Hands and Feet, Speech and Mind: Evaluating a Person in Early Greek Poetry

Simonides, Fr. 37.1-3

“It is hard for a man to be truly good, built evenly with hands, feet and mind without blame.”

ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι
χαλεπὸν χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόωι
τετράγωνον ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον·

Gregory Nagy (Best of the Achaeans  1979, 1999) has drawn on the work of others to argue that in early Greek poetry (especially Homer and Hesiod) there is a tension between character and activities associated with force (biê) and intelligence (mêtis). He sees Achilles and Odysseus as representing these vectors respectively and, in turn, as the antagonism or contrast between the heroes and (in part) their epics as an extension or embodiment of these basic qualities. Similarly, structural interpretations of Greek myth have mapped these tensions onto gendered polarities as well—for Hesiod’s Theogony, the conflict between the male and female forces can be conceptualized as well as one between male biê and female mêtis. (For this, see especially, Leonard Muellner, The Anger of Achilles 1996)

In Simonides (above) the “hands and feet” are metonyms for physical deeds while the mind (noos) represents acts of mêtis (be them planning or speaking). In the Odyssey, the hero’s mêtis is often illustrated with reference to his noos or operations thereof. That the reference to a complete man by Simonides recalls these tensions and laments the rarity of the person who can resolve them is supported in part by a few passages from the Odyssey. In the first, it is clear that “hands and feet” represent deeds. In the second, Odysseus himself opposes this concern with the hands and feet as those of “appearance” and not thought or speaking.

Odyssey 8.147-8

“For as long as he lives, a man has no greater glory
than that which he wins with his own hands and feet”

οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.

Odyssey 8.166-177

“Friend, you don’t speak well. No, you’re like a wreck of a man.
The gods don’t distribute charms in this well to all men,
Not in form, brains or their ability to speak
For while one man is less than impressive in appearance,
But a god crowns his form with words. And people delight
As they gaze upon him, while he speaks strongly,
With reverent shame, and he is conspicuous among those assembled
As they look upon his travel to the city as if he were a god.
Another man in turn is similar to the immortals in appearance,
But not charm hands about his words at all.
That’s you: brilliant in appearance and not anyone
Not even a god could make you otherwise. But you’re useless at thinking.”

“ξεῖν’, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες· ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας.
οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ’ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ’ ἀγορητύν.
ἄλλος μὲν γὰρ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει· οἱ δέ τ’ ἐς αὐτὸν
τερπόμενοι λεύσσουσιν, ὁ δ’ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει,
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
ἐρχόμενον δ’ ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
ἄλλος δ’ αὖ εἶδος μὲν ἀλίγκιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
ἀλλ’ οὔ οἱ χάρις ἀμφὶ περιστέφεται ἐπέεσσιν,
ὡς καὶ σοὶ εἶδος μὲν ἀριπρεπές, οὐδέ κεν ἄλλως
οὐδὲ θεὸς τεύξειε, νόον δ’ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι.

The passage above is especially charged in the Odyssey for a few reasons. For one, by calling the young Phaeacian prince atasthalos (ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας) Odysseus aligns them with people who bring destruction upon themselves, including his own men and the suitors in Ithaca (For the atasthalia theme in the Odyssey see especially Cook, The Odyssey in Athens 1995; Bakker, The Meaning of Meat 2013, 96-119). I think that the comparison of the Phaeacians to the suitors is especially damning here. Both groups are characterized as being especially stupid, reckless, and concerned overmuch with leisure activities.

I think there is also an emerging political valence to the contrast. A presocratic fragments supports this.

Xenophanes, fr. 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

As I have written elsewhere, “swiftness of feet” is a metonym for biê and the type of hero who succeeds through force and deeds rather than intelligence. For Xenophanes, this quality is an obstacle to eunomia (good governance). I cannot help but think that Simonides, Xenophanes and Homer are all involved in the same debate about what kind of a person should lead a city. Let’s not forget Archilochus too:

Archilochus, fr. 114

“I don’t love a tall leader, or one striding far,
Or one who takes pride in his hair or shaved head.
No, give me a shorter man, who looks bowed near the shins
But who is sure on his feet, and strong of heart.”

