“How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics

This is a companion to the earlier essay, “This is Not My Beautiful House: Classics, Class, and Identity”, which elicited a variety of personal responses from classicists and students about the myriad problems in the discipline. My contribution here, specifically, is to further articulate and contextualize my response to Amy Pistone’s asking “what can individuals maybe do to help?”

 

The title of this article is at the heart of my response to the question on what can be done to help to address the class-based challenges of studying the Classics. “How was the ________?”, whether the blank space is filled in with conference, study abroad term, workshop, or something else, is a question of access. Encoded in this question is the fact that one person had this access while another didn’t. It is an innocuous question, with an innocuous reply, that contextually is a perfect representation of Classics’ self-perpetuating economic inequalities. And these inequalities were regular features of my studies.

My formal involvement with Classics began when I was twenty-one years old, though in high school I had developed an interest in Greek and Roman history and was even able to take year of Latin before the program was cut. In my first years of college, I focused on social science courses in psychology, sociology, and political science, with an interest in labor relations. But after donating three years to these subjects, I didn’t feel the same love for learning them that I did when I was reading about the Peloponnesian Wars or Roman politics in my free time.

So, I switched to Classics, starting Latin coursework right away and Greek later (along with French in anticipation of graduate work). Now in my early thirties, I am still involved with the field as an adjunct instructor teaching Greek and Roman Civilization (while missing teaching Latin), and I also work outside of academia to pay the bills. At times I feel like I belong, but at other times I feel like a stranger in a strange land. This was the case from the beginning.

During both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits in Classics, I found myself uttering some variant of this “how was the ______?” quote almost every time I’d gone a week without seeing a classmate—or so it felt. On the same day that I was excited to use a coupon for $1 off the price of a pizza on my way home from an eight-hour shift at a liquor store, a classmate was, for example, touring the Alamo after the SCS Conference. Another classmate brought back some fantastic replica pottery and coins from an 8-week study abroad event in Greece a month or so earlier; I remember thinking at the time that the cost to bring the vases back on a plane was probably more than my disposable income for the month.

Asking about someone else’s experiences at a conference, study-abroad program, or workshop was at the same time painful and embarrassing. I received an (often thorough, vivid) account of a classmate’s engagement with the field in a way that I could only rarely—if ever—experience, and simultaneously I gave responses which made it abundantly clear that I couldn’t participate. Despite this, I was still genuinely interested in others’ more extensive involvement with Classics, through some combination of intellectual interest, living vicariously through my classmates, and being polite.

In upper-level undergrad and graduate courses, I just hoped the familiar classmates wouldn’t return with a question about my own travels. They almost always did, and I became better at changing the subject after a quick “no.”

These types of conversations—dialogues of coded income inequality—were not unusual to me even outside of academia, though. During my childhood in two small towns in the Midwest, my family toed the poverty line, between lower middle class and “lowest” (how’s that for an official socio-economic designation?). From elementary school onward, I listened to stories of Disneyworld during summer vacation and spring break trips to the beach. Later I would become a “first-generation” college student; I use quotation marks because my father attended college, but was not a part of my life past my infancy.

P. Mich 8.471 – Letters of Claudius Terentianus*

“My mother sold our linens for an as so I could go to Alexandria.”

mater m[e]a no[bi]s assem vendedi[t] lentiamina / [u]t veniam alexandrie

*My interests are in non-elite (“vulgar”) Latin; sorry, Cicero, Virgil, et al. Whenever possible I opt to use the words of people outside of Rome’s literary elite.

 

At any rate, by the time I arrived at a state university—after some time at a community college—I was quite accustomed to hearing about things I couldn’t do or have. Thankfully, my mother didn’t have to sell her linens so that I could leave town when the time came, unlike Claudius Terentianus’ mom. We have student loans for that now.

It wasn’t until graduate school and afterward that inequality in Classics, which had previously been confined in my cognitive space to my inability to contribute to travel-related conversations, became a more substantive obstacle. To be clear, it did not come from the faculty, classmates, or department at my state school, all of whom were wonderfully accommodating and committed to widening access to the historically isolated field.

Pompei_-_House_of_Julia_Felix_-_MAN

The inequalities became increasingly problematic during the first year of my M.A. program, as I began to focus more seriously on a career profile and CV that would get me beyond the first rounds of application purges. Diving into research on proper Classics CVs, newly hired faculty credentials, and all of the other things that repel students from graduate schools and higher education, it quickly hit me like a speeding chariot that I would not have even the opportunity for success in this discipline unless I could afford to sacrifice thousands of dollars (in addition to regular expenses), and extensive time away from a family that at many times needed me nearby.

Continue reading ““How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics”

“The Leaders have Changed”: Theognis, Just Like Us

Theognis, Elegies 39–52

“Kyrnos, this city is pregnant and I am afraid she will bear a man
Meant to correct our evil arrogance.
The citizens are still sane, but the leaders have changed
And have fallen into great evil.

Good people, Kyrnos, have never yet destroyed a city,
But whenever it pleases wicked men to commit outrage,
They corrupt the people and issue legal judgment in favor of the unjust,
For the sake of their own private profit and power.

Don’t expect this city to stay peaceful for very long
Even if it is not at a moment of great peace now,
When these deeds are dear to evil men,
As their profit accrues with public harm.

Civil conflicts and murder of kin comes from this,
And tyrants do too: may this never bring our city pleasure.”

Κύρνε, κύει πόλις ἥδε, δέδοικα δὲ μὴ τέκηι ἄνδρα
εὐθυντῆρα κακῆς ὕβριος ἡμετέρης.
ἀστοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἔθ’ οἵδε σαόφρονες, ἡγεμόνες δέ
τετράφαται πολλὴν εἰς κακότητα πεσεῖν.
οὐδεμίαν πω, Κύρν’, ἀγαθοὶ πόλιν ὤλεσαν ἄνδρες,
ἀλλ’ ὅταν ὑβρίζειν τοῖσι κακοῖσιν ἅδηι
δῆμόν τε φθείρουσι δίκας τ’ ἀδίκοισι διδοῦσιν
οἰκείων κερδέων εἵνεκα καὶ κράτεος·
ἔλπεο μὴ δηρὸν κείνην πόλιν ἀτρεμέ’ ἧσθαι,
μηδ’ εἰ νῦν κεῖται πολλῆι ἐν ἡσυχίηι,
εὖτ’ ἂν τοῖσι κακοῖσι φίλ’ ἀνδράσι ταῦτα γένηται,
κέρδεα δημοσίωι σὺν κακῶι ἐρχόμενα.
ἐκ τῶν γὰρ στάσιές τε καὶ ἔμφυλοι φόνοι ἀνδρῶν·
μούναρχοι δὲ πόλει μήποτε τῆιδε ἅδοι.

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Cicero: A Liar Will Probably Commit Perjury Too

Cicero, Pro Quinctui Roscio 16

“Still,” he said, “Cluvius told Lucius and Manilius he was not on sworn oath.” If he told them while sworn in, would you believe? What is the difference between a perjurer and a liar? A man who is accustomed to lying, can get used to committing perjury.

I can easily get a man to perjure himself once I am able to persuade him to lie. For once someone has departed from the truth, he is not in the habit of being constrained by greater belief from perjury than from lying. For what man who is not moved by the force of his own conscience is moved by invocation of the gods?

The reason for this is that the gods dispense the same penalty for the perjurer and the liar. The gods become enraged and punish a man not for the institution which frames the swearing of the words but because of the evil and the malice that these traps are set for another person.”

XVI. “Dicit enim,” inquit, “iniuratus Luscio et Manilio.” Si diceret iuratus, crederes? At quid interest inter periurum et mendacem? Qui mentiri solet, peierare consuevit. Quem ego, ut mentiatur, inducere possum, ut peieret, exorare facile potero. Nam qui semel a veritate deflexit, hic non maiore religione ad periurium quam ad mendacium perduci consuevit. Quis enim deprecatione deorum, non conscientiae fide commovetur? Propterea, quae poena ab dis immortalibus periuro, haec eadem mendaci constituta est; non enim ex pactione verborum, quibus ius iurandum comprehenditur, sed ex perfidia et malitia, per quam insidiae tenduntur alicui, di immortales hominibus irasci et suscensere consuerunt.

Image result for medieval manuscript perjury
Sinon. Augustine, La Cit de Dieu, Books I-X. Paris, Ma tre Franois (illuminator); c. 1475-1480.

This is Not the Truth You Are Looking For

Caesar, Bellum Civile 2.27.2

“We all willingly believe those things we are wishing for…”

quae volumus, ea credimus libenter

 

Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.3.9

“You probably know that in every matter people want to obey those most they believe to be best.”

 

᾿Εκεῖνο μὲν δήπου οἶσθα, ὅτι ἐν παντὶ πράγματι οἱ ἄνθρωποι τούτοις μάλιστα ἐθέλουσι πείθεσθαι οὓς ἂν ἡγῶνται βελτίστους εἶναι. 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.1023-1039

“Nothing is so simple that at first sight
it is not rather difficult to believe…”

sed neque tam facilis res ulla est, quin ea primum
difficilis magis ad credendum constet

 

Sophokles, fr. 86

“Indeed, what is believed overpowers the truth”

τό τοι νομισθὲν τῆς ἀληθείας κρατεῖ.

 

PhaedrusPrologue to Phaedrus’ Collection of Aesopic fables

“Don’t forget: we are playing with the make-believe.”

fictis iocari nos meminerit fabulis.

 

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.45

“It would be profitable neither to believe in everything nor yet to disbelieve it.”

καὶ γὰρ κέρδος (ἂν) εἴη μήτε πιστεύειν, μήτε ἀπιστεῖν πᾶσιν.

 

Euenus of Paros, fr. 1

“Go ahead, you think these things, but I believe those”

“σοὶ μὲν ταῦτα δοκοῦντ’ ἔστω, ἐμοὶ δὲ τάδε.”

 

Pausanias, 1.3.3

“On the opposite wall are painted Theseus, Democracy and the People. Clearly, this painting shows Theseus as the founder of political equality for the Athenians. In other accounts the story has been popularized that Theseus handed the powers of the state over to the people and that the Athenians lived in a democracy from his time until Peisistratus rebelled and became a tyrant. The majority of people repeat many things which are not true, since they know nothing of history and they believe whatever they have heard since childhood in choruses and tragedy. This is how it is with Theseus who actually was king himself and whose descendants continued ruling for four generations until Menestheus died.”

ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ τοίχῳ τῷ πέραν Θησεύς ἐστι γεγραμμένος καὶ Δημοκρατία τε καὶ Δῆμος. δηλοῖ δὲ ἡ γραφὴ Θησέα εἶναι τὸν καταστήσαντα ᾿Αθηναίοις ἐξ ἴσου πολιτεύεσθαι· κεχώρηκε δὲ φήμη καὶ ἄλλως ἐς τοὺς πολλούς, ὡς Θησεὺς παραδοίη τὰ πράγματα τῷ δήμῳ καὶ ὡς ἐξ ἐκείνου δημοκρατούμενοι διαμείναιεν, πρὶν ἢ Πεισίστρατος ἐτυράννησεν ἐπαναστάς. λέγεται μὲν δὴ καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ἀληθῆ παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς οἷα ἱστορίας ἀνηκόοις οὖσι καὶ ὁπόσα ἤκουον εὐθὺς ἐκ παίδων ἔν τε χοροῖς καὶ τραγῳδίαις πιστὰ ἡγουμένοις, λέγεται δὲ καὶ ἐς τὸν Θησέα, ὃς αὐτός τε ἐβασίλευσε καὶ ὕστερον Μενεσθέως τελευτήσαντος καὶ ἐς τετάρτην  οἱ Θησεῖδαι γενεὰν διέμειναν ἄρχοντες.

Thucydides, 1.20.3

“For most people the examination of the truth is so careless that they accept whatever is prepared for them.”

οὕτως ἀταλαίπωρος τοῖς πολλοῖς ἡ ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ἑτοῖμα μᾶλλον τρέπονται.

 

Tertullian, Apology 1.4-5

“Those people are ignorant while they hate and they hated unjustly because they were ignorant”

et ignorare illos, dum oderunt, et iniuste odisse, dum ignorant

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 gallica.bnf.fr Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 1050, fol. 48v.

Truth and Happiness, An Inverse Relationship?

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (5.211 e-f)

“Posidonios of Apamea records the story of [Athenion] which I am going to lay out even though it is rather long, so that we may examine carefully all men who claim to be philosophers, and not merely trust in their shabby robes and unkempt beards. For, as Agathon says (fr. 12):

If I tell the truth, I won’t make you happy.
But if I am to make you happy, I will say nothing true.

Since the truth, they say, is dear to us, I will tell the whole story about this man.”

περὶ οὗ καθ’ ἕκαστα ἱστορεῖ Ποσειδώνιος ὁ ᾿Απαμεύς, ἅπερ εἰ καὶ μακρότερά ἐστιν ἐκθήσομαι, ἵν’ ἐπιμελῶς πάντας ἐξετάζωμεν τοὺς φάσκοντας εἶναι φιλοσόφους καὶ μὴ τοῖς τριβωνίοις καὶ τοῖς ἀκάρτοις πώγωσι πιστεύωμεν. κατὰ γὰρ τὸν ᾿Αγάθωνα
(fr. 12 N)

εἰ μὲν φράσω τἀληθές, οὐχί σ’ εὐφρανῶ·
εἰ δ’ εὐφρανῶ τί σ’, οὐχὶ τἀληθὲς φράσω.

ἀλλὰ φίλη <γάρ>, φασίν, ἡ ἀλήθεια, ἐκθήσομαι τὰ περὶ τὸν ἄνδρα ὡς ἐγένετο (FHG III 266).

Image result for Inverse happiness curve