(Don’t) judge a book by its cover

(Don’t) judge a book by its cover

As some of you may have seen from our Twitter announcement over the summer, Joel and I are publishing our second book together, under the title Homer’s Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. In our earlier announcement, we tweeted a picture of what its front cover will look like; and, given the interest in it, Joel invited me to write this guest post on his blog. I am delighted to take him up on the offer, even though I know that his blog is more accustomed to dealing with weightier matters than what appears on a book’s cover…

With the possible exception of writing acknowledgements, I find choosing a cover image for a book arguably the most pleasurable, and most difficult, of the final tasks that needs accomplishing before I can happily pack off my manuscript on its merry way to the press. Even if we are told otherwise (in the famous axiom not to judge a book by its cover), how a book looks can play a decisive role in its purchase; after the subject matter and author, it’s the one thing that may determine whether I buy book a book or not. If I look on my bookshelves, for example, the dust jackets that stand out for me are: the famous image (from the so-called François vase) of Ajax carrying the dead body of Achilles that emblazons Greg Nagy’s 1979 classic The Best of the Achaeans (and Michael Lynn-George’s equally ground-breaking Homeric criticism Epos: Word, Narrative and the Iliad); the contemplative Regarding Penelope by Nancy Felson; the highly wrought, yet seductive, Medea of James Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston; the satirical depiction of famous classicists playing characters from Aristophanes (!) on Martin Revermann’s Comic Business; and the striking pose of Gertrude Eysoldt captured in the role of Electra that advertises Simon Goldhill’s Who Needs Greek?. The arresting contemporary nature of this image (though the photograph dates back to 1903) hints at Goldhill’s thesis of the continuing legacy of Victorian attitudes to, and contests over, the Classics that shape and inform our own implicated relationship with the subject.


As these examples suggest, aesthetic looks isn’t the only desideratum when it comes to choosing a book cover. For sure we want something that looks good; but it’s equally, if not more, important for that image to say something about the book itself (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), though perhaps not in an obvious or straightforward way. Let me explore this issue by reflecting on my own choice of three covers that I’ve had the pleasure to be able to choose.

The image I chose for my first book—Entering the Agon: Dissent and authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy (Oxford, 2009)—is in many ways very traditional. It’s the famous image (on the black-figure amphora by Exekias) of Achilles and Ajax playing dice. But it’s an image that worked for me not only because of its beauty—though hats off here to the team at OUP who extended the pot’s gleaming background (which sets off the black figures) to cover the entirety of the book’s cover in a fiery golden afterglow. Figure4This image also spoke to my book’s subject matter: namely, the idea of contest (agōn) and its representation in ancient Greek literature. In truth, I had a hard time finding an image that worked for me. I wanted some kind of ancient Greek artistic representation; perhaps because it was my first book (the “book of the thesis”), I felt it needed to be unambiguously classical. It should have been easy, right, to find an image from the whole corpus of ancient Greek ceramics, right? Wrong. I could find none of the scenes of debate in epic, history and tragedy, which were the core focus of my argument, that had been illustrated, not even—as one may have expected—the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon that starts off the Iliad with such a bang. There is a fresco, highly fragmented, from Pompeii’s House of the Dioscuri (on exhibition at the National Archaeological museum in Naples), which shows Achilles going for his sword; and of course there are later Renaissance paintings depicting the quarrel (such as Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s baroque rendering). But I could find none from the world of ancient Greek ceramics or friezes—perhaps because, as Robin Osborne pointed out to me, Greek artists simply were less interested in illustrating literary stories than in creating their own. (It is striking that the wall paintings from Pompeii *do* look like illustrations of early Greek literary narratives, including the moment Euripides’s Medea ponders killing her children.) What Exekias’s scene of gaming heroes gave me was a hint not only of the formalisation of contest, but also of the prominence of Achilles (who in my argument institutionalises contest in the arena of debate) and, moreover, of his pairing with Ajax (whose story in Sophocles’s tragedy formed one of my chapters).


The second book I needed to choose an image for presented a rather different challenge. This was for an edited volume entitled: New Worlds out of Old Texts: Revisiting Ancient Space and Place (Oxford, 2016). Figure7The book derived from an interdisciplinary project that I had led called Hestia, which investigated representations of space and place in Herodotus, as well as the spatial construction underpinning his Histories. At the heart of the book was a discussion of the different disciplinary approaches that we undertook, spread over three chapters (which I co-authored with different team members), exploring: digital annotation and mapping (with Leif Isaksen and Jessica Ogden), geographical spatial theory (with Stefan Bouzarvoski), and philological close reading (with Chris Pelling). Our resulting book included other contributors working in this space (pardon the pun), who had presented at our conference in Oxford, and who, like our team, represented an array of disciplines—not only Classical Studies, but also archaeology, digital humanities, and the history of thought. The image I wanted, then, needed to respect these different disciplinary approaches while at the same time hinting at ways in which they might be combined and intertwined (for interdisciplinary research). And, of course, it needed to be in some way spatial, to suggest the complexity of trying to represent and unpick spatial entities and relations. A web-designer friend (a shout-out here to Richard Rowley of Agile Collective) put me on to London-based artist Emma McNally, whose work attempts to “portray essence not as substance… but rather as the result of a process of reciprocal determination, where individual lines, markings, and trajectories are brought to significance through their interrelations with those around them” (https://www.flickr.com/people/emmamcnally/). After getting her approval (she was very happy for us to use her work provided that she got a copy of our book: gold armour for bronze, as Homer would say!), I chose her scratches, traces, spaces. This work on graphite (“a medium that lends itself perfectly to [a] sort of rhythmic making and unmaking. It is a material for palimpsest”: ibid) seemed to me to perfectly capture the spatial palimpsests that many of us were striving to reveal and more closely examine in our texts, while also being provocatively new and overtly relational. Emma later informed me that the very same artwork was used by Ridley Scott as a navigation map in his latest Alien prequel Convenant. If it’s good enough for Ridley…!


All this brings me to the last image—the one that Joel had invited me to write about in the first place… Our book, Homer’s Thebes, sets out to argue that the Iliad and Odyssey (mis)represent heroes and themes from the Theban tradition to set out and realise the unique superiority of these texts in performance. In arguing this, we are attempting to view the Homeric poems in a new light, by emphasizing a non-hierarchical model of “reading” them and the Epic Cycle together within the framework of oral-formulaic poetics and artistic rivalry. With this in mind, we wanted an image that suggested Homer in some way (epic poetry, heroes, etc.) but that wasn’t a straightforward classical take on that. From a very early stage I was convinced that a cubist painting of some kind would work, with that central idea of taking something familiar (for us, reading Homer; for Homer’s audience, the Troy story and the siege of Thebes) and, by viewing it from different perspectives, producing a radically different picture (a Troy story that emphasises internal conflict among the Achaeans, for instance). For me, cubist works echo the type of violent reception and adaptation that our book is about. But here we ran into a significant problem that meets anyone looking to reuse a contemporary image, whether that is a museum photograph of an ancient artefact or a modern painting in a gallery’s collection: copyright. For all the cubist paintings that I could find that seemed to dialogue with our approach, the answer kept coming back from our publishers that we couldn’t use them because of the copyright and/or the costs involved. Out went The Thebaid by Wyndham Lewis, along with his Composition; we fared no better with Barbara Hepworth’s Two Heroes; we couldn’t even use Le Poète by Picasso, even though I had sourced it from Wikipedia.

Just as I was beginning to despair, and I thought that we would have to give up on this idea of a cubist-style makeover for our Homer, I had the inspiration to look for works by modern Greek artists. I knew that ever since the twentieth century, Greek writers and painters alike have been grappling with the problem of their country’s complicated (and often times suffocating) classical legacy. And thus I had the fortune to come across the work of Nikos Engonopoulos. He’s the painter most famous in Greece for revisiting classical themes in a distinct modern style (tending towards surrealism). Having found a number of post-classical images that I thought that we could use, I contacted the person responsible for his website and who owns the copyright to his works, his daughter Errietti Engonopoulou. Like Emma, Errietti could not have been more accommodating, and immediately allowed us to use a high-resolution image of the image that we decided on.

I present to you Engonopoulou’s 1939 oil on canvas The poet and the muse. We hope that you like it as much as we do.


Some Advice for Dinner Conversation

From the fragmentary Anacreonta (imitations of Anacreon once thought to be real), we have another mention of Thebes and Troy together:

Anacreonta, fr. 26

“You narrate the events of Thebes;
he tells Trojan tales;
but I tell my conquests.
No horse has destroyed me,
nor foot soldier, nor ships,
nor will any other new army
hurl me from my eyes.”

Σὺ μὲν λέγεις τὰ Θήβης,
ὃ δ’ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς,
ἐγὼ δ’ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις.
οὐχ ἵππος ὤλεσέν με,
οὐ πεζός, οὐχὶ νῆες,
στρατὸς δὲ καινὸς ἄλλος
ἀπ’ ὀμμάτων με βάλλων.

This complaint is a generic and contextual one: the narrator doesn’t want a mixing of the themes of war with his own, which are love, drinking and the feast. Another fragment of Anacreon makes this clear:

Anacreon fr. 2

“I don’t love the man who while drinking next to a full cup
Talks about conflicts and lamentable war.
But whoever mixes the shining gifts of Aphrodite and the Muses
Let him keep in mind loving, good cheer.”

οὐ φιλέω, ὃς κρητῆρι παρὰ πλέωι οἰνοποτάζων
νείκεα καὶ πόλεμον δακρυόεντα λέγει,
ἀλλ’ ὅστις Μουσέων τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρ’ ᾿Αφροδίτης
συμμίσγων ἐρατῆς μνήσκεται εὐφροσύνης.

Such prescriptions against certain content in sympotic entertainment can be serious too. Xenophanes makes similar points, but with a less playful tone:


This is a krater for mixing wine. it has a war scene on it.

Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24

“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence.
It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants
nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears,
Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”

χρὴ δὲ πρῶτον μὲν θεὸν ὑμνεῖν εὔφρονας ἄνδρας
εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις,
σπείσαντάς τε καὶ εὐξαμένους τὰ δίκαια δύνασθαι
πρήσσειν• ταῦτα γὰρ ὦν ἐστι προχειρότερον,
οὐχ ὕβρεις• πίνειν δ’ ὁπόσον κεν ἔχων ἀφίκοιο
οἴκαδ’ ἄνευ προπόλου μὴ πάνυ γηραλέος.
ἀνδρῶν δ’ αἰνεῖν τοῦτον ὃς ἐσθλὰ πιὼν ἀναφαίνει,
ὡς ἦι μνημοσύνη καὶ τόνος ἀμφ’ ἀρετῆς,
οὔ τι μάχας διέπειν Τιτήνων οὐδὲ Γιγάντων
οὐδὲ Κενταύρων, πλάσμα τῶν προτέρων,
ἢ στάσιας σφεδανάς• τοῖς οὐδὲν χρηστὸν ἔνεστιν•
θεῶν προμηθείην αἰὲν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν.


Korinna Laughed: Making Pindar Better

Plutarch, On the Fame of Athens 348 a

“Korinna warned Pindar when he was still young and puffed up over his proper use of diction that he was an uncharming writer [a-mousos] since he did not include myths—this happens to be the work of poetry. Instead, he based his work on odd words [glosses], stretched meanings, periphrases, melodies, and rhythms, all ornaments for the subject matter. Then Pindar, trusting the things she said, wrote this line: “Ismenos or gold-staved Melia or Kadmos, or the holy generation of sewn men, or the overwhelming strength of Herakles, or the joyful rite of Dionysus.”

