VIRGINIA COLE: Hello, everyone. I am Virginia Cole, the archaeology and classics librarian here at Cornell University. It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to this Chats in the Stacks book talk with Professor Athena Kirk. Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohó:no' the Cayuga Nation.
The Gayogohó:no' are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogohó:no' dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogohó:no' people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
Cornell University Library's Chats in the Stacks book talk series, now in its 17th year, is dedicated to providing faculty authors an opportunity to share their recently published books with a cross-disciplinary audience. And that audience is growing larger all the time.
The pandemic forced our transition to a virtual format. And while we look forward to a time in which we can again safely welcome in-person audiences for events like this, we are cheered to see that so many are joining us from all over the world for our faculty book talk-- certainly, a silver lining to this new way of doing things.
Before I introduce our distinguished speaker, I would like to mention that a question and answer session will follow the lecture. Please feel free to type your questions into the chat box at any time during the talk, and we will get to as many as we can during the session.
Athena Kirk has been at Cornell University since 2014 and is an assistant professor in the department of classics. She received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and her dissertation, The List as Treasury in the Greek World, was the seed of the book she'll be talking to us about today, Ancient Greek Lists-- Catalog and Inventory Across Genres.
Her research focuses on ancient Greece and the complex relationships and tensions between oral and written word and between text and object, which leads to a fascinating and diverse body of work. Among her numerous public lectures was Brutes to Flutes-- Ancient Greek Animal Powers, which was given during her recent year as Fellow of the Cornell Society of the Humanities and which can be viewed on Vimeo.
Professor Kirk has also published articles on a wide range of topics, including Herodotus, The Odyssey, Plutarch, the Lindian Chronicle, and, most recently, What is an Epigraph in Classical Greece? In a monograph entitled, The Materiality of Text-- Placement, Perception, and Presence of Inscribed Text in Classical Antiquity, Brill, 2019, which is part of the Brill Studies in Greek and Roman Epigraphy. It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Professor Athena Kirk. Please join me in giving her a warm virtual welcome.
ATHENA KIRK: Thank you so much, Virginia. I think it's working. Hopefully, everyone can hear me. Thank you so much, Virginia, for that really lovely introduction. And thank you so much to the library for inviting me to do this. I have enjoyed many Chats in the Stacks, and so it's a real honor to be doing one myself.
So specifically, thanks so much to you who have organized so well this virtual talk, which I know can have its special difficulties of organizations. So to you, Virginia, to Eveline, to Shawn, to Peggy, to Suzette, it's been lovely to work with you, and I really appreciate all your help.
So I'm here today to talk to you about this book, Ancient Greek Lists. And I'd like to do that in a slightly less formal way than I would in a normal academic presentation of one of these chapters, one of the arguments of the book.
So I'd like to, I guess, speak first a little bit about why I wanted to write the book at all. And then as I do that, I'll give some examples about some theoretical directions that were influential to me as I conceived of this project and then, of course, examples of some of the lists in the book that were most interesting.
Greek literature and the Greek world was full of lists. They're everywhere. And if you start looking for them, you will keep on finding them. So I think I often disappointed people when I wasn't including their specific favorite list in this book. So hopefully, I can show you some that might become favorites of yours and a happy accident that they will also be included in the book. Because I'm taking them from there.
So first, the question of why I decided to write a book on this topic at all. Long ago, at the dissertation stage, I had an interest in Greek reading and writing, specifically in this question of literacy-- that is, not just how many people in ancient Greece could read and write, which is a bit of an unanswerable question, but why did they develop writing? How did they use the alphabet once they started using it at a point that is disputed among scholars, but let's say sometime in the early first Millennium BC?
So I was interested in the question of what the Greeks started writing down when they got the alphabet. And I was interested in it in connection with lists because people like to say that when a culture in antiquity got the writing system, they started writing down lists of stuff. That's what you do with a writing system.
And the Greeks didn't do that right away. They wrote down a lot of other stuff. And it took them a few hundred years before they started writing down lists at all. So this is always sort of a puzzle to me. I never wanted to see it as just a question of a sort of Greek exceptionalism.
One way of making the argument or of talking about that fact would be to say, well, the Greeks were interested in writing down other, more elevated things, like Homeric poetry. And so they did that, and they didn't get to lists for a while.
That was not the kind of thing that I believed and not the kind of thing I wanted to write a book about. Instead, I think I thought of it as, well, why did the Greeks take so long? Why did it take them so long to start writing down this thing that other cultures start writing down immediately?
And I don't know that I completely answered the question over the course of the project. But one thing I eventually did set out to do in the book was show that, even though they didn't write down lists immediately, lists were always a part of Greek culture.
And although they don't enter the written record until, at least for the ones I'm talking about here, the fifth century BC, they were a very important, and perhaps the most important, textual way of showing value. Any kind of sort of cultural value, from monetary value to other kinds of prestige that the Greeks wanted to deal with, the book argues, they dealt with in a list form.
So this kind of encapsulates-- this question or this rubric of value-- encapsulates these old, really non-alphabetic oral lists, so famous things in literature like the Homeric catalog of ships, maybe less famous things in other parts of Greek literature, like funny lists of food that maybe a comic actor would come out and say during a Greek comedy. But this idea of putting value into lists and using them as this way of projecting value also, obviously, infiltrates the written culture of listing. There's an example on the cover that I'll tell you about in a few minutes.
So these documents produced by the state-- and I'm mostly dealing with classical Athens-- so in the fifth and fourth century BCE, in particular, the Athenian state starts producing inventories on stone, in writing, of all kinds of things. The ones I talk about the most in the book are of items in the temple-- precious objects.
So that connection, that idea that we weren't really dealing with a culture that had not started listing, we were just dealing with a culture that has waited to write them down and that, actually, the documentary lists maybe had a lot in common with the non-documentary, oral, poetic list, was a major discovery that I felt that I was making toward the beginning of this project and one that grew as the project developed.
So I suppose if I were to say the thesis of the book, which has many forms and manifestations through the course of the book, I would say that it was certainly about this question of value, that lists are really this consistent and continuous way of expressing cultural value in text for the Greeks. And ultimately, I think, lists become, for the Greeks, not just about expressing value but creating value.
So there's a bit of a circularity here. You have something important. You put it in the list. But then the things that are included in the list become important, valuable, by virtue of being included in the list. So there's this kind of intrinsic and extrinsic quality to listing. It's a bit recursive, and I'll continue to talk about that, too.
So two examples of the sort of oral list and the very written documentary list that I like to think about often with each other are, on the one hand, some fantastical kinds of lists of precious objects in The Iliad and The Odyssey and then some real historical lists of precious objects from ancient Athens. So let me show you just a couple of examples of those things.
Here is an example of a very famous list from Book 9 of Homer's Iliad. This is the moment in The Iliad when Agamemnon sends an embassy to Achilles to try to get him to come back and join the fight in the Trojan War. And he offers him all kinds of stuff. He sends this incredible list of objects.
He can't send all these objects with him, so the first kind of inkling we have that a list can impart an idea of value is that it's valuable enough as an offer to just send somebody with the list of stuff. He doesn't actually send him heaps of things. So when he's telling the embassy to go and find Achilles, he says, "Before you all"-- this is Agamemnon speaking-- "I shall name off illustrious gifts."
And then, here they are-- not all of them, actually. "Seven unfired tripods, 10 talents of gold and 20 gleaming cauldrons, 10 prize-bearing strong horses who raise up victory prizes with their feet. Not mean would be the man who got so many things, nor would he be in want of highly precious gold who attained all the prizes my swift horses won.
And I will give him seven women, Lesbian, who know of blameless works whom I myself picked out when I sacked well-built Lesbos, who surpassed races of women in their beauty. These I'll give to him. And with them will be Briseis' daughter, whom I took from him."
You know about her if you read The Iliad. She was kind of the whole start of the argument between the two of them, so he's going to give her back. "And should we reach Achaean Argos, I'll give dowry gifts besides, so much as none has given for his daughter yet. And I will give him seven well-settled cities."
And so I've excerpted some things here. But the point here is this is a list that produces and that kind of constitutes this totally overblown offer that Agamemnon provides to Achilles. And you see that everything is kind of all here jumbled together.
We're in a system where we don't have coined money yet. Agamemnon can't just say to Achilles, I'm going to give you, I don't know, 10 million drachmas, please come back. That's not the kind of social world that they're in. It's pre-coinage. And so we have this jumble of things all together that the list can organize into a kind of transaction.
So people, I think, would think that this sort of thing has nothing to do with whatever's going on in the world of Athenian finances later on in the fifth century BC. If we think of the Homeric poems as a product of, say, sometime in the early first millennium BC, we're talking about several hundred years later and this much more historical documented moment.
So I just want to show you, though-- so fast forward several hundred years to a historical reality. This is the text of an inventory of the Parthenon, probably part of that famous building on the Athenian Acropolis. This is from 420, 419 BC. So we know the year because these texts are dated by the Archon, the people who are in charge of the city that year.
And this is a list, an inventory, of everything that had been dedicated that was in the Parthenon itself. And it says right here on the stone, "In the Parthenon"-- I'm not going to read the entire thing-- but "gold crowns, weight of these, 60 drachmas, gold phialai"-- that's a kind of libation bowl-- "five, weight of these, 782 drachmai. Unmarked gold, weight of this, nine."
And so if you keep going down, we have a goblet. We have two nails-- dedicatory nails, probably. We have a mask, silver horn, more phialai, Persian daggers, an incense burner-- all this kind of cool and valuable stuff.
So one of the things I wanted to do in the book was to try to connect these two discourses a little bit to say, hey, wait a minute. In a way, there's a way in which how we show that we have a lot of fancy stuff that can help us in a war, for instance-- so think about Agamemnon and Achilles-- is actually exactly the same way the Athenians do it in the fifth century.
So if you're in 420, the Peloponnesian War has been going on for almost a decade, but it's going to go on for several decades more. The Athenians don't just keep these dedications around to honor the gods, although that's, of course, one of their main purposes. They have them around because they can use this gold. They can melt it down, for instance, to pay for a war, to finance what people will end up calling the Athenian empire or the attempt to hold on to the Athenian empire.
So there were some structural ways in which I thought, actually, this tradition of listing your precious stuff and offering it or putting it all together to make sure you know what it is and where it is is something that the Greeks have always done, since our earliest literature.
So that was one thing. But the other thing-- and I just want to show you here what this looks like on the stone, and I'll show you a close-up just so that you can see what the text looks like-- you'll notice that, even though this is presented as this document, something that we can presumably look at and read, if we can read, and figure out everything that the Athenian state has in the temple, you'll note when you see it that it's not very easy to read.
There are no word breaks, as you see. There are no columns. It doesn't say gold phialai, this many on the other side. There's no easy way to tally all this up and to really get a complete sense of how much money they actually have.
Similarly, I would say, it's not too easy, if you're listening to this list for Achilles, which goes on and on and on for several more lines than I've put here, if you're just hearing that, or even if you're Achilles just hearing that, as intelligent as you may be, it's not set up in a way that allows you access to the full sum total. What you seem to get instead is this impression of abundance.
There's a lot of stuff. It's all different stuff. It all sounds really precious. Every once in a while, you may get a sense of something that's, individually, really interesting. So Agamemnon might stop and say something more about a particular entry.
