Chapter 2. Aesop: Satirist as Pharmakos in Archaic Greece

Aesop is the Greek satirist, by broad definition a poet, [1] who is most clearly and richly assimilated to the pharmakos. The myth of Aesop’s death at Delphi under a false accusation was generally known by the time of Herodotus, according to whom the Delphians, commanded by the Delphic oracle, offered compensation for the life of Aesop, who had been a slave (2:134). [2] Aristophanes, Wasps 1446–1449, shows a knowledge of Aesop being falsely charged with stealing a temple cup. [3] A fifth-century Attic vase portrays him as ugly and deformed. [4] Thus, according to M. L. West, in “the latter part of the fifth century something like a coherent Aesop legend appears.” [5] If one accepts that there was a coherent Aesop legend that had probably existed for some time before Herodotus wrote (he treats it as a given, not a novelty), we should date it even further back. And, by Aristophanes’ time, there may be a book of some sort on Aesop’s life and wisdom. [6]
The story of Aesop’s death, with other incidents in the life of the fabulist, is retold in a remarkable Hellenistic prose novelette. This Vita, drawing on earlier written and oral traditions, was written down perhaps in the first century AD. It is extant in two main versions, G (the fullest) and W (somewhat abbreviated, but with some unique passages). [7] This novellette was for centuries treated with open contempt, as unhistorical, unsophisticated, and late. However, in our generation a number a scholars, such as Wiechers, Nagy, and Holzberg, have begun to evaluate and interpret this Aesop “novel” with new respect. [8] Holzberg’s work has been particularly important in its narratological focus, interpreting the Vita as a carefully structured, cohesive whole in the picaresque tradition of the ancient novel. Holzberg is also significant for his emphasis on how the early parts of the Vita thematically prepare for and support the final episode, Aesop’s death at Delphi. [9]
The following details are from Vita G, manuscript 397 of the Pierpont Morgan library, unless I note otherwise. [10]
Aesop was the worst of mankind. He was a slave (doulos, 1, and passim), [11] and furthermore, “worthless as a servant [eis hupēresian sapros, 1]”; and the ugliest of men: “loathsome to look at … potbellied, with a deformed head, flat-nosed, mute, dark-skinned, stunted, splay-footed, weasel-armed, squint-eyed, liver-lipped—a portentous blasphemy” (1). [12] An overseer, instructed to sell the poet, laughs: “‘Are you joking, master? Don’t you know about his deformity? Who will want to buy him and have a doghead instead of a man?’” (11). [13]
References to Aesop’s ugliness are found virtually throughout his biography. He is called “refuse” (perikatharma, 14), “a completely misshapen pot” (holos hamartēma khuseōn, 21), “this awful thing” (to … kakon touto, 21), an “unearthly portent” (teras, 24, Vita W 98, G), “deformed” (sapros, 26, 27, 37), “trash” (katharma, 30, 31, 69, 77b [Vita W]), “riddle” (ainigma, 98), and “a temple thief and a blasphemer” (hierosulon kai blasphēmon, 132). The Samians, upon seeing the fabulist, exclaim, “Let another portent-interpreter be brought so that he may interpret this omen [to sēmeion]. How monstrous is his appearance! He’s a frog, or a hedgehog, or a jar with a hump, or a captain of monkeys, or a little flask, or a cook’s chest, or a dog in a bread-basket!” (87). [14] His name, etymologically, may mean ‘uneven face’. [15] His subhuman, deformed nature is emphasized by his being dumb in the early episodes of the Vita. Our earliest visual evidence, the fifth-century vase portrayal of Aesop, shows him with a crutch.
However, Aesop was also the best of mankind: he is “the great benefactor of mankind” (ho panta biōphelestatos, 1), and his life presents frequent examples of his intelligence and courage. For instance, even though he is mute, he proves he is innocent of eating his master’s figs by vomiting, and causing his master to make all the other slaves vomit (2–3). He also courageously stands up against an unjust and violent overseer (9). Later he fearlessly condemns the Delphians at Delphi (124–126).
He is also pious and holy (ton eusebē, 5): he receives his voice because of his hospitality and kindness to a priestess of Isis who had lost her way. Afterward the priestess, given a meal and redirected to her road, prays to Isis for Aesop, that she will pity “this workman, this sufferer, this pious one, because he was reverent, not to me, mistress, but to your majesty.” [16]
As a result, Aesop, while sleeping in the woods, receives a theophany of Isis and the nine Muses. [17] Isis speaks to the Muses:
“ὁρᾶτε, θυγατέρες, [εὐσεβείας κατακάλλυμμα] τὸν ἄνθρωπον τοῦτον, πεπλασμένον μὲν ἀμόρφως, νικῶντα δὲ εἰς εὐσέβειαν πάντα ψόγον· οὗτός ποτε τὴν ἐμὴν διάκονον πεπλανημένην ὡδήγησεν· πάρειμι δὲ σὺν ὑμῖν ἀνταμείψασθαι τὸν ἄνθρωπον. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν τὴν φωνὴν ἀποκαθίστημι, ὑμεῖς δὲ τῇ φωνῇ τὸν ἄριστον χαρίσασθε λόγον.”
“Look, daughters, at this man, formed in a misshapen way, but who conquers every fault in his piety. This man set my servant on the right road when she had gone astray; I am here with you to reward him. Therefore, I will restore his voice, and you give him the best word for his voice.”
Aesop Vita, G 7, my translation
Then, the Muses confer on him “each something of her own endowment,” and “with a prayer that he might achieve fame, the goddess went her way, and the Muses, when each had conferred her own gift, ascended to Mount Helicon.” [18]
The parallels offered by the lives of Archilochus and Hesiod argue that Aesop’s poetic consecration is an ancient tradition—heroizing legends of the poets tend to accumulate around the their consecrations and deaths. [19] If we accept that probability, we are left to assess which Greek deity was replaced by the Egyptian Isis in the late Aesop novel. There are two clear choices, both almost equally attractive. First, Nagy argues that the original deity was Apollo, called “the leader of the Muses” a number of times in the Vita. [20] This is an ancient association, [21] and would fit well with the traditions of Apollo as inspirer, rival, persecutor, and deifier of Aesop.
However, the second possibility is Mnemosyne ‘Memory’, known since Hesiod as the mother of the Muses (Theogony 53–62, 915–917). This would tie in nicely with G 100 (Perry text), where Aesop honors her with a statue. “Memory” would be especially important to a travelling performer, such as Aesop will become. Robertson, who accepts that Mnemosyne was the original inspirer in the Aesop legend, notes that in G, Isis refers to the Muses as her daughters. [22] The substitution of Isis for Mnemosyne would have been an easy transition. [23]
While Aesop was thus on good terms with the Muses (at Delphi he takes refuge in the shrine of the Muses, 134),he became an enemy of Apollo. At Samos, after the Samians honor the fabulist, dedicating an Aesopeum to him, “when he had sacrificed to the Muses, he then constructed a shrine for them, placing a Mnemosyne statue in their midst, not one of Apollo. Therefore, Apollo was enraged with him as he had been with Marsyas” (100, 127). [24] Earlier, Aesop had told a story that was uncomplimentary to Apollo: “Because the leader of the Muses [prostatēs tōn Mousōn, i.e. Apollo] asked, Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy so that he excelled everyone who practiced mantic arts. But the leader of the Muses, as he was marveled at by all men, thought it right to despise everyone else, and was too boastful in everything” (33). [25]
The awarding of the Samian shrine to Aesop took place as follows: when King Croesus required tribute from the citizens of Samos if they would stave off invasion, Aesop advised them not to give in. Croesus prepared to invade, but a counselor advised him that he would never be able to take the city while Aesop lived, so that he should require the inhabitants of the city to surrender Aesop in order to prevent their own destruction. He followed the advice, sent the adviser to Samos, and the adviser told the Samians that they had to give up Aesop to keep the friendship of the king. “At first the people shouted, ‘Take him. Let the king have Aesop.’” [26] Though Aesop changed their minds through a fable, he then willingly returned to Croesus with the ambassador. He charmed Croesus, who granted him his life and any request. Aesop requested peace for the Samians and the king granted it. When Aesop returned to Samos, the Samians “named the place where he had been turned over the Aesopeum.” (92–100). [27]
Here we have many typical scapegoat themes: the crisis (military threat); the offering of Aesop as propitiation by the voice of the people; the self-sacrificial offering of Aesop; his obtaining salvation for the city; the hero cult offered to the poet at the very place where he had been expelled by the people.
