Are you planning to Homer me to death?

This started with something about Philitas of Cos, an early Hellenistic poet and scholar whose works survive only in a few small fragments. But when looking at testimonia for Philitas I found this genuinely hilarious passage from a 3rd century comic poet named Strato in his Phoenicides. The text is reported in Athenaeus at 9.383.

Since there’s no good way to footnote here I’m just linking to definitions of the ‘obscure’ words even though most are defined after use and are common enough Homeric terms anyway. Switch to the Cunliffe or Autenrieth entries for the Homeric definitions.

I’ve taken a male Sphinx into my house,
not a cook! By the gods, I don’t understand
a single word he says. He’s here with a full supply
of strange vocabulary. The minute he entered the house,
he immediately looked me in the eye and asked in a loud voice:
“How many meropes have you invited to dinner? Tell me!”
“I’ve invited the Meropes to dinner? You’re crazy;
do you think I know these Meropes?
None of them’ll be there. By Zeus, this is
too much—inviting Meropes to dinner!”
“So isn’t a single daitumōn going to be present?”
“I don’t think so. Daitumōn?” I did a count:
“Philinus is coming, and Moschion, and Niceratus,
and so-and-so, and so-and-so.” I went through them, name by name;
I didn’t have a single Daitumōn among them.
“No Daitumōn’ll be there,” I said. “What do you mean? Not one?”
He got real irritated, as if I was treating him badly
because I hadn’t invited Daitumōn. Very strange.
“Aren’t you sacrificing an earthbreaker?” “No, I’m not,” I said.
“A cow with a wide forehead?” “I’m not sacrificing a cow, you bastard.”
“So you’re making a sacrifice of mēla?” “No, by Zeus, I’m not.
Neither of these—just a little sheep.” “Aren’t mēla sheep?”,
he said. “Apples are sheep? I don’t understand
any of this, cook,” I said, “and I don’t want to.
I’m quite unsophisticated; so talk to me very simply.”
“Don’t you realize that Homer uses these terms?”
“He could talk however he wanted to, cook!
But what does that have to do with us, by Hestia?”
“In the future, if you don’t mind, keep him in mind.”
“Are you planning to Homer me to death?”
“That’s how I’m used to talking.” “Well, don’t talk
that way when you’re around me!” “For four drachmas”,
he says, “I’m supposed to abandon my principles?
Bring the oulochutai here!” “What’s that?”
“Barley.” “So why, you idiot, do you talk in riddles?”
“Is any pēgos available?” “Pēgos? Suck me!
Say what you want to say to me more clearly!”
“You’re an ignoramus, old man,” he says. “Bring me some salt;
that’s what pēgos is. Let me see a basin.”
I had one. He made the sacrifice and used countless other
words of a sort no one, by Earth, could have understood:
mistulla, moires, diptucha, obeloi. The result was that
I would’ve had to get Philetas’ books
to figure out what all the vocabulary he used meant.
Except now I began to beg him to take a different tack
and talk like a human being. I doubt Persuasion herself would
ever have convinced him, by Earth; I’m sure of that.


σφίγγ᾿ ἄρρεν᾿, οὐ μάγειρον, εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν
εἴληφ᾿. ἁπλῶς γὰρ οὐδὲ ἕν, μὰ τοὺς θεούς,
ὧν ἂν λέγῃ συνίημι· καινὰ ῥήματα
πεπορισμένος πάρεστιν. ὡς εἰσῆλθε γάρ,
εὐθύς μ᾿ ἐπηρώτησε προσβλέψας μέγα·
“πόσους κέκληκας μέροπας ἐπὶ δεῖπνον; λέγε.”
“ἐγὼ κέκληκα Μέροπας ἐπὶ δεῖπνον; χολᾷς.
τοὺς δὲ Μέροπας τούτους με γινώσκειν δοκεῖς;
οὐδεὶς παρέσται· τοῦτο γάρ, νὴ τὸν Δία,
ἔστι κατάλοιπον, Μέροπας ἐπὶ δεῖπνον καλεῖν.”
“οὐδ᾿ ἄρα παρέσται δαιτυμὼν οὐδεὶς ὅλως;”
“οὐκ οἴομαί γε. Δαιτυμών;” ἐλογιζόμην·
“ἥξει Φιλῖνος, Μοσχίων, Νικήρατος,
ὁ δεῖν᾿, ὁ δεῖνα.” κατ᾿ ὄνομ᾿ ἀνελογιζόμην·
οὐκ ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ εἷς μοι Δαιτυμών.
“οὐδεὶς παρέσται,” φημί. “τί λέγεις; οὐδὲ εἷς;”
σφόδρ᾿ ἠγανάκτησ᾿ ὥσπερ ἠδικημένος
εἰ μὴ κέκληκα Δαιτυμόνα. καινὸν πάνυ.
“οὐδ᾿ ἄρα θύεις ἐρυσίχθον᾿;” “οὐκ,” ἔφην, “ἐγώ.”
“βοῦν δ᾿ εὐρυμέτωπον;” “οὐ θύω βοῦν, ἄθλιε.”
“μῆλα θυσιάζεις ἆρα;” “μὰ Δί᾿, ἐγὼ μὲν οὔ,
οὐδέτερον αὐτῶν, προβάτιον δ᾿.” “οὔκουν,” ἔφη,
“τὰ μῆλα πρόβατα;” “<μῆλα πρόβατ᾿;> οὐ μανθάνω,
<μάγειρε,> τούτων οὐδέν, οὐδὲ βούλομαι.
ἀγροικότερός εἰμ᾿, ὥσθ᾿ ἁπλῶς μοι διαλέγου.”
“Ὅμηρον οὐκ οἶσθας λέγοντα;” “καὶ μάλα
ἐξῆν ὃ βούλοιτ᾿, ὦ μάγειρ᾿, αὐτῷ λέγειν.
ἀλλὰ τί πρὸς ἡμᾶς τοῦτο, πρὸς τῆς Ἑστίας;”
“κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον ἤδη πρόσεχε καὶ τὰ λοιπά μοι.”
“Ὁμηρικῶς γὰρ διανοεῖ μ᾿ ἀπολλύναι;”
“οὕτω λαλεῖν εἴωθα.” “μὴ τοίνυν λάλει
οὕτω παρ᾿ ἔμοιγ᾿ ὤν.” “ἀλλὰ διὰ τὰς τέτταρας
δραχμὰς ἀποβάλω,” φησί, “τὴν προαίρεσιν;
τὰς οὐλοχύτας φέρε δεῦρο.” “τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐστὶ τί;”
“κριθαί.” “τί οὖν, ἀπόπληκτε, περιπλοκὰς λέγεις;”
“πηγὸς πάρεστι;” “πηγός; οὐχὶ λαικάσει,
ἐρεῖς σαφέστερόν θ᾿ ὃ βούλει μοι λέγειν;”
“ἀτάσθαλός γ᾿ εἶ, πρέσβυ,” φησ᾿.“ἅλας φέρε·
τοῦτ᾿ ἔστι πηγός. ἀλλὰ δεῖξον χέρνιβα.”
παρῆν· ἔθυεν, ἔλεγεν ἄλλα ῥήματα
τοιαῦθ᾿ ἅ, μὰ τὴν Γῆν, οὐδὲ εἷς ἤκουσεν ἄν,
μίστυλλα, μοίρας, δίπτυχ᾿, ὀβελούς· ὥστε με
τῶν τοῦ Φιλίτα λαμβάνοντα βυβλίων
σκοπεῖν ἕκαστα τί δύναται τῶν ῥημάτων.
πλὴν ἱκέτευον αὐτὸν ἤδη μεταβαλεῖν
ἀνθρωπίνως λαλεῖν τε. τὸν δ᾿ οὐκ ἂν ταχὺ
ἔπεισεν ἡ Πειθώ, μὰ τὴν Γῆν, οἶδ᾿ ὅτι.

2 thoughts on “Are you planning to Homer me to death?

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