These are quotations for the year 2018. For other years, go back to the first quotation page for the Index to Quotations.

Minerva Systems home page
Chapter 1 of The Loom of Minerva: An Introduction to Computer Projects for the Literary Scholar, "A Guide to the Labyrinth"
"The Eureka Machine for Composing Hexameter Latin Verses" (1845)
"Verbal Patterns in Hesiod's Theogony"
Selected Excerpts from Chapters of Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns
"Thought Clusters in Early Greek Oral Poetry"
"Holy Places", a study of myths of landmarks
"Epilogue to 'Holy Places': the World Trade Center as a Mythic Place"
Writings on Building and Architecture
"Ancient Myths in Modern Movies"
Archived "Quotations of the Month"
Write e-mail to Cora Angier Sowa
Apollo playing the lyre

Illustration: Apollo, patron god of music, plays the lyre, the instrument with which the bard accompanied himself as he sang of mythical stories or the news of the day.

Archived quotations of the month

Beginning with September, 2004, my home page will feature a different quotation from Classical or other literature each month, appropriate to the season or to current events. Starting in October, 2004, these pages will contain "Quotations of the Month" from previous months. Translations are my own, except where otherwise noted.

Below is the index to the quotations for 2018, followed by the quotations themselves.

Index to quotations for 2018

Below are quotations for the year 2018. For other years, go back to the first quotation page for the Index to Quotations or click on one of the years below:

Quotations of the Month for the year 2018

Click on a link to read each quotation


Quotation for July, 2018





A Horrifying Parallel with the Present Immigrant Crisis: Captive Andromache Laments the Killing of her Son, Astyanax (Euripides Trojan Women).

Astyanax with Hector and Andromache

Astyanax, sitting on the lap of his mother, Andromache, touches the helmet of his father Hector. Apulian red-figure column crater, ca. 370-360 B.C. Image from Wikipedia, photo by Jastrow, from the Iliade exhibition at the Colosseum, September 2006–February 2007. Top: Hecuba, Queen of Troy, from the Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, 1553, published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589).

America betrays its own ideals

America is a proud country of high ideals and democratic traditions, but many times actions have been taken that betray those ideals with a horrifying meanness and cruelty. We are witnessing one of those actions today, in the treatment of immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America, where children have been ripped from their parents' arms and detained without hope, in some cases, of ever being reunited. Children are shipped to distant locations, as far away as New York, while the parents are held in holding pens on the Mexican border, not knowing where their childen are. In some cases, it is difficult to determine which children should be matched with which adults, as no system of identification was in place. A simple method of putting identification bracelets on the children, like the ones used in hospitals, could have helped, but nothing was done. Some mothers have already been deported; their children may never see them again.

Euripides' Trojan Women

Our Quotation of the Month describes an ancient situation where a child is torn shamefully from the hands of a defeated mother. In this case, the child is to be killed. It comes from Euripides' Trojan Women, a play about the suffering of the women and children of Troy, following the glorious defeat of Troy by the Greeks, which was described in the Iliad. (Another "take" on the fate of the Trojans would later form the premise of Vergil's Aeneid.) The play was produced in 415 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War, when Athens, another state with high ideals, had committed its own atrocities against the citizens of Melos. The play is thought to be a comentary on that episode.

The fate of the Trojan survivors was not glorious. The men have been killed, and the women are to be given to the Greek soldiers as sex slaves. The Greeks decide that Astyanax (the name means "Lord of the City"), young son of the Trojan hero Hector, who was killed by Achilles, shall not be allowed to live, because he might grow up to avenge his father. In our quotation, Hector's widow, Andromache, has just learned that Astyanax is to be hurled off the ramparts of Troy to his death. As she hugs the weeping child for the last time, he is led away.

Andromache ends her lament with curses against Helen, who caused the Trojan War in the first place. She refers to Helen as "daughter of Tyndareus," the king to whom her mother Leda was married, although her real father was Zeus. It was her leaving the Greek king Menelaus for the Trojan prince Paris that caused the conflict. In later passages of the play, Menelaus himself wants to kill Helen, but he relents, and we see in the Odyssey that Menelaus and Helen are back together, peacefully ruling over the prosperous kingdom of Sparta.

Andromache goes into exile

Andromache at least wants to give Astyanax a suitable funeral, burying him on his father's shield. But like the deported immigrant women of today, who will never see their chidren again, Andromache, too, will have left already, to be a concubine to Achilles' son Neoptolemus. The ship has sailed. It falls to Hecuba, widow of King Priam, to bury her grandchild.

Below, in Greek and English, are the lines from Euripides in which Andromache bids farewell to Astyanax.

Euripides, Trojan Women vv. 740-779

Euripides Trojan Women 840-779

Andromache laments as Astyanax is torn from her

O dearest one, o child exceedingly prized,
you die at the hands of enemies, leaving your wretched mother.
It is your father's nobility that kills you,
born to be salvation for others;
but your father's bravery comes too late for you.

O ill-starred marriage-bed and nuptials,
with which I once came to Hector's house,
not to give birth to a sacrificial victim for the Greeks,
but to one destined to be a king of fertile Asia.
O child, you are crying! Do you perceive your misfortune?
Why do you seize me with your hands and cling to my skirts,
like a baby bird hiding beneath my wings?
Hector will not come, seizing his famous spear,
rising from the ground to bring you salvation,
nor will your father's kindred, nor the Phrygians' strength.
With a grievous leap from above you will fall without pity
upon your neck and burst your windpipe.
O young burden of my arms, dearest to your mother,
O sweet odor of your skin! In vain, then,
did this breast nourish you in your swaddling clothes,
and vainly I toiled and wore myself out with cares.
Now — and never again — embrace your mother,
fall down before her who bore you, wind your arms around
my back and join your lips to mine.

O Greeks, who invent barbarous evils,
why do you kill this child, who is guilty of nothng?
O offspring of Tyndareus, you are not sprung from Zeus,
but I declare that you were born of many fathers,
first from the Avenging Spirit, then from Envy,
Murder, and Death, and as many evils as earth nourishes.
I never say that you were born of Zeus,
a death-spirit to both barbarians and Greeks.
Go to perdition! With your beautiful eyes
you have shamefully destroyed the famous plains of Phrygia.

Lead him away, carry him away, throw him over, if throwing seems good,
feast on his flesh. It is by the gods
that we are destroyed, and we cannot
ward off death from my son. Hide my miserable frame
and cast me into the ship. For I am going to a beautiful
wedding, having lost my child.

Astyanax and Andromache

This is what's left of Troy today. The remaining walls of Troy VII, Hisarlik, Turkey, the level of ruins considered to be the city of the Trojan War. Image from Wikipedia, by CherryX per Wikimedia Commons, uploaded September 27, 2012.

Quotation for June, 2018





For the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown, the Birth of Pegasus (Hesiod, Theogony 270-294)

Pegasus Mobilgas

Pegasus, the flying horse, symbol of strength and speed, flies proudly today on a gas station sign (collection of C.A. Sowa).

Champion "Justify" wins the Triple Crown

Galloping to victory at New York's Belmont Stakes, undefeated Justify led wire to wire, always in the lead, finishing first by a length and three quarters. He thus achieved horse racing's Triple Crown, having won this season's Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont. Trained by Bob Baffert, Justify was the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown, giving Baffert his second Triple Crown winner. Another Baffert-trained horse, American Pharoah, won all three races in 2015.

Mike Smith, Justify's jockey, also set a record by being the oldest jockey, at 52, to ride a Triple Corwn winner.

Pegasus born from the severed head of Medusa

This month, in honor of Justify, and the sport of horse racing, we bring you Hesiod's telling, in the Theogony, of the birth of Pegasus, legendary flying horse, from the blood of the Gorgon Medusa.

Hesiod tells the story in its simplest form, as part of a long catalog of characters, with their genealogies and a few details of their eventful lives. These appear to be well-known tales, and it seems that Hesiod expects his audience to be familiar with them. We are dependent on later sources, such as Pindar and Aeschylus, Apollodorus and Hyginus, or the Roman poetry of Ovid, for full tellings of the stories, of which there are multiple versions. We cannot know for certain which versions Hesiod knew, although there are hints in artistic representations from archaic and later periods.

The Gorgons and the Graiae

Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters, who were also sisters of the Graiae, ("Old Women"), who were born with gray hair. Hesiod names only two Graiae, but other versions name three, and tell us that they shared one eye and one tooth between them. The Gorgons, too, in archaic art, were always hideous, scary monsters, with snakes for hair or around their waists (see the picture at the top of this article). In Ovid's Metamorphoses and in later art, Medusa was once beautiful, punished by Athena who turned her hair to snakes. Original hair or no, she was so scary that to see her face turned men to stone. In the standard story, Perseus, sent by King Polydectes on a suicide mission to bring back the head of Medusa, stole the eye and tooth from the Graiae to make them tell him where the Gorgon sisters were, then looking at Medusa in the mirror-like surface of Athena's shield to avoid being turned to stone, he decapitated her. Other variants provide Perseus with a cap of invisibility and winged shoes.

From the blood of Medusa, there sprang up the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor. Hesiod derives the name Pegasus from the springs (pegae) of Ocean, but Pegasus was also famous for creating springs wherever his hoofs struck the ground. Mounting to Olympus, he also brings thunder and lightning to Zeus when he needs them. His brother Chrysaor, on the other hand, became the father of the monster Geryon, whose cattle Heracles stole as one of his Labors. To the student of mythology, the birth of Pegasus from the head of Medusa seems analogous to the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus after he swallowed her mother Metis ("Forethought"), as well as the birth of Aphrodite from the severed genitals of Uranus ("Heaven") after Cronus cut him apart from Earth.

Bellerophon and Pegasus

Pegasus also became part of the myth of Bellerophon. Sent to kill the Chimera, Bellerophon is usually depicted as capturing Pegasus as the horse is drinking from the spring at Pirene, in Corinth. (Hesiod follows another version in his Catalogs of Women, saying that his father gave the horse to Bellerophon.) The Chimera, in most representations, had the body of a goat, the head of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. (The word chimaira means "she-goat.")

Pegasus in modern times

The winged horse remains a powerful symbol, a beloved figure of strength and speed. The flying horse, red in color, was first used as a company logo by Vacuum Oil in South Africa in 1911. Previously, Vacuum Oil had used a red gargoyle as a symbol for its petroleum-based lubricating oils. The high-flying horse remained through many corporate mergers, until the company became Mobil Oil, and now today's Exxon Mobil. A giant rotating neon-lighted red horse on the company's former headquarters in Dallas has now been restored.

So the next time you pass a Mobil gas station, or pause to refuel your own swift steed, look around, and you will see Pegasus, the immortal flying horse.

Below, in Greek and English, are the lines from Hesiod in which he traces the genealogy of Pegasus and his brother of the golden sword, Chrysaor.

Hesiod, Theogony vv. 270-294

Hesiod Theogony 270-294

Pegasus and Chrysaor born from Medusa's severed head

Ceto bore to Phorcys the Graiae of the beautiful cheeks,
gray-haired from birth, whom the immortal gods
and men who walk on earth call "Graiae,"
Pemphredo the well-robed and Enyo of the saffron robe.
And she bore the Gorgons, who live beyond glorious Ocean
on the borderlands toward Night, where are the clear-voiced Hesperides,
Sthenno and Euryale and Medusa, who suffered a mournful fate,
for she was mortal, the other two immortal and ageless.

With Medusa the Dark-haired One lay in love,
in a soft meadow among spring flowers.
After Perseus cut off her head,
there leaped forth great Chyrsaor and the horse Pegasus,
the latter so named because he was born by Ocean's springs,
the former because he held in his hands a golden sword.
The one flew away, leaving the earth, mother of sheep and goats,
and came to the immortal gods. He lives in the house of Zeus,
bringing to wise Zeus the thunder and lightning.

But Chrysaor begot three-headed Geryon,
joined in love with Calirhoe, daughter of glorious Ocean.
Geryon was slain by mighty Heracles
beside his oxen of the rolling gait, in sea-girt Erytheia
on that day when Heracles drove the broad-browed oxen
to holy Tiryns, crossing the strait of Ocean,
killing Orthus and the herdsman Eurytion
in the misty farmyard beyond glorious Ocean.

Bellerophon and Pegasus

Bellerophon and Pegasus, who drinks from the spring. (Image from Roscher, Ausfürliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie, 1884.)

Quotation for May, 2018


Ivy wreath


Where did the Month of May Get Its Name? (Just ask the Muses): Ovid's Fasti Book 5

Muse statue

A Muse in Grant Park, Chicago. Officially known as the Spirit of Music, she is part of a memorial to Theodore Thomas, founder of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, sculpted by Albin Polasek (1923). (Photo by C.A. Sowa, November 20, 2017.)

Why is the month of May called that?

Where did the name of the month of May come from? The answer seems like a no-brainer. Obviously, May was named for Maia, one of the Pleiades, mother of Hermes (Mercury) by Zeus (Jupiter). The Romans identified Maia with Terra (Earth) or with the Bona Dea (the Good Goddess). And the name of the month of June obviously is derived from the name of the goddess Juno. Or is any of this true?

Ovid, in Book 5 of his Fasti, or Festival Calendar, is just as curious as we are. So he did the logical thing, and consulted the Muses. Ever whimsical and inventive, Ovid considered that as a bard, he could be on familiar terms with any god he wanted to talk to. In January, for example, he encounters the double-faced god Janus, with whom, once he gets over his initial fright at the god's strange appearance, he has a long conversation. So these Muses are not the mystical beings encountered by Hesiod in his Theogony, but straightforward and familiar partners in conversation.

The Muses disagree

But the goddesses disagree! Polyhymnia begins, and the others "remain silent, but take mental notes." Polyhymnia provides a history of the universe, which begins with Chaos, as in Hesiod, but then diverges wildly. Ovid's Chaos is as much metaphorical as literal. After the Earth sank of its own weight, taking the waters with it, and Heaven rose of its own lightness, none of the other heavenly bodies and various divinities knew what place to occupy, and even "plebeian" gods were sitting on the heavenly throne. Finally, Honor and Reverence gave birth to Majesty (Maiestas), who sorted things out, and now sits beside Jupiter. From her name comes the name of "May."

The Muses Clio and Thalia agree with Polyhymnia, but Urania offers another explanation. She contends that in olden days age was held in reverence, and so the name of "May" honors the elders (maiores) and the name of June honors youth (juniores). Then Calliope chimes in, claiming that "May" indeed honors Maia, mother of Mercury, connecting that god with the story of Evander of Arcadia, who legend says founded a city on the future site of Rome, bringing his native gods with him.

