Friday, December 31, 2010

Appetitive: New Year's Resolutions

I am going to spend some time cleaning up my (very tired) post from last night on Greek Oaths. Meanwhile, I shall celebrate the New Year.

Tomorrow begins a New Year. In this year I will have to apply to graduate school and try to dive back into the world of classics in academia. I thought I would post a few resolutions related to this to remain in the spirit of the holiday (in no particular order):
  • Read at least 33% of the books on my reading (and rereading) list and review them on this blog.
  • Revise a chapter of my thesis into a writing sample for graduate school.
  • Go over Greek and/or Latin flashcards for at least 15 minutes per day.
  • Post translations for Sulpicia's poetic cycle.
  • Lean some Sanskrit.
  • Finish the rest of the Platonic Dialogues in English (I have a few more to go). I will possibly be reading the Parmenides with Ovid II.
  • Post a classically-related blogpost daily.
  • Improve my Greek and Latin pronunciation and my understanding of meter.
I do not know whether the Greek or the Romans had any kind of New Year's resolutions. I thought, since I could not find an apt quotation, that I would simply, like other writers before me, ask for guidance from the muses (in the words of another):
"δεῦτέ νυν ἄβραι Χάριτες καλλίκομοί τε Μοῖσαι [Come hither now delicate Graces and beautiful-haired Muses]" (Sappho 128)
and I would add "and guide me on my quest to graduate school."  Happy New Year, everyone!

Reasoning: Greek Oaths

I spent the last few days reading and spending a few hours on Mήδεια. In throughout the beginning, Μήδεια talks a lot about oaths and vows. In the section I was reading today, Μήδεια calls on Zeus (alternately rendered Ζῆνά) and Themis to see that her husband has broken his marriage vows.
 "κλύεθ' οἷα λέγει κἀπιβοᾶται / Θέμιν εὐκταίαω Ζῆνά θ', ὃς ὅρκων / θωητοῖς τμίασ νενόμισται; / οὐκ ἔστιν ὅπως ἔω τινι μικρῶι / δέσποινα χόλον καταπαυσει" (Mήδεια lines 169-172, spoken by the Nurse)
The Nurse (Τροφός), adding emphasis to the oath, asks the Chorus if they heard it. Mastronarde mentions that there was a legal nature to calling particularly on Zeus and Themis.

Although there is certainly a legal nature, law in Ancient Greece was tied directly with religion. Not only could people bring the charge of impiety or atheism (e.g. Socrates), but there were religious ceremonies tied into the legal proceedings themselves (see commentary on Aeschylus' Eumenides. There may even be enough material in Hugh Lloyd-Jones' translation). At the same time, Μήδεια is talking about a legal oath and a religious one, and the strength of this oath seems to be important. Unfortunately both the scholarship and my knowledge of the complexities of oaths and Greek religion is lacking. I have looked, but little is as in-depth or satisfying as it should be.
Euripides: Medea (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics) Oresteia

"ΖEUS ΣΩΘΗΡ ΤΡΙΤΟΣ and Some Triads in Aechylus' Oresteia"(JSTOR) is Peter Burian's amazing article about oaths-- or more libations-- in the Oresteia. I highly recommend the article. At banquets, so far as I can tell, three libations were poured: one for the Olympians, one for the cthonic gods (i.e. the old, earthier, and darker gods like Night and Persephone)[1], and the last to Zeus the Savior. There are a lot of interesting implications to this throughout the Oresteia. I almost wrote my thesis on the Zeus cult in the Oresteia, but too much of the scholarship was in German so I couldn't pull it off.

  1. Cthonic gods comes from the Greek word χθών meaning earth. They are gods that have to do with the earth (or under the earth) such as Hades and Persephone, as well as the "older," primordial gods like Night. More on cthonic cults and gods at some other time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Appetitive/Spirited: More Horace on Wine

I always enjoy picking wines for Christmas dinner. Since I am going to put up a new edition of "Wine Snob" very soon on my cooking/personal blog, I thought I would continue the tradition of translating Horace 1.38 and translate the last stanza of 2.14 (also about wine):
Absumet heres Caecuba dignior
     servata centum clavibus et mero
tinguet pavimentum superbo,
     pontificum potiore cenis.
The worthier heir will quaff the Caecuba [1]
     protected by one hundred keys and glorious
unmixed [wine] dyes the floor [2],
     more potent than the dinner of the priests.
The rest of the Horace poem (2.14) was about death and it was not particularly interesting [3]. The last stanza amused me, so I thought I would post it.

