Unit One Section E


Four Fragments by Sappho

Sappho was one of the few women writers of ancient Greece. All that remains of her writing are fragments of her poems. How do they reveal her personal view of life?

1) stars around the beautiful moon
obscure their radiance again
when, with her fullest light,
she floods all the earth

2) it is not for me, it seems,
to touch the sky
with my two arms

3) .....like the sweet-apple
that has reddened
at the top of a tree,
at the tip of the topmost bough,
and the apple pickers
missed it there-no, not missed, so much
as could not touch .....

4) To have beauty is to have only that,
but to have goodness
is to be beautiful

Developing Comprehension Skills

1. What happens to the stars when the full moon shines?
2. In the same fragment, what might the speaker be saying about the moonand about beauty?
3. Why might the speaker want to touch the sky? What might this action represent?
4. Why did the apple pickers pass by the one apple? Do you think they appreciated its beauty? Explain.
5. Explain the meaning of the last fragment. Do you agree with what it says?

Epigrams by Sophocles

Sophocies wrote several plays about Oedipus, the man who solved the riddle of the Sphinx. The epigrams below were taken from those plays. Which ones do you agree with?

None love the messenger who brings bad news. from Antigone

For money you would sell your soul. from Antigone

A man of worth
In his own household will appear upright
In the state also. from Antigone

One must learn
By doing the thing; for though you think you know it '
You have no certainty, until you try. from Oedipus Rex

Developing Comprehension Skills

1. Do you think the first epigram is true? Why would a messenger be blamed for bad news?
2. Do you think the second epigram is true of most people? Give examples to support your answer.
3. According to the third epigram, what do other people think about a person who is respected in his or her own home? Why do you think this would be so?
4. What is the best way to learn, according to the last epigram? Why is this true?

Epigrams by Euripides

Euripides wrote plays about what happened to Agamemnon's family after the Trojan War. The epigrams below come from several sources. Which epigrams contain the most useful advice for your life?

A bad beginning makes a bad ending. from Aegeus

Waste not fresh tears over old griefs. from Alexander

The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children. from Phrixus

In case of dissension, never dare to judge
till you've heard the other side. from Heracleidae

Leave no stone unturned. from Heracleidae

Time will reveal everything. It is a babbler,
and speaks even when not asked. from Aeolus

Developing Comprehension Skills

1. According to the first epigram, why is it important to begin a project well?
2. Should we continue to feel sorrow over events that are in the past? Do you think this is always good advice?
3. How are children affected by their parents' lives, according to Euripides? Can you think of situations where this would be true? Do you think this must always be true?
4. Why is it important always to listen to both sides of an argument before you make a decision?
5. The fifth epigram does not really refer to stones, of course. What general advice is this epigram offering?
6. What does the last epigram say about the likelihood of keeping something hidden? Why would time be the most dangerous enemy of a secret?

Dialogue Between Two Young Men by Agathias

Agathias wrote a great deal about dating and his own courtship. In the dialogue that follows, what statement is Agathias making about love?

A. Why that alarming sigh?

B. I'm in love with a girl.

A. Attractive?

B. I think so!

A. Where did you meet her?

B. Last night at a dinner party.

A. I see. And you think you've a chance with her?

B. I'm sure of it; but It's got to be kept a secret, friend.

A. Ah. Then you mean That you are not contemplating Holy Matrimony?

B. That isn't it. I mean That I've learned she hasn't a penny in the world.

A. You've 'learned'! - Liar, liar, you're not in love! The heart struck silly by Love's shaft Forgets its arithmetic!

Developing Comprehension Skills

1. What is speaker B's situation?
2. Why does speaker B say his news must be kept secret? Why would the girl's situation be embarrassing to him?
3. What is speaker A's opinion of what speaker B has told him? Do you agree with speaker A's conclusion?
4. Do you think a dialogue is an effective way of presenting an idea? Why?


“The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe” by Ovid

Ovid, a Roman poet, retold many classical myths in a series of books called Metamorphoses. In the following myth, lovers try to overcome the obstacles that separate them. Are they successful?

Next door to each other, in the brick-walled city
Built by Semiramis, lived a boy and girl,
Pyramus, a most handsome fellow, Thisbe,
Loveliest of all those Eastern girls. Their nearness
Made them acquainted, and love grew, in time,
So that they would have married, but their parents
Forbade it. But their parents could not keep them
From being in love: their nods and gestures showed it--
You know how fire suppressed burns all the fiercer.
There was a chink in the wall between the houses,
A flaw the careless builder had never noticed,
Nor anyone else, for many years, detected,
But the lovers found it--love is a finder, always--
Used it to talk through, and the loving whispers
Went back and forth in safety. They would stand
One on each side, listening for each other,
Happy if each could hear the other's breathing,
And then they would scold the wall: "You envious barrier,
Why get in our way? Would it be too much to ask you
To open wide for an embrace, or even
Permit us room to kiss in? Still, we are grateful,
We owe you something, we admit; at least
You let us talk together." But their talking
Was futile, rather; and when evening came
They would say Good-night! and give the good-night kisses
That never reached the other.

The next morning
Came, and the fires of night burnt out, and sunshine
Dried the night frost, and Pyramus and Thisbe
Met at the usual place, and first, in whispers,
Complained, and came--high time!--to a decision.
That night, when all was quiet, they would fool
Their guardians, or try to, come outdoors,
Run away from home, and even leave the city.
And, not to miss each other, as they wandered
In the wide fields, where should they meet? At Ninus'
Tomb, they supposed, was best; there was a tree there,
A mulberry--tree, loaded with snow--white berries,
Near a cool spring. The plan was good, the daylight
Was very slow in going, but at last
The sun went down into the waves, as always,
And the night rose, as always, from those waters.
And Thisbe opened her door, so sly, so cunning,
There was no creaking of the hinge, and no one
Saw her go through the darkness, and she came,
Veiled, to the tomb of Ninus, sat there waiting
Under the shadow of the mulberry--tree.
Love made her bold. But suddenly, here came something!--
A lioness, her jaws a crimson froth
With the blood of cows, fresh--slain, came there for water,
And far off through the moonlight Thisbe saw her
And ran, all scared, to hide herself in a cave,
And dropped her veil as she ran. The lioness,
Having quenched her thirst, came back to the woods, and saw
The girl's light veil, and mangled it and mouthed it
With bloody jaws. Pyramus, coming there
Too late, saw tracks in the dust, turned pale, and paler
Seeing the bloody veil. "One night," he cried,
"Will kill two lovers, and one of them, most surely,
Deserved a longer life. It is all my fault,
I am the murderer, poor girl; I told you
To come here in the night, to all this terror,
And was not here before you, to protect you.
Come, tear my flesh, devour my guilty body,
Come, lions, all of you, whose lairs lie hidden
Under this rock! I am acting like a coward,
Praying for death." He lifts the veil and takes it
Into the shadow of their tree. He kisses
The veil he knows so well, his tears run down
Into its folds: "Drink my blood too!" he cries,
And draws his sword, and plunges it into his body,
And, dying, draws it out, warm from the wound.
As he lay there on the ground, the spouting blood
Leaped high, just as a pipe sends water spurting
Through a small hissing opening, when broken
With a flaw in the lead, and all the air is sprinkled.
The fruit of the tree, from that red spray, turned crimson,
And the roots, soaked with the blood, dyed all the berries
The same dark hue.
Thisbe came out of hiding,
Still frightened, but a little fearful, also,
To disappoint her lover. She kept looking
Not only with her eyes, but all her heart,
Eager to tell him of those terrible dangers,
About her own escape. She recognized
The place, the shape of the tree, but there was something
Strange or peculiar in the berries' color.
Could this be right? And then she saw a quiver
Of limbs on bloody ground, and started backward,
Paler than boxwood, shivering, as water
Stirs when a little breeze ruffles the surface.
It was not long before she knew her lover,
And tore her hair, and beat her innocent bosom
With her little fists, embraced the well--Ioved body,
Filling the wounds with tears, and kissed the lips
Cold in his dying. "O my Pyramus,"
She wept, "What evil fortune takes you from me?
Pyramus, answer me! Your dearest Thisbe
Is calling you. Pyramus, listen! Lift your head!"
He heard the name of Thisbe, and he lifted
His eyes, with the weight of death heavy upon them,
And saw her face, and closed his eyes.
And Thisbe
Saw her own veil, and saw the ivory scabbard
With no sword in it, and understood. "Poor boy,"
She said, "So, it was your own hand,
Your love, that took your life away. I too
Have a brave hand for this one thing, I too
Have love enough, and this will give me strength
For the last wound. I wfll follow you in death,
Be called the cause and comrade of your dying.
Death was the only one could keep you from me,
Death shall not keep you from me. Wretched parents
Of Pyramus and Thisbe, listen to us,
Listen to both our prayers, do not begrudge us,
Whom death has joined, lying at last together
In the same tomb 'And you, 0 tree, now shading
The body of one, and very soon to shadow
The bodies of two, keep in remembrance always
The sign of our death, the dark and mournful color."
She spoke, and fitting the sword-point, at her breast,
Fell forward on the blade, still warm and reeking
With her lover's blood. Her prayers touched the gods,
And touched her parents, for the mulberry fruit
Still reddens at its ripeness, and the ashes
Rest in a common urn.
Developing Comprehension Skills

1. What barriers keep Pyramus and Thisbe apart? How are they able to talk to each other?
2. What is the plan made by Pyramus and Thisbe? After making their decision, why do you suppose "the daylight/Was very slow in going"?
3. What happens to ruin the plans of Pyramus and Thisbe? Why does Pyramus think that Thisbe is dead?
4. What does Thisbe understand upon seeing "her own veil, and the ivory scabbard/With no sword in it. . ."? What does she ask of others before taking her life?
5. As she decides to kill herself, Thisbe says, "I too/Have a brave hand for this one thing. " Do you consider Pyramus and Thisbe brave or foolish? Explain your answer.