οὐ φιλέω μέγαν στρατηγὸν οὐδὲ διαπεπλιγμένον
οὐδὲ βοστρύχοισι γαῦρον οὐδ’ ὑπεξυρημένον,
ἀλλά μοι σμικρός τις εἴη καὶ περὶ κνήμας ἰδεῖν
ῥοικός, ἀσφαλέως βεβηκὼς ποσσί, καρδίης πλέως.

Pottery amphora decorated in the Fikellura style with a running man. Neck, triple cable. Shoulder, chain of simplified pomegranates, joined alternately. The diameter of the mouth is 0.16 m. from back to front, 0.135 m. between the handles: some pinching is common in Fikellura, but this is the extreme instance so far as is known.
c. 530 BCE (Miletus). Held in the British Museum: 1864,1007.156

Post-Script

The Odyssey pretty clearly falls on the side of mêtis and speech, as is clear from its hero. Ancient scholars sensed the themes deployed with Telemachus as well.

Schol QT ad Od. 8.166

“Friend, you do not speak well”: It is the Homeric custom to evaluate even the character of one you meet from his words. For elsewhere someone says about Telemachus “you are one of noble blood, dear child, based on the way you are speaking” (4.611). This is because he thinks that being well-born and educated necessarily coincide, and that speaking is conspicuous beyond all else. But Odysseus, does not maintain absolutely that he is reckless, but instead that he is like someone who is thanks to his response and what he said.”

ξεῖν’, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες] ἔθος ἐστὶν ῾Ομηρικὸν ἐκ τῶν λόγων χαρακτηρίζεσθαι καὶ τὸν τρόπον τοῦ ἐντυγχάνοντος. καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις περὶ τοῦ Τηλεμάχου “αἵματος εἶς ἀγαθοῖο, φίλον τέκος, οἷ’ ἀγο-ρεύεις” (δ, 611.)· οἰόμενος τὸν εὐγενῆ καὶ πεπαιδευμένον ἀναγκαίως ὁμιλεῖν, πρεπόντως δὲ πάντα λέγειν. ᾿Οδυσσεὺς δὲ, οὐ γὰρ διεβεβαιώσατο τὸ ἀτάσθαλον αὐτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλ’ ἐοικέναι φησὶ τούτῳ διὰ τὸ ἀντειπεῖν καὶ εἰρηκέναι. Q.T.

 

 

Weekend Party Advice: Don’t Talk about Centaurs!

Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24

“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence.
It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants
nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears,
Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”

χρὴ δὲ πρῶτον μὲν θεὸν ὑμνεῖν εὔφρονας ἄνδρας
εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις,
σπείσαντάς τε καὶ εὐξαμένους τὰ δίκαια δύνασθαι
πρήσσειν• ταῦτα γὰρ ὦν ἐστι προχειρότερον,
οὐχ ὕβρεις• πίνειν δ’ ὁπόσον κεν ἔχων ἀφίκοιο
οἴκαδ’ ἄνευ προπόλου μὴ πάνυ γηραλέος.
ἀνδρῶν δ’ αἰνεῖν τοῦτον ὃς ἐσθλὰ πιὼν ἀναφαίνει,
ὡς ἦι μνημοσύνη καὶ τόνος ἀμφ’ ἀρετῆς,
οὔ τι μάχας διέπειν Τιτήνων οὐδὲ Γιγάντων
οὐδὲ Κενταύρων, πλάσμα τῶν προτέρων,
ἢ στάσιας σφεδανάς• τοῖς οὐδὲν χρηστὸν ἔνεστιν•
θεῶν προμηθείην αἰὲν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν.

Image result for ancient greek centaur
2nd Century CE Mosaic (Berlin)

 

Hands and Feet, Speech and Mind: Evaluating a Person in Early Greek Poetry

A twitter correspondent asked a question about a passage I posed by Simonides earlier today.

Simonides, Fr. 37.1-3

“It is hard for a man to be truly good, built evenly with hands, feet and mind without blame.”

ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι
χαλεπὸν χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόωι
τετράγωνον ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον·

Gregory Nagy (Best of the Achaeans  1979, 1999) has drawn on the work of others to argue that in early Greek poetry (especially Homer and Hesiod) there is a tension between character and activities associated with force (biê) and intelligence (mêtis). He sees Achilles and Odysseus as representing these vectors respectively and, in turn, as the antagonism or contrast between the heroes and (in part) their epics as an extension or embodiment of these basic qualities. Similarly, structural interpretations of Greek myth have mapped these tensions onto gendered polarities as well—for Hesiod’s Theogony, the conflict between the male and female forces can be conceptualized as well as one between male biê and female mêtis. (For this, see especially, Leonard Muellner, The Anger of Achilles 1996)

In Simonides (above) the “hands and feet” are metonyms for physical deeds while the mind (noos) represents acts of mêtis (be them planning or speaking). In the Odyssey, the hero’s mêtis is often illustrated with reference to his noos or operations thereof. That the reference to a complete man by Simonides recalls these tensions and laments the rarity of the person who can resolve them is supported in part by a few passages from the Odyssey. In the first, it is clear that “hands and feet” represent deeds. In the second, Odysseus himself opposes this concern with the hands and feet as those of “appearance” and not thought or speaking.

Odyssey 8.147-8

“For as long as he lives, a man has no greater glory
than that which he wins with his own hands and feet”

οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.

Odyssey 8.166-177

“Friend, you don’t speak well. No, you’re like a wreck of a man.
The gods don’t distribute charms in this well to all men,
Not in form, brains or their ability to speak
For while one man is less than impressive in appearance,
But a god crowns his form with words. And people delight
As they gaze upon him, while he speaks strongly,
With reverent shame, and he is conspicuous among those assembled
As they look upon his travel to the city as if he were a god.
Another man in turn is similar to the immortals in appearance,
But not charm hands about his words at all.
That’s you: brilliant in appearance and not anyone
Not even a god could make you otherwise. But you’re useless at thinking.”

“ξεῖν’, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες· ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας.
οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ’ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ’ ἀγορητύν.
ἄλλος μὲν γὰρ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει· οἱ δέ τ’ ἐς αὐτὸν
τερπόμενοι λεύσσουσιν, ὁ δ’ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει,
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
ἐρχόμενον δ’ ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
ἄλλος δ’ αὖ εἶδος μὲν ἀλίγκιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
ἀλλ’ οὔ οἱ χάρις ἀμφὶ περιστέφεται ἐπέεσσιν,
ὡς καὶ σοὶ εἶδος μὲν ἀριπρεπές, οὐδέ κεν ἄλλως
οὐδὲ θεὸς τεύξειε, νόον δ’ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι.

The passage above is especially charged in the Odyssey for a few reasons. For one, by calling the young Phaeacian prince atasthalos (ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας) Odysseus aligns them with people who bring destruction upon themselves, including his own men and the suitors in Ithaca (For the atasthalia theme in the Odyssey see especially Cook, The Odyssey in Athens 1995; Bakker, The Meaning of Meat 2013, 96-119). I think that the comparison of the Phaeacians to the suitors is especially damning here. Both groups are characterized as being especially stupid, reckless, and concerned overmuch with leisure activities.

I think there is also an emerging political valence to the contrast. A presocratic fragments supports this.

Xenophanes, fr. 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

As I have written elsewhere, “swiftness of feet” is a metonym for biê and the type of hero who succeeds through force and deeds rather than intelligence. For Xenophanes, this quality is an obstacle to eunomia (good governance). I cannot help but think that Simonides, Xenophanes and Homer are all involved in the same debate about what kind of a person should lead a city. Let’s not forget Archilochus too:

Archilochus, fr. 114

“I don’t love a tall leader, or one striding far,
Or one who takes pride in his hair or shaved head.
No, give me a shorter man, who looks bowed near the shins
But who is sure on his feet, and strong of heart.”

οὐ φιλέω μέγαν στρατηγὸν οὐδὲ διαπεπλιγμένον
οὐδὲ βοστρύχοισι γαῦρον οὐδ’ ὑπεξυρημένον,
ἀλλά μοι σμικρός τις εἴη καὶ περὶ κνήμας ἰδεῖν
ῥοικός, ἀσφαλέως βεβηκὼς ποσσί, καρδίης πλέως.

