Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Upward attribution and ‘Go tell the Spartans’

The epigram for the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae is a strong candidate for most famous epigram of all time. As far as most people are concerned, it was composed by the poet Simonides of Ceos. Today we’re looking at why that attribution is wrong.
Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῆιδε
    κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Stranger, report back to the Spartans that here
    we lie, obeying their dictates.
Or in the more famous phrasing of Steven Pressfield,
Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
    that here obedient to their laws we lie.
Modern plaque at Thermopylae commemorating the battle, with the ‘Go tell the Spartans’ epigram (and no mention of Simonides)
It’s a wonderful little poem, full of sentiment and ambiguity, and it genuinely was written on a 5th century BCE memorial for Leonidas and his crew at Thermopylae (as well as the modern one pictured above). And Simonides was a real poet, easily the most famous and successful Greek poet of his day. It’s just that he didn’t write it.

The misattribution to Simonides is a case of upward attribution.

Upward attribution

Upward attribution is an attribution error gone viral. It deserves to be a more common term in literary history. When a poem, or a quotation, or a book, is more memorable than its real author, and it gets attached to the name of someone more famous -- that’s upward attribution. And it is frighteningly common.

Here’s a modern example:
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
-- not Albert Einstein
First, let’s point out that this is a hopelessly inaccurate and misleading picture of mental illness. This aphorism has done a lot of damage to public understanding of mental illnesses.

Now, on to the attribution. It isn’t Einstein, of course. The idea of linking insanity to repetition can be traced back to the 1890s, according to Quote Investigator, but the closest matches for the wording are much more recent, from the 80s.
Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.
-- ‘Narcotics Anonymous’ (privately printed, 1981), ch. 4, p. 11 (scanned PDF)
The most immediate source for the modern wording is a 1983 novel:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
-- Rita Mae Brown, Sudden death (New York: Bantam, 1983), ch. 4, p. 68
Why aren’t the correct authors given credit? It’s because the aphorism is much more memorable than the names. If you’re quoting a witty aphorism and you want to be taken seriously, Narcotics Anonymous just isn’t going to cut it. And Rita Mae Brown is a perfectly respectable author, but I’m sure she’d agree that she doesn’t have quite the brand recognition that usually goes along with popular aphorisms. Her name isn’t on everyone’s lips in the same way as, say, Shakespeare or Austen.
‘Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?’ -- Vaas, Far cry 3 (2012). At least he doesn’t cite Einstein.
Upward attribution isn’t usually a deception. It’s what happens when a bunch of people have an interest in a quotation, or poem, or whatever, but they’re not so interested in the author. Or maybe they have imperfect information about the author. In that situation, errors can go viral.

Famous names are magnetic. Here are a few more examples:
  • the films The nightmare before Christmas (1993) and James and the giant peach (1996), almost invariably attributed to Tim Burton instead of Henry Selick
  • the Windows 95 song’, often attributed to Weird Al Yankovic instead of Bob Rivers
  • an enormous number of poems misattributed to John Donne in the 1600s
The further back in time you go, the stronger the effect. There’s a lot of upward attribution in ancient texts. Hippocrates didn’t write the Hippocratic Corpus, Euripides didn’t write Rhesus, Seneca didn’t write Octavia, Apollodorus didn’t write the Library, Aristotle didn’t write the Problems, and Aeschylus probably didn’t write Prometheus bound (though I’ll grant there’s disagreement over the last one). If you poke your nose into academic work on Greco-Roman literature you’ll be inundated with ‘pseudo-’ authors: pseudo-Plutarch, pseudo-Plato, pseudo-Hyginus, and so on. Nearly all of these are upward attributions.

The epigram

Why does anyone think the epigram is by Simonides?

The modern attribution comes from the fact that the epigram appears under Simonides’ name in two sources: the Byzantine-era Palatine anthology (7.249), and the 1st century BCE Roman politician Cicero (Tusculan disputations 1.101).

Consequently, the epigram does appear in many modern editions. It is fr. 78 in Hiller’s Anthologia lyrica (1904), fr. 92 in Diehl’s Anthologia lyrica graeca (1922), and fr. 119 in Edmonds’ edition of Lyra graeca (1924). Campbell’s anthology of Greek lyric poetry (1967, revised edition 1982) uses Diehl’s numbering and includes it, and Campbell actually adds a note in his commentary, ‘There is little doubt that Simonides wrote it’ (p. 399).

The most recent edition of early epigrams, Page’s Epigrammata graeca (1975), gives it as Simonides fr. XXII(b) -- but Page adds a note explaining why it isn’t actually by Simonides. His notes are in Latin, unfortunately, so his point will be missed by a lot of modern students who know Greek but not Latin -- not to mention people who don’t know either language.

Campbell’s newer Loeb edition of Greek lyric (1988-1993) copies Page’s numbering and so includes it too, but by this time Campbell has softened his tone. He acknowledges that ‘an ascription to Sim[onides] in e.g. Palatine Anthology is worthless’ (Campbell 1991: 519).

