Mittwoch, 20. Februar 2019

Presentation of Dr Chiara Ferella: “The Metaphor Domain of Conflict in Cosmological Representations in the Philosophy of Anaximander, Heraclitus and Empedocles”

A blog post by Aleksandar Milenković.

In the beginning of 2019 PhD students of the RTG 1876 focused thematically on conceptual metaphor and its applications to various source materials inside several scientific fields. After having the pleasure to hear Prof Douglas Cairns’s talk, and a very fruitful seminar on metaphors, Chiara Ferella presented a case study of her ongoing post-doc project titled “Metaphor in Early Greek Concepts of Cosmos, Nature, Body and Mind.” The focus of her project is twofold; she is looking into the metaphors which illustrate these concepts, while also examining the specific role of metaphor in the formation of early Greek theories. The aim of her research is to question the potential of the cognitive function of metaphor in structuring knowledge about abstract concepts, by exploring various perceptual and experiential foundations on which early Greek thinkers built metaphors, and consequently concepts of cosmos, nature, body and mind.

It is worth noting that Chiara’s understanding of metaphors is based on Lakoff and Johnson’s definition of metaphor as “seeing one thing in terms of another,” which involves a transfer from one conceptual domain to the other. This transfer operates from the more familiar or concrete domain to the less familiar or abstract one.

In her paper, Chiara showcased representations of the cosmos in three early Greek philosophers – Anaximander, Heraclitus and Empedocles, focusing on the specific metaphor domain of conflict. These thinkers all use the metaphor domain of conflict in their depictions of the universe, but they emphasize different aspects of it, which prompts Chiara to ask in which way relationships expressed in the source domain of conflict structure and organize knowledge about the universe?

Anaximander: Cycle of offense and compensation

Beginning with Anaximander, Chiara aims to show that the aspect of the conflict metaphor that he emphasizes in his cosmology is based on the idea of offense and compensation through a penalty that is commensurate to the initial offense. The notion that any conflict begins with an offense is not uncommon in Greek tradition, as Chiara reminds us that Herodotus uses the same model to describe the cause for the Persian war, where Greeks and Persians alternate in offending each other. In a similar fashion, Anaximander speaks of the elements that compose the universe, “for they pay the penalty (δίκη) and retribution (τίσις) to each other” (fr. B1). It seems that for Anaximander the elements are opposing forces, the Greek term for which implies conflict: the opposites (οἱ ἐναντίοι) implies hostile relationships between the parties, hence their confrontation is a battle. Therefore, Anaximander speaks of the vanquished party as offended, and its triumph as compensation. Chiara understands this metaphor in terms of a continuous change of opposing forms of power into one another, such as the alternation of light and darkness. But Anaximander chooses to exploit the metaphor of conflict instead of that of the cycle, emphasizing the traditional image in which one party commits an offense against the other, which then has to be compensated by a commensurate penalty. For him, as Chiara remarks, the strife of elemental forces is not unpredictable, but rather an orderly scheme in which defeat always follows aggression.

Heraclitus: War, the father of all

On the other hand, Heraclitus’ approach to the conflict metaphor is quite bold in a sense that he overturns the traditional images and offers rather controversial comparisons. He describes war as “the father of all and king of all” (fr. B53). Although war is traditionally linked to Ares, the god of warfare and conflict, Heraclitus redefines this well-known concept and instead equates it to Zeus, thus conceptualizing war as the supreme divine principle that rules all. In a different fragment he explains that “war is common, and right is strife, and all things happen by strife and necessity” (fr. B80).

What Chiara observes is that Heraclitus on one hand emphasizes atypical aspects of the metaphor domain of conflict, while on the other hand he conceals aspects traditionally linked to it (attacks and defences, oppressors and oppressed, crimes and compensations, etc.). Moreover, he exploits the image of the conflict in which fronts oppose each other, but they share the same impartial destiny. The principle responsible for arranging and maintaining the world in the way it is, he identifies as logos. This Heraclitean logos, as Chiara suggests, regulates the tension of opposites which generates the cosmos. Therefore, since logos, governing the tension of opposites, acts as the divine and intelligible law of the cosmos (fr. B114), conflict is essentially the same as justice.

Empedocles: Love and Strife, the vital forces

Finally, in Empedocles’ philosophical system, the four elements that compose everything (air, fire, earth and water) are influenced by two forces governing the cosmos, commonly referred to as Love (Φιλότης) and Strife (Νεῖκος). While Love is usually perceived as a unifying force, Strife acts as a negative principle that tears elements down, usually described as wretched and evil. The opposition is more complex than it seems though, since both forces are, in fact, equally responsible for creation of living beings. This notion is attested, for instance, in Empedocles’ simile of two painters (commonly interpreted as Love and Strife) mixing four basic colours to paint all living creatures (fr. B23).

Chiara observes that the conflict between Love and Strife is the conditio sine qua non of the world, as the world only comes about when the elements are set in motion and the governing principles start to fight each other. This idea resembles Heraclitus’ image of war being the all-father, but Empedocles differs in that he emphasizes the moral implications traditionally linked to conflict. Even though both forces are equally involved in the cosmic conflict and the exchange of powers is a necessary act, it is clear that for Empedocles, the responsible force is undeniably Strife. 

Bringing the two similar, yet different concepts of conflict into account, Chiara asks why Strife and conflict act as causes of our existence and at the same time as principles of evil. The reason, as she suggests, probably lies in Empedocles’ religious beliefs, within which he developed his doctrine. In the Purifications, Empedocles’ poem of a religious character, he refers to the earthly existence of humans as a punishment for a guilty deed for which we have to go through a cycle of rebirths. This prompts Chiara to interpret Empedocles’ Strife and conflict as fathers and kings of all, and, in virtue of this, as the greatest evil.

Although there were many questions raised, most of them being the subject of a rich discussion that followed, Chiara offered convincing arguments in her interpretation of early Greek concepts of the cosmos in her comparative analysis of the metaphor domain of conflict. She was able to show that metaphors play a much more important role in (analysing) early philosophical doctrines, since they illuminate and illustrate concepts that are otherwise more difficult to grasp.

Donnerstag, 14. Februar 2019

Lecture by Prof Douglas Cairns, University of Edinburgh, GRK Mercator Fellow 2018/19: “Mental Conflict from Homer to Eustathius”

A blog post by Chiara Ferella.

After the Christmas break, on the first RTG’s plenary session of 2019, our Mercator Fellow, Prof Douglas Cairns, holder of the chair of classics at the University of Edinburgh, held a lecture on mental conflict in the Homeric poems and in their later reception, especially in Eustathius’ Homeric Commentaries. Mental conflict is defined as the situation that arises when a person is subjected to conflicting motives or impulses to act. In Homer, one common way of representing mental conflict is in terms of a relation between a person and his/her psychic organs (such as, his/her thymos or heart).

Cairns presented an empirical refutation of the standard opinion, initiated by Bruno Snell in his famous book The Discovery of Mind (English translation Oxford 1953). According to Snell, Homeric man is “a battleground of arbitrary forces and uncanny powers… the Homeric man has not yet awakened to the fact that he possesses in his own soul the source of his powers.” Snell argues for a multiplicity of psychic agents that preclude a unified sense of the person as an entire agent. As Arthur Adkins summarizes, “Homeric Man … has a psychology and a physiology in which the parts are more evident than the whole” (From the Many to the One, London 1970: 26).

In contrast, Cairns claimed that the apparent multitude of psychic organs needs to be treated as a family or system that exists to represent personal agency. Moreover, Cairns highlighted that psychic organs, by metonymy (in which aspect of physical body felt to play a role in mental functioning comes to serve as ways of referring to those functions) and in metaphors (mostly personification and reification), come to represent the phenomenology of psychological processes.

Thus, even though the person’s psychic organ is involved in a situation of mental conflict, the agent, namely the real subject pondering diverse courses of action or conflicting impulses is still the person as a whole (and not one of his/her psychic organs).

In the Homeric poems, a person ponders different options and impulses within one of his/her psychic organs, or he/she can do so also without any reference to his/her psychic organs. As Cairns showed, in the contest of a person pondering within his/her psychic organs, the adverbial reference to the psychic organ is simply a way to specify that the act of pondering takes place within the mental apparatus of the person. However, a psychic organ (often thymos) can itself reflect and deliberate. In this respect, Cairns focused on Hector’s monologue before his confrontation with Achilles (Il. 22.98ff.).

This episode is introduced by a formulaic address to Hector’s thymos. Whereas for Shirley Darcus such addresses to the thymos emphasize the distinct nature of person and thymos (Psychological and Ethical Ideas: What early Greeks say, Leiden 1995: e.g.58), Cairns highlighted, in contrast, that thymos functionally serves to intensify the agent’s thoughts. In other words, the agent’s address to the thymos and the agent’s deliberation in respect or within his/her thymos indicate the same process. This holds true even when the thymos is credited with some speech. Before articulating his final resolution, Hector presents his previous thoughts and pondered options for action as suggestions voiced in conversation by his thymos: “but why has my dear thymos said this to me in conversation?” However, no actual speech is ever attributed to the thymos in this or any other Homeric passages. More plausibly, formulae like that we find here are meant to characterise the thymos as a convenient source for the rejected options. But Hector is the only agent pondering possible alternatives and eventually coming to a decision: “if I go… Polydamas will be first to put a reproach upon me … Now since by my own recklessness I ruined my people, I feel shame before the Trojans” etc. (my emphasis).

Thus, although the thymos can function as a sort of partner in an internal conversation or mental conflict, it is not conceptualized as a separated agent of speech and deliberation. As Cairns compellingly concluded, even though Hector converses with his thymos, the deliberating agent is still Hector as an entire person. We have indeed a well-integrated personality that is able to wage options, consider responsibilities and take decisions.

The second major passage Cairns focused on was the episode where Odysseus is plotting harm for the Suitors and pondering whether to kill them (Od. 20.9ff.). Here Odysseus is said to have a heart that barks within him. The doings of the heart stand in metonymy for the emotional experience with which the organ is associated. Cairns maintained that Odysseus’ barking heart is a paradigm of motivational conflict, as was already recognised by Plato. This means that even though the heart is said to bark, the entity feeling emotions is not Odysseus’ heart, but rather Odysseus himself as a whole person. After the focus on the barking heart (kardiē), the subsequent lines refer to the thymos: Odysseus’ reflection on what to do occurs in his thymos. The shifts among heart, thymos and Odysseus himself serve to intensify the agent’s mental conflict. There is no functional difference between heart and thymos, just as there is no difference in agency between thymos and Odysseus. In fact, within less than five lines Odysseus can indifferently say “my thymos pondered this in my breast” and “this other and harder thing I ponder in my breast” (my emphasis). Which clearly indicates that Odysseus’ thymos is not conceptualized as a psychic entity distinct from the person, but is the pars pro toto indicating Odysseus himself as deliberating agent.

Finally, Cairns considered some passages of Eustathius’ Homeric commentaries to show that, in contrast to modern interpretations, the Byzantine author was aware that the addressee to a certain organ by a Homeric character does not imply a primitive conceptualization of the person’s psychology as fragmented. Although psychic organs are addressed in motivational conflicts in the Homeric poems, the real agent of deliberation is still the person as a whole. As Eustathius acknowledges, Homeric addressees to psychic organs such as heart or thymos are instances of figurative language. Or, more specifically: “‘Endure my heart’ is a synecdoche for ‘you, Odysseus…’ That is why a bit later he says ‘when you thought you were going to die’, where ‘you’ is clearly Odysseus.’’ (Comm. Od. 18. 223-4 Stallbaum).