After he showed this to Korinna, she laughed and said one should sow with one hand, not the whole bag. In truth, Pindar mixed up and threw together every seed of myth and poured it into his song.”

Ἡ δὲ Κόριννα τὸν Πίνδαρον, ὄντα νέον ἔτι καὶ τῇ λογιότητι σοβαρῶς χρώμενον, ἐνουθέτησεν ὡς ἄμουσον ὄντα καὶ μὴ ποιοῦντα μύθους, ὃ τῆς ποιητικῆς ἔργον εἶναι συμβέβηκε, γλώττας δὲ καὶ καταχρήσεις καὶ μεταφράσεις καὶ μέλη καὶ ῥυθμοὺς ἡδύσματα τοῖς πράγμασιν ὑποτιθέντα.σφόδρ᾿ οὖν ὁ Πίνδαρος ἐπιστήσας τοῖς λεγομένοις ἐποίησεν ἐκεῖνο τὸ μέλος.

Ἰσμηνὸν ἢ χρυσαλάκατον Μελίαν,

ἢ Κάδμον ἢ σπαρτῶν ἱερὸν γένος ἀνδρῶν,

ἢ τὸ πάνυ σθένος Ἡρακλέους

ἢ τὰν Διωνύσου πολυγαθέα τιμάν.

δειξαμένου δὲ τῇ Κορίννῃ γελάσασα ἐκείνη τῇ χειρὶ δεῖν ἔφη σπείρειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλῳ τῷ θυλάκῳ. τῷ γὰρ ὄντι συγκεράσας καὶ συμφορήσας πανσπερμίαν τινὰ μύθων ὁ Πίνδαρος εἰς τὸ μέλος ἐξέχεεν.

Here’s another anecdote:

Aelian, Varia Historia 13.25

“When Pindar was competing in Thebes he encountered unlearned audiences and was defeated by Korinna five times. When he was trying to refute his own lack of poetic ability [amousia], he used to call Korinna a pig.”

Πίνδαρος ὁ ποιητὴς ἀγωνιζόμενος ἐν Θήβαις ἀμαθέσι περιπεσὼν ἀκροαταῖς ἡττήθη Κορίννης πεντάκις. ἐλέγχων δὲ τὴν ἀμουσίαν αὐτῶν ὁ Πίνδαρος σῦν ἐκάλει τὴν Κόρινναν.

We don’t have much from Korinna, but we do have the following line, which I think is appropriate for this anecdote:

“I sing of the virtues of heroes and heroines.”

ἱώνει δ᾿ εἱρώων ἀρετὰς / χεἰρωάδων

Here is a longer piece. Those who know Pindar might sense some similarities:

Fr. 2 (P.Oxy.2370, prim.ed. Lobel)

“Terpsichorê calls me
To sing fine tales
To the white-robed Tanagrean women.
And the city delights much
In my clear-voiced song.
For whatever great tales
[others have shadowed with lies]
We will sing [anew]
[over] the broad-wayed earth.
From the time of our fathers
I begin the tale for
The maidens just as I have sung
Many times, dressing up Kephisos
Our founder with words.”

ἐπί με Τερψιχόρα [καλῖ
καλὰ Ϝεροῖ’ ἀισομ[έναν
Ταναγρίδεσσι λε[υκοπέπλυς
μέγα δ’ ἐμῆς γέγ[αθε πόλις
λιγουροκω[τί]λυ[ς ἐνοπῆς.
ὅττι γὰρ μεγαλ.[
.[.]..ω γῆαν εὐρού[χορον
λόγια δ’ ἐπ πατέρω[ν
κοσμείσασα Ϝιδιο[
παρθ[έ]νυσι κατά [ρχομη
πο]λλὰ μὲν Κα̣φ̣[ισὸν ἱών-
γ’ ἀρχ]αγὸν κόσμ[εισα λόγυ]ς,

Fragmentary Friday: The Theban

I have previously posted the fragments of the lost Thebais and the Epigonoi. This week, here is the final set of fragments from the Theban tradition from the Alcmaeonis, which may have actually been a part of the Epigonoi.


Fr. 1

“There, godlike Telamon struck him in the head
With a rounded discus and Peleus raised in his hands
Quickly a bronze ax to strike him down through the middle of the back”

ἔνθα μιν ἀντίθεος Τελαμὼν τροχοειδέι δίσκωι
πλῆξε κάρη, Πηλεὺς δὲ θοῶς ἐνὶ χειρὶ τινάξας
ἀξίνην ἐύχαλκον ἐπεπλήγει μέσα νῶτα.

Fr. 2

“Once he stretched the corpses on
the wide-couch placed on the ground, he set out next to them a feast
Food, drink—and he put crowns on their heads.”

<> νέκυς δὲ χαμαιστρώτου ἔπι τείνας
εὐρείης στιβάδος, παρέθηκ’ αὐτοῖσι θάλειαν
δαῖτα ποτήριά τε, στεφάνους δ’ ἐπὶ κρασὶν ἔθηκεν.

Fr. 3

“Queen Earth and Zagreus, highest of all the gods.”

