Two Types of Fantasy: Laughing Insanely and Other People’s Ships

From Zenobius’ collection of proverbs

“An Ajaxian laugh”: This is a proverb applied to those who laugh insanely. For Ajax was sick with derangement and went crazy because Odysseus was honored more in the allotment of Achilles’ armor, he rushed against the Greeks with sword-in-hand and thanks to the forethought of the gods, went murdering herd animals as if they were Achaians. Once he captured the two biggest rams and tied them up as if they were Agamemnon and Menelaos, he whipped them and laughed at them, insane. When he was more clear-minded later, he killed himself.”

Αἰάντειος γέλως: ἐπὶ τῶν παραφρόνως γελώντων. ῾Ο Αἴας γὰρ παραφροσύνην νοσήσας καὶ μανεὶς διὰ τὸ προτιμηθῆναι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα εἰς τὴν τῶν ᾿Αχιλλείων ὅπλων κατοχὴν, κατὰ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων ξιφήρης ὥρμησε καὶ κατὰ τῶν βοσκημάτων προνοίᾳ θεῶν τραπεὶς ὡς ᾿Αχαιοὺς ταῦτα φονεύει. Δύο δὲ μεγίστους κριοὺς κατασχὼν ὡς ᾿Αγαμέμνονα καὶ Μενέλαον δέσμευσας ἐμάστιξε καὶ κατεγέλα τούτων μαινόμενος. ῞Υστερον δὲ σωφρονήσας ἑαυτὸν κτείνει.

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Aelian 4.25

“Thrasyllos from the deme Aiksône endured an incredible and novel madness. For he left the city and went to the Peiraia and stayed there. He believed that all the ships that sailed in were his and he wrote down their names, checked the list when they left and rejoiced when they returned safely to the harbor again. He spent many years living with this sickness. When his brother returned from Sicily, he took him to a doctor for treatment and he freed him from that sickness. But he often remembered the avocation of his sickness and used to say that he was never as happy as when he took pleasure at the sight of ships that weren’t his returning safely.”

Θράσυλλος ὁ Αἰξωνεὺς παράδοξον καὶ καινὴν ἐνόσησε μανίαν. ἀπολιπὼν γὰρ τὸ ἄστυ καὶ κατελθὼν ἐς τὸν Πειραιᾶ καὶ ἐνταῦθα οἰκῶν τὰ πλοῖα τὰ καταίροντα ἐν αὐτῷ πάντα ἑαυτοῦ ἐνόμιζεν εἶναι, καὶ ἀπεγράφετο αὐτὰ καὶ αὖ πάλιν ἐξέπεμπε καὶ τοῖς περισωζομένοις καὶ ἐσιοῦσιν ἐς τὸν λιμένα ὑπερέχαιρε· χρόνους δὲ διετέλεσε πολλοὺς συνοικῶν τῷ ἀρρωστήματι τούτῳ. ἐκ Σικελίας δὲ ἀναχθεὶς ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν ἰατρῷ ἰάσασθαι, καὶ ἔπαυσεν αὐτὸν τῆς νόσου οὗτος. ἐμέμνητο δὲ πολλάκις τῆς ἐν μανίᾳ διατριβῆς, καὶ ἔλεγε μηδέποτε ἡσθῆναι τοσοῦτον, ὅσον τότε ἥδετο ἐπὶ ταῖς μηδὲν αὐτῷ προσηκούσαις ναυσὶν

The Indispensable Service of Byzantine Literature

Frederic Harrison, Rede Lecture (1900):

“The peculiar, indispensable service of Byzantine literature was the  preservation of the language, philology, and archaeology of Greece. It is  impossible to see how our knowledge of ancient literature or civilisation could have been recovered if Constantinople had not nursed through the early Middle Ages the vast accumulations of Greek learning in the schools of Alexandria, Athens, and Asia Minor ; if Photius, Suidas, Eustathius, Tzetzes, and the Scholiasts had not poured out their lexicons, anecdotes, and commentaries ; if the Corpus Scriptorum historiae Byzantinae had never been compiled; if indefatigable copyists had not toiled in multiplying the texts of ancient Greece. Pedantic, dull, blundering as they are too often, they are indispensable. We pick precious truths and knowledge out of their garrulities and stupidities, for they preserve what otherwise would have been lost for ever. It is no paradox that their very merit to us is that they were never either original or brilliant. Their genius, indeed, would have been our loss. Dunces and pedants as they were, they servilely repeated the words of the immortals. Had they not done so, the immortals would have died long ago .”

Tragedy is Easier than Comedy

From Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 6.222c-e

“Since, friend Timocrates, you are always asking about the things said among the learned dinnermates, because you think that I am making up crazy things, let me remind you of what Antiphanes says in his play Poetry, in this way:

Tragedy is the luckiest art form
of all. First, the stories
Are already known by the audience
Before anyone even speaks—the poet only needs
To remind: “Oedipus I say…”
And they know the rest: father Laios,
mother Iocasta, some daughters, some sons,
what he will suffer, and what he has. And, again,
If someone says “Alkmaeon”, he’s just as good
as mentioned all his kids and that
he went crazy and killed his mother, and that
Adrastus will get angry and return.
Then when they can’t say anything else
And they have fallen down in exhaustion
they raise up their crane like little finger
and they have a happy audience!
But it isn’t like that for us, we have to make up
everything, new names and….
then the events that happened
previously, currently, and at the end,
As well as an introduction!
If some Chremes or Pheidon
Misses even one of these things
They boo and hiss him off the stage.
But you can get away with this with Peleus and Teucer.”

᾿Επειδὴ ἀπαιτεῖς συνεχῶς ἀπαντῶν, ἑταῖρε Τιμόκρατες, τὰ παρὰ τοῖς δειπνοσοφισταῖς λεγόμενα, καινά τινα νομίζων ἡμᾶς εὑρίσκειν, ὑπομνήσομέν σε τὰ παρὰ ᾿Αντιφάνει λεγόμενα ἐν Ποιήσει (II 90 K) τόνδε τὸν τρόπον·

μακάριόν ἐστιν ἡ τραγῳδία
ποίημα κατὰ πάντ’, εἴ γε πρῶτον οἱ λόγοι
ὑπὸ τῶν θεατῶν εἰσιν ἐγνωρισμένοι,
πρὶν καί τιν’ εἰπεῖν· ὥσθ’ ὑπομνῆσαι μόνον
δεῖ τὸν ποιητήν. Οἰδίπουν γὰρ φῶ ……
τὰ δ’ ἄλλα πάντ’ ἴσασιν· ὁ πατὴρ Λάιος,
μήτηρ ᾿Ιοκάστη, θυγατέρες, παῖδες τίνες,
τί πείσεθ’ οὗτος, τί πεποίηκεν. ἂν πάλιν
εἴπῃ τις ᾿Αλκμέωνα, καὶ τὰ παιδία
πάντ’ εὐθὺς εἴρηχ’, ὅτι μανεὶς ἀπέκτονε
τὴν μητέρ’, ἀγανακτῶν δ’ ῎Αδραστος εὐθέως
ἥξει πάλιν τ’ ἄπεισι …………..
ἔπειθ’ ὅταν μηθὲν δύνωντ’ εἰπεῖν ἔτι,
κομιδῇ δ’ ἀπειρήκωσιν ἐν τοῖς δράμασιν,
αἴρουσιν ὥσπερ δάκτυλον τὴν μηχανήν,
καὶ τοῖς θεωμένοισιν ἀποχρώντως ἔχει.
ἡμῖν δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἔστιν, ἀλλὰ πάντα δεῖ
εὑρεῖν, ὀνόματα καινά, …………
………… κἄπειτα τὰ διῳκημένα
πρότερον, τὰ νῦν παρόντα, τὴν καταστροφήν,
τὴν εἰσβολήν. ἂν ἕν τι τούτων παραλίπῃ
Χρέμης τις ἢ Φείδων τις, ἐκσυρίττεται·
Πηλεῖ δὲ ταῦτ’ ἔξεστι καὶ Τεύκρῳ ποιεῖν.

Porphyry on Odysseus and His Companions, Part 2

For part 1, go here

Schol. H ad Od. 1.8 ex. Porphyry

“Because he saved himself from every threat of death rushing upon him, he was also only skilled enough to save his companions from the dangers looming over him, if they would accept their own responsibility, not an excuse. But wisdom is not able to make men immortal nor can a wise man preserve them from every kind of death, but only that which is selected due to our own responsibility, if those who are with him might obey him. Nor again is the wise man able to persuade in every situation.

“He suffered much as he tried to preserve his life and the homecoming of his companions” in those deeds which safeguard against dangers, but not in those which do not occur by our own agency. And similarly in events that occur through our own choice, he would have saved them as he trusted in his own virtue if they had been capable of not dying thanks to some preordained external fortune, and from their own responsibility, even though he was especially eager, “because they perished from their own recklessness: when they went and disrespected Helios independently.

This shows that some events occur according to fortune and from external causes, over which a wise man has power, while others occur because of us and our own drive, over which a serious man may have power. But the serious man is not in control of death which is motivated externally and according to fortune, either for himself or for another, even as he will foresee from every angle the danger caused by our own fault for both himself and those who differ from him. The same man will be conspicuous in trying many things for himself and others when they do not have the same ability of thought as him. This is how to understand “he suffered many things in his heart as he tried to save his life and the homecoming of his companions.”

[This refers] to in those moments we are capable and responsible for death for ourselves, and certainly does not apply to the situations where it is not our fault. For the serious man is desirous only of things under our control and because of this he is on guard against the death that comes due to our own responsibility. But he has neither for those events motivated by external fate. For there is no control over everything subject to external fate nor even everything under our power: some of the external events overpower those things that are under our control. Some deaths issue from external causes, but others come from our own mistakes—and these especially are connected to our stupidity, because most of those who are compelled because of wickedness to chastisement by the law are condemned by their own voluntary transgressions.”

 

ὡς γὰρ ἑαυτὸν σώζει ἐκ παντὸς τοῦ παρ’ ἑαυτὸν ῥυόμενος θανάτου, οὕτως καὶ τοὺς ἑταίρους ἐκ τοῦ παρ’ ἑαυτὸν δύναται μόνος σοφὸς ῥύεσθαι θανάτου, εἰ τὸπαρ’ ἑαυτοὺς αἴτιον μὴ πρόφασιν ἐνδοῦναι πείσειεν· ἀθανάτους δὲ οὔτε σοφία ποιῆσαι ἐπαγγέλλεται οὔθ’ ὁ σοφὸς σώσειεν ἂν ἐκ παντὸς θανάτου, ἀλλ’ ἐκ μόνου ἄρα τοῦ παρὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν αἰτίαν ὑφισταμένου, εἰ πεισθεῖεν αὐτῷ οἱ συνόντες· οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδὲ τοῦ πεῖσαι ἐκ παντὸς κύριος  ὁ σοφός. πολλὰ ὁ μὲν ἔπαθεν ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων ἐν τοῖς παρ’ ἑαυτῷ σωστικοῖς ἔργοις τῶν κινδύνων, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν τοῖς μὴ παρ’ ἡμᾶς ἀποβαινόντων. καὶ ὁμοίως ἐν τοῖς παρ’ ἡμᾶς αὐτὸς μὲν ἔσωσεν ἀρετῇ πειθόμενος τοὺς δυνηθέντας ἂν μὴ διὰ τύχην

ἔξωθέν τινα καθ’ εἱμαρμένην ἀποθανεῖν, ἐκ δὲ τῆς παρ’ ἑαυτῶν αἰτίας, καίπερ πολλὰ προθυμηθεὶς, οὐκ ἔσωσεν· αὐτοὶ γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν …. ….. ἦσαν εἰς τὸν ῞Ηλιον μόνοι ἀσεβήσαντες. ἔδειξεν οὖν ὅτι τῶν συμβαινόντων τὰ μὲν παρὰ τύχην καὶ τὴν ἔξωθεν αἰτίαν, ὧν ὁ σοφὸς οὐ κύριος, τὰ δὲ παρ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ τὴν ἡμετέραν ὁρμὴν, ὧν κρατεῖν οἷός τε ὁ σπουδαῖος. καὶ θανάτου οὖν τοῦ μὲν ἔξωθεν καὶ παρὰ τὴν τύχην οὔτ’ ἐφ’ ἑαυτοῦ οὔτ’ ἐπ’ ἄλλου ὁ σπουδαῖος κύριος, τοῦ δὲ παρὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν αἰτίαν ἐκ παντὸς προνοήσεται ὁ σπουδαῖος καὶ ἐφ’ ἑαυτοῦ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν αὐτῷ διαφερόντων· καὶ περιγενόμενος ἐφ’ ἑαυτοῦ ἀποτακτήσει τὰ πολλὰ ἐπὶ ἄλλων, ὅταν μὴ τὴν αὐτὴν αὐτῷ τῆς φρονήσεως ἔχωσιν ἕξιν. ἀκουστέον οὖν τὸ

πολλὰ δ’ ὅγ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμὸν,

ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων

ἐν τοῖς δυνατοῖς καὶ παρ’ ἡμᾶς τοῦ θανάτου αἰτίοις,,  ἀλλ’ οὐ μέντοι τοῖς μὴ παρ’ ἡμᾶς αἰτίοις· τῶν γὰρ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν μόνων ὀρεκτικὸς ὁ σπουδαῖος, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τῶν ἐξ ἡμῶν αἰτίων θανάτου φυλακτικὸς, ἀλλ’ οὐ τῶν ἔξωθεν κατὰ τὴν εἱμαρμένην αἰτίαν ἀποβαινόντων. οὔτε γὰρ πάντων ἁπαξαπλῶς τῶν ἔξωθεν αἴτια, οὔτε πάλιν τὸ ἐφ’ ἡμῶν πάντων κύριον, ἀλλ’ ὧν μὲν τὸ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, ὧν δὲ κρατεῖ τὰ ἔξωθεν. καὶ τῶν θανάτων οἱ μὲν δι’ αἰτίας ἔξωθεν γίνονται, οἱ δὲ δι’ ἡμετέρας ἁμαρτίας, καὶ ἐκ τῆς ἀνοίας τῆς ἡμετέρας ἤρτηνται, ὡς οἵ γε πλεῖστοι τῶν διὰ κακίας εἰς κόλασιν ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἐπαγομένων ἠρτημένοι ἀπ’ αἰτίας τῆς ἐκ τῶν ἑκουσίων ἁμαρτημάτων. H.

Image result for Odysseus and sheep

Romance Advice from Homer: After Sex, Tell a Story

Odyssey, 23.300-309

“After they had their fill of lovely sex,
they took pleasure in their stories, narrating for one another.
She told him everything she endured as a woman
watching the ruinous throng of suitors in their home,
slaughtering so many bulls and fat sheep,
and draining down so much wine.
And godly Odysseus told her all the grief he caused men
and how much he suffered himself in his efforts.
He told her everything. And she enjoyed hearing it—
sleep would not alight upon her brows before he told every bit.”

τὼ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς,
τερπέσθην μύθοισι, πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐνέποντες,
ἡ μὲν ὅσ’ ἐν μεγάροισιν ἀνέσχετο δῖα γυναικῶν
ἀνδρῶν μνηστήρων ἐσορῶσ’ ἀΐδηλον ὅμιλον,
οἳ ἕθεν εἵνεκα πολλά, βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα,
ἔσφαζον, πολλὸς δὲ πίθων ἠφύσσετο οἶνος·
αὐτὰρ διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεύς, ὅσα κήδε’ ἔθηκεν
ἀνθρώποισ’ ὅσα τ’ αὐτὸς ὀϊζύσας ἐμόγησε,
πάντ’ ἔλεγ’· ἡ δ’ ἄρα τέρπετ’ ἀκούουσ’, οὐδέ οἱ ὕπνος
πῖπτεν ἐπὶ βλεφάροισι πάρος καταλέξαι ἅπαντα.

