Procopius’ Secret History

Skimming through the Wall Street Journal at school the other day, an article about the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine caught my eye.  It did not talk about military progress or strategic victories, but rather, it raised alarmist concerns about the education system in occupied Ukraine. Russian forces were coercing Ukrainian teachers to teach a new curriculum in Russian that laundered the reputation of Russia and its leading figures. In other words, revisionist history.

After the immediate feeling of shock subsided, I remembered that revising history has been the tried-and-true method to building an empire.[1]

Throughout history, there are several examples of exalted historians manipulating the tales they are telling in service of an empire. One such case would be the famed Byzantine historian Procopius (d. 565 ce). Procopius chronicled the reign of Justinian I (d. 565 ce) and his wife Theodora (d. 548 ce).  His official histories of Justinian I’s rule have been extolled for millennia as the peak of historical recording since the Roman Empire.[2]

Several centuries later, a dusty tome was found hidden behind a fake wall in the Vatican Library. Procopius’ Anecdota, informally referred to as the Secret Histories, tells a tale not of the good emperor that he extols in his official histories, but rather of a demon disguised as a man, seeking the total destruction of his empire: “That Justinian was not a man, but a demon, as I have said, in human form, one might prove by considering the enormity of the evils he brought upon mankind.”[3]

In contrast to the vitriolic tone of Procopius’ Anecdota, the official histories are more formally penned and glorify Justinian I.[4] For example, at the conclusion of Procopius’s historical text Buildings he ends with connecting the emperor to a demi-god; “They swell with pride and smile upon the Emperor, offering him honours as though to a demi-god, after his magnificent achievements.”[5] During the time of the official histories’ writing, the Byzantine Empire was waging several wars on the periphery of their borders. Two of these wars were the subjects for Procopius’ histories, aptly titled Histories of the Wars. In them, Procopius talks at length about the campaigns underway in continental Italy and the posturing happening at the Persian border. The important conflict for us to look at is the war between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines in Sicily and southern Italy. This campaign was meant to be Justinian’s crowning achievement, reuniting the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire. In this campaign, the famed Byzantine general Belisarius was constantly winning battle after battle for Justinian, and making tremendous gains in terms of territory in Italy. As such, the Histories of the Wars rightly lauds both Belisarius for his military prowess and Justinian for his statesmanship.

The official histories are just that, official histories. As Procopious’ later works evinced, Justinian was not only losing his military campaigns but was also unfit to rule. “As for seizing property and murdering men, he never got his fill of them, but after plundering numerous homes of affluent men he kept seeking new ones, straightway pouring out the proceeds of his earlier robbery in making presents to sundry barbarians or in erecting senseless buildings.”[6]

“Official histories” like Procopius’ serve to launder the reputation of whatever empire that employs them. They have been endorsed by the state and are propped up as the government-approved history of the empire. This is quite similar to what Russia is trying to do in Ukraine, albeit not in the same manner. Instead of trying to moderate the histories that get written into a book, Russia is trying to instead manipulate the history that will be taught in schools. Russia is not the only country who has attempted to massage the details of their history. An example of this in very recent U.S. history would be the 1776 project begun by former President Donald Trump. The 1776 project was aimed to provide American children with a “patriotic education,” ostensibly defending the link between America’s founding and the legacy of slavery, while also likening modern-day progressivism to fascism.[7]

It is interesting to note that official histories are often written when things go wrong. Empires tend to fixate on knowledge production and legacy the most when the seams are unraveling beneath them. The change in curriculum comes at a time when Putin is losing his grip in Ukraine; he is trying to force Russian identity into Ukraine, in an effort to try and justify its continued presence in Ukraine. This is an echo of what occurred in the Byzantine Empire under Justinian’s reign. Justinian urged Procopius to write about all the battles he was winning in Italy when, in reality, his armies were being annihilated in the fields and his captured territories being reconquered.

Procopius’ writings help to better understand the present in the sense that they offer a word of warning about the ways in which empires will go about revising history. The state-sponsored history in Russian-occupied Ukraine, the official histories written by Procopius, and the 1776 project in the United States (among many other examples) are echoes of one another, with each shedding light on the ways in which nations alter their history to better suit their needs.

 

[1] “A piece of Propaganda” The eighth campaign of Sargon II. A historiographical approach. https://hist1039-16.omeka.fas.harvard.edu/exhibits/show/the-eighth-campaign-of-sargon-/the-eighth-campaign-of-sargon- Last modified 2016.

[2] J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian (Dover: Dover Publications, 2011).

[3] Procopius, The Secret History of Procopius, trans. by Richard Atwater (New York: Kessinger Publishing, [1927] 2003), 178.

[4] Philip Rousseau, “Procopius’s ‘Buildings’ and Justinian’s Pride,” Byzantion 68, no. 1 (1998): 121-30

[5] Procopius, Of the Buildings of Justinian,” trans. by Aubrey Stewart (Adegi Graphics 1999).

[6]  Procopius, The Secret History, 118

[7] Michael Crowley and Jennifer Schuessler, “Trump’s 1776 Commission Critiques Liberalism in a Report Denied by Historians,” The New York Times, Jan 18, 2021.

 

 Hunter MacArthur is a junior at St. Sebastian’s in Needham. He can be reached at huntermac999@gmail.com

I am in love with a third declension noun

OMNIA VINCIT AMOR / ΕΡΩΣ ΠΑΝΔΑΜΑΤΩΡ

Child: Mom and Dad, I’m in love!

Father: That’s great, dear. We’re so happy for you. Tell us all about it.

Child: I’ve never felt this way about another person. I’m giddy with joy at the idea that we can be together forever!

Mother: Who is it? Do we know the family?

Child: I can’t wait for you to meet. I know you’ll love each other so much.

Father: Go ahead; describe your new love.

Child: I hope you will approve. Will you?

Mother: What do you mean? Of course we will approve.

Child: I mean… Well… I’ll just say it: It’s… a third declension.

Father: What?! I can’t believe it… our child falling in love with one of them?

Mother: Calm yourself, dear. I’m sure we can get our child to see reason.

Child: Reason? I’m in love!

Father: But see here, you know this is a shock to your mother and me. You must understand… Her family has been first declension for generations, and my own family has been second declension longer than anybody can remember.

Child: But we’re all NOUNS, right? Can’t we accept one another, no matter what declension we are?

Mother: Of course we’re all nouns, dear, but…

Child: And don’t we all have gender, number, and case?

Father: Yes, that all goes without saying, but the third declensions… Well…

They’re a DIFFERENT KIND of noun.

Child: But aren’t first and second declensions also different from one another in some ways?

Mother: Yes, of course we’re different in small ways, but we are compatible. It’s just… Well, you know what they say about third declensions… They’re… Well, they’re irregular.

Child: Are you prejudiced against the stem change? Is that it? Just because they have stems and endings a little bit different than yours doesn’t make them monsters.

Father: Yes, but a group that has all three genders is a bit tough for us traditionalists to handle.

Child: Don’t be hypocritical; what about some of my second declension uncles and aunts on your side who are masculine or feminine, depending on the context?

Father: Please, I told you not to mention them in polite company. Let’s not discuss that.

Child: And what about some of my first declension cousins who have what look like masculine endings, but are feminine? I won’t mention any names, but you know who they are. And now that I think about it, what about some of my cousins who are masculine first declensions (that’s your side Mom), who have what look like feminine plural endings? Do you call them irregular? Do you love them any less because of that little quirk?

Mother: Of course we love them, dear. They’re our family, bless their hearts. We accept them… But third declensions… I just don’t know. And what would our friends say?

Father: Now see here; we have known some third declensions, but never socialized with them, let alone become intimate with them. I just can’t imagine having them permanently in our lives. Would we invite them to the beach house? Imagine a bunch of them lying out there sunbathing – and

FULLY DECLINED – I don’t know if I could bear the sight. Sorry, I know that my saying this hurts you, but I’m only being honest.

Child: Well I love my third declension, and we’re going to marry and raise a family and be happy together for the rest of our lives, whether you like it or not.

Mother: You would have children with a third declension?

Child: I love my third declension, Momma! Don’t you remember what first love is like? Don’t you remember the thrill of first exploring all the cases of your beloved, both singular and plural? Remember when you first saw Daddy’s dative plural?

Mother: [sighs] You’re right. That gave me the shivers, in a wonderfully happy way. Yes, new love is a beautiful thing. And really, we all ARE nouns, aren’t we? And we should not let something like this break up our family.

Father: Yes, dear; you’re right, too. [sighs] I remember the thrill when your vocative first crossed my lips. What love! Our child is right; we must love everyone in our family, regardless of the status of their stems or endings. Love is love. Besides, our older children have already married within their own declensions, so I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the youngest brings in someone different. Dear child, I’m sure we will learn to love your spouse. You have our blessings.

And they all lived happily ever after.

THE END.

Nude winged man playing aulos on a dolphin. Red figure
Red-figure Lekythos: Eros Riding a Dolphin and Playing the Double Flutes (Auloi)

Daniel B. Levine (BA Minnesota 1975; PhD Cincinnati 1980) is University Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Arkansas, where he has taught Classical Studies, Humanities, Greek, and Latin since 1980. His publications include essays on Greek comedy, tragedy, and epic poetry, and modern literary receptions of ancient Greek and Roman literature, including works by Rita Mae Brown, V. T. Hamlin, and Michael Chabon. He has received teaching and service awards from the Society for Classical Studies, the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, and the University of Arkansas. He has directed 19 study abroad programs.

Sententiae AI-ntiquae: Chat[GPT]ing Up the Classics

An image generated by DALL•E of an ancient mosaic of comic masks. There are three masks. The left and right are partially cut off. The background is red. The masks have pale skin, wide-open mouths, big noses, and piercing eyes.Twitter and the tech world have been abuzz recently about ChatGPT, an artificial-intelligence conversation bot that will respond to your questions and prompts, often with surprisingly cogent language. It’s made by the same outfit that created DALL•E, the image-generation AI — look to your right for an example of DALL•E’s handiwork.

I took it for a spin through some of Classics’ greatest hits, and then got weird with it.  Below are the best results, starting with a normcore but, again, surprisingly cogent bit of prep for comprehensive exams, and then progressing into glimpses of what the AI thinks about ancient Greek and Roman history, literature, and philosophy.  The text in bold is what I fed to ChatGPT as prompts, and everything else are its responses, unedited.


Three prompts for essays about Greek comedy

    1. “The role of satire in Ancient Greek comedy: How did playwrights use humor and mockery to critique society and political figures?”
    2. “The evolution of Greek comedy: How did the genre change and develop over time, and what were the key influences and innovations?”
    3. “Comparing and contrasting the works of Aristophanes and Menander: How did these two playwrights approach comedy, and what were the similarities and differences in their styles and themes?”

A Homeric Hymn to Beyoncé

Hear me, O goddess Beyoncé,
Daughter of the goddess Tina,
Born to greatness in the city of Houston,
Goddess of music and dance,
Your beauty is like the stars above,
Your voice a symphony of sweet sounds,
Your performance a sight to behold,
A vision of grace and poise,
You are the queen of all you survey,
A shining light in the music world,
Your talents and gifts known far and wide,
A source of inspiration and joy,
From your humble beginnings in Destiny’s Child,
To your rise as a solo artist,
You have conquered stages and hearts,
A true diva, the likes of which the world has never seen,
So sing a hymn to Beyoncé,
A goddess among mortals,
A shining star in the firmament,
A source of beauty, power, and majesty,
Hear us, O goddess Beyoncé,
And grant us a glimpse of your divine radiance,
A reminder of the greatness that lies within us all.

Cicero, Caesar, and Catullus go to a pizzeria. Who picks the toppings on their pizza, and what are the toppings?

with credit to my buddy from grad school, Derek Keyser, who liked asking versions of this question of visiting prospectives

It is difficult to say for certain who would pick the toppings on the pizza, as there is not enough information about the personalities and preferences of Cicero, Caesar, and Catullus. However, it is possible to speculate based on what we know about these historical figures.

Cicero was a Roman statesman and philosopher who was known for his eloquence and rhetorical skills. He was also a famous gourmet, and was known to enjoy good food and drink. Given his love of good food, it is likely that Cicero would have a strong opinion on the toppings for the pizza, and would likely choose something exotic and flavorful.

Caesar was a Roman general and statesman who was known for his military prowess and political ambition. He was also a well-known lover of luxury, and was known to indulge in rich food and drink. Given his taste for luxury, it is likely that Caesar would choose toppings that are expensive and high-quality, such as truffles or caviar.

Catullus was a Roman poet who was known for his passionate and emotional poetry. He was also known to enjoy good food and drink, and was known to be a bit of a hedonist. Given his love of pleasure, it is likely that Catullus would choose toppings that are rich and indulgent, such as cheese, bacon, and mushrooms.

Overall, it is difficult to say exactly what toppings Cicero, Caesar, and Catullus would choose for their pizza, as this would depend on their individual preferences and personalities. However, based on what we know about these historical figures, it is likely that their choices would reflect their love of good food and their enjoyment of luxury.


Who would have been a better drag queen, Plato or Aristotle?

It is difficult to say definitively who would have been a better drag queen between Plato and Aristotle. Both men were renowned philosophers and thinkers, and it is possible that they would have brought different strengths and talents to the world of drag. Plato was known for his emphasis on imagination and creativity, which could have made him a strong performer with a unique and imaginative style. Aristotle, on the other hand, was known for his logical and analytical mind, which could have made him a skilled and disciplined drag queen with a well-planned and polished performance. Ultimately, it is up to personal preference as to which of these philosophers would have been the better drag queen.

A dialogue in which Socrates asks Gorgias increasingly irritating questions about Seinfeld

Socrates: Greetings, Gorgias. I hear that you are a fan of the TV show Seinfeld.
Gorgias: Yes, Socrates, I am a fan of Seinfeld. It is a classic show that is still enjoyed by many people today.
Socrates: Tell me, Gorgias, what do you believe is the purpose of Seinfeld?
Gorgias: The purpose of Seinfeld, Socrates, is to entertain and to make people laugh. It is a comedy show that follows the everyday lives of a group of friends in New York City.
Socrates: I see. And do you believe that Seinfeld achieves this purpose?
Gorgias: Yes, I do believe that Seinfeld achieves its purpose. It is a funny and entertaining show that has been enjoyed by millions of people.
Socrates: But do you not find the characters in Seinfeld to be shallow and self-centered? Do they not constantly engage in petty squabbles and arguments?
Gorgias: Well, Socrates, I suppose that some of the characters in Seinfeld could be seen as shallow and self-centered. However, I still find the show to be funny and entertaining.
Socrates: And do you not find the humor in Seinfeld to be crass and tasteless at times? Do the characters not frequently engage in crude and vulgar behavior?
Gorgias: Yes, Socrates, I do believe that the humor in Seinfeld can be crass and tasteless at times. However, I still enjoy the show and find it to be funny.
Socrates: But do you not think that the constant emphasis on material possessions and shallow relationships in Seinfeld is harmful and unedifying? Do you not believe that it reinforces negative values and behaviors?
Gorgias: Well, Socrates, I can see how some people might view Seinfeld in that way. However, I still enjoy the show and find it to be entertaining.
Socrates: I see. It seems that you are willing to overlook the many flaws and negative aspects of Seinfeld in order to enjoy its shallow and vulgar humor. Perhaps you should reconsider your admiration for this show, Gorgias.

A story in the style of Herodotus about Solon’s experiences with speed-dating

Solon, the wise and noble Athenian lawgiver, was known for his wisdom and fair-mindedness. But even he had not yet encountered the strange and wondrous ritual known as speed-dating.

One day, a group of his friends convinced him to give it a try. He reluctantly agreed, and soon found himself seated at a small table with a group of other singletons. A bell rang, and the first potential partner approached him.

“Hello, I’m Daphne,” she said with a smile. “What do you do for a living?”

Solon was taken aback. “I am a lawgiver,” he replied, unsure of how to proceed.

“Oh, that’s interesting,” Daphne replied, before quickly moving on to the next person.

The bell rang again, and another potential partner approached Solon. This time it was a young man named Hector.

“Hi, I’m Hector,” he said, shaking Solon’s hand. “What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”

Solon was stumped. He had never been asked such a question before. “I enjoy contemplating the nature of justice and the laws that govern society,” he replied, trying to make conversation.

Hector looked confused, but before he could respond, the bell rang again, signaling the end of their time together. Solon watched as Hector moved on to the next person, feeling a sense of relief.

The rest of the speed-dating session passed in a blur of introductions and small talk, with Solon feeling increasingly out of his depth. By the end, he was grateful to return to his familiar world of philosophical contemplation and lawmaking.

