Solving a Quotation Mystery with Digital Loeb Classical Library

October 8, 2014

I got a message from an old friend – not a classicist – recently:

Many years ago I remember reading a prayer in a Greek tragedy that had a line something like “I’ll be satisfied if my lot is two thirds good.” I believe it was a woman bargaining with the gods during the sacking of Troy. I’m pretty sure it was one of the b-side plays that came in the same book with one of the more famous ones I had to read at [College with a strong classical tradition].

She wondered if it rang a bell to me, as despite intermittent Googling over the years she hadn’t been able to track it down.  I went to Wikipedia for lists of tragedies by the Big Three (Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus) and used them to jog my memory for plays that might be set at the sack of Troy.  I skimmed free online translations of Euripides’ Trojan Woman and Hecuba without any luck on day 1.

On day 2, I happened to be at the University of Cincinnati Classics Library playing with their trial of the Digital Loeb Classical Library, and kind of on a whim I constructed an Advanced Search asking for all occurrences of the phrase “two thirds” in the works of the three tragedians. (Boolean searching nerdery alert: Author = Euripides OR author = Sophocles OR author = Aeschylus AND words in text = two thirds.)

Bingo! It’s at the end of Aeschylus’ Suppliants:

Image of Loeb Digital Volume of Aeschylus, Suppliants.

So this serves as your teaser for my in-progress post about the Digital Loeb – and also a reminder of the timelessness of classical literature. As my friend wrote, “It stuck with me because it’s just such a humble and reasonable request.” I, too, hope for a life that’s two-thirds good. (And because I am not currently standing in the ruins of a sacked city, I’m feeling like I’m ahead of the game.)

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