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Posts from the ‘History’ Category

Day 15: Money, Prostitution and Misogyny

In Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber writes,

One could see how the metaphor of the porne might seem particularly appropriate. A woman “common to the people”–as the poet Archilochos put it–is available to everyone. In principle, we shouldn’t be attracted to such an undiscriminating creature. In fact, of course, we are. And nothing was both so undiscriminating, and so desirable, as money.

This is in the context of explaining why Greek aristocrats thought money was garish. The conception of woman behind this critique of money is telling.  Women have value because they are inaccessible and restricted.  Men protect and isolate their women to preserve this value, which is based not on the woman’s unique personality, appearance, wit or strength, but on the extent to which she is accessible to other men.  The less accessible the more valuable.  The less accessible, the more desirable.  How one is a woman, either parthenos, virgin or gynê, wife or mother, is determined by whether anyone has access to her or not.  In the case of gynê, your husband and your sons have access to you.  The power of Athena as parthenos is in part her refusal of access to anyone. Read more

Day 2: The Greeks Exhibit at the Field Museum

On New Year’s Eve, I went to the Field Museum in Chicago to see its special exhibit on the Greeks.  The Museum has collected 500 artifacts from Greek museums, which cover 3500 years of history, beginning with the Minoans on Crete and other Cycladic islands.  I had seen many of these pieces in their home museum, which admittedly, is already pulled from the original context, but seemed at least to beckon to the sense of the place from which they were found.  Seeing them all pulled together robbed them of their aura (in the Benjaminian sense), it seemed to me.  I’m glad they could pull it together for people to see, but I just want to put the plug in for going and visiting places and the museums in those places.

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Crete: Even Ancient History has an Ancient History

First photograph is of the town of Chora, Naxos seen through the ruins of the Apollo temple.

Today we leave Crete, traveling on to the second half of our journey — studying Derrida in Italy.  What has been most impressed upon me during our time in Crete is how much human history precedes what I think of as the beginnings of history.  As someone who teaches and writes about ancient Greek philosophy, I’m often trying to get students to think about how Greek thinkers are in conversation with their context and how we remain in conversation with the Greeks as part of our context.  It’s not just that students don’t understand the thinking of the Greeks without understanding their context, it’s that they don’t think that the Greeks have a rich context.  If we just think the Athenians consider themselves to have sprung out of the ground–to be autochthonous, to come from where they are–and we know of nothing that precedes them, this might seem like a reasonable claim, one we have no cause to be suspicious of, just like Americans assuming that we have more claim to be here, we have who have been here for ten generations, than those who are just arriving if we know nothing of the history of what preceded our ancestors ten to fifteen generations ago. Read more

Exploring Indiana: Columbus, Architecture and Patronage

This week my husband and I celebrated seven years together (three years since we began to accrue benefits and privileges from the state’s recognition of our relationship).  To commemorate our anniversary, we went to Columbus, Indiana.  Columbus is a small town of just over 44,ooo residents a little under two hours from Crawfordsville.  It’s famous for the many buildings of impressive architecture.  Columbus became a place of impressive architecture mainly because of the patronage of the Irwin family.  We stayed at the Inn at Irwin Gardens, the Irwin home that was originally built in 1864 by Joseph I. Irwin and remodeled in 1910 by William G. Irwin.  It’s an Italianate home that feels ornate and important.  It was the Irwin’s chauffeur, Clessie Cummins, who invented the high-speed diesel engine and founded Cummins Inc.  J. Irwin Miller was born in the house that is now the Inn at Irwin Gardens, and it was he and his wife Xenia who were the creative and financial force behind the modern architectural surge of creativity that occurred in Columbus from the 1950s onward. Read more

The Theater at Epidauros

Yesterday was our anniversary and our last full day in Nafplio.  Today we are off to Athens for two days, where we hope to see Aristotle’s Lyceum, which has only recently opened, and the National Archaeological Museum.  On Saturday, we took our last excursion in the Peloponnese, this time to Epidauros which has the largest and best preserved Greek theater.   Read more

Greece for the Greeks? Pt. II Conversations with a Greek Philosopher

At the end of our time in Athens, I posted here about the marginalization of modern Greeks in the last several centuries of global work in Ancient Greek philosophy.  That post sparked a long and lively debate over on my Facebook wall with another philosopher that encouraged me to think more carefully about how ‘ancient philosophy’ has come to be constructed.  Last weekend, in the middle of our good times in Neapoli which you can read about here and here, I raised this question about the relationship between modern Greeks and ancient Greek philosophy, literature and tradition generally with our friend Kosmas Raspitsos, whose book on the Latinization of ancient Greek thought is not unrelated to this question.  Kosmas works on German philosophy and ancient Greek philosophy and the history of the philosophy of language and translation, and he’s a modern Greek who is interested in the question of how the disconnect between ancient and modern Greek has been produced, so he was perhaps the perfect person to ask.  We spent a good chunk of our time talking about this issue so I’m writing this follow up post to share some of what I learned. Read more

Nafplion: Greece’s Venetian City

Sometimes it’s nice to just do some plain old sight-seeing and not think about how it fits into my understanding of ‘the Greeks.’  Last Saturday, we walked around Nafplion / Nauplion (Drop the ‘o’ if you so desire, no one seems to mind. Note that upsilons often become ‘f’ in modern Greek; find this particularly strange as a pronunciation of ‘autos,’ the ancient and modern Greek word for self).  By walked, I mean climbed.  And by around, I mean up.  999 steps lead up the Palamidi Fortress that we can see from our terrace.  The steps begin about two tenths of a mile away.  Legend has it that the the fortress / castle, which
has 9 separate bastions, originally had 1000 steps that led up to it but some horseman was really excited when they defeated the enemy and charged his horse up the hill breaking the first step.  It’s not clear there actually are 999 steps — we didn’t count, we were too busy walking. Read more

Greece for the Greeks?

Yesterday I went to the Piraeus with my husband.  He’s the best.  I’d recount our entire conversation to you, but it would take all night.  At first, I didn’t want to stay to eat down there because I wasn’t entirely impressed by the restaurants which range from KFC to frozen seafood places.  But I let myself be persuaded.

Earlier in the day, we went to the Benake Museum, which is in an old mansion near the Parliament building.  It houses archaeological finds dating back to the Neolithic Era around 7000 BCE and art through the 19th and 20th centuries.  I’ve been thinking since I arrived in Greece about how the Greeks occupy an ambiguous racial position (stay with me here, I promise this will bring me back to the Benake) Read more

Famous men have the whole earth as their memorial.

The title of this post comes from Pericles’ Funeral Oration as recounted by Thucydides in History of the Peloponnesian War.  My very patient traveling companion read it aloud to me today in the Kerameikos District, the Classical-era cemetery where Pericles gave that oration after the first dead had been returned to Athens at the start of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides remembers Pericles speaking thus: They [the dead] gave their lives to her [Athens] and to all of us, and for their own selves they won praises that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchres–not the sepulchre in which their bodies are laid, but where their glory remains eternal in men’s minds, always there on the right occasion to stir others to speech or action. Read more

On Being a Tourist at the Parthenon

Yesterday, we went up to the Acropolis.  Most people know that the Parthenon is on the Acropolis.  The Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaia, and the Erechtheion, which stands on the site of the Old Temple of Athena and is a shrine to Athena and Erechtheus, are there too.  Alongside a number of support buildings like the Pinakotheke, the Acropolis in the time these buildings were built mostly in the sixth and fifth centuries was a thriving place of ritual sacrifice and worship of the gods.

Today when you walk around the Acropolis, it’s well-nigh impossible to have any sense of the space as a sacred site.  Throngs of people taking selfies of themselves with the ruins, or finding some fellow traveller to be a photographer for a moment.  Some people are even taking video of the buildings.  I found this appalling not only because the sign at the entrance strictly forbids videoing the site, but also because it seems preposterous.  Are you videoing because you expect the building to get up and move?  Who will you actually subject to this footage?  Are you really so afraid of having an unmediated experience of something that you must position a camera between yourself and the world?  These are my thoughts.  But to be fair, it’s only May, so the crowds aren’t even that overwhelming.   Read more