Friday, 5 August 2022

Two epitaphs for men

 Two more from Hunter's fine new Green-and-Yellow.

Going by his excellent notes, the first is from 7th- or 6th-century Corcyra and was carved boustrophedon; the Greek includes the digamma, an ancient letter (a sort of 'fw') that was on its way out.

As in my last post that drew on this source, the numbering is Hunter's.


This tomb is of Arniadas, who fell
To ravening Ares close beside the ships,
Soldiering on the banks of Aratthus.
The war-god took him as he led the field
Beneath the echoes of the battle-cry.


Whether a citizen or from afar,
Let he who passes weep for Tettichus.
He was a good man and he died in war,
Lost in the bloom of youth. Be on your way;
Shed tears, and may they bring a lucky day.

Friday, 22 July 2022

Guest post: Armand d'Angour answers riddles

The crazily talented Professor Armand d'Angour has kindly supplied the following solutions to some of the Greek Anthology's thornier riddles. Over to the expert. -GN

If one looks at the answers to the riddles, one regularly finds names of animals (including fish), objects, and places, and also commonly the use puns or of parts of words with alternative meanings. For instance, from Paton's Loeb:

νῆσος ὅλη, μύκημα βοός, φωνή τε δανειστοῦ.

My whole is an island; my first the lowing of a cow, and my second what a creditor says.

Answer: Rhodes (dos = give)

One riddle that Paton did not answer, no. 30, clearly refers to the lyre, the body of which is made from at (dead) tortoise and the strings from the gut of a (dead) sheep or ram:

κριὸν ἔχω γενετῆρα, τέκεν δέ με τῷδε χελώνη:
τικτομένη δ᾽ ἄμφω πέφνον ἐμοὺς γονέας.

I have a ram as my father, and a tortoise bore me with him.
When I came into being I killed both my parents.

[My own complementary explanation: Hermes made the first lyre from a tortoiseshell and two ram's horns. -GN]

On a similar basis I suggest the answers to the following are:


From sea I draw a fishy parentage;
A single contest guarantees I come
To celebrate the Dionysia;
And when I ventured to the stadium,
And made my body slick with olive oil,
With my own hands I slew Demeter’s son.
A second point of note: that I emit
A multitude of giants from each side,
And they are hauled away by many hands. (tr. Nisbet)

 Answer: τράγος

1. τράγος is a type of fish

2-3. τράγος means ‘goat’, the nominal prize for tragedy at the Dionysia

4-6. A goat, sacrificed at the Games (stadion - running race), was anointed in oil and sprinkled with barley (=Plutus, son of Demeter)

7-9. τράγος also means ‘merchant-ship’, which was rowed with 100 ‘giant’ oars extending from its sides and “hauled away by many hands”.

The one who calls me island will not lie:
How aptly he placed my name with reference to many cries.

Answer: Euboia 

This is a pun on εὖ βόω “shout well”. So the peninsula would be aptly named an island for, or with reference to, “many cries”.

[My own translation of 14.39, which I didn't solve:

The one who calls me island will not lie:
Aptly he fixed my name into the midst
Of many rushing waters speaking clear. -GN] 

Friday, 8 July 2022

Three inscribed epitaphs for women

These are versions of real epitaphs, the originals of which collected in Richard Hunter's brand-new Greek Epitaphic Poetry: A Selection. For anyone who knows Greek this is a great treat of a book with lots of helpful notes. These three range from the sixth to the early fifth century and are from Thera, rural Attica, and Thasos respectively. The numbering is that of Hunter's edition.


This tomb commemorates Parthenice,
Child of Thrasysthenes, and too soon gone.
Damocleia commissioned it to mourn
Her sister from the self-same mother born.


This tomb is Phrasicleia’s.  For all time
I shall be called a maiden, since instead
I drew this name in place of marriage-bed.


A handsome tomb: my father set hit here,
Since I am dead, Learetē by name;
And nevermore shall I be seen again.

Friday, 24 June 2022

Two takes on a bad musician

 I've cracked the covers of the Reverend Woodward's Tart and Homely Gibes of Greek Epigrammatists (1928) and his very first version is of a poem by Lucillius of which I included a version in the book. Here is my version. The original is AP 11.133:

Eutychides the lyricist is dead!
You denizens of underworld, now flee:
Eutychides is coming, with his songs.
He ordered twelve guitars upon his pyre,
And five-and-twenty cases of his tunes.
Now Charon has you in his grip indeed:
Where in the future might a person go,
When even in the kingdom of the dead
Eutychides is inescapable?

And here is Woodward's rhyming version:

Eutychides is dead and gone,
The melodist. Escape anon,
Ye undergrounders: for with odes
Eutychides descends your roads.
Along with him upon the pyre
He bade set XII guitars afire,
Plus V and XX chests, enclosing
Much music of his own composing.
Now Charon’s keel is known to ye:
From henceforth whither may you flee?
For, near Eutychides, we know
’Twas hell on earth, as now below.
I love the inventiveness of 'undergrounders'. The closing lines are a little loose, but isn't it fabulous? The sometime Vicar of Walsingham deserves a wide audience, though he chose to cultivate a narrow one.

Friday, 10 June 2022

The Athenians at Chalcis: three versions

 'Book 16' of the Greek Anthology is a modern scholarly concoction. It contains all the epigrams that are found in Maximus' Planudes bowdlerised redaction of the Cephalan Anthology, but that are absent from the Palattine Manuscript that is otherwise the best witness to that lost original.

Many of these poems are about works of art, which everyone reasonably takes to show that Cephalas' megamix originally included a whole book on this subject and that, for whatever reason, the copyist of the Palatine MS missed it out. But there are poems of various types.

One such (16.26) is an epitaph ascribed to Simonides. If it is his, which I don't doubt, the original will have been inscribed on a lost monument. Here is my version:

Beneath the glen of Dirphys we were slain;
Near Euripus they raised our barrow high,
By order of the people. Justly so:
We sacrificed the loveliness of youth
To face the savage cloud of battling.
Here is Woodward's, from his Epigrammata Heroica of 1929:

Where we fell, neath Dirphys' combe,
Grateful Athens rear'd this tomb
O'er us nigh Euripos bank,
Nor amiss; for, facing dank
War-cloud, we in fight and fray
Barter'd precious youth away.

And here, an unattributed version published in a lengthy piece in the Westminster Review of 1838, occasioned by the publication of and notionally reviewing a German edition of Simonides:

At Dirphys' foot we fell; and o'er us here
Beside Euripus' shore this mound was piled,
Not undeserved, for youth to us was dear,
And that we lost in battle's tempest wild.

 That last couplet is rather like, and perhaps fed into, Housman's well known 'Here Dead We Lie':

 ...Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
 But young men think it is, and we were young.

Dirphys, the modern Dirfi, is a mountain in Euboea; its really good Wikipedia page includes photos of walking trails in wooded valleys below, just the kind of terrain in which the Athenians clashed with the Chalcidians and defeated them. This was Athens' second victory in one day, and Herodotus can tell you all about that; he preserves an epigram from the Acropolis, of which inscriptional fragments also survive, in two versions (one from before and one after the Persian sack). From Herodotus it entered the Anthology as AP 6.343:

The sons of the Athenians laid low
By deeds in battle the Boeotian tribes,
And those of Chalcis, putting out their pride
And bringing them to grief in iron bonds.
They set their horses here, as Pallas’ tithe.
The bronze chariot and horses were still there when Pausanias visited the Acropolis in the second century AD (1.28.2).

Friday, 27 May 2022

Two fragmentary dedications

These poems too are from Hansen's Carmina Epigraphica Graeca. I enjoy their fragmentary quality. The first evidently celebrated a victory at the Isthmian Games; the second is a mystery to me and I quite like it that way.

810 (Corinth, fourth century)
Of Corinth (lord?) . . .
Set up this chariot as offering . . .
And placed it . . .
In lasting memory . . .

875 (Lesbos, fourth century?)
This is Poseidon’s . . .
And decorates Apollo’s . . .
And temple; but the city . . .
In payment for your artistry . . .

Friday, 13 May 2022

A filthy oil-lamp

Ancient homes were lit after dark with oil-lamps made from clay. Wikipedia has a picture of some Hellenistic and Roman examples. They had spouts for wicks and were filled through holes in the middle of their top faces. The oil would typically be less expensive than that used for cooking and might not smell very nice.

Lamps could be decorative as well as functional. The moulds in which they were typically batch-produced could imprint a design or motto, perhaps a humorous or sexy one. A lamp might have more than one wick, or be unusually shaped. I don't have the reference to hand, but I'm pretty sure one of Martial's epigrams character-assassinates a rival but downmarket satirical poet as (among other degrading things) a peddler of novelty oil-lamps.

Hansen's CEG contains one very rude inscriptional epigram from such a lamp, fired in Sicily in the fourth century BCE. It consists of a single metrical line, running around the edge of the lamp's top surface, and thus circling the hole through which the lamp was refilled with oil. The motto was not part of the mould; instead someone took it from the mould and incised it with a sharp point before it was fired in the oven. This is thus a very personal insult, one surely aimed at a known contemporary: