Friday, November 03, 2006

Shining and Laughing

These are the first words P. speaks in Prometheus Bound (88-92):
ὦ δῖος αἰθὴρ καὶ ταχύπτεροι πνοαί,
ποταμῶν τε πηγαί ποντίων τε κυμάτων
ἀνήριθμον γέλασμα, παμμῆτόρ τε γῆ,
καὶ τὸν πανόπτην κύκλον ἡλίου καλῶ·
ἴδεσθέ μ᾽ οἷα πρὸς θεῶν πάσχω θεός.

[O heavenly sky and swift-winged winds, and fresh-water streams and the boundless laughter of the waves of the sea, and earth, the mother of all, and the all-seeing circle of the sun, I call to you: see what I, a god myself, suffer at the hands of the gods.]

Griffith references C.H. Kahn's book, Anaximander and the origins of Greek cosmology (1960), where there is a discussion of αἰθήρ, which, for the the Presocratics at least, seems sometimes to mean fire as well as air (the root αἰθ- implies both, Griffith). He describes the impression that a blazing sun can give on a clear day, where the sky itself seems to be ablaze when looking in the sun's general direction.

The final words of Prometheus are also the final words of the play, and they comprise a similar invocation: not only do we find the words αἰθήρ and πάσχω again, but also images of the mother, and the sun:
ὦ μητρὸς ἐμῆς σέβας, ὦ πάντων
αἰθὴρ κοινὸν φάος εἱλίσσων,
ἐσορᾷς μ᾽ ὡς ἔκδικα πάσχω.

[O majesty of my mother (i.e. herself), O sky, turning the common light of all, you see me as I suffer unjustly.]

But returning to line 90, where we read of the "laughter" of the ocean's waves. The glittering of the sun on the surface of the sea is regularly described as laughter, and, according to Griffith, the sense of "shine" in the root γ(ε)λα-, as in ἀγλαός, may even be older than "laugh." He compares Iliad 19.362, and the Hymn to Apollo 118, and even a line from Milton's Paradise Lost, 4.165: Cheard with the grateful smell old Ocean smiles.

I was reminded of lines 12-14 from the Hymn to Demeter, where it is not only the "salty swell of the sea" that laughs, but also the earth and heaven:
τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ ῥίζης ἑκατὸν κάρα ἐξεπεφύκει,
κὦζ᾽ ἥδιστ᾽ ὀδμή, πᾶς δ᾽ οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθε
γαῖά τε πᾶσ᾽ ἐγέλασσε καὶ ἁλμυρὸν οἶδμα θαλάσσης.

[And from its (i.e. the narcissus) root a hundred blossoms had grown out, and its scent smelled most sweetly, and the whole vast heaven above and the entire earth laughed, and the salty swell of the sea.]

It's curious that Milton's Ocean smiles being cheard with the grateful smell, while the three realms in the Hymn to Demeter laugh because ὤζ᾽ ἥδιστ᾽ ὀδμή.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey nick, interesting i didn't know about the "γ(ε)λα-, as in ἀγλαός" link, i might have a read of chantraine's etym dictionary on these words next time at the lib, thanks, chad. :)

7:21 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Hi Chad, please share anything interesting that you find. He also refers us to: Stanford's Ajax, 1963, 114-117; T.G. Rosenmeyer, Cal.Stud.Cl.Ant. 11, 1978, 212-213; West on Hes.Th.40. I haven't been able to see any of them yet. Good to hear from you, Nick.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theognis has a pairing of scent and laughter, regarding the birth of Apollo.

Φοίβε ἄναξ, ὅτε μέν σε τέκε πότνια Λητώ (5)
  πᾶσα μὲν ἐπλήσθη Δῆλος ἀπειρεσίη
ὀδμῆς ἀμβροσίης, ἐγέλασσε δὲ γαῖα πελώρη,
  γήθησεν δὲ βαθὺς πόντος ἁλὸς πολιῆς.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

West on Hes.Th.40,

"γελᾷ: the primary metaphorical meaning is `shine' with reflected light as Il.19.362 γέλασσε δὲ πᾶσα περὶ χθὼν χαλκοῦ ὑπὸ στεροπῆς. Cf. Hsch. γελεῖν· λάμπειν, ἀνθεῖν. The metaphor is also found in the Rgveda, and may therefore be Indo-European heritage. Elsewhere it is extended to express the rejoicing of the surroundings at a pleasant sound, odour or event. Thgn 8-10 [which I just quoted — great minds, κτλ. —wm] Cf. h. Dem. 13f. As applied to the sea, the metaphor can have more than one meaning, [a raft of references]."

9:58 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Thanks for sharing the Theognis piece, Will, and for letting me see West's comment. The Rgveda bit is very interesting. I wonder if it appears anywhere in Hittite literature. ~N

10:32 AM  

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