Skylla and Charybdis? An Easy Choice

A few months back I ran the following poll. The results surprised me.

I had imagined that Simonides made things clear:

Simonides, fr. 356

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

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

No? Ok. Here’s a proverb and an explanation

Michael Apostolios, Collectio Paroemiarum 16.49

“Avoid Kharybdis and come close to Skyla.” This is similar to the saying, “I avoided it by finding a better evil”

They say about Skyla that she was a Tyrrhenian woman, something if a beast, who was a woman down to the navel but she grew dog heads beneath that point. The rest of her body was a serpent. This kind of a cerature is very silly to imagine. But here is the truth. There were the islands of the Tyrrenians, which used to raid the coasts of Sicily and the Ionian bay. There was a trirereme which had the named Skyla. That trireme used to overtake other ships often and use their food and there was many a story about it. Odysseus fled that ship. trusting a strong and favorable wind and he told this story in Corcyra to Alkinoos, how he was pursued and how he fled and what the shape of the ship was. From these stories, the myth was formed.”

Τὴν Χάρυβδιν ἐκφυγὼν, τῇ Σκύλῃ περιέπεσον:
ὁμοία τῇ· ῎Εφυγον κακὸν εὗρον ἄμεινον

Λέγουσι περὶ Σκύλης ὡς ἦν Τυῤῥηνία, θηρίον τι, γυνὴ  μὲν μέχρι τοῦ ὀμφαλοῦ, κυνῶν δὲ ἐντεῦθεν αὐτῇ προσπεφύκασι κεφαλαί· τὸ δ’ ἄλλο σῶμα ὄφεως. τοιαύτην δὲ φύσιν ἐννοεῖν πολὺ εὔηθες· ἡ δὲ ἀλήθεια αὕτη· Τυῤῥηνίων νῆσοι ἦσαν, αἳ ἐληΐζοντο τὰ περίχωρα τῆς Σικελίας καὶ τὸν ᾿Ιόνιον κόλπον· ἦν δὲ ναῦς τριήρης ταχεῖα τό τε ὄνομα Σκύλα· αὕτη ἡ τριήρης τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν πλοίων συλλαμβάνουσα πολλάκις εἰργάζετο βρῶμα, καὶ λόγος ἦν περὶ αὐτῆς πολύς· ταύτην τὴν ναῦν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς σφοδρῷ καὶ λαύρῳ πνεύματι χρησάμενος διέφυγε, διηγήσατο δὲ ἐν Κερκύρᾳ τῷ ᾿Αλκινόῳ, πῶς ἐδιώχθη καὶ πῶς ἐξέφυγε, καὶ τὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ πλοίου· ἀφ’ ὧν προσανεπλάσθη ὁ μῦθος.

Ok. Maybe that wasn’t clear.

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. “

Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

Yeah, that doesn’t help matters. How about this?

Philo, On Dreams, 70

“But you, go away from “the smoke and the wave” and depart the ridiculous concerns of mortal life as from that fearsome Charybdis without touching it at all, don’t even, as the people say, brush it with your littlest toe.”

ἀλλὰ σύ γε τοῦ μὲν “καπνοῦ καὶ κύματος ἐκτὸς” βαῖνε καὶ τὰς καταγελάστους τοῦ θνητοῦ βίου σπουδὰς ὡς τὴν φοβερὰν ἐκείνην χάρυβδιν ἀποδίδρασκε καὶ μηδὲ ἄκρῳ, τὸ τοῦ λόγου τοῦτο, ποδὸς δακτύλῳ ψαύσῃς.

Plutarch, with an assist

Plutarch, Fr. 178, Stobaeus 4.52 from his On the Soul [Plutarch uses the same image elsewhere]

“For satiety seems to be becoming worn out in pleasures from the soul suffering in some way with the body, since the soul does not shirk from its pleasures. But when it is interwoven, as it is said, with the body, it suffers the same things as Odysseus, just as he was held, clinging to the fig tree, not because he desired it or delighted in it, but because he feared Charybdis lurking below him. The soul clings to the body and embraces it in this way not because of goodwill or gratitude but because it fears the uncertainty of death.

As wise Hesiod says, “the gods keep life concealed from human beings.” They have not tied the soul to the body with fleshly bonds, but they have devised and bound around the mind one cell and one guard, our uncertainty and distrust about our end. If a soul had faith in these things—“however so many await men when they die”, to quote Heraclitus—nothing would restrain it at all.”

 καὶ γὰρ ὁ κόρος κόπος ἐν ἡδοναῖς ἔοικεν εἶναι τῷ μετὰ σώματός τι τὴν ψυχὴν πάσχειν, ἐπεὶ πρός γε τὰς αὑτῆς ἡδονὰς οὐκ ἀπαγορεύει. συμπεπλεγμένη δέ, ὥσπερ εἴρηται, τῷ σώματι ταὐτὰ τῷ Ὀδυσσεῖ πέπονθεν· ὡς γὰρ ἐκεῖνος τῷ ἐρινεῷ προσφὺς εἴχετο καὶ περιέπτυσσεν οὐ ποθῶν οὐδ᾿ ἀγαπῶν ἐκεῖνον, ἀλλὰ δεδιὼς ὑποκειμένην τὴν Χάρυβδιν, οὕτως ἔοικεν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦ σώματος ἔχεσθαι καὶ περιπεπλέχθαι δι᾿ εὔνοιαν οὐδεμίαν αὐτοῦ καὶ χάριν, ἀλλ᾿ ὀρρωδοῦσα τοῦ θανάτου τὴν ἀδηλότητα.

κρύψαντες γὰρ ἔχουσι θεοὶ βίον ἀνθρώποισι

κατὰ τὸν σοφὸν Ἡσίοδον, οὐ σαρκίνοις τισὶ δεσμοῖς πρὸς τὸ σῶμα τὴν ψυχὴν κατατείναντες, ἀλλ᾿ ἕνα δεσμὸν αὐτῇ καὶ μίαν φυλακὴν μηχανησάμενοι καὶ περιβαλόντες, τὴν ἀδηλότητα καὶ ἀπιστίαν τῶν μετὰ τὴν τελευτήν· ἐπεὶ τήν γε πεισθεῖσαν, ὅσα ἀνθρώπους περιμένει τελευτήσαντας καθ᾿ Ἡράκλειτον, οὐδὲν ἂν κατάσχοι.”

So, to be clear:  Charybdis=death. 

 

Britannia between Scylla & Charybdis. or— The Vessel of the Constitution steered clear of the Rock of Democracy, and the Whirlpool of Arbitrary-Power. James Gilray, 1793

 

Milking the He-Goat: The Only Proverb You Need Today

Polybius, Book 33 16a fragmenta incertae sedis (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“20. As soon as the masses are compelled to love or hate people excessively, every excuse is sufficient for them to complete their plans.

21 But I worry that I might overlook the fact that the oft-cited saying applies to me: “who is the greater fool, the one who milks a male-goat or the one who holds the bucket* to catch it?”

For, I also seem, in reporting what is agreed upon as a lie and in dragging out the process to do something very similar. For this reason, it is pointless to talk about these things, unless someone also wants to write down dreams and examine the fantasies of someone who is awake.”

*koskinos here actually means “sieve”, which makes the whole process even more futile. I simplified to “bucket” to make it easier to understand…

20. Ὅτι ὅταν ἅπαξ οἱ πολλοὶ σχῶσιν ὁρμὴν πρὸς τὸ φιλεῖν ἢ μισεῖν τινας ὑπερβαλλόντως, πᾶσα πρόφασις ἱκανὴ γίνεται πρὸς τὸ συντελεῖν τὰς αὑτῶν προθέσεις.

21. Ἀλλὰ γὰρ ὀκνῶ μή ποτ᾿ εἰς τὸ περιφερόμενον ἐμπεσὼν λάθω, πότερον ὁ τὸν τράγον ἀμέλγων ἀφρονέστερος ἢ ὁ τὸ κόσκινον ὑπέχων· δοκῶ γὰρ δὴ κἀγὼ πρὸς ὁμολογουμένην ψευδολογίαν ἀκριβολογούμενος καὶ τὸν ἐπιμετροῦντα λόγον εἰσφέρων παραπλήσιόν τι ποιεῖν. διὸ καὶ μάτην τελέως περὶ τούτων λέγειν, εἰ μή τις καὶ γράφειν ἐνύπνια βούλεται καὶ θεωρεῖν ἐγρηγορότος ἐνύπνια.

Diogenianus writes on this proverb (Centuria 95.3; Cf. Mantissa Proverb., 2.68)

“Who is the greater fool, the one who milks a male-goat or the one who holds the bucket to catch it? You should say the [one who milks] the male-goat”

Πότερον ὁ τὸν τράγον ἀμέλγων ἀφρονέστερος, ἢ ὁ τὸ κόσκινον ὑποτιθείς; εἴποις, ὁ τὸν τράγον:

Arsenius, Centuria 17 41a7

“To milk a he-goat”: this is applied to those who do something incongruous and ignorant. From this we also get the saying from Diogenianus: “Who is the greater fool, the one who milks a male-goat or the one who holds the bucket to catch it?”

“Τράγον ἀμέλγειν: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀνάρμοστόν τι ποιούντων καὶ ἀνόητον. ὅθεν καὶ Διογενιανός· πότερον ὁ τὸν τράγον ἀμέλγων ἢ ὁ τὸ κόσκινον ὑποτιθεὶς ἀφρονέστερος;

From Medieval Bestiary: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 15r

‘A’ is for…Fire, Blood, and Laughter

Four Proverbs from Zenobius

1.33 “Burning robe”: [a proverb] applied to those who attack, and destroy, and make slander. For the story is told that Deianeira sent Herakles the robe by which he died because he was being burned up.”

Αἰθὴς πέπλος: ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπεκκαιόντων καὶ φθειρόντων καὶ διαβολὰς ποιούντων· εἴρηται δὲ παρόσον ἡ Δηϊάνειρα πέπλον ἔπεμψεν ῾Ηρακλεῖ, ὑφ’ οὗ καυθεὶς ἐφθάρη.

 

1.31 “to weep blood. Hyperbole, to weep not tears but blood.”

Αἵματι κλαίειν: κατὰ ὑπερβολὴν, οὐ δάκρυσιν ἀλλ’ αἵμασι κλαίειν.

 

1.43 “Aianteian laugh: [a proverb] applied to those who laugh madly. For Ajax started to become deranged and went made over the fact that Odysseus was preferred in honors over him in the awarding of the arms of Achilles. He rushed at the Greeks with his sword in hands and once he was turned against the animals thanks to divine care, he attacked them thinking they were the Greeks. He grabbed the biggest rams, tied them up, and tortured them. He laughed over them because he was insane. Later, when he came to his right mind, he killed himself.”

Αἰάντειος γέλως: ἐπὶ τῶν παραφρόνως γελώντων. ῾Ο Αἴας γὰρ παραφροσύνην νοσήσας καὶ μανεὶς διὰ τὸ προτιμηθῆναι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα εἰς τὴν τῶν ᾿Αχιλλείων ὅπλων κατοχὴν, κατὰ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων ξιφήρης ὥρμησε καὶ κατὰ τῶν βοσκημάτων προνοίᾳ θεῶν τραπεὶς ὡς ᾿Αχαιοὺς ταῦτα φονεύει. Δύο δὲ μεγίστους κριοὺς κατασχὼν ὡς ᾿Αγαμέμνονα καὶ Μενέλαον δέσμευσας ἐμάστιξε καὶ κατεγέλα τούτων μαινόμενος. ῞Υστερον δὲ σωφρονήσας ἑαυτὸν κτείνει.

Achilles and Ajax

1.48 “Aigieans, neither third nor fourth. A proverb applied to simple things, worthy of nothing. For the Aigieans in Akhaia, after conquering the Aitolians, asked the Pythia who of the Greeks were better. She said: “You Aigieans are neither third nor fourth.”

Αἰγιέες οὔτε τρίτοι οὔτε τέταρτοι: ἐπὶ τῶν εὐτελῶν καὶ μηδενὸς ἀξίων. Οἱ γὰρ Αἰγιεῖς οἱ ἐν ᾿Αχαίᾳ νικήσαντες Αἰτωλοὺς τὴν Πυθίαν ἐξηρώτων, τίνες
εἰσὶ κρείττονες τῶν ῾Ελλήνων· ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, ῾Υμεῖς δ’ Αἰγιέες οὔτε τρίτοι οὔτε τέταρτοι.

Life’s Sweetness, Our Weakness

A reminder before the new year that life offers many kinds of sweetness….

Hes. Frag. 273

“It is also sweet to know how many things the immortals
Have allotted for mortals, a clear sign of base and noble…”

ἡδὺ δὲ καὶ τὸ πυθέσθαι, ὅσα θνητοῖσιν ἔνειμαν
ἀθάνατοι, δειλῶν τε καὶ ἐσθλῶν τέκμαρ ἐναργές

Arsenius 3.60

“It is sweet to live in leisure. Life is long
And sacred, if lived among untroubled affairs.”

᾿Απραγμόνως ζῆν ἡδύ· μακάριος βίος
καὶ σεμνός, ἐὰν ᾖ μεθ’ ἑτέρων ἀπραγμόνων·

File:Banqueters Met 1979.11.8.jpg

Arsenius 18.66f

“It is sweet for children to obey their father”

῾Ως ἡδὺ τῷ φύσαντι πείθεσθαι τέκνα [Attributed to Euripides, Agathon]

Heraclitus, fr. 111

“Sickness makes health sweet and good…”

νοῦσος ὑγιείην ἐποίησεν ἡδὺ καὶ ἀγαθόν

Arsenius 18.66p

“it is sweet for those who have done badly to forget
Their bygone troubles in a short time.”

῾Ως τοῖς κακῶς πράσσουσιν ἡδὺ καὶ βραχύν
χρόνον λαθέσθαι τῶν παρεστώτων κακῶν [Attributed to Sophocles]

18.66u

“It is sweet for slaves to obtain good masters”

῾Ως ἡδὺ δούλοις δεσπότας χρηστοὺς λαβεῖν, [Attributed to Euripides]

18.67c

“It is sweet for those who hate fools to be alone.”

῾Ως ἡδὺ τῷ μισοῦντι τοὺς φαύλους ἐρημία [Attributed to Menander]

Crates, fr. 23 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“This is the case with erotic games: they’re sweet to play, but not nice to mention.”

καὶ μάλιστ᾿ ἀφροδισίοις ἀθύρμασιν. ἡδὺ γὰρ κἀκεῖνο τὸ δρᾶν, λέγεσθαι δ᾿ οὐ καλόν.

Euripides, Supp. 1101-2 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Nothing is sweeter to an old father than a daughter”

πατρὶ δ᾽ οὐδὲν †ἥδιον†

γέροντι θυγατρός

Aristotle [According to Diogenes Laertius 5.21]

“He said that the root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet.”

Τῆς παιδείας ἔφη τὰς μὲν ῥίζας εἶναι πικράς, τὸν δὲ καρπὸν γλυκύν

Bias [According to Diogenes Laertius 1.86]

‘When someone asked what is sweet for people, he said “hope”.’

Ἐρωτηθεὶς τί γλυκὺ ἀνθρώποις, “ἐλπίς,” ἔφη.

Theognis, Uncertain Fragments

“Nothing, Kurnos, is sweeter than a good woman.
I am a witness to this, and you are witness to the truth”

Οὐδέν, Κύρν’, ἀγαθῆς γλυκερώτερόν ἐστι γυναικός.
μάρτυς ἐγώ, σὺ δ’ ἐμοὶ γίνου ἀληθοσύνης.

Sophocles, Philoktetes 81 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“It is sweet to obtain the possession of victory.”

ἀλλ’ ἡδὺ γάρ τοι κτῆμα τῆς νίκης λαβεῖν

Euripides, Fr. 133

“It is certainly sweet to recall your struggles after you’ve been saved”

ἀλλ’ ἡδύ τοι σωθέντα μεμνῆσθαι πόνων.

Archippus fr. 45

“Mother, it is sweet to see the sea from the land
when you don’t have to sail any longer.”

ὡς ἡδὺ τὴν θάλατταν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ὁρᾶν
ὦ μῆτερ ἐστι, μὴ πλέοντα μηδαμοῦ

Euripides, fr. 358 (Erechtheus)

“Children have nothing sweeter than their mother.
Love your mother children, there is no kind of love anywhere
Sweeter than this one to love.”

οὐκ ἔστι μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἥδιον τέκνοις•
ἐρᾶτε μητρός, παῖδες, ὡς οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔρως
τοιοῦτος ἄλλος ὅστις ἡδίων ἐρᾶν.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 688-89 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“For the sick it is sweet to know clearly what pain remains”

τοῖς νοσοῦσί τοι γλυκὺ
τὸ λοιπὸν ἄλγος προυξεπίστασθαι τορῶς

Ananius, fr. 5.3

“It is sweet to eat the meat of a [locally-killed?] goat”

ἡδὺ δ’ ἐσθίειν χιμαίρης †φθινοπωρισμῶι κρέας·

Anaxandrides, fr. 24

“The home-fed son grows sweetly”

υἱὸς γὰρ οἰκόσιτος ἡδὺ γίνεται.

Theocritus, 3.20

“There is a sweet joy in empty little kisses.”

ἔστι καὶ ἐν κενεοῖσι φιλήμασιν ἁδέα τέρψις.

Menander, fr. 809

“It is sweet when brothers have a like-minded love”

ἡδύ γ’ ἐν ἀδελφοῖς ἐστιν ὁμονοίας ἔρως.

Menander fr. 814 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Sweet is the word of a friend for those in grief.”

ἡδύ γε φίλου λόγος ἐστὶ τοῖς λυπουμένοις.

Menander, fr 930 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“It is sweet to die for the one who has not been permitted to live as he wished.”

ἡδύ γ’ ἀποθνῄσκειν ὅτῳ ζῆν μὴ πάρεσθ’ ὡς βούλεται.

Sophokles, Fr. 356 (Creusa)

“The most noble thing is to be just.
The best thing is to live without sickness; the sweetest is when
Someone has the ability to get what he wants each day.”

κάλλιστόν ἐστι τοὔνδικον πεφυκέναι,
λῷστον δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἄνοσον, ἥδιστον δ’ ὅτῳ
πάρεστι λῆψις ὧν ἐρᾷ καθ’ ἡμέραν

Democritus, fr. 69

“Truth and goodness are the same for all people. But what is sweet is different for different folks.”

ἀνθρώποις πᾶσι τωὐτὸν ἀγαθὸν καὶ ἀληθές· ἡδὺ δὲ ἄλλωι ἄλλο.

Kleptocracy, Beauty Contests, and Lies

From the Suda

“To speak Cretan to Cretans: Since they liars and deceivers”

Κρητίζειν πρὸς Κρῆτας. ἐπειδὴ ψεῦσται καὶ ἀπατεῶνές εἰσι.

Hesychius

krêtizein: used for lying and deceiving. People use this phrase because Krêtans are liars.”

κρητίζειν· ἐπὶ τοῦ ψεύδεσθαι καὶ ἀπατᾶν. ἔταττον δὲ τὴν λέξιν ἀπὸ <τοῦ> τοὺς Κρῆτας ψεύστας εἶναι

Zenobius, 4.62.10

“To be a Cretan: People use this phrase to mean lying and cheating. And they say it developed as a proverb from Idomeneus the Cretan. For, as the story goes, when there was a disagreement developed about the greater [share] among the Greeks at troy and everyone was eager to acquire the heaped up bronze for themselves, they made Idomeneus the judge. Once he took open pledges from them that they would adhere to the judgments he would make, he put himself in from of all the rest! For this reason, it is called Krêtening.”

