Friday, July 11, 2014


Treeless Lacedaemon

Margaret Alexiou, "The historical lament for the fall or destruction of cities," chapter 5 of The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, 2nd ed. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), pp. 83-101, discusses Antipater's famous lament for the destruction of Corinth (Greek Anthology 9.151), but doesn't mention a lesser known anonymous lament for the destruction of Sparta (Greek Anthology 7.723, tr. W.R. Paton):
Lacedaemon, formerly unconquered and uninvaded, thou seest the Olenian smoke on the banks of Eurotas. No shade of trees hast thou left; the birds nest on the ground and the wolves hear not the bleating of sheep.

ἁ πάρος ἄδμητος καὶ ἀνέμβατος, ὦ Λακεδαῖμον,
    καπνὸν ἐπ᾽ Εὐρώτᾳ δέρκεαι Ὠλένιον,
ἄσκιος· οἰωνοὶ δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς οἰκία θέντες
    μύρονται· μήλων δ᾽ οὐκ ἀίουσι λύκοι.
Paton's translation omits μύρονται (weep, mourn) in line 4, which J.W. Mackail includes in his translation:
O Lacedaemon, once unsubdued and untrodden, thou seest shadeless the smoke of Olenian campfires on the Eurotas, and the birds building their nests on the ground wail for thee, and the wolves do not hear any sheep.
The following notes contain no original insights. All of the information comes from the commentaries of Mackail and Gow-Page.

Lacedaemon's previous condition is expressed by two privative adjectives, ἄδμητος (unsubdued) and ἀνέμβατος (untrodden, i.e. by enemy troops); her present condition is also expressed by a privative adjective, ἄσκιος (unshaded). Lacedaemon is unshaded because trees, which provide shade, have been cut down by the invading army. Birds make their nests on the ground because their customary haunts, the trees, are now gone. Cf. Stesichorus' warning to the Locrians to curb their insolence (Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.21.8, 1394b-95a, tr. J.H. Freese):
In such cases Laconic apophthegms and riddling sayings are suitable; as, for instance, to say what Stesichorus said to the Locrians, that they ought not to be insolent, lest their cicadas should be forced to chirp from the ground.

ἁρμόττει δ᾽ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις καὶ τὰ Λακωνικὰ ἀποφθέγματα καὶ τὰ αἰνιγματώδη, οἷον εἴ τις λέγει ὅπερ Στησίχορος ἐν Λοκροῖς εἶπεν, ὅτι οὐ δεῖ ὑβριστὰς εἶναι, ὅπως μὴ οἱ τέττιγες χαμόθεν ᾁδωσιν.
Cf. Aristotle, History of Animals 5.30, 556 a 21 (tr. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson):
The cicada is not found where there are no trees.

οὐ γίνονται δὲ τέττιγες ὅπου μὴ δένδρα ἐστιν.
The warning that cicadas will sing from the ground is therefore equivalent to a threat that trees will be cut down.

What is Olenian smoke? It is usually explained as smoke from fires set by soldiers from Olenus, a small town that was a member of the Achaean League. The Achaean League under the command of Philopoemen was responsible for the subjugation of Sparta. But Felix Bölte, Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XVII 2, 2440, s.v. Olenos, argued that Ὠλένιον in our poem was not an adjective derived from Olenus, but rather the word ὠλένιον defined by Hesychius as δεινόν, κακόν. S. Mersinias, "Emendations and Interpretations in Epigrams," Minerva 9 (1995) 71-77 (at 76-77), accepts Bölte's argument and translates καπνὸν ... ὠλένιον as "dreadful smoke." It had been a point of civic pride "that no Spartan woman had ever seen the smoke of an enemy's fires" (Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus 31.5, tr. Bernadotte Perrin: ὅτι γυνὴ Λάκαινα καπνὸν οὐχ ἑώρακε πολέμιον). This boast could no longer be made. It might even be that the smoke comes from burning trees. It's easier to set fire to a tree than to chop it down.

Thanks to Michael Hendry for making the commentary of Gow and Page available to me.


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