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.


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