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Palladas of Alexandria on women.


Palladas was active in Alexandria around the second half of the 4th century CE. This dating is deduced from references in his poems to Themistius, praefectus urbi of Constantinople in 384 (11.292), (1) the destruction of the Sarapeion library and other pagan sanctuaries by Christians in 391 after the edict of Theodosius, the emperor in the East (10.90; 9.528, 175; cf. 9.37) and perhaps the defeat of Eugenius, usurper emperor in the West in 394 (10.84). By his own admission he wrote 10.97, probably in 391, at the age of 72, which would place his birth around 319. (2)

Palladas is represented in the Anthologia Palatina and Anthologia Planudea by about 160 epigrams--more than any other poet in these collections. (3) His epigrams were known among all classes, also in written form. (4) On the other hand, modern assessments of his work have been negative or ambiguous. Thus Paton, in his Introduction to Book 9 of the Palatine, writes dismissively: 'It [Philippus's Garland] contains a good deal of the Alexandrian Palladas, ... most of which we could well dispense with', and, in the Introduction to Book 10, grudgingly: 'a versifier as to whose merit there is much difference of opinion, but who is at least interesting as the sole poetical representative of his time and surroundings.' (5) Georg Luck (1958) describes Palladas as 'one of the least known poets of the Greek Anthology' (455), condemns the epigrams for their shallow pessimism and eccentric invective, acknowledges Palladas's skill as a literary craftsman who handled the epigrammatic form very competently and imaginatively, and also gained popularity among the uneducated (458), yet whose invectives are too one-sided in not recognising 'the good and the beautiful next to the corrupt and the ridiculous in human life', whose 'satirical temper is a "disease", perhaps we should say, a form of neurosis' (467), and whose 'satire [is] like distorting mirrors at carnivals ... his eloquence is, indeed, the eloquence of the manager of a freak show.' However, there is little doubt that, as the last significant exponent of the Greek epigram, he is an important figure, even an innovator, in the history of this genre. (6)

His themes are varied, but the mood is mostly pessimistic or grimly realistic. Faced with the new order which was physically and spiritually destroying his Greek heritage, he pities and criticises his fellow Greeks, or 'Hellenes', for their terrible plight (10.82, 89, 90). He mocks the demoted status of the old Greek gods: a discarded roadside statue of Heracles accepting change (9.441); the Olympians safely converted to Christianity (9.528); Eros recyled as the handle of a frying-pan and himself now having to endure fire (9.773 and 16.194) and now harmlessly holding a dolphin and a flower instead of bow and arrow (16.207); and Zeus a bad lover (5.257) and all but guilty of patricide (10.53). (7) The reigning deities are now the unpredictable and arbitrary Tyche (9.180-83; 10.62, 65, 73, 77, 80, 87, 96) and Sarapis (9.174, 378). Various individuals, types and groups become the targets of his anger: government officials (9.393; 11.283-85), monks (11.384), the wealthy (10.60, 61, 93), and women. It is the last group that is the subject matter of this article. Detailed analysis of the content and language of each epigram may contribute to a more soundly-based evaluation of Palladas's poetic skill.

On women in general

Palladas did not write his epigrams on women in a vacuum. A brief examination of his fellow epigrammatists in the Anthology provides a part of the literary context and a body of similar poetry against which to gauge Palladas's work. Among the hundreds of epigrams preserved in the Palatine and Planudean Anthologies, there are relatively few negative views on women. Instead, we encounter a whole range of attitudes among the male poets. A multitude of epigrammatists praise girls and women for their beauty, skill at lyre-playing and singing, speech and wisdom. (8) Some poets express their love of women despite the effects of ageing, (9) while others mock or scorn older women (mostly prostitutes) for the loss of their youth and looks. (10) Some epigrammatists evoke the world of young girls who dedicate their prized possessions to Aphrodite, (11) or portray the professional lives of prostitutes positively, recording how they, too, dedicated such gifts to Aphrodite. (12) A large number of dedicatory epigrams pay homage to women before and after marriage, (13) after childbirth, (14) and as spinsters. (15) Some poets mourn the death of virgins;16 others, again, warn men against marriage; (17) and one argues that all was not Pandora's fault, but that the good (rather than the evil) things of life had flown upwards out of her jar and landed everywhere except on earth, resulting in only ageing women and an empty jar. (18 (None of these themes appear in Palladas's work. His main focus is on Woman.
   ojrgh; tou Dio|-- ejsti gunhl, puro;~ ajntidoqei'sa dw'ron, ajnihro;n
   tou puro;~ ajntidoton. a|ndra ga;r ejkkaiei tai'~ frontilsin hjde;
   maraiinei, kai; gh'ra- propete;- thl neoithti feirei. oujd iol Zeu;~
   ameirimno- elcei crusoqronon lHrhn: pol laiki goun aujth;n rliyen ap
   jajqanatwn, heiri kai; nefeilhsi methoron: oilden |Omhro~, kai; Diia
   suggraiya- thl gamethl coiilion. ouitw~ ouideipot jejsti; gunh;
   sumfwnoakkoith, oujde; kai; ejn crusewl mignumeinh dapedw.

   Woman is the wrath of Zeus, given in exchange for fire as a gift, a
   grievous exchange for fire. For she scorches a man and wastes him
   away with cares, and brings premature age upon youth. Even Zeus
   does not have golden-throned Hera unvexed: often, in fact, he's
   thrown her out from the gods, suspended in the air and clouds.
   Homer knew this, and has described Zeus as angry with his wife.
   Thus never is a woman in tune with her spouse, not even when
   coupled on a golden floor. (9.165)

The opening lines recall Hesiod's account of how Zeus punished Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods by making him create woman. The god's anger gives a wry, sarcastic tone to dwron. The emphasis on fire (the repeated puro|-) as an exchange (antidoqeisa, antiidoton) for woman indicates that this was no ordinary, fair exchange of gifts, a thought made explicit in the concluding phrase of the couplet: ajnihro;n toui puro;~aintiidoton. Palladas, in other words, is saying that fire would have been more beneficial to mankind than woman. The next couplet gives the reasons: simplistically stated, a woman burns a man out and destroys him with worries. The language is, however, more complex than that. The verbs ekkaiw (or ejkkaw) and maraiinw share overlapping semantic spheres (in italics and underlined): the former is used of burning out eyes, (19) setting alight (20) or scorching, (21) the latter of quenching fire or putting out eyesight (22) or, in the passive, of wasting or withering away, for example as a result of disease. (23) The verbs are therefore both contrastive (causing and extinguishing fire) and complementary (scorching and withering away). The dominant idea is of a fire (passion) that has replaced the one Zeus denied mankind and one that ages men prematurely. (24)

In the next two couplets the poet universalises the situation by submitting even Zeus to the same lot. Hera vexes him, he evicts her to hang in mid-air, and even Homer describes their quarrels. (25) Common words echo the ordinary nature of their relationship. Despite their divine stature and abode, they behave exactly like humans, even to the extent of having sex on the floor. This is clearly related to the altered view of the Olympian gods from the Hellenistic age on and reflected elsewhere in Palladas's poetry. (26) This is all 'proof' of the conclusion in the final couplet: men and women are incompatible even when they are most intimate, and even when they are gods. The unattainable ideal of harmony is expressed in sumfwno~, a metaphor from music.

Palladas wrote a variation on this theme in another epigram:
   ol Zeu;~ anti; puro;~ pur Wpasen a|llo, gunaika-. ei|qe de; mhte
   gunhi, mhte to; pur ejfainh: pu'r me;n dh; tacew- kai; sbeinnutai:
   hl de; gunh; pur a|sbeston, flogeroin, paintot janaptomenon.

   Zeus, instead of fire, granted another fire, women. If only neither
   woman nor fire had appeared! Now fire is quickly extinguished, but
   woman is a fire unquenchable, blazing, always burning. (9.167)

In these lines man has been given both woman and fire; both are destructive, but fire at least can be extinguished. The conceit is put across with balancing (anti; puro;~ pur ... a|llo, gunaika-), an impossible wish (ei|qe de; mhite gunhi, mhte to; pur efainh), antithesis (pur me;n dh; tacew- kai; sbeinnutai: hl de; gunhi ...) and an increasing tricolon (a|sbeston, flogeroin, paintot j ajnaptoimenon). (27) The literary skill is unmistakable, the argument clever, but the thought is neither profound nor original. Archilochus, a millennium earlier in the 7th century BCE, described a woman as holding water in one hand and fire in the other, the former quenching and life-giving, the latter consuming and destructive. (28) Admittedly, Archilochus is referring to a particular woman who has a dual nature, but the seed of Palladas's idea is still there.

In addition to myth, Palladas also cites Homer as a higher authority to confirm his view:
   pasan |Omero~ e|deixe kakh;n sfalerhin te gunaika,
   swfrona kai; poirnhn, amfoteira- o|leqron.
   e|k ga;r th~ Eleinh- moiceusameinh- foino- andrwn,
   kai; dia; swfrosuinhn Phneloiph- qainatoi.
   jIlia;- ouln to; poinhma mia~ cairin esti; gunaikoi-:
   auta;r jOdusseiih Phneloiph proifasi-.

   Homer showed that every woman is bad and dangerous,
   chaste and harlot, both are destruction.
   For from Helen's adultery came the slaughter of men,
   and through Penelope's chastity deaths.
   The labour of the Iliad is due to one woman,
   and Penelope was the cause of the Odyssey.

Women are a bane, whether chaste or unchaste, Helen being an example of the latter, Penelope of the former. Both caused men to die, in battle on the plains of Troy or at the hands of Odysseus in the palace halls of Ithaca, or to suffer like Odysseus during his return. To enforce his argument, the poet makes use of chiasmus (swfrona kai poirnhn ... Eleinh- ... kai; ... Phneloiph-), the not unusual metaphorical use of sfaleroi- of a dangerous person, (29) the special application of swifrona and swfrosuinhn to female chastity, the epic and tragic colouring of o|leqron, (30) and the accumulation of words with negative connotations (kakh;n sfalerhin te, o|leqron, moiceusameinh-, foino-, qainatoi, poinhma). There may be conscious ambiguity in poinhma ('work done'), which could refer to Odysseus's labour and suffering, or to the work involved in writing the Iliad. (31) In the latter case, we have a reference within the text to what Kathryn Gutzwiller has called the conscious 'writtenness' first found among Hellenistic writers. (32)

Of course, the thinking is simplistic and naive. Palladas's version of what Homer 'showed' (e|deixe) is highly reductionist and skewed, especially with regard to Penelope. She is not portrayed in Homer as the cause of the deaths of the suitors (in fact, she arranges the archery contest at the instigation of Athena), (33) nor does Odysseus blame his travails on his wife (in fact, his longing and concern for her are no less than for his father and son). (34) The portrait of Penelope in post-Homeric literature and art sustains this view of her. (35) We can only conclude that Palladas has forced his own, minority opinion on the reader. Whether he was expressing his real views or composing a witty epigram to meet the expectations of his readers is an open question.

The following epigram is more complex and interesting:
   a|n painu kompaizh- prostagmasi mh; ulpakouein
   th~ gameth-, lhrei-: ouj ga;r apo; druo;~ eil,
   oujd j apo; petrh-, fhsiin: o| q j oil polloi; kat j ajnagkhn
   pascomen, h| painte~, kai; su; gunaikokrathl.
   eij d j ouj sandaliwl, fhi~, tuiptomai, oujd j, ajkolastou
   ou|sh- moi gamethi-, crhi me musanta feirein,
   douleuiein se leigw metriwiteron, ei| ge peiprasai
   swfroni despoiinhl mhde; liian calephl.

   If you brag that you don't in any way listen to your wife's
   orders, you're a fool; you're not made of oak
   or of stone, as they say. What most or all of us of necessity
   suffer, you too suffer--being ruled by a woman.
   But if you say 'I'm not slapped with a sandal, nor is my wife
   licentious, nor must I bear her with eyes closed,'
   I say your servitude is milder, since you've surely been sold
   to a chaste and not too unbearable mistress.

Two male voices are presented: a man (A) who boasts that he does not listen to his wife (1-2a), and a man (B) who claims that he is not bullied by his wife who is faithful and attractive (5-6). Both are commented upon: A is deluding himself, is not as tough as he claims and is in fact dominated by his wife like all or most men (2b-4); B's situation is better, but it is still one of subservience (7-8).

The epigram is enlivened by several stylistic features: the antithesis of the two voices representing two situations men find themselves in; the use of direct speech to add to the dramatic effect; the humorous treatment (at least for the contemporary reader); the Homeric echo in the saying that a person is not made of oak or stone; (36) the prosaic, down-to-earth prostaigmasi; (37) the rare and late-Classical word gunaikokrathl; (38) and the terminology of slavery applied to married men (douleuiein ... peiprasai ... despoiinhl mhde; liian calephl). This state of marital servitude is unavoidable (kat j ajnaigkhn, 3) and men have been 'sold into slavery' (peiprasai). It is possible that peiprasai is reflexive: 'you have sold yourself into slavery', in which case married men's suffering is self-inflicted. The word deispoina is used of goddesses, (39) royal women, (40) a wife or the lady of the house or mistress of a slave. (41) Its close proximity to douleuiein ... peiprasai indicates that that is the sense here. A touch of humour is added at the end of the line: 'though not too bad.'

This time the thought engages the reader as it unfolds. Rather than being a condemnation of women, it is an analysis and critique of male perspectives. Men are the direct target of the poet's psogos. Though women are portrayed as dominating, some credit, admittedly condescending and grudging, is given them in lines 5-6 (not all are slipper-slappers, unfaithful or unsightly); and the attribution of swifroni stands out in contrast to its employment twice in 9.166 above.

The longest of Palladas's surviving epigrams happens to be on women, strongly suggesting the importance of the topic in his mind.
   oujde;n swfrosunh- tekmhirioin esti prodhlon:
   toi~ empaizomeinoi- ajndrasi tauta legw.
   oute to; dusmorfon paintw- anuipopton ulpaircei,
   out j akolastaiinein pasa peifuke kalhi.

   5 kai; gair ti~ dia; th;n w|ran toi~ polla; didousin
   ouc e|petai: polla;- d j esti; gunaika- idein
   ouci; kala;~ th;n oyin, oopuiomeina- ajkorestw-,
   kai; toi~ crhsameinoi- polla; carizomeina-.
   ouk ei| ti~ sunagei ta;~ oofruia-, oude; gelwsa

   10 faiinetai, oofqhnaii t j andrasin ektreipetai,
   swfrosuinh- troipo- outo- ecegguo-: allai ti~ euroi
   maclada me;n kruibdhn th;n painu semnotathn,
   ta;~ d j illara- kai; pasi filanqrwipw- prosiousa
   swfrona-, eij swifrwn esti; gunhi ti~ o|lw~.

   15 hllikiial toiinun tade krinetai; ajll j Afrodith
   oistrwn eiirhinhn oude; to; ghra- ecei.
   o|rkoi~ loipo;n agei te pepoiqamen: ajll j meq j o|rkon
   zhtein esti; qeou;~ dwdeka kainoteirou-.

   18 kai ynereou cod. Pal. kainoterou- Paton

   There is no evident indication of chastity;
   this I tell husbands who've been fooled.
   Unattractiveness is not quite beyond suspicion,
   nor is every pretty woman born unchaste.

   5 For a woman doesn't just follow those who pay much
   for her beauty; but it is possible to see many
   not so good-looking women insatiably sleeping with men,
   and granting many favours to those who used them.
   Nor if a woman knits her brows and does not seem

   10 to laugh, and avoids showing herself to men,
   is this a sure sign of chastity. In fact, one may find
   altogether the gravest secretly to be wanton,
   and the merry ones who are friendly to everyone,
   chaste, if any woman can be entirely chaste.

   15 Is this to be judged by age, then? But not even age
   has respite from Aphrodite's frenzies.
   So we trust in oaths and religion; but after the oath
   she can seek twelve gods--newer ones.

The poet sets out the dilemma facing men and husbands: how to determine a woman's faithfulness (1-2). Four 'signs' are examined. Physical appearance is no guide, since an unattractive woman cannot be trusted not to stray, while an attractive woman, who is by nature chaste, will remain so even if offered money (3-8). Behaviour such as frowning, a serious demeanour or being secluded is also no guaranteed indication, for the most serious of women can be wanton and the most cheerful chaste (9-14). Age, too, is no sure indicator: older women are still prone to Aphrodite's influence (15-16). Finally, men resort to religious oaths, but these are also not fool-proof as a woman can approach twelve newer gods (17-18).

The poet professes to advise men, especially those who have been made a fool of (toi~ empaizomeinoi- ajndrasi, 2), but also includes himself among them (17). His argument is ordered and systematic. The basic strategy is one of anticlimax and antithesis: each time a new criterion for judging a woman's faithfulness is proposed (looks, demeanour, age and religious oath), it is demolished. The language is unremarkable; most of the words are quite common. A few are, however, of interest. We notice again the use of swfrosuinh- for chastity (1, 11, 14). The use of oopuiomeina-, common in the active of men getting married, or in the passive of women marrying, here has the later meaning of 'sleep with a man' (as in Arist. EN 1148b32). The adverbial use of ajkorestw- is first recorded here. (42) The neuter plural maclaida used of lewd women is rare. (43) There is only one image in the poem, namely oi|strwn (16), an ancient image of the sting of the gadfly, but it seems to have already been weakened to mean 'ordeals'.

To solve the crux in line 18, Paton 1963:33 n. 1 suggested kainoteirouand explained: 'After swearing by the old twelve gods, she can get twelve new gods to forgive her for perjury'--i.e. 'become a Christian and conciliate the Apostles.' The textual reading seems acceptable, but the interpretation of 'the twelve gods' as the Apostles is strained; Christians would hardly regard these men as gods. Palladas may be mocking the Christians, but it is still unlikely that the wife would convert to Christianity and swear the new oath to one or all of the Apostles. Twelve other, pagan (Greek or Egyptian) gods may be intended. Beckby (1968:826) refers to two lines from the comic poet Euphron (Fr. 6 Kock III): kainou- poriizou pro- me pro;- qewn qeoui- / i|na tou;~ palaiou;- mh; jpiorkh- pollaki- ('bring me new gods from the gods / so you don't swear falsely by the old ones so often'). In these lines the 'new' gods are to be selected from the (traditional?) pantheon. One detects in prome pro;- qewn qeoui- and the alliteration on p a mocking tone in accord with the comic context and similar to that in Palladas's line. It seems, then, that Palladas did not have any specific gods or religion in mind; instead, he derides the woman who swears fidelity by one set of gods, breaks her oath and then swears another one by some other gods.

The target audience is clearly men and the problem raised is one concerning men in their relationships with women. The basic assumption or belief is that women are deceitful and cannot be trusted. Although he acknowledges that beautiful or cheerful women need not be unchaste (4-6, 13-14), he does so grudgingly (14). However, in the following couplet he expresses a radically different thought:
   gasteira mishseie qeo;~ kai; brwmata gastroi-:
   ei|neka ga;r touitwn swfrosuina.

   May god hate the stomach and the stomach's food,
   for because of them chastity is undone.

The use of swfrosuina makes it certain that female chastity is meant; Palladas is laying a curse on poverty and hunger as a cause of the loss of chastity.

A harsher tone and more stilted attitude are found in another epigram:
   oujde;n gunaiko;- ceiron, oujde; th~ kalh'~:
   douilou de; cei'ron oujdein, oujde; tou kalou:
   crhlzei- o|mw~ ouln twn ajnagkaiwn kakwn.
   eu|noun nomiizei- doulon eilnai despoth;l
   kalo;- d j a|n ei|h doulo- ol ta; skeilh klasa-.

   'Nothing is worse than a woman, even a good one.'
   Nothing is worse than a slave, even a good one.
   Nevertheless, you need necessary evils.
   Do you think a slave has affection for his master?
   A good slave would be one who broke both legs.

This epigram has been discussed elsewhere, so only a few remarks will suffice here. (44) The first thing one notices is that the epigram is written in iambic metre, the metre of censure (yoigo-). Next, Palladas quotes the comic poet Menander and then expands on it: a slave is worse than a woman, but they are both necessary evils. (45) Palladas adds very little to the conventional theme and the extent of his negative attitude can be judged by comparison with that other critic of women, Semonides. In Fr. 6 West, the latter, echoing Hesiod (Op. 702-03), wrote:
   gunaiko;- oujde;n crhm j ajnh;r lhilzetai
   esqlh- ameinon oude; rligion kakh~.

   a man carries off no booty better than a good
   wife, nothing more chilling than a bad one.

In another iambic epigram the tone and content are more effective:
   ol th;n gunaika th;n amorfon dustucwn,
   lucnou- ajnaya- espeira- skoto- bleipei.

   He who is cursed with an ugly wife, when he lights
   the lamps in the evening, sees darkness.

The poet regards an ugly woman as a curse, since, even when her husband lights the lamps at night, he still sees darkness. The intended male readers would have found this witty and funny and might have enjoyed the unusual use of language (the construction of dustucwn with the accusative; the adjective a|morfon applied to a woman). (46)

The full force of iambic psogos is apparent in the following epigram:
   paisa gunh; coilo- ejstiin: e|cei d j agaqa;- duw w|ra~,
   th;n miian en qalamw, th;n miian ejn qanatw.

   Every woman is bile: but she has two good times,
   one in the bridal chamber, one in death.

This is a variation on a poem by the vitriolic iambic poet Hipponax (c. 550 BCE), nine centuries before Palladas:
   dui j hmeirai gunaikoi- eilsin h|distai,
   o|tan gamhl ti~ kajkfeirhl teqnhkuian.

   Two days of a woman's life are sweetest:
   when she gets married and when she's carried out dead.
   (Fr. 68)

The repetition of this notion over such a time-span and with little variation indicates that it was considered witty by the intended audience and reflects the persistence of male attitudes to women. (47)

Another epigram focuses on a particular woman or type of woman:
   a|n met j jAlexaindreian ej~ jAntioceian ajpeilqhl-,
   kai; meta; th;n Suriihn jItaliia- epibhl-,
   twn dunatwn oujdeii- se gamhsei: touto ga;r aiei;
   oiomeinh phda- eii~ poilin ek poilew-.

   Even if after Alexandria you leave for Antioch,
   and after Syria arrive in Italy,
   no powerful man will marry you; for ever hoping
   for this, you leap from city to city.

The words are addressed to a woman who evidently hopes to marry well and travels widely to realise this hope. Her eagerness (or desperation?) drives her to 'leap from city to city' (phdal- eij~ poilin ek poilew-). However, she seems to be of sufficiently elevated class and status to be able to undertake these journeys and to aspire to finding a husband from among powerful men. But then why does the poet think she has no hope of success? Is she, perhaps as a courtesan, aiming too high? Are her looks or age perhaps the drawback? Or is the poet, rejected and jealous, like the Roman elegiac poets before him, using this argument as a strategem to gain the woman's favour? And is she real or imaginary? The text provides no definite answers to these questions. What does emerge is his scorn for her constant attempt (her 'leaping' from place to place) to marry for power and wealth.

The next epigram sounds a personal note:
   ghraleon me gunaike- ajposkwptousi, legousai
   eij~ to; katoptron olran leiyanon hllikiih-.
   ajll j egw; eij leuka;- forew trica-, eite melaiina-,
   oujk ajlegw, biotou pro;- teilo- ercomeno-.
   euodmoi- de; muiroisi kai; eupetailoi- stefainoisi
   kai; Bromiw pauw frontida- ajrgaleia-.