The epigrams are normally published separately from Simonides’ elegiac output, even though they’re all in elegiac metre. I don’t actually know why, but I imagine it’s because only a tiny proportion of the epigrams are authentic. (Hence you won’t find the epigrams in West, Iambi et elegi graeci, 2nd ed. 1992; or in Gentili and Prato, Poetarum elegiacorum testimonia et fragmenta, rev. ed. 2002.)

Who did write it, then?

We don’t know. No alternative evidence exists. Get used to that kind of thing in ancient literature. That shouldn’t mean that we default to accepting bad evidence.

How do we know that it isn’t Simonides?

The original source for the epigram is Herodotus’ Histories, written around 425 BCE. Herodotus gives the most famous account of the battle of Thermopylae. After the battle, he says, three inscriptions were set up to honour the dead. The second one is the famous one.
They were buried in the exact place where they fell, as were the people who died before Leonidas gave the command to withdraw. The following inscription was made for them:
Here, against three million, there once fought
    four thousand men from the Peloponnesos.
This inscription was made for all of them. There is a separate one for the Spartiates:
Stranger, report back to the Spartans that here
    we lie, obeying their dictates.
This one is for the Lacedaimonians. And the following one is for the seer:
This is the gravestone of famous Megistias. Once the Medes
    crossed the river Spercheius and killed him.
He was a seer, and he knew his approaching fate in advance,
    but he refused to abandon Sparta’s leader.
The Amphictyons (local rulers) are the ones who honoured them with inscribed monuments, except for the one for the seer: Simonides son of Leoprepes is the one who wrote the one for the seer Megistias, because of their guest-friendship.
-- Herodotus 7.228
(Herodotus mentions Simonides in one other place too, 5.102.)

In other words: Herodotus knew his Simonides. He knew the famous epigram. And he knew perfectly well that the two had nothing to do with each other.
You can already tell this is going to be a feel-good movie with a happy ending
So on the one hand we have Herodotus, writing about 50-60 years after the battle; on the other we have the Greek anthology. What’s the right way of weighing them up?

The Greek anthology is the clear loser. The Anthology began to be compiled 400 years later, in the 100s BCE, when Meleager compiled a first phase of the anthology called the Garland. But epigrams from Simonides’ era never ever bear the name of the poet. We have lots of inscribed monuments from that period, with epigrams honouring the dead, and not a single poet’s name in sight. The Anthology is OK evidence for poets from the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE onwards, but for earlier poets, its attributions are worthless.

This isn’t controversial, by the way. Here’s how Michael Tueller puts it in his preface to the Greek anthology:
Inscribed epigrams were not ‘signed’ by their authors, but their collectors nevertheless often attributed them to Simonides, Anacreon, or others -- a judgment that in general implies nothing more than an ancient opinion that they sounded like the sort of thing that Simonides, Anacreon, et al. would have written. Hence, ascriptions of epigrams in the Greek Anthology to any figure from before the late fourth century BC must be regarded as speculative at best.
-- Tueller 2014: xii
You might think it’s more compelling that Cicero attributes the epigram to Simonides too. Hey, independent corroboration! Well, unfortunately, no, Cicero isn’t an independent witness. Cicero was subject to the same bundle of misattributions that got into Meleager’s Garland.

Simonides has a reputation in some circles as an epigrammatist (Britannica; New World Encyclopedia). That reputation is a distortion: of the epigrams linked to him in the Anthology, only two or three appear to be authentic. For the others, upward attribution had probably already happened before Meleager came along. Two of them, Anthology 7.258 and 7.296, refer to events after Simonides’ death. (The authentic ones are 7.511, 7.677, and 13.30; the second one is the Megistias epigram, from Herodotus, and the other two seem to be from longer elegiac poems.)

The particular case of the ‘Go tell the Spartans’ epigram isn’t very controversial either. Scholars don’t usually address the Simonides attribution directly -- the Anthology’s unreliability makes it a moot point, not worth arguing over -- but when they do, they more often reject it (Wilamowitz 1913: 204-205 n. 1; Podlecki 1969: 258; Page 1975: 18).

How did it get linked to Simonides?

Simonides had a reputation for writing elegiac poetry, and he had a reputation for writing poems about the Persian Wars.

And on these counts, at least, his reputation is justified. He genuinely did write lots of poems about the Persian Wars. We have substantial fragments of elegiac poems about the battles of Artemisium, Salamis, and Plataeae (frs. eleg. 1-4, 5-9, 10-17 West); and lyric poems, for singing, in praise of the Spartans who died at Thermopylae, and about the battle of Artemisium (frs. 531, 532-535 Page).

(This means, incidentally, that when scholars talk about Simonides’ Thermopylae poem, they’re talking about the lyric fragment, not the ‘Go tell the Spartans’ epigram.)

That’s more than enough, without even thinking about his reputation as an epigrammatist. The Greek anthology has a bunch of epigrams about the Persian Wars which it links to Simonides’ name (7.248-251, 253, 431, 442 and possibly 443, 512, 677) -- but of these, only the Megistias epigram (7.677) has Herodotus to vouch for its authenticity.

Why would anyone defend the epigram’s authenticity?

