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

How Many Eyes Did The Cyclops Have? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

Erik has a beautiful post about the Cyclops Polyphemos. The scholia present some debates about what exactly a Cyclops looks like. 

Schol. ad Od. 9.106

“Aristotle examines how the Cyclops Polyphemos came to be a cyclops when neither his father nor his mother was a cyclops. He resolved the issue with a different myth. For, he asserted, horses came from Boreas but Pegasos was born from Poseidon and Medousa. Why, then, would it be strange that this wild beast be born from Poseidon? Similarly, other wild beasts were born from him in the sea, as well as marvels and unusual things.

Hesiod laughably etymologizes [the Kyklopes], saying “They were given the nickname Kyklopes / because they have one single circle eye in the middle of their forehead.” But Homer clearly describes  their nature.

For, if it was of that sort, just as he described the other particular features of the Cyclops, like his size, his cruelty, he would have also described his eye! Philoxenos says that he diverged from Hesiod in that the fact he could not see because he was blinded in one eye. For Homer does not say this about all the other Cyclopes. It is likely that Polyphemos lost his other eye for some other reason before Odysseus’ arrival.

Others oppose this, claiming that if he had two eyes and Odysseus blinded one, how would he say what is attributed to him, “Cyclops, if any mortal man asks you who is the blinder of your eye…” He does not say eyes. And in return the Cyclops says “My father is able to heal my eye.” For if he had another eye, properly, and Odysseus were speaking to him in this way, how would he not have taken care of the other eye? But he said “the earth-shaker will not heal [my] eye.” For this very reason people argue about his eye being completely pierced, because of what is said here, if he did not take care of the eye when it was first compromised, he would never be able to heal it.”

From the MFA in Boston, taken artfully on my phone.

 

ζητεῖ ᾿Αριστοτέλης πῶς ὁ Κύκλωψ ὁ Πολύφημος μήτε πατρὸς ὢν Κύκλωπος, Ποσειδῶνος γὰρ ἦν, μήτε μητρὸς, Κύκλωψ ἐγένετο. αὐτὸς δὲ ἑτέρῳ μύθῳ ἐπιλύεται. καὶ γὰρ ἐκ Βορέου ἵπποι γίνονται, καὶ ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος καὶ τῆς Μεδούσης ὁ Πήγασος ἵππος. τί δ’ ἄτοπον ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος τὸν ἄγριον τοῦτον γεγονέναι; ὥσπερ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἐξ αὐτοῦ ἀναλόγως τῇ θαλάσσῃ ἄγρια γεννᾶται ἢ τερατώδη ἢ παρηλλαγμένα. γελοίως δ’ αὐτοὺς ἐτυμολογεῖ ῾Ησίοδος “Κύκλωπες δ’ ὄνομ’ ἦσαν ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρω σφέων κυκλοτερὴς ὀφθαλμὸς ἕεις ἐνέκειτο μετώπῳ.” ὁ δ’ ῞Ομηρος φαίνεται φύσιν αὐτῶν λέγων· εἰ γὰρ ἦν τι τοιοῦτον, ὥσπερ τὰς ἄλλας ἰδιότητας τῶν ὀφθέντων ἔγραψεν ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ Κύκλωπος, τὸ μέγεθος, τὴν ὠμότητα, οὕτω κἂν τὸ περὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ ἔγραψε. φησὶ δὲ ὁ Φιλόξενος ὅτι ἐπλάνησε τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸ τὸν ἕνα ὀφθαλμὸν τυφλωθέντα μηκέτι ὁρᾶν. οὔτε δὲ περὶ πάντων τῶν Κυκλώπων εἶπε τοῦτο ῞Ομηρος, εἰκός τε τὸν Πολύφημον κατά τινα ἄλλην αἰτίαν τὸν ἕτερον τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἀπολωλεκέναι πρὸ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀφίξεως. οἱ δὲ ἀντιλέγοντες τούτῳ φασὶν, εἰ δύο εἶχεν ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὸν ἕνα ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐτύφλωσε, πῶς συμφωνήσει τὸ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ λεγόμενον, “Κύκλωψ, εἰ καί τίς σε καταχθονίων ἀνθρώπων ὀφθαλμοῦ εἴρηται ἀεικελίην ἀλαωτύν” (502.); οὐκ εἶπεν ὀφθαλμῶν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ τὸ προκείμενον παρὰ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι δύναταί μου ὁ Ποσειδῶν ἰάσασθαι τὸν ὀφθαλμόν. εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἑτερόφθαλμος ἤδη ὑπάρχων, ἔλεγεν ἂν αὐτῷ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς, καὶ πῶς τὸν ἕτερον οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν; ἀλλ’ εἶπεν “ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων” (525.). δι’ αὐτοῦ δὲ τούτου ἀπολογοῦνται περὶ τοῦ εἶναι αὐτὸν διόφθαλμον, διὰ τοῦ εἰπεῖν, εἰ τὸν πρῶτον πηρωθέντα ὀφθαλμὸν οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν, οὐδὲ τοῦτον ἰάσεται. H.Q.

