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The Experiences of Tiresias

The Experiences of Tiresias: The Feminine and the Greek Man

Translated by Paula Wissing
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 358
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  • Book Info
    The Experiences of Tiresias
    Book Description:

    Nicole Loraux has devoted much of her writing to charting the paths of the Greek "imaginary," revealing a collective masculine psyche fraught with ambivalence as it tries to grasp the differences between nature and culture, body and soul, woman and man.The Experiences of Tiresias, its title referring to the shepherd struck blind after glimpsing Athena's naked body, captures this ambivalence in exploring how the Greek male defines himself in relationship to the feminine. In these essays, Loraux disturbs the idea of virile men and feminine women, a distinction found in official discourse and aimed at protecting the ideals of male identity from any taint of the feminine. Turning to epic and to Socrates, however, she insists on a logic of an inclusiveness between the genders, which casts a shadow over their clear, officially defined borders.

    The emphasis falls on the body, often associated with feminine vulnerability and weakness, and often dissociated from the ideal of the brave, self-sacrificing male warrior. But heroes such as the Homeric Achilles, who fears yet fights bravely, and Socrates, who speaks of the soul through the language of the body, challenge these representations. The anatomy of pain, the heroics of childbirth, the sorrows of tears, the warrior's wounds, and the madness of the soul: all these experiences are shown to engage with both the masculine and the feminine in ways that do not denigrate the experiences for either gender.

    Originally published in 1997.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6406-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations and Keywords
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-20)

    This is not a book about women, though well before the final chapters, devoted to the study of a few paradoxical feminine figures, Greek women are often discussed.

    It is a book about men or about the feminine.

    Already thisorrequires some explanation. I will come to it. Now is the time for a few clarifications.

    “Men are the city”: assuming that this oft-repeatedtoposis correct and the Greek city is equivalent to the group of virile men (andres)* who inhabit it, modern historians of antiquity (who, for their part, prefer to speak of a “men’s club”) feel...

  5. Part One: Women, Men, and Affliction

    • Chapter 1 BED AND WAR
      (pp. 23-43)

      En polemōi, lekhoī: Ainetos, dead in battle; Aghippia, dead in childbirth. Two inscriptions on a stele, naming two unknown but illustrious figures from Sparta.

      The Spartans who engraved their tombs with these and other suitably terse but sufficiently revealing inscriptions were obeying a regulation of their funeral legislation according to which, Plutarch says, “it was not permitted to engrave the names of the dead on tombs, except those of men fallen in battle and women who died in childbirth.”¹

      Bed and war, equal value to the hoplite and the woman in labor: the extent of the equivalence can be ascertained...

      (pp. 44-58)

      Ponos again.

      Ponosoffers a way to continue exploring the uneasy balance between war and childbed, by means of which the Greek woman’s participation in manly trials makes her the wholly feminine model of suffering for men. Furthermore, it provides a way to enter more thoroughly into the tension inherent in the male paradigm of the heroic exploit. Meanwhile—and is this a surprise?—we will again encounter women—or rather, or already, the feminine—and, once again, Herakles, the suffering hero of virility.

      Ponos, then.

      It happens that the only possible translation of this word is “work, or labor,”...

  6. Part Two: The Weaknesses of Strength

      (pp. 63-74)

      The “beautiful death” (kalosoreukleēs thanatos) ¹ the death of the citizen-soldier fallen on the field of honor*

      A reader of Athenian funeral orations finds this a simple and clear equivalence, limpid like thetopoiof official speeches ² With this expression the orators designated by the city to speak at the Kerameikos refer to the freely chosen death of the citizen who attained valor by giving to the city the life he owed it—he became “a man of valor” (anēr agathos egeneto)—and immortal glory The precise conditions of his death, like the actual vicissitudes of combat,...

      (pp. 75-87)

      The invitation is irresistible to leave the realm of interpretation and go back to the text itself, to move from Spartan courage to the Homeric code of bravery, for instance, epicandreia. But—this comes as a surprise to anyone with overly conventional ideas of heroism—one must yield before the evidence: there is not a single epic warrior who has not trembled on some occasion. This does not mean that he forever merits the title oftresas. Of course he quaked with fear. And then, always, in the end he overcame himself, all the stronger because of this instant...

      (pp. 88-100)

      Most definitely, Greek images of the heroic weakness of strength are found outside the orthodoxlogosof the city

      I am already convinced that epic is the privileged site for investigating the multifaceted nature of the model of what constitutes the masculine There are many reasons for this, there theanēr’s body is living flesh, perceived in its animate materiality, not the pure abstraction conjured up in official speeches, in whichsōmarefers to the life that the citizen must expend because his body is only a loan from the city

      For instance, then, in war—when it is neither...

    • Chapter 6 THE STRANGLED BODY
      (pp. 101-115)

      Once again, the body. The male body, the female body. Open, closed. Torn, intact. And above all, the body as the subject for the workings of the imagination, for constructions of fantasy.

      In the beginning, it is true, I had thought to find something else: the real, all-too-real body of the person condemned to death, subjected to more than one type of violent treatment. A few years ago Romanists and Hellenists gathered to pool their knowledge and questions about physical torture and the death penalty in the ancient city. Suddenly I was confronted with the sorry plight of the Greek...

      (pp. 116-140)

      The opposition between the body of women and the virile body has taken shape again in all its clarity—an operational clarity, no doubt? Let us hope so. Nothing, however, is less clear. For it might be that this opposition, this conceptual tool, is most in evidence when it is necessary to transcend it: when imbalance takes over, blurring even well-established antitheses, confusing the very certainties that must, all the same, be mobilized in order to find our way. It is a risky step, but to proceed with the inquiry, we have no choice. We must therefore take one of...

  7. Part Three: Socrates Is a Man (Philosophical Interlude)

    • [Part Three: Introduction]
      (pp. 143-144)

      If the institutions of classical Athens serve as points of anchorage for the official paradigm of the citizen as a “pure”anēr, inherently or permanently devoid of femininity, even corporeality,¹ these studies extend the invitation to modify the import of such a model. At least this model should be considered a localized phenomenon, which is realized where the domain of politics is subject to abstract thinking but competes everywhere else with representations—adopted from the epic or inherited from heroic exploits but nonetheless current—in which virility, in order to be complete, must incorporate within it something of the feminine....

      (pp. 145-166)

      To speak of the soul is to speak of immortality, for the Western soul is immortal (that statement could be considered a tautology). This soul was born in thePhaedo; in fact, it provides the dialogue’s subtitle. So if we are to discuss the soul, we must reread thePhaedo.

      —Reread thePhaedo: Whatever for? It’s such a bore and so spiritualistic.

      —Reread thePhaedo? Maybe. But there is nothing left to say about it. Tradition—and what a tradition it is—has already said it all.

      Two reactions: on the one hand, an outright rejection of what is seen...

      (pp. 167-178)

      “Socrates, Plato, Herakles …”: two philosophers, one hero. Two historical figures and Zeus’s son. An incongruous group, most unsatisfactory to those fond of homogeneity. However, one should not be too hasty in correcting this strange list that Plutarch, faithful to the overall outline of an AristotelianProblem,¹ offers in support of the statement that “all great natures are melancholy.”² Tradition does not always distinguish between what the Greeks call “the sickness of Herakles” and melancholy, the “wise man’s madness,”³ and this alone would legitimize the hero’s presence next to the two philosophers. A historian of culture might add that in...

  8. Part Four: What Woman?

      (pp. 183-193)

      Aeschylus has the Pythia speak to open the third act of theOresteia. Of course the words that issue from her mouth are not her own. Truly the Pythia knows no other way: the servant of the oracular god, the prophetess has nologosbut that of Apollo, the prophetic word that must be uttered through her virgin’s body.¹ And what is pronounced in Apollo’s name in the Pythia’s voice, the god’s “musical instrument,” is nothing else than a greeting in the form of a story—a greeting to the ancient feminine powers, the detailed story of a succession. Now...

      (pp. 194-210)

      To seek a Greek way of reflecting on sexuality, so lightly concealed in the myths that even the evidence for it is like a screen, one may always approach matters indirectly, via Plato. Then perhaps one will reread thePhaedrus, which exhibits the perfected Platonic strategy of offering to the soul the excitements forbidden to the body.¹ For instance, imagine a reader absently skimming through the opening of the dialogue, impatient to get to the essential, who pauses, however, at the start of Socrates’ second speech, at the opening of the myth of the soul from which he expects so...

    • Chapter 12 WHAT TIRESIAS SAW
      (pp. 211-226)

      Imagine the young Tiresias on Mount Helicon It is midday His childhood is at an end, his existence as a blind seer already beginning He saw, he lost his sight

      But what Tiresias beheld on Helicon is not what he saw, in the most common version of the myth, on Mount Cyllene Tiresias did not see the coupling of two snakes It follows that he was not transformed into a woman and did not have to become a man once more, before being blinded for incautiously intervening in a dispute between Hera and Zeus concerning the intensity of feminine pleasure...

    (pp. 227-248)

    While it is true that Greek historiography of the classical period is devoted to accounts of wars and assemblies,¹ it is worth taking a moment to consider the part accorded to women in these narratives: a limited part, to be sure, but for that very reason women’s role in history as written by the Greeks is all the more remarkable. This is my contention, which does not mean that I will pad my case by noting every single reference togunē. Quite the contrary, I will begin by setting the boundaries of my survey and will confine my choices to...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 249-332)
    (pp. 333-338)
    (pp. 339-344)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 345-348)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-349)