A Teacher’s Desolation

NOTE: If you are put off by wistful sentimentality, skip this one!

As Classicists, we all know the old tags about the flight of time and the transience of all mortal things. Yet it must also be true that Classicists harbor in their breasts something of a more conservative temper, a desire to hold on to what has long since passed. I used to think that college was the best time of my life, and have long worn those rosy retrospectacles in my reminiscence on those heady days, brimming with Romance and hope for the future. My twenties were a wash, and so it was perhaps natural that I placed the aurea aetas well in my past. But all of that is no longer true, as I realize that this past year as a teacher has been the richest one in all my thirty one years. Yet, all of this has morphed those old Classical sayings from empty cliché into profound distillations of the spirit of human life. No longer can I read the old tempus fugit ‘time flies’ or ‘as the generations of leaves, so too the generations of humans’ without them cutting at the very fiber of my soul.

I have never wept so much in my life. This Friday, I will say farewell to my senior class, the largest group of students ever to have stuck with the course all the way through Latin IV AP. I started teaching three years ago, so this is the last generation of students who began their Latin studies at my school with the old Latin teacher, and in some sense, this makes their graduation all the more poignant. I was a novice when I arrived to teach their Latin II class, and they – in that they had been there for a year – had the advantage on me. Yet they were also still very much children at that time in a way that the jaded and cynical 3rd and 4th year students were not, so they imprinted on me much more. After these students are gone, an entire generational memory will have vanished entirely as they drift apart to lead their separate lives. And, though I will still remain as the glue which links the students of all four levels, an important and defining cultural touchstone in the experience of the school will be lost forever.

I cried thinking about this loss by myself. I cried when two students said that they would die for me. I cried when I gave them a speech before the AP test. I cried at our Latin Club meeting when I told them how much their work had meant. I cried when one of the freshmen gave an impressive speech and I realized that I would be dreading her departure in years. I cried when another student gave a speech in which she claimed that all assembled knew that I was ‘so much more than a teacher’ to them. In my overwrought state, I cried more violently and hysterically than at any other point in my life as I thought about all of this taken together. I am choking back a tear as I ramble on about all of this. And I know for sure that I will be unable to make it through 2nd period this Friday without some torrent of lachrymal effusion. Never have I felt so much with such intensity.

These students are not dying – they are leaving the narrow confines and shallow pettiness of high school to do great things, and though I feel a sense of terror at the screaming decay of our world every time I read the news, I cannot even fathom the depths of the wellspring of love and hope in my heart when I think about these kids I’ve taught for years. Yet, for all of that, the feeling of anticipated loss has already thoroughly devastated me. My favorite student (please, gentle reader, do not pretend that you think it possible for teachers not to develop favorites) sits every morning in the alcove down the hall from my room, and I see her every morning. How many times this year we had this exchange,

“Mr. Robinson, do we really have a quiz today?”

-“Uh, do you not want to have a quiz?”

“Uhhhmm, noooo?”

-“Alright, cancel that then.”

The more traditionally-minded might think that consulting student inclinations at the last minute when planning your class period is an affront to educational decency, but these fuddy-duddies can eat a fig. I love these kids, and this was Latin IV – by this point we have such an understanding that I barely need to function as an authority figure anymore.

In any event, seeing her in the alcove is ritual, and what gives more solidity and comfort to our lives than the pleasant rituals which we contrive as palliatives for the incessant monotony of minor struggle and inconvenience throughout the day? It feels like just yesterday that I first read her name from my roster, whereupon she asked to be addressed with a nickname which has stuck for three years. After Friday, she will be gone. It feels like just yesterday that I kept thinking that one of my students was named Luke. He forgave me the transgression, and even planned to drop athletics to stick with AP-track Latin with me if his coach forced a conflict. After Friday, he will be gone. Another of my students is a class-clown beyond compare. Just see how he pulled the age-old prank of “Slashing” the tires of one of our buses when we went to the state JCL competition last April:

He is as far as I can tell an absolute genius, and has never ceased to make me laugh, as when he suggested that the name of Aeolus’ island in The Aeneid be rendered as ‘Vape Nation.’ His humor has brought joy to my life, and I always indulge his wild digressions in class because he never fails to entertain. After Friday, he will be gone.

After Friday, they will all be gone. I know that I will still hear from them, but everything will have changed. What is a teacher, anyway? I feel a deep paternal concern for these kids, but I am not their father. I feel a certain fraternity with them, but I am not their brother. After all these years, I feel a deep bond of friendship with them, but while I am their teacher I cannot be their friend. It is the curious admixture of all of these powerful feelings which makes the love I bear them so profound; yet it is the fact that I cannot actually be any of those things for them that makes Friday feel so fraught with dread and terror.

There was little permanence in my own childhood, and I moved away from all the dearest friends I had, never to see them again. Perhaps this taught me early on that all relationships are, in some sense, ephemeral. Moreover, the death of my first Classics professor last year forcibly impressed upon my mind that the heady and golden age of exciting and exploratory youth has, for me, come to a close. Several of my former teachers now lie in the grave, and I have come to fill the didactic chair for the next generation. How can this have happened? How did I arrive here, swept in by the rapid tide of time, without noticing the profound change? Who the hell am I, that students should look to me for guidance?

On the day of the AP test, I set out to give my students an encouraging pep talk, but instead lost my composure as I told them how much I loved them, and how much they had improved my life. Several of them had expressed concern about disappointing me on the exam, but I wanted to assure them that the test was just a punctuation point in the book of our experience together. I ought not to confess it to them, but I don’t care about the exam and I barely even care about the Latin at this moment. They will forget their declensions and conjugations for sure, but I know that they will remember my wild digressions, my absurd anecdotes, and my cringeworthy puns. High school is miserable for any intelligent, mature, and introspective student, and though I love Latin, I care far more about my students and their ability to live a happy and meaningful life. The only problem is that, in order for them to do this, I must bid them farewell.

To be sure, I have fantastic students in my lower levels to keep me going – I love this year’s freshman class more than in any previous year. Yet it will never be the same, and I realize that I am approaching a moment – a real discrimen – at which everything in their lives and in mine will change, and a particular feeling, an exceptional localized Zeitgeist will be lost forever, retained only in our increasingly hazy and spotted memories. Does teaching really hurt this much? I suspect that my colleagues have an easier time of it because they only have these kids for one year. Last Fall, I thought that I only had one more year of teaching left in me, but the exceptional closeness of the senior class and our Latin Club changed my mind entirely, and I now feel that I could commit to this for life.

So I realize that, much as the children with Frosty the Snowman, my grief will be renewed in a regular cycle every year – this one will, I suspect, be one of the hardest. I am unmarried and have no children of my own, so these students receive the full measure of my love and emotional engagement. This Friday, I will be devastated. After Friday, that alcove in the hall will be empty, a symbol of the desolate emptiness in my heart, a hollow chamber waiting to be filled with the spring of love which only begins to flow in fall.

 

Let’s Talk about [Death] Baby: #DeathAndClassics

Roman Epitaph, B808

“[Hey,] you who are reading this epitaph, remember that you too will be dead.”

Qui legis hunc titulum, mortalem te esse memento.

A few days ago I posted the following tweet.

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

There were lots of interesting answers–it would be annoying to post all the tweets here, but I have added some to give an idea of the range of responses.

Simonides, Fragment 15

“Human strength is meager
Our plains incomplete
Toil follows toil in our short lives.
Death looms inescapable for all—
People who are good and bad draw
of that an equal portion.”

ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ’ ἐν παύρωι πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνωι·
ὁ δ’ ἄφυκτος ὁμῶς ἐπικρέμαται θάνατος·
κείνου γὰρ ἴσον λάχον μέρος οἵ τ’ ἀγαθοὶ
ὅστις τε κακός.

Fragment 16

“Since you are human, never claim what tomorrow might bring.
Nor, if you see a fortunate man, how long it will last.
For not even the time of a tender-winged fly
Is not as fast.”

ἄνθρωπος ἐὼν μή ποτε φάσηις ὅ τι γίνεται 〚αὔριον〛,
μηδ’ ἄνδρα ἰδὼν ὄλβιον ὅσσον χρόνον ἔσσεται·
ὠκεῖα γὰρ οὐδὲ τανυπτερύγου μυίας
οὕτως ἁ μετάστασις.

