Two kinds of Loneliness

The Good News According to Mark. 5:1-5:5.

And they came to the other side of the sea,
to the region of the Gerasenes.
And when he stepped from the boat, straight up to him,
from among the tombs, there came a man
with an impure spirit whose home was the tombs.

No one could restrain him then, even with chains.
He had been shackled and chained many times,
but he snapped the chains and crushed the shackles.
No one was strong enough to subdue him.
Night and day, among the tombs and in the hills,
he screamed and mutilated himself with stones.

Sophocles, Philoctetes 169-175, 183-186.

How I pity him.
He has no one who cares,
No eyes to face his own.
Wretched, always alone,
He’s sick with a savage sickness.
His every need a struggle.
How, how in the world does he hold out?

This man, perhaps second to no one
From an eminent house,
Has no share in common life.
He exists alone, away from others,
Among spotted or hairy beasts.
His hurt and hunger, pitiful.
Unceasing and grave, his worry.


Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὸ πέραν τῆς θαλάσσης εἰς τὴν χώραν τῶν Γερασηνῶν. Καὶ ἐξελθόντος αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου [εὐθὺς] ὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν μνημείων ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ, ὃς τὴν κατοίκησιν εἶχεν ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν, καὶ οὐδὲ ἁλύσει οὐκέτι οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο αὐτὸν δῆσαι διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν πολλάκις πέδαις καὶ ἁλύσεσι δεδέσθαι καὶ διεσπάσθαι ὑπ᾽αὐτοῦ τὰς ἁλύσεις καὶ τὰς πέδας συντετρίφθαι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἴσχυεν αὐτὸν δαμάσαι: καὶ διὰ παντὸς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ἦν κράζων καὶ κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις.


οἰκτίρω νιν ἔγωγ᾽, ὅπως,
μή του κηδομένου βροτῶν
μηδὲ ςύντροφον ὄμμ᾽ ἔχων,
δύστανος, μόνος ἀεί,
νοσεῖ μὲν νόσον ἀγρίαν,
ἀλύει δ᾽ ἐπὶ παντί τῳ
χρείας ἱσταμένῳ. πῶς ποτε πῶς δύσμορος ἀντέχει; . . .

οὗτος πρωτογόνων ἴσως
οἴκων οὐδενὸς ὕστερος,
πάντων ἄμμορος ἐν βίῳ
κεῖται μοῦνος ἀπ᾽ ἄλλων,
στικτῶν ἢ λασίων μετὰ
θηρῶν, ἔν τ᾽ ὀδύναις ὁμοῦ
λιμῷ τ᾽ οἰκτρός, ἀνήκεστ᾽ αμεριμνήμτα τ᾽ἔχων βάρη. . .

Semi-abstract painting of an old man playing a classical guitar
Pablo Picasso.
The Old Guitarist.
Art Institute of Chicago.

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

Catullus: A Lexicon

Catullus 96 is classed as a consolation, a poem comforting the bereaved at the death of a loved one (in this case a wife or mistress, it seems). The poems imagines what the corpse would feel if somehow it were aware of the grief of the living: 


If anything dear and welcome can happen in mute graves
Because of our sadness, Calvus,
Because of that longing by which we renew old loves
And by which we weep for friendships formed long ago,
Surely Quintilia isn’t saddened by her untimely death,
But rather, she’s gladdened by your love.

Si quicquam mutis gratum acceptumve sepulcris
accidere a nostro, Calve, dolore potest,
quo desiderio veteres renovamus amores
atque olim junctas flemus amicitias,
certe non tanto mors immatura dolori est
Quintiliae, quantum gaudet amore tuo.

The central word in the lyric is “sadness” (dolor): it motivates the first couplet; it’s given a synonym and definition in the second; and reappears in the third. 

What’s styled as a consolation is really an occasion for Catullus to display his private language. Catullus tells us that “sadness” (dolor) is a form of “longing” (desiderium), and longing has two aspects: 1. the reanimation of old love (desire renewed, that is), and 2. a lament for an old friendship.

I’m fairly sure that if you or I were to deconstruct “sadness” this is not where we would land. These definitional moves beg the question, if in Catullus’s private language familiar terms like “sadness” and “longing” have idiosyncratic meanings, then “love” (amor) and “friendship” (amicitia) probably do too. 

You’ll have to take my word for it that by love (amor) Catullus intends something like passion and desire (nothing unusual there). But “friendship” (amicitia) is trickier. It also belongs to amorous discourse, but it’s some combination of intimacy, mutuality, and trust between lovers. “Longing” is both carnal (amor) and, for lack of a better word, spiritual (amicitia). 

The love lyric Catullus 109 shows what “friendship” means:    


My everything, you claim this mutual love
Of ours will be lasting and happy.
Great god, grant that she can keep her word,
Speaks sincerely, and speaks from the heart,
So we might sustain this eternal compact
Of sacred friendship for all of life.

Iucundum, mea vita, mihi proponis amorem
hunc nostrum inter nos perpetuumque fore.
di magni, facite ut vere promittere possit,
atque id sincere dicat et ex animo,
ut liceat nobis tota perducere vita
aeternum hoc sanctae foedus amicitiae.

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

Exile and Fortune’s End

Euripides, Heracleidae 1-6

“This has been my belief for a long time now:
One man is born and is just to those near him
While another’s heart lusts after profit
And he is useless to the city, a heavy burden to bear,
The ‘best’ to himself…”

Πάλαι ποτ᾿ ἐστὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἐμοὶ δεδογμένον·
ὁ μὲν δίκαιος τοῖς πέλας πέφυκ᾿ ἀνήρ,
ὁ δ᾿ ἐς τὸ κέρδος λῆμ᾿ ἔχων ἀνειμένον
πόλει τ᾿ ἄχρηστος· καὶ συναλλάσσειν βαρύς,
αὑτῷ δ᾿ ἄριστος·…

Euripides, Heracleidae26-27

“I share my exile with these children who are in exile,
And I share in their sufferings as they suffer too.”

ἐγὼ δὲ σὺν φεύγουσι συμφεύγω τέκνοις
καὶ σὺν κακῶς πράσσουσι συμπράσσω κακῶς,

Euripides, Heracleidae 427-430

“Children, we are like sailors who have fled
A savage storm’s blows to touch the land
With their hand only to be pounded back
From the shore to the sea by the winds again.”

ὦ τέκν᾿, ἔοιγμεν ναυτίλοισιν οἵτινες
χειμῶνος ἐκφυγόντες ἄγριον μένος
ἐς χεῖρα γῇ συνῆψαν, εἶτα χερσόθεν
πνοαῖσιν ἠλάθησαν ἐς πόντον πάλιν.

Euripides, Heracleidae 863-866

“…with his current fortune
He announces for all mortals a clear thing to learn,
Do not envy someone who seems to be lucky
Before you see them die. For each day is its own fortune.”

…τῇ δὲ νῦν τύχῃ
βροτοῖς ἅπασι λαμπρὰ κηρύσσει μαθεῖν,
τὸν εὐτυχεῖν δοκοῦντα μὴ ζηλοῦν πρὶν ἂν
θανόντ᾿ ἴδῃ τις· ὡς ἐφήμεροι τύχαι.

Felix-Joseph Barrias, “Les Exilés de Tibère”. Musée d’Orsay

Euripides, fr. 1065


“Many words of the ancients still ring true:

Their stories are fine medicine for mortal fear.”


καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν πόλλ’ ἔπη καλῶς ἔχει·

λόγοι γὰρ ἐσθλοὶ φάρμακον φόβου βροτοῖς.


This is nice, right? A new motto for the site? (Well, except for the ”

Here's some medicine for sadness.
Here’s some medicine for sadness.

medicine for fear” thing.’