Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edward O. Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5: “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Myth: Shaping Our Minds Through Pleasure and Fear

Strabo, Geography 1.2.8

“For every illiterate and uneducated person is in some way a child and delights in the same way in stories—similar as well is the case of a person educated moderately. For this person is not ruled by reason, and this is the custom from childhood. Since the marvelous is not only sweet but also frightening, there is a need for both types for children and those in the next age. We use the sweet stories to encourage children and the the frightening ones to discourage them. The Lamia, for example, is a story like this, as is that of Ephialtes and Mormolukê.

Many of those who live in cities are compelled toward certain action by incitements of myths when they hear the poets praising the mythical courageous deeds—the deeds of Herakles or Theseus—or the honors accorded from the gods or when they see Zeus in a picture, or cult image, or images signaling the mythical tale in some way. To discourage them, they have tales whenever there are punishments from the gods and fears or threats or things they have received through some tale or unexpected punishment even if they believe it has happened to other people.

For it is not possible to persuade the mass of women and every kind of common person by reason with philosophy and to encourage them to piety, and righteousness, and fidelity; but it is necessary to do this through fear. And that is not [possible] without myth-making and wonder. For the lighting, aegis, trident, torches, dragons, thyrsis-shaking, weapons of the gods, the myths and all the ancient theology, these are all things those who found states use as bogeymen for childish minds.

This was myth-making and it was a good support for the commonwealth and the political arrangement of life and the inquiry of the way things really are; the ancients pursued their childhood’s education into their later years and they supposed that every age could become sufficiently prudent through poetry. In later years, the writing of history and then philosophy entered our consciousness. But these work only for the few; poetry is more useful to the public and can fill the theaters. The poetry of Homer supersedes: but the first historians and natural philosophers were myth-makers as well.”

καὶ ἰδιώτης δὲ πᾶς καὶ ἀπαίδευτος τρόπον τινὰ παῖς ἐστι φιλομυθεῖ τε ὡσαύτως: ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ πεπαιδευμένος μετρίως: οὐδὲ γὰρ οὗτος ἰσχύει τῷ λογισμῷ, πρόσεστι δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐκ παιδὸς ἔθος. ἐπεὶ δ᾽ οὐ μόνον ἡδὺ ἀλλὰ καὶ φοβερὸν τὸ τερατῶδες, ἀμφοτέρων ἐστὶ τῶν εἰδῶν χρεία πρός τε τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τοὺς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ: τοῖς τε γὰρ παισὶ προσφέρομεν τοὺς ἡδεῖς μύθους εἰς προτροπήν, εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δὲ τοὺς φοβερούς: ἥ τε γὰρ Λάμια μῦθός ἐστι καὶ ἡ Γοργὼ καὶ ὁ Ἐφιάλτης καὶ ἡ Μορμολύκη.

οἵ τε πολλοὶ τῶν τὰς πόλεις οἰκούντων εἰς μὲν προτροπὴν ἄγονται τοῖς ἡδέσι τῶν μύθων, ὅταν ἀκούωσι τῶν ποιητῶν ἀνδραγαθήματα μυθώδη διηγουμένων, οἷον Ἡρακλέους ἄθλους ἢ Θησέως, ἢ τιμὰς παρὰ θεῶν νεμομένας, ἢ νὴ Δία ὁρῶσι γραφὰς ἢ ξόανα ἢ πλάσματα τοιαύτην τινὰ περιπέτειαν ὑποσημαίνοντα μυθώδη: εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δέ, ὅταν κολάσεις παρὰ θεῶν καὶ φόβους καὶ ἀπειλὰς ἢ διὰ λόγων ἢ διὰ τύπων ἀοράτων τινῶν προσδέχωνται, ἢ καὶ πιστεύωσι περιπεσεῖν τινας.

οὐ γὰρ ὄχλον γε γυναικῶν καὶ παντὸς χυδαίου πλήθους ἐπαγαγεῖν λόγῳ δυνατὸν φιλοσόφῳ καὶ προσκαλέσασθαι πρὸς εὐσέβειαν καὶ ὁσιότητα καὶ πίστιν, ἀλλὰ δεῖ καὶ διὰ δεισιδαιμονίας: τοῦτο δ᾽ οὐκ ἄνευ μυθοποιίας καὶ τερατείας. κεραυνὸς γὰρ καὶ αἰγὶς καὶ τρίαινα καὶ λαμπάδες καὶ δράκοντες καὶ θυρσόλογχα τῶν θεῶν ὅπλα μῦθοι καὶ πᾶσα θεολογία ἀρχαϊκή: ταῦτα δ᾽ ἀπεδέξαντο οἱ τὰς πολιτείας καταστησάμενοι μορμολύκας τινὰς πρὸς τοὺς νηπιόφρονας.

τοιαύτης δὲ τῆς μυθοποιίας οὔσης καὶ καταστρεφούσης εἰς τὸ κοινωνικὸν καὶ τὸ πολιτικὸν τοῦ βίου σχῆμα καὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων ἱστορίαν, οἱ μὲν ἀρχαῖοι τὴν παιδικὴν ἀγωγὴν ἐφύλαξαν μέχρι τῶν τελείων ἡλικιῶν, καὶ διὰ ποιητικῆς ἱκανῶς σωφρονίζεσθαι πᾶσαν ἡλικίαν ὑπέλαβον: χρόνοις δ᾽ ὕστερον ἡ τῆς ἱστορίας γραφὴ καὶ ἡ νῦν φιλοσοφία παρελήλυθεν εἰς μέσον. αὕτη μὲν οὖν πρὸς ὀλίγους, ἡ δὲ ποιητικὴ δημωφελεστέρα καὶ θέατρα πληροῦν δυναμένη, ἡ δὲ δὴ τοῦ Ὁμήρου ὑπερβαλλόντως: καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι δὲ ἱστορικοὶ καὶ φυσικοὶ μυθογράφοι.

Medusa Bernini 1638/1648

Bernini’s Medusa

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschalk. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

“Why Do I Recount Odysseus’ Troubles?”

In the following passage Kassandra prophesies Odysseus’ travails in returning home. Although she seems to refer to a few events not in our Odyssey (fast rocks, talking meat), what I find interesting is the possible poetic engagement with Kassandra’s presentation in the Odyssey where she is not mentioned as the cause of Athena’s anger or marked as a prophet. 

Euripides, Trojan Women 424–447

“Really, a clever servant. Why do heralds have
the name they have, when one hatred is common to people:
the servants of tyrants and their regimes?
You say that my mother will arrive at
Odysseus’ home? Where then are Apollo’s words
which say—when I have translated them—
that she will die here? I will not insult her with the rest.
The wretched man, he doesn’t know what suffering awaits him—
how even these Phrygian horrors of mine will seem
golden to him. For ten years after sailing out added to ten
spent here he will finally arrive at his fatherland alone
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where the swiftest rocks [make] the passage narrow,
and dreadful Charybdis, near the man-eating, cliff-walking [Skyla],
The Kyklops, and the Ligurian, swine-witch
Kirkê, and shipwrecks over the salted-sea,
lusts for lotus, and the sacred cattle of Helios,
whose flesh will sing in human voice one day
a bitter song for Odysseus—I will cut this short:
he will go into Hades still alive and though feeling the water’s flow
he will come home and find countless evils at home.
But why do I enumerate the toils of Odysseus?
Take me right away, let me marry a bridegroom for Hades’ home.
You are evil and you will be evilly buried at night, not at day
Captain of the Danaid women, believing you are doing something good.”

Κα. ἦ δεινὸς ὁ λάτρις. τί ποτ’ ἔχουσι τοὔνομα
κήρυκες, ἓν ἀπέχθημα πάγκοινον βροτοῖς,
οἱ περὶ τυράννους καὶ πόλεις ὑπηρέται;
σὺ τὴν ἐμὴν φὴις μητέρ’ εἰς ᾿Οδυσσέως
ἥξειν μέλαθρα; ποῦ δ’ ᾿Απόλλωνος λόγοι,
οἵ φασιν αὐτὴν εἰς ἔμ’ ἡρμηνευμένοι
αὐτοῦ θανεῖσθαι; τἄλλα δ’ οὐκ ὀνειδιῶ.
δύστηνος, οὐκ οἶδ’ οἷά νιν μένει παθεῖν·
ὡς χρυσὸς αὐτῶι τἀμὰ καὶ Φρυγῶν κακὰ
δόξει ποτ’ εἶναι. δέκα γὰρ ἐκπλήσας ἔτη
πρὸς τοῖσιν ἐνθάδ’ ἵξεται μόνος πάτραν
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†οὗ δὴ στενὸν δίαυλον ὤικισται πέτρας†
δεινὴ Χάρυβδις ὠμοβρώς τ’ ὀρειβάτης
Κύκλωψ Λιγυστίς θ’ ἡ συῶν μορφώτρια
Κίρκη θαλάσσης θ’ ἁλμυρᾶς ναυάγια
λωτοῦ τ’ ἔρωτες ῾Ηλίου θ’ ἁγναὶ βόες,
αἳ σαρξὶ φοινίαισιν ἥσουσίν ποτε
πικρὰν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ γῆρυν. ὡς δὲ συντέμω,
ζῶν εἶσ’ ἐς ῞Αιδου κἀκφυγὼν λίμνης ὕδωρ
κάκ’ ἐν δόμοισι μυρί’ εὑρήσει μολών.
ἀλλὰ γὰρ τί τοὺς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἐξακοντίζω πόνους;
στεῖχ’ ὅπως τάχιστ’· ἐν ῞Αιδου νυμφίωι γημώμεθα.
ἦ κακὸς κακῶς ταφήσηι νυκτός, οὐκ ἐν ἡμέραι,
ὦ δοκῶν σεμνόν τι πράσσειν, Δαναϊδῶν ἀρχηγέτα.
κἀμέ τοι νεκρὸν φάραγγες γυμνάδ’ ἐκβεβλημένην
ὕδατι χειμάρρωι ῥέουσαι νυμφίου πέλας τάφου
θηρσὶ δώσουσιν δάσασθαι, τὴν ᾿Απόλλωνος λάτριν.

Kassandra is most famous in ancient art and myth for the sexual violence she suffers at Oilean Ajax’s hands. But when there is an opportunity to refer to this, the Odyssey avoids it. Instead, it creates a new reason for Ajax to suffer:

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Greeks Imagine an Indian Feast

Athenaeus Deipnosophists 4, 153 (=Megasthenes fr. 38)

 

“In his second book of Indika, Megasthenes says that during dinnertime among the Indians each person receives a table of his own that is most like a tripod. On this is placed a golden serving-bowl into which thy first place rice, cooked the way someone might boil barley, and to which they add many delicacies prepared in Indian fashion.”

Μεγασθένης ἐν τῇ δευτέρᾳ τῶν ᾿Ινδικῶν τοῖς ᾿Ινδοῖς φησιν ἐν τῷ δείπνῳ παρατίθεσθαι ἑκάστῳ τράπεζαν, ταύτην δ’ εἶναι ὁμοίαν ταῖς ἐγγυθήκαις· καὶ ἐπιτίθεσθαι ἐπ’ αὐτῇ τρυβλίον χρυσοῦν, εἰς ὃ ἐμβαλεῖν αὐτοὺς πρῶτον μὲν τὴν ὄρυζαν ἑφθὴν, ὡς ἄν τις ἑψήσειε χόνδρον, ἔπειτα ὄψα πολλὰ κεχειρουργημένα ταῖς ᾿Ινδικαῖς σκευασίαις.

Rice

Note: this is the first time I have encountered the Greek word for rice (oruza). In Strabo, it appears specifically in conjunction with India’s numerous rivers.

Messing More with Homer: Megara, Salamis, Athens and Solon

A few weeks back we posted a passage from Plutarch implying that Athenians manipulated the Homeric epics to political ends. Here’s another accusation from Plutarch’s Life of Solon (10.2-3).

“Many report that the record of Homer was introduced into the contest by Solon. They say that he read this line he interpolated this line into the Catalogue of Ships at the trial

“Ajax led twelve ships from Salamis
And after he arrived he stationed his troops where the Athenians were”

But the Athenians themselves believe that this assertion [i.e. that Solon interpolated lines] is nonsense.”

οἱ μὲν οὖν πολλοὶ τῷ Σόλωνι συναγωνίσασθαι λέγουσι τὴν ῾Ομήρου δόξαν· ἐμβαλόντα γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔπος εἰς νεῶν κατάλογον ἐπὶ τῆς δίκης ἀναγνῶναι (Il. 2. 557)·

Αἴας δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν δυοκαίδεκα νῆας,
στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ ᾿Αθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες.

