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Using "Not by Words Alone" by Margaret Alexiou as a Springboard

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In her opening to "Not By Words Alone: Ritual Approaches to Greek Literature"1, Margaret Alexiou discusses ritual broadly. She writes that "ritual cannot be relegated to one or other sphere of public/private, sacred/secular. Rituals cross a continuum of flexible rules and transgressions, as we confront our mortal condition on three interacting levels" (95), namely that of everyday life (activities in household, at workplace); dealing with stress and heightened emotional states; and events of the life cycle and after. The mechanisms for dealing with these tend to revolved around the same bodily needs: food and drink, clothes and washing, home and abroad. Thus, "ritual is inclusive and knows few marginalized genres" (97), that is, there are few human activities, however mundane, which may not take on a ritualistic aspect (I'm thinking of the sort-of joke that in the Jewish tradition, there's a proper blessing for every activity). And she writes of teh "power of ritual to switch us, in an instant, between teh mundane and eternal, in space and time" (98). We remember where we were when we receive "an important but unexpected piece of news, good or bad" (i.e. "Where were you when you heard about 9/11?). Alexious cites as an example a Thracian version of the Virgin's lament, in which Mary Magdalene brings Mary news of the Crucifixion to Mary, who is bathing or eating - these activities are both congruous and not, for they are utterly quotidian, and yet recall "Christ's central role in baptism and the Last Supper" (99).

"And so we come back to the bodily needs and human activities around which ritual revolves: food and drink, clothes and washing, home and abroad. Greek Orthodox women, however humble, can experience such transcendental moments by virtue of their daily to-ings and fro-ings between household chores and tending of church, shrine, or tomb. As to literature, the novel is perhaps the most flexible genre for constant interplay between mundane and cosmic levels of experience, as I shall argue in the closing section. Meantime, I shall survey four kinds of premodern texts [liturgy, seasonal games and songs, the Byzantine love story Hysmine and Hysminias by Eustathios Makrembolites, and an oral genre paramuthia] that make the Greek literary heritage distinctive, inviting appraoches through ritual" (99).

And it turns out that this particular article is not sufficiently germane to the topic I am researching (classical Greek religious imagery on black-figure pottery), though her references to Rappaport's theory of ritual will be useful to me. So that's as far as I've read.

One last thing, and this was originally why I meant to post about this article here in the first place: a great deal of Alexiou's scholarship is on ritual, and she writes that she drew on "ethnographies, clinical studies, field work, and my knowledge of autistic people (including my adult twin sons [one of whom she cites, for the usage of a certain term, within the few pages of the article I've read])" (95). Furthermore, it seems that she shared an interest in paramuthia with her sister, deceased in 2000. One has a sense of the tremendous challenges involved in raising two autistic children, and the need to intellectualize and understand. And one has a sense for a close bond with her sister Lis, based on years of shared emotion and shared intellectual emotion. An interesting (appearance of) unity in the scholarly and personal life of a person, perhaps more representative than not. To some extent, is not scholarship rigorously constructing and articulating meaning for things which have meaning to us anyway? And perhaps the distinction between scholarly and personal is as unhelpful a distinction as that between public/private and sacred/secular2. As well as, for the purposes of my research project, the distinction between mythological content of images on black-figure pottery and 'genre' or contemporary content on the pottery. I haven't yet found a binary that stood up well on its own: not queer and straight, or queer and not-queer, or straight and not-straight, for starters.

1. Greek Ritual Poetics, edited by Dimitrios Yatromanolakis and Panagiotis Roilos, Washington, D.C.: Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University; Athens, Greece: Foundation of the Hellenic World; Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 2004.

2. And it seems that my final project for Emerging Genres doesn't have a proper end; probably never will. Which is good, because I hate to be bored.