(Aphrodite) Pandemos

Date of submission
October 28, 2020
Translated by
Atila Lukić
Date of publication
10.6. 2021.
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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.

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