Plato and Mathematics: An apt quotation from Lancelot Hogben


“Plato's exaltation of mathematics as an august and mysterious ritual had its roots in dark superstitions which troubled, and fanciful puerilities which entranced, people who were living through the childhood of civilization, when even the cleverest people could not clearly distinguish the difference between saying that 13 is a 'prime' number and saying that 13 is an unlucky number. His influence on education has spread a veil of mystery over mathematics and helped to preserve the queer freemasonry of the Pythagorean brotherhoods, whose members were put to death for revealing mathematical secrets now printed in school books. It reflects no discredit on anybody if this veil of mystery makes the subject distasteful. Plato's great achievement was to invent a religion which satisfies the emotional needs of people who are out of harmony with their social environment, and just too intelligent or too individualistic to seek sanctuary in the cruder forms of animism.”

Lancelot Hogben, Mathematics for the Million (1971)


review of Yona and Davis, ed. Epicurus in Rome

 Epicurus in Rome, Philosophical Perspectives in the Ciceronian Age, ed. Sergio Yona and Gregson Davis, Cambridge University Press 2022

review by James Jope ©

Contributors to this volume are distinguished Epicurean scholars and their papers are well written and enlightening, as should be expected. However, Sergio Yona’s introduction attempts to contextualize them in relation to the paradox of the popularity of an apparently very un-Roman philosophy in the late Republic. Now, a book investigating why and how that popularity arose would be more innovative than a simple gathering of diverse papers on Epicureanism in Rome, however well written; but if that is the purpose of this book, not all of these papers address it.

I shall discuss the papers in the order of their appearance in the book.

Sint Ista Graecorum: How to be an Epicurean in Late Republican Rome – Evidence from Cicero’s On Ends

Geert Roskam

Cicero’s Rhetoric of Anti-Epicureanism: Anonymity as Critique

Daniel P. Hanchey

The first two essays study Cicero’s hostile treatment of the Epicureans in order to weigh the possibility of a Roman choosing that school.

Geert Roscam opens the book with a satiric caricature of Epicurus; the caricature is right on target, but I fear it might encourage some readers to lay the book aside without further ado. After an intriguing discussion of why all the speakers in Cicero’s dialogues are Roman, and never Greek professional philosophers (because Cicero thought that the Roman aristocrats actually improved on what the professionals had to say), he examines Cicero’s arguments and rightly concludes that it was especially difficult for a senator to be Epicurean. (Incidentally, I should like to point out that the word ‘patronizing’ applies neatly in both its ancient and modern uses to Cicero’s view of Greek professionals.)

Daniel P. Hanchey skilfully penetrates Cicero’s rhetorical devices such as his disdainful references to Epicureans by citing their supposed principles rather than naming the school itself. Among the basic Epicurean ‘principles’ which Cicero rejects is an “animal-like failure to employ ratio (reason, logic) and oratio,” where the latter signifies the rhetorical activity which, according to Cicero, is the basis of community; hence their “failure to observe the natural social bonds that undergird the Republic”.

Both authors acknowledge that Cicero is a hostile witness, and both see clearly through his tactics. However, they remain sympathetic to him-- perhaps too sympathetic to draw out a fair picture of the Epicureans. Thus Hanchey: “Cicero spent the last decade or more of his life arguing for the value of a rational and virtuous society... in the belief that the Republic represented something abstractly good.” A more critical attitude towards Cicero’s own position might cast more light on the Epicureans. After all, here was a man who, because the Epicureans could not fully support a ‘community’ founded on imperialism and competitive internal rivalries which were already tearing it apart, degrades them to solitary animalistic individuals, when they were actually constructing healthy alternative communities to shelter one another from the storm. Surely this communal lifestyle-- open, as it was, to all classes-- attracted many in the turmoil of the civil wars.

Was Atticus an Epicurean?

Nathan Gilbert

Nathan Gilbert counters an earlier view that Atticus was not a serious Epicurean by offering a penetrating analysis of the context, rhetorical tactics, and nuances of Cicero’s correspondence with Atticus. The result, and Atticus’ own advice to Cicero are consistent with serious Epicureanism. However, as Gilbert understands, it was easier to follow that philosophy as an equestrian than as a senator.

Caesar the Epicurean? A Matter of Life and Death

Katharina Volk

Katharina Volk considers the hypothesis that Caesar’s gutsy indifference to death may indicate that he was an Epicurean. She asks what criterion we should use to qualify someone as an Epicurean, and answers, with a delightful flare of common sense, that we should ask them. Noting that neither Caesar himself nor anybody else ever described him as an Epicurean, she suggests that Epicurean ideas were current in the popular culture and Caesar, like others, adapted them to his own needs.

Otium and Voluptas: Catullus and Roman Epicureanism

Monica R. Gale

It seems obvious that Catullus’ personal disaffection with politics, his passionate concept of friendship, and especially his defiant, incorrigible indulgence in illicit romantic love are quite unlike the Epicurean version of the corresponding values. But it is no disservice to scholarship to demonstrate the obvious. Monica Gale does so through an intertextual study of Catullus, Lucretius and Philodemus.

Love It or Leave It”: Nature’s Ultimatum in Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things

Elizabeth Asmis

Kitsch, Death and the Epicurean

Pamela Gordon

Lucretius’ thanatology must have deeply affected Roman readers at that time, and so it is the subject of two papers.

Elizabeth Asmis offers a very knowledgeable correlation of Lucretius with Epicurus and Philodemus.

Using novelist Milan Kundera’s peculiar concept of ‘kitsch’ as denial of filth and decay as her point of departure, Pamela Gordon interprets Epicurean sources (Lucretius, Philodemus) as lampooning conventional shallow ideas about death and philosophy. While the imposition of Kundera’s specific concept is not very convincing, much of what Gordon says about Lucretius is. Her discussion of the Epicureans’ own kitsch (rings, portraits of The Master) could be especially relevant for the issue of the school’s popularity in the Republic, if indeed serious Epicureans disdained such kitsch. But too often (e.g. as regards Philodemus and Horace), Gordon has to simply postulate that a text which others have taken seriously is intended as satire. This line of inquiry should certainly be pursued further.

Page, Stage, Image: Confronting Ennius with Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things

Mathias Hanses

I’ve always wondered why Lucretius calls Epicurus a graius homo. Mathias Hanses’ explanation is striking proof of the relevance of Ennius for understanding Lucretius, as is the rest of his research on this subject. But the most interesting part of his paper for the issue of Epicurean popularity in Rome is “multi-medial intertextuality”: The correspondence of Lucretius’ narrative with Roman theatrical performances and wall paintings must have been intended to reach a broader audience, and probably succeeded.

We can readily intuit the importance of indifference to death and the support of an alternative community for Romans during the civil wars. But although Hanses’ argument has some difficulties (e.g., chronological), such cross-media research seems promising for future work on the question of the popularity of Epicureanism in Rome, especially given the hostility of some major literary sources. Studies relating literature to material art have already been very fruitful regarding Hellenistic Greek poetry (e.g., by Graham Zanker and Évelyne Prioux).

Lucretius on the Size of the Sun

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad

The Epicurean position that the sun is only as large as it appears has been a thorny issue for ancient and modern critics. T. H. M. Gellar-Goad’s essay makes a plausible case in defense of the Epicureans’ position, claiming that they did reserve judgement (epokhe tes dianoias). It has nothing to do with the issue of their popularity in Rome.


Lucian of Samosata and Max Weber on the sociology of philosophers


Lucian of Samosata and Max Weber on the sociology of philosophers

                                                                                                     copyright James Jope

The Lucianic portion of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Classical Association in 2012. I decided to publish it here after learning of Max Weber’s relevance.


Lucian satirised philosophers of every school. Attempts to determine his own philosophical leanings—for example, by positing a diachronic development— have been unconvincing (Hall 35 ff.), and it is now widely believed, with some truth, that he would take whatever stance suited him. After all, Lucian did not identify with philosophy as much as with rhetoric; and scholars like Michael Trapp and Fabio Berdozzo have been exploring this rhetorical background as a clue to other aspects of his work.

Although he claims not to favour any school’s doctrine, he is especially averse to Stoicism, and more sympathetic with the Cynics, whose values he espouses in his ‘Menippean’ satires, and the Epicureans, who are always the winners when he stages a debate between them and Stoics (Philosophies for Sale, The Downward Journey, and The Double Indictment). He accuses philosophers of various faults; but most often of hypocrisy. And the hypocrisy often masks greed. In The Parasite (52) he admits that rhetoricians too can be greedy, but still insists it’s worse for philosophers. It is this particular criticism that I wish to examine more closely. Lucian levels it chiefly at Stoics and Peripatetics, but I will be focussing on the Stoics.

It has been claimed that Lucian’s acquaintance with the doctrines of the schools is shallow; but his jokes are never wrongly targeted. It is a Stoic, for example, that he shows in Philosophies for Sale as comically deploying logic to extort arrears of fees, clubbing his students over the head, as it were, with weighty syllogisms (23-4). The Stoics were in fact the leading school in logic. And the crude individualist who terrorizes the banqueters in the Lapiths is appropriately a Cynic.  

Significantly, Lucian joins condemnation of the Stoics’ pursuit of rich and powerful patrons with disapproval of their tuition fees (Symposium 36 and The Fisherman 34). In his Nigrinus and Demonax, he shows us what he would presumably regard as an authentic philosopher. Charging for instruction, Nigrinus says, is selling virtue; and the lecture rooms of such philosophers are like factories; whereas Nigrinus gives free instruction to anyone who asks (25). We are told-- almost incidentally-- that Nigrinus is a Platonist. But there are no traces of Platonic doctrines: no mention of forms, of political constitutions, of eros, no trace either of the skepticism of the later Academy, and of course no attack on rhetoricians or sophists; only a diatribe against wealthy Romans and their decadent morals and values. And the credit for escaping from these is given simply to a generic ‘Philosophy’, inspired through Nigrinus’s charismatic harangue. Demonax, who is said to be an eclectic, also reveals few traces of serious philosophy in his mix. His character and behaviour are extolled, although most of the book is padded with a collection of the sort of anecdotal encounters with clever retorts that were common in doxographies.

It is seldom appreciated that Lucian is not just condemning excessive fees, but any fees at all. Fees were practically universal by that time, and Marcus Aurelius’ endowment of chairs of philosophy in Rome and Athens in the year 176 CE is lauded today as a step toward public higher education. Yet when Lucian discusses this in the Eunuch, he does not praise the initiative, but remains silent in that regard—which is about as close as we can expect to open disapproval of an emperor’s initiative. Instead, he accuses everyone who even applied for these positions of avarice.

As a public speaker, Lucian travelled around the empire amassing wealth from fees for public display speeches. His criticism of philosophers undoubtedly reflects the rivalry between rhetoric and philosophy. Trapp, in his book on philosophy in the Roman Empire, cites Quintilian’s contention that philosophers should not offer higher education themselves, but only provide reading material for rhetoricians’ courses. This would mean that only those who were financially independent could philosophize; but that would not have fased the imperial elite who comprised Lucian’s audience. And we must remember that while rhetoricians trained for political activity and social leadership, philosophers trained for virtue and personal happiness. Trapp (2007, 13) aptly describes a second-century philosopher as part scientist and part clergyman. I should like to add that a rhetorician was part lawyer and part star entertainer. Our own society reluctantly tolerates lawyers’ greed and rewards entertainment celebrities exorbitantly, but regards scientists’ financial ambitions with ambivalence and expects clergymen to live in genteel poverty-- exactly as Lucian expected of philosophers.

In the centuries after Plato, the social role of philosophy changed. We are told by Marrou, for example, in his Histoire de l’education dans l’antiquite, that the Hellenistic schools became more professionalized. They adopted from their rivals, the rhetoricians, the practice of lecturing for fees, and what they promised in exchange for the fees was knowledge of how to live happily in the existing society. Yet, this was not consistent with the attitude of Plato and Socrates, who saw a conflict of interest in charging for teaching virtue.

Apparently, this ambivalence regarding money persisted even as philosophy became increasingly commercialized. The source book on ancient education by Mark Joyal and his colleagues has some interesting items in this connection. Imperial subsidies to education did not always include philosophers. Indeed, philosophy students had not always been charged. Speusippus, who succeeded Plato as head of the Academy, was the first to charge, and he felt obliged to offer excuses (Joyal et al. 2009 111). Aristippus pointed out defensively that Socrates had received ample gifts (Joyal et al. 2009 87). He did not mention that Socrates also worked for a living. Alberto Maffi studied the philosophers’ wills recorded by Diogenes Laertius. They do not mention tuition fees, but they make arrangements obliging the property heirs to collaborate with the school’s participants. Maffi found no clear institutional model, only makeshift attempts to somehow keep the school going. In 2009 Matthias Haake studied Hellenistic municipal inscriptions involving philosophers and found that in business and politics, they were often prepared to stretch their principles for gain; for example, Epicurean priests are recorded, although Epicurus believed that the gods do not intervene in human affairs, making sacrifice cruel and pointless. Priesthood was not a vocation, but a public office, and a remunerative one at that. As such, it may have been regarded as ‘fair play’ for any member of the elite, regardless of his personal beliefs. Nevertheless, Lucian duly satirizes an Epicurean priest (Hermon) in the Lapiths.

Plato was independently wealthy and free to take unpopular political and social stances, as he did in the Republic. Indeed, the city-state environment of early Greece had enabled radical intellectual experiments. Percy (1996) and Davidson (2007) have documented bold experiments in the social organization of homosexual relations in Archaic Greece, and Solon’s cancellation of debts and redistribution of property actually carried out the kind of radical social changes envisioned by Plato. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, also was wealthy when he arrived in Athens, coming from a prosperous commercial family; and according to Schofield’s reconstruction of his ideal state, he too advocated radical changes like Plato’s. In particular, philosophers would be motivated to teach by love, not money.

When city-states fell under the suzerainty of less flexible monarchies, the Hellenistic schools seeking peace of mind (ataraxia) had to adopt survival strategies. Cynics and Epicureans withdrew from society. The Cynics withdrew individually and sought a meagre living by begging. Epicureans withdrew collectively into an alternative community which was subsidized by its wealthier members and could also court wealthy patrons. Stéphane Toulouse reconstructed a telling incident from correspondence between the emperor Hadrian and Heliodorus, head of the Epicurean community at Athens and a personal friend of the emperor. His school was in financial trouble, and he asked Hadrian for help. The emperor gave him a grant, but only after gently reminding him that philosophers were not supposed to be interested in money. Stoics, on the other hand, chose collaboration instead of withdrawal. They sought wealthy patrons and students, they charged high fees, and eventually they became the principal, and prosperous, philosophical educators of the Roman ruling class.

Lucian does not accuse philosophers of shaping their doctrines to please their patrons. A rhetorician could scarcely object to that. Like most ancient intellectuals, Lucian was aware of the dangers of patronage. But his point of view, as a rhetorician, is rather that of a social critic than of a seeker of truth. He wants philosophers to play their proper role and not interfere in civil areas like education and politics.

In his Fisherman and Runaways, Philosophy herself explains that her purpose is only good living. She and Lucian are relatively uninterested in theory; not only all of the Greek schools, but even the Brahmans of India are said to offer viable paths to happiness, provided only that they practice what they preach. This attitude seems naively simplistic, but it was probably not uncommon in Lucian’s day.

For us, however, the possibility of patronage influencing philosophical doctrine is important, so that we should reflect upon the implications of Lucian’s social criticism. Since the turn of this century there has been some renewed awareness of this, particularly as regards the Stoics. Martha Nussbaum’s critique of what she calls the “incomplete” feminism of the Roman Stoic Musonius is an excellent example; she finds that Musonius was constantly aware of the expectations of a Roman aristocratic audience. Chrysippus, an early Stoic, was aware of the danger. He warned against trying to live off philosophy: Dependence on a king, he said—in other words, patronage-- meant that the king must be humoured; and charging tuition commercialized wisdom itself (Diogenes Laertius vii 189). Cicero too was aware. In a speech attacking Piso, the patron of the Epicurean community in Italy led by Philodemus—where Virgil and Horace acquired their exposure to Epicureanism-- he charges that Piso cajoled a reluctant Philodemus into composing erotic poems which, according to Cicero, celebrated the debaucheries of his patron. He portrays Philodemus as a shy and squeamish “graeculus” (poor little Greek) intimidated into writing what Piso wanted by the persistent demands of the lordly “imperator populi Romani” (Roman generalissimo) (In Pisonem 69-70).

We need not believe the factious details of this story. But Cicero could not have argued this way if it weren’t plausible to his audience. Finally, we have Lucian’s own disheartening portrayal of the miserable life of a Greek intellectual client residing with a powerful Roman patron in the treatise On salaried posts in great houses. Not coincidentally, the man is a Stoic.

Some scholars used to call Hellenistic and Imperial philosophers ‘professors’, and if they had enjoyed tenure in an ivory tower, their positions might have been driven solely by argumentation (and of course by personal animosities against other professors); but their financial position was much less secure; we should rather imagine a kind of freelance instructor whose income is tied directly to his popularity among wealthy students and their fathers. Such situations might not seriously affect his teaching in physics or logic, or even ethics, as long as his ethical pronouncements remained, like some maxims of Roman Stoics, noble, hortatory and vague. But concrete radical political and social proposals would hardly be tolerated.

Later Stoics were embarrassed by the radical views of Zeno and Chrysippus, who, like Plato, advocated such reforms as the abolition of marriage, and erotic relationships between philosophers and their students.

As the philosophical schools morphed into educational establishments, even Greek patrons may have already brought conventional values to bear; but intolerance for radical social views was intense and pervasive among the Romans. They were tough customers for philosophy. Even those who, like Cicero, did interest themselves in philosophy were critical and selective, and regarded it only as a cultural enhancement which was not to be permitted to threaten traditional Roman values.

Consider for example Panaetius, who was a critical figure in the transition to Roman Stoicism.

His main innovation, according to Diogenes Laertius (vii 128), was to compromise the principle at the heart of Stoic ethics, viz., that virtue alone is good, and wealth, health, etc. are ‘indifferent’ in ethical value. He conceded that virtue alone is not sufficient for happiness unless it is accompanied by health and an adequate living. Panaetius lived and traveled for years with an active Roman political and military leader, Scipio Aemilianus. Earlier scholars, like R.D. Hicks in 1965, did not hesitate to infer that his concession on virtue was to sweeten the pill for Roman consumption: “The introduction of Stoicism at Rome”, he wrote, “was the most momentous of the many changes that it saw… Soon the influence of the pupils reacted upon the doctrines taught” (Hicks 1965 363). However, later in the twentieth century, scholars of ancient philosophy became more inclined to interpret philosophical developments exclusively in terms of philosophical theory; thus Panaetius’ concession was seen only as a response to the keen Skeptic critic Carneades, who questioned the sufficiency of virtue alone.

But Panaetius also defended property rights against Zeno (Rist 1969 199) and even subscribed to the sycophantic view that the ideal constitution was actually the Roman one (Cicero De Republica i 21). Apparently, at least when sensitive areas like politics were concerned, he was eager to cater to Roman patronage.

Sexual ethics is certainly one area where conformity to conventional values reversed progressive views. I have mentioned Nussbaum’s disappointment with Musonius, whose vision of women’s liberation amounted to little more than instruction in Stoic philosophy in order to better fulfil their domestic role as wives and mothers. Lucian did deal with the repressive strain of Roman Stoic sexual philosophy in the Erotes. In the rhetorical contest supervised by Lucian’s stand-in Lycinus, Charicles, who is the loser, represents this type of Stoicism. He advocates companionate marriage, but is mainly interested in condemning any non-reproductive sex, especially between males. Like Musonius, the only positive content that he can imagine for women in a life of companionate marriage is domestic: enjoying dinner with their husbands. In characteristic Stoic fashion, he bases his argument on Nature (physis), which he equates with Providence. Lucian portrays Charicles as an irate fanatic, and Lycinus rejects his position as un-Hellenic, favouring his opponent, who defends Greek tradition and associates physis with barbarian and nomos with Greek.

The financial aspect of Lucian’s dislike of the Stoics, and their own doctrinal compatibility with the conventional values of wealthy Roman patrons complement each other and suggest that Lucian, however superficial his own philosophical sophistication may have been, was a perceptive social critic.

And this analysis is corroborated by a comparative study of the social role of Hellenistic philosophies and other belief systems throughout the ancient world offering a path to happiness through a release from ignorance.


Max Weber

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is the best known work by the pioneering sociologist Max Weber, but it is also his most controversial. Later he studied the history of religions and traced a historical development  from magic through several stages to Protestantism, and sought to understand the social and economic correlations of different religions. These studies were unfinished at his death, but are included, under the title Religiöse Gemeinschaften, in an extensive posthumous compilation. Certain aspects of this work are relevant for understanding the social role of philosophers in Lucian’s time and Lucian’s motivation for his austere and simplistic attitude towards philosophy.

The historical stage most important for our purpose is the development of Erlösungsreligionen. These religions usually begin with a prophet, but as they become established they form some kind of community or ‘congregation’ controlled by professional priests. The concept of Erlösung and this distinction between prophets and priests are the features which can inform our understanding of Lucian.

Weber’s concept of Erlösung has been translated in English as ‘salvation’-- and this fits some religions, such as Christianity, well—or even ‘mystical’, which certainly does not describe Weber’s aristocratic religions, which were more intellectual.  However, the German Erlösung has a broader meaning. It is a ‘release’ from some kind of evil. It can just as well be achieved in this life as in an afterlife, and different religions offer release from different evils and to different ends. The Jews, for example, expected to be compensated for their loyalty to Yahweh with a Messianic kingdom on Earth; meanwhile, they hoped only for a prosperous living. (301-304) Intellectual classes can determine the nature of Erlösung-- from what to what; for example, they determined Buddhism’s release from the tiresome cycle of existence into Nirvana. Weber includes here even Rousseau, whose resolution was Nature. But in every case, the path to release is through a specific ethical way of living. Clearly the Hellenistic goal of ataraxia and the ways of life set to attain it qualify.

Weber found that certain types of religion correlate with (are ‘carried’ or propagated by) specific social classes. The underprivileged classes are more inclined to salvation religions which promise release from their oppressed status. Less so the privileged class (aristocracy). They do not want release from the status quo, which suits them nicely, but rather legitimization of their own privileges, as well as the poorer situation of their inferiors. At an early stage, they are warriors (e.g. Homeric heroes), but when they are separated from political power either by imperial conquest or by their own decision to withdraw, they turn to intellectually fashioned Erlösungsreligionen marked by certain characteristic features: a systematic or ‘rationalized’ world view with peace and order now serves to legitimate their status. Weber mentions Chinese bureaucrats and Roman officials, as well as Hellenistic philosophies here. They are guided by intellectuals who define Erlösung and the necessary way of life, and who tend to ignore or re-interpret (‘rationalize’) popular religion. (269-271) Among Greek philosophies, Stoicism, with its deterministic divine Providence and allegorical interpretation of myths, best fits this model, even though it is not mentioned specifically by Weber.

Prophets initiate religious change. They may carry a divine message or revelation (‘ethical prophets’) or they may exert influence simply by their own life (‘exemplary prophets’, e.g. Buddha); and their message may be a new doctrine or it may be a renewal of old doctrine. But it is always a unified vision of Man and the World which entails a definite way of life. They are always charismatic and they are always unpaid.

Priests, by contrast, are an organized profession working with, and receiving remuneration from, an established community.

It may seem surprising to label any philosophers as prophets, but Weber explains:

...ist der Prophet durch Übergangsstufen verbunden

mit dem ethischen, speziell dem sozialethischen Lehrer, der, neuer

oder erneuten Verständnisses alter Weisheit voll, Schüler um sich

sammelt, Private in privaten Fragen, Fürsten in öffentlichen Din-

gen der Welt berät und eventuell zur Schöpfung ethischer Ordnun-

gen zu bestimmen sucht. 185:24 ff.


“Prophets are linked through a number of intermediate figures to ethics teachers, particularly teachers of social ethics, who, with their deep understanding of new or old wisdom, gather students together, counsel private individuals in private matters and princes in public affairs, and possibly try to create ethical systems.”

Weber names Pythagoras and Empedocles as prophets, and offers some reasons for excluding other philosophers. He excludes Socrates because he did not offer a positive system, and most Greek philosophers because they did not embark on a public mission or did not give emotional (i.e., charismatic) sermons.

Weber was perhaps less well acquainted with philosophy in Lucian’s day than with classical philosophy. Lucian’s Nigrinus is nothing if not charismatic, his diatribe is an emotionally charged sermon, and its effect is a powerful enlightenment, with Erlösung from ignorance and popular values and conversion to a ‘philosophic’ (read ‘ethical’) way of living. He falls short of prophecy only insofar as he does not have a public mission. Instead, he welcomes individual visitors who seek him out for counselling. And Demonax is very much like Weber’s ‘exemplary prophet’.

Lucian did have some knowledge of the doctrines of the different schools, and he had his preferences. But since he adamantly refuses to mention them in his accounts of ‘good’ philosophers, it seems reasonable to infer that he considered them irrelevant. One must look instead to their way of living. Weber, for his part, does attempt, very briefly, to relate the Hellenistic philosophies to his schemata. He admits that they are ‘close to’ Erlösungsreligionen, but his interest is the actual religions, and he wants to stress the differences. The similarities are more important for us.

Perhaps, for example, Weber did not fully appreciate the importance of Hellenistic and Imperial philosophies’  turning their main focus to ethics. Ethics may have been the only part of philosophy that the Romans took seriously. It was also most important for the educational role in which philosophers competed with rhetoricians. And it also made philosophy more like an Erlösungsreligion.

Lucian’s principle that philosophers should not be paid derived from Socrates. But his portrayal of an unpaid philosopher is more like a fiery religious counselor than Plato’s coy dialogic gadfly, more reminiscent of Weber’s teachers of social ethics.

Nigrinus, as a philosophic educator who charged no fees, and even as a charismatic speaker who did not go public but only engaged with individuals who came to him, posed no threat to rhetoricians.

Given Lucian’s attitude toward the other schools, he probably shared some sentiments with the Cynics, who posed only a minor threat. But his attacks on Cynics are not for their theories, but mainly for their crude manners and unconventional attire. Proud of his achievements as a public speaker whose first language had not been Greek (he came from Syria), he portrays himself in his writings as a polished gentleman who would not be impressed by the Cynics’ display.

The Epicureans themselves actually did regard their founder as a great prophet; yet the leaders of Epicurean communes were more like Weber’s priests, especially in view of their use of mnemonics and indoctrination. However, their apolitical way of living blunted their threat to rhetoricians, who were deeply invested in politics.

Whether cynically or sincerely, the Stoics had fashioned their system into a model of the kind of beliefs and ethics which Weber found to be characteristic for aristocratic bureaucracies. For a while, under the Republic, Roman literati had flirted with Epicureanism. But under the Empire, it was the Stoic Greeks who mastered their conquerors... or was it the other way around?



Berdozzo, Fabio (2011), Goetter, Mythen, Philosophen, 11-20

Davidson, James (2007), The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece

Hall, Jennifer (1981), Lucian’s Satire, 35 ff.