αὐτοὶ δ’ ᾿Αθηναῖοι ταῦτα μὲν οἴονται φλυαρίαν εἶναι

The context of the anecdote is a trial over Athenian claims to the island of Salamis. Solon insisted that the Salaminian and Athenian contingents were together and thus had a shared history, justifying Athenian control over the island. For other versions of this ‘trial’, see Aristotle Rhet. 1335b26-30; Strabo 9.1.9-10; and Diogenes Laertius. 1.48.

Strabo’s version, in fact, gives the Megarians a Homeric response of their own:

“The Athenians seemed to have provided this kind of a testimony from Homer, but the Megarians sang in response that “Ajax, led ships from Salamis, Polikhnê, and from Aigeiroussê, Nisaia, and Tripodes”. These are Megarian lands, of which they say that “Tripodes” is the Tripodiskion where the marketplace of the Magarians is currently situated.”

οἱ μὲν δὴ ᾿Αθηναῖοι τοιαύτην τινὰ σκήψασθαι μαρτυρίαν παρ’ ῾Ομήρου δοκοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Μεγαρεῖς ἀντιπαρῳδῆσαι οὕτως „Αἴας „δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν νέας, ἔκ τε Πολίχνης, ἔκ τ’ „Αἰγειρούσσης Νισαίης τε Τριπόδων τε.” ἅ ἐστι χωρία Μεγαρικά, ὧν οἱ Τρίποδες Τριποδίσκιον λέγονται, καθ’ ὃ ἡ νῦν ἀγορὰ τῶν Μεγάρων κεῖται.

Here, the people of Megara claim that Ajax’s contingent included men from their lands. Thus, their connection is closer! For a great article on this exchange, see Carolyn Higbie. “The Bones of a Hero, the Ashes of a Politician: Athens, Salamis, and the Usable Past.” Classical Antiquity 16 (1997) 278-307.

Travels in the Wild North: The Fragments of Aristeas

Many authors from the ancient world—including Pausanias, Strabo, Pliny, Longinus and Herodotus–have left testimony of a seventh century BCE epic poet named Aristeas who came from Asia Minor and composed a poem, Arimaspea, of his travels in the wilds of the North. Here are the substantial fragments—I find the last especially haunting.

Fr. 4
‘The Issedoi [Issedones] glory in their long hair”

᾿Ισσηδοὶ χαίτηισιν ἀγαλλόμενοι ταναῆισι.

Fr. 5
“And they say there are neighboring men above them
To the north, many fine men and strong fighters too,
Wealthy in horses, with many lambs and many cattle.

καὶ φάσ<αν> ἀνθρώπους εἶναι καθύπερθεν ὁμούρους
πρὸς Βορέω, πολλούς τε καὶ ἐσθλοὺς κάρτα μαχητάς,
ἀφνειοὺς ἵπποισι, πολύρρηνας, πολυβούτας.

Fr. 6

“Each man has one eye in his charming face,
They are covered with hair, and the strongest of all men.”

ὀφθαλμὸν δ’ ἕν’ ἕκαστος ἔχει χαρίεντι μετώπωι,
χαίτηισι<ν> λάσιοι, πάντων στιβαρώτατοι ἀνδρῶν.

Fr. 11

“This is also a great marvel for our minds:
The men inhabit the water in the sea away from land.
They are dreadful people who do pitiful work.
They keep their eyes in the stars but their soul in the sea.
True, too, I think, when they raise their dear hands often to the gods
They pray with sacrificial victims terribly thrown around.”

θαῦμ’ ἡμῖν καὶ τοῦτο μέγα φρεσὶν ἡμετέρηισιν.
ἄνδρες ὕδωρ ναίουσιν ἀπὸ χθονὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι•
δύστηνοί τινές εἰσιν, ἔχουσι γὰρ ἔργα πονηρά•
ὄμματ’ ἐν ἄστροισι, ψυχὴν δ’ ἐνὶ πόντωι ἔχουσιν.
ἦ που πολλὰ θεοῖσι φίλας ἀνὰ χεῖρας ἔχοντες
εὔχονται σπλάγχνοισι κακῶς ἀναβαλλομένοισι.

The last line (σπλάγχνοισι κακῶς ἀναβαλλομένοισι) is translated by W. Rhys Roberts as “And with hearts in misery”. The verb anaballo can have this metaphorical meaning, but in combination with prayer and the noun splangkhnon (which typically means innards or sacrificial victim) the scene seems more to me to describe a strange or sacrilegious sacrifice (from the Greek point of view), especially with the adverb κακῶς. I am probably wrong about this…

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