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.”

 

 

A Turtle, a Horse, and a Courtesan Walk into a Bar

And all in the same way

Homeric Hymn to Hermes lines 25-28:

Ἑρμῆς τοι πρώτιστα χέλυν τεκτήνατ᾽ ἀοιδόν:
ἥ ῥά οἱ ἀντεβόλησεν ἐπ᾽ αὐλείῃσι θύρῃσι
βοσκομένη προπάροιθε δόμων ἐριθηλέα ποίην,
σαῦλα ποσὶν βαίνουσα:

For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. (Hugh Evelyn-White translation)

Hermes it was who first crafted the singing tortoise. He encountered it at the yard entrance as it grazed on the lush grass in front of the dwelling, sidling along on its legs. (M.L. West translation)

Semonides 18 :

Etymologicum Genuinum

διασαυλούμενος: putting on airs and having an affected manner . . . from σαῦλος which means effeminate and haughty. Cf. Semonides in iambics:

with mincing gait and arched neck like a horse’s


διασαυλούμενος· ἁβρυνόμενος καὶ διαθρυπτόμενος . . . παρὰ τὸν σαῦλον τὸν τρυφερὸν καὶ γαῦρον. Σιμωνίδης ἐν ἰάμβοις·

καὶ σαῦλα βαίνων ἵππος ὣς †κορωνίτης. (David Campbell translation)

Anacreon 168:

Διονύσου σαῦλαι Βασσαρίδες

The hip-swaying Bassarids of Dionysus (David Campbell translation)

νιφάδες δ᾽ ὡς πῖπτον ἔραζε

Iliad 12.130ish

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τεῖχος ἐπεσσυμένους ἐνόησαν
Τρῶας, ἀτὰρ Δαναῶν γένετο ἰαχή τε φόβος τε,
ἐκ δὲ τὼ ἀΐξαντε πυλάων πρόσθε μαχέσθην
ἀγροτέροισι σύεσσιν ἐοικότε, τώ τ᾽ ἐν ὄρεσσιν
ἀνδρῶν ἠδὲ κυνῶν δέχαται κολοσυρτὸν ἰόντα,
δοχμώ τ᾽ ἀΐσσοντε περὶ σφίσιν ἄγνυτον ὕλην
πρυμνὴν ἐκτάμνοντες, ὑπαὶ δέ τε κόμπος ὀδόντων
γίγνεται εἰς ὅ κέ τίς τε βαλὼν ἐκ θυμὸν ἕληται:
ὣς τῶν κόμπει χαλκὸς ἐπὶ στήθεσσι φαεινὸς
ἄντην βαλλομένων: μάλα γὰρ κρατερῶς ἐμάχοντο
λαοῖσιν καθύπερθε πεποιθότες ἠδὲ βίηφιν.
οἳ δ᾽ ἄρα χερμαδίοισιν ἐϋδμήτων ἀπὸ πύργων
βάλλον ἀμυνόμενοι σφῶν τ᾽ αὐτῶν καὶ κλισιάων
νηῶν τ᾽ ὠκυπόρων: νιφάδες δ᾽ ὡς πῖπτον ἔραζε,
ἅς τ᾽ ἄνεμος ζαὴς νέφεα σκιόεντα δονήσας
ταρφειὰς κατέχευεν ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ:
ὣς τῶν ἐκ χειρῶν βέλεα ῥέον ἠμὲν Ἀχαιῶν
ἠδὲ καὶ ἐκ Τρώων:

On Homer and the epic hypertext

From Pietro Pucci’s The Iliad: The Poem of Zeus (pg 182) – in his discussion of the scene where Hera seduces Zeus to distract his attention from the battlefield and her plan to help the Achaeans.  This seemed the most soberly presented summary I’ve found of his approach to the epics generally – stretching back to his earlier Song of the Sirens and Odysseus Polytropos where he, by virtue of reading the Iliad and Odyssey against each other, feels himself on firmer ground for making what sometimes end up – for me – too strong assertions of linkage, reference, reworking, and subversion.  Here, forced to a conceptual rather than specific justification, his practice appears less extreme.

