Twenty Links for Twenty Days of Protest

“Surely, justice will overcome the architects of lies and their false witnesses.”

καὶ μέντοι καὶ δίκη καταλήψεται ψευδέων τέκτονας καὶ μάρτυρας.

Heraclitus, fr. 118

αἱ εἴκοσι ἡμέραι, “twenty days”

We have now seen 20 days in first local then international  protests over the death of George Floyd, police violence, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We are only at the beginning of our shared action and responsibility. (And not near the end of the protest: Breonna Taylor‘s killers have bot been arrested and Rayshard Brooks was killed mere days ago.)

Below are some resources and links I have found helpful and hope others will use to think about our place in this particular space and time and our obligations moving forward. Since this is a Greek and Roman literature blog with a focus on Classical Studies in general, a good deal of the material assembled  is concerned with that.

As Classicists, we have a lot to think about, but our thoughts and actions need to be for the long term in support of what the protests achieve and to help advance and solidify their aims. One question as a starting point, how is a canon like a statue?

N.B. Please do let me know if you want anything else added to this list. I have assembled this mainly for those who don’t spend a lot of time on twitter, etc.

Resources for action and education

  1. A homepage for resources to engage in protest and support Black Lives Matter. See also the Movement for Black Lives homepage
  2. Mariame Kaba on Defunding the Police
  3. Collection of Resources for Anti-Racism compiled by Rebecca Futo Kennedy (see also her blogposts about the racism intrinsic to the concept of “western civilization“). See this Anti-racist reading list too and this slightly older one.
  4. Keeange-Yamahtta Taylor:  “How Do We Change America?
  5.  If someone doubts police brutality: a list of videos.
  6. Education from Academics 4 Black Lives Video
  7. Racism in Publishing

Statements 

  1. The SCS Statement is pretty good and the ACL Statement shows much improvement thanks in part to the activism of Dani Bostick and others like Ian Lockey. As a long time member, I would like to single out the CAMWS Statement for its weakness (a call for “robust, respectful dialogue” but no mention of black lives, police violence, white supremacy or the complicity of classical education).

    Screenshot 2020-06-14 19.34.38
    Just in case they edit the statement….
  2. Multiculturalism, Race & Ethnicity in Classics Consortium (MRECC) Statement in Solidarity and Action Plan
  3. EOS (Africana Receptions of Greece and Rome) and their special session of EOS Reads. My colleague Cat Gillespie and I are bringing this to Brandeis.
  4. Asian American Caucus’ Statements of Solidarity and links for donations.
  5. A Student response to the Oxford Classics Statement (statement here)
  6. Classics and Social Justice Statement
  7. Brandeis’ Statements: followed by a community meeting and a two-day workship: President’s call for proposals and the superior statement by students in the Justice; and a presentation on America’s Racial Reckoning by Chad Williams, Anita Hill, Leah Wright Rigueur, and Daniel Kryder. My department has not issued an individual statement because we stand by our institutional response and believe that we need to listen and learn before making significant changes to our policies and our curricula. I say this as Chair of the Department and with deep respect for my colleagues at other institutions who have felt compelled to make statements of solidarity: statements are not enough from our field.

Voices

  1. Sportula and Sportula Europe. Just donate to them.
  2. Vanessa Stovall’s  “A Tale of Two Creons: Black Tragedies, White Anxieties, and the Necessity of Abolition.”
  3. Pria Jackson’s “Fight or Die: How to Move From Statements to Actions.”
  4. The Our Voices: A Conference for Inclusive Classics Pedagogy actually happened in this calendar year
  5. A personal account of how racism and ableism in Classics can drive someone out: Stefani Echeverria-Fenn’s “On Classics, Madness, and Losing Everything
  6. The Queer Classicist on Racism in Classics
Black Lives Fucking Matter“, “A.C.A.B.“, and “Fuck 12” graffiti on a looted Target store on Lake Street in Minneapolis the morning of May 28, from Wikipedia

What Books have You Read? Give Them Up.

Lucian, On the Ignorant Book-Collector 27 (Go to the Scaife Viewer for the full text)

“I’d be happy if I could ask you what kinds of books you like to read the most? Is it the works of Plato or Antisthenes, Archilochus or Hipponax? Or do you look down on these books because you prefer the orators?

Tell me, have you read Aeschines’ speech Against Timarchus? Or, do you know all those things and comprehend each of them but instead dip into Aristophanes and Eupolis? Have you even read The Baptai, the whole play? Did nothing in it change you and were you not embarrassed once you recognized what it was about? Someone might, in fact, be especially amazed at what kind of a spirit you have when you touch your books or what your hands are like when you unroll them.

When do you read? During the daytime? No one has seen you doing that! Is it at night then? Do you do it after you have given out orders to these guys or before? But in the name of Kotuos, don’t dare to do this kind of thing any more. Give up the books and pay attention to only your own affairs”

Ἡδέως δ᾿ ἂν καὶ ἐροίμην σε, τὰ τοσαῦτα βιβλία ἔχων τί μάλιστα ἀναγιγνώσκεις αὐτῶν; τὰ Πλάτωνος; τὰ Ἀντισθένους; τὰ Ἀρχιλόχου; τὰ Ἱππώνακτος; ἢ τούτων μὲν ὑπερφρονεῖς, ῥήτορες δὲ μάλιστά σοι διὰ χειρός; εἰπέ μοι, καὶ Αἰσχίνου τὸν κατὰ Τιμάρχου λόγον ἀναγιγνώσκεις; ἢ ἐκεῖνά γε πάντα οἶσθα καὶ γιγνώσκεις αὐτῶν ἕκαστον, τὸν δὲ Ἀριστοφάνην καὶ τὸν Εὔπολιν ὑποδέδυκας; ἀνέγνως καὶ τοὺς Βάπτας, τὸ δρᾶμα ὅλον; εἶτ᾿ οὐδέν σου τἀκεῖ καθίκετο, οὐδ᾿ ἠρυθρίασας γνωρίσας αὐτά; τοῦτο γοῦν καὶ μάλιστα θαυμάσειεν ἄν τις, τίνα ποτὲ ψυχὴν ἔχων ἅπτῃ τῶν βιβλιων, ὁποίαις αὐτὰ χερσὶν ἀνελίττεις. πότε δὲ ἀναγιγνώσκεις; μεθ᾿ ἡμέραν; ἀλλ᾿ οὐδεὶς ἑώρακε τοῦτο ποιοῦντα. ἀλλὰ νύκτωρ; πότερον ἐπιτεταγμένος ἤδη ἐκείνοις ἢ πρὸ τῶν λόγων; ἀλλὰ πρὸς Κότυος μηκέτι μὴ τολμήσῃς τοιοῦτο μηδέν, ἄφες δὲ τὰ βιβλία καὶ μόνα ἐργάζου τὰ σαυτοῦ.

Merton College Library

Changing Your Mind is the Point of Research

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 3.6.

“I admit that I now have a bit of a different opinion from what I believed before. Perhaps it would be safest for my reputation to change nothing which I not only believed but also approved for many years. But I cannot endure knowing that I misrepresent myself, especially in this work which I compose as some help for our good students. For even Hippocrates, famous still for his skill in medicine, seems to have conducted himself very honorably when he admitted his own errors so his followers would not make a mistake. Marcus Tullius did not hesitate to condemn some of his own books in subsequent publications, the Catulus and Lucullus, for example.

Prolonged effort in research would certainly be useless if we were not allowed to improve upon previous opinions. Nevertheless, nothing of what I taught then was useless. These things I offer now, in fact, return us to basic principles. Thus it will cause no one grief to have learned from me. I am trying only to collect and lay out the same ideas in a slightly more sensible fashion. I want it made known to all, moreover, that I am showing this to others no later than I have convinced myself.”

Ipse me paulum in alia quam prius habuerim opinione nunc esse confiteor. Et fortasse tutissimum erat famae modo studenti nihil ex eo mutare quod multis annis non sensissem modo verum etiam adprobassem. Sed non sustineo esse conscius mihi dissimulati, in eo praesertim opere quod ad bonorum iuvenum aliquam utilitatem componimus, in ulla parte iudicii mei. Nam et Hippocrates clarus arte medicinae videtur honestissime fecisse quod quosdam errores suos, ne posteri errarent, confessus est, et M. Tullius non dubitavit aliquos iam editos libros aliis postea scriptis ipse damnare, sicut Catulum atque Lucullum et… Etenim supervacuus foret in studiis longior labor si nihil liceret melius invenire praeteritis. Neque tamen quicquam ex iis quae tum praecepi supervacuum fuit; ad easdem enim particulas haec quoque quae nunc praecipiam revertentur. Ita neminem didicisse paeniteat: colligere tantum eadem ac disponere paulo significantius conor. Omnibus autem satis factum volo non me hoc serius demonstrare aliis quam mihi ipse persuaserim.

Mind Change real

A Reminder: One Who Is Disordered Cannot Create Order

Plutarch’s “To the Uneducated Ruler” has no relevance today, at all (780a-c)...

“The majority of kings and rulers are stupid–they imitate those artless sculptors who believe that their over-sized figures seem large and solid if they make them with a wide stance, flexing their muscles, mouths gaped open. For these types of rulers seem merely to be imitating the impressiveness and seriousness of leadership with their deep voice, severe glance, bitter manners and their separate way of living: but they are not really any different from the sculpted colossus which is heroic and godly on the outside, but filled with dirt, stone or lead within.

The real difference is that the weight of the statue keeps it standing straight, never leaning; these untaught generals and leaders often wobble and overturn because of their native ignorance. For, because they have built their homes on a crooked foundation, they lean and slide with it. Just as a carpenter’s square, if it is straight and solid, straightens out everything else that is measured according to it, so too a leader must first master himself and correct his own character and only then try to guide his people. For one who is falling cannot lift others; one who is ignorant cannot teach; one who is simple cannot manage complicated affairs; one who is disordered cannot create order; and one who does not rule himself cannot rule.”

Ἀλλὰ νοῦν οὐκ ἔχοντες οἱ πολλοὶ τῶν βασιλέων καὶ ἀρχόντων μιμοῦνται τοὺς ἀτέχνους ἀνδριαντοποιούς, οἳ νομίζουσι μεγάλους καὶ ἁδροὺς φαίνεσθαι τοὺς κολοσσούς, ἂν διαβεβηκότας σφόδρα καὶ διατεταμένους καὶ κεχηνότας πλάσωσι· καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι βαρύτητι φωνῆς καὶ βλέμματος τραχύτητι καὶ δυσκολίᾳ τρόπων καὶ ἀμιξίᾳ διαίτης ὄγκον ἡγεμονίας καὶ σεμνότητα μιμεῖσθαι δοκοῦσιν, οὐδ᾿ ὁτιοῦν τῶν κολοσσικῶν διαφέροντες ἀνδριάντων, οἳ τὴν ἔξωθεν ἡρωικὴν καὶ θεοπρεπῆ μορφὴν ἔχοντες ἐντός εἰσι γῆς μεστοὶ καὶ λίθου καὶ μολίβδου· πλὴν ὅτι τῶν μὲν ἀνδριάντων ταῦτα τὰ βάρη τὴν ὀρθότητα μόνιμον καὶ ἀκλινῆ διαφυλάττει, οἱ δ᾿ ἀπαίδευτοι στρατηγοὶ καὶ ἡγεμόνες ὑπὸ τῆς ἐντὸς ἀγνωμοσύνης πολλάκις σαλεύονται καὶ περιτρέπονται· βάσει γὰρ οὐ κειμένῃ πρὸς ὀρθὰς ἐξουσίαν ἐποικοδομοῦντες ὑψηλὴν συναπονεύουσι. δεῖ δέ, ὥσπερ ὁ κανὼν αὐτός, ἀστραβὴς γενόμενος καὶ ἀδιάστροφος, οὕτως ἀπευθύνει τὰ λοιπὰ τῇ πρὸς αὑτὸν ἐφαρμογῇ καὶ παραθέσει συνεξομοιῶν, παραπλησίως τὸν ἄρχοντα πρῶτον τὴν ἀρχὴν κτησάμενον ἐν ἑαυτῷ καὶ κατευθύναντα τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ καταστησάμενον τὸ ἦθος οὕτω συναρμόττειν τὸ ὑπήκοον· οὔτε γὰρ πίπτοντός ἐστιν ὀρθοῦν οὔτε διδάσκειν ἀγνοοῦντος οὔτε κοσμεῖν ἀκοσμοῦντος ἢ τάττειν ἀτακτοῦντος ἢ ἄρχειν μὴ ἀρχομένου·

