Ants with a sweet tooth

Proteus’ skill and the fictionality of myth

In Lucian’s dialogue On pantomime one of the characters, Lycinus, explains that Proteus, the mythical master of metamorphoses, was really just a very skilled dancer, a proto-typical pantomime-performer. This reinterpretation of Proteus’ metamorphoses as a form of artistic skill is quite remarkable and invites some further reflection on the relationship between pantomime and its primary subject-matter, myth. By differentiating carefully between what the myth means (legein) and its narrative form… Read more

On Platonic Loving, or, The Peanut Butter Lover

Like Socrates, I’m absolutely passionate about pursuing friendship. Friendship (philia) is difficult to define in Plato’s writings, in part because the Lysis, the only dialogue that attempts a comprehensive understanding of it, is really not about friendship per se; rather, as has been noted by critics such as David Sedley, the Lysis concerns itself with the object of friendship, that is, the thing to or of which someone is a… Read more

‘Crafting Natures’

For Aristotle, living beings are complex composites of matter and form, where form is to be understood functionally, and not merely as shape, as a specific combination of soul-capacities that characterizes the kind of living being in question. It is a commonplace in Aristotelian scholarship that both these forms of living beings and the enmattered animal species to which they give rise are ‘fixed’. Forms are ‘fixed’ in the sense… Read more

The Greek Epic Cycle – An e-publication of the CHS

In 9-10 of July 2010 a Conference on the Greek Epic Cycle was held in ancient Ol ympia, co-organized by the Center for Hellenic Studies (Harvard University) and the Centre for the Study of Myth and Religion in Greek and Roman Antiquity (University of Patras). As the Greek Epic Cycle is so often overshadowed by the more illustrious Homeric epics, the organizers of the Conference thought that the epic fragments… Read more


The ancient Greek notion of theôría (θεωρία) is of unquestionable cultural importance. Not only does it speak immediately to the ancient Greek festival as a cultural institution; philosophers  seized on it as their preeminent metaphor for philosophical reflection. Most agree that it has to do with ‘looking’—but what sort of ‘looking’? Paradoxically perhaps, the later and derivative ‘intellectual contemplation’ of the philosopher seems easier to grasp (even if the ease… Read more

Remembering Traianos Gagos

On 24 April 2010, Traianos Gagos, Professor of Greek and Papyrology at the University of Michigan and Archivist of Papyrology in the University of Michigan Library, passed away as a result of an accident at his home. He was only 49. The loss of this beautiful man, this incredibly vibrant and generous human being—a dear friend—remains rather difficult for me to accept. But my own grief pales in comparison to… Read more

“Hail, Caesar” said the parrot

The “Garland of Philip”, published around AD 40, contains numerous epigrams addressed to Roman patrons and members of the Imperial household. One of the authors included in Philip’s anthology is Crinagoras of Mitylene, who – as several inscriptions attest – served as ambassador between Rome and his native city. Among his texts we find mention of, for instance, Marcellus, Augustus, Cleopatra-Selene, Germanicus, and Tiberius.  In epigram AP 9.562 Crinagoras tells… Read more

Chares pornos kalos…

…is a graffito scratched into a street in the Athenian deme of Thorikos. Who Chares was, and whether he really was as fine a whore as his ‘admirer’ suggests, is anyone’s guess. Graffiti like this, which comment on the sexuality of a person, are common in the ancient world however. Examples are found in Attica, Pompeii, Aphrodisias, Thasos, Thera… along with many other types of texts and images – sometimes… Read more

The ‘language’ of the body

In antiquity, gesture and facial expressions were not thought simply to refer to language, but to the underlying emotions or psychic states (Quintilian, Orator’s education 11.3.66). It is all the more surprising that in the case of pantomime, ancient accounts often emphasise the close correspondence between gestures and words, for instance when a spectator exclaims that he hears what is being performed silently (Lucian, On dance 63). Pantomime’s visuality is… Read more

Aristotle the Platonist? (First Blood, Part 2)

In a post two weeks ago, I discussed an amusing if tendentious story about Aristotle and his crew usurping Plato’s turf in the garden of the Academy and suggested that this story helps us to imagine the ways in which partisans of various students of Plato (e.g. Aristotle, Xenocrates, and Speusippus – wait, Speusippus had no partisans and was hopelessly idiosyncratic!) told stories about Plato that were implicated in their… Read more

Biology 101 for Lawgivers?