Later, at Babylon, Aesop became a great favorite of the king, Lukoros, who appointed him chamberlain. “After giving an exposition of his philosophy, he was acclaimed as a great man” (101). [28] Because Aesop could outdo anyone in any kingdom in riddle contests (problēmata philosophias), Lukoros’ kingdom continually expanded, with Aesop acting as his intellectual warrior. “In those times, kings had the custom of collecting tribute from one another by means of valiant battle. They did not face one another in wars and military battles. For they wrote philosophical riddles in letters, and the one who couldn’t solve a riddle paid tribute to the one who had sent it” (102). [29] Through Aesop, Babylon conquers most of the known world, by ancient standards (barbarian nations, most lands up to Greece). [30]
Aesop was certainly the best at this odd form of warfare, which relates to his identity as poet, for there was a close connection between the archaic riddle contest and poetry. Huizinga writes, “Archaic poetry is barely distinguishable from the ancient riddle-contest.” For the purposes of this discussion, it is valuable to see the riddle poem as contest/combat, thus demanding aggressive competition. [31] In fact, in archaic legend, these poetic riddle contests were deadly serious affairs, in which the loser often lost his head.
After Aesop “conquers” Egypt (112–123), Lukoros “ordered the erection of a golden statue of Aesop with the Muses, and he held a great celebration in honor of Aesop’s wisdom.” [32] Hence, both at Samos and at Babylon, cult was instituted in honor of Aesop and his preeminence among men, and because he had helped to save both Samos and Babylon (just as he had earlier saved his master Xanthus on the point of committing suicide because he could not interpret an omen to the Samians; this was particularly noble on Aesop’s part because Xanthus had recently cheated Aesop of his freedom and a large sum of money [78–91]).
While at Babylon, Aesop adopted a son, named Ainos in Vita W (103-110); when his son almost succeeded in having him killed through a palace intrigue, Aesop sternly rebuked him, and the young man, stricken by guilt “at being tongue-lashed by” Aesop (dia logōn memastigōsthai), committed suicide. [33] In Vita W, Ainos jumped off a cliff, a standard pharmakos death. Thus the blame poet has power to cause the death of his own unjust son, who is made a pharmakos by the just man who is later to be made a pharmakos himself. [34] It is the poet’s power to create victims that makes him a victim.
Finally, Aesop visited Delphi. [35] There he gave an exhibition, [36] as he had successfully at other cities, but at Delphi “the people enjoyed hearing him at first but gave him nothing.” [37] He started to “jibe” at them: “When I was far off from your city, I was extremely impressed with you as men who were rich and generous, but now that I see you are less than other men in your ancestry and in your city, I know that I was wrong” (125). [38] After referring to them as “slaves of all the Greeks” (Hellēnōn ), he prepared to leave. But the city officials, “seeing how abusive he was,” felt they could not allow him to leave—“If we let him go away,” they said, “he’ll go around to other cities and damage our reputation” (127). [39] Aesop, as blame poet, is about to commit the unforgivable crime in a culture in which shame is a prominent component. [40] The thought of being shamed publicly in all of Greece is not tolerable for the Delphians. So “because Apollo was angry at how Aesop had dishonored him on Samos, when he had not set up his statue along with those of the Muses, the Delphians … devised a villainy.” (127) [41]
They placed a golden temple cup in his baggage, then arrested him outside the city the next day, and told him, “You have stolen treasure from the temple.” Aesop, whose conscience was clear, said with tears in his eyes, “I am ready to die if I am found guilty of such a thing” (128). [42] However, they brought Aesop back to the city and imprisoned him.
Temple thievery was among the most weighty of accusations in ancient Greece. Barkan, after describing the seriousness of general charges of impiety in Athens, which often brought a capital punishment, writes, “Sacrilege in the form of temple-robbery (hierosulia) was a most flagrant act of asebeia. The Athenian legislators of the fifth century placed temple-robbing in juxtaposition with high treason. And the penalty in both cases was death, denial of interment on Attic soil, and confiscation of property.” [43] The torture applied to an apprehended temple thief was so feared that, according to Plutarch, the thief would sometimes take hemlock before the robbery so he could die quickly if caught; if he was successful, he would take the antidote (wine). [44]
Having thus prepared at least an accusation that merited death, “The Delphians came in to Aesop and said, ‘You must be thrown from the cliff today, for thus we voted [epsēphisamen] to execute you—since you have earned it as a temple thief and a blasphemer [blasphēmon]—so that you would not merit burial. Prepare yourself’” (132). [45]
After Aesop recounts a fable in which a mouse is murdered by a frog, but in turn causes the death of the frog, he told them, “If I die, I will be your doom. The Lydians, the Babylonians, and practically the whole of Greece will reap the harvest of my death” (133). [46] As the Delphians led the poet to the cliff, he managed to take refuge in “the shrine of the Muses [en tōi hierōi tōn Mousōn]” (134). Though Aesop warned them not to dishonor the small shrine and told them they should “reverence Zeus, the god of strangers and Olympus,” [47] they dragged him away. Paradoxically (or so it would seem), in Vita W (134), Aesop takes refuge in the shrine of Apollo.
On the brink of the cliff Aesop managed to tell two last fables, both extremely insulting to the Delphians. Then
Αἴσωπος καταρασάμενος αὐτούς, καὶ τὸν προστάτην τῶν Μουσῶν μάρτυρα προσκαλούμενος, ὅπως ἐπακούσῃ αὐτοῦ ἀδίκως ἀπολλυμένου, ἔρριψεν ἑαυτὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ κρημνοῦ κάτω. καὶ οὕτω τὸν βίον μετήλλαξεν.
λοιμῷ δὲ κατασχεθέντες οἱ Δέλφιοι χρησμὸν ἔλαβον παρὰ τοῦ Διὸς ἐξιλάσκεσθαι <τὸν> τοῦ Αἰσώπου μόρον. μετὰ ταῦτα, ἀκούσαντες οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἑλλάδος καὶ οἱ ἀπὸ Βαβυλῶνος καὶ <οἱ> Σάμιοι, ἐξεδίκησαν τὸν τοῦ Αἰσώπου θάνατον.
Aesop, after cursing them and calling on the leader of the Muses [ton prostatēn tōn Mousōn] as his witness so that he would hear him as he died unjustly [adikōs], threw himself down from the cliff. And thus he ended his life.
When the Delphians were oppressed with famine, they received an oracle from Zeus telling them to expiate the death of Aesop. Later, when the people of Greece, and of Babylon, and the Samians heard, they avenged Aesop’s death.
Aesop Vita G 142, my translation
Thus Aesop, whose unjust death had been engineered by Apollo, calls on “the leader [prostatēs] of the Muses” at the moment of his death to witness its injustice. But, as the Vita tells us earlier (33), Apollo is prostatēs tōn Mousōn. [48] As a further complication, another reference to Aesop cult hints at his identification with Apollo. Apollo had been angry when he, the leader of the Muses, had not been awarded a statue along with the Muses in the Samian Aesopeum; in Babylon, Lukoros erects a statue of Aesop with the Muses and institutes a great festival (heortēn megalēn) in honor of Aesop’s wisdom (123). As in the case of Marsyas, Apollo is antagonistic to Aesop because he is so much like himself in his mantic wisdom. It is striking that Aesop warns the Delphians to honor Apollo in Vita W. [49] Libanius speaks of Apollo raging because of the death of Aesop. [50] According to Zenobius, it is Apollo’s prophetess, the Pythia, who commands the Delphians to make recompense for the pollution of Aesop’s death. [51]
Other manuscripts of the Vita add important details. In some versions of the Life, Aesop is stoned to death. [52] In Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1800 (Perry test. 25), “They stoned him and pushed him off a cliff.” Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1800 also tells us of hero cult established for Aesop at Delphi, and gives another reason for Aesop’s satire:
ἔστ]ιν δ’ αἰτία τοια[ύτη] εἰρ[η]μένη· ἐπὰν [εἰσέ]λθῃ τ[ις] τῷ θεῷ θυσιάσ[ων ο]ἱ Δελφ[ο]ὶ περ[ι]εστήκασι τὸν βωμ[ὸ]ν ὑφ’ ἑαυτοῖς μαχαίρας κ[ο]μίζοντες, σφαγιασαμένου δὲ τοῦ ἱερείου καὶ δείραντος τὸ ἱερεῖον καὶ τὰ σπλάγχνα περιεξελομένου, οἱ περιεστῶτες ἕκαστος ἣν ἂν ἰσχύσῃ μοῖραν ἀποτεμνόμενος ἄπεισιν, ὡς πολλάκις τὸν θυσιάσαντα αὐτὸν ἄμοιρ[ο]ν απι[έ]ναι. τοῦτο οὖν Αἴ[σ]ωπ[ο]ς Δελ-φοὺς ὀνιδ[ί]ζων ἐπέσκωψεν, ἐφ’ οἷς διοργισθέντες οἱ πολλοὶ λίθοις αὐτὸν βάλλοντες κατὰ κρημνοῦ ἔωσαν. μετ’ οὐ πολὺ δὲ λοιμικὸν πάθος ἐπέσκηψε τῇ πόλει, χρηστηριαζομένοις δ’ αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς ἀνεῖπεν οὐ πρότερον [λήξ]ειν τὴν νόσ[ον μέ]χρις [ἄν Α]ἴσωπον ἐξι[λάσκωντ]αι. οἱ δὲ περιτει[χίσ]αντες τὸν τόπον [ἐν ᾧ κ]ατέπεσεν βωμὸ[ν θ’ ἱ]δ[ρυσά]μενοι λυτηρ[ί]ο[υς] τῆς νόσου, ὡς ἥρῳ θ[υσίας] προ[σ]ήνεγκαν.
The cause is said to be this: When someone goes in for the purpose of initiating sacrifice to the god, the Delphians stand around the altar carrying concealed daggers. And after the priest has slaughtered and flayed the sacrificial victim and after he has apportioned the innards, those who have been standing around cut off whatever portion of meat each of them is able to cut off and then depart, with the result that the one who initiated the sacrifice oftentimes departs without having a portion himself. Now Aesop reproached and ridiculed [onid[i]zōn epeskōpsen] the Delphians for this, which made the people angry. They stoned him and pushed him off a cliff. Not much later, a pestilence fell upon the city, and when they consulted the Oracle, the god revealed that the disease would not cease until they propitiated Aesop. So they built a wall around the place where he fell, set up an altar as an antidote to the disease, and sacrificed to him as a hero. [53]
This attests to the paradox of hero cult for Aesop at Delphi, also found in W 142, the last paragraph of the Vita :
“… καταρῶμαι οὖν ὑμῶν τὴν πατρίδα καὶ θεοὺς μαρτύρομαι, οἳ ἐπακούσουσί μου ἀδίκως ἀπολλυμένου καὶ ἐκδικήσουσί με.” οἱ δὲ ὠθήσαντες ἔρριψαν αὐτὸν κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ, καὶ οὕτως ἀπέθανε. λοιμῷ οὖν καὶ συνοχῇ ἰσχυρᾷ κατασχεθέντες οἱ Δελφοὶ χρησμὸν ἔλαβον ἐξιλεώσασθαι τὸν τοῦ Αἰσώπου μόρον. ἐτύπτοντο γὰρ ὑπὸ τῆς συνειδήσεως δολοφονήσαντες τὸν Αἴσωπον. ναοποιήσαντες οὖν ἔστησαν αὐτῷ στήλην. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἀκούσαντες οἱ τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἔξαρχοι καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ διδάσκαλοι τὸ εἰς τὸν Αἴσωπον πραχθέν, παραγενόμενοι ἐν Δελφοῖς καὶ συζήτησιν ποιησάμενοι ἐξεδίκησαν τὸν τοῦ Αἰσώπου μόρον.
“I curse [katarōmai] your fatherland and I call as witness the gods, who will hear me as I perish unjustly and will avenge me.” But they pushed him and cast him down the cliff, and so he died. Therefore they were burdened by a plague and a heavy affliction, and received an oracle that they should make propitiation for the death of Aesop. For they were struck by guilt at having killed Aesop deceitfully. Therefore, they built a shrine and placed a stele in it. After this, the lords of Greece and the other teachers heard what had been done to Aesop, and gathered at Delphi. After making an investigation, they avenged Aesop’s death. [54]
In G and W, Aesop’s death caused a war directed against the Delphians. Wiechers suggests that Aesop’s labeling the Delphians as slaves (G, W 126) provides a context for linking his death to the First Sacred War. In the Vita tradition, Aesop’s death causes the war, which the gods (especially, perhaps, Apollo, in G) send to the Delphians as punishment. But the result of the war was favorable for the Delphians, adding Cirrha/Crisa to their territory, making “all Delphi … sacred to Apollo.” [55] And the institutions that Aesop mocks—sending tithes of slaves and other things to Delphi, and priests eating all sacrificial meat, leaving none for the provider of the animal—came into being after the First Sacred War. Thus, Aesop’s mocking of ritual customs serves as an aition for their existence, and his death serves to further the holiness of Delphi—in fact, “an entire conglomeration of institutions sacred to Apollo—the very essence of Delphi after the First Sacred War.” [56] The ambiguity of Aesop’s relationship with Apollo has taken its last turn, bringing us into a complex interface between ritual, history, and story. Aesop, critic of Delphic practice and killed at inhospitable Delphi because of Apollo’s enmity, is sacred to Apollo, is Apollo’s servant, and is an aition for Delphic practice. [57]

Aesop as Pharmakos

Wiechers shows convincingly that the Aesop story is closely connected to the pharmakos complex:
  1. The pharmakoi are the most worthless people, they are aēdes-tatoi, akhrēstoi, eutelestatoi, agenneis, and phauloi—Aesop comes from the lowliest class of society, the slave class; he is repulsively ugly and entirely misshapen, and he is designated in the Vita as a katharma, a word that is commonly used as a synonym for pharmakos.
  2. The pharmakoi were led through the city before execution, then led out of it, so that they could meet their end at a designated, well-known place—Aesop experiences the same thing. He is also dragged for a long way to the place of execution, after he is fetched from prison; he also thereupon is led out of the city, so that he can finally be executed at the designated place of execution.
  3. The pharmakoi meet their death by stoning, or by being thrown over a cliff—Aesop is executed in just this way; either he is thrown down from cliffs, or he is killed by being thrown over a cliff linked with stoning.
  4. The pharmakoi were killed following a decision of the people (boulēi dēmosiēi, Hipponax 128W) by a crowd representing the whole people—Aesop comes up against a similar decision among the Delphians (ebouleusanto … anelein, G 127; they explain: … se epsēphisamen anelein, G 132) and is therefore killed by the entire people.
  5. The Pharmakos named by Istros has stolen a golden cup out of the temple treasure—Aesop is reproached for the same fault.
  6. The pharmakoi were offered in the Thargelia, performed for the service of Apollo; the pharmakos named by Istros commits an offense against this god and is destroyed by him. In the case of Aesop, Apollo also plays an important role; he also helps in the plot directed against Aesop. So the pharmakoi, as also Aesop, lose their lives because of Apollo. [58]
Wiechers also adduces Androgeus as an important parallel to the story of Aesop (the unjust murder of a stranger-guest, followed by the wrath of god, plague, and ritual purification). [59] Robertson compares Aesop’s execution by the Delphians to the archaic festival of Charila at Delphi, in which an effigy (of a poor orphan girl, begging, who has been kicked and excluded by the Basileus, then hangs herself in legend, resulting in the standard plague, oracle, and cult) is kicked, then taken away, strangled, and buried. [60]
The traditions of Aesop’s life parallel the following list of pharmakos themes:
1. Ritual pollution. Aesop’s supposed theft of temple treasure causes a supposed pollution that his death must expiate. In actuality, the unjust death of Aesop causes a ritual pollution at Delphi.
1a. Crime of hero. This is a false accusation, but the theme is still there.
1a1. Criminal impiety.
1a2. Theft of sacred things. Here the parallel of pharmakos and Aesop is exact: The theme of the theft of a golden cup is found in both stories. Aesop is accused of being a “temple-thief” (hierosulon, Vita W 132). Yet the Delphians are actually guilty of desecrating a temple as they drag Aesop away from a shrine of the Muses, or shrine of Apollo in Vita W (134), where he has taken refuge, on the way to his execution.
1b1. Inhospitality. Aesop is a visitor at Delphi, as was Androgeus at Athens.
1b2. Murder. Aesop is killed.
1b3. Deceit. Aesop is killed deceitfully (ebouleusanto … anelein dolōi, G 127; dolophonēsantes, “killing by ruse,” Vita W 142).
2. Communal disaster. In the case of the Delphians, both plague [61] and invasion. [62]
2a. Communal disaster causes hero’s explusion or death, e.g. “plague” of shame. Aesop’s mockery of the Delphians creates a psychological climate that they cannot tolerate—as it were, a plague of shame. This is the real reason they must kill him, to keep his satiric criticisms from shaming them in front of the rest of the Greeks, as the Vita makes clear (G 127). (A literal plague overtakes the Delphians after they kill him.)
2b. Communal disaster caused by hero’s death or expulsion. This calamity was caused by Aesop’s expulsion/death.
3. Oracle. As in the myth of Androgeus, an oracle (here the Delphic oracle) instructs the plague-ridden Delphians to expiate the death of Aesop. It is significant that the scene of Aesop’s death is laid at Delphi, the most holy oracle of Greece.
4. The Worst. Aesop is the worst of men, the most valueless of slaves (at two points in the Vita, his seller almost has to give him away to be rid of him [G 15, 27—here, his owner sells him at cost]), ugly, completely deformed.
4b. Slave.
4c. Criminal. This is imputed to Aesop.
4d. Ugly.
4e. Foreigner.
5. The Best. Aesop is the best of men, courageous, surpassing all men in wisdom and cleverness, conquering the world for Lukoros through his “intellectual warfare.” He is moreover sacral: holy, pious, given special gifts from the Muses; while living, he is offered cult by the Samians and Lukoros. Moreover, he has a salvific aspect, saving his unworthy master Xanthus from death, saving the Samians from Croesus, and saving Lykoros from being defeated by Egypt. [63]
5a. Sacred. [64]
5b. Salvation imagery.
5c. Victorious. Aesop is supreme in his intellectual warfare.
6. Peripety. Aesop, after having conquered most of the known world through his superior wit, suffers a peripety at Delphi, where he is killed as an accursed temple thief.
7. Trial, unjust. Selection by public meeting. Aesop receives his death sentence by legal decree of the people of Delphi.
8. Voluntary (exile or death). At first sight, Aesop seems an utterly involuntary scapegoat, like most pharmakoi (apparently); in fact, he dies cursing the Delphians for killing him unjustly. However, he has certain unmistakable voluntary traits: in Vita G, after he is taken to the place of execution, he finally throws himself off the cliff. Earlier, at Samos, when the Samians decide not to deliver him to Croesus, Aesop unexpectedly leaves Samos voluntarily with Croesus’ ambassador.
8a. Ambivalent volition.
9. [Procession?] Wiechers interprets this theme in the Aesop novel. [65] However, though Aesop is made a source of public display, he is not explicitly led in a procession. After the cup is found in Aesop’s luggage, and before he is imprisoned, the Delphians “loudly and violently made a spectacle [paradeigmatizontes] of him.” [66] Nevertheless, there was an implicit collective movement of Delphians and Aesop to the cliff.
10. Expulsion. Aesop is expelled because of the inhospitality of the Delphians. They only arrest and imprison him in order to kill him, which is a more final expulsion. At that time, Aesop is taken from the prison to the cliff of execution outside the city. As was noted earlier, the ejection from the cliff is usually an expulsion from land to sea, into another element. Though in Delphi an expulsion into the sea is not possible, [67] in the death of Aesop, he does have the experience of being pushed from cliff to air, a liminal experience marking boundaries between land and nothingness, life and death.
11. Death. Aesop is executed.
11a. Stoning.
11b. Being thrown from cliff. Most sources mention this as the method of execution.
11f. The death is unjust, as in the case of Androgeus.
12. Sacrifice imagery. Though Aesop’s death isn’t referred to as a sacrifice, in P. Oxy. 1800, his blame poetry, death, and hero cult are connected with sacrifice. Aesop mocks the Delphians for how they practice sacrificial ritual at Delphi (the Delphians, with concealed knives, get pieces of meat while the one who initiates the sacrifice often goes without); this makes the Delphians angry, and they stone him and push him over a cliff; after they are afflicted by a plague, they set up an altar at the place where he fell “and sacrificed to him as a hero.”
13. Hero cult. Aesop thus is given hero cult.
16. Evil eye. Aesop’s ugliness is so great that his fellow slaves think it will attract the evil eye (G 16). The master bought the deformed man “to use him as a horror to protect the market from the evil eye.” [68]
18. Divine persecutor/patron. Aesop is persecuted by Apollo, who later orders his hero cult. Aesop insults Apollo, is killed because Apollo motivates the Delphians to kill him; Aesop rebukes the Delphians, telling them to honor Apollo, and calls on Apollo to witness his unjust death; then Apollo (presumably) sends the plague to Delphi, and tells the Delphians they must expiate it through setting up hero cult to Aesop. Aesop’s death causes a war that avenges his death and extends Delphi’s sacred boundaries. Aesop’s mocking of Delphic institutions serves as a charter for their continuance. Though this relationship is paradoxical, it is typical of Greek myth, as the relationship of Hera and Heracles shows. [69]
21. Imprisonment.
23. Hero is sacred, superhuman.
23d. Resurrection. There is an odd, but early, tradition that Aesop was resurrected. Zenobius writes, “For Aesop was so dear to the gods that the story is told of him that he was resurrected, like Tyndareos and Heracles and Glaucus.” [70]

Aesop as Satirist

So, in the Aesop Vita, there is a full, complex story that is closely identified with the pharmakos pattern. But more importantly for our purposes, this pharmakos is a satirist, a verbal artist, a blame poet in the archaic tradition delineated by Donald Ward, Nagy, and others, and his blame poetry has been a crucial element that places him into the scapegoat situation. In Vita G, Aesop blames the Delphians for their inhospitality and lack of generosity, a typical archaic occasion for blame. Ward, for example, writes, of the target of the typical Indo-European satirist, “Not until the intended victim had become guilty of some shameful deed, such as greed, inhospitality, or above all, the refusal to make a gift of any treasured object to a friend, guest, or relative who admired it, could he be attacked in song.” [71] Nagy, in an analysis of the diction of epic blame poetry, finds that generosity or lack of it is a central theme. [72] In the Odyssey, “When a man is blameless himself, and his thoughts are blameless, the friends [xeinoi] he has entertained carry his fame [kleos] widely to all mankind, and many are they who call him excellent.” [73] It is the xeinoi, the guest-friends, who spread the praise of the blameless man; it is presumably they who will spread the blame of the ungenerous man. In Pindar, the poet is the guest-friend of his patron, whom he praises. “I am a guest-friend [xeinos]; keeping away dark blame [psogon], leading true fame [kleos] to a dear man like waves of water, I will praise him [ainesō].” [74] It is significant that Aesop is a stranger, a foreigner at Delphi; there he should have been able to rely on the values of hospitality to protect him.
This criticism of the Delphians brings about Aesop’s arrest, imprisonment, and execution. The Delphians fear that his blame of them will spread throughout Greece if he is allowed to depart and live, which would create a situation intolerable for them. This is the plague of shame that Aesop’s death must prevent. Aesop is not just a poet, but he is a very powerful poet—in fact, “the best” man living with regard to his wits, powers of intellectual warfare, and supernatural insight. It is the poet’s power to broadcast blame throughout society that is feared, that causes his assimilation to the pharmakos theme. Furthermore, it is Aesop’s very mobility that makes the Delphians fear him—he travels through Greece like a rhapsode, performing for his survival, dependant on hospitality. [75] It is significant that in Vita G (139), Aesop, after telling the pointed fable of the tumblebug, hare, and eagle, warns the Delphians to reverence Zeus Xenios, Zeus of strangers, guest-friends. [76]
In Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1800, again Aesop blames and mocks the greed of the Delphians (onid[i]zōn epeskōpsen) as they carry out the ritual of sacrifice. This provokes them to anger, and they execute him. This incident is particularly noteworthy because it seems to be an aition for ritual practice.