As I see it, the main reason is that people like to fill in gaps in our knowledge of the world. When there are gaps in the evidence, people will often cling doggedly to bad evidence -- even evidence as bad as the attributions in the Greek anthology.
[T]he evidence of H[ero]d[o]t[us], who is concerned only with the setting-up of the epitaphs, must not be taken as indicating that S[imonides] did not write the first two as well as the third.
-- Edmonds 1924: 353 n. 2
Why ‘must’ Herodotus not be taken that way? Who gets to fill in the bits that Herodotus forgot to say? Boas (1905: 12-13) invents a pretty story that the Amphictyons commissioned Simonides to do all three epigrams, but he waived the commission fee for the third one. Can I do it too, or are only Edmonds and Boas allowed? There are no reasoned arguments here. It’s just denial.

As Tony Podlecki has put it, literally the only reason for linking Simonides to the first two epigrams in Herodotus 7.228 is because they’re juxtaposed with a real Simonides epigram.
Positively to deny them to Simonides may seem heartless, but their ascription rests on nothing sounder than guilt by association with the undoubtedly genuine Megistias-dedication.
-- Podlecki 1969: 258
It isn’t as though we have the epigram attributed to Simonides, but there’s good reason to doubt the attribution. No: we have no attribution at all. We’ve already established that the Anthology is bad evidence. To link the epigram to Simonides at all is to say something that Herodotus didn’t say.

Hartmut Erbse argues for attribution to Simonides -- the only substantial argument I know of from the last century -- but at the core is still the argument from juxtaposition. As Erbse sees it, Herodotus’ wording implies that ‘Simonides stood in connection with the Amphictyons’ (Erbse 1998: 215). And that demonstrates authorship. Somehow.

Erbse adds that the three epigrams in Herodotus 7.228 have a ‘unity of thought’. That’s never been a strong argument for authorship of anything. Here, it doesn’t even apply. If you have some texts attributed to a particular author, but there’s some reason to doubt the attribution of one of them, then OK, ‘unity of thought’ might carry some weight. But that isn’t the situation here. What we have is two anonymous epigrams, and an epigram linked to a named author. Ioannis Ziogas (2014: 119-121) quotes some surviving inscriptions that are also stylistically close to the ones in Herodotus, including one that starts ‘O stranger,’ but that doesn’t mean they’re by Simonides.

The further Erbse goes on, the more tenuous it gets. Eventually we find him declaring (1998: 218) that the third epigram, for Megistias, couldn’t even exist without the ‘Go tell the Spartans’ one, and that in turn couldn’t exist without the first one. Er, what? I love your editorial work, Erbse, but this is just nuts. Take a look at the modern memorial plaque at Thermopylae: you’ll notice there’s only one epigram there. Take a look at the introduction to the Wikipedia article on Simonides. That epigram is perfectly capable of standing by itself.

Unlike the poor Spartans. Ziogas (2014) points out that the epigram doesn’t so much focus on their valour, but rather on who’s responsible for their deaths. We’ll never know exactly how things went down, but I find it hard to believe that it was ever meant to be a suicide mission: if it was, it didn’t achieve anything. My personal suspicion is that Leonidas’ order to withdraw was an attempt at a full retreat, but the withdrawal wasn’t completed before the Spartans, Thespiaeans, and Thebans got cut off. (Hey, you want another myth dispelled? If you read Herodotus book 7 you may notice that the Greeks north of Thermopylae joined the Persian invasion force. The defenders at Thermopylae may well have been killed by fellow Greeks.)


  • Boas, M. 1905. De epigrammatis Simonideis. Groningen: J. B. Wolters.
  • Campbell, W. A. 1982 [1967]. Greek lyric poetry, new edition. London: Bristol Classical Press. Orig. publ. Macmillan Education, 1967.
  • ---- 1991. Greek lyric, vol. 3 (Loeb Classical Library 476). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Erbse, H. 1998. ‘Zu den Epigrammen des Simonides.’ Rheinisches Museum 141: 213-230.
  • McDermott, W. C. 1944. ‘Simonides, fragm. 92’ (subscription required). Classical Journal 40.3: 168-170.
  • Page, D. L. 1975. Epigrammata graeca. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • ---- 1981. Further Greek epigrams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Podlecki, A. J. 1968. ‘Simonides: 480’ (subscription required). Historia 17.3: 257-275.
  • Tueller, M. A. 2014. The Greek anthology, vol. 1 (Loeb Classical Library 67). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Orig. published under the name Paton, W. R., 1916-1919.
  • Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. von 1913. Sappho und Simonides. Berlin: Weidmann.
  • Ziogas, I. 2014. ‘Sparse Spartan verse: filling gaps in the Thermopylae epigram’ (subscription required). Ramus 43.2: 115-133.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Shanties in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Sea shanties are a tradition in the Assassin’s Creed video game series. The most recent installment, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018), is set during the Peloponnesian War. When the player sails a ship around the Aegean Sea, the crew occasionally sing shanties. Many of them are in ancient Greek, based on real ancient poetry and songs.

Most of the shanties were selected and arranged by the composer Giannis Georgantelis. Here’s a short video about their production, by the musical director Dimitris Ilias.

I’d better admit I haven’t played AC: Odyssey. (My desktop computer is a bit lacking in the CPU department. Hopefully I’ll catch up in a few years -- too late for the party, but hey, better late than never.) So my information about the shanties isn’t based on gameplay, but on the soundtrack album on Spotify, and on YouTube clips.

Below I give the words as they are sung in the shanties, followed by the authentic ancient text with a translation. Most shanties don’t use all the text from the ancient poem: my text of the ancient poems shows the extra words in italics.
To be clear in advance: the musical team have done a really good job. In practical terms I could not have wished for better. Speaking as an academic, I have no complaints about any of their methods or choices. I do mention some errors and/or quibbles below, but they are really small beer compared to the overall success of the shanties.

In particular: yes, they use modern Greek pronunciation; no, no sensible classicist minds that. OK, it changes the poetic rhythms -- but then so do the music, the refrains, and other modifications to the wording. So basically, suck it up.

If you do have objections, then ask yourself as a purist why your copy of Sophocles uses the Ionic alphabet, Ionic spelling, 3rd century BCE accents, and 9th century CE letter-forms.

It’s no bad thing to ease the transition between the modern and classical languages. I’m happy for students to use modern pronunciation in my ancient Greek classes, and I’m seriously considering teaching accents as stress accents for pedagogical reasons. Anyway, over half the songs date to the Roman era, so those ones were always pronounced roughly how they sound in the game.

Addendum, twelve hours later: since the first version of this transcription went online I’ve noticed a handful more errors and variations in the shanty texts, and annotated them below.

Addendum 2, another day later: I have now added my own translations for the shanties in cases where the text is organised differently from the ancient source. Note that the Greek text of the shanties is copied from what is sung, and therefore includes some typos that were evidently given to the singers.


  1. ‘The black earth drinks’ -- Anacreontea 21.1-4, 6-7
  2. ‘Through the storm’ -- Alcaeus fr. 326.1-5 (ed. Lobel-Page)
  3. ‘Muse of the forest’ -- Aristophanes, Birds 737-743
  4. ‘The lost shield’ -- Archilochus fr. eleg. 5 (ed. West)
  5. ‘Bacchus teaches me to dance’ -- Anacreontea 49
  6. ‘Ares god of war’ -- Hymn to Ares 1-3, 5, 9
  7. ‘Song to Bacchus’ -- Anacreontea 48.1-8
  8. ‘When I drink’ -- Anacreontea 50.5-8, 25-28
  9. ‘Song for a young girl’ -- Anacreontea 22.5-16
  10. ‘Poseidon god of the sea’ -- Hymn to Poseidon 1, 4, 6

1. The black earth drinks (male crew, female crew)

ἡ γῆ μέλαινα πίνει, πίνει δὲ δένδρεα δ’ αὐτήν.
    τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι, θέλοντι πίνειν;
    τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι, καὐτῷ θέλοντι πίνειν;
ἡ γῆ μέλαινα πίνει, πίνει θάλασσ’ ἀναύρους.
    τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι, θέλοντι πίνειν;
    τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι, καὐτῷ θέλοντι πίνειν;
ἡ γῆ μέλαινα πίνει, ὁ δ’ ἥλιος θάλασσαν.
    τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι, θέλοντι πίνειν;
    τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι, καὐτῷ θέλοντι πίνειν;

The black earth drinks, and the trees drink it in turn.
    Why fight me, friends, if I want to drink too?
The black earth drinks, and the sea drinks the torrents.
    Why fight me, friends, if I want to drink too?
The black earth drinks, and the sun drinks the sea.
    Why fight me, friends, if I want to drink too?
Original (italics indicate words left out in the shanty):
ἡ γῆ μέλαινα πίνει,
πίνει δένδρεα δ’ αὐτήν,
πίνει θάλασσ’ ἀναύρους,
ὁ δ’ ἥλιος θάλασσαν,
τὸν δ’ ἥλιον σελήνη·
τί μοι μάχεσθ’, ἑταῖροι,
καὐτῷ θέλοντι πίνειν;

The black earth drinks,
the trees drink it,
the sea drinks the torrents,
the sun the sea,
the moon the sun.
Why fight with me, my friends,
if I too want to drink?
-- Anacreontea 21 (tr. Campbell)
Note. Greeks in the time of the Peloponnesian War would certainly have been familiar with Anacreon, a famous melic poet of the late 500s BCE.

The poems in the Anacreontea, however, are from centuries later. They range from roughly the 1st century BCE to the 6th century CE. The title they bear in their manuscript is because they deal with themes associated with Anacreon ... Anacreon certainly did like a bit of wine.

The shanty has an erroneous repetition of δέ in its first line (= Anacr. 21.2), which cannot mean anything sensible. The error appears to originate from a version of the text that appears on the website ‘Noctes gallicanae’, which is also the origin of typos in shanties 4 and 9.

2. Through the storm (male crew)

ἀσυννέτημμι τὼν ἀνέμων στάσιν,
    νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα, νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα σὺν μελαίνᾳ,
    νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα, νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα.
κῦμα κυλίνδεται, ἄμμες δ’ ὂν τὸ μέσσον
    νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα, νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα σὺν μελαίνᾳ,
    νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα, νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα.
χείμωνι μόχθεντες μεγάλῳ μάλα·
    νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα, νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα σὺν μελαίνᾳ,
    νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα, νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα.

