Aeneas Didn’t Escape, The Greeks Let Him Go

Aelian, 3.22

“After they captured Troy, the Greeks pitied the fate of the captured people and they announced this altogether Greek thing: that each of the free men could select and take one of his possessions. Aeneas selected and was carrying his ancestral gods, after dismissing everything else. Impressed by the righteousness of this man, the Greeks conceded that he may take a second possession away.

Then, Aeneas placed his father—who was extremely old—on his shoulders and walked off. Because they were so amazed, they granted him all of his own possessions, attesting to the fact that men who are enemies by nature become mild when faced with righteous men who revere the gods and their parents.”

῞Οτε ἑάλω τὸ ῎Ιλιον, οἰκτείραντες οἱ ᾿Αχαιοὶ τὰς τῶν ἁλισκομένων τύχας καὶ πάνυ ῾Ελληνικῶς τοῦτο ἐκήρυξαν, ἕκαστον τῶν ἐλευθέρων ἓν ὅ τι καὶ βούλεται τῶν οἰκείων ἀποφέρειν ἀράμενον. ὁ οὖν Αἰνείας τοὺς πατρῴους θεοὺς βαστάσας ἔφερεν, ὑπεριδὼν τῶν ἄλλων. ἡσθέντες οὖν ἐπὶ τῇ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς εὐσεβείᾳ οἱ ῞Ελληνες καὶ δεύτερον αὐτῷ κτῆμα συνεχώρησαν λαβεῖν• ὃ δὲ τὸν πατέρα πάνυ σφόδρα γεγηρακότα ἀναθέμενος τοῖς ὤμοις ἔφερεν. ὑπερεκλαγέντες οὖν καὶ ἐπὶ τούτῳ οὐχ ἥκιστα, πάντων αὐτῷ τῶν οἰκείων κτημάτων ἀπέστησαν, ὁμολογοῦντες ὅτι πρὸς τοὺς εὐσεβεῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ τοὺς θεοὺς καὶ τοὺς γειναμένους δι’ αἰδοῦς ἄγοντας καὶ οἱ φύσει πολέμιοι ἥμεροι γίνονται.

Aeneas’ Flight From Troy, Federico Barocci 1598

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.

Aiakos And the Founding and Destruction of Troy

According to some authors Aiakos, who ends up as a judge of the dead in the underworld, was the son of Zeus and Europa. According to others (Pindar, Corinna) he was son of Zeus and Aegina (Or Poseidon and Aegina). When Poseidon and Apollo went to build the walls of Troy, they took Aiakos along to help them. A scholiast reports that it had to happen this way: since a mortal helped build the walls, they were not wholly invincible.

Pindar’s account of this emphasizes an omen that appeared at the completion of the walls. In his telling, Apollo interprets the omen as indicating that the descendants of Aiakos will be instrumental in the destruction of the city. Who are his descendants? Ajax, Achilles. Oh, Neoptolemos and Epeius the builder of the Trojan horse too!
(go here for the full Ode and a good commentary).

Pindar, Ol. 8.24-54

“For whatever weighs a great deal is hard
To judge with a fair mind at the right time.
But some law of the gods established this sea-protected land [Aegina]
As a sacred pillar
For every kind of stranger.
May rising time never tire
Of making this true
for this land tended by the Dorian people since Aiakos’ time.
It was Aiakos that Leto’s son and wide-ruling Apollo took
When they were going to build a wall around Troy. They summoned him
As a coworker for the wall. For it was fated that
When wars arose in the city-sacking battles,
That the wall would breathe out twisting smoke.
When the wall was just built, three dark serpents
Leapt up at it: two fell against it
and, stunned, lost their lives.
One rose up with cries of mourning.
Apollo interpreted this sign immediately and said:
“Pergamos will be sacked, hero, by your hands’ deeds:
So this sacred vision says to me
Sent by loud-thundering Zeus.
And it won’t be done without your sons: the city will be slaughtered by the first
And the third generations.*” So the god spoke clearly
And he rode Xanthus to the well-horsed Amazons and to the Danube.
The trident-bearer directed his swift-chariot.
To the sea by the Isthmus
Bearing Aiakos here
With golden horses,
Gazing upon the ridge of Corinth, famous for its feasts.
But nothing is equally pleasing among men.”

… ὅ τι γὰρ πολὺ καὶ πολλᾷ ῥέπῃ,
ὀρθᾷ διακρίνειν φρενὶ μὴ παρὰ καιρόν,
δυσπαλές: τεθμὸς δέ τις ἀθανάτων καὶ τάνδ᾽ ἁλιερκέα χώραν
παντοδαποῖσιν ὑπέστασε ξένοις
κίονα δαιμονίαν
ὁ δ᾽ ἐπαντέλλων χρόνος
τοῦτο πράσσων μὴ κάμοι
Δωριεῖ λαῷ ταμιευομέναν ἐξ Αἰακοῦ:
τὸν παῖς ὁ Λατοῦς εὐρυμέδων τε Ποσειδᾶν,
Ἰλίῳ μέλλοντες ἐπὶ στέφανον τεῦξαι, καλέσαντο συνεργὸν
τείχεος, ἦν ὅτι νιν πεπρωμένον
ὀρνυμένων πολέμων
πτολιπόρθοις ἐν μάχαις
λάβρον ἀμπνεῦσαι καπνόν.
γλαυκοὶ δὲ δράκοντες, ἐπεὶ κτίσθη νέον,
πύργον ἐσαλλόμενοι τρεῖς, οἱ δύο μὲν κάπετον,
αὖθι δ᾽ ἀτυζομένω ψυχὰς βάλον:
εἷς δ᾽ ἀνόρουσε βοάσαις.
ἔννεπε δ᾽ ἀντίον ὁρμαίνων τέρας εὐθὺς, Ἀπόλλων:
‘ Πέργαμος ἀμφὶ τεαῖς, ἥρως, χερὸς ἐργασίαι ἁλίσκεται:
ὣς ἐμοὶ φάσμα λέγει Κρονίδα
πεμφθὲν βαρυγδούπου Διός:
οὐκ ἄτερ παίδων σέθεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα πρώτοις ῥάζεται
καὶ τερτάτοις.’ ὣς ἆρα θεὸς σάφα εἴπαις
Ξάνθον ἤπειγεν καὶ Ἀμαζόνας εὐίππους καὶ ἐς Ἴστρον ἐλαύνων.
Ὀρσοτρίαινα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Ἰσθμῷ ποντίᾳ
ἅρμα θοὸν τανύεν,
ἀποπέμπων Αἰακὸν
δεῦρ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἵπποις χρυσέαις,
καὶ Κορίνθου δειράδ᾽ ἐποψόμενος δαιτικλυτάν.
τερπνὸν δ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἴσον ἔσσεται οὐδέν.

*First and Third generation: Aiakos had two sons (Telemon and Peleus) with Endeis and one with another woman (Phocus). Telemon and Peleus killed their half-brother; but the three sons fathered Ajax, Achilles and Panopeus (Phocus). The latter two grandsons fathered Neoptolemus and Epeios. Achilles’ son Neoptolemus helped take Troy; Epeios built the wooden horse.

Zeus – Aegina
|
Endeis – Aiakos – Psamathe
|                 |
Telamon Peleus                  Phocus
|                |                        |
Ajax       Achilles                  Panopeus
|               |                                  |
Neoptolemus                 Epeios

Philostratus, Heroicus 7.5

“There was no telling of tales nor yet did anyone sing things that had not happened before Priam and Troy. The art of poetry concerned prophecy and Alkmene’s son Herakles and had just been established, not yet in its bloom since Homer had not yet sung, some say until right after the sack of Troy or within a few years, but others say that he made it a poem as many as eight generations later.”

… καίτοι, ξένε, πρὸ Πριάμου καὶ Τροίας οὐδὲ ῥαψωδία τις ἦν, οὐδὲ ᾔδετο τὰ μήπω πραχθέντα, ποιητικὴ μὲν γὰρ ἦν περί τε τὰ μαντεῖα περί τε τὸν ᾿Αλκμήνης ῾Ηρακλέα, καθισταμένη τε ἄρτι καὶ οὔπω ἡβάσκουσα, ῞Ομηρος δὲ οὔπω ᾖδεν, ἀλλ’ οἱ μὲν Τροίας ἁλούσης, οἱ δὲ ὀλίγαις, οἱ δ’ ὀκτὼ γενεαῖς ὕστερον ἐπιθέσθαι αὐτὸν τῇ ποιήσει λέγουσιν.

Yeah, we’re getting Second Sophistic with it today. There were a few Philostratoi, but this Lucius Flavius Philostratus was a sophist who lived in the second and third centuries CE.

Aeneas Didn’t Escape, The Greeks Let Him Go: Aelian, 3.22

“After they captured Troy, the Greeks pitied the fate of the captured people and they announced this altogether Greek thing: that each of the free men could select and take one of his possessions. Aeneas selected and was carrying his ancestral gods, after dismissing everything else. Impressed by the righteousness of this man, the Greeks conceded that he may take a second possession away. Then, Aeneas placed his father—who was extremely old—on his shoulders and walked off. Because they were so amazed, they granted him all of his own possessions, attesting to the fact that men who are enemies by nature become mild when faced with righteous men who revere the gods and their parents.”

῞Οτε ἑάλω τὸ ῎Ιλιον, οἰκτείραντες οἱ ᾿Αχαιοὶ τὰς τῶν ἁλισκομένων τύχας καὶ πάνυ ῾Ελληνικῶς τοῦτο ἐκήρυξαν, ἕκαστον τῶν ἐλευθέρων ἓν ὅ τι καὶ βούλεται τῶν οἰκείων ἀποφέρειν ἀράμενον. ὁ οὖν Αἰνείας τοὺς πατρῴους θεοὺς βαστάσας ἔφερεν, ὑπεριδὼν τῶν ἄλλων. ἡσθέντες οὖν ἐπὶ τῇ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς εὐσεβείᾳ οἱ ῞Ελληνες καὶ δεύτερον αὐτῷ κτῆμα συνεχώρησαν λαβεῖν• ὃ δὲ τὸν πατέρα πάνυ σφόδρα γεγηρακότα ἀναθέμενος τοῖς ὤμοις ἔφερεν. ὑπερεκλαγέντες οὖν καὶ ἐπὶ τούτῳ οὐχ ἥκιστα, πάντων αὐτῷ τῶν οἰκείων κτημάτων ἀπέστησαν, ὁμολογοῦντες ὅτι πρὸς τοὺς εὐσεβεῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ τοὺς θεοὺς καὶ τοὺς γειναμένους δι’ αἰδοῦς ἄγοντας καὶ οἱ φύσει πολέμιοι ἥμεροι γίνονται.

Aiakos, Aegina and the Building and Destruction of Troy: Pindar,Olympian 8

According to some authors Aiakos, who ends up as a judge of the dead in the underworld, was the son of Zeus and Europa. According to others (Pindar, Corinna) he was son of Zeus and Aegina (Or Poseidon and Aegina). When Poseidon and Apollo went to build the walls of Troy, they took Aiakos along to help them. A scholiast reports that it had to happen this way: since a mortal helped build the walls, they were not wholly invincible.
Pindar’s account of this emphasizes an omen that appeared at the completion of the walls. In his telling, Apollo interprets the omen as indicating that the descendants of Aiakos will be instrumental in the destruction of the city. Who are his descendants? Ajax, Achilles. Oh, Neoptolemos and Epeius the builder of the Trojan horse too!
(go here for the full Ode and a good commentary).

Pindar, Ol. 8.24-54

“For whatever weighs a great deal is hard
To judge with a fair mind at the right time.
But some law of the gods established this sea-protected land [Aegina]
As a sacred pillar
For every kind of stranger.
May rising time never tire
Of making this true
for this land tended by the Dorian people since Aiakos’ time.
It was Aiakos that Leto’s son and wide-ruling Apollo took
When they were going to build a wall around Troy. They summoned him
As a coworker for the wall. For it was fated that
When wars arose in the city-sacking battles,
That the wall would breathe out twisting smoke.
When the wall was just built, three dark serpents
Leapt up at it: two fell against it
and, stunned, lost their lives.
One rose up with cries of mourning.
Apollo interpreted this sign immediately and said:
“Pergamos will be sacked, hero, by your hands’ deeds:
So this sacred vision says to me
Sent by loud-thundering Zeus.
And it won’t be done without your sons: the city will be slaughtered by the first
And the third generations.*” So the god spoke clearly
And he rode Xanthus to the well-horsed Amazons and to the Danube.
The trident-bearer directed his swift-chariot.
To the sea by the Isthmus
Bearing Aiakos here
With golden horses,
Gazing upon the ridge of Corinth, famous for its feasts.
But nothing is equally pleasing among men.”

… ὅ τι γὰρ πολὺ καὶ πολλᾷ ῥέπῃ,
ὀρθᾷ διακρίνειν φρενὶ μὴ παρὰ καιρόν,
δυσπαλές: τεθμὸς δέ τις ἀθανάτων καὶ τάνδ᾽ ἁλιερκέα χώραν
παντοδαποῖσιν ὑπέστασε ξένοις
κίονα δαιμονίαν
ὁ δ᾽ ἐπαντέλλων χρόνος
τοῦτο πράσσων μὴ κάμοι
Δωριεῖ λαῷ ταμιευομέναν ἐξ Αἰακοῦ:
τὸν παῖς ὁ Λατοῦς εὐρυμέδων τε Ποσειδᾶν,
Ἰλίῳ μέλλοντες ἐπὶ στέφανον τεῦξαι, καλέσαντο συνεργὸν
τείχεος, ἦν ὅτι νιν πεπρωμένον
ὀρνυμένων πολέμων
πτολιπόρθοις ἐν μάχαις
λάβρον ἀμπνεῦσαι καπνόν.
γλαυκοὶ δὲ δράκοντες, ἐπεὶ κτίσθη νέον,
πύργον ἐσαλλόμενοι τρεῖς, οἱ δύο μὲν κάπετον,
αὖθι δ᾽ ἀτυζομένω ψυχὰς βάλον:
εἷς δ᾽ ἀνόρουσε βοάσαις.
ἔννεπε δ᾽ ἀντίον ὁρμαίνων τέρας εὐθὺς, Ἀπόλλων:
‘ Πέργαμος ἀμφὶ τεαῖς, ἥρως, χερὸς ἐργασίαι ἁλίσκεται:
ὣς ἐμοὶ φάσμα λέγει Κρονίδα
πεμφθὲν βαρυγδούπου Διός:
οὐκ ἄτερ παίδων σέθεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα πρώτοις ῥάζεται
καὶ τερτάτοις.’ ὣς ἆρα θεὸς σάφα εἴπαις
Ξάνθον ἤπειγεν καὶ Ἀμαζόνας εὐίππους καὶ ἐς Ἴστρον ἐλαύνων.
Ὀρσοτρίαινα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Ἰσθμῷ ποντίᾳ
ἅρμα θοὸν τανύεν,
ἀποπέμπων Αἰακὸν
δεῦρ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἵπποις χρυσέαις,
καὶ Κορίνθου δειράδ᾽ ἐποψόμενος δαιτικλυτάν.
τερπνὸν δ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἴσον ἔσσεται οὐδέν.

*First and Third generation: Aiakos had two sons (Telemon and Peleus) with Endeis and one with another woman (Phocus). Telemon and Peleus killed their half-brother; but the three sons fathered Ajax, Achilles and Panopeus (Phocus). The latter two grandsons fathered Neoptolemus and Epeios. Achilles’ son Neoptolemus helped take Troy; Epeios built the wooden horse.

Zeus – Aegina
|
Endeis – Aiakos – Psamathe
|                 |
Telamon Peleus                  Phocus
|                |                        |
Ajax       Achilles                  Panopeus
|               |                                  |
Neoptolemus                 Epeios

Fragmentary Friday II: Wars at Troy and Thebes Can’t Conquer Love (Anacreonta, Anacreon)

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.

What We Could Have Done Instead of War: Lucan on Labor Lost (6.48-63)

{I have debated Lucan’s ability before, but this passage has an urgency and power I find compelling)

“Now let ancient myth build up Troy’s walls
and credit it to the gods; let the retreating Parthians
wonder at the brick walls encircling Babylon—
Look, a place as great as that the Tigris or swift Orontes embraces–
one large enough to be a kingdom for Assyrians in the East–
such a space is suddenly enclosed by the tumult of war!
Such labors are wasted.
So many hands might have joined Sestus to Abydos
with an earthenwork made to erase Phrixus’ sea.
Or they could have ripped Corinth from the Peloponnese
To give relief to ships from the distant Cape Malea,
Or some other part of the world–even if nature denied it–
They could have changed the place for the better.
The plain of war is engaged. Here we nourish blood that will flow on all lands;
Here we hold the victims from Thessaly and Libya;
Here the insanity of civil war churns on narrow strands.”

nunc uetus Iliacos attollat fabula muros
ascribatque deis; fragili circumdata testa
moenia mirentur refugi Babylonia Parthi. 50
en, quantum Tigris, quantum celer ambit Orontes,
Assyriis quantum populis telluris Eoae
sufficit in regnum, subitum bellique tumultu
raptum clausit opus. tanti periere labores.
tot potuere manus aut iungere Seston Abydo 55
ingestoque solo Phrixeum elidere pontum,
aut Pelopis latis Ephyren abrumpere regnis
et ratibus longae flexus donare Maleae,
aut aliquem mundi, quamuis natura negasset,
in melius mutare locum. coit area belli: 60
hic alitur sanguis terras fluxurus in omnis,
hic et Thessalicae clades Libycaeque tenentur;
aestuat angusta rabies ciuilis harena.

Agamemnon Took a Bribe for Good Reasons: Plutarch, How To Read Poetry (32e-33a)

“The bee, naturally, finds in the strongest smelling flowers–even among the roughest thorns–the smoothest, most edible honey; in the same way children, who are nourished on poems correctly, will learn somehow to extract something useful—even something profitable–from poems containing poor or contemptible behavior. For, as an example, Agamemnon stands at first glance as contemptible because he releases a man from the army for a bribe, that wealthy man who graced him with the gift of the mare Aithê (Il. 23.297)

““A gift so they he would not follow him to windy Troy
But would enjoy staying at home, since Zeus had given him / great wealth”  

But he did well, as Aristotle says, to prefer a good horse to a man of this type. For a coward and a man made weak by wealth and leisure isn’t worth a dog or an ass.”

῾Η μὲν οὖν μέλιττα φυσικῶς ἐν τοῖς δριμυτάτοις ἄνθεσι καὶ ταῖς τραχυτάταις ἀκάνθαις ἐξανευρίσκει τὸ λειότατον μέλι καὶ χρηστικώτατον, οἱ δὲ παῖδες, ἂν ὀρθῶς ἐντρέφωνται τοῖς ποιήμασιν, καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν φαύλους καὶ ἀτόπους ὑποψίας ἐχόντων ἕλκειν τι χρήσιμον ἁμωσγέπως μαθήσονται καὶ ὠφέλιμον. αὐτίκα γοῦν ὕποπτός ἐστιν ὁ ᾿Αγαμέμνων ὡς διὰ δωροδοκίαν ἀφεὶς τῆς στρατείας τὸν πλούσιον ἐκεῖνον τὸν τὴν Αἴθην χαρισάμενον αὐτῷ

δῶρ’, ἵνα μή οἱ ἕποιθ’ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἠνεμόεσσαν
ἀλλ’ αὐτοῦ τέρποιτο μένων· μέγα γάρ οἱ ἔδωκεν
Ζεὺς ἄφενος.

ὀρθῶς δέ γ’ ἐποίησεν, ὡς ᾿Αριστοτέλης φησίν, ἵππον ἀγαθὴν ἀνθρώπου τοιούτου προτιμήσας· οὐδὲ γὰρ κυνὸς ἀντάξιος οὐδ’ ὄνου μὰ Δία δειλὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ ἄναλκις, ὑπὸ πλούτου καὶ μαλακίας διερρυηκώς.

 

The Latin title of this poem is quomodo adulescens poetas audire debeat for the Greek title ΠΩΣ ΔΕΙ ΤΟΝ ΝΕΟΝ ΠΟΙΗΜΑΤΩΝ ΑΚΟΥΕΙΝ. The emphasis on how the young should read poetry is usually lost and probably for good enough reasons since the basic reflections on reading are not only for the young. But, caveat lector, this is not a textbook for children!

Homer Odyssey, 13.248-249

 

 

“Just so, Stranger, the name of Ithaca has traveled to Troy,

that place they say is far from our Achaean soil.”

 

τῷ τοι, ξεῖν᾽, Ἰθάκης γε καὶ ἐς Τροίην ὄνομ᾽ ἵκει,
τήν περ τηλοῦ φασὶν Ἀχαιΐδος ἔμμεναι αἴης.

 

This oft-overlooked passage ends Athena’s speech to the bewildered Odysseus in book 13 of the Odyssey when he has awoken, believing the Phaeacians left him somewhere other than home. The lines nicely invert the refrain of the Trojan War–the events of which have been broadcast all over the world, according to the conversations of books 1-12–and instead extend the locus of the second half of this epic outward. The poetic effect is to reframe epic fame: from this point on it is the story of Ithaca and not the story of Troy that will be known.

 

Don’t believe it? Here’s the full text.