Thursday, August 31, 2017

Euphemism

Ares. Hermes

Ar. Did you hear Zeus's threat, Hermes? most complimentary, wasn't it, and most practicable? 'If I choose,' says he, 'I could let down a cord from Heaven, and all of you might hang on to it and do your very best to pull me down; it would be waste labour; you would never move me. On the other hand, if I chose to haul up, I should have you all dangling in mid air, with earth and sea into the bargain' and so on; you heard? Well, I dare say he is too much for any of us individually, but I will never believe he outweighs the whole of us in a body, or that, even with the makeweight of earth and sea, we should not get the better of him.

Her. Mind what you say, Ares; it is not safe to talk like that; we might get paid out for chattering.

Ar. You don't suppose I should say this to every one; I am not afraid of you; I know you can keep a quiet tongue. I must tell you what made me laugh most while he stormed: I remember not so long ago, when Posidon and Hera and Athene rebelled and made a plot for his capture and imprisonment, he was frightened out of his wits; well, there were only three of them, and if Thetis had not taken pity on him and called in the hundred-handed Briareus to the rescue, he would actually have been put in chains, with his thunder and his bolt beside him. When I worked out the sum, I could not help laughing.

Her. Oh, do be quiet; such things are too risky for you to say or me to listen to.

Lucian of Samosata, Dialogues of the Gods, Dialogue XXI. Throughout this work, of course, Lucian is mocking the Homeric presentation of the gods; the comment of Zeus that Ares paraphrases here is from Book VIII of the Iliad, and is, of course, the passage that ultimately gives this blog its name, and from which its motto is taken: Hang from heaven a chain of gold. There seems to be, as in much of Lucian's work, a double blade here; Ares mocks the genuine absurdity of the boast, but comes across as somewhat less than bright in badmouthing Zeus to Zeus's own herald. The 'do be quiet' in Greek is Siopa : euphemei -- Be silent! Speak well! -- but one is tempted to translate it as 'Quiet! Euphemize!'

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