“For just as all the sophisticated doctors and most sophisticated athletic trainers pretty much agree that those who are to be good doctors or trainers must be experienced about nature – and indeed much more than the former … in the same way, the statesman must have certain norms taken from nature itself, i.e., from the truth, by reference to which to judge what is just and what is good… Read more

Is there a set of character traits both necessary and sufficient for being a “great leader”?

In his “biography” of the first king of the Persian Empire, Xenophon says of Cyrus the Great: In his nature Cyrus is reputed and still celebrated even now among the barbarians as most beautiful in his form and most loving of humanity (φιλανθρωπότατος) in his soul, as well as most loving of learning (φιλομαθέστατος) and most loving of being honored (φιλοτιμότατος), to the point that he would endure every labor… Read more

Puzzling over some bilingual receipts

The issue of bilingualism is central to my study of the Tebtunis priests. The priests employed Egyptian in “personal” (and, of course, cultic) texts throughout the Roman period—language preference is a more complicated matter—but the use of demotic Egyptian in official contexts drops significantly rather early on—not immediately with the coming of Roman rule, but at some point around the middle of the first century CE. It has been suggested… Read more

A Dwarfish Whole

What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole, its body brevity and wit its soul (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) In her book on “Poetic closure”, Barbara Herrnstein Smith envisioned a poem of maximal closure as “pre-eminently teleological” and “in a sense […] suicidal […], for all of its energy would be directed toward its own termination.”[1] “The poem described here,” she adds, “does not, I think, exist, but the epigram tends to… Read more

Should we give a voice to the poor and marginalised?

In any society which champions equality (not to mention liberty and the pursuit of happiness) it is surely of paramount importance that we do not ignore the different concerns and life experiences of those outside of political, social or economic elites, but how can this be achieved in practice? Hearing these voices is difficult in the modern world, but how do we reach these people in past societies? Fourth-century Athens… Read more

The temporality of performance

Far from getting to the bottom of things, tracing the origin of riddles, or understanding the material basis of character, I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to “think out loud” about what worries me most these days, namely the flow of time… The ephemere medium of a blog will be just appropriate for this ever present but elusive (not so say banal but intractable) topic. Performance… Read more

Aristotle the Platonist? (Part 1)

Oh no, not again! I’m threatening to annoy our new readership by posting another blog entry on Aristotle.  After all, Mariska’s post from yesterday already may have gotten the blood-a-boilin’ for some of you (although, if you were to have the pleasure of reading the recent work she is doing, you would know more precisely why Aristotle thinks your blood boils!).  For me, Aristotle has become a neurosis, a mental… Read more

Aristotle on the person-situation debate: the influence of environment on natural character

Studies of Aristotle’s conception of character (τὸ ἦθος) traditionally focus on his ethical works (Annas, 1993; Nussbaum, 1986; and Sherman, 1989). In this context, character is discussed mainly in its role as the bearer of morality: it is a virtuous state (ἕξις) of character that disposes one to perform actions that hit the mean and that are therefore praiseworthy. Aristotle emphasizes that these states of character – and not just… Read more

Sophokles’ Rhapsode

One of the three earliest attestations of rhapsôidós occurs in Sophokles’ Oidipous Tyrannos 391. If you do not remember the identity of the rhapsode, you may be surprised to read that it is the Sphinx, the bane of Thebes. Why does Sophokles call her a rhapsode? The answer, everyone agrees, must be sought in her riddle. We actually have a text of it, five lines of hexameter reported by an… Read more

Publishing Texts in the Second “Century of Papyrology”

My awareness of CHS’s interest in the future of scholarly publishing was one of the reasons why I was eager to come to Washington this semester. As manager of a research center and a part-time librarian (i.e., someone who lies awake at night worrying about budgets), this is an issue that has also been on my mind for some time. And not simply the matter of increasing costs: The culture… Read more

Getting to the bottom of things

Aphrodite of Syracuse Despite (or because of?) their brevity ancient epigrams pose countless hermeneutical challenges, and every so often their points seem to have eluded modern scholars. Sometimes it takes a lot of puzzling over a poem to extricate its meaning, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, the revelation might come all of a sudden – and from an unexpected source. So, here’s the story: I recently received a message from… Read more

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