Two Proverbs on Strangers

These probably don’t work together.

 

Arsenius, 3.59 a

“Send the stranger back to the storm”: [this proverb is applied] to those who arrive at a bad time.

῎Απαγε ξένον ἐν χειμῶνι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀκαίρως ἐλθόντων.

 

Arsensius12.21b

“Share with strangers and those in need from what you have—for one who does not give to the needy will not himself receive anything when he is in need.” This is a saying of Democritus.

Ξένοις μεταδίδου καὶ τοῖς δεομένοις ἐκ τῶν ἐνόντων· ὁ γὰρ μὴ διδοὺς δεομένῳ οὐδὲ αὐτὸς λήψεται δεόμενος Δημοκρίτου.

Rutland Psalter, British Library

Naked Graces and Noble Foxes: Some Proverbs on Gifts

Zenobius 1.71

“A Fox can’t be bribed” this is applied to those who are not easily captured by gifts

᾿Αλώπηξ οὐ δωροδοκεῖται: ἐπὶ τῶν οὐ ῥᾳδίως δώροις ἁλισκομένων.

Zenobius 3.42

“Praise any gift someone gives you.”

Δῶρον δ’ ὅ τι δῷ τις ἐπαίνει

Zenobius, 4.4

“An enemy’s gifts are not gifts, and bring no benefit.” This proverb is mentioned by Sophokles in his Ajax. Euripides also says something similar in the Medea: “the gift of a wicked man brings no benefit”.

᾿Εχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα [=Soph. Ajax 665] μέμνηται τῆς παροιμίας ταύτης Σοφοκλῆς ἐν Αἴαντι μαστιγοφόρῳ. Λέγει δὲ καὶ Εὐριπίδης ἐν τῇ Μηδείᾳ,K Κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς δῶρον ὄνησιν οὐκ ἔχει.

Diogenianus, 4.21

“Gifts persuade the gods and reverent kings. This is applied to those who twist judgments because of bribes.”

Δῶρα θεοὺς πείθει, καὶ αἰδοίους βασιλῆας: ἐπὶ τῶν διὰ δῶρα τὰς δίκας ἀντιστρεφόντων.

Michael Apostolios 1.82

“The Graces are Naked”: [a phrase asserting that] it is right to give thanks for a gift without envy or vanity.”

Αἱ Χάριτες γυμναί: ὅτι δεῖ τὴν δωρεὰν ἀφειδῶς ἢ ἀκενοδόξως χαρίζεσθαι.

gifts

Michael Apostolios, 7.65

“You come, bearing sleepover gifts.” This proverb is applied to those who give many things. That are called sleepover gifts from the practice where on the day after a wedding gifts are carried from the bride’s father to the bridegroom and the bride in procession. A child leads, bearing a white cloak and a burning lamp and a basket-bearer follows him. After them come the rest of the women in order carrying golden items, basins, perfumes, litters, combs, alabaster jars, sandals, chests. Sometimes they take the dowry at the same time.”

᾿Επαύλια δῶρα φέρειν ἥκεις: ἐπὶ τῶν πολλὰ δωρουμένων. ᾿Επαύλια δὲ καλεῖται τὰ μετὰ τὴν ἐχομένην ἡμέραν τῶν γάμων παρὰ τοῦ τῆς νύμφης πατρὸς δῶρα φερόμενα τῷ νυμφίῳ καὶ τῇ νύμφῃ ἐν πομπῆς σχήματι· παῖς γὰρ ἡγεῖται χλανίδα λευκὴν ἔχων καὶ λαμπάδα καιομένην, ἔπειτα μετὰ τοῦτον κανηφόρος· εἶθ’ αἱ λοιπαὶ ἀκολουθοῦσιν ἐφεξῆς, φέρουσαι χρυσία, λεκανίδας, σμήγματα, φορεῖα, κτένας, κοίτας, ἀλαβάστρους, σανδάλια, μυράλιτρα. ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ τὴν προῖκα ἅμα τῶν νυμφίων φέρουσιν.

Michael Apostolios, 8.66

“Heraklean bath.” This is applied to people who take gifts. For Hephaistos gave a bath to Herakles as a gift.”

῾Ηράκλεια λουτρά: ἐπὶ τῶν δῶρα λαμβανόντων. κατὰ δωρεὰν γὰρ ὁ ῞Ηφαιστος ἀνέδωκε λουτρὰ τῷ ῾Ηρακλεῖ.

Arsenius, 13.151

“I, a poor man, don’t want to give a wealthy man a gift.”

Οὐ βούλομαι πλουτοῦντι δωρεῖσθαι πένης·

Arsenius, 15.95a

“Great gifts bring fear of chance.”