Hicks, R.D. (1962), Stoic and Epicurean, 363

Jope, James (2011), ‘Interpretation and Authenticity of the Lucianic Erotes’, Helios 38, 1, 103-120

Joyal, Mark, Iain McDougall, and J.C. Yardley (2009), Greek and Roman education: a sourcebook

Matthias Haake (2007), Der Philosoph in der Stadt: Untersuchungen zur oeffentlichen Rede ueber Philosophen und Philosophie an den hellenistischen Poleis

Maffi, Alberto (2008), ‘Lo statuto giuridico delle scuole filosofiche greche nel II sec. A.C.’, in Hugonnard-Roche, ed., ‘L'enseignement supérieur dans les mondes antiques et médiévaux : aspects institutionnels,  juridiques et pédagogiques: colloque international de l'Institut des traditions textuelles’. 113-126

Nussbaum, Martha C. (2002), ‘The Incomplete Feminism of Musonius Rufus, Platonist, Stoic, and Roman’, in Nussbaum and Sihvola, ed., The Sleep of Reason: Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome, 283-326

Percy, William Armstrong III (1996), Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece

Rist, J.M. (1969), Stoic Philosophy

Schofield, Malcolm (1991), The Stoic Idea of the City. Chicago: 22-56

Toulouse, Stéphane (2008), ‘Les chaires imperiales à Athènes aux II et III siècles’, in Hugonnard-Roche, ed., 127-174

Trapp, Michael B. (2007), Philosophy in the Roman Empire: ethics, politics, and society

Weber, Max, posthumous.  Religiöse Gemeinschaften, vol. 2 of Die Wirtschaft und die gesellschaftlichen Ordnungen und Mächte. ed. Hans G. Kippenberg et al., Tübingen 2001 in Max Weber Gesamtausgabe, ed. Horst Baier et al., Section 1, vol. 22, fasc. 2 --eBook 2019





Ancient Botany

Gavin Hardy and Laurence Totelin, Ancient Botany, Routledge 2016

a book of the series Sciences of Antiquity, ed. Liba Taub


Review by James Jope © James Jope

Gavin Hardy is known for his work on medicinal uses of plants. Laurence Totelin is a historian of Greek and Roman science. I refer to the authors as H&T.

Although this book’s meticulous documentation makes it useful for researchers in either classics or the history of science, its main attraction is as a superb interdisciplinary introduction to ancient botany for students of both fields. Its aim is to provide an overall understanding of ancient botany from the point of view of the ancient ‘actors’, including their cultural context. H&T argue throughout that given the unavoidable limitations of ancient knowledge (such as no microscopes) actors’ theories were generally reasonable and worthy of attention. They take care to explain the conventions and concepts of classicists and botanists for students of the other discipline, which not only makes the book more understandable, but incidentally teaches readers much about the other discipline. Classicists will learn about the cause of oak galls, why fungi are not plants, etc., while botanists will be given a sense of the vicissitudes of manuscript transmission, pseudepigraphy, etc. Both will learn the differences between the plant sexuality on which Linnaeus’ system is built and the anthropomorphic sexuality ascribed to plants by the ancients.

In an apparent compromise between scientific and classicist conventions, H&T minimize notes, placing parenthetical references in the text instead. Occasional long lists with documentation may annoy some readers.

The book is not organized chronologically, but rather by themes: the classification and description of plants, their life cycles, and their environments. However, topics within each theme are usually discussed chronologically.

‘Actors’ includes ‘handlers’, or people other than authors, who dealt in herbal remedies, farming, etc; for, the first principle emphasized by H&T is that the separation of pure and applied science which has become so deeply ingrained in modern botany can not apply to the ancient knowledge, since there is much to be learned about the ecology and morphology of plants from these sources. H&T draw upon not only authors like Theophrastus, Dioscorides, or Galen, but also the Roman agronomists, Pliny’s encyclopedia, Virgil’s Georgics, even Homer.

Identifying plants mentioned in ancient sources-- i.e., matching them with modern genus and species names-- is a thorny issue which has taxed scholars for a couple of centuries. H&T do not offer any new identifications; instead, they examine how ancient plants were named. Theophrastus and Dioscorides did not coin names, they took them from the handlers. Those names could be meaningfully based on morphological or physiological characters, habitat, or medical uses. However, the ancient terms ‘genus’ and ‘species’ were used so loosely that H&T argue they should both be translated ‘type’. Ancient authors were aware of the nomenclatural disarray, and tried to promote clarity by producing lists of synonyms.

Theophrastus classified plants under four categories: trees, shrubs, undershrubs and herbs. Pharmacologists like Dioscorides classed them by their medical uses. Some sources, especially in Late Antiquity, simply arranged them alphabetically.

Ancient plant descriptions were not without value. Theophrastus constructed technical terms for plant parts much like those used today (e.g. ‘pericarp’); but when describing individual plants he, like others, used comparisons with more familiar plants or other objects.

Many readers may know of the justly famed plant illustrations in the Vienna manuscript of Dioscorides; but plant illustrations existed much earlier. Ancient authors distrusted them, partly because they would show only one stage of a plant’s life. H&T note that this was a valid criticism. Here, however, their usual helpfulness in explaining scientific matters to classicists flags. They should have mentioned that botanical illustrations of the modern era often include smaller drawings of seeds, fruits, etc to fix this limitation.

Pliny has been criticized because his work on plants is organized loosely. H&T try to defend him. They argue that books 12-16 are arranged by geographical regions, while book 17 focuses on agriculture, albeit with ‘excursuses’. --In other words, the work is loosely organized.

A more important issue on which H&T take a controversial stance is whether there was widespread deforestation in the classical Mediterranean region, as some scholars have suggested. They briefly list several arguments against this. However, they do give a fair presentation of their opponents’ arguments, and they conclude that “In order for definitive conclusions to be reached on this question, classicists, archaeologists, botanists and environmental historians need to join forces in multi-disciplinary themes.”

Chapter 5 on plants’ life cycles compares ancient and modern concepts of plant sexuality, but also asexual propagation, such as grafting. The environmental chapter 6 demonstrates ancients’ awareness of plant habitats and their success in transplanting economically useful plants throughout the Roman empire.

The fifth chapter concludes surprisingly with a Priapic poem, which actually shows how common good botanical knowledge was. The sixth, in a sly wink to classicists, is titled “Airs, Waters and Places”, although the Hippocratic work is only once mentioned and not discussed. Sparks of humour also occur in a few other places, as when our authors list some topics discussed in Plutarch’s Table Talk: “why women do not eat the middle part of lettuce (4.10, 672) (unfortunately, the answer to that last question is lost).”

There are a number of typographical errors, all of which suggest that the publisher relied too much on computerized proofreading: confusion of singular and plural, wrong words such as ‘were’ for ‘where’. Only once did I see a mistake which even a computer should have spotted: ‘Romands’ for Romans.