Some holiday wines.

  1. Caecuba is a type of Roman wine.
  2. I cannot decide whether the wine dies the floors from spillage or vomit. Either way, it shows the excess of the heir.
  3. I mentioned to Propertius II that "anyone can write 28 lines about death" and he quipped "but can anyone write 28 lines about death in Alcaeic strophs?"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Appetitive: New Books

My new books!
So I thought I would put up a picture of the classics books that I received for Christmas. I am sure that this is a vain act in some ways, but I am really excited to read all of them. Thus far, I have only delved into Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Technical Terms, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. It is a great basic guide to Greek art history. It is not an explanation of the history itself, for that I am reading The Art and Culture of Early Greece and Archaic and Classical Greek Art, but as I mentioned in yesterday's blogpost, it provides a glossary of terms and techniques that my other books do not lay out systematically (as they are more focused on the chronology.

I am really excited for my new reading material. But for now, I have to read Horace...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reasoning: Greek Vase Shapes

One of the things I wanted and received for Christmas was Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Technical Terms. The book is essentially an expanded glossary of technical terms for Greek vase art from Protogeometric from Hellenistic. I wanted this in order to provide myself with a stronger basis for understanding Greek art history. One of the pieces that I was most excited about was a chart  in the back identifying the different vase shapes.
Clark et al 154 [1].

Clark et al 155 [1].

Hopefully I can implement this knowledge and attempt to recognize some of the shapes when I go to see some of the vases in person.

As I discovered looking for these pictures, Wikipedia also has a fabulous page on the typology of Greek vases.

  1. The pictures are from a forum on the Brown University website.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Appetitive: Ancient Greek Drinking Songs for the Holidays

Music and wine for the holidays [1]! I have always liked the idea of Greek drinking songs, but only actually participated in the singing of them once. At one of the parties at our apartment, Cynthia brought out a Loeb and tried to have us sing one. Really the only adequate singer was Propertius II because my Greek pronunciation is terrible and Cynthia's voice does not quite have the robustness for drinking songs [2].

Anyway, I found some modern Greek musical interpretations of Ancient Greek lyric poetry on one of my searches for Ancient Greek drinking songs. From what Propertius II has told me of Ancient Greek music, this is far too melodious. However, I have only heard a little of it and it might be interesting. I also found an English translation of an Archilochus fragment that is one of the drinking songs at Extraface. I searched through an online archive of Archilochus for a while but I could not match it up to the Greek. I think I just was not looking hard enough because I was rushing. If someone figures out which fragment it is, please comment it or email me.

Greek Iambic Poetry: From the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries B.C. (Loeb Classical Library No. 259)

Perhaps I'll hunt down the Loeb in the library and see if I can find it after the holidays. Happy holidays, everyone!,

  1. It is amusing that all of my holiday posts seem to be about booze, because I have almost no alcohol tolerance at all and do not drink very much. However, I like the idea of drinking and being merry, even though I mostly have to be merry without the drinking.
  2. Her voice is much more suited to the indie songs that she sings with her ukulele.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Appetitive: Maps and Holidays

AWOL posted a fabulous historical Atlas site called Euratlas.. Sadly it only goes back to the beginning of the first century CE, but it's still an interesting resource.

I have been a little slow posting lately because of a combination of being under-the-weather and holiday duties (which I have posted about on my personal/cooking blog). I am hoping to post the last installment of Dates in the Platonic Corpus before the year is out and hopefully post some translations amidst the holidays. I will hopefully resume a more regular posting schedule next week. Happy holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Appetitive/Spirited: A Translation of Horace 1.38 for the Holidays

Horace 1.38

Persicos odi, puer, adparatus,
     displicent nexae philyra coronae,
mitte sectari, rosa quo locorum
     sera moretur.

simplici myrto nihil adlabores
     sedulus curo: neque te ministrum
dedecet myrtus neque me sub arta
     vite bibentem.

I hated Persian styling, boy, woven crowns 
     from the linden tree displease [me],
do not seek out haunts 
    where the late rose lingers.

I take pains that you, diligent, endeavor nothing 
     [other than] plain myrtle: neither is myrtle unsuitable 
for you as you serve nor for me 
     drinking under the thick-leaved vine.
Advice on the translation was taken from the notes in the Bennett edition I borrowed from the library as well as from Propertius II. However, it has been over a month since I read the poem and the notes that I took for myself were not nearly as detailed as they should have been. However, this is a rendering of what I remember.

The reason I chose this poem for the holidays is twofold. First, at the Aimee Mann Christmas Show, Paul Tompkins did comic bit on the two versions of Christmas. He claimed that there was one for religious people and one for everyone else, which was a drinking holiday. I thought this was pretty funny, especially because of the tradition of my family's Christmas wine selection (although no one drinks very much), and because it reminded me of Horace, who mentions wine in almost every poem I have read thus far. Second, although I had to return the my Bennett to the library, I remember something about the "late blooming rose" in line 4 being the Egyptian rose, which was known to bloom until December, which further reminded me of the holidays.

So, crown yourself in myrtle, pour a glass of wine, and read Horace by the fireside.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Appetitive: Why Everyone Should Learn Latin or Greek

America just does not teach grammar anymore. Even when I was in middle school and high school, we learned no grammar. English teachers seemed to expect that our grammatical understanding was intuitive; consequently errors in essays were dealt with individually not by providing any systematic understanding of English grammar.

Even in foreign language classes, at least at my school, the focus was placed on conversation-- usually extraordinarily inane conversation about buying food or asking for directions-- rather than grammar. Grammar days in the class came infrequently and were considered to be the "boring" days. I loved them. My conversational skills in French were minimal, but grammar was something I enjoyed.

The one place in my high school that grammar was taught systematically and well was in the Latin department (and later the adhoc Greek department). I did not take Latin in high school, but the few students who did had a better understanding of grammar in any language than the rest of us.

Today I taught my first grammar lesson to my current SAT prep class. Every student in the class takes Spanish in high school, which I admit is a useful skill, but none of them have training in English grammar or in either Latin or Greek. Although these students are bright and had an intuitive understanding of English grammar, they had no ability (even with their Spanish backgrounds) to associate different types of words or constructions with names. Even with no formal English grammar, students of Latin or Greek can easily identify parallels between languages and demonstrate a heightened ability to identify and correct errors.

I know I did not take Latin until college, but I wish that students began to learn Latin or Greek in middle school or earlier. It increases the ability to identify grammatical structures in English, as well as to learn other Indo-European languages and often increases knowledge of and interest in linguistics.

Just a thought for the day. Happy holidays, everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reasoning: Online Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World

I found this amazing website on AWOL this morning. It is still under construction, but what has been constructed is fabulous. It is a free-access online Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World (in English and Modern Greek). It is produced by the Foundation of the Hellenic World.

At the moment, there are three volumes which allow access: Volume I, Asia Minor; Volume II, Black Sea; Volume III, Constantinople. I have only browsed through a few entries in the Volume I, but thus far they look thorough and integrate pictures and links. I think these volumes are still unfinished, because nothing came up when I tried to visit Herodotus' page, but the project is encouraging.

If any of these sites come up in Greek, click the British flag button and they will change-over to English.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reasoning: Thoughts on the Medea

I have been reading the Μήδεια in Greek with a friend of mine who is in Turkey (skype is awesome). One of the things that we notice recently was that not only is there an ever-present sense of doom in the beginning of the text, but it is clear from the rhetoric that the Τροφός (Nurse) and the Παιδαγωγός (Tutor) use that they know from the beginning (or at least fear) that Μήδεια will kill her children in an act of vengeance in a way that does not seem as imminent in the English.

Two questions emanate from this: 1) do we (as the audience) ignore the rhetoric because we know the ending, but notice it reading the Greek because we focus on it word by word (and therefore the Greek audience would not have noticed this aspect) or 2) if Euripides' version was the original version of the myth in which Μήδεια killed her children, what would the audience have been thinking during this opening scene?

Just food for thought.
Euripides: Medea (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reasoning: Phrasikleia

I finished Phrasikleia by Jasper Svenboro [1], Sunday morning. As I mentioned in my last blogpost, Ovid II recommended the book to me. The book was fabulous and I highly recommend it. No knowledge of Greek is required-- Svenboro translates all of the Greek into English.

There is a lot of scholarship on Greek writing, and there has been for almost a century. However, according to Svenbro, there is little scholarship on the practice of reading in Ancient Greece. Phrasikleia sets out to form an anthropological understanding of reading in Greece, starting with inscriptions on Archaic burial monuments. The beginning of his analysis focuses on the relationship between the inscription and the reading of that inscription. Silent reading was not something practiced in the Ancient world (or not at least until much later) and so reading involves literally giving voice to the implied speaker of the inscription or text.

Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because of some artistic convention, many of the Archaic monuments address their audience-- and implied reader-- in the first person. Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, in her book "Reading" Greek Death: To the End of the Classical Period, explains that the epitaphs on these monuments preserve part of the mourning of the funerary ritual in their inscriptions and often call for the passer-by (and reader) to continue that lamentation [2]. Svenbro takes this notion farther, by explaining that the reader actually immortalizes the dead by speaking for him/her when reading the inscription. There is a kinship relation between the person and the writing (s)he produces which immortalizes the subject of the writing (which may or may not be the writer him/herself). This metaphorical kinship is like fathers giving their daughters names which preserve the κλέος of the father in his lineage.

Svenbro traces a number of other Greek moments in reading. I do not have the time to trace all of them here and I highly recommend reading the book for yourself. The last one, which greatly interested me, was the conception of reading as pederastic. Lending one's voice to the words of another creates the potentiality for teaching, but also the vulnerability of being tricked or cheated (Svenbro, and the ancient sources he works from, framed this a "buggered").

The book was great. I highly recommend it. I will probably use parts of it when I rewrite the second chapter of my thesis.

As a note, my internet service has been patchy, so posting may be slightly irregular over the next few days.


  1. Phrasikleia was originally written in French. The version that I read was translated from the French by Janet Lloyd.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Appetitive: A Preview of Things to Come

During the most recent exam I proctored, I finished Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece, a book recommended to me by Ovid II. In Phrasikleia, Jasper Svenboro looks at the different conceptions of reading in Ancient Greece beginning with (and primarily focusing on) Archaic grave monument inscriptions (which were central to the second chapter of my thesis). His work is fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I plan on writing an extensive review tomorrow, but I recommend it to anyone who is interested in literacy in the Ancient World. It makes extensive reference to Plato's Phaedrus as well as Derrida's Dissemination (which includes "Plato's Pharmacy" [1], an extensive essay on Plato's Phaedrus).

While I was at my Alma Mater, I gave Ovid II a copy of Postmodern Platos: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, Derrida as a graduation gift. He thought we should read it together, over skype; an idea to which I heartily agreed. The book is by Catherine Zuckert, the woman who wrote Plato's Philosophers (a work which I discuss so frequently on this blog). I am not yet sure whether it falls within the classics parameters of this blog, but I shall find out.

Coming soon also: the sixth and final installment of "Dates in the Platonic Corpus" and some translation, probably including Horace 1.38.
Dissemination (Continuum Impacts) Plato: Phaedrus (Aris & Phillips Classical Texts) Postmodern Platos: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, Derrida
  1. "Plato's Pharmacy" is a fabulously engaging essay. I highly recommend it. If you don't like the PDF version linked to there (from, there is also a version at Scribd and here. Do read Plato's Phaedrus first, if you have not read it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reasoning/Spirited: Dates in the Platonic Corpus #5

Now the penultimate installment of "Dates in the Platonic Corpus" (at least for now) on the Laws. I thought I would divide this into three sections: the "old" view(s) of the Laws, Zuckert's dramatic date hypothesis, and problems (and solutions) for Zuckert's dramatic date (which will be saved for the final blogpost).

The "Old" View(s) of the Laws: There is a lot of evidence from ancient (although not classical) sources that Plato wrote the Laws in the later part of his career [1]. Diogenes Laertius claims that the Laws was Plato's last dialogue and that Philip of Opus transcribed it (see my recent blogpost). Similarly Plutarch,who may have been Diogenes Laertius' source, says that Plato wrote the Laws as an old man (De Iside et Osiride 370ff). The 19th century view took this to be sufficient evidence to place this not only as his last work but as the great culmination of his thought. The evolutionary hypothesis posits that the Laws rethought the Republic in a more practical manner.

Richard Kraut (whom I spoke about length in previous my previous blogpost) defends the hypothesis that the Laws was written last among Plato's works [2] and the stylometric analysis which places the dialogue based upon the Laws being the last and the latest of Plato's works. This seems to be the typical modern interpretation of the dating of the dialogue. Glenn Morrow cites a slightly more radical version in his book Plato's Cretan City, suggest that certain contradictions in the Laws imply that the Laws was an unfinished text at the time of Plato's death (Zuckert 96 footnote 95). Neither of these authors, so far as I know (I have not read Morrow's book, only what Zuckert quotes of it), employs the common wisdom that the Laws is more practical than the Republic, but this is still a commonly held view.

Zuckert's Dramatic Date for the Laws (460-450 BCE): A perhaps not-easily-noticeable, but quite unexpected, aspect of the Laws is that in a conference of three old men, a Creten, a Spartan, and an Athenian, is that there is no mention whatsoever of the Peloponnesian War (Zuckert 53-54). How is it possible that these three would talk so civilly, and the Spartan listens so earnestly to the advice of the Athenian (which seems unlikely with the tensions of the Peloponnesian War and certainly seems problematic if the dialogue is supposedly set in 408 BCE (as the comment hypothesized) or late in Plato's lifetime [3].

There are also any number of other things that Place the dialogue before the Peloponnesian War [4]. The mathematics (Zuckert 54-55) are distinctly Pythagorean in nature and are not the type of calculations that Socrates and his fellow interlocutors employ. This extreme use of numbers is one of the reasons that scholars generally speak of the Laws as a more practical city-in-speech than the Republic. However, the numbers themselves have a fanciful quality to them, e.g. keeping the population at 5040 people because it is evenly divisible by all of the numbers between 1 and 10, as well as being divisible by 12 [5].

All of the quotations and references are pre-Socratic. None of the references come from sophists or poets who were a contemporary of Socrates (Zuckert) [6]. The ideas that the Athenian Stranger espouses are distinctly pre-Socratic (Zuckert 54-57). For example, the god that the Αthenian Stranger proposes is not one of the traditional Olympians, but rather is a sort of amorphous, anonymous god in the style of the pre-Socratics, much more like the sun or the heavens than the personified Greek pantheon (Laws 715-716) [7]. There are many more examples which Zuckert elaborates. I may, perhaps, go over them in more detail in a future blogpost.

The type of questioning in the Laws is distinctly not Socratic. The questions the Athenian Stranger and his interlocutors ask concern the best laws or the greatest justice, rather than considering the nature of law or justice (Zuckert 59). Furthermore, this questioning of the best laws tends to come from comparison and emendation of previously-existing laws rather than from the stance of "first principles" (i.e. deducing or hypothesizing from basic definitions to more specific principles).

  1. I mentioned some of the problems with using ancient sources in a recent blogpost. However, most of the sources are a few centuries later that Plato was writing so they should be taken with caution.
  2. He does express some small problems with this hypothesis, insofar as he says that the Cratylus is unfinished (Kraut 15). However, he sort of eventually pushes this concern aside. 
  3. Some believe that the Athenian Stranger represents Plato himself in his old age (Zuckert 51-52).
  4. By "the Peloponnesian War," I mean the Second Peloponnesian War, which began approximately in 431. The First Peloponnesian War, which lasted intermittently from 460-445 and "was mostly fought by Athens against Sparta's allies" (timeline from my Greek history class).
  5. There are many more instances of the impracticalities of the Laws. Zuckert speaks about many of them in her opening chapter (Zuckert 51-148). I do not have the time or the expertise to discuss them at length here.
  6. I cannot actually vouch for any of this myself. I do not remember any quotations or concepts that were particular to the sophists or contemporary with Socrates, but my knowledge is not comprehensive enough to have been able to pinpoint every reference. Here, I am relying on Zuckert's assessment. However, the fact that he not only does not quote them, but does not mention the sophists, or even the word ἡ ῥητορική (Zuckert 85). Furthermore, according to Zuckert, claims that the power of speech alone cannot govern a society in terms of changing people's actions (Zuckert 90).
  7. Writing this I made reference to Zuckert 85-86.