Monday, 13 May 2019

Quotations and history

Quotation isn’t history. But it can be a tool for suggesting history. Like any tool, it can be used -- and misused -- in lots of ways.

Films, books, and games have many tools for evoking a sense of history. In films like Braveheart (1995) and Robin Hood (1991, 2010) the main tool is false archaism: a mash-up of tropes from different historical periods, combined to create a flavour of oldness that has nothing to do with the actual setting. Tolkien’s tool is language: he uses invented languages shaped by historical sound-shifts, similar to ones that happen in real languages, to create a historical backdrop for his novels. In games like Tomb raider (1996) and Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time (2003), it’s about interactive archaeology. Lara Croft is always diving into trap-filled ruins; the Prince starts out in a supposedly Abbasid-era palace, and later descends into an underground ruin with cuneiform-style writing on the walls, suggesting something Assyrian or Achaemenid -- past layered upon past.

Quotations are another tool. Quotations don’t send a story into the past, they bring the past into the present. Often the idea is to claim a kind of inheritance from the past. Sometimes it’s ironic. Sometimes you just want to claim that Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein would have been on your side.
Quit, don’t quit -- noodles, don’t noodles -- you are too concerned with what was, and what will be. There’s a saying. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift: that is why it is called the present.
-- Master Oogway (Kung fu panda, 2008)
Let’s look at some variants. I’ll stick to two themes: quotations in video games, and Alexander and his conquests.
Entrance to Rapture (BioShock, 2007)

Video games


All good things of this earth flow into the city.
-- BioShock (2007)
This quotation is openly political. The line is indirectly based on Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 2.38 -- Thucydides, that hero of alt-righters who either haven’t read him or haven’t understood him. (The Melian dialogue isn’t an instruction manual, guys, it’s a lesson about the immorality of power.)

In BioShock, the line is set over the entrance to Rapture, the underwater city where the game is set. It plays on a double meaning of ‘flow’. First, a boast about Rapture’s affluence, and the supposed superiority of its libertarian economic system; second, a quiet joke on the fact that Rapture is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and its resources come washing in on the ocean currents.

But the use of a classical allusion also feeds into Rapture’s ideological set-up. The founder of the city in the game, Andrew Ryan, intended the city to be a libertarian utopia. But, when the player actually arrives there, it turns out to be an objectivist nightmare, a monster from the lowest circles of Ayn Rand’s malevolence.

The quotation plays on the way that alt-righters often cast themselves as heirs of Greek and Latin culture. If you see people quoting taglines like si vis pacem para bellum (‘if you want peace, prepare war’, paraphrased from Vegetius), or μολὼν λαβέ (‘come and get them’: Herodotus on the battle of Thermopylae), or Deus vult (a modern Latin motto translated from a mediaeval French one associated with the Crusades), or calling themselves ‘the Spartans’ (Thermopylae again) -- well, then, you know exactly where they sit on the political spectrum. You know what colour their skin is, and what they would like to do to people from the Near East.

So when Rapture’s entranceway quotes Thucydides’ line about Athens at the height of its power and wealth, it seems that the fictional Ryan intended to evoke Athens’ ‘golden age’ and his own politics, both at once.

But it’s a bit of genius from the game’s writers, because it’s also ironic. Athens was obsessed with the purity of its democratic constitution. But if you know your history you’ll know that Athens didn’t owe its prosperity in that period to its democracy, but to its tyrannical imperialism and disregard for the autonomy of other states. The ‘greatness’ of Athenian democracy goes hand-in-hand with ideological puritanism, and flagrant violations of human rights. Just like Rapture.

The BioShock quotation isn’t directly from Thucydides: it comes from the film City hall. There Al Pacino speaks the line, as the mayor of New York: he attributes it to Pericles, as ‘the first and perhaps only great mayor’ --
All things good of this earth flow into the city because of the city’s greatness.
Thucydides’ wording is more literally ‘because of the size of the city, all things come into it from the whole earth’ (ἐπεσέρχεται δὲ διὰ μέγεθος τῆς πόλεως ἐκ πάσης γῆς τὰ πάντα). The minor distortion ‘good things’ for ‘all goods’ (τὰ πάντα) comes from Rex Warner’s translation of Thucydides --
Then the greatness of our city brings it about that all the good things from all over the world flow in to us ...
-- Thucydides 2.38 (tr. Warner)
I’m guessing the writers of City hall read Rex Warner’s version. Then, later on, BioShock inherited the phrasing.

An Aesop quotation about archery, without any context or relevance to the role of archery in the game (Civilization V, 2010)

Sid Meier’s Civilization

Some entries in the Civilization series (1991 to present) display quotations at moments when the player’s civilisation discovers a new technology or completes a world wonder. Many of them are attributed to ancient sources, and many of them are genuine.

That isn’t praise. Civilization generally has a casual approach to history. The quotations are there precisely to give an appearance of historical content, without any historical method. It’s a veneer of history-flavoured ganache on a dry cake. Some very bad misunderstandings of history have come from Civilization.

I can’t go through all of the quotations because there are too many. Ancient Greco-Roman sources account for sixteen quotations in Civilization VI (2016), seventeen in Civilization V (2010), and fifteen in Civilization IV (2005). Another four appear in the spin-off Alpha Centauri (1999).

