It Is Good For Women to Exercise Too! (But for Predictable, Instrumental Reasons)

Philostratus, Gymnasticus 27

“And there is also a notion older than this which seemed right to Lykourgos for Sparta. Because he meant to provide warrior-athletes for Sparta, he said, “Let the girls exercise and permit them to run in public. Certainly this strengthening of their bodies was for the sake of good childbearing and that they would have better offspring.

For one who comes from this training to her husband’s home will not hesitate to carry water or to mill grain because she has prepared from her youth. And if she is joined together with a youth who has joined her in rigorous exercise, she will provide better offspring—for they will be tall, strong and rarely sick. Sparta became so preeminent in war once her marriages were prepared in this way.”

Καίτοι καὶ πρεσβύτερον τούτου, ὃ καὶ Λυκούργῳ ἐδόκει τῷ Σπαρτιάτῃ· παριστάμενος γὰρ τῇ Λακεδαίμονι πολεμικοὺς ἀθλητὰς, “γυμναζέσθων,” φησὶν, “αἱ κόραι καὶ ἀνείσθων δημοσίᾳ τρέχειν.” ὑπὲρ εὐπαιδίας δήπου καὶ τοῦ τὰ ἔκγονα βελτίω τίκτειν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐρρῶσθαι τὸ σῶμα· ἀφικομένη γὰρ ἐς ἀνδρὸς ὑδροφορεῖν οὐκ ὀκνήσει οὐδὲ ἀλεῖν διὰ τὸ ἠσκῆσθαι ἐκ νέας· εἰ δὲ καὶ νέῳ καὶ συγγυμναζομένῳ συζυγείη, βελτίω τὰ ἔκγονα ἀποδώσει, καὶ γὰρ εὐμήκη καὶ ἰσχυρὰ καὶ ἄνοσα. καὶ ἐγένετο ἡ Λακεδαίμων τοσαύτη κατὰ πόλεμον, ἐπειδὴ τὰ γαμικὰ αὐτοῖς ὧδε ἐπράττετο.

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Ah, It Was All Helen’s Fault

This may be one of the strangest poems about Helen. Note that Thetis goes unnamed.

Alcaeus,  fr. 42 (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 2 ii 1–16)

“The story is that bitter grief from evil deeds
Came to Priam and his children, thanks to you
Helen, and so Zeus destroyed
Holy Troy.

Not like this was the tender virgin
Peleus acquired when he called all the blessed
Gods to his marriage, once he took her from
Nereus’ halls

To the home of Kheiron. He loosened
The girdle of the holy maiden. And the ‘love’
Of Peleus and the best of the Nereids grew
For a year.

And produced a child, the best of the demigods,
A blessed driver of fiery horses.
But they died for Helen, the Phrygians
And their city too.”

ὠς λόγος, κάκων ἄ[χος ἔννεκ᾿ ἔργων
Περράμῳ καὶ παῖσ[ί ποτ᾿, Ὦλεν᾿, ἦλθεν
ἐκ σέθεν πίκρον, π[ύρι δ᾿ ὤλεσε Ζεῦς
Ἴλιον ἴραν.

οὐ τεαύταν Αἰακίδα̣ι̣ [ς ἄγαυος
πάντας ἐς γάμον μάκ̣ [αρας καλέσαις
ἄγετ᾿ ἐκ Νή[ρ]ηος ἔλων [μελάθρων
πάρθενον ἄβραν

ἐς δόμον Χέρρωνος· ἔλ[υσε δ᾿ ἄγνας
ζῶμα παρθένω· φιλό[τας δ᾿ ἔθαλε
Πήλεος καὶ Νηρεΐδων ἀρίστ[ας,
ἐς δ᾿ ἐνίαυτον

παῖδα γέννατ᾿ αἰμιθέων [φέριστον
ὄλβιον ξάνθαν ἐλάτη[ρα πώλων·
οἰ δ᾿ ἀπώλοντ᾿ ἀμφ᾿ Ἐ[λένᾳ Φρύγες τε
καὶ πόλις αὔτων.

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Another Casualty of Childbirth

Amyntas, Lit. Pap. 107 = P.Oxy iv.1904

Tell me, woman, who you are, who is your father, and your country.
What kind of great sickness did you die from?

“Stranger, my name is Praksô, and I am Samian
My father was Calliteles and I died giving birth”

Who provided for your tomb? “Theocritus, the man
To whom they married me.” What age did you reach?

“I was three-times-seven plus one.” Were you then childless”
“No, but I left a three year-old child in my home.”