These are, of course, the types of investigations for which Seneca would have the most disdain:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too. This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Mocking the quibbles of scholars is where the pejorative use of the term ‘academic’ comes. This is an ancient tradition!

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.22

“You know that somewhere Timo the Philasian calls the Museum a birdcage as he mocks the scholars who are supported there because they were fed like the priciest birds in a big cage:

Many are fed in many-peopled Egypt,
The paper-pushers closed up waging endless war
in the bird-cage of the Muses.

ὅτι τὸ Μουσεῖον ὁ Φιλιάσιος Τίμων ὁ σιλλογράφος (fr. 60 W) τάλαρόν πού φησιν ἐπισκώπτων τοὺς ἐν αὐτῷ τρεφομένους φιλοσόφους, ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν  πανάγρῳ τινὶ σιτοῦνται καθάπερ οἱ πολυτιμότατοι ὄρνιθες·

πολλοὶ μὲν βόσκονται ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πολυφύλῳ
βιβλιακοὶ χαρακῖται ἀπείριτα δηριόωντες
Μουσέων ἐν ταλάρῳ.

Deep (Adult) Thoughts with Aristotle: On Drinking and Sex, and Combinations Thereof

From Aristotle’s Problems:

872b

“Why can’t drunk people have sex?”

Διὰ τί οἱ μεθύοντες ἀφροδισιάζειν ἀδύνατοί εἰσιν;

874b

“Why are the drunk more prone to tears?”

Διὰ τί οἱ μεθύοντες ἀριδάκρυοι μᾶλλον;

 

“Why is it hard to sleep when you’re drunk?”

Διὰ τί τοῖς μεθύουσιν οὐκ ἐγγίνεται ὕπνος

 

“Why does someone who is buzzed act more inebriated than either the drunk or the sober?”

Διὰ τί ὁ ἀκροθώραξ μᾶλλον παροινεῖ τοῦ μᾶλλον μεθύοντος καὶ τοῦ νήφοντος;

876b

“Why does a drinker’s tongue stumble?”

Διὰ τί τῶν μεθυόντων ἡ γλῶττα πταίει;

 

877a

“Why is being barefoot not an advantage for sex?”

Διὰ τί ἡ ἀνυποδησία οὐ συμφέρει πρὸς ἀφροδισιασμούς;

 

“Why does sex wear humans out more than other animals?”

Διὰ τί ἐκλύεται μάλιστα τῶν ζῴων ἀφροδισιάσας ἄνθρωπος;

 

877b

“Why do people fasting have sex so quickly?”

Διὰ τί νήστεις θᾶττον ἀφροδισιάζουσιν;

878a

“Why is it harder for people for have sex in water?”

Διὰ τί ἐν τῷ ὕδατι ἧττον δύνανται ἀφροδισιάζειν οἱ ἄνθρωποι;

 

880b

“Why does a person’s eyes weaken if they have sex?”

Διὰ τί, ἐὰν ἀφροδισιάζῃ ὁ ἄνθρωπος, οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἀσθενοῦσι μάλιστα;

 

Image result for Ancient GReek Aristotle

A series of responses by poet and reader Eric Sigler:

No automatic alt text available.

Running, Sitting, Feeling Cold: Deep Thoughts with Aristotle

Aristotle, Problems

882b

“Why do people fall more while running than walking?”

Διὰ τί μᾶλλον θέοντες ἢ βαδίζοντες πίπτουσιν;

883b

“Why does the road seem longer when we don’t know how far we are walking than when we do, even if everything else is the same?”