Κρητίζειν: ἐπὶ τοῦ ψεύδεσθαι καὶ ἀπατᾶν ἔταττον τὴν λέξιν, καὶ φασὶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ᾿Ιδομενέως τοῦ Κρητὸς τὴν παροιμίαν διαδοθῆναι. Λέγεται γὰρ διαφορᾶς ποτὲγενομένης τοῖς ἐν Τροίᾳ ῞Ελλησιν περὶ τοῦ μείζονος, καὶ  πάντων προθυμουμένων τὸν συναχθέντα χαλκὸν ἐκ τῶν λαφύρων πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς ἀποφέρεσθαι, γενόμενον κριτὴν τὸν ᾿Ιδομενέα, καὶ λαβόντα παρ’ αὐτῶν τὰς ἐνδεχομένας πίστεις ἐφ’ ᾧ κατακολουθῆσαι τοῖς κριθησομένοις, ἀντὶ πάντων τῶν ἀριστέων ἑαυτὸν προτάξαι. Διὸ λέγεσθαι τὸ Κρητίζειν.

 

Dionysius Attic, Aelian

Krêtizein: to lie. For Idomenus, when he was placed in charge of distributing the bronze from the spoils, chose the best for himself.”

κρητίζειν· τὸ ψεύδεσθαι. ᾿Ιδομενεὺς γὰρ ἐπιτραπεὶς τὸν ἀπὸ τῶν λαφύρων χαλκὸν διανεῖμαι τὸν ἄριστον αὑτῷ ἐξείλετο.

There is another tradition too for why Cretans are liars:

Medeia’s Beauty Contest: Fr. Gr. Hist (=Müller 4.10.1) Athenodorus of Eretria

“In the eighth book of his Notes, Athenodorus says that Thetis and Medeia competed over beauty in Thessaly and made Idomeneus the judge—he gave the victory to Thetis. Medeia, enraged, said that Kretans are always liars and she cursed him, that he would never speak the truth just has he had [failed to] in the judgment. And this is the reason that people say they believe that Kretans are liars. Athenodorus adds that Antiokhos records this in the second book of his Urban Legends.”

Ἀθηνόδωρος ἐν ὀγδόῳ Ὑπομνημάτων φησὶ Θέτιν καὶ Μήδειαν ἐρίσαι περὶ κάλλους ἐν Θεσσαλίᾳ, καὶ κριτὴν γενέσθαι Ἰδομενέα, καὶ προσνεῖμαι Θέτιδι τὴν νίκην. Μήδειαν δ ̓ ὀργισθεῖσαν εἰπεῖν· Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψευσταὶ, καὶ ἐπαράσασθαι αὐτῷ, μηδέποτε ἀλήθειαν εἰπεῖν, ὥσπερ ἐπὶ τῆς κρίσεως ἐποίησε. Καὶ ἐκ τούτου φησὶ τοὺς Κρῆτας ψεύστας νομισθῆναι· παρατίθεται δὲ τοῦτο ἱστοροῦντα ὁ Ἀθηνόδωρος Ἀντίοχον ἐν δευτέρῳ τῶν Κατὰ πόλιν μυθικῶν.

 

Of course, in the Odyssey Idomeneus shows up in Odysseus’ lies

Od. 13.256-273

“I heard of Ithaca even in broad Krete
Far over the sea. And now I myself have come
With these possessions. I left as much still with my children
When I fled, because I killed the dear son of Idomeneus,
Swift-footed Orsilokhos who surpassed all the grain-fed men
In broad Krete with his swift feet
Because he wanted to deprive me of all the booty
From Troy, over which I had suffered much grief in my heart,
Testing myself against warlike men and the grievous waves.
All because I was not showing his father favor as an attendant
In the land of the Trojans, but I was leading different companions.
I struck him with a bronze-pointed spear as he returned
From the field, after I set an ambush near the road with a companion.
Dark night covered the sky and no human beings
Took note of us, I got away with depriving him of life.
But after I killed him with the sharp bronze,
I went to a ship of the haughty Phoenicians
And I begged them and gave them heart-melting payment.”

“πυνθανόμην ᾿Ιθάκης γε καὶ ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ,
τηλοῦ ὑπὲρ πόντου· νῦν δ’ εἰλήλουθα καὶ αὐτὸς
χρήμασι σὺν τοίσδεσσι· λιπὼν δ’ ἔτι παισὶ τοσαῦτα
φεύγω, ἐπεὶ φίλον υἷα κατέκτανον ᾿Ιδομενῆος,
᾿Ορσίλοχον πόδας ὠκύν, ὃς ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ
ἀνέρας ἀλφηστὰς νίκα ταχέεσσι πόδεσσιν,
οὕνεκά με στερέσαι τῆς ληΐδος ἤθελε πάσης
Τρωϊάδος, τῆς εἵνεκ’ ἐγὼ πάθον ἄλγεα θυμῷ,
ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων,
οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ οὐχ ᾧ πατρὶ χαριζόμενος θεράπευον
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ἀλλ’ ἄλλων ἦρχον ἑταίρων.
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ κατιόντα βάλον χαλκήρεϊ δουρὶ
ἀγρόθεν, ἐγγὺς ὁδοῖο λοχησάμενος σὺν ἑταίρῳ·
νὺξ δὲ μάλα δνοφερὴ κάτεχ’ οὐρανόν, οὐδέ τις ἥμεας
ἀνθρώπων ἐνόησε, λάθον δέ ἑ θυμὸν ἀπούρας.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τόν γε κατέκτανον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
αὐτίκ’ ἐγὼν ἐπὶ νῆα κιὼν Φοίνικας ἀγαυοὺς
ἐλλισάμην καί σφιν μενοεικέα ληΐδα δῶκα·

