Truly Ancient Phrases
Every once in a while I run across a phrase that I think is modern in origin but has more remote antecedents. For example, I ran across a diary of a World War I Allied soldier who described his unpleasant circumstances as "SOL," using the exact abbreviation. I'd always thought that bit of profane language dated from a later time.
But now I've run across a quote that absolutely amazes and delights me. During the heyday of Athenian democracy, the citizens practiced ostracism — they could vote on an annual basis to expel, for a period of ten years, a single individual who they believed would best serve the city by a prolounged absence. The name of the individual was written on an ostraka, a shard of pottery, and cast as a ballot.
Megacles managed to attain the distinction of being ostracized not once, but twice; the first time in 467 BCE and the second time at some unknown later date. We know of this from records and from ostraka that were recovered from Athens. In 1994 we saw the first publication of one of these ancient ballots (Cerameicus, Ostrakon 3015):
For Megacles, son of Hippocrates and his horse as well...
In other words, Megacles and the horse he rode in on. Two thousand five hundred years later, and some curses have never changed. I don't think I'll ever be able to hear that phrase the same way again.
Topics: · humor · society
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