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Artemisia at Sea

March 8, 2019

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

“My men have behaved like women, my women like men!” - Xerxes

Strong women have always had a complicated relationship with history. They have been feared, reviled, loved, hated, killed, made into men, adored, and crowned (among other things). Artemisia is one such female. She married the king of Halicarnassus (now in present-day Turkey) and from the beginning Artemisia demonstrated strength and wit. After the king died, she became sole ruler. In Book VII and XIII of Herodotus’s History, he writes about Artemisia, leader of Halicarnassus and her involvement in the Greco-Persian Wars. She was an intelligent leader who spoke her mind, and these traits allowed her to become close with Xerxes, leader of the Persian efforts. In fact, Xerxes began to regard her as an advisor at a time when women rarely had a say in anything. This unique treatment of Artemisia bears pondering, as does the way that Herodotus writes of her. The first quotation below is from Book VII, 99. It reads:

“Of the other lower officers I shall make no mention, since no necessity is laid on me; but I must speak of a certain leader named Artemisia, whose participation in the attack upon Greece, notwithstanding that she was a woman, moves my special wonder. She had obtained the sovereign power after the death of her husband; and, though she had now a son grown up, yet her brave spirit and manly daring sent her forth to the war, when no need required her to adventure. Her name, as I said, was Artemisia, and she was the daughter of Lygdamis; by race she was on his side a Halicarnassian, though by her mother a Cretan. She ruled over the Halicarnassians, the men of Cos, of Nisyrus, and of Calydna; and the five triremes which she furnished to the Persians were, next to the Sidonian, the most famous ships in the fleet. She likewise gave to Xerxes sounder counsel than any of his other allies.”

Already, we have a complicated image of Artemisia. Herodotus can only describe her in relation to the men that she is among. He cannot comprehend how a female became so intelligent at battle and wise with words. She is educated to the point of men, and that becomes her bar of measure. She too, according to Herodotus, regards herself by this same measure.

A few chapters later, Herodotus notes a long speech by Artemisia. While he presents many speeches, hers stands out as a sole female voice regarding battle tactics. In fact, Artemisia makes a name for herself by acting, according to Xerxes, as a man should act. Her logic, reasonable discourse, and fearlessness promote the character traits often associated with strong men. When in Book VIII, 68, she is asked about whether or not to engage the Greeks, she replies:

“Spare thy ships, and do not risk a battle; for these people are as much superior to thy people in seamanship, as men to women. What so great need is there for thee to incur hazard at sea? Art thou not master of Athens, for which thou didst undertake thy expedition? Is not Greece subject to thee? Not a soul now resists thy advance.”

She then suggests that they stick to land which would give the upper hand to their army, and might diminish Greek resources. This advice contradicts the advice of nearly every other officer in the room. In other words, Artemisia was either completely unafraid of Xerxes, or she trusted that he would not harm her for speaking her mind. Either way, she ably and nobly offered a wise opinion. Herodotus notes that many leaders in the room thought she might be punished by Xerxes and this filled them with a kind of jealous joy. However, Xerxes praised her more than ever. After praising her ideas, however, he felt compelled to follow the advice of the majority. Xerxes himself is remarkable for publicly noting his pleasure at her wisdom.

It is strange that in making a case which asks the men to listen to a woman, Artemisia would claim the superiority of men to women. This seemingly contradicts her argument and undermines the advice of a woman. However, it also seems a skillful rhetorical tactic which demonstrates how well she understands the audience.

More than merely speaking her mind, however, she also captains her own ship. The final section of Artemisia’s story occurs during the seafight. As the fight became chaotic and crowded, Artemisia found herself pinned in by the enemy on one side and a friendly ship on the other side. She chose to sink the friendly ship. In Book XIII, 87 and 88, Herodotus writes:

“Pressed by an Athenian pursuer, she bore straight against one of the ships of her own party, a Clyndian, which had Damsithymus, the Calyndian king, himself on board. I cannot say whether she had any quarrel with the man while the fleet was at Hellespont, or no – neither can I decide whether she of set purpose attacked his vessel, or whether it merely chanced that the Calyndian ship came in her way – but certain it is that she bore down upon his vessel and sank it, and that thereby she had the good fortune to procure herself a double advantage. For the commander of the Athenian trireme, when he saw her bear down on one of the enemy’s fleet, thought immediately that her vessel was a Greek, or else had deserted from the Persians and was now fighting on the Greek side; he therefore gave up the chase and turned away to attack others.

“Thus in the first place she saved her life by the action, and was enabled to get clear off from the battle; while further, it fell out that in the very act of doing the king an injury she raised herself to a greater height than ever in his esteem. For as Xerxes beheld the fight, he remarked (it is said) the destruction of the vessel, whereupon the bystanders observed him - ‘Seest thou, master, how well Artemisia fights, and how she has just sunk a ship of the enemy?’...Everything, it is said, conspired to prosper the queen – it was especially fortunate for her that not one of the Calyndian ship survived to become her accuser. Xerxes, they say, in reply to the remarks made to him, observed - ‘My men have behaved like women, my women like men!’”

This is one depiction of an ancient woman, strong, proud, intelligent. She thrived as a female in a man’s world. There are so few accounts about women by women that we must read and reread these passages to understand the woman’s role throughout ages and cultures.

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Celebrate the Old and New

January 4, 2019

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Some members in my family celebrate New Year’s Eve with lutefisk or sauerkraut. Some people celebrate with both. I, however, draw the line at lutefisk. I just cannot stomach it. What seems to me to be a petty difference of taste really bothers others, though. They fear bad karma (or something) when I disrespect the tradition. We turn this into a joke at the dinner table, but in reality, traditions run much of our lives and so I thought it might be worthwhile to better understand what they are and how they function in society.

While tradition is not in the Great Books anthologies per se, Custom and Convention is listed as one of the great ideas. In it, Mortimer Adler offers the following definition convention. He explains:

“In the tradition of the great books, the word ‘convention’ has at least two meanings, in only one of which is it synonomous with ‘custom.’ When ‘convention’ is used to signify habitual social practices, it is, for the most part, interchangeable with ‘custom.’ In this significance, the notion of convention, like that of custom, is an extension of the idea of habit. What habit is in the behavior of the individual, customary or conventional conduct is in the behavior of the social group.

“The other meaning of ‘convention does not connote the habitual social behavior but stresses rather the voluntary as opposed to the instinctive origin of social institutions, arrangements, or practices. … Whatever is conventional about social institutions might have been otherwise, if men had seen fit to invent and adopt different schemes for the organization of their social life. This indicates the connection between the two senses of the word ‘convention,’ for all customs are conventional in origin, and all conventions become customary when perpetuated.”

Obviously, this relates to the idea of New Year’s Eve lutefisk (and all traditions) – in that we celebrate what we find worthwhile in our lives and cultures. What we find worthwhile, however, may arrive through instruction, precedent, example, practice, or law. During the transition into a new year, many lists are compiled such as the greatest music, literature, or entertainment from the previous year. Do these lists merely reflect person opinion, or is it more complicated than that? Adler continues:

“The most familiar of all of the sophistic sayings – the remark attributed to Protagoras that ‘man is the measure of all things’ - is interpreted by both Plato and Aristotle to mean that what men wish to think or do determines for them what is true or right. Man’s will governs his reason, and convention, or the agreement of individual wills, decides what is acceptable to the group.”

In other words, convention drives personal opinion, perhaps even in undetected ways. It may be through trends and media that we receive hints about the health of our daily habits. These sources, though, represent, according to Adler, “an agreement of individual wills.” The line between individual and group, however, is extremely difficult to determine. How large does the group have to be before it becomes a group? What constitutes a fad? Is the mainstream synonymous with either the popular or traditional? Claude Lévi-Strauss adds that:

“Among the most primitive peoples it is not very difficult to obtain a moral justification or a rational explanation for any custom or institution … Even in our own society, table manners, social etiquette, fashions of dress, and many of our moral, political, and religious attitudes are scrupulously observed by everyone, although their real origin and function are not often critically examined.”

Many would argue that traditions arrive from nature or necessity, such as in the form of cleanliness, or human morality, or social preservation. Convention and tradition make for interesting discussions, but as for lutefisk, I am still not sold. In an effort to incorporate new traditions (aka my own) with old, I compromise with rice pudding. However, since it is an attempt to honor the idea of tradition, but is not actually traditional, perhaps I do more harm than good.

To read more about Resolutions, visit: hmu.edu.

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Heri Za Kwanzaa

December 28, 2018

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Heri za Kwanzaa means Happy Kwanzaa. Since Kwanzaa began on December 26, and since I know so little about the holiday, I thought that today was the perfect opportunity to learn about it. Also, due to the fact that I know so little about it, I would be happy for anyone to correct anything that I have posted. This post intends simply to touch the surface of the holiday. Furthermore, I am very interested in literature that may include mention of Kwanzaa or other traditions related to Kwanzaa. Feel free to post comments for literature and/or corrections!

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga founded Kwanzaa in 1966. It is an African-American and pan-African holiday which celebrates community, family, and culture. It begins on December 26 and continues until January 1. The first symbol of Kwanzaa is the mkeka, a placemat which demonstrates African traditions. Kwanzaa is based upon seven principles called the Nguzo Saba. Karenga explains: “As we said in the ‘60s, the Nguzo Saba are a Black value system, a set of communitarian African values which aid us in grounding ourselves righteously and rightly, directing our lives toward good and expansive ends, and toward conceiving and bringing into being the good communities, societies and world we all want and work and struggle so hard to bring into being.” Kwanzaa is celebrated with feasts, music, dance, poetry and narratives. The holiday is concluded with a day of reflection upon the commitments of the seven principles. Karenga continues, “The holiday, then will of necessity, be engaged as an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people's culture.” I thought that this sentiment is consistent with the foundations of other religions. I am interested in Kwanzaa’s inclusion of metaphor, symbol, and history. Due to the foundational nature of the seven principles, I have listed them below. I find these ideas consistent with the season.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa include:

Umoja: Unity, the willingness to help one another

Kujichagulia: Self-determination, that we make our own decisions

Ujima: Collective work and responsibility, that working together creates a better life for all

Ujamaa: Cooperative economics, that we support our community

Nia: Purpose, that we have a reason for living

Kuumba: Creativity, that we use our hands and minds to make things

Imani: Faith, that we believe in ourselves, our ancestors, and our future.

All information for this blog is taken from the Official Kwanzaa website.

Whatever your faith, whatever your community, we hope that you celebrate with peace and love. Happy holidays from Harrison Middleton University!

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Fracturing Millennials Reveal Flaws in Generational Political Narrative

February 9, 2018

Thanks to Carter Vance, a 2018 Harrison Middleton University Fellow in Ideas, for today's post.

The idea of the “generational conflict”, written in sociopolitical terms, is a notion at once ancient and modern. One can go back to the writings of Plato and find tropes which sound curiously similar to the proverbial old man ranting at about the indolent youth invading his front lawn. At the same time, the habit affixing labels (“Boomer”, “Gen X”, etc.) and a set of supposed personality characteristics to subsequent cohorts is a relatively recent phenomenon. The notion that people who grow up in the same time period would share more in common with each other than with those who came before them is a fundamentally modern notion. In a time before the industrial revolution massively altered the structure of the economy, most careers would be passed down within families, with each generation for the most part reproducing what their parents had done.

Of course, there were always exceptions to this rule of, for instance, poor individuals who, through luck or skill, ended up in a much different place than where they began. But, the notion that a son would not continue in the trade of his father would have been eccentric at best and a betrayal of duty at worst. The cutting of old ties and the emphasis on individual achievement forged by the dawn of capitalism had the paradoxical effect of sweeping up full generations into epoch-defining economic changes. Demand for particular skills, or just a willingness to work in a particular set of conditions, would ebb and flow over time, rather than being fixed to family names. This, along with the increasing interconnection of economies and cultures at the national and international scale, meant that trends in fashion and job-destroying commodity busts would both be experienced by wide swaths of the population as defining events.

At the same time, the notion of a “generation” did not become fully operational until the era of mass media communication. This gave rise to the second major shared aspect of generational experience: popular culture. Of course, it is not strictly speaking true that every Baby Boomer attended Woodstock or loved The Beatles, but the shared sentiment that they did, and more specifically that they embraced a set of values reflected in this art, came to be retrospective social adhesive. This world of shared experience, of both artistic creation and news events, would have been impossible to achieve without the technology to expose everyone within a “generation”, or at least a wide swath, to such things. It was also with this expansion of media consumption that the notion of a “generational divide” between parents and child, as exemplified by films such as Rebel Without a Cause, began to gain more purchase as a shorthand for a particular kind of social dislocation. It is this image, an irreconcilable split over essential values and worldviews across an age gap, that gives “Greatest Generation”, for instance, a meaning beyond the purely temporal. As much as such terminology flattens out a whole wealth of contradictions and conflicts across various lines within the people it gathers together, it also allows a kind of narrative to be fashioned of global changes over time.

Encountering “generational” writing in the present moment, the standard litany of clichés which accompany writing about millennials from their elders are so well-worn at this point that to critique them as a sign of lazy thinking feels redundant. For every column denouncing the “snowflakes” on campus or the need to hand-hold us fragile young people in the workplace, there is another which counters these claims directly. My point here is to not relitigate the case against a particular set of generational stereotypes, but rather to question if this entire framework for looking at the lives of young people today is not faulty. Though the notion of a “generation” as a contained, relatively homogenous sociopolitical unit sharing a set of experiences, values and aspirations was likely always an overstretched concept, this is particularly true of millennials.

The most obvious fact speaking to our fracturing is that millennials are the most demographically diverse cohort in the history of North America, and therefore come to the table of the social world with much different concerns and experiences. Attempts to describe a singular “millennial” are therefore strained to the point of futility. Beyond this, the increasing social recognition of a wide variety of identities related to gender and sexuality further complicates the picture. This is even before we recognize that this generation has grown up in a cultural environment which is both increasingly global and niche-oriented. “Media” no longer means simply the kind of mass broadcast networks which it once did, but rather a more diverse range of outlets serving particular interests, tastes and views. Though this has been primarily talked about in terms of a negative phenomenon as facilitating increasing epistemic closure in political terms, it is important to note its virtues as well. A greater diversity of means through which to transmit messages into the popular consciousness has meant that injustices previously ignored have come to light, and that communities which have faced historical oppression have been able to come together and find a voice more easily. Whether for good or for ill, this generation does not necessarily share common media reference points with the rest of our cohort in the way Boomers can seemingly all recall listening to Hendrix on the hi-fi or watching the moon landing on TV. In short, the defining condition of being young in this moment is that of notionally infinite choice, both in terms of what we will consume, and how we will define ourselves in relation to the world.

Much more could be written on this, but I would close with the thought that the main option which is not available to us is that of security, in both economic and social terms. If we do all indeed swim in what Umberto Eco has defined as “liquid modernity”, taught to view all things as impermanent and flexible, it is my generation that was born into it. The variety of individual and group attachments, to artifacts of popular culture or internet ephemera, for instance, that we develop are something of a cheap substitute for the kind of shared meaning we believe defined life before our time. The attraction of young people to politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who promise a renewal of both common purpose and social security, testifies to this desire. Much of what is viewed by those above us as signs of some sort of generational psychosis are in fact very rational responses to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We have learned to be as fluid as the world around us, not because we necessarily want to, but because it is demanded of us.

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