And this happens, also, in these temple inventories. But what I like to say you get is either a very close-up telephoto zoomed view of what's in there, or you get an incredibly wide-angle view of that this is just a lot of stuff. But the sort of normal lens, the OK, I can both tally up and understand the numbers here, is not so much available to the audience, whoever that audience is.
So I was interested in this way in which these lists are presented as really abundant, and yet they're also presented as sort of hard to break down. They're kind of obfuscatory. They don't exactly show you all that you might want to know.
And I'm going to talk in just a moment about the fact that a lot of these lists are really about power. And so here, the person with the power is the one who sets up the list and how it's formatted and how it's presented and does this very curated and careful job of presenting to the audience this count of stuff, this numerical data, which is really what it is.
So Homeric list makers, I think, if we go back to the poetry of Homer, do this kind of thing all the time, where they flip back and forth between this idea of boundlessness, this idea that there's so much of this stuff, to an idea of the very specific that actually undercuts that sense of boundless. So I'll show you just an example here.
So this is an example from The Odyssey in which the shepherd, Eumaeus, is actually telling Odysseus-- but Odysseus is in disguise-- he's telling him about Odysseus. He's saying he was such a wealthy man. "Indeed," the shepherd says, "was his wealth boundless. Not so great was that of any lordly man, not on the dark mainland nor in Ithaca itself and not to 20 men with their such plenteousness."
And then he says, "I'll recount it for you. On the mainland, there were 12 herds of cows, so many sheep, so many droves of pigs, so many packs of goats as pasture goatherds, foreign or of his own kind, and here, feed packs of goats, elevenfold, on the outskirts, and skilled men keep watch over them."
So that's what he had. It's a lot. He certainly was wealthy. And yet there's this kind of rhetoric of the infinite, of the boundless. There was so much of it, you couldn't possibly-- and then we're going to list it out for you, anyway.
This happens again. Here is the ransom in The Iliad that the King Priam brings to Achilles to ransom the body of Hector. So we hear about that ransom, that it's boundless, a bunch of times. He's going to bring boundless ransom to ransom his son Hector because he's going to offer everything he has to get the body of his son back.
So the poem says here, "He spoke and opened up the lovely coffer lids. From these, he took out very lovely broadcloths, 12, and also 12 simple cloaks and just as many rugs and as many white shrouds, also, as many vests. He weighed and brought out gold-- all told, 10 talents' worth-- and brought out two glittering tripods, four cauldrons, and then a very lovely cup the men of Thrace once gave him on an embassy-- a great treasure."
So again, here, we have this sort of tension where something-- and I haven't shown you the passages-- but something that has been described as boundless and sort of infinite, I guess, in fact, gets delineated in this very specific way. And I think what's happening there is that you could say, oh, well, they're just kind of saying boundless. It's just this way of describing things.
But I think there's something more specific happening, which is that they're really thinking about lists as this way, on the one hand, of projecting value just as a form. So just putting something in a list shows that it's very abundant and very important. But they're also trying to do some sort of fuzzy math and maybe trick you or trick an audience member a little bit into thinking that there's something that's bigger than it is.
There is some more theoretical interest in lists that I thought resonated really well with the kinds of things I was observing in Homer and in inscriptions from the fifth century was this sort of poetics of boundlessness that I saw seemed to accord with the work of Umberto Eco, who you might know from other contexts, who had written a book now about a decade or so ago on the infinity of lists.
So for Umberto Eco, lists have this quality of being able to go on forever. They're not infinite because they always go on forever. They're infinite because they have infinite possibility. You can always add one more thing.
They have a recursive quality. So this is a word that I used before. They have this quality of being infinitely extendable. And the form itself, because it's kind of the same-- we keep on listing things in a similar way-- it has this repetitive, going on forever sort of feel. It's expandable.
So this idea of Homeric boundlessness, combined with this idea of Athenian onslaught of all kinds of stuff in the temple, really resonated with this infinity of this concept that I had been reading about in Umberto Eco. And so those were some of the major early motivations behind this book and some themes, I guess, and some connections that really got me thinking.
So as I said, all of this really led me to, on the one hand, the idea of value but also this idea of controlling not just any information in the list but controlling numbers. So I think, for me, lists became something that was very much, in certain contexts, about counting, especially when you don't have the kinds of numerical systems that we're used to and especially when you don't have as many numerical standards as we're used to. The way of putting things together in a format that you can present to somebody is in this form.
So lists are not just about boundlessness. They can be about infinity. They can be about the control of information. We can get a very different sense as the audience of the list than we do as the composer of a list. And they're very much about control of all kinds.
I think, also, this idea of control, or of a person who can present and, therefore, control numerical information that's being put out there, is really interesting in Homeric characterization. So we have certain characters, like Agamemnon, who we saw, and also like Odysseus, who I think gets presented as almost a sort of proto state official.
So in the historical period in Athens, there will be these city officials that do this kind of counting and presentation to the public. For Homer, it's these particular figures who are able to do that work and who have that kind of status and power to control numerical information.
As I'll argue in the book, I think there's a lot of figures that play that role. So another one is the historian Herodotus, who I devote a chapter to. I think when he makes lists, it's also as a way to project a kind of control over the historical information that he's presenting. Putting it in a list is a way of showing that he has some kind of mastery over it. And he's also able to present it to an audience the way he wants to.
Herodotus I'm not going to talk too much about today, but he's someone who's very self-conscious of his own list-making. And he uses certain verbs, even, that show that he's thinking about, OK, I'm going to make a list now, and that's very important. And I'm going to show you how to do that. And that's going to be part of the way I do history and write history.
So I was thinking a lot about this issue of lists as a mode of not just making value but controlling value. And so as I thought about that, there were also some older but deep-seated anthropological concepts about lists and list-making that I guess I had wanted to challenge as I wrote the book.
So one of them that I'm going to try to get to here-- sorry-- was in the work of Jack Goody. So Jack Goody, a famous anthropologist who you may know from some of his work on literacy, also had a section of one of his books from the '70s on lists.
And he made this statement. He said "It was the keeping of such chronicles and the reordering of materials by means of the visual inspection of the written word"-- so there, he's talking about lists, specifically-- "that permitted wider developments in the growth of human knowledge, more particularly, in knowledge of the past but also in knowledge about the natural world."
So what Goody said here really struck me as a problem. He seems to be saying here that lists somehow create knowledge. Being an early society that makes lists then leads you to knowledge. And I really wanted to think about the issue in the opposite way.
For me, I think, we needed to understand lists as a product of human knowledge, not some kind of prerequisite for knowledge. So Goody was a problem. No, Goody. But I found some other, still not recent, work that I think resonated more with trying to think about how lists work and how to think about who is in control of the information in a particular list.
So here, I really liked the work of Elizabeth Anscombe, especially in her book Intention, philosopher of mind and famous for this book from the '50s. And note that she wrote this long before Goody wrote what I just quoted.
So she had what struck me as a much more interesting way of thinking about how it really depends on who's making the list, and for what purpose, how we evaluate it. So she says here, a sort of funny example, I think, "Let us consider a man going around a town with a shopping list in his hands.
Now, it's clear that the relation of this list to the things he actually buys is one and the same, whether his wife gave him the list or it is his own list, and that there's a different relation where a list is made by a detective following him about." So if his wife gave him a list or if he made the list, he is getting a certain amount of things that are coming from that list.
Now, if a detective observed him and writes down what he does, that's a very different thing. "If his wife gave it to him, it has the role of an order. What then is the identical relation to what happens, in the order and the intention, which is not shared by the record?"
And she says this-- "If the list and the things that the man actually buys do not agree and if this and this alone constitutes a mistake, then the mistake is not in the list but in the man's performance." So she says, "If his wife were to say, look, it says butter, and you have bought margarine, he"-- the man buying the things at the store-- "would hardly reply, what a mistake! We must put that right and alter the word on the list to margarine."
That won't work. You can't fix the list if the list has been an order. You have to actually pick your action. "Whereas if the detective's record and what the man actually buys do not agree, then the mistake is in the record." Then the detective has written it down wrong.
So I think it's sort of a funny and old-fashioned way of putting it. But one of the things that this really made me think about is that we have to think about the relationship of who is making the list and when.
Now, in ancient Greece, we don't always have that information. We're not sure exactly when it is that temple officials made the list of all the stuff that's been their charge. And we don't know exactly for what purposes they made them. That's a big question and one that I grapple with in chapter 4 of the book.
But I think things like this opened me up to this idea of understanding the chronology of lists and, again, this relationship of the list to an object and to temporality and intentions. So this decision of how to use a list is really a decision of how we then find value.
And it can be, I don't know, a cerebral, amusing business, like the example we just read here. But the use of the list to assign a certain value to something and to sort of immortalize the importance of a group of things can have some really serious consequences.
So again, on the level of things that I was thinking about as I tackled the Greek material, one of the most compelling expressions and, I think, critiques of the power that a list can have that I've ever seen was in a poem from 2015, so a contemporary poem, called "Voyage of the Sable Venus" by Robin Coste Lewis. So "Voyage of the Sable Venus" is a long-form poem. It's almost epic. And it's about showing the historical violence that has been done to Black female bodies. And it shows it in this very particular way.
So Robin Coste Lewis wrote this whole poem. But all she did-- that is to say, the words she used-- the poem itself was composed-- and this is how she described it-- entirely from the title, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a Black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.
So here is just one tiny excerpt of what she does. She takes this catalog, or this kind of catalog of catalogs, she looks at all these Western art objects and how they've been written down-- anything that involves a Black female body-- and she kind of recurates it. And she composes her own list out of all of these previous catalog entries. And here are just some of them.
And you can tell some of the things she's highlighting here are the violence that had been done to these art objects and, by proxy, of course, the violence we can imagine being done to living bodies. And she really exposes the museum catalog form, and the list, in general, as this tool that has a lot of power and, in this case, can propagate these really unjust systems of value.
I want to hope that her list also shows us that the list form can be repurposed into something better, something that not only exposes how prescriptive catalogs can be but makes a new system evaluation. That's, I think, what her list can really succeed in.
It shows past injustices, and it allows us to readjust this whole value system of a society, of a culture, of a way of looking at the past. So that was really powerful for me in thinking about the kinds of consequences that lists can have and the kinds of powers that list makers yield over the things that are in lists.
I think from there, I also was thinking a lot about the power of archives more generally. So when we think about ancient documentary culture, ancient Greek inscriptions, all of that falls into the sort of general category of archive.
And I think, a lot of the time, when we look at something like a temple inventory, we think, well, this is great. This is an example. Now we know what was there. And this is some kind of transparent document that we can use to access the past.
And so I suppose something I wanted to do in the book was question that idea. Is the temple inventory a very transparent document, either in antiquity or for us, or is it something that we might have to approach with a little more of a critical eye?
So as I thought about things like archives, I was really struck by some of the work of Achille Mbembe writing about the power of the archive. Now, he's thinking about apartheid South Africa. He's thinking of very different contexts from classical antiquity. And there's comparisons that can't be made.
But one of the theoretical approaches that I thought was really compelling was his idea that archives-- and, for me, therefore, lists-- do this kind of deletion of the past, even as they show us things about the past. So he puts it, I think, really well.
He says, "The relationship between the archive and the state rests on a paradox. On the one hand, there is no state without archives-- without its archives. On the other hand, the very existence of the archive constitutes a constant threat to the state.
The reason is simple. More than on its ability to recall, the power of the state rests on its ability to consume time-- that is, to abolish"-- or as I just said, maybe delete-- "the archive and anesthetize the past. The act that creates the state is an act of chronophagy. So chronophagy would be the eating of time, the literal eating up of what came before.
So that, for me, was a really powerful way, as I say, to think about the control of information and the ways in which an archival type of document like a list could really be hiding more from us than it was necessarily showing to us. So those are some of the ways that I found it productive to look at some of the inscriptions I was showing you before.
I want to go back just momentarily to a slide that I had skipped over. So here's the cover of the book. And speaking of some of these documents, I just wanted to tell you how delighted I was that in the Cornell Cast Collection and in the digital collections of the Cornell Library, there's this wonderful image of a plaster cast of a stone inscription that we actually have here in Ithaca of a temple inventory.
So this is a wartime inventory from the Peloponnesian War era that the Athenians created of things that were in the temple on the island of Aegina. And again, it's a great example of one of the ways in which we have this document, and yet it's being created by officials who come into a place that they sort of control but is not really their city. And they come, and they take stock of everything that's important to them in this temple that they can then use for their own purposes, presumably.
So not only was it a wonderful and welcome thing to use for the cover of my book-- so thanks are due, great thanks, to the Cornell Cast Collection and Digital Collections for allowing me to use the image-- it's another example of something that we can look at again with an idea like Achille Mbembe's by thinking, what is it here that we're not getting? Imagine, if you will, yes, we have this lovely list.
But when we think about this blank space at the bottom, you just wonder. What are all the other things that should have gone into that blank space that they had room to record but didn't bother mentioning? Some of that, we will never know.
So I became sort of deeply invested in these ideas of power and control and especially the kinds of things that list-making in ancient Greece could control. And I just want to give you a couple of examples of those things. In addition to just objects and temples, lists were used, especially in archaic poetry, as this way of thinking about another unruly thing that the Greeks had to deal with, which was women.
Now, much of the text that we're dealing with is composed by men. I don't think I talk about a single text that was written by a woman, at least as far as we know. And yet this idea of making a poetic catalog of women was one that was very popular in archaic Greek antiquity.
So one of the poems I talk about is called-- now, at least-- "The Catalogue of Women," attributed to the archaic poet Hesiod, which is just that. It's a catalog of all these famous women and then the famous children that they bore in legendary heroic times, when they slept with gods. So it's this interesting text that has been interpreted in a lot of ways.
One way it's been interpreted that I find really appealing is that this whole list, and thinking back to the time when women and deities were sleeping together and produced these races of heroes, is a way of having a nostalgia for an aristocratic past. This is how a scholar named Kirk Ormand has read the poem. And I found that pretty compelling.
But I also just found it compelling on the level of the list form itself being this way we have of controlling the thing that we don't really know what to do with but we want to keep tabs on, which is a sort of rough way of talking about how much Greek literature treats women. So here's just an excerpt from that "Catalogue of Women," which is fragmentary. It's not a complete text, by any means. But it's Homeric in style in certain ways.
And so the beginning of it says, "Now sing of the race of women, sweet-versed Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-holding Zeus, who at that time were the best and loosened their girdles"-- so we got what part of the point is going to be-- "mixing with the gods." And then we hear hundreds of lines of stories about these various women.
The Hesiodic catalog of women wasn't the only catalog of women. And actually, some people think that this idea of catalog, and some of these catalogs of women, are very, very old poetic forms, like maybe some of the remnants of the earliest Greek poetry we have. So it wasn't just this random fragment that we have. It was a thing, that the Greeks liked to make these poetic catalogs of women.
I'll show you another one. This is a catalog of women by the archaic poets Semonides. And his "Catalogue of Women" is very different. He talks in his catalog about how every woman comes from a different type of animal.
And for me, again, it's this way of controlling the story and saying, we have women. They're sort of different. We don't know exactly what to do with them. Maybe they're related to animals, which are a little bit different. So let's go through the types they are.
And he really typologizes women based on animals. I mean, by the time we get to the end of the poem, which is not complete here, it's as if he's saying, well, there's 12 kinds of women. You should probably find out which kind the ones you know are, and I hope you have a good one. Because there's actually only one good kind of woman. She's the one like a bee. But the other ones are pretty terrible.
So this one says, "From the start, the gods made women different" or "other," this sometimes gets translated. "One type is from a pig, a hairy sow whose house is like a rolling heap of filth and she herself, unbathed, in unwashed clothes, reposes on the shit-pile, growing fat." Pretty terrible.
"Another type, the gods made from a fox, pure evil and aware of everything. This woman misses nothing. Good or bad, she notices, considers, and declares that good is bad and bad is good. Her mood changes from one moment to the next. One type is from a dog."
And it goes on and on and on like this. So again, this way of imposing order and controlling something that's sort of difficult to control was something that really interested me, especially about the archaic poetic tradition.
There was also a tradition that interested me from a little bit later from the more historical moments of ancient Athens, so a time in which people were actually surrounded by stone inventories. And that was the poetry of the comic poet Aristophanes writing in the fifth and fourth century BC.
So there, I didn't necessarily see so much of this control of women, but I was interested in characters using lists to try to gain control over ideas and concepts, especially characters who didn't perceive themselves as very fortunate trying to use lists to gain control over what they had or what they needed. And one place that really struck me was in Aristophanes' play Wealth, which is sort of a meditation on who should get wealth, who certain resources should be allotted to. It's this fantastical reorganization of how wealth is allotted in the city.
So here is one character talking to another one about the concept of wealth. And they come up with this fantastical list of all the things that you can get and you can be full of, except for wealth. So they're actually speaking to the embodied character of wealth.
And they say to him, "So no one ever gets his fill of you." Wealth is the only thing that we can't ever get enough of. "One can get full of every other thing." And then they go back and forth in the play in this making of a list. Each one says a different word-- "of love, of bread, of music, of hors d'oeuvres, of honor, pancakes, uprightness, dried figs."
And it gets sort of elevated here. It escalates. "Ambition, dough, being general, lentil soup. But of you? Never. No one gets his fill. No. If he gets his hands on 13 grand, then all the more, he'll wish he had 16. And if he gets that, 40 is what he wants, or else life's just not worth living, he says."
So instead of maybe this more abstract kind of control over a certain gender or a certain group, I was interested in the way these characters really concretized lists. And they used them to think about their very mundane, everyday problems. There are some other ones here that I'll just show you from Aristophanes because they're so entertaining.
In the Lysistrata, the women who are going to try to take over, they say, "These very items will save us all-- our saffron robes, our perfumes, and peep-toe flats, our bronzers and our diaphanous wraps." The Birds-- in Aristophanes' play, birds love to use lists. So all these characters, when they're trying to make a point, love to make it with a list.
So the birds say, "We live in gardens, on white sesame and myrtle, poppy seeds, and bergamot." And then, they hear one of the characters, a few lines later, say something. And they say, this is amazing. "By Earth, by traps, by cloudy skies, by nets! I've never heard as slick a plan as that."
And then, again, back to this civic discontent, these characters in Aristophanes' Wasp, the play that also deals with grumbling citizens not getting what they exactly want and complaining about the status quo. "These men they present with bribes"-- so they're talking about political bribes-- "pickle jars, wine, tapestries, cheese, honey, sesame, headrests, saucers, mantles, garlands, necklaces, drinking cups, health and wealth."
So here in Aristophanes, I felt that I was really seeing an interesting sort of coalescence of the documentary culture, on the one hand. As I said, these people watching the plays, performing the plays, writing the plays are surrounded by inscriptional lists that they see all the time.
So they've, in a way, been imbued with this idea that lists are a way of creating value. And then they sort of translate it into this much more everyday, amusing idiom. So I thought Aristophanes was a particularly productive author to think about lists with.
So I suppose, by the end, I came up with a few different schemes, I guess, about thinking with lists in ancient Greek. One of them was tracing some particular verbs that the Greeks used for the act of list-making.
And what was interesting about these was that list-making seemed to go from, in the earliest times, Homeric times, this idea of naming, or calling by name, or counting. So we have these two naming and counting verbs at the beginning-- onomaino and katalego. And we see those in early Homeric poetry to the transfer-- that is, went from those to verbs that had more to do with showing and displaying and putting forth some kind of manifestation of an idea, a number, a count, a document.
So from this kind of naming and counting, we move to showing forth and displaying. The two key verbs I think about there are "apodeiknumi," a verb that Herodotus uses a lot. And I think Herodotus the historian takes the verb "katalego," which is the old way to say "how to make lists," and he says, well, I know how to do that. But I'm going to show you what this new way of making lists is. And it's called apodeiknumi.
And lists really show you things. And with that, I also saw this and thought about this verb, "apophaino," which means something very similar to apodeiknumi. It's all about this showing and displaying. And interestingly, apophaino, the phaino part there is related to the word "epiphany." It's all about appearance and the kind of manifestation of something.
And I think what was interesting to me about these appearing words, these showing forth and display words, was that they really went hand in hand with what I thought was this Greek interest in using lists to show things that weren't there, not just using lists to record stuff that you might already have. So I just want to end with, maybe, one or two examples around that.
So first, here are some things, some English equivalents, I guess, that I thought about for what lists can do. So there was this collecting and counting feature and collating feature. And then these are the last two, the ones I want to highlight now. Through this idea of showing and using lists as a manifestation, there's this act of conjuring that occurs. There's this act of actually showing stuff that you can't see and even an act of creation.
So once you use a text, a poem, a play, a stone to conjure a bunch of things that aren't there, your text becomes that new bunch of things. All of a sudden, that stone or that play, that becomes the bunch of stuff, not whatever the things were that you were talking about.
So I think one of the best examples of this from the Greek or later Greek world is this. Here's a sort of funny picture of me looking at this giant stone in Copenhagen. This is a text that we call the Lindian Chronicle because it's a big list of stuff that comes from the sanctuary of Lindos on the island of Rhodes.
It's later. It's from 99 BCE. So we've fast forwarded. But what's so interesting about it is that it has this format of a temple inventory, a bit like the ones I showed you before. As you can see, a similar type of stone, although it's much bigger. It's quite huge. And what this inventory lists is not all this stuff that's being dedicated now but all the stuff that used to be in the temple when it was more famous.
So some of that stuff is still there. And presumably, you could see some things that were on display. But a whole lot of it we can tell is not because of the verbs that the text uses. So the text says things like, oh, it had been inscribed with this little message that said this, the idea being, but it's not there anymore.
So we only know about these objects from what people have written about them. And it was so important to make a list that these officials from Lindos in 99 BC actually came together and decided to make this list of everything that used to be in the temple.
So this is the pre-script of this inscription that says, since this temple is so famous, since it's very old, and since these offerings, together with their inscriptions, have been destroyed on account of time, it has been resolved that we're going to pick two people and let these people set up a stele of stone from Lartos according to what the architect writes and let them inscribe, from the letters and from the public records and any other evidence, whatever may be fitting about the offerings and the visible presence of the goddess making the copy of the stele with the secretary now in office. And this is what they came up with.
So this is, in a way, the ultimate example of the conjuring act and the creation act that lists can do. We don't have all this stuff anymore, so let's make this list. Let's show it to people. And that will become the new thing to come and see. This will become the reason people come to the temple.
I have many more things that I would love to tell you about. I guess I'm supposed to say, at this point, go read the book if you want to find out about them. But I will stop there because I would love to hear your questions. And I thank you so much for your time and your attention.
