On Poets and Fishmongers

Xenarchus’ Porphyra fr. 7 (preserved in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists, 6. 224-225)

“Poets are ridiculous. They never invent
anything new—each one of them simply
remixes the same things again and again.
But there is no race more creative or profane
than the fishsellers!
Since it is no longer permitted to them to dampen
Their fish, a practice forbidden by the law,
When some man completely hateful to the gods
Saw that his fish were drying, well,
He started a brawl among them quite intentionally
There were punches; he acted as if he were hit hard,
Fell to the ground pretending to pass out lying
Among his fish. Someone shouted “water, water”!
And a different guy grabbed a pitcher and poured it out—
A little on the man, but the rest on the fish!
You would have claimed they’d just been caught!”

Fish Vase
Google “Ancient Greek Fish Vase”

οἱ μὲν ποιηταὶ (φησὶ) λῆρός εἰσιν· οὐδὲ ἓν
καινὸν γὰρ εὑρίσκουσιν, ἀλλὰ μεταφέρει
ἕκαστος αὐτῶν ταὔτ’ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω.
τῶν δ’ ἰχθυοπωλῶν φιλοσοφώτερον γένος
οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν οὐδὲ μᾶλλον ἀνόσιον.
ἐπεὶ γὰρ αὐτοῖς οὐκέτ’ ἔστ’ ἐξουσία
ῥαίνειν, ἀπείρηται δὲ τοῦτο τῷ νόμῳ,
εἷς τις θεοῖσιν ἐχθρὸς ἄνθρωπος πάνυ
ξηραινομένους ὡς εἶδε τοὺς ἰχθῦς, μάχην
ἐποίησ’ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἐξεπίτηδες εὖ πάνυ.
ἦσαν δὲ πληγαί, καιρίαν δ’ εἰληφέναι
δόξας καταπίπτει καὶ λιποψυχεῖν δοκῶν
ἔκειτο μετὰ τῶν ἰχθύων. βοᾷ δέ τις
‘ὕδωρ <ὕδωρ.>’ ὃ δ’ εὐθὺς ἐξάρας πρόχουν
τῶν ὁμοτέχνων τις τοῦ μὲν ἀκαρῆ παντελῶς
κατέχει, κατὰ δὲ τῶν ἰχθύων ἁπαξάπαν.
εἴποις γ’ ἂν αὐτοὺς ἀρτίως ἡλωκέναι.

Loving the Lotus: Addicted to Hearing Homer

From Philostratus’ Heroicus 43.1

The Phoenician Says to the Vinedresser

“If those who ate the lotus leaf in Homer desired the plant so eagerly that they completely forgot about their homes, don’t doubt that I am addicted to your tale, just like the lotus. Instead of leaving here willingly, I would practically have to be carried off to a ship and tied to it while weeping and I’d continue mourning the fact that I hadn’t had enough of your tale.

You have already convinced me concerning the poems of Homer, to believe now that they are divine and clearly beyond human ability. And now I am surprised more not at the poetry alone nor even at the pleasure that comes from it, but much more at the names of the heroes and their heritages and, by Zeus!, how each one was fated to kill someone or be killed by another.”

Φ. Εἰ οἱ τοῦ λωτοῦ παρ’ ῾Ομήρῳ φαγόντες, ὦ ἀμπελουργέ, προθύμως οὕτως προσέκειντο τῇ πόᾳ, ὡς ἐκλελῆσθαι τῶν οἴκοι, μὴ ἀπίστει κἀμὲ προσ-
κεῖσθαι τῷ λόγῳ, καθάπερ τῷ λωτῷ, καὶ μήτ’ ἂν ἑκόντα ἀπελθεῖν ἐνθένδε, ἀπαχθηναί τε μόγις ἂν ἐπὶ τὴν ναῦν καὶ δεθῆναι δ’ αὖ ἐν αὐτῇ κλάοντα καὶ ὀλοφυρόμενον ἐπὶ τῷ μὴ ἐμπίπλασθαι τοῦ λόγου.

καὶ γάρ με καὶ πρὸς τὰ τοῦ ῾Ομήρου ποιήματα οὕτω διατέθεικας, ὡς θεῖά τε αὐτὰ ἡγούμενον καὶ (οἷα) πέρα ἀνθρώπου δόξαι νῦν ἐκπεπλῆχθαι μᾶλλον οὐκ ἐπὶ τῇ ἐποποιίᾳ μόνον, οὐδ’ εἴ τις ἡδονὴ διήκει σφῶν, ἀλλὰ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἐπί τε τοῖς ὀνόμασι τῶν ἡρώων ἐπί τε τοῖς γένεσι καί, νὴ Δί’, ὡς ἕκαστος αὐτῶν ἔλαχε τοῦ κτεῖναί τινα ἢ ἀποθανεῖν ὑφ’ ἑτέρου.

My students do not say such things to me…

Maybe It Was For the Best that Alexander Died (Arrian, History of Alexander 7.16.8)

“Perhaps it was also a better fate for him to die at the height of his reputation and when he would be missed by men before he could suffer that common human fate, which is the very thing Solon warned Kroisos about: that it is best to look to the end of even a long life and never to say openly that some man is fortunate before he is dead.”


καί που τυχὸν καὶ ἄμεινον αὐτῷ ἦν ἐν ἀκμῇ τῆς τε ἄλλης δόξης καὶ τοῦ πόθου τοῦ παρ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀπηλλάχθαι, πρίν τινα ξυμβῆναι αὐτῷ ξυμφορὰν ἀνθρωπίνην, ἧς ἕνεκα καὶ Σόλωνα Κροίσῳ παραινέσαι εἰκὸς τέλος ὁρᾶν μακροῦ βίου μηδὲ πρόσθεν τινὰ ἀνθρώπων ἀποφαίνειν εὐδαίμονα.