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

Half-Assing It: A Love Story

Aristokles, BNJ 831 F 3b (=Stobaios, Florides 4.20 b74)

“In the second book of his Wonders, Aristokles has this: A young man named Aristonymos, an Ephesian of a noble family, was Demostratos’ son, but in reality he was Ares’ son.

In the middle of the night, because he hated all women, he went to his father’s herd and had sex with a female donkey. She got pregnant and gave birth to the most beautiful girl, named Onoskelia, a nickname borrowed from the way she was born.”

᾽Αριστοκλέους ἐν β̄ Παραδόξων. <᾽Αριστώνυμος> ᾽Εφέσιος τῶι γένει, νεανίας τῶν ἐπισήμων, υἱὸς Δημοστράτου, ταῖς δ᾽ ἀληθείαις ῎Αρεως. οὗτος τὸ θῆλυ μισῶν γένος νυκτὸς βαθείας εἰς τοὺς πατρώιας ἔτρεχεν ἀγέλας, καὶ ὄνωι συνεγένετο θηλείαι· ἡ δὲ ἔγκυος γενομένη ἔτεκε κόρην εὐειδεστάτην ᾽Ονοσκελίαν τοὐνομα, τὴν προσηγορίαν λαβοῦσαν ἀπὸ τοῦ συμπτώματος.

Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 764, Folio 44r

“Feminine Fame”: Homer on Why We Disbelieve Women

After the suitor Amphimedon arrives in the underworld and tells the story of Penelope’s shroud and Odysseus’ return, Agamemnon responds:

Odyssey 24.192-202:

“Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus,
You really secured a wife with magnificent virtue!
That’s how good the brains are for blameless Penelope,
Ikarios’ daughter, how well she remembered Odysseus,
Her wedded husband. The fame of her virtue will never perish,
And the gods will craft a pleasing song
Of mindful Penelope for mortals over the earth.
This is not the way for Tyndareos’ daughter.
She devised wicked deeds and since she killed
Her wedded husband, a hateful song
Will be hers among men, she will attract harsh rumor
To the race of women, even for those who are good.”

“ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,
ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν·
ὡς ἀγαθαὶ φρένες ἦσαν ἀμύμονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
κούρῃ ᾿Ικαρίου, ὡς εὖ μέμνητ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος,
ἀνδρὸς κουριδίου. τῶ οἱ κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται
ἧς ἀρετῆς, τεύξουσι δ’ ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἀοιδὴν
ἀθάνατοι χαρίεσσαν ἐχέφρονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
οὐχ ὡς Τυνδαρέου κούρη κακὰ μήσατο ἔργα,
κουρίδιον κτείνασα πόσιν, στυγερὴ δέ τ’ ἀοιδὴ
ἔσσετ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, χαλεπὴν δέ τε φῆμιν ὀπάσσει
θηλυτέρῃσι γυναιξί, καὶ ἥ κ’ εὐεργὸς ἔῃσιν.”

More than half of this speech praises Penelope for being a loyal, ‘good’ wife (and that is another issue of its own). Of course, this makes Agamemnon think of Klytemnestra. There’s a lot to be said about how this passage sets up the end of the Odyssey, but Agamemnon’s words are striking because they reflect a sad reality not just about misogynistic thinking but about the operation of human thought.

Let’s start with the misogyny: Agamemnon says here, quite clearly, that because of the behavior of one woman (well, two if we hear ambiguity in the phrase “Tyndareos’ daughter” and think of Helen too) all women have bad fame, even if they are “good”? A simple response to this is to wonder whether the same applies to men (of course not…) Let’s pass over the fact that the murder of Agamemnon was probably well deserved.  I think this passage also reflects human cognition: the story of Klytemnestra is paradigmatic. We learn basic patterns about people and the world and apply these patterns (prejudices) as substitutions for deeper thought.

I am not sure whether this serves as a bit of an anticipatory apologetic on the part of epic–that the tale of Penelope cannot match up to negative messages about women. It probably stands as an acknowledgement of a “negative expectancy effect”–we are primed to hear negative tales and to believe negative things. I suspect that on Homer’s part this is probably less about women and more about anticipating the reception of this poem.

But, at the very least, this is a clear indication that Homer knows the way it goes: we live in a cultural system that discounts positive stories about women in favor of negative ones and which, accordingly, downgrades the authority of the stories they tell. In our responses to the testimonies of men and women, men have the privilege of being individuals whose lives might be ruined by rumor and false claims, while women are always already undermined. This is is an example of structural misogyny.

For discussions of this passage see: On the contrasting fame of Klytemnestra and Penelope, see Franco 2012, 60–61. For invocations of Klytemnestra as an example of how a woman can ruin a nostos, see Murnaghan 2011, chapter 4 and Nagy 1999, 36–39.

orestes
Classical myth deserves trigger warnings.

Franco, Cristina. 2012. “Women in Homer,” in Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon, eds., A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. London. 55­–65.

Marquardt, Patricia. 1989. “Love’s Labor’s Lost: Women in the Odyssey,” in Robert Sutton, ed., Daidalikon: Studies in Honor of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Chicago. 239-248.

Murnaghan, Sheila. 2011. Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey, Second Edition. Lanham.

Nagy, Gregory 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge

The Self in the Story: the Itinera Podcast

Homer, Odyssey 15.389–484

Then the swineherd, marshal of men, responded:

“Friend, since you have asked me and inquired truly of these things,
Listen now in silence and take some pleasure and drink your wine
While you sit there. These nights are endless. There is time for sleep
And there is time to take pleasure in listening. It is not at all necessary
For you to sleep before it is time. Even a lot of sleep can be a burden.
Let whoever of the rest the heart and spirit moves
Go out and sleep. For as soon as the down shows itself
Let him eat and follow the master’s swine.
As we two drink and dine in this shelter
Let us take pleasure as we recall one another’s terrible pains.
For a man finds pleasure even in pains later on
After he has suffered so very many and survived many too.
I will tell you this because you asked me and inquired.”

τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπε συβώτης, ὄρχαμος ἀνδρῶν·
“ξεῖν’, ἐπεὶ ἂρ δὴ ταῦτά μ’ ἀνείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς,
σιγῇ νῦν ξυνίει καὶ τέρπεο πῖνέ τε οἶνον,
ἥμενος. αἵδε δὲ νύκτες ἀθέσφατοι· ἔστι μὲν εὕδειν,
ἔστι δὲ τερπομένοισιν ἀκουέμεν· οὐδέ τί σε χρή,
πρὶν ὥρη, καταλέχθαι· ἀνίη καὶ πολὺς ὕπνος.
τῶν δ’ ἄλλων ὅτινα κραδίη καὶ θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
εὑδέτω ἐξελθών· ἅμα δ’ ἠόϊ φαινομένηφι
δειπνήσας ἅμ’ ὕεσσιν ἀνακτορίῃσιν ἑπέσθω.
νῶϊ δ’ ἐνὶ κλισίῃ πίνοντέ τε δαινυμένω τε
κήδεσιν ἀλλήλων τερπώμεθα λευγαλέοισι
μνωομένω· μετὰ γάρ τε καὶ ἄλγεσι τέρπεται ἀνήρ,
ὅς τις δὴ μάλα πολλὰ πάθῃ καὶ πόλλ’ ἐπαληθῇ.
τοῦτο δέ τοι ἐρέω, ὅ μ’ ἀνείρεαι ἠδὲ μεταλλᾷς.

Today Scott Lepisto (@ScottLepisto and see his website) has released the second podcast to complete  our two-part conversation we had for the second season of the Itinera Podcast. If you listen to it, you will hear, for better or worse, me in all my chaotic, stream-of-consciousness, and, sometimes profane, rambling. There are echoes of stories I have told before when I have written about parenting and teaching,  studying classics and struggling with identity,  or problems with pedantry in our field. But these versions are easier and funnier. And that’s because they’re part of a conversation.

Scott deserves a lot of credit for what he is doing with this series because he brings such a soft touch to his interviews–but he does seem to have just a native knack of getting people to tell stories and share themselves with the world. Stories communicate who we are to each other and reciting them confirms and performs our identities.

The Itinera podcast is helping to create a community in Classics by allowing people to share their stories with wider audiences. Scott’s interviews from both seasons have such moments of sweetness and power that it seems we were living lives of deprivation (and desperation) before he started recording them.

So, listen to the podcast. I don’t think we actually ever get to talking about why this website exists or how it is related to the conversations we have, but we do talk a lot about the lives lived in, through, and by stories.

Menander (fr. 591 K.).

“The man who is sick in the body needs a doctor;
someone who is sick in the mind needs a friend
For a well-meaning friend knows how to treat grief.”

Τῷ μὲν τὸ σῶμα † διατεθειμένῳ κακῶς
χρεία ‘στ’ ἰατροῦ, τῷ δὲ τὴν ψυχὴν φίλου·
λύπην γὰρ εὔνους οἶδε θεραπεύειν φίλος.

Attributed to Socrates (in Stobaeus)

“The sick need doctors; the unlucky need encouragement from friends.”

Τοῖς μὲν νοσοῦσιν ἰατρούς, τοῖς δ’ ἀτυχοῦσι φίλους δεῖ παραινεῖν.

In honor of the stories told in the Itinera podcast, here’s a picture of me and my siblings with our great grandmother in 1994. I’m the one with a vaguely punchable face and glorious hair.

1994

“This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity

How did I get here?

When Telemachus invites Athena-in-disguise to sit in his hall at the beginning of the Odyssey and he has already complained to her about the suitors, he asks, “Who are you and from where among men? Where is your city and your parents?” (τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες; 1.170). This line is repeated on several occasions during the Odyssey and forms of it echo throughout Greek literature. It even shows up in Roman literature as a bit of a proverb: Seneca has Herakles use this line to hail the dead Claudius when he arrives on Olympus (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 5). My friend Justin Arft is working on the poetics of this line, exploring how it engages with larger poetic traditions and functions as an authoritative marker for speech. It elicits a particular type of story and signals a special kind of world view.

For me, this line has always also functioned metonymically for social hierarchy. It is an indexing question to establish the addressee’s cultural position. The initial “who” of “who are you” turns out to be a mere introduction, signaling an insufficient framework. The subsequent questions flesh out acceptable parameters for defining this particular “who”: a generic person, a tis, requires a geographical origin (invoking tribal connections as much as spatial associations), a civic entity (the city here is certainly a type of state), and a family. And, given the importance of genealogy in myth and the flexibility of place and state, I think we have a rhetorical structure of increasing importance: space, state, and family. The last question, in epic at least, is about fame and noble birth.

During the past few years, I have been thinking about this question when I find myself out and about in the world, asking and being asked who I am. How we elicit information about people tells us something about how we organize the world in our minds. And how we answer these questions tells us something else about how we view ourselves and our comfort with this view. Social context alters the meaning of deceptively simple words. For instance, when people ask addressees of color where they are from, it often is a coded or subconscious attempt to establish an ‘ethnic identity’ or some hierarchy of citizenship. Who are you and where are you from is always potentially a probe to evaluate political status and social cache.

The functional question that communicates our modern values and social structures is that ubiquitous “What do you do?” This innocuous conversation starter (or staller) is a metonym for our capitalist values: we are defined by what we contribute to society, by what we produce, by how we may be commodified. Of course, we can put this another way: in a ‘post-aristocratic’ world, we are allowed to define ourselves by how we spend our time—what we decide to dedicate our lives to communicates our values. (This second take assumes that we have the power and resources to make these choices in such a way that there is a meaningful correlation between our activity in the world and our values; and, secondly, that vocation and avocation may necessarily overlap.)

Even though the Odyssey is a narrative of disguises and forestalled recognitions, it is one in which the question “who are you, where are you from” also points to established and accepted social boundaries (even if they are eventually transgressed or subverted). When we ask “what do you do”, it seeks to instantiate social relationships. I have spent so much time thinking about this because my life’s work is in a field where the boundary between life and work is blurred to the point of there being almost no distinction. And, although we live in a period where the answer to “what do you do” is more fluid than in the previous generation, the line between the workaday doing and the non-work living is less clear. (And, to be fair, for the working poor and a great number of people throughout the world, the whole notion of such a boundary to begin with is one of incredible privilege.)

My problem is not really with the impact of this fading boundary on me: one of the reasons I avoided pursuing other careers early on is I believed, correctly or not, that my current pursuit would not force some of the same stark choices as others—despite much evidence to the contrary, I still believe that my career as one where we are supposed to think about what life is for (even if we are not often encouraged to do so). My problem is with talking about what I do outside the academy, with naming it, with answering that question, what do you do?

*                                   *                                   *

Odyssey 19.203

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

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Who are you and What do you do? I don’t come from a family of academics. I grew up in a lower middle class, rural area where most high school graduates did not go to college (and where high school graduates were only recently the majority). To say that I have class anxiety about being a Professor, much less a professor of Classics and one of Ancient Greek, is quite the understatement. I rarely use a title outside of work—my self-naming is so muted that when my son grabbed the mail one day and saw something addressed to “Dr. Christensen” he said “you’re a doctor?” To this I responded, “well, kind of.” In his consternation, he looked at the envelope, looked back at his mother—who is a dentist—and said, “wait, boys can be doctors?”

Where are you from? This is a question for people who are out of place, whose dislocation is clear enough as to be recognized before even hearing a name. How did I get here? Leaving home, getting a BA in the humanities, moving to New York and getting a PhD has separated me physically and ethically from all the people I grew up with and it has in many ways alienated me from my family. Anyone who has gone to graduate school knows that the process is intense and transformative intellectually; the part we don’t talk about enough is that it also constitutes a social metamorphosis: you are not only what you do, you are the people you engage with. ‘Who are your people’ and ‘where is your home’ are a critical part of Telemachus’ question—both communicate values and allegiances. Getting a PhD in the Classics complicates answers to both of those questions. The PhD changes the appearance and performance of social class; the rarefied air of that title “the Classics” makes us strangers even among our professorial peers.

The depth of my class and social anxiety is particularly felt in the way I change my answer to the question “what do you do”. When I go to birthday parties for my kids, while talking to other parents I almost always answer, “I am a teacher” and, more often than not, I consciously steer the conversation somewhere else. Part of the reason I do this is I don’t always handle the follow up question well.

True story: I was in a Starbucks in Milton, MA and I saw Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block. At my sister’s urging over text messages (she has seen NKOTB multiple times as an adult), I went and asked for a picture and had a fine conversation going until he asked what I do. I said, “I teach at Brandeis.” To the inevitable “what do you teach?” and the true answer (“Classics. Um, mostly Ancient Greek”) the response was a typical, awkward silence.

knight 2

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“If Wine Could Tell A Story”

Plautus, Truculentus 829-833

“This is no good. You are blaming the silent who cannot speak.
If wine could tell a story it would defend itself.
Wine doesn’t control men—men usually control wine!
Well, that’s how it is when men are fit for anything—certain fools
When they drink a little or not at all remain fools by nature.”

non placet: in mutum culpam confers quit loqui.
nam uinum si fabulari possit se defenderet.
non uinum moderari, sed uiri uino solent,
qui quidem probi sunt; uerum qui improbust si quasi Bibit
siue adeo caret temeto, tamen ab ingenio improbust.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman Drinking

We Don’t Only Need Scary Stories in October…

Strabo 1.8

“Whenever you also consider the amazing and the disturbing, you amplify the pleasure which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years, we must use this sort of thing to entice children, but as their age increases we must lead them to a knowledge of reality as soon as their perception has gotten stronger and they no longer need much cajoling.

Every illiterate and ignorant person is in some way a child and loves stories like a child. The one who has been only partially educated is similar, for he does not abound in the ability to reason and, in addition, his childish custom persists. Since not only frightening but also disturbing tales bring pleasure, we need to use both of these kinds of tales for children and those who are grown up too. For children, we provide pleasing fictions to encourage them and frightening tales to deter them.”

ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾿ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων. καὶ ἰδιώτης δὲ πᾶς καὶ ἀπαίδευτος τρόπον τινὰ παῖς ἐστι φιλομυθεῖ τε ὡσαύτως· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ πεπαιδευμένος μετρίως· οὐδὲ γὰρ οὗτος ἰσχύει τῷ λογισμῷ, πρόσεστι δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐκ παιδὸς ἔθος. ἐπεὶ δ᾿ οὐ μόνον ἡδύ, ἀλλὰ καὶ φοβερὸν τὸ τερατῶδες, ἀμφοτέρων ἐστὶ τῶν εἰδῶν χρεία πρός τε τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τοὺς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ· τοῖς τε γὰρ παισὶ προσφέρομεν τοὺς ἡδεῖς μύθους εἰς προτροπήν, εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δὲ τοὺς φοβερούς.

Image result for Ancient Greek vase monsters