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Pheme (Fame)

"Your fame to read the future had reached our ears; but we have no need of prophets here." (The Argive Elders to Cassandra. Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1099).

"… fair fame is insecure, nor is there any guarantee that prosperity will not be turned to woe." (Polymestor 1 to Hecabe 1. Euripides, Hecabe 956).

"Hector is dead and gone, but still his fame remains as bravest of the brave, and this was a result of the Achaeans' coming; for had they remained at home, his worth would have gone unnoticed." (Cassandra. Euripides, Daughters of Troy 395).

"How many thousands nobodies there are whom Fame blows up to importance and authority. Heaven bless the man whose splendid reputation is based on truth; but when it lives by lies, I am not deceived; Fame hides an empty fabric of pretence and luck." (Andromache to Menelaus. Euripides, Andromache 320).

"Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of nobler mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days."

(John Milton, 1608-1674).

O Fame!--if I e'er took delight in thy praises,
'Twas less for the sake of thy high-sounding phrases,
Than to see the bright eyes of the dear one discover
She thought that I was not unworthy to love her.
There chiefly I sought thee, there only I found thee;
Her glance was the best of the rays that surround thee;
When it sparkled o'er aught that was bright in my story,
I knew it was love, and I felt it was glory."
(Lord Byron, 1788-1824, All For Love).

"If the man who tells you that he writes, paints, sculptures, or sings for his own amusement, gives his work to the public, he lies; he lies if he puts his name to his writing, painting, statue, or song. He wishes, at the least, to leave behind a shadow of his spirit …" (Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, iii).

"When doubts invade us and cloud our faith in the immortality of the soul, a vigorous and painful impulse is given to the anxiety to perpetuate our name and fame, to grasp at least a shadow of immortality. And hence this tremendous struggle to singularize ourselves, to survive in some way in the memory of others and of posterity … Each one seeks to affirm himself, if only in appearance … Man habitually sacrifices his life to his purse, but he sacrifices his purse to his vanity. He boasts even of his weaknesses and his misfortunes, for want of anything better to boast of, and is like a child who, in order to attract attention, struts about with a bandaged finger." (Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, iii).

"The heaven of fame is not very large, and the more there are who enter it the less is the share of each." (Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, iii).

Fame. 9914: Alegoría de la Fama. Loza de Alcora. Fines del s. XVIII. Museo Nacional del Prado.

Pheme is Fame, the irrepressible voice or rumour that spreads reports among men and women.

Basics about Fame

The sayings and reports, that coming and going among mortals become rumours, are spread by Pheme, regarded by some as a messenger of Zeus. This Pheme, whose eyes are never overcome by Sleep, is a swift creature with countless tongues and ears. Pheme does not care about the nature of the rumours spread by her, whether they sound good or evil. And it could be for this reason that Pheme is not allowed to come into the peaceful world of heaven. Instead she, being a spirit neither of hell nor of heaven, dwells beneath the clouds, often spreading panic and troubling the earth.

Provides ID cards

Despite her being infamous in heaven, and despite the fact that it is on her account that entire cities on earth are disturbed, many mortals love Pheme. For it is because of her that things become known, and mortals become well known. Therefore Pheme's gifts are revered, and she herself invoked as a kind of guarantee or identity card by those whom Fame has enhanced. Otherwise had not Aeneas said:

"I am Aeneas, the good, who carry with me in my fleet my household gods, snatched from the foe; my fame is known in the heavens above." (Aeneas to the disguised Aphrodite. Virgil, Aeneid 1.378).

Fame may help in distress

And if stones could talk like men, they would say similar things. For he who has been raised by Fame sees himself as gifted, and rejoices when his name is pronounced by the tongues of other mortals, or written down by their hands. The same Aeneas, although being in distress after the fall of Troy, feasted his soul on the Carthaginian wall-paintings that depicted the Trojan War; for in them he could see the battles in which he had taken part, and a sign that the people of Carthage could be emotionally engaged in his fate and disposed to help him, now that he had become a stranded exile. This is why he says to his companion Achates 1 in a comforting manner:

"Dismiss your fears; this fame will bring you some salvation." (Aeneas to Achates 1. Virgil, Aeneid 1.463).

Salvation and Perdition

However, since Fame does not care for good or evil, what is salvation for some, is perdition for others. For it was Fame, under the form of false evidence and wicked witnessing, who ended the days of Palamedes at Troy. And when the rumour spread through the malice of Odysseus reached the ears of the Achaean chiefs and soldiers, they, believing the intriguer and caring nothing for the truth of the charges, stoned Palamedes to death as a traitor, although he was the innocent victim of a conspiracy.

