In Honor of Labor Day: Collective Action and the Maturation of Rome

Livy 2.32 Secessio Plebis, 449 BCE

“A fear overcame the senators that if the army were dismissed, then secret assemblies and conspiracies would arise. And thus, even though the draft was made by a dictator—because they had sworn a consular oath they were still believed to beheld by this sacrament—they ordered the legions to depart the city on the grounds that the war had been renewed by the Aequi. This deed accelerated the rebellion.

At first, there was some interest in the murder of the consuls (to absolve them of their obligation); but when they then learned that no crime would release them from their oath, they seceded on to the Sacred Mount across the Anio river, which is three miles from the city, on the advice of a man named Sicinus.  This story is more common than the one which Piso offers—that the secession was made upon the Aventine hill.

There, the camp was fortified without any leader with a trench and wall quietly, as they took nothing unless it was necessary for their food for several days and neither offended anyone nor took offense. But there was a major panic in the city and because of mutual fear all activities were suspended. Those left behind feared violence from the senators because they were abandoned by their own class; and the senators were fearing the plebians who remained in the city because they were uncertain whether they stayed there or preferred to leave. How long could a mass of people who had seceded remain peaceful? What would happen after this if there were an external threat first? There was certainly no home left unless they could bring the people into harmony; and it was decided they must reconcile the state by just means or unjust.”

  1. timor inde patres incessit ne, si dimissus exercitus foret, rursus coetus occulti coniurationesque fierent. itaque quamquam per dictatorem dilectus habitus esset, tamen quoniam in consulum uerba iurassent sacramento teneri militem rati, per causam renouati ab Aequis belli educi ex urbe legiones iussere. [2] quo facto maturata est seditio. et primo agitatum dicitur de consulum caede, ut soluerentur sacramento; doctos deinde nullam scelere religionem exsolui, Sicinio quodam auctore iniussu consulum in Sacrum montem secessisse. trans Anienem amnem est, tria ab urbe milia passuum. [3] ea frequentior fama est quam cuius Piso auctor est, in Auentinum secessionem factam esse. [4] ibi sine ullo duce uallo fossaque communitis castris quieti, rem nullam nisi necessariam ad uictum sumendo, per aliquot dies neque lacessiti neque lacessentes sese tenuere. [5] pauor ingens in urbe, metuque mutuo suspensa erant omnia. timere relicta ab suis plebis uiolentiam patrum; timere patres residem in urbe plebem, incerti manere eam an abire mallent: [6] quamdiu autem tranquillam quae secesserit multitudinem fore? quid futurum deinde si quod externum interim bellum exsistat? [7] nullam profecto nisi in concordia ciuium spem reliquam ducere; eam per aequa, per iniqua reconciliandam ciuitati esse.

The secessio plebis was repeated at key times in Roman history and became a fundamental instrument to force the ruling (and moneyed/landed) class to make political compromises with the larger number of citizen soldiers upon whom the city (and the Republic) depended for its safety (and, really, existence). Modern labor strikes are not directly related to this Roman action–they developed with the rise of the Industrial state. In a short analogy, labor is to capital as the army was to the Roman state.

Labor unions are, in my ever so humble opinion, probably the last possible bulwark against not just the corporatization of higher education but also against the completion of our anglo-american metamorphoses in to technology-driven plutocracies. (And it may be too late.) But I take the limited coverage in our presses as a sign that such subjects are threatening to the very media corporations that deny collective bargaining to their ‘workers’ in the gig economy. 

Caesar, Civil War 1.7.5-7

“Whenever in the past the senate has made a decree asking officers to make sure that the republic meet no harm—and in this wording the senatus consultum is also a call to arms for the Roman people—it has been made under the condition of evil laws, a violent tribune, or during a secession of the plebs when they had occupied the temples and mounts. [Caesar] explained that these examples from an earlier age were paid for with the fates of Saturninus and the Gracchi. (At that time none of these things were done or even considered. No law was suggested; no assembly was called; no secession was made.)

quotienscumque sit decretum darent operam magistratus ne quid res publica detrimenti caperet, qua voce et quo senatus consulto populus Romanus ad arma sit vocatus, factum in perniciosis legibus, in vi tribunicia, in secessione populi, templis locisque editioribus occupatis. 6Atque haec superioris aetatis exempla expiata Saturnini atque Gracchorum casibus docet. (Quarum rerum illo tempore nihil factum, ne cogitatum quidem. Nulla lex promulgata, non cum populo agi coeptum, nulla secessio facta.)

Cicero, Republic II.58

“For that very principle which I introduced at the beginning is this: unless there is equal access in a state to laws, offices, and duties so that the magistrates have sufficient power, the plans of the highest citizens have enough authority, and the people have enough freedom, the state cannot be guarded against revolution. For when our state was troubled by debt, the plebeians first occupied the Sacred Mount and then the Aventine.”

Id enim tenetote, quod initio dixi, nisi aequabilis haec in civitate conpensatio sit et iuris et officii et muneris, ut et potestatis satis in magistratibus et auctoritatis in principum consilio et libertatis in populo sit, non posse hunc incommutabilem rei publicae conservari statum. nam cum esset ex aere alieno commota civitas, plebs montem sacrum prius, deinde Aventinum occupavit.

 

Cicero, Republic II.63

“Therefore, because of the injustice of these men [the decemviri], there was the largest rebellion and the whole state was transformed. For those rulers had created two tables of laws which included most inhumanely, a law against plebeians wedding patricians, even though marriage between different nationalities is permitted! This law was later voided by the plebeian Canuleian Decree. The [decemviri also pursued their own pleasure harshly and greedily in every exercise of power over the people.”

ergo horum ex iniustitia subito exorta est maxima perturbatio et totius commutatio rei publicae; qui duabus tabulis iniquarum legum additis, quibus, etiam quae diiunctis populis tribui solent conubia, haec illi ut ne plebei cum patribus1 essent, inhumanissima lege sanxerunt, quae postea plebei scito Canuleio abrogata est, libidinoseque omni imperio et acerbe et avare populo praefuerunt.

Here is the opening summary from Brill’s New Pauly on the secessio plebis (2006: von Ungern-Sternberg, Jürgen)

“Roman tradition terms as secessio (from Latin secedere, ‘to go away, to withdraw’) the remonstrative exodus of the Roman plebeians from the urban area delimited by the pomerium on to a neighbouring hill. This action was on a number of occasions the culmination of confrontation between the patricians ( patricii ) and the plebs . The first secessio in particular may have been instrumental in the formation of a self-conscious plebeian community under the leadership of at first two, later apparently five people’s tribunes ( tribunus plebis ), to whose protection all plebeians committed themselves by a lex sacrata (‘law subject to the sanction of execration’)”

Related image

“The Leaders have Changed”: Theognis, Just Like Us

Theognis, Elegies 39–52

“Kyrnos, this city is pregnant and I am afraid she will bear a man
Meant to correct our evil arrogance.
The citizens are still sane, but the leaders have changed
And have fallen into great evil.

Good people, Kyrnos, have never yet destroyed a city,
But whenever it pleases wicked men to commit outrage,
They corrupt the people and issue legal judgment in favor of the unjust,
For the sake of their own private profit and power.

Don’t expect this city to stay peaceful for very long
Even if it is not at a moment of great peace now,
When these deeds are dear to evil men,
As their profit accrues with public harm.

Civil conflicts and murder of kin comes from this,
And tyrants do too: may this never bring our city pleasure.”

Κύρνε, κύει πόλις ἥδε, δέδοικα δὲ μὴ τέκηι ἄνδρα
εὐθυντῆρα κακῆς ὕβριος ἡμετέρης.
ἀστοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἔθ’ οἵδε σαόφρονες, ἡγεμόνες δέ
τετράφαται πολλὴν εἰς κακότητα πεσεῖν.
οὐδεμίαν πω, Κύρν’, ἀγαθοὶ πόλιν ὤλεσαν ἄνδρες,
ἀλλ’ ὅταν ὑβρίζειν τοῖσι κακοῖσιν ἅδηι
δῆμόν τε φθείρουσι δίκας τ’ ἀδίκοισι διδοῦσιν
οἰκείων κερδέων εἵνεκα καὶ κράτεος·
ἔλπεο μὴ δηρὸν κείνην πόλιν ἀτρεμέ’ ἧσθαι,
μηδ’ εἰ νῦν κεῖται πολλῆι ἐν ἡσυχίηι,
εὖτ’ ἂν τοῖσι κακοῖσι φίλ’ ἀνδράσι ταῦτα γένηται,
κέρδεα δημοσίωι σὺν κακῶι ἐρχόμενα.
ἐκ τῶν γὰρ στάσιές τε καὶ ἔμφυλοι φόνοι ἀνδρῶν·
μούναρχοι δὲ πόλει μήποτε τῆιδε ἅδοι.

Image result for ancient greece megara ruins

Who Punishes Gods for Doing Wrong?

Euripides Ion, 329-443

“Why does this woman abuse the god with words
And twist him up with constant riddles?
Is it because she loves the women she gets oracles for?
Is she keeping something silent because she needs to?
But why does Erekhtheus’ daughter matter to me?
She’s nothing to me! I will go to fill
The purificatory vessels with golden cups of water

I need to criticize Apollo. What’s he thinking?
He keeps ruining girls for marriage with rape
And producing children in secret only to ignore them
As they die. Don’t act this way, but since you can,
Pursue excellence. The gods punish any mortal
Who does wrong. How is it right for those who write
The laws for mortals to lead lawless lives?”

τί ποτε λόγοισιν ἡ ξένη πρὸς τὸν θεὸν
κρυπτοῖσιν αἰεὶ λοιδοροῦσ᾿ αἰνίσσεται;
ἤτοι φιλοῦσά γ᾿ ἧς ὕπερ μαντεύεται,
ἢ καί τι σιγῶσ᾿ ὧν σιωπᾶσθαι χρεών;
ἀτὰρ θυγατρὸς τῆς Ἐρεχθέως τί μοι
μέλει; προσήκει γ᾿ οὐδέν. ἀλλὰ χρυσέαις
πρόχοισιν ἐλθὼν εἰς ἀπορραντήρια
δρόσον καθήσω. νουθετητέος δέ μοι
Φοῖβος, τί πάσχει· παρθένους βίᾳ γαμῶν
προδίδωσι; παῖδας ἐκτεκνούμενος λάθρᾳ
θνῄσκοντας ἀμελεῖ; μὴ σύ γ᾿· ἀλλ᾿, ἐπεὶ κρατεῖς,
ἀρετὰς δίωκε. καὶ γὰρ ὅστις ἂν βροτῶν
κακὸς πεφύκῃ, ζημιοῦσιν οἱ θεοί.
πῶς οὖν δίκαιον τοὺς νόμους ὑμᾶς βροτοῖς
γράψαντας αὐτοὺς ἀνομίαν ὀφλισκάνειν

501-508

“Play your pipe, Pan
In your caves
Where some pitiful girl
Gave birth to a child with Apollo
And then exposed it as a feast
For the birds and beasts
The insult of their bitter ‘marriage’.
Never at the loom or in tales have I heard of
Mortal women having divine children and good fortune.”

συρίζεις, ὦ Πάν,
τοῖσι σοῖς ἐν ἄντροις,
ἵνα τεκοῦσά τις
παρθένος μελέα βρέφος
Φοίβῳ πτανοῖς ἐξόρισεν
θοίναν θηρσί τε φοινίαν
δαῖτα, πικρῶν γάμων ὕβριν·
οὔτ᾿ ἐπὶ κερκίσιν οὔτε †λόγοις† φάτιν
ἄιον εὐτυχίας μετέχειν θεόθεν τέκνα θνατοῖς.

Apollo on a coin

 

Don’t Worry, Everything Turns Out Awful in the End!

Euripides, Hecuba 956-961

“Shit.
Nothing is credible, not a good reputation
Nor that one who is lucky will not do badly in the end.
The gods churn these waters up back and forth
Mixing in confusion so that we worship them
In our ignorance. But why mourn at all?
It has no effect on our sufferings to come.”

φεῦ·
οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν πιστόν, οὔτ᾿ εὐδοξία
οὔτ᾿ αὖ καλῶς πράσσοντα μὴ πράξειν κακῶς.
φύρουσι δ᾿ αὐτὰ θεοὶ πάλιν τε καὶ πρόσω
ταραγμὸν ἐντιθέντες, ὡς ἀγνωσίᾳ
σέβωμεν αὐτούς. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν τί δεῖ
θρηνεῖν, προκόπτοντ᾿ οὐδὲν ἐς πρόσθεν κακῶν;

1023-31

“You haven’t paid up, but perhaps you’ll pay soon.
Like a man who has fallen into water with no harbor
You’ll fall far from your heart’s desire
And lose your life. The meeting place
Of debt to Justice and to the gods
Is a terrible, terrible place.”

οὔπω δέδωκας, ἀλλ᾿ ἴσως δώσεις δίκην·
ἀλίμενόν τις ὡς ἐς ἄντλον πεσὼν
λεχριος ἐκπεσῇ φίλας καρδίας,
ἀμέρσας βίον. τὸ γὰρ ὑπέγγυον
Δίκᾳ καὶ θεοῖσιν οὗ ξυμπίτνει,
ὀλέθριον ὀλέθριον κακόν.

1187-1194

“Agamemnon, it’s not right for people
To possess tongues stronger than deeds.

If someone has done good things, then they ought to speak well
If they do evil things, well, their words are rotten too,
And they are incapable of ever speaking of injustice well.

Wise are those who have become masters of precise speech!
But even they cannot be wise all the way to the end.
They all die terribly. There’s no escape from that.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισιν οὐκ ἐχρῆν ποτε
τῶν πραγμάτων τὴν γλῶσσαν ἰσχύειν πλέον·
ἀλλ᾿ εἴτε χρήστ᾿ ἔδρασε, χρήστ᾿ ἔδει λέγειν,
εἴτ᾿ αὖ πονηρά, τοὺς λόγους εἶναι σαθρούς,
καὶ μὴ δύνασθαι τἄδικ᾿ εὖ λέγειν ποτέ.
σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν εἰσ᾿ οἱ τάδ᾿ ἠκριβωκότες,
ἀλλ᾿ οὐ δύνανται διὰ τέλους εἶναι σοφοί,
κακῶς δ᾿ ἀπώλοντ᾿· οὔτις ἐξήλυξέ πω.

 

Achilles and Agamemnon, Roman Mosaic from Pompeii

Check out these readings from Hecuba

A Good Law?

Herodotus, 2.177 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Amasis made this law for the Egyptians, that each one should reveal how he makes his living to the leader of his state each year and if he does not prove in some way that he lives justly to be punished by death. Solon took this law from Egypt and made it the rule among his people. May they keep this law forever because it is perfect.”

νόμον τε Αἰγυπτίοισι τόνδε Ἄμασις ἐστὶ ὁ καταστήσας, ἀποδεικνύναι ἔτεος ἑκάστου τῷ νομάρχῃ πάντα τινὰ Αἰγυπτίων ὅθεν βιοῦται· μὴ δὲ ποιεῦντα ταῦτα μηδε ἀποφαίνοντα δικαίην ζόην ἰθύνεσθαι θανάτῳ. Σόλων δὲ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος λαβὼν ἐξ Αἰγύπτου τοῦτον τὸν νόμον Ἀθηναίοισι ἔθετο· τῷ ἐκεῖνοι ἐς αἰεὶ χρέωνται ἐόντι ἀμώμῳ νόμῳ.

Solon - Wikipedia
Do I look just to you?

Bold Tongues and Barbarian Words

Sophocles, Ajax 1142-149

“I once before saw a man with a bold tongue
Railing on sailors to sail in a storm.
But when the storm fell, you couldn’t find a single word
From him as he hid beneath his cloak
And just let any sailor who wanted to walk over him.
This is how some great storm might blow in
Over you and your braying mouth
Ending your loud cry with a bit of cloud.”

ἤδη ποτ᾿ εἶδον ἄνδρ᾿ ἐγὼ γλώσσῃ θρασὺν
ναύτας ἐφορμήσαντα χειμῶνος τὸ πλεῖν,
ᾧ φθέγμ᾿ ἂν οὐκ ἐνηῦρες, ἡνίκ᾿ ἐν κακῷ
χειμῶνος εἴχετ᾿, ἀλλ᾿ ὑφ᾿ εἵματος κρυφεὶς
πατεῖν παρεῖχε τῷ θέλοντι ναυτίλων.
οὕτω δὲ καὶ σὲ καὶ τὸ σὸν λάβρον στόμα
σμικροῦ νέφους τάχ᾿ ἄν τις ἐκπνεύσας μέγας
χειμὼν κατασβέσειε τὴν πολλὴν βοήν.

For the full text, check out the version in Perseus’ new Scaife Viewer

1259-63

“Won’t you come to your senses? Won’t you learn your nature
And ask some other person who is free here
Who can tell us your affairs instead of you?
I can’t understand anything at all when you talk.
I don’t understand this barbarian tongue.”

οὐ σωφρονήσεις; οὐ μαθὼν ὃς εἶ φύσιν
ἄλλον τιν᾿ ἄξεις ἄνδρα δεῦρ᾿ ἐλεύθερον,
ὅστις πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀντὶ σοῦ λέξει τὰ σά;
σοῦ γὰρ λέγοντος οὐκέτ᾿ ἂν μάθοιμ᾿ ἐγώ·
τὴν βάρβαρον γὰρ γλῶσσαν οὐκ ἐπαΐω.

1345

“Acting rightly is not easy for a tyrant.”

τόν τοι τύραννον εὐσεβεῖν οὐ ῥᾴδιον.

Achilles and Ajax

Just Acts and Raising Children

4 Stob. 2.31.38 = Aelian Frag 4

“Noble Socrates used to rebuke those fathers who failed to educated their sons and then, when they fell into poverty, took their boys to court and were suing them for lack of gratitude because they were not supporting their fathers. He said the fathers were expecting the impossible because people who have not learned just acts are never able to perform them.”

Σωκράτης ὁ γενναῖος ᾐτιᾶτο τῶν πατέρων ἐκείνους, ὅσοι <μὴ> παιδεύσαντες αὑτῶν τοὺς υἱεῖς, εἶτα ἀπορούμενοι ἦγον ἐπὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς τοὺς νεανίσκους καὶ ἔκρινον αὐτοὺς ἀχαριστίας, ὅτι οὐ τρέφονται ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν. εἶπε γὰρ ἀδύνατον ἀξιοῦν τοὺς πατέρας· μὴ γὰρ οἵους τε εἶναι τοὺς μὴ μαθόντας τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖν αὐτά.

 Euripides, Herakles 586

“It is your right, child, to be a friend to friends
And to hate your enemies. But don’t do it to excess.”

Αμ. πρὸς σοῦ μέν, ὦ παῖ, τοῖς φίλοις <τ’> εἶναι φίλον
τά τ’ ἐχθρὰ μισεῖν· ἀλλὰ μὴ ‘πείγου λίαν.

Euripides, Herakles 631-636

“I will lead you taking you by the hands like a ship
That pulls smaller ships behind it. I do not refuse
Care to my children. All humans have this
Richer people love their children and so do
Those who have nothing. They differ in wealth.
Some have, some don’t. But every kind loves their children.”

ἄξω λαβών γε τούσδ’ ἐφολκίδας χεροῖν,
ναῦς δ’ ὣς ἐφέλξω· καὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἀναίνομαι
θεράπευμα τέκνων. πάντα τἀνθρώπων ἴσα·
φιλοῦσι παῖδας οἵ τ’ ἀμείνονες βροτῶν
οἵ τ’ οὐδὲν ὄντες· χρήμασιν δὲ διάφοροι·
ἔχουσιν, οἱ δ’ οὔ· πᾶν δὲ φιλότεκνον γένος.

Gift wine vessel

A List of Women Authors from Ancient Greece and Rome for International Women’s Day

In our now annual tradition, we are re-posting this list with more names and updated links. Most of the evidence for these authors has been collected only in Wikipedia. I have added new translations over the past year and a new group of philosophers to the list this year. Always happy to have new names and links suggested.

I originally received a link to the core list in an email from my undergraduate poetry teacher, the amazing poet and translator Olga Broumas. The post is on tumblr on a page by DiasporaChic, bit the original author is Terpsikeraunos.

*denotes comments I have added with this re-post

** denotes names I have added

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon
Women in ancient Greece and Rome with surviving works or fragments

 

PHILOSOPHY

Here is a list of Women philosophers with testimonia and fragments (with French translations and commentary).

Aesara of Lucania: “Only a fragment survives of Aesara of Lucania’s Book on Human Nature, but it provides a key to understanding the philosophies of Phintys, Perictione, and Theano II as well. Aesara presents a familiar and intuitive natural law theory. She says that through the activity of introspection into our own nature – specifically the nature of a human soul – we can discover not only the natural philosophic foundation for all of human law, but we can also discern the technical structure of morality, positive law, and, it may be inferred, the laws of moral psychology and of physical medicine. Aesara’s natural law theory concerns laws governing three applications of moral law: individual or private morality, laws governing the moral basis of the institution of the family, and, laws governing the moral foundations of social institutions. By analyzing the nature of the soul, Aesara says, we will understand the nature of law and of justice at the individual, familial, and social levels.” – A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 B.C.-500 A.D., by M.E. Waith

*Wikipedia on Aesara

A translation of her work

**Aspasia of Miletus: wikipedia entry

**Axiothea of Phlius: wikipedia entry

**Bistala

**Damo: daughter of Pythagoras and Theano. wikipedia entry

**Deino of Croton: A student of Pythagoras.

A translation of Diogenes Laertius’ account.

**Diotima: wikipedia entry

**Eurydice: cf. Plutarch Conj. praec. 145a and e

**Hipparchia of Maronea: wikipedia entry

A translation of Diogenes Laertius’ account

**Klea: Cf.  Plut. Mul. virt. 242 ef

**Lasthenia of Mantinea: wikipedia entry

**Leontion: an Epicurean philosopher

Melissa: “Melissa (3rd century BC)[1][2] was a Pythagorean philosopher…Nothing is known about her life. She is known only from a letter written to another woman named Cleareta (or Clearete). The letter is written in a Doric Greek dialect dated to around the 3rd century BC.[2] The letter discusses the need for a wife to be modest and virtuous, and stresses that she should obey her husband.[2] The content has led to the suggestion that it was written pseudonymously by a man.[2] On the other hand, the author of the letter does not suggest that a woman is naturally inferior or weak, or that she needs a man’s rule to be virtuous.[1]” –Wikipedia

**Myia of Samos: wikipedia article

Perictione (I and II): “Two works attributed to Perictione have survived in fragments: On the Harmony of Women and On Wisdom. Differences in language suggest that they were written by two different people. Allen and Waithe identify them as Perictione I and Perictione II. Plato’s mother was named Perictione, and Waithe argues that she should be identified as the earlier Perictione, suggesting that similarities between Plato’s Republic and On the Harmony of Women may not be the result of Perictione reading Plato, but the opposite–the son learning philosophy from his mother. On the Harmony of Women, however, is written in Ionic prose with occasional Doric forms. This mixed dialect dates the work to the late fourth or third centuries BC. The reference in On the Harmony of Women to women ruling suggests the Hellenistic monarchies of the third century BC or later. On Wisdom is written in Doric and is partly identical with a work by Archytas of the same name. This work should be dated later, to the third or second centuries BC. Both the dates of the works and their dialects mean Perictione as the mother of Plato could not have written them. We then have two Pythagorean texts, attributed to otherwise unknown women named Perictione who should be dated perhaps one hundred years apart.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant

*N.B. This account leaves out the the basic narrative from Diogenes Laertius, that Plato’s father Ariston raped his mother Perictione.

A translation of a fragment attributed to Perictione here.

Phintys: “Phintys (or Phyntis, Greek: Φίντυς; 4th or 3rd century BC) was a Pythagorean philosopher. Nothing is known about her life, nor where she came from. She wrote a work on the correct behavior of women, two extracts of which are preserved by Stobaeus.” –Wikipedia

*Note, Stobaeus (4.32.61a) calls her the daughter of Kallikrates the Pythagorean (Φιντύος τᾶς Καλλικράτεος θυγατρὸς Πυθαγορείας). Here are some of her fragments on the prudence befitting women: part 1 and part 2.

Ptolemais of Cyrene: “Ptolemais is known to us through reference to her work by Porphyry in his Commentary on the Harmonics of Ptolemy. He tells us that she came from Cyrene and gives the title of her work, The Pythagorean Principles of Music, which he quotes. She is the only known female musical theorist from antiquity. Her dates cannot be known for sure. She clearly preceded Porphyry, who was born about AD 232; Didymus, who is also quoted by Porphyry, knew Ptolemais’ work and may even have been Porphyry’s source for it. This Didymus is probably the one who lived in the time of Nero, giving us a date for Ptolemais of the first century AD or earlier…One of the problems in dealing with this text is that it is in quotation. Porphyry does not clearly distinguish between the text he quotes from Ptolemais and his own discussion of the issues raised…A second issue is the problem of the accuracy of the quotation. Porphyry says in the introduction to fragment 4 that he has altered a few things in the quotation for the sake of brevity. We should not assume that this is the only quotation to have suffered from editing. On the other hand, where he quotes the same passage twice (fragment 3 is repeated almost verbatim in fragment 4) his consistency is encouraging. Ptolemais’ extant work is a catechism, written as a series of questions and answers. She discusses different schools of thought on harmonic theory, distinguishing between the degree to which they gave importance to theory and perception. Her text prefers the approach of Aristoxenus to that of the Pythagoreans, thus she should not be thought a Pythagorean, despite the title of her work.” –Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, by I.M. Plant

A new translation of her fragment

**Theano the Pythagorean (I have collected her words here)

“When Theano the Pythagorean philosopher was asked what eros is, she said ‘the passion of a soul with spare time.’ ”

Θεανὼ ἡ πυθαγορικὴ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεῖσα τί ἐστιν ἔρως ἔφη· ” πάθος ψυχῆς σχολαζούσης.”

“While Theano was walking she showed her forearm and some youth when he saw it said “Nice skin”. She responded, “it’s not communal”.

Θεανὼ πορευομένη ἔξω εἶχε τὸν βραχίονα· νεανίσκος δέ τις ἰδὼν εἶπε· ” καλὸν τὸ δέμας·” ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίνατο· ” ἀλλ’ οὐ κοινόν.”

**Timycha of Sparta: wikipedia entry

Continue reading “A List of Women Authors from Ancient Greece and Rome for International Women’s Day”

A Sick Country and a Tyrannical Soul

Demosthenes, Or. 19.258

“Citizens, it is always right to hate and hinder traitors and corrupt people, but at this current moment, this would be necessary help to all humankind. For a terrible and harsh sickness has come over our country, one which needs great luck and your constant attention.”

Ἀεὶ μὲν γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, προσήκει μισεῖν καὶ κολάζειν τοὺς προδότας καὶ δωροδόκους, μάλιστα δὲ νῦν ἐπὶ τοῦ καιροῦ τούτου γένοιτ᾿ ἂν καὶ πάντας ὠφελήσειεν ἀνθρώπους κοινῇ. νόσημα γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, δεινὸν ἐμπέπτωκεν εἰς τὴν Ἑλλάδα καὶ χαλεπόν, ὃ πολλῆς τινος εὐτυχίας καὶ παρ᾿ ὑμῶν ἐπιμελείας δεόμενον

Plato, Republic 9, 575c

“I said, well, these minor crimes are small in comparison to serious ones but all of these are not one step in the direction—as the proverb goes—to the evil and suffering a tyrant introduces. For whenever there are many people like this and others who follow them and they sense how large their followers are, then these are the people who produce a tyrant with the ignorance of the people, a man who has the biggest and most tyrant-like nature in his soul.”

Τὰ γὰρ σμικρά, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, πρὸς τὰ μεγάλα σμικρά ἐστιν, καὶ ταῦτα δὴ πάντα πρὸς τύραννον πονηρίᾳ τε καὶ ἀθλιότητι πόλεως, τὸ λεγόμενον, οὐδ’ ἵκταρ βάλλει. ὅταν γὰρ δὴ πολλοὶ ἐν πόλει γένωνται οἱ τοιοῦτοι καὶ ἄλλοι οἱ συνεπόμενοι | αὐτοῖς, καὶ αἴσθωνται ἑαυτῶν τὸ πλῆθος, τότε οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ τὸν τύραννον γεννῶντες μετὰ δήμου ἀνοίας ἐκεῖνον, ὃς ἂν αὐτῶν μάλιστα αὐτὸς ἐν αὑτῷ μέγιστον καὶ πλεῖστον ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ τύραννον ἔχῃ.

A reminder: words for treason and a post:

ἀπιστία, “treachery”
προδοσία, “high treason”, “betrayal”
προδότης “traitor”
ἐπιβουλή, “plot”

Etymologies for the word “tyrant”:

Euripides, fr. 267

“The sick state is ingenious at discovering crimes.”

δεινὴ πόλις νοσοῦσ’ ἀνευρίσκειν κακά.

And the evergreen:

Sophocles, fr. 873 [= Mich. Apostol 13.8]

“Whoever does business with a tyrant is
That man’s slave, even if he starts out free.”

ὅστις γὰρ ὡς τύραννον ἐμπορεύεται
κείνου ‘στι δοῦλος, κἂν ἐλεύθερος μόλῃ.

Fragment: Harmodius and Aristogeiton

In Honor of Labor Day: Collective Action and the Maturation of Rome

Livy 2.32 Secessio Plebis, 449 BCE

“A fear overcame the senators that if the army were dismissed, then secret assemblies and conspiracies would arise. And thus, even though the draft was made by a dictator—because they had sworn a consular oath they were still believed to beheld by this sacrament—they ordered the legions to depart the city on the grounds that the war had been renewed by the Aequi. This deed accelerated the rebellion.

At first, there was some interest in the murder of the consuls (to absolve them of their obligation); but when they then learned that no crime would release them from their oath, they seceded on to the Sacred Mount across the Anio river, which is three miles from the city, on the advice of a man named Sicinus.  This story is more common than the one which Piso offers—that the secession was made upon the Aventine hill.

There, the camp was fortified without any leader with a trench and wall quietly, as they took nothing unless it was necessary for their food for several days and neither offended anyone nor took offense. But there was a major panic in the city and because of mutual fear all activities were suspended. Those left behind feared violence from the senators because they were abandoned by their own class; and the senators were fearing the plebians who remained in the city because they were uncertain whether they stayed there or preferred to leave. How long could a mass of people who had seceded remain peaceful? What would happen after this if there were an external threat first? There was certainly no home left unless they could bring the people into harmony; and it was decided they must reconcile the state by just means or unjust.”

  1. timor inde patres incessit ne, si dimissus exercitus foret, rursus coetus occulti coniurationesque fierent. itaque quamquam per dictatorem dilectus habitus esset, tamen quoniam in consulum uerba iurassent sacramento teneri militem rati, per causam renouati ab Aequis belli educi ex urbe legiones iussere. [2] quo facto maturata est seditio. et primo agitatum dicitur de consulum caede, ut soluerentur sacramento; doctos deinde nullam scelere religionem exsolui, Sicinio quodam auctore iniussu consulum in Sacrum montem secessisse. trans Anienem amnem est, tria ab urbe milia passuum. [3] ea frequentior fama est quam cuius Piso auctor est, in Auentinum secessionem factam esse. [4] ibi sine ullo duce uallo fossaque communitis castris quieti, rem nullam nisi necessariam ad uictum sumendo, per aliquot dies neque lacessiti neque lacessentes sese tenuere. [5] pauor ingens in urbe, metuque mutuo suspensa erant omnia. timere relicta ab suis plebis uiolentiam patrum; timere patres residem in urbe plebem, incerti manere eam an abire mallent: [6] quamdiu autem tranquillam quae secesserit multitudinem fore? quid futurum deinde si quod externum interim bellum exsistat? [7] nullam profecto nisi in concordia ciuium spem reliquam ducere; eam per aequa, per iniqua reconciliandam ciuitati esse.

The secessio plebis was repeated at key times in Roman history and became a fundamental instrument to force the ruling (and moneyed/landed) class to make political compromises with the larger number of citizen soldiers upon whom the city (and the Republic) depended for its safety (and, really, existence). Modern labor strikes are not directly related to this Roman action–they developed with the rise of the Industrial state. In a short analogy, labor is to capital as the army was to the Roman state.

Labor unions are, in my ever so humble opinion, probably the last possible bulwark against not just the corporatization of higher education but also against the completion of our anglo-american metamorphoses in to technology-driven plutocracies. (And it may be too late.) But I take the limited coverage in our presses as a sign that such subjects are threatening to the very media corporations that deny collective bargaining to their ‘workers’ in the gig economy. 

Caesar, Civil War 1.7.5-7

“Whenever in the past the senate has made a decree asking officers to make sure that the republic meet no harm—and in this wording the senatus consultum is also a call to arms for the Roman people—it has been made under the condition of evil laws, a violent tribune, or during a secession of the plebs when they had occupied the temples and mounts. [Caesar] explained that these examples from an earlier age were paid for with the fates of Saturninus and the Gracchi. (At that time none of these things were done or even considered. No law was suggested; no assembly was called; no secession was made.)

quotienscumque sit decretum darent operam magistratus ne quid res publica detrimenti caperet, qua voce et quo senatus consulto populus Romanus ad arma sit vocatus, factum in perniciosis legibus, in vi tribunicia, in secessione populi, templis locisque editioribus occupatis. 6Atque haec superioris aetatis exempla expiata Saturnini atque Gracchorum casibus docet. (Quarum rerum illo tempore nihil factum, ne cogitatum quidem. Nulla lex promulgata, non cum populo agi coeptum, nulla secessio facta.)

Cicero, Republic II.58

“For that very principle which I introduced at the beginning is this: unless there is equal access in a state to laws, offices, and duties so that the magistrates have sufficient power, the plans of the highest citizens have enough authority, and the people have enough freedom, the state cannot be guarded against revolution. For when our state was troubled by debt, the plebeians first occupied the Sacred Mount and then the Aventine.”

Id enim tenetote, quod initio dixi, nisi aequabilis haec in civitate conpensatio sit et iuris et officii et muneris, ut et potestatis satis in magistratibus et auctoritatis in principum consilio et libertatis in populo sit, non posse hunc incommutabilem rei publicae conservari statum. nam cum esset ex aere alieno commota civitas, plebs montem sacrum prius, deinde Aventinum occupavit.

 

Cicero, Republic II.63

“Therefore, because of the injustice of these men [the decemviri], there was the largest rebellion and the whole state was transformed. For those rulers had created two tables of laws which included most inhumanely, a law against plebeians wedding patricians, even though marriage between different nationalities is permitted! This law was later voided by the plebeian Canuleian Decree. The [decemviri also pursued their own pleasure harshly and greedily in every exercise of power over the people.”

ergo horum ex iniustitia subito exorta est maxima perturbatio et totius commutatio rei publicae; qui duabus tabulis iniquarum legum additis, quibus, etiam quae diiunctis populis tribui solent conubia, haec illi ut ne plebei cum patribus1 essent, inhumanissima lege sanxerunt, quae postea plebei scito Canuleio abrogata est, libidinoseque omni imperio et acerbe et avare populo praefuerunt.

Here is the opening summary from Brill’s New Pauly on the secessio plebis (2006: von Ungern-Sternberg, Jürgen)

“Roman tradition terms as secessio (from Latin secedere, ‘to go away, to withdraw’) the remonstrative exodus of the Roman plebeians from the urban area delimited by the pomerium on to a neighbouring hill. This action was on a number of occasions the culmination of confrontation between the patricians ( patricii ) and the plebs . The first secessio in particular may have been instrumental in the formation of a self-conscious plebeian community under the leadership of at first two, later apparently five people’s tribunes ( tribunus plebis ), to whose protection all plebeians committed themselves by a lex sacrata (‘law subject to the sanction of execration’)”

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