Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.06.14


Ruth Padel, In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. Pp. xx + 210. $29.95. ISBN 0-691-07379-1.


Reviewed by Michael R. Halleran, University of Washington.

An intriguing book. Ambitious, well-documented, and carefully written, it takes on for its explorations Greek (particularly fifth-century Greek) notions of mind and thinking, or, to put it more basically, of the self. What is inside one, what is outside? How did the Greeks imagine and describe what is inside and how the outside impinges upon one's interior state? How can we, in the twentieth century, approach this material without our own preconceptions and categories blurring our vision? These are among the central questions Padel treats. While focusing on the fifth-century tragic texts, P. ranges widely over the medical writers, epic, comedy and philosophy. She fortifies and enriches her arguments with the work of scholars in anthropology, psychology and religion. At the heart of the book, however, is metaphor. (In the "Acknowledgements," P. relates that "Oswyn Murray bumped into me crossing the road and told me to concentrate -- I will never forget -- on metaphor.") A poet herself, she is very sensitive to the possibilities and associations of language. (The notes often refer to the ambiguities and difficulties of the texts she is reading.) And the discussions that make up the book are constantly about language, about how the various writers, whether they be epic, medical, comic or tragic, describe how one feels and thinks. At some point, even in our highly sophisticated technological age, we can attempt to describe interior states only through metaphor. P. offers, in short, essays on the metaphors the Greeks used for these states.

But even to use the word metaphor begs the question about Greek thinking. As P. herself is well aware (see esp. the discussion at 33-40), the Greeks' conceptualization was different from ours. Was a phrase such as "she was struck with the goads of passion" metaphoric? If so, was it in quite the same way as for us? P. constantly raises these questions, and she offers no easy answers. In discussing, e.g., the chorus' deep foreboding at Aesch., Ag. 1028ff., which includes the words kardia, thumos, and phren, she states: "I suspect that all fifth-century uses of these words have some somatic tinge, more or less strong in different contexts, but always available" (p. 36). In general she suggests that the literal and metaphoric were not readily separable as they (typically) are for us.

The book is divided into eight chapters: a brief introduction followed by four devoted to describing "biological" terms and three to "daemonological" ones. The first substantive chapter, Chapter Two, while it goes on to discuss the commonly analyzed words kardia, psyche, menos, etc., begins with innards, an exploration of the use of the term splanchna. Strikingly, P. makes this the starting-off point of her study, seizing it as a way of talking about human interior states (what could be more inner than innards?) and the gods, for the gods communicate to us through animal innards. "Innards are both ambiguous and necessary in two operations where 'clarity' of 'distinguishing' is vital: finding out what gods intend for you, and how other people really feel (and what they intend) for you" (p. 17). In her discussion of words for inner organs and interior forces, as throughout the book, P. is inclusive and descriptive. Reacting against the influential reductive approach which attempts to find the "true" and/or "original" meaning of a term, P. tries to describe the full range of a word's usage, the variety of "metaphors" used in conjunction with it. She is quite content to live with the apparent (and perhaps real) contradictions in how the Greeks employed these words. "I prefer to keep the uncertainty and variety of such a word alive in our reading of it" (p. 25). On Homer's allegedly disunified person, made famous by Bruno Snell, P. follows Norman Austin's "unity in multiplicity" and suggests that "If we add multiple innard-words to internal dialogue, we reach, not the absence of any consistent idea of self, but something far more positive: Homeric 'insight into the disunity' of mental and emotional experience: a unified vision of an inconsistent thing" (p. 46).

The approach described in my brief account of Chapter Two is followed throughout the book. The third Chapter is devoted to diseases and divination, especially the Hippocratic system of poroi to explain the body's interaction with, and vulnerability to, the outside. P. keeps her focus on the outside, observing that although internal and external interact and influence each other, "in the fifth century, the dominant influence is not the inner world, as in our own Freud-framed era, but the outer" (p. 51). In "The Flux of Feelings," Chapter Four, P. has some particularly interesting observations on parallels between mind and the underworld and on the appropriateness of "metaphors" from the sea to describe feelings. This second set of observations is in keeping with her general views on inner and outer: "I am arguing that fifth-century imagination sees mind turbulence as part of the same thing as sea turbulence, since inner and outer are the same fabric" (p. 88, n. 34). In Chapter Five, the shortest of the book, P. continues her exploration of Greek notions of the inner world and the underworld and describes the Greeks' predominantly female construction of the mind, along with the male Greek ambivalence about gender roles in procreation.

In the final three chapters, P. extends the scope of her inquiry. Here she discusses the daemonic in the Greek view of the world. Humans are vulnerable to the outside world in no small part because it is populated with daimones, beings who persistently, and most often malevolently, intrude upon one's inner life. Most of Chapter Six ("The Zoology and Daemonology of Emotion") considers the ways in which emotional states are described with the language of animals (biting, stinging, etc.) and anthropomorphic forces (using whips and goads, flying against one), but the final section considers images of growth and harvest that suggest that these emotions come from within. Even these cases, however, P. maintains, offer a complementary, not an alternative, theory for the source of emotions, as they often suggest that the inner harvest originates in a seed planted from outside. The next chapter turns more exclusively to the daimones to be found in animals, which "are part of the unpredictable physical fabric through which gods express their power" (p. 143). In addition to discussing the role of animals in cultic practice and their associations with gods, P. describes some of the ways in which the Greeks used animals to define themselves. In doing the latter, she draws distinctions between the implicit taxonomy of twentieth-century structuralists (whose work she praises) and the fifth-century Greek mentality, which has an "essentially unworked-out, disunited, kaleidoscopic vision of the nonhuman" (p. 150). This chapter concludes with short sections on personifications and the feminine gender of Greek abstract nouns. In the concluding chapter ("Blood in the Mind"), P. focuses on madness, in particular on the Erinyes and more particularly on their role in Aeschylus' Oresteia. In P.'s view, "Tragedy's vision of inner experience assumes a mass of multiple external forces, which concretely assault self's concretely conceived interior. Erinyes sum them all up. Erinys was tragedy's ideal daemon" (p. 172). The treatment of the Erinyes in terms of the book's broader discussion of interior and exterior is rewarding.

Citations of primary and secondary sources are frequent throughout the book. In fact, because the references to these texts are so many, P. (or the editor) adopted a system of reference to reduce the number of notes which may cause some annoyance. Typically a footnote contains multiple references to texts upon which observations are based, but it is not always easy to determine which passages cited in the note match up with which statements.

To offer a full summary of this book would take a much longer review, and even then the richness and vigor of the book could be only poorly suggested. Suffice it to say, it is an original and stimulating contribution to the study of Greek thought. Its value stems from its rich collection of diverse material, and even more so from its energetic and engaged discussion of this material. (One senses, in fact, that this is a very personal work, something which holds P. emotionally as well as intellectually.) And it would be impossible not to say something about P.'s style. It is clear, lively, forceful, sometimes clever. One of her own bolder metaphors particularly struck me: "We can talk of overlap of meaning, because we find our categories climbing over each other like lobsters in the basket of each Greek word" (p. 40). The book is a pleasure to read. My chief reservations derive in part from the book's own ambitiousness and lie at its core. In her attempt to be inclusive and non-reductive, P. seems unwilling to make distinctions that might be usefully made. While it is unquestionably true that our categories are not the same as the Greeks', just how different are they? Metaphor stands at the heart of this study, yet is not given, it seems to me, a full enough treatment. P. explains (pp. 9-10) that she does not intend to "argue fully" that the Greeks did not distinguish the literal from the metaphorical the same way that we do, referring the reader instead to G.E.R. Lloyd's work. But when the matter is so fundamental to her work, I think that it needs a fuller and stronger grounding. P. does a wonderful job bringing together disparate texts in thoughtful and at times provocative ways, but she does not argue as forcefully as she might for the connections she suggests. Nonetheless, this book makes an important contribution to the study of Greek thought and should be read by anyone with an interest in the Greek world. Its hoped-for release in paperback will guarantee it the wide audience it deserves.