The Heroic Body as a Site of Contestation: Polemo’s Declamations Εἰς Κυναίγειρον καὶ Καλλίμαχον

  Oikonomopoulou, Katerina. 2023. “The Heroic Body as a Site of Contestation: Polemo’s Declamations Εἰς Κυναίγειρον καὶ Καλλίμαχον.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

The imperial sophist Polemo’s pair of only surviving declamations Εἰς Κυναίγειρον καὶ Καλλίμαχον treat two celebrated heroes of the battle of Marathon: the polemarch Callimachus and the soldier Cynaegirus, the brother of the tragic poet Aeschylus, who died having lost his right hand (or both his hands). [1] The two heroes are frequently mentioned together in imperial sources, as paradigms of the heroic Greek struggle for freedom against the Persians. [2] Interest in them was fanned not only by the Second Sophistic’s idealisation of the Greek Classical past, but also by monuments and pictorial depictions, most notably the Marathon painting in the Stoa Poikile of Athens. [3] Cynaegirus in particular, and his horrific mutilation, appears to have been a popular topic in Second Sophistic declamatory practice. [4] According to the fictive context of Polemo’s declamations, the two dead men’s fathers compete with each other for the right to deliver the funeral oration for the dead of Marathon, each arguing that his son’s bravery in battle wins him greater honour. [5]
Polemo’s distinctive contribution to this, by all accounts, hackneyed topic lies in the special emphasis he places on the two heroes’ bodies—the fact that Callimachus died intact and standing, while Cynaegirus lost both of his hands while fighting against a Phoenician ship. The originality with which Polemo approaches this theme has hardly featured prominently in scholarship on his oratorical compositions, even though it aligns him with a broader Graeco-Roman preoccupation with the physical body, [6] exhibited across several genres—including, most significantly, oratory, physiognomy and paradoxography. As Gunderson has shown, the imperial Roman declamatory genre shows a strong interest in bodily trauma versus corporeal integrity, particularly in the context of discussing the father-son relationship and paternal authority. [7] Possessing a sound body is presented in Roman declamation “as the product of the proper relationship between father and son,” [8] or as proof that the father has exercised his paternal authority well. The father-son relationship takes centre stage in Polemo’s declamations as well: it is Cynaegirus’ father, Euphorion, who argues for the superior bravery exhibited by his mutilated son, and Callimachus’ father (who is not named) who argues that his own son, who suffered no dismemberment at Marathon, deserves greater honours. The manner in which their two sons fought and died at Marathon is the measure of their bravery (ἀνδρεία), but also of their fathers’ success in raising them as men, citizens and soldiers.
Polemo was the writer of a very influential physiognomic work, which today survives through later sources in Greek, Latin and Arabic. [9] His two declamations share some tenuous but intriguing links to his physiognomical treatise, in terms of how they interpret posture, movement, the relationship of body parts to the body as a whole, and the relationship between body and soul. It is impossible to read about Callimachus’ upright posture in Polemo without recalling that physiognomy unanimously interprets it as a sign of bravery: the “manly man” (είδος ἀνδρείου), according to Adamantius the Sophist (probably fourth century CE), [10] whose Physiognomonica heavily draws on Polemo’s work, has an upright posture (ὄρθιον πᾶν σχῆμα) and is thus “courageous and strong” (εὔψυχος καὶ ἰσχυρός) (B44, trans. Repath). [11]
Last but not least, Polemo shares with imperial paradoxography his predilection for bodies, or their parts, which transgress the boundaries of their physical existence. The first three stories in Phlegon of Tralles’ Book of Marvels mention a girl and two men who briefly return from the dead as embodied ghosts, [12] and feature the severed head of a young child which miraculously comes alive after being severed from its body and utters prophecies. Notably, Phlegon’s third marvellous story takes place in a battlefield. The place is Thermopylae in the year 191 BCE, when the Romans fought against the army of king Antiochus. [13] As the Romans were collecting the bodies of their dead and the enemy’s weapons, the body of a cavalry commander from Syria named Bouplagos, who was highly esteemed by Antiochus and fought nobly in the battle, having received twelve wounds, “stood up from among the dead” (ἀνέστη … ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, Mirabilia 3.4). Bouplagos utters an oracle in verse, asking the Romans to stop collecting the spoils and foreseeing the fall of Rome as revenge for the slaughter it has caused, and then expires again (ἀποπνεύσαντα, Mirabilia 3.4-5). [14]
Given the above, in what follows I will look closely at the conceptual apparatus that Polemo employs in order to speak about Callimachus’ and Cynaegirus’ bodies. I will pay particular attention to the key concepts of θαῦμα and παράδοξον, which, as I will argue, are central to Polemo’s approach. The bodies of Callimachus and Cynaegirus are presented in a way that seeks to inspire feelings of wonder in Polemo’s audience, focusing particularly on the extraordinariness of their posture, movement, wholeness or incompleteness. Wonder is amplified by the use of rich figurative language, abounding in bold similes and metaphors, which render the bodies of Callimachus and Cynaegirus visible, palpable even. In this way, as I will conclude, Polemo’s declamations vividly illustrate how Second Sophistic epideictic oratory sought to offer fresh ways of engaging with the Greek past, by interacting, as Polemo does, with different types of discourse or genres of writing.

