Publius’ Severed Head Speaks! The Third Act of a Fantastic Friday

In two earlier posts, we have the story of a victorious Roman army beset by tragic prophecies provided by a zombie opponent, the oracle at Delphi, and a suddenly mad general. Here, the general prophesies, dies, and speaks again. Oh, there’s a red wolf involved too.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 3 (Part 3)

“After he said these things, he spoke in verse again:

When the shining gold-bedecked Nêsaian horses
Trod on the shining earth, after they leave behind their seat
The horses Daidalian Êetion once made in the city
Of the very wealthy Syracusans, building up a longed-for friendship.
He put a fire on the bronze and laid golden knots
On their halters and he fit all this too on the son of
Hyperion who shines with rays and light.
On that day, Roman, harsh griefs will occur for you.
A broad army will come and it will destroy your whole land,
It will desolate your marketplaces, and it will make your cities burned ash.
It will fill the rivers with blood; it will fill Hades,
And it will cast pitiful, hateful, terrible slavery upon you.
No wife will welcome her husband come from war
But darkly-dressed Hades who lives below will hold them
among the rotting places where he has stolen children from their mothers,
as this foreign Ares will craft his day of enslavement.

He was silent and then, after he left the camp, he climbed up a certain tree. Because the crowd followed him, he addressed them again and said: “Roman men and remaining soldiers, it is fated for me to be eaten by a red wolf after I die on the same day. But you must take to heart that everything which I have said will turn out well for you. Take the coming appearance of this beast and my death as a clear sign that I have spoken truly, inspired from a god.”

After he said these things, he ordered them to hold back and that no one should stop the beast from approaching, warning that it would not help them if they turned it away. When the mob did what was ordered, a wolf arrived before too long. When Publius say it, he came down from the tree and fell to his back. The wolf tore him apart and dined on him while everyone was walking. Once it had eaten up his body except for his head, he turned to the mountain. When the mob approached and was considering collecting what was left and burying him, the head spoke as it sat upon the earth and uttered these lines.

Don’t touch my head! For it is not right
For those upon whose thoughts Athena has set a savage rage
To touch a godly head. No, stop!
Heed the true prophecy which I will tell you.
For a great a powerful Ares will approach this land—
He will send a host in arms down to Hades’ gloom.
It will break the stone fortifications and long walls
And after that, once it has taken our wealth and wives and children
Will lead it all to Asia by crossing the waves.
Phoibos Apollo has uttered these truths to you
The Pythian one who sent me as his strong servant
And has led me now to the homes of Persephone and the blessed.

Once they heard these voices, they were extremely upset. Once they built a shrine to Lykian Apollo along which an altar in the very place where the head say, they embarked on their ships and everyone sailed to their own country. Everything promised by Publius happened in time.”

ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἔλεξεν αὖθις ἐν ἔπεσι τάδε·

ἡνίκα Νησαῖοι χρυσάμπυκες ἀργέται ἵπποι
βῶσιν ἐπὶ χθόνα δῖαν, ἑὴν προλιπόντες ἐφέδρην
—οὕς ποτ’ ἐν ἄστει τεῦξε Συρηκοσίων πολυόλβων
δαίδαλος ᾿Ηετίων, φιλίην πολυήρατον αὔξων,
δαῖτ’ ἐπὶ χαλκείῃ, δεσμοῖς δ’ ἐπὶ δεσμὸν ἴαλλεν
χρύσεον, ἐν δ’ αὐτὸν πᾶσιν ῾Υπερίονος υἱὸν
ἥρμοσεν ἀκτίνεσσι καὶ ὄμμασι μαρμαίροντα—
καὶ τότε σοί, ῾Ρώμη, χαλέπ’ ἄλγεα πάντα τελεῖται.
ἥξει γὰρ στρατὸς εὐρύς, ὅ σου χθόνα πᾶσαν ὀλέσσει,
χηρώσει δ’ ἀγοράς, ἄστη δέ τε πυρπόλα θήσει,
αἵματι δὲ πλήσει ποταμούς, πλήσει δὲ καὶ ῞Αιδην,
δουλοσύνην τ’ οἰκτρήν, στυγερήν, ἀτέκμαρτον ἐφήσει.
οὐδὲ γυνὴ πόσιν ὅν γ’ ὑποδέξεται ἐκ πολέμοιο
νοστήσαντ’, ᾿Αΐδης δὲ καταχθόνιος, μελανείμων
ἕξει ἐνὶ φθιμένοισιν ὁμοῦ τέκνα μητρὸς ἀπούρας,
῎Αρης δ’ ἀλλοδαπὸς περιθήσει δούλιον ἦμαρ.

