The Omen Before the Wall

Homer, Iliad 12. 195–229

“As long as they were stripping them of their gleaming weapons,
The young men who were the best and the greatest in number were following
Poulydamas and Hektor, they were especially eager to break the wall
And set fire to the ships. They were still struggling standing before the wall
When a bird went over them as they were struggling to cross it,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive, breathing: it had not yet lost its fighting spirit.
For it struck back at the bird who held him in the skin along the chest
As it bent double. And the bird tossed him away to the ground
tortured with pains. It dropped the snake in the middle of the throng
But flew away on the breath of the wind, sounding out in pain.
The Trojans shivered when they saw the winding serpent
Lying there, a sign from Aegis-bearing Zeus.

Then Polydamas stood aside and addressed bold Hektor:
“Hektor, you are always threatening me in the public assemblies for some reason,
Even when I advise well, since it is not ever deemed proper
For some member of the people to advise differently, either in council
Or in war. Instead, we must always increase your strength.
But now I will tell you what seems to me to be best.
Let’s not go to fight the Danaans around their ships.
I think that it will turn out this way, if truly this bird
Came over the Trojans as we struggled to cross the wall,
A high-flying eagle moving its way over the left side of the army
Holding in its talons a huge dark red snake
Still alive. For it dropped it before it could return to its dear home
And did not complete the task of giving it to his children.
In the same way we, if we break through the gates and walls
Of the Achaeans by means of great strength and the Achaeans yield
So too we will not find the same paths in order among the ships.
We will lose many Trojans there as the Achaeans
Strike them down with bronze will defending the ships/
This is how a prophet would interpret, one who clearly understands
In his heart divine signs and one the people obey.”

῎Οφρ’ οἳ τοὺς ἐνάριζον ἀπ’ ἔντεα μαρμαίροντα,
τόφρ’ οἳ Πουλυδάμαντι καὶ ῞Εκτορι κοῦροι ἕποντο,
οἳ πλεῖστοι καὶ ἄριστοι ἔσαν, μέμασαν δὲ μάλιστα
τεῖχός τε ῥήξειν καὶ ἐνιπρήσειν πυρὶ νῆας,
οἵ ῥ’ ἔτι μερμήριζον ἐφεσταότες παρὰ τάφρῳ.
ὄρνις γάρ σφιν ἐπῆλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωὸν ἔτ’ ἀσπαίροντα, καὶ οὔ πω λήθετο χάρμης,
κόψε γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔχοντα κατὰ στῆθος παρὰ δειρὴν
ἰδνωθεὶς ὀπίσω· ὃ δ’ ἀπὸ ἕθεν ἧκε χαμᾶζε
ἀλγήσας ὀδύνῃσι, μέσῳ δ’ ἐνὶ κάββαλ’ ὁμίλῳ,
αὐτὸς δὲ κλάγξας πέτετο πνοιῇς ἀνέμοιο.
Τρῶες δ’ ἐρρίγησαν ὅπως ἴδον αἰόλον ὄφιν
κείμενον ἐν μέσσοισι Διὸς τέρας αἰγιόχοιο.
δὴ τότε Πουλυδάμας θρασὺν ῞Εκτορα εἶπε παραστάς·
῞Εκτορ ἀεὶ μέν πώς μοι ἐπιπλήσσεις ἀγορῇσιν
ἐσθλὰ φραζομένῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδὲ ἔοικε
δῆμον ἐόντα παρὲξ ἀγορευέμεν, οὔτ’ ἐνὶ βουλῇ
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐν πολέμῳ, σὸν δὲ κράτος αἰὲν ἀέξειν·
νῦν αὖτ’ ἐξερέω ὥς μοι δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα.
μὴ ἴομεν Δαναοῖσι μαχησόμενοι περὶ νηῶν.
ὧδε γὰρ ἐκτελέεσθαι ὀΐομαι, εἰ ἐτεόν γε
Τρωσὶν ὅδ’ ὄρνις ἦλθε περησέμεναι μεμαῶσιν
αἰετὸς ὑψιπέτης ἐπ’ ἀριστερὰ λαὸν ἐέργων
φοινήεντα δράκοντα φέρων ὀνύχεσσι πέλωρον
ζωόν· ἄφαρ δ’ ἀφέηκε πάρος φίλα οἰκί’ ἱκέσθαι,
οὐδ’ ἐτέλεσσε φέρων δόμεναι τεκέεσσιν ἑοῖσιν.
ὣς ἡμεῖς, εἴ πέρ τε πύλας καὶ τεῖχος ᾿Αχαιῶν
ῥηξόμεθα σθένεϊ μεγάλῳ, εἴξωσι δ’ ᾿Αχαιοί,
οὐ κόσμῳ παρὰ ναῦφιν ἐλευσόμεθ’ αὐτὰ κέλευθα·
πολλοὺς γὰρ Τρώων καταλείψομεν, οὕς κεν ᾿Αχαιοὶ
χαλκῷ δῃώσωσιν ἀμυνόμενοι περὶ νηῶν.
ὧδέ χ’ ὑποκρίναιτο θεοπρόπος, ὃς σάφα θυμῷ
εἰδείη τεράων καί οἱ πειθοίατο λαοί.

Eagle with Snake from Olympia, c. 5th Century BCE

Politics Getting You Down? Here’s a Pep-talk from Cicero

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum: paradox 2: That having virtue is enough for being happy

“No one can be really happy if they rely wholly on themselves and value everything with themselves alone. But those whose reasoning and hope depend entirely on fortune cannot have anything certain—nothing possessed can be expected to last for more than a solitary day.

Threaten that kind of person, should you find one, with these threats of death and exile. In truth, whatever will happen in so thankless a state will happen whether I am protesting or resisting or not. What have I labored over or what have I done or what of my worries and thoughts passing throughout the night, If I have actually accomplished or pursued nothing to put me in a state that rashness of fate or injuries to my friends cannot weaken? Do you threaten death so that I will completely withdraw from humankind or exile so I may abandon the wicked? Death is terrible to those who lose everything along with life but not for those whose praise can never die. Exile is dreadful to those whose home is a mere boundary line but not to those who think that the whole world is one city.”

Nemo potest non beatissimus esse qui est totus aptus ex sese quique in se uno sua ponit omnia; cui spes omnis et ratio et cogitatio pendet ex fortuna, huic nihil potest esse certi, nihil quod exploratum habeat permansurum sibi unum diem. Eum tu hominem terreto, si quem eris nactus, istis mortis aut exilii minis; mihi vero quidquid acciderit in tam ingrata civitate ne recusanti quidem evenerit, non modo non repugnanti, Quid enim ego laboravi aut quid egi aut in quo evigilaverunt curae et cogitationes meae, si quidem nihil peperi tale nihil consecutus sum ut in eo statu essem quem neque fortunae temeritas neque inimicorum labefactaret iniuria? Mortemne mihi minitaris ut omnino ab hominibus, an exilium ut ab improbis demigrandum sit? Mors terribilis est eis quorum cum vita omnia exstinguuntur, non eis quorum laus emori non potest, exilium autem illis quibus quasi circumscriptus est habitandi locus, non eis qui omnem orbem terrarum unam urbem esse ducunt.

Cicero, copy by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1799-1800 of Roman bust

The Most Evil Pain: A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dining and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for human beings: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

Image result for Ancient Persian feast

Plutocrats, Listen Up: Equal is Better Than More

Diodorus Siculus, History 9.12

“There is also the story that when the people of Mitylene allowed Pittacus to have half the land over which he fought in single combat, he would not take it. Instead, he assigned an equal portion to each man, saying that an “equal amount is greater than more”. For, since he took the measure of what was greater by fairness not by profit, he judged wisely. He believed that fame and safety would follow equality while gossip and fear followed greed, and they would have quickly reclaimed his gift.”

12. Ὅτι τῶν Μιτυληναίων διδόντων τῷ Πιττακῷ τῆς χώρας ὑπὲρ ἧς ἐμονομάχησε τὴν ἡμίσειαν οὐκ ἐδέξατο, συνέταξε δὲ ἑκάστῳ κληρῶσαι τὸ ἴσον, ἐπιφθεγξάμενος ὡς τὸ ἴσον ἐστὶ τοῦ πλείονος πλεῖον. μετρῶν γὰρ ἐπιεικείᾳ τὸ πλεῖον, οὐ κέρδει, σοφῶς ἐγίνωσκεν· τῇ μὲν γὰρ ἰσότητι δόξαν καὶ ἀσφάλειαν ἀκολουθήσειν, τῇ δὲ πλεονεξίᾳ βλασφημίαν καὶ φόβον, δι᾿ ὧν ταχέως ἂν αὐτοῦ τὴν δωρεὰν ἀφείλαντο.

Cf. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 1.75

“Then, the Mityleneans honored Pittakos powerfully and gave the rule of the state to him alone. During the ten years he held power, he also corrected the constitution and then surrendered power even though he lived ten years more. The Mityleneans gave him some land, but he donated it as sacred. The plot is called after his name even today. Sôsicrates says that he cut off a little bit for himself, saying that “half is greater than the whole.”

