Graves, Signs, and Glory

Homer, Iliad 7.89-91

“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”

σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Iliad 24.801–804

“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”

χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
῝Ως οἵ γ’ ἀμφίεπον τάφον ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

Hektor’s grave is described a little differently earlier. (I explain the “emptiness” of the tomb in another post)

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

Odyssey 11.72-78 (Elpenor asking to be buried)

“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”

μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.’

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Image result for ancient Greek funeral mounds
Tumulus of Marathon.

Blame it on the Comets

Manilius, Astronomica 875-893

“The sky has never gone alight with meaningless fires,
But farmers, deluded, have cursed their wasted fields
And in the infertile rows the depressed plowman
Pointlessly coaxes his mourning oxen to their yokes.
Or when a mortal spark hollows out the marrow of life
In bodies taken by heavy sickness or aged exhaustion,
And it takes a wavering people, and throughout entire cities
Shared mourning is accompanied by funereal fires.

That’s what the plague was like when it attacked Erekhtheus’ people
And carried ancient Athens out to graves in a time of peace.
One after another, slipping into sickness and cursing fate,
No kind of medical skill or prayer was helping them.

Duty itself fell to sickness, and the dead received neither
Burial nor tears. Even fire failed in its exhaustion
And the limbs of bodies were piled on burning limbs.
A people once so great could scarcely find their next of kin.

These are the horrors shining comets often proclaim.”

numquam futtilibus excanduit ignibus aether,
squalidaque elusi deplorant arva coloni,
et sterilis inter sulcos defessus arator
ad iuga maerentis cogit frustrata iuvencos.
aut gravibus morbis et lenta corpora tabe
corripit exustis letalis flamma medullis
labentisque rapit populos, totasque per urbes
publica succensis peraguntur iusta sepulcris.
qualis Erectheos pestis populata colonos
extulit antiquas per funera pacis Athenas,
alter in alterius labens cum fata ruebant,
nec locus artis erat medicae nec vota valebant;
cesserat officium morbis, et funera derant
mortibus et lacrimae; lassus defecerat ignis
et coacervatis ardebant corpora membris,
ac tanto quondam populo vix contigit heres.
talia significant lucentes saepe cometae:

 

From Gizmodo.com

Scars, Stories, and Identity

Former Brandeis student and future Rabbi Emily Dana has a great post about how our bodies tell our stories, inspired by and engaged with Odysseus’ scar. I know she read some of Auerbach’s Mimesis recently, but she gets a bit proustian too:

Trauma leaves scars whether we like it or not. Sometimes those scars are visible, but other times we hardly know that they exist until the exact moment that they decide to present themselves to us–the word that reminds us of our scariest memory or a dispute with a friend that jerks us back into childhood, or even a certain smell that is connected to a memory.

What I deeply appreciate about the way Emily puts this is that it draws upon the powerful ambiguity of the traumatic. The Greek word trauma can mean “wound” but it also means “hurt” or “damage”. In modern English usage, trauma can denote a physical ailment (think “blunt force trauma”), but it more often refers to the invisible marks physical suffering can leaving behind.

The Etymology of the word is disputed by modern linguists, but Byzantine scholars presented a folk etymology that it is “from trô (titrôskô [“to pierce, wound”]) [with both spellings] trôma and trauma. It is etymologized from blood flowing [to rheein] through it.” (Τραῦμα: Παρὰ τὸ τρῶ, τὸ τιτρώσκω, τρῶμα καὶ τραῦμα· ἐτυμολογεῖται δὲ παρὰ τὸ ῥέειν δι’ αὐτοῦ τὸ αἷμα, Etymologicum Magnum).

I have spent some time obsessed with this scene over the past few years, seeing the word for scar in versions of Odysseus’ name and finding both wonder and horror in how Eurykleia is instrumentalized to be witness to Odysseus’ history. The scar-scene is one of several moments of recognition in the epic, opportunities for Odysseus’ identity to be confirmed and re-performed. Each one depends on an external sign that carries a story with it. A bed for Odysseus and Penelope; a grove of trees for father and son.