ἀποφθεγξάμενος δὲ ταῦτα ἐσιώπησεν καὶ πορευθεὶς ἔξω τοῦ στρατοπέδου ἀνέβη ἐπί τινα δρῦν. ἐπακολουθήσαντος δὲ τοῦ ὄχλου προσεκαλέσατο αὐτοὺς καὶ εἶπε τάδε· «ἐμοὶ μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες ῾Ρωμαῖοι καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ στρατιῶται, καθήκει τελευτή-
σαντι ὑπὸ λύκου πυρροῦ εὐμεγέθους καταβρωθῆναι ἐν τῇ σήμερον ἡμέρᾳ, ὑμεῖς δὲ τὰ ῥηθέντα ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ γινώσκετε συμβησόμενα ὑμῖν πάντα, τεκμηρίοις χρώμενοι τῇ νῦν ἐσομένῃ ἐπιφανείᾳ τοῦ θηρίου τε καὶ τῇ ἐμῇ ἀναιρέσει, ὅτι ἀληθῆ εἴρηκα ἔκ τινος θείας ὑποδείξεως.» τοσαῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἐκέλευσεν αὐτοὺς ἀποστῆναι καὶ μηδένα κωλύσαι τὸ θηρίον προσελθεῖν φάσκων, ἐὰν ἀποστρέψωσιν, οὐ συνοίσειν αὐτοῖς.

ποιήσαντος δὲ τοῦ πλήθους τὸ προσταχθὲν οὐκ εἰς μακρὰν παραγίνεται ὁ λύκος. ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Πόπλιος κατέβη ἀπὸ τῆς δρυὸς καὶ ἔπεσεν ὕπτιος, ὁ δὲ λύκος ἀνασχίσας αὐτὸν κατεδαίνυτο πάντων ὁρώντων. ἀναλώσας δὲ τὸ σῶμα αὐτοῦ πλὴν τῆς κεφαλῆς ἐτράπετο εἰς τὸ ὄρος. προσελθόντος δὲ τοῦ ὄχλου καὶ βουλομένου ἀνελέσθαι τὰ ἀπολελειμμένα κτερίσαι τε αὐτὸν νομίμως, ἡ κεφαλὴ κειμένη ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀνεῖπε τοὺς στίχους τοιούτους·

μὴ ψαῦ’ ἡμετέρης κεφαλῆς· οὐ γὰρ θέμις ἐστίν,
οἷσιν ᾿Αθηναίη χόλον ἄγριον ἐν φρεσὶ θῆκεν,
ἅπτεσθαι θείοιο καρήατος· ἀλλὰ πέπαυσο
μαντοσύνην τ’ ἐπάκουσον, ἀληθέα ᾗπερ ἐρῶ σοι.
ἥξει γὰρ χθόνα τήνδε πολὺς καὶ καρτερὸς ῎Αρης,
ὃς λαὸν μὲν ἔνοπλον ὑπὸ σκότον ᾿Αΐδι πέμψει,
ῥήξει δ’ αὖ λιθίνους πύργους καὶ τείχεα μακρά,
ὄλβον δ’ ἡμέτερον καὶ νήπια τέκν’ ἀλόχους τε
μάρψας εἰς ᾿Ασίην ἄξει διὰ κῦμα περήσας.
ταῦτά σοι εἴρηκεν νημερτέα Φοῖβος ᾿Απόλλων
Πύθιος, ὅς μοι ἑὸν κρατερὸν θεράποντ’ ἐπιπέμψας
ἤγαγεν εἰς μακάρων τε δόμους καὶ Περσεφονείης.

ἀκούσαντες δὲ τῶν ἐπῶν τούτων οὐ μετρίως ἐταράχθησαν, ἱδρυσάμενοί τε ναὸν ᾿Απόλλωνος Λυκίου καὶ βωμόν, οὗπερ ἔκειτο ἡ κεφαλή, ἐνέβησαν εἰς τὰς ναῦς καὶ ἀπέπλεον ἕκαστος ἐπὶ τὰς ἑαυτῶν πατρίδας. καὶ συνέβη ἅπαντα τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποπλίου ῥηθέντα γενέσθαι.

Fantastic Friday: Giant Grain, Easy Labor, and Sheep Without Bile

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.  Some of these translations are pretty rough, so suggestions and corrections are welcome.

Apollonios Paradoxographus, Historiae Mirabiles 27-32

28“Aristotle, in his On Animal Matters, says that wax [?] when it develops in ears, once it becomes bitter [when they are about to die] becomes sweat after long illnesses. This, he says, has been observed as occurring on many occasions. He has provided the reason for this occurrence in his Natural Problems.”

28 ᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τοῖς ζωϊκοῖς· ὁ ῥύπος, φησίν, ἐν τοῖς ὠταρίοις γιγνόμενος, πικρὸς ὤν, [ὅταν τελευτᾶν μέλλωσιν] ἐν ταῖς μακραῖς νόσοις γλυκὺς γίνεται. τοῦτο δέ, φησίν, παρα-τετήρηται ἐπὶ πολλῶν γιγνόμενον. ἀποδέδωκεν δὲ καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν τοῦ γιγνομένου ἐν τοῖς φυσικοῖς προβλήμασιν.

29“Theophrastos in his work On planting writes that if wombs descend, they should be doused in water mixed with birth-wort for many days.”

29 Θεόφραστος ἐν τῇ περὶ φυτῶν πραγματείᾳ· ἐὰν αἱ μῆτραι, φησίν, προπέσωσιν, ἀριστολοχίᾳ ἐν ὕδατι βεβρεγμένῃ καταντλείσθωσαν πλείονας ἡμέρας.

30“Aristoxenos the scholar says that people who are suffering quartan fever can use woolly grape ground up with olive oil and blended together [?] before taking it to get rid of the sickness”

30 ᾿Αριστόξενος δὲ ὁ μουσικὸς <τοὺς> τεταρταΐζοντας τὴν ἑλξίνην φησὶν βοτάνην μετὰ ἐλαίου τριβομένην καὶ συγχριομένην πρὸ τῆς λήψεως ἀπολύειν τοῦ πάθους.

31“Theophrastos in his work On Plants says that sheep which graze on wormwood in the Black Sea region do not have bile.”

31Θεόφραστος, ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν· τὰ πρόβατα, φησίν, τὰ ἐν τῷ Πόντῳ τὸ ἀψίνθιον νεμόμενα οὐκ ἔχει χολήν.

32“Theophrastos in his work On Plants says that among the Indians there is no vetch, nor fig, nor chick-pea.”

32Θεόφραστος, ἐν τῷ περὶ φυτῶν, ἐν ᾿Ινδοῖς μὴ γίνεσθαι μήτε ἐρέβινθον μήτε φακὸν μήτε κύαμον.

33“Theophrastos, book 7 of his On Plants says that there is grain of such great breeding in certain villages in Baktria that is has the size of an olive pit.”

33 Ετι Θεόφραστος, ἐν τῷ ζ′ περὶ φυτῶν, τῆς Βακτριανῆς [ὁδοῦ] ἔν τισι κώμαις πυρὸν γίγνεσθαι οὕτως εὐγενῆ, ὥστε πυρῆνος ἐλαίας τὸ μέγεθος ἴσχειν.

34“The same philosopher says that in Olynthos and Kêrinthos the earth, when mixed with grain, makes it seem to be of a better kind.” [?]

34 ῾Ο αὐτὸς φιλόσοφος· ἐν ᾿Ολύνθῳ καὶ Κηρίνθῳ γῆ μιγνυμένη, φησί, τῷ σίτῳ εὐγενέστερον ποιεῖ φαίνεσθαι τοῦτον.

35“This is also among those things that have been observed that pregnant women when they are near their husbands constantly give birth easily and without suffering. Aristotle claims this in the 14th book of his inquiries.”

35 Τῶν παρατετηρημένων ἔστιν δὲ καὶ τοῦτο, τὰς ἐγκύους τῶν γυναικῶν συνεχῶς πλησιαζούσας τοῖς ἀνδράσιν εὐκόπως καὶ ἀκακοπαθήτως τίκτειν. εἴρηκεν δὲ τοῦτο καὶ ᾿Αριστοτέλης ἐν τῇ ιδ′ τῶν ἱστοριῶν.

Grazing sheep from the Bodleian Library (MS. Bodley 764, Folio 35v)

Fragmentary Friday: Heraclitus Explains Pasiphae, the Chimaera, and Circe

Among the paradoxographers there was a trend of referring to fantastic material and then rationalizing it in some way. Palaephatus is one of the best examples of this, but there was also Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, not to be confused with the pre-socratic Philosopher, the Homeric commentator, or even the Byzantine emperor of the same name.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer, 7 Concerning Pasiphae

“People claim that [Pasiphae] lusted after the Bull, not, as many believe, for an animal in a herd—for it would be ridiculous for a queen to desire such uncommon intercourse—instead she lusted for a certain local man whose name was Tauro [the bull]. She used as an accomplice for her desire Daidalos and she was impregnated. Then she gave birth to a son whom many used to call “Minos” but they would compare him to Tauro because of his similarity to him. So, he was nicknamed Mino-tauros from the combination.”