   Women jeer at me for being old; telling me
   to look in the mirror at my life's remnant.
   But whether I have white hair, or black,
   I don't care, approaching my life's end.
   With sweet-scented oils and lovely-leaved garlands
   and Bacchus I end painful thoughts.

Each couplet states an aspect of the theme: the mockery of his age by women, his indifference to their jibes, his consolation in the symposium. The thought and diction are simple and direct, yet effective. The epigram is framed by constrasting ideas: the jeers of the women (1-2) and the joys of the banquet (5-6). The women's mockery is prosaic: ajposkwiptousi in this meaning is not recorded in surviving Greek poetry (48) and the jingle-effect (in sound and rhythm) of ajposkwiptousi, leigousai suggests the repetitiveness of the jibes. In contrast, the terminology of the symposium is richly poetic in sound and meaning. (49) Through this antithetical structure old age and its effects weave a lineal path: ghraleon (1), the first word; leiyanon (2), a word with tragic overtones; (50) leuka;- ... triica- (3), bioitou pro;- telo- ejrcomeno(4) and frontiida- ajrgaleia- at the end (6). One is left wondering whether the poet really is unconcerned about approaching age: the first and last words of the epigram refer to age (ghraleon) and its effects (frontiidaajrgaleia-).

On his wife

Three epigrams deal with his own wife and domestic situation. In both Palladas blames his unhappy marital state on his wife and career.
   mhnin oujlomeinhn gameth;n ol tala- gegamhka,
   kai; para; th~ tecnhl- mhinido- ajrxameno-.
   w|moi egw; polumhni-, ecwn dicoilwton ajnagkhn,
   tecnh- grammatikh- kai; gameth- macimh-.

   Destructive wrath, that's the wife I, wretch, have married,
   and in my profession I began with 'wrath'.
   Alas, man of much wrath, fated to have double angers,
   of a grammarian's craft and a warlike wife.

The reader immediately recognises the first words mhnin oujlomeinhn as the initial words of the first two lines of Homer's Iliad (mh'nin ... / oujlomeinhn).

The poet thus compares his wife's wrath with that of Achilles. In the next line he states that he also started his career as a grammatikos 'from wrath' in Homer's epic. Violent anger in both wife and work therefore makes his life a misery. He is doomed by two manifestations of anger, that of his career and that of his wife. The wit is enhanced by the pseudo-heroic, possibly coined words poluimhni- and dicoilwton (or tricoilwton) which occur only here (notice the sound-play on oulomeinhn and poluimhni-), and by the final word macimh- which is used elsewhere of men. The second epigram elaborates on this theme:
   ouj duinamai gameth- kai; grammatikh- ajnecesqai,
   grammatikh- ajpoirou, kai; gameth- adiikou.
   amfoteirwn ta; paqh qainato- kai; moira tetuktai.
   th;n ouln grammatikh;n nun moli- ejxeifugon:
   ou duinamai d j ajlocou thi~ ajndromach- ajnacwrein:
   ei|rgei ga;r cairth- kai; noimo- Ausoinio-.

   I am unable to endure a wife and grammar,
   grammar unpaid and wife unjust.
   The sufferings shaped by both are death and fate.
   In fact, I've now hardly escaped grammar;
   but I can't retreat from the man-fighting bed-mate,
   for contract and Roman law prevent it.

Grammar and wife together are too much to endure, the former poorly paid, the latter unfair (1-2, with parallelism and balancing). Even retirement from teaching literature has brought no respite: his wife is as belligerent as ever (ajndromach-, with punning on jAndromaich-?), and he cannot divorce her (3-6).

The autobiographical nature of the two epigrams is evident, but the skilful use of language and the witty ideas in both epigrams seduce the reader into not taking the content too seriously. (51)

In another epigram Palladas also offers a glimpse of his domestic life:
   ouj dayilw'- men, ajll j o|mw~ kajgw treifw
   paida-, gunaika, dou'lon, o|rniqa~, kuina:
   koilax ga;r oujdei;- tou;~ ejmou;~ patei' domou-.

   I'm not extravagant, but still I also rear
   children, a wife, a slave, birds, a dog.
   For no flatterer walks in my house.

The picture is not one of violence and unhappiness, but of poverty and patriarchal control. The hierarchy descends from the children to the dog, with the wife in second position between children and the slave. (52)

These attitudes may be witty, misogynistic cant, but we should not overlook the harsh realities of the lives of the poorer classes. Lucillius (c. 1st century CE) also used the epigram to argue that once a wife entered a house, everything in life changed for the worse and was further complicated by the arrival of children. A rich man could remain unmarried and still have children--presumably by adoption--, (53) but a poor man could not love a child (AP 11.388). Early Greek elegy was written by and for aristocrats, and Hellenistic epigram was generally written by Greek expatriots for their Ptolemaic patrons. Palladas uses a persona who speaks for and as someone from the poorer section of Alexandrian society.


In his epigrams an embittered Palladas railed against most events, people, things and circumstances that surrounded or affected him. In his epigrams on women his attitude to them is also negative. In his eyes they are destructive, deceptive, incompatible with men, a necessary evil and desperate to marry rich and powerful men (9.165; 10.56; 11.286, 306). The degree to which these views were part of a deliberate literary pose or intensely personal utterances, both via a persona, can be endlessly debated, without a definite result. In one poem Palladas is simply perpetuating an ancient statement by Hipponax (11.381); in another he seems to be stating a personal or at least minority view (9.166). Attitudes to women and the role of women in the society of Alexandria had been changing since Hellenistic times, (54) but there is no sign of this in his eprigrams. This becomes apparent when one examines the themes and attitudes of the other poets of the Anthology. The modern reader finds his ideas simplistic and naive rather than profound or original, but it is very likely that the original audience for whom he wrote, the Greek male intelligentsia in Alexandria, would have accepted, appreciated and applauded his assessment of women.

But there is something we can judge more positively and that is his use of language. This is evident in every epigram, where we encounter myth, metaphor, structural features (balancing, antithesis, chiasmus, anticlimax), effective diction (color epicus, unusual or unique words), humor and wit, dramatic effects. These stylistic devices are put to best use in his more personal epigrams on his domestic life (9.168; 10.86; 11.378) and his experience of growing old (11.54), where he subjects himself and his own situation to the same scrutiny as in the case of other people. His depiction of his marriage to a belligerent wife, made worse by his impoverished position, may even elicit a modicum of sympathy from the modern reader.


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Gutzwiller, K.J. 2007. A Guide to Hellenistic Literature. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Henderson, W.J. 2008a. 'Epigrammatic psogos: censure in the epigrams of Palladas of Alexandria.' AG 51:91-116.

Henderson, W.J. 2008b. 'The iambic epigrams of Palladas of Alexandria.' Ekklesiastikos Pharos 88:115-138.

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(1) Palladas's epigrams in the Anthologia Palatina (AP) and Anthologia Planudea (API) are cited by book and poem number alone. The text is that of Beckby 1967-68.

(2) On the biographical details, see Bowra 1959:266-67; Keydell 1962; Peek 1965:15960; Lesky 1966:737-811; Highet 1979; Cameron 1993:90; Henderson 2008b:115-16.

(3) See Peek 1965:160-61.

(4) Some of his poems were inscribed on various public surfaces: 16.207 on a statue of Eros; 16.282 on a painting of the Nikai; 16.317 on a statue of Gessius; 10.87 on the wall of a latrine in Ephesus; 10.58 on a grave on the island of Megiste. Cf. Peek 1965:165-66.

(5) Paton 1958:1; 1963:1.

(6) Cf. Schmid & Stahlin 1961:979; Irmscher 1961:811; Lesky 1966:811; Keydell 1972; Highet 1979:393; Cameron 1993:16, 80-81, 90-96, 263-64, 322-23; Albiani 2007; Henderson 2008a and b.

(7) See further Henderson 2008a:111-13.

(8) Mostly collected in AP 5; e.g. Meleager, AP 5.139, 140; Philodemus, AP 5.131. There are also praises addressed to poets like Sappho and Erinna: e.g. Antipater of Sidon, AP 7.14, 15; Asclepiades, AP 7.11; Leonidas, AP 7.13; and the Ptolemaic queens: Berenice (Callim. AP 5.146) and Arsinoe (Damagetus , AP 6.277).

(9) Philodemus, AP 5.13; Asclepiades, AP 7.217; Paulus Silentianus, AP 5.258, 259.

(10) Plato, AP 6.1; Hedylus, AP 5.161; Meleager, AP 5.175, 204; Macedonius Consul, AP 11.370; Lucillius, AP 11.256, 310; Anon., AP 11.297.

(11) Antipater, AP 6.174.

(12) Leonidas, AP 5.206; Antipater, AP 7.208; Philetas, AP 6.210; Hedylus, AP 6.292; Dioscorides, AP 6.290; Julianus Praefectus, AP 6.18-20.

(13) Palladas, AP 6.60, 61; Archilochus, AP 6.133; Antipater, AP 6.206, 208, 209; Archias, AP 6.207; Nossis, AP 6.275; Antipater, AP 6.276; Anon., AP 6.280; Leonidas, AP 6.281.

(14) Agathias Scholasticus, AP 6.59; Callimachus, AP 6.146; Leonidas, AP 6.200, 202; Marcus Argentarius, AP 6.201; Nicias, AP 6.270; Phaedimus, AP 6.271; Perses, AP 6.272; Perses, AP 6.274. Cf. also Nossis (?), AP 6.273.

(15) Archias, AP 6.39; Anacreon (?), AP 6.136; Antipater, AP 6.160; Philippus, AP 6.247; Leonidas, AP 6.286, 288, 289; Antipater, AP 6.287.