Cynaegirus’ and Callimachus’ marvellous bodies

In exploring Cynaegirus’ and Callimachus’ corporeality, Polemo’s two declamations adopt themes and register that we associate particularly with ancient paradoxography, conjuring up the striking images of a standing corpse (Callimachus) and of severed limbs that act independently from their body (Callimachus’ severed hands), placing emphasis on the concept of wonder, and evoking powerful emotions of fear and terror. For example, the first declamation, delivered by the father of Cynaegirus Euphorion, systematically builds on the paradoxical notion that Cynaegirus’ severed hands somehow outlived his body and continued to fight long after they were detached from it:

αὐτὸς μὲν οὖν ὡς ὀλίγῃ κατεμέμφετο τῇ φύσει καὶ χεῖρας ἀπῄτει παρ’ αὐτῆς. ἡ δεξιὰ δὲ ἔτι τῆς πρύμνης εἴχετο καὶ φεύγουσιν ἐπὶ πλεῖστον τοῖς βαρβάροις, καὶ θᾶττον ἀφῆκε τὴν ψυχὴν Κυναίγειρος ἢ τὴν ναῦν ἡ δεξιά. ἔνθα καὶ θαυμαστὸν ἐγένετο Κυναίγειρος μὲν ἄνευ χειρῶν ναυμαχῶν, ἡ χεὶρ δὲ ἄνευ Κυναιγείρου διώκουσα, καὶ νεκρὸς εἷς ἄμφω τὰ στοιχεῖα πληρώσας ἑαυτοῦ τοῖς μέλεσιν ἔκειτο, γῇ καὶ θαλάσσῃ μεμερισμένος.
He then was blaming nature for being frail and he wanted to demand his hands back from it, but the right hand was still holding on to the stern even while the barbarians were trying to flee as far away as possible, and Cynegirus let go of his soul more quickly than the right hand [let go of] the ship. There also something marvelous occurred: While Cynegirus engaged in a sea battle without hands, the hand without Cynegirus carried on pursuit; and he lay dead, one who with his own limbs served in both elements, having taken part on land and on sea.
1.11, trans. Reader

Like paradoxography’s talking heads, Cynaegirus’ hands here act as animated objects, remaining attached to the enemy ship and thus actively pursuing the enemy [15] long after Cynaegirus’ body expired and became a static τρόπαιον (cf. 1.10, 1.39). [16] An event that falls within the conceptual parameters of the “marvellous” (θαυμαστόν), it admits no rational explanation. Fear and shock are the standard response to such miraculous occurrences: [17] in Phlegon’s story of Bouplagos, the Roman generals are shaken (ταραχθέντες, Mirabilia 3.5) by Bouplagos’ supernatural apparition and dark prophecies; in Phlegon’s first story as well, the mother of Philinnion (the girl who rises from the dead as an embodied ghost) reacts to the news of her appearance with shock (ἐκπλαγῆ, Mirabilia 1.3). Similarly, as Euphorion states further on in his speech, Cynaegirus’ hands caused shock to the Persians, Medes and Phoenicians (κατέπληττες, 1.31).

Callimachus may have lost no limbs in the battle, but he died an equally striking, if grotesque death. As Euphorion stresses, his corpse continued to stand erect long after he died, and the man thus appeared to be alive, even though he was dead: [18]

ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν τούτου τοῖς βέλεσι τῶν ἐναντίων ἐκθεὶς ἑαυτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτῶν τῶν τοξευμάτων τε καὶ βλημάτων περιχυθέντων κατεσχέθη καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἔμενεν ἐν τῷ τῆς στάσεως σχήματι καὶ ἐδόκει ἑστάναι πεσεῖν μὴ δυνάμενος· καὶ τὸ Καλλιμάχου λαμπρὸν τοῦτό ἐστι μόνον, σχῆμα ζῶντος ἐν νεκρῷ σώματι·
The [son] of this [man], however, after he exposed himself to the enemies’ shots was held fast by the very arrows and missiles which were poured over him and because of this he remained in the appearance of the standing posture and seemed to stand since he was not able to fall. And the brilliance of Callimachus is only this, an appearance of being alive in a dead body.
1.7, trans. Reader

