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The Visual Guide to Herodotus

This week I am delighted to post a nifty visual companion to The Histories of Herodotus [1,2]. The visualisation is courtesy of my longtime friend and collaborator Mikael Onsjö [3,4]. And without any further preamble, I present Mikael’s The Histories by Herodotus:

herodotus-histories-1600

References

[1] The Histories by Herodotus; translated by A. D. Godley (1920), Harvard University Press. The full text of this edition is available online at The Perseus Project.

[2] The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised with introduction and notes by John Marincola (2003). Penguin Classics.

[3] More visual companions to classical works of literature by Mikael, among other things, are found on his blog Odinlake. His most recent post contains a collection links to recipes for salads and various baked goods. The sourdough muffins look delicious.

[4] For our ongoing collaboration, see The Star Trek Project.

[5] Mikael Onsjö’s The Histories by Herodotus (pdf version): herodotes-histories-opt

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An Asiatic Lion in the Loft

mountain lion in crawl space

This image, taken by NBCLA chief photographer Sean Browning [1], shows the famed mountain lion P-22 inhabiting the crawl space of a Los Angeles home.

A mountain lion was found living in the crawl space of a Los Angeles home by an unsuspecting security technician in the spring of last year [2]. And this was not just any mountain lion. It was the famed research mountain lion P-22, which has its own Facebook fan page [3]. Another lion — an unnamed Asiatic lion — was found under astonishingly similar circumstances in the loft of a 2nd millennium BC house by the Babylonian civil servant Yakim-Addu [4]:

Tell my lord: Your servant Yakim-Addu sends the following message:

A short time ago I wrote to my lord as follows: “A lion was caught in the loft of a house in Akkaka. My lord should write me whether this lion should remain in that same loft until the arrival of my lord, or whether I should have it brought to my lord.” But letters from my lord were slow in coming and the lion has been in the loft for five days. Although they threw him a dog and a pig, he refuses to eat them. I was worrying: “Heaven forbid that this lion pine away.” I became scared, but eventually I got the lion into a wooden cage and loaded it on a boat to have it brought to my lord.

At first read it would seem that Yakim-Addu’s alarm is misplaced. He is more concerned with the reaction of his lord, than he is by the presence of an Asiatic lion in the community. But this is because the hunting of lions was reserved for the king, and Yakim-Addu fears that he will be held responsible if the beast dies within his jurisdiction. The lion’s fate is unknown, but it was most likely dispatched by the king in a royal hunt. It has no Facebook fan page as yet.

References

[1] Sean Browning [ShootSeanNBCLA]. (14 April 2015). One last shot of the famous P-22 mountain lion hiding under a Los Feliz house tonight. Beautiful beast! [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/ShootSeanNBCLA/status/587871131916304384

[2] Mountain Lion P-22 “Left the Building” After Hours Under House by Kathy Vara and Asher Klein, NBCLA – Tuesday, 14 April 2015. NBC4 News.

[3] Friends of P22 Mountain Lion. (established 2014). In Facebook [Group page]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/P22mountainlion/

[4] Letters From Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia by A. Leo Oppenheim (1967), The University of Chicago Press, page 108. This book is currently out of print, but a more or less complete pdf version is available for download from The Oriental Institute at The University of Chicago.

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The Anecdotes of Pausanias

Pausanias Description of Greece map.

Map based on Description of Greece by Pausanias. The map shows the locations of ancient Greece described by each book in the work, distributed under a CC-BY 4.0 license / Numeral font and territorial border widths modified from the original.

Pausanias must have been an amiable man. He spent at least fourteen years writing a firsthand description of 2nd century Greece that is famous in classicist circles for being the world’s oldest surviving guidebook. He visited many places and evidently spoke with many people about their local customs and traditions. The stories that he compiled from these conversations and other written sources reflect a curious set of interests. The British encyclopedist Hugh Chisholm describes Pausanias as being ‘fascinated by all kinds of quaint and primitive images of the gods, by holy relics and many other sacred and mysterious things’ [1]. He is also fond of digressions on Greek legends and the wonders of nature. The work, Description of Greece, was very nearly lost in the middle ages, and it is only by the skin of our teeth that the manuscript has come down to us at all. There are a number of English translations [2-5]. Of these, Peter Levy’s contemporary translation in two volumes in the most readable [2,3]. The quotations found below are taken from his work. The full text is, however, unavailable online because it remains under copyright. Older translations by James George Frazer [4] and William Henry Samuel Jones [5] are in the public domain. What follows is a compilation of Pausanias’s finest anecdotes.

Book I: Attica

  • Praxiteles’ Masterpiece (1.20.11.20.2)

    Once when Phryne asked what was his (Praxiteles’) most beautiful work, he promised like a true lover to give it to her but refused to say which he thought it was. So a servant of Phryne’s came rushing in and told him his house was on fire and most of his work was lost. Praxiteles rushed out of the doors exclaiming that if the fire had got at the Satyr and the Eros then he had worked for nothing. Phryne told him he could put his mind at rest, nothing horrible had happened except that he was trapped into admitting which was his masterpiece. So Phryne chose Eros, and Dionysos in the temple close by has had the Satyr boy to offer him a drink; Eros standing beside him and Dionysos are by Thymilos.

  • A Rape on the Satyr Islands (1.23.51.23.6)

    A Carian called Euphemos said he was sailing to Italy and was driven off course, right out into the open sea, which is still empty. He told me there were a lot of desert islands, and islands where savages lived; the sailors were unwilling to put into these islands, as they knew something about the natives from having called there before, but now they were forced to put in again. The sailors call them the Satyr islands. The natives are very noisy and have tails on the behinds as long as a horses. As soon as they noticed the ship, they ran down at it without saying a word and grabbed at the women. In the end the sailors were so frightened they threw out a barbarian woman onto the island, and she was raped by the satyrs not only in the usual place but all over her body.

  • Aristeas of Prokonnesos (1.24.6)
  • The Locust Plagues of Mount Sipylus (1.24.8)

    I myself know that locusts have been destroyed three times in the past on Mount Sipylus, and not in the same way. Once a gale arose and swept them away; on another occasion violent heat came on after rain and destroyed them; the third time sudden cold caught them and they died.

  • An Axe is Acquitted of Murder at the Prytaneion court (1.28.10)
  • Nikokles of Tarentum (1.37.2)
  • The Harp-stone Legend (1.42.11.42.2)

Book II: Corinth and the Argolid

Book III: Laconia

Book IV: Messenia

Book V: Elis 1

Book VI: Elis 2

Book VII: Achaia

  • Phormion’s Prophetic Dream (7.5.3-7.5.4?)
  • A Spooky Demeterian Oracle (7.21.107.21.14)
  • The Oracle of Hermes (7.22.17.22.3)
  • Earthquake Classification before the Richter Scale (7.24.47.24.7)

Book VIII: Arcadia

Book IX: Boiotia

Book X: Phocis

References

[1] Pausanias (Traveler) edited by Chisholm, Hugh (1911), Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Read this article at studylight.org.

[2] Pausanias Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece translated by Peter Levi (1984), Penguin Classics.

[3] Pausanias Guide to Greece 2: Southern Greece translated by Peter Levi (1984), Penguin Classics.

[4] Pausanias’s Description of Greece translated by James George Frazer (1898), Macmillan. Read this classic translation at The Internet Archive.

[5] Pausanias’s Description of Greece translated by William Henry Samuel Jones and Henry Ardene Ormerod (1918), Harvard University Press. Read this translation at The Perseus Digital Library.

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Praxiteles’ Masterpiece

Praxiteles Giving Phryne his Statue of Cupid

Praxiteles Giving Phryne his Statue of Cupid by Angelica Kauffmann, 1794; image source RISD Museum, distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

Before Rodin, Bernini, Michelangelo and Donatello, there was Praxiteles. He was a native of Athens, who learned the art of sculpture from his close relative Kephisodotos, and flourished in the middle part of the fourth century BC. Ancient writers rank him together with Lysippos and Scopas as one of the three great sculptors of the late classical period.

The nude statue of the Aphrodite of Cnidus has been considered Praxiteles’ masterpiece from ancient times [1]. He is alleged to have used his lover, the famed courtesan Phryne [2], as a model for the statue. It holds a special place in art history as the first-ever nude female sculpture not regarded to be profane. The thing is praised like crazy by Pliny the Elder, who went so far as to proclaim it the finest statue in all the world [3]. And legend has it that the statue was of such exquisite beauty that one man even tried to have sex with it [4]. Only bits and pieces remain of the original figure, but if the surviving Roman imitations and literary descriptions are any indication, then it must have been a work of considerable artistic merit.

It is surprising, then, to find that Praxiteles did not himself consider the Aphrodite of Cnidus to be his masterpiece; that is, if a possibly apocryphal story related by Pausanias is to be believed. He writes in his description of Attica [5,6]:

Once when Phryne asked what was his (Praxiteles’) most beautiful work, he promised like a true lover to give it to her but refused to say which he thought it was. So a servant of Phryne’s came rushing in and told him his house was on fire and most of his work was lost. Praxiteles rushed out of the doors exclaiming that if the fire had got at the Satyr and the Eros (Cupid) then he had worked for nothing. Phryne told him he could put his mind at rest, nothing horrible had happened except that he was trapped into admitting which was his masterpiece. So Phryne chose Eros, and Dionysos in the temple close by has had the Satyr boy to offer him a drink; Eros standing beside him and Dionysos are by Thymilos.

Praxiteles had a reputation in antiquity for playing coy. Pliny the Elder records that whenever Praxiteles was asked which of his own works in marble he most adored, he would reply, ‘the ones which Nicias has set his hand’ [7]. Nicias was an Athenian painter renown for his ability to depict the female figure in dramatic situations. It is oblique answers of this kind by Praxiteles that evidently disposed Phryne to resort to the cunning appeal to his gullibility related above.

Leaning Satyr by Praxiteles (copy)

An imitation of Praxiteles’ Leaning Satyr by an unknown Roman sculptor, circa 130 AD. It stands 170 cm tall. The penis has been knocked off. Image source: Musei Capitolini.

As with Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Cindus, his Leaning Satyr and Eros of Thespiae have all but perished. The loss of these masterpieces is lamentable, but the overall loss to civilisation that has resulted is not so great as might be supposed. This is because the statues survived long enough — Praxiteles’ initial fear that they were destroyed by fire being unfounded — for imitations to have been produced across the Greco-Roman world. The surviving imitations are imperfect from an information theoretical point of view. It is not for the artist to play the role of error-correcting code in the noisy channel of communication that is sculpture. On the contrary, each imitation stands as its own work of art in so far as it reflects the style are temperament of the nameless artist who produced it. In spite of all these delightful ‘errors’, the spirit, or information content, of Praxiteles’s original is nevertheless transmitted by these Roman copies in some average sense. So in this most important respect, Praxiteles’ masterpieces have survived, just with a little noise.

References (under construction)

[1] The Art of Praxiteles: The Mature Years by Antonio Corso (2007). Read it on Google Books.

[2] Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society edited by André Lardinois and Laura McClure (2001), Princeton University Press. Read this passage about Praxiteles’ masterpiece at Amazon. Read a passage concerning Phryne at Google Books.

[3] Natural History by Pliny the Elder, Book 35.20-21.

[4] Erotes by pseudo-Lucian; translated by Andrew Calimach (2013). Download the pdf here.

[5] Pausanias Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece translated by Peter Levi (1984), Penguin Classics, Book I, Chapter 25, Sections 5-6.

[6] Pausanias Description of Greece translated by William Henry Samuel Jones and Henry Ardene Ormerod (1918), Harvard University Press, Book I, Chapter 20, Sections 1-2. Read this passage about Praxiteles’ masterpiece at The Perseus Digital Library.

[7] Natural History by Pliny the Elder, Book 35.130-131.

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A Customer Complaint Letter from Mesopotamia

In this installment of Cpl. Cadaver's Corner, host William Combs articulates a number of grievances against the popular online auction website eBay.

Former eBay seller William Combs, a.k.a. Cpl. Cadaver, expressed his dissatisfaction with the popular online auction website over alleged pro-buyer policies in a recent profanity laced installment of ‘Cpl. Cadaver’s Corner’ [1]. According to Combs, he found himself on the wrong side of a growing trend of eBay sellers being ‘fucked over’ by buyers without any means of support from eBay.

It all began with the sale of a Tech 1A code scanner to the owner of an undisclosed automotive repair shop in Oregon, Ohio. A dispute ensued when the owner accused Combs of being ‘a lying, cheating son of a bitch’ for failing to send ‘various plugs and adapters’ that Combs maintains were not included in the original auction listing. After a week of repeated efforts on the part of the buyer to extort Combs for the accessories, and in spite of the corporal ‘actually trying to help the guy out’, he eventually ‘just said fuck it’ and appealed to the repair shop owner to return it for a refund. In the process of mediating the exchange, eBay customer service really ‘started pissing’ Combs ‘off’ for (among other things) insisting that he effectively reimburse the buyer twice. He makes a point to add how ‘they (eBay) will fuck ya comin and goin with PayPal’ also. The proposal was in the end accepted, the buyer reimbursed, and the scanner returned. But on the downside Combs was left with a negative feedback rating which can be neither challenged nor removed.