Pottery amphora decorated in the Fikellura style with a running man. Neck, triple cable. Shoulder, chain of simplified pomegranates, joined alternately. The diameter of the mouth is 0.16 m. from back to front, 0.135 m. between the handles: some pinching is common in Fikellura, but this is the extreme instance so far as is known.
c. 530 BCE (Miletus). Held in the British Museum: 1864,1007.156

Post-Script

The Odyssey pretty clearly falls on the side of mêtis and speech, as is clear from its hero. Ancient scholars sensed the themes deployed with Telemachus as well.

Schol QT ad Od. 8.166

“Friend, you do not speak well”: It is the Homeric custom to evaluate even the character of one you meet from his words. For elsewhere someone says about Telemachus “you are one of noble blood, dear child, based on the way you are speaking” (4.611). This is because he thinks that being well-born and educated necessarily coincide, and that speaking is conspicuous beyond all else. But Odysseus, does not maintain absolutely that he is reckless, but instead that he is like someone who is thanks to his response and what he said.”

ξεῖν’, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες] ἔθος ἐστὶν ῾Ομηρικὸν ἐκ τῶν λόγων χαρακτηρίζεσθαι καὶ τὸν τρόπον τοῦ ἐντυγχάνοντος. καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις περὶ τοῦ Τηλεμάχου “αἵματος εἶς ἀγαθοῖο, φίλον τέκος, οἷ’ ἀγο-ρεύεις” (δ, 611.)· οἰόμενος τὸν εὐγενῆ καὶ πεπαιδευμένον ἀναγκαίως ὁμιλεῖν, πρεπόντως δὲ πάντα λέγειν. ᾿Οδυσσεὺς δὲ, οὐ γὰρ διεβεβαιώσατο τὸ ἀτάσθαλον αὐτὸν εἶναι, ἀλλ’ ἐοικέναι φησὶ τούτῳ διὰ τὸ ἀντειπεῖν καὶ εἰρηκέναι. Q.T.

 

 

Don’t Talk about Centaurs! Xenophanes on Proper Songs at a Symposium

 

Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24

“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence.
It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants
nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears,
Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”

χρὴ δὲ πρῶτον μὲν θεὸν ὑμνεῖν εὔφρονας ἄνδρας
εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις,
σπείσαντάς τε καὶ εὐξαμένους τὰ δίκαια δύνασθαι
πρήσσειν• ταῦτα γὰρ ὦν ἐστι προχειρότερον,
οὐχ ὕβρεις• πίνειν δ’ ὁπόσον κεν ἔχων ἀφίκοιο
οἴκαδ’ ἄνευ προπόλου μὴ πάνυ γηραλέος.
ἀνδρῶν δ’ αἰνεῖν τοῦτον ὃς ἐσθλὰ πιὼν ἀναφαίνει,
ὡς ἦι μνημοσύνη καὶ τόνος ἀμφ’ ἀρετῆς,
οὔ τι μάχας διέπειν Τιτήνων οὐδὲ Γιγάντων
οὐδὲ Κενταύρων, πλάσμα τῶν προτέρων,
ἢ στάσιας σφεδανάς• τοῖς οὐδὲν χρηστὸν ἔνεστιν•
θεῶν προμηθείην αἰὲν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν.

 

A Pre-Socratic Saturday: Xenophanes and Friends on Thinking, Waking, Being and Lust

The collection of luminaries known as the Presocratics are great to quote because their words have already been quoted and excerpted for over 2000 years.  This makes our job easy.

But here are some of our favorites: selections of selections.

On Herakles or Achilles?

Xenophanes, Fragment 2 13-14

“It is unjust to judge strength to be better than good wisdom.”

οὐδὲ δίκαιον / προκρίνειν ῥώμην τῆς ἀγαθῆς σοφίης·

A line stolen from the Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Parmenides, fragment 3.7

“Thinking and being are the same thing.”

… τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι

Wake Up! Inspiration for Plato?

Heraclitus, Fragment 73

“It is not right to act and speak like men who are sleeping”

οὐ δεῖ ὥσπερ καθεύδοντας ποιεῖν καὶ λέγειν·

Money Corrupts, right?

Democritus, Fragment 50

“A man wholly committed to money can never be just.”

ὁ χρημάτων παντελῶς ἥσσων οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴη δίκαιος.

David Byrne said something like this:

Thales fr. 20 (Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies. 1.1.1)

“Water is the beginning and the end of everything.”

[οὕτος ἔφη] ἀρχὴν τοῦ παντὸς εἶναι καὶ τέλος τὸ ὕδωρ

If you thought money was bad…

Prodicus fr. B7 (Stobaeus 4.20.65)

“Desire when doubled is lust; lust doubled is madness.”

ἐπιθυμίαν μὲν διπλασιασθεῖσαν ἔρωτα εἶναι, ἔρωτα δὲ διπλασιασθέντα μανίαν γίγνεσθαι.

But don’t worry, it is all in your head:

Diogenes F6 (from Simplicius Physics152.21-153.13)

And yet all things live, see and hear though the same thing; and they derive every other part of their mind from that very source.

ὅμως δὲ πάντα τῶι αὐτῶι καὶ ζῆι καὶ ὁρᾶι καὶ ἀκούει, καὶ τὴν ἄλλην νόησιν ἔχει ἀπὸ αὐτοῦ πάντα

Innocent as a babe? That’s what some think:

Ion of Chios, fr. 5a 1-2

“All creatures are born to their parents ignorant
but experience teaches them.”

καὶ μὴν ἅπαντα τίκτεται πρῶτον γοναῖς
ἄϊδρα, πειραθέντα δ’ ἐκδιδάσκεται

But we all have to start somewhere. And then work real hard:

Protagoras fr. B10 (Stobaeus 3.29.80)

“[Protagaras said that] skill is nothing without practice and practice is nothing without skill.”

[Πρωταγόρας ἔλεγε] μηδὲν εἶναι μήτε τέχνην ἄνευ μελέτης μήτε μελέτην ἄνευ τεχνης

καὶ μὴν ἅπαντα τίκτεται πρῶτον γοναῖς
ἄϊδρα, πειραθέντα δ’ ἐκδιδάσκεται

If this wasn’t enough for you, search for some Heraclitus, Democritus, and Parmenides. We love quoting these guys. And then read them again, because:

Critias 9 (Stobaeus, Anthology 3.29.11)

“Men become good more from practice than nature.”

ἐκ μελέτης πλείους ἢ φύσεως ἀγαθοί

Critias was an uncle of Plato

And:

Parmenides, fr. 6.16

“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.

Euripides on Athletes: Ready for Football?

Euripides, fr. 282 (Autolycos)

 

“Of the endless evils plaguing Greece
None is worse than the race of athletes.”

 

κακῶν γὰρ ὄντων μυρίων καθ’ ῾Ελλάδα
οὐδὲν κάκιόν ἐστιν ἀθλητῶν γένους·

 

With football season fast upon us, it is useful to remind ourselves that Western culture has had a fixation with sport for quite some time. But one big difference in Ancient Greece is that sport was a leisure activity, not big business like the NFL. (Or, to be realist, like NCAA division 1). In the Odyssey, Odysseus finds the Phaeacians delighting themselves in competitions after banquets, where they, the prototypical ‘loungers’, claim that nothing is greater.

 

Homer, Odyssey 8.147-8

“For as long as he lives, a man has no greater glory
than that which he wins with his own hands and feet”

 

οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ᾖσιν,
ἢ ὅ τι ποσσίν τε ῥέξῃ καὶ χερσὶν ἑῇσιν.

 

Or so a Prince Dandy says to the long-suffering war veteran Odysseus. Sports and games are ritual substitutes for war and distractions from the fact that the soldier faces far higher stakes than the sportsman. It is no accident that this scene happens among the Phaeacians who live a charmed life far from all other men…until Poseidon drops a mountain on them. And it is also no accident that the other characters who spend time playing sports in the Odyssey are the suitors back in Ithaca…

That we have an entire genre of ancient poetry dedicated to Athletic victories is telling (Epinician poetry). Also telling is that in this poetry the victory of an athlete is reflection of the virtue of his family and city. Not too far off from our civic pride in our own sports teams (often ironically manned by players from far off).

 

Pindar, Pythian 5.12-13

 

“The wise carry even their god-given strength better.”

 

σοφοὶ δέ τοι κάλλιον
φέροντι καὶ τὰν θεόσδοτον δύναμιν.