The extraordinariness of Callimachus’ standing posture, appropriately characterised by Euphorion later on as παράδοξος (1.26: ἡ μὲν Καλλιμάχου παράδοξος δοκοῦσα στάσις), is here quickly dismissed, by explaining it (διὰ τοῦτο) as passivity (on which see also below): it was the enemy’s arrows that kept Callimachus standing, by holding him fast (κατεσχέθη), and not the will of his (already dead) body. There is therefore nothing brilliant (λαμπρόν) about his manner of death, except the fact that he appeared to be alive, although he was dead. [19] Akin to the risen dead of Phlegon but, unlike them, lacking movement and voice, the sight of Callimachus’ standing corpse is as shocking as that of Cynaegirus’ animated hands—except the people who are now shocked are “us” (the Greek side of the battle), rather than the enemy (ἐς τὴν ἡμετέραν ἔκπληξιν ἀνεστηκότι, 1.30).

The concepts of marvel and paradox, introduced early on in the first declamation, are thus key to unlocking the argumentative strategies of both declamations. [20] Each speaker attempts to demonstrate the marvellous nature of his son’s achievement and to dismiss the (seeming) marvellousness of the opponent’s actions, in both cases by locating marvel and paradox in the two fighters’ bodies—how they acted or suffered in battle. Not accidentally, the terms θαῦμα, θαυμαστόν, and their cognates appear 18 times in the two declamations. [21] The discourse of θαύματα is appropriate in the context of the battle of Marathon: [22] it was prior to this battle that, according to Herodotus (6.105), the pastoral god Pan appeared to the Athenian runner Pheidippides on Mt Parthenion in Tegea, and asked him why the Athenians paid him no honours. Euphorion’s speech makes direct reference to this episode in 1.35, arguing that, thanks to his son’s hand (δι’ ἣν), Pan did not run from Arcadia in vain (μάτην) nor did Demeter and Kore take part in the battle themselves for no reason. [23] In making such a hyperbolical assertion, he elevates his son’s severed hand to a θαῦμα of the first order, all the other miraculous apparitions that occurred at Marathon subordinate to its magnitude. In a comparably hyperbolic fashion, the father of Callimachus characterises his son as the “greatest of the Marathonian marvels and most divine” (μέγιστον τῶν Μαραθωνίων θαυμάτων καὶ θειότατον), as the “portent par excellence of the portents there” (τῶν ἐκεῖ φασμάτων ἐξαίρετον) (2.55), [24] and as an “august marvel of war” (σεμνὸν πολέμου τέρας, 2.62). Casting his son as a Homeric hero who fights under the protection and guidance of a god, he too mentions Pan, along with Hera, armed Pallas Athena, Hercules and Theseus, all of whom stood by and shielded Callimachus (ibid.).

