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There's a passage I've seen quoted in several books on self-help and spiritualism:

Look what the goddess does when she is sad: she takes up a tambourine, made of taut skin and rimmed with castanets of brass, and she begins to dance. The sound of flutes blares out wildly, reaching even to the depths of the underworld, so loud, so clamorous is it. Look what the goddess does when she is sad: she finds the wildness in herself, and as she does, she finds that there is joy there too.

It's always attributed to Euripides, the famous tragedian, but never to a particular work or fragment.

Was this actually written by Euripides? If so, where is it from?

  • If we knew the word for "tambourine" we could look in a dictionary. – fdb Jun 7 at 17:52
  • @fdb Indeed; unfortunately I have no idea what word that would be. I might do a search for aulōn ("of flutes") later, but it's really just a wild guess. – Draconis Jun 7 at 17:54
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Some time has passed without an answer to this question. I don't have a real answer, but will submit what I think may be the case.

First of all, no, I don't think Euripides wrote that, but it might be vaguely based on something that Euripides did write.

When I did a Google search on the passage, I found it repeated, word for word, in several books (as you say "on self-help and spiritualism"). I think the key may be in this particular citation which cites a source: "quoted in The Goddess Companion by Pat Moynihan". Doing a Google search on "The Goddess Companion" yields a book by "Patricia Monaghan", so I'm guessing the source of all these citations is in the latter work. (Unfortunately, I can't look up the citation in the latter book without buying the book, which I have no desire to do.)

So, what I think the citation might be ultimately based on is the following passage from Helen:

ὧν οὐ θέμις <σ᾽> οὔθ᾽ ὁσία
᾽πύρωσας ἐν <θεῶν> θαλάμοις,
[1355] μῆνιν δ᾽ ἔσχες μεγάλας
ματρός, ὦ παῖ, θυσίας
οὐ σεβίζουσα θεᾶς.
μέγα τοι δύναται νεβρῶν
παμποίκιλοι στολίδες
[1360] κισσοῦ τε στεφθεῖσα χλόα
νάρθηκας εἰς ἱερούς,
ῥόμβου θ᾽ εἱλισσομένα
κύκλιος ἔνοσις αἰθερία,
βακχεύουσά τ᾽ ἔθειρα Βρομί-
[1365] ῳ καὶ παννυχίδες θεᾶς.
† εὖ δέ νιν ἄμασιν
ὑπέρβαλε σελάνα †
μορφᾷ μόνον ηὔχεις.

The English translations available on-line seem to be variants of an older translation by E. P. Coleridge. Here's one version:

Thou hast wedded as thou never shouldst have done in defiance of all right, and thou hast incurred, my daughter, the wrath of the great mother by disregarding her sacrifices. Oh! mighty is the virtue in dress of dappled fawn-skin, in ivy green that twineth round a sacred thyrsus, in whirling tambourines struck as they revolve in air in tresses wildly streaming for the revelry of Bromius, and likewise in the sleepless vigils of the goddess, when the moon looks down and sheds her radiance o'er the scene. Thou wert confident in thy charms alone.


It's pretty clear that the passage from Helen does not match the spirit of the passage quoted in various books, but it won't be the first time that Classical quotations have gotten somewhat mangled. Anyway, that's my best guess at the origin.

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To follow up on Varro’s answer: I do not think there is any real connection between the passage in Helena and the English so-called quotation, either in wording or in content. The only link is that both the “quotation” and the English version of the passage in Helena use at one point or another the word “tambourine”. In Euripides this translates ῥόμβος, one of the meanings of which is indeed “tambourine”, although L&S cite this very passage for the sense “bull-roarer, instrument whirled round on the end of a string, used in the mysteries”. This leaves us actually with nothing.

  • 2
    One remark: It hardly matters what ῥόμβος actually refers to in this passage (I doubt that Ms Monaghan - or her source - referred to the Greek text); what matters for this purpose is that it has been translated as "tambourine", not only in Coleridge's rendering, but (at least) also in my paper copy of Helen by Philip Vellacott. (That said, the semantic gap is wide, but I've seen similar "quotations".) – varro Jun 10 at 17:01

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