Friday, July 3, 2015

Can You Help a Fellow Classicist with a Mystery?


For Father's Day my oldest son sent me a gift certificate to Amazon.  I want to use it to finally buy a copy of Aaron J. Atsma's book.  Aaron is the editor of the incredible  However, I can't find a copy of it at Amazon as advertises nor can I find Atsma's contact information nor alma mater.   Can someone help a fellow classicist out?  Who is Aaron J. Atsma?  And how do I buy his book? 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TFBT: Irony in Medea

Hour 25, Harvard’s classical studies club is reading “Medea by Euripides.  We are reading the translation by Ian Johnston.  He’s got a great site;  In preparation for our July 17,  discussion I’ve now read the play three times.  Here are some thoughts on "irony" in the play. 

“Besides, we have a woman's nature—
      powerless to perform fine noble deeds” 
          (Medea 407-8)  tran. Johnston 

What?  The Perseus translation says, “And furthermore we are women, unable to perform great deeds of valor,” What?  What is Euripides thinking here?  I prepared mentally to search all of Greek myth for women who performed noble and valorous deeds.  Alcestis sprang to mind; the woman who sacrificed her life to save her husband from Death.  I assumed initially that my inspiration was alphabetical in nature.  Then I looked at the book I was holding; a collection of Euripides’ plays.  Euripides wrote “Alcestis” and produced it prior to “Medea”  So why is the poet saying that women cannot perform heroic deeds, when he’d already proved otherwise to his audience?    

MedeaSarah S. and I discussed my quandry in Homeric Vocabulary class this morning.  Sarah introduced me to the concept of “irony”.  I have no sense of irony.  The closest I got is sarcasm, but that horse wretched my chariot far too many times turning the post, so I put him on the left hand side and keep a tight rein on him. 

The trouble with irony (and sarcasm) is if your audience doesn’t get it, the playwright appears stupid.  Okay enough said about Euripides and that topic. The advantage of Sarah’s irony argument is it explains other oddities in the text;  
        ·      “She glares upon her servants with the look of a lioness with cubs” (Coleridge)  Which is ironic because we expect a lioness to protect her cubs rather than slay them. 
       ·      In sharp contrast to our opening quote Medea says “Lives like mine achieve the greatest glory.” (810) The chorus adds   “This passion of hers moves to some greatness.” (183) All of which contrasts with Medea’s earlier false modesty at 124 when she says, “Anyway, I don't want a grand life for myself,” Ha!
      ·      “For there's no affliction worse than losing one's own country.“ (650-51)  As if that wasn’t her fault! 
      ·      Creon to Medea “by feeling pity I've been hurt before” (348)  Man, he should have followed his own tenets!  Sarah is clearly right here about Euripides attempts at irony.  The audience then and now knows what’s coming and can’t miss this statement. 



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TFBT: Proverbs from Medea

Hour 25, Harvard’s classical studies club is reading “Medea by Euripides.  We are reading the translation by Ian Johnston, he’s got a great site; 

In preparation for our July 17,  discussion I’ve now read the play three times.  Here are some proverbs or at least statements that sound like proverbs.        

Medea “Love with too much passion brings with it no fine reputation, brings nothing virtuous to men.”        Medea 627- 629            

 "if Aphrodite comes in smaller doses no other god is so desirable."  Medea   630-31  

"Goddess, I pray you never strike me with one of those poisoned arrows shot from that golden bow of yours." Medea 632-4  

 “ moderation, the gods' most beautiful gift”  Medea 635-6  

 “For there's no affliction worse than losing one's own country.“ Medea 650-51  

“Even the gods, they claim, are won by gifts. And among mortal men,       gold works more wonders than a thousand words.”  Medea 964-5    

We mortals must bear our bad times patiently. “  Medea 1018  

 “What mortals need  is some other way to get our children.  There should be no female sex. With that, men would be rid of all their troubles.”  Medea 572-575  

 “Gifts from a worthless man are without value.” Medea 618  

 Creon to Medea “by feeling pity I've been hurt before”  Medea 348

  “Passionate people, women as well as men,   are easier to protect oneself against,          than someone clever who keeps silent.” Medea 319-321   

   “ Alas,  love's a miserable thing for mortal men.”   Medea 330

 “A guest of the city must comply, of course,”  Medea  222

 “ How stupid they are! I'd rather stand there  three times in battle holding up my  shield  than give birth once.”  

