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.

Argo Navis & the Abolished Constellations

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Møenlight Sonata’, curated by René Block. Kunsthal 44Møen, Møen, Denmark, 2018. Courtesy Galerie Volker Diehl.

For B.Y. & A.Y., the star hunters.

Homer, Odyssey, XII, 69-72

οἴη δὴ κείνη γε παρέπλω ποντοπόρος νηῦς,
Ἀργὼ πᾶσι μέλουσα, παρ᾽ Αἰήταο πλέουσα.
καὶ νύ κε τὴν ἔνθ᾽ ὦκα βάλεν μεγάλας ποτὶ πέτρας,
ἀλλ᾽ Ἥρη παρέπεμψεν, ἐπεὶ φίλος ἦεν Ἰήσων.

Only the famous Argo sailed through there
Returning from the visit with Aeetes.
The current hurdled the ship towards the rocks,
But Hera, who loved Jason, led them safe.

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica I, 109-114

αὐτή μιν Τριτωνὶς ἀριστήων ἐς ὅμιλον
ὦρσεν Ἀθηναίη, μετὰ δ᾽ ἤλυθεν ἐλδομένοισιν.
αὐτὴ γὰρ καὶ νῆα θοὴν κάμε: σὺν δέ οἱ Ἄργος
τεῦξεν Ἀρεστορίδης κείνης ὑποθημοσύνῃσιν.
τῶ καὶ πασάων προφερεστάτη ἔπλετο νηῶν,
ὅσσαι ὑπ᾽ εἰρεσίῃσιν ἐπειρήσαντο θαλάσσης.

Tritonian Athena herself urged him to join the band of chiefs,
And he came among them a welcome comrade.
She herself too fashioned the swift ship;
And with her Argus, son of Arestor, wrought it by her counsels.
Wherefore it proved the most excellent of all ships,
That have made trial of the sea with oars.

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

Who invented the sky? The only way to answer this question would be like this — the first person who looked up and wondered. Socrates tells us in Plato’s Theaetetus (Plat. Theaet. 155d), μάλα γὰρ φιλοσόφου τοῦτο τὸ πάθος, τὸ θαυμάζειν: οὐ γὰρ ἄλλη ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας ἢ αὕτη, καὶ ἔοικεν ὁ τὴν Ἶριν Θαύμαντος ἔκγονον φήσας οὐ κακῶς γενεαλογεῖν, namely: “For this feeling of wonder shows that you are a philosopher, since wonder is the only beginning of philosophy, and he who said that Iris was the child of Thaumas made a good genealogy.” Iris was a messenger of the heavens, so the sky was never too far away for those who wonder. But philosophy arrives too late, and we’re looking at an earlier world, populated with gods, heroes and stars; a world that had already eclipsed in Plato’s time. Was it perhaps at the end of the Ice Age when the brain cortex of the first modern humans began articulating symbolic orders?

An answer is impossible to come by, but the stars in the sky have lived with us for a long time, and we could never unsee them. That is, paradoxically, until the modern age, when, after thousands of years of dreams and wonders, we launched ourselves into space, in an attempt to escape from the condition of being human. Out there we realized to our despair (and our newly discovered indifference too) that there was no such a thing as the sky; this was no transcendental space or a place at all, but rather, everything that is above the surface of the earth, a combination of atmospheric layers and the infinite void. The infinite is not even an adequate concept, for the physical concept of time has no relevance for the individual person, and no use except in space physics. With the conquest of heaven, a direct consequence of the space and arms race, the sky went dimmer, if not altogether silent. Yet the void remains. 

But the history of the void, with its now missing stars and constellations, is not a history of physics, as much as a story of our puzzling earthly odyssey, as astronomer John C. Barentine tells us: “However old the constellations, it is safe to conclude that they have long journeyed with us on our path to becoming human.” Constellations are some of the oldest cultural inventions of humans, predating writing and social organization (what once was called civilization). Barentine continues: “The presumably oldest figures in existence, such as the Hunter and the Bull, refer to a time in human  history before the emergence of settled agricultural communities. It is probably no coincidence that Orion and Taurus reflect themes in the oldest extant works of art: the human form and game animals.” Already at the time of the Neolithic revolution, 12,000 years ago, understanding cues in the sky about the seasonal calendar was crucial to the survival of early humans. 

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

Our oldest accounts of constellations and stars date back to the Middle Bronze Age and the list of Sumerian names suggest they were drawn from an earlier source. In the Mesopotamian text “Prayer to the Gods of the Night” (1700 BC), we hear of the Arrow (the star Sirius), the Yoke (the star Arcturus), the Stars (the Pleiades star cluster), or the True Shepherd of Anu (Orion). Think about the long journey of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, known to Homer as the autumn star (Hom. Il. 5.1-5), and to Egyptians and Greeks as the “Dog star”. Its heliacal rise, connected with an extremely hot season at the end of summer, was known not only to Homer and Hesiod but to Aeschylus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Theognis, Eratosthenes, Nonnus and the folk tales about the star and its hot season survive as late as Anna Komnene’s Alexiad in the Byzantine period. Located in the constellation Canis Major, Sirius is still visible to the naked eye.

In the Shield of Achilles (Hom. Il. 18.478-608), provided by Hephaestus in the Iliad, and the first example of ekphrasis, Homer describes in its first layer, a number of constellations: Orion and the Bear, the star clusters of the Pleiades and the Hyades. A telling star-struck passage in the ekphrasis, ἥ τ᾽ αὐτοῦ στρέφεται καί τ᾽ Ὠρίωνα δοκεύει (Hom. Il. 18-488), “She turns about in the same spot and watches for Orion”, reappears in identical form in the Odyssey in a crucial moment, when the nymph Calypso is sending Odysseus from the island of Ogygia, and instructs him to keep on the left side the constellation of the Bear (Hom. Od. 5.270-277), without specifying whether he meant the Little Bear or the Great Bear, in what is the only passage in the epic that refers to stellar navigation. For seventeen days he sailed over the sea, and then on the eighteenth day the land of the Phaeacians appeared nearest to him.

Most of the constellations referred to in these passages have come down to us in Ptolemy’s Almagest, and survived unchallenged for some fourteen centuries, as the cosmological model underwent certain revisions (the geocentric model is of course completely debased, but the Homeric cosmology of the earth as a flat disk surrounded by an ocean and in between two layers of stars, is surprisingly similar to the current model of the Milky Way). The birth of the contemporary sky that begins with the Copernican revolution and ends with Trevor Paglen’s “The Last Pictures” (the sky as a junkyard of dead satellites), arrived also with discoveries of new stars and constellations, adding up to the 48 Ptolemaic constellations. But constellations are not discovered, they’re imaginary bodies. Ptolemy missed an entire quarter of the sky, and this information could only be added during the colonial voyages in the 16th century.

Our current knowledge of astrophysics insists on the standardization of stars and constellations for the sake of the photographic process, but in fact, tells us that not only are constellations imaginary, but they also serve no purpose whatsoever in astronomy. Why do we insist then on the star map? Russian painter Alexandra Paperno turned to the star maps at the beginning of her career in the early 2000s, not necessarily out of an interest in the vast cosmic space and our perception of the structure of the universe, but from a vantage point that resembles more an architecture of first principles, with primary and secondary qualities: What are pictorial spaces? What is an empty space? What are spaces generally? Living as we are, in a moment largely defined by hyper-metaphors of time such as acceleration, apocalypse and the instant, our relationship to space is tawdry and unimaginative; space is a site of incarceration.

Alexandra Paperno. Argo Navis (from ‘Abolished Constellations’ series), 2016. Ink on paper, 76×56 cm

But our living spaces have little to do with the Aristotelian metaphors of place around the line and the point, or the fixed abode or point of origin in the myth: Our spaces are devoured by multiple overlapping temporalities, and are embedded in a percolation of spatiotemporal continuity, like a crumpled handkerchief, to use a metaphor of Michel Serres, out of which a viscous substance oozes out that contains the present as debris. In the Star Maps (2003-2005), Paperno captures what Petrus Schaesberg called the misty uncertainty of the sky, following two central interrelated ideas: First, the scant appearance of the starry sky in the history of representation of space in general as we have received it from Western painting, and secondly, the Kantian notion of the sublime, as an aesthetic category beyond the senses. The modern pictorial space resembles the stellar void: It’s unarticulated, ambiguous but never absent.

During Paperno’s research on star maps, the realization that different astronomical atlases and maps contained different constellations in the early modern period, and a curious art historical reference, the minor constellations Sculptor and Pictor (included in the Star Maps), discovered by French astronomer Abbé Nicholas Louis de Lacaille in the 1750s, and located in the southern hemisphere, led to an amazing revelation: As astronomical societies were being modernized throughout the Western world, in 1922, the modern map of 88 constellations was adopted (it was agreed that no more constellations would be added) and then more than 50 constellations, some dating back to antiquity, but for the most part coined by American and European astronomers mapping the southern skies, were abolished for a variety of reasons. Some of these were considered inaccurate, ambiguous, too faint, or too large. Looking at earlier star maps, the Russian painter carefully recomposed the fifty-one constellations as single wooden panels (also executed on paper in a different iteration).    

Many of these constellations are unfamiliar to us, with their Latin names, such as “Gladii Electorales Saxonici” (Crossed swords of the Electorate of Saxony, d. 1684, by Gottfried Kirch), “Machina Electrica” or “Officina Typographica” (Electricity Generator and Printshop, d. 1800 and 1801, by Johann Elert Bode), but the style of christening the stars gives us a lot of information about the ambitions of the Enlightenment era and the scientific revolutions. At the heart of Paperno’s project, however, there’s no stars as an object of contemplation but a void of knowledge and consciousness: How would it be possible to abolish something that in fact never existed? An international bureaucracy of knowledge dethroned an imaginary which, however impractical for modern science, was richly embedded in the fabric of our historicity, and the beginning of wonder, from an era when we began to search our yet unfinished destiny on earth. 

Although the sky, or rather, the void, is alive and not static (our galaxy is not necessarily too privileged a location for sighting stars, being too far away from the center of star formations, a place where life would be impossible), all the Ptolemaic constellations survived into the modern map, with the exception of one: “Argo Novis”, known since early antiquity under different names. It was considered unwieldy by science as De Lacaille explained in 1763, from his observation point in Cape Town, South Africa (there he asserted the position of nearly 10,000 stars), that there were more than a hundred and sixty stars in it, and it was initially broken into three different constellations Carina, Pupis, and Vela; Pyxis Nautica was added later. The Argo Novis was not abolished, but dismantled. Yet the history of the constellation and its accompanying myth (we are unable to ascertain which came first), dates back to the earliest era of transmissions and transformations in the Near East.  

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

A discoverer of constellations himself, Johann Elert Bode tells us in 1801: “This figure commemorates the famous ship of antiquity, which was built according to legend at the command of Minerva and Neptune in Thessaly from Argo, and it is that which the Greek hero Jason and the Argonauts used to collect the Golden Fleece from the place of the eastern shore of the Black Sea known as Colchis.” Argo Navis as a constellation appears first in a list by Eudoxus of Cnidus in the 4th century BC, and the ship was known to the author of the Odyssey. In a passage concerning the witchlike goddess Circe (Hom. Od. 12.69-72), as she is giving Odysseus instructions for his return voyage, she explains that the Sirens are located between Scylla and Charbydis, adding that there is only one seafaring ship that has ever passed through, and that is the Argo, with the intervention of Hera, who loved the argonaut Jason.

[For further details on the episode of the Sirens, see my “Archipelagos of Time: On the Song of the Sirens”

The ship was thought to be a variety of galley, an oceangoing craft with a shallow draft, low profile and long narrow hull (Barentine), and according to Eratosthenes, the constellation represented the first ship to sail the ocean, long before Jason’s time. A myth of the construction of the ship was relayed by Apollonius Rhodius in his Argonautica, claiming that its builder was Argus, under the supervision of Athena (Apollon. 1.109-114). The Argonautica, composed in the 3rd century AD, is the only surviving epic poem of the Hellenistic era, incorporating Apollonius Rhodius’ research into geography, Homeric literature and Greek ethnography. Its most enduring innovation upon the Greek epic is the possibility of love between a hero and a heroine, exemplified in the vivacious story of Jason and Medea, but the story was well known in a much earlier period, and the myth of the Argonauts underlies the Homeric epic as a memory source. 

Jason’s father Aeson was removed from the throne by his brother Pelias, and Jason was then entrusted to the centaur Chiron. After his upbringing with the centaur, and learning of his true story, Jason set for Iolcus, and upon confronting Pelias, the king devised for him the toil of an impossibly difficult voyage, in order that he might lose his home-return among strangers or at sea, with a mission to find the Golden Fleece. Jason visited Hera at Dodona, and with her help, Athena would have the ship built from pine trees grown on Mount Pelion, and he assembled a crew with as many heroes as he could find, known as the Argonauts. At last they reached Colchis and presented their demand to King Aetes, but unwilling to part with his most prized possession, the king declared Jason would have to catch and subdue two fire-breathing bulls dedicated to Hephaestus and use the bulls to plow a stony field sacred to Ares. 

Alexandra Paperno, Pictor, (from the Star Maps Series), 2003, mixed media on canvas, 150×120 cm

But there would be more: He would have to sow the field with dragon’s teeth and then slay the army of giants that would rise. Finally, after defeating the guardian dragon, the Fleece would be his. Jason was then enchanted with the king’s daughter Medea, and agreed to marry her in exchange for her help (she’s a skilled sorceress). With the fleece in hand, Jason, Medea and the Argonauts set off from Colchis, taking Absyrtus, the king’s only son, as a hostage. A Colchian vessel set off in pursuit of the Argo and easily overtook it, and sensing that the end was near, Medea killed Absyrtus, dropping pieces of the body overboard. As expected from an epic, the Argo was led off as a punishment and a number of storms were sent by Zeus, and then Jason is told they should seek ritual purification with Circe, the famous nymph living on the island of Aeaea, whom we know well from the Odyssey. 

[The episode of Circe in the Odyssey is one of the main events in my parafiction, “The Charonion”]

In Book IV of the Argonautica, the Argonauts find Circe bathing in salt water, surrounded by wild animals. The goddess invites Jason, Medea and the Argonauts into her mansion, and without any further ado, they show her the bloody sword used to cut the body of Absyrtus, and Circe realizes quickly enough that they have come in order to be purified of murder. After the purification, Medea tells Circe of their toll in great details, but omits the murder of Absyrtus. Circe knows the truth and disapproves of their crime, but on account of her kinship with Medea, she promises to cause them no harm and orders them to depart from her island immediately. It seems as if after the visit to Aeaea, the Argonautica comes to a happy conclusion in Thessaly, but ambiguous accounts remain, telling of intrigues, murders, escapes and the rise of the ship to heaven as a constellation, or another version in which a beam from the Argo’s stern detaches and kills Jason instantly while he slept under a tree. 

The long journey of the Argo Navis in the mythography, protracted, inconclusive, and ultimately unfinishable, always reminds me of the liminal space of Paperno’s Abolished Constellations. In its first argonautic expedition, the Argo Navis alongside the other fifty abolished constellations (let us name a few more: Keeper of Harvests, Pendulum Clock, Marble Sculpture, Tigris River), were displayed in 2016, at a derelict unconsecrated 8th century church linked to the now extinct Albanian-Scythian Christian community, in a scientific village home to the Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Large Altazimuth Telescope (for several years the largest single primary optical reflecting telescope in the world, but now an anachronism) in Nizhny Arkhyz, perched on the mountains of the northern Caucasus. The panels were assembled as a grid construction that resembles an altarpiece, doubling up the sense of what is meant by heavenly. A heaven that has fallen, an abolished heaven.

It was an impenetrable site… A flight from Moscow to the resort town of Mineralnye Voda, followed by long bus journeys in the mountains, and an hour-long walk inside the terrain of Lower Arkhyz, in a frosty autumn, crossing small rivulets and mud passages, in order to arrive at an altarpiece to something that doesn’t exist anymore because in fact it was never real – the gods are dead. This speaks to Paperno’s notion of the ruin as a central notion in European civilization: The ruin is fresh because it was already ruined from the outset. Later on, the abolished constellations traveled to Berlin, where they were on show in a window storefront in a gallery space where it would be the last exhibition before its eventual folding up, or on the Danish island of Møn, a biosphere reserve in the Baltic sea, loosely connected to another island, Zealand, with irregular transportation.  

Alexandra Paperno. Abolished Constellations, 2016. Installation view at the ‘Observatory’, curated by Simon Mraz. Special Astrophysical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Science and its campus at Lower Arkhyz, Russia, 2016. Photograph by Yuri Palmin.

In these precarious, remote, vanishing, half-real sites, the witness to the constellations, is forced to reflect on the irrational infinity of space as such, and in the words of Schaesberg discussing Paperno’s star maps: “Reflective moods inevitably set in when one contemplates the constellations, but Paperno’s overall concept of this series — including single stars, star maps, and constellations, not to mention still lifes with globes — conjures up the Thracian maid’s laughter when Thales of Miletus fell into the well, the epitome of disdain for astronomy’s endeavors, and hints at today’s amazing awareness that we human beings, in a remote corner of the boundless universe, are terribly alone.” These empty and half-empty interiors of the pictorial space, fragile and tense, make us dwell in a world of wonder: It is a world without nature, abandoned, and yet filled with our own specters.

In the spring of 2020, as the abolished constellations in their single individual panels, rested alone in a studio, in the center of Moscow, after their unlikely argonautic travels, still incomplete, the world closed down on us, and we became separated not only from each other, but also from our world, perhaps indefinitely. Unsure whether the purification of Circe would be enough to bring us from Aeaea to Thessaly, for the first time in our lifetimes, we wandered in the silent dark. And perhaps then we remembered the lives of those early humans, who spent long nights under the stars, around a bonfire, telling each other the stories of Jason and Odysseus, under different names, giving new names to Sirius and the Bear, as if they had never been named before. I then interrogated one of the abolished constellations, the “Machina Electrica” (d. 1800), hanging on my walls: Will the night sky still be there if we stopped looking? An answer came from the Odyssey, a year and a half later, on the shores of Seleucia Pieria, during a clear night: ἥ τ᾽ αὐτοῦ στρέφεται καί τ᾽ Ὠρίωνα δοκεύει / She turns about in the same spot and watches for Orion.

Alexandra Paperno. Grey Sun, 2003. ‘Self-Love Among the Ruins’ exhibition view, curated by Ekaterina Inozemtseva. Schusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow, 2018. Courtesy Smart Art.

Bibliography

  • John C. Barentine, The Lost Constellations: A History of Obsolete, Extinct, or Forgotten Star Lore, Springer, Praxis Series, 2016 
  • Margalit Finkelberg, “She turns about in the same spot and watches for Orion”: Ancient Criticism and Exegesis of Od. 5.274 = Il. 18.488”, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 44 (2004), p. 231-244
  • Theodossiou, E., Manimanis, V. N., Mantarakis, P., & Dimitrijevic, M. S., “Astronomy and Constellations in the Iliad and Odyssey”, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Vol. 14, No. 1, p. 22 – 30 (2011)
  • Alexandra Paperno & Katya Inozemtseva, “Self-Love Among the Ruins: A Conversation between Katya Inozemtseva & Alexandra Paperno”, in Alexandra Paperno. Self Love Among the Ruins, Ad Marginem Press, 2019, p. 6-23
  • Petrus Schaesberg, “Alexandra Paperno: Star Maps”, in Alexandra Paperno: Star Maps, National Center for Contemporary Arts Moscow, 2007, p. 5-14

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He’s also tweeting about Classics, continental philosophy, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece. He’s the co-editor of Perambulation.

Add/Drop/Keep: a Classics Conversation

What Would You Add/Drop/Change/Keep the Same about “Classics”?

Classics Ph.D student Ethan Ganesh Warren and associate professor Nandini Pandey recently spoke with the SCS Blog, at the invitation of AAACC co-founder Chris Waldo, about their experiences as South Asians in ancient Mediterranean studies. They share with Sententiae Antiquae the second half of their conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, about things they’d keep or change about “classics” — that name itself, though used throughout, being one obvious candidate.

Nandini: I was going to ask if you wanted to play a little game with me. I do this one midterm evaluation that asks every student to pick one thing they’d add to your course, one thing they’d drop, one thing they’d change, and one thing they’d keep the same. And I wondered if we could do that for “classics” as a field right now. What would we add that isn’t already happening?

Ethan: One thing that I would like to see is more courses that cover broader topics in antiquity, [like one we teach at UT-Austin] called “The Ancient Mediterranean World.” The first thing we talk about is how the idea of “the West” or “the Mediterranean” is extremely problematic because that spans multiple continents and multiple climates and multiple cultures … from Babylon, Sumer, Egypt, Israel, all the way up until Greece and Rome. And we end up forming links between all of those cultures. I think courses that help you see similarities and share experiences between cultures are super cool and underutilized in colleges in general.   

Nandini: I love that. And I would add to your “add” that I would really love more training in grad school or at other levels to prepare us to do that kind of teaching [in keeping with recent interest in global antiquities]. I know it’s intimidating for any of us, after the depth of training we receive in a couple cultures, to branch out and feel like amateurs. I think it’s actually okay to be an amateur; I wish that we would embrace the fact that we’re always learning and we don’t need to stay forever within our dissertation fields. But I would love serious training on those cultural interactions really emphasized as part of the curriculum instead of [treated as] a throwaway option. [The same goes for interactions between antiquity and the present.] My students always love when we add some thought to the modern world — conversations about cultural interactions or appropriations or intersectionality with a classical twist. So I find that using Eidolon articles or bringing up modern angles is a great way to start or end discussion [that could also be better modelled in graduate school]. 

<We rave about Antigone in Ferguson and the brilliant discussions it’s generated in our classrooms, then move on to what we’d drop.>

Ethan: One thing I would drop is the idea that you need a fully complete resume to get into graduate school. And what I mean by that is a lot of professors, when a student comes to them with an interest in graduate school in classics, say, “Okay, you need four years of one language, three years of another. You need experience in this and this. … And it would also help to know either French or German or Italian.” And that can be severely limiting to students who didn’t have access to that sort of thing in high school. … If you put all of these qualifiers in, then it’s frankly impossible for a student who comes into college without any knowledge or practice in classics to go to graduate school … and become a professor or be a part of the field, right? And that can be severely limiting and it’s frankly not true. I mean, I was lucky to have a lot of high school experience in Latin, but I didn’t take any classics courses my freshman year … by the time I was doing advanced Greek, I was a second-semester junior. I didn’t have any German or French. And I got into a good program out of undergrad because I worked hard and I had a lot of confidence in myself and I had people tell me that I could do this — but I don’t think everyone has that. A lot of places, professors tend to gate-keep the field, whether intentionally or unintentionally. 

Nandini: And even your saying that you “only” had a certain amount of Greek by your junior year is already amazing, right? Many people, especially ones who fall in love with classics late in their college career, might not have access to even one Greek class — but they could have so much to bring to the field. So I fully endorse that and I want to add for the record that you may have more Latin right now than I did by the time I became a professor. <They laugh; Nandini attended a public high school with no Latin program and stumbled into classics as an undergraduate.> But there’s a kind of virtue in coming to the field from a background that wasn’t about rigorous language training from the very beginning. I think that actually you sometimes have more insights or you can be a little more creative in your outlook. 

So I totally agree with you and I would add, as a corollary, that I’d love to change our ideas of what expertise looks like, but also drop the expectation of total comprehensive synthetic knowledge of everything ever written on a particular author. Which is something that [we faculty often] perpetuate with the way that we do grad school reading lists and design exams and [compose] footnotes that last pages. It creates so much fear and intimidation. I mean, if you’re a Vergil scholar like me and you feel you need to read every one of the hundred thousand things ever written about a particular passage, you would never write a word. So I think that we need to start modifying that culture for sure. 

Ethan: Also, to add onto that, letting students know that it’s okay to skim articles. Because I think this is one of the dirty secrets of academia, especially when you first get into graduate school. You have a thousand lines of Latin to read for one class, plus five or six articles and you’re not going to be able to physically do that with two or three other classes. And I think a lot of professors try and keep the secret that people skim … and that’s okay. You don’t have to read every single word of an article. If you can understand what the author is doing, the logic they’re using, and at least some of the references they’re making or some of the source material they’re citing, that’s good. And that’s especially good for a college student.

Nandini: Absolutely. And there’s this old ethos, or maybe it’s more an aesthetic, where [professors] would cultivate the aura of somebody who has completely memorized the entire classical corpus. They would sit in the front at lectures and trot out verbatim citations in the original language. There is something incredibly cool and wonderful about that and I love many of those people who can do that. But for a long time, that was what I thought was the only way to be good at this field. And the truth is that in our information age, where we can instantly call up any article or look up any text, that kind of memorization expertise is getting not outdated but replicated. Because as you say, it’s more important to know how to read than to have fully memorized every single thing, because you can always [look them up if you need]. Or if you have the skill set of designing a good argument and understanding where it needs evidence, and understanding how to critique the scholarship — if you have all that, that’s actually much more important than having a bunch of bibliography at the tip of your tongue. 

Ethan: One thing we would change — do you want to go first on this one? 

Nandini: I think this current digital age allows a lot more potential for conversations and collaborations across institutions. I’ve gotten so much during the pandemic from chatting with other BIPOC classicists or grad students at different programs than mine [often while] giving visiting talks from my living room. I really love the ability to move around so freely in terms of conversations and support networks. And so I guess I would just keep going in that direction. I think it’s really healthy [that WCC, AAACC, and other organizations] are building mentorship relationships that reach beyond your specific department. Because in some of my darkest times as an academic, when I felt bullied or harassed — and believe me, this happens in grad school, but it keeps happening; getting a job is not the end, getting tenure is not the end of microaggressions or gatekeeping — in those situations, it’s having friends outside of my institution that has really saved me. And I would wish that for anybody else in this field. 

[Academia] can be very isolating, and there’s this false perception that everyone gets it except for you — that they all know what they’re doing and they’re all understanding that article or writing that paper perfectly on the first try. I think that we need to make [classics] a less lonely endeavor — we need to make it much more supportive, much more sociable. And we need to break those little monopolies on authority and power that are the academic department, and reward and compensate the time that people spend on [building relationships and support structures that cross institutional boundaries].  

Ethan:  Bouncing off of that … another thing I would change is broadening the requirements for the [undergraduate] major. So not necessarily saying, you need this many hours of Latin and this many hours of Greek, and this and that specific class. Because while it’s definitely helpful and while that could make you a potentially attractive candidate to graduate school, there are a lot of people who know [canonical authors] like Ovid and Vergil really well … People who are interested in something different like bioarchaeology or digital humanities are also super attractive to graduate school. … And that could be beneficial because it helps students develop skills to be competitive in and get jobs outside of academia too. Because if we’re trying to get students to come and get Ph.Ds in classics, then promise them all tenure-track jobs afterwards, then we’re kidding ourselves and them. So developing skills that can be attractive in other fields and other endeavors after the Ph.D is something that I would like to see.

Nandini: Absolutely — there’s no categorical difference between academic and “alt-ac” skills. There never has been nor is it healthy to act as though there is. We need to make sure that graduate school is always helping people develop skills for a [range of future job possibilities]. And we should start welcoming and rewarding different kinds of output … than just the standard dissertation. There’s this standard format that frankly is not even a book — [most dissertations] require years to become good books. We could encourage writing that’s a little less formulaic, a little less self-credentialing and boring, and start helping [grad students] make products that people [outside our narrow band of academia] actually want to read or use. We can reward more public-facing work, but also applied projects like digital humanities or commentaries or pedagogical projects or art installations or programs that are aimed at bringing more diverse students into classics. I think all of those things should count as end goals of your time in a Ph.D program … because obviously the model that we have is not working for all but a very few. 

Last question — what would you keep the same? 

Ethan: One thing I’d keep the same is the growth in discussions like this. Because as you said, for the longest time, [grad school was considered] this pipeline toward a job in academia … but that’s not realistic [for all]. That’s not saying that you shouldn’t pursue that goal, but you should also know about other options available to you. And I think this growing conversation has been super beneficial for graduates — it’s definitely been beneficial for me.

Nandini: I couldn’t agree more. And my answer for “what I would keep the same” is you. I just want to ring-structure back to the email that you sent me all those years ago [when you read my 2018 Eidolon piece about diversity in classics]. That really helped me at a time when I was feeling very isolated in a red state after the Trump election. I started writing publicly because I didn’t know what else to do with my time and frankly, digging deep into footnotes and spending time in the library on the commentaries started to feel less fulfilling intrinsically. I needed to figure out a way to reach out and reach more people. And so I started writing for Eidolon in a really dark place, but I had no anticipation of how much uplift I would get from people like you and how fulfilling it is now for me to watch you grow and change and do the great work you’re doing — and have this wonderful conversation with you. So thank you very much. 

Ethan: When I encountered your article, I was also in a dark place. I was interning and we had just had a lecture where I had been singled out by someone. They had later asked me where I was from and when I told them Wisconsin, they did the classic, “Oh, well, where’s your family from?” It was a stressful time because I had been getting that a lot. And I read your article and feeling that someone understood what I was going through really helped me continue on in the field. So thank you for that.

Nandini: And turning back to ancient thought: to know that other people have dealt with [these questions of identity and belonging and path-finding] before, even if they didn’t look exactly like us — that gives me a sense of radical continuity and compassion across cultures and across generations and across space now too. So here’s to many more such conversations. 

Relief found in Neumagen near Trier, a teacher with three discipuli (180-185 AD)

Countless Mixtures Incomplete: Introducing Pasts Imperfect

“When virtue is cast off into leisure without action it is a shapeless and imperfect good.”
sic imperfectum ac languidum bonum est in otium sine actu proiecta virtus
Seneca, De Otio 6.3
Today is the release of the first column in a series called Pasts Imperfecta partnership with the LA Review of Books, edited by Sarah E. Bond, Nandini Pandey, and Joel Christensen (and more to come, but see this thread). It is part of a network of publications  that hat explore the literature, material culture, reception, art, and pop culture within a global antiquity. Sign up here for the newsletter and more information. Sarah, Nandini, and Joel collaborated on this post.

Appion in Ps.-Clement, Homilies, 6.3.4

Elena, ekkolapsis (ἐκκόλαψις) la schiusa dell’uovo, Museo archeologico nazionale di Metaponto. In calcare, V sec. a.C.

“…the egg that Orpheus claims was created, projected from the boundless matter, was born like this: the quadruple matter is alive and all of the endless deep flows eternally but it moves in an unclear war, pouring forth here and there endless incomplete mixtures from one time to another. For this reason, it pulls them back too and then opens wide as if for the birth of a creature that cannot be bound.”

ὅπερ Ὀρφεὺς ᾠὸν λέγει γενητόν, ἐξ ἀπείρου τῆς ὕλης προβεβλημένον, γεγονὸς δὲ οὕτω· τῆς τετραγενοῦς ὕλης ἐμψύχου οὔσης, καὶ ὅλου ἀπείρου τινὸς βυθοῦ ἀεὶ ῥέοντος, καὶ ἀκρίτως φερομένου, καὶ μυρίας ἀτελεῖς κράσεις ἄλλοτε ἄλλως ἐπαναχέοντος, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο αὐτὰς ἀναλύοντος τῇ ἀταξίᾳ, καὶ κεχηνότος ὡς εἰς γένεσιν ζῴου δεθῆναι μὴ δυναμένου…

The poet and classicist Anne Carson has an essay that sticks like maple syrup to your subconscious, called “Essay on What I Think About Most.” She begins the poem by addressing the idea of the error and what we can learn from it by dissecting a bit of poetry from Alcman of Sparta, a Greek lyric poet from the 7th century BCE.

ὥρας δ᾿ ἔσηκε τρεῖς, θέρος
καὶ χεῖμα κὠπώραν τρίταν
καὶ τέτρατον τὸ ϝῆρ, ὅκα
σάλλει μέν, ἐσθίην δ᾿ ἄδαν
οὐκ ἔστι. Athenaeus 416d

[made?] three seasons, summer
and winter and autumn third
and fourth spring when
there is blooming but to eat enough
is not (trans. Carson)

Carson notes that the verb in Alcman’s laconic rumination on hunger seems to have no subject. She addresses whether this was a grammatical mistake caused by transmission and fragmentation; a way modern philologists can scrub away “errors” of the past. “But as you know, the chief aim of philology,” she says, “is to reduce all textual delight / to an accident of history. And I am uneasy with any claim to know exactly / what a poet means to say. So let’s leave the question mark there “

The lack of any punctuation is the kicker there. The absence does more work than any ellipsis or period ever could. Carson demonstrates how, for her, Alcman “sidesteps fear, anxiety, shame, remorse” connected to mistakes in order to engage with a truth:

“The fact of the matter for humans is imperfection.”

And that is in part what the first column of Pasts Imperfect argues for in addressing the construction, impact, and harm of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth: the need to embrace the mess and variants of the past. To do this, we must also situate the “classical” Mediterranean within a global antiquity.

What is Pasts Imperfect? It is a column and a space for commentary, reviews, essays, reflections, statements, and any other words needed to help us negotiate between the past and our present world. We talk about pasts because antiquity isn’t just one land, timeline, or narrative; it is multiple and multiplied by the perspectives we bring to bear on it. Our Pasts are not just Greek, Roman, and Mediterranean; they are not just elite, white, and male. The past includes these people and perspectives, but also those who were silenced or left behind: the people, the languages, and the histories in or beyond the margins.

Imperfect is about value and aspect. We acknowledge that the past is far from perfect and we study antiquity to help us understand ourselves and the causes of things, not to render fictive, to emulate, or to praise simply because something has been praised before. To be human is to be imperfect; to love as a human is to love imperfectly. Our studies of the past and ourselves must honor and inhabit such complexities.

Imperfect is also about incompletion. We see the study of the past as a process that is ongoing and never truly done: each generation, each embodied person, each new perspective contributes to challenging what we think we know about what has come before.

Pasts Imperfect seeks to bring critical and transparently progressive reflections and scholarship on antiquity to a wider audience. It is a column, a space, and a developing network for those who want to engage in challenging discussions about antiquity, its construction and reception in scholarship, and its impact on the modern world. As our editorial college and paid writer-network begins to expand and to take pitches, we hope to venture into a more global understanding of the past while also making space for imperfection.

Plutarch, On the Affection Offspring (Moralia 496b)

“There is nothing so imperfect, helpless, naked, formless, and unclean as a human being glimpsed at the moment of birth, someone to whom nature has not even given a clear path to the light.”

οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστιν οὕτως ἀτελὲς οὐδ᾿ ἄπορον οὐδὲ γυμνὸν οὐδ᾿ ἄμορφον οὐδὲ μιαρὸν ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἐν γοναῖς ὁρώμενος· ᾧ μόνῳ σχεδὸν οὐδὲ καθαρὰν ἔδωκεν εἰς φῶς ὁδὸν ἡ φύσις…

Please reach out to anyone of the editors if you want to collaborate or pitch a story idea. We are working to help place essays in several different venues. See also the Public Books Antiquities Section, edited by Stephanie Wong and Sarah E. Bond and sign up for the newsletter to learn more.

File:Fragment de mosaique Ino (Dotô), découverte dans une villa romaine de Saint-Rustice en 1833, IVè ou Vè siècle, MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond (7221368224).jpg
Fragment de mosaique : Ino (Dotô), découverte dans une villa romaine de Saint-Rustice en 1833, IVè ou Vè siècle, MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond

Just a Girl: Being Briseis

Note: This essay was sent to me to be published anonymously. It is a powerful reminder that who you are fundamentally changes what the Iliad means and that the loudest voices are often the abusive ones.

CW: Sexual Assault

You hadn’t heard of Agamemnon when you started college. You didn’t know about the embassy to Achilles or Briseis or the wrath of the gods. You did know that you really liked this guy, let’s call him Carl, and you’d been hanging out with him for a while and you were excited to go to a party at his frat house.

If you had read the Iliad, you might have noticed that Briseis and Chryseis play an awfully big role for people who barely even speak. You might have thought it was weird that Agamemnon insists that he prefers Chryseis to Clytemnestra, but he would part with her if it’s for the best (εἰ τό γ᾽ ἄμεινον), because he’s so worried about the λαός—the people, but really the men. Turns out that sometimes men are only concerned about the well-being of men. But you didn’t see that on a first read anyway, and Homer couldn’t have really helped you navigate the men or the lions.

Briseis and Phoenix, red-figure kylix, c. 490 BCE, Louvre (G 152)[1]
There’s a lot you don’t know about that party, but you do know that you had a lot to drink, and he took you down to his room and left you there. You might have fallen asleep, you may as well have. When you woke up, there was a stranger on top of you. “Stranger” is a bit strong – it was his ‘big brother,’ a relationship that apparently means quite a lot in a fraternity.

Agamemnon doesn’t want to part with Chryseis, but he will for a price. Or, more precisely, he will if he’s given a prize, a γέρας. Achilles and Agamemnon mention this all-important γέρας thirteen times in Book 1, and Agamemnon makes it very clear that he will not be prize-less (ἀγέραστος). We get another fourteen mentions of honor or dishonor (ἀτιμάω, τιμή, etc.), all of which have to do with the men involved. That’s a lot more than we hear about the women, the girls, whose feelings are inconsequential when men have their honor to worry about. The only feelings we hear anything about are the men—men cry, while women are bartered by men whose feelings are hurt.

Years later, you’d start to realize that words like assault and rape fit what happened to you that night, but that was after years of your pain being used as a punch line and a bargaining token among the brothers at this fraternity. Years of this being a story about how you were a slut and you shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. Years of ‘jokes’ about how you were ‘given’ to that man as a present, from little brother to big brother.

Briseis seated Red Figure Vase, London, British Museum 1843,1103.92 Cat. Vases E 76

And really, the important thing is that Briseis doesn’t end up ruining the Greek army’s chance to win the war. Eventually, the men realize that it’s not worth getting upset over something as meaningless as a girl. As Achilles spits out the words ‘I will not fight with you for the sake of a girl’ (1.298), you feel it in your gut. Ajax says this to Achilles later too – you’re doing this over only a girl (9.637). What a senseless reason to disrupt the unity of the men. Bros before hoes has a longer history than you realized.

Over the next several years, you would remain friends with everyone at the fraternity. You were a liberated college student and not someone who would make a big deal about whatever happened to you. You’re not that kind of girl, and what did it matter that something happened to you that night, that something was taken from you, but you would never – still don’t – know what?

If you look through the Iliad to see what we actually hear about Briseis, you see that she mostly shows up in Book 1 and Book 9, which makes sense. But she gets mentioned in Book 24 in passing. Or, it would be in passing until you start to look for her, and you see that Briseis is sleeping near Achilles, after Priam’s visit. Until you read Silence of the Girls, you didn’t really give this much thought. You fell into the same trap that the Greek men do, you only thought that the men mattered. You don’t like that women are seen as objects, but it is what it is and, anyway, it was a long time ago. But what must it have been like for Briseis to sleep next to this man every night? The man who gave her to Agamemnon – did it matter that Achilles was mad about it? He still handed her over –and now possessed her again. What must it be like to lay next to him every night?

File:Wall painting - Briseis taken away from Achilles - Pompeii (VI 8 5) - Napoli MAN 9105 - 03.jpg
Briseis taken away from Achilles – Pompeii (VI 8 5) – Napoli MAN 9105

As it happens, you were such a cool girl who would never get hung up on silly things that happen at parties – honestly, what a funny mistake it all was! You were so cool about it that you kept coming back to Carl over the following years. Agonized over how he just wasn’t sure you two could date, because seeing you being assaulted was hard for him. You see, he felt like you’d betrayed him, and you were so sorry that you’d caused so much trouble. You kept seeing him, sleeping with him, understanding why he couldn’t date you, because this was really your fault anyway, and maybe you could show him that you could be trusted.

Now you teach students, and while you’ve always warned students about triggering content, you never really knew what that experience was actually like, to have old trauma wash over you with no warning. Not until Christine Blasey Ford testified about Brett Kavanaugh, and women in your life started holding each other tight to withstand the onslaught of stories about sexual assault and how boys will be boys. Something about the volume of women who were reliving their abuse at the same time was too much, and your body couldn’t hold it. A decade of grief poured out in gasping, shuddering tears that you didn’t know were being held in.

Briseis and the other enslaved women mourn for Patroclus, but Homer tells us that they’re also mourning their own pain. Like they needed something else to center their grief on, and once Patroclus was a vessel from grief, their own unexpressed grief poured out. You know that your students can’t prop you up if all this grief comes out in class, and you make it through the end of the class session, but your distance from this text is gone. You’ve fallen out of your own story and into this one. It’s safer not to talk about Briseis’ trauma in class anymore.

File:Briseis restored to Achilles - modello.jpg
Briseis restored to Achilles, Peter Paul Reubens, 16th/17th Century

There’s no amount of philological rigor that can talk a body down that’s feeling dredged up trauma. You know that you aren’t enslaved and your family hasn’t been killed. You know that almost nothing about the Iliad is a particularly good fit for that night, but it’s not clear if you can separate the two stories anymore. You haven’t taught the Iliad since that day, but presumably you will have to again one day, and the thought is terrifying. Your body still holds the grief and the rage that you like to think your brain has processed, and what kind of a classicist can’t teach Homer anymore?

The academic part of your brain knows that no text is about one thing. The Iliad is about a million things, but for you, right now, it’s really just a story about how women have to pay terrible prices for what men want. How women have to suffer physical and psychological violence because men don’t want to be told no. For gold or glory or honor or because the gods were mad – what does it actually matter why? In the end, every woman in (or even just near) Troy is going to suffer because Paris and Agamemnon and Achilles want to take things that aren’t theirs. And how do you pull yourself out of that story enough to actually teach it?

 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and would like to talk to someone, there are a range of resources available from RAINN.org. (or call 1-800-656-HOPE) or NSVRC.

Briseis
Eurybates and Talthybios Lead Briseis to Agamemmon – Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770)

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