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Textualization of Experience

Studies on Ancient Greek Literature

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Paweł Majewski

The book is an analysis of Greek Hellenistic literature with the help of conceptual tools of cultural studies and media theory. Its main aim is to describe the cultural process during which Greek authors in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. made the “textualization of experience", that is, transferred phenomenalistically understood qualities of human sensory experience to the categories characteristic for textual description – as far as possible for them. This process is shown by examples from the works of Xenophon, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Philitas of Kos and Archimedes. The author also tries to show some of the consequences that the phenomenon of the Hellenistic textualization of experience had for the later epochs of European culture.

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Chapter 3 Xenophon, Ischomachus, Kikkuli: the transparency of the message

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Chapter 3 Xenophon, Ischomachus, Kikkuli: the transparency of the message

The costly charm of the ancient tragedy, and indeed of all the old literature, is, that the persons speak simply, speak as persons who have great good sense without knowing it, before yet the reflective habit has become the predominant habit of the mind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, essay History42

Today’s examples of the first-ever “professional literature” are the works of Xenophon on practical issues, especially Oeconomicus and On Horsemanship (Hippika), and to some extent also Hunting with Dogs (Kynegetikos).

Xenophon (ca. 430–354 BC), aside from being one of the most often and most eagerly read authors of the classical period ever since the Renaissance, is also among those writers produced by the Greek culture who are of particular interest for a historically inclined media theory. The Polish author of his biography called him “a warrior and an author,”43 and while these labels are anachronistic, they do render well the sort of work he produced which, to modern eyes, seems to be polymorphous and defies the text-centered categorizations. He seems to have been a man devoid of excessive inclination for abstract, theoretical thought, seeing writing as a “transparent” practice facilitating all sorts of social and political activities.44 He and Plato ←41 | 42→were both Socrates’ disciples, but already the ancients noticed that none of them ever mentioned the other one’s name,45 which we can confirm today, as their entire (or almost entire) corpuses have luckily survived to our times. This silence is most certainly caused by a strong, mutual aversion they had for each other on both intellectual and psychological grounds; if one may judge their characters based on their style and the problematic they touched upon in their works, it is indeed difficult to imagine two more divergent personalities. It has also been long known, at least since the early Renaissance humanists, that the image of Socrates rendered in the writings of Plato and Xenophon is rather an image of two very different “Socrateses,” and the decision which one of them better resembles the real Socrates has been troubling all classically oriented humanists ever since – assuming, of course, that they accept the existence of an independent extra-textual reality at all.

Xenophon was not particularly interested in the Greek discussion about the cultural and social functions of practices of literacy, even though it reached its peak of intensity during his lifetime. Most probably, writing as a phenomenon and as an activity was never an object of reflection for him, but only served him as a tool facilitating the social life and broadening its scope – there are hardly any references to writing in his works. At the same time, he must have had a natural ease in writing (or, in other words, his literate diction resonated well with the readers), since his contemporaries and the future generations appreciated his writing style as adroit, sophisticated, and elegant, and many centuries later, during subsequent periods of revived popularity of the classical Attic dialect, he was presented as the model author using that form of Greek. Diogenes Laertius claims that it is Xenophon who brought about the “publication” of History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, by which he presumably means that he ordered multiple handwritten copies of this extensive and difficult text ←42 | 43→and contributed to its spread among the Athenian cultural and political elites of the early fourth century. These were practical, social efforts, and not merely a theoretical deliberation on the role of writing, which was the sort of activity Plato preferred to undertake in isolation from his peers. Xenophon clearly preferred to act with texts rather than on texts or in texts; he treated the practices of literacy and their results as tools of collective life, not as means of abstract reflection.

This pragmatic, utilitarian approach is visible in his own writings, and more specifically in the works already mentioned here: in Oeconomicus, famous as an alleged polemic with Plato or even a parody of his style, and in a short text on horse breeding known as On Horsemanship, which ought not to be confused with a much longer treaty Hipparchicus.

Chronologically speaking, Oeconomicus is the first known text in the European culture which is wholly devoted to the issues that we might call “management” today – just as another Xenophon’s work, Cyropaedia, is seen as the founding text of pedagogy. It takes the form of a Socratic dialogue resembling the Platonic dialogues, which it might have been intended to emulate or mock, as it is dated as belonging to Xenophon’s late period, after 362. The title Oeconomicus literally means “the one, who knows the affairs of the house very well,” and the main topic of the work is managing just such issues, which, in Xenophon’s world, would have implied the distribution and redistribution of goods and “human resource management,” as well as agricultural technologies. Cicero translated Oeconomicus to Latin (which was more of an ideological or intellectual gesture than a practical one, as the structure of land ownership and management in the late republican Rome bore little resemblance to those in late classical Athens), but in later periods this text did not raise much interest outside the circles of humanists and philologists until the second half of the twentieth century, when it was taken up by political philosophers (such as Leo Strauss46) and by the scholars intrigued by Xenophon’s intuitions on psychology of management, women issues, and the dynamics of power in interpersonal relations (Foucault devoted an entire chapter of the second volume of his History of Sexuality to Oeconomicus). As is often the case, modern scholars ←43 | 44→have presented a large variety of mutually exclusive interpretations: some of them, for instance, have asserted that Xenophon is the forerunner of the emancipation of women, while others – that he is a misogynist. Most of such approaches do not account for the historical and cultural contexts of Xenophon’s works.

Here the focus is not on Xenophon’s view on economic matters, but the way he used writing to fulfil the aims of a very specific type of cultural communication that is textual transmission of specialized knowledge about how a certain type of social practices is carried out. Havelock and his disciples suggested that Homeric singers transmitted such knowledge through narrative descriptions weaved into the plots of the epics they performed. Such message had larger impact on the senses and emotions of the audience than on their reflexive realm; it did not separate the “practical” from the “theoretical,” even though – or perhaps exactly because – the performers and the audience of the rhapsodic form did not necessarily do any of the described things in their own lives, e.g. fighting in a battle, sailing or performing sacrifice. Xenophon, living in an already literate society, prefers a different method.

In the dialogue Socrates talks with Critoboulus, the son of Crito, immortalized by Plato in his account of Socrates’ imprisonment. Critoboulus is a man perfectly managing a model household and farm. Socrates asks him questions about how he ensures such success. The roles switch quickly though, just like in Plato’s work, and it is Socrates who takes the role of the “expert.” However, the quasi-Platonian analysis of notions takes a different turn here. Instead of dissociating the notions from any concreteness and elevating them to the level of abstraction, in order to obtain an “idea,” Socrates and Critoboulus strive to elucidate the meanings of the notions by invoking real examples illustrating their content. It has little to do with text-centered distinctions between deduction and induction or such, but a lot more with the degree of textualization of communication in which people share their experience in practices of importance for their coexistence. The Platonic message was all about rejecting the accidental quantum of experience and replacing it with a conceptual template rooted in a visual, logo-alphabetic image of notions. According to Plato, applied knowledge should be drawn in particular cases from such a theoretical matrix of experience. Aristotle went further still, separating algorithms of ←44 | 45→reasoning from all real experience and creating a total theoretical approach, only occasionally supported with examples (the “empiricism” of his philosophy is wholly dependent on textuality, as I will prove in next chapter). Xenophon, in turn, clearly does not intend to distance his text from “real experience” and therefore he combines the Platonic style of dialogue with strictly practical premises, which the text only records, gives an account of them, a mimetic reflection, but is not an independent, abstracted entity.

Searching for an answer on how to be a good man of the house and manager, Socrates and Critoboulus give examples taken from Xenophon’s personal biographical experience. This includes references to Persian culture and seasonal agricultural works, which take up most of Oeconomicus. The textual argument remains closely bound with praxis; it gives a functional account of praxis rather than replacing it with a theory. The general notions pertaining to the function of a good steward do not become decontextualized ideas, nor do they form a poetic enunciation, as is the case in Hesiod’s Works and Days. However, in chapter 7 Xenophon introduces the character of Ischomachus, whom Socrates invokes during the discussion of good household management. Ischomachus, a figure otherwise unknown (even though there have been speculations about him resembling several real-life citizens), is described as kalos kai agathos, “beautiful and good,” a person who fulfils the ideal of humanity. The rest of the dialogue is an account of a conversation between Socrates and Ischomachus, which is clearly an allusion to a similar device employed by Plato in Symposium, where in the crucial moments Socrates invokes the authority of Diotima. The similarity is made still stronger by the main theme taken up by Ischomachus: the cooperation between husband and wife in household management. There is not a word on the metaphysics of love here though; it is merely about the practical cooperation in everyday life.

Let us look more closely at a few sentences from chapter 8. Ischomachus tells Socrates about the importance of orderliness and cleanliness in how the farm utilities are located for the proper functioning of the house:

I must tell you, Socrates, what strikes me as the finest and most accurate arrangement [taksin] of goods and furniture it was ever my fortune to set eyes on; when I went as a sightseer on board the great Phoenician merchantman, and beheld an endless quantity of goods and gear of all sorts, all separately packed and stowed away within the smallest compass […]. Well, all these different things that I have ←45 | 46→named lay packed there in a space but little larger than a fair-sized dining-room. The several sorts, moreover, as I noticed, lay so well arranged, there could be no entanglement of one with other, nor were searchers needed; and if all were snugly stowed, all were alike getable, much to the avoidance of delay if anything were wanted on the instant. Then the pilot’s mate —“the look-out man at the prow,” to give him his proper title — was, I found, so well acquainted with the place for everything that, even off the ship, he could tell you where each set of things was laid and how many there were of each, just as well as anyone who knows his alphabet [ho grammata epistamenos] could tell you how many letters there are in Socrates and the order in which they stand.47

The fragment quoted above, which within the dialogue sets the scene for a discussion of the arrangement of house utilities, is interesting not only as an example of Xenophon’s “practicality” but also as it brings several cultural motifs to the fore. First, it is not hard to see that the postulate to keep order within a household and the assertion of the advantage that comes from such orderliness for the functioning of a household are not drawn from the Platonic, literate model of understanding and experiencing the reality, but come from a particular observation made by one of the participants of the dialogue. This observation is then posed as a directive for a certain class of social actions, and not because of some textual rule either, but because of the speakers’ broad practical experience. There is no literate or textual mediation of experience here: text serves as a “pure medium” and does not affect either the structure of knowledge or the message (not in the diegetic time of the story but also not on the level of authorial production of a written message). The presence of text does not affect the shape of the transmitted knowledge, it does not transform it with distant recipients in mind, it does not try to adjust the message to the needs of “every possible reader” in “any possible time or space;” it does not categorize the reality and the actions performed in/on48 it according to the rigors of literate and ←46 | 47→abstract thought. Moreover, it is worth noticing that the text does not use any sophistical or rhetorical persuasive devices that provoked anger in Plato and Aristotle. Xenophon does not refer to any mental or personal qualities of his readers; he does not try to influence their judgment with purely verbal devices. This is where the “transparency” of his style lies. It is a “literate, rational” style, but it is also “non-literate and concrete.”

It does not mean that Xenophon does not use any elements of the existing world or that we cannot find traces of reality in the devices he uses. The very reference to the arrangement of letters is a sign of his awareness of the technology of writing – however, Xenophon does not treat this technology in any special way, but as equal with other methods of bringing order into existence. The practical order praised and recommended by Ischomachus on the example of the perfectly kept Phoenician ship can be associated with at least three other cultural phenomena, two of which are strongly linked with practices of literacy.

First, the focus on the arrangement of objects in a particular social space and proxemics necessarily brings to mind the temple inventories in ancient cultures, from Sumer, through Egypt to Crete. Today we can study these material arrangements mainly through the literate order of the inventories (sometimes through excavation works too). The relationship between the existence of such inventories and the early forms of literacy has been thoroughly analyzed by Goody.49 However, despite the superficial similarity there is no functional resemblance between the two phenomena. Apart from the simple fact that we do not know to what extent the order in the records that we can observe today reflects the actual arrangement of temple and palace goods (the very illusion that the books signify or impose the physical arrangement of objects that they describe is in itself characteristic of the “typographic” minds of the modern Europeans), the main issue is that the arrangement of goods had no practical significance, and more specifically bore no significance to any social or political activities, as these resources were by definition meant not to enable the everyday functioning of the system, but to ensure its permanence through honoring the gods and ←47 | 48→rulers with these goods. In other words, the actual physical arrangement of these resources could have been important to narrow groups of clergy or courtiers, but certainly neither everyday fulfilment of the processes of management nor proper functioning of the elements of social system which are determined largely by short-term factors depended on it. Unlike a merchant ship or a household and a farm which indeed depended on a proper arrangement of particular objects.

The other possible association is military discipline, which Xenophon probably knew well from his own biographical experience. The practical analogy is much clearer here, as the success of any military exercise and the operational efficacy of a soldier in such culture is largely dependent on the degree of perfection in routine fulfilment of prescribed actions. It is worth noticing that in this case the practices of literacy are of little significance. Even though they facilitate any type of collective actions, which require high standardization (bureaucracy, rules, regulations, etc.) in case of the military realm they do not have any foundational role.

The third possible association is the art of memory, ars memoriae. Precise arrangement of numerous objects in order to easily access them when needed is a method similar to the technique of “places of memory” discussed in ancient theories of rhetoric (and this association is strengthened when Ischomachus mentions the mental reproduction of the arrangement of objects when it is not directly seen, as in “a palace of memory”). The comparison to remembering the placement of letters in the written name that comes immediately afterwards invokes the advanced practices of literacy which strongly affect the cognitive functions. However, in this case, too, the practical function of the image is different. The rhetorical apparatus of the palace of memory is a highly abstract intellectual product, the aim of which is to perfect the technique of giving speeches, whereas the proper arrangement of the load onboard a ship is simply meant to make it easier to use equipment while sailing. The example shows how writing deludes us when to our eyes and minds it equates phenomena belonging to very different orders of reality. The illusion is the price we pay for the advantages of the alphabet.

Thus, three associations have been incorporated in the interpretation – and all three dismissed. What is the conclusion? It confirms that Xenophon most probably meant pure practice only and the textual communication was ←48 | 49→merely a transparent medium. Presumably, he hoped to act on a small scale, not sub specie aeternitatis, as was the case for Plato. Therefore, Xenophon did not bother to produce any absolute textual message, or to adjust it to social practices in a way that would make it applicable to as many of them as possible, notwithstanding the time and space of their fulfilment.

In chapter 13 of Oeconomicus, Socrates and Ischomachus discuss the figure of a “bailiff” [epitropos], thereby introducing another “human factor,” apart from a spouse, into the problematic of household management:

Soc.   But suppose him to have learnt the whole routine of business, will he need aught else, or have we found at last your bailiff absolute?

Isch.   He must learn at any rate, I think, to rule his fellow-workmen.

What! (I exclaimed): you mean to say you educate your bailiffs to that extent? Actually you make them capable of rule?

At any rate I try to do so (he replied).

And how, in Heaven’s name (I asked), do you contrive to educate another in the skill to govern human beings?

Isch.   I have a very simple [phaulos pany] system, Socrates; so simple, I daresay, you will simply laugh at me.

Soc.   The matter, I protest, is hardly one for laughter. The man who can make another capable of rule, clearly can teach him how to play the master; and if he can make him play the master, he can make him what is grander still, a kingly being.50

It is one of the most important moments of the conversation because it brings together vital psychological and political themes. It needs to be said first that Ischomachus’ fears in the dialogue are caused by the “vulgarity” of his methods as compared to the Platonic ones: it is not said explicitly here but it would have been rather obvious for a contemporary reader. In The Republic, Plato devotes extensive passages to describing the method of perfect education for guardians, who are the equivalent of a bailiff in Oeconomicus in terms of their social role. However, while Plato’s methods are mostly about developing vaguely defined personal qualities of the guardians which are supposed to guarantee their impeccable praxeological attitude, Ischomachus in the later part of the dialogue tells Socrates that he simply rewards his disciples when they fulfil their tasks properly, and punishes them when they fail. Motivating is basically positive or negative ←49 | 50→stimulation of their major needs and desires – and this is also what he recommends to them as means of dealing with their subordinates. This is the simplest possible motivating method and, again, it is not derived from any abstract rules formulated in a detached literate discourse, but from practical experience and years of observation of how real-life participants of social games behave. Ischomachus’ disclaimers (about the method being “laughable” and “simple”)51 signal that Xenophon realized that even in his time such recommendation could sound naïve, because of the growing role of the “methods of literacy” in the social processes. In turn, the sequence “rule – play the master – be a king” suggests that Xenophon knows how fluid the transition from “practical everyday reality” to the macro-level of political power can be and how in the latter area practical methods based on concrete everyday experience can fail.

The character of Ischomachus has an interesting trait here, because it is clear that unlike unworldly Diotima in Plato’s Symposium, he has been created by Xenophon as “a real person.” What, then, is the status of knowledge, if it is not absolute knowledge, revealed or acquired in the metaphysical anamnesis which emerges in the minds of philosophers who have internalized writing, but neither is it purely local knowledge since it can be turned into a textual directive, which entails it being applicable “elsewhere”?

