Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sex and Wordplay and Sexism

First, from Rhosa's rhetorical blogora blog, a playful post of sex and religion:

this just in (ha ha):

oooh, baby do you know what that's worth??
ha ha ha ha h(e)aven is a place on earth
("some poles have been surprised....")

but willie get tenure for his book?
betty won't.

and is the pope infallible? never mind on that one.
none of us is, y'all.

Second, searching into or to find my blog, The WOMBman's Bible, someone has googled this:

"word for playful in greek"

which makes me wonder why there I'd skipped over this:

"ἐγένετο δὲ πολυχρόνιος ἐκεῖ παρακύψας δὲ Αβιμελεχ ὁ βασιλεὺς Γεραρων διὰ τῆς θυρίδος εἶδεν τὸν Ισαακ παίζοντα μετὰ Ρεβεκκας τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ

which is the playful Greek wording for this:

וַיְהִי כִּי אָֽרְכוּ־לֹו שָׁם הַיָּמִים וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים בְּעַד הַֽחַלֹּון וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק אֵת רִבְקָה אִשְׁתֹּֽו׃

which is also known as Genesis 26:8 -- translated in the King James Bible as this:
"And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac [was] sporting with Rebekah his wife."
The playful word in Greek is παίζοντα [paizonta] which is "sporting" enough - and is sexual too, given the reaction of Abimelech the king towards two supposedly platonic alleged siblings, who were indeed engaged in play, perhaps foreplay.

That makes us think of Gorgias and his rhetorical praise of Helen. But he's not involved in foreplay, because he's investigating the alleged sexism, the supposed rape of Helen by the Trojan man. Why else would she abandon the men of Greece, he asks. Remember, Bettany Hughes reminds:
When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
So Gorgias isn't engaging in foreplay the way the Jewish translators of their own histories translate that bit of history of Isaac [Ha! Laughter!]. Gorgias is playing with sexuality and with sexism; but his play comes at the very end, like the punchline to his joke:

ἐβουλήθην γράψαι τὸν λόγον Ἑλένης μὲν ἐγκώμιον, ἐμὸν δὲ παίγνιον.

Notice the final Greek word in Brian Donovan's translation:
I wanted to write the discourse, Helen's encomium and my plaything.
("plaything" or sport or παίγνιον /paignion/.)

Which makes us wonder if Gorgias was trying to get his contemporary readers, thinking about Helen, also to remember the sexism in Homer. Remember? Yes, I'm thinking with you now about "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter."

It begins:

I sing of the revered goddess, rich-haired Demeter,
and her slim-ankled daughter, whom Hades snatched
(far-seeing, thundering Zeus gave her away)
while she and Ocean's deep-breasted daughters played,
far from golden blade Demeter, who bears shining fruit.
She picked lush meadow flowers: roses, crocuses,
lovely violets, irises, hyacinths--and narcissus
Gaia grew as a lure for the blossoming girl,
following Zeus' bidding, to please Lord of the Dead.

You may recognize this as Diane J. Rayor's wonderful translating. And you may remember other translations -- because there have been many -- that have Hades raping the girl instead of merely "snatching" her -- as Rayor renders it.

"In modern usage the word rape emphasizes sexual consummation," a certain 'consume-a-shun', "which is uncertain in this case." This is Helene P. Foley's commentary on her own translating, which says the daughter of Demeter is one "whom Aidoneus seized."

Both Rayor and Foley prefer to leave a little play in the English because of the wordplay in the Homeric Greek. Neither of these translators rapes their reader with a certain anything.

And regardless of whether "rape" or "snatch" or "seize" by "Hades" or [his more Greek sounding name] "Aidoneus" - there is something common for all the many English translators of this Greek text. They all render what the little girl is doing, when interrupted, as "play."

Of course, around all the sex and horrible sexism, that word for play and playful in Greek here in this Hymn is παίζουσαν [paizousan]. And so the sporting continues, sometimes translationally, sometimes sexually, but sometimes as the horrible force of sexism.

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