Posts Tagged ‘Plutarch’

Historians are not agreed upon the origin and meaning of the famous name

of Rome. One version tells us that after the capture

of Troy some fugitives obtained ships, were carried by the winds to the

Tyrrhenian or Tuscan coast, and cast anchor in the Tiber. There the

women, who had suffered much from the sea voyage, were advised by one

who was accounted chief among them for wisdom and noble birth, Roma by

name, to burn the ships. At first the men were angry at this, but

afterwards, being compelled to settle round about the Palatine Hill,

they fared better than they expected, as they found the country fertile

and the neighbours hospitable; so they paid great honour to Roma, and

called the city after her name.

 Take Two:

Some say that Roma, who gave the name to the city, was the daughter

of Italus and Leucaria, or of Telephus the son of Hercules, and the wife

of Aeneas, while others say that she was the daughter of Ascanius the

son of Aeneas. Since these versions are disputed re is And even those who follow the most reasonable of these legends, and admit that it was

Romulus who founded the city after his own name, do not agree about his


Take Three:

Some say that Romulus was the son of Aeneas and Dexithea the

daughter of Phorbas, and with his brother Romus was brought to Italy

when a child, and that as the river was in flood, all the other boats

were swamped, but that in which the children were was carried to a soft

bank and miraculously preserved, from which the name of Rome was given

to the place.

Take Four:

Others say that Roma, the daughter of that Trojan lady,

married Latinus the son of Telemachus and bore a son, Romulus.

Take Five: 

In the house of Tarchetius, the king of the Albani, a cruel and lawless

man, a miracle took place. A male figure arose from the hearth, and

remained there for many days. Now there was in Etruria an oracle of

Tethys, which told Tarchetius that a virgin must be offered to the

figure; for there should be born of her a son surpassing all mankind in

strength, valour, and good fortune. Tarchetius hereupon explained the

oracle to one of his daughters, and ordered her to give herself up to

the figure; but she, not liking to do so, sent her servant-maid instead.

Tarchetius, when he learned this, was greatly incensed, and cast them

both into prison, meaning to put them to death. However, in a dream,

Vesta appeared to him, forbidding him to slay them. In consequence of

this he locked them up with a loom, telling them that when they had

woven the piece of work upon it they should be married. So they wove all

day, and during the night other maidens sent by Tarchetius undid their

work again. Now when the servant-maid was delivered of twins, Tarchetius

gave them to one Teratius, and bade him destroy them. He laid them down

near the river; and there they were suckled by a she-wolf, while all

sorts of birds brought them morsels of food, until one day a cowherd saw

them. Filled with wonder he ventured to come up to the children and

bear them off. Saved from death in this manner they grew up, and then

attacked and slew Tarchetius. This is the legend given by one

Promathion, the compiler of a history of Italy.(Parallel Lives by Plutarch)

Founding of Rome belongs to the past. Who is funding her now?



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Outline:Aegeus is tricked by Pitheus to have sex with his daughter-Theseus is reared by his mother and when time comes he goes in search of his father. Medea wants to kill the youth but his father recognizes him by his sword. He is acknowledged as his legitimate heir. Sons of Pallas and his fifty sons wage war against him and are routed. Exploits of Theseus, Theseus and Ariadne-Theseus kills the minotaur and return to Athens. Credited as making Athens adopt democratic way of government.
As in maps of antiquity areas were sometimes marked with legends that showed ignorance of the cartographer than explained the true case. A lion country may upon close examination would have yielded dandelions than the king of the beasts. But such legends make us reexamine antiquity not for exactness of geography but for understanding the lack of it. I, Plutarch is aiming for an effect and not for explaining facts I do not have. The effect is entertaining my reader, of course.
Theseus is considered as the founder of Athens as Romulus, the founder of Rome. There are several points of resemblance to one another. Both were unacknowledged illegitimate children, and were reputed to descend from the Gods. Both were wise as well as powerful. The one founded Rome, while the other was the joint founder of Athens; and these are two of the most famous of cities. Both carried off women by violence, and neither of them escaped domestic misfortune and retribution, but towards the end of their lives both were at variance with their countrymen from what we have on this from writers of antiquity.(selected)

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Boredom is the enemy #1 to every serious occupation in life. A story which concerns St. John, a favorite disciple of Jesus is that he was once seen sporting with a tame partridge, by an archer who thought that the holy man should not waste his time in such frivolities; The apostle replied that if the archer did not at times relax his bow, it would lose spring.
Can there be time out for holiness? For a saint like St. Francis even frivolities shall prove his human quality in its naturalness. Addressing the sun as Brother Sun or the birds the revered figure of Assissi proved his time out was in fitness of God’s kingdom. The hand that wounds a man of God is an occasion for him to show his essence. He may dismiss it as natural of being among men of all persuasions and quality. For him forgiving comes easier because he is not only thinking of himself but also of another. Tyrants at home demand service and not understand those who serve also have sometimes difficulties in meeting their demands. They have simply forgotten others since they are full of themselves. Those who slash and burn rain forests do so because they want to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. How can such fellows call themselves as human or decent?