This is the first ‘lie’ Odysseus tells upon his arrival on Ithaca. He does not know that he is speaking to Athena and a scholiast explains his choices as if he were speaking to a suitor or one who would inform them.

Scholia V ad. Od. 13.267

“He explains that he killed Idomeneus’ son so that the suitors will accept him as an enemy of dear Odysseus. He says that he has sons in Crete because he will have someone who will avenge him. He says that the death of Orsilochus was for booty, because he is showing that he would not yield to this guy bloodlessly. He says that he trusted Phoenicians so that he may not do him wrong, once he has reckoned that they are the most greedy for profit and they spared him.”

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ κατιόντα] σκήπτεται τὸν ᾿Ιδομενέως υἱὸν ἀνῃρηκέναι, ἵνα αὐτὸν πρόσωνται οἱ μνηστῆρες ὡς ἐχθρὸν τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως φίλου. ἑαυτῷ δὲ ἐν Κρήτῃ υἱούς φησιν εἶναι, ὅτι τοὺς τιμωρήσοντας ἕξει. καὶ τὸν ᾿Ορσιλόχου δὲ θάνατον λέγει διὰ τὴν λείαν, δεικνὺς ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐκείνῳ παραχωρήσει ἀναιμωτί. Φοίνιξι δὲ πιστεῦσαι λέγει, ἵνα μὴ ἀδικήσῃ, λογισάμενος ὅτι οἱ φιλοκερδέσταται αὐτοῦ ἐφείσαντο.
V.

idomeneus
Give me the loot.

 

The Proverbial Wisdom of Envy and Pity

Pindar, Pyth. 1.85

“Envy is stronger than pity

κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος

This line is something I bounce around twitter every few months or so. As with many of our tweets, it is divorced from its context and takes on a new meaning in our own time (one, I think, which is less than positive since people are motivated more by an acquisitive, begrudging impulse than one of empathy).

A twitter correspondent (@History_Twerp) noted that this line was echoed in Herodotus.

Herodotus 3.52

Periander speaks to his son and says “since you have learned how much being envied is better than being pitied, and also what it is like to be angry at your parents and your betters, come home…”

Σὺ δὲ μαθὼν ὅσῳ φθονέεσθαι κρέσσον ἐστὶ ἢ οἰκτίρεσθαι, ἅμα τε ὁκοῖόν τι ἐς τοὺς τοκέας καὶ ἐς τοὺς κρέσσονας τεθυμῶσθαι, ἄπιθι ἐς τὰ οἰκία.» Περίανδρος

The notes on Perseus for Pindar’s Pythian 1 refer to the passage from Herodotus as “proverbial” without any additional evidence. The passages do seem proverbial since they use the same basic lexical items to express the same basic idea. Nevertheless, there is not additional evidence for a proverb. Instead, I think we probably have evidence of a general cultural value immanent among aristocratic classes during the early Classical period.

Here’s a fuller context for Pindar, Pyth. 1.84-86

“Satiety reshapes
Fast and easy expectations—
And the citizens’ secret witness grows especially burdened over foreign wealth.
But still, since envy is stronger than pity,
Do not overlook noble things, but guide the people
With a just rudder. Make your tongue
Bronze on an truthful anvil.”

….ἀπὸ γὰρ κόρος ἀμβλύνει
αἰανὴς ταχείας ἐλπίδας:
ἀστῶν δ᾽ ἀκοὰ κρύφιον θυμὸν βαρύνει μάλιστ᾽ ἐσλοῖσιν ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοτρίοις.
ἀλλ’ ὅμως, κρέσσον γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος,
μὴ παρίει καλά. νώμα δικαίῳ
πηδαλίῳ στρατόν· ἀψευ-
δεῖ δὲ πρὸς ἄκμονι χάλκευε γλῶσσαν.

In the context of the Pythian ode, the brevity of the statement along with the epexegetical γὰρ gives the impression of a proverb drawn from elsewhere. But it is my sense, from reading through a lot of Pindar and Bacchylides, that the epinician genre is in the business of sounding proverbial  (it lends itself towards gnomic utterances because of the lyric brevity of expression, lack of epic-style repetition, and limited syntax). The trick of epinician poetry is to sound old and authoritative without actually being so.

The positive valence attributed to envy over pity is present as well in Hesiod’s Works and Days where two types of Strife are distinguished in order to mark one type of human conflict as good and one type as bad.

Hesiod, Works and Days, 26-7

“And a potter is angry with a potter, and a carpenter with a carpenter;
Even a beggar will envy a beggar and a singer a singer.”

καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

So the general attitude projected by Herodotus’ Periander and Pindar is harmonious with the Archaic Greek notion that ‘envy’ produces a type of rivalry that has positive effects. It is better than pity because pity is something which people in a stronger position have over those in a weaker position (and who wants to be in the weaker position?). For Pindar, envy is better because it imbues Hiero’s people with a spirit of rivalry; for Periander, who uses the statement in an attempt to get his son to come home, it is an attempt to convince him to give up the ways of a mendicant and return the palace. Interestingly, according to Herodotus, Periander fails.

The relationship between pity and envy appears in Diogenes as well.

Diogenes Laertius, Life of Zeno of Citium 7.111

“[they claim] that grief is an irrational reaction. Its variations include: pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, annoyance, bitterness, anger, and distraction. Pity is pain for someone who suffers evil unworthily; envy is grief over someone else’s good fortunes; jealousy is pain over what another possesses when you want it yourself; and rivalry is pain over what another has and which you possess too…”

Καὶ τὴν μὲν λύπην εἶναι συστολὴν ἄλογον· εἴδη δ’ αὐτῆς ἔλεον, φθόνον, ζῆλον, ζηλοτυπίαν, ἄχθος, ἐνόχλησιν, ἀνίαν, ὀδύνην, σύγχυσιν. ἔλεον μὲν οὖν εἶναι λύπην ὡς ἐπ’ ἀναξίως κακοπαθοῦντι, φθόνον δὲ λύπην ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς, ζῆλον δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ὧν αὐτὸς ἐπιθυμεῖ, ζηλοτυπίαν δὲ λύπην ἐπὶ τῷ καὶ ἄλλῳ παρεῖναι ἃ καὶ αὐτὸς ἔχει, ἄχθος δὲ λύπην

At first sight, there is little value judgment in this summary. But pity and envy are collocated as emotional or unreasoning impulses distinguished by their frames of reference but united by the fact that both are a type of pain. The comparison between pity and envy, does not seem otherwise common in Greek literature. (But this conclusion is extremely tentative. Please let me know of any other passages.)

A fragment of Plutarch (quoted in Stobaeus) established what turns out to be somewhat proverbial, that envious people risk two sources of pain.

Πλουτάρχου ἐκ τοῦ διαβάλλειν (Plut. fr. 155a = Hippias fr. 16).

Hippias says that there are two types of envy. One is just, whenever someone envies evil men who have been honored. The other is unjust, whenever someone envies good people who are honored. Men who envy suffer twice as much as others; for they are troubled not only by their own evils, but by others’ good fortunes.”

῾Ιππίας λέγει δύο εἶναι φθόνους· τὸν μὲν δίκαιον, ὅταν τις τοῖς κακοῖς φθονῇ τιμωμένοις· τὸν δὲ ἄδικον, ὅταν τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς. καὶ διπλᾶ τῶν ἄλλων οἱ φθονεροὶ κακοῦνται· οὐ γὰρ μόνον τοῖς ἰδίοις κακοῖς ἄχθονται, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖνοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἀλλοτρίοις ἀγαθοῖς.

This sentiment is rather similar to one attributed to Anacharsis the Skythian by the Gnomologium Vaticanum:

“When asked by someone why envious men are always in pain, he said “because not only do their own evils bite them, but the good fortunes of those near them cause them grief too…”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί οἱ φθονεροὶ ἄνθρωποι ἀεὶ λυποῦνται, ἔφη· „ὅτι οὐ μόνον τὰ ἑαυτῶν αὐτοὺς κακὰ δάκνει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν πέλας ἀγαθὰ λυπεῖ”.

Plato in the Timaeus detracts from envy a little too (29e) when discussing the attributes of a creating deity.

“He was good. And no envy ever develops in a good man about anything.

᾿Αγαθὸς ἦν· ἀγαθῷ δὲ οὐδεὶς περὶ οὐδενὸς οὐδέποτε ἐγγίνεται φθόνος.

Later paroemiographers do record some proverbs on envy, with an interesting variation.

Arsenius, Cent. 6.1a1

“Democritus says that envy is a wound from the truth”

Δημόκριτος τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ἀληθείας.

Stobaeus 3.38

“Socrates says that envy is a wound from the soul”

Σωκράτης τὸν φθόνον εἶπεν ἕλκος εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς.

File:Giotto di Bondone - No. 48 The Seven Vices - Envy - WGA09275.jpg
A 14th Century Fresco from Padua illustrating the deadly sin of Eny

A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth

In honor of mother’s day, our separation from each other, and missed parents everywhere, a re-post inspired by Paul’s Mom. I keep these words in mind all the time now when I reconnected with friends: we all have stories, we all want to be heard. As Arsenius records the proverb, “Conversation [ or ‘reason’] is the doctor for suffering in the soul” (Λόγος ἰατρὸς τοῦ κατὰ ψυχὴν πάθους.) To listen to another–and hear them– is a sacred act.  

“To a youth talking nonsense, he said “We have two ears, but one mouth so that we may hear more but speak less.”

πρὸς τὸ φλυαροῦν μειράκιον, “διὰ τοῦτο,” εἶπε, “δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείονα μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν.”

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:

Continue reading “A Mother’s Day Reminder: We Have Two Ears, but one Mouth”

It’s Thursday. Here’s a Handy Rejoinder if You’re Drinking

From the Gnomologium Vaticanum 371

“Kleostratos the drunk, when someone asked him in admonishment “Aren’t you ashamed to be drunk?”, responded “Aren’t you ashamed of admonishing a drunk?”

Κλεόστρατος ὁ φιλοπότης, ὡς μεθύοντά τις αὐτὸν ἐνουθέτει λέγων· „οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μεθύων”; ἔφη· „σὺ δὲ οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μεθύοντα νουθετῶν”.

And, whether dry or wet, the following saying might be useful too:

426

“Plato used to say “It is not fine for an educated man to converse with the uneducated, just as for sober man to talk with the drunk.”

Πλάτων ἔφη· „οὐ καλὸν πεπαιδευμένον ἐν ἀπαιδεύτοις διαλέγεσθαι, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ νήφοντα ἐν μεθύουσιν.”

 

Image result for Ancient Greek drunk vase

The Gardens of Adonis, A Proverb

The following passages refer to a part of the Adonia of ancient Athens.

Zenobius, Cent. 1.49

“You are more infertile than the gardens of Adonis”. A proverb which is applied to those who are able to produce nothing true. Plato brings this up in the Phaedrus. The gardens of Adonis are planted in clay pots and grow until they turn green only. Then they are carried out with the dying god and tossed into springs.”

᾿Ακαρπότερος εἶ ᾿Αδώνιδος κήπων: ἐπὶ τῶν μηδὲν γενναῖον τεκεῖν δυναμένων εἴρηται ἡ παροιμία· μέμνηται αὐτῆς Πλάτων ἐν Φαίδρῳ. Γίνονται δὲ οὗτοι οἱ κῆποι τοῦ ᾿Αδώνιδος εἰς ἀγγεῖα κεράμεια σπειρόμενοι ἄχρι χλόης μόνης· ἐκφέρονται δὲ ἅμα τελευτῶντι τῷ θεῷ καὶ ῥιπτοῦνται εἰς κρήνας.

Diogenianus, 1.14

“The gardens of Adonis: a proverb applied to things that are out of season and without roots. As the myth goes, Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, died before adolescence. The people who celebrate his rites plant gardens in pots. They grow quickly and then die because they do not take root. They call these Adonis’ plants.”

᾿Αδώνιδος κῆποι: ἐπὶ τῶν ἀώρων καὶ μὴ ἐῤῥιζωμένων. ᾿Επειδὴ γὰρ ῎Αδωνις ἐρώμενος ὢν, ὡς ὁ μῦθος, τῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης, προήβης τελευτᾷ, οἱ ταύτῃ ὀργιάζοντες, κήπους εἰς ἀγγεῖά τινα φυτεύοντες ἢ φυτεύουσαι, ταχέως ἐκείνων διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐῤῥιζῶσθαι μαραινομένων ᾿Αδώνιδος αὐτοὺς ἐκάλουν.

Plato, Phaedrus 276b

“Would a farmer of any sense, when he cares about some seeds and wants them to grow to fruit, seriously plant them in some gardens of Adonis during the summer and then take pleasure in seem them growing beautifully only eight days later and would he do this thing only as a game or for sake of some distraction when he did it? Wouldn’t he apply the art of farming to those matters in which he was serious and plant his seeds in the ground and then be delighted when everything he planted reached full size in the eighth month?”

ὁ νοῦν ἔχων γεωργός, ὧν σπερμάτων κήδοιτο καὶ ἔγκαρπα βούλοιτο γενέσθαι, πότερα σπουδῇ ἂν θέρους εἰς Ἀδώνιδος κήπους ἀρῶν χαίροι θεωρῶν καλοὺς ἐν ἡμέραισιν ὀκτὼ γιγνομένους, ἢ ταῦτα μὲν δὴ παιδιᾶς τε καὶ ἑορτῆς χάριν δρῴη ἄν, ὅτε καὶ ποιοῖ· ἐφ᾿ οἷς δὲ ἐσπούδακε, τῇ γεωργικῇ χρώμενος ἂν τέχνῃ, σπείρας εἰς τὸ προσῆκον, ἀγαπῴη ἂν ἐν ὀγδόῳ μηνὶ ὅσα ἔσπειρεν τέλος λαβόντα;

Fragment of a red-figure wedding vase

Spartan Women Once Said…

This is the second part of the sayings attributed to women in the Gnomologium Vaticanum (568-576)

“Sayings of women and their thoughts”

᾿Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα.

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

 

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

 

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.