Seneca on Life’s Ups and Downs

Seneca, Thyestes, 607-621.

You whom the ruler of land and sea
Gave great power over life and death,
Put away your haughty, pompous airs.
What an inferior man fears from you
You in turn fear from a higher master.
All power is under more grave power.

The rising day sees a man at peak pride,
And the departing day sees him ruined.
No one should be too sure of good fortune,
And no one should despair better won’t come.
Clotho mixes the two, stops Fortune
Standing still, and turns every destiny.

No one has had such propitious gods
That he can promise himself tomorrow.
A god turns and turns our lives, wheeling
Them about in a whirring whirlwind.

Vos quibus rector maris atque terrae
ius dedit magnum necis atque vitae,
ponite inflatos tumidosque vultus.
quicquid a vobis minor expavescit,
maior hoc vobis dominus minatur;
omne sub regno graviore regnum est.
quem dies vidit veniens superbum,
hunc dies vidit fugiens iacentem.
Nemo confidat nimium secundis,
nemo desperet meliora lassis:
miscet haec illis prohibetque Clotho
stare Fortunam, rotat omne fatum,
nemo tam divos habuit faventes,
crastinum ut posset sibi polliceri.
res deus nostras celeri citatas
turbine versat.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Woken From Sleep By Pain

Quintus, Posthomerica 13.122-133

“….the boundless grief shook from sleep
The young children whose hearts had previously felt no pain.

People were dying all over, mixed among one another.
Some faded away seeing their death alongside dreams. And their Deaths
Took some kind of shrill joy in their pitiful passing.

They were killed by the thousands like pigs lined up
For an endless banquet for friends in a rich man’s home.

The wine that was left over in their cups was mixed with
Bloody gore and there was no one at all who could have carried
An iron weapon out of the slaughter–and so the Trojans were dying.”

οἰμωγὴ δ’ ἀταλάφρονας ἔκβαλεν ὕπνου
νηπιάχους τῶν οὔ πω ἐπίστατο κήδεα θυμός.
Ἄλλοι δ’ ἀμφ’ ἄλλοισιν ἀπέπνεον· οἳ δ’ ἐκέχυντο
πότμον ὁμῶς ὁρόωντες ὀνείρασιν· ἀμφὶ δὲ λυγραὶ
Κῆρες ὀιζυρῶς ἐπεγήθεον ὀλλυμένοισιν.
οἳ δ’ ὥς τ’ ἀφνειοῖο σύες κατὰ δώματ’ ἄνακτος
εἰλαπίνην λαοῖσιν ἀπείριτον ἐντύνοντος
μυρίοι ἐκτείνοντο, λυγρῷ δ’ ἀνεμίσγετο λύθρῳ
οἶνος ἔτ’ ἐν κρητῆρσι λελειμμένος. οὐδέ τις ἦεν
ὅς κεν ἄνευθε φόνοιο φέρε στονόεντα σίδηρον,
οὐδ’ εἴ τις μάλ’ ἄναλκις ἔην. ὀλέκοντο δὲ Τρῶες·

One of a series of designs (the Trojan War) by Jean Foucquet (1415–1485) from which tapestry hangings were woven, probably at Arras in the middle of the 15th century.

Words, Friends, and the Future: Solace and Distraction for the Pain

From the Suda

“Pharmakon [medicine]: conversation, consoling, it comes from pherein [bringing] akos [relief/cure]. But it is also said to come from flowers.”

Φάρμακον: παραμυθία, ὁμιλία, εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ φέρειν τὴν ἄκεσιν: εἴρηται δὲ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθέων

Euripides, Helen 698-699

“if you find good luck in the time that is left
Perhaps it will be solace for the things in the past”

εἰ καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ τῆς τύχης εὐδαίμονος
τύχοιτε, πρὸς τὰ πρόσθεν ἀρκέσειεν ἄν.

Basil, Letter 131

“Since we both need consolation, may we be solace to one another.”

ἐπεὶ οὖν ἀμφότεροι χρῄζομεν παρακλήσεως, ἀλλήλοις γενώμεθα παραμυθία

Letter 302

“Since he has left you a memory of his particular virtue, believe that this is a sufficient solace for your pain.”

Ἐπεὶ οὖν κατέλιπέ σοι τὴν μνήμην τῆς οἰκείας αὐτοῦ4ἀρετῆς, ἀρκοῦσαν νόμιζε ἔχειν παραμυθίαν τοῦ πάθους.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9

“If you want a private passage at hand to soothe your heart, the knowledge of the world around you will give you some solace at death, the world you leave and the kind of people your soul will no longer be associated with…..”

Εἰ δὲ καὶ ἰδιωτικὸν παράπηγμα ἁψικάρδιον ἐθέλεις, μάλιστά σε εὔκολον πρὸς τὸν θάνατον ποιήσει ἡ ἐπίστασις ἡ ἐπὶ τὰ ὑποκείμενα, ὧν μέλλεις ἀφίστασθαι, καὶ μεθ᾿ οἵων ἠθῶν οὐκέτι ἔσται ἡ <σὴ ψυχὴ> συμπεφυρμένη…

Thucydides, book 5

“Hope is indeed a comfort in danger: it may harm people who use it from abundance it does not destroy them. But for those who risk everything on one chance—since hope is expensive by nature—they will only know her nature when they suffer…”

Ἐλπὶς δέ, κινδύνῳ παραμύθιον οὖσα, τοὺς μὲν ἀπὸ περιουσίας χρωμένους αὐτῇ, κἂν βλάψῃ, οὐ καθεῖλε, τοῖς δὲ ἐς ἅπαν τὸ ὑπάρχον ἀναρριπτοῦσι (δάπανος γὰρ φύσει) ἅμα τε γιγνώσκεται σφαλέντων…

Plutarch, Dion, 53

“…for whom daily feasts and distractions provide are a consolation for their labors and risks.”

οἷς αἱ καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν πλησμοναὶ καὶ ἀπολαύσεις παραμυθία τῶν πόνων καὶ τῶν κινδύνων εἰσίν

This last bit reminds me of Thetis’ words to Achilles (24.128-132)

“My child, how long will you consume your heart
Grieving and mourning, thinking little of food
Or of sleep? It is good too to join a woman in love—
For you will not live with me long, but already
Death and strong fate loom around you.”

τέκνον ἐμὸν τέο μέχρις ὀδυρόμενος καὶ ἀχεύων
σὴν ἔδεαι κραδίην μεμνημένος οὔτέ τι σίτου
οὔτ’ εὐνῆς; ἀγαθὸν δὲ γυναικί περ ἐν φιλότητι
μίσγεσθ’· οὐ γάρ μοι δηρὸν βέῃ, ἀλλά τοι ἤδη
ἄγχι παρέστηκεν θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα κραταιή.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Young Woman Contemplating Two Embracing Children (1861)

Some Proverbs from Arsenius, Paroemiographer

“Only words [reason] is medicine for grief”

Λόγος μέν ἐστι φάρμακον λύπης μόνος.

“Conversation [ or ‘reason’] is the doctor for suffering in the soul”

Λόγος ἰατρὸς τοῦ κατὰ ψυχὴν πάθους.

Euripides, fr. 1079

“Mortals have no other medicine for pain
Like the advice of a good man, a friend
Who has experience with this sickness.
A man who troubles then calms his thoughts with drinking,
Finds immediate pleasure, but laments twice as much later on.”

Οὐκ ἔστι λύπης ἄλλο φάρμακον βροτοῖς
ὡς ἀνδρὸς ἐσθλοῦ καὶ φίλου παραίνεσις.
ὅστις δὲ ταύτῃ τῇ νόσῳ ξυνὼν ἀνὴρ
μέθῃ ταράσσει καὶ γαληνίζει φρένα,
παραυτίχ’ ἡσθεὶς ὕστερον στένει διπλᾶ.

Menander (fr. 591 K.).

“The man who is sick in the body needs a doctor;
someone who is sick in the mind needs a friend
For a well-meaning friend knows how to treat grief.”

Τῷ μὲν τὸ σῶμα † διατεθειμένῳ κακῶς
χρεία ‘στ’ ἰατροῦ, τῷ δὲ τὴν ψυχὴν φίλου·
λύπην γὰρ εὔνους οἶδε θεραπεύειν φίλος.

Attributed to Socrates (in Stobaeus)

“The sick need doctors; the unlucky need encouragement from friends.”

Τοῖς μὲν νοσοῦσιν ἰατρούς, τοῖς δ’ ἀτυχοῦσι φίλους δεῖ παραινεῖν.

Sailing With Fortune to the Grave

Euripides, Trojan Women 102-105

“Sail following the stream, sail following fate,
Don’t set the prow of your life
Against the waves, sailing against fortune.”

πλεῖ κατὰ πορθμόν, πλεῖ κατὰ δαίμονα,
μηδὲ προσίστω πρῷραν βιότου
πρὸς κῦμα πλέουσα τύχαισιν.


“Don’t believe that anyone who is lucky is blessed
Before they’re dead.”

…τῶν δ᾽ εὐδαιμόνων
μηδένα νομίζετ᾽ εὐτυχεῖν, πρὶν ἂν θάνῃ.


“Any mortal is a fool who takes some pleasure
From imagining their good luck is safe: in its turns
Fortune’s like a crazed person leaping this way one day
And then another, no one ever keeps the same good luck.”

θνητῶν δὲ μῶρος ὅστις εὖ πράσσειν δοκῶν
βέβαια χαίρει: τοῖς τρόποις γὰρ αἱ τύχαι,
ἔμπληκτος ὡς ἄνθρωπος, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἄλλοσε
πηδῶσι, κοὐδεὶς αὐτὸς εὐτυχεῖ ποτε.


“I imagine it makes no difference to the dead
If they receive some rich funeral.
This is the source of silly pride for the living.”

δοκῶ δὲ τοῖς θανοῦσι διαφέρειν βραχύ,
εἰ πλουσίων τις τεύξεται κτερισμάτων:
κενὸν δὲ γαύρωμ᾽ ἐστὶ τῶν ζώντων τόδε.

Hecuba Kills Polymestor, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi

Such Unexpected Pain

Aeschylus Persians, 93-100

“What mortal person will escape
A god’s crooked deception?
Who steps with a light enough foot
To leap away through the air?

For destruction seems at first friendly, even fawning
As it draws someone aside into a trap
From which it is impossible for any mortal to escape
Or even avoid.”

δολόμητιν δ᾿ ἀπάταν θεοῦ
τίς ἀνὴρ θνατὸς ἀλύξει;
τίς ὁ κραιπνῷ ποδὶ πηδή-
ματος εὐπετέος ἀνάσσων;
φιλόφρων γὰρ ποτισαίνουσα τὸ πρῶτον παράγει
βροτὸν εἰς ἀρκύστατ᾿ Ἄτα,
τόθεν οὐκ ἔστιν ὑπὲκ θνατὸν ἀλύξαντα φυγεῖν.


“Light does not shine on the poor no matter how strong they are
Nor do the masses honor undefended wealth.”

μήτ᾿ ἀχρημάτοισι λάμπειν φῶς, ὅσον σθένος πάρα,
μήτε χρημάτων ἀνάνδρων πλῆθος ἐν τιμῇ σέβειν


“I have been silent for a while, struck with pains
By these evils. The disaster runs over all bounds
of speaking or asking about its suffering.
Still, necessity forces mortals to endure the pains
The gods send us. Pull yourself together,
Tell us everything that happened…”

σιγῶ πάλαι δύστηνος ἐκπεπληγμένη
κακοῖς· ὑπερβάλλει γὰρ ἥδε συμφορά,
τὸ μήτε λέξαι μήτ᾿ ἐρωτῆσαι πάθη.
ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνάγκη πημονὰς βροτοῖς φέρειν
θεῶν διδόντων· πᾶν δ᾿ ἀναπτύξας πάθος
λέξον καταστάς, κεἰ στένεις κακοῖς ὅμως·


“This old life has seemed
to have run too long,
To witness such unexpected pain.”

ἦ μακροβίοτος ὅδε γέ τις αἰ-
ὼν ἐφάνθη γεραιοῖς, ἀκού-
ειν τόδε πῆμ᾿ ἄελπτον.


“Friends, whoever gains some practice in troubles
Understands that when a wave of troubles come
We mortals tend to fear everything.
But when a god makes things easy, you think
You’ll always sail under the same favorable wind.”

φίλοι, κακῶν μὲν ὅστις ἔμπειρος κυρεῖ,
ἐπίσταται βροτοῖσιν ὡς ὅταν κλύδων
κακῶν ἐπέλθῃ, πάντα δειμαίνειν φιλεῖ,
ὅταν δ᾿ ὁ δαίμων εὐροῇ, πεποιθέναι
τὸν αὐτὸν αἰὲν ἄνεμον οὐριεῖν τύχης.\

TOMB OF XERXES;KING;NAGSH-E-ROSTAM;nima boroumand; نيما برومند

Expect the Unexpected! Returning to Euripides’ “Ion” Online

Euripides, Ion 1510-1511

“May no one ever believe that anything is unexpected,
thanks to the events that are happening now.”

μηδεὶς δοκείτω μηδὲν ἀνθρώπων ποτὲ
ἄελπτον εἶναι πρὸς τὰ τυγχάνοντα νῦν.

Euripides, Ion 1311

“We will give pain to those who pained us”

λυπήσομέν τιν᾿ ὧν λελυπήμεσθ᾿ ὕπο

Our previous performance from June 17, 2020

This week, we return to Euripides’ Ion, a play which centers around Apollo’s rape of Creusa, her exposure of the child, and the events which bring about the reunion of mother and child outside the Delphic oracle. In and amidst this plot, we witness reflections on divine caprice, a woman’s sufferings, anxiety about foreign nobles and indigenous power, and deep interest in ritual places and the foundation myths of Athens. And, of course, we have politics and power: this play was performed during the Peloponnesian War, after Athens had suffered a terrible setback during the Sicilian Expedition.


Euripides, Ion 129-135

“Apollo, my work for you
Is noble as I honor the seat of your prophecy,
Toiling in front of your home.
Oh, to work as a slave for the gods
Not mortals!
I never get tired pushing through
Labor of such good name.”

Φοῖβε, σοὶ πρὸ δόμων λατρεύω,
τιμῶν μαντεῖον ἕδραν·
κλεινὸς δ᾿ ὁ πόνος μοι
θεοῖσιν δούλαν χέρ᾿ ἔχειν
οὐ θνατοῖς ἀλλ᾿ ἀθανάτοις·
εὐφάμους δὲ πόνους
μοχθεῖν οὐκ ἀποκάμνω.

Scenes (Using this script)

236-391 Ion, Creusa, Chorus
429-451 Ion
517-607 Ion, Xuthus, Chorus
1122-1228 Servant
1261-1444 Ion, Creusa, Chorus, Priestess

Euripides, Ion 247-254

“Stranger, your way is not uncultured,
That you come into wonder at my tears.
Now that I look upon this home of Apollo’s
I have recalled some ancient memory.
While I was here, my mind remained someplace else.
Miserable women. Miserable deeds by the gods!
What do I do? To what court of appeal can I turn
When I’m ruined by the injustice of those who rule us?”

ὦ ξένε, τὸ μὲν σὸν οὐκ ἀπαιδεύτως ἔχει
ἐς θαύματ᾿ ἐλθεῖν δακρύων ἐμῶν πέρι·
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἰδοῦσα τούσδ᾿ Ἀπόλλωνος δόμους
μνήμην παλαιὰν ἀνεμετρησάμην τινά·
ἐκεῖσε τὸν νοῦν ἔσχον ἐνθάδ᾿ οὖσά περ.
ὦ τλήμονες γυναῖκες· ὦ τολμήματα
θεῶν. τί δῆτα; ποῖ δίκην ἀνοίσομεν,
εἰ τῶν κρατούντων ἀδικίαις ὀλούμεθα;


Hannah Barrie

Paul O’Mahony

Special Guests:  Nancy Felson

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support:  Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

Euripides, Ion 1300

“You were trying to kill me because of fear of the future?”

κἄπειτα τοῦ μέλλειν μ᾿ ἀπέκτεινες φόβῳ;

Euripides, Ion 585-594

“Matters don’t have the same appearance
When seen from up close or from a distance.
I welcome this change of events,
Discovering you as my father. But hear me out.
They claim that some of the famous Athenians
Are native born to the soil itself, not immigrants.
I would suffer from two diseases among them,
As the bastard song of a foreign father
Because of this very insult, I would remain weak,
I would be the nothing son of nobodies.”

οὐ ταὐτὸν εἶδος φαίνεται τῶν πραγμάτων
πρόσωθεν ὄντων ἐγγύθεν θ᾿ ὁρωμένων.
ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν μὲν συμφορὰν ἀσπάζομαι,
πατέρα σ᾿ ἀνευρών· ὧν δὲ γιγνώσκω †πέρι†
ἄκουσον. εἶναί φασι τὰς αὐτόχθονας
κλεινὰς Ἀθήνας οὐκ ἐπείσακτον γένος,
ἵν᾿ ἐσπεσοῦμαι δύο νόσω κεκτημένος,
πατρός τ᾿ ἐπακτοῦ καὐτὸς ὢν νοθαγενής.
καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἔχων τοὔνειδος, ἀσθενὴς μένων
<αὐτὸς τὸ> μηδὲν κοὐδένων κεκλήσομαι.

Euripides, Ion 1522-1527

“Look, mom, could it be that you slipped in that sickness
Which often afflicts maidens into hidden affairs
And then laid the blame on the good?
Did you try to flee my disgrace by saying
That you conceived me with Apollo when it really wasn’t a god?”

ὅρα σύ, μῆτερ, μὴ σφαλεῖσ᾿ ἃ παρθένοις
ἐγγίγνεται νοσήματ᾿ ἐς κρυπτοὺς γάμους
ἔπειτα τῷ θεῷ προστίθης τὴν αἰτίαν,
καὶ τοὐμὸν αἰσχρὸν ἀποφυγεῖν πειρωμένη
Φοίβῳ τεκεῖν με φῄς, τεκοῦσ᾿ οὐκ ἐκ θεοῦ.

Leaving, Forgetting Troy

Euripides, Trojan Women, 25-27

“I am leaving famous Ilion and my altars.
Whenever terrible isolation overtakes a city
The gods’ places turn sick and don’t want to receive worship”

λείπω τὸ κλεινὸν Ἴλιον βωμούς τ᾽ ἐμούς:
ἐρημία γὰρ πόλιν ὅταν λάβῃ κακή,
νοσεῖ τὰ τῶν θεῶν οὐδὲ τιμᾶσθαι θέλει.


“That famous lord of the Achaeans, Agamemnon
Will make me a wife harder to handle than Helen:
I will kill him. I will destroy his home
And take vengeance for my brothers and father…”

Ἑλένης γαμεῖ με δυσχερέστερον γάμον
ὁ τῶν Ἀχαιῶν κλεινὸς Ἀγαμέμνων ἄναξ.
κτενῶ γὰρ αὐτόν, κἀντιπορθήσω δόμους
ποινὰς ἀδελφῶν καὶ πατρὸς λαβοῦσ᾽ ἐμοῦ…


“Their army has earned this kind of praise:
Silence is better for shame, may my Muse
Never be a singer who recalls their terrible deeds.”

ἦ τοῦδ᾽ ἐπαίνου τὸ στράτευμ᾽ ἐπάξιον. —
σιγᾶν ἄμεινον τᾀσχρά, μηδὲ μοῦσά μοι
γένοιτ᾽ ἀοιδὸς ἥτις ὑμνήσει κακά.


“Listen how it is with Hektor’s mournful tale:
He died, leaving a reputation as the best man.
The coming of the Greeks made this happen.
If they had stayed home, his value would have stayed hidden.”

τὰ δ᾽ Ἕκτορός σοι λύπρ᾽ ἄκουσον ὡς ἔχει:
δόξας ἀνὴρ ἄριστος οἴχεται θανών,
καὶ τοῦτ᾽ Ἀχαιῶν ἵξις ἐξεργάζεται:
εἰ δ᾽ ἦσαν οἴκοι, χρηστὸς ὢν ἐλάνθανεν.


“You fear a child this young? I can’t praise fear
When someone is frightened without examining why.”

βρέφος τοσόνδ᾽ ἐδείσατ᾽: οὐκ αἰνῶ φόβον,
ὅστις φοβεῖται μὴ διεξελθὼν λόγῳ.

Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant, La mort d’Astyanax, 1868

May You Count Yourself Lucky, Today

Sophocles, Trachinae 1-3

“People have an ancient famous proverb:
That you should not judge any mortal lives
You can’t see them as good or bad before someone dies

Λόγος μὲν ἔστ᾿ ἀρχαῖος ἀνθρώπων φανεὶς
ὡς οὐκ ἂν αἰῶν᾿ ἐκμάθοις βροτῶν, πρὶν ἂν
θάνῃ τις, οὔτ᾿ εἰ χρηστὸς οὔτ᾿ εἴ τῳ κακός·

Soph. Trach. 132-135

“For neither starry night
Nor the death spirits
Nor wealth remain for mortals,
But delight and loss disappear
And then each returns again.”

