January 2009 Archives
Early in the text, Hesiod makes a half-hearted tribute to the power of language, although it reads more like homage to his own capacity for "honeyed words":
"Whomever of kings, favored by Zeus, the daughters of great Zeus honor and see being born, the pour sweet dew on his tongue and from his lips flow honeyed words; his people all look to him as he decides issues with straight judgments; speaking unerringly he quickly and wisely ends even great strife..." (pg. 32, 81-87)
From a mortal perspective, the ability to rely on words rather than resort to force (ending great strife) is a divine gift and subsequently relegated to only a select few (those kings favored by Zeus). And as several people have pointed out already, wisdom (characterized by Gaia's foresight and planning) is omnipresent throughout the story; every action of force seems to be a product of someone's plan. But if we follow this chain of regress to its roots, we find that Gaia's initial betrayal is simple a reaction to Oraunos's initial application of force. I am not suggesting that this prioritizes force as the reigning attribute here, just that this retroactive method of inquiry leads to a slippery slope: which really did come first? More importantly, does that even matter?
The tale's initial idealism quickly yields to the violent nature of the Greek Gods as they, in turn, attempt to outmatch each other in terms of cruelty and brute force (it is no accident that the most ruthless of them all should reign at the end of the day). Hesiod offers us this glowing review of rule by force on page 52:
"Greatly she [Hekate] assists and benefits whom she will; she sits by reverent kings in judgment, and he is eminent among the people in assembly, whom she wishes; whenever men arm for man-killing war, then the goddess is there, and to whom she wishes she gladly grants victory and extends glory." (429-434, emphasis mine)
He goes on to talk about her willingness to "stand by cavalry" and those who "compete in contest", unequivocally equating victory in physical contest (i.e. battle) with "extended glory". Again, this ability is divine, granted arbitrarily by the Gods and, furthermore, a task she apparently enjoys performing.
Every instance of manipulation manifests itself in act of violence. It is after Zeus acquires thunder and lightning that the language becomes increasingly disturbing in this context. It has also been suggested that this was a product of Zeus's persuasion:
"He released them from their deadly chains his uncles, Ouranos' sons, whom their father mindlessly bound. They did not forget gratitude for his help, and gave him thunder and the fiery lightning-bolt...relying on these, he is king of mortals and immortals." (pg. 56, 501-506)
While it does appear that Zeus has employed a hearts-and-minds strategy here, it is important to not that his rewards are the very tools by which he becomes "king of mortals and immortals. Additionally, I would suggest that there lingers an unspoken alternative - a menacing "or else" that haunts any bargain (especially considering the context here).
There also seems to be a direct correlation between Zeus' rise to power and accounts of physical violence, torment, and coercion (all emphasis mine for dramatic effect):
- "Wide-seeing Zeus sent arrogant Menoitios down to Erebos, striking him with a smoking thunder-bolt..." (57, 514-515)
- "And Atlas, standing at the limits of the earth...under strong compulsion, holds the wide sky..." (517-519)
- ""He bound devious Prometheus with inescapable harsh bonds...and he inflicted on him a long-winged eagle, which ate his immortal liver..." (521-524)
And we consider water boarding inhumane? Even the once rational Gaia, for all of her planning and cunning, succumbs to anger and vengeance, bearing the monster Typhoeus in retaliation to the defeat of the Titans (820-821).
Perhaps this reading of Theogony is too superficial, but as previously discussed, both in class and on this blog, the rampant misogyny in the story only reinforces this interpretation. The male physical domination over successive generations of females is analogous to the political roles they represent. Ultimately, it is the use or threat of violence that carries the day; wisdom is just another tool by which the tyrant implements his authority.
In the beginning when Gaia is oppressed by the wicked Ouranos, who is preventing her from giving birth to her children, she uses trickery to get her son Koronos to ambush and castrate his father. While it may seem that she was over-powered by Ouranos in the aspect that she could not defend herself from such a domestic dispute in actuality she was able to devise a plan in which she got someone else to do the job for her. In that sense I would say that Gaia is much stronger than she gets credit for.
