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.