previous next

‘In such cases (or on such subjects) Laconic utterances and enigmatical sayings are appropriate, as when one employs what Stesichorus said at Locri, that they had better not be so presumptuous, lest their cicales should be brought to chirp on the ground.’ Λακωνικὰ ἀποφθέγματα; pithy, sententious, utterances, which have become proverbial in our word ‘laconic’. Plutarch has made a collection of ‘Laconic Apophthegms’, from which it appears that they are usually of a character rather wise than witty—though there are also some extremely smart repartees in answer to impertinent questions or observations—pithy, pungent, pregnant, expressed with pointed brevity, which indeed is characteristic of them, and is also the ‘soul of wit’.

I will quote only one (a short one) as a specimen. Antalcidas: πρὸς δὲ τὸν ἀμαθεῖς καλοῦντα τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους Ἀθηναῖον, μόνοι γοῦν, εἶπεν, ἡμεῖς οὐδὲν μεμαθήκαμεν παρ᾽ ὑμῶν κακόν. Quite true (says Ant.); we are deplorably ignorant—“At any rate we are the only people that have learnt no mischief from you.” The word is applied to two sayings of Theramenes, before his death, Xen. Hellen. II 3 ult. For a description of these Λακωνικὰ ἀποφθέγματα as pointed and pithy as the ῥήματα described, see Pl. Protag. 342 E [ἐνέβαλε ῥῆμα ἄξιον λόγου βραχὺ καὶ συνεστραμμένον ὥσπερ δεινὸς ἀκοντιστής].

αἰνιγματώδη] hard, obscure, ambiguous sayings, which like riddles require solution before they can be understood; like that pronounced by Stesichorus to check the presumptuous insolence of the Locrians: the solution of which is, that cicalas always sit in trees when they chirp. So that, οὐ γίνονται τέττιγες ὅπου μὴ δένδρα ἐστιν, Arist. Hist. An. V 30, 556 a 21 (the entire chapter is on τέττιγες). When the trees are gone, when they have been felled and the land ravaged, then it is that the cicalas will have to sing their song on the ground. This is what the insolence of the Locrians will bring them to. See Mure, Hist. Gr. Lit. (Stesichorus), III 248. He says, note 2, “Similar is our own popular proverb of ‘making the squirrels walk’, denoting a great fall of wood.” This is repeated nearly verbatim, III 11. 6. Demetrius, περὶ ἑρμηνείας (περὶ συνθέσεως ὀνομάτων) § 99 (Vol. III. p. 284, Spengel, Rhet. Gr.), attributes the saying to Dionysius, without telling us to whom it was said: and calls it an ἀλληγορία. And again, § 243, περὶ δεινότητος (III p. 315), οὕτω καὶ τὸ χαμόθεν οἱ τέττιγες ὑμῖν ᾄσονται δεινότερον ἀλληγορικῶς ῥηθέν, εἴπερ ἁπλῶς ἐῤῥήθη, τὰ δένδρα ὑμῶν ἐκκοπήσεται. The felling of the trees, especially the fruit trees, always accompanied the ravaging of a country in a hostile incursion. Hence δενδροτομεῖν Thuc. I 108, of Megara, comp. II 75. 1, IV 79. 2. Dem. de Cor. § 90 (in a Byzantian decree), καὶ τὰν χώραν δαίοντος καὶ δενδροκοπέοντος. [Dem. Or. 53 (Nicostr.) § 15, φυτευτήρια...κατέκλασεν, οὕτω δεινῶς ὡς οὐδ᾽ ἂν οἱ πολέμιοι διαθεῖεν].

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: