλε φίλει]σαν

Κύπρις· εὔκαμπτον γὰρ ἔφυ βρότων κῆρ
] κούφως τ . . . οη . . . ν
κἄμε νῦν Ἀνακτορίας ὀνέμναι-
σ’ οὐ παρεοίσας

/ Ὠροσ. εὔκ]αμπτον γαρ [ἀεὶ τὸ θῆλυ]
αἴ κέ] τισ κούφωσ τ[ὸ πάρον ν]οήσῃ.
οὐ]δὲ νῦν, Ἀνακτορί[α, τ]ὺ μέμναι
δὴ] παρειοῖσασ,

τᾶς κε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοισι
πεσδομάχεντας.

 

petrarch1

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Impossible Plausible Events are Better than Implausible Possible Ones

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.

On the left-hand side, demons torture the souls of the dead in Hell. On the right-hand side, the Egyptian Pharaoh and his soldiers drown in the Red Sea.
 Harley MS 2838, f. 44r (from this site)

Conference Got You Down? Even Plato Switched Careers

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.

Head Platon Glyptothek Munich 548.jpg

Silver For Gold: Strategic Gift Exchange for the Holiday Season

Julian, Letter 63 (To Hecebolus)

“…but the story is from ancient men. If, then, I were to give to you silver as swap of equal worth when you sent me gold, do not value the favor less nor, as Glaukos did, believe that the exchange is harmful, since not even Diomedes would switch silver armor for gold since the former is much more practical than the latter in the way of lead that is shaped for the ends of spears.

I am joking with you! I have assumed a certain freedom of speech based on the example you have written yourself. But, if in truth you want to send me gifts worth more than gold, write and don’t ever stop writing to me! For even a brief note from you is more dear to me than anything someone else might consider good.”

ἀλλὰ παλαιῶν ἀνδρῶν ὁ λόγος ἐστίν. εἰ δέ σοι τοῦ πεμφθέντος ὑπὸ σοῦ χρυσοῦ νομίσματος εἰς τὸ ἴσον τῆς τιμῆς ἕτερον ἀργύρεον ἀντιδίδομεν, μὴ κρίνῃς ἥττω τὴν χάριν, μηδὲ ὥσπερ τῷ Γλαύκῳ πρὸς τὸ ἔλαττον οἰηθῇς εἶναι τὴν ἀντίδοσιν, ἐπεὶ μηδὲ ὁ Διομήδης ἴσως ἀργυρᾶ χρυσῶν ἀντέδωκεν ἄν,1 ἅτε δὴ πολλῷ τῶν ἑτέρων ὄντα χρησιμώτερα καὶ τὰς αἰχμὰς οἱονεὶ μολίβδου δίκην ἐκτρέπειν εἰδότα. ταῦτά σοι προσπαίζομεν, ἀφ᾿ ὧν αὐτὸς γράφεις τὸ ἐνδόσιμον εἰς σὲ τῆς παρρησίας λαμβάνοντες. σὺ δὲ εἰ τῷ ὄντι χρυσοῦ τιμιώτερα ἡμῖν δῶρα ἐθέλεις ἐκπέμπειν, γράφε, καὶ μὴ λῆγε συνεχῶς τοῦτο πράττων· ἐμοὶ γὰρ καὶ γράμμα παρὰ σοῦ μικρὸν ὅτου περ ἂν εἴπῃ τις ἀγαθοῦ κάλλιον εἶναι κρίνεται.

Who knew that the popular Christmas song was inspired by Julian the Apostate?

Julian is referring to the famous scene of exchange between Diomedes and Glaukos in the Iliad (6.230-236)

“Let’s exchange armor with one another so that even these people
May know that we claim to be guest-friends from our fathers’ lines.”

So they spoke and leapt down from their horses,
Took one another’s hands and made their pledge.
Then Kronos’s son Zeus stole away Glaukos’ wits,
For he traded to Diomedes golden arms in exchange for bronze,
weapons worth one hundred oxen traded for those worth nine.”

τεύχεα δ’ ἀλλήλοις ἐπαμείψομεν, ὄφρα καὶ οἷδε
γνῶσιν ὅτι ξεῖνοι πατρώϊοι εὐχόμεθ’ εἶναι.
῝Ως ἄρα φωνήσαντε καθ’ ἵππων ἀΐξαντε
χεῖράς τ’ ἀλλήλων λαβέτην καὶ πιστώσαντο·
ἔνθ’ αὖτε Γλαύκῳ Κρονίδης φρένας ἐξέλετο Ζεύς,
ὃς πρὸς Τυδεΐδην Διομήδεα τεύχε’ ἄμειβε
χρύσεα χαλκείων, ἑκατόμβοι’ ἐννεαβοίων.

Schol. ad. Il. 6.234b ex.

“Kronos’ son Zeus took Glaukos’ wits away”. Because he was adorning him among his allies with more conspicuous weapons. Or, because they were made by Hephaistos. Or, as Pios claims, so that [the poet?] might amplify the Greek since they do not make an equal exchange—a thing which would be sweet to the audience.

Or, perhaps he credits him more, that he was adorned with conspicuous arms among his own and his allies. For, wherever these arms are, it is a likely place for an enemy attack.”

ex. ἔνθ’ αὖτε Γλαύκῳ <Κρονίδης> φρένας ἐξέλετο: ὅτι κατὰ τῶν συμμάχων ἐκόσμει λαμπροτέροις αὐτὸν ὅπλοις. ἢ ὡς ῾Ηφαιστότευκτα. ἢ, ὡς Πῖος (fr. 2 H.), ἵνα κἀν τούτῳ αὐξήσῃ τὸν ῞Ελληνα μὴ ἐξ ἴσου ἀπηλ<λ>αγμένον, ὅπερ ἡδὺ τοῖς ἀκούουσιν. T
ἢ μᾶλλον αἰτιᾶται αὐτόν, ὅτι λαμπροῖς ὅπλοις ἐκοσμεῖτο κατὰ ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τῶν συμμάχων· ὅπου γὰρ ταῦτα, εὔκαιρος ἡ τῶν πολεμίων ὁρμή. b(BE3E4)

I always thought that Glaukos got a raw deal from interpreters here. Prior to the stories Diomedes and Glaukos tell each other, Diomedes was just murdering everyone in his path. Glaukos—who already knew who Diomedes was before he addressed him—tells a great tale, gives Diomedes his golden weapons, and actually lives to the end of the poem. I think this is far from a witless move. And, if the armor is especially conspicuous, maybe the plan-within-a-plan is to put a golden target on Diomedes’ back.

Image result for silver and gold still

Simonides and Boris

It has recently been reported that Boris Johnson, current Prime Minister of the UK and Donald Trump bookend, is fond of reciting Simonides:

Johnson’s penchant for the Classics and his ability to recite Greek are often mentioned either to illustrate that he might actually be intelligent or to furnish some additional evidence for his winsome quirkiness. This quotation of Simonides is not only not impressive but it is entirely predictable and tiresome.

What is Simonides known for? Perhaps apocryphally, he is known for surviving a disaster and remembering where everyone was seated.  He is also said to have been saved from a sinking ship by a dream (everyone else died). Of equal interest, he is maligned or at least singled out in antiquity for being one of the first to make money from his poetry.

Sure, memorizing stuff isn’t easy, but it doesn’t mean you understand it or are noble at all. It means you come from a place of privilege where you were given the time and instruction to memorize it.

There’s a lot more to Simonides’ poetry than the muscular epigram in praise of Sparta little BoJo managed to keep in his head when he was failing to learn empathy and how to tell the truth. Memorizing a key bit about Thermopylae just shows you drank int he canon at Boarding school deep and full and you have been trading on shared delirium in your charlatan’s career.

Here are some of our favorites:

Fr. 14

“Weakness is the mortal’s lot,
nor yet does grief avail –
in such truncated time there’s naught
but toil heaped on travail.”

ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ’ ἐν παύρωι πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνωι

Fr. 15 (definitely on Brexit plans)

“Human strength is meager
Our plains incomplete
Toil follows toil in our short lives.
Death looms inescapable for all—
Men who are good and bad draw
of that an equal portion.”

ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ’ ἐν παύρωι πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνωι·
ὁ δ’ ἄφυκτος ὁμῶς ἐπικρέμαται θάνατος·
κείνου γὰρ ἴσον λάχον μέρος οἵ τ’ ἀγαθοὶ
ὅστις τε κακός.

Fr. 17 (on a No-deal Brexit?)

“Everything comes to a single, dreadful Charybis—
The great virtues and wealth the same.”

πάντα γὰρ μίαν ἱκνεῖται δασπλῆτα Χάρυβδιν,
αἱ μεγάλαι τ’ ἀρεταὶ καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος.

Fr. 16 (for some humility)

“Since you are human, never say what will come tomorrow.
Nor, if you see a fortunate man, how long it will last.
For not even the time of a tender-winged fly
goes as fast.”

ἄνθρωπος ἐὼν μή ποτε φάσηις ὅ τι γίνεται〚αὔριον〛,
μηδ’ ἄνδρα ἰδὼν ὄλβιον ὅσσον χρόνον ἔσσεται·
ὠκεῖα γὰρ οὐδὲ τανυπτερύγου μυίας
οὕτως ἁ μετάστασις.

Fr. 18

“Not even those who were long ago,
The half-divine sons of our lord gods,
Came to old age without finishing
A life of toil, pain and danger.”

†οὐδὲ γὰρ οἳ πρότερόν ποτ’ ἐπέλοντο,
θεῶν δ’ ἐξ ἀνάκτων ἐγένονθ’ υἷες ἡμίθεοι,
ἄπονον οὐδ’ ἄφθιτον οὐδ’ ἀκίνδυνον βίον
ἐς γῆρας ἐξίκοντο τελέσαντες.†

 

Fr. 525 (perhaps to explain people listing to BoJo)

“The gods easily make off with the minds of men”

ῥεῖα θεοὶ κλέπτουσιν ἀνθρώπων νόον

 

Fr. 524

“Death catches up with those who run from battle too.”

ὁ αὖ θάνατος κίχε καὶ τὸν φυγόμαχον

Fr. 37

“It is hard for a man to be truly good,
built evenly with hands,
feet and mind without blame.”

ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι
χαλεπὸν χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόωι
τετράγωνον ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον·

As Sarah Bond makes clear, there is more behind the choice of this Simonides: it is about claiming the ever so muscular Spartan mystique. This is all nonsense of course.

Myke Cole has talked about the lie of Sparta (“The Sparta Fetish is a Cultural Cancer”The New Republic). Bond published a piece for Eidolon  about the appropriation of Spartan iconography and values in the modern world (“This Is Not Sparta: Why the Modern Romance with Sparta is a Bad One”).  Neville Morely’s subsequent post on the use of Sparta by the far right is also a must-read. I have gathered some sources on this too.

Nuremberg chronicles f 60r 3.png

While We Live, Sing a Song for Me

These are fragments which may or may not be a whole. They made me think of Bettina Joy de Guzman. There’s nothing like death obsession in the Fall….

P. Oxy. xv. 1921, no. 1795, p. 113 [Anonymous = LCL Anonymous Hexamers 125]

“Don’t try to do injustice nor to return injustice done
Avoid murders and avoid battles, don’t deign to argue—
Then you will hurt only a short time and you won’t think about it later.

Play a song for me.

You saw the spring, winter, the summer. These are eternal.
Even the sun has set and night is taking what’s owed her.
Don’t try to find where the sun comes from or where the water’s home,
But where you can buy some fragrance and and wreaths.

Play a song for me.

I used to want to have three free-flowing honey springs,
five milk rivers, ten of wine, twelve of perfume
two from clear fountains and three from snow.
I used to want a boy and a girl near a fountain.

Play a song for me.

The Lydian pipe and the Lydian games of the lyre work for me.
The Phrygian reed and the leather-topped drum work for me too.
As long as I live I love to sing these things and when I die
Put a flute above my head and a lyre near my feet.

Play a song for me.

Who has ever discovered how to measure wealth and poverty?
Or who again has ever found how much gold human beings need?
Today, still, whoever has money always wants more of it
And the wretch is tortured like the poor even though he’s rich.

Play a song for me.