φράζε, γύναι, τίς ἐοῦσα καὶ ἐκ τίνος, εἰπέ τε πάτρην,
καὶ ποίας ἔθανες νούσου ὑπ᾿ ἀργαλέης.
οὔνομα μὲν Πραξὼ Σαμίη, ξένε, ἐκ δὲ γονῆος
Καλλιτέλευς γενόμαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἔθανον τοκετῶι.
τίς δὲ τάφον στάλωσε; Θεόκριτος, ὧι με σύνευνον
ἀνδρὶ δόσαν. ποίην δ᾿ ἦλθες ἐς ἡλικίην;
ἑπταέτις τρὶς ἑνὸς γενόμαν ἔτι. ἦ ῥά γ᾿ἄτεκνος;
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ τριετῆ παῖδα δόμωι λιπόμαν.

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Royal_ms_16_g_viii_f032r_detail

An Old Attic Woman Once Said…

The following are apophthegmata [“sayings”] preserved in a Byzantine manuscript and attributed to ancient authorities. Many might actually come from prose composition exercises in Byzantine and late antique schools. Most of the collection are attributed to famous male sages. The collection ends with a selection of 

“Sayings of women and their thoughts”

᾿Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα. [Gnomologium Vaticanum, 564-567]

“After an Attic woman saw a sign over the door of someone about to get married which said “Herakles lives here, may nothing bad happen” she said “Now may no woman enter!”

᾿Αττικὴ γυνὴ ἰδοῦσα γράμμα ἐπὶ θυρῶν μέλλοντος γαμεῖν· „῾Ηρακλῆς ἐνθάδε κατοικεῖ· μηδὲν εἰσίτω κακὸν” εἶπεν· „νῦν οὖν ἡ γυνὴ οὐ μὴ εἰσελεύσεται.”

 

“When an old Attic woman was asked at a symposium whether Dionysus is mortal after she saw wine being stolen, she said “yes, he’s mortal, for I saw him carried out…”

[῾Η] ᾿Αττικὴ γραῦς ἐρωτηθεῖσα ἐν συμποσίῳ εἰ θνητὸς ὁ Διόνυσος ἰδοῦσα κλεπτόμενον οἶνον εἶπεν· „ναὶ θνητός· εἶδον γὰρ αὐτὸν ἐκφερόμενον.”

[the joke is based on part of the Greek burial process, the ekphora, which is carrying out of the body]

 

“When an old Attic woman saw a young man pouring wine she said “Boy! You turned Peleus into Oineus.”

<᾿Α>ττικὴ γραῦς ἰδοῦσα νεανίσκον οἶνον ἐκχέοντα εἶπε· „μειράκιον· τὸν Οἰνέα Πηλέα ἐποίησας.”

 

“When an old Attic woman saw an Olympic victor taking sheep out to pasture she said “Ah, he went quickly from the Olympic to the Nemean games.”

Γραῦς ᾿Αττικὴ θεασαμένη ᾿Ολυμπιονίκην ἀθλητὴν πρόβατα βόσκοντα εἶπε· „ταχέως ἀπὸ ᾿Ολυμπίων ἐπὶ Νέμεα.”

 

571: “When a Syracusan woman was summoned by Dionysus the tyrant because he was claiming that he wanted her and would give her whatever she wanted, she said “Let me go—since you believe that women are the same, whenever the lamp goes out.”

Γυνὴ Συρακοσία μεταπεμφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Διονυσίου τοῦ τυράννου [καὶ] φάσκοντος ἐρᾶν αὐτῆς καὶ χαριεῖσθαι ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ· „ἄφες τοίνυν με” εἶπε „νομίσας τὰς γυναῖκας ὁμοίας εἶναι, ὅταν ὁ λύχνος ἀποσβεσθῇ.”

 

The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.

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Spartan Women Once Said…

This is the second part of the sayings attributed to women in the Gnomologium Vaticanum (568-576)

“Sayings of women and their thoughts”

᾿Αποφθέγματα γυναικῶν, ἤτοι φρονήματα.

 

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

 

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

 

“The mother of Clearchus the Ramphian, after her son was slandered for betraying Greece to the Persians, wrote this kind of letter. “To Klearchus the son from his Mother: evil rumors are falling all around you. Either get rid of them or no longer be [alive? My son?]”

῾Η Κλεάρχου τοῦ ῾Ραμφίου μήτηρ ἐπειδὴ διεβλήθη ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῆς προδιδόναι τοῖς Πέρσαις τὴν ῾Ελλάδα τοιαύτην ἐπιστολὴν ἔγραψεν· „ἁ μάτηρ Κλεάρχῳ τῷ υἱῷ· κακά τευ κακκέχυται φάμα· ἢ ταύταν ἀπόθευ ἢ μὴ ἔσο.”

