No, Virginia…There is No Tragic Flaw

Aristotle, Poetics 1452e34-1453a9

“Since it is right that the structure of the best tragedy not be simple but be complex instead and evoking both fearful and pitiful emotions—for that is the particular power of this kind of artistic representation—as an initial principle, it is clear that decent men should not be  be shown undergoing a change from good fortune to bad fortune, for that is repugnant rather than pitiful or fearful. And it is also not right for depraved people to enjoy a change from bad fortune to good fortune, because that is the least tragic notion of all and has none of the necessary qualities. Such a plot does not create empathy and fails to produce pity or fear.

[Tragedy] should also not show an especially bad person falling from good fortune to bad—for this might engender empathy but without pity or fear since the first is felt for someone who is unworthy of bad fortune and the second is for someone who is similar [to us] (pity is for someone unworthy of suffering; fear is for someone like us suffering). The response to [a wicked person] falling is not pitiful or fearful. What remains [for tragedy] is the person in between. A person like this is not impeccable in terms of justice nor for his wickedness and evil, but he falls into misfortune because of some kind of mistake. This kind of person is from those well-known families, like Oedipus or Thyestes.”

γον, ἐφεξῆς ἂν εἴη λεκτέον τοῖς νῦν εἰρημένοις. ἐπειδὴ οὖν δεῖ τὴν σύνθεσιν εἶναι τῆς καλλίστης τραγῳδίας μὴ ἁπλῆν ἀλλὰ πεπλεγμένην καὶ ταύτην φοβερῶν καὶ ἐλεεινῶν εἶναι μιμητικήν (τοῦτο γὰρ ἴδιον τῆς τοιαύτης μιμήσεώς ἐστιν), πρῶτον μὲν δῆλον ὅτι οὔτε τοὺς ἐπιεικεῖς ἄνδρας δεῖ μεταβάλλοντας φαίνεσθαι ἐξ εὐτυχίας εἰς δυστυχίαν, οὐ γὰρ φοβερὸν οὐδὲ ἐλεεινὸν τοῦτο ἀλλὰ μιαρόν ἐστιν· οὔτε τοὺς μοχθηροὺς ἐξ ἀτυχίας εἰς εὐτυχίαν, ἀτραγῳδότατον γὰρ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ πάντων, οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔχει ὧν δεῖ, οὔτε γὰρ φιλάνθρωπον οὔτε ἐλεεινὸν οὔτε φοβερόν ἐστιν· οὐδ’ αὖ τὸν σφόδρα πονηρὸν συμβαῖνον. ὁ μεταξὺ ἄρα τούτων λοιπός. ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ὁ μήτε ἀρετῇ διαφέρων καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μήτε διὰ κακίαν καὶ μοχθηρίαν μεταβάλλων εἰς τὴν δυστυχίαν ἀλλὰ δι’ ἁμαρτίαν τινά, τῶν ἐν μεγάλῃ δόξῃ ὄντων καὶ εὐτυχίᾳ, οἷον Οἰδίπους καὶ Θυέστης καὶ οἱ ἐκ τῶν τοιούτων γενῶν ἐπιφανεῖς ἄνδρες.

This passage (and a few others) have been misread since the rise of Christianity to mean that the tragic protagonist “suffers a fall because of a tragic flaw”. This is essentially bogus for lexicographical and contextual reasons. In early Greek, hamartia means to make a mistake: it comes from an archery metaphor and is related to the verb hamartanô, which means “to miss the mark”. This is a mistake that is not connected to an essential character goodness or badness.

from Beekes 2010

hamartano

The Christian use of hamartia is “sin”, which, as we all know from our Sunday School, is innate and a sign of our essential badness. Wanting to have sex with people is a sin; driving badly and hitting someone from inattention is an accident. In my understanding of tragedy, hamartia means the latter. Yes, one might be distractable and an essentially bad driver and we may see this as in some way a flaw, but this is a cultural perspective that mixes determinism and responsibility in a strange way.

Contextually, Aristotle makes the specific point that the tragic hero should not be essentially wicked. If one is essentially wicked, the audience cannot make the key identification necessary to feel pity or fear. Now, one could argue that in a Christian context where everyone is flawed because of sin, the doctrine might still be said to apply. But this is not the Aristotelian context and this is not what Aristotle had in mind.

