Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar

GIS reports, 27/2/15 and 6/3/15: Homer’s women, bilingual textbooks, Suetonius’ Greek and Byronic translation

Your very sorry and humble correspondent comes to you as a suppliant and offers heartfelt repentance for her arrogance of three and a half weeks ago; this GIS report will be a very late bumper bonus issue, covering both the antepenultimate and penultimate weeks’ worth of seminar sessions.

Here’s Hera being mighty, to make up for her mistreatment by the misogynistic hordes of anonymous scholiasts.

Valeria Pace was the first to speak on the 27th of February, on ‘Hearing Gendered Voices in Homer?’ She began with an overview of modern approaches, especially sociolinguistic methodologies for looking at gendered difference in ordinary speech and various angles of poststructuralist feminist theory. For the latter, she focused in particular on Judith Butler’s concept of gender as performance and the correlation of this performance with the sexed body, and the concept of écriture féminine. The Homeric epics are a fruitful body of work for investigations of multiplicity of voice. Valeria pointed out that the concept of epic as an inherently monologic genre has increasingly been challenged, with recent scholarship examining speech differences between narrator and character or between different social groups of characters. Moreover, the epics’ long history of performance by men and the nature of the poems as invented discourse (rather than exact naturalistic transcription), thus relying on strategies of typicality and formulaicity, are likely to have exaggerated the differences between gendered voices in the poems. Valeria divided her investigation into two separate (but related) questions: does a ‘genderlect’ exist in the Homeric epics according to modern understanding of such a phenomenon? and did were any gendered voice differences perceived in Homer, both within the texts and in their ancient Greek reception?

Self-consciousness regarding women’s and men’s speech is easily found in the epics: in one instance, Telemachus rebukes his mother Penelope for speaking out of turn, saying, “Speaking is of concern to men, to all, especially to me, for the power in this house is mine” (μῦθος δ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει | πᾶσι, μάλιστα δ᾽ ἐμοί: τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἔστ᾽ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ, Od. 1.358-9). Female speech challenging male power is censured; authoritative public speech (μῦθος) is figured as a male domain forbidden to women except in lamentation. Looking at the scholia and at classical Greek discussion of gendered speech, Valeria found that Greek readers of Homer in antiquity were indeed concerned with what is fitting or suitable (τὸ πρέπον) for male and female speech, praising and condemning Homer’s women on these grounds. Particularly interesting is the commentators’ oft-repeated opinion that Homer depicts women as incapable of restraining their speech, and their characterisation of female speech as especially embodied.

She was followed by Silvia Piepoli, who took us from the linguistics of literature to the literature of linguistics in her paper on ‘The Colloquia Pseudodositheana: From Greek to Latin or Vice Versa?’ These little-studied texts, part of the collection of bilingual learning materials known as the Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana, are a collection of bilingual dialogues and narratives used as language-learning material for both children and adults, dating to the 2nd-3rd centuries AD and found in a number of medieval manuscripts; due to their nature as learning tools, not high literature, they were frequently adapted, supplemented, and abridged, and exist in a variety of versions. Silvia began by bringing us up to date on the value of studying the Colloquia and on the state of recent scholarship on them. She clarified her own aim, which is to determine the direction of the translation; this is necessarily difficult to ascertain, given not only the Colloquia’s ragbag state of alteration and adaptation, but also the word-by-word form of translation used throughout.

Another example of word-by-word translation – in this case the Acta Apostolorum, from a manuscript in the Bodleian, and unlike the Colloquia Pseudodositheana not subject to doubts as to which language preceded the other.

Silvia explained various possible methods by which to work out the direction of translation. Translation errors which imply mistaken use of glossaries, are frequently found throughout the Colloquia: for example, the Greek word for ‘food’, ὀψώνια, carries the secondary meaning of ‘stipend’ or ‘salary’; at a point in the Greek passage where the former meaning is clearly intended, it is translated into Latin by stipendium (‘stipend’ or ‘salary’). There are also non-standard linguistic features such as seeming Latinisms/Hellenisms unattested elsewhere, in which morphological or semantic attributes from one language are used in the other as a sort of makeshift approximation. As well as linguistic phenomena, there are other possible clues: could the language on the left of the two columns be the original? Or might the names of characters be of use? Useful as these methods may be, they all have their limitations. Silvia proposed to add another means by which to determine the translation direction: word order. Given that the close word-by-word translation method precludes the possibility of both texts being produced at the same time, Silvia believes an analysis of word order patterns – especially the order of nouns and nominal determinants, the placement of subordinate clauses, and the order of verbs and (pro)nominal objects, all of which vary between the two language – is likely to prove useful; she will continue to explore this method in her MPhil thesis.

This is the first result if you search ‘Suetonius’ in google images, and I like it too much not to include it.

The 6th of March followed a serendipitously similar pattern, with our two speakers  working respectively on literature and bilingualism. Livvy Elder spoke first, in her paper entitled, ‘With both our languages: Roman discourses in Suetonius’ Greek’. Bilingualism in the ancient world is a topic rapidly gaining momentum among both historians and (socio)linguists. Livvy pointed out that in this context the comparative scholarly neglect of Suetonius’ use of Greek quotations is surprising. Not only does Suetonius frequently use and report on Greek quotations, but he also has a keen interest in linguistic practices, education and scholarship, and Hellenisation. Yet neglected it is: most often dismissed as showing off, or due to certain deficiencies of the Latin language. Livvy is seeking to redress this problem and pay due attention to Suetonius’ use and presentation of Roman-Greek codeswitching: the extent to which Greek was ‘marked’ and the ways in which this was played upon; the presence and place of Greek in Suetonius’ biographies; the (changing) attitudes towards Greek language and culture in the imperial period; the use of Greek as a nuanced rhetorical strategy in letters, conversation, and narrative representations of both of these; and the peculiar idiolects of certain Greek-using characters within the biographies.

She began by categorising Suetonius’ 85 instances of Greek quotation into [how many?] types, a tactic she had used in her previous work on bilingualism in Cicero’s letters; a comparison with other frequently-quoting corpora, not only Cicero’s but Fronto’s letters and the works of Marcus Aurelius too, shows that not only the quantity but the complexity of Suetonius’ quotations is far greater than the latter two, and more on a par with the former. Suetonius depicts the rules governing bilingual codeswitching as related to imperial authority. He employs the metaphor of linguistic legitimacy as Roman citizenship also found in several other authors, but with a twist: though the emperor can confer citizenship on his subjects, even his usage alone isn’t enough to fully naturalise a foreign word into Latin. Livvy’s discussion took us along various other avenues – Suetonius’ use of bilingualism in the narrative voice, outside of quotations of others; parallels in graffiti and inscriptions; Augustus’ peculiar linguistic traits; and the use of bilingualism for varying humorous, serious, populist, or elitist purposes – and demonstrated how rich a field for further research Suetonius’ bilingualism is.

We then took a trip into the world of classical reception in Bex Lees’s paper, ‘Putting the “Roman” into “Romanticism”: Byron’s Nisus and Euryalus. Byron’s first (and much maligned) collection of poems, ‘Hours of Idleness’, was composed of sentimental verse and imitations of classical authors: Catullus, Tibullus, Horace, Anacreon, (Ps-)Aeschylus, Euripides – and a translation (or verse paraphrase) of of the ‘Nisus and Euryalus’ episode from Aeneid Book 9. Despite much scholarly interest in Byron’s sexual identity, the ways sexual identities can and have been shaped by reception of ancient models, and the obvious suitability of the notoriously homoerotic ‘Nisus and Euryalus’ episode for examination of such matters, Byron’s poem has received little critical attention. Bex emphasised throughout that though she did not intend to overstate the influence this particular piece of poetry had on Byron’s personal sexual development, Byron’s translation nevetheless draws much needed attention to the potential positive resonances Roman literature provided for a Georgian audience, when it was just as much a part of the British school curriculum as Greek literature.

Byron: poet, traveller, freedom fighter, professional debonair seducer and scandaliser of the chattering classes, self-aggrandising swimmer of the Hellespont - and translator of Virgil

Byron: poet, traveller, freedom fighter, professional debonair seducer and scandaliser of the chattering classes, self-aggrandising swimmer of the Hellespont – and translator of Virgil.

She offered a close reading of how Byron embellishes the original Latin text in his translation, in conjunction with Byron’s personal correspondence to friends and relatives, and argued that the ‘Nisus and Euryalus’ poem constituted for Byron a unique Roman example of a love between males to be valorised, and one which allowed Byron to represent his own experiences without fear of being criminalised. Along the way she dealt with questions of censorship and bowdlerisation; the British public school curriculum, and its approach to translation on the one hand and homoeroticism on the other; the special position held by Virgil’s ‘Nisus and Euryalus’ episode in the reception of the Aeneid, especially in English translation; and Byron’s own ambivalent feelings towards Latin poetry. Bex focused especially on Byron’s own relationship with concepts of heroism and military glory, and how his anxieties about his own physical limitations were entangled with his approach to his adaptation of the Virgilian episode: notably, his Nisus and Euryalus obtain only fame in their exploits, not the fame and glory attributed to them by Virgil. She explored how Byron also tended to inflate and expand upon not only sexual or erotic aspects of the text, but also on ideas of ‘pure love’ in romantic friendship (in opposition to the ‘amorous flames’ of love which burn between men and women).

Graham will bring you the report from the final meeting of the GIS in due course; barring that one last consular pronouncement, we are now handing over to next term’s co-consuls Livvy Elder (ole22) and Tom Nelson (tjn28) and retiring to the luxury and calm of our proconsular assignments – that is to say, getting our heads down in the library and deeply missing this opportunity for weekly vaguely-productive-and-legitimate procrastination. aue atque uale!

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