Water Feeding Beautiful Voices: An Odd Philological Detail

Vitruvius 8. 25

“Gaius Julius, Masinissa’s son, who controlled all the lands of the city [Zama], fought alongside the emperor. He was my guest from time to time. In our daily conversations we often were compelled to argue about philology.

Once we had a debate about the power of water and its finer qualities. He told me that there were springs which came from his own land along which whoever was born there developed exceptional singing voices. Because of this, people used to purchase fine looking lads and full-grown girls to mate with them, so that the children who were born from them would be exceptional in voice and form.”

Gaius Iulius Masinissae filius, cuius erant totius oppidi agrorum possessiones, cum patre Caesare militavit. Is hospitio meo est usus. Ita cotidiano convictu necesse fuerat de philologia  disputare. Interim cum esset inter nos de aquae potestate et ius virtutibus sermo, exposuit esse in ea terra eiusmodi fontes, ut, qui ibi procrearentur, voces ad cantandum egregias haberent, ideoque semper transmarinos catlastros emere formonsos et puellas maturas eosque coniungere, ut, qui nascerentur ex his, non solum voce egregia sed etiam forma essent non invenusta.

Frescoes of Marine Life found on a wall along the via La Portuense in the river port of San Paolo Rome CE) – National Museum of Rome

Image result for Ancient Roman river art wall painting

Frescoes found, in the river port of San Paolo Rome  – National Museum of Rome

Pindar, Ol. 1 1–7

“Water is best, yet gold shining as a fire
Clear in the night is beyond all noble wealth—
But if you desire,
Dear heart, to sing of contests,
Don’t look farther than the sun
For any bright star warmer by day, alone in the sky.
And let us sing no contest greater than Olympia.”

Α′ ῎Αριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ
ἅτε διαπρέπει νυκτὶ μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου·
εἰ δ’ ἄεθλα γαρύεν
ἔλδεαι, φίλον ἦτορ,
μηκέτ’ ἀελίου σκόπει
ἄλλο θαλπνότερον ἐν ἁμέρᾳ φαεν-
νὸν ἄστρον ἐρήμας δι’ αἰθέρος,
μηδ’ ᾿Ολυμπίας ἀγῶνα φέρτερον αὐδάσομεν·

Thales, fr. 20

“Water is the beginning and the end of everything.”

[οὕτος ἔφη] ἀρχὴν τοῦ παντὸς εἶναι καὶ τέλος τὸ ὕδωρ

“A Safe Harbor for the Soul”: On Poetry and Reason

Philo, On Dreams 1.233

“Perhaps this is not sung truly, but it is wholly profitable and advantageous”

καὶ τάχα μὲν οὺκ ἀληθῶς, πάντως δὲ λυσιτελῶς καὶ συμφερόντως ᾄδεται

 

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides 1025.29-37

“Our soul experiences many wanderings and turns—one comes from the imagination, another emerges in the beliefs before these, and other occurs in understanding. But the life governed by the mind is free from vagrancy and this is the mystical harbor of the soul into which the poem leads Odysseus after the great wandering of his life and where we too, if we want to be saved, may find our mooring.”

Πολλαὶ οὖν αἱ πλάναι καὶ αἱ δινεύσεις τῆς ψυχῆς· ἄλλη γὰρ ἡ ἐν ταῖς φαντασίαις, ἄλλη πρὸ τούτων ἡ ἐν δόξαις, ἄλλη ἡ ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ διανοίᾳ· μόνη δὲ ἡ κατὰ νοῦν ζωὴ τὸ ἀπλανὲς ἔχει, καὶ οὗτος ὁ μυστικὸς ὅρμος τῆς ψυχῆς, εἰς ὃν καὶ ἡ ποίησις ἄγει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μετὰ τὴν πολλὴν πλάνην τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἐὰν ἄρα σώζεσθαι θέλωμεν, μᾶλλον ἑαυτοὺς ἀνάξομεν.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus mind song

National Archaeological Museum, Athens 1130

The Death of the Individual and the Life of the Whole

Philo, The Worse Attack the Better  206

“When some musician or scholar has died, then their music or writing dies with them; but their basic contributions persist and, in some way, live as long as the universe does. Those who are scholars and musicians now or who will be in the future will continue to develop thanks to these previous works in an undying procession.

In the same way, whatever is prudent, wise, brave, just, or just simply wise in an individual may perish, but it nevertheless remains as immortal thought and all excellence is safeguarded against decay in the immortal nature of the whole [universe]. Through this advantage people today and those of tomorrow will also become civilized—unless we believe that the death of one individual person in turn visits ruin upon humankind.”

ὥσπερ γὰρ μουσικοῦ τινος ἢ γραμματικοῦ τελευτήσαντος ἡ μὲν ἐν | τοῖς ἀνδράσι μουσικὴ καὶ γραμματικὴ συνέφθαρται, αἱ δὲ τούτων ἰδέαι μένουσι καὶ τρόπον τινὰ βιοῦσιν ἰσοχρόνιοι τῷ κόσμῳ, καθ᾿ ἃς οἵ τε ὄντες καὶ οἱ μέλλοντες διαδοχαῖς ταῖς εἰσαεὶ μουσικοί τε καὶ γραμματικοὶ γενήσονται, οὕτως καὶ τὸ ἔν τινι φρόνιμον ἢ σῶφρον ἢ ἀνδρεῖον ἢ δίκαιον ἢ συνόλως σοφὸν ἂν ἀναιρεθῇ, οὐδὲν ἧττον ἐν τῇ τοῦ παντὸς ἀθανάτῳ φύσει φρόνησις ἀθάνατος καὶ ἀρετὴ σύμπασα ἄφθαρτος ἐστηλίτευται, καθ᾿ ἣν καὶ νῦν εἰσιν ἀστεῖοί τινες καὶ αὖθις γενήσονται· εἰ μὴ καὶ ἀνθρώπου τινὸς τῶν ἐν μέρει θάνατον φθορὰν ἐργάσασθαι φήσομεν ἀνθρωπότητι

Consider other religious traditions on this:

Qu’ran, 5:32

“Saving One Life Is As If Saving Whole Of Humanity…”

Talmud

“Whoever destroys a soul [of Israel], it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life of Israel, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

I Worked Hard on This! Aelian’s Preface.

Aelian, History of Animals Prologue

“How much toil others have contributed on these topics, I know well. But after I collected as many sources as possible and communicated them in understandable language, I am convinced that I have made a contribution with is not unworthy of this toil. So, if they seem useful to anyone, may they enjoy them.

To anyone to whom they may seem unprofitable, well, give them to your father to keep warm and work over. For all things are not fine to all people, nor do they seem worthy of enthusiasm to all people the same. Even though in this work I follow many wise authors before me, do not let the mere fact of time be a reason for depriving me of praise if I also have prepared something learned, worthy of praise thanks both to its deeper research and its language.”

 ὡς μὲν οὖν καὶ ἑτέροις ὑπὲρ τούτων ἐσπούδασται, καλῶς οἶδα · ἐγὼ δὲ [ἐμαυτῷ] ταῦτα ὅσα οἷόν τε ἦν ἀθροίσας καὶ περιβαλὼν αὐτοῖς τὴν συνήθη λέξιν, κειμήλιον οὐκ ἀσπούδαστον ἐκπονῆσαι πεπίστευκα. εἰ δέ τῳ καὶ ἄλλῳ φανεῖται ταῦτα λυσιτελῆ, χρήσθω αὐτοῖς· ὅτῳ δὲ οὐ φανεῖται, ἐάτω τῷ πατρὶ θάλπειν τε καὶ περιέπειν · οὐ γὰρ πάντα πᾶσι καλά, οὐδὲ ἄξια δοκεῖ σπουδάσαι πᾶσι πάντα. εἰ δὲ ἐπὶ πολλοῖς τοῖς πρώτοις καὶ σοφοῖς γεγόναμεν, μὴ ἔστω ζημίωμα ἐς ἔπαινον ἡ τοῦ χρόνου λῆξις, εἴ τι καὶ αὐτοὶ σπουδῆς ἄξιον μάθημα παρεχοίμεθα καὶ τῇ εὑρέσει τῇ περιττοτέρᾳ καὶ τῇ φωνῇ.

A Reminder: Western Medical and Philosophical Traditions Consider Women Not Fully Human

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

 

Who Was the Second Most Beautiful Greek At Troy?

Homer, Iliad. 2.673–674

“Nireus who was the most beautiful man who came to Troy
Of the rest of the Danaans, after Peleus’ blameless son.
But he was weak and a small army followed him.”

Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε
τῶν ἄλλων Δαναῶν μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλεΐωνα·
ἀλλ’ ἀλαπαδνὸς ἔην, παῦρος δέ οἱ εἵπετο λαός.

Scholia b. ad Il.2.673 ex

<Lemma> his beauty in reputation was not of a kind with his family; Achilles, however, was adorned in both ways. Because [the poet] was a philhellene, he was trying to make everyone worthy of memory and used to praise everyone as far as he might be believed and so that we might imagine the Greeks to be differentiated in their manliness, or their body, or their beauty.”

ex. <Νιρεύς, ὃς κάλλιστος—μετ’ ἀμύμονα Πηλείωνα:> οὐδὲ ἓν πρὸς δόξαν κάλλος ἀγεννές· ᾿Αχιλλεὺς δὲ ἀμφοτέροις κεκόσμηται. φιλέλλην δὲ ὢν πάντας ἀξιομνήστους ποιεῖ καὶ πάντας ἐπαινεῖ, ὅπως πιστεύοιτο, καὶ ἵνα τοὺς ἐν ἀνδρείᾳ καὶ σώματι καὶ κάλλει διαφέροντας εἰδῶμεν ῞Ελληνας. b(BCE3E4)

Schol. A ad Hom. Il. 2.673 ex

“Diplai have been applied to question these three lines because Zenodotus athetized two of them, although he did not mark the middle one, (674) because Homer always strove to have Achilles stand out far in front of the rest.”

Νιρεὺς ὃς κάλλιστος<—εἵπετο λαός>: τρισὶ στίχοις παράκεινται διπλαῖ περιεστιγμέναι, ὅτι ἐκ τῶν τριῶν τοὺς δύο (sc. 673. 675) ἠθέτηκε Ζηνόδοτος, τὸν δὲ μέσον (sc. 674) οὐδὲ ἔγραφεν, τοῦ ῾Ομήρου φιλοτιμουμένου ἐν πᾶσι τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα προτεροῦντα στῆσαι. A

Galen, Adhortio ad artes addiscendas 8.28

“And because of that, Homer mentioned [Nireus] only once and in the Catalog Of Ships, as it seems to me, to make a demonstration of the uselessness of the most beautiful men, when they have none of the other things that are useful for life.”

καὶ διὰ τοῦθ’ ἅπαξ αὐτοῦ μόνον ἐμνημόνευσεν ῞Ομηρος ἐν νεῶν καταλόγῳ πρὸς
ἐπίδειξιν, ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν, τῆς τῶν καλλίστων ἀνδρῶν ἀχρηστίας, ὅταν αὐτοῖς ὑπάρχῃ
μηδὲν ἄλλο τῶν εἰς τὸν βίον χρησίμων.

From the Suda

Nireus: the beautiful and handsome man. Neireus, a snail. Nêreus, the man of the sea.

Νιρεύς: ὁ καλὸς καὶ εὔμορφος. Νειρεύς, ὁ κόχλος, Νηρεύς, ὁ
θαλάσσιος.

Image result for ancient greek vase beautiful man

MFA: Caskey-Beazley, Attic Vase Paintings (MFA), no. 002.

Some Passages on Commentary and Interpretation

F. A. Wolf, Prolegomena ad Homerum 104 (1795)

“This story allows us a chance to make a few overarching comments about the birth of the practice of criticism. And this also permits us to evaluate the nature of the recensions which were reportedly made in that period. For I don’t think that anyone will be surprised today that the Greeks of the time—who were by chance more men of genius than of learning,—even though they were completely estranged from the polymathy to which kings eventually provided ample time, that they were already starting to turn their attention to that art which is the collected sum of the various disciplines of literature and antiquity.

Indeed, all the foundations which would guide the ancients to the art of criticism already existed at that time. Among them I would put in first place the ancient method of preserving songs by only the use of memory; in the second, the errors and frauds perpetrated in ascribing authorship; and in the third, the many kinds of easy mistakes made by untrained hands in preparing the first manuscripts.

But even if this last case would precipitate a need for this art after many generations, anyone who is familiar with the Greeks will easily see that their genius would not have been able of declining so severely or so eagerly to such nitpicking concerns if their writings were only corrupted in the way that most books are. Let it stand as the singular fate of the monuments of Homer and his peers that in some sense they forced philology to be born—and that they did so even before the word for Critic or Grammarian was commonly spoken.”

Haec narratio nobis occasionem offert in universum dicendi nonnulla de ortu studii critici, ex quibus existimare liceat de conditione earum recensionorum, quae hoc saeculo offeruntur factae esse. Nunc enim nemo, puto, mirabitur, Graecos iam tum, quum prosperrima sorte sua ingeniosiores essent quam doctiores, et ab illa [corrupt text] cui reges deinde otium praebuerunt alienissimi, animum paullatim applicuisse ad eam artem, quae tota collecta est ex multiplici doctrina litterarum et antiquitatis. Etenim quae causae maxime perduxerunt veteres ad criticam artem, iam tum eaedem exstiterant omnes. In quibus primo loco posuerim modum illum conservandorum olim Carminum ope unius memoriae, proximo errores et fraudes in prodendis auctoribus eorum, tertio varios facillimosque lapsus rudium manuum in primis exemplaribus parandis. Sed etsi haec postrema causa eius- modi est, ut post aliquot saecula istius artis desiderium necessario fuisset allatura, tamen qui Graecos norit, facile intelliget, ad tam minutulas curas ingenium eorum nec tam mature-nec tanto studio potuisse descendere, si sola omni scripturae communia menda libros corrupissent. Maneat igitur, singularem fortunam Homericorum et supparum monumentorum extudisse quodammodo philologam criticen, idque etiam antea, quam nomen Critici aut Grammatici vulgo auditum esset.

D Scholia to the Iliad (5.385)

“Aristarchus believed it best to make sense of those things that were presented more fantastically by Homer according to the poet’s authority, that we not be overwhelmed by anything outside of the things presented by Homer.”

᾿Αρίσταρχος ἀξιοῖ τὰ φραζόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ μυθικώτερον ἐκδέχεσθαι, κατὰ τὴν Ποιητικὴν ἐξουσίαν, μηδὲν ἔξω τῶν φραζομένων ὑπὸ τοῦ Ποιητοῦ περιεργαζομένους.

Porphyry, Homeric Questions 1.1

“Since often in our conversations with one another about Homeric questions, when I try to show you that Homer interprets himself for the most part…”

     Πολλάκις μὲν ἐν ταῖς πρὸς ἀλλήλους συνουσίαις ῾Ομηρικῶν ζητημάτων γινομένων, ᾿Ανατόλιε, κἀμοῦ δεικνύναι πειρωμένου, ὡς αὐτὸς μὲν ἑαυτὸν τὰ πολλὰ ῞Ομηρος ἐξηγεῖται

Porphyry, Homeric Questions 1.12-14

“Because I think to best to make sense of Homer through Homer, I usually show by example how he may interpret himself, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in other ways.”

᾿Αξιῶν δὲ ἐγὼ ῞Ομηρον ἐξ ῾Ομήρου σαφηνίζειν αὐτὸν ἐξηγούμενον ἑαυτὸν ὑπεδείκνυον, ποτὲ μὲν παρακειμένως, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐν ἄλλοις.

Scriptura sui ipsius interpres, Martin Luther

Dionysius Thrax, Ars Grammatica 1

“The art of grammar is the experience-derived knowledge of how things are said, for the most part, by poets and prose authors. It has six components. First, reading out loud and by meter; second, interpretation according to customary compositional practice; third, a helpful translation of words and their meanings; fourth, an investigation of etymology; fifth, a categorization of morphologies; and sixth—which is the most beautiful portion of the art—the critical judgment of the compositions.”

Γραμματική ἐϲτιν ἐμπειρία τῶν παρὰ ποιηταῖϲ τε καὶ ϲυγγραφεῦϲιν ὡϲ ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ λεγομένων.   Μέρη δὲ αὐτῆϲ ἐϲτιν ἕξ· πρῶτον ἀνάγνωϲιϲ ἐντριβὴϲ κατὰ προϲῳδίαν, δεύτερον ἐξήγηϲιϲ κατὰ τοὺϲ ἐνυπάρχονταϲ ποιητικοὺϲ τρόπουϲ,  τρίτον γλωϲϲῶν τε καὶ ἱϲτοριῶν πρόχειροϲ ἀπόδοϲιϲ, τέταρτον ἐτυμολογίαϲ εὕρεϲιϲ, πέμπτον ἀναλογίαϲ ἐκλογιϲμόϲ, ἕκτον κρίϲιϲ ποιημάτων, ὃ δὴ κάλλιϲτόν ἐϲτι πάντων τῶν ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51

“One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια.

Tzetzes, Introduction to the Scholia to Lykophron’s Alexandra

“I, Lykophron’s thick book, abounding in songs,
Was once obscure, possessing unseeable visions.
But now by means of Hermeian craft Isaac Tzetzes
Has set me free, once he loosed my well-woven restraints.”

ἡ βίβλος τελέθουσα Λυκόφρονος ἀσματοκόμπουσα
ἦν ἀλαὸς προπάροιθεν ἀδερκέα δέργματ’ ἔχουσα·
νῦν δέ με δορκαλέην ῾Ερμείῃ θήκατο τέχνῃ
Τζέτζης ᾿Ισαάκιος ἐύστροφα πείσματα λύσας.

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

Needing Commentary

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51:

“Against those who think that it is reserved for the well-educated alone to make sense of and understand the words of Thucydides, I am able to say this, that they take the part of the work which is necessary and beneficial to all (indeed, nothing could be more necessary or beneficial) away from common life by thus making it the province of a few men, as happens in oligarchic and tyrannical states. One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

Πρὸς μὲν οὖν τοὺς οἰομένους μόνων εἶναι τῶν εὐπαιδεύτων ἀναγνῶναί τε καὶ συνεἷναι τὴν Θουκυδίδου διάλεκτον ταῦτα λέγειν ἔχω, ὅτι τὸ τοῦ πράγματος ἀναγκαῖόν τε καὶ χρήσιμον ἅπασιν (οὐδὲν γὰρ <ἂν> ἀναγκαιότερον γένοιτο οὐδὲ πολυωφελέστερον) ἀναιροῦσιν ἐκ τοῦ κοινοῦ βίου, ὀλίγων παντάπασιν ἀνθρώπων οὕτω ποιοῦντες, ὥςπερ ἐν ταῖς ὀλιγαρχουμέναις ἢ τυραννουμέναις πόλεσιν· εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια.

Frederic Harrison, Rede Lecture (1900):

“The peculiar, indispensable service of Byzantine literature was the  preservation of the language, philology, and archaeology of Greece. It is  impossible to see how our knowledge of ancient literature or civilisation could have been recovered if Constantinople had not nursed through the early Middle Ages the vast accumulations of Greek learning in the schools of Alexandria, Athens, and Asia Minor ; if Photius, Suidas, Eustathius, Tzetzes, and the Scholiasts had not poured out their lexicons, anecdotes, and commentaries ; if the Corpus Scriptorum historiae Byzantinae had never been compiled; if indefatigable copyists had not toiled in multiplying the texts of ancient Greece. Pedantic, dull, blundering as they are too often, they are indispensable. We pick precious truths and knowledge out of their garrulities and stupidities, for they preserve what otherwise would have been lost for ever. It is no paradox that their very merit to us is that they were never either original or brilliant. Their genius, indeed, would have been our loss. Dunces and pedants as they were, they servilely repeated the words of the immortals. Had they not done so, the immortals would have died long ago .”

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship, Vol. 1

“Towards the close of the long letter prefixed to the Moralia, he confesses his contempt for the art of speech, and admits that he is not over-careful in the avoidance of barbarisms or inaccurate uses of prepositions, deeming it ‘ utterly unworthy to keep the language of the Divine Oracles in subjection to the rules of Donatus’; and this principle he applies to his own commentary, as well as to the sacred text. His attitude towards the secular study of Latin literature is well illustrated in the letter to Desiderius, bishop of Vienne. He is almost ashamed to mention the rumour that has reached him, to the effect that the bishop was in the habit of instructing certain persons in grammatical learning. ‘ The praises of Christ cannot be pronounced by the same lips as the praises of Jove’. He hopes to hear that the bishop is not really interested in such trifling subjects. Elsewhere, however, the study of Grammar and the knowledge of the liberal arts are emphatically commended on the ground of the aid they afford in the understanding of the Scriptures; but the genuineness of the work, in which this opinion is expressed is doubtful. Later writers record the tradition that Gregory did his best to suppress the works of Cicero, the charm of whose style diverted young men from the study of the Scriptures’, and that he burnt all the books of Livy which he could find, because they were full of idolatrous superstitions. It was even stated that he set the Palatine Library on fire, lest it should interfere with the study of the Bible, but the sole authority for this is John of Salisbury’ (d. 1 180), and the statement is unworthy of credit. “

For the history of Philology this cultural interplay is especially important–the Ancient Near East and Greece have been influencing each other as long as the concepts of these places has existed. And even if Diogenes Laertius wants to deny it, Greek exceptionalism, if it is really a thing, developed because of its connection and communication with Mesopotamia, Egypt and more.

Classics and Theory: A Monday Rant

This is a slightly adapted and expanded edition of my #classicsandtheoryrant from twitter

One of the things I love about social media is that it has allowed me to connect with people who love the Classics and know a lot about it all over the world. Some of these people have ‘credentials’ and experiences similar to mine, but many do not. Across the board, I try to ignore these conventional markers of intellectual authority on twitter etc. and just listen to what people say. And, really, I have learned a lot.

But one thing that has been increasingly frustrating  over the past year is a small but insistent chorus of voices who insist that Classics is being ruined by “post-modern theory”. Generally, these voices come from outside the traditional academy or from more conventional corners within them. But most often they represent ‘threatened constituents’ of the modern world–by which I mean people who also object to ‘diversity’, ‘political correctness’ and a whole bunch of buzzwords and phrases that are popular media shorthand for a world that is not dominated by traditional, male, Eurocentric perspectives. (And, you know, white supremacists. This does not mean that all anti-theory people are white supremacists, so, dude, chill.)

This is in part frustrating because I thought we were past this. I know this is naïve and I know that Classics is way behind other disciplines in the aggregate when it comes to using critical theory, but we have long had a small and influential group of people pushing our field to respond to the modern world and engage with new ideas.

But it is also infuriating because it attests to an essential fragility (also, read this if the term is upsetting). Is our confidence in the way we have received the past so shaky that it can brook no challenge? Often, the knee-jerk or even committed aversion to theory is really a desire to exclude others. I almost respect those supremacists more because they at least admit it. (But let me be clear, I really, really don’t like ethnonationalists and white supremacists.)

Engagement with theory is critical because it acknowledges that as interpreters we are subjects who are shaped by our experiences and the narratives and discourse through which culture shapes us based on our gender, sexual identity, race, (dis)abilities, age, etc. Our bodies are not instruments we drive through the world, they are part of us and mediate our experience of everything. The world treats us differently based on the bodies we inhabit. These two facts shape the way we respond to everything.

Acknowledging the primacy of subjectivity is only one part of modern theory which is dismissed. I won’t even bother listing all of the theoretical approaches that have helped us understand the ancient world better. It is a type of retrograde derangement not to use new tools to look at old things. Imagine if people were railing against the use of spectral imaging in archaeology or the application of new chemical testing or any one of a range of technologies that have developed over the past generation. We would all be incredulous.

Many of the same people, however, who champion what aDNA testing might tell us about ancient peoples, also deny the validity of applying new tests to ancient literature and culture which have been developed in respectable fields like anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, English, sociology, and others. The reason for this is clear: the process tells different stories about the past than many of us were raised with. This is uncomfortable.

If art does not make us uncomfortable or question the past at all, then it is merely entertainment. Scholarship that merely repeats or reinforces what we already know is essentially masturbatory.

The argument over who gets to interpret the past and how is political. “Post-modern” is a catch-all phrase for many different approaches which are dismissed by conservative traditionalists. This argument raged through the field in the 1980s as Eric Adler documents well.  There was another major flare up with the Who Killed Homer? nonsense. I think we might have missed a renewal of these complaints in the late 2000s because of the severe economic downturn.

But this debate is all about power: The power to interpret and possess meaning; The power to have meaning in the world; The power to be a full and equal subject in a flawed society. Such striving has been going on since some literary theorists had the gall to imagine that texts were more than pristine aesthetic objects with timeless secrets for the properly initiated to unlock.

I have a few simple points to make in closing. The first is that scholarship is not a zero-sum game. Applying new theoretical frames does not wipe out the old ones or render them useless. If we apply the analogy of biodiversity to ideas, then the more voices and ideas we can explore within a productive system, the more variety and understanding we can get out of it. This is destined to be chaotic and painful, but it is creative and exciting.

New ideas build upon older ones. Some gain purchase for more than a few years become part of the tradition. Some ideas are as Glaukos says like leaves on the tree which grow for a brief time and then wither and die. Others somehow become evergreen, in the moment we cannot know. We can argue for what we believe and push back against other ideas—but we need to acknowledge that sometimes our need to push back against other ideas is driven by a desire to exclude people not the ideas.

A second point which is by no means original is that you can love something and see that it might be bad for something or need to change. E.g. chocolate cake is delicious, but it can kill you. Cigarettes are delightful, but they will give you cancer. Anything made by humans is imperfect because we are not perfect. Saying the Homeric epics are misogynistic or using Marxist theory to show how they (re-)produce structural oppression does not erase their beauty or their impact. Instead, it shows that their beauty may also have a harmful impact. It helps us understand how they work and how we work as human communities.

And if you cannot love something flawed, you simply cannot love. Let go of the Platonic nonsense of perfection in the mind of a distant god. Real, human love embraces the ways in which we are flawed and celebrates that despite the horror, baseness, and temporariness which is our inheritance, we are still capable of beauty.

A third point is also not original: all methods of interpretation are ideological and have a theory. If the theory is not explicit, that does not mean it is not there. It means it is naïve and unquestioned. Philology is a means not an end. We classicists are trained in philology so we don’t make basic mistakes and we can distinguish good arguments from bad ones. But we are at a point in the production of knowledge that no one can learn everything which is required to understand the ancient world. We need to work together. We need polymathy and polyphony.

The practice of classics as developed in Europe around the enlightenment is ideologically connected to a particular time, a set of bodies and languages, and a cultural apparatus distinct from ancient Greece and Rome. The ‘Classics’ created by the Renaissance and Enlightenment is not coterminous with the beliefs, practices, and texts of actual Greece and Rome. In a way, to emulate a 19th century German classicist in everything is little different from strapping on some leather armor and LARPing at a Renaissance Faire. Both are fun and can require a lot of expertise. But both are still play-acting.

It is not ‘authentic’ or ‘correct’ to treat ancient texts in this way any more or less than it was authentic and correct for Plotinus and Porphyry to say the Odyssey is an elaborate allegory for the mind.

All reading is reception. All interpretation is ideological. Being explicit about our ideological receptions helps us communicate better with each other and through the generations.

When we allow new perspectives and viewpoints, we enrich our reception of the past. Some of this enrichment might turn out be misleading or start out as bewildering; indeed, it might be only temporarily insightful. But striving to make new sense of the old, to try to surpass those who have already labored, is better than sucking on the marrow of corpses and wallowing in mute ash.

Миниатюры.: philologist

f. 305v. The Fouquet Missal. Bourges, c.1470-1475

Seneca Moral Epistle 108

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

Alternative Careers: An Accidental Teacher and Scholar

Suetonius, Lives of the Grammarians 24

“Marcus Valerius Probus from Berytus tried to become a centurion for a while and then dedicated himself to study because of the waiting. He had read certain old books with his teacher in the provinces, since the memory of the ancient authors persists there and has not been completely lost as in Rome. Once he returned to these authors more carefully and then wanted to study others, he still pursued this plan even though he knew that everyone had contempt for them and those who studied them earned reproach instead of honor.

Once he obtained many copies, he took care to emend them, edit them, and provide notes for them and he committed himself to this beyond all other aspects of scholarship. Instead of students he had a few followers, for he did not teach in such away as to maintain the façade of a teacher. He used to welcome one or two, or sometimes three or four, in the afternoon hours and while reclining he could occasionally read some things among long and colloquial conversations. He published small number of short works on various minor little questions. But he also left a non insubstantial “Forest of Reflections on the Ancient Language.”

XXIV. M. Valerius Probus, Berytius, diu centuriatum petiit, donec taedio ad studia se contulit. Legerat in provincia quosdam veteres libellos apud grammatistam, durante adhuc ibi antiquorum memoria, necdum omnino abolita sicut Romae. Hos cum diligentius repeteret atque alios deinceps cognoscere cuperet, quamvis omnes contemni magisque opprobrio legentibus quam gloriae et fructui esse animadverteret, nihilo minus in proposito mansit; multaque exemplaria contracta emendare ac distinguere et annotare curavit, soli huic nec ulli praeterea grammatices parti deditus. Hic non tam discipulos quam sectatores aliquot habuit. Nunquam enim ita docuit ut magistri personam sustineret; unum et alterum, vel cum plurimos tres aut quattuor postmeridianis horis admittere solebat, cubansque inter longos ac vulgares sermones legere quaedam idque perraro. Nimis pauca et exigua de quibusdam minutis quaestiunculis edidit. Reliquit autem non mediocrem “Silvam Observationum Sermonis Antiqui.”

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