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Headword: *sa/peir
Adler number: sigma,100
Translated headword: Sapeir
Vetting Status: high
[It is said that] in the siege of the Persian city Beioudaes, which Herakleios, the father of the emperor Herakleios, was besieging,[1] there was a man named Sapeir who was in body[2] like the Tydeus celebrated by Homer but in willpower[3] even greater than Tydeus. For in soul he was Heracles and anyone stronger than that who had ever been born[4] -- for I do not shrink from[5] assigning Heracles second place in respect to magnitude of courage, even if we are without a parallel.[6] He picked up sharp stakes and rushed at the fortress and traveled through the air.[7] After inserting one of the stakes in the wall between the structure's blocks (for the fort was fashioned out of unmortared stone), he stepped up on the stake; then, similarly again jamming another stake in, he set his other[8] foot down on it. And he grabbed onto the rocks jutting out and held on with his hands and thereby cleverly contrived a path where there was no path.[9] And, while the besieged were unable to endure the sight[10] of the missiles[11], that man Sapeir held firmly onto the battlement. And the fort would have been captured in that first assault, if one of the Persian company had not suddenly appeared[12] and thrust that warrior[13] back out with one of the shields[14] that were set out in front of the fort. And he slipped and was borne downwards along with the shield "tumbling in the dirt onto his forehead and shoulders" in a Homeric calamity.[15] Nevertheless, he did not perish, for his fellow laborers[16] caught him on their shields and saved the injured man, for the javelins' iron points had nicked him just slightly. With perseverance he went to that work again and leapt back up and cast his hands upon the battlement, like an octopus with inescapable tentacles, and held onto the battlement with a strong grip. And his Persian opponent worked up a scheme kindred[17] to his other one. As the battlement had just been weakened by the Roman's attacks, he pushed it off along with the warrior and let them fall down. Then the soldier, lover of danger,[18] was dragged down along with the battlement that he had so longed for, and in the midst of the fearful spectacle his allies offered the same rescue as before to the man who dared everything. But he, after recovering from being wounded in the fall, gladly welcomed a third contest,[19] as if some irresistible divine power was goading him on to the labor. And, when he crept back up, stepping upon the remains of the bulwark's[20] parapet, he drew an akinake[21] and killed that very same Persian, the kephen[22] of his courage. And so, removing his head from his neck, he threw it down to the attackers. And the Romans, after witnessing what happened, grew confident and eager for dangers. And a brother of that Sapeir (and he was the eldest), after having been witness to his brother's courage, immediately sought to rival his undertaking and went up himself using a manner akin to his kin's.[23] Then another man went after him, and many more after that, for next those who first took the fort ascended by means of ropes and smashed in the gates,[24] and next the Roman army was able to come in. And, so gaining supremacy over their enemies, they took over the fortress [...].
Greek Original:
*sa/peir: o(/ti kata\ th\n poliorki/an th=s po/lews tw=n *persw=n *beioudae/s, h(\n e)polio/rkei *(hra/kleios, o( *(hraklei/ou tou= basile/ws path/r, *sa/peir h)=n tis a)nh/r, to\ me\n sw=ma, w(s o( para\ tw=| *(omh/rw| *tudeu\s a)numnou/menos, th\n de\ gnw/mhn kai\ peraite/rw *tude/ws. *(hraklh=s ga\r h)=n th\n yuxh/n, kai\ ei)/ tis tou/tou e)gego/nei pote\ a)lkimw/teros [ou) ga\r a)poknai/w tw=| mege/qei th=s a)reth=s to\n *(hrakle/a e)n deute/rois tiqei/s, ei) kai\ tw=| parallh/lw| leipo/meqa]: sko/lopas o)cei=s e)pifero/menos e)na/lletai tw=| e)xurw/mati kai\ metewroporei=, to\n me\n e(/na sko/lopa e)nei/ras tw=| pu/rgw| a)na\ ta\s a(rmoga\s tou= oi)kodomh/matos [h)=n ga\r li/qw| chrw=| dieskeuasme/non to\ frou/rion] e)pibai/nei e)pi\ tou= sko/lopos tw=| podi/, ei)=ta to\n e(/teron au)=qis w(/sper e)gkentri/sas sko/lopa to\ leipo/menon toi=n podoi=n e)perei/dei, kai\ tw=n e)chrthme/nwn li/qwn e)peilhmme/nos a)pri\c ei)/xeto tai=s xersi/n, ou(/tw te th\n a)/nodon e)sofi/zeto. tw=n de\ poliorkoume/nwn th\n qe/an tw=n belw=n mh\ u(pome/nein oi(/wn te o)/ntwn, i)sxurw=s ei)/xeto th=s e)pa/lcews o( *sa/peir e)kei=nos a)nh/r. kai\ a)\n h(/lw kata\ th\n prw/thn e)kei/nhn e)pibolh\n to\ e)xu/rwma, ei) mh/ tis tw=n th=s *persikh=s summori/as a)qro/on e)pifanei\s e(ni\ tw=n qurew=n, tw=n probeblhme/nwn tou= e)xurw/matos, e)kei=non au)to\n to\n a)riste/a e)cw/qhsen. o( de\ katolisqh/sas e)s to\ ka/tw e)fe/reto meta\ tou= qureou=, ku/mbaxos e)n koni/h|sin, e)pi\ bregmo/n te kai\ w)/mous, *(omhrikw=| tw=| sumptw/mati: o(/mws ou) dio/lwlen: u(pode/xontai ga\r au)to\n tai=s a)spi/sin oi( sumponou=ntes kai\ traumati/an diesw/|zonto: prosnu/ttousi ga\r au)to\n ta\ tw=n a)konti/wn sidh/ria mikro\n komidh=. o( de\ karteriko\s au)=qis e)p' e)kei=no to\ e)/rgon e)xw/rei kai\ au)= pa/lin a)ne/qore, th=| e)pa/lcei ta\s xei=ras peribalw/n, oi(=a polu/pous a)fu/ktous plekta/nas tina/s, kai\ ei)/xeto kartera=| tini labh=| th=s e)pa/lcews. o( d' a)nti/palos *pe/rshs a)delfh\n th=s e(te/ras e)piboulh=s e)ceirga/sato, kai\ saqrwqei/shs e)/nagxos th=s e)pa/lcews tai=s *(rwmai+kai=s prosbolai=s, met' e)kei/nhs to\n a)riste/a a)natre/yas parei/a e)s to\ ka/tw xwrei=n. kai\ toi/nun kath/geto o( stratiw/ths o( filoki/ndunos meta\ th=s e)rwme/nhs e)pa/lcews, to\ de\ summaxiko\n th\n prote/ran swthri/an o)re/gousi meta\ foberou= tou= qea/matos tw=| pa/nta tolmhrw=|. a)ta\r e)ca/nths tou= ptw/matos o( traumati/as geno/menos kai\ tri/ton a)=qlon a)spa/zetai, w(/sper a)ma/xou tino\s kai\ qei/as duna/mews e)s to\n po/non parotrunou/shs au)to/n. e)pei\ d' a)nei/rpuse, th=s stefa/nhs tou= e(/rkous loipo\n e)piba/s, to\n a)kina/khn spasa/menos, to\n khfh=na th=s e(autou= a)reth=s e)kei=non au)to\n to\n *pe/rshn a)pe/kteine. kai\ ou)=n th\n kefalh\n a)po\ th=s de/rhs a)felo/menos toi=s poliorkou=sin a)pe/pempen. oi( de\ *(rwmai=oi to\ gegono\s qeasa/menoi a)neqa/rrhsan kai\ tw=n kindu/nwn w)re/gonto. a)delfo\s de/ tis tou= *sa/peir e)kei/nou [presbu/ths d' ou(=tos th\n h(liki/an], e)pei\ ge/gone th=s a)reth=s qeath/s, kai\ zhlwth\s paraxrh=ma tou= e)gxeirh/matos gi/netai, kai\ a)/neisi kai\ au)to\s a)delfa\ tw=| a)delfw=| mhxanw/menos, ei)=ta met' e)kei=non e(/teros, kai\ meta\ tou=ton polloi/. ka/lois ga\r loipo\n a)nedu/onto oi( prokateilhfo/tes to\ e)xu/rwma kai\ tai=s pu/lais a)ra/ttousi, kai\ ei)sagw/gimon loipo\n h)=n to\ tw=n *(rwmai/wn strato/pedon. kai\ ou(/tw krei/ttous tw=n polemi/wn geno/menoi to\ frou/rion paresth/santo.
This seems to be the only instance of the personal name Sapeir in ancient and Byzantine Greek. (However, the name does appear as an ethnic designation for a people based in the inland of Asia Minor. As such, the name appears first in Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.395 & 1243, and the Orphic Argonautica 755 (Dottin).)
[1] This sentence has been devised by the author of the entry to provide context for the following lengthy fragment from Theophylact Simocatta, Histories 2.18.15-25. See also under alpha 3361, epsilon 1546, epsilon 4050, xi 68.
[2] That is, small in stature, as opposed to Heracles (about to be mentioned) who was usually supposed to be very tall (cf. Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.1.1-3). For Tydeus see Homer, Iliad 5.801: "*Tudeu/s toi mikro\s me\n e)/hn de/mas, a)lla\ maxhth/s." It seems that Theophylact is echoing the me\n and de\ construction from Homer; to understand the allusion fully, one must know the original Homeric passage. Theophylact claims something similar for Sapeir: that, despite his modest stature, he is a determined warrior.
[3] That is, in mental fortitude, resolve, or purpose. See LSJ s.v. gnwmh/ III.5 for this uncommon sense. It is also implied that Sapeir's gnwmh/ is correct, and so the word retains some of the more usual connotation of "judgement."
[4] This entire passage is highly rhetorical, as is common in Theophylact who is known for "extravagant metaphors" and other stylistic extremes (Whitby xxvii-xxviii). Not only does Theophylact claim of Sapeir that "in soul he was Heracles", but he even suggests that Sapeir may have been greater than Heracles in respect of courage. Comparisons of Heracles (and sometimes other figures such as Achilles and Odysseus) with historical individuals such as Alexander the Great are common in ancient historiography, and they betray the close connection between history and the older genre of epic poetry which once filled a similar role in ancient Greek society and which never lost its influence upon Greek historiography. See Anderson for such Heraclean figures in history and other genres, and Ring specifically for the historiographic uses of Heracles. Finally, note also that the emperor Herakleios (De imperatoribus Romanis entry at web address 1), here mentioned by Theophylact, was compared with the Heracles on account of his name (George of Pisidia, On Bonus 1-9 ). Furthermore, it was common to call someone "the other Heracles" if he seemed Heraclean in his actions: see alpha 1338. Thus Theophylact is here operating within both historiographic tradition and contemporary Byzantine practice in this comparison.
[5] Read a)pokne/w with the text of Theophylact, in place of the Suda's a)poknai/w.
[6] That is, Theophylact claims to be unafraid of denying Heracles the first place in bravery, even if he cannot produce a specific rival. While flatteringly comparing Sapeir's boldness to Heracles', Theophylact is displaying his own historiographic boldness in comparison to other historians; the implicit comparison flatters the author.
[7] The choice of word, metewroporei=, is quite striking as it gives a miraculous aura to the accomplishment; compare Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 3.15, where it describes the magical levitations of Indian sages.
[8] Read to\n leipo/menon with the text of Theophylact, in place of the Suda's to\ leipo/menon.
[9] Theophylact's th\n a)/nodon ("pathless") plays on the understood o(do\n ("path"). It is possible that Theophylact actually included o(do\n after a)/nodon to emphasize the word-play; it might have easily fallen out due to haplography. On the other hand, o(do/s in this context is often omitted.
[10] The root of qe/an, "sight," recurs throughout this passage (qea/matos, qeasa/menoi, qeath/s), and it is pertinent to note that this root can imply watching or witnessing an important sight or spectacle. Theophylact's word choice thus contributes to the vivid, voyeuristic feel of the passage by engaging the reader's sympathy, as if he too were watching with bated breath. (DW: there is no need, therefore, for Kuster's emendation of qe/an to bi/an "force".)
[11] Sapeir's fellow-soldiers are covering his attempt with heavy missile fire.
[12] Whitby takes the prefix of e)pifanei\s with the dative e(ni\, "appeared at one...", but this does not fit with the usual absolute use of the verb. When e)pifai/nw occurs with a dative, it is the person or persons to whom the subject appears. Furthermore, if the Persian here casts Sapeir off with the qureo/s, there is a closer parallel with the Persian's second scheme which Theophylact describes as "kindred" (a)delfh\n).
[13] Here "warrior" translates the common Homeric term a)risteu/s, a touch of epic color.
[14] Whitby translates qureo/s as "battlement." This apparently refers specifically to a stone merlon (also called a cop or kneeler), the part of the battlement which sticks up between the cut-out parts called crenels. This meaning for qureo/s occurs in no ancient or modern lexica, and I can find no parallel. Perhaps Whitby follows LSJ s.v. qureo/s which cites Homer, Odyssey 9.240 & 313, with the meaning "stone put against a door." However, there it specifically refers to the massive rock placed over the mouth of the cave by the Cyclops, and I cannot see how that could be transferred to mean part of a battlement. On the other hand, qureo/s usually refers to a large, rectangular (i.e. door-shaped) shield, and this seems to be the meaning here. This would be an actual shield, or perhaps a shield-like defensive screen, hung out in front of the battlement to provide additional protection for the defenders.
[15] Homer, Iliad 5.586.
[16] The pon- root, referring to "labor" appears throughout this passage. The words po/nos and a)=qlos (note also the reference to Sapeir's third a)=qlon below) are the standard Greek terms for the Labors of Heracles, and this wording points to an extended implicit comparison between Heracles and Sapeir as signaled by the previous explicit comparison.
[17] Literally "a)delfh\n th=s e(te/ras e)piboulh=s" means "a sister of the other scheme." Note the similar adjectival use of a)delfa\ below (line 41 in Adler) where proximity suggests a word play with tw=| a)delfw=|.
[18] Theophylact's implicit comparison of Heracles and Sapeir continues. Heracles and other benefactors of mankind are often said to undergo danger (ki/ndunos) in their labors (e.g., Diodorus Siculus 1.1.1-2, 1.2.4-5). Of course, willingness to face danger is courage. Since Theophylact has claimed that Sapeir rivaled and perhaps surpassed Heracles in courage (a)reth/), the adjective filoki/ndunos is meant to show that Sapeir was not just willing to face danger but even loved it.
[19] The "third contest" might also be translated the "third labor," since a)=qlos is a usual term for the Labors of Heracles. However, it more typically means "contest" and this translation, in fact, emphasizes the literary contest, as it were, between Heracles and his rival Sapeir.
[20] The word e(/rkous ("bulwark's") is common in Homer and again lends epic color to the passage.
[21] That is, a Persian short sword. This word first appears in Herodotus, who defines it at 7.54. In the Suda see alpha 882.
[22] Though here the usual sense "drone" seems primary (cf. kappa 1561), Herodotus at 7.61 says *khfh=nes is an old Greek name for the Persians. Because the referent here is a Persian, and because both akinake and kephen occur first in Herodotus who, in fact, defines them in relatively close proximity, Theophylact may have intended to produce an allusive double-entendre where kephen means both Persian and drone. Such a pun would imply that Persians are, in fact, drones in comparison to true warriors like Sapeir. Such an allusion would be in character since, as Whitby notes (xiii), Theophylact was the last secular classicizing historian who wrote "in self-conscious imitation of classical historians such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Diodorus Siculus, or Arrian."
[23] My translation reproduces Theophylact's wordplay "a)delfa\ tw=| a)delfw=|."
[24] The verb a)ra/ttw usually takes an accusative object, so it is strange to see the gates in the dative. Probably this error is due to analogy with a verb like e)piba/llw.
Immanuel Bekker. Theophylacti Simocattae historiarum libri octo. Corpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae. Bonn: Weber, 1834. (web address 2)
A.R. Anderson. 'Heracles and his successors. A study of a heroic ideal and the recurrence of a heroic type', Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 39 (1928): 7-58
Michael Whitby, and Mary Whitby. The History of Theophylact Simocatta. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986
Abram Ring. Historiographic Heracles among the Greeks and Romans. Ph.D. Diss. Classics, University of Virginia, 2008
Associated internet addresses:
Web address 1,
Web address 2
Keywords: biography; epic; ethics; geography; historiography; history; imagery; military affairs; mythology; poetry; religion; rhetoric; science and technology; zoology
Translated by: Abram Ring on 20 July 2009@10:14:34.
Vetted by:
Catharine Roth (betacode cosmetics) on 20 July 2009@19:01:11.
David Whitehead (more x-refs; more keywords; tweaks and cosmetics; raised status) on 21 July 2009@04:01:25.
Catharine Roth (tweaks) on 17 August 2013@23:40:17.
David Whitehead (another keyword; cosmetics) on 20 December 2013@06:12:32.
David Whitehead (expanded n.10) on 25 March 2014@09:50:40.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 21 November 2014@23:50:46.


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