Three days later Combs resold the scanner to ‘some shithead down there in Oklahoma’. This shithead, we are told, took issue with Combs for failing to include a power cable and OBD-II interface cartridge in the delivery. Combs wrote the shithead at once, instructing him to ‘fuck off’ and ‘just go fuck himself’ on the ground that the requested items had not been listed in the auction. In response, the shithead leveled allegations against Combs that his own mother would be ashamed of him, and subsequently escalated the matter to customer service. Combs ‘was like whatever’ and reciprocated with a complaint of his own in regard to the shithead abusing the buyer protection program. No response from customer service was forthcoming and the matter remained unresolved by the time of the making of the video. The only thing that is for certain is that the dispute resulted in Combs being given a second consecutive negative feedback rating.

The upshot of all this is that Combs’ perfect 100% feedback rating ended up getting ‘all shot to shit’ as a result of ‘dealing with these last two clowns’. This, we are made to understand, did irreparable damage to his seller reputation on the website. Combs insists that rather than doing business with eBay in the future, he will post whatever he has to sell on Craigslist and ‘hope for the best’.

Cuneiform tablet CDLI no. P414985: A letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining about the quality of copper ingots delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery, from Ur ca. 1750 BC. The photo is a crop of the original posted by Reddit user tcb34 on Imgur. This tablet is presently housed at The British Museum.

Cuneiform tablet CDLI no. P414985: A letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining about the quality of copper ingots delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery, from Ur ca. 1750 BC. The photo is a crop of the original posted by Reddit user tcb34 on Imgur. This tablet is presently housed at The British Museum.

Customer complaints of the sort articulated by William Combs have a long history. It is only the medium of communication that has changed. In my childhood, there were still old people around with nothing better to do than to fire off handwritten complaint letters left, right and centre. Troublesome busybodies of that cast are nowadays little more than a lingering memory from a bygone age. In modern times, the telephone, email, and in instances of extreme frustration YouTube have supplanted the handwritten letter as means of conveying formal statements of dissatisfaction. But it was the dependable old handwritten letter that dominated this mode of communication the for the better part of four millennia.

The oldest customer complaint letter of which I am aware is due to a businessman named Nanni, who wrote to one Ea-nasir with a grievance concerning the quality of copper ingots delivered to him after a voyage to the land of Dilmun. The letter, which is written in Akkadian on a clay tablet, was found by Sir Leonard Woolley during his excavations in Ur and dates from around 1750 BC [2]. Distinguished Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim translated and published the letter in the 1960s as part of a very curious volume that is now of print (see footnote 1) [3]. The letter became the subject of renewed attention this year, after a photo of the tablet surfaced on the entertainment news website Reddit [4]. Here is the text of Oppenheim’s translation in its entirety:

Hand drawn facsimile of Nanni's customer complaint tablet; image courtesy of Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

Hand drawn facsimile of Nanni’s customer complaint tablet; image courtesy of Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows: “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

There is much to be said in light of Nanni’s various accusations against that shithead Ea-nasir. First of all, it is easy to imagine a stark raving mad Nanni toiling for hours chiseling out an angry rant on his tablet, only to think better of sending it off to Ea-nasir by the time he had finished. This pleasant picture is, however, wrong for two reasons: 1) clay tablets were fired or dried in the sun after messages were pressed into the soft clay with a stylus, and 2) Nanni, being, a businessman of some repute, would have dictated his rant to a literate slave. Second, it would be interesting to hear Ea-nasir’s side of the story. The reality is that we will probably never know. It could be, however, that a return tablet from Ea-nasir to Nanni lies waiting to be discovered in the Al ajarah Desert, although I admit this is highly unlikely. Third, what distinguishes a fine quality copper ingot from a shitty one? I assume the distinction is based on the purity level, but the details of this determination are unclear. These are some of my own pet curiosities. The reader will find many more delightful speculations and agreeable parallels with modern life on the associated Reddit post.

Footnotes
[1] The ‘A’ stands for Adolf.

References

[1] Combs, William (2013-09-12). “Cpl. Cadaver’s Corner: eBay Sucks”. YouTube. Retrieved 2015-12-13.

[2] Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir. “Museum object ID WCT53297”. The British Museum. Retrieved 2015-12-13.

[3] Letters From Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia by A. Leo Oppenheim (1967), The University of Chicago Press, pages 82-3. This book is currently out of print, but a more or less complete pdf version is available for download from The Oriental Institute at The University of Chicago. Note that page 82, which contains the opening of Nanni’s letter to Ea-nasir, is unfortunately missing.

[4] tbc34 (2015-02-25). “1750 BC Problems”. Reddit Pics. Retrieved 2015-12-13.

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A Rape on the Satyr Islands

satyr islands

A cavorting satyr of old balances a wine-cup on his penis. This satyrical depiction is from an Attic red-figured jug that is signed by the otherwise unknown painter Douris, c. 500 – 490 BC. The photo is by Marie-Lan Nguyen and is in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I am afraid there has been a rape. This vile act of aggression was perpetrated on a barbarian woman by a noisy band of horse-tailed wildmen native to the Satyr islands. Knowledge of the astonishing spectacle is entirely dependent on the eyewitness testimony of a 2nd century sailor named Euphemos. The travel log writer Pausanias, who had a keen interest in these wildmen, known as satyrs, documented the sailor’s tale in his description of classical Greece [1]:

A Carian called Euphemos said he was sailing to Italy and was driven off course, right out into the open sea, which is still empty. He told me there were a lot of desert islands, and islands where savages lived; the sailors were unwilling to put into these islands, as they knew something about the natives from having called there before, but now they were forced to put in again. The sailors call them the Satyr islands. The natives are very noisy and have tails on the behinds as long as a horses. As soon as they noticed the ship, they ran down at it without saying a word and grabbed at the women. In the end the sailors were so frightened they threw out a barbarian woman onto the island, and she was raped by the satyrs not only in the usual place but all over her body.

Under usual circumstances I would quote from the W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Ormerod 1918 edition [2], which, being out of copyright, is freely available at The Perseus Digital Library. In this case, however, I found their translation to be unnecessarily prudish, and have therefore quoted from the comparatively faithful translation of Peter Levi [1].

References

[1] Pausanias Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece translated by Peter Levi (1984), Penguin Classics, Book I, Chapter 25, Sections 5-6.

[2] Pausanias Description of Greece translated by William Henry Samuel Jones and Henry Ardene Ormerod (1918), Harvard University Press, Book I, Chapter 23, Sections 5-6. Read this passage about the rape on the Satyr islands at The Perseus Digital Library.

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The Sacred Chickens of Rome

The sacred chickens of Rome in their coop from an engraving of military insignia and instruments of war by Nicolas Beatrizet. The full engraving is found at Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, [Image no. B293], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The sacred chickens of Rome in their coop from an engraving of military insignia and instruments of war by Nicolas Beatrizet. The full engraving is found at Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, [Image no. B293], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

If I were a chicken, I would consider the modern crop of humans to be an irreverent lot.

In ancient Roman times, a roost of prophetic chickens was habitually consulted by eminent statesmen on matters of the utmost importance. These ‘sacred chickens’ were revered for the power they conferred on those who heeded the predictions about the future that were gleaned from their eating behaviour. While the very notion might strike the modern reader as being almost comical, to the Romans the sacred chickens were no laughing matter.

During the First Punic War, Publius Claudius Pulcher turned to the sacred chickens for approval of his plan to launch a surprise attack on the Carthaginian fleet at the harbour of Drepana. When the chicken watcher notified Pulcher that they were not eating, which constituted a bad omen, he replied, ‘Since they do not want to eat, let them drink!’ and had them hurled into the sea [1]. The naval battle which ensued saw the near annihilation of the Roman fleet. A humiliated Pulcher returned to Rome in the aftermath of the disastrous engagement whereupon he was tried on the charge of impiety. What happened next is unclear but it seems that he was either convicted and sentenced to exile [2], or acquitted when the proceedings were adjourned due to a sudden shower of rain and the authorities decided not to bother starting it all over again [3]. Whatever the outcome, Pulcher evidently died soon afterwards. This is attested by his sister Claudia, who was fined for remarking on how she wished her brother would return from the dead to dispose of Rome’s riffraff once again by virtue of his ineptitude, after getting caught up in a crowd on her way home from the games [4].

On another occasion the sacred chickens ran off into the woods just as Gaius Hostilius Mancinus was preparing to consult them about his upcoming campaign against the Numantians. The chickens were searched for high and low, but they were never found. As for Mancinus, he suffered a decisive military defeat at the hands of the Numantines, was compelled to accepted the terms of their peace treaty, and returned to Rome to face a trial by the Senate. The Conscript Fathers refused to ratify the treaty and decided instead for Mancinus to be handed over stark naked to the Numantines. This was arranged but the Numantines refused to accept the wretch [5, 6].

Lastly Tiberius Gracchus — the Bernie Sanders of the Roman Republic — disregarded an unfavourable omen from the sacred chickens at his home about attending a political assembly at the Campus Martius. It would take socialism two thousand years to recover from what happened next. All this was set into motion when Gracchus stubbed his toe very badly on his way out the door to speak at the assembly about his proposed land redistribution legislation. Matters only got worse from there. Gracchus was straightaway assailed by a trio of crows that knocked a roof-tile down in front of his feet as they flew away in a mad frenzy. But he continued on with a martyr’s stubbornness to the Capitol where he was summarily confronted by an angry mob of senators. In the mayhem that followed, the champion of the people was beaten to death with a wooden club and dumped into the Tiber [7]. So much for socialism in the Roman Republic. Fortunately for Bernie Sanders, the ruling elites in America have other more humane mechanisms set in place to prevent troublemaking misfits like him from ever coming to power.

Battery caged hens. Source peta.org.

Battery caged hens. Source peta.org.

All this is to say that the chickens of those times commanded the respect of the people. It is difficult to imagine a world in which chickens were appreciated for reasons that go beyond being a ready source of meat. But the relationship between people and domestic animals in ancient times was very different from that of our own. Across the ancient world, if one wanted to eat meat, one could only do so within a sacrificial context. The institution of the temple complex ensured that animal life was held sacred. The same cannot be said for the barnyard animals of our day — far from it. Consider modern chickens who live in abject misery on factory farms until it comes time to be unceremoniously processed and consumed by the people of the developed world. The full horrors of the factory farming of chickens have been publicised by PETA [8] (see footnotes 1 & 2). And while chickens may have it worst of all, cows and pigs fare scarcely any better, if at all.

The global civilisation to which we belong has by now surpassed all the achievements of ancient world with one glaring exception: the treatment of domestic animals. This especially holds true of chickens. But if we are ever to meet their moral standard on a societal scale, it ought not to be on account of the same primitive superstitions. Fortunately animal rights — the ethic that animals be viewed as persons, rather than property or commodities — has been gradually gaining acceptance in society, owing mainly to the efforts of dedicated activists. While this is cause for optimism, the biggest obstacle for the advancement of animal rights is, I think, that we tend to either rationalise our actions that violate the ethical principles we espouse, or at least place a cognitive dissonance between them. Meat is simply too delicious for the majority of us to forgo. The saintly turn to veganism, but this monastic resolution, while admirable, cannot be expected to spread across a sizeable proportion of the population. The best hope as I see it rests in the large-scale production of synthetic meat. It is only then that we will come as a society to perceive clearly the evils of industrial meat production, however their synthetic competitors have not yet perfected their craft.

Footnotes

[1] I myself have anecdotal evidence in support of these claims. My cousin Jimmy worked at a chicken processing plant somewhere in Nova Scotia, Canada one summer back in the 1990s. He later told me of how his duties included the hanging chickens from their feet in ‘the hanging room.’ From there the chickens were automatically conveyed to an adjoining room whereupon they were met with a chicken decapitating buzzsaw in monotonous succession. He was afterwards made to put on big rubber gloves and go back to pluck off any partially severed heads. He works as an accountant nowadays, I think.

[2] According to PETA sources in the same article: ‘Chickens are inquisitive, interesting animals who are as intelligent as mammals such as cats, dogs, and even some primates.’ but this I cannot accept. On the contrary, chickens are the single most idiotic vertebrate with which I have had any firsthand interaction. In addition to my own personal experiences, a certain schoolteacher who once raised a roost of chickens for his class told me that they need to be kept in their coop during times of rain, because otherwise they will stare up at the sky with open beaks and drown from the falling raindrops.

References

[1,3-5,7] Valerius Maximus: Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, translated by Henry John Walker (2004), Hackett Publishing Company.

I have taken the liberty to include quotations from the book below, as there is at present no English translation of Valerius Maximus available freely online. Quote ids refer to the location of the passages in the text. For example, the id 1.4.3 is understood to mean the passage at book 1, chapter 4, section 3. Footnote enumeration is the same as in Walker.

[1] 1.4.3 Story as recorded by Julius Paris: During the First Punic War Publius Claudius wanted to fight a naval battle, and asked for the auspices in the traditional way of our forefathers. When the man in charge of the sacred chickens replied that they were not coming out of their cage, Claudius ordered them to be thrown into the sea, saying, “Since they do not want to eat, let them drink!”

[3] 8.1.absol.4 I do not know whether Publius Claudius acted more unjustly toward our religion or our contry, since he neglected the most ancient customs of our religion and lost the finest fleet of our country [10]. He was placed at the mercy of the angered people, and it was believed that there was no way he could escape his inevitable punishment, but by virtue of a sudden shower of rain he was saved from a conviction. The hearing was disrupted, and they decided not to start it all over again, since the gods seemed to have obstructed it. So a storm at sea had forced him to plead his case, and a storm from heaven had brought him an acquittal.

Footnote 10: Publius Claudius Pulcher was consul in 249 BC. He had thrown the sacred chickens into the sea and then lost most of the Roman fleet (see 1.4.3).

[4] 8.1.damn.4 Claudia must be added to these cases, because a wicked wish she made ruined her, even though she was innocent of the charge made against her. As she was coming back from the games, she was jostled by the crowd, so she made a wish that her brother, who had caused great losses to our naval forces [33], would come back to life, and that he he would be elected consul several times so that he could get rid of the city’s excess population by his ill-fated leadership [34].

Footnote 33: Her brother Publius Claudius Pulcher (consul, 249 BC) lost a fleet during the First Punic War (see 1.4.3 and 8.1.absol.4).
Footnote 34: The aediles of the plebs fined Claudia for the misanthropic statement in 246 BC.

[5] 1.6.7 In his insane perseverance, Gaius Hostilius Mancinus followed the headlong rashness of Flaminius. As this consul was about to go off to Spain, the following prodigies occurred [124]. He wanted to make a sacrifice at Lavinium, but when the sacred chickens were released from their cage, they ran off into nearby woods, and althought they were searched for with the greatest diligence, they could not be found [125]. He reached the Port of Hercules on foot, and as he was going on board his ship there, these words from no human speaker came to his ears: ‘Wait, Mancinus.’ [126] He was terrified by this, so he turned back and headed to Genoa, and when he had gone onto a boat there, an exceptionally large snake was seen and then disappeared from sight. So the number of these prodigies equalled the number of his disasters: and unfortunate battle, a shameful peace treaty, and a deplorable handover [127].

Footnote 124: Gaius Hostilius Mancius was consul in 137 BC and was defeated by the Numians in Spain.
Footnote 125: Lavinium was near the coast of Latium.
Footnote 126: The Port of Hercules is now called Monaco.
Footnote 127: The Senate refused to ratify his peace treaty and handed him over to the Numantines in 136 BC.

[7] 1.4.2 When Tiberius Gracchus was going up for election as tribune, he consulted the sacred chickens at his home, and they opposed his going to the Campus Martius. When he went on obstinantly, he soon knocked his foot outside the door so badly that he broke a joint. Then three crows flew in his face with ill-omened claws, started fighting among themselves, and in doing so knocked a tile down before his feet. When he consulted the gods on the Capitol he rceived similar auspices. He had behaved badly as a tribune, so he was killed by Scipio Nasica: first he was struck with a piece of a bench, then he was killed with a wooden club. The plebeian aedile, Lucretius, ordered that his body, and all the bodies of those who were killed with him, be left unburied and thrown into the Tiber. (recorded by Nepotianus)

Footnote 82: Tiberius Sempronius Graccus (tribune of the plebs, 133 BC) was a populist politician. He and his supporters were murdered by alynch gang of senators led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio (consul, 138 BC). This conservative politician was also the chief pontiff from 141 BC until his death in 132 BC. The plebian aedile for 133 BC was Lucretius Vespillo.

[2] Cicero: De Divinatione, translated by W. A. Falconer (1923), Book 2, Chapter 33, Loeb Classical Library. Read this passage at the Bill Thayer’s online collection of classical texts.

[6] Appian: The Foreign Wars, translated by Horace White (1913), Book: Wars in Spain, Chapter 13, Section 83, Loeb Classical Library. Read this passage at the Perseus Digital Library.

[8] Chickens Used for Food. PETA. Retrieved 2015-11-08.

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In Defence of King Candaules

A 16th century portrait of King Candaules of Lydia, who reigned from 735 BC to 718 BC according to tradition, from Guillaume Rouillé's iconography book entitled Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum.

A 16th century portrait of King Candaules of Lydia, who reigned from 735 BC to 718 BC according to tradition, from Guillaume Rouillé’s iconography book entitled Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum.

Let it be known to all the swingers out there: King Candaules was no Candaulist. My swinger friends, read on.

Imagine you are the queen of Lydia. It is late and you are about to disrobe before your king in the privacy of his royal bedchamber. The monarch is reposing on a sumptuous bed that is perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. His eyes keep fixated on you as you move toward a chair situated near the doorway of the room. You stand motionless for a time, as is your custom, soaking in your exquisite surroundings through the flickering candlelight. He clutches giddily at a plush cushion with trembling hands. It is time. You pull the ivory pin fastening your hair, shake out your dark-brown curls, and proceed to slip out from your finely embroidered robe and place it on the chair. In captivating fashion you let drop your undergarments one after another around you. There you stand before your adoring husband with your youthful form revealed in all its beauty. But just then, all of a sudden, a strange sense of being watched creeps over you. You cast a furtive glance toward the doorway, instantly recognising the voyeur peering back at you from the shadows. The interloper gasps. A panicky utterance from the king cannot mask the ensuing patter of feet followed by an awful clatter down the stairs. As a succession of muted groans reverberate into the night, you are faced with the infuriating realisation that the king was behind the entire plot. In the awkward silence that follows you a) confront the king, b) cover yourself and scream for the royal guards, or c) say it was probably just the cat and handle it in the morning.

If your name is Queen Nyssia, the voyeur is Gyges, and Candaules is king, then you will choose option (c) and handle it in the morning. This at any rate is the story as it is related by Herodotus. That is apart from Gyges toppling headlong down the royal staircase, which is an elaboration on the series of events of my own invention (see Footnote 1). Herodotus, in any case, writes in some detail on Candaules’ efforts to persuade Gyges to view his wife [1]:

This Candaules, then, fell in love with his own wife, so much so that he believed her to be by far the most beautiful woman in the world; and believing this, he praised her beauty beyond measure to Gyges son of Dascylus, who was his favorite among his bodyguard; for it was to Gyges that he entrusted all his most important secrets. After a little while, Candaules, doomed to misfortune, spoke to Gyges thus: “Gyges, I do not think that you believe what I say about the beauty of my wife; men trust their ears less than their eyes: so you must see her naked.”

Gyges made every attempt to turn down Candaules’ request, but in the end the king’s will prevailed, and he consented to the proposal. Nyssia, having surmised all of this, sent for Gyges at dawn the next morning and presented him with a choice: either commit suicide at once as retribution for his transgression or murder Candaules and usurp the throne with her as his wife. Gyges pleaded with Nyssia to reconsider, but he soon found this to be a hopeless cause, and reluctantly agreed to kill his master. They murdered Candaules in his bed on the very next night.

The wife of Candaules discovers the hidden Gyges by Dutch painter Eglon Hendrik van der Neer around 1675–80.

The wife of Candaules discovers the hidden Gyges by Dutch painter Eglon Hendrik van der Neer around 1675–80.

