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).

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.

We are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance

From Samuel Johnson’s Life of Milton:

But the truth is, that the knowledge of external nature, and the sciences which that knowledge requires or includes, are not the great or the frequent business of the human mind.  Whether we provide for action or conversation, whether we wish to be useful or pleasing, the first requisite is the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong; the next is an acquaintance with the history of mankind, and with those examples which may be said to embody truth, and prove by events the reasonableness of opinions.  Prudence and justice are virtues and excellences of all times and of all places; we are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance.  Our intercourse with intellectual nature is necessary; our speculations upon matter are voluntary, and at leisure.  Physiological learning is of such rare emergence, that one may know another half his life without being able to estimate his skill in hydrostatics or astronomy; but his moral and prudential character immediately appears.

Those authors, therefore, are to be read at schools that supply most axioms of prudence, most principles of moral truth, and most materials for conversation; and these purposes are best served by poets, orators, and historians.

Let me not be censured for this digression as pedantic or paradoxical; for, if I have Milton against me, I have Socrates on my side.  It was his labour to turn philosophy from the study of Nature to speculations upon life; but the innovators whom I oppose are turning off attention from life to nature.  They seem to think that we are placed here to watch the growth of plants, or the motions of the stars.  Socrates was rather of opinion that what we had to learn was how to do good and avoid evil.

ὅττι τοι ἐν μεγάροισι κακόν τ᾽ ἀγαθόν τε τέτυκται

The quote is from Book 4 of The Odyssey (~400), as Eidothea instructs a stranded Menelaus in how to catch her father Proteus:

τόν γ᾽ εἴ πως σὺ δύναιο λοχησάμενος λελαβέσθαι,
ὅς κέν τοι εἴπῃσιν ὁδὸν καὶ μέτρα κελεύθου
νόστον θ᾽, ὡς ἐπὶ πόντον ἐλεύσεαι ἰχθυόεντα.
καὶ δέ κέ τοι εἴπῃσι, διοτρεφές, αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλῃσθα,
ὅττι τοι ἐν μεγάροισι κακόν τ᾽ ἀγαθόν τε τέτυκται
οἰχομένοιο σέθεν δολιχὴν ὁδὸν ἀργαλέην τε.

If you could somehow lie in wait and catch him, he will tell you your way and the measure of your path, and of your return, how you may go over the fish-filled sea. And he will tell you, fostered by Zeus, if so you wish, what evil and what good has been done in your halls, while you have been gone on your long and grievous way.

Two shadows racing on the grass,/ Silent and so near,/ Until his shadow falls on mine./ And I am rid of fear.

The Ballad of Hector in Hades by Edwin Muir – from a recentish edition of Selected Poems edited by Mick Imlah.

Yes, this is where I stood that day,
Beside this sunny mound.
The walls of Troy are far away,
And outward comes no sound.

I wait. On all the empty plain
A burnished stillness lies,
Save for the chariot’s tinkling hum,
And a few distant cries.

His helmet glitters near. The world
Slowly turns around,
With some new sleight compels my feet
From the fighting ground.

I run. If I turn back again
The earth must turn with me,
The mountains planted on the plain,
The sky clamped to the sea.

The grasses puff a little dust
Where my footsteps fall.
I cast a shadow as I pass
The little wayside wall.

The strip of grass on either hand
Sparkles in the light;
I only see that little space
To the left and to the right,

And in that space our shadows run,
His shadow there and mine,
The little flowers, the tiny mounds,
The grasses frail and fine.

But narrower still and narrower!
My course is shrunk and small,
Yet vast as in a deadly dream,
And faint the Trojan wall.
The sun up in the towering sky
Turns like a spinning ball.

The sky with all its clustered eyes
Grows still with watching me,
The flowers, the mounds, the flaunting weeds
Wheel slowly round to see.

Two shadows racing on the grass,
Silent and so near,
Until his shadow falls on mine.
And I am rid of fear.

The race is ended. Far away
I hang and do not care,
While round bright Troy Achilles whirls
A corpse with streaming hair.

And – for a hint of where the atmosphere Muir exploits comes from – here’s a famous simile of Homer’s from the chase scene in Iliad 22 (199-201):

And as in a dream a man can not pursue one who flees before him—the one can not flee, nor the other pursue—so Achilles could not overtake Hector in his fleetness, nor Hector escape.

ὡς δ᾿ ἐν ὀνείρῳ οὐ δύναται φεύγοντα διώκειν·
200οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὁ τὸν δύναται ὑποφεύγειν οὔθ᾿ ὁ διώκειν·
ὣς ὁ τὸν οὐ δύνατο μάρψαι ποσίν, οὐδ᾿ ὃς ἀλύξαι.

Somehow Aristarchus wished to reject those lines.

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.

Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most, the wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?

From Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Canto 5. I think this is my favorite of of Pope’s bathetic appropriations from ancient epic – if only for how core a scene the original has become for interpreting the social politics of epic or epic-informed culture.

Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.

       “Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why angels call’d, and angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov’d beaux,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace:
‘Behold the first in virtue, as in face!’
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the smallpox, or chas’d old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”

Here is Pope’s own rendering of the relevant scene in the Iliad – bk 12 310-328 between Sarpedon (speaking) and Glaucus. This one, from his full translation, is a slight revision from an earlier selection of episodes. My edition – the Twickenham v.2 – points out that the parody is closer to a translation by John Denham, though I haven’t found a readily available digital copy to check.

Then casting on his friend an ardent look,
Fired with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke:
“Why boast we, Glaucus! our extended reign,
Where Xanthus’ streams enrich the Lycian plain,
Our numerous herds that range the fruitful field,
And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crown’d,
Our feasts enhanced with music’s sprightly sound?
Why on those shores are we with joy survey’d,
Admired as heroes, and as gods obey’d,
Unless great acts superior merit prove,
And vindicate the bounteous powers above?
’Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace;
The first in valour, as the first in place;
That when with wondering eyes our martial bands
Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful and the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war.
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death’s inexorable doom,
The life, which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honour’d if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!”

and the Greek because it is always prettiest.

Γλαῦκε τί ἢ δὴ νῶϊ τετιμήμεσθα μάλιστα
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ, πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι,
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ᾽ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι,
ὄφρά τις ὧδ᾽ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων:
οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες, ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ᾽ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα: ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή, ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.
ὦ πέπον εἰ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμον περὶ τόνδε φυγόντε
αἰεὶ δὴ μέλλοιμεν ἀγήρω τ᾽ ἀθανάτω τε
ἔσσεσθ᾽, οὔτέ κεν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ πρώτοισι μαχοίμην
οὔτέ κε σὲ στέλλοιμι μάχην ἐς κυδιάνειραν:
νῦν δ᾽ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.

Plus a bonus parallel from Milton’s Paradise Lost 2.450

Wherefore do I assume
These royalties and not refuse to reign,
Refusing to accept as great a share
Of hazard as of honour, due alike to him
Who reigns, and so much to him due
Of hazard more, as he above the rest
High honour’d sits.

An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star

Edmund in 1.2 of King Lear:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!

My personal locus classicus for such observations is Zeus in Odyssey 1.30ish, on the troubles Aegisthus has brought upon himself – even though there he wobbles a bit in conceding a different manner of predestination.

Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται:
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ᾽ ἔμμεναι, οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε᾽ ἔχουσιν,

As in a dream, when languid sleep seals eyes in our night-time rest

From Aeneid 12.908-918, as Turnus is hunted down by Aeneas. Virgil here borrows and improves on a Homeric image from Achilles’ pursuit of Hector:

ac velut in somnis, oculos ubi languida pressit
nocte quies, nequiquam avidos extendere cursus
velle videmur et in mediis conatibus aegri
succidimus; non lingua valet, non corpore notae
sufficiunt vires nec vox aut verba sequuntur:
sic Turno, quacumque viam virtute petivit,
successum dea dira negat. tum pectore sensus
vertuntur varii; Rutulos aspectat et urbem
cunctaturque metu letumque instare tremescit,
nec quo se eripiat, nec qua vi tendat in hostem,
nec currus usquam videt aurigamve sororem.

As in a dream, when languid sleep seals eyes in our night-time
Rest, we’re aware, in ourselves, of desperately wanting to reach out
Into some purpose or course; but strength, in the midst of our efforts,
Fails us. We feebly slump. Our tongues will not function, our usual
Bodily powers don’t support us. No sound, no words find expression.
Such was Turnus’s plight. Whatever attempt at heroic
Action he made, the grim goddess frustrated. Conflicting emotions
Whirl through his heart as he stares at Rutulians, stares at the city,
Hesitates, frightened, and shakes at the sight of the menacing javelin,
Sees no place to pull back to, no force to deploy on his foeman,
No sign at all of his chariot or of its driver, his sister.

Iliad 22.199-201 in the Loeb text and translation. The translation obscures what is a common Homeric composition technique but may be a more conscious element here to imitate the fuzzy quality of dreams – there are no names, only pronouns :

ὡς δ᾿ ἐν ὀνείρῳ οὐ δύναται φεύγοντα διώκειν·
οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ὁ τὸν δύναται ὑποφεύγειν οὔθ᾿ ὁ διώκειν·
ὣς ὁ τὸν οὐ δύνατο μάρψαι ποσίν, οὐδ᾿ ὃς ἀλύξαι.

And as in a dream a man can not pursue one who flees before him—the one can not flee, nor the other pursue—so Achilles could not overtake Hector in his fleetness, nor Hector escape

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron

Spiralling associative chains, beginning with the Sybil to Aeneas (6.135):

Quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est,
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe, quae peragenda prius.

In Ahl’s Oxford Classics:

Yet, if there’s love so strong in your mind, so mighty a passion
Twice to float over the Stygian lakes, twice gaze upon deep black
Tartarus, if it’s your pleasure to wanton in labours of madness,
Grasp what you must do first.

And moving to Gerard de Nerval’s El Desdichado:

Je suis le ténébreux,- le Veuf, – l’inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du Tombeau, Toi qui m’as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d’Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé,
Et la treille où le Pampre à la rose s’allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phoebus ?…. Lusignan ou Biron ?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine ;
J’ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la Sirène…

Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron :
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée
Les soupirs de la Sainte et les cris de la Fée.

And in the Penguin Selected Writings translation by Richard Sieburth:

I am the man of gloom – the widower – the unconsoled, the prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins: My sole star is dead – and my constellated lute bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me, give me back Posilipo and the Italian sea, the flower that so pleased my desolate heart, and the arbour where the vine and the rose are entwined.

Am I Amor or Phoebus? … Lusignan or Biron? My brow still burns from the kiss of the queen; I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren swims …

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron: Modulating on Orpheus’ lyre now the sighs of the saint, now the fairy’s cry.

And back to the beginning, a Homeric hapax from Odyssey 12.21, Circe to Odysseus:

σχέτλιοι, οἳ ζώοντες ὑπήλθετε δῶμ᾽ Ἀίδαο,
δισθανέες, ὅτε τ᾽ ἄλλοι ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

Unwearying, you who alive go down to the house of Hades,
twice-dying, when other men die once.

Closing with an unrelated echo from Dante, Inferno 24 4. Which commentaries tell me is also a hapax suggested by Jude’s (12) ‘arbores…. bis mortuae’ (trees twice dead).

e l’ombre, che parean cose rimorte,
per le fosse de li occhi ammirazione
traean di me, di mio vivere accorte.

And the Longfellow translation:

And shadows, that appeared things doubly dead,
From out the sepulchres of their eyes betrayed
Wonder at me, aware that I was living.



But to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise

From the conclusion of Plato’s Laches (201B)

Socrates: ….Now if in the debates that we have just held I had been found to know what our two friends did not know, it would be right to make a point of inviting me to take up this work: but as it is, we have all got into the same difficulty, so why should one of us be preferred to another? In my own opinion, none of us should; and this being so, perhaps you will allow me to give you a piece of advice. I tell you, gentlemen—and this is confidential—that we ought all alike to seek out the best teacher we can find, first for ourselves—for we need one—and then for our boys, sparing neither expense nor anything else we can do: but to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise. And if anyone makes fun of us for seeing fit to go to school at our time of life, I think we should appeal to Homer, who said that “shame is no good mate for a needy man.”


ΣΩ. Καὶ γὰρ ἂν δεινὸν εἴη, ὦ Λυσίμαχε, τοῦτό γε, μὴ ἐθέλειν τῳ συμπροθυμεῖσθαι ὡς βελτίστῳ γενέσθαι. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐν τοῖς διαλόγοις τοῖς ἄρτι ἐγὼ μὲν ἐφάνην εἰδώς, τώδε δὲ μὴ εἰδότε, δίκαιον ἂν ἦν ἐμὲ μάλιστα ἐπὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔργον παρακαλεῖν· νῦν δ᾿, ὁμοίως γὰρ πάντες ἐν ἀπορίᾳ ἐγενόμεθα· τί οὖν ἄν τις ἡμῶν τινὰ προαιροῖτο; ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν δὴ αὐτῷ δοκεῖ οὐδένα· ἀλλ᾿ ἐπειδὴ ταῦτα οὕτως ἔχει, σκέψασθε ἄν τι δόξω συμβουλεύειν ὑμῖν. ἐγὼ γάρ φημι χρῆναι, ὦ ἄνδρες—οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔκφορος λόγος—κοινῇ πάντας ἡμᾶς ζητεῖν μάλιστα μὲν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς διδάσκαλον ὡς ἄριστον—δεόμεθα γάρ—ἔπειτα καὶ τοῖς μειρακίοις, μήτε χρημάτων φειδομένους μήτε ἄλλου μηδενός· ἐᾷν δὲ ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς ἔχειν, ὡς νῦν ἔχομεν, οὐ συμβουλεύω. εἰ δέ τις ἡμῶν καταγελάσεται, ὅτι τηλικοίδε ὄντες εἰς διδασκάλων Βἀξιοῦμεν φοιτᾷν, τὸν Ὅμηρον δοκεῖ μοι χρῆναι προβάλλεσθαι, ὃς ἔφη οὐκ ἀγαθὴν εἶναι αἰδῶ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.

The Homer quote is from Odyssey 17.347 as Telemachus and Odysseus-as-beggar have arrived in Odysseus’ home:

Then Telemachus called the swineherd to him, and, taking a whole loaf from the beautiful basket, and all the meat his hands could hold in his grasp, spoke to him, saying:

“Take, and give this to the stranger, and bid him go about himself and beg of the suitors one and all. Shame is no good thing in a man that is in need.”


Τηλέμαχος δ᾿ ἐπὶ οἷ καλέσας προσέειπε συβώτην,
ἄρτον τ᾿ οὖλον ἑλὼν περικαλλέος ἐκ κανέοιο
καὶ κρέας, ὥς οἱ χεῖρες ἐχάνδανον ἀμφιβαλόντι·

“δὸς τῷ ξείνῳ ταῦτα φέρων αὐτόν τε κέλευε
αἰτίζειν μάλα πάντας ἐποιχόμενον μνηστῆρας·
αἰδὼς δ᾿ οὐκ ἀγαθὴ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.”