Ovid wisely decides that he wants the favor of all the Muses, and he will not choose between them.

And what about June?

In Book 6 of the Fasti, Ovid is puzzled again. Apparently the question of the name of "June" is still not settled. Three more goddeses appear to the poet. The goddess Juno, queen of the gods, appears first, scaring the poet at first. She is angry. She is both sister and wife of Jupiter, and she knows not which makes her more proud. If, she says, May can be named for Maia, a mere paelex (mistress), surely she herself, as wife, can have a month named after her. But then Hebe, wife of Hercules and goddess of youth (called Iuventas in Latin), claims the month for herself. Finally, the goddess Concord appears, and suggests that the name of June comes from legendary Roman history, and is named for the junction of two kingdoms ruled by Tatius and Quirinus. The implication is that peace can be achieved.

Once again, Ovid refuses to render judgment, remembering that in the Judgment of Paris, a decision in a beauty contest between three goddesses led to the Trojan War.

Below, in Latin and English, are the opening lines of the fifth book of Ovid's Fasti. Aganippe and Hippocrene ("the Horse's Spring") are two springs on Mount Helicon, associated with the Muses. Here, the two are identified as one. Hippocrene is supposed to have risen from a blow by the hoof of the winged horse Pegasus, ridden by Bellerophon in his defeat of the Chimera. One story has it that Pegasus sprang from the blood of the monster Medusa when she was beheaded by Perseus.

Ovid, Fasti Book 5 vv. 1-10

Quaeritis, unde putem Maio data nomina mensi?
Non satis est liquido cognita causa mihi.
Ut stat et incertus qua sit sibi nescit eundum,
cum videt ex omni parte viator iter:
sic, quia posse datur diversas reddere causas,
qua ferar, ignoro, copiaque ipsa nocet.
Dicite, quae fontes Aganippidos Hippocrenes
grata Medusaei signa tenetis equi.
Dissensere deae. Quarum Polyhymnia coepit
prima; silent aliae dictaque mente notant. . .

Just ask the Muses — but they disagree!

You ask, whence I think the name was given to the month of May?
The reason is not clearly known to me.
Just as the traveler stands, uncertain which way he should go,
when he sees roads in all directions,
so, because it is possible to assign different causes,
I do not know whither I should turn, and the very abundance is an impediment.
Tell me, you who inhabit the springs of Aganippean Hippocrene,
welcome footprints of Medusa's horse.

The goddesses disagreed! Of them, Polyhymnia began first;
the others were silent but took mental notes . . .

Muse Erato

The Muse Erato. (Image from Roscher, Ausfürliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie, 1884.)

Quotation for April, 2018




For Earth Day, the Prolog to Vergil's Georgics


Orpheus in a bucolic landscape, by the German artist Hans Thoma (1839-1924), whose painting of the goddess Flora appeared in the March 2018 web page. Thoma painted scenes of rural life, in his native Bavaria and in Italy, as well as allegorical and mythological subjects. This is another mythic scene, painted in 1898.

Illustration from Thoma, des Meisters Gemälde in 874 Abbildungen, 1909.)

The Earth's bounty

In April we celebrate Earth Day, when we reconnect with Mother Earth and renew our commitment to protect and preserve this wonderful planet. As spring and summer begin, we renew our appreciation of Earth's gifts to us — the soil, rocks, and sand, the trees and flowers, the rivers, mountains, deserts, and glaciers, the clouds, rain, wind, and snow. We relearn, if we have forgotten, our relationship to animals, insects, and fish — all the creatures that creep, that crawl, that fly and run and swim, that purr and bark and chirp and caw.

The ancient Greeks and Romans, like all who grow up in rural environments, lived close to nature. Their depictions of trees and animals, their moods, emotions, and behavior, were not just abstract or poetical, they were part of the life they lived. Their divinities were close to Nature, too. The god Pan, half-goat, is understandable when we realize that his favored country of Arcadia is a rocky hardscrabble land where the only cattle that can be raised are goats and sheep.

Vergil's Georgics: sympathy with Nature

Our Quotation of the Month consists of the opening verses of Vergil's Georgics (ca. 29 B.C.), a hexameter poem on agriculture in four books. In Book I, he treats the raising of crops, in Book II the cultivation of grape vines, in Book III the rearing of cattle, and in Book IV the care of bees. Practical information is adorned with mythic tales, including the story of Orpheus and Euridice in Book Four. His models and influences were many. An obvious Greek antecedent is Hesiod's Works and Days, the Boeotian Old Farmer's Almanac. He also drew on Aratus' Phaenomena, on celestial phenomena and the weather. Among Roman sources he could use Varro's Rerum rusticarum libri III (Three Books on Agriculture). Vergil, however, puts his own stamp on his subject, especially in his empathetic portrayals of his animal subjects. We see this in the grief of the ox, whose brother and yoke-mate drops dead of the plague beside him (Book 3.515-530). We see it, too, in the family of bees, in whose perfectly regulated society each individual has its assigned task, and who buzz contentedly as they go off to sleep at night (Book 4.176-190).

