Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Speech on Earth Day, from Aspasia

While it's still Earth Day, maybe you'll be interested in reading what Aspasia said. 

Here is some of what Aspasia said in a speech she wrote.  It's translated by Walter R. M. Lamb in 1925 AD, after it's translated by Benjamin Jowett in 1914 AD, after it's written by Plato in 386 BC, as if Socrates is reading it after Aspasia wrote it some time earlier.  It's in Plato's dialogue Menexenus, which ends with a dispute over whether a woman could really speak so eloquently (or could compose a speech so eloquent).  Much of the point I'm making here is that you have to wade through a lot of stuff men say to hear her.  And none of them gets her earthy mother wordplay (which is highlighted for us below), which I do think the first bible translators of the first book of the bible do get very very well.

(Lamb's version:)

There, Menexenus, you have the oration of Aspasia,

And by Zeus, Socrates, Aspasia, by your account, deserves to be congratulated if she is really capable of composing a speech like that, woman though she is.

Nay, then, if you are incredulous, come along with me and listen to a speech from her own lips.

I have met with Aspasia many a time, Socrates, and I know well what she is like.

Well, then, don't you admire her, and are you not grateful to her now for her oration?

Yes, I am exceedingly grateful, Socrates, for the oration to her or to him—whoever it was that repeated it to you; and what is more, I owe many other debts of gratitude to him that repeated it.

That will be fine! Only be careful not to give me away, so that I may report to you later on many other fine political speeches of hers.

Have no fear: I won't give you away; only do you report them.

Well, it shall be done.

(Jowett's version:)

SOCRATES: You have heard, Menexenus, the oration of Aspasia the Milesian.

MENEXENUS: Truly, Socrates, I marvel that Aspasia, who is only a woman, should be able to compose such a speech; she must be a rare one.

SOCRATES: Well, if you are incredulous, you may come with me and hear her.

MENEXENUS: I have often met Aspasia, Socrates, and know what she is like.

SOCRATES: Well, and do you not admire her, and are you not grateful for her speech?

MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates, I am very grateful to her or to him who told you, and still more to you who have told me.

SOCRATES: Very good. But you must take care not to tell of me, and then at some future time I will repeat to you many other excellent political speeches of hers.

MENEXENUS: Fear not, only let me hear them, and I will keep the secret.

SOCRATES: Then I will keep my promise.

(Lamb's version of a bit of Aspasia's speech:)

For every creature that brings forth possesses a suitable supply of nourishment for its offspring; and by this test it is manifest also whether a woman be truly a mother or no, if she possesses no founts of nourishment for her child. Now our land, which is also our mother, furnishes to the full this proof of her having brought forth men; for, of all the lands that then existed, she was the first and the only one to produce human nourishment, namely the grain of wheat and barley, whereby the race of mankind is most richly and well nourished, inasmuch as she herself was the true mother of this creature. And proofs such as this one ought to accept more readily on behalf of a country than on behalf of a woman; for it is not the country that imitates the woman in the matter of conception and birth, but the woman the country. But this her produce of grain she did not begrudge to the rest of men, but dispensed it to them also. And after it she brought to birth for her children the olive, sore labor's balm. And when she had nurtured and reared them up to man's estate, she introduced gods to be their governors and tutors; the names of whom it behoves us to pass over in this discourse, since we know them; and they set in order our mode of life, not only in respect of daily business, by instructing us before all others in the arts, but also in respect of the guardianship of our country, by teaching us how to acquire and handle arms.

(Jowett's version of that same bit of Aspasia's speech:)

For as a woman proves her motherhood by giving milk to her young ones (and she who has no fountain of milk is not a mother), so did this our land prove that she was the mother of men, for in those days she alone and first of all brought forth wheat and barley for human food, which is the best and noblest sustenance for man, whom she regarded as her true offspring. And these are truer proofs of motherhood in a country than in a woman, for the woman in her conception and generation is but the imitation of the earth, and not the earth of the woman. And of the fruit of the earth she gave a plenteous supply, not only to her own, but to others also; and afterwards she made the olive to spring up to be a boon to her children, and to help them in their toils. And when she had herself nursed them and brought them up to
manhood, she gave them Gods to be their rulers and teachers, whose names are well known, and need not now be repeated. They are the Gods who first ordered our lives, and instructed us in the arts for the supply of our daily needs, and taught us the acquisition and use of arms for the defence of the country.

(Plato's version of what Socrates read, the wordplayful bit of earthy Aspasia's speech:)

πᾶν γὰρ τὸ τεκὸν τροφὴν ἔχει ἐπιτηδείαν ᾧ ἂν τέκῃ, ᾧ καὶ γυνὴ δήλη τεκοῦσά τε ἀληθῶς καὶ μή, ἀλλ’ ὑποβαλλομένη, ἐὰν μὴ ἔχῃ πηγὰς τροφῆς τῷ γεννωμένῳ. ὃ δὴ καὶ ἡ ἡμετέρα γῆ τε καὶ μήτηρ ἱκανὸν τεκμήριον παρέχεται ὡς ἀνθρώπους γεννησαμένη· μόνη γὰρ ἐν τῷ τότε καὶ πρώτη τροφὴν ἀνθρωπείαν ἤνεγκεν τὸν τῶν πυρῶν καὶ κριθῶν καρπόν, ᾧ κάλλιστα καὶ ἄριστα τρέφεται τὸ ἀνθρώπειον γένος, ὡς τῷ ὄντι τοῦτο τὸ ζῷον αὐτὴ γεννησαμένη. μᾶλλον δὲ ὑπὲρ γῆςγυναικὸς προσήκει δέχεσθαι τοιαῦτα τεκμήρια· οὐ γὰρ γῆ γυναῖκα μεμίμηται κυήσει καὶ γεννήσει, ἀλλὰ γυνγῆν. τούτου δὲ τοῦ καρποῦ οὐκ ἐφθόνησεν, ἀλλ’ ἔνειμεν καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις.  μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἐλαίου γένεσιν, πόνων ἀρωγήν, ἀνῆκεν τοῖς ἐκγόνοις· θρεψαμένη δὲ καὶ αὐξήσασα πρὸς ἥβην ἄρχοντας καὶ διδασκάλους αὐτῶν θεοὺς ἐπηγάγετο· ὧν τὰ μὲν ὀνόματα πρέπει ἐν τῷ τοιῷδε ἐᾶν—ἴσμεν γάρ—οἳ τὸν βίον ἡμῶν κατεσκεύασαν πρός τε τὴν καθ’ ἡμέραν δίαιταν, τέχνας πρώτους παιδευσάμενοι, καὶ πρὸς τὴν ὑπὲρ τῆς χώρας φυλακὴν ὅπλων κτῆσίν τε καὶ χρῆσιν διδαξάμενοι.

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