As the subsequent discussion displayed, Cairns’ presentation raised a great array of questions dealing with concepts of soul and mind in Greek and other ancient cultures, the relationship between mind and body, the study of emotions, as well as of motivational conflict in ancient languages and culture. Above all, it raised questions on methodological theories and approaches to study the psychology of ancient cultures, approaches that each member of our RTG could find useful for, and consequently apply in, his/her own research.

Therefore, we very much thank Douglas Cairns for having provided such a valuable contribution to topics and questions we are dealing with in our RTG, especially in light of our pursue to examine concepts of the body and mind, hence of humans more generally, within an interdisciplinary approach and with the aim to evaluate their universal or culture-specific nature.

Donnerstag, 7. Februar 2019

Besuch unserer Kooperationspartner aus Heidelberg vom SFB 933 „Materiale Textkulturen“

Ein Beitrag von Katharina Zartner.

Am 24. Januar hatten wir Besuch von unserem Kooperationspartner aus Heidelberg: Eine siebenköpfige Gruppe des Heidelberger Sonderforschungsbereichs 933 „Materiale Textkulturen“ kam nach Mainz zu unserer Plenumssitzung. Die gegenseitigen Besuche des SFBs und des GRKs sind inzwischen zu einer liebgewonnenen Tradition geworden – und doch stand das Treffen diesmal unter einem besonderen Stern. Für den SFB 933 war für Februar die Begehung durch die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft angesetzt, die über die Weiterförderung des Forschungsverbundes (dritte Förderphase) entscheiden wird. Beim Stichwort „Begehung“ werden bei uns, den Mitgliedern des Mainzer GRKs 1876, sofort Erinnerungen wach. Knapp eineinhalb Jahre ist es inzwischen her, dass wir uns der gleichen Herausforderung stellen mussten. Bei uns allen ist noch präsent, wie viel kleinteilige, wochenlange Vorbereitungsarbeit eine solche Begehung erfordert, wie groß die Aufregung ist und, nicht zuletzt, wie viel davon abhängt. Unsere Begehung im September 2017 haben wir in Teamarbeit gemeistert und konnten uns schließlich über die Bewilligung der Weiterförderung freuen. Vor diesem Hintergrund war es für uns selbstverständlich, mit unseren Gästen auf deren Wunsch hin eine kleine „Probe-Begehung“ durchzuführen und Vorträge sowie Projektposter vorab zu begutachten.

Von fruchtbaren Obstgärten
Prof. Dr. Ludger Lieb, der Sprecher des SFBs 933, stellte uns die Strukturen und Leitideen des Sonderforschungsbereichs in einem Kurzvortrag vor. Zunächst gab er einen kurzen Überblick über die beeindruckende Liste an beteiligten altertumswissenschaftlichen Disziplinen, in der wir auch fast alle im GRK 1876 vertretenen Fächer wiederentdecken konnten. Untersuchungsgegenstand aller beteiligten Disziplinen sind Texte in Relation zu den jeweiligen Medien bzw. Objekten, auf denen sie niedergeschrieben wurden. Den Aufbau der verschiedenen Forschungsbereiche und Teilprojekte im SFB beschrieb Prof. Lieb als Obstgarten. So benötigen die Forschungsfragen einen fruchtbaren Boden, um starke Wurzeln bilden zu können, sowie motivierte, engagierte Gärtner, d.h. Forschende, die den Ideen zu Wachstum verhelfen und schließlich bei der Ernte gute Ergebnisse hervorbringen. Die Früchte des wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens dienen wiederum als Grundlage zur Weiterverarbeitung in weiterführender Forschung. Davon, wie sich die Forschungsarbeit des SFBs 933 genau gestaltet, konnten wir uns anhand ausgewählter, für die Begehung vorgesehener Beiträge ein Bild machen.

Die Teilprojekte: 
Einblicke in vergangene und künftige Forschung
In einem weiteren Kurzvortrag berichtete Adrian Heinrich, Doktorand der Assyriologie, über die Entwicklung von neuen Methoden und Lösungsstrategien im SFB. Darüber hinaus zeigte er anhand eines Tontafelfragmentes, wie unabdingbar es für ein umfassendes Verständnis ist, einen Text nicht losgelöst von seinem Material zu betrachten, sondern Text und Material als eine Einheit zu verstehen. Diese Herangehensweise ermöglicht es, auch aus dem kleinsten Textfragment noch Erkenntnisse zu gewinnen.

Einblicke in weitere bestehende Teilprojekte sowie geplante Forschungsvorhaben für die dritte Förderphase boten uns die Mitglieder des SFBs 933 bei einer Posterpräsentation. Dr. Stefan Ardeleanu stellte das Teilprojekt „Beschriebenes und Geschriebenes im städtischen Raum der griechisch-römischen Antike und des Mittelalters“ (TP A01) vor, das sich mit beschrifteten Denkmälern im (halb-)öffentlichen Raum beschäftigt. Mit Inschriften in liturgischen Räumen hingegen beschäftigt sich das Projekt „Schrift und Schriftzeichen am und im mittelalterlichen Kunstwerk“ (TP A05), welches Lisa Horstmann vorstellte und das u.a. die Bedeutung der Anbringung sowie der Sichtbarkeit von Schrift in mittelalterlichen Kirchen zum Gegenstand hat. Paul Schweitzer-Martin, Mitarbeiter im Projekt „Die papierene Umwälzung im spätmittelalterlichen Europa“ (TP A06), präsentierte interessante Einblicke in die Anfänge der Nutzung des Papiers als Schriftmedium. Anett Rózsa, erst seit kurzem Teil des Heidelberger Forschungsverbundes, gab schließlich einen Überblick über das spannende Projekt zu „Materialität und Präsenz magischer Zeichen zwischen Antike und Mittelalter“ (TP A03), an dem sie in Zukunft mitarbeiten wird.

Alle Vertreter*innen des SFBs 933 präsentierten sich und ihre Projekte auf überzeugende, professionelle und charmante Weise und hatten keine Schwierigkeiten, unsere teils kritischen Fragen zu beantworten. Wir sind überzeugt, dass bei solch guter Vorbereitung einer Weiterförderung nichts im Wege steht.

Gemütlicher Ausklang

Nach der erfolgreichen Begehungsprobe war eine Stärkung verdient. Beim gemeinsamen geselligen Abendessen in einem ostafrikanischen Restaurant haben wir den Abend gemütlich ausklingen lassen. Hier bot sich die Möglichkeit, unsere Gäste näher kennenzulernen, sich über Forschungsinteressen und die individuellen Dissertationsprojekte auszutauschen und in gemütlicher Atmosphäre zu plaudern (Abb. 1).  

Abb. 1: Tagesausklang in geselliger Runde bei leckeren ostafrikanischen Spezialitäten
 (Fotos: Prof. Dr. Ursula Verhoeven-van Elsbergen)

Zum Schluss ein kleiner Nachtrag: Inzwischen hat die Begehung in Heidelberg stattgefunden und wir haben von Mainz aus natürlich alle Daumen gedrückt. Die Gutachtergruppe hat den SFB 933 mit Nachdruck zur Weiterförderung empfohlen; die endgültige Entscheidung fällt der DFG-Hauptausschuss im Mai. Wir wünschen unseren Heidelberger Kooperationspartnern, dass ihre harte Arbeit mit der Bewilligung der Weiterförderung belohnt wird, und hoffen, dass wir bei unserem Gegenbesuch in Heidelberg im Mai gemeinsam anstoßen können!