Goddess and the Women of the Gods: A Special Episode of Reading Greek Tragedy Online

Euripides, Trojan Women, 95-98

“Any mortal fool enough to sack cites,
Their temples, shrines and the graves of those they killed,
Dies later on in self-made isolation.”

μῶρος δὲ θνητῶν ὅστις ἐκπορθεῖ πόλεις,
ναούς τε τύμβους θ᾽, ἱερὰ τῶν κεκμηκότων,
ἐρημίᾳ δοὺς αὐτὸς ὤλεθ᾽ ὕστερον.

Ah, the world is filled with people of all kinds, yet so many of the stories we tell from the ancient world focus on the lives and experiences of angry men! Some may tell you that this is because we have so little from and about women, but there are authors, texts, and records we overlook in favor of stories of violence, conquest, and rage.

Today Reading Greek Tragedy Online presents a special episode conceived and directed by LeeAnet Noble: Goddess and the Women of Gods. This brings together a series of speeches from ancient literature centering and exploring the experiences and perspectives of women.

Reading Greek Tragedy Online is a series produced in partnership with Out of Chaos Theatre, the Center for Hellenic Studies, and the Kosmos Society. This project started at the onset of COVID19 lockdowns in the US and UK and brings together actors and researches to stage scenes from the ancient stage and talk about how they impact us to this day. We have over 45 episodes posted already and will add a few more by the end of the year. In the first year of the Pandemic, we went through every extant Greek tragedy. As we have moved on, we have tried to broaden our scope, expanding the questions we ask of the past and reaching out to bring more people and perspectives into discussion.

Special Guests
Suzanne Lye
Jackie Murray
Performers and Scenes
LeeAnet Noble, creator and director
Colleen Longshaw: Clytemnestra (Agamemnon)
Ayanda Nghlangothi KaNokwe: Cassandra
Tamieka Chavis: Hecuba
Kim Bey: Clytemnestra (Iphigenia)
Rad Pereira: Homeric Ode to Demeter
Evelyn Miller: Nurse (Hippolytus)
Noree Victoria: Tecmessa
Nikaury Rodriguez: Lysistrata

Sophokles, Ajax 1185-1191

“What is left, what will be the final number
For the years of wandering lost?
This count piling up an endless
Ruin of battle’s toils,
The Greeks’ sorrowful insult,
Wide-wayed Troy.”

τίς ἄρα νέατος, ἐς πότε λή-
ξει πολυπλάγκτων ἐτέων ἀριθμός,
τὰν ἄπαυστον αἰὲν ἐμοὶ δορυσσοήτων
μόχθων ἄταν ἐπάγων
ἂν τὰν εὐρώδη Τροΐαν,
δύστανον ὄνειδος Ἑλλάνων;

 

Crew and Amazing People
Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis 559-567

“People have different natures;
They have different ways. But acting rightly
Always stands out.
The preparation of education
points the way to virtue.
For it is a mark of wisdom to feel shame
and it brings the transformative grace
of seeing through its judgment
what is right; it is reputation that grants
an ageless glory to your life.”

διάφοροι δὲ φύσεις βροτῶν,
διάφοροι δὲ τρόποι· τὸ δ’ ὀρ-
θῶς ἐσθλὸν σαφὲς αἰεί·
τροφαί θ’ αἱ παιδευόμεναι
μέγα φέρουσ’ ἐς τὰν ἀρετάν·
τό τε γὰρ αἰδεῖσθαι σοφία,
†τάν τ’ ἐξαλλάσσουσαν ἔχει
χάριν ὑπὸ γνώμας ἐσορᾶν†
τὸ δέον, ἔνθα δόξα φέρει

Future episodes

All start times are 3pm ET unless otherwise noted. Live stream available at chs.harvard.edu and on YouTube.

December 1 The Laodamiad by Chas LiBretto

December 15 An Ancient Cabaret

Euripides, Hecuba 864-871

“Ha!
No one who is mortal is free—
We are either the slave of money or chance;
Or the majority of people or the city’s laws
Keep us from living by our own judgment.
Since you feel fear and bend to the masses,
I will make you free of fear:
Understand anything wicked I plan against
My son’s murderer, but don’t help me do it.”

φεῦ.
οὐκ ἔστι θνητῶν ὅστις ἔστ᾿ ἐλεύθερος·
ἢ χρημάτων γὰρ δοῦλός ἐστιν ἢ τύχης
ἢ πλῆθος αὐτὸν πόλεος ἢ νόμων γραφαὶ
εἴργουσι χρῆσθαι μὴ κατὰ γνώμην τρόποις.
ἐπεὶ δὲ ταρβεῖς τῷ τ᾿ ὄχλῳ πλέον νέμεις,
ἐγώ σε θήσω τοῦδ᾿ ἐλεύθερον φόβου.
σύνισθι μὲν γάρ, ἤν τι βουλεύσω κακὸν
τῷ τόνδ᾿ ἀποκτείναντι, συνδράσῃς δὲ μή.

The Cause of All Great Wars

To follow up yesterday’s post about Helen’s Consent

Athenaios, Deipnosophists, 13, 10, 560b

“[It is clear] that the greatest wars also happened because of women. The Trojan War happened because of Helen; the Plague because of Chryseis; Achilles’ rage because of Briseis; and the War called the Sacred War, as Duris claims in the second book of his histories, by another married woman from Thebes who was kidnapped by some Phocian. This war also lasted ten years and in the tenth when Philip allied himself with the Thebes it ended. Then the Thebans took and held Phokis.”

… ὅτι καὶ οἱ μέγιστοι πόλεμοι διὰ γυναῖκας ἐγένοντο· ὁ ᾽Ιλιακὸς δι᾽ ῾Ελένην, ὁ λοιμὸς διὰ Χρυσηίδα, ᾽Αχιλλέως μῆνις διὰ Βρισηίδα· καὶ ὁ ἱερὸς δὲ καλούμενος πόλεμος δι᾽ ἑτέραν γαμετήν, φησὶν Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέραι ῾Ιστοριῶν, Θηβαίαν γένος, ὄνομα Θεανώ, ἁρπασθεῖσαν ὑπὸ Φωκέως τινός. δεκαετὴς δὲ καὶ οὗτος γενόμενος τῶι δεκάτωι ἔτει Φιλίππου συμμαχήσαντος πέρας ἐσχεν· τότε γὰρ εἷλον οἱ Θηβαῖοι τὴν Φωκίδα.

Herodotus, 1.2-4

“This is how the Persians say that Io came to Egypt—and not the story the Greeks tell—and this was the first transgression. After that, they claim some Greeks—and they can’t name them—went to Tyre and kidnapped Europê, the daughter of the king. These men would have been Cretans. At this point, the score was even. But then the Greeks were at fault for a second crime. For the Greeks sailed in a great ship to Aia, the Kolkhian, city and to the river Phasis.

Once they finished why they went there, they left, but they also kidnapped Medea, the king’s daughter. When the king sent a herald to Greece demanding recompense for the abduction and asking for his daughter to be returned, the Greeks answered that they would give nothing to the Kolhkians since they had not received anything for the abduction of Io.

In the next generation after that, they say that Priam’s son Alexandros, once he heard about these things, wanted to steal a wife for himself from Greece because he was absolutely certain he would face no penalties since the earlier men hadn’t. When he kidnapped Helen as he did, it seemed right at first for the Greeks to send messengers to demand her return and recompense for the abduction. When the Greeks made these demands, the Trojans brought up the abduction of Medeia and the fact that the Greeks were demanding from others the very things they themselves were not willing to give or repay.

Up to that point of time, the whole matter was only kidnapping on either side. But the Greeks were more to blame after this since they were the first to lead an army to Asia before anyone led one against Europe. As the Persians claim, they believe it is the work of unjust men to kidnap women, but the act of fools to rush off to avenge women who have been abducted. Wise men have no time for raped women, since it is clear they they would not have been abducted if they had not been willing themselves.

They claim that the men of Asia make no big deal when women are abducted while the Greeks, all because of one Lakedaimonian woman, raised a great army, went to Asia, and destroyed Priam’s power. Since that time, they consider Greece their enemy.”

οὕτω μὲν Ἰοῦν ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπικέσθαι λέγουσι Πέρσαι, οὐκ ὡς Ἕλληνές, καὶ τῶν ἀδικημάτων πρῶτον τοῦτο ἄρξαι. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἑλλήνων τινάς οὐ γὰρ ἔχουσι τοὔνομα ἀπηγήσασθαι φασὶ τῆς Φοινίκης ἐς Τύρονπροσσχόντας ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Εὐρώπην. εἴησαν δ᾽ ἄνοὗτοι Κρῆτες. ταῦτα μὲν δὴ ἴσα πρὸς ἴσα σφι γενέσθαι, μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἕλληνας αἰτίους τῆς δευτέρης ἀδικίης γενέσθαι: [2] καταπλώσαντας γὰρμακρῇ νηί ἐς Αἶαν τε τὴν Κολχίδα καὶ ἐπὶ Φᾶσιν ποταμόν, ἐνθεῦτεν, διαπρηξαμένους καὶ τἄλλα τῶν εἵνεκεν ἀπίκατο, ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Μηδείην. [3] πέμψαντά δὲ τὸν Κόλχων βασιλέα ἐς τὴν Ἑλλάδα κήρυκα αἰτέειν τε δίκας τῆς ἁρπαγῆς καὶ ἀπαιτέειν τὴν θυγατέρα.τοὺς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς οὐδὲ ἐκεῖνοι Ἰοῦς τῆς Ἀργείης ἔδοσάν σφι δίκαςτῆς ἁρπαγῆς: οὐδὲ ὤν αὐτοὶ δώσειν ἐκείνοισι.

δευτέρῃ δὲ λέγουσι γενεῇ μετὰ ταῦτα Ἀλέξανδρον τὸν Πριάμου, ἀκηκοόταταῦτα, ἐθελῆσαί οἱ ἐκ τῆς Ἑλλάδος δι᾽ ἁρπαγῆς γενέσθαι γυναῖκα, ἐπιστάμενον πάντως ὅτι οὐ δώσει δίκας. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐκείνους διδόναι. [2]οὕτω δὴ ἁρπάσαντος αὐτοῦ Ἑλένην, τοῖσι Ἕλλησι δόξαι πρῶτὸνπέμψαντας ἀγγέλους ἀπαιτέειν τε Ἑλένην καὶ δίκας τῆς ἁρπαγῆς αἰτέειν. τοὺς δέ, προϊσχομένων ταῦτα, προφέρειν σφι Μηδείης τὴν ἁρπαγήν, ὡς οὐδόντες αὐτοὶ δίκας οὐδὲ ἐκδόντες ἀπαιτεόντων βουλοίατό σφι παρ᾽ ἄλλωνδίκας γίνεσθαι.

μέχρι μὲν ὤν τούτου ἁρπαγάς μούνας εἶναι παρ᾽ ἀλλήλων, τὸ δὲ ἀπὸτούτου Ἕλληνας δὴ μεγάλως αἰτίους γενέσθαι: προτέρους γὰρ ἄρξαι στρατεύεσθαι ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην ἢ σφέας ἐς τὴν Εὐρώπην. [2] τὸ μέν νυνἁρπάζειν γυναῖκας ἀνδρῶν ἀδίκων νομίζειν ἔργον εἶναι, τὸ δὲἁρπασθεισέων σπουδήν ποιήσασθαι τιμωρέειν ἀνοήτων, τὸ δὲ μηδεμίανὤρην ἔχειν ἁρπασθεισέων σωφρόνων: δῆλα γὰρ δὴ ὅτι, εἰ μὴ αὐταὶἐβούλοντο, οὐκ ἂν ἡρπάζοντο. [3] σφέας μὲν δὴ τοὺς ἐκ τῆς Ἀσίης λέγουσιΠέρσαι ἁρπαζομενέων τῶν γυναικῶν λόγον οὐδένα ποιήσασθαι, Ἕλληναςδὲ Λακεδαιμονίης εἵνεκεν γυναικὸς στόλον μέγαν συναγεῖραι καὶ ἔπειταἐλθόντας ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην τὴν Πριάμου δύναμιν κατελεῖν. [4] ἀπὸ τούτου αἰεὶἡγήσασθαι τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν σφίσι εἶναι πολέμιον.

Note: much of the language in this passage referring to abduction and kidnapping could also be translated as rape. I left the language more anodyne to reflect what seems to be Herodotus’ own dismissal or ignorance of the women’s experience.

File:Helen of Sparta boards a ship for Troy fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.jpg
Helen boards a boat: House of the Tragic Poet, Pompei

Like Blood Poured Over Milk: It Gets Worse When Achilles Dies

Inspired by the essay “Just a Girl: Being Briseis“, I have been reading through more passages about Briseis. In the Iliad, she performs a memorable lament for Patroklos. The much later Posthomerica similarly instrumentalizes her grief and uses her character as a way to amplify the loss of Achilles. Note, however, the really terrible observation of this passage that for a woman in war it can always get worse.

Quintus, Posthomerica 3.551-573

“Of all the women, Briseis felt the most terrible grief
in her heart within, the companion of warring Achilles.
She turned over his corpse and tore at her fine skin
With both hands and from her delicate chest
Bloody bruises rose up from the force of her blows—
You might even say it was like blood poured over milk.
Yet she still shined even as she mourned in pain
And her whole form exuded grace.
This is the kind of speech she made while mourning:

“Oh what endless horror I have suffered.
Nothing that happened to me before this was so great
Not the death of my brothers nor the loss of my country,

Nothing exceeds your death. You were my sacred day
And the light of the sun and the gentle life,
My hope for good and tireless defense against pain—
You were better by far than any gift, than my parents even—
You were everything alone for me even though I was enslaved.

You took me as your bedmate and seized me from a slave’s labor.
But now? Some other Achaean will take me away in his ships
To fertile Sparta or dry and thirsty Argos
Where I will again suffer terrible things working away,
Apart from you and miserable. I only wish that
The earth had covered over me before I saw your death.”

πασάων δ’ ἔκπαγλον ἀκηχεμένη κέαρ ἔνδον
Βρισηὶς παράκοιτις ἐυπτολέμου Ἀχιλῆος
ἀμφὶ νέκυν στρωφᾶτο καὶ ἀμφοτέρῃς παλάμῃσι
δρυπτομένη χρόα καλὸν ἀύτεεν· ἐκ δ’ ἁπαλοῖο
στήθεος αἱματόεσσαι ἀνὰ σμώδιγγες ἄερθεν
θεινομένης· φαίης κεν ἐπὶ γλάγος αἷμα χέασθαι
φοίνιον. ἀγλαΐη δὲ καὶ ἀχνυμένης ἀλεγεινῶς
ἱμερόεν μάρμαιρε, χάρις δέ οἱ ἄμπεχεν εἶδος.
τοῖον δ’ ἔκφατο μῦθον ὀιζυρὸν γοόωσα·
“Ὤ μοι ἐγὼ πάντων περιώσιον αἰνὰ παθοῦσα·
οὐ γάρ μοι τόσσον περ ἐπήλυθεν ἄλλό τι πῆμα,
οὔτε κασιγνήτων οὔτ’ εὐρυχόρου περὶ πάτρης,
ὅσσον σεῖο θανόντος· ἐπεὶ σύ μοι ἱερὸν ἦμαρ
καὶ φάος ἠελίοιο πέλες καὶ μείλιχος αἰὼν
ἐλπωρή τ’ ἀγαθοῖο καὶ ἄσπετον ἄλκαρ ἀνίης
πάσης τ’ ἀγλαΐης πολὺ φέρτερος ἠδὲ τοκήων
ἔπλεο· πάντα γὰρ οἶος ἔης δμωῇ περ ἐούσῃ,
καί ῥά με θῆκας ἄκοιτιν ἑλὼν ἄπο δούλια ἔργα.
νῦν δέ τις ἐν νήεσσιν Ἀχαιῶν ἄξεται ἄλλος
Σπάρτην εἰς ἐρίβωλον ἢ ἐς πολυδίψιον Ἄργος·
καί νύ κεν ἀμφιπολεῦσα κακὰς ὑποτλήσομ’ ἀνίας
σεῦ ἀπονοσφισθεῖσα δυσάμμορος. ὡς ὄφελόν με
γαῖα χυτὴ ἐκάλυψε πάρος σέο πότμον ἰδέσθαι.”

17th Century Tapestry based on Rubens’ “Briseis Returned to Achilles?

Go Get Briseis

This selection from the Iliad begins with Agamemnon, ends with Achilles, and has at its center Briseis, a woman captured in war and warred over by the Achaean heroes.

Iliad 1.318-350

Agamemnon did not threaten Achilles
and leave it at that. No, he told his able servants,
the heralds Talthybius and Eurybates:
“Go to Achilles’ hut, take Briseis by the arm,
and bring her here. If he won’t give her up,
well, I’ll go with more men and take her myself—
and all the worse for him.”

With that harsh instruction, he sent them on their way.
Reluctant, they walked the shore of the barren sea
to the Myrmidon encampment. And there they found him,
Achilles, idling by his hut and black ship,
not glad to see them. Frightened, awestruck,
they stood before the king saying nothing,
asking nothing. But, in his heart he knew.
He spoke: “Greetings, heralds. Messengers of Zeus and men,
come closer. You’re not to blame; Agamemnon is.
He’s the one who sent you for the girl, Briseis.
Come then, Zeus-born Patroclus, bring the girl out.
Give her to them to take away . . .”

And so Patroclus obeyed his dear comrade:
he brought Briseis from the hut and gave her over
to be led away. The men went back the way they came,
along the Achaean ships. The woman, reluctant,
went with them. Achilles was in tears.
He left his comrades, sat down on the grey sea’s shore,
and looked out on the boundless waters.

I want to highlight a word which occurs twice in the passage: ἀέκων, which I translate “reluctant.” Homer uses it to describe the heralds as they go to collect Briseis from Achilles. Some lines later he uses it to describe Briseis as the heralds return with her to Agamemnon.

What to make of this symmetry? Does it make sense to suggest the heralds and Briseis are in the same boat? The heralds seem to be reluctant because they fear Achilles. But Briseis is unconsenting in a more fundamental way: she’s a sex slave; all that’s happening is against her will. In other words, there’s reluctance, and then there’s reluctance. Homer, I suspect, is neither so monstrous nor so obtuse as to elide the difference.

So try this: in the passage above, reluctance isn’t a disposition of minds, but a disposition of bodies. Whether it’s the heralds or Briseis we’re talking about, the phenomenology of reluctantly going someplace would be largely the same: dragging feet; nervous glancing; head down; unsmiling expression, etc.

That’s one way to justify the symmetry suggested by ἀέκων (“reluctant”), but is that satisfying? I can’t resolve the matter. But what I’m sure of is that conundrums of this sort contribute to the Iliad’s claim on our attention.

Iliad 1.318-350

. . . οὐδ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνων
λῆγ᾽ ἔριδος τὴν πρῶτον ἐπηπείλησ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε Ταλθύβιόν τε καὶ Εὐρυβάτην προσέειπε,
τώ οἱ ἔσαν κήρυκε καὶ ὀτρηρὼ θεράποντε:
ἔρχεσθον κλισίην Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος:
χειρὸς ἑλόντ᾽ ἀγέμεν Βρισηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον:
εἰ δέ κε μὴ δώῃσιν ἐγὼ δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕλωμαι
ἐλθὼν σὺν πλεόνεσσι: τό οἱ καὶ ῥίγιον ἔσται.

ὣς εἰπὼν προΐει, κρατερὸν δ᾽ ἐπὶ μῦθον ἔτελλε:
τὼ δ᾽ ἀέκοντε βάτην παρὰ θῖν᾽ ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο,
Μυρμιδόνων δ᾽ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δ᾽ εὗρον παρά τε κλισίῃ καὶ νηῒ μελαίνῃ
ἥμενον: οὐδ᾽ ἄρα τώ γε ἰδὼν γήθησεν Ἀχιλλεύς.
τὼ μὲν ταρβήσαντε καὶ αἰδομένω βασιλῆα
στήτην, οὐδέ τί μιν προσεφώνεον οὐδ᾽ ἐρέοντο:
αὐτὰρ ὃ ἔγνω ᾗσιν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ φώνησέν τε:
χαίρετε κήρυκες Διὸς ἄγγελοι ἠδὲ καὶ ἀνδρῶν,
ἆσσον ἴτ᾽: οὔ τί μοι ὔμμες ἐπαίτιοι ἀλλ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνων,
ὃ σφῶϊ προΐει Βρισηΐδος εἵνεκα κούρης.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε διογενὲς Πατρόκλεες ἔξαγε κούρην
καί σφωϊν δὸς ἄγειν . . .

ὣς φάτο, Πάτροκλος δὲ φίλῳ ἐπεπείθεθ᾽ ἑταίρῳ,
ἐκ δ᾽ ἄγαγε κλισίης Βρισηΐδα καλλιπάρῃον,
δῶκε δ᾽ ἄγειν: τὼ δ᾽ αὖτις ἴτην παρὰ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν:
ἣ δ᾽ ἀέκουσ᾽ ἅμα τοῖσι γυνὴ κίεν: αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς
δακρύσας ἑτάρων ἄφαρ ἕζετο νόσφι λιασθείς,
θῖν᾽ ἔφ᾽ ἁλὸς πολιῆς, ὁρόων ἐπ᾽ ἀπείρονα πόντον:

 Photograph by Hans Bellmer, German Surrealist (1902-1975). The intimations of fear, sex, and violence seem appropriate.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Boredom and Death: Ovid’s Briseis

Here’s a bit from Ovid’s Briseis as I read my way through antiquity’s versions of Homer’s unnamed Hippodameia (inspired by this essay). Ovid is a clever writer and capable of deep understanding and empathy. I don’t see a lot of that in this poem. A full translation is available on Theoi.com.  The Latin text is available through Perseus’ Scaife Viewer.

Ovid, Heroides 3. 135-148 [Briseis to Achilles]

“Still now—I hope your father Peleus lives every year he can
And that Pyrrhus come to the same good luck in weapons as you
But just notice worried Briseis, brave Achilles,
And don’t torture the miserable with painful delay.

If your desire for me has turned to boredom,
Force me to die rather than live without you.
You’re forcing it as you act now—my body and complexion are ruined;
This bit of breath that keeps me upright is only hope in you.

If that leaves me? I’ll meet my brothers and husband
And it won’t be glory for you to order a woman to die.
Why bother to tell me to? Strike at my body with bared steel.
There’s blood here to pour once my chest is opened.
Let that sword of yours find me, the very one the goddess stopped
From entering the breast of Atreus’ son.”

Nunc quoque—sic omnes Peleus pater inpleat annos,
sic eat auspiciis Pyrrhus ad arma tuis! —
respice sollicitam Briseida, fortis Achille,
nec miseram lenta ferreus ure mora!
aut, si versus amor tuus est in taedia nostri,
quam sine te cogis vivere, coge mori!
utque facis, coges. abiit corpusque colorque;
sustinet hoc animae spes tamen una tui.
qua si destituor, repetam fratresque virumque—
nec tibi magnificum femina iussa mori.
cur autem iubeas? stricto pete corpora ferro;
est mihi qui fosso pectore sanguis eat.
me petat ille tuus, qui, si dea passa fuisset,
ensis in Atridae pectus iturus erat!

Léon Cogniet, Briséis rendue à Achille découvre dans sa tente le corps de Patrocle, 1815, Orléans, musée des Beaux-Arts

Strong Winds and Serving Justice

Euripides, Andromache 479-485

“When strong winds carry sailors forward
Divergent opinions steering the ship
Or a mob thick with wise men is feebler
Than a single mind with self-control.
In city and under a single
Authority should be one person’s
Whenever we want to find success.”

πνοαὶ δ᾽ ὅταν φέρωσι ναυτίλους θοαί,
κατὰ πηδαλίων δίδυμαι πραπίδων γνῶμαι,
σοφῶν τε πλῆθος ἀθρόον ἀσθενέστερον
φαυλοτέρας φρενὸς αὐτοκρατοῦς.
ἑνὸς ἄρ᾽ ἄνυσις ἀνά τε μέλαθρα
κατά τε πόλιας, ὁπόταν εὑ-
ρεῖν θέλωσι καιρόν.

Euripides, Hecuba 834-845

“My speech is lacking one thing still.
I wish I had the voice in my limbs
And hands and hair and the march of my feet
Or the skills of Daidalos or some god
So I could completely grasp you by your knees
Wailing, laying about you with every kind of argument.
Master, great hope of life for the Greeks,
Heed me—lend an avenging hand to an old woman
Even if she is nothing at all.

For it is right that a good man serve justice
And always do evil everywhere to evil men.”

ἑνός μοι μῦθος ἐνδεὴς ἔτι·
εἴ μοι γένοιτο φθόγγος ἐν βραχίοσιν
καὶ χερσὶ καὶ κόμαισι καὶ ποδῶν βάσει
ἢ Δαιδάλου τέχναισιν ἢ θεῶν τινος,
ὡς πάνθ᾿ ἁμαρτῇ σῶν ἔχοιτο γουνάτων
κλαίοντ᾿, ἐπισκήπτοντα παντοίους λόγους.
ὦ δέσποτ᾿, ὦ μέγιστον Ἕλλησιν φάος,
πιθοῦ, παράσχες χεῖρα τῇ πρεσβύτιδι
τιμωρόν, εἰ καὶ μηδέν ἐστιν ἀλλ᾿ ὅμως.
ἐσθλοῦ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς τῇ δίκῃ θ᾿ ὑπηρετεῖν
καὶ τοὺς κακοὺς δρᾶν πανταχοῦ κακῶς ἀεί.

Euripides, Hecuba 885-887

Agamemnon: Frightening! But I surely can’t trust a woman’s strength.
Hecuba: Why? Didn’t women kill the sons of Aegyptus
And wipe Lemnos clean of all men?

δεινόν· τὸ μέντοι θῆλυ μέμφομαι σθένος.
ΕΚΑΒΗ
τί δ᾿; οὐ γυναῖκες εἷλον Αἰγύπτου τέκνα
καὶ Λῆμνον ἄρδην ἀρσένων ἐξῴκισαν;

Viviano Codazzi and Filippo Lauri – Arches in ruins and Hecuba’s vengeance over Polymestor

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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Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

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As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

Why Wives Should Learn Geometry and Plato. And, an Eclipse

Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)

“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract women from inappropriate matters. For, a wife will be ashamed to dance when she is learning geometry. And she will not receive spells of medicine if she is charmed by Platonic dialogues and the works of Xenophon. And if anyone claims she can pull down the moon, she will laugh at the ignorance and simplicity of the women who believe these things because she herself is not ignorant of astronomy and she has read about Aglaonikê. She was the daughter of Hêgêtor of Thessaly because she knew all about the periods of the moon and eclipses knew before everyone about the time when the moon would be taken by the shadow of the earth. She tricked the other women and persuaded them that she herself was causing the lunar eclipse.”

τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα μαθήματα πρῶτον ἀφίστησι τῶν ἀτόπων τὰς γυναῖκας· αἰσχυνθήσεται γὰρ ὀρχεῖσθαι γυνὴ γεωμετρεῖν μανθάνουσα, καὶ φαρμάκων ἐπῳδὰς οὐ προσδέξεται τοῖς Πλάτωνος ἐπᾳδομένη λόγοις καὶ τοῖς Ξενοφῶντος. ἂν δέ τις ἐπαγγέλληται καθαιρεῖν τὴν σελήνην, γελάσεται τὴν ἀμαθίαν καὶ τὴν ἀβελτερίαν τῶν ταῦτα πειθομένων γυναικῶν, ἀστρολογίας μὴ ἀνηκόως ἔχουσα καὶ περὶ Ἀγλαονίκης ἀκηκουῖα τῆς Ἡγήτορος τοῦ Θετταλοῦ θυγατρὸς ὅτι τῶν ἐκλειπτικῶν ἔμπειρος οὖσα πανσελήνων καὶ προειδυῖα τὸν χρόνον, ἐν ᾧ συμβαίνει τὴν σελήνην ὑπὸ γῆς σκιᾶς ἁλίσκεσθαι, παρεκρούετο καὶ συνέπειθε τὰς γυναῖκας ὡς αὐτὴ καθαιροῦσα τὴν σελήνην.

 

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Heard And Seen: Disagreeing With Thucydides About Women

Plutarch, On the Virtues of Women 1

“Klea, I do not have the same opinion as Thucydides concerning the virtue of women. For he claims that the best woman is the one who has the slimmest reputation among those outside her home, critical or positive—since he believes that the name of a good woman ought to be locked up and kept indoors just like her body.  Gorgias, in fact, is more appealing to me, since he insists that the fame rather than the form of a woman should be known to many. Indeed, the Roman practice seems best: granting praise to women in public after their death just as for men.

So, when Leontis, one of the best women died, you and I had a rather long conversation which did not lack philosophical solace; and now, just as you have asked, I have written down for you the rest of the things one can say supporting the assertion that the virtue of a man and woman are the same thing. This [composition] is historical and is not arranged for pleasurable hearing. But if some pleasure is possible in a persuasive piece thanks to the nature of its example, then the argument itself does not avoid some charm—that aid to explanation—nor is it reluctant to “mix the Graces in with the Muses, a most noble pairing”, in the words of Euripides, basing its credibility on the love of beauty which is a special province of the soul.”

Περὶ ἀρετῆς, ὦ Κλέα, γυναικῶν οὐ τὴν αὐτὴν τῷ Θουκυδίδῃ γνώμην ἔχομεν. ὁ μὲν γάρ, ἧς ἂν ἐλάχιστος ᾖ παρὰ τοῖς ἐκτὸς ψόγου πέρι ἢ ἐπαίνου λόγος, ἀρίστην ἀποφαίνεται, καθάπερ τὸ σῶμα καὶ τοὔνομα τῆς ἀγαθῆς γυναικὸς οἰόμενος δεῖν κατάκλειστον εἶναι καὶ ἀνέξοδον. ἡμῖν δὲ κομψότερος μὲν ὁ Γοργίας φαίνεται, κελεύων μὴ τὸ εἶδος ἀλλὰ τὴν δόξαν εἶναι πολλοῖς γνώριμον τῆς γυναικός· ἄριστα δ᾿ ὁ Ῥωμαίων δοκεῖ νόμος ἔχειν, ὥσπερ ἀνδράσι καὶ γυναιξὶ δημοσίᾳ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν τοὺς προσήκοντας ἀποδιδοὺς ἐπαίνους. διὸ καὶ Λεοντίδος τῆς ἀρίστης ἀποθανούσης, εὐθύς τε μετὰ σοῦ τότε πολὺν λόγον εἴχομεν οὐκ ἀμοιροῦντα παραμυθίας φιλοσόφου, καὶ νῦν, ὡς ἐβουλήθης, τὰ ὑπόλοιπα τῶν λεγομένων εἰς τὸ μίαν εἶναι καὶ τὴν αὐτὴν ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικὸς ἀρετὴν προσανέγραψά σοι, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα. εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, τὸ ἱστορικὸν ἀποδεικτικὸν ἔχοντα καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὴν μὲν ἀκοῆς οὐ συντεταγμένα· εἰ δὲ τῷ πείθοντι καὶ τὸ τέρπον ἔνεστι φύσει τοῦ παραδείγματος, οὐ φεύγει χάριν ἀποδείξεως συνεργὸν ὁ λόγος οὐδ᾿ αἰσχύνεται

ταῖς Μούσαις
τὰς Χάριτας συγκαταμιγνὺς
καλλίσταν συζυγίαν,

ὡς Εὐριπίδης φησίν, ἐκ τοῦ φιλοκάλου μάλιστα τῆς ψυχῆς ἀναδούμενος τὴν πίστιν.

Giovanni Martinelli – The Three Graces