Image result for Ancient Roman Statue colossus

782b-c

“Among the weak, base and private citizens, ignorance when combined with a lack of power yields little wrongdoing, as in nightmares some trouble upsets the mind, making it incapable of responding to its desires. But when power has been combined with wickedness it adds energy to latent passions. And so that saying of Dionysus is true—for he used to say that he loved his power most when he could do what he wanted quickly. It is truly a great danger when one who wants what is wrong has the power to do what he wants to do.

As Homer puts it “When the plan was made, then the deed was done.” When wickedness has an open course because of its power, it compels every passion to emerge, producing rage, murder, lust, adultery, and greedy acquisition of public wealth.”

Ἐν μὲν γὰρ τοῖς ἀσθενέσι καὶ ταπεινοῖς καὶ ἰδιώταις τῷ ἀδυνάτῳ μιγνύμενον τὸ ἀνόητον εἰς τὸ ἀναμάρτητον τελευτᾷ, ὥσπερ ἐν ὀνείρασι φαύλοις τις ἀνία τὴν ψυχὴν διαταράττει συνεξαναστῆναι ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις μὴ δυναμένην· ἡ δ᾿ ἐξουσία παραλαβοῦσα τὴν κακίαν νεῦρα τοῖς πάθεσι προστίθησι· καὶ τὸ τοῦ Διονυσίου ἀληθές ἐστιν· ἔφη γὰρ ἀπολαύειν μάλιστα τῆς ἀρχῆς, ὅταν ταχέως ἃ βούλεται ποιῇ. μέγας οὖν ὁ κίνδυνος βούλεσθαι ἃ μὴ δεῖ τὸν ἃ βούλεται ποιεῖν δυνάμενον· αὐτίκ᾿ ἔπειτά γε μῦθος ἔην, τετέλεστο δὲ ἔργον (Il. 19.242). ὀξὺν ἡ κακία διὰ τῆς ἐξουσίας δρόμον ἔχουσα πᾶν πάθος ἐξωθεῖ, ποιοῦσα τὴν ὀργὴν φόνον τὸν ἔρωτα μοιχείαν τὴν πλεονεξίαν δήμευσιν.

782

“It is not possible to hide wickedness in power. But, as when someone with vertigo* might go up in a high place and move around, only to become dizzy and uncertain, thus revealing their suffering, so fortune amplifies the untaught and ignorant a little with some wealth, reputation or offices and, once they have risen up, it shows them falling. Or rather, it is the same as when you cannot tell which of some containers is solid and which is cracked but when you pour water into them, the culprit leak is clear: rotten minds cannot manage power, but they ooze out random desires, rages, improprieties, and base manners.”

Οὐδὲ γὰρ λαθεῖν οἷόν τε τὰς κακίας ἐν ταῖς ἐξουσίαις· ἀλλὰ τοὺς μὲν ἐπιληπτικούς, ἂν ἐν ὕψει τινὶ γένωνται καὶ περιενεχθῶσιν, ἴλιγγος ἴσχει καὶ σάλος, ἐξελέγχων τὸ πάθος αὐτῶν, τοὺς δ᾿ ἀπαιδεύτους καὶ ἀμαθεῖς ἡ τύχη μικρὸν ἐκκουφίσασα πλούτοις τισὶν ἢ δόξαις ἢ ἀρχαῖς μετεώρους γενομένους εὐθὺς ἐπιδείκνυσι πίπτοντας· μᾶλλον δ᾿, ὥσπερ τῶν κενῶν ἀγγείων οὐκ ἂν διαγνοίης τὸ ἀκέραιον καὶ πεπονηκός, ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν ἐγχέῃς, φαίνεται τὸ ῥέον· οὕτως αἱ σαθραὶ ψυχαὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας μὴ στέγουσαι ῥέουσιν ἔξω ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις, ταῖς ὀργαῖς, ταῖς ἀλαζονείαις, ταῖς ἀπειροκαλίαις.

*The original Greek seems to be about people with epilepsy (tous epilêptikous)

Revising The Future of the Past

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 4.25

“An epidemic in that year provided a break from other problems.”

Pestilentia eo anno aliarum rerum otium praebuit.

Today Nandini Pandey has a smart piece out in Eidolon (“Classics After Coronavirus“) where she asks a group of people who see different perspectives of Classical Studies to think about what impact COVID-19 will have on the future of these disciplines. (And it is smart not because she asked me to write something for it, but because she got a group of really smart other people to write thoughtfully in the midst of a crises: check out the article for good prognostications by Joy Connolly, Sarah Bond, Amy Pistone, Del A. Maticic, Scott Lepisto, Michelle Bayouth, Mira Seo and Shelley P. Halley”).

It’s no secret around my house that I think about these things a lot. Really, I am one or two turns in life away from being straight-up prepper. And I may be breaking a little alarmist here, but I worry that COVID-19 is merely a dress-rehearsal for the ravages of climate change, which may well include new pandemics in additional to destabilized weather. Even more frightening, old pandemics and viruses could find new life our changing environment.

At least, this is what science fiction says: archaeologists in Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book resurrect the boubonic plague while plying their craft. It’s not all bad: Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio presents an ancient retrovirus that hastens the next stage in human evolution. But, really, apart from that, it gets pretty bad: the worst usually comes when man conspires with nature as in the famous apocalypse of Stephen King’s The Stand or the vampire trilogy by Justin Cronin (The Passage, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors) which centers, gulp, around academics playing with life and death in places like Cambridge, MA and New York City.

My point is not that we should keep hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but that I think my comments in the Eidolon piece do not go nearly far enough because, as I think Scott Lepisto is starting to say, we need radical change fast and we’re not talking about Classics. If there is a silver lining in this shitberg our current leadership is piloting straight towards, it is that we might just get hurt enough to change our ways, to avoid the worst of what could come.

Or, well, that’s what I say so I can sleep tonight. At the end of it, the fact is that we are more likely to see a civilization shifting cataclysm now than five years ago. And we should be thinking about what that means for the way we talk about the past.

So here’s a re-post from last year.

*     *     *     *

In the final book of Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, Death’s End, when faced with an unstoppable extinction-level event, Cheng Xin and Ai AA go to the distant edge of the solar system to try to preserve some artifacts of human existence from the encroachment of two-dimensional space. When they reach the isolated moon bunker where many of the objects are stored, they come upon miles of inscriptions in the surface rock. Previous plans to preserve human knowledge had included etching human history and knowledge into the stone. Teams of scientists and data specialists could devise no method which ensured as long a future as the multilingual inscriptions in space.

Any system of encoding and preserving knowledge—whether we are talking of raw, binary data or language—relies upon two challenges for legibility in the future. The first is a ‘key’—some type of instruction that might indicate to readers unfamiliar with language or code how to make meaning out of signs. The second challenge is medium—how do the materials which encode the information respond to the passage of time and elements.

Encrypted digital data in every form faces the danger of significant loss under even the best of conditions; changing software and computational paradigms can make accessing extant data even more difficult. The decryption of preserved digital data relies on the end-user being able to access functional hardware and manipulate the same original data protocol. Despite the ability to extend human life centuries through hibernation and the technology to create space ships which traveled at the speed of light, the humans of Cixin’s universe can find no better way to preserve the past than cold, alien stone.

The survival of the past into the future is something of a motif in science fiction, thanks to its longue durée perspective. Just in the past year, I have read of the ‘classicist’ in Adrian Tchaikovksy’s Children of Time series, a figure whose knowledge of the past and ability to use ancient programs makes him central to the survival of the human race. In many cases, such as the works of Isaac Asimov, the Earth we know and the past we cherish is entirely forgotten or mostly unsalvageable. But for every novel that imagines the preservation of knowledge over time—like Neal Stephenson’s Anathem—we have the more stark reality to deal with of strange re-uses of our reconstructed past as in Ada Palmer’s Terra Incognota series or generations of lost knowledge over time, as in Walter Miller Jr.’s classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

“The prophecy which was given to the Thessalians was ordering them to consider “the hearing of a deaf man; the sight of the blind.”

ὁ μὲν γὰρ Θετταλοῖς περὶ Ἄρνης δοθεὶς χρησμὸς ἐκέλευε φράζειν: “κωφοῦ τ᾿ ἀκοὴν τυφλοῖό τε δέρξιν”  Plutarch, Obsolesence Of Oracles (Moralia 432)

A widely linked recent article alleges that the human race has around 30 years left, that by 2050 climate change will create a systems collapse that will end human civilization as we currently know it. Similar reports diverge at whether the extinction event that is the Anthropocene will also eradicate the human species or just result in a cruel, apocalyptic contraction. Even if we find the political will to radically change our behavior over the next few years, we are looking at the almost certain probability of widespread government collapses, severe famine and death in the ‘global south’, and widespread conflicts over resources.

Continue reading “Revising The Future of the Past”

Share Your Passages with the World

Timon [from Diogenes Laertius 9.112]

“Follow me now, you busybodies and sophists!”

ἔσπετε νῦν μοι ὅσοι πολυπράγμονές ἐστε σοφισταί.

This period of our confusion and isolation is exhausting and and we have found the opportunity to have this blog and its audiences to engage with and to be responsible to. Having something to do each day makes a big difference.

The way that I often cope with the world is through reading, through retreating to books and poetry. I imagine that many people do the same and would like to invite anyone who comes across this blog  to submit something to post for others.

We don’t want to create work, stress, or unwanted distraction for anyone, but we do want to afford the opportunity to reach out, to speak, to share something important to them.

Send us a translation of a passage that brings you comfort, rage, hope, confusion. Really, send us anything that makes you feel and we will try to get it posted in a reasonable amount of time.

Rules: for passages (1) it needs to be your translation (2) if there are serious problems, we will try to edit; (3) we can’t guarantee posting.

If you want to send a short essay or commentary, please: under 2000 words; nothing that targets other people and does others harm.

Plutarch, Table-Talk 9, (736e)

“Then he included an argument about the apt quotation of poetry, that the one which was most potent was not only charming but also useful.”

ἔπειτα περὶ στίχων εὐκαιρίας ἐνέβαλεν λόγον, ὡς μὴ μόνον χάριν ἀλλὰ καὶ χρείαν ἔστιν ὅτε μεγάλην ἐχούσης. #Plutarch

We especially welcome short reflections on teaching or reading the classics in isolation. In the past, people have also posted Latin and Greek prose compositions or satire. Reflections on teaching, our disciplines, or anything else are acceptable. We have many different examples on the essay list.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t send anything! We hope everyone stays safe, well, and kind for the duration.

Be there for each other, and that, our friends, is enough.

Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy 3.35

“The most sacred thing of all is friends, something not recorded as luck but as virtue, since the rest of the goods are embraced with a view toward power or pleasure.”

amicorum vero quod sanctissimum quidem genus est, non in fortuna sed in virtute numeratur, reliquum vero vel potentiae causa vel delectationis assumitur

Herodotus 5.24.2

“An intelligent and well-disposed friend is the finest of all possessions.”

κτημάτων πάντων ἐστὶ τιμιώτατον ἀνὴρ φίλος συνετός τε καὶ εὔνοος

Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio.: Geographicus Rare Antique Maps
From this site

The Illegal, Murderous Rapist: Herodotus Subtweets a Tyrant

Herodotus 3.80

“Otanês was first urging the Persians to entrust governing to the people, saying these things: “it seems right to me that we no longer have a monarchy. For it is neither pleasing nor good. For you all know about the arrogance of Kambyses and you were a party to the insanity of the Magus. How could monarchy be a fitting thing when it permits an unaccountable person to do whatever he pleases? Even if you put the best of all men into this position he might go outside of customary thoughts. For hubris is nurtured by the fine things present around him, and envy is native to a person from the beginning.

The one who has these two qualities possesses every kind of malice. For one who is overfilled does many reckless things, some because of arrogance and some because of envy. Certainly, it would be right for a man who is a tyrant at least to have no envy at all, since he has all the good things. Yet he becomes the opposite of this towards his citizens: for he envies those who are best around him and live, and he takes pleasure in the worst of the citizens—he is the best at encouraging slanders.

He becomes the most disharmonious of all people—for if you admire him only moderately, then he is upset because you do not support him ardently. But if someone supports him excessively, he is angry at him for being a toady. The worst things are still to be said: he overturns traditional laws, he rapes women, and kills people without reason.”

᾿Οτάνης μὲν ἐκέλευε ἐς μέσον Πέρσῃσι καταθεῖναι τὰ πρήγματα, λέγων τάδε· «᾿Εμοὶ δοκέει ἕνα μὲν ἡμέων μούναρχον μηκέτι γενέσθαι· οὔτε γὰρ ἡδὺ οὔτε ἀγαθόν. Εἴδετε μὲν γὰρ τὴν Καμβύσεω ὕβριν ἐπ’ ὅσον ἐπεξῆλθε, μετεσχήκατε δὲ καὶ τῆς τοῦ μάγου ὕβριος. Κῶς δ’ ἂν εἴη χρῆμα κατηρτημένον μουναρχίη, τῇ ἔξεστι ἀνευθύνῳ ποιέειν τὰ βούλεται; Καὶ γὰρ ἂν τὸν ἄριστον ἀνδρῶν πάντων στάντα ἐς ταύτην τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐκτὸς τῶν ἐωθότων νοημάτων στήσειε. ᾿Εγγίνεται μὲν γάρ οἱ ὕβρις ὑπὸ τῶν παρεόντων ἀγαθῶν, φθόνος δὲ ἀρχῆθεν ἐμφύεται ἀνθρώπῳ. Δύο δ’ ἔχων ταῦτα ἔχει πᾶσαν κακότητα· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὕβρι κεκορημένος ἔρδει πολλὰ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα, τὰ δὲ φθόνῳ. Καίτοι ἄνδρα γε τύραννον ἄφθονον ἔδει εἶναι, ἔχοντά γε πάντα τὰ ἀγαθά· τὸ δὲ ὑπεναντίον τούτου ἐς τοὺς πολιήτας πέφυκε· φθονέει γὰρ τοῖσι ἀρίστοισι περιεοῦσί τε καὶ ζώουσι, χαίρει δὲ τοῖσι κακίστοισι τῶν ἀστῶν, διαβολὰς δὲ ἄριστος ἐνδέκεσθαι.

᾿Αναρμοστότατον δὲ πάντων· ἤν τε γὰρ αὐτὸν μετρίως θωμάζῃς, ἄχθεται ὅτι οὐ κάρτα θεραπεύεται, ἤν τε θεραπεύῃ τις κάρτα, ἄχθεται ἅτε θωπί. Τὰ δὲ δὴ μέγιστα ἔρχομαι ἐρέων· νόμαιά τε κινέει πάτρια καὶ βιᾶται γυναῖκας κτείνει τε ἀκρίτους.

 

Image result for medieval manuscript manuscript
Image from here

On Classics, Madness, and Losing Everything

Editor’s note: The following essay is by Stefani Echeverria-Fenn, one of the founders of the Sportula. We are hosting it one year after the overt racism of the SCS Annual Meeting in San Diego.

When I was teaching Intro to Greek Literature, it was sometimes easy to tell the students who had lived a life of privilege, of safety. They were the ones who kept suggesting ways Oedipus could have averted his fate, bootstrap his way out of catastrophe if only he read the signs carefully enough. Not the ones who hated or judged Oedipus, but the ones who were genuinely confused, who kept earnestly suggesting better possible responses to the prophecy and all the devastation that would follow.

I imagine that some of these students might have the same deep bewilderment to see me now. Exactly one year ago, I was at the height of my fledgling career in Classics: I had just passed my penultimate PhD exam, founded the Sportula, and was heading down to San Diego to accept not one but two major awards for this work at the SCS/AIA Annual Meeting. More precious to me than both those awards was my hard won stability after a lifetime of mental illness. On the road trip down I sent a long euphoric email to a former undergraduate mentor: “Two of my grad friends from Berkeley invited me on a road trip there!” I wrote. “This is also so meaningful because….they’re the kinda ppl who i feel never would have invited the crazy/unpredictable me of three years ago to be in a car with them for many hours/days—so I feel like I’m finally gaining some trust from these years of good behavior.”

The very next day, my co-founder would be racially profiled and Sportula embroiled in “political scandal” and deluged by racist trolls. The very next day, I would write to that same undergraduate mentor: “Again, we’ll never be believed bc I didn’t catch the worst of it on video and god knows the word of two psychiatrically disabled POC isn’t enough for credibility…I’m killing myself on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall anyway.

I would spend the next six months destroying my relationships with my Sportula co-founder, that mentor, and everyone else around me. On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall that June, I would be publicly wrestled to the ground and thrown into psychiatric restraints in front of several fellow grad students, after the person I had road tripped to the SCS with called the cops on me and told them I was a danger to myself.

This sounds awfully sordid and dramatic, but really, the details are mundane. Mental illness runs on both sides of my family. I was going to Break the Cycle, go to therapy, get on meds. I pursued all that, but even as I say it to myself I’m struck with a memory of both my parents mouthing the same thing.

Isn’t that why I fell so hard for Classics to begin with? In a cultural moment of the new, the innovative, a hyper-individualistic notion of “choice” and “the self-made man” within neoliberalism, it was the old poems that spoke to me. The ones that acknowledged that we are who we are only in the context of community, lineage, the heavy weight of both personal and collective histories. How sometimes, we lose: profoundly and without recourse.

François-Émile Ehrmann, Oedipe et le Sphinx.jpg
François-Émile Ehrmann, Oedipe et le Sphinx

Continue reading “On Classics, Madness, and Losing Everything”

Podcasting Sophocles’ Antigone at UT Austin

This is a follow-up post to Deborah Beck’s earlier reflections on plans for Podcasting in the Greek Classroom. (I covered her class’s Iliad podcasts last year) I have read Antigone and taught it many times, but I learned much about the play’s language and meaning from listening to these podcasts and found the experience stimulating in the way some of the best class discussions can be.

The podcasts 10-15 minutes in length and start with an episode hosted by Professor Beck to introduce listeners to the series (for students and the audience). The episodes are based around specific passages from the play which are taught by the students during the course meetings themselves. After the introductory message, Beck moves to summary of the myths around the family of Oedipus followed by a brief overview of the play’s initial plot and the other Sophoclean plays based on these myths, with special emphasis on Antigone’s importance in this play in contrast with what we know from other traditions.

In discussing the prologue, Professor Beck touches upon some of the oddness of the language from our perspective and the crucial themes of the play (the struggle between obedience to the laws of the state as opposed to those of the gods). Beck’s comments work as commentary themselves, moving between individual lexical items and larger thematic movements. It is an engaging way to approach a Greek text, especially refreshing when Beck admits that some of the lexical knots are confusing and difficult to disentangle.

This first episode provides a great introduction to the characterization of the sisters Antigone and Ismene through close attention to the language and syntax of the first 100 lines of the play, emphasizing especially how Antigone is inflexible and Ismene is able to hold contradictory ideas at once. Beck summarizes Ismene’s closing lines (τοῦτο δ’ ἴσθ’ ὅτι  / ἄνους μὲν ἔρχῃ, τοῖς φίλοις δ’ ὀρθῶς φίλη, 98-99) as  “I both think you’re bananas / and I love you dearly”.

The individual episodes follow this pattern to various levels of success. Episode 2 brings Dylan McKibban talking about lines 191-214 where Kreon makes a proclamation and the chorus’s response. McKibban looks at the relationship between this passage and the play as a whole before focusing on the Chorus’ “unusual” response. McKibban follows Professor Beck in providing close readings of the Greek, but also does a nice job of discussing the relationship between the depiction of Creon in this passage and his appearance later in the play. Especially valuable is the observation that the Chorus implies  that, while Creon has the power to make his decision, it does not mean it is right (211–214):

“It is pleasing to you, child of Menoikeus, that
the man hostile to the city and the one loyal to it come to these ends.
The power is yours to use every law, we suppose,
For the dead and however many of us remain alive.”

Σοὶ ταῦτ’ ἀρέσκει, παῖ Μενοικέως, <παθεῖν>,
τὸν τῇδε δύσνουν καὶ τὸν εὐμενῆ πόλει·
νόμῳ δὲ χρῆσθαι παντί πού γ’ ἔνεστί σοι
καὶ τῶν θανόντων χὠπόσοι ζῶμεν πέρι.

McKibban ends with a reflection on the experience of teaching the class, noting that it is not is not necessarily the case that “if one can translate the lines, they must already understand them.”

In Episode 3, Cassandra Winkley and Rachel Prichett talk about the trope of messengers in tragedy, focusing in particular on lines 215-242. I really enjoy the way the two speakers highlight the humor in the characterization of the Phulaks, as an impatient child who wants to talk about himself (e.g.  Φράσαι θέλω σοι πρῶτα τἀμαυτοῦ, 238). The subsequent conversation about the tension between messengers in general in tragedy and this specific instantiation of the trope is really useful: the speakers compare him to the absurd messenger from Euripides’ Orestes and emphasize how annoying he is to Creon.

Episode 4 has Laura talking about Creon’s discovery of the burial of Polyneices (Antigone 280-303), paying special attention to the change in his language. This speaker’s tour through the Greek is especially good as she draws both on the text and Mark Griffin’s commentary.

Laura picks out well the authoritarian certainty in Creon’s declaration “I know well that these men did these things because they were motivated by money” ᾿Εκ τῶνδε τούτους ἐξεπίσταμαι καλῶς  / παρηγμένους μισθοῖσιν εἰργάσθαι τάδε. Laura notes helpfully that while there are many different interpretations of the play, Creon is almost always depicted too simply as an “unhinged autocrat”. Laura’s challenging reconsideration of Creon as a person and not a stock character is a great start for the overall challenge of the play: seeing Creon, not Antigone, as the central protagonist.

Lyle takes the listeners through a discussion of Creon’s leadership (Antigone 304‑331) in Episode 5. He invites someone from the business school to talk about Creon’s actions. This exercise may have been a little more effective if the interlocutor knew a little more about the plot of the play. Nevertheless, the conversation’s move to the behavior in the real world was useful when they turn to speak about hierarchy and insecurity. Especially interesting is the sudden turn to a discussion of Anne Carson’s Antigonick.

Brendan and Joseph take us through the famous Ode to Man in Episodes 6 and Episode 7.

Sophocles, Antigone 332–341

There are many wonders and none
is more surprising than humanity.
This thing that crosses the sea
as it whorls under a stormy wind
finding a path on enveloping waves.
It wears down imperishable Earth, too,
the oldest of the gods, a tireless deity,
as the plows trace lives from year to year
drawn by the race of horses….

Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀν-
θρώπου δεινότερον πέλει·
τοῦτο καὶ πολιοῦ πέραν
πόντου χειμερίῳ νότῳ
χωρεῖ, περιβρυχίοισιν
περῶν ὑπ’ οἴδμασιν, θεῶν
τε τὰν ὑπερτάταν, Γᾶν
ἄφθιτον, ἀκαμάταν, ἀποτρύεται,
ἰλλομένων ἀρότρων ἔτος εἰς ἔτος,
ἱππείῳ γένει πολεύων.

In the first, Brendan starts with a performance of Robert Fagles’ translation of the first part of the Ode. Before going into the Ode, he discusses the semantic range of deinos. His delivery and range of examples are really effective (and funny in the speaker’s wry way). Brendan explains that the meaning of this passage hinges on how we understand deinos and then moves line by line through the section to argue that man is deinos because he has raised himself beyond everything in nature in an oppositional fashion. Humankind is simultaneously wonderful and terrible.

Where Brendan draws on his experience in philosophy to talk about the relative meaning of deinos, Joseph turns back to the Greek and argues that the meter of the Ode’s second half (354-383) emphasizes the duality of its themes, a feature likely connected to the separations of strophe and antistrophe. Joseph cleverly mines the metrically equivalent passages for parallels and tensions, as in the repetitions in lines 360 and 370 (παντοπόρος· ἄπορος ἐπ’ οὐδὲν ἔρχεται :: ὑψίπολις· ἄπολις ὅτῳ τὸ μὴ καλὸν). Before turning to speak about the class, Brendan turns to a discussion of how this formal duality reflects the plot of the play and resolves in Creon’s character development.

Albion brings a new energy in Episode 8 in a discussion of the Guard’s return in lines 384–414. Albion’s recitation of the Greek and explanation of the composition is both well-paced and infectious—rarely do I hear “zeugmatic” uttered allowed and know that the speaker is smiling! In the end, the analysis of the guard’s motivations helps us understand both the realpolitik at play in Thebes and the subtle characterization available in even so minor a character.

In episode 9, Payton and Nikhil discuss the theme of isolation, starting from lines 415–447. Following a summary of the preceding events and an overview of how both Antigone and Creon are defined by physical and emotional isolation shaped by family history and political roles, they move to an illuminating discussion of how neither character really perceives their isolation in this scene. Especially good in this section is the discussion of the possible echoes in the guard’s description of the “unburial” as a (θείαν νόσον, 421) and ambiguous language reflecting potential judgments of Creon.

Episode 10 takes us to topics of gender and family as Mary speaks about the language of lament in lines 497–530. (Mary wins my heart by starting with a khairete!) As with earlier episodes, she starts by giving a brief overview of the plot running up to the passage before pulling out kinship names and descriptions of relationships offered by Antigone and Creon: the former emphasizes blood relations whereas the latter focuses on political relationships. These differences in diction reflect the major conflict of the play. Mary provides a really deep overview of scholarship near the end of the episode on emotions, tragedy, and politics which surpasses anything one might expect from a student podcast.

The theme of family is central to Episode 11 too, where Katherine asks us to look at the development of the dynamic between Ismene and Antigone (531–558). Katherine situates her listeners in the plot, bringing Ismene out on the stage to try to join Antigone in a “belated solidarity” and focusing on how much they have changed since their appearance in the prologue. Her question about whether or not the portrayal “cements” our prior impression of the characters is a nice way to invite us to think about the experience of witnessing the play as a whole in a short amount of time. To Katherine, Ismene comes of as “rather brave” but perhaps still fickle. In whatever case, this depiction makes her more “sympathetic” and more “real”. I think I will carry Mary’s question about Antigone’s characterization with me for a long time: “If family is so important to Antigone, how can she so easily and so completely reject her sister”?

The other child of this play—Haemon—is the focus of Lexie’s Episode 12, a discussion of the conflict between father and son over Antigone. Lexie takes us through a careful reading of Haemon’s speech to his father, emphasizing that this exchange is qualitatively different from earlier depictions of Creon because of their relationship. Especially good in this discussion is her note about the semantic difference of μανθάνειν as a more humble approach to knowledge (710) and her comments on the anticipatory metaphor of the destruction of the tree, “root and all” (αὐτόπρεμν᾿ ἀπόλλυται, 714).

Payton and Nikhil return in Episode 13 (“Let’s Talk Greek”) to continue the conversation between Haemon and Creon at 738–781. In this episode, we encounter the definition of the agon as a competitive verbal exchange and the use of politeness theory to help us understand the conversation in modern terms. The close reading of the speech exchange–what they refer to once as “verbal judo”–opens up both the intellectual and emotional components of the agon.

There are really two big pedagogical components to this class. The first is the process of preparing the podcast, which is a type of research presentation. The second is a teaching exercise which happened in class. The really clever part of the course design is that the podcast project brings these two strands together. It is really worthwhile to listen to the students go through the metacognitive process of reflecting on what they learned from teaching the class. A tertiary aspect that I think is really important is that this exercise encouraged students to think about the relationship between the parts of the play to its whole. This is, regrettably, something that is often lost in the close-reading exercises of advanced Greek courses.

The production value of these podcasts is somewhat higher than one might expect—some of the producers introduce new music and clips from other media; others bring in different speakers and other subjects. As a group, there is the kind of subject variety and stylistic variation you might want from a series.

If you have the time to add this to your listening queue, it is a great reminder of how deep and challenging Antigone is as a play and how rewarding it can be to work through the Greek with others. Even more interesting for me is the potential for a podcast to function in the place of a traditional commentary. While listening, I imagined an audio track accompanying me as I read the text anew—I am not sure that these individual podcasts can do this exclusively, but if I were teaching this play any time soon, I would assign students to listen to these episodes.

Podcast picture

The Shame of Mock Slave Auctions in Secondary Classics

Dani Bostick teaches high school Latin and an occasional micro-section of ancient Greek in a Virginia public school. She has published several collections of Latin mottoes online and has a strong presence as an activist for survivors of sexual violence on Twitter.

The Junior Classical League purports to foster interest in the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome and is one of the largest academic clubs in the world with 50,000 members and 1,200 chapters. For the last six decades, JCL has also supported mock slave auctions as a source of entertainment. Humor derived from dehumanization and degradation have no place in our society, especially given our country’s shameful history of enslavement and other forms of systemic racism.

My essay should end here. Ideally, the notion of mock slave auctions in an organization sponsored by the American Classical League should prompt outrage, activism, and sustained action. Too often, though, this kind of racism is tolerated and normalized by those both inside and outside of secondary classics. Latin teachers and other stakeholders, even those who purport to care about social justice, often protect the field over individuals marginalized and harmed by patterns of racism and hostility in secondary Latin. 

We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the state of secondary Classics. We are in dire need of reform.

The Junior Classical League is a space so insulated from the realities of racism that slave auctions have been a common source of entertainment and fun for decades. In 2016, a story about a mock slave auction went viral after black audience members were subjected to this racist spectacle at an Illinois Junior Classical League convention. In a demonstrably deceitful response, the National Junior Classical League and the American Classical League claimed they “regret to hear of the incident” and that “this incident in no way reflects the values we have as an organization.” 

The Junior Classical League did not “hear of the incident,” they have organized, promoted and sponsored similar events for the better part of a century. In the 1950s, a teacher wrote in Classical Outlook, “One boy bought a pretty girl just to have her following him around… The club has been asked to repeat the auction in assembly before the whole school.” 

1950s

Slave auctions continue in the Junior Classical League, often sanitized with the branding “Rent-a-Roman.” The 2011-2012 National Junior Classical League scrapbook contains a picture of a “slave” posing with her “master at the annual Rent-a-Roman.” In 2012, an event affiliated with the California Junior Classical League included this description: “You can offer yourself up for sale or bid on the merchandise to purchase a companion/ money-servant for the rest of the lunch hour.” In 2014, a write up in the newsletter of the Classical Association of the Midwest and South include a teacher touting activities that included a “master/slave program.” The 2017 California Junior Classical League constitution included a reference to slave auctions as a fundraising opportunity: “Should a slave auction be held at the state convention, the money acquired shall go to the state scholarship fund.” In 2018, the Pennsylvania Junior Classical League newsletter contained a report on a Saturnalia event where club leaders are “auctioned off to serve as ‘slaves’ for the night… these individuals will be ordered around by their new masters to fetch food, sing, dance, and entertain.”

Mock slave auctions are just one example of a much larger, pervasive problem in secondary Classics that includes trivializing slavery and turning oppression, and the oppressed, into a source of humor. In 2017, Erik Robinson documented problematic portrayals of slavery in secondary text books. The National Latin Exam, which over 140,000 students take, is notorious for their regressive treatment of slavery and other forms of oppression (e.g. sexual assault). There are too many examples to list here, but one recent question echoed the racist myth of the loyal slave. Loyalty is predicated on autonomy and feelings of allegiance, which mitigates the culpability of enslavers and misrepresents the realities of slavery. 

loyal slave

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain why slave auctions are racist and how this kind of humor, even in the context of ancient Rome, supports the messaging and strategies of white supremacy groups. Suffice it to say, these kinds of events are unethical and harmful. Recently, the New York attorney general’s office investigated a school for holding a slave auction, finding “that the teacher’s re-enactments in the two classes had a profoundly negative effect on all of the students present — especially the African American students — and the school community at large.” A student who witnessed the Illinois JCL slave auction told the Washington Post, “Since JCL is primarily white, they are so into their, like, white privilege, I guess, that they don’t know how they can affect minorities.”

The Junior Classical League has abused its monopoly and imposed a twisted value system on its members. JCL membership appeals to students looking to build their college resumes. And, many teachers are contractually required to sponsor a chapter. Our dues should not support this kind of culture. We should not cultivate students’ interest in this distortion of Classics.

The American Classical League has hired a diversity consultant, and in most of my correspondence with them, I am reminded of this fact. It is a positive step for the ACL to obtain the services of an outside expert, but a diversity consultant should be a small part of a larger strategy to eradicate racism from secondary Classics, not a standalone solution. As long as stakeholders in secondary Classics and our post-secondary colleagues protect the status quo through both action and inaction, this culture will persist and become even more toxic.

Concern for people affected by these systemic failures must trump the defense of the organization. ACL, JCL, NLE, and other affiliates exist to promote Classics. Nothing in the promotion of Classics should also include the promotion of racism and white supremacy, especially when hundreds of thousands of children are affected by the way the ACL has shaped the field. 

It is time for decisive action and commitment to change.

The co-chair of the National Latin Exam accused me in a late-night Twitter direct message of wanting a spectacle. I do not want a spectacle. (Perhaps that accusation was wishful thinking.) I want the culture of secondary Latin to stop supporting racism and narratives of white dominance.

This goal will take work, not just words. If you are interested in advocating against racism in Classics and want to know how to help, feel free to email me at dani.bostick@gmail.com 

Meanwhile, here are a few ways the American Classical League and its affiliates can begin to change the culture in secondary Classics. This list is far from exhaustive:

1)  Apologize for your role in perpetuating white supremacy and racism. Stop treating each instance of problematic content and practices as some sort of aberration. 

2)  Remove leaders and volunteers who have aggressively defended and perpetuated the status quo and who prioritize the interests and image of the organization over the well-being and safety of students.

3) Provide information to teachers about how to talk about white supremacy and dangerous appropriations of Classics. Our field has supported racist ideas and is used to legitimize hate and violence. We have a responsibility to equip students to recognize and counter these appropriations, even when they come from within our own field.

4) Remove all content immediately that is incompatible with the goal of “Classics for All” and release an accompanying statement that explains why the material was harmful. Do not legitimize offensive content and practices by engaging in a ‘both sides discussion’ and hiding behind procedure and tradition. Swift action and adherence to procedures are not mutually exclusive.

Colleagues in post-secondary Classics. Here are a few calls to action and points to consider: 

1) Find out if JCL held a mock slave auction on your campus. If so, apologize. Do not allow them on your campus. Fraternities have been suspended for holding slave auctions. It is even worse when they are held as entertainment in the context of an academic program for children. 

2) Formally condemn the practice of slave auctions and call on the Junior Classical League and, more broadly, the American Classical League, to own its uncomfortable past and repair the damage it has done through events like these and the culture they reflect. 

3) If you publish a newsletter or promote activities in secondary Latin, vet them before you provide a platform for abhorrent practices. There is no excuse for a “master/slave” activity to have been featured in a CAMWS publication (or any publication). 

4) Stay informed about what is going on in secondary Classics and hold organizations accountable for failures that affect both current students and the future of the field.