Translating Strato: The importance of Translations in the study of Ancient Sexuality and Understanding Classical Erotica (1)


In the years after Dover and Foucault, research on ancient sexuality focussed on reconstructing the conventional norms—the rules of the game, so to speak—which differed from modern rules: in the case of pederasty, the assignment of active and passive roles to man and boy respectively, the age limits, and so on. But conventional rules are normative, not descriptive; and more recent studies, especially of Roman sexuality, have sought to fill out the picture with a more subtle appreciation of the broader realities of sexual life in the ancient world.(2)

Studies of Greek pederasty have emphasized the Archaic and Classical periods to the exclusion of the later literature which actually sup-plies most of our explicitly erotic material, such as Strato’s collection of pederastic epigrams, preserved as Book 12 of the Greek Anthology.(3) Because of this limited focus, Dover’s classic study dismissed Strato in a footnote (4); and his attitude seems to have prevailed over Buffière’s sensitive appreciation of this poet as a keen observer of the “detours” of sexual mores.(5)

Strato will be an important source for expanding and deepening our understanding of the extent to which the Greeks could appreciate the ironies and limitations of their own sexuality. At the end of his anthology (AP 12.258), he offers a revealing disclaimer: Don’t think all the sentiments expressed are my own, he says; “I tailor what I write to different boy-lovers in each case.” The poems bear this out. For example, the persona of 12.227 asserts that when one looks at a boy on the street, one should look at his face, but it is gauche to turn around for the rear view after passing. But the speaker in 12.223, who is too shy to look the boy in the eye, does exactly that. Again, some poems, like 12.248, suggest a desire to stretch the conventional pederastic age limits, while others, like 12.204, reassert them.

Some of these poems toy with aspects of the pederastic paradigm which perhaps seemed as arbitrary to late ancient pederasts as they do to modern researchers. For example, what about the assumption, found repeatedly in Strato, that boys dread the appearance of body hair, as if they do not want to mature and switch roles? How does this relate to the view that boys did not enjoy being passive, but did it as a favour? Is it just patronising sarcasm, or does it suggest that “pathic” desire was more common than society liked to admit? There is much worth studying in Strato. The poems with diverging points of view may have been inspired by the rhetorical technique of the Second Sophistic; but to be effective as erotic epigrams, they must have reflected social realities as well. So they might be relevant, e.g., to claims that there was something like a homosexual subculture. When Strato finally receives as much attention as Martial has received, students of ancient sexuality will scrutinize his poems—and their translations—in connection with such issues.

The recent appearance of Daryl Hine’s fresh and imaginative translation (6) may stimulate interest in Strato’s anthology. Hine himself is a poet. But precisely those qualities which make enjoyment of the poems more accessible for the general reader may cause difficulty when his book is consulted by people studying ancient sexuality. Whereas earlier translations used to distort erotic content for reasons of censorship, Hine makes brilliant adaptations to create amusing epigrams with erotic twists and sociocultural allusions to which a modern reader can relate. But sexual historians need an accurate conveyance of the original content.

There is a problem here, to which a concept current among professional translators may be pertinent. Professionals are expected to tailor their methods for their clients. Commercial and government offices, for example, often require that the translated version of a document read as if it were originally written in that language. The reader is not to be reminded that this is a translation, even if content must be altered. A simple, real example is chocolate bars labelled “made in Canada” and “fait au Québec.” The message is that the customer is supporting her domestic economy; but even federalist Quebecers tend to regard the province as their economic homeland. This is sometimes called “cultural translation,” and it is very relevant to erotic literature. But it would not suit lawyers, for example. They may even wish to cross-examine the translator to know exactly what was changed and why.

In the case of classical erotic epigrams, there is a similar tension between the needs of readers and researchers. But today the translator’s readership comprises a complicated spectrum between these two groups. Research on ancient sexuality has been published by philosophers and art historians, by professors of English and comparative literature, as well as by classicists. Even classicists consult translations for teaching purposes. On the other hand, many general readers are more aware of linguistic pluralism and the difficulties of translation than used to be the case.

Moreover, sexuality and humour are very time-bound and culture-bound phenomena. Even within the corpus of North American erotic poetry, there is a separate tradition of less known poets like Dennis Kelly, Harold Norse in his love poems, or Perry Brass, addressing gay readers, while other gay poets, like Tom Gunn, are better known because they composed for a general readership. If this lesser cultural barrier has obstructed effective communication between poets and readers representing different segments of our own society, how much wider a gap must be bridged to express Strato’s desires and wit!

Already before Dover’s study, a very competent uncensored translation of Strato had been published by the renowned French novelist Roger Peyrefitte. (7) It is revealing to compare this with Hine’s translation, because Peyrefitte’s approach is more conservative, so that one might initially expect it to be a more reliable historical source. My objectives in the present paper are, first, by comparing Hine’s translation with Peyrefitte’s, to reveal how much information of potential interest to researchers was sacrificed to craft effective poems; and second, to stimulate thought about translation methods which might alleviate this problem. Although critical observations are implicit in my discussion, I do not attempt to provide a balanced review of Hine’s work, much less a comparative review of both translations. I take Hine’s version of Strato to represent an imaginative, relatively free translation which is widely read, and I examine it only in order to illustrate the difficulties which arise when either type of translation is used as source material for the study of ancient sexuality

Sometimes the cultural gap is so wide that the poems are hardly translatable. AP 12.225 is a series of obscure astronomical and mythological puns. I shall not discuss them in detail, but some explanations may be found in Paton’s (8) and Peyrefitte’s notes.

Paton’s translation (in the Loeb series) is relatively literal, so that we may quote it for reference:

When the sunlight is rising at dawn, never should you join the blazing

Dog with the Bull lest one day, when Demeter, Mother of Grain, has

been given a soaking, you wet Heracles’ hairy wife.

Hine writes:

At cock crow there is never any need

To do it doggy style or milk the bull,

Or to besprinkle with your liquid seed

Your Ganymede’s pubescent patch of wool.

No astronomy and little mythology need be invoked to understand this. The meaning of these images is clear enough; but what is the point? Why not at dawn? In spite of Hine’s radical alteration of the content, the meaning of the poem remains obscure.

Peyrefitte offers footnotes: The constellations of the Dog and the Bull, he tells us, are plays on κὐνα (“dog”), which also means “le frein du prépuce,” and ταὐρῳ (“bull”) which can mean the perineum. As regards Hercules, he tells us, “La massue est un des noms grecs du membre viril.” The text, unfortunately, does not refer to Hercules’ club but to his wife. Although Peyrefitte’s notes are helpful, they are seldom adequate for researchers, who in this case would benefit from checking out the notes offered by Paton and other translators as well.

More casual readers, however, will probably find this poem obscure even with the explanations provided, and just move on. Perhaps that is why Peyrefitte’s translation was not received with due enthusiasm. A compromise between different readers’ needs does not work.

Possibly the effect of this poem could be mimicked by a series of astrological puns with sexual innuendos; but it is significant that both Paton and Peyrefitte resort to translator’s notes. No matter how a translator interprets such a poem, it is not directly translatable, and some explanation is needed.

The problem in 12.225 is insufficient understanding; but Hine’s version of 12.187 involves positive misinformation. The crux here lies in translating the enigmatic punch line at the end of this difficult poem. And it exemplifies how Hine and Peyrefitte, respectively, handle word plays. Hine usually substitutes a joke that works in English, whereas Peyrefitte explains the Greek joke in a footnote. Again, we may refer to Paton’s relatively literal translation:

How, Dionysius, shall you teach a boy to read when you do not even know how to make the transition from one note to another? You have passed so quickly from the highest note to a deep one, from the slightest rise to the most voluminous. Yet I bear you no grudge; only study, and striking both notes say Lambda and Alpha to the envious.

Paton adds a footnote on lambda and alpha: Probably, he says, they have “some sort of sexual meaning. There is double meaning in all the rest of the epigram, but it is somewhat obscure and had best remain so.”

With this touching expression of the scholarly devotion to knowledge which typified his age, Paton dismisses the epigram, leaving it quite untranslated as far as cross-cultural understanding is concerned.

Maxwell-Stuart and W.M. Clarke, (9) noticing a series of possible musical puns, (10) infer that the action is accompanied by instrumental music, and they elaborate fanciful interpretations of the action in each line based on this supposition. Significantly, however, their interpretations of the puns and action differ. Since ἀναγινώσκειν plainly means “to read,” I do not see any need to postulate instrumental music. Instead, I believe that the setting is a reading lesson and the tones in question are the polytonic accents of Greek being read aloud. Although polytonic accents may have been obsolescent in everyday speech at Strato’s time, they might still be observed in the schools. Aside from whatever additional layers of innuendo may be involved, at least some of the humour turns on the instructor’s flamboyant elocution. Hine appears to share this interpretation, and overall his translation expresses it fairly well:

How teach a boy that fundamental skill,

sight-reading, when your voice is changing still?

From shrill soprano to gruff bass you swoop

So quickly, from a whisper to a whoop.

But study harder, show the envious

Active and passive, Dionysius.

However, notice that, instead of explaining that Greek was polytonic and was read aloud, Hine has altered the scene of the poem to make it understandable to modern readers. There is no indication in the Greek that the instructor is a boy whose “voice is changing still.” This is no twelve-year-old teacher, but an effeminate grammaticus.

There is no consensus as to the meaning of “alpha and lambda” in the punch line. Peyrefitte suggests in a footnote that lambda is the first letter of the Greek word for “lick” and alpha the first letter of the word for “masturbate.” However, he does not mention other interpretations that are discussed by Maxwell-Stuart and Clarke. And an alert researcher may wish to know all of them, once he grasps the implications of Hine’s translation.

For, the translation “active and passive” would not be justified on most interpretations of lambda and alpha. “Licking,” for example, albeit perhaps beyond what was expected of the older, active partner and thus suggestive of lechery, would not imply full reciprocation.

Also the musical meaning of alpha and lambda, which represented high and low notes respectively—which is consistent with a polytonic reading lesson, as Greek used just two tones (the circumflex being transitional)—would not justify Hine’s translation. Neither does it seem to be Hine’s intent to express the original joke. Rather, this is a joke that fits the “reading lesson” setting in a way that is directly understandable—and amusing—to a modern reader. Unfortunately, it wrongly suggests a versatility of active and passive roles on the part of the speaker, while we have also been misled as to his age.

Given the obscurity of the original, a less specific innuendo, like “Show them all from A to Z,” might be better. Here again, however, precisely because the meaning of the poem is both obscure and disputed, some explanation is called for.

In 12.211, a man tries to seduce a slave boy. After all, he argues, you are not new to this. You gave it to your master, so why not give it to me? It won’t be so one-way with me, it will be more friendly and reciprocal. This poem touches a number of issues of interest to sexual historians: how men related to slave boys, their own and others’; to what extent the Archaic educational aspect of pederasty could still apply; and the issue of reciprocity.

The critical text for our purpose is line 4 in the Greek:

Why do you grudge giving it to another, and receiving the same?

In the Greek, the implication of ταὐτο λαβών (“receiving the same”) is clear. At this point in the poem, the boy can only understand this as an offer that if he puts out, he may screw his seducer. As the speech continues, however, this is watered down. He will have just as much fun, he is assured; but the only promise relating to who does what is that he will be asked, and not ordered. The implied offer to roll over for the boy would be a breach of the norm; and if it is dangled only to be withdrawn, the fact that a Greek reader would find this amusing is also significant. But Hine’s translation of ταὐτο λαβών misses this entirely (“Why not give someone else what you’ve got?”). And Peyrefitte—who writes “si la couche de ton maître t’a fait expert, pourquoi refuses-tu de donner à un autre, ayant reçu cela”—seems to refer ταὐτο λαβών to the boy’s instruction, rather than his penetration; but that is not “the same thing” that the boy will exchange with his seducer.

My comparison of Hine and Peyrefitte already suggests the approach that I would propose.

When Hine modifies a poem, we sometimes find more accurate background information in other translators’ footnotes. Some erotic translators have already felt compelled to resort occasionally to extensive notes. Hooper uses them in his translation of the Priapus poems, as did Barnstone in his Sappho. (11) I would take this farther. Translations of this kind of literature should be accompanied by an explicit analysis and commentary explaining the poem in its cultural context, and how the translation differs, and why—and perhaps also by a literal translation. An example of a commentary which is very close to what I have in mind is Reginald Gibbons’ notes on his translation of Luis Cernuda’s poem A un poeta muerto. (12) Gibbons describes the historical circumstances of the executions under Franco, discusses the different layers of meaning of a key Spanish word in the poem, and attempts to strike a balanced appreciation of the influence of Cernuda’s homosexuality on his feeling of alienation as an artist in this and other poems. However, I would place the commentary on the same page, so that the reader is invited, with equal convenience, either to read or to skip it.

Of course, a literal translation with a detailed commentary would not convey the “feel” of a poem. The best way to carry the thrust of a poem across a cultural gap is something poets have been doing for centuries: writing free adaptations inspired by their predecessors. A fully modern adaptation—a poem “after Strato”—would not, standing alone, convey historical content; but presented together with a literal translation and commentary, it can finally achieve a genuine cultural translation of the erotic and humorous thrust of the original.

As I have shown, Hine sometimes moves in this direction. His rendition of 12.233, for example, is not so much translation as adaptation. The original predicts how a proud young actor’s career will decline as he ages, playing on the titles of a series of plays by Menander. The boy regards his youth as a “Treasure,” but it will pass like a “Shade,” leaving him “Despised.” Hine substitutes famous movie titles: The boy will pass from “My Secret Garden” to the “Midnight Cowboy” when his beauty is “Gone with the Wind.” Another fine example of an adaptation which represents a cultural translation is J.D. McClatchy’s “Late Night Ode” after Horace, Carm. 4.1, (13) where, for example, the exemplary young advocate and lover Paulus Maximus is represented by “the blond boychick lawyer, entry level at eighty grand … [whose] answering machine always has room for one more.”