πότνια Γῆ, Ζαγρεῦ τε θεῶν πανυπέρτατε πάντων


Image result for Alcmaeon ancient greek thebes

Ancient Alternative Facts, Part 3: On Our Affection for (Tales of) Suffering

[This is the third post on Dio’s Oration II, “On the Fact That Troy Was Never Sacked”. Go here for the first]

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11

“For I think that the Argives themselves would not wish for the matters concerning Thyestes, Atreus and the descendants of Pelops to have been any different, but would be severely angry if someone were to undermine the myths of tragedy, claiming that Thyestes never committed adultery with Atreus wife, nor did the other kill his brother’s children, cut them up, and set them out as feast for Thyestes, and that Orestes never killed his mother with his own hand. If someone said all of these things, they would take it harshly as if they were slandered.

I imagine that things would go the same among the Thebans, if someone were to decleare that their misfortunes were lies, that Oedipus never killed his father nor had sex with his mother, nor then blinded himself, and that his children didn’t die in front of the wall at each other’s hands, and the Sphinx never came and ate their children. No! instead, they take pleasure in hearing that the Sphinx came and ate their children, sent to them because of Hera’s anger, that Laios was killed by his own son, and Oedipus did these things and wandered blind after suffering,, or how the children of previous king of theirs and founder of the city, Amphion,by Artemis and Apollo because they were the most beautiful men. They endure musicians and poets singing these things in their presence at the theater and they make contests for them, whoever can sing or play the most stinging tales about them. Yet they would expel a man who claimed these things did not happen. The majority has gone so far into madness that their obsession governs them completely. For they desire that there be the most stories about them—and it does not matter to them what kind of story it is. Generally, men are not willing to suffer terrible things because of cowardice, because they fear death and pain. But they really value being mentioned as if they suffered.”

Image result for Ancient Greek oedipus at colonus vasw

αὐτοὺς γὰρ οἶμαι τοὺς ᾿Αργείους μὴ ἂν ἐθέλειν ἄλλως γεγονέναι τὰ περὶ τὸν Θυέστην καὶ τὸν ᾿Ατρέα καὶ τοὺς Πελοπίδας, ἀλλ’ ἄχθεσθαι σφόδρα, ἐάν τις ἐξελέγχῃ τοὺς μύθους τῶν τραγῳδῶν, λέγων ὅτι οὔτε Θυέστης ἐμοίχευσε τὴν τοῦ ᾿Ατρέως οὔτε ἐκεῖνος ἀπέκτεινε τοὺς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ παῖδας οὐδὲ κατακόψας εἱστίασε τὸν Θυέστην οὔτε ᾿Ορέστης αὐτόχειρ ἐγένετο τῆς μητρός. ἅπαντα ταῦτα εἰ λέγοι τις, χαλεπῶς ἂν φέροιεν ὡς λοιδορούμενοι.

τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο κἂν Θηβαίους οἶμαι παθεῖν, εἴ τις τὰ παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἀτυχήματα ψευδῆ ἀποφαίνοι, καὶ οὔτε τὸν πατέρα Οἰδίπουν ἀποκτείναντα οὔτε τῇ μητρὶ συγγενόμενον οὔθ’ ἑαυτὸν τυφλώσαντα οὔτε τοὺς παῖδας αὐτοῦ πρὸ τοῦ τείχους ἀποθανόντας ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων, οὔθ’ ὡς ἡ Σφὶγξ ἀφικομένη κατεσθίοι τὰ τέκνα αὐτῶν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον ἥδονται ἀκούοντες καὶ τὴν Σφίγγα ἐπιπεμφθεῖσαν αὐτοῖς διὰ χόλον ῞Ηρας καὶ τὸν Λάϊον ὑπὸ τοῦ υἱέος ἀναιρεθέντα καὶ τὸν Οἰδίπουν ταῦτα ποιήσαντα καὶ παθόντα τυφλὸν ἀλᾶσθαι, καὶ πρότερον ἄλλου βασιλέως αὐτῶν καὶ τῆς πόλεως οἰκιστοῦ, ᾿Αμφίονος, τοὺς παῖδας, ἀνθρώπων καλλίστους γενομένους, κατατοξευθῆναι ὑπὸ ᾿Απόλλωνος καὶ ᾿Αρτέμιδος· καὶ ταῦτα καὶ αὐλούντων καὶ ᾀδόντων ἀνέχονται παρ’ αὑτοῖς ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ, καὶ τιθέασιν ἆθλα περὶ τούτων, ὃς ἂν οἰκτρότατα εἴπῃ περὶ αὐτῶν ἢ αὐλήσῃ· τὸν δὲ εἰπόντα ὡς οὐ γέγονεν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἐκβάλλουσιν. εἰς τοῦτο μανίας οἱ πολλοὶ ἐληλύθασι καὶ οὕτω πάνυ ὁ τῦφος αὐτῶν κεκράτηκεν. ἐπιθυμοῦσι γὰρ ὡς πλεῖστον ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν γίγνεσθαι λόγον· ὁποῖον δέ τινα, οὐθὲν μέλει αὐτοῖς. ὅλως δὲ πάσχειν μὲν οὐ θέλουσι τὰ δεινὰ  διὰ δειλίαν, φοβούμενοι τούς τε θανάτους καὶ τὰς ἀλγηδόνας· ὡς δὲ παθόντες μνημονεύεσθαι περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται.

He Killed Her Father, then Married Her: A Love Story

Hes. fr. 195.1-23 (= Hes. Aspis 1-23)

“Or, as she did, when she left her home and paternal land
And came to Thebes to warlike Amphitryon,
Alkmênê, the daughter of host-rallying Êlektruôn.
She, really, surpassed the whole race of women
In appearance and stature. And no one could rival her mind
Of the women who were born from mortal women who slept with mortal men.
From her head and dark eyebrows [it shone]
Just like from the sight of golden Aphrodite.
And in her heart she honored her husband as
None of the female women had ever honored before.
But he killed her noble father after overcoming him in force,
After he was enraged over some cattle. He left his paternal land
And came to supplicate the shield-shaking Kadmeans.
He lived in a home there with his revered wife
But he did not have sex with her, he could not climb
Into the bed of Êlektruôn’s fine-ankled daughter, until he
Atoned for the murder of her great-hearted brothers
And burned down the villages of the heroes
The Taphians and Têleboans with fire.
For this is how it was decided, and the gods were witnesses.
He feared their rage, and pushed as fast as possible
To complete the great task Zeus had set for him.”

