That too is hard, to join fools in their folly

From Euripides’ Phoenician Women (lines 394-395)

Πολυνείκης: τὰς τῶν κρατούντων ἀμαθίας φέρειν χρεών
Ἰοκάστη: καὶ τοῦτο λυπρόν, συνασοφεῖν τοῖς μὴ σοφοῖς.

Kovacs in his new Loeb edition translates these lines as:

Polynices: You must endure the follies of your ruler.
Jocasta: That too is hard, to join fools in their folly

However smooth an English rendering, this seems to me an excessive softening of the exchange.

Polynices – It is necessary to endure the ignorances of your rulers

ἀμαθίας is, broken to its constituents, a combination of μαθία (learning) and what is called the alpha privative, a negating prefix.  So literally ‘absence of learning/knowledge’.

The φέρειν χρεών verbal construction is impersonal (not second person as Kovacs gives it).  It is frequently translated with the second person, but it doesn’t to me carry the same neutrality as the french ‘on…dit’ construction.  It is best left impersonal since the rhetorical strategy here is to force Jocasta to acknowledge and accede to a universal law in play everywhere and at all times – hence the plurals of ἀμαθίας and κρατούντων even though only one issue and one person are in question here.

Jocasta: This too is distressing, to act unwisely together with those who are not wise.

Mine is not pretty English, but it hits a couple of points Kovacs smooths out.

λυπρόν is stronger than ‘hard.’  Liddell and Scott give it as: ‘of states and conditions, painful, distressing.’  The first occurrence in this sense is a lyric section of Aeschylus’ Persians where Xerexes, speaking of his loss to the Greeks, says it is λυπρά, χάρματα δ᾽ ἐχθροῖς or “painful [for us] but a source of delight for our enemies.”

συνασοφεῖν is (in five minutes of my searching) a hapax legomenon or a word only used once – meaning Euripides likely coined it here.  The construction is easily explicable – συν (together) + α (alpha privative again) + σοφεῖν (to be wise) – but the resulting English  (“be unwise together/share in acting unwisely”) isn’t very functional in a sentence.

τοῖς μὴ σοφοῖς is another simple construction built on using the adjective σοφός (wise, as in σοφεῖν) substantively and negating it with μὴ – ‘men not wise, fools’.  Kovacs’ “join fools in their folly’ very nicely captures the figura etymologica but loses what seems to me an equally important aspect of Jocasta’s reply – her double echoing of Polynices’s negative construction (ἀμαθίας) in συνασοφεῖν and μὴ σοφοῖς.

To conclude-ish, I haven’t read deeply enough in Euripides to say for certain and I’ve never looked into the specific sense contrast of μαθία and σοφία, but I suspect there is a subtle but pointed shifting of terms here that Kovacs misses by using folly in both lines and erasing the sequence of negative constructions.

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