Blow Up the Humanities?

Not sure if this is one we need to keep our eye on or not … a review in the Oxonian Review  (by a Classicist) of Toby Miller’s Blow Up the Humanities … A single paragraph from the review is enough for me not to bother:

Perhaps BUH was intended as a challenge for elite philosophers, historians, and literary critics. Certainly, it wantons in French, Latin, and Greek quotations, sometimes incorrectly (“ethoi [sic] of social Darwinism”). Miller also reveals a penchant for the prodigious offspring of ill-matched buzz-words, such as cognitariat (“legitimizing the precarious employment of the cognitariat”), cybertarian (“the cybertarian utopics of the technological sublime”), and collegecrat (“collegecrats constructing themselves as corporate mimics”). Alliteration and assonance abound ad nauseam: “people fish, film, fuck, and finance from morning to midnight”. So do jeux de mots, whose ingenuity is italicised for emphasis: “the dilemmas are manifold and perhaps should have been manifest to me avant la lettre (or avant le cliché)”. There are even gratuitous misquotations of Shakespeare: “something is rotting in the state”. It is evident that Miller wants to write as pretentiously as the most self-indulgent of literary critics; unfortunately, he only sounds like a poetaster. His style might have benefited from consulting one of those elitist scholars he criticises—or at least a dictionary.


CJ Online Revew: Beneker, The Passionate Statesman

posted with permission

The Passionate Statesman: Erōs and Politics in Plutarch’s Lives. By Jeffrey Beneker. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xii + 258. Hardcover, £55.00/$99.00. ISBN 978-0-19-969590-4.

Reviewed by Sophia Xenophontos, University of Oxford

In twenty-first-century politics, erotic passion is typically connected with scandalous stories of the private lives of well-known politicians. But when it comes to Plutarch’s statesmen of the Graeco-Roman past, erōs, or erotic desire, does not always denigrate their moral character and political careers. In his stimulating and well-argued book, Beneker explores the interplay between passion and politics in the Parallel Lives on the basis of three biographical pairs, the Alexander–Caesar, Demetrius–Antony, and Agesilaus–Pompey. These cases offer different perspectives in the way Plutarch represents erōs: sometimes it rewards the hero, at other times it destroys him; still, Plutarch’s ethical message may be unified in his focus on self-control as the mean between sexual lavishness and total abstention.

The book comprises a short Introduction and five main Chapters. The lack of a separate conclusion is compensated for by the brief summaries Beneker gives towards the end of each Chapter; these work most effectively in reminding readers of the main premises and leading them securely in new interpretative directions. Furthermore, the lucidity in exposition and diligent analysis of relevant passages make the book easily accessible.

Beneker argues that Plutarch introduced the element of erōs in his biographies as a response to previous accounts that failed to interpret properly certain historical events. In creating thus his ethical biography, Plutarch attributed the public success of a hero to the control of his erotic impulses in his private life. This argumentative strand is not totally new—one need only refer to the pioneering work of Pelling and Swain, who have explained the heroes’ uncontrollable emotions as resulting from their insufficient education. Beneker, however, casts light on the modulation not of any kind of passion (anger, ambition, envy), but of erotic desire in particular, and not on the causes of pathos but on its consequences.

In Chapter 1, Beneker explores the philosophical background to Plutarch’s notion of erōs, by delving carefully into Platonic psychology (division of the soul) and Aristotelian ethics (concept of friendship, philia). In light of the Amatorius, Beneker suggests that an ideal marital relationship is the product of mutual love of both soul and body; and he then applies these theoretical views to the case studies of Brutus and Porcia and of Pericles and Aspasia. In describing the way that Ismenodora develops the character of younger Bacchon in the Amatorius (31–9) or how Pericles becomes an ethical model to the Athenians in rational response to passions (43–54), he rightly makes his case by employing the vocabulary of “piloting” and “government” of which Plutarch is so fond. I wonder whether Beneker here could have pondered moral guidance in Plutarch as an alternative form of power. That would make sense in light of Plutarch’s role as a dedicated moralist, who differs from his contemporary sophistic setting which assesses power as political or social imposition. It would also fit Beneker’s emphasis in the rest of the book, and especially his extensive discussion of Antony’s relation to dominating women in Chapter 4 (173–94). In commenting on the influence that Fulvia and Cleopatra exercise over Antony and the relevant deterioration of the hero’s character, Plutarch uses the intense language of power, e.g. Ant. 10.4–7: κρατεῖν, ἄρχειν, στρατηγεῖν, and most significantly γυναικοκρατία (female domination of men). Similar overtones occur with Demetrius’ submission to Lamia (Demetr. 16.6) and Antony’s manipulation by Curio (Ant. 2.4), all of them cases of ethical imposition.

