A Testament to the Swollen and the Cut

Sophocles, Fragments 620 (from Troilus)

“The queen lopped off my testicles with a knife…”

σκάλμῃ γὰρ ὄρχεις βασιλὶς ἐκτέμνουσ᾿ ἐμούς

Naevius, Testicularia (A Play About Testicles)

“No! The ones we’ve cut off, I’ll chop up and throw away”

Immo quos scicidimus conscindam atque abiciam.

Xenophon, Cyropaedia 7.5.62

“There is evidence from other animals too: out of control horses stop biting and bucking when they are neutered but they are no less useful in combat. When bulls are castrated they stop being so haughty and difficult but they aren’t deprived of their strength and ability to work. Similarly, when dogs are neutered they stop running away from their owners, but they are no worse at shepherding and hunting.”

ἐτεκμαίρετο δὲ καὶ ἐκ τῶν ἄλλων ζῴων ὅτι οἵ τε ὑβρισταὶ ἵπποι ἐκτεμνόμενοι τοῦ μὲν δάκνειν καὶ ὑβρίζειν ἀποπαύονται, πολεμικοὶ δὲ οὐδὲν ἧττον γίγνονται, οἵ τε ταῦροι ἐκτεμνόμενοι τοῦ μὲν μέγα φρονεῖν καὶ ἀπειθεῖν ὑφίενται, τοῦ δ᾽ ἰσχύειν καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι οὐ στερίσκονται, καὶ οἱ κύνες δὲ ὡσαύτως τοῦ μὲν ἀπολείπειν τοὺς δεσπότας ἀποπαύονται ἐκτεμνόμενοι, φυλάττειν δὲ καὶ εἰς θήραν οὐδὲν κακίους γίγνονται.

Castration of animals has been practiced for around 8.000 years!

Diog. Laert. 8.34–35.

“Aristotle claims in his work On the Pythagoreans that [Pythagoras] told people to refrain from beans either because they look like testicles or the gates of Hell.”

φησὶ δ’ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐν τῷ Περὶ τῶν Πυθαγορείων παραγγέλλειν αὐτὸν ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν κυάμων ἤτοι ὅτι αἰδοίοις εἰσὶν ὅμοιοι, ἢ ὅτι Ἅιδου πύλαις

Martial, Epigram 9.27

“You’re walking around with shaved balls, Chrestus”

Cum depilatos, Chreste, coleos portes

Celsus, On Medicine 4.7

“If a swelling develops in the testicles when they haven’t been struck, blood should be let from the ankle; the patient should fast; and the swelling should be treated with bean meal cooked in honeyed-wine or rubbed with cumin with boiled honey; or ground cumin with rose oil, or wheat flour with honey wine and cypress roots; or the root of a lily, pounded.

In testiculis vero si qua inflammatio sine ictu orta est, sanguis a talo mittendus est; a cibo abstinendum; inponenda ex faba farina eo ex mulso cocta cum cumino contrito et ex melle cocto; aut contritum cuminum cum cerato ex rosa facto; aut lini semen frictum, contritum et in mulso coctum; aut tritici farina ex mulso cocta cum cupresso; aut lilii radix contrita.

Aristotle, Historia Animalium 7.50.20

“All animals who have testicles can be castrated.”

 ἐκτέμνεται δὲ τῶν ζῴων ὅσα ἔχει ὄρχεις.

Check out Sarah Bond’s short bibliography on eunuchs, marginality, and gender in the pre-modern world

Martial, Epigram 3.24.3-5

“By chance he told some country bumpkin
To chop off the goat’s testicles quickly with a sharp scythe
And get rid of that annoying stink of unclean meat.”

dixerat agresti forte rudique viro
ut cito testiculos †et acuta† falce secaret,
taeter ut immundae carnis abiret odor.

Hippocrates, Epidemics 2.12

“Swollen testicles”

…ὀρχίων οἴδησις…

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 26.81

“Ebulum, when ground up with its tender leaves and drunk with wine, takes care of stones; when applied as a salve, it helps testicles. Erigeron, as well, when mixed with frankincense and sweet wine, relieves swollen testicles.”

ebulum teneris cum foliis tritum ex vino potum calculos pellit, inpositum testes sanat. erigeron quoque cum farina turis et vino dulci testium inflammationes sanat.

Sumerians did it!

Hippocrates, Internal Affections 282

“…and his testicles were ulcerated…”

καὶ οἱ ὄρχιες ἑλκοῦνται

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 28.215

“They say that a goat’s dung is good for you with honey or vinegar, or just butter by itself. Testicular swelling can be treated  with veal suet mixed with soda, or by the calf’s dung reduced in vinegar.”

fimum etiam prodesse cum melle dicunt aut cum aceto et per se butyrum. testium tumor sebo vituli addito nitro cohibetur vel fimo eiusdem ex aceto decocto.

Bronze ritual Roman era castration clamps found in the river Thames and now at the Museum of London.
Bronze ritual Roman era castration clamps found in the river Thames and now at the Museum of London. SARAH E. BOND

image from Bond’s article on eunuchs, castration, and Game of thrones

Aristotle, Historia Animaliam 1.15

“Below the penis there are two testicles. There is skin around them called a scrotum. The testicles are not the same as flesh nor are they far from it. Later, will will speak more precisely about what their nature is and generally about all these kinds of parts.”

τοῦ δ᾿ αἰδοίου ὑποκάτω ὄρχεις δύο. τὸ δὲ πέριξ δέρμα, ὃ καλεῖται ὄσχεος. οἱ δ᾿ ὄρχεις οὔτε ταὐτὸ σαρκὶ οὔτε πόρρω σαρκός· ὃν τρόπον δ᾿ ἔχουσιν, ὕστερον δι᾿ ἀκριβείας λεχθήσεται καθόλου περὶ πάντων τῶν τοιούτων μορίων.

Varro, On Agriculture 2.15

“They become calmer once their testicles are removed because they no longer have seed.”

 Demptis enim testiculis fiunt quietiores, ideo quod semine carent

Plutarch, Natural Phenomena 917D

“Or is Aristotle’s claim true too, that Homer calls khlounês the boar who only has one testicle? For he claims that the testicles of most of the boars get crushed when they scratch themselves on trees.”

Ἢ καὶ τὸ λεγόμενον ὑπ᾿ Ἀριστοτέλους ἀληθές ἐστιν, ὅτι “χλούνην” Ὅμηρος ὠνόμασε σῦν τὸν μόνορχιν; τῶν γὰρ πλείστων φησὶ προσκνωμένων τοῖς στελέχεσι θρύπτεσθαι τοὺς ὄρχεις.

Phaedrus, Fabulae 30.1–2

“When a beaver can no longer evade the dogs
….
It is said he snips off his own testicles with a bite
Because he knows that’s why they’re chasing him.”

Canes effugere cum iam non possit fiber
….
abripere morsu fertur testiculos sibi,
quia propter illos sentiat sese peti.

173 Etym. Gen. lambda 34

“Long-balls”: this means having big testicles. Aristokrates was mocked thus.”

λαπιδόρχας· ὁ μεγάλους ὄρχεις ἔχων. Ἀριστοκράτης δὲ οὕτω διεβάλλετο.

Plautus, Curculio 623

“I hope Jupiter destroys you, soldier! Live without your testicles!”

Iuppiter te, miles, perdat, intestatus uiuito

Aristotle, Problems 879a-b

4.23 “Why does rigidity and increase happen to the penis? Is it for two reasons? First, is it because that weight develops on the bottom of the testicles, raising it—for the testicles are like a fulcrum? And is it because the veins become full of breath [pneuma]? Or does the mass become bigger because of an increase in moisture or some change in position or from the development of moisture itself? Extremely large things are raised less when the weight of the fulcrum is far away.”

Διὰ τί ἡ σύντασις γίνεται τοῦ αἰδοίου καὶ ἡ αὔξησις; ἢ διὰ δύο, διά τε τὸ βάρος ἐπιγίνεσθαι ἐν τῷ ὄπισθεν τῶν ὄρχεων αἴρεσθαι (ὑπομόχλιον γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις γίνονται) καὶ διὰ τὸ πνεύματος πληροῦσθαι τοὺς πόρους; ἢ τοῦ ὑγροῦ αὐξανομένου καὶ μεθισταμένου ἢ ἐξ ὑγροῦ γινομένου ὁ ὄγκος | μείζων γίνεται; τὰ λίαν δὲ μεγάλα ἧττον αἴρεται διὰ τὸ πορρωτέρω τὸ βάρος τοῦ ὑπομοχλίου γίνεσθαι.

Catullus, Carmen 63. 1-5

“Attis traveled over the deep seas and reached Phrygian forest
To touch the grove with a swift foot and then
Enter the goddess’ unknown places.
Then, driven mad in a fierce rage, lost in himself
he cut off his groin’s weights with a flint’s edge.”

Super alta vectus Attis celeri rate maria
Phrygium ut nemus citato cupide pede tetigit
adiitque opaca silvis redimita loca deae,
stimulatus ibi furenti rabie, vagus animi,
devolsit ili acuto sibi pondera silice

Castration of Saturn, MS Douce 195 Guillaume de Lorris & Jean de Meung, Roman de la Rose. France, 15th century (end). Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 195, fol. 76v

Skylla and Charybdis? An Easy Choice

Last year I ran the following poll. The results surprised me.

This year, people did a bit better

 

I had imagined that Simonides made things clear:

Simonides, fr. 356

“Everything comes to a single, dreadful Charybdis—
The great virtues and wealth the same.”

πάντα γὰρ μίαν ἱκνεῖται δασπλῆτα Χάρυβδιν,
αἱ μεγάλαι τ’ ἀρεταὶ καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος.

No? Ok. Here’s a proverb and an explanation

Michael Apostolios, Collectio Paroemiarum 16.49

“Avoid Kharybdis and come close to Skyla.” This is similar to the saying, “I avoided it by finding a better evil”

They say about Skyla that she was a Tyrrhenian woman, something if a beast, who was a woman down to the navel but she grew dog heads beneath that point. The rest of her body was a serpent. This kind of a cerature is very silly to imagine. But here is the truth. There were the islands of the Tyrrenians, which used to raid the coasts of Sicily and the Ionian bay. There was a trirereme which had the named Skyla. That trireme used to overtake other ships often and use their food and there was many a story about it. Odysseus fled that ship. trusting a strong and favorable wind and he told this story in Corcyra to Alkinoos, how he was pursued and how he fled and what the shape of the ship was. From these stories, the myth was formed.”

Τὴν Χάρυβδιν ἐκφυγὼν, τῇ Σκύλῃ περιέπεσον:
ὁμοία τῇ· ῎Εφυγον κακὸν εὗρον ἄμεινον

Λέγουσι περὶ Σκύλης ὡς ἦν Τυῤῥηνία, θηρίον τι, γυνὴ  μὲν μέχρι τοῦ ὀμφαλοῦ, κυνῶν δὲ ἐντεῦθεν αὐτῇ προσπεφύκασι κεφαλαί· τὸ δ’ ἄλλο σῶμα ὄφεως. τοιαύτην δὲ φύσιν ἐννοεῖν πολὺ εὔηθες· ἡ δὲ ἀλήθεια αὕτη· Τυῤῥηνίων νῆσοι ἦσαν, αἳ ἐληΐζοντο τὰ περίχωρα τῆς Σικελίας καὶ τὸν ᾿Ιόνιον κόλπον· ἦν δὲ ναῦς τριήρης ταχεῖα τό τε ὄνομα Σκύλα· αὕτη ἡ τριήρης τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν πλοίων συλλαμβάνουσα πολλάκις εἰργάζετο βρῶμα, καὶ λόγος ἦν περὶ αὐτῆς πολύς· ταύτην τὴν ναῦν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς σφοδρῷ καὶ λαύρῳ πνεύματι χρησάμενος διέφυγε, διηγήσατο δὲ ἐν Κερκύρᾳ τῷ ᾿Αλκινόῳ, πῶς ἐδιώχθη καὶ πῶς ἐξέφυγε, καὶ τὴν ἰδέαν τοῦ πλοίου· ἀφ’ ὧν προσανεπλάσθη ὁ μῦθος.

Ok. Maybe that wasn’t clear.

Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 70

“Charybdis is an obvious name for luxury and endless drinking. Homer has allegorized manifold shamelessness in Skylla, which is why she would logically have a belt of dogs, guardians for her rapacity, daring, and pugnacity. “

Καὶ Χάρυβδις μὲν ἡ δάπανος ἀσωτία καὶ περὶ πότους ἄπληστος  εὐλόγως ὠνόμασται·  Σκύλλαν δὲ τὴν πολύμορφον ἀναίδειαν ἠλληγόρησε, διὸ δὴ κύνας οὐκ ἀλόγως ὑπέζωσται προτομαῖς ἁρπαγῇ, τόλμῃ καὶ πλεονεξίᾳ πεφραγμέναις·

Yeah, that doesn’t help matters. How about this?

Philo, On Dreams, 70

“But you, go away from “the smoke and the wave” and depart the ridiculous concerns of mortal life as from that fearsome Charybdis without touching it at all, don’t even, as the people say, brush it with your littlest toe.”

ἀλλὰ σύ γε τοῦ μὲν “καπνοῦ καὶ κύματος ἐκτὸς” βαῖνε καὶ τὰς καταγελάστους τοῦ θνητοῦ βίου σπουδὰς ὡς τὴν φοβερὰν ἐκείνην χάρυβδιν ἀποδίδρασκε καὶ μηδὲ ἄκρῳ, τὸ τοῦ λόγου τοῦτο, ποδὸς δακτύλῳ ψαύσῃς.

Plutarch, with an assist

Plutarch, Fr. 178, Stobaeus 4.52 from his On the Soul [Plutarch uses the same image elsewhere]

“For satiety seems to be becoming worn out in pleasures from the soul suffering in some way with the body, since the soul does not shirk from its pleasures. But when it is interwoven, as it is said, with the body, it suffers the same things as Odysseus, just as he was held, clinging to the fig tree, not because he desired it or delighted in it, but because he feared Charybdis lurking below him. The soul clings to the body and embraces it in this way not because of goodwill or gratitude but because it fears the uncertainty of death.

As wise Hesiod says, “the gods keep life concealed from human beings.” They have not tied the soul to the body with fleshly bonds, but they have devised and bound around the mind one cell and one guard, our uncertainty and distrust about our end. If a soul had faith in these things—“however so many await men when they die”, to quote Heraclitus—nothing would restrain it at all.”

 καὶ γὰρ ὁ κόρος κόπος ἐν ἡδοναῖς ἔοικεν εἶναι τῷ μετὰ σώματός τι τὴν ψυχὴν πάσχειν, ἐπεὶ πρός γε τὰς αὑτῆς ἡδονὰς οὐκ ἀπαγορεύει. συμπεπλεγμένη δέ, ὥσπερ εἴρηται, τῷ σώματι ταὐτὰ τῷ Ὀδυσσεῖ πέπονθεν· ὡς γὰρ ἐκεῖνος τῷ ἐρινεῷ προσφὺς εἴχετο καὶ περιέπτυσσεν οὐ ποθῶν οὐδ᾿ ἀγαπῶν ἐκεῖνον, ἀλλὰ δεδιὼς ὑποκειμένην τὴν Χάρυβδιν, οὕτως ἔοικεν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦ σώματος ἔχεσθαι καὶ περιπεπλέχθαι δι᾿ εὔνοιαν οὐδεμίαν αὐτοῦ καὶ χάριν, ἀλλ᾿ ὀρρωδοῦσα τοῦ θανάτου τὴν ἀδηλότητα.

κρύψαντες γὰρ ἔχουσι θεοὶ βίον ἀνθρώποισι

κατὰ τὸν σοφὸν Ἡσίοδον, οὐ σαρκίνοις τισὶ δεσμοῖς πρὸς τὸ σῶμα τὴν ψυχὴν κατατείναντες, ἀλλ᾿ ἕνα δεσμὸν αὐτῇ καὶ μίαν φυλακὴν μηχανησάμενοι καὶ περιβαλόντες, τὴν ἀδηλότητα καὶ ἀπιστίαν τῶν μετὰ τὴν τελευτήν· ἐπεὶ τήν γε πεισθεῖσαν, ὅσα ἀνθρώπους περιμένει τελευτήσαντας καθ᾿ Ἡράκλειτον, οὐδὲν ἂν κατάσχοι.”

So, to be clear:  Charybdis=death. 

 

Britannia between Scylla & Charybdis. or— The Vessel of the Constitution steered clear of the Rock of Democracy, and the Whirlpool of Arbitrary-Power. James Gilray, 1793

 

The Purpose of Song

In 1923 Rainer Maria Rilke published Sonnets to Orpheus, a sequence of poems dedicated to the mythical father of song. The poems are as beautiful and subtle as they are challenging. 

A Platonic concept animates the third sonnet: namely, song’s audial aspect (I treat the word as interchangeable with “music”) should direct us to the art’s higher, pure form. In fact, it should move us beyond the world of appearances and reconcile us with fundamental reality. 

And so Socrates says of song: “certainly it is useful in the search for the beautiful and the good” [Republic 531c]. Like geometry and astronomy, song should “compel contemplation of being itself” [Republic 526e]. 

With these lofty claims in mind, enjoy Rilke:

Sonnets to Orpheus: III

A god is able. But tell me, how could
a man follow him through the narrow lyre?
Man’s mind is conflict. At the meeting of two
heart-paths there is no temple to Apollo.

Song, as you teach it, is not desire,
not an instrument for reaching a goal.
Song is being. For a god, a simple thing.
But when will we be? When will he turn

the earth and the stars toward our being?
Song’s not there, youth, for when you fall in love,
though your voice forces your mouth open. Learn

to forget you sang that way. It will pass.
True singing is breath of another kind:
A breath about nothing. A flutter in the god. A wind.

Plato’s Republic, 531c:

χρήσιμον μὲν οὖν, ἦν δ᾽ ἐγώ, πρὸς τὴν τοῦ καλοῦ τε καὶ ἀγαθοῦ ζήτησιν, ἄλλως δὲ μεταδιωκόμενον ἄχρηστον.

526e:

“οὐκοῦν εἰ μὲν οὐσίαν ἀναγκάζει θεάσασθαι, προσήκει . . .”

Rilke’s Die Sonette An Orpheus: III

Ein Gott vermags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll
ein Mann ihm folgen durch die schmale Leier?
Sein Sinn ist Zwiespalt. An der Kreuzung zweier
Herzwege steht kein Tempel für Apoll.

Gesang, wie du ihn lehrst, ist nicht Begehr,
nicht Werbung um ein endlich noch Erreichtes ;
Gesang ist Dasein. Für den Gott ein Leichtes.
Wann aber sind wir? Und wann wendet er

an unser Sein die Erde und die Sterne?
Dies ists nicht, Jüngling, daß du liebst, wenn auch
die Stimme dann den Mund dir aufstößt, – lerne

vergessen, daß du aufsangst. Das verrinnt.
In Wahrheit singen, ist ein andrer Hauch.
Ein Hauch um nichts. Ein Wehn im Gott. Ein Wind.

Rilke at 25 bore some resemblance to young Stalin.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Heroic Grief: Celebrating a New Book on the Iliad

Lucian, True History 2.20

“I was asking him next why he made his poem start with the “rage of Achilles”. He said that it just leapt into his head that way without any prior thought.”

ἐπεὶ δὲ ταῦτα ἱκανῶς ἀπεκέκριτο, πάλιν αὐτὸν ἠρώτων τί δή ποτε ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐποιήσατο· καὶ ὃς εἶπεν οὕτως ἐπελθεῖν αὐτῷ μηδὲν ἐπιτηδεύσαντι.

Here’s a bit of something different: I’d like to talk about new book my a good friend. Emily Austin’s Grief and the Hero: The Futility of Longing in the Iliad was released a few months ago. As anyone who has published something during the pandemic knows, there’s not much room for something as simple as a book in all the noise.

But this is a book I think people should read. Now, I read a lot of books about Homer. It is not just a job, it is something I have done as a hobby since I first read Gregory Nagy’s The Best of the Achaeans  and Richard Martin’s The Language of Heroes as an undergraduate. I often ignored homework assignments in graduate school in favor of reading books like Donna Wilson’s Ransom and Revenge or Hilary Mackie’s Talking Trojans. See, before I started working on the Odyssey, I was all Iliad all the time.

D Schol. ad ll 1.1

“Sing the rage..” [People] ask why the poem begins from rage, so ill-famed a word. It does for two reasons. First, so that it might [grab the attention] of that particular portion of the soul and make audiences more ready for the sublime and position us to handle sufferings nobly, since it is about to narrate wars.

A second reason is to make the praises of the Greeks more credible. Since it was about to reveal the Greeks prevailing, it is not seemly to make it more worthy of credibility by failing to make everything contribute positively to their praise.”

Μῆνιν ἄειδε: ζητοῦσι, διὰ τί ἀπὸ τῆς μήνιδος ἤρξατο, οὕτω δυσφήμου ὀνόματος. διὰ δύο ταῦτα, πρῶτον μέν, ἵν’ ἐκ τοῦ πάθους †ἀποκαταρρεύσῃ† τὸ τοιοῦτο μόριον τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ προσεκτικωτέρους τοὺς ἀκροατὰς ἐπὶ τοῦ μεγέθους ποιήσῃ καὶ προεθίσῃ φέρειν γενναίως ἡμᾶς τὰ πάθη, μέλλων πολέμους ἀπαγγέλλειν· δεύτερον δέ, ἵνα τὰ ἐγκώμια τῶν ῾Ελλήνων πιθανώτερα ποιήσῃ. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἔμελλε νικῶντας ἀποφαίνειν τοὺς ῞Ελληνας, εἰκότως †οὐ κατατρέχει ἀξιοπιστότερον† ἐκ τοῦ μὴ πάντα χαρίζεσθαι τῷ ἐκείνων ἐπαίνῳ.

Everyone knows the Iliad starts with the “rage of Achilles”. What that rage means and how it shapes the poem is not so universally understood. My first Greek teacher and now friend of two decades, Leonard Muellner, wrote one of the best books on this topic. In his The Anger of Achilles: Mênis in Greek Epic, Lenny shows how Achilles’ anger has cosmic implications and is rooted in a thematic pattern shared by gods like Demeter and Zeus. He also notes that there may have been versions of the poem that put Achilles’ rage alongside Apollo’s

The proem according to Aristoxenus

Tell me now Muses who have Olympian Homes
How rage and anger overtook Peleus’ son
And also the shining son of Leto. For the king was enraged…”

῎Εσπετε νῦν μοι, Μοῦσαι ᾿Ολύμπια δώματ’ ἔχουσαι,
ὅππως δὴ μῆνίς τε χόλος θ’ ἕλε Πηλεΐωνα,
Λητοῦς τ’ ἀγλαὸν υἱόν· ὁ γὰρ βασιλῆι χολωθείς.

What I love about Emily Austin’s book is that she enters into a deep and ancient discussion and asks what seems like a simple question: what about the cause of rage? Starting from the premise that the absence of things, longing, what a Lacanian might call a “lack” (my words, not hers), Emily offers a reading of the epic that doesn’t countermand the importance of rage, but instead, decenters it, looking at how longing (pothê,) shapes the poem and its audiences expectations.

Here’s Emily talking about her book:

In Grief and the Hero, I set aside conversations about the Iliad’s composition and authorship, and instead consider the poem as narrative poetry. The heart of my book is Achilles’ experience of futility in grief. Rather than assuming that grief gives rise to anger, as most scholars have done, Grief and the Hero traces the origin of these emotions. Achilles’ grief for Patroklos is uniquely described with the word pothê, “longing.” By joining grief and longing, the Iliad depicts Achilles’ grief as the rupture of shared life—an insight that generates a new way of reading the epic. No action can undo the reality of his friend Patroklos’ death; but the experience of death drives Achilles to act as though he can achieve something restorative. Achilles’ cycles of weeping and vengeance-seeking bring home how those whom we have lost will never return to us, yet we are shaped by the life we shared with them. In Grief and the Hero, I uncover these affective dimensions of the narrative, which contribute to the epic’s lasting appeal. Loss, longing, and even revenge touch many human lives, and the insights of the Iliad have broad resonance.

I am not a disinterested party in this book. I read an early manuscript and recognized early on that this was an original contribution to an old debate. There is an urgency to longing and the absence of what we need to complete ourselves that motivates the actions of the poem and feeds the timeliness of this book. In a year of violence, disruption, and isolation, it is a perfect time to think about the causes of the things that set us apart.

Grief and the Hero provides a perfect complement to Muellner’s analysis of the thematic function of Achilles’ rage; it also functions as a corrective for many responses to Homer that shy away from the grand themes and the big stages of human life. There are a few dozen books about Homer I think a Homerist must read; there are only a handful I think everyone should try. Emily’s Grief and the Hero is now one of them.

Of course, I’m biased here. I’ve learned so much from talking to Emily about literature, loss and grief over the past few years that I am certainly not objective. But I asked a couple other friends for their thoughts too.

Alex Loney, Associate Professor, Wheaton College

Emily Austin has written a rare and welcome contribution to recent Homeric scholarship: a “robustly literary” meditation on grief and the Iliad. In her reading, the Iliad shows how anger born of grief is never satisfied. It cycles on, relentlessly forward. Peace that comes from vengeance is illusory, and the yawning chasm of loss can only be repaired by letting go.

Joe Goodkin, Singer, Songwriter, Homeric Bard

I have spent the better part of three years living inside the characters of the Iliad as I composed and now perform the Blues of Achilles, my first-person song cycle adaptation of the epic. I found Grief and the Hero exhaustingly resonant with what I’ve come to vividly understand as the core emotional arc of Achilles and those caught in his orbit. Grief and the Hero works for me on multiple levels: academic, creative, and, most importantly, human, so beautifully teasing out the most powerful and universal theme of the poem that I only began to fully discover and appreciate as I wrote my songs: the resolution of grief.

Justin Arft, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee Knoxville

“In addition to providing a novel interpretation of the Iliad‘s narrative and applying close readings of phraseology and structures, Emily brings new depths to the character of Achilles that all subsequent interpretations will need to consider. Her approach is a perfect balance of careful scholarship and elegant interpretation.. She has challenged me to think about the human dimension of the stories.”

Those of us in academia have missed some minor things during the pandemic: book release parties, dinners to celebrate tenure, long talks away from loud conferences with friends. These are so insignificant compared to the losses of the past year that I feel bad even mentioning them. But loss is part of what makes us who we are.

Take a chance on a book; let’s make Emily’s year special.


and some epigrammatic humor to end the post

Palladas of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.169

“The Rage of Achilles has become the cause for me
a grammarian, of destructive poverty.
I wish the rage had killed me with the Greeks
before the hard hunger of scholarship killed me.”

Μῆνις ᾿Αχιλλῆος καὶ ἐμοὶ πρόφασις γεγένηται
οὐλομένης πενίης γραμματικευσαμένῳ.
εἴθε δὲ σὺν Δαναοῖς με κατέκτανε μῆνις ἐκείνη,
πρὶν χαλεπὸς λιμὸς γραμματικῆς ὀλέσει.

 

Psst…if you use this flyer you can get a discount

Remember the Name Medea: Reading Apollonius Rhodes’ “Argonautica” Online

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 1.1

“Starting with you, Apollo, let me recall the tales of men
born long ago…”

Ἀρχόμενος σέο, Φοῖβε, παλαιγενέων κλέα φωτῶν
μνήσομαι…

Video Feed: April 28, 3pm EDT

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1-5

“Erato, come and stand by me and tell me how Jason
took to fleece back to Iolkos with the help
of Medea’s love. You share in Aphrodite’s realm
and you bewitch the unmarried girls with worries
and this is the very reason you won your name.”

εἰ δ᾽ ἄγε νῦν, Ἐρατώ, παρά θ᾽ ἵστασο, καί μοι ἔνισπε,
ἔνθεν ὅπως ἐς Ἰωλκὸν ἀνήγαγε κῶας Ἰήσων
Μηδείης ὑπ᾽ ἔρωτι. σὺ γὰρ καὶ Κύπριδος αἶσαν
ἔμμορες, ἀδμῆτας δὲ τεοῖς μελεδήμασι θέλγεις
5παρθενικάς: τῶ καί τοι ἐπήρατον οὔνομ᾽ ἀνῆπται.

In the first year of Reading Greek Tragedy Online, we wandered on our path a little bit to comedy, fragments, and even to epic. This year we are moving out of the archaic and classical worlds to the Hellenistic period, turning to our only full telling of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodes.

There were certainly versions of the tale before Ap. Rhodes made his break with Callimachus for epic’s rushing river. Indeed, it is pretty clear that the story of the Voyage of the Argo was an ancient one that was told in many forms, likely influencing and being influenced by Homer’s Odyssey and many other lost traditions. But the way we name the tale is important: it is not just the story of Jason and his crew. It is also the story of Medea, a quest, and a love affair arranged by scheming gods.

In a way, there are elements of Argonautica in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and in Vergil’s later Aeneid. And its story blends into theirs as well. As Catullus frames it in Carmen 64, it was the voyage of the Argo that brought Peleus to Thetis, one domino that needed to fall to lead to their marriage banquet, the arrival of Eris, the golden apple, and so much more.

But Ovid probably encapsulates one view of the voyage best, in Amores 2.11:

“As waves watched, shocked, the pine cut down from Pelion’s peak
Was the first to teach us the evil ways of the sea—
That one that raced madly through crushing cliffs
And made to steal the gold-marked fleece.
I wish the Argo had been overcome, drawing a deep funereal drink
Then no oar would have troubled the broad water’s peace.”

Prima malas docuit mirantibus aequoris undis
Peliaco pinus vertice caesa vias,
Quae concurrentis inter temeraria cautes
Conspicuam fulvo vellere vexit ovem.
o utinam, nequis remo freta longa moveret,
Argo funestas pressa bibisset aquas!

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1405-7

He went back into the city, mixing into the Kolkhians,
turning over how he might oppose them more swiftly.
The day ended and Jason’s labor was finished.”

ἤιε δ᾿ ἐς πτολίεθρον ὑπότροπος ἄμμιγα Κόλχοις,
πορφύρων, ᾗ κέ σφι θοώτερον ἀντιόῳτο.
ἦμαρ ἔδυ, καὶ τῷ τετελεσμένος ἦεν ἄεθλος.

Special Guest: Jackie Murray

Translation (of performance): Aaron Poochigian

Apollonius Rhodes, 3.56

“Mock me all you want! My heart upset by this ruin”

“κερτομέεις, νῶιν δὲ κέαρ συνορίνεται ἄτῃ.

Cast

Hannah Barrie – Narrator/Phineus
Tamieka Chavis – Narrator
Paul Hurley – Narrator/Aeetes
Lily Ling – Jason
Natasha Magigi – Medea
David Rubin – Narrator/Heracles

Director: Paul O’Mahony

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 3.1069-1071

“Should you ever make it back to your home again
remember the name Medea, and I in turn will remember you
even though you are far away…”

“μνώεο δ᾿, ἢν ἄρα δή ποθ᾿ ὑπότροπος οἴκαδ᾿ ἵκηαι,
οὔνομα Μηδείης· ὣς δ᾿ αὖτ᾿ ἐγὼ ἀμφὶς ἐόντος
μνήσομαι…

Production Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Host and Faculty Consultant: Joel Christensen (Brandeis University)
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Production Assistant: Francesca Bellei (Harvard University)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturgical Support: Emma Pauly and Emma Joy Hill
Associate Directors: Beth Burns, Liz Fisher, Tabatha Gayle, Laura Keefe, and Toph Marshall
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Poster Illustration Artist: John Koelle

For other episodes

go here for previous episodes or to youtube for the full playlist

Apollonius Rhodes, Argonautica 1.20-22

“Now I would like to recite the family and names of the heroes
their journeys through the treacherous sea and all the things
they did while they wandered. I hope the Muses will be supporters of my song.”

νῦν δ᾿ ἂν ἐγὼ γενεήν τε καὶ οὔνομα μυθησαίμην
ἡρώων, δολιχῆς τε πόρους ἁλός, ὅσσα τ᾿ ἔρεξαν
πλαζόμενοι· Μοῦσαι δ᾿ ὑποφήτορες εἶεν ἀοιδῆς.

 

Next Performance

Wednesday, May 26 | Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s El Monstruo de los Jardines (The Monster in the Garden) with Francisco Barrenechea (University of Maryland, College Park); translation by C. Svich

Defining Literature through Performance: A Conversation about #RGTO

Leon Battista Alberti,  On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literature (Part V):

“I had often heard a great number of the most serious and most erudite men recalling those things about the study of literature which could not unjustly drive anyone away from literature and the desire of learning.:

Sepe audiveram plerosque gravissimos eruditissimosque viros de studiis litterarum ea referentes que non iniuria possent a litteris discendique cupiditate ununquenque avertere.

Today A Bit Lit debuted a video of Paul O’Mahony, Evvy Miller, and me talking about literature, performance, and experience based on our experience with Reading Greek Tragedy Online. We tell the story of how we started doing these readings and give personal narratives about what the performances meant to us during the pandemic and how the experiences changed our idea of what literature is and does in the world.

Want more? Here’s a podcast Paul, Lanah Koelle, and I did last year on the origin of Reading Greek Tragedy Online.

RGTO returns next week, April 28th, with Jackie Murray and the Argonautica!

Cicero, Pro Archia 16

“But if this clear profit [of studying literature] is not clear and if entertainment alone should be sought from these pursuits, I still believe that you would judge them the most humanizing and enlightening exercise of the mind.

For other activities do not partake in all times, all ages, and all places—reading literature sharpens us in youth and comforts us in old age. It brings adornment to our successes and solace to our failures. It delights when we are at home and creates no obstacle for us out in the world. It is our companion through long nights, long journeys, and months in rural retreats.”

Quod si non hic tantus fructus ostenderetur et si ex his studiis delectatio sola peteretur, tamen, ut opinor, hanc animi adversionem humanissimam ac liberalissimam iudicaretis. Nam ceterae neque temporum sunt neque aetatum omnium neque locorum: haec studia adolescentiam acuunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Ancient Greek Literature

“There are many elements in the work of Homer or Aeschylus which are obsolete and even worthless, but there is no surpassing their essential poetry. It is there, a permanent power which we can feel or fail to feel, and if we fail the world is the poorer. And the same is true, though a little less easy to see, of the essential work of the historian or the philosopher.”

Classics Beyond Whiteness: An Interview

Last month, the College faculty of Wake Forest University formally approved a major decision by the Wake Forest Department of Classics: starting in the coming academic year, all majors and minors in the department, whether in the languages or in Classical Studies, will be required to take a course called Classics Beyond Whiteness, which, according to its official catalog description, “Studies misconceptions that ancient Greeks and Romans were white; race in Graeco-Roman societies; the role of Classics in modern racial politics; and non-white approaches to Classics. Considers race as social construct; white supremacy, fragility, and privilege; and critical-race-theoretical study of ancient cultures.”

I sat down with T. H. M. Gellar-Goad — the faculty member who developed the course, and co-founded the Classics Beyond Whiteness series at Wake Forest — to find out more about the course, the series, and the curricular change.

 

1. So, to start off, tell us what exactly “Classics Beyond Whiteness” is. 

Classics Beyond Whiteness is a multi-modal series of departmental programming that aims to decenter the whiteness of the field, both in the discipline’s history and its future. It began in the 2019–2020 academic year with a series of talks and workshops, reading groups, art exhibits, public art commissions, and the course Classics Beyond Whiteness itself.

The three threads of the Classics Beyond Whiteness series were race and ethnicity in the ancient world; Classics and white supremacy; and nonwhite receptions of Classics. The course I taught in fall 2019 — which is the one now on the books as a permanent departmental offering, and required of all Classics majors and minors at Wake Forest henceforth — had the same title as the series and the same threads of inquiry, with an intersectional, critical-race-theoretical lens. Although it was a new, half-term course that fulfilled no degree requirements, it over-enrolled almost immediately. The discussions were always rich, and the curricular and extracurricular components of the Classics Beyond Whiteness series worked synergistically to engage the students outside of the class meetings.

One of the signal achievements of Classics Beyond Whiteness is a series of three portraits of Black classicists from North Carolina by Winston-Salem artist Leo Rucker. These are the first painted portraits of these subjects–Helen Maria Chesnutt, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Wiley Lane–and the portraits represent a lasting testament to the often-overlooked impact of Black classicists on our discipline, locally and worldwide.

2. Tell me a little bit about what prompted you to design Classics Beyond Whiteness in the first place. 

In the 2018–2019 academic year, my department decided on the theme “Classics Beyond Europe” for its series of teleconference guest lectures. So we had speakers on the reception of Classics in Brazil and in the United States; on contemporary issues of race and racism facing Classics as a discipline; and on Black scholars of Classics connected to North Carolina. That series was such a success with our students and our campus community that we decided to continue in the following year with a series focused on questions of race and ethnicity in the ancient and modern worlds. This decision was in part prompted by a talk Patrice Rankine gave for us in February 2019, in which he connected Athens, the early United States, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photos. A mere week after that talk, Wake Forest had its own Ralph Northam incident, as the Dean and Associate Dean of Admissions were found to have posed for photos in front of Confederate flags when they were undergraduates at Wake Forest.

The phrase “Classics Beyond Whiteness” is first and foremost a provocation — it is not a state of where the field is or my department is, but both a vision and a call to action.

Over the summer of 2020, in response to the worldwide protests for racial justice in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others, a contingent of alums of Wake Forest Classics sent a letter to our faculty encouraging us to adopt new measures for racial justice in our own department. One decision we made in response to that letter was to add Classics Beyond Whiteness as a requirement to all our majors and minors. From now on, no student who earns a degree in our department will do so without encountering critical race theory or grappling with the crises in which our discipline is entangled.

 

3. What resources did you find most valuable or helpful in designing the course? Which would you recommend to others thinking of doing the same thing? 

Denise McCoskey’s book Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy, as well as a number of articles published by Eidolon, were incredibly helpful resources, as is the burgeoning set of books and articles aimed at explaining systemic racism, white privilege, and white fragility, including Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “There is no such thing as Western civilisation.” I owe a huge debt to a number of scholars whose work has helped shape this course in all sorts of ways: Shelley Haley, Patrice Rankine, Mathura Umachandran, Jackie Murray, Sarah E. Bond, Kelly P. Dugan, and others. There are also excellent resource pages and venues for advice offered by scholarly organizations including MRECC, Classics & Social Justice, and the Social Justice in Secondary Latin Teaching group on Facebook. I also used excerpts from Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Primary Sources in Translation (edd. Kennedy/Roy/Goldman).

 

4. What did you find most challenging and/or rewarding about the experience of designing the course and the series? 

I said earlier that Classics Beyond Whiteness is not a statement of where the field is, but rather a challenge to think about what it could be. The whiteness itself was a challenge — both my own, in errors that I made in framing and organizing events, and also in the fragility that white colleagues and administrators demonstrated in different ways, minor and major, throughout the process. The corollary to this is that, ultimately, Classics Beyond Whiteness did secure the funding and institutional support needed for its various extracurricular events, and especially for the public art commission. The meeting the minds and the debates and discussions prompted by Classics Beyond Whiteness were both intellectually rigorous and stimulating, and they were, for myself and for many of the participants, eye-opening. 

 

5. What advice or guidance would you offer to those thinking of designing similar initiatives at their own institutions? 

Think big. The planning of the series started with a blue-sky vision of what it would look like if there were no constraints on resources. It turned out that, when I pulled together smaller chunks of funding from various sources within the university and the discipline, every piece of that vision was able to be realized. Being white is not an excuse for not pursuing programming like this: it’s past time to shift what’s been traditionally centered in Classics, beginning at home in our departments. We had more people at these talks and workshops than we ever did before, from first-year students to majors to colleagues across the university to high-level administrators to community members — this is not to say, “do this to increase your numbers,” but rather, “do this because it is the right thing to do for all of our community, and there are many, many people who want this.” The interest in the Classics Beyond Whiteness course and event series at Wake Forest speaks to the desire of the current generation of college students to rethink and reshape the field. 

Artist Leo Rucker and Postdoctoral Fellow Caitlin Hines unveil Rucker’s portrait of Helen Maria Chestnutt 

 

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad is Associate Professor of Classics and Zachary T. Smith Fellow at Wake Forest University.  He specializes in Latin poetry, especially the funny stuff: Roman comedy, Roman erotic elegy, Roman satire, and — if you believe him — the allegedly philosophical poet Lucretius.  He is author of Laughing Atoms, Laughing Matter: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Satire and Plautus: Curculio.

 

Amy Lather is Assistant Professor of Classics and Dunn-Riley Fellow at Wake Forest University. Her research focuses on aesthetics and cognition in archaic and classical Greek poetry, and her monograph, Materiality and Aesthetics in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry, is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.

The Fool-Me-Once Principle of Democracy

“I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.” –Senator Susan Collins of Maine speaking after President Trump’s first impeachment trial. 1 year later, she’s a juror in his second impeachment trial.

Solon Fr.10

If you’ve suffered through your destructive wickedness,
Don’t blame the gods for any of it.
For you gave protection to your enemies,
Strengthening them in the very process.
And so you brought evil subjugation to the city.
Each of you walks with the steps of a fox,
Yet each of you have got a mind altogether shallow:
You look at the tongue and at the speech of shifty men,
Yet never do you see their words become action.

εἰ δὲ πεπόνθατε λυγρὰ δί᾽ ὑμετέρην κακότητα,
μή τι θεοῖς τούτων μόμφον ἐπαμφέρετε:
αὐτοὶ γὰρ τούτοις ηὐξήσατε ῥύματα δόντες
καὶ διὰ ταῦτα κακὴν ἔσχετε δουλοσύνην:
5ὑμέων δ᾽ εἷς μὲν ἕκαστος ἀλώπεκος ἴχνεσι βαίνει
σύμπασιν δ᾽ ὑμῖν χαῦνος ἔνεστι νόος:
εἰς γὰρ γλῶσσαν ὁρᾶτε καὶ εἰς ἔπος αἰόλον ἀνδρός,
εἰς ἔργον δ᾽ οὐδὲν γιγνόμενον βλέπετε.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Staging Epic and Tragedy: A Workshop

In March of 2020, as pandemic lockdowns started in the US and the UK, Paul O’Mahony and I met with Keith DeStone and Lanah Koelle of the Center for Hellenic Studies to try to figure out some way to stay sane and to keep ‘working’ at something. A few days later we tried our very first recording of Reading Greek Tragedy Online, sketched out around the basic idea of bringing professional actors and academics into conversation about the performance of ancient tragedy. Early on, we were supported by the production team at the Center for Hellenic Studies and Kosmos Society with the creative direction of Out of Chaos Theatre. We also eventually received a grant from the Society for Classical Studies “Classics Everywhere” Initiative.

What happened next basically stayed true to our original idea, but also showed how limited our understanding of it was. We recorded over 40 videos between March and December, including segments from every full Greek tragedy, selections of fragments, three comedies, parts of the Iliad , a 24 hour performance of the Odyssey across six continents, and a competition for high school and college students with cash prizes (guided with help from Amy Pistone). We learned a lot from each other about Greek theater, interpreting Greek myth, and performing in the confines of the small screen. But I think we also learned a lot about why performing and interpreting these ancient texts together matters, especially during times of uncertainty and crisis.

Beyond all else, I learned how much a larger community can enrich this process. Part of our working practice from the beginning was to bring in as many people as possible and listen to their directions, reactions, and ideas. This week at the annual meeting of the AIA/SCS, Paul and I are holding a workshop to try to see where we can go next. We will be talking about the experience of performing these plays online with actors and other guests, but we will also be seeking advice for what we do next.

The workshop will be split into two halves, one reflective and instructive followed by an opportunity to engage in performance and staging itself. We are also eager to hear feedback about our work and have conversations about what happens next.

Prior registration is not required (although AIA/SCS Registration is!); no experience is required. Come and share a few hours reading and performing Greek tragedy.

 How it started

how it’s going

SCS-15: Staging Epic and Tragedy 9am-12pm CST [official description]

The format of this workshop will be practical, based on performing ancient texts and stories. It will focus in particular on staging ideas for tragedy and epic in theatre today and it will explore the positive impact of performance in academic settings. There will be practical exercises for those who would like to get involved and there will be discussion between the two panellists (the two organizers). This will be an opportunity to explore collaboration between academic and artistic practitioners, and to discover how such work can enrich their respective fields. There will be particular attention paid to the Aeneid, exploring the challenges posed by staging epic, and the opportunities created by ancient stories illuminating ongoing political and social upheaval within Europe (and beyond).

Here’s a podcast covering the creation of this series.

BADA is launching a program in part inspired by this series: Greek Theatre: From the Ancient World to the Modern, Through Theory and Performance 

 

The Annual Top 10 Post

These are the posts published for the first time in 2020 that received the most views.Certain posts about Aristotle keep getting hits, but we’ll leave that nonsense out of the mix.

  1. [redacted]– S. Echeverria-Fenn telling the story of her experience with Classics
  2. Skip Sleep & Blast Through HomerErik’s surprise hit with an excerpt from E.V. Blomfeld, Biographical Memoir of Joseph Justus Scaliger:
  3. A Vote Against Pericles is a Vote Against Plague — Flint Dibble’s fabulous essay paring down the truth from the propaganda about Pericles and the plague
  4. On Not Reading Homer — a response to an ongoing debate about requiring Homer for Classics majors in the UK
  5. Founding Frauds of the Role-Playing Republic — Erik’s barnstorming unmasking of the shallowness of early American classicism
  6. On Reading Homer –a response to the response to my response encouraging people not to read Homer, outlining a more holistic approach to reading Epic
  7. Blogging My Way to a Booka record of how I used blogging over a five year period to help write a book
  8. Epic and Therapy: Helplessness, Loss, and Collective Trauma imagine the folly of starting to think about collective trauma only a month into the US COVID19 shutdown
  9.  Reading Poems at the End of the World — further navel gazing at the beginning of the end of the beginning of the end of the world