Monday, April 18, 2016


Sentenia Antiquae did a great article on the Trojan princess Polyxena.
I can only add that supposedly, Polyxena was Achilles' bride in the other world. (See Philostratus, Her. xx.18; Philostratus, Vit. Apollon.iv.16.). Of course Medeia (Schol. ad Eurip. Med. 10, ad Apollon. Rhod. iv. 814.), Iphigenia (Anton. Lib. 27.) and Helen (Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 4) all claim the title of Mrs. Achilles in the Afterworld too.

Friday, April 8, 2016

TFBT: Enlightened Thinkers' Irreligion

In the introduction of  Loeb Classical Library’s version of “Aeschylus” Herbert Weir Smyth makes the following comment:

 “Aeschylus was the first of the many “enlightened” thinkers who were brough to court for their irreligion; Diagoras (of Melos), Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Socrates, Stilpo(n), Aristotle, and Theodorus (the Atheist); Andocides was tried for violation of the Mysteries.  Euripides had to rewrite the beginning of his Wise Melanippe”

The comment struck my curiosity and I researched the names he listed via A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, ed.   Most the charges are trumped up as you will see in the excerpts below.  It is amazing how many of these men accused of impiety received heroic honors upon their death.

“In the accusation of Socrates it was Meletus who laid the indictment before the Archon Basileus… Soon after the death of Socrates, the Athenians repented of their injustice, and Meletus was stoned to death as one of the authors of their folly.”  A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology  William Smith, ed.

Aeschylus was accused of impiety before the court of the Areiopagus, and that he would have been condemned but for the interposition of his brother Ameinias, who had distinguished himself at the battle of Salamis. According to some authors this accusation was preferred against him, for having in some of his plays either divulged or profanely spoken of the mysteries of Ceres. According to others, the charge originated from his having introduced on the stage the dread goddesses, the Eumenides, which he had done in such a way as not only to do violence to popular prejudice, but also to excite the greatest alarm among the spectators. Now, the Eumenides contains nothing which can be considered as a publication of the mysteries of Ceres, and therefore we are inclined to think that his political enemies availed themselves of the unpopularity he had incurred by his Chorus of Furies, to get up against him a charge of impiety, which they supported not only by what was objectionable in the Eumenides, but also in other plays not now extant” William Smith

(The Athenians) uneasy at being disturbed in their hereditary superstitions, soon found reasons for complaint. Anaxagoras, therefore, was accused of impiety. …it was only owing to the influence and eloquence of Pericles that he was not put to death… The philosopher now went to Lampsacus, and it seems to have been during his absence that the second charge of μηδισμὸς was brought against him, in consequence of which he was condemned to death. He is said to have received the intelligence of his sentence with a smile, and to have died at Lampsacus at the age of seventy-two. The inhabitants of this place honoured Anaxagoras not only during his lifetime, but after his death also.”  William Smith

“The impeachment of Protagoras had been founded on his book on the gods, which began with the statement: "Respecting the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist." The impeachment was followed by his banishment.”  William Smith

“Whether he (Stilpo) was in earnest in his antagonism to the popular polytheistic faith, and whether and how the Areiopagus in Athens stepped in, cannot be gathered”  William Smith

“whether justly or not, with considerable suspicion, and he (Euripides) had already been assailed with a charge of impiety in a court of justice, on the ground of the well-known line in the Hippolytus (607), supposed to be expressive of mental reservation. (Arist. Rhet. 3.15.8.) He did not live long to enjoy the honours and pleasures of the Macedonian court, as his death took place in B. C. 406. Most testimonies agree in stating that he was torn in pieces by the king's dogs,”  William Smith

“A man named Pythonicus charged Alcibiades with having divulged and profaned the Elensinian mysteries; and another man, Audrocles, endeavoiured to connect this and sismilair offeinces with the mutilation of the Hermae…At Athens sentence of death was passed upon him, his property confiscated, and a curse pronounced upon him by the ministers of religion…a monument erected to his memory at Melissa, the place of his leath, and a statue of him erected thereon by the emperor Hadrian, who also instituted certain yearly sacrifices in his honour.”  William Smith

“Diagoras (of Melos) … was involved, by the democratical party in a lawsuit about impiety (διαβολῆς τνχὼν ἐπ̓ ἀσεβείᾳ), and he thought it advisable to escape its result by flight. Religion seems to have been only the pretext for that accusation, for the mere fact of his being a Melian made him an object of suspicion…There is no doubt that Diagoras paid no regard to the established religion of the people, and he may occasionally have ridiculed it; but he also ventured on direct attacks upon public institutions of the Athenian worship, such as the Eleusinian mysteries, which he endeavoured to lower in public estimation, and he is said to have prevented many persons from becoming initiated in them.”  William Smith

Callias had but little hope in this case, he brought against him (Andocides) the charge of having profaned the mysteries and violated the laws respecting the temple at Eleusis. (De Myst. § 110, &c.) The orator pleaded his case in the oration still extant, On the Mysteries (περὶ τῶν μυστηρίων), and was acquitted.  William Smith

“The movements which commenced in Grecce against Macedonia after Alexander's death, B. C. 323, endangered also the peace and security of Aristotle…. To bring a political accusation against him was not easy…. He was accordingly accused of impiety (ἀσεβείας) … The charge was grounded on his having addressed a hymn to his friend Hermias as to a god, and paid him divine honours .. Aristotle, however, knew his danger sufficiently well to withdraw from Athens…  we have the account, that his mortal remains were transported to his native city Stageira, and that his memory was honoured there, like that of a hero, by yearly festivals of remembrance.” William Smith

Thursday, April 7, 2016

TFBT: Spock, Achilles and Aesop

Captain Kirk provoking Dr. Spock into a fight calls him “a simpering, devil-eared freak, whose father was a computer and his mother an encyclopedia?"[i]  Whether you are a trekkie or no, it is quite the insult.  Hence the first time I heard “gray sea bore you and the sheer cliffs begot you,” in reference to Achilles (Iliad 16:30-34) that too struck quite the chord.  Here is the story of the latter insult; the goddess Leto heavy with the twins Apollo and Artemis having escaped the pursuing Python turned her feet towards Thessaly in search of a place to birth her children.  In horror of being the chosen site and attaining Hera’s eternal wrath, the river-god Anaurus fled as did the great nymph of Larisa and the cliffs of Chiron, too, abandoning to destiny the River Peneus, flowing calmly through the Vale of the Tempe below.[ii] The cliffs of Chiron are on Mt. Pelion in Thessaly, home of the Centaur Chiron.  Here Peleus, father of Achilles, and Achilles himself were raised when not a home in their Kingdom of Phthia.  In describing the rich plains of his homeland Prince Achilles mentions “both mountain and sounding sea." (Iliad 1.155) The background above helps explain the follow reference; “Now, however, he (Hector) kept trying to break the ranks of the enemy wherever he could see them thickest, and in the goodliest armor; but do what he might he could not break through them, for they stood as a tower foursquare, or as some high cliff rising from the gray sea that braves the anger of the gale.”  (Iliad 15: 615-619)  Achilles will someday soon be that cliff. And I end with the quote that got my research started; “May it never be my lot to nurse such a passion as you have done, to the damage of your own good name. Who in future story will speak well of you unless you now save the Argives from ruin? You know no pity; charioteer Peleus was not your father nor Thetis your mother, but the gray sea bore you and the sheer cliffs begot you,” (Iliad 16:30-34)


I have thought more on Aesop’s’  Venus and the Cat; A Cat fell in love with a handsome young man, and entreated Venus to change her into the form of a woman.  Venus consented to her request and transformed her into a beautiful damsel, so that the youth saw her and loved her, and took her home as his bride.  While the two were reclining in their chamber, Venus wishing to discover if the Cat in her change of shape had also altered her habits of life, let down a mouse in the middle of the room.  The Cat, quite forgetting her present condition, started up from the couch and pursued the mouse, wishing to eat it.  Venus was much disappointed and again caused her to return to her former shape.” [iii] Aphrodite in disgust turns the girl back into a cat.  In Greek mythology such things can be rarely undone. I thought specifically of Clay’s analysis of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo  the first epiphany of the new god on the threshold of Olympus and his eternally repeated entrance into this father’s house…as he did the first time and as he will forever.[iv]  Or as I like to say, “Once and for Always”.   Okay Tiresias got changed back into his original form, but that was more of a happy accident than divine intent. He saw two snakes coupling and struck them with his staff and as a consequence was turned into a maiden.  A year later “she” saw another pair of snakes doing the nasty, struck them again and his manhood returned.  When retelling this story he angered Hera, she blinded him.  “immortal deities may never turn decrees and deeds of other Gods to naught, but Jove, to recompense his loss of sight, endowed him with the gift of prophecy.”  (Ovid Metamorphoses 3.4)  However at Odyssey 10.388, Circe returned Odysseus’ men to their original shape.  So it is possible.


I have thought more on Aesop’s’ “Mercury and the Man Bitten by an Ant; A Man once saw a ship go down with all its crew, and commented severely on the injustice of the gods.”They care nothing for a man's character," said he, "but let the good and the bad go to their deaths together." There was an ant-heap close by where he was standing, and, just as he spoke, he was bitten in the foot by an Ant. Turning in a temper to the ant-heap he stamped upon it and crushed hundreds of unoffending ants. Suddenly Mercury appeared, and belaboured him with his staff, saying as he did so, "You villain, where's your nice sense of justice now?" This fable suggests that as men are to a hill of ants, so gods are to men.  Here Hermes betrays a sensitivity not at all in keeping with his character or the nature of the gods. Although several gods get emotional about the loss of mortal sons during the Trojan War for example Sarpedon, Achilles, Aeneas.  But, I don’t recall any objecting to the destruction of the city in general, the death of thousands or the Cyprian plot against humanity.  


[ii] Callimachus 4 Hymn to Delos; 104)    
[iii] Quote thanks to;
[iv] Jenny Strauss-Clay (The Politics of Olympus, 1989)