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PURETICS...

PURETICS...


Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In part--2

In part--2
A.P. David discusses the portrayal of women in history, all too often as a sideshow to the perceived motives of powerful men ...

The origin of conflict between Greek-Europeans and Asian-Persians, says Herodotus, lay in the reciprocal abductions of women: Io, Europa, Medea, and finally Helen herself.

These the Persians let go as water under the bridge:

“It is the work of unjust men, we think, to carry off women at all; but once they have been carried off, to take seriously the avenging of them is the part of fools, as it is the part of sensible men to pay no heed to the matter: clearly, the women would not have been carried off had they no mind to be.”

Yet here were these mad Greeks fighting the Trojan War, invading Asia, after a runaway Helen!

Chapters devoted to "the role of women in history" in specific eras, and even whole books, do nothing so much as further marginalise the question, at least as much as these new kinds of research shed new light on the past. The history of more than half of humanity is a side or specialist issue. How does this happen? To see the marginalisation clearly, imagine trying to frame a project entitled "The Role of Men in History", and be taken seriously.

In Herodotus's story of Gyges the Lydian, a woman—a queen—is again central. The story observes a pattern found often enough in Herodotus to be considered a motif. At a certain point, as a situation plays out, a woman presents a man with the choice that will determine the way in which fate—or, if you prefer, history—emerges.

Gyges was chief bodyguard and confidante to King Candaules. The king could not bear to keep to himself the knowledge that he was married to the most beautiful woman in the world. So he arranged for Gyges to glimpse his (unnamed) queen naked. The queen caught sight of Gyges as he slipped away, and confronted him with this speech:

“Gyges, there are two roads before you, and I give you your choice which you will travel. Either you kill Candaules and take me and the kingship of the Lydians, or you must yourself die straightway, as you are, that you may not, in days to come, obey Candaules in everything and look on what you ought not. For either he that contrived this must die or you, who have viewed me naked and done what is not lawful.” ("Histories" 1.11, tr. Grene)

When Plato told the story, he gave a version explaining Gyges' concealment that was no doubt more popular: Gyges was the original Frodo, inheriting a ring of invisibility that gave him tyrannical opportunities. (Plato attributes the story to Gyges’ ancestor.)

Herodotus eschews the magical, and, for the most part, the gods. It is the actions due to human beings that he wishes to preserve and glorify, he writes in his proemium. The invisibility remains in his version, but it is merely the invisibility of Gyges' hiding behind a door as he views Candaules’ wife undressing.

Herodotus also eschews the sort of reduced account that Thucydides and modern followers have turned into "history". Here one looks only to the pragmatics of power to get at "what’s really going on". This discourse is devoted to the visible. It would say that Candaules was obviously the victim of a palace coup. (Even Herodotus mentions that there were co-conspirators, who appear somewhat suddenly in his narrative as things play out.)

Marrying the surviving queen would have been a slightly cynical but highly practical way of restoring stability. Gyges eventually resolves the civil war by consulting an oracle; seeking public religious backing also seems a realpolitik solution to popular unrest.

In these reductionist readings, women inevitably become a kind of sideshow to the perceived motives of powerful men, unless they themselves are the powerbrokers. But in Herodotus we are party to this interview behind closed doors. (Here is another way in which Herodotus relies on the invisible, in the sense of "non-empirical".) Its austerity is perhaps meant to mask a sexual intrigue—was Candaules’ wife flattered?. Herodotus may also be trading, humorously, on a perceived Eastern prudishness.

And if we want to know "what’s really going on"—and surely this is the job of historians—then we do need to go behind closed doors. Perhaps the only way to do this is to tap into the store of human motifs. Professedly empirical historians claim to do this, but they limit their forays into the hidden, by postulating motives of power.

But there really are these interviews in the bedroom, and it is highly likely that they change things. Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer as to a date, before her husband bombed Libya. It is said that Bill and Hillary Clinton long since made a pact, half completed, to help each other become President. (I purposely do not cite; as Herodotus well knew, the stories of public people have lives of their own.) And the story goes that Laura Bush once presented the future President with an ultimatum about his drinking. Is it not possible that in these interviews between men and women, which force a decision, we come close to the heart of the mystery of fate?

Posted by Ajay :: 5:45 PM :: 0 comments

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