Tale of a Fateful Trip

“Once more the storm is howling . . .”
-W.B. Yeats, ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’

Ovid. Tristia.Book I.II.13-36.

I, a wretched man, squander unavailing words.
Hostile waters lash my very mouth as I speak,
And the awful South Wind scatters my words
And stops my prayers reaching any of the gods.
I’m not wounded in just one way: the same winds
Carry our prayers, and sails, I don’t know where.

Wretched me! What mountains of water are whipped up!
Now, now you’d think they went all the way to the highest stars.
What hollows there are when the waters part!
Now, now you’d think they went all the way to black Tartarus.

Wherever I look there’s nothing but sea and sky
–This sea swell, that cloud menace–
And between them the savage winds roar and growl.

The wave doesn’t know which god to obey,
For now, from the scarlet east, Eurus gathers strength;
Now Zephyr, sent out from late evening, appears;
Now, from the dry Arctic, the cold North Wind rages;
And now the South Wind joins the battle head on.

The pilot vacillates. What to seek, what to flee
He’s unsure. His art wavers and stuns itself with frets.
Surely we’ll perish. There’s no hope of safety.
A wave blots out my face as I’m speaking.
The swells will crush my soul, and as we pray in vain
Our mouth will take in the killing waters.

verba miser frustra non proficientia perdo.
ipsa graves spargunt ora loquentis aquae,
terribilisque Notus iactat mea dicta, precesque
ad quos mittuntur, non sinit ire deos.
ergo idem venti, ne causa laedar in una,
velaque nescio quo votaque nostra ferunt,
me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum!
iam iam tacturos sidera summa putes.
quantae diducto subsidunt aequore valles!
iam iam tacturas Tartara nigra putes.
quocumque aspicio, nihil est, nisi pontus et aer,
fluctibus hic tumidus, nubibus ille minax.
inter utrumque fremunt inmani murmure venti.
nescit, cui domino pareat, unda maris.
nam modo purpureo vires capit Eurus ab ortu.
nunc Zephyrus sero vespere missus adest,
nunc sicca gelidus Boreas bacchatur ab Arcto,
nunc Notus adversa proelia fronte gerit.
rector in incerto est nec quid fugiatve petatve
invenit: ambiguis ars stupet ipsa malis.
scilicet occidimus, nec spes est ulla salutis,
dumque loquor, vultus obruit unda meos.
opprimet hanc animam fluctus, frustraque precanti
ore necaturas accipiemus aquas.

Were they bound for Tomis?

Ariadne: A Woman Wronged

Catullus 64. 52-70.

Looking out from Dia’s wave-thudding shores
she sees Theseus and his fleet ships drawing away,
Ariadne does, her heart full of savage rage.

She still cannot believe what she’s been seeing
since shaking off hoodwinking sleep and finding
her luckless self deserted on a lonely shore:

the thoughtless youth putting oar to water, fleeing,
and letting slip to squally winds his empty vows.

It’s him the far-off sad-eyed daughter of Minos
gazes upon, Bacchant-like, from sea-tangled rocks,
gazes upon and swells with upsurges of grief.

She did not clasp to her fair head the fine headpiece,
keep her bossom veiled in her delicate robes
or her milky breasts encircled with the smooth band–

All these things, from all her person, fell haphazard
at her feet, and with them the salty waves sported.
But not for headpiece or flowing robes did she care.

Theseus, it was on you, with all her heart,
all her soul, and all her mind, that she hung, hopeless.

Racine. Phedre. 87-89.

So many others; their names escape even him,
Those too credulous spirits whom his flame deceived:
Ariadne on the rocks reciting wrongs done her . . .


namque fluentisono prospectans litore Diae,
Thesea cedentem celeri cum classe tuetur
indomitos in corde gerens Ariadna furores,
necdum etiam sese quae visit visere credit,
utpote fallaci quae tum primum excita somno
desertam in sola miseram se cernat harena.
immemor at iuvenis fugiens pellit vada remis,
irrita ventosae linquens promissa procellae.
quem procul ex alga maestis Minois ocellis,
saxea ut effigies bacchantis, prospicit, eheu,
prospicit et magnis curarum fluctuat undis,
non flavo retinens subtilem vertice mitram,
non contecta levi uelatum pectus amictu,
non tereti strophio lactentis vincta papillas,
omnia quae toto delapsa e corpore passim
ipsius ante pedes fluctus salis alludebant.
sed neque tum mitrae neque tum fluitantis amictus
illa vicem curans toto ex te pectore, Theseu,
toto animo, tota pendebat perdita mente.


Tant d’autres, dont les noms lui sont même échappés,
Trop crédules esprits que sa flamme a trompés ;
Ariane aux rochers contant ses injustices . . .

