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Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Archive for June 2010

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 3.11

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Gellius, another Random Reader extraordinaire, discusses two of the many vexed questions about Homer, while preserving for us a little snippet of one of Accius’ works (although this appears to be Gellius’ prose summary of Accius’ verse, which perhaps explains why Gellius is not at his most elegant here).

super aetate Homeri atque Hesiodi non consentitur. alii Homerum quam Hesiodum maiorem natu fuisse scripserunt, in quis Philochorus et Xenophanes, alii minorem, in quis L. Accius poeta et Ephorus historiae scriptor. M. autem Varro in primo De imaginibus, uter prior sit natus, parum constare dicit, sed non esse dubium, quin aliquo tempore eodem vixerint, idque ex epigrammate ostendi, quod in tripode scriptum est, qui in monte Helicone ab Hesiodo positus traditur.

Accius autem in primo Didascalico levibus admodum argumentis utitur, per quae ostendi putat Hesiodum natu priorem: “quod Homerus,” inquit “cum in principio carminis Achillem esse filium Pelei diceret, quis esset Peleus, non addidit; quam rem procul” inquit “dubio dixisset, nisi ab Hesiodo iam dictum videret. de Cyclope itidem,” inquit “vel maxime quod unoculus fuit, rem tam insignem non praeterisset, nisi aeque prioris Hesiodi carminibus involgatum esset.”

de patria quoque Homeri multo maxime dissensum est. alii Colophonium, alii Smyrnaeum, sunt qui Atheniensem, sunt etiam qui Aegyptium fuisse dicant, Aristoteles tradidit ex insula Io. M. Varro in libro De imaginibus primo Homeri imagini epigramma hoc apposuit:

capella Homeri candida haec tumulum indicat,
quod hac Ietae mortuo faciunt sacra.

On the age of Homer and Hesiod there is no agreement. Some people have written that Homer was older than Hesiod: among these are Philochorus and Xenophanes. Other people, that he was younger: among these are Lucius Accius the poet and Ephorus the writer of history. But Marcus Varro, in the first book of his On Portraits, says that there is no certainty as to which was born first, but that there is no doubt that they lived at pretty much the same time; he says that this can be shown from an inscription written on a tripod which is said to have been set up by Hesiod on Mount Helicon.

However, Accius in the first book of his Stage Productions makes use of very weak arguments by which he believes he proves Hesiod to be the older, “because,” he says, “when Homer said at the beginning of his poem that Achilles was the son of Peleus, he did not add who Peleus was”. He says, “He would undoubtedly have said this [i.e. who Peleus was] had he not seen that the same thing had already been said by Hesiod.” Accius says, “Likewise, concerning the Cyclops, Homer most certainly would not have omitted such a striking thing as the fact that he had a single eye, unless it had been made equally well-known by the poems of his predecessor Hesiod.”

There has also been a great deal of disagreement about Homer’s homeland. Some say he was from Colophon, others say he was from Smyrna. There are some who say he was Athenian, and there are even some who say he was Egyptian; Aristotle recounts that he was from the island of Ios. Marcus Varro, in the first book of his On Portraits, put this epigram by the portrait of Homer:

This snow-white kid marks the tomb of Homer,
because with it the people of Ios make an offering to the dead.

Gellius doesn’t quote the epigram of Hesiod, but it is evidently what we know as AP 7.53. I leave you to decide whether it is a genuine work of Hesiod…

Ἡσίοδος Μούσαις Ἑλικωνίσι τόνδ’ ἀνέθηκα,
ὕμνῳ νικήσας ἐν Χαλκίδι θεῖον Ὅμηρον.

I, Hesiod, dedicated this to the Muses of Helicon,
having defeated divine Homer with a hymn in Chalcis.

Varro’s De imaginibus, or Hebdomades, was a work comprising 700 portraits of famous people. I haven’t consulted Joseph Geiger’s The First Hall of Fame: A Study of the Statues in the Forum Augustum (Mnemosyne Supp. 295), Leiden 2008, but chapter 3 includes discussion of this work of Varro’s.

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June 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander 340a

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Plutarch is in the middle of admiring Alexander for his ability to keep top secret matters secret. In illustration of this he recounts a rather sweet story about Alexander and his boyfriend Hephaestion:

λέγεται γὰρ ὅτι καὶ τῆς μητρὸς ἀπόρρητον ἐπιστολὴν λύσαντος αὐτοῦ καὶ σιωπῇ πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ἀναγιγνώσκοντος, Ἡφαιστίων ἀτρέμα παραβάλλων τὴν κεφαλὴν συνανεγίγνωσκεν· ὁ δὲ κωλῦσαι μὲν οὐχ ὑπέμεινεν, ἐξελὼν δὲ τὸν δακτύλιον προσέθηκε τὴν σφραγῖδα τῷ στόματι τοῦ Ἡφαιστίωνος.

It is said that, when Alexander had opened a confidential letter from his mother and was reading it to himself in silence, Hephaestion gently put his head beside his and read along with him. Alexander could not bear to stop him, but taking off his ring pressed the seal onto Hephaestion’s mouth.

This passage is one of the various pieces of evidence in the ‘silent reading’ debate: did people in the ancient world generally read out loud to themselves, rather than reading silently as we normally do? I shall point you to some further discussion on the QI forums. I came across this passage the other day in Jocelyn Penny Small’s Wax Tablets of the Mind, London & New York 1997, p.22.

Written by aleatorclassicus

June 29, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Plutarch

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 1.1.1

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It’s the summer of 65 BC. Cicero writes to his best friend Atticus with slightly bitchy comments on his likely fellow-candidates for the consular elections for 63 BC.

nos autem initium prensandi facere cogitabamus eo ipso tempore quo tuum puerum cum his litteris proficisci Cincius dicebat, in campo comitiis tribuniciis a.d. XVI Kal. Sext. competitores qui certi esse videbantur Galba et Antonius et Q. Cornificius. puto te in hoc aut risisse aut ingemuisse; ut frontem ferias, sunt qui etiam Caesonium putent. Aquilium non arbitrabamur, qui denegavit et iuravit morbum et illud suum regnum iudicale opposuit. Catilina, si iudicatum erit meridie non lucere, certus erit competitor.

I’m thinking of making a start on canvassing at that very time when Cincius tells me your boy will be starting out with this letter – in the Campus during the tribunician elections on July 17th. The fellow-candidates who seem certain to stand are Galba, Antonius, and Quintus Cornificius. I think you’ll have either laughed or sighed at that. To make you hit your forehead, there are some who think even Caesonius will stand! I don’t think Aquilius will, since he has disclaimed and forsworn it and offers his ill-health and his judicial position as excuses. As for Catiline, he will surely not be standing unless the court finds that it’s dark at midday!

A passage which is interesting as evidence for the ‘facepalm’ gesture (ut frontem ferias) in ancient Rome. Catiline, who was being prosecuted de rebus repetundis for extortion in his province, did in fact manage to get himself acquitted. And, as it happens, we learn in the next letter to Atticus (1.2.1) that hoc tempore Catilinam, competitorem nostrum, defendere cogitamus (‘At the moment I’m thinking of defending Catiline, my fellow-candidate’).

Written by aleatorclassicus

June 28, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Cicero

Aelian, Varia Historia 10.10

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To start us off, here is a passage from Aelian, one of the ancient world’s greatest Random Readers!

ὅτε ὑπήρχετο ἡ γραφικὴ τέχνη, καὶ ἦν τρόπον τινὰ ἐν γάλαξι καὶ σπαργάνοις, οὕτως ἄρα ἀτέχνως εἴκαζον τὰ ζῷα ὥστε ἐπιγράφειν αὐτοῖς τοὺς γραφέας· “τοῦτο βοῦς. ἐκεῖνο ἵππος. ἐκεῖνο δένδρον.”

When the art of painting was just beginning, and it was, in a manner of speaking, unweaned and in its baby-clothes, animals were so unskilfully represented that the painters would write inscriptions on them: “This is an ox. That is a horse. That is a tree.”

Pliny the Elder says something similar about the earliest artists at Natural History 35.5:

inventam liniarem a Philocle Aegyptio vel Cleanthe Corinthio primi exercuere Aridices Corinthius et Telephanes Sicyonius, sine ullo etiamnum hi colore, iam tamen spargentes linias intus. ideo et quos pinxere adscribere institutum.

The first to practise line-drawing (which was invented by Philocles the Egyptian, or by Cleanthes the Corinthian) were Aridices the Corinthian and Telephanes the Sicyonian; without yet using any colours, these men nonetheless shaded the inside of the outline with lines. Therefore it was also their custom to put the name of the people they painted.

Written by aleatorclassicus

June 27, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Aelian, Pliny the Elder

salvete omnes

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Welcome to a brand-new classical blog. The plan is to post brief daily or near-daily excerpts from ancient authors, with a translation and possibly a comment or two. Feel free to add your own comments!

I’m a PhD student working on 2nd-century AD Greek author Lucian, but I plan to alternate Latin and Greek texts. Other than that the passages will be simply random ones that, for whatever reason, have attracted my attention.

Please leave a comment on anything that takes your fancy – and let me know of any silly errors on my part, which will no doubt happen inevitably and all too frequently…

Written by aleatorclassicus

June 27, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Posted in Uncategorized