Monday, May 11, 2009

Men Writing in Greek About Heads of Women

Here's a fragment from Sappho who writes to her friend Kleis.

a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers

(And this translation is by Mary Barnard).


Do you notice any contrasts between Sappho as translated into English by Bernard and what's below?

Below is a sampling of male writings in Greek on women, wives, and their heads. Various translators (all men also in the excerpts here) have rendered the Hellene into English. The Greek word κεφαλὴ [kephale] is translated "head" (and sometimes "hair").

and the nymph herself put on a great white cloak,
delicate and lovely, threw a fine golden girdle
around her waist, and put a veil on her head.
--Homer, Odyssey Book V, 230-232; Book X, 543-545

for I always long for such a head, when reminded of my husband,
whose fame is wide from Hellas to the middle of Argos.
--Homer, Odyssey Book I, 542-545

All by himself from his head Zeus fathered grey-eyed Athena,
--Hesiod, Theogony

Then Athena, the grey-eyed goddess clad her and dresssed her
Up in a silvery garment. Down from her head she unveiled a
Finely embroidered veil with her hands, a most marvellous sight; with
Lovely garlands of new-grown wildflowers Pallas Athene
Crowned her. Also a garland of gold she put on her head
--Hesiod, Theogony

Blepyrus: Eh, Praxagora! where are you coming from?
Praxagora: How does that concern you, dear sir?
Blepyrus: Why, greatly! what a silly question madam!
Praxagora: You don't think I have come from a lovers?
Blepyrus: No, perhaps not from only one.
Praxagora: You can make yourself sure of that.
Blepyrus: And how?
Praxagora: You can see whether my head smells of perfume.
Blepyrus: What? cannot a woman possibly be laid without perfume, eh!
--Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen

What happiness is the people's! what joy is mine, and above all that of my mistress! Happy are ye, who form choruses before our house! Happy are ye, both neighbors and fellow-citizens! Happy am I myself! I am but a servant, and yet I have poured on my head the most exquisite essences. Let thanks be rendered to thee, Oh, Zeus! But a still more delicious aroma is that of the wine of Thasos; its sweet bouquet delights the drinker for a long time, whereas the others lose their bloom and vanish quickly. Therefore, long life to the wine-jars of Thasos! Pour yourselves out unmixed wine, it will cheer you the whole night through, if you choose the liquor that possesses most fragrance. But tell me, friends, where is my mistress's husband?
--Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen

As we stated at the commencement, all these things were in a state of disorder, when God implanted in them proportions both severally in relation to themselves and in their relations to one another, so far as it was in any way possible for them to be in harmony and proportion. For at that time nothing partook thereof, save by accident, nor was it possible to name anything worth mentioning which bore the names we now give them, such as fire and water, or any of the other elements; but He, in the first place, set all these in order, and then out of these He constructed this present Universe, one single Living Creature containing within itself all living creatures both mortal and immortal. And He Himself acts as the Constructor of things divine, but the structure of the mortal things He commanded His own engendered sons to execute. And they, imitating Him, on receiving the immortal principle of soul, framed around it a mortal body, and gave it all the body to be its vehicle, and housed therein besides another form of soul, even the mortal form, which has within it passions both fearful and unavoidable—firstly, pleasure, a most mighty lure to evil; next, pains, which put good to rout; and besides these, rashness and fear, foolish counsellors both and anger, hard to dissuade; and hope, ready to seduce. And blending these with irrational sensation and with all-daring lust, they thus compounded in necessary fashion the mortal kind of soul. Wherefore, since they scrupled to pollute the divine, unless through absolute necessity, they planted the mortal kind apart therefrom in another chamber of the body, building an isthmus and boundary for the head and chest by setting between them the neck, to the end that they might remain apart.
--Plato, the Timaeus

They test women by pessaries to see if the smells thereof permeate from below upwards to the breath from the mouth and by colours smeared upon the eyes to see if they colour the saliva. If these results do not follow it is a sign that the passages of the body, through which the catamenia are secreted, are clogged and closed. For the region about the eyes is, of all the head, that most nearly connected with the generative secretions; a proof of this is that it alone is visibly changed in sexual intercourse, and those who indulge too much in this are seen to have their eyes sunken in. The reason is that the nature of the semen is similar to that of the brain, for the material of it is watery (the heat being acquired later). And the seminal purgations are from the region of the diaphragm, for the first principle of nature is there, so that the movements from the pudenda are communicated to the chest, and the smells from the chest are perceived through the respiration.
--Aristotle, Generation of Animals

The front part of the head goes bald because the brain is there and man is the only animal to go bald, because his brain is much the largest and moistest. Women do not go bald.
--Aristotle, Generation of Animals

Again, one quality or action is nobler than another if it is that of a naturally finer being: thus a man's will be nobler than a woman's. . . Things that deserve to be remembered are noble, and the more they deserve this, the nobler they are. . . So are the distinctive qualities of a particular people, and the symbols of what it specially admires, like long hair in Sparta, where this is a mark of a free man, as it is not easy to perform any menial task when one's hair is long.
--Aristotle, the Rhetoric

And the priest shall bring her forward and place her before the Lord. And the priest shall take pure, living water in an earthen vessel and some of the dust that is on the floor of the tent of witness, and after taking it, the priest shall cast it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord and uncover the woman’s head and place upon her hands the sacrifice of remembrance, the sacrifice of jealousy—but in the priest’s hand shall be the water of this reproof that brings the curse. And the priest shall make her take an oath and say to the woman, “If no one has slept with you, if you have not gone astray to become defiled while under your own husband, be innocent from the water of this reproof that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray being under your husband or if you have defiled yourself and someone besides your husband has made his bed [i.e., had sexual intercourse] with you, then the priest shall make the woman take an oath by the oaths of this curse, and the priest shall say to the woman, “May the Lord make you as a curse and bound by oath in the midst of your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall to pieces and your womb swell, and this water that brings the curse shall enter your belly to swell the belly and make your thigh fall to pieces.” And the woman shall say, “May it be; may it be!”
--Septuagint Translators of the Hebrew, Numbers 5

2Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
--Paul, 1 Corinthians 11

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