Monthly Archives: July 2006

About a Little Black Country Girl – Part 3 of 5

How it all began – My parents are both from this region around the village of Montalvânia, in the north of the state of Minas Gerais, but have lived in Brasilia since the early 70’s. That’s where I was born and raised. Eight years ago, before he died, my grandfather left a little piece of land to each of his 14 children. To my father fell this piece of untouched savana-like vegetation, wild and beautiful, where this week a jaguar killed two sheep.

The caretakers – Because my parents still have their jobs in Brasilia, they hire a family to live on the farm, so that there is always someone there. Anita makes sure the house is always clean, and Ze takes care of the field and the animals. Their three children, Antonio (15), Cielza (13), and Ze Nilton (10) bus to school and back every day, a two-hour ride each way.

Comfort and Discomfort – I didn’t use to like going to the countryside, because it’s very different from our city life, very rough and uncomfortable. Nowadays I find it rough and extremely interesting. The discomfort is still there, but I found that pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make it run away.

I spent a week there last week, and with no internet, no telephone, no television, no roads, nowhere to go, I got a lot of schoolwork done. Some reading, some writing, lots of thinking.

Between a rock and a hard place – When I last visited, eighteen months ago, she didn’t use to help her mom yet. She was a child. But now, in this place where mothers are made at the age of 15, she’s already a grown-up. This change is also noticed by my parents. We look at each other wondering whether the right thing to do is not allow her to help her mom with the dishes. Or perhaps, since she was as busy as her mom, to pay her a day’s wage, thus helping with the family’s income. But children should be playing and studying, not working – it’s even illegal for us to hire someone under 14 years of age. On the other hand, isn’t it slavery to have someone work without pay? We were between a rock and a hard place. But so is everyone over there. Much more so.

Family Business – The intricacies of the situation are many, and all very serious. Part of the problem is that the family actually live with us, their kitchen is our kitchen. It may seem that to allow this girl to do the dishes for us is to support child labour. On the other hand, at the age of 13 I too (and my brother, though that met with much more resistance) helped my parents with the dishes and small chores around the house. I don’t feel we’re the worse for that, on the contrary. Now, if back then someone had reprehended my parents for having us do the dishes, I think it would be none of their business – nosy interference in a family’s private life.

But Cielza’s family live with us. Our home is at the same time their home and their workplace. And they’re better off for it, they feel privileged for it, and the families around us envy them for it. It is good for them and it’s good for us.

The house negro and the field negro – It’s like the story I forget which famous writer wrote about the house negro and the field negro. The house slave´s life is not as rough as the field slave´s. House slaves tasks are lighter, they eat from the master´s table, they wear the master´s old clothes, they get to know the master´s family and even gain their confidence and friendship. But it´s still not their house.

Dilemma – In the case of Cielza, we don´t actually want her to be doing the work. It was her family who decided, not ours. And this is a family we like and respect, as they like and respect us. But my family does not at all share the belief which is dominant in these parts (cf. the crib story) that children should work to help with the family´s income. On the other hand, when you´re very poor, you don´t really have that many options.

In a situation like this, where do you draw the line between fairness and interference? The whole situation is unfair whatever angle you look at it.

To be continued…

About a Little Black Country Girl – Part 2 of 5

And now, the second episode of “About a Little Black Country Girl”, an esterical minisseries in five parts.

In the Middle of Nowhere – I spent last week on my parents’ farm, in a rough and arid countryside where neither asphalt or telephone (fixed or mobile) can reach, and where electricity only arrived about two or three years ago. Every time we go we take a pick-up truck full of things to give away, not because we’re terribly rich, but because our extended family, having all come from this region, remember how scarce things are over there. Every single shirt their children outgrow, or toy their children have abandoned, is cherished there like a treasure. This is a place where, as Luiz Gonzaga says, if you ride a mule you’re rich, if you´re poor you go on foot. I don´t want to brag, but my family ride on mules.

The Crib – To give you an idea of the situation, this time, in addition to the assortment of clothes and toys from my aunts, we also brought a crib, that my baby cousin, now at the age of 4, no longer needs. My mom carefully separated the bounty among 6 families, and then the two of us drove around the community to distribute the lots.

The crib fell to a woman who had just had twins. We arrived late in the afternoon in her little hut, half of which was the main room, kitchen and living room at the same time, and the other half were two or three small bedrooms. The walls were made of clay, and the floor, just the unpaved earth.

The eldest child, a boy of 15, was not home. At school? No, the mom had just found a place where he could earn $5 a day helping with the harvest, and told him to skip school and work there instead.

Seeing the woman alone with the babies and the other children, very soon my mom and I realised that it was not enough to leave the parts of the crib there for them to assemble. They wouldn’t know what a crib was, they didn’t even have a bed. If she and I did not put it together, it would just sit there, or, at best, be used to improve the housing condition of the chickens.

I felt to assembling the crib with the excitement of a jigsaw puzzle addict. Rolling up my sleeves, I asked for the tools for the operation. Could you get me a screwdriver? They didn´t have one. A knife then? Didn´t have one either. Got a rusty swiss knife, to assemble a full size crib. I sat on the unpaved red earth and started putting together this crib with this swiss-knife-key- ring-thing which happened to have a foldable blade smaller than my pinky. I felt like McGyver himself.

The crib was too big to go through the doors when assembled, so we had to put it together in the kitchen, its final location. Sunset came, and there was no light. The bulb was gone, and there was no money for a new one. Besides, there was no ladder or anything that reached the ceiling where the lamp was. I asked her to turn on all the other two lights in the property, one in the veranda and other in the bedroom light – that was as bright as it got.

After much insisting, she brought be an old rusty dagger without tip or handle, and that was how the crib was assembled, by far the most elegant piece of furniture in the house. We drove home then in the pitch black night, with many thanks and three chickens as token of gratitude.

Tune in tomorrow for the third episode of this minisseries!

About a Little Black Country Girl – Part 1 of 5

Delivery – A couple of days ago I got after much longing and expectation two books in the mail: “Teaching to Transgress” by bell hooks, and “Trojan Horse” by Page du Bois. Since I’ve already talked a bit about du Bois, let me tell you about my first impressions about bell hooks.

Against the current – I must confess from the start that, for some reason, I have great resistance against people who have a legion of very admiring fans. For instance, if I had already been around in the 60’s, I’d probably never get to like the Beatles the way I do. It was probably this tendency to go against the current that made me postpone reading Paulo Freire for so long. He seemed to be to have a bewitching influence on his readers, and I simply refused to expose myself to the powers of a guru of this calibre. Until there was finally no other way around it, and then I realised why it was that he was so loved. I got bewitched too.

bell hooks – The same was true of bell hooks. People spoke fondly of her; too many people, too fondly. Ergo, I was suspicious. But then someone told me that for the kind of concern I had in my writing, she was a crucial author to read. The old narcissistic trick worked once again. There went I to check it out, though I was determined to look for every little divergence so as to preserve my own Esterical uniqueness.

Surrender – And then, despite all my prejudice and resistance, I didn’t have to read more than a page to surrender. I joined the legion of the many who think of her fondly. I felt that her words were my own, that I was reading myself, even though her life experience was so different from mine. I loved her style, so colloquial, so passionate, so thoughtful, showing in every line that her brain was as sensitive as her clever heart. I was bewitched. Again.

Check pluses – She too liked Paulo Freire, which was a big check plus. Still, though with a respect and sincere admiration, she criticised and challenged him. Double check plus. She even had the chance to see him and talk to him, to exchange ideas with him over an ice-cream. This made me super jealous. Triple check plus.

Life on paper – I really liked the earnest and simple way she spoke about her life, her passion, her fears, about teaching, her analysis of the academic pressure to write all in one format. I knew what she was talking about. And her life made me think of my own, and of so many people I know.

To be continued…

Tune in tomorrow for the second episode of this esterical minisseries!

Mutatis Mutandi

It all began the day I arrived in Brasilia from Canada, and my brother Chico invited me to go to Naty´s thesis defense the next day. So I went. It was super nice. It was about the Brazilian artist Chico Buarque. After the defense, a group of my brother´s friends went out for a beer and great conversation. Brains working full throttle.

Then I realized that Chico Buarque was one of those great Brazilian musicians I knew through osmosis, but didn´t really know that well. I decided then to make up for the time lost. I scavenged and played everything in Chico´s Chico´s collection (things by Chico Buarque in the things belonging to Chico my brother).

Since everything is really well-known, it wasn´t like “wow, I´ve never heard this before!” But there was that feeling that comes when you suddenly realise something you´d never noticed in something you´ve heard a gazillion times since you were born. Things that make you go “wow, this is so surprising, and at the same time, so typical!”

The first bursts of laughter came when listening to “Façamos”. This was not only because the lyrics are really funny, but also because it is a very well thought out version of “Let´s do it (Let´s Fall in Love)”, by Cole Porter (which is always the warm-up song in my lindy-hop class). Hardly recovered from the first explosion, laughter seized me again when “O Malandro” started playing, such a fantastic version of “Mack the Knife” that felt more like an original Brazilian samba than anything.

But what spurred the thought “Wow, I have to start a blog about this!” was “Mulheres de Atenas” (“Women of Athens”). This song illustrates so well what I´m reading for my comps, that it´s unbelievable! But when I got to write the blog, first I had to sum up part of what I´m reading for my comps (Page du Bois, J.R. Martin, etc), so the blog got longer and longer. And this is how we got here.

I don´t want to reinvent the wheel here with a full analysis of the song, especially since this is a new re-descovery of my own. All I wanted to say is that if Page du Bois or Jane Roland Martin listened to (and understood) this song, they´d go berserk.

Apart from the cadence and the rhymes which are absolutely genius, the accuracy with which it reflects both the Ancient Greek context and current reality is simply out of this world. Chico Buarque is fabulous in the way that he manages to adapt works of art created in different places, ages and reality and re-create them in such a way that the version is more original and seamless than the original, be it “Mack the Knife” or Homer´s Odyssey.

From the very first line (“Look up to the example of those women of Athens”) we see, ironically but accurately, the idealization of ancient customs which scholars like Du Bois attack. The description of the ideal woman “without preferences, without desires, with neither flaws nor qualities” is so terribly on the mark, that many thought the author was meant it earnestly.

Now, one may think that such an error is absurd, caused by either female hypersensitivity and hysteria, or by male ignorance and sexism, to think that the author wanted his song to be interpreted literally. But given the amount of serious and well-intended scholarly work with this kind of rhetoric, as well as how widespread this pattern of domination still is, such a mistake is completely understandable.

Which is not to say that we can just let it go and shrug our shoulders amazed at people´s ignorance. The error is grotesque, true. But it´s an error that only proves how grotesque contemporary civilization still is. The mere comtemplating that “Mulheres de Atenas” may perhaps be an ideal worth having proves that, in this respect at least, we are not that much ahead of the Greeks of over three thousand years ago. This is sad. Also sad is not to recognise this fact, and think that this equity has already been reached, as if mere positive thinking was enough to make unjust inequalities disappear.

What I like in the works I´m presenting here, like Martin, du Bois, Reagan, Monteiro Lobato, and others which are still to come, like Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Nísia Floresta, Cecília Prada, as well as this song by Chico Buarque, is the way that they show how these patterns apply over time and space, mutatis mutandi. I only wish I had Chico´s knack for translating so well not only the content but the whole feeling, from one context to another, one reality to another. Meanwhile, I´ll do what I can in my own esterical way to introduce these wonderful thinkers to other wonderful thinkers I know. To illustrate this, I end with a rough esterical version of the lyrics of the fabulous “Women of Athens”. Enjoy and weep!

Mulheres de Atenas (by Chico Buarque)
(Women of Athens – trans. by Ester Macedo)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Vivem pros seus maridos, orgulho e raça de Atenas
(They live for their husbands, pride and power of Athens)
Quando amadas, se perfumam
(When loved, they apply their perfumes,)
Se banham com leite, se arrumam
(Bathe in milk, dress up)
Suas melenas
(Their hair)
Quando fustigadas não choram
(When chastised, they do not cry)
Se ajoelham, pedem, imploram
(They kneel down and implore)
Mais duras penas
(For further hardships)
(Further chains)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Sofrem por seus maridos, poder e força de Atenas
(They suffer for their husbands, might and force of Athens)
Quando eles embarcam, soldados
(When they board their ships, soldiers)
Elas tecem longos bordados
(They weave long fabrics)
Mil quarentenas
(A thousand quarantines)
E quando eles voltam sedentos
(And when they return, thirsty,)
Querem arrancar violentos

(They want to snatch, violent,)
Carícias plenas

(Full caresses)

(Obscene caresses)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Despem-se pros maridos, bravos guerreiros de Atenas
(They undress for their husbands, brave warriors of Athens,)
Quando eles se entopem de vinho
(When they fill themselves up with wine)
Costumam buscar o carinho
(They usually seek the affections)
De outras falenas
(Of other ladies)
Mas no fim da noite, aos pedaços
(But at the end of the night, in shreds)
Quase sempre voltam pros braços
(They almost always return to the arms)
De suas pequenas
(Of their dear little)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens)
Geram pros seus maridos os novos filhos de Atenas
(They beget for their husbands the new sons of Athens,)
Elas não têm gosto ou vontade
(They have neither preferences nor desires,)
Nem defeito nem qualidade
(Neither defects, nor qualities,)
Têm medo apenas
(Only fear)
Não têm sonhos, só têm presságios
(They don’t have dreams, only omens,)
O seu homem, mares, naufrágios
(Their husbands, seas, shipwrecks,)
Lindas sirenas
(Beautiful sirens)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens,)
Temem pro seus maridos, heróis e amantes de Atenas
(They fear for their husbands, heroes and lovers of Athens,)
As jovens viúvas marcadas
(The young widows, wounded,)
E as gestantes abandonadas
(The pregnant women, abandoned,)
Não fazem cenas
(Make no scene,)
Vestem-se de negro se encolhem
(They dress in black, withdraw)
Se confortam e se recolhem
(Comfort themselves, retire)
Às suas novenas
(To their novenas)

Mirem-se no exemplo daquelas mulheres de Atenas
(Look up to the example of those women of Athens,)
Secam por seus maridos, orgulho e raça de Atenas.
(They wither for their husbands, pride and power of Athens.)

References, allusions and recommendations:
– Homer´s Odyssey
– “Mulheres de Atenas”, by Chico Buarque
– “Let´s Do It (Let´s Fall in Love)”, by Cole Porter (also “Façamos (Vamos Amar)”, by Chico Buarque)
– “Mack the Knife”, by Bob Darin (also “Opera do Malandro”, by Chico Buarque)

Silent voices

I said in the last post that Timothy Reagan’s “Paideia Redux” was an excellent source of references. One such fascinating reference is to classics scholar Page du Bois.

Quite a polemic writer, du Bois’s main agenda is a call for rereading the
classics. Far from embracing ancient cultures as our ideal, the idea is to critically examine not only how much we have inherited, but also how much we have improved, and how much more there is to improve still.

Some of du Bois’ titles include:

– “Trojan horses : saving the classics from conservatives”
– “Slaves and other objects”
– “Centaurs and amazons : women and the pre-history of the great chain of being”
– “Sappho is burning”
– “Sowing the body : psychoanalysis and ancient representations of women”
– “Torture and truth”

One can see from the titles a concern with the history of “second-class citizens”. These are groups of people like women, foreigners, slaves and even mystical creatures who, in virtue of being different from the dominant class, are often denied the status of “fully human”.

I´ve had a chance to read the chapters on Plato in her “Sapho is burning” and in “Sowing the Body”, and thought they were really excellent. Du Bois argues that even though Plato is ahead of his time in presenting a Socrates who surprisingly regards women as having something clever to say, the women themselves are actually never present in the philosophical discussion. A memorable point, I thought.

Aspasia, Diotima and Sappho speak through Socrates, but they themselves are absent, and have no voice of their own. When women do appear in the dialogues, like Xantippe in the Phaedo, and the flutegirls in the Symposium, they are presented merely as a disturbance in the men’s serious discussions and are asked to leave.

Even the wise Sappho is presented in a voice and terrain other than her own. In a very creative move, Du Bois imagines what a Sapphic poem would be like if Sappho had decided to return the compliment and write a song about the wise Plato.

Page du Bois seems to me another excellent link to make when answering the question “why study the classics”. At the moment I am eagerly waiting for her “Trojan Horses” to arrive in the mail. I´m already ecstatic in the expectation of a “the-harm-done-can-only-be-undone-from-the-inside” approach to the classics.

After all, as we have learned from the Ancient Greeks, there is nothing more powerful than the power that comes from within.

Mastering Civilization

People often wonder what the point is in studying classical cultures, like Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt or Ancient China.

Some people say that it´s because the ancients were the high point of civilization and all went downhill from there.

But I think that, first, that this is to disconsider all the achievements of the last 5, 10, 15 or 20 centuries.

Second, this view neglects the fact that civilizations do not develop linearly. Anyone who has played the computer game Civilization III knows that at any given point, the Zulus might be more technologically advanced, though not as widespread as the Greeks, just as the Iroquois might be more culturally developed, though not as strongly armed as the Romans.

To say, therefore, that one given civilization, present or past, or is more civilized than another is one-sided, not only in the sense that it is simplistic (“what counts as civilized?”) but also in the sense of being parochial and borderline unfair.

Another view would be to say that we study ancient cultures for mere curiosity. In this sense, it does not really matter whether you study Ancient Rome or Ancient Tupi-Guarani: they are all dead and gone, and equally irrelevant to the current reality.

I also find this view parochial, though in a chronological rather than geographical sense. To have this attitude is to disregard an immense wealth about what makes human civilization what it is. It is like running the risk of reinventing the wheel just because we have no time for realizing that it’s already been done before.

Timothy Reagan´s “Paideia Redux: A Contemporary Case for the Classics” is the best lead I found for the question of “why study the classics?.” Not only does it make a great case for the relevance of the Classics on the issues that press the post-modern world, but it is a great source for other fascinating reads on the topic.

The connections that Reagan makes between current theories and ancient theories, and with other authors writing on this topic, illustrates well both my personal take on why study the classics, and my best strategy for doing well in the the Civilization game.

That is, both as a civilization and as an individual player, we all start in different locations, with access to different resources and different specific skills. Our specificities are at same time a plus and a limitation: a civilization with lots of hills has more access to iron and more defense points, but more difficulty for locomotion and for agriculture. A military civilization makes stronger armies, but takes longer to develop culturally.

We only have to gain in connecting with other civilizations as early in the game as possible. In this way, we can multiply both our access to resources (which depend on the specificities of our territory) as well as the speed in which we make technological advances (for while one invents the wheel the other is already inventing literacy, and the willingness to share makes both civilization stronger).

One might complain that the purpose of the game is still to outdo the other civilizations, and we can only win if at some point we break our allegiance with them, and leave them behind.

To this I reply that it all depends on why and how you play the game. For those who, like me, play it repeatedly, simply beating the adversary has no thrill. The fun is in playing a better game than before and in improving on my previous scores. And this (as I found from trial and error – lots of it), comes from making as many allegiances as possible, as early as possible.

But there are other games we only have the chance to play once. As far as I know, life is one of those.

References, Alusions and Recommendations:– Sid Meier´s Civilization III

– Reagan, Timothy. “Paideia Redux: A Contemporary Case for the Classics.” Journal of Thought 38.3 (2003): 21-39.

– Burbules, Nicholas C., and Rupert Berk. “Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy: Relations, Differences, and Limits.” Changing Terrains of Knowledge and Politics. Ed. Thomas S. Popkewitz and Lynn Fendler. New York: Routledge, 1999. 45-65.

Emile, Emilia and philosophy

I think that it was Jane Roland Martin in her “Reclaiming a Conversation: the Ideal of the Educated Woman” (but I don´t have the book here with me) who, after pointing out how inadequate Sophie is a model for the ideal woman, calls for a new female counterpart for Emile, an Emily to replace Sophie.

My first acquaintance with J.R. Martin was with sections of “Reclaiming a Conversation” on Rousseau and Wollstonecraft last autumn. I found the argument so persuasive and baffling, that I packed the first couple of chapters of the book, the introduction and the one on Plato, and brought them with me to my summer vacations back home in Brazil.

These two chapters were high on my reading list, and I read them right away. And all of a sudden, I wished I had brought the whole book. I found these two chapters even more persuasive and baffling than the two I had read. I think this was probably because the first addressed introduction to philosophy in general (ch.1) and Plato in particular (ch. 2), topics I had spent most of my academic life thinking about. As for the two chapters I read last year, one dealt with an author I hadn´t read much; the other an author I had never even heard of.

As I now read the book from the very beginning, many of the pennies collected when I read the Rousseau and the Wollstonecraft chapters finally dropped. In particular, I suddenly realised that I had already met Emily. Or rather, Emília. Actually, I had known her all my life! She is all that Rousseau´s Sophie is not: nosy, irreverent, extremely clever, daring, independent, even bossy. She was created in Brazil in the 1920´s. It was Emília and her friends in a little ranch in the Brazilian countryside that introduced me to a great deal of world literature. Including Ancient Greek. Including philosophical characters like Socrates. And that before I was even 10!

“Plato´s Female Guardians”, the chapter on Plato, put me into the mode: “This makes so much sense, how come I never thought about it this way?” It was a kind of Copernican revolution, or a Kuhnian change of paradigms. So I did this “intellectual regression” thing, to see where it was that I bought into the normal approach.

As I mentioned in the previous post, before I was a Socrates´s fan, I was fascinated with Greek mythology, especially the goddess Athena. I was first exposed to Greek mythology throught this series of 16 children´s books which I devoured when I was about 9-10 years old. The books were written from 1921 to 1946, and it is called “O Sítio do Picapau Amarelo”, literally “The Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”. (Worth noticing that the yellow woodpecker is to Brazil as the Beaver is to Canada.)

The series were very well-written, and became TV shows several times, and I think there is a new re-make still on. Most of the stories take place on the ranch, and involve themes that mix Brazilian folklore with world literature like Cervantes, Hans Standen, Grimm brothers, Peter Pan, Lewis Carroll, and Ancient Greek mythology, as well as other ´subjects´ like math, grammar, history, geography and biology.

I was thinking about all this, and even though I had to admit what she said seemed really on the mark (more and more so the deeper I got into academic philosophy), it struck me that my childhood learning experience was not really like what Martin described in “Reclaiming a Conversation”. And the reason, as I now realised, was that, in my intellectual history, before there was Socrates, there was Emília. And that made all the difference.

Emília was all Socrates was and more: she was a little Brazilian female gadfly, that left even Socrates in awe (yes, in volume 11 they meet! And even good old Socrates was stunned!).

It seems that this collection of books does not yet appear in English, though it does make to a few sites, like wikipedia (links below). I found about 50 articles on him on Scholars´ Portal, mostly in Portuguese. Now I really want to dig deeper into this, and have tons to say about how well it predates Martin (re: women) and Freire (re: Brazilian culture). But so that you have an idea of how the story goes, let me give you a rough translation of two memorable encounters: with Pericles and Socrates.

BACKGROUND: Dona Benta, an old widow, lives on a ranch with her grandaughter Lúcia, a.k.a Narizinho (“Funny Nose”) and her friend and cook Aunt Nastácia (short for Anastácia), a black woman. Pedrinho (“Pete”), same age as Narizinho, lives in the city, and comes visit his grandmother on vacations. Emília starts as Narizinho´s ragdoll, made by Aunt Nastácia, who somehow becomes alive, and practically runs the show. Another important figure is the wise Viscount, a corncob, also brought to life the same way as Emília.

In this particular piece, written in 1937, Aunt Nastácia suddenly goes missing, and the whole ranch´s gang goes to Pericles´ Athens to find her. At the moment, they are at Pericles´ palace, being entertained by his extremely wise wife Aspasia (this is important, I´ll come back to this later), and Pericles himself. Here´s a dialogue between Dona Benta and Pericles (rough translation). I am leaving the gender markers as they appear in the original.

In the courtyard the great Greek statesman continued to chat with the old woman. They were discussing politics.

“We have conquered aristocracy, madam,” he said. “Today Greece is positively governed by the people. Solon revealed his genius when he conceived our form of government. There is no imposition on any man. The governor is chosen by the people. I, for instance, put into practice that which the people desire – this is why they continue to re-elect me.”

“You are an exceptional case,” Dona Benta argued, “you say you follow the will of the people, but in fact your intelligence and your excellent speeches are what make the people desire this or that. It is you, not the people, who govern Athens.”

“I see that madam has an acute eye for psychology,´ said Pericles smiling. “The people are like children. They want to be led – but with the appearance that in fact it is they who lead and command. (Esterical note: at this point any doubt that the reference to Rousseau´s Emile is deliberate is completely dispelled). “My system, however, is to desire nothing that goes against the will of the people. I am an interpreter of their desires – and the enlightener of the city. (…)”

“I notice an error in your words when you refer to “the people”, Mr. Pericles. It is not the people who govern Athens, but the small class of citizens. “People” means the whole population. But there are here 400 thousand slaves who do not have the right to vote. This is unjust, and will be Greece´s doom.”

Pericles was stunned that anyone could see things that way.

“But they are slaves, madam! Slaves are slaves!”

“You´re mistaken, Mr. Pericles. A man does not stop being a man in virtue of being a slave; and a society that divides men into freemen and slaves is condemned to disappear.”

This idea made the Greek man laugh:

“Do you think then that there can be a society without slaves and masters? Who will do the heavy work?”

“A just society cannot have slaves, Mr. Pericles, and in such a society all the work will be done by freemen. That´s how it is in the modern world I come from…

And so on and so forth. Actually, it gets even better, with references to Aristotle, Brazilian slaverly, Plato and European totalitarism on this same page, and Socrates and Emília coming in the next chapter. And this is what I read at the age of 9! No wonder I was such a strange girl – and still am. But you´re probably tired by now, I for one am exhausted. So I´ll do the rest later. But should you be curious, here are some sites with a bit of background info on author and work:

Stay tuned for the next episode of Ester´s intellectual diary.