In Chapter 2, Beneker establishes the term “historical-ethical reconstruction,” which refers to Plutarch’s technique of transforming history through the lens of ethics. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the precise meaning of παραλόγως in the proem to Pelopidas–Marcellus (2.8–9) (66–9), which not only encourages sensitivity in translation for modern readers, but also affirms Plutarch’s sophisticated language and often ambiguous expression. In this Chapter, Beneker is insightful in associating Plutarch’s system of characterization with larger philosophical contexts of human psychology. In at least two cases (84 and 101; cf. 176) he persuasively refers to Plutarch’s depiction of “types” rather than of “individuals,” with particular allusions to Plato’s descriptions of the timocratic or the tyrannical man from the Republic. Such distinctions not only improve upon the existing discussion of “character” and “personality” in Plutarch; they additionally offer new ways of evaluating the appropriation of Plutarch’s Platonic material.

Chapters 3 and 4 deal with how eroticism determines the course of a public career: Alexander and Caesar withstand erotic appetites for the benefit of their political and military objectives, but are later on undone by their erōs for glory. Demetrius and Antony succumb to carnal pleasures, so that erōs eventually brings on their catastrophe. Chapter 5 revisits the notion of self-restraint in Plutarch’s ethics by welding together the four previous chapters. One of Beneker’s contributions to the understanding of Plutarch’s theory of passions is his analysis of the gradations of sophrōsyne in Alexander. That helps him to argue that Xenophon is an important, though less known, philosophical model for Plutarch’s conception of erotic desire. With the examples of Agesilaus and Pompey, Beneker concludes that acting ethically shows a person’s ability for a successful performance of his public duties.

I recommend Beneker’s book as an excellent resource not just for scholars and students of Plutarch, but for anyone interested in Greek politics and ethics.

Careless Archaeologists?

The focus of this seems to be Gobekli Tepe, a Neolithic site in Turkey which is frequently in the news, and which is a bit outside of the purview of this blog, but the issues aren’t … from Hurriyet:

Some of the archaeologists currently working at excavation sites around Turkey are not taking their job seriously enough, Tourism and Culture Minister Ömer Çelik has said, according to daily Hürriyet.

Çelik made the comments in an interview with Der Spiegel Magazine at the Berlin International Tourism Bourse, a well-known travel trade fair.

German archeologists have been overseeing excavations at Göbekli Tepe, he said, adding that a total of 11,000 sculptures went missing from the site in 2010. “I am not accusing them of stealing, however, this is evidence that they are not giving sufficient importance to security issues.”

Noting that the archaeologists were also responsible for the security of the excavation site, Çelik said, “Germany will have to pay an insurance fine for the stolen sculptures.”

Çelik also criticized the work and the reactions of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and of its director, Herman Parzinger. Turkey has been criticized by Parzinger and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation on the grounds of its allegedly aggressive campaign to reclaim cultural antiquities for the nation.

Çelik said Parzinger had accused Turkey of being chauvinist. “I expect to hear an apology from Mr. Parzinger, for he has said Turkey is chauvinist. I do know what this means but I am against the use of this wording.”

Çelik also said Turkey was demanding the return of five historical artifacts which are currently in Berlin. These include the coffin of Hacı İbrahim Veli’s tomb, the Balıkçı Sculpture (Fisherman sculpture), the mihrab (prayer niche) of Konya’s Beyhekim Mosque, and İznik tiles stolen from the Piyale Mosque.

Eleven THOUSAND sculptures? Surely that’s a misprint … I can’t figure out the German online version of Spiegel to check …

Hydaspes and Persina

Interesting item over at the Root … here’s the incipit:

The image is the first in a series of 10 large canvases by the Dutch artist Karel van Mander depicting a remarkable tale of love, misadventure and reconciliation. The paintings illustrate the complex narrative related in The Aethiopica, a late antique novel written by Heliodorus of Emesa in Syria.

The epic became popular in the 16th century when it was rediscovered and translated from the original Greek. The Aethiopica flashed across the skies of the European visual imagination amid an energetic burst of interest in the story for about 50 years and then mysteriously declined.

The story begins in the middle with an encounter with pirates by the two protagonists: Theagenes, a descendant of Achilles, and Chariclea, a priestess of Artemis at Delphi. Only at this point is an amazing backstory revealed: Chariclea turns out to be the daughter of King Hydaspes and Queen Persina of Ethiopia.

During conception, which is about to take place in the picture here, her mother had looked at a painting of the mythical Greek figure Andromeda. In accordance with the theory of maternal impression, still current when this image was painted, this gaze caused her child to be born white. Fearing an accusation of adultery, Persina abandoned her daughter, who was eventually adopted by Charicles, a Greek priest. After many adventures, she and Theagenes arrive in Meroe, the capital of Ethiopia. Chariclea is reunited with her parents, and the couple weds.

Of the many depictions of The Aethiopica, van Mander was the only one to unambiguously embrace this distinction of black and white. He treated the whole course of the narrative, not just the episodes taking place outside of Ethiopia, while most of his contemporaries significantly downplayed the blackness of Hydaspes and Persina.

He brings this ancient tale to life through a vigorous, unrestrained treatment of action and facial expression, and a lively portrayal of the black protagonists. In fact, there is evidence that at least some of the figures were based on actual models — that is, black people living in northern Europe, most likely Denmark, where Van Mander was serving as court painter when the series was created. […]

… the original article includes the painting which is remarkable in its portrayal …

Conclave Clickers

Tip o’ the pileus to the Nower Hill High School Classics folks on Twitter for alerting us to this interesting item from Sky:

Cardinals taking part in secret discussions ahead of next week’s Conclave to elect a new Pope have been using a remote control with buttons in Latin.

The state-of-the-art devices have been handed to the so-called “Princes of the Church” as the College of Cardinals hold their daily meetings at the Nervi hall in the Vatican.

Latin is the official language of the Vatican and numerous signs and documents are in the ancient language – as is a cashpoint machine just inside the walls by the Sant’Anna gate.

The remote control is used by the cardinals as they vote on a series of themes and topics that have come up for discussion ahead of the start of Tuesday’s Conclave in the Sistine Chapel.

The electronic devices have a small display with a Vatican stem showing the “sede vacante” or empty see, which denotes the fact that no Pope is in office since former Pontiff Benedict XVI stepped down last month.

Below the screen are two buttons – one coloured green with the word “confirmo” for send and one in red with “deleo” for delete.

Cardinals discuss matters in the Vatican ahead of the Conclave on Tuesday

Then there are four grey buttons with the words “placet” (agree), “non placet” (don’t agree), “abstineo” (abstain) and “luxta modum” – agree in principle.

During voting and meetings, the wifi system in the nearby press centre is switched off and a jamming device also prevents the use of mobile telephones to ensure that cardinals have no contact with the outside world.

The same principle is used for the Conclave, with a jamming system being place to prevent cardinals receiving and giving information on the secret ballot.

However, the voting procedure inside the Sistine Chapel follows a more traditional method, with the 115 elector cardinals (those under 80 years old) writing their nominations on a ballot paper – again written in Latin.

It says “Eligo in Summum Pontificem” (I elect to the Pontifical See) and then their chosen cardinal’s name. This is then put in an urn and the names are counted by scrutineers with a hole being pushed through each paper with a needle and thread.

These are then collected and burned in a stove inside the Sistine Chapel with chemicals being added which turn the resulting smoke white to signify a new Pope has been chosen or black to say there is still no decision.[…]