“How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics

This is a companion to the earlier essay, “This is Not My Beautiful House: Classics, Class, and Identity”, which elicited a variety of personal responses from classicists and students about the myriad problems in the discipline. My contribution here, specifically, is to further articulate and contextualize my response to Amy Pistone’s asking “what can individuals maybe do to help?”

 

The title of this article is at the heart of my response to the question on what can be done to help to address the class-based challenges of studying the Classics. “How was the ________?”, whether the blank space is filled in with conference, study abroad term, workshop, or something else, is a question of access. Encoded in this question is the fact that one person had this access while another didn’t. It is an innocuous question, with an innocuous reply, that contextually is a perfect representation of Classics’ self-perpetuating economic inequalities. And these inequalities were regular features of my studies.

My formal involvement with Classics began when I was twenty-one years old, though in high school I had developed an interest in Greek and Roman history and was even able to take year of Latin before the program was cut. In my first years of college, I focused on social science courses in psychology, sociology, and political science, with an interest in labor relations. But after donating three years to these subjects, I didn’t feel the same love for learning them that I did when I was reading about the Peloponnesian Wars or Roman politics in my free time.

So, I switched to Classics, starting Latin coursework right away and Greek later (along with French in anticipation of graduate work). Now in my early thirties, I am still involved with the field as an adjunct instructor teaching Greek and Roman Civilization (while missing teaching Latin), and I also work outside of academia to pay the bills. At times I feel like I belong, but at other times I feel like a stranger in a strange land. This was the case from the beginning.

During both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits in Classics, I found myself uttering some variant of this “how was the ______?” quote almost every time I’d gone a week without seeing a classmate—or so it felt. On the same day that I was excited to use a coupon for $1 off the price of a pizza on my way home from an eight-hour shift at a liquor store, a classmate was, for example, touring the Alamo after the SCS Conference. Another classmate brought back some fantastic replica pottery and coins from an 8-week study abroad event in Greece a month or so earlier; I remember thinking at the time that the cost to bring the vases back on a plane was probably more than my disposable income for the month.

Asking about someone else’s experiences at a conference, study-abroad program, or workshop was at the same time painful and embarrassing. I received an (often thorough, vivid) account of a classmate’s engagement with the field in a way that I could only rarely—if ever—experience, and simultaneously I gave responses which made it abundantly clear that I couldn’t participate. Despite this, I was still genuinely interested in others’ more extensive involvement with Classics, through some combination of intellectual interest, living vicariously through my classmates, and being polite.

In upper-level undergrad and graduate courses, I just hoped the familiar classmates wouldn’t return with a question about my own travels. They almost always did, and I became better at changing the subject after a quick “no.”

These types of conversations—dialogues of coded income inequality—were not unusual to me even outside of academia, though. During my childhood in two small towns in the Midwest, my family toed the poverty line, between lower middle class and “lowest” (how’s that for an official socio-economic designation?). From elementary school onward, I listened to stories of Disneyworld during summer vacation and spring break trips to the beach. Later I would become a “first-generation” college student; I use quotation marks because my father attended college, but was not a part of my life past my infancy.

P. Mich 8.471 – Letters of Claudius Terentianus*

“My mother sold our linens for an as so I could go to Alexandria.”

mater m[e]a no[bi]s assem vendedi[t] lentiamina / [u]t veniam alexandrie

*My interests are in non-elite (“vulgar”) Latin; sorry, Cicero, Virgil, et al. Whenever possible I opt to use the words of people outside of Rome’s literary elite.

 

At any rate, by the time I arrived at a state university—after some time at a community college—I was quite accustomed to hearing about things I couldn’t do or have. Thankfully, my mother didn’t have to sell her linens so that I could leave town when the time came, unlike Claudius Terentianus’ mom. We have student loans for that now.

It wasn’t until graduate school and afterward that inequality in Classics, which had previously been confined in my cognitive space to my inability to contribute to travel-related conversations, became a more substantive obstacle. To be clear, it did not come from the faculty, classmates, or department at my state school, all of whom were wonderfully accommodating and committed to widening access to the historically isolated field.

Pompei_-_House_of_Julia_Felix_-_MAN

The inequalities became increasingly problematic during the first year of my M.A. program, as I began to focus more seriously on a career profile and CV that would get me beyond the first rounds of application purges. Diving into research on proper Classics CVs, newly hired faculty credentials, and all of the other things that repel students from graduate schools and higher education, it quickly hit me like a speeding chariot that I would not have even the opportunity for success in this discipline unless I could afford to sacrifice thousands of dollars (in addition to regular expenses), and extensive time away from a family that at many times needed me nearby.

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What’s a Slave’s Life Worth?

The Odyssey follows the slaughter of the suitors with the mutilation and murder of slaves: the torture of the goatherd Melanthios (Od. 22.474–477) and the hanging of twelve slave women (Od. 22.463–73). But it also considers the death of the older slave Eurykleia on multiple occasions. We first hear about her in book 1:

Homer, Odyssey 1.428-433

“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·

So, it seems, Eurykleia’s life is ‘dear’—in the archaic English meaning of having a high price—since she was worth so many oxen and Laertes honored her equal to his wife without having sex with her. Despite so high a price—or perhaps because of it—her life is risked several times in the epic. The moment that has always stuck with me comes from the famous recognition of the scar scene. While this scene has garnered a lot of attention for the way the scar triggers a story and communicates Odysseus’ identity, there have been relatively few comments about the violence imminent in the scene.

Homer, Odyssey 19.466-490

“The old woman, as she took it in the flat part of her hands,
recognized the scar as she felt it, and she dropped the foot.
His shin fell onto the basin and the bronze clanged,
then it tilted to one side and water sloshed out onto the ground.
Joy and pain overtook her mind at once and
both of her eyes filled with tears as her strong voice got stuck inside.
She touched his beard and then addressed Odysseus.
“You really are Odysseus, dear child.
I did not recognize you before, before I examined my lord all over.”

And then she would have gotten Penelope’s attention too
with her eyes because she wanted to tell her
that her dear husband was here.
But she was not able to turn or to notice anything
because Athena had turned her mind elsewhere.
But Odysseus closed his hand on her throat with his right hand
and with his left hand he drew her close and said,

“Auntie, why do you want to ruin me?
You fed me yourself on your own breast.
Now after suffering many pains I have returned
in the twentieth year to my fatherland.
But since you have recognized me and a god put it in your mind
be silent lest anyone else in the home learn it.
For I will speak this out and it will be completed,
If the god subdues the haughty suitors under me
I will not leave you even though you were my nurse,
when I kill all the other slave women in my home.”

τὴν γρηῦς χείρεσσι καταπρηνέσσι λαβοῦσα
γνῶ ῥ’ ἐπιμασσαμένη, πόδα δὲ προέηκε φέρεσθαι·
ἐν δὲ λέβητι πέσε κνήμη, κανάχησε δὲ χαλκός,
ἂψ δ’ ἑτέρωσ’ ἐκλίθη· τὸ δ’ ἐπὶ χθονὸς ἐξέχυθ’ ὕδωρ.
τὴν δ’ ἅμα χάρμα καὶ ἄλγος ἕλε φρένα, τὼ δέ οἱ ὄσσε
δακρυόφιν πλῆσθεν, θαλερὴ δέ οἱ ἔσχετο φωνή.
ἁψαμένη δὲ γενείου ᾿Οδυσσῆα προσέειπεν·
“ἦ μάλ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς ἐσσι, φίλον τέκος· οὐδέ σ’ ἐγώ γε
πρὶν ἔγνων, πρὶν πάντα ἄνακτ’ ἐμὸν ἀμφαφάασθαι.”
ἦ, καὶ Πηνελόπειαν ἐσέδρακεν ὀφθαλμοῖσι,
πεφραδέειν ἐθέλουσα φίλον πόσιν ἔνδον ἐόντα.
ἡ δ’ οὔτ’ ἀθρῆσαι δύνατ’ ἀντίη οὔτε νοῆσαι·
τῇ γὰρ ᾿Αθηναίη νόον ἔτραπεν. αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
χείρ’ ἐπιμασσάμενος φάρυγος λάβε δεξιτερῆφι,
τῇ δ’ ἑτέρῃ ἕθεν ἄσσον ἐρύσσατο φώνησέν τε·
“μαῖα, τίη μ’ ἐθέλεις ὀλέσαι; σὺ δέ μ’ ἔτρεφες αὐτὴ
τῷ σῷ ἐπὶ μαζῷ· νῦν δ’ ἄλγεα πολλὰ μογήσας
ἤλυθον εἰκοστῷ ἔτεϊ ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν.
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ ἐφράσθης καί τοι θεὸς ἔμβαλε θυμῷ,
σίγα, μή τίς τ’ ἄλλος ἐνὶ μεγάροισι πύθηται.
ὧδε γὰρ ἐξερέω, καὶ μὴν τετελεσμένον ἔσται·
εἴ χ’ ὑπ’ ἐμοί γε θεὸς δαμάσῃ μνηστῆρας ἀγαυούς,
οὐδὲ τροφοῦ οὔσης σεῦ ἀφέξομαι, ὁππότ’ ἂν ἄλλας
δμῳὰς ἐν μεγάροισιν ἐμοῖς κτείνωμι γυναῖκας.”

This theme is internalized later when Eurykleia threatens her own life.When she tries to tell Penelope in book 23 that Odysseus is actually present, she offers to wager her life on the truth of the statement when Penelope doubts her.

Homer, Odyssey 23.75-79

“…I wanted to tell you myself
but he took me with his hands at my throat
and would not allow me to speak thanks to the cleverness of his mind.
So, follow me. But I will wager myself over this to you:
If I have deceived you, kill me with the most pitiful death”

….ἔθελον δὲ σοὶ αὐτῇ
εἰπέμεν· ἀλλά με κεῖνος ἑλὼν ἐπὶ μάστακα χερσὶν
οὐκ εἴα εἰπεῖν πολυκερδείῃσι νόοιο.
ἀλλ’ ἕπευ· αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ἐμέθεν περιδώσομαι αὐτῆς,
αἴ κέν σ’ ἐξαπάφω, κτεῖναί μ’ οἰκτίστῳ ὀλέθρῳ.”

For me, Eurykleia’s willingness to wager her life is indication of an internalized oppression created by the experience of slavery. But the specific value of her initial price is interesting too. This probably complicates matters, but there is little in the Homeric poems set at a worth of 20 oxen. The price comes up again during the slaughter of the suitors. Eurymachus tries to offer Odysseus recompense and sets the price for each suitor at 20 oxen (in addition to payment for all the food and drink).

Homer, Odyssey 21.54–59

“But now, even though it is ordained by fate, spare your people.
And in exchange we will gather about the land as payment
As much as was drunk up and eaten in your halls,
And each man will bring a payment worth twenty oxen,
Which we will pay in bronze and gold, until your heart
Softens—before this, there is no blame for being angry.”

νῦν δ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν μοίρῃ πέφαται, σὺ δὲ φείδεο λαῶν
σῶν· ἀτὰρ ἄμμες ὄπισθεν ἀρεσσάμενοι κατὰ δῆμον,
ὅσσα τοι ἐκπέποται καὶ ἐδήδοται ἐν μεγάροισι,
τιμὴν ἀμφὶς ἄγοντες ἐεικοσάβοιον ἕκαστος,
χαλκόν τε χρυσόν τ’ ἀποδώσομεν, εἰς ὅ κε σὸν κῆρ
ἰανθῇ· πρὶν δ’ οὔ τι νεμεσσητὸν κεχολῶσθαι.”

