Bōmolochon

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(C) Tim Booth

Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἰατροῦ σάρκα τέμνοντος εὐρυθμίαν τινὰ δεῖ καὶ καθαριότητα τοῖς ἔργοις ἐπιτρέχειν, ὀρχηστικὴν δὲ καὶ παράβολον καὶ περιτρέχουσαν ὑγρότητα καὶ περιεργίαν ἀπεῖναι τῆς χειρός, οὕτως ἡ παρρησία δέχεται τὸ ἐπιδέξιον καὶ τὸ ἀστεῖον, ἂν ἡ χάρις τὴν σεμνότητα σῴζῃ, θρασύτης δὲ καὶ βδελυρία καὶ ὕβρις προσοῦσα πάνυ διαφθείρει καὶ ἀπόλλυσιν. ὅθεν ὁ μὲν ψάλτης οὐκ ἀπιθάνως οὐδ’ ἀμούσως ἐπεστόμισε τὸν Φίλιππον ἐπιχειροῦντα περὶ κρουμάτων διαφέρεσθαι πρὸς αὐτόν, εἰπὼν “μὴ γένοιτό σοι οὕτως, ὦ βασιλεῦ, κακῶς, ἵν’ ἐμοῦ ταῦτα σὺ βέλτιον εἰδῇς.” Ἐπίχαρμος δ’ οὐκ ὀρθῶς, τοῦ Ἱέρωνος ἀνελόντος ἐνίους τῶν συνήθων καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ὀλίγας καλέσαντος ἐπὶ δεῖπνον αὐτόν, “ἀλλὰ πρῴην,” ἔφη, “θύων τοὺς φίλους οὐκ ἐκάλεσας.” κακῶς δὲ καὶ Ἀντιφῶν, παρὰ Διονυσίῳ ζητήσεως οὔσης καὶ λόγου “ποῖος χαλκὸς ἄριστος,” “ἐκεῖνος,” εἶπεν, “ἐξ οὗ Ἀθήνησι κατεσκεύασαν τὰς Ἁρμοδίου καὶ Ἀριστογείτονος εἰκόνας.” οὔτε γὰρ ὠφελεῖ τούτων τὸ λυπηρὸν καὶ πικρόν, οὔτε τέρπει τὸ βωμολόχον καὶ παιδιῶδες, ἀλλ’ ἔστι κακοηθείᾳ καὶ ὕβρει μεμιγμένης ἀκρασίας μετ’ ἔχθρας τὸ τοιοῦτον εἶδος, ᾧ χρώμενοι προσαπολλύουσιν αὑτούς, τὴν περὶ τὸ φρέαρ ὄρχησιν ἀτεχνῶς ὀρχούμενοι.
(Plutarch, Pōs an tis diakrineie ton kolaka tou philou 67e-68b)

Just as a certain orderliness and neatness should pervade the work of a surgeon when he performs an operation, but his hand should forbear all dancing and reckless motions, all flourishes and superfluity of gesticulation, so frankness has plenty of room for tact and urbanity, if such graciousness does not impair the high office of frankness; but when effrontery and offensiveness and arrogance are coupled with it, they spoil and ruin it completely. There was point, therefore, and polish in the retort with which the harper stopped Philip’s mouth when Philip attempted to argue with him about playing upon his instrument. “God forbid,” said he, “that your Majesty should ever fall so low as to have a better knowledge of these matters than I.” But Epicharmus was not right in his retort upon Hiero, who had made away with some of his intimate friends, and then a few days later invited Epicharmus to dinner, “But the other day,” said Epicharmus, “you held a sacrifice without invitation, of friends!” As badly answered Antiphon, when the question was up for discussion in the presence of Dionysius as to “what is the best kind of bronze,”
and he said, “The kind from which they fashioned the statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton* at Athens.” For the offensiveness and bitterness of such retorts profits nothing, their scurrility and frivolity gives no pleasure; but a retort of this kind betokens intemperance of the tongue combined with malice and arrogance, and not without enmity. By employing it men eventually bring about their own destruction, since they are simply “dancing on the edge of the pit.”

* The traditional “tyrannicides” of Athens.

(tr. Frank Cole Babbitt, with his note)

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