Happy crops, wedded vines, and thrifty bees

In the Prolog to Book I of the Georgics, addressed to his patron Maecenas, Vergil outlines the subjects of his poem: crops and tillage, viticulture, cattle breeding, and beekeeping. The phrase "wedding vines to elms" refers to the ancient practice of training the grape vines on rows of live trees rather than artificial stakes.

Vergil invokes the rural gods and goddesses, alluding to names both well-known and obscure. He invokes Liber, an old Italian deity of planting, later identified with the Greek Bacchus, and Ceres, goddess of the grain. Faunus ("the favorable god," from faveo) was another old country god, whose voice was heard in the whisper of the winds, later identified with the Greek Pan. the Fauni, like Pan, were portrayed as half goat. Dryads are tree nymphs (from Greek drys "tree," especially "oak"). The "caretaker of the groves" is the hero Aristaeus, who taught mankind farming methods, especially beekeeping.

The Scorpion draws in his claws, yes really!

Finally, in rather cringe-worthy flattery of Augustus Caesar, Vergil invokes the emperor as a future god, asking his divine aid in the welfare of crops and productivity. The phrase "your mother's myrtle" refers to Venus, through Aeneas the mythic ancestress of the Julian gens, into which Augustus had been adopted. The myrtle was sacred to Venus.

Vergil wonders which branch of the divine Augustus will choose, and speculates that he will become a constellation among the stars, where Scorpio draws in his claws to make room for the new occupant. He will be next to Virgo (here called Erigone in reference is to a complicated story in which Erigone, a virgin, commits suicide over the unjust death of her father Icarius). The astronomical speculation, as it happens, is not as silly as it sounds. The constellation now called Libra ("the Scales") was once considered an extension of Scorpio, known as "the Scorpion's Claws," so that the Scorpion took, in Vergil's words, "more than a just proportion of the sky." Vergil deftly associates the new designation of Libra as the "Scales of Justice" with Augustus' fair and just government.

Below, in Latin and English, are the opening lines of Vergil's First Georgic.

Vergil Georgic I 1-42

Georgic I 1-42

Keeping the crops and the beasts happy

What makes crops joyous, beneath what star it is appropriate
to turn the earth, Maecenas, and to wed the vines to elms,
what care the cattle need, what the procedures are for keeping flocks,
how much knowledge the thrifty bees require,
hence I begin my song. You, o brightest lights of the world,
who lead the gliding year through the heaven,
and Liber and nourishing Ceres, if through your gift the earth
exchanged the Chaonian acorn for the plump ear of grain,
and mixed cups of the waters of Achelous with the newly found grapes,
and you, Fauns, ever-present divinities of the country people
(lift your feet in unison, Fauns and Dryad girls!)
I sing of your gifts. And you, o Neptune, for whom first the earth
let flow forth the neighing horse when struck by your great trident;
and the caretaker of the groves, for whom
three hundred snowy steers crop the rich thickets of Cea;
and you yourself, Pan, guardian of sheep, leaving your native woods
and the ravines of Mount Lycaeus, as you care about your own Maenalus,
be present and favor us, o Tegean, and you, Minerva,
discoverer of the olive, and the youth who showed us the crooked plow
and Silvanus, carrying a young cypress transplant by the roots
and all the gods and goddesses, whose zeal it is to guard the fields,
those who nourish new fruits sprung from no seed,
and those who send widespread rain upon sown crops.

And you, especially, Caesar, of whom it is uncertain
which councils of the gods will soon have you, whether you prefer
to oversee cities and the care of our lands, and that the great globe
accept you as powerful author of our crops and seasons,
wreathing your brows with your mother's myrtle;
or that you come as god of the immense sea, and sailors
worship your deity alone, while farthest Thule is subserviant to you,
and Tethys buy you for a son-in-law with a dowry of all her waves;
or whether you add a new constellation to the tardy months,
where a place opens between Erigone [Virgo] and the Claws
(blazing Scorpio already draws in his arms
and leaves more than a just portion of the sky).
Whatever you shall be (for neither does Tartarus hope for you as king
nor may such an ominous desire to reign occur to you,
although Greece admires the Elysian fields,
nor does restored Proserpina care to follow her mother),
grant me an easy voyage and nod assent to my bold beginnings,
have compassion with me upon country people who do not know their way,
advance and become accustomed to be called upon by our prayers. . . .


Haystacks, from Souvenir of Dakota, the Artesian Wells, by Mrs. A.J. Dickinson, Chamberlain, South Dakota, illustrated by Nelle B. Lockwood, Chamberlain, South Dakota, 1898.

