Monday, August 22, 2011


Oikos Philos, Oikos Aristos

Aesop, Fable 125 Chambry (tr. Laura Gibbs, with her note):
Zeus invited all the animals to his wedding. The tortoise alone was absent, and Zeus did not know why, so he asked the tortoise her reason for not having come to the feast. The tortoise said, 'Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.' Zeus got angry at the tortoise and ordered her to carry her house with her wherever she went.

The fable shows that people often prefer to live simply at home than to live lavishly at someone else's house.

Note: The Greek maxim pronounced by the tortoise can be translated literally as 'home is dear, home is best,' oikos philos, oikos aristos.

Ζεὺς γαμῶν πάντα τὰ ζῷα εἱστία. Μόνης δὲ χελώνης ὑστερησάσης, διαπορῶν τὴν αἰτίαν, τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ ἐπυνθάνετο αὐτῆς διὰ τά μόνη ἐπὶ τὸ δεῖπνον οὐκ ἦλθε. Τῆς δὲ εἰπούσης· Οἶκος φίλος, οἶκος ἄριστος, ἀγανακτήσας κατ' αὐτῆς παρεσκεύασεν αὐτὴν τὸν οἶκον αὐτὸν βαστάζουσαν περιφέρειν. Οὕτω πολλοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων αἱροῦνται μᾶλλον λιτῶς οἰκεῖν ἢ παρ' ἄλλοις πολυτελῶς διαιτᾶσθαι.
A case could be made for translating φίλος here as "one's own" (Liddell & Scott, s.v., sense I.2.c), i.e. "one's own home is [the] best home." Note the medieval Latin version (Hans Walther, Proverbia Sententiaeque Latinitatis Medii Aevi #6259)—Domus propria, domus optima.

Eric Thomson sent me a photocopy of Renzo Tosi, Dicionário de Sentenças Latinas e Gregas, tr. Ivone Castilho Benedetti (São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1996), pp. 487-488 (#1047 = Οἶκος φίλος, οἶκος ἄριστος), in which the Portuguese translation of the proverb is "Casa nossa, casa ótima."

On the other hand, another Latin version is Domus amica, domus optima, which is the translation adopted by Erasmus. See The Adages of Erasmus, selected by William Barker (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 268-270 (III iii 38, on Οἶκος φίλος οἶκος ἄριστος, tr. R.A.B. Mynors, footnotes omitted):
A loved home is always the best home. Nowhere can a lucky man live in more convenience, more freedom, and more comfort than at home. Some people with humorous distortion apply this to the tortoise, of which the following tale is told. Jupiter once invited animals of all kinds to attend his wedding, and all the others came, but not the tortoise. He was much surprised, and when she turned up (which was not until the feast was over), he asked her what the reason was for the delay. And she replied 'A loved home is the best home.' Jupiter was angry, and gave orders that wherever she went in future, she should carry her home about with her. Hence the tortoise is described in the second book of his On Divination, with deliberate and humorous obscurity, as 'Earth's tardigrade, home-carrying. bloodless creature.' (For we must, I take it, read terrae, earth's, for terrigenam, earth-born).

Besides which, the privacy of home has the support of the civil law. This Gaius in the Pandects, book 4, title De in jus vocando: 'It has been commonly held that no man may be summoned to court from his own home, because each man's home is his safest refuge and place of resort, and he therefore who should summon him to court from his home was thought to commit a violent assault.' Similarly Paulus in Book I, title De regulis juris. Cicero alludes to the fable in one of his letters, writing to Dolabella: 'This place is pretty, or at any rate remote, and if you have something to write, free from interruption. But somehow, "a loved home," you know.' This corresponds with one I have placed elsewhere: 'He for whom all goes well should stay at home,' for to him alone a loved home is the best home. Otherwise, to the man whose home contains a quarrelsome wife and nothing to eat, home is a prison. On the other hand, Plutarch has a word for this idle sort of man who is happy indoors and in the shade, and loves to be always sitting motionless at home. he calls them oikouroi, home-keepers. And in his essay 'On Tranquillity of Mind' he disapproves of this stay-at-home lack of activity. Again in his 'Advice to Bride and Groom' he records that Phidias made a stuatue of Venus for the people of Elis with her foot on a tortoise, as a tacit suggestion that wives should stay at home and hold their peace. Plutarch also tells of a custom in Egypt that newly wedded wives should not wear sandals, to prevent them of course from ever leaving the house. All the same, this ideal would have little chance of acceptance by our own countrywomen, as they flit busily round all the markets and all the wine-shops and everywhere on earth by land or sea.

This seems the place to add a remark recorded by Plutarch in his life of Titus Flaminius. When seeking to persuade the Achains that they should not lay claim to the island of Zacynthos, 'They would' he said 'run risks like tortoises, if they struck their heads out beyond the Peloponnese.' Livy has simething very like this in book six of his Macedonian War, where Quinctius speaks as follows: 'If I thought that the possession of that island was of any value to the Achaeans, I would recommend the Roman government to let you have it. But I have my eye on the tortoise: gathered into its shell, it is safe from all attacks, but when it puts out any part of itself, whatever it exposes is at risk and defenceless. It is much the same with you Achaeans: you are enclosed on all sides by the bounds of the sea, and what lies within the Peloponnese, you can add to your own, and easily defend what you have added; but if you exceed those limits in your greed for further acquisitions, all your overseas possessions are naked and exposed to all attacks.'
One of the earliest references to this proverb seems to be by the poet Philoxenus (died 380 B.C.), as preserved in Suda 291 (Εἰς λατομίας, cited by Tosi, tr. Tony Natoli):
To the quarries: Philoxenos the dithyrambic poet could not stand the poetry of the tyrant Dionysius because it was so bad. On one occasion Dionysius sent him to the quarries, but later decided to have him brought back up. However, upon enquiring the reason [sc. for the tyrant's change of heart] Philoxenus replied, 'How much better it is to stay there than to suffer his [i.e. Dionysius'] poetry'; and he added, 'Truly, home is dear, home is best', just as it is for the tortoise.

Εἰς λατομίας: Φιλόξενος ὁ διθυραμβοποιὸς οὐκ ἀνεχόμενος τῶν Διονυσίου τοῦ τυράννου ποιημάτων ὡς φαύλων, ποτὲ πέμψαντος αὐτὸν εἰς λατομίας τοῦ Διονυσίου, τὸ δὲ ὕστερον αὐτὸς ἑκὼν ἐξανέστη, τοῦ δὲ ἐπερωτωμένου τὴν αἰτίαν, τοῦτο εἰπεῖν, ὡς κρεῖττον εἶναι ἐκεῖ διατρίβειν ἢ τῶν αὐτοῦ ποιημάτων ἀνέχεσθαι, τοῦτο ἐπειπόντα: ἦ οἶκος φίλος, οἶκος ἄριστος: ἅπερ ἐστὶ τῆς χελώνης.

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