But I also think that beneath this is the recognition that bodies which do not tell stories–perfect, unmarked, even fictional or fictionalized bodies–present a problem in the Odyssey‘s world. The unblemished beauty of the suitors and the young princes among the Phaeacians stand almost in monstrous contrast to Odysseus. The age of his body and the scar from his youth tell his story and represent the promise of kleos to come. An unmarked body is one without a story–or one from which story has been erased.

Emily’s deeply felt post made me think of a twitter thread from last year when I talked about the Odyssey with my daughter:

 

Update: She kept going to swimming lessons…but still hesitates to wear shorts. And, thanks Emily, for reminding me.

Graves, Signs, and Glory

Homer, Iliad 7.89-91

“…They will heap up a mound [sêma] on the broad Hellespont
And someone of the men who are born in the future may say
As he says over the wine-faced sea in his many-benched ship:
This is the marker [sêma] of a man who died long ago,
A man whom shining Hektor killed when he was at his best”
So someone someday will say. And my glory will never perish”

σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον·
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει· τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Iliad 24.801–804

“After heaping up the mound [sêma] they returned. Then
Once they were well gathered they shared a fine feast
In the halls of the god-nourished king, Priam.
Thus they were completing the burial of horse-taming Hektor.”

χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ’ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
῝Ως οἵ γ’ ἀμφίεπον τάφον ῞Εκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.

Hektor’s grave is described a little differently earlier. (I explain the “emptiness” of the tomb in another post)

Homer, Il. 24.797–800

“They quickly placed the bones in an empty trench and then
They covered it with great, well-fitted stones.
They rushed to heap up a marker [sêma], around which they set guards
In case the well-greaved Achaeans should attack too soon.”

αἶψα δ’ ἄρ’ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι·
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ’ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες ᾿Αχαιοί.

Odyssey 11.72-78 (Elpenor asking to be buried)

“Don’t leave me unmourned, unburied when you turn around
And go back—so that I might not be a reason for the gods to rage—
But burn me with my weapons and everything which is mind
Then build a mound [sêma] for me on the shore of the grey sea,
For a pitiful man, and for those to come to learn of me.
Finish these things for me and then affix an oar onto my tomb,
The one I was rowing with when I was alive and with my companions”

μή μ’ ἄκλαυτον ἄθαπτον ἰὼν ὄπιθεν καταλείπειν
νοσφισθείς, μή τοί τι θεῶν μήνιμα γένωμαι,
ἀλλά με κακκῆαι σὺν τεύχεσιν, ἅσσα μοί ἐστι,
σῆμά τέ μοι χεῦαι πολιῆς ἐπὶ θινὶ θαλάσσης,
ἀνδρὸς δυστήνοιο, καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι·
ταῦτά τέ μοι τελέσαι πῆξαί τ’ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ ἐρετμόν,
τῷ καὶ ζωὸς ἔρεσσον ἐὼν μετ’ ἐμοῖσ’ ἑτάροισιν.’

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Image result for ancient Greek funeral mounds
Tumulus of Marathon.

Surpassing the Signs of All Others

Homer, Odyssey 8.186-200

“So he spoke, and stripping off his cloak he grabbed a discus,
Larger and wider, not a little heavier than the ones
Which the Phaeacians where throwing among one another.
He turned around and whirled it from his strong hand
And the stone boomed. Then the oar-wielding Phaeacians
Leapt to the ground, those men famous for their ships,
At the hurl of the stone. Then it flew past all of their markers,
Swiftly hurling it from his hand. Then Athena set the boundary
After taking on the form of a man, and she spoke a word and called out:

“Even a blind person, friend, could find this marker
As he felt all around, since it is not at all mixed in with the others—
No, it is first by far. Be happy at this competition–
None of the Phaeacians will come close or surpass it.”

