Reading Lucilian Satire in the Age of Twitter

Dealing with the fragmentary nature of the evidence for the ancient world is frustrating to say the least. Take for example the so-called inventor of satire Gaius Lucilius. Out of the thirty books of his satires we have a mere few hundred lines.

Most of these books are filled with seemingly random one-liners such as “et mercedimerae legiones,” which means “and wage-earning legions.” After reading several lines that were similar to this one, I struggled to appreciate Lucilius’ art. And even after digesting massive amounts of secondary scholarship on the satirist I found myself lost. I wrestled to figure out what was it that made reading Lucilius so frustrating. The answer was so obvious. He is in fragments. Perhaps if I understood the context of “ut iure peritus (like one skilled in law),” it would not have given me such a headache. And while not all of Lucilius’ satires are this obscure a large chunk of them are.

The frustration and puzzlement I felt reminded me of how I feel when I read a politician’s twitter. Like Lucilius, tweets can often be confusing. For example, on February 10th, 2013 Sean Spicer tweeted “whomever just unfollowed me- show yourself you coward.” I remember my high school teacher at the time sharing this in class and having more questions than I did answers. Besides the fact that I did not know who Sean Spicer was at the time. I was confused by the nature of the tweet itself.

Sean had over 400,000 followers on twitter and he could have been unfollowed by anyone of them. Apparently, Sean was not being sarcastic at the time and was legitimately upset by losing a follower. Similarly, Lucillius could have been referring to any number of wage-earning legions. Even scholars with an impressively dense breadth of knowledge on the context in which Lucilius wrote have scrambled trying to understand lines like this. In fact, it is unlikely that we will ever know Lucilius’ merry band of money-hungry legions. And poor Sean will probably never know who unfollowed him.

In Book 14 of his satires Lucilius writes that, “nemo est halicarius posterior te,” which means “No wheat-grinder is second to you.” There are a few things that frustrate the reader here. One, who is the worst miller of all time that Lucilius is referring to here? Two, it appears as though Lucilius disagrees with the common spelling of alicarius, which scholars debated over. However, the correct spelling is alicarius. So, was Lucilius just trying to be funny? Did he not know any better? The sad truth is, we will never know.

On May 31st, 2017 Donald J. Trump tweeted “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” He later claimed that this was an intentional mistake, but the truth was that he fell asleep while tweeting. It is obvious that he meant to say conference not covfefe. However, regardless of the spelling error there is still a problem with this tweet that puzzles the reader. Let us imagine that Trump had tweeted out “Despite the constant negative press conference.” There is still a lack of context that leaves the reader guessing. What happened as a result? Was he successful in some business deal? Did his approval rating go up? Did he pass a new bill? The questions that come to one’s mind are endless.

Another issue is the matter of invective. Twitter seems to be a great place for such things these days. If you scroll through Twitter at any time during the day, there is guaranteed to be some post where someone is putting someone else on blast. This is not unlike Roman satire. Lucilius for example makes a satire out of a legal despute between a certain Albicius and a man named Scaevola. In fact, this seems to be the longest fragment of Lucilius that we have recovered thus far. It reads (Lucilius 87-93). :

Graecum te, Albuci, quam Romanum atque Sabinum, municipem Ponti, Tritani,
centurionum, praeclarorum hominum ac primorum signiferumque, maluisti dici. Graece
ergo praetor Athenis, id quod maluisti, te, cum ad me accedis, saluto: ‘chaere’, inquam,
‘Tite’. lictores, turma omnis chorusque [cohorsque Manutius]: ‘chaere, Tite’. hinc hostis
mi Albucius, hinc inimicus (Lucilius 87-93).

Albucius, you wanted to be called a Greek instead of a Roman and a Sabine, a citizen of
Pontius and Tritanus, of centurions, of illustrious and first men and of standard-bearers.
Therefore, I as a praetor salute you at Athens in Greek, when you get to me, as you
wanted “Hey, Titus,” I said. The lictors, all of the squadron and the chorus, said “Hey
Titus.” (My translation).

While reading Lucilius is frustrating, because there is so much missing, it is also addicting. I kept reading line after line for the slim chance that I would better understand the poet and his satires. On the other hand, understanding tweets like the ones I mentioned above do not require nearly as much effort. One can simply google “why did Trump say the following?” or “why did Sean Spicer freak out on Twitter?” Even if at first these tweets leave the reader confused, they can quickly find an adequate answer. Unfortunately, Lucilius and many other authors that are left in fragments will most likely remain mysterious.

If someone were to google “why did Lucilius say the following?” or “why did Lucilius insult this miller?” There would probably be tons of suggested reading that would pop up which ask similar questions. Studying the ancient world can be frustrating. Especially when dealing with authors like Lucilius who are severely fragmented. If we want to know about what is going on in today’s world, we simply have to open a browser and ask away. Though, that in itself is a tricky process.

 

Javal A. Coleman was born and raised in Fort Worth Texas. After receiving his Bachelors in History with a minor in Latin and Classical Studies at the University of North Texas, he married his wife who he met at UNT and  moved to Austin to pursue a Phd in Classics at the University of Texas. Javal is primarily interested in the history of enslavement and more generally disenfranchised people and how law and gender contributed to their lived experience. In his free time he loves to read, play video games, and spend time with his wife and their beautiful daughter. 

Talking With Homer in the Underworld

While Lucian is surely messing with us here, I think there are many tomes of Homeric scholarship set aright through this one paragraph.

Lucian, True History 2.20

“Two or three days had not yet passed when I approached the poet Homer at a moment when we both had free time and I was investigated the rest of the matters about him, especially where he was from. For this is still examined by us to this day. He said that he was not ignorant that some people say he his from Khios and others say Smyrna while a majority claims he is Kolophonian. But he was saying that he is in fact Babylonian and was not called Homer among his people but Tigranes. Later on, after he was a hostage [homêreusas] among the Greeks he changed his nickname.

When I asked him about the lines which were considered spurious and whether they had been written by him, he was claiming they were all his. For this reason I started to believe that the grammarians Zenodotus and Aristarchus were guilty of the most close-minded logic. Since he had responded sufficiently on these matters, I was asking him next why he made his poem start with the “rage of Achilles”. He said that it just leapt into his head that way without any prior thought. Then I was eager to know that thing, whether he wrote the Odyssey before the Iliad as many claim. He denied this.”

Οὔπω δὲ δύο ἢ τρεῖς ἡμέραι διεληλύθεσαν, καὶ προσελθὼν ἐγὼ Ὁμήρῳ τῷ ποιητῇ, σχολῆς οὔσης ἀμφοῖν, τά τε ἄλλα ἐπυνθανόμην καὶ ὅθεν εἴη. τοῦτο γὰρ μάλιστα παρ᾿ ἡμῖν εἰσέτι νῦν ζητεῖσθαι. ὁ δὲ οὐδ᾿ αὐτὸς μὲν ἀγνοεῖν ἔφασκεν ὡς οἱ μὲν Χῖον, οἱ δὲ Σμυρναῖον, πολλοὶ δὲ Κολοφώνιον αὐτὸν νομίζουσιν· εἶναι μέντοι γε ἔλεγεν Βαβυλώνιος, καὶ παρά γε τοῖς πολίταις οὐχ Ὅμηρος, ἀλλὰ Τιγράνης καλεῖσθαι· ὕστερον δὲ ὁμηρεύσας παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησιν ἀλλάξαι τὴν προσηγορίαν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀθετουμένων στίχων ἐπηρώτων, εἰ ὑπ᾿ ἐκείνου εἶεν γεγραμμένοι. καὶ ὃς ἔφασκε πάντας αὑτοῦ εἶναι. κατεγίνωσκον οὖν τῶν ἀμφὶ τὸν Ζηνόδοτον καὶ Ἀρίσταρχον γραμματικῶν πολλὴν τὴν ψυχρολογίαν. ἐπεὶ δὲ ταῦτα ἱκανῶς ἀπεκέκριτο, πάλιν αὐτὸν ἠρώτων τί δή ποτε ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐποιήσατο· καὶ ὃς εἶπεν οὕτως ἐπελθεῖν αὐτῷ μηδὲν ἐπιτηδεύσαντι. καὶ μὴν κἀκεῖνο ἐπεθύμουν εἰδέναι, εἰ προτέραν ἔγραψεν τὴν Ὀδύσσειαν τῆς Ἰλιάδος, ὡς οἱ πολλοί φασιν· ὁ δὲ ἠρνεῖτο.

Image result for medieval manuscript homer
Ambrosian Iliad

Who Is the Most Beautiful Under the Earth?

Nireus is famed as the second most beautiful of the Greeks at Troy; Thersites is claimed as the ugliest. Lucian puts them together in the underworld.

Lucian, Dialogue of the Dead 30

Nireus: Look here, Menippos, this one will teach which one is better looking. Tell me, Menippos, don’t I look prettier to you?

Menippus: Who are you two? I think I need to know that first.

Nireus: Nireus and Thersites

Menippos: Which of you is Nireus and which is Thersites? This is not at all clear to me.

Thersites: I have this one thing already, that I am similar to you and you are not at all different now than when Homer that blind guy praised you as the most beautiful of all when he addressed you, but he said that I am a cone-headed hunchback no worse for a beating. But, Menippos, examine which ever one you think is better looking.

Nireus: Be he said that I am “the son of Aglaia and Kharops, the most beautiful man who came to Troy.”

Menippos: Eh, you did not come as the most beautiful under the earth, I think: but the bones are the same and your head can only be distinguished from Thersites’ head by that little bit, that yours is a bit better shaped. For you do not have the same peak and you are not as manly.

Nireus: Ask Homer what sort I was when I joined the expedition to Troy!

Thersites: That’s good enough for me.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
᾿Ιδοὺ δή, Μένιππος οὑτοσὶ δικάσει, πότερος εὐμορφότερός ἐστιν. εἰπέ, ὦ Μένιππε, οὐ καλλίων σοι δοκῶ;

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
Τίνες δὲ καὶ ἔστε; πρότερον, οἶμαι, χρὴ γὰρ τοῦτο εἰδέναι.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
Νιρεὺς καὶ Θερσίτης.

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
Πότερος οὖν ὁ Νιρεὺς καὶ πότερος ὁ Θερσίτης; οὐδέπω γὰρ τοῦτο δῆλον.

ΘΕΡΣΙΤΗΣ
῝Εν μὲν ἤδη τοῦτο ἔχω, ὅτι ὅμοιός εἰμί σοι καὶ οὐδὲν τηλικοῦτον διαφέρεις ἡλίκον σε ῞Ομηρος ἐκεῖνος ὁ τυφλὸς ἐπῄνεσεν ἁπάντων εὐμορφότερον προσειπών, ἀλλ’ ὁ φοξὸς ἐγὼ καὶ ψεδνὸς οὐδὲν χείρων ἐφάνην τῷ δικαστῇ. ὅρα δὲ σύ, ὦ Μένιππε, ὅντινα καὶ εὐμορφότερον ἡγῇ.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
᾿Εμέ γε τὸν ᾿Αγλαΐας καὶ Χάροπος, “ὃς κάλλιστος ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθον.”

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
᾿Αλλ’ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑπὸ γῆν, ὡς οἶμαι, κάλλιστος ἦλθες, ἀλλὰ τὰ μὲν ὀστᾶ ὅμοια, τὸ δὲ κρανίον ταύτῃ μόνον ἄρα διακρίνοιτο ἀπὸ τοῦ Θερσίτου κρανίου, ὅτι εὔθρυπτον τὸ σόν· ἀλαπαδνὸν γὰρ αὐτὸ καὶ οὐκ ἀνδρῶδες ἔχεις.
ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
Καὶ μὴν ἐροῦ ῞Ομηρον, ὁποῖος ἦν, ὁπότε συνεστράτευον τοῖς ᾿Αχαιοῖς.

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
᾿Ονείρατά μοι λέγεις· ἐγὼ δὲ ἃ βλέπω καὶ νῦν ἔχεις, ἐκεῖνα δέ οἱ τότε ἴσασιν.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
Οὔκουν ἐγὼ ἐνταῦθα εὐμορφότερός εἰμι, ὦ Μένιππε;

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
Οὔτε σὺ οὔτε ἄλλος εὔμορφος· ἰσοτιμία γὰρ ἐν ᾅδου καὶ ὅμοιοι ἅπαντες.

ΘΕΡΣΙΤΗΣ
᾿Εμοὶ μὲν καὶ τοῦτο ἱκανόν.

Gustave Klimt. Detail from the painting Le Tre Eta (1905).

Make Up Words and Authorities Who Said Them!

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking, 17

“There are times when you yourself make up new and different words and decide to call one interpreter “fine-spoken”, another smart man “wise-brained”, or some dancer “hands-wise”.

Let shamelessness be the one medicine you use if you offer a solecism or barbarism: immediately offer up the name of someone who doesn’t exist and never did—some poet or scholar—a wise man who was expertly precise in his language and condoned speaking in this way.

But don’t read the classics at all, especially not the silly Isocrates, or the Demosthenes blessed with little skill, or the boring Plato. No! read only those speeches from those a little bit before our time and those things they call ‘practice-pieces” so you may have a supply of phrases you can use at the right time as if you were pulling something from a pantry.”

ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ποίει καινὰ καὶ ἀλλόκοτα ὀνόματα καὶ νομοθέτει τὸν μὲν ἑρμηνεῦσαι δεινὸν “εὔλεξιν” καλεῖν, τὸν συνετὸν “σοφόνουν,” τὸν ὀρχηστὴν δὲ “χειρίσοφον.” ἂν σολοικίσῃς δὲ ἢ βαρβαρίσῃς, ἓν ἔστω φάρμακον ἡ ἀναισχυντία, καὶ πρόχειρον εὐθὺς ὄνομα οὔτε ὄντος τινὸς οὔτε γενομένου ποτέ, ἢ ποιητοῦ ἢ συγγραφέως, ὃς οὕτω λέγειν ἐδοκίμαζε σοφὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ τὴν φωνὴν εἰς τὸ ἀκρότατον ἀπηκριβωμένος. ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀναγίγνωσκε τὰ παλαιὰ μὲν μὴ σύ γε, μηδὲ εἴ τι ὁ λῆρος Ἰσοκράτης ἢ ὁ χαρίτων ἄμοιρος Δημοσθένης ἢ ὁ ψυχρὸς Πλάτων, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῶν ὀλίγον πρὸ ἡμῶν λόγους καὶ ἅς φασι ταύτας μελέτας, ὡς ἔχῃς ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνων ἐπισιτισάμενος ἐν καιρῷ καταχρῆσθαι καθάπερ ἐκ ταμιείου προαιρῶν.

Illumination 1
Arrighi, Royal 12 C VIII f. 3v. Pandolfo Collenuccio of Pesaro (d. 1504), Lucian, Collenuccio’s Apologues

Rich People Need the Poor

Lucian, Saturnalia 33 (for more Lucian go to the Scaife viewer)

“See that they don’t blame you any longer but honor you and have affection for you because they take part in these things. While the cost is of little account to you, the gift in their time of need will always be remembered. Furthermore, you would not be able to live in cities if the poor did not live there with you and make your happiness possible in countless ways. You would have no one to amaze with your wealth if you were rich alone, in private, and without anyone knowing.

So, let the masses gaze upon and wonder at your silver, your fine tables, and then, when you are toasting them, have them weigh their cups while they drink, consider the weight of the gold applied with skill, and contemplate the truth of the story it tells. In addition to hearing them call you noble and philanthropic, you will fall outside their envy. For who begrudges someone who shares and gives a little portion? And who wouldn’t pray for him to live as long as possible, benefiting from his goods? Right now, your blessings go unwitnessed, your wealth is an object of envy, and your life is not pleasant.”

Ὁρᾶτε οὖν ὅπως μηκέτι ὑμᾶς αἰτιάσωνται, ἀλλὰ τιμήσωσι καὶ φιλήσωσι τῶν ὀλίγων τούτων μεταλαμβάνοντες· ὧν ὑμῖν μὲν ἡ δαπάνη ἀνεπαίσθητος, ἐκείνοις δὲ ἐν καιρῷ τῆς χρείας ἡ δόσις ἀείμνηστος. ἄλλως τε οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἰκεῖν δύναισθε τὰς πόλεις μὴ οὐχὶ καὶ πενήτων συμπολιτευομένων καὶ μυρία πρὸς τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν ὑμῖν συντελούντων, οὐδ᾿ ἂν ἔχοιτε τοὺς θαυμάζοντας ὑμῶν τὸν πλοῦτον, ἢν μόνοι καὶ ἰδίᾳ καὶ ὑπὸ σκότῳ πλουτῆτε. ἰδέτωσαν οὖν πολλοὶ καὶ θαυμασάτωσαν ὑμῶν τὸν ἄργυρον καὶ τὰς τραπέζας καὶ προπινόντων φιλοτησίας, μεταξὺ πίνοντες περισκοπείτωσαν τὸ ἔκπωμα καὶ τὸ βάρος ἴστωσαν αὐτοὶ διαβαστάσαντες καὶ τῆς ἱστορίας τὸ ἀκριβὲς καὶ τὸν χρυσὸν ὅσος, ὃς ἐπανθεῖ τῇ τέχνῃ. πρὸς γὰρ τῷ χρηστοὺς καὶ φιλανθρώπους ἀκούειν καὶ τοῦ φθονεῖσθαι ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ἔξω γενήσεσθε. τίς γὰρ ἂν φθονήσειε τῷ κοινωνοῦντι καὶ διδόντι τῶν μετρίων; τίς δ᾿ οὐκ ἂν εὔξαιτο εἰς τὸ μήκιστον διαβιῶναι αὐτὸν ἀπολαύοντα τῶν ἀγαθῶν; ὡς δὲ νῦν ἔχετε, ἀμάρτυρος μὲν ἡ εὐδαιμονία, ἐπίφθονος δὲ ὁ πλοῦτος, ἀηδὴς δὲ ὁ βίος.

Midas, transmitting all gold into paper, print by James Gillray

 

“Cancel-Culture” is Unfair to Philosophy!

Lucian, The Dead Come to Life, 32

“Hey Philosophy, this was especially striking to me: if people saw someone doing something wicked or improper, or just gross, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t blame Philosophy herself and then Chrysippos or Plato or Pythagoras or whatever name you gave to that person who started all the mistakes and whose arguments were being imitated.

People make terribly unfair judgments about you who have been dead for so long thanks to this guy living his life so badly! He can’t be compared to you because you’re not alive. But you were not there and they all saw him clearly pursuing terrible and unholy habits with the result that you were caught in the open with him and got wrapped up in the same slander!”

Ὃ δὲ μάλιστά μοι δεινόν, ὦ Φιλοσοφία, κατεφαίνετο, τοῦτο ἦν· οἱ γὰρ ἄνθρωποι εἴ τινα τούτων ἑώρων πονηρὸν ἢ ἄσχημον ἢ ἀσελγές τι ἐπιτηδεύοντα, οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις οὐ Φιλοσοφίαν αὐτὴν ᾐτιᾶτο καὶ τὸν Χρύσιππον εὐθὺς ἢ Πλάτωνα ἢ Πυθαγόραν ἢ ὅτου ἐπώνυμον αὑτὸν ὁ διαμαρτάνων ἐκεῖνος ἐποιεῖτο καὶ οὗ τοὺς λόγους ἐμιμεῖτο· καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ κακῶς βιοῦντος πονηρὰ περὶ ὑμῶν εἴκαζον τῶν πρὸ πολλοῦ τεθνηκότων· οὐ γὰρ παρὰ ζῶντας ὑμᾶς ἡ ἐξέτασις αὐτοῦ ἐγίγνετο, ἀλλ᾿ ὑμεῖς μὲν ἐκποδών, ἐκεῖνον δὲ ἑώρων σαφῶς ἅπαντες δεινὰ καὶ ἄσεμνα ἐπιτηδεύοντα, ὥστε ἐρήμην ἡλίσκεσθε μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπὶ τὴν ὁμοίαν διαβολὴν συγκατεσπᾶσθε.’’

“Hell” by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch

Magic Words and Quack Cures: An ‘Epic’ Fail During a Plague

Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 36

“There was one oracle, also an autophone, which he had sent to all peoples during the plague. It was a single line of verse, “Phoebus, with uncut hair, keeps off the cloud of plague.”

This line was to be seen everywhere, written on doorposts as a spell against the plague. In most cases it produced the opposite result. For, through some fortune, those homes on which the line was written were those which were especially impacted. Don’t imagine that I am saying that they were destroyed because of the line, but that it happened this way in some fashion. Perhaps the people who were encouraged by the words acted negligently or took everything too easily and did nothing to help the oracle against the disease because they believed they had these syllables to fight for them and “long-haired” Apollo to shoot down the plague with his bow.”

ἕνα δέ τινα χρησμόν, αὐτόφωνον καὶ αὐτόν, εἰς ἅπαντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν τῷ λοιμῷ διεπέμψατο· ἦν δὲ τὸ ἔπος ἕν·

Φοῖβος ἀκειρεκόμης λοιμοῦ νεφέλην ἀπερύκει.

καὶ τοῦτο ἦν ἰδεῖν τὸ ἔπος πανταχοῦ ἐπὶ τῶν πυλώνων γεγραμμένον ὡς τοῦ λοιμοῦ ἀλεξιφάρμακον. τὸ δ᾿ εἰς τοὐναντίον τοῖς πλείστοις προὐχώρει· κατὰ γάρ τινα τύχην αὗται μάλιστα αἱ οἰκίαι ἐκενώθησαν αἷς τὸ ἔπος ἐπεγέγραπτο. καὶ μή με νομίσῃς τοῦτο λέγειν, ὅτι διὰ τὸ ἔπος ἀπώλλυντο· ἀλλὰ τύχῃ τινὶ οὕτως ἐγένετο. τάχα δὲ καὶ οἱ πολλοὶ θαρροῦντες τῷ στίχῳ ἠμέλουν καὶ ῥᾳθυμότερον διῃτῶντο, οὐδὲν τῷ χρησμῷ πρὸς τὴν νόσον συντελοῦντες, ὡς ἂν ἔχοντες προμαχομένας αὑτῶν τὰς συλλαβὰς καὶ τὸν ἀκειρεκόμην Φοῖβον ἀποτοξεύοντα τὸν λοιμόν.

Herakles tripod Louvre F341.jpg
Apollo and Herakles fight over tripod, Taleides painter

Brekekekeks, the Frogs, the Frogs!

Aristophanes, Frogs 1-2

“Hey boss, should I say one of those typical things,
That audiences always laugh at?”

εἴπω τι τῶν εἰωθότων, ὦ δέσποτα,
ἐφ᾿ οἷς ἀεὶ γελῶσιν οἱ θεώμενοι;

Not this frog!

Aristophanes, Frogs 76-77

“If you need to bring someone back to life,
Why not Sophocles, since he’s better than Euripides?”

εἶτ᾿ οὐ Σοφοκλέα πρότερον ὄντ᾿ Εὐριπίδου
μέλλεις ἀναγαγεῖν, εἴπερ γ᾿ ἐκεῖθεν δεῖ σ᾿ ἄγειν;

Since March 2020, The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with an occasional foray in to epic and comedy. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.” For our final performance of the year, we turn to that most absurd and poignant of literary philosophy, Aristophanes’ Frogs.

Aristophanes’, Frogs .172

“Dude, want to carry some bags to Hades?”

ἄνθρωπε, βούλει σκευάρι᾿ εἰς Ἅιδου φέρειν;

Aristophanes, Frogs 80-83

“Euripides, since he’s a bit of a rascal,
Will probably try to help me get him free.
Sophocles will be well-behaved there since he was well-behaved here.”

κἄλλως ὁ μέν γ᾿ Εὐριπίδης πανοῦργος ὢν
κἂν ξυναποδρᾶναι δεῦρ᾿ ἐπιχειρήσειέ μοι·
ὁ δ᾿ εὔκολος μὲν ἐνθάδ᾿, εὔκολος δ᾿ ἐκεῖ

There will be time aplenty in the new year to reflect on what Reading Greek Tragedy Online meant to those of us who were engaged with it every week. It suffices to say for the moment that it gave us structure, a sense of community, and a reason to drag ourselves out of bed a few times a week. it also gave us the opportunity to think and talking about performing Greek theater in a sustained way that none of us could have imagined a year ago today.

Back in April, when Paul and I were outlining the rest of the year with Lanah, we thought this play would be a nice way to end the series on something of an absurdist but reflective turn. Aristophanes’ Frogs stands as one of the earliest pieces of literary criticism in the Athenian tradition. Even if it is bawdy and hyperbolic, it provides critical comments and cultural frameworks for the three tragedians we moderns know best. As a comedy, it ranges from sophisticated engagement with literary motifs and styles right back down to fart jokes and the regrettable but by no means atypical repeated play with abusing an enslaved person.

But the Frogs also has a sense of coming near the end of things: it starts with the assertion that all the good poets are dead (in a year following the passing of both Euripides and Sophocles). Not only does it come at the end of an artistic era, but it was also composed and performed near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the high point of Athenian influence. Rarely does any play stand at the intersection of so many charged themes; it is even rarer that such a play is a comedy.

So, to end this, our most recent annus horribilis and this series which has meant so much to us, we turn to a new version of the Frogs. Who’s ready for some koaks koaks?

Aristophanes, Frogs 237-239

“I am developing blisters,
My rectum has been oozing for a while,
And soon it will jump out and say…

Brekekekeks koaks koaks

ἐγὼ δὲ φλυκταίνας γ᾿ ἔχω,
χὠ πρωκτὸς ἰδίει πάλαι,
κᾆτ᾿ αὐτίκ᾿ ἐκκύψας ἐρεῖ—
ΒΑΤΡΑΧΟΙ
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ.

Scenes

Most of George Theodoridis’ Translation

Cast

Narrator (v/o) – Rhys Rusbatch
Xanthias – Ursula Lansley-Early
Dionysus – Tony Jayawardena
Heracles – René Thornton Jr
Corpse – Hannah Barrie
Charon – Eli Pauley
Chorus of Frogs – Rob Castell and EVERYONE
Chorus of Initiates – Minnie Gale, Bettina Joy de Guzman, Marietta Hedges, Lanah Koelle, Lily Ling, T Lynn Mikeska
Pluto – Toph Marshall
Euripides – Paul Hurley
Aeschylus – Tabatha Gayle
Joel Christensen – Joel Christensen
Clytemnestra – Eunice Roberts
Medea – Evelyn Miller
Messenger – Sara Valentine
Artemis – Noree Victoria
Xerxes – Martin K Lewis
Hecuba chorus – Tamieka Chavis
Tutor – Robert Matney
Orestes – Tim Delap
Pylades – Paul O’Mahony

Aristophanes, Frogs 389-392

“Let me say a lot of funny things
And many serious ones too
As I joke and mock and win the crown
Worthy of your festival.”

καὶ πολλὰ μὲν γέλοιά μ᾿ εἰπεῖν,
πολλὰ δὲ σπουδαῖα, καὶ
τῆς σῆς ἑορτῆς ἀξίως
παίσαντα καὶ σκώψαντα νικήσαντα
ταινιοῦσθαι.

Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Associate Director: Liz Fisher
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Aristophanes, Frogs  538

“Whoever gets drunk but stays home is wise.”

ὃς δ᾿ ἂν μεθυσθείς γ᾿ ἐν δόμοις μείνῃ σοφός.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

Aristophanes, Frogs 533-539

“This is the sign of a man
Who has some brains
And has traveled much:
To always move himself
To whichever side is doing well
And not to stand in one place, taking one stance,
Like a painted statue…”

ταῦτα μὲν πρὸς ἀνδρός ἐστι
νοῦν ἔχοντος καὶ φρένας
καὶ πολλὰ περιπεπλευκότος,
μετακυλίνδειν αὑτὸν ἀεὶ
aπρὸς τὸν εὖ πράττοντα τοῖχον
μᾶλλον ἢ γεγραμμένην
εἰκόν᾿ ἑστάναι, λαβόνθ᾿ ἓν
σχῆμα·

Aristophanes, Frogs 805-6

“This is hard
They’ve found a shortage of smart people”

τοῦτ᾿ ἦν δύσκολον·
σοφῶν γὰρ ἀνδρῶν ἀπορίαν ηὑρισκέτην.

“Hello Stranger!” Rocking out with the Cyclops Online

Euripides, Cyclops 8

“Come, let me look at this: did I see this in a dream?”

φέρ᾿ ἴδω, τοῦτ᾿ ἰδὼν ὄναρ λέγω;

 

Euripides, Cyclops 63-67

“There’s no Dionysus here, no choruses,
No Bacchic revels, no wand-bearing,
No explosion of drums
By the fresh-flowing springs,
Or young drops of wine.”

οὐ τάδε Βρόμιος, οὐ τάδε χοροὶ
βακχεῖαί τε θυρσοφόροι,
οὐ τυμπάνων ἀλαλαγ-
μοὶ κρήναις παρ᾿ ὑδροχύτοις,
οὐκ οἴνου χλωραὶ σταγόνες·

The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Cyclops 102-105

Silenos: Hello, stranger. Tell me who you are and your country
Odysseus: Odysseus from Ithaka, lord of the land of the Kephallenians
Silenos: I know that guy, a sharp conman, a descendent of Sisyphus.
Odysseus: I am that man. Don’t mock me.

ΣΙΛΗΝΟΣ
χαῖρ᾿, ὦ ξέν᾿· ὅστις δ᾿ εἶ φράσον πάτραν τε σήν.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
Ἴθακος Ὀδυσσεύς, γῆς Κεφαλλήνων ἄναξ.
ΣΙΛΗΝΟΣ
οἶδ᾿ ἄνδρα, κρόταλον δριμύ, Σισύφου γένος.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
ἐκεῖνος αὐτός εἰμι· λοιδόρει δὲ μή.

This week, we arrive at the only surviving full Satyr play from Ancient Athens, Euripides’ Cyclops. During the tragic competition, poets would stage a trilogy followed by a satyr play, some kind of vaudevillian satire on tragedy itself. We don’t know as much about satyr plays as we’d like, but from this surviving example we can see some of the extreme bodily humor of comedy combined with tragedy’s mythical figures and themes.

Of course, comedy is about excess and in this reading of the story of Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemos we are adding our own excess by adding in words and music from from “Cyclops, a Rock Opera” by J. Landon Marcus, Benjamin Sherman, and Chas LiBretto.  The small screen may not hold all this energy, but that won’t stop us from trying.

Euripides, Cyclops 334-338

“I don’t sacrifice to anyone but myself, none of the gods,
And to the greatest divinity, my belly!
To drink and eat all day and have no pain
That is Zeus for wise people.”

ἁγὼ οὔτινι θύω πλὴν ἐμοί, θεοῖσι δ᾿ οὔ,
καὶ τῇ μεγίστῃ, γαστρὶ τῇδε, δαιμόνων.
ὡς τοὐμπιεῖν γε καὶ φαγεῖν τοὐφ᾿ ἡμέραν,
Ζεὺς οὗτος ἀνθρώποισι τοῖσι σώφροσιν,
λυπεῖν δὲ μηδὲν αὑτόν.

Cast: Rob Castell, Chas Libretto, J. Landon Marcus, Paul O’ Mahony

Euripides, Cyclops 487-491

“Shh, Shut up! He’s drunk
Singing a tuneless song
Coming out of the stony cave
An incompetent singer about to cry.”

σίγα σίγα. καὶ δὴ μεθύων
ἄχαριν κέλαδον μουσιζόμενος
490σκαιὸς ἀπῳδὸς καὶ κλαυσόμενος
χωρεῖ πετρίνων ἔξω μελάθρων.

Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Associate Director: Liz Fisher
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Euripides, Cyclops 538

“Whoever gets drunk but stays home is wise.”

ὃς δ᾿ ἂν μεθυσθείς γ᾿ ἐν δόμοις μείνῃ σοφός.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

December 23 Series Finale: Frogs, Aristophanes

.

Euripides, Cyclops 694-695

“I would have burned down Troy badly
If I didn’t punish you for the slaughter of my companions.”

κακῶς γὰρ ἂν Τροίαν γε διεπυρώσαμεν
εἰ μή σ᾿ ἑταίρων φόνον ἐτιμωρησάμην.

Tawdry Tuesday: What Did the Greeks Eat and Screw for 10 Years at Troy?

Students often complain about the lack of verisimilitude in the heroic diet–even though the Odyssey  mentions that Odysseus’ companions fish and hunt birds before they kill the cattle in Thrinacia, students find something odd about a diet of meat, bread and wine.

Apparently ancient comic poets did too–and they were concerned about the reality of heroic sexual habits as well. Obviously, as the beginning of book 1 of the Iliad makes clear, eligible ladies were not in excess supply.

[Warning: this next passage is a little, well, explicit]
Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.46

“Sarpedon makes it clear that they ate fish when he says that being captured is similar to hunting with a fishing net. In the comic charm, Eubolos also says jokingly:

Where dies Homer say that any of the Achaeans
Ate fish? They only ever roast meat—he never has
Anyone of them boil it at all!
And not a one of them sees a single prostitute—
They were stroking themselves for ten years!
They knew a bitter expedition, those men who
After taking a single city went back home
With assholes much wider than the city they captured.

The heroes also didn’t allow freedom to the birds in the air, but they set snares and nets for thrushes and doves. They practices for bird hunting when they tied the dove to the mast of the ship and shot arrows at it, as is clear from the Funeral Games. But Homer leaves out their consumption of vegetables, fish and birds because of gluttony and because cooking is inappropriate, he judged it inferior to heroic and godly deeds.”

prostitute
The Achaeans did not have this option…

ὅτι δὲ καὶ ἰχθῦς ἤσθιον Σαρπηδὼν δῆλον ποιεῖ (Ε 487), ὁμοιῶν τὴν ἅλωσιν πανάγρου δικτύου θήρᾳ. καίτοι Εὔβουλος κατὰ τὴν κωμικὴν χάριν φησὶ παίζων (II 207 K)·

ἰχθὺν δ’ ῞Ομηρος ἐσθίοντ’ εἴρηκε ποῦ
τίνα τῶν ᾿Αχαιῶν; κρέα δὲ μόνον ὤπτων, ἐπεὶ
ἕψοντά γ’ οὐ πεποίηκεν αὐτῶν οὐδένα.
ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ μίαν ἀλλ’ ἑταίραν εἶδέ τις
αὐτῶν, ἑαυτοὺς δ’ ἔδεφον ἐνιαυτοὺς δέκα.
πικρὰν στρατείαν δ’ εἶδον, οἵτινες πόλιν
μίαν λαβόντες εὐρυπρωκτότεροι πολὺ
τῆς πόλεος ἀπεχώρησαν ἧς εἷλον τότε.

οὐδὲ τὸν ἀέρα δ’ <οἱ> ἥρωες τοῖς ὄρνισιν εἴων ἐλεύθερον, παγίδας καὶ νεφέλας ἐπὶ ταῖς κίχλαις καὶ πελειάσιν ἱστάντες. ἐγυμνάζοντο δὲ πρὸς ὀρνεοθηρευτικὴν [καὶ] τὴν πελειάδα τῇ μηρίνθῳ κρεμάντες ἀπὸ νηὸς ἱστοῦ καὶ τοξεύοντες ἑκηβόλως εἰς αὐτήν, ὡς ἐν τῷ ἐπιταφίῳ δηλοῦται (Ψ 852). παρέλιπε δὲ τὴν χρῆσιν τῶν λαχάνων καὶ ἰχθύων καὶ τῶν ὀρνίθων διά τε τὴν λιχνείαν καὶ προσέτι τὴν ἐν ταῖς σκευασίαι ἀπρέπειαν, ἐλάττω κεκρικὼς ἡρωικῶν καὶ θείων ἔργων.