Weep on Birthdays, Cheer at Funerals?

Another entry on birthdays in the Ancient Greek and Roman world.

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Sayings and Deeds 2.12

“Truly The Thracians have earned great praise for their wisdom in celebrating birthdays by weeping and deaths with joyous cheer. Without any fine doctrines from scholars, they have penetrated the true nature of the human condition. Therefore, let life’s sweetness, native to all creatures, the very thing which compels them to act and suffer terribly, let it disappear if its end should still prove more lucky and blessed than its beginning.”

Thraciae vero illa natio merito sibi sapientiae laudem vindicaverit, quae natales hominum flebiliter, exsequias cum hilaritate celebrat, <si>4sine ullis doctorum praeceptis verum condicionis nostrae habitum pervidit. removeatur itaque naturalis omnium animalium dulcedo vitae, quae multa et facere et pati turpiter cogit, si tamen ortu eius aliquanto felicior ac beatior finis reperietur.

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The Funereal Birth of Gorgias the Epirote

I am proud my self-restraint for not posting this anecdote on Mother’s Day

Valerius Maximus, Wondrous Deeds and Sayings 1.8 ext2

 “The origin of Gorgias of Epiros*, a famous man, was also miraculous. He fell out of his mother’s womb during her funeral and the pallbearers were forced to stop by his surprising wail. This offered his country a new spectacle, a baby finding light and a cradle almost from his mother’s own grave—she gave birth although she was dead at the same time he was prepared for a funeral before he was born!”

Gorgiae quoque Epirotae, fortis et clari viri, origo admirabilis <fuit>, quod in funere matris suae utero elapsus inopinato vagitu suo lectum ferentes consistere coegit novumque spectaculum patriae praebuit, tantum non ex ipso genetricis rogo lucem et cunas adsecutus: eodem enim momento temporis altera iam fato functa peperit, alter ante elatus quam natus est.

This is not Gorgias of Leontini, the rhetorician and Pre-socratic Philosopher. This Gorgias of Epirus is primarily famous for the anecdote you just read.

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Roman relief showing a birthing scene. Tomb of a Midwife (Tomb 100), Isola Sacra Ostia Photo credit: magistrahf on Flickr

Simonides’ Saving Dream: His Gift is His Poem, This One’s For You

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 1.7.ext. 3
“The gods were much kinder to the poet Simonides, whose safety they guarded with firm advice through a warning dream. For, when he had brought his ship to rest on shore and had entrusted a body that was unburied to a sepulcher, he was warned by the same soul not to sail on the following day and he remained on land.

Those who embarked the next day were overcome by waves and gales in his sight. He was happy that he had trusted his own life to a dream instead of a ship. He preserved the memory of this help to eternity with the most elegant poem, crafting a better and longer-lasting tomb in the minds of men than he had built on barren and unknown sands.”

Longe indulgentius di in poeta Simonide, cuius salutarem inter quietem admonitionem consilii firmitate roborarunt: is enim, cum ad litus navem appulisset inhumatumque corpus iacens sepulturae mandasset, admonitus ab eo ne proximo die navigaret, in terra remansit. qui inde solverant, fluctibus et procellis in conspectu eius obruti sunt: ipse laetatus est quod vitam suam somnio quam navi credere maluisset. memor autem beneficii elegantissimo carmine aeternitati consecravit, melius illi et diuturnius in animis hominum sepulcrum constituens quam in desertis et ignotis harenis struxerat.

Some report that Greek Anthology 7.77 is the poem Simonides wrote in thanks:

“This is the savior of Keian Simonides,
A man who although dead paid thanks to the living.”

Οὗτος ὁ τοῦ Κείοιο Σιμωνίδεω ἐστὶ σαωτήρ,
ὃς καὶ τεθνηὼς ζῶντ᾿ ἀπέδωκε χάριν.

Of course, this reminded me of Sir Elton John.