Apologies for the blogging silence over the summer. One would think that summer would be an ideal time for this sort of project, but I had a kind of crazy travel schedule this year and blogging was a casualty. Now term is nicely started though and I’m eager to get back to it. Especially because new issues of everything have just come out! So here comes the end of CJ 110, and on to newer things…
Chiara Battistella, “Medea reaches maturity: on Ovidian intertextuality in Seneca’s Medea 905-915”
tl;dr some language in Seneca’s Medea may indicate that he is placing himself in agonistic relation with Ovid’s Medea. I guess.
I would not recommend this to an undergraduate audience.
stakes: ? unclear
Sorry to have been silent; Carleton term has been finishing up. Summer soon to begin! But also this was just a difficult piece to get through, and I’ve had to read it a number of times. The author’s abstract starts “This article offers some thoughts on Seneca’s Medea…” and that’s pretty telling; it is not easy to extract a unified argument here.
Disregarding the “thoughts” for the moment, the title refers to what I take to be the main idea of the paper: that (part of) the speech in which Seneca’s Medea declares her intention to kill her children evokes Ovid’s Amores 2.18, in which Ovid makes reference to his (lost) tragedy Medea. The key line in Seneca is Medea nunc sum; crevit ingenium malis (“Now I am Medea; my talent has grown by means of evils” 910); Ovid also uses the words ingenium and (separately) crevit in Amores 2.18 11-16.
Your mileage may vary on this; I am convinced by the artful use Seneca makes of elegiac language (outlined by Chris Trinacty) and it would be odd if Seneca were not writing his tragedy with Ovid’s in mind along with Euripides’ (and Ennius’, for that matter). But ingenium and cresco are both reasonably common words. Sometimes I feel like our extended focus on the few surviving texts makes us a tad myopic about seeing references. On the other hand Seneca’s working memory for Latin letters will have been massively larger than our own. So maybe my skepticism is misplaced!
CJ 110.4: Christopher Moore: “Self-Knowledge in Xenophon’s Memorabilia 4.2″
tl;dr version: expands the consensus view that “self-knowledge” for Xenophon simply means knowing one’s capacities; in addition to this the knowledge of justice, beauty and the good is necessary along with a commitment to continuing conversation with others and self-assessment.
undergraduates could certainly read and benefit from this; it’s clear and interesting (assuming they are philosophically-minded). Plus it includes the phrase “epistemic self-maintenance” which I plan to include in conversation wherever I can in future.
stakes: our assessment of Xenophon as a thinker (which has been turning around recently but is still generally dimmer than it might be)
4.2 is often singled out as the most Platonic of the potpourri of conversations that is the Memorabilia, and Moore’s analysis of it brings an even greater appreciation for its depth. His focus is on the concept of self-knowledge (this is the only place in Xenophon where Socrates refers to the famous Delphic maxim to “know yourself”), and his argument is that Xenophon’s Socrates has a more sophisticated and interesting sense of what exactly is meant by that directive than modern readers have generally assumed.
Moore begins by discussing the common view of what is meant by self-knowledge in this section: knowledge of one’s abilities. The first section of the article makes a convincing argument as to why that understanding is incomplete. He then goes on to expand on what is included in Socrates’ understanding of the concept.
The core of this argument looks at an analogy Socrates introduces as he and Euthydemus consider the path to self-knowledge: to a horse-buyer’s ability to investigate the qualities of a horse he is considering purchasing (4.2.5). From an extended analysis of this sentence, Moore argues that Socrates’ concept of self-knowledge includes five features: “urgency, self-ownership or self-purchase, a technically difficult investigation, a focus on certain qualities, and multiple kinds of knowledge” (407). While the notion of purchase is at first counter-intuitive in thinking about knowing oneself, the discourse around self-mastery and its opposite “slavishness” as consequences of self-knowledge or its lack makes sense of it.
Equally interesting is the analysis of Socrates’ technique here (which is quite different from what we see elsewhere in the Memorabilia) and the implication that conversation with others is a crucial part of our path to knowledge of ourselves. After all, at the opening of the dialogue Euthydemus prides himself on his collection of books; Socrates’ interaction with him serves the purpose of demonstrating that books alone are an insufficient mechanism to bring you to real wisdom.
I’ve been teaching Xenophon of late, and so was particularly interested in reading this; I will certainly come back to it in future.
Although EcBlogue has been fairly dormant recently, since the middle of last month I’ve been contributing classics-related blog posts to Blog Divided, the blog of the House Divided Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College. The blog is intended as a resource for those teaching and studying the period 1840-1880. My posts are on the classics in American culture and education during that period. I invite you to check out House Divided, and my blog posts in general.
So far, I’ve posted on Generals O.O. Howard and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and classical education, Robert Montgomery Bird’s antebellum drama The Gladiator, the classical courtship of Lucretia and James Garfield, and the Civil War career of classicist Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve. My next post will focus on William Sanders Scarborough.
Novelist Philip Roth recently predicted that within twenty-five years, reading novels will be a “cultic” activity, reserved for an enthusiastic minority who retain the attention span for novel reading and are able to resist the allure of the big and small screens. Roth said:
I think it’s going to be cultic. I think always people will be reading them but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range.
You can read the rest of the story here.
Things have been rather quiet here lately. The term is limping along. At Carleton, we’re in week 7 of our nine-and-a-half week term. This fall, the flu is taking full advantage of the stressed and sleep-deprived student body. As of this morning, 30% of my Latin 101 class is out with a reported case of the flu.
To pass the time until the crisis has passed and some original content becomes available, here’s a an article I published in New England Classical Journal about Latin in the Progressive Era, focusing specifically on an episode in Jean Webster’s novel for girls, Just Patty (1911). The article is a downloadable PDF file.
“Girls Reading Vergil: Stories of Latin and Progressive Education.” Originally published in New England Classical Journal 32.2 (May 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Rob Hardy.
It was commonplace in Latin poetry that the Golden Age came to a decisive end when humans started to build ships and sail across the sea. In the good old days, men stayed at home and plowed the earth and ate the produce of their own fields. In his tragedy Medea, Seneca (d. 65 CE) writes: “Then every man inactive kept to his own shores and lived to old age on ancestral fields, rich with but little, knowing no wealth save what his home soil had yielded.” The fall from grace came when men cut down trees to fashion ships, transgressing the natural limits that the gods had established. As Horace (d. 8 CE) writes: “In vain did a provident god separate the lands with a disconnecting sea, if ungodly ships still bound across the forbidden depths.”
Ships made possible trade with distant lands, and the Romans no longer had to rely on the produce of their own fields. Corn (wheat) flowed in from the provinces to feed the Roman populace. All boundaries had been dissolved. Seneca writes: “All bounds have been removed, cities have set their walls in new lands, and the world, now passable throughout, has left nothing where it once had place: the Indian drinks of the cold Arazes, the Persians quaff the Elbe and the Rhine. ” Moralists like Horace and Seneca saw that the Romans had abandoned the virtues of the agrarian ancestors for luxury and license.
Food was a clear marker of the fall from ancient Roman virtue. The Stoic philosopher Seneca is obsessed with food. In his Moral Epistles, he writes about the rise in obesity in Rome, comparing his contemporaries with their more abstemious ancestors: “[In those days] men’s bodies were still sound and strong; their food was light and not spoiled by art and luxury, whereas when they began to seek dishes not for the sake of removing, but of rousing, the appetite, and devised countless sauces to whet their gluttony, —then what before was nourishment to a hungry man became a burden to the full stomach.”
In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon pauses to dwell on the decadence of the early third-century emperor Elagabalus. First on the list of his vices was that he liked to “confound the order of seasons and climates.” In other words, he ate foods out of season, and imported from great distances. In a footnote, Gibbon writes: “He would never eat sea-fish except at a great distance from the sea…”
The Historia Augusta, Gibbon’s source, records a long list of outlandish foods consumed by Elagabalus, including peacock tongues and ostrich brains. The late Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius includes this recipe for Roasted Flamingo: “Pluck the flamingo, wash it, truss it, put it in a pot; add water, salt, dill, and a bit of vinegar. When it is half cooked, tie together a bouquet of leeks and coriander and cook together with the flamingo. When it is almost cooked, add defrutum [reduced wine] for color. In a mortar put pepper, cumin, coriander, silphium root, mint, and rue; grind, moisten with vinegar, add dates, and poor on cooking broth. Empty into the same pot and thicken with starch. Pour the sauce over the flamingo and serve. Do the same for parrot.”*
Even if you manage to procure a flamingo for roasting, you won’t find silphium root. The exotic and expensive herb, imported by the Romans from Syria, went extinct during the reign of Nero. Poor dyspeptic Seneca was part of the last generation to enjoy the taste of silphium root in his food.
*From Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, A Taste of Ancient Rome (University of Chicago Press, 1992), 120.
Middlemarch is back on the shelf, and my next big read is Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon’s monumental work originally appeared in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, and is available in various modern editions, including the hefty three-volume Penguin edition elegantly introduced and edited by David Womersley. Pictured above is the 1114-page first volume.
There are some interesting affinities between George Eliot, the philosophic novelist, and Gibbon, the philosophic historian. Both probe into the dark recesses of human motivation; both approach their subjects with an equal measure of irony and sympathy. David Womersley, in his introduction, writes: “[T]he belief in unintended consequences naturally led the philosophic historian to form surprisingly nuanced judgements prompted by unexpectedly broad sympathies… Individuals and institutions, which he could only condemn as in themselves criminal or perverse, at moments contributed positively to human society, while, in obedience to the same principle, those he admired or loved may, despite their best endeavours, have exerted a harmful influence” (xxiii).
Thus Gibbon praises and admires the good emperor Marcus Aurelius, but shows us that, through his indulgence as a father, Marcus bequeathed to Rome the troubled reign of his unstable son Commodus. On the other hand, he dates the beginning of the end of Rome to the reign of the murderous and self-interested Septimius Severus, who temporarily restored a measure of peace and justice to the empire.
Of Marcus Aurelius, Gibbon writes: “The mildness of Marcus, which the rigid discipline of the Stoics was unable to eradicate, formed, at the same time, the most amiable, and the only defective, part of his character” (108). This is typical of Gibbon’s style, contrasting, in the same sentence, a positive and negative assessment of a person’s character or actions. “The most amiable, but only defective, part of his character.” There’s a kind of dizzying, dazzling even-handedness about Gibbon as he performs his stylistic juggling act, making judgments while seeming to keep judgment suspended in the air.
Cross-posted on Rough Draft.
The Meno is probably most famous for setting out the doctrine of anamnesis: the notion that your immortal soul possesses knowledge it has forgotten at your birth, but under the right conditions (i.e. if you are lucky enough to have Socrates ask you some strategic questions) you can be prompted to remember it. Socrates demonstrates this by leading an uneducated young slave through some geometry. Continue reading
You may have seen other videos like this; this is the chanting that’s going on from rooftops in Iran each night as part of the protests since June 12. It reminds me of a notorious women’s festival in ancient Athens called the Adonia, celebrated on the roofs of houses. We have tantalizing but inconclusive evidence that at the Adonia of 415 bce, the women were particularly, and perhaps intentionally, disruptive with the ritual wailing “Woe for Adonis” from the rooftops all over Athens; in retrospect this was seen by some as a bad omen for the ill-fated Sicilian Expedition. It’s been suggested that this was, in fact, a political protest against the coming war.
A roof is an interesting space: at once private (it’s your house) and public. During the day, protesters on the streets or in public squares in Iran are increasingly subject to arrest. But what exactly can the regime do to stop people from making noise from their own rooftops or balconies at night?
Anyway a couple of years ago I spent a happy afternoon trolling the wonderful Thesaurus Linguae Graecae for references to roofs in ancient Greek; I wrote up the results on my sabbatical blog. I’ll copy the whole thing below, as I still think it’s quite interesting!