After being named king, Gyges legitimised his hold on power, which was still precarious, by securing a favourable declaration from a Delphic oracle. The oracle coupled a confirmation of Gyges’ right to rule over the Lydians with a prophesy that Candaules’ family – the Heraclids – would take revenge on the usurper in the fifth generation. The prophecy proved true, but by that time Gyges was dead. In recognition of the oracular endorsement, Gyges had a hoard of gold and silver sent to the shrine at Delphi. The delivery included, we are told, six golden mixing-bowls that weighed nearly 800kg when taken all together (see Footnote 2). Gyges reigned for a total of 38 years (from 716 BC to 678 BC according to tradition) and was succeeded by his son Ardys II. No further details on the life of Nyssia are recorded.

This is the Herodotean narrative of Gyges’ rise to power. Modern scholarly opinion has Herodotus drawing on dramatic rather than historical sources, and it has been speculated that his story is based on a tragedy in five acts with three actors and a chorus [3]. Many alternative versions of the story circulated in antiquity. The most curious among them is presented as a thought-experiment of sorts in Book II of Plato’s Republic [4]. In this telling, Gyges is made to be a common shepherd who discovers a ring of invisibility while out pasturing his flocks. With the fear of being apprehended and punished for immoral behaviour removed, the once loyal subject, conspires with Nyssia to murder Candaules and takes the throne for himself. Various oddities surrounding the discovery of the ring that I have omitted are summarised by James Adam [5]; for the other versions of the story see Wikipedia [6].

As for Candaules, his legacy is wrongly coloured by an association with the eponymous sexual practice of Candaulism. The term was coined by the 19th century psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing to describe the practice in which a man reveals his female partner, or images of her, to others for their voyeuristic delight. While this certainly applies to the fictional Candaules, there is no reason to suppose that it is also true of the historical one. The historical Candaules, supposing he even existed, was probably overthrown and murdered by Gyges. Any speculation beyond that is liable to enter into the realm of fantasy.

The distinction between the fictional and historical Candaules is clear among classicists and Wikipedians alike, but the same cannot be said for the swinger community. Indeed, a quick perusal of swinger websites and message boards reveals that this distinction is not clear. In all fairness, they can hardly be blamed for being ignorant of the etymological subtleties surrounding a term that was introduced as a label for a largely obscure swinger pastime. My objective is not to assign blame, but rather to set the record on Candaules straight for the swinger subculture.

Known Candaulist and FBI agent convicted of spying for the Soviet Union  Robert Hanssen.

Known Candaulist and FBI agent convicted of spying for the Soviet Union Robert Hanssen.

There is no shortage of choices should the Candaulists among us wish to rename their hobby after a more appropriate individual. Known or suspected Candaulists down the ages include:

  • Louis I of Orléans: Painted by Eugène Delacroix unveiling his mistress, Mariette d’Enghien, before an unnamed onlooker [7].
  • Sir Richard Worsley: Assisted George Bissett to spy on Lady Worsley taking a bath [8].
  • Salvador Dali: Displayed his wife, Gala, to other men according to biographers [9].
  • Robert Hanssen: Invited a friend to secretly observe him making love to his wife. He later set up a closed-circuit television to allow the friend to watch from another room [10].

It will be admitted, however, that none of these men quite measure up to Candaules in terms of glamour and intrigue with the possible exception of Dali. Also Candaulism does have a nice ring to it. And in any case, bringing about a change in the usage of a term with a century old precedent, like Candualism, is bound to end in failure. In the end the only realistic alternative is to accept Candaulism as a term and concentrate on raising awareness in swinger circles that the historical Candaules was no Candaulist.

Footnotes

[1] It will also be noted that Herodotus does not refer to the queen by name. The Greek grammarian Ptolemaeus Chennus, writing in the 2nd century AD, names the queen as Nyssia [2]. He adds that she is called Tudun, Clytia, and Habro in other sources. We are told, moreover, that Nyssia had double pupils and it was owing to this peculiar abnormality that she was able to glimpse Gyges standing in the doorway. In some versions of the story, her double pupils were caused by exposure to a serpent stone of some kind. The reason why Herodotus neglected to mention her name is also revealed. According to Chennus, Herodotus was taken in with a youth called Plesirrhous, who spurned the father of history so that he might pursue a Halicarnassian woman with the same name as the queen. Plesirrhous proved unsuccessful in his efforts to woo this Nyssia and hanged himself. Herodotus was presumably left bitter by the association.

[2] No trace of these mixing-bowls have ever been found.

References

[1] The Histories by Herodotus; translated by A. D. Godley (1920), Harvard University Press, Book I, Chapters 8-13. Read Herodotus’ passage about Candaules at The Perseus Project.

[2] Bibliotheca (Codex 190) by Photius; translated by Roger Pearse from a French translation by René Henry (1977). Codex 190 is a synopsis of a lost book thought to have been written by the Greek grammarian Ptolemaeus Chennus in the 2nd century AD, although Photius attributed the work to an obscure figure by the name of Ptolemy Hephaestion. Read the passage on Queen Nyssia at the The Tertullian Project (search on “Nysia”, not “Nyssia”).

[3] A Commentary on Herodotus Books I-IV by David Asheri et al. (2007), Oxford University Press, Page 81. Preview this commentary on the story of Candaules at Amazon.com.

[4] The Republic of Plato translated by James Adam (1902), Cambridge University Press. Read Plato’s mythological telling of the Gyges story at The Perseus Project.

[5] Gyges by Harry Thurston Peck in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898), Harper and Brothers. Read this encyclopedia entry on Gyges at The Perseus Project.

[6] “Gyges of Lydia” page on Wikipedia.

[7] The Duke of Orléans showing his Lover by Eugène Delacroix (circa 1825-26). View this painting at The Web Gallery of Art.

[8] Lady Worsley’s Whim: The divorce that Scandalised Georgian England by Hallie Rubenhold (2008), Vintage Books.

[9] Before Photoshop Was Invented, There Was Dali; in the Latest in His Series on Striking Images, Our Columnist Looks at the Surreal Mind of an Artist and How Dreams Have Inspired Him and Others, London Evening Standard – August 21, 2014. Preview this article at Questia.

[10] Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America by David Wise (2003), Random House Trade Paperbacks.

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A realistic depiction of some horses set in a country landscape by the 18th century English painter George Stubbs. The Painting is entitled Mares and Foals in a Landscape and dates from 1763-68.

A realistic depiction of some horses set in a country landscape by the 18th century English painter George Stubbs. The Painting is entitled Mares and Foals in a Landscape and dates from 1763-68.

