Archive for the 'classics' Category

Dis

September 28, 2014

I mentioned Dis a couple of posts ago, working from memory of what I learned ages ago as a Classicist.

I then went to see what people would find if they Googled the word, and what they would find is not what I remember being taught.

I asked my mother, also a former Classicist, and she agreed there’s some text or texts, author or authors, we read that talk about Dis in terms we might understand as referring to “godhead.”  She couldn’t remember the text(s) or author(s) either, and The Oxford Classical Dictionary I have didn’t have an entry.  The Liddell & Scott Ancient Greek dictionaries I pulled out only referred to Zeus under Dis, but my Lewis and Short Latin dictionary gave the godhead meaning as the first meaning.  My Oxford Latin Dictionary gave the meaning I found when I Googled something like “Dis religion,” a reference to Pluto and the god of the underworld, which Lewis & Short gave as a secondary meaning used later.

The perils of internet learning, the perils of aging memories.

I leave it for real live Classicists with a good and current feel for the concepts that lurk behind the words (and better working memories of where to find what) to sort this out.

In any event, in my use of the term, I meant godhead.

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Sirens

November 5, 2011

Odysseus was known for being clever and cunning.  His idea of stuffing his oarsmen’s ears with wax and having himself bound to the mast so he and his men could not give into the seductive entreaties of the Sirens and could travel past them safely instead is an example of this character trait.

So what’s the difference between this kind of stratagem and Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge tactic?  For one thing, fewer people and interests are involved: no special interests, no money, no voters.  For another thing, there is more of a clearly negative choice to be avoided: being shipwrecked doesn’t seem to benefit much of anybody (except Penelope’s suitors, maybe, and whatever god was mad at Odysseus to begin with), whereas sometimes there is actually a need for increased government revenue.

But I’d rather find the distinction elsewhere in the dynamic.  Odysseus had a short-term and very measurable goal to achieve.  His strategy was tailored to the specific problem of passing by the Sirens safely, he didn’t insist on continuing the set-up for the rest of the voyage.  Shutting down and insisting on a tactic that defies feedback is a risky venture for a long-term horizon.  Circumstances change, the posture denies the participants the ability to be nimble, and I suspect that by the time the people or person requiring such a straight-jacketed approach have second thoughts about their posture, plenty of secondary negative consequences will have ensued that may be difficult to redress.

So, to me, this tax pledge business is more like the foolish consistency that is the hobgoblin of little minds, less like an admirable strategy worthy of epic poetry.

Dido and Aeneas

July 12, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I got the urge to reread the Cave Scene in Book IV of the Aeneid.  (The real action begins at line 165, but it’s probably better to start in earlier.)   “She calls it marriage” (l. 172), but he doesn’t (ll. 338-9).  She ends up killing herself, and Aeneas encounters her briefly when he visits the underworld (in Book VI).  There Dido turns away from Aeneas and is comforted by her (previous) husband, Sychaeus (ll. 469 & ff.).  There is a strong theme that Dido should have remained true to her (first) marriage, even as a widow.  Of course, Aeneas is no happy camper in all this, either, but he is a man on a mission, and it doesn’t include Dido.

I’m not sure why this story came up in my mind, but it may have had to do with all this current talk about what a marriage is and isn’t (albeit over very different issues).  I guess times and issues change, but the fact that there is tension between people’s needs and society’s marital conventions doesn’t.