Sunday, August 2, 2015

Some Short Stuff from the Early Greeks

Just some short poems and aphorisms from pre-Christian era Greece.  Nothing heavy here.

Fox knows many
Hedgehog one 
Solid trick.

-- Archilochus --
trans.  Guy Davenport

I suppose I've missed the whole point here, but I like the fox better than the hedgehog.  I've known humans who are like foxes--active, mobile, inventive--and I've know humans who are like hedgehogs--solid, immovable, imperturbable--and I like the foxes for things happen when they are around.  In a situation controlled by hedgehogs, little if anything new happens, and what little energy is expended is spent on maintaining the status quo.


I don't give a damn if some Thracian ape strut
Proud of that first-rate shield the bushes got.
Leaving it was hell, but in a tricky spot
I kept my hide intact. Good shield can be bought.

-- Archilochus --
trans. Stuart Silverman

He's definitely not a Spartan or a poor Spartan at best, for their motto was to come home carrying their shields or on it.


Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

-- Simonides --
trans. by William Lyle Bowles

True Spartans here.

Because of these men's courage, no smoke rose
Skyward from Tegea's burning.  They chose
To leave their children the broad land's township green
With freedom, while in the front line they went down.

-- Simonides --
trans. by Peter Jay

Perhaps not Spartans, but certainly closer in behavior than to the mercenary mentioned earlier.

The poet Hipponax lies here.
In justice, this is only fair.
His lines were never dark or deep.
Now he enjoys  (like his readers) sleep.

-- Theocritus --
trans. by Fred Chappell

Hipponax doesn't seem to have been loved by all.

I've never feared the setting of the Pleiades
or the hidden reefs beneath the waves
or even the lightning at sea

like I dread friends who drink with me
and remember what we say.

-- Antipater of Thessalonica --
trans. by Sam Hamill

Dangerous friends to have. 

All poems are from World Poetry: The Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time.
edited by Katherine Washburn and John S. Major, with Clifton Fadiman as General Editor


  1. If I were a trickster, I'd much rather be like the fox and have more than one trick. Not boring either.

    Sounds like they're saying that Hipponax's writing put his readers to sleep. Ouch! Of course I'm one of those people that can't read in bed at night without falling asleep. Probably in my entire life, there have been less than half a dozen books which kept me reading and reading into the night until finished.

    Ha, ha. I like the drunk friends one too.

  2. madamevauquer,

    Yes, definitely the fox.

    It appears as though Hipponax's poetry is a sure cure for insomnia. And since he's dead, he can't answer back. Poor H!

    Friends with good memories--one must be careful around them.

    That reminds me of another saying--"I can protect myself from my enemies, but only God can save me from my friends."

    1. madamevauquer,

      Chuckle. . . I know what you mean, (sigh).

      I think oneself is included among the "friends."

  3. Oh so that is where it came from- the fox/ hedgehog division? There's an essay about writers, I think Tolstoy's the fox and Dostoyevsky's the hedgehog.

  4. Di,

    I can't see either of them as hedgehogs. Who's the author?


    2. Di,

      Isaiah Berlin? I've never really ever looked into him. I should do so, OOTD.


  5. Your offering reminds why I do not drink anymore. Too many people remembered what I said and did in those days. Yikes!

    And did Greeks really have contact with apes? Hmmm.

    I think I'd rather trust a hedgehog rather than a fox. That probably confirms my singularity.

  6. R.T.,

    But, memories fade. . .

    The Greeks were seafaring people who had considerable contact with people all along the Mediterranean shores and no doubt did encounter apes.

    Hedgehogs may be more predictable, but foxes are more versatile, to me anyway.