Image result for alcmene and amphitryon

… ῍Η οἵη προλιποῦσα δόμους καὶ πατρίδα γαῖαν
ἤλυθεν ἐς Θήβας μετ’ ἀρήιον ᾿Αμφιτρύωνα
᾿Αλκμήνη, θυγάτηρ λαοσσόου ᾿Ηλεκτρύωνος·
ἥ ῥα γυναικῶν φῦλον ἐκαίνυτο θηλυτεράων
εἴδεΐ τε μεγέθει τε· νόον γε μὲν οὔ τις ἔριζε
τάων ἃς θνηταὶ θνητοῖς τέκον εὐνηθεῖσαι.
τῆς καὶ ἀπὸ κρῆθεν βλεφάρων τ’ ἄπο κυανεάων
τοῖον ἄηθ’ οἷόν τε πολυχρύσου ᾿Αφροδίτης.
ἣ δὲ καὶ ὣς κατὰ θυμὸν ἑὸν τίεσκεν ἀκοίτην,
ὡς οὔ πώ τις ἔτισε γυναικῶν θηλυτεράων·
ἦ μέν οἱ πατέρ’ ἐσθλὸν ἀπέκτανε ἶφι δαμάσσας,
χωσάμενος περὶ βουσί· λιπὼν δ’ ὅ γε πατρίδα γαῖαν
ἐς Θήβας ἱκέτευσε φερεσσακέας Καδμείους.
ἔνθ’ ὅ γε δώματ’ ἔναιε σὺν αἰδοίῃ παρακοίτι
νόσφιν ἄτερ φιλότητος ἐφιμέρου, οὐδέ οἱ ἦεν
πρὶν λεχέων ἐπιβῆναι ἐυσφύρου ᾿Ηλεκτρυώνης
πρίν γε φόνον τείσαιτο κασιγνήτων μεγαθύμων
ἧς ἀλόχου, μαλερῷ δὲ καταφλέξαι πυρὶ κώμας
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων Ταφίων ἰδὲ Τηλεβοάων.
τὼς γάρ οἱ διέκειτο, θεοὶ δ’ ἐπὶ μάρτυροι ἦσαν·
τῶν ὅ γ’ ὀπίζετο μῆνιν, ἐπείγετο δ’ ὅττι τάχιστα
ἐκτελέσαι μέγα ἔργον, ὅ οἱ Διόθεν θέμις ἦεν.

Fragmentary Friday: The Sons Came Second

As early as Herodotus (4.32) it was doubted that the epic that told the story of the sons of the Seven Against Thebes was by Homer. Instead, it was attributed later to a man named Antimachus from Teios. We have two lines most people agree on, and a handful of uncertain lines.

Fr. 1 (From the Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“Now, Muses, let us sing in turn of the younger men”
Νῦν αὖθ’ ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώμεθα, Μοῦσαι

Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

Fr. 6 (Dub. from the Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“So then they divided the meat of bulls and wiped clean
The sweat-covered necks of horses, since they had their fill of war.”

ὣς οἱ μὲν δαίνυντο βοῶν κρέα, καὐχένας ἵππων
ἔκλυον ἱδρώοντας, ἐπεὶ πολέμοιο κορέσθην.

Fr. 7 (Dub. From Scholia to Aristophanes’ Peace)

“They girded themselves for war once they stopped….
And they poured out of the towers as an invincible cry arose.”

θωρήσσοντ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτα πεπαυμένοι
πύργων δ’ ἐξεχέοντο, βοὴ δ’ ἄσβεστος ὀρώρει.

Fragmentary Friday: The Thebais

We have the remains of an ancient epic called the Thebais that was attributed to ‘Homer’ by multiple sources in antiquity (although most scholars today, following Aristotle, agree that ‘Homer’ = Iliad and Odyssey or something like that). This epic seems to have told the Theban tale from the cursing of Polyneices and Eteocles by Oedipus through the events of the Seven Against Thebes.

“The epic called Thebais was composed about this war. Kallinos, when he comes to mention this epic, says that Homer composed it. Many authors of considerable repute have believed the same thing. And I like this poem especially, after the Iliad and Odyssey at least.”

ἐποιήθη δὲ ἐς τὸν πόλεμον τοῦτον καὶ ἔπη Θηβαΐς• τὰ δὲ ἔπη ταῦτα Καλλῖνος ἀφικόμενος αὐτῶν ἐς μνήμην ἔφησεν ῞Ομηρον τὸν ποιήσαντα εἶναι, Καλλίνῳ δὲ πολλοί τε καὶ ἄξιοι λόγου κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔγνωσαν• ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν ποίησιν ταύτην μετά γε ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ τὰ ἔπη τὰ ἐς ᾿Οδυσσέα ἐπαινῶ μάλιστα.
Pausanias, IX 9.5

Fr. 1 (found in The Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“Goddess, sing of very-thirsty Argos, from where the Leaders [departed for Thebes]”

῎Αργος ἄειδε, θεά, πολυδίψιον, ἔνθεν ἄνακτες

Fr. 2 (Found in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists)

“Then the god-bred hero, blond Polyneices,
First placed before Oedipus a fine silver platter,
A thing of god-minded Kadmos. And then
He filled a fine golden cup with sweet wine.
But when he noted that lying before him were the
Honored gifts of his own father, a great evil filled his heart.
Quickly he uttered grievous curses against both
Of his own sons—and he did not escape the dread Fury’s notice—
That they would not divide their inheritance in friendship
But that they would both have ceaseless war and battles.”

