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Archive for florilegium

Opis (Verg. Aen. 11.857)

In the 11th book of the Aeneid, the Volscian shield maiden Camilla, Diana’s favourite, is slain in battle by the Etruscan Arruns. Opis, a divine servant of Diana, is sent out by the goddess to exact divine retribution. When she sees Arruns, she utters:[1]

‘cur’ inquit ‘diversus abis? huc derige gressum,
huc periture veni, capias ut digna Camillae
praemia. tune etiam telis moriere Dianae?’

Why do you stray? Step this way, come here, you who are to perish, that you may receive the reward worthy of Camilla. Shall also you die by the shafts of Diana?

Servius was struck by a deep personal note, an “immense bitterness” (ingenti amaritudine), in the last sentence, and claims that Opis “grudges” (invidet) Arruns the honourable manner of his death. Servius supposes that the reference of etiam, “also”, is to the many children of Niobe, who famously perished by the hands of Apollo and Artemis. However, Opis may have had personal causes to reflect in this manner.

Who is Opis? As Herodotus recounts, in very ancient times, a group of young women arrived from the land of the Hyperboreans to the island of Delos.[2] According to esoteric mythological accounts, which Herodotus may have known but if so chooses not to express plainly, they came to assist at the birth of Apollo and Artemis, and to nurse the gods in their infancy.[3] Callimachus, however, probably considering such stories to be not only tasteless but sacrilegous (the gods being eternal), instead claims that they were the instigators of the Hyperborean tradition of bringing offerings to the temple of Apollo on Delos.[4] Herodotus claims that there were two of them, Opis and Arge, but Callimachus holds that they were three, giving their names as Opis, Hecaërge, and Loxo.[5]

Opis, Arge (Hecaërge), Apollo and Artemis?

Later, these women appear as part of the divine retinue of the goddess Artemis. It is not told in extant sources how this transformation from mortal maidens into immortal servants of the goddess came about, but Claudian touches briefly upon the matter:[6]

Iungunt se geminae metuenda feris Hecaërge
et soror, optatum numen venantibus, Opis
progenitae Scythia: divas nemorumque potentes
fecit Hyperboreis Delos praelata pruinis

There join them [i.e., the retinue of Diana] the twin sisters Hecaërge, terror of beasts, and Opis, deity beloved of hunters, Scythian maids; their preference for Delos over the Hyperborean frosts made them goddesses and queens of the woods. (Platnauer, Loeb, slightly revised.)

Fernand Le Quesne, Diana and Her Hunting Maidens

Opis is allowed moments of indivdual glory in this function. In Claudian, she is the charioteer of Artemis on a particular mission,[7] but only in the Aeneid is she allowed to speak. The line that made such an impression on Servius may not be a disinterested reflection on the unworthiness of the victim Arruns,  but owe to a personal reminiscence. Fragments of a tale of Opis’s individual fate before meeting Artemis are preserved in a damaged papyrus of Callimachus’ Aitia; in pseudo-Apollodorus; and in the Homeric scholia, which attribute the tale to the poet Euphorion.[8] Apollodorus writes:

ὁ δ’ Ὠρίων, ὡς μὲν ἔνιοι λέγουσιν, ἀνῃρέθη δισκεύειν Ἄρτεμιν προκαλούμενος, ὡς δέ τινες, βιαζόμενος Ὦπιν μίαν τῶν ἐξ Ὑπερβορέων παραγενομένων παρθένων ὑπ’ Ἀρτέμιδος ἐτοξεύθη.

But Orion was killed, as some say, for challenging Artemis to a match at quoits, but some say he was shot by Artemis for trying to force himself upon Opis, one of the maidens who had come from the Hyperboreans. (Frazer, Loeb, slightly revised.)

Alluding to the legend in the version of Callimachus and Euphorion, Opis’s address to Arruns would include an implicit comparison to Orion, the Great Hunter, in her experience the first victim of the arrow of Diana, and intimately connected with her own personal fate – which was not to be ravaged and bear the child of Orion, but to preserve maidenhood eternally in the service of the goddess.

“Famous Hyperboreans”. Nordlit, 33 (= P. P. Aspaas et al., eds., Rara avis in Ultima Thule: Libellus festivus Sunnivae des Bouvrie dedicatus), 2014, pp. 211–23.

[1] Verg. Aen. 11.855–57.
[2] Hdt. 4.35.
[3] Serv.Dan. Aen. 11.532, 11.858; cf. Phanodic. FGrH 397 fr. 5.
[4] Call. Del. 291–98.
[5] Call. Del. 292.
[6] Claud. Cons.Stil. 3.253–56.
[7] Claud. Cons.Stil. 3.277, 292.
[8] Call. Aet. fr. 186.26–30 Pfeiffer (POxy. 19.2214); [Apollod.] 1.27; Euph. fr. 103 Powell ap. Σ Od. 5.121.


Two wedding song fragments of Sappho (heavily emended); Vesper and Lucifer; the eroticism of morning

104a Voigt

Vesper, bringing all that shining dawn has scattered
you bring the sheep and goat, you bring the mother’s child;
far away you bring the child from mother, baneful star.

Ἔϲπερε πάντα φέρων ὄϲα φαίνολιϲ ἐϲκέδαϲ’ Αὔωϲ,
οἶν ϲὺ φέρηιϲ τε καὶ αἶγα, φέρηιϲ ἄπυ μάτερι παῖδα,
<τῆλέ γε παῖδα φέρηις ἀπὺ μάτερος, ὤλιος ἄστηρ.>


114 Voigt

– Maidenhood, maidenhood, where have you gone and left me?
– Not again, by any means, to you, at any time, shall I return from anywhere,
not again shall I return.

παρθενία, παρθενία, ποῖ με λίποιϲ’ ἀποίχηι;
οὐκέτι <πωϲ> πρὸϲ ϲέ <ποτ’> ἤξω <ποθέν,> οὐκέτ’ ἤξω.


Hermes 142 (2014), pp. 225–39.


The relation of Vesper or Hesperos, the Evening Star, to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus), a tacit presence in most of Sappho’s preserved poetry, is an interesting topic. The association of the goddess with the planet Venus is not attested in Greek sources before the fourth century B.C., but in Symbolae Osloenses 86 (2012) we speculated on possible relics in Greek art and literature of the mythological notion of Hesperos and Phosphoros (Lucifer), the Evening and Morning Star, serving as the goddess’s twin charioteers. This might relate them genetically to the winged Aśvin twins of Vedic mythology, who are the charioteers of Sūryasa, Daughter (or wife?) of the Sun. Textual parallels between Sappho 1, the “Hymn” to Aphrodite, describing a chariot voyage of the goddess, and RigVeda 1.118, could support such a relation. As has been suggested, Castor and Pollux, the twin riders of light, brothers of the divine Helen, might constitute another mythological hypostasis derived from the same cosmological foundation: the two opposite aspects of the planet Venus, custodians of the erotically charged light of evening and dawn.


Not only evening but also morning is a time of heightened eroticism, as in RigVeda 1.134.3:

Wake up abundance
Like a lover a sleeping girl,
Make both worlds visible, make the dawns light up

(transl. Karen Thomson)

– and in an hommage to Sappho by Posidippus of Pella addressed to Doricha the courtesan, lover of Sappho’s brother Charaxus (Gow-Page, Hellenistic Epigrams vv. 3143–45; Ath. 13.596c):

…the fragrant gown, which you wrapped around your beloved Charaxus as you, your skin adjacent to his, took hold of the ivy cups of daybreak.

What exactly is here meant by “the ivy cups of daybreak” (ὀρθρινὰ κιϲϲύβια) is uncertain. Gow-Page’s assertion that it refers to “a symposium prolonged past midnight” seems doubtful; for instance one might have expected the imperfect tense of the verb ἄπτομαι (“grasp”, “take hold”), denoting continued or repeated action. The wrapping of a gown around two naked bodies is also awkward in combination with holding cups and drinking, and the procedure is a literary topic associated with coitus in Archil. fr. 196a West (Archilochus molesting a girl) and Hieronymus of Rhodes fr. 35 Wehrli (Sophocles debauching a boy = test. 75 Radt, Ath. 13.604e).


