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

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 The language that the translators use to describe gender and sexuality are outdated.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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How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishapen, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

See here for a handout for a talk using Thersites to explore Homeric poetry from the perspective of disability studies.

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

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.

From A Little Hill to Shameful Touching: Clitoral Etymologies

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

 

How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishaped, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

The Weakest Slave: The Millwoman’s Sorrowful Sign

In this often overlooked scene we find an unnamed slave at the end of a long night’s work. 

Odyssey 20.97-120

[Odysseus] carried it outside and then prayed
while raising his hands to Zeus,
“Zeus, father, if you have willingly led me
over the soil and swell to this land,
after you have made me a much lesser man,
let someone of those gathered within utter my fame
and let some other sign of Zeus appear without.”

So he spoke while praying and Zeus the advisor was listening to him.
He immediately thundered from shining Olympus
high above from the clouds. And brilliant Odysseus smiled.
A woman from the house near the mill released a sound [phêmê]
where the twelve mills were set for the shepherd of the host.
There were twelve women working there
regularly working the barley and the wheat, men’s marrow.
The others were sleeping, since they had finished grinding their grain.
But she alone was not yet stopping, since she was the weakest of all.
But then she stopped her mill and spoke, a sign for her master.

“Zeus, father, you who rule over the gods and people,
how you have thundered from the starry sky
where there is no cloud! In this you show your sign.
Now grant to wretched me this word which I speak:
may this be the last and final day on which the suitors
take their lovely feast in the halls of Odysseus.
These men wear the knees of tired, heart-pained me
as I make their meal. Let them dine now for the last.”

So she spoke and Odysseus took pleasure in the speech and the thunder. For he was thinking that he would pay the guilty back.”

θῆκε θύραζε φέρων, Διὶ δ’ εὔξατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ μ’ ἐθέλοντες ἐπὶ τραφερήν τε καὶ ὑγρὴν
ἤγετ’ ἐμὴν ἐς γαῖαν, ἐπεί μ’ ἐκακώσατε λίην,
φήμην τίς μοι φάσθω ἐγειρομένων ἀνθρώπων
ἔνδοθεν, ἔκτοσθεν δὲ Διὸς τέρας ἄλλο φανήτω.”
ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος· τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς,
αὐτίκα δ’ ἐβρόντησεν ἀπ’ αἰγλήεντος ᾿Ολύμπου,
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων· γήθησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
φήμην δ’ ἐξ οἴκοιο γυνὴ προέηκεν ἀλετρὶς
πλησίον, ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ μύλαι εἵατο ποιμένι λαῶν.
τῇσιν δώδεκα πᾶσαι ἐπερρώοντο γυναῖκες
ἄλφιτα τεύχουσαι καὶ ἀλείατα, μυελὸν ἀνδρῶν·
αἱ μὲν ἄρ’ ἄλλαι εὗδον, ἐπεὶ κατὰ πυρὸν ἄλεσσαν,
ἡ δὲ μί’ οὔ πω παύετ’, ἀφαυροτάτη δὲ τέτυκτο·
ἥ ῥα μύλην στήσασα ἔπος φάτο, σῆμα ἄνακτι·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσεις,
ἦ μεγάλ’ ἐβρόντησας ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί· τέρας νύ τεῳ τόδε φαίνεις.
κρῆνον νῦν καὶ ἐμοὶ δειλῇ ἔπος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω·
μνηστῆρες πύματόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἤματι τῷδε
ἐν μεγάροισ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος ἑλοίατο δαῖτ’ ἐρατεινήν,
οἳ δή μοι καμάτῳ θυμαλγέϊ γούνατ’ ἔλυσαν
ἄλφιτα τευχούσῃ· νῦν ὕστατα δειπνήσειαν.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
Ζηνός τε βροντῇ· φάτο γὰρ τείσασθαι ἀλείτας.
αἱ δ’ ἄλλαι δμῳαὶ κατὰ δώματα κάλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος
ἐγρόμεναι ἀνέκαιον ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ ἀκάματον πῦρ.

This scene illustrates the extent to which minor characters exist and in fact suffer pointlessly for Odysseus’ benefit: we get the briefest glimpse into the life and suffering of one of the mill-working women in order to satisfy Odysseus’ own desire to hear that he is remembered.  For me, this scene is a metonym for the narrative’s use of marginalized peoples in the generic instrumentalization of another’s pain to satisfy Odysseus’ narrative ends.

“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

 

War Corrupts Public Discourse

Ennius, Annales book 8, 262-8

“After [the details of] the battles are well-known
Wisdom is publicly rejected, affairs are pursued with force,
A good speaker is spurned, and the wretched warrior is loved.
Men strive not with educated speeches but instead with insults
attack one another and enter into mutual enmity.
They seize property suddenly not by the right of law but with swords
As they seek sovereignty and wander with the power of the mob.

<proeliis……promulgatis>
Pellitur e medio sapientia, vi geritur res,               263
Spernitur orator bonus, horridus miles amatur.
Haut doctis dictis certantes sed maledictis
Miscent inter sese inimicitiam agitantes.
Non ex iure manu consertum sed magis ferro
Rem repetunt, regnumque petunt, vadunt solida vi.

Romulus and Remus

The Annales of Quintus Ennius are available only in fragmentary form. They told the tale of Roman history in epic form from the story of Romulus and Remus down to his own time period (2nd Century BCE; Ennius served in the Second Punic War). While there are many fragments, only a handful are longer than a line or two.

It is difficult to evaluate from the short lines the quality of Ennius (his reputation is pretty good). From what we have, however, it seems that he was well-versed in the Homeric epics. One thing to note about the style from a Latin perspective, is how short the sense-units are in comparison to those of a later epic poet like Vergil (the slightly earlier Lucretius seems to be closer to Ennius in allowing most of his lines to make sense on their own).

Indeed, the ringing and repetition of the last line above (Rem repetunt, regnumque petunt, vadunt solida vi) seems much more akin to Lucretian style and some oral Greek traditions, perhaps…

Philostratus, Discourse II: Nature vs. Nurture

“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. For 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….

 

 

Philostratus?

The Importance of Clarity: Philostratus, Discourse 1

“Clarity is a good rule for all speech, but especially for a letter. Regardless of whether we are assenting or begging, relenting or not, laying blame or defending, or even in love, we persuade more easily if we explain ourselves clearly. We will explain ourselves clearly and without being vulgar if we phrase common sentiments uniquely and new thoughts in familiar ways.”

… σαφήνεια δὲ ἀγαθὴ μὲν ἡγεμὼν ἅπαντος λόγου, μάλιστα δὲ ἐπιστολῆς· καὶ γὰρ διδόντες καὶ δεόμενοι καὶ ξυγχωροῦντες καὶ μὴ καὶ καθαπτόμενοι καὶ ἀπολογούμενοι καὶ ἐρῶντες ῥᾷον πείσομεν, ἢν σαφῶς ἑρμηνεύσωμεν· σαφῶς δὲ ἑρμηνεύσομεν καὶ ἔξω εὐτελείας, ἢν τῶν νοηθέντων τὰ μὲν κοινὰ καινῶς φράσωμεν, τὰ δὲ καινὰ κοινῶς.

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