Oil painting of a light skinned woman looking to her right, viewer's left. Her hair is disheveled and her clothing is falling off. The background is dark
Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).
Private Collection.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Advice on Social Media Use from Ancient Rome

Ovid, Amores 14.1-8

“I don’t beg you not to mess around because you’re pretty,
But to spare miserable me the need of knowing about it.
I am not some censor who orders you to be a prude,
But only someone who asks you to try to be discreet.
Whoever can deny her mistakes, hasn’t messed up at all.
Only the admitted fault brings dishonor.
What madness it is to confess in light things done at night?
And to report openly deeds performed in secret?”

Non ego, ne pecces, cum sis formosa, recuso,
sed ne sit misero scire necesse mihi;
nec te nostra iubet fieri censura pudicam,
sed tamen, ut temptes dissimulare, rogat.
non peccat, quaecumque potest peccasse negare,
solaque famosam culpa professa facit.
quis furor est, quae nocte latent, in luce fateri,
et quae clam facias facta referre palam?

‘Social Media’ can last forever…

Persius Addresses a Petulant Man-Baby

Persius, Satires 3.15-19

“Fool, more foolish with each passing day,
Is this what we’ve come to? Ah, why not just be like
A little pigeon or a baby prince and insist on eating chopped up food
Or stop your mom from singing to you because you’re so angry?”

“o miser inque dies ultra miser, hucine rerum
venimus? a, cur non potius teneroque columbo
et similis regum pueris pappare minutum
poscis et iratus mammae lallare recusas?”

Elon Musk's Rich Life Is a Friggin Nightmare (He Tears up Explaining It) |  by Tim Denning | ILLUMINATION | Medium

A Son Gives His Father Life

Vergil, Aeneid. X.783-800

Then pious Aeneas hurled his spear, piercing
Mezentius’s incurved shield, its three bronze sheets,
linen layers, and three bull-hides well joined.
The spear sunk into his groin, though not with force.

Aeneas thrilled at the sight of Tuscan blood.
He whipped out his sword and dashed forward, fired up.
Lausus saw, and with his face awash in tears
heaved a heavy groan from love for his dear father.

O Lausus, this is where your hard death came,
And your finest actions too: . . .

Mezentius, now helpless and injured, turned
In retreat, dragging the enemy’s spear
lodged in his shield. His son then rushed to the fight:
and when Aeneas raised his death-bearing right hand,
Lausus faced the sword himself, obstructing
and stopping him.

Lausus’s comrades cheered like mad:
the father was leaving the field
protected by his son’s shield.

tum pius Aeneas hastam iacit: illa per orbem
aere cauum triplici, per linea terga tribusque
transiit intextum tauris opus, imaque sedit
inguine, sed uiris haud pertulit. ocius ensem
Aeneas, uiso Tyrrheni sanguine laetus,
eripit a femine et trepidanti feruidus instat.
ingemuit cari graviter genitoris amore,
ut vidit, Lausus, lacrimaeque per ora volutae.
hic mortis durae casum tuaque optima facta. . .
Ille pedem referens et inutilis inque ligatus
cedebat clipeoque inimicum hastile trahebat:
prorupit iuvenis seseque immiscuit armis
iamque adsurgentis dextra plagamque ferentis
Aeneae subiit mucronem ipsumque morando
sustinuit. socii magno clamore sequuntur,
dum genitor nati parma protectus abiret…

Detail from Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son (1669).
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Frying Fish and Accepting People as they Are

Terence, Adelphoe 420-432

“JFC, I don’t have the time to listen to you.
I have the fish I was thinking about and now
My main concern is that they don’t go bad.
That would be as big a crime on our part, Demea,
As ignoring everything you were just talking about.

As far as I can, I give my fellow enslaved friends this advice
“Too much salt or overcooked or undercleaned, ooh that’s perfect–
Remember what you did next time!
I am serious about giving them as much wisdom as I can.

Finally, I say “gaze into the saucepan as if into a mirror!”
And I tell them what they should do as practice.

I know that all these things we do are foolish—
But what would you do? You need to take each person as they are.
What else do you want?”

… non hercle otiumst
nunc mi auscultandi. piscis ex sententia
nactus sum. hi mihi ne corrumpantur cautiost.
nam id nobis tam flagitiumst quam illa, Demea,
non facere vobis quae modo dixti. et quod queo
conservis ad eundem istunc praecipio modum.
“hoc salsumst, hoc adustumst, hoc lautumst parum.
illud recte, iterum sic memento.” sedulo
moneo quae possum pro mea sapientia.
postremo tamquam in speculum in patinas, Demea,
inspicere iubeo et moneo quid facto usu’ sit.
inepta haec esse nos quae facimus sentio.
verum quid facias? ut homost, ita morem geras.
numquid vis?

A Priapic Poem That’s A Tad Too Defensive

Warning: this is potentially just awful trash.

Carmina Priapea, 28

“Mercury’s form has the power to please.
And Apollo’s body sticks out especially.
Lyaeus in pictures has a shapely line,
And Cupid is still finest of the fine.

My body lacks a certain beauty, I confess
But, look, my dick’s a jewel beyond the rest.
Any girl should prefer it to the gods I named,
And if she doesn’t, then a greedy pussy’s to blame.”

Forma Mercurius potest placere,
forma conspiciendus est Apollo,
formosus quoque pingitur Lyaeus,
formosissimus omnium est Cupido.
me pulchra fateor carere forma,
verum mentula luculenta nostra est:
hanc mavult sibi quam deos priores,
si qua est non fatui puella cunni.

Woman painting a statue of Priapus, from a fresco at Pompeii

Don’t Look Back

Here is a portion of Virgil’s account of what happened after Orpheus, escorting his wife from the underworld, turned around to look at her:

Virgil., Georgics, IV. 494-506

She said: “What folly, Orpheus, what terrible folly
Has destroyed me, a wretched woman, and you too?
Look, the hard fates are calling me back again.
And look, sleep is closing my swimming eyes.
Now, farewell! I’m borne away in the vast encircling
Night, and I reach out to you with helpless hands
That, alas, are no longer your hands.”

That’s what she said. Then suddenly, from his sight,
Like smoke amid light breezes, she was gone.
She did not see him vainly clutching shadows
And trying to say ever more things to her.
What’s more, Death’s boatman did not let him cross
The swamp stretched before him.

What could he do? Where was he scrambling to
With his wife snatched away a second time?
With what tears could he move the gods?
Which divinities could he move with words?

No matter. She was afloat the Stygian raft, already cold.

Illa “Quis et me” inquit “miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? en iterum crudelia retro
fata vocant conditque natantia lumina somnus.
iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte
invalidasque tibi tendens, heu! non tua, palmas.”
dixit et ex oculis subito, ceu fumus in auras
commixtus tenues, fugit diversa, neque illum
prensantem nequiquam umbras et multa volentem
dicere praeterea vidit; nec portitor Orci
amplius obiectam passus transire paludem.
quid faceret? quo se rapta bis coniuge ferret?
quo fletu manis, quae numina voce moveret?
Illa quidem Stygia nabat iam frigida cumba.

Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein.
Orpheus and Eurydice. 1806.
Glyptoteket, Copenhagen.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

One Love, Two Bodies

Greek Anthology, 5.88 (Rufinus): The Fire of Unrequited Love

“Fire-bearing love, if you haven’t the strength to light two equally afire
Either extinguish it or share the flame burning in only one.”

Εἰ δυσὶν οὐκ ἴσχυσας ἴσην φλόγα, πυρφόρε, καῦσαι,
τὴν ἑνὶ καιομένην ἢ σβέσον ἢ μετάθες.

Diogenes Laertius, Aristotle 5.21

When [Aristotle] was asked what a friend is, he replied “one soul occupying two bodies.”

ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἐστι φίλος, ἔφη, “μία ψυχὴ δύο σώμασιν ἐνοικοῦσα.”

Catullus, 87

“No woman can claim that she has been loved as much
Truly, as my Lesbia has been loved by me.
No promise has ever been made in as much faith
As can be found on my part in loving you.”

Nulla potest mulier tantum se dicere amatam
vere, quantum a me Lesbia amata mea est.
nulla fides ullo fuit umquam foedere tanta,
quanta in amore tuo ex parte reperta mea est.

Image result for medieval manuscript love
from here

Sex as Antidote to Uncertainty

Horace, Ode I.11

Don’t ask (it’s sin to know), Leuconoē,
What end the gods intend for you and me.
And don’t resort to Babylonian voodoo.
It’s better to accept whatever will be.

Whether Jupiter grants more winters
Or this is the final one now wrecking
The Tyrrhenian Sea on opposing pumice rocks,
Be sensible: filter the wine
and trim far-reaching cares to a small compass.

While we speak, grudging time will have fled.
Relish this day and put little faith in the next.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoē, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.

Note on the name Leuconoē

  • Leuconoē may be from the Greek Λευκός νόος meaning “white minded.” In Horace’s iconography, white is the color of winter (snow) and winter is symbolic of death. Leuconoē then is a fitting name for a woman preoccupied with her “end” (that of her life, that of her amorous situation), and whose time on earth is measured in winters (“hiemes”) not years. 
  • Leuc- (Λευκ-) carries echoes of Leucas, the Ionian island on whose cliffs Apollo’s temple stood. We could therefore read Leuconoē  as “having a mind of Apollo” and associate its bearer with prophesy (the fixation for which Horace chides her). 
  • Leuconoē (assuming Λευκός νόος again) could also be read as “pure minded,” a possibility reinforced by her task: “purifying” or “filtering” wine (“liques”). The slight variation “clear minded” is possible too, as that is what Horace urges her to be. And if Leuconoē is in fact “clear minded” (by Horace’s standard) at the poem’s end, does that suggest Horace succeeded at seduction? ‘

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.