Περὶ Πασιφάης.

 Ταύτην φασὶν ἐρασθῆναι Ταύρου, οὐχ, ὡς πολλοὶ νομίζουσι, τοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἀγέλην ζῴου (γελοῖον γὰρ ἀκοινωνήτου συνουσίας ὠρέχθαι τὴν βασίλισσαν), ἑνὸς δέ τινος τῶν ἐντοπίων, ᾧ Ταῦρος ἦν ὄνομα. συνεργῷ δὲ χρησαμένη πρὸς τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν Δαιδάλῳ καὶ γεγονυῖα ἔγγυος, ἐγέννησε καθ’ ὁμοιότητα τοῦ Ταύρου<υἱόν>, ὃν οἱ πολλοὶ Μίνω μὲν ἐκάλουν, Ταύρῳ δὲ εἴκαζον· κατὰ δὲ σύνθεσιν Μινώταυρος ἐκλήθη.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 15 On the Chimaera

“Homer provides an image of the Khimaira when he says that in the front she was a lion, in the rear a serpent and in the middle a goat. This sort of thing could be the truth. A woman who ruled over those places had two brothers who helped her named Leo and Drako. Because she was an oath-breaker and guest-killer, she was killed by Bellerophon.”

Περὶ Χιμαίρας.

     Ταύτην ῞Ομηρος εἰκονογραφῶν φησι πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα. γένοιτο δ’ ἂν τὸ ἀληθὲς τοιοῦτον. γυνὴ τῶν τόπων  κρατοῦσα δύο πρὸς ὑπηρεσίαν ἀδελφοὺς εἶχεν ὀνόματι Λέοντα καὶ Δράκοντα. παράσπονδος δὲ οὖσα καὶ ξενοκτόνος ἀνῃρέθη ὑπὸ Βελλεροφόντου.

From Heraclitus the Paradoxographer 16 Concerning Circe

“Myth has handed down the idea that Kirkê transformed people with a drink. But she was a prostitute and by charming guests at first with every kind of delight she would mold them towards good will, and once they were in a state of passion, she would keep them there by means of their desires as long as they were carried away with pleasures. Odysseus bested even her.”

Περὶ Κίρκης.

     Ταύτην ὁ μῦθος παρ<αδ>έδωκε ποτῷ μεταμορφοῦσαν ἀνθρώπους. ἦν δὲ ἑταίρα, καὶ κατακηλοῦσα τοὺς ξένους τὸ πρῶτον ἀρεσκείᾳ παντοδαπῇ ἐπεσπᾶτο πρὸς εὔνοιαν, γενομένους δὲ ἐν προσπαθείᾳ κατεῖχε ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλογίστως φερομένους πρὸς τὰς ἡδονάς. ἥττησε δὲ καὶ ταύτην ᾿Οδυσσεύς.

Image result for ancient greek Chimera
Pssssst: I am not real.

Thirsty Thursday: Wondrous Waters and Wine

Some more amazing tales for a Summer of Wonder. 

Paradoxagraphus Florentinus: Mirabilia de Aquis

12 “Among the Kleitorians [Isigonos] says there is a spring and whenever anyone drinks its water, he cannot bear the smell of wine.”

Παρὰ Κλειτορίοις ὁ αὐτός φησιν εἶναι κρήνην, ἧς ὅταν τις τοῦ ὕδατος πίῃ, τοῦ οἴνου τὴν ὀσμὴν οὐ φέρει.

14 “Similarly, near Kosê there is a spring which, if you place a container filled with wine in it until it covers the mouth, then it becomes more bitter than vinegar right away according to the same author.”

῾Ομοίως ἐγγὺς Κόσης ἔστι κρήνη, εἰς ἣν ἐὰν θῇς κεράμιον οἴνου γέμον, ὥστε ὑπερχεῖν τὸ στόμα, παντὸς ὄξους εἶναι δριμύτερον παραχρῆμα, ὡς ἱστορεῖ ὁ αὐτός.

20 “Theopompos says that in Lugkêstai there is a spring which tastes like vinegar but when people drink it they get drunk as if from wine.”

Θεόπομπος ἐν Λυγκήσταις φησὶ πηγὴν εἶναι τῇ μὲν γεύσει ὀξίζουσαν, τοὺς δὲ πίνοντας μεθύσκεσθαι ὡς ἀπὸ οἴνου.