There’s not much sex in Homer–epic does not deny the existence of the act–or its power–but it is chaste in describing it. And when it does, the situation is usually a bit, well, awkward. In the Iliad, Aphrodite rescues Paris from a duel with Menelaos and inserts him in his bedchamber.  She tells Helen to go ‘comfort’ him and when Helen balks, Aphrodite threatens. Helen insults Paris a bit, and he responds rather weakly (Il. 3.437-447):

“Paris then answered her with this speech:
“Don’t criticize me with such harsh words, wife.
For now, Menelaos would have overcome me with Athena’s help
Or I would have killed him. Gods support both of us.
Come on, let’s lay down in bad and have sex.
For desire has not ever so clouded my thoughts
Not even when I first took you from beautiful Lakedaimon
And sailed in the sea-going vessels
And I stopped to linger in sex and sleep on the island Kranaes.
This is how much I want you now as this sweet longing takes me.”
That’s what he said as he led her to the bed. His spouse followed.

Τὴν δὲ Πάρις μύθοισιν ἀμειβόμενος προσέειπε·
μή με γύναι χαλεποῖσιν ὀνείδεσι θυμὸν ἔνιπτε·
νῦν μὲν γὰρ Μενέλαος ἐνίκησεν σὺν ᾿Αθήνῃ,
κεῖνον δ’ αὖτις ἐγώ· πάρα γὰρ θεοί εἰσι καὶ ἡμῖν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ φιλότητι τραπείομεν εὐνηθέντε·
οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ’ ὧδέ γ’ ἔρως φρένας ἀμφεκάλυψεν,
οὐδ’ ὅτε σε πρῶτον Λακεδαίμονος ἐξ ἐρατεινῆς
ἔπλεον ἁρπάξας ἐν ποντοπόροισι νέεσσι,
νήσῳ δ’ ἐν Κραναῇ ἐμίγην φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ,
ὥς σεο νῦν ἔραμαι καί με γλυκὺς ἵμερος αἱρεῖ.
῏Η ῥα, καὶ ἄρχε λέχος δὲ κιών· ἅμα δ’ εἵπετ’ ἄκοιτις.

The scene is not much better in the Iliad’s most famous instance of lovemaking. Hera spends most of book 14 preparing to seduce Zeus so that she can thwart his plans in helping the Trojans. She arrives, with a promise of help from the god Sleep and special cosmetics borrowed from Aphrodite, and Zeus’ response is immediate (14 312-328):

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Antiquity for Everyone: How Classics is Misappropriated for Evil Ends

In a response to a recent post on Thomas Jefferson’s enthusiasm for Classical reading, a Twitter follower wrote:

@sentantiq probably helped justify slave ownership too

— imsodden gruit (@impossiblefruit) February 23, 2017

This is the sort of reactive comment which the character limit of Twitter fosters, but the issue here is much deeper and problematic than the 140-character limit can address. In our time, Classics is being threatened by a familiar (but resurgent) enemy: a set of dangerous reactionaries who want to read their own disturbing ideology into the Classics as a form of cultural appropriation; it is thought that Classical precedent confers legitimacy upon their thinking. For that reason, we ought to carefully examine and attempt to understand the nature of this type of cultural appropriation, and Jefferson’s views provide a perfect reference point. The relation of Jefferson’s Classical reading to his views on slavery is not so direct; nor is it true that he used the Classics to justify slavery, considering that he actually argued for eventual abolition. Yet, it is true that Jefferson’s use of Classical references helps to highlight the more racist aspects of his thought. We should consider Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia as a case study in which Jefferson misappropriates Classical models to justify his thought.

Jefferson compares the life of slaves in Augustan Rome to the life of those in America:

We know that among the Romans, about the Augustan age especially, the condition of their slaves was much more deplorable than that of the blacks on the continent of America. The two sexes were confined in separate apartments, because to raise a child cost the master more than to buy one. Cato, for a very restricted indulgence to his slaves in this particular, took from them a certain price. But in this country the slaves multiply as fast as the free inhabitants. Their situation and manners place the commerce between the two sexes almost without restraint. The same Cato, on a principle of oeconomy, always sold his sick and superannuated slaves. He gives it as a standing precept to a master visiting his farm, to sell his old oxen, old wagons, old tools, old and diseased servants, and every thing else become useless. . . . The American slaves cannot enumerate this among the injuries and insults they receive. It was the common practice to expose in the island Esculapius, in the Tyber, diseased slaves, whose cure was like to become tedious. The emperor Claudius, by an edict, gave freedom to such of them as should recover, and first declared that if any person chose to kill rather than expose them, it should be deemed homicide. The exposing them is a crime of which no instance has existed with us; and were it to be followed by death, it would be punished capitally. We are told of a certain Vedius Pollio, who, in the presence of Augustus, would have given a slave as food to his fish, for having broken a glass. With the Romans, the regular method of taking the evidence of their slaves was under torture. Here it has been thought better never to resort to their evidence. When a master was murdered, all his slaves, in the same house, or within hearing, were condemned to death. Here punishment falls on the guilty only, and as precise proof is required against him as against a freeman. Yet notwithstanding these and other discouraging circumstances among the Romans, their slaves were often their rarest artists. They excelled too in science, insomuch as to be usually employed as tutors to their masters’ children. Epictetus, Terence, and Phaedrus, were slaves. But they were of the race of whites.

Here, Jefferson tries to paint a picture of slave life in Rome which is worse than that of slave life in America, but his comparison is disgusting and absurd. Setting aside the dubious notion that suffering ought to be the subject of abstract comparison, Jefferson’s factual claims about Roman slavery are not wide of the mark. Yet, where Jefferson errs is in minimizing the dreadful nature of slavery in America. Thus, Jefferson’s argument is a form of misappropriation of a Classical model, but we cannot say that his claim was in any real way justified or rooted in his Classical reading. Rather, his argument hinges upon his callous disregard of the suffering of his contemporaries, and not on his reading of Roman history; he is, in other words, misunderstanding his own time, and giving this misunderstanding a veneer of respectability with an almost burdensome load of Classical comparison. His lack of empathy was not founded on his choice of reading, and there is no reason to suppose that he would have been more enlightened or compassionate if he had avoided the Classics.

Further, Jefferson writes:

“Homer tells us it was so 2600 years ago.

‘Jove fix’d it certain, that whatever day
Makes man a slave, takes half his worth away.’

But the slaves of which Homer speaks were whites.”

Much of what Jefferson writes throughout the essay is undeniably racist, though he concludes that emancipation will and should eventually occur. Yet, it would be fallacious to suppose that Jefferson’s racism was caused by his reading in Classical literature. A majority of the nation at the time held a wide range of racist views, but it makes no more sense to ascribe this racism to the prevalent Classical education of the time than it does to ascribe it to medicinal bloodletting or the popularity of powdered wigs. Rather, it should be clear to a serious reader of Classical literature that these thinkers read racism into the Classics. Consider Jefferson’s claim that “the slaves of which Homer speaks were whites.” This is patently absurd. The traditional notion of a “white” person as being, more specifically, of Anglo-Saxon (or at any rate, Northern European) ancestry would likely preclude most of the slaves mentioned in the world which Homer depicts. Many of the slaves would have been taken from various regions in the Mediterranean, and would have possessed varying ethnic backgrounds, and I submit that we have no firm footing in trying to determine the skin color or physical characteristics of any person mentioned in the poems except in passages where these features are explicitly described. Clearly, Jefferson has made an assumption and read this assumption into Homer’s works.

The pattern of selective reading of the Classics is recurrent and widespread. At SententiaeAntiquae, we are guilty of a form of this. Quotes about tyranny seem so well suited to describe the terror we feel regarding Donald Trump, but in truth he has so far been more like Bibulus than Caesar. But we should not ignore the fact that Classics is not the only field which is misappropriated for horrific purposes: everything from arcane academic subjects to the most fashionable popular culture can be excerpted and willfully mangled to justify an agenda. Indeed, even science has throughout the ages been used in an attempt to bolster dangerous racist agendas, from segregation to eugenics programs. Yet, we do not (and should not) then dismiss science as a fundamentally racist pursuit; we should double down on our resistance to racist thought itself, and its tendency to degrade all of human life.

Jefferson grappled with the issue of slavery, and his arguments for gradual emancipation should make it clear that, although he was a racist, he was not necessarily an ardent enthusiast for slavery. He justified his thoughts on this subject by reference to Classical exempla because those formed the basis of his entire education, not because they contain some germ of racist thought. Any educated person of the time would have shared Classical references as a cultural touchstone, and I have little doubt that, regardless of what position a person may have argued for, and regardless of what the topic was, the cache of the argument would have been enhanced by reference to Classical exempla. It is said that the difference between Hamilton’s Federalism and Jefferson’s Republicanism is brought out clearly in an incident in which Jefferson was horrified at Hamilton’s claim that Julius Caesar was the greatest man who ever lived. Here, Caesar served as a common reference point, but each man read into Caesar’s biography his own ideas concerning statecraft. Where Hamilton saw a strong and enlightened central authority, Jefferson saw a disturbing threat to human liberty. As an even more salient example of the use of Classical exempla in the late 18th century, consider Phillis Wheatley, the African American poet contemporary with Jefferson, who wrote in her poem To Maecenas,

The happier Terence all the choir inspir’d,
His soul replenish’d, and his bosom fir’d;
But say, ye Muses, why this partial grace,
To one alone of Afric’s sable race;
From age to age transmitting thus his name
With the finest glory in the rolls of fame?

Many of Phillis Wheatley’s poems are imbued with the Classical spirit, and are very much engaged with a response to Classical models, yet she here employs her Classical knowledge to open a discussion about African achievement throughout history. Where Jefferson drew on Classical exempla to discuss the nature and experience of slavery, Wheatley drew on a Classical exemplum to note the profound influence of one of Antiquity’s most popular African authors. It is this same Terence whom John Adams so forcefully recommends to his son (Letter, Feb 12, 1781):

“Terence is remarkable, for good morals, good taste, and good Latin… His language has simplicity and an elegance that make him proper to be accurately studied as a model.”

Classical literature is particularly susceptible to misappropriation precisely because of its universality and trans-cultural appeal. The literature, history, and exempla of the Classics can hardly be considered exclusively Greek and Italian property, and it would be even more absurd to suggest that the remote peoples of Northern Europe could claim them. Classical Antiquity is a possession for all humans; it is a common cultural artifact which everyone can and should have access to. Indeed, recent work by The HistoryMakers has served to highlight the way in which prominent African American leaders have drawn on Classical education in the fight for social justice. In making the facile observation that Classical references were used in justifying racism, we run the risk of abandoning Antiquity entirely to the unsavory elements who would want to weaponize it for racial and class warfare. To a racist, everything justifies racism; their core ideology should be resisted, and not the exempla by which they attempt to provide a retroactive apologia for their thinking. We should instead look to the Classics for models of how to create a better pluralistic society, and remember the words of Terence: homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto. (I am a human, and consider nothing human foreign to me.)

 

Porphyry on Fate and Responsibility in the Odyssey

Schol. H ad Od. 1.8 ex. (attributed to Porphyry)

“We claim that the companions of Odysseus are all those who returned with him from Troy, and, more particularly, those who sailed with him in the same ship. He was serious [spoudaios} about the rescue of all of his men, but he was more capable for those who were sailing in the same ship. For, the proverb goes “shared ship, shared safety—but the ships and the safety were no longer shared.

Hence, the lines “he was suffering many pains through his heart / as he tried to save his life and his companions’ homecoming” is properly about the men in Odysseus’ ship whose safety he was able to plan for because they were with him. Then, Helios is to blame for Odysseus arriving home alone, since he killed them as they sailed around. This is the same as if someone would say that Odysseus is responsible for the Trojans who were killed because he devised the matter of the horse, even though most were killed previously by Achilles, Neoptolemos, Ajax and the rest of the best—for the one who brought the act to completion gains the nickname for the whole affair. Thus, since, here Helios has become responsible for Odysseus returning home alone, the poet rightly says “he took away their homecoming day.”

For not all of them died because of poor planning, but some died because of bad luck, like those who died among the Kikonians, or before the Kyklops, or among the Laistrygonians or before Skylla. Others died because of poor planning, as only those who were discovered to have decided to commit outrages against Helios willingly. We can say clearly that Odysseus was especially eager [spoudaios] to save those men who perished because of external cause and could have been saved if they hadn’t been foolish and responsible for their own deaths.”

φαμὲν οὖν ὅτι ἑταῖροι ἦσαν μὲν πάντες οἱ ἐπανιόντες ἐξ ᾿Ιλίου μετὰ ᾿Οδυσσέως, ἰδίως δὲ οἱ συμπλέοντες αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ νηΐ· καὶ ἡ μὲν σπουδὴ ὑπὲρ τῆς πάντων σωτηρίας, δυνατὴ δὲ μᾶλλον ἡ τῶν ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ νηῒ συμπλεόντων. καὶ γὰρ κατὰ τὴν παροιμίαν “κοινὴ ναῦς κοινὴ σωτηρία,” ἀλλ’ οὐκέτι κοιναὶ νῆες καὶ κοιναὶ σωτηρίαι.

 

πολλὰ δ’ ὅγ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμὸν,

ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.

ἰδίως τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσέως νηῒ δηλοῖ, ὧν καὶ μάλιστα ὡς ἂν σὺν αὐτῷ ὄντων τῆς σωτηρίας φροντίζειν ἐδύνατο, ἐπεὶ τοῦ μόνον εἰς οἶκον ἀνακομισθῆναι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα αἴτιος γέγονεν ὁ ῞Ηλιος, τοὺς περιλειπομένους ἀποκτείνας. ὥσπερ οὖν εἴ τις λέγει τοῦ τοὺς Τρῶας ἀπολέσθαι αἴτιον ᾿Οδυσσέα γενέσθαι τὰ περὶ τὸν ἵππον μηχανησάμενον, καίτοι τῶν πλείστων προαπολωλότων ὑπὸ ᾿Αχιλλέως, Νεοπτολέμου, Αἴαντος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀριστέων (ὁ γὰρ τὴν πρᾶξιν τελεώσας ἐπώνυμος τοῦ παντὸς ἔργου γίνεται), οὕτως κἀνταῦθα αἰ-τίου τοῦ μόνον ὑποστρέψαι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα γεγονότος ῾Ηλίου δικαίως εἶπεν “αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.” …. ἔπειτα οὐ πάντων δι’ ἀβουλίας ἀπολωλότων, ἀλλὰ τῶν μὲν διὰ δυστυχίας, ὥσπερ οἱ εἰς τοὺς Κίκονας ἐμπεσόντες, ἢ εἰς τὸν Κύκλωπα, ἢ εἰς τοὺς Λαιστρυγόνας, ἢ εἰς τὴν Σκύλλαν, τῶν δὲ δι’ ἀβουλίαν, ὥσπερ μόνοι εὑρίσκονται οἱ εἰς τὸν ῞Ηλιον ἀκουσίως ἀσεβεῖν ἑλόμενοι, τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα σαφῶς φάναι ὅτι ὑπὲρ τούτων μάλιστα ἐσπούδασεν, ὑπὲρ τῶν μὴ ἔξωθεν αἰτίας ἀπολεσθέντων, ἀλλὰ τῶν σωθέντων ἂν, εἰ μὴ ἄφρονες ἦσαν καὶ παραίτιοι αὑτοῖς τοῦ θανάτου.

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