Though I have concentrated mostly on Aesop at Delphi to show his satiric speech, his use of blame is evident throughout his biography. For example, immediately after the pastoral and moving scene in which Aesop receives poetic inspiration from Isis and the Muses, as well as his voice, the first time he uses his voice to communicate with his fellow man, he verbally attacks his overseer for mistreating and beating another slave unjustly (G 9). The overseer immediately runs to his master, accuses Aesop of saying “monstrously slanderous things” (μεγάλως βλασφημεῖ) against the master, so the master quickly directs the overseer to sell the deformed slave (G 10).
The Aesop biography allows us to add some important themes to our list:
22. Blame poet as scapegoat hero.
22a. Killing through blame, satire. The blame Aesop directs at his son Ainos causes him to commit suicide.
22c. Animal fables used for blame. [77]
23. Poet is sacred.
23a. Consecration of poet. (Cf. 5a.)
24. Conflict with political leader(s). It is the Delphian “officials” (hoi … arkhontes) who first decide that Aesop cannot be allowed to leave Delphi alive (G 127).
So the blame poet is assimilated completely and richly to the Greek socio-religious scapegoat pattern, [78] a phenomenon that raises many questions. To answer these questions, we must explore the ambiguous place of the poet in archaic Greek culture. The poet is, like the pharmakos, the worst and the best in his society—the filth, katharma, and yet so holy as to be the object of sacrifice after death. [79] Poets in a culture where shame is a dominant component are especially powerful, focal points for broadcasting shame and honor, and so especially vulnerable to punitive action when they offend a community and its political leader(s) (as they often do). A culture informed by shame values would be a culture in which public loss of reputation and honor would count for more than inner guilt. Ruth Benedict writes that “shame cultures” “rely on external sanctions for good behavior, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin. Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism. A man is shamed … by being openly ridiculed.” [80]
Archaic Greece cannot be interpreted as a “pure” shame culture (if such ever existed); H. Lloyd-Jones, Dover, and Douglas L. Cairns, rejecting the evolutionary view of E. R. Dodds, note that shame and guilt are found in both archaic and later Greek culture. [81] However, this still leaves the question of whether one or the other is predominant, and how the balance may shift through time. Cairns tends to flatly reject the concepts of shame and guilt cultures, but writes, “This is not to say that there are not significant differences between our society and that of ancient Greece which may be usefully explained in terms of tendencies to emphasize shame rather than guilt.” [82] Striking characteristics of extraordinary emphasis on shame can be found in Greek legend and history, and in many archaic cultures. [83]
Leaders in such a culture, even kings, inevitably must use force to combat powerful blame poets’ psychological power. In fact, if kings do not do so, they sometimes have no choice but to abdicate. But if the inimical blame poet is intolerable to the king, the friendly praise poet is indispensable to him (though the blame poet and praise poet often cannot be strictly separated). [84]
In addition, the poet is, in archaic Greek society, hieros anēr [85] —sacred man, and so he shares in all the ambiguity of the essential concept of the sacred in archaic culture. The sacred man or woman is both accursed and blessed, polluted and pure, polluting and cleansing, despised pharmakos and revered hero receiving cult. The blameless Aesop is killed because the Delphians are inhospitable; as a skillful satirist, his presence cannot be tolerated. The weapon of the poet’s verbal aggression has great power in a culture based on reputation. (Aesop is a warrior, on a verbal level, conquering territory for a king; the poet embodies verbal violence.) Because of this weapon, the poet will be feared, despised, and revered.


[ back ] 1. As was explained in the preface, this book uses a broad definition of the poet as verbal artist, whether fabulist, orator, philosopher, or composer of metrical poems. However, Callimachus Iambus 2.15–17, fragment 192Pf (test. 23 Perry), speaks of Aesop “singing a tale,” aidonta muthon: ταῦτα δ’ Α<ἴσω>πος / ὁ Σαρδιηνὸς εἶπεν, ὅντιν’ οἱ Δελφοί / ᾄδοντα μῦθον οὐ καλῶς ἐδέξαντο. “Aesop of Sardis said this, whom the Delphians did not receive hospitably when he sang his tale.” My trans. Herodotus 2:134 refers to him as a logopoios, “creator of fables.” According to Vita W, he is ho logomuthopoios (1), which has about the same meaning. Parker refers to Aesop as a poet, 1983:274; West disagrees, 1985:94, apparently using strictly metrical criteria for classification. Yet Aesop certainly was a satirist who used figurative language, and as we have seen, Callimachus envisions him singing. In addition, Aesop receives a poetic consecration exactly parallel to those of Hesiod and Archilochus, see below. Both Aesop and Archilochus use fables satirically, sometimes the same fables; Archilochus merely puts them into meter, cf. chapter 3 below, also chapter 6 (Hesiod).
[ back ] 2. Aesop was a Phrygian slave (G 1 and test. 4 Perry), which was a realistic touch, see DeVries 2000:340; Phrygians were the most common ethnic type of slaves in Attica in the fifth to fourth centuries. Cf. Hipponax 27W, and on Marsyas below.
[ back ] 3. For Aristophanes’ use of Aesop and his fables in Wasps, see the insightful article by K. Rothwell, Jr. 1995. See also Plato Comicus, fragment 68 Kock (test. 45 Perry) for an early tradition of Aesop receiving immortality.
[ back ] 4. Kylix, in Rome, Vatican, 16552; Wiechers 1961:32; Garland 1995:111, plate 32; Lissarrague 2000:137 (who dates the vase to 450 BC).
[ back ] 5. West 1984:105–136, especially 119.
[ back ] 6. West 1984:121; Aristophanes Birds 471.
[ back ] 7. Perry 1965: xlvi; Adrados 1979:93. Cf. Birch 1955. Another version, the work of thirteenth-century AD Maximus Planudes, is “an adaptation of Vita W, but with no fundamental changes.” Holzberg 2002:73. The few extant papyrus fragments of the Aesop Vita support G at times, W at times. Perry 1936; Haslam 1986; Holzberg 2002:73.
[ back ] 8. Examples are Wiechers 1961; Nagy 1979:280–290; Winkler 1985:279–291; Jedrkiewicz 1989; Compton 1990; Holzberg 1992; Hopkins 1993; van Dijk 1995; Papademetriou 1997; Holzberg 2002:76–83; Kurke 2003; Robertson 2003. See also the articles and bibliography in Holzberg 1999, 2002:93–94.
[ back ] 9. However, my interpretation of Aesop’s death differs from Holzberg’s, see below.
[ back ] 10. See Perry 1952:35–80; translations are by Daly 1961 unless noted otherwise. Daly has been reprinted in Hansen 1998. The W Vita can be found at Perry 1952:81–107. For new editions of G and W, see Papathomopoulos 1991 and 1999; Ferrari et al. 2002.
[ back ] 11. For Aesop as slave, often outwitting his master, an academic philosopher, see Winkler 1985:279–291; Hopkins 1993; Hägg 1997; Konstantakos 2003.
[ back ] 12. Κακοπινὴς τὸ ἰδέσθαι … προγάστωρ, προκέφαλος, σιμός, σόρδος, μέλας, κολοβός, βλαισός, γαλιάγκων, στρεβλός, μυστάκων, προσημαῖνον ἁμάρτημα, my translation. For textual variants, see Perry 1952. Cf. Himerius Orations 13.5 (test. 30 Perry). For a book which takes Aesop’s ugliness as a central theme, see Papademetriou 1997. For the image of the belly and the satirical tradition, see Svenbro 1976:50–59; Burnett 1983:59n17; Lefkowitz 1981:2; Nagy 1979:229–231. See below, chapter 4 (Hipponax); chapter 6 (Hesiod). For the ugliness of the poet, see below, chapters 4 (Hipponax); 7 (Simonides), 8 (Sappho); 11 (Tyrtaeus); 15 (Socrates); 17 (Ameirgein, Caillín); and 18 (Starkaðr).
[ back ] 13. παίζεις, δέσποτα; οὐκ οἶδας αὐτοῦ τὴν ἀμορφίαν; τίς αὐτὸν θελήσει ἀγοράσαι καὶ κυνοκέφαλον ἀντὶ ἀνθρώπου ἔχειν;
[ back ] 14. My translation G 87. ἀχθήτω ἄλλος σημειολύτης, ἵνα τοῦτο τὸ σημεῖον διαλύσηται. τὸ τέρας τῆς ὄψεως αὐτοῦ! βάτροχός ἐστιν, ὗς τροχάζων, ἢ στάμνος κήλην ἔχων, ἢ πιθήκων πριμιπιλάριος, ἢ λαγυνίσκος εἰκαζόμενος, ἢ μαγείρου σκευοθήκη, ἢ κύων ἐν γυργάθῳ.
[ back ] 15. Ogden 1997:39. For other possibilities, see Nagy 1979:315n.
[ back ] 16. My translation G 5. “… ἐλέησον τόνδε τὸν ἐργάτην, τὸν κακοπαθοῦντα, τὸν εὐσεβῆ, ἀνθ’ ὧν εὐσέβησεν, οὐκ εἰς ἐμέ, δέσποινα, ἀλλ’ εἰς τὸ σὸν σχῆμα.”
[ back ] 17. In W, Tyche, ‘Fortune’, without the Muses, appears to him. However, he had just helped some priests of Isis find their way, and had given them food and drink, as in G. Clearly, W is using Tyche as a form of Isis.
[ back ] 18. ἑκάστη<ν> τι τῆς ἰδίας δωρεᾶς χαρίσασθαι … κατευξαμένη δὲ ἡ θεὸς ὅπως ἔνδοξος γένηται, εἰς ἑαυτὴν εχώρησεν. καὶ αἱ Μοῦσαι δέ, ἑκάστη τὸ ἴδιον χαρισάμεναι, εἰς τὸ Ἑλικῶνα ανέβησαν ὄρος. For more on this episode, see Winkler 1985:285–296; Dillery 1999; Finkelpearl 2003; Robertson 2003.
[ back ] 19. Robertson 1993:253–258 offers further arguments for the antiquity of the consecration story.
[ back ] 20. Nagy 1979:291n.
[ back ] 21. See Clay 2004:12–13; Nagy 1979:291.
[ back ] 22. Robertson 1993:258 also points out that Mnemosyne was mentioned often in early poetry, but not in later poetry.
[ back ] 23. For bibliography on the consecration theme in Greek literature (Hesiod, Aeschylus, Archilochus, etc.), see Rankin 1977:16; 111n63, 1974nn79–85; West 1966:158–161, cf. bibliography p. 151; Falter 1934:34–60 and passim; Kambylis 1965; Dodds 1951:117; 80–81; Burnett 1983:18n7; Walcot 1957; Evelyn-White 1917; Maehler 1963; Latte 1946; P. Murray 1981. See below chapter 3 (Archilochus); chapter 6 (Hesiod). For Aesop and the Muses, see Perry 1936:14–15. According to Perry, Aesop is associated with the “democratic” Muses, which opposes him to the “aristocratic,” academic Apollo (cf. his conflict with the philosopher Xanthus). This seems over-schematized, and does not explain his paradoxically close connection with Apollo. For inspiration, possession, and poetry, see Pritchett 1979:5–6; Gil 1967; chapter 3 (Archilochus thunderstruck with wine) below.
[ back ] 24. My translation ὁ δὲ Αἴσωπος θύσας ταῖς Μούσαις ἱερὸν κατεσκεύασεν αὐταῖς, στήσας μέσον αὐτῶν Μνημοσύνην, οὐκ Ἀπόλλωνα. ὁ Απόλλων ὀργισθεὶς αὐτῷ ὡς τῷ Μαρσύᾳ. Perry’s text here (he emends μνημόσυνον to Μνημοσύνην) cannot be accepted as certain—he is doing the best he can to make sense of a corrupt passage. It is also possible that Aesop set up a statue to himself, as Papathamopoulos and Ferrari edit the text. However, in my view, the logic of the narrative in the rest of the Aesop novel (especially the poetic consecration and the Delphi episode) supports Perry’s text. But too much weight should not be placed on either textual interpretation, given the corrupt nature of the text. See below on Holzberg’s interpretation of Aesop at Delphi. For Aesop and Marsyas, see Perry 1936:15 and chapter 16 below; cf. the story of Dionysus and Orpheus, chapter 16. Marsyas was, like Aesop, a Phrygian, see DeVries 2000:354.
[ back ] 25. My translation. δεομένῳ γὰρ τῷ προστάτῃ τῶν Μουσῶν ὁ Ζεὺς ἐχαρίσατο τὴν μαντικήν, ὥστε καὶ πάντας τοὺς ἐν τῷ χρησμῷ ὑπερέχειν. ὁ δὲ προστάτης τῶν Μουσῶν ὑπὸ πάντων θαυμαζόμενος ἀνθρώπων, τῶν ἄλλων ὑπερφρονεῖν πάντων νομίσας, ἀλαζονότερος ἦν ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασιν.
[ back ] 26. καὶ τοσοῦτον οἱ ὄχλοι ἀνεφώνησαν· “ἀπάγαγε, λαμβανέτω ὁ βασιλεὺς τὸν Αἴσωπον.”
[ back ] 27. καὶ ἐκάλεσαν τὸν τόπον ἐκεῖνον Αἰσώπειον, ὅπου ἦν ἐνηλλαγμένος.
[ back ] 28. ἐπιδειξάμενος δὲ αὐτοῦ τὴν φιλοσοφίαν μέγας παρὰ τοῖς Βαβυλωνίοις ἀνεδείχθη … G has King Lycurgus, but P. Berol. 11628 and Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3720 have King Lukoros.
[ back ] 29. My translation ἐπ’ ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς καιροῖς ἔθος εἶχον οἱ βασιλεῖς παρ’ ἀλλήλων φόρους λαμβάνειν διὰ τῆς ἐναρέτου μάχης· οὔτε γὰρ ἐν πολέμοις συνίσταντο οὔτε μάχαις· ἔγραφον γὰρ προβλήματα φιλοσοφίας δι’ ἐπιστολῶν, καὶ ὁ μὴ εὑρίσκων διαλύσασθαι φόρους ἐτέλει τῷ πέμψαντι. The historian of Phoenicia, Dius, cited in Josephus Against Apion 1.111–115, records King Solomon and Hiram engaging in exactly this kind of contest. Cf. Levine 2002:143.
[ back ] 30. For the relationship riddle = problēma, see Clearchus of Soli (at Athenaeus 10.448c), who defines a riddle (griphos) as “a problem [problēma] put in jest, requiring, by searching the mind, the answer to the problem to be given for a prize or forfeit,” translation Gulick. γρῖφος πρόβλημά ἐστι παιστικόν, προστακτικὸν τοῦ διὰ ζητήσεως εὑρεῖν τῇ διανοίᾳ τὸ προβληθὲν τιμῆς ἢ ἐπιζημίου χάριν εἰρημένον.
[ back ] 31. Huizinga 1955:133, cf. 122. See also chapter 6 (the contest of Homer and Hesiod). For further on these riddle contests, cf. Calchas and Mopsus, Hesiod fragment 278 M-W; Euphorion fragment 97 in Powell 1925:47 (the contest is given a sacral setting, the sanctuary of Apollo at Gryneion); Apollodorus Epitome 6.3–4, with Frazer’s note, Frazer 1921; the Sphinx, Oedipus the King 1198. See also Huizinga 1955:115–118, 133, 146. On the poet as warrior, see chapter 3 (Archilochus); chapter 9 (Alcaeus); chapter 11 (Tyrtaeus); and chapter 18, on Indo-European warrior myths, nearly passim. Cf. Oedipus as riddle warrior, causing the death of the sphinx, who had learned her riddle from the Muses (Apollodorus 3.5.8). Also, R. Griffith 1990:98n7. Sophocles refers to the sphinx as a singer (Oedipus the King 37, sklēras aoidou, “harsh singer”). For the riddle in Greece, see Schultz 1909–1912; M. Griffith 1990:192; West 1996:1317; Collins 2004:7, 129–132; for Mopsus, cf. Huxley 1969:58; Löffler 1963:47–50. For Indo-European background, see Huizinga 1955:105–114; Lindow 1975; Clover 1980 (flytings as an “exchange of verbal provocations between hostile speakers,” p. 445); chapter 17 below (Irish poets engaging in riddle contests).
[ back ] 32. ἐκέλευσεν οὖν ὁ Λυκοῦργος ἀνδριάντα χρυσοῦν ἀνατεθῆναι τῷ Αἰσώπῳ μετὰ καὶ τῶν Μουσῶν, καὶ ἐποίησεν ἑορτὴν μεγάλην ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐπὶ τῇ τοῦ Αἰσώπου σοφίᾳ, G 123. For the statue in hero cult, see Lattimore 1988; Clay 2004, with index. For another example of hero cult before death, see the story of Euthymos, Pliny Natural History 7.47.152.
[ back ] 33. G 110. In G, the son is called Helios. Haslam 1986:152n1, suggests that both Ainos and Helios might be corruptions of Linos, though he agrees with Perry that Ainos could have been original. On variation in the manner of Ainos’ death, see ibid. p. 170n on lines 99f. Cf. Nagy 1979:239n2.
[ back ] 34. This story, of course, brings to mind the famous story of the death of Lycambes and his daughters in the Archilochus tradition (see chapter 3), with its echo in the Hipponax tradition (chapter 4). This is one of many points of continuity between Aesop and Archilochus (the use of fables and the consecration theme are also obvious comparands). Burnett (1983:58, 97) acutely notes that Archilochus makes his victim like a pharmakos. Hipponax would also assimilate an enemy to the pharmakos, then become one himself.
[ back ] 35. Here my interpretation parts company with Holzberg, who believes the author emphasized Aesop’s great hubris (Holzberg 2002:83), while I interpet the Vita (and the legend behind the Vita) as emphasizing Aesop’s blamelessness and the Delphians’ wickedness. Certainly, there is ambiguity in Aesop’s inimical bond with Apollo, but I follow Burkert and Nagy in analyzing a hero’s paradoxical relationship with a patronizing/persecuting deity. In addition, one of the cornerstones of Holzberg’s hubris argument (that Aesop arrogantly erected a statue to himself in the Samos episode, G 100) is based on a reading of the text by Papathomopoulos which is not certain. The received text is corrupt, and both Perry and Papathomopoulos must emend to try to make sense of it. For the relative merits of the Perry and Papathomopoulos editions of G, see Haslam 1992.
[ back ] 36. This seems to be the motivation for Aesop’s visit: performance; note that later Aesop emphasizes that he had heard of the Delphians’ generosity, another hint of the motivation. Thus Robertson (2003:258) is not quite correct when he says that in G there is no motive at all for Aesop’s visiting Delphi. However, a variant tradition found in Plutarch (On the Delays of Divine Vengeance 12 [556f]) has him go there as an agent for Croesus to distribute money to the Delphians, but he does not distribute it because he feels they are unworthy. Robertson argues for this as the original story (2003:259), but having Aesop as the messenger of Croesus feels as though the Croesus legend were trying to bring Aesop within its orbit.
[ back ] 37. οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι ἡδέως μὲν αὐτοῦ ἠκροῶντο τὸ καταρχάς, οὐδὲν δὲ αὐτῷ παρεῖχον, G 124. This is in stark contrast to the poor slave Aesop’s hospitality to the servant(s) of Isis.
[ back ] 38. My translation. <ἔτι δὲ καὶ αὐτοῖς προσκρούσας ἔφη …> “κἀγὼ πόρρωθεν ὑπάρχων τῆς πόλεως ὑμῶν κατεπλησσόμην ὑμᾶς <ὡς> πλουσίους καὶ μεγάλους ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὄντας, ἰδὼν δὲ ὑμᾶς τῶν ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων ἥττονας καὶ γένει καὶ πόλει πεπλάνημαι. Aesop is not admitting to a moral wrong here, as Holzberg argues. He was merely misinformed.
[ back ] 39. οἱ δὲ ἄρχοντες ἰδόντες αὐτοῦ τὸ κακόλογον ἐλογίζοντο· “ἐὰν αὐτὸν ἀφῶμεν ἀποδημῆσαι, περιελθὼν εἰς τὰς ἑτέρας πόλεις πλεῖον ἀτιμοτέρους ἡμᾶς ποιήσει.” O’Leary remarks on the fact that much of the power of the archaic satiric poet came from his ability to travel. His effectiveness came through his “almost instinctive sense of the anomalous and risible [which] was magnified by an ability to express his revelations and condemnations in a singularly memorable (and often memorizable) fashion, and by a mobility which enabled him to carry such verse denunciations to every corner of the island [of Ireland] and into Gaelic Scotland.” O’Leary 1991:26. See below on the legendary Homer as blind, itinerant poet, chapter 5.
[ back ] 40. See below, this chapter, on shame and guilt in archaic cultures. For praise and blame in archaic Greece, see “Le Memoire du poete,” Detienne 1973:18–27; Nagy 1979:211–275; below, chapter 22 (Cicero).
[ back ] 41. My translation. καὶ τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος μηνίοντος διὰ τὴν ἐν Σάμῳ ἀτιμίαν, ἐπεὶ σὺν ταῖς Μούσαις ἑαυτὸν οὐ καθίδρυσεν, μὴ ἔχοντες εὔλογον αἰτίαν εμηχανήσαντό τι πανοῦργον … Daly’s “with the connivance” does not render the genitive absolute adequately. It is not so much a matter of Apollo plotting along with the Delphians as it is Apollo influencing the Delphians in their plot.
[ back ] 42. “χρήματα ἔκλεψσας ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ.” ὁ δὲ Αἴσωπος μηδὲν ἑαυτῷ συνειδὼς κλαίων ἔφησεν “ἀπολέσθαι θέλω, ἐάν τι τοιοῦτον εὑρεθῇ εἰς ἐμέ.”
[ back ] 43. Barkan 1979:26. For bibliography on this stereotypical crime, see Wiechers 1961:31n1. Cf. Xenophon Hellenica 1.7.22; Demosthenes Against Aristocrates 23.26, 57.64; Antiphon 5.10; Plato Laws 857A.
[ back ] 44. Plutarch On Loquacity 14 (509E). For further on Aesop as hierosulos, see the following testimonia from Perry: 21, 24 (Aesop is thrown from the cliff reserved for the punishment of hierosuloi), 22, 20.
[ back ] 45. My translation. Οἱ δὲ Δέλφιοι εἰσελθόντες πρὸς τὸν Αἴσωπον ἔφησαν “ἀπὸ κρημνοῦ σε δεῖ βληθῆναι σήμερον· οὕτως γάρ σε ἐψηφίσαμεν ἀνελεῖν, ἄξιον ὄντα <ὡς ἱερόσυλον> καὶ βλάσφημον, ἵνα μηδὲ ταφῆς αξιωθῇς. ἑτοίμασαι σεαυτόν.” Cf. chapter 3 for Archilochus as a blasphēmos. Here we have the theme of the public vote against the fabulist: cf. Himerius Orations 13.5–6 (test. 30 Perry), which speaks of the Delphians bringing an unjust vote (psēphon adikon) against Aesop.
[ back ] 46. “ὁμοίως κἀγώ, ἄνδρες, ἀποθανὼν ὑμῖν μόρος ἔσομαι· καὶ γὰρ Λύδιοι, Βαβυλώνιοι, καὶ σχεδὸν ἡ Ἑλλὰς ὅλη τὸν ἐμὸν καρπίσονται θάνατον.” For Aesop’s use of fables in his accusing speeches to the Delphians, see van Dijk 1994:141–149.
[ back ] 47. αἰδέσθητε Δία Χένιον καὶ Ὀλύμπιον, G 139. Robertson (2003:264–265) notes that there was an actual shrine to the Muses at Delphi. Cf. chapter 6 (Hesiod).
[ back ] 48. And also “the superior of the Muses [ho meizōn tōn Mousōn],” 33. Kurke 2003, limiting her interpretive focus mainly to G, reads the story of Aesop in Delphi as a thoroughgoing attack on Apollo and Delphi. While her view of Aesop and the Delphians is valuable, she underplays complexities in the relationship of Aesop and Apollo. Early traditions show a continuity with Apollo after Aesop’s death (see following text). Though an oracle of Zeus requires cult for Aesop in G, in P. Oxy. 1800, the context of the narative clearly has Apollo at Delphi prescribing cult for the fabulist. Furthermore, in G Aesop receives his poetic consecration from the Muses, who are closely connected with Apollo (often called the “leader of the Muses” in the Vita). Aesop’s and Apollo’s ties with Marsyas in G (100, 127) are also notable; he is another rival and victim of Apollo who has continuity with him after death. (See chapter 16.) The Aesopic fables attacked the Delphians, but praised Apollo, Lissarrague 2000:144. Finally, the papyrus record shows that there were elements of both G and W in our earliest extant texts.
[ back ] 49. 139: ἄνδρες Δελφοί, μὴ ἀτιμάσητε τὸν θεὸν τοῦτον … αἰδέσθητε τὸν Ἀπόλλωνα. Cf. chapter 15 (Socrates).
[ back ] 50. Libanius On the Apology of Socrates 181 (test. 29 Perry). “Once this very god, raging, surrounded his own priests with evils because of Aesop.” τοὺς αὑτοῦ ποθ’ ἱερεῖς οὗτος αὐτὸς ὁ θεὸς ὑπὲρ Αἰσώπου χαλεπαίνων περιέβαλε κακοῖς.
[ back ] 51. Zenobius 1.47 (test. 27 Perry). “They say that the Pythia told them to atone for the pollution [musos] perpetrated against Aesop.” τὴν Πυθίαν φασὶν ἀνῃρηκέναι αὐτοῖς ἱλάσκεσθαι τὸ ἐπὶ Αἰσώπῳ μύσος. For Aesop’s solidarity with and antagonism to Apollo, see Nagy 1979:289–292.
[ back ] 52. Scholia on Callimachus, Pfeiffer 1949 I:165, line 25 (test. 26 Perry): οἱ δὲ λιθόλευστον ποιῆσαί [φασιν?] Cf. Wiechers 1961:33; Nagy 1979:281.
[ back ] 53. Test. 25 Perry. Trans. Nagy 1979:285. On the theme of meat division, see Nagy 1990:269–275. See below, chapter 7 (Simonides given an inadequate share at a feast). For the verb, skōptō, see Nagy 1979:245, 288, 303; chapter 3 (Archilochus’ Dichterweihe).
[ back ] 54. 142, my translation. The hero cult theme is an example of how the papyrus tradition sometimes supports W. The ending of G seems somewhat abrupt.
[ back ] 55. Nagy 1979:286.
[ back ] 56. Nagy 1979:284. My discussion of this question is dependent on pp. 283–284. Kurke (2003:87) suggests that bringing tithes of slaves to Delphi need not be limited to the time of the First Sacred War. However, it was certainly done at that time.
[ back ] 57. For Aesop’s cult at Delphi, see Clay 204:127.
[ back ] 58. Wiechers 1961:35–36. See also Parker 1983:260, 270, 274; Adrados 1979; Jedrkiewicz 1989; Ogden 1997:38–40. To the best of my knowledge, Aesop is never explicitly called pharmakos, but his ugliness, his alleged temple theft, and stoning/cliff execution make the identification with the pharmakos pattern convincing.
[ back ] 59. Wiechers 1961:42.
[ back ] 60. Plutarch Greek Questions 12 (293b–f). Robertson 2003:260–262. Cf. the hanging women in chapter 3 (Archolochus) and app. A (Iambe).
[ back ] 61. Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1800 (test. 25 Perry), “… loimikon pathos.” Vita W 142, cf. G 142.
[ back ] 62. Vita G, W 142.
[ back ] 63. According to Photius, s.v. “peripsēma,” the pharmakos is a sōtēria.
[ back ] 64. Cf. also Zenobius 1.27 (test. 27 Perry), where Aesop is referred to as “beloved by god” (theophilēs). The context of the passage clearly points to Apollo as the god who loves Aesop.
[ back ] 65. Wiechers 1961:36.
[ back ] 66. G 128: μετὰ βίας καὶ θορύβου παραδειγματίζοντες αὐτόν. Aesop becomes a paradigm, as it were.
[ back ] 67. Cf. Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1800 (test. 25 Perry), see above. “So they built a wall around the place where he fell.”
[ back ] 68. ἵνα αὐτὸν προσβάσκανον τοῦ σωματεμπορίου ποιήσῃ.
[ back ] 69. See chapters 16 and 18 below.
[ back ] 70. οὕτω γὰρ θεοφιλὴς ἐγένετο ὁ Αἴσωπος ὡς μυθεύεται αὐτὸν ἀναβιῶναι, ὡς Τυνδάρεων καὶ Ἡρακλῆν καὶ Γλαῦκον. Zenobius 1.47 (test. 27 Perry). Glaucus was the brother of Androgeus. See also test. 45–48 Perry (the earliest attestation is the comic poet Plato, circa 400 BC); Wiechers 1961:41; Nagy 1979:316; above, on Androgeus; below, chapters 6 (Hesiod) and 16 (Empedocles).
[ back ] 71. Ward 1982:133. Watkins emphasizes the sacred bond of gift exchange between poet and patron in Indo-European traditions. Watkins 1995:70–75.
[ back ] 72. Nagy 1979:224–236.
[ back ] 73. Odyssey xix 332–334, translation by Lattimore. ὃς δ’ ἀμύμων αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀμύμονα εἰδῇ, / τοῦ μέν τε κλέος εὐρὺ διὰ ξεῖνοι φορέουσι / πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, πολλοί τέ μιν ἐσθλὸν ἔειπον. Cf. Nagy 1979:257, 253–264, 281.
[ back ] 74. Nemean Odes 7.61–63: ξεῖνός εἰμι· σκοτεινὸν ἀπέχων ψόγον, / ὕδατος ὥτε ῥοὰς φίλον ἐς ἄνδρ’ ἄγων / κλέος ἐτήτυμον αἰνέσω. For the institution of guest-friendship in archaic Greece, see bibliography in Bremmer 1983b:303n27; Finley 1978:99–103; cf. Benveniste 1973:278.
[ back ] 75. For rhapsodes, see especially chapter 5 (Homer), cf. chapter 7 (Simonides). Narratives of divine punishment falling on those who are inhospitable to traveling poets, rhapsodes, riddlers, or seers, especially if they are marginal, perhaps blind, would be the kinds of stories that rhapsodes would tell. Cf. the mirroring tales of Cridenbél and Cairbre in McCone 1989:123–124.
[ back ] 76. Cf. Perry 1936:16.
[ back ] 77. See e.g. Vita G 133–142, in which Aesop tells three fables blaming the Delphians and defending himself before he is executed.
[ back ] 78. Or, perhaps, the sacral poet helping to define such a pattern. Cf. chapters 16 and 18 especially, which suggest that myths of poets form a background for the Aesop/Archilochus/etc. poet-scapegoat-hero story structure. We might say that the historical blame poet is assimilated to the mythical poet-victim. Certainly, however, Aesop was assimilated to the pharmakos persona.
[ back ] 79. For hero cult awarded to the poet in ancient Greece, see below, nearly all of chapters 3–16, and Clay 2004.
[ back ] 80. Benedict 1946:223. I prefer terms less absolutist than “shame culture” or “guilt culture,” see below. See also Radin 1927:50–51 (fear of ridicule as social motive); “Interpretative Statement,” Mead 1937:493–495. Cf. below, chapter 17 (death of Luaine; blisters of “shame” on face).
[ back ] 81. Within the parameters of the story of Aesop, the Delphians kill Aesop so he will not publicly shame them; however, after his death, they are struck by guilt (in W). A similar interweaving of shame and guilt can be found in the story of Nede and Caier in chapter 17. For Greece and shame, see Dodds 1951:28–63; Dover 1975:236–243, “causes and effects of shame,” 26–33, abuse among orators or comedians; 220n3; Lloyd-Jones 1990; Cairns 1993. See also Bloomfield and Dunn 1989:7; Friedrich 1973; Peristiany 1966; Hallberg 1962:100–104. On the power of verbal mockery in Greek culture, see Halliwell 1991b:286–287. As he notes, Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 5.2 (1131a9) and Politics 2.4 (1262a27), classes defamation and abuse as acts of violence, with assault, murder and robbery; cf. the frequent description of derision as hubris, e.g. Sophocles Ajax 196–169, 955–960; Demosthenes 9.60, 22.63; Aristotles Rhetoric 2.2 (1379a29–30). Greek laughter, of course, could also be friendly and playful, e.g. Plutarch Lycurgus 12, 14, 25, see Halliwell 1991b:283–284, 292.
[ back ] 82. Cairns 1993:44.
[ back ] 83. See chapter 17 below; cf. Ward 1973; O’Leary 1991:24–25, 15.
[ back ] 84. Watkins 1995:70–84.
[ back ] 85. See Rowland 1980, a valuable analysis of the sacred man in ancient Greek myth, which treats at least one major poet, Archilochus.