Here are the tweets I sent to try to contextualize the question:

I ask the #deathandclassics question in all seriousness because it is a question I actually consider often (1/8)

I actually have been memorizing the opening lines of the #Odyssey to recite to myself in times of agitation. And I think, if I know I am going to die, I will recite it to myself. (2/8)

Why the #Odyssey? I think the #Iliad is the poem of death and the Odyssey is the poem of life. Both poems are at some level about what it means to be a person, but the Odyssey is about how life is lived. #deathandclassics (3/8)

In a way, it will be like a replaying of my life through a story I have read many times. There is also the ancient allegorical tradition that the Odyssey is about the transition from one realm to the next, the movement of a soul from one plane to another #deathandclassics (4/8)

Even without the allegory, the Odyssey is about the journey of a person and the journey that IS the person. #deathandclassics (5/8)

I think that this might be nice to think about in the final moments—that even though I individual am passing on, I am drifting away on words that have moved through a thousand years #deathandclassics (6/8)

Continue reading

Iliad vs. Odyssey? An Essential Complementarity

A few days back I ran a twitter poll setting the Iliad against the Odyssey. I figured that the Iliad would win, but I did not expect this to be as close as it was.

If we were to evaluate the popularity of the epics based on their mentions (using the Google ngram function), we would see that a few centuries ago, the Iliad had a pretty impressive lead over the Odyssey.

ngram

Here’s a different Ngram provided by Kyle Sanders ()which indicates the Odyssey overtook the Iliad in the late 1960s

NGram od 2

In the past century the mentions of the epics started to draw closer together. Is this because more people had less experience of war? Is there something more modern or simpler about the Odyssey?

the manuscript tradition for the Iliad is much better–there are more copies surviving from almost every period for which we have evidence. The epics were different enough that Samuel Butler (only partly joking) proposed that the Odyssey was composed by a woman. The epics differences were sensed in antiquity as well. Here’s how Aristotle puts it:

Aristotle, Poetics, 1459b

“for [Homer’s] two poems are complementary in structure, the Iliad being simple in plot and a poem of passion, and the Odyssey complex (it has recognitions throughout) and a poem of character; moreover they surpass all other poems in excellent of language and thought.”

πρῶτος καὶ ἱκανῶς. καὶ γὰρ τῶν ποιημάτων ἑκάτερον συνέστηκεν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἁπλοῦν καὶ παθητικόν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια πεπλεγμένον (ἀναγνώρισις γὰρ διόλου) καὶ ἠθική· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις λέξει καὶ διανοίᾳ πάντα ὑπερβέβληκεν.

To pit one poem against another is, to my mind, to imagine a combat between day and night, land and sea, or life and death. These contrasts can be seen as polar–opposites canceling each other out–or they can be treated as binary where one can only exist because the other is there first. But it may be best not to think of them at all in terms of opposition, but instead as contrastive complements. This works on the level of content:

“This complementarity extends into other areas too. The so-called Monro’s Law states that the Odyssey never refers to any incident recounted in the Iliad, which at the very least strongly suggests that the Odyssey knew of the Iliad and deliberately stayed off its territory. Indeed, at the times when the Odyssey threatens to sing of Iliadic material, the moments are marked as highly problematic.” Barker and Christensen 2013

For all the years I have taught Homer in literature and myth courses, I have emphasized their complementarity in slightly different ways. Sometimes, I follow Aristotle’s emphasis on plots, pointing out that the Iliad ends in a funeral and the Odyssey ends in a wedding, anticipating in turn the plot structures of tragedy and comedy respectively. At other times, I have instead described the Iliad as a poem of death and the Odyssey as a poem of life. The former explores what is (and mostly what isn’t) worth fighting and dying for; the latter helps s understand what we live for and who we are outside of war.

Together, the epics teach how to live and how to die. One is essentially and forever incomplete without the other. But in concert, they reflect on the totality of life. (And I am so bold as to believe that this characteristic is part of why these two epics surpassed all others and survived antiquity: any other epic from their period would have been redundant).