 

And, yet, we do find some anxiety in the ancient world about the worship of sports and their heroes. Xenophanes complains about this in a way that may help us to understand Euripides’ lines above. His concern is that what men value on the contest ground is mistaken for a virtue that will help order their city well. (And there may be a dig at Achilles here.)

 

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

 

The fact is that sports developed in ancient Greece as an aristocratic ritual that eventually took the place of actual bloodletting. They allowed the nobles to compete for honor without killing each other. Our modern blood-sports, however, aren’t the province of our moneyed classes (well, they own the teams). Instead, mostly lower-class youths compete for a rare opportunity for glory. And the deck is stacked against them in many ways.

 

Horace, Epistles 1.19.48-9

 

“Sport tends to give rise to heated strife and anger, anger in turns brings savage feuds and war to the death”.

ludus enim genuit trepidum certamen et iram, ira truces inimicitias et funebre bellum.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Some Divergent Greek Views on Heroes: Pluralism in Ancient Poetry

Pindar Olympian 2.2

“What god, what hero and what man will we celebrate?”

τίνα θεόν, τίν’ ἥρωα, τίνα δ’ ἄνδρα κελαδήσομεν;

 

The Greeks have left us some evidence for attitudes about heroes that might surprise some modern readers. The line from Pindar above is a classic account of the hero as a mid-point between man and god, sharing in both worlds but truly part of neither.

One of the things that is different from our usage is that Greek heroes represent, in some readings, a particular generation in time (the race before ours, according to Hesiod in the Works and Days). And this race of heroes whose trials and tribulations give us so many myths included men and women, as the poet Corinna would remind us:

 

Corinna, fr.644 (Apollonius Dyskolus, Pronouns)

“I sing of the virtues of heroes and heroines.”

ἱώνει δ᾿ εἱρώων ἀρετὰς / χεἰρωάδων

 

This ‘race’ of heroes was appropriated to different contexts to different ends. As in our modern world, ‘heroes’ were sometimes portrayed as defenders of men and protectors of the community—and to an extent this is how they feature in the martial poetry of Kallinos of Sparta:

 

Kallinos, Fr. 1.18-21

“The loss is felt by the whole country when a brave man dies,
A man the equal of heroes;
Someone they see as a fortress before their eyes;
Someone who does the work of many even when alone.”

 

λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

 

But the Greeks, like everyone throughout time, were far from unanimous in their opinions about heroes. In the fragments of early comedy, for example, heroes are singled out for that which is their nature: being singled out, and different:

 

Myrtilus, fr. 2 (Titan-pans; Scholia to Aristophanes’ Birds)

“Heroes get ornery and mean when people get too close.”

οἵ ἥρωες δὲ δυσόργητοι καὶ χαλεποὶ τοῖς ἐμπελάζουσι γίνονται

 

And even in early epic, what it means to be a hero is at play. The Iliad and the Odyssey give very different versions of what it means to be heroic (and they oscillate among differing visions in the same narrative. Other epic fragments play with the debates offered in the Homeric poems.

 

Panyasis fr. 12K (=16 Benarbe) 8-9

“I would make the fame of the man who enjoys himself at the feast equal to the one earned by commanding the rest of the army.”

τοῦ κεν ἐγὼ θείμην ἶσον κλέος, ὅς τ’ ἐνὶ δαιτὶ
τέρπηται παρεὼν ἅμα τ’ ἄλλον λαὸν ἀνώγῃ

 

In part, the exploration of what it means to be a hero is a further step in the definition of what it means to be a man, to be a human being, and to live together as people in a city. One of the things that both the Iliad and the Odyssey dramatize is the danger that their heroes can both fend off and cause to their people. This was probably a current in the thought of early Greek philosophers and poets.

 

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

By the time of Classical Athens, it was clear that the outsized ambitions (and honors) of individuals could be undermining to the state. Herein lies the quandary: cities need great men to protect them, but their very strengths often bring ruin. This is dramatized in the heroic myths from Herakles through Odysseus and explored as well in Athenian tragedy.

 

And to end, some random, confusing samples:

 

 

Euripides, fr. 237 (Archelaus)

 

“A young man ought to be bold always,
Since no laid-back man becomes famous.
Work gives birth to a good reputation.”

 

νεανίαν γὰρ ἄνδρα χρὴ τολμᾶν ἀεί·
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ὢν ῥᾴθυμος εὐκλεὴς ἀνήρ,
ἀλλ’ οἱ πόνοι τίκτουσι τὴν εὐδοξίαν.

 

 

Euripides, fr. 257 (Archelaus)

 

“A rash heart and a limited mind
Has destroyed many men: dual evils for whoever has them.”

 

πολλοὺς δ’ ὁ θυμὸς ὁ μέγας ὤλεσεν βροτῶν
ἥ τ’ ἀξυνεσία, δύο κακὼ τοῖς χρωμένοις.

 

 

Euripides, fr. 275 (Auge)

 

“Pray that all who rejoice in tyranny,
Or in some small monarchy in their city, die terribly.
The name ‘freedom’ is worth everything—
Even if he possesses a little, a man who has this is considered great.”

 

κακῶς δ’ ὄλοιντο πάντες οἳ τυραννίδι
χαίρουσιν ὀλίγῃ τ’ ἐν πόλει μοναρχίᾳ·
τοὐλεύθερον γὰρ ὄνομα παντὸς ἄξιον,
κἂν σμίκρ’ ἔχῃ τις, μεγάλ’ ἔχειν νομιζέτω.

Euripidean Fragments and Bellerophon’s Atheism

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Things turn out badly for Bellerophon, as one might imagine.

 

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

 

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

 

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις·
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

 

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

Pythagoras Saw Homer and Hesiod Punished in Hell! (plus an etymology for his name)

Diogenes Laertius, 8.21 (Lives of the Sophists)

 

“Hieronymos says that when Pythagoras went down into Hades he saw the ghost of Hesiod bound to a bronze pillar, squeaking, and that Homer’s ghost was hanging from a tree surrounded by snakes. They were being punished for the things they said about the gods. And in addition he saw men who were not willing to have sex with their own wives. This is the reason, that Pythagoras was honored by the inhabitants of Croton. Aristippos of Cyrene in his work Peri Physiologoi says that Pythagoras was given his name because he spoke the truth publically [agoreuô] no less than the Pythian oracle.”

φησὶ δ’ ῾Ιερώνυμος (Hiller xxii) κατελθόντα αὐτὸν εἰς ᾅδου τὴν μὲν ῾Ησιόδου ψυχὴν ἰδεῖν πρὸς κίονι χαλκῷ δεδεμένην καὶ τρίζουσαν, τὴν δ’ ῾Ομήρου κρεμαμένην ἀπὸ δένδρου καὶ ὄφεις περὶ αὐτὴν ἀνθ’ ὧν εἶπον περὶ θεῶν, κολαζομένους δὲ καὶ τοὺς μὴ θέλοντας συνεῖναι ταῖς ἑαυτῶν γυναιξί· καὶ δὴ καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τιμηθῆναι  ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Κρότωνι. φησὶ δ’ ᾿Αρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος ἐν τῷ Περὶ φυσιολόγων Πυθαγόραν αὐτὸν ὀνομασθῆναι ὅτι τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἠγόρευεν οὐχ ἧττον τοῦ Πυθίου.

 

The sacrilege of Homer and Hesiod is an ancient motif finding its earliest extant articulation in the pre-Socratic poet Xenophanes:

Xenophanes, fragments 9-11

 

“From the beginning, according to Homer, since everyone has learned [from him…]

*          *          *

“Homer and Hesiod have attributed everything to the gods
that is shameful and reprehensible among men:
theft, adultery and deceiving each other

*          *          *

How they have sung the most the lawless deeds of the gods!
That they steal, commit adultery and deceive one another…

 

Fr. 9

ἐξ ἀρχῆς καθ’ ῞Ομηρον, ἐπεὶ μεμαθήκασι πάντες …

 

Fr. 10

πάντα θεοῖσ’ ἀνέθηκαν ῞Ομηρός θ’ ῾Ησίοδός τε,
ὅσσα παρ’ ἀνθρώποισιν ὀνείδεα καὶ ψόγος ἐστίν,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.

 

Fr. 11

ὡς πλεῖστ’ ἐφθέγξαντο θεῶν ἀθεμίστια ἔργα,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

 

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,

ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,

τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

 

Anti-Achilles or anti-Aristocrat and athletic contests? Or everything? Or Nothing? Oh, Xenophanes, you’re so crazy.