I have experimented with my proposal on 12.3.

A fairly literal translation might be:

Boys’ prongs, Diodorus, fall into three categories. Now learn their names:

Call the untouched one “lalu”; when it swells, call it “coco”; it’s a “liz-ard” when tossed in your hand. At the final stage, you know what it’s called.

The commentary which I would attach to my translation might read as follows:

The persona of this poem is instructing one Diodorus, who seems to be a neophyte in pederasty, on masturbating boys. Each of three stages from erection to orgasm is assigned a stereotyped babytalk term commonly applied to boys’ genitals. The babytalk is playful and suggests the youth of the quarry, as well as the apparent inexperience of Diodorus himself. At the same time, the sexual aspect is described vividly. The penis is “tossed” in the hand, where the word for “tossed” (σαλευομένην) is a vivid image for masturbation; defined by Liddell and Scott as “cause to rock, roll or vibrate … shake in measurement … roll, toss, move up and down,” the word is used, e.g., for the movement of ships in a storm. But the punch line, where the instructor notes cynically that Diodorus knows damned well what comes next, reveals that Diodorus is not so inexperienced after all.

In constructing a modern adaptation, babytalk will not work. It might suggest an inappropriate comparison with pre-teen pederasty, while its application to today’s street-wise teenagers would be silly.(14) Indeed, even the frank and playful attitude toward seducing adolescent males can hardly be expressed with an appropriately light tone in the discourse of the dominant (“straight”) culture. Translating for that culture would require bowdlerization. I would turn instead for inspiration to separate traditions of modern gay poetry and art which, regardless of their own differences from the Greek pederastic tradition, are better suited for reception of such epigrams, if only because of their more positive attitude toward same-sex relations, and indeed toward sex in general. To express the tone of this poem and the point of the punch line, we need a different set of stereotypes to replace the babytalk. I would use cliché lines from seduction scenes in pornographic videos, alternating with lines in a playful meter. And I would replace the enigmatic reference to a climactic name with a more familiar sequel in such videos. So my poem after Strato would read:

Now, Bruce, teenagers

come in three stages:

Learn how to make them

so you can take them.

When a boy’s erection

mounts up for inspection,

say …“Oh yeah …”

If he moans when your grip

slips his skin over the tip,

say … “Mmmm, you like that, don’t you …”

Next comes the best … but you know the rest;

Don’t talk with your mouth full!

However much this differs from the Greek epigram, both poems poke fun at familiar stereotypes and lead to an amusing revelation of the “neophyte”’s experienced status.

Looking briefly back at 12.211, it poses a difficult challenge. Apart from the aspects which I have already discussed, I do not think that modern readers can really relate to the slave situation. The very mention of a “master” may invoke an entirely different set of associations for modern readers which is not appropriate. I would be tempted, after a suitable commentary, to simply drop it and focus solely on the issue of reciprocity, which is still relevant for homosexuals today, and write something like this:

What are you afraid of?

You’ve been screwed before.

I know. You don’t like being treated as a whore; Taken for granted, left awake and hard.

Put out for me; I promise, you’ll enjoy it too.

We’ll romp and have a lively chat … with me on top of you.

I have chosen mainly passages relating to one aspect of the pederastic paradigm, viz., the issue of reciprocation. My discussion also applies, of course, to other issues. To cite one brief example, consider the question of the boys’ social status. The traditional view is that they were mainly nobility in the Archaic period, but slaves or prostitutes in Strato’s time. However, the beautiful youths in 12.195 are described as εὐγενέτας, “well born”—which Hine renders as “acclaimed.”

The approach of earlier generations to translating classical erotica combined untranslated passages for scholars with tedious literal renditions for the general reader. Newer versions like those by Hine and Peyrefitte mark great progress, but still do not serve well the varied needs of their modern readership. No translation can do everything for all readers, but I think we can do better. My intention in this paper has been to stimulate thought and discussion among translators and classicists about approaches which will better suit the different needs involved in the study of ancient sexuality, not to provide an instruction manual. Obviously, the right mix of analysis, translation and adaptation will vary for different poems and authors.

On the other hand, I shall venture to offer some very specific instructions for readers with a limited knowledge of Greek. You should do exactly as I have done in the present paper: consult at least two different translations. This simple precaution will reveal the extent of possible discrepancies, and confirm whether the nuance which is the core of your interest is present in the original or only in one translation. In the absence of a commentary by the translator, it may also be helpful to notice any indications of her or his own attitude on questions of interest, e.g., in other publications. And of course you should seriously consider better learning Greek.



(1) I am obliged to James Butrica and Beert Verstraete for reading draft versions of this paper. David Creese’s comments when I read it at the 2004 annual meeting of the Classical Association of Canada induced me to reconsider one of the passages discussed.

    (2) Most recently, John R. Clarke, Roman Sex (New York 2003); for a concise account of this development, see Beert Verstraete, “New pedagogy on ancient pederasty,” The Gay and Lesbian Review 11.3 (May-June 2004) 13–14.

    (3) E.g., William Armstrong Percy III, Pederasty and Pedagogy in ArchaicGreece (Urbana/Chicago 1996). 

    (4) K.J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge MA 1978) 15 n. 30. 


    (5) Felix Buffière, Eros adolescent (Paris 1980) 303–306.
(6) Daryl Hine, Puerilities (Princeton 2001).

(7) Roger Peyrefitte, La Muse garconnière (Paris 1973).

(8) W.R. Paton, trans., The Greek Anthology vol. IV (Cambridge MA 1971)


(9) P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, “Strato and the Musa Puerilis,” Hermes 100 (1972)

215–240 and W.M. Clarke, “Problems in Strato’s Paidike Mousa,” AJP 99 (1978) 433–441.

(10) For example, the phrase ὰπ' ἰσχνοτάτης εἰς τάσιν ὀγκοτάτην,

from the weakest to the strongest pitch,” may play on τάσιν = “tension,” i.e.,
with reference to an erection.

(11) Richard W. Hooper, The Priapus Poems (Urbana/Chicago 1999) and Willis Barnstone, Sappho (Garden City/New York 1965).

(12) Luis Cernuda, Selected Poems (New York 1999) 179–180.

(13) Michael Lassell and Elena Georgiou, The World in Us: Lesbian and Gay Poetry of the Next Wave (New York 2000) 195–196.

(14) Hine wisely avoids it. Yet his translation, though clever, does not really convey the situation: “Diodorus, boys’ things come in three shapes and sizes; learn them handily; when unstripped it’s a dick, but when stiff it’s a prick: wanked, you know what its nickname must be.” Why, the reader may ask, should the unstripped penis be called a dick, and the erect one a prick? What is the point? And indeed, what is its name when it climaxes? Culturally, this is not fully translated.