“No man with any sense  should ever educate his children  to know anything beyond what's normal.” Medea 292-294

“For I'm a knowledgeable woman. I make   some people envious.”  Medea 304-5

“Death comes soon enough  and brings and end to everything.       You should not pray for it.”     Medea  154-55   

   “ Old devotions fade,       pushed aside by new relationships.” Medea  76 
    “The pride of rulers is something to fear  they often order men, but seldom listen.”    Medea    120  
“She will soon put lightning to that cloud of her tears.” Medea  106 

“This passion of hers moves to some greatness.” Medea 183

“Those who live quietly as I do get a bad reputation”  Medea 217-8   

“Don't you know yet all men love themselves more than their neighbors. And some are right to do that “ Medea  110  

  “That's when life is most secure and safe, when woman and her husband stand as one.”  Medea  19-20
 “Young minds don't like to dwell on pain.”  Medea 61
 “when a master's lot falls out badly, that's bad for faithful servants, too”  Medea 68
“Jason the worst man in the world.” Medea 452. 

“lack of shame the greatest of all human sicknesses.” Medea  471-472

“Passionate people, women as well as men, are easier to protect oneself against, than someone clever who keeps silent.”  Medea 319

“I know her and fear her.” Medea 39 



Monday, June 8, 2015

TFBT: The Trojan King of London

Beneath the walls of Troy some hairy-chested hyper-moron[i] tried to kill Aeneas before his time.  Consequently, the gods snatched up the Trojan prince and took him to safety (Iliad XX 336) in accordance with a prophecy made to Aeneas’ father;
“And you will have a dear son, who will be king among the Trojans.  And following him will be generations after generations for all time to come” 
                 Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 196-197

The ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy was founding of London by Aeneas’ great-grandson King Brutus.  Following Milton’s “History of England”; Brutus was the son of Silvius and he of Ascanius, the son of Aeneas who famously fled from Troy and settled his people in Italy.  Like Oedipus before him, [ii]  Brutus accidently killed his father.  It happen this way according to Milton, at age of fifteen Brutus accidently shot and killed his father with an arrow while out hunting.  Like Peleus (Apollod. iii. 12. § 2)  and Patroclus (Hom. Il. xxiii. 85)  Brutus was banished by his kindred and he went in search of purification.  He headed east and ended up according to Milton as the leader of a group of Trojan refugees enslaved by a local king in Greece. Brutus withdrew into the wilderness with his countrymen and King Pandrasus pursued.  The forces met on the banks of the river Achelous.  Brutus conquered and captured Pandrasus.  The concessions demanded were the freedom of the Trojans, a massive fleet for their departure and the hand of the king’s daughter Innogen. 

So the brute Brutus took the maiden Innogen[iii] wife and the Trojan fleet departed.  One the third day they land on a deserted island and discover a temple to Artemis.  After performing the proper rituals, Brutus falls asleep in the temple and dreams of the goddess; 
“Brutus!  There lies beyond the Gallic bounds an island which the western sea surrounds by giants once possessed, now few remain to bar they entrance or obstruct thy reign.  To reach that happy shore thy sails employ.  There fate decrees to raise a second Troy and found an empire in thy royal line, which time shall ne’er destroy, nor bounds confine.” [iv]

I am reminded of the famous quote in reference to the British Empire "this vast empire on which the sun never sets, and whose bounds nature has not yet ascertained."[v]  But at the same time this sure sounds familiar; an unnamed island across an unnamed sea, occupied by giants?  Polyphemus, the cyclops-son of Poseidon and Odysseus’ enemy certainly comes to mind. (Homer, Odyssey 9. 110)

But here is the story of the sea-girt island that Artemis now directs Brutus’ fleet towards.  Like the Danaides[vi] and the women of Lemnos,[vii] thirty Grecian princesses conspired to kill their grooms.  Their plot was betrayed and they were set adrift, landed on the island that was to become the home of Brutus realm.  The eldest princess Albina was the first to step ashore and the island was named in her honor Albion.  They women mated with spirits birthed a race of giants.  But by the time of Brutus’ arrival only 24 of the race survived due to fraternal conflict.[viii]

Upon arrival in England Brutus and company hold a feast of thanksgiving when two score of the giants descend on the Trojans.  A great slaughter ensues.  Victorious Brutus erects his capital upon the banks of Father Thames and names it New Troy (in Latin Troia Nova.) According to Monmouth the name is corrupted into Trinovantum and later London.  Brutus reigns with Innogen for twenty-four years.  His three sons divide up his kingdom; Locrinus claims England, Albanactus takes Scotland, leaving Wales for Camber.



[i] Sorry couldn’t resist a classicist joke; “Within the convention of epic composition, an incident that is untraditional would be huper-morian; beyond destiny.”  Gregory nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, page 40
[ii] Apollodorus. The Library. Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921  3.5.7-8
[iii]  Per the Wikipedia article of the same name; “Innogen is a female given name. The name comes from Old Irish and means "maiden" or "daughter". The much more common name “Imogen” originated as a misspelling of, or variation on, the older name Innogen.
[iv] Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britian, trans. Aaron Thompson and JA Gills, Medieval Latin Series, Cambridge, Ontario 1999, page 14
[v] Macartney, George (1773). An Account of Ireland in 1773 by a Late Chief Secretary of that Kingdom. p. 55. ; cited in Kenny, Kevin (2006). Ireland and the British Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 72,
[vi]   Apollodorus. The Library. Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921  [2.1.5]
[vii] The Myths of Hyginus, translated and edited by Mary Grant. University of Kansas Publications in Humanistic Studies, no. 34. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1960.  Chapter 15
[viii] Richard Barber ed, The Giants of the Island of Albion, Myths & Legends of the British Isles, Boydell Press, based on 14th century manuscript; Des Grantz Geanz and its variants

Sunday, May 31, 2015

TFBT: Folk-tale Elements in the Cypria

I highly recommend Malcolm Davies article at the Center for Hellenic Studies website.  He analyzes the extant fragments of the Cypria and Proclus’ summary of the epic using standard European folk-tale motifs.    For those unfamiliar with the Cypria, Davies explains that it explains that Zeus and Themis conspired to ignite the wars at Thebes and Troy with their,  inevitable tally of deaths, as part of a cosmic plan to lighten the burden of the earth, which was being trodden under foot by more and more human beings”    

Davies discusses several folk-tale motifs in the myths of the Cypria; one in particular he calls the offended deity syndrome, it can be a crime of commission or omission.  This brings us to the next phase in Zeus’ plan the wedding of the hero Peleus and his reluctant bride, the Nereid Thetis.  The goddess of strife, Eris is not invited.  As Davies points out Eris much like the forgotten fairy at the baptism party in Sleeping Beauty.  It is Eris who tosses the golden apple into the midst of the gods engraved with the fateful words “For the fairest”.    Davies points out that

since Greek sacrifice to gods was originally conceived as a feast to which the gods were invited, there is no significant distinction between the two aspects of failure to sacrifice and failure to invite to a festival.  He adds that “A striking feature of… the offended deity’s anger is regularly vented not directly upon the perpetrator of the crime, but on a member of his or her family, more often than not an offspring, and within that category most often a daughter.” 

 He then proceeds to suggest that Eris’ intent was not just to spoil the reception, but that she was actually arranging “ punishment of the offspring of the offender who failed to invite (her) in the first place, that is, of Achilles. “

The next major event in Themis and Zeus’ plan to “lighten the burden of the earth” is the “Judgement of Paris.”  Athena, Aphrodite and Hera each vie for the apple and ask Zeus to decide.  Zeus being no fool defers to a Trojan prince named Paris (Alexander) and sends his wife and daughters off to him with Hermes.

“…the dilemma which the “hero” faces when, by gratifying one of the trio, he inevitably ensures the life-long enmity of the remaining two. This is, indeed, precisely Paris’ dilemma. The notion that the powerful protection of the favoured party can somehow overcome or outweigh the ill consequences of the fateful choice.... Paris, choosing Aphrodite, is gifted in love but is forever without talent in the civic and military spheres of his life”. A great contrast, one might add, to his brother Hector.” 


(Davies explains it was the) …wrong choice represented by Paris’ preferring of Aphrodite,” Unarguably, Aphrodite was the wrong choice because she could not stop the death of Paris, all his male relatives, enslavement of the women of Troy and the destruction of the city.  Davies and Robert Graves (The Greek Myths, page 19) argue that the winner of such a contest should be the youngest, the “ultimogeniture”.  But Hera was from the generation before Athena and (Dione’s daughter) Aphrodite so by Davies definition the wrong choice.  Athena was Zeus’ first child. (Hesiod, Theogony 885) This makes Aphrodite as the youngest and still according to Davies the “wrong choice”. 

