Miraculous Things and Gullible People

Palaephatus, Peri Apistôn 1

“I have composed this work about unbelievable things because rather gullible people believe everything that is said because they are unfamiliar with wisdom or knowledge—but those who are naturally sharper and concerned with many things disbelieve that anything like these things happened at all.

It seems to be that everything which has been narrated happened—for names do not develop on their own when no story exists about them, instead the fact is there first and then a story develops later—but however many shapes and notions are described and existed in the past but do not exist now, these sorts of things never existed at all. For if anything existed at some point in the past, then it also exists now and will again in the future.

And I am always praising the authors Melissos and Lamiskos of Samos who say “What there was in the beginning exists now and will be. But the poets and the storytellers twisted what happened to more unbelievable and amazing things for the sake of surprising people. But I know that if these things couldn’t have happened at all they would not be stories.”

Τάδε περὶ τῶν ἀπίστων συγγέγραφα. ἀνθρώπων γὰρ οἱ μὲν εὐπειθέστεροι πείθονται πᾶσι τοῖς λεγομένοις, ὡς ἀνομίλητοι σοφίας καὶ ἐπιστήμης, οἱ δὲ πυκνότεροι τὴν φύσιν καὶ πολυπράγματοι ἀπιστοῦσι τὸ παράπαν μηδὲ γενέσθαι τι τούτων. ἐμοὶ δὲ δοκεῖ γενέσθαι πάντα τὰ λεγόμενα (οὐ γὰρ ὀνόματα μόνον ἐγένοντο, λόγος δὲ περὶ αὐτῶν οὐδεὶς ὑπῆρξεν· ἀλλὰ πρότερον ἐγένετο τὸ ἔργον, εἶθ’ οὕτως ὁ λόγος ὁ περὶ αὐτῶν)· ὅσα δὲ εἴδη καὶ μορφαί εἰσι λεγόμεναι καὶ γενόμεναι τότε, αἳ νῦν οὐκ εἰσί, τὰ τοιαῦτα οὐκ ἐγένοντο. εἰ γάρ <τί> ποτε καὶ ἄλλοτε ἐγένετο, καὶ νῦν  τε γίνεται καὶ αὖθις ἔσται. ἀεὶ δὲ ἔγωγε ἐπαινῶ τοὺς συγγραφέας Μέλισσον καὶ Λαμίσκον τὸν Σάμιον „ἐν ἀρχῇ” λέγοντας „ἔστιν ἃ ἐγένετο, καὶ νῦν ἔσται”. γενομένων δέ τινα οἱ ποιηταὶ καὶ λογογράφοι παρέτρεψαν εἰς τὸ ἀπιστότερον καὶ θαυμασιώτερον, τοῦ θαυμάζειν ἕνεκα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ἐγὼ δὲ γινώσκω ὅτι οὐ δύναται τὰ τοιαῦτα εἶναι οἷα καὶ λέγεται·

A bonnacon uses feces for weapons. 

Here Comes the SCAPP Bot!

Editor’s Note: Here is a second post by/for Dr. Alexandra Ratzlaff. Alex has been working with the Brandeis Techne Group as Residents at the Autodesk Technology Center and in partnership with the Brandeis MakerLab run by Brandeis’ very own Ian Roy. They have some pretty amazing work to feature.

The overarching aim of the Brandeis Techne Group as Residents at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston is to develop new equipment and methodologies to help push forward the collaboration between technology and the humanities. With a focus on archaeological research and applications, this group seeks to develop new ways of analyzing the material culture of the ancient and historical world. The initial goal of our project is to fabricate a prototype ‘Single Camera Automated Photogrammetry Platform’ (SCAPP) with the final designs and methodology available for reproduction through an open-source platform. The SCAPP is intended to be relatively low-cost and easily reproduced as an alternative to other digital imaging equipment.

Techne-Logo2

Archaeologists tend to be technological and equipment scavengers, often looking to related fields for ways to gather data and perform an array of methods of object analysis. The advantage of this is that it is a process and environment that breeds innovation. It is easy to work outside the box when you have very few limitations. This spirit of innovation is what drives our Techne Group.

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After being initially approached by a member of the Autodesk team at the Boston Technology Center, Alexandra considered how to combine her interests in technology with archaeological field methods. With over 15 years of experience excavating, she recognized the importance of new technological applications used in digital imaging, mapping, and site virtual reality among other areas. The Autodesk Technology Center presented an opportunity to not only develop new equipment to be used in excavation and lab analysis but also a means towards further bridging the gap between the humanities and technology. A partnership with Autodesk and Brandeis also would have the potential to be used as a learning experience for students and a way to experience the humanities through a completely new lens.

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After spending months negotiating a contract between the two institutions, Alex then had to build a team. Having met Ian Roy the previous year, Alexandra considered his background in digital applications, imaging, and 3D workflows particularly relevant and ideal as a potential team partner. Ian’s extensive background in 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and photography, as well as participation in archaeological excavations in Greece as a technology director and specialist, all complimenting the potential collaboration with Alexandra and the Autodesk team. In an effort to make the Autodesk team a beneficial learning experience for students, Alexandra selected a graduate and undergraduate student from the Department of Classical Studies to join the team. Erin Brantmayer (MA 18’) and Helen Wong (BA 19’) contributed years of archaeological excavation experience as well as Erin’s previous work with field photogrammetry and Helen’s comprehensive work with 3D scanning provided the team with a variety of skill sets.

In an initial meeting with the early team members, numerous ideas were proposed in how to effectively integrate new forms of technology into archaeological methodology and what current applications could be further modified and improved upon? Ian showed the group the research of Professor Duncan Irschick’s “BEAST Cam”, a photogrammetry rig that employs approximately forty dSLR cameras to capture image datasets. This methodology produces high-quality images and models; however, the equipment is far too cumbersome for archaeological fieldwork and impractical for budgets as well. Ian’s suggestion inspired the group to focus on digital imaging. This resonated with archaeologists, Alexandra noted that a current problem in archaeology is obtaining high quality photogrammetry of artifacts as they are found in the ground before removal, in which some fragile artifacts sometimes further deteriorate. From this conversation, the idea emerged to develop and fabricate a new type of photogrammetry equipment that would incorporate the group’s interests and expertise.

However, it was evident that any development of equipment would require the input of a professional engineer. Ian proposed another member of the Brandeis RTI team, Tim Hebert, the Embedded Systems and Robotics Specialist and head of the Automation Lab in the Brandeis Library. Tim and Ian had worked together since 2013 as part of the team that founded the MakerLab at Brandeis. Tim contributes a background in embedded systems engineering and mechanical logic, as well as meticulous CAD design with Fusion 360. Together the initial group began their residency at Autodesk in the winter of 2018. Alex took the role of Team Lead and Principle Investigator, Ian took the role of Head of Method, Workflow & Planning, and Tim took the role of Head of Engineering and Design.

In archaeology we are constantly seeking new technological applications to field and survey research. However, very seldom is any of the equipment or software we use specifically designed for archaeology. Recording architecture and artifacts is a cornerstone in archaeological methodology, any developments in this area can become vital for the preservation and interpretation of a site or assemblage of artifacts. This was the broad problem identified by the group, further focusing on the development of equipment that could be used in the field and laboratory on objects that are highly specular or unsuitable for structured light scanning.

Copy of 2019-02-15 16.02.48

The SCAPP resolves these issues as a relatively light-weight and portable automated rig for a single camera. The design helps to rectify another issue faced by archaeologists in the field, which is how to perform photogrammetry on small object before they are removed in excavation. Some artifacts can be extremely fragile, such as glass or metal, the SCAPP is specifically designed to be put over an artifact to collect a photogrammetry dataset before the artifact is ultimately removed in excavation. If it is too fragile and further deteriorates while being removed at least a partial or full 3D model can be created from the SCAPP data. It also allows consistent and repeatable results. Our goal in the Techne Group is to “Science the past” – so much photogrammetry is based on artistic decisions, we want to “science” this problem. We have found that by normalizing our data acquisition, we can be agnostic about our processing methodology: cleaner data results in cleaner renders regardless of the software used.

 

The Techne group is truly a product of multi-disciplinary experiences and approaches to problem-solving. As our group keeps refining the capabilities of the SCAPP we will look at other issues facing archaeology in the realm of digital imaging and reconstruction.

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The Process: What is a SCAPP bot?

Design and fabrication of an automated gantry system to move a dSLR camera in a full circuit around an object in order to take 30-100 + photos as datasets processed in photogrammetry software. The output generated through these programs provides a scale and color accurate 3D model, best for objects with high secularity.

  •  The initial prototype was constructed in birch to test the perimeters of camera angles and the feasibility of the geared frame and arch system.
  •     In the second incarnation of the SCAPP the entire frame was cut from aluminum using the Autodesk waterjet; carriages were printed in PLA and Markforged; and a computer from an industry standard “Ramps board” – the materials were chosen for their accessibility and relatively low cost.
  •     The SCAPP operates essentially as if it were a 3D printer, it uses a printer control board and motors, but moves and actuates a DSLR or phone).
  •     SCAPP can also function as a non-automated circular tripod in which data acquisition can be done manually while maintaining the leveled set degree position of the camera. 

SCAP Prototype

The Fieldwork

Designed as a portable imaging tool, SCAPP testing has included laboratory settings such as those at Autodesk, the classroom, and at an archaeological excavation. Initial SCAPP field testing was carried out in the summer of 2019 at Tel Kabri (israel) by Alexandra Ratzlaff and Erin Brantmayer of the Brandeis Techne Group.

While data was collected in the field, team members Ian Roy, Tim Hebert, and Daniel Lay developed an updated version of the SCAPP based on feedback from field and continued lab testing. Currently, the group is continuing to improve and refine the engineering and design of the SCAPP through collection of data sets primarily on artifacts from the Brandeis CLARC (Classical Artifact Research Collection). 

The Future

In archaeology we are constantly seeking new technological applications to field and survey research. However, very seldom is any of the equipment or software we use specifically designed for archaeology. Recording architecture and artifacts is a cornerstone in archaeological methodology, any developments in this area can become vital for the preservation and interpretation of a site or assemblage of artifacts. This was the broad problem identified by the group, further focusing on the development of equipment that could be used in the field and laboratory on objects that are highly specular or unsuitable for structured light scanning.

The SCAPP resolves these issues as a relatively light-weight and portable automated rig for a single camera. The design helps to rectify another issue faced by archaeologists in the field, which is how to perform photogrammetry on small object before they are removed in excavation. Some artifacts can be extremely fragile, such as glass or metal, the SCAPP is specifically designed to be put over an artifact to collect a photogrammetry dataset before the artifact is ultimately removed in excavation. If it is too fragile and further deteriorates while being removed at least a partial or full 3D model can be created from the SCAPP data. It also allows consistent and repeatable results. Our goal in the Techne Group is to “Science the past” – so much photogrammetry is based on artistic decisions, we want to “science” this problem. We have found that by normalizing our data acquisition, we can be agnostic about our processing methodology: cleaner data results in cleaner renders regardless of the software used.

The Techne group is truly a product of multi-disciplinary experiences and approaches to problem-solving. As our group keeps refining the capabilities of the SCAPP we will look at other issues facing archaeology in the realm of digital imaging and reconstruction.

Singing While the House Burns Down

Aesop, Fab. 54 (Perry=Chambry 172) Boy and Snails

“A farmer’s child was roasting snails. When he heard them trilling as they cooked, he said, “Most pathetic creatures, You are singing as your homes burn?”

This story makes it clear that everything done at the wrong time should be mocked.”

γεωργοῦ παῖς κοχλίας ὤπτει. ἀκούσας δὲ αὐτῶν τριζόντων ἔφη· „ὦ κάκιστα ζῷα, τῶν οἰκιῶν ὑμῶν ἐμπιπραμένων αὐτοὶ ᾄδετε;”

ὁ λόγος δηλοῖ, ὅτι πᾶν τὸ παρὰ καιρὸν δρώμενον ἐπονείδιστον.

This looks like it has jumped to a proverb in Modern Greek which attributes it to Thucydides and changes the person of the verb, rendering it. “you sing while your homes are burning.” [«Των οικιών ημών εμπιπραμένων, ημείς άδομεν»]. I retweeted  thinking it did not sound much like the ancient historian, but just had to check for it.

https://twitter.com/Andreas50805488/status/1161574040554868736?s=20

So, I think this qualifies on my rating scale as Delphian Graffiti Fake: It has antiquity, but has been reassigned for authority in a new context. I mean, really, who wants to cite Aesop and his animals when we have the gravity of Thucydides.  And, let’s be honest, this is a good line for any age, but especially apt for ours.

Kid should have been careful. Snails are dangerous.Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor, c 1315-1325 via British Library

Here’s some singing about burning down a house:

Anonymous, Greek Anthology, 7.704 [=see here for more]

“When I’m dead, the earth can be fucked by fire.
It means nothing to me since I’ll be totally fine.”

Ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί·
οὐδὲν μέλει μοι· τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

 

 

Podcasting Sophocles’ Antigone at UT Austin

This is a follow-up post to Deborah Beck’s earlier reflections on plans for Podcasting in the Greek Classroom. (I covered her class’s Iliad podcasts last year) I have read Antigone and taught it many times, but I learned much about the play’s language and meaning from listening to these podcasts and found the experience stimulating in the way some of the best class discussions can be.

The podcasts 10-15 minutes in length and start with an episode hosted by Professor Beck to introduce listeners to the series (for students and the audience). The episodes are based around specific passages from the play which are taught by the students during the course meetings themselves. After the introductory message, Beck moves to summary of the myths around the family of Oedipus followed by a brief overview of the play’s initial plot and the other Sophoclean plays based on these myths, with special emphasis on Antigone’s importance in this play in contrast with what we know from other traditions.

In discussing the prologue, Professor Beck touches upon some of the oddness of the language from our perspective and the crucial themes of the play (the struggle between obedience to the laws of the state as opposed to those of the gods). Beck’s comments work as commentary themselves, moving between individual lexical items and larger thematic movements. It is an engaging way to approach a Greek text, especially refreshing when Beck admits that some of the lexical knots are confusing and difficult to disentangle.

This first episode provides a great introduction to the characterization of the sisters Antigone and Ismene through close attention to the language and syntax of the first 100 lines of the play, emphasizing especially how Antigone is inflexible and Ismene is able to hold contradictory ideas at once. Beck summarizes Ismene’s closing lines (τοῦτο δ’ ἴσθ’ ὅτι  / ἄνους μὲν ἔρχῃ, τοῖς φίλοις δ’ ὀρθῶς φίλη, 98-99) as  “I both think you’re bananas / and I love you dearly”.

The individual episodes follow this pattern to various levels of success. Episode 2 brings Dylan McKibban talking about lines 191-214 where Kreon makes a proclamation and the chorus’s response. McKibban looks at the relationship between this passage and the play as a whole before focusing on the Chorus’ “unusual” response. McKibban follows Professor Beck in providing close readings of the Greek, but also does a nice job of discussing the relationship between the depiction of Creon in this passage and his appearance later in the play. Especially valuable is the observation that the Chorus implies  that, while Creon has the power to make his decision, it does not mean it is right (211–214):

“It is pleasing to you, child of Menoikeus, that
the man hostile to the city and the one loyal to it come to these ends.
The power is yours to use every law, we suppose,
For the dead and however many of us remain alive.”

Σοὶ ταῦτ’ ἀρέσκει, παῖ Μενοικέως, <παθεῖν>,
τὸν τῇδε δύσνουν καὶ τὸν εὐμενῆ πόλει·
νόμῳ δὲ χρῆσθαι παντί πού γ’ ἔνεστί σοι
καὶ τῶν θανόντων χὠπόσοι ζῶμεν πέρι.

McKibban ends with a reflection on the experience of teaching the class, noting that it is not is not necessarily the case that “if one can translate the lines, they must already understand them.”

In Episode 3, Cassandra Winkley and Rachel Prichett talk about the trope of messengers in tragedy, focusing in particular on lines 215-242. I really enjoy the way the two speakers highlight the humor in the characterization of the Phulaks, as an impatient child who wants to talk about himself (e.g.  Φράσαι θέλω σοι πρῶτα τἀμαυτοῦ, 238). The subsequent conversation about the tension between messengers in general in tragedy and this specific instantiation of the trope is really useful: the speakers compare him to the absurd messenger from Euripides’ Orestes and emphasize how annoying he is to Creon.

Episode 4 has Laura talking about Creon’s discovery of the burial of Polyneices (Antigone 280-303), paying special attention to the change in his language. This speaker’s tour through the Greek is especially good as she draws both on the text and Mark Griffin’s commentary.

Laura picks out well the authoritarian certainty in Creon’s declaration “I know well that these men did these things because they were motivated by money” ᾿Εκ τῶνδε τούτους ἐξεπίσταμαι καλῶς  / παρηγμένους μισθοῖσιν εἰργάσθαι τάδε. Laura notes helpfully that while there are many different interpretations of the play, Creon is almost always depicted too simply as an “unhinged autocrat”. Laura’s challenging reconsideration of Creon as a person and not a stock character is a great start for the overall challenge of the play: seeing Creon, not Antigone, as the central protagonist.

Lyle takes the listeners through a discussion of Creon’s leadership (Antigone 304‑331) in Episode 5. He invites someone from the business school to talk about Creon’s actions. This exercise may have been a little more effective if the interlocutor knew a little more about the plot of the play. Nevertheless, the conversation’s move to the behavior in the real world was useful when they turn to speak about hierarchy and insecurity. Especially interesting is the sudden turn to a discussion of Anne Carson’s Antigonick.

Brendan and Joseph take us through the famous Ode to Man in Episodes 6 and Episode 7.

Sophocles, Antigone 332–341

There are many wonders and none
is more surprising than humanity.
This thing that crosses the sea
as it whorls under a stormy wind
finding a path on enveloping waves.
It wears down imperishable Earth, too,
the oldest of the gods, a tireless deity,
as the plows trace lives from year to year
drawn by the race of horses….

Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀν-
θρώπου δεινότερον πέλει·
τοῦτο καὶ πολιοῦ πέραν
πόντου χειμερίῳ νότῳ
χωρεῖ, περιβρυχίοισιν
περῶν ὑπ’ οἴδμασιν, θεῶν
τε τὰν ὑπερτάταν, Γᾶν
ἄφθιτον, ἀκαμάταν, ἀποτρύεται,
ἰλλομένων ἀρότρων ἔτος εἰς ἔτος,
ἱππείῳ γένει πολεύων.

In the first, Brendan starts with a performance of Robert Fagles’ translation of the first part of the Ode. Before going into the Ode, he discusses the semantic range of deinos. His delivery and range of examples are really effective (and funny in the speaker’s wry way). Brendan explains that the meaning of this passage hinges on how we understand deinos and then moves line by line through the section to argue that man is deinos because he has raised himself beyond everything in nature in an oppositional fashion. Humankind is simultaneously wonderful and terrible.

Where Brendan draws on his experience in philosophy to talk about the relative meaning of deinos, Joseph turns back to the Greek and argues that the meter of the Ode’s second half (354-383) emphasizes the duality of its themes, a feature likely connected to the separations of strophe and antistrophe. Joseph cleverly mines the metrically equivalent passages for parallels and tensions, as in the repetitions in lines 360 and 370 (παντοπόρος· ἄπορος ἐπ’ οὐδὲν ἔρχεται :: ὑψίπολις· ἄπολις ὅτῳ τὸ μὴ καλὸν). Before turning to speak about the class, Brendan turns to a discussion of how this formal duality reflects the plot of the play and resolves in Creon’s character development.

Albion brings a new energy in Episode 8 in a discussion of the Guard’s return in lines 384–414. Albion’s recitation of the Greek and explanation of the composition is both well-paced and infectious—rarely do I hear “zeugmatic” uttered allowed and know that the speaker is smiling! In the end, the analysis of the guard’s motivations helps us understand both the realpolitik at play in Thebes and the subtle characterization available in even so minor a character.

In episode 9, Payton and Nikhil discuss the theme of isolation, starting from lines 415–447. Following a summary of the preceding events and an overview of how both Antigone and Creon are defined by physical and emotional isolation shaped by family history and political roles, they move to an illuminating discussion of how neither character really perceives their isolation in this scene. Especially good in this section is the discussion of the possible echoes in the guard’s description of the “unburial” as a (θείαν νόσον, 421) and ambiguous language reflecting potential judgments of Creon.

Episode 10 takes us to topics of gender and family as Mary speaks about the language of lament in lines 497–530. (Mary wins my heart by starting with a khairete!) As with earlier episodes, she starts by giving a brief overview of the plot running up to the passage before pulling out kinship names and descriptions of relationships offered by Antigone and Creon: the former emphasizes blood relations whereas the latter focuses on political relationships. These differences in diction reflect the major conflict of the play. Mary provides a really deep overview of scholarship near the end of the episode on emotions, tragedy, and politics which surpasses anything one might expect from a student podcast.

The theme of family is central to Episode 11 too, where Katherine asks us to look at the development of the dynamic between Ismene and Antigone (531–558). Katherine situates her listeners in the plot, bringing Ismene out on the stage to try to join Antigone in a “belated solidarity” and focusing on how much they have changed since their appearance in the prologue. Her question about whether or not the portrayal “cements” our prior impression of the characters is a nice way to invite us to think about the experience of witnessing the play as a whole in a short amount of time. To Katherine, Ismene comes of as “rather brave” but perhaps still fickle. In whatever case, this depiction makes her more “sympathetic” and more “real”. I think I will carry Mary’s question about Antigone’s characterization with me for a long time: “If family is so important to Antigone, how can she so easily and so completely reject her sister”?

The other child of this play—Haemon—is the focus of Lexie’s Episode 12, a discussion of the conflict between father and son over Antigone. Lexie takes us through a careful reading of Haemon’s speech to his father, emphasizing that this exchange is qualitatively different from earlier depictions of Creon because of their relationship. Especially good in this discussion is her note about the semantic difference of μανθάνειν as a more humble approach to knowledge (710) and her comments on the anticipatory metaphor of the destruction of the tree, “root and all” (αὐτόπρεμν᾿ ἀπόλλυται, 714).

Payton and Nikhil return in Episode 13 (“Let’s Talk Greek”) to continue the conversation between Haemon and Creon at 738–781. In this episode, we encounter the definition of the agon as a competitive verbal exchange and the use of politeness theory to help us understand the conversation in modern terms. The close reading of the speech exchange–what they refer to once as “verbal judo”–opens up both the intellectual and emotional components of the agon.

There are really two big pedagogical components to this class. The first is the process of preparing the podcast, which is a type of research presentation. The second is a teaching exercise which happened in class. The really clever part of the course design is that the podcast project brings these two strands together. It is really worthwhile to listen to the students go through the metacognitive process of reflecting on what they learned from teaching the class. A tertiary aspect that I think is really important is that this exercise encouraged students to think about the relationship between the parts of the play to its whole. This is, regrettably, something that is often lost in the close-reading exercises of advanced Greek courses.

The production value of these podcasts is somewhat higher than one might expect—some of the producers introduce new music and clips from other media; others bring in different speakers and other subjects. As a group, there is the kind of subject variety and stylistic variation you might want from a series.

If you have the time to add this to your listening queue, it is a great reminder of how deep and challenging Antigone is as a play and how rewarding it can be to work through the Greek with others. Even more interesting for me is the potential for a podcast to function in the place of a traditional commentary. While listening, I imagined an audio track accompanying me as I read the text anew—I am not sure that these individual podcasts can do this exclusively, but if I were teaching this play any time soon, I would assign students to listen to these episodes.

Podcast picture

Beauty and Privilege: Latin, Paideia, and Papyri

“How many there are who degrade the Latin language!”
Quam multi sunt, qui verba Latina depravant! -Piccolomini
“The very act of speaking Latin is to be held in high esteem”
Nam ipsum latine loqui…est illud quidem in magna laude ponendum -Cicero
So, I say, Latin speech is common and known to all, but literary speech is not so.”
Latinus, inquam, sermo et vulgaris erat et omnibus cognitus, litteralis vero non ita prorsus -Francesco Filelfo

Today the Boston Review has published an essay of mine on a translation of Nicola Gardini’s Long Live Latin! My review is, admittedly, less positive than some others will be (with almost none of the cheerleading another review lavishes upon it) and, truly, more negative than a Classicist’s should be. As a general rule, I prefer not to write hack jobs or take-downs, especially when the author’s sincerity and belief in goodness is so palpable. And I certainly believe that there was a time in my life when I might even have exulted in this book, both because of the pleasures afforded by its own prose and also thanks to the familiar passages it brings together. But, given the world we live in and what we have learned over the past generation, I can’t accept that this book is the way to promote the study of the past. To put it more starkly: this approach is part of the problem.

Image result for long live latin by nicola gardini

I cover my qualms with the book in the review in some detail, but the thing I want to focus on here is that Gardini’s ultimate argument is that Latin is worth studying because of the aesthetic pleasure it affords. This aesthetic pleasure arises from an essential circularity: the literature we love provides us with pleasure because it presents the pleasure of the elements we love. Our sense of what is good is created by the canon we have selected to shape us.

Gardini’s picture of the past and of the kinds of Latin worth preserving and contemplating is that of the Western Canon and his argument centers around appreciating the worth of the Western tradition, a beyond problematic category which many have dismantled (see Kwame Anthony Appiah in general and Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s recent blog posts for the history and impact on Classical Studies). The construction of the Western Canon and associated claims of Western Civilization are a kind of aristocratic nostalgia. It is a value-proposition, an identity to be espoused which does not admit additions or revisions easily. Replicating the contents of the past as we have in conventional Classical Studies programs has amounted to the reading of the same authors over and over again with the insistence that we read these things because they are good. And they are good because we read them.

“Good people flock to the tables of the good on their own.”

αὐτόματοι δ’ ἀγαθοὶ ἀγαθῶν ἐπὶ δαῖτας ἵενται. -Hesiod

Loving latin

Classicists who accept this view are often part of the same groups who have ignored or expressed hostility to what they call postmodernism. Indeed, a generation ago the question you had to be able to ask in interviews for jobs as Classicists was “what do you think about theory?” This is not a struggle peculiar to Classics but it is one which is particularly fraught because one history of our intersecting disciplines is not changing, not innovating, and fiercely defending the past as we have built it. And, although the resulting venn diagram of those who complain about postmodernism and those who espouse conservative, retrograde, or nationalist rhetoric is not a perfect circle, it does intersect and overlap.

The fact is that we must now recognize that at least since the rise of European colonialism, race-based enslavement, and the genocidal conquest of the Americas, what we call Classics has been instrumental in providing historical, philosophical, rhetorical, and political frameworks for justifying various supremacies and ethnonationalisms. When we lament that the Classics are being appropriated by white supremacists and Nazis, we are a little late to the party. The use of the past to justify hate and exploitation is a historical feature of Classics and not a bug.

The reason I am going through this all again, is that my reaction to Gardini’s book needs to be contextualized within the perturbations of our field. A month ago I gave a talk at Rutgers University and two subjects kept coming up in conversations afterwards: the real time erosion of faith in the Paideia Institute (thanks in part to the Sportula’s statement preceded by a thoughtful statement by former/current Paideia associates) and the confusing revelations of the Museum of the Bible’s Papyri collection and Dr. Dirk Obbink’s involvement in it. There are many things going on in and around these two stories, but I struggled for a while to figure out where I think they both meet.

“It seems to me to have been remarked wittily enough that it is one thing to speak Latin, and another altogether to speak grammatically.”

Quare mihi non invenuste dici videtur aliud esse Latine, aliud grammatice loqui. Quintilian 

And where they meet is in that same place where Gardini searches for Latin. What all of these approaches to the past have in common is that they reach for a “timeless”, decontextualized, and ahistorical past, that includes largely only “nice” and “beautiful” things, where truth and beauty as they define it is the lasting bequest of Greece and Rome to our times, and where there is nothing of the mess that makes today so confusing: no gender, no race, no sexuality (except that which they like), no disability, no Class, and nothing which might distract from their contemplation of human perfection.

The Paideia Institute is run by disaffected, mostly male, Classicists of an elitist bent whose view of the world resonates with Gardini because, shit, everything would be better if we could just move to the woods and read Horace. If this seems harshly dismissive, consider that work of the PI is strongly centered around Western Civ perspectives, that they believe that the study of the past can be apolitical, that they neither publish their by-laws nor make their funding transparent, that their origin story has as its center the nearly cultic hagiography of a single Latin expert, and that, if they had been given the tenure-track jobs our more complicated world has denied them, their organization would probably not exist. 

(For the Medieval Mindset of treating scholarship as apolitical, see Amanda Power’s recent piece in THE).

“What good is it to be noble / For those who are charmless in words and counsel?”

τί πλέον, γένος εὐγενὲς εἶναι / οἷς οὔτ᾿ ἐν μύθοις ἕπεται χάρις οὔτ᾿ ἐνὶ βουλῇ; -Phocylides

The Paideia Institute is Trad-Classics with a religious fervor. Let me be clear, I think they have a right to exist and pursue their view of the world; but we should all acknowledge what their work represents—a retrenchment and doubling down, a recommitment to a world that never was in order to seek refuge from the world that is.

To claim that Dirk Obbink’s confusing and likely felonious actions are of a kind with Gardini’s Love Live Latin and the troubles of the Paideia Institute may seem so much of a stretch as to be slanderous. But here’s my pitch. I have spent months thinking about what may have motivated him. I have had dozens of conversations about it and have heard plausible theories: from the altruistic (he did it to save a financially collapsing EES) to the sly (he duped naïve evangelists to get his hands on the New Sappho). And what I keep returning to is: would I have done the same thing?

See, like many of the Paideia Institute (I suspect), there was some religion in my upbringing and one of my first thoughts in these cases is the passing “there but for the grace of god go I…” So, when I read about Paideia’s missteps (and subsequent denials) or contemplate how Obbink broke bad, I think of that game we Classicists sometimes play: what would you trade of extant Classical literature for what we lost. This game assumes that these poems and speeches and books are things, aesthetic objects we can trade like horses or barter without any concern for where they come from or how they got there.

(And this story may be far from over, EES has recently admitted that over 120 recorded fragments are currently missing.)

As several articles in Eidolon drive home, modern papyri are things, with histories, trails, and an impact on the world around them. But as aesthetic objects that move us (and to which we move) they have a materiality and power beyond modern geopolitical borders and law-courts. They are the aesthetic objects of desire which Gardini loves and which we hold up as objects of study which in turn lead us to objectify the past. Such endless simplicity of aesthetic reification conditions us to treat what we encounter in the world around us as objects, as aesthetic experiences to be evaluated according to (seeming) Platonic forms.

Obbink already had lots of papyri but he wanted to get his hands on papyri of a certain type because they would increase and confirm the value of what we already have. And don’t get me wrong: our view of Greek poetry has been changed in the past generation by the publication of Archilochus’ Cologne Epode, the historical elegies of the New Simonides, the Telephos myth of the New Archilochus, and the pleasant beauty of Sappho’s Brothers poem. But, both now and in the aggregate over the centuries, how much of the past has been lost or misunderstood because of our ironic longing for more ‘new’ of the old? 

Beyond a lust for fame, a desire to contribute to the history of literature, and need to transcend his mortal bounds, I believe Obbink stole papyri to get his hands on a New Sappho because this is, at its core, a metonym for what we do and have done as Classicists. We endow some things with value and neglect others. We ‘innocently’ perpetuate a system and worship a canon without critically examining what the effect of this process is and has been on the world. And when people use theories and techniques outside of Classics to show how Classics works (and doesn’t), we too often reject them out of hand.

Some of the common ground between the refusal of the Paideia Institute to accept criticism (and the tonedeaf cowardice of its anonymous defenders) and Obbink’s actions is class and race privilege, people who are accustomed to doing what they want because consequences are for other people. The ideological stance of Classics as an aristocratic discipline reinforces privilege and provides us with an intellectualized framework for objectifying people and festishizing culture and human experiences into ranked categories. Classici are, after all, people of a certain rank.

If we center our discipline around a system of untested values and universal aesthetics, we not only fail to live examined lives and fall into the trap of emphasizing seeming over being, but we also willfully and violently ignore the scope of human knowledge and experience which is excluded from this closed system. I am not denying the beauty of the past or claiming we should stop studying it, but instead insisting that we stop drop the pretense or accept that some of us need to do something new.

διὰ τοῦτο … δύο ὦτα ἔχομεν, στόμα δὲ ἕν, ἵνα πλείω μὲν ἀκούωμεν, ἥττονα δὲ λέγωμεν

“For this reason, we have two ears, but one mouth: so that we can hear more and say less.” -Zeno

To end with a bit less bile: I don’t think most of us who see the world in the way I just outlined started out seeing it this way. Indeed, I was trained as a pretty basic classicist from high school on. What has made the difference is learning from outside the discipline, listening to people who have been marginalized by traditional approaches, and considering new things without dismissing them out of hand. 

Modern rhetoric and social media seem to harden us into stances we may not have taken otherwise or assumptions about others which only echo reality. The Trad-Classicists need to listen: I think it is a basic litmus test of a decent person that, if someone tells you they are hurting and that you are involved, you should just stop talking, listen, and really hear what they are saying. Those of us on the other side? Some, like myself, are too impatient, we want people to change too fast, and we don’t give them enough time. 

study

Updates:

25 Nov 2019

There have been a few complaints about some of the more polemical comments regarding the Paideia Institute. I apologize for any offense to individuals: I had the organization and its reputation in mind. It is my responsibility to make amends to any individuals on a person by person basis. Please reach out if you would like to talk to me

26 Nov 2019

Lee T. Pearcy has written an essay on Classicizing Philadelphia discussing some of the ideas in the essay, but somewhat disagreeing with the move away from treating the past ideally. One of the things his response clarifies for me is that we need to distinguish between discussions of what classics is as opposed to what we could make it.

A Digital Apolococyntosis

Introducing a new series (#SciencethePast): My colleague, Dr. Alexandra Ratzlaff, has been working with the Brandeis Techne Group as Residents at the Autodesk Technology Center and in partnership with the Brandeis MakerLab run by Brandeis’ very own Ian Roy. They have some pretty amazing work to feature, but in our autumnal mood, here’s a post-Halloween Update.

We posted earlier on the Pumpkinception, but here are some images and links to higher resolution models. We used the pumpkin exercise to practice some of the work we do with objects in the Brandeis CLARC (Classical Art Research Collection) and to train for work we do in the field (more on that soon).

We scanned the Techne pumpkin using an Artec Spider 3D scanner and then rendered it in Metashape.  (Here’s the Artec 3D website.)

Here’s a link to the Sketchfab version

For comparison, we did the same thing with photogrammatry using the SCAPP and rendered it in Metashape too.

What’s the SCAPP bot? Stay tuned…

If you go to this link, you can see the 3D model and some other cool stuff they are doing.

An Ancient Greek Horror Story to Make You Scream

This might be the most disturbing thing I have read all summer. When I was reading the Greek for the final sentence below, I actually uttered “what the f*ck” aloud. Go here for the second part.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 2 (Part 1)

Hieron the Alexandrian or Ephesian tells of the following wonder which occurred in Aitolia.

There was a certain citizen, Polykritos, who was voted Aitolian arkhon by the people. His fellow citizens considered him worthy for three years because of the nobility of his forebears. During the time he was in that office, he married a Lokrian woman. After he shared a bed with her for three nights, he died on the fourth.

The woman remained in their home widowed. When she gave birth, she had a child who had two sets of genitals, both male and female, which was alarmingly different from nature. The parts up top were completely rough and masculine and those near the thighs were feminine and softer.

Awestruck by this, her relatives forced the child to the agora and held an assembly to take advice about this, calling together the omen readers and interpreters. Some were claiming that this meant there would be dissent between Aitolians and Lokrians, since the mother was Lokrian and the father was Aitolian. But others believed that it was necessary to take the child and mother to the frontier and have them burned.

While the people were deliberating, suddenly the dead Polykritos appeared in the assembly dressed in black near his child. Even though the citizens were thunderstruck by this apparition and many of them were rushing to flight, he asked the citizens to be brave and not to be rattled by the sight which appeared. Then a bit of the chaos and the uproar receded, and he said these things in a slight voice:

“My fellow citizens, although I am dead in my body, I live among you in goodwill and thanks. And now I am present imploring those people who have power of this land to your collective benefit. I advise you who are citizens not to be troubled or angry at the impossible miracle which has happened. And I ask all of you, vouching for the safety of each, is to give  me the child who was born from me so that no violence may come from those who make some different kind of plans and that there may be no beginning of malicious and hard affairs because of a conflict on my part.

It would not be possible for me to overlook the burning of my child thanks to the shock of these interpreters who are advising you. I do have some pity, because you are at a loss when you see this kind of unexpected sight as to how you might respond to it correctly for current events. If you assent to me without fear, you will be relieved of the present anxieties and of the evils to come. But if you fall prey to another opinion, then I have fear for you that you will come into some incurable sufferings because you did not trust me.

Therefore, because of the goodwill I experienced while I was alive and the unexpectedness of the current situation, I am predicting the suffering to you. I think it is right that you do not delay any longer but that, once you deliberate correcly and obey the things I have said, you should hand over the child to me with a blessing. It is not fitting for me to waste any more time because of the men who rule this land.”

After he said these things, he kept quiet for a bit as he awaited what kind of decision there would be once they deliberated about it. Some were thinking it was right to give him the child and consider the sight sacred and the influence of a deity; but most of them denied this, claiming that it was necessary to deliberate in a calmer atmopshere when they were not at so great a loss, because the affair was a big deal.

When he saw that they were not moving in his favor but were actually impeding the decision there, he spoke these things in turn: “Fellow Citizens. If something more terrible happens to you because of a lack of decision, do not blame me, but this fate which directs you to something worse—it sets you in opposition to me and compels me to transgress against my child.”

There was a great mist and a portent of strife as he reached for the child and and grabbed most of it up boldly before butchering and eating the child.

  ῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ καὶ ῾Ιέρων ὁ ᾿Αλεξανδρεὺς ἢ ᾿Εφέσιος καὶ ἐν Αἰτωλίᾳ φάσμα γενέσθαι.  Πολύκριτος γάρ τις τῶν πολιτῶν ἐχειροτονήθη ὑπὸ τοῦ δήμου Αἰτωλάρχης, ἐπὶ τρία ἔτη τῶν πολιτῶν αὐτὸν ἀξιωσάντων διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν ἐκ προγόνων καλοκαγαθίαν. ὢν δὲ ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ ταύτῃ ἄγεται γυναῖκα Λοκρίδα, καὶ συγκοιμηθεὶς τρισὶν νυξὶ τῇ τετάρτῃ τὸν βίον ἐξέλιπεν.

 ἡ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἔμενεν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ χηρεύουσα, ἡνίκα δὲ ὁ τοκετὸς ἤπειγεν, τίκτει παιδίον αἰδοῖα ἔχον δύο, ἀνδρεῖόν τε καὶ γυναικεῖον, καὶ τὴν φύσιν θαυμαστῶς διηλλαγ-μένον· τὰ μὲν ἄνω τοῦ αἰδοίου ὅλως σκληρά τε καὶ ἀνδρώδη ἦν, τὰ δὲ περὶ τοὺς μηροὺς γυναικεῖα καὶ ἁπαλώτερα. ἐφ’ ᾧ καταπλαγέντες οἱ συγγενεῖς ἀπήνεγκαν εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν τὸ παιδίον καὶ συναγαγόντες ἐκκλησίαν ἐβουλεύοντο περὶ αὐτοῦ, θύτας τε καὶ τερατοσκόπους συγκαλέσαντες. τῶν δὲ οἱ μὲν ἀπεφήναντο διάστασίν τινα τῶν Αἰτωλῶν καὶ Λοκρῶν ἔσεσθαι—κεχωρίσθαι γὰρ ἀπὸ μητρὸς οὔσης Λοκρί-δος καὶ πατρὸς Αἰτωλοῦ—οἱ δὲ δεῖν ᾤοντο τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα ἀπενέγκοντας εἰς τὴν ὑπερορίαν κατακαῦσαι. ταῦτα δὲ αὐτῶν βουλευομένων ἐξαίφνης φαίνεται ὁ Πολύκριτος ὁ προτεθνηκὼς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πλησίον τοῦ τέκνου ἔχων ἐσθῆτα μέλαιναν.

τῶν δὲ πολιτῶν καταπλαγέντων ἐπὶ τῇ  φαντασίᾳ καὶ πολλῶν εἰς φυγὴν τραπομένων παρεκάλεσε τοὺς πολίτας θαρρεῖν καὶ μὴ ταράττεσθαι ἐπὶ τῷ γεγονότι φάσματι. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔληξε τὸ πλέον τοῦ θορύβου καὶ τῆς ταραχῆς, ἐφθέγξατο λεπτῇ τῇ φωνῇ τάδε· «ἐγὼ, ἄνδρες πολῖται, τῷ μὲν σώματι τέθνηκα, τῇ δὲ εὐνοίᾳ καὶ τῇ χάριτι <τῇ> πρὸς ὑμᾶς ζῶ. καὶ νῦν πάρειμι <ὑμῖν> παραιτησάμενος τοὺς κυριεύοντας τῶν κατὰ γῆν ἐπὶ τῷ συμφέροντι τῷ ὑμετέρῳ. παρακαλῶ τοίνυν ὑμᾶς πολίτας ὄντας ἐμαυτοῦ μὴ ταράττεσθαι μηδὲ δυσχεραί-νειν ἐπὶ τῷ παραδόξῳ γεγονότι φάσματι. δέομαι δὲ ὑμῶν ἁπάντων, κατευχόμενος πρὸς τῆς ἐκάστου σωτηρίας, ἀποδοῦναί μοι τὸ παιδίον τὸ ἐξ ἐμοῦ γεγεννημένον, ὅπως μηδὲν βίαιον γένηται ἄλλο τι βουλευσαμένων ὑμῶν, μηδ’ ἀρχὴ πραγμάτων δυσχερῶν καὶ χαλεπῶν διὰ τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ φιλονεικίαν ὑμῖν γένηται. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι περιιδεῖν κατακαυθὲν τὸ παιδίον ὑφ’ ὑμῶν διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐξαγγελλόντων ὑμῖν μάντεων ἀποπληξίαν. συγγνώμην μὲν οὖν ὑμῖν ἔχω, ὅτι τοιαύτην ὄψιν ἀπροσδόκητον ἑωρακότες ἀπορεῖτε πῶς ποτε τοῖς παροῦσι πράγμασιν ὀρθῶς χρήσεσθε. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐμοὶ πεισθήσεσθε ἀδεῶς, τῶν παρόντων φόβων καὶ τῶν ἐπερχομένων κακῶν ἔσεσθε ἀπηλλαγμένοι. εἰ δὲ ἄλλως πως τῇ γνώμῃ προσπεσεῖσθε, φοβοῦμαι περὶ ὑμῶν μήποτε εἰς ἀνηκέστους συμφορὰς ἀπειθοῦντες ἡμῖν ἐμπέσητε. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν διὰ τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὔνοιαν ὅτ’ ἔζων καὶ νῦν ἀπροσδοκήτως παρὼν προείρηκα τὸ συμφέρον ὑμῖν. ταῦτ’ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἀξιῶ μὴ πλείω με χρόνον παρέλκειν, ἀλλὰ βουλευσαμένους ὀρθῶς καὶ πεισθέντας τοῖς εἰρημένοις ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ δοῦναί μοι μετ’ εὐφημίας τὸ παιδίον. οὐ γὰρ ἐνδέχεταί μοι πλείονα μηκύνειν χρόνον διὰ τοὺς κατὰγῆν ὑπάρχοντας δεσπότας.»

 ταῦτα δὲ εἰπὼν ἡσυχίαν  ἔσχεν ἐπ’ ὀλίγον, καραδοκῶν ποίαν ποτὲ ἐξοίσουσιν αὐτῷ γνώμην περὶ τῶν ἀξιουμένων. τινὲς μὲν οὗν ᾤοντο δεῖν ἀποδοῦναι τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἀφοσιώσασθαι τό τε φάσμα καὶ τὸν ἐπιστάντα δαίμονα, οἱ δὲ πλεῖστοι ἀντέλεγον, μετὰ ἀνέσεως δεῖν βουλεύσασθαι φάσκοντες, ὡς ὄντος μεγάλου τοῦ πράγματος καὶ οὐ τῆς τυχούσης αὐτοῖς ἀπορίας.  συνιδὼν δὲ αὐτοὺς οὐ προσέχοντας, ἀλλ’ ἐμποδίζοντας αὐτοῦ τὴν βούλησιν, ἐφθέγξατο αὖθις τάδε· «ἀλλ’ οὖν γε, ὦ ἄνδρες πολῖται, ἐὰν ὑμῖν συμβαίνῃ τι τῶν δυσχερεστέρων διὰ τὴν ἀβουλίαν, μὴ ἐμὲ αἰτιᾶσθε, ἀλλὰ τὴν τύχην τὴν οὕτως ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ὑμᾶς ποδηγοῦσαν, ἥτις ἐναντιουμένη κἀμοὶ παρανομεῖν ἀναγκάζει με εἰς τὸ ἴδιον τέκνον.»

τοῦ δὲ ὄχλου συνδραμόντος καὶ ἔριν περὶ [τὴν ἄρσιν] τοῦ τέρατος ἔχοντος, ἐπιλαβόμενος τοῦ παιδίου καὶ τοὺς πλείστους αὐτῶν ἀνείρξας ἰταμώτερον διέσπασέ τε αὐτὸ καὶ ἤσθιε.

Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)
Hermaphrodite (Ulisse Aldrovandi, Monstrorum Historia)