Divine Truth and Mortal Belief

Parmenides, Fr. D4

“Greetings! No evil fate sent you to journey
By this road—for indeed it is far off from mortal paths—
But it was Law and Justice. You need to learn everything:
Both the immovable heart of persuasive Truth
And the beliefs of mortals which have no true faith.
But you should also learn these things too: how beliefs
Must be credible because they pervade all things.”

χαῖρ’, ἐπεὶ οὔτι σε μοῖρα κακὴ προὔπεμπε νέεσθαι
τήνδ’ ὁδόν (ἦ γὰρ ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων ἐκτὸς πάτου ἐστίν),
ἀλλὰ Θέμις τε Δίκη τε. χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι
ἠμὲν Ἀληθείης εὐπειθέος ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ
ἠδὲ βροτῶν δόξας, ταῖς οὐκ ἔνι πίστις ἀληθής.
ἀλλ’ ἔμπης καὶ ταῦτα μαθήσεαι, ὡς τὰ δοκοῦντα
χρῆν δοκίμως εἶναι διὰ παντὸς πάντα *περῶντα.

*περῶντα also appears as περ ὄντα. This variant reading might mean something like “even when they are completely true”.

This passage with its reference to the isolated path and the distinction between mortal belief and immortal truth reminds me of Hesiod:

Theogony 26-28

“Rustic shepherds, wretched reproaches, nothing but bellies,
We know how to say many lies similar to the truth
And we know how to speak the truth when we want to.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Elsewhere on this blog and in forthcoming work I explore this as the difference between coherence and correspondence in memory. Here it seems clearly to be on the surface a difference between mortal and divine ways of seeing. These domains do not cancel each other out….

Busto di Parmenide.jpg
Bust of Parmenides from Wikimedia Commons

Make A Seating Plan for Your Holiday Feast, Unless Simonides is Coming…

Ancient memory techniques go back to oratorical training in theory, but in practice probably much further back in human history. Philostratus records the reputation of Dionysius of Miletus and his “memory-men”. But one of the most easily abused and likely misunderstood method from the ancient world is the “memory palace” (or “method of loci“), made famous by Cicero, but credited to the lyric poet Simonides.

Cicero De Oratore 2.352–355

“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrate named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.

A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and sAW no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins and died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.

From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”

Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse.  Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.

thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!

 

Image result for ancient greek memory palace medieval giulio camillo
This stuff is still popular: The Memory Theater of Guilio Camillo

Dinners: Invitations and Guest-Lists for the Feasts

P. Oxy. 1485.

“The Exegete would love for you to dine today, the ninth day, at the temple of Demeter at the seventh hour”

Ἐρωτᾷ σαι διπν[ῆ-]σαι ὁ ἐξηγητὴ[ς] ἐν τῷ Δημητρίῳ σήμερον ἥτις ἐσ-τὶν θ ἀπὸ ὥρ(ας) ζ.

Here’ the beginning of Plutarch’s The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men to make you reconsider your guest-list for thanksgiving.

Moralia 146: Dinner of the Seven Wise Men

“Nikarkhos, I guess that as time passes by it will impose a great darkness over events and total obscurity if even false accounts of what has just happened have belief. For, there was not a dinner of only seven men as you have heard, but there were more than twice as many—among whom I was present, since I was Periander’s friend thanks to my profession and a guest-friend of Thales who stayed at my home after Periander told him to.

Whoever it was who informed you of the events did not recall the speeches correctly—it is likely he was not one of the guests. But since I have a lot of free time and old age is too uncertain a thing to justify putting off the tale, I will tell you the entire story from the beginning which you are so eager to hear.”

Ἦ που προϊὼν ὁ χρόνος, ὦ Νίκαρχε, πολὺ σκότος ἐπάξει τοῖς πράγμασι καὶ πᾶσαν ἀσάφειαν, εἰ νῦν ἐπὶ προσφάτοις οὕτω καὶ νεαροῖς λόγοι ψευδεῖς συντεθέντες ἔχουσι πίστιν. οὔτε γὰρ μόνων, ὡς ὑμεῖς ἀκηκόατε, τῶν ἑπτὰ γέγονε τὸ συμπόσιον, ἀλλὰ πλειόνων ἢ δὶς τοσούτων (ἐν οἷς καὶ αὐτὸς ἤμην, συνήθης μὲν ὢν Περιάνδρῳ διὰ τὴν τέχνην, ξένος δὲ Θάλεω· παρ᾿ ἐμοὶ γὰρ κατέλυσεν ὁ ἀνὴρ Περιάνδρου κελεύσαντος), οὔτε τοὺς λόγους ὀρθῶς ἀπεμνημόνευσεν ὅστις ἦν ὑμῖν ὁ διηγούμενος· ἦν δ᾿ ὡς ἔοικεν οὐδεὶς τῶν παραγεγονότων. ἀλλ᾿ ἐπεὶ σχολή τε πάρεστι πολλὴ καὶ τὸ γῆρας οὐκ ἀξιόπιστον ἐγγυήσασθαι τὴν ἀναβολὴν τοῦ λόγου, προθυμουμένοις ὑμῖν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς ἅπαντα διηγήσομαι.

Image result for Ancient Greek feasting

Divine Truth and Mortal Belief

Parmenides, Fr. D4

“Greetings! No evil fate sent you to journey
By this road—for indeed it is far off from mortal paths—
But it was Law and Justice. You need to learn everything:
Both the immovable heart of persuasive Truth
And the beliefs of mortals which have no true faith.
But you should also learn these things too: how beliefs
Must be credible because they pervade all things.”

χαῖρ’, ἐπεὶ οὔτι σε μοῖρα κακὴ προὔπεμπε νέεσθαι
τήνδ’ ὁδόν (ἦ γὰρ ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων ἐκτὸς πάτου ἐστίν),
ἀλλὰ Θέμις τε Δίκη τε. χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι
ἠμὲν Ἀληθείης εὐπειθέος ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ
ἠδὲ βροτῶν δόξας, ταῖς οὐκ ἔνι πίστις ἀληθής.
ἀλλ’ ἔμπης καὶ ταῦτα μαθήσεαι, ὡς τὰ δοκοῦντα
χρῆν δοκίμως εἶναι διὰ παντὸς πάντα *περῶντα.

*περῶντα also appears as περ ὄντα. This variant reading might mean something like “even when they are completely true”.

This passage with its reference to the isolated path and the distinction between mortal belief and immortal truth reminds me of Hesiod:

Theogony 26-28

“Rustic shepherds, wretched reproaches, nothing but bellies,
We know how to say many lies similar to the truth
And we know how to speak the truth when we want to.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Elsewhere on this blog and in forthcoming work I explore this as the difference between coherence and correspondence in memory. Here it seems clearly to be on the surface a difference between mortal and divine ways of seeing. These domains do not cancel each other out….

Busto di Parmenide.jpg
Bust of Parmenides from Wikimedia Commons

Cancel Murderers and Tyrants?

Andocides, On the Mysteries 78 (excerpt from a decree read in the speech)

“…For those who have committed massacres or created tyrannies, in addition to everything else, have the council erase their names everywhere, wherever there is some mention of them in public, in accordance with what we have said and any copy of it which the lawmakers or elected officers possess.”

ἢ σφαγεῦσιν ἢ τυράννοις· τὰ δὲ ἄλλα πάντα ἐξαλεῖψαι τοὺς πράκτορας καὶ τὴν βουλὴν κατὰ τὰ εἰρημένα πανταχόθεν, ὅπου τι ἔστιν ἐν τῷ δημοσίῳ, καὶ εἴ <τι> ἀντίγραφόν που ἔστι, παρέχειν τοὺς θεσμοθέτας καὶ τὰς ἄλλας ἀρχάς

Plutarch, Moralia 473f

“Just as in a painting’s colors, we must put the bright and shining matters in the front of the mind and hide and cover the depressing ones away—for it is not possible to erase them or eradicate them completely.”

δεῖ δ᾿ ὥσπερ ἐν πινακίῳ χρωμάτων ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ τῶν πραγμάτων τὰ φαιδρὰ καὶ λαμπρὰ προβάλλοντας, ἀποκρύπτειν τὰ σκυθρωπὰ καὶ πιέζειν· ἐξαλεῖψαι γὰρ οὐκ ἔστι παντάπασιν οὐδ᾿ ἀπαλλαγῆναι.

I have been thinking for some time about the amnesty at the end of the Odyssey, which creates an erasure of the murders of the suitors family so that the Odysseus and his people can escape the cycle of vengeance. There are some echoes of this in the Roman practice of damnatio memoriaeI have thought a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s application of Mark Grenovetter’s threshold theory to thinking about he sociology of school shootings. I am not sure that erasing events is the solution (nor am I suggesting that Gladwell and Grenovetter think so). What we are really facing in this question is how the stories we tell, how the way we cover events, creates paradigms and narratives that perpetuate themselves.

At the end of the Odyssey, Zeus intervenes and erases the Ithakans’ memory of the murder of the suitors to re-establish peace and stability for Odysseus’ return.

Homer, Odyssey 24.478–486

“My child, why do you inquire or ask me about these things?
Didn’t you contrive this plan yourself, that Odysseus
would exact vengeance on these men after he returned home?
Do whatever you want—but I will say what is fitting.
Since Odysseus has paid back the suitors,
let him be king again for good and take sacred oaths.
Let us force a forgetting of that slaughter of children and relatives.
Let all the people be friendly towards each other
as before. Let there be abundant wealth and peace.”

τέκνον ἐμόν, τί με ταῦτα διείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς;
οὐ γὰρ δὴ τοῦτον μὲν ἐβούλευσας νόον αὐτή,
ὡς ἦ τοι κείνους ᾿Οδυσεὺς ἀποτείσεται ἐλθών;
ἕρξον ὅπως ἐθέλεις· ἐρέω δέ τοι ὡς ἐπέοικεν.
ἐπεὶ δὴ μνηστῆρας ἐτείσατο δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
ὅρκια πιστὰ ταμόντες ὁ μὲν βασιλευέτω αἰεί,
ἡμεῖς δ’ αὖ παίδων τε κασιγνήτων τε φόνοιο
ἔκλησιν θέωμεν· τοὶ δ’ ἀλλήλους φιλεόντων
ὡς τὸ πάρος, πλοῦτος δὲ καὶ εἰρήνη ἅλις ἔστω.

(To be honest, after yet another national tragedy I cannot read Zeus’ words as anything but bitter sarcasm. This is, in all likelihood, an extremely anachronistic interpretation. But I cannot help but wonder if ancient audiences ever heard these lines and were unsettled, if not angered…)

It is clear that Zeus has to do this in order to end the conflict (and end the epic) because both parties are motivated by the cycle of vengeance. When Eupeithes’ speaks to the assembled Ithakans earlier in Book 24, he specifically mentions the fear of becoming an object of shame in a narrative pattern.

Homer, Odyssey 24.432-437

“Let us go. Otherwise we will be ashamed forever.
This will be an object of reproach even for men to come to learn,
if we do not pay back the murders of our relatives and sons.
It cannot be sweet to my mind at least to live like this.
But instead, I would rather perish immediately and dwell with the dead.
But, let’s go so that those men don’t cross to the mainland first.”

ἴομεν· ἢ καὶ ἔπειτα κατηφέες ἐσσόμεθ’ αἰεί.
λώβη γὰρ τάδε γ’ ἐστὶ καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι,
εἰ δὴ μὴ παίδων τε κασιγνήτων τε φονῆας
τεισόμεθ’· οὐκ ἂν ἐμοί γε μετὰ φρεσὶν ἡδὺ γένοιτο
ζωέμεν, ἀλλὰ τάχιστα θανὼν φθιμένοισι μετείην.
ἀλλ’ ἴομεν, μὴ φθέωσι περαιωθέντες ἐκεῖνοι.”

Eupeithes–and Odysseus for most of the epic–act according to patterns they have received, embedded cultural expectations about how to behave in certain situations. The Odyssey‘s sudden end–its resolution through an act of erasure that challenges the very nature of the genre of memory itself–should prompt us to understand that the conflict has no resolution according to conventional paradigms. Rather than being a simple, closed end, this ending should incite us to realize that the stories themselves have been a problem.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus discus

“The Cyclops Polyphemus ,”by Annibale Carracci

(I have written about some of this the Routledge Handbook of Classics and Cognitive Theory)

This Unforgetting Stone (Another Epitaph)

Iscr. di Cos (Fun.) EF 518  From Kos, 2nd/1st Century BCE

“Previously Homeric grooves [arrows] were sounding out
The master-loving habit of Eumaios on golden tablets,
But now this stone, repeating the unforgetting word,
Will sing your wise wit even into Hades, Inakhos.

Philoskos, who reveres your home, will always increase
The fine gifts and honor you both among the living and the dead—
Along with your wife who honors your son who is weeping,
A young child who draws deep from the spring of her breasts.

O, inescapable Hades, why do you hoard this kind of blessing,
Taking away the famous son of Kleumakhis?”

1 π̣ρὶν μ̣ὲν Ὁμήρειο[ι γλυφί]δες φιλ[οδέσποτ]ο̣ν̣ ἦ̣θ̣[ο]ς
Εὐμαίου χρ̣υσέαις̣ ἔ̣κλαγον ἐν σ̣ε̣λίσ̣ι̣ν̣·
σεῦ δὲ καὶ εἰν Ἀΐδαο σαόφρονα μῆτιν ἀείσει
Ἴν̣αχ̣’ ἀείμνηστον γ̣ρ̣άμ̣μ̣α λαλεῦσ̣α̣ πέ̣τρ̣η·
5 καί σε πρὸς εὐσεβέ̣ων δ̣όμ̣ον ἄξ̣ε̣ται ἐσθλὰ Φ̣ιλίσκος̣
δῶρα καὶ ἐν ζῳοῖς κἂμ φθιμένοισι τίνων·
σήν τ̣’ ἄλοχ̣ον κλείουντ’ αὐτόν σοι παῖδα τίο̣υσαν
π̣ηγῆς ἧς μασ̣τ̣ῶν ε̣ἴ̣λ̣κυ̣σ̣ε νηπίαχο̣ς̣.
[ὦ] δυσάλικτ’ Ἀΐδα, τὶ τὸ τηλίκον ἔσχ̣ες ὄνειαρ̣,
10 κλεινὸν Κλευμαχίδο̣ς̣ κοῦρον ἀειρ̣ά̣μενο̣ς̣;

Image result for ancient greek arrows

Memory, Our Guide to the Future

Plutarch, Obsolesence Of Oracles (Moralia 432)

“It is not necessary to feel wonder or disbelieve upon seeing this ability in the mind which is a parallel for prophecy, even if we see nothing else, which we call memory—how great an effort it proves to be to save and preserve the things that have happened before or, really, what is now. For nothing of what has happened exists or persist, but at the very moment everything comes to be it also perishes: deeds, words, emotions, each of them passing away on the stream of time.

But this power of the mind in some way I do not understand apprehends them and endows them with appearance and substance for those who are not here now. The prophecy which was given to the Thessalians was ordering them to consider “the hearing of a deaf man; the sight of the blind.”

And so memory is for us the hearing of affairs we are deaf to and the sight of matters to which we are blind. This is why, as I was saying, it should not be a surprise when it has control over things which no longer are and can anticipate those which have not yet happened. For these matters are much better fit to it and those are similar. Memory approaches and attaches to what will be and it breaks off from what has happened before and reached an end except for the sake of remembering it.”

οὐ δεῖ δὲ θαυμάζειν οὐδ᾿ ἀπιστεῖν ὁρῶντας, εἰ μηδὲν ἄλλο, τῆς ψυχῆς τὴν ἀντίστροφον τῇ μαντικῇ δύναμιν, ἣν μνήμην καλοῦμεν, ἡλίκον ἔργον ἀποδείκνυται τὸ σῴζειν τὰ παρῳχημένα καὶ φυλάττειν, μᾶλλον δὲ ὄντα· τῶν γὰρ γεγονότων οὐδὲν ἔστιν οὐδ᾿ ὑφέστηκεν, ἀλλ᾿ ἅμα γίγνεται πάντα καὶ φθείρεται, καὶ πράξεις καὶ λόγοι καὶ παθήματα, τοῦ χρόνου καθάπερ ῥεύματος ἕκαστα παραφέροντος· αὕτη δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς ἡ δύναμις οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅντινα τρόπον ἀντιλαμβανομένη τοῖς μὴ παροῦσι φαντασίαν καὶ οὐσίαν περιτίθησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ Θετταλοῖς περὶ Ἄρνης δοθεὶς χρησμὸς ἐκέλευε φράζειν: “κωφοῦ τ᾿ ἀκοὴν τυφλοῖό τε δέρξιν,”

ἡ δὲ μνήμη καὶ κωφῶν πραγμάτων ἀκοὴ καὶ τυφλῶν ὄψις ἡμῖν ἐστιν. ὅθεν, ὡς ἔφην, οὐκ ἔστι θαυμαστόν, εἰ κρατοῦσα τῶν μηκέτ᾿ ὄντων προλαμβάνει πολλὰ τῶν μηδέπω γεγονότων· ταῦτα γὰρ αὐτῇ μᾶλλον προσήκει καὶ τούτοις συμπαθής ἐστι· καὶ γὰρ ἐπιβάλλεται καὶ προστίθεται πρὸς τὰ μέλλοντα καὶ τῶν παρῳχημένων καὶ τέλος ἐχόντων ἀπήλλακται πλὴν τοῦ μνημονεύειν.

Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light (2001):

126: Memory’s “greater value”…”might have been its ability to foretell the future”

Mario Mikulincer. Human Learned Helplessness: A Coping Perspective. New York: Plenum Press, 1994.

102: “The hypothesis that the experience with recurrent lack of control generates an expectancy of no control in a new task is based on two assumptions; first, that people tend to anticipate future events congruent with present and/or past events; and second, that they tend to generalize expectancies to new tasks and situations”

 

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

75: “Storytelling, then, is essential to the way we construct our humanity. It’s also vital to our study of the future.”

 

Mark Turner, The Storytelling Mind 1996, 4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

 

Valenciennes, Bibl. mun., ms. 0007, f. 055 (the prophet Isaiah being sawn in half inside a cedar tree). Bible (second quarter of the 16th century?)
Valenciennes, Bibl. mun., ms. 0007, f. 055 (the prophet Isaiah being sawn in half inside a cedar tree).