The great Caesar as Plutarch tells us, on one occasion sought shelter under the roof of a rustic shepherd. At dinner time the meal cooked in rancid oil and served to him made the companion bristle with indignity. Caesar could accept the humble meal and thank him for his hospitality. Caesar proved his greatness even under straitened circumstances. He did not forget where he was and his place. He was a guest and having forced himself on another man’s hospitality knew how to behave. Like Caesar each of us is a guest here on earth.
Can there be time out for holiness? Or let us rephrase it like thus: Can there be time out from being human?
Tailpiece: there is nothing that can fix a problem like capitalism than fixing who we are and our decency to others who also have found sharing the space. None of us owns the earth. Perhaps education that we tout as cure-all is a travesty of true purpose of education. Think of damage done under initiative and free enterprise! colossal damage done by cretins in the name of bold initiative. Ptooii! Education on these fellows seems to fit the proverb:’casting pearls before swine’.

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Scholar, Diplomat

His life and work by a stroke of luck coincided with a time of crisis when the world order of Eastern Roman Empire was being occulted by Islam. His work laid the soil ready for a catastrophe,- the fall of Constantinople that came later. When it did come humanism and Greek thought from the wreckage of Eastern Roman Empire could put out roots deep and grow in Europe.
Manuel who had embraced the Catholic faith was in favor of Catholic and Orthodox Churches united in faith against the onslaught of an alien faith and culture. This union was first endorsed in Lyons in 1274 but it did not come to fruition. Many like Manuel Chrysoloras saw it as a political necessity.
Chrysoloras remained in Florence 1397-1400. The scholars saw it as a great new opportunity: there were many teachers of law, but no one had studied Greek in Italy for 700 years. While in Florence he began teaching Greek, starting with the rudiments. He moved on to teach in Bologna and later in Venice and Rome. Though he taught widely, a handful of his chosen students remained a close-knit group, among the first humanists of the Renaissance. Among his pupils were numbered some of the foremost figures of the revival of Greek studies in Renaissance Italy.
In 1408, he was sent to Paris on an important mission from the emperor Manuel Palaeologus. In 1413, he went to Germany on an embassy to the emperor Sigismund, the object of which was to fix a place for the church council that later assembled at Constance. Chrysoloras was on his way there, representing the Greek Church, when he died suddenly. His death gave rise to commemorative essays (Chrysolorina).

Chrysoloras translated the works of Homer and Plato’s Republic into Latin. His own works, which circulated in manuscript in his life time. His Erotemata Civas Questiones, which was the first basic Greek grammar in use in Western Europe, first published in 1484 and widely reprinted, and it enjoyed considerable success all over Europe. The Lives by Plutarch served as a catalyst to ideals of humanism and a bible for the nascent Renaissance humanist movement. His contribution to spread ideals of Hellenism and Greek scholarship to the West was of immense value.

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On hearing that Ismenias was an excellent flute player Antisthenes answered:
“But he must be a worthless man,for if he were not, he would not be such a capital flute-player!” King Philip of Macedon, when his son played brilliantly and agreeably on the harp at an entertainment, said to him, “Are you not ashamed, to play so well?” Plutarch said that it was enough for a king, if he sometimes employed his leisure in listening to musicians.
Think how a timely reproof changed Alexander the great to concentrate on things worthwhile? There was nothing that earmarked him to be world conqueror. But he conquered his own inclinations and mind in order to pursue what was important. From skirmishes he graduated to lead men in war and honed his skills to lead them well. His father made him see where his true interest ought to be. Life being short one ought to have his or her priorities right.
‘Reach for the stars’ implies that it is addressed to those who are earth-bound. By developing full potential doesn’t mean growing in all directions. Michelangelo was versatile with words and chisel. His verses showed his talent but his genius shone through sculpture. We know him as painter of the Sistine chapel ceiling and as the sculptor of David. Being able to play Jews-harp is all right but for an orator like Demosthenes excellence in it is at the cost of something more profound and noble.
Plutarch writes thus in his life of Pericles thus: One day in Rome, Caesar, seeing some rich foreigners nursing and petting young lap-dog and monkeys, enquired whether in their parts of
the world the women bore no children: a truly imperial reproof to those who waste on animals the affection which they ought to bestow upon mankind. May we not equally blame those who waste the curiosity and love of knowledge which belongs to human nature, by directing it to worthless, not to useful objects? It is indeed unavoidable that external objects, whether good or bad, should produce some effect upon our senses; but every man is able, if he chooses, to concentrate his mind upon any subject he may please. For this reason we ought to seek virtue, not merely in order to contemplate it, but that we may ourselves derive some benefit from so doing.
He who waters the rosebush and spends pruning it shall have some of its fragrance cling to him.

