Dio Chrysostom on Preferring Even Unpleasant Lies to the Truth

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11 (“On the Fact that Troy Was Never Sacked”)

“I know with some certainly that it is hard to teach all people, but easy to deceive them. And if they learn anything, they scarcely learn it from the few who do really know, while they are easily deceived by many who know nothing, and not only by others, but by themselves too. For the truth is bitter and unpleasant to the ignorant; a lie, however, is sweet and appealing. In the same way, I suppose, light is unpleasant for those with diseased eyes to see, while the darkness is harmless and dear, even if they cannot see. Or, how else would lies often be stronger than the truth, unless they prevailed because of pleasure? Although it is hard to teach, as I was saying, it is harder in every way to re-teach when people have heard lies for a long time and, even worse, when they have not been alone in their delusion, but their fathers, grandfathers and nearly every forebear has been deceived with them.

For it is not easy to take a false belief from them, not even if someone should refute it completely. Similarly, I imagine that, when children have been raised with superstitious beliefs, it is hard for someone to speak the truth later regarding the very things they would not have accepted if someone had just told them in the beginning. This impulse is so strong that many prefer wicked things and agree that they belong to them properly, if they have previously believed so, instead of good things they hear later on.”

Image result for Trojan Horse ancient Greek

Οἶδα μὲν ἔγωγε σχεδὸν ὅτι διδάσκειν μὲν ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντας χαλεπόν ἐστιν, ἐξαπατᾶν δὲ ῥᾴδιον. καὶ μανθάνουσι μὲν μόγις, ἐάν τι καὶ μάθωσι, παρ’ ὀλίγων τῶν εἰδότων, ἐξαπατῶνται δὲ  τάχιστα ὑπὸ πολλῶν τῶν οὐκ εἰδότων, καὶ οὐ μόνον γε ὑπὸ τῶν ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑφ’ αὑτῶν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀληθὲς πικρόν ἐστι καὶ ἀηδὲς τοῖς ἀνοήτοις, τὸ δὲ ψεῦδος γλυκὺ καὶ προσηνές. ὥσπερ οἶμαι καὶ τοῖς νοσοῦσι τὰ ὄμματα τὸ μὲν φῶς ἀνιαρὸν ὁρᾶν, τὸ δὲ σκότος ἄλυπον καὶ φίλον, οὐκ ἐῶν βλέπειν. ἢ πῶς ἂν ἴσχυε τὰ ψεύδη πολλάκις πλέον τῶν ἀληθῶν, εἰ μὴ δι’ ἡδονὴν ἐνίκα;

χαλεποῦ δέ, ὡς ἔφην, ὄντος τοῦ διδάσκειν, τῷ παντὶ χαλεπώτερον τὸ  μεταδιδάσκειν, ἄλλως τε ὅταν πολύν τινες χρόνον ὦσι τὰ ψευδῆ ἀκηκοότες καὶ μὴ μόνον αὐτοὶ ἐξηπατημένοι, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ πατέρες αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ πάπποι καὶ σχεδὸν πάντες οἱ πρότερον. οὐ γάρ ἐστι ῥᾴδιον τούτων ἀφελέσθαι τὴν δόξαν, οὐδ’ ἂν πάνυ τις ἐξελέγχῃ. καθάπερ οἶμαι τῶν τὰ ὑποβολιμαῖα παιδάρια θρεψάντων χαλεπὸν ὕστερον ἀφελέσθαι τἀληθῆ λέγοντα ἅ γε ἐν ἀρχῇ, εἴ τις αὐτοῖς ἔφρασεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἀνείλοντο. οὕτω δὲ τοῦτο ἰσχυρόν ἐστιν ὥστε πολλοὶ τὰ κακὰ μᾶλλον προσποιοῦνται καὶ ὁμολογοῦσι καθ’ αὑτῶν, ἂν ὦσι πεπεισμένοι πρότερον, ἢ τἀγαθὰ μετὰ χρόνον ἀκούοντες.

 

“I would not even be surprised, Trojan men, that you believed Homer was more trustworthy when he told the harshest lies about you than me when I told that truth—since you believe him to be a divine man and wise and you have taught your children epic right from the beginning, even though he has only curses for your city, and untrue ones at that. But you wouldn’t accept that I describe things as they are and have been, because I am many years younger than Homer. Certainly, most people say that time is also the best judge of affairs, and, whenever they hear something after a long time, they disbelieve it for this very reason.

If I were dare to speak against Homer among the Argives and to show in addition that his poetry was false concerning the greatest matters, chances are they would be rightfully angry with me and expel me from the city if I appeared to be erasing and cleansing their fame. But it is right that you have some gratitude towards me and listen eagerly. I have stood in defense of your ancestors. I say at the outset to you that these stories have by necessity already been recited by others and that many have learned them. Some of those men will not understand them; others will pretend to discount them, even though they do not, and still others will try to refute them, especially, I think, those ill-fated sophists. But I know clearly that they will not be pleasing to you. For most men have their minds corrupted by fame to the extent that they would prefer to be infamous for the greatest failures rather than be unknown and suffer no evil.”

οὐκ ἂν οὖν θαυμάσαιμι καὶ ὑμᾶς, ἄνδρες ᾿Ιλιεῖς, εἰ πιστότερον ἡγήσασθαι ῞Ομηρον τὰ χαλεπώτατα ψευσάμενον καθ’ ὑμῶν ἢ ἐμὲ τἀληθῆ λέγοντα, κἀκεῖνον μὲν ὑπολαβεῖν θεῖον ἄνδρα καὶ σοφόν, καὶ τοὺς παῖδας εὐθὺς ἐξ ἀρχῆς τὰ ἔπη διδάσκειν οὐθὲν ἄλλο ἢ κατάρας ἔχοντα κατὰ τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ταύτας οὐκ ἀληθεῖς, ἐμοῦ δὲ μὴ ἀνέχοισθε τὰ ὄντα καὶ γενόμενα λέγοντος, ὅτι πολλοῖς ἔτεσιν ὕστερον ῾Ομήρου γέγονα. καίτοι φασὶ μὲν οἱ πολλοὶ τὸν χρόνον τῶν πραγμάτων * καὶ κριτὴν ἄριστον εἶναι, ὅτι δ’ ἂν ἀκούωσι μετὰ πολὺν χρόνον, διὰ τοῦτο ἄπιστον νομίζουσιν. εἰ μὲν οὖν παρ’ ᾿Αργείοις ἐτόλμων ἀντιλέγειν ῾Ομήρῳ, καὶ τὴν ποίησιν αὐτοῦ δεικνύναι ψευδῆ περὶ τὰ μέγιστα, τυχὸν ἂν εἰκότως ἤχθοντό μοι καὶτῆς πόλεως ἐξέβαλλον εἰ τὴν παρ’ ἐκείνων δόξαν ἐφαινόμην ἀφανίζων καὶ καθαιρῶν· ὑμᾶς δὲ δίκαιόν ἐστί μοι χάριν εἰδέναι καὶ ἀκροᾶσθαι προθύμως· ὑπὲρ γὰρ τῶν ὑμετέρων προγόνων ἐσπούδακα. προλέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι τοὺς λόγους τούτους ἀνάγκη καὶ  παρ’ ἑτέροις ῥηθῆναι καὶ πολλοὺς πυθέσθαι· τούτων δὲ οἱ μέν τινες οὐ συνήσουσιν, οἱ δὲ προσποιήσονται καταφρονεῖν, οὐ καταφρονοῦντες αὐτῶν, οἱ δέ τινες ἐπιχειρήσουσιν ἐξελέγχειν, [μάλιστα δὲ οἶμαι τοὺς κακοδαίμονας σοφιστάς.] ἐγὼ δὲ ἐπίσταμαι σαφῶς ὅτι οὐδὲ ὑμῖν πρὸς ἡδονὴν ἔσονται. οἱ γὰρ πλεῖστοι τῶν ἀνθρώπων οὕτως ἄγαν εἰσὶν ὑπὸ δόξης διεφθαρμένοι τὰς ψυχὰς ὥστε μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσι περιβόητοι εἶναι ἐπὶ τοῖς μεγίστοις ἀτυχήμασιν ἢ μηδὲν κακὸν ἔχοντες ἀγνοεῖσθαι.

 

“For I think that the Argives themselves would not wish for the matters concerning Thyestes, Atreus and the descendants of Pelops to have been any different, but would be severely angry if someone were to undermine the myths of tragedy, claiming that Thyestes never committed adultery with Atreus wife, nor did the other kill his brother’s children, cut them up, and set them out as feast for Thyestes, and that Orestes never killed his mother with his own hand. If someone said all of these things, they would take it harshly as if they were slandered.

I imagine that things would go the same among the Thebans, if someone were to declare that their misfortunes were lies, that Oedipus never killed his father nor had sex with his mother, nor then blinded himself, and that his children didn’t die in front of the wall at each other’s hands, and the Sphinx never came and ate their children. No! instead, they take pleasure in hearing that the Sphinx came and ate their children, sent to them because of Hera’s anger, that Laios was killed by his own son, and Oedipus did these things and wandered blind after suffering, or how the children of previous king of theirs and founder of the city, Amphion, by Artemis and Apollo because they were the most beautiful men. They endure musicians and poets singing these things in their presence at the theater and they make contests for them, whoever can sing or play the most stinging tales about them. Yet they would expel a man who claimed these things did not happen. The majority has gone so far into madness that their obsession governs them completely. For they desire that there be the most stories about them—and it does not matter to them what kind of story it is. Generally, men are not willing to suffer terrible things because of cowardice, because they fear death and pain. But they really value being mentioned as if they suffered.”

 

αὐτοὺς γὰρ οἶμαι τοὺς ᾿Αργείους μὴ ἂν ἐθέλειν ἄλλως γεγονέναι τὰ περὶ τὸν Θυέστην καὶ τὸν ᾿Ατρέα καὶ τοὺς Πελοπίδας, ἀλλ’ ἄχθεσθαι σφόδρα, ἐάν τις ἐξελέγχῃ τοὺς μύθους τῶν τραγῳδῶν, λέγων ὅτι οὔτε Θυέστης ἐμοίχευσε τὴν τοῦ ᾿Ατρέως οὔτε ἐκεῖνος ἀπέκτεινε τοὺς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ παῖδας οὐδὲ κατακόψας εἱστίασε τὸν Θυέστην οὔτε ᾿Ορέστης αὐτόχειρ ἐγένετο τῆς μητρός. ἅπαντα ταῦτα εἰ λέγοι τις, χαλεπῶς ἂν φέροιεν ὡς λοιδορούμενοι.

τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο κἂν Θηβαίους οἶμαι παθεῖν, εἴ τις τὰ παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἀτυχήματα ψευδῆ ἀποφαίνοι, καὶ οὔτε τὸν πατέρα Οἰδίπουν ἀποκτείναντα οὔτε τῇ μητρὶ συγγενόμενον οὔθ’ ἑαυτὸν τυφλώσαντα οὔτε τοὺς παῖδας αὐτοῦ πρὸ τοῦ τείχους ἀποθανόντας ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων, οὔθ’ ὡς ἡ Σφὶγξ ἀφικομένη κατεσθίοι τὰ τέκνα αὐτῶν, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον ἥδονται ἀκούοντες καὶ τὴν Σφίγγα ἐπιπεμφθεῖσαν αὐτοῖς διὰ χόλον ῞Ηρας καὶ τὸν Λάϊον ὑπὸ τοῦ υἱέος ἀναιρεθέντα καὶ τὸν Οἰδίπουν ταῦτα ποιήσαντα καὶ παθόντα τυφλὸν ἀλᾶσθαι, καὶ πρότερον ἄλλου βασιλέως αὐτῶν καὶ τῆς πόλεως οἰκιστοῦ, ᾿Αμφίονος, τοὺς παῖδας, ἀνθρώπων καλλίστους γενομένους, κατατοξευθῆναι ὑπὸ ᾿Απόλλωνος καὶ ᾿Αρτέμιδος· καὶ ταῦτα καὶ αὐλούντων καὶ ᾀδόντων ἀνέχονται παρ’ αὑτοῖς ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ, καὶ τιθέασιν ἆθλα περὶ τούτων, ὃς ἂν οἰκτρότατα εἴπῃ περὶ αὐτῶν ἢ αὐλήσῃ· τὸν δὲ εἰπόντα ὡς οὐ γέγονεν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἐκβάλλουσιν. εἰς τοῦτο μανίας οἱ πολλοὶ ἐληλύθασι καὶ οὕτω πάνυ ὁ τῦφος αὐτῶν κεκράτηκεν. ἐπιθυμοῦσι γὰρ ὡς πλεῖστον ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν γίγνεσθαι λόγον· ὁποῖον δέ τινα, οὐθὲν μέλει αὐτοῖς. ὅλως δὲ πάσχειν μὲν οὐ θέλουσι τὰ δεινὰ  διὰ δειλίαν, φοβούμενοι τούς τε θανάτους καὶ τὰς ἀλγηδόνας· ὡς δὲ παθόντες μνημονεύεσθαι περὶ πολλοῦ ποιοῦνται.

Classics Beyond Whiteness: An Interview

Last month, the College faculty of Wake Forest University formally approved a major decision by the Wake Forest Department of Classics: starting in the coming academic year, all majors and minors in the department, whether in the languages or in Classical Studies, will be required to take a course called Classics Beyond Whiteness, which, according to its official catalog description, “Studies misconceptions that ancient Greeks and Romans were white; race in Graeco-Roman societies; the role of Classics in modern racial politics; and non-white approaches to Classics. Considers race as social construct; white supremacy, fragility, and privilege; and critical-race-theoretical study of ancient cultures.”

I sat down with T. H. M. Gellar-Goad — the faculty member who developed the course, and co-founded the Classics Beyond Whiteness series at Wake Forest — to find out more about the course, the series, and the curricular change.

 

1. So, to start off, tell us what exactly “Classics Beyond Whiteness” is. 

Classics Beyond Whiteness is a multi-modal series of departmental programming that aims to decenter the whiteness of the field, both in the discipline’s history and its future. It began in the 2019–2020 academic year with a series of talks and workshops, reading groups, art exhibits, public art commissions, and the course Classics Beyond Whiteness itself.

The three threads of the Classics Beyond Whiteness series were race and ethnicity in the ancient world; Classics and white supremacy; and nonwhite receptions of Classics. The course I taught in fall 2019 — which is the one now on the books as a permanent departmental offering, and required of all Classics majors and minors at Wake Forest henceforth — had the same title as the series and the same threads of inquiry, with an intersectional, critical-race-theoretical lens. Although it was a new, half-term course that fulfilled no degree requirements, it over-enrolled almost immediately. The discussions were always rich, and the curricular and extracurricular components of the Classics Beyond Whiteness series worked synergistically to engage the students outside of the class meetings.

One of the signal achievements of Classics Beyond Whiteness is a series of three portraits of Black classicists from North Carolina by Winston-Salem artist Leo Rucker. These are the first painted portraits of these subjects–Helen Maria Chesnutt, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Wiley Lane–and the portraits represent a lasting testament to the often-overlooked impact of Black classicists on our discipline, locally and worldwide.

2. Tell me a little bit about what prompted you to design Classics Beyond Whiteness in the first place. 

In the 2018–2019 academic year, my department decided on the theme “Classics Beyond Europe” for its series of teleconference guest lectures. So we had speakers on the reception of Classics in Brazil and in the United States; on contemporary issues of race and racism facing Classics as a discipline; and on Black scholars of Classics connected to North Carolina. That series was such a success with our students and our campus community that we decided to continue in the following year with a series focused on questions of race and ethnicity in the ancient and modern worlds. This decision was in part prompted by a talk Patrice Rankine gave for us in February 2019, in which he connected Athens, the early United States, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photos. A mere week after that talk, Wake Forest had its own Ralph Northam incident, as the Dean and Associate Dean of Admissions were found to have posed for photos in front of Confederate flags when they were undergraduates at Wake Forest.

The phrase “Classics Beyond Whiteness” is first and foremost a provocation — it is not a state of where the field is or my department is, but both a vision and a call to action.

Over the summer of 2020, in response to the worldwide protests for racial justice in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others, a contingent of alums of Wake Forest Classics sent a letter to our faculty encouraging us to adopt new measures for racial justice in our own department. One decision we made in response to that letter was to add Classics Beyond Whiteness as a requirement to all our majors and minors. From now on, no student who earns a degree in our department will do so without encountering critical race theory or grappling with the crises in which our discipline is entangled.

 

3. What resources did you find most valuable or helpful in designing the course? Which would you recommend to others thinking of doing the same thing? 

Denise McCoskey’s book Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy, as well as a number of articles published by Eidolon, were incredibly helpful resources, as is the burgeoning set of books and articles aimed at explaining systemic racism, white privilege, and white fragility, including Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “There is no such thing as Western civilisation.” I owe a huge debt to a number of scholars whose work has helped shape this course in all sorts of ways: Shelley Haley, Patrice Rankine, Mathura Umachandran, Jackie Murray, Sarah E. Bond, Kelly P. Dugan, and others. There are also excellent resource pages and venues for advice offered by scholarly organizations including MRECC, Classics & Social Justice, and the Social Justice in Secondary Latin Teaching group on Facebook. I also used excerpts from Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Primary Sources in Translation (edd. Kennedy/Roy/Goldman).

 

4. What did you find most challenging and/or rewarding about the experience of designing the course and the series? 

I said earlier that Classics Beyond Whiteness is not a statement of where the field is, but rather a challenge to think about what it could be. The whiteness itself was a challenge — both my own, in errors that I made in framing and organizing events, and also in the fragility that white colleagues and administrators demonstrated in different ways, minor and major, throughout the process. The corollary to this is that, ultimately, Classics Beyond Whiteness did secure the funding and institutional support needed for its various extracurricular events, and especially for the public art commission. The meeting the minds and the debates and discussions prompted by Classics Beyond Whiteness were both intellectually rigorous and stimulating, and they were, for myself and for many of the participants, eye-opening. 

 

5. What advice or guidance would you offer to those thinking of designing similar initiatives at their own institutions? 

Think big. The planning of the series started with a blue-sky vision of what it would look like if there were no constraints on resources. It turned out that, when I pulled together smaller chunks of funding from various sources within the university and the discipline, every piece of that vision was able to be realized. Being white is not an excuse for not pursuing programming like this: it’s past time to shift what’s been traditionally centered in Classics, beginning at home in our departments. We had more people at these talks and workshops than we ever did before, from first-year students to majors to colleagues across the university to high-level administrators to community members — this is not to say, “do this to increase your numbers,” but rather, “do this because it is the right thing to do for all of our community, and there are many, many people who want this.” The interest in the Classics Beyond Whiteness course and event series at Wake Forest speaks to the desire of the current generation of college students to rethink and reshape the field. 

Artist Leo Rucker and Postdoctoral Fellow Caitlin Hines unveil Rucker’s portrait of Helen Maria Chestnutt 

 

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad is Associate Professor of Classics and Zachary T. Smith Fellow at Wake Forest University.  He specializes in Latin poetry, especially the funny stuff: Roman comedy, Roman erotic elegy, Roman satire, and — if you believe him — the allegedly philosophical poet Lucretius.  He is author of Laughing Atoms, Laughing Matter: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Satire and Plautus: Curculio.

 

Amy Lather is Assistant Professor of Classics and Dunn-Riley Fellow at Wake Forest University. Her research focuses on aesthetics and cognition in archaic and classical Greek poetry, and her monograph, Materiality and Aesthetics in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry, is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.

Nature vs. Nurture, or On Hands and Walls

Philostratus, Discourse II

“To me, custom and nature are not merely not opposed but they are most closely related, similar and overlapping one another. For custom is the way we approach nature and nature is our avenue to custom; we do call one the starting point and one the result: let nature be called the leader and culture the follower. Custom never would have built walls or outfitted men against them if nature hadn’t given man hands.”

ἐμοὶ δὲ νόμος καὶ φύσις οὐ μόνον οὐκ ἐναντίω φαίνεσθον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ξυγγενεστάτω καὶ ὁμοίω καὶ διήκοντε ἀλλήλοιν· νόμος τε γὰρ παριτητέος ἐς φύσιν καὶ φύσις ἐς νόμον καὶ καλοῦμεν αὐτοῖν τὸ μὲν ἀρχήν, τὸ δ’ ἑπόμενον, κεκληρώσθω δὲ ἀρχὴν μὲν φύσις, νόμος δὲ τὸ ἕπεσθαι, οὔτε γὰρ ἂν νόμος ἐτειχοποίησεν ἢ ὑπὲρ τείχους ὥπλισεν, εἰ μὴ φύσις ἔδωκεν ἀνθρώπῳ χεῖρας….

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wall_street_of_the_tombs_sacred_way_Kerameikos_Athens.jpg

Philostratus?

Debate Me Boys, Take Note: Better to Have No Reason Than Use it for Harm

Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 3.77–78

“These kind of things belong to poets; we, moreover, want to be philosophers, masters of facts not fables. And yet, these gods of poetry, if they know that these things would be ruinous for their children, would be considered to have sinned in conferring a favor.

It is just as if, according to that thing which Aristo of Chios used to say, that philosophers hurt their audiences when the things they say well are interpreted badly (for it was possible still to leave Aristippus’ school as a profligate or Zeno’s school bitter and angry).

If it is this way, and those who have heard them leave with twisted minds because they understand the philosophers’ arguments incorrectly, then it befits philosophers more to be quiet than cause their audiences harm. In this way, if people pervert the capacity for reason which was given by the gods to provide good council and used it instead for fraud and harm, then it would have been better if it had not been given to the human race at all.”

Poetarum ista sunt, nos autem philosophi esse volumus, rerum auctores, non fabularum. Atque hi tamen ipsi di poetici si scissent perniciosa fore illa filiis, peccasse in beneficio putarentur. Ut si verum est quod Aristo Chius dicere solebat, nocere audientibus philosophos iis qui bene dicta male interpretarentur (posse enim asotos ex Aristippi, acerbos e Zenonis schola exire), prorsus, si qui audierunt vitiosi essent discessuri quod perverse philosophorum disputationem interpretarentur, tacere praestaret philosophos quam iis qui se audissent nocere: sic, si homines rationem bono consilio a dis immortalibus datam in fraudem malitiamque convertunt, non dari illam quam dari humano generi melius fuit. Ut, si medicus sciat eum aegrotum qui iussus sit vinum sumere meracius sumpturum statimque periturum, magna sit in culpa, sic vestra ista providentia reprehendenda, quae rationem dederit

Internet pugilists take the following things very, very seriously. Form triumphs over content!

Image result for fallacy chart

“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

Tawdry Tuesday, Etymology Edition: Clitoral Controversies

Bill Beck has a good article on Eidolon about the way ancient (and eventually Modern) etymology and “word science” manipulates the concept of the original meaning of words in order to reinforce various types of dominant cultural discourse.

Here is another example, the history of the word clitoris. I have arranged the examples in roughly chronological order.

Hesychius

“Kleitoris: the over-covering skin [lit. of hypodoris?] of a woman’s genitals. From where we get the word kleitoriazein, which means to rub or touch [as in to masturbate].”

κλειτορίς· τοῦ γυναικείου αἰδοίου ἡ ὑποδορίς, ἔνθεν καὶ τὸ κλειτοριάζειν τὸ ψηλαφᾶν

Etymologicum Magnum

Klitorion:… it also means a woman’s genitals. From this we also find the verb klitoriazein which means “touching shamefully”

Σημαίνει δὲ καὶ τὸ αἰδοῖον τῆς γυναικός· ὅθεν καὶ κλιτοριάζειν λέγεται τὸ αἰσχρῶς ἅπτεσθαι.

Suda, mu 1462

Murton: “myrtle berry” The form of the female genitalia in the middle of which is the clitoris. From this we get the word kleitorizesthai which means to touch oneself licentiously. The lip is the hupodoris and the sides the myrtle-lips

Μύρτον: τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ γυναικείου αἰδοίου, οὗ τὸ μεταξὺ κλειτορίς. ἀφ’ οὗ τὸ ἀκολάστως ἕπεσθαι κλειτορίζεσθαι. τὸ δὲ χεῖλος ὑποδορίς, τὸ δὲ σύμπτωμα μυρτοχείλη.

Note in the following and the former the difference between the active and middle  voices

Michael Apostolios

Klitoriazein: applied to pedarasts. Or for those who are licentious towards women [or “to licentious behavior for women”?]

Κλιτοριάζειν: ἐπὶ τῶν παιδεραστῶν· ἢ ἐπὶ τῶν γυναιξὶν ἀκολάστων.

kleitoris

The LSJ is a little bashful about this:

kleitoris lsj

 

Logic Bros: Better to Have No Reason Than Use it for Harm?

Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 3.77–78

“These kind of things belong to poets; we, moreover, want to be philosophers, masters of facts not fables. And yet, these gods of poetry, if they know that these things would be ruinous for their children, would be considered to have sinned in conferring a favor.

It is just as if, according to that thing which Aristo of Chios used to say, that philosophers hurt their audiences when the things they say well are interpreted badly (for it was possible still to leave Aristippus’ school as a profligate or Zeno’s school bitter and angry).

If it is this way, and those who have heard them leave with twisted minds because they understand the philosophers’ arguments incorrectly, then it befits philosophers more to be quiet than cause their audiences harm. In this way, if people pervert the capacity for reason which was given by the gods to provide good council and used it instead for fraud and harm, then it would have been better if it had not been given to the human race at all.”

Poetarum ista sunt, nos autem philosophi esse volumus, rerum auctores, non fabularum. Atque hi tamen ipsi di poetici si scissent perniciosa fore illa filiis, peccasse in beneficio putarentur. Ut si verum est quod Aristo Chius dicere solebat, nocere audientibus philosophos iis qui bene dicta male interpretarentur (posse enim asotos ex Aristippi, acerbos e Zenonis schola exire), prorsus, si qui audierunt vitiosi essent discessuri quod perverse philosophorum disputationem interpretarentur, tacere praestaret philosophos quam iis qui se audissent nocere: sic, si homines rationem bono consilio a dis immortalibus datam in fraudem malitiamque convertunt, non dari illam quam dari humano generi melius fuit. Ut, si medicus sciat eum aegrotum qui iussus sit vinum sumere meracius sumpturum statimque periturum, magna sit in culpa, sic vestra ista providentia reprehendenda, quae rationem dederit

Internet pugilists take the following things very, very seriously. Form triumphs over content!

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“His Heart Barked”: Sex, Slaves, and Transgression in the Odyssey

Earlier I posted a passage from the Odyssey where the narrator tells us that Penelope raised the slave Melanthô and gave her toys. This detail is paired with the slave woman’s sexual behavior—she is now a bad slave because she is having sex with one of the suitors.

Odyssey, 18.321–5

“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully. Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her, she treated her like her own child and used to give her delights for her heart. But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope. Instead she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurymakhos.”

τὸν δ’ αἰσχρῶς ἐνένιπε Μελανθὼ καλλιπάρῃος,
τὴν Δολίος μὲν ἔτικτε, κόμισσε δὲ Πηνελόπεια,
παῖδα δὲ ὣς ἀτίταλλε, δίδου δ’ ἄρ’ ἀθύρματα θυμῷ·
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἔχε πένθος ἐνὶ φρεσὶ Πηνελοπείης,
ἀλλ’ ἥ γ’ Εὐρυμάχῳ μισγέσκετο καὶ φιλέεσκεν.

The meaning of this behavior might not be clear to modern audiences. Ancient audiences might have needed clarification too. The epic shows Odysseus witnessing this later.

20.5–24

“Odysseus was lying there, still awake, devising evils in his heart
For the suitors. And the women went from the hall
The ones who were having sex with the suitors before
Greeting one another with a welcome and a laugh.
And Odysseus’ heart rose in his dear chest.
He debated much in his thoughts and through his heart
Whether after leaping up he should deal out death to each woman
Or he should allow them to have sex with the arrogant suitors
a last and final time. The heart inside his chest barked.
And as a mother dog who stands over her young pups
When she sees an unknown man barks and waits to fight,
So his heart growled within him as he was enraged at the evil deeds.
Then he struck his chest and reproached the heart inside him.
Endure this my heart, you endured a more harrowing thing on that day
When the savage Cyclops, insanely daring, ate
My strong companions. You were enduring this and your intelligence
Led you from that cave even though you thought you were going to die.”

ἔνθ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς μνηστῆρσι κακὰ φρονέων ἐνὶ θυμῷ
κεῖτ’ ἐγρηγορόων· ταὶ δ’ ἐκ μεγάροιο γυναῖκες
ἤϊσαν, αἳ μνηστῆρσιν ἐμισγέσκοντο πάρος περ,
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.
τοῦ δ’ ὠρίνετο θυμὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι φίλοισι·
πολλὰ δὲ μερμήριζε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμόν,
ἠὲ μεταΐξας θάνατον τεύξειεν ἑκάστῃ,
ἦ ἔτ’ ἐῷ μνηστῆρσιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μιγῆναι
ὕστατα καὶ πύματα· κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει.
ὡς δὲ κύων ἀμαλῇσι περὶ σκυλάκεσσι βεβῶσα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγνοιήσασ’ ὑλάει μέμονέν τε μάχεσθαι,
ὥς ῥα τοῦ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει ἀγαιομένου κακὰ ἔργα.
στῆθος δὲ πλήξας κραδίην ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ·
“τέτλαθι δή, κραδίη· καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ’ ἔτλης,
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε μοι μένος ἄσχετος ἤσθιε Κύκλωψ
ἰφθίμους ἑτάρους· σὺ δ’ ἐτόλμας, ὄφρα σε μῆτις
ἐξάγαγ’ ἐξ ἄντροιο ὀϊόμενον θανέεσθαι.”

Beyond whether or not the liaison was a good wooing strategy for Eurymachus, these closely paired statements show that despite being integrated into the family structure, Melantho has not internalized her position and has instead exercised agency in pursuing sexuality. (Or, perhaps more accurately, exercising control over her own body to choose a different master.) When the epic returns to the issue, it takes pains to depict the women as in control and to ensure that Odysseus witnesses it. When he reveals himself to the suitors in book 22, he accuses them of forcefully sleeping with the women.

22.35-38

“Dogs, you were expecting that out of the way I would not come
home from the land of the Trojans and you ruined my home,
Took the slave women in my house to bed by force
And wooed the wife of a man who was still alive…”

“ὦ κύνες, οὔ μ’ ἔτ’ ἐφάσκεθ’ ὑπότροπον οἴκαδε νεῖσθαι
δήμου ἄπο Τρώων, ὅτι μοι κατεκείρετε οἶκον
δμῳῇσίν τε γυναιξὶ παρευνάζεσθε βιαίως
αὐτοῦ τε ζώοντος ὑπεμνάασθε γυναῖκα…

The difference in tone is in part due to the level of narrative—in the first two scenes mentioned above, the sexual acts are observed through the narrator. When Odysseus talks about it, he characterizes the acts differently because he sees the sexual acts as transgressing his control of the household. If the women—who are animate objects, not people—have sex, then they are the sexual objects of aggressors against Odysseus’ control. This transgressive behavior on their part helps to explain why Odysseus decides to slaughter them.

Who should have sex with the slave women is implied by a narrative passage from the beginning of the epic (1.428–33)

“And with him Eurykleia carried the burning torches. She knew proper things, the daughter of Ops, the son of Peisênor whom Laertes bought to be among his possessions when she was just a girl and he paid a price worth 20 oxen. And he used to honor her equal to his dear wife in his home but he never had sex with her and he was avoiding his wife’s anger.”

τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ἅμ’ αἰθομένας δαΐδας φέρε κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα
Εὐρύκλει’, ῏Ωπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο,
τήν ποτε Λαέρτης πρίατο κτεάτεσσιν ἑοῖσι,
πρωθήβην ἔτ’ ἐοῦσαν, ἐεικοσάβοια δ’ ἔδωκεν,
ἶσα δέ μιν κεδνῇ ἀλόχῳ τίεν ἐν μεγάροισιν,
εὐνῇ δ’ οὔ ποτ’ ἔμικτο, χόλον δ’ ἀλέεινε γυναικός·

It is exceptional here that Laertes does not have sex with Eurykleia. This indicates an economy of sexual slavery in which the slave women are the objects to be used by those who own them. If they are used without permission or act on their own, they represent perversions.

See:

Doherty, Lillian. 2001. “The Snares of the Odyssey: A Feminist Narratological Reading.” 117-133.
Thalmann, William G. 1998. “Female Slaves in the Odyssey.” 22–34

Related image
Red-figure Kylix, c. 490 BCE

 

Logic Bros: Better to Have No Reason Than Use it for Harm?

Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 3.77–78

“These kind of things belong to poets; we, moreover, want to be philosophers, masters of facts not fables. And yet, these gods of poetry, if they know that these things would be ruinous for their children, would be considered to have sinned in conferring a favor.

It is just as if, according to that thing which Aristo of Chios used to say, that philosophers hurt their audiences when the things they say well are interpreted badly (for it was possible still to leave Aristippus’ school as a profligate or Zeno’s school bitter and angry).

If it is this way, and those who have heard them leave with twisted minds because they understand the philosophers’ arguments incorrectly, then it befits philosophers more to be quiet than cause their audiences harm. In this way, if people pervert the capacity for reason which was given by the gods to provide good council and used it instead for fraud and harm, then it would have been better if it had not been given to the human race at all.”

Poetarum ista sunt, nos autem philosophi esse volumus, rerum auctores, non fabularum. Atque hi tamen ipsi di poetici si scissent perniciosa fore illa filiis, peccasse in beneficio putarentur. Ut si verum est quod Aristo Chius dicere solebat, nocere audientibus philosophos iis qui bene dicta male interpretarentur (posse enim asotos ex Aristippi, acerbos e Zenonis schola exire), prorsus, si qui audierunt vitiosi essent discessuri quod perverse philosophorum disputationem interpretarentur, tacere praestaret philosophos quam iis qui se audissent nocere: sic, si homines rationem bono consilio a dis immortalibus datam in fraudem malitiamque convertunt, non dari illam quam dari humano generi melius fuit. Ut, si medicus sciat eum aegrotum qui iussus sit vinum sumere meracius sumpturum statimque periturum, magna sit in culpa, sic vestra ista providentia reprehendenda, quae rationem dederit

Internet pugilists take the following things very, very seriously. Form triumphs over content!

Image result for fallacy chart

Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Antiquity: The Trial and Consciousness of Callon

[Editorial note: We are happy to have this guest post by Cassie Garison who reached out to us after our recent reposting of intersex stories from ancient Greece and Rome. Cassie brings us a story we did not know and a fine discussion of ancient representations of the relationship between biological gender and the social performance of sex].

A note on translation: “sex-change” today is not a politically correct term to refer to people who choose to get gender affirmation surgery. However, I will use this language as it is a quite literal translation and a literal description of what is happening. In both cases that I will describe there was not agency or intent on behalf of those in reference, and they bear little similarity to those modern instances where there is.  There are also inconsistencies in the language of the translated excerpts, for instance when Tiresias or Callon are labelled men or women. However, gender and sex are not the synonymous, and when referring to anatomical features of the body (albeit even these are not binary in any shape or form) I will use the terms male and female. The language that the translators use to describe gender and sexuality are outdated.

Callon, a figure written into the ancient histories of Diodorus Siculus, demonstrates a unique and at times awkward telling, one that defies historical precedents and does not fit neatly into any known ancient systems. This account is critical to consider even in a contemporary context as it enlightens the way humans are prone and accustomed to projecting their anachronistic understanding of gender and sexuality on the queer body. It demonstrates both the limits of language and the influence of groups in power on history and written accounts. The closest figure to Callon comes in the more well-known in the mythological account of the well-known figure of Tiresias.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tiresias struck two mating snakes with his stick, separating them. Spectacularly, Tiresias’s body changed, in this moment, from male to female. He[1] lived as female for seven years, until the eighth year when he stumbled upon the same pair of copulating snakes and, again, struck them with his stick with the hope that he would again change sex. He transforms, and “from man was turned to woman”(Ovid Met. 3.326). This mythological story is invoked and revisited by numerous ancient and modern authors alike, appearing on Sophocles, Homer, Petronius, Lord Alfred Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf,[2] and many more. Each time this story is iterated it is interpreted through a different lens, each time speaking differently to how Tiresias’s gender and sex cohere and flex.

Although Tiresias existed within only one body and consciousness, he possessed, at separate points, what are considered opposing binary sexual features. Despite his movement between binaries, Tiresias demonstrated an overarching understanding of what it is to live within the body of both male and female. When Jove and Saturn called upon Tiresias to tell them who—male or female—experienced more sexual pleasure, Tiresias responded that the female does, taking the side of Jove. Thus, Juno responded by taking away Tiresias’ physical sight, and Jove, disagreeing with this reaction, gave Tiresias the power to see the future (Ov. Met. 3.335-339). Thus one form of sight was taken away, and another was given, and Tiresias is redirected into both a mythological or oracular paradigm.

Similarly, in a story told by Diodorus Siculus[3], a figure name Callon[4] demonstrates a parallel depiction as a result of an unintentional and unpredictable change of defining sexual features[5]. Although this is a historical account—opposed to Tiresias’s literary mythology—the two are comparable in that both stories were passed down through oral history, then arrived on the page within the narrative bias ancient authors. They both highlight ideals and perceptions of gender, sex, and social construct within Ancient society through the author’s portrayal of events.

The story begins in Book 32 of The Bibliotheca Historica when a tumor appears on the genitals of Callo (their name before[6] the change of sex), described as a married woman from Epidaurus. This tumor causes excruciating pain, and no physician wanted to risk treating it. Then an apothecary stepped up to the task, facilitating the alteration (this translation is from Lacius Curtius):

He cut into the swollen area, whereupon a man’s privates were protruded, namely testicles and an imperforate penis. While all the others stood amazed at the extraordinary event, the apothecary took steps to remedy the remaining deficiencies. First of all, cutting into the glans he made a passage into the urethra, and inserting a silver catheter drew off the liquid residues. Then, by scarifying the perforated area, he brought the parts together.

τοῖς λειπομένοις μέρεσι τῆς πηρώσεως. τὸ μὲν οὖν πρῶτον τὸ αἰδοῖον ἄκρον ἐπιτεμὼν συνέτρησεν εἰς τὸν οὐρητῆρα, καὶ καθεὶς ἀργυροῦν καυλίσκον ταύτῃ τὰ περιττώματα τῶν ὑγρῶν ἐξεκόμιζε, τὸν δὲ σεσυριγγωμένον τόπον ἑλκώσας συνέφυσε.

Following this moment, Callon instantly must adjust and adopt a new social role in response to their newly-emerged male genitalia (Diodorus Siculus, 32.11):

After achieving a cure in this manner he demanded double fees, saying that he had  received a female invalid and made her into a healthy young man. Callo laid aside her loom-shuttles and all other instruments of woman’s work, and taking in their stead the garb and status of a man changed her name (by adding a single letter, N, at the end) to Callon.

καὶ τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον ὑγιοποιήσας διπλοῦν ἀπῄτει τὸν μισθόν· ἔφη γὰρ αὑτὸν παρειληφέναι γυναῖκα νοσοῦσαν, καθεστακέναι δὲ νεανίσκον ὑγιαίνοντα. ἡ δὲ Καλλὼ τὰς μὲν ἐκ τῶν ἱστῶν κερκίδας καὶ τὴν ἄλλην τῶν γυναικῶν ταλασιουργίαν ἀπέθετο, μεταλαβοῦσα δὲ ἀνδρὸς ἐσθῆτα καὶ τὴν ἄλλην διάθεσιν μετωνομάσθη Κάλλων, ἑνὸς στοιχείου ἐπὶ τῷ τέλει τοῦ Ν προστεθέντος.

This shift parallels the way that Tiresias’s physical sex-change redirects his social projection and performance, establishing mental and social expectations in direct response to genitalia. Female appearing genitalia are aligned with the actions of womanhood, and male actions are aligned with the performance of manhood, with little room for fluctuation of that binary principle. This is a principle that still governs much of today’s understandings of gender and sexuality.

Callon, before this physical and social shift, was a priestess of Demeter, and after this moment of alteration, “because she had witnessed things not to be seen by men she was brought to trial for impiety.” (Diodorus.Siculus 22.11)  Just as Tiresias has his sight taken away for possessing the knowledge and sight of what it is to live within both the body of male and female, Callon is brought to trial for impiety for having seen sacred rituals exclusive to females when they are no longer socially labelled as female, but still never truly was able to fulfill the proscribed role of an Ancient Greek male.

The physical descriptors of Callon’s body explain the effect and complications of Callon’s portrayal as portentous and prosecuted. Callon’s sight and experience are implicitly more than either male or female, even if they are only regarded as one or the other at any given time. They possess a double consciousness in result of the ambiguous genitalia and unstable body, rooted in the very fact that their body calls to question, multiple times, how tethered gendered performance is to sex.

This instability forces them to exist outside any normative variations of male and female projectiles within Ancient Greece, even the most extreme variations[7]. The manner of physical change—unprompted and unexplainable other than to attribute to divine agency— undoubtedly plays a large role in Callon’s mythic classification, in tandem with their inability to fit neatly within any gendered projectile, their fluctuating societal perception, and the Diodorus Siculus’s inability to find language that properly tethers Callon to a position in society.

Diodorus Siculus inducts the story as mythic separately from the actual telling of Callon. He situates the text directly after the sex-change of Herais (Diodorus.Siculus.XXXII.9), a change with similar anomalous conditions yet varying social implications.[8] Following these two stories, Diodorus Siculus injects his own lens for a reader to interpret the previous recordings (Diodorus, Siculus. 32.11):

Likewise in Naples and a good many other places sudden changes of this sort are said to have occurred. Not that the male and female natures have been united to form a truly bisexual type, for that is impossible, but that Nature, to mankind’s consternation and mystification, has through the bodily parts falsely given this impression. And this is the reason why we have considered these shifts of sex worthy of record, not for the entertainment, but for the improvement most our readers. For many men, thinking such things to be portents, fall into superstition, and not merely isolated individuals, but even nations and cities.

῾Ομοίως δ’ ἐν τῇ Νεαπόλει καὶ κατ’ ἄλλους τόπους πλείονας ἱστοροῦνται γεγονέναι τοιαῦται περιπέτειαι, οὐκ ἄρρενος καὶ θηλείας φύσεως εἰς δίμορφον τύπον δημιουργηθείσης, ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοῦτο, ἀλλὰ τῆς φύσεως διὰ τῶν τοῦ σώματος μερῶν ψευδογραφούσης εἰς ἔκπληξιν καὶ ἀπάτην τῶν ἀνθρώπων. διόπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς τὰς περιπετείας ταύτας ἀναγραφῆς ἠξιώσαμεν, οὐ ψυχαγωγίας ἀλλ’ ὠφελείας ἕνεκα τῶν ἀναγινωσκόντων. πολλοὶ γὰρ τέρατα τὰ τοιαῦτα νομίζοντες εἶναι δεισιδαιμονοῦσιν, οὐκ ἰδιῶται μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔθνη καὶ πόλεις.

Diodorus Siculus invokes a deep mythological history, particularly by referencing the trope of the δίμορφον τύπον,  the “bisexual type.” This strings the events he has recorded into a chain of mythological dual-sexed beings. Some of these instances include the mythological narratives such as Hermaphroditus, the child of Polycritus, and the sleeping herms.[9] He poses these sex-changes as not isolated instances, but as a part of a larger theme of sexual ambiguity and transitivity. Nature, Diodorus Siculus believes, is this cause of these abnormalities, and therefore they must be regarded as indicative of something larger than just the instance, thus transcending their own context and the details of their existence.

The language used to describe Callon’s physical features provides critical clues to how Callon lived into adulthood and had to uphold binary roles for a sex and gender which their genitalia most closely resembled. Those functioning outside the gender and sexual binary were present within mythological accounts frequently, yet in historical accounts babies born with “ambiguous genitalia” were frequently exposed.[10]  This made it even more remarkable and incidental that Callon survived to adulthood, qualifying that Callon’s genitalia would have not been regarded as hindering their ability to marry and function domestically. The complication arises, however, in that the primary function of marriage and the oikos, or household, in Ancient Greek society was the product of a lineage for the male side of the family.[11]

Ancient Greek society, similarly to our contemporary society, was organized primarily by a system of opposing binaries that extended toward governing the gender and sex system. There was The Good and The Bad, citizen and non-citizen, male and female, among many others, all of which repelled and aligned accordingly.[12] However, there was room for transgression of these seemingly rigid binaries under certain circumstances if there was a pre-established system for these deviations For instance, the mythological idea of the demigod transgressed the binary of mortal and immortal. Within the medical realm, there were liminalities of this kind as well. Illness was considered neither to fall under good or bad, but to form a sort of triangulation in relation to the two, essentially because they had the potential to be balanced or remedied.[13] These liminalities reverberate into the description of Callon’s body, and permeate particularly the manner in which Callon has to participate in sexual intercourse. Before the change of sex, Callon’s genitals were described as such     (Diodorus Siculus, 32.11):

Now the orifice with which women are provided had in her case no opening, but beside the so‑called pecten she had from birth a perforation through which she  excreted the liquid residues.

αὕτη τὸν ἐπὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀποδεδειγμένον ταῖς γυναιξὶ πόρον ἄτρητον εἶχεν, παρὰ δὲ τὸν καλούμενον κτένα συριγγωθέντος τόπου ἐκ γενετῆς τὰς περιττώσεις τῶν ὑγρῶν ἐξέκρινεν.

Due to this, Siculus finds it necessary to describe how they engaged in sexual intercourse (Diodorus Siculus. 32.11):

On reaching maturity she became the wife of a fellow citizen. For two years she lived with him, and since she was incapable of intercourse as a woman, was obliged to submit to unnatural embraces.

εἰς δὲ τὴν ἀκμὴν τῆς ἡλικίας παραγενομένη συνῳκίσθη τινὶ τῶν πολιτῶν. διετῆ μὲν οὖν χρόνον συνεβίωσε τἀνδρί, τὴν μὲν γυναικείαν ἐπιπλοκὴν οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένη, τὴν δὲ παρὰ φύσιν ὁμιλίαν ὑπομένειν ἀναγκαζομένη.

There were power dynamics linked to Ancient Greek sexual encounters, and projected upon those engaging in certain behaviors. Due to Callon’s inability to engage in vaginal intercourse as they were expected to, they would have been forced to engage in anal intercourse, a practice of sex considered to be dirty, shameful, and deficient.[14]  They were able only to engage in intercourse in the fashion typical to a passive homosexual male, one that was not conducive to reproduction.[15] Although, oddly enough, aside from this inability to perform as a sexually normative female, Callon was still able to marry a man and fulfill that social and domestic facet of female-tethered performance,[16] albeit their inability to reproduce due to the implications of their ambiguous genitalia.

Even after the change of sex, Callon would have existed outside the normative gender-associated sexual performance of a male. Callon additionally cannot be assimilated into any previously established systems of sexual deviance, for instance, Eunuchs, the Orphean system of pederasty, homosexual behavior among the elite.[17] This speaks to both the importance of sexual activity to gender performance and to how Callon would have been perceived. Here the instance deviates from Tiresias, who was described as being able to enjoy sex as a man and woman—Callon, can have sex neither as a traditional and expected man or woman but as a passive role of the system, limited to a certain number of deviations outside of reproductive purpose.[19]

The physical and biological differences that the Ancient Greeks drew between male and female bodies bled inevitably into how the constructs of man and women formed and were expected to function. In classic description, males/men are portrayed as the agents of their own body, and in Greek and Roman thought were the considered “qualitative essence of a person,” capable of logical thought and possessing a sort of bodily hardness and structure. [20]

Females/women, on the other hand, are portrayed as the antithesis of this. They lack control over their own bodies. In tales such as the paradigmatic image of Pandora, female bodies are seen as possessing a “lovely exterior” which serves as a “deceptive disguise to conceal a corrupt and destructive interior.”[21] Callon is expected to uphold both of these roles at different periods of time, strung between two repellent binaries. Callon, however, would have been rendered outside of the binary in that they were neither male or female, good or evil, but instead as a neutral alternative in a system of binaries.

Diodorus Siculus narrates that Callon was expected immediately to shift from upholding the standards of one binary to that of another, without any sort of previous conditioning or socializing, as contemporary theory would define it. Callon puts down their weaving equipment—a symbolic facet of woman’s work that exemplifies the idea of a woman being domestic, loyal, and occupied in a controlled and moderated setting.[22]

Thus, taking up the garb and title of a man is undoubtedly an immediate thrust from one end of the binary to the other, with no social opportunity for in between. Callon’s body is deemed as defining the conditions of what is around them, and albeit they never exactly have the physicality of either a male or a female, they are forced to assume to social roles and labels of both and neither, consecutively and concurrently.

Central to this experience is Callon’s trial for impiety, which punishes them for existing outside of the established binary by no fault of their own. Callon fits much better into a mythological system of δίμορφον τύπον (Diodorus Siculus. 32.12), hence their experience, downfall, and mystification, which developed parallel to that of Tiresias. They actually fit quite neatly into mythological tradition, and are denoted by Diodorus Siculus to have been thought to have served as a portent in the sense that their existence indicated more than itself, and served as a greater predictor of fate. Other instances of the δίμορφον τύπον that Callon can be strung with include the mythological figures Hermaphroditus and Iffus.[23] There was no way to attain a medical explanation for the instance of Callon, and the only dominant paradigms for ambiguous genitalia in adults existed within mythological-literary models.

Thus, even Diodorus Siculus, struggles to handle Callon’s narration within the text. Diodorus Siculus does not demonstrate the pronoun usage to deal with the sex-change that he is describing, consistently using the Ancient Greek female pronoun, to address Callon throughout the passage, both before and after the sex-change. This is unusual considering that within the passage Diodorus Siculus conveys the name change, garb change, and performance change of Callon in response to their body, affirming them in other ways. Yet Diodorus Siculus does not present them with masculine pronouns when depicting them at any point, remaining partial to the feminine, even when Callon was put on trial for being a male who had seen events exclusive to females. Foxhall notes that “gender was constantly performed but almost never critically articulated,”[24] in ways retrospectively providing a reason for Diodorus Siculus’s lack of ability to handle this case with both gendered nuance and accuracy, exacting the binds and customs of his own era and understanding of the instance.

Applying contemporary gender theory to the ancient world is both a dangerous and powerful tool. It is dangerous in that one must constantly be wary of overwriting instances of history with our own connotations, denotations, stigmas and associations. It is powerful because as time passes we continue to let new and fresh understandings of the world and human complications live within anachronistic functions of language and time.

But on either side, they are tools to speculate about the lives of those before us and our own deep lineages and histories, especially in a society that is so prone to erase those unlike them. Above all, this research calls highlights the role that ancient authors and their social contexts have in preserving some experiences and voices and not others.

 

Cassie Garison lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and is a poet and a classicist. Cassie’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in River Styx, The Penny Dreadful, Nimrod International, Hobart, and others. Cassie’s classics related research and writing focuses on Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome.

 

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