CJ 110.4: the one about prodigies


Susan Satterfield, “Prodigies, the Pax Deum and the Ira Deum

tl;dr version: we shouldn’t think of prodigies as signaling a rupture in the pax deum (good relations between gods and Romans), but rather as signaling future danger that requires the pax to avert it.

undergrads could certainly understand this, but the point is pretty subtle

stakes: a (slightly?) different way of thinking about some concepts central to Roman religion

This is a fairly subtle revision of the traditional way of thinking about prodigies and Roman religion. Prodigies are weird and interesting. If you’ve ever taken a look at Livy or Tacitus, say, you’ll remember the recurring lists of unnatural events (“a talking chicken, a hermaphrodite birth, a plague, etc.” 432).

On the traditional view, such bizarre occurrences signaled a rupture in the pax deum. The pax was the state of favorable relations between gods and mortals, and a prodigy indicated that some human action had angered the gods, so that the pax had now been replaced by the ira deum. Reaction to prodigies thus involved finding the source of the anger and performing expiation of some kind, so as to restore the pax.

Satterfield, relying on a recent analysis by Federico Santangelo, argues instead that the pax is not something stable and lasting that could possibly be “ruptured.” Instead prodigies are the signal that the pax is needed to protect against some (imminent) future danger. Prodigies, therefore, can sometimes be a symptom of the gods’ care for humans (how nice of them to send us a talking chicken as a warning of coming danger!) rather than of their anger.

At the very end of the piece Satterfield suggests that these two ways of thinking about prodigies (as signals of divine anger caused by human fault v. as helpful warnings of future dangers destined to occur at some point) might indicate different approaches of different religious bodies: the haruspices and the decemviri sacris faciundis. This is pretty interesting, although there wasn’t really enough evidence presented to give a sense of how plausible it is.

One side note: the language used around the pax deum (which was the basis of the Santangelo argument Satterfield is developing) reminded me of kids’ books I read long ago in which “pax!” is a “truce term” — a common way of responding to bickering — in early 20th century English public schools. It makes sense, I guess, to yell “peace!” the way kids now might yell “time out!” — but Satterfield’s account of Romans “seeking” or “asking for” or “praying for” the pax sounded as if the school kid use of the term might actually be based on the Roman notion of the pax deum rather than simply the word “peace.” Wonder how you’d find out something like that?

CJ 110.4: the one about being in love with statues


Shawn O’Bryhim, “The Economics of Agalmatophilia” 419-430

tl;dr version: a fun tour through a group of bizarro stories featuring men in love with statues; the argument is that these are analogous to urban legends, actively disseminated to encourage tourism.

undergrads would find this fascinating

stakes: a new way of thinking about a (lesser-known) story type, with possible (unexplored) wider repercussions for considering likenesses/differences between our world and the past more generally

This is a fun and engaging piece that identifies a group of stories mainly from the Hellenistic era in which a man falls in love with, and then attempts to have sex with, a particularly alluring statue (the “agalmatophilia” of the title. what a great word!).

O’Bryhim takes us through the stories and our sources for them, and then speculates that they were fabricated and disseminated by either temple personnel or people who earned money acting as tour guides. The stories would have increased interest in seeing the statues, and thus increased the lucrative tourist trade. We have other indications (helpfully assembled in the article) that tourism could be a vital part of some towns’ economies, so the notion that these stories could be economically motivated is plausible and interesting.

On a side note: I found myself somewhat stumped by the language of sexual misconduct O’Bryhim consistently uses to describe these encounters between man and statue (“outrageous treatment”; “abuse”; “molestation”). He never says “rape” but “outrage” feels like code for that. Is this odd? Clearly statues can’t consent, but nor can they not consent… and clearly there’s something transgressive about falling in love with one, but somehow the language of “abuse” or “molestation” seems peculiar here. Not that I have a better suggestion.

CJ 110.4: the one about Xenophon


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.

CJ 110.4: the one about the Euripides epigram


CJ 110.4: Ian Plant “Thucydides, Timotheus and the Epitaph for Euripides” 385-396

tl;dr A careful review of the sources for the epigram and the text itself, concluding that it was not by either of the authors it’s attributed to, but a later (mid-4th cent) composition, which may or may not have been actually inscribed on a memorial erected then.

undergraduates could read this, but the topic is fairly advanced

stakes: provides some further support for our understanding of 4th-century Athenian ideology of cultural, if no longer political, supremacy and the popularity of Euripides

This is a straightforward and interesting analysis of what we can know about an epigram commemorating Euripides that is variously attributed to Thucydides the historian and a late-fifth century lyric poet named Timotheus.

Plant starts by recounting our sources for the epigram (the Life of Euripides, the Greek Anthology and the much later Athenaeus) and going through the implications of the linguistic differences between their versions of the text. In this context we get interesting information on the tradition of the epigram (I was unaware, for instance, that book 7 of the Greek Anthology records nine different sepulchral epigrams for Euripides!).

More interesting to me was the analysis of the epigram itself, with its echoes of Pericles’ Funeral Oration that likely led to the attribution to Thucydides.

Finally, Plant examines the evidence that the epigram was part of the ideology, traced to Isocrates in the 380s and continuing through the Hellenistic era, of Athenian cultural dominance. Here we get a sense of the popularity of Euripides (and the other tragedians) during this period, and the physical and textual traces of this.

Plant concludes that the epigram was probably never actually inscribed on a memorial, and that its ideology dates it too late to have been written by either of the late-fifth-century authors to whom it was attributed in antiquity.

Helios 41.2: the one about Helen


Meredith Prince, “Helen of Rome? Helen in Vergil’s Aeneid”

tl;dr version: a straightforward study of the depiction of Helen in the Aeneid focusing on the differences among different characters’ views of her, concluding that the portrait overall is negative and ambivalently links Rome’s foundation to the evils of adultery.

undergrads could read this but might not find it very exciting/helpful

theoretical foundation: narratology/deJong’s work on focalization (but completely accessible without this)

stakes: not clear

Of the four articles in this issue of Helios, this is by far the most traditional in approach, and offers basically a close reading of all mentions of Helen in Vergil’s Aeneid. In addition to the famous Helen episode in Book 2, these comprise the narrator’s description of Aeneas’ gifts to Dido in Book 1, Deiphobus’ account of his own death in Book 6, Andromache’s (non) reference in Book 3, and Amata’s allusions in Book 7.

Prince’s goal is to complicate somewhat the notion (expressed, e.g., by Highet 1972) that Vergil’s portrait of Helen is purely evil, in contrast to Homer’s more sympathetic depictions. She shows how Venus and Amata have personal agendas that require viewing Helen as an innocent victim, in contrast to the Trojan view of her as guilty in their destruction and deserving of punishment. Somewhat oddly she organizes her paper as if gender is a significant factor, even though by her own account it is ethnicity that determines characters’ stances: the Trojan view (Aeneas, Deiphobus and Andromache) is uniformly negative while the divine and non-Trojan view emphasizes forces at play other than Helen’s agency.

She succeeds in showing how even among the negative views emphasis shifts from figure to figure depending on their concerns. Andromache, focused on motherhood, erases Helen altogether from her mention of Hermione, thus denying motherhood to the woman who abandoned her daughter. Aeneas’ account emphasizes her guilt and the terrible public repercussions of her adultery, while Deiphobus’ focuses on her treachery, eliding the concept of adultery that would make him also guilty and their marriage illegitimate. Venus, on the other hand, deflects blame for Troy’s fall to the anger of the gods; Amata, in casting Aeneas as a new Paris, throws the blame to Trojan men for abducting women. Finally, the poet himself uses Helen (through his description of the gifts Aeneas offers Dido) as a warning to Dido on the dangers of rupturing loyalty to her first husband.

Most interesting to me was the notion of Helen’s adultery and its consequences in relation to the (future) Augustan moral legislation. Prince argues that Helen’s significant occurrences in the epic tie Troy’s past to Rome’s future, serving as hinge between the backward glance at the burning city and Aeneas’ focus on his father, both in book 2, where Venus stops him from killing Helen and reminds him of his father, and in book 6, where his encounter with Deiphobus precedes his conversation with Anchises in the underworld. Prince is never explicit in what she means by “reconciling” Helen’s adultery with the foundation of Rome (p. 199, 205), but her observations on the public and private repercussions of adultery are suggestive.

Overall clear and accessible, if perhaps underwhelming in its conclusions.

Helios 41.2: the one about Haemon


Peter Miller, “Destabilizing Haemon: Radically Reading Gender and Authority in Sophocles’ Antigone” (163-185)

tl;dr version: Creon offers his son the choice between being subservient/masculine or independent/feminine; the gender ambiguities in Haemon’s suicide are a response (and perhaps escape from?) this forced choice.

undergrads could read this with some help on the theoretical background

stakes: fuller understanding of political ideology of play through illuminating under-examined figure.

This is an extremely interesting reading of the frequently-neglected character of Haemon, focusing on the relationship between his scene with Creon and the Messenger’s description of his attempted patricide and suicide. The theoretical framework draws on Althusser, as well as Butler’s critique of Althusser, but the article is largely accessible to readers without that background.

That Creon is increasingly obsessed with gender as the play unfolds is frequently remarked upon by students. Miller maps this obsession onto Creon’s political ideology, which locates the power of the state increasingly in his own person. Thus rather than a model of power familiar to the democracy, in which citizens alternate ruling and being ruled, Creon’s model for ruling, and therefore the subject identities he offers to the ruled, is rather that of the family, in which a son is always subservient to his father. Miller shows how Creon’s language in the Haemon scene genders the concepts of loyalty and subservience and their opposites: “masculinity is tied to loyalty (and thus only available to those who are loyal) but also, counterintuitively, to subservience (and thus only available to those who accept Creon’s autocracy); conversely, femininity is characterized as disloyal, but independent and active” (167). Creon’s lines questioning Haemon at his entrance (631-4) offer Haemon the choice of these two subject-identities: masculine, loyal son or feminine, disloyal rebel; the scene goes on to fill out and emphasize these two identities as the only available from the ruling ideology.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article comes as Miller analyzes Haemon’s ultimate appearance as the continuation of this exchange with his father. The textual analysis in this section (tying the two passages together) is great; and I found it entirely persuasive. Once that connection has been established, Miller can read the suicide, with its arguably ambiguous gender implications, as a response to the choice of identities he posited in the earlier scene. Often read as a consummation of marriage, and thus allowing Haemon to assume, in death, a masculine role, Miller argues that the suicide can also be seen as a self-defloration, thus aligning Haemon (whose name after all means “blood”) with more feminine associations. This “transgendered” identity in turn becomes (on Miller’s interpretation) the individual’s resistance to Creon’s interpellation, or the ideologically-determined subject identity with which Creon has constrained Haemon’s options.

I found the final part of the article the least convincing; here Miller evokes an essay by Judith Butler (evidently inspired by the events on Tahrir Square) on collectively-determined political identity. Here more than with the earlier use of the concept of “interpellation” the theory seems only uncomfortably bolted on to the reading of the text Miller is offering. I’m also a little skeptical about calling the messenger’s account of the suicide “subversive” as if there were some reality or non-subversive account available to us. But overall the article made me think about Haemon and his function in the play in a new way, and that’s not an easy feat!

Helios 41.2: the one about magical papyri and Homer


Illusions and Vanishing Acts: Homeric Recension, Athetesis, and Magic in P. Oxy 412 (PGM XXIII), by Francesca Middleton

tl;dr version: interesting analysis of a fragment of Julius Africanus’ Kestoi published in 1931; Middleton analyzes the full fragment in its context to argue that it plays on Hellenistic editorial practices as well as the conventions of Greek magic.

maybe advanced undergrads could read this, but the material is pretty erudite. No explicit theoretical background is invoked.

stakes: a new way of thinking about an intriguing text, with (unexplored) implications for who in the ancient world read this stuff and why

The two-column papyrus fragment Middleton looks at here (P. Oxy 412), part of which is included in the collection of Greek magical papyri known as PGM, is from a larger (lost) work by Julius Africanus known as the Kestoi. Analyzing something from a little-known work by restoring its context in an even-lesser-known work looks like addressing a very specialized audience indeed, but the argument is clear and interesting, if focused in an under-trafficed corner of the field.

The text of the Africanus fragment presents 40-odd lines of hexameter poetry in its first column, with prose commentary following in the second. The poetry purports to come from Odyssey 11, where Odysseus recounts his encounter with the shades of the dead, but it includes some Iliadic lines and some entirely invented ones, which reference Egyptian rather than Greek gods. Only this first part of the papyrus fragment is included in PGM.

Middleton turns first to the prose commentary section of the fragment, arguing that Africanus references/plays upon/inverts the practices of Hellenistic textual scholarship. In particular she shows how Africanus alters the practice of athetesis, which marked out (while preserving) specific lines of Homeric text as spurious. Her conclusion is that Africanus, in direct opposition to the practices of this tradition of scholarship, instead presents a shifting, permeable and dynamic text rather than a rigidly defined one where authentic text and later additions are starkly distinguished. Africanus includes lines athetized by the Homeric scholar Aristarchus, but excludes without comment lines included in other editions, in addtion to the wholesale interpolation of obviously anachronistic Egyptian material.

Once she has shown how Africanus references Hellenistic scholarly practice, Middleton goes on to discuss the contemporary practice of using lines of Homer in magical incantations. The material presented here is fascinating, and while I knew of the practice I was still enchanted (not literally) by the examples she included.

While she argues that the fragment brings into conversation these two very different ways of thinking about the Homeric text, Middleton does not attempt to answer the obvious question of why or to what effect Africanus would do such a thing. My assumption (which perhaps comes out of my ignorance) is that the audience for Hellenistic scholarship on Homer would have been quite different from the audience for instructions on using Homer in magical incantations. Is Africanus really supposed to be addressing the latter audience playing on conventions known only to the former? Or is he parodying both? For whom?

Even without the (ultimately unknowable) answers to these questions, though, I’m glad to have learned that the fragment exists and something about its general context.

Helios 41.2: the one about Ovid


“In Wolf’s Clothing: a Psychoanalytic Reading of the Lycaon episode in Ovid, Metamorphoses 1,” Ricardo Apostol

tl;dr version:   a Lacanian/Freudian analysis of the Lycaon episode in the Metamorphoses, arguing that the text may be read to indicate that it was actually Lycaon who killed Jupiter and then took his place, and that the anxieties behind the text are connected to the fraught issue of succession to Augustus late in his reign.

undergrad-the kind of undergrad who is excited by theory will enjoy this, if only to argue with it, but it’s not for beginners. While Apostol is pretty good about explaining the theoretical background, he is also clearly addressing an audience of the already-initiated.

stakes: connecting the episode to the issue of succession is interesting, and illuminates (if we buy the argument) the text’s reception by its first audience

This is a challenging but very interesting analysis of the Lycaon episode. Apostol frames his psychoanalytic reading of the passage as a detective story, identifying and then following out the implications of two sections of the text he claims contain “inconsistencies” — first, the oddly doubly-determined outrage perpetrated by Lycaon, and second, his transformation into a wolf.

In the first case, Apostol points out the temporal strangeness of Lycaon’s feast coming after his (attempted) murder of Jupiter (Met. 1.224-227). His analysis of this moment takes him from an account of Jupiter as Lykaon’s “Other” in Lacanian terms through an excursus on Freud’s Totem and Taboo. For those of us uncomfortable with retrojecting the work of 19th century Vienna back to late Augustan Rome, Apostol points out that similar stories of murder and cannibalism were associated with Arcadia in the ancient world as well.

The second textual passage he focuses on is Lykaon’s transformation into a wolf (1.232-239). Here he not only points out the (reasonably common in the Metamorphoses) way in which the transformation happens without an agent, but also, again, the temporal oddness of ipse, and then os, the subjects of the first four lines, only becoming “wolf” after the slaughter of flocks.

At this point Apostol is deep in Lacanian subject-formation, and the world of Fantasy, associated with pre-verbal organic drive, as it underlies the structure of Symbolic, Imaginary and Real. Your response to the article will be dependent upon your views on Lacan or your openness to this sort of analysis. Personally I have a hard time with the notion of “the text” being so anxious as to “hysterically” attempt to “cover up” something, but on the other hand the insights Apostol reaches are highly suggestive. Rather than simply remaining with the much-discussed question of whether or how the text might be “anti-Augustan,” Apostol makes an interesting link to contemporary concerns with succession. This itself must have been a problematic concept given Augustus’ unprecedented (and therefore questionably replicable) position of princeps and the degree to which this position was firmly tied to his personal qualities. As soon as someone else takes the position, “princeps” becomes a role (Symbolic, in Lacanian terms) rather than a personal characteristic:

“How could the identity of the Father, supposedly the paramount element in securing both his own authority and the safety and prosperity of the citizens, now suddenly be recast as subject to change in the person of another ruler? Did not such a move render the Father’s identity as shifting, arbitrary, and perhaps even largely irrelevant? These questions, and the anxiety they generate, form an essential element in the text’s depiction of the primordial crime on which the destruction or salvation of humanity depends” (62).

This is longer than I’d like these summaries to be in general, but it’s a very dense argument — fascinating, and for the most part clear if you’re willing to exert yourself.

Classics Blogging on Blog Divided

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.