I spent the first decade or more of my study of Homer passionately dedicated to the Iliad. I started working on the Odyssey primarily because I found students responding to it more easily than to the Iliad. I also grew more interested in how that epic engaged with other traditions, specifically those of Thebes and the so-called epic cycle. And then, when writing an introductory book about the epic with my friend Elton Barker, I was forced to think more deeply about the Telemachy and the importance of the reunions in epic’s second half.

But what really changed my relationship with the Odyssey was my own life. When I was writing on the Iliad in the 2000s, we were living a new state of war, sending our soldiers from the west to kill and be killed in a dwindling “coalition of the willing” in the east. The Iliad made sense to me. I used to mock the Odyssey too as that ‘other’ epic.

In 2010-11, I taught that other epic three times. We also welcomed two children into the world and lost my father to a sudden sickness in between. There is nothing like losing a parent and becoming one in the same year to force a reconsideration of life. These years also marked half a decade in Texas and a decade since I left New England. The Odyssey‘s exploration of who we are and nostalgia started to resonate with me like never before.

But I also started to see more in the epic itself. If the Iliad is a raging maelstrom of fire and blood, the Odyssey is a lit fuse which may or may not ever lead to a detonation. If the Iliad is loud and brash and confusing, the Odyssey is so subtle that many of us make the mistake of thinking it is simple. It is extremely sensitive to human mental function, to how we create ourselves through narrative, and to the therapeutic function of stories.

In antiquity, traditions of allegory were extremely influential among various approaches to the epics. Among these, one of my favorite readings of the epics as complements frames one as a narrative concerned with the development and excellence of the body and the other about the virtues of the mind.

Pseudo-Plutarch, De Homero 31–32

“Of these poems, the Iliad features the acts of the Greeks and the Barbarians over the abduction of Helen, especially the valor demonstrated by Achilles in that war; the Odyssey details Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War and how much he endured wandering during his nostos and how he avenged himself on those plotting against him in his home. From these summaries it is clear that the Iliad is really about the bravery of the body while the Odyssey concerns the nobility of the soul.

It is not right to fault the poet if he does not only present virtues in his poem, but includes as well weaknesses of spirit, pains, pleasures, fears and desires. For it is necessary that the poet show not just noble characters but weak ones too—without these unexpected accomplishments do not appear—from all of these it is possible that an audience will choose the better ones.”

ὧν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἔχει τὰς ἐν ᾿Ιλίῳ πράξεις ῾Ελλήνων τε καὶ βαρβάρων διὰ τὴν ῾Ελένης ἁρπαγὴν καὶ μάλιστα τὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τούτῳ διαδειχθεῖσαν ἀλκήν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀνακομιδὴν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἀπὸ τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου καὶ ὅσα πλανώμενος ἐν τῷ νόστῳ ὑπέμεινε καὶ ὅπως τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ ἐτιμωρήσατο. ἐξ ὧν δῆλός ἐστι παριστὰς διὰ μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἀνδρείαν σώματος, διὰ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ψυχῆς γενναιότητα.

     Εἰ δὲ μὴ μόνον ἀρετὰς ἀλλὰ καὶ κακίας ψυχῆς ἐν ταῖς ποιήσεσι παρίστησι, λύπας τε καὶ χαρὰς καὶ φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας, οὐ χρὴ αἰτιᾶσθαι τὸν ποιητήν· <ποιητὴν> γὰρ ὄντα δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι οὐ μόνον τὰ χρηστὰ ἤθη ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα (ἄνευ γὰρ τούτων παράδοξοι πράξεις  οὐ συνίστανται), ὧν ἀκούοντα ἔνεστιν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ βελτίω.

Of course, not all contrasts made between the two epics were positive. (Pseudo)-Longinus believed that the differences in the poem were results of the senility of the Iliad poet as he turned to the Odyssey.

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power.  Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience. It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που  προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

I think Longinus is on to something here. But rather than being a sign of senility, the Odyssey‘s differences are indications of maturity. I don’t mean ‘mature’ as a sign of greater progress, necessarily; but I mean that the Odyssey is a poem that appeals more to those who have lived more in life, who have, like its hero, “suffered much on the seas and learned the minds of many people”.