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The Pleasure of Books

Books are one way of communicating with the dead and the past. It is a mystical experience pure and simple.
There are those who are, as Isaac Disraeli the father of the British Prime Minister would describe, men with one book. Sir William Jones read the works of Cicero every year. Demosthenes felt such delight in the history of Thucidides, and in order to obtain a familiar and perfect mastery of his style he copied his history eight times. Selim the Second had the commentaries of Caesar translated for his use; and it is recorded that his military ardor was heightened by his reading. (Ack: Curiosities in Literature-vol iv)
Charles Laughton in recent times was known to write down in long hand the specimen works of an author before he played the role for the screen. By this method he had spiritually put on the mantle of Rembrandt or any other as it were.
Napoleon in his youth read Plutarch so extensively that it showed. When he visited his homeland on a furlough he had long chats with General Paoli, whose adjutant his father had been long ago. At the end of their conversation once, the old General shook his head and said, ’There is nothing modern about you, Napoleon, you come from the age of Plutarch.’ Harry Truman as a fledgling senator found use for Parallel Lives by Plutarch,- and human nature being such, he found Greek and Roman counterparts in the modern senators he came to deal with,- and thanks to his reading, he was forewarned to survive the Washington political jungle.
Reading an autobiography has all the charm of conversing with a mind that is very much before you and whether he has come down to your level or you have been lifted to his does not spoil the mood. You are open for impressions of his time and his train of thoughts. It is no wonder a book, imaginary or true when it is well written has the power to break down the illusion of time and place. Even after Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, letters have come in for his brainchild, the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Much earlier when Samuel Richardson wrote Clarissa it created a sensation.
One day Mrs. Barbauld was going to Hampstead in the stagecoach, she had a Frenchman for her companion. In chatting with him she realized he was making a trip to Hampstead for the express purpose of seeing the house in the Flask Walk where Clarissa lodged.
Recently Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code made droves of visitors follow the route that the hero had taken to crack the code.
An appeal of books whether formatted in electronic ink or on paper is what it contains. Life of man and woman may be a constant search for meaning around which each may arrange his or her days in order. Unfortunately reality allows no such easy way out. Powerful books serve as a mirror where we see our lives reflected back to us complete with much needed insight, even though much of details have undergone some changes. Balzac’s imagination was such he could invest in them reality needed enough. When an admirer, one day brought news of a common acquaintance who was ill Balzac heard him for a while and asked, ’But let’s get back to reality. Who is going to marry Eugenie Grandet?’
Oscar Wilde in his own characteristic way summed up effect of Balzac’s books on a reader. ’A steady course of Balzac reduces our living friends to shadows…;who would care to go out to meet Tomkins, the friend of one’s boyhood, when one can sit at home with Lucien de Rubempré(one of Balzac’s characters)? It is pleasanter to have an entrée to Balzac’s society than to receive from all the duchesses of Mayfair’.

An alderman of Oxford religiously read Defoe’s classic each year and believed Robinson Crusoe was a real person. Great was dismay to be told by a friend it was not so. He also said it was based loosely on a true incident which befell a Scottish sailor by name Alexander Selkirk.
He replied that he wished that he were not informed the truth ‘for in undeceiving me, you have deprived me of one of the greatest pleasures of my old age.’
Benjamin Franklin
At a dinner party where Benjamin Franklin was one of the distinguished guests he was asked by Abbe Raynal, ”What kind o f man deserves the most pity?”
Franklin answered, ”A lonesome man on a rainy day, who does not know how to read.”
Harry S. Truman had a lonely childhood, made worse by his physical debilities. He took to wearing glasses since he was six years old. He was a voracious reader mostly of history. Later in life he would say much of his political acumen and understanding of people he had gathered out of Plutarch.
In 1957 Truman during an interview asserted that Alexander the Great died as a result of drinking 33 quarts of wine.
The interviewer was puzzled at the figure and checked up with the Library of Congress. With great difficulty the researcher unearthed in an obscure and long out of print volume of the Ancient Greeks he found that the President was right after all.
John Dryden(1631-1700)the Poet Laurate was unhappily married and his literary pursuits annoyed his wife all the more.
Once she faulted him,’Lord Mr. Dryden,how can you always be poring over these musty books? I wish I were a book and then I should have more of your company.’
‘Pray my dear,’ was his answer, ‘if you do become a book let it be an almanack, for then I’ll change you every year’.
Their conjugal life must have been strained for the poet to compose the following epitaph for her.
‘Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she’s at rest, and so am I’

Mark Twain was traveling through Europe and at one point he had an Englishman in his compartment. Having introduced himself Mark Twain turned his attention to his reading. His companion startled him by saying,’ Mr. Clemens I would give ten pounds not to have read your Huckleberry Finn.’
And when the author looked up, awaiting an explanation of this extraordinary remark, the Englishman smiled and added: ’So I could again have the pleasure of reading it for the first time.’


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Now at this period Mnestheus, the son of Peteus,
took to currying favour with the people. Demogogues were not vogue till then.
This man formed a league of the nobles, who had long borne Theseus a
grudge for having destroyed the local jurisdiction and privileges of
each of these lost when controls were centralized. The invasion of Attica by the sons of Tyndareus came when he needed a cause. At first they abstained from
violence, and was content to get their sister Helen back. But when they were told by the citizens that she was not in their hands, they
proceeded to warlike measures. Akademus, who had by some means
discovered that she was concealed at Aphidnae, now told them where she
was. Thus the sons of Tyndareus came to Aphidnae, and took the place
after a battle.

After the fall of Aphidnae, the people of Athens became
terrified, and were persuaded by Mnestheus to admit the sons of
Tyndareus to the city, and to treat them as friends. His excuse was that their war was only with Theseus, who had been the first to use
Violence. The sons of Tynareus for, victorious as
they were, yet demanded nothing except initiation into the
mysteries, as they were, no less than Herakles, connected with the city.
This was permitted them, and they were adopted by Aphidnus, as Herakles
had been by Pylius.

It is said that Aethra, the mother of Theseus, was carried off as
a captive to Lacedaemon, and thence to Troy with Helen, and Homer
supports this view, when he says that there followed Helen,

“Aithra the daughter of Pittheus and large-eyed Klymene.”