Bodies in battle: motion and stillness, action and passion

Given that Polemo’s speeches deal with violent death in battle and mutilation, corporeal suffering receives surprisingly little attention in the two declamations. Euphorion only once invites his audience to imagine the great pain Cynaegirus suffered when his hand was cut off (δριμείας ἀλγηδόνας, 1.25; in contrast, Callimachus felt no pain at all, 1.37). [25] His own feelings about his son’s mutilation are only hinted at when he states, rather hyperbolically, that he received only the half of his son from the battlefield (ἥμισυν ἐδεξάμην). His paradoxical statement that Cynaegirus may have lost his hands, but at least the rest of body (ὁ λοιπός Κυναίγειρος) was “whole” (πλήρης) (1.32) can only be interpreted as conveying his anguish at his son’s mutilation. The main thrust of his argument lies in his rejecting the perception of Cynaegirus as a passive victim who suffered horrific mutilation, by making deft use, as Reader has already pointed out, of the contrasting concepts of motion and stillness, and action and passion. [26] Movement and action are the defining characteristics of Cynaegirus, and both are most memorably encapsulated in the description of him running past the front lines of battle without fear (ἀδεῶς ἐκδραμών) and fighting the enemy by the beach almost naked (γυμνὸς σχεδὸν μαχόμενος) (1.8). [27]
The focus soon shifts from this striking image of the whole and healthy Cynaegirus as a runner, full of youth, [28] movement and vitality, to his hands as moving and swift-acting agents. A series of similes, metaphors and analogies seeks to drive home the notion that Cynaegirus’ hands miraculously continued to act independently from his body, imbued as they were with the same vitality and swift movement as Cynaegirus himself while he was whole: they were sent by Cynaegirus to fight the barbarians “like naval expeditions” (πέμπων τὰς χεῖρας ἐπὶ τοὺς βαρβάρους ὥσπερ ἀποστόλους, 1.23); [29] they were unleashed against the enemy with the ease others shoot arrows (τὰς χεῖρας οὕτως εὐκόλως ἠφίεις ὡς ἕτεροι βέλη, 1.31); they were more forceful than winds (1.35), [30] stronger than the barbarians’ oar-thrashing (οθίου, 1.35), [31] stronger even than a fleet commander or arrows hurled by more distant right hands (1.35); Cynaegirus’ right hand was not cut off from the body, but sent away from home, like a colonist on an expedition (ἀπῳκίζετο, 1.36). [32] His hands’ strength enabled them to serve as anchors that held the enemy ship still (1.37). In fact, the enemy turned not against the whole Cynaegirus, but against his hands (1.41–42). Through such striking figurative language, built around the concepts of motion and action, Euphorion seeks to manipulate his audience’s emotions. Rather than reacting to Cynaegirus’ mutilation with horror, the audience is urged to marvel at the extraordinary deeds of his hands, which, once severed, were far from being lifeless limbs but acted with force and direction, as if they had a life and will of their own.
In contrast, Callimachus is presented by Euphorion as a man who suffered but not acted, and stood rather than moved (1.23): an older man, pushed to battle by obligation and necessity (ἀνάγκη, 1.5, 1.18), he was killed early in the battle. Presenting Callimachus in such terms once again serves Euphorion’s strategy of redirecting feelings of horror, from the repulsive sight of Cynaegirus’ mutilated body to the even more repulsive picture of Callimachus’ corpse, standing erect and showered by the enemy’s arrows (note the vivid contrast with Cynaegirus’ hands acting like arrows). Here too figurative language allows the audience to visualise Callimachus as an immobile object, as Euphorion compares him to an earthen defence embankment of the Assyrians (1.30), [33] a mere barrier (πρόβολος) to the swift-moving battle. Indeed, if the rest of the army stood like him, the barbarians would have raced to Athens and taken the Acropolis itself (1.29).
Callimachus’ father refutes his opponent’s arguments first of all by stressing the active role his son played at Marathon. As he points out, his rank of polemarch was higher than that of Cynaegirus, a plain soldier. While both men were still alive, the former led and commanded, while the latter received orders and obeyed (2.23). Only those who lead and command can be said to act (ποιοῦσιν, 2.23.). Callimachus’ actions exercised real power and were not idle display (δυνάμεώς ἐστιν ἔργον, οὐκ ἐπιδείξεως, 2.29). In fact, he prepared the ground for Cynaegirus’ excellence, through decisive and planned action (2.25–28). He was thus the foundation and cause of Cynaegirus’ excellence (i.e. the one who set the antecedent conditions for its display) (2.28–30), and, a fortiori, the cause behind Greek victory at Marathon (2.49) and beyond (the battle of Marathon, in turn, was the foundation and cause of all subsequent Greek victories, 2.30). The key concept of cause (denoted with the terms ἀρχή and αἰτία) is here used in the general sense of “that which is responsible for something”: [34] through his leadership, Callimachus motivated the actions of both his subordinate Cynaegirus and the Greek army as a whole, thus being responsible for the successful outcome of the battle of Marathon.
As regards the upright posture and immobility of Callimachus’ corpse, his father interprets both positively, as expressive of fierce resistance and steadfastness against the barbarian assault. The association of upright posture with bravery and strength, present, as we saw, in ancient physiognomy, is cleverly exploited here—for example, in the assertions that Callimachus “kept freedom standing upright for the Athenians” (τηρήσας ὀρθὴν τὴν ἐλευθερίαν Ἀθηναίοις), made Greece to stand by himself (or in himself) (στήσας ἐν αὑτῷ τὴν Ἑλλάδα), and did not allow Athens to fall (2.12). Uprightness is here a metaphor for Athenian and Greek resistance and bravery at Marathon, but it also underlines the vital and active role Callimachus himself, through his own physical uprightness, played in their successful display. Like Euphorion, Callimachus’ father, too, assimilates his son’s standing corpse to immobile objects, except the objects in question, either man-made (a tower made of adamant or a wall, 2.10, 2.55), or natural (a rock, 2.10; [35] the land, islands and mountains of Greece, 2.54), far from connoting passivity, inspire awe with their towering presence and massiveness. Yet more boldly, he compares Callimachus to “a god who is fighting against men” (θεὸς ἀνθρώποις μαχόμενος, 2.10). [36] The simile, recalling particularly the theomachies of Greek epic, underlines the superior (indeed, divine-like) strength and force with which Callimachus withstood the enemy’s assault. It also implicitly rejects Euphorion’s claims about Callimachus’ passivity, if the energetic way in which the gods fight humans in scenes of theomachy such as the ones depicted in the Iliad, for example, provide the main comparison. [37] Seen in such terms, Callimachus is indeed the “portent par excellence” of all of Marathon’s portents (τῶν ἐκεῖ φασμάτων ἐξαίρετον, 2.55), his upright body a force of extraordinary resistance against the barbarian assault.

Body and soul

The extraordinariness of Cynaegirus’ and Callimachus’ bodies is further underscored by exploring them in terms of the relationship between body and soul. This theme features most prominently in the second declamation, delivered by Callimachus’ father, and is crucial to his refutation of the arguments made in the first oration by Euphorion. The central premise of his speech is that the ensouled body is the image of corporeal integrity par excellence: a whole and intact body is that which possesses all of its limbs as well as a soul—the power or vital force that moves and directs it. Of the two heroic men of Marathon, only Callimachus can be said to possess such a body. Hence his father’s stress on the fact that his son exhorted “himself to expend body and soul (τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν) on behalf of the common freedom,” confronted the enemy “with all his heart” (παντὶ θυμῷ) (2.8), [38] and gave his whole body, not a part of it, to the struggle (2.32). If a fighter’s contribution to the battle of Marathon is to be measured according to what proportion of one’s self/body participated in it, Callimachus’ was surely greater than Cynaegirus’, because he fought with his whole self, body and soul.

In his speech, Euphorion refers to the soulless body of Callimachus in order to draw attention to the paradox of speaking about the valour of a corpse: as he puts it, “there is no valour without soul” (1.25, cf. 1.28)—dead bodies cannot display valour, in other words, since the dead cannot act with will and direction. [39] Euphorion’s repeated use of the word σχῆμα, denoting external form and appearance, rather than essence or substance, [40] is also significant. He stresses that Callimachus’ honourable-looking upright posture was effectively “just an idle shape” (σχῆμα … ἀργόν, 1.26) or that he was an “empty shape” (σχῆμα κενόν, 1.27). Thus, any association between erect bodily posture and bravery is once again emphatically belied. In answer to this, Callimachus’ father emphatically underlines the harmonious relationship between Callimachus’ body and his soul in the description of his final moments:

πολὺν μὲν οὖν χρόνον ἐν τῷ σώματι διεκαρτέρησεν ἡ ψυχὴ ἐρίζουσα πρὸς τὴν φύσιν καὶ εἰς τὴν ἀδύνατον ἀνθρώποις ἀθανασίαν ἐβιάζετο· ἐπεὶ δὲ ἄνθρωπος Καλλίμαχος ἦν καὶ θνητὸς {ἦν} καὶ τοῦ σώματος ἀπελθεῖν ἠναγκάζετο τῷ πλήθει τῶν τραυμάτων, ἀπέθανε μέν, οὐκ ἔπεσε δέ, ἀλλ’ ἐξιοῦσα ἡ ψυχὴ βεβαίως τῷ σώματι μένειν καὶ καρτερεῖν ἐνετείλατο καὶ μάχεσθαι τὴν δυνατὴν τοῖς ἀψύχοις μάχην. τὸ δὲ ἐπείσθη καὶ βεβαίως ἔμεινεν ὥσπερ ἐρριζωμένον {καὶ} διὰ τοῦ πολέμου τοιοῦτο οἷον αὐτὸ ἐξιοῦσα ἔστησεν ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ πολὺν χρόνον τοὺς βαρβάρους ἐξηπάτησεν· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ᾤετο τεθνάναι τὸν ἑστηκότα.
For a long time his soul, striving against nature, held out in the body and he tried to force his way into the immortality impossible for humans. But since Callimachus was human he was also mortal, and he was compelled by the multitude of the wounds to depart the body. He died but did not fall; rather, as the soul was leaving it enjoined the body to remain steadfast and to persist and to keep on fighting the fight [as far as] possible for those without a soul. It obeyed and remained steadfast as though rooted even throughout the battle to such an extent that, although the soul had left, it made it [the body] stand and for a long time this completely deceived the barbarians. For no one thought that the one who stood had died.
2.11, trans. Reader

Callimachus’ death is here described as the forced departure of his soul from his body, after a prolonged and obstinate struggle to remain within the body against all odds. The fact that his soul possessed such an extraordinary power and resilience testifies to its excellence (ψυχὴν ἀρίστην, 2.53). The paradox of the man’s standing posture is explained in terms of the perfect co-ordination between body and soul in his person: it was the soul which instructed the body to remain upright and continue to hold out even in a soulless state, and the body duly obeyed (cf. 2.53). [41] In the process, Callimachus came close to surpassing the limits of human existence and to achieving immortality (note the hyperbolic assertions, in 2.50, that his excellence, ἀρετή, is greater than nature and surpasses his soul). The blurring of boundaries between life and death, mortality and immortality, thus becomes the hallmark of Callimachus’ marvellousness: even though the passage here underscores that the barbarians’ impression that Callimachus’ body was alive was a false one, elsewhere Callimachus’ father refers to his son as an “ensouled body” (σῶμα ἔμψυχον, 2.12), and as a body which “became instilled with a soul even though it had died” (καὶ γέγονεν ἔμψυχος καὶ τεθνεὼς ὤν, 2.55). Yet more boldly, he states that, even from the underworld, Callimachus’ soul continued to fight alongside his body and to prop it (2.56). The meaning of these rather bizzare assertions may become clearer, if we look at his comparison of Callimachus to a plant (2.54): apart from conveying the notion of rootedness and steadfastness, [42] the simile also assists the audience in grasping the contradictory notion that Callimachus’ upright body was not alive, but somehow still ensouled. Plants, according to Aristotle, can be said to be alive (τὰ φυόμενα πάντα δοκεῖ ζῆν, De Anima 413a25), but, unlike animals, they lack the faculties of sense and reason; they possess only the nutritive power of the soul, thanks to which they can grow in all directions and receive nutrition (De Anima 413a25–b10). The audience is encouraged to think of Callimachus’ upright corpse in similar terms—lacking sense and reason, but somehow still activated by the soul’s life-giving power even after sense and reason departed from it.

In contrast, Cynaegirus’ mutilation is interpreted as proof of his weakness: Cynaegirus lost his hand easily, “just like a small child” (ᾳδίως ὥσπερ παιδίον, 2.13), and the loss of one limb resulted in the collapse of his whole body. Consequently, the wound of his hand revealed the weakness (ἀσθένειαν) of both his body and soul. This comment seems to pick up on the passage from Euphorion’s speech cited in the previous section, according to which Cynaegirus lamented the frailty of his nature (ὀλίγῃ κατεμέμφετο τῇ φύσει, 1.11). Whereas Euphorion, in praising his son’s hands, asserts that “Cynaegirus let go of his soul more quickly than the right hand [let go of] the ship” (θᾶττον ἀφῆκε τὴν ψυχὴν Κυναίγειρος ἢ τὴν ναῦν ἡ δεξιά, 1.11) or that Cynaegirus’ hand is worth as much as his very soul (ὦ δεξιὰ ψυχῆς ἰδίας ἀξία, 1.37), for Callimachus’ father, Cynaegirus’ hands, however marvellous their deeds, could never compensate for the collapse of his body: after all, Callimachus fell as if his entire soul was lost along with his hand (2.43), and thus his excellence lasted only as long as his soul lasted (2.50). Besides, the loss of limbs (hands or feet, ears or even the head) is common in battle (2.46). Overall, Cynaegirus is found lacking in terms of physical strength (his body), the constitution of his soul (which could not withstand the loss of a limb), and the resulting bond between them (whereby the soul supports the body, however weak). His corporeal mutilation is interpreted as a form of debasement, equating Cynaegirus with the common soldier and the frail child.
Further, assimilating Cynaegirus to a child serves Callimachus’ aim of demonstrating that, in terms of age and corresponding character traits as well, Callimachus was superior to Cynaegirus. [43] Callimachus’ older age guaranteed that he possessed certain mental capacities that the much younger Cynaegirus lacked: he acted rationally, purposefully and with judgement (2.24, 2.38), whereas Cynaegirus behaved rashly and recklessly. Cynaegirus’ recklessness (τόλμη) is condemned by stressing, in sections 2.33–37, the futility (μάταιον) and ineffectuality (ἀπέραντον) of his actions: [44] how could he reasonably expect to seize a ship with his mere hand? (2.33). This description, if taken in conjunction with the emphasis on the swiftness of his body in declamation 1, brings Cynaegirus very close to physiognomy’s man of swift movement, upright posture and bright appearance: such a man, according to Adamantius the Sophist’s Physiognomonica B39, is “hot-tempered,” “adventurous but not an achiever” (ταχυτὴς δὲ ἐν κινήσει ἅμα μὲν ὀρθότητι καὶ λαμπρότητι εἴδους θερμόβουλον, ἐγχειρητήν, <οὐ> δράστην ἔφηνεν, trans. Repath). Although the correspondence is by no means exact (Cynaegirus lacks the upright posture and no reference is made to the brightness of his looks), at the very least it raises the possibility that Polemo’s physiognomic gaze lies in the background of how his two declamations discuss Cynaegirus’ and Callimachus’ bodies as signs of their souls’ respective traits. [45]


