Monday, March 19, 2018

Was Ovid Actually Exiled?

For centuries, students learned that Ovid, the great Roman poet (the greatest ancient writer of Latin in my personal opinion, and in the opinion of some others, although many or most might rank him below Vergil), spent the last years of his life in exile in Tomis, the present-day Constanța, Romania, a desolate, frozen outpost on the coast of the Black Sea, because of, in his own words, "a poem and a mistake." This punishment has often been seen as excessive. In about 10 years of wretched exile, beginning in AD 8, Ovid wrote several works full of sadness and bitterness and longing for the city of Rome -- so everyone has been led to believe.

On the 14th of December, 2017, Rome's city council unanimously pardoned Ovid.

And then, yesterday, on the 18th of March, 2018, I learned -- I must say: to my great amazement -- that some scholars do not believe that Ovid was actually exiled. In 1911 JJ Hartman raised the possibility that the exile was an invention on Ovid's part. O Janssen, in 1951, accepted the thesis that the exile had not taken place, as did C Verhoeven in 1979, F Brown in 1985, and H Hofmann in 2001. So far, I haven't been able to learn much more about these scholars than their names. Other scholars have come to the conclusion that Ovid was exiled, but not to Tomis; and it seems to be generally agreed upon, by those who have looked into the matter more closely, that Ovid's account of Tomis is unreliable in some significant respects: for example, it seems that the climate was not quite as cold as Ovid describes it; and it also strains credulity when Ovid claims that no-one in the place besides him spoke either Latin or Greek, because Tomis had been a Roman colony for decades before Ovid's arrival, and was under Greek control for centuries after that. Literary, documentary, numismatic and archaeological evidence all undermine the previous status of these late writings of Ovid as realistic depictions of Tomis.

Apart from a couple of brief mentions by later Roman writers, all that we know, or all that we used to think that we knew, about Ovid's exile, came from Ovid's own later works Ibis (the title refers to the bird also known in English as the ibis), an elegant but violent torrent of abuse and threats toward some unknown object, referred to only as Ibis; Tristia (Sadness), and Epistulae ex Ponto (Letters From the Sea-Coast, letters in verse addressed to the Imperial family, begging to be allowed to return home). Traditionally, all these works have been regarded as quite wretchedly sad; however, it seems we must re-evaluate them, in one way or another: If Ovid really was exiled to Tomis, then he exaggerated how awful the place was; if he was exiled to some other place, then perhaps he made up a fictional Tomis, perhaps as a metaphorical expression of his sadness.

Or, whether Ovid was exiled to Tomis, or to some other place, or not exiled at all, perhaps it's been all wrong all along to regard the works "from the sea-coast" as being sad at all. Maybe they're meant to be understood to be sarcastic and funny responses to -- who knows what? Maybe to no longer being invited into the presence of the Imperial family. Maybe to a punishment even less severe than that.

Or maybe Ovid really was exiled to Tomis, and maybe he really was very sad there, and maybe he exaggerated some of the aspects of the place in hopes of winning mercy and permission to return home.

Or maybe quite a few other things. In any case, we now have the knowledge these "exile writings," if you no longer believe that Ovid was exiled, or exile writings, with no quotation marks, if you still believe that he was, are much less realistic than had been believed.

Good News Bad News

On January 20, 2017, I didn't think Trump's Presidency would last into 2018, not because I think the Republicans in Congress are good people, but because I thought they'd be smart enough to see that Trump would drag them down if they stuck with them. And he is dragging them down. #BigBlueTsunami Like Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward about Nixon's WH staff: "These are not very bright guys." (I'm talking about the present-day Congressional Republicans; in the case of Trump's WH staff, it's obvious enough that you don't need a muttering chain-smoking insider wearing a trench coat in a parking garage to point it out to you in the middle of the night.)

The good news, and also the bad news, is that the GOP is actually so dumb -- as a whole, with some isolated exceptions ignored by the majority as they scream and rave about what the party is doing to itself -- that they think they have to stand by Trump. They either can't see that that will lead to them losing huge in the mid-terms, or they do see that, but think they have no alternative.

The alternative is shockingly obvious: impeach Trump and remove him from office, as quickly as possible, go with Pence. That alternative was going to be better for them the sooner they did it. They've done huge damage to themselves as a party by putting it off for so long, but it still would be a better alternative than continuing to pretend that they don't see that Trump is a crook, a perv, a traitor and an unstable psycho.

The good news is that Republicans in Congress are actually going to stick with Trump. This is good news because it means that many of them will lose their seats to Democrats in November.

The bad news is that Republicans in Congress are actually going to stick with Trump. This is bad news because Trump has no respect for the rule of law or for anything else, and no decency, and no brains, and that, because Trump is what he is, we -- by "we" I mean human beings -- might all be dead by November.

Never say never. I suppose it's possible that eventually, some awful shocking thing oozing from the Trump administration could actually be awful and shocking to Trump's base, which would lead the Congressional GOP to action. But of course, Trump's base make the Congressional GOP look like a cross between the Algonquin Round Table and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This is why a political party's elite should actually lead the base instead of following it.

(But the Republican elite is actually too dumb to grasp that, which is where I came in. From Lincoln, to this: that is a long, long, long drop, even when you consider that it took a century and a half.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


What makes an object pleasing or not? So much depends upon perspective.

This is a recent travel guide to Japan, published by one of the world's leaders in travel guides,

about 600 pages long, with, I'm guessing somewhere between 200 and 400 high-quality photographs taken in contemporary Japan. And assuming I didn't miss any, only 6 of those photographs show ground transportation vehicles: 1 picture of a bullet train, 2 of urban street traffic, 1 showing 2 taxicabs parked outside of a department store, 1 of a robot riding a bicycle at a science fair, and 1 of a tractor in a rice field. There is a also a picture of engines being manufactured inside a factory.

This is in a guide to the country which is the home of Honda, Accura, Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Infiniti, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki, a country which manufactures about 10 million cars, trucks and buses a year, plus who knows how many motorcycles and bicycles, not me, is who. The city of Yokohama gets 6 pages of coverage, but the tires of the same name are not mentioned anywhere in the volume.

Is this a problem? I don't think it is. I doubt that very many people have approached this volume expecting it to contain a lot of info about the Japanese transportation industry. The guide does contain a lot of information about Japanese hotels and restaurants. How well does it describe the best that Japan has to offer in this regard? I have no idea, because I know practically nothing about Japanese hotels and restaurants.

I'm sure some of you are dying to know: no, I did not find any information in this guide about Japanese watches. (This is my Seiko 5.

There are many like it, but this one is mine.) If half or more of the information in a 600-page travel guide to Japan pertained to Japanese watches, you and I might be delighted, but most travelers to Japan would be disappointed and puzzled.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Latest Liberal "Bag of Nothing"

How dare these "Hollywood liberals" imply that anyone has ever suggested that anyone from the Trump administration has ever had any contact with anyone or anything which is Russian? I was hanging out with Jared Kushner recently, and he happened to see a bottle of vodka, and he had no idea what it was. He was about to try to use it to remove some dirt from ones of his shoes before I explained to him that vodka is something that people drink. By the way, he also had no idea what Russia was. He thought that Russia was a skin disease which cats sometimes get if they aren't ingesting a proper mix of vitamins. I had to explain to him that Russia is a large country extending from eastern Europe in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east.

Imagine Kushner's consternation, when I told him that some "liberals" like Mueller are trying to frame him for having improper dealings with people from a foreign country which, until recently, he had assumed was a feline skin disease!

Just try to imagine to shock felt by Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Anthony Scaramucci, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, Michael R Caputo, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Roger Stone and others, including Michael Cohen, Nigel Farage, Erik Prince (who some liberal hotheads describe as the founder of something they call "Blackwater") and Peter W Smith, at these so-called "allegations" that they have unreported business ties and contacts with officials, business people, banks and intelligence agencies from a country which they all had assumed was a cat's skin disease, and not a country at all, and that intelligence operatives from this so-called "country" are in possession of compromising personal and financial information about the President of the United States, and that there are all kinds of photographs and video and audio of half or more of them actually in this so-called "country" consorting with its government officials and various cronies of this murky figure to whom liberal refer as "Putin"?!

I mean, really! Who's kidding who, here?! Or should I say WHOM?!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Classical Studies and Reception Theory

I'm not sure how well I understand various literary theories. It may be that I am far below average when it comes to my ability to grasp them. I do, after all, officially have a mental disability, and this may be one example of it.

On the other hand, it may be that I understand literary theories better than almost anyone, and that above all, I understand how stupid and sad they all are, and how thoroughly there is no there there. Or it may be that my aptitude in understanding literary theories is about average.

It may be by far the most prudent to assume that the first of these possibilities is the case, that I have an unusually hard time distinguishing my discourse analysis from my post-modernism, and that therefore I should proceed very carefully. (I must apologize, and clarify in advance: I have not promised that I will proceed carefully, just acknowledged that I should.) For example, when I say that reception theory, extremely popular in the past several decades in Classical Studies (and perhaps in the academic study of literature more generally, I don't know), seems to me to consist of the study of the tradition of the Classics, which was a part of Classical Studies long before anyone called anything reception theory, plus a lot of pretentious malarkey, I ought to hasten to underscore that that's how it it seems to me, and that a lot of people with much more cred than I have gone on at great length about how it's actually a whole lot more than that,

and that i am the source of the malarkey here. Far be it from me to rule out, categorically, that my writing consists primarily of malarkey.

If I understand it correctly, the study of Classical Literature can be seen figuratively as movement in two opposite directions: the editor of a Classical text uses the evidence, mostly manuscripts of the primary text, to approach, as nearly as he or she can, the text as the author intended it. In the case of an ancient text which survives in a great number of manuscripts, one of the tasks of the editor is to eliminate from consideration those manuscripts which do not contribute to the establishment of the text. For example, if it is proven that an entire group of manuscripts derive entirely from another existing manuscript, than that entire group may be of very little or no interest to the editor in his capacity as editor. The study of that text's tradition, on the other hand, starts with the author and travels in the opposite figurative direction, studying the ways in which the author's text has reached readers directly via manuscripts and printed edition, and indirectly via translations, and other literary works which imitate or otherwise make reference to the first one, and also in other media such as visual art, music, movies and what have you. No matter how many manuscripts of one text there may be, it's somewhat harder to say that any of them are of no interest whatsoever in studying the text's tradition. Not to mention printed editions and translations, which may be of interest in editing a text as well, but primarily in cases where the other manuscripts are missing or have gaps or mistakes which cannot otherwise be remedied.

It seems to me that both of these directions, if you will, are perfectly natural ways of studying Classical literature. (Ah. I might as well mention now, in case I forget to later, that reception theory has greatly increased the number of texts which are considered to belong to the Classical canon -- mostly by including works composed at later dates.) Traditionally, more weight was given by Classical scholars to the editing of text, and the constant effort to improve upon previous editions. Editing texts was the dog, and study of the transmission was the tail.

Reception theory says that studying the transmission of the texts is the proper focus of literary study, the dog itself, with textual editing being relegated to the role of the tail. Except that reception theory goes farther, and claims that there is nothing of significance to be studied before that interaction of text and reader: the reception.

Except that they go farther, and seem to be, in some instances, quite hostile to the editors. And here, if not sooner, is where reception theory begins to seem like malarkey to me, because if the text with which the reader interacts is not rigorously defined in some way, such as, oh, for instance, its relationship to the text which the author wrote -- not the only way in which a text can be defined, to be sure, but a valid example! -- then we're no longer talking about the text at all, but anything and everything, which is to say: we're talking about nothing.

It may be that before reception theory, the editors went too far in dismissing the effect of the text which they constantly strove to improve. It seems to me that both editing and study the transmission are perfectly natural things to do, and that there's no need to choose between one or the other, or to decide which one is the dog and which the mere tail. I'm more temperamentally inclined toward studying the transmission in all of its sometimes vast variety. But I'm convinced that both directions, inward toward one imagined original text and outward into all of its sometimes far-flung effects and permutations, are essential parts of studying Classical literature.

I suppose it's much easier for me to say the latter than it is for academics, who have to argue over syllabi and degree requirements and so forth.

Still: Reception theory often presents itself, in so many words, as a "provocation" to more traditional approached to Classical Studies. Maybe there was a great deal lacking in earlier approaches to the Classics, which called for a radical break.

Maybe. Still, it is very easy to provoke, and to have provoked, to have upset someone, is far from a guarantee that one has said anything of any worth. The latter is not necessarily so easy.

I don't know very many of the players involved. I worry that reception theory may be discounting the worth of scholarly editing, which would be disastrous if reception theory proves to be more than a passing fad. But perhaps I misunderstand completely, and the provocation of which reception theory seems so proud is a provocation of which it should be proud: for example, it it's a challenge to entrenched tendencies of sexism and racism and other forms of bigotry within Classical Studies.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Praise From Obama or a Diss From Trump

I'm not good at making money. I would like to have lots and lots of money, but I never have had much. I think my difficulty with making money is one result of my autism. But I'm not sure about that.

For 9 years, the main thing I've been doing to try to earn money is writing this blog. That may be absurd. But I don't know what else to do.

I don't know how to market my blog. Some days I have very high page counts, some days very low. Some individual posts get many more views than others. But whatever happens, it's a surprise.

I daydream a lot about becoming financially successful. (Maybe that's a big part of my problem right there: maybe successful people never daydream about success. That would go directly counter to all of those motivational speakers and authors telling people to visualize success. But I don't think that necessarily means it's incorrect.)

The nearest approaches to success I've had so far with the blog, the biggest amounts of pageviews, have come when someone with a large readership mentions one of my posts: a popular blogger, or a magazine not terribly far from The Main Stream.

And so I daydream about people like Barack Obama doing things like tweeting about my blog. Seems like something like that could be a big boost toward my having something people would call a career. There are many people who could be a big help to me with a single mention, but I've been thinking -- daydreaming -- that perhaps no single person could help me more with a single tweet, than Barack Obama.

Then today I thought: what if Donald Trump tweeted about me? Would that help me even more than a tweet from Trump?

I can't imagine Obama tweeting something negative about me: either he'd have something nice to say, or, surely, he wouldn't go out of his way to diss a nobody like me. I can't imagine Trump tweeting anything but negative things about me. And as we know, he not above going out of his way to diss nobodies.

A tweet from Obama, something along the lines of:

"Here's a blog written by Steven Bollinger, an interesting writer who's not very well known. Essays on all sorts of topics, from wristwatches to renewable energy to politics to ancient Latin, and many other things. Thoughtful, witty, fascinating writing."

-- would almost certainly catapult me into what is known as a career. But what if Trump tweeted something like:

"Small-time creepy loser disabled autistic blogger, sympathetic to loser NYT and loser MSNBC and lib Dems, takes pathetic potshots at me. A complete loser in life, jealous of my huge success. What a pathetic jerk! Sad!"

? Many, many people now say up whenever Trump says down and night whenever he says day, and who can blame them? Almost certainly, many people would praise me and my writing just because Trump dissed me, without ever actually going to the trouble of reading something I'd written. Many others no doubt would actually read my blog because of Trump's tweet, and some of them might like it.

I wonder whether there's some action I could take which would lead directly toward my having financial success, something which has never occurred to me, but would've occurred to almost every non-autistic person in my position?

I wrote above that almost every reaction to a post on this blog is a surprise to me. There is one exception: posts like this one, in which I write about how badly I want fame and fortune, almost always get far fewer pageviews than my average post. That makes me sad for several reasons, one of which is that I think these posts are very interesting and entertaining. It's okay to laugh at these posts, it doesn't necessarily mean you're missing the point.

Dream Log: FB Meet-Up in the Mountains

Last night I dreamed I was meeting face-to-face for the first time with some Facebook friends: mostly friendly, non-judgmental, leftist, pro-science Christians.

Our meeting place was in a mountainous region. We parked in a lot surrounded by shops selling things like candy and tourist-y knickknacks. From there we had to keep going up on foot, up a very steep slope. We had the choice of climbing the mountain slope itself, or taking some stairs which were enclosed in sort sort of white plastic. I started to climb these stairs, but as they went higher the white plastic enclosure got closer, and very soon I became claustrophobic and climbed back down.

Then I noticed that there was another set of stairs. These were in a very spacious and sturdily-built stairwell of the kind one sees in fine early-20th-century public buildings in large US cities.

In the dream, the stairs were not entirely enclosed from the elements. It was very cold, there was snow on the ground, I had left my winter coat in my car, and after I had climbed a great distance, I realized that I should not have. As I climbed the stairs back down, I reflected that all of this physical exercise was good for me.

At the top of the stairs, we made various remarks about how this or that person was either just like this or that one had pictured him or her, or entirely different. After that sort of talk had died down, there was a lull in the conversation which seemed like it might last, but soon several lively conversations were going on on a variety of topics. I ended up talking about the stairwell with a young married couple. The young husband (there was a husband and a wife in this couple, in the traditional manner) went on for a while about the stairwell and the turn-of-the-20th-century American public architecture which it represented. In the dream, he seemed to be making many profound points, but now, awake, I can't remember any of them.

I mentioned that none of what he had said explained why this stairwell was semi-exposed to the elements, while most stairwells of its kind were fully enclosed within buildings. I hadn't meant to upset him with this remark, but it seemed I had greatly upset him. He turned away and didn't seem to want to talk any more. Then I woke up.