If you ever see a corpse or walk by quiet graves,
That’s when you look into the mirror we all share: the dead expected this.
Time is on loan and life’s lender is a prick.
Whenever he demands repayment, you must pay the bill by grieving.

Play a song for me.

It was the king Xerxes who said he shared everything with god,
But he crossed the Lemnian water in defeat with a single rudder.
Midas was rich; Kinyras was triply blest,
But who has ever gone to Hades with more than a single coin?

Play a song for me.,.”

μηδ᾿ ἀδικεῖν ζήτει, μηδ᾿ ἂν ἀδι[κῆι πρ]οσερίσηις·
φεῦγε φόνους καὶ φεῦγε μάχας, φ[εῖ]σαι διαφρονε[ῖ]ν,
εἰς δ᾿ ὀλίγον πονέσεις, καὶ δεύτερον οὐ μεταμέληι.

αὔ[λει μοι

Ἶδες ἔαρ, χειμῶνα, θέρος· ταῦτ᾿ ἐστι διόλου·
ἥλιος αὐτὸς [ἔδυ], καὶ νὺξ τὰ τεταγμέν᾿ ἀπέχει·
μὴ κοπία ζητεῖν πόθεν ἥλιος ἢ πόθε[ν] ὕδωρ,
ἀλλὰ π[ό]θεν τ[ὸ] μύρον καὶ τοὺς στεφάνου[ς] ἀγοράσηις.

αὔλει μο[ι.

Κρήνας αὐτορύ[το]υς μέλ[ιτ]ος τρεῖς ἤθελον ἔχειν,
πέντε γαλακτορύτους, οἴνου δέκα, δ[ώδε]κα μύρου,
καὶ δύο πηγαίων ὑδάτων, καὶ τρεῖς χιονέων·
παῖδα κατὰ κρήνην καὶ παρθένον ἤθελον ἔχειν.
αὔλει μο[ι.

Λύδιος αὐλὸς ἐμοὶ τὰ δὲ Λύδια παίγματα λύρας
κα[ὶ] Φρύγ[ιο]ς κάλαμος τὰ δὲ ταύρεα τύμπανα πονεῖ·
ταῦτα ζῶν ἆισαί τ᾿ ἔραμαι καὶ ὅταν ἀποθάνω
αὐλὸν ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς θέτε μοι παρὰ ποσ(σ)ὶ δὲ λύρη[ν.

αὔλει μοι.

Μέτρα τί[ς] ἀν πλούτου, τίς ἀνεύρατο μέτρα πενίας
ἢ τίς ἐν ἀνθρώποις χρυσοῦ πάλιν εὕρατο μέτρον;
νῦν γὰρ ὁ χρήματ᾿ ἔχων ἔτι πλε[ί]ονα χρήματα θέλει,
πλούσιος ὢν δ᾿ ὁ τάλας βασανίζεται ὥσπερ ὁ πένης.

αὔλ[ει μοι.

Νεκρὸν ἐάν ποτ᾿ ἴδηις καὶ μνήματα κωφὰ παράγηις
κοινὸν ἔσοπτρον ὁρᾶι(ς)· ὁ θανὼν οὕτως προσεδόκα.
ὁ χρό[ν]ος ἐστὶ δάνος, τὸ ζῆν πικρός ἐσθ᾿ ὁ δανίσας,
κἂν τότ᾿ ἀπαιτῆσαί σε θέληι, κλαίων [ἀ]ποδιδοῖς.

αὔλει μοι.

Ξέρξης ἦν βασιλε[ὺ]ς ὁ λέγων Διὶ πάντα μερίσαι,
ὃς δυσ(ὶ) πηδαλ[ί]ο[ι]ς μόνος ἔσχισε Λήμνιον ὕδωρ.
ὄλβι(ο)ς ἦν ὁ Μίδας, τρὶς δ᾿ ὄλβιος ἦν ὁ [Κ]ινύρ[α]ς,
ἀλλὰ τίς εἰς Ἀίδα ὀβολοῦ πλέον ἤλυθεν ἔχων;

αὔλει μοι.

Memento mori
Mosaic from Pompeii

Then, there’s always this: