What’s Your Writing Like Without Quotations?

Diogenes Laertius, Chrysippos  7.7.180

“Apollodorus the Athenian in his Summary of Beliefs, because he wants to demonstrate that the works of Epicurus were written with personal force and were prepared with far fewer quotations than the books of Chrysippos, says in this very wording: “if the books of [Chrysippos] were scrubbed of all the superfluous quotations, only empty paper would be left to him.”

So much for Apollodorus.  The old women who used to sit next to [Chrysippos], according to Diocles, used to claim that he wrote 500 lines each day. Hekatôn reports that he turned to philosophy because the property left to him by his father was confiscated to the royal treasury.”

Καὶ Ἀπολλόδωρος δ᾿ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος ἐν τῇ Συναγωγῇ τῶν δογμάτων, βουλόμενος παριστάνειν ὅτι τὰ Ἐπικούρου οἰκείᾳ δυνάμει γεγραμμένα καὶ ἀπαράθετα ὄντα μυρίῳ πλείω ἐστὶ τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων, φησὶν οὕτως αὐτῇ τῇ λέξει· “εἰ γάρ τις ἀφέλοι τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων ὅσ᾿ ἀλλότρια παρατέθειται, κενὸς αὐτῷ ὁ χάρτης καταλελείψεται.” καὶ ταῦτα μὲν Ἀπολλόδωρος. ἡ δὲ παρεδρεύουσα πρεσβῦτις αὐτῷ, ὥς φησι Διοκλῆς, ἔλεγεν ὡς πεντακοσίους γράφοι στίχους ἡμερησίους. Ἑκάτων δέ φησιν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν, τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ τῆς πατρῴας εἰς τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀναληφθείσης.

25909_2[1]

Hedgehog number 2,  British Library, MS Egerton 1121, f. 44v.

Newly Discovered Text: Caesar on Education and News in Finland

The following text, surmised to be a lost appendix to the well known De Bello Gallico, presents some general facts about education and fake news in Northern Europe for an audience of the Republic far removed from such mundane concerns. The previous section on forestry can be found here.

C. Julius Caesar (?), De Silvis. Edited by Dani Bostick.

1.5 In Finland schools are very different from prisons and for this reason seem rather unusual to foreigners. It is permitted to walk and play outside rather often so that teachers, who are considered to be almost gods and receive the greatest honor among their people, can keep students in a happy state of mind. When students learn, their bodies are calm not because they fear punishment or are asleep but because they delight in knowledge. They enjoy excellent lunches consisting of small fish, sausages, cheese, and fruit so that bad nutrition does not diminish their strength and enthusiasm. And none of this originates in factories far away, but in neighboring gardens and fields. The state prepares for slaughter in schools in proportion to the danger of this possibility; since there is no danger of this type of situation, they have nothing to prepare for. This is the greatest glory to Finland.

1.5 In Finlandia scholae dissimillimae carceribus atque ob eam causam inusitatioresque barbaris sunt. licet in locis apertis saepius errare ludereque ut magistri, qui paene deorum habentur loco maximamque inter suos ferunt laudem, animi felicitate discipulos contineant. Cum hi docent, corpora eorum neque timore poenarum neque somnio, sed delectationibus scientiae immota sunt. gustant prandia optima, quae in pisculis et tomaculis et caseo et pomis consistunt, ne malus victus vires studiumque diminuat. nec quicquam in remota fabrica, sed in hortis et agris vicinis nascitur. Civitas pro magnitudine periculi caedem in scholis parat. Quoniam nullum periculum caedis est, nihil parandum est. Finlandiae maxima laus est.

1.6 The leader of Finland can read and understands everything easily even without pictures. When he hears gossip or a rumor, he does not communicate it publicly because it has been discovered that fearful and ignorant people are scared by rumors and sometimes believe false words. The leader avoids driving his citizens to greater madness and conveys the truth to the people. For in Finland they do not think it is appropriate to deceive or manipulate with deceitful lies. For this reason the leader of Finland is held in high regard not only at home home but also among all nations.

1.6 Dux Finlandiae legere potest omniaque etiam sine picturis faciliter intellegit. Cum rumorem aut famam accepit, publice non communicat, quod saepe homines temerarios atque imperitos falsis rumoribus terreri et falsis verbis interdum credere cognitum est. Itaque dux cives ad maiorem amentiam impellere vitans veritatem multitudini prodit. Nam in Finlandia nefas esse existimatur subdolis mendaciis fallere aut inducere. Qua de causa dux Finlandiae non solum domi sed etiam apud omnes nationes honore largiter habetur.

Caveat lector: this might be a piece of satire.

David with musicians and dancing children

David with musicians and dancing children, Illuminated psalter, Master of Isabella di Chiaromonte, Matteo Felice

Newly Discovered Text: Caesar on Forestry in Finland

The following text, surmised to be a lost appendix to the well known De Bello Gallico, presents some general facts about the practice of forestry in Northern Europe for an audience of the Republic far removed from such mundane concerns (until, of course, their country burns down around them…).

C. Julius Caesar (?), De Silvis. Edited by Dani Bostick.

1.3 The best part of Gaul is Finland which is inhabited by the most intelligent citizens of all because they most often rake leaves and keep four rakes under every tree. For this reason the Finnish people also surpass everybody in safety, because almost every day they clean their forest with these rakes either when leaves fall from trees or when there is dirt of another kind.

1.3 Optima pars Galliae est Finlandia quam cives intellegentissimi omnium colunt propterea quod saepissimeque folias conradunt atque quattuor pectines sub omni arbore ponunt. Qua de causa Finlandi quoque omnes sapientia praecedunt, quod fere cotidie pectinibus silvas purgant, cum aut foliae ex arboribus cadunt aut illuvies alterius generis est.

1.4 This technique is thought to have originated in Canada, where there are many forests, and brought to Finland, but now those who want to learn more about it do not go there for the sake of learning about it. You see, the entire nation of the Finnish people is extremely devoted to learning and on that account foreign teachers come to Finland so that they might learn to teach well, but they never ask how to keep forests clean on account of their stupidity.

1.4 Haec disciplina in Canada reperta atque in Finlandiam translata esse existimatur, sed nunc, qui diligentius eam rem cognoscere volunt, plerumque illo discendi causa non proficiscuntur. Nam natio est omnis Finlandorum admodum dedita eruditioni, atque ob eam causam barbari magistri veniunt ut bene docere discant, sed ob stultitiam quomodo silvae purgentur numquam rogant.

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in Virginia where she lives with her husband, children, and muppet-like dogs. She has published many collections of Latin mottoes online, has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on twitter, and is available to write, speak, or rabble-rouse.

Caveat lector: this might be a piece of satire.

Finding the Hart from Livre de la Chasse by Gaston Phoebus, Count de Foix.

The Twit-Ostracism: Another Proposal To Fix Twitter

I was chatting with Sarah E. Bond online the other day and casually mentioned that I wished were could ostracize someone from Twitter who was playing the part of a braying ass (she suggested a time-out). Sarah suggested this was eminently tweetable material. And I tweet I did. But, I went a bit further. This is not quite as severe as my phallometric rating suggestion, but it started a conversation of sorts….(and continues a bit of musing about ancient governing institutions which might be useful today).

Philochorus, FGrH 328 Fragment 30

“The procedure of Ostracism. In his third book, Philokhoros explains the ostracism process when he writes this: “ Ostracism is like this: the people vote in advance of the eighth Prytany whether it seems best to make an ostrakon vote or not. When it seemed right, then the Agora was defended with planks and ten entrances were left through which the people would come and cast their ostraka [votes] entering in their tribal groups and keeping the inscriptions facing the ground. The nine archons were in charge with the boulê. Once the ostraca were counted, whoever had the most—provided the total was not under six thousand—had to handle his business and make arrangements over private affairs before in ten days and then to leave the city for ten years (later it was five). The exile had use of his own property, but was not permitted to cross the boundary within Geraistos, the promontory of Euboea.

The only person who was ostracized of regular people for his wickedness and not for pursuing a tyranny, was Hyperbolos. After him, the custom was ended, and it began when Kleisthenes established it as a practice when he expelled the tyrants so that he could exile their friends too.”

Lexicon Rhetoricum Cantabrigiense, – ᾽Οστρακισμοῦ τρόπος

ὀστρακισμοῦ τρόπος· Φιλόχορος ἐκτίθεται τὸν ὀστρακισμὸν ἐν τῆι τρίτηι γράφων οὕτω·

«ὁ δὲ ὀστρα[κισμὸς τοιοῦτος]· προεχειροτόνει μὲν ὁ δῆμος πρὸ τῆς ὀγδόης πρυτανείας, εἰ δοκεῖ τὸ ὄστρακον εἰσφέρειν. ὅτε δ᾽ ἐδόκει, ἐφράσσετο σανίσιν ἡ ἀγορά, καὶ κατελείποντο εἴσοδοι δέκα, δι᾽ ὧν εἰσιόντες κατὰ φυλὰς ἐτίθεσαν τὰ ὄστρακα, στρέφοντες τὴν ἐπιγραφήν· ἐπεστάτουν δὲ οἵ τε ἐννέα ἄρχοντες καὶ ἡ βουλή. διαριθμηθέντων δὲ ὅτωι πλεῖστα γένοιτο καὶ μὴ ἐλάττω ἑξακισχιλίων, τοῦτον ἔδει τὰ δίκαια δόντα καὶ λαβόντα ὑπὲρ τῶν ἰδίων συναλλαγμάτων ἐν δέκα ἡμέραις μεταστῆναι τῆς πόλεως ἔτη δέκα (ὕστερον δὲ ἐγένοντο πέντε), καρπούμενον τὰ ἑαυτοῦ, μὴ ἐπιβαίνοντα ἐντὸς Γεραιστοῦ τοῦ Εὐβοίας ἀκρωτηρίου».

*** μόνος δὲ Υπέβολος ἐκ τῶν ἀδόξων ἐξωστρακίσθη διὰ μοχθηρίαν τρόπων, οὐ δι᾽ ὑποψίαν τυραννίδος· μετὰ τοῦτον δὲ κατελύθη τὸ ἔθος, ἀρξάμενον νομοθετήσαντος Κλεισθένους, ὅτε τοὺς τυράννους κατέλυσεν, ὅπως συνεκβάλοι καὶ τοὺς φίλους αὐτῶν.

twitostracon 2

twitostracon 1

There were many responses. Here are some:

“This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity

“This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity

How did I get here?

When Telemachus invites Athena-in-disguise to sit in his hall at the beginning of the Odyssey and he has already complained to her about the suitors, he asks, “Who are you and from where among men? Where is your city and your parents?” (τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες; 1.170). This line is repeated on several occasions during the Odyssey and forms of it echo throughout Greek literature. It even shows up in Roman literature as a bit of a proverb: Seneca has Herakles use this line to hail the dead Claudius when he arrives on Olympus (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 5). My friend Justin Arft is working on the poetics of this line, exploring how it engages with larger poetic traditions and functions as an authoritative marker for speech. It elicits a particular type of story and signals a special kind of world view.

For me, this line has always also functioned metonymically for social hierarchy. It is an indexing question to establish the addressee’s cultural position. The initial “who” of “who are you” turns out to be a mere introduction, signaling an insufficient framework. The subsequent questions flesh out acceptable parameters for defining this particular “who”: a generic person, a tis, requires a geographical origin (invoking tribal connections as much as spatial associations), a civic entity (the city here is certainly a type of state), and a family. And, given the importance of genealogy in myth and the flexibility of place and state, I think we have a rhetorical structure of increasing importance: space, state, and family. The last question, in epic at least, is about fame and noble birth.

During the past few years, I have been thinking about this question when I find myself out and about in the world, asking and being asked who I am. How we elicit information about people tells us something about how we organize the world in our minds. And how we answer these questions tells us something else about how we view ourselves and our comfort with this view. Social context alters the meaning of deceptively simple words. For instance, when people ask addressees of color where they are from, it often is a coded or subconscious attempt to establish an ‘ethnic identity’ or some hierarchy of citizenship. Who are you and where are you from is always potentially a probe to evaluate political status and social cache.

The functional question that communicates our modern values and social structures is that ubiquitous “What do you do?” This innocuous conversation starter (or staller) is a metonym for our capitalist values: we are defined by what we contribute to society, by what we produce, by how we may be commodified. Of course, we can put this another way: in a ‘post-aristocratic’ world, we are allowed to define ourselves by how we spend our time—what we decide to dedicate our lives to communicates our values. (This second take assumes that we have the power and resources to make these choices in such a way that there is a meaningful correlation between our activity in the world and our values; and, secondly, that vocation and avocation may necessarily overlap.)

Even though the Odyssey is a narrative of disguises and forestalled recognitions, it is one in which the question “who are you, where are you from” also points to established and accepted social boundaries (even if they are eventually transgressed or subverted). When we ask “what do you do”, it seeks to instantiate social relationships. I have spent so much time thinking about this because my life’s work is in a field where the boundary between life and work is blurred to the point of there being almost no distinction. And, although we live in a period where the answer to “what do you do” is more fluid than in the previous generation, the line between the workaday doing and the non-work living is less clear. (And, to be fair, for the working poor and a great number of people throughout the world, the whole notion of such a boundary to begin with is one of incredible privilege.)

My problem is not really with the impact of this fading boundary on me: one of the reasons I avoided pursuing other careers early on is I believed, correctly or not, that my current pursuit would not force some of the same stark choices as others—despite much evidence to the contrary, I still believe that my career as one where we are supposed to think about what life is for (even if we are not often encouraged to do so). My problem is with talking about what I do outside the academy, with naming it, with answering that question, what do you do?

*                                   *                                   *

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Who are you and What do you do? I don’t come from a family of academics. I grew up in a lower middle class, rural area where most high school graduates did not go to college (and where high school graduates were only recently the majority). To say that I have class anxiety about being a Professor, much less a professor of Classics and one of Ancient Greek, is quite the understatement. I rarely use a title outside of work—my self-naming is so muted that when my son grabbed the mail one day and saw something addressed to “Dr. Christensen” he said “you’re a doctor?” To this I responded, “well, kind of.” In his consternation, he looked at the envelope, looked back at his mother—who is a dentist—and said, “wait, boys can be doctors?”

Where are you from? This is a question for people who are out of place, whose dislocation is clear enough as to be recognized before even hearing a name. How did I get here? Leaving home, getting a BA in the humanities, moving to New York and getting a PhD has separated me physically and ethically from all the people I grew up with and it has in many ways alienated me from my family. Anyone who has gone to graduate school knows that the process is intense and transformative intellectually; the part we don’t talk about enough is that it also constitutes a social metamorphosis: you are not only what you do, you are the people you engage with. ‘Who are your people’ and ‘where is your home’ are a critical part of Telemachus’ question—both communicate values and allegiances. Getting a PhD in the Classics complicates answers to both of those questions. The PhD changes the appearance and performance of social class; the rarefied air of that title “the Classics” makes us strangers even among our professorial peers.

The depth of my class and social anxiety is particularly felt in the way I change my answer to the question “what do you do”. When I go to birthday parties for my kids, while talking to other parents I almost always answer, “I am a teacher” and, more often than not, I consciously steer the conversation somewhere else. Part of the reason I do this is I don’t always handle the follow up question well.

True story: I was in a Starbucks in Milton, MA and I saw Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block. At my sister’s urging over text messages (she has seen NKOTB multiple times as an adult), I went and asked for a picture and had a fine conversation going until he asked what I do. I said, “I teach at Brandeis.” To the inevitable “what do you teach?” and the true answer (“Classics. Um, mostly Ancient Greek”) the response was a typical, awkward silence.

knight 2

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Now is the time

Now is the time

ὡς ἐνταῦθ᾽ †ἐμέν
ἵν᾽ οὐκέτ᾽ ὀκνεῖν καιρός, ἀλλ᾽ ἔργων ἀκμή. (Sophocles, Electra 21-22)

We’re at the point
where it’s no longer the time to shrink back, but the moment for action.

Thus the Paidagogus, the nameless “Tutor” in Sophocles’s play, ends his introductory address to Orestes (and to us, the audience) in the prologue to Electra. It sets the tone for the play. Soon after we hear Orestes—the ever willing student out to impress—repeat back his tutor’s language, as he brings his own opening declaration to an end with the words: “The two of us will go; for it is the time, which is for men the greatest leader of every action” (νὼ δ᾽ ἔξιμεν· καιρὸς γάρ, ὅσπερ ἀνδράσιν / μέγιστος ἔργου παντός ἐστ᾽ ἐπιστάτης, 75-76).

And shortly after this, when Orestes is yet moved to shrink back as he hears the offstage cries of his sister, the Paidagogus urges him on, ventriloquizing Aeschylus’s Pylades in his injunction to obey Apollo’s commands: for Orestes there are libations to be poured to his father, victory and power to be won. (80-85). No communal libation here, as in Aeschylus’s Choephoroi; here Electra and the chorus enter, only after Orestes and his support team have already departed. These men are doers. The women follow in their wake.

3_Electra+chorus

I watched a performance of Sophocles’s tragedy this summer in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki (all photographs are taken from the production stills). It was the second time that I had seen the play, after the 2001 Cambridge Greek play (co-starring a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston) which was memorable for creating a stage like a petri dish, as if the actors were under a microscope, their actions and arguments open for dissection. Aristotle famously relegates spectacle, or opsis (ὄψις), to the least important of the six component parts of a tragedy (after plot, character, diction, thought and song: Poetics 1450a9-10). “Spectacle”, he writes, “while highly seductive, is the least technical [of the parts] and the one that is least to do with poetry” (ἡ δὲ ὄψις ψυχαγωγικὸν μέν, ἀτεχνότατον δὲ καὶ ἥκιστα οἰκεῖον τῆς ποιητικῆς, 1450b18-20).

Aristotle’s terms of reference here (his emphasis on poetry) must play a role in the downgrading of spectacle, as too must his concern to recoup tragedy from Plato’s criticism of the art form as leading aside the soul (cf. ψυχαγωγικὸν). And spectacle, arguably, still continues to attract less comment, even though reception studies and the use of performance theory (as in Rush Rehm’s Play of Space) have gone some way to refocusing attention on to the play in (as) action.

It was the spectacle of the Greek national theatre company’s Electra (under the direction of Thanos Papakonstantinos) that took my breath away. On the surface it appeared quite a traditional adaptation: it wasn’t located in a contemporary setting; the costumes were simple, bordering on the stylised; it used music throughout; the chorus sung *and* danced; the text wasn’t excised or adapted in any way (other than it being a modern Greek translation). But it was like no other adaptation of Greek tragedy that I had seen. The director’s vision of the tragedy drew on elements that are only ever hinted at in the text, and showed to me, a textual scholar, the life and power of a play beyond the text. Let me give two examples that go back to that opening scene I discussed above.

Papakonstantinos’s play began before the first lines of Sophocles’s script were even delivered. Out came the musicians, the chorus, and two actors (Orestes and Pylades), who proceeded to parade sombrely around the stage to a funereal drumbeat, led by the Paidagogus, who all the time very slowly, and very deliberately, turned his head this way and that to glare at the audience seated in the theatre, challenging us to hold his gaze (or to look away). We immediately fell under the thrall of this imposing figure, as Orestes does in Sophocles’s play. As for Orestes: when the musicians and chorus had taken up their positions, Pylades (notably mute again after his brief, but momentous, pronouncement of Apollo’s command in Aeschylus’s Choephoroi) makes a performance of binding the hero and blindfolding him. All this before the play (as in Sophocles’s text of the play) had actually begun!

1_Beginning_Paidagogus+Orestes

Even after this point, the director’s “extra-textual” imagination continued to frame our response to the events on stage: for, rather than disappearing from view as in Sophocles’s play (when the actor would have had to play another role) Orestes, still blindfolded and bound, is led back around the stage by Pylades to that same funereal beat, while the action unfolds around them. It was only when meeting his sister, some two thirds of the way through the play that his bonds and blindfold are removed, as if offering a very concrete instantiation of his psychology: he has been trained (blinded and bound) to kill his mother; these bonds fall from him as meeting his sister reveals repressed ties of affection for her.

But this is only a fleeting glimpse of his humanity, as the Paidagogus suddenly reappears to berate the two “stupid unthinking children” (ὦ πλεῖστα μῶροι καὶ φρενῶν τητώμενοι, 1326), for talking a lot (τῶν μακρῶν λόγων, 1335) when “it is the moment to be delivered from these matters” (ἀπηλλάχθαι δ᾽ ἀκμή, 1338). As Electra desperately tries to engage in dialogue also with him, the Paidagogus firmly slaps her down: “That’s enough, I think” (ἀρκεῖν δοκεῖ μοι, 1364). In our performance, his reappearance at the top of the stage encapsulated once again his dominance over, and orchestration of, the proceedings.

As you’ll see from the photographs, the stage was stark in its simplicity, an effect that was further amplified by the simple, almost abstract costuming of all the actors. Not only did this help focus attention on the gestures, movement and interactions of the actors; it also helped to defamiliarise the action and detach it from any particular setting, whether classical (as when actors wear chitons) or modern. This is something, I think, that Greek tragedy generally manages to do: that is, to speak to audiences not bound by a particular place or time. But one costume did possibly have a contemporary resonance: the clothing of the chorus seemed to me, at least, to be a pristine white version of the clothing worn by the handmaids in the renowned TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

The chorus were the other significant reason for the impact of this drama. Controlled and in control, this was a chorus of and for our time, gaining power through their collective action. Unlike every other chorus I’ve ever seen, this chorus sung and chanted in metre throughout in unison. They spoke, as it were, with one voice, though that voice sometimes seemed to be stretched to the absolute limit, to the point of almost fracturing, using the technique of close dissonant harmonies familiar from Balkan singing. They also moved as one, like polished mannequins, often with minimal gesture of forefinger touching the thumb, as if a Greek orthodox Christ were blessing his congregation. Then, as the play hurtles towards its terrifying climax (the matricide; the forever deferred murder of Aegisthus), they transform, as Electra’s hatred and bitterness finally comes to affect and infect them. A *spoiler alert* #metoo movement with bite.

2_Electra+Chrysothemis_chorus

I had always read the chorus in the final scenes of the play as providing the only lingering vestige of empathy in an increasingly desperate and hateful (hate-filled) world. As Orestes does his thing (murdering his mother) offstage, and Electra comments on, and incites, the violence onstage in shockingly impersonal terms (“someone shouts within… someone screams”, 1406, 1409: the someone in question being her mother), it’s the chorus who remind us of what’s at stake: “I heard a cry that shouldn’t have been heard, enough to make me shiver” (1407); “o city, o wretched family” (1414). They sum up this fractured replaying of Aeschylus’s trilogy (Sophocles’s Clytemnestra “quotes” Aeschylus’s Agamemnon as she is struck, and struck again: ὤμοι πέπληγμαι / ὤμοι μάλʼ αὖθις, 1415-1417; cf. Aesch. Ag. 1343-45), by recalling the curses of those previously murdered (1419-21):

τελοῦσʼ ἀραί· ζῶσιν οἱ γᾶς ὑπαὶ κείμενοι.
παλίρρυτον γὰρ αἷμʼ ὑπεξαιροῦσι τῶν
κτανόντων οἱ πάλαι θανόντες.
The curses are working out. They who lie under the earth live.
For those who died long ago are draining the blood
—blood that flows in recompense—from their killers.

In a manner that again strongly evokes Aeschylus, this time the sarcastic reply by the Choephoroi Orestes’s to his mother: “I think that the dead are killing the living” (Aesch. Cho. 886), the chorus’s mention of curses reworks the language of generational violence and familial revenge that dominates that trilogy. Those earlier plays culminate in the instantiation of the curses in the form of the Furies/Erinyes of the Eumenides. One of the insoluble problems of Sophocles’s Electra is, precisely, the absence of the Erinyes from the drama. Although they are mentioned on four occasions (112, 276, 491, 1080) and alluded to once (1388), the fact that they don’t seem to appear after Clytemnestra’s murder has led many critics to conclude that Sophocles sanctions the matricide (as if it’s ever ok to kill your mother).

The masterstroke of Thanos Papakonstantinos in his direction of the play was, again, to make real what is only ever hinted at in the text. Thus, as the chorus attempt to make sense of the matricide and Electra’s conducting of the events offstage, they transform into the very curses to which they refer. At this very moment in the performance, they discarded their pristine white cloaks and began to writhe on the ground before Electra, sullying their inner garments on a stage that was slowly filling up with a viscous oily liquid—a black blood slick. They became in appearance like Electra herself, dreadful and deranged. They became, in essence, the Erinyes.

4_Orestes+Aegisthus+chorus

This transformation of the chorus into Sophocles’s missing Furies—as if the Eumenides‘s chorus had been invoked and brought back on stage by the constant incantations of Aeschylus’s earlier plays—was both utterly mesmeric and breathtakingly terrifying. It reminded me more of a horror film than a conventional tragedy, and it struck me that horror, too, must have played a role in these plays’ impact. And it wasn’t only a gut reaction; the horror-inflected climax got me thinking a lot harder about what *was* in the text. And, reading the play again at home, I noticed how the chorus from this point on assume a far more active role, first warning the siblings of Aegisthus’s arrival (1429), and then offering advice how to get him to drop his guard (1439-41). Even in their customarily generic last words, the chorus evoke the urgency (τῇ νῦν ὁρμῇ τελεωθέν, 1510) on which the Paidagogus has constantly insisted.

But—and this is important—their cue came not from him but from Electra. It’s when the men go off stage to do their thing and leave the women shut out onstage that they—the women—take control. It’s Electra’s commentary on the matricide that is the focus, not the event itself. It’s the sister, so long left home alone and shut off from the plot as soon as the play begins, who, forced to testify about her experience, her suffering before a (hostile?) hearing of male judges (us, the audience), dominates the play. And she dominates its ending with a group of women whose furious shedding of their demure costumes presages their transformation into curses, as if she, and not the Paidagogus, were now the orchestrator of the action.

Beware all transgressors. #wetoo are coming for you.

chorus+orestes

Nope, Aristotle Did Not Say, “It Is the Mark of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without….”

Oh, Internet, why do you abuse Aristotle so?

This has been bouncing around lately with the hashtag #Aristotle

Like many of the fake-istotle quotes, this one can be googled out of existence in about 5 seconds. According to wikiquote, this was first attributed to Aristotle by Lowell L. Bennion in his Religion and the Pursuit of Truth 1989, 52). They suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Nicomachean Ethics 1094b24. The density of the passage provides some grounds for why it may have been (over)simplified. But since it stands so early at the beginning of the Ethics, I suspect that there was a kind of smash and run search for an authoritative sounding quotation. As a side note, there is an interesting–by which I mean crazy–discussion of what this fake quote might mean on Quora. Some of the content there is interesting and accurate (about the idea of the fake quotation, not the actual bit); other parts are like Ancient Aliens crazy.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

Classics and Theory: A Monday Rant

This is a slightly adapted and expanded edition of my #classicsandtheoryrant from twitter

One of the things I love about social media is that it has allowed me to connect with people who love the Classics and know a lot about it all over the world. Some of these people have ‘credentials’ and experiences similar to mine, but many do not. Across the board, I try to ignore these conventional markers of intellectual authority on twitter etc. and just listen to what people say. And, really, I have learned a lot.

But one thing that has been increasingly frustrating  over the past year is a small but insistent chorus of voices who insist that Classics is being ruined by “post-modern theory”. Generally, these voices come from outside the traditional academy or from more conventional corners within them. But most often they represent ‘threatened constituents’ of the modern world–by which I mean people who also object to ‘diversity’, ‘political correctness’ and a whole bunch of buzzwords and phrases that are popular media shorthand for a world that is not dominated by traditional, male, Eurocentric perspectives. (And, you know, white supremacists. This does not mean that all anti-theory people are white supremacists, so, dude, chill.)

This is in part frustrating because I thought we were past this. I know this is naïve and I know that Classics is way behind other disciplines in the aggregate when it comes to using critical theory, but we have long had a small and influential group of people pushing our field to respond to the modern world and engage with new ideas.

But it is also infuriating because it attests to an essential fragility (also, read this if the term is upsetting). Is our confidence in the way we have received the past so shaky that it can brook no challenge? Often, the knee-jerk or even committed aversion to theory is really a desire to exclude others. I almost respect those supremacists more because they at least admit it. (But let me be clear, I really, really don’t like ethnonationalists and white supremacists.)

Engagement with theory is critical because it acknowledges that as interpreters we are subjects who are shaped by our experiences and the narratives and discourse through which culture shapes us based on our gender, sexual identity, race, (dis)abilities, age, etc. Our bodies are not instruments we drive through the world, they are part of us and mediate our experience of everything. The world treats us differently based on the bodies we inhabit. These two facts shape the way we respond to everything.

Acknowledging the primacy of subjectivity is only one part of modern theory which is dismissed. I won’t even bother listing all of the theoretical approaches that have helped us understand the ancient world better. It is a type of retrograde derangement not to use new tools to look at old things. Imagine if people were railing against the use of spectral imaging in archaeology or the application of new chemical testing or any one of a range of technologies that have developed over the past generation. We would all be incredulous.

Many of the same people, however, who champion what aDNA testing might tell us about ancient peoples, also deny the validity of applying new tests to ancient literature and culture which have been developed in respectable fields like anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, English, sociology, and others. The reason for this is clear: the process tells different stories about the past than many of us were raised with. This is uncomfortable.

If art does not make us uncomfortable or question the past at all, then it is merely entertainment. Scholarship that merely repeats or reinforces what we already know is essentially masturbatory.

The argument over who gets to interpret the past and how is political. “Post-modern” is a catch-all phrase for many different approaches which are dismissed by conservative traditionalists. This argument raged through the field in the 1980s as Eric Adler documents well.  There was another major flare up with the Who Killed Homer? nonsense. I think we might have missed a renewal of these complaints in the late 2000s because of the severe economic downturn.

But this debate is all about power: The power to interpret and possess meaning; The power to have meaning in the world; The power to be a full and equal subject in a flawed society. Such striving has been going on since some literary theorists had the gall to imagine that texts were more than pristine aesthetic objects with timeless secrets for the properly initiated to unlock.

I have a few simple points to make in closing. The first is that scholarship is not a zero-sum game. Applying new theoretical frames does not wipe out the old ones or render them useless. If we apply the analogy of biodiversity to ideas, then the more voices and ideas we can explore within a productive system, the more variety and understanding we can get out of it. This is destined to be chaotic and painful, but it is creative and exciting.

New ideas build upon older ones. Some gain purchase for more than a few years become part of the tradition. Some ideas are as Glaukos says like leaves on the tree which grow for a brief time and then wither and die. Others somehow become evergreen, in the moment we cannot know. We can argue for what we believe and push back against other ideas—but we need to acknowledge that sometimes our need to push back against other ideas is driven by a desire to exclude people not the ideas.

A second point which is by no means original is that you can love something and see that it might be bad for something or need to change. E.g. chocolate cake is delicious, but it can kill you. Cigarettes are delightful, but they will give you cancer. Anything made by humans is imperfect because we are not perfect. Saying the Homeric epics are misogynistic or using Marxist theory to show how they (re-)produce structural oppression does not erase their beauty or their impact. Instead, it shows that their beauty may also have a harmful impact. It helps us understand how they work and how we work as human communities.

And if you cannot love something flawed, you simply cannot love. Let go of the Platonic nonsense of perfection in the mind of a distant god. Real, human love embraces the ways in which we are flawed and celebrates that despite the horror, baseness, and temporariness which is our inheritance, we are still capable of beauty.

A third point is also not original: all methods of interpretation are ideological and have a theory. If the theory is not explicit, that does not mean it is not there. It means it is naïve and unquestioned. Philology is a means not an end. We classicists are trained in philology so we don’t make basic mistakes and we can distinguish good arguments from bad ones. But we are at a point in the production of knowledge that no one can learn everything which is required to understand the ancient world. We need to work together. We need polymathy and polyphony.

The practice of classics as developed in Europe around the enlightenment is ideologically connected to a particular time, a set of bodies and languages, and a cultural apparatus distinct from ancient Greece and Rome. The ‘Classics’ created by the Renaissance and Enlightenment is not coterminous with the beliefs, practices, and texts of actual Greece and Rome. In a way, to emulate a 19th century German classicist in everything is little different from strapping on some leather armor and LARPing at a Renaissance Faire. Both are fun and can require a lot of expertise. But both are still play-acting.

It is not ‘authentic’ or ‘correct’ to treat ancient texts in this way any more or less than it was authentic and correct for Plotinus and Porphyry to say the Odyssey is an elaborate allegory for the mind.

All reading is reception. All interpretation is ideological. Being explicit about our ideological receptions helps us communicate better with each other and through the generations.

When we allow new perspectives and viewpoints, we enrich our reception of the past. Some of this enrichment might turn out be misleading or start out as bewildering; indeed, it might be only temporarily insightful. But striving to make new sense of the old, to try to surpass those who have already labored, is better than sucking on the marrow of corpses and wallowing in mute ash.

Миниатюры.: philologist

f. 305v. The Fouquet Missal. Bourges, c.1470-1475

Seneca Moral Epistle 108

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

The World is Crazy: Let’s Write Limericks on Byzantine Scholars

A few years back, we made some limericks (with bad rhymes contingent on odd pronunciations) based on Byzantine scholars and historical figures. Yesterday I brought them back. Here are some of ours and others’

The eminent John Tzetzes
must have had remarkable testes.
That he weighs all the same
myriad dubious claims
attests to a nice pair of hefties.

The poet and teacher Psellos
Had a lot he wanted to tell us
So he dressed up the words
Of medicine in verse
But his collections no longer compel us.

I am in love with the myriad words of the Suda
It has something for every kind of mood, uh
When I don’t know a name
Or I think some text is too tame
I use this odd fortress as shield and my tutor

Because I am a part-adolescent who lives in the internet age, I had to tweet about it.

I thought this might be the end, but, mirabile dictu, a twitter friend joined in:

…rounding it out with: “that his ‘sore’-name should so entertain us”.

In my own maturity, I could not help but continue (with a little rhyming help from my friend):

The Byzantine Bishop Eustathius
lived some time after the cretaceous.
He wrote on both Homer’s poems
but never left home
and as a result his rump was curvaceous.

Any one else want to play?

[and many do answer the call….]

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Finale Verbum? Who Killed Famae Volent?

Piccolomini, de Educatione Liberorum XXXV

“What then should we say, considering that there is great utility in both silence and in speaking? We would have you hold to the middle course, and find yourself neither always speaking nor always quiet.”

Quid ergo dicemus, cum et silentii et orationis magna utilitas sit? Tenere te medium volumus, neque tacere semper neque loqui semper.

FV screenshot

Fatalis Vetustas? Unanticipated Consequences

When Aristotle was asked what the most burdensome thing in life is he said “staying silent.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθείς, τί δυσκολώτατόν ἐστιν ἐν βίῳ, εἶπε· „τὸ σιωπᾶν”. Gnom. Vat. 58

A few months back I posted a personal reflection on the blog and message board related to the Classics Job Market. The resulting piece on Famae Volent was too long, filled with ‘hand-wringing’, and probably more than a little self-indulgent. Apart from a few snide comments on the message board itself, however, I was surprised by the eagerness of people to talk about FV—it is almost as if many of us were just waiting to be given permission to talk about the blog and what it means to us.

But over the next few months, the situation changed. To cut to the chase for those of you who don’t already know, the website has careened to the brink of closure. The turnaround was sudden enough that a student of mine asked me if I was responsible for killing FV!

I really don’t think anything I have written is nearly that important: I was on the crest of a wave. For reasons that will become immediately clear, I have more to say about FV and its imminent demise. In Classics and Higher Ed, we are in the midst of many different clashing tides—I want to give a different perspective (or two) on Famae Volent and make the rather surprising suggestion that it should be saved.

Fusilis Vexatio: Some background

“Silence works as wisdom for a foolish person”

Taciturnitas stulto homini pro sapientia est, Publilius Syrus 692

 One of the many surprises that followed the FV blog post was that the current editors—the Servii—contacted me. I must confess to longstanding curiosity about the identity of the blog moderators—they refer to an ‘ur-Servius’ (the original) and other Servii before them, but it seems that this group has been in control for a few ‘seasons’.

In truth, I was happy both to be contacted and to hear their comments which were both kind and justly critical. From our exchanges, I got the sense of thoughtful people who were trying to do good.. I think we forget that beyond the deletions and clever comments are people who haven’t done this job for money or glory or anything other than their own vision of service to the field.

They started by (1) apologizing for deleting a post that seemed to have come from me or Erik and (2) offering to have a conversation because… “We agree with parts of it, want to push back on other parts, and are more generally interested in hearing your thoughts on whether you think it is possible to improve the climate within the framework of FV’s basic system” [all quotes excerpted from email exchanges].

(They also asked to preserve their anonymity. I have not confirmed their identities beyond observing coordination between the emails and the site. Early on, we discussed possible public methods of confirmation; but after our multiple conversations, I have no doubt that they are who they say they are. The paranoid and conspiracy-minded might think I am making this all up—well, that would be interesting too.)

I was interested both (1) in hearing the moderators’ responses to my post and (2) in just listening to their own reflections on what FV does and what it is for. I must confess that I lost almost all objectivity after reading the following.

“One thing that we thought might be helpful to you from your end is to keep in mind that there’s no one group of Servii — we’ve been running it the past two years, and it was many different groups before us (with whom we have had no contact). So when you see an increased level of moderation over the last few years, what you’re really seeing is that we’re more active in enforcing community standards than past generations have been, not that there’s been any change (necessarily) in content. We’ve been taking a more active role than our predecessors, and have actually had complaints and attempts to out us because of our “fascist” over-moderation — not kidding.”

Even as I re-read this I appreciate their honesty and imagine the difficulty of being in their place: they conceded that “a lot of FV commentary is by nature cowardly” but pushed back a little on my emphasis on morally repugnant material, explaining that while I had sensed “an increasing amount of negativity directed at PoC, women, traditionally underrepresented social classes and people from marginalized groups”, they had tracked more voices objecting to the “dark corners” of FV than a few years back. So, in their words, before they made the decision to close the site, there is “a certain amount of polarization– but it is not exactly because the ideas are somehow new: rather, it is that the actual conversation about them is.” In fact, they insisted that most of the material they deleted (prior to mid-March) was actually aimed toward senior white men. (A pattern not necessarily supported by subsequent events).

Fluxuosum Vallum: A Conversation

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