Aphrodite with charioteers



Pindar, The Second Isthmian Ode, vv. 1-12

On the occasion of Richard Seaford’s article in TLS June 17, 2009, the beginning of the Second Isthmian was read and translated.

Men of old, Thrasyboulos,
who mounted the chariot of the golden-crowned Muses,
gathering there with the glorious lyre,
lightly shot their honey-voicèd hymns of youth,
of the beautiful youth that had attained
the lovely summer-ripeness wooing Aphrodite
on her perfect throne.
For the Muse did not desire profit
then, nor worked a trade:
Nor were the softly sounding songs
from honey-spoken Terpsichore
sold with silver faces.
But now she allows
the Argive’s word to attain the place
most near to truth.
Money, money makes the man.
Who said it having lost his goods and friends.

Οἱ μὲν πάλαι, ὦ Θρασύβουλε,
φῶτες, οἳ χρυσαμπύκων
ἐς δίφρον Μοισᾶν ἔβαι-
νον κλυτᾷ φόρμιγγι συναντόμενοι,
ῥίμφα παιδείους ἐτόξευον μελιγάρυας ὕμνους,
ὅστις ἐὼν καλὸς εἶχεν Ἀφροδίτας
εὐθρόνου μνάστειραν ἁδίσταν ὀπώραν.
ἁ Μοῖσα γὰρ οὐ φιλοκερδής
πω τότ’ ἦν οὐδ’ ἐργάτις·
οὐδ’ ἐπέρναντο γλυκεῖ-
αι μελιφθόγγου ποτὶ Τερψιχόρας
ἀργυρωθεῖσαι πρόσωπα μαλθακόφωνοι ἀοιδαί.
νῦν δ’ ἐφίητι <τὸ> τὠργείου φυλάξαι
ῥῆμ’ ἀλαθείας < ⏑ – > ἄγχιστα βαῖνον,
χρήματα χρήματ’ ἀνήρ
ὃς φᾶ κτεάνων θ’ ἅμα λειφθεὶς καὶ φίλων.


It is untypical of Pindar thus to idealize a poetry for not being “profit-hungry” (φιλοκερδής) or “working a trade” (ἐργάτις). He was definitely not ashamed of getting paid, even writing about it, for instance at the end of the Third Pythian,

If the god should hold out exuberant wealth to me,
I have the hope to find great glory forthwith.

εἰ δέ μοι πλοῦτον θεὸς ἁβρὸν ὀρέξαι,
ἐλπίδ’ ἔχω κλέος εὑρέσθαι κεν ὑψηλὸν πρόσω.

A close reading of the beginning of the Second Isthmian might, with a pinch of imagination, elicit a more significant message than the hypocritical reverence for amateur disinterestedness that it professes. The piece may be read as a statement of literary criticism as well as, beneath the surface, ironically detached professional pride. The key-word is “lightly” (ῥίμφα). Poets of old wrote lightly, says Pindar, lovesongs of (about or to) beautiful youths. He has in mind the Archaic melic poets, for instance Alcman, Alcaeus and Ibycus, perhaps also Archilochus and Sappho although they preferred girls — but παιδείους … ὕμνους in v. 5 may in fact with some good intention be read as “songs of young boys and girls” (cf. Crat. fr. 258, Eup. fr. 327, LSJ παιδικός III 2 a).

Now if we compare this description of the Archaic Lyre with Pindar’s own production, we find that he is depicting the very antithesis of Pindaric poetry. Pindar wrote grave hymns, about deadly serious mythological subjects. If he should occasionally write about boys (fr. 123), the result is not light, but morally challenging, boldly metaphorical, and possessing the gravity of good and expensive knives. Hence, the lightly composing amateur poets of old — would they not be, from Pindar’s perspective, also a tad light-weight? Is it not also possible to elicit from the epithet παιδείους another meaning: I mean educational? Instead of the ordinary παιδικός, Pindar chooses an adjective which is cognate with παιδεία, education, and which is elsewhere normally used in the context of child-rearing.