αὐτὰρ ὁ διογενὴς ἥρως ξανθὸς Πολυνείκης
πρῶτα μὲν Οἰδιπόδηι καλὴν παρέθηκε τράπεζαν
ἀργυρέην Κάδμοιο θεόφρονος• αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
χρύσεον ἔμπλησεν καλὸν δέπας ἡδέος οἴνου.
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς φράσθη παρακείμενα πατρὸς ἑοῖο
τιμήεντα γέρα, μέγα οἱ κακὸν ἔμπεσε θυμῶι,
αἶψα δὲ παισὶν ἑοῖσιν ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπαρὰς
ἀργαλέας ἠρᾶτο• θοὴν δ’ οὐ λάνθαν’ ᾿Ερινύν•
ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρώϊ’ ἐνηέι φιλότητι
δάσσαιντ’, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε

Fr.4 (Found in Scholion to Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, 1375)

“When [Oedipus] noticed the cut of meat, he hurled it to the ground and spoke:
‘Alas, my children have sent this as a reproach to me…’
He prayed to King Zeus and the other gods
That they would go to Hades’ home at each other’s hands.

ἰσχίον ὡς ἐνόησε, χαμαὶ βάλεν εἶπέ τε μῦθον•
‘ὤ μοι ἐγώ, παῖδες μέγ’ ὀνειδείοντες ἔπεμψαν …’
εὖκτο Διὶ βασιλῆϊ καὶ ἄλλοις ἀθανάτοισι
χερσὶν ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων καταβήμεναι ῎Αιδος εἴσω.

“Dual”-ing Mythologies: One Erginos or Two?

Two different figures named Erginos seem to appear in Greek mythographic and poetic traditions. One is Erginos the son of Klumenos, a descendent of Minyas and king of Orchomenos. Another is a son of Apollo who traveled from Miletus to join the voyage of the Argonauts. Pindar appears to combine the two.

The son of Poseidon who appears in Argonautic tales is said to be from Miletus:
Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 186-189:

“And two other children of Poseidon arrived,
One abandoned the city of glorious Miletus,
Erginos,the other, overwhelming Angkaios,
Left the seat of Imbrasian Hera, Parthenia.
Both boasted of their knowledge of seafaring and war.”

καὶ δ’ ἄλλω δύο παῖδε Ποσειδάωνος ἵκοντο,
ἤτοι ὁ μὲν πτολίεθρον ἀγαυοῦ Μιλήτοιο
νοσφισθεὶς ᾿Εργῖνος, ὁ δ’ ᾿Ιμβρασίης ἕδος ῞Ηρης
Παρθενίην ᾿Αγκαῖος ὑπέρβιος· ἴστορε δ’ ἄμφω
ἠμὲν ναυτιλίης ἠδ’ ἄρεος εὐχετόωντο.

Orphic Argonautica, 152-4:

“Erginos also came, leaving begin the rich-grained field
Of Brankhos and the land of dusky Milêtos,
where the rivers of the much-wandering Maiander flow.”

῎Ηλυθε δ’ ᾿Εργῖνος, Βράγχου πολύπυρον ἄρουραν
ἐκπρολιπὼν καὶ τύρσιν ἐρυμνῆς Μιλήτοιο,
ἔνθα ῥοαὶ κλύζουσι πολυπλανέος Μαιάνδρου.

The other Erginos is a son of Klumenos and descendant of Minyas. He is from the city of Orkhomenos in Boeotia. Here is Apollodorus’ Story of Erginos (2.68-71)

“When Herakles arrived from the hunt, heralds arrived sent by Erginos so that they might seek reparations from the Thebans. The Thebans sent tribute for this reason: Menoikeos’ charioteer, named Periêrês, struck Klumenos the king of the Minyans with a stone and wounded him in the precinct of Poseidon at Ongkhêstos. When he was brought back to Orkhomenos half-dead he ordered his son Erginos to avenge his death as he died. Erginos attacked Thebes and forced them to make a treaty after killing many of them: they would send tribute to him for twenty years, a hundred bulls a year. Herakles tortured those heralds when he came upon them as they traveled to Thebes for the tribute. He cut off their ears and noses and hands and bound them by cords around their necks.

He told them to take this back as tribute for Erginos and the Minyans. Enraged over these things, Erginos led another army against Thebes. But Herakles took weapons from the Athenians, led the battle, killed Erginos, routed the Minyans and forced them to pay double the tribute to Thebes. During the battle, Amphitryon died while fighting nobly. For his excellence, Herakles received Kreon’s oldest daughter Megara and she gave him three children: Thêrimakhos, Kreontiadês, and Dêikoôn.”

ἀνακάμπτοντι δὲ αὐτῷ ἀπὸ τῆς θήρας συνήντησαν κήρυκες παρὰ ᾿Εργίνου πεμφθέντες, ἵνα παρὰ Θηβαίων τὸν δασμὸν λάβωσιν. ἐτέλουν δὲ Θηβαῖοι τὸν δασμὸν ᾿Εργίνῳ δι’ αἰτίαν τήνδε. Κλύμενον τὸν Μινυῶν βασιλέα λίθῳ βαλὼν Μενοικέως ἡνίοχος, ὄνομα Περιήρης, ἐν ᾿Ογχηστῷ Ποσειδῶνος τεμένει τιτρώσκει· ὁ δὲ κομισθεὶς εἰς ᾿Ορχομενὸν ἡμιθνὴς ἐπισκήπτει τελευτῶν ᾿Εργίνῳ τῷ παιδὶ ἐκδικῆσαι τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ. στρατευσάμενος δὲ ᾿Εργῖνος ἐπὶ Θήβας, κτείνας οὐκ ὀλίγους ἐσπείσατο μεθ’ ὅρκων, ὅπως πέμπωσιν αὐτῷ Θηβαῖοι δασμὸν ἐπὶ εἴκοσιν ἔτη, κατὰ ἔτος ἑκατὸν βόας. ἐπὶ τοῦτον τὸν δασμὸν εἰς Θήβας τοὺς κήρυκας ἀπιόντας συντυχὼν ῾Ηρακλῆς ἐλωβήσατο· ἀποτεμὼν γὰρ αὐτῶν τὰ ὦτα καὶ τὰς ῥῖνας, καὶ διὰ σχοινίων τὰς χεῖρας δήσας ἐκ τῶν τραχήλων, ἔφη τοῦτον ᾿Εργίνῳ καὶ Μινύαις δασμὸν κομίζειν. ἐφ’ οἷς ἀγανακτῶν ἐστράτευσεν ἐπὶ Θήβας. ῾Ηρακλῆς δὲ λαβὼν ὅπλα παρ’ ᾿Αθηνᾶς καὶ πολεμαρχῶν ᾿Εργῖνον μὲν ἔκτεινε, τοὺς δὲ Μινύας ἐτρέψατο καὶ τὸν δασμὸν διπλοῦν ἠνάγκασε Θηβαίοις φέρειν. συνέβη δὲ κατὰ τὴν μάχην ᾿Αμφιτρύωνα γενναίως μαχόμενον τελευτῆσαι. λαμβάνει δὲ ῾Ηρακλῆς παρὰ Κρέοντος ἀριστεῖον τὴν πρεσβυτάτην θυγατέρα Μεγάραν, ἐξ ἧς αὐτῷ παῖδες ἐγένοντο τρεῖς, Θηρίμαχος Κρεοντιάδης Δηικόων.

But an earlier narrative appears to make the two Erginoi one and the same. Pindar makes the son of Klumenos a figure who is also part of the Argonautic tradition:

Pind. Olympian 4.17-27

“I will not stain my story
With a lie. A test proves the worth of a man.
This rescued the child of Klumenos
from the dishonor of the Lemnian women.
He won the race in bronze armor
And said to Hypsipyle as he left with the crown:
“This is my speed:
My hands and heart are its equal. Sometimes gray hair
grows even on young men.”
thick, before the appointed time.
οὐ ψεύδεϊ τέγξω
λόγον· διάπειρά τοι βροτῶν ἔλεγχος
ἅπερ Κλυμένοιο παῖδα
Λαμνιάδων γυναικῶν ἔλυσεν ἐξ ἀτιμίας.
χαλκέοισι δ’ ἐν ἔντεσι νικῶν δρόμον
ἔειπεν ῾Υψιπυλείᾳ μετὰ στέφανον ἰών·
‘οὗτος ἐγὼ ταχυτᾶτι·
χεῖρες δὲ καὶ ἦτορ ἴσον. φύονται δὲ καὶ νέοις
ἐν ἀνδράσιν πολιαί
θαμάκι παρὰ τὸν ἁλικίας ἐοικότα χρόνον.’
A scholion to Pindar provides a little more information about this tale:

Schol.Pind. O4 32b-c
“This contest took the dishonor of the Lemnian women away from the son of Klymenos. The story goes like this: when Hypsipyle held funeral games for her father Thoas, the king of the Lemnians, it happened that the Argonauts appeared as they were sailing for the golden fleece and they offered to compete in the games. One of them, Erginos, was younger than old, but his hair was prematurely grey and he was taunted by the women for it. But he showed them in the deeds by defeating his competitors. They were the sons of Boreas, Zetes and Kalaïs.”

ἥτις διάπειρα τὸν Κλυμένου παῖδα ἀπέλυσε τῆς ἀτιμίας τῶν ἐν Λήμνῳ γυναικῶν.
ἡ δὲ ἱστορία τοιαύτη· ῾Υψιπύλης ἀγῶνα ἐπιτελούσης ἐπιτάφιον Θόαντι τῷ πατρὶ Λημνίων βασιλεῖ, συμβέβηκεν ἀπιόντας ἐπὶ τὸ χρυσοῦν δέρας τοὺς ᾿Αργοναύτας ἐκεῖσε γενέσθαι, καὶ προτραπέντας εἰς τὸν ἀγῶνα ἀγωνίσασθαι. εἷς ὢν οὖν αὐτῶν ὁ ᾿Εργῖνος νεώτερος μὲν τῷ χρόνῳ, προπόλιος δὲ τὴν κόμην, ὡς μὴ ἱκανὸς ἀγωνίσασθαι διὰ τὴν ὄψιν τῶν πολιῶν ἐγελᾶτο ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν καὶ ἐπεκερτομεῖτο. ὡς δὲ διὰ τῶν ἔργων ἐδείχθη ὑπερβαλλόμενος τοὺς ἀγωνιστάς· ἦσαν δὲ οἱ τοῦ Βορέου παῖδες Ζήτης καὶ Κάλαϊς·

The geographer Strabo claims that Minyans were Argonauts, and also places Erginos in Orkhomenos (9.2.40)

“Next the poet recites the catalog of the Orkhomenians, whom he distinguishes from the Boiotian tribe. He calls Orkhomenos “Minyan” from the tribe of the descendants of Minyas. People say that some of the Minyans left there for Iolcus and that this is why the Argonauts are called Minyans. The city appears to be ancient and to have been wealthy and very powerful. A testament to this is Homer, too. For when he numbers the places that were very wealthy he says “not as much as arrives in Orkhomenos or Egyptian Thebes. Indicative of its power is the fact that the Thebans paid a tribute to the Orkhomenians and their ruler Erginos who they say was killed by Herakles. Eteokles, one of those who ruled in Orkhomenos, was first to show both wealth and power in building the shrine of the Graces, either because he took graces, bestowed them, or for both reasons he honored the goddesses there.”

῾Εξῆς δ’ ὁ ποιητὴς μέμνηται τοῦ τῶν ᾿Ορχομενίων καταλόγου, χωρίζων αὐτοὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ Βοιωτιακοῦ ἔθνους. καλεῖ δὲ Μινύειον τὸν ᾿Ορχομενὸν ἀπὸ ἔθνους τοῦ Μινυῶν· ἐντεῦθεν δὲ ἀποικῆσαί τινας τῶν Μινυῶν εἰς ᾿Ιωλκόν φασιν, ὅθεν τοὺς ᾿Αργοναύτας Μινύας λεχθῆναι. φαίνεται δὲ τὸ παλαιὸν καὶ πλουσία τις γεγονυῖα πόλις καὶ δυναμένη μέγα· τοῦ μὲν οὖν πλούτου μάρτυς καὶ ῞Ομηρος· διαριθμούμενος γὰρ τοὺς τόπους τοὺς πολυχρηματήσαντάς φησιν „οὐδ’ ὅσ’ ἐς ᾿Ορχομενὸν ποτινίσσεται, „οὐδ’ ὅσα Θήβας Αἰγυπτίας.” τῆς δυνάμεως δέ, ὅτι Θηβαῖοι δασμὸν ἐτέλουν τοῖς ᾿Ορχομενίοις καὶ ᾿Εργίνῳ τῷ τυραννοῦντι αὐτῶν, ὃν ὑφ’ ῾Ηρακλέους καταλυθῆναί φασιν. ᾿Ετεοκλῆς δέ, τῶν βασιλευσάντων ἐν ᾿Ορχομενῷ τις, Χαρίτων ἱερὸν ἱδρυσάμενος πρῶτος ἀμφότερα ἐμφαίνει, καὶ πλοῦτον καὶ δύναμιν, ὃς εἴτ’ ἐν τῷ λαμβάνειν χάριτας εἴτ’ ἐν τῷ διδόναι
κατορθῶν εἴτε καὶ ἀμφότερα, τὰς θεὰς ἐτίμησε ταύτας.

A scholion to Ap.Rhodes attempts to clarify the situation (several sources make Minyas a son of Poseidon):

Scholia to Ap.Rhodes 1.186

“One was the son, but Erginos was really a descendant. Angkaios was the son of Astupalaia, the Phoenician, and Poseidon. Erginos was the son of Klumenos, the son of Presbaon, and Bouzugê, the daugher of Lykos. He was Miletus…”

185—88a καὶ δ’ ἄλλω δύο παῖδε: ὁ μὲν ἦν υἱός, ὁ δὲ ᾿Εργῖνος ἀπόγονος· ᾿Αγκαῖος υἱὸς ᾿Αστυπαλαίας τῆς Φοίνικος καὶ Ποσειδῶνος, ᾿Εργῖνος δὲ Κλυμένου τοῦ Πρέσβωνος καὶ Βουζύγης τῆς Λύκου. ὁ δὲ Μίλητος, ἀφ’ οὗ καὶ ἡ πόλις Μίλητος…

I still haven’t figured out the Milesian connection. So expect more! But I am fairly confident that there really just was one Erginos…


A krater by the Niobid painter showing Argonauts

#MythMonth Madness: The Story of Erginos

The following fragment of Pherecydes, the fifth century mythographer, is from a Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenissae 53. Fowler (Early Greek Mythography, 2001) prints this as Pherecydes fr. 95):

“Pherecydes says these things about the children and the marriages of Oedipus: “Kreon,” he says, “gave the kingdom and Laios’ wife, his own mother Iokasta to Oedipus, and from here were born Phrastôr and Laonutos, who died thanks to the Minyans and Erginos. Then a year had passed, Oedipus married Euryganeia, the daughter of Periphas, and from her were born Antigone and Ismene, the girl Tydeus took at the stream and for that reason the stream is called Ismene. The sons Eteokles and Polyneices were also born to Oedipus from here. When Euryganeia died, Oedipus married Astymedea, the daughter of Stenelos. And some people add that Euryganeia was the sister of Oedipus’ mother Iokaste.”

γαμεῖ δὲ τὴν τεκοῦσαν: Φερεκύδης τὰ κατὰ τοὺς Οἰδίποδος παῖδας καὶ τὰς γημαμένας οὕτως ἱστορεῖ· ‘Οἰδίποδι, φησὶ, Κρέων δίδωσι τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα Λαΐου, μητέρα δ’ αὐτοῦ ᾿Ιοκάστην, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ Φράστωρ καὶ Λαόνυτος, οἳ θνῄσκουσιν ὑπὸ Μινυῶν καὶ ᾿Εργίνου. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐνιαυτὸς παρῆλθε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους Εὐρυγάνειαν τὴν Περίφαντος, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ ᾿Αντιγόνη καὶ ᾿Ισμήνη, ἣν ἀναιρεῖ Τυδεὺς ἐπὶ κρήνης καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ἡ κρήνη ᾿Ισμήνη καλεῖται. υἱοὶ δὲ αὐτῷ ἐξ αὐτῆς ᾿Ετεοκλῆς καὶ Πολυνείκης. ἐπεὶ δὲ Εὐρυγάνεια ἐτελεύτησε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους ᾿Αστυμέδουσαν τὴν Σθενέλου.’ τινὲς δὲ Εὐρυγάνειαν ἀδελφὴν λέγουσιν εἶναι ᾿Ιοκάστης τῆς μητρὸς Οἰδίποδος: —

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