Mirabile Lectu! The Book That Was Born a Blog

 “As soon as the opportunity arrives, give yourself over to your studies or to leisure”

ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade

Pliny Letters, 1.9

Way back in 2014, Erik and I sat down to read the Commentary to the Iliad by Eustathius, the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and before reading more than a few words, we ended up starting on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia.

[here is the publisher’s homepage]

Anyone who knows either of us or who spends time in our classes would not find this all that surprising–we (and especially I) tend to leap from topic to topic with fury and swoon under the emotional influence of texts and languages both living and dead. At the time, Erik was thinking about teaching high school and I was moving into my post-tenure malaise.

We got to know each other a few years before. I used to have students read Greek with me in the summer. Erik–who was not my student and had graduated before I was a faculty member at UTSA–joined and quickly demonstrated that (1) he knew Latin a lot better than me and (2) he cared a lot more about scholarly minutiae than I typically did.

I cannot say with strong enough force that the time we spent together over the next few years changed the way I taught, read, and thought about the ancient world. By the time we sat down to read Eustathius, Erik was in my mind an intellectual model and a true friend.

During the early years of this blog, I struggled a bit to find a partner who had the time, energy, and interest to make it into something more than it was. Erik showed pretty quickly that he had these qualities, but also a different vision–as is clear from his essays on varied subjects.

As I begin from the first page, I pray that the chorus
comes from Helikon for the sake of the song
I have just set down on the tablets at my knees;
a song of limitless strife–the war-rousing work of Ares–
because I hope to send to the ears of all mortal men
how the mice went forth to best the frogs
in imitation of the deeds of the earth born men, the giants.
Or so the tale went among men. It has this kind of beginning.

When I asked Erik if he wanted to read the “Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice” instead, it was an easy sell. We used to spend time in my office once of twice a week, using multiple monitors and just spreading all the texts we could around the place, Sometimes we would get through two lines in two hours. Sometimes we would do ten times as much. At first, we just thought we were posting translations, as we did. But, over time, as we realized we needed a commentary in English to finish our work and that we might as well write the commentary we needed, the posts changed. And, as a result, the blog changed too.

1 ᾿Αρχόμενος πρώτης σελίδος χορὸν ἐξ ῾Ελικῶνος
2 ἐλθεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἦτορ ἐπεύχομαι εἵνεκ’ ἀοιδῆς
3 ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα,
4 δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην, πολεμόκλονον ἔργον ῎Αρηος,
5 εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι
6 πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν,
7 γηγενέων ἀνδρῶν μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων,
8 ὡς λόγος ἐν θνητοῖσιν ἔην• τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν.

So, in a way, the story of the book that came out today (“The Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice”, Bloomsbury 2018) is the story both of how a book came from a blog and how a blog became a book. At our wildest fancy, we thought we would pitch it to some open source repository or present it more completely on the website.

But we were afforded the otium to pursue and complete this project. We built up several documents in Dropbox and spent hours apart adding and subtracting to the comments and what we thought should be in the introduction…While kids and pets were sleeping or eating, we typed away at additional bits or did extra word searches. We had help from excellent libraries at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Center for the Anthropology of the Ancient World at the University of Siena, and Brandeis University. We tested the commentary online and with graduate students at UT Austin and Brandeis.

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished!

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est!

Pliny the Younger

And]along the way, I think we had a pretty good time. After we had completed the book’s parts, we had a few conversations with the classics acquisitions editor at Bloomsbury. She was interested in the project, and, believe it or not, the blog and twitter feed’s following. That meeting was in the spring of 2016.

During the summer I left Texas for Boston (to return to teach at my undergraduate alma mater, Brandeis University) and Erik continued his teaching at a local high school with a serendipitously similar name. Ah, we no longer have those long Monday afternoons staring at ancient Greek! But we have the memory and this book. Imperfect as it may be, I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of it.

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi

“Still nothing lightens the spirit as much as sweet and faithful friendship. What a good it is when hearts have been made ready in which every secret may be safely deposited, whose understanding of yourself you worry about less than your own, whose conversation relieves your fear, whose opinion hastens your plans, whose happiness dispels your sadness, and whose very sight delights you!”