Paradox, hyperbole, metaphor, and vivid imagery of mutilated bodies, severed limbs imbued with motion and standing corpses that appear to be alive all join forces in Polemo’s two declamations on the heroes Cynaegirus and Callimachus, in order to demonstrate that the two men’s bodies were perhaps the greatest marvels that occurred at Marathon. Although studied very little, Polemo’s oratorical creations are an eloquent example of how Second Sophistic oratory may have chosen to shed fresh light on otherwise hackneyed themes about the Persian wars. I have here sought to highlight the main conceptual strands that underpin Polemo’s presentation of Cynaegirus’ mutilated body and Callimachus’ ghost-like corpse, also pointing out, in the course of my examination, the lines along which it may communicate with other forms of imperial knowledge and discourse about the body, especially paradoxography and physiognomy. The fact that the two declamations’ speakers are the fathers of Cynaegirus and Callimachus invests Polemo’s discourse on the body with additional resonance: the fathers are intimately connected to their sons’ bodies, through ties of blood and through the fact that they raised them. Euphorion stresses this intimate relationship at the end of his speech (1.47–49), by drawing parallels between his own hands and those of his son’s, and also by comparing the efficacy of his tongue to that of his son’s hands. The fathers’ oratorical competence itself relies on the bond between father and son, motivated as it is by their desire to make their sons’ bodies seem and feel as alive and whole as possible, both at the moment of their death and even after it.


