Out of the Smoke, Into the Fire: Some More Greek Proverbs

This week lots of people are graduating. Here are some proverbs for life changes and mistakes.

Diogenianus, 8.45

“When I fled the smoke, I fell into the fire”:  [this proverb is applied] to those who flee rather minor troubles only to fall upon greater ones.

Τὸν καπνὸν φεύγων, εἰς τὸ πῦρ ἐνέπεσον: ἐπὶ τῶν τὰ μικρὰ τῶν δεινῶν φευγόντων, καὶ εἰς μείζονα δεινὰ ἐμπιπτόντων.

 

Arsenius 4.23f

“It is strange that one who pursues honors avoids the hard work honors come from”

῎Ατοπόν ἐστι διώκοντα τὰς τιμὰς φεύγειν τοὺς πόνους, δι’ ὧν αἱ τιμαί.

 

Michael Apostolios, 11.15

“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.”

Λωτοῦ ἔφαγες: ἐπὶ τῶν σχόντων λήθην τῶν οἴκοι, καὶ βραδυνόντων ἐπὶ ξένης. ἔστι δὲ πόα τὸ λωτὸν, λήθην ἐμποιοῦν τῷ φαγόντι.

 

Arsenius 3.19a

“The man who flees will also fight again”: [this proverb is applied] to those who face a doubtful victory.

᾿Ανὴρ ὁ φεύγων καὶ πάλιν μαχήσεται: ἐπὶ τῶν ἑτεραλκεῖ νίκῃ χρωμένων ταχθείη.

 

Michael Apostolios 1.26

“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.”

᾿Αγαμέμνονος θυσία: ἐπὶ τῶν δυσπειθῶν καὶ σκληρῶν. θύοντος γὰρ ᾿Αγαμέμνονος ὁ βοῦς φυγὼν μόλις ἐλήφθη. ῍Η ὅτι τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἐβούλετο ᾿Αγαμέμνων θυσιάσαι θυγατέρα· ἣ δ’ ἔφυγε.

Image result for medieval manuscript frying pan
Illuminated Manuscript – The Hague, KB, 76 F 13, f. 12v, XIV cent., France

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

In honor of mother’s day and missed parents everywhere, a repost inspired by Paul’s Mom. 

“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:

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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.

 

Milking the He-Goat: The Only Proverb You Need for a Thursday

Polybius, Book 33 16a fragmenta incertae sedis

“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

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.

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,