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The Ears of Hermes

Communication, Images, and Identity in the Classical World

Maurizio Bettini, William Michael Short

Publication Year: 2011

Though in many respects similar to us moderns, the Greeks and Romans often conceived things differently than we do. The cultural inheritance we have received from them can therefore open our eyes to many “manners of life” we might otherwise overlook. The ancients told fascinating—but different—stories; they elaborated profound—but different—symbols. Above all, they confronted many of the problems we still face today—memory and forgetfulness; identity and its strategies; absolutist moralism and behavioral relativity—only in profoundly different ways, since their own cultural forms and resources were different. In The Ears of Hermes: Communication, Images, and Identity in the Classical World, renowned scholar and author Maurizio Bettini explores these different cultural experiences, choosing paths through this territory that are diverse and sometimes unexpected: a little-known variant of a myth or legend, such as that of Brutus pretending, like Hamlet, to be a Fool; a proverb, like lupus in fabula (the wolf in the tale), that expresses the sense of foreboding aroused by the sudden arrival of someone who was just the subject of conversation; or great works, like Plautus’ Amphitruo and Vergil’s Aeneid, where we encounter the mysteries of the Doppelgänger and of “doubles” fabricated to ease the pain of nostalgia. Or the etymology of a word—its own “story”—leads us down some unforeseen avenue of discovery. While scholarly in presentation, this book, in an elegant English translation by William Michael Short, will appeal not only to classicists but also students, as well as to anthropologists and historians of art and literature beyond classics.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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Translator’s Preface

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pp. vii-x

This English translation of Maurizio Bettini’s Le orrechie’s di Hermes follows the publication of the original Italian edition by ten years and the appearance of Anthropology and Roman Culture by twenty. Yet even a decade after Le orrechie’s initial publication, it is difficult to overstate the significance of this work for Anglophone classicists. ...

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Author’s Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xvi

Is it possible for someone forced to learn Latin in four years and under threat of the rod to ever develop lasting affection for classical literature? Not normally—and Samuel Butler was no exception. Having suffered such treatment from an early age, in fact Samuel developed an enduring hatred of the classics. ...

Part 1. Mythology

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One - Hermes’ Ears: Places and Symbols of Communication in Ancient Culture

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pp. 3-39

Communication has its places—and these are also, or above all, symbolic. Inhabitants of the modern world inevitably tend to associate communication with the telephone, the fax machine, the computer keyboard, the television or the radio. These are undeniably technical, powerful “places”; ...

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Two - Brutus the Fool

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pp. 40-84

Aut fatuum aut regem nasci oportet—“It is well to be born either a King or a Fool,” or so the saying goes:1 in both cases, paradoxically, the advantages are the same. Traditional wisdom holds that the Fool and the King—the bottom and the top of the pyramid, the two extreme points of the spectrum ...

Part 2. Social Practices

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Three - Mos, Mores and Mos Maiorum: The Invention of Morality in Roman Culture

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pp. 87-130

One of the problems that our society has most struggled with, particularly in recent decades, is that of tolerance—the willingness to recognize that the manners and morals of “others” should not be automatically labeled as wrong, irrational or (worse still) unnatural, for the simple reason that they are different than “ours.” ...

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Four - Face to Face in Ancient Rome: The Vocabulary of Physical Appearance in Latin

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pp. 131-168

On several occasions, Jean-Pierre Vernant has guided us through the world of images and imitations within ancient Greek culture. At the same time, the studies of Françoise Frontisi have permitted us to understand how the Greeks unified in a single image—to prosōpon—two notions that remain distinct in our culture: the mask and the face.1 ...

Part 3. Doubles and Images

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Five - Sosia and His Substitute: Thinking the Double at Rome

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pp. 171-199

The war against the Teleboans is over. The slave Sosia, on his way to Thebes from a rather improbable portus Persicus, has just disembarked at an even more incredible portus Thebanus—the geographic fantasies (or inconsistencies) of a great comic mind. He heads towards the house of his master Amphitryon, the great general, ...

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Six - Ghosts of Exile: Doubles and Nostalgia in Vergil’s Parva Troia

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pp. 200-224

Aeneas, at Carthage, is telling his story. He has reached the moment when the Trojan exiles disembark at Epirus, a long journey and several failures now behind them. Already, Aeneas has tried to found a city on the coast of Thrace that would bear his name—Aeneades—but the appalling prodigy of Polydorus’ blood compelled them to flee in all possible haste.1 ...

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Seven - Death and Its Double: Imagines, Ridiculum and Honos in the Roman Aristocratic Funeral

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pp. 225-237

We have already had the opportunity to observe that in ancient Rome the aristocratic funeral offered the opportunity for an extraordinary display of “doubles.” The veterum instituta (“institutions of the ancients”), as they were called by Tacitus, required that an effigies of the dead should rest on the coffin, in plain sight.1 ...

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Eight - Argumentum

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pp. 238-254

The universe of the novel, and of the Satyricon in particular, is governed by coincidence. Encolpius and Giton board a ship and—what a coincidence!— the ship’s captain is none other than their enemy, Lichas. Of course, by the time they realize this, it is already too late. But what to do? ...


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pp. 255-274


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pp. 275-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270684
E-ISBN-10: 0814270689
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211700
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211704

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2011