Old Ideas for New Problems: Ancient Government Institutions Today

A few weeks ago, in a moment of political frustration, I tweeted the following poll, soliciting which ancient political institution people would want to return to practice today.

The winner was ostracism by far, but I think that this is in part because my options weren’t great. Here are better suggestions made by others.

 

Apoklêrosis/sortition: : This is the ultimate anti-oligarchic and anti-plutocratic move from ancient Athens, to select by klêros officers and representatives from a larger predetermined list. The Athenian Council of 500 was selected by lot as early as the Peloponnesian War (Thuc. 8.69.4). Imagine if we selected 100 senators in each state and then reduced that number to 2 by drawing lots! We could have an NBA draft style show.

Drawbacks: Political chaos before and after the drawing of lots. Positives: Wild entertainment, dilution of power of money in politics.

Antidosis: The antidosis goes hand-in-hand with the leitourgia (or liturgy) which was the practice of having the wealthiest members of the state (voluntarily) pay for public works (buildings and even military expenses like triremes). Imagine how proud our wealthiest classes could be to put their own names on stealth bombers!

The antidosis is used if someone has a public obligation to make but cannot do so or wants to avoid it by pointing out that there is someone richer who should pay for it. Need a new bridge? Let’s take our wealthy to court and make them pay for it! I think that the suggestion also had taxes in general in mind. Imagine if individual citizens could sue other citizens (and corporations) for not paying enough in taxes….

Drawbacks: The wealthy might use this as a tool to attack one another. Positives: See negatives.

Dual Consulship: Rome somehow survived with two consuls elected annually. They held power in alternating months and, when they were done with service, went off to serve in the provinces (but not all the time). The Consulship was, from some perspective, a novel solution to the concentration of power in the hands of the monarch. But some have seen it as a destabilizing institution.

Imagine if we had new chief executives every year and how it might be if they alternated in their duties from month to month? True. it might yield a type of stability through detente. But it might also be pure insanity.

Drawbacks: Nonstop, annual campaigning for office. Positives: Diluted executive power, increased range of executive officers.

Hostage-taking: I am not sure if this option is serious or not. Hostages (obses) were often taken in ancient Greece and Rome as part of treaties with other nations or subordinate states. There were meant to guarantee fidelity to agreements. I am not quite sure how this would work internally in a single state.

Drawbacks: Using violence against captive human beings as a threat to ensure good behavior of foreign actors is beneath our moral values…..Positives: See Drawbacks.

Collegial Magistracies with VetoRoman magistrates could impose a veto on the actions of an equal or lesser magistrate’s actions. This would not help with the executive power in the US or UK at the top, but it might help with the actions of executive appointees. More interesting, if we are considering vetoes, would be the creation of a Tribune of the Plebs with full veto power.

Drawbacks: Wild cross-checking among elected and appointed officials might make government action less efficient. Positives: Transparency and accountability?

Euthuna: (often spelled Euthyna). This is a “straightening” of accounts after someone has served in office. It was used in part require elected officials to provide financial accountability for their time in office, but questions of conduct and decision making could be introduced as well. The idea of reinstituting this, I think, would be that modern officials would be more restrained in expenditures and conduct if they knew they would be audited after a term. Of course, in ancient Athens there was a board of investigators. Given human corruptibility, the euthuna might be as useful as ethics investigations in the US House of Representatives.

Drawbacks: Constant accounting from elected and appointed officials might make government action less efficient. Positives: Transparency and accountability?

Here’s another one:

Lawsuit Penalties: In Athens, if you failed to secure a portion of votes for conviction in a losing trial, then you would have to pay a penalty for a frivolous lawsuit. In our modern age, corporations and the wealthy can sue weaker parties into submission even if they continually lose their lawsuits because of legal costs (money as well as time).

 

Rhodes, Peter J. (Durham), Ameling, Walter (Jena), Kierdorf, Wilhelm (Cologne), Nollé, Johannes (Munich), and Heimgartner, Martin (Halle). ‘Lot, Election by’. Brill’s New Pauly. Ed. Hubert Cancik and et al. Brill Reference Online

 

Image result for ostraca pictures

Apropos of Nothing, Achilles Calls the Commander-in-Chief a Dog[-face]

Tuesdays seem to be tawdry enough these days without Greek and Latin profanity. Here are some dog insults from ancient Greece and and a little bit on how their meaning relies on immanent misogyny.

Homer, Iliad 1.158–168 [Achilles addressing Agamemnon]

“But, you great shamepot, we follow you so that you feel joy,
As we collect honor for Menelaos and you, dog-face,
From the Trojans—you don’t shudder at this, you don’t care.”

ἀλλὰ σοὶ ὦ μέγ’ ἀναιδὲς ἅμ’ ἑσπόμεθ’ ὄφρα σὺ χαίρῃς,
τιμὴν ἀρνύμενοι Μενελάῳ σοί τε κυνῶπα
πρὸς Τρώων· τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπῃ οὐδ’ ἀλεγίζεις·

Iliad 1.224–228 [Achilles Addressing Agamemnon]

“Wine-sod! Dog-eyes! You have the heart of a deer!
You never suffer to arm yourself to enter battle with the army
Nor to set an ambush with the best of the Achaeans.
That seems like death itself to you!”

οἰνοβαρές, κυνὸς ὄμματ’ ἔχων, κραδίην δ’ ἐλάφοιο,
οὔτέ ποτ’ ἐς πόλεμον ἅμα λαῷ θωρηχθῆναι
οὔτε λόχον δ’ ἰέναι σὺν ἀριστήεσσιν ᾿Αχαιῶν
τέτληκας θυμῷ· τὸ δέ τοι κὴρ εἴδεται εἶναι.

Elsewhere in Homer, the insult is used primarily for women and it builds on basic Greek associations between women and dogs—dogs as animals of shame who are expected to be loyal.

Odyssey 4.154-146 [Helen speaking]

“…Telemachus, whom that man left when he was just born,
In his house, when the Achaeans went down to Troy
On account of dog-faced me, raising up their audacious war.”

Τηλεμάχῳ, τὸν ἔλειπε νέον γεγαῶτ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ
κεῖνος ἀνήρ, ὅτ’ ἐμεῖο κυνώπιδος εἵνεκ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἤλθεθ’ ὑπὸ Τροίην, πόλεμον θρασὺν ὁρμαίνοντες.”

Odyssey, 11.424-426

“…that dog-face
Went away and did not dare—even though I was on my way to Hades
To close my eyes with her hands or cover my mouth.”

… ἡ δὲ κυνῶπις
νοσφίσατ’ οὐδέ μοι ἔτλη, ἰόντι περ εἰς ᾿Αΐδαο,
χερσὶ κατ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑλέειν σύν τε στόμ’ ἐρεῖσαι.

In Greek myth , the ‘dog’ nature of women comes as well from forces outside the home—a dog is a thieving creature.

Hesiod, Works and Days 67–68 [from the creation of Pandora]

“And Hermes, the slayer of Argos, that master guide,
Ordered that she possess a dog’s mind and a thief’s nature.”

ἐν δὲ θέμεν κύνεόν τε νόον καὶ ἐπίκλοπον ἦθος
῾Ερμείην ἤνωγε, διάκτορον ᾿Αργεϊφόντην.

But in the crown jewel of Greek mythology, Semonides’ “Diatribe against women”—which presents a lists of complaints about women categorized by different kinds of animals—emphasizes the inability of men to control female voices through the symbol of a dog. Note, as well, that violence is described as a regular reaction but is considered useless.

Semonides of Amorgos, fragment 7

“One women is from a dog, a sinful beast, a thorough mother—
She listens to everything and wants to know everything,
Lurking around everywhere and wandering
She barks even when she doesn’t see anyone.
She can’t stop this, not even if her husband threatens her
Nor if he is angry enough to bash her teeth
With a stone. You can’t change her by talking nicely either.
Even when she happens to be sitting among guests,
She keeps on an endless, impossible yapping.”

τὴν δ’ ἐκ κυνός, λιτοργόν, αὐτομήτορα,
ἣ πάντ’ ἀκοῦσαι, πάντα δ’ εἰδέναι θέλει,
πάντηι δὲ παπταίνουσα καὶ πλανωμένη
λέληκεν, ἢν καὶ μηδέν’ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾶι.
παύσειε δ’ ἄν μιν οὔτ’ ἀπειλήσας ἀνήρ,
οὐδ’ εἰ χολωθεὶς ἐξαράξειεν λίθωι
ὀδόντας, οὐδ’ ἂν μειλίχως μυθεόμενος,
οὐδ’ εἰ παρὰ ξείνοισιν ἡμένη τύχηι,
ἀλλ’ ἐμπέδως ἄπρηκτον αὑονὴν ἔχει.

Franco, Cristina. 2014. Shameless: The Canine and the Feminine in Ancient Greece. Translated by Michael Fox. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

4: “In the ancient Greek imagination the figure of the dog seems, in fact, to be interwoven with the disparaging discourse on the nature of woman in afar from casual manner…Moreover, the dog appears as a paradigm for the base nature of women in two cornerstone texts of Greek misogyny” (referring to the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and Agamemnon’s comments on Clytemnestra in the Odyssey).

To call a woman–and a person of color–a dog is to use an ancient dehumanizing symbol which expresses implicitly the expectation that the insulted party should be subservient and under control of the speaker. The frustration evoked is both about controlling the ability to speak and the ability to consume. To make such a comment is baldly misogynistic and clearly also racist in the modern context.

See also:

Graver, Margaret. 1995. “Dog-Helen and Homeric Insult.” Classical Antiquity 14: 41–61.

 

Image result for ancient greek dogs

Some Roman stuff too:

The Difference of A Year: Some Links to Classicists Fighting the Good Fight Online

As Classicists we like to focus on the long view of history and to see ourselves in the deeper and stronger currents of time. But if we are honest, we know that we are equally, if not more, shaped by the eddies of our own day and its current events.

The increase in publicly pronounced and tolerated–if not also valorized–racism over the past few years has been shocking to many, although perhaps not to our friends and family who have faced bigotry their entire lives. The most recent year especially has seen a casualization of the rhetoric and political action of the far right in a way I once thought impossible.

Media outlets feed on the extreme voices because they don’t know how to report the news in the modern world. They have a vested financial interest in observing if not perpetuating the controversy. As a result, voices that spew ignorance and hate get more notice than they merit and they can do more harm in causing trauma to those who are marginalized already and, as part of their design, attracting the ignorant, insane or hopeless to their ideas.

When we started this blog, I never imagined I would spend so much time arguing with Nazis online or writing about politics. Last year, following events in Charlottesville, we did both: defending writing about Classics and politics, dismissing charges of political correctness as a tone policing act of the status quo, defending the humanities against conservative attacks, and, recently, arguing that the voices that reject literary theory are also those who align with conservative viewpoints.

Part of this has come from responding to current events, but it has also been inspired by hate speech directed our way. Last year, a week after the Charlottesville event, we received a comment accusing us of supporting “white genocide” or being a “Jewish supremacist”. The antisemitic harassment online has been fairly consistent since; as has a struggle over what it means to be a Classicist.

If we have responded haphazardly and sometimes reactively, we have also been inspired by dozens of other who are doing braver and more rigorous work to question the boundaries of our discipline, the voices within it, and its historical meanings. So, today, if you are feeling shocked or sick at media coverage, take a break and look at the critical work being done by the Classics Community online.

The work of these students, scholars and friends has been inspiring, edifying, and comforting over the past year.

 

Sarah Teets’ fine piece in Eidolon, Classical Slavery and Jeffersonian Racism

Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s talk on White Supremacy and Classics Scholarship or “On nationalisms Classical Antiquity, and Our Inhumanity” or On Genetics and Ancient Greeks, or on “Blood & Soil”

Pretty much everything Pharos and Curtis Dozier has done over the past year

John Bracey’s exploration of “Why Students of Color Don’t take Latin

Dan-El Padilla Peralta’s “The Colorblind Bard” discussion

Denise Eileen McCoskey’s post on Racist Use of DNA in work on Classical Antiquity

Brandeis Student Helen Wong’s reflections on being a student of color studying classics

Yung In Chae’s “White People Explain Classics to Us

Sarah Bond’s analysis of the Modern Romance with Sparta

The fine work of Sportula to raise microgrants for students pursuing Classical Studies

The work of Classics and Social Justice

Daniel Walden’s “Dismantling the West”

Podcasts from The Endless Knot and Scott Lepisto’s Itinera, which tells the stories of a diverse range of classicists

The public advocacy of Matthew Sears against hatred and ignorance

Mathura Umachandran’s analysis of Fragility in Classics (and, today is as good a day as any to read Robin DiAngelo’s article that defines and explains white fragility).

A little  outside of Classics, but still important, many posts from Everyday Orientalism

Image result for GIF punching nazi

Image result for indiana jones punching nazi GIF

 

Beforehand: Some “Fore” Compounds for No Particular Reason

In case it might be useful, some words to go with Greek and Latin passages for treason.

προβουλεύω: “to contrive beforehand”

προβουλόπαις: “pre-plotting child”

προγάστηρ: “gut, paunch”

προγευματίζω: “to taste beforehand”

προγιγνώσκω: “to have prior knowledge”

πρόγνωσις: “foreknowledge”

προγλωσσεύω: “to speak beforehand”

προγνωστής: “one who has foreknowledge”

προδακρύω: “to weep beforehand”

πρόδηλος: “clear before”

προδιαμαρτύρομαι: “to furnish as a witness beforehand”

προδιασκευή: “prior edition”

προδιαφθείρω: “to destroy beforehand”

πρόδοτος: “betrayed”

προδουλόω: “to enslave beforehand”

προθυμία: “eagerness”

προίστωρ: “one with foreknowledge”

προκαταλήγω: “to foreclose beforehand”

προκατηγορία: “prior accusation”

προλιχνεύομαι: “to lick beforehand”

προμηθεία: “forethought”

προμιαίνω: “to defile beforehand”

προμίγνυμι: “to screw beforehand”

προξενία: “a treaty or compact between a state and a foreigner”

Speculum Humanae Salvationis, Westfalen oder Köln, um 1360. ULB Darmstadt, Hs 2505, fol. 37r

Speculum Humanae Salvationis, Westfalen oder Köln, um 1360. ULB Darmstadt, Hs 2505, fol. 37r

Cicero On the Civil Conflict and the Punishment of Children

Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 23 (I.15), 43 BCE

“There has been no civil war in our state which I can remember in which, regardless of which side was victorious, there was not some hope for a government in the future. In this conflict, however, I could not easily confirm what government we would have if we are victorious, but there will surely never be another if we lose.

This is why I put forth harsh legislation against Antony and Lepidus too, not so much for the sake of vengeance as to frighten the lawless citizens among us from besieging their own country and to prepare for posterity a reason why no one should desire to emulate such insanity.

Although this idea certainly was not more mine than everyone’s, in one way it seems cruel: the fact that children, who have earned none of this, suffer the same punishment as their parents. But this is an ancient practice which has existed in every kind of state. Even the children of Themistocles lived in deprivation! If the same penalty attends citizens condemned in court, how could we possibly be easier against our enemies? And what can anyone complain about me when he would have to admit that if he had defeated me he would have treated me worse?”

nullum enim bellum civile fuit in nostra re publica omnium quae memoria mea fuerunt, in quo bello non, utracumque pars vicisset, tamen aliqua forma esset futura rei publicae: hoc bello victores quam rem publicam simus habituri non facile adfirmarim, victis certe nulla umquam erit. dixi igitur sententias in Antonium, dixi in Lepidum severas, neque tam ulciscendi causa quam ut et in praesens sceleratos civis timore ab impugnanda patria deterrerem et in posterum documentum statuerem ne quis talem amentiam vellet imitari. quamquam haec quidem sententia non magis mea fuit quam omnium. in qua videtur illud esse crudele, quod ad liberos, qui nihil meruerunt, poena pervenit. sed id et antiquum est et omnium civitatum, si quidem etiam Themistocli liberi eguerunt. et si iudicio damnatos eadem poena sequitur civis, qui potuimus leniores esse in hostis? quid autem queri quisquam potest de me qui si vicisset acerbiorem se in me futurum fuisse confiteatur necesse est?

Siege of Montargis. Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis (from 1422 to 1460) France, N. (Calais?); 1487. ff. 1-299v. British Library, Royal 20 E VI f. 22

Siege of Montargis. Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis (from 1422 to 1460) France, N. (Calais?); 1487. ff. 1-299v. British Library, Royal 20 E VI f. 22

“Who Killed Him?” An Allegory from Euripides

Euripides, Bacchae 1259-1289

Kadmos
Oh, gods. Once you all understand what you have done,
You will feel a terrible pain. But if you stay permanently
forever as you are now
You will not be happy but you will not seem to be cursed.

Agave
What of this is not noble or is painful?

Kadmos
First move your gaze to the sky.

Agave
Look! What is this you are telling me to see?

Kadmos
Is this the same or does it seem to you to have changed?

Agave
It shines brighter than before and it is clearer

Kadmos
Is this high still there in your mind?

Agave
I don’t understand what you’re saying. But I think
I am somewhat aware, that I am coming down from my earlier thoughts.

Kadmos
Would you hear then and answer me clearly?

Agave
Father, I have forgotten what we said earlier.

Kadmos
To what home did you go after you were married?

Agave
You gave me to Ekhiôn, one of the sewn-men, people say.

Kadmos
Who is the child born to your husband at home?

Agave
Pentheus, the son shared by his father and me.

Kadmos
Whose face do you hold then in your hands?

Agave
A lion’s…that’s what my fellow hunters say…

Kadmos
Look again, carefully. It is a small labor to see.

Agave
Ah, what do I see? What is this I hold in my hands?

Kadmos
Examine it and learn it more clearly.

Agave
I see the greatest pain, what kind of wretch am I…

Kadmos
Does it seem to look like a lion to you?

Agave
No…but, oh wretched me I am holding Pentheus’ head…

Kadmos
This was mourned before you could see it, at least.

Agave
Who killed him? How did he end up in my hands?

Kadmos
How horrible a truth appears at the wrong time.

Agave
Tell me! How my heart jumps at the future….

Kadmos
You killed him. And your sisters too.

 ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
φεῦ φεῦ· φρονήσασαι μὲν οἷ᾿ ἐδράσατε
ἀλγήσετ᾿ ἄλγος δεινόν· εἰ δὲ διὰ τέλους
ἐν τῷδ᾿ ἀεὶ μενεῖτ᾿ ἐν ᾧ καθέστατε,
οὐκ εὐτυχοῦσαι δόξετ᾿ οὐχὶ δυστυχεῖν.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
τί δ᾿ οὐ καλῶς τῶνδ᾿ ἢ τί λυπηρῶς ἔχει;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
πρῶτον μὲν ἐς τόνδ᾿ αἰθέρ᾿ ὄμμα σὸν μέθες.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ἰδού· τί μοι τόνδ᾿ ἐξυπεῖπας εἰσορᾶν;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ἔθ᾿ αὑτὸς ἤ σοι μεταβολὰς ἔχειν δοκεῖ;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λαμπρότερος ἢ πρὶν καὶ διειπετέστερος.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τὸ δὲ πτοηθὲν τόδ᾿ ἔτι σῇ ψυχῇ πάρα;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
οὐκ οἶδα τοὔπος τοῦτο. γίγνομαι δέ πως
ἔννους, μετασταθεῖσα τῶν πάρος φρενῶν.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
κλύοις ἂν οὖν τι κἀποκρίναι᾿ ἂν σαφῶς;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ὡς ἐκλέλησμαί γ᾿ ἃ πάρος εἴπομεν, πάτερ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ἐς ποῖον ἦλθες οἶκον ὑμεναίων μέτα;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
Σπαρτῷ μ᾿ ἔδωκας, ὡς λέγουσ᾿, Ἐχίονι.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τίς οὖν ἐν οἴκοις παῖς ἐγένετο σῷ πόσει;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
Πενθεύς, ἐμῇ τε καὶ πατρὸς κοινωνίᾳ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
τίνος πρόσωπον δῆτ᾿ ἐν ἀγκάλαις ἔχεις;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λέοντος, ὥς γ᾿ ἔφασκον αἱ θηρώμεναι.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
σκέψαι νυν ὀρθῶς· βραχὺς ὁ μόχθος εἰσιδεῖν.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ἔα, τί λεύσσω; τί φέρομαι τόδ᾿ ἐν χεροῖν;

ἄθρησον αὐτὸ καὶ σαφέστερον μάθε.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
ὁρῶ μέγιστον ἄλγος ἡ τάλαιν᾿ ἐγώ.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
μῶν σοι λέοντι φαίνεται προσεικέναι;

ΑΓΑΥΗ
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ Πενθέως ἡ τάλαιν᾿ ἔχω κάρα.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
ᾠμωγμένον γε πρόσθεν ἢ σὲ γνωρίσαι.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
τίς ἔκτανέν νιν; πῶς ἐμὰς ἦλθ᾿ ἐς χέρας;

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
δύστην᾿ ἀλήθει᾿, ὡς ἐν οὐ καιρῷ πάρει.

ΑΓΑΥΗ
λέγ᾿, ὡς τὸ μέλλον καρδία πήδημ᾿ ἔχει.

ΚΑΔΜΟΣ
σύ νιν κατέκτας καὶ κασίγνηται σέθεν.

Homer, Odyssey 1.30-32

“Mortals! They are always blaming the gods
and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves
suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.”

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

This is Not the Truth You Are Looking For

Caesar, Bellum Civile 2.27.2

“We all willingly believe those things we are wishing for…”

quae volumus, ea credimus libenter

 

Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.3.9

“You probably know that in every matter people want to obey those most they believe to be best.”

 

᾿Εκεῖνο μὲν δήπου οἶσθα, ὅτι ἐν παντὶ πράγματι οἱ ἄνθρωποι τούτοις μάλιστα ἐθέλουσι πείθεσθαι οὓς ἂν ἡγῶνται βελτίστους εἶναι. 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1023-1039

“Nothing is so simple that at first sight
it is not rather difficult to believe…”

sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
difficilis magis ad credendum constet

 

Sophokles, fr. 86

“Indeed, what is believed overpowers the truth”

τό τοι νομισθὲν τῆς ἀληθείας κρατεῖ.

 

PhaedrusPrologue to Phaedrus’ Collection of Aesopic fables

“Don’t forget: we are playing with the make-believe.”

fictis iocari nos meminerit fabulis.

 

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.45

“It would be profitable neither to believe in everything nor yet to disbelieve it.”

καὶ γὰρ κέρδος (ἂν) εἴη μήτε πιστεύειν, μήτε ἀπιστεῖν πᾶσιν.

 

Euenus of Paros, fr. 1

“Go ahead, you think these things, but I believe those”

“σοὶ μὲν ταῦτα δοκοῦντ’ ἔστω, ἐμοὶ δὲ τάδε.”

 

Pausanias, 1.3.3

“On the opposite wall are painted Theseus, Democracy and the People. Clearly, this painting shows Theseus as the founder of political equality for the Athenians. In other accounts the story has been popularized that Theseus handed the powers of the state over to the people and that the Athenians lived in a democracy from his time until Peisistratus rebelled and became a tyrant. The majority of people repeat many things which are not true, since they know nothing of history and they believe whatever they have heard since childhood in choruses and tragedy. This is how it is with Theseus who actually was king himself and whose descendants continued ruling for four generations until Menestheus died.”

ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ τοίχῳ τῷ πέραν Θησεύς ἐστι γεγραμμένος καὶ Δημοκρατία τε καὶ Δῆμος. δηλοῖ δὲ ἡ γραφὴ Θησέα εἶναι τὸν καταστήσαντα ᾿Αθηναίοις ἐξ ἴσου πολιτεύεσθαι· κεχώρηκε δὲ φήμη καὶ ἄλλως ἐς τοὺς πολλούς, ὡς Θησεὺς παραδοίη τὰ πράγματα τῷ δήμῳ καὶ ὡς ἐξ ἐκείνου δημοκρατούμενοι διαμείναιεν, πρὶν ἢ Πεισίστρατος ἐτυράννησεν ἐπαναστάς. λέγεται μὲν δὴ καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ἀληθῆ παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς οἷα ἱστορίας ἀνηκόοις οὖσι καὶ ὁπόσα ἤκουον εὐθὺς ἐκ παίδων ἔν τε χοροῖς καὶ τραγῳδίαις πιστὰ ἡγουμένοις, λέγεται δὲ καὶ ἐς τὸν Θησέα, ὃς αὐτός τε ἐβασίλευσε καὶ ὕστερον Μενεσθέως τελευτήσαντος καὶ ἐς τετάρτην  οἱ Θησεῖδαι γενεὰν διέμειναν ἄρχοντες.

Thucydides, 1.20.3

“For most people the examination of the truth is so careless that they accept whatever is prepared for them.”

οὕτως ἀταλαίπωρος τοῖς πολλοῖς ἡ ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἑτοῖμα μᾶλλον τρέπονται.

 

Tertullian, Apology 1.4-5

“Those people are ignorant while they hate and they hated unjustly because they were ignorant”

et ignorare illos, dum oderunt, et iniuste odisse, dum ignorant

The Shoot That Rises from the Fire: Some Herodotus and Homer for the Fires in Greece

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

 Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

There are terrible wildfires in Attica, as many news outlets have reported (although in the US the events are incredibly under-reported). Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this. I will add to this post any suggestions for responsible charities to help with the suffering and the recovery. Words can do no justice to the suffering and loss in Attica this week.

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and bereaved families.

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

For those who are able, let’s be the good neighbors the Greeks need right now. For the rest of us, let’s remember that the promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it.

From a Greek correspondent:

Cicero Lays It All Out: Better Not to Live Than See These Things!

This is a real passage from Cicero, unlike some others.

Cicero to Titus, 46 BCE Letters to Friends 5.16

“If your own sorrow moves you or if you are weeping at the thought of your own affairs, then I believe that you cannot easily use up all your pain. If, however, the greater spirit of love tortures who and you grieve over the loss of those who have died, I will not repeat those things which I have most frequently read and heard—that there is nothing bad in death since if any sense of it exists then it should not be considered death but some immortality, while if there is no sense of it at all than what cannot be felt should not be considered pitiable.

But I can still assert this without a second thought: whoever has departed from the current events which have been whipped up and prepared and are hanging over our country has been robbed of nothing. What room is there left any more for shame, honor, virtue, honest pursuits, the noble arts, any kind of liberty or even place of safety?”

Quod si tuum te desiderium movet aut si tuarum rerum cogitatione maeres, non facile exhauriri tibi istum dolorem posse universum puto; sin illa te res cruciat quae magis amoris est, ut eorum qui occiderunt miserias lugeas, ut ea non dicam quae saepissime et legi et audivi, nihil mali esse in morte, ex qua si resideat sensus immortalitas illa potius quam mors ducenda sit, sin sit amissus nulla videri miseria debeat quae non sentiatur, hoc tamen non dubitans confirmare possum, ea misceri, parari, impendere rei publicae quae qui reliquerit nullo modo mihi quidem deceptus esse videatur. quid est enim iam non modo pudori, probitati, virtuti, rectis studiis, bonis artibus sed omnino libertati ac saluti loci?

Fake Cicero Quotation Alert!

The following post is making the rounds in favor of impeachment (thanks to my friend and former roommate Timothy Gerolami, the south shore’s biggest P. Clodius Pulcher fan and librarian extraordinaire for bringing this to my attention):

Image may contain: 1 person, text

I don’t want to disagree with the contents of the quote or the sentiments of using it (our current president is certainly impeachable and likely the worst and arguably the most corrupt president in our nation’s history). But this is a demonstrably false quotation on two counts.

First, Cicero died on the 7th of December in 43 BCE. So, the date of attribution is wrong, but that is not a big deal (for me). The bigger deal is that this passage is not a translation of anything in Cicero. It is from a modern novel by Taylor Caldwell called A Pillar of Iron (1965, 661) as documented by wikiquote. Another site documents how this quotation made the leap from historical novel to political discourse via a conservative judge. (For his speech, look here. And thanks again to Timmy G. for both links.)

When we quote the past, we appropriate it for modern purposes–which is fine. But when we use false quotations we attempt to assert a modern purchase with counterfeit currency. This is not about the aptness of the quotation or the rightness of the movement. Indeed, I don’t think it matters so deeply–but it is lazy and likely harmful to use a quotation in this way .

We seem to want the appearance of antiquity and propriety without wanting to do the work it requires. This laziness is not exactly the same as spreading false information (e.g. ‘fake news’) but emerges from the same meme-crazy, superficial information culture that makes fake news inevitable. It undermines our attempts to use history to understand our present events and attenuates the credibility of the very practice.

The Romans and Greeks have lots of great stuff to say about treason, why not just quote them? If Cicero’s quotation there is not good enough, why not some Cicero on hate or the glory of killing a tyrant on the Ides of March (which he loves to talk about, even though he did not help)?

If that’s not enough, here are some others.

Cicero, Philippic 13.21

“At this point, what crime, what betrayal has this traitor not committed? He attacks our colonists, an army of the Roman people, and a general, a consul elect! He despoils the lands of the best citizens. He is the most hostile enemy who threatens good people with crosses and torture.

What peace can there be with this man, this Marcus Lepidus? No punishment would be enough for him to satisfy the state!”

Postea quod scelus, quod facinus parricida non edidit? Circumsedet colonos nostros, exercitum populi Romani, imperatorem, consulem designatum: agros divexat civium optimorum; hostis taeterrimus omnibus bonis cruces ac tormenta minitatur.

Cum hoc, M. Lepide, pax esse quae potest? Cuius ne supplicio quidem ullo satiari videtur posse res publica.

Cicero, De Haruspicium Responsis 17

“Yesterday I noticed someone muttering, and people were saying that he denied I could be endured because, when I was asked by this most unholy traitor what state I belonged to, I responded to the applause of you and the Roman knights “to the state which is impossible without me”.

I believe that he groaned at this. How should have I responded? I ask this from the very man who thinks I am intolerable. Should I have declared myself a Roman citizen?”

Vidi enim hesterno die quemdam murmurantem: quem aiebant negare ferri me posse, quia cum ab hoc eodem impurissimo parricida rogarer cuius essem civitatis, respondi me, probantibus et vobis et equitibus Romanis, eius esse, quae carere me non potuisset. Ille, ut opinor, ingemuit. Quid igitur responderem? quaero ex eo ipso, qui ferre me non potest. Me civem esse Romanum?
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