The Iliadic text recalls for its contemporary audience a traditional episode from the Heracles saga: they may know and recall it, or find it new, in the wake of analogous stories in the large mythical-epic panorama which they control.  The text gave the Narratees the privilege of measuring the differences in narrative details and tone between the passage and the Iliadic exploitation of it.  For instance, in Hypnos’ version of Hera’s first request, it is not indicated whether she made love with Zeus before Hypnos’ intervention.  A textual game was proposed to the Narratees, in which they enjoyed the emotional repetition of the scenes and savored the critical use that the Iliad made of its borrowings.  If they found the episode new, they enjoyed the invention of the story that enriched their mythical-epic panorama.  We have lost the ability to confirm this possibility and cannot be sure whether our perception that the text re-channels a story from another epic poem is certain, and, if it is true, how that story is elaborated by our text.

It remains appealing to question what the critical purpose or effect is that the text aims at by re-channelling certain old stories about Zeus, some of them being unedifying, even if entertaining.

The best option seems to me that the narrative quotes, integrates, or simply echoes traditional stories with the intent of granting them new edifying perspectives or of making fun of the traditional versions.

ὥς τ᾽ ἀμητῆρες ἐναντίοι ἀλλήλοισιν

From Iliad Bk 11.67-83.

But [the Greeks and Trojans], as reapers working opposite one another
cut a swath in a rich man’s field
of corn or barley and the handfuls fall thick –
So the Trojans and Achaeans leaping upon one another
fight and neither side thinks of destructive flight,
but the battle had equal divisions and they darted about like wolves.
And Strife, full of groans, rejoiced as she looked on,
for indeed she alone of the gods was present as they fought,
but the other gods were not beside them, but at their ease
did they sit in their own halls, where for each of them
beautiful homes had been built on the folds of Olympus.
And all of them blamed Zeus of the dark clouds
since he was wishing to extend glory to the Trojans.
Them the father did not heed.  But he, drawn apart,
away off from the others, sat rejoicing in his glory
looking on the city of the Trojans and the ships of the Achaeans
and the flashing of bronze and the slaying and the slain.

οἳ δ᾽, ὥς τ᾽ ἀμητῆρες ἐναντίοι ἀλλήλοισιν
ὄγμον ἐλαύνωσιν ἀνδρὸς μάκαρος κατ᾽ ἄρουραν
πυρῶν ἢ κριθῶν: τὰ δὲ δράγματα ταρφέα πίπτει:
ὣς Τρῶες καὶ Ἀχαιοὶ ἐπ᾽ ἀλλήλοισι θορόντες
δῄουν, οὐδ᾽ ἕτεροι μνώοντ᾽ ὀλοοῖο φόβοιο.
ἴσας δ᾽ ὑσμίνη κεφαλὰς ἔχεν, οἳ δὲ λύκοι ὣς
θῦνον: Ἔρις δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔχαιρε πολύστονος εἰσορόωσα:
οἴη γάρ ῥα θεῶν παρετύγχανε μαρναμένοισιν,
οἳ δ᾽ ἄλλοι οὔ σφιν πάρεσαν θεοί, ἀλλὰ ἕκηλοι
σφοῖσιν ἐνὶ μεγάροισι καθήατο, ἧχι ἑκάστῳ
δώματα καλὰ τέτυκτο κατὰ πτύχας Οὐλύμποιο.
πάντες δ᾽ ᾐτιόωντο κελαινεφέα Κρονίωνα
οὕνεκ᾽ ἄρα Τρώεσσιν ἐβούλετο κῦδος ὀρέξαι.
τῶν μὲν ἄρ᾽ οὐκ ἀλέγιζε πατήρ: ὃ δὲ νόσφι λιασθεὶς
τῶν ἄλλων ἀπάνευθε καθέζετο κύδεϊ γαίων
εἰσορόων Τρώων τε πόλιν καὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
χαλκοῦ τε στεροπήν, ὀλλύντάς τ᾽ ὀλλυμένους τε.

οὔ τί με ταύτης χρεὼ τιμῆς

Iliad 9.585-601.  ish.

ὣς ὃ μὲν Αἰτωλοῖσιν ἀπήμυνεν κακὸν ἦμαρ
εἴξας ᾧ θυμῷ: τῷ δ᾽ οὐκέτι δῶρα τέλεσσαν
πολλά τε καὶ χαρίεντα, κακὸν δ᾽ ἤμυνε καὶ αὔτως.
ἀλλὰ σὺ μή μοι ταῦτα νόει φρεσί, μὴ δέ σε δαίμων
ἐνταῦθα τρέψειε φίλος: κάκιον δέ κεν εἴη
νηυσὶν καιομένῃσιν ἀμυνέμεν: ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ δώρων
ἔρχεο: ἶσον γάρ σε θεῷ τίσουσιν Ἀχαιοί.
εἰ δέ κ᾽ ἄτερ δώρων πόλεμον φθισήνορα δύῃς
οὐκέθ᾽ ὁμῶς τιμῆς ἔσεαι πόλεμόν περ ἀλαλκών.

τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς:
‘Φοῖνιξ ἄττα γεραιὲ διοτρεφὲς οὔ τί με ταύτης
χρεὼ τιμῆς: φρονέω δὲ τετιμῆσθαι Διὸς αἴσῃ,
ἥ μ᾽ ἕξει παρὰ νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν εἰς ὅ κ᾽ ἀϋτμὴ
ἐν στήθεσσι μένῃ καί μοι φίλα γούνατ᾽ ὀρώρῃ.

“So he [Meleager] warded off from the Aitolians the evil day [of defeat]
yielding in his spirit.  But no longer did they complete for him those gifts
many and pleasing  – but even so he warded off that evil.
But you must not think thus in your heart – do not let your own god
turn you this way. Much worse would it be
when the ships are already burning to defend them. But with a view to the gifts
come now.  For like a god do the Achaeans honor you.
But if without the gifts you should enter man-destroying war
no longer will you be of like honor, even though you ward off the war.

In response to him spoke forth swift-footed Achilles.
“Phoinix, my father, venerable old man, cherished by Zeus – in no way
have I need of such honor. But I think I am honored by Zeus’ apportioning,
which will be mine among these prowed ships as long as breath
remains in my chest and my own knees have strength.”

τὴν ἄρετ᾽ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας

From the embassy’s arrival in Iliad 9.180.

They went along the shore of the splashing sea
praying much to the earth-holding Earth-Shaker
to readily persuade the great heart of the son of Aeacus.
To the tents and ships of the Myrmidons they came,
and him they found delighting his heart with a clear-toned lyre
beautiful and skillfully embellished, and the bridge on it was made of silver,
then he took from the spoils when he had sacked the city of Etion:
With it he used to delight his spirit, and he sang the famous deeds of men.
Patroklos, alone with him, sat opposite keeping silence,
waiting until the son of Aeacus should leave off his singing….

τὼ δὲ βάτην παρὰ θῖνα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης
πολλὰ μάλ᾽ εὐχομένω γαιηόχῳ ἐννοσιγαίῳ
ῥηϊδίως πεπιθεῖν μεγάλας φρένας Αἰακίδαο.
Μυρμιδόνων δ᾽ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δ᾽ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃ, ἐπὶ δ᾽ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετ᾽ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας:
τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δ᾽ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.
Πάτροκλος δέ οἱ οἶος ἐναντίος ἧστο σιωπῇ,
δέγμενος Αἰακίδην ὁπότε λήξειεν ἀείδων,

The scene is well-known for the depiction of Achilles playing the lyre himself for himself (the only amateur singer in Homer and only song not performed for a group) and for the thematic resonance of his singing κλέα ἀνδρῶν (deeds of men).  It’s also been routinely observed that Achilles didn’t bring the lyre with him (which potentially suggests that the pleasure of song was felt to be incompatible with war, a social stricture which would explain why there are no singers in the Iliad otherwise), but I’ve never seen anyone poke at the potential character implications of the timeline and circumstances of its acquisition.  But I’m lazy and do no more than point the way.