[The Wikipedia article is pretty good on this]

Fragmentary Friday: The Invention of Writing

Euripides, Palamedes (fr. 578)

“Alone once I set out drugs of forgetfulness,
Voiceless, yet speaking—when I made the syllables
I discovered as letters for men to see
So one who was not present over the wide sea
Knows well everything happening in his home,
And as someone dies he speaks for those writing the measure of his wealth
For his children and for the one who accepts it to know.
And the evils that cause people to fall into strife,
A record dissolves–it does not permit the speaking of lies.”

Τὰ τῆς γε λήθης φάρμακ’ ὀρθώσας μόνος
ἄφωνα καὶ φωνοῦντα συλλαβάς τε θεὶς
ἐξεῦρον ἀνθρώποισι γράμματ’ εἰδέναι,
ὥστ’ οὐ παρόντα ποντίας ὑπὲρ πλακὸς
τἀκεῖ κατ’ οἴκους πάντ’ ἐπίστασθαι καλῶς,
παισίν τ’ ἀποθνῄσκοντα χρημάτων μέτρον
γράψαντας εἰπεῖν, τὸν λαβόντα δ’ εἰδέναι.
ἃ δ’ εἰς ἔριν πίπτουσιν ἀνθρώποις κακά,
δέλτος διαιρεῖ, κοὐκ ἐᾷ ψευδῆ λέγειν.

fr. 580

“Agamemnon, human beings have every kind
Of luck—but it comes together in this one thing.
Everyone—both those who love art and those
Who live without it toil over money
And whoever has the most is the wisest.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισι πᾶσαν αἱ τύχαι
μορφὴν ἔχουσι, συντρέχει δ᾿ εἰς ἓν τόδε·
†τούτου† δὲ πάντες, οἵ τε μουσικῆς φίλοι
ὅσοι τε χωρὶς ζῶσι, χρημάτων ὕπερ
μοχθοῦσιν, ὃς δ᾿ ἂν πλεῖστ᾿ ἔχῃ σοφώτατος.

581

“Endless numbers of us might become leaders
But in a long time only one or two might become wise.”

στρατηλάται τἂν μυρίοι γενοίμεθα,
σοφὸς δ᾿ ἂν εἷς τις ἢ δύ᾿ ἐν μακρῷ χρόνῳ.

Image result for ancient greek palamedes

Palamedes before Agamemnon in a 1626 painting by Rembrandt

Asylum: Greek and Latin Word, Sacred Right

Appian, Roman History, 9.8

“…By the shared law of all humans, according to which even you accept those who are refugees from other places.”

κοινῷ γε πάντων ἀνθρώπων νόμῳ, καθὰ καὶ ὑμεῖς τοὺς ἑτέρωθεν φεύγοντας ὑποδέχεσθε.

asulon

Aeschylus, Suppliants 605-622

It seemed best to the Argives and it was so unanimous
that I felt young again in my old heart
for the air was thick with the right hands
of the whole people as they approved this plan:
that we strangers should have the right to settle
here freely, safe from arrest or attack from mortals,
that no one domestic or foreign might drive us away.
And if force is used against us,
that any citizen who does not help us
may lose his rights in exile from this country.

The leader of the Pelasgians persuaded the people
when he spoke about us, warning about how the rage
of Zeus the suppliant god might fall in future days
on the city, promising a double curse
on citizen and foreigner alike, emerging for the city
to be an insatiable parent of pain.
When they heard this, the Argive public voted
without the official call to approve the asylum.”

ἔδοξεν Ἀργείοισιν, οὐ διχορρόπως,
ἀλλ᾿ ὥστ᾿ ἀνηβῆσαί με γηραιᾷ φρενί—πανδημίᾳ
γὰρ χερσὶ δεξιωνύμοις
ἔφριξεν αἰθὴρ τόνδε κραινόντων λόγον—ἡμᾶς
μετοικεῖν τῆσδε γῆς ἐλευθέρους
κἀρρυσιάστους ξύν τ᾿ ἀσυλίᾳ βροτῶν,
καὶ μήτ᾿ ἐνοίκων μήτ᾿ ἐπηλύδων τινὰ
ἄγειν· ἐὰν δὲ προστιθῇ τὸ κάρτερον,
τὸν μὴ βοηθήσαντα τῶνδε γαμόρων
ἄτιμον εἶναι ξὺν φυγῇ δημηλάτῳ.
τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔπειθε ῥῆσιν ἀμφ᾿ ἡμῶν λέγων
ἄναξ Πελασγῶν, Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου κότον.

Euripides, Medea 727-728

“If you can make it to my home on your own,
You may stay there safely [in asylum]; I will surrender you to no one.”

αὐτὴ δ᾿ ἐάνπερ εἰς ἐμοὺς ἔλθῃς δόμους,
μενεῖς ἄσυλος κοὔ σε μὴ μεθῶ τινι.

From Lewis and Short: A Latin Dictionary

ăsȳlum , i, n., = ἄσυλον,

I.a place of refugea sanctuaryan asylum: “servusqui in illud asylum confugisset,” Cic. Verr. 2, 1, 33: “Romulus asylum aperit,” Liv. 1, 8: “lucum asylum referre,” Verg. A. 8, 342: “Junonis asylum,” id. ib. 2, 761: “asyla statuere,” Tac. A. 3, 60: “lucus asyli,” id. H. 3, 71Gell. 6, 2 fin.: de asylo procedere, * Vulg. 2 Macc. 4, 34 al.

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 32.13

“Here, the convoy fleeing from their own homes met an armed force which was being taken for the food-gathering there to be safer; the disorganized and unarmed crowd which was mixed as well with noncombatants was murdered by armed men.”

hoc sedibus suis extorre agmen in praesidium incidit quod ad Thaumacos quo tutior frumentatio esset ducebatur: incondita inermisque multitudo, mixta et imbelli turba, ab armatis caesa est

“A Ball Game With Body Parts”: The Death of Pentheus

Euripides, Bacchae 1125-1136

“[Agave] grabbed his left hand in her arms
As she tread onto the ribs of that unlucky man
And then ripped his arm from his shoulder, not with her own strength
But the power which the god placed in her hands.
Ino was working through his other side,
Breaking apart his flesh, and Autonoê and the whole mob
Of the Bacchae was attacking—there was just a single cry everywhere.
He was moaning out as much of the breath he happened to have,
And they were exulting. One woman was holding an arm;
Another had a foot still in its shoes; his sides were stripped
Nude, with flesh gone. Every woman’s hands was bloodied
As they played a ball game with Pentheus’ body’s parts.”

λαβοῦσα δ’ ὠλέναισ’ ἀριστερὰν χέρα,
πλευροῖσιν ἀντιβᾶσα τοῦ δυσδαίμονος
ἀπεσπάραξεν ὦμον, οὐχ ὑπὸ σθένους
ἀλλ’ ὁ θεὸς εὐμάρειαν ἐπεδίδου χεροῖν.
᾿Ινὼ δὲ τἀπὶ θάτερ’ ἐξηργάζετο
ῥηγνῦσα σάρκας, Αὐτονόη τ’ ὄχλος τε πᾶς
ἐπεῖχε βακχῶν· ἦν δὲ πᾶσ’ ὁμοῦ βοή,
ὁ μὲν στενάζων ὅσον ἐτύγχαν’ ἐμπνέων,
αἱ δ’ ὠλόλυζον. ἔφερε δ’ ἡ μὲν ὠλένην,
ἡ δ’ ἴχνος αὐταῖς ἀρβύλαις, γυμνοῦντο δὲ
πλευραὶ σπαραγμοῖς, πᾶσα δ’ ἡιματωμένη
χεῖρας διεσφαίριζε σάρκα Πενθέως.

No, Virginia, There is No Tragic Flaw

Aristotle, Poetics 1452e34-1453a9

“Since it is right that the structure of the best tragedy not be simple but be complex instead and evoking both fearful and pitiful emotions—for that is the particular power of this kind of artistic representation—as an initial principle, it is clear that decent men should not be  be shown undergoing a change from good fortune to bad fortune, for that is repugnant rather than pitiful or fearful. And it is also not right for depraved people to enjoy a change from bad fortune to good fortune, because that is the least tragic notion of all and has none of the necessary qualities. Such a plot does not create empathy and fails to produce pity or fear.

[Tragedy] should also not show an especially bad person falling from good fortune to bad—for this might engender empathy but without pity or fear since the first is felt for someone who is unworthy of bad fortune and the second is for someone who is similar [to us] (pity is for someone unworthy of suffering; fear is for someone like us suffering). The response to [a wicked person] falling is not pitiful or fearful. What remains [for tragedy] is the person in between. A person like this is not impeccable in terms of justice nor for his wickedness and evil, but he falls into misfortune because of some kind of mistake. This kind of person is from those well-known families, like Oedipus or Thyestes.”

γον, ἐφεξῆς ἂν εἴη λεκτέον τοῖς νῦν εἰρημένοις. ἐπειδὴ οὖν δεῖ τὴν σύνθεσιν εἶναι τῆς καλλίστης τραγῳδίας μὴ ἁπλῆν ἀλλὰ πεπλεγμένην καὶ ταύτην φοβερῶν καὶ ἐλεεινῶν εἶναι μιμητικήν (τοῦτο γὰρ ἴδιον τῆς τοιαύτης μιμήσεώς ἐστιν), πρῶτον μὲν δῆλον ὅτι οὔτε τοὺς ἐπιεικεῖς ἄνδρας δεῖ μεταβάλλοντας φαίνεσθαι ἐξ εὐτυχίας εἰς δυστυχίαν, οὐ γὰρ φοβερὸν οὐδὲ ἐλεεινὸν τοῦτο ἀλλὰ μιαρόν ἐστιν· οὔτε τοὺς μοχθηροὺς ἐξ ἀτυχίας εἰς εὐτυχίαν, ἀτραγῳδότατον γὰρ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ πάντων, οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔχει ὧν δεῖ, οὔτε γὰρ φιλάνθρωπον οὔτε ἐλεεινὸν οὔτε φοβερόν ἐστιν· οὐδ’ αὖ τὸν σφόδρα πονηρὸν συμβαῖνον. ὁ μεταξὺ ἄρα τούτων λοιπός. ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ὁ μήτε ἀρετῇ διαφέρων καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μήτε διὰ κακίαν καὶ μοχθηρίαν μεταβάλλων εἰς τὴν δυστυχίαν ἀλλὰ δι’ ἁμαρτίαν τινά, τῶν ἐν μεγάλῃ δόξῃ ὄντων καὶ εὐτυχίᾳ, οἷον Οἰδίπους καὶ Θυέστης καὶ οἱ ἐκ τῶν τοιούτων γενῶν ἐπιφανεῖς ἄνδρες.

This passage (and a few others) have been misread since the rise of Christianity to mean that the tragic protagonist “suffers a fall because of a tragic flaw”. This is essentially bogus for lexicographical and contextual reasons. In early Greek, hamartia means to make a mistake: it comes from an archery metaphor and is related to the verb hamartanô, which means “to miss the mark”. This is a mistake that is not connected to an essential character goodness or badness.

from Beekes 2010

hamartano

The Christian use of hamartia is “sin”, which, as we all know from our Sunday School, is innate and a sign of our essential badness. Wanting to have sex with people is a sin; driving badly and hitting someone from inattention is an accident. In my understanding of tragedy, hamartia means the latter. Yes, one might be distractable and an essentially bad driver and we may see this as in some way a flaw, but this is a cultural perspective that mixes determinism and responsibility in a strange way.

Contextually, Aristotle makes the specific point that the tragic hero should not be essentially wicked. If one is essentially wicked, the audience cannot make the key identification necessary to feel pity or fear. Now, one could argue that in a Christian context where everyone is flawed because of sin, the doctrine might still be said to apply. But this is not the Aristotelian context and this is not what Aristotle had in mind.

[The Wikipedia article is pretty good on this]

(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…!

Figure8

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.

Figure9

Destroyer, Born on the Ground, Pitiable: Etymologies for Helen

In a choral ode from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, we find a folk etymology implied for Helen’s name. Where I have translated “killer”, the Greek has versions of the aorist of αἵρεω (εἶλον) which, without its augment looks like the beginning of Helen’s name (ἑλ-).

 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
Helen?
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois
For a bloody strife.”

Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
πολύανδροί
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Ancient etymologies do not follow this Aeschylean play.

Etym. Gudianum

“Helenê. From attracting [helkein] many to her beauty. Or it is from helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos].”

     ῾Ελένη· … ἀπὸ τοῦ πολλοὺς ἕλκειν ἐν τῷ κάλλει αὐτῆς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἑλκύουσα τοὺς νέους ἀνθρώπους· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγεννῆσθαι.

