Above: Olives being harvested by beating the trees with sticks. Attic black figure amphora attributed to the Antimenes Painter, 520 B.C. British Museum No. 1837,0609.42. Top: Ploughing, from Leonard Whibley, A Companion to Greek Studies, 1916, p. 637.
After Labor Day we get back to work or school
September begins in the U.S. with Labor Day, and ends with the population going back to work after (what we hope was) a long summer holiday. For students, this means the start of the fall semester.
Retail stores are beginning to set things up for Halloween and Christmas (they already ordered their merchandise last spring). Road crews are laying in piles of salt to melt the ice, and making sure their snowplows are in good repair. Homeowners are thinking about new snowshovels, and buying lots of flashlights in case the electricity goes out. And the last tomatoes are being harvested from our backyards.
Our Quotation of the Month is from Hesiod's Works and Days, in which farmer/poet Hesiod preaches the need for such forethoughtedness and preparation. Our pictorial illustrations show a variety of ancient occupations.
Hesiod lectures his brother Perses on responsible behavior
The Works and Days (Erga kai Hemerai) is best known as a didactic poem on farming, an Old Farmer's Almanac of the seasons of the year, with advice on activities appropriate to each season. But almost the first half of the poem (verses 1-382 out of a poem of 828 verses) is taken up by a long rant addressed to his ne'er-do-well brother Perses, who would rather waste time and money (some of which should be Hesiod's) than work for a living. This rant is illustrated by the mythological tales of Pandora and the Five Ages.
We cannot know for sure whether the events Hesiod describes actually happened to him or are fictionalized or semi-fictionalized and embellished for the sake of telling a good story. But considering the intensity of feeling that Hesiod puts into its telling, it seems likely that the story is mostly true.
Hesiod and Perses' father had apparently intended to leave his estate to his two sons equally, but Perses bribed the crooked ("bribe-eating," dorophagous) lords of the district to give Perses the larger share. These crooked men, Hesiod says ironically, "love to judge this kind of case" (v. 39). Perses prefers hanging around the market place (agora), watching disputes and law cases to minding the farm. He may also have spent his money on women, as Hesiod warns against "butt-displaying" women (pygestolos, "dressing up her butt") who are "only after your barn" (v. 374). Hesiod's extreme misogyny, which shows up in many parts of the Works and Days (particularly in his telling of the Pandora story), may have had its roots at least partly in his experience with his brother. Not all women were evil in Hesiod's universe, of course. In a later passage, Hesiod assumes that Perses will be married and have children, whom he sees as suffering along with Perses as he begs from the neighbors because of his own improvidence (vv. 387-402). He also advises Perses to get a slave woman to keep the house and help with the plowing (vv. 405-407).
There is nothing wrong with wanting wealth, but, says Hesiod, "if your heart within you desires wealth, do this: to work work upon work" (ergon ep' ergo ergazesthai).
Stories of Pandora, the Five Ages, Might makes right
Hesiod told the story of the First Woman twice, once in the Theogony and once in the Works and Days, but only in the latter did he give her the name Pandora ("All-endowed"). It is one of three mythological stories that Hesiod introduces during his long address to his brother, as an explanation of why men have to work for a living. Zeus hid fire from mortals because Prometheus had tricked him. We know from the Theogony that this involved keeping the best part of a sacrifice for mortals, leaving the skin and bones for the gods. Prometheus (himself a god, being of the older race of Titans) stole fire back, hiding it in a hollow fennel stalk. In revenge, Zeus had Hephaestus make Pandora, whom all the gods endowed with beauty, cleverness, and deceitful thoughts. She opened the famous jar, letting out all the evils, but keeping Hope trapped inside.
The second myth is that of the Five Ages: the Golden Age; the Silver Age; the Bronze Age; the Age of Heroes (the age of Oedipus' Thebes and the Trojan War, which was, of course, the actual Bronze Age); and the Iron Age.
The third myth is the tale of the nightingale and the hawk, who tells the nightingale, which it holds in its talons, that it is the hawk's choice whether to eat the smaller bird or let it go. Might makes right. After this myth, the advice to Perses on justice, keeping your friends, and getting wealth the right way continues. Work work upon work.
Below, in Greek and English, is an extract from Hesiod's rant addressed to his brother. The line in v. 41 about the value of "mallow and asphodel" refers to two humble vegetables eaten by poor people.
Left: Bronze foundry, from a vase painting in Berlin. From Leonard Whibley, A Companion to Greek Studies, 1916, p. 356. Right: Painting from the fuller's shop, Pompeii. From Oskar Seyffert, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1899, p. 243.
Hephaestus at his forge, aided by Cyclopes. (Image from Roscher, Ausfürliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie, 1890.)
It feels like walking into a furnace
The effects of global warming are everywhere. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the woodlands are on fire. In Sweden, forest fires burn near the Arctic Circle. In the northeastern United States, we have had heat wave after heat wave.
When you walk outside, it feels like walking into a furnace.
The goddess Thetis visits Hephaestus' forge
For this month's Quotation of the Month, we bring you what is perhaps the most famous ancient furnace, the forge of the craftsman god Hephaestus, as described in Book 18 of the Iliad.
As the Iliad begins in Book I, the Greek commander Agamemnon is forced to give back the maiden Chryseis whom he has taken as spoils of war from a Trojan-allied town. She is the daughter of a priest of Apollo who calls down a plague on the Greeks if he does not return her. Agamemnon will only give her back if he can have another girl, Briseis, who was the spoils given to the Greek hero Achilles. Achilles, in anger at losing Briseis, sulks in his hut at the Greek camp and refuses to fight. Finally he sends his best friend Patroclus out in his own armor to fight. Patroclus, wearing Achilles' armor, is killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Achilles now reenters the fight, vowing not to bury Patroclus until he has slain Hector.
Thetis asks Hephaestus for a favor: the Shield of Achilles
Thetis, Achilles' sea-nymph mother, goes to Hephaestus to ask him to make her son a new suit of armor, since his was lost with Patroclus' death. Hephaestus owes Thetis a really big favor, as she once saved his life. The goddess Hera gave birth to Hephaestus without any father, in revenge for her husband Zeus giving birth to Athena. But, in the version of the story followed by Homer, Hera threw him from Heaven because he was lame from birth. (In another version, it was Zeus who threw him down, causing his lameness.) The goddess Thetis and a fellow sea-nymph Eurynome took him in and raised him. He lived in the cave of Thetis and Eurynome surrounded by the Ocean for nine years, during which he amused himself by practicing his metal-working skills, making jewelry and ornaments for the goddesses. Hephaestus is happy to see Thetis again, and he has his wife, in this version the goddess Charis ("Grace"), keep her entertained while he puts away his tools and gets cleaned up from his work.
For Achilles, Hephaestus makes a new suit of armor. The pièce de resistance is the mighty shield, with scenes of many kinds depicted on it, cities, crowds, festivals, warfare, vineyards. herds of cattle, sacrificial events, rivers, wild beasts, and every kind of human endeavor, a pictorial encyclopedia of Bronze Age life.
Ancient robotics, self-driving tripods, and artificial intelligence
When Thetis visits Hephaestus, he is sweating and running around between a phalanx of fires and bellows, forging a set of twenty self-driving tripods, that could wheel themselves automatically up to Olympus and back, when needed by the gods. In an example of ancient robotics, he has also made himself a set of handmaidens made of gold, who help him to get around when he has trouble walking because of his lameness. This is also a case of extremely ancient artificial intelligence, as the robot maidens are given intellect (nous, "mind") as well as the ability to speak.
Hephaestus and Pandora, with a pictorial golden crown
In ancient epic, Hephaestus was credited with many other lifelike inventions. One of these was Pandora, the First Woman. Hesiod told this story in two different versions, in his Theogony (vv. 570-612) and Works and Days (vv.60-89). In both, she is fashioned from clay, and with misogynistic fervor, is described as bringing nothing but trouble to men. Only in the Works and Days she is given the name Pandora, "All Gifts," and in her he puts the "voice and strength of a human being." In both poems the woman is given a crown of flowers, but in the Theogony she is also given a golden crown that resembles the Shield of Achilles in its elaborate decorations, depicting creatures of land and sea. The illustration at the bottom of this article shows Hephaestus and Athena outfitting the manufactured woman, but here she is given the name Anesidora, "She Who Sends Up Gifts."
Below, in Greek and English, are extracts from the passage in Book 18 of the Iliad (vv. 369-387, 410-427) describing Hephaestus at his forge, visited by Thetis.
Hephaestus and Athena outfit Pandora, just created by Hephaestus. (Image from Roscher, Ausfürliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie, 1890.) In this vase painting, the manufactured girl is named "Anesidora," "She Who Sends Up Gifts," instead of "Pandora," "All Gifts."
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.
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.
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.
Bellerophon and Pegasus, who drinks from the spring. (Image from Roscher, Ausfürliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie, 1884.)
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.
The Muse Erato. (Image from Roscher, Ausfürliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie, 1884.)
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.
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.
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.
"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.
Frülingswiese ("Spring Meadow"), one of Thoma's idealized landscapes. No particular place is named here. (From Thoma, des Meisters Gemälde in 874 Abbildungen, 1909.)
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).
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.
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.)
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.)
"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.
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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