Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sweet Wars of Women, for Men Only

There’s implicit sexism in a snippet of Aristotle’s Rhetoric that earlier translators have not brought out. (Despite the protests, we secretly posted on that earlier this week). Are these earlier translating men complicit in the misogyny? I’ll let you be the judge.

So here’s a feminist retranslating (and some quick commentary below that):

ἐπεὶ δὲ τὸ νικα̂ν ἡδύ,
̓νάγκη καὶ τὰς παιδιὰς ἡδείας εἰ̂ναι
τὰς μαχητικὰς καὶ τὰς ε

πολλάκις γὰρ ἐν ταύταισγίγνεται τὸ νικα̂ν̓
καὶ α
̓στραγαλίσεις καὶ σφαιρίσεις καὶ κυβείας καὶ πεττείας

Since victory is pleasantly sweet,
there’s a force even in sweet child’s play
which is also battle-ish and strife-ish.

Many times, in fact, these are birthed in victories
in games with tossed bones, with balls, with dice, and with boards.


There’s a good bit of Greek “cultural literacy” in this excerpt.

The phrase τὸ νικα̂ν̓, of course, invokes Νική or Nike the goddess “Victory.” The conjoined phrase τὰς μαχητικὰς καὶ τὰς ἐριστικάς calls to mind two other women. First, there’s νδρομάχη or Andromache, who’s Hector’s wife in Homer’s Illiad and in Euripides’s play named for her. The name is a compound noun meaning a “Man’s [or Husband’s] Battle.” Second, there’s Έρις or Eris the goddess or demoness of “War.”

Now, I dare say that the child’s play Aristotle is referencing for his students of rhetoric, or speakerism, has nothing to do with girls. After all, his students, such as the conquering Alexander the Great, are all boys. And the games Aristotle mentions are for boys only.

The passage comes along as the teacher is discussing what is pleasant, what is sweet to the taste. This makes for some interesting juxtaposition when he starts calling victory sweet. Aristotle is talking about victory for children. Games are benign enough, and normal for kids. But he makes clear that, for Greek boys, they have to do with the kind of warring, battling, and striving that female deities and that mortal women stir up. In the very next section (not included here), Aristotle gets to the big boy games, the man stuff, where women are never allowed.


Daniel Olson said...

Evoking Nike and Andromache--that's good. I like your translation. It seems the closest to the Greek, and also the one that make the most sense in English. The only part I'm not sure about is what the 'these' is referring to in your last sentence "Many times, in fact, these are birthed in victories...".

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks Daniel.

You say: "The only part I'm not sure about is what the 'these' is referring to in your last sentence."

To which I respond: Can we be sure what the ταύταισγίγνεται refers to? It's clearly a compound of ταύταις and γίγνεται ["these" and "birthed"], but what's Aristotle pointing back to with ταύταις?

Here he's vague and/or ambiguous. Which is something he teaches his students in the Rhetoric not to be. I'm not going to meddle, by my translation, with any apparent contradictions between Aristotle's preaching and his own practice.

Oh, and Daniel, there is an answer to your great question earlier about the textual variant and "music."

Daniel Olson said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this passage in Greeks seems less ambiguous than your English translation. It looks like the antecedent for ταύταισγίγνεται is "τὰς παιδιὰς ἡδείας εἰ̂ναι
τὰς μαχητικὰς καὶ τὰς ἐριστικάς". In the English translation, you change the nouns into adjectives making the reference unclear.

J. K. Gayle said...

Well, you've given an awfully long antecedent. So you might as well say It looks like the antecedent for "gained in them" is "competitive and disputatious amusements must be so too." I'm using Freese's phrases in English for the analogy, since you first liked him. Let's follow his logic and make it more concise: the antecedent for "them" is "amusements" which suggests also the antecedent for ταύταις is παιδιὰς ἡδείας or mainly παιδιὰς).

It's certainly tougher to assume that τὰς μαχητικὰς καὶ τὰς ἐριστικάς are the antecedents for ταύταις. I'm not sure that removing my adjectival suffixes "-ish" really solves anything either: "child’s play
. . . [can be] also the battle and the strife. Many times, in fact, these are birthed in victories"?

The ambiguity that I see in Aristotle's Greek, that I try for in my English, is in another direction, actually two. First, and unfair to you (though I tried to set it up) is the larger context that isn't shown here. Aristotle is rattling off the various sweetly pleasant things which may collectively be ταύταισγίγνεται. Second, and better I think, is the tricky τὸνῑκᾶν. Clearly it's singular with ἡδυ at first. But ἡδείᾱς (with τὰς παιδιὰς) is plural; why can't the second νῑκᾶν be a participle or an infinitive even? Which lets me (and Freese, but none of the other English translators) make it a plural "victories." What I'm struck by is that the preposition ἐν may have as its object τὸ νικα̂ν, which allows this same object to be the antecedent for the embedded and adjectival ταύταισγίγνεται. And by "these . . . birthed in . . . victories," I was trying to play some with that.

What am I missing, except for the need to, as my son would laugh and say to me, "lighten up." :)

Daniel Olson said...

When I read your translation "Many times, in fact, these are birthed in victories..." I want to know what these is referring to. Maybe if I saw that sentence in a larger context it would be clearer. Or if Aristotle is being vague, a faithful translation will also be vague in the places where he is vague.

I concede the pleasantly sweet victory of this question to you.