[75] Τότε δ᾽ οὖν τὸν Πιττακὸν ἰσχυρῶς ἐτίμησαν οἱ Μυτιληναῖοι, καὶ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐνεχείρισαν αὐτῷ. ὁ δὲ δέκα ἔτη κατασχὼν καὶ εἰς τάξιν ἀγαγὼν τὸ πολίτευμα, κατέθετο τὴν ἀρχήν, καὶ δέκα ἐπεβίω ἄλλα. καὶ χώραν αὐτῷ ἀπένειμαν οἱ Μυτιληναῖοι: ὁ δὲ ἱερὰν ἀνῆκεν, ἥτις νῦν Πιττάκειος καλεῖται. Σωσικράτης δέ φησιν ὅτι ὀλίγον ἀποτεμόμενος ἔφη τὸ ἥμισυ τοῦ παντὸς πλεῖον εἶναι.

The idea of “half being greater than the whole” is likely proverbial, showing up as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where the narrator uses it when he complains about how the judges act unfairly in their evaluation of cases (by taking bribes): “the fools don’t know how much greater the half is than the whole” νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς.

Diodorus Siculus’ statement that “an equal part is greater than more” is probably a clever departure from the Hesiodic statement. Hesiod’s statement seems to be about greed (wanting more than your due), as glossed by Michael Apostolius:

13.77

“They don’t know how much greater the half is than the whole”: [this is a proverb used] for those who desire more and lose what they have.

Οὐδ’ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός: ὅτι οἱ τῶν πλειόνων ἐπιθυμοῦντες καὶ ἃ ἔχουσιν ἀποβάλλουσιν.

A unifying theme between the two versions is that in early Greek culture that which is isos is not fair in terms of being equal but it possesses equity in terms of being proper to the recipient’s social status. So, Diodorus’ isos share can map out onto Hesiod’s “half” share.

Image result for pittacus

Another proverbial moment for Pittakos:

Diodorus Siculus, History 9.12.3

“When Pittacus finally caught up with the poet Alcaeus, a man especially hateful to him who had mocked him savagely in his poems, he released him, remarking that forgiveness is a better choice than vengeance.”

ὅτι καὶ τὸν ποιητὴν Ἀλκαῖον, ἐχθρότατον αὐτοῦ γεγενημένον καὶ διὰ τῶν ποιημάτων πικρότατα λελοιδορηκότα, λαβὼν ὑποχείριον ἀφῆκεν, ἐπιφθεγξάμενος ὡς συγγνώμη τιμωρίας αἱρετωτέρα.

Human Sacrifice is Supposed to END Plagues

Clement, First Letter to the Corinthians 55

“Let’s offer some examples from other peoples as well. Many kings and people in charge, have given themselves to death after listening to an oracle, so that they might save their citizens with their own blood. And many private citizens have exiled themselves in order to decrease civil strife.”

Ἵνα δὲ καὶ ὑποδείγματα ἐθνῶν ἐνέγκωμεν· πολλοὶ βασιλεῖς καὶ ἡγούμενοι, λοιμικοῦ τινος ἐνστάντος καιροῦ χρησμοδοτηθέντες παρέδωκαν ἑαυτοὺς εἰς θάνατον, ἵνα ῥύσωνται διὰ τοῦ ἑαυτῶν αἵματος τοὺς πολίτας· πολλοὶ ἐξεχώρησαν ἰδίων πόλεων, ἵνα μὴ στασιάζωσιν ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

Stobaios, Florilegium  3.7.69

“When a plague was afflicting the Spartans because of the murder of the heralds sent by Xerxes—because he demanded earth and water as signs of servitude—they received an oracle that they would be saved if some Spartans would be selected to be killed by the king. Then Boulis and Sperkhis came forward to the king because they believed they were worthy to be sacrificed. Because he was impressed by their bravery he ordered them to go home.”

Τοῦ αὐτοῦ. λοιμοῦ κατασχόντος τὴν Λακεδαίμονα διὰ τὴν ἀναίρεσιν τῶν κηρύκων τῶν ἀπεσταλέντων παρὰ Ξέρξου αἰτοῦντος γῆν καὶ ὕδωρ ὥσπερ ἀπαρχὰς δουλείας, χρησμὸς ἐδόθη ἐπαλλαγήσεσθαι αὐτούς, εἴ γέ τινες ἕλοιντο Λακεδαιμονίων παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ἀναιρεθῆναι. τότε Βοῦλις καὶ Σπέρχις ἀφικόμενοι πρὸς βασιλέα ἠξίουν ἀναιρεθῆναι· ὁ δὲ θαυμάσας αὐτῶν τὴν ἀρετὴν ἐπανιέναι προσέταξεν.

Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum 1.110 [Epimenides]

“Epimenides was known among the Greeks and was thought to be extremely beloved to the gods. For this reason, when the Athenians were once afflicted by a plague and the Pythian oracle prophesied that they should cleanse their city, they sent a ship along with Nikias the son of Nikêratos, summoning Epimenides.

He made it to Athens at the time of the 46th Olympiad [c. 596 BCE] and cleansed the city. He stopped it in the following manner. After obtaining white and black sheep, he led them to the Areopagos and then allowed them to go wherever they wanted there. He ordered the people following them to sacrifice the sheep to whichever god was proper to the place where each sheep laid down.

This is how the plague stopped. For this reason it is still even today possible to find altars without names in certain Athenian neighborhoods as a commemoration of that ancient cleansing. Some people report that Epimenides indicated the pollution from the Kylon scandal as the cause of the plague along with a resolution for it. For this reason, they killed two youths, Kratinos and Ktêsibios and the suffering was relieved.”

(110) γνωσθεὶς δὲ παρὰ τοῖς ῞Ελλησι θεοφιλέστατος εἶναι ὑπελήφθη. ὅθεν καὶ Ἀθηναίοις ποτὲ λοιμῶι κατεχομένοις ἔχρησεν ἡ Πυθία καθῆραι τὴν πόλιν, οἱ δὲ πέμπουσι ναῦν τε καὶ Νικίαν τὸν Νικηράτου εἰς Κρήτην, καλοῦντες τὸν Ἐπιμενίδην. καὶ ὃς ἐλθὼν ὀλυμπιάδι τεσσαρακοστῆι ἕκτηι ἐκάθηρεν αὐτῶν τὴν πόλιν, καὶ ἔπαυσε τὸν λοιμὸν τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον· λαβὼν πρόβατα μέλανά τε καὶ λευκά, ἤγαγεν πρὸς τὸν ῎Αρειον πάγον, κἀκεῖθεν εἴασεν ἰέναι οἷ βούλοιντο, προστάξας τοῖς ἀκολούθοις, ἔνθα ἂν κατακλινῆι αὐτῶν ἕκαστον, θύειν τῶι προσήκοντι θεῶι· καὶ οὕτω λῆξαι τὸ κακόν· ὅθεν ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἔστιν εὺρεῖν κατὰ τοὺς δήμους τῶν Ἀθηναίων βωμοὺς ἀνωνύμους, ὑπόμνημα τῆς τότε γενομενης ἐξιλάσεως. οἱ δὲ τὴν αἰτίαν εἰπεῖν τοῦ λοιμοῦ τὸ Κυλώνειον ἄγος σημαίνειν τε τὴν ἀπαλλαγήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἀποθανεῖν δύο νεανίας Κρατῖνον καὶ Κτησίβιον, καὶ λυθῆναι τὴν συμφοράν

Ps.-Plutarch, Parallela minora 19A, 310B-C

“Kuanippos, a Syracusan by birth, did not sacrifice to Dionysus alone. In rage over this, the god caused him to become drunk and then he raped his daughter Kuanê in some shadowy place. She took his ring and gave it to her nurse as to be proof of what had happened in the future.

When they were later struck by a plague and Pythian Apollo said that they had to sacrifice the impious person to the Gods-who-Protect, everyone else was uncertain about the oracle. Kuanê understood it. She grabbed her father by the hair and sacrificed herself over him once she’d butchered him on the altar.

That’s the story Dositheos tells in the third book of his Sicilian Tales.

Κυάνιππος γένει Συρακούσιος μόνωι Διονύσωι οὐκ ἔθυεν· ὁ δὲ θεὸς ὀργισθεὶς μέθην ἐνέσκηψε, καὶ ἐν τόπωι σκοτεινῶι τὴν θυγατέρα ἐβιάσατο Κυάνην· ἡ δὲ τὸν δακτύλιον περιελομένη ἔδωκε τῆι τροφῶι ἐσόμενον ἀναγνώρισμα. λοιμωξάντων δὲ, καὶ τοῦ Πυθίου εἰπόντος μὲν δεῖν τὸν ἀσεβῆ <᾽Απο>τροπαίοις θεοῖς σφαγιάσαι, τῶν δ᾽ ἄλλων ἀγνοούντων τὸν χρησμόν, γνοῦσα ἡ Κυάνη καὶ ἐπιλαβομένη τῶν τριχῶν εἷλκε, καὶ αὐτὴ κατασφάξασα τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτὴν ἐπέσφαξε, καθάπερ Δοσίθεος ἐν τῶι τρίτωι Σικελικῶν.

Plague of Athens - Wikipedia
The Plague of Athens, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

Hesiod, Works and Days 240-247

“The whole state often suffers because of a wicked man
Who transgresses the gods and devises reckless deeds.
Kronos’ son rains down great pain on them from heaven:
Famine and plague and the people start to perish.
[Women don’t give birth and households waste away
Thanks to the vengeance of Olympian Zeus.] And at other times
Kronos’ son ruins their great army or their wall
Or he destroys their ships on the the sea.”

πολλάκι καὶ ξύμπασα πόλις κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀπηύρα,
ὅστις ἀλιτραίνῃ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα μηχανάαται.
τοῖσιν δ’ οὐρανόθεν μέγ’ ἐπήγαγε πῆμα Κρονίων,
λιμὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ λοιμόν, ἀποφθινύθουσι δὲ λαοί·
[οὐδὲ γυναῖκες τίκτουσιν, μινύθουσι δὲ οἶκοι
Ζηνὸς φραδμοσύνῃσιν ᾿Ολυμπίου· ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε]
ἢ τῶν γε στρατὸν εὐρὺν ἀπώλεσεν ἢ ὅ γε τεῖχος
ἢ νέας ἐν πόντῳ Κρονίδης ἀποτείνυται αὐτῶν.

 

Some other cures:

Diogenes Laertius, Empedocles 8.70

“When a plague struck the Selinuntians thanks to the pollution from a nearby river causing people to die and the women to miscarry, Empedocles recognized the problem and turned two local rivers at his own expense. They sweetened the streams by mixing in with them.

Once the plague was stopped in this way, Empedocles appeared while the Selinuntines were having a feast next to the river. They rose and bowed before him, praying to him as if he were a god. He threw himself into a fire because he wanted to test the truth of his divinity.”

τοῖς Σελινουντίοις ἐμπεσόντος λοιμοῦ διὰ τὰς ἀπὸ τοῦ παρακειμένου ποταμοῦ δυσωδίας, ὥστε καὶ αὐτοὺς φθείρεσθαι καὶ τὰς γυναῖκας δυστοκεῖν, ἐπινοῆσαι τὸν Ἐμπεδοκλέα καὶ δύο τινὰς ποταμοὺς τῶν σύνεγγυς ἐπαγαγεῖν ἰδίαις δαπάναις· καὶ καταμίξαντα γλυκῆναι τὰ ῥεύματα. οὕτω δὴ λήξαντος τοῦ λοιμοῦ καὶ τῶν Σελινουντίων εὐωχουμένων ποτὲ παρὰ τῷ ποταμῷ, ἐπιφανῆναι τὸν Ἐμπεδοκλέα· τοὺς δ’ ἐξαναστάντας προσκυνεῖν καὶ προσεύχεσθαι καθαπερεὶ θεῷ. ταύτην οὖν θέλοντα βεβαιῶσαι τὴν διάληψιν εἰς τὸ πῦρ ἐναλέσθαι.

Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 4, 5

“He had banquet and bedroom furniture made from silver. He often ate camel-heels and cock’s combs removed from birds who were still alive to imitate Apicius, as well as the tongues of peacocks and nightingales because it was said that whoever ate them was safe from the plague.

He also gave the the Palace visitors enormous serving dishes piled with the innards of mullets, flamingo-brains, partridge eggs, the brains of thrushes, and the whole heads of parrots, pheasants, and peacocks.”

Hic solido argento factos habuit lectos et tricliniares et cubiculares. comedit saepius ad imitationem Apicii calcanea camelorum et cristas vivis gallinaceis demptas, linguas pavonum et lusciniarum, quod qui ederet a pestilentia tutus diceretur. exhibuit et Palatinis lances ingentes extis mullorum refertas et cerebellis phoenicopterum et perdicum ovis et cerebellis turdorum et capitibus psittacorum et phasianorum et pavonum.

The Right To Criticize the King: The Iliad and Freedom of Speech

Homer, Iliad 9.32-34

“After a while, Diomedes good-at-the warcry, addressed them:
“I will fight with you first because you are being foolish, son of Atreus,
Which is right, Lord, in the assembly. So don’t get angry at all.”

ὀψὲ δὲ δὴ μετέειπε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Διομήδης·
᾿Ατρεΐδη σοὶ πρῶτα μαχήσομαι ἀφραδέοντι,
ἣ θέμις ἐστὶν ἄναξ ἀγορῇ· σὺ δὲ μή τι χολωθῇς.

Schol. T ad Il. 9.32b ex

[“I will fight with you first”] “It is clear that he is also criticizing the rest of the Greeks because they are consenting to the retreat through their silence. For he says the fight in opposition to the speech.”

ex. σοὶ πρῶτα μαχήσομαι: δῆλον ὡς καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις μέμφεται ὡς συναινοῦσι τῇ φυγῇ διὰ τοῦ σιωπᾶν. μάχην δέ φησι τὴν ἐναντίωσιν τοῦ λόγου. T

Schol. A ad Il. 9.33b ex

[“which is right in the assembly, lord”] This is the custom, in a democracy. It is established in the agora because it is the custom to speak with freedom of speech [parrêsia] in the assembly.

D | Nic. ἣ θέμις <ἐστίν, ἄναξ, ἀγορῇ>: ὡς νόμος ἐστὶν—ἐν δημοκρατίᾳ. | ἐπὶ δὲ τὸ ἀγορῇ στικτέον, ὡς νόμος ἐστὶν ἐκκλησίας μετὰ παρρησίας λέγειν.

Schol. bT ad Il. 9.33 ex

[“don’t get angry at all”] this is an anticipatory warning, since he is about to criticize him more severely than he has been reproached at anytime, [alleging that it is right] to speak against kings during assemblies. He asks him to set anger aside because he believes it is right to accept advantageous truth and he is clarifying the purpose of what is said—that it is not to insult.

ex. ἣ θέμις ἐστίν, ἄναξ, <ἀγορῇ· σὺ δὲ μή τι χολωθῇς>: προδιόρθωσις, ἐπειδὴ σφοδρότερον αὐτοῦ μέλλει καθάπτεσθαι ὡς ἐφιεμένου μὴ ἄλλοτε, ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις ἀντιλέγειν τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν. προπαραιτεῖται δὲ τὴν ὀργήν, ἀξιῶν δέξασθαι τὴν πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον ἀλήθειαν καὶ δηλῶν ὡς τοῖς εἰρημένοις, οὐκ αὐτῷ ἀπέχθεται

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Painting of Perikles by Philipp von Foltz

Husbands and Tyrants in the Storm

Euripides, Medea 235-240

“The greatest contest in our life is this: getting a good husband
Or a bad one. For divorces do not bring women
A good reputation and it is impossible to refuse a husband.
When she enters the new ways and laws of his house
She needs to be a prophet, since she has not learned at home
How best to live with this partner. ”

κἀν τῷδ᾿ ἀγὼν μέγιστος, ἢ κακὸν λαβεῖν
ἢ χρηστόν· οὐ γὰρ εὐκλεεῖς ἀπαλλαγαὶ
γυναιξὶν οὐδ᾿ οἷόν τ᾿ ἀνήνασθαι πόσιν.
ἐς καινὰ δ᾿ ἤθη καὶ νόμους ἀφιγμένην
δεῖ μάντιν εἶναι, μὴ μαθοῦσαν οἴκοθεν,
ὅπως ἄριστα χρήσεται ξυνευνέτῃ.

Euripides, Medea 252-258

“But the same story does not apply to both me and you.
You have your city and your father’s home,
A life’s benefit and the presence of friends.
I am alone, stateless, taken violently by this
Husband, kidnapped as spoil from a foreign land,
I have no mother, no brother, no cousin
To provide me safe harbor from this storm.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὐ γὰρ αὑτὸς πρὸς σὲ κἄμ᾿ ἥκει λόγος·
σοὶ μὲν πόλις θ᾿ ἥδ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ πατρὸς δόμοι
βίου τ᾿ ὄνησις καὶ φίλων συνουσία,
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔρημος ἄπολις οὖσ᾿ ὑβρίζομαι
πρὸς ἀνδρός, ἐκ γῆς βαρβάρου λελῃσμένη,
οὐ μητέρ᾿, οὐκ ἀδελφόν, οὐχὶ συγγενῆ
μεθορμίσασθαι τῆσδ᾿ ἔχουσα συμφορᾶς.

Euripides, Medea 357-356

“I am not like a tyrant in the least:
I have suffered much because of my sense of shame.
Now, even though I see you making a mistake, woman,
You will still get what you ask. But I am warning you:
If the sun rises tomorrow to see you here
And your children within the borders of this land,
You die. This speech is not uttered as a lie.
But, now, if you need to stay, remain for a day.
You won’t do any evil I fear in this time.”

ἥκιστα τοὐμὸν λῆμ᾿ ἔφυ τυραννικόν,
αἰδούμενος δὲ πολλὰ δὴ διέφθορα·
καὶ νῦν ὁρῶ μὲν ἐξαμαρτάνων, γύναι,
ὅμως δὲ τεύξῃ τοῦδε. προυννέπω δέ σοι,
εἴ σ᾿ ἡ ᾿πιοῦσα λαμπὰς ὄψεται θεοῦ
καὶ παῖδας ἐντὸς τῆσδε τερμόνων χθονός,
θανῇ· λέλεκται μῦθος ἀψευδὴς ὅδε.
νῦν δ᾿, εἰ μένειν δεῖ, μίμν᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἡμέραν μίαν·
οὐ γάρ τι δράσεις δεινὸν ὧν φόβος μ᾿ ἔχει.

Roman sarcophagus showing the story of Medea and Creusa. Ca 150 AD. Altes Museum, Berlin.

Informers, Flatterers, and Figs: On Sycophants

From the Suda

“To be a sykophant: To rub sexually. That’s how Plato and Menander use it.”

Συκοφαντεῖν: κνίζειν ἐρωτικῶς. οὕτως Πλάτων καὶ Μένανδρος.

Browse the Suda on the Scaife Viewer. Or, check out translation and commentary on the Suda Online

More from the Suda

“To be a sykophant: to falsely accuse someone. They the Athenians called it this at the time when a fig-plant was first discovered and they were stopping the export of figs for this reason. Those people who reported that figs were being exported were called “sykophants” [lit. “fig speakers”]. Over time, anyone who accused people in a super annoying manner were named in this way.

Aristophanes writes “these things are small and indigenous” since being a sykophant is a native characteristic of Athenians. Aelian adds “he alleged [sukophantei] that he god was negligent. For these reasons plagues and famine over came the Himerians’ city.”

Συκοφαντεῖν: τὸ ψευδῶς τινος κατηγορεῖν. κεκλῆσθαι δέ φασι τοῦτο παρ’ ᾿Αθηναίοις πρῶτον εὑρεθέντος τοῦ φυτοῦ τῆς συκῆς καὶ διὰ τοῦτο κωλυόντων ἐξάγειν τὰ σῦκα. τῶν δὲ φαινόντων τοὺς ἐξάγοντας συκοφαντῶν κληθέντων, συνέβη καὶ τοὺς ὁπωσοῦν κατηγοροῦντας τινῶν φιλαπεχθημόνως οὕτω προσαγορευθῆναι. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· καὶ ταῦτα μὲν δὴ σμικρὰ κἀπιχώρια. ἴδιον γὰρ ᾿Αθηναίων τὸ συκοφαντεῖν. Αἰλιανός· ὁ δὲ ἐσυκοφάντει τὸν θεὸν ὀλιγωρίας. ἐκ δὴ τούτων νόσοι καὶ τροφῶν ἀπορίαι τὴν ῾Ιμεραίων κατέσχον.

Even more from the Suda

“Sykophant: When there was a famine in Attica, some people were gathering figs in secrete which had been promised to the gods. After this, when times were good again. Some people were prosecuting these men. This is where the term developed. Look at the term “fig squeezer” too.

Συκοφάντης: λιμοῦ γενομένου ἐν τῇ ᾿Αττικῇ, τινὲς λάθρα τὰς συκᾶς τὰς ἀφιερωμένας τοῖς θεοῖς ἐκαρποῦντο· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα εὐθηνίας γενομένης, κατηγόρουν τούτων τινές. ἐκεῖθεν οὖν συκοφάντης λέγεται. ζήτει ἐν τῷ ἀποσυκάζεις.

“Sykophant: The devil. For he made a false accusation of god, claimed that he prevented [humans] from having a share of the tree [of knowledge]. He also spoke slanderously against Job: “Does Job worship god with no return?”

Consider also sykophantia, which means false prosecution.

Συκοφάντης: ὁ διάβολος· τὸν γὰρ θεὸν ἐσυκοφάντησε, φήσας κεκωλυκέναι τοῦ ξύλου τὴν μετάληψιν· καὶ κατὰ τοῦ ᾿Ιώβ· μὴ δωρεὰν σέβεται ᾿Ιὼβ τὸν θεόν; καὶ Συκοφαντία, ἡ ψευδὴς κατηγορία.

For the story of Solon and the sycophants, see Plutarch’s Life of Solon on the Scaife Viewer. The sense of flatterer or parasite is somewhat present in the ancient Greek but becomes more prominent in English usage. The negative use can be seen in the fragment from Alexis’ The Poet (fr. 187) preserved in Athenaeus:

The name of sykophant is not rightly
Given to corrupted men.
For it should have been right for any man
Who was good and sweet to have figs
Attached to him to reveal his character.
But it fills us with confusion on why something sweet
Has been attached to someone bad.

ὁ συκοφάντης οὐ δικαίως τοὔνομα |
ἐν τοῖσι μοχθηροῖσίν ἐστι κείμενον.
ἔδει γάρ, ὅστις χρηστὸς ἦν ἡδύς τ᾿ ἀνήρ,
τὰ σῦκα προστεθέντα δηλοῦν τὸν τρόπον·
νυνὶ δὲ πρὸς μοχθηρὸν ἡδὺ προστεθὲν
ἀπορεῖν πεπόηκε διὰ τί τοῦθ᾿ οὕτως ἔχει.

Syc OED

 

Chief Minister of Bullsh*t

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 92 (4.18) October or November 54

You may ask me “how are you handling these things?” By god, pretty damn well and I love myself for doing so. My friend, we have not only lost the marrow and blood of a just state, but we’ve lost its decoration and facade too.

There is no Republic where I might find happiness or comfort. You may ask, “Can you really take this well?” Yes. That’s it. I recall how well the state thrived when I was governing it and the gratitude it gave me. No grief touches me at all at seeing one person capable of everything. Those who were upset that I had any power are wrecked by it.

No, I have many things to bring me solace. But I do not move from where I am, instead I return to that way of life which is most natural, to my books and my research.”