As he left the speed-dating event, Solon shook his head in amazement. He had never before encountered such a strange and frenzied way of meeting potential partners. It was not for him, but he could not deny the ingenuity of those who had devised it.

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad is Associate Professor of Classics at Wake Forest University. He is author of Laughing Atoms, Laughing Matter: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Satire, Plautus: Curculio, and two more books under contract, and was recently co-organizer of Feminism & Classics 2022. Send him stories (but not pictures)  at thmgg@wfu.edu.

Ignoring the Cause, Assailing the Symptoms

Euripides, Andromache 26-31

“Before, even though I was buried in sorrows
Hope always led me to this child who, if saved
Might provide some kind of defense or aid.

But once my husband married that Spartan Hermione
He has spurned my slave’s bed and I
Have been battered down by her evil tortures.”

καὶ πρὶν μὲν ἐν κακοῖσι κειμένην ὅμως
ἐλπίς μ᾿ ἀεὶ προσῆγε σωθέντος τέκνου
ἀλκήν τιν᾿ εὑρεῖν κἀπικούρησιν κακῶν·
ἐπεὶ δὲ τὴν Λάκαιναν Ἑρμιόνην γαμεῖ
τοὐμὸν παρώσας δεσπότης δοῦλον λέχος,
κακοῖς πρὸς αὐτῆς σχετλίοις ἐλαύνομαι.

387-393

“You do huge things for minor reasons—
Listen to me! Why are you hurting me? What’s the reason
What city did I betray? Which child of yours did I kill?
What home did I burn down? I was forced to bed
With my master. You’ll kill me and not him
When he is the cause of these things? You’ll ignore
The cause and just keep pounding on the symptom?”

ὦ μεγάλα πράσσων αἰτίας σμικρᾶς πέρι,
πιθοῦ· τί καίνεις μ᾿; ἀντὶ τοῦ; ποίαν πόλιν
προύδωκα; τίνα σῶν ἔκτανον παίδων ἐγώ;
ποῖον δ᾿ ἔπρησα δῶμ᾿; ἐκοιμήθην βίᾳ
σὺν δεσπόταισι· κᾆτ᾿ ἔμ᾿, οὐ κεῖνον κτενεῖς,
τὸν αἴτιον τῶνδ᾿, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἀφεὶς
πρὸς τὴν τελευτὴν ὑστέραν οὖσαν φέρῃ;

Colin Morison (1732-1810) – Andromache Offering Sacrifice to Hector’s Shade

413-420

“Child, I who bore you go to Hades now
So you may not die. If you outrun this fate,
Remember your mother, all I suffered and how I died.
Go to your father and through kisses
Tell him what I died while shedding tears
And throwing your arms around him.
Children are the soul of all humankind—
Whoever has no children mocks them and
While they may feel less pain, feel sadder happiness too”

ὦ τέκνον, ἡ τεκοῦσά σ᾿, ὡς σὺ μὴ θάνῃς,
στείχω πρὸς Ἅιδην· ἢν δ᾿ ὑπεκδράμῃς μόρον,
μέμνησο μητρός, οἷα τλᾶσ᾿ ἀπωλόμην,
καὶ πατρὶ τῷ σῷ διὰ φιλημάτων ἰὼν
δάκρυά τε λείβων καὶ περιπτύσσων χέρας
λέγ᾿ οἷ᾿ ἔπραξα. πᾶσι δ᾿ ἀνθρώποις ἄρ᾿ ἦν
ψυχὴ τέκν᾿· ὅστις δ᾿ αὔτ᾿ ἄπειρος ὢν ψέγει,
ἧσσον μὲν ἀλγεῖ, δυστυχῶν δ᾿ εὐδαιμονεῖ.

Check out Tamieka Chavis’ fabulous reading as Andromache

 

Flammable Bones and Renewable Eyes: Some Amazing Animal Facts

Paradoxographus Vaticanus, 4-8

4 “Aristotle says in his work On Animals that all land animals have respiration—as many as have lungs—except for the wasp and bee which do not breathe. However many animals have a bladder also have bowels. But not all animals who have bowels also have a bladder.”

᾿Αριστοτέλης φησὶν ἐν τοῖς περὶ ζῴων τὰ χερσαῖα πάντα ἀναπνεῖν, ὅσα πνεύμονας ἔχει, σφῆκαν δὲ καὶ μέλισσαν οὐκ ἀναπνεῖν. ὅσα τε κύστιν ἔχει, πάντα καὶ κοιλίαν· οὐχ ὅσα δὲ κοιλίαν καὶ κύστιν.

5 “Many of the animals are bloodless, and and, in general they are animals who have more than four feet.”

῎Αναιμα πολλὰ τῶν ζῴων, καθόλου δὲ ὅσα πλείους πόδας ἔχουσι τῶν τεσσάρων.

6 “Fish do not have a throat[?]. For this reason, if a smaller fish is pursued by a bigger one, it pushes the stomach under the mouth [?]”

Οἱ ἰχθύες οὐκ ἔχουσι στόμαχον· διό, ἐὰν διώκηται ὁ ἐλάττων ὑπὸ μείζονος, ἄγει τὴν κοιλίαν ὑπὸ τὸ στόμα.

7 “Snakes have thirty ribs, and their eyes, if anyone strikes them, grow back again. The swallow’s qualities are similar.”

Οἱ ὄφεις πλευρὰς ἔχουσι τριάκοντα. καὶ τὰ ὄμματα αὐτῶν, ἐάν τις ἐκκεντήσῃ, πάλιν γίνονται, καθὰ καὶ τὰ τῶν χελιδόνων.

8 “The bones of a lion are so stiff that when they are struck often they burst into fire.”

Τοῦ λέοντος τὰ ὀστᾶ οὕτως εἰσὶ στερεά, ὥστε πολλάκις κοπτόμενα πῦρ ἐκλάμπειν.