Etym.  Magnum

“Helenê: A heroine. From helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos]. Or because she was thrown in a marshy [helôdei] place by Tyndareus once she obtained some divine prescience and she was taken back up by Leda. Helenê was named from pity [heleos].”

     ῾Ελένη: ῾Η ἡρωΐς· παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἕλκουσα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους· διὰ τὸ πολλοὺς ἑλεῖν τῷ κάλλει· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγενῆσθαι, ἡ ὑπὸ τοῦ Τυνδάρεω ἐν ἑλώδει τόπῳ ῥιφθεῖσα, θείας δέ τινος προνοίας τυχοῦσα, καὶ ἀναληφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Λήδας. ᾿Εκ τοῦ ἕλους οὖν ῾Ελένη ὠνομάσθη.

Modern linguistics show that Helen’s name is just really hard to figure out.

Some Modern Material

In Lakonia, Helen was original spelled with a digamma. (And this may have extended to Corinth and Chalcidice too Cf. R. Wachter Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions 2001, §251).

74 Von Kamptz 1958, 136 suggests that her name is a “cognate of σέλας” to evoke a sense of “shining”, as in her beauty. Cf. Kanavou 2015, 72

Vedic Saranyu: Skutsch 1987, 189; Puhvel 1987, 141–143 (The initial breathing in Greek often points to a lost initial *s but the digamma in certain dialects confuses this) The Vedic name means swift. The PIE root suggested here is *suel-.

Helen has variously been suggested as coming from a vegetation goddess (see Helena Dendritis, Paus. 3.19.9–10; Herodotus 6.61; cf. Skutsch 1987) or a goddess of light.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen

The Unlikely Way: Our Kind of Story

Euripides, Bacchae 1388-1392

Many are the forms of divine powers
Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make.
The very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
This turned out to be that kind of story.

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί·
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τῶν δ᾿ ἀδοκήτων πόρον ηὗρε θεός.
τοιόνδ᾿ ἀπέβη τόδε πρᾶγμα.

[but also at the end of AlcestisMedeaAndromache, Helen]

Lucian in The Symposium 48

“That, my dear Philo, was the end of that party. But it is better to intone that tragic phrase: ‘Many are the forms of divine powers / Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make. / The very things which seemed likely did not happen’

For all these things too turned out to be unexpected. I have still learned this much now: it is not safe for a man who is unaccomplished to share a meal with clever men like this.”

Τοῦτό σοι τέλος, ὦ καλὲ Φίλων, ἐγένετο τοῦσυμποσίου, ἢ ἄμεινον τὸ τραγικὸν ἐκεῖνο ἐπειπεῖν,

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί,
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη·

ἀπροσδόκητα γὰρ ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀπέβη καὶ ταῦτα. ἐκεῖνό γε μὴν1 μεμάθηκα ἤδη, ὡς οὐκ ἀσφαλὲς ἄπρακτον ὄντα συνεστιᾶσθαι τοιούτοις σοφοῖς.

Lucian, Gout, a Tragedy 325-334

“Many are the forms of the unlucky
but let the care and habit of pains
bring some comfort to men with gout.
This is how, my fellow sufferers,
you will forget our toils,
if the very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
Let every person who suffers endure
being taunted and being mocked.
For this affair is that kind of thing.”

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν ἀτυχούντων,
μελέται δὲ πόνων καὶ τὸ σύνηθες
τοὺς ποδαγρῶντας παραμυθείσθω.
ὅθεν εὐθύμως, ὦ σύγκληροι,
λήσεσθε πόνων,
εἰ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τοῖς δ᾿ ἀδοκήτοις πόρον εὗρε θεός.
πᾶς δ᾿ ἀνεχέσθω τῶν πασχόντων
ἐμπαιζόμενος καὶ σκωπτόμενος·
τοῖον γὰρ ἔφυ τόδε πρᾶγμα.

Image result for medieval manuscript gout

James Gillray, The Gout, 1799.

“Who Killed Him?” An Allegory from Euripides

Euripides, Bacchae 1259-1289

Kadmos
Oh, gods. Once you all understand what you have done,
You will feel a terrible pain. But if you stay permanently
forever as you are now
You will not be happy but you will not seem to be cursed.

Agave
What of this is not noble or is painful?

Kadmos
First move your gaze to the sky.

Agave
Look! What is this you are telling me to see?

