How to Live from Ashurbanipal

In the midst of a nearly endless discussion of fish in the 8th book of his Deipnosophistai, Athenaeus has his banqueters bandy about epigrammatic advice about the nature of human life. One of his speakers quotes Chrysippus who alleges that Sardanapallos (the Greek name for the Syrian king Ashurbanipal) had the following as an epitaph:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

The speakers critique the dead king’s sentiments and propose that the epitaph could be emended with more elevated aims.

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in words: nothing is useful once eaten.
For even I am now but rages though I ate and took as much pleasure as possible.
I keep whatever I learned and the thoughts I had and the fine things
I experienced with them. Everything else, however pleasing, is gone.”

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος μύθοισι· φαγόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ῥάκος εἰμί, φαγὼν ὡς πλεῖστα καὶ ἡσθείς.
ταῦτ’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔμαθον καὶ ἐφρόντισα καὶ μετὰ τούτων
ἔσθλ’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ καὶ ἡδέα πάντα λέλειπται.

Some other epitaphs (fictional or not) are included:

“Drink. Play. Your life is mortal and time on earth is but short.
Death itself is everlasting once a man has died.”

πῖνε, παῖζε· θνητὸς ὁ βίος, ὀλίγος οὑπὶ γῇ χρόνος·
ὁ θάνατος δ’ ἀθάνατός ἐστιν, ἂν ἅπαξ τις ἀποθάνῃ.

“Drink. Eat. Yield everything to your soul.
For I am the stone that stands in place of Bachidas.”

πιέν, φαγὲν καὶ πάντα τᾷ ψυχᾷ δόμεν·
κἠγὼ γὰρ ἕστακ’ ἀντὶ Βακχίδα λίθος.

Strabo combines the two, 14.5.9

“Next is Zephurion which has the same name as a place near Kalydnos.  Nearby, not far from the sea, is Ankhialê, founded by Sardanapallos according to Aristoboulos. There he claims is a monument of Sardanapallos, a stone sculpture that shows the fingers of his right hand as if they are snapping. Beneath is an epigraph in Assyrian letters reading: “Sardanapallos the son of Anakundaraxes / founded Ankhialê and Tarsos in a single day. / Eat. Drink. Play, because no other things are worthy of this”, indicating the snapping fingers.

Khoirilos also mentions these things–and the following verses are known everywhere. “Everything I have eaten, the insults I have made, and the delights I have taken in love are mine. These numerous blessings I leave behind.”

Εἶτα Ζεφύριον ὁμώνυμον τῷ πρὸς Καλύδνῳ· εἶτ’ ᾿Αγχιάλη μικρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς θαλάττης, κτίσμα Σαρδαναπάλλου, φησὶν ᾿Αριστόβουλος· ἐνταῦθα δ’ εἶναι μνῆμα τοῦ Σαρδαναπάλλου καὶ τύπον λίθινον συμβάλλοντα τοὺς τῆς δεξιᾶς χειρὸς δακτύλους ὡς ἂν ἀποκροτοῦντα, καὶ ἐπιγραφὴν εἶναι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι τοιάνδε „Σαρδανάπαλλος ὁ ᾿Ανακυνδαράξεω παῖς „᾿Αγχιάλην καὶ Ταρσὸν ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε πῖνε „παῖζε, ὡς τἆλλα τούτου οὐκ ἄξια,” τοῦ ἀποκροτήματος. μέμνηται δὲ καὶ Χοιρίλος τούτων· καὶ δὴ καὶ περιφέρεται τὰ ἔπη ταυτί „ταῦτ’ ἔχω, ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ „ἀφύβρισα, καὶ μετ’ ἔρωτος τέρπν’ ἔπαθον, τὰ δὲ „πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια κεῖνα λέλειπται.”

The Man. The Myth.

Among certain Greek writers (starting as early as Aristophanes: Birds 1021) Sardanapallus was proverbially a glutton


“Sardanapallos: Nearly everyone writes that this guy was a slave to every kind of excess and delicacy. They say that this is recorded on his on monument in Assyrian letters in Ninevah, Assyria.”