I don’t understand the set of the winds.
    We sail in our ship, we sail in our black ship.
The wave rolls, and we in the middle,
    we sail in our ship, we sail in our black ship,
struggling in a huge storm.
    We sail in our ship, we sail in our black ship.
ἀσυννέτημμι τὼν ἀνέμων στάσιν,
τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔνθεν κῦμα κυλίνδεται,
τὸ δ’ ἔνθεν, ἄμμες δ’ ὂν τὸ μέσσον
νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα σὺν μελαίνᾳ

χείμωνι μόχθεντες μεγάλῳ μάλα·
πὲρ μὲν γὰρ ἄντλος ἰστοπέδαν ἔχει,
λαῖφος δὲ πὰν ζάδηλον ἤδη,
καὶ λάκιδες μέγαλαι κὰτ αὖτο,

χάλαισι δ’ ἄγκυρραι, τὰ δ’ ὀή[ϊα ...]

I fail to understand the direction of the winds:
one wave rolls in from this side,
another from that, and we in the middle
are carried along in company with our black ship,

much distressed in the great storm.
The bilge-water covers the masthold;
all the sail lets the light through now,
and there are great rents in it;

the anchors are slackening; the rudders [ ... ]
-- Alcaeus fr. 326 Lobel-Page (tr. Campbell)
Note. Alcaeus was one of the great duo of early poets of Lesbos, along with Sappho. Both poets wrote in the Lesbian dialect, which is a bit difficult for people trained in classical Attic Greek. Alcaeus’ fame was so great that the verse form used in this poem is named after him, the ‘Alcaic stanza’.

The theme, ostensibly a stormy sea, is fitting for the shanty. However, Alcaeus’ poetry is often heavily political. And in Greek poetry, sailing a ship is a common metaphor for governing a state. This poem is almost certainly about the tyrant Myrsilus, who gained power in Lesbos during Alcaeus’ lifetime: Alcaeus joined a conspiracy against Myrsilus, fled into exile, and later wrote a poem celebrating Myrsilus’ death.

3. Muse of the forest (male crew, female crew)

Μούσα λοχμαία (τιοτιοτίγξ),
ποικίλη, μεθ’ ἧς εγώ (τιοτιοτίγξ)
    νάπαισι και κορυφαίς
    ἐν ὀρείαις,
ἱζόμενος μελίας (τιοτιοτίγξ)
ἐπί φυλλοκόμου (τιοτιοτίγξ)
    νάπαισι και κορυφαίς
    ἐν ὀρείαις.

(See below for translation)
Μοῦσα λοχμαία,
ποικίλη, μεθ’ ἧς ἐγὼ νάπαισί
    <τε καὶ> κορυφαῖς ἐν ὀρείαις,
ἱζόμενος μελίας ἔπι φυλλοκόμου,

Muse of the forest,
tio tio tio tiotinx,
I join in your varied song
in the glens and mountain peaks,
tio tio tio tiotinx,
sitting on a leafy-haired ash tree,
tio tio tio tiotinx.
-- Aristophanes, Birds 737-743 (tr. Gainsford)
Note. Aristophanes’ comic play the Birds premiered at the Dionysia festival in Athens in February 414 BCE. The birds make up a chorus who sing odes throughout the play. This shanty comes from one of those odes: tio tio tio tiotinx represents birdsong (though it doesn’t really sound like it in the shanty!). It is an interlude in a longer song where the chorus step out of character to address the audience directly.

The play is about two Athenians who decide to flee the ravages of the Peloponnesian War -- it’s a not-so-subtle escape fantasy -- and, along with the birds, they found a new home in a city in the sky and call it Nephelokokkygia ‘cloud cuckoo land’. (‘Cloud cuckoo land’ is still proverbial in modern English: its most prominent appearance in recent mass media is in The Lego Movie (2014).)

4. The lost shield (male crew, female crew)

ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ θάμνῳ,
    ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω, ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίων.
ἔντος ἀμώμητον, ἀμώμητον, κάλλιστον οὐκ ἐθέλων,
    ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω, ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίων.
αὐτὸν δ᾽ ἐκ μ’ ἐσάωσα, τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;
    ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω, ἐρρέτω, ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίων.

Some Saian is boasting over my shield -- it was by a bush --
    to hell with it, to hell with it, to hell with it! I’ll get another one just as good.
a perfectly good weapon, I didn’t mean to leave it there.
    to hell with it, to hell with it, to hell with it! I’ll get another one just as good.
But I saved myself, so what do I care about the shield?
    to hell with it, to hell with it, to hell with it! I’ll get another one just as good.
ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ θάμνῳ,
    ἔντος ἀμώμητον, κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων·
αὐτὸν δ’ ἐξεσάωσα. τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;
    ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

Some Saian exults in my shield which I left --
    a faultless weapon -- beside a bush against my will.
But I saved myself. What do I care about that shield?
    To hell with it! I’ll get one that’s just as good another time.
-- Archilochus fr. eleg. 5 (tr. Gerber)
Note. The 7th century BCE poet Archilochus was perhaps the most celebrated of all the early Greek poets, until the popularity of Homer skyrocketed in the late 500s. Archilochus is known for his rebelliousness, here shown by his willingness to drop his shield and flee from battle. This poem is elegiac, a genre associated with philosophy and moralising.

