Parenting While Teaching Greek Badly

This week Eidolon started a special series on “Parenting and Classics”. I thought about submitting a proposal when they put out a call for this subject, but I was too busy finishing a book and spending the waning days of summer with my children. When I read Donna Zuckerberg’s moving series of impressions of learning to be a parent and a writer in “This is How I have It All“, I remembered those earlier days of parenting with both fondness and frustration. And Jason Nethercut’s piece “Her Absence is Like the Sky”, reflecting on the loss of his mother, took me back to how I found comfort in reading and teaching the Odyssey after my father passed.

I am interested to see what others write in this series because my life has been defined over the past decade by being a parent and a Classicist. And, for me, there have been ways in which playing these two roles has made me better at both. I re-learned wonder and patience from parenting–so much so that students who had me before I became a father noted the difference in the way I paced classes and engaged with students.

I also think that what Eidolon is doing with this series is critical. As ‘scholars’ we often assume a falsely objective pose that denies we inhabit experiences and bodies which shape the way we see the world. Being a parent as a fact and a process shapes us critically as readers, writers and teachers. And classicists with children occupy a wide range of positions in the precarious academic economy.

Euripides, Supp. 1101-2

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

πατρὶ δ᾽ οὐδὲν †ἥδιον† / γέροντι θυγατρός

I also hesitated to submit a proposal to Eidolon because I feel guilty about claiming much credit or authority for my story. I have been really lucky in my career and exceptionally fortunate to meet a life partner before graduate school who has been a constant and positive presence for over 20 years. Like most couples of our generation, my wife and I have a two-career household. One of us is a dentist and works year round, earning considerably more than the other. Dentistry is a physically demanding job; being a professor gets us good health insurance. On paper, this is a sweet deal.

In real life, however, we often face gendered questions about parenting from friends, family members, colleagues and our children’s teachers. Even though my wife is the one with the Ivy-league credentials and the social cache of being a ‘real’ doctor, expectations still weigh more heavily on her as a mother: she is expected to be the primary parent. But given the demands of our jobs and the eminently flexible schedule I have, this is not how it works.

Early on when our daughter was 2 months old or so, we had that conversation most couples do in the deep AM. It was definitely my wife’s turn to get up and tend to the infant. When I mentioned this, she said “if I am too tired when I go to work tomorrow and make a mistake, I can paralyze someone’s face. What’s the worst that you can do, teach Greek badly?”

One of the reasons I always found being a teacher attractive is that it is one of the few careers that lets us be parents. I always knew I wanted to have children and when I thought about other careers I couldn’t imagine that all of the sacrifice of time and human experience was worth the money they paid.

Euripides, Fr. 685 (Phaedra)

“Children are the anchors of a mother’s life”

ἀλλ’ εἰσὶ μητρὶ παῖδες ἄγκυραι βίου

As our children have grown older, parenting has been less about getting up in the middle of the night and more about actually thinking about how these little beings are developing. My own work as a classicist has been deeply affected by this process because it has led me to think more about cognitive development, education, and how the stories we tell shape us.

About a month ago my daughter (7, now 8) tried to jump from a dresser to a bed and missed. She lacerated her leg 5 inches long and down to the bone. The wound had trouble healing and it took almost four weeks and several visits with plastic surgeons to get it closed and all the stitches out

I told her the scar gives her character and told her the story of Odysseus and the boar, how the scar he won as a child became the marker of who he was and the beginning of his famous story.

I also told her that some people think that the Roman name Ulysses may be related to the Greek word for scar (oulê) and that who he is was tied to this mark on his body. Now she sees the scar as something that is uniquely hers as something that marks her out as special, as giving her her own story.

Arsenius 12.42a

“Whatever love you bear for your parents expect the same kind in old age from your children”

Οἵους ἂν ἐράνους ἐνέγκῃς τοῖς γονεῦσι, τούτους αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ γήρᾳ παρὰ τῶν παίδων προσδέχου Πιττακοῦ.

It is hard to write about being a parent while being a classicist without also acknowledging the extent to which my ability to do so and my experience of doing so is marked by privilege. As a man, I get to be a parent without undergoing the primary physical and emotional labor of pregnancy and birth. I also avoid nearly all the secondary labor of recovery and social/emotional stigma of going back to work and not being an ideal mother. What has been clear to me for a long time has been backed up by research—men in the workplace earn social and economic capital from having children while women lose it. This is equally true in the University where men are expected to do less service and get more of a pass for attending to parenting.

The gendered structure of our society lingers with us individually and shapes our institutions. When I bring my children to a meeting or to a class, people smile and think what a good father I am. And I do often get questions about what my spouse is doing. Women in the same position, however, receive fewer smiles and rarely a question about why a partner is not available for childcare.

Euripides, Suppliant Women, 913-917

“For even an infant learns to speak
And listen to things he has no understanding of.
Whatever someone learns, he wants to save
For old age. So, teach your children well.”

..εἴπερ καὶ βρέφος διδάσκεται
λέγειν ἀκούειν θ᾿ ὧν μάθησιν οὐκ ἔχει.
ἃ δ᾿ ἂν μάθῃ τις, ταῦτα σῴζεσθαι φιλεῖ
ἐς γῆρας. οὕτω παῖδας εὖ παιδεύετε.

So, for me, talking about being a parent and a professor is over-determined. I ‘win’ if I talk about it; I win if I don’t. Yes, I am a primary caregiver; yes being a professor is mostly a full time job. But I am privileged again because I have never been outside the tenure track and was already in a secure position vis a vis tenure when we had our first child. I have had to be bad at my job at times to be an acceptable parent; I have often been a mediocre parent in order to be competent at my job. The two worlds I inhabit are always intersecting and overlapping. But this is the type of life I wanted.

In all the talk of the casualization of academic labor and the lives the majority of our PhDs are given to live, we do not acknowledge enough that there is a human cost in lives foreclosed. A generation of PhDs in precarious financial and social positions face difficult and sometimes impossible choices when it comes to starting and raising families.

Seneca, EM 3.3 (24)

“What you see happen to children happens to us, too, who are but slightly greater children.”

quod vides accidere pueris, hoc nobis quoque maiusculis pueris evenit.

I don’t really know where I meant to end up when I started writing this. I am really, really happy to be a parent and almost equally so to actually have a career as a classicist. I am often exhausted and I find myself sometimes anxious that I am not doing either thing equally well, but I know that my experiences in each have enriched my enjoyment of the other.

My lament is that we do not endeavor as a society and in the academy to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to live both lives fully. There are hundreds of changes we as a society need to make, such as guaranteeing paid maternity leave (longer than 8 weeks by at least 42 more), providing universal health care, universal early childhood care for parents who choose to go to work, and universal pre-k nationwide. We cannot be a nation that cares about families while also legislating to punish (non-wealthy) people who choose to have them.

Many of these needs are outside our influence in the academy. But we can do more in our home institutions. We need more support for adjunct labor and graduate students who have families (or, let’s do away with adjunct labor in general and just pay college teachers living wages). We need childcare centers on all campuses for students, staff and faculty. We need to treat our staff with the same dignity we treat our faculty. We need to be models of the fully lived and enlightened lives we think the humanities can guide us to live.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.218-227

“Why does nature nourish and increase the races
of horrible beasts, enemies to humankind on land and sea?
Why do the seasons of the year bring diseases?
Why does an early death come suddenly?
So a child, just like a shipwrecked man tossed by savage waves,
lies naked and speechless on the ground needing everything required
to support life at the very moment when nature pours him
from his mother’s womb into the world of light,
he fills the room with a sorrowful wail, as if he knows
the measure of troubles that still remain for him to endure in life.”

praeterea genus horriferum natura ferarum
humanae genti infestum terraque marique
cur alit atque auget? cur anni tempora morbos
adportant? quare mors inmatura vagatur?
tum porro puer, ut saevis proiectus ab undis
navita, nudus humi iacet infans indigus omni
vitali auxilio, cum primum in luminis oras
nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit,
vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut aequumst
cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum.

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Children make a new friend at Delphi Museum.

The Difference of A Year: Some Links to Classicists Fighting the Good Fight Online

As Classicists we like to focus on the long view of history and to see ourselves in the deeper and stronger currents of time. But if we are honest, we know that we are equally, if not more, shaped by the eddies of our own day and its current events.

The increase in publicly pronounced and tolerated–if not also valorized–racism over the past few years has been shocking to many, although perhaps not to our friends and family who have faced bigotry their entire lives. The most recent year especially has seen a casualization of the rhetoric and political action of the far right in a way I once thought impossible.

Media outlets feed on the extreme voices because they don’t know how to report the news in the modern world. They have a vested financial interest in observing if not perpetuating the controversy. As a result, voices that spew ignorance and hate get more notice than they merit and they can do more harm in causing trauma to those who are marginalized already and, as part of their design, attracting the ignorant, insane or hopeless to their ideas.

When we started this blog, I never imagined I would spend so much time arguing with Nazis online or writing about politics. Last year, following events in Charlottesville, we did both: defending writing about Classics and politics, dismissing charges of political correctness as a tone policing act of the status quo, defending the humanities against conservative attacks, and, recently, arguing that the voices that reject literary theory are also those who align with conservative viewpoints.

Part of this has come from responding to current events, but it has also been inspired by hate speech directed our way. Last year, a week after the Charlottesville event, we received a comment accusing us of supporting “white genocide” or being a “Jewish supremacist”. The antisemitic harassment online has been fairly consistent since; as has a struggle over what it means to be a Classicist.

If we have responded haphazardly and sometimes reactively, we have also been inspired by dozens of other who are doing braver and more rigorous work to question the boundaries of our discipline, the voices within it, and its historical meanings. So, today, if you are feeling shocked or sick at media coverage, take a break and look at the critical work being done by the Classics Community online.

The work of these students, scholars and friends has been inspiring, edifying, and comforting over the past year.

 

Sarah Teets’ fine piece in Eidolon, Classical Slavery and Jeffersonian Racism

Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s talk on White Supremacy and Classics Scholarship or “On nationalisms Classical Antiquity, and Our Inhumanity” or On Genetics and Ancient Greeks, or on “Blood & Soil”

Pretty much everything Pharos and Curtis Dozier has done over the past year

John Bracey’s exploration of “Why Students of Color Don’t take Latin

Dan-El Padilla Peralta’s “The Colorblind Bard” discussion

Denise Eileen McCoskey’s post on Racist Use of DNA in work on Classical Antiquity

Brandeis Student Helen Wong’s reflections on being a student of color studying classics

Yung In Chae’s “White People Explain Classics to Us

Sarah Bond’s analysis of the Modern Romance with Sparta

The fine work of Sportula to raise microgrants for students pursuing Classical Studies

The work of Classics and Social Justice

Daniel Walden’s “Dismantling the West”

Podcasts from The Endless Knot and Scott Lepisto’s Itinera, which tells the stories of a diverse range of classicists

The public advocacy of Matthew Sears against hatred and ignorance

Mathura Umachandran’s analysis of Fragility in Classics (and, today is as good a day as any to read Robin DiAngelo’s article that defines and explains white fragility).

A little  outside of Classics, but still important, many posts from Everyday Orientalism

Image result for GIF punching nazi

Image result for indiana jones punching nazi GIF

 

“The Equal of Living Heroes”: Sparta’s Counterfeit Myth

Plutarch, Apophthegmata Lakonica 225 c11-12

“When Xerxes wrote again, “send me your weapons”, [Leonidas] wrote back, “Come and take them”

Πάλιν δὲ τοῦ Ξέρξου γράψαντος ‘πέμψον τὰ ὅπλα’, ἀντέγραψε ‘μολὼν λαβέ.’

The remarkable and tireless Dr. Sarah Bond has composed a piece for Eidolon  about the appropriation of Spartan iconography and values in the modern world (“This Is Not Sparta: Why the Modern Romance with Sparta is a Bad One”). If you live in Europe, the coasts in the US or some other blissful bubble, you may be unaware of the fact that the motto μολὼν λαβέ now adorns weapons and military gear of all kinds and is a favorite of certain right-wing political affiliations.

(When people hear I teach ancient Greek and tell me they love Sparta, I take the same deep breath I take when others ask about ‘Ancient Aliens’ or Atlantis. ‘Sparta’ is a production of modern culture as much as ancient. Every time I have taught the Peloponnesian War I found myself hoping it might turn out different this time…)

Dr. Bond does a great job out outlining the sordid modern history of the appropriation of Spartan ideals. But she is especially good at pointing out “A problematic area for valorizing the Spartans lies not only in quoting their famously short (and often witty) turns of phrase and turning them into bumper stickers, but rather in also looking to the Hellenistic culture as a socio-political model for our own society.

In addition to the eugenics, racism, and fascism at home on this constellation of beliefs, there is this: Sparta was a militarized state which enslaved its neighbors and produced little of worth for the world beyond a mythologized memory of a great fighting force.

When it comes to everything else for which we prize ancient Greece, Sparta was terribly and completely deficient. Tragedy, Epic poetry, lyric poetry, visual art, vases, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science, history, rhetoric, everything Western cultural chauvinist champion about the ‘Greek miracle’* developed every where else in Greece.

Read Bond’s piece. It is a good one. Also, Neville Morely’s post on the use of Sparta by the far right is also a must-read.

And, here are some selections from Spartan ‘culture’.

*These are scare quotes. Even as a Hellenist I do not believe in this terminology. I find it ironic, however, that those who do still cleave to the example of Sparta which is, in many ways, antithetical to ‘core Western values’.

Sparta left some martial poetry. It is, well, uninspiring.

Tyrtaeus, Fr. 10.1-2

“It is a fine thing when a noble man falls
In the first ranks while struggling for his country.”

τεθνάμεναι γὰρ καλὸν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι πεσόντα
ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν περὶ ἧι πατρίδι μαρνάμενον·

Tytaeus, fr. 11.5-8

“Make your life hateful and make the dark fates
Of death as dear as the rays of the sun.
For you know the destructive deeds of much-wept Ares
And you have learned well the fury of fierce war.”

ἐχθρὴν μὲν ψυχὴν θέμενος, θανάτου δὲ μελαίνας
κῆρας αὐγαῖς ἠελίοιο φίλας.
ἴστε γὰρ ὡς ῎Αρεος πολυδακρύου ἔργ’ ἀΐδηλα,
εὖ δ’ ὀργὴν ἐδάητ’ ἀργαλέου πολέμου

Callinus 1. 12-21

“There’s no way for a man to avoid death once it is fated,
Not even if he is a descendant of the immortal gods.
Often when someone has fled strife and the din of spears
Death’s fate will find him at home.
The unsteady man isn’t dear to the people or longed for,
They grieve for him a little even if he suffers something great.
But the whole host misses a strong-hearted man when he dies
A man the equal of living heroes.
They look at him like a tower before their eyes_
He does work of many though he is just one.”

οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ’, οὐδ’ εἰ προγόνων ἦι γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ’ οἴκωι μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου,
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμωι φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός
τὸν δ’ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας ἤν τι πάθηι·
λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

The most famous epigram associated with Sparta was not composed by a Spartan:

Simonides, Epigram (Greek Anthology,7.249): An Epitaph at Thermopylae

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

Aelian, 13.19

“Cleomenes the Laconian asserted—in the manner of Spartans—that Homer was a Spartan poet because he spoke about the right way to go to war and that Hesiod was the Helot’s poet, since he talks about how best to farm.”

῎Ελεγεν ὁ Κλεομένης Λακωνικῶς κατὰ τὸν ἐπιχώριον τρόπον τὸν ῞Ομηρον Λακεδαιμονίων εἶναι ποιητήν, ὡς χρὴ πολεμεῖν λέγοντα· τὸν δὲ ῾Ησίοδον τῶν Εἱλώτων, λέγοντα ὡς χρὴ γεωργεῖν.

Some Sayings Attributed to Spartans in the Gnomologicum Vaticanum

69 “When Agesilaos was asked by someone why Sparta was unwalled he said “don’t lie. It is walled not by stones but by its occupants’ excellence.”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἐρωτηθεὶς ὑπό τινος, διὰ τί ἀτείχιστός ἐστιν ἡ Σπάρτη, „μὴ ψεύδου”, ἔφη, „τετείχισται γάρ, οὐ λίθοις, ἀλλὰ ταῖς τῶν <ἐνοικούντων ἀρεταῖς>”.

394 “When a Spartan man was asked why the Spartans have small spears he said “because they fight close to the enemy”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ ἐρωτώμενος διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι μικρὰ ἔχουσι τὰ ἐγχειρίδια εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἐγγύθεν τοῖς πολεμίοις μάχονται”.

396 “To someone asking why Spartans foster brevity of speech, a Spartan man said “because it is closest to silence”

Λάκων ἀνὴρ πρὸς τὸν εἰπόντα αὐτῷ· „διὰ τί οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν βραχυλογίαν ἀσκοῦσιν;” εἶπεν· „ὅτι ἔγγιστά ἐστι τοῦ σιωπᾶν”.

Sayings Attributed to Spartan Women, 568-576

“When a Spartan woman was speaking to her son who had been crippled in battle and was depressed because of that she said “don’t be sad, child—for each step recalls your private virtue”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει χωλωθέντος καὶ δυσφοροῦντος ἐπὶ τούτῳ „τέκνον”, εἶπε, „μὴ λυποῦ· καθ’ ἕκαστον γὰρ βῆμα τῆς ἰδίας <ἀρετῆς ὑπομνησθήσῃ.”>

“A Spartan woman said of her son who was thankful that he was the only one to survive a battle-line “why aren’t you ashamed that you’re the only one alive?”

Λάκαινα γυνὴ σεμνυνομένου τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς ἐπὶ τῷ μόνον ἐκ τῆς παρατάξεως σεσῶσθαι ἔφη· „τί οὖν οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ μόνος ζῶν;”

“When a Spartan woman heard that her son died in the battle line she said “Child, you paid your country back well for your upbringing.”

Γυνὴ Λάκαινα ἀκούσασα τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς ἐν παρατάξει τεθνηκέναι „τέκνον”, εἶπεν, „ὡς καλὰ τροφεῖα τῇ πατρίδι ἀπέδωκας!”

Image result for ancient Greek spartan shield

Using The Ancient World to Think about Leadership

In a class of mine this semester on Leadership in the Ancient World, students were asked to work in groups for their final project and to use some inspiration from ancient literature and history to develop approaches to teaching about leadership.

The project had few other instructions besides that; and the students developed some entertaining and fabulous final products.

One group, inspired by Homer and discussions of the metaphor of “shepherd of the host”, created a Jenga Challenge–they asked groups of students around campus to designate a leader and complete a giant Jenga task in exchange for cookies. I would tell you more, but the video tells it all.

Another group of students, inspired by decision-making scenes in the Odyssey made a choose your own adventure comic book based on the scene in Polyphemos’ cave. The site Pixton has the digital version, but the paper edition is amazing.

choose your own

Another group banded together and started a website called HomerandHomies where they are sharing their own stories, experiments, interviews and thoughts about the ancient world and leadership.  Any summary here fails to describe their work.

Some highlights include: an analysis of the Beatles’ leadership issues informed by the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon; A piece of fiction about a football team based on Odysseus’ struggles to get home; leadership advice from that wily hero Himself; and a debate about education modeled on Plato’s Lesser Hippias..

To all readers, check out these projects.  To my students, I cannot express my gratitude for a wonderful semester.