The snake it was that died

From Greek Lyric Poetry a selection D.A.Campbell

Καππαδόκην ποτ’ ἔχιδνα κακὴ δάκεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτὴ
κάτθανε γευσαμένη αἵματος ἰοβόλου.

An evil snake once bit Cappadox, but the snake it was that died when it tasted his poisonous blood.

Anth Pal 11.237

This is attributed to Demodocus of Leros who lived in the 6th century BC but in fact may be much much later and be aimed at Joannes Cappadox prefect of the praetorian guard under Justinian. If not, it could refer to a particular Cappadocian man or woman. The ending looks feminine but Herodotus uses καππαδοκαι to refer Cappadocians in general. Or according to Liddell and Scott to Cappadocize means to be a villain so it could be a dig at all Cappadocians.

The idea of the poem is done much more subtlety by Oliver Goldsmith

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog” (1766)

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene’er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

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3 Responses to The snake it was that died

  1. Classic! I have usually seen snake as δράκοντος, is this a smaller snake?

    Like

  2. platosparks says:

    Good question. Liddell and Scott give ἔχιδνα as adder or viper but δράκων as snake. Οφις they say can be used interchangeably with δράκων. So I suppose ἔχιδνα must be a particular species of poisonous snake.

    Like

  3. Very nice! I have been pricked with the dagger of curiosity. I must find out!

    Like

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