The text of the shanty has typos which come from the website ‘Noctes gallicanae’, as in shanties 1 and 9: κάλλιστον (for κάλλιπον) and κακίων (for κακίω). Neither error makes sense in Greek. I’ve translated the shanty above as though the typos weren’t there. A further variant, ἐκ μ’ ἐσάωσα (‘I saved myself’) for ἐξεσάωσα, is a known alternate reading and means basically the same as the usual text.

5. Bacchus teaches me to dance (male crew, female crew)

τοῦ Διὸς ὁ παῖς ὁ Βάκχος,
    ὁ λυσίφρων, ὁ Λυαῖος
ὅταν εἰς φρένας τὰς ἐμάς
    εἰσέλθῃ μεθυδώτας
διδάσκει με, διδάσκει με, διδάσκει με χορεύειν.
ἔχω δέ τι καὶ τερπνόν
    ὁ τᾶς μέθας ἐραστάς·
μετὰ κρότων, μετ’ ᾠδᾶς
    τέρπει με κἀφροδίτα·
διδάσκει με, διδάσκει με, διδάσκει με χορεύειν.
        πάλιν θέλω χορεύειν,
        πάλιν θέλω χορεύειν,
        ὦ ὦ ὦ ὦ.

(See below for translation)
τοῦ Διὸς ὁ παῖς ὁ Βάκχος,
ὁ λυσίφρων ὁ Λυαῖος,
ὅταν εἰς φρένας τὰς ἐμάς
εἰσέλθῃ μεθυδώτας,
διδάσκει με χορεύειν.
ἔχω δέ τι καὶ τερπνόν
ὁ τᾶς μέθας ἐραστάς·
μετὰ κρότων, μετ’ ᾠδᾶς
τέρπει με κἀφροδίτα·
πάλιν θέλω χορεύειν.

Zeus’ son Bacchus,
the Mind-loosener, the Liberator!
When into my thoughts
he enters, the wine-giver,
he teaches me to dance.
And there’s something else I enjoy,
when I am wine’s lover:
along with the beat, along with the song
Aphrodite gives me pleasure too.
I want to dance again!
-- Anacreontea 49 (tr. Gainsford)
Note: See number 1, above, on the date of the Anacreontea.

Contrary to some people’s belief, Bacchus is not ‘the Roman name for Dionysus’. Dionysus was one of the most long-standing deities in Greek religion, and had cult centres all over the Greek world with many titles and names. He possessed both names in Greek at least as early as the 5th century BCE. Herodotus calls him ‘Baccheian’, Sophocles and Euripides call him ‘Bacchus’, and a more mystic variant ‘Iacchus’ appears in Herodotus and Aristophanes.

6. Ares, god of war (male crew, female crew)

Ἆρες ὑπερμενέτα, Ἆρες βρισάρματε,
Ἆρες χρυσεοπήληξ, Ἆρες ἀμόγητε,
    Ἆρες, Ἆρες, Ἆρες, Ἆρες.
Ἆρες χαλκοκορυστά, Ἆρες ἐπίκουρε,
Ἆρες δικαιοτάτων, Ἆρες ἀγὲ φωτῶν.
    Ἆρες, Ἆρες, Ἆρες, Ἆρες.

Ares proud-spirited, Ares weighing down the chariot,
Ares gold-helmeted, Ares tireless,
    Ares, Ares, Ares, Ares!
Ares armed in bronze, Ares the ally,
Ares of the most just, Ares leader of men,
    Ares, Ares, Ares, Ares!
Ἆρες ὑπερμενέτα, βρισάρματε, χρυσεοπήληξ,
ὀβριμόθυμε, φέρασπι, πολισσόε, χαλκοκορυστά,
καρτερόχειρ, ἀμόγητε, δορυσθενές, ἕρκος Ὀλύμπου,
Νίκης εὐπολέμοιο πάτερ, συναρωγὲ Θέμιστος,
ἀντιβίοισι τύραννε,
δικαιοτάτων ἀγὲ φωτῶν,
ἠνορέης σκηπτοῦχε, πυραυγέα κύκλον ἑλίσσων
αἰθέρος ἑπταπόροις ἐνὶ τείρεσιν ἔνθα σε πῶλοι
ζαφλεγέες τριτάτης ὑπὲρ ἄντυγος αἰὲν ἔχουσι·
κλῦθι βροτῶν
ἐπίκουρε, δοτὴρ εὐθαλέος ἥβης, ...

Ares haughty in spirit, heavy on chariot, golden-helmed;
grim-hearted, shieldbearer, city savior, bronze-armored;
tough of arm, untiring, spear-strong, bulwark of Olympus;
father of Victory in the good fight, ally of Law;
oppressor of the rebellious,
leader of the righteous;
sceptred king of manliness, as you wheel your fiery circle
among the seven coursing lights of the ether, where your
flaming steeds ever keep you up on the third orbit;
helper of mankind, giver of brave young manhood ...
-- Hymn 8 to Ares 1-9 (tr. West)
Note. The ‘Homeric’ hymns are a collection of poems in honour of various gods, nearly all of which date roughly from 670 to 500 BCE. This one is the exception: the Hymn to Ares is about a thousand years later than any other poem in the collection. As with the Anacreontea, this poem is ancient-ish, but not that ancient.

The poem is modelled on a set of Orphic hymns of the Roman era, and draws on the post-classical link between Ares and the planet Mars. There is some reason to link it in particular to Proclus, a 5th century CE philosopher and hymn-writer: here’s a 1970 article on the subject by the great scholar M. L. West.

7. Song to Bacchus (male crew, female crew)

ὅταν ὁ Βάκχος ἔλθῃ, εὕδουσιν αἱ μέριμναι·
    φέρε μοι κύπελλον ὦ παῖ, φέρε μοι κύπελλον παῖ.
δοκῶ δ᾿ ἔχειν τὰ Κροίσου, θέλω καλῶς ἀείδειν·
    φέρε μοι κύπελλον ὦ παῖ, φέρε μοι κύπελλον παῖ.

κισσοστεφὴς δὲ κεῖμαι, πατῶ δ᾿ ἅπαντα θυμῷ·
    φέρε μοι κύπελλον ὦ παῖ, φέρε μοι κύπελλον παῖ.
ὅπλιζ’, ἐγὼ δὲ πίνω, φέρε μοι κύπελλον, ὦ παῖ·
    φέρε μοι κύπελλον ὦ παῖ, φέρε μοι κύπελλον παῖ.

Whenever Bacchus comes, my cares go to sleep.
    Bring me the cup, boy, bring me the cup, boy!
I dream I’m as rich as Croesus, and it makes me want to sing.
    Bring me the cup, boy, bring me the cup, boy!

Ivy-garlanded I lie, but in my heart I walk the world.
    Bring me the cup, boy, bring me the cup, boy!
Get it ready and I’ll drink: bring me the cup, boy!
    Bring me the cup, boy, bring me the cup, boy!
ὅταν ὁ Βάκχος ἔλθῃ,
εὕδουσιν αἱ μέριμναι,
δοκῶ δ᾿ ἔχειν τὰ Κροίσου.
θέλω καλῶς ἀείδειν,
κισσοστεφὴς δὲ κεῖμαι,
πατῶ δ᾿ ἅπαντα θυμῷ.
ὅπλιζ’, ἐγὼ δὲ πίνω.
φέρε μοι κύπελλον, ὦ παῖ,
μεθύοντα γάρ με κεῖσθαι
πολὺ κρεῖσσον ἢ θανόντα.

When Bacchus comes,
my worries go to sleep,
and I imagine that I have the wealth of Croesus;
I want to sing beautifully;
I lie garlanded with ivy
and in my heart I disdain the world.
Prepare the wine and let me drink it.
Bring me a cup, boy;
for it is far better that I should
be drunk than lie dead.
-- Anacreontea 48 (tr. Campbell)
Note. See number 1, above, on the date of the Anacreontea, and number 5 on the name ‘Bacchus’.

The last three lines, which include the shanty’s refrain, are in a different metre and may come from a separate poem.

It can be hard to hear the words φέρε μοι clearly in the refrain of the shanty, but they are both there. (The original version of this transcription left out μοι in the refrain.)

8. When I drink (male crew, female crew)

ὅτ’ ἐγὼ πίω τὸν οἶνον (ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω)
ἀπορίπτονται αἱ μέριμναι
πολυφρόντιδές τε βουλαὶ
ἐς ἁλικτύπους ἀήτας.
(ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω)

ὅτ᾿ ἐγὼ πίω τὸν οἶνον (ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω)
τοῦτό μοι μόνον τὸ κέρδος,
τοῦτ᾿ ἐγὼ λαβὼν ἀποίσω·
τὸ θανεῖν γὰρ μετὰ πάντων.
(ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω)

ὅτ᾿ ἐγὼ πίω τὸν οἶνον (ὅτε πίω, ὅτε πίω).

(See below for translation)
ὅτ’ ἐγὼ πίω τὸν οἶνον,
ἀπορίπτονται μέριμναι
πολυφρόντιδές τε βουλαί
ἐς ἁλικτύπους ἀήτας. ...

ὅτ’ ἐγὼ πίω τὸν οἶνον,
τοῦτό μοι μόνον τὸ κέρδος,
τοῦτ’ ἐγὼ λαβὼν ἀποίσω·
τὸ θανεῖν γὰρ μετὰ πάντων.

When I drink wine,
my worries are thrown away,
and my anxious deliberations
to the winds that pound the sea. ...

When I drink wine,
that is all the gain I ask:
I shall accept it and take it away;
for I must die along with everyone else.
-- Anacreontea 50.5-8, 25-28 (tr. Campbell, adjusted)
Note. See number 1, above, on the date of the Anacreontea. A late date for this poem is especially strongly indicated by its metrical features. The anomalous spellings and forms in the manuscript text may also represent a late date rather than textual corruption.