As a first impression, generally the older games are the more careful, and pay more attention to nuance and context. The quotations in Alpha Centauri are exact quotations from Plato’s Republic, Symposium, and Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics, and are chosen to reflect the ideological positions of factions within the game. In Civilization VI, the quotations are a blend of accuracy and inaccuracy, and are chosen merely because they’re roughly related in some way. These quotations are accurate --
‘And first Hephaestus makes a great and massive shield ... And he forged on the shield two noble cities.’ -- Homer (Civ VI, ‘Metal Casting’ technology)
= Iliad 18.478 and 490-491 (tr. Robert Fagles, uncredited)

‘At Rhodes was set up a Colossus of seventy cubits high, representing the Sun ... the artist expended as much bronze on it as seemed likely to create a dearth in the mines.’ -- Philo of Byzantium (Civ VI, ‘Colossus’ building)
= Philon of Byzantium, On the seven wonders §4 (tr. Denys Haynes, uncredited)
-- but the game obviously has zero interest in the purpose of Hephaestus’ shield, or in the irony that the historical Colossus collapsed in just a few decades. And these ones are just wrong --
‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’ -- supposedly Aristotle (‘Education’ tech)

‘I sprang upon the swift ship in the form of a dolphin, pray to me as Apollo Delphinius; also the altar itself shall be called Delphinius and overlooked forever.’ -- supposedly Homer (‘Oracle’ building)
The first one starts out with some real Aristotle, but everything after the word ‘mind’ is made up. The second one isn’t Homer, and if you’re thinking it doesn’t make sense, that’s because they missed out part of the sentence.
It is characteristic of an educated man only to look for precision in each class of things so far as the nature of the subject admits. Getting an argument from likelihood from a mathematician would be like asking for theorems from a rhetorician.
-- Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics i.1094b.23-27 (§1.3)

Since, when I was first seen in the murky sea and I leapt onto the swift ship, I was in the form of a dolphin, so you should pray to me as Delphinian. And the altar will itself be ‘Delphinian’ and ‘Overlooking’ forever.
-- Cynaethus, Hymn to Apollo 493-496
Civilization is, in a limited way, good for the public understanding of history, to the extent that it gets people interested in history. But the game’s overall structure is antithetical to history. Every aspect of gameplay revolves around technologies, and every branch of the ‘tech tree’ is teleological, guiding every civilisation to a pre-determined goal, which looks exactly like the technologies available in present-day western countries -- or, in the ‘futurist’ stage of the game, something that looks like western science fiction.

The whole thing presupposes that anything that doesn’t get us towards modern Mechanized Infantry and Mobile SAM isn’t a valid part of history, and isn’t worth knowing about. The point of history, according to Civilization, is to lead towards us. Ever heard anyone ask ‘What has Africa done for us’? Or ‘Why study the Byzantines, when it’s the western Roman Empire that gave us roads, Vergil, and Catholicism’? I have. And that’s teleological history. Or, to put it another way: not history.
Right to left: Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, James Shigeta as Joseph Takagi, Alexander Godunov as Karl (Die hard, 1988)


Hans Gruber vs. Plutarch

‘And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ {chuckle} Benefits of a classical education.
-- Hans Gruber, Die hard (1988)
The idea behind this ‘quotation’ is to cast Gruber (Alan Rickman) as an opposite to the hero John McClane (Bruce Willis). Gruber is educated, McClane relies on street smarts; Gruber is evil, McClane is good; Gruber wears a suit, McClane looks like a redneck for most of the film; Gruber is European, McClane is John Wayne (‘yippie-ki-yay’).

It’s a pretty straightforward message: education corrupts.

Now, I put ‘quotation’ in scare-quotes, because it isn’t one. ‘Hans baby’ may be an exceptional thief, but I’m afraid his classical education was shonky. In this case, though, I don’t think that’s what the writers intended. This misquotation is more a reflection of America under Reagan than it is of Gruber’s morals. The line echoes something Plutarch wrote (though Gruber doesn’t attribute it to Plutarch, as WikiQuote claims). Die hard gets its version of the line from The Twilight Zone -- ‘he cried because he had no more worlds to conquer’ (‘Of late I think of Cliffordville’, 1963) -- but both of them reverse it: it’s the exact opposite of what Plutarch says.
When Alexander heard Anaxarchos speaking about an infinity of universes, he wept. His friends asked what was wrong. He said, ‘Isn’t it worth weeping if there are infinite universes, and we haven’t yet become the masters of even one?’
-- Plutarch, On tranquility of mind 466d (§4)
Plutarch’s fictional Alexander doesn’t weep because he’s run out of conquests, he weeps because there’s too much to conquer and he can’t get the job done.

(The variation between ‘worlds’ and ‘universes’ is fine, by the way. The Greek word kosmos is just like ‘world’ in English: it can mean the universe as a whole, but also ‘the (human) world’, that is, earth. Plutarch’s Alexander is pretty clearly thinking about conquering the earth, not the entire universe.)

The point of this misquotation isn’t to showcase the laziness of the writers, though: no one cares about that. It’s the notion that education is a sign of moral depravity. And that’s a pretty clear reflection of Reaganism.

‘The Great’

Any time you call Alexander ‘Alexander the Great’, you aren’t doing it because that’s his due title. Because it never was. What you’re doing is supporting the Great Man theory of history.

That’s the theory that the course of history is driven by outstanding individuals, movers and shakers, heroes: Alexander, Caesar, Washington, Napoleon. Historians tend to be very, very hostile to that theory, and for good reason. The famous individuals of history don’t emerge into the limelight because they create limelight around themselves, but because they encapsulate historical ideas and forces that are coming to a head in their lifetimes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t exceptional individuals -- just that history doesn’t revolve around them.

Nowadays the Great Man theory mainly serves to keep the ‘right’ people at the centre of everyone’s attention: it makes sure people talk about rich powerful men. It’s a way to prevent you from thinking about women, minorities, and people who are enslaved or poor.

It’s especially artificial because it isn’t real. Wikipedia names Alexander
Alexander the Great (Ancient Greek: Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας ...)
as if it’s a formal title, but there’s nothing to suggest he was called ‘the Great’ during his lifetime. Evidence for the nickname only starts to mount up 250 years after his death, towards the end of the 1st century BCE.

Here’s a whole article on the subject by Professor Catherine Rubincam. She agrees with earlier scholarship that ‘the Great’ was actually originally used for the Seleucid king Antiochus III, around 205 BCE, over 100 years after Alexander died. But after a thorough look at the evidence, she concludes that the popularity of Alexander’s title doesn’t come from Antiochus: its popularity comes from Roman writers talking about Alexander.

Rubincam thinks that process did begin around Antiochus’ time, shown by a reference to ‘great Alexander’ in one of Plautus’ plays (Mostellaria 775-777). I have my doubts. In Plautus it could just be a general term of adulation. Rubincam herself shows that the main support for ‘the Great’ as a title comes from books written centuries later, around the time of Augustus: Trogus, Livy, and Velleius Paterculus. Not that it’s conspicuous that Alexander isn’t called ‘the Great’ any earlier -- I’m just suspicious of granting so much weight to a passing reference in Plautus. Evidence of Alexander being called ‘the Great’ in Greek doesn’t start to pop up until another 200 years later. The earliest references are in Plutarch and Athenaeus, in the mid-to-late 100s CE.
References: Plutarch, Life of Aemilius Paulus 23.5; Life of Pyrrhus 11.2, 19.2; Life of Pelopidas 34.2; On the fortune of Alexander 336e9, 340b4, 341c11; Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 6.19 p. 231 = FGrHist 76 F 37a. The reference in Athenaeus cites a much earlier author, Douris of Samos, but Douris is lost and Athenaeus’ text is a paraphrase, not a quotation. Another early author, Timaeus, is paraphrased in a similar way with a reference to Alexander ‘the Great’ in Longinus On the sublime 4.2.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Newly discovered essay by an Analyst scholar

Tucked inside the back cover of a book recently acquired by the Victoria University of Wellington library was a short paper on the authenticity of certain parts of the Homeric Odyssey. I reproduce below a copy of this idiosyncratic essay, clearly composed within the Analyst school of thought. Regrettably I have not yet succeeded in identifying the author.

A word to the wise: no, this isn’t real, it’s a parody. I have to make that clear, because it’s esoteric enough that I bet many people wouldn’t spot how ridiculous it is. This essay tries to capture how it genuinely feels, to me, when I read stuff written by Analysts. I wrote it about a decade ago, and found it while sorting through some old files.

Helen tells Telemachus the story of Odysseus as a beggar (A. Boizot and A. Clément, ‘Telemachus at the court of Menelaus’, 18th cent.)
It was known already to Zoilos that repeated passages in the Homeric epics are indicative of the hand of a lesser poet intruding his desires and designs upon the poems in a singularly unimaginative and banal way. From Aristarchos onwards, who produced the first serious edition of the epics, this simple observation has risen to become a fundamental principle of the scientific study of Homer.

In more recent years it has become progressively and continually more obvious that not only individual lines, but whole scenes, physical settings, and even the very characters of the poems, become suspect under this light, the most obvious instance being perhaps the farm of Laertes in ω, which is a naïf repetition of that of Eumaios in ξ, modified only to the extent of making it a farm for fruit rather than animals. But also in the Odyssey we find the oxherd Philoitios, who is nothing more than a reflection of the swineherd Eumaios, the two not even being clearly separated in the scene where Odysseus reveals himself to them in φ; similarly the nursemaid Eurynome is a poorly motivated duplicate of Eurykleia, and Kalypso a copy of Kirke. (This last duplication was so self-evident even to the ancients that the negligible Diktys actually made them sisters ruling over neighbouring islands.) In all such cases we see the signs of late interpolations, which postdate the original Odyssey, that is to say, the elder compilation of three lays by a relatively talented Ionian poet in whose hands the epic attained its peak of quality, such that we all now rightly regard this phase of the poem’s development, the work of the so-called redactor, as the genuine Odyssey, as has been shown in many places.

One duplication, however, poses problems. It has always been difficult to determine what exactly has happened in the case of Helen and Penelope. The two show very strong parallels: Helen’s marriage to Menelaos was preceded by being courted by an army of suitors; so Penelope too has to be courted by an enormous group of suitors. Uniquely for a woman, Helen possesses κλέος and ἀρετή; therefore so too must Penelope, so that these two women alone in Homer possess those qualities. Helen is stolen away by an intruder and has to be won back by her proper husband; only a modest change has been made in the case of Penelope, namely that Odysseus’ return anticipates the stealing away. But Penelope was such a prominent character in one of the lays that predate the Ionian phase of the Odyssey that it has so far been difficult to imagine what the return of Odysseus looked like before her character was added.