Τὰ μεγάλα δῶρα τῆς τύχης ἔχει φόβον,

“Like the Full Moon…” Some Greek Proverbs on Gratitude

thanksgiving

Arsenius, 6.38b

“If you are able to give thanks, don’t tarry, but give it—since you know that things are not everlasting.”

Δυνάμενος χαρίζεσθαι, μὴ βράδυνε, ἀλλὰ δίδου, ἐπιστάμενος μὴ εἶναι τὰ πράγματα μόνιμα.

Arsenius, 6.95c

“Humans have greater thanks for the unexpected”

᾿Εκ τῶν ἀέλπτων ἡ χάρις μείζων βροτοῖς

Arsenius 8.42p

“Just like food for the starving, well-timed thanks tunes and heals what the soul is missing.” – Heraclitus

 ῾Η εὔκαιρος χάρις λιμῷ καθάπερ τροφὴ ἁρμόττουσα τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἔνδειαν ἰᾶται ῾Ηρακλείτου.

Zenobius, 36.3

“The Graces are naked: [a proverb] indicating that it is right to give unsparingly and in the open.”

Αἱ Χάριτες γυμναί: ἤτοι ὅτι δεῖ ἀφειδῶς καὶ φανερῶς χαρίζεσθαι·

Arsenius 8.77b

“Thanks for the wise never dies”

῾Η χάρις πρὸς εὐγνώμονας οὐδέποτε θνήσκει.

Aresnius 8.77d

“Thanks looks as beautiful as the moon when it is full”

῾Η χάρις ὥσπερ ἡ σελήνη, ὅταν τελεία γένηται, τότε καλὴ φαίνεται.

Aresnius 8.77d

‘Thanks, like nothing else in life, ages quickest among most people”

῾Η χάρις, ὡς οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἐν βίῳ, παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς τάχιστα γηράσκει.

Arsenius 18.59f 

“Don’t hesitate to die for the very things for which you want to live.”

῟Ων ἕνεκα ζῆν ἐθέλεις, τούτων χάριν καὶ ἀποθανεῖν μὴ κατόκνει.

Michaelos Apostolios, 5.18

“A field with a clod of dirt”: [a proverb applied to those] who show thanks for great things with small gestures.”

     Βώλοις ἄρουραν: ἐπὶ τῶν τοῖς μικροῖς χαριζομένων τοὺς μεγάλους.

Michaelos Apostolios, 13.37

“It is right neither to seek friendship from a corpse nor thanks from the greedy”

Οὔτε παρὰ νεκροῦ ὁμιλίαν, οὔτε παρὰ φιλαργύρου δεῖ χάριν ἐπιζητεῖν.

Image result for Ancient Greek dedicatory offerings

More on proverbs, go here.

Greek kharis (χάρις, “thanks”) is related to the verb khairô (χαίρω), “to feel joy”

From Beekes 2010:

Kharis 1

Kharis 2

We Have Two Ears, One Mouth: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν

I am reposting this in honor of Paul Holdengraber who is leaving the New York Public Library at the end of this year to become the Founding Executive Director of The Onassis Foundation LA. I am eager to see the amazing things Paul will do there, but I know that the NYPL will not be the same without him.

The first version of this post emerged from a conversation Paul and I had on twitter. The conversation and the post were turning points for this blog–it showed me how social media could be a force for good and that there was a lot more we could do with this project in addition to posting passages from Latin and Greek. I wish Paul the best of luck in his new mission.

A few years ago now I noticed the Paul Holdengraber‘s 7-word autobiography from brainpickings.org.: “Mother always said: Two Ears, One mouth.” The phrase bounced around in my head a bit–it has that aphoristic perfection of brevity and familiarity. So, I reached out to Paul over twitter and told him it sounded like something from a Greek philosopher like Heraclitus.

Proverbs have a special place in language and society cross-culturally–they strike a promise of insight that demands  contemplation or explanation. They also have an air of authority and antiquity, even when they actually possess neither. And, unlike longer, less anonymized forms of language, they are repeated, borrowed, and stolen without end.

My late father was a great aphorist–perhaps missing him is part of why Paul’s tweet stuck with me. Most of my father’s words, however, were far more Archie Bunker than Aristotle. Those I can repeat were likely taken from his own father, a Master Sargent in WW2 who died a decade before I was born. The tendency to inherit and pass down proverbs is something I only really noticed when I had children and found myself ‘quoting’ (or becoming?) my father (“if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you”) or my grandmother (cribbing Oscar Wilde: “Only boring people get bored”).

So, when Paul thought it would be a gas if we actually translated his mother’s words into ancient Greek (and eventually Latin), I was ready. I got help from some great Classicists too. We came up with a few versions.

First, I went with classical rhetoric, a close antithesis: μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα μὲν δύο, ἕν δὲ στόμα. But our friend the Fantastic Festus argued that Heraclitus or Hesiod would not use use μὲν and δὲ so, so he suggested losing them for something like this:

μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα [“mother always used to say two ears, one mouth”]

This gave us Paul’s mother’s advice in seven Greek words and his mother’s advice. But this didn’t get us out of trouble. The critic, author and Classicist Daniel Mendelsohn suggested hexameters and from across the Atlantic the extraordinary Armand D’Angour obliged with a composition of his own:

ῥᾴδιόν ἐστι Λόγον τε νοεῖν ξυνετόν τε ποιῆσαι·
τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι βροτῶν, ἓν στόμα τ᾽, ὦτα δύο.

[Literally, this is “it is easy to know the Logos and make it understood: Mortals have this [character]: one mouth and two ears” Go to the full post for all the compositional glory and an appearance from Salman Rushdie].

At this point, I felt like I had entertained myself on a Saturday morning, involved my internet friends in a silly, though somewhat academic caper, and done a favor for a new friend to please the spirits of parents no longer with us. But the world wide web had a a plot twist I should have thought of.

Ancient Greek and Roman authors and scholars loved proverbs. Writers like Zenobius and Photius made collections and interpretations of them. The Byzantine Encyclopedia, the Suda, uses the word for proverb (in Greek paroimia) over 600 times and presents nearly as many distinct proverbs. (Many of which are wonderful.) And in the modern world, we have an entire academic field dedicated to the study of proverbial sayings: paroemiology. Let me tell you, we could have used en expert last fall.

While we were playing around with translations, one of our ‘players’, the grand Gerrit Kloss, let us know we were, to use a proverbial saying, reinventing the wheel. Zeno, the Cynic philosopher, was credited with this saying over two thousand years ago:

So, the quote I thought sounded Greek, turned out to be Greek. According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno said something powerfully similar (the full text is available on Perseus). And, honestly, without preening too much, I was happy that the version I settled on (μήτηρ ἀεὶ ἔφη ὦτα δύο, ἕν στόμα) wasn’t too different from the words attributed to Zeno: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν).

And yet, the story was not over. Gerrit Floss was far from done with us–he found an even earlier Latin version of the line attributed to Apuleius.

As we began to discuss these versions, other voices chimed in with accounts from even more languages. Gerrit helped us trace the life of this proverbial statement to German and Danish:

Of course, here we have a German testimony to a Danish proverb–and I have no idea what kind of authority this has.

Ein dänisches Sprichwort sagt: “Der Mensch hat zwei Ohren und nur einen Mund. Wir sollten also doppelt so viel zuhören, wie wir sprechen.”

(“A Danish saying goes: “Man has two ears and only one mouth. Therefore, we should listen twice as much as we speak.”)

Oh, and later one, we added some Arabic to the mix too!

[The Arabic version of this is dated to the 7th century CE and attributed to a companion of the Prophet Muhammad named Abū ad-Dardā. Thanks to ReemK10 for this]

Continue reading “We Have Two Ears, One Mouth: δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν”

A Most Important Foundation For Thought: Student Proverbs

Literary Papyri 115 (LCL360 Collart, Les Papyrus Bouriant, Paris, 1926, no. 1, p. 17) This is from a list of proverbs copied over in a student’s hand.

“Letters are the most important foundation for thought.”
(1) ἀρχὴ μεγίστη τοῦ φρονεῖν τὰ γράμματα.

“Respect the elder, an image of a god.”
(2) γέροντα τίμα τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν εἰκόνα.

“Lust is the most ancient of all the gods.”
(3) ἔρως ἁπάντων τῶν θεῶν παλαίτατος.

“I say that possessions are the most beautiful of all things.”
(4) κάλλιστά φημι χρημάτων τὰ κτήματα.

“Give in return when you have received so that you may take whenever you want.”
(5) λαβὼν πάλιν δός, ἵνα λάβηις ὅταν θέληις.

“The mind in us is the most prophetic god.”
(6) ὁ νοῦς ἐν ἡμῖν μαντικώτατος θεός.

“Your father is the one who raised you not the one who gave you life.”
(7) πατὴρ ὁ θρέψας κοὐχ ὁ γεννήσας πατήρ.

“Rescue yourself from wicked affairs.”
(8) σῶσον σεαυτὸν ἐκ πονηρῶν πραγμάτω(ν).

