Some lines of Philitas of Cos

Reported by Stobaeus (Florilegium 2.4.5) as an extract from Philitas of Cos’ Παίγνια (‘play, sport, game’ – a very rare word). Philitas (born ~340 BCE) was both poet and scholar and one side of his scholarship – his love for rare archaic words (also illustrated here) – comes through well in these few lines.

No lumbering rustic snatching up a hoe
Shall bear me from the mountains—me, an alder tree;
But one who knows the marshalling of words, who toils,
Who knows the pathways of all forms of speech.


οὐ μέ τις ἐξ ὀρέων ἀποφώλιος ἀγροιώτης
αἱρήσει κλήθρην, αἰρόμενος μακέλην·
ἀλλ᾿ ἐπέων εἰδὼς κόσμον καὶ πολλὰ μογήσας,
μύθων παντοίων οἶμον ἐπιστάμενος.

The note to the Loeb edition (titled The Hellenistic Collection) adds:

If the second line is to be taken literally, the speaker may be the tree itself, or, derived from it, a poet’s staff (cf. Hes. Th. 30) (so Maass), or writing-tablet (so Kuchenmüller). Other scholars have suggested that a Philitan poem, or collection of poems, or poetry itself is speaking. Alternatively, the speaker could be a girl who prefers to marry a poet rather than a rustic (so Reitzenstein). On any reading, the lines contain an image, perhaps self-image, of the refined, learned, and dedicated poet.

There is more of interest in these lines than first looks. A few quick observations – the flavor of ἀποφώλιος ἀγροιώτης feels a condensed reminiscence of Hesiod’s ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ᾽ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον at Theogony 26 (Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies). Hesiod actually has ποιμένας ἀγροιώτας in the same line-end position at Scutum 39 but if Philitas is recalling the phrase, he punches it up with the rare (and exclusively Odyssean in Homer) ἀποφώλιος (’empty, vain, idle’) memorably used by Odysseus of Euryalus in Odyssey 8.177 – νόον δ᾽ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι (‘but in mind thou art stunted’ in the old Loeb translation).

The phrase ἐπέων εἰδὼς κόσμον is in the same family as κόσμον ἐπέων ὠιδὴν in Solon’s Salamis Elegy (fr.1-3 in West’s edition) and Parmenides’ µάνθανε κόσµον ἐµῶν ἐπέων ἀπατηλὸν ἀκούων (Learn as you listen the deceptive order of my words, line 52 in Diels) – but feels less a direct reference than a pull from a shared early poetic stockpile.

The same feels true of μύθων παντοίων οἶμον – the metaphor is seen in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ Μούσῃσιν Ὀλυμπιάδεσσιν ὀπηδός, / τῇσι χοροί τε μέλουσι καὶ ἀγλαὸς οἶμος ἀοιδῆς (And though I am a follower of the Olympian Muses who love dances and the bright path of song, 451) and in Pindar Olympian 9 ἔγειρ᾽ ἐπέων σφιν οἶμον λιγύν (Arouse for them a clear-sounding path of song, 47).

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