“Exodus” after Aristotle

In a series of posts, we’ve been looking at the word exodus. We started by looking at what Dannii Willis calls “the current status of the word.” We reviewed its three or four uses in “the NT,” looking to see how these might be what Theophrastus calls “heavily Semiticized Greek.” We compiled a list of nearly a dozen different meanings of the Greek phrase “ἔξ·οδος” as it was used for translation of Hebrew phrases some 70 times in the texts of what is called the Septuagint.

And now we’re ready to see how you and I tend to talk about “exodus” as an analogy to how we mind our language. Many of us tend to default into a very Western, very academic way of languaging. We get this from Aristotle. If we’re happy with languaging that way, then we like to call this logic, or to say that we’re being logical or rational or reasonable or clear and straightforward and unambiguous and plainspoken and unbiased and accurate and relevant in our communicating. If we’re not so happy with languaging that way, then we might call this logic something else. And we endure others saying of our happiness with other ways of languaging that we’re just being a tad illogical or irrational or unreasonable or vague and circular or tangential and ambiguous and rhetorical and full of slant and, of course, inaccurate or completely irrelevant to the tasks of getting the point across, of letting a bible writer, like Paul, make his point. This is where we are after Aristotle.

So, I’d like to go back to Aristotle with you, if you will. Let’s step away from our PCs or our other digital reading devices here for a moment. Now let’s go find everything extant that Aristotle wrote; can’t we read his Greek words for ourselves? Then won’t we read them in English translation, carefully comparing that with his Greek? Then let’s come back here, and let’s talk.

What did you see? (Well, yes, you got the fact that he wasn’t writing to you, didn’t you? You understood he’s writing for an audience of native Greek speakers, but not just any Greek speakers. He’s writing for males, for Greek males who understand him, for Greek males who understand him who are being educated to master the world intellectually and to control it politically. He calls you and me Barbarians. He’s not real excited that you or I might get excited about his take on reality. His take on reality is that there are certain observable givens, such as the fact that females biologically have fewer teeth than males and generally have a botched nature in comparison to males. He starts with such Nature and then explores what comes After Nature. He uses Greek words to classify everything. He’s the first true scientist. He defines What Is and, therefore, What Is Not in no uncertain terms. He says there’s languaging by logic and there’s everything else that’s barbarous.) And you saw it, didn’t you? Aristotle defines “ἔξ·οδος.”

Let’s get that again:

We have already spoken of the constituent parts to be used as ingredients of tragedy. The separable members into which it is quantitatively divided are these: Prologue, Episode, Exode [ἔξοδος], Choral Song, the last being divided into Parode and Stasimon. These are common to all tragedies; songs sung by actors on the stage and “commoi” are peculiar to certain plays.

A prologue is the whole of that part of a tragedy which precedes the entrance of the chorus.  An episode is the whole of that part of a tragedy which falls between whole choral songs. An exode is the whole of that part of a tragedy which is not followed by a song of the chorus. [ἔξοδος δὲ μέρος ὅλον τραγῳδίας μεθ’ ὃ οὐκ ἔστι χοροῦ μέλος·] A parode is the whole of the first utterance of the chorus. A stasimon is a choral song without anapaests or trochaics.  A commos is a song of lament shared by the chorus and the actors on the stage.

The constituent parts to be used as ingredients of tragedy have been described above; these are the separable members into which it is quantitatively divided.

Following upon what has been said above we should next state what ought to be aimed at and what avoided in the construction of a plot, and the means by which the object of tragedy may be achieved. Since then the structure of the best tragedy should be not simple but complex and one that represents incidents arousing fear and pity—for that is peculiar to this form of art—it is obvious to begin with that one should not show worthy men passing from good fortune to bad. That does not arouse fear or pity but shocks our feelings. Nor again wicked people passing from bad fortune to good. That is the most untragic of all, having none of the requisite qualities, since it does not satisfy our feelings or arouse pity or fear.