 

“Xanthippê, when asked what Socrates’ greatest attribute was, said “This, that he has the same face for noble and lowborn men.”

Ξανθίππη ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί μέγιστον ὑπῆρχεν τῷ Σωκράτει „τοῦτο”, ἔφη, „ὅτι καὶ ἐπὶ ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ φαύλοις ἡ αὐτὴ ὄψις ἦν αὐτῷ”·

 

“Theanô the Pythagorean said, “What is noble to speak about is shameful to be silent on; and what is shameful to mention, is noble to keep silent about.”

Θεανὼ ἡ Πυθαγορικὴ ἔφη· „περὶ ὧν λέγειν καλόν, περὶ τούτων σιωπᾶν αἰσχρόν, καὶ περὶ ὧν λέγειν αἰσχρόν, περὶ τούτων σιωπᾶν καλόν.”

 

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

 

“When Olympias, Alexander’s mother was asked by someone why she wasn’t adorned, she said “Alexander is sufficient decoration for me.”

᾿Ολυμπιὰς ᾿Αλεξάνδρου μήτηρ ἐρωτηθεῖσα ὑπό τινος [ὅτι] „διὰ τί οὐ κοσμῇ;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἀρκεῖ μοι ὁ ᾿Αλεξάνδρου κόσμος.”

 

The website “Sharing Ancient Wisdom” is a really interesting and useful collection of proverbial sayings. Check it out.

Like Land to a Drowning (Wo)man?

Odyssey 23.230-242

“So she spoke, and his longing for mourning swelled within him—
He wept holding the wife fit to his heart, a woman who knew careful thoughts.

As when the land appears welcome to men as the swim
Whose well-made ship Poseidon has dashed apart on the sea,
As it is driven by the wind and a striking wave.
Then few men flee from the grey sea to the shore
As they swim and the bodies are covered with brine on their skin,
They happily climb on the shore, escaping evil.

So welcome a sight was her husband to her as she looked upon him
And she would not pull her white arms away from his neck.”

ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.

This simile is exceptional because it starts out making us think that it is about Odysseus but then shifts during its telling to be about Penelope’s reaction.

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St Omer Psalter, England (Norfolk), c. 1330-c. 1440, Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 70v 

 

A Real Heroine: She Kills A Lion, Gets a Kingdom

Akesandros of Cyrene (Jacoby 469) F4

“Akesandros tells the story in his Concerning Cyrene that when Eurypylos was king in Libya, Cyrene was taken by Apollo because there was a lion plaguing the land. Eurypylos put his kingship up as a prize for anyone who could kill a lion—and Cyrene killed the lion and gained the kingdom. Her children were Autoukhos and Aristaios. Phularkhos says that she came to Libya with a group, and when they went on a hunting expedition, she joined them too.”

᾽Ακέσανδρος δὲ ἐν τοῖς Περὶ Κυρήνης ἱστορεῖ, ἐπ᾽ Εὐρυπύλου βασιλεύοντος ἐν Λιβύηι ὡς ὑπὸ ᾽Απόλλωνος διακομισθείη ἡ Κυρήνη, λέοντος δὲ τὴν χώραν λυμαινομένου προθείη τὴν βασιλείαν ὁ Εὐρύπυλος ἆθλον τῶι ἀποκτενοῦντι τὸν λέοντα, τὴν δὲ(?) διαχρήσασθαι αὐτόν καὶ τὴν βασιλείαν λαβεῖν· παῖδας δὲ αὐτῆς γενέσθαι Αὐτοῦχον καὶ ᾽Αρισταῖον. φησὶ δὲ αὐτὴν Φύλαρχος (81 F 16) ἐλθεῖν μετὰ πλειόνων εἰς Λιβύην, τούτων δὲ ἐκπεμφθέντων ἐπὶ τὴν κυνηγίαν, τούτοις καὶ αὐτὴν συνεξελθεῖν.

This story is really exceptional in Greek myth and history for a couple of reasons. First, here we have a female beast-slayer who follows the classic pattern of killing a monster and gaining a kingdom. Second, while her children are mentioned–following a typical pattern of defining women by their offspring–her mate is not. There are some other sources on this figure.

Nonnos, Dionys. 13.300-301

“Cyrene, another deer-pursuing Artemis,
The lion-slaying nymph bore him, after sex with Phoibos.”

τόν ποτε Κυρήνη, κεμαδοσσόος ῎Αρτεμις ἄλλη,
Φοιβείῃ φιλότητι λεοντοφόνος τέκε νύμφη…

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