Looking inside ancient Greek texts with visualization tools

Gleaned from the latest Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum

Humanities may be under attack, but thankfully Greek Epigraphy keeps thriving, at least in terms of sheer number of publications, as can be seen in SEG for which I have been working as an assistant editor since 2007. SEG LVI (2006) came out at the very end of 2010, but it probably hit most libraries (including ours here in the CHS) earlier this year. It contains 2,159 lemmata. One would… Read more

Preexistence before Socrates

In my last post, I mentioned a talk I will be giving at the University of Toronto’s Collaborative Programme in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy on April 8.  I’m under water this week, so I thought I’d put up a preview of that talk: The significance of the verb ὑπάρχειν and its cognates cannot be overstated for Aristotle: it plays a central role in his unique approaches to metaphysics and logic. … Read more

The ancient paragone

Those who are here at the Center know that I have been puzzling over Theocritus’ Idyll 15, the Women at the Adonis-festival, since the fall, and in an earlier blog I announced that I would post some thoughts about it… So here we are. Idyll 15 contains a brief ekphrasis of certain tapestries depicting figures, whose life-likeness the two female protagonists admire (78-86), and a song in a song (100-144),… Read more

Tracking the Order of Nature: The Use of Hypokeisthô in Aristotle’s De Caelo

In his account for why stars and planets move in different directions, Aristotle reasons that if the universe is to move eternally in a circle, it must have a center that remains at rest, and that if there is to be such a center, ‘it is necessary that earth exists: for this rests at the center’ (Cael II 3, 286a20-21). Interestingly, this proposition about the position and the immobility of… Read more

Enactment and make-believe

I’m happy to announce a talk I will be giving at Catholic here in DC next Wednesday. Here is the poster. CUA talk POSTER The point of departure of the talk is the following observation: in many ancient descriptions of spectacles the focus is very much on the staging itself, to the detriment of the representational content. To give a couple of examples: – Xenophon, Symposium: when the dinner-guests witness… Read more

Plato's klinai

To follow up on my last post, which concerned the great variety of couch styles represented on Athenian vases: If there were so many different types of klinai in the repertoire of Athenian vase painters, why did Plato choose to use the kline as a paradigm in his discussion of ideal form and mimesis (Republic 10.596b-598a)? What kind of kline did Plato have in mind as the “one” essential form… Read more

The Signature of the Muses: Epigram as Everyday Miracle?

In a recent article on artists’ signatures in antiquity, Osborne has argued that such signatures reveal the socially embedded nature of pots, sculpture, gems etc., a collaboration between artist, object and end-user.  As Osborne states, “What they all [plastic arts and literature] share is the sense that there is an ‘author,’ that the identity of the creator of these works is something worth knowing—and worth knowing because these are works… Read more

Democritus the Pythagorean

Perhaps I’m simply becoming provocative for the sake of provoking; or maybe I’m losing my mind; but in the process of writing this book on mathematical Pythagoreanism and its supposed progenitor Hippasus of Metapontum (fl. early-mid 5th Century BCE), I am beginning to see mathematical Pythagoreanism everywhere.  And I mean everywhere (even the New York Times). Witness Democritus of Abdera, father of atomism, and – dare I say it! – mathematical… Read more

The Plausibility of a Bottom-Up Account of Natural Character in Aristotle

I just received some feedback on a paper in which I present some results of the character project I have been working on in the past few months, and one of the worries expressed by the reader was that my account seemed too extreme in its bottom-up, materialistic account of character – so much so that it seems to violate Aristotle’s usual hylomorphism, according to which soul-capacities have both a… Read more

Typical Euripides and the end of Hippolytus Veiled

As part of my project on etiological myths in tragedy, I have been forced to spend far too much time thinking about the deus ex machina and divine interventions in tragedy. I keep reading in comments on the deus ex machina that this is a feature of Typical Euripides. (This Typical Euripides guy also likes etiology apparently.) But as I’ve been going over much of this material I find again… Read more

Last Pictures and Notes from Malawi and a Fond Farewell

I didn’t want to leave things on anything like a negative note (with the student riots and all), as my visit to Chancellor College and Malawi has been thoroughly productive and enjoyable. By way of thanks to the Department and University for hosting me (and to the CHS for sponsoring me), and to all the wonderful people I met on my two visits here, I post below some additional photos,… Read more

Cross-Cultural versus Internal Wisdom Transmission?

One of the most exciting points for classicists who have got some knowledge about Eastern matters consists in inquiring where so many similarities between Greece and Mesopotamia, Iran or India come from. Thereabout three hypotheses basically seem to be considered: 1) a direct influence; 2) a shared inheritance (especially for the cultures that speak an Indo-European language); 3) a spontaneous expression of the universal human reason. But I would like… Read more

Iron Men

Hello again, I’m just back from giving papers at Bryn Mawr and Yale, which is why this blog is a little late. In between preparing for those papers, I have been grappling with an interesting passage from the Chronicle of Ptolemy III. This is an Akkadian text that describes Ptolemy’s invasion of Mesopotamia in 246/5 BCE. The event is reported also in Greek sources, but, in my Akkadian chronicle, it… Read more

The Decapitated Scholar

Decapitated Scholar OK, so he’s not quite decapitated, but after the student riot here at Chancellor College on the night of 2/15 he lost his mortar board. (So sad, especially after all that work by the masons just last week—see photo in my earlier post). As it happens, I was inadvertently caught up in this event. Here is a brief blow-by-blow. (Spoiler alert—things seem to have calmed down now, even… Read more

"The inscription is a machine designed to produce kleos."

In this formulation, heavily indebted to Derrida, Svenbro sees the “language” of early epigram.  While I am nearly entirely sympathetic to this idea, I would like to take a tour of the kind of factory in which these machines themselves are produced—I’m sure the upper management would have some very interesting things to say about Greek poetics. Svenbro’s definition is pronounced in the context of a discussion of the following… Read more

Athenian Kleroteria and Hellenistic sortition

I will start with a cliché: apologies for my delayed first posting. Now, there is one question I often like to pose to undergraduate students: can they name one salient feature of Athenian democracy? Surely enough, ‘democratic elections’ or some version thereof is the most common answer. And, as you can imagine, I always take pleasure in pointing out that electoral procedures were not considered to be particularly democratic by… Read more

What exactly is Pandēmos Mousikē?

Plutarch’s teacher Ammonius concludes his analysis of dance, which I mentioned in my last blog, on a rather pessimistic note: “But today, nothing enjoys the benefits of bad taste so much as dancing” (Table Talks 9.15, mor. 748C: ἀλλ’ οὐδὲν οὕτωϲ τὸ νῦν ἀπολέλαυκε τῆϲ κακομουσίαϲ ὡϲ ἡ ὄρχησιϲ). The reason is, he continues, that unlike ancient dance, contemporary dance has associated itself with bad poetry. The adjectives Ammonius uses… Read more

Not everyone can be a hero…

…but there are some who surprise. Remembering that this data-mining thing is a sledgehammer and not a delicate chisel, among the findings in the first quick and dirty round of datamining tests for status in Greek tragedy is that the servant (therapon) in Euripides’ Heracleidae does not talk like other servants and non-elite individuals. Much legwork remains in following all the markers through to separate the meaningful from the meaningless,… Read more

Sophists and Superman

In an earlier post, I suggested that the Glaucon’s initial inquiry into the nature of justice in Plato’s Republic II is chiefly a response to sophistic arguments involving the relationship of “law” to “justice”.  This is significant for our own investigation into the authenticity of the text called On Law and Justice and ascribed to the Pythagorean philosopher Archytas of Tarentum.  There is further evidence worth considering that suggests the influence… Read more

Two Upcoming Workshops in Ancient Philosophy

Instead of giving you yet another report about my ongoing project on the physiology of character in Aristotle this week, I would like to make use of this opportunity to announce two upcoming workshops in ancient philosophy that I have been (co-)organizing. Both events involve mostly junior scholars and promise to offer a lot of time for discussion and informal exchange. If you are interested in participating in any of… Read more

About the photos from Malawi, and a thank-you for books

A quick note here on the pictures of people and places around Chancellor College and the town of Zomba. While the landscape and the setting of the College is obviously stunning, and Malawians themselves handsome and dignified, don’t let that fool you. Like ancient and modern Greeks, Africans live largely out-of-doors and so things tend to look better on the outside than on the inside or up close. The magnificent… Read more

There once was a man from Nantucket …

I think we all know where this is going, but, does anyone know who wrote it? Is there even a concept of author that could be reasonably applied to such doggerel? The question doesn’t usually enter our minds. Why? Is it simply because such poems deal with low themes? Is it because these little poems act more like jokes than poetry? I’m sure our lack of concern about the authorship… Read more

A Piggyback and Personal Account of Classics in Malawi

Disclaimer: Not to worry—I have no intention of going wild with blogging, having now discovered it. This will be my last post for a bit, as I will be away working on other things, though I may try to upload some annotated pictures this weekend. This is the Great Hall, the architectural focal point on campus. There is a dedicatory plaque on the wall that contains a quotation from Horace.… Read more

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