Adversity as price of Fame

Despite this kind of misadventures, humans love Fame, whose gifts charm their hearts to such an extent that they covet her and submit to her, even when she appears in the company of Ruin and Death:

"… had not God overthrown us so, and whelmed beneath the earth, we had faded fameless, never had been hymned in lays, nor given song-themes to posterity." (Hecabe 1, Queen of Troy. Euripides, Daughters of Troy 1240).

Fame and Immortality

For many believe that precious immortality is dependent on Fame; and whereas few wish annihilation for themselves, the rest hope that Fame will make them known in posterity when their life is over, reasoning that to be remembered is the same as to be immortal. Yet Fame, who is shut out from Heaven, has never been reported to grant immortality to anyone, even though some have regarded her as if having some influence in this matter, since they say:

"Fame of olden time, and you, dark Antiquity of the world, whose care it is to remember princes and to make immortal the story of their lives …" (Statius, Thebaid 4.32).

But if Fame granted immortality, as some seem to believe, then it could be deduced that the more famous would be more immortal, which cannot be conceived without thinking that there are degrees of immortality just as there are degrees of Fame. But these would be degrees of mortality rather than degrees of immortality, and they cannot be immortals-by-degrees, who live in the absolute realm of Heaven. On the other hand Fame, not being allowed to dwell in Heaven and living just above earth, cannot therefore deal with things but in relative terms, that is, by degrees.

Fame and Victory

Others have thought that undying glory is achieved through the fame that derives from Victory:

"… the blossoms of glory-bringing Victory nurture for men golden, conspicuous Fame throughout their lives—for a select few—and when the dark cloud of death covers them, the undying glory of their fine deed is left behind, secure in its destiny." (Bacchylides, Odes 13.58-66).

But Victory, it has been pointed out, not necessarily produces the greatest Fame. For the Fame accorded in defeat to those who perished defending Thermopylae in historical times, they argue, was greater than the Fame obtained by many whom Victory favored, since brave men are judged

"… not by the outcome of their actions, but by their purpose; in the one case Fortune is mistress, in the other it is the purpose which wins approval." (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 11.10.4).

Nike: said to be behind Pheme. 6802: The Nike of Paeonios (reconstruction), 421 BC. Archaeological Museum, Olympia.

Immortality again

In any case, some reason, there is nothing that humans desire more than preservation and immortality, since many suffer seeing the body first eroded by Old Age and then disintegrated by Death, while the soul is affected in inexplicable ways. And this is why, with a view to immortality, they devote themselves to winning Fame:

"… consider how singularly they are affected with the love of winning a name, and laying up fame immortal for all time to come." (Socrates quoting Diotima. Plato, Symposium 208c).

And in order to reach Fame, it is added, not so few humans may be ready to run all risks, to invest money, perform any task, and even sacrifice their lives. But others among them, it is remarked, being bound to their bodies, care less about Fame, and search immortality in the creation of children, seeing in them their own eternal memorial. Yet even these are not altogether deprived of ambition regarding Fame:

"What, indeed, is a nobler ornament for children than the fair fame of a thriving father, or for a father than that of his children?" (Haemon 1 to the Theban Elders. Sophocles, Antigone 704).

Impostor defined

At other times, however, Fame has been regarded, not as a provider of immortality, but instead as an infamous impostor herself, being shortly defined thus:

"… of all evils, the most swift." (Virgil, Aeneid 4.174).

Speaks Truth and Falsehood

Fame, they say, relies on speed from which she derives her strength, winning vigour as she goes. As Eris, she is small at the beginning, but soon walks the ground with her head in the clouds. Some have said that Gaia created this grotesque monster, her last child, when she was angry against the gods, and that she put a sleepless eye beneath each of her many feathers. And for every eye Fame has a tongue, a voice, and an ear. And being sleepless, Fame flits between earth and sky and terrorizes whole cities by day and by night, speaking aloud every kind of truth and every kind of falsehood.

Great Legislator

And although winged Fame cares nothing about her own words and rumours, many follow her tunes and, as if they were talking-birds, repeat them without thinking, wallowing in scandal and gossip, and thereby obliterating their own ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Similarly many among mortals follow what Fame has proclaimed to be the latest clever invention, which could be a dress, a dance, a tune, a liquor, an opinion, or any other device of whatever sort, that she makes appear as something new, unique, and incredible. And so by means of Fame, who is carried from lip to lip, many go dressed as she decrees, eat and drink as she ordains, enjoy themselves as she prescribes, think as she enjoins, and love or hate as she dictates. And because of these circumstances, Fame may be thought to be one of the greatest legislators; for there is no aspect of social life that is not ruled by her, who can make whoever or whatever famous for being or for not being, for having or for not having, for doing or for not doing. And if someone happens to ignore her messages, he is regarded as a barbarian, or as one deprived of sound understanding, or as one unable to grasp plain language.

Listened to with devotion

According to her nature, Fame not seldom causes tumult and surprise; for she may start talking of marriage or parties, and may end telling of murder or war. And many do not care what is spoken of, as far as it is Fame who speaks; and if she were silent for a short while or two, they would urge her to speak, be it truth or falsehood. Such is the power of Fame, always shaking out her fluttering plumes, and listened to with attention and devotion.

Just outlines her tales

Yet at the beginning, they say, Fame is scorned by men and women; but as they nevertheless cherish her, she finally possess them all, governing their tongues as she pleases, so that all kind of tales are brought about: of ruin and riches, of peace and war, or of whatever sort. And Fame does not need more than to sketch a simple outline of a tale, since others, like for example Envy, will easily fill it out.

Fame and Wealth

Fame, they say, attends often on Wealth:

"… if a god were to give me luxurious wealth, I hope that I would find lofty fame in the future." (Pindar, Pythian Odes 3.110).

But just as Fame attends on Wealth, Wealth, power and honor attend on Fame. And due to this, not few are eager for Fame, knowing that no one is, in principle, disregarded by this goddess, since she, to begin with, cares neither about position nor about profession.

Ignores purposes

The genius of Fame. 4708: Annibale Carrachi 1560-1609: Der Genius des Ruhmes, um 1588/89. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

And since she does not care about purposes either, some become famous for their abilities, or for their inventions, or for being benefactors of mankind, while others become famous on account of their extraordinary frauds, or because of the deadly devices their cleverness produced, or for having achieved unprecedented milestones in the field of criminality. And when Fame comes, neither sort refuses her; for both the good and the evil think they deserve Fame on account of the greatness or originality of their deeds, regardless of whether they have served the lives of humans, or have destroyed them.

Brilliant like the morning-star

Not seldom some reason that what matters is to make a great achievement, either good or bad, so that Fame might ensure remembrance, which they believe to be the same as immortality:

"There is honor for those whose fame a god causes to grow luxuriant when they are dead." (Pindar, Nemean Odes 7.30).

And seen in this way Fame is not a grotesque monster, but a beautiful sight. And when she awakens (for some believe that she may be caught by Sleep after all),

"… her body shines, marvellous to see, like the morning-star among other stars." (Pindar, Isthmian Odes 4.20).

Envying Fame

For these and yet other reasons Fame is the object of the lust of many, who wish to be possessed by her. And while they cannot be famous, they may think that the cause of the popularity of others is to be found neither in themselves nor in their merits, but in random circumstances:

"… when a man from the little island of Seriphus grew abusive and told Themistocles that he owed his fame not to himself but to the city from which he came, he replied that neither would he himself ever have made a name if he had been born in Seriphus nor the other if he had been an Athenian." (Plato, Republic 329e).

This is how, through the words of a famous man, Seriphus saw its own fame increased by some degrees.

Insignificant places made great

For insignificant places may win Fame as well, and through her receive legions of visitors expecting to be somewhat touched by her wings. Unknown and small places are thus raised to the skies, being remembered for ages on account of the events that took place in them:

"Caphareus in Euboea is famous since the storm that here befell the Greeks with Agamemnon on their voyage from Troy." (Pausanias, Description of Greece 4.36.6).

Now, the bigger the catastrophe the more famous it will tend to be. For Fame, preferring the bigger and the biggest, cares more for thousands of dead than for just a few, and more for those who already are her favorites than for nobodies.

Powerful and hope-giving goddess

So Fame, having the power of making the small great and the great greater, can neither be disregarded nor underrated. Consequently, what she says is listened to carefully and repeated as a prayer. For she appears to change the very nature of things, turning into a shining star what before was neglected and opaque. And being regarded as opposed to oblivion, she is cherished by all those who value remembrance, and by those who think she carries under her wings the key to immortality, which separates gods and men. Such is the nature of this goddess; and her power among men and women is practically limitless, except in the realm of true intimacy and confidence.




Gaia.- (by herself)


Hom.Il.2.94; Nonn.18.1, 44.123, 47.1; Pau.1.17.1; Stat.Theb.2.205, 3.426, 4.32, 4.369, 6.2, 9.32; Val.2.116ff, 2.141, 5.82; Vir.Aen.2.82, 4.173ff, 9.473.