Some passages demonstrate such strong similarities that no reservations can rationally be sustained. The most astounding such passage is δ 244-59, where Helen recalls the incident of Odysseus stealing into Troy, how she recognised him immediately but chose not to betray him. In this passage we find explicitly stated that Odysseus entered the city disguised as a beggar; that Helen alone saw through his disguise; that he cleverly evaded her questions; that she made arrangements for a bath for her disguised guest; that she swore not to reveal him to his enemies; and that afterwards there was lamentation among the other women at what had happened. When we consider that these events are all too clearly identical to those in τ, the late-night conversation between Penelope and Odysseus -- remembering that in the pre-Ionian phase of the Odyssey, Penelope likewise was the first to recognise Odysseus, as evidence internal to τ shows, and that a later hand disguised this fact, ineptly, to make way for a second recognition in ψ -- no doubt can remain that one of these two is an inferior copy of the other.

The passage spoken by Helen cannot be an interpolation. Aristarchos could find no fault with it, and indeed corrected Zenodotos’ incompetence in misinterpretating δέκτῃ as a name in 248. The only clear interpolation in the passage is 249, shown by the neologism ἀβάκησαν. But the passage as a whole is most ancient: the most important proof of this is the variants in 252. There we find λόεον corrected to Ionic ἐλόευν, and ἔχρισ’ ἐλαίῳ (which must originally have been ἔχρισε ϝ’ ἐλαίῳ) corrected to Ionic χρῖον ἐλαίῳ. Only the Ionian redactor could be responsible for these adaptations into the Ionic dialect. Therefore, the line predates the Ionian compilation.

Thus it is not a matter of deciding whether this passage is copied from the lay of the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope. Rather, the antiquity of this passage means that it is a matter of whether the entire character of Helen is copied from Penelope, or vice versa.

Faced with such a choice, no doubt can be entertained: Helen is the original, and Penelope the copy. Without Helen, the entire basis for the Trojan War -- and the reason for Odysseus being absent in the first place -- would be gone. The figure of Penelope, then, postdates Helen: she is nothing more than a meaningless redundancy, with no true role in the story of Odysseus’ return.

What, then, prompted the poet who created the lay of the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope (which, in the hands of the redactor, became ρστ) to copy and adapt the figure of Helen in this way, and at such an early date? It can only be that Penelope was a figure already established in myth in a different context. The missing datum is that Penelope is borrowed from Arcadian cult. For this our earliest source is Apollodoros. She was worshipped in Mantineia as the mother of the god Pan; in later times, after the rise in importance of Homeric epic, Arcadian legend was rewritten to accommodate the Odyssey. In the wake of Homer, the devout worshippers refashioned their own Penelope, as though she had originally been Odysseus’ wife and became the object of worship only later, after Odysseus found that she had committed adultery and expelled her from his house, after which she came to Arcadia and there gave birth to Pan.

This conclusion has an impact beyond just ρστ. The story of Odysseus’ return originally featured no Penelope, as we have seen; but from other considerations, as is well known, Telemachos is also a late addition (the Telemachy was added after the redactor’s compilation), and Laertes even later (ω is of course the latest part of the Odyssey). The only remaining member of Odysseus’ household is the slave Eumaios; but even he should be rejected, as his status indicates an ethos of slavery that obviously belongs to the period of Greek colonisation.

In short Odysseus’ household, as originally conceived, contained no one for Odysseus to return to. The original story, therefore, was not about Odysseus’ return but rather about an invasion -- about a foreigner arriving and attacking the local inhabitants, killing them, and claiming the throne. This explains certain problems in the conflict between the Odysseus and the ‘suitors’. In the Odyssey as we have it, the suitors are guests under the protection of Zeus, and Odysseus’ slaughter of them should be viewed as a monstrous crime; but in the Ur-form of the tale they enjoyed no such protection, and so Odysseus could attack and kill them without any impropriety, and no violation of Greek morals.

Given the strong ties that Odysseus has with northwestern Greece -- Lykophron records that there were oracles of Odysseus among the Eurytanians and Trampyans, Bouneima near Trampya was founded by Odysseus, and the epithet ‘Alkomenean Odysseus’ surely refers to the Alkomenai in Illyria rather than the Ithacan town --, the Ur-form of the ‘return’ story must have been about an invasion from the northwest. This can be none other than the Dorian invasion, whose historicity is undoubted.

The Ur-Odyssey thus stands as our earliest source of information for a violent Dorian incursion. It seems that an echo of this may survive in some of the later interpolated parts of the epic. Notably, we are now in a position to explain Telemachos’ journey to Sparta as being, in its origin, an account of a contingent sent to invade the southern Peloponnesos. This contingent had aid from Pylos, so that we now see Pylos was evidently the first city in the Peloponnesos to accept and support their new Dorian masters. Historians of the Dark Age will want to take note of this discovery, as will students of the role and status of Pylos in early Greece, and adjust the historical record accordingly.
WARNING: this map is very garbled. It comes from some poor sap’s presentation to a class, but it’s basically the Bronze Age equivalent of 1066 and All That.
‘Hey, let’s imagine the Dorian invasion really happened, and not only that, but that it was an integral part of the Bronze Age Collapse and the Sea Peoples, and all these things were actually the same event!’
‘Sure, everyone knows that if three things happened within two centuries of each other and within 1000 km of each other, they must be directly linked. The first one is based on legendary sources from 500-1000 years later, the second one is grounded in archaeological evidence from Greece, Anatolia, and Syria, and the third in contemporary textual evidence from Egypt. Yes, these are all clearly the same thing.’
‘Um, do we need to put the Dorian homeland in its correct place?’
‘No, why would that matter?’
‘So we’ve got an existing Greek civilisation being invaded by more Greeks from Serbia, that’s OK?’
‘That makes complete sense to me.’
‘How about the fact that Mersin, Tarsus, Carchemish, and Hamath weren’t destroyed, but were either damaged but remained standing, like Troy and Knossos, or even became more important after the Hittite collapse -- do we care about that?’
‘Bah, just trivial details.’
‘What about colonists heading ...’
‘Shut up and draw the map.’