Now Aidoneus the Molossian king chanced to be entertaining
Herakles, and related to him the story of Theseus and Peirithous, what
they had intended to do, and how they had been caught in the act and
punished. Herakles was much grieved at hearing how one had perished
ingloriously, and the other was like to perish. He thought that nothing
would be gained by reproaching the king for his conduct to Peirithous,
but he begged for the life of Theseus, and pointed out that the release of his friend was a favour which he deserved. Aidoneus agreed, and
Theseus, when set free, returned to Athens. But, as he at
once wished to preside and manage the state as before, he was met by

He endeavoured to establish his government by force, but was overpowered
by faction; and at last, despairing of success, he secretly sent his
children to Euboea, to Elephenor, the son of Chalkodous; and he himself,
after solemnly uttering curses on the Athenians at Gargettus, where now
is the place called Araterion, or the place of curses, set sail for
Skyros, where he was, he imagined, on friendly terms with the
inhabitants, and possessed a paternal estate in the island. At that time
Lykomedes was king of Skyros; so he proceeded to demand from him his
lands, in order to live there. Lykomedes, either in fear of the great
reputation of Theseus, or else to gain the favour of Mnestheus, led him
up to the highest mountain top in the country, on the pretext of
showing him his estate from thence, and pushed him over a precipice.
As soon as he was dead, no one thought
any more of him, but Mnestheus reigned over the Athenians, while
Theseus’s children were brought up as private citizens by Elephenor, and
followed him to Ilium. When Mnestheus died at Ilium, they returned home
and resumed their rightful sovereignty. In subsequent times, among many
other things which led the Athenians to honour Theseus as a hero or
demi-god, most remarkable was his appearance at the battle of Marathon,
where his spirit was seen by many, clad in armour, leading the charge
against the barbarians.

After the Persian war, in the archonship of Phaedo, the Athenians
were told by the Delphian Oracle to take home the bones of Theseus and
keep them with the greatest care and honour. There was great difficulty
in obtaining them and in discovering his tomb and it occurred when Kimon took the
island, as is written in my history of his Life, he chanced to behold an eagle pecking
with its beak and scratching with its talons at a small rising ground.
Here he dug, imagining that the spot had been pointed out by a miracle.
There was found the coffin of a man of great stature, and lying beside
it a brazen lance-head and a sword. These relics were brought to Athens where the ed Athenians received them with splendid processions and sacrifices, and buried in the midst of the city.(note: it is where the Gymnasium now stands, and his tomb is a place of sanctuary for slaves, and all that are poor and oppressed, because
Theseus, during his life, was the champion and avenger of the poor, and
always kindly hearkened to their prayers. Their greatest sacrifice in
his honour takes place on the eighth of the month of Pyanepsion, upon
which day he and the youths came back from Crete.)

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Theseus in search of glory, emulating Herakles-Abducts Antiope and this triggers war with the Amazons. Treaty of peace and he marries Phaedra.
He takes part in so many exploits that gives rise to the expression,’not without Theseus’. His friendship with Peirithous leads to the abduction of Helen and it leads to disaster for his friend.

Theseus permanently annexed Megara to Attica, and set up the famous pillar on the Isthmus, on which he wrote
the distinction between the countries in two trimeter lines, of which
the one looking east says,

“This is not Peloponnesus, but Ionia,”

and the one looking west says,

“This is Peloponnesus, not Ionia.”

And also he instituted games there, in emulation of Herakles; that, just
as Herakles had ordained that the Greeks should celebrate the Olympic
games in honour of Zeus, so by Theseus’s appointment they should
celebrate the Isthmian games in honour of Poseidon.

The festival which was previously established there in honour of
Melikerta used to be celebrated by night, and to be more like a
religious mystery than a great spectacle and gathering.
according to Philochorus and other writers, he sailed with Herakles to the Euxine, took part in the campaign against the Amazons, and received Antiope as the reward for his valour; but Bion relates that he caught this one by treachery and carried her off;
for the Amazons, he says, were not averse to men, and did not avoid
Theseus when he touched at their coast, but even offered him presents.
He invited the bearer of these on board his ship; and when she had
embarked he set sail.
But one, Menekrates, who has written a history of the town of Nikaea in Bithynia, states that Theseus spent a long time in that country with Antiope, and that there were three young Athenians, brothers, who were his companions in arms, by name Euneon, Thoas, and
Soloeis. Soloeis fell in love with Antiope, and, without telling his
brothers, confided his passion to one of his comrades. This man laid the
matter before Antiope, who firmly rejected his pretensions, but treated
him quietly and discreetly, telling Theseus nothing about it. Soloeis,
in despair at his rejection, leaped into a river and perished; and
Theseus then at length learned the cause of the young man’s death. In
his sorrow he remembered and applied to himself an oracle he had
received from Delphi. It had been enjoined upon him by the Pythia that
whenever he should be struck down with special sorrow in a foreign land,
he should found a city in that place and leave some of his companions
there as its chiefs. In consequence of this the city which he founded
was called Pythopolis, in honour of the Pythian Apollo, and the
neighbouring river was called Soloeis, after the youth who died in it.
He left there the brothers of Soloeis as the chiefs and lawgivers of the
new city.

This was the origin of the war with the Amazons. For a long time both
parties held aloof, unwilling to engage; but at last Theseus, after
sacrificing to Phobos (Fear), attacked them. The battle took place in
the month Boedromion. In the fourth month of the war a peace was brought
about in a treaty of peace. There is a version that makes Antiope that she died fighting by the side of Thesus. Another gives Antiope as having set off th batte instigating the Amazons to fight Thesus in revenge for his marriage to Phaedra.
After the death of Antiope, Theseus married Phaedra, having a son by Antiope named Hippolytus, or Demophoon, according to Pindar. As
for his misfortunes with this wife and son, as the account given by
historians does not differ from that which appears in the plays of the
tragic poets, we must believe them to have happened as all these writers

However, there are certain other legends about Theseus and one concerns his abduction of Helen, which brought war upon Attica, and exile and
destruction on himself; about which we shall speak presently. He took part
with the Lapithae in their fight with the Centaurs; though other writers
say that he went to Kolchis with Jason and took part with Meleager in
the hunt of the Kalydonian boar. From these legends arises the proverb, “Not without Theseus;” also he by himself without any comrades performed many glorious deeds, from which
the saying came into vogue, “This is another Herakles.”

Theseus, together with Adrastus, effected the recovery of the bodies of
those who fell under the walls of the Cadmea at Thebes, not after
conquering the Thebans, as Euripides puts it in his play, but by a truce
and convention, according to most writers. Philochorus even states that
this was the first occasion on which a truce was made for the recovery
of those slain in battle. (Note: Herakles was the first to restore the corpses of the slain to the enemy.)
The tombs of the rank and file are to be seen at Eleutherae.

His friendship for Peirithous is said to have arisen in the
following manner: He had a great reputation for strength and courage;
Peirithous, wishing to make trial of these, drove his cattle away from
the plain of Marathon, and when he learned that Theseus was pursuing
them, armed, he did not retire, but turned and faced him. Each man then
admiring the beauty and courage of his opponent, refrained from battle,
and first Peirithous holding out his hand bade Theseus himself assess
the damages of his raid upon the cattle, saying that he himself would
willingly submit to whatever penalty the other might inflict. Theseus
thought no more of their quarrel, and invited him to become his friend
and comrade; and they ratified their compact of friendship by an oath.
Hereupon, Peirithous, who was about to marry Deidameia, begged Theseus
to come and visit his country and meet the Lapithae. He also had invited
the Centaurs to the banquet; and as they in their drunken insolence laid
hands upon the women, the Lapithae attacked them. Some of them they
slew, and the rest they overcame, and afterwards, with the assistance of
Theseus, banished from their country.

Theseus was fifty years old, according to Hellanikus, when he
carried off Helen, who was a mere child. The two friends, Theseus
and Peirithous, came to Sparta, seized the maiden, who was dancing in
the temple of Artemis Orthia, and carried her off. As the pursuers
followed no farther than Tegea, they felt no alarm, but leisurely
travelled through Peloponnesus, and made a compact that whichever of
them should win Helen by lot was to have her to wife, but must help the
other to a marriage. They cast lots on this understanding, and Theseus
won. As the maiden was not yet ripe for marriage he gave her into the charge
of his friend Aphidnus, bidding him watch over her and keep her presence
secret. He himself in order to repay his obligation to Peirithous went
on a journey with him to Epirus to obtain the daughter of Aidoneus the
king of the Molossians, who called his wife Persephone, his daughter
Kore, and his dog Cerberus. All the suitors of his daughter were bidden
by him to fight this dog, and the victor was to receive her hand.
However, as he learned that Peirithous and his friend were come, not as
wooers, but as ravishers, he cast them into prison. He put an end to
Peirithous at once, by means of his dog, but only guarded Theseus
(To be continued)

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Aegeus is tricked by Pitheus to have sex with his daughter-Theseus is reared by his mother and when time comes he goes in search of his father. Medea wants to kill the youth but his father recognizes him by his sword. He is acknowledged as his legitimate heir. Sons of Pallas and his fifty sons wage war against him and are routed. Exploits of Theseus, Theseus and Ariadne-Theseus kills the minotaur and return to Athens. Credited as making Athens adopt democratic way of government.
As in maps of antiquity areas were sometimes marked with legends that showed ignorance of the cartographer than explained the true case. A lion country may upon close examination would have yielded dandelions than the king of the beasts. But such legends make us reexamine antiquity not for exactness of geography but for understanding the lack of it. I, Plutarch is aiming for an effect and not for explaining facts I do not have. The effect is entertaining my reader, of course.

Theseus is considered as the founder of Athens as Romulus, the founder of Rome. There are several points of resemblance to one another.
Both were unacknowledged illegitimate children, and were reputed to descend from the Gods. Both were wise as well as powerful. The one founded Rome, while the other was the joint founder of Athens; and these are two of the most famous of cities. Both carried off women by violence, and neither of them escaped domestic misfortune and retribution, but towards the end of
their lives both were at variance with their countrymen from what we have on this from writers of antiquity.

Theseus traced his descent on the father’s side from Erechtheus while on the mother’s side he was descended from Pelops. For Pelops surpassed all the other princes of the Peloponnesus in the number of his children as well as in wealth.
One of these, Pittheus, the grandfather of Theseus, founded Troezen, which is indeed but a little state, though he had a greater reputation than any man of his time for eloquence and wisdom.
Now Aegeus desired to have children, and the Oracle at Delphi is said to have given
him an answer, forbidding him to have intercourse with any woman before he reached Athens. On his way home however he went to Troezen, and asked the advice of Pittheus about the response of the God, which ran thus:

“Great chief, the wine-skin’s foot must closed remain,
Till thou to Athens art returned again.”

Pittheus tricked Aegeus into an intrigue with Aethra his daughter. Afraid that he had made her pregnant he left behind him his sword and sandals hidden under a great stone, which had a hollow inside it exactly fitting them. This he told to Aethra alone, and charged her if a
son of his should be born, and on growing to man’s estate should be able
to lift the stone and take from under it the deposit. She was to inform him as soon as possible and in secrecy since he greatly feared the sons of Pallas, who plotted against him. Sons of Pallas were fifty in number and they made fun of him on account of his childlessness.

When Aethra’s child was born, he was named Theseus, from the tokens placed under the stone. The child was brought up by his grandfather Pittheus.

At that time there was the custom for those who were coming to man’s estate to go to Delphi and offer to the god the first-fruits of their hair which was then cut for the first time.
[ The first instance of this is in Homer's Iliad, where Achilles speaks of having dedicated his hair to the river Spercheius. The Athenian youth offered their hair to Herakles. The Roman emperor Nero, in later times, imitated this custom.]

Now while Theseus was yet a child, Aethra concealed his real parentage
Theseus, and a story was circulated by Pittheus that his father was
Poseidon. But when he was grown into a youth, and proved both strong in
body and of good sound sense, then Aethra led him to the stone, told him
the truth about his father, and bade him take the tokens from beneath it
and sail to Athens with them. He easily lifted the stone, but determined
not to go to Athens by sea, though the voyage was a safe and easy one,
and though his mother and his grandfather implored him to go that way.
By land it was a difficult matter to reach Athens, as the whole way was
infested with robbers and bandits. But it appears that Theseus had for a long time wanted to imitate Herakles and went by land and proved himself.

In Epidaurus he came across Periphetes, who used a club as his
weapon, and after killing him he adopted it as a weapon, and always used it, just
as Herakles used his lion’s skin. As he approached isthmus he destroyed Sinis who had a daughter, a tall and beautiful girl, named Perigoune. When
her father fell she ran and hid herself. Theseus sought her everywhere,
but she fled into a place where wild asparagus grew thick, and with a
simple child-like faith besought the plants to conceal her, as if they
could understand her words, promising that if they did so she never
would destroy or burn them. However, when Theseus called to her,
pledging himself to take care of her and do her no hurt, she came out,
and afterwards bore Theseus a son, named Melanippus.

Another exploit concerns killing the wild sow of Krommyon, whom they called Phaia, was no ordinary beast. In fact some say that Phaia was a murderous and licentious woman and was called a sow from her life and habits. Whatever the truth may be she was slain by Theseus.

As he proceeded on his way, and reached the river Kephisus, men of
the Phytalid race were the first to meet and greet him. He demanded to
be purified from the guilt of bloodshed, and they purified him, made
propitiatory offerings, and also entertained him in their houses, being
the first persons from whom he had received any kindness on his journey.
It is said to have been on the eighth day of the month Kronion, that he came to his own city. On entering it he found public affairs disturbed by factions, and the house of Aegeus in
great disorder; for Medea, who had been banished from Corinth, was
living with Aegeus, and had engaged by her drugs to enable Aegeus to
have children. She was the first to discover who Theseus was, while
Aegeus, who was an old man, and feared every one because of the
disturbed state of society, did not recognise him. Consequently she
advised Aegeus to invite him to a feast, that she might poison him.
Theseus accordingly came to Aegeus’s table. He did not wish to be the
first to tell his name, but, to give his father an opportunity of
recognising him, he drew his sword, as if he meant to cut some of the
meat with it, and showed it to Aegeus. Aegeus at once recognised it,
overset the cup of poison, looked closely at his son and embraced him.
He then called a public meeting and made Theseus known as his son to the
citizens, with whom he was already very popular because of his bravery.

But the sons of Pallas, who had previously to this expected that
they would inherit the kingdom on the death of Aegeus without issue, now
that Theseus was declared the heir, were much enraged.

They consequently declared war. Dividing themselves into two bodies, the one proceeded to the city from Sphettus, under the command of Pallas their father, while the other lay in ambush at Gargettus. Leos, of the township of Agnus, betrayed the plans of the sons of Pallas to Theseus who first took on the party at Gargettus and hearing their rout Pallas fled.

Now Theseus, who wished for employment and also to make himself
popular with the people, went to attack the bull of Marathon, who had
caused no little trouble to the inhabitants of Tetrapolis. He overcame
the beast, and drove it alive through the city for all men to see, and
then sacrificed it to Apollo of Delphi.

Shortly after this the ship from Crete arrived for the third time
to collect the customary tribute. Most writers agree that the origin of
this was, that on the death of Androgeus, in Attica, which was ascribed
to treachery, his father Minos went to war, and wrought much evil to the
country. It coincided with many calamities that visited upon the countryside
So that as the oracle told the Athenians that, if they propitiated Minos and came to terms with him, the anger of Heaven would cease, they sent an embassy to Minos and prevailed on him to make peace, on the condition that every nine years they should send him
a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens. The most tragic of the
legends states these poor children when they reached Crete were thrown
into the Labyrinth, and there either were devoured by the Minotaur or
else perished with hunger, being unable to find the way out. The
Minotaur, as Euripides tells us, was

A form commingled, and a monstrous birth,
Half man, half bull, in twofold shape combined.”

(Note:Philochorus says that the Cretans do not recognise this story.)

So when the time of the third payment of the tribute arrived those fathers who had sons not yet grown up and had drawn lots began to revile Aegeus, complaining that he, although
the author of this calamity, yet took no share in their affliction.
This vexed Theseus, and offered himself without being drawn by lot. Another version says that Minos himself came thither and chose them, and that he picked out Theseus first of all, upon the usual conditions, which were that the Athenians should furnish a ship, and that the youths should
embark in it and sail with him, not carrying with them any weapon of war; and that when the Minotaur was slain, the tribute should cease.
Formerly, no one had any hope of safety; so they used to send out the
ship with a black sail, as if it were going to a certain doom; but now
Theseus so encouraged his father, and boasted that he would overcome the
Minotaur, that he gave a second sail, a white one, to the steersman, and
charged him on his return, if Theseus were safe, to hoist the white one,
if not, the black one as a sign of mourning.
But Simonides says that it
when the lots were drawn Theseus brought the chosen youths from
the Prytaneum, and when they reached Crete, according to most historians and poets,
Ariadne fell in love with him, and from her he received the clue of
string, and was taught how to thread the mazes of the Labyrinth. He slew
the Minotaur, and, taking with him Ariadne and the youths, sailed away.
Theseus had taken precaution to scuttle the Cretan ships, to prevent pursuit. There are many more stories about these events, and about Ariadne, none of which agree in any particulars. Some say that she hanged herself when deserted by Theseus, and some, that she was taken to Naxos by his sailors, and there dwelt with Oenarus, the priest of Dionysus.
The pleasantest of these legends are borne out some one’s fancy and have excited so many each a gem in its own right.

Theseus, when he sailed away from Crete, touched at Delos; here he
sacrificed to the god and offered up the statue of Aphrodite, which
Ariadne had given him; and besides this, he and the youths with him
danced a measure which imitated the many turnings and windings of
the Labyrinth. It became a tradition and the dance is called “the crane dance,”
according to Dikaearchus. It was danced round the altar of the Horns,
which is all formed of horns from the left side.
It is said that he instituted games at Delos, and that then for the first time a palm was
given by him to the victor.

As he approached Attica, both he and his steersman in their
delight forgot to hoist the sail which was to be a signal of their
safety to Aegeus; and he in his despair flung himself down the cliffs
and perished.

Theseus, after burying his father, paid his vow to Apollo, on the
seventh day of the month Pyanepsion; for on this day it was that the
rescued youths went up into the city. The boiling of pulse, which is
customary on this anniversary, is said to be done because the rescued
youths put what remained of their pulse together into one pot, boiled it
all, and merrily feasted on it together.
Now the thirty-oared ship, in which Theseus sailed with the
youths, and came back safe, was kept by the Athenians up to the time of
Demetrius Phalereus. They constantly removed the decayed part of her
timbers, and renewed them with sound wood, so that the ship became an
illustration to philosophers of the doctrine of growth and change.
The feast of the Oschophoria, or of carrying boughs,
which to this day the Athenians celebrate, was instituted by Theseus.
For he did not take with him all the maidens who were drawn by lot, but
he chose two youths, his intimate friends, who were feminine and fair to
look upon, but of manly spirit; these by warm baths and avoiding the heat of the sun and careful tending of their hair and skin he
completely metamorphosed, teaching them to imitate the voice and
carriage and walk of maidens. These two were then substituted in the
place of two of the girls, and deceived every one; and when they
returned, he and these two youths walked in procession, dressed as now
those who carry boughs at the Oschophoria are dressed. They carry them
in honour of Dionysus and Ariadne, because of the legend, or rather
because they returned home when the harvest was being gathered in.

After the death of Aegeus, Theseus conceived a great and important
design. He gathered together all the inhabitants of Attica and made them
citizens of one city, whereas before they had lived dispersed, so as to
be hard to assemble together for the common weal, and at times even
fighting with one another.

He visited all the villages and tribes, and won their consent; the poor
and lower classes gladly accepting his proposals, while he gained over
the more powerful by promising that the new constitution should not
include a king, but that it should be a pure commonwealth, with himself
merely acting as general of its army and guardian of its laws, while in
other respects it would allow perfect freedom and equality to every one.
He therefore destroyed the prytaneia, the senate house, and
the magistracy of each individual township, built one common prytaneum
and senate house for them all on the site of the present acropolis,
called the city Athens, and instituted the Panathenaic festival common
to all of them. And having, according to his promise, laid down his sovereign power, he arranged the new constitution under the auspices of the gods; for he
made inquiry at Delphi as to how he should deal with the city, and
received the following answer:

“Thou son of Aegeus and of Pittheus’ maid,
My father hath within thy city laid
The bounds of many cities; weigh not down
Thy soul with thought; the bladder cannot drown.”

The same thing they say was afterwards prophesied by the Sibyl
concerning the city, in these words:

“The bladder may be dipped, but cannot drown.”

Wishing still further to increase the number of his citizens, he
invited all strangers to come and share equal privileges, and they say
that the words now used, “Come hither all ye peoples,” was the
proclamation then used by Theseus, establishing as it were a
commonwealth of all nations. But he did not permit his state to fall
into the disorder which this influx of all kinds of people would
probably have produced, but divided the people into three classes, of
Eupatridae or nobles, Geomori or farmers, Demiurgi or artisans. To the
Eupatridae he assigned the care of religious rites, the supply of
magistrates for the city, and the interpretation of the laws and customs
sacred or profane, yet he placed them on an equality with the other
citizens, thinking that the nobles would always excel in dignity, the
farmers in usefulness, and the artisans in numbers. Aristotle tells us
that he was the first who inclined to democracy.
(To be continued)

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V.K Krishna Menon (1896-1974)

Before I go through Menon’s life let me preface it with a truism: anyone who involves himself in public life must realize politics as played in India or anywhere else is no different. I recall an anecdote from the life of an illustrious Athenian who did yeoman service to his City as Menon did to the country. There are more than two millennia separating Themistocles and V.K Krishna Menon.

Themistocles from his youth wanted glory and was also impetuous. He wanted to make a name for himself and politics was what interested him most. His father desirous of persuading from an uncertain career as politics one day took him for a stroll along the seashore. He pointed many ruins of galleys abandoned pell-mell among the rocks and said, ’This is how people deal with the very vessels that have become of no use to them.’ Themistocles learned hard way that it was indeed so. V.K Krishna Menon’s case was no different. Our Indian Identity may give us certain contours in our attitudes and a frame of reference but these are superficial. In the very core principles we are like every body else.
Krishna Menon was the third child and eldest son of a prosperous lawyer in Tellicherry, in those days part of Malabar Presidency. In 1915 he went to Madras where his debating skills were honed and his intelligence and forceful character brought him in contact with people like Annie Besant and Dr. Arundale. The latter took him to London where he studied under Professor Harold Laski and emerged with first class Honours in1927.
In the newly emerged India League he was the moving spirit. He worked indefatigably for making Indian cause better understood in England. When the Labor Government came in power in 1945 he became the listening post for Nehru to understand the mood of the British government. His service paved the way for a strong bond between him and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.
He became the first High Commissioner of India in the UK. Perhaps much of his rapid rise and fall partly owe to the very character: he could be very cutting when aroused and spoke straight off the cuff. He had many enemies abroad and in India. The so-called Jeep Scandal (this was peanut compared to the present day land scam or 4000 crore Hawala scam) and led to his being recalled in 1952 before the five year ended. He was appointed as the leader of Indian delegation while the Cold War was spreading across the world. In 1957 he was able to persuade the USSR to drop its opposition to the admission of 16 Afro-Asian countries as new members of the UN. By the same year he became the Defense Minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Among his many enemies the US also came in and he was in so many ways made to look as a stooge for the Soviet Russia.
As the Defense Minister he made the first efforts to modernize Defense Establishment and developing indigenous sources of supply for all consumable items. His first ministerial efforts were effective.
In early 1962 he stood for election from the same Bombay constituency against Acharya JB Kripalini. He was returned to Lok Sabha with his new popular mandate.
It was the era Nehru’s slogan ‘Indi-Chini- Bhai-Bhai’In Oct.1962 China entered into NEFA area with ease. The failure of India was as much a failure of mistaken foreign policy towards China that had nothing to do with V.K Krishna Menon’s handling of his portfolio. Nehru was indispensable whereas Krishna Menon who had to rely only on himself was expendable. As his successor in the Defense Ministry said, ’The true evidence of the success of Krishna Menon’s success is really available in the results of the 1965 and 1971 conflicts when our troops firmly met and repulsed aggression’. Anyway the Chinese Border debacle sent him into political wilderness. He was not reinstated or his great service to the nation before her independence or after were justly rewarded. It was only fitting and his due for his selfless service that the nation should have celebrated his birth centenary in 1996 but then he had become a footnote to Indian history, – and a forgotten hero.
(Ack: A Forgotten Patriot-a tribute by CV Narasimhan- The Hindu-23-2-97)

It was the era of McCarthism. Sri.V.K Krishna Menon led the Indian delegation of the U.N General Assembly in New York. He was invited to Meet The Media, a TV program moderated by one Mr. Anatole Stormwell, a favorite of the Senator McCarthy, and a nasty character to boot.
News reached Mr. Krishna Menon that the meeting was going to be a sort of inquisition by a panel, who were handpicked by Mr. Stormwell and noted for their bias. Mr. Menon noted the names and collected some background information on his interviewers.
On the day of interview Mr. Stormwell after a perfunctory welcome briefly traced the career of the guest, dwelling more on the aspects in a way to denigrate by innuendo, and said how he had become the favorite of Mr. Nehru. ”That is wonderful, Mr. Menon from log cabin to White House in a manner of speaking. But tell me Mr.Menon-is it true that you are a communist?”
There were a few raised eyebrows and looks of agitation among the panel and Mr. Menon replied,” Thank you Mr.Stormwell, I would like to return the compliment; you too, sir, have risen from humble beginnings, from selling newspapers in the streets to leading this distinguished panel. I believe that you draw a salary higher than that of the President of the United States. Now that is wonderful,Mr. Stormwell, but tell me is it true that you are a bastard?”
The second Menon did not play second fiddle to any but he wielded a pen and it was formidable as V.K Krishna Menon’s oratory. He authored a book Kazhinja Kalam(Past Perfect) and he ran a vernacular Newspaper Mathrubhoomi (Motherland)
K.P Kesava Menon (1886-?)
At a meeting in Calicut (Kozhikodu) convened by the loyalists during the WWI to collect funds towards the war effort, Kesava Menon was invited to speak in a meeting. As he stood up to deliver his speech in malayalam he was called to order by the Collector as well as the all-powerful British officers present. He walked out rather than having to be to be told his mother tongue was not good enough to express so vital topic of life and death. (There were ten thousands of soldiers recruited and sent abroad to fight for the cause of the Imperial Britain. Besides food supplies were sent out to feed the army on foreign soil than feed the people at home)
Following the example of Kesava Menon the majority of the audience also walked out.

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