The dark Fates, gnashing their white teeth, terrible-faced, grim, bloodred, dreadful … all eager to drink black blood

From Hesiod’s Aspis / The Shield of Herakles (249-270). Terrifying – and seems a rare glimpse in early Greek poetry of what might be folk beliefs/conceptions not polished into presentability.


…. the dark Fates, gnashing their white teeth, terrible-faced, grim, bloodred, dreadful, were engaged in conflict around those who were falling. They were all eager to drink black blood. Whomever they caught first, lying there or falling freshly wounded, she clenched around him her great claws, and his soul went down to Hades to chilling Tartarus. When they had satisfied their spirits with human blood, they would hurl him backward, and going forward they would rush once again into the battle din and melee. Clotho and Lachesis stood over them; Atropos, somewhat smaller, was there, not an especially big goddess, but nonetheless she was superior to these others and the oldest one. All of them were waging bitter battle around one man; they glared terribly with their eyes at one another in their fury, and upon it they were equal to one another in their claws and fierce hands. Beside them stood Death-Mist, gloomy and dread, pallid, parched, cowering in hunger, thick-kneed; long claws were under her hands. From her nostrils flowed mucus, from her cheeks blood was dripping down onto the ground. She stood there, grinning dreadfully, and much dust, wet with tears, lay upon her shoulders.

Κῆρες κυάνεαι, λευκοὺς ἀραβεῦσαι ὀδόντας,
δεινωποὶ βλοσυροί τε δαφοινοί τ᾽ ἄπλητοί τε
δῆριν ἔχον περὶ πιπτόντων· πᾶσαι δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἵεντο
αἷμα μέλαν πιέειν· ὃν δὲ πρῶτον μεμάποιεν
κείμενον ἢ πίπτοντα νεούτατον, ἀμφὶ μὲν αὐτῷ
βάλλ’ ὄνυχας μεγάλους, ψυχὴ δ’ ᾌδόσδε κατῇεν
Τάρταρον ἐς κρυόενθ᾽· αἳ δὲ φρένας εὖτ᾽ ἀρέσαντο
αἵματος ἀνδρομέου, τὸν μὲν ῥίπτασκον ὀπίσσω,
ἂψ δ᾽ ὅμαδον καὶ μῶλον ἐθύνεον αὖτις ἰοῦσαι.
Κλωθὼ καὶ Λάχεσίς σφιν ἐφέστασαν· ἣ μὲν ὑφήσσων
Ἄτροπος οὔ τι πέλεν μεγάλη θεός, ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα ἥ γε
τῶν γε μὲν ἀλλάων προφερής τ᾽ ἦν πρεσβυτάτη τε.
πᾶσαι δ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ ἑνὶ φωτὶ μάχην δριμεῖαν ἔθεντο·
δεινὰ δ᾽ ἐς ἀλλήλας δράκον ὄμμασι θυμήνασαι,
ἐν δ᾽ ὄνυχας χεῖράς τε θρασείας ἰσώσαντο.
πὰρ δ᾽ Ἀχλὺς εἱστήκει ἐπισμυγερή τε καὶ αἰνή,
χλωρὴ ἀυσταλέη λιμῷ καταπεπτηυῖα,
γουνοπαχής, μακροὶ δ᾽ ὄνυχες χείρεσσιν ὑπῆσαν·
τῆς ἐκ μὲν ῥινῶν μύξαι ῥέον, ἐκ δὲ παρειῶν
αἷμ᾽ ἀπελείβετ᾽ ἔραζ᾽· ἣ δ᾽ ἄπλητον σεσαρυῖα
εἱστήκει, πολλὴ δὲ κόνις κατενήνοθεν ὤμους,
δάκρυσι μυδαλέη.

τρέε δ’ Ἀίδης ἐνέροισι καταφθιμένοισιν ἀνάσσων

Related to part of a scene from Ovid a few days ago (And the light, penetrating to the lower world, strikes terror into the infernal king and his consort) – I found in Hesiod the other day a connected image. During the fight between Zeus and Typhoeus (starting at 820 of the Theogony) – the whole of which feels a part model for the Phaethon tale – we get this sequence (844-850):

The violet-dark sea was enveloped by a conflagration from both of them—of thunder and lightning, and fire from that monster of tornadoes and winds, and the blazing thunderbolt. And all the earth seethed, and the sky and sea; and long waves raged around the shores, around and about, under the rush of the immortals, and an inextinguishable shuddering arose. And Hades, who rules over the dead below, was afraid

καῦμα δ’ ὑπ’ ἀμφοτέρων κάτεχεν ἰοειδέα πόντον
βροντῆς τε στεροπῆς τε πυρός τ’ ἀπὸ τοῖο πελώρου
πρηστήρων ἀνέμων τε κεραυνοῦ τε φλεγέθοντος·
ἔζεε δὲ χθὼν πᾶσα καὶ οὐρανὸς ἠδὲ θάλασσα·
θυῖε δ’ ἄρ’ ἀμφ’ ἀκτὰς περί τ’ ἀμφί τε κύματα μακρὰ
ῥιπῇ ὕπ’ ἀθανάτων, ἔνοσις δ’ ἄσβεστος ὀρώρει·
τρέε δ’ Ἀίδης ἐνέροισι καταφθιμένοισιν ἀνάσσων

That, combined with something like 758-760, can lead to Ovid’s scene:

That [Tartarus] is where the children of dark Night have their houses, Sleep and Death, terrible gods; never does the bright Sun look upon them with his rays when he goes

ἔνθα δὲ Νυκτὸς παῖδες ἐρεμνῆς οἰκί’ ἔχουσιν,
Ὕπνος καὶ Θάνατος, δεινοὶ θεοί· οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτοὺς
Ἠέλιος φαέθων ἐπιδέρκεται ἀκτίνεσσιν

But now I’m curious whether there are any other instances in Greek or Latin literature of Hades growing frightened.

Then they dined on beef and necks of horses

The structure of Numa’s replies in the other day’s conversation between Numa and Jupiter put in mind a section of the The Contest of Homer and Hesiod (Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi) and the new text+commentary by Paola Bassino I’ve had out for the last year without opening. Below are the relevant sections (starting line ~100 of the text) and here is the dissertation version of the text+commentary (the main change to the published version seems to be the addition of a translation). This one does demand Greek since the charm – light though it may be – is in playing with the syntax of hexameters – Hesiod producing a complete line and Homer manufacturing an enjambment that reopens composition and allows him to flip the subversive sense of the original.

As he replied well also on these occasions, Hesiod turned to ambiguous propositions and, uttering several lines, expected Homer to reply in a fitting manner to each. So the first is Hesiod’s, the following Homer’s, though occasionally Hesiod composed the question by using two lines:

Hes. Then they dined on beef and necks of horses
Hom. they cleansed, since they were sweaty, being sated with war.
Hes. And the Phyrgians, who of all men on ships are the best
Hom. at having a meal on the shore with pirates.
Hes. Shooting arrows at the tribes of all the giants with his hands
Hom. Heracles loosed from his shoulders a bent bow.
Hes. This man is the son of a good man and a coward
Hom. mother, since war is hard for all women.
Hes. And not for [conceiving] you did your father and revered mother make love
Hom. the body that they sowed by the action of golden Aphrodite.
Hes. As she had yielded to marriage, Artemis shooter of arrows
Hom. killed Callisto from her silver bow.
Hes. So they feasted all day, having nothing
Hom. of their own, but Agamemnon lord of men arranged it.
Hes. Having dined among the smoky ashes
Hes. they gathered up the white bones of the deceased, Zeus’
Hom. son, the proud and godly Sarpedon.
Hes. Sitting thus over the plan of the Simois
Hes. we make our way from the ships carrying upon our shoulders
Hom. hilted swords and long-socketed javelins.
Hes. Then the best young men with their hands from the sea
Hom. pleased and eager dragged off the swift ship.
Hes. Then they took away the Colchian girl and king Aietes
Hom. they fled, as they recognised him as inhospitable and unlawful.
Hes. After they had made libations and drunk up the sea’s swell
Hom. they made themselves ready to sail on well-benched ships.
Hes. For them all the son of Atreus prayed very much, that they might perish
Hom. never in the sea, and he uttered this verse:
Hes. Eat, o foreigners, and drink; may none of you
Hes. return home to your dear fatherland
Hom. harmed, but may you reach home unharmed.

καλῶς δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις ἀπαντήσαντος ἐπὶ τὰς ἀμφιβόλους
γνώμας ὥρμησεν ὁ Ἡσίοδος, καὶ πλείονας στίχους λέγων
ἠξίου καθ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον συμφώνως ἀποκρίνασθαι τὸν Ὅμηρον.
ἔστιν οὖν ὁ μὲν πρῶτος Ἡσιόδου, ὁ δὲ ἑξῆς Ὁμήρου, ἐνίοτε δὲ
καὶ διὰ δύο στίχων τὴν ἐπερώτησιν ποιουμένου τοῦ Ἡσιόδου·

Hes. δεῖπνον ἔπειθ’ εἵλοντο βοῶν κρέα καὐχένας ἵππων
Hom. ἔκλυον ἱδρώοντας, ἐπεὶ πολέμοιο κορέσθην.
Hes. καὶ Φρύγες, οἳ πάντων ἀνδρῶν ἐπὶ νηυσὶν ἄριστοι
Hom. ἀνδράσι ληιστῆρσιν ἐπ’ ἀκτῆς δόρπον ἑλέσθαι.
Hes. χερσὶ βαλὼν ἰοῖσιν ὅλων κατὰ φῦλα γιγάντων
Hom. Ἡρακλῆς ἀπέλυσεν ἀπ’ ὤμων καμπύλα τόξα.
Hes. οὗτος ἀνὴρ ἀνδρός τ’ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ ἀνάλκιδός ἐστι
Hom. μητρός, ἐπεὶ πόλεμος χαλεπὸς πάσῃσι γυναιξίν.
Hes. οὔτ’ ἂρ σοί γε πατὴρ ἐμίγη καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
Hom. †σῶμα τό γ’ ἐσπείραντο† διὰ χρυσῆν Ἀφροδίτην.
Hes. αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δμήθη γάμῳ Ἄρτεμις ἰοχέαιρα
Hom. Καλλιστὼ κατέπεφνεν ἀπ’ ἀργυρέοιο βιοῖ<ο>.
Hes. ὣς οἳ μὲν δαίνυντο πανήμεροι, οὐδὲν ἔχοντες
Hom. οἴκοθεν, ἀλλὰ παρεῖχεν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων.
Hes. δεῖπνον δειπνήσαντες ἐνὶ σποδῷ αἰθαλοέσσῃ
Hes. σύλλεγον ὀστέα λευκὰ Διὸς κατατεθνειῶτος
Hom. παιδὸς ὑπερθύμου Σαρπηδόνος ἀντιθέοιο.
Hes. ἡμεῖς δ’ ἂμ πεδίον Σιμοέντιον ἥμενοι οὕτως
Hes. ἴομεν ἐκ νηῶν ὁδὸν ἀμφ’ ὤμοισιν ἔχοντες
Hom. φάσγανα κωπήεντα καὶ αἰγανέας δολιχαύλους.
Hes. δὴ τότ’ ἀριστῆες κοῦροι χείρεσσι θαλάσσης
Hom. ἄσμενοι ἐσσυμένως τε ἀπείρυσαν ὠκύαλον ναῦν.
Hes. κολχίδ’ ἔπειτ’ ἤγοντο καὶ Αἰήτην βασιλῆα
Hom. φεῦγον, ἐπεὶ γίγνωσκον ἀνέστιον ἠδ’ ἀθέμιστον.
Hes. αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ σπεῖσάν τε καὶ ἔκπιον οἶδμα θαλάσσης
Hom. ποντοπορεῖν ἤμελλον ἐυσέλμων ἐπὶ νηῶν.
Hes. τοῖσιν δ’ Ἀτρείδης μεγάλ’ εὔχετο πᾶσιν ὀλέσθαι
Hom. μηδέ ποτ’ ἐν πόντῳ, καὶ φωνήσας ἔπος ηὔδα·
Hes. ἐσθίετ’ ὦ ξεῖνοι, καὶ πίνετε· μηδέ τις ὑμῶν
Hes. οἴκαδε νοστήσειε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν
Hom. πημανθείς, ἀλλ’ αὖτις ἀπήμονες οἴκαδ’ ἵκοισθε.

In that one voice all these things were heard

Lucan’s unforgettable description of Erictho’s final addition to her witch’s brew at (6.~685).  I’d like to remember to check a commentary to see what predecessors and parallels he could have been working with – Hesiod’s Typhoeus (passage below) is the only other extensive description of a voice that comes to mind but there’s the key difference that in Hesiod the sounds are present only one at a time (the list presenting him another lovely little ἄλλοτε alliterative catalogue) whereas Lucan bundles them into some unimaginable end.  The closest I get is to a nightmare version of polyphonic overtone singing

and lastly [she mixed in] her voice, more powerful than any drug to bewitch the powers of Lethe, first uttered indistinct sounds, sounds untunable and far different from human speech. The dog’s bark and the wolfs howl were in that voice; it resembled the complaint of the restless owl and the night-flying screechowl, the shrieking and roaring of wild beasts, the serpent’s hiss, the beat of waves dashing against rocks, the sound of forests, and the thunder that issues from a rift in the cloud: in that one voice all these things were heard.

Tum vox Lethaeos cunctis pollentior herbis
Excantare deos confundit murmura primum
Dissona et humanae multum discordia linguae.
Latratus habet illa canum gemitusque luporum,
Quod trepidus bubo, quod strix nocturna queruntur,
Quod strident ululantque ferae, quod sibilat anguis;
Exprimit et planctus inlisae cautibus undae
Silvarumque sonum fractaeque tonitrua nubis:
Tot rerum vox una fuit.

Hesiod at Theogony ~830:

φωναὶ δ᾽ ἐν πάσῃσιν ἔσαν δεινῇς κεφαλῇσι
παντοίην ὄπ᾽ ἰεῖσαι ἀθέσφατον: ἄλλοτε μὲν γὰρ
φθέγγονθ᾽ ὥστε θεοῖσι συνιέμεν, ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε
ταύρου ἐριβρύχεω, μένος ἀσχέτου, ὄσσαν ἀγαύρου,
ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε λέοντος ἀναιδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντος,
ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖ σκυλάκεσσιν ἐοικότα, θαύματ᾽ ἀκοῦσαι,
ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖ ῥοίζεσχ᾽, ὑπὸ δ᾽ ἤχεεν οὔρεα μακρά.

And there were voices in all his dreadful heads which uttered every kind of sound unspeakable; for at one time they made sounds such that the gods understood, but at another, the noise of a bull bellowing aloud in proud ungovernable fury; and at another, the sound of a lion, relentless of heart; and at anothers, sounds like whelps, wonderful to hear; and again, at another, he would hiss, so that the high mountains re-echoed.

 

Reaping asphodel

Erasmus Adagia 377 – from the section of proverbial phrases for pointless tasks.

Τὸν ἀνθέρικον θερίζειν (‘to reap Asphodel’) is said of those who take in hand an empty and profitless task.  Asphodel is a kind of herb which cannot be reaped [with a scythe] but requires being plucked by hand like linen….

Τὸν ἀνθέρικον θερίζειν, id est Anthericum metere, dicebantur, qui laborem inanem ac sterilem caperent. Anthericus, herbae genus, quod meti non possit, sed velli manibus necesse est velut et linum….

Aside from Achilles in Bk 11 of the Odyssey walking off through an asphodel meadow in the underworld (μακρὰ βιβᾶσα κατ᾽ ἀσφοδελὸν λειμῶνα) and a similar notice in Bk 24 of the same work the only other reference point I have for asphodel in classical literature is early – lines 37-41 – in Hesiod’s Works and Days where he criticizes his brother Perses’ behavior on the death of their father:

Already we had divided our inheritance but you snatched up and carried off the greater part, honoring the gift-eating (i.e. feeding on bribes) kings who are willing to judge such a case.  Fools, who do not know how much more the half is than the whole nor what great benefit there is in mallow and asphodel.

ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ᾽, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλὰ
ἁρπάζων ἐφόρεις μέγα κυδαίνων βασιλῆας
δωροφάγους, οἳ τήνδε δίκην ἐθέλουσι δίκασσαι.
νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς
οὐδ᾽ ὅσον ἐν μαλάχῃ τε καὶ ἀσφοδέλῳ μέγ᾽ ὄνειαρ.

The general sense in West’s commentary on Works and Days is simply that mallow and asphodel – examples of the poorest fare – are recommended under the same conscious paradox as guides ‘the half better than the whole.’  The point is the preferability of honestly obtained poor fare to dishonestly obtained luxury.  No commentaries mention Erasmus’ adage – or the harvesting experience it springs from – but it seems something of a confirming contribution to Hesiod’s point – that Asphodel as terrible food and a pain to obtain is still better than wrongly gotten luxury.

And with this thought process I myself have reaped asphodel.