“Return a favor to friends in a timely fashion.”
(9) χάριν φίλοις εὔκαιρον ἀπόδος ἐν μέρει.

“Gratitude, you are the greatest of all riches!”
(10) ὦ τῶν ἁπάντων χρημάτων πλείστη χάρις.

Manuscript illustration depicts King Henry II of England demanding that the Arthurian romances be written down. It is taken from the beginning of La mort au Roy Artus, in a 13th-century manuscript of Arthurian romances (Yale ms. 229, f. 272v, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University
Image taken from here

One Way to Deal With Men: “The Lame Man is the Best Lover”

Mimnermus fr. 21 [=] Corp. Paroem. suppl., 1961, V), p. 15

“The lame man is the best lover.” They say that the Amazons crippled their male offspring by cutting off either a leg or a hand. When the Skythians were fighting them and they offered to make a treaty, they promised the Amazons that they would not be married to any Skythians who were crippled or mutilated. The leader of the Amazons, Antianeira, responded “The lame man is the best lover.” Mimnermus preserves this proverb.”

“ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ.” φησὶν ὅτι αἱ Ἀμαζόνες τοὺς γιγνομένους ἄρσενας ἐπήρουν, ἢ σκέλος ἢ χεῖρα περιελόμεναι· πολεμοῦντες δὲ πρὸς αὐτὰς οἱ Σκύθαι καὶ βουλόμενοι πρὸς αὐτὰς σπείσασθαι ἔλεγον ὅτι συνέσονται τοῖς Σκύθαις εἰς γάμον ἀπηρώτοις καὶ οὐ λελωβημένοις· ἀποκριναμένη δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἡ Ἀντιάνειρα ἡγεμὼν τῶν Ἀμαζόνων εἶπεν· “ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ.” μέμνηται τῆς παροιμίας Μίμ<ν>ερμος.

Cf. Diogenianus 2.2.1

“The lame man is the best lover.” They say that the Amazons crippled their male offspring by cutting off either a leg or a hand. When the Skythians were fighting them and they wanted to deceive them, they said that they would have no crippled or mutilated men marry them, since their husbands were all mutilated. In response to this, the leader of the Amazons, said “A cripple fucks the best” instead of using “sunosiazei” [to have sex with]

῎Αριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ: φασὶν ὅτι αἱ ᾿Αμαζόνες τοὺς γεννωμένους ἄῤῥενας ἐπήρουν. ῞Οθεν πολεμοῦντες αὐταῖς οἱ Σκύθαι, καὶ βουλόμενοι αὐτὰς ἐξαπατῆσαι,ἔλεγον ὅτι συνέσονται αὐταῖς εἰς γάμον ἀπήρωτοι καὶ οὐ λελωβημένοι, ὡς τῶν ἐκείνων ἀνδρῶν λελωβημένων ὄντων. ᾿Εξ ὧν ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ ἡγεμὼν τῶν ᾿Αμαζόνων, ῎Αριστα, φησὶ, χωλὸς οἰφεῖ, ἀντὶ τοῦ συνουσιάζει.

Pausanias, Attic Lexicon alpha 149

“This proverb is used for those who choose local evils rather than foreign goods. For when the Skythians were warring against the Amazons and there was a ceasefire, while they were considering other things they were also saying to the woman that if they consented to them they would have un-disabled husbands instead pf the mutilated, lame, and useless men who were already among them. Antineira, who was leading them, was both bold and persistent, and she said to them: “A lame man fucks the best” instead of using the term for intercourse. For the Amazons handicap those male children born to them in either their legs or their right hands. [hence it is clear they they have lame husbands.]”

     ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ (com. fr. ad. 36 K.)· ἐπὶ τῶν οἰκεῖα κακὰ μᾶλλον αἱρουμένων ἢ τὰ ἀλλότρια ἀγαθά. τῶν γὰρ Σκυθῶν ποτε ταῖς ᾿Αμαζόσι πολεμούντων καὶ ἀνοχῆς γενομένης, τά τε ἄλλα φιλοφρονουμένων καὶ φασκόντων αὐταῖς, ὅτι εἰ τούτοις πεισθεῖεν, ἀπηρώτοις συνέσονται ἀνδράσιν, ἀλλ’ οὐχὶ λελωβημένοις καὶ χωλοῖς καὶ ἀχρείοις ὡς οἱ παρ’ αὐταῖς, ᾿Αντιάνειρα ἡ τούτων ἡγουμένη, θρασεῖα ἅμα καὶ ἀκόλαστος οὖσα, εἶπε πρὸς αὐτούς· ‘ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ’ ἀντὶ τοῦ συνουσιάζει. αἱ γὰρ ᾿Αμαζόνες τῶν τικτομένων παρ’ αὐταῖς ἀρρένων ἐπήρουν τὰ σκέλη ἢ τὰς δεξιὰς χεῖρας. [δῆλον οὖν ὅτι χωλοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐχρῶντο].

Photios offers an explanation for the proverb:

“The lame man is the best lover” for, lame men are inclined towards sex. Douris in the 6th book of his Philippika records that the Amazons crippled their male offspring.”

῎Αριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ· καταφερεῖς γὰρ οἱ χωλοὶ πρὸς συνουσίαν. Δοῦρις δὲ ἐν ζ′ τῶν Φιλιππικῶν ἱστορεῖ (fr. novum) τὰς ᾿Αμαζόνας χωλοῦν τὴν ἄρρενα γενεάν.

Scholia to Theocritus Prolog. 4.6263

“The proverb, which they say is given, “the lame man makes the best lover, is said since lame men sit at home constantly having sex…”

καὶ ἡ παροιμία ‘ἄριστα χωλὸς οἰφεῖ’, ἥν φασι διαδοθῆναι, ἐπεὶ οἱ χωλοὶ ἐν οἴκῳ καθεζόμενοι συνεχῶς ἀφροδισιάζουσιν.

Image result for ancient greek amazon and lover

A short lexical note to explain why I should translate οἰφεῖ as “fuck”.

In the fourth translation of the proverb I introduce a vulgar variation that I think is probably closer to what is going on with the anecdote. I think the point is that the Amazon queen is being vulgar to put off the Skythians. The verb used here, oiphein, is rare and vulgar enough that the LSJ does not provide a decent translation.

oipho lsj

Henderson (Maculate Muse, 157) follows LSJ in translating as “mount”

oipho hend

But Beekes (2010) seems to see the verb as more specific and active:

oipho beeks

Some additional Thoughts:

There is an interesting cultural dynamic behind these statements that engages with some of the myths from Ancient Greece that I have mentioned recently, especially in the tension between heroic beauty and disabled bodies. In ancient Greek myth and poetry there is a problematic fetish of the perfect heroic body and within this system, a disfigured body is non-heroic. As a result of an overlap between heroic virtue and the body, negative ethics and character are expressed through a symbolic disfigurement of the body as with Thersites. The Odyssey, of course, adjusts this and deploys Odysseus as a compromised heroic body: he is nearly lamed and thus is capable of demonstrating intelligence instead of force. In the Odyssey, the beautiful and perfect bodies of the suitors are contrasted with Odysseus’ older, scarred body: their perfection becomes a type of deformity and their morals are accordingly distorted.

What I think is going on with this anecdote and the connected proverb is that there is a basic assumption that the disabled are morally corrupt and here that their moral corruption emerges in the form of licentiousness. But the Amazon queen turns the tables on the heroized Skythian leaders and privileges the disabled bodies for their sexual ability over the promised domination of the proper marriage to the able-bodied men. In addition, there is the symbolic valence of the disabled man, who does not represent the threatened violence implicit in the able-bodied man. In a way, this may also help us to think about Odysseus’ value as a husband.

Dancing in the Dark and Drunk Books: More Proverbs

Zenobius

“The word and the deed together”: [a proverb] applied to things which are accomplished quickly and suddenly”

῞Αμ’ ἔπος, ἅμ’ ἔργον: ἐπὶ τῶν ταχέως τε καὶ ὀξέως ἀνυομένων.

 

“Walking on the roof with unwashed feet”: A proverb applied to those who approach certain works and deeds ignorantly”

᾿Ανίπτοις ποσὶν ἀναβαίνων ἐπὶ τὸ στέγος. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀμαθῶς ἐπί τινα ἔργα καὶ πράξεις ἀφικομένων.

 

“To transplant an old tree”: a proverb applied to the impossible

Γεράνδρυον μεταφυτεύειν: ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀδυνάτου.

 

 

Zenobius 3.71

“To dance in darkness”: A proverb applied to those who toil over unwitnessed things—their work is invisible.”

᾿Εν σκότῳ ὀρχεῖσθαι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀμάρτυρα μοχθούντων, ὧν τὸ ἔργον ἀφανές.

 

Michael Apostol 4.95

“My book is drunk: [a proverb] applied to those who ruin certain works; or to philologists.”

Βιβλίον τοὐμὸν μέθυ: πρὸς τοὺς διαφθείροντάς τινα ἔργα· ἢ ἐπὶ τῶν φιλολόγων

Image result for medieval manuscript dancing dark
Le Roman de la Rose, par GUILLAUME DE LORRIS et JEAN DE MEUNG.Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 19156, fol. 6v.