Post-script: An average ox seems to cost around $3000.00 right now. So, in modern ox-dollars, Eurykleia was valued at $60,000. This seems a little off to me. According to Beef Magazine (which is a real thing) a good bull on average can run more like $7500, placing Eurykleia at $150,000. I do not print any of this to make light of the selling of human beings (because, when we leave the abstract, this is all really horrifying), but instead, rather, to give a really relative view of what her–and the suitors–economic value might be in today’s terms. The range is basically luxury car to cheap apartment. This is, alternatively, the price acceptable for a good slave, but not worth the life of an offending suitor. In both cases the economic equivalence for any human life is, to put it simply, dehumanizing.

Image result for ancient greek vase cow sacrifice

Me, times 20.

Cato’s Radical Tax Plan

From Plutarch’s Life of Marcus Cato 18

“He also levied a tax of three on every thousand so that people, distressed by these charges, would note also that families of equal wealth whose lives were modest and simple payed less to the public treasury and repent from their behavior. Both those who payed the taxes because of luxury and those who gave up their luxury because of the taxes were angry to him. For most people believe that hindering the display of their wealth deprives them of it and also that the display comes from their luxuries not their necessities.

This is what they say really surprised Ariston the philosopher, that those who possess superficial excess are thought to be luckier than those who are well-supplied with what is needed and useful.”

 καὶ προσετίμησε τρεῖς χαλκοῦς πρὸς τοῖς χιλίοις, ὅπως βαρυνόμενοι ταῖς ἐπιβολαῖς καὶ τοὺς εὐσταλεῖς καὶ λιτοὺς ὁρῶντες ἀπὸ τῶν ἴσων ἐλάττονα τελοῦντας εἰς τὸ δημόσιον ἀπαγορεύωσιν. ἦσαν οὖν αὐτῷ χαλεποὶ μὲν οἱ τὰς εἰσφορὰς διὰ τὴν τρυφὴν ὑπομένοντες, χαλεποὶ δ᾿ αὖ πάλιν οἱ τὴν τρυφὴν ἀποτιθέμενοι διὰ τὰς εἰσφοράς. πλούτου γὰρ ἀφαίρεσιν οἱ πολλοὶ νομίζουσι τὴν κώλυσιν αὐτοῦ τῆς ἐπιδείξεως, ἐπιδείκνυσθαι δὲ τοῖς περιττοῖς, οὐ τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις. ὃ δὴ καὶ μάλιστά φασι τὸν φιλόσοφον Ἀρίστωνα θαυμάζειν, ὅτι τοὺς τὰ περιττὰ κεκτημένους μᾶλλον ἡγοῦνται μακαρίους ἢ τοὺς τῶν ἀναγκαίων καὶ χρησίμων εὐποροῦντας.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman Marcus Cato

Protagoras of Abdera, Agnostic and Behavioral Economist? (Philostratus, Vita Sophist. 495-6)

“Protagoras of Abdera, the sophist, was also a follower of Democritus at home; and he spent time among the Persian magi as well when Xerxes invaded Greece. His father Maiandros had acquired more wealth than most in Thrace; he entertained Xerxes at his home and used gifts to ensure an audience for his son with the magi. The Persian magi do not teach even Persians unless the king says so.

It seems to me that when Protagoras used to say that he was whether there were gods on not he was borrowing it from the Persian education. For the magi worship the gods in the acts they perform secretly, but they do not confess open belief in the divine because they do not wish to seem to derive power from them. For saying this, Protagoras was exiled from all the lands under Athens’ power, after he was convicted according to some in a trial, but according to others there was a vote without a trial. He moved from shore to shore among the islands, all while watching out for Athenian triremes which were spread in every part of the sea. He drowned while sailing in a small skiff.

He was the first to give a lecture for a fee and as the first to give to the Greeks a practice which should not be criticized, since we pursue those things we paid for more eagerly than we welcome whatever comes free. Plato believed that while Protagoras spoke with dignity, he obscured himself with his dignity and was somewhat more verbose than was fit, and he characterized the type of man he was by using a long myth.”

[The last bit is a reference to Protagoras 349a and Gorgias 530c]

Πρωταγόρας δὲ ὁ ᾿Αβδηρίτης σοφιστὴς καὶ Δημοκρίτου μὲν ἀκροατὴς οἴκοι ἐγένετο, ὡμίλησε δὲ καὶ τοῖς ἐκ Περσῶν μάγοις κατὰ τὴν Ξέρξου ἐπὶ τὴν ῾Ελλάδα ἔλασιν. πατὴρ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῷ Μαίανδρος πλούτῳ κατεσκευασμένος παρὰ πολλοὺς τῶν ἐν τῇ Θρᾴκῃ, δεξάμενος δὲ καὶ τὸν Ξέρξην οἰκίᾳ τε καὶ δώροις τὴν ξυνουσίαν τῶν μάγων τῷ παιδὶ παρ’ αὐτοῦ εὕρετο. οὐ γὰρ παιδεύουσι τοὺς μὴ Πέρσας Πέρσαι μάγοι, ἢν μὴ ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐφῇ. τὸ δὲ ἀπορεῖν φάσκειν, εἴτε εἰσὶ θεοί, εἴτε οὐκ εἰσί, δοκεῖ μοι Πρωταγόρας ἐκ τῆς Περσικῆς παιδεύσεως παρανομῆσαι· μάγοι γὰρ ἐπιθειάζουσι μὲν οἷς ἀφανῶς δρῶσι, τὴν δὲ ἐκ φανεροῦ δόξαν τοῦ θείου καταλύουσιν οὐ βουλόμενοι δοκεῖν παρ’ αὐτοῦ δύνασθαι. διὰ μὲν δὴ τοῦτο πάσης γῆς ὑπὸ ᾿Αθηναίων ἠλάθη, ὡς μέν τινες, κριθείς, ὡς δὲ ἐνίοις δοκεῖ, ψήφου ἐπενεχθείσης μὴ κριθέντι. νήσους δὲ ἐξ ἠπείρων ἀμείβων καὶ τὰς ᾿Αθηναίων τριήρεις φυλαττόμενος πάσαις θαλάτταις ἐνεσπαρμένας κατέδυ πλέων ἐν ἀκατίῳ μικρῷ.

Τὸ δὲ μισθοῦ διαλέγεσθαι πρῶτος εὗρε, πρῶτος δὲ παρέδωκεν ῞Ελλησι πρᾶγμα οὐ μεμπτόν, ἃ γὰρ σὺν δαπάνῃ σπουδάζομεν, μᾶλλον ἀσπαζόμεθα τῶν προῖκα. γνοὺς δὲ τὸν Πρωταγόραν ὁ Πλάτων σεμνῶς μὲν ἑρμηνεύοντα, ἐνυπτιάζοντα δὲ τῇ σεμνότητι καί που καὶ μακρολογώτερον τοῦ συμμέτρου, τὴν ἰδέαν αὐτοῦ μύθῳ μακρῷ ἐχαρακτήρισεν.

Strife (Eris) Has Two Different Genealogies, But They Both Mess Us Up: Hesiod

The poet Hesiod provides two different stories for the genealogy of Strife (Conflict, Competition). One appears in the Theogony and is mostly about War and Violence. The other comes from the Works and Days and is probably a free-market economist’s mythical dream come true. Both, doubtlessly, cause pain.

Hesiod, Theogony, 224-232

“Ruinous night then gave birth to Deception and Sex
And destructive Old Age, and also strong-hearted Strife.
Then hateful Strife gave birth to grief-causing toil,
And Forgetfulness, and Hunger, and tearful Pains,
Battles, Wars, Murders, and Mankillings,
Conflicts, Lies, Arguments, Doubletalk,
Bad-government, Blindness, and Gatherings with others,
And even Oath, who pains mortal men the most of all
Whenever someone willingly breaks a sworn word.”

Νὺξ ὀλοή• μετὰ τὴν δ’ ᾿Απάτην τέκε καὶ Φιλότητα
Γῆράς τ’ οὐλόμενον, καὶ ῎Εριν τέκε καρτερόθυμον.
αὐτὰρ ῎Ερις στυγερὴ τέκε μὲν Πόνον ἀλγινόεντα
Λήθην τε Λιμόν τε καὶ ῎Αλγεα δακρυόεντα
῾Υσμίνας τε Μάχας τε Φόνους τ’ ᾿Ανδροκτασίας τε
Νείκεά τε Ψεύδεά τε Λόγους τ’ ᾿Αμφιλλογίας τε
Δυσνομίην τ’ ῎Ατην τε, συνήθεας ἀλλήλῃσιν,
῞Ορκόν θ’, ὃς δὴ πλεῖστον ἐπιχθονίους ἀνθρώπους
πημαίνει, ὅτε κέν τις ἑκὼν ἐπίορκον ὀμόσσῃ•

Works and Days, 11-26

“There isn’t only a single child called Strife, but there are two
on the earth. Whoever recognizes the first, praises her;
But the other is much-to-blame. They have distinct characters.
The first marshals terrible war and conflict, the wicked witch,
No mortal loves her, I think, but forced by the plans of the gods
They honor the burdensome Strife.
Dusky night bore the other one first
And Kronos’ high-throned son who lives on high
Set her in the roots of the earth and made her much better for men.
She readies even those who are lazy to go to work.
For, whenever a man who shirks hard work sees
Another man who is wealthy, he hurries to plow and plant
And order his house well. Neighbor envies his neighbor
As he becomes comfortable. This is the good Strife for men.
Now, a potter strives with a potter and a carpenter with carpenter—
Even a beggar rivals a beggar, and a singer another singer.”

Οὐκ ἄρα μοῦνον ἔην ᾿Ερίδων γένος, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
εἰσὶ δύω• τὴν μέν κεν ἐπαινήσειε νοήσας,
ἣ δ’ ἐπιμωμητή• διὰ δ’ ἄνδιχα θυμὸν ἔχουσιν.
ἣ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμόν τε κακὸν καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλει,
σχετλίη• οὔ τις τήν γε φιλεῖ βροτός, ἀλλ’ ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης
ἀθανάτων βουλῇσιν ῎Εριν τιμῶσι βαρεῖαν.
τὴν δ’ ἑτέρην προτέρην μὲν ἐγείνατο Νὺξ ἐρεβεννή,
θῆκε δέ μιν Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων,
γαίης [τ’] ἐν ῥίζῃσι καὶ ἀνδράσι πολλὸν ἀμείνω•
ἥ τε καὶ ἀπάλαμόν περ ὁμῶς ἐπὶ ἔργον ἐγείρει•
εἰς ἕτερον γάρ τίς τε ἴδεν ἔργοιο χατίζων
πλούσιον, ὃς σπεύδει μὲν ἀρόμεναι ἠδὲ φυτεύειν
οἶκόν τ’ εὖ θέσθαι• ζηλοῖ δέ τε γείτονα γείτων
εἰς ἄφενος σπεύδοντ’• ἀγαθὴ δ’ ῎Ερις ἥδε βροτοῖσιν.
καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

Xenophon, Oeconomicus 1.8: Even Huge Tracts of Land Can Be Worse than Worthless

 

“Land is certainly not an asset if it creates poverty instead of revenue.”

 

Οὐδὲ ἡ γῆ μέντοι χρήματά ἐστιν, εἴπερ ἀντὶ τοῦ τρέφειν πεινῆν παρασκευάζει.

 

Where would Xenophon fit in this conversation (he certainly has a lot to say about marriage…)?

 

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