(16) Meleager, AP 7.182; Antipater of Thessalonica, AP 7.185; Eutolmius Scholasticus Illustris, AP 7.611; Julianus Praefectus, AP 7.605; Parmemon (?), AP 7.183, 184.

(17) Lucillius, AP 11.388.

(18) Macedonius Consul, AP 10.71.

(19) Eur. Rh. 97; Cyc. 633 (of the Cyclops); Plato, Grg. 473c.

(20) Hdt. 4.134; Aristoph. Pax 1133.

(21) Aristot. Pr. 867a20.

(22) h. Merc.140; Hom. II. 9.212; 23.228 (passive); Soph. OT1328.

(23) Eur. Ale. 203; Thuc. 2.49.

(24) Sophron 54 connects ageing and withering: ghra- alme; marainon tariceuei ('withered old-age embalms us').

(25) For example, Il. 1.517-21, 536-611; the final phrase of this passage ends with crusoqrono- |Hrh (611), echoed here by Palladas.

(26) See above3; cf. also Alpheus of Mytilene, AP 9.526.

(27) The so-called 'Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder' found elsewhere in Palladas's poetry; cf. 10.99.4 and Henderson 2008a:103. For other examples, see Gerber 2003:193-94. For the device see Schwyzer & Debrunner 1950:691.

(28) Archil. Fr. 184 West.

(29) Hdt. 3.53 and Eur. Suppl. 508 use sfaleroi- metaphorically of 'slippery' or 'perilous' rulers; Thuc. 4.62 of the uncertain future; Nic. Al. 189 and Demosth. 1.7 of unreliable, wavering persons. See LSJ and TGL (ed. Stephanus) s.v.

(30) Hom. Il. 11.174; 10.174; Od. 4.489; 23.79; Soph. OT 430.

(31) See LSJ and TGL s.v.

(32) Gutzwiller 2007:178-88.

(33) Od. 21.1-4.

(34) Od. 5.209-10 (Callipso's comment); 7.151-52 (dear ones in general); 9.34-36 (parents only); 11.174-79 (begging Teiresias for news of his father, son and wife); 13.42-43 (wife and dear ones); 329-38 (Athena's comment, though he still wants to test Penelope).

(35) Cf. Schmidt 1965:1903-08 (in later literature) and 1912-20 (in art).

(36) Hom. Od. 19.163, where it is already proverbial (Penelope to the disguised Odysseus): ouj ga;r aipo; druo;~ essi palaifatou, oud j apo; petrh-.

(37) Though common in prose, the word does not seem to have been used in poetry; cf. LSJ, TGL and Lampe 1961-68: s.v. prostaxi-.

(38) Cf. LSJ s.v. gunaikokrateomai. Cf. also gunaikokrasia, which refers to female temper and bossiness (LSJ, TGL).

(39) Aesch. Fr. 388; Soph. El. 626; Plato, Lg. 796b.

(40) Pind. Pyth. 4.11; Fr. 122.17.

(41) Hom. Od. 14.127 (Penelope); 3.403 (Nestor's wife); Diod. 2.45; Plut. Mor. 755c; POxy 49.4.

(42) Cf. TGL, Lampe 1961-68: s.v.

(43) It occurs elsewhere in the Palatine Anthology, where Paulus Silentiarius (9.443) uses the word with elpii-.

(44) Henderson 2008b:129-30.

(45) See Lloyd-Jones 1975.

(46) See further Henderson 2008b:130.

(47) Cf. also Hippon. fr. 182 (possibly spurious). For further discussion, see Henderson 2008b:130-31.

(48) Cf. LSJ and TGL s.v..

(49) For euodmo- (euosmo-) cf. Pind. Fr. 75.15 (of Spring), Eur. Ba. 235 (of myrrh) and Theocr. 3.23 (of celery) and 17.29 (of nectar); for eupetalo- cf. Pind. Parth. 2.69 (of the laurel); Aristoph. Th. 1000 (of ivy) and Meleager, AP 4.1.19 (of the poplar).

(50) Eur. LI. 554; Tr. 716; Fr. 469; Soph. El. 1113; also Meleager, AP 7.476.

(51) Thus Peek 1965:159.

(52) For further discussion, cf. Henderson 2008b:128-29.

(53) Cf. Paton 1963:256-57.

(54) See especially Rowlandson 2001:24-25 (queens and priestesses), 62-63 (religion), 156-57 (marriage), 162-64 (independence), 195-96 (legal freedom), 220-21 (landownership), 245-47 (other occupations), 299-302 (literacy), 354-55 (sexuality) with supporting documents; also Thraede 1962:201-07; Fantham et al. 1994:136-80; Pomeroy 1990; Gutzwffler 2007:24-25, 195-98.

William Henderson

William Henderson

University of Johannesburg
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