So much-enduring Odysseus said and he laughed
Taking pleasure in the fact that he had a real friend in the game.”

ἦ ῥα, καὶ αὐτῷ φάρει ἀναΐξας λάβε δίσκον
μείζονα καὶ πάχετον, στιβαρώτερον οὐκ ὀλίγον περ
ἢ οἵῳ Φαίηκες ἐδίσκεον ἀλλήλοισι.
τόν ῥα περιστρέψας ἧκε στιβαρῆς ἀπὸ χειρός·
βόμβησεν δὲ λίθος· κατὰ δ’ ἔπτηξαν ποτὶ γαίῃ
Φαίηκες δολιχήρετμοι, ναυσικλυτοὶ ἄνδρες,
λᾶος ὑπὸ ῥιπῆς· ὁ δ’ ὑπέρπτατο σήματα πάντων,
ῥίμφα θέων ἀπὸ χειρός· ἔθηκε δὲ τέρματ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ἀνδρὶ δέμας εἰκυῖα, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·

“καί κ’ ἀλαός τοι, ξεῖνε, διακρίνειε τὸ σῆμα
ἀμφαφόων, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι μεμιγμένον ἐστὶν ὁμίλῳ,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτον. σὺ δὲ θάρσει τόνδε γ’ ἄεθλον·
οὔ τις Φαιήκων τόν γ’ ἵξεται οὐδ’ ὑπερήσει.”

ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
χαίρων οὕνεχ’ ἑταῖρον ἐνηέα λεῦσσ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι.

Schol. VT ad Od. 8.192 ex

“Signs, footprints. For many were hurling the discus previously. The signs are the impressions left by the discuses”

σήματα] σημεῖα. τινὲς δὲ, βήματα. V. πολλοὶ γὰρ προεδίσκευσαν. σήματα δὲ τὰ πηγνύμενα τοῖς δίσκοις. T.

 

Red-Figure Kylix, MFA Boston

Aratus, Phenomena 1134-43: Mice, Dogs, Crabs and the Weather

“Mice too, if ever squeaking louder in good weather
They leapt and seemed like dancers,
Were not ignored by ancient weathermen.
Nor were dogs, since a dog digs with both paws
Whenever he expects that a storm is coming on.
The mice will prophesy the same storm.
And, truly, the crab comes to land from the water
When the storm comes, seeking to begin a journey.
The mice who turn their strawbeds with feet at day
Long for sleep whenever signs of rain appear.
Disregard none of these things: it is good to find a sign
to confirm another: when two go the same way together,
Hope increases; you can be brave with a third.”

᾿Αλλὰ γὰρ οὐδὲ μύες, τετριγότες εἴ ποτε μᾶλλον
εὔδιοι ἐσκίρτησαν ἐοικότες ὀρχηθμοῖσιν,
ἄσκεπτοι ἐγένοντο παλαιοτέροις ἀνθρώποις,
οὐδὲ κύνες• καὶ γάρ τε κύων ὠρύξατο ποσσὶν
ἀμφοτέροις χειμῶνος ἐπερχομένοιο δοκεύων,
κἀκεῖνοι χειμῶνα μύες τότε μαντεύονται.
[Καὶ μὴν ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ καρκίνος ᾤχετο χέρσον
χειμῶνος μέλλοντος, ἐπαΐσσεσθαι ὁδοῖο.
Καὶ μύες ἡμέριοι ποσσὶ στιβάδα στρωφῶντες
κοίτης ἱμείρονται, ὅτ’ ὄμβρου σήματα φαίνῃ.]
Τῶν μηδὲν κατόνοσσο• καλὸν δ’ ἐπὶ σήματι σῆμα
σκέπτεσθαι• μᾶλλον δὲ δυεῖν εἰς ταὐτὸν ἰόντων
ἐλπωρὴ τελέθοι• τριτάτῳ δέ κε θαρσήσειας.