Intelligence, Strength, and Good Fortune: Some Greek Proverbs for this Evening’s Festivities

from Diogenianus

“We who were conquering were taken.” Applied to those who hoped to conquer someone and then who were taken by them”

Αἱροῦντες ᾑρήμεθα: ἐπὶ τῶν ἐλπισάντων τινὰς νικᾶν, εἶθ’ ὑπ’ ἐκείνων ἁλόντων.

“A tearless war: a proverb applied to those who overcome affairs easily and beyond hope. For an oracle was given to the Spartans that they would win a “tearless war”—and in this no one of them died then.”

῎Αδακρυς πόλεμος: ἐπὶ τῶν ῥᾷστα καὶ παρ’ ἐλπίδα τὰ πράγματα κατορθούντων. Χρησμὸς γὰρ ἐδόθη Λακεδαιμονίοις, ἄδακρυν μάχην νικῆσαι· ὅθεν οὐδὲ εἷς τηνικαῦτα τούτων ἀπέθανεν.

“Fight with silver lances and you will win everything”: This is applied to situations where you conquer everything through money”.

᾿Αργυραῖς λόγχαις μάχου, καὶ πάντων κρατήσεις: ἀντὶ τοῦ, διὰ χρυσοῦ πάντας νικήσεις..

“The one who conquered is weeping and the one who was defeated has died.
Κλαίει ὁ νικήσας, ὁ δὲ νικηθεὶς ἀπόλωλεν

“You sing the praise before the victory!” A proverb applied to those who take outcomes for granted.

Πρὸ τῆς νίκης τὸ ἐγκώμιον ᾄδεις: ἐπὶ τῶν προλαμβανόντων τὰ πράγματα.

“An old fox is not captured”. A Proverb applied to those who have not fallen or been conquered for a long time thanks to deception.

Γέρων ἀλώπηξ οὐχ ἁλίσκεται: ἐπὶ τῶν διὰ πλήθους χρόνου μὴ περιπιπτόντων ἢ νικωμένων ἀπάτῃ.

from Zenobius

“The owl flies”: The flight of the owl is an omen of victory among the Athenians
Γλαῦξ ἵπταται: ἡ πτῆσις τῆς γλαυκὸς νίκης σύμβολον τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίοις ἐνομίζετο.

“A Cadmeian victory.” A proverb about which people say various things. Some say that it is applied to profitless victories as when Eteokles and Polyneices fought in single combat and both died…”

Καδμεία νίκη: περὶ ταύτης τῆς παροιμίας ἄλλοι ἄλλως λέγουσιν. ᾿Αποδιδόασι δὲ ταύτην ἐπὶ τῆς ἀλυσιτελοῦς νίκης, οἱ μὲν, ὅτι [ἐπεὶ] ᾿Ετεοκλῆς καὶ Πολυνείκης μονομαχοῦντες ἀμφότεροι ἀπώλοντο·

from Michael Apostolios

“there are three parts of excellence: intelligence, strength, and good fortune.”
᾿Αρετὴ τριὰς, σύνεσις καὶ κράτος καὶ τύχη

“The vote of the greater number conquers”

Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora

Τῶν πλειόνων ἡ ψῆφος νικᾷ.

Homer, Iliad 7.81-91: Both Victor and Vanquished win Glory (A Consolation before the Superbowl)

“If I kill him and Apollo grants me that moment of victory,
I’ll gather up his arms and take them to sacred Ilion
where I will dedicate them in the temple of far-shooting Apollo.
Then I will return his corpse to the well-benched ships
so that the fine-haired Achaians may bury him
and heap up a burial mound on the wide Hellespont.
Then someday one of the later-born men may say
as he sails by in a many-locked ship on the wine-faced sea:
‘This is the gravemarker of a man who died long ago,
a man glorious Hector killed when he was at his best.’
So someone someday will say: and my glory will never perish.”

εἰ δέ κ’ ἐγὼ τὸν ἕλω, δώῃ δέ μοι εὖχος ᾿Απόλλων,
τεύχεα σύλησας οἴσω προτὶ ῎Ιλιον ἱρήν,
καὶ κρεμόω προτὶ νηὸν ᾿Απόλλωνος ἑκάτοιο,
τὸν δὲ νέκυν ἐπὶ νῆας ἐϋσσέλμους ἀποδώσω,
ὄφρά ἑ ταρχύσωσι κάρη κομόωντες ᾿Αχαιοί,
σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύωσιν ἐπὶ πλατεῖ ῾Ελλησπόντῳ.
καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον•
ἀνδρὸς μὲν τόδε σῆμα πάλαι κατατεθνηῶτος,
ὅν ποτ’ ἀριστεύοντα κατέκτανε φαίδιμος ῞Εκτωρ.
ὥς ποτέ τις ἐρέει• τὸ δ’ ἐμὸν κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται.

Too often we use war metaphors to talk about sports—the reasons are simple, most of us act as spectators in both and sports are quite obviously ritualized substitutes as honor competitions. But the stakes are far from the same. At some level, the implied equivalence is a great insult to those who do risk their lives and all of the non-combatants who suffer.

Of course, I offer this as a prelude to the fact that I do irrationally care about the outcome of tonight’s Superbowl. While it might be of little solace to the players (and even less than the fans) that victor and vanquished are united in the story that comes after (and during) the event, Hektor offered some comfort in the speech above. For whatever its worth, it was the comfort that he probably needed most himself.

And don’t hate me: as a New Englander (in exile) it is my sacred duty to root for the Patriots.