Margites

Summary

The Margites (Greek: Μαργίτης) is a comic mock-epic of ancient Greece that is largely lost. From references to the work that survived, it is known that its central character is an exceedingly stupid man named Margites (from ancient Greek μάργος, margos, "raving, mad; lustful"), who was so dense he did not know which parent had given birth to him.[1] His name gave rise to the recherché adjective margitomanēs (μαργιτομανής), "mad as Margites", used by Philodemus.[2]

It was commonly attributed to Homer, as by Aristotle (Poetics 13.92): "His Margites indeed provides an analogy: as are the Iliad and Odyssey to our tragedies, so is the Margites to our comedies"; but the work, among a mixed genre of works loosely labelled "Homerica" in antiquity, was attributed to Pigres, a Greek poet of Halicarnassus, in the massive medieval Greek encyclopaedia called the Suda. Harpocration also writes that it is attributed to Homer.[3] Basil of Caesarea writes that the work is attributed to Homer but he states that he is unsure regarding this attribution.[4]

It is written in mixed hexameter and iambic lines, an odd whim of Pigres, who also inserted a pentameter line after each hexameter of the Iliad as a curious literary game.[5]

Margites was famous in the ancient world, but only these following lines passed from Medieval tradition:

Him, then, the Gods made neither a delver nor a ploughman,
Nor in any other way wise; he failed every art.
as quoted by Aristotle
He knew many things, but he knew them badly ...
as quoted by Plato
There came to Colophon an old man and divine singer,
a servant of the Muses and of far-shooting Apollo.
In his dear hands he held a sweet-toned lyre ...
as quoted by Atilius Fortunatianus
The fox knows many a wile;
but the hedgehog's one trick can beat them all.
as quoted by Zenobius (attributed simply to "Homer")

In Oxyrhynchus, a few papyrus fragments were found and published (P.Oxy 2309, 3693 and 3694). The collected fragments were included in volume II of Iambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati by M. L. West.

Due to the Margites character, the Greeks used the word to describe fool and useless people.[6][7] Demosthenes called Alexander the Great Margites in order to insult and degrade him.[6][8][9]

References

  1. ^ Stuart Kelly, The Book of Lost Books, New York: Random House, 2005.
  2. ^ Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon revised edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940.
  3. ^ Harpokration, Lexicon of the Ten Orators, § m6
  4. ^ Advice to Young Men on Greek Literature, Basil of Caesarea, § 8
  5. ^ Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquity, New York, 1898.
  6. ^ a b Harpokration, Lexicon of the Ten Orators, § m6
  7. ^ Advice to Young Men on Greek Literature, Basil of Caesarea, § 8
  8. ^ Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon, §160
  9. ^ Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes, §23

Bibliography

  • Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, article on Margites, v. 2, page 949.
  • West, M.L. Iambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati, vol. II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-814096-7.