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Headword: Ἔφυγον κακόν, εὗρον ἄμεινον
Adler number: epsilon,3971
Translated headword: they escaped a bad thing [and] found a better
Vetting Status: high
[The saying] is applied to those who are coming from a bad thing to a better. For at Athens it was the custom during weddings[1] for a boy whose mother and father were still alive to go about carrying thistles along with acorns, and a winnowing-basket full of loaves of bread, and to say the above-mentioned phrase, which hints at the change for the better. For by the garland made of the oak and thistles they used to refer to the bad.
Greek Original:
Ἔφυγον κακόν, εὗρον ἄμεινον: τάττεται ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπὸ κακοῦ εἰς κρεῖττον ἐλθόντων. ἔθος γὰρ Ἀθήνησιν ἐν γάμοις στρέφεσθαι ἀμφιθαλῆ παῖδα, ἀκάνθας μετὰ δρυί̈νων καρπῶν φέροντα καὶ λίκνον πλῆρες ἄρτων, λέγειν τὸ προκείμενον, αἰνισσόμενον τὴν ἐπὶ τὸ κρεῖττον μεταβολήν. τὸ γὰρ ἐκ τῶν δρυῶν καὶ ἀκανθῶν στέμμα κακὸν ἔλεγον.
The entry explains a proverb that was apparently spoken at Athenian weddings (though not only there: see n.1 below).
It is debatable how ancient the custom was. Nilsson ('Wedding Rites' 248-9) argues that it was a faux-antique ritual that dates to the Roman period, while Oakley and Sinos contend (29 n.39) that the presence of figures carrying winnowing-fans on an Attic black-figure vase dating to 540-30 is evidence for an earlier date.
Similar glosses of the proverb are found in (e.g.) Zenobius 3.98, Hesychius, Photius, and Eustathius' Commentary on the Odyssey (1726.18), but with one noteworthy difference: in these other versions, the boy is said to 'be crowned' (στέφεσθαι ) rather than to 'go around' (στρέφεσθαι ). So στέφεσθαι should probably be read in the Suda entry also, since it makes better sense of the garland in the last line. (The difference lies in just one letter, which suggests either an error on the part of the lexicographer or a later scribal error.)
The morphology of the verbs φεύγω and εὑρίσκω in the aorist indicative active is identical in the first person singular ('I escaped') and the third person plural ('they escaped'); however, since the lexicographer says that the proverb is spoken by a third party about the bride and groom, it seems preferable to translate 'they' (so Oakley and Sinos 29).
[1] The saying was not in fact confined to weddings: it was also a formula of mystical religion, for example at Demosthenes 18.259 (web address 1), although this is not mentioned here.
Nilsson, M.P. ‘Wedding Rites in Ancient Greece.’ Opuscula Selecta. Vol. 3. Lund, 1960. 243-50
Oakley, J. and Sinos, R. The Wedding in Ancient Athens, Madison, Wis., 1993. 28-29
Associated internet address:
Web address 1
Keywords: art history; botany; children; daily life; definition; ethics; food; gender and sexuality; proverbs; religion; rhetoric
Translated by: Lauren Curtis on 4 December 2007@21:19:44.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (more keywords; tweaks and cosmetics) on 5 December 2007@04:15:35.
David Whitehead (tweaking) on 20 November 2012@05:58:49.
Catharine Roth (upgraded link) on 26 August 2013@20:52:20.
David Whitehead (coding and other cosmetics) on 21 March 2016@11:18:02.


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