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[ back ] 1. The two declamations have, overall, received very little attention by scholarship. The detailed edition, translation, and commentary by Reader 1996, along with the new critical edition by Stefec 2016, are indispensable. I here follow the section numbering of Reader’s edition, and I cite his translation of the text. For the Greek text, I have adopted Stefec’s new critical edition.
[ back ] 2. Second Sophistic authors who mention both of them include Plutarch (Bellone an Pace 347D; Comparatio Aristidis et Catonis 2.2; Parallela Graeca et Romana 305B–D), Maximus of Tyre (Dialexeis 23.3, 34.9), Aelius Aristides (In Demosthenem [Or. 53] 11), Diogenes Laertius (1.56). See Reader 1996:33–40, for an overview of the sources.
[ back ] 3. Herodotus was the first to mention both Cynaegirus and Callimachus (6.109–111; 114); On the Stoa Poikile’s depiction of the battle of Marathon, see Pausanias 1.15, with Harrison 1972, who collects all the relevant sources, and Reader 1996:33–36. Lucian (Demonax 53) mentions a bronze statue with a severed hand near the Stoa Poikile in Athens, depicting Cynaegirus.
[ back ] 4. See Lucian, Jupiter Tragoedus 32 (cf. Rhetorum Praeceptor 18); his severed hand is also mentioned by Maximus of Tyre, Dialexeis 34.9). See Reader 1996:39–40. On Greek declamation in the imperial era, see Russell 1983; also Pernot 2017; Guast 2022.
[ back ] 5. See Reader 1996:41.
[ back ] 6. See esp. Perkins 1995; Gleason 1995; König 2008.
[ back ] 7. Gunderson 2003:59–89. He discusses several case-studies where losing a hand or both hands is a punishment for exercising violence against one’s father (the hands symbolically standing for authority).
[ back ] 8. Gunderson 2003:59.
[ back ] 9. The sources are collected by Swain 2007a. On Polemo’s lost physiognomical work, see Swain 2007b.
[ back ] 10. On his probable date, see Repath 2007a:487.
[ back ] 11. Cf. [Aristotle] Physiognomonica 807a30: <Ἀνδρείου> σημεῖα […] τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ σώματος ὀρθόν, ὀστᾶ καὶ πλευραὶ καὶ τὰ ἀκρωτήρια τοῦ σώματος ἰσχυρὰ καὶ μεγάλα […]. According to the Leiden Polemo, “if you see that the man has light movement of the limbs and upright stature, judge him for excellence of opinion and thought; for the man who embraces a thing has movement like this” (B39, transl. Hoyland); the man of upright stature is also judged to be “daring whenever he intends something” (B40, transl. Hoyland).
[ back ] 12. See Hansen 1996: comm. ad loc.; Doroszewska 2016:24–79.
[ back ] 13. See Hansen 1996: comm. ad loc.; Doroszewska 2016:67–73. Both cite a parallel story from Pliny, Naturalis Historia 7.52 [178–179], which, according to Hansen, suggests we are dealing with a “migratory legend.”
[ back ] 14. As Doroszewska 2016:71–72, notes, the dead who usually come back to life in Greek myth and paradoxography are those who suffered a violent death (βιαιοθάνατοι) (although this is usually murder or some form of dishonourable death, not honourable death during battle). Bouplagos’ resurrection serves the will of the gods, who seek, through him, to warn Rome.
[ back ] 15. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on the theme of “continuing post-mortem effectiveness” in both speeches.
[ back ] 16. See Reader 1996: comm. on 1.10 on τρόπαιον as a “trophy or monument to victory.”
[ back ] 17. On fear as a response to miracles in antiquity, see Prêtre 2018; Hau 2018.
[ back ] 18. See Reader 1996: comm. on 1.7 on the sources about Callimachus’ death.
[ back ] 19. This is also stressed in 1.21 and 1.24.
[ back ] 20. See Reader 1996: comm. on 2.55 on marvel as a motif in both speeches.
[ back ] 21. 1.6; 11; 20; 23; 25; 26; 27; 28; 33; 37. 2.2; 6; 47; 48; 50; 55; 56; 65.
[ back ] 22. Reader (1996: comm. on 2.55) discusses the role Herodotus’ account of the battle of Marathon played in the formation of a long tradition of Marathonian θαύματα.
[ back ] 23. Reader (1996: comm. ad loc.) points out that Demeter and Kore’s participation in the battle of Marathon is not attested elsewhere.
[ back ] 24. See Reader 1996: comm. on 2.55 on the meaning of the word φάσμα (“a supernatural appearance or phenomenon”).
[ back ] 25. Guast 2017:11–13, and 2022, makes the attractive suggestion that Polemo’s particular concern with posture and mutilation in the two declamations may be alluding to his own physical impairment: according to Philostratus (Vitae Sophistarum 537, 543), he suffered from hardening of the joints, because of which he felt as if he had no hands or feet, except only for feeling pain. However, in this case, one would expect Polemo to give more emphasis to Cynaegirus’ corporeal suffering.
[ back ] 26. Reader 1996, comments particularly on the contrast between action and passion, see esp. his comments on 1.23 and 1.25.
[ back ] 27. Reader (1996: comm. ad loc.) correctly observes, citing parallels, that the adjective γυμνός here probably means not that Cynaegirus was devoid of clothing, but without armour.
[ back ] 28. Euphorion stresses that Cynaegirus was a young boy, who volunteered to take part in the battle, and was full of boldness, (τόλμη, 1.5; 20).
[ back ] 29. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on the meaning of this phrase.
[ back ] 30. According to Reader 1996: comm. ad loc., the sense is probably that they were stronger than the winds that blew through the ship’s sails.
[ back ] 31. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on the meaning of the term όθιον (“rushing,” “roaring,” “dashing,” in reference to the way the oars of a ship disturb the water).
[ back ] 32. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on the meaning of the verb ἀπῳκίζετο.
[ back ] 33. According to Reader 1996: comm. ad loc., the earthen embankment (χώματα) probably alludes to the Babylonian defense walls made of earth.
[ back ] 34. According to Reader 1996: comm. on 2.29, the terms denote the beginning of something.
[ back ] 35. On rocks as symbols of firmness since the archaic times, see Reader 1996: comm. ad loc.
[ back ] 36. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on the similes as a progression.
[ back ] 37. On theomachy and its significance, particularly in epic, see Chaudhuri 2014:15–55; Bolt 2019.
[ back ] 38. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on θυμός denoting the principle of life or the seat of the emotions.
[ back ] 39. Cf. 1.26: νεκρῷ γὰρ ὅλως τι καὶ πράττειν ἀδύνατον.
[ back ] 40. Reader 1996: comm. on 1.7.
[ back ] 41. See Reader 1996: comm. ad loc. on the vocabulary used for the soul’s departure from the body and its command over it.
[ back ] 42. On this sense, see Reader 1996: comm. ad loc.
[ back ] 43. This is how Reader 1996: comm. on 2.13 interprets the simile.
[ back ] 44. See Reader 1996: comm. on 2.35.
[ back ] 45. As the Physiognomonica attributed to Aristotle stress, the soul and the body share a sympathetic relationship (808b11–809a25): they are “connate with each other” (ἔχει πρὸς ἄλληλα … συμφυῶς, 805a, trans. Swain) and mutually affect one another. According to this fundamental supposition, physiognomy reads the body’s external characteristics, flaws or affections as reliable indicators of character and personality. See Boys-Stones 2007:33–44, on Plato’s views on the relationship between soul and body, and 44–58 on Aristotle’s.