If Paris had free will, which goddess would have been the right choice, I wonder?


 Malcolm Davies, "Folk-tale Elements in the Cypria," Classics@ Volume 6: Efimia D. Karakantza, ed. The Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University, edition of December 21, 2010.






Monday, May 18, 2015

TFBT: The Bull

“(The) Bull…mingled with the bullocks in the groves, his color white as virgin snow, untrod, unmelted by the watery Southern Wind. His neck was thick with muscles, dewlaps hung between his shoulders; and his polished horns, so small and beautifully set, appeared the artifice of man; fashioned as fair and more transparent than a lucent gem. His forehead was not lowered for attack, nor was there fury in his open eyes; the love of peace was in his countenance.”  Ovid, Metamorphoses, 846[i]


Minos, the son of a bull,[ii] wished to be king, to prove his lineage to Cretans, he swore that whatever he prayed for the gods would do. He prayed that the Bull might appear from the depths, promising to sacrifice it to Poseidon. The gods did send him up the fine Bull,  it roared forth from the sea.  Minos failed to sacrifice it.   Minos’ queen Pasiphae took a fancy to the Bull too and birthed his son; a monster called Asterius the Minotaur.[iii]


Heracles took the “Cretan” Bull to Greece as one of his labors.[iv] The Bull grew wild in Minos’ herds and became, “the crushing terror of a hundred towns.”[v] Heracles took the Bull back to Eurystheus. .  He intended to sacrifice the Bull to  Hera his namesake and divine nemesis, but she wanted not to do with it.  He set the Bull  loose. The Bull wandered to Sparta and then crossed the Isthmus and went as far as Marathon near Athens where it molested the locals.[vi] 

Androgeos, son of Minos, came to Athens to celebrated the Panathenaian Games, in which vanquished all comers.  The prince was sent against the Bull of Marathon, by which he was destroyed.[vii]

Afterwards Theseus, son of Poseidon went out against the Marathonian bull, which was doing no small mischief to the inhabitants of the Tetrapolis[viii] and drove  the Bull  to the Acropolis and sacrificed  him.[ix] 


In summary, the demi-god Minos did not sacrifice the Bull.  The demi-god Heracles captured the bull, but did not sacrifice it.  The hero Androgeus did neither and the demigod Theseus did both. So the story of the Bull should be finished,[x] except for the wrath of King Minos.


Asterius, the Minotaur and Minos stilled reigned in Crete. The Minotaur; half bull, half man, son of the Bull  seemed to be the talisman that insured Minos rule, similar to the Golden Fleece of Colchis[xi], the Palladion at Troy[xii], the Gold Lamb of Atreus[xiii] or maybe even the Sphinx at Thebes who insured the rule of Creon and Jocasta.  In compensation for the death of Prince Androgeus, the Atheneans sent 14 youths as tribute each year to the Minotaur.  Theseus went with them.


Adriane, the Minotaur’s half sister like her Aunt Medea aided this wandering prince to betray her father and slay the monster.  And like her aunt she was abandoned by the prince on Naxos Island.


Once home, Theseus’ wife Phaedra, another daughter of Minos, took a fancy to her step-son.  The son fled in a chariot. Theseus called upon hi father Poseidon to avenge him.  “A huge wave, which overtopped even the Molurian Rock, rolled roaring shoreward; and from its crest sprang a great white bull, bellowing and spouting water.” Hippolytus’ four horses swerved and he, caught in the reins,  the maddened horses dragged him, until he was crushed to death. [xiv]


In summary, the Minotaur, the son of the Bull, talisman and guardian spirit of Crete is slain by Theseus, son of Poseidon. His sister the Princess Adriane assits in the over thwo of the Minoian hegemony and then is abandon.  Her sister Phaedra like their Pasiphae suffer a taboo longing and Hippolytus son of Theseus is slain directly by a bull sent by Poseidon.  So ends the story of the Bull.[xv]



[i] trans. By Brookes More  According to Akousilaos [historian C6th B.C.]  the Cretan Bull carried Europa for Zeus rather than the more common belief that Zeus was in disguise as a bull.  (per Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 94)
[ii] Apollodorus, The Library, [3.1.1] trans. JG Frazer
[iii] [3.1.3-4]
[iv] Along with the a golden-horned deer sacred to Artemis, the Erymanthian boar (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 8183 & trans. Aldrich), Geryon’s  shambling, broad-faced cattle (Hesiod) and the three-headed hound of Hades (Homer, Odyssey 11. 623 ff (trans. Shewring) 
[v] Seneca, Hercules Furens 230 ff (trans. Miller)
[vi] Bibliotheca 2. 94 - 95 (trans. Aldrich)
[vii] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 15. 7 (trans. Frazer) :
[viii] Plutarch, Life of Theseus 14. 1 (trans. Perrin)
[ix] Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 27. 9 (trans. Jones
[x] Ring Theory and 5 Ages of Man
[xi] Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 47. 1 - 6 (trans. Oldfather)
[xii] Apollodorus, The Library E5.12-13
[xiv] Robert Graves The Greek Myths, pages 95 &210 electronic
[xv] But not the end of Hippolytus (Virbius) see The Golden Bough by Frazer


Saturday, April 25, 2015

TFBT; Homeric Moments, Part II

TFBT; Homeric Moments, Part II

I am still enjoying Eva Brann's book, but it is inter-library loan and must be returned today. 


I really enjoyed her rather poetic observation on the effect of wearing Achilles armor on those who did it.   “Hector stripped and donned Patroclus’ armor… (so) Achilles sees before him Patroclus as he looked when Achilles last bade him goodbye! But there is something more eerie; He is confronting himself, as he looked before his friends’ death - Achilles, son of Peleus, dressed in his father’s armor…As he spear finds it way into Hector’s collarbone, it is not the hated other alone whom he transfixes, but two intimate beings besides; his dead friend and his old self.”


Famously the Cypria informs us that Zeus and Themis conspired to ignite the wars at Thebes and Troy to relieve the earth of the burden of the tribes of men.  Specifically the demi-gods.   Their plot is the much discussed "Will of Zeus" in the Iliad.  What was the Will of Zeus in the Odyssey.   Brann says “the odyssey is a foregone conclusion. Polyphemus remembers an old Cyclopean seer’s prophecy that Odysseus would come to blind him, only he didn’t expect so puny a creature. Circe has been told of his coming by Hermes and the Phaeacians have an old prophecy about him"  Admittedly just because something is foretold doesn't mean it is pre-ordained.  But later she says, "…Aelous angrily refuses (to) help; he cannot aid a man who was come, "as you have,hated by the gods.”  Aelous is a bit of a god himself and not talking about Poseidon, but rather which ever of the gods put the idea into the heads of Odysseus' foolish men to open the bag of contrary winds.  So is there more to the story of the Odyssey?    


Odysseus himself, as he tells his tale, never calls on the Muses…Homer sings though Odysseus only tells - lyreless.”  Which explains the beginning of the Odyssey where Homer asks the “Muse to tell” the story rather than asking the “Goddess to sing” as he did in the Iliad.  Recall too that 80% of the Odyssey is told by Odysseus rather than Homer.


Other interesting notions;

  • Nestor’s name means “returner” from nostos 
  • Helen is never more beautiful than when she give this boy the recognition that make him Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, a young man. “  
  • Helen seduced Odysseus at Troy! “by bathing and oiling him and his telling her all the Greeks plans. 
  • Every skipper has a problem with sleep, but (Odysseus) sleeping is perfectly timed for disaster  
  • With the deftness of a minstrel he strings his great ancestral bow, with the easy smooth motion of a skilled singer who inspects his lyre, trying the tuning of the instrument, and “its sang easily under his fingers, like a swallow in voice. “  
  • “Achilles is fully conscious of exchanging worldly time for underworldly fame.”  
  • Indeed, Odysseus, who is in fact called “hero” only once in the Odyssey.”
  • “The report of her courage has reached Nestor’s palace and so it only makes us smile to notice that she is never mentioned in Helen’s house.”  
  • “Someone might say that these lost men, including finally the crew of Odysseus’ flagship itself, are only the mostly faceless and nameless extras of the voyage.”  
  • “Grain- or bread-eaters is what the Greeks call mortals.”  
  •  “Zeus is nothing to this son of Poseidon(Polyphemus)” 
  • “Heracles’ phantom has gone down to Hades forever, but “he himself is with the immortal gods