Monday, February 01, 2010

Thales and the Greek Enlightenment

I began reading Karl Popper last summer and it has been a valuable experience. I'm currently rereading his essays on the Presocratic philosophers for a lecture I give about the place of the Hippocratic writers in ancient Greek thought. Although (or perhaps precisely because) he was not a Classicist, Popper offered a number of revolutionary insights about early Greek philosophy and its role in western civilization. Those insights have been largely ignored by Classicists. His most exciting contribution, in my opinion, is his revaluation of Thales' impact on philosophy and science. If you ever read something about Thales, it is likely that he predicted an eclipse and thus began philosophy or science. This seems highly unlikely to me. Popper's argument runs like this.

It was common for both ancient philosophical schools and religions to organize around a single man who was considered a master or prophet. For pagan observers even the early Christian church fits this paradigm, as evidenced by Galen's use of the formulaic phrase "the followers of Moses and Christ." The schools were dedicated to learning the teachings of their master and spreading them to contemporaries and the next generation. There was typically no room for innovation; any new elements were painstakingly attributed to the master himself, so that the philosophy or doctrine would appear to have sprung from him perfected already. The real origin of western philosophy and science is found sometime in pre-classical Greece when a tradition of critical discussion was developed. What Popper sees with fresh eyes is that this development appears to have begun with Thales.

Thales hypothesized that the earth rested on a body of water. This explained the foundation of the earth, it explained why the earth was seemingly surrounded by "the river Ocean," and it also provided a convenient explanation for seismic activity. The question then arose: on what does the water rest? In order to avoid this problem of infinite regression, Anaximander, a student of Thales, suggested that the earth did not rest upon anything. Rather, he claimed, it hung pendant in space, and was held in place by its central position. It seems that Anaximander thought of the earth as a sphere, but in any case, the idea was current not much later. Within a few centuries not only was the notion of a spherical earth widely accepted, but its size was accurately calculated by Eratosthenes.

Although Thales was only about fourteen years older than Anaximander and they died around the same time, and were both active in the Milesian school, there is no ancient tradition about an intra-school feud. This suggests that Thales tolerated dissent from his students, and perhaps even encouraged it. Perhaps it seems trivial, and indeed it has been overlooked or unappreciated throughout history although it was right before our eyes, but I think Popper is right to see this as the great contribution of Thales and the proper mark of the origins of western science.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Thucydides 5.89

ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται, δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

You know as well as we do that justice, as a matter of human reckoning, is something to be decided between equals, while those who are more powerful do what they are capable of doing, and the weak accept what they have to accept.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pindar: Paean 1

For the Thebans, 52a, P.Oxy.841 (5,1908)

πρὶν ὀδυνηρὰ γήραος σχεδὸν μολεῖν,
πρίν τις εὐθυμίᾳ σκιαζέτω
νόημ' ἄκοτον ἐπὶ μέτρα, ἰδών
δύναμιν οἰκόθετον

Just before reaching the pains of old age,
let a man gladly shelter
a peaceful mind for the sake of moderation, having seen
power stored in his home.

I've been intrigued for several days with this fragment of one of Pindar's Paeans. The first line depends on the conjecture of the first editors, Grenfell and Hunt, who read σ[χεδὸν μ]ολεῖν. But the crux of the passage is the meaning of the enigmatic phrase, σκιαζέτω νόημ' ἄκοτον ἐπὶ μέτρα. I've taken the prepositional phrase ἐπὶ μέτρα to mean "for the sake of moderation." I follow Race for the verb σκιαζέτω meaning "to shelter," for that is the sense of what the man must do to his "un-angry mind." The word seems, however, to mean "shade, to cast a shadow," or, "to overshadow," or even "to keep away" as of the sun's rays (Alciphr.3.12). Perhaps it should read νόημα κότον rather than νόημ' ἄκοτον, and the man would be advised to keep off anger with respect to the mind. In any case, it is also an interesting question how we are to understand the "angry" or "un-angry" mind.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Athenian courts

Adriaan Lanni's book Law and Justice in the Courts of Classical Athens is not really an introductory survey of Athenian courts. She examines a specific feature of Athenian law: relevance in the courtroom. As a background to her argument, however, she provides the basic outline of the courts which existed in classical Athens.

Except for maritime cases, litigation in Athens was the privilege of male citizens, with few exceptions. There were two categories of procedure, private cases (δίκαι) in which the victim could bring suit, and public cases (γραφαί) which anyone could initiate. There was a measure to prevent the courts being used as public stages, whereby the prosecutor was penalized if he failed to win at least one-fifth of the votes, sometimes involving exile. Citizens could choose arbitration to avoid the courts. There was also a body called "the Eleven" in front of whom criminals were brought when caught red-handed; they were executed if they confessed, or sent to trial if they maintained innocence. If it came to trial, cases were heard by juries of Athenian citizens, usually numbering between 201 and 501 people, although there are claims of much larger juries in certain cases.

Homicide cases were a different matter. There were five homicide courts. The Areopagus is the most famous, and probably the oldest, and its foundation is mythologized in the Orestia of Aeschylus. The Palladion probably heard cases of unintentional homicide, although there is debate on its precise function (some think that it heard cases in which a person was involved in homicide but did not carry out the act with their own hands). The Delphinion heard cases in which the defendant admitted killing someone, but claimed that they they had acted within the law. The Prytaneion seems to have involved matters of religion and ritual, and the Phreatto heard cases in which "a defendant in exile for a prior offense was charged with homicide or wounding; he was not permitted to enter Attica but was obliged to deliver his defense to the court from a ship anchored off shore." But these last two courts are poorly attested. Much of the information for the operations and jurisdictions all of these courts comes from the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians.

Lanni sees a broad division in the court system between the popular courts, on one hand, and the homicide and maritime courts on the other. Her division is based on the standard of relevance of evidence introduced in the courtroom. The Athenians made a distinction between evidence that was to the point (εἰς τὸ πρᾶγμα) and evidence that was outside the point (ἔξω τοῦ πράγματος). Interestingly, however, they required speakers to stick to the point only in homicide and maritime cases, whereas in popular courts, which handled all other matters, speakers were not prevented, as any reader of the Greek orators knows, from introducing all sorts of information which had no bearing on guilt, such as the philanthropy or misanthropy of the defendant, or the possible effects of a guilty verdict on the defendant's family.

In designing a legal system, "all societies must address the inevitable tension between consistency and flexibility," and Lanni argues that the Athenian system represents a complex solution to that problem. She suggests that the Athenians deliberately allowed irrelevant information into the popular court proceedings in order to provide that each case was understood in its particulars, and was not judged blindly according to impersonal laws. In homicide cases, however, speakers were required to stick to the point at hand, and Lanni argues that this displays both the conservative nature of the homicide courts, and a desire to avoid the dangers of volatile emotion in deciding cases of the utmost seriousness. She argues that the flexible nature of the popular courts developed out of the most conservative homicide courts, and not the other way around, as is sometimes supposed. There were also special procedures for maritime cases, known as the δίκη ἐμπορική, which probably were heard in the popular courts, but which, like the homicide courts, required speakers to stick to the point, and suits could only be brought under this procedure when a contract was involved. Lanni argues that the stricter standards of relevance in these matters was meant to instill confidence in foreign investors and merchants that they could count on "consistency" when appealing to Athenian courts.

For the most part, Lanni makes her case strongly, and the book provides a good overview of the legal system, if not really an introduction to the subject. I think, however, that she too lightly dismisses the religious element of pollution in homicide cases. Perhaps the stricter standards of relevance in homicide cases reflects the situation that defendants were either polluted or not, they had either committed the act or not, and any other information was irrelevant to the proceedings. Robert Parker has argued that the pollution element in Greek religion has been exaggerated, and the homicide courts did in fact take intent into consideration, so maybe Lanni is right, but she dismisses this with only the briefest mention, and I wish she had addressed it at greater length.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The administration of Roman libraries

Until the time of Tiberius, that is to say in the three libraries which existed when Augustus died, the libraries seem to have been run independently. There is no evidence of a central administration, and Ovid, in Tristia 3.1, imagines a work of his written in exile approaching first the Palatine Library, then the Porticus Octaviae, and then that in the Atrium Libertatis, only to be rejected each time. This suggests that around AD 10, at least, there wasn’t one person in charge of all of the libraries.

We know the names of about two dozen lower-level slave and freedman personnel from epigraphic sources (all save one dating from the Julio-Claudian period). Of 26 men, 5 are certainly freedmen, 11 certainly slaves, and the other 10 probably slaves. Six of the slaves are called uilicus, which probably means they had some administrative or supervisory duties. Five of the slaves are assigned to the Palatine Library, and five to the Porticus Octaviae; no other libraries are named. Nine of the slaves and four of the freedmen belonged to the familia Caesaris, and at least two were public slaves, both of whom worked in the Porticus Octaviae. The men associated with particular libraries were assigned either to the Greek or Latin section. There is no indication that the slaves were specialized in any way, except for the title uilicus already mentioned for some of them. The assignment to one of the two libraries was presumably made based on language skills, since the main duties would have been organization, perhaps retrieval, and likely a great deal of copying both of new acquisitions and to replace damaged copies.

We know of 13 freeborn men who were involved with the libraries of Rome. Six of these men seem to have been commissioners who were in charge of the libraries at Rome. There doesn’t seem to have been such a position under Augustus. The first is Tiberius Julius Pappus who was appointed by the emperor Tiberius. Dionysius of Alexandria comes from Egypt to Rome in the second half of the first-century. Early in the second-century we find Roman equestrian commissioners, among whom was the biographer Suetonius. This seems to fit with a pattern that took place under Trajan and Hadrian to appoint equestrians to administrative posts instead of freedmen. Fergus Millar (1977) suggests that it is not so much a transition from freedmen to equestrians as it is from Greek to Roman intellectuals, which fits the pattern as we can reconstruct it from the few inscriptions. George Houston (2002) suggests that the commissioners were in the first place assistants to the emperor, rather than administrators, that is to say, that the uilici would have supervised the day-to-day operations of the library, while the commissioner dealt with matters affecting the emperor.

For those interested in the commissioners, see Lorne Bruce (1983) "The procurator bibliothecarum at Rome." Journal of Library History 18: 143-162. For more on the epigraphic evidence, see George Houston (2002) "The Slave and Freedman Personnel of Public Libraries in Ancient Rome." TAPA, v.132, n.1/2: 139-176. For a reappraisal of the role of Tiberius, see Houston's recent article (2008) "Tiberius and Libraries: Public Book Collections and Library Buildings in the Early Roman Empire." Libraries & the Cultural Record, v.43, n.3: 247-269

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Greek and Roman libraries

I have long been interested in book production and collection in the Greek world, and especially with the great library projects at Pergamon and Alexandria, but I only recently undertook to read about Roman libraries for a presentation in a seminar on Roman topography. In coming to the project, I had in mind the conventional notion that the genesis of libraries in Rome was based on their encounters with the libraries of Pergamon and Alexandria. Suetonius tells us that Julius Caesar planned to open the first public library, and entrusted the task to Varro, but that it was cut short by his assassination. Most writers assume that he was inspired to create something like the library at Alexandria, which he had seen first-hand. But after studying the libraries that did come into existence at Rome starting in the first-century BC, the most surprising thing was how different they were than their Greek forerunners.

The first public library in Rome was established by Asinius Pollio in the Atrium Libertatis, from wealth gained in his eastern campaigns. Nothing of this library remains. It fits into the scheme of manubial projects at Rome, whereby leading individuals would make dedications to the public after great exploits abroad, and they increasingly involved giving the public access to luxuries enjoyed by the wealthier classes: gardens, sculpture, and later baths. It seems only natural that public libraries would be established.

Augustus opens the next two public libraries soon afterward. The first was attached to the temple of Apollo on the Palatine; the second to the Porticus Octaviae. It is the of the Palatine Library that we have the first remains, although they date from the reconstructions in the reign of Dominitian after it was damaged by fire. Tiberius is credited with opening one or possibly two, and Vespasian opens one in the Temple of Peace. The most famous library for us, because it is best preserved, is that in the Forum of Trajan. The grand Roman baths also contain libraries. The Regiones tell us that in the fourth-century, there were 28 (one manuscript says 29) public libraries in Rome.

These libraries are fascinating for many different reasons, literary, social, political, architectural, and administrative, but I just wanted to point out some of the ways in which they are innovative. In the first place, Roman libraries from the very beginning (and even in the conception of Julius Caesar, if we are to take Suetonius literally) are different from Greek libraries in that they consist of two wings: one for Latin literature and one for Greek literature, reflecting a bilingual culture. The Palatine library has two adjacent but separate wings, and that in the Forum of Trajan has two wings facing each other, in the middle of which stands the column of Trajan. They are always mirror images of each other, and this becomes a motif of library architecture, which will take new forms in the symmetrical designs of the Roman baths, which seem to contain libraries. I suspect that the size of the libraries was determined by the space needed for Latin literature, which was then mirrored for the Greek section. It was perhaps out of national pride that the Greek sections were not larger. This is the second way in which Roman libraries differed from the Greek examples at Pergamon and Alexandria: scale. The library at Alexandria famously attempted to collect all books, and its holdings have been estimated at between 200,000 and 700,000 rolls, with one ancient estimate 490,000 being commonly cited. In comparison, the library in the Forum of Trajan, which is larger than other examples, was capable of holding about 20,000 rolls (10,000 in each of the two sections). There was clearly no attempt to create a complete archive of world literature. There was also a difference in function. The library at Alexandria was a research institution which drew scholars from around the world to study, with lodging and food provided. The Roman libraries were never designed with this in mind, but rather to make books available to the public (although what "public" means in this context is another topic altogether).

It is clear that the library at Alexandria and the public libraries at Rome, despite what some people have claimed, were two completely different projects. I say this not to minimize the Roman project; it is not that they attempted a similar project and failed. From the beginning they had a new and admirable plan, creating something which the Greek libraries did not offer.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Snatcher of everything with curved talons, Lyr.Philol.80.336.

Friday, August 28, 2009

RFK and Aeschylus

It was recently brought to my attention that Bobby Kennedy made a public announcement (which can be seen here) about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in which he quotes Aeschylus, whom he calls his favorite poet, and that allegedly the translation from the Greek was his own. The Aeschylus quote comes from lines 179-182 of the Agamemnon, but it is not Kennedy’s own translation. Here is the Greek:

στάζει δ᾽ ἔν θ᾽ ὕπνῳ πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος: καὶ παρ᾽
ἄκοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος

And in sleep the painful memory of suffering trickles before the heart, and it comes unwillingly to understand; but indeed it is a violent grace of the spirits.

Edith Hamilton translated it this way in 1930: And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

If you listened to the audio clip this will sound familiar. Here is what Kennedy said in my own transcript: Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own de-despair, against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.

Clearly his few misquotations of Hamilton’s version (noted in bold, except for his omission of “to us”) do not make this his own translation. The only significant change is despair from Hamilton’s despite, on which Kennedy understandably trips. The Greek word ἄκοντας simply means unwilling. Surely—considering the similarity of the two words and his stutter—Kennedy did not change this deliberately, but the result is actually quite lovely and beautiful in its own right.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Briefly mentioned by Gildersleeve

Basil Gildersleeve wrote a series of short essays on topics in Classics known as "Brief Mention." What follows are his aphoristic comments on various people and things collected by Frederick Danker (1988).

Justin Martyr: Incondite writer.

Persius: Hopeless prig.

Aelian: An utterly untrustworthy scribbler.

Marcion: A rat from Pontus who gnaws away at the Gospels.

Strauss: Evaporated the Glad Tidings of Great Joy.

Professor Shorey: An exceptional man, and my judgment is open to suspicion because I am a Hellenist.

Demosthenes: Outswears all the Attic orators.

Polybios: He is scrupulous in the avoidance of hiatus, but there is one hiatus that he cannot escape, the yawn in the face of his reader.

Herakleitos: Surrounds his ripe fruit with a protective envelope, so that it may not fall into the hands of unworthy nibblers.

Polyanthea, or Parallelomania: the appositeness of the citations is by no means in keeping with their number.

Dissertations: Long endurance guarantees the toughness and large charity the amplitude.

Plutarch: Philosophic washerwoman of Chaeronea.

Aristophanes: Spoiled darling of the Muses.

Swinburne: A case of moral leprosy.

Jebb: A man of admirable poise, of wonderful insight, of flawless style, a scholar whose renderings made all others seem coarse or crude.

Constantine the Great: A sorry Christian in theory and practice.

Antoninus: Introspective keeper of a pathological peepshow.

The Kappadocian St. George: A fraudulent pork-commisary as a layman, a truculent tyrant as a prelate, he deserves more attention than he has received at the hands of his unconscious imitators in these latter days.

Lucian: No hope, no love. No good God for him but good Greek.

Use of Scriptural language: in the category of recondite allusions.

Double entendre in contemporary authors like Browning: There is nothing more obscene than an obscene conundrum, and erotic and skatologic riddles play an important part in that region of folklore.

On the position of Pindar's ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ in Gildersleeve's almanac of commonplaces: It goes under Aquarius.

Slit-skirt: Bequest from those φαινομηρίδες, the Spartan belles.

Many grammarians: like Renan's Eastern sage, whose name being interpreted means οὗ τὸ σπέρμα εἰς τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀνέβη.

The Greek Language: The cases made havoc with compounds. Syntax killed synthesis.

Herodotos: One of the most fascinating, large-minded, artistic and lovable natures in the whole world of classical literature.

Interpreters with little time for grammar: who does not know the syntax of Thukydides does not know the mind of Thukydides.

On his edition of Pindar: If I were to edit Pindar again, even the ghost of the digamma would disappear.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Men Who Built the Theaters

The ἀρχιτέκτων in ancient Greece was more like a general contractor than an architect in our sense of the word, but it also developed the sense of theater manager in Athens. It is often used synonymously with θεατροπώλης and θεατρώνης, but Eric Csapo, in his article "The Men Who Built the Theatres" (2007), attempts to tease out the differences in these terms.

The change in the term ἀρχιτέκτων from a builder to a manager, according to Csapo, is related to the change in theater seating at Athens from wooden benches to stone. Originally the seating at the Theater of Dionysus was comprised of wooden benches. These benches were installed and removed each year at the festival by men who were contracted by the state. What remains of the leases makes clear that the contractor (the ἀρχιτέκτων) paid for the installation, and in return was given permission to charge entrance fees, which covered his costs and made him profit.

Charging admission might seem natural to us, but it was in fact quite revolutionary. It was the first time that fees were charged for a religious festival (see Sommerstein 1997 and Wilson 1997). It is disputed whether fees were seen as the cause of, or the solution to, the conflict created by competition for seats at the festival. Perikles is credited with taking state money and distributing it so that poorer citizens could afford seats. The terms θεατρώνης and θεατροπώλης both refer to the same function but from different points of view. The θεατρώνης, or theatron-buyer, is the state perspective: the man who buys the rights to charge admission. The θεατροπώλης, or theatron-seller, is the audience perspective: the man who sells them admission.

At some point in the fourth-century, the city decided to invest in permanent stone seating for the theater. This eliminated the need to install and remove the wooden benches each year, and it increased greatly the amount of seating available. With this one-time investment, the city eliminated the need to lease out the job to the ἀρχιτέκτων. Now the city could collect admission directly for itself. At this point the term ἀρχιτέκτων came to refer to a new position, which was a salaried position with the state, elected by popular assembly, as evidenced by the Athenian Constitution and inscriptions beginning around 333 BCE. This position was something like a public works director and building inspector, involved in the management of the theater for the state.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Apology for Pindar

I had intended to deliver a paper about reading Pindar as part of a conference on the larger topic of the relevance of Classics today. Since that project never materialized, I thought I would note down just a few of the preliminary thoughts I had on the issue.

The defense of Classical studies in educational institutions has been necessary since its direct usefulness in sciences began to wain. In a sense, that is when Classics became a distinct field as opposed to western education in general. Many of the defensive arguments reek of desperation on the part of Classicists, and do not convince me. Those who suggest that students should learn Latin because it teaches logical thinking are misled, I think, by the outdated notion that Latin is somehow more logical than other languages. For education in logic, nothing seems more suitable than logic itself, or its twin, mathematics. There are those who suggest that Greek and Latin should be learned for the insight which they provide into the vocabulary of English and of scientific terminology. I hope to treat that notion more fully in another essay, but suffice it to say for now that, while true, the traditional education in Classics is a long detour for that purpose. The issue comes down to the definition of the field itself, which is troublesome for its immense scope, and too large for this discussion.

Of those who value Humanities programs in general, few would deny the relevance of Classics, and it seemed rather amusing to me that there should be a conference of Classicists to discuss the importance of Classics. The usefulness of Homer, for instance, in the study of all subsequent Western literature is self-evident. The study of Greek drama seems to me also to need no defense. Plato and Aristotle are in the same position, but more so for the influence of Plato on the Christian tradition, and of Aristotle on the modern European intellectual tradition. Herodotus and Thucydides have a secure place in the study of historiography, and Euclid survives almost intact today. I have mentioned just a few authors, and only Greek ones, but I trust there is no controversy here. Authors like Hesiod and Xenophon and Demosthenes might require some persuasion for a few, but a good case could be made easily.

When it comes to Pindar, however, I think that the matter is different. Even among Classicists, he often demands some apology, and outside of that, the going gets tough. I find myself defending him even to other Greek philologists. Although he has been admired in most generations, this seems often to be based on his reputation, and his influence is not as marked as other major poets. Already in ancient times his language and meter proved difficult, and in modern times his genre has been a major obstacle.

It is this last point which seems to require the greatest defense for modern readers. In the end, I claim, the complaints are not entirely substantiated. That he wrote in praise of athletic victors is true, but athletes and athletics do not dominate even the epinikian songs, which are all that we possess of a much larger and varied output. The songs are much more focused on myth and wisdom and ethics, imagery, metaphor, and playful sounds. In short, the things we appreciate about poetry of all genres; and he is masterful at most.

I will return to his value as a poet, but he is also valuable for historical purposes as well. In the first place, it is acknowledged now that the so-called "lyric" tradition is perhaps more ancient than the epic tradition (based on metrical evidence) and Pindar is a major representative. Like Homer, he represents the very end of a long tradition, and as such he can tell us a great deal. He preserves elements of an Indo-European tradition in which the poet had an important place as educator, historian, and religious figure. The praise which he bestows on athletes is his version of the power which wordsmiths had to enhance great men and great ideas. In fact, he probably provides the best comparative evidence about the Indo-European poet from the Greek branch. Along the same lines, he is valuable for the study of historical linguistics and comparative mythology. While many people see his myths as original treatments, it is very often the case, in my opinion, that he preserves ancient traditions which are otherwise lost, although this is often unverifiable, and there is no doubt about innovations. As one of the last great representatives of Greek choral poetry, he is important both for the study of that genre, and for the study of the origins of drama, which developed out of the choral tradition. In a general sense, he occupies an important place in the transition into the classical period of Greece, after the Persian Wars, which is also represented by Aeschylus, but from a different perspective. And he provides an interesting study as a fifth-century poet who was neither from Athens nor focused on Athens; the value of this should not be underestimated.

Even as I write this, I am realizing just how much I have to say on the topic; I have only begun, and new ideas are developing already. But in the way of a conclusion, I would say that his greatest importance lies in the greatness of his poetry. He is relevant because great art is relevant. His style does not translate to English as well as other Greek poets, but in Greek it is hard to miss the beauty of sound and structure in his language. His rich imagery and complex metaphors are right at home, I think, in the modern poetic sensibility. And if one gives him the respect of close and multiple readings, there is no shortage of gems, even in translation, such as his famous musing that "man is a dream of a shadow," or that "war is sweet for those who have not participated," or that σοφίαι μὲν αἰπειναί, which can be rendered variously as "poetry is lofty," or "wisdom is hard to reach," or "art is steep." He warned us that "a crafty politician will not impress the noble with his speeches, and yet, flattering everyone, he weaves delusion to its end," and that "different desires stir the hearts of each man, but if a man attains his wish let him cling to it and not let it go for something far off: there is no way to know what will happen in a year." He advised us to praise even our enemies when they perform well, and he set an example for all men and women when he promised that "pursuing the joy of each day, I will calmly approach my old age and my fated lifetime; for we all die alike, but our destiny is unequal."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Edward Everett (1794-1865)

Edward Everett was one of America's foremost Hellenists and orators in the nineteenth century. He was elected to the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, became the Governor of Massachusetts, and then Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore, and was a failed vice-presidential candidate in 1860. He also served at President of Harvard University from 1846-1849.

After graduating from Harvard and preaching from the Brattle Street pulpit, he was invited to a professorship of Greek at Harvard, and allowed to study in Germany first, while receiving full salary. It is claimed that he was the first American to receive a Ph.D., which he took from Göttingen in 1817. Ralph Waldo Emerson studied in his classroom at Harvard, and said of him: "There was an influence on the young from the genius of Everett which was almost comparable to that of Pericles in Athens."

While he is clearly an interesting figure in American history for many reasons, it strikes me as remarkable that he had a relationship with both presidents Jefferson and Lincoln. He is well-known for his two-hour speech at Gettysburg which preceded Lincoln's famous address, and corresponded with the president. For Jefferson, he served as a book buyer while in Europe, and corresponded with him also. In one series of letters, when he was 80 years old, Jefferson attempts to argue that Greek did, in fact, possess an ablative case, which was only formally identical to the dative. He finally concedes to Everett, saying, "I acknowledge myself...not an adept in the metaphysical speculations of Grammar. By analyzing too minutely, we often reduce our subject to atoms of which the mind loses its hold."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Milton's Pindar

The Intellectual Development of John Milton by Harris Fletcher, 1961, in two volumes, is the most fascinating work on Milton that I've encountered so far. It contains extensive descriptions of the minute details which bring his experience to life, such as the long investigation as to the probable route of Milton from London to Cambridge as a student, and what the university town must have looked like to the arriving traveler. It outlines the general state of education in London in his day, including a survey of the available Greek grammars, and describes what we know in particular about his education. And it provides vivid accounts of daily and educational life at Cambridge in the seventeenth century.

Fletcher also describes Milton's copy of Pindar. He purchased it in 1629, and read it extensively during his vacation in 1630. In fact, it is the most heavily annotated of his books that we possess. It was the edition of Johannes Benedictus, King's Professor of Greek at Samur, published in 1620 as Pindari Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia, a square quarto of 756 pages of text and 54 unnumbered pages of Index Rerum et Verborum. The book is now at Harvard.

The Greek is accompanied on the left by a Latin paraphrasis and a metaphrasis on the right. Milton left extensive notes on the blank sheets before the title page, and in the margins of the text. There is a description of the book in Library of Harvard University Bibliographical Contributions, n.6, edited by Justin Winsor, 1879, and in a subsequent edition many of his notes have been transcribed (but not all). His notes are often text critical, some attributed to other editors, while some seem to be his own emendations; there are also extensive quotations from other poets which he wished to compare or use to explain certain passages. There are attempts to date his notes, most substantially based on the evolution of his form of the epsilon. Fletcher's work contains a good introduction to the subject, which is just a beautiful wave in an ocean of learning about Milton's education and thought.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Note on ψυχή

I had never noticed before that ψυχή is used of the butterfly or moth. See Arist.HA.551a14, Thphr.HP.2.4.4, and Plu.2.636c.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


This is a principle as formulated by Anne Lebeck in The Oresteia: A Study in Language and Structure, 1971. It is not to say that every interpretation is correct, but simply that ambiguity is a powerful tool for a poet. Pindar scholars would do well to keep this in mind.

"It should be a basic principle in interpreting Aeschylus that when language and syntax are most difficult, the poet has compressed the greatest number of meanings into the smallest possible space. Pursuing the customary methods of classical scholarship one is sometimes tempted to treat ambiguity as if the author were at fault, as if the clarity of normal diction were beyond his grasp. Yet that ambiguity characteristic of Aeschylus is not easy to achieve; it comes about neither by accident nor inability, but by design. Commentaries on the Oresteia at times degenerate into arguments about the "right" interpretation of passages where wording is enigmatic and meaning multiple. The following approach is here pursued: when argument arises over meaning, the statement that claims to be exclusively right is categorically wrong. The philologist should not restrict himself to a single interpretation of such passages but should give free rein to all possibilities and associations, ultimately selecting as many as form part of a larger pattern and contribute to the meaning of the total work. The linguistic devices by which ambiguity is effected should be analyzed and the significance of the passage then interpreted in the light of its obscurity."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hesiod W&D 721

εἰ δὲ κακὸν εἴποις, τάχα κ' αὐτὸς μεῖζον ἀκούσαις

But if you speak evil, soon you yourself shall hear worse.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ancient variants

The LSJ lists στήτη or στήτα as a rare Doric word for γυνή. It appears in Theocritus Syrinx 14, and perhaps derives from a variant reading early in Homer's Iliad. The phrase διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε from Iliad 1.6, which means, "those two having quarreled, they stood apart", was sometimes read, according to Dickey 2007, as διὰ στήτην ἐρίσαντε, which would read, "those two having quarreled over a woman."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Truly holy is this abode

Oil-glistening, violet-crowned city, forever song praises you, my holy Athens, you, stronghold of the Hellenes: Home of the Gods.

About this fragment of Pindar, a young Wilamowitz wrote to his parents after seeing the Athenian acropolis in 1873:

"Pindar of Thebes sang this 2,350 years ago. A Theban, and two years after the Battle of Plataea. It would be like an Alsatian today praising Berlin. And really, when I climbed up the Acropolis between the marble fragments and cactus, Lüders cried out to me the phrase that Jehovah said to Moses when he appeared to him on Horeb in the burning bush: Remove the shoes from thy feet, for holy is the place where thou entereth. And when I entered the rocky plateau, and before me lay the great field of ruins, I stood upon the ancient slope where the islands of the sea came to give their tithe to the Goddess of Athens, where later the Spartan lords drew back before the holiness of the place, where the weapons fell from the hand of Alaric the Goth——there I now saw that everything lay in ruins, that the violence of time, human neglect, and human evil had been able to destroy even the walls of the gods' dwelling, but not to infect the holiness of their breath, which floats over the place. Then I too cried out: Truly holy is this abode, a Home of the Gods, as Pindar said. But I didn't take off my boots; I only lit a cigarette."

Monday, February 23, 2009

In Memoriam: William Harris

The world lost William Harris this past Sunday. His absence will be felt keenly by students of art and literature all across the world who read his essays and poems, and used the resources that he created to allow interested autodidacts to access the Greek and Latin languages.

I began a correspondence with Bill several years ago after reading his commentary on the fragments of Archilochus, and he was a constant force in my intellectual life. He shared new thoughts with me; he urged me to explore new areas and attempt difficult things; he expressed a confidence in me beyond what I deserved, and, most importantly, offered me at the same time the sort of blunt criticism that only a real friend gives, which is a terribly valuable gift, being so rare. When I expressed interest in returning to school, he offered without solicitation to write for me a letter of recommendation, which was overly generous, since, he said, "as faculty adviser I always felt like a lawyer, aim for a win."

Both his essays and our private correspondence contain lessons that I will keep with me throughout my life. He possessed a beautiful balance of traditional intellectual rigor and open-mindedness to fresh methods and ideas. He urged me to teach to the brightest students in each class, so as not to fail them, but in a manner that would challenge other students to rise above their typical work. He reminded me that the sounds I made in my head while reading poetry silently do not have the real potency of sound waves. He confirmed my belief that education is not restricted to schools, but, in fact, often flourishes more fully elsewhere, where determination and curiosity are not stifled by poor methods and dull people.

Much of what I could say about him can be found in his own words. I leave you with these two paragraphs, which end an autobiographical piece, the first of which is a touching reflection on his own life, and the second a meditation on life in general:

If in conclusion I would say that I have not had an easy life overall, living for those early years poor as a professor in a small college in bad times could possibly be, having several failed expectations with both marriage and friends, being a loner with gregarious penchants who ends being a content loner after all. But I have done as many things in my life as there was time to do. A friend remarked that I was "a jack of all trades" and he added with a thoughtful smile that I was a master of most. Like my Dad who died suddenly at age 93 never thinking of dying at all, I have no thoughts about either mortality or immortality. As to thinking about dying? I don't have the inclination, and above all, considering the pace of the work I am doing, I just don't have the time.

It is still winter for me here with lingering snowflakes, but soon it will be back to the carpentry and cabinetmaking in the woodshop, a lot of house windows to be repainted later, then firewood for next year to be got and stacked under the south shed overhang. But of course I will be waiting as deep snow melts away, thinking about Spring, that grateful time of the year when the tulips first push up their tentative heads, signaling that soon the world is to be reborn in a rush of verdant leafage once again. Then get out the tiller and turn over the garden, where two months later my wife will be kneeling almost hidden by corn and squash and tomatoes as she fills her basket with the goodness of the earth for our dinner. Such fare is not only good to the taste and good for the body, it is a witness that the earth itself is a good place and there is room for many of us to live a good life, as long as we learn how to use it. And above all, if we learn how to use it well!

ὅ τι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων ἕκαλος ἐπῄειν γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον αἰῶνα.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hesiod W&D 361-362: The straw that broke the camel's back

εἰ γάρ κεν καὶ σμικρὸν ἐπὶ σμικρῷ καταθεῖο,
καὶ θαμὰ τοῦτ' ἔρδοις, τάχα κεν μέγα καὶ τὸ γένοιτο

For if you place a small thing upon a small thing, and you do this often, soon it will become large.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Picasso on Greek Art

To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Origins of the Center for Hellenic Studies

Last night I read a short book of that title written in 1990 by Eric Lindquist. The CHS sits on a few relatively secluded acres at the dead end of Whitehaven Street off of Massachusetts Avenue. It borders the huge green spot on maps of Washington, D.C., called Rock Creek Park, which separates Mass Ave from Georgetown. The Center is surrounded by the Dutch, Italian, British, and Brazilian embassies, as well as the Naval Observatory, which serves as the residence for the Vice President, and is directly across the street from the home of the Clintons. It consists of a central building, with an internal courtyard, which houses the library on the main floor and basement, offices for administrators and fellows on the main floor, a kitchen and dining room with outdoor patio on the basement floor, and a large gathering room with kitchenette, fireplaces, and piano on the main floor. Behind the main building is the director's residence. Just to the side is the "stoa" building, which has seven apartments for visitors and single fellows, with laundry room and gym. Lining the driveway are houses for married fellows, one of which has been converted to a high-tech seminar building.

The current director is Gregory Nagy, who still splits his time between the Center and his teaching duties at Harvard University. Before him, the position was shared by Deborah Boedecker and Kurt Raaflaub (1992-2000), Zeph Stewart (1985-1992), and the original director, Bernard Knox, who ran the Center from 1963 until he retired in 1985. Because Knox was previously scheduled for a sabbatical in Greece and tenure as Sather professor at Berkeley, Michael Putnam, from Brown University, was appointed as temporary director for the first year. During that year, the Center was run from the Tompkins House across the street, while construction was underway on the campus. The fellows were responsible for their own housing in Washington, but had studies there and were given lunch daily. There was no library until the Center acquired the private library of Werner Jaeger, who died in 1961, and portions of the libraries of Arthur Stanley Pease and Arthur Darby Nock, who also died around that time. According to Knox, some of the fellows from that first year saw an advantage in the lack of a library: it forced them to concentrate on writing.

The Center as it currently exists is quite different from its initial conception. Its origins are in Paul Mellon's desire for an institute that would focus on the study of the humanities in a world where education had become increasingly focused on sciences and technology. From the beginning he had Washington, D.C., in mind, believing that the United States capital had too few cultural institutes compared to other countries. His father had set up the National Gallery out of the same concern. The idea began to take shape when Huntington Cairns (a lawyer who was intimately involved with the National Gallery) suggested that the institute be dedicated to the promotion of Hellenism in the United States. He was convinced that it should not merely be a research center, but that it should be active in bringing back the humanistic ideals which he felt had faded from American society. He fiercely believed that it should not be associated with a university, since he felt the universities of America had failed in this regard, having become vocational centers. He referred to it as "the Residence" throughout his campaign.

The idea took shape in the physical world when Marie Beale, a wealthy widow, and friend of Cairns, offered land on Whitehaven Street for such an institute. Only months after she signed papers to that effect, she died in Zurich, and the project entered a confused phase of realization. Beale's lawyers had encouraged her to incorporate stipulations that would protect her interests, and the task of sorting it all out was given to the Old Dominion Foundation. As happens with many idealistic ventures when it comes to realization, the process was taken over by administrators and lawyers, who had practical concerns, and the concept that Cairns had in mind slowly rotted in boardrooms. Harvard University was motivated to keep the project alive, because it stood to inherit money from Beale only if an institute was established on that location, even if it had no association with the university. In the end, the University, through then-president Nathan Pusey, and the board of the Old Dominion Foundation decided to create an institute to support the research of young scholars, who often found inadequate time for writing amid the demands of developing classes. The Center provides housing, stipends, and fellowship for twelve young scholars from across the world each year, where they can spend a full year doing research and writing with no other demands on their time.

Lindquist lays out the interesting history of the Center's history from conception to realization in more detail, of course, than I can offer here. Although I had known about the general structure and operations of the Center, I was fascinated to learn that it grew out of a very different idea of Huntington Cairns, as an idealistic society devoted not to academic work, which was being done in the universities, but to reestablishing the Hellenic and humanistic tradition as a vital part of society. He opened a last desperate presentation to the Old Dominion Foundation with a quote from Gilbert Murray: "The next generation must use all its strength, all its wisdom, to see that the main drift of the world is Hellenic and not barbarous." Cairns saw the project as no less than an effort to save civilization, but most of the other players did not share his sense of society's lapse into barbarism.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I will be valid and sound iff I work hard at it

X=I will be valid
Y=I will be sound
Z=I work hard at it

1. (X Y) Z

2. Z

3. (X Y)

Instead of writing, I am refreshing, while on vacation, my formal logic with a series of lectures put online by Rick Grush of UC San Diego, and with an old textbook that I still have. This was sparked by the purchase of a sharp-looking copy of The Development of Logic by William and Martha Kneale, which at this point is sharing with me all sorts of useful tidbits about Aristotle's technical vocabulary. I wish there were more lectures like this available openly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scribal fancies

There are lists of psychological and mechanical mistakes that can explain errors or omissions in our textual tradition, even assuming that the scribe was working diligently. I like to imagine, however, whenever I come across such a textual problem, a young monk tucked away in the corner of a stone monastery, at a wooden desk, bathed in dull candlelight, with a half-blank canvas under his pen, and a thick manuscript to the side. As he comes to a line on the delicate features of a beautiful woman, or the innocence of a flower, his mind quickly leaps to a pretty girl he saw in a field past which he had walked early that morning. Just as quickly he turns it again to the page before him, eager to push away that thought, but it is not gone: it lingers in a repeated word or a missed line. It remains to this day, that delicate thought, preserved through time, unbeknownst to him, hidden to us although it is right before our eyes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pindar's House

The great Emathian conqueror bidd spare
The house of Pindarus when temple and towre
Went to the ground.

These lines are from Milton's 8th sonnet. The "Emathian conqueror" is Alexander the Great, who, when his troops were about to destroy Thebes, gave orders that Pindar's house should be left intact. It is not really surprising that Alexander would admire Pindar. His poetry urges great men to accomplish great deeds, and chides those who would stay close to home and fade into oblivion. Alexander should have paid more attention, however, to Pindar's warning that men should not strive too far, lest they overreach human boundaries. Alexander's sights were set on no less than the entire world, and he only stopped because he did not have the necessary support from his men. What is even worse, he petitioned (or maybe paid) an oracle to declare that he was the son of Zeus and therefore partly divine. Pindar clearly warned men not to seek godly things: μὴ ματεύσῃ θεὸς γενέσθαι.

For more on the story of Alexander and Pindar's house, see Slater 1971, "Pindar's House," in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, and also Plutarch.Alex.11, Arrian.Hist.Alex.1.9.10, Pliny.Nat.Hist.7.29, and Dio Chrysostom.2.33.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Simonides and Horace

The line of Simonides, ὁ δ' αὖ θάνατος κίχε καὶ τὸν φυγόμαχον, was translated by Horace (3.2.14) as: mors et fugacem persequitur uirum. Oates 1939 argues further that this poem was based upon a poem of Simonides.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the etymology of the word νίκη

Ἀπολλώνιος δὲ ὁ τοῦ Ἀρχιβίου φησὶν ὃ ἑνὶ εἴκει, τουτέστιν ἑνὶ ὑποχωρεῖ. γέγονε δὲ κατ' ἀφαίρεσιν τοῦ ε καὶ συγκοπῇ τοῦ ει διφθόγγου. ὁ γοῦν Σιμωνίδης παρετυμολογεῖ αὐτό, φησὶ γάρ· ἑνὶ δ' οἴῳ εἴκει θεὰ μέγαν ἐς δίφρον.

This etymology of the word νίκη from the Cyril-lexicon is, of course, nonsense, and it is even doubtful to me whether Simonides had this in mind, but I find ancient etymologies fascinating nonetheless. According to the author, the word νίκη comes from the phrase ὃ ἑνὶ εἴκει, "that which yields to one", with the first epsilon dropped and the syncope of the ει diphthong. He cites Simonides: "for one man only the goddess yields in her great chariot." The goddess Victory is commonly described as bringing the victor in her chariot (ἅρμα or δίφρος).

Incidentally, I think I've only just noticed this word τουτέστιν, which seems to be the equivalent of "i.e." (i.e., id est) or "that is".

Patron of the Arts

ἦσαν δὲ κύριοι μὲν τῶν πραγμάτων διὰ τὰ ἀξιώματα καὶ καὶ τὰς ἡλικίας Ἵππαρχος καὶ Ἱππίας, πρεσβύτερος δὲ ὢν ὁ Ἱππίας καὶ τῇ φύσει πολιτικὸς καὶ ἔμφρων ἐπεστάται τῆς ἀρχῆς. ὁ δὲ Ἵππαρχος παιδιώδης καὶ ἐρωτικὸς καὶ φιλόμουσος ἦν καὶ τοὺς περὶ Ἀνακρέοντα καὶ Σιμωνίδην καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ποιητὰς οὗτος ἦν ὁ μεταπεμπόμενος...

This is from Aristotle's Athenian Constitution (18.1), in which he says that Hippias, as the older and more prudent (ἔμφρων) brother, was in charge of the government, while Hipparchos, the playful, amorous, and art loving one (παιδιώδης καὶ ἐρωτικὸς καὶ φιλόμουσος), sought out poets.

Ancient da Vinci?

καὶ τὴν μνημονικὴν δὲ τέχνην εὗρεν οὗτος· προσεξεῦρε δὲ καὶ τὰ μακρὰ τῶν στοιχείων καὶ διπλᾶ καὶ τῇ λύρᾳ τὸν τρίτον φθόγγον

According to the Suda, Simonides invented mnemonics, long vowels, double consonants, and the third note on the lyre.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gildersleeve on Aelian

"Cobet is perfectly safe in sneering at his Atticism, and yet the unprejudiced modern must admit that he is not a bad story-teller. But many of the post-classic people are good story-tellers, perhaps because they have the bad taste to be so much like us..."

I adore Gildersleeve. Pick up a copy of his work in the library, and look at the photograph on the inside, and I'm willing to bet that, unlike so many other 19th c. scholars, he is smiling.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Girls, dolls, and pupils

ἐννενόηκας οὖν ὅτι τοῦ ἐμβλέποντος εἰς τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν τὸ πρόσωπον ἐμφαίνεται ἐν τῇ τοῦ καταντικρὺ ὄψει ὥσπερ ἐν κατόπτρῳ, ὃ δὴ καὶ κόρην καλοῦμεν, εἴδωλον ὄν τι τοῦ ἐμβλέποντος;

I have enjoyed very much explaining the Greek and Latin roots of medical terminology this semester, and was delighted to learn a new bit of Greek vocabulary this week. I thought it was curious that the word κόρη appeared in medical terminology for the "pupil" of the eye. There is no lack of strange usage in this field, but I couldn't make the connection no matter how hard I stretched. The textbook only informed us that this particular root for "pupil" comes from the Greek word for "girl", without any sort of explanation. One of my students made the clever, but incorrect, suggestion that it was the "core" of the eye.

The answer was spelled out clearly for me in the third LSJ entry: "pupil of the eye, because a little image appears therein". This usage must derive from the previous entry, in which we learn that the word was also used of "dolls" and "small votive images". The most informative passage is the one I've cited above, placed in the mouth of Socrates by Plato in Alcibiades.1.133a, in which he says: "Have you considered that the face of someone observing the eye appears in the eyeball of the one opposite him just as in a mirror, and which we call a pupil, an image of the observer?" Socrates goes on to claim that, just as the eye must look into the eye to see itself, so must the soul look into the soul if it wishes to see itself, and other things like that.

The word κόρη is also used of: "the long sleeve reaching over the hand" (I'm not sure what this means yet, see X.HG.2.1.8); "the Attic drachma", because it had the head of Athena on it; as a synonym for ὑπέρεικον, or St. John's Wort (beats me: see Hp.ap.Gal.19.113); and, finally, in architectural language for "female figures as supports", or Caryatids.

The word pupil itself seems to come through Old French from Latin pupilla, a diminutive form of pupa, "girl", although according to Lewis's dictionary, it was the form pupula that was used in Latin for the pupil of the eye. (I don't have the OLD at hand.) I imagine that this Latin usage is based on a Greek analogy.

For an English curiosity, see the obsolete term "baby" in OED for "small image of oneself in another's pupil", which manifested itself in a 17th c. expression "to look babies", meaning to stare lovingly into another's eyes. Fun.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Greek drinks

During a lecture last year on wine and the wine trade in ancient Greece, I suddenly developed a question that the lecturer wasn't able to answer, but which I haven't properly pursued. She noted that there were few drinking options for the ancient Greek compared to today, and that in the main, the choice seems to have been between wine and water. My questions is this: if the Greeks were making wine, can we assume that they were also drinking fresh grape juice?

At 115a of his Critias, Plato says: ἔτι δὲ τὸν ἥμερον καρπόν, τόν τε ξηρόν, ὃς ἡμῖν τῆς τροφῆς ἕνεκά ἐστιν, καὶ ὅσοις χάριν τοῦ σίτου προσχρώμεθα – καλοῦμεν δὲ αὐτοῦ τὰ μέρη σύμπαντα ὄσπρια – καὶ τὸν ὅσος ξύλινος, πώματα καὶ βρώματα καὶ ἀλείμματα φέρων.

I've complied a few other references that I need to look over, but it seems from this reference that fruits were used to make drinks, and, presumably, these weren't all alcoholic. I'd specifically like to find a reference to using the grape for juice not intended to make wine.