Sunday, February 18, 2018

TFBT: The Epigoni

The Attican Study Group at the Kosmos Society is translating the text pertaining to Pausanias’ visit to Delphi during the second century AD.  This is the second of two articles on the statutes dedicated by the Argives; the first set of statutes being the Seven Against Thebes and this set the Epigoni.     My friend Helene asked me to write a little something up and here is the first draft.


οὗτοι μὲν δὴ Ὑπατοδώρου καὶ Ἀριστογείτονός εἰσινἔργακαὶ ἐποίησαν σφᾶςὡς αὐτοὶ Ἀργεῖοι λέγουσινἀπὸ τῆς νίκης ἥντινα ἐν Οἰνόῃ τῇ Ἀργείᾳ αὐτοί τε καὶἈθηναίων ἐπίκουροι Λακεδαιμονίους ἐνίκησανἀπὸ δὲτοῦ αὐτοῦ ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν ἔργου καὶ τοὺς Ἐπιγόνους ὑπὸἙλλήνων καλουμένους ἀνέθεσαν οἱ Ἀργεῖοικεῖνταιγὰρ δὴ εἰκόνες καὶ τούτωνΣθένελος καὶ Ἀλκμαίωνκατὰ ἡλικίαν ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν πρὸ Ἀμφιλόχου τετιμημένοςἐπὶ δὲ αὐτοῖς Πρόμαχος καὶ Θέρσανδρος καὶ Αἰγιαλεύςτε καὶ Διομήδηςἐν μέσῳ δὲ Διομήδους καὶ τοῦΑἰγιαλέως ἐστὶν Εὐρύαλος.” 10.10.4

“These are works of Hypatodorus and Aristogeiton, who made them, as the Argives themselves say, from the spoils of the victory which they and their Athenian allies won over the Lacedaemonians at Oenoe in Argive territory. From spoils of the same action, it seems to me, the Argives set up statues of those whom the Greeks call the Epigoni. For there stand statues of these also, Sthenelus, Alcmaeon, who I think was honored before Amphilochus on account of his age, Promachus also, Thersander, Aegialeus and Diomedes. Between Diomedes and Aegialeus is Euryalus.”


These are the sons of the Seven Against Thebes discussed previously.  They succeeded in conquering Thebes whereas their fathers did not.  Sthenelus was the son of the hubristic Capaneus, Alcmaeon and his brother Amphilochus were sons of Amphiaraus;   when they discovered their mother had knowingly forced their father to participate in the doomed expedition of the Seven Against Thebes, the advice from the Oracle was for them to kill her.  (Same advice Apollo gave Orestes a generation later with the same pleasant consequences.) Diomedes, son of Tydeus. And so on.  Most of these went on to battle beneath the walls of Troy in the Iliad.


If we are wondering why the Argives and Athenians erected these statues of the Epigoni in honor of the victory over Sparta, the answer might be found in the Iliad.
There is a tradition in many cultures that in the good old days, men were braver and stronger, and women were smarter and more beautiful.   For example, in 469 BC a skeleton of large man was found by Cimon and brought to Athens. It was believed to be that of Theseus. 1   Homer probably explained this folk-belief best;


“Aeneas seized a great stone, so huge that two men, as men now are, would be unable to lift it, but Aeneas wielded it quite easily. “ Iliad 20.286


In answer to a similar charge of weakness and smallness in the current generation by Agamemnon against Sthenelus and his buddy Diomedes, Sthenelus replied,  


We boast to be much better than our fathers.  We even captured the foundations of seven-gated Thebes,   having mustered a smaller army against a stronger fortress and having heeded the signs of the gods and the help of Zeus. But they perished, by their own wantonness.   So do not bestow on our fathers an honor [tīmē] that is like ours.” Iliad 4.405-10


So by erecting statues of the Epigoni in honor of the victory at Oeone, the Argives are pointing out that they too are better than their mythological forefathers, and accomplished something they never had, they defeated the Spartans.  








1 A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology William Smith, Ed.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

TFBT: The Seven Against Thebes

Over at the Kosmos Society one of the study groups was translating  Pausanias 10.10.3.  I did a little research on it.

 Near the horse are also other votive offerings of the Argives, likenesses of the captains of those who with Polyneices made war on Thebes: Adrastus, the son of Talaus, Tydeus, son of Oeneus, the descendants of Proteus, namely, Capaneus, son of Hipponous, and Eteoclus, son of Iphis, Polyneices, and Hippomedon, son of the sister of Adrastus. Near is represented the chariot of Amphiaraus, and in it stands Baton, a relative of Amphiaraus who served as his charioteer. The last of them is Alitherses.

Talaus had a son Adrastus.  Adrastus got some strange prophecy from Delphi telling him to wed his daughters to a lion and a boar.  Admetus had to deal with something similar  ( Apollodorus Bibl. 1.19.3,  Fabulae 50)  Adrastus found two guests fighting on the doorstep; one carrying a Theban shield ( think bottom half of the Sphinx) and the other a Calydonian shield (as in the Boar Hunt)  So he wed his daughters to them

  • Argria to Polyneices banished co-king of Thebes and
  • Deiphyle to Tydeus, father of Diomedes

Talaus had a daughter Eriphyle wed to Amphiaraus the seer.   With the help of Iphis’ advice, family politics and poisoned jewelry Amphiaraus  was forced to participate in the doomed expedition against Thebes.  His charioteer Baton and their chariot are mentioned by Pausanias because of what happens later.  (See below.)

Talaus had a daughter Metice, mother of  Hippomedon.  He has various parentages.

Iphis had;

  • a daughter Evadne married to Capaneus and
  • a son Eteoclus (Polyneices brother is named Eteocles, just to confuse us.)

Various lists can be found naming the Seven Against Thebes; none of them include the unknown Alithereses. 

For those that don’t recall; after Oedipus cursed his sons Polyneices and Eteocles, civil war broke out.  Polyneices raised an Argive army to insure his right to the throne.  After much epic battling and the death of several of the heroes  (See Thebaid) the brothers decided to settle it man-to-man.  They ended up slaying one another simultaneously in front of the gathered armies.  The Argives fled.  Adrastus was the only Argive captain to survive because he was on the divine horse Arion.  Amphiaraus,  Baton and their chariot were swallowed up whole by the earth.  The site became an underground oracle and both men received heroic honors.

 Part II is The Epigoni


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

VftSW: Don’t Bring Your Girlfriend Home

Long ago I worked with this guy Blake and his brother, fighting forest fires. They were young and still living at home.  I stopped by the house once for a beer and noticed the lack of a woman’s touch, definitely a bachelor household.  I made some comment about that to Blake.

“Oh, mom ran off ages ago.” He said matter-of-factly.  “Dad raised us pretty much by himself.”

That set me back a bit.  Blake’s dad and I had friends in common.  I had never heard this story.  Not knowing what to say, I said, “That must have been hard on your dad.”

“Ya, especially because she ran off with my grandad.” came the matter-of-fact reply.

Okay, I never heard that bit of gossip before either.  Again not knowing what to say, I said, “That must have been hard on your grandmother.”

“Nay, she’d already run off with my grandad’s father.” 

“Blake!” I said, “Let me see if I have this right.  Your great-grandad ran off with your grandad’s wife?”

“Uh-huh” he nodded

Then I said, “And your grandfather ran off with your dad’s wife?”

“Uh-huh.” he nodded.

Then I thought, “So your dad is going to steal your wife?”

And without me asking the question out-loud, Blake responded with a nod and an “Uh-huh.”


Saturday, February 3, 2018

TFBT: Sema and Anagnorisis

I just finished reading "An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic" by Daniel Mendelsohn.  As I mentioned before I fine it well-written, insightful and thought-provoking.

Chapter Sema,

Of course the last chapter deals with the end of the Odyssey (and of the father).  The ritual that ends Odysseus’ career as Destroyer of Cities and start of his role as King of Ithaca as predicted by the seer Tiresias mimics the rites involved in the burial of Odysseus’ sailor.  In never occurred to me that the burial of Achilles is foreshadowed by the burial Patroclus and all mixed up the prophecy of Thetis. 

None of the characters above experienced the long lingering death of the elderly, which the father succumbed to and so feared. As we all do. 

Chapter Anagnorisis

The son and father seem to have so little in common.  (I wonder if the son knew the story that Laertes is NOT the father of Odysseus, but rather Sisyphus (Scholium to Sophocles’ Ajax 190).  Just saying, the son’s mother, father’s wife was a beautiful woman. )  The son seems so clueless about the father, as though the elder man had been gone twenty years.  But siblings and relatives alike knew all sorts of stories, had all sorts of insights that the son didn’t share. 

 This chapter, actually the next to last and I think the most pertinent, is primarily about the son interviewing relatives about the father. (Probably symbolic of the author gathering material for the book.)  While talking to Aunt Barbara and Uncle Nino this happens;

“Barbara looked at me and said, slowly, Oh, I know what you’re doing I know why you interview your uncle.  I know why you’re here.

I looked at her and said, what am I doing?  Why am  here?

Barbara smiled with slow self-satisfaction, like a student who is convince she has outwitted the teacher.  She said, you’re doing what Telemachus did.“ 

TFBT: Quotes for February

Strictly speaking, then, gods are not anthropomorphic, humans are theomorphic.” William F. Hansen

A flock of owls is a parliament
A flock of crows is a murder
A flock of ravens is an unkindness.  (Tim Piazza)

11] In reply to this Phalinus said: “The King believes that he is victor because he has slain Cyrus. For who is there now who is contending against him for his realm? Further, he believes that you also are his because he has you in the middle of his country, enclosed by impassable rivers, and because he can bring against you a multitude of men so great that you could not slay them even if he were to put them in your hands.” Then Theopompus, an Athenian, said: [12] “Phalinus, at this moment, as you see for yourself, we have no other possession save arms and valour. Now if we keep our arms, we imagine that we can make use of our valour also, but if we give them up, that we shall likewise be deprived of our lives. Do not suppose, therefore, that we shall give up to you the only possessions that we have; rather, with these we shall do battle against you for your possessions as well.” Xen. Anabasis. 2.1.11-12

[20] In reply to this Clearchus said: “Well, that is what you say; but as our answer carry back this word, that in our view if we are to be friends of the King, we should be more valuable friends if we keep our arms than if we give them up to someone else, and if we are to wage war with him, we should wage war better if we keep our arms than if we give them up to someone else.”  Xen. Anabasis. 2.1.20

A suitor like Hippomenes in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women must compete—to paraphrase Haubold—not only for a wife but also for his life. (Yiannis Petropoulos  is Kleos in a Minor Key: The Homeric Education of a Little Prince

“The Arkeisiads survive at the expense of at least two age-sets. “ Yiannis Petropoulos. In other words two generations of Ithacans  died to insure the throne of Odysseus and Telemachus 

“If the T scholia on Iliad 9.482 are correct in deriving the etymology of τηλύγετος ‘special or favorite [sc. child]’ from the word τέλος ‘end’, the prince is literally, as the above scholia note, ὁ τῆς γονῆς τέλος ἔχων, μεθ’ ὃν ἕτερος οὐ γίγνεται ‘he who finishes or completes the generation, after whom no other is born’ “ Yiannis Petropoulos

Sunday, January 28, 2018

TFBT: Chapter 3; Nostos

This chapter starts with a discussion of Odysseus and Telemachus, father and son, both returning to Ithaca and meeting a the hut of the swineherd Eumaeus.  When the son approaches the hounds “fawn on him, not a growl as he approaches.” In sharp contrast to the reception given Odysseus by this famous dog  Argus, by this younger pack he is almost “torn apart and eaten”. This being a ritualized death generally reserved for Theban princes (and the poet Euripides). 
As I mentioned before, the academic son does not seem to like his Father too much and begins telling us about the alternate father figures he picked in his teenage years.  He calls them mentors. Two different “music” teachers and a clearly gay couple who took them under their arm(s). In this way the classicist compares himself to Telemachus and Eumaios who had “been a father figure to Telemachus his whole life”.   When they meet; 

Eumaios sprang to his feet, and the bowls in which he was mixing wine fell from his hands, as he made towards his master. He kissed his head and both his beautiful eyes, and wept for joy. A father could not be more delighted at the return of an only son, the child of his old age, after ten years’ absence in a foreign country and after having gone through much hardship.  He embraced him, kissed him all over as though he had come back from the dead,” 16:12-21 

Odyssey reveals himself to Telemachus shortly thereafter creating quite a scene.  The son asks the father what he thinks of the scene and the father admires Odysseus ‘ self-restraint.  “It must have been hard for him to have to sit there watching while his own son acted like that other guy was his real father.” The implication being the father was hurt by the son’s fondness for these other men, but maybe it was something else.
Earlier the son shares that his father had some experience with homosexuality and we had just heard, “My parents cultivated this man as a friend , I suspect to make a show of how much they trusted him, since back then it was not necessarily the case that parents would let their adolescent children spend unsupervised days with music teachers who were known to have roommates.”
In my opinion the self restraint the father shows is not watching his son treat other men like a father but rather worrying that some of his son’s “mentors” might have kissed his head, both his beautiful eyes, embraced him and kissed him all over .  (The things parents have to do for their children!)

The restraint of Odysseus in the recognition scenes is much discussed in this chapter, particularly by the students, whose heart is made of “horn or iron” and his favor inhuman. Thanks inhuman is a good word, it reminds us of the gods, who are not humans and Artemis’ statement in Hippolytus that gods don’t cry.  The notion in the classroom is that Odysseus learned to hold back, he is no less longer the impulsive youth that charged head of his older uncles and got gored in the “thigh”.  I wonder if Monro’s Law does not color Odysseus' passionlessness in the reunion scenes. Monro pointed out that the composer of the Odyssey, knew well the Iliad.  Is this stoicism on Odysseus’ part to contrast him with Achilles famously impulsive behavior and epic passions

Saturday, January 27, 2018

TFBT: The Apologies

I am reading and enjoying, “An Odyssey, A Father, A Son, and an Epic” by Daniel Mendelsohn. Chapter II is “Apologoi” not apologies.  Oops.  The author translates the word from the Greek as Narratives; Books 9-12 of the Odyssey. “A title that underscores Odysseus ‘wondrous way with words, his sly expertise as a raconteur and fabulist”. That’s a nice euphemism!

The boys find themselves adrift on the sea with a boat full of enthusiasts following Odysseus’ travels across the Mediterranean.  The son suddenly realizes that the other guests like his students had come to know his father as this song-singing old gentleman; affable and entertaining.

Mendelsohn continues retelling tales from the Odyssey. He does a remarkable job of explaining the whole incident in Polyphemus’ cave with outis, metis and “My name is Nobody.” (Hey!  I just got that!  Movie of the same name: 1973, Terence Hill and Henry Fonda. One of my favorites as a kid.  Only took 45 years for me to make the connection. )

When debating rather to take the strenuous hike to Circe’s supposed claustrophobic cave, the father says they have to go.  Because it is seven tenths of the story.  (Seven of the ten years homeward were spent here.)  Love that logic.  That’s why I bought the book.  When the younger man admits his extreme claustrophobia his father says “It will be okay, I will hold our hand all the way.”  That night over drinks the cruise’s social director says to the younger man, “So you survived?” referring to the claustrophobia he mentioned to her.  Before he could say anything his father says his son held his hand all the way because at his age he was worried about falling.

The author points out that the “Nekyia”, the journey to Hades, happens halfway through the Odyssey.  “In order to move into the future, we must first reconcile ourselves with our past. “ He compares the rites there to “the best horror movies”, something I might have noticed once in my youth.  Father and son visit the place where Odysseus and company sailed into the underworld at the Phlegraean Fields.  This is the place where the gods, goddesses and demi-gods slaughtered the giants.

Discussing the fall of Icarus;

“Yes, I said, smiling, It’s about hubris, about the foolishness of challenging the gods.”

He gave me an amused look.  “I think it is about the foolishness of challenging your father!”

The father and son have a conversation about homosexuality.  Apparently the son is openly gay and is surprised to find his father “has some experience in this area”; when the father was in high school a gay boy had been fond of him.  No telling yet what this has to do with the Odyssey.

His students note “dark parallels” between the adventures Odysseus relates to the Phaeacians and the early adventures as related by Homer. As if “the stuff he’s telling the Phaeacians is totally made up.”  I personally have been a big supporter of this notion his Kevin McGrath pointed out in a lecture that something like 80% of Odyssey is told by Odysseus.  I like this argument because it explains away Achilles comments in Hades.  Plus Odysseus lies constantly and consistently throughout his adventures; it seems improbable plot-wise and impossible based on his characterization throughout classical literature that he could tell the truth and nothing but the truth for that long a recitation. My hero, Jenny Strauss Clay is also a character in the book, she points out Homer’s comment at 8.447, something about a knot Odysseus learned from Circe.  That seems to kill the students argument that Odysseus made up his adventures with Circe.  All it proves to me is that she taught him a knot. Everything else is still up in the air.

Towards the end of this chapter father and son discussed death. As if Odysseus return is a kind of death, the end of the adventurer Odysseus who is now the old king of a petty realm. The father does not fear death so much but the diminishing that so often precedes it for the elderly: ill-health and dementia.  (Things the reader knows will happen to the father.) I read this discussion this morning, but yesterday, my dance partner and I were the entertainment at long term at the hospital.  A nurse helped a ninety-one year old woman up out of here wheelchair so she could “dance” with me.  Another elderly woman agreed to country swing with one of the nurses and ended up leading! There were people there who had no idea who we were, what we were doing or saying.  But in response they smiled in pleasure at us.  Pleasure and smiles are worth living for.