Now, just to be absolutely accurate here, when Aristotle writes “our feelings,” he’s not written about our feelings but, rather, those of the educated elite Greek men.  What we see here is some crystal clear language, very controlled.  And it’s language about language.  It’s Aristotle’s writing in Poetics about performance, about play writing, about play acting.  No Greek before Aristotle had defined ἔξοδος [exodus] in such logical terms before. We do see how very important the nature of a tragedy must be, by virtue of Aristotle’s “should” above.  In his own words, that’s δεῖ [dei].  So let’s re-read the English translation with that “must” or δεῖ very very clear:

We have already spoken of the constituent parts to be used [“must be used” δεῖ] as ingredients of tragedy. The separable members into which it is quantitatively divided are these: Prologue, Episode, Exode [ἔξοδος], Choral Song, the last being divided into Parode and Stasimon. These are common to all tragedies; songs sung by actors on the stage and “commoi” are peculiar to certain plays.

A prologue is the whole of that part of a tragedy which precedes the entrance of the chorus.  An episode is the whole of that part of a tragedy which falls between whole choral songs. An exode is the whole of that part of a tragedy which is not followed by a song of the chorus. [ἔξοδος δὲ μέρος ὅλον τραγῳδίας μεθ’ ὃ οὐκ ἔστι χοροῦ μέλος·] A parode is the whole of the first utterance of the chorus. A stasimon is a choral song without anapaests or trochaics.  A commos is a song of lament shared by the chorus and the actors on the stage.

The constituent parts to be used [“must be used” δεῖ] as ingredients of tragedy have been described above; these are the separable members into which it is quantitatively divided.

Following upon what has been said above we should next state what ought to be aimed at [“must be aimed at” δεῖ] and what avoided [“must be avoided” δεῖ] in the construction of a plot, and the means by which the object of tragedy may be achieved. Since then the structure of the best tragedy should be not simple [“must not be simple” δεῖ] but complex and one that represents incidents arousing fear and pity—for that is peculiar to this form of art—it is obvious to begin with that one should not show [“must not show” δεῖ] worthy men passing from good fortune to bad. That does not arouse fear or pity but shocks our feelings. Nor again wicked people passing from bad fortune to good. That is the most untragic of all, having none of the requisite qualities, since it does not satisfy our feelings or arouse pity or fear.

Now we’re asking ourselves whether we “must” be so technical here.  Do we have to be?  Well, I hope we’re seeing that Aristotle has gotten technical.  This is not just an essay he’s written to classify certain Greek dramas and their constituent parts including what our translator W.H. Fyfe has made the “exode,” which is what must be the “exodus” [ἔξοδος] after Aristotle.  For political reasons and for language reasons, for Nature’s sake, this reality is very, very important.  Aristotle is being very accurate, very precise, very unequivocal, very meticulous.

Yes, I know Aristotle writes using ἔξοδος in other places in other ways.  You know that too.  There’s the “expeditional exode” of the good, temperate Athenian tyrant-leader Peisistratus in Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution.  There’s the “expeditional exode” of Agamemnon, whom Aristotle quotes Homer referring to, in the Politics.  There’s the “spermatic exode” that the testes receive in birds and oviparous quadrupeds and in fishes (which, of course, have a slower expulsion) in the Generation of Animals.  There’s the “secreted and excremented exodes,” the lower body parts of humans and animals, in the History of Animals.  There’s the “soulish exode,” (or “death”), the one Democritus points out is impossible while the animal still has breath and is breathing, in the treatise On Youth, Old Age, Life and Death, and Respiration.

But, technically, the exode or exodus is a whole.  It is a unit, a particle.  It is defined by Aristotle.  The ἔξοδος is well defined after Aristotle.  There’s no mixing up of this natural thing after Aristotle.  It is what it “must” be; it is not what it “must” not be.

And yet, what if some time after Aristotle we began languaging differently?  What if we translated?  What we if translated differently?  What if we translated, languaged, the way the Jews in Alexandria Egypt did when translating their שמות, their names, the name of their second book of Moses?

We watch.  We listen.  Of course, they accurately begin the translating:

Ταῦτα τὰ ὀνόματα [שמות ] τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ τῶν εἰσπεπορευμένων εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἅμα Ιακωβ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτῶν – ἕκαστος πανοικίᾳ αὐτῶν εἰσήλθοσαν

Now, back in Egypt, these translators are calling the whole thing another thing.  They’re letting Moses sing about it as a whole other thing.  The name is ᾠδὴ Μωυσέως ἐν τῇ ἐξόδῳ [“The Ode of Moses in the ExOde”].  It’s a tragic play bigger than Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” In the 5-Part Greek drama called the PentaTeuch, it’s the “whole of that part which is not followed by a song of the chorus.”  It’s a Jewish joke, an inside joke.  It’s the way out Way Out.  It’s the here’s-something-in-your-great-face-Alexander punchline.  It’s faux literary, faux lyrical, a real stinker.  The reviews in the underground Yiddish paper declare it “expeditional,” “spermatic,” “excremental,” “secretive and secrete-ive,” “soulish,” and “full of death and departures never before visited upon an empire.”  The official rabbinic takes, however, are that it’s one whole part of a whole, idolatrous Greek “golden calf.”  (“And they call us barbaric!  Oy vey!”  Listen, the other meaning here is Moses is singing in Greek about the Song of our Departure Outta Here.  It’s that Greek Chorus, “Outta Here, Way Outta Here.”  Right, it’s ambiguity all over again.  Translate that.)

(Some time later, after the New Testament, in 2010AD, when Bible translators are still accurately and unplayfully languaging like Aristotle in the West, a heavy metal rock band gets the name, rather barbarically, and goes on its world tour as “Exodus.”  Google it.)

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6 responses to ““Exodus” after Aristotle

  1. “What if we translated, languaged, the way the Jews in Alexandria Egypt did”

    Perhaps something like this flashes through the second lemming’s mind as he decides whether to follow the first in the jump to death — it ended up disastrously the first time, but such flair!

    (In fact, this is a myth. Lemmings do not jump off glaciers — except when driven off by Disney photographers hoping to catch a dramatic shop. So, my question becomes — who is the cinematographer in this over-extended metaphor?)

    • Q “who is the cinematographer in this over-extended metaphor?”

      A1 – “In this regard, the talmudic rewriting of the [bullying] patristic Septuagint legend is a trickster text: the [Jewish] translator is a trickster, who in folklore ‘represents the weak, whose wit can at times achieve ambiguous victories against the powers of the strong.’ Not only does the Talmud present the composition of the Septuagint as an elaborate Jewish trick, it also describes the passages in the Hebrew Bible itself as a ‘hidden transcript,’ the private discourse of a minority culture.”

      And, whereas “The [often anti-Semitic, often bullying Church] Fathers imagine the Jewish translators as passive channels of God’s message to the world; in the [contrastive] talmudic account God works to keep certain things between the Jews and himself [i.e., away from the world, especially the Greek and the Egyptian worlds], not only sanctioning Jewish conspiracy but taking the role of conspirator-in-chief.”
      — Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, page 63.

      β answer –
      “Ισαακ Ψαλτῳδος και ὁ θεὸς”
      – some divinely-inspired to-this-day-completely anon translators, The Slave, around page 72 exactly (or might ἑβδομήκοντα δύο mean something else miraculous altogether?)

  2. Why Kurk, I do believe you have found your bully-pulpit!

    Here is the original Nick Hornby quote:

    “But I think scholars can be particular bullies, in fact, and they are quite often the people who are telling you that you are reading something the wrong way, listening to something the wrong way. Of all people who are not so keen on a plurality of response, I would say it’s the world expert in something. “

    • Well Theophrastus, the only thing I’ve found is a reluctance like Jonah’s with all the sulking. And his father wasn’t a even a preacher or a Christian one either, was he? Thanks for the Hornby quotation, and the link to “Fresh Air.”

      Here’s my “world expertise,” my goyish appreciation for something C.S. Lewis wrote, troubled and frustrated and suffering common frustrations and knowing so little and running dangerously with the lemmings and yet writing (reflecting on the Psalms as a Christian, hardly Jewish at all):

      This is not a work of scholarship. I am no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist. I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself. If an excuse is needed (and perhaps it is) for writing such a book, my excuse would be something like this. It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.

  3. Jonah’s dad was much worse than an ordinary preacher — the midrash states that his step-dad was Elijah. (See Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer 33 and JT Sukkah, Chapter 5):

    “Rabbi Eliezer taught: Jonah the son of Amittai was the son of the widow from Zarephat, the boy that Elijah resuscitated.”

    Yeah, Elijah is your step dad and he resuscitated you. Now that’s a recipe for a serious guilt complex.

    • There’s little worse than living in the shadow of a luminary. No wonder Jonah needed his very own shade. As Bart Simpson and my kids put it (in reference to others’s dads of course), “Yeah that sucks.”

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