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  • 'Don't rock the boat': the politics of ἜΡΩΣ in Cercidas' fragment 2 (Livrea)1
  • Ekaterina But

One of the most preserved fragments, fragment 2 (Livrea) of the Meliambi by Cercidas, a third-century bce poet and politician from Megalopolis in Arcadia, centres on the figure of Eros. Addressed to a certain Damonomus, the fragment opens with a metaphor that is reminiscent of the image of Eros' 'double breath' from a lost tragedy of Euripides (lines 1–14).2

Someone told us that from the cheeks in two directions breathes the son of Aphrodite, the one with dark blue wings, Damonomus, and you are in no way too ignorant. And of the mortals, for whom soft and benevolent breath blows from the right side of the jaw, this one on calm sea drives the ship of Eros with the prudent helm of Peitho. But for those against whom releasing from the left he excites storms or greedy whirlwinds of Pothos, for them the passage is all stormy. Well said, Euripides. Surely, since there are two, we should choose the fair wind, and use the helm of Peitho along with Sophrosyne for better sailing, as the passage is favorable to Cypris …3

In Hellenistic literary tradition, the image of the 'ship of Eros' adapted from the Archaic Aeolic lyric often appears in παιδικά, a type of poetry that involves declarations of love for handsome boys.4 In this paper, I would like [End Page 163] to suggest that in Cercidas' fr. 2, the image of the ship does not only reflect contemporary trends in erotic poetry but also preserves the original function of marine imagery inherited from the Archaic lyric, where it was commonly used to comment on the civic life of the πόλιϛ. To support this reading, I focus on the interrelated images of the ship and its 'navigating officer' Peitho, personified Persuasion. Then, I connect a political reading of Cercidas' Peitho with the evaluation of prostitution. By drawing parallels with Archaic Greek poetry and Attic drama, this paper intends to demonstrate that in this fragment, Cercidas establishes a correlation between the issues arising from the dangers of excessive desire and the risks of political instability.

The Ship of Eros

The association between the sea and human conflict can be traced back to Homeric similes. In the Iliad, Trojan warriors rushing down the wall are compared to a big wave throwing itself against the side of a ship (Hom. Il. 15.381–82). In later developments of Greek literature before the Hellenistic period, the use of images of the ship and the sea illustrating war or political unrest became a widespread phenomenon. The seventh-century bce iambic poet Archilochus in frr. 105 and 106 (West) compares war to a tempest at sea. With the image of the ship that experiences a terrible storm, the melic poet Alcaeus (esp. frr. 6 and 208a Voigt) allegorically represents the conspiracy of Myrsilus fighting to acquire tyrannical power and initiating civil discord in the city of Mytilene in the sixth century bce.5 An elegiac fragment of the Theognidea (667–82) along with marine imagery includes a direct reference to civil strife.6 In Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, the warriors are likened to roaring waves.7 Finally, the 'ship of state' metaphor finds its way into philosophical discourse as, for example, it influenced the famous political allegory of the 'ship of fools' in Plato's Republic.8

The key images that constitute the 'ship of state' metaphor, particularly vocabulary with a double meaning referring to both the marine sphere and city politics, occur in Cercidas' fragment. The good Eros brings calm (ἀτρεμία), a word that is often used in a military setting as a respite on the battlefield,9 and allows steering (κυβερνῇ) the 'prudent helm of [End Page 164] Persuasion'of the ship safely. The verbal form κυβερνῇ (line 7), 'steers', is a cognate of κυβερνήτης ('steersman, pilot') that is used to denote a 'ruler' or person in charge in the 'ship of state' allegory in the Theognidea (675–76), Plato's Republic (448b3–5, 488d5, 488e2–3), and occasionally in Attic tragedy.10 Cercidas' fragment includes the vivid image of a storm at sea: from the left cheek Eros...