The Most Shameful Plague

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 609-612

“I will tell you everything clearly that you need to learn,
Without interweaving riddles, in a direct speech,
The right way to open one’s mouth to friends.
You see Prometheus, the one who gave mortals fire.”

λέξω τορῶς σοι πᾶν ὅπερ χρήζεις μαθεῖν,
οὐκ ἐμπλέκων αἰνίγματ᾿, ἀλλ᾿ ἁπλῷ λόγῳ,
ὥσπερ δίκαιον πρὸς φίλους οἴγειν στόμα.
πυρὸς βροτοῖς δοτῆρ᾿ ὁρᾷς Προμηθέα.

682-686

“You hear what has happened. If you can,
Tell me the rest of my toils and don’t distract me
With false tales because you pity me
I think that manufactured lies are the most shameful plague.”

κλύεις τὰ πραχθέντ᾿. εἰ δ᾿ ἔχεις εἰπεῖν ὅ τι
λοιπὸν πόνων, σήμαινε· μηδέ μ᾿ οἰκτίσας
ξύνθαλπε μύθοις ψευδέσιν· νόσημα γὰρ
αἴσχιστον εἶναί φημι συνθέτους λόγους.

Jacob Jordaens – Prometheus bound, 1648

Who Punishes Gods for Doing Wrong?

Euripides Ion, 329-443

“Why does this woman abuse the god with words
And twist him up with constant riddles?
Is it because she loves the women she gets oracles for?
Is she keeping something silent because she needs to?
But why does Erekhtheus’ daughter matter to me?
She’s nothing to me! I will go to fill
The purificatory vessels with golden cups of water

I need to criticize Apollo. What’s he thinking?
He keeps ruining girls for marriage with rape
And producing children in secret only to ignore them
As they die. Don’t act this way, but since you can,
Pursue excellence. The gods punish any mortal
Who does wrong. How is it right for those who write
The laws for mortals to lead lawless lives?”

τί ποτε λόγοισιν ἡ ξένη πρὸς τὸν θεὸν
κρυπτοῖσιν αἰεὶ λοιδοροῦσ᾿ αἰνίσσεται;
ἤτοι φιλοῦσά γ᾿ ἧς ὕπερ μαντεύεται,
ἢ καί τι σιγῶσ᾿ ὧν σιωπᾶσθαι χρεών;
ἀτὰρ θυγατρὸς τῆς Ἐρεχθέως τί μοι
μέλει; προσήκει γ᾿ οὐδέν. ἀλλὰ χρυσέαις
πρόχοισιν ἐλθὼν εἰς ἀπορραντήρια
δρόσον καθήσω. νουθετητέος δέ μοι
Φοῖβος, τί πάσχει· παρθένους βίᾳ γαμῶν
προδίδωσι; παῖδας ἐκτεκνούμενος λάθρᾳ
θνῄσκοντας ἀμελεῖ; μὴ σύ γ᾿· ἀλλ᾿, ἐπεὶ κρατεῖς,
ἀρετὰς δίωκε. καὶ γὰρ ὅστις ἂν βροτῶν
κακὸς πεφύκῃ, ζημιοῦσιν οἱ θεοί.
πῶς οὖν δίκαιον τοὺς νόμους ὑμᾶς βροτοῖς
γράψαντας αὐτοὺς ἀνομίαν ὀφλισκάνειν

501-508

“Play your pipe, Pan
In your caves
Where some pitiful girl
Gave birth to a child with Apollo
And then exposed it as a feast
For the birds and beasts
The insult of their bitter ‘marriage’.
Never at the loom or in tales have I heard of
Mortal women having divine children and good fortune.”

συρίζεις, ὦ Πάν,
τοῖσι σοῖς ἐν ἄντροις,
ἵνα τεκοῦσά τις
παρθένος μελέα βρέφος
Φοίβῳ πτανοῖς ἐξόρισεν
θοίναν θηρσί τε φοινίαν
δαῖτα, πικρῶν γάμων ὕβριν·
οὔτ᾿ ἐπὶ κερκίσιν οὔτε †λόγοις† φάτιν
ἄιον εὐτυχίας μετέχειν θεόθεν τέκνα θνατοῖς.

Apollo on a coin

 

There’s No Hektor Here

Euripides, Andromache, 96-102

“I have not a single but many things to mourn:
My native city, Hektor dead, and the hateful
Fate to which I was tied when I fell
Unworthily into a life of slavery.
Don’t ever say that any mortal is blessed
Before you see how they end life at death
How they finish that last day and go below.”

πάρεστι δ᾽ οὐχ ἓν ἀλλὰ πολλά μοι στένειν,
πόλιν πατρῴαν τὸν θανόντα θ᾽ Ἕκτορα
στερρόν τε τὸν ἐμὸν δαίμον᾽ ᾧ συνεζύγην
δούλειον ἦμαρ εἰσπεσοῦσ᾽ ἀναξίως.
χρὴ δ᾽ οὔποτ᾽ εἰπεῖν οὐδέν᾽ ὄλβιον βροτῶν,
πρὶν ἂν θανόντος τὴν τελευταίαν ἴδῃς
ὅπως περάσας ἡμέραν ἥξει κάτω.

168-177

“No Hektor is in this place.
Nor Priam nor their gold. But this is a Greek city.
Are you so lost in your ignorance, you wretch,
That you dare to sleep with the man who killed
Your husband and to have a child for those who
Killed your family? This is the way of all foreigners:
A father sleeps with his daughter and son with his mother,
A girl sleeps with her brother and the dearest relatives
Fall apart over murder. The law prevents none of these things.
Don’t introduce any of these practices here: it is not good
For one man to hold the reins for two wives.
Anyone who wants to avoid living badly
Prefers looking to one lover in his bed.”

οὐ γάρ ἐσθ᾽ Ἕκτωρ τάδε,
οὐ Πρίαμος οὐδὲ χρυσός, ἀλλ᾽ Ἑλλὰς πόλις.
εἰς τοῦτο δ᾽ ἥκεις ἀμαθίας, δύστηνε σύ,
ἣ παιδὶ πατρός, ὃς σὸν ὤλεσεν πόσιν,
τολμᾷς ξυνεύδειν καὶ τέκν᾽ αὐθεντῶν πάρα
τίκτειν. τοιοῦτον πᾶν τὸ βάρβαρον γένος:
πατήρ τε θυγατρὶ παῖς τε μητρὶ μείγνυται
κόρη τ᾽ ἀδελφῷ, διὰ φόνου δ᾽ οἱ φίλτατοι
χωροῦσι, καὶ τῶνδ᾽ οὐδὲν ἐξείργει νόμος.
ἃ μὴ παρ᾽ ἡμᾶς εἴσφερ᾽: οὐδὲ γὰρ καλὸν
δυοῖν γυναικοῖν ἄνδρ᾽ ἕν᾽ ἡνίας ἔχειν,
ἀλλ᾽ εἰς μίαν βλέποντες εὐναίαν Κύπριν
στέργουσιν, ὅστις μὴ κακῶς οἰκεῖν θέλει.

“Amdromache” by Georges Rochegrosse

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

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

The Ways of Madmen And Wicked Fools

Euripides’ Bacchae, Second chorus 370-433

Sacred queen of the gods
Sacred one who flies
Over the earth on golden wing—
Did you hear these things about Pentheus?
Did you hear
Of his unholy outrage against Bromios
Semele’s son, the first of the gods
Called upon in the finely-wreathed
Feasts? He holds sway here,
To entwine us in the dances
To make us laugh with the flute
To dissolve our worries
Whenever the grape’s shine
Arrives at the feast of the gods
And in the ivy-wound banquets of men
Where the winebowl lets down its sleep.

The fate for unbridled mouths
And lawless foolishness
Is misfortune.
The life of peace
And prudence
Is unshaken and cements together
Human homes. For even though
They live far off in the sky
The gods gaze at human affairs.
Wisdom is not wit;
Nor is thinking thoughts which belong not to mortals.

Life is brief. And because of this
Whoever seeks out great accomplishments
May not grasp the things at hand.
These are the ways of madmen
And wicked fools, I think.

I wish I could travel to Cyprus
The island of Aphrodite
Where the enchanters of mortal minds live,
The Erotes, at Paphos
Where the hundred mouths
Of the barbarian river
Water fertile earth despite no rain;
I wish to go where Pieria
Looms so fair, that seat of the Muses,
The sacred slope of Mount Olympos—
Take me there, Bromios, my Bromios,
Divine master of ecstasy.
There are the Graces, there is Longing, there it is right
For the Bacchants to hold their sacred rites.

The god, the son of Zeus,
He delights in the feast,
He loves wealth-granting peace
The child-rearing goddess.
He has granted equally to the rich
And those below to have
The grief-relieving pleasure of wine.
He hates the person who has no care for these affairs.
During the day and during lovely nights
To live a good life,
To protect wisdom and thoughts and heart
From men who go too far.
Whatever the rather simple-minded mob believes
This is welcome enough belief for me.

῾Οσία πότνα θεῶν,
῾Οσία δ’ ἃ κατὰ γᾶν
χρυσέαι πτέρυγι φέρηι,
τάδε Πενθέως ἀίεις;
ἀίεις οὐχ ὁσίαν
ὕβριν ἐς τὸν Βρόμιον, τὸν
Σεμέλας, τὸν παρὰ καλλι-
στεφάνοις εὐφροσύναις δαί-
μονα πρῶτον μακάρων; ὃς τάδ’ ἔχει,
θιασεύειν τε χοροῖς
μετά τ’ αὐλοῦ γελάσαι
ἀποπαῦσαί τε μερίμνας,
ὁπόταν βότρυος ἔλθηι
γάνος ἐν δαιτὶ θεῶν, κισ-
σοφόροις δ’ ἐν θαλίαις ἀν-
δράσι κρατὴρ ὕπνον ἀμφιβάλληι.
ἀχαλίνων στομάτων
ἀνόμου τ’ ἀφροσύνας
τὸ τέλος δυστυχία·
ὁ δὲ τᾶς ἡσυχίας
βίοτος καὶ τὸ φρονεῖν
ἀσάλευτόν τε μένει καὶ
ξυνέχει δώματα· πόρσω
γὰρ ὅμως αἰθέρα ναίον-
τες ὁρῶσιν τὰ βροτῶν οὐρανίδαι.
τὸ σοφὸν δ’ οὐ σοφία,
τό τε μὴ θνατὰ φρονεῖν
βραχὺς αἰών· ἐπὶ τούτωι
δὲ τίς ἂν μεγάλα διώκων
τὰ παρόντ’ οὐχὶ φέροι; μαι-
νομένων οἵδε τρόποι καὶ
κακοβούλων παρ’ ἔμοιγε φωτῶν.
ἱκοίμαν ποτὶ Κύπρον,
νᾶσον τᾶς ᾿Αφροδίτας,
ἵν’ οἱ θελξίφρονες νέμον-
ται θνατοῖσιν ῎Ερωτες
Πάφον, τὰν ἑκατόστομοι
βαρβάρου ποταμοῦ ῥοαὶ
καρπίζουσιν ἄνομβροι,
οὗ θ’ ἁ καλλιστευομένα
Πιερία, μούσειος ἕδρα,
σεμνὰ κλειτὺς ᾿Ολύμπου·
ἐκεῖσ’ ἄγε με, Βρόμιε Βρόμιε,
πρόβακχ’ εὔιε δαῖμον.
ἐκεῖ Χάριτες, ἐκεῖ δὲ Πόθος, ἐκεῖ δὲ βάκ-
χαις θέμις ὀργιάζειν.
ὁ δαίμων ὁ Διὸς παῖς
χαίρει μὲν θαλίαισιν,
φιλεῖ δ’ ὀλβοδότειραν Εἰ-
ρήναν, κουροτρόφον θεάν.
ἴσαν δ’ ἔς τε τὸν ὄλβιον
τόν τε χείρονα δῶκ’ ἔχειν
οἴνου τέρψιν ἄλυπον·
μισεῖ δ’ ὧι μὴ ταῦτα μέλει,
κατὰ φάος νύκτας τε φίλας
εὐαίωνα διαζῆν,
†σοφὰν δ’ ἀπέχειν πραπίδα φρένα τε
περισσῶν παρὰ φωτῶν†.
τὸ πλῆθος ὅτι τὸ φαυλότερον ἐνόμισε χρῆ-
ταί τε, τόδ’ ἂν δεχοίμαν.

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Husbands and Tyrants in the Storm

Euripides, Medea 235-240

“The greatest contest in our life is this: getting a good husband
Or a bad one. For divorces do not bring women
A good reputation and it is impossible to refuse a husband.
When she enters the new ways and laws of his house
She needs to be a prophet, since she has not learned at home
How best to live with this partner. ”

κἀν τῷδ᾿ ἀγὼν μέγιστος, ἢ κακὸν λαβεῖν
ἢ χρηστόν· οὐ γὰρ εὐκλεεῖς ἀπαλλαγαὶ
γυναιξὶν οὐδ᾿ οἷόν τ᾿ ἀνήνασθαι πόσιν.
ἐς καινὰ δ᾿ ἤθη καὶ νόμους ἀφιγμένην
δεῖ μάντιν εἶναι, μὴ μαθοῦσαν οἴκοθεν,
ὅπως ἄριστα χρήσεται ξυνευνέτῃ.

Euripides, Medea 252-258

“But the same story does not apply to both me and you.
You have your city and your father’s home,
A life’s benefit and the presence of friends.
I am alone, stateless, taken violently by this
Husband, kidnapped as spoil from a foreign land,
I have no mother, no brother, no cousin
To provide me safe harbor from this storm.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὐ γὰρ αὑτὸς πρὸς σὲ κἄμ᾿ ἥκει λόγος·
σοὶ μὲν πόλις θ᾿ ἥδ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ πατρὸς δόμοι
βίου τ᾿ ὄνησις καὶ φίλων συνουσία,
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔρημος ἄπολις οὖσ᾿ ὑβρίζομαι
πρὸς ἀνδρός, ἐκ γῆς βαρβάρου λελῃσμένη,
οὐ μητέρ᾿, οὐκ ἀδελφόν, οὐχὶ συγγενῆ
μεθορμίσασθαι τῆσδ᾿ ἔχουσα συμφορᾶς.

Euripides, Medea 357-356

“I am not like a tyrant in the least:
I have suffered much because of my sense of shame.
Now, even though I see you making a mistake, woman,
You will still get what you ask. But I am warning you:
If the sun rises tomorrow to see you here
And your children within the borders of this land,
You die. This speech is not uttered as a lie.
But, now, if you need to stay, remain for a day.
You won’t do any evil I fear in this time.”

ἥκιστα τοὐμὸν λῆμ᾿ ἔφυ τυραννικόν,
αἰδούμενος δὲ πολλὰ δὴ διέφθορα·
καὶ νῦν ὁρῶ μὲν ἐξαμαρτάνων, γύναι,
ὅμως δὲ τεύξῃ τοῦδε. προυννέπω δέ σοι,
εἴ σ᾿ ἡ ᾿πιοῦσα λαμπὰς ὄψεται θεοῦ
καὶ παῖδας ἐντὸς τῆσδε τερμόνων χθονός,
θανῇ· λέλεκται μῦθος ἀψευδὴς ὅδε.
νῦν δ᾿, εἰ μένειν δεῖ, μίμν᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἡμέραν μίαν·
οὐ γάρ τι δράσεις δεινὸν ὧν φόβος μ᾿ ἔχει.

Roman sarcophagus showing the story of Medea and Creusa. Ca 150 AD. Altes Museum, Berlin.

Sharing the Worst of Troubles

Euripides, Orestes 288-293 (see the full text in the Scaife Viewer)

“I think that my father, if I had gazed in is eyes
And asked him if I should kill my mother,
Would have touched my chin over and over
Not to plunge my sword into my mother’s neck,
Because he was not about return to life
And I would be miserable suffering tortures like these.”

οἶμαι δὲ πατέρα τὸν ἐμόν, εἰ κατ᾿ ὄμματα
ἐξιστόρουν νιν μητέρ᾿ εἰ κτεῖναί με χρή,
πολλὰς γενείου τοῦδ᾿ ἂν ἐκτεῖναι λιτὰς
μήποτε τεκούσης ἐς σφαγὰς ὦσαι ξίφος,
εἰ μήτ᾿ ἐκεῖνος ἀναλαβεῖν ἔμελλε φῶς
ἐγώ θ᾿ ὁ τλήμων τοιάδ᾿ ἐκπλήσειν κακά.

585-587

“You’re the one who ruined me, old man
By fathering an evil daughter! Her audacity
Stole my father from me and made me a mother-killer.”

σύ τοι φυτεύσας θυγατέρ᾿, ὦ γέρον, κακὴν
ἀπώλεσάς με· διὰ τὸ κείνης γὰρ θράσος
5πατρὸς στερηθεὶς ἐγενόμην μητροκτόνος.

802-3

“I will carry you and suffer no shame. Where would I show I am your friend
If I do not come to your side when you’re in the worst troubles?”

οὐδὲν αἰσχυνθεὶς ὀχήσω. ποῦ γὰρ ὢν δείξω φίλος,
εἴ τι μὴ ᾿ν δειναῖσιν ὄντι συμφοραῖς ἐπαρκέσω;

1590

“I will never tire of killing wicked women”

οὐκ ἂν κάμοιμι τὰς κακὰς κτείνων ἀεί.

Orestes and Pylades Disputing at the Altar, Peter Lastman, 1614

Reversal and Recognition: Oedipus is Just the Best!

Aristotle, Poetics 1452a (Full text in the Scaife Viewer)

“Reversal [peripeteia] is change to the opposite of what happened before as has been said and this is also, as we argue, according to either probability or necessity. This is what happens in Oedipus when the person who comes to relieve Oedipus and rid him of his fear about his mother  is actually the one who does the opposite by revealing who he really is. This also happens in the Lynceus where while one person is dragged away to die and Danaus is following in order to kill him, it turns out that Danaus dies and the other is preserved.

Recognition [anagnôrisis] is a change from ignorance to knowledge, just as the name implies, in the direction of friendship or enmity when the matters are also pertaining to success or failure. The best recognition of all is the one which occurs at the same time as a reversal, as in Oedipus.”

Ἔστι δὲ περιπέτεια μὲν ἡ εἰς τὸ ἐναντίον τῶν πραττομένων μεταβολὴ καθάπερ εἴρηται, καὶ τοῦτο δὲ ὥσπερ λέγομεν κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς ἢ ἀναγκαῖον, οἷον ἐν τῷ Οἰδίποδι ἐλθὼν ὡς εὐφρανῶν τὸν Οἰδίπουν καὶ ἀπαλλάξων τοῦ πρὸς τὴν μητέρα φόβου, δηλώσας ὃς ἦν, τοὐναντίον ἐποίησεν· καὶ ἐν τῷ Λυγκεῖ ὁ μὲν ἀγόμενος ὡς ἀποθανούμενος, ὁ δὲ Δαναὸς ἀκολουθῶν ὡς ἀποκτενῶν, τὸν μὲν συνέβη ἐκ τῶν πεπραγμένων ἀποθανεῖν, τὸν δὲ σωθῆναι. ἀναγνώρισις δέ, ὥσπερ καὶ τοὔνομα σημαίνει, ἐξ ἀγνοίας εἰς γνῶσιν μεταβολή, ἢ εἰς φιλίαν ἢ ἔχθραν, τῶν πρὸς εὐτυχίαν ἢ δυστυχίαν ὡρισμένων· καλλίστη δὲ ἀναγνώρισις, ὅταν ἅμα περιπετείᾳ γένηται, οἷον ἔχει ἡ ἐν τῷ Οἰδίποδι

1455a

“The best kind of recognition of all comes from the plot events themselves when the surprise comes out of probable events. This is the case in Sophokles’ Oedipus or in Iphigenia. For only these kinds of recognitions can happen without manufactured signs and necklaces. The second best kinds are from logical reasoning.”

πασῶν δὲ βελτίστη ἀναγνώρισις ἡ ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν πραγμάτων, τῆς ἐκπλήξεως γιγνομένης δι᾿ εἰκότων, οἷον ἐν τῷ Σοφοκλέους Οἰδίποδι καὶ τῇ Ἰφιγενείᾳ· εἰκὸς γὰρ βούλεσθαι ἐπιθεῖναι γράμματα. αἱ γὰρ τοιαῦται μόναι ἄνευ τῶν πεποιημένων σημείων καὶ περιδεραίων. δεύτεραι δὲ αἱ ἐκ συλλογισμοῦ.

1462b

“[Tragedy] is vivid in both reading and the performance of the plays. And the outcome of its practice of imitation comes in shorter time: a greater density of experience is more pleasurable than if it is paced out over time. Imagine if someone wrote Sophokles’ Oedipus in the same number of epic verses as the Iliad?”

εἶτα καὶ τὸ ἐναργὲς ἔχει καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀναγνώσει καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἔργων· ἔτι τῷ ἐν ἐλάττονι μήκει τὸ τέλος τῆς μιμήσεως εἶναι (τὸ γὰρ ἀθροώτερον ἥδιον ἢ πολλῷ κεκραμένον τῷ χρόνῳ, λέγω δ᾿ οἷον εἴ τις τὸν Οἰδίπουν θείη τὸν Σοφοκλέους ἐν ἔπεσιν ὅσοις ἡ Ἰλιάς)·

 

Joseph Blanc, Le meurtre de Laïus par Oedipe, 1867, Paris

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Ghosts and Empty Shadows

Sophokles’ Ajax, 121-126

“I know nothing more—but I pity him
Now that he suffers, even if he hates me,
Since this evil ruin has him bound.
Really, I am looking more at his fate than my own.
For I see that those of us alive are nothing
More than ghosts or empty shadows.”

ἐγὼ μὲν οὐδέν᾿ οἶδ᾿· ἐποικτίρω δέ νιν
δύστηνον ἔμπας, καίπερ ὄντα δυσμενῆ,
ὁθούνεκ᾿ ἄτῃ συγκατέζευκται κακῇ,
οὐδὲν τὸ τούτου μᾶλλον ἢ τοὐμὸν σκοπῶν.
ὁρῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν
εἴδωλ᾿ ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν ἢ κούφην σκιάν.

158-159

“Small people without the help of the great
Are certainly shaky defense for a wall”

καίτοι σμικροὶ μεγάλων χωρὶς
σφαλερὸν πύργου ῥῦμα πέλονται·

162-3

“But it is not possible to teach fools
Correct judgments about these things.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὐ δυνατὸν τοὺς ἀνοήτους
τούτων γνώμας προδιδάσκειν

205-206

“Now the great, terrible man of destructive power
Ajax lies sickened in
A foul storm.”

νῦν γὰρ ὁ δεινὸς μέγας ὠμοκρατὴς
Αἴας θολερῷ
κεῖται χειμῶνι νοσήσας.

260-262

“For recognizing your own suffering
When no one else has brought it about
Lays out great grief too.”

τὸ γὰρ ἐσλεύσσειν οἰκεῖα πάθη,
μηδενὸς ἄλλου παραπράξαντος,
μεγάλας ὀδύνας ὑποτείνει.

265-3

“If you had the choice, would you
Cause your friends pain while you enjoyed pleasure?
Or be a partner in grief, to share with your friends?”

πότερα δ᾿ ἄν, εἰ νέμοι τις αἵρεσιν, λάβοις,
φίλους ἀνιῶν αὐτὸς ἡδονὰς ἔχειν,
ἢ κοινὸς ἐν κοινοῖσι λυπεῖσθαι ξυνών;

File:Ulysse et Ajax détail.jpg
Ajax and Ulysses