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Archive for September, 2008

Lesefrüchte, I: Lion’s milk (Alcman 56 Page)

Learning from an airplane magazine that arak is sometimes called Lion’s milk in the Near East, we recall Alcman 56:

πολλάκι δ’ ἐν κορυφαῖς ὀρέων, ὅκα
σιοῖσι ϝάδηι πολύφανος ἑορτά,
χρύσιον ἄγγος ἔχοισα, μέγαν σκύφον,
οἷά τε ποιμένες ἄνδρες ἔχοισιν,
χερσὶ λεόντεον ἐν γάλα θεῖσα
τυρὸν ἐτύρησας μέγαν ἄτρυφον Ἀργειφόνται.

Often in the mountain tops, where
Far-shining celebration gives delight to the gods
You brought a golden cup, a great vessel
Such as shepherds use
And setting lion’s milk in it
You made large unsavoury* cheese for the Argos-slayer


Winifred Warren Wilson, “The Soma Offering in a Fragment of Alkman”


Lion’s cheese to Hermes, what does it mean? Athenaeus, who preserves the fragment, is unhelpful, taking interest only in the word σκύφος, adding to his collection of instances of different words for ‘vessel’.

The cheese may have been intended as baby food for Dionysus, whom Hermes cared for as a newborn. Hermes protected Dionysus from the jealous wrath of Hera, Dionysus being Zeus’ bastard by Semele. Aristides mentions in his prose hymn to Dionysus (p. 29 Jebb), that a Laconian poet had said that Dionysus drank lion’s milk. Timotheus of Gaza otherwise relates that Dionysus was reared by leopards (Excerpta ex libris de animalibus 11.4).


*LSJ ἄτρυφος is obscurantist, deriving the word from θρύπτω (‘break’): surely it derives from τρυφή and means ‘not dainty’, i.e. ‘unsavoury’?