I won’t labour all the in-jokes in this essay, but it may be worth mentioning that some of its claims are perfectly true.
  • ‘[T]he elder compilation of three lays by a relatively talented Ionian poet’: this is essentially how Wilamowitz argued the Odyssey was put together.
  • The parallels between Helen and Penelope are all real.
  • ‘Penelope … the first to recognise Odysseus’: the idea that Penelope supposedly secretly recognises Odysseus in Odyssey book 19 has a long tradition behind it, and it has had a long-lasting impact even on people who don’t believe it. Many modern interpretations -- even those adamantly opposed to the Analyst school -- still contain echoes of the idea.
  • The variation δέκτῃ/Δέκτῃ in Od. 4.248, and the manuscript variants of λόεον and χρῖον ἐλαίῳ in Od. 4.252, are real. That episode has often been of keen interest to Analysts because of a supposed relation to Cyclic epic material.
  • Penelope genuinely was honoured in Mantineia as the mother of Pan. A form of the story existed at least as early as Herodotus 2.145; cf. ps.-Apollodoros epit. 7.38, Pausanias 8.12.6.
  • The Telemachy and Odyssey book 24 are indeed normally regarded by Analysts as later than the rest of the epic (though the idea is very doubtful, and there’s zero support from properly sampled statistical analysis of the language in those episodes).
  • The name ‘Odysseus’ is not Illyrian in origin. However, the northwestern cult-sites at Trampya (Thesprotia) and Bouneima (Thesprotia/Aitolia) seem to have been real. The Alkomenai in Illyria is real, as is the town on Ithaca, and the epithet ‘Alkomenean Odysseus’. It isn’t impossible that the name ‘Alkomenai’ has Odyssean connections, but it’s more likely that it alludes to Athena, who had a cult-site at Alalkomenai in Boiotia.
  • The Dorian invasion is still sometimes treated by ancient historians as though it were real. There is no direct archaeological evidence for it, and the indirect evidence is very contestable. Perhaps the worst thing about the Dorian migration hypothesis is that there’s no falsehood condition: no kind of evidence could ever disprove it.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The golden ratio

‘Ancient architecture and art are chocker with full of examples of the golden ratio’ is a myth that we should blame on Walt Disney. He didn’t invent it, but he sure did popularise it.

[Edited: I hadn’t realised the kiwiism ‘chocker’ doesn’t cross oceanic boundaries well.]

In 1959 Disney released a half-hour educational cartoon starring Donald Duck, Donald in Mathmagic Land. For decades the cartoon was shown to maths classes in thousands of schools. I saw it at my school in New Zealand in the 1980s. For a good while, I believed its claims -- even though I only half-remembered them.
Donald in Mathmagic Land (Disney, 1959)
Here’s a sample:
To the Greeks, the golden rectangle represented a mathematical law of beauty. We find it in their classical architecture. The Parthenon, perhaps one of the most famous of early Greek buildings, contains many golden rectangles.
-- Donald in Mathmagic Land (Disney, 1959)
The cartoon also states that the golden ratio can be found in pentagrams, and that it can be found in naturally-occurring pentagonal and spiral shapes. The thing about pentagrams is absolutely true, and there’s some truth to the claims about pentagons -- but natural spirals are much more diverse than Donald Duck led us to think. And as for the golden ratio in architecture ...

Mathematical explanation

The ‘golden ratio’, also known as φ, is equal to (√5 + 1)/2, or 1.61803...
A golden rectangle with dimensions 1 × φ. The gold-coloured region has the same proportions as the larger rectangle. If you continue to cut off squares, the remaining rectangles will still all have the same proportions as the original.
The golden ratio is defined as follows. If you have a rectangle with sides 1 × φ, you can chop off a 1 × 1 square and the remaining smaller rectangle will have exactly the same proportions as the original one. This will only work if the original proportion is exactly φ. Such a rectangle is commonly known as a ‘golden rectangle’.

You can use golden rectangles to construct other ‘golden’ shapes: a ‘golden angle’, at the angle of a golden rectangle’s diagonal, and a ‘golden spiral’ like the one shown below superimposed on a nautilus shell.
Nautilus shells famously follow a golden spiral ... except, um, they obviously don’t.
The myth is that golden rectangles pop up all over the history of art and architecture, and golden spirals pop up all over nature. There are elements of truth to this. But they aren’t remotely as common as you might imagine from watching Donald Duck, or from reading Wikipedia’s ‘list of works designed with the golden ratio’.