Image result for medieval manuscript lion fire
British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 6r. Lion

Expect the Unexpected! Returning to Euripides’ “Ion” Online

Euripides, Ion 1510-1511

“May no one ever believe that anything is unexpected,
thanks to the events that are happening now.”

μηδεὶς δοκείτω μηδὲν ἀνθρώπων ποτὲ
ἄελπτον εἶναι πρὸς τὰ τυγχάνοντα νῦν.

Euripides, Ion 1311

“We will give pain to those who pained us”

λυπήσομέν τιν᾿ ὧν λελυπήμεσθ᾿ ὕπο

Our previous performance from June 17, 2020

This week, we return to Euripides’ Ion, a play which centers around Apollo’s rape of Creusa, her exposure of the child, and the events which bring about the reunion of mother and child outside the Delphic oracle. In and amidst this plot, we witness reflections on divine caprice, a woman’s sufferings, anxiety about foreign nobles and indigenous power, and deep interest in ritual places and the foundation myths of Athens. And, of course, we have politics and power: this play was performed during the Peloponnesian War, after Athens had suffered a terrible setback during the Sicilian Expedition.

 

Euripides, Ion 129-135

“Apollo, my work for you
Is noble as I honor the seat of your prophecy,
Toiling in front of your home.
Oh, to work as a slave for the gods
Not mortals!
I never get tired pushing through
Labor of such good name.”

Φοῖβε, σοὶ πρὸ δόμων λατρεύω,
τιμῶν μαντεῖον ἕδραν·
κλεινὸς δ᾿ ὁ πόνος μοι
θεοῖσιν δούλαν χέρ᾿ ἔχειν
οὐ θνατοῖς ἀλλ᾿ ἀθανάτοις·
εὐφάμους δὲ πόνους
μοχθεῖν οὐκ ἀποκάμνω.

Scenes (Using this script)

236-391 Ion, Creusa, Chorus
429-451 Ion
517-607 Ion, Xuthus, Chorus
1122-1228 Servant
1261-1444 Ion, Creusa, Chorus, Priestess

Euripides, Ion 247-254

“Stranger, your way is not uncultured,
That you come into wonder at my tears.
Now that I look upon this home of Apollo’s
I have recalled some ancient memory.
While I was here, my mind remained someplace else.
Miserable women. Miserable deeds by the gods!
What do I do? To what court of appeal can I turn
When I’m ruined by the injustice of those who rule us?”

ὦ ξένε, τὸ μὲν σὸν οὐκ ἀπαιδεύτως ἔχει
ἐς θαύματ᾿ ἐλθεῖν δακρύων ἐμῶν πέρι·
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἰδοῦσα τούσδ᾿ Ἀπόλλωνος δόμους
μνήμην παλαιὰν ἀνεμετρησάμην τινά·
ἐκεῖσε τὸν νοῦν ἔσχον ἐνθάδ᾿ οὖσά περ.
ὦ τλήμονες γυναῖκες· ὦ τολμήματα
θεῶν. τί δῆτα; ποῖ δίκην ἀνοίσομεν,
εἰ τῶν κρατούντων ἀδικίαις ὀλούμεθα;

Actors

Hannah Barrie

Paul O’Mahony

Special Guests:  Nancy Felson

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support:  Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

Euripides, Ion 1300

“You were trying to kill me because of fear of the future?”

κἄπειτα τοῦ μέλλειν μ᾿ ἀπέκτεινες φόβῳ;

Euripides, Ion 585-594

“Matters don’t have the same appearance
When seen from up close or from a distance.
I welcome this change of events,
Discovering you as my father. But hear me out.
They claim that some of the famous Athenians
Are native born to the soil itself, not immigrants.
I would suffer from two diseases among them,
As the bastard song of a foreign father
Because of this very insult, I would remain weak,
I would be the nothing son of nobodies.”

οὐ ταὐτὸν εἶδος φαίνεται τῶν πραγμάτων
πρόσωθεν ὄντων ἐγγύθεν θ᾿ ὁρωμένων.
ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν μὲν συμφορὰν ἀσπάζομαι,
πατέρα σ᾿ ἀνευρών· ὧν δὲ γιγνώσκω †πέρι†
ἄκουσον. εἶναί φασι τὰς αὐτόχθονας
κλεινὰς Ἀθήνας οὐκ ἐπείσακτον γένος,
ἵν᾿ ἐσπεσοῦμαι δύο νόσω κεκτημένος,
πατρός τ᾿ ἐπακτοῦ καὐτὸς ὢν νοθαγενής.
καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἔχων τοὔνειδος, ἀσθενὴς μένων
<αὐτὸς τὸ> μηδὲν κοὐδένων κεκλήσομαι.

Euripides, Ion 1522-1527

“Look, mom, could it be that you slipped in that sickness
Which often afflicts maidens into hidden affairs
And then laid the blame on the good?
Did you try to flee my disgrace by saying
That you conceived me with Apollo when it really wasn’t a god?”

ὅρα σύ, μῆτερ, μὴ σφαλεῖσ᾿ ἃ παρθένοις
ἐγγίγνεται νοσήματ᾿ ἐς κρυπτοὺς γάμους
ἔπειτα τῷ θεῷ προστίθης τὴν αἰτίαν,
καὶ τοὐμὸν αἰσχρὸν ἀποφυγεῖν πειρωμένη
Φοίβῳ τεκεῖν με φῄς, τεκοῦσ᾿ οὐκ ἐκ θεοῦ.

Some Help for the Dead: Reading Sophocles’ “Antigone” Online

Sophocles, Antigone 559-60

“My soul died long ago
so I could give  help to the dead.”

ἡ δ᾽ ἐμὴ ψυχὴ πάλαι τέθνηκεν,
ὥστε τοῖς θανοῦσιν ὠφελεῖν.

Wednesday, April 19th, 2022 3:00 EDT

Our first performance of Antigone from 2020

Sophocles, Antigone 332-341

“There are many wonders and none
is more awe-inspiring 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….”

?Ο. 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.

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with discussion and interpretation during our time of isolation and social distancing. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

In our third season of the series, we are returning to plays we have performed before from different angles. We started a few weeks ago with a live, in-person performance at Harvard.

Sophocles, Antigone 737

“The state which belongs to one man is no state at all.”

πόλις γὰρ οὐκ ἔσθ᾽ ἥτις ἀνδρός ἐσθ᾽ ἑνός.

This week we return to Sophocles’ Antigone, arguably one of the most famous plays from antiquity. Alongside Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos and Euripides’ Bacchae, Antigone is one of the most re-interpreted and translated plays in the last generation. Our performance will be bilingual in Modern Greek and English.

Sophocles, Antigone 1056

“The race of tyrants loves shameful profit.”

τὸ δ᾽ ἐκ τυράννων αἰσχροκέρδειαν φιλεῖ.

Translations

Sophocles, Antigone 141-145

“The seven leaders appointed to their seven gates
dedicated their bronze arms
to Zeus who turns the battle
except for only those two born
of a singer mother and father
who faced each other’s spears
each with a share of victory and death.”

ἑπτὰ λοχαγοὶ γὰρ ἐφ᾽ ἑπτὰ πύλαις
ταχθέντες ἴσοι πρὸς ἴσους ἔλιπον
Ζηνὶ τροπαίῳ πάγχαλκα τέλη,
πλὴν τοῖν στυγεροῖν, ὣ πατρὸς ἑνὸς
μητρός τε μιᾶς φύντε καθ᾽ αὑτοῖν
δικρατεῖς λόγχας στήσαντ᾽ ἔχετον
κοινοῦ θανάτου μέρος ἄμφω.

Performers

Nikos Hatzopoulos – Kreon
Dimitra Vlagopoulou – Antigone
Asimina Anastasopoulou – Ismine, Chorus
Argyris Xafis – Aimon, Messenger(guard), Chorus

Sophocles, Antigone 495-496

“I hate it when someone is caught in the midst of their evil deeds and tries to gloss over them.”

μισῶ γε μέντοι χὤταν ἐν κακοῖσί τις / ἁλοὺς ἔπειτα τοῦτο καλλύνειν θέλῃ.

Sophocles, Antigone 506-507

“But tyranny is a happy state in many ways, and the tyrant has the power to act and speak as they wish.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἡ τυραννὶς πολλά τ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ εὐδαιμονεῖ/  κἄξεστιν αὐτῇ δρᾶν λέγειν θ᾽ ἃ βούλεται.

Special Guests, Paul Woodruff and James Collins

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Executive Producer: Allie Marbry(Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Sophocles, Antigone 72–77

“It is noble for me to do this and then die.
I will lie with him because I belong to him, with him,
Once I have completed my sacred crimes. There’s more time
When I must please those below than those here,
Since I will lie there forever. You? Go head,
Dishonor what the gods honor if it seems right.”

… καλόν μοι τοῦτο ποιούσῃ θανεῖν.
φίλη μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ κείσομαι, φίλου μέτα,
ὅσια πανουργήσασ᾿· ἐπεὶ πλείων χρόνος
ὃν δεῖ μ᾿ ἀρέσκειν τοῖς κάτω τῶν ἐνθάδε·
ἐκεῖ γὰρ αἰεὶ κείσομαι. σὺ δ᾿ εἰ δοκεῖ
τὰ τῶν θεῶν ἔντιμ᾿ ἀτιμάσασ᾿ ἔχε.

Sophocles, Antigone 280–288

“Stop speaking before you fill me with rage!
And you’re revealed as a fool as well as an old man.

You speak of unendurable things, claiming that the gods
Have some plan for this corpse.
Did they do it to honor him so greatly for his fine work,
Concealing him, the man who came here
To burn their temples and their statutes,
To ruin their land and their laws?
Do you see the gods honoring evil people?”

παῦσαι, πρὶν ὀργῆς καί με μεστῶσαι λέγων,
μὴ ᾿φευρεθῇς ἄνους τε καὶ γέρων ἅμα.
λέγεις γὰρ οὐκ ἀνεκτὰ δαίμονας λέγων
πρόνοιαν ἴσχειν τοῦδε τοῦ νεκροῦ πέρι.
πότερον ὑπερτιμῶντες ὡς εὐεργέτην
ἔκρυπτον αὐτόν, ὅστις ἀμφικίονας
ναοὺς πυρώσων ἦλθε κἀναθήματα
καὶ γῆν ἐκείνων καὶ νόμους διασκεδῶν;
ἢ τοὺς κακοὺς τιμῶντας εἰσορᾷς θεούς;

Memory, Our Guide to the Future

Plutarch, Obsolesence Of Oracles (Moralia 432)

“It is not necessary to feel wonder or disbelieve upon seeing this ability in the mind which is a parallel for prophecy, even if we see nothing else, which we call memory—how great an effort it proves to be to save and preserve the things that have happened before or, really, what is now. For nothing of what has happened exists or persist, but at the very moment everything comes to be it also perishes: deeds, words, emotions, each of them passing away on the stream of time.

But this power of the mind in some way I do not understand apprehends them and endows them with appearance and substance for those who are not here now. The prophecy which was given to the Thessalians was ordering them to consider “the hearing of a deaf man; the sight of the blind.”

