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

The Tragedy of the Aeneid’s Dido As Told Through Buffy GIFs

Vergil, Aeneid 1.748–749

“Nor did unhappy Dido fail to drag out the night
With all kinds of talk as she was drinking deep of love.”

nec non et vario noctem sermone trahebat
infelix Dido longumque bibebat amorem,

Last year, Christian Lehmann (@buffyantiqua) told the story of Aeneas and Dido from Vergil’s Aeneid through GIFs from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here it is again, because, well, this is what we need.

This is not only genius which the world needs to witness for its own sake, but it also combines a few things I love: Homeric reception/myth and Buffy. (I tried to write about this once and partially failed.)

Image result for buffy season 6

I loved this so much that I wanted to share it with those who don’t use Twitter and Christian was kind enough to give his consent (see his work on “The 100 and Classical (Under)Worlds” too). This is a lively and fascinating retelling–it forces reconsiderations, I think, of both the Aeneid and BVTS. Also, Buffy and Spike > Buffy and Riley.

[below is my contribution: I learned this passage in high school where it was obligatory to understand that Dido was not dutiful enough and gave into passion, whereas Aeneas was oh so very pius.]

Vergil, Aeneid 4. 165-172

To the same cave came Dido and the Trojan captain
Earth first then nuptial Dido gave their sign
The lightning bolts were shining out and the Sky was a witness
to their bridal rites as the Nymphs sounded out on the mount’s highest peak
That day was the first cause of death; the first cause of evils.
For no longer was Dido cautioned by appearances or rumor
And no more was she harboring a secret love.
She calls it a marriage: with this name she cloaks her fault.

speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem
deveniunt. prima et Tellus et pronuba Iuno
dant signum; fulsere ignes et conscius Aether
conubiis, summoque ulularunt vertice Nymphae.
ille dies primus leti primusque malorum
causa fuit. neque enim specie famave movetur
nec iam furtivum Dido meditatur amorem;
coniugium vocat; hoc praetexit nomine culpam.

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

A Hero Shot A Man, Just to…Kill Me: Achilles and Odysseus, Again

Sophocles, fr. 965

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly:
For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν•
πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί

Yesterday, I was editing a manuscript and thinking about Odysseus’ so-called “lying tales” in books 13-20 of the Odyssey. In one of them, he talks casually about murdering the son of Idomeneus. A song burst fully formed into my head. I made a poll. Over 3500 people voted.

(And, yes, as twitter let me know, it should be “shot” not killed”). To be honest, I thought the answer was clear and tried to direct it a bit:

And I was not the only one to consider Odysseus’ character the crueler one:

I suspect that the issue here for most voters was really: who’s your favorite hero and who seems violent to you. Everyone knows Achilles is a cross between the Hulk and Superman and he just kills everything. Most people forget that Odysseus leaves a trail of slaughter in his wake too.

Earlier polls I have run seem to indicate that while the Iliad and Odyssey are pretty close in popularity people have a more positive view of Odysseus. I have spent several years working on a book on Odysseus (after working on the Iliad for over a decade). I think these evaluations of the characters are from an overall feeling and not an actual engagement with the texts.

I continued this conversation on and off line with Justin Arft:

Erik, who is in Germany, had some comforting words over text:

Erik text

I received another text from an actual resident of Reno, who had some thoughts:

Jed Text

My emotional stability did not increase during the day:

There were some cogent responses:

Achilles is intense, like super intense, like there is extra and then there is Achilles extra. He gets his feelings hurt and then asks for Zeus to make his own people die. Patroklos dies because Achilles is so damn sensitive. Achilles’ rage is the point of the whole poem. But he is not calculating. He feels. He reacts. He regrets.

But behind all the arguments is a basic misunderstanding of what it means to be a hero in ancient Greece. They are not simple figures. They are not heroic in the modern sense. The word heros: can mean a man in the prime of his youth; or, a member of a race of superpeople before our current race of mortals; or, a person who follows a particular narrative/paradigmatic arc. It is value neutral when it comes to “good” and “evil”.

Erwin Cook writes well about this, noting that what marks heroes out in Greek myth and poetry is their ability to suffer or cause suffering to others.

Fortunately for the next 24 hours I found like-minded people to suffer with:

Despite Achilles’ constant lead, there was a chorus of objection:

https://twitter.com/braak/status/1144243133376581633

My friend Sean texted this morning with the most plausible explanation for the outcome:

Sean Text

https://twitter.com/RasBabaO/status/1144245260660330497

And I think people just didn’t get the question:

But, come on, Odysseus kills 108 unarmed people, has the enslave-women hanged and does many other totally questionable things in his epic. In the Iliad, he lies to Dolon and has Diomedes kill him after he has informed on the Trojans. He’s a dark mage, a necromancer! And even the Odyssey is deeply ambivalent about his crimes: Teiresias implies that the suitors are only in Ithaca because of Odysseus’ mistakes!  The epic ends with the people of Ithaca splitting a vote whether to try to kill him or not.

Outside of the epics: he frames Palamedes and has him stoned to death; he tricks Achilles into coming to war; he strands Philoktetes for being wounded and then gets him to come back to Troy; he tries to stab Diomedes in the back; he is known for arranging for the killing of Astyanax. He probably killed Hecuba too.

He is also known in later traditions for wanting to kill Telemachus. Otherwise, he’s busy in myth having children all over the Mediterranean. When he gets home, he cries about his dog but not his wife.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Odysseus is important, but Emily Wilson is totally right in saying he is a “complicated man”. He is a survivor- and he teaches us about the compromises one must make and risks one needs take to survive. He is not a hero, he is not divine. He is like us.  And this is not always good. He minimizes slavery and manipulates his slaves, he is definitely more into truthiness than truth. And he is his own worst enemy: he needs to figure this out before he can even start to go home.

Achilles’ rage is big and easy to conceptualize, easier to blame; Odysseus’ calculation is harder to understand and frame. We want to be like Achilles, I think, because we can blame our faults on emotions. That’s nature, right? We can’t control nature! It is harder to admit where we are like Odysseus because then we need to take responsibility for our faults. People who love Odysseus too often explain away his faults. (Which is why so much of Homeric scholarship refuses to acknowledge that Odysseus is crossing a line in killing the enslaved women, the suitors, blinding Polyphemos and more).

Not everything was about bashing Odysseus:

And some people worked hard to bring greater context to the song and the identification:

This probably undermines the entire enterprise:

Some people couldn’t play the game right!

https://twitter.com/gemmagreene16/status/1144260781665652736

https://twitter.com/DLVLK/status/1144268767393976322

There may have been some salutary effects:

Thank you to Carly Maris (@carmarky) for making this so I didn’t have to

thanks to everyone who played along and took what was a lark seriously. Apologies to all the wits and wiseacres I didn’t include in this post. The thread on twitter is pretty cool. But, as with everything, Plato did it first and better.

Plato, Hippias Minor 

364c

“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”

φημὶ γὰρ Ὅμηρον πεποιηκέναι ἄριστον μὲν ἄνδρα Ἀχιλλέα τῶν εἰς Τροίαν ἀφικομένων, σοφώτατον δὲ Νέστορα, πολυτροπώτατον δὲ Ὀδυσσέα.

365b

“Achilles is true and simple; Odysseus is shifty and false.”

ὡς ὁ μὲν Ἀχιλλεὺς εἴη ἀληθής τε καὶ ἁπλοῦς, ὁ δὲ Ὀδυσσεὺς πολύπροπός τε καὶ ψευδής

366a

Soc. “People who are many-wayed are deceptive because of their foolishness and thoughtlessness, or because of wickedness and some thought?

Hippias: Most of all, because of wickedness and intelligence.

Soc. So, it seems, they are really intelligent.

Hip. Yes, by Zeus, wicked smart.

Soc. And men who are smart—are they ignorant of what they do or do they understand it?

Hip. They really understand what they are doing. For this reason, they also do evil.

Soc. So, is it the ignorant or the wise who know these things which they understand?

Hip. The wise know these very things, how to deceive.

—ΣΩ. Πολύτροποι δ’ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀπατεῶνες ὑπὸ ἠλιθιότητος καὶ ἀφροσύνης, ἢ ὑπὸ πανουργίας καὶ φρονήσεώς τινος;

—ΙΠ. ῾Υπὸ πανουργίας πάντων μάλιστα καὶ φρονήσεως.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι μὲν ἄρα εἰσίν, ὡς ἔοικεν.

—ΙΠ. Ναὶ μὰ Δία, λίαν γε.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι δὲ ὄντες οὐκ ἐπίστανται ὅτι ποιοῦσιν, ἢ ἐπίστανται; —

—ΙΠ. Καὶ μάλα σφόδρα ἐπίστανται· διὰ ταῦτα καὶ κακουργοῦσιν.

—ΣΩ. ᾿Επιστάμενοι δὲ ταῦτα ἃ ἐπίστανται πότερον ἀμαθεῖς εἰσιν ἢ σοφοί;

—ΙΠ. Σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν αὐτά γε ταῦτα, ἐξαπατᾶν.

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