μένει γὰρ οὔτ᾿ αἰόλα
νὺξ βροτοῖσιν οὔτε κῆ-
ρες οὔτε πλοῦτος, ἀλλ᾿ ἄφαρ
βέβακε, τῷ δ᾿ ἐπέρχεται
χαίρειν τε καὶ στέρεσθαι.

Trachiniae 943-947

“whoever counts more than
Two days ahead in their life,
Is foolish. When it comes to living well
There’s no tomorrow before the present day is done.”

…ὥστ᾿ εἴ τις δύο
ἢ κἀπὶ πλείους ἡμέρας λογίζεται,
μάταιός ἐστιν· οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ᾿ ἥ γ᾿ αὔριον
πρὶν εὖ πάθῃ τις τὴν παροῦσαν ἡμέραν.


“No one can see what the future will be,
And our present is our pity
But their shame,
And hardest of all people
On the one who endures this ruin.”

τὰ μὲν οὖν μέλλοντ᾿ οὐδεὶς ἐφορᾷ,
τὰ δὲ νῦν ἑστῶτ᾿ οἰκτρὰ μὲν ἡμῖν,
αἰσχρὰ δ᾿ ἐκείνοις,
χαλεπώτατα δ᾿ οὖν ἀνδρῶν πάντων
τῷ τήνδ᾿ ἄτην ὑπέχοντι.


Herodotus, Histories 1.32

“I cannot answer what you ask me until I hear that you have ended your life well. Someone who is really rich is no more blessed than someone who has enough for just a day unless chance finds them keeping all the fine things and dying well. For many super wealthy people turnout unlucky and many of modest means fare well. The person who is really wealthy but unlucky is ahead of the merely lucky person in two ways but the lucky person has many advantages over the unlucky.

A wealthy person has the resources to do what they want and to hold out when disaster strikes. But a lucky person does not get disabled, sick, avoids suffering, has good children, and keeps looking good. If that person dies well in addition to these other things, well that’s the kind of person you’re looking for. Then someone is worthy of being called blessed.

But don’t call anyone blessed before they’re dead. Just lucky.”

ἐκεῖνο δὲ τὸ εἴρεό με, οὔκω σε ἐγὼ λέγω, πρὶν τελευτήσαντα καλῶς τὸν αἰῶνα πύθωμαι. οὐ γάρ τι ὁ μέγα πλούσιος μᾶλλον τοῦ ἐπ᾿ ἡμέρην ἔχοντος ὀλβιώτερος ἐστί, εἰ μή οἱ τύχη ἐπίσποιτο πάντα καλὰ ἔχοντα εὖ τελευτῆσαι τὸν βίον. πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ζάπλουτοι ἀνθρώπων ἀνόλβιοι εἰσί, πολλοὶ δὲ μετρίως ἔχοντες βίου εὐτυχέες. ὁ μὲν δὴ μέγα πλούσιος ἀνόλβιος δὲ δυοῖσι προέχει τοῦ εὐτυχέος μοῦνον, οὗτος δὲ τοῦ πλουσίου καὶ ἀνόλβου πολλοῖσι· ὃ μὲν ἐπιθυμίην ἐκτελέσαι καὶ ἄτην μεγάλην προσπεσοῦσαν ἐνεῖκαι δυνατώτερος, ὃ δὲ τοῖσιδε προέχει ἐκείνου· ἄτην μὲν καὶ ἐπιθυμίην οὐκ ὁμοίως δυνατὸς ἐκείνῳ ἐνεῖκαι, ταῦτα δὲ ἡ εὐτυχίη οἱ ἀπερύκει, ἄπηρος δὲ ἐστί, ἄνουσος, ἀπαθὴς κακῶν, εὔπαις, εὐειδής. εἰ δὲ πρὸς τούτοισι ἔτι τελευτήσει τὸν βίον εὖ, οὗτος ἐκεῖνος τὸν σὺ ζητέεις, ὁ ὄλβιος κεκλῆσθαι ἄξιος ἐστί· πρὶν δ᾿ ἂν τελευτήσῃ, ἐπισχεῖν, μηδὲ καλέειν κω ὄλβιον ἀλλ᾿ εὐτυχέα.

File:Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer, Getty Center.JPG
Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer

Dedicating What To Your Stepmother? Mother’s Day With Some Ancient Greek

Lucian, On the Syrian Goddess 16

“These things seem quite entertaining to me, but they are not true. I have also heard another reason for the bit, much more credible.  I am happy with what is said by those who generally agree in Greece, who believe that the goddess is Hera and the work was made by Dionysus. For Dionysus went into Syria on the road that goes to Ethiopia. There are many signs left by Dionysus in the Shrine, among them are foreign clothing and Indian stones and Elephant horns which Dionysus brought from Ethiopia. There are also two really big phalluses that stand up at the entrance gates. This epigram has been inscribed upon them. ‘Dionysus dedicated these phalluses to Hera, his stepmother.’

This remains enough for me, but I will tell you of another oddity in the temple of Dionysus. The Greeks bear phalloi in honor of Dionysus, and they carry something in front of it, a little man carved out of wood which has huge genitals. These are called puppets. There is also one of these in the temple. On the right side of the temple, there is a small bronze man that has giant genitals.”

[Thanks to the commander of trash for making me look at this passage]

Τὰ δέ μοι εὐπρεπέα μὲν δοκέει ἔμμεναι, ἀληθέα δὲ οὔ· ἐπεὶ καὶ τῆς τομῆς ἄλλην αἰτίην ἤκουσα πολλὸν πιστοτέρην. ἁνδάνει δέ μοι ἃ λέγουσιν τοῦ ἱροῦ πέρι τοῖς ῞Ελλησι τὰ πολλὰ ὁμολογέοντες, τὴν μὲν θεὸν ῞Ηρην δοκέοντες, τὸ δ’ ἔργον Διονύσου τοῦ Σεμέλης ποίημα· καὶ γὰρ δὴ Διόνυσος ἐς Συρίην ἀπίκετο κείνην ὁδὸν τὴν ἦλθεν ἐς Αἰθιοπίην. καὶ ἔστι πολλὰ ἐν τῷ ἱρῷ Διονύσου ποιητέω σήματα, ἐν τοῖσι καὶ ἐσθῆτες βάρβαροι καὶ λίθοι ᾿Ινδοὶ καὶ ἐλεφάντων κέρεα, τὰ Διόνυσος ἐξ Αἰθιόπων ἤνεικεν, καὶ φαλλοὶ δὲ ἑστᾶσι ἐν τοῖσι προπυλαίοισι δύο κάρτα μεγάλοι, ἐπὶ τῶν ἐπίγραμμα τοιόνδε ἐπιγέγραπται, “τούσδε φαλλοὺς Διόνυσος ῞Ηρῃ μητρυιῇ ἀνέθηκα.” τὸ ἐμοὶ μέν νυν καὶ τόδε ἀρκέει, ἐρέω δὲ καὶ ἄλλ’ ὅ τι ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ νηῷ Διονύσου ὄργιον. φαλλοὺς ῞Ελληνες Διονύσῳ ἐγείρουσιν, ἐπὶ τῶν καὶ τοιόνδε τι φέρουσιν, ἄνδρας μικροὺς ἐκ ξύλου πεποιημένους, μεγάλα αἰδοῖα ἔχοντας· καλέεται δὲ τάδε νευρόσπαστα. ἔστι δὲ καὶ τόδε ἐν τῷ ἱρῷ· ἐν δεξιῇ τοῦ νηοῦ κάθηται μικρὸς ἀνὴρ χάλκεος ἔχων αἰδοῖον μέγα.

Some Fragments on mothers to make up for this atrocity

Sophocles, Fr. 685 (Phaedra)

“Children are the anchors of a mother’s life”

ἀλλ’ εἰσὶ μητρὶ παῖδες ἄγκυραι βίου

Euripides’ Meleager Fr. 527

“The only things you can’t get with money
Are nobility and virtue. A noble child
Can be born from a poor woman’s body.”

μόνον δ’ ἂν ἀντὶ χρημάτων οὐκ ἂν λάβοις
γενναιότητα κἀρετήν• καλὸς δέ τις
κἂν ἐκ πενήτων σωμάτων γένοιτο παῖς.

Euripides, fr. 358 (Erechtheus)

“Children have nothing sweeter than their mother.
Love your mother children, there is no kind of love anywhere
Sweeter than this one to love.”

οὐκ ἔστι μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἥδιον τέκνοις•
ἐρᾶτε μητρός, παῖδες, ὡς οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔρως
τοιοῦτος ἄλλος ὅστις ἡδίων ἐρᾶν.

Sophocles, Electra 770-771

“Even if she suffers terribly, a mother cannot hate her child.”

οὐδὲ γὰρ κακῶς
πάσχοντι μῖσος ὧν τέκῃ προσγίγνεται.

And a somewhat nicer passage

According to the Greek Anthology there was a temple to Apollônis, the mother of Attalos and Eumenes, at Cyzicos. The temple had at least nineteen epigrams inscribed on columns with accompanying relief images. All of the epigrams have mothers from myth and poetry as their subjects. The Eighth Epigram is on Odysseus’ mother Antikleia.

On the eighth tablet is the underworld visit of Odysseus. He addressed is own mother and asked her for news of his home (Greek Anthology 3.8)

“Wise-minded mother of Odysseus, Antikleia
You didn’t welcome your son home to Ithaka while alive.
Instead, he is shocked when his glance falls upon his sweet mother
Now wandering along the banks of Akheron.”

᾿Εν τῷ Η ἡ τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως νεκυομαντεία• καθέστηκεν τὴν ἰδίαν μητέρα ᾿Αντίκλειαν περὶ τῶν κατὰ τὸν οἶκον ἀνακρίνων

Μᾶτερ ᾿Οδυσσῆος πινυτόφρονος, ᾿Αντίκλεια,
ζῶσα μὲν εἰς ᾿Ιθάκην οὐχ ὑπέδεξο πάιν•
ἀλλά σε νῦν ᾿Αχέροντος ἐπὶ ῥηγμῖσι γεγῶσαν
θαμβεῖ, ἀνὰ γλυκερὰν ματέρα δερκόμενος.

Of course, this scene plays upon book 11 of the Odyssey doubly: the image recalls Odysseus describing his mother in the Odyssey and it also plays upon the Odyssey’s catalogue of heroic mothers motif, which it in turn shares with the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue Of Women.


“Then came the spirit of my mother who had passed away,
The daughter of great-hearted Autolykos, Antikleia
Whom I left alive when I went to sacred Troy.
When I saw her I cried and pitied her in my heart,
But I could not allow her to come forward to touch
The blood before I had learned from Teiresias.”

ἦλθε δ’ ἐπὶ ψυχὴ μητρὸς κατατεθνηυίης,
Αὐτολύκου θυγάτηρ μεγαλήτορος ᾿Αντίκλεια,
τὴν ζωὴν κατέλειπον ἰὼν εἰς ῎Ιλιον ἱρήν.
τὴν μὲν ἐγὼ δάκρυσα ἰδὼν ἐλέησά τε θυμῷ•
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς εἴων προτέρην, πυκινόν περ ἀχεύων,
αἵματος ἄσσον ἴμεν πρὶν Τειρεσίαο πυθέσθαι.

Attalos, Eumenes and Apollônis? These were members of the Attalid clan who ruled from Pergamon during the Hellenistic period (after 241 BCE). Attalus I married Apollônis who was from Cyzicos.

Image result for Ancient Greek mother
Achilles and his mom–a story for a different day.

The Restoration of Peace

Seneca. Hercules. 362-369.

If mortals continually nurse never-ending hate,
And anger once ignited never leaves their hearts,
But instead, the winning side maintains its arms
While the losing side readies its own,
Then wars will leave nothing standing.

The land will be neglected, the fields ravaged.
When the torch has been put to houses,
Deep ash will cover the inhabitants buried within.

It’s advantageous for the victor to wish
For the restoration of peace,
But for the defeated it’s a necessity.

si aeterna semper odia mortales gerant,
nec coeptus umquam cedat ex animis furor,
sed arma felix teneat infelix paret,
nihil relinquent bella; tum vastis ager
squalebit arvis, subdita tectis face
altus sepultas obruet gentes cinis.
pacem reduci velle victori expedit,
victo necesse est.

Yemen has been at war since 2014.
More than 370,000 have died.
Photo credit: Thomas Glass/ICRC.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at