9. Song for a young girl (male crew, female crew)

ἐγὼ δ’ ἔσοπτρον εἴην,
ὅπως ἀεὶ βλέπῃς μοι·
ἐγὼ χιτὼν γενοίμην,
ὅπως ἀεὶ φορῇς με.

ὕδωρ θέλω γενέσθαι,
ὅπως σε χρῶτα λούσω, ὅπως σε χρῶτα λούσω.

μύρον, γύναι, γενοίμην,
ὅπως ἐγώ σ’ ἐλείψω.
καὶ ταινίη δὲ μασθῷ
καὶ μάργαρον τραχήλῳ

καὶ σάνδαλον γενοίμην·
μόνον ποσὶν πάτει με, μόνον ποσὶν πάτει.

(See below for translation)
Εἰς κόρην
ἡ Ταντάλου ποτ’ ἔστη
λίθος Φρυγῶν ἐν ὄχθαις,
καὶ παῖς ποτ’ ὄρνις ἔπτη
Πανδίονος χελιδών.

ἐγὼ δ’ ἔσοπτρον εἴην,
ὅπως ἀεὶ βλέπῃς με·
ἐγὼ χιτὼν γενοίμην,
ὅπως ἀεὶ φορῇς με.
ὕδωρ θέλω γενέσθαι,
ὅπως σε χρῶτα λούσω·
μύρον, γύναι, γενοίμην,
ὅπως ἐγώ σ’ ἀλείψω.
καὶ ταινίη δὲ μασθῷ
καὶ μάργαρον τραχήλῳ
καὶ σάνδαλον γενοίμην·
μόνον ποσὶν πάτει με.

To a girl
Once Tantalus’ daughter became
a stone standing among the Phrygian hills;
once Pandion’s daughter became a bird
and flew, a swallow.

If only I could be a mirror,
so that you would always look at me;
if only I could be a robe,
so that you would always wear me;
I wish to become water,
that I might wash your skin;
I’d become perfume, lady,
that I might anoint you;
and a band for your breast,
a pearl for your neck,
a sandal I’d become --
only you get to trample me underfoot!
-- Anacreontea 22 (tr. Campbell, adjusted)
Note. See number 1, above, on the date of the Anacreontea.

The text used for the shanty has a couple of errors: βλέπῃς μοι, σ’ λείψω. The second of these apparently comes from the website ‘Noctes gallicanae’, as in shanties 1 and 4. That site also omits the first four lines of the poem, as in the shanty.

10. Poseidon god of the sea (male crew, female crew)

ἀμφὶ Ποσειδάωτα, μέγαν θεόν,
ἀμφὶ Ποσειδάωτα ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν.
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον, χαῖρε γαιήοχε,
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον, χαῖρε Ἐννοσίγαιε,
    χαῖρε, χαῖρε, μέγαν θεόν.
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον, χαῖρε.
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον, χαῖρε γαιήοχε,
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον, χαῖρε Ἐννοσίγαιε,
    χαῖρε, χαῖρε, μέγαν θεόν.

About Poseidon, great god,
about Poseidon I begin my song.
Hail, Poseidon! Hail, earth-mover!
Hail, Poseidon! Hail, land-shaker!
    Hail, hail! The great god!
Hail, Poseidon, hail!
Hail, Poseidon! Hail, earth-mover!
Hail, Poseidon! Hail, land-shaker!
    Hail, hail! The great god!
ἀμφὶ Ποσειδάωνα θεὸν μέγαν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
γαίης κινητῆρα καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης
πόντιον, ὅς θ’ Ἑλικῶνα καὶ εὐρείας ἔχει Αἰγάς.
διχθά τοι Ἐννοσίγαιε θεοὶ τιμὴν ἐδάσαντο
ἵππων τε δμητῆρ’ ἔμεναι σωτῆρά τε νηῶν.
χαῖρε Ποσείδαον γαιήοχε κυανοχαῖτα,
καὶ μάκαρ εὐμενὲς ἦτορ ἔχων πλώουσιν ἄρηγε.

About Poseidon the great god first I sing,
mover of the earth and the barren sea,
marine god, who possesses Helicon and broad Aegae.
In two parts, Earth-shaker, the gods assigned you your privilege:
to be a tamer of horses, and savior of ships.
I salute you, Poseidon, earth-rider, sable-hair.
Keep your heart well-disposed, blessed one, and assist those at sea.
-- Hymn 22 to Poseidon (tr. West)
Note. Unlike the Hymn to Ares (see number 6, above), this hymn is truly archaic and could well have been known to sailors in the Peloponnesian War.

The shanty’s text has a typo in line 1, Ποσειδάωτα (for Ποσειδάωνα). It seems to originate with the Perseus site. It appears to be a result of automated OCR: the Perseus text is based on the 1914 Loeb edition by H. G. Evelyn-White, but the print version has the correct reading.

I’ve alerted the folks at Perseus, and shortly after the first version of this transcription went online they replied that they’ve corrected their database. The corrected version will appear in newer versions of the Perseus reader, but they’re not planning to update the site.