Μικροτής: (Mikrotês) “Smallness”: Ancient Compounds for the Modern World

Homer, Iliad 2.347-343 (Nestor to the Achaeans)

“Fools, you are speaking in public like senseless children
who have no concern for acts of war.
Where will our plans and oaths take us?
Men’s councils and deliberations end in the fire
along with the unmeasured libations and the handshakes we trust.
This is how we fight with words: we can never find their end
no matter how long we wait…”

‘ὦ πόποι ἦ δὴ παισὶν ἐοικότες ἀγοράασθε
νηπιάχοις οἷς οὔ τι μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα.
πῇ δὴ συνθεσίαι τε καὶ ὅρκια βήσεται ἥμιν;
ἐν πυρὶ δὴ βουλαί τε γενοίατο μήδεά τ᾽ ἀνδρῶν
σπονδαί τ᾽ ἄκρητοι καὶ δεξιαί, ᾗς ἐπέπιθμεν:
αὔτως γὰρ ἐπέεσσ᾽ ἐριδαίνομεν, οὐδέ τι μῆχος
εὑρέμεναι δυνάμεσθα, πολὺν χρόνον ἐνθάδ᾽ ἐόντες.

Amphora_warriors_Louvre_E866

In an earlier post I discussed Star Trek: The Next Generation. I cannot state strongly enough how shows like that and the vestiges of golden age science fiction impacted my world view as a child. I always believed that the united Earth projected by SciFi and necessary for our expansion into the greater universe was not just a possibility but was in fact inevitable. Growing up during the late 80s and early 90s only seemed to drive this home–I watched the end of the Cold War, witnessed the birth of the seemingly borderless internet, and moved from my own provincial home in rural Maine to Boston, New York and Texas.

Of course, the world is not a simple narrative progressing forward to a happier end. In a talk for the Center for Hellenic Studies’ Hour 25 discussing Greek proverbs, I found myself discussing politics and language. In part because of my employment by the State of Texas (ending shortly) and in part because I want to provide texts from the ancient world to people of all background and prejudices, I have been reluctant to make political statements clearly or state my affinities. This has for the most part been my modus operandi as a teacher: my desire is to preach, but I know that it is more powerful to let the material speak for me, that acting as a medium will allow ‘ancient wisdom’ to find fertile ground in surprising places.

But ‘wisdom’ that does not challenge or discomfit is little better than empty platitudes posted to Facebook or scrawled on bathroom walls. Even though I am not from the UK or Europe today, I feel a profound disturbance by the outcome of the EU referendum and as an American I am dismayed by yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on immigration alongside the discourse of the presidential election–from a distance, the EU experiment has always felt to me like the promise of a world to come where borders grow ever more fluid and we can retain the differences we cherish while admiring  and respecting (rather than simply tolerating) the differences others choose to preserve. This idea is admittedly naive and impossibly Pollyanna-ish, I know. The world is smaller–but not like the Disney song. The world is flat, as Thomas Friedman risibly said, but it is flattening in terms of perspectives.

There is a poverty in public discourse on both sides of the Atlantic (and elsewhere, I know). The poverty in part comes from a failure to listen to each other (to use both of our ears); but it also comes from both a cynical use of oversimplistic and deceptive language on the part of some and a lack of shared vocabulary to pillory it on the part of others. We seem to suffer from an essential smallness of dreams, imagination, empathy, and more.

So, to honor this, a range of “small” compounds from ancient Greek:

μικραδικητής: (mikradikêtês) “one who commits petty wrongs”

μικρολόγος: (mikrologos) “caring about petty concerns”

μικροπολίτης: (mikropolitês) “citizen of a petty state”

μικροποιός: (mikropoios) “diminishing”

μικροπτέρυξ: (mikropteruks) “having small wings”

μικρορροπύγιος: (mikrorropugios) “small-assed”

μικρόσοφος: (mikrosophos) “wise in small matters”

μικροτής: (mikrotês) “smallness”

μικροψυχία: (mikropsukhia) “littleness of soul, meanness of spirit”

μικροφροσύνη: (mikrophrosunê) “littleness of mind”

μικρόφρων: (mikrophrôn) “small-minded”

μικροφιλότιμος: (mikrophilotimos) “seeking petty distinctions”

μικροφωνία: (mikrophônia) “weakness of voice”

μικρόχρονος: (mikrokhronos) “short in time”

μικρόχωρος: (mikrokhôros) “with little land”

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