Moreover, during the second transition of power, Gaia helps Rhea think up a plan by which she can secretly give birth to Zeus and defeat Koronos. This is another good example of Gaia's ability to have a strong influence on the power transitions. She is once again able to use her practical knowledge to influence a power transition without doing much of anything herself; she influences other characters to ensure an inevitable outcome.
Finally, once Zeus, with the advice of Gaia, succeeds in consuming his pregnant wife Metis the soft undertones of Gaia's power become even more blatant. In my opinion, power is defined by the influence that one character has on the others. One could argue that the male figures like Ouranos, Kronos and Zeus were very powerful characters because of their physical prowess and use of force to obtain such power, but it is clear that Gaia has had a major influence on the majority of characters throughout Theogony. In that sense I believe her power has been vastly underrated.
Finally, I argue that the stories of Pandora and Eve explain the existence of current-day patriarchy. Pandora's irresistible sexuality could certainly be seen as a source of power. Instead, it is described as a source of evil because it results in a weakness for men. Women who attempt to use their sexuality as means to achieve power are seen as manipulative or evil. Pandora and Eve were both given as gifts to a man, which explains women's inferiority in present-day patriarchal society. Likewise, women's worth in society is partly based on their reproductive capabilities (as seen in Zeus' second evil) and their role as caretakers.
As the story of the gods really begins, the text describes Gaia and Ouranos as equals (ln 126). However, this status of equal seems to disappear very quickly. By line 155, Ouranos is already exerting power over Gaia, pleasing himself, but causing gaia great pain. She exerts her power, too, by coming up with a plan, but (and this is the part where the question of sexism or patrairchy first really occurred to me) she is unable to execute the plan herself. She requires the help of Kronos, her son. Furthermore, the plan is to castrate Ouranos. In this sense, it is Ouranos's posession of genitals, or his identity as male, that gave him power and the removal of which marks the loss of power. In this way, Gaia and other female figures are disempowered not only by the practice of male domination, but also intrinsically by their very female-ness. And again with the overthrow of Kronos, it is Zeus that defeats him and establishes power, and continues to exert that power over his wife. It becomes a pattern of behavior.
I would appreciate comments and feedback about this idea, because it doesn't seem fully fleshed out to me. let me know what you think!
Prominent political scientist E.E. Schattschneider states in his research based book, The Semisovereign People: A Realist View of Democracy in America that "Democratic government is the greatest single instrument for the socialization of conflict in the American community (Schattschneider, 12)." The inauguration was a prime example of this. It wasn't driven by profits or previous patterns of campaigning (although they may have contributed). It was a calculated attempt to expand the realm of American politics, exactly what President Obama has been championing this entire election. "Dressing up" the inauguration was a win-win situation. Those involved may have been offended, but not enough to turn away from politics, while those outside the political circle were drawn in by the figurative fireworks. The presentation was incalculably better than the monotone, C-SPAN style, ceremony that is common among government affairs and, if anything, was positive for President Obama and the U.S.political system as a whole.
We will see, as the semester progresses, that persuasion (even if force is operative behind the scenes) is a far more effective way to gather intelligence and establish stability in community.
So, perhaps I can begin the discussion by asking those who posted stories about torture to talk a bit about what led them to post those stories. You may start by commenting on this post if you don't want to start a post of your own.
To subscribe to the podcasts posted to the blog using iTunes, do the following:
- Copy the link to the subscription link to this blog:
- Open iTunes
- Under the Advanced menu item, select subscribe to podcast
- Paste the subscription link there.
So members of the class are asked to:
- Establish a delicious.com account if you don't already have one.
- Install a "Bookmark to delicious" button on your favorite browser.
- Begin to tag items you think might be of interest to the course using the "PSUPHIL298" tag.
Students are encouraged to read the stories posted by others and to write blog posts about them or comment on the blog posts of others. The hope is that these web resources will become part of the larger discussion in the class.
This course is an outgrowth of an article I wrote entitled The Daughters of Metis: Patriarchal Politics and the Politics of the Between, for an abstract, click here, for the full text, click here (.pdf).
The content of this blog begins with the discussions my students and I have as we engage the material outlined in the syllabus for the course (.pdf).
It will, however, continue once the course is concluded as I turn to work on a book manuscript concerned with the possibilities these initial discussions open for the attempt to rethink the meaning of politics on a model other than that of domination.