Nihil tamen aeque oblectaverit animum, quam amicitia fidelis et dulcis. Quantum bonum est, ubi praeparata sunt pectora, in quae tuto secretum omne descendat, quorum conscientiam minus quam tuam timeas, quorum sermo sollicitudinem leniat, sententia consilium expediat, hilaritas tristitiam dissipet, conspectus ipse delectet!

BM

HBO, Seneca, and Pausanias Trash my Life

Trollope seemed to think scholars lived a charmed life.  Pliny had approving things to say about the life of retirement and reading. Modern ‘philosophers’ are less forgiving. My wife and I were watching television the other night for the first time in a while and I found myself and my field assailed! In episode 1 of HBO’s Big Little Lies (“Somebody’s Dead”) Abigail, trying to get a rise out of her mother (played by Reese Witherspoon), dismisses going to college, by saying:

“You know, the whole college thing, it’s kind of a racket, especially liberal arts. People go off and study Homer for four years and then you graduate with a ton of debt and no job prospect.”

Now, Homer here is obviously a metonym for the rather esoteric side of the Humanities. He stands as the ‘extreme’ of liberal arts frivolity. (Full disclosure: I went to college and studied Homer for only two years–there was also some Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Euripides, Sappho, Plautus, Hesiod, Plato, and Cicero. And then graduate school for another six. And then the next decade. And then…)

We have a current popular cultural dismissal of the importance of the humanities (which this echoes to an extent). This total commodification of all knowledge and human values should come as no surprise to our fellow travelers. There is, of course, a grand tradition of scholars trashing scholars, from Seneca to the perpetrators of Who Killed Homer? (or their spiritual sibling in English). Here’s some special 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.

scholars

Seneca was not alone with unkind words for scholars:

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.

And it seems Homerists have long had a bad reputation

Pausanias, 9.30.3

“It would not be sweet for me to write about the relative age of Homer and Hesiod, even though I have worked on the problem as closely as possible. This is because I am familiar with the fault-finding character of others and not the least of those who dominate the study of epic poetry in my time.”

περὶ δὲ ῾Ησιόδου τε ἡλικίας καὶ ῾Ομήρου πολυπραγμονήσαντι ἐς τὸ ἀκριβέστατον οὔ μοι γράφειν ἡδὺ ἦν, ἐπισταμένῳ τὸ φιλαίτιον ἄλλων τε καὶ οὐχ ἥκιστα ὅσοι κατ’ ἐμὲ ἐπὶ ποιήσει τῶν ἐπῶν καθεστήκεσαν.

But the slander can be self inflicted as well:

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, Book 5 222a-b

“And, you, my grammarians who do not inquire into these sorts of things, I quote from Herodicus the Babylonian:

Flee, Aristarcheans, over the wide back of the sea
Flee Greece, men more frightened than the brown deer,
Corner-buzzers, monosyllabists, men who care about
Sphin and sphoin and whether its min or nin*.
This is what I would have for you storm-drowned men:
But may Greece and God-born Babylon always wait for Herodicus.

And, to add another, the words of the comic poet Anaxandrides:

…It brings pleasure
Whenever someone discovers some new notion,
To share it with everyone. But those who at first
Keep it to themselves have no judge for their skill
And are later despised. For it is right to offer the mob
Everything anyone might think is brand-new.

The majority of them departed at these words and slowly the party disbanded.”

‘ὑμεῖς οὖν, ὦ γραμματικοί, κατὰ τὸν Βαβυλώνιον ῾Ηρόδικον, μηδὲν τῶν τοιού-
των ἱστοροῦντες,

φεύγετ’, ᾿Αριστάρχειοι, ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάττης
῾Ελλάδα, τῆς ξουθῆς δειλότεροι κεμάδος,
γωνιοβόμβυκες, μονοσύλλαβοι, οἷσι μέμηλε
τὸ σφὶν καὶ σφῶιν καὶ τὸ μὶν ἠδὲ τὸ νίν.
τοῦθ’ ὑμῖν εἴη δυσπέμφελον· ῾Ηροδίκῳ δὲ
῾Ελλὰς ἀεὶ μίμνοι καὶ θεόπαις Βαβυλών.’
κατὰ γὰρ τὸν κωμῳδιοποιὸν ᾿Αναξανδρίδην (II 159 K)·