φ also has some interesting numerical properties:
  • φ – 1 = 1/φ, and φ + 1 = φ2.
  • The first of these equations is simply a restatement of the definition of the golden ratio (see diagram above). From it, we can extract the quadratic equation φ2 – φ – 1 = 0. Solving this gives the value φ = (√5 + 1)/2.
  • In the Fibonacci sequence, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. The longer the sequence goes on, the closer the ratio between each number and its predecessor gets to φ: the ratios go 1, 2, 1.5, 1.667, 1.6, 1.625, 1.615, 1.619, and so on.
  • Powers of φ are closely related to the Fibonacci numbers. If we define Fn = the nth number in the Fibonacci sequence, then
    • φ2 = F1 + φF2
    • φ3 = F2 + φF3
    • φ4 = F3 + φF4, etc.
These mathematical claims, at least, are absolutely true, and there’s a lot more we could add. It’s when we get to the physical world that the problems begin.

The problem

The golden ratio isn’t nearly as omnipresent as its fans would have you believe. You will find φ in some natural phenomena that involve pentagonal shapes, or a repeating growth process. That’s because these things are directly related to the mathematics of φ. The Fibonacci sequence is a recursive growth process, so Fibonacci numbers do pop up in nature, and as we saw above, the Fibonacci sequence generates the golden ratio.

But it definitely doesn’t happen everywhere. In particular, nature does not favour golden spirals. There are other logarithmic spirals in nature -- nautilus shells are the best known example -- but only a spiral at a specific angle is a golden spiral. Even in situations where Fibonacci numbers arise, like clustered leaf arrangements on a plant stem, the spirals aren’t golden spirals.
NGC 232: no golden spirals in sight. If you get the spiral arms to match the curve at the top and right, then they are obviously inaccurate at the left and bottom, and in the centre.
And then there’s art and architecture. Here, you have to look really hard to find the golden ratio. In ancient Greek art and architecture you won’t find it at all. Unless you fudge it.
Fudged golden rectangles. From top left: caryatids on the Erectheium, Athens; Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’; a live human woman (all from Donald in Mathmagic Land, 1959); the Parthenon (from this webpage). What are the drawn rectangles even supposed to demonstrate? That you can draw rectangles on pictures? None of the Disney ones match anything in the images. In the Parthenon picture the top edge matches the building, but the left and right edges are only approximate, and others just show the theory’s falsehood: the bottom edge of the largest rectangle, and the right edge of the largest square, don’t match anything on the building.
Sure, you’ll find websites all over the place claiming to find golden rectangles in all sorts of places, especially the Parthenon. They’re heavily flavoured with conspiracy-theory-style thinking. Some people can get very, very angry if you express doubts. The talk page on the Wikipedia ‘list of works designed with the golden ratio’ is interesting reading. In 2008 there was a minor war over the subject: there’s one person patiently and doggedly requesting substantiation, details, and documentation, while others -- one person in particular -- get increasingly frustrated. The reason they’re frustrated is because they can’t find any decent substantiation. And the reason they can’t find it is because it doesn’t exist.

It can sometimes be a good joke to satirise some of the claims. Here’s a page from the webcomic xkcd that superimposes golden spirals over anything and everything. You can draw rectangles and spirals anywhere you want ... it doesn’t mean that they’ll fit anything.

Let’s move on to some specifics.

Myth 1: The Parthenon is designed around φ

This is probably the most popular golden ratio myth. The Parthenon is the famous temple of Athena in Athens. Across the internet -- and in Donald in Mathmagic Land -- you’ll see many images of the Parthenon with golden rectangles superimposed on various bits of its facade.
Donald in Mathmagic Land (1959) uses a hand-drawn Parthenon. Not too surprising, then, that the fit is so tidy.
If you do this with an accurate elevation plan, though, you’ll quickly find that golden rectangles don’t actually fit any edges on the building. If the architects of the Parthenon had wanted to embed the golden ratio in the building, they certainly could have done so: ancient Greek temples do display various other ratios, to fairly high precision, as documented by Lehman and Weinman (2018: 61-104). But they’re ratios like 2:1, 9:4, 7:3, and in some parts of the Parthenon, 81:30. The golden ratio doesn’t enter into it.

Here’s one diagram that depicts the Parthenon with measurements full of various multiples of φ, π, and e. A few problems:
  1. The measurements are all wrong. For accurate figures, see Orlandos (1976-1978). Selected measurements are also quoted by Lehman and Weinman (2018: 167-168).
  2. If you’re giving examples of the golden ratio and you have to resort to proportions like φ3√5 and 10π/3, you’re doing it wrong.
  3. The ancient Greeks didn’t know the values of φ and π to any great accuracy. There’s no evidence anyone even knew of φ until Euclid. As for π, Archimedes calculated its value precise to two decimal places two centuries after the Parthenon was built; in the earlier period, the best approximation of π would have been that of Antiphon, who calculated only a lower bound for its value, and was doubtless less accurate. And the ancient Greeks had no clue what e is, because they hadn’t invented logarithms or compound interest: e wasn’t defined until the 1600s.
[Addendum, a couple of days later: I spoke rashly in point 3. φ probably was known to mathematicians of the late 5th century BCE. Important points about the icosahedron and dodecahedron appear in book 13 of the Elements, which owes a lot to, and may even be largely copied from, Theaetetus of Athens, a key early figure in the study of irrational numbers.]

Here’s another site that looks at a whole bunch of supposed golden rectangles in the Parthenon facade. Its conclusions are negative, but in my opinion not nearly negative enough.
A photo used on Claim 1(a), below, relates to the yellow rectangle, and claim 1(b) to the red rectangle.
Myth 1(a): In the Parthenon frieze, each square metope + rectangular triglyph together form a golden rectangle. The triglyph is another golden rectangle.

