Fish-Eaters, Meat-Eaters and Bread: A Strange Scholion and Dehumanizing Structures in the Odyssey

Homer, Odyssey 8.221-222

“I say that I am much better than the rest,
However so many mortals now eat bread on the earth.”

τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ἐμέ φημι πολὺ προφερέστερον εἶναι,
ὅσσοι νῦν βροτοί εἰσιν ἐπὶ χθονὶ σῖτον ἔδοντες.

Schol. B ad Od. 8.222 ex

“Who eat bread…” He says this because there are some races who don’t eat bread. Indeed, some are called locust eaters and fish-easters, like the Skythian race and the Massagetae are called meat-eaters. Some of the locust-eaters, after seeing bread, used to believe it was shit.”

σῖτον ἔδοντες] εἶπε τοῦτο διά τινα γένη, οἵτινες οὐκ ἤσθιον σῖτον. διὸ καὶ ἀκριδοφάγοι τινὲς καὶ ἰχθυοφάγοι ἐκαλοῦντο, ὡς καὶ τὸ Σκυθικὸν καὶ Μασσαγετικὸν κρεοφάγοι καλοῦνται. τινὲς γὰρ τῶν ἀκριδοφάγων ἰδόντες ἄρτον κόπρον εἶναι ἐνόμιζον. B.

Eusth. Comm. I Ad Hom. Od. 1.293

“Those who eat grain/bread.” This is perhaps said regarding the difference of other mortals who are not these kind of people—the kind of sort the story claims that the long-lived Aethiopians are too. These people, after they saw bread, compared it to shit. There were also those who lived from eating locusts and others who lived off fish. For this reason they are called locust-eaters and fish eaters. The Skythian race and the Masssegetic people who live primarily off meat do not wish to eat grain.”

Τὸ δὲ σῖτον ἔδοντες, πρὸς διαστολὴν ἴσως ἐῤῥέθη ἑτέρων βροτῶν μὴ τοιούτων. ὁποίους καὶ τοὺς μακροβίους Αἰθίοπας ἡ ἱστορία φησίν. οἳ ἄρτον ἰδόντες κόπρῳ αὐτὸν εἴκασαν. ἦσαν δὲ καὶ οἱ ἐξ ἀκρίδων ζῶντες καὶ οἱ ἐξ ἰχθύων. οἳ καὶ ἀκριδοφάγοι διατοῦτο καὶ ἰχθυοφάγοι ἐκαλοῦντο. τὸ δὲ Σκυθικὸν φῦλον καὶ τὸ Μασσαγετικὸν κρέασι διοικονομούμενον οὐδ’ αὐτὸ ἐθέλει σιτοφαγεῖν.

Strabo, Geographica 16.4.12

“In a close land to [the Aethiopians] are people darker-skinned than the rest and shorter and the shortest-lived, the locust-eaters. They rarely see more than forty years because their flesh is rife with parasites. They live on locusts who arrive in the spring carried by the strong winds that blow into these places. After throwing burning logs into trenches and kindling them a little, they overshadow the locusts with smoke and they call. They pound them together with salt and use them as cakes for their food.”

Πλησιόχωροι δὲ τούτοις εἰσὶ μελανώτεροί τε τῶν ἄλλων καὶ βραχύτεροι καὶ βραχυβιώτατοι ἀκριδοφάγοι· τὰ γὰρ τετταράκοντα ἔτη σπανίως ὑπερτιθέασιν, ἀπο-
θηριουμένης αὐτῶν τῆς σαρκός· ζῶσι δ’ ἀπὸ ἀκρίδων, ἃς οἱ ἐαρινοὶ λίβες καὶ ζέφυροι πνέοντες μεγάλοι συνελαύνουσιν εἰς τοὺς τόπους τούτους· ἐν ταῖς χα-ράδραις δὲ ἐμβαλόντες ὕλην καπνώδη καὶ ὑφάψαντες μικρὸν … ὑπερπετάμεναι γὰρ τὸν καπνὸν σκοτοῦνται καὶ πίπτουσι· συγκόψαντες δ’ αὐτὰς μεθ’ ἁλμυρίδος μάζας ποιοῦνται καὶ χρῶνται.

