Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter

Thomas Cahill. A couple of gems from this very readable (and very casual, even bawdy) work:

Early in the banquet [the symposium], libations were poured to Dionysus, god of wine, and a dithyramb, a song-and-dance to the inebriating god, was beaten out. You may, if you like, label this prayer, but it was from our perspective a lot closer to a conga line....
In this fragment from a fourth-century comedy by Eubulus, an already wobbly Dionysus boasts of how the typical symposium progressed:

Who but Dionysus pours the flowing wine
and mixes water in the streaming bowls tonight?
One bowl for ruddy health, then one for getting off;
the third brings sleep–and wise men leave before they’re tight.
For after that the bowls no more belong to us:
the fourth’s for hubris and the fifth for lots of noise,
the sixth for mindless fucking, followed by black eyes,
the eighth brings the police, the ninth’s for throwing up,
the tenth for trashing everything before we stop.

And in a very different vein, from Pericles’s Funeral Oration:

Therefore I do not mourn with the parents of the dead who are here with us. Rather, I will comfort them. For they know that they have been born into a world of manifold chance and that he is to be accounted happy to whom the best lot falls–the best sorrow, such as is yours today, or the best death, such as fell to these, for whom life and happiness were bound together. I know it is not easy to give you comfort. I know how often in the joy of others you will have reminders of what was once your own, and how men feel sorrow, not for the loss of what they have never tasted, but when something that has grown dear to them has been snatched away. But you must keep a brave heart in the hope of other children, those of you who are still of an age to bear them. For the newcomers will help you forget the gap in your own circle, and will help the City to fill up the ranks of its workers and its soldiers. For no man is fitted to give fair and honest advice in council if he has not, like his fellows, a family at stake in the hour of the City’s danger. To you who are past the age of vigor I would say: count the long years of happiness so much gain to set off against the brief space that yet remains, and let your burden be lightened by the glory of the dead. For the love of honor alone is not staled by age, and it is by honor, not, as some say, by gold, that the helpless end of life is cheered.

Talk about cold comfort! He goes on to a shorter paragraph addressed to siblings “for whom I see a mighty contest with the memory of the dead.”

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