Die Fighting for Sparta (Morir en defensa de Esparta)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Plutarch (c. 46 AD – c. 120 AD)

When someone said to Astycratidas, after the defeat of Agis their king in the battle against Antipater in the vicinity of Megalopolis, “What will you do, men of Sparta? Will you be subject to the Macedonians? he said, “What! Is there any way in which Antipater can forbid us to die fighting for Sparta?”


A Asticrátidas, cuando después de ser derrotado Agis, su rey, en la batalla contra Antípatro, cerca de Megalópolis, alguien le dijo: «¿Qué haréis, espartanos?, Os someteréis por ventura a los macedonios?», respondió: «¿Qué?, Acaso podría Antípatro impedir que nosotros muriéramos en defensa de Esparta?»

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans) / Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

How to Swindle Your Creditors, Or the Unedifying Story of an Ancient Greek Insurance Scam

The Mysterious Noise

3rd century B.C.
Off the coast of Attica, on the approach to Athens.

The sun is beating down on a calm, brilliantly blue Aegean but a refreshing breeze is caressing our faces as we’re sitting on board a fat merchant ship sailing from Byzantium towards Athens with a cargo of grain. A fellow passenger, by the name of Zenothemis, is waxing lyrical about the beauty of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, now visible in the distance, to the Captain and Dikaiopolis, a busybody merchant who embarked in Euboea. Suddenly the Captain hears a noise. Zenothemis is either deaf or too fond of his own voice, for he claims to hear nothing, but the Captain and Dikaiopolis can both hear the noise coming from below and we all – captain, sailors, Dikaiopolis and our invisible selves – troop down into the hold to see what’s going on…

Continue reading “How to Swindle Your Creditors, Or the Unedifying Story of an Ancient Greek Insurance Scam”

Herodotus: A Quiz

It’s been a while since we last talked of Herodotus which is a bad thing. So I was just about to write a new post to add to my Best Stories of Herodotus… and then I got seduced by the idea of doing a quiz instead.

Herodotus, c.484-425 B.C.
How well do you know your Herodotus? Take the quiz to find out! 🙂

Continue reading “Herodotus: A Quiz”

Artemisia, Hero(ine) of the Baddies

On this blog we don’t do a black and white view of the world, therefore even the Baddies can have heroes. And since we’re writing about Herodotus here, in this case the Baddies are Xerxes and his Greece-invading Persian lot, while their hero is, in point of fact, a heroine: Artemisia, the queen of Caria.

Continue reading “Artemisia, Hero(ine) of the Baddies”

Ode on a Grecian Urn (Answer)

As mentioned last week, six years ago I forcefully dragged my family to Delphi; and despite themselves, they so liked the place that they gave me a Greek vase as a thank you present:

I gave you a chance in last week’s post to figure out which Greek myth is depicted on the vase, and today… well, you’re getting the answer. 🙂

Which is:

Theseus kills Procrustes

We’ll hand over to Robert Graves here:
On reaching Attic Cordallus, Theseus slew Sinis’s father Polypemon, surnamed Procrustes, who lived beside the road and had two beds in his house, one small, the other large. Offering a night’s lodging to travellers, he would lay the short men on the large bed, and rack them out to fit it; but the tall men on the small bed, sawing off as much of their legs as projected beyond it. Some say, however, that he used only one bed, and lengthened or shortened his lodgers according to its measure. In either case, Theseus served him as he had served others.
(Robert Graves: Greek Myths)
The picture on my vase is, of course, only a replica. The original is this kylix (wine-drinking cup), c. 440 B.C.:
The Labours of Theseus. Photo by Egisto Sani [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0] via Flickr.

 

Ode on a Grecian Urn (Guess the Picture)

What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

(John Keats: Ode on a Grecian Urn)

Six years ago I dragged my family to Delphi – three hours coach travel from Athens in thirty degrees heat. As it happens, my family is – mostly – interested in history but they had extreme doubts as to why they were asked to see some more Greek ruins; after all we already visited the Acropolis and the Agora of Athens, the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Knossos in Crete… But I couldn’t imagine a visit to Greece being complete without having visited Delphi, home to the Delphi Oracle, where Apollo himself dealt with the invading Persians… and well, Delphi, right?

As it happened, they were all really impressed by the ruins in Delphi (even Young Friend of the Elephants, aged 5, who had zero interest in traipsing around on hot mountain sides among ancient ruins but was more than happy to crawl into random holes in the ground) and they got me a Greek vase as a thank you present.

This one:

It took me quite a while to figure out which Greek myth is depicted on this side of the vase.

Today’s challenge is for you to work it out for yourselves. 🙂 I’m making it easier for you by turning it into a multiple choice question – please vote. I’ll give you the correct answer next week. Have fun!

.

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

(John Keats: Ode on a Grecian Urn)
You might also like:Guess the PictureA Take on the Column

Vulcano, the Forge of Gods

Leer esto en castellano

Hephaestus and Vulcan

Hephaestus, the ugly and ill-tempered Smith-god, was so weakly at birth that his disgusted mother, Hera, dropped him from the height of Olympus, to rid herself of the embarrassment…

Greek Myths by Robert Graves

Well, right there you can see where the Spartans might have got their notions of throwing sickly newborns off the cliffs of Taygetus. But as regards Hephaestus, god of fire and the blacksmith of the gods of Mt Olympus, in this first fall he was lucky: he fell into the sea, where he was found by the nymph Thetys, who duly took him home. A few years later, Hephaestus repaid the kindness by setting up a little undersea smithy and making for her some useful household odds and ends, not to mention some fancy jewellery which caught the eye of Hera. Owing to which not only he was allowed to return to Olympus but was given Aphrodite for his wife. All’s well that ends well, or would have, except that he then said some unwise words to Zeus, who once again hurled him off the mountain… This time he was less lucky, because he fell on hard ground and remained lame for the rest of his immortal life.

Fast forward to Roman times. As we know, the Romans were quite ingenious when it came to engineering (my personal favourite is the corvus, a bridge for boarding Carthaginian galleys, the classic solution to the conundrum of how-to-turn-a-naval-battle-at-which-we’re-****-into-a-land-battle-at-which-we’re-so-much-better), not to mention their various other achievements that clamour for attention. Despite of this, the Romans seemed sadly lacking in imagination when it came to their religion: so much so that they didn’t bother to come up with their own – they merely imported in the Ancient Greek one. And so Hephaestus the Greek became Vulcan, the citizen of Rome. Long live the gods, under one name or another.

Vulcan’s Forge by Jacopo Tintoretto [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]
Now it so happened that when Hephaestus returned to Hera’s favour, owing to his ability to make fancy jewellery, he abandoned his undersea workshop and set up a new smithy on Mt Olympus. Or at least so says the original myth but myths are subject to change… and Hephaestus is reputed to have forges in more than one place.

The Greeks settlers on Sicily have already noted the place, but ultimately we probably owe the location of Vulcan’s forge to the incoming Romans who have hit on just the spot: a little volcanic island off the shores of Sicily, conveniently named…

Continue reading “Vulcano, the Forge of Gods”

If (Si)

Or Philip II of Macedonia vs Sparta

Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, invaded Greece in the 4th century BC and subjugated most of the Greek city states, Athens included.

He then turned his attention to Sparta:

Philip wrote [to the Spartans] at the time when he entered their country, asking whether they wished that he should come as a friend or as a foe; and they made answer, “Neither.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)

Needless to say, this was not the end of the affair…

O Filipo II de Macedonia contra Esparta

Filipo II de Macedonia, el padre de Alejandro Magno, invadió Grecia en el siglo IV  a.C.  y subyugó la mayoría de las ciudades-estado griegas, incluso Atenas.

Después, centró la atención en Esparta:

Filipo, cuando entraba en su territorio, les escribió [a los espartanos] si preferían que fuera como amigo o como enemigo. Le respondieron: «Ni lo uno, ni lo otro.»

 (Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

Sobra decir que esto no fue el final del asunto…

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

When Philip wrote to them, “If I invade Laconia, I shall turn you out,” they wrote back,

“If.”

(Plutarch: Morals, On Talkativeness)


Y a lo que les escribió a su vez Filipo: «Si invado Laconia os arruinaré totalmente», le contestaron por escrito: 

«Si».

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, Sobre la charlatanería)

Neither Philip II, nor even his son Alexander the Great invaded Sparta.

Ni Filipo II, ni siquiera su hijo, Alejandro Magno invadió Esparta.

I don’t know about you but it is one of my most favourite quotes – it’s so wonderfully… well, laconic, right?

No sé de ti, pero esta es una de las citas que me gustan sobre todo – es so maravillosamente… pues, lacónica, ¿no?

Aristotle on Homer

Quote of the Week:

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Homer, for example, makes men better than they are; Cleophon as they are; Hegemon the Thasian, the inventor of parodies, and Nicochares, the author of the Deiliad, worse than they are.


As, in the serious style, Homer is pre-eminent among poets, for he alone combined dramatic form with excellence of imitation so he too first laid down the main lines of comedy, by dramatizing the ludicrous instead of writing personal satire. His Margites bears the same relation to comedy that the Iliad and Odyssey do to tragedy.


So in this respect, too, compared with all other poets Homer may seem, as we have already said, divinely inspired, in that even with the Trojan war, which has a beginning and an end, he did not endeavour to dramatise it as a whole, since it would have been either too long to be taken in all at once or, if he had moderated the length, he would have complicated it by the variety of incident. As it is, he takes one part of the story only and uses many incidents from other parts, such as the Catalogue of Ships and other incidents with which he diversifies his poetry.


In composing the Odyssey he did not include all the adventures of Odysseus- such as his wound on Parnassus, or his feigned madness at the mustering of the host- incidents between which there was no necessary or probable connection: but he made theOdyssey, and likewise the Iliad, to centre round an action that in our sense of the word is one.

(Aristotle: Poetics)

 

You might also like:
⇒ The Poetics of Aristotle

Image credit: 
Tilemahox Efthimiadis via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

How To Be Free (Ser libre)

The words “molon labe” (“Come and take them!” as inscribed on the Leonidas monument at Thermopylae. Source: Wikipedia

A Spartan being asked what he knew, said, “How to be free.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)


Al preguntársele a un espartano qué sabía, dijo: «Ser libre.»

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III. Máximas de espartanos)

 

Power and Money (Poder y dinero)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

When someone brought forward a plan for the freedom of the Greeks, which, while not lacking idealism, was difficult to put into practice, he [Agis son of Archidamus] said, “Your words, my friend, need the backing of power and money.”

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans)


Cuando alguien proponía para la libertad de los griegos acciones no faltas de nobleza, pero difíciles de realizar, [Agis, hijo de Arquidamo] le decía: «Tus palabras, amigo, necesitan un aval de poder y dinero».

(Plutarco: Obras morales y de costumbres, III.
Máximas de espartanos)

Socrates on Wisdom

Socrates, 470-399 BC. [Public domain image via Wikipedia]
The great Greek philosopher, Socrates, left behind no writings. What we know of his teachings and sayings came to us via his students… in particular, Plato.

Quote of the Week:

I only wish that wisdom were the kind of thing that flowed… from the vessel that was full to the one that was empty. (Socrates)

Plato: Symposium

The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)

Casus Belli

In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:

…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!

(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133) 

Continue reading “The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)”

Argos vs Sparta (Argos contra Esparta)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

When an Argive said once upon a time, “There are many tombs of Spartans in our country,” a Spartan said, “But there is not a single tomb of an Argive in our country,” indicating by this that the Spartans had often set foot in Argos, but the Argives had never set foot in Sparta.

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III., Sayings of Spartans)


Cuando un argivo dijo en una occasión: «En nuestra tierra hay muchas tumbas de espartanos», un espartano le respondió: «Pues en la nuestra no hay ni una sola de argivos», porque ellos habían invadido muchas veces Argos, pero los argivos jamás Esparta.

(Plutarco, Obras morales y de costumbres, III., Máximas de espartanos)

 

The Wine-Dark Sea

Quote of the Week:

“Sailing over the wine-dark sea…” (Homer: The Odyssey)
[Image public domain via Pixabay]

It was evening when we made our way back to the cove. The sun was setting fire to the headlands west of us, and the sea had become absolutely still. Not even a cat’s-paw trailed across the purple water. The sea was truly like wine to look at. The professors who had decried Homer’s adjective and invented other meanings for it, had never been sailors.

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

Come And Take Them (Ven a tomarlas)

Quote of the Week: Come And Take Them

The ultimate laconic reply of defiance: that of Leonidas to Xerxes at Thermopylae, unbeatable in its simplicity. Especially in Greek where it’s only two words: molon labe.

When Xerxes wrote again: ‘Deliver up your arms,’ he wrote back: ‘Come and take them’.

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III, Sayings of Spartans, Leonidas)

The words “molon labe” as inscribed on the Leonidas monument at Thermopylae. Source: Wikipedia

La cita de la semana: Ven a tomarlas

Lo último en el desafío lacónico: lo de Leónidas a Jerjes en las Termópilas, con su sencillez imbatible. Especialmente en griego, como que solo consiste de dos palabras: molon labe.

Cuando de nuevo Jerjes escribió: «Entrega tus armas», contestó: «Ven a tomarlas.»

(Plutarco: Moralia, III, Máximas de espartanos, Leónidas)

Throwback Thursday: The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Last month when I reposted Return from the Stars for Throwback Thursday, it went weird and hardly any of you got to see it. I sought enlightenment from support and they told me I was doing it all wrong. I'm trying their way now.

The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Originally published on 9 October 2015

Why Homer Doesn’t Matter

Now that’s a heading that nobody should have been expecting from me, given how I go on and on about Homer whenever I have nothing better to do. But I have finished reading The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson, and put it down with the feeling that sadly, it failed in what it set out to do: namely to convince skeptics that Homer mattered, that Homer should still be read, perhaps even studied, because he’s relevant to our lives.

CONTINUE READING →

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II

While Byron chose to tell the story of the Battle of Salamis short and sweet in The Isles of Greece – which, by the way, is part of a much longer poem, Don Juan -, the Athenian playwright Aeschylus wrote an entire play based upon it.

ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε
ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ᾽, ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ
παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τέ πατρῴων ἕδη,
θήκας τε προγόνων: νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.

O children of the Greeks, go,
free your homeland, free also
your children, your wives, the temples of your fathers’ gods,
and the tombs of your ancestors: now the struggle is for all things.

Aeschylus: The Persians

The Battle of Salamis According to Aeschylus

Can you imagine telling a story, with your audience hanging upon your every word, breathless with excitement or moved to tears – although they had heard the story many times before and know the final outcome? Because that’s exactly what Ancient Greek playwrights had to do; and Aeschylus pulled it off beautifully with The Persians.

Continue reading “The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II”

Salamis (According to Herodotus)

Salamis – an island in the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea, opposite Mount Aigaleo, 16 kilometres west of Athens.

Salamis – a battle that defined history for centuries to come.

The Warriors of Salamis (Achilles Vasileiou), battle monument on the island of Salamis. Photo by Sculptureholic via Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The Warriors of Salamis by Achilles Vasileiou, on the island of Salamis. Photo by Sculptureholic via Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Continue reading “Salamis (According to Herodotus)”

Night at the Museum

Many of London’s museums and galleries stay open late into the evening once a week. You might think day or night makes no difference…

But it’s nice to break the daily routine once in a while. Instead of going home after work, I head for Bloomsbury.

british-museum-p1020724

The British Museum after six pm is a different place

The lights are dimmed. The crowds are gone; it’s quiet. I relax in the members’ room with my book and a glass of wine before going for a wander.

I can get up close to the most popular exhibits without an elbow fight. I can contemplate. I can read the labels in peace.

I can take pictures.

Till next Friday.

You might also like:
Made by the Egyptians: A Bust of Amenhotep IIIThe Mausoleum at HalicarnassusThree Hours at the British Museum