Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About us Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies Research CRASIS

19-12-'11 | Ancient World Seminar | Evert van Emde Boas|A Man of Fashion Never Has Recourse to Proverbs

Wanneer:ma 19-12-2011 16:15 - 17:30
Waar:Oude Boteringestraat 38, zaal 130

"A Man of Fashion Never Has Recourse to Proverbs": General Reflections in Greek Tragedy

General reflections (i.e. proverbs, adages, or -- to use one of the Greek terms -- 'gnomai') on the vicissitudes of life, the relationship between man and the gods, and on proper moral behaviour are a feature of Greek literature from its earliest incarnations. Tragedy as a genre forms no exception. What is somewhat exceptional, however, is the way in which tragic gnomai -- especially Euripidean gnomai -- have been studied by scholars. The key term here is ‘relevance’: in recent centuries scholars have exerted great effort to excise from our texts any gnome or generalisation which was felt to be irrelevant to the preceding and following lines. The last few decades have seen a (modest) reversal of this trend, as scholars re-evaluate how general reflections fit into the structure of the speeches that contain them, as well as the themes and motifs of plays.
Still, considering this preoccupation among scholars with the contextual relevance of gnomic utterances, it is surprising to note the limited scope they have allowed even recently for the term ‘context’. What many fail to take into account is that every gnome uttered is in itself a communicative act situated in a particular communicative context: every general reflection is uttered by a particular speaker, speaking to a particular (set of) addressee(s), in particular (social, political, personal) circumstances, and with particular aims.
In my paper, I will examine some aspects of the use of general reflections in Greek tragedy, adopting insights from modern linguistic and paroemiological research. I will exemplify my approach by looking specifically at some instances of sententious language in Euripides’ Electra, all of which have led to scholarly condemnation -- directed either at the language itself (as spurious), or at the characters uttering it. I aim not only to explain how and why these characters use such language, but also to show that that insights derived from modern sociological and linguistic research may be of great benefit to those interested in classical literature.

Evert van Emde Boas is university lecturer in Greek language and literature at the RUG, and teaches Greek linguistics at the UvA and Greek and Latin language acquisition courses at the University of Leiden. He defended his Oxford PhD dissertation, Linguistic Studies in Euripides' Electra, in 2010. The approach taken in this dissertation is characteristic of Evert's preferred type of research: using modern linguistic theory to arrive at a more informed appreciation of the art of ancient Greek writers. Among other things, his focus is on characterization and conversation analysis. In courses and tutorials at several Dutch universities, he has roused the enthusiasm of many students for this approach.

Ancient World Seminar