Quotation for March, 2018




For the Beginning of Spring, a Poem From the Appendix Ausoniana


"Flora" by the German artist Hans Thoma (1839-1924). Thoma painted many pictures of idealized rural life, both in his native Bavaria and in Italy. He also painted many mythological and allegorical subjects, as well as realistic portraits of family and friends and several self-protraits — the original "selfies." (Incidentally, Thoma was a relative of mine, an uncle of my grandmother, Virginia Schmid Cooper, an artist working in California. Illustration from Thoma, des Meisters Gemälde in 874 Abbildungen, 1909.)

The spring equinox

Spring is here, as we celebrate Easter, Passover, and the spring equinox, partaking of festivals both religious and secular. Baseball season has begun, too.

For the March Quotation of the Month, we offer a poem from late antiquity that describes a walk through the garden in early morning, with the poet musing on roses that bloom in morning, but fall at night.

The poems ascribed to Ausonius

Our poem has traditionally been ascribed to the poet Ausonius (ca.310-ca.395 A.D.), a native of Burdigala in Roman Aquitaine (modern Bordeaux), who was a tutor to the future emperor Gratian, and later made by him a consul. In some manuscripts the poem is even ascribed To Vergil. More recently, however, it is classed with the Appendix Ausoniana, a group of writings probably not by Ausonius, but from a later period.

Gather Ye Rosebuds

In the opening lines of the poem, which we quote, we find our poet wandering one spring morning in his rose garden, admiring the jewels of frost that cling to shrubs and flowers. But these are jewels that will disappear with the rising sun. His thoughts turn to the roses — does the Dawn steal her colors from the rose, or is it the other way around? For Venus is the goddess of both Morning Star and rose.

In the rest of the poem, he sees the roses in all stages of their birth, lovely maturity, and death, as their petals fall upon the ground. The flower that the Morning Star beheld being born is elderly by nightfall. But from death new life will arise. The poet ends with lines that anticipate Robert Herrick's 17th century "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may," saying "Virgin, gather roses while the flower is new and youth is new,/ and be mindful that your lifetime hurries on."

Below, in Latin and English, are the opening lines of this anonymous poem. The Latin is from the Loeb edition, Vol. 2 pp.277-280. A line appears to be missing from the text after verse 9.

Appendix Ausoniana De Rosis Nascentibus 1-22

Rosis Nascentibus 1-22

Dew upon the roses

It was spring, and the day, brought back by saffron morn,
after a biting cold, was breathing with a pleasant feel.
A lighter breeze had preceded Dawn's yoked team,
moving me to anticipate a day of heat.
I was wandering along the square-cornered paths of my well-watered garden plots
wishing to be enlivened by the best part of the day.
I saw the frost hanging stiff on bending grasses
or standing on the tops of garden herbs,
and round drops playing together on the broad cabbage leaves.
. . .
I saw the rose-beds rejoicing, cultivated like those at Paestum,
all dewy at the newly risen morning star, bringer of light.
Here and there a jewel glishtened white on the frosty bushes
destined to perish at the day's first rays.
You can debate whether Aurora stole her blush from the rose,
or whether she gives it and the risen day dyes the flowers.
One dew, one color, one morning for both,
for Venus is mistress of the morning star and of the flower.
Perhaps also one scent. But the one is diffused high above us on the breezes,
whereas this breathes its fragrance closer to us.
The goddess of Paphos, shared by star and flower alike,
bids both be inhabited by one red color.
. . .

Hans Thoma Spring

Frülingswiese ("Spring Meadow"), one of Thoma's idealized landscapes. No particular place is named here. (From Thoma, des Meisters Gemälde in 874 Abbildungen, 1909.)

Quotation for February, 2018


Paper Dog


For the Lunar Year of the Dog: Odysseus' Dog Argus Recognizes his Disguised Master (Odyssey Book 17)

Meleager with dog

Above: Meleager, with his hunting dog, in a Roman statue of the first century A.D. It is one of many copies of a lost bronze sculpture by the fourth century B.C. artist Scopas of Paros. Meleager was a member of the Argonautic expedition and participated in the Calydonian Boar Hunt. In some versions of the statue, as in this one, Meleager is depicted with the head of the boar. (from the Fusconi-Pighini collection, Museo Pio-Clementino, Rome.) photo upoaded to Wikimedia by Jastrow (Marie-Lan Nguyen).

Top: Dog Year Paper Cutting, by Fanghong, in Wikimedia.

The Chinese Year of the Dog

In the Chinese Lunar Calendar, 2018 is a Year of the Dog. Depending on the year, the dog may be associated with one of five elements. In 2018 it is associated with the Earth element; others may be Wood Dogs, Fire dogs, Metal Dogs, and Water Dogs. Persons born in a Year of the Dog are independent, energetic, sincere, and loyal. They can also be stubborn. For our Quotation of the Month, we have chosen one of the most memorable dogs in ancient epic, Odysseus' old hunting dog Argus, who greets Odysseus after twenty years, as described in Book 17 of the Odyssey.

Argus, Odysseus' faithful hunting dog, alone recognizes his disguised master

It is one of the most poignant recognition scenes in Homer, as the ancient dog and the disguised hero recognize each other. The humans, however, are oblivious.

Odysseus, having wandered far and suffered much during and after the fall of Troy, at last reaches the shores of his native Ithaca, in disguise as a common tramp. He is taken in, as described in Book 14, by the swineherd Eumaeus, who has taken faithful care of Odysseus' herd in his master's absence. Regularly, he must provide fat boars to the evil Suitors for their banquets, as they feast at Odysseus' expense while wooing his wife Penelope. Eumaeus has built, without telling anyone, a palatial set of pens for the hogs, and even sleeps next to the animals to keep guard over them. Ever cautious, Odysseus does not reveal his true identity to Eumaeus, but spins yarns about his supposed origin, still testing Eumaeus' loyalty.

While Odysseus and Eumaeus are talking, Odysseus' son Telemachus arrives, having made his own journey (in the first four books of the Odyssey) in a fruitless search for his father, while eluding the Suitors' plans to kill him off. Odysseus, while Eumaeus is out of the room, reveals himself to Telemachus, but only after the goddess Athena, changes his appearance from his beggar's clothes. Then, before Eumaeus returns, she changes him back again. At last, Odysseus, led by Eumaeus, proceeds up to the big house, to confront the taunts of the Suitors, who little know the revenge Odysseus will bring upon them.

Argus, his mission accomplished, can die happy

As Odysseus and Eumaeus approach the house, Odysseus sees his old hunting dog Argus — since argos means "brightly shining" or "swift," we might call him "Flash" — he is lying in a pile of manure, covered with ticks, uncared-for and neglected. But Argus alone, the old and tattered dog, recognizes Odysseus, in the form of the old and tattered man. Too weak to get up, he wags his tail and lowers his ears in a playful position. They know each other, but Odysseus cannot give himself away, and turns his head as he wipes away a tear. He asks Eumaeus what happened, and the old swineherd tells him how the young men used to hunt with Argus, but now none of the staff cares for him. (He gets in a dig at the institution of slavery, saying that slaves are unwilling to work because "when a man becomes a slave, Zeus takes away half their qualities.")

Odysseus and Eumaeus proceed into the hall, but Argus, his life's mission accomplished, dies happy, having finally seen his master after twenty years.

Below, in Greek and English, is the scene in the Odyssey in which Argus and Odysseus, unbeknownst to others, recognize each other.

Odyssey 17.290-327

Odyssey 17 290-327

Argus, when he and Odysseus have recognized each other, dies happy

Thus they [Odysseus and Eumaios] spoke to each other.
But a dog lying there raised his head and ears,
Argos, stouthearted Odysseus' dog, whom he himself
had raised, but had never had use of, before going to holy Troy.
In former times the young men used to lead him
against wild goats and deer and rabbits.
But now he lay despised, his master gone,
in a heap of manure of mules and cattle,
which lay in great quantity before the doors, until the slaves
would take it to fertilize the great lands of Odysseus.
There the dog Argos lay, full of ticks.
Then, when he became aware that Odysseus was near,
he wagged his tail and lowered his ears,
but had not the strength to approach closer to his master.
Odysseus, looking aside, wiped away a tear,
easily avoiding Eumaios' attention, but immediately questioned him:

Eumaios, this is a very strange thing, that dog lying in the manure.
He is beautiful in form, but this I do not clearly know
if he was swift at running to match that appearance,
or whether he was like what those table dogs become.
Their masters care for them as adornments.

Then, swineherd Eumaios, you addressed him in answer:
"Yes, indeed, this is the dog of a man who has died far away.
If he were such in form and in deeds,
as when Odysseus left him to go to Troy,
you would quickly see his speed and strength.
No creature that he chased escaped him in the depths
of the deep wood, for he was skilled in tracking.
But now he is in the grip of misfortune; and his master has perished
far from his native land, and the women, heedless, do no care for him.
The slaves, when the masters no longer direct them,
no longer are willing to work as they should.
For far-seeing Zeus takes away half of a man's qualities,
when the day of slavery seizes him."

So saying, he entered the well-built house,
and went straight to the great hall with the noble suitors.
But Argos was taken by the black fate of death,
now that he had seen Odysseus in the twentieth year.

Hades, Persephone, and Cerberus

Hades and Persephone at home with the family dog, Cerberus, who seems to be begging for a bone with all three of his heads. Obviously, that much-feared canine, like the legendary Irish wolfhound, is "fierce when provoked, but gentle when stroked." (Illustration from Seyffert's A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1899.)

Quotation for January, 2018


Petronius Arbiter


For Rev. Martin Luther King's Birthday: Petronius Arbiter on Making Your Own Dreams

Roman Ship 50 AD

Above: Prow of a Roman two-banked war ship, ca. 50 A.D. From a relief found in the Temple of Fortune at Praeneste, now in the Vatican. Note the leather bags around the ports through which the oars stick from the hull; these keep water from getting in around the oars, but do not constrict their movement. (Illustration from Cecil Torr, Ancient Ships, , 1895.)

In Petronius' poem, the sailor may dream that he saves his capsized ship, or that he clings to it as it sinks.

Top: Drawing of Petronius Arbiter from Favissae, utriusque antiquitatis tam romanae quam graecae. . . by Henricus Spoor, 1707, p. 101.

"I have a dream" still resonates

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose holiday we celebrate the third Monday of every year (in 2018 on his actual birthday, January 15), gave his "I have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The repeated refrain came in an extemporized coda to a prepared speech, in which he was urged on by the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who called out to him from the crowd, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" Inspired, he spoke of the American dream, and of his own dream that one day America would "live up to its creed, that 'We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.'"

Together with his other great speech, "I've been to the mountaintop ... and I've seen the Promised Land," delivered on April 3, 1968, one day before his assassination, King's "Dream" speech takes its place among the world's great inspirational orations.

Petronius as an observer of the Roman scene

Our Quotation of the Month is a short poem concerning dreams, and the role each individual plays in deciding what his or her dreams will be. It is by a rather unlikely writer, the Roman Petronius Arbiter (27 A.D.-66 A.D.), whose surname doubtless came from his position at Nero's court as arbiter elegantiae or "judge of elegance." While he seems to have been an able administrator in his position as governor of Bithynia and as consul, he was (as described by Tacitus) more famous for his love of idleness and extravagance. He is best known today as the probable author of the Satyricon, a novel that we have in incomplete form, which satirizes Roman life as he must have known it all too well. Its most famous passage is the Cena Trimalchionis, "Trimalchio's Dinner," an outrageous depiction of over-the-top excess.

Petronius made enemies at court, and accused, whether justly or unjustly, of conspiracy against the emperor, was arrested. Deciding to go out on his own terms, he committed suicide, slitting his wrists, then playfully bandaging them up again, while conversing with his friends, then finally consigning himself to death.

Petronius on our own role in choosing our dreams

In addition to the gross Satyricon, Petronius also wrote poems on a variety of subjects, many in a contemplative mood. One of these is on dreams. Dreams come not from the gods or from the sky, but from ourselves. Whatever concerns us by day, is fulfilled — or not — by night. The warrior sees himself successful in battle, the lawyer trembles as he sees the judge. A woman writes to her lover, and a dog chases rabbits in his sleep. A sailor may save his capsized ship — or he may cling to it as he drowns. It is up to him.

The poem ends with the thought that "for the miserable, the wounds last all night long." This ending may seem a bit downbeat, but the message is clear, that we are ultimately the controllers of our own dreams.

The Latin text is that found in the Loeb edition, the work of Professor Buecheler. It also appears in Helen Waddell's Mediaeval Latin Lyrics (1930). Petronius did not belong to the mediaeval period in terms of chronology, but it was Waddell's point that the mediaeval spirit in poetry, a romantic quality, began much earlier. In her opinion, "Petronius is closer to the first Italian sonnet writers than he is to Horace."

Below, in Latin and English, is Petronius' poem on dreams. The translation, as usual, is my own.

Petronius Arbiter on Dreams

Somnia, quae mentes ludunt volitantibus umbris,
non delubra deum nec ab aethere numina mittunt,
sed sibi quisque facit. nam cum prostrata sopore
urget membra quies et mens sine pondere ludit
quidque luce fuit tenebris agit. oppida bello
qui quatit et flammis miserandas eruit urbes
tela videt versasque acies et funera regum
atque exundantes profuso sanguine campos.
qui causas orare solent, legesque forumque
et pavidi cernunt inclusum chorte tribunal.
condit avarus opes defossumque invenit aurum,
venator saltus canibus quatit. eripit undis
aut premit eversam periturus navita puppem.
scribit amatori meretrix, dat adultera munus;
et canis in somnis leporis vestigia lustrat.
in noctis spatium miserorum vulnera durant.

We dream about our waking concerns

Dreams that play with our minds with flitting shadows,
neither are they sent from temples of the gods nor do spirits send them from the air,
but each man makes his own dreams. For when repose
presses down on limbs prostrate with sleep, and the mind, weightless, plays,
whatever was by light, it does in darkness. He who batters towns
in war and overthrows in flames unhappy cities,
sees weapons and fleeing ranks and funerals of kings
and fields overflowing with gushing blood.
They who are accustomed to plead cases, see laws and the forum
and, terrified, observe the magistrates behind their attendant crowd.
The miser hides his wealth and finds buried gold,
the hunter shakes the forest with his dogs. The sailor rescues from the waves
his capsized ship — or about to perish, clings to it.
The courtesan writes to her lover; the adulteress gives her gift;
and the dog, in his sleep, chases the rabbit's tracks.
The wounds of the unhappy last all night long.


Bust of Selene on a sarcophagus, from Tomb D in Via Belluzzo, Rome, now at the Baths of Diocletian. Goddess of the Moon, who lights up the night, she wears a crescent on her head and carries a torch. The concerns of the day are rehashed at night. (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2006), from Wikimedia.)

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