So, if I had to save only 1, I would save the Odyssey, not because it is better than or superior to the Iliad but because its existence presupposes the existence of the other. And, one is, for better or worse, currently more meaningful to me.

I Had Not Been Shown How to Read

Mark Pattison, Memoirs:

“I was not well grounded even in the Greek grammar; as to accentuation and metrical law I had everything to learn. But the worst of all was that I had not been shown how to read, and that the general mystery of exact language was hidden from me. The book which had taken most hold of my mind was Thucydides; I had written out translations of all the speeches. The political pregnancy of certain words in these had excited my interest, and served afterwards as a kind of introduction to the study of philosophical terms. But I had no apprehension of the refined beauties of poetical expression, the exquisitely clean-cut wording of Sophocles, and no doubt preferred Horace to Vergil. All that my extensive reading had given me was a mere empirical familiarity with the languages, an enlarged vocabulary, and an idea of various and contrasted styles. I had been practised a good deal in translating back from an English Cicero, and had a general sense of Ciceronian Latin as a type to work to, but was very far from being able easily to compose a Latin theme.”

Mark Pattison (1813–1884), Rector (1861–1884)

A Wish To be Invulnerable: The Rape and Sex-Change of Kaineus

When I presented a selection of intersex stories from Phlegon of Tralles earlier this week, I left out what I find to be the most disturbing story, a rape followed by a sex-change. Ovid tells a version of this tale.

Phlegon, On Amazing Things 5

5 “Others tell the story that in the land of the Lapiths the king Elatos had a daughter whose name was Kainis. After Poseidon had sex with her he promised to make her into whatever she wanted. She said she wanted to be changed into a man who was invulnerable. When Poseidon did this—as was right—he changed her name to Kaineus.”

Οἱ αὐτοὶ ἱστοροῦσιν κατὰ τὴν Λαπίθων χώραν γενέσθαι ᾿Ελάτῳ τῷ βασιλεῖ θυγατέρα ὀνομαζομένην Καινίδα.

ταύτῃ δὲ Ποσειδῶνα μιγέντα ἐπαγγείλασθαι ποιήσειν αὐτῇ ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ, τὴν δὲ ἀξιῶσαι μεταλλάξαι αὐτὴν εἰς ἄνδρα ποιῆσαί τε ἄτρωτον. τοῦ δὲ Ποσειδῶνος κατὰ τὸ ἀξιωθὲν ποιήσαντος μετονομασθῆναι Καινέα.

This story is older than Ovid and Phlegon. It is detailed in the fragments of Akousilaus, perhaps alluded to in Homer, definitely indicated by Apollonius Rhodes, and present even in Plato. While the sex-change narrative remains an important element, the main feature of Kaineus’ tale is his hubris–because of his invulnerability he asks to be made into a god.

Akousilaus FGrH 2 fr. 22 [=P.Oxy. 13, 1611, fr. 1, col. 2, 38-96]

“Poseidon has sex with Kainê of Elatos. Then—for it was not right for him [sic] to have children with him nor anyone else—Poseidon turned him into an invulnerable man, who had the greatest strength of the men at that time. Whenever anyone tried to strike him with iron or bronze, [the attacker] was completely defeated.

Then [Kaineus] became king of the Lapiths and was warring with the Centaurs. After he set up his javelin in the agora he was asking to be included in the number of the gods. This was not pleasing to the gods. And when Zeus saw him doing this, he threatened him and raised the Centaurs against him. They struck him straight down into the earth and placed a stone above as assign. Then he died.”

«Καινῆιδὲ τῆι ᾽Ελάτου μίσγεται ΙΙοσειδῶν. ἔπειτα – οὐ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῶι ἱερὸν παῖδας τεκέν οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἐκείνου οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἄλλου οὐδενός – ποιεῖ αὐτὸν Ποσειδέων ἄνδρα ἄτρωτον, ἰσχὺν ἔχοντα μεγίστην τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τότε, καὶ ὅτε τις αὐτὸν κεντοίη σιδήρωι ἢ χαλκῶι, ἡλίσκετο μάλιστα χρημάτων. καὶ γίγνεται βασιλεὺς οὗτος Λαπιθέων καὶ τοῖς Κενταύροις πολεμέεσκε. ἔπειτα στήσας ἀκόν[τιον ἐν ἀγορᾶι θεὸν ἐκέλευεν ἀριθμεῖν. θεοῖ]σι δ᾽ οὐκ ἦεν [ἀρεστόν, καὶ] Ζεὺς ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ταῦτα ποιοῦντα ἀπειλεῖ καὶ ἐφορμᾶι τοὺς Κενταύρους, κἀκεῖνοι αὐτὸν κατακόπτουσιν ὄρθιον κατὰ γῆς καὶ ἄνωθεν πέτρην ἐπιτιθεῖσιν σῆμα, καὶ ἀποθνήσκει.»

In this account, Poseidon seems to be changing Kaineus because of his inability to have children. This makes it rather clear what women are good for from this cultural perspective. In addition, it is interesting that Kaineus as an intersex figure is involved in the war between the Lapiths and Centaurs, a conflict which has its origins in a rapes at a wedding and is often seen as a reflection of the civilized Lapiths struggling against the primitive and violent urges of the Centaurs.

But, as can be seen from the relief below which dates to the early Archaic period, the punishment of Kaineus is a primary motif of the story tradition. In a way, if the sex-change and rape were equally ancient, this is a tale about a women who is raped ultimately being punished for surviving and thriving and exacting retribution for her suffering.

D Scholia ad Il. 264

“Kaineus was a son of Elatos and king of the Lapiths. He was a very beautiful virgin girl before. But after Poseidon had sex with her, she asked to be changed from a young woman into a man. And he became invulnerable, and the most excellent of those alive at the time. And after he stuck his javelin into the middle of the agora, he demanded to be entered into the number of the gods for this reason.

Zeus was annoyed by this request and he arranged the following type of payback from him for impiety. For, even though he was invincible, he made him less while he was fighting the Centaurs. For they were hurling and striking him with pines and oak trees and they drove him into the ground. Apollonius recalls this in the Argonautica saying this, “For the singers used to report the fame that Kaineus was killed by Centaurs, when he alone from the rest of the best drove them, they surged back. They were not strong enough to repel him nor to kill him, but he went under the earth, unbroken, unbent, pummeled by the striking force of powerful pines.”

Καινέα τε. Καὶ τὸν Καινέα. ὁ δὲ Και-
νεὺς ᾿Ελάτου μὲν παῖς, Λαπίθων δὲ βα-
σιλεὺς, πρότερον ἦν παρθένος εὐπρεπής.
μιγέντος δὲ αὐτῇ Ποσειδῶνος, αἰτησα-
μένη μεταβαλεῖν εἰς ἄνδρα ἡ νεᾶνις, ἄ-
τρωτος γίγνεται, γενναιότατος τῶν καθ’
αὑτὸν ὑπάρξας· καὶ δή ποτε πήξας ἀ-
κόντιον ἐν τῷ μεσαιτάτῳ τῆς ἀγορὰς,
θεοῖς τοῦτο προσέταξεν ἀριθμεῖν. δι’ ἣν
αἰτίαν ἀγανακτήσας ὁ Ζεὺς, τιμωρίαν
τῆς ἀσεβείας παρ’ αὐτοῦ εἰσεπράξατο.
μαχόμενον γὰρ αὐτὸν τοῖς Κενταύροις
καὶ ἄτρωτον ὄντα ὑποχείριον ἐποίησε.
βάλλοντες γὰρ αὐτὸν οἱ προειρημένοι δρυ-
σί τε καὶ ἐλάταις, ἤρεισαν εἰς γῆν.
μέμνηται δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾿Απολλώνιος ἐν
τοῖς ᾿Αργοναυτικοῖς λέγων οὕτως· Καινέα
γὰρ τὸν πρόσθεν ἐπικλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ Κεν-
ταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ’
ἄλλων ῎Ηλασ’ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ’ ἔμπαλιν
ὁρμηθέντες, Οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω
σθένον, οὔτε δαΐξαι· ᾿Αλλ’ ἄῤῥηκτος,
ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσσατο νειόθι γαίης, Θεινό-
μενος στιβαρῆσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν.

This story is held up as a wistful impossibility by Plato in the laws. This passage is, well, upsetting.

Plato’s Laws 944d-c

“What then would be the right punishment for someone who has thrown away this kind of a power of a defensive weapon for the opposite? For it is not possible for a person to do the opposite of what they say the god did when he changed the Thessalian Kaineus from a women into a man. For one who throws away his shield, the opposite of this transformation, changing from a man into a women, in some way would be the best of all punishments for this.”

ζημία δὴ τῷ τὴν τοιαύτην ἀμυντηρίων ὅπλων εἰς τοὐναντίον ἀφέντι δύναμιν τίς ἄρα γίγνοιτ᾿ ἂν πρόσφορος; οὐ γὰρ δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ δρᾷν τοὐναντίον <ἢ> ὥς2 ποτε θεόν φασι δρᾶσαι, Καινέα τὸν Θετταλὸν ἐκ γυναικὸς μεταβαλόντα εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν ἦν γὰρ ἂν ἀνδρὶ ῥιψάσπιδι τρόπον τινὰ πρέπουσα πασῶν Εμάλιστα ἡ ᾿κείνῃ τῇ γενέσει ἐναντία γένεσις, εἰς γυναῖκα ἐξ ἀνδρὸς μεταβαλοῦσα, τιμωρία τούτῳ γενομένη.

God, Latin, the Cane…

George Orwell: Such, Such Were the Joys

“The child and the adult live in different worlds. If that is so, we cannot be certain that school, at any rate boarding school, is not still for many children as dreadful an experience as it used to be. Take away God, Latin, the cane, class distinctions and sexual taboos, and the fear, the hatred, the snobbery and the misunderstanding might still all be there. It will have been seen that my own main trouble was an utter lack of any sense of proportion or probability. This led me to accept outrages and believe absurdities, and to suffer torments over things which were in fact of no importance. It is not enough to say that I was ‘silly’ and ‘ought to have known better.’ Look back into your own childhood and think of the nonsense you used to believe and the trivialities which could make you suffer. Of course my own case had its individual variations, but essentially it was that of countless other boys. The weakness of the child is that it starts with a blank sheet. It neither understands nor questions the society in which it lives, and because of its credulity other people can work upon it, infecting it with the sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious, terrible laws. It may be that everything that happened to me at Crossgates could happen in the most ‘enlightened’ school, though perhaps in subtler forms. Of one thing, however, I do feel fairly sure, and that is that boarding schools are worse than day schools. A child has a better chance with the sanctuary of its home near at hand. And I think the characteristic faults of the English upper and middle classes may be partly due to the practice, general until recently, of sending children away from home as young as nine, eight or even seven.”

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Diogenes’ Advice for Self-Care

Dio recounts how the philosopher proposed dealing with, um, animal urges.

Dio Chrysostom, The Sixth Oration: On Diogenes or Tyranny (16-20)

“On behalf of that very thing which men make the most effort and waste the most money—through which many cities have been overturned and for whose sake many people have perished pitiably—for [Diogenes] this was the easiest and cheapest thing. For he didn’t have to go anywhere for sexual satisfaction, since, as he used to joke, Aphrodite was near him everywhere, and for free. He used to say that the poets slandered the goddess because of their own lack of control when they called her “all golden”. Since many did not believe this, he proved it out in the open while everyone was watching. And he used to say that if people did this, then Troy would not have fallen, nor would have Priam, the Phrygian king of the line of Zeus, bled out on Zeus’ altar.

He added that the Achaeans were so witless as to imagine that even corpses needed women and so slaughtered Polyxena on the tomb of Achilles. So he used to explain that fish proved themselves to be almost more prudent than men—for whenever they needed to expel their seed, the went out and rubbed up against something with friction. Diogenes was amazed at the unwillingness of men to spend money to have their foot, hand, or any other part of the body rubbed, and how the very rich would not waste even a drachma on this. But they [all] lavished many a talent on that single member often and that some even still endangered their lives too.

