Monday, July 28, 2014


Philoctetes' Treasure

Sophocles, Philoctetes 31-37 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I see an empty dwelling with no man there.
And are there none of the things that make a home in there?
Yes, a bed of leaves pressed down, as though for someone who camps there.
But is the rest bare, and is there nothing there beneath the roof?
Yes, a cup made from a single piece of wood, the work of a poor craftsman, and with it stones for making a fire.
The treasures that you are describing must be his.

ὁρῶ κενὴν οἴκησιν ἀνθρώπων δίχα.
οὐδ᾽ ἔνδον οἰκοποιός ἐστί τις τροφή;
στιπτή γε φυλλὰς ὡς ἐναυλίζοντί τῳ.
τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἔρημα, κοὐδέν ἐσθ᾽ ὑπόστεγον;
αὐτόξυλόν γ᾽ ἔκπωμα, φλαυρουργοῦ τινος        35
τεχνήματ᾽ ἀνδρός, καὶ πυρεῖ᾽ ὁμοῦ τάδε.
κείνου τὸ θησαύρισμα σημαίνεις τόδε.
Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. πυρεῖον:
firesticks, h.Merc. 111, S.Ph. 36, Thphr.HP5.3.4, D.S.5.67, etc.; τάχ' ἂν ..τρίβοντες, ὥσπερ ἐκ πυρείων, ἐκλάμψαι ποιήσαιμεν τὴν δικαιοσύνην Pl.R.435a; πυρεῖά τε χερσὶν ἐνώμων Theoc.22.33; ἀμφὶ πυρήϊα δινεύεσκον A.R.1.1184; πυρεῖα συντρίψαντες Luc.VH1.32; the stationary piece was called ἐσχάρα, the drill τρύπανον, Thphr.Ign.64.
But we know from the same play (lines 295-297) that Philoctetes used stones, not firesticks, to start a fire:
[A]nd then there would be no fire! But by rubbing one stone painfully against another I made the hidden spark flash out, the thing that has always been my preservation.

                             εἶτα πῦρ ἂν οὐ παρῆν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πέτροισι πέτρον ἐκτρίβων μόλις
ἔφην᾽ ἄφαντον φῶς, ὃ καὶ σῴζει μ᾽ ἀεί.
The definition of πυρεῖον in Liddell-Scott-Jones as "firesticks" is probably too restrictive, therefore. Jebb's "means of kindling a fire" (in his commentary on Philoctetes, line 36) would be a better definition.

On various ancient fire-starting techniques see R.J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol. VI (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966) pp. 1-13, with notes on pp. 89-92.

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