The etymologies of the words epidemic and pandemic are simple, comprised of the prefixes epi- and pan- and the adjective demios, formed from the root word demos with an established Indo-European origin.1Proto Indo-European Lexicon. University of Helsinki, 2014 – 2020, pielexicon.hum.helsinki.fi/?alpha=12.1. The semantic history of the word is certainly more mysterious, even though it follows its primary meaning – something that is in a specific region or populace, with an additional one – something that is in the entire region or populace. In the sense associated with disease, first used by Hippocrates, disease is the omitted part of meaning that is implied. Thus, the medical use of the term. Pierre Chantraine,2Chantraine, Pierre, et al. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque: histoire des mots. Klinsieck, 1968. an etymologist, in his lemma demos speaks with barely concealed cynicism about how the word democracy, with its altered semantics, was used in the modern world, primarily in Europe, pointing to the misunderstanding of the Greek term. This has continued conclusively to this day. Based on confusion, manipulation, as well as direct interventions in the meaning and arbitrary semantic sediment entangled in ignorance or censorship, these terms, which form the political, social, and cultural basis of the European Community and Europe, and the Western world in general, present an approach completely separate from historical semantics. Historical semantics can be defined as the research and determination of the history of meaning of words and expressions as well as the determination of the possible rules of changes in meaning. Historical semantics must be connected and intertwined with historical and other forms of grammar, with anthropology and cultural history; its connection with etymology is mainly arbitrary, although it is necessary to establish a semantic basis, such as when a linguistic archetype is constructed.
The example of democracy demonstrates, however, that many terms in wide use cannot be connected only with semantic history but also with many other phenomena that we encounter in public speech, which originate from the most diverse imaginaries that, once again, refer to the mythurgical approach. I coined the term mythurgy3Slapšak, Svetlana. “A Cat on the Head: In Search of a New Word to Better Read Ancient Mythology.” I Quaderni Del Ramo D’oro On-Line, no. 3, 2010, pp. 122 ‑128, www.qro.unisi.it/frontend/node/75. to describe the process of creating myths that are contrary to the creation of myths for religious or ideological narratives, above all in the freedom to create mythological narratives. Mythurgy as a term originates from the approach to myth introduced by the representatives of the French school of anthropology of the ancient worlds.4Vernant, Jean-Pierre. Mythe et pensée chez les Grecs: Études de psychologie historique. La Découverte, 2020. If I had to give my definition, it would differ from the simple assessment that myth is storytelling, i.e., a performance with formulas, in that it would integrate an entire network of negations: a myth is a story defined by the context and technique of telling and listening/reading, and which does not explain, impose norms, legitimize, direct, or teach, but seduces and leads to retelling as well as rethinking. This would mean snatching the myth out of the hands of Plato, who first used the term mythology and who created almost all of the confusion around it that is still present in the fields of philosophy, ethics, politics, and culture. “Deplatonifying” mythology still seems necessary, although we can no longer believe that enjoyment prevents malefic misuse, but it is worth a try. Within the framework of mythurgy, it makes a lot of sense to read/inscribe the terms related to the current state of the world in an epidemic/pandemic of disease that must cause fundamental changes globally.
Hippocrates5Corpus Medicorum Graecorum/Latinorum, http://cmg.bbaw.de/online-publications. was the first to use the word epidemic in a medical context. His semantic approach is quite exceptional: the adjective denoting space and the collective has replaced the phrase disease in space/the collective. Thus, the word has acquired a new meaning – that of disease. The presence, spread, and the mass scale of disease is a feature of the missing word, in fact, it is its main feature.
The process is very similar to when an epithet, say of a deity, becomes a name – Pallas for Pallas Athena. Epidemic, a word associated with different meanings of collectives/areas, underwent its terminological petrification in the 17th and 18th century through the Latin medical metaphorization and the narrowing of meaning; pandemic underwent the same semantic change in the 19th century. Nowadays, epidemic and pandemic as medical terms are on the verge of bursting and expanding their meanings. Thus, it is necessary to investigate their meanings before and after medical terminological petrification.
I will try to explain the connection between “deplatonization” and petrification through the example of the epithet of a deity, in this case, Aphrodite Pandemos. She is mentioned in Plato’s Symposium by Pausanias, a connoisseur of law and order, certainly not one of the smartest and most refined thinkers involved in the conversation.6Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Volume 9. Translated by Harold N. Fowler, Harvard University Press / William Heinemann Ltd., 1925. Perseus Digital Library, www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0174%3Atext%3DSym.%3Asection%3D181b. He divides the forms of love present in society into two forms of the goddess, Aphrodite Pandemos and Aphrodite Urania, or ‘Common Aphrodite’ and Heavenly Aphrodite. The first group, represented by Aphrodite Pandemos, prefers physical over spiritual love, and perceives both women and boys as erotic objects. The second group chooses only boys for a more sublime form of love. Pausanias then gives a kind of an anthropological-geographical overview of the Greek regions, those in which “pandemic” love prevails and those in which heavenly love prevails. Athens belongs to this second type. Pandemic love is, therefore, lower in quality in terms of spirituality but undoubtedly more democratic. Athens is the most democratic of all Greek polises: the question is how does this go together? Plato’s Symposium is a document about conspiracy, about elevating homosexual love to a high philosophical level, which represents a threat to democracy. Homosexuality is the key process of socialization of male aristocrats – a model of conspiracy agreement. Two lovers, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, were ready to kill the tyrant Peisistratus together and open the way to Athenian democracy, but the conspiracy could have gone in the opposite direction.
In democracy, homosexuality is suspicious; in the day-to-day life of a city, it is exposed to scorn and ridicule, as in Aristophanes’ comedies. The love pandemic really does seem more democratic – but it can only be enjoyed by men because women have no civil rights. In heavenly homosexuality, women have a special place since they are the precondition for the production of citizens. Seemingly, they have more potential rights. This is, of course, only a semblance: they are deprived of the opportunity to share love with men.
Plato’s unsolvable problem in democracy is not so unsolvable because many see inequality and anticipate ways for women to gain rights, which can only happen in democracy. Thus, the position of women is problematized by Sophocles and Aristophanes, and even Euripides. Pandemic as a phantom term of democracy denotes the possibility of developing democracy from the complete domination of men to the acquisition of women’s rights. In his comedies, especially in Assemblywomen, Aristophanes reveals what enables the change to a pandemic of women: the conquest or theft of the basic instrument of democracy, that is, words or rhetoric. Nowhere is this more clearly explained than in the construction of a social community, a pandemic or polis, as in the case of Megalopolis. The city was conceived, planned, and built in a relatively short period, from 371 BC to 368 BC. Megalopolis was created as the capital, the administrative center of the Arcadian League, and as the first major city center in Arcadia. Aphrodite and Athena have the same epithet in the new city, Machanitis, which actually describes the two types of expertise that the two goddesses have and share with mortals. Aphrodite Machanitis takes care of everything that people have as a speech or, rather, rhetoric that is connected to love. Athena Machanitis again deals with all types of plans (construction, plans for machines, etc.), inventions, technical solutions. Machanitis is a Doric form, otherwise, the word mechane means machine, mechanics, etc. Aphrodite did not invent the language of love, but she protects it, helps people cope with that fiction, and maintains some kind of order in this area. The real inventor of rhetoric is Hermes, while Athena may deal with cranes, tractors, and cement mixers. Megalopolis was a rapid spatial, architectural, and social project: it was built in one fell swoop. It had one of the largest theaters in the ancient Greek world, for about 20,000 spectators.
Can a city/polis really not exist without the successful rhetoric of love? And how close is Aphrodite Machanitis to Aphrodite Pandemos? It seems to me that they are mutually defined: a pandemic is connected with democracy and clearly implies a wider range of different sexualities. Progeniture is extremely important for democracy (ensuring a constant influx of citizens, above all, soldiers); for progeniture, it is important to establish a successful sex life. In democracy, this relationship must be based on equality, the skill of persuasion and seduction, and not on violence. This is where Aphrodite Machanitis comes in, and her cooperation is just as necessary for the city as are construction or administration. Pandemos, that is, her effect, the pandemic, ensures the democratic influx of citizens in a voluntary, non-violent way and, at the same time, spreads the dominance of words even in the most intimate area of citizens’ lives. Consent, i.e., the equality of women, is a necessary precondition here.
Therefore, it would be advisable to use the term “epidemic” in the sense of a “global epidemic” instead of a pandemic, which does not have a much clearer meaning. On the other hand, we should open up new semantic possibilities of the pandemic by better understanding and contextualizing ancient democracy.