VIRGINIA COLE: That was fabulous, Athena, and so very stimulating and so many things to think about. So I'm going to let the audience-- we have just a few minutes, but we have some time for questions-- I'm going to let the audience gather their thoughts and their questions. So put those in the chat.
And to give them a little bit of time, I wish I could come up with a list off the top of my head, but I can't. But I am fascinated by the inventories for temples. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit more. Where was the stele? Was it inside or out-- it has to be inside because they're not very damaged by the elements, right?
ATHENA KIRK: Well, it's a great question. Sometimes we don't know. But I think, actually, some of them were outside. A lot of these stones have been reused. So when we find them, they're not where they were originally.
So a lot of the time, they actually were outside. People are viewing these stones, certainly, no matter where they are, divorced from the things that they're actually describing. So the stuff that they're describing, some of it might be on display in the temple.
But a lot of it might not be, either because it's put away, like for storage in a sort of protected space or, in some really dramatic examples, there are lists of objects at a certain sanctuary, and the lists are in Athens, but the objects themselves are somewhere else, many, many, many, many miles away. So there really is this interest in making a list of stuff so people can see that list, even though they have no access to the stuff itself. It's a really great question, Virginia.
VIRGINIA COLE: I could talk about them forever, and we might go back to them because I just find it really fascinating. And also, the as you can tell, I've lost all my words.
ATHENA KIRK: That's fine.
VIRGINIA COLE: It's been a rough week. But the idea of listing valuables so that anyone knows that you have a lot of stuff but also protecting them is very interesting to me. Because if you're hanging out a sign to be [INAUDIBLE] or thieved of all the valuables. Yeah, it's very interesting.
ATHENA KIRK: I love some of these questions I'm seeing in the chat. And maybe I can highlight two of them. Or Virginia, I don't want to take over.
VIRGINIA COLE: Go. You go. Go.
ATHENA KIRK: Well, so one question at 4:53 I see is, where these lists publicly displayed? Did they still speak to people who couldn't read? And I would argue yes. So there's a lot of the Athenian population that definitely cannot read.
There are some people who might be able to do a certain amount of reading. They have a limited amount of things they can read. Like, maybe they can read their names. But if I can just share my screen one more time, maybe I'll just go back and show you way back here.
If you take a look here, for example, you'll see that we seen in a bunch of places these three dots. I think everybody can see them. And what's cool about those three dots that are not always used in Greek inscriptions are that, here, they're always surrounding, sort of offsetting, a number.
So when I talked about this inscription, I think I described how it says what the object is, and then it says how much it weighs. So here, for instance, this says [GREEK] weight of these. And then this is the number. This is 500, 600, 700, 800, 900 drachmas.
So even if you can't really read, I think you can probably still tell that these are numbers. And you can sort of get an idea where one thing starts and the next one begins. Because that's what these points are giving you. So there are even minute, textual ways that I think these inscriptions can speak to people who can't read.
But on a bigger level, on a more iconic, we sometimes like to say, level, it's a big, imposing thing. This one is about a meter tall, or was about a meter tall. So it's not as big as the one I showed you from Lindos at the end. But it's still a pretty imposing document.
So you look at this. You see all these letters. I think you come away with the idea that there's actually a lot of stuff and that Athens is doing pretty well, even though that might not be the case.
Another question that I think is related is this question, again, for which I think the asker, "In contemporary culture, we say it's not written in stone. Are there examples of these stone texts that were actually edited?" Really interesting question.
One of the things we see that's interesting in these kinds of texts is that we get a new inventory from one year to the next. So the Athenians made these inventories every single year. And often, we have a few years that we can compare to each other. They're not always complete in one year. The stone for one year might be better than the part of the stone for another year.
But one of the things we see is that we see them get reorganized. We see them delete things. So I don't mean actually deleting on the stone, but I mean they include it one year, and then it drops out the next year. And maybe, sometimes, it comes back later. So there certainly is some editing going on.
And in one of the texts that I didn't talk too much about but I'll share, again, just so that you can see, this one-- sorry, wrong direction-- this one is a long inventory from the fourth century BC from the islands of Samos, the sanctuary of Hera there. This one actually says some things like, oh, well, this one thing is in repair right now. We're not sure where it is. This other one, he says that he saw it, or this official says that he has it.
So it's not exactly-- sorry about that-- it's not exactly editing from the perspective of deleting stuff. But there is a process of yearly editing. And certainly, in other inscriptions, not these, we do see things like erasure and changes. So that's definitely something that they did in stone, even though we like to say some things are set in stone. They are done.
VIRGINIA COLE: Do you want to take, "How important is order in a list? Is there significance to the order of the items?"
ATHENA KIRK: It's a great question. I love this question, Stephen. Thank you. I guess I think that sometimes it's important, and sometimes it's not. So in the inventories that I was talking about, order can be really significant. Because sometimes, it changes from place to place and year to year.
But they sometimes list all the most important things, meaning all the things made of gold first, followed by all the things made of silver followed by all the things made of bronze then followed by all the other stuff. And then sometimes they have a section for the things that were dedicated this year, for example.
So there, they're really thinking very seriously about how order works. Other times, I think part of the interest in order is actually a disorder. So I have a chapter toward the end of the book that I didn't share much with you about. But it's about how lists actually create the possibility for disordering knowledge and for people to rearrange things in whatever sort of order they want.
So there, I'm thinking about Hellenistic poets, so a later period, starting in, say, the later fourth century and third century BC, where these poets use lists in their poetry to do things like reorder the landscape. So they'll talk about a bunch of islands. And they'll put them in a different order than they really exist geographically. And it's this way that they have of using lists for manipulation.
And of course, in Hellenistic poetry, as, Stephen, you probably know, is when we think the alphabetical order was first used. So certainly, order is really important to the makers of lists.
A couple more questions that I'm seeing here, this one from Anne Kenney. Thank you so much. "List-making was key to transaction and archival record-keeping, but in your research, did you consider whether list-making was a prerequisite for the development of currency?" Great question.
I mean, our understanding is that there's first the development of currency and then list-making of the types of transactions that we have. So we have evidence of currency and coinage much earlier than we have evidence of inscribed financial records. That would be the order that everybody would tell you and I would have to agree with.
Now, there's always a possibility that people were making lists earlier than that. And I guess I would say, even though we don't have official documents any earlier than there was currency, these things go hand in hand. So the development of currency and coinage doesn't completely absolve the need for lists and list-making. And at the same time, they are definitely using lists, as well, in this pre-coinage moment.
So in these Homeric texts, they're using lists because they don't have a currency, a standard. And yet they keep on using them once they do. I don't know if that answers your question well. It's a really great one, and it's one that, in a way, for further thought about it, I think I would have to refer you to the financial economic historians to tell you more about what they think about it. But that's my take.
Suzette, thanks for your question. "In literary lists, did the length of the list indicate weight or heft? In other words, if a list of attributes is elaborate, was it any indication of the importance of whatever was being described?" Yes. I think, to a certain extent, yeah.
So certainly, we get these moments where we get an elaboration of a particular, really important, item. So if you can bear with me to share one more time, if we go back to Homer here-- this one, for example-- this is the list of gifts, or ransom, that Priam is offering Achilles for his son, Hector.
"He weighed and brought out gold," all this stuff-- "two glittering tripods, four cauldrons." And then, there's is this cup, "a very lovely cup the men of Thrace once gave him on an embassy, a great treasure." So we get this sort of elaborated description of that particular item. And it seems like that's the most important one to think about. And this happens pretty often in Homer.
So Suzette, it's a great observation, and I think the answer is definitely yes, although I will say that, conversely, in some of the documentary texts, sometimes when we get longer descriptions, it's actually because the things are fragmenting and deteriorating. So we actually sometimes get longer descriptions of things that are not as valuable anymore because they're actually falling apart. So they'll say like, oh, well, we have this fancy textile, but it's threadbare, and it's kind of cut up, but here it is.
I'm just going down the list here. Andy, thank you. "How do you judge the credibility of the things included in the Copenhagen list of things that are not there?" Oh, such a good question. "The people that contribute to the things that are not actually there, are they named?" Yes, and some of them are legendary.
There's something from Helen of Troy there and something from Cadmus, legendary Cadmus, legendary King of Thebes. And so there, I think-- I don't really think that there was a really Helen's or Cadmus's things, so I think there is a real problem of credibility for us.
For them, I think, they judge credibility because they had heard about these objects through important local, and even Panhellenic, historians. So basically, people like Herodotus and other important writers for the people of Lindos on Rhodes had written about these objects. And then the people who make that stele in Copenhagen compile those texts, and they put the stuff down. And so that becomes this sort of mark of credibility.
Now, whether that's credible to us we can distance ourselves from. But it's an amazing question and thing to think about. This question of credibility and accountability is so interesting for all these documents. So thank you.
"Do others certify and confirm that the items had existed?" Yeah, in a way they do. I mean, Herodotus is shady about this. Sometimes he'll say, well, I didn't see it with my own eyes. But yeah, some of them do. Some of them do assert that. And there's a question, I think, about one thing is having seen the thing, and then the next step is maybe you saw the thing, but do you believe that that's actually what it was?
I'll just take this last one because I know we're running out of time. But Aidan Ackerman, thank you for the question. "If the oldest list from the Epic Cycle are names of figures, wouldn't that imply that the list is foremost an attempt to document oral history rather than an attempt to project power?"
That's a really tough one. I think it's both at the same time. And I think the catalog of ships, sure, there is a documenting of history happening there. Now, it's not totally clear to me that the catalog of ships is the oldest list, necessarily, from the Epic Cycle. And I think there are other lists that are less obvious in their attempts to actually document oral history and people.
So I would say that's a really thorny one, and it's a really great question. And I don't think that they're mutually exclusive categories. So certainly, there are lists that are there to document certain histories.
And yet isn't the documenting of history always an attempt to project power on some level? Can we actually separate those two things? would be one of the questions I would ask. But it's a wonderful one. And I wish I had more time to talk about it. But I really appreciate your asking it. Thank you.
VIRGINIA COLE: Oh, yeah. We are out of time, unfortunately. That was so great. I want to thank you very much, Professor Kirk, for your great talk and thank our audience for joining us today. The recorded version of today's talk will be available on the CUL YouTube channel in a couple of weeks if you want to share it with friends and family who couldn't make it today or if you want to go back and watch it again yourself.
The next Chats in the Stack will be Thursday, October 28 at 4:00 PM Eastern time on Zoom and will feature the book Emancipation's Daughters-- Reimagining Black Femininity and the National Body by Riché Richardson. And I hope you will join us for that.
And it makes a really nice companion to some of the themes and texts that Athena talked about today. So anyway, everyone have a wonderful day, evening, whatever your time zone is. Thank you for joining us, and goodbye.
ATHENA KIRK: Thank you so much.
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Lists were an ancient mode of expressing value through text, according to Athena Kirk, assistant professor in the Department of Classics. In her new book, Ancient Greek Lists: Catalogue and Inventory Across Genres (Cambridge University Press, 2021), Kirk illuminates Greek literary and epigraphic lists, catalogues, and inventories in both under-studied and well-known sources, ranging from Homer's Catalogue of Ships to temple inventories. In a live, virtual Chats in the Stacks book talk, Kirk engages scholars and students of classical literature, ancient history, and ancient languages with examples of inscribed inventories. Kirk also analyzes the ways lists can stand in for objects, create value, act as tools of control, and even point to the infinite.