Διὰ τί πλείων δοκεῖ ἡ ὁδὸς εἶναι, ὅταν μὴ εἰδότες βαδίζωμεν πόση τις, ἢ ὅταν εἰδότες, ἐὰν τἆλλα ὁμοίως | ἔχοντες τύχωμεν;

883b

“Why is running harder than walking?”

Διὰ τί χαλεπώτερον θεῖν ἢ βαδίζειν;

884a

“Why do short walks wear us out?”

Διὰ τί κοπώδεις οἱ βραχεῖς τῶν περιπάτων;

 

885b

“Why does sitting make some people fat while it makes others thin?”

Διὰ τί ἡ καθέδρα τοὺς μὲν παχύνει τῶν ἀνθρώπων, τοὺς δὲ ἰσχναίνει

886a

“Why do people yawn when they see others yawn? Is it because they desire something if they are reminded of it, especially with things that are easily encouraged, like urination?”

Διὰ τί τοῖς χασμωμένοις ἀντιχασμῶνται ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ | πολύ; ἢ διότι, ἐὰν ἀναμνησθῶσιν ὀργῶντες, ἐνεργοῦσιν, μάλιστα δὲ τὰ εὐκίνητα, οἷον οὐροῦσιν;

[…]

“is it because every voice and sound is actually breath?”

ἢ διότι φωνὴ μὲν πᾶσα καὶ ψόφος πνεῦμά ἐστιν;

887a

“Why when we see someone being cut or burned or harmed or suffering any other terror do we feel grief in our minds?”

Διὰ τί, ἐπειδὰν τεμνόμενόν τινα ἴδωμεν ἢ καιόμενον ἢ στρεβλούμενον ἢ ἄλλο τι τῶν δεινῶν πάσχοντα, συναλγοῦμεν τῇ διανοίᾳ;

888b

“Why do we shiver after we’ve finished peeing?”

Διὰ τί ἐν τῇ τελευταίᾳ προέσει τοῦ οὔρου φρίττομεν;

889a

“Why don’t angry people feel the cold?”

Διὰ τί οἱ ὀργιζόμενοι οὐ ῥιγῶσιν;

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What Does it Mean to Have an Oral Homer?

The ‘modern’ Homeric ‘Question’ simmered for many centuries before it received its most clear articulation at the end of the 18th century when Wolf, who had been working on an edition of the Homeric text, published his Prolegomena.  He was one of the first to argue persuasively for the oral derivation of the Homeric poems. In the (declining) style of the time, Wolf published in Latin.

The full Latin text is available from Google books and on the Homer Multitext Project website. A fine translation was published in English in 1985/1988 by Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and James E. G. Zetzel.

Friedrich Augustus Wolf, Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795) section 23

“But what if the suspicion of a few scholars is likely, that these and the other compositions of those days were not written down but were first created by poets using memory and circulated as songs and then were ‘published’ widely by the singing of rhapsodes who were trained by their particular discipline to learn them? And if because of this, before they were fixed in writing, what if many changes naturally occurred either intentionally or by chance?

What if, for this reason itself, as soon as they began to be written, they exhibited many divergences and soon added new ones from the hasty adjustments by those who were eager to polish them and to align them with the best laws of the poetic art and their own custom And what if then this whole creation and series of two eternal songs are not of a single poet whom we are used to crediting for his genius but more from the dedication of a more polished time and thanks to the collected efforts of many—that the very songs from which the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed did not have a single author and this can be argued from likely propositions and reasons? What if, I ask, we must take up a belief different from the popular one about all of this, what then will it mean to restore the ancient gleam and original form to these poems?”

At vero, si nonnullorum probabilis est suspicio , haec et reliqua Carmina illorum temporum nullis litterarum mandata notis, sed primum a poetis memoriter facta et cantu edita, tum per rhapsodos, in iis ediscendis propria arte occupatos, canendo divulgata esse; ex quo, antequam scripto velut figerentur, plura in iis vel consilio vel casu immutari necesse esset; si hanc ipsam ob causam, statim ut scribi coepta sunt, multas diversitates habuerunt, mox novas subinde adsciverunt temeritate et coniecturis eorum, qui ea certatim expolire, et ad optimas leges poeticae artis ad suamque consuetudinem loquendi corrigere studebant; si denique totum hunc contextum ac seriem duorum perpetuorum Carminum non tam eius, cui eam tribuere consuevimus, ingenio, quam sollertiae politioris aevi et multorum coniunctis studiis deberi, neque adeo ipsas docdd, ex quibus Ilias et Odyssea compositae sunt, unum omnes auctorem habere, verisimilibus argumentis et rationibus effici potest; si, inquam, aliter de his omnibus, ac vulgo fit, existimandum est: quid tum erit, his Carminibus pristinum nitorem et germanam formam suam restituere?

Prolegomena

A Disturbing (?) Passage from Modern Scholarship on Ancient Sexuality

I have been weighing the sense and import of the pages below for a few weeks now. Typically, I don’t teach too much about sexuality and I research it even less as a Homerist. I suspect that this is partly disciplinary (Homer is happy to indicate the power and fact of sexual acts with little specification; this is largely a generic characteristic) but part is nurture: my parents were both Lutherans of mid-Western Scandinavian persuasion: sex is fine, as long as no one talks about it.

But I do mention misogyny quite a bit in classes and on the blog and I have long been worried about the ways in which an uncritical presentation of the material in Homer and myth merely recapitulates and strengthens structural biases about gender and power. When it comes to human sexuality, I get a little squeamish with posts on this site: I like to post material that surprises people with the dirtiness of the Ancient world (you know, farting, shitting, middle fingers) and which disabuses people of the notion that what we have from the Ancient Greek and Romans is largely philosophy and Galen. But in a time when people misuse the ancient world for many things–most execrably to support racists and white supremacist views erroneously--I do fear that some postings might appear exploitative or be misused in some way.

This is one reason, for example although I put up a post about masturbation in ancient Greek, I did not follow it up, as requested with one about female masturbation. For one, there is only a small amount of evidence (and the evidence is extremely problematic because it comes from men and is mostly negative). For another, I don’t think there is any way for a male author to post information about female masturbation online without seeming in some way salacious, creepy, or just, well, gross.

(Again, this is where both my nature and my nurture may be causing me problems. Oh, and this: not talking about female masturbation reinforces taboos about female sexuality and agency.)

Another area in which we have posted very little is on topics that pertain to homosexuality, same-sex acts, or non-heteronormative (in a modern sense) eroticism. People respond all too well to lists of words for feces, but descriptions of sexuality that fall under the earlier categories get some strange responses. This is not enough to stop us alone. My worry is akin to my concern in the last paragraph, but more. I fear that some readers will use such material negatively (doing harm to ancient and modern communities); I also feel we run the risk of getting cheap entertainment through the exploitative expropriation of someone else’s sexuality.

But I have been struggling with the line of thought in the passage I am about to cite. The work of the book The Maculate Muse is really groundbreaking (and it is a work to which I have referred for many years), but the comments on comparing modern and ancient ‘homosexuality’ seem skewed in a damaging way. I am posting them not with the intention of shaming the scholar, but instead with the hope that someone will tell me I have read this all wrong.

J. Henderson. The Maculate Muse, 1991 (2nd edition; first 1975): 207

Henderson page 207

The Maculate Muse, 1991: 208

Henderson page 208

I am troubled by a few things here. The bit about “perversion” and “not without reason” seems particularly problematic, especially since it is unexplained. The additional language of compulsion is also borderline for me. Although the second edition is now nearly 30 years old (and the original is closer to 50!), I would have thought that it would be more sensitive in its treatment of sexual categories and notions of sexual activity, sexual identity, gender and sex.

My suspicions about this passage and its implicit definitions of sexuality (and identities) have led me to read a lot of what Henderson says about “pathics”, effeminacy, and the insults which may or may not pertain to these categories with much greater caution.

Update: an important note of context. The comments cited above were not updated from the 1975 edition of the book. The following note precedes the discussion.

A scholar familiar with the development of this book from dissertation to publication and revision was kind enough to share some context. It was dangerous for a career to write this book in the 1970s. Classics has not always been in the social and cultural vanguard.

So, this passage can serve particularly well as a lesson for how our scholarship is shaped by cultural constrainta both in its articulation and ita reception over time.

Envy and Pity: Proverbial Wisdom?

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