You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Page 7: 7.155. The epitaph appears in the Anthology in a tract of poems attributed to Isidorus of Aigae, sixth century BCE. The actual century of its composition is uncertain.

Page 11: 7.621. Sardinian celery. Ranculus sardous. According to the American poet Keith Waldrop, "a poisonous herb, whose bitter taste could draw the lips back in a grin or sarcastic snarl, sardonic, like a dog's." See A Windmill Near Calvary, University of Michigan Press, 1968. p 21.

Page 16: Friedlander, no. 135. This appears to be the oldest extant epitaph in elegiac couplets. It's four verses stood on a pillar along the main road running from Athens through the suburb of Sepolia. It seems to date from 575 - 550 BCE.

Page 17: Clairmont, no. 24, plate 12. Another very old example, the lines accompany a gravestone cameo depicting an exuberant horse and its youthful rider (perhaps about to be thrown).

Page 18: 7.325. Sardanapallus. The epitaph reads well on its own but rests on a complex allusion. In Greek legend, Sardanapallus, the last in the line of thirty kings of Assyria, is emblematic of the scandalous and slothful life. Herodotus, Ctesias, Diodorus Siculus, Aristophanes and others tell his story or allude to him. Aristotle cites him as the lowest category of human existence, the "Life of Enjoyment," suitable only for beasts. In 682 BCE Sardanapallus's capital Ninevah was besieged. Two years into the siege, the Tigris river undermined his palace walls. Rather than live as a captive, he collected his wives and his treasure and set fire to them and himself.

Page 32: 7.248: The epitaph was inscribed on a monument dedicated to all the Greeks who fell while attempting to hold the pass against an invading Persian army at Thermopylae in 480 BCE. The size of the Persian army is exaggerated here ten times or more. The size of the Greek defense, which included about a thousand Spartan slaves, is accurate.

Page 42: 7.268. Minos. A legendary king of Crete, a great lawgiver, he was made a judge in Hades.

Page 65: 7.170. He's sleeping still. The epitaph may have been carved into the base of a stone depicting a woman holding a child.

Page 80: 7. 454. The ancient Greeks considered it barbaric to drink undiluted wine. They had no beer or distilled spirits.

Page 92: 7.545. As this epitaph points out, the road to the Grecian underworld divided into a right-hand path that led good souls down to Elysium and a left-hand path for those less worthy, who went to sufferings in Tartarus. Hades' three judges, Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus, met the dead at the crossroads and passed judgment.

Page 149: 7.744. The epitaph concerns a form of prophecy and fortune telling associated with bulls.

Excerpted from Cut  These Words Into My Stone, Ancient Greek Epitaphs
translated by Michael Wolfe
Johns Hopkins University Press,  2013