A sampling of comments on Pausanias: 1.5.1–1.8.1

2017.12.14 | By Gregory Nagy

I continue from where I left off in Classical Inquiries 2017.11.30. From the end of 1.6.1 to the end of 1.8.1, there is a lengthy digression about the dynasties founded by Attalos and Ptolemy. But I will be focusing on a passage that occurs before that digression, at 1.5.4, where Pausanias makes mention of three mythological figures: they are Procne, Philomela, and Tereus (more accurately in Greek: Proknē, Philomēlā, and Tēreus). The tragic story of these three catastrophic figures is best known today from the celebrated version of Ovid, Metaphorphoses 6.401–674. The illustration here on the cover focuses on Philomela/Philomene, standing next to the web of tragic pictures that she has just finished weaving on her vertical loom.

{1.5.1} translation by Jones 1918, modified by GN 2017.12.13:

Near to the council-chamber [bouleutērion] of the Five Hundred is what is called Tholos [‘Round House’]; here the presidents [prutaneis] sacrifice [thuein], and there are a few small statues [agalmata] made of silver. Farther up stand statues [andriantes] of heroes [hērōes], from whom afterwards the Athenian subdivisions [phūlai] received their names. Who the man was who established ten phūlai instead of four, and changed their old names to new ones—all this is told by Herodotus [5.69].[1]

{1.5.1} subject heading(s): phūlē (plural phūlai) ‘subdivision’

Here and elsewhere, I avoid translating phūlē as ‘tribe’, which is a misleading rendition. See Nagy 1990b:277–293.

{1.5.4} translation by Jones 1918, modified by GN 2017.12.13:

But his sons [= the sons of Pandion] expelled the Mētionidai, and returned from their exile at Megara. Then Aigeus, as the eldest, became king of the Athenians. As for his daughters [by contrast with his sons], on the other hand, there was no benevolent [agathos] superhuman-force [daimōn] to help him raise them, nor did they [= these daughters] leave him with any sons who could avenge him [the same way that his sons avenged him against the Mētionidai]. And yet it was for the sake of [his own] power [dunamis] that he [Pandion] had made a marriage-alliance [kēdos] with the man from Thrace [= Tereus, king of Thrace]. Well, there is no way [poros] for a mortal to evade what is sent by a god as a thing that the god deems to be fitting to send. They say that Tereus, though he was married to Procne, violated Philomela. Thus, [Thracian that he was,] he transgressed the custom [nomos] of the Greeks [Hellēnes]. And, on top of that, he mutilated the body [sōma] of the daughter [of Pandion,] [cutting out her tongue]. By doing so, his action led the women [= the daughters of Pandion] to resort to [what was for them] the necessity of retribution [dikē]. There is also another statue [andrias] of Pandion on the Acropolis, and it is worthy of viewing [théā].

{1.5.4} subject headings: Procne (Proknē), Philomela (Philomēlā), Tereus (Tēreus).

On the form Philomēlā: grammarians in the ancient world (for example, Herodian 3.1 p. 255 line 14 ed. A. Lentz 1867) called attention to the exceptional ending ā instead of the expected ē. The catastrophic story of Procne, Philomela, and Tereus is best known today from the celebrated retelling by Ovid, Metaphorphoses 6.401–674. A briefer retelling of the myth can be found in “Apollodorus” Bibliotheca 3.193–195. These retellings seem to originate from a version of the myth that was anchored in the region of Athens. Another version, anchored in the region of Ephesus, is analyzed at §23 in Nagy 2016.01.07. As for the version anchored in Athens, it is linked to still another version that is anchored in the region of Megara, as we see later when we read Pausanias 1.41.8–9, where I offer further comments. Pausanias refers to the myth of Procne, Philomela, and Tereus also at 9.16.4 and at 10.4.8–9, where I offer still further comments. For now, I simply introduce the myth, epitomizing from §§19–23 in Nagy 2016.01.07:

As we read in Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.401–674, Procne and Philomela are women who become transformed respectively into the prototypical Nightingale and the prototypical Swallow in the course of their tragic interaction with the king of Thrace, a man named Tereus. In some versions of the myth, the names of the two women are more overt: Aēdōn and Khelidōn, that is, Nightingale and Swallow (for more such versions, I cite Levaniouk 2011:215n6). As for the man, King Tereus, he becomes transformed into a bird known in Greek as epops. To say it in English, Tereus becomes the prototypical Hoopoe. The myth about these three doomed humans who are turned into birds is a story of an Eternal Triangle. Tereus marries Procne and then violates her sister Philomela, only to be punished for his crime when Procne takes revenge on her husband by killing their own son and then serving up the child’s cooked body to an unsuspecting Tereus, who thinks he is eating the meat of an animal. That is the dikē or ‘retribution’ to which the narrative of Pausanias is referring here. Once Tereus discovers that his stomach has become the tomb of his own son, Tereus experiences a grief that matches the grief of the two sisters. The combined grief becomes too much for all three to bear, and the gods take pity by transforming them all into birds. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses 6.576–578, we read that Philomela the would-be Swallow weaves into a web the story of her violation by Tereus. She cannot express the sad story in words, since Tereus had cut out her tongue and now keeps her imprisoned in a fortress, hidden away from her sister. For Philomela, the act of weaving a web becomes a substitute for the act of singing a lament in expressing her grief.


Philomene (1896). Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (English, 1833–1898). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Philomene (1896). Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (English, 1833–1898). Image via Wikimedia Commons.


Philomela (1864). Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (English, 1833–1898). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Philomela (1864). Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (English, 1833–1898). Image via Wikimedia Commons.


Tereus and Philomela (17–18 c.). Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Tereus and Philomela (17–18 c.). Image via Wikimedia Commons.



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[1] The reform took place in 508 BCE.