Hello all, in the interests of laziness this is a longer list of funny ancient quotations with commentary composed of the stuff that wasn’t Alexander the Great related, to explain context efficiently (for me not for you, heavens forbid that) I just slightly edited the intro from my Alexander the Great amusing quotations list to serve as this one’s intro.
Hello All, I realize I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d remedy that. As you’ve no doubt noticed this isn’t the fourth and hopefully final post on Terry Jones Barbarians. No I’m far too lazy to do that right now, what this is is a collection of amusing soundbites with pithy and generally silly commentary by me largely but exclusively from Plutarch that I put up on facebook quite some time ago (courtesy of my lack of a social life finding it was much easier than you might assume). The Plutarch stuff was from a thing I did called Plutarch week where I read through a Penguin Classics volume of Greek lives by Plutarch (theoretically one every day or so….) and posted amusing quotes on my wall with what I hoped passed for amusing commentary, the idea was that it would motivate me to keep reading by adding a social dimension etc. I got the idea from doing a bit of the same kind of thing while reading through Suetonius, only it turns out Suetonius is much better suited to that kind of thing (should have seen that one coming). Plutarch is chock full of the weird, the amusing and the absurd.
But his style is different and didn’t lend itself that well to the Facebook format (which may well be a form of praise…..), quotations often had to be longer to establish context and a lot of stuff that was funny to me would be extremely difficult to explain, This fact and the lack of general responsiveness to my quotes made the task more of a chore than a motivator but I had committed myself and so Plutarch week ended up being more like Plutarch month. Basically this is not a list of the most interesting and certainly not close to the most profound or useful of Plutarch’s passages nor those of Suetonius as passage’s from him were selected along the same lines. Nor are they even necessarily the funniest just the humorous ones I happened to post that were deemed serviceable (ish) as wall posts.
Before we begin a note on Suetonius: Among the lost works of Suetonius are treatise on bodily defects, on correct terms for clothing, on famous courtesans and “on Greek terms of abuse”- So basically he wrote a book on Greek insults……why is it all the cool works are lost……
“The great toe of his right foot was also said to possess a divine power, so that when the rest of his body was burned after his death, this was found unharmed and untouched by the fire.”- Plutarch, life of Pyrrhus, 3. Just like his purported ancestor Achilles part of Pyrrhus body was apparently invincible- only rather than having an Achilles heel Pyrrhus had an Achilles absolutely everything except the right toe….and now I’m imagining the adventures of a super hero with one invulnerable toe……
“The enemy became all the more elated when Pyrrhus was struck on the head with a sword, and retired a little way from the fighting. One of the Mamertines, a man of giant stature clad in shining Armour ran out in front of the ranks and challenged Pyrrhus in a loud voice to come foreword if he were still alive. This infuriated Pyrrhus, and in spite of the efforts of his guards to protect him, he wheeled round and forced his way through them. His face was smeared with blood and his features contorted into a terrible expression of rage. Then before the barbarian could strike, he dealt him a tremendous blow on the head with his sword. So great was the strength of his arm and the keenness of the blade that it cleft the man from head to foot, and in an instant the two halves of his body fell apart.”- Plutarch, life of Pyrrhus, 24. So yeah incidentally invincitoe here was pretty badass- at least personally, that and he could supposedly cure diseases of the spleen with his right foot (coincidence that it was the right foot? I don’t think so!) and ladies, he’s polygamous!
“Demetrius went to war with the people of Rhodes because they were allies of Ptolemy and he moved up against thier walls the greatest of his so-called ‘city-takers’. This was a seige tower with a square base, each side of which measured seventy-two feet at the bottom. It was ninety-nine feet high with the upper part tapering off to narrower dimensions……The machine never tottered or leaned on its base, advancing with an even motion and with a noise and an impetus that inspired mingled feelings of alarm and delight in all who beheld it”.- Plutarch, life of Demetrius, 21. And so the Rhodians oooed and ahhh’d as they watch the oversized “firm and upright” phallic symbol approach to breach their walls………….
“On another occasion when Demetrius had been drinking for several days continuously, he excused his absence by saying that he had been laid up with a severe cold. ‘So I heard’, remarked Antigonus, ‘but did your cold come from Chios or from Thasos?’ Another time after hearing that his son was sick, Antigonus went to visit him and met one of his beautiful mistresses coming away from his room. Antigonus went inside, sat down by his side, and felt his pulse. ‘The fever has left me now’, Demetrius told him, ‘Yes, so I see’, his father replied, ‘I met it just now as it was going away’.”- Plutarch, life of Demetrius, 19. Ah, classic father-son banter, Antigonus and Demetrius should have a sitcom.
“Demosthenes, one of the orators who opposed his policies, said to him, ‘One of these days, Phocian, the Athenians will kill you, if they lose their heads,’ to which Phocian replied, ‘Yes, but they will kill you, if they get them back again”- Plutarch, life of Phocian, 9. Classic.
“So when they complimented Phillip as the most eloquent speaker, the handsomest man and the drinker with the biggest capacity in the company, Demosthenes could not from belittling these tributes and retorting sarcastically that the first of these qualities was excellent for a sophist, the second for a woman, and the third for a sponge, but none of them for a king”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 16. Chauvinist? yes, hypocritical? very, but still pretty good.
“However he himself was one of the first to be brought to court [he had been bribed with stolen goods, at least according to Plutarch], and when the case was heard, he was found guilty, sentenced to a fine of fifty talents, and committed to prison in default of payment…….he escaped thanks to the negligence of some of his gaolers, and the active assistance of others.”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 26. ladies and gentlemen I present to you Demosthenes, orator spectacular, champion of liberty (in this case his own) and Democracy.
“At any rate the people of Athens were so pleased with Demosthenes efforts that they voted for him to be recalled from exile. The degree was introduced by Demon of Paenia, who was a cousin of Demosthenes”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 27. Considering the disaster that would befall Athens in Demosthenes latest and last attempt to throw off Macedonian Hegemony it is perhaps fitting that he was called forth by a Demon….
“When reports came in that Antipater and Craterus were marching upon Athens, Demosthenes and his supporters escaped secretly from the city, and the people condemned them to death…Antipater sent troops to scour the country and arrest them: these detachment were under the command of Archias, who was known as ‘the exile-hunter’. This man was a citizen of the colony of Thurii in Italy, and it was said that he had been a tragic actor, and that Polus of Aegina, the finest actor of his time, had been a pupil of his. According to Hermippus, however, Archias had been one of the pupils of Lacritus the rhetoritician, while Demetrius of Phalerum says that he was a pupil of Anaximenes the historian.”- Plutarch, life of Demosthenes, 28. Does anyone else think it’s a tragedy *wink* that Archias the dramatically, rhetorically and historically trained all singing, all dancing exile-hunter isn’t yet a TV show?
“Telecleides…the most distinguished and influential man in Corinth rose and appealed to Timoleon to show all his valor in the enterprise he was undertaking. ‘If you fight bravely’, he said, ‘we shall think of you as the man who destroyed a tyrant, but otherwise as the man who killed his brother'”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 7. ‘This is your moment of vindication Timoleon, hero or fratricide, no pressure.’ Mind in Ancient Greece their pretty much the same thing.
“For Sicily is sacred to Persephone: it is the scene of her mythical rape by Hades, and the island was presented to her as a wedding gift”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 8. Hades: ‘Yo Persephone dear, you know that Island where we first met?’ Persephone: ‘…..yes…..’ Hades: ‘Well I got it for you as a wedding gift, so you can revisit all the happy memories anytime you want!’ Persephone: ‘……………’
“He [Timoleon] had it proclaimed that any Syracusan who wished could come with a crowbar and help to cast down the bulwarks of tyranny. Thereupon the whole population went up to the fortress, and taking that day and its proclamation to mark a truly secure foundation to thier freedom, they overthrew and demolished not only the citadel but also the palaces and tombs of the tyrants.”- Plutarch, life of Timoleon, 22. So basically a Syracusan Bastille day, fitting, considering the “freedom won” on that day lasted about as long as the freedom of the French during the revolution……
“He [Plato] maintained that the life of the just is happy, while the life of the unjust is full of misery….Accordingly, as Plato was by then anxious to leave Sicily, they arranged passage for him on a tirireme which was taking Pollis the Spartan envoy back to Greece. But Dionysius secretly approached Pollis and asked him to have Plato killed on the voyage, or, if not, at least to sell him into slavery. This he argued, would not do Plato any harm, since according to his own doctrines he would, as a just man, be equally happy even if he became a slave. Pollis therefore took Plato to Aegina, so we are told, and sold him into slavery”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 5. Is it bad that part of me feels Plato deserved this? I don’t think he learned a lesson though….
“The story goes that the young man [Dionysius II] once kept a drinking party going for ninety days in succession, and that during the whole of this time no person of consequence was admitted or business discussed, while the court was given over to carousing, scurrilous humour, singing, dancing and every kind of buffoonery”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 7. Move over Dionysus, theirs a new god of partying in town, and the best part is: we barely have to alter the temple inscriptions!
“All of these urged him [Plato] to make the journey, establish his influence over this youthful soul [dionysius II, tyrant of Syracuse], which was now being tossed and buffeted about as it were on seas of great power and absolute rule, and steady it with his balanced reasonings. So Plato yielded to these requests”- Plutarch, life of Dion, 11. “Oh that poor youthful *weak willed and impressionable* soul, burdened with absolute power, how could he cope without my guidance, without me to share the load, take the burden from his shoulders…..what?! how dare you question my motives! for I am the great Plato/Seneca/Aristotle, what could possibly go wrong?
“Dion sprang up on this, addressed the citizens, and urged them to defend their liberty. Then the people in an excstacy of joy and gratitude appointed Dion and Megacles generals with absolute powers” – Plutarch, life of Dion, 29. Dionysius reign of terror is over! now begins my reign of terr…iffic management!
“Now that the moment of opportunity seemed to have arrived, the conspirators set out in two parties. One, led by Pelopidas and Damocleides, was to attack Leontides and Hypates who lived near one another: the other under Charon and Melon went to Archias and Phillip. The men had put on women’s gowns over their breast-plates and wore thick wreaths of pine and fir which shaded thier faces. For this reason when they first came through the door of the dining-room, the company shouted and clapped their hands, imagining that the long-awaited women had at last arrived. The conspirators looked carefully around the party, took note of each one of the guests as they reclined, and then drawing their swords they threw off their disguise and made a rush for Archias and Phillip. Phillidas prevailed upon a few of the guests to stay quiet: the rest who staggered to their feet and tried to defend themselves and help the polemarchs were so drunk that they were easily dispatched”- Plutarch, life of Pelopidas, 11. *Ahem* “Are their any women here?”
“This is very like the answer which a less well known Spartan gave to an Argive who had said, ‘Many of you Spartans lie buried on Argive soil’, to which the Spartan retorted ‘Yes, and not one of you lies buried in Laconia.’- Plutarch, life of Agesilaus, 31. gotta love a little laconic wit;).
“So one solitary error turned the scale and destroyed the city’s strength and prosperity….The Spartan constitution was admirably designed to promote peace and virtue and harmony within the bounds of the state. But the Spartans had added to it an empire and a sovereignty won by force, something which Lycurgus would have regarded as quite superfluous to the well-being of a city, and it was for this reason that they lost their supremacy.”- Plutarch, life of Agesilaus, 33. I’m not sure that Lycurgus can talk considering the constitution of Sparta attributed to him depended on a large class of serfs acquired and suppressed by force and terror and near constant war and resulted in such a limited franchise as to leave the state incapable of absorbing defeats, if you create a constitution which requires constant war, but hampers the ability of said state from fully exploiting its victories or absorbing its defeats this kind of thing is only a matter of time- in short I’m calling bullsh*t on this one Plutarch.
“At the beginning of his [Domitian’s] principate he would spend hours every day closeted on his own, occupied with nothing other than catching flies and impaling them with a very sharp writing implement”- Suetonius, life of Domitian, 3. and thus we encounter villain cliche 14, from this alone we can determine that Domitian was either evil or a previous incarnation of Mr. Miyagi.
“Finally, seized with a passion for handling money, he would often walk with bare feet on the huge heaps of gold pieces he had piled up in the most public places and sometimes he would even roll about in them with his whole body.”- Suetonius, life of Caligula. So Scrooge Mcduck was based on Caligula, who knew.
“As regards lawyers, he acted as if he was going to abolish the profession, often threatening that he would make sure, by Hercules, that none of them could give an opinion that went against his own.”- Suetonius, life of Caligula. So you see kids Caligula wasn’t all bad.
“meanwhile those who had been instructed to dig their way through underground emerged inside a house where a woman miller happened (even though it was still dead of night) to be grinding flower. As she was about to cry aloud she was killed by a blow from the man who had surfaced first, Superantius, a worthy from the cohort of the victores.”- Zosimus on the storming of a town by Julians army in Persia.
haven’t you always wanted to know who killed the female miller? I can think of few more important things to know, I mean isn’t that something you want to be in the history books for? and with a name like Superantius and a position as august as a “worthy from the cohort of the victores” you just know that anything he does is going to be both heroic and epic! I the great Superantius, worthy from the cohort of the victores! was the one who slew the female miller in her house at the dead of night! tremble before me, for truly I am a defender of the weak and a slayer of the mighty!
And now I present for your entertainment the sack of Nero: “A lock of hair was placed on the head of his (Nero’s) statue, with a greek inscription: ‘Now finally there is real competition and you must give in at last’. a sack was tied to the neck of another together with the tag ‘I did what I could but you deserve the sack’.”- Suetonius, life of Nero.
“Near the end of his (Nero’s) life, indeed, he publicly made a vow that, if his regime survived, he would perform at the victory games on the water-organ, the flute, and the bagpipes”- Suetonius, life of Nero. Now part of me wishes Nero weathered that storm just to know that a Roman emperor played the bagpipes publicly……..bagpipes………
“among other parts, he (Nero) sang those of Canace giving birth, Orestes the matricide, Oedipus blinded, and Hercules insane.”- Suetonius, life of Nero. Those last three songs seem particularly fitting…..
singing Canace’s giving birth….origins of screamo anyone? but seriously Orestes killed his mother, Oedipus slept with his mother, Hercules went insane and killed his wife, Nero supposedly killed his wife in a fit of rage by assaulting her when she was pregnant causing her death soon after the pregnancy..supposedly (also blamed for the death of his first wife), I hardly need to point out the parallels to Oedipus and Orestes though…..it’s just too perfect..
from the Wei-lio: “the sea-water being bitter and unfit for drinking is the cause that few travellers come to this country (Ta-tsin, roughly Roman Syria…ish)” ……………..Now I’m fairly sure (haven’t personally tested it mind you) that ALL sea water is unfit for drinking…….