The Body as A Cloak for the Soul

Plato, Phaedo 89b-e

“Why, therefore, the reasoning would go, do you still not believe it when you see that the weaker part still exists after the person has died? Doesn’t it seem to you necessary that the part which lasts long should be preserved still in this time? Think about this when you consider what I am saying. Like Simmias, I guess, I need some kind of an analogy.

It seems to me as if someone is saying similar things when he makes the comparison of an old weaver who has died. He claims that the man is not dead, but is still somewhere safe somehow because he can provide as proof a cloak which the man wove himself and was wearing and is still safe and has not perished. And if someone were skeptical at this, he would ask whether a human being lives longer than a cloak which was used and worn and the when he answered that human beings last longer than cloaks in general, he would think he had proved that the person remains sound since the shorter-lived thing had not withered.

This, Simmias, I do not think is true. Think about what I am saying. Everyone would imagine that it is stupid when someone says this. For this weaver, although he has worn out and then woven many of these kinds of cloaks, died and disappeared long after they did when there were many of them. But he did not before the last one. Even in this the person is no weaker or less complex than the cloak.

I think that the soul responds to the same analogy and anyone who said the same things about it would seem sensible to me. The soul is longer-lived, and the body is weaker and has less time. But if you were to say that each soul wears out many bodies, or something else if it has many years—since the body wears out and could be ruined while the person still lives, but the soul could always reweave what gets worn out—whenever the soul perishes, it would the be necessary for it to have taken on its final garment and to perish before only this one. Once the soul dies then, the body would display the nature of its weakness and disappear by rotting quickly.”

 τί οὖν, ἂν φαίη ὁ λόγος, ἔτι ἀπιστεῖς, ἐπειδὴ ὁρᾷς ἀποθανόντος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τό γε ἀσθενέστερον ἔτι ὄν; τὸ δὲ πολυχρονιώτερον οὐ δοκεῖ σοι ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι ἔτι σῴζεσθαι ἐν τούτῳ τῷ χρόνῳ; πρὸς δὴ τοῦτο τόδε ἐπίσκεψαι, εἴ τι λέγω· εἰκόνος γάρ τινος, ὡς ἔοικεν, κἀγὼ ὥσπερ Σιμμίας δέομαι. ἐμοὶ γὰρ δοκεῖ ὁμοίως λέγεσθαι | ταῦτα ὥσπερ ἄν τις περὶ ἀνθρώπου ὑφάντου πρεσβύτου ἀποθανόντος λέγοι τοῦτον τὸν λόγον, ὅτι οὐκ ἀπόλωλεν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἀλλ’ ἔστι που σῶς, τεκμήριον δὲ παρέχοιτο θοιμάτιον ὃ ἠμπείχετο αὐτὸς ὑφηνάμενος ὅτι ἐστὶ σῶν καὶ οὐκ ἀπόλωλεν, καὶ εἴ τις ἀπιστοίη αὐτῷ, ἀνερωτῴη πότερον πολυχρονιώτερόν ἐστι τὸ γένος ἀνθρώπου ἢ ἱματίου ἐν χρείᾳ τε ὄντος καὶ φορουμένου, ἀποκριναμένου δή ὅτι πολὺ τὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, οἴοιτο ἀποδεδεῖχθαι ὅτι παντὸς ἄρα μᾶλλον ὅ γε ἄνθρωπος σῶς ἐστιν, | ἐπειδὴ τό γε ὀλιγοχρονιώτερον οὐκ ἀπόλωλεν. τὸ δ’ οἶμαι, ὦ Σιμμία, οὐχ οὕτως ἔχει· σκόπει γὰρ καὶ σὺ ἃ λέγω. πᾶς ἂν ὑπολάβοι ὅτι εὔηθες λέγει ὁ τοῦτο λέγων· ὁ γὰρ ὑφάντης οὗτος πολλὰ κατατρίψας τοιαῦτα ἱμάτια καὶ ὑφηνάμενος ἐκείνων μὲν ὕστερος ἀπόλωλεν πολλῶν ὄντων, τοῦ δὲ τελευταίου οἶμαι πρότερος, καὶ οὐδέν τι μᾶλλον τούτου ἕνεκα ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν ἱματίου φαυλότερον οὐδ’ ἀσθενέστερον. τὴν αὐτὴν δὲ ταύτην οἶμαι εἰκόνα δέξαιτ’ ἂν ψυχὴ πρὸς σῶμα, καί τις λέγων αὐτὰ ταῦτα περὶ αὐτῶν μέτρι’ ἄν μοι φαίνοιτο λέγειν, | ὡς ἡ μὲν ψυχὴ πολυχρόνιόν ἐστι, τὸ δὲ σῶμα ἀσθενέστερον καὶ ὀλιγοχρονιώτερον· ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἂν φαίη ἑκάστην τῶν ψυχῶν πολλὰ σώματα κατατρίβειν, ἄλλως τε κἂν πολλὰ ἔτη βιῷ—εἰ γὰρ ῥέοι τὸ σῶμα καὶ ἀπολλύοιτο ἔτι ζῶντος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ἀλλ’ ἡ ψυχὴ ἀεὶ τὸ κατατριβόμενον ἀνυφαίνοι—ἀναγκαῖον μεντἂν εἴη, ὁπότε ἀπολλύοιτο ἡ ψυχή, τὸ τελευταῖον ὕφασμα τυχεῖν αὐτὴν ἔχουσαν καὶ τούτου μόνου προτέραν ἀπόλλυσθαι, ἀπολομένης δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς τότ’ ἤδη τὴν φύσιν τῆς ἀσθενείας ἐπιδεικνύοι | τὸ σῶμα καὶ ταχὺ σαπὲν διοίχοιτο.

Hieronymous Bosch, “Christ in Limbo”

Apollo’s Esteem for Human Beings

Schol. BT ad. Il. 21.465

“Whenever the poet turns his gaze to divine nature, then he holds human affairs in contempt.”

ὅταν δὲ ἀποβλέψῃ εἰς τὴν θείαν φύσιν ὁ ποιητής, τότε τὰ ἀνθρώπινα πράγματα ἐξευτελίζει. b(BCE3)T

Iliad 5.440-442

“Think, son of Tydeus, step off, don’t wish to think
Equal to the gods, since not at all similar are the races
Of immortal gods and humans who walk on the ground.”

φράζεο Τυδεΐδη καὶ χάζεο, μηδὲ θεοῖσιν
ἶσ’ ἔθελε φρονέειν, ἐπεὶ οὔ ποτε φῦλον ὁμοῖον
ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ’ ἀνθρώπων.

Iliad 21.461-465

“Then lord Apollo the far-shooter answered,
“Earthshaker, you would not think that I would be prudent
If indeed I fought with you over mortals,
Wretched men who are like the leaves now flourish
Until they grow full, eat the fruit of fields,
And then they diminish until they die…”

Τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπεν ἄναξ ἑκάεργος ᾿Απόλλων·
ἐννοσίγαι’ οὐκ ἄν με σαόφρονα μυθήσαιο
ἔμμεναι, εἰ δὴ σοί γε βροτῶν ἕνεκα πτολεμίξω
δειλῶν, οἳ φύλλοισιν ἐοικότες ἄλλοτε μέν τε
ζαφλεγέες τελέθουσιν ἀρούρης καρπὸν ἔδοντες,
ἄλλοτε δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἀκήριοι…

 

Image result for Ancient greek vase apollo

Gambling and Work

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.2.57

“Socrates, then, would agree that it is useful for a person to be a worker and both harmful and bad for someone to be lazy. Work, then, is a good thing; being lazy is an evil one. He said that work was when people  did something good, but he used to call people who gambled or did any other deceptive or questionable thing lazy. From these ideas, he rightly believed that “work isn’t to be criticized at all, laziness is.”

Σωκράτης δ᾿ ἐπεὶ διομολογήσαιτο τὸ μὲν ἐργάτην εἶναι ὠφέλιμόν τε ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, τὸ δὲ ἀργὸν βλαβερόν τε καὶ κακόν, καὶ τὸ μὲν ἐργάζεσθαι ἀγαθόν, τὸ δ᾿ ἀργεῖν κακόν, τοὺς μὲν ἀγαθόν τι ποιοῦντας ἐργάζεσθαί τε ἔφη καὶ ἐργάτας εἶναι, τοὺς δὲ κυβεύοντας ἤ τι ἄλλο πονηρὸν καὶ ἐπιζήμιον ποιοῦντας ἀργοὺς ἀπεκάλει. ἐκ δὲ τούτων ὀρθῶς ἂν ἔχοι τὸ

ἔργον δ᾿ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾿ ὄνειδος

 

Herodotus 1.94

“During the reign of Manes’ son, a massive food shortage struck all of Lydia. The Lydians endured this living as they could, but after a while, when it did not stop, they sought cures, and different men devised different solutions. At that time they invented the ideas of dice, and knucklebones, and ball, and every other kind of game except for draughts. For the Lydians do not claim the invention of these games. They invented the games they did for the famine. They played their games on alternate days when they could not seek food and on others they stopped their games and ate. They lived this way for eighteen years.”

᾿Επὶ ῎Ατυος τοῦ Μάνεω βασιλέος σιτοδείην ἰσχυρὴν ἀνὰ τὴν Λυδίην πᾶσαν γενέσθαι· καὶ τοὺς Λυδοὺς τέως μὲν διάγειν λιπαρέοντας, μετὰ δέ, ὡς οὐ παύεσθαι, ἄκεα δίζησθαι, ἄλλον δὲ ἄλλο ἐπιμηχανᾶσθαι αὐτῶν. ᾿Εξευρεθῆναι δὴ ὦν τότε καὶ τῶν κύβων καὶ τῶν ἀστραγάλων καὶ τῆς σφαίρης καὶ τῶν ἀλλέων πασέων παιγνιέων τὰ εἴδεα, πλὴν πεσσῶν· τούτων γὰρ ὦν τὴν ἐξεύρεσιν οὐκ οἰκηιοῦνται Λυδοί. Ποιέειν δὲ ὧδε πρὸς τὸν λιμὸν ἐξευρόντας· · τὴν μὲν ἑτέρην τῶν ἡμερέων παίζειν πᾶσαν, ἵνα δὴ μὴ ζητέοιεν σιτία, τὴν δὲ ἑτέρην σιτέεσθαι παυομένους τῶν παιγνιέων. Τοιούτῳ τρόπῳ διάγειν ἐπ’ ἔτεα δυῶν δέοντα εἴκοσι.

Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b

“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”

Κυβείᾳ γὰρ ὁ Πλάτων (Resp. 604c) τὸν βίον ἀπείκασεν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ βάλλειν δεῖ τὰ πρόσφορα, καὶ βαλόντα χρῆσθαι καλῶς τοῖς πεσοῦσι. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν βάλλειν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, τὸ δὲ προσηκόντως δέχεσθαι τὰ γινόμενα παρὰ τῆς τύχης καὶ νέμειν ἑκάστῳ τόπον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸ οἰκεῖον ὠφελήσει μάλιστα καὶ τὸ ἀβούλητον ἥκιστα λυπήσει τοὺς ἐπιτυγχάνοντας, ἡμέτερον ἔργον ἐστίν, ἂν εὖ φρονῶμεν.

And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)

“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”

Τῷ βουλεύεσθαι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, περὶ τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πτώσει κύβων πρὸς τὰ πεπτωκότα τίθεσθαι τὰ αὑτοῦ πράγματα, ὅπῃ ὁ λόγος αἱρεῖ βέλτιστ’ ἂν ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ προσπταίσαντας καθάπερ παῖδας ἐχομένους τοῦ πληγέντος ἐν τῷ βοᾶν διατρίβειν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἐθίζειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτι τάχιστα γίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ ἰᾶσθαί τε καὶ ἐπανορθοῦν τὸ πεσόν τε καὶ νοσῆσαν, ἰατρικῇ θρηνῳδίαν ἀφανίζοντα.

 

Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras 8.3

“Sôsikrates, in his Successions, says that when Pythagoras was asked by Leon, the tyrant of the Phliasians, who he was, he said, “a philosopher,” and that he said life was like the Great Games. Some people go there to compete, others go to make money, and the best people go to watch. For in life, some people have a slavish nature and they hunt for glory or profit, while philosophers search for the truth.”

Σωσικράτης δ᾿ ἐν Διαδοχαῖς φησιν αὐτὸν ἐρωτηθέντα ὑπὸ Λέοντος τοῦ Φλιασίων τυράννου τίς εἴη, φιλόσοφος, εἰπεῖν. καὶ τὸν βίον ἐοικέναι πανηγύρει· ὡς οὖν εἰς ταύτην οἱ μὲν ἀγωνιούμενοι, οἱ δὲ κατ᾿ ἐμπορίαν, οἱ δέ γε βέλτιστοι ἔρχονται θεαταί, οὕτως ἐν τῷ βίῳ οἱ μὲν ἀνδραποδώδεις, ἔφη, φύονται δόξης καὶ πλεονεξίας θηραταί, οἱ δὲ φιλόσοφοι τῆς ἀληθείας.

 

How We Spend Our Days–Do Nothing Rather Than Something Useless

Pliny, Letters 9 To Minucius Fundanus

“It is amazing how the schedule is or seems on individual days in the city when they all blend together. If you ask anyone “what did you do today?” He may say, “I went to a toga-ceremony, an engagement, or a marriage. I was the witness at a will-signing, or at court as a witness or supporter.” These things which you do seem necessary on the day that you do them but empty if you remember that you have done the same kind of things every day and they seem even sillier if you consider them when you are away.

Then the realization comes over you: “How many days have I wasted in trivial pursuits!” This occurs to me whenever I am reading or writing or taking some time to exercise, to keep my mind fit for my work, at my Laurentum. I hear nothing and I say nothing which later on it hurts me that I said or heard. No one troubles me with evil rumors. I find no one to blame but myself when I write with too little ease. I am troubled by no hope, no fear; I am disrupted by no gossip. I speak only with myself and my little books.

What a fine and sincere life! What sweet and honest leisure, finer than nearly any business at all. The sea, the beach, my own true and private museum—how much you discover for me, how much you have told me!

Take the first chance you can to leave that noise, the empty conversation, and so many useless tasks and dedicate yourself to studies or relaxing. For our friend Atilius put it most elegantly and intelligently when he said “it is better to do engage in leisure than to do nothing.”

Plinius Minicio Fundano Suo S.

1Mirum est quam singulis diebus in urbe ratio aut constet aut constare videatur, pluribus iunctisque

Nam si quem interroges “Hodie quid egisti?,” respondeat: “Officio togae virilis interfui, sponsalia aut nuptias frequentavi, ille me ad signandum testamentum, ille in advocationem, ille in 3 consilium rogavit.” Haec quo die feceris, necessaria, eadem, si cotidie fecisse te reputes, inania videntur, multo magis cum secesseris. Tunc enim subit recordatio: “Quot dies quam frigidis rebus absumpsi!” 4 Quod evenit mihi, postquam in Laurentino meo aut lego aliquid aut scribo aut etiam corpori vaco, cuius fulturis animus sustinetur. Nihil audio quod audisse, nihil dico quod dixisse paeniteat; nemo apud me quemquam sinistris sermonibus carpit, neminem ipse reprehendo, nisi tamen me cum parum commode scribo; nulla spe nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor: mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor. O rectam sinceramque vitam! O dulce otium honestumque ac paene omni negotio pulchrius! O mare, o litus, verum secretumque μουσεῖον, quam multa invenitis, quam multa dictatis! 7 Proinde tu quoque strepitum istum inanemque discursum et multum ineptos labores, ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade. 8 Satius est enim, ut Atilius noster eruditissime simul et facetissime dixit, otiosum esse quam nihil agere. Vale.

Weekend Plans with Alcaeus

Alcaeus, Fr. 38A (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 1 ii 8–20 + 2166(b)1)

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.

For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.

As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”

πῶνε [καὶ μέθυ᾿ ὦ] Μελάνιππ᾿ ἄμ᾿ ἔμοι· τί [φαῖς †
ὄταμε[. . . .]διννάεντ᾿ † Ἀχέροντα μέγ[αν πόρον
ζάβαι[ς ἀ]ελίω κόθαρον φάος [ἄψερον
ὄψεσθ᾿; ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ μεγάλων ἐπ[ιβάλλεο·
καὶ γὰρ Σίσυφος Αἰολίδαις βασίλευς [ἔφα
ἄνδρων πλεῖστα νοησάμενος [θανάτω κρέτην·
ἀλλὰ καὶ πολύιδρις ἔων ὐπὰ κᾶρι [δὶς
δ̣ιννάεντ᾿ Ἀχέροντ᾿ ἐπέραισε, μ[έμηδε δ᾿ ὦν
αὔτῳ μόχθον ἔχην Κρονίδαις βα [σίλευς κάτω
ελαίνας χθόνος· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ τά[δ᾿ ἐπέλπεο·
θᾶς] τ᾿ ἀβάσομεν αἴ ποτα κἄλλοτα ν [ῦν χρέων
φέρ]ην ὄττινα τῶνδε πάθην τά[χα δῷ θέος.

Image result for medieval manuscript acheron
Dante Being rowed across Acheron, 5th c, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 6r. B.L.

Some of us can’t say this any more…

More Good In Life than Evil

Euripides, Suppliants 196-204

“Indeed, I did debate other people once, arguing
This: Once someone said that humans have
A greater share of worse things than better.
I hold a belief in opposition to these,
That mortals have more good than evil.
If this were not the case, we would not live in the light.
I praise whoever of the gods balanced our lives
Away from the beasts and the wilds.
First, he put understanding within us, and then
Gave us a tongue as a marshal of words, to understand speeches.”

ἄλλοισι δὴ ’πόνησ’νησ᾿ ἁμιλληθεὶς λόγῳ
τοιῷδ᾿. ἔλεξε γάρ τις ὡς τὰ χείρονα
πλείω βροτοῖσίν ἐστι τῶν ἀμεινόνων.
ἐγὼ δὲ τούτοις ἀντίαν γνώμην ἔχω,
πλείω τὰ χρηστὰ τῶν κακῶν εἶναι βροτοῖς.
εἰ μὴ γὰρ ἦν τόδ᾿, οὐκ ἂν ἦμεν ἐν φάει.
αἰνῶ δ᾿ ὃς ἡμῖν βίοτον ἐκ πεφυρμένου
καὶ θηριώδους θεῶν διεσταθμήσατο,
πρῶτον μὲν ἐνθεὶς σύνεσιν, εἶτα δ᾿ ἄγγελον
γλῶσσαν λόγων δούς, ὥστε γιγνώσκειν ὄπα

506-510

“The wise should love their children first,
Then their parents, and then their country
Which they should improve not ruin.
A bold leader makes mistakes like a young sailor.
Wise is the one at peace at the right time: bravery, for me, is forethought.”

φιλεῖν μὲν οὖν χρὴ τοὺς σοφοὺς πρῶτον τέκνα,
ἔπειτα τοκέας πατρίδα θ᾿, ἣν αὔξειν χρεὼν
καὶ μὴ κατᾶξαι. σφαλερὸν ἡγεμὼν θρασὺς
νέος τε ναύτης· ἥσυχος καιρῷ σοφός.
καὶ τοῦτό μοι τἀνδρεῖον, ἡ προμηθία.

cient Greek gravestones now at the Kerameikos Archaeological Museum (Athens). Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, November 12 2009.

If you missed our performance of Euripides’ Suppliants, check it out (along with the rest of the soon to be 40 episodes)

Carpe Diem is Too Late

Seneca, Consolation ad Marciam 10.5

“The spirit must be warned that it loves things which will one day leave—no, they are already leaving. Whatever is granted to you by fortune, take it as if it has no guaranty. Seize up the pleasures of your children and allow your children to enjoy you in turn. And drink down every bit of joy without stopping.

Nothing is promised to you for this evening—I have granted too much a pledge—nothing is promised for this hour. You must hurry, we are being chased from behind. Soon this friend will be elsewhere, soon these friendships will be lost lost when the battle’s cry is raised. In truth, everything is stolen away. Poor are you fools who do not know how to live in flight.”

Saepe admonendus est animus, amet ut recessura, immo tamquam recedentia. Quicquid a fortuna datum est, tamquam exempto auctore possideas. Rapite ex liberis voluptates, fruendos vos in vicem liberis date et sine dilatione omne gaudium haurite; nihil de hodierna nocte promittitur—nimis magnam advocationem dedi—, nihil de hac hora. Festinandum est, instatur a tergo. Iam disicietur iste comitatus, iam contubernia ista sublato clamore solventur. Rapina verum omnium est; miseri nescitis in fuga vivere!

It's #MorbidMonday and here comes death riding a skeletal horse @BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137
@BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137

Life’s Sweetness, Our Weakness

A reminder before the new year that life offers many kinds of sweetness….

Hes. Frag. 273

“It is also sweet to know how many things the immortals
Have allotted for mortals, a clear sign of base and noble…”

ἡδὺ δὲ καὶ τὸ πυθέσθαι, ὅσα θνητοῖσιν ἔνειμαν
ἀθάνατοι, δειλῶν τε καὶ ἐσθλῶν τέκμαρ ἐναργές

Arsenius 3.60

“It is sweet to live in leisure. Life is long
And sacred, if lived among untroubled affairs.”

᾿Απραγμόνως ζῆν ἡδύ· μακάριος βίος
καὶ σεμνός, ἐὰν ᾖ μεθ’ ἑτέρων ἀπραγμόνων·

File:Banqueters Met 1979.11.8.jpg

Arsenius 18.66f

“It is sweet for children to obey their father”

῾Ως ἡδὺ τῷ φύσαντι πείθεσθαι τέκνα [Attributed to Euripides, Agathon]

Heraclitus, fr. 111

“Sickness makes health sweet and good…”

νοῦσος ὑγιείην ἐποίησεν ἡδὺ καὶ ἀγαθόν

Arsenius 18.66p

“it is sweet for those who have done badly to forget
Their bygone troubles in a short time.”

῾Ως τοῖς κακῶς πράσσουσιν ἡδὺ καὶ βραχύν
χρόνον λαθέσθαι τῶν παρεστώτων κακῶν [Attributed to Sophocles]

18.66u

“It is sweet for slaves to obtain good masters”

῾Ως ἡδὺ δούλοις δεσπότας χρηστοὺς λαβεῖν, [Attributed to Euripides]

18.67c

“It is sweet for those who hate fools to be alone.”

῾Ως ἡδὺ τῷ μισοῦντι τοὺς φαύλους ἐρημία [Attributed to Menander]

Crates, fr. 23 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“This is the case with erotic games: they’re sweet to play, but not nice to mention.”

καὶ μάλιστ᾿ ἀφροδισίοις ἀθύρμασιν. ἡδὺ γὰρ κἀκεῖνο τὸ δρᾶν, λέγεσθαι δ᾿ οὐ καλόν.

Euripides, Supp. 1101-2 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Nothing is sweeter to an old father than a daughter”

πατρὶ δ᾽ οὐδὲν †ἥδιον†

γέροντι θυγατρός

Aristotle [According to Diogenes Laertius 5.21]

“He said that the root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet.”

Τῆς παιδείας ἔφη τὰς μὲν ῥίζας εἶναι πικράς, τὸν δὲ καρπὸν γλυκύν

Bias [According to Diogenes Laertius 1.86]

‘When someone asked what is sweet for people, he said “hope”.’

Ἐρωτηθεὶς τί γλυκὺ ἀνθρώποις, “ἐλπίς,” ἔφη.

Theognis, Uncertain Fragments

“Nothing, Kurnos, is sweeter than a good woman.
I am a witness to this, and you are witness to the truth”

Οὐδέν, Κύρν’, ἀγαθῆς γλυκερώτερόν ἐστι γυναικός.
μάρτυς ἐγώ, σὺ δ’ ἐμοὶ γίνου ἀληθοσύνης.

Sophocles, Philoktetes 81 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“It is sweet to obtain the possession of victory.”

ἀλλ’ ἡδὺ γάρ τοι κτῆμα τῆς νίκης λαβεῖν

Euripides, Fr. 133

“It is certainly sweet to recall your struggles after you’ve been saved”

ἀλλ’ ἡδύ τοι σωθέντα μεμνῆσθαι πόνων.

Archippus fr. 45

“Mother, it is sweet to see the sea from the land
when you don’t have to sail any longer.”

ὡς ἡδὺ τὴν θάλατταν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ὁρᾶν
ὦ μῆτερ ἐστι, μὴ πλέοντα μηδαμοῦ

Euripides, fr. 358 (Erechtheus)

“Children have nothing sweeter than their mother.
Love your mother children, there is no kind of love anywhere
Sweeter than this one to love.”

οὐκ ἔστι μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἥδιον τέκνοις•
ἐρᾶτε μητρός, παῖδες, ὡς οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔρως
τοιοῦτος ἄλλος ὅστις ἡδίων ἐρᾶν.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 688-89 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“For the sick it is sweet to know clearly what pain remains”

τοῖς νοσοῦσί τοι γλυκὺ
τὸ λοιπὸν ἄλγος προυξεπίστασθαι τορῶς

Ananius, fr. 5.3

“It is sweet to eat the meat of a [locally-killed?] goat”

ἡδὺ δ’ ἐσθίειν χιμαίρης †φθινοπωρισμῶι κρέας·

Anaxandrides, fr. 24

“The home-fed son grows sweetly”

υἱὸς γὰρ οἰκόσιτος ἡδὺ γίνεται.

Theocritus, 3.20

“There is a sweet joy in empty little kisses.”

ἔστι καὶ ἐν κενεοῖσι φιλήμασιν ἁδέα τέρψις.

Menander, fr. 809

“It is sweet when brothers have a like-minded love”

ἡδύ γ’ ἐν ἀδελφοῖς ἐστιν ὁμονοίας ἔρως.

Menander fr. 814 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“Sweet is the word of a friend for those in grief.”

ἡδύ γε φίλου λόγος ἐστὶ τοῖς λυπουμένοις.

Menander, fr 930 (Full text on the Scaife viewer)

“It is sweet to die for the one who has not been permitted to live as he wished.”

ἡδύ γ’ ἀποθνῄσκειν ὅτῳ ζῆν μὴ πάρεσθ’ ὡς βούλεται.

Sophokles, Fr. 356 (Creusa)

“The most noble thing is to be just.
The best thing is to live without sickness; the sweetest is when
Someone has the ability to get what he wants each day.”

κάλλιστόν ἐστι τοὔνδικον πεφυκέναι,
λῷστον δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἄνοσον, ἥδιστον δ’ ὅτῳ
πάρεστι λῆψις ὧν ἐρᾷ καθ’ ἡμέραν

Democritus, fr. 69

“Truth and goodness are the same for all people. But what is sweet is different for different folks.”

ἀνθρώποις πᾶσι τωὐτὸν ἀγαθὸν καὶ ἀληθές· ἡδὺ δὲ ἄλλωι ἄλλο.

Archipelagos of Time: On the Song of the Sirens

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Eirini Vourloumis, The Mermaid Madonna, (2015), Onassis Cultural Center, Athens

Homer, Odyssey, 12.184-191, (trans. Emily Wilson) (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

‘Odysseus! Come here! You are well-known
from many stories! Glory of the Greeks!
Now stop your ship and listen to our voices.
All those who pass this way hear honeyed song,
poured from our mouths. The music brings them joy,
and they go on their way with greater knowledge,
since we know everything the Greeks and Trojans
suffered in Troy, by gods’ will; and we know
whatever happens anywhere on earth.’

‘δεῦρ᾽ ἄγ᾽ ἰών, πολύαιν᾽ Ὀδυσεῦ, μέγα κῦδος Ἀχαιῶν,
νῆα κατάστησον, ἵνα νωιτέρην ὄπ ἀκούσῃς.
οὐ γάρ πώ τις τῇδε παρήλασε νηὶ μελαίνῃ,
πρίν γ᾽ ἡμέων μελίγηρυν ἀπὸ στομάτων ὄπ᾽ ἀκοῦσαι,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε τερψάμενος νεῖται καὶ πλείονα εἰδώς.
ἴδμεν γάρ τοι πάνθ᾽ ὅσ᾽ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ
Ἀργεῖοι Τρῶές τε θεῶν ἰότητι μόγησαν,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, ὅσσα γένηται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ.

Traveling to and from islands is always, in a foundational narrative, a response to a search for origins, and finality, at the same time: “Islands are either from before or for after mankind […] Some islands drifted away from the continent, but the island is also that toward which one drifts; other islands originated in the ocean, but the island is also the origin, radical and absolute” (Deleuze, 2004). The second Homeric epic is a durational tale of the return of the hero to his home island of Ithaca, following the exploits of the Trojan War. While Odysseus was held for a year by the sorceress Circe on the mythical island Aeaea, she warned him about the song of the Sirens that he would encounter between Aeaea and the rock of Scylla: Whoever draws near their deadly song, he nevermore returns (Od. 12.36-54). He is advised to row past them, anointing the ears of his comrades with wax, and let them bind him to the mast of the vessel so that he may hear the voice of the two sirens and not come near them. But the survival tale of the hero leaves us wondering whether this isn’t one of the most cryptic passages in the epic.

In his first person account, Odysseus is unable to tell what it is exactly that he heard (Od. 12.180-194); it is a song without content, and the promise or threat of a song. The hero of the epic is fooling us into believing that he has heard a deadly song, and survived, rowing past the Sirens. The recital begins with the Iliadic expression πολύαιν᾽ Ὀδυσεῦ μέγα κῦδος Ἀχαιῶν (Il. 9.673; Il. 10.544, but esp. Il. 11.430 where he is faced with the possibility of death), “Odysseus, greatly praised, great glory of the Achaeans”, which appears nowhere else in the Odyssey. By re-introducing the militarism of the Iliad, the Sirens threaten Odysseus’ homecoming. This episode, however brief, has outlasted its importance in the diegesis of the Odyssey, and there’s an underlying contradiction that one cannot evade: “Since we know everything the Greeks and Trojans suffered in Troy, by gods’ will; and we know whatever happens anywhere on earth” is a flawed song and promise, for if they knew the future, they would have known that Odysseus sails on unmolested by their conditional offer.

The Sirens’ attempt to subvert time, expresses a desire to change the course of events not towards different historical events, but towards the one and single event: The endless repetition of the exploits of Troy. This temporal lacuna (a loss of vision) causes a rip in the texture of the Odysseic time-world, however minuscule and unsuccessful; according to the later account of Lycophron, the Sirens kill themselves after Odysseus escapes them (Lycophr. 1.712-716). This gap, a singularity, occurs as spatio-temporal remoteness: The Sirens know everything, except what is now present and visible. This remoteness is itself akin to an island – islands are unconnected. They represent a void in the continuity of the world, but also a last frontier that can be crossed, and yet a space without function: “Odysseus hears a voice without a story, and the audience a story without voice” (Schur, 2014). With these hypotactic metaphors in mind (void, island, breach, non-time), let’s travel to the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, where Odysseus made a brief stop en route from Troy to Ithaca (Od. 3.169).

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Eirini Vourloumis, The Mermaid Madonna, (2015), Onassis Cultural Center, Athens

“The islands of the blessed” (Μακἀρων νῆσοι) they were called – Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Cos, and Rhodes, because they were ruled by Macareus and his sons, or because of their enviable prosperity (Diod. 5.81-82), but Diodorus Siculus also tells us, in the 1st century BCE, that Lesbos had been inhabited in ancient times by many peoples, since it has been the scene of many migrations. After the Pelasgians perished in the flood of Deucalion, “It came to pass that Lesbos was also laid desolate by the deluge of the waters”. The rule of the Macarioi was just the first installment in an interminable history of conquest and resettlement of Lesbos, extending through the Mytilenian Debate (Thuc. 3.36-49), when the city-state of Mytilene attempted to revolt against Athenian hegemony, to the raising of the Greek flag in 1912, after the surrender of the Turks who ruled over it for over four hundred years. After the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922, Greek refugees arrived in droves from Anatolia and settled in the northern part of the island, as Ottoman Muslims from Greece were exiled in the opposite direction.

Sea-locked in Lesbos, separated from Turkey only by a narrow strait, these former refugees once upon a time called “intruders, people with no identity, trash” (Papadiamantis, 2005), and at a considerable distance from the Athenian hegemony of today, were themselves the first ones to receive the new wave of refugees from the Middle East and Africa since 2015, enduring once again, the perils of Homer’s wine-dark sea (Od. 5.349). In this reenactment of a perpetual deluge through the island, without knowing yet the final destination (if there’s one), memories of unresolved trauma pile beneath new ones, and the role of an island as the focal point of a discentered void, becomes accentuated. “The desert island is the material of this something immemorial, something profound” (Deleuze, 2004). It’s not necessary for an island to be uninhabited to become deserted, or to contain inner deserts: There are manifold possibilities for being sea-locked; the raft on the water, the refugee camp of Moria in northern Lesbos, places of quarantine, and then the entire island. Archipelagos of time, zones of exclusion, confinement, para-legality.    

In Wu Tsang’s collaborative video-installation slash parafiction One Emerging From a Point of View” (2019, Fast Forward Festival 6, Onassis Cultural Center, Athens), the artist presents a polyphonic tale on the topic of migration that resembles more an epic than a linear narrative: Far from the logic of a documentary, a series of overlapping characters tell time (rather than specific events) in Lesbos not unlike the Homeric sirens – self-description becomes identical with a narrated event, time is a promise. What is promised is a story about history, but in the end we are faced with the condition of being outside of historical time, stuck, suspended, sealocked and unprotected by the spaces of mutual appearances. Realistic fragments from the present-day journey of a migrant, journalistic observations of life inside this political cosmogony (there’s no inside/outside on the island world), and the fictional narration of Yassmine Flowers, a transgender woman from Morocco, who escapes from a king to become a ‘deep sea techno witch’, interweave into a thick montage of present, fresh ruins.

In this hybrid fantasy world, events might be separated by impassable boundaries, where the border is not the limit of an experience, but its fundamental category. These different narrations collide in the photographic work of Eirini Vourloumis (one of Tsang’s collaborators), where she documents the physical traces of previous and current journeys from the viewpoint of an archaeology of borderwork: Working against a distinction between material and human (Hicks & Mallet, 2019).

panagia
Παναγία η Γοργὀνα

The iconic orange inflatable lifesavers are piled on the shoreline, a raft approaches the coast at night, and the debris of a makeshift settlement, all serve as a testimony of the new arrivals, but the testimony isn’t a memory – the deluge is still taking place, it has never stopped taking place (inside of the void, there’s no history, just one single continuous event). The Mermaid Madonna” is based on the eponymous novel of Stratis Myrivilis, published in 1955, set against the background of the Asia Minor catastrophe, but centered around two interrelated mythological characters: Our Lady of the Mermaid, (Παναγιά η Γοργόνα), a small church perched on a rock in the village of Skala Sykamnias, and the girl-nereid Esmeralda.

Centuries of oral traditions, transmissions and depictions in the Aegean, have blurred the distinction between various female mythological creatures, naiads, nereids, sirens, muses, tritonites, gorgonas, associated often with dual bodies/nature; they exist on the margins or at the borders of possible foundations. According to tradition the church took its name from what Myrivilis calls the strangest Virgin Mary in Greece and in the whole of Christianity, an apocryphal mural by an unknown folk painter that presented the Virgin Mary with a mermaid’s tail (now as an icon in the church). Esmeralda’s origin on the other hand is no less fantastical: A girl that doesn’t appear in the plot of the novel until several chapters later; she was born with emerald green eyes – like the sea, and golden curly hair – like the sun, so that the women in the village wondered whether she had been mothered by a nereid: “Who has given you such beautiful curls, my beloved? Your mother the nereid must be! Since you were born from the stars, go and ask the sun, whether it’s him or you who shines the world.” 

church
Skala Sykamnias, church of the Lady Mermaid

Soon rumors around the dark powers of sirens, mermaids, nereids and muses began to circulate; a mythography around all the tragedies in Esmeralda’s life. Throughout the novel, the divine origin in the sea of Esmeralda is speculated, but she remains in the end like the Homeric sirens, unaccounted (Homer, always rich in adjectives, doesn’t offer a genealogy or even a description of the Sirens): “She anchored by the shadow of the rocks, then undressed completely and plunged into the water. Her body shone for a moment, illuminated by the moon, like an enormous golden fish, and then disappeared. The gorgona virgin, the young nereid, the deep sea techno witch, the migrant and the gaze of the photojournalist, all cross each other in Lesbos, but never encounter one another. “One Emerging from a Point of View” expresses the lost imaginary of the future, in which the Homeric siren song must be cut short: Completeness of knowledge, threatens the present. In the end, a new creature arises from the violent seas of the here and now: “This mermaid is Greece – half land, half sea”

WU TSANG-EIRINI VOURLOUMI-3933
Wu Tsang, “One Emerging from a Point of View” (2019), Onassis Cultural Center, Athens

The perplexing articulation of Tsang’s cinematic epic in Athens around the shrinking of historical time, was then augmented by an experimental theater piece, Thomas Bellinck’s speculative documentary “The Wild Hunt” (2019, Fast Forward Festival 6, Onassis Cultural Center, Athens) which begins with a reference to a painting by Romantic Scandinavian painter Peter Nicolai Arbo, “The Wild Hunt of Odin” (1872), recalling the Wild Hunt of Scandinavian folklore, a terrifying procession flinging across the skies during midwinter to abduct all those unfortunate who have been unable to find a hiding place. In this long audio performance (extending through hours, during which you only see the audible words projected on a screen), another sinister polyphony pieces together a portrait of today’s human hunt taking place throughout the Mediterranean, through snippets of dialogues in different languages between migrants, journalists, smugglers. The missing images of toil (the impossibility for Odysseus of sharing or reenacting the ephemeral sound of a deadly song) wrestle away from us the possibility of being shocked, and therefore, desensitized. 

NOR Åsgårdsreien, ENG The wild Hunt of Odin
The Wild Hunt, Peter Nicolai Arbo, (1872)

And the reality of this human hunt (humans have prices, markets, bidders), makes us question whether the typology of the island hasn’t erected itself as an entirely new politics? Archipelagos of time are those zones of enframing, confinement, enclosure, that exist outside an audible human world (where one is heard and can speak): Camp Moria and Camp de la Lande (in the Calais area of France) at the outermost borders of Europe. Who are those unfortunate who have been unable to find a hiding place? Roaming around the earth, these undesirables, are not fighting out only a conflict between a militaristic narrative and a homecoming, but rather, they have been abandoned by the Odyssey in the land of the Lotus eaters: “So they went straightway and mingled with the Lotus-eaters, and the Lotus-eaters did not plan death for my comrades, but gave them of the lotus to taste. And whosoever of them ate of the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no longer any wish to bring back word or to return, but there they were fain to abide among the Lotus-eaters, feeding on the lotus, and forgetful of their homeward way” (Od. 9.91-97).

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Thomas Bellinck, “The Wild Hunt” (2019), Onassis Cultural Center, Athens

It would be impossible today to discuss the structure of an emergency politics (the archipelago of time, the island, is the political condition of the exception, of the camp) without the Aristotelian sharp distinction between natural life and the polis (Aristot. Pol. 1.1252a.26-35), the demise of which is theorized by Agamben under the infamous concept of the state of exception: “When life and politics, originally divided, are linked together by means of the no man’s land of the state of exception that is inhabited by bare life -begin to become one, all life becomes sacred and all politics becomes the exception” (Agamben, 1998). Or, to put it more simply, the sovereign’s ability to commit crimes without suffering consequences: “Whoever entered the camp moved in a zone of indistinction between outside and inside, exception and rule, licit and illicit, in which the very concepts of subjective right and juridical protection no longer made any sense” (Agamben, 1998). On the island, those who have been gathered by Odin, exist in a different universe where they might not be killed, but they’re also not permitted to die.

This sacrality of life, Agamben informs us, is here fully decontextualized: “The principle of the sacredness of life has become so familiar to us that we seem to forget that classical Greece, to which we owe most of our ethico-political concepts, not only ignored this principle but did not even possess a term to express the complex semantic sphere that we indicate with the single term life” (Agamben, 1998). Out of this indistinction, where the traditional categories of friend and enemy that sustain classical political theory have been suspended, new forms of violence become possible in which what is traditionally called hostility, war, conflict, enmity, cruelty and hatred becomes here thus unidentifiable (Derrida, 2004). The camp, as the expression of the exception is a war without war: “To kill without bloodshed, with the help of new techniques, is perhaps already to accede to a world without war and without politics, to the inhumanity of a war without war” (Derrida, 2004). Agamben, in his fine construction, however, spins the tale as the natural outcome of Western metaphysics and this decline narrative must be abandoned at once.

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Thomas Bellinck, “The Wild Hunt” (2019), Onassis Cultural Center, Athens

Agamben’s willful oblivion of European imperialism brings us to a legal scholar to clarify the historical record. The state of exception didn’t rise out of Western metaphysics. It was in fact tried and tested by Europeans in their colonies, before it was shipped home and made to bear a constitutional face which is by no means exceptional, and thus destroys the traditional idea of colonialism as a period: “Colonialism is both place and process, a world-historical system that registers in different modes at different times” (Hussain, 2003). The island remains a liminal border of the colonial experience. Different colonial expeditions set sail not only towards inaccessible islands (Rufold Island in the Arctic) but also towards phantom islands: Islands that were previously recorded in maps and travelogues, but were found later not to exist. The exception of the camp is also a phantom island; it exists ghostly and outside cartography. The phantom island is also the story of the migrant stowaways on shipping vessels: a floating camp, bare life at sea, a site of radical difference (MacDonald, 2020).

What all these archipelagos of time share is actually the privation of time. Through dehumanizing borderwork (producing inside/outside border means to produce also illegality), impermanence becomes a form of transnational government and the bare life at sea (or on the desert, the island, the camp) articulates the interminability of colonial violence insofar as the permanence required to appear before others evaporates; the different languages of “The Wild Hunt” are inaudible gibberish without translation, just like the stuttering utterances of the deep sea techno witch, or in fact any inaudible story. Temporality is replaced with temporariness: The temporary becomes a space for politics, a time destroyed so quickly that it is perhaps shorter than the evénément (Hicks & Mallet, 2019).” Refugees are moved from place to place, their belongings destroyed, their institutionalization halted. But this privation of time isn’t simply by exclusion, it is also by reconfiguration: They’re condemned to exist in a time other than the timezone of modernity.

The everlasting present of this island functions as a geopolitics: “The temporal stasis that comes from the physical blockage arising from seeking asylum through irregular passage becomes the abhorrent condition of impermanence as abjection. Time is weaponized, as it was once before through Victorian savagery. But this now operates through the withdrawal of duration and the ongoing (post)colonial process of the imposition of different ages across different hemispheres” (Hicks & Mallet, 2019). As denizens of a global pandemic, we now know how difficult it is to sustain a world in which the fragility of human affairs isn’t mediated by our appearing together through sustained, mutual, acts of speech. The nature of human action is such, that as soon as the action ceases, so does the world. It was for example, in the Iliad, the factuality of public speech, of having a place where men can do battle with words, what guaranteed a truly political foundation (Barker & Christensen, 2013; Arendt, 1958). How do we inherit then Dan Hicks and Sarah Mallet’s notion of ‘giving time’ (back) as resistance to the threat of inaudible speech?

We must return here again to the Song of the Sirens and the opening Iliadic formula: πολύαιν᾽ Ὀδυσεῦ μέγα κῦδος Ἀχαιῶν (this time in the Wilson translation for clarity: ‘Odysseus! Come here! You are well-known from many stories! Glory of the Greeks!’). Invoking Odysseus as the πολύαινος (polyainos, full of wisdom and knowledge), the one of many deeds and praises from the Iliad, the tale of force (violence, bare life), becomes a challenge to the hero’s present ainoi, his speech acts: The goddess Athena celebrates him for being a cunning liar, “among mortal men, you’re far the best at tactics, spinning yarns, and I am famous among the gods for wisdom, cunning wiles, too” (Hom. Od. 13.324-39) His survival depends now solely on his capacity for storytelling and persuasion. Returning home for Odysseus, as the opening lines of the epic tell us (Hom. Od. 1.1-6), establishes a relation between his mind (noos) and his return (nostos), so that in returning home, he also saves his life and his mind, after “getting to know/see different ways.” Odysseus refuses to submit to the interminability of the song, the precarious eternity. 

The opening of the Odyssey already contains the answer to the Song of the Sirens: “Tell me about a complicated man. Muse, tell me  how he wandered and was lost when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy and where he went, and who he met, the pain he suffered in the storms at sea, and how he worked to save his life and bring his men back home.” (Hom. Od. 1.1-5) Odysseus is not only relating the life of the mind, his soul, to the life of the community, his return, but he is also a πολύτροπος (polytropos): One who could change in many different ways who he was, and who takes on many different forms, a man of many devices, a complicated man (in the Wilson translation). It speaks of the capacity to use stories as foundations, in order to emerge from a primeval void (Homer’s epics were also a break with previous master narratives).

Gregory Nagy’s interpretation of Odysseus’ homecoming highlights that this isn’t just any homecoming, but a return to light and life. In Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s video work Remember the Light (2016, Sharjah Art Foundation), men and women are submerged deeper and deeper underwater, and strange things happen to the spectrum of color – it narrows into disappearance: “Those men, this woman, seems then the echo of all those persons traveling through the sea without knowing their fate.” But something resurfaces then again towards the light, and the spectrum of light begins to magnify until the light is in full view. Lebanese Joana Hadjithomas, from a Greek family that sailed for Beirut after the Asia Minor catastrophe, still wonders how many more homecomings are possible: “What is forgotten, what remains and what can be imagined? And the truth may just be this: that in a time of monsters, in which ‘the old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth’, the only thing that can bring us out of the darkness is the light of love, beauty, poetry” (Muller, 2006). 

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Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Remember the Light, (2016)
“I’ve stared at beauty too much”, Cavafy tells us in one of his poems. The scene has changed from Athens to Beirut. In Hadjithomas and Joreige’s video, “I’ve Stared at Beauty So Much: Waiting for the Barbarians” (2013), in reference to Cavafy: “Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come. / And some of our men just in from the border say / There are no barbarians any longer”, we see Beirut from the skies, overlapping realities, myths, we are confused, the view is blurred, and yet remains possible at the same time. As I wrote in 2014 about their lecture performance “An Additional Continent”: “For Hadjithomas and Joreige it is necessary not only to remember the past, but also to reinvent it as if it had never happened before. Hadjithomas insists that to re-stage is to re-start. They want to reframe the question of political foundations as a problem of culture (or of civilization). How to start something anew? How to be reinvented in uncertainty? How to live without foundations? And by foundation we meant the act of founding a body politic, a human community, a political stage.” Dialogue is the possibility of geography, the possibility of (again) time; but these conversations take a very long time, perhaps all the available time.

And then what does poetry have to do with the gift of time, in its practical implications? How is it possible to conflate the travels of Odysseus with the plight of unnamed migrants stranded and even lost at sea? Because the Odyssey functions as a master narrative, a self-contained universe, it allows us today to wonder at a time when we’re ourselves temporarily exiled from access to the immediacy of time (during a pandemic), whether this being lost at sea, as a political cosmology, isn’t growing between us as a new foundational narrative and a possible new world, even more violent than the old one.

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Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, An Additional Continent, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, (2014)

We should read this time the return to Ithaca against Cavafy, “To arrive there is your final destination. But do not rush the voyage in the least. Better it last for many years […]”, for we no longer want to delay time once it has been wrestled from our hands, and especially from their hands, into the evénément of the unexceptional exception of bare life at sea. But yet we will read it with Christos Ikonomou, from his collection of short stories “Good Will Come from the Sea” (2014): “In which land we are to live, I wonder, us and those who’ll come after us? In a country that will exist because it hates and is afraid? And I want to believe in something. I want to believe, okay? […] To know that something doesn’t exist and to believe in it – I think this is the only salvation left to us. Because if you believe in something that doesn’t exist, who knows, one day it could be born.” The procedure is simple; consciousness of limit, fragility, finitude, and only here, no other, distant worlds (Heller, 1993). The final word rests with Odysseus, in his address to the goddess Athena:

But even so, I want to go back home,
And every day I hope that the day will come.
If some god strikes me on the wine-dark sea,
I will endure it. By now I am used
To suffering – I have gone through so much,
At sea and in the war. Let this come too.

ἀλλὰ καὶ ὧς ἐθέλω καὶ ἐέλδομαι ἤματα πάντα
οἴκαδέ τ’ ἐλθέμεναι καὶ νόστιμον ἦμαρ ἰδέσθαι.
εἰ δ’ αὖ τις ῥαίῃσι θεῶν ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
τλήσομαι ἐν στήθεσσιν ἔχων ταλαπενθέα θυμόν·
ἤδη γὰρ μάλα πολλὰ πάθον καὶ πολλὰ μόγησα
κύμασι καὶ πολέμῳ· μετὰ καὶ τόδε τοῖσι γενέσθω.

Homer, Odyssey, 5.219-224, (trans. Emily Wilson)

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Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, “I’ve Stared at Beauty So Much: Waiting for the Barbarians”, (2013), commissioned by the Onassis Cultural Center, Visual Dialogues

Bibliography:

  • Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics, 1998
  • Arie Amaya-Akkermans, “Why Eternity is so Precarious?”, Hyperallergic, 2014
  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, 1958
  • Elton T.E. Barker & Joel Christensen, Homer: A Beginner’s Guide, Oneworld Publications, 2013
  • Michael Bull, Sirens: The Study of Sound, Bloomsbury, 2020
  • Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974, Semiotext(e), 2004
  • Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, Verso, 2005
  • Lillian Eileen Doherty, “Sirens, Muses and Female Narrators in the Odyssey”, in The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer’s Odyssey, ed. Beth Cohen, Oxford University Press, 1995 
  • Margalit Finkelberg (ed.), The Homer Encyclopedia, vol. 3, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011
  • Agnes Heller, A Philosophy of History in Fragments, Wiley-Blackwell, 1993
  • Dan Hicks & Sarah Mallet, Lande: The Calais Jungle and Beyond, Bristol University Press, 2019
  • Nasser Hussain, The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of the Law, University of Michigan Press, 2003
  • Megan C. MacDonald, “Bare Life at Sea (the Leper and the Plague)” in Biotheory: Life and Death under Capitalism, ed. Jeffrey R. Di Leo & Peter Hitchcock, Routledge, 2020
  • Nat Muller, “Beauty in a Time of Monsters” in Two Suns in a Sunset: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Koenig Books, 2016 
  • Pedro Jesús Molina Muñoz, “La imagen de la Sirena en la obra de Stratis Myribilis, La Virgen Sirena”, in Identidades Femeninas en un Mundo Plural, ed. Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos, AUDEM, 2009
  • Gregory Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Harvard University Press, 2013, online.
  • Αλέξανδρος Παπαδιαμάντης, «Τραγούδια του Θεού», Άπαντα, κριτική έκδ. Ν. Δ. Τριανταφυλλόπουλος, Αθήνα, Δόμος, 2005
  • Pietro Pucci, “The Song of the Sirens”, Arethusa, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Fall 1979)
  • David Schur, “The Silence of Homer’s Sirens”, Arethusa, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Winter 2014) 
  • Emily L. Shields, “Lesbos in the Trojan War”, The Classical Journal, Vol. 13, No. 9 (June 1918)

Acknowledgments to the people who through their suggestions and conversations in the past year contributed to this essay: Arca Alpan, Katia Arfara, Gregory Buchakjian, Joel Christensen, Musab Daud, Maria Eliades, Sofia Georgiadou, Joana Hadjithomas, Dan Hicks. 

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He’s also tweeting about Classics, continental philosophy, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece.

The Body as A Cloak for the Soul

Plato, Phaedo 89b-e

“Why, therefore, the reasoning would go, do you still not believe it when you see that the weaker part still exists after the person has died? Doesn’t it seem to you necessary that the part which lasts long should be preserved still in this time? Think about this when you consider what I am saying. Like Simmias, I guess, I need some kind of an analogy.

It seems to me as if someone is saying similar things when he makes the comparison of an old weaver who has died. He claims that the man is not dead, but is still somewhere safe somehow because he can provide as proof a cloak which the man wove himself and was wearing and is still safe and has not perished. And if someone were skeptical at this, he would ask whether a human being lives longer than a cloak which was used and worn and the when he answered that human beings last longer than cloaks in general, he would think he had proved that the person remains sound since the shorter-lived thing had not withered.

This, Simmias, I do not think is true. Think about what I am saying. Everyone would imagine that it is stupid when someone says this. For this weaver, although he has worn out and then woven many of these kinds of cloaks, died and disappeared long after they did when there were many of them. But he did not before the last one. Even in this the person is no weaker or less complex than the cloak.

I think that the soul responds to the same analogy and anyone who said the same things about it would seem sensible to me. The soul is longer-lived, and the body is weaker and has less time. But if you were to say that each soul wears out many bodies, or something else if it has many years—since the body wears out and could be ruined while the person still lives, but the soul could always reweave what gets worn out—whenever the soul perishes, it would the be necessary for it to have taken on its final garment and to perish before only this one. Once the soul dies then, the body would display the nature of its weakness and disappear by rotting quickly.”

 τί οὖν, ἂν φαίη ὁ λόγος, ἔτι ἀπιστεῖς, ἐπειδὴ ὁρᾷς ἀποθανόντος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τό γε ἀσθενέστερον ἔτι ὄν; τὸ δὲ πολυχρονιώτερον οὐ δοκεῖ σοι ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι ἔτι σῴζεσθαι ἐν τούτῳ τῷ χρόνῳ; πρὸς δὴ τοῦτο τόδε ἐπίσκεψαι, εἴ τι λέγω· εἰκόνος γάρ τινος, ὡς ἔοικεν, κἀγὼ ὥσπερ Σιμμίας δέομαι. ἐμοὶ γὰρ δοκεῖ ὁμοίως λέγεσθαι | ταῦτα ὥσπερ ἄν τις περὶ ἀνθρώπου ὑφάντου πρεσβύτου ἀποθανόντος λέγοι τοῦτον τὸν λόγον, ὅτι οὐκ ἀπόλωλεν ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἀλλ’ ἔστι που σῶς, τεκμήριον δὲ παρέχοιτο θοιμάτιον ὃ ἠμπείχετο αὐτὸς ὑφηνάμενος ὅτι ἐστὶ σῶν καὶ οὐκ ἀπόλωλεν, καὶ εἴ τις ἀπιστοίη αὐτῷ, ἀνερωτῴη πότερον πολυχρονιώτερόν ἐστι τὸ γένος ἀνθρώπου ἢ ἱματίου ἐν χρείᾳ τε ὄντος καὶ φορουμένου, ἀποκριναμένου δή ὅτι πολὺ τὸ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, οἴοιτο ἀποδεδεῖχθαι ὅτι παντὸς ἄρα μᾶλλον ὅ γε ἄνθρωπος σῶς ἐστιν, | ἐπειδὴ τό γε ὀλιγοχρονιώτερον οὐκ ἀπόλωλεν. τὸ δ’ οἶμαι, ὦ Σιμμία, οὐχ οὕτως ἔχει· σκόπει γὰρ καὶ σὺ ἃ λέγω. πᾶς ἂν ὑπολάβοι ὅτι εὔηθες λέγει ὁ τοῦτο λέγων· ὁ γὰρ ὑφάντης οὗτος πολλὰ κατατρίψας τοιαῦτα ἱμάτια καὶ ὑφηνάμενος ἐκείνων μὲν ὕστερος ἀπόλωλεν πολλῶν ὄντων, τοῦ δὲ τελευταίου οἶμαι πρότερος, καὶ οὐδέν τι μᾶλλον τούτου ἕνεκα ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν ἱματίου φαυλότερον οὐδ’ ἀσθενέστερον. τὴν αὐτὴν δὲ ταύτην οἶμαι εἰκόνα δέξαιτ’ ἂν ψυχὴ πρὸς σῶμα, καί τις λέγων αὐτὰ ταῦτα περὶ αὐτῶν μέτρι’ ἄν μοι φαίνοιτο λέγειν, | ὡς ἡ μὲν ψυχὴ πολυχρόνιόν ἐστι, τὸ δὲ σῶμα ἀσθενέστερον καὶ ὀλιγοχρονιώτερον· ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἂν φαίη ἑκάστην τῶν ψυχῶν πολλὰ σώματα κατατρίβειν, ἄλλως τε κἂν πολλὰ ἔτη βιῷ—εἰ γὰρ ῥέοι τὸ σῶμα καὶ ἀπολλύοιτο ἔτι ζῶντος τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ἀλλ’ ἡ ψυχὴ ἀεὶ τὸ κατατριβόμενον ἀνυφαίνοι—ἀναγκαῖον μεντἂν εἴη, ὁπότε ἀπολλύοιτο ἡ ψυχή, τὸ τελευταῖον ὕφασμα τυχεῖν αὐτὴν ἔχουσαν καὶ τούτου μόνου προτέραν ἀπόλλυσθαι, ἀπολομένης δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς τότ’ ἤδη τὴν φύσιν τῆς ἀσθενείας ἐπιδεικνύοι | τὸ σῶμα καὶ ταχὺ σαπὲν διοίχοιτο.

Hieronymous Bosch, “Christ in Limbo”