Flaying the Flayed Dog

Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 156-8

Kalonikê: But what if our husbands leave us?
Lysistrata: To use Pherecrates’ term: flay the flayed dog.
Kalonikê: These words of nonsense are just counterfeit [sex].

ΚΛ. Τί δ’, ἢν ἀφιῶσ’ ἅνδρες ἡμᾶς, ὦ μέλε;
ΛΥ. Τὸ τοῦ Φερεκράτους, κύνα δέρειν δεδαρμένην.
ΚΛ. Φλυαρία ταῦτ’ ἐστὶ τὰ μεμιμημένα.

Scholia:

“The word of Pherecrates: if our husbands despise us, then it is necessary to use dildos and to flog the flogged shaft. Pherecrates said this in a drama where the proverb is applied to those who are suffering something else in addition to what they have suffered.

(τὸ τοῦ Φερεκράτους: ᾿Εὰν ἡμᾶς παρίδωσιν οἱ ἄνδρες, τότε πάλιν ἐξέσται ὀλίσβοις χρήσασθαι, καὶ ἀποδέρειν τὰ ἀποδεδαρμένα σκύτη. Φερεκράτης ἐν δράματι εἶπε τοῦτο, ἔνθεν τάσσεται ἡ παροιμία ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλο πασχόντων αὖθις ἐφ’ οἷς πεπόνθασιν.)

“to flay the dog”: this is an image for intemperate genitals. It is not found in the Saved [play] of the comic Pherecrates.

κύνα δέρειν: Σχῆμά ἐστιν ἀκόλαστον εἰς τὸ αἰδοῖον. ἐν δὲ τοῖς σωζομένοις (Φερεκράτους) τοῦ κωμικοῦ τοῦτο οὐχ εὑρίσκεται.

ta memimêmena: “Since they use a dildo instead of a penis. For she says that the words of others are nonsense”

τὰ μεμιμημένα: ᾿Επεὶ τῷ ὀλίσβῳ χρῶνται ἀντὶ τοῦ αἰδοίου. φλυαρία φησὶ τὰ ἀπὸ τῶν ἄλλων.

From the Suda

Olisbos: Genitals made from leather which the Milesian women used to use as tribades(!) and shameful people do. Widowed women also use them. Aristophanes writes “I did not see an eight-fingered dildo*/ which might be our leathered aid.”** This second part is drawn from the proverb “fig-wood aid” applied to weak people.

῎Ολισβος: αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον, ᾧ ἐχρῶντο αἱ Μιλήσιαι γυναῖκες, ὡς τριβάδες καὶ αἰσχρουργοί· ἐχρῶντο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· οὐκ εἶδον οὐδ’ ὄλισβον ὀκταδάκτυλον, ὃς ἂν ἡμῖν σκυτίνη ‘πικουρία. παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία. ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν.

Image result for Ancient Greek Dildo vase
vers 490 av.JC, ancienne collection Dutuit, Petit-Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.

Another proverb from the Suda, s.v. misêtê:

“And Kratinus said somewhere: “hated women use dildoes.”

καὶ ὁ Κρατῖνός που τοῦτο ἔφη: μισῆται δὲ γυναῖκες ὀλίσβωσι χρήσονται

(!) tribades: see the Suda again s.v. Hetairistai:

“Courtesanizers: The women who are called ‘rubbers’” [or ‘grinders’? i.e. Lesbians] Ἑταιρίστριαι: αἱ καλούμεναι τριβάδες. See also Hesychius s.v. dietaristriai: “Women who rub themselves against girls in intercourse the way men do. For example, tribades.”

διεταρίστριαι· γυναῖκες αἱ τετραμμέναι πρὸς τὰς ἑταίρας ἐπὶ συνουσίᾳ, ὡς οἱ ἄνδρες. οἷον τριβάδες (Plat. conv. 191 e).

*this is not an eight-shafted instrument but may instead point to the instrument’s length (c. six inches) . See the note on the Suda-online.

**Lysistrata 109-110.

The Lexicographer Photius repeats only the following definition:

Olisboi: Leather dicks

῎Ολισβοι: δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα.

The Scholia to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 109-110 basically presents the same information:

Olisbon: A leather penis. And that is for the Milesian women. He is joking that they use dildos. The next part, “leathery aid” plays upon the proverb “fig-tree aid”, used for the weak. He has changed it to “leathery” because dildos are made of leather. They are leather-made penises which widowed women use.”

ὄλισβον: Αἰδοῖον δερμάτινον. καὶ τοῦτο εἰς τὰς Μιλησίας. παίζει δὲ ὡς τοῖς ὀλίσβοις χρωμέναις. σκυτίνη ἐπικουρία: Παρὰ τὴν παροιμίαν, συκίνη ἐπικουρία, ἐπὶ τῶν ἀσθενῶν. ὁ δὲ εἰς τὴν σκυτίνην μετέβαλε. σκύτινοι γὰρ οἱ ὄλισβοι. εἰσὶ δὲ δερμάτινα αἰδοῖα, οἷς χρῶνται αἱ χῆραι γυναῖκες.

And, the chaste H. Liddell could do no better than give this a Latin name:

ὄλισβος , ὁ, A.penis coriaceus, Cratin.316, Ar.Lys.109, Fr.320.13.

J. Henderson, The Maculate Muse, 222

skinned dog

A Comic’s Lament: Tragedy is So Easy

From Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 6.222c-e

“Since, friend Timocrates, you are always asking about the things said among the learned dinnermates, because you think that I am making up crazy things, let me remind you of what Antiphanes says in his play Poetry, in this way:

Tragedy is the luckiest art form
of all. First, the stories
Are already known by the audience
Before anyone even speaks—the poet only needs
To remind: “Oedipus I say…”
And they know the rest: father Laios,
mother Iocasta, some daughters, some sons,
what he will suffer, and what he has. And, again,
If someone says “Alkmaeon”, he’s just as good
as mentioned all his kids and that
he went crazy and killed his mother, and that
Adrastus will get angry and return.
Then when they can’t say anything else
And they have fallen down in exhaustion
they raise up their crane like little finger
and they have a happy audience!
But it isn’t like that for us, we a have to make up
everything, new names and….
then the events that happened
previously, currently, and at the end,
As well as an introduction!
If some Chremes or Pheidon
Misses even one of these things
They boo and hiss him off the stage.
But you can get away with this with Peleus and Teucer.”

᾿Επειδὴ ἀπαιτεῖς συνεχῶς ἀπαντῶν, ἑταῖρε Τιμόκρατες, τὰ παρὰ τοῖς δειπνοσοφισταῖς λεγόμενα, καινά τινα νομίζων ἡμᾶς εὑρίσκειν, ὑπομνήσομέν σε τὰ παρὰ ᾿Αντιφάνει λεγόμενα ἐν Ποιήσει (II 90 K) τόνδε τὸν τρόπον·

μακάριόν ἐστιν ἡ τραγῳδία
ποίημα κατὰ πάντ’, εἴ γε πρῶτον οἱ λόγοι
ὑπὸ τῶν θεατῶν εἰσιν ἐγνωρισμένοι,
πρὶν καί τιν’ εἰπεῖν· ὥσθ’ ὑπομνῆσαι μόνον
δεῖ τὸν ποιητήν. Οἰδίπουν γὰρ φῶ ……
τὰ δ’ ἄλλα πάντ’ ἴσασιν· ὁ πατὴρ Λάιος,
μήτηρ ᾿Ιοκάστη, θυγατέρες, παῖδες τίνες,
τί πείσεθ’ οὗτος, τί πεποίηκεν. ἂν πάλιν
εἴπῃ τις ᾿Αλκμέωνα, καὶ τὰ παιδία
πάντ’ εὐθὺς εἴρηχ’, ὅτι μανεὶς ἀπέκτονε
τὴν μητέρ’, ἀγανακτῶν δ’ ῎Αδραστος εὐθέως
ἥξει πάλιν τ’ ἄπεισι …………..
ἔπειθ’ ὅταν μηθὲν δύνωντ’ εἰπεῖν ἔτι,
κομιδῇ δ’ ἀπειρήκωσιν ἐν τοῖς δράμασιν,
αἴρουσιν ὥσπερ δάκτυλον τὴν μηχανήν,
καὶ τοῖς θεωμένοισιν ἀποχρώντως ἔχει.
ἡμῖν δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἔστιν, ἀλλὰ πάντα δεῖ
εὑρεῖν, ὀνόματα καινά, …………
………… κἄπειτα τὰ διῳκημένα
πρότερον, τὰ νῦν παρόντα, τὴν καταστροφήν,
τὴν εἰσβολήν. ἂν ἕν τι τούτων παραλίπῃ
Χρέμης τις ἢ Φείδων τις, ἐκσυρίττεται·
Πηλεῖ δὲ ταῦτ’ ἔξεστι καὶ Τεύκρῳ ποιεῖν.

The Debt To The Birds

Felekşan Onar’s “Perched” at the Damascus Room, Dresden Museum of Ethnology, 2020. Photo Credit: Dario J. Lagana.

Aristophanes, Birds 227-262

Epopopoi popoi popopopoi popoi, here, here, quick, quick, quick, my comrades in the air; all you who pillage the fertile lands of the husbandmen, the numberless tribes who gather and devour the barley seeds, the swift flying race that sings so sweetly. And you whose gentle twitter resounds through the fields with the little cry of tiotiotiotiotiotiotiotio; and you who hop about the branches of the ivy in the gardens; the mountain birds, who feed on the wild olive-berries or the arbutus, hurry to come at my call, trioto, trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up the sharp-stinging gnats in the marshy vales, and you who dwell in the fine plain of Marathon, all damp with dew, and you, the francolin with speckled wings; you too, the halcyons, who flit over the swelling waves of the sea, come hither to hear the tidings; let all the tribes of long-necked birds assemble here; know that a clever old man has come to us, bringing an entirely new idea and proposing great reforms. Let all come to the debate here, here, here, here. Torotorotorotorotix, kikkabau, kikkabau, torotorotorolililix.

ἐποποῖ ποποποποποποποῖ,
ἰὼ ἰὼ ἰτὼ ἰτὼ ἰτὼ ἰτὼ,
ἴτω τις ὧδε τῶν ἐμῶν ὁμοπτέρων:
ὅσοι τ᾽ εὐσπόρους ἀγροίκων γύας
νέμεσθε, φῦλα μυρία κριθοτράγων
σπερμολόγων τε γένη
ταχὺ πετόμενα, μαλθακὴν ἱέντα γῆρυν:
ὅσα τ᾽ ἐν ἄλοκι θαμὰ
βῶλον ἀμφιτιττυβίζεθ᾽ ὧδε λεπτὸν
ἡδομένᾳ φωνᾷ:
τιὸ τιὸ τιὸ τιὸ τιὸ τιὸ τιὸ τιό.
ὅσα θ᾽ ὑμῶν κατὰ κήπους ἐπὶ κισσοῦ
κλάδεσι νομὸν ἔχει,
τά τε κατ᾽ ὄρεα τά τε κοτινοτράγα τά τε κομαροφάγα,
ἀνύσατε πετόμενα πρὸς ἐμὰν αὐδάν:
τριοτὸ τριοτὸ τοτοβρίξ:
οἵ θ᾽ ἑλείας παρ᾽ αὐλῶνας ὀξυστόμους
ἐμπίδας κάπτεθ᾽, ὅσα τ᾽ εὐδρόσους γῆς τόπους
ἔχετε λειμῶνά τ᾽ ἐρόεντα Μαραθῶνος, ὄρνις
πτερυγοποίκιλός τ᾽ ἀτταγᾶς ἀτταγᾶς.
ὧν τ᾽ ἐπὶ πόντιον οἶδμα θαλάσσης
φῦλα μετ᾽ ἀλκυόνεσσι ποτῆται,
δεῦρ᾽ ἴτε πευσόμενοι τὰ νεώτερα,
πάντα γὰρ ἐνθάδε φῦλ᾽ ἀθροΐζομεν
οἰωνῶν ταναοδείρων.
ἥκει γὰρ τις δριμὺς πρέσβυς
καινὸς γνώμην
καινῶν τ᾽ ἔργων ἐγχειρητής.
ἀλλ᾽ ἴτ᾽ ἐς λόγους ἅπαντα,
δεῦρο δεῦρο δεῦρο δεῦρο.

Χορὸς

τοροτοροτοροτοροτίξ.
κικκαβαῦ κικκαβαῦ.
Τοροτοροτοροτορολιλιλίξ.

  1. An Oriental Interior 
The ‘Damascus Room’, Dresden Museum of Ethnology. Detail of
the large wall closet door, right shutter, contrast between gilded ‘ajamī decoration and duller painted houses. Photo: Anke Scharrahs.

The one-hundred-and-thirteen elaborate wooden panels that make up the Damascus Room at the Dresden Museum of Ethnology testify to the immense wealth of the era, at the beginning of the 19th century when wood and ceiling panels adorned the reception room of Damascene houses in Ottoman Syria. A detailed composition of city landscapes, bouquets of flowers, bowls of fruits and Arabic calligraphy was executed around a main framework in which vertical panels, niches, wall closets, doors and windows were integrated, often aggrandized by the use of mirrors in a sophisticated painting technique known as ‘ajamī (Persian). This pastiglia style involved preparation of the wood with a rough white ground layer, followed by more colorful paint layers, underdrawing, transfer of patterns, then followed by application of ornaments, metal leaf and dyed glazes. 

Scholar Anke Scharrahs interviewed Damascene artists revealing that knowledge about this intricate painting technique of the 17th and 18th centuries (rich in organic pigments and animal resins) was subsequently lost to modern pigments and European influences. In fact the panels were often washed down, restored and repainted every few generations, therefore only a few original interiors remain in Syria itself, so that the preservation state of the Damascus Room is nothing short of astonishing (only four such interiors exist in the Western world).

But the journey of the Damascus Room to its present splendor took two centuries, and is as protracted as the history of the museum housing it. The Dresden Museum of Ethnology dates back to 1560 with the cabinet of curiosities established by Augustus, the elector of Saxony, and was subsequently transformed into different museums, under different names, as European ideas about culture were being shaped by both science and colonialism. 

It was the year 1898 when a German art collector, Karl Ernst Osthaus, known primarily for his interest in the avant-garde movement, traveled throughout the Ottoman Empire, collecting artifacts from bazaars and workshops. But there was one treasure hunt that couldn’t be completed: The search for an Oriental interior. Although he traveled far and wide in all the major cities of the empire, it was to no avail, and at the end of his journey, he passed on the responsibility to the German consulate in Damascus. The consulate in turn assigned photographer Hermann Burchardt to the task, who had been living in Damascus since 1893. A suitable interior was found (dated 1810-11), purchased, disassembled and sent to Germany. Osthaus was then very involved in modern art, so when the pieces arrived at his estate in Hagen, they were kept in an attic and quickly forgotten. 

Restoration of the wooden panels with ‘Ajami decoration of the Damascus Room, 2016. Photo: Anke Scharrahs.

After Osthaus’ death in 1921, the panels were discovered and donated to the Dresden Museum of Ethnology in 1930, and the collections of the museum were about to go on show at the Zwinger palatial complex (dating back to the 18th century Baroque), but the space provided for the Damascus Room proved too small – the surface area of the room is 4 x 5.5 m and 5.4 m high. This mismatch turned out to be a fortunate event, because the room would have been completely destroyed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945.

Once again forgotten, it was rediscovered in 1997, but by then no one knew how to assemble it together. How do the one-hundred-and-thirteen pieces fit together? Two students from Dresden, Ulrike Siegel and Antje Werner, took up the challenge of putting the puzzle back together, measuring every single piece, meticulously documenting each item and following the number coding written onto the backsides. 

But then it needed to be restored. 200 years hadn’t passed in vain, and many of the wooden pieces had been eaten by worms, damaged by dampness, large flakes of paint fell off and the entire thing was covered in dust and mold. A restoration began that wouldn’t be completed until the end of 2019. The following year, in the autumn of 2020, amidst the raging pandemic, as if continuing the trail of oblique historical journeys, it met a peculiar contemporary artistic intervention coming from the place where it all had begun, modern Syria and Turkey.

An installation consisting of colorful glass swallows with their heads tilted downwards, placed on the floor of the lavish room, would tell a story where the different pasts and presents of these interiors would meet: Improbable journeys and the (im)possibility of travel, exile, migration, uncertainty, memory and the feeling of having fallen out of the world, whilst living in the presence of all its traces. 

 

2. Birds Without Wings 

Felekşan Onar’s “Perched” at the Aleppo Room, Pergamon Museum, 2018, photo: David von Becker.

Three years earlier, in 2017, Turkish glass artist Felekşan Onar arrived in Berlin from Istanbul with the intention to work at a glass studio, and blow into plaster moulds closed winged birds for her project “Perched”, without knowing at the time its final destination. The wingless swallows with their heads tilted downwards, resembled for Onar, the millions of Syrian refugees stranded in Istanbul, not knowing where to go, or what is going to happen next. In Onar’s words, “Simply perched on sidewalks, like birds without wings”.

This reflection however, was interlocked with an earlier metaphor: She began thinking about the birds after a reading of Louis de Bernières’ novel “Birds Without Wings” (published in 2004); set in the era of population exchanges between Greece and Turkey, in the period following World War First; the novel chronicles an era of intolerance and forced migration, still consequential to this day for both countries.

The plot of de Bernières’ novel revolves around the tragic love story between Philothei, a beautiful Greek woman, and Ibrahim, her Muslim suitor, who loses his mind halfway through the novel after returning from the trenches of war, vividly recounted. The novel is set in the fictional village of Eskibahçe, based upon Kayaköy, a Greek village in the Turkish province of Fethiye, deserted after 1923, when a series of agreements that would define the present-day borders between Greece and Turkey meant the forced migration of all Christian Greeks from Anatolia to the Greek mainland, and Muslims in Greece to Anatolia.

These peoples left behind their homelands, becoming refugees in newly established countries, shattering an ancient multicultural geography. Kayaköy is today a derelict ghost town after many failed attempts of the Turkish government to lure Muslims from Greece to occupy the abandoned houses.   

This story was familiar to Onar: Born in the Aegean region of Turkey, in the town of Söke–some hundred kilometers from Izmir, the ancient Greek Anaia, renamed Soka in the Byzantine era–it was impossible for her not to be immersed in the cultural world of the population exchanges: A housekeeper from her childhood, Nazmiye Hanım, had come from Crete to Söke as a result of this population exchange, and often told mesmerizing tales about her homeland in the heavily accented Turkish of a native Greek speaker. Therefore, years later Onar identified Nazmiye Hanım with many of the characters in de Bernières’ narrative.

At the height of the Syrian crisis,  Onar saw in these birds without wings, part of “Perched” (there are ninety-nine birds in total), a slow meditation not only on the present circumstances but on the permanent waves of migration and spatial redistribution of peoples that form of the core of Mediterranean history since antiquity.

Ghost town of Kayaköy

In the words of Nadania Idriss, the founder of Berlin Glassworks (herself of Syrian background) where Onar completed blowing the swallows, The pigments and surface texture of each unique sculpture recall the multitude of hues that hold in Syrian daily life; and yet these swallows sit patiently, heads tilted downward as they try to understand the situation that has befallen them.”

It was Idriss who facilitated a conversation with the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, and as a result the first stop in the journey of the wingless birds was the famous Aleppo Room at Pergamon in 2018. In fact, this might be the most spectacular of all Syrian interiors in the world, dated as far back as the early 17th century, and acquired in 1912 by German orientalist and archaeologist Friedrich Sarre in Aleppo. A conservator at the museum, Anke Scharrachs, then encouraged Onar to connect with other museums in possession of Damascene interiors (Scharrachs was involved in the restoration of the Dresden panels). 

And that’s how “Perched” traveled then to the Damascus Room in Dresden, and the year prior, to the Islamic Galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. A double metaphor grew out of the Aleppo Room at Pergamon with its spectacular colorful panels, laden with rich ornamental fauna, according to Stefan Weber, director of the Islamic Museum: The lively, colorful peacocks, ducks and pigeons on the wall panels stand in almost oppressive contrast to the small, fragile birds with clipped wings seated on the ground. Not only does the installation resonate with the sad fate of a once flourishing metropolis – now destroyed by the civil war – but it also picks on the reality of Syrian refugees in modern Turkey.”

From ambers, to amethysts and greys and blues, greens and pinks, the iridescent colored glass swallows hint at the archetypal role of birds in the ancient Mediterranean as both messengers and mediators, rather than silent spectators in the drama of mankind. 

 

3. The Debt to the Birds

Felekşan Onar’s “Perched” at the Damascus Room, Dresden Museum of Ethnology, 2020. Photo Credit: Dario J. Lagana .

When “Perched” opened at the Dresden Museum of Ethnology (part of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, one of the largest and oldest art and artifacts collections in the world), it was already September 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and it was no longer possible for anyone in Turkey, and not only refugees, to fly anywhere in Europe, so that the metaphor came home to roost: The artist Felekşan Onar was unable to travel for the exhibition.

At the time a monograph about the entire journey of “Perched” was in preparation, which saw the light in December, and was supposed to be launched at the museum, but with the closure of cultural institutions in Germany due to the pandemic this wasn’t possible either. For this monograph, de Bernières contributed a short story, “The Debt to the Birds” (Onar and de Bernières met for a public conversation at the Victoria & Albert), that sets the story and trajectory of Onar’s birds, on a different, much more complex itinerary.   

“The Debt to the Birds” is a deceptively simple tale about a boy that was given a gun by his father on a promise: You must promise me never to shoot a bird that you do not intend to eat, nor ever shoot a man unless you’re at war. Do you promise?” The young boy, like his father before him, was tempted by his father’s words and shot a sparrow, watching it die in the grass. Three years later, he found a young jackdaw with a broken wing, and brought it home to cure it, in order to repay his debt to the birds. The bird healed quickly and became his loyal companion, perched on his shoulder, and then he was instructed by his father to teach it how to fly, at the risk that it might fly away. When it flew off with a posse of jackdaws, never to return, both father and boy thought that they had finally repaid their debt to the birds. The boy became a father and passed on the gun to his son, but yet he did not tempt him by telling him not to shoot the birds.

Distant from the historical world of de Bernières’ “Birds Without Wings”, there happen to be a number of uncanny parallels between “The Debt to the Birds” and Aristophanes’ play “The Birds”, performed in 414 BC at the Dionysia festival in Athens.

These parallels ground the spatiotemporal framework of Onar’s “Perched” in a larger, aporetic logic, allowing the viewer (as if the audience of a live, theatrical performance) to move in between different temporalities, depending not only on the context. The Oriental interiors function here also as a springboard that releases the audience away from the historical context onto a nondescript area, free of allegory and actually also free of debt (I will return to this at the end). They are both are interrogative texts, set specifically against interpretation, by taking place outside any context whatsoever. One couldn’t name a specific timeframe in which the events unfold.  

Etching by Henry Gillard Glindoni (1852— 1913) of the 1883 performance of Birds at the University of Cambridge, Wellcome Library, London

This is in fact an anomaly in Aristophanes’ surviving plays, and by all means an innovation, although it is written in the conventional style of old comedy. “The Birds” contains no direct reference to the Peloponnesian War, and hardly any references to Athenian politics (although much has been theorized about political allegory in the play), and in the manner of Aesop’s Greek tales, it is set in remote, but undefined times.

In “The Debt to the Birds”, there are two oblique references to war, ‘never shoot another man unless at war’ in the promise, and the father having been a soldier himself. But we know nothing about when or where the events take place. There seems to be a search for redemption in both texts which ultimately fails, by means of different strategies: In Aristophanes, the conclusion of the play is the instauration of a human-led tyranny after the defeat of the gods, and in de Bernières a potential cycle of return to debt with the birds. 

In the larger scheme of Aristophanes’ play we know that it is a narrative about the foundation of a political community, but in such terms, so fantastic (two elderly Athenians convince the birds to create a walled city in the air, to prevent the aromas of sacrificial offerings from reaching the Olympian gods), that the cloud-cuckoo-land becomes less than a metaphor, offering something alien to the pattern of problem-and-solution of the comic universe, namely, a suspension.

For de Bernières, on the other hand, the smoothed out but always latent cycle of repetition between violence, debt and settlement, indicates a species of non-linear time, more akin to myth than to history. This time out of joint that cannot be put back together, resembles simultaneously the chaotic temporality of the ancients, marked only by events and decay, and the timelessness of Onar’s swallows, head tilted down, waiting and waiting, still at the Damascus Room. 

 

4. Unfamiliar Futures

Felekşan Onar’s “Perched” at the V&A Museum, Islamic Galleries, 2019. Photo Credit: Daniel Oduntan.

The resemblances between the ancient comedy and the contemporary tale do not end with the site of temporality. There’s a crucial passage in de Bernières: The essence of man is to be a prisoner, but the essence of a bird is to be free. A bird shows no passport at the borders. It pays no taxes. A bird has no pockets and when it dies it has no shroud.”

Not only is this passage immediately connected to a key fragment in his novel “Birds Without Wings” (“Man is a bird without wings, and a bird is a man without sorrows”) but also to Aristophanes’ play, when the starring humans, Euelpides and Pisthetaerus, ask the Hoopoe, formerly King Tereus who metamorphosed into a bird, what is it like to live with the birds? The idea of a utopian, moneyless, political community, resonates strongly in both authors, and the impossibility to realize this fantasy reveals in its aporias a tension that remains without offering resolution.

Aristophanes, Birds, 154-161

Euelpides
I would not be Opuntian for a talent. But come, what is it like to live with the birds? You should know pretty well.
Epops
Why, it’s not a disagreeable life. In the first place, one has no purse.
Euelpides
That does away with a lot of roguery.
Epops
For food the gardens yield us white sesame, myrtle-berries, poppies and mint.
Euelpides
Why, ‘tis the life of the newly-wed indeed.

Yet, the most interesting parallel between them, concerns the antiquity of birds, thus, once again, the question of the origins and new beginnings (and therefore of foundations) returns. In “The Debt to the Birds”, the father explains to the boy, “Did you know that dinosaurs are not extinct after all? We were all completely wrong. They’re beginning to think that the little dinosaurs survived, so now we have lizards and amphibians, and birds […] We look out of our windows and see the trees full of little dinosaurs!”

The story continues later, with a moving passage on the boy: “That evening the boy sat his jackdaw on its perch and looked into its face. He recognized the extreme antiquity of its being, and said to it ‘Your soul is millions of years more ancient than mine. My soul is young compared to yours.’ The bird looked back into his eyes and shook its wings a little, just as fledging does when hoping to be fed.” And furthermore: “That evening the boy repeated to the bird on its perch in his bedroom ‘Your soul is more ancient than mine.'”  

In these apparently innocuous passages, de Bernières is enlarging the historical space of Onar’s birds, breaking down the repetitive cycle of timelessness: Trapped inside an infinitely expanding present, these refugees moving across the world, but particularly visible in both Turkey and Germany, cannot articulate stories that narrate either past or future; they’re rooted in the presentism of despair that quickly devours the future as a temporal index, while at the same time not being entirely free from the immediate past. All recollection is fragmented. These birds, caged by traumatic events, acquiesce to a type of memory-work, structured by repetition and transitoriness, rather than a series of checkpoints in reality to orient yourself in the world.

The introduction of a primeval consciousness of time, a time before time, of unquantifiable properties, preceding the uniformity of historical experience, opens up a dialogue between de Bernières and Aristophanes, on a crucial passage from “The Birds”. In the one-sided agon of the play (there’s no antagonist, and the formal argument is constructed around convincing an already eager audience) a political cosmogony is laid out, by means of which the realization of a utopian city in the sky acquires legitimacy. The birds are now endowed with a new, previously unknown, master narrative. Enlarging the past works here in two directions: At first it provides a lasting consciousness of duration by probing the depth of origin, and then, it brings out an invented, alternative future, on which the past itself can be re-inscribed back, without the horizon of continuity losing its template.   

Aristophanes, Birds 465-485

Pisthetaerus
By Zeus, no! But I am hunting for fine, tasty words to break down the hardness of their hearts. To the Chorus. I grieve so much for you, who at one time were kings…
Leader of the Chorus
We kings? Over whom?
Pisthetaerus
…of all that exists, firstly of me and of this man, even of Zeus himself. Your race is older than Saturn, the Titans and the Earth.
Leader of the Chorus
What, older than the Earth!
Pisthetaerus
By Phoebus, yes.
Leader of the Chorus
By Zeus,but I never knew that before!
Pisthetaerus
That’s because you are ignorant and heedless, and have never read your Aesop. He is the one who tell us that the lark was born before all other creatures, indeed before the Earth; his father died of sickness, but the Earth did not exist then; he remained unburied for five days, when the bird in its dilemma decided, for want of a better place, to entomb his father in its own head.
Euelpides
So that the lark’s father is buried at Cephalae.
Pisthetaerus
Hence, if they existed before the Earth, before the gods, the kingship belongs to them by right of priority.
Euelpides
Undoubtedly, but sharpen your beak well; Zeus won’t in a hurry to hand over his scepter to the woodpecker.
Pisthetaerus
It was not the gods, but the birds, who were formerly the masters and kings over men; of this I have a thousand proofs. First of all, I will point you to the cock, who governed the Persians, before all other monarchs, before Darius and Megabazus. It’s in memory of his reign that he is called the Persian bird.

Detail from Felekşan Onar’s “Perched” at the Damascus Room, Dresden Museum of Ethnology, 2020. Photo Credit:  Dario J. Lagana.

Aristophanes, of course, was aware of a double-bind that we have carried over into the modernist imaginary: Cosmogonies are also structures of power and the pendulum can swing in any direction. Narratives can be manipulated as well, as the conclusion of “The Birds” exemplifies, under the new tyranny of Pisthetaerus. But as a mythology of origins, this cosmogony throws the body politic (of the birds) back to a future that is assumed to exist, as if the past had shed light on it (and yet fails).

When Euelpides and Pisthetaerus turned to the birds for help, and yet with a masterplan to create a new city in the sky, what they longed for was more than a political community itself; it was about an impossible political community where utopia and law could coexist. De Bernières subtly touches on this sentiment from the father’s viewpoint: “For us the birds represent all the freedom that we can never have. They give us something to aspire that we cannot reach. And sometimes when you aspire to what you cannot reach, one day after all, you will reach it.”

The long duration translates in de Bernières’ story into a multi-temporality, projected back on the journey of “Perched”: The journey of migrants towards Turkey and Europe contains many other journeys from the past, articulated here through the accumulation of cultural meanings embedded in the glass birds across time, and of which the current predicament is only one among the possible worlds. What emerges here is the possibility of an unfamiliar, yet un-created future, not necessarily the direct consequence of the past.

New foundations and master narratives can be anchored anywhere in the temporal index:  It is not only the history of Syrian refugees perched on the streets of Istanbul juxtaposed to the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey, but also the arrival of Byzas of Megara in the 6th century BC to found the city that three political orders later would become Istanbul, and the permanent condition of migration that shaped the Mediterranean cultural space since times before time (no less than the modern world) or the long journey of glass since the 4th millennium BC, appearing simultaneously in Syria, Eastern Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, long before it adorned the Ottoman palaces of Istanbul, challenging constantly our ideas about archaeological contexts and mobility networks. 

 

5. Whose Cultural Property?    

Felekşan Onar’s “Perched” at the Aleppo Room, Pergamon Museum, 2018. Photo: David von Caspar.

Yet it is significant that the journey of “Perched” has begun in European encyclopedic museums, and has been decidedly defined by their interiors and galleries. The encyclopedic museum, we recognize today, is deeply rooted in the experience of colonialism and the concept of universal history. This all-encompassing history, with Western mankind at the center, is a politically heliocentric universe, largely flawed, but at the same time, manufacturer of the colonial world-system, which has inflicted infinite violence on large swaths of the Earth.

As large collections of artifacts from all over the world, the Western museums perform what archaeologists Dan Hicks and Sarah Mallet,  have called in their work, the weaponization of time: The dispossession of both cultural property (in museums) and peoples (at the borders of nation states) is not simply circumstantial or situational, but ontological. Controlling time, by placing objects outside of everyday historical experience, often destroying complex systems and contexts along the way, suspends the temporality of objects under the unfulfillable promise of permanence. But isn’t the most fundamental reflection underlying “Perched”, the struggle of memory against the destruction of richly layered, pluriversal, complex contexts? An answer is difficult to arrive at.

And thinking about birds, is for us, always thinking also about the museum. Most of our knowledge about birds comes from the collections of encyclopedic natural museums, often mediated by the utilitarian beliefs of 19th century social science. Commenting on the 33,000 years old Water Bird in Flight from the Hohle Fels Cave in south-west Germany, carved in stone during the Upper Paleolithic, John Berger made an important remark for our context: “The supposition that animals entered the human imagination as meat or leather or horn is to project a 19th century attitude backwards across the millennia. Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.” Is there an intrinsic relationship between promises and debts?

If we have a debt with the birds, what does this debt consist of? And if de Bernières is correct, and birds do in fact represent freedom, shouldn’t we be free also from debt? Hannah Arendt was one of the first modern thinkers to treat the faculty of making promises with philosophical seriousness, arguing that they help stabilize the world by making it predictable to the extent that it is humanly possible and that the reality of the space of appearances, where concerted power could arise, is guaranteed only by mutual promise or contract.

But it was David Graeber in his monumental anthropology of debt, who made the connection between debts and promises: “A debt is the perversion of a promise.” All human economies have been heretofore based on a system of debt and credit that boils down to trust between peoples, and not to barter as economic historians have chosen to believe. All revolutionary movements in the ancient world were defined by a single program: The cancellation of all debt.

Waterbird in Flight from the Hohle Fels Cave.

If the crucial question here is the settlement of a debt, could we try perhaps to free ourselves (this was a fundamental argument in Graeber’s work: we can only be free with each other, not from each other) and cancel our debt through a promise? The promise of time, of giving time, of giving time back, another idea I’m borrowing from Hicks and Mallet. What would it mean to give time back in the context of the birds in the Damascus Room?

All of the Oriental interiors in Germany were legally acquired as per extant documentation, and there’s no restitution claim for them as in the case of say the Benin Bronzes or the Parthenon Marbles (Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh, recently staged an intervention in Dresden through ‘missing’ posters in the city over one of the Benin Bronzes at the museum) but the question remains whether the grand tour of collecting antiquities in the Near East during the era of the great archaeological discoveries wasn’t embedded in terrible imbalances of power that remain to this day and account for many violent conflicts in the region.

Archaeology has been the main factory of universal history, and as decolonization struggles all over the world inform us, there’s in fact no such a thing as universal heritage, because heritage isn’t a concrete set of parameters for the preservation of a common past, but instead, a notion and symptom of time crises, in order to (re)produce pasts as touristic sites, with the present tense as the boundary event of our world. 

Yet there’s something perplexing happening in the journey of Felekşan Onar’s swallows through these stately rooms in Berlin, London and Dresden: The birds, both as metaphor and artifact, imbued with so many blueprints of time, recent and distant, have begun accumulating contexts rather than merely reflecting them. With an eventual journey back from Germany to Istanbul in the horizon (a number of birds have been accessioned to the collection of the V&A Glass Gallery, and the permanent home of “Perched” will be in due course of time at the Dresden collection), they are now also pregnant with unfamiliar, open-ended, contingent futures.

Giving back time to cultural artifacts and peoples means essentially to re-insert them into temporality not only in absolute terms but through the relative durability of institutions and political agency. One can’t help but wonder after a reading of “Perched” through de Bernières and Aristophanes, whether it wouldn’t be possible to create new future-oriented cosmogonies for these artifacts and stories, beyond and outside closed museological systems. 

A striking passage in Aristophanes, during the first formal argument between the two elderly Athenians and the hoopoe,  brings to mind a poetic spatial metaphor: When Pisthetaerus asks the hoopoe to look up and down and what he has seen, the sky (οὐρανός) the bird says to have seen and the pole (πόλος) of the birds that Pisthetaerus refers to, do not carry identical meaning. The sky is a region of the atmosphere and outer space, a kind of unbounded expanse, whereas a pole, is a vaulted dome, the firmament, that in ancient cosmologies divided the primal sea from the dry land.

This firmament as David Konstan argues, is a bounded space, ‘not everywhere’, which necessarily grounds the utopian city in the sky within the framework of the polis, a community. Pisthetaerus goes on to add that this pole is a place (τόπος), expression which Seferis identifies with a country or fatherland in Mythistorima X. There’s a circumscribed place to stand on, even in the sky. 

Aristophanes, Birds, 178-196

Pisthetaerus
What have you seen?
Epops
The clouds and the sky.
Pisthetaerus
Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?
Epops
How their pole?
Pisthetaerus
Or, if you like it, their place. And since it turns and passes through the whole universe, it is called ‘pole.’ If you build and fortify it, you will turn your pole into a city. In this way you will reign over mankind as you do over the grasshoppers and you will cause the gods to die of rabid hunger.
Epops
How so?
Pisthetaerus
The air is between earth and heaven. When we want to go to Delphi, we ask the Boeotians for leave of passage; in the same way, when men sacrifice to the gods, unless the latter pay you tribute, you exercise the right of every nation towards strangers and don’t allow the smoke of the sacrifices to pass through your city and territory.Very well! is not this the pole of the birds then?
Epops
By earth! by snares! by network! by cages! I never heard of anything more cleverly conceived; and, if the other birds approve, I am going to build the city along with you.

The gift of time that cancels debt, at the heart of “Perched”, is a with-world, beyond the space of appearances and the realm of objects, which according to Sophie Loidolt, in her study of Arendt’s political intersubjectivity, “emerges through our intersubjective relations and which holds all these dimensions of meaning together in one world where we can exist as humans.” The gift is a promise, the promise of multiple meanings embedded in concrete, actual experienced time, looking backwards and forwards, without the grip of the instant. Where’s eternity then? 

*

“Perched” by Felekşan Onar is on view at the Dresden Museum of Ethnology, September 5, 2020 through February 21, 2021 (the museum is currently closed due to pandemic regulations), the monograph “Perched: Felekşan Onar”, published by Paul Holberton Publishing, with contributions by Felekşan Onar, Nadania Idriss, Stefanie Bach, Louis de Bernières, Stefan Weber, Mariam Rosser-Owen and Glenn Adamson, is currently available, in English and German.

Detail from Felekşan Onar’s “Perched”, V&A Museum, Islamic Galleries, 2019. Photo Credit: Daniel Oduntan.

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.

Bibliography

  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, 1958
  • Gregory Dobrov, “Aristophanes’ Birds and the Metaphor of Deferral”, in Arethusa, Vol. 3 No. 2 (Fall 1990)
  • David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years, Melville House, 2012
  • Francois Hartog, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time”, Columbia University Press, 2016
  • Dan Hicks & Sarah Mallet, Lande: The Calais ‘Jungle’ and Beyond, Bristol University Press, 2019, open access
  • David Konstan, “A City in the Air: Aristophanes’ Birds”, in Arethusa, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall 1990)
  • Sophie Loidolt, Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity, Routledge Research in Phenomenology, 2019 
  • Annegret Nippa & Anke Scharrahs, The Damascus Room in Dresden – A Treasure of Ottoman Interior Design in Germany, 2003, online
  • Anke Scharrahs, “Insight into a Sophisticated Painting Technique: Three Polychrome Wooden Interiors from Ottoman Syria in German Collections and Field Research in Damascus”, in Studies in Conservation, Volume 55, 2010 

If Only Everyone Were Like Me

Menander, Dyskolos 742-746

“I would like to tell you a few things about me and my character.
If everyone were like me, there wouldn’t be any courts at all,
They wouldn’t take each other to prison.
There would be no war and everyone would be happy because they had enough.
Ah, maybe the way things are is more pleasing. Act as you will.
This old cranky grump will be out of your way.”

πὲρ ἐ]μοῦ γὰρ βούλομ᾿ εἰπεῖν ὀλίγα σοι καὶ τοῦ τρόπου.
εἰ τοιοῦτ]οι πάντες ἦσαν, οὔτε τὰ δικαστήρια
ἦν ἄν, ο]ὔθ᾿ αὑτοὺς ἀπῆγον εἰς τὰ δεσμωτήρια,
οὔτε π]όλεμος ἦν, ἔχων δ᾿ ἂν μέτρι᾿ ἕκαστος ἠγάπα.
ἀ[λ]λ᾿ ἴσως ταῦτ᾿ ἔστ᾿ ἀρεστὰ μᾶλλον· οὕτω πράττετε.
ἐκποδὼν ὑμῖν ὁ χαλεπὸς δύσκολός τ᾿ ἔσται γέρων.

Image result for medieval old fool
“The Fool and His Double”, José Frappa

Thunderous-Mouth-Milling and Petty-Bragging: Some Words for a Thursday

The Suda has the following anecdote which seems to be taken and altered from Diogenes Laertius or something similar.

“thunderous-mouth-milling”: Eubulides says this “the eristic, asking his horn questions and discombobulating the orators with his falsely-intellectual arguments, taking with him the “thunderous-mouth-milling” of Demosthenes.

Ῥομβοστωμυλήθρα: Εὐβουλίδης φησίν: οὑριστικὸς κερατίνας ἐρωτῶν καὶ ψευδαλαζόσιν λόγοις τοὺς ῥήτορας κυλίων ἀπῆλθ’, ἔχων Δημοσθένους τὴν ῥομβοστωμυλήθραν.

ῥομβοστωμυλήθρη (lit. “thunderous-mouth-milling” (?) seems to be a misunderstanding or humorous take on ῥωποπερπερήθρη, usually translated as “braggadocio” but is more like “cheap/petty bragging”
From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 2.10

“The eristic Euboulides, asking questions about horns
And discombobulating the speakers with his falsely-intellectual arguments
Has gone off, taking the petty self regard of Demosthenes with him

For it seems that Demosthenes was a student of Eubulides and was able to stop his problems with the letter ‘r’ because of it. Eubulides was also in conflict with Aristotle and undermined him a lot.

οὑριστικὸς δ᾿ Εὐβουλίδης κερατίνας ἐρωτῶν
καὶ ψευδαλαζόσιν λόγοις τοὺς ῥήτορας κυλίων
ἀπῆλθ᾿ ἔχων Δημοσθένους τὴν ῥωποπερπερήθραν.

ἐῴκει γὰρ αὐτοῦ καὶ Δημοσθένης ἀκηκοέναι καὶ ῥωβικώτερος ὢν παύσασθαι. ὁ δ᾿ Εὐβουλίδης καὶ πρὸς Ἀριστοτέλην διεφέρετο, καὶ πολλὰ αὐτὸν διαβέβληκε.

Eubulides is now known for some interesting paradoxes.

Image result for ancient greek eubulides
Demosthenes, no longer thunderous-mouth-milling.

Medically Mad or Just Thinking Bad? Early Greek on Being Crazy

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen, 248-253

[First Woman]: But what if Kephalos attacks you with abuse—
How will you response to him in the assembly?

[Praksagora]: I will say he’s out of his mind [paraphronein]

[First Woman]: but everyone knows this!

[Praksagora]: then I will also call him psychopathic [lit. ‘black-biled’=melancholic].

[First Woman]: They know this too.

[Praksagora]: But I will add that he produces terrible ceramics and will then do a fine job of doing the same to the city.

ἀτὰρ ἢν Κέφαλός σοι λοιδορῆται προσφθαρείς,
πῶς ἀντερεῖς πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐν τἠκκλησίᾳ;
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ φήσω παραφρονεῖν αὐτόν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α …ἀλλὰ τοῦτό γε
ἴσασι πάντες.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑ ἀλλὰ καὶ μελαγχολᾶν.
ΓΥΝΗ Α καὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἴσασιν.
ΠΡΑΞΑΓΟΡΑἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ τρύβλια
κακῶς κεραμεύειν, τὴν δὲ πόλιν εὖ καὶ καλῶς.

Melancholy here contrasts with “thinking -wrongly” (paraphronein). A scholion to another play by Aristophanes glosses the realms of these types of mental maladies (Schol. ad Plut. 11a ex 20-28)

“He seems to say this because he harmed or helped his master through his own virtue more—and while he disturbed him through prophecy, he made him crazy [melankholan] through medicine and took away his ability to think [phronein] through wisdom, which is the art of thinking. The servant lies. For he does not speak the truth….”

…τοῦτο οὖν
ἔοικε λέγειν, ὅτι διὰ τῶν ἑαυτοῦ
μᾶλλον ἀρετῶν ἔβλαψε τὸν δεσπότην
ἤπερ ὠφέλησε, καὶ διὰ μὲν τῆς
μαντείας ἐτάραξε, διὰ δὲ τῆς ἰατρι-
κῆς μελαγχολᾶν ἐποίησε, διὰ δὲ
τῆς σοφίας, ὅ ἐστι τῆς φρονήσεως,
τοῦ φρονεῖν αὐτὸν ἀφείλατο. ψεύδεται
ὁ δοῦλος· οὐ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν λέγει

Where melancholy denotes a physical ailment [i.e. biologically caused and treated], paraphrosunê indicates parafunctionality which may be treated without medicine.

μελαγχολάω: to be atrabilious, melancholy-mad.

μελαγχολία: atrabiliousness, melancholy, a disease [atual LSJ definition]

παραφροσύνη, ἡ:  wandering of mind, derangment, delirium

παραφρονέω: to be beside oneself, be deranged, or mad.

Lyrica Adespota, fr. 3.9-10

“Lust–that magician–takes me. It descends upon my mind
And makes me crazy!”

῎Ερως μ’ ἔλα]β’ ὁ γόης· εἰς τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰσπε-
σὼν [ποιεῖ μ]ε παραφρονεῖν.

Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.1009b

“In the same way, ‘truth’ concerning the way things appear has come to some people from their senses. They believe that it is right that truth should be judged neither by the multitude or the scarcity [of those who believe it]; and they believe that the same thing seems sweet to some who taste it and bitter to others with the result that if all men were sick or if they were all insane and two or three were healthy or in their right mind, wouldn’t it seem that these few were sick and crazy and not the rest?”

[1] —ὅμοιως δὲ καὶ ἡ περὶ τὰ φαινόμενα ἀλήθεια ἐνίοις ἐκ τῶν αἰσθητῶν ἐλήλυθεν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς οὐ πλήθει κρίνεσθαι οἴονται προσήκειν οὐδὲ ὀλιγότητι, τὸ δ᾽ αὐτὸ τοῖς μὲν γλυκὺ γευομένοις δοκεῖν εἶναι τοῖς δὲ πικρόν, ὥστ᾽ εἰ πάντες ἔκαμνον [5] ἢ πάντες παρεφρόνουν, δύο δ᾽ ἢ τρεῖς ὑγίαινον ἢ νοῦν εἶχον, δοκεῖν ἂν τούτους κάμνειν καὶ παραφρονεῖν τοὺς δ᾽ ἄλλους οὔ:

Image result for ancient greek comedy vase

Brekekekeks, the Frogs, the Frogs!

Aristophanes, Frogs 1-2

“Hey boss, should I say one of those typical things,
That audiences always laugh at?”

εἴπω τι τῶν εἰωθότων, ὦ δέσποτα,
ἐφ᾿ οἷς ἀεὶ γελῶσιν οἱ θεώμενοι;

Not this frog!

Aristophanes, Frogs 76-77

“If you need to bring someone back to life,
Why not Sophocles, since he’s better than Euripides?”

εἶτ᾿ οὐ Σοφοκλέα πρότερον ὄντ᾿ Εὐριπίδου
μέλλεις ἀναγαγεῖν, εἴπερ γ᾿ ἐκεῖθεν δεῖ σ᾿ ἄγειν;

Since March 2020, The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with an occasional foray in to epic and comedy. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.” For our final performance of the year, we turn to that most absurd and poignant of literary philosophy, Aristophanes’ Frogs.

Aristophanes’, Frogs .172

“Dude, want to carry some bags to Hades?”

ἄνθρωπε, βούλει σκευάρι᾿ εἰς Ἅιδου φέρειν;

Aristophanes, Frogs 80-83

“Euripides, since he’s a bit of a rascal,
Will probably try to help me get him free.
Sophocles will be well-behaved there since he was well-behaved here.”

κἄλλως ὁ μέν γ᾿ Εὐριπίδης πανοῦργος ὢν
κἂν ξυναποδρᾶναι δεῦρ᾿ ἐπιχειρήσειέ μοι·
ὁ δ᾿ εὔκολος μὲν ἐνθάδ᾿, εὔκολος δ᾿ ἐκεῖ

There will be time aplenty in the new year to reflect on what Reading Greek Tragedy Online meant to those of us who were engaged with it every week. It suffices to say for the moment that it gave us structure, a sense of community, and a reason to drag ourselves out of bed a few times a week. it also gave us the opportunity to think and talking about performing Greek theater in a sustained way that none of us could have imagined a year ago today.

Back in April, when Paul and I were outlining the rest of the year with Lanah, we thought this play would be a nice way to end the series on something of an absurdist but reflective turn. Aristophanes’ Frogs stands as one of the earliest pieces of literary criticism in the Athenian tradition. Even if it is bawdy and hyperbolic, it provides critical comments and cultural frameworks for the three tragedians we moderns know best. As a comedy, it ranges from sophisticated engagement with literary motifs and styles right back down to fart jokes and the regrettable but by no means atypical repeated play with abusing an enslaved person.

But the Frogs also has a sense of coming near the end of things: it starts with the assertion that all the good poets are dead (in a year following the passing of both Euripides and Sophocles). Not only does it come at the end of an artistic era, but it was also composed and performed near the end of the Peloponnesian War and the high point of Athenian influence. Rarely does any play stand at the intersection of so many charged themes; it is even rarer that such a play is a comedy.

So, to end this, our most recent annus horribilis and this series which has meant so much to us, we turn to a new version of the Frogs. Who’s ready for some koaks koaks?

Aristophanes, Frogs 237-239

“I am developing blisters,
My rectum has been oozing for a while,
And soon it will jump out and say…

Brekekekeks koaks koaks

ἐγὼ δὲ φλυκταίνας γ᾿ ἔχω,
χὠ πρωκτὸς ἰδίει πάλαι,
κᾆτ᾿ αὐτίκ᾿ ἐκκύψας ἐρεῖ—
ΒΑΤΡΑΧΟΙ
βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ.

Scenes

Most of George Theodoridis’ Translation

Cast

Narrator (v/o) – Rhys Rusbatch
Xanthias – Ursula Lansley-Early
Dionysus – Tony Jayawardena
Heracles – René Thornton Jr
Corpse – Hannah Barrie
Charon – Eli Pauley
Chorus of Frogs – Rob Castell and EVERYONE
Chorus of Initiates – Minnie Gale, Bettina Joy de Guzman, Marietta Hedges, Lanah Koelle, Lily Ling, T Lynn Mikeska
Pluto – Toph Marshall
Euripides – Paul Hurley
Aeschylus – Tabatha Gayle
Joel Christensen – Joel Christensen
Clytemnestra – Eunice Roberts
Medea – Evelyn Miller
Messenger – Sara Valentine
Artemis – Noree Victoria
Xerxes – Martin K Lewis
Hecuba chorus – Tamieka Chavis
Tutor – Robert Matney
Orestes – Tim Delap
Pylades – Paul O’Mahony

Aristophanes, Frogs 389-392

“Let me say a lot of funny things
And many serious ones too
As I joke and mock and win the crown
Worthy of your festival.”

καὶ πολλὰ μὲν γέλοιά μ᾿ εἰπεῖν,
πολλὰ δὲ σπουδαῖα, καὶ
τῆς σῆς ἑορτῆς ἀξίως
παίσαντα καὶ σκώψαντα νικήσαντα
ταινιοῦσθαι.

Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Associate Director: Liz Fisher
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Aristophanes, Frogs  538

“Whoever gets drunk but stays home is wise.”

ὃς δ᾿ ἂν μεθυσθείς γ᾿ ἐν δόμοις μείνῃ σοφός.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

Aristophanes, Frogs 533-539

“This is the sign of a man
Who has some brains
And has traveled much:
To always move himself
To whichever side is doing well
And not to stand in one place, taking one stance,
Like a painted statue…”

ταῦτα μὲν πρὸς ἀνδρός ἐστι
νοῦν ἔχοντος καὶ φρένας
καὶ πολλὰ περιπεπλευκότος,
μετακυλίνδειν αὑτὸν ἀεὶ
aπρὸς τὸν εὖ πράττοντα τοῖχον
μᾶλλον ἢ γεγραμμένην
εἰκόν᾿ ἑστάναι, λαβόνθ᾿ ἓν
σχῆμα·

Aristophanes, Frogs 805-6

“This is hard
They’ve found a shortage of smart people”

τοῦτ᾿ ἦν δύσκολον·
σοφῶν γὰρ ἀνδρῶν ἀπορίαν ηὑρισκέτην.

“Hello Stranger!” Rocking out with the Cyclops Online

Euripides, Cyclops 8

“Come, let me look at this: did I see this in a dream?”

φέρ᾿ ἴδω, τοῦτ᾿ ἰδὼν ὄναρ λέγω;

 

Euripides, Cyclops 63-67

“There’s no Dionysus here, no choruses,
No Bacchic revels, no wand-bearing,
No explosion of drums
By the fresh-flowing springs,
Or young drops of wine.”

οὐ τάδε Βρόμιος, οὐ τάδε χοροὶ
βακχεῖαί τε θυρσοφόροι,
οὐ τυμπάνων ἀλαλαγ-
μοὶ κρήναις παρ᾿ ὑδροχύτοις,
οὐκ οἴνου χλωραὶ σταγόνες·

The Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Cyclops 102-105

Silenos: Hello, stranger. Tell me who you are and your country
Odysseus: Odysseus from Ithaka, lord of the land of the Kephallenians
Silenos: I know that guy, a sharp conman, a descendent of Sisyphus.
Odysseus: I am that man. Don’t mock me.

ΣΙΛΗΝΟΣ
χαῖρ᾿, ὦ ξέν᾿· ὅστις δ᾿ εἶ φράσον πάτραν τε σήν.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
Ἴθακος Ὀδυσσεύς, γῆς Κεφαλλήνων ἄναξ.
ΣΙΛΗΝΟΣ
οἶδ᾿ ἄνδρα, κρόταλον δριμύ, Σισύφου γένος.
ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ
ἐκεῖνος αὐτός εἰμι· λοιδόρει δὲ μή.

This week, we arrive at the only surviving full Satyr play from Ancient Athens, Euripides’ Cyclops. During the tragic competition, poets would stage a trilogy followed by a satyr play, some kind of vaudevillian satire on tragedy itself. We don’t know as much about satyr plays as we’d like, but from this surviving example we can see some of the extreme bodily humor of comedy combined with tragedy’s mythical figures and themes.

Of course, comedy is about excess and in this reading of the story of Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemos we are adding our own excess by adding in words and music from from “Cyclops, a Rock Opera” by J. Landon Marcus, Benjamin Sherman, and Chas LiBretto.  The small screen may not hold all this energy, but that won’t stop us from trying.

Euripides, Cyclops 334-338

“I don’t sacrifice to anyone but myself, none of the gods,
And to the greatest divinity, my belly!
To drink and eat all day and have no pain
That is Zeus for wise people.”

ἁγὼ οὔτινι θύω πλὴν ἐμοί, θεοῖσι δ᾿ οὔ,
καὶ τῇ μεγίστῃ, γαστρὶ τῇδε, δαιμόνων.
ὡς τοὐμπιεῖν γε καὶ φαγεῖν τοὐφ᾿ ἡμέραν,
Ζεὺς οὗτος ἀνθρώποισι τοῖσι σώφροσιν,
λυπεῖν δὲ μηδὲν αὑτόν.

Cast: Rob Castell, Chas Libretto, J. Landon Marcus, Paul O’ Mahony

Euripides, Cyclops 487-491

“Shh, Shut up! He’s drunk
Singing a tuneless song
Coming out of the stony cave
An incompetent singer about to cry.”

σίγα σίγα. καὶ δὴ μεθύων
ἄχαριν κέλαδον μουσιζόμενος
490σκαιὸς ἀπῳδὸς καὶ κλαυσόμενος
χωρεῖ πετρίνων ἔξω μελάθρων.

Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Associate Director: Liz Fisher
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Euripides, Cyclops 538

“Whoever gets drunk but stays home is wise.”

ὃς δ᾿ ἂν μεθυσθείς γ᾿ ἐν δόμοις μείνῃ σοφός.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

December 23 Series Finale: Frogs, Aristophanes

.

Euripides, Cyclops 694-695

“I would have burned down Troy badly
If I didn’t punish you for the slaughter of my companions.”

κακῶς γὰρ ἂν Τροίαν γε διεπυρώσαμεν
εἰ μή σ᾿ ἑταίρων φόνον ἐτιμωρησάμην.

Madness, Philosophy, and the Natural Realm

Menander, Aspis 305-310

[Khairestratos]:
“Daos, boy, I am not well
I am depressed because of these events. By the gods
I am not under my own control. I am almost completely crazy.
That fine brother of mine is forcing me
To such insanity with his vile behavior.
He is about to get married!”

ΧΑΙΡΕΣΤΡΑΤΟΣ
Δᾶε παῖ, κακῶς ἔχω.
μελαγχολῶ τοῖς πράγμασιν· μὰ τοὺς θεούς,
οὐκ εἴμ᾿ ἐν ἐμαυτοῦ, μαίνομαι δ᾿ ἀκαρὴς πάνυ·
ὁ καλὸς ἀδελφὸς εἰς τοσαύτην ἔκστασιν
ἤδη καθίστησίν με τῇ πονηρίᾳ.
μέλλει γαμεῖν γὰρ αὐτός.

Cicero, De Finibus 1.64

“In this way strength is drawn from natural philosophy against death; so too is determination against the fears of religion and a calmness of mind once the ignorance of all natural mysteries has been removed. So too comes moderation, once the nature and number of desires have been explained. And, finally, as I was just arguing, we can learn how to divine a lie from the truth, since this philosophy provides the Rule or Judgment of knowledge.”

Sic e physicis et fortitudo sumitur contra mortis timorem et constantia contra metum religionis et sedatio animi, omnium rerum occultarum ignoratione sublata, et moderatio, natura cupiditatum generibusque earum explicatis, et, ut modo docui, cognitionis regula et iudicio ab eodem illo constituto veri a falso distinctio traditur.

Image result for medieval manuscript marriage
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Are Peace and Wealth Enough? Ending the Odyssey #OdysseyRTW

Odyssey 24.192-202

“Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus,
You really secured a wife with magnificent virtue!
That’s how good the brains are for blameless Penelope,
Ikarios’ daughter, how well she remembered Odysseus,
Her wedded husband. The fame of her virtue will never perish,
And the gods will craft a pleasing song
Of mindful Penelope for mortals over the earth.
This is not the way for Tyndareos’ daughter.
She devised wicked deeds and since she killed
Her wedded husband, a hateful song
Will be hers among men, she will attract harsh rumor
To the race of women, even for those who are good.”

“ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,
ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν·
ὡς ἀγαθαὶ φρένες ἦσαν ἀμύμονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
κούρῃ ᾿Ικαρίου, ὡς εὖ μέμνητ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος,
ἀνδρὸς κουριδίου. τῶ οἱ κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται
ἧς ἀρετῆς, τεύξουσι δ’ ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἀοιδὴν
ἀθάνατοι χαρίεσσαν ἐχέφρονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
οὐχ ὡς Τυνδαρέου κούρη κακὰ μήσατο ἔργα,
κουρίδιον κτείνασα πόσιν, στυγερὴ δέ τ’ ἀοιδὴ
ἔσσετ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, χαλεπὴν δέ τε φῆμιν ὀπάσσει
θηλυτέρῃσι γυναιξί, καὶ ἥ κ’ εὐεργὸς ἔῃσιν.”

Odyssey 19.203

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

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Odyssey, 23. 293-296

τοῖσιν δ’ Εὐρυνόμη θαλαμηπόλος ἡγεμόνευεν
ἐρχομένοισι λέχοσδε δάος μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσα·
ἐς θάλαμον δ’ ἀγαγοῦσα πάλιν κίεν. οἱ μὲν ἔπειτα
ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο παλαιοῦ θεσμὸν ἵκοντο·

“Then Eurynomê the bed-maid led them
As they went to bed, holding a torch in her hands.
She left again once she led them into the bed chamber;
Then they happily entered the rite of the ancient bed.”

Comments from the Scholia:

ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο] “They happily and enthusiastically remembered the ancient practice of intercourse”

Aristophanes and Aristarchus believed that this was the end (peras) of the Odyssey

Aristophanes and Aristarchus claim this as the end (telos) of the Odyssey

ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο] ἀσπαστῶς καὶ ἐπιθυμητικῶς ὑπεμνήσθησαν τοῦ πάλαι τῆς συνουσίας νόμου.

M.V. Vind. 133: ᾿Αριστοφάνης δὲ καὶ ᾿Αρίσταρχος πέρας τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας τοῦτο ποιοῦνται.

H.M.Q.: τοῦτο τέλος τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας φησὶν ᾿Αρίσταρχος καὶ ᾿Αριστοφάνης.

In the last hour of our Odyssey ‘Round the World, we bring you a dramatic reading of the epic’s final book. Since the Hellenistic period there have been debates about the 24th book of the Odyssey, since it contains more than a few perplexing moments: a second trip to the underworld, a cruel testing of the elderly Laertes, and the split assembly of the suitors’ families as they contemplate the deaths of their loved ones. To top it all off, the epic ends when Athena declares an eklesis, a forgetting of troubles and the reinstatement of Odysseus as king.

If this sudden dea ex machina is not enough, we know from Teiresias’ prophecy that Odysseus’ story is far from over: he is destined to travel again after the end of this poem. Far from being a good reason to dismiss this book, however, these are challenges to the audience to reconsider the tale they have received and any preconceptions about what it was meant to teach them.

Eustathius, Commentary on the Odyssey, II.308

“We should note that according to the very old accounts, Aristarchus and Aristophanes, the best of the ancient commentators, made this line (23.296) the end of the Odyssey, because they were suspicious of what remained to the end of the book. But these scholars are cutting off many critical things, which they claim to oppose, for example the immediately following rhetorical recapitulation of that has happened and then, in a way, a summary of the whole Odyssey and then, in the next book, the recognition scene between Odysseus and Laertes, and the many marvelous things that happen there.”

᾿Ιστέον δὲ ὅτι κατὰ τὴν τῶν παλαιῶν ἱστορίαν ᾿Αρίσταρχος καὶ᾿Αριστοφάνης, οἱ κορυφαῖοι τῶν τότε γραμματικῶν, εἰς τὸ, ὡς ἐῤῥέθη, ἀσπάσιοι λέκτροιο παλαιοῦ θεσμὸν ἵκοντο, περατοῦσι τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν, τὰ ἐφεξῆς ἕως τέλους τοῦ βιβλίου νοθεύοντες. οἱ δὲ τοιοῦτοι πολλὰ τῶν καιριωτάτων περικόπτουσιν, ὥς φασιν οἱ αὐτοῖς ἀντιπίπτοντες, οἷον τὴν εὐθὺς ἐφεξῆς τῶν φθασάντων ῥητορικὴνἀνακεφαλαίωσιν καὶ τὴν τῆς ὅλης ὡς εἰπεῖν ᾿Οδυσσείας ἐπιτομὴν, εἶτα καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἀναγνωρισμὸν ᾿Οδυσσέως τὸν πρὸς τὸν Λαέρτην καὶ τὰ ἐκεῖ θαυμασίως πλαττόμενα καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ὀλίγα.

Translations: Stanley Lombardo

Odyssey 23.230-242

“So she spoke, and his longing for mourning swelled within him—
He wept holding the wife fit to his heart, a woman who knew careful thoughts.

As when the land appears welcome to men as the swim
Whose well-made ship Poseidon has dashed apart on the sea,
As it is driven by the wind and a striking wave.
Then few men flee from the grey sea to the shore
As they swim and the bodies are covered with brine on their skin,
They happily climb on the shore, escaping evil.

So welcome a sight was her husband to her as she looked upon him
And she would not pull her white arms away from his neck.”

ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.

Performers

Carlos Bellato
Danai Epithymiadi
Tabatha Gayle
Bettina Joy de Guzman
Evelyn Miller
Rhys Rusbatch
Nektarios Theodorou
Sara Valentine 
Argyris Xafis
 
Special Guests: Leonard Muellner, Gregory Nagy, Sheila Murnaghan, Suzanne Lye
 

Homer, Odyssey 21.407-409

“Just as a man who knows both lyre and song
easily stretches a string on a new peg
as he attaches the twisted sheep-gut to both sides
just so, without haste, Odysseus strung the great bow”

ὡς ὅτ’ ἀνὴρ φόρμιγγος ἐπιστάμενος καὶ ἀοιδῆς
ῥηϊδίως ἐτάνυσσε νέῳ περὶ κόλλοπι χορδήν,
ἅψας ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἐϋστρεφὲς ἔντερον οἰός,
ὣς ἄρ’ ἄτερ σπουδῆς τάνυσεν μέγα τόξον ᾿Οδυσσεύς.

Cast And Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies); help from Madeleine Cahn

Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Odyssey 24.478–486

“Do whatever you want—but I will say what is fitting.

Since Odysseus has paid back the suitors,

let him be king again for good and take sacred others.

Let us force a forgetting of that slaughter of children and relatives.

Let all the people be friendly towards each other

as before. Let there be abundant wealth and peace.”

ἔρξον ὅπως ἐθέλεις: ἐρέω τέ τοι ὡς ἐπέοικεν.
ἐπεὶ δὴ μνηστῆρας ἐτίσατο δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
ὅρκια πιστὰ ταμόντες ὁ μὲν βασιλευέτω αἰεί,
ἡμεῖς δ᾽ αὖ παίδων τε κασιγνήτων τε φόνοιο
ἔκλησιν θέωμεν: τοὶ δ᾽ ἀλλήλους φιλεόντων
ὡς τὸ πάρος, πλοῦτος δὲ καὶ εἰρήνη ἅλις ἔστω.

December 16 Cyclops, Euripides
with Carl Shaw (New College of Florida)

December 23 Series Finale: Frogs, Aristophanes

Odyssey 11.126–129 (Teiresias’ prophecy)

I will speak to you an obvious sign [sêma] and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar into the ground

σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν

Römische Statuette des Odysseus aus der zweiten Hälfte des 2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Odysseus_(Rom).jpg
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