Σαρδανάπαλ(λ)ος· πάντες σχεδὸν ἁπάσης ἀκολασίας καὶ τρυφῆς
δοῦλον τοῦτον ἀναγράφουσι γεγονέναι. καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ μνήματι αὐτοῦ ἐν
τῇ ᾿Ασσυρίᾳ ἐν Νίνῳ φασὶν ἐπιγεγράφθαι ᾿Ασσυρίοις γράμμασι·

Suda S.v. Sardanapolous

“Kallisthenes claims in the second book of his Persian Histories that there were two men named Sardapapalos [Assurbanipal], one was active and well-born, but the other was a dandy. In Ninevah, his memorial bears the inscription

“The son of Anakundaraxes built Tarsos and Ankhialê in a single day.
Eat, drink, screw because other things are not worthy of this.”

That is, [worthy of] a snap of his fingers. For when he set up the statue in his memory it was made with its hands over its head, as if it were snapping its fingers. The same thing is inscribed in Ankhialê and Tarsos, which is called Zephurion now.

There is also a proverb: “May you grow older than Tithonos, wealthier than Kinyras, and more industrious than Sardanopalos. Then you can prove the proverb: Old men are children twice.”  This is used for the very old, since Tithonos avoided aging with a prayer and became a cicada. Kinyras was a descendant of king Pharakes of the Cypriots and he was distinguished for his wealth. And Sardanapalos, king of the Assyrians, destroyed his own kingdom while he lived in luxury and immoderation. He was the son of Anakyndarakes, the king of Ninevah which falls within Persian lands. The story is that he founded Tarsos and Ankhilaê in a single day. And that, shamefully, he was too proud to be seen by his servants unless they were girls or eunuchs. He rotted himself with wine and was found after he died indoors.”

Σαρδαναπάλους ἐν β′ Περσικῶν δύο φησὶ γεγονέναι Καλλισθένης, ἕνα μὲν δραστήριον καὶ γενναῖον, ἄλλον δὲ μαλακόν. ἐν Νίνῳ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῦ μνήματος αὐτοῦ τοῦτ’ ἐπιγέγραπται· ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου παῖς Ταρσόν τε καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔδειμεν ἡμέρῃ μιῇ. ἔσθιε, πίνε, ὄχευε, ὡς τά γε ἄλλα οὐδὲ τούτου ἐστὶν ἄξια. τουτέστι τοῦ τῶν δακτύλων ἀποκροτήματος· τὸ γὰρ ἐφεστὼς τῷ μνήματι ἄγαλμα ὑπὲρ τῆς κεφαλῆςἔχον τὰς χεῖρας πεποίηται, ὥστ’ ἂν ἀποληκοῦν τοῖς δακτύλοις. ταυτὸ καὶ ἐν ᾿Αγχιάλῳ τῇ πρὸς Ταρσῷ ἐπιγέγραπται, ἥτις νῦν καλεῖται Ζεφύριον. καὶ παροιμία· καταγηράσαις Τιθωνοῦ βαθύτερον, Κινύρου πλουσιώτερος καὶ Σαρδαναπάλου τρυφηλότερος, ὅπως τὸ τῆς παροιμίας ἐπὶ σοὶ πληρωθῇ, δὶς παῖδες οἱ γέροντες. ἐπὶ τῶν ὑπεργήρων· ὁ γὰρ Τιθωνὸς κατ’ εὐχὴν τὸ γῆρας ἀποθέμενος εἰς τέττιγα μετέβαλε· Κινύρας δέ, ἀπόγονος Φαρνάκου βασιλέως Κυπρίων, πλούτῳ διαφέρων· Σαρδανάπαλος δέ, ᾿Ασσυρίων βασιλεύς, ὃς ἐπ’ ἀκολασίᾳ καὶ τρυφῇ διαβιοὺς

κατέλυσε τὴν ἰδίαν ἀρχήν. ὁ δὲ Σαρδανάπαλος οὗτος υἱὸς ἦν ᾿Ανακυνδαράξου, βασιλέως Νίνου, Περσικῆς χώρας· ὃς ἐν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ Ταρσὸν καὶ ᾿Αγχιάλην ἔκτισε. φασὶ δὲ αὐτὸν αἰσχρῶς καλλωπίζεσθαι τοῖς τε  οἰκείοις μὴ ὁρᾶσθαι, εἰ μὴ εὐνούχοις καὶ κόραις. πεπυρπολημένος δὲ τῷ οἴνῳ, ἔνδον εὑρεθεὶς ἀπέθανε.


Perhaps someone should write a song about him….