He used to joke that this kind of intercourse was Pan’s discovery: when he was lusting after Echo but couldn’t overtake her, he was wondering in the mountains night and day until that point when Hermes taught him how to do this, because he pitied his helplessness and he was his son. And, after he learned this, he got a break from his great suffering. Apparently, shepherds learned this from him.”

ὑπὲρ οὗ δὲ πλεῖστα μὲν πράγματα ἔχουσιν ἄνθρωποι πλεῖστα δὲ χρήματα ἀναλίσκουσι, πολλαὶ δὲ ἀνάστατοι πόλεις διὰ ταῦτα γεγόνασι, πολλὰ δὲ ἔθνη τούτων ἕνεκεν οἰκτρῶς ἀπόλωλεν, ἁπάντων ἐκείνῳ χρημάτων ἀπονώτατον ἦν καὶ ἀδαπανώτατον. οὐ γὰρ ἔδει αὐτὸν οὐδαμόσε ἐλθεῖν ἀφροδισίων ἕνεκεν, ἀλλὰ παίζων ἔλεγεν ἁπανταχοῦ παρεῖναι αὐτῷ τὴν Ἀφροδίτην προῖκα· τοὺς δὲ ποιητὰς καταψεύδεσθαι τῆς θεοῦ διὰ τὴν αὑτῶν ἀκρασίαν, πολύχρυσον καλοῦντας. ἐπεὶ δὲ πολλοὶ τοῦτο ἠπίστουν, ἐν τῷ φανερῷ ἐχρῆτο καὶ πάντων ὁρώντων· καὶ ἔλεγεν ὡς εἴπερ οἱ ἄνθρωποι οὕτως εἶχον, οὐκ ἂν ἑάλω ποτὲ ἡ Τροία, οὐδ᾿ ἂν ὁ Πρίαμος ὁ Φρυγῶν βασιλεύς, ἀπὸ Διὸς γεγονώς, ἐπὶ τῷ βωμῷ τοῦ Διὸς ἐσφάγη. τοὺς δὲ Ἀχαιοὺς οὕτως εἶναι ἄφρονας ὥστε καὶ τοὺς νεκροὺς νομίζειν προσδεῖσθαι γυναικῶν καὶ τὴν Πολυξένην σφάττειν ἐπὶ τῷ τάφῳ τοῦ Ἀχιλλέως. ἔφη δὲ τοὺς ἰχθύας σχεδόν τι φρονιμωτέρους φαίνεσθαι τῶν ἀνθρώπων· ὅταν γὰρ δέωνται τὸ σπέρμα ἀποβαλεῖν, ἰόντας ἔξω προσκνᾶσθαι πρός τι τραχύ. θαυμάζειν δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων τὸ τὸν μὲν πόδα μὴ θέλειν ἀργυρίου κνᾶσθαι μηδὲ τὴν χεῖρα μηδὲ ἄλλο μηδὲν τοῦ σώματος, μηδὲ τοὺς πάνυ πλουσίους ἀναλῶσαι ἂν μηδεμίαν ὑπὲρ τούτου δραχμήν· ἓν δὲ ἐκεῖνο τὸ μέρος πολλάκις πολλῶν ταλάντων, τοὺς δέ τινας ἤδη καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν παραβαλλομένους. ἔλεγε δὲ παίζων τὴν συνουσίαν ταύτην εὕρεμα εἶναι τοῦ Πανός, ὅτε τῆς Ἠχοῦς ἐρασθεὶς οὐκ ἐδύνατο λαβεῖν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπλανᾶτο ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσι νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν, τότε οὖν τὸν Ἑρμῆν διδάξαι αὐτόν, οἰκτείραντα τῆς ἀπορίας, ἅτε υἱὸν αὐτοῦ. καὶ τόν, ἐπεὶ ἔμαθε, παύσασθαι τῆς πολλῆς ταλαιπωρίας· ἀπ᾿ ἐκείνου δὲ τοὺς ποιμένας χρῆσθαι μαθόντας.

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Here’s another post on masturbation in Ancient Greek.

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