From the Sublime to the Ridiculous…

Dear Greeks and Romans,

As you know, we take very seriously our charge to manage “the Best Classics Library in the World” with outstanding book and journal collections and exceptional individual attention to each and every one of you (including sometimes working around bureaucracies that don’t always make sense). Maybe because we work so hard, we try to maintain a sense of humor, sometimes even sarcastic or macabre as our beloved Mike posing as νεκρς. This month we thought you might enjoy the comical gargantuan contrast between book sizes in our library and the many challenges that those sometimes bring for our library spaces and retrieval services, so we asked our “honorary librarian” Angelica to pick a tiny book (by no means the smallest book in our collection!) as December’s “Book of the Month”

Through the photos above and below we are comparing that mini book of the comedies of Roman playwright Terence with two of our more than a thousand giant books, one a facsimile of a medieval codex of Terence’s comedies and the other, a book on the topography and history of Olympia (by no means the largest books in our library!).

Now, we can all understand the usefulness of a very large sized book in order to better examine maps, diagrams, photographs, illuminations, scholia, etc., but what is the point of a miniature book other than its cuteness and curiosity, you might ask?  Well, especially, in the 19th century steam-powered presses mass-produced classical texts printed on inexpensive paper in small sized books to fit in shirt pockets or belt pouches for the consumption of an increasingly literate public. The railroad and steamboat aided their distribution. The small sized texts could also be conveniently perused by itinerant scholars and easily carried by traveling salesmen and studied by school children.

Smaller and more convenient book sizes in the 1800s sometimes aimed at counteracting and combating a waning emphasis on Greek and Latin in schools in Europe and the U.S. during this time, a “movement” eventually leading to such pocket sized books as a “predecessor” to the Teubner texts, also published in Leipzig. Even the volumes in the so called Loeb Classical Library series, although not miniatures, belong in this group since they were much smaller than a regular book in the 19th and early 20th century.  In a little known and, as far as I know, never again reproduced preface to the series appearing in a handful of the 1912 editions, James Loeb himself best explains the purpose of the LCL:

In an age when the Humanities are being neglected more perhaps than at any time since the Middle Ages, and when men’s minds are turning more than ever before to the practical and the material, it does not suffice to make pleas, however eloquent and convincing, for the safeguarding and further enjoyment of our greatest heritage from the past. Means must be found to place these treasures within the reach of all who care for the finer things of life.”

These words could just as well be written today when more and more schools and libraries cut funding for classics and eliminate Latin and Greek from their curricula and collecting priorities. Thumb drives could perhaps serve as the miniature books of the 21st century onto which the classical texts in the Perseus Digital Library or the PHI (though not the TLG) could be downloaded to reach a larger reading audience and attract more students. And with influential cultural icons such as J.K. Rowling and Mark Zuckerberg, who proudly profess their classics training, studying Greek and Latin is becoming cool again!

If you are interested in viewing the miniature book (with a magnifying glass!) and even touching it (!), please come to the Classics Library’s main Reading Room.

To read Angelica’s previous absolutely hilarious Facebook posts, see

Greeks and Romans, Happy Halloween!

The Classics Library’s Welcoming Host Handing Out The Library Guide.

Excerpt from a dialogue between the slave Tranio and his master Theopropides from Plautus’ comedy Mostellaria, The Haunted House. Theopropides’ son has squandered his father’s fortune and the slave Tranio is trying to divert the father’s attention by asserting that the house is haunted before the money lenders arrive to claim it. 


sed ecce quae illi in somnis mortuos:“ego transmarinus hospes sum Diapontius. hic habito, haec mi dedita est habitatio. nam me Accheruntem recipere Orcus noluit, quia praemature uita careo. per fidem deceptus sum: hospes me hic necauit isque medefodit insepultum clam [ibidem] in hisce aedibus, scelestus, auri causa. nunc tu hinc emigra. scelestae [hae] sunt aedes, impia est habitatio.” quae hic monstra fiunt anno uix possum eloqui” (496-505).

“But look what the dead man said to him in his sleep: “I am a guest from overseas, Diapontius. I live here, this dwelling place has been allotted to me: Orcus did not want to receive me into the Underworld because I lost  my life before my time. I was deceived in violation of the obligations of hospitality: my host murdered me here and he secretly put me underground in this house without due rites, for the sake of gold, the criminal. Now move out from here. This house is under a curse, this dwelling place is defiled.” I could barely tell you in a year what apparitions take place here.”


guttam haud habeo sanguinis, uiuom me accersunt Accheruntem mortui” (508-509).

“I don’t have a drop of blood! The dead are taking me to the Underworld while I’m still alive!”

The Classics Library’s staff shortage has temporarily been relieved by our most recent hire. Come meet Hecate.

Excerpts from Homer’s Odyssey.

“αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ ψυχὰς μὲν ἀπεσκέδασ᾿ ἄλλυδις ἄλλῃἁγνὴ Περσεφόνεια γυναικῶν θηλυτεράων, ἦλθε δ᾿ ἐπὶ ψυχὴ Ἀγαμέμνονος Ἀτρεΐδαο ἀχνυμένη· περὶ δ᾿ ἄλλαι ἀγηγέραθ᾿, ὅσσοι ἅμ᾿ αὐτῷ οἴκῳ ἐν Αἰγίσθοιο θάνον καὶ πότμον ἐπέσπον. ἔγνω δ᾿ αἶψ᾿ ἔμ᾿ ἐκεῖνος, ἐπεὶ πίεν αἷμα κελαινόν” (Od. 11. 385-90).

“When then holy Persephone had scattered this way and that the ghosts of the women, there came up the ghost of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, sorrowing, and round about him others were gathered, ghosts of all those who were slain with him in the house of Aegisthus, and met their fate. He knew me instantly, when he had drunk the dark blood.”

“δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί, αἵματι δ᾿ ἐρράδαται τοῖχοι καλαί τε μεσόδμαι· εἰδώλων δὲ πλέον πρόθυρον, πλείη δὲ καὶ αὐλή, ἱεμένων Ἔρεβόσδε ὑπὸ ζόφον· ἠέλιος δὲοὐρανοῦ ἐξαπόλωλε, κακὴ δ᾿ ἐπιδέδρομεν ἀχλύς” (Od. 20. 353-57).

“sprinkled with blood are the walls and the fair panels. And full of ghosts is the porch, full also the court, ghosts hastening down to Erebus beneath the darkness, and the sun has perished out of heaven and an evil mist covers all.”

A recent archaeological find by the UC Classics Department of the skeleton of Roman poet Lucretius, proving that St. Jerome was correct in assigning the cause of the poet’s death to a love potion. Exhibition in the circulation area.

The ghost of Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ Oresteia (Eumenides) when coming upon the furies fast asleep laments.

“ἐγὼ δ᾿ ὑφ᾿ ὑμῶν ὧδ᾿ ἀπητιμασμένη ἄλλοισιν ἐν νεκροῖσιν, ὧν μὲν ἔκτανον ὄνειδος ἐν φθιτοῖσιν οὐκ ἐκλείπεται, αἰσχρῶς δ᾿ ἀλῶμαι· προὐννέπω δ᾿ ὑμῖν ὅτιἔχω μεγίστην αἰτίαν κείνων ὕπο, παθοῦσα δ᾿ οὕτω δεινὰ πρὸς τῶν φιλτάτων οὐδεὶς ὑπέρ μου δαιμόνων μηνίεται κατασφαγείσης πρὸς χερῶν μητροκτόνων” (95-102).

“I am shunned in dishonor like this among the other dead, thanks to you. I am unceasingly taunted among the shades because of those I killed, and I wander disgraced; and I proclaim to you that I receive the greatest blame from them because, though I have suffered so grievously at the hands of those closest to me, none of the divinities is wrathful on my behalf, slaughtered as I have been by matricidal hands.”

A reference for the few…

Excerpt from a letter (XXVII) to Lucinius Sura by Pliny the Younger.

Initio, quale ubique, silentium noctis; dein concuti ferrum, vincula moveri. Ille non tollere oculos, non remittere stilum, sed offirmare animum auribusque praetendere. Tum crebrescere fragor, adventare et iam ut in limine, iam ut intra limen audiri. Respicit, videt agnoscitque narratam sibi effigiem.”

“At first there was nothing but the general silence of night; then came the clanking of iron and dragging of chains. He did not look up nor stop writing, but steeled his mind to shut out the sounds. Then the noise grew louder, came nearer, was heard in the doorway, and then inside the room. He looked round, saw and recognized the ghost described to him.”

The Library’s most recent book acquisitions.

Dialogue between the ghost of Tantalus and Menippus from Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, illustrating that even in death “life” is a struggle.


“Τοῦτ᾿ αὐτὸ ἡ κόλασίς ἐστι, τὸ διψῆν τὴν ψυχὴν ὡς σῶμα οὖσαν.”


“Αλλὰ τοῦτο μὲν οὕτως πιστεύσομεν, ἐπεὶ φῂς κολάζεσθαι τῷ δίψει. τί δ᾿ οὖν σοι τὸ δεινὸν ἔσται; ἢ δέδιας μὴ ἐνδείᾳ τοῦ ποτοῦ ἀποθάνῃς; οὐχ ὁρῶ γὰρ ἄλλον ᾅδην μετὰ τοῦτον ἢ θάνατον ἐντεῦθεν εἰς ἕτερον τόπον.”


“Ὀρθῶς μὲν λέγεις· καὶ τοῦτο δ᾿ οὖν μέρος τῆς καταδίκης, τὸ ἐπιθυμεῖν πιεῖν μηδὲν δεόμενον.”


“It’s just that that’s my punishment—that my ghost should be thirsty as if it were a body.”


“Well, we’ll believe it, since you tell us you’re punished by thirst. But what do you find so terrible in that? Are you afraid of dying for lack of drink? I can’t see another Hades after this one, or a death hereafter taking us elsewhere.”


“You are quite right; but this is part of my sentence—to long to drink when I’ve no need.”

Cerberus as a puppy guarding the Gates of Hades.








Happy Birthday Lucretius (and Virgil, too)!

Titus Lucretius Carus was presumably born on October 15 (99 BCE), i.e., today 1,919 years ago (Virgil, too, was supposedly, though somewhat unlikely, born on the same day, October 15, 70 BCE; however, he will have to wait for a blog until next year or in 2020)! So we wish to honor this amazing Roman poet and Epicurean philosopher. His only known work is De rerum natura, On the Nature of Things, but what a poetic work it is. Although it influenced later thinkers, it had an impact already on contemporary poets such as Vergil and Horace. Cicero, too, was a great admirer as witnessed in a letter to his brother Quintus (QFr. 2.9):

Lucreti poemata, ut scribis, ita sunt, multis luminibus ingeni, multae tamen artis.

“The poetry of Lucretius is, as you say in your letter, rich in brilliant genius, yet highly artistic.”

Ovid’s review of the DRN in his Amores (1.15.23–24) is famous:

“Carmina sublimis tunc sunt peritura Lucreti exitio terras cum dabit una dies.”

“The verses of the sublime Lucretius will perish only when a day will bring the end of the world.”


The didactic poem, written in some 7,400 dactylic hexameters, is divided into six books, and explores Epicurean thought through metaphors, alliteration, assonance, archaisms. It echoes Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, Callimachus, even Thucydides and in epic diction and style, “the father” of Latin epic verse, Quintus Ennius.  The poem is full of contradictions — archaic form combined with modern thought, idyllic nature imagery with dystopia and misanthropy, anti-religious sentiments with elements of prophesy and salvation, and prosaic methodology with poetic sensibility.

In books I and II Lucretius presents the principles of atomism. Lucretius and Epicurean philosophy following Democritus atomic theory of the universe argue that nature consists of indivisible and unchanging elements, atoms, whose movements and combinations give rise to the perceived world. The movements of the atoms occur according to strict mechanical principles or laws without divine intervention. Anyone who has embraced this teaching no longer should fear omens or divine punishment, or death or hell, since they would know that even the soul consists of atoms and that it is dissolved along with the body upon death. Books I and II further polemicize against the pre-Socratic philosophers Heracleitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras and the rival Stoic school. For example, Lucretius argues against those who believed that fire was the Uhr element and rejects the notion of a pre-Socratic First element altogether (1.690-712 and 1.772-781).

“Quapropter qui materiem rerum esse putarunt ignem atque ex igni summam consistere posse, et qui principium gignundis aera rebus constituere, aut umorem quicumque putarunt fingere res ipsum per se, terramve creare omnia et in rerum naturas vertier omnis, magno opere a vero longe derrasse videntur. adde etiam qui conduplicant primordia rerum, aera iungentes igni terramque liquori, et qui quattuor ex rebus posse omnia rentur ex igni terra atque anima procrescere et imbri” (1.705-716).

“Therefore those who have thought that fire is the material of things and that the universe can consist of fire, and those who have laid down that air is the prime element for producing things, or whoever have thought that water molds things by itself, or that earth produces all things and changes itself into the natures of all thingsare seen to have gone far astray from the truth. Add, moreover, those who take the first-beginnings of things in couples, joining air to fire and earth to water, and those who think that all can grow forth out of four things, from fire, earth, air, and water.”


Book III explores the nature of the mind (animus) or central consciousness and the soul (anima) or sensation and explains that the soul is born and grows with the body, and that at death it dissipates like “smoke”; book IV discusses sensation and thought (sight, hearing, taste, smell, sleep and dreams) and V, for me the most interesting book, describes how the world came about and its inner workings as well as the evolution of life and human society. Lucretius delineates cultural and technological developments of humans such as the use of tools from prehistory to Lucretius’ own time. He theorizes that the earliest tools were hands, nails and teeth followed by stones, branches and fire. Copper and then bronze tools were used to till the soil until the bronze sickle was replaced by the iron plow. Lucretius suggests that the smelting of metal, and perhaps too the firing of pottery, was discovered by accident; for example, as a result of a forest fire. Before technology, Lucretius saw human life as lived “in the fashion of wild beasts roaming at large,” which, according to recent anthropological findings, is most likely a fairly accurate description of early humans (see, e.g., Donna Hart & Robert W. Sussman, Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution. New York: Westview Press, 2005).

“Necdum res igni scibant tractare neque uti pellibus et spoliis corpus vestire ferarum, sed nemora atque cavos montis silvasque colebant, et frutices inter condebant squalida membra verbera ventorum vitare imbrisque coacti” (5.953-957).

“Not yet did they know how to work things with fire, nor to use skins and to clothe themselves in the strippings of wild beasts; but they dwelt in the woods and forests and mountain caves, and hid their rough bodies in the underwoods when they had to escape the beating of wind and rain.”


Later rudimentary huts were built and the use and kindling of fire discovered along with the creation of clothing, language, family life, city-states, and the arts; the final book VI describes and explains various celestial and terrestrial phenomena (thunder, hail, ice, wind, earthquakes, agriculture). The poem ends with a description of the plague of Athens in 430 BCE, although since the poem is unfinished we cannot be certain that it was intended to end this way even though it juxtaposes nicely with the birth of spring and Venus’ creation with which the poem opens.

Omnia denique sancta deum delubra replerat corporibus mors exanimis, onerataque passim cuncta cadaveribus caelestum templa manebant, hospitibus loca quae complerant iam religio divom nec numina magni pendebantur enim: praesens dolor exsuperabat. nec mos ille sepulturae remanebat in urbe, quo prius hic populus semper consuerat humari; perturbatus enim totus trepidabat, et unus quisque suum pro re et pro tempore maestus humabat. multaque res subita et paupertas horrida suasit; namque suos consanguineos aliena rogorum insuper extructa ingenti clamore locabant subdebantque faces, multo cum sanguine saepe rixantes potius quam corpora desererentur (6.1272-1286).

 “Moreover, death had filled all the sanctuaries of the gods with lifeless bodies, all the temples of the celestials everywhere remained burdened with corpses, all which places the sacristans had crowded with guests. For indeed now neither the worship of the gods nor their power was much regarded: the present grief was too great. Nor did that custom of sepulture remain in the city, with which this nation in the past had been always accustomed to be buried; for the whole nation was in trepidation and dismay, and each man in his sorrow buried his own dead as time and circumstances allowed. Sudden need also and poverty persuaded to many dreadful expedients: for they would lay their own kindred amidst loud lamentation upon piles of wood not their own, and would set light to the fire, often brawling with much shedding of blood rather than abandon the bodies.”


In spite of the Epicurean unorthodox view of divinity, De rerum natura as an epos follows the model of Homer and its imitators and begins with a  celebration of the divine, not the Muses as in Homer and Virgil, or Stoic Zeus/Jupiter as in Ennius and Seneca, but the goddess of love, Venus, the mother of Aeneas and Rome and the creative force behind all of nature’s things.

Aeneadum genetrix, hominum divomque voluptas, alma Venus, caeli subter labentia signaquae mare navigerum, quae terras frugiferentis concelebras, per te quoniam genus omne animantum concipitur visitque exortum lumina solis: te, dea, te fugiunt venti, te nubila caeli adventumque tuum, tibi suavis daedala tellus summittit flores, tibi rident aequora ponti placatumque nitet diffuso lumine caelum. nam simul ac species patefactast verna dieiet reserata viget genitabilis aura favoni, aeriae primum volucres te, diva, tuum que significant initum perculsae corda tua vi. inde ferae, pecudes persultant pabula laetaet rapidos tranant amnis: ita capta lepore” (1.1-15).

“Venerable Venus, Mother of Aeneas, pleasing to gods and humans, who beneath the smooth-moving heavenly signs fill with yourself the sea teaming with ships, the earth that bears the crops, since through you every kind of living thing is conceived and rising up looks on the light of the sun: from you, O goddess, from you the winds flee away, the clouds of heaven from you and your coming; for you the wonder-working earth puts forth sweet flowers, for you the wide stretches of ocean laugh, and heaven grown peaceful glows with outpouring light. For as soon as the vernal face of day appears, and the breeze of the teeming west wind blows fresh and free, first the birds of the air proclaim you, divine one, and your advent, pierced to the heart by your might. Next wild creatures and farm animals dance over the rich pastures and swim across rapid rivers: so greedily does each one follow you, held captive by your charm.”


In spite of his beautifully crafted recognition of nature and the goddess Venus,  Lucretius is frequently thought of as an atheist because he described the universe as operating according to physical principles, guided by fortuna, “chance” rather than by divine intervention. For Lucretius the exemplum he uses to illustrate the absence of divine intervention and the horrible affects religion and superstition can have on mortals is the sacrifice to the goddess Artemis of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, to obtain favorable winds to allow the Greek fleet to sail against Troy (to read this passage, see an earlier blog celebrating Artemis’ birthday


St. Jerome in his Chronicon/Chronicle contends that Lucretius “was driven mad by a love potion, and when, during the intervals of his insanity, he had written a number of books, which were later emended by Cicero, he killed himself by his own hand in the 44th year of his life.” This piece of nugget appears only in St. Jerome. It seems unlikely that a man who appears to have felt disdain for passionate love would have forsaken his beliefs and imbibed an aphrodisiac. An interesting early theory by L.P. Wilkinson suggested that Lucretius may have been confused with Lucullus. who supposedly did die after taking a love potion (CR 63 (1949): 47-48). Furthermore, as an Epicure it is doubtful that he would have been inclined to commit suicide.  The Epicureans taught that in order to attain joy and pleasure and freedom from fear and bodily pain and tranquility of mind, moderation in desire of all things (romance, food, drink, emotions, etc.) was necessary as well as knowledge of the world, thoughts found already in Plato. Just like the many fantastic stories about Sappho’s alleged jump off of a cliff for a teenage boy, Phaon, were based on the works of comedy writers, Lucretius may also have been the butt of jokes if we are to attribute his death to love sickness.


In Book III (79-82) Lucretius refers to suicide:

intereunt partim statuarum et nominis saepe usque adeo, mortis formidine, vitae percipit humanos odium lucisque videndae,ut sibi consciscant maerenti pectore letumobliti fontem curarum hunc esse timorem

“…some wear out their lives for the sake of a statue and a name. And often it goes so far, that for fear of death men are seized by hatred of life and of seeing the light, so that with sorrowing heart they devise their own death, forgetting that this fear is the fountain of their cares…”


In spite of the Epicurean belief in the dissipation of the atoms of the soul at death and in line with the many contradictions in the DRN, Lucretius seems at least on some level to have embraced the idea of reincarnation or at least recycling (there is no life without death):

haud igitur penitus pereunt quaecumque videntur,quando alid ex alio reficit natura, nec ullamrem gigni patitur nisi morte adiuta aliena” (1.262-264)

“…no visible object utterly passes away since nature makes up again one thing from another, and does not permit anything to be born unless aided by another’s death.”


Lucretius often applies common sense and keen observation in his discussions; for example,  when rejecting hybrid creatures claiming that a fire breathing Chimaera would have been an absurdity since her different parts — lion, goat, and serpent — would all have perished by fire (5.901-906).


Optimism and love of nature and of life itself and even of humanity are themes in Book I.

at nitidae surgunt fruges ramique virescunt arboribus, crescunt ipsae fetuque gravantur; hinc alitur porro nostrum genus atque ferarum” (1.352-354).

…the branches upon the trees grow green, the trees also grow and become heavy with fruit; hence comes nourishment again for our kind and for the wild beasts.”

However, all that changes by the time we get to Book V.

casas postquam ac pellis ignemque pararunt, et mulier coniuncta viro concessit in unum. . . . . . .cognita sunt, prolemque ex se videre creatam, tum genus humanum primum mollescere coepit” (5.1011-1015)

“When they had gotten themselves huts and skins and fire, and woman mated with man moved into one (home and marriage) became known … then first the human race began to grow soft”


Although Lucretius seems to have felt compassion towards animals (to read Lucretius moving story of a mother cow who is searching for her baby calf that has been taken away from her to be killed at the altar, see the previous blog “Happy Valentine’s Day” equating humans with animals, he also refers to ‘dumb animals” a kind of trope, I guess, although stupidity for Lucretius could be said to be a characteristic also of the human animal species. For women Lucretius expresses less appreciation in spite of the fact that he invokes Venus rather than Jupiter in claiming that

nam longe praestat in arte et sollertius est multo genus omne virile” (5.1356)

“men are far superior to women in skill and more clever”

in a passage in which Lucretius argues that weaving once used to be the prerogative of men until farmers began to tease them and subsequently the art of weaving was left to women, presumably to the detriment of the craft considering the alleged inferiority of the female sex.

In the following passage Lucretius expresses appreciation for a woman who although may not be physically attractive could still be bearable if she is obliging, neat and clean.

“nam facit ipsa suis interdum femina factis morigerisque modis et munde corpore culto, ut facile insuescat te secum degere vitam. quod superest, consuetudo concinnat amorem; nam leviter quamvis quod crebro tunditur ictu, vincitur in longo spatio tamen atque labascit” (4.1280-1285).

“For a woman sometimes so manages herself by her own conduct, by obliging manners and bodily neatness and cleanliness, that she easily accustoms you to live with her. Moreover, it is habit that breeds love; for that which is frequently struck by a blow, however light, still yields in the long run and is ready to fall.”


De rerum natura was studied by late antique grammarians such as Servius and Macrobius. Archbishop and scholar Isidore of Seville uses Lucretius passages in his Etymologiae and in his De rerum natura (named after Lucretius’ poem) to explain rerum naturam. However, Lucretius’ poem was seldom read in the Middle Ages, in part because of the perceived anti-religious position of Epicurean philosophy. Even though Lucretius’ poem was rediscovered and became influential during the humanist development of the Renaissance, cardinal Melchior de Polignac wrote as late as in 1747 a poem in Latin in nine books called Anti-Lucretius, sive de Deo et Natura which became very popular and was translated into several languages.

Nevertheless, two important manuscripts do survive from the ninth century, both owned by seventeenth-century Dutch classicist Isaac Vossius and purchased from his estate by the Leiden University Library in 1689. The formats of the two manuscripts have given them their modern designations; the “Oblongus” and the “Quadratus.” The earlier of the two, the Leiden Voss. Lat. Fol. 30, the Oblongus, the facsimile currently on display in the Circulation area of the Classics Library, has an ownership inscription dated 1479 from the cathedral library of St. Martin’s, Mainz. It is a manuscript of 192 leaves measuring c. 314 x 204 mm, with twenty lines per page, and copied in a large early Caroline miniscule. There are frequent contemporaneous corrections and emendations by a corrector, traditionally known as Saxonicus.  The corrector has since been identified with an Irish scholar, Dungal, at Charlemagne’s court. The scribe of the Oblongus took pains to produce a legible text which involved careful collaboration with the corrector of the manuscript.  The scribe left gaps at line ends for words which he was unable to decipher and omitted some lines, leaving space for Dungal to emend them.


In the early Renaissance De rerum natura was rediscovered in a Benedictine library at Fulda in Germany by Italian humanist scholar Poggio Bracciolini (for more on him see an earlier blog on the Fall of Constantinople The text of the original manuscript, a copy of which is now housed in the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, influenced such divergent thinkers as Giordano Bruno, Thomas More, and Michel de Montaigne.

The teachings of Epicurus are still practiced by some. The following are the tenets of modern Epicureanism, at least according to a blog of something that curiously enough calls itself “the Church of Epicurus”:

1) Don’t fear God.
2) Don’t worry about death.
3) Don’t fear pain.
4) Live simply.
5) Pursue pleasure wisely.
6) Make friends and be a good friend.
7) Be honest in your business and private life.
8) Avoid fame and political ambition.

Sounds simple enough. Would Lucretius have approved? 

Select bibliography

Bailey, Cyril. De rervm natvra libri sex; edited with prolegomena, critical apparatus, translation, and commentary. 3 vols. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1947. CLASS Stacks PA6482 .A2 1947

Gale, Monica, R., ed. 2007. Lucretius. Oxford Readings in Classical Studies. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. CLASS Reserves  PA6484 .L85 2007

Gillespie, Stuart, and Philip Hardie, eds. 2007. The Cambridge companion to Lucretius. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press. CLASS Stacks PA6484 .C33 2007

Hardie, Philip. 2009. Lucretian receptions: History, the sublime, knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press. CLASS Stacks  PA6029.P45 H37 2009

Sharrock, Alison. 2006. The philosopher and the mother cow: Towards a gendered reading of Lucretius’ De rerum natura. In Laughing with Medusa: Classical myth and feminist thought. Edited by V. Zajko and M. Leonard, 253–274. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. CLASS Stacks  PN56.M95 L38 2006

Warren, James, ed. 2009. The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press. CLASS Stacks  B512 .C35 2009

English translation

Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus). 2007. The nature of things. Translated by A. E. Stallings, with introduction by Richard Jenkyns. London: Penguin. CLASS Stacks PA6483.E5 S73 2007

Poem online

Loeb Classical Library (UC access only)

Perseus Digital Library  (Latin)

Perseus Digital Library  (English)

On May 29, the Classics Library Remembers the Fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire…

On a Tuesday May 29, 1453, a Turkish-Ottoman army of ca. 80,000 men, led by Sultan Mehmet II, captured the city of Constantinople after a 53-day siege, bringing to an end the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine empire. Rather than submit to the Sultan’s demand to surrender Constantinople, the emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos chose to die fighting in defense of the city and Christianity. Although the 7,000 defenders fought bravely, the city’s massive 5th c. CE walls, which had for a millennium proved impregnable to successive sieges, were no match for the Turkish cannons, and the 80,000-man Ottoman army overwhelmed the small defending force of Byzantines and their Italian allies. Once the emperor realized the city was lost, he threw off his imperial regalia and plunged into the midst of the fighting. His body was never found.

Constantinople had been an imperial capital since its founding by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 330. There have been numerous studies on the fall of Constantinople, but, according to Mike Braunlin, one of the most accessible to English readers is Sir Steven Runciman’s The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 (Cambridge 1965). The quoted sections that follow are from this book. On a Monday May 28th, realizing the end was near, the emperor encouraged his small force by reminding them what they were fighting for: “To his Greek subjects he said that a man should always be ready to die either for his faith or his country or for his family or for his sovereign. Now his people must be prepared to die for all four causes. He spoke of the glories and high traditions of the great Imperial city. He spoke of the perfidy of the infidel Sultan who had provoked the war in order to destroy the True Faith and to put his false prophet into the seat of Christ. He urged them to remember that they were the descendants of the ancient heroes of Greece and Rome and to be worthy of their ancestors. For his part, he said, he was ready to die for his faith, his city, and his people” (p. 130).

That evening the last Christian service was held in the great church of Holy Wisdom, the Hagia Sophia, which had been the heart of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for a thousand years. Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox put aside their bitter doctrinal differences: “Priests who held union with Rome to be a mortal sin now came to the altar to serve their Unionist brothers. The Cardinal was there, and beside him bishops who would never acknowledge his authority; and all the people came to make confession and take communion, not caring whether Orthodox or Catholic administered it. There were Italians and Catalans along with the Greeks. The golden mosaics, studded with the images of Christ and his saints and the emperors and empresses of Byzantium, glimmered in the light of a thousand lamps and candles; and beneath them for the last time the priests in their splendid vestments moved in the solemn rhythm of the Liturgy. At this moment there was union in the Church of Constantinople” (p. 131).

Hagia Sophia, a Christian church in Constantinople until 1453, now an Islamic mosque in Istanbul.

As is often stated, there are at least two sides to every story. The atrocities committed by Christian crusaders against Muslims and Jews, including women and children, will not be covered in this blog post, but should be recognized as well. And whereas to Christians it was a Fall; to Muslims it was a Conquest.

For western Europe, the Fall of Constantinople had perhaps one silver-lining in that there was an ensuing migration of Byzantine scholars, scientists, musicians, astronomers, writers, poets, scribes, architects, artists, grammarians in the period following the Fall which brought with it a revival of Greek and Roman studies that eventually led to the development of Renaissance humanism and science.

Representing more than 1,000 years in a blog post is clearly impossible, so the following will instead offer a few highlights.



Emperor Justinian I, detail from mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.

During the reign of Justinian I (reign 527–565), the Empire reached its greatest extent after reconquering much of the Roman western Mediterranean coast, including North Africa, Italy, and Rome itself, which it held for two more centuries. Justinian was considered by many the greatest of the Byzantine emperors. Two of his accomplishments include the uniform rewriting of Roman law, contained in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many countries, and the architectural masterpiece, the Hagia Sophia. The new law code gave the Church and Ruler the arguments to support the absolute right of the monarch with God’s approval, unbound by secular laws (legibus solutus) and answerable only to God.   Justinian’s wife Theodora was highly influential in the politics of the Empire which perhaps speaks to the relative high status of women, at least among the Byzantine aristocracy.



Theodora and her court, mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.

The Nika revolt against Emperor Justinian during a week in 532 CE and Theodora’s pivotal council is famously narrated in Procopius’ History of the Wars (Ὑπὲρ τῶν πολέμων). I. 24. 32-38) and is here cited in toto.

“Οἱ δὲ ἀμφὶ τὸν βασιλέα ἐν βουλῇ ἦσαν, πότερα μένουσιν αὐτοῖς ἢ ταῖς ναυσὶν ἐς φυγὴν τρεπομένοις ἄμεινον ἔσται. καὶ λόγοι μὲν πολλοὶ ἐλέγοντο ἐς ἑκάτερα φέροντες. καὶ Θεοδώρα δὲ ἡ βασιλὶς ἔλεξε τοιάδε “Τὸ μὲν γυναῖκα ἐν ἀνδράσι μὴ χρῆναι τολμᾶν ἢ ἐν τοῖς ἀποκνοῦσι νεανιεύεσθαι, τὸν παρόντα οἶμαι καιρὸν ἥκιστα ἐφεῖναι διασκοπεῖσθαι εἴτε ταύτῃ εἴτε ἄλλῃ πη νομιστέον. οἷς γὰρ τὰ πράγματα ἐς κίνδυνον τὸν μέγιστον ἥκει, οὐκ ἄλλο οὐδὲν εἶναι δοκεῖ ἄριστον ἢ τὰ ἐν ποσὶν ὡς ἄριστα θέσθαι. ἡγοῦμαι δὲ τὴν φυγὴν ἔγωγε, εἴπερ ποτέ, καὶ νῦν, ἢν καὶ τὴν σωτηρίαν ἐπάγηται, ἀξύμφορον εἶναι. ἀνθρώπῳ μὲν γὰρ ἐς φῶς ἥκοντι τὸ μὴ οὐχὶ καὶ νεκρῷ γενέσθαι ἀδύνατον, τῷ δὲ βεβασιλευκότι 36τὸ φυγάδι εἶναι οὐκ ἀνεκτόν. μὴ γὰρ ἂν γενοίμην τῆς ἁλουργίδος ταύτης χωρίς, μηδ᾿ ἂν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην βιῴην, ἐν ᾗ με δέσποιναν οἱ ἐντυχόντες οὐ προσεροῦσιν. εἰ μὲν οὖν σώζεσθαί σοι βουλομένῳ ἐστίν, ὦ βασιλεῦ, οὐδὲν τοῦτο πρᾶγμαχρήματα γάρ τε πολλὰ ἔστιν ἡμῖν, καὶ θάλασσα μὲν ἐκείνη, πλοῖα δὲ ταῦτα. σκόπει μέντοι μὴ διασωθέντι ξυμβήσεταί σοι ἥδιστα ἂν τῆς σωτηρίας τὸν θάνατον ἀνταλλάξασθαι. ἐμὲ γάρ τις καὶ παλαιὸς ἀρέσκει λόγος, ὡς καλὸν ἐντάφιον 38ἡ βασιλεία ἐστί.” τοσαῦτα τῆς βασιλίδος εἰπούσης, θάρσος τε τοῖς πᾶσιν ἐπεγένετο καὶ ἐς ἀλκὴν τραπόμενοι ἐν βουλῇ ἐποιοῦντο ᾗ ἂν ἀμύνεσθαι δυνατοὶ γένοιντο, ἤν τις ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς πολεμήσων ἴοι.”

“Now the emperor and his court were deliberating as to whether it would be better for them if they remained or if they took to flight in the ships. And many opinions were expressed favoring either course. And the Empress Theodora also spoke to the following effect: ‘As to the belief that a woman ought not to be daring among men or to assert herself boldly among those who are holding back from fear, I consider that the present crisis most certainly does not permit us to discuss whether the matter should be regarded in this or in some other way. For in the case of those whose interests have come into the greatest danger nothing else seems best except to settle the issue immediately before them in the best possible way. My opinion then is that the present time, above all others, is inopportune for flight, even though it bring safety. For while it is impossible for a man who has seen the light not also to die, for one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress. If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty. For we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial-shroud.’ When the queen had spoken thus, all were filled with boldness, and, turning their thoughts towards resistance, they began to consider how they might be able to defend themselves if any hostile force should come against them.”



The relative freedom of women in Byzantium may also be manifest in the figure of Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician Hypatia (born ca. 350–370; died 415 CE) who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, where she was the Head of the renowned Neoplatonic school in Alexandria until she was murdered in March 415 CE by a mob of Christian monks known as the parabalani. Ostensibly, the reason was political as one side accused her of siding with Orestes, the Roman prefect of Alexandria, who was feuding with Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria. However, the fact that she was an intelligent and influential woman and pagan no doubt played a significant role in her murder.

Gilded Mummy Portrait of a Woman, often referred to as Hypatia. From Εr-Rubayat, Egypt. Roman Period, about C.E. 160–170.

Fifth century church historian Socrates Scholasticus of Constantinople praised her (text available in Patrologia Graeca vol. 67 through Google Books

“Ἦν τις γυνὴ ἐν τῇ Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ τοὔνομα Ὑπατία. Αὕτη
Θέωνος μὲν τοῦ φιλοσόφου θυγάτηρ ἦν, ἐπὶ τοσοῦτο δὲ
προὔβη παιδείας, ὡς ὑπερακοντίσαι τοὺς κατ’ αὐτὴν φιλοσό-
φους, τὴν δὲ Πλατωνικὴν ἀπὸ Πλωτίνου καταγομένην δια
τριβὴν διαδέξασθαι καὶ πάντα τὰ φιλόσοφα μαθήματα τοῖς
βουλομένοις ἐκτίθεσθαι. Διὸ καὶ οἱ πανταχόθεν φιλοσοφεῖν
βουλόμενοι συνέτρεχον παρ’ αὐτήν. Διὰ δὲ τὴν προσοῦ-
σαν αὐτῇ ἐκ τῆς παιδεύσεως σεμνὴν παρρησίαν καὶ τοῖς
ἄρχουσιν σωφρόνως εἰς πρόσωπον ἤρχετο, καὶ οὐκ ἦν τις
αἰσχύνη ἐν μέσῳ ἀνδρῶν παρεῖναι αὐτήν· πάντες γὰρ δι’
ὑπερβάλλουσαν σωφροσύνην πλέον αὐτὴν ᾐδοῦντο καὶ κατε-
πλήττοντο” (Socrates Scholastics. Historia Ecclesiastica 7.15).

“There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.”

The historian Hesychius from Alexandria referred to her as the greatest astronomer (the best in matters of astronomy) “μάλιστα εἰς τὰ περὶ ἀστρονομίας” (frag. 7. 1002).

The Egyptian Coptic bishop John of Nikiû (fl. 680-690) seemed less “impressed”:

“And in those days there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honored her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic. And he ceased attending church as had been his custom… And he not only did this, but he drew many believers to her, and he himself received the unbelievers at his house” (John of Nikiû’s Chronicle 1916, 84:87-88, Translation from the Ethiopic version, Text and Translation Society:

Socrates Scholasticus recounts her murder:

“ἐκ τοῦ δίφρου ἐκβαλόντες ἐπὶ τὴν ἐκκλησίαν,
ᾗ ἐπώνυμον Καισάριον, συνέλκουσιν,
ἀποδύσαντές τε τὴν ἐσθῆτα ὀστράκοις ἀνεῖλον, καὶ
μεληδὸν διασπάσαντες ἐπὶ τὸν καλούμενον Κιναρῶνα
τὰ μέλη συνάραντες πυρὶ κατανήλωσαν”
(Socrates Scholasticus. Historia Ecclesiastica, book 7 chapter 15).

“They dragged her into a nearby church, known as the Caesarion, where they stripped her naked and murdered her using ostraka. They tore her body into pieces and dragged her mangled limbs through the town to a place called Cinarion, where they set them on fire.”



The Byzantine town Mystras or Mistras (Greek Μυστρᾶς/Μιστρᾶς) was the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of Morea during the 14th and 15th centuries. The remains of its many splendid churches are located on Mt. Taygetos near ancient Sparta.  While an undergraduate, visiting Mystras on top of Taygetos during a spectacular thunder and lightning storm added a mystical feeling to its now rather ghost-like but still impressive appearance. The Peribleptos Monastery houses some remarkable frescoes from the mid to late 14th century (seen in the image below). Interestingly, devotion to Virgin Mary appears to have been an iconic focus at Mystras. Mystras can also lay claim to being the last bastion of Byzantine scholarship; the Neoplatonist philosopher Georgius Gemistos (Plethon) lived there until his death in 1452. He reintroduced Plato’s ideas to Western Europe during the 1438–1439 Council of Florence and in the process is thought to have heralded the Italian humanist renaissance. He is believed to have influenced Cosimo de’ Medici to found the new Academy (Accademia Platonica), at which Marsilio Ficino translated all of Plato’s works into Latin.



The Suda or Souda (Byzantine Greek Σοῦδα “fortress”, Latin Suidae Lexicon) with the alternate name Suidas stemming from an error made by Greek scholar Eustathius who mistook the title for the author’s name, is an extensive 10th-century lexical encyclopaedia of c. 30,000 entries concerning the Mediterranean world ( Many of the entries draw on ancient sources that have since been lost and derived from medieval Christian compilers. It is an invaluable source for ancient and Byzantine lexicography, history and life, although the reliability of some of its ancient entries has been called into question such as the biographical information about an alleged husband and daughter of the ancient Greek poet Sappho.  If we are to trust the Suda (s.v. Σαπφώ),

ἐγαμήθη δὲ ἀνδρὶ Κερκύλᾳ πλουσιωτάτῳ, ὁρμωμένῳ ἀπὸ Ἄνδρου, καὶ θυγατέρα ἐποιήσατο ἐξ αὐτοῦ, ἣ Κλεὶς ὠνομάσθη.

her husband’s name was “Kerkylas from the Isle of Andros” which would be the equivalent of  “Penis from the Isle of Man,” a reference which most likely stems from the many comedies about Sappho, popular already in antiquity, and the reference to a “daughter” Kleϊs (Sappho 98bV) may simply refer to a young woman, more or less the equivalent of lovers calling each other “baby.”  In the fragmentary Sapphic corpus the word pais (παίς), “child” means girl or child 10 times and “somebody’s child” 5 times.   

For Byzantine things more contemporary with the Suda the level of reliable information increases. It is an important source for classical antiquity as well, especially for lexical information, but, as we saw, with some caveats.



Map of Constantinople (1422) by Buondelmonti, contained in Liber insularum Archipelagi (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris) is the oldest surviving map of the city, and the only one which antedates the Turkish conquest of the city in 1453.

At the turn of the 14th century two Italians, Cristoforo Buondelmonti and Cyriacus de’ Pizzicolli, broke with the tradition of spending their days scrutinizing texts of ancient authors or searching for manuscripts, and instead sought to record the material culture of classical antiquity. To Buondelmonti, a Florentine monk, we owe the first attempt at cartography applied to Greece, and to Cyriacus, a merchant from Ancona, the beginnings of modern day archaeology. In fact, he considered the monuments and inscriptions to be more faithful witnesses of classical antiquity than the texts of ancient writers.

“At et cum maximas per urbem tam generosissimae gentis reliquias undique solo disiectas aspexisset, lapides et ipsi magnarum rerum gestarum maiorem longe quam ipsi libri fidem et notitiam spectantibus praebere videbantur” (Francesco Scalamonti, Vita Kyriaci Anconitani 56).

“It appeared to him, as he looked upon the great remains left behind by so noble a people, cast to the ground throughout the city, that the stones themselves afforded to modern spectators much more trustworthy information about their splendid history than what was to be found in books.”

In Constantinople in 1444 he was involved in the preparation of the crusade against the Turks in large measure to preserve the material remains of ancient Greece.  The historian and humanist scholar Poggio Bracciolini, the author of  “the most famous jokebook of the Renaissance” (Bowen, 1988, p. 5),  notes sarcastically:

“Ciriacus Anconitanus, homo verbosus et nimium loquax, deplorabat aliquando, astantibus nobis, casum atque eversionem Imperii Romani, inque ea re vehementius angi videbatur” (Facetiae or Jocose Tales of Poggio, vol. I, ch. 82).

“Cyriacus of Ancona, a verbose and inexhaustible speaker, sometimes deplored the fall and breakup of the Roman Empire before our eyes; it seemed to cause him terrible anguish.”

Cyriacus’ drawing of the Parthenon from 1444 with its frieze and pediments intact.



Having a resident Byzantine coin expert we would be remiss if we did not also include the following perfect illustration of the Zenith and Fall of Byzantium.

The first photo represents a copper follis of Justinian I, perhaps the last Byzantine emperor whose native language was Latin. He sought to restore to the empire the western provinces, which had been lost in the 5th century. On the obverse, the emperor is depicted as a Roman “Imperator,” in military dress and helmet, and he holds in his right hand a globe representing the world, surmounted by a cross. The reverse displays pertinent details about the coin and its manufacture; it is a denomination valued at 40 nummia (the large mu = 40), struck at CON(stantinople), bearing the date ANNO XIII = 539/40. The epsilon beneath the mark of value M tells us the coin was struck in the 5th workshop of the Constantinople mint (gratias Mike).

The second photo shows the development of Christian religious iconography on the coinage, in this case, the type of Christ/portrait of emperor and its increasing poverty of representation echoing the decline of the empire. The obverse portrait of Christ, shown nimbate, with the cross represented behind him, is adapted from icons. Christ holds in his left hand a book of the Gospels (on the viewer’s right), the cover of which is decorated with jewels (most visible on the middle coin — there are 5 jewels there). Christ’s right hand (on the viewer’s left) is raised in a gesture derived from Roman artistic convention representing speech. The top coin is a gold nomisma of Basil II, 976-1025, whom later Byzantine writers nicknamed Boulgaroktonos, the “Bulgar‐Slayer,” because he blinded an army of 15,000 captives and thereby not only destroyed the army but also broke the spirit of the Bulgarian state which ultimately led to it being subsumed under the Byzantine empire. Basil appears on the left, accompanied by his brother Constantine VIII, who enjoyed nominal imperial power while his brother ran the empire. Basil’s reign ushered in the zenith of Byzantine power and influence in the middle ages. The next coin, in silver, was struck under the emperor John V Palaiologos, 1341-91, and one can see the growing stylization of the types, which is brought to an even more extreme state in the last coin, again, in silver, of Constantine XI, 1448-1453.

Christ Pantocrator mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily (constructed between 1170 and 1189).


Brief bibliography

On the Fall:

Barbaro, Nicolò. Diary of the Siege of Constantinople, 1453. Translated [from the Italian] by J. R. Jones. New York, Exposition Press [1969]. cl-g DF649 .B313

Carroll, Margaret G. A Contemporary Greek Source for the Siege of Constantinople, 1453: The Sphrantzes Chronicle. Amsterdam: A.M. Hakkert, 1985. cl-g DF645.P483 C37 1985

Haldon, John F. The Fall of Constantinople: The Ottoman Conquest of Byzantium. Oxford; New York : Osprey, 2007. cl-g DR730 .H35 2007

Phrantzes, Georgius. Chronikon Geōrgiou Phrantzē. English. The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle; translated by Marios Philippides. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980. cl-g DF645 .G4813

Runciman, Steven, Sir. The Fall of Constantinople, 1453. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965. cl-g DF649 .R8

On Byzantium in general:

Garland, Lynda. Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium, AD 527-1204. London; New York: Routledge, 1999. cl-g DF572.8.E5 G37 1999

Gregory, Timothy E. A History of Byzantium. 2nd ed. Chichester, U.K.; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. cl-g DF552 .G68 2010

Haldon, John F. Byzantium: A History. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus; Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2000. cl-g DF521 .H32 2000

Herrin, Judith. Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001. cl-g DF581.3 .H47 2001

__________. Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. cl-g DF521 .H477 2007

Mango, Cyril, ed. The Oxford History of Byzantium. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. cl-g DF552 .O94 2002

Shepard, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c. 500-1492. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. cl-g DF571 .C34 2008

Treadgold, Warren. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997. cl-g DF552 .T65 1997

Book Sale in the Classics Library

In an effort to raise some much needed funds for our Library as well as offer our users some very fine books dealing with classical antiquity at bargain prices, we have launched an ongoing Book Sale in the printer area to your right as you enter the Library. It is self-serve. You will need exact change to put into the piggy bank. The price of each book is indicated on the verso of the cover and on a list in the bookcase on which we ask that you write your name next to the book(s) you purchase (List of Books).  All book lovers,

Happy Bargain Hunting!


Highlights from the Classics Library’s Collections

Reference list to the Book of Daniel. Fragment of a 15th century manuscript on vellum. England.  UC Classics Library’s Paleography Collection.

The Classics Library has added a brief description of its holdings to its website under “About”:

as well as highlights of a few of its many precious books: .

May 6, Birthday of the Goddess Artemis (Happy Thargelia and Apollo’s Birthday, too!?)

In Europe, practically every day is a communal holiday of some kind. Various saints are celebrated among Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox, one of countless remnants of pagan gods and goddesses, the original protectors and healers, and whose birthdays were celebrated with processions, song and dance, athletic competitions, the eating of special foods and fasting, libation offerings and purifications, and sometimes with a sacrifice of plants or animals.

On Sunday, therefore, we will take the opportunity to celebrate the “birthday” of Artemis (St. Artemisius and St. Artemidos) and on Monday, it’s Apollo’s turn (7. Thargelion). The Athenian Thargelia festival dedicated to both Artemis and Apollo is most famous for picking two scapegoats (φάρμακοι) that were driven out of town to rid it of sins and plagues. In Ionia, including at Ephesus, one of the months was named after Artemis, Artemision (corresponding more or less to April [with lunar and lunar-solar calendars versus solar it’s a bit complicated]) and in Macedonia, Artemisius (corresponding more or less to May).

May 6 (6. Thargelion) is the Athenian birthday of the greatest of the Greek goddesses – Artemis (as Artemis Ephesia worshiped by “Asia and the whole world” ([Acts 19:27]). In the 2nd century an entire month named after the goddess, Artemision, was a non-working holiday at Ephesus (IvE I 24). After a hectic year, the library staff would, I’m sure, happily embrace an off-work month-long period of celebration (or rest;-)!

Artemis Ephesia, providing sustenance to all (Orphic Hymn 36 (To Diana), 12).

Artemis’s temples were the most numerous, especially on the Peloponnese, and the number of her epithets was surpassed only by those of Zeus. One would think that it should also be the birthday of her twin brother Apollo.  However, traditions vary. In some she has no connection to Apollo and in others she even acts as midwife at the birth of her own twin brother.

Artemis was the goddess of all living things, animals and plants, but really all of nature – mountains, groves, marshes. Only later did she become the goddess of hunters. The hind was her companion, not her victim. She was associated with several Near Eastern goddesses – Anath (Hazleton, 2004, p. 114), Tanit (who shares many of Artemis’ attributes, the dove, palm tree, fish, and moon crescent), Belili (goddess of trees, the moon, wells, springs, and the willow – all sacred to Artemis), Astarte (Ishtar) (LIMC 2: 1, p. 618), Isis (LIMC 2: 2 912-913), Tyche (LIMC 2: 2 (Artemis) 893-899), Bendis (Hdt. 4.33; 5.7), Cybele (LIMC 2: 1 p. 618), the Minoan-Mycenaean goddess (Nilsson, 1971 [1950], p. 503), all stewards of nature; she is clearly mentioned in a Linear B tablet from Pylos — a-ti-mi-te (Bennett, 1955, p. 209, classification Un 219.5).

οἴκτῳ γὰρ ἐπίφθονος Ἄρτεμις ἁγνὰ πτανοῖσιν κυσὶ πατρὸς αὐτότοκον πρὸ λόχου μογερὰν πτάκα θυομένοισιν, στυγεῖ δὲ δεῖπνον αἰετῶν… τόσον περ εὔφρων ἁ καλὰ δρόσοις ἀέπτοις μαλερῶν λεόντων πάντων τ᾿ἀγρονόμων φιλομάστοις θηρῶν ὀβρικάλοισι τερπνά… (Aesch. Ag. 134-143).

For holy Artemis, out of pity, bears a grudge against the winged hounds of her Father who slaughtered the wretched hare, litter and all, before it could give birth; she loathes the eagles’ feast…So very kindly disposed is the fair one to the unfledged seed of fiery lions, and so pleasing to the suckling whelps of all beasts that roam the wild… (modified Loeb trans.).

Pavement mosaic. Thysdrus, Tunisia. 2nd-3rd cent. CE.

Another pavement mosaic from Tunisia from the same period.

Goddess of animals. The so called potnia thērōn (πότνια θηρῶν, “mistress of animals”) motif. Boeotian pithos-amphora, c. 680-670 BCE. Athens, National Museum (NM 200).

However, she was also a goddess of culture – presiding over the education of young girls and boys and of cities, too. She was the protector of youth, especially young women during rituals celebrating their menarche (at Brauron, Mounychia, Sparta, Larissa, Halai Araphenides, and many more). Song and dance took center stage in these ceremonies. Girls and young women in choruses for Artemis abound in literature.[1]

A ”bear” (ἄρκτος) to-be (the menarcheal stage during rites of passage) at the Artemis sanctuary in Brauron, north-east of Athens, giving a rabbit as a gift to the goddess.

Minoan-Mycenaean seal-ring of gold discovered at the Ramp House on the Mycenaean acropolis.  Possible “rites of passage” scene in an outdoor setting with sun and moon, river, trees, cliffs, mountains, groves with the “labrys” (butterfly, poorly labeled, “double axe”), a symbol of the goddess, similar to the fish and cross as symbols of the Christ figure, and the goddess as “larva” (poorly labeled “shield of eight”), the earlier, younger, stage of the butterfly. Young women collecting various flowers used to alleviate and reduce cramps and labor pangs and bring about the onset of menstruation and ensure the health of a potential future mother — saffron crocuses, lotuses, poppies (a check on menstruation), lilies (an “emollient of the uterus,” Pliny. NH 21.126). CMS-I-017-1.

Girls with shaved heads as part of their “rites of passage,” picking saffron crocuses in preparation for and celebration of their menarche.  Even today, saffron is used to alleviate menstruation cramps and premenstrual symptoms. Wall painting from the East Wall of Room 3a of House Xeste, Akrotiri, Thera, c. 1700-1450 BCE.

“Minoan girl,” c. 1600-1500 BCE. Cleveland Art Museum, Ohio. Unique bronze statuette of a pre-adolescent girl with partially shaved hair.

As a virgin goddess (in fact, she is one of only three goddesses (Hestia and Athena being the other two) over whom Aphrodite has no power (Homeric Hymns [to Aphrodite, 6-32]), she is the patron of unmarried women and men, children, and all first born, human and non-human alike.

ἣ δὲ μάλ᾿ οὐκ ἔθελεν, ἀλλὰ στερεῶς ἀπέειπεν,
ὤμοσε δὲ μέγαν ὅρκον, ὃ δὴ τετελεσμένος ἐστίν,
ἁψαμένη κεφαλῆς πατρὸς Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο,
παρθένος ἔσσεσθαι πάντ᾿ ἤματα δῖα θεάων.
τῆι δὲ πατὴρ Ζεὺς δῶκε καλὸν γέρας ἀντὶ γάμοιο…
(Hymn. Hom. Ven. 25-29).

She was wholly unwilling, even stubbornly refused;
and touching the head of father Zeus who holds the aegis,
she, that fair goddess, swore a great oath
that she would be a virgin always and
er father Zeus granted her a fine privilege instead of marriage…
(modified Loeb trans.).

“Diana of Versailles,” a Roman marble copy of a Greek original from c. 325 CE by Leochares  Louvre.  In simplified terms, Diana was the Roman equivalent to Artemis. 

…ὡς ὅτε πατρὸς ἐφεζομένη γονάτεσσι παῖς ἔτι κουρίζουσα
τάδε προσέειπε γονῆα δός μοι παρθενίην αἰώνιον, ἄππα,
φυλάσσειν, καὶ πολυωνυμίην, ἵνα μή μοι Φοῖβος ἐρίζῃ…

…δὸς δέ μοι ἑξήκοντα χορίτιδας Ὠκεανίνας, πάσας εἰνέτεας,
πάσας ἔτι παῖδας ἀμίτρους…δὸς δέ μοι ἀμφιπόλους
Ἀμνισίδας εἴκοσι νύμφας… δὸς δέ μοι οὔρεα πάντα·
πόλιν δέ μοι ἥντινα νεῖμονἥν τινα λῇς… (Call. Hymn 3.4-7; 19-20).

…when sitting on her father’s knees, still a child,  she spoke these words to her father:
“Let me keep my virginity, Father, forever: and give me many names,
so that Phoebus may not compete with me…

…And give me sixty daughters of Oceanus for my choir, all nine years old,
all virgins yet ungirdled…and give me for companions twenty nymphs of Amnisus…
And give to me all mountains; and for city, assign me any, even whichever you will…
(modified Loeb trans.).

Her mythical companions included several famous virgins (Iphigenia, Atalanta, Callisto, Hippolytus, and countless more). Euripides’s famous play tells the tale of the tragic fate of the virgin Hippolytus.

Hippolytus and sad dog, presumably sad over the pending death of its guardian. Marble sarcophagus, c. 290 CE. Louvre. MA 2294.

ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: ὦ τλῆμον, οἵᾳ συμφορᾷ συνεζύγης· τὸ δ᾿ εὐγενές σε τῶν φρενῶν ἀπώλεσεν.
ΙΠΠΟΛΥΤΟΣ:  ἔα· ὦ θεῖον ὀσμῆς πνεῦμα· καὶ γὰρ ἐν κακοῖς ὢν ᾐσθόμην σου κἀνεκουφίσθην δέμας·  ἔστ᾿ ἐν τόποισι τοισίδ᾿ Ἄρτεμις θεά.
ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: ὦ τλῆμον, ἔστι, σοί γε φιλτάτη θεῶν.
ΙΠΠΟΛΥΤΟΣ: ὁρᾷς με, δέσποιν᾿, ὡς ἔχω, τὸν ἄθλιον;
ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: ὁρῶ· κατ᾿ ὄσσων δ᾿ οὐ θέμις βαλεῖν δάκρυ.
ΙΠΠΟΛΥΤΟΣ: οὐκ ἔστι σοι κυναγὸς οὐδ᾿ ὑπηρέτης.
ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: οὐ δῆτ᾿· ἀτάρ μοι προσφιλής γ᾿ ἀπόλλυσαι.
ΙΠΠΟΛΥΤΟΣ: οὐδ᾿ ἱππονώμας οὐδ᾿ ἀγαλμάτων φύλαξ.
ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: Κύπρις γὰρ ἡ πανοῦργος ὧδ᾿ ἐμήσατο.
ΙΠΠΟΛΥΤΟΣ: ὤμοι, φρονῶ δὴ δαίμον᾿ ἥ μ᾿ ἀπώλεσεν.
ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: τιμῆς ἐμέμφθη, σωφρονοῦντι δ᾿ ἤχθετο.
ΙΠΠΟΛΥΤΟΣ: τρεῖς ὄντας ἡμᾶς ὤλεσ᾿, ᾔσθημαι, μία.
ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣ: πατέρα γε καὶ σὲ καὶ τρίτην ξυνάορον (Eur. Hipp. 1389-1404)

Artemis: O poor man, to what a calamity you are yoked! Yet it was the nobility of
your mind that destroyed you.
Hippolytus: But what is this? O breath of divine fragrance! Though I am in misfortune
feel your presence and my body’s pain is lightened. The
goddess Artemis is in this place!
Artemis: Poor one, she is, dearest of gods to you.
Hippolytus: Do you see me, lady, see my wretched state?
Artemis: Yes, but the law forbids my shedding tears.
Hippolytus: No more do you have your huntsman and your servant!
Artemis: No, but though you die, I love you still.
Hippolytus: No one to tend your horses or your statue!
Artemis: No, for unscrupulous Cypris willed it so.
Hippolytus: Ah, now I learn the power that has destroyed me!
Artemis: The slight to her honor angered her, and she hated your chastity.
Hippolytus: One power destroyed us three, I see it now.
Artemis: Your father, you, and Theseus’ wife the third (modified Loeb trans.).

Artemis had also healing powers. As Artemis Podagra she cured gout, as Artemis Chelytis coughing (Clem. Alex. Protrepticus 2, pp. 32, 33 quoting Sosibius), as Artemis Rhokkaia rabies (Ael. NA 14.20) and as Artemis Kokkōka menstruation cramps and labor pangs (incomprehensible to poor Pausanias 5.15.7-8). As Artemis Thermia she presided over healthful hot springs (CIG 6172) and as Artemis Sōteira and Artemis Locheia she helped women in childbirth (Paus. 3.22.12).

She sought to protect virgins in her fold from men pursuing them, but also animals. According to some versions of this famous myth, Artemis transformed the hunter Actaeon into a stag to be torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs after he killed a deer. The more popular version, though, is the one in which Artemis punished him after he had come upon the goddess bathing naked in a stream with her companion nymphs (Ovid. Met. 3.138ff.). Euripides in Bacchae uses a version in which she kills him for having boasted that he surpassed her as a hunter (339-340). A children’s cartoon on American TV a couple of years ago featured a version in which Artemis transformed the hunter Actaeon into a stag to teach him a lesson about not killing animals. The terrified deer (Actaeon) attempted to speak but was unable to make himself understood without a human language. As his fellow hunters are poised to throw their spears and shoot their arrows and the hunting dogs are about to pounce upon the deer Actaeon, he promises Artemis that, if she would only change him back into human form, he would never harm another living being and that he would educate his fellow hunters about the plight and suffering of hunted animals, which was indeed the happy outcome.

Metope from Temple E, Selinus, Sicily c. 460 BCE.

We could end on this cheerful note, but Artemis was a complex goddess. Human sacrifice was also associated with her, especially at Taurus, of all foreign males.

τὰ τῆς θεοῦ δὲ μέμφομαι σοφίσματα,
ἥτις βροτῶν μὲν ἤν τις ἅψηται φόνου,
ἢ καὶ λοχείας ἢ νεκροῦ θίγῃ χεροῖν,
βωμῶν ἀπείργει, μυσαρὸν ὡς ἡγουμένη,
αὐτὴ δὲ θυσίαις ἥδεται βροτοκτόνοις (Eur. IT 380-384).

I criticize Artemis’ clever logic if a mortal
is involved in bloodshed or touches a new
mother or a corpse, she shuts him out from
her altar as polluted, but she herself takes
pleasure in human sacrifice (modified Loeb trans.).

But also of women, virgins, to which the famous sacrifice of Iphigenia, to allow the Greeks favorable winds to sail against Troy, attests.

As a “deus ex machina” in Euripides’s play Iphigenia at Aulis, Artemis appears in the last minute to rescue Iphigenia. As with most literary motifs in classical antiquity there are numerous versions. In the 7th century Kypria by Stasinos (a summary in Proclus, Chrestomathia, 47-51, as preserved in Photius), Artemis substitutes Iphigenia for a hind as in Euripides.  Stesichorus in the Oresteia, on the other hand, follows Hesiod in the Catalogue of Women fr. 19 (Philodemus Piet. 2.5; Oresteia – Piet. 215 — book 1 or 2) in substituting Iphigenia for an image (εἴδωλον), after which Artemis makes her immortal as Artemis of the Crossroads (Εἰνοδία), i.e., Hecate (Paus. 1.43.1). In Pindar’s eleventh Pythian Ode, Iphigenia is killed without any substitution or rescue. In the scholium of the Leiden manuscript of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 645, Euphorius claims that Iphigenia was sacrificed at Brauron (not at Aulis as in Euripides and others) and that a bear was substituted for her, and Nicander and Phanodemus (FGrH. 325 F14 – Etym. Magn. s.v. Ταυροπόλον) claim it was a bull. In most versions, though, Artemis substituted Iphigenia for a hind deer making Iphigenia her priestess in the land of the Taurians (Proclus’ Chrestomathia [from the Kypria]), Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis; LIMC 2: 2 1373-1384). A reconstruction from a marble sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Copenhagen.

In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (209-217), the seer gives Artemis as the cause of the sacrifice.

μιαίνων παρθενοσφάγοισιν ῥείθροις
πατρῴους χέρας πέλας βωμοῦ·
τί τῶνδ᾿ ἄνευ κακῶν;
πῶς λιπόναυς γένωμαι
ξυμμαχίας ἁμαρτών;
παυσανέμου γὰρ θυσίας
παρθενίου θ᾿αἵματος ὀργᾷ
περιόργῳ σφ᾿ ἐπιθυμεῖν θέμις.

polluting a father’s hands with streams of a
slaughtered maiden’s blood close by the altar.
Which of these options is free from evil?
How can I become a deserter of the fleet,
losing my alliance? That they should long
with intense passion for a sacrifice to end
the winds and for the blood of a virgin (modified Loeb trans.).

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Casa del Poeta Tragico, Pompeii, c. 79 CE, terminus ante quem. Naples.

Lucretius’ famous polemic against an unjust religion uses the sacrifice of Iphigenia as an exemplum:

…as when at Aulis, the altar of our Lady of the Crossroads
was foully defiled by the blood of Iphianassa [Iphigenia], shed by chosen
leaders of the Danai, best of men. As soon as the ribbon had
bound her virgin hair falling in equal lengths down either
cheek, as soon as she saw her father standing sorrowful
before the altar, and by his side attendants hiding the knife,
and the people shedding tears at the sight of her, mute with
fear, she sank to the ground on her knees. Poor girl! It did not
help her at such a time that the name of father had been given
the king first by her; for lifted up by the hands of men, all
trembling she was brought to the altar, so that she not in
solemn and sacred ritual might be escorted by loud
wedding song, but a pure virgin to fall by impure hands
at the age of marriage; a victim sorrowful killed by a father’s
hand; all in order that a fair and fortunate release might
be given to the fleet. So powerful was Religion in persuading
evil deeds (Lucretius. De rerum natura 1.83-101, Loeb trans.).

Feminists can claim Artemis as theirs because of her eternal virginity and refusal to marry and have children, and instead choose the company of women, nymphs, and animals. Sexists may also have a case since Artemis could turn against women who defied her by either voluntarily (e.g., Melanippe) or involuntarily (e.g., Callisto, Polyphonte) lose their virginity. Animal rights advocates can also claim her as a protector of animals and all of nature, but those who take pleasure in killing animals, hunters, can also claim her as theirs. Those who celebrate life can claim her as a protector of children, human and non-human, also her association with Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, in spite of her own virginity, but so can those who relish in death and destruction since she also demanded human sacrifice and ruthlessly killed all seven of Niobe’s daughters (notwithstanding variations on “all” and the number). Witches can claim her as their high priestess. Many of her festivals were at night under torch-light and the full moon (also her associations with Selene and Hecate) and many healing herbs were under her purview. Witch-hunters can also claim her for the same reasons, honoring Tatian’s famous aspersion against her as a poisoner and Torquemada’s claim that she was the Devil. However, she was also a goddess of light who spent her days bathing in springs and hiking in the mountains; and, of course, she was a goddess of nature (the countryside) but also of culture (the city) — these seemingly contradictory attributes all at the same time. It has been pointed out that the dualism of our modern western Judaeo-Christian thinking was unknown to the ancient Greeks for whom life and death, light and darkness, were simply inextricably connected aspects of the same thing (there is no death without life and vice versa).

Artemis was a complicated, confusing, and contradictory goddess already in antiquity as many regions claimed her as theirs and assigned her various powers to suit their needs, which also varied throughout the centuries. More than most deities in the Greek pantheon, Artemis has suffered from distortions, confusions, appropriations, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations, beginning already in antiquity and it’s been downhill from there (we as classical scholars are not exempt:-).

Brief recent book bibliography (currently on display in the Classics Library’s Reading Room):

Budin, S.L. 2016. Artemis. New York.
Ellinger, P. 2009. Artémis, déesse de tous dangers. Paris.
Galiano, P., & Vigna, M. 2015. Diana e Apollo: La selva e l’urbe. Rome.
Janda, M. 2016. Artemis mit der goldenen Spindel. Innsbruck.
Léger, R.M. 2017. Artemis and her Cult. Oxford.
Rogers, G. M. 2012. The Mysteries of Artemis of Ephesos. New Haven.
Vincenti, M.C. 2010. Diana: Storia, mito e culto della grande dea di Aricia. Rome.

Critical editions to Callimachus (Hymn 3 to Artemis) and the Homeric Hymns (27 to Artemis and 6 to Aphrodite):

D’Alessio, G.B. 2007. Callimaco. 4th ed. Milan (BUR).
Asper, M. 2004. Kallimachos von Kyrene: Werke, griechisch-deutsch. Darmstadt.
Pfeiffer, R. 1953. Callimachus, vol. ii: Hymni et epigrammata. Oxford (OCT).

Allen, T.W. 1912. Homeri opera, vol. 5. Oxford (OCT).
Baumeister, A. 1894. Hymni Homerici. Leipzig (Teubner).
Càssola, F. 1975. Inni Omerici.  Milan (Mondadori).
Crudden, M. 2001. The Homeric Hymns. Oxford.
Humbert, J. 1936. Homèrehymnes. 2nd ed. Paris (Budé).


[1] Hom. Il. 16.181; Hom. Hymn 5 to Artemis 27; Hom. Hymn 3 to Apollo 190; Hom. Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 115; Apoll. Rhodius Argon. 1.1225; and Ael. NA 12.9.

Happy Floralia, Greeks and Romans!


As heavy snow falls on April 16, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of the Roman festival, Floralia, in honor of the goddess Flora to usher in spring and flowers and the renewal of all living things (the Greek nymph goddess Chloris had a similar association).

I who now am called Flora was formerly Chloris: a Greek letter of my name is corrupted in the Latin speech. Chloris I was, a nymph of the happy fields where, as you have heard, dwelt fortunate men of old. Modesty shrinks from describing my figure; but it procured the hand of a god for my mother’s daughter. ’Twas spring, and I was roaming… I enjoy perpetual spring; most buxom is the year ever; ever the tree is clothed with leaves, the ground with pasture (Ovid, Fasti, book 5, lines 195-201; 207-208; Loeb transl.).

Chloris eram, quae Flora vocor: corrupta Latinonominis est nostri littera Graeca sono. Chloris eram, nymphe campi felicis, ubi audisrem fortunatis ante fuisse viris.quae fuerit mihi forma, grave est narrare modestae sed generum matri repperit illa deum…vere fruor semper: semper nitidissimus annus, arbor habet frondes, pabula semper humus.

“Flora,” detail of fresco, Villa di Arianna, Stabiae. First century CE.

Some people think that butterflies are the most reliable sign of spring, on account of the extremely delicate structure of that insect; but in the very year in which I am writing this treatise it has been noticed that their supply has been three times annihilated by a return of cold weather, and that migratory birds arriving on January 27 brought a hope of spring that was soon dashed to the ground by a spell of very severe winter. The procedure is two-fold: first of all it consists in trying to obtain a general principle from celestial phenomena, and then this principle has to be investigated by special signs (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 18, chapter 57; Loeb transl.).

…sunt qui certissimum veris indicium arbitrentur, ob infirmitatem animalis, papiliones; sed eo ipso anno cum commentaremur haec notatum est proventum eorum ter repetito frigore extinctum, advenasque volucres a. d. vi kal. Febr. spem veris adtulisse mox saevissima hieme conflictatam. res anceps: primum omnium a caelo peti legem, deinde eam argumentis esse quaerendam. super omnia est mundi convexitatis terrarumque globi differentia, eodem sidere alio tempore aliis aperiente se gentibus, quo fit ut causa eius non isdem diebus ubique valeat. addidere difficultatem et auctores diversis in locis observando, mox etiam in isdem diversa prodendo.

The first flower to herald the approach of spring is the white violet, which moreover in the warmer spots peeps out even in winter. Afterwards comes the violet which is called ion, and the mauve one, followed closely by the flame-colored flower called phlox, but only the wild variety. The cyclamen blossoms twice in the year, in spring and in autumn; it shuns summer and winter. A little later than those mentioned above come, overseas, the narcissus and the lily, which in Italy, as we have said, is after the rose. But in Greece comes later still the anemone. This however is a flower of the wild bulbs, and different from the plant to be spoken of among the medicinal herbs. It is followed by the oenanthe, the melanium and the wild heliochrysus, then the other kind of anemone, which is called the meadow anemone, after which comes the gladiolus, together with the hyacinth (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 21, chapter 38; Loeb transl.).

Florum prima ver nuntiantium viola alba—tepidioribus vero locis etiam hieme emicat—post ea quae ion appellatur et purpurea, proxime flammeum, quod phlox vocatur, silvestre dumtaxat. cyclaminum bis anno, vere et autumno. aestates hiemesque fugit. seriores supra dictis aliquanto narcissus et lilium trans maria, in Italia quidem, ut diximus, post rosam. verum in Graecia tardius etiamnum anemone. est autem haec silvestrium bulborum flos, alia quam quae dicetur in medicis. sequitur oenanthe ac melanium et ex silvestribus heliochrysos, deinde alterum genus anemones quae limonia vocatur, post hanc gladiolus comitatus.

The Classics Library’s “Book of the Month” in April: Wild Flowers of Cyprus.

See the delightful Facebook post about this book by PhD candidate Angelica Wisenbarger:

…the blossom is the token of full spring and of the rebirth of the year—the blossom is the trees’ rejoicing: it is then that they show themselves new creatures and transformed from what they really are, it is then that they quite revel in rivaling each other with the varied hues of their coloring (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, book 16, chapter 40; Loeb transl.).

…flos est pleni veris indicium et anni renascentis, flos gaudium arborum: tunc se novas aliasque quam sunt ostendunt, tunc variis colorum picturis in certamen usque luxuriant.

Almond trees in bloom at Agrigentum (Agrigento), Sicily.


“Spring” from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi.

I Vespri Siciliani, Act 3, “Spring” by Giuseppe Verdi.

Colorful rendition of Flora, from Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera.

The real thing. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.