Saturday, December 17, 2005
Owls to Athens
a set phrase to express the idea of 'giving someone something he does not need', similar to the English 'carrying coals to Newcastle'; cf. the Spanish 'dar trigo a Castilla' and the German 'Eulen nach Athen tragen'. Cf. Ov. Pont. 4.2.9-10: quis mel Aristaeo...poma det Alcinoo (OLD s.v. 1b). Cf. A. Otto, Sprichwörter, R. Häussler, Nachträge zu A. Otto, R. Tosi, Dizionario, 220 § 474. Cf. also Hor. Sat. 1.10.34: in silvam non ligna feras insanius, Ov. Am. 2.10.13-14: quid folia arboribus, quid pleno sidera caelo, / in freta collectas alta quid addis aquas? Mart. 11.42.4: thyma Cecropiae Corsica ponis api! Alcinous was the mythical king of the Phaeacians and owner of an orchard where all sorts of fruits grew in great abundance; cf. Od. 7.112-131.Here are translations of the foreign passages and phrases quoted by Galán Vioque:
- Martial 7.42.6: Do you think no one ever gave fruits to Alcinous?
- Spanish: To give wheat to Castille.
- German: To carry owls to Athens.
- Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto 4.2.9-10: Who would give honey to Aristaeus [the inventor of beekeeping] or fruits to Alcinous?
- Horace, Satires 1.10.34: You couldn't do anything crazier if you carried wood into a forest.
- Ovid, Amores 2.10.13-14: Why do you add leaves to trees, stars to a full sky, a cup of water to the deep sea?
- Martial 11.42.4: You're putting thyme from Corsica in front of a bee from Athens!
A Festschrift in honor of famed Greek scholar K.J. Dover was entitled Owls to Athens (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). In other words, Dover is so expert in ancient Greek that offering him the scholarship of others is like carrying coals to Newcastle.