Kadmos
Is this the same or does it seem to you to have changed?

Agave
It shines brighter than before and it is clearer

Kadmos
Is this high still there in your mind?

Agave
I don’t understand what you’re saying. But I think
I am somewhat aware, that I am coming down from my earlier thoughts.

Kadmos
Would you hear then and answer me clearly?

Agave
Father, I have forgotten what we said earlier.

Kadmos
To what home did you go after you were married?

Agave
You gave me to Ekhiôn, one of the sewn-men, people say.

Kadmos
Who is the child born to your husband at home?

Agave
Pentheus, the son shared by his father and me.

Kadmos
Whose face do you hold then in your hands?

Agave
A lion’s…that’s what my fellow hunters say…

Kadmos
Look again, carefully. It is a small labor to see.

Agave
Ah, what do I see? What is this I hold in my hands?

Kadmos
Examine it and learn it more clearly.

Agave
I see the greatest pain, what kind of wretch am I…

Kadmos
Does it seem to look like a lion to you?

Agave
No…but, oh wretched me I am holding Pentheus’ head…

Kadmos
This was mourned before you could see it, at least.

Agave
Who killed him? How did he end up in my hands?

Kadmos
How horrible a truth appears at the wrong time.

Agave
Tell me! How my heart jumps at the future….

Kadmos
You killed him. And your sisters too.

 ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
φεῦ φεῦ· φρονήσασαι μὲν οἷ᾿ ἐδράσατε
ἀλγήσετ᾿ ἄλγος δεινόν· εἰ δὲ διὰ τέλους
ἐν τῷδ᾿ ἀεὶ μενεῖτ᾿ ἐν ᾧ καθέστατε,
οὐκ εὐτυχοῦσαι δόξετ᾿ οὐχὶ δυστυχεῖν.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
τί δ᾿ οὐ καλῶς τῶνδ᾿ ἢ τί λυπηρῶς ἔχει;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
πρῶτον μὲν ἐς τόνδ᾿ αἰθέρ᾿ ὄμμα σὸν μέθες.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ἰδού· τί μοι τόνδ᾿ ἐξυπεῖπας εἰσορᾶν;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ἔθ᾿ αὑτὸς ἤ σοι μεταβολὰς ἔχειν δοκεῖ;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λαμπρότερος ἢ πρὶν καὶ διειπετέστερος.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τὸ δὲ πτοηθὲν τόδ᾿ ἔτι σῇ ψυχῇ πάρα;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
οὐκ οἶδα τοὔπος τοῦτο. γίγνομαι δέ πως
ἔννους, μετασταθεῖσα τῶν πάρος φρενῶν.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
κλύοις ἂν οὖν τι κἀποκρίναι᾿ ἂν σαφῶς;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ὡς ἐκλέλησμαί γ᾿ ἃ πάρος εἴπομεν, πάτερ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ἐς ποῖον ἦλθες οἶκον ὑμεναίων μέτα;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
Σπαρτῷ μ᾿ ἔδωκας, ὡς λέγουσ᾿, Ἐχίονι.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τίς οὖν ἐν οἴκοις παῖς ἐγένετο σῷ πόσει;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
Πενθεύς, ἐμῇ τε καὶ πατρὸς κοινωνίᾳ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τίνος πρόσωπον δῆτ᾿ ἐν ἀγκάλαις ἔχεις;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λέοντος, ὥς γ᾿ ἔφασκον αἱ θηρώμεναι.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
σκέψαι νυν ὀρθῶς· βραχὺς ὁ μόχθος εἰσιδεῖν.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ἔα, τί λεύσσω; τί φέρομαι τόδ᾿ ἐν χεροῖν;

ἄθρησον αὐτὸ καὶ σαφέστερον μάθε.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ὁρῶ μέγιστον ἄλγος ἡ τάλαιν᾿ ἐγώ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
μῶν σοι λέοντι φαίνεται προσεικέναι;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ Πενθέως ἡ τάλαιν᾿ ἔχω κάρα.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ᾠμωγμένον γε πρόσθεν ἢ σὲ γνωρίσαι.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
τίς ἔκτανέν νιν; πῶς ἐμὰς ἦλθ᾿ ἐς χέρας;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
δύστην᾿ ἀλήθει᾿, ὡς ἐν οὐ καιρῷ πάρει.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λέγ᾿, ὡς τὸ μέλλον καρδία πήδημ᾿ ἔχει.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
σύ νιν κατέκτας καὶ κασίγνηται σέθεν.

Homer, Odyssey 1.30-32

“Mortals! They are always blaming the gods
and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves
suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.”

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

Fortunate Is the One Who Is Happy Today

Euripides Bacchae, Fourth Chorus (862-912)

“Will I ever lift my white foot
As I dance along
In the all night chorus—
Shaking my head at the dewy sky
Like the fawn who plays
In a meadow’s pale pleasures
When she has fled the frightful hunt
Beyond the well-woven nets of the guard—
With a holler, the hunter
Recalls the rush of his hounds
And she leaps
With the swift-raced lust of the winds
Across the riverbounded plain,
Taking pleasure in the places free
Of mortals and in the tender shoots
Of the shadow grove?

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Scarcely, but still surely,
The divine moves its strength
It brings mortals low
When they honor foolishness
And do not worship the gods
Because of some insane belief
They skillfully hide
The long step of time
As they hunt down the irreverent.
For it is never right
To think or practice stronger
Than the laws.
For it is a light price
To believe that these have strength—
Whatever the divine force truly is
And whatever has been customary for so long,
This will always be, by nature.

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Fortunate is the one who flees
The swell of the sea and returns to harbor.
Fortunate is the one who survives through troubles
One is greater than another in different things,
He surpasses in fortune and power—
But in numberless hearts still
Are numberless hopes: some result
In good fortune, but other mortal dreams
Just disappear.

Whoever has a happy life to-day,
I consider fortunate.

Χο. ἆρ’ ἐν παννυχίοις χοροῖς
θήσω ποτὲ λευκὸν
πόδ’ ἀναβακχεύουσα, δέραν
αἰθέρ’ ἐς δροσερὸν ῥίπτουσ’,
ὡς νεβρὸς χλοεραῖς ἐμπαί-
ζουσα λείμακος ἡδοναῖς,
ἁνίκ’ ἂν φοβερὰν φύγηι
θήραν ἔξω φυλακᾶς
εὐπλέκτων ὑπὲρ ἀρκύων,
θωύσσων δὲ κυναγέτας
συντείνηι δράμημα κυνῶν,
μόχθοις δ’ ὠκυδρόμοις ἀελ-
λὰς θρώισκηι πεδίον
παραποτάμιον, ἡδομένα
βροτῶν ἐρημίαις σκιαρο-
κόμοιό τ’ ἔρνεσιν ὕλας;
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
ὁρμᾶται μόλις, ἀλλ’ ὅμως
πιστόν <τι> τὸ θεῖον
σθένος· ἀπευθύνει δὲ βροτῶν
τούς τ’ ἀγνωμοσύναν τιμῶν-
τας καὶ μὴ τὰ θεῶν αὔξον-
τας σὺν μαινομέναι δόξαι.
κρυπτεύουσι δὲ ποικίλως
δαρὸν χρόνου πόδα καὶ
θηρῶσιν τὸν ἄσεπτον· οὐ
γὰρ κρεῖσσόν ποτε τῶν νόμων
γιγνώσκειν χρὴ καὶ μελετᾶν.
κούφα γὰρ δαπάνα νομί-
ζειν ἰσχὺν τόδ’ ἔχειν,
ὅτι ποτ’ ἄρα τὸ δαιμόνιον,
τό τ’ ἐν χρόνωι μακρῶι νόμιμον
ἀεὶ φύσει τε πεφυκός.
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
εὐδαίμων μὲν ὃς ἐκ θαλάσσας
ἔφυγε χεῖμα, λιμένα δ’ ἔκιχεν·
εὐδαίμων δ’ ὃς ὕπερθε μόχθων
ἐγένεθ’· ἕτερα δ’ ἕτερος ἕτερον
ὄλβωι καὶ δυνάμει παρῆλθεν.
μυρίαι δ’ ἔτι μυρίοις
εἰσὶν ἐλπίδες· αἱ μὲν
τελευτῶσιν ἐν ὄλβωι
βροτοῖς, αἱ δ’ ἀπέβασαν·
τὸ δὲ κατ’ ἦμαρ ὅτωι βίοτος
εὐδαίμων, μακαρίζω.

Image result for ancient greek good fortune

Cornucopia

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