This week I had planned to treat my readers to a post, entitled In Defense of King Candaules, about a king who was murdered in the aftermath of arranging for his trusted bodyguard to peep on the queen disrobing in his royal bedchamber. I am disappointed to report, however, that this post will have to be delayed owing to a fairly elaborate set of circumstances. My emergency replacement anecdote for today concerns an unnamed painter who couldn’t quite get the details right on a painting of a horse returning from its exercise. This is the anecdote as it is recounted by Valerius Maximus [1]:

An artist of exceptional talent had devoted a lot of work to depicting a horse that was coming back from its exercise. The painting almost looked alive. He wanted to add the foam coming from the horse’s nostrils, but this great artist was completely worn out and frustrated for a long time by this tiny task. He was burning with indignation, so he took a sponge that happened to be there beside him, soaked with all his colors, and threw it at the painting, wanting to destroy the entire work. Fortune made him aim the sponge at the horse’s nostrils, so it carried out the painter’s wishes. In this way, art did not have the power to depict something, but change imitated it successfully.

While Maximus does not go so far as to name the painter, I vaguely recall having read a version of the story someplace or another in which the painter was named. What the name was, I have no idea. If you are reading this post have any knowledge pertaining to the name of the painter in question, do not hesitate to leave a comment straightway.

Addendum (24 October 2015)

A special thanks to Mikael Onsjö for identifying the mystery painter as either Apelles (see Wikipedia) or possibly Nealkes (see The elder Pliny’s chapters on the history of art).

References

[1] Valerius Maximus: Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, translated by Henry John Walker, Book 8, Chapter 11, Section 11 ext. 7 (2004).

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Selected Anecdotes by Valerius Maximus

Simon de Hesdin presents his translation of the Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX or the Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings of Valerius Maximus to Charles V, king of France.

Simon de Hesdin presents his translation of the Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX or the Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings of Valerius Maximus to Charles V, king of France.

Valerius Maximus compiled a book of nearly one thousand historical anecdotes in Rome during the reign of Tiberius. Taken as a whole these stories give a sense of the values that were aspired to by the Roman upper classes in the early imperial period. For them and later Romans, Valerius’ Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings served above all as a guide on how to lead a moral life. But its shelf life long outlasted the Roman Empire, having remained popular from the early Middle Ages through the Enlightenment. In our own time his book is at best a window into the culture of a bygone civilisation and at worst a miscellanea of bloggable tales.

In the present series of posts, I intend to navigate a middle road between these two extremes in the course of acquainting the online world with his timeless work. The sheer number of stories involved necessitates an approach that is selective and probing, instead of one that might be considered comprehensive. For the latter would sooner or later degenerate into an exceptionally tedious exercise. It is with this consideration in mind that I have handpicked an assortment of anecdotes that are truly remarkable — not in the heightened sense of the word, but rather in so far as they are worthy of remark. In time I hope to accompany each of the stories listed below with a blog post. My own personal biases have weighted my selection in favour of stories that come as a shock to our modern sensibilities, stories that are genuinely puzzling or odd, stories that amuse, and above all those stories that have enjoyed a certain historical resonance down to the present day.

Unfortunately I was unable to find an English translation of the text online. The original Latin text, for those who can read it, is freely available at The Perseus Project [1]. The references below along with any quotations are taken from the Henry John Walker translation [2]. There is, however, another important contemporary translation, which I have not read, by D. R. Shackleton Bailey [3,4].

Book I: Stories about religion, false religiosity, superstitious cults, the auspices, omens, prodigies, dreams, and miracles.

Tarquin the Elder consulting Attus Nevius the Augur by the Italian Baroque painter Sebastiano Ricci.

Tarquin the Elder consulting Attus Nevius the Augur by the Italian Baroque painter Sebastiano Ricci.

  • Quintus Petilius orders the burning of subversive Greek books dug up by farm-hands in a field belonging to Lucius Petilius (1.1.12).

  • Gaius Terentius Varro places a handsome young actor on Jupiter’s parade float, rousing Juno’s jealous wrath in the eyes of the spectators (1.1.16).
  • Dionsius I of Syracuse makes some dismissive remarks about his various acts of sacrilege (1.1.ext.3).
  • Tarquin the Elder orders the augur Attius Navius to cut a whetstone with a razor, and miraculously he does so (1.4.1).
  • The Sacred Chickens of Rome (1.4.3).

    Story as recorded by Julius Paris: During the First Punic War Publius Claudius wanted to fight a naval battle, and asked for the auspices in the traditional way of our forefathers. When the man in charge of the sacred chickens replied that they were not coming out of their cage, Claudius ordered them to be thrown into the sea, saying, “Since they do not want to eat, let them drink!”

  • A foreseeable omen is observed when the architect Deinocrates drafts a city plan out of barley (1.4.ext.1).
  • The tale of a murderous innkeeper in Megera (1.7.ext.9).
  • Acilius Aviola revives on his funeral pyre (1.8.12); a man by the name of Er revives on his funeral pyre and astounds onlookers with tales of the afterlife (1.8.ext.1); Gorgias of Epirus born at his mother’s own funeral (1.8.ext.5).
  • Aristomenes of Messenia is autopsied whereupon his heart is found to be full of hairs (1.8.ext.15).

Book II: Stories about ancient customs, military discipline, the right to triumph, the disapproval of the censors, and prestige.

  • A man by the name of Valesius miraculously discovers a buried altar dedicated to Father Dis and Proserpina (2.4.5).
  • The flute player’s guild goes on strike for the right to eat inside the temple of Jupiter (2.5.4).

Book III: Stories about human characteristics, courage, endurance, social mobility, illustrious men who led lifestyles at odds with the customs of their ancestors, self-confidence, and determination.

Horatius Cocles defending the Wooden Bridge by the 15th century French manuscript illuminator Maître du Boccace de Munich.

Horatius Cocles defending the Wooden Bridge by the 15th century French manuscript illuminator Maître du Boccace de Munich.


  • The exploits of Horatius Cocles at the Battle of the Wooden Bridge (3.2.1).
  • Mucius purposely burns his right hand to a cinder in a brazier (3.3.1); Pompeius similarly burns off his finger in a lamp (3.2.2); a boy endures the pain of a hot coal on his arm for the duration of a sacrifice conducted by Alexander the Great (3.3.ext.1); the philosopher Anaxrchus of Abdera bites off his own tongue (3.3.ext.4).
  • Hannibal and Fabius the Delayer (3.8.2).
  • The good-looking youth Demochares pleads with an aggressive prosecutor for leniency at his father’s trial (3.8.ext.4).
  • A tense moment is passed between Alexander the Great and his physician Philip of Acarnania (3.8.ext.6).

Book IV: Stories about moderation, reconciliation, self-denial, self-control, poverty, modesty, marital love, friendship, and generosity.

  • Archytas of Tarentum lets an incompetent servant go unpunished after immersing himself in philosophy of Pythagoras (4.1.ext.1).
  • The tale of the golden tripod of Apollo (4.1.ext.7).
  • Xenocrates resists the advances of the well-known prostitute Phryne at an all-night festival (4.3.ext.1).
  • The youth Spurinna disfigures his beautiful face to prevent the people of Etruria from lusting over him (4.5.ext.1).
  • Cato of Utica’s daughter Portia kills herself by swallowing hot coals (4.6.5).
  • A anecdote concerning the good friends Damon and Phintias (4.7.ext.1).
  • The antics of Gillias of Acragas (4.8.ext.2).