Dices ‘tu ergo haec quo modo fers?’ belle mehercule et in eo me valde amo. amisimus, mi Pomponi, omnem non modo sucum ac sanguinem sed etiam colorem et speciem pristinae civitatis. nulla est res publica quae delectet, in qua acquiescam. ‘idne igitur’ inquies ‘facile fers?’ id ipsum. recordor enim quam bella paulisper nobis gubernantibus civitas fuerit, quae mihi gratia relata sit. nullus dolor me angit unum omnia posse; dirumpuntur ii qui me aliquid posse doluerunt. multa mihi dant solacia, nec tamen ego de meo statu demigro, quaeque vita maxime est ad naturam, ad eam me refero, ad litteras et studia nostra.

Carved bust of Cicero 

“The Ascension of Fools” Some Ancient Comments on Stupidity

μωρολογία: properly, “stupid-talking” or “the talk of fools”. But why not: “the science of stupidity”?

Sophocles, fr. 924

“Stupidity is a terrible opponent to wrestle”
ὡς δυσπάλαιστόν <ἐστιν> ἀμαθία κακόν

Terence, Phormio, 659-660

“Whether I claim he does this because of stupidity or

malice—whether this is a knowing plot, or incompetence, I am unsure.”

utrum stultitia facere ego hunc an malitia
dicam, scientem an imprudentem, incertu’ sum.

Sophocles, fr. 925

“Stupidity really is evil’s sibling”

ἡ δὲ μωρία
μάλιστ᾿ ἀδελφὴ τῆς πονηρίας ἔφυ

Suetonius, Divus Claudius 38

“But he did not stay quiet even about his own stupidity: but claimed that he had faked it on purpose under Gaius because he would have not escaped and advanced to his eventual position otherwise—and that this was supported by certain oracles. But he persuaded no one. And after a brief time, a book was published with the title “The Ascension of Fools” which posited that no one can pretend stupidity.”

Ac ne stultitiam quidem suam reticuit simulatamque a se ex industria sub Gaio, quod aliter evasurus perventurusque ad susceptam stationem non fuerit, quibusdam oratiunculis testatus est; nec tamen49 persuasit, cum intra breve tempus liber editus sit, cui index erat μωρῶν ἐπανάστασις, argumentum autem stultitiam neminem fingere.

Plutarch, Rational Beasts 998a

“Note that a lack of intelligence or stupidity in some animals emerges in contrast with the abilities and sharpness of others as you might compare an ass or a sheep with a fox, a wolf or a bee. It would be the same if you would compare Polyphemos or that idiot Koroibos to your grandfather Autolykos. For I do not think that there is so great a difference between beasts as there is between individual people in thinking, using reason, and in memory.”

ἐννόησον δ᾿ ὅτι τὰς ἐνίων ἀβελτερίας καὶ βλακείας ἐλέγχουσιν ἑτέρων πανουργίαι καὶ δριμύτητες, ὅταν ἀλώπεκι καὶ λύκῳ καὶ μελίττῃ παραβάλῃς ὄνον καὶ πρόβατον· ὥσπερ εἰ σαυτῷ τὸν Πολύφημον ἢ τῷ πάππῳ σου τῷ Αὐτολύκῳ τὸν Κόροιβον ἐκεῖνον τὸν μωρόν οὐ γὰρ οἶμαι θηρίου πρὸς θηρίον ἀπόστασιν εἶναι τοσαύτην, ὅσον ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου τῷ φρονεῖν καὶ λογίζεσθαι καὶ μνημονεύειν ἀφέστηκεν.

Andocides, On His Return 2

“These men must be the dumbest of all people or they are the most inimical to the state. If they believe that it is also better for their private affairs when the state does well, then they are complete fools in pursuing something opposite to their own advantage right now. If they do not believe that they share common interests with you, then they must be enemies of the state”

δεῖ γὰρ αὐτοὺς ἤτοι ἀμαθεστάτους εἶναι πάντων ἀνθρώπων, ἢ τῇ πόλει ταύτῃ δυσμενεστάτους. εἰ μέν γε νομίζουσι τῆς πόλεως εὖ πραττούσης καὶ τὰ ἴδια σφῶν αὐτῶν ἄμεινον ἂν φέρεσθαι, ἀμαθέστατοί εἰσι τὰ ἐναντία νῦν τῇ ἑαυτῶν ὠφελείᾳ σπεύδοντες· εἰ δὲ μὴ ταὐτὰ ἡγοῦνται σφίσι τε αὐτοῖς συμφέρειν καὶ τῷ ὑμετέρῳ κοινῷ, δυσμενεῖς ἂν τῇ πόλει εἶεν·

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 21

“A special recognition for stupidity needs to be given to the rhetorician Corvus who said, “Since Xerxes is already sailing against us on his sea, shouldn’t we flee before the earth is taken from us””

Corvo rhetori testimonium stuporis reddendum est, qui dixit: “quidni, si iam Xerses ad nos suo mari navigat, fugiamus, ntequam nobis terra subripiatur?”

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