Reality: To avoid problems with foreshortening, let’s get some accurate measurements. I’m taking my figures from Lehman and Weinman 2018: 167.

On the west facade, the average metope width is 1275 mm, and the average triglyph width is 844.6 mm, making a total rectangle of 1275 × 2119.6 mm. A golden rectangle of the same height ought to be 1275 × 2063 mm, or if the same width, 1310 × 2119.6 mm. On the east facade, the figures are almost the same: average metope width 1274 mm, average triglyph width 844.5 mm, total rectangle 1274 × 2118.5 mm. The triglyphs are more than 7% too fat to be golden rectangles.

The actual ratio intended between metope and triglyph is 3:2. On the west facade it’s 3.019:2, on the east facade 3.017:2. Combined, each metope + triglyph would then produce a 5 × 3 rectangle, not φ × 1. They miss φ by 2.7%, but they miss 5 × 3 by only 0.23% to 0.25%.
Actual proportions of Parthenon metope + triglyph (west facade dimensions), with superimposed golden rectangles in red (the correct height) and blue (the correct width).
Myth 1(b): A rectangle the width of a metope + triglyph, and the height of the entablature, is a golden rectangle.

Reality: The height of the entablature is 3.295 m, so based on the figures above, the rectangle is 2.1196 × 3.295 m (west facade) or 2.1185 × 3.295 m (east). A golden rectangle of the same height ought to be 2.036 m wide, or if the same width, 3.430 m high (west) or 3.428 m high (east). The entablature is 4% too short, or alternatively, the metopes + triglyphs are 4% too wide.

Myth 1(c): Each pair of columns and the space between them form a golden rectangle.

Reality: The columns are 10.433 m tall. The diameter at the bottom is 1.905 m, and the average intercolumniation is 4.296 m (not counting the corner columns, which are more narrowly spaced). This gives a rectangle of 6.201 m × 10.433 m. A golden rectangle with that width ought to be 6.201 × 10.033 m (so the real columns are 4% too short), or with that height, 6.448 m × 10.433 m (so the real columns are 4% too close together).
Photo of the Parthenon from this webpage: the green rectangles are original, the red rectangle added by me. The green rectangles supposedly show golden ratios all over the place. The red rectangle is a real golden rectangle. It doesn’t fit.
You might reply that these are near enough: that the intent was to produce golden rectangles, and the inaccuracies are just the result of imperfect building techniques.

You could argue that. But only if you ignore the fact that the Parthenon is actually rather well engineered. The precision is way better than one part in a hundred. Remember how the metope:triglyph ratio is within 0.25% of the intended proportion, 3:2 (myth 1(a), above).
The Parthenon, reconstructed, with superimposed golden rectangles and golden angles all over the place. None of them come even close to fitting anything. This elevation was drawn up by the architects James Stuart and Nicholas Revett in the 1750s: I use it here, rather than a photograph, to avoid foreshortening. (Source: Stuart 1787, chap. 1 plate 3)

Myth 2: The sculptor Pheidias used φ

This myth is closely allied to myth 1, because Pheidias was credited for the colossal statue of Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon. Taken in conjunction, they’ve often ended up making Pheidias the architect of the building (he wasn’t) as well as a sculptor.

[Addendum, a couple of days later: I should have qualified this. Pheidias was the supervisor of the Parthenon project. But the architect was a different man, Ictinus, who also designed the extraordinary temple of Apollo at Bassae, and had a hand in the Telesterion in Eleusis and the Periclean Odeon in Athens. He was a very skilled architect.]

The myth about the sculptures was made up in the 1910s. It happened hand-in-hand with choosing the letter φ to represent the ratio. According to Theodore Cook, the letter φ was suggested by the engineer Mark Barr
partly because it has a familiar sound to those who wrestle constantly with π (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter), and partly because it is the first letter of the name of Pheidias, in whose sculpture this proportion is seen to prevail when the distances between salient points are measured. So much is this the case that the φ proportion may be fitly called the ‘Ratio of Pheidias.’
-- Cook 1914: 420
The idea of φ as a counterpart to π is reasonable. The stuff about Pheidias is pure fiction. We don’t know the proportions of Pheidias’ free-standing sculptures, for the simple reason that none of them survive. We have many of the decorative sculptures on the Parthenon, but they don’t exhibit the golden ratio so as you’d notice. We do have descriptions of some of Pheidias’ statues, but the descriptions don’t discuss any ratios, let alone the golden ratio.

It’s not clear whether the myth was invented by Barr or by William Schooling, the person that passed Barr’s suggestion to Cook. Apparently in 1929 Barr stated that he didn’t ‘believe’ Pheidias actually used the golden ratio, but I haven’t managed to get hold of the later article to read what he actually says there.

Myth 3: Plato’s divided line, something something

Plato’s analogy of the divided line (Republic vi.509d-511e) chops up the world into the physical and non-physical realms, which are then each divided up into two sub-sections in the same proportion.
It has nothing at all to do with the golden ratio. I bring it up here because Plato talks about the visible and intelligible realms being subdivided in the same ratio as the overall division, and apparently some of Plato’s readers are unable to imagine this happening with any ratio other than φ.

Myth 4: Vergil’s Aeneid uses φ

This one actually originates with a classicist, George E. Duckworth. He argued it in a series of articles and a 1962 book. Hardly anyone took it seriously at the time -- see the reviews by Dalzell and Clarke -- and no classicist takes it seriously nowadays.

Duckworth assumes that Vergil knew the numerical value of φ, knew the Fibonacci sequence, and understood the relationship between them. He then identifies examples of the golden ratio in passages with relative lengths anywhere between 1.5 and 1.75, and in passages whose length in lines is a Fibonacci number.

Fibonacci numbers, unfortunately, weren’t known in Europe until Fibonacci wrote about them in the 1200s. Their connection to φ wasn’t known, or at least not widely known, until Simon Jacob noticed it in the 1500s. So imagining Vergil using these ideas is ... difficult.

The reviews linked above also point out copious examples of how Duckworth cherry-picks his data, massages it, and conceals imprecisions. Clarke takes the additional step of illustrating that arbitrary ratios can be found in any poet if you look hard enough, by analysing a poem by John Betjeman in the same way. (He picks Betjeman, ‘a poet certainly oblivious of the Golden Section’, because his style is antithetical to the abstract; perhaps also because of Betjeman’s documented incompetence at maths and laziness as a student.)

Myth 5: ‘European paper sizes’ -- A4, A3, etc. -- are golden rectangles

Yes, I really have seen people claim this. This one is a twofer:
  1. Those paper sizes aren’t European, they’re the ISO international standard.
  2. The actual ratio of A4/A3/etc. paper size is √2 (1.414...), not φ.
(Actually the paper size closest to a golden rectangle is US legal: 215.9 × 355.6 mm, a ratio of 1.647. And legal looks weird. So much for golden rectangles being the ideal proportions.)

Myth 6: If you ask people to pick a random number between 1 and 100, they’ll prefer 61 and 37 because of φ

The idea here is that the human brain is naturally attracted to the golden ratio. There aren’t any well tested scientific studies showing that, though. I’ve seen someone seriously claim that these choices are hardwired into the human brain because 61 = 100/φ and 37 = 100/φ2. (Why on earth would our brains care about 1/φ2?)

It certainly seems to be true that people choose odd numbers, prime numbers, and numbers ending in 7 or 3 extraordinarily frequently when asked to pick a number randomly. I haven’t managed to find any scientific studies on this either. Some informal surveys that I’ve found (1, 2, 3) don’t bear out the 61 claim at all, and the 37 claim only inconsistently.

But it does seem to be the case that when people choose a number from 1 to 10, by far the most frequent choice is 7; when they choose a number from 1 to 20, they’ll pick 17 as much as 20% of the time. For some reason, though, golden ratio fans don’t mention these two phenomena so much. I guess it’s too obvious that they have nothing at all to do with the golden ratio.

In any case the calculations are wrong. 100/φ is 61.803..., that is, closer to 62, and 100/φ2 is 38.197..., not 37.

Myth 7: Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing ‘Vitruvian man’ uses φ

It doesn’t. This article by Takashi Ida does a detailed investigation of some claims and possible uses of φ in the drawing, and none of them are true. In particular, Ida shows that the ratio of Leonardo’s circle to his square is about 0.606 to 0.609, rather than 1/φ = 0.6180..., a difference of 1.51%; and he argues from the marks Leonardo placed on the diagram that the ratio he intended to use was precisely 137/225, or 0.6089, which corresponds well to the measured ratio of the circle.

In closing ...

I’d better stop: I’ve gone a long way off-topic from Greek architecture anyway.

There are some genuinely interesting things about the ‘golden ratio’. It does have some pretty interesting numerical properties. Several proofs in Euclid’s Elements book 6 do deal with φ in one way or another. He calls it ‘the extreme and mean’: the phrase ‘golden ratio’ wasn’t invented until the 1800s.

And it’s true that φ can be found embedded in the diagonals and other ratios of several geometrical shapes. In a regular pentagram, each vertex and intersection has two adjacent line segments with lengths in the ratio φ. Or, put another way, the diagonals of a regular pentagon intersect to create line segments with the ratio φ. As a result, any geometrical structure with pentagonal features is going to feature φ in some way -- including two of the ‘Platonic solids’, the dodecahedron and icosahedron, as well as the areas of the tiles in Penrose tiling.

And some artists and architects have definitely used φ in their work. The Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier based a design system on φ and the Fibonacci numbers in the 1940s. (Whether this has anything at all to do with the supposed golden rectangles on the UN headquarters building in New York is another matter.) Salvador Dali’s Last supper definitely takes inspiration from the mathematics of φ: the canvas is within 1% of being a perfect golden rectangle; the figures are in groups of 2, 5, and 13 (all Fibonacci numbers); and the painting is dominated by a dodecahedron (remember pentagons feature φ heavily) whose design is modelled on one of Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrations for Pacioli’s Divina proportione (1509), the book that kickstarted the modern interest in φ.
Salvador Dali, The sacrament of the last supper (1955)
But other than really blatant cases like these, I recommend treating claims of the golden ratio in art and architecture with great suspicion. Golden ratio fans are wont to interpret any old proportion as a golden rectangle, to gloss over imprecisions, and to make completely fictional claims about the history of the ratio. Don’t ignore the fact that there are other ratios in the neighbourhood of 1.6. Always be alert for cherry-picking.


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 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’: 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 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.
  • Edmonds, J. M. 1924. Lyra graeca, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library, w/o no.). London: William Heinemann; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • 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 and 3rd century BCE spelling conventions.

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.