Paradoxographus Palatinus: Admiranda

5“There is a spring among the Kleitori which if someone drinks from he will reject and hate drinking wine”

Τῆς ἐν Κλείτορι κρήνης ἄν τις πίῃ τοῦ ὕδατος, ἀποστρέφεται καὶ μισεῖ τὴν τοῦ οἴνου πόσιν.

7 “In Naxos Aglaosthenês says that wine bubbles up on its own for the earth and when it goes into rivers it does not mix with water. The person who tastes it goes crazy”

Εν Νάξῳ φησὶν ᾿Αγλαοσθένης οἶνον ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἀναβλύζειν αὐτόματον καὶ διὰ ποταμοῦ φερόμενον μὴ συμμίσγεσθαι ὕδατι. τὸν δὲ γευσάμενον αὐτοῦ παραφρονεῖν.

From Li Livres dou Santé by Aldobrandino of Siena (France, late 13th century).

Nothing Unexpected: An Ancient Poem on Solar Eclipse

Archilochus, fr. 122

“Nothing is unexpected, nothing can be sworn untrue,
and nothing amazes since father Zeus the Olympian
has veiled the light to make it night at midday
even as the sun was shining: now dread fear has overtaken men.
From this time on everything that men believe
will be doubted: may none of us who see this be surprised
when we see sylvan beasts taking turns in the salted field
with dolphins, when the echoing waves of the sea become
dearer to them than the sand, and should the dolphins love the wooded glen…”

χρημάτων ἄελπτον οὐδέν ἐστιν οὐδ’ ἀπώμοτον
οὐδὲ θαυμάσιον, ἐπειδὴ Ζεὺς πατὴρ ᾿Ολυμπίων
ἐκ μεσαμβρίης ἔθηκε νύκτ’, ἀποκρύψας φάος
ἡλίου †λάμποντος, λυγρὸν† δ’ ἦλθ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους δέος.
ἐκ δὲ τοῦ καὶ πιστὰ πάντα κἀπίελπτα γίνεται
ἀνδράσιν• μηδεὶς ἔθ’ ὑμέων εἰσορέων θαυμαζέτω
μηδ’ ἐὰν δελφῖσι θῆρες ἀνταμείψωνται νομὸν
ἐνάλιον, καί σφιν θαλάσσης ἠχέεντα κύματα
φίλτερ’ ἠπείρου γένηται, τοῖσι δ’ ὑλέειν ὄρος.


Related image

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1023-1039: Simplicity and Satiey in Wonder

“Listen, put your mind now on true reason.
For a new matter rises fiercely to meet your ears
and a new image of the universe strives to show itself.
Nothing is so simple that at first sight
it is not rather difficult to believe;
and in the same way nothing is so great or miraculous
that over time we don’t slowly fail to behold it with wonder.
Consider first the clear and pure color of the sky
and everything it holds, the wandering stars
the moon and the gleam of the sun with its bright light;
If suddenly mortals now saw all these things
for the first time with no prior experience of them,
could anything possibly be said to be more wondrous
or would the races of men have dared to believe they existed?
Nothing, I believe, that is how striking the sight would be.
But now, since we are so used to seeing them,
no one thinks it worthwhile to gaze at heaven’s bright splendor.”

Nunc animum nobis adhibe veram ad rationem.
nam tibi vehementer nova res molitur ad auris
accedere et nova se species ostendere rerum. 1025
sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
difficilis magis ad credendum constet, itemque
nil adeo magnum neque tam mirabile quicquam,
quod non paulatim minuant mirarier omnes,
principio caeli clarum purumque colorem 1030
quaeque in se cohibet, palantia sidera passim,
lunamque et solis praeclara luce nitorem;
omnia quae nunc si primum mortalibus essent
ex improviso si sint obiecta repente,
quid magis his rebus poterat mirabile dici, 1035
aut minus ante quod auderent fore credere gentes?
nil, ut opinor; ita haec species miranda fuisset.
quam tibi iam nemo fessus satiate videndi,
suspicere in caeli dignatur lucida templa.


[One of the greatest gifts my children have given me is the ability to see the world anew through their eyes…]

Archilochus. fr 122.2-4: Nothing is Unexpected (The Eclipse)


“Nothing is now unexpected, foresworn and

Nothing amazes since father Zeus the Olympian

Veiled the light to make it night at midday.”


χρημάτων ἄελπτον οὐδέν ἐστιν οὐδ’ ἀπώμοτον

οὐδὲ θαυμάσιον, ἐπειδὴ Ζεὺς πατὴρ ᾿Ολυμπίων

ἐκ μεσαμβρίης ἔθηκε νύκτ’, ἀποκρύψας φάος