Strabo’s passage is, from a modern perspective, fairly racist (and more so even than the Eustathius). I don’t believe that the Odyssey’s formulaic line carries the same force, however. For Homer, people who eat bread are those who cultivate the earth and have to work (they don’t live easy lives like the gods). People who don’t eat the fruit of the earth are marauders and monsters.

The Odyssey’s ethnographic frame develops structures that insist to be fully human, one must (1) live in a city and (2) have recognizable laws and institutions, and (3) cultivate the earth. Creatures who don’t do these things are marginalized and dehumanized either through their behavior (the suitors and sailors) or through actual deformity (the Cyclopes, Kikones, and, well, pretty much most of the women in the poem). So, while the epic itself is not clearly racist in the modern sense, it supplies and deploys frameworks by which other human beings may be marginalized and dehumanized.

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Plutarch, Plato and Epictetus: Loving Exiles. Loving Learning. Living Awake.

Plutarch, On Exile 604a

But ‘exile’ is an insult. Indeed, it is such among fools who use as slander “poor man”, “bald”, “short”, and, by god, “foreigner” or “immigrant”. But, truly, those who are not obsessed by these insults find wonder in good people, whether they are poor, foreigners, or exiles.”

Ἀλλ᾿ ἐπονείδιστον ὁ φυγάς ἐστι. παρά γε τοῖς ἄφροσιν, οἳ καὶ “τὸν πτωχὸν” λοιδόρημα
ποιοῦνται καὶ “τὸν φαλακρὸν” καὶ “τὸν μικρὸν” καὶ νὴ Δία “τὸν ξένον” καὶ “τὸν μέτοικον.” ἀλλὰ μὴν οἱ μὴ τούτοις ὑποφερόμενοι θαυμάζουσι τοὺς ἀγαθούς, κἂν πένητες ὦσι, κἂν ξένοι, κἂν φυγάδες.

Plato, Republic 6 499e-500a

“Friend, I said, Don’t completely dismiss the majority of people in this way. The certainly have a different opinion, if instead of picking fights with them you would show them the people you say are philosophers by persuading them and working against their prejudice against loving learning—if you distinguish it so that they will know what their nature and business is so that they don’t mistakenly think you are talking about different people.

And even if they don’t see it this way, will you claim that they are going to take up a different answer and answer differently? Or do you think that someone who is calm and kind will get angry at someone who isn’t difficult or be jealous of someone who isn’t jealous? I will start out by saying that so harsh a nature develops in only a few people, not the majority.”

Ὦ μακάριε, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, μὴ πάνυ οὕτω τῶν πολλῶν κατηγόρει. ἀλλοίαν τοι δόξαν ἕξουσιν, ἐὰν αὐτοῖς μὴ φιλονικῶν ἀλλὰ παραμυθούμενος καὶ ἀπολυόμενος τὴν τῆς φιλομαθίας διαβολὴν ἐνδεικνύῃ οὓς λέγεις 500τοὺς φιλοσόφους, καὶ διορίζῃ ὥσπερ ἄρτι τήν τε φύσιν αὐτῶν καὶ τὴν ἐπιτήδευσιν, ἵνα μὴ ἡγῶνταί σε λέγειν οὓς αὐτοὶ οἴονται. καὶ ἐὰν οὕτω θεῶνται, ἀλλοίαν τοι6 φήσεις αὐτοὺς δόξαν λήψεσθαι καὶ ἄλλα †ἀποκρίνεσθαι. ἢ οἴει τινὰ χαλεπαίνειν τῷ μὴ χαλεπῷ ἢ | φθονεῖν τῷ μὴ φθονερῷ ἄφθονόν τε καὶ πρᾷον ὄντα; ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ σε προφθάσας λέγω ὅτι ἐν ὀλίγοις τισὶν ἡγοῦμαι, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν τῷ πλήθει, χαλεπὴν οὕτω φύσιν γίγνεσθαι.

Epictetus’ Dissertationes ad Arriano Digestae 1.5

“Epictetus said that if someone resists what is clearly true, then it is not easy to devise an argument to persuade him to change his mind. This is due neither to the man’s strength or the teacher’s weakness, but instead because once someone has been assailed and hardens to stone, how could anyone prevail upon him with reason?

Men are hardened to reason in two ways: one is the petrification of thought; the other comes from shame, whenever someone is deployed in battle to such a degree that he will not acknowledge what is obvious or depart from his fellow combatants. Most of us fear the necrosis of our bodies and we will do anything to avoid having this happen in anyway; but we don’t think at all about the mortification of our mind. By Zeus, if a man is disposed in such a way concerning the mind itself that he can’t follow any argument or understand anything, we believe that he is ill. But if shame or self-regard hardens a man, we still persist in calling this strength!

Do you sense that you are awake? “No”, he answers, “Not more than when I imagine that I am awake while I dream.” The fantasy of dreaming differs in no way from being awake? “Not at all.”

How do I have a conversation with this man? What kind of fire or iron can I take to him to make him perceive that he has turned to stone? Although he realizes it, he pretends he does not. He is even worse than a corpse. One man does not perceive the conflict—he is sick. The other perceives it and neither moves nor responds—he is even worse. His sense of shame and his self-regard have been amputated and his reason has not been excised but instead has been mutilated.

Should I call this strength? May it not be so, unless I should also it strength when perverts do and say everything that occurs to them in public.”

ε′. Πρὸς τοὺς ᾿Ακαδημαικούς.

῎Αν τις, φησίν, ἐνίστηται πρὸς τὰ ἄγαν ἐκφανῆ, πρὸς τοῦτον οὐ ῥᾴδιόν ἐστιν εὑ<ρεῖν λόγ>ον, δι’ οὗ μεταπείσει τις αὐτόν. τοῦτο δ’ οὔτε παρὰ <τὴν ἐκεί>νου γίνεται δύναμιν οὔτε παρὰ τὴν τοῦ διδάσκοντος ἀσθένειαν, ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἀπαχθεὶς ἀπολιθωθῇ, πῶς ἔτι χρήσηταί τις αὐτῷ διὰ λόγου;

᾿Απολιθώσεις δ’ εἰσὶ διτταί· ἡ μὲν τοῦ νοητικοῦ ἀπολίθωσις, ἡ δὲ τοῦ ἐντρεπτικοῦ, ὅταν τις παρατεταγμένος ᾖ μὴ ἐπινεύειν τοῖς ἐναργέσι μηδ’ ἀπὸ τῶν μαχομένων ἀφίστασθαι. οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ τὴν μὲν σωματικὴν ἀπονέκρωσιν φοβούμεθα καὶ πάντ’ <ἂν> μηχανησαίμεθα ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ περιπεσεῖν τοιούτῳ τινί, τῆς ψυχῆς δ’ ἀπονεκρουμένης οὐδὲν ἡμῖν μέλει. καὶ νὴ Δία ἐπὶ αὐτῆς τῆς ψυχῆς ἂν μὲν ᾖ οὕτως διακείμενος, ὥστε μηδεν<ὶ> παρακολουθεῖν μηδὲ συνιέναι μηδέν, καὶ τοῦτον κακῶς ἔχειν οἰόμεθα· ἂν δέ τινος τὸ ἐντρεπτικὸν καὶ αἰδῆμον ἀπονεκρωθῇ, τοῦτο ἔτι καὶ δύναμιν καλοῦμεν.

Καταλαμβάνεις ὅτι ἐγρήγορας; ‘οὔ’, φησίν· ‘οὐδὲ γάρ, ὅταν ἐν τοῖς ὕπνοις φαντάζωμαι, ὅτι ἐγρήγορα’. οὐδὲν οὖν διαφέρει αὕτη ἡ φαντασία ἐκείνης; ‘οὐδέν’. ἔτι τούτῳ διαλέγομαι; καὶ ποῖον αὐτῷ πῦρ ἢ ποῖον σίδηρον προσαγάγω, ἵν’ αἴσθηται ὅτι νενέκρωται; αἰσθανόμενος οὐ προσποιεῖται· ἔτι χείρων ἐστὶ τοῦ νεκροῦ. μάχην οὗτος οὐ συνορᾷ· κακῶς ἔχει. συνορῶν οὗτος οὐ  κινεῖται οὐδὲ προκόπτει· ἔτι ἀθλιώτερον ἔχει. ἐκτέτμηται τὸ αἰδῆμον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐντρεπτικὸν καὶ τὸ λογικὸν οὐκ ἀποτέτμηται, ἀλλ’ ἀποτεθηρίωται. ταύτην ἐγὼ δύναμιν εἴπω; μὴ γένοιτο, εἰ μὴ καὶ τὴν τῶν κιναίδων, καθ’ ἣν πᾶν τὸ ἐπελθὸν ἐν μέσῳ καὶ ποιοῦσι καὶ λέγουσι.

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Heraclitus, fr. 73

“It is not right to act and speak like men who are sleeping”

οὐ δεῖ ὥσπερ καθεύδοντας ποιεῖν καὶ λέγειν·

The Incestuous Feast: Fronto’s Religious Slander

While looking for nice and amusing anecdotes about feasting in the ancient world, I was reminded of the following. Enjoy.

Fronto Ex Octavio Minucii Felicis, ix. 8

This is known to us concerning the banquet; everyone is talking about this here and there. The speech of our countryman of Cirta attests to it too:

“They gather together for a meal each good day with all their children, sisters, mothers, and people of every sex and every age. Then, after much eating, when the meal has warmed and a fever of incestuous lust and drunkenness has taken fire, a dog which is tied to a candelabra is enticed by the toss of a little cake to rush and jump beyond the strain of the line to which its bound. Thus, when the light has been thrown down and put out, under shadows with no shame they turn to embraces of sick desire in chance meetings and everyone, if not by certainty, are still somewhat liable for incest since whatever can happen in the act of an individual is sought by universal desire.”

Et de convivio notum est: passim omnes loquuntur: id etiam Cirtensis nostri testatur oratio:—

“Ad epulas solemni die coeunt cum omnibus liberis sororibus matribus sexus omnis homines et omnis aetatis. Illic post multas epulas, ubi convivium caluit et incestae libidinis, ebrietatis fervor exarsit, canis qui candelabro nexus est, iactu offulae ultra spatium lineae, qua vinctus est, ad impetum et saltum provocatur: sic everso et extincto conscio lumine impudentibus tenebris nexus infandae cupiditatis involvunt per incertum sortis, et si non omnes opera, conscientia tamen pariter incesti, quoniam voto universorum adpetitur quidquid accidere potest in actu singulorum.”

Tertullian addresses this type of slander (Apology 7)

“We are said to be the most illicit people thanks to our rite of baby-killing and the baby-eating and the incest that follows the banquet where dogs overturn lamps like pimps of the shadows and purchase some respectability for our sinful lust. This is how we are always talked about. You don’t try at all to eradicate what has been said for so long. So, then, either expose the crime if you believe it, or stop believing it if you do not prove it.”

VII. Dicimur sceleratissimi de sacramento infanticidii et pabulo inde, et post convivium incesto, quod eversores luminum canes, lenones scilicet tenebrarum, libidinum impiarum in verecundiam procurent. Dicimur tamen semper, nec vos quod tam diu dicimur eruere curatis. Ergo aut eruite, si creditis, aut nolite credere, qui non eruistis.

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Banquet Fresco from Herculaneum

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