Saturday, September 4, 2021

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder: Athena and the Flute, Athenaeus, XIV.vii

 According to Greek mythology, Athena first enjoyed playing the double flute (αὐλός / tibia), but then grew embarrassed about how she looked when playing it.

This passage gives insight into perspectives of the role of women and beauty in the Greco-Roman world, as it shows that beauty is meant for the enjoyment of men, not something that a woman should desire for its own sake:

"At Selinuntius Telestes, repugnans Melanippidi, in Argo dixit: (agitur autem de Minerva:)

"Non mihi credibile videtur, unum omnium sapientissimum instrumentum acceptum Divam sapientem Athenen in montium nemoribus, verentem oris deformitatem adspectu turpem, rursus e manibus proiecisse, Nympha--genito manibus--perstrepenti Sileno Marsyae gloriam. Qui enim illam optabilis pulcritudinis vehemens amor vexasset, cui virginitatem absque nuptiis liberisque tribuit Clotho?"

‘ ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε Σελινούντιος Τελέστης τῷ Μελανιππίδῃ ἀντικορυσσόμενος ἐν Ἀργοῖ ἔφη—ὁ δὲ λόγος ἐστὶ περὶ τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς:

ὃν σοφὸν σοφὰν λαβοῦσαν οὐκ ἐπέλπομαι νόῳ δρυμοῖς ὀρείοις ὄργανον

δίαν Ἀθάναν δυσόφθαλμον αἶσχος ἐκφοβηθεῖσαν

αὖθις ἐκ χερῶν βαλεῖν

νυμφαγενεῖ χειροκτύπῳ φηρὶ Μαρσύᾳ κλέος.

τί γάρ νιν εὐηράτοιο κάλλεος ὀξὺς ἔρως ἔτειρεν,

ᾇ παρθενίαν ἄγαμον καὶ ἄπαιδ᾽ ἀπένειμε Κλωθώ;

--Athenaeus, Deipnosoph. XIV.vii; Translated into Latin by  Iohannes Schweighaeuser (1805)

But Selinuntius Telestes, refuting Melanippus’ statement, said the following about Athena in his Argive History: “I don’t reckon that Athena, the wisest of minds, took up a musical instrument in the tree-topped mountains, and then, being afraid it would make her look ugly and shameful, threw it away. Instead [the flute] gave fame to Marsyas, the noisy nymph-born satyr. Why should she care about being beautiful, since Clotho fated her to be asexual, unmarried, and childless?"



Name:  Athenaeus

Date:  2nd c. CE

Works:  Deipnosophists



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Athenaeus was a scholar who lived in Naucratis (modern Egypt) during the reign of the Antonines. His fifteen volume work, the Deipnosophists, are invaluable for the amount of quotations they preserve of otherwise lost authors, including the poetry of Sappho.


ARCHAIC: (through 6th c. BCE); GOLDEN AGE: (5th - 4th c. BCE); HELLENISTIC: (4th c. BCE - 1st c. BCE); ROMAN: (1st c. BCE - 4th c. CE); POST CONSTANTINOPLE: (4th c. CE - 8th c. CE); BYZANTINE: (post 8th c CE)


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