The above remarks on the specificity of Xenophon’s writings in the context of the transmission of experiential knowledge (not to be confused with modern experimental knowledge, whose rules and structures are derived from the textual model of cognition) suggest that Ischomachus is a character located on the borderline between the two cultural systems that coexisted in his world. He has qualities of a figure of “authority” based on oral transmission, in which a singer, a sage, or a chief preaches to his audience through a mythical narrative which combines “tradition” with “here and now” of the storytelling. However, the content of Ischomachus’ message has nothing in common with the mythical stories of the rhapsodists because it comes from a rational observation of actual social practices performed ←50 | 51→in particular time and space. In that sense, he resembles an “expert,” a figure born in the literate world, which through practices of literacy is also an increasingly rationalized world. And yet, what Ischomachus says is not absolute in character in a way that comes from advanced mental and reflective activities deeply rooted in the media of writing and text. As was already said here, Xenophon who draws on the advantages offered by writing, sees no need for formulating abstract algorithms of rules of practical doing. And it is just such algorithmic approach that is one of the most important consequences of alphabetization in the Western culture: it was in the times of the author of Oeconomicus, and in the times of Plato, too, when the foundations for it were laid. Ischomachus the expert is not an expert known for giving advice with no relation to the processual reality and drawn only from automatically employing abstract rules suggested in manuals. He is an “experienced expert,” and this only seemingly pleonastic term can be applied to Xenophon as the author of Ischomachus’ words as well.

This sort of practical experience, which is the subject of Oeconomicus, is also visible in chapter 16 when Socrates and Ischomachus begin a long discussion about agricultural activities. In the introduction to the conversation, Socrates says:

The first thing I should like to learn, Ischomachus, I think, if only as a point befitting a philosopher, is this: how to proceed and how to work the soil, did I desire to extract the largest crops of wheat and barley.52

The context of use of the word “philosopher” is striking here. It is hard not to see it as ironical toward Plato: the Platonic philosopher lives in the world of ideas, and its spatial elevation is frequently and eagerly emphasized in all the metaphors of flight outside and over the material world. Meanwhile, Xenophon the philosopher is literally bound to land, he cultivates it, remaining in a physical contact with it, and he performs particular physical actions working in the matter of soil. But perhaps this is simply a trace of a self-contained concept of the philosopher’s task. Perhaps, according to Xenophon this task is not to abstract notions derived through literacy from experience, which Plato began to do on a large scale, and Aristotle continued followed by nearly all the other Western philosophers – but quite ←51 | 52→the opposite, the task is to construct as precise links between the practical motoric experiences and their verbal and textual expression. Therefore, the philosopher’s task is not to elevate himself spiritually above the world, but to work on developing the motoric potentials of a human in the world. While Plato deprives the philosopher of the body, Xenophon strives to teach him to use the body; and both employ text as means of influencing the readers to achieve their objectives. It is not difficult to say which of these versions triumphed in Europe. But why this one?

Among the last words of Oeconomicus, we find the term sophrosyne, crucial for the Greek thought of the late fifth and the early fourth centuries but extremely difficult to translate. It is usually rendered as “prudence,” and Ischomachus applies it to people who have mastered the art of governing others in such a way that they allow themselves to be managed, without becoming objects of manipulation. Earlier it is said that the main advantage of effective managers is not knowledge or experience itself, nor even luck but “carefulness and application” (epimeleia),53 a quality related to reflexive ability to grasp the content of experience and use it in future practices. The final conclusions given by Socrates and Ischomachus are then focused on the highest form of practical skills, which is any human activity whose aim is to oppose the entropy in the real world. Alphabetic writing happens to be one of the most effective tools we have to achieve this goal. However, Xenophon, unlike Plato and Aristotle, tried to employ it, not in order to create universal models of thinking and doing, but to produce the most precise descriptions of concrete activities, real-life practices, which he synthetized only to the level of local classes of activities (“agriculture in Attica,” “keeping a neat household by a wealthy citizen of Athens”), never reaching the absolute, ideal level. Comparing the use of writing and text by the people discussed here, we see the seeds of the two major types of textualization of experience in the Western culture: the text of theory and the text of practice.

Let us now discuss the other one of Xenophon’s texts mentioned earlier. On Horsemanship (literally: “matters pertaining to equitation”) is a very ←52 | 53→brief text which in its structure and style already resembles a modern, typographic manual. It has all the textual qualities I have listed with reference to Oeconomicus, and, moreover, it is not a dialogue that we are dealing with here but a monologue of an expert who reveals his subjectivity in the text but only to bring out the authority of knowledge and not to sketch a contextual communication. The scholars of antiquity do not agree on the target audience of the work. Some claim Xenophon wrote it for the use of his own sons, which is suggested by the mention of “the benefit of our younger friends,” neoterois ton philon delosai; others think it was meant for wealthy Athenians. The final sentences of the text are:

These notes, instructions and exercises [hypomnemata kai mathemata kai meletemata] which we have here set down are intended only for the private person [idiote]. What it belongs to a cavalry leader [hipparcho] to know [eidenai te kai prattein] and to do has been set forth in another book [logo]54.

We encounter here a few semantically laden terms, together with a clear announcement of a forthcoming sequel to this work, that is, Hipparchikos: it is a sign that that Xenophon consciously distributed the material of his writing. It is particularly worth paying attention to the notion of “hypomnema,” which can be rendered as “sub-memory” and which, in ancient writings, mostly in the post-Hellenic epochs, signified a literary genre more or less resembling our essay, and which by the end of antiquity also meant “diaries” and “memoirs.” In the most general sense, the Greeks used the term to describe any kind of written record which is basically meant to be a reminder about some useful and needed mental contents.

Of all Greek notions pertaining to the cultural roles of writing and text the word “hypomnema” most clearly renders their role as extensions of human organism, or more precisely of its capacity called memory. In the oldest recorded uses of this word, it actually meant the very content of memory, but the very fact that this content of memory was perceived as such means that the process of internal self-reflection was already under way. In the works of Thucydides (II 44), Isocrates, Demosthenes, Plato (Phaedrus 249c), and in numerous inscriptions, expressions such as ←53 | 54→“echein hypomnema tinos” (“to have hypomnema of someone”) mean “to remember about something.” Liddell and Scott’s dictionary gives Latin “monumentum” as a synonym of this meaning. In both these words, there is the core related to human internal cognitive powers (mnema, mens); and in English it is related, of course, to “monument.”55

←54 | 55→

A juxtaposition of three terms – “hypomnema,” “mathema” (subject of mental learning, learning process) and “meletema” (subject of practical learning, exercise process; also “care”) – is a proof of developed Xenophon’s awareness of the relationship between the text and experience. The first of these words defines Hippika’s message in its textual layer – as a text in fact, as a message extended in time and space beyond the moment and place of its formulation, for the use of people in other places. “Mathema” here means the didactic component of the message, that it is to serve the recipient as a basis for acquiring new knowledge. The most problematic is the third term – “meletema” – which can be understood as a sign of the entanglement of the Hippika’s text itself with its extra-textual reference, because it is a text describing a set of practical activities performed using the human body in close connection with the material environment of that body (a relationship rendered in the Lebenswelt concept), and as such, in a sense, it deletes itself. Hippika is therefore a text whose author knows, or at least intuitively guesses, that he is trying to include in it a description of something that is not and cannot be either text or even speech – for it is a motoric activity in which the human body participates, and not only the mind subjecting the exterior and its data to mental processing. The description – both oral and written – can only symbolically relate this activity, but it is impossible to convey through it the motoric content that lies in the performer’s body and its surroundings subjected to this activity. This is an extremely expressive example of the inner contradiction that lies in every text of practice, which necessarily describes in a reflective and mediated way the realm of action, the occurrence of which is direct toward the subjects involved. Let us take a look at a representative fragment of Hippika:

We will now show how one may rub down a horse with least danger to oneself and most advantage to the horse. If in cleaning him the man faces in the same direction as the horse, he runs the risk of getting a blow in the face from his knee and his hoof. But if he faces in the opposite direction to the horse and sits by the shoulder out of reach of his leg when he cleans him, and rubs him down so, then he will come to no harm, and can also attend to the horse’s frog by lifting up the hoof. Let him do exactly the same in cleaning the hind-legs. (VI, 1)56

←55 | 56→

Such instructions are obvious to anyone with practical experience in the subject (including Xenophon himself, which he states in the first sentences of On Horsemanship), but problematic to those who do not have it – the “idiotes,” “the private person” mentioned in the previous quotation.57 A question arises: what is the purpose of a text which explains practical activities, if it cannot replace those activities in the cognitive and motoric realm of reference of the reader? A swimming manual will not suffice to learn to swim, even if it is studied most diligently – and the same applies to any “manual” pertaining to the motoric realm. The question applies to any epoch and culture, in which there are texts serving as handbooks, but in the case of Xenophon it is all the more important, as he was one of the first men in the Western culture who wrote such texts.58

It is not impossible that what had motivated him was the very presence of writing and text. The availability and the increasing popularity of this means of communication might have provoked Greeks to use it ←56 | 57→in any possible way, including to recording all sorts of enunciations and developing all kinds of reflections, as well as giving accounts of motoric practices – activities belonging to Lebenswelt. If such a presupposition can be accepted, this would mean that ever since writing and text became independent means of communicating symbolic and experiential content in ancient Greece, in cultural practices in which they were involved they were endowed with an excessive expressive and functional potential which was put to use, among other areas, in the self-contradictory enterprise of transferring motoric existential experience over time and space. The activity in a text can never be identical with an activity of a body which contains the mind producing the text. Plato and Aristotle understood that only too well and therefore they constructed the model of the text of theory for the Europeans. It does not require the presence of a body, as it refers to abstract notions applicable to any possible “here and now.” The text of practice, constructed by, among others, Xenophon turned out to be much more problematic as it strived to produce an impossible synthesis of sensory experience, motoric activities, and their verbal account which would have a textual reach across time and space. The aporia of this model of transmission of knowledge through writing is probably the main reason why it was Plato’s and Aristotle’s model that was preferred within the Western culture, even though it was itself problematic, too. These problems, however, were not as striking in the smaller scale of the civilizing process, and moreover they contributed largely to creating the Platonic-Cartesian subject, which, in turn. impacted greatly the formation of the modern expansive civilization of the West, the emergence of which would have been much less likely, had the Europeans commonly accepted the kind of textualization of experience that we can find in Xenophon’s Scripta Minora.

Xenophon who was probably aware of at least some of the referential problems discussed here, attempted to sensitize his readers to the specificity of the chosen medium with regard to the topic:

If anyone thinks that we are repeating ourselves [dilogein], because we are referring to matters already dealt with [i.e. checking the physical qualities of a horse – add. PM], this is not repetition [ou dilogia estin]. For we recommended the purchaser to try whether the horse could do these things at the time of ←57 | 58→buying: but now we say that a man should teach his own horse; and we will show how to teach him (VIII, 2)59

This methodological comment is an evidence of Xenophon’s full literacy. Just as the sophist he realizes that the reality of a literate culture is governed by different rules of cultural transmission than those that are characteristic of an oral environment. There were horses in both these worlds, though, and the bonds between horses and people were equally strong.

Texts about horse breeding and dealing with horses are known from cultures much older than the Greek one. It is hardly surprising given the role these animals played even in the earliest stages of human civilization60. The oldest known text on horsemanship was discovered in 1906 in the palace archives in the capital of the Hittites, Hattuša (today’s Boğazköy in Turkey) on four steles dated from 1340 BC. Its author – who was not, however, the author of this particular copy – was Kikkuli who probably lived between the fifteenth and the fourteenth centuries BC. He introduces himself at the beginning of the text as “master horse trainer of the land Mitanni.” Kikkuli’s text includes day-by-day instructions for 214 days on how to care for a horse intended for a battle or race chariot (which one of the two exactly is a matter of discussion between experts). The structure of the text resembles bookkeeping and enumerations known from the Mesopotamian records. As I am not an Orientalist, I lack competence to analyze it more thoroughly,61 but it is certainly interesting how early this text relating and designing the experience of motoric practices is. Moreover, the text was considered important enough to be placed on the steles of the royal palace archives. The question about the text’s practical use in the Hittite world must remain unanswered, as it is hard to imagine the Hittite cavalrymen ←58 | 59→studying the steles for Kikkuli’s instructions right before attempting to tame their horses. It is equally difficult on the other hand to imagine that his work was particularly interesting to “intellectuals” or priests of his time. Thirty-five centuries later, in 1991, an Australian scholar, Ann Nyland carried out an experiment: she followed Kikkuli’s instructions meticulously – as meticulously, as limited understanding of the Hittite text with numerous Mitannian additions allowed anyway (the text poses linguistic problems to professional scholars of Hittite) – while training Arabian horses.62 The very possibility of carrying out such an experiment shows how little has changed in the class of cultural practices pertaining to horse breeding and training in dozens of centuries. It is a peculiar class as it includes activities performed on biological systems endowed with a developed psychism, which, however, does not undergo cultural evolution, nor does it become part of the human symbolic communication. Twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholars and thinkers, who have studied human-animal relations, from Jakob von Uexküll to Peter Singer, have their earliest predecesors in the ancient authors of hippic treaties.

The history of writing on horsemanship is further marked by texts such as Latin Ars veterinaria by Pelagonius (fourth century BC) and the Byzantine medico-hippic manuals (Hippiatrica), the authors of which did not really have much to do with live horses themselves, as can be seen from the divergences between their texts and the biological reality. Such divergences are at least partly a sign of the textual absolutism in which texts are the only sources of other texts, while the link with immediate experience weakens.63 In the Middle Ages in Europe, no one wrote treaties on horsemanship, which was probably caused by the knight’s ethos within which practices such as writing and reading were not particularly popular, while the “text-producing” circles of that time had little to do with practices of breeding and riding horses. Hippic manuals re-emerge in Europe in the ←59 | 60→sixteenth century though, and they have been written ever since. Perhaps – if we may repeat the remark – “things horses-related” are so important in the history of humanity, so closely related to the extra-cultural relationship between man and animal, that the set of textual renditions of the very experience of horsemanship and the related practices is both broad in terms of historical frequency and largely unchanged in what is being taught on the subject (as Ann Nyland’s example shows). The persistence of the model of textual transmission established for this particular experience and class of practices is an extreme example as it is closely related both to the cultural realm with its institutions and media, and to the emotive and biological realms – the immediate contact with the animal. Horsemen of all countries and epochs unite over the political, structural and stylistic variety of textual renderings of the abstracted experience. Moreover, the presence of text does not affect their practice; it is neutral to them and may at best serve as support to the actual process of practice.

A “bond with nature” can occasionally be found in Xenophon’s text – as in the works of all his followers who attempted to combine an intense sensory experience of reality with a highly developed skill of rendering traces of such experience in text, be it a literary, essayist, neutrally recounting or – most rarely – philosophical text. Such a bond can for example be found in an early text on hunting (Cynegeticus). Eminent Polish scholar Tadeusz Sinko wrote about it with piercing insight:

Xenophon hunted only hares in Attica. His description of a hare’s body structure, which enhances its running skills (Cynegeticus, V, 30) is a model of scientific description, with not a single spare word. The only other equally classic [i.e. concise and accurate, add. PM] descriptions can be found in Corpus Hippocrateum. The conclusion of the description (par. 33): “So charming is the sight that to see a hare tracked, found, pursued and caught is enough to make any man forget his heart’s desire”64 shows that young Xenophon, as all true hunters, was sensitive to the beauty of game’s moves and behaviors. What he wrote about hunting bears and lions, he drew from some book [Sinko refers here to a lack of “reality of description” in these parts of Cynegeticus].65

←60 | 61→

The philologist points to the particular quality of Xenophon’s text, which is of fundamental importance to the interpretation developed here. The experience and the feelings of a hunter, which unite him in a sort of mystical participation with the hunted game, which are comparable to the pantheist and shamanist attitudes of Native American or Siberian hunters described by anthropologists, can be found in parts of the text which are right next to those resembling analytical descriptions given by positivist scientists. Never before and never after have such divergent attitudes come together in our culture within a work of one author and on equal terms – not as a pastiche or a styling device. Such contrasts of register in Xenophon’s writings are the evidence for the beginnings of the process of transferring the experiential world – more or less equivalent to the phenomenological Lebenswelt – to the textual world. Here again we observe a shift from the experience of transmission to transmission of experience, that I wrote about elsewhere in context of the emergence of the Greek historiography66 – except that in the technical writings such as these the shift, as is visible here, takes a different trajectory. It is caused by the difference in proportions of individual experience in macrohistorical narratives, that is those that dominated the Western historiography since its beginnings up until the second half of the last century, when microhistory was born, with its return to personal, experiential accounts.

Cynegeticus contains one more surprise – its last part is a critique of the sophists, who are compared by Xenophon to hunters who go after young and naïve people, who are easily taken in by perfidious argument. This critique itself, so very Socratic in spirit, and not unlike many other similar critiques, includes one sentence, which is an ideal – if unintended – commentary on the method of writing about the reality employed by the author in this text (XIII, 6):

Many others besides myself blame the sophists of our generation—philosophers I will not call them —because the wisdom they profess [sophizontai] consists of words [en tois onomasi] and not of thoughts [en tois noemasin].67

←61 | 62→

Young Xenophon, a strong believer in Socratic ideas, and still without the intellectual balance which he would acquire in his mature works, takes up the same problem here as the one that defined Plato’s entire life, but he sees it differently. The emptiness of the words used by the sophists is shocking to him not because what they mean by these words may be accidental in their intellectual and ethical content, but because there is no significant content related to actual experience recorded in mental images and in the memory of the body belonging to a subject who speaks or writes.68

I have tried to show that Xenophon’s text is an enunciation that was consciously constructed as a text, but which also retains clear traces of “local” communication and does not claim to be universal, which soon after became Aristotle’s objective; but it is also a kind of text which retains a close and paradoxical bond with numerous qualities of human experience, which are not only extra-textual but also extra-linguistic. “The expert’s experience” carried by “implicit knowledge” is communicated here with non-rhetorical, non-persuasive devices (they are the “philosophical input” in Oeconomicus, the “concrete knowledge” in On Horsemanship and “the knowledge based on observation and practice” in Cynegeticus); it contains no “absolutizing” components, which the author would intend as ensuring the eternal applicability of the message. If, as in the case of On Horsemanship, such applicability does nevertheless occur, this is not due to any quality of the text, but to the quality of the experience it accounts for.

Sinko emphasizes that Xenophon employed “technical,” “non-literary” vocabulary in his works and this “professional” quality of his style was a little confusing for those among his ancient and modern readers who saw him as a “writer,” a “man of letters.”69 In fact, it is exactly the clarity of ←62 | 63→his texts that made Xenophon as an author not particularly interesting to the Alexandrian philologists, who had little space for commenting and exegesis in his works, as his style and vocabulary, even despite all the expert terminology, was not very far removed from the reality of the Alexandrian era – unlike the Homeric epics or the archaic poetry. Moreover, there was no trouble with the philological constitution of his text, and therefore there was little need to bring his writings to life with textual exegesis and the work of interpretation. There are few scholia to Xenophon and they are limited in content. Apparently, Xenophon’s writings did not raise in his ancient readers any sense of cognitive distance that would call for elaborate textual responses of the kind other authors provoked. The same applies to commentaries written closer to our time, when Xenophon was being read by members of higher classes in Britain who found a mirror image of a model of a gentleman in his works: dividing his time between military and public service, managing the estate and breeding horses, and hunting in his spare time or indulging in amateur writing. For us, his works are a striking example of a textual practice which becomes an alternative to the models elaborated by Plato and Aristotle. It remains to be answered why the Western culture so radically preferred their textural models and practices. The suggestion entailed by this analysis is but a preliminary voice in the discussion. In what follows, I will address – also contributively – several other early manifestations of the textualization of various forms of the Greek experience.

***

It is widely believed that the Greek religion, unlike the trinity of the great monotheistic religions and Hinduism and Buddhism, did not produce a corpus of “holy texts,” and therefore writing and writing practices did not play a significant role in the religious life of the Greeks, at least in periods prior to the Hellenistic era. Most of Greek narrative texts as we know them today, which are entirely related to religious issues, are either mythographs that form the basis of all popular Greek mythologies written in modern times, or late, mainly neo-Platonic comments on old doctrines and beliefs. Both of these types of texts were created and developed in a world deeply dominated by the medium of writing.

←63 | 64→

However, there is a significant exception to this rule, which is at the same time an extremely mysterious and difficult phenomenon to analyze. It concerns the Orphics and their beliefs and cult practices.

The archaic verbal expression of Orphic concepts (hexametric poems and hymns; figures of poetic speech sometimes reminiscent of Homeric diction or epic in general; pictorial plastic descriptions of processes taking place in the world70) was somehow connected with their radical textualization, and it must have happened very early. Moreover, according to our current knowledge, Orphism is the only form of the Greek religion that was clearly based on the circulation of “sacred texts” (hieroi logoi). The edition of Orphic excerpts and testimonials, prepared by Alberto Bernabé as part of the Poetae Epici Graeci collection71, shows how complicated, esoteric and long-lasting the textual transmission of the Orphic traditions is72, and most of the texts, headed by the papyrus of Derveni, date back to the late and post-Classical times. However, two allusions by previous authors testify to the fact that already in the fifth century the Orphics used texts in their religious practices. So here is Theseus, accusing Hippolytus of belonging to Orphic cults in Euripides’ drama (Hippolytus 954), saying: “bakcheue pollon grammaton timon kapnous,” which means “engage in mystic rites, holding the vaporings of many books in honor!”73 A little later, Plato ←64 | 65→mocked them in the Republic (364 e): “And they produce a bushel of books [homadon biblon], of Musaeus and Orpheus […]. And these books they use in their ritual…”74

Based on these testimonies, it is appropriate to recognize that, at the end of the fifth century, in the collective consciousness of the inhabitants of Attica, who were the audience of Euripides’ drama, the religious practices of the Orphics had to be associated with the existence of records which served as “sacred texts” and, what is more, were a determinant of the identity of this religious group. Was their role similar to that of a text in monotheistic religions? And did the text function for the Orphics as an independent “reading entity” supposed to “preserve” revelation or some primordial act of founding the faith? Today, we also know that in Orphic cults, apart from the narrative texts, which probably had the form of scrolls running among the followers, there were also lamellae, “golden Orphic plates” used in funeral rituals. These are small plates on which fragments of formulas and Orphic texts were engraved. These records cannot be regarded as magical-spiritual formulas not having the necessary connections with “high” forms of writing, because the degree of semantic and structural complexity of these records is too advanced – as if they were copied from text records. Moreover, the author of the poem written on the Derveni papyrus clearly quotes Heraclitus, mentioning him by name as the author of the quotation (in column IV), which is also a manifestation of highly developed textual practices. Therefore, it is not out of the question that the archaic diction of Orphic works was a deliberate stylization into “antiquity,” a procedure consciously used by the followers. If they had indeed done so, such a practice would be well in line with the custom of the Orphics to attribute most of their narrative texts to the two mythical creators of the whole trend – Orpheus and Musaios. This custom made it extremely difficult in modern times to think about the phenomenon of Orphism and to date individual texts in an approximate way. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that it was shown that Orpheus and Musaios are certainly not concrete historical figures (even in the sense in which Homer is such a ←65 | 66→figure, that is, it is impossible to indicate or even hypothetically acknowledge a separate real entity to which the authorship of this or that text could be linked), and concrete results in the study of Orphic chronology were obtained only in the twentieth century.

So perhaps for the fifth-century Orphics, writing and text were tools as handy as they were for Xenophon, but they used them for very different – if not opposite – purposes. The world experienced in everyday experience, the realm of Lebenswelt, did not interest them at all, which is why they did not feel the need to transform it into a record of the types of experience that occupied Xenophon. What they transformed was strictly mental, spiritual, and religious experience. This is also why their texts, in spite of considerable media advancement, convey content that has so little in common with the rationalism freshly discovered in writing by their contemporaries: sophists, Plato, and Aristotle.

***

Another “textual case” difficult to interpret mediologically is the Corpus Hippocraticum, a collection of sixty medical treatises attributed in ancient times to the “father of medicine,” Hippocrates of Kos (ca. 460-ca. 370).

Of course, it is not my intention, nor is it in my power, to analyze in detail a corpus that takes several thousand pages of print; it was undertaken in hundreds of specialist dissertations and commentaries. I limit myself to a few general comments. The Hippocratic corpus undoubtedly consists of “professional texts” as understood here, and this is about a class of practices that is fundamental to human existence. However, there is also a problem with authorship and chronology. These texts are characterized by the uniformity of diction, the same as that which I have indicated as a special feature of professional hippological texts. This makes it difficult to date them, but it is assumed that much of them were written in the 450–350 period and that the circle of their authors is roughly the same as that of the medical school existing on the island of Kos (this is indicated by the Ionic dialect of the texts). It is likely that Hippocrates himself was collecting old records of disease cases prepared by the priests of Asclepius. At the earliest stage, the record was perhaps a reminder or commemoration of a case of the disease, which evolved from the votive gifts for Asclepius, and Hippocrates began to use the old records on a larger scale as both a comparative and a research material, and to make new ones, with the intention of using them and passing on to ←66 | 67→his successors. Such a change could have contributed to the often-discussed rationalization of the attitude of Hippocrates himself and his successors. The treatise On the Sacred Disease, which argued that epilepsy comes from brain damage, and not from the will of the gods, is a case in point. This text clearly shows the author’s desire to depreciate his predecessors, whom he considers charlatans or ignorant, but modern researchers are perhaps too eager to suggest this radical position. In the case of the medical art, textual practices have probably contributed to the intensification of observational methods, thanks to which more and more organic factors playing a role in the aetiology of diseases and their treatment were discovered. At the same time, however, many of the texts in the Hippocratic collection, with The Oath in the forefront, exhibit “local” characteristics, closely and only linked to the cultural situation in which they were created.75 Still, it is difficult to go beyond the area of speculation in their mediological analysis, just as when thinking about the beginnings of Greek “philosophy” and “literature” or rather the activities whose results were called so many centuries later.

The ten volumes of Littrè’s edition,76 which date back to a century and a half ago (1839–1861, not yet fully replaced), almost certainly contain texts by Hippocrates himself, but it is impossible to identify them precisely and ←67 | 68→separate them from later ones because of the uniformity of structure and style mentioned above. Perhaps, this means that the textualization of medical art is very early, and at an early stage, regardless of the normativizing sophistic-philosophical undertakings, it has acquired its own principles. Littrè supposed that scholars from the Alexandrian Library received the Hippocratic writings already in the form of a compact body taken from the collections gathered in Kos and did not interfere with their content. From a textological point of view, this corpus is very diverse, as it contains both theoretical and even philosophical texts, but also strictly practical textbooks, referring to various fields of the medical art, and in individual treatises one can see both traces of oral tradition and signs of a far-reaching process of the use of textualized expert knowledge.

What is extremely interesting is the fact that, exactly the same as in the case of the Orphic texts, the entire resource of texts included in the Corpus Hippocraticum was attributed to the “first author,” which made both resources structurally and stylistically homogenized; in the process, the traces of their historical and medial evolution were blurred. The practical dimension of both groups is a significant difference. While religious beliefs generally do not require a precise determination of the motoric practices associated with them or a careful observation of sensory reality,77 medical art relies largely on these types of behavior. Since the treatment of diseases even in ancient times, when they were combined with the will of deities or the systems of heavenly bodies, required from those treating them a resource of practical and observational skills, it can be assumed that the introduction of writing into this particular area of human life did not cause any fundamental changes – but, as I have already mentioned, it made it possible to collect testimonies and history of diseases differently than just through oral transmission, which, in turn, resulted in an extension of the material and the possibility of comparative analysis not available with oral-memory ←68 | 69→transmission. However, the training of functional skills still had to be carried out through direct contact between teachers and adepts; here, too, records could only support this process, as in all other epochs of medical history and other social practices where tacit knowledge is indispensable.

***

Both previous cases were puzzling and ambiguous in terms of the role of writing and text. So let us now quote a more expressive case. One of the concrete early examples of the dominance of the textual approach in Greek culture can be found in the fragment of Alexis’ comedy Linus quoted by Athenaeus (ca. 375 – ca. 275):

The gist of it is that Heracles was being educated in Linus’ house and was ordered to pick up one of the many books lying beside him and read it; and he picked up a cookbook and was holding it in his hands with great enthusiasm. Linus says the following: “yes, go over and pick any papyrus roll you like out of there and then read it. […] This way you’ll show me what subject you’re naturally inclined to. (Heracles) I’m picking this one! (Linus) First show me what it is. (Heracles) It’s a cookbook according to the label.” (164 b)78

This comedy already ridicules the specialization of the text and the existence of textbooks of knowledge and practical skills, which is a sign – typical in the situations presented by Greek comedians – that a given phenomenon is at least approximately known to a larger part of the audience, because if it were to be an allusion understandable only to the chosen ones, it would be difficult to achieve a comic effect. Heracles as a glutton chooses a cookbook (which, of course, has the form of a scroll that he holds in both hands and which bears a label similar to today’s clothing label with a title and perhaps the author’s name) instead of the canonical literary works that Linus discreetly suggested to him. How can we understand this outside the original humorous context?

Heracles was a somewhat grotesque figure in the mythology and collective cultural consciousness of the Greeks of that time: he was known as a mythical hero of superhuman strength and physical and sexual fitness,79 ←69 | 70→but at the same time he was also considered, especially since the “golden age” of the Attic culture, a thoughtless blunt strongman who made the representatives of the intellectual elite of the time ironical smiling in the same way as the action movie stars did at the end of the twentieth century, making up for the deficiencies in the art of acting with their outstandingly developed muscles. According to the myth, Linus was the son of Apollo and one of the nymphs or muses, and taught Heracles to play the lyre, but with little success, because the hero, rebuked for performance errors, beat him to death with his own instrument – in the intellectual circles of the written Greece, this theme could also seem comical. Moreover, Linus was regarded as one of the mythical inventors of letters, although he was not as famous in this role as Cadmus or Palamedes. The comedy frame of Alexis, one of the most important creators of Middle Comedy, probably played out all these motifs.

Heracles’ behavior is supposed to prove his rudeness, but at the same time, in the distorted mirror of the comedy, we can see a progressive textualization of not only the spiritual and intellectual experiences or social practices practiced by the privileged social layers – for we are talking here about a cookbook from which the simpleton Heracles expects to read the taste of the dishes. What is more, Heracles does not distinguish here between the action performed on words and the action performed on things80, a bit like the users of modern media who treat, for example, the world presented in a television broadcast as if it were the real world. His dullness, his inability to critically perceive the content of experience mediated by the medium, clashed with the presence of a textbook, not only has ←70 | 71→a comic effect, but also – at least in our eyes – confirms the inner contradiction inherent in the very essence of such a text and in the reactions of its recipients. Moreover, it should be stressed that the content of the book in question concerns one of the most common and everyday practices of every culture and every society – the preparation of meals. The text in the form of a textbook already enters the human world through the kitchen door. Following it, we are far away from both sophists and Plato.

***

This review of the forms of textualization of different types of intersubjective experience (and only such, because until the end of antiquity the Greeks did not produce a textual frame for individual subjectivity in the form of an autobiography or a diary in the contemporary understanding of these terms) can be continued for a long time, but such an enumeration would quickly become tedious. So let us try to summarize the remarks made so far and make the first attempt to generalize the whole class of these cultural phenomena.

In modern science, texts belonging to the ancient Fachliteratur are usually examined as if they were transparent protocols of knowledge or technology specific to ancient people81. Usually, the McLuhanian specificity of the message is not taken into account. Meanwhile, it is worth asking what has to happen in epistemological processes, in the experience of reality by people living in the world of culture, so that such texts could not only exist but also enter into a constant circulation? How are they used? Who ←71 | 72→need them and what for? I would like to stress that I am not interested in the problem of the influence of writing and text on cognitive processes in such fields as mathematics, whose representatives deal with phenomena independent of the individual and intersubjective realms of experience and sensation, or at least they consciously strive to keep their subjects of interest in such independence.82 The problem is to transform into a text form those very areas of existence in which the mentioned realms determine the original form of experience.

In the earliest Greek literature that can be included in the area of Fachliteratur, one can observe a more or less intentional desire of authors of texts to use writing as a means of conveying that part of the functional or motoric experience that can be conveyed through writing – that is to say, a protocol, formal and phenomenal description of certain classes of activities ←72 | 73→and practices, which is to serve as an instruction to the recipients to carry out such practices. As I have tried to demonstrate in the case of Xenophon, in the practice of producing such texts83 it is a matter of exploiting the opportunity offered by writing with its communicative potential, which is imposed on users the more deeply and reflectively they become aware of the variety of its possible roles, functions and possibilities of its application. There appear, therefore, groups of senders and recipients of such messages – messages in which, however, it is not possible to include the sensory and functional realm because it is generally impossible to convey, even in the living word or in any other symbolic message, since it is produced and played out in the necessary connection with the human body, whose mental experience, immersed in the very irreducible and non-transferable corporeality that is the legacy of distant epochs of biological evolution, is not at all subject to the cultural message between human subjects84. ←73 | 74→People writing and reading textbooks therefore had to give up trying to convey what could not be conveyed anyway. There would be no problem here if the text did not push the body and its activities out of the area of conceptualisation of practices – this push has had a huge impact on the cultural message in Europe.

Inevitably, the question arises whether this specific type of writing and reading practices, which is “professional literature,” has caused some changes in human cognitive processes at the physiological and neuronal level. I believe that the answer to such a question is not possible, if only because we do not have means to trace possible changes in the structure of the brain and nervous system of people from antiquity as compared to their structure in inhabitants of earlier eras. Hypotheses about the influence of cultural phenomena on the biological form of Homo sapiens have been formulated many times already, and scientists dealing with physical anthropology generally agree today that during the ten millennia that have passed since the dawn of civilization, human organisms as biological species have undergone changes caused by culture. However, the details of these processes and the details of these changes remain the subject of lively discussion.85 It would be risky – even with regard to the norms of these ←74 | 75→speculative inquiries – to determine the impact of writing practices on the realm of human perception, which includes not only anatomical and physiological aspects but also psychological and behavioral ones.

So let us confine ourselves to the safe statement that the “handbook” is the result of the classical Greeks’ realization that there are some redundant potentials of writing, text and also of writing and reading practices: they discovered the possibility of transmitting an experience that is not necessarily linked to the situational experience of transmission, as it happened in oral culture. In this way, one of the most important misunderstandings in the history of our culture has occurred.

The misunderstanding was that text users quickly recognized that a text message could replace experience itself, i.e. they started to ignore the absence of activity and sensation content in this message. This is what “body displacement by text” is all about. The “handbook,” treated as an independent object of reading and not only as a support for active learning, gained full autonomy as a record and as a means of cultural communication. The process of achieving this autonomy from actual experience by professional texts had to start in Greece as early as in the fifth century, although it is impossible to say anything more specific about it due to the lack of testimonies of reception of these texts in the cultural system of the time. Plato and Aristotle greatly strengthened this conviction, the first in the path of idealistic philosophy, the second in the path of empirical philosophy: the written-text subsoil of both these philosophies was analyzed by Eric Havelock and Roy Harris. As was the case in other areas of the mental life written by the classical Greeks, the first attempts, somewhat coincidental and made in order to recognize the possibilities of writing as such, at some point (obviously elusive on the timeline even at the Hegelian twilight) have moved into a systematic approach aimed at embracing the ←75 | 76→whole reality and designing its own and human behavior in it. And here it turned out that we are stuck in the text – because the mentioned suppression can be understood as such. After all, the bodies of users of culture practicing the practices belonging to it have never been annihilated, their presence is felt even in the descriptions of extreme spiritual or mystical experiences – sometimes this presence is even a kind of manifestation á rebours. Thus, “displacement” can be understood as the identification of the body’s activity with the instruction of the text, that is, the subordination of the functional aisthesis to the realms of the reflective episteme. Experience has been recorded.

The reason why Europeans were so eager to submit their bodies to the dictates of the record and the text – and those who did not want or could not do so were pushed into marginal areas and deprived of privileges and recognition in our culture’s system – has already been mentioned here. The text and the cognitive processes associated with it enable people to prevent the entropy of the real world by codifying and consolidating the liquid, processional reality in a stable record. The presence of the text is tantamount to an extensification of individual and collective memory on a scale inaccessible to any oral culture. The production and use of texts provides their authors and recipients with a cultural, social, and political hegemony through the accumulation of messages and the knowledge they contain, accessible only to written experts, who thus gain a symbolic and practical advantage over the rest of the population. All this is a benefit for which it is worthwhile to sacrifice a silent, reflective sensory experience. This is how it emerges as a separate field of what, for many centuries to come, the masters of all performing arts passed on to their students in action, in rehearsal, and in demonstration, without textbooks and without documents – a practice which the learned scribes always had in contempt (and today we may suspect them of resentment), and which in the twentieth century was called tacit knowledge.

But how, therefore, should one understand the conviction common in the history of philosophy that Aristotle, by opposing Plato, created a philosophical system based precisely on experience?


42 Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, First Series, Boston and New York 1904, p. 25.

43 Krzysztof Głombiowski, Ksenofont. Żołnierz i pisarz, Wrocław 1993.

44 It is worth noting that the oral component in Greek culture of the classical period was clear not only to oralists but also to some “strict” philologists. This topic deserves a separate analysis, and here is a supporting quote from the canonical synthesis of the history of classical philology: “The very existence of scholarship depends on the book and books seem to have come into common use in the course of the fifth century, particularly as the medium for Sophistic writings. Early Greek literature had to rely on oral tradition, it had to be recited and to be heard; even in the fifth and fourth centuries there was a strong reaction against the inevitable transition from the spoken to the written word; only the civilization of the third century can be called – and not without exaggeration – a ‘bookish’ one.” (Richard Pfeiffer, History of the Classical Scholarship. From the Beginning to the End of the Hellenistic Age, Oxford 1968, p. 17, footnotes omitted).

45 Strictly speaking, in Xenophon’s writings Plato’s name appears once (Memorabilia III 6), but only because his brothers are mentioned there.

46 Leo Strauss, Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse, Cornell Univ. Press 1970.

47 Xenophon, Oeconomicus [The Economist]. A Treatise on the Science of the Household in the form of a Dialogue, in: The Works of Xenophon, vol. III, pt. 1, trans. H. G. Dakyns, Macmillan and Co., London and New York 1897, pp. 236–237.

48 The two prepositions reflect the basic European, philosophical and cultural alternative pertaining to human’s position in the world and deeply rooted in the cognitive processes studied here. I choose to juxtapose them here using a very text-centered device – the slash.

49 Jack Goody, The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society, Cambridge-New York 1986.

50 Xenophon, Oeconomicus, pp. 258–259.

51 The word used – “phaulos” – can mean “simplicity,” “vulgarity,” “inferiority” or “sloppiness,” and it generally has a negative connotation.

52 Xenophon, Oeconomicus, p. 267.

53 I would like to remind here that Michel Foucault, in the title of the third volume of The History of Sexuality, referred to this Greek term because “le souci de soi” is, in Foucualt’s work, the translation of “epimeleia heautou.”

54 Xenophon, Scripta Minora, with an English translation by E. C. Marchant, London, William Heinemann Ltd, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library 183) MCMXLVI, p. 363.

55 An extremely interesting contribution to the history of both the word “hypomnema” and the reading practices of the Greeks is the gnome attributed to Oenopides, an author living in the mid-fifth century (frgm. 4 Bodnar): “ta biblia ton men memathekoton hypomnemata eisi, ton de amathon mnemata” [books are hypomnemata for educated people, but for uneducated they are mnemata]. The word memathekotos means a person who has been educated through schooling or has specialist knowledge, so it is not synonymous with the word pepaideumenos denoting a person brought up according to the principles of the earlier paideia. This quotation comes from Florilegium Monacense, a medieval collection of ancient sayings whose original authorship was obliterated by the process of transmission; another collection of this kind, Gnomologium Vaticanum, attributes this sentence to a much later author, Diocles of Karystos. In the same Gnomologium there is also another sentence written down which is said to come from Oenopides (frgm. 4 Diels-Kranz): “Oinopides horon meirakion polla biblia ktomenon ephe: ‘me te kiboto, alla to stethei’ ” [Oenopides saw a young man buying a lot of books, and he said “don’t put them in a box, but in your heart.”]. Even if it is certainly not possible to link these sentences to the Oenopides era (some researchers point out that, in Oenopides’ times, Greek culture may not have been “booked” enough for such statements), the expressions they contain are important for understanding the concepts used in them in the context of early Greek reading practices. “Hypomnema” is here an external memory support, while “mnema” is memory as such and its external full substitutes in text form are considered unnatural. Testimonies on Oenopides collected and discussed by Istvan M. Bodnar (Max Planck Institut, Berlin 2007) provide interesting material on yet another person functioning at the threshold of advanced Greek writing culture. Oenopides was an astronomer and was to be the first to write about this field, according to the doxographic testimonies, and he made some important findings about the numerical relations between celestial bodies – this information provokes questions about how he recorded the results of his observations: did he already use any notation or diagrams and charts, or did he just stop at illustrative verbal descriptions? As for the word “hypomnema,” it is also worth mentioning his small renaissance by Michel Foucault in his late lectures collected in The Hermeneutics of the Subject (Palgrave 2005).

56 Xenophon, Scripta Minora, p. 321.

57 “Private person” in this case means also “not participating in the civic life” – the Greek word’s root idios means generally someone, who interested only in themselves and their personal affairs. Lack of interest in the intersubjective social and political realm in a person who was born to a family of an elevated social status was seen by the classic Greeks as a severe existential handicap. Therefore, later the word “idiotes” came to mean a “dullard, a dunce” – hence our modern “idiot.”

58 His predecessor in the field of horsemanship in Greece was a certain Simon (ca. 470–400), about whom Xenophon writes in the introduction to On Horsemanship that “there is already a treatise on horsemanship by Simon, who also dedicated the bronze horse in the Eleusinium at Athens and recorded his own feats in relief on the pedestal.” Xenophon then states that he intends to develop Simon’s instructions. We know nothing more about him – he belongs to the mysterious group of authors of the already mentioned “earliest theoretical treaties.” Perhaps, he is the same person as the cavalry leader mentioned by Aristophanes (The Knights, 242). The initial chapter of his text, preserved in one of the hippic manuscripts, was published by F. Ruehl in the second volume of the lesser texts by Xenophon (Xenophontis scripta minora, Teubner 1912). It has the shape of a regular textual discourse – the author gives a detailed description of model physical features of a horse, and then proceeds to the breeding rules. Pollux, a lexicographer who lived in the second century, quotes Simon’s six times, which must mean his work was highly influential. He was also quoted by Byzantine authors writing on horsemanship.

59 Xenophon, Scripta Minora, p. 335.

60 The beginnings of domestication of horses are now being estimated at 4500 years BC. The inhabitants of what is now known as Ukraine were probably the first ones to attempt it. Cf. David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language. How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton University Press 2007.

61 Cf. An overview (with a rich bibliography) given by Peter Raulwing, “The Kikkuli Text. Hittite Training Instructions for Chariot Horses in the Second Half of the 2nd Millenium BC and Their Interdisciplinary Context,” 2009 [online publication].

62 Ann Nyland, The Kikkuli Method of Horse Training, Armidale, Kikkuli Research Publications 1993, rev. ed. Sydney 2009.

63 The shift of focus from breeding and training horses to curing them is significant too – the issues of interaction between man and animals are replaced by issues of one-directional interventions of human professional knowledge into the animal’s body.

64 Xenophon, Scripta Minora, with an English translation by E. C. Marchant, London, William Heinemann Ltd, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library 183) MCMXLVI, p. 401.

65 Tadeusz Sinko, Zarys historii literatury greckiej [An Outline of History of Greek Literature], Warszawa 1959, vol. 1, p. 799.

66 Paweł Majewski, Pismo, tekst, literatura, Warszawa 2013, chapter 2.

67 Xenophon, Scripta Minora, p. 451.

68 Another interesting quality of this text is the abrupt shift from the enumeration of mythical hero-hunters in chapter 1 to a detailed, technological description of hunting tools (including giving precise numbers of meshes and the types of knots in hunting nets for minor animals) in chapter 2. It shows the broad scope of Xenophon’s thinking between two domains of his culture: the traditional-mythical one and the rational-textual one. He locates his own sensory biographical experience in-between these two and mediates them with words – the medium which is itself located in-between speech and writing. All these borders and “in-between” realms are interconnected and interdependent.

69 Sinko, Zarys historii literatury greckiej, p. 810.

70 In my previous book, I assumed that this stylistic conservatism is a sign of the distance of Greek religious cults from the medium of writing and its influence. However, at least for the Orphics, this assumption is false.

71 Poetae Epici Graeci. Testimonia et fragmenta, pars II, fasc. 1–3, Orphicorum et Orphicis similis testimonia et fragmenta, edited by Alberto Bernabè Pajeros, Monachii et Lipsiae in aedibus K. G. Saur (Bibl. Teubneriana) 2004–2007.

72 In the evolution of the history of antiquity, there have been some great discussions about the reality of the existence of Orphism in antiquity as a separate, self-contained and consciously experienced domain of spiritual life. The creation of orphism in modern European science and culture is itself a broadly separate topic with a rich literature. See: Lech Trzcionkowski, Bios-thanatos-bios. Olbia Semiophors and the Culture of Polis (Warszawa 2013) – this extensive monograph presents a whole range of issues related to both ancient Orphism and its modern scientific visions.

73 Euripides, Children of Heracles, Hippolytus, Andromache, Hecuba, edited and translated by David Kovacs, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts), London 1995 (Loeb Classical Library 484), p. 217.

74 Plato, The Republic, with an English translation by Paul Shorey, in two volumes, vol. I, Books I-V, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press, London, William Heinemann Ltd, MCMXXXVII (Loeb Classical Library 237), p. 135.

75 Let us take the second paragraph of The Oath: “[I swear] To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the physician’s oath, but to nobody else.” (Hippocrates with an English translation by W. H. S. Jones, vol. I, London, William Heinemann Ltd, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Harvard University Press, MCMLVII (Loeb Classical Library 147), p. 299). This recommendation refers to the situation in which the medical art is mostly transmitted orally within the familial-guild system limited to a quantitatively slim group whose members have close personal relations: this is probably what the medical school on Kos Island looked like in the fifth century BC. In our times, strict adherence to it would be considered nepotism.

76 Émile Littrè (1801–1881), the most eminent student of Comte, was mainly famous for developing a dictionary of the French language, which is now known by his name. Apart from it, and in addition to translating and compiling ten volumes of Corpus Hippocraticum, he also worked on many other ancient authors. His figure deserves to be explored more closely, as he is an exceptionally expressive representative of both the ethos and lifestyle of the positivist philologists who have devoted themselves to the Text.

77 Ritual activities and certain group behaviors should be excluded from the scope of this statement, but it does make sense in relation to individual religiousness

78 Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters, Books III.106e-V, edited and translated by S. Douglas Olson, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts), London 2006 (Loeb Classical Library 208), pp. 287–289.

79 Chamfort’s biography quotes a letter from a lady sent to her friend about young Chamfort, who led a lively social and erotic life until he fell for syphilis: “You think he’s only an Adonis, yet he’s Hercules.” This sentence – a model example of the application of the semiotic code based on the symbols of classical tradition commonly used in French court culture of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries – is, contrary to appearances, also a very specific information about Chamfort’s qualities. Adonis symbolized in this code delicate boyish beauty, while Hercules (Heracles) was known, among other things, for the fact that during one night he fertilized the fifty daughters of King Tespius, who then gave him fifty sons. See: Claude Arnaud, Chamfort. A Biography, trans. D. Dusinberre, Chicago-London 1992, p. 32.

80 We can also use the phrase “the action of the text” if we assume that Heracles’ reaction is caused by the active character of the autonomous presence of the text in the realm of Lebenswelt – this presence would induce the recipients of the text to specific behaviors affecting other areas of reality as well.

81 Among the vast literature on the subject one can mention for example: Th. Fögen (ed.), Antike Fachtexte – Ancient Technical Texts, de Gruyter 2005; M. Horster, Ch. Reitz (eds.), Antike Fachschriftsteller. Literarischer Diskurs und sozialer Kontext, Stuttgart 2003; A. Imhausen, T. Pommerening (eds.), Writings of Early Scholars in the Ancient Near East, Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Translating Ancient Scientific Texts, de Gruyter 2010; B. Meissner, Die technologische Fachliteratur der Antike, Berlin 1999; C. W. Müller et al. (eds.), Ärzte und Ihre Interpreten. Medizinische Fachtexte der Antike als Forschungsgegenstand der klassischen Philologie, Saur 2006; L. Totelin, Hippocratic Recipes. Oral and Written Transmission of Pharmacological Knowledge in Fifth- and Fourth-Century Greece, Brill 2009. This is a sample of the most recent studies; however, the history of the subject goes much further, since as early as 1924 Hermann Diels published Die Antike Technik, in which he aimed to capture an issue that goes beyond pure positivist factography.

82 The relationship between writing practices and the emergence and development of such areas of human intellectual life as mathematics is a separate topic which I do not address here. It is widely acknowledged that in the world of classical Greece there has been a qualitative change in making mathematical procedures an independent intellectual undertaking alongside strictly practical applications known from earlier civilizations, which was connected with a gradual detachment of mathematical concepts from their relationship with the material world experienced sensually and being a space of social practices. The presence of Greek writing has probably contributed to this, but rather not to a decisive extent, because graphic representations of mathematical concepts do not have the necessary connections with alphabetical writing. On the other hand, for such thinkers as the Pythagoreans, mathematical concepts maintained strong links with the material world, but on a different ontological level from that of the Egyptians or Babylonians – numbers and proportions were no longer tools to facilitate practical activities (calculations and measurements), but principles defining the abstract order of building reality. The basic elaboration of the history of Greek mathematics remains a two-volume work by Sir Thomas Little Heath: A History of Greek Mathematics, vol. I, From Thales to Euclid; vol. II, From Aristarchus to Diophantus, Oxford 1921. The history of mathematical notation was presented by Georges Ifrah, The Universal History of Numbers, trans. D. Bello (Wiley 2000), but this work concerns mainly the notation of digits and numbers, while all other mathematical notations and symbols also play an important role in thinking about epistemological problems related to “mathematical notation.” At this point, I can only suggest that writing practices and forms of notation and text specific to European mathematics are linked to cognitive processes of a different nature from those of alphabetical writing.

83 Let us note that the practice of writing or rewriting a text is also itself a functional and motoric practice – but with properties very different from those of the practices referred to in the textbook, although a textbook of good writing (in both creative and reproducible terms – both calligraphy and creative writing) is as illusory in its effectiveness as textbooks of efficient swimming or dancing. Writing could be regarded as a kind of cultural metapractice marking the identity and evolution of writing cultures to a great extent, but I am not sure if such a conceptual approach would be cognitively fruitful. I will return to the issue of writing activities in this book in the appendix on medieval scribes. It is impossible to make judgements or even assumptions about the psychophysiology of writing in antiquity due to an almost complete lack of source testimonies. The phenomenology of writing with a stylus on a wax plate, with a pen on a papyrus sheet and with a graver on a marble plate – these are certainly three very different fields of experience: sensual, intellectual, and cognitive. However, we cannot go beyond this most general statement.

84 Toward the end of the nineteenth century, similar intuitions were manifested by empiriocritical philosophers in their attempts to overcome the contradictions led by the post-Kantian philosophy of the subject clashing with the achievements of the nineteenth century exact sciences. In his essay Positivist philosophy, Leszek Kołakowski sums up Avenarius by saying that, according to this philosopher, the existence of the external world depends, in its final instance, on the existence of the nervous system of the subject that perceives this world. Here I only suggest that the impossibility of transferring between people the sensual experiences as such (and not only their symbolic, mainly written representations) results from our biological heritage, which has made each of us have a nