“You ate some lotus”: [this proverb is applied to those] who are forgetful of things in the household and are slow in matters of hospitality. It is based on the lotus which imbues one who eats it with forgetfulness.”
“Agamemnon’s sacrifice”: [a proverb] applied to the difficult to persuade and the stubborn. For when Agamemnon was making a sacrifice, the bull was scarcely caught after it fled.” Or, it is because Agamemnon wanted to sacrifice his daughter. And she fled.”
CW: Profanity. This revised re-post goes out to all the politicians, plutocrats, and CEOs who continue to do nothing about climate change. Special recognition for the party of stupidity that denies climate change science.
Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704
“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”
The saying seems to predate the Roman Emperors, however. Cicero riffs on this sentiment.
Cicero, De Finibus 3.64
“In turn, they believe that the universe is ruled by the will of the gods and that it is like a city or state shared by humans and gods and that everyone of us is a member of this universe. This is the reason that it is natural for us to put shared good before the personal. Truly, just as the laws prefer the safety of the collective over that of individuals, so too a good and wise person, obedient to the laws and not ignorant of his civic duty, pursues the advantage of the collective over that of an individual or himself.
A traitor to a state need not be hated more than one who undermines common advantage or safety on account of his own. This is why the person who faces death for the republic must be praised, because it bestows glory upon us to care more for our country than ourselves. And this is why it seems an inhuman and criminal voice when people say that they don’t care if all of everything burns when they are dead—as it is typically construed with that common Greek verse—and it is also certainly true that we must care for those who will live in the future for their own sake.”
Mundum autem censent regi numine deorum eumque esse quasi communem urbem et civitatem hominum et deorum, et unumquemque nostrum eius mundi esse partem; ex quo illud natura consequi ut communem utilitatem nostrae anteponamus. Ut enim leges omnium salutem singulorum saluti anteponunt, sic vir bonus et sapiens et legibus parens et civilis offici non ignarus utilitati omnium plus quam unius alicuius aut suae consulit. Nec magis est vituperandus proditor patriae quam communis utilitatis aut salutis desertor propter suam utilitatem aut salutem. Ex quo fit ut laudandus is sit qui mortem oppetat pro re publica, quod deceat cariorem nobis esse patriam quam nosmet ipsos. Quoniamque illa vox inhumana et scelerata ducitur eorum qui negant se recusare quo minus ipsis mortuis terrarum omnium deflagratio consequatur (quod vulgari quodam versu Graeco pronuntiari solet), certe verum est etiam iis qui aliquando futuri sint esse propter ipsos consulendum.
Homer, Odyssey 1.32–34
“Fools! Mortals are always blaming the gods.
They say that sufferings come from us but they have pain
Beyond their fate thanks to their own stupidity.”
A note about the translation: I use the English profane “fuck” for mikhthênai here for two reasons. First, mignumi is often used in periphrases or euphemism for sex. Second, I think the speaker is effecting a dismissive and aggressively narcissistic stance towards the world which will exist after his death. Such narcissism and self-absorption is so perverse and twisted and yet so utterly common as to demand obscenity and plunge us all into the painfully profane.
We are living in a perverse and obscene time. Effective language, a man once said, is when the sound is an echo of the sense.
Seneca gets the same sense, but makes it a bit more active in his Medea.
Seneca, Medea 426–428
“…The only rest
Is if I see the whole world uprooted along with my ruin.
Let everything depart with me. It is pleasing to destroy while you die.”
…Sola est quies,
mecum ruina cuncta si video obruta;
mecum omnia abeant. trahere, cum pereas, libet.
“May you fall into Hades’ asshole”: [a curse]: may you die.
῞Αιδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσῃς: ἤγουν τελευτήσῃς.
Note: Even though Ancient Greek prôktos can merely mean “rear end” (as in butt), it most often means ‘anus’ in comedy and insults. Also, I wanted to use something profane and given the British/American divide on arse/ass, I decided just to go with “asshole” because it is funnier.
Diogenianus (v.1 e cod. Marz. 2.42)
“I wish you’d fall into Hades’ asshole”: this is clear
῞Αιδου πρωκτῷ περιπέσοις: δῆλον.
Diogenianus (v.2 e cod. Vindob. 133, 1.97 )
“I wish you’d fall into Hades’ asshole”: Used for cursing someone
Apopatêma: this is the same as ‘dung’ Eupolis has in his Golden Age: “What is that man? Shit of a fox.” And Kratinus has in Runaway Slaves: I knocked Kerkyon out at dawn when I found him shitting in the vegetables.” We also find the participle apopatêsomenoi (“they are about to shit”) which means they are going to evacuate the feces from their bodies. But patos also means path.
Aristophanes writes “No one sacrifices the old way any more or even enters the temple except for the more than ten thousand who want to shit. So, apopatos is really the voiding of the bowels. Aristophanes also says about Kleonymous: “He went off to shit after he got he army and shat for ten months in the golden mountains? For how long was he closing his asshole? A whole turn of the moon?”
“People suffer less because of their enemies than their friends. For they guard against their enemies because they fear them while they remain open to their friends. They too are slippery and likely to conspire.”
The Greek letter digamma (Ϝ), closest to our glide –w– existed in Mycenaean Greek (wanax instead of anaks) and its force can be felt in Homeric formulae (e.g. Il. 1.39: Κίλλάν τε ζαθέην Τενέδοιό τε ἶφι ἀνάσσεις where hiatus is twice preserved because the line may have been τε Ϝἶφι Ϝἀνάσσεις ) and seen in inscriptions.
For this reason, I can’t do the ever-clever thing where I pluck proverbs from the Suda that begin with the Greek letter that corresponds to the English day of the week. Lazily, I am reverting to upsilon. The results are, uber-interesting. And, since in late antiquity once a seven-day week was adopted in Greece our Wednesday was dedicated to Hermes, why not perform a ridiculous translation?
Not a proverb, but funny:
“Oo, oo, oo, oo…: A surprised utterance which we typically make when we smell some savory smoke.”
“Turning a pestle”: A proverb used for people who keep doing the same things and accomplish nothing. These proverbs also indicate this: “Zeus’ son Korinthos”; “Again on the road to Pytho”; “The man carrying a plank”; and “Not blind, but eyeless.” Plato* writes also in the Adonis “I hope I don’t have a pestle’s turn”.
“Examine in yourself whether you desire to be wealthy or lucky. If you want wealth, know that it is neither good nor wholly yours. If you desire to be happy understand that it is good and under your power. One is the timely gift of chance, the other is a choice.”
“Salt and bean”: A proverb applied to those who pretend to know something but do not know it. [this is because] diviners are in the habit of taking salt and bean in exchange for their interpretations. From this also they offer a bean to those who share in the mysteries”
46 “In the fifth book of his Natural Causes, Theophrastos says that the covering of beans when they are placed near the roots of trees dry out the things that are growing. He also adds that native birds who eat these things constantly become barren. Therefore, for this reason and eventually because of many others the Pythagoreans prohibited the use of the bean. For it makes someone flatulent, and dyspeptic, and brings us bad dreams.
“Plato therefore encourages people to go to sleep with their bodies thus disposed that there be nothing which could introduce any wandering from or disturbance of sleep. From which it is thought that the Pythagoreans prohibited the consumption of beans, because that food causes a great flatulence which is contrary to the tranquility of a mind seeking the truth.”
Iubet igitur Plato sic ad somnum proficisci corporibus adfectis, ut nihil sit, quod errorem animis perturbationemque adferat. Ex quo etiam Pythagoreis interdictum putatur, ne faba vescerentur, quod habet infiationem magnam is cibus tranquillitati mentis quaerenti vera contrariam.
“These are the sayings attributed to Pythagoras: don’t mix a fire with a knife; don’t step over a balance beam; don’t sit on a bushel; don’t eat your heart; don’t help with a burden but put it on; always make your bed; don’t put a god’s image on a ring; don’t leave the outline of a pan in ashes; don’t wipe up a mess with a torch; don’t piss towards the sun; don’t walk on the highway; don’t offer your right hand too easily; don’t share your roof with swallows; don’t keep clawed birds; don’t piss or stand on your cut nails and hair; turn sharp blades away from you; when abroad, don’t turn back at the border
This is what these sayings mean: “don’t mix a fire with a knife” means not inciting the rage or swollen anger of people in power. “Don’t step over a balance beam” means don’t transgress equality and justice. “Don’t sit on a bushel” means keep both today and the future in mind since a bushel is a daily ration. “Don’t eat your heart” clearly means not wearing away your mind with troubles and grief. By saying “Don’t turn around when going abroad” Pythagoras advises people when they are leaving life not to cling to it desperately nor to be overcome by its pleasures. The logic of the rest of the sayings are similar to this and would take a while to go through.”
“This smallest part of a composition is called a phrase [komma]. This often defines a phrase: it is shorter than a clause” [kôlon], as in the previously quoted “Dionysus [is] in Korinth” or “know yourself” or “follow god”, those sayings of the wise men. Brevity is a characteristic of proverbs and maxims and it is cleverer to compress a lot of meaning into a small space, just as seeds have the power of whole trees. If someone works a proverb out at length, it develops into teaching or rhetoric instead of a proverb.”