And so memory is for us the hearing of affairs we are deaf to and the sight of matters to which we are blind. This is why, as I was saying, it should not be a surprise when it has control over things which no longer are and can anticipate those which have not yet happened. For these matters are much better fit to it and those are similar. Memory approaches and attaches to what will be and it breaks off from what has happened before and reached an end except for the sake of remembering it.”

οὐ δεῖ δὲ θαυμάζειν οὐδ᾿ ἀπιστεῖν ὁρῶντας, εἰ μηδὲν ἄλλο, τῆς ψυχῆς τὴν ἀντίστροφον τῇ μαντικῇ δύναμιν, ἣν μνήμην καλοῦμεν, ἡλίκον ἔργον ἀποδείκνυται τὸ σῴζειν τὰ παρῳχημένα καὶ φυλάττειν, μᾶλλον δὲ ὄντα· τῶν γὰρ γεγονότων οὐδὲν ἔστιν οὐδ᾿ ὑφέστηκεν, ἀλλ᾿ ἅμα γίγνεται πάντα καὶ φθείρεται, καὶ πράξεις καὶ λόγοι καὶ παθήματα, τοῦ χρόνου καθάπερ ῥεύματος ἕκαστα παραφέροντος· αὕτη δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς ἡ δύναμις οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅντινα τρόπον ἀντιλαμβανομένη τοῖς μὴ παροῦσι φαντασίαν καὶ οὐσίαν περιτίθησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ Θετταλοῖς περὶ Ἄρνης δοθεὶς χρησμὸς ἐκέλευε φράζειν: “κωφοῦ τ᾿ ἀκοὴν τυφλοῖό τε δέρξιν,”

ἡ δὲ μνήμη καὶ κωφῶν πραγμάτων ἀκοὴ καὶ τυφλῶν ὄψις ἡμῖν ἐστιν. ὅθεν, ὡς ἔφην, οὐκ ἔστι θαυμαστόν, εἰ κρατοῦσα τῶν μηκέτ᾿ ὄντων προλαμβάνει πολλὰ τῶν μηδέπω γεγονότων· ταῦτα γὰρ αὐτῇ μᾶλλον προσήκει καὶ τούτοις συμπαθής ἐστι· καὶ γὰρ ἐπιβάλλεται καὶ προστίθεται πρὸς τὰ μέλλοντα καὶ τῶν παρῳχημένων καὶ τέλος ἐχόντων ἀπήλλακται πλὴν τοῦ μνημονεύειν.

Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light (2001):

126: Memory’s “greater value”…”might have been its ability to foretell the future”

Mario Mikulincer. Human Learned Helplessness: A Coping Perspective. New York: Plenum Press, 1994.

102: “The hypothesis that the experience with recurrent lack of control generates an expectancy of no control in a new task is based on two assumptions; first, that people tend to anticipate future events congruent with present and/or past events; and second, that they tend to generalize expectancies to new tasks and situations”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

75: “Storytelling, then, is essential to the way we construct our humanity. It’s also vital to our study of the future.”

Mark Turner, The Storytelling Mind 1996, 4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

 

Valenciennes, Bibl. mun., ms. 0007, f. 055 (the prophet Isaiah being sawn in half inside a cedar tree). Bible (second quarter of the 16th century?)
Valenciennes, Bibl. mun., ms. 0007, f. 055 (the prophet Isaiah being sawn in half inside a cedar tree).

Something To Make This Place a Home: Reading Greek Tragedy Online, LIVE

Sophokles, Philoktetes 32

“Is there nothing inside to make this a home?”

οὐδ᾿ ἔνδον οἰκοποιός ἐστί τις τροφή;

Sophocles, Philoktetes 234-235

“Loveliest sound, oh, to grasp the voice
of such a man after so long a time.”

ὦ φίλτατον φώνημα· φεῦ τὸ καὶ λαβεῖν
πρόσφθεγμα τοιοῦδ᾿ ἀνδρὸς ἐν χρόνῳ μακρῷ.

Today Reading Greek Tragedy Online returns to Sophocles’ Philoktetes  at 3 PM EDT Online, and LIVE at Harvard University’s Hilles Cinema, sponsored by the Division of Arts and Sciences and Department of the Classics at Harvard University and the School of Arts and Sciences and Department of Classical Studies at Brandeis University. Tune in Live, return for a recording, or, if you can make it, stop by in person and say, “ἆ ἆ ἆ ἆ.”

Sophocles, Philoktetes 971-2 

“You aren’t bad but by learning from wicked men you became used to pursuing wicked things”

οὐκ εἶ κακὸς σύ, πρὸς κακῶν δ᾽ ἀνδρῶν μαθὼν/ ἔοικας ἥκειν αἰσχρά:

RGTO is produced by a partnership of Out of Chaos Theatre, the Center for Hellenic Studies, and the Kosmos Society. This project started at the onset of COVID19 lockdowns in the US and UK and brings together actors and researches to stage scenes from the ancient stage and talk about how they impact us to this day. We have over 50 episodes posted already and will add a few more by the end of the year. In the first year of the Pandemic, we went through every extant Greek tragedy. As we have moved on, we have tried to broaden our scope, expanding the questions we ask of the past and reaching out to bring more people and perspectives into discussion.

Sophocles, Philoktetes 54-55

“You need to bewitch
Philoktetes’ mind with your words.”

τὴν Φιλοκτήτου σε δεῖ
ψυχὴν ὅπως λόγοισιν ἐκκλέψεις λέγων

This performance marks the first time many of us have met in person and the first time some of us have been together since before the start of the pandemic. As we have written about elsewhere, the process of putting on these readings has helped us to rethink Greek Tragedy. For me, it has forced a re-centering of performance and audience experience in creating a play’s meaning. Viewing and reflecting on tragic action together expands our emotional and cognitive grasp, helping us to see each other and ourselves through the characters on stage. In particular, the practice of listening to other peoples’ interpretations and using them as a sounding board for our own gives the moment of performance and its aftermath power that is often impoverished on a simple page.

