The Pottery of Tenedos

A pretty antique metaphor grown apt for post-modern literary practice – from Dio Chrysostom’s 42 Discourse, “An Address to His Native City.”  The text and translation are from the Loeb edition

For almost all men are acquainted with my speeches, and they distribute them broadcast in all directions, just as lads in the cities sing cheap ditties at eventide. Moreover, almost all report my speeches to one another, not as they were delivered, but after having made them still better in accordance with their own ability, some making improvements purposely and—evidently being ashamed to remember such stuff—introducing numerous changes and rearrangements by way of betterment, while others possibly do so unconsciously through not remembering very well. And so one no longer buys my wisdom from the market in abundant supply at an obol, as somebody has it, but instead one merely stoops and plucks it from the ground. One might almost say, therefore, that my speeches have had much the same fate as the pottery of Tenedos; for while all who sail that way put on board pottery from there, yet no one finds it easy to get it across in sound condition; but many crack or smash it, and ere they are aware they have naught but sherds

καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους σχεδὸν πάντες ἀλλήλοις ἀπαγγέλλουσιν, οὐχ ὅπως ἐρρήθησαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἔτι βελτίους ποιήσαντες κατὰ τὴν αὑτῶν δύναμιν, οἱ μὲν ἑκόντες ἐπανορθούμενοι καὶ—δῆλον ὅτι αἰσχυνόμενοι τὸ μεμνῆσθαι τοιούτων—ἀλλάττοντες καὶ μετατιθέντες πολλὰ καὶ κρείττονα, οἱ δὲ ἴσως καὶ ἄκοντες διὰ τὸ μὴ σφόδρα μεμνῆσθαι· ὥστε οὐκέτι ὀβολοῦ, καθάπερ εἶπέ τις, εὔπορον ἐκ τῆς ἀγορᾶς πρίασθαι τὴν ἐμὴν σοφίαν, ἀλλὰ κύψαντα ἀνελέσθαι χαμᾶθεν. σχεδὸν οὖν παραπλήσιον πεπόνθασιν οἱ ἐμοὶ λόγοι τῷ κεράμῳ τῷ Τενεδίῳ· καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖθεν πᾶς μὲν ὁ παραπλέων ἐμβάλλεται κέραμον, οὐδεὶς δὲ ὑγιῆ διακομίζει ῥᾳδίως, ἀλλὰ πολλοὶ σαθρὸν ποιήσαντες ἢ συντρίψαντες ὄστρακα ἔχοντες λανθάνουσιν αὑτούς.