ἡδονὴν ἔχει,
ὅταν τις εὕρῃ καινὸν ἐνθύμημά τι,
δηλοῦν ἅπασιν· οἱ δ’ ἑαυτοῖσιν σοφοὶ
πρῶτον μὲν οὐκ ἔχουσι τῆς τέχνης κριτήν,
εἶτα φθονοῦνται. χρὴ γὰρ εἰς ὄχλον φέρειν
ἅπανθ’ ὅσ’ ἄν τις καινότητ’ ἔχειν δοκῇ.

ἐπὶ τούτοις τοῖς λόγοις ἀναχωροῦντες οἱ πολλοὶ λεληθότως διέλυσαν τὴν συνουσίαν.

*Alternative pronoun forms found in manuscripts.

But it is self-loathing that makes this genre an art:

Palladas of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.169

“The wrath of Achilles has become for me, as a grammarian, the cause of my destructive poverty. I wish that that wrath would have killed me along with the Danaans, before the bitter poverty of scholarship put me to death. But instead, so that Agamemnon could take Briseis and Paris make off with Helen, I have become a beggar.”

Μῆνις ᾿Αχιλλῆος καὶ ἐμοὶ πρόφασις γεγένηται
οὐλομένης πενίης γραμματικευσαμένῳ.
εἴθε δὲ σὺν Δαναοῖς με κατέκτανε μῆνις ἐκείνη,
πρὶν χαλεπὸς λιμὸς γραμματικῆς ὀλέσει.
ἀλλ’ ἵν’ ἀφαρπάξῃ Βρισηίδα πρὶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων,
τὴν ῾Ελένην δ’ ὁ Πάρις, πτωχὸς ἐγὼ γενόμην.

 

Poet, Interpret Thyself

Scriptura sui ipsius interpres, Martin Luther

 

D Scholia to the Iliad (5.385)

“Aristarchus believed it best to make sense of those things that were presented more fantastically by Homer according to the poet’s authority, that we not be overwhelmed by anything outside of the things presented by Homer.”

᾿Αρίσταρχος ἀξιοῖ τὰ φραζόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ μυθικώτερον ἐκδέχεσθαι, κατὰ τὴν
Ποιητικὴν ἐξουσίαν, μηδὲν ἔξω τῶν φραζομένων ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ περιεργαζομένους.

Porphyry, Homeric Questions 1.1

Since often in our conversations with one another about Homeric questions, when I try to show you that Homer interprets himself for the most part, and we consider from every angle in most instances based on our training more than [simply] knowing what he says, you have considered it right that I write up the things we have said rather than allow them to fall aside and disappear because we’ve forgotten them.

     Πολλάκις μὲν ἐν ταῖς πρὸς ἀλλήλους συνουσίαις ῾Ομηρικῶν ζητημάτων γινομένων, ᾿Ανατόλιε, κἀμοῦ δεικνύναι πειρωμένου, ὡς αὐτὸς μὲν ἑαυτὸν τὰ πολλὰ ῞Ομηρος ἐξηγεῖται, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἐκ τῆς παιδικῆς κατηχήσεως περινοοῦμεν μᾶλλον ἐν τοῖς πλείστοις ἢ νοοῦμεν ἃ λέγει, ἠξίωσας ἀναγράψαι με τὰ λεχθέντα μηδὲ διαπεσόντα ἐᾶσαι ὑπὸ τῆς λήθης ἀφανισθῆναι.

 

Porphyry, Homeric Questions 1.12-14

“Because I think to best to make sense of Homer through Homer, I usually show by example how he may interpret himself, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in other ways.

᾿Αξιῶν δὲ ἐγὼ ῞Ομηρον ἐξ ῾Ομήρου σαφηνίζειν αὐτὸν ἐξηγούμενον ἑαυτὸν ὑπεδείκνυον, ποτὲ μὲν παρακειμένως, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐν ἄλλοις.

 

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Spurious Lines and Bastard Sons

Some of the language used by scholiasts to designate sections of the  Odyssey as spurious is based in a metaphor drawn from the legitimacy of offspring. As such, it might be rigidly authoritarian and misogynistic in emphasizing one (paternal) authority and one legitimate text.

Schol. HQ ad Od. 13.320-323

“These lines are spurious…”

νοθεύονται δ′ στίχοι.

Schol H. ad Od. 15.19

“Some people think these lines are illegitimate…”

ἔνιοι τοὺς γ′ νοθεύουσιν…

Schol. H ad Od. 15.45

“This [line] is spurious because it is adapted from a half-line from book 10 of the Iliad

νοθεύεται ὡς διαπεπλασμένος ἐξ ἡμιστιχίου τῆς κ ᾿Ιλιάδος (158.)

 

νοθαγενής: “base-born, illegitimate”

νοθεία: “birth out of wedlock”

νοθεύω: “to adulterate; to consider spurious”

νοθογέννητος: “of spurious origin”

νοθοκαλλοσύνη: “counterfeit beauty”

νόθος: “bastard”; in Athens, any child born of a foreign woman.

Schol. A ad Il. 5.70a

“He really was a bastard: this is because it was the barbarian custom to make children from many wives.”

ὅς ῥα νόθος μὲν ἔην: ὅτι βαρβαρικὸν ἔθος τὸ ἐκ πλειόνων γυναικῶν παιδοποιεῖσθαι. A

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The Scholarly Life is One of Pleasure?

Plutarch, On Stoic Self-Contradiction [Moralia 1033d]

In this passage, Plutarch is criticizing stoics for talking about the importance of government and ruling even though most of them dedicated themselves to the private lives of reading, writing and lecturing.

“Chrysippus himself, at least in the fourth book of Concerning Ways of Life, thinks that there is no difference because the scholarly life and one of pleasure. I shill quote his very words: “All those who think that the scholarly life is of special importance for philosophers seem to me to go astray from the beginning because they believe that it is right to do this kind of thing for the sake of [having some] job or some other reason like this, [that it is right] to drag out an entire life this way. This is, if it is examined clearly, [a life devoted to] pleasure. We must not overlook the core meaning of the many people who say this kind of thing clearly, nor the few who try to obscure it.” Who grew old in this scholarly life other than Chrysippos, Kleanthês, Diogenês, Zenô, and Antipater?”

αὐτὸς γοῦν Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ τετάρτῳ περὶ Βίων οὐδὲν οἴεται τὸν σχολαστικὸν βίον τοῦ ἡδονικοῦ διαφέρειν· αὐτὰς δὲ παραθήσομαι τὰς λέξεις· “ὅσοι δὲ ὑπολαμβάνουσι φιλοσόφοις ἐπιβάλλειν μάλιστα τὸν σχολαστικὸν βίον ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς τί μοι δοκοῦσι διαμαρτάνειν, ὑπονοοῦντες διαγωγῆς τινος ἕνεκεν δεῖν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ἢ ἄλλου τινὸς τούτῳ παραπλησίου καὶ τὸν ὅλον βίον οὕτω πως διελκύσαι· τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐστίν, ἂν σαφῶς θεωρηθῇ, ἡδέως· οὐ γὰρ δεῖ λανθάνειν τὴν ὑπόνοιαν αὐτῶν, πολλῶν μὲν σαφῶς τοῦτο λεγόντων οὐκ ὀλίγων δ᾿ ἀδηλότερον.” τίς οὖν μᾶλλον ἐν τῷ σχολαστικῷ βίῳ τούτῳ κατεγήρασεν ἢ Χρύσιππος καὶ Κλεάνθης καὶ Διογένης καὶ Ζήνων καὶ Ἀντίπατρος…

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Scholarly Loathing and Self-Loathing

(Scholars hating scholars. And themselves)

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.

 Pausanias, 9.30.3

“It would not be sweet for me to write about the relative age of Homer and Hesiod, even though I have worked on the problem as closely as possible. This is because I am familiar with the fault-finding character of others and not the least of those who dominate the study of epic poetry in my time.”

περὶ δὲ ῾Ησιόδου τε ἡλικίας καὶ ῾Ομήρου πολυπραγμονήσαντι ἐς τὸ ἀκριβέστατον οὔ μοι γράφειν ἡδὺ ἦν, ἐπισταμένῳ τὸ φιλαίτιον ἄλλων τε καὶ οὐχ ἥκιστα ὅσοι κατ’ ἐμὲ ἐπὶ ποιήσει τῶν ἐπῶν καθεστήκεσαν.

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, Book 5 222a-b

“And, you, my grammarians who do not inquire into these sorts of things, I quote from Herodicus the Babylonian:

Flee, Aristarcheans, over the wide back of the sea
Flee Greece, men more frightened than the brown deer,
Corner-buzzers, monosyllabists, men who care about
Sphin and sphoin and whether its min or nin*.
This is what I would have for you storm-drowned men:
But may Greece and God-born Babylon always wait for Herodicus.

And, to add another, the words of the comic poet Anaxandrides:

…It brings pleasure
Whenever someone discovers some new notion,
To share it with everyone. But those wise men who first
have no judge of their skill are later despised.
For it is right to offer the mob
Everything anyone might think is brand-new.

The majority of them departed at these words and slowly the party disbanded.”

‘ὑμεῖς οὖν, ὦ γραμματικοί, κατὰ τὸν Βαβυλώνιον ῾Ηρόδικον, μηδὲν τῶν τοιού-
των ἱστοροῦντες,

φεύγετ’, ᾿Αριστάρχειοι, ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάττης
῾Ελλάδα, τῆς ξουθῆς δειλότεροι κεμάδος,
γωνιοβόμβυκες, μονοσύλλαβοι, οἷσι μέμηλε
τὸ σφὶν καὶ σφῶιν καὶ τὸ μὶν ἠδὲ τὸ νίν.
τοῦθ’ ὑμῖν εἴη δυσπέμφελον· ῾Ηροδίκῳ δὲ
῾Ελλὰς ἀεὶ μίμνοι καὶ θεόπαις Βαβυλών.’
κατὰ γὰρ τὸν κωμῳδιοποιὸν ᾿Αναξανδρίδην (II 159 K)·

ἡδονὴν ἔχει,
ὅταν τις εὕρῃ καινὸν ἐνθύμημά τι,
δηλοῦν ἅπασιν· οἱ δ’ ἑαυτοῖσιν σοφοὶ
πρῶτον μὲν οὐκ ἔχουσι τῆς τέχνης κριτήν,
εἶτα φθονοῦνται. χρὴ γὰρ εἰς ὄχλον φέρειν
ἅπανθ’ ὅσ’ ἄν τις καινότητ’ ἔχειν δοκῇ.

ἐπὶ τούτοις τοῖς λόγοις ἀναχωροῦντες οἱ πολλοὶ λεληθότως διέλυσαν τὴν συνουσίαν.

*Alternative pronoun forms found in manuscripts.

Seneca, of course, gets in on the game:

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.

And self loathing eventually takes over.

Palladas of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.169

“The wrath of Achilles has become for me, as a grammarian, the cause of my destructive poverty. I wish that that wrath would have killed me along with the Danaans, before the bitter poverty of scholarship put me to death. But instead, so that Agamemnon could take Briseis and Paris make off with Helen, I have become a beggar.”

Μῆνις ᾿Αχιλλῆος καὶ ἐμοὶ πρόφασις γεγένηται
οὐλομένης πενίης γραμματικευσαμένῳ.
εἴθε δὲ σὺν Δαναοῖς με κατέκτανε μῆνις ἐκείνη,
πρὶν χαλεπὸς λιμὸς γραμματικῆς ὀλέσει.
ἀλλ’ ἵν’ ἀφαρπάξῃ Βρισηίδα πρὶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων,
τὴν ῾Ελένην δ’ ὁ Πάρις, πτωχὸς ἐγὼ γενόμην.

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Despite All Our Rage, We Are Still Just Birds in a Cage

(Scholars hating scholars. And themselves)

While editing a friend’s book review, I was reminded of a charming passage from Athenaeus:

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.

 Pausanias, 9.30.3

“It would not be sweet for me to write about the relative age of Homer and Hesiod, even though I have worked on the problem as closely as possible. This is because I am familiar with the fault-finding character of others and not the least of those who dominate the study of epic poetry in my time.”

περὶ δὲ ῾Ησιόδου τε ἡλικίας καὶ ῾Ομήρου πολυπραγμονήσαντι ἐς τὸ ἀκριβέστατον οὔ μοι γράφειν ἡδὺ ἦν, ἐπισταμένῳ τὸ φιλαίτιον ἄλλων τε καὶ οὐχ ἥκιστα ὅσοι κατ’ ἐμὲ ἐπὶ ποιήσει τῶν ἐπῶν καθεστήκεσαν.

 

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, Book 5 222a-b

“And, you, my grammarians who do not inquire into these sorts of things, I quote from Herodicus the Babylonian:

Flee, Aristarcheans, over the wide back of the sea
Flee Greece, men more frightened than the brown deer,
Corner-buzzers, monosyllabists, men who care about
Sphin and sphoin and whether its min or nin*.
This is what I would have for you storm-drowned men:
But may Greece and God-born Babylon always wait for Herodicus.

And, to add another, the words of the comic poet Anaxandrides:

…It brings pleasure
Whenever someone discovers some new notion,
To share it with everyone. But those who at first
Keep it to themselves have no judge for their skill
And are later despised. For it is right to offer the mob
Everything anyone might think is brand-new.

The majority of them departed at these words and slowly the party disbanded.”

 

‘ὑμεῖς οὖν, ὦ γραμματικοί, κατὰ τὸν Βαβυλώνιον ῾Ηρόδικον, μηδὲν τῶν τοιού-
των ἱστοροῦντες,

φεύγετ’, ᾿Αριστάρχειοι, ἐπ’ εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάττης
῾Ελλάδα, τῆς ξουθῆς δειλότεροι κεμάδος,
γωνιοβόμβυκες, μονοσύλλαβοι, οἷσι μέμηλε
τὸ σφὶν καὶ σφῶιν καὶ τὸ μὶν ἠδὲ τὸ νίν.
τοῦθ’ ὑμῖν εἴη δυσπέμφελον· ῾Ηροδίκῳ δὲ
῾Ελλὰς ἀεὶ μίμνοι καὶ θεόπαις Βαβυλών.’
κατὰ γὰρ τὸν κωμῳδιοποιὸν ᾿Αναξανδρίδην (II 159 K)·

ἡδονὴν ἔχει,
ὅταν τις εὕρῃ καινὸν ἐνθύμημά τι,
δηλοῦν ἅπασιν· οἱ δ’ ἑαυτοῖσιν σοφοὶ
πρῶτον μὲν οὐκ ἔχουσι τῆς τέχνης κριτήν,
εἶτα φθονοῦνται. χρὴ γὰρ εἰς ὄχλον φέρειν
ἅπανθ’ ὅσ’ ἄν τις καινότητ’ ἔχειν δοκῇ.

ἐπὶ τούτοις τοῖς λόγοις ἀναχωροῦντες οἱ πολλοὶ λεληθότως διέλυσαν τὴν συνουσίαν.

*Alternative pronoun forms found in manuscripts.

Seneca, of course, gets in on the game:

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 theOdyssey, 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.

 

And self loathing eventually takes over.

Palladas of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.169

 

“The wrath of Achilles has become for me, as a grammarian, the cause of my destructive poverty. I wish that that wrath would have killed me along with the Danaans, before the bitter poverty of scholarship put me to death. But instead, so that Agamemnon could take Briseis and Paris make off with Helen, I have become a beggar.”

Μῆνις ᾿Αχιλλῆος καὶ ἐμοὶ πρόφασις γεγένηται
οὐλομένης πενίης γραμματικευσαμένῳ.
εἴθε δὲ σὺν Δαναοῖς με κατέκτανε μῆνις ἐκείνη,
πρὶν χαλεπὸς λιμὸς γραμματικῆς ὀλέσει.
ἀλλ’ ἵν’ ἀφαρπάξῃ Βρισηίδα πρὶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων,
τὴν ῾Ελένην δ’ ὁ Πάρις, πτωχὸς ἐγὼ γενόμην.