Reading Tragedy Together When Sheltering Alone

Greek Tragedy Readings, Week 1: Euripides’ Helen (Supported by the Center for Hellenic Studies and the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre).

A week or so ago Paul O’Mahony pulled together a few people from the Center for Hellenic Studies (Lanah Koelle and Keith DeStone) with me and several members of the Kosmos Society (including Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott) with an idea: bringing together Hellenists and actors in isolation to do readings and discussions of Greek Tragedy during these strange times. We talked about how important it is to retain human contact and communication to stay sane, how the arts help us reflect on being human and how in these frightening times the humanities have no less a purchase on our imaginations and our needs than at any other.

We sketched out a basic plan to read a play a week and invite professional actors to read scenes together. And then we tried it out the next day. We recorded it rather than performing it live because we had no idea how well it would go. Here it is:

Actors: Evelyn Miller, Richard Neal, Paul O’Mahony, and Eunice Roberts

Questions and comments by Joel Christensen

Designed by Paul O’Mahony with consultation from the Kosmos Society and Joel Christensen (me!)

Scenes include: Helen’s opening speech Helen and Teucer (l. 68-164) Menelaos speech (l.386-438) Menelaos and Old Woman (l.437-484) Menelaos and Helen meet (l.528-661) Menelaos and Helen plotting (l.1031-1093)

I hope you take some time to watch this and read along (we use this text). The conversation was unscripted and mostly unplanned–some of the comments about seeming and being and living at the edge of things or through mediated experiences struck me pretty hard.

We plan to do this on a weekly basis and are looking for experts in tragedy and actors who would like to participate. Please reach out! We hope to give people a chance to spend time thinking about Greek tragedy, engaging with one another, and meeting new people, learning new things.

For next week, we will be running the show live and opening it up to the public:

Wednesday at 3 PM EST we are reading Sophocles’ Philoktetes (using this text) and will be joined by Howard University’s Norman Sandridge. Watch here and the Center for Hellenic Studies website for news.

Tragedy readings

Miraculous Things and Gullible People

Palaephatus, Peri Apistôn 1

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

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

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

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

A bonnacon uses feces for weapons. 

Annual Top 10

These are the top most viewed posts of the year. (For Comparison, here are last year’s)

  1. No, Aristotle Din’t Write “A Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts”
  2. Nope, Aristotle Did not Say “It is the Mark Of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without…”
  3. A School Massacre and Toxic Heroism
  4. An Ancient Greek Horror Story to Make You Scream
  5. Racists Use This Fake Quote From Aristotle
  6. Head and Heart: a Quotation Falsely Attributed to Aristotle
  7. A List of Women Authors from the Ancient World
  8. Our Culture: Classics By Exclusion
  9. ‘Classics for Everyone’ Must be More than a Slogan
  10. The Future of Classics, From “Below”

“How many there are who degrade the Latin language!”
Quam multi sunt, qui verba Latina depravant! -Piccolomini

The Aristotle posts were all written before last year but seem to get a lot of hits from search engines. Here is the list of last year’s top posts that debuted last year

1. A School Massacre and Toxic Heroism

An essay starting with the heroic tale of Kleomedes the Astupulaian and suggesting that heroic “patterns” are part of our problem with school shootings

2. Our Culture: Classics By Exclusion

A reflection on the history of exclusion that characterizes Classics as a discipline

3. ‘Classics for Everyone’ Must be More than a Slogan

Dani Bostick’s essay on how superficial our efforts to expand the appeal of classics can be

4. The Future of Classics, From “Below”

Dani Bostick’s essay on how discussions of the future of Classics rarely includes high school teachers and students

5. Non-Elite Latin for the Classroom

Brandon Conley’s excellent introduction and selections of non-literary texts for the classroom

6. From the Iliad to the Irishman

Erik’s review of Martin Scorsese’s recent film from the perspective of Classics

7. Dumpster-Fire Retrospective: Hanson, Homer, Horseshit

If you don’t remember Who Killed Homer?, this might be a good place to start

8. Against Pedantry

An essay on the harmful stances we take in public and the classroom and how it shapes the way we learn and behave

9. Beauty and Privilege: Latin, Paideia, and Papyri

Who is foolish enough to try to connect a recent book about loving Latin with the cultural problems of the Paideia Institute and Dirk Obbink’s Papyrological shenanigans?

10. “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” in Ancient Greek

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like

The essays on academia, our discipline, and culture seem to be some of the most popular, but Erik’s review of “The Irishman” has been only live for a few weeks. I am also a big fan of his takedown of “Who Killed Homer?” (#7). The title is great; the fire inside is better.

Death Board

A Digital Apolococyntosis

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

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

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

Here’s a link to the Sketchfab version

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

What’s the SCAPP bot? Stay tuned…

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

Bad Manners, Worse Quotations: Some More Fake Socrates

In this week’s Globe Magazine piece “Why Kids Today are So Rude…” by Nicole Graev Lipson, we find a pretty piquant line uncritically attributed to Socrates.socrates (2)

Surprise! This does not actually come from ancient Greece.

The earliest attestation of this quotation I could find with a google search appears in The Massachusetts Teacher, volume 3 (1923), but quote investigator traces this back to 1907.

Luxury 1923

After this, it begins to appear widely in educational writing after the 1950s. The phrase certainly has words that occur in English translations of Plato with some frequency (“tyrant, Luxury” etc.). But essential ideas of disrespect in the passage such as crossing legs or not rising to greet  parents are wholly modern.

I searched a bit through Plato and there is a chance that something like this is somewhere, but for now this seems to be total nonsense. Bartleby got to that point, but buried the lede.

luxury 2

It is disappointing that there was no fact-checking on this one. The Boston area just might host the greatest density of Classicists in the United States. How hard would it be to reach out to someone about Classical quotations?

 

h/t to the peerless .@professormortis for pointing this out

Pumpkinception

My colleague Dr. Alex Ratzlaff and the Brandeis Techne Group at Autodesk carved this pumpkin, then 3D laser-scanned and rendered it with training from Ian Roy and the Brandeis MakerLab.

Talk about tekhne and partnerships! This is awesome and super meta. Also, it reminded me of Apocolocyntosis, Seneca’s neologism for “becoming a gourd” (Pumpkinification, his description for the apotheosis of poor Divus Claudius)

What would you call the digital apotheosis of a gourd?

Pumpkinification

Alex does really cool work and is going to start blogging about it. So, this is a preview. But, hey, it is also a season for pumpkins. (Werewolf week starts tomorrow.)

Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 4-5

“And he spat up his soul and then he seemed to stop living. He died, moreover, while he listened to comedians, so you understand that I do not fear them without reason. His final voice was heard among people as follows. When he emitted the greater sound with that part with which he spoke more easily, he said “Oh my, I shat myself I think”. Whether or not he did this, I do not know: but he certainly fouled up the place.

The things that were done next on earth are useless to report—for you certainly know it clearly. There is no risk that the memory left by public celebration will disappear—no one forgets his own joy. What was done in heaven, you should hear—the proof will come from the author!

It was announced to Jupiter that a man of certain good size had come, really grey. I don’t know what he was threatening, since he was constantly moving his head and dragging his right foot. When they asked what country he was from he responded with a confused sound and troubled voice—they could not understand his language. He was not Greek or Roman or of any other race.

Then Jupiter sent Hercules who had wandered over the whole earth and seemed to know every nation. He ordered him to go and explore what people this man was from. Then Hercules was a bit undone by the first sight because he had not yet feared all the monsters. As he gazed upon this new kind of a thing with its uncommon step, a voice belonging to no earth-bound beast but more like something coming out of a marine monster, coarse and wordless, he thought that he had arrived at a thirteenth labor. As he looked more closely, it seemed to him to be a man. Se he went up to him and said what comes easiest to a Greek tongue. “Who are you among men and from where? Where is your city and parents?”

Et ille quidem animam ebulliit, et ex eo desiit vivere videri. Exspiravit autem dum comoedos audit, ut scias me non sine causa illos timere. Ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: “vae me, puto, concacavi me.” Quod an fecerit, nescio: omnia certe concacavit.

Quae in terris postea sint acta, supervacuum est referre. Scitis enim optime, nec periculum est ne excidant memoriae quae gaudium publicum impresserit: nemo felicitatis suae obliviscitur. In caelo quae acta sint, audite: fides penes auctorem erit. Nuntiatur Iovi venisse quendam bonae staturae, bene canum; nescio quid illum minari, assidue enim caput movere; pedem dextrum trahere. Quaesisse se, cuius nationis esset: respondisse nescio quid perturbato sono et voce confusa; non intellegere se linguam eius, nec Graecum esse nec Romanum nec ullius gentis notae. Tum Iuppiter Herculem, qui totum orbem terrarum pererraverat et nosse videbatur omnes nationes, iubet ire et explorare, quorum hominum esset. Tum Hercules primo aspectu sane perturbatus est, ut qui etiam non omnia monstra timuerit. Ut vidit novi generis faciem, insolitum incessum, vocem nullius terrestris animalis sed qualis esse marinis beluis solet, raucam et implicatam, putavit sibi tertium decimum laborem venisse. Diligentius intuenti visus est quasi homo. Accessit itaque et quod facillimum fuit Graeculo, ait:

τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν, πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες;

These Are The Insults I know

Phrynichus 74 Athen. 2. 44d (i 103 Kaibel)

“Lampros the musician was a water-drinker. Phrynichus says of him: sea-weed lamented for Lampros, a water-drinker who died in it, whiny uber-sophist, a Muse mortician, the Nightingale’s nightmare, and a hymn to Hades”

ὑδροπότης δ᾿ ἦν καὶ Λάμπρος ὁ μουσικός, περὶ οὗ Φρύνιχός φησι (fr. 74 K.-A.)·
λάρους θρηνεῖν, ἐν οἷσι Λάμπρος ἐναπέθνῃσκεν ἄνθρωπος <ὢν> ὑδατοπότης, μινυρὸς ὑπερσοφιστής, Μουσῶν σκελετός, ἀηδόνων ἠπίαλος, ὕμνος Ἅιδου.

File:Terracotta hydria (water jar) MET 180966.jpg
A  water jar from the MET, C. 560 BCE