Semonides 7

It’s listed as Semonides 7 in David A. Campbell’s Greek Lyric Poetry, but that seems to be an attempt to normalize the numbering conventions within the book; most of the other numbers refer to fragments, and there’s no reason to believe that this is one. Also, it’s technically iambic, which is one of the types of poetry within the larger colloquial scope of “lyric poetry,” but is separate from the professional categorization of lyric as opposed to, for example, elegiac or melic poetry.

Labels aside, this is an interesting poem for several reasons. First of all, it is an example of catalog poetry, a popular genre in the old days, in which the poem is essentially a list of some sort, usually with each stanza headed by a label and filled out with a description. Most catalog poems were in epic meter (dactylic hexameter, for any poetry nuts out there)—probably in an effort to pay tribute to (or outright imitate; it’s hard to tell sometimes) the two most famous catalog poems: the Catalog of Women, a catalog of famous women of myth attributed to Hesiod, and the catalog of ships in book two of the Iliad—so Semonides’ use of iambs is unique, or nearly so. I also love the poem for its sheer mysogyny: Semonides 7 is a catalog of women, but conventional types of women rather than Hesiod’s heroic women, most descended from some type of animal, and all but one a curse to mankind. In some ways, it shows how far we’ve come; in others, how far we have yet to go. Regardless, it’s always a hoot for me to see how ancient thought processes worked (for instance, the hypocrisy of his description of women cuckolding their husbands, when the opposite was common practice and not at all frowned upon), and I particularly like how the only good woman isn’t remarkable for what she is like, but rather the results of her existence. The process for getting there isn’t mentioned, as if the author himself isn’t certain, which makes me wonder how he could blame the other women for not knowing either. And then I remember: “Oh yeah, he’s an ancient Greek!”

Anyway, here’s my translation with facing text. I copied the Greek out of Campbell (link above) at three in the morning, and my typing skills outside of base Latin letters on a QWERTY keyboard are sketchy at best, so any errors are from that, and the translation is from the book, not my crappy transcription. At least I think I got all of the theta/upsilon errors (theta is the u key and upsilon is the y key, which gets confusing).

On a final note, I’d like to apologize for the formatting; I didn’t realize what would happen when WordPress squished the table. Hopefully the table borders keep it readable. I’ll see about getting a theme that allows for wider text, since I plan on doing more facing texts in the future.

First, the god made women’ s minds χωρὶς γυναικὸς θεὸς ἐποίησεν νόον
Separately. One he made from the bristly sow, τὰ πρῶτα. τὴν μὲν ἐξ ὑὸς τανύτριχος,
For whom all in the house lies soiled τῇ πάντ’ ἀν’ οἶκον βορβόρῳ πεφυρμένα
In disorder and rolls on the ground; ἄκοσμα κεῖται καὶ κυλίνδεται χαμαί·
Unbathed and in an unwashed garment, αὐτὴ δ’ ἄλουτος ἀπλύτοις ἐν εἵμασιν
She sits in ever-increasing dung. ἐν κοπρίῃσιν ἡμένη πιαίνεται.
Another the god set down from the wicked fox, τὴν δ’ ἐξ ἀλιτρῆς θεὸς ἔθηκ’ ἀλώπεκος
A woman of all wiles; not ever do either evils γυναῖκα πάντων ἴδριν· οὐδέ μιν κακῶν
Nor better things escape her notice; λέληθεν οὐδὲν οὐδὲ τῶν ἀμεινόνων·
For, she often speaks ill of the latter, τὸ μὲν γὰρ αὐτῶν εἶπε πολλάκις κακόν,
And good of the former; and at another time,she has a different impulse. τὸ δ’ ἐσθλόν· ὀργὴν δ’ ἄλλοτ’ ἀλλοίην ἔχει.
Another is from the shameful dog, the very image of her mother, τὴν δ’ ἐκ κυνὸς λιτουργόν, αὐτομήτορα,
She wishes to hear all, and to see all, ἥ πάντ’ ἀκοῦσαι, πάντα δ’ εἰδέναι θέλει,
Always pacing about and wandering πάντῃ δὲ παπταίνουσα καὶ πλανωμένη
She barks, even if she sees no one of men. λέληκεν, ἤν καὶ μηδέν’ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾷ.
And a man cannot stop her with threats, παύσειε δ’ ἄν μιν οὔτ’ ἀπειλησας ἀνηρ,
Not even if he should smash out her teeth with a stone οὐδ’ εἰ χολωθεὶς ἐξαράξειεν λίθῳ
From anger, nor with a gently spoken word, ὀδόντας οὐδ’ ἄν μειλίχως μυθεύμενος,
Nor if she should happen to sit alongside a guest; οὐδ’ εἰ παρὰ ξείνοισιν ἡμένη τύχῃ·
But unrelenting, she barks pointlessly. ἀλλ’ ἐμπέδως ἄπρηκτον αὐονὴν ἔχει.
Another hurled to earth by the Olympians τὴν δὲ πλάσαντες γηίνην Ὀλύμπιοι
Seems feeble-minded to men; for such a woman ἔδωκαν ἀνδρὶ πηρόν· οὔτε γὰρ κακόν
Knows neither good nor evil at all; οὔτ’ ἐσθλὸν οὐδὲν οἶδε τοιαύτη γυνή·
Of deeds, she knows only eating. ἔργων δὲ μοῦνον ἐσθίειν ἐπίσταται.
If the gods bring a harsh winter storm, κοὐδ’ ἤν κακὸν χειμῶνα ποιήσῃ θεός,
Though shivering she will not even draw her stool nearer the fire. ῥιγῶσα δίφρον ἆσσον ἕλκεται πυρός.
Another is from the sea, she with two thoughts at heart; τὴν δ’ ἐκ θαλάσσης, ἥ δύ’ ἐν φρεσὶν νοεῖ·
On one day she laughs and rejoices; τὴν μὲν γελᾷ τε καὶ γέγηθεν ἡμέρην·
Some stranger seeing her in the house would approve: ἐπαινέσει μιν ξεῖνος ἐν δόμοις ἰδών·
“There is no other woman so desirable as this “οὐκ ἔστιν ἄλλη τῆσδε λωίων γυνή
Among all mankind, nor as beautiful.” ἐν πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποισιν οὐδὲ καλλίων·”
On another day she is not endurable, neither to see with the eyes τὴν δ’ οὐκ ἀνεκτὸς οὐδ’ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἰδεῖν
Nor to wish near, but then rages οὔτ’ ἆσσον ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ μαίνεται τότε
Unapproachably, just as a bitch surrounded by her pups, ἄπλητον ὥσπερ ἀμφὶ τέκνοισιν κύων,
And she becomes implacable to ἀμείλιχος δὲ πᾶσι κἀποθυμίη
Friend and foe alike; ἐχθροῖσιν ἶσα καὶ φίλοισι γίγνεται·
Just as the sea often stands ὥσπερ θάλασσα πολλάκις μὲν ἀτρεμής
Unmoving, a great harmless joy for sailors ἕστηκ’ ἀπήμων χάρμα ναύτῃσιν μέγα
In the summer season, but then often rages θέρεος ἐν ὥρῃ, πολλάκις δὲ μαίνεται
Bearing heavy-thundering waves; βαρυκτύποισι κύμασιν φορευμένη·
Such a woman most resembles this ταύτῃ μάλιστ’ ἔοικε τοιαύτη γυνή
In impulse; she has the variable nature of the sea. ὀργήν· φυὴν δὲ πόντος ἀλλοίην ἔχει.
Another woman is from the dusty-grey and obstinate ass, τὴν δ’ ἐκ †τεσποδιης† καὶ παλιντριβέος ὄνου,
Who, though she hardly works, with necessity and ἥ σύν τ’ ἀνάγκῃ σύν τ’ έννιπῇσιν μόγις
Admonishment puts up with it anyway and toils ἔστερξεν ὦν ἅπαντα κἀπονήσατο
Placidly. Meanwhile she eats in her quarters ἀρεστά. τόφρα δ’ ἐσθίει μὲν ἐν μυχῷ
All night, and all day eats before the hearth; προνύξ, προνῆμαρ, ἐσθίει δ’ ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ.
Nevertheless, she receives anyone as a companion ὁμῶς δὲ καὶ πρὸς ἔργον ἀφροδίσιον
Who comes for the works of Aphrodite. ἐλθόντ’ ἑταῖρον ὁντινῶν ἐδέξατο.
Another type is from the woeful, miserable weasel; τὴν δ’ ἐκ γαλῆς δύστηνον οἰζυρὸν γένος·
For to that one there is nothing beautiful nor desirable κείνῃ γὰρ οὔ τι καλὸν οὐδ’ ἐπίμερον
Nor pleasant nor lovely. πρόσεστιν οὐδὲ τερπνὸν οὐδ’ ἐράσμιον.
She is wild for the Aphrodesian bed, εὐνῆς δ’ ἀληνής ἐστιν ἀφροδισίης,
But she gives a sickness to any man who is with her. τὸν δ’ ἄνδρα τὸν παρεόντα ναθσίῃ διδοῖ.
She does many evils to the neighbors, κλέπτουσα δ’ ἔρδει πολλὰ γείτονας κακά,
Often stealing the unsacrificed meat from their altar for eating. ἄθυστα δ’ ἱρὰ πολλάκις κατεσθίει.
Another is a delicate, shining-maned horse, τὴν δ’ ἵππος ἁβρὴ χαιτέεσσ’ ἐγείνατο,
Who runs around the work and misery of servitude, ἥ δούλι’ ἔργα καὶ δύην περιτρέχει,
And never a mill would she touch, nor a sieve κοὔτ’ ἂν μύλης ψαύσειεν οὔτε κόσκινον
Take up, nor excrement would she throw from the house, ἄρειεν οὔτε κόπρον ἐξ οἴκου βάλοι,
Nor would she sit before an oven, for she shuns οὔτε πρὸς ἰπνὸν ἀσβόλην ἀλευμένη
The soot; she will make her husband beloved of toil. ἵζοιτ’· ἀνάγκῃ δ’ ἄνδρα ποιεῖται φίλον.
She bathes away dirt twice every day, λοῦται δὲ πάσης ἡμέρης ἄπο ῥύπον
Sometimes thrice, and anoints herself with myrrh; δίς, ἄλλοτε τρίς, καὶ μύροις άλείφεται·
She always keeps her hair brushed out, αἱεὶ δὲ χαίτην ἐκτενισμένην φορεῖ
Lushly covered with flowers. βαθεῖαν ἀνθέμοισιν ἐσκιασμένην.
Such a woman is a beautiful sight καλὸν μὲν ὦν θέημα τοιαύτη γυνή
To others, but becomes an evil to one having her, ἄλλοισι, τῷ δ’ ἔχοντι γίγνεται κακόν,
Unless either he be a tyrant or sceptre-holder, ἢν μή τις ἢ τύραννος ἢ σκηπτοῦχος ᾖ,
Who glorifies his heart with such a woman. ὅστις τοιούτοις θυμὸν ἀγλαΐζεται.
Another comes from the ape. Zeus deliberately joined τὴν δ’ ἐκ πιθήκου· τοῦτο δὴ διακριδόν
This greatest evil to men as a companion. Ζεὺς ἀνδράσιν μέγιστον ὤπασεν κακόν.
Ugliest in appearance; such a woman αἴσχιστα μὲν πρόσωπα· τοιαύτη γυνή
Going through the town is a laughingstock to all men; εἶσιν δι’ ἄστεος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις γέλως·
Her arms are scarcely removed from upon her neck, ἐπ’ αὐχένα βραχεῖα κινεῖται μόγις,
She is buttocksless, all legs. He is a miserable man, ἄπυγος, αὐτόκωλος. ἆ τάλας ἀνήρ,
He who embraces such ugliness. ὅστισ κακὸν τοιοῦτον ἀγκαλίζεται.
And she knows all schemes and tricks δήνεα δὲ πάντα καὶ τρόπους ἐπίσταται
Just as does an ape, nor does she care about being laughed at; ὥσπερ πίθηκος οὐδέ οἱ γέλως μέλει·
Nor would she do someone well, but she sees all οὐδ’ ἄν τιν’ εὖ ἔρξειεν, ἀλλὰ τοῦτ’ ὁρᾷ
And she plots all day, καὶ τοῦτο πᾶσαν ἡμέρην βουλεύεται,
So as to do someone the greatest evil. ὅκως τιν’ ὡς μέγιστον ἔρξειεν κακόν.
Another is from the bee. Someone having her is lucky; τὴν δ’ ἐκ μελίσσης· τήν τις εὐτυχεῖ λαβών·
For on that one alone disgrace does not alight, κείνῃ γὰρ οἴῃ μῶμος οὐ προσιζάνει,
And teeming livelihood flourishes because of her. θάλλει δ’ ὑπ’ αὐτῆς κἀπαέξεται βίος.
The dear woman grows old with her husband loving her φίλη δὲ σὺμ φιλεῦντι γηράσκει πόσι
Begetting a noble and renowned family. τεκοῦσα καλὸν κοὐνομάκλυτον γένος.
She is distinguished among all κἀριπρεπὴς μὲν ἐν γυναιξὶ γίγνεται
Women, run about with holy grace. πάσῃσι, θείη δ’ ἀμφιδέδρομεν χάρις·
Nor does she delight in sitting among the women, οὐδ’ ἐν γυναιξὶν ἥδεται καθημένη,
Where they tell Aphrodesian tales. ὅκου λέγουσιν ἀφροδισίους λόγους.
Zeus made such greatest and most prudent τοίας γυναῖκας ἀνδράσιν χαρίζεται
Women as a delight for men. Ζεὺς τὰς ἀρίστας καὶ πολυφραδεστάτας.
This entire other race is created and stays τὰ δ’ ἄλλα φῦλα ταῦτα μηχανῇ Διός
With men by the machination of Zeus. ἔστιν τε πάντα καὶ παρ’ ἀνδράσιν μένει.
For Zeus created it as the greatest evil: Ζεὺς γὰρ μέγιστον τοῦτ’ ἐποίησεν κακόν,
Women. Even should some woman seem to help, γυναῖκας. ἤν τι καὶ δοκέωσιν ὠφελεῖν,
They become someone bearing greatest trouble; ἔχοντί τοι μάλιστα γίγνεται κακόν·
For a man does not pass a day οὐ γἀρ κοτ’ εὔφρων ἡμέρην διέρχεται
Happily, whoever is with a woman, ἅπασαν, ὅστισ σὺν γυναικὶ †πέλεται†,
Nor can he drive this hunger from his house at once, οὐδ’ αἶψα λιμὸν οἰκίης ἀπώσεται,
A hostile housemate, an enemy god. ἐχθρὸν συνοικητῆρα, δυσμενέα θεόν.
Whenever a man seems most to be happy ἀνὴρ δ’ ὅταν μάλιστα θυμηδεῖν δοκῇ
In his house either by dispensation of a god or grace of man, κατ’ οἶκον ἢ θεοῦ μοῖραν ἢ ἀνθρώπου χάριν,
Finding blame, she girds for battle. εὑροῦσα μῶμον ἐς μάχην κορύσσεται.
For wherever there is a woman, one cannot cheerfully ὅκου γυνὴ γάρ ἐστιν, οὐδ’ ἐς οἰκίην
Receive a guest coming into the house. ξεῖνον μολόντα προφρόνως δεχοίατο.
She you may think to be most sound of mind, ἥτις δέ τοι μάλιστα σωφρονεῖν δοκεῖ,
This woman happens to be the most bawdy of all; αὕτη μέγιστα τυγχάνει λωβωμένη·
For a man may be agape—and the neighbors κεχηνότος γὰρ ἀνδρὸς – οἱ δὲ γείτονες
delight seeing even this, when he is cuckolded. χαίρουσ’ ὁρῶντες καὶ τόν, ὡς ἁμαρτάνει.
Each praises his own wife when he τὴν ἣν δ’ ἕκαστος αἰνέσει μεμνημένος
Calls her to mind, but criticizes the wives of others; γυναῖκα, τὴν δὲ τοὐτέρου μωμήσεται·
We do not recognize that we have the same fate. ἴσην δ’ ἔχοντες μοῖραν οὐ γιγνώσκομεν.
For Zeus made this greatest of ills Ζεὺς γὰρ μέγιστον τοῦτ’ ἐποίησεν κακόν
And placed the indestructible bond of a fetter upon us, καὶ δεσμὸν ἀμφέθηκεν ἄρρηκτον πέδης,
Because of which Hades even received some men ἐξ οὗ τε τοὺς μὲν Ἀίδης ἐδέξατο
Who fought one another for the sake of a woman. γυναικὸς εἵεκ’ ἀμφιδηριωμένους.

(And yes, I know I said Simonides and not Semonides in my first post. In my defense, both are usually given the same name (unfortunately, my argument falls apart because that name is Semonides) in most sources; Simonides is just spelled with an iota instead of an eta in a couple of sources, whereas Semonides is always spelled with an eta, so the inconsistency is used to differentiate the two in modern commentaries.)


2 Responses to “Semonides 7”

  1. 1 Σάσκια
    February 6, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Thanks for this! I enjoyed your analysis of the poem, it struck me too that the good woman is only praised for, as you say, the results of her existence and also that while the author is full of criticism about women’s bedroom endeavors, he expects a good women to keep silent about her husband’s performance. There is an interesting comparandum with good women likened to a bees in Hesiod’s Theogony. Hesiod describes men as bees who work industriously while women are the drones who stay in the ‘well-covered hives’ and eat themselves fat from the fruit of their mates’ labors. I suppose the metaphor will be adapted to whatever misogynistic context the text calls for. 🙂

  2. February 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    We actually went over those passages in Theogony (and the Catalogue of Women as well) in class when we finished the poem. Then class about stopped for a few minutes when I pointed out that it’s actually the female bees that go about busily, and the drones are male.

    I wrote a paper at the end of my lyric poetry class on how the poem is actually not misogynistic, but apotropaic. Not that I actually believe it, but there is a little evidence there (for instance, it’s iambic, which was still used in religious contexts for apotropaic poetry at the time, although it was starting to fade from that use), and it made for an interesting thought experiment. The paper was basically my thought process (which is bad form for a paper, but somehow worked here) and the final conclusion was that it is apotropaic, but had to have been created in a misogynistic context.

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