Book V: Stories about compassion, gratitude, loyalty, and parents and children.

  • Syloson of Samos and his fancy cloak (5.2.ext.1).
  • Pero breastfeeds her imprisoned father, Cimon (5.4.ext.1).
  • The young nobleman Curtius hurls himself into gaping chasm that magically appeared in the middle of the Forum (5.6.2).
  • Gaius Aelius Tubero and the woodpecker (5.6.4).
  • A curious resolution is struck in a border dispute between Carthage and Cyrene (5.6.ext.4).
  • The physician Erasistratus diagnoses Antiochus with being in love with his stepmother, Stratonice (5.7.ext.1).
Ancient Roman fresco depicting Micon and Pero from Pompeii. This image is by Stefano Bolognini and is distributed under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Ancient Roman fresco depicting Micon and Pero from Pompeii. This image is by Stefano Bolognini and is distributed under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.


Book VI: Stories about chastity, candid behaviour, severity, dignified behaviour, justice, public trust, loyalty, and changes in character or fortunes.

  • Publius Plotius has Titus Veturius flogged for refusing to engage in sexual relations with him (6.1.9).
  • Gaius Vettieus cuts off his fingers to avoid military service (6.3.3).
  • Cambyses skins a judge (6.3.ext. 3).
  • A New Zaleucus to Rebuke us in the Online Age (6.5.ext.4).

    Nothing could be braver than the following acts of justice. Zaleucus had protected the city of Locri with the most beneficial and useful laws. His son was found guilty on the charge of adultery, and in accordance with the law that Zaleucus himself established, he should have had both his eyes gouged out. All the citizens, out of respect for the father, wanted to exempt the son from the rigours of the law, but Zaleucus resisted them for a long time. Finally, he was won over by the pleas of the people, so he gouged out one of his own eyes first, and then one of his son’s, thereby leaving each of them with the ability to see. He carried out the punishment required by his own law, but with an admirable blend of justice, he divided himself between the roles of a merciful father and a strict lawmaker.

  • The tale of Polemo and Xenocrates (6.9.ext. 1).

Book VII: Stories about good fortune, wisdom, wit, stratagems, electoral defeats, necessity, and inheritance.

  • The Roman priest and the Sabine cow (7.3.1).
  • Alexander the Great executes a man’s ass (7.3.ext.1).
  • Demosthenes defends an old woman in court pro bono (7.3.ext.5).
  • Vecilius the pimp is denied his inheritance (7.7.7).
  • The antics of Tuditanus (7.4.2).

Book VIII: Stories about infamous crimes, famous court cases, interrogations, witnesses, hypocrisy, enthusiasm, leisure, eloquence, erudition, professional competence, old age, the desire for glory, and prestige.

The ruins of the third Temple of Artemis in Ephesus outside Selçuk, Turkey. The first temple was destroyed in a flood, while the second was burned down by Herostratus. This image is by simonjenkins' photos and is distributed under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

The ruins of the third Temple of Artemis in Ephesus outside Selçuk, Turkey. The first temple was destroyed in a flood, while the second was burned down by Herostratus. This image is by simonjenkins’ photos and is distributed under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

  • The senate takes pity on Servius Galba at his trial for the treacherous killing of a large number of Lucitanians in Spain (8.1.absol.2).
  • Publius Claudius saved from conviction on charge of throwing the sacred chickens into the sea by inclement weather (8.1.absol.4).
  • The vestal virgin Tuccia is acquitted on the charge of sexual immorality under miraculous circumstances (8.1.absol.5).
  • Claudius of Bononia is acquitted on the charge of adultery following an embarrassing admission (8.1.absol.12).
  • A man who had fallen too much in love with his boyfriend is convicted of killing a domestic ox (8.1.damn.8).
  • A slave named Alexander is put to death for murdering a fellow slave; the slave everybody thought to be dead returned home a short time later (8.4.1).
  • The best friends Scipio and Laelius collect seashells and pebbles at the seashore (8.8.1).
  • Sulpicius Galus assuages the superstitious fears of the Roman army with a lecture on eclipses of the moon (8.11.1).
  • Apelles Paints a Horse Returning from its Exercise (8.11.ext.1).

    An artist of exceptional talent had devoted a lot of work to depicting a horse that was coming back from its exercise. The painting almost looked alive. He wanted to add the foam coming from the horse’s nostrils, but this great artist was completely worn out and frustrated for a long time by this tiny task. He was burning with indignation, so he took a sponge that happened to be there beside him, soaked with all his colors, and threw it at the painting, wanting to destroy the entire work. Fortune made him aim the sponge at the horse’s nostrils, so it carried out the painter’s wishes. In this way, art did not have the power to depict something, but change imitated it successfully.

  • The petty antics of Gaius Fabius (8.14.6).
  • Herostratus burns down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (8.14.ext.5).

Book IX: Stories about hedonism, cruelty, wrath, avarice, pompous behaviour, treachery, violence, reckless behaviour, mistakes, revenge, shameless remarks, wicked deeds, unusual deaths, the desire to survive, physical resemblance, and pretenders.

  • Gaius Sergius Orata: The original Jean des Essentes (9.1.1).
  • Darius and the pit of ashes (9.2.ext.6).
  • The brazen bull of Perillos of Athens (9.2.ext.9).
  • Taxillus the gymnasium master takes revenge on some young men (9.10.ext.2).
  • The unusual deaths of the poets and playwrights Aeschylus (9.12.ext.2), Homer (9.12.ext.3), Euripides (9.12.ext.4), Sophocles (9.12.ext.5), and Pindar (9.12.ext.7).
  • Philemon dies from laughing at his own joke (9.12.ext.6).
  • The unusual deaths of Anacreon (9.12.ext.8), Milo of Croton (9.12.ext.9), and Gnaeus Carbo (9.13.2).
  • The uncanny resemblances of Vibius to Pompey the Great (9.14.1), Artemon to King Antiochus (9.14.ext.1), and a rather impertinent man to the governor of Sicily (9.14.ext.3).

References

[1] Factorvm et Dictorvm Memorabilivm, Libri Novem. by Valerius Maximus, edited by Karl Friedrich Kempf (1888). Read the original Latin text, if you can, at The Perseus Project.

[2] Valerius Maximus: Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, translated by Henry John Walker (2004).

[3] Memorable Doings and Sayings, Volume I, Books 1-5, by Valerius Maximus, edited and translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (2000).

[4] Memorable Doings and Sayings, Volume II, Books 6-9, by Valerius Maximus, edited and translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (2000).

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