This cannot be without significance: indeed from Pindar’s perspective, the Archaic poets belonged to the Lehrjahre of Greek poetry. Now, with Pindar, poetry had reached maturity. And might accordingly, as an adult, allow itself professional remuneration.

Clothed in words of pious reverence, the beginning of the Second Isthmian could in fact contain an ironical and carefully concealed snub at the patron: possibly he could not afford to pay that much. The entire poem contains only 48 verses, to be compared with about a hundred in most Pythian and Olympian odes, and three hundred in the Fourth Pythian.

Then again a silver coin is a silver coin, and we could perhaps compare the story about Pindar’s older contemporary Simonides, as related by Aristotle (Rhet. 1405b):

As the winner in the mules’ race tried to offer Simonides too little money, he said that he did not want to compose a poem, professing to be insulted for having to write about half-asses. But when he gave enough, Simonides wrote:

Hail, sisters of storm-heeled horses (fr. 10 Page, PMG)


Not a very original idea of mine, I see now after studying Verdenius’ commentary. Although it is usually surmised that Pindar asks for money, rather than mocks the unsufficiency of his client’s funds.

Sappho 81b

Put lovely garlands, Dika, in your hair
with soft hands binding strands of dill:

then you will flower, and the blessed Graces
shall come near; they turn away from the ungarlanded.

σὺ δὲ στεφάνοις, ὦ Δίκα, πέρθεσθ’ ἐράτοις φόβαισιν
ὄρπακας ἀνήτω συναέρραισ’ ἀπάλαισι χέρσιν·

εὐάνθεμος ὢς γὰρ πέλεαι καὶ Χάριτες μάκαιραι
μᾶλλον προσέσοντ’, ἀστεφανώτοισι δ’ ἀπυστρέφονται.

Some spacious and perhaps philologically indefensible conjectures have made sense of the poetry:

εὐάνθεμος ὢς γὰρ πέλεαι (’then you will flower’): εὐάνθεα γὰρ πέλεται (’for they are flowery’, unmetrical).
προσέσοντ’ (’shall come near’): προτέρην (’former’, senseless).

The Swallow song (Carmina popularia 2 PMG)

ἦλθ’ ἦλθε χελιδὼν
καλὰς ὥρας ἄγουσα,
καλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς,
ἐπὶ γαστέρα λευκά,
ἐπὶ νῶτα μέλαινα.
παλάθαν σὺ προκύκλει
ἐκ πίονος οἴκου
οἴνου τε δέπαστρον
τυροῦ τε κάνυστρον·
καὶ πύρνα χελιδὼν
καὶ τὰν λεκιθίταν
οὐκ ἀπωθεῖται· πότερ’ ἀπίωμες ἢ λαβώμεθα;

εἰ μέν τι δώσεις· εἰ δὲ μή, οὐκ ἐάσομες·
ἢ τὰν θύραν φέρωμες ἢ τὸ ὑπέρθυρον
ἢ τὰν γυναῖκα τὰν ἔσω καθημέναν·
μικρὰ μέν ἐστι, ῥαιδίως νιν οἴσομες.
ἂν δὴ φέρηις τι, μέγα δή τι φέροις·
ἄνοιγ’ ἄνοιγε τὰν θύραν χελιδόνι·
οὐ γὰρ γέροντές ἐσμεν, ἀλλὰ παιδία.

Came, came the swallow
with pleasant seasons,
with the beautiful year.
It is white underneath
and black on the back.
You, roll the fruitcake
out of the rich mansion
and a cup of wine,
and a basket of cheese:
nor wheat bread shall the swallow,
nor pulse bread
refuse. Now should we leave? or else receive?

If so, then give, or else we’re not content
We’ll take the door or the lintel above it
or the woman, she who is sitting outside it,
she’s small indeed, an easy load;
if you will bring, bring something large:
now open, open the door for the swallow,
we are not old men, but only children.


A Greek popular song, sung by the children of Rhodes as they went from house to house in what apparently was an ancient version of ‘trick-or-treat‘. According to Theognis of Rhodes, cited by Athenaeus 8.60, who preserves the song, the collection was occasioned by a religious festival in the month of Boëdromion. In Athens, this was an autumnal month. The theme of the present song has been taken as evidence that on Rhodes, Boëdromion came in the spring.

In the European classical tradition, the song has often been quoted as a prime example of naive Greek pastoral, a celebration of life and the beauty of nature. Perhaps the reality behind it is grimmer than we have realised.  In the later European context, ‘trick-or-treat’ indeed took place in the autumn, after the harvest and slaughter was done, when farms and houses were well-stocked. The poor people who performed the trick-or-treat had long winter months to look forward to, and needed every ounce of nutrition they could get.

Now, apparently here the children are dressed up as swallows, with white cloths in front and black on the back. What if the talk about spring and beautiful seasons is only a game, a sort of grimly humourous joke intended to soften the hearts of the rich mansion-owners — and, at the same time an instance of the superstitious euphemic practise so common of Greek society. The beatiful season, καλὰς ὥρας, καλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς, which is coming, is not the spring — but winter. Let’s call the winter beatiful, maybe it will be nicer to us.

Sappho 8

P.Oxy. 2289

[ἆδυ  μὲ]ν [τ]ὸ [κάλλος ἴδην φιλάων]
[ὤστε π]ὰμ φ[άεννον ἐν ὠράνοισιν]
[ἄστρον,  Ἄ]τθι· σὸ[ν δὲ πρόσωπον ἐλλάμ-]
xx[πει] νεφ[έλαισι.]

Sweet is the beauty of friends to see,
like every flaming star in the sky,
Atthis: but your face shines
xxthrough clouds.

Osip Mandelstam, The Kremlin Mountain Man

The so-called ”Stalin epigram” (1933), read with some help from a native Russian speaker.

Мы живем, под собою не чуя страны,
Наши речи за десять шагов не слышны,
А где хватит на полразговорца,
Там припомнят кремлёвского горца.
Его толстые пальцы, как черви, жирны,
А слова, как пудовые гири, верны,
Тараканьи смеются усища,
И сияют его голенища.

А вокруг него сброд тонкошеих вождей,
Он играет услугами полулюдей,
Кто свистит, кто мяучит, кто хнычет,
Он один лишь бабачет и тычет.
Как подковы, кует за указом указ —
Кому в пах, кому в лоб, кому в бровь, кому в глаз
Что ни казнь у него — то малина
И широкая грудь осетина.


We live, but feel not the land beneath us
In ten steps’ distance, you will not hear our words
But if they may utter a half-choked sound
They’ll remember the Kremlin Mountain man

His fingers are thick, glistening worms
But his words true like twelve pound weights
His moustaches laughing cockroaches
And his bootstraps are beaming

The thin-necked rabble of chiefs around him,
Half-man servants he toys with.
One squeaks, one mews, one whimpers, he only
Babbles and points.

Like horse shoes he forges ukas on ukas
For each one’s groins, foreheads, eyes

His every death sentence a raspberry
But the Ossete’s chest is broad.

glistening worms: Demyan Bedny had mentioned to Mandelstam that Stalin left stains of fat on the books he borrowed (Montefiore, Stalin, p. 135 in the paperback ed.).

The thin-necked rabble of chiefs: according to Montefiore loc.cit. an allusion to Molotov’s small head and thin neck. Cf. also Gottfried Benn, ”Englisches Café”, which begins:

Das ganze schmalschuhige Raubpack,
Russinnen, Jüdinnen, tote Völker, ferne Küsten,
schleicht durch die Frühjahrsnacht.

Raspberry malina (малина): Perhaps an allusion to Malenkov, who like Mandelstam knew Latin and read poetry. He was one of the chief authorites in the executive branches of the 1930’s purges (see Montefiore, op.cit. s. 258-60). Because of feminine traits, he was nicknamed Malanya. Stalin’s broad chest could then be a complementary contrast to Malanya’s legendary broad hips.

the Ossete: see on Stalin’s father here.