[Homer], Margites

LCL 496: 224-225

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Plato (Phaedrus 252b) quotes two lines that he says the Homeridai recite ἐκ τῶν ἀποθέτων ἐπῶν, “from their stored-away verses.” Whether or not the existence of such a Reserve is to be taken seriously, I have seen fit to paraphrase Plato’s expression as “from their Apocrypha,” and to use this as a term of convenience to cover a group of non-serious or burlesque poems that were current in or after the classical period under Homer’s name.

The pseudo-Herodotean Life (24) gives a list of “fun poems” (παίγνια) that Homer composed for the boys whom he taught at Bolissos in Chios: the Cercopes, the Battle of Frogs, the Battle of Starlings, the Heptapaktike (?), the Epikichlides, “and all the others.” Most of these will be discussed below. One title, Heptapaktike, is enigmatic, being transmitted in a different meaningless form in each of the sources, unless the latest of all, Tzetzes, has the correct version with his Hepta ep’aktion, “Seven against the Headland,” or “Seven against Actium.” In this case it was some sort of parody of the story of the Seven against Thebes. But an equally plausible reading is Heptapektos Aix, “the Seven-times-shorn Goat” (Toup, after Leo Allatius). The lexica, in an entry probably going back to Seleucus, explain heptapekt(i)osas meaning “with abundant hair.” If this referred to the poem, the



inference would be that it was current by the first century bc.1


The oldest of the “fun poems,” perhaps, was a comic narrative poem entitled, after its central character, Margites; his name means something like “Impetuous.” He apparently rushed into many undertakings without having the requisite knowledge or understanding, for he was an exceptionally ignorant and naive man. Naturally he got himself into a series of ridiculous situations. The sources refer especially to the matter of his wedding, which was initially unsatisfactory because he knew nothing about sex and had to be coaxed by means of a stratagem into doing what was required.

There are more allusions and general references to Margites, whose name became proverbial for a simpleton, than actual quotations from the poem. Our knowledge of it has, however, been somewhat extended by the publication of three papyrus fragments from Oxyrhynchus which can with some probability be ascribed to it. One of them (fr. 7) contains remnants of an otherwise unattested episode involving a nocturnal misadventure with a narrow-necked

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.homeric_apocrypha_margites_testimonia.2003