Cast and Crew

Eunice Roberts
Damian Jermaine Thompson
René Thornton Jr.
Sara Valentine

Directed by Paul O’Mahony, translated by Ian Johnston.

With host Joel Christensen, and special guests, Naomi Weiss and David Elmer

Amazing People
Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

Sophocles, Philoctetes 86-95 (Neoptolemus to Odysseus)

“For my part, son of Laertes, I hate to carry out those plans which pain me to hear. I was not born to do anything from evil contrivance, nor was the one (as they say) who begot me. But I am always up to the task of taking a man by violence and not trickery. With his one foot, Philoctetes will not overwhelm us, who are so many, in a violent contest. Yet, since I was sent as your helpmate, I would rather not be called a traitor; but my lord, I would rather err while acting nobly than prevail while acting basely.”

ἐγὼ μὲν οὓς ἂν τῶν λόγων ἀλγῶ κλύων,
Λαερτίου παῖ, τούσδε καὶ πράσσειν στυγῶ:
ἔφυν γὰρ οὐδὲν ἐκ τέχνης πράσσειν κακῆς,
οὔτ᾽ αὐτὸς οὔθ᾽, ὥς φασιν, οὑκφύσας ἐμέ.
ἀλλ᾽ εἴμ᾽ ἑτοῖμος πρὸς βίαν τὸν ἄνδρ᾽ ἄγειν
καὶ μὴ δόλοισιν: οὐ γὰρ ἐξ ἑνὸς ποδὸς
ἡμᾶς τοσούσδε πρὸς βίαν χειρώσεται.
πεμφθείς γε μέντοι σοὶ ξυνεργάτης ὀκνῶ
προδότης καλεῖσθαι: βούλομαι δ᾽, ἄναξ, καλῶς
δρῶν ἐξαμαρτεῖν μᾶλλον ἢ νικᾶν κακῶς.

We first visited Philoktetes on the island of Lemnos in 2020 with special guest Norman Sandridge. At the beginning of the pandemic it was impossible not to see Philoktetes’ isolation and dehumanization as a way to think about the impact of COVID19 on our lives.

Sophocles, Philoktetes 446-452

“He would survive, since nothing rotten ever dies,
but the gods take good care of these things
and they love turning the wicked back from hell
even as they are always damning the just and good.
How can we make sense of this, can we praise it
when look close at their work and realize the gods are evil?”

ἔμελλ᾿· ἐπεὶ οὐδέν πω κακόν γ᾿ ἀπώλετο,
ἀλλ᾿ εὖ περιστέλλουσιν αὐτὰ δαίμονες,
καί πως τὰ μὲν πανοῦργα καὶ παλιντριβῆ
χαίρουσ᾿ ἀναστρέφοντες ἐξ Ἅιδου, τὰ δὲ
δίκαια καὶ τὰ χρήστ᾿ ἀποστέλλουσ᾿ ἀεί.
ποῦ χρὴ τίθεσθαι ταῦτα, ποῦ δ᾿ αἰνεῖν, ὅταν
τὰ θεῖ᾿ ἐπαθρῶν τοὺς θεοὺς εὕρω κακούς;

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1. 6-9

“We use ‘self-sufficient’ not to mean a person alone—someone living in isolation—but to include one’s parents, children, spouse, friends, and even fellow citizens, since a human being is a social creature by nature. Now, some limit needs to be observed in these ties—for it will go on endlessly if you extend it to someone’s ancestors and descendants.  But that’s a problem for another time.

We posit that self-sufficiency is something which in itself makes life attractive and lacks nothing and for this reason we think it is happiness, since we imagine that happiness is the most preferable of all things when it is not counted with others. It is clear that it is desirable even with the least of the goods—the addition of goods increases the total, since the greater good is always desirable.”

τὸ δ᾿ αὔταρκες λέγομεν οὐκ αὐτῷ μόνῳ, τῷ ζῶντι βίον μονώτην, ἀλλὰ καὶ γονεῦσι καὶ τέκνοις καὶ γυναικὶ καὶ ὅλως τοῖς φίλοις καὶ πολίταις, ἐπειδὴ φύσει πολιτικὸν ὁ ἄνθρωπος. τούτων δὲ ληπτέος ὅρος τις· ἐπεκτείνοντι γὰρ ἐπὶ τοὺς γονεῖς καὶ τοὺς ἀπογόνους καὶ τῶν φίλων τοὺς φίλους εἰς ἄπειρον πρόεισιν. ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μὲν εἰσαῦθις ἐπισκεπτέον, τὸ δ᾿ αὔταρκες τίθεμεν ὃ μονούμενον αίπετὸν ποιεῖ τὸν βίον καὶ μηδενὸς ἐνδεᾶ· τοιοῦτον δὲ τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν οἰόμεθα εἶναι. ἔτι δὲ πάντων αἱρετωτάτην μὴ συναριθμουμένην—συναριθμουμένην γὰρ δῆλον ὡς αἱρετωτέραν μετὰ τοῦ ἐλαχίστου τῶν ἀγαθῶν, ὑπεροχὴ γὰρ ἀγαθῶν γίνεται τὸ προστιθέμενον, ἀγαθῶν δὲ τὸ μεῖζον αἱρετώτερον

John Donne, Meditation 17

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

A Reminder: Medical and Philosophical Traditions Consider Women Not Fully Human

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

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Ivory Sculpture from the MET