Skylla and Charybdis? An Easy Choice

Last year I ran the following poll. The results surprised me.

This year, people did a bit better

 

I had imagined that Simonides made things clear:

Simonides, fr. 356

“Everything comes to a single, dreadful Charybdis—
The great virtues and wealth the same.”

πάντα γὰρ μίαν ἱκνεῖται δασπλῆτα Χάρυβδιν,
αἱ μεγάλαι τ’ ἀρεταὶ καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος.

No? Ok. Here’s a proverb and an explanation

Michael Apostolios, Collectio Paroemiarum 16.49

“Avoid Kharybdis and come close to Skyla.” This is similar to the saying, “I avoided it by finding a better evil”

They say about Skyla that she was a Tyrrhenian woman, something if a beast, who was a woman down to the navel but she grew dog heads beneath that point. The rest of her body was a serpent. This kind of a cerature is very silly to imagine. But here is the truth. There were the islands of the Tyrrenians, which used to raid the coasts of Sicily and the Ionian bay. There was a trirereme which had the named Skyla. That trireme used to overtake other ships often and use their food and there was many a story about it. Odysseus fled that ship. trusting a strong and favorable wind and he told this story in Corcyra to Alkinoos, how he was pursued and how he fled and what the shape of the ship was. From these stories, the myth was formed.”

Τὴν Χάρυβδιν ἐκφυγὼν, τῇ Σκύλῃ περιέπεσον:
ὁμοία τῇ· ῎Εφυγον κακὸν εὗρον ἄμεινον

Λέγουσι περὶ Σκύλης ὡς ἦν Τυῤῥηνία, θηρίον τι, γυνὴ  μὲν μέχρι τοῦ ὀμφαλοῦ, κυνῶν δὲ ἐντεῦθεν αὐτῇ προσπεφύκασι κεφαλαί· τὸ δ’ ἄλλο σῶμα ὄφεως. τοιαύτην δὲ φύσιν ἐννοεῖν πολὺ εὔηθες· ἡ δὲ ἀλήθεια αὕτη· Τυῤῥηνίων νῆσοι ἦσαν, αἳ ἐληΐζοντο τὰ περίχωρα τῆς Σικελίας καὶ τὸν ᾿Ιόνιον κόλπον· ἦν δὲ ναῦς τριήρης ταχεῖα τό τε ὄνομα Σκύλα· αὕτη ἡ τριήρης τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν πλοίων συλλαμβάνουσα πολλάκις εἰργάζετο βρῶμα, καὶ λόγος ἦν περὶ αὐτῆς πολύς· ταύτην τὴν ναῦν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς σφοδρῷ καὶ λαύρῳ πνεύματι χρησάμενος διέφυγε, διηγήσατο δὲ ἐν Κερκύρᾳ τῷ ᾿Αλκινόῳ, πῶς ἐδιώχθη καὶ πῶς ἐξέφυγε, καὶ τὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ πλοίου· ἀφ’ ὧν προσανεπλάσθη ὁ μῦθος.

Ok. Maybe that wasn’t clear.

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. “

Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

Yeah, that doesn’t help matters. How about this?

Philo, On Dreams, 70

“But you, go away from “the smoke and the wave” and depart the ridiculous concerns of mortal life as from that fearsome Charybdis without touching it at all, don’t even, as the people say, brush it with your littlest toe.”

ἀλλὰ σύ γε τοῦ μὲν “καπνοῦ καὶ κύματος ἐκτὸς” βαῖνε καὶ τὰς καταγελάστους τοῦ θνητοῦ βίου σπουδὰς ὡς τὴν φοβερὰν ἐκείνην χάρυβδιν ἀποδίδρασκε καὶ μηδὲ ἄκρῳ, τὸ τοῦ λόγου τοῦτο, ποδὸς δακτύλῳ ψαύσῃς.

Plutarch, with an assist

Plutarch, Fr. 178, Stobaeus 4.52 from his On the Soul [Plutarch uses the same image elsewhere]

“For satiety seems to be becoming worn out in pleasures from the soul suffering in some way with the body, since the soul does not shirk from its pleasures. But when it is interwoven, as it is said, with the body, it suffers the same things as Odysseus, just as he was held, clinging to the fig tree, not because he desired it or delighted in it, but because he feared Charybdis lurking below him. The soul clings to the body and embraces it in this way not because of goodwill or gratitude but because it fears the uncertainty of death.

As wise Hesiod says, “the gods keep life concealed from human beings.” They have not tied the soul to the body with fleshly bonds, but they have devised and bound around the mind one cell and one guard, our uncertainty and distrust about our end. If a soul had faith in these things—“however so many await men when they die”, to quote Heraclitus—nothing would restrain it at all.”

 καὶ γὰρ ὁ κόρος κόπος ἐν ἡδοναῖς ἔοικεν εἶναι τῷ μετὰ σώματός τι τὴν ψυχὴν πάσχειν, ἐπεὶ πρός γε τὰς αὑτῆς ἡδονὰς οὐκ ἀπαγορεύει. συμπεπλεγμένη δέ, ὥσπερ εἴρηται, τῷ σώματι ταὐτὰ τῷ Ὀδυσσεῖ πέπονθεν· ὡς γὰρ ἐκεῖνος τῷ ἐρινεῷ προσφὺς εἴχετο καὶ περιέπτυσσεν οὐ ποθῶν οὐδ᾿ ἀγαπῶν ἐκεῖνον, ἀλλὰ δεδιὼς ὑποκειμένην τὴν Χάρυβδιν, οὕτως ἔοικεν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦ σώματος ἔχεσθαι καὶ περιπεπλέχθαι δι᾿ εὔνοιαν οὐδεμίαν αὐτοῦ καὶ χάριν, ἀλλ᾿ ὀρρωδοῦσα τοῦ θανάτου τὴν ἀδηλότητα.

κρύψαντες γὰρ ἔχουσι θεοὶ βίον ἀνθρώποισι

κατὰ τὸν σοφὸν Ἡσίοδον, οὐ σαρκίνοις τισὶ δεσμοῖς πρὸς τὸ σῶμα τὴν ψυχὴν κατατείναντες, ἀλλ᾿ ἕνα δεσμὸν αὐτῇ καὶ μίαν φυλακὴν μηχανησάμενοι καὶ περιβαλόντες, τὴν ἀδηλότητα καὶ ἀπιστίαν τῶν μετὰ τὴν τελευτήν· ἐπεὶ τήν γε πεισθεῖσαν, ὅσα ἀνθρώπους περιμένει τελευτήσαντας καθ᾿ Ἡράκλειτον, οὐδὲν ἂν κατάσχοι.”

So, to be clear:  Charybdis=death. 

 

Britannia between Scylla & Charybdis. or— The Vessel of the Constitution steered clear of the Rock of Democracy, and the Whirlpool of Arbitrary-Power. James Gilray, 1793

 

Some Hateful Words Handpicked for Social Media

Aristomenes, Assistants, fr. 3

“I hate you because you say awful things about me.”

μισῶ σ᾿ ὁτιὴ λέγεις με ταἰσχρά.

Naevius [=Nonius 73, 16]

“May he not inspire the deep hate of my powerful spirit.”

Ne ille mei feri ingeni atque animi acrem acrimoniam

Naevius, Incerta 34

“I hate people who mumble: so tell me what you fear clearly.”

Odi summussos; proinde aperte dice quid sit quod times.

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 7

“Is there anyone then who hates me more than I hate myself?”

ergo quisquam me magis odit quam ego?

Aristophanes, Birds 1548

“I hate all the gods, as you well know…”

μισῶ δ᾿ ἅπαντας τοὺς θεούς, ὡς οἶσθα σύ—

Diogenes Laertius, 1.5.88

“Bias used to tell people to measure life as if they were going to live for both a long time and a short one and also to love people as if they will hate them, since most people are bad.”

ἔλεγέ τε τὸν βίον οὕτω μετρεῖν ὡς καὶ πολὺν καὶ ὀλίγον χρόνον βιωσομένους, καὶ φιλεῖν ὡς μισήσοντας· τοὺς γὰρ πλείστους εἶναι κακούς

Greek Anthology 12.172 Euenus

“If it hurts to hate and hurts to love, I’ll choose
To take the useful wound from two evils.”

Εἰ μισεῖν πόνος ἐστί, φιλεῖν πόνος, ἐκ δύο λυγρῶν
αἱροῦμαι χρηστῆς ἕλκος ἔχειν ὀδύνης.

Aeschylus, fr. 353

“Mortals don’t hate death fairly
Since it is the greatest bulwark against our many evils”

ὡς οὐ δικαίως θάνατον ἔχθουσιν βροτοί,
ὅσπερ μέγιστον ῥῦμα τῶν πολλῶν κακῶν

Tacitus, Agricola 42

“It is central to human nature to hate someone you have harmed.”

proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris

Aelian, Letter 14

“I’m crazy and murderous and I hate the human race.”

ἐγὼ μαίνομαι καὶ φονῶ καὶ μισῶ τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος

A grotesque image of an ogre shooting an arrow into another creature's rear from the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS 62925, f. 87v.)
British Library Royal MS 62925, f. 87v.

Diogenes Laertius, 2.8.96

“[the followers of Aristippos] used to say that mistakes should be pardoned: for people do not err willingly, but under the force of some kind of passion. And we should not hate: it is better to teach someone to change.”

ἔλεγον τὰ ἁμαρτήματα συγγνώμης τυγχάνειν· οὐ γὰρ ἑκόντα ἁμαρτάνειν, ἀλλά τινι πάθει κατηναγκασμένον. καὶ μὴ μισήσειν, μᾶλλον δὲ μεταδιδάξειν.

Statius, Thebaid 8.738

“I hate my limbs and this fragile work of a body, a deserter of souls.”

odi artus fragilemque hunc corporis usum,desertorem animi.

Philostratus, Heroicus 8

“Hate is fear’s kin.”

συγγενὲς γὰρ φόβῳ μῖσος

Cicero, Philippic 12.30

“I will be forced to fear not only those who hate me but those who envy me too,”

tum erunt mihi non ei solum qui me oderunt sed illi etiam qui invident extimescendi.

Dicta Catonis 21

“High things fall because of hate; but minor things are raised up by love.”

Alta cadunt odiis, parva extolluntur amore

Greek Anthology 12.103

“I know how to love those who love; and I know how to hate
When someone wrongs me. I am not inexperienced in either.”

Οἶδα φιλεῖν φιλέοντας· ἐπίσταμαι, ἤν μ᾿ ἀδικῇ τις,
μισεῖν· ἀμφοτέρων εἰμὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἀδαής.

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica 5.465

“FML. Why do the gods hate me so much?”

“Ὤ μοι ἐγώ, τί νυ τόσσον ἀπέχθομαι ἀθανάτοισιν;

Cicero, Letters to Friends Caelius Rubus to Cicero (VIII.14)

“I love the cause but hate the people”

causam illam unde homines odi.

Hedylus, Epigrams 1856

“I hate living for no reason and not being drunk.”

μισῶ ζῆν ἐς κενὸν οὐ μεθύων.

 

brevity bird

Cancel This! Isocrates Navigates Freedom of Speech

Isocrates, To Nicocles 3

“There are many ways people are educated in private life. Most importantly, avoiding luxury and being forced to think every day about their life. Then, they have the laws which we happen to live by civically. Finally, we are educated by freedom of speech and the right given to friends to openly criticize and to enemies to attack one another’s faults.”

Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἰδιώτας ἐστὶ πολλὰ τὰ παιδεύοντα, μάλιστα μὲν τὸ μὴ τρυφᾶν ἀλλ᾿ ἀναγκάζεσθαι περὶ τοῦ βίου καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν βουλεύεσθαι, ἔπειθ᾿ οἱ νόμοι καθ᾿ οὓς ἕκαστοι πολιτευόμενοι τυγχάνουσιν, ἔτι δ᾿ ἡ παρρησία καὶ τὸ φανερῶς ἐξεῖναι τοῖς τε φίλοις ἐπιπλῆξαι καὶ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ἐπιθέσθαι ταῖς ἀλλήλων ἁμαρτίαις·

Isocrates, On the Peace 14

“I know that it is hard to stand against your opinions and that that there is no freedom of speech when there is democracy except that which is employed here among these great fools who don’t care about you and in the theater among the comic poets.

You know that is most shocking of all? You give those who let the rest of Greece know about our state’s failures so much more gratitude than those who do good things for us. And you are as annoyed to those who correct you and warn you as you are with those who contrive evil against the state!”

Ἐγὼ δ᾿ οἶδα μὲν ὅτι πρόσαντές ἐστιν ἐναντιοῦσθαι ταῖς ὑμετέραις διανοίαις, καὶ ὅτι δημοκρατίας οὔσης οὐκ ἔστι παρρησία, πλὴν ἐνθάδε μὲν τοῖς ἀφρονεστάτοις καὶ μηδὲν ὑμῶν φροντίζουσιν, ἐν δὲ τῷ θεάτρῳ τοῖς κωμῳδοδιδασκάλοις· ὃ καὶ πάντων ἐστὶ δεινότατον, ὅτι τοῖς μὲν ἐκφέρουσιν εἰς τοὺς ἄλλους Ἕλληνας τὰ τῆς πόλεως ἁμαρτήματα τοσαύτην ἔχετε χάριν ὅσην οὐδὲ τοῖς εὖ ποιοῦσι πρὸς δὲ τοὺς ἐπιπλήττοντας καὶ νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς οὕτω διατίθεσθε δυσκόλως ὥσπερ πρὸς τοὺς κακόν τι τὴν πόλιν ἐργαζομένους.

Ostracism! That’s Cancel Culture for you!

We’ve Been Doing This for 10 years: A Personal History of Sententiae Antiquae

“…It brings pleasure
Whenever someone discovers some new notion,
To share it with everyone…”
… ἡδονὴν ἔχει,
ὅταν τις εὕρῃ καινὸν ἐνθύμημά τι,
δηλοῦν ἅπασιν -Anaxandrides

What is this Fresh Garbage?

Today, October 22nd, this website has completed its tenth year. Such round numbers, if they don’t invite deeper reflection on life and its apparent meanings, can at least prompt us to ask what we are doing and what is this garbage we set on fire.

What does 10 years of Sententiae Antiquae mean? It means over 7000 posts in a decade from more than 20 different contributors (many of these have been repeated once). It means 400 page views for its first year, 8000 for the next year and over 500,000 thousand page-views just last year alone (to go with 37k+ followers on twitter. Check out the SA Tweetbook for more of that).

In the internet age these stats too often come to represent our worth (as commodities and moral agents!). I’d certainly be lying if we weren’t at times delighted with the popularity of this thing or that. But, as any good educator knows, quantity and quality are not coterminous. Indeed, there is a superabundance of shit on this website and some of the things that have gained the most views and likes are far from those for which we’d hope to be remembered.

So there’s the thing: what is this project for? What does it do in the world? After 10 years, I find myself regularly asking this, especially as time in front of a screen or on an app becomes all the more tiring in our panoptical pandemic omnipresence. For the sake of trying to figure this out and sharing some history of the site, I am going to go back to the beginning, to tell its story as best as I remember it.

“Beginnings are from Jove, oh Muses! Everything is full of Jove”
ab Jove principium, Musae; Jovis omnia plena  -Vergil

The Beginning

This site was born out of uncertainty, frustration, and sleeplessness. The first time I heard of twitter was, like most of the world, during the 2008 election cycle. When I ‘finally’ gave in and got my first smartphone in 2009, I was a twitter lurker, trying to suss it out. I had more experience with the world of blogs—I had never started one myself, but I had friends who tried them out in the early days of livejournal. I was also really suspicious of social networks, but like nearly everyone else in the existential aughts, I was pretty desperate for connections outside of the narrow world of work.

2010-2011 created a perfect storm that led to sententiaeantiquae’s beginnings. To start, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world and I spent a lot of late hours bleary-eyed, staring at a smartphone, trying to will an infant to stay asleep while I occupied my fragmented mind. One night I read episode summaries of every season of Star Trek: The Next Generation; another, I spent 4 hours straight on rapgenius.com (the sleeplessness).

When I found myself on twitter, I naturally started to look at what was happening in Classics. Apart from the good work of the Rogue Classicist, I encountered countless accounts trafficking in unsourced and often false Plato and Aristotle quotes (there’s the frustration). I had been collecting quotations for years and had assembled a long list I used in my Greek classes. I was always frustrated when I found lines attributed to ancient authors without citations or the original language.

During the same period, my father died and we found out another child was on the way. In mid 2011, I was untenured, still furiously trying to finish some publications at night before the next child appeared, and I was starting to play around with twitter and wordpress for a music blog with my brother (we ran the blog for 4 years or so and then called it quits for various reasons).

I was also trying to find a way out of Texas. Even though the great recession was then 3 years behind us, the academic job market didn’t really recover and I hadn’t done myself any favors by publishing relatively little in my first few years after graduate school and not starting a book. More and more, jobs were asking for expertise or interest in the digital humanities. I knew then that social media does not equal DH, but I figured a quote account might be a start (and there’s the uncertainty).

On a weekend afternoon in October of 2011, I started texting my then-colleague Bill Short with a pretty simple idea: a website that would present daily Latin and Greek quotations with English transition and clear citations paired with a twitter account that would propagate ‘quality’ content. I think my pitch might have been wordier and less cogent, but that’s the gist.

I quickly set up the accounts and we soon had our first post (Homer, Iliad 22.304-5): May I not die without a fight and without glory but after doing something big for men to come to learn about” (μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην, / ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι).

“The result for the ambitious and bold young men is that they are always trying to work around and cover up their cultivated ignorance.”
 τοῖς δὲ φιλοτίμοις καὶ θρασέσιν ἀεὶ περιστέλλειν καὶ ἀποκρύπτειν συνοικοῦσαν τὴν ἀμαθίαν -Plutarch

The Early Years

For the first few months, Bill and I took turns, putting up Latin one day (Bill) and Greek the next. I still remember the first time notable things happened like getting retweeted and followed by the Society for Classical Studies or by Rogue Classicist. When Daniel Mendelsohn followed the account, we thought we had made it. By the following summer we had 500 followers and thought that was kind of special.

But the daily grind quickly became a daily grind: it was hard to keep up with the demand for new quotations (my long list gathered didn’t last a half year!). I started to search for new passages and made reading randomly a daily practice. Bill had other work to attend to (we both had small kids and tenure hurdles to worry about) and was less habit-oriented than I was. During the summer of 2012 we tried to vary our practice by inviting people to join us. We launched an Initiative called the (Un)Commonplace Book and sent out the following invitation:

There are many passages from ancient Greek and Roman literature whose beauty, complexity and influence are ill-fit to the epigrammatic style of Twitter but whose sound and sense stick with us and, in many cases, help to shape our perspective and to guide our lives.  The ancients would comb through texts for edification and take such purple passages to heart. Later European readers kept commonplace books to record similar endeavors and vouchsafe certain selections against the ravages of memory and time.

Here at Sententiae Antiquae we know that the sententia cannot always convey the full sentiment of a work and, further, when presented alone, does not always do full justice to the depth or impact of a passage. So, we are inviting readers, lovers of ancient wisdom, and thralls of the words of Greek and Roman literature to translate longer passages that have affected their lives in some meaningful way from deeper forms such as consolation and inspiration to no less significant responses like laughter or even scorn. To accompany these passages, we will also ask for short accompanying essays (under 500 words) to elucidate their place in your personal story.

We hope that these posts will help to illustrate the way that dead texts are reborn with each generation and how they evolve even as we change with and because them. In turn, those of us who internalize our love of Classical literature will be able to share it with the external world.

So, if you’re interested please email your submissions or interest to classics@XXX.edu. In a few months, we will select entries to post on a semi-weekly basis (alternating Latin and Greek)

From the SA Vault

We sent out a few dozen invitation to well-known scholars, both those we knew and those we didn’t. We didn’t receive any responses.

“Your books have turned your life upside down.
You have philosophized nonsense to heaven and earth.
They don’t give a shit about your words.’
ἀντέστροφέν σου τὸν βίον τὰ βιβλία·
πεφιλοσόφηκας γῇ τε κοὐρανῷ λαλῶν,
οἷς οὐθέν ἐστιν ἐπιμελὲς τῶν λόγων.’ -Theognetus

What’s This Nonsense for?

I don’t know if it was the open-endedness of the project or my incessant, intolerable enthusiasm for it that slowly drove Bill away; but he eventually stopped posting and, to be honest, we never really talked about it (in those years we used the same log-in, so it is not easy to discern one poster from another). For a while, Osman Umurhan helped out with some Latin and, eventually, Erik took over some of those responsibilities.

In the meantime, I doubled down on the whole thing even though I hadn’t the slightest idea why. As we moved from Austin to San Antonio and I spent more time shuttling kids around and less writing, I found myself reading twitter more and engaging with different people (my tenure file went through, prompting my chair at the time to congratulate me by saying “The only thing worse than getting tenure here is not getting tenure here”). 

The pseudonymity of this account accompanied by its implicit appeals to cultural authority of different stripes attracted a strange crew of experts, enthusiasts, tourists, and shit-posters: what we now call #classicstwitter. Even back when twitter was 30% sexbots, it was still a gentler place. #Classicstwitter was not a named thing, but the motley and changing assemblage of obsessives and weirdos who showed up in my timeline where the closest thing I’d had to a community around Classics since I was in graduate school.

Still, it was clear that I was spending a lot of time doing something that I couldn’t really describe to anyone and that I had even more trouble justifying. Anything we do on a regular basis has some kind of impetus: we get paid for going to work (even if we get meaning out of it). I guess for a while I thought of contributing to SA as a practice, something like exercise. I knew from my early years out of graduate school that my ‘skills’ in Latin and Greek were degrading from under-use or over-specific use (introductory Greek, every year ad infinitum).

I also realized something I hadn’t anticipated from graduate school: it is really easy to stop learning much new as a professor. We are incentivized to work on the same material over and over again to first establish and then maintain expertise. When I started branching out from my list of quotations, I realized that there were dozens—if not hundreds—of authors from the ancient world whose names I barely recognized and whose works I had never seen. What kind of expertise is this!?

So, I used SA as a kind of professional development/intellectual challenge program. You know how some men in their late 30s suddenly need to train for a triathlon? Well, I decided to spend 1-2 hours a day just reading stuff I hadn’t read before in Latin and Greek. Call it an early-career crisis, or whatever, but it was the first real intellectual exercise without a specific end-goal of publication I had done in a decade. If I didn’t enjoy it every day, I did more often than not. And I learned a lot.

(I never did the triathlon thing, cycling freaks me out. I did do the marathon thing to check off the mid-life crisis box)

“Friendships transform your character and there is no greater sign of a difference in character than in choosing different friends.”
ἠθοποιοῦσι γὰρ αἱ φιλίαι, καὶ μεῖζον οὐθέν ἐστιν ἠθῶν διαφορᾶς σημεῖον ἢ φίλων αἱρέσεις διαφερόντων. -Plutarch

Erik Changes it All!

There’s a longer story to be told about Erik and me becoming friends. It both does and does not include sententiae antiquae. I think we can put it this way: if Erik and I had not become friends, SA probably would not have lasted as long as it did and definitely would not have turned out to be what it is now.

The short of it is that one summer, perhaps in 2009 or so, I had a summer reading group for some Greek students and Erik asked to join in. (He had never been in any of my classes and was already graduated by that point.) Within the first few meetings we started debating something about the beginning of the Iliad and he sent me a screed of an email about it and I thought, well, this guy’s nuts.

But, as I learned over time, Erik was my kind of nuts, you know, the reading until your eyes hurt and obsessing over any kind of narrative nuts. He kept coming back each summer for different reading groups and we found common ground in ridiculous television shows we both loved (sure, we were into Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones like everyone else, but we also really got into the absurdity of Dexter). At some point in this process, I asked if Erik wanted to take over some of the posting to the blog that had been given up by other collaborators.

Erik’s first post was from Florus! In April of 2013 and he posted occasionally that summer and Fall (with winners like the Latin Anthology) without any regularity or plan. (Indeed, this has been a hallmark of our approach. Sometimes one of us will start a project or theme and the other one will join in, but we rarely plan anything.) He disappeared for several months, coming back to the blog in March of 2014.

So far, one might be surprised by my assertion that Sententiae Antiquae is what it is because of Erik, but I think that during this period he wasn’t any surer than I was about what the whole thing was for. He was also struggling to figure out what to do with his life, something he should tell you, not me. But in July of 2014, he started a madcap period where he really started to use posting as his own personal commonplace book, recording his readings and some of his favorite passages as he worked through Euripides’ Hippolytus and Ion.

Erik started to reach for scholia and less common texts like Macrobius and, although I had previously dabbled in obscure stuff here and there, I have to say many of his posts inspired a cheerful aemulatio. We would often respond to each other offline, excited or horrified by some fresh new delicacy or turd from the ancient world. Ausonius is a terrible poet—we had to have him on the website.

“Some one could rightly jeer at me for assuming a side-project greater than my actual work”
Εὐστόχως ἄν τις εἴποι ἐπιτωθάζων μοι, μεῖζόν σοι τοῦ ἔργου τὸ πάρεργον. -Zonaras

Longer Projects

Erik was also the first to think of the website as a place for longer term projects. Around the time that we started a non-summer reading project of working on the Homeric “Battle of Frogs and Mice,” Erik started translating and posting sections of the untranslated “History of Apollonius of Tyre”. He and I both benefited from this structure and vision. I don’t know if he ever finished it—but the basic principle of using blogposts as a way to ‘publish’ an ongoing project while also forcing accountability has been crucial in our work. I don’t know if Erik’s idea was innovative or not, but it shaped what happened next.

Yes, part of it was the friendly aemulatio, I mentioned earlier. At times, we competed to find the worst poems from antiquity (Rufinus wins this race currently) and to see whose posts could make a splash. At this time, our pageviews were still pretty limited, so a post that got 100 hits was huge and certain to earn bragging rights. The number 1 post from 2014, for instance, was a typical combination of scatology and mythology (Odysseus Dying From Feces!). It received 343 pageviews.

We started to post more thematic sequences: Late 2014 saw the beginning of our serial translation and commentary on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia along with a sequence of mythography posts, anticipating future projects like the history of Zonaras, translations of paradoxographers, or brief obsessions with animals sounds or the Non-Achilles-Non-Agamemnon-Iliadic Hero Bracket. In each of these cases, we tended to start an investigation and continue to the end (or near enough) because the logic of the public accountability demanded it!

Now, we likely took our readership (if it existed) and ourselves too seriously, but these projects were really somewhere between serious research and preparation for class. Sometimes they were fun, sometimes people could find them useful later, and often (for me at least) they helped me explore the kind of research I realized I didn’t want to do during the process.

At the same time, Erik found humor and wit in obscure places, pulling out amazing passages from much larger works, as in his early “A Spurious Etymology for Anger” or “Seal Sex, What do They Want?” Working with Erik, and watching him work, reminded me of something I so often forgot as a trudged my way to and through tenure: reading ancient texts can be hilariously—and naughtily—fun.

Responses to Erik’s posts and mine inspired by them made me remember something else too, important in the classroom, scholarship, and over time: people will engage with good material, but they need to notice it first. Every year the internet gets more cluttered with projects, information, and various spasming new media that it is hard to cut through the noise. For social media work or any kind of content, basic design and marketing principles do matter: pictures help, titles help too. We have been justly accused of going full-on clickbait from time to time.

From 2014 through 2016, Sententiae Antiquae was mostly something Erik and I did for fun, the way some people go to weekly trivia nights or play fantasy football. We’d post stuff, chortle at each other, text about it, and get together almost weekly to read, shoot the shit, and drink the occasional (group of) beer(s). And sometimes, these conversations would inspire some of our more needling posts, like which ancient authors were most despised.

One of Erik’s passions was always the history of scholarship and anecdotes about scholars. In 2015 he started posting about these and they proved to be extremely popular. The amazing thing is that these passages are like being part of an every day conversation with Erik, whether it’s talking about Richard Porson and the Devil or dwelling on peculiarities of Liddell and Scott. (Seriously don’t get Erik started about Bentley or Housman, unless you really, truly want to know about Bentley or Housman!)

If you scroll back through this period, you can see all the postings getting more varied and stranger. We pushed each other to be more creative and posts got longer, reflecting on travels or exploring scholarly questions like the meaning of the name Nausikaa. As 2015 moved on, I felt more comfortable writing about experiences in the classroom and on teaching in general.  (Erik joined in this too and opened up conversations about this later.)

We also started to repeat annual events, like our posts of how to say happy birthday in ancient Greek or our annual Halloween focused Werewolf Week or our increasingly numerous posts for Women’s History Month. Along the way, we learned that essential social media lesson: it is almost impossible to repeat something too much to break through the online noise.

“Occasionally I laugh, joke, and play, and if I wanted to claim all of the parts of my harmless leisure, I would say I am human.”
aliquando praeterea rideo iocor ludo, utque omnia innoxiae remissionis genera breviter amplectar, homo sum -Pliny

Part of Something Bigger

Part of what kept me keyed into twitter was a community of ‘friends’ who gathered over time. There were silly days of limericks about byzantine scholars; there were random attempts to come up with etymologies for kerberos and later ridiculous discussions which enriched my life, like whether Achilles or Odysseus was more likely to “shoot a man in Reno / just to watch him die”. (Don’t @ me. The answer is always Odysseus.)

But before all of this there was “Two-Ears One Mouth”. One weekend in September 2015, I joked that Paul Holdengraber’s 7 word autobiography ( “Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth.” ) sounded like something from a Presocratic philosopher. He loved this, we then enlisted a group of classicists online to put this into Greek, Latin, and in Greek and Latin verse. Of course, other scholars joined in to let us know that this was in fact originally from Greek and, well, by the end of it, I lost track of how many people joined in, the path this sent me down roads of paroemiology, and that one time Salman Rushdie retweeted me.

The point is, there was something delightful and playful about this. It was erudition but without specific purpose or bound. It was, in a way, like sitting around shooting the shit with Erik.

Of course, there was a Classics blogopshere long before there was SA. The rogueclassicist was doing his thing on wordpress since 2003 (and earlier in other forms) while Michael Hendry’s curculio.org or Michael Gilleland’s laudatortemporisacti.blogspot.com had been posting ancient passages, reflections, scholarship and miscellany since at least 2004 and 2005. While the rise of app-based internet and computers presaged the alleged “death of the blog”, in the years since we started, academic and classically-theme blogging has expanded incredibly.

Blogs are just part of what for many people (and organizations) is a multi-pronged and somewhat variegated social media presence. Established scholars like Edith Hall, Neville Morley, Sarah Bond, and Rebecca Futo Kennedy have blogs of their own to go along with traditional publications and other kinds of writing, while graduate students and independent scholars make their own space in the field with blogs like Mixed-up In Classics or genre-smashing brilliance like the occasional medium posts by Vanessa Stovall.

Before the raging, endless trumpster fire ignited in 2016, Classicists under a certain age were part of different online networks, some personal, some impersonal like the little lamented Famae Volent. When Eidolon first debuted in 2014, their posts made us see that we could do things differently, and that there were audiences for longer essays.

Eidolon’s success with essays made me realize how poorly we were differentiating our use of twitter and the blog. So, in 2015, I started to experiment a little bit with twitter. Prior to spring of that year, we used to tweet a few times a day. I started scheduling tweets every few hours ahead of time using tweetdeck. The twitter account went from gaining 1 or 2 new followers a day to 3, then 4, then, well, it kept going. In that summer as well, Erik started a facebook feed for the content, and the site’s traffic started rising.

Although I understood implicitly from the beginning that blogging and tweeting were different media, it wasn’t until 4 or 5 years in that we started to differentiate the content, adding more to the twitter feed and expanding the content on wordpress. We don’t really optimize facebook well—and, let’s be honest, who does? And we also just haven’t had the time to think about other platforms like reddit or instagram. If we were a real brand or a business, we’d probably have people do that. But we’re just two classics nerds all grown up.

“Let’s put aside these games and focus on serious things”
amoto quaeramus seria ludo -Horace

Making like Montaigne?

I mentioned Eidolon and “Two Ears One Mouth” in the last section because both were important in reshaping the classical studies media landscape (the former) and expanding how we used the space of the blog (the latter). Later, I would use the blog to post things for classics or talks, sometimes expanded into mini essays like “Paroimiai: proverbs from Ancient Greece to Star Trek” (June 2016).

The more time we spent online, the more we engaged with topics people were talking about. Erik really opened up the space here: before we started making more field-oriented comments, Erik started to experiment with shorter literary essays, like “Humanizing a Monster: The Saddest Scene in Classical Literature” and we both found space to talk about “real life”, as when Erik eulogized his former teacher and my former colleague James Gallagher, freeing me in a way to be more personal in latter essays on parenting and teaching badly, or death anxiety and classical literature.

Classics—as many people will remember—seemed to get drawn into a political quagmire step by step following the 2016 election. In retrospect, what really happened was an unveiling of what was already there and needed to be addressed, the field’s structural and historical racism. Classicism wasn’t misappropriated by white supremacists, but white supremacy is deeply ingrained within it and perhaps inescapable. Erik started to joust with these topics early on with “Antiquity for Everyone: How Classics is Misappropriated” and “Classics [Itself] is Not Classist”. I followed suit in time, moving on to talk about Pedantry in the field, my own experiences with Classism and feeling like an imposter and the exclusionary history of the field.

A real inflection point for me was when I made the decision to write about the classical studies job wiki and message board Famae Volent. The indulgent, long first post (“A Personal History”) was a combination of therapy and exorcism for me, as I admitted to myself why I had spent so many years lurking on that site and what it said to me about the field and our direction. This set off a series of revelations and surprises (I knew some of the founders; I had made some of the suggestions for the site!) and surprising turns: the site closing down permanently a few months later. In the second post, (“Who Killed Famae Volent”) I talked about some of our conversations and the negative, harmful turn the site had taken in recent years. And, as usual, I ended with too many words and an aporia. To continue the indulgence, here’s a quote:

“After so many words, if I were a better writer, I’d loop back to the beginning—I could marshal some kind of ‘just-so’ point to bring all this together and to inspire anyone compulsive enough to read to this sentence to act. But that’s not who I am and that’s not what this situation needs. We need to continue a difficult conversation about the state of our field, the choices we make that exacerbate it, and the health of all participants. We need to break taboos against speaking about class, race, and mental health. We need to care about each other”

Living partly online and writing about it made me feel ownership of and responsibility for the shared space. I found myself playing parts of translator, guardian, policeman, pleader, and now undertaker. I felt I could talk about the field now in I way I didn’t feel permitted before. Was this age? Was this experience? I still don’t know.

“I cannot abide, while I still live, not doing something which might help my friends and family.”
 me, ne dum vivo quidem, necessariis meis quod prosit facere. -Varro

Contributors

Part of the ‘dream of the blog’ at an early date, back when we sent out the invitation to get other people to write posts, was building a community around shared interests. We have had some fun over the years by bringing in other contributors. The first was the notorious SP Festus (AKA Prof. Robert Phillips) who gave us a series of posts on the dog days of summer, Roman law, and scribal marginal notes in his characteristic erudition and hectic charm (and 27 posts in total over the years).

We’ve had some great posts from new friends, like Mary McLouglin’s lyre-building story, Christopher Brunelle’s far underrated mock musical papyrus (hilarious!), the humorous posts of Amy Coker or Amy Lather, T.H.M Geller-Goad’s ridiculus magnetic Latin Poetry, Arie Amaya Akkermans’ challenging essays on art, culture, and history or Dani Bostick’s brilliant combination of fake Latin and barn-storming critiques of secondary Latin education and pedagogy. We have also been able to offer spaces to young scholars working on transgender topics and sexuality like Hilary Ilkay and Cassie Garison or people disgarded by the field like the inimitable Stefani Echerverria-Fenn. Most guests post only once or twice and I am always sad not to have them write again because I learn so much from what they give.

Part of me was ready long ago to cede more of this space to others. But what I have seen, and welcomed as well, is how many of these friends make their own spaces instead. Indeed, the recent announcement of the closing of Eidolon has made me worried that there will be too many individual spaces, and no center to unite them. But what is this other than the essential condition of the age of (dis)information?

(if you want to post something to this blog, contact us. we make it easy.)

“He used to say that it is strange that we sift out the chaff from the wheat and those useless for war, but we do not forbid scoundrels in politics.”
ἄτοπον ἔφη τοῦ μὲν σίτου τὰς αἴρας ἐκλέγειν καὶ ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τοὺς ἀχρείους, ἐν δὲ πολιτείᾳ τοὺς πονηροὺς μὴ παραιτεῖσθαι. -Antisthenes

Why’s Your Blog So Political?

There’s an alternate timeline where this blog just carried on, perfecting the art of posting about ancient shit (literally), masturbation, and various stunt translations like “sharknado”. We always had a tendency to refer to politics obliquely and events through our blog posts. But, as the first half of 2016 unfolded, I found myself increasingly unable to resist being more explicit, even if it was just adding a video or comment, or pointedly talking about ancient views on citizenship and refugees.

When I had the opportunity to move from UTSA to Brandeis in 2016, I didn’t think much about what that meant for the blog. I did not realize until I got to Massachusetts how much I had hesitated in Texas because we were warned of the dangers of being political as employees of the state. It was a confluence of space and time that saw the blog focus more and more on the world outside. I had the space as a tenured professor at a private school and during the time, well, how could anyone be silent?

I got in a few twitter spats in 2016 and 2017, but after white supremacists marched in Charlotte and I spent a year just feeling deader inside every day, I lost my shit in 2017 (figuratively) when several people complained that our account had gotten too political and asked for a nice, simple, apolitical classics. Not only is no academic field truly apolitical, but the claim that something is apolitical is just an oppressive fiction to advance the supremacy of the ruling class. It is white supremacist to demand that Classical Studies not be political, it is that damn simple.

The fire of this rage, once stoked, kept burning, in part because Erik and I are both excitable, but also because our politics and views are so closely aligned. Without a word, Erik followed up on the soullessness of Political Correctness, inaugurating a glorious period of spitfire, brilliant polemic from the man which includes some of my favorites like: Classics for the Fascists, The Tyranny of Ancient Thought, MAGA Cap and Gown, or From Odysseus to Lindsey Graham. These posts and our conversations combined with our ongoing reading made us see our field differently: I could no longer divide the aesthetics projected by our field from our problematic ethics and history and Erik embarked on a long project on the facile, evil Classicism of the leaders of the American revolution.

As we have become more strident, we have, of course, received more criticism. We don’t block followers quickly, and we are generally pretty good at ignoring the ignorant and hateful. But we have received some threats in email and elsewhere and there’s always a line I am afraid someone might cross. I do fear our plunge into fascism and our president’s fanning of racist and sectarian violence. I think there’s a very real threat that if he is re-elected, his proponents will become bolder both legally and extra-legally. I don’t think it is completely paranoid to imagine a day when we might have to shutter the blog to protect ourselves and our families.

But we’re not quite there yet.

“No mortal has ever discovered a faithful sign of things to come from the gods: we are blind to the future.”
σύμβολον δ’ οὔ πώ τις ἐπιχθονίων / πιστὸν ἀμφὶ πράξιος ἐσσομένας εὗρεν θεόθεν, / τῶν δὲ μελλόντων τετύφλωνται φραδαί -Pindar

The Future

I can’t really think of where this project is going without fully acknowledging some of its advantages. We have somehow ended up with a platform that gives us more attention than we deserve. While I feel that we have mostly used it well, I stumble a bit in trying to figure out how ego-driven it is. Of course, the twitter feed is part persona, part self, but I will always struggle with the ethics of taking up too much space.

Part of this concern comes from really thinking hard about our field’s problems with racism and white supremacy. I have little confidence that a field that has been a primary enforcer of colonialization can be decolonized or truly focus on anti-racist action without erasing itself. While I think that someone who is an ideal subject and production of colonization (me) can be a positive force against it, it takes incredible care and time and will always be suspect in terms of motivation.

This has to do with the blog only insofar as I wonder if I can bring my values and actions into harmony. I know that as a white, male, tenured professor, I am complicit in an exclusionary system; I also realize that, although I can make some changes and advocate for others, I am at best a sorry incrementalist. So, I find myself wondering what cultural and structural forces the work we do online supports. I don’t always love the answers.

We have definitely received clear benefits from the site. Publishers ask about social media accounts on book proposals these days, and being able to claim an active profile with many followers helps convince them that you’ll be able to sell the book. There have been invitations, opportunities, etc. These have been gratifying at times, but at other times I’ve felt guilty, undeserving. Still, I’ve gotten to know so many people I genuinely like along the way that I hesitate to name any lest I forget to name one. And the fact of the matter is that the work of writing online has become inseparable from my writing and research in general. In November or December I hope to write a post laying out how much of my book on the Odyssey was written in or around this website.

The pandemic and its rolling lockdown, moreover, have made the social media work more urgent and even therapeutic. In the first few weeks of the lockdown I wrote about reading while the world is ending, isolation and humanity in science fiction and myth, and the therapy afforded by epic for trauma. Once our emergency remote classes ended, I even found time to finish a long-delayed post on reading Homer and tackling a too long read on my terrible history with pets.

Once the semester returned, however, and I had to commit fully to zoom life (I am teaching remotely and our children are learning remotely), the sheer number of hours online each day started to take its toll. Most of the posts on this site from September through November will be repeats (that’s ok, I think). But there’s something about this year that makes wool-gathering and navel-gazing inescapable. It is hard to think during a time of constant anxiety; it is hard to write through endless distraction.

What has ten years on this site meant to us, to me? Am I going to keep doing this for another ten years? I think the answer to the first question is simply, a lot. I have learned more than I learned in graduate school, accomplished more professionally while posting nearly every day than I did in the decade prior, and made more friendships I cherish than I can count. That seems like an unmitigated success.

Ah, but the future! Over the past year I have found myself wondering how much I can continue being a version of myself online before it becomes an obstacle. This is tied in part to what do I do next? I am in my third year as chair of my department and second as chair of the faculty senate. My file for promotion to full professor is working its way up the ladder right now. Much to my surprise, the work on this site was counted as an enthusiastic positive both in my tenure and promotion processes at Brandeis. But will the world want to hear the thoughts of a 50 year old full professor of Classical Studies? (That’s eight years from now…) Should I focus on writing different things?

Part of what has made this site what it is is our independence. We are un-funded, which means we have only the limits we put on ourselves. But this also means that the limits of the site are, well, ourselves.

There are a few other challenges coming down the road that will occupy my time and the further past the putative midpoint of my life I get, I wonder if this is the way I should spend my days. In all honesty, I don’t think I will stop: I am too compulsive and too much a creature of habit to give this up. But I think it would be great to share this space with others to a greater extent and see what they want to make of it

Whatever the next ten years brings—shit, whatever November brings—I could not end this history without expressing my deep gratitude for everyone who engaged with this site and made us feel welcome, valued, and needed over the past decade. This site has grown and changed in large part in response to what people have liked, commented on, and shared with others. In a way, all of you are as much authors as we have ever been. Thank you.

P. S. Please Vote.

Advice on Social Media Use from Ancient Rome

Ovid, Amores 14.1-8

“I don’t beg you not to mess around because you’re pretty,
But to spare miserable me the need of knowing about it.
I am not some censor who orders you to be a prude,
But only someone who asks you to try to be discreet.
Whoever can deny her mistakes, hasn’t messed up at all.
Only the admitted fault brings dishonor.
What madness it is to confess in light things done at night?
And to report openly deeds performed in secret?”

Non ego, ne pecces, cum sis formosa, recuso,
sed ne sit misero scire necesse mihi;
nec te nostra iubet fieri censura pudicam,
sed tamen, ut temptes dissimulare, rogat.
non peccat, quaecumque potest peccasse negare,
solaque famosam culpa professa facit.
quis furor est, quae nocte latent, in luce fateri,
et quae clam facias facta referre palam?

graffiti
‘Social Media’ can last forever…

A Debate for the Panopticon: Live Unknown or Out-loud

Ancient philosophy offers what might be a surprising defense of living life publicly (i.e. through social media)

Plutarch, “On Whether Living Unknown is a Wise Precept”

1128a “But isn’t this very thing somehow evil—“living unknown” is like tomb-robbing, no? But living is a shameful thing, so that we should all be ignorant about it? I would say instead don’t even live badly in secret, but be known, be advised, and change! If you have virtue, don’t be useless; if you have weakness, don’t go without help.”

Ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μὲν αὐτὸ τὸ πρᾶγμα πῶς οὐ πονηρόν· λάθε βιώσας—ὡς τυμβωρυχήσας; ἀλλ᾿ αἰσχρόν ἐστι τὸ ζῆν, ἵνα ἀγνοῶμεν πάντες; ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἂν εἴποιμι μηδὲ κακῶς βιώσας λάθε, ἀλλὰ γνώσθητι, σωφρονίσθητι, μετανόησον· εἴτε ἀρετὴν ἔχεις, μὴ γένῃ ἄχρηστος, εἴτε κακίαν, μὴ μείνῃς ἀθεράπευτος.

1129b

“If you take public knowledge away from your life just as you might remove light from a drinking party—to make it possible to pursue every pleasure in secret—then “live unknown” indeed.

Εἰ δὲ ἐκ τοῦ βίου καθάπερ ἐκ συμποσίου φῶς ἀναιρεῖς τὴν γνῶσιν, ὡς πάντα ποιεῖν πρὸς ἡδονὴν ἐξῇ λανθάνουσιν, “λάθε βιώσας.”

The saying “live unknown” was attributed in antiquity to Epicurus. It had reached proverbial status by the Byzantine era (from the Suda):

λάθε βιώσας· “Live unknown”: This is said customarily in a proverb but enacted by deed. “Live unknown so that I might expect no one living or dead to understand what I say”

Λάθε βιώσας: τοῦ τε ἐν παροιμίᾳ λέγεσθαι εἰωθότος, ἔργῳ βεβαιωθέντος ὑπ’ ἐκείνου, τοῦ λάθε βιώσας: ὥστε οὐδένα τῶν τότε ζώντων ἀνθρώπων οὔτε τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἐλπίσαιμ’ ἂν εἰδέναι οἷον λέγω.

“Neokles, an Athenian philosopher and Epicurus’ brother. He wrote a book defending his own choice [of discipline]. The saying “Live unknown” is his.

Νεοκλῆς, ᾿Αθηναῖος, φιλόσοφος, ἀδελφὸς ᾿Επικούρου. ὑπὲρ τῆς ἰδίας αἱρέσεως. ὅτι Νεοκλέους ἐστὶ τό, λάθε βιώσας.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Live unknown

Cancel This! Isocrates Navigates Freedom of Speech

Isocrates, To Nicocles 3

“There are many ways people are educated in private life. Most importantly, avoiding luxury and being forced to think every day about their life. Then, they have the laws which we happen to live by civically. Finally, we are educated by freedom of speech and the right given to friends to openly criticize and to enemies to attack one another’s faults.”

Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἰδιώτας ἐστὶ πολλὰ τὰ παιδεύοντα, μάλιστα μὲν τὸ μὴ τρυφᾶν ἀλλ᾿ ἀναγκάζεσθαι περὶ τοῦ βίου καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν βουλεύεσθαι, ἔπειθ᾿ οἱ νόμοι καθ᾿ οὓς ἕκαστοι πολιτευόμενοι τυγχάνουσιν, ἔτι δ᾿ ἡ παρρησία καὶ τὸ φανερῶς ἐξεῖναι τοῖς τε φίλοις ἐπιπλῆξαι καὶ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ἐπιθέσθαι ταῖς ἀλλήλων ἁμαρτίαις·

Isocrates, On the Peace 14

“I know that it is hard to stand against your opinions and that that there is no freedom of speech when there is democracy except that which is employed here among these great fools who don’t care about you and in the theater among the comic poets.

You know that is most shocking of all? You give those who let the rest of Greece know about our state’s failures so much more gratitude than those who do good things for us. And you are as annoyed to those who correct you and warn you as you are with those who contrive evil against the state!”

Ἐγὼ δ᾿ οἶδα μὲν ὅτι πρόσαντές ἐστιν ἐναντιοῦσθαι ταῖς ὑμετέραις διανοίαις, καὶ ὅτι δημοκρατίας οὔσης οὐκ ἔστι παρρησία, πλὴν ἐνθάδε μὲν τοῖς ἀφρονεστάτοις καὶ μηδὲν ὑμῶν φροντίζουσιν, ἐν δὲ τῷ θεάτρῳ τοῖς κωμῳδοδιδασκάλοις· ὃ καὶ πάντων ἐστὶ δεινότατον, ὅτι τοῖς μὲν ἐκφέρουσιν εἰς τοὺς ἄλλους Ἕλληνας τὰ τῆς πόλεως ἁμαρτήματα τοσαύτην ἔχετε χάριν ὅσην οὐδὲ τοῖς εὖ ποιοῦσι πρὸς δὲ τοὺς ἐπιπλήττοντας καὶ νουθετοῦντας ὑμᾶς οὕτω διατίθεσθε δυσκόλως ὥσπερ πρὸς τοὺς κακόν τι τὴν πόλιν ἐργαζομένους.

Ostracism! That’s Cancel Culture for you!

Skylla and Charybdis? An Easy Choice

A few months back I ran the following poll. The results surprised me.

I had imagined that Simonides made things clear:

Simonides, fr. 356

“Everything comes to a single, dreadful Charybdis—
The great virtues and wealth the same.”

πάντα γὰρ μίαν ἱκνεῖται δασπλῆτα Χάρυβδιν,
αἱ μεγάλαι τ’ ἀρεταὶ καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος.

No? Ok. Here’s a proverb and an explanation

Michael Apostolios, Collectio Paroemiarum 16.49

“Avoid Kharybdis and come close to Skyla.” This is similar to the saying, “I avoided it by finding a better evil”

They say about Skyla that she was a Tyrrhenian woman, something if a beast, who was a woman down to the navel but she grew dog heads beneath that point. The rest of her body was a serpent. This kind of a cerature is very silly to imagine. But here is the truth. There were the islands of the Tyrrenians, which used to raid the coasts of Sicily and the Ionian bay. There was a trirereme which had the named Skyla. That trireme used to overtake other ships often and use their food and there was many a story about it. Odysseus fled that ship. trusting a strong and favorable wind and he told this story in Corcyra to Alkinoos, how he was pursued and how he fled and what the shape of the ship was. From these stories, the myth was formed.”

Τὴν Χάρυβδιν ἐκφυγὼν, τῇ Σκύλῃ περιέπεσον:
ὁμοία τῇ· ῎Εφυγον κακὸν εὗρον ἄμεινον

Λέγουσι περὶ Σκύλης ὡς ἦν Τυῤῥηνία, θηρίον τι, γυνὴ  μὲν μέχρι τοῦ ὀμφαλοῦ, κυνῶν δὲ ἐντεῦθεν αὐτῇ προσπεφύκασι κεφαλαί· τὸ δ’ ἄλλο σῶμα ὄφεως. τοιαύτην δὲ φύσιν ἐννοεῖν πολὺ εὔηθες· ἡ δὲ ἀλήθεια αὕτη· Τυῤῥηνίων νῆσοι ἦσαν, αἳ ἐληΐζοντο τὰ περίχωρα τῆς Σικελίας καὶ τὸν ᾿Ιόνιον κόλπον· ἦν δὲ ναῦς τριήρης ταχεῖα τό τε ὄνομα Σκύλα· αὕτη ἡ τριήρης τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν πλοίων συλλαμβάνουσα πολλάκις εἰργάζετο βρῶμα, καὶ λόγος ἦν περὶ αὐτῆς πολύς· ταύτην τὴν ναῦν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς σφοδρῷ καὶ λαύρῳ πνεύματι χρησάμενος διέφυγε, διηγήσατο δὲ ἐν Κερκύρᾳ τῷ ᾿Αλκινόῳ, πῶς ἐδιώχθη καὶ πῶς ἐξέφυγε, καὶ τὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ πλοίου· ἀφ’ ὧν προσανεπλάσθη ὁ μῦθος.

Ok. Maybe that wasn’t clear.

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. “

Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

Yeah, that doesn’t help matters. How about this?

Philo, On Dreams, 70

“But you, go away from “the smoke and the wave” and depart the ridiculous concerns of mortal life as from that fearsome Charybdis without touching it at all, don’t even, as the people say, brush it with your littlest toe.”

ἀλλὰ σύ γε τοῦ μὲν “καπνοῦ καὶ κύματος ἐκτὸς” βαῖνε καὶ τὰς καταγελάστους τοῦ θνητοῦ βίου σπουδὰς ὡς τὴν φοβερὰν ἐκείνην χάρυβδιν ἀποδίδρασκε καὶ μηδὲ ἄκρῳ, τὸ τοῦ λόγου τοῦτο, ποδὸς δακτύλῳ ψαύσῃς.

Plutarch, with an assist

Plutarch, Fr. 178, Stobaeus 4.52 from his On the Soul [Plutarch uses the same image elsewhere]

“For satiety seems to be becoming worn out in pleasures from the soul suffering in some way with the body, since the soul does not shirk from its pleasures. But when it is interwoven, as it is said, with the body, it suffers the same things as Odysseus, just as he was held, clinging to the fig tree, not because he desired it or delighted in it, but because he feared Charybdis lurking below him. The soul clings to the body and embraces it in this way not because of goodwill or gratitude but because it fears the uncertainty of death.

As wise Hesiod says, “the gods keep life concealed from human beings.” They have not tied the soul to the body with fleshly bonds, but they have devised and bound around the mind one cell and one guard, our uncertainty and distrust about our end. If a soul had faith in these things—“however so many await men when they die”, to quote Heraclitus—nothing would restrain it at all.”

 καὶ γὰρ ὁ κόρος κόπος ἐν ἡδοναῖς ἔοικεν εἶναι τῷ μετὰ σώματός τι τὴν ψυχὴν πάσχειν, ἐπεὶ πρός γε τὰς αὑτῆς ἡδονὰς οὐκ ἀπαγορεύει. συμπεπλεγμένη δέ, ὥσπερ εἴρηται, τῷ σώματι ταὐτὰ τῷ Ὀδυσσεῖ πέπονθεν· ὡς γὰρ ἐκεῖνος τῷ ἐρινεῷ προσφὺς εἴχετο καὶ περιέπτυσσεν οὐ ποθῶν οὐδ᾿ ἀγαπῶν ἐκεῖνον, ἀλλὰ δεδιὼς ὑποκειμένην τὴν Χάρυβδιν, οὕτως ἔοικεν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦ σώματος ἔχεσθαι καὶ περιπεπλέχθαι δι᾿ εὔνοιαν οὐδεμίαν αὐτοῦ καὶ χάριν, ἀλλ᾿ ὀρρωδοῦσα τοῦ θανάτου τὴν ἀδηλότητα.

κρύψαντες γὰρ ἔχουσι θεοὶ βίον ἀνθρώποισι

κατὰ τὸν σοφὸν Ἡσίοδον, οὐ σαρκίνοις τισὶ δεσμοῖς πρὸς τὸ σῶμα τὴν ψυχὴν κατατείναντες, ἀλλ᾿ ἕνα δεσμὸν αὐτῇ καὶ μίαν φυλακὴν μηχανησάμενοι καὶ περιβαλόντες, τὴν ἀδηλότητα καὶ ἀπιστίαν τῶν μετὰ τὴν τελευτήν· ἐπεὶ τήν γε πεισθεῖσαν, ὅσα ἀνθρώπους περιμένει τελευτήσαντας καθ᾿ Ἡράκλειτον, οὐδὲν ἂν κατάσχοι.”

So, to be clear:  Charybdis=death. 

 

Britannia between Scylla & Charybdis. or— The Vessel of the Constitution steered clear of the Rock of Democracy, and the Whirlpool of Arbitrary-Power. James Gilray, 1793

 

The Second Best of the Achaeans? Introducing the NANAIHB

As the world heats up, burns, and faces the uncertainty of our current mix of plague and politics, we seem desperate to look away from our Anglo-American race to the bottom to the distraction of sports. Yes, indeed, in the US the professional leagues are on the way to save us from Marble Races with plans for baseball and basketball to stage shortened seasons and professional football to proceed as normal (because the NFL is traditionally so concerned with player health). Given the players withdrawing or already testing positive for coronavirus, it seems likely that the smarter bets are on things falling apart rather than on the outcomes of particular games.

So, if you don’t want to feel too smug with Pliny (“I wonder that so many thousands of men can feel such a childish desire to watch horses running over and over”), we are launching our own bracket competition for the next few weeks: the Non-Atreid Non-Achilles Iliadic Hero Bracket (NANAIHB) to finally end the question of who just is the [second] best of the Achaeans. There are 12 14 contestants for 4 rounds of competition.

Now, this is is some sensitive ground, I know. but we’ve talked it over and we’re willing to forgo some usual debates about Ajax vs. Odysseus (that never ends well) or Diomedes as the alter-Akhilleus to turn to a time-tested, truly perfect solution: polling. We will run a poll every other day for the duration of the bracket on twitter in a single-elimination combination for the crown (or, um scepter?).

Before you get too upset about this one, let me be clear: Achilles complains that Agamemnon boasts to be “best of the Achaeans” (ὃς νῦν πολλὸν ἄριστος ᾿Αχαιῶν εὔχεται εἶναι, 1.91) while later asserting that he will be upset because he did not honor the one who is (χωόμενος ὅ τ’ ἄριστον ᾿Αχαιῶν οὐδὲν ἔτισας, 1.244). The narrative later claims that Telamonian Ajax was the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 1.768-769) and I suspect that the difference between being “best of men” and “best of the Acheans” might be meaningful….

Why NANAIHB? Since Achilles is the best of the Achaeans, he’s obviously out. After him, the picture is more complicated. Tradition pits Ajax and Odysseus against one another in claiming Achilles’ special weapons, but our Iliad clearly makes Diomedes the man to beat when Achilles is off his feet. And, yet, in crucial moments Idomeneus and Thoas (also members of the ‘council of elders’) jump in to save the day. Don’t sleep on Idomeneus! Agamemnon lists him with Ajax, Odysseus and Achilles as a leader!(εἷς δέ τις ἀρχὸς ἀνὴρ βουληφόρος ἔστω, / ἢ Αἴας ἢ ᾿Ιδομενεὺς ἢ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς / ἠὲ σὺ Πηλεΐδη πάντων ἐκπαγλότατ’ ἀνδρῶν, 1.145-147). Thoas, is listed as one of the nine who stand to fight Hektor in a dual in book 7 (168) and he’s the best of the Aitolians….(15.281).

We’ve left out the Atreids (Agamemnon and Menelaos) because (1) no one wins when someone fights with them and (2) if Menelaos loses, what would the whole Trojan War even matter? (Yes, that was a dig against a certain movie…)

NANAIHB (2)

We split the groups into Front-runners (Patroklos, Diomedes, Odysseus, Ajax, Idomeneus, and Thoas) and then a collection of wannabes, pretenders, and sneaky contenders (Tlepolemos, Sthenelos, Teucer, Thersites, Antilochus, Oilean Ajax). This second list was winnowed down using random numbers, shedding Makhaon, Meriones, and Eurypylos, shedding Eurupylos: Makhaon and Meriones were reintroduced by divine intervention and now there are 14 contestants!

I gave the clear front-runners preferential treatment and assigned them the top four seeds using a random-number generator. I did the same thing to set up the rest of the competition. the random number generator has the added cleruchal bonus of functioning like the drawing of lots before the duel in Iliad 7; polling of the twitter masses replicates the time-honored judgment of Greek contests by popular acclaim (see, for instance, the contest of Hesiod and Homer). Yes, Odysseus randomly got the first seed, twice. What can you do when Athena is on someone’s side?

So, here we are, day 1, battle 1: Teucer vs. Tlepolemos.

NANAIHB day 1

Teucer, Ajax’s brother, another son of Telemon, a legendary founder of Salamis in some traditions and a fabulous archer. He does not get mentioned in the Catalogue of Ships and he has his first kill in book 6. He sometimes appears taking shots from behind his brother’s shield (8.266) but that’s a sign of his intelligence and not a lack of valor! He mows down a group of Trojans in book 8 (272-277) and Agamemnon exclaims “You were born as a saving light / to the Danaans and your father Telamon who raised you up when you were little / in his home even though you are a bastard.” (αἴ κέν τι φόως Δαναοῖσι γένηαι / πατρί τε σῷ Τελαμῶνι, ὅ σ’ ἔτρεφε τυτθὸν ἐόντα, / καί σε νόθον περ ἐόντα κομίσσατο ᾧ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ, 8.282-284).

Tlepolemos? Well, he’s the “big and noble” son o Herakles who sailed from Rhodes with nine ships! (2.653-666). Tlepolemos might have been a bit of a wild child: he fled to Rhodes after killing his father’s uncle accidentally when old Likymnios got in the way of him beating an enslaved servant. So, Tlepolemos becomes something of a foundational hero in Rhodes. In the Iliad, he draws the short straw and faces Sarpedon in a lengthy battle in book 5, which our epic uses as an opportunity to set a minor son of Herakles against an iliadic son of Zeus. He’s a big, strong, brash-talking  warrior. (Spoiler: Sarpedon kills him.)

These two are competing for a chance to face Odysseus….so, who’s it going to be? This sets the island of Salamis against the traditions of Rhodes, an archer against a bruiser, a bastard son of Telamon against an uncle-killing Heraklean braggart. All for the the dubious honor of most likely getting shivved in the night by Odysseus.

Look to twitter for the poll and the announcement of the victor when the contest is done.

Recap the Competition Here.

 

Day 2

Day 3

For UK Election Day, A Reminder: Sh*tting The Bed in Ancient Greek

“Does anyone know the ancient Greek for shitting the bed?”

It is a sign of the high rhetoric of our sophisticated era that this (perhaps rhetorical) question was posed in Marina Hyde’s Guardian opinion piece on the befuddled blond-con PM Boris Johnson who just happens to have a Classical education.* It is perhaps also a sign of my esteemed place in this ecology of elevated discourse that multiple people tweeted me the question. And, finally, it is a sign of my own academic training that I resisted the urge initially because my first thought was “well, now, Ancient Greek just does not have that idiom.”

But, if it did, well, it might look like one of these:

“to shit the bed,” κλινοχέζειν

“bed-shitter,” κλινοχέστης

“to recline in dung,” κοπροκλίνειν

“shit-sleeper,” σκατοκαθεύδων

(for Ancient Greek students, we have two compound infinitives, a compound agentive noun, and a compound participle!)

There are many Greek words for bed apart from klinê. One could also select koitê, strômnê, lektron, or lekhos. I chose klinê because it may be familiar from the English clinomania. I avoided koitê because it has a sexual use in English and the last thing I would want to do is imply that we are talking about a shit-fucking politician. I chose khezein for the verb because it is, according to Henderson’s Maculate Muse, the “standard term” (188). The ending χέστης is a totally made-up agentive from khezein. The participle  χέσας appears for the “shitter”  at Aristophanes Birds 790.

Based on the parallel βορβορκοίτης (“lying in filth,” Batrakh 220) we could have σκατοκοίτης / κοπροκοίτης (“lying in shit”) but I don’t think this compound gets to the sense of the English idiom which is, essentially, to fuck up so completely that you might as well be lying in a post-mortem pile of shit.

If you want to play along, here’s an earlier post about various words for excrement and here’s another with compounds for beds. Apparently this is a “chiefly US expression” reddit is divided on the origin of the phrase, one person asserting that it has to do with bowel evacuation after death.

Ancient Greek seems sadly deficient in scatological proverbs. I found only one:

Arsenius, 6.70c

“You have fallen into Augeus’ dung: this means “you are immersed in filth”

 Εἰς τὴν Αὐγέου κόπρον ἐμπέπτωκας: ἤγουν ἐβορβορώθης.

*”happens to have” is perhaps unfair and untrue. He has this education because he is part of a moneyed elite who use education as one of many tools to decorate the facade of their elitist pillaging of their country and blithe assumption to the privilege of rule.

h/t @brixtandrew and the others who brought this to my attention

I found this while searching:

Sophron, fr. 11

“They filled their bedroom with shit while dancing”

βαλλίζοντες τὸν θάλαμον σκάτους ἐνέπλησαν

Damox, fr. 2. 15-16

“Rub him down with shit / and expel him from school”

μινθώσας ἄφες / ὡς ἐκ διατριβῆς

Image result for shit the bed
Someone made this. It seemed appropriate