Sunday, January 29, 2012

JSTOR: Knowledge in Chains

As JSTOR's approach to academic publishing online has come up more than once in our discussions, it's worth noting that scholars and researchers are beginning to criticize it more insistently. Here's a recent example from Laura McKinna in The Atlantic that quickly runs through several of the key arguments.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"a kind of dreadful logic"

Ovid's facility with myth is evident in everything he wrote. Here in a poem that Planned Parenthood would not have approved of, he alludes to Medea and Procne as he argues against the practice of abortion:
                  ...The world condemns
the woman of Colchis, spattered with the blood of her young sons,
and mourns for Procne's victim, poor Itys.
Horrible mothers! But at least a kind of dreadful logic moved them
to spill, from their sons' throats, their husbands' blood -
Tell me, in your case, where's the Tereus or Jason that could compel you
to move your outraged hand against yourself?
The entire text of Amores 2.14 can be found here in a good translation by Diane Arnson Svarlien. More here,  and also in print.

Ovid's ants and Virgil's bees

A book I'm reading has made me more clearly aware of how Ovid seems to be taking on Virgil in his treatment, in Metamorphoses 7, of the plague and the regeneration of the men of Aegina.

Michael O'Loughlin's The Garlands of Repose: The Literary Celebration of Civic and Retired Leisure: The Traditions of Homer and Vergil, Horace and Montaigne is a fascinating study of the changing visions of leisure, otium, from the ancient world to Montaigne. For the ancients, he says, the tranquility of a well-ordered civic world was the norm, priority and end of civilized life. Work, the world of business, of "jobs," was called negotium -- literally the negation, absence of, otium. O'Loughlin finds a pattern in Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Georgics, and in Horace and Montaigne in which work and leisure take on a relationship of means to end.

That is, we labor not in order to use our free time on "vacation" (the void or absence of work), rather through labor we accede to a kind of creative play that is the substance of human freedom -- the unalienated labor that is the fruit of liberty, as understood, for example, in the notion of liberal arts.

O'Loughlin shows how this pattern works itself out in the 3rd and 4th books of Virgil's Georgics. The 3rd book culminates in Virgil's account of a plague, a sacer ignis "fiery curse" that destroys all that lives, growing ever more lurid until Tisiphone herself is seen marshaling the destruction. In the 4th Georgic, we learn how to regenerate a colony of bees. Bees, the makers of "air-borne honey," embody the civic ideal of an ordered realm whose entire telos, aim, is the joyous production of honey from nectar. In this can be seen both a political image of the ordered polis, and a cultural ideal of art as the free labor of sweetness and light, the poet culling new delight from the flowers of rhetoric. It is not by chance that in the course of elaborating this fable, Virgil recites the interwoven quest stories of Aristaeus and of Orpheus.

The achievement of liberal art and culture is, for Virgil, the end of hard work, of destructive war and constructive human power. For Virgil, on his way to singing the pageant of Roman civilization, all leisure is hard-won, takes place in human history, and is always subject to potential loss.

Ovid's tale of Aeacus and the plague takes the impetus for the plague and its remedy nearly entirely out of human hands. A human child reminds Zeus, his father, of his love for his mother, and in honoring both parents, he moves the god to restore his race. The replacements come not in the form of the transformative bee, but through the orderly ant -- a race that lives and thrives through organization and carries "large loads in tiny mouths."

Years ago I had the good fortune to participate in a graduate seminar taught by O'Loughlin and was saddened recently to learn of his passing. He was a great teacher and a fine comparatist, although he remained nominally an "English prof."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Aeacus: omen and nomen

...the king of Oenone, the best in hands and mind... Pindar, Nemean 8

According to Apollodorus, Aeacus king of Aegina was the most pious of men. When Greece was devastated by evils, Aeacus's prayers restored fruitfulness to Hellas. Ovid transforms that story in Metamorphoses 7. It's another rich, important tale, briefly noted here.

First, the long detailed description of the devastating plague on the isle of Aegina makes it clear that it had no natural cause. The cause was divine, and came from Hera's wrath at Zeus. Not only was she angry at him for straying from the marital alliance (foedus) and loving the daughter of Asopus, Aegina, but also for allowing the isle where that love was consummated, and where their child Aeacus was king, to be named in honor of her rival. (Its original name was Oinone, or Oinopia). The divine cause had no more to do with the moral rectitude of the people of Aegina than with their physical hygiene. They were not being punished for anything they did or did not do (as, for example, Oeneus will be punished by Diana for forgetting to worship her in Book 8). They suffered horribly, to the point of losing every trace of moral, physical, and social humanity, because they lived in a place named Aegina. Gods do not like being reminded of certain things.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

True Love, Cretan Lies, and Monsters

The tale of Cephalus and Procris ends the seventh book of Ovid's Metamorphoses. It is rich in strange and magical elements, speaking of love, mistrust, coincidence, necessity, inescapable devices and fatal paradoxes. It has a long afterlife, extending to Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, as E.H. Gombrich and other scholars have noted.

The story seems simple, but has enigmatic elements - we'll look at a few of them here, but this is by no means exhaustive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Ovid Might Say about SOPA/PIPA

As this is a day of strike about SOPA and PIPA, we'll leave our notes about Ovid for another time, and content ourselves with a link to this site, which both explains the issues, and delights.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Foedera: A binding word in Book 7

A key word in Metamorphoses 7 is foedus (-era). It means a bond, a pledge of faith, a treaty, covenant, agreement as between cities, and on the individual level, the plighted troth of marriage.

Every major character in Book 7 except Theseus uses the word to emphasize the importance of a relationship - Medea to Jason, Aegina to Athens, the marital bed of Cephalus and Procris:
Medea:     et dabit ante fidem, cogamque in foedera testes esse deos. 46
Aeacus:    Cecropidis est hac tellus: ea foedera nobis.' 486
Minos:      tristis abit 'stabunt' que 'tibi tua foedera magno' 487
Cephalus:  auxilium foedusque refert et iura parentum, 503
Cephalus:  primaque deserti referebam foedera lecti: 710
Procris:     per nostri foedera lecti     850
Such words in Ovid interweave disparate elements in the tales and show them to be related, even as each story speaks in its own way about relationship.

Fresco from Crete

Exit Medea, Enter Theseus

The mini-recognition scene in which Theseus and Aegeus discover they are father and son is also the moment when the ever-industrious Medea disappears from the Metamorphoses. She invokes a dark cloud via an incantation (carmen) and vanishes.

Immediately we are present at a communal celebration, marked by a public song, a festive carmen that recalls several of the heroic feats of Theseus, the elimination of hideous thugs and monsters from the roadways of central Greece.

That song begins:

‘Great Theseus, admired in Marathon,
for the blood of the Cretan bull,
your act and gift made Cromyon’s fields
safe for the farmers plough.
Epidaurus’s land saw you defeat
Vulcan’s club-wielding son,
and the banks of the River Cephisus
saw evil Procrustes brought down.

Theseus has made the fields safe for farmers, and the roads secure for travelers -- exactly what the Muses told Athena they need for art and culture to flourish.

The song of the Athenians contrasts sharply with Medea's incantation that invoked the moon:

‘Night, most faithful keeper of our secret rites;
Stars, that, with the golden moon, succeed the fires of light;
Triple Hecate, you who know all our undertakings,
and come, to aid the witches’ art, and all our incantations:
You, Earth, who yield the sorceress herbs of magic force:
You, airs and breezes, pools and hills, and every watercourse;
Be here; all you Gods of Night, and Gods of Groves endorse. (7.192 ff)

Where Medea's song speaks of silence, night, secrecy and Hekatean arts -- all perfectly consistent with what we have seen of this witch's dramatized introspective consciousness -- the song to Theseus is sung by the polis in broad day:
It is said no day ever dawned for the Athenians more glad than that.
and it's helped along with the natural magic of wine: carmina vino ingenium faciente canunt.

Interestingly, the paean to Theseus begins in the middle of line 433, the dead center of Book 7.

        te, maxime Theseu, 

It might just be coincidence, and certainly there are vagaries of textual integrity -- a line lost here, or interpolated there -- that would offset the structural precision. But let's note that the figure of the greatest Athenian hero enters here, and returns in books 8 and 9 as well. So he's present in the three central books of the poem. While he's given less space than Medea or Cephalus, we have to remember that sometimes, in Ovid, the most important figures can be fleetingly, allusively present.

So consider the possibility that Ovid chose to insert Theseus at this point in Book 7 to mark a golden moment of Athenian balance, harmony, and centrality. In this bright day of his arrival, we are poised between the disappearing eastern witchery of Medea and Hecate, and the ships of Minos that soon appear over the horizon from the south, seeking vengeance upon Athens.

If Medea, the solitary secretive spellbinder, dominated the tale of feckless Jason and the first half of book 7, Minos dominates the latter. He is the king of 100 cities, son of Zeus and Europa, husband to the daughter of the sun who has cursed his sexuality, and caretaker of the land that gave baby Zeus a place hidden from his devouring father, Cronos. As we'll see, the realm of Minos is woven through the latter half of Book 7 and the first half of Book 8.

Dore: Minos in the Inferno 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pallas and the Powers of the Titans

We were talking about Pallas (as in Pallas Athena) the other day, and it seems the mythological roots for that name are (mirabile dictu!) more complex than we thought. There was a Pallas who was a Libyan nymph and childhood friend of Athena, according to certain traditions:
"They say that after Athene's birth, she was reared by Triton, who had a daughter named Pallas. Both girls cultivated the military life, which once led them into contentious dispute. As Pallas was about to give Athene a whack, Zeus skittishly held out the aegis, so that she glanced up to protect herself, and thus was wounded by Athene and fell. Extremely saddened by what had happened to Pallas, Athene fashioned a wooden likeness of her, and round its breast tied the aegis which had frightened her, and set the statue beside Zeus and paid it honour." [Pallas the Nymph]
In Book 7, the Pallas whose two sons arrive with Cephalus is a brother of King Aegeus. This Pallas had 50 sons, all later killed by Theseus. But there's another Pallas, the Titan of warcraft, also relevant to Athena:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rhetoric as education - nay, seduction!

The field of rhetorical analysis was set out by the Greeks. A treatise compiled by students of Aristotle became a key part of the trivium for students for centuries after.

One of my favorite rhetorical figures is epanorthosis. Here's how Wikipedia describes it:
An epanorthosis is a figure of speech that signifies emphatic word replacement.[1] The example "thousands, no, millions!" is a stock example. More often, however, epanorthosis signifies immediate and emphatic self-correction, and as such often follows a Freudian slip (either accidental or deliberate). 
"The psychologist known as Sigmund Fraud—Freud, I mean!" 
"I've been doing this for six weeks!—er, days, that is. 
"Man has parted company with his trusty friend the horse and has sailed into the azure with the eagles, eagles being represented by the infernal combustion engine—er er,internal combustion engine. [loud laughter] Internal combustion engine! Engine!" – Winston Churchill[2]
What's particularly fine here is how what most innocent listeners (or readers) would experience as something spontaneous and charming turns out to be a device, a sophisticated play with words calculated to achieve a certain disarming effect upon the aforesaid unsuspecting listeners. This is truly an art of speech acts and impacts in which every imaginable form of wordplay is analyzed into multifarious components that are carefully described, defined, codified and illustrated -- and then marketed as the art of persuasion, i.e., seduction.

We noted how Ovid is constantly transforming material through the use of narrative lenses, using distancing to diminish, and close-ups to make more palpable, as in the contrasting murders of children by their mothers - Itys by Procne and Philomela in Book 6, and the children of Jason (we never even learn their names) by Medea in Book 7. This too belongs to the optics and fairy dust of rhetoric, which can make the small appear large, and the large, small.

Quintilian teaching rhetoric
A few resources:

I am angry—no, I am furious about the delay.

But the writer who returned to the philosophic consideration of rhetoric both as a saleable technique capable of subverting serious inquiry into truth and the workings of justice, as well as for purposes of manipulating civic and political power, is Plato. See, for example, the Phaedrus, which begins with a dramatic rendition of a sophist's speech. Also the Gorgias, the Symposium and the Republic. But the concern with rhetoric is pervasive in Plato -- via the figure of Socrates, this concern takes on an ethical and epistemological mission: it is the work of the philosopher to expose rhetoric's sorcery and defrock its charms.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Setting and background in Metamorphoses 7

In the latter half of Metamorphoses 7, Ovid pointedly stage manages meetings between Aeacus and Minos, and then Aeacus and Cephalus. These latter happen to be ancestors, respectively, of Achilles and Odysseus -- the chief heroes of the Homeric epics.

Aeacus, son of Zeus and father of Peleus, was the king of Aegina - an island to the west of Athens - and grandfather of Achilles. Cephalus, grandson of Aeolus, was the great-grandfather of Odysseus through Clymene, the woman he married after the death of Procris. The line (known as "the line of only sons") is Cephalus -> Arcesius -> Laertes -> Odysseus -> Telemachus.
Aeacus while he reigned in Aegina was renowned in all Greece for his justice and piety, and was frequently called upon to settle disputes not only among men, but even among the gods themselves.[12][13] He was such a favourite with the latter, that, when Greece was visited by a drought in consequence of a murder which had been committed, the oracle of Delphi declared that the calamity would not cease unless Aeacus prayed to the gods that it might.[2][14] Aeacus prayed, and it ceased in consequence. (Aeacus)