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

Don’t. Betray. Sappho.

Sappho, fr. 55

“When you die you will lie there and no one will remember you.
And there will no longing for you later on. You will not receive
Any roses from Pieria. But you will wander unseen through Hades’ home
Flitting away from the dirty corpses.”

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσηι οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχηις βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας· ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν ᾿Αίδα δόμωι
φοιτάσηις πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Image result for ancient greek underworld scene sarcophagus
Roman Sarcophagus, Abduction of Persephone

A Curse on a Lover: Or, Sappho Goes Goth

Sappho, fr. 55

“When you die you will lie there and no one will remember you.
And there will no longing for you later on. You will not receive
Any roses from Pieria. But you will wander unseen through Hades’ home
Flitting away from the dirty corpses.”

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσηι οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχηις βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας· ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν ᾿Αίδα δόμωι
φοιτάσηις πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Image result for ancient greek underworld scene sarcophagus
Roman Sarcophagus, Abduction of Persephone

Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 13.3: Alexander Plays the Fool

“Shouldn’t I laugh, Alexander, when I see you still acting like a fool even in Hades, believing that you are Anubis or Osiris? Don’t hope too much about these things, most divine man: it is not permitted that anyone who has sailed into our harbor once and passed into our anchorage should return.”

Μὴ γελάσω οὖν, ὦ ᾿Αλέξανδρε, ὁρῶν καὶ ἐν ᾅδου ἔτι σε μωραίνοντα καὶ ἐλπίζοντα ῎Ανουβιν ἢ ῎Οσιριν γενήσεσθαι; πλὴν ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μέν, ὦ θειότατε, μὴ ἐλπίσῃς· οὐ γὰρ θέμις ἀνελθεῖν τινα τῶν ἅπαξ διαπλευσάντων τὴν λίμνην καὶ εἰς τὸ εἴσω τοῦ στομίου παρελθόντων·

(Yes, reading the Dialogues of the Dead around a birthday is not necessarily the most uplifting experience. But it is an experience. And, to paraphrase Alcman, an experience is the first step of learning…or something like that.)

Alcman, fr. 125 (Schol ad Pind. Isthm 1.56)

“Trying is the first step of learning”

πῆρά τοι μαθήσιος ἀρχά

I was always a little partial to one of the first lessons to be learned in graduate school (and life):

“Learn by Suffering”

… πάθει μάθος

(Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 177)

Entering the Underworld as “Death-Walkers”: A Fragment from Aristophanes (150)

“A: And who dares to descend into the cave of the corpses and the gates of darkness?
B: When we were gathered in assembly, we chose one man from each art, those men we knew to be “Death-Walkers”, who frequently loved to travel there.
A: There are men among you who are “Death-Walkers”?
B: Yes, by Zeus, there really are.
A: Something like “Thrace-Walkers”
B: You’ve got the idea.
A: Who are they?
B: First, from the comic poets, Sannyrion, from the tragic poets, Melêtos, and from the Cyclic poets, Kinesias.
A: You travel on slight hopes, since if the rive of diarrhea fills up, it will sweep these men away.”

Α καὶ τίς ‘νεκρῶν κευθμῶνα καὶ σκότου πύλας’
ἔτλη κατελθεῖν;
Β ἕνα τιν’ ἀφ’ ἑκάστης τέχνης
εἱλόμεθα κοινῇ γενομένης ἐκκλησίας,
οὓς ᾖσμεν ὄντας ᾁδοφοίτας καὶ θαμὰ
ἐκεῖσε φιλοχωροῦντας.
Α εἰσὶ γάρ τινες
ἄνδρες παρ’ ὑμῖν ᾁδοφοῖται;
Β νὴ Δία
μάλιστά γ’.
Α ὥσπερ Θρᾳκοφοῖται;
Β πάντ’ ἔχεις.
Α καὶ τίνες ἂν εἶεν;
Β πρῶτα μὲν Σαννυρίων
ἀπὸ τῶν τρυγῳδῶν, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν τραγικῶν χορῶν
Μέλητος, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν κυκλίων Κινησίας.
Α ὡς σφόδρ’ ἐπὶ λεπτῶν ἐλπίδων ὀχεῖσθ’ ἄρα•
τούτους γάρ, ἢν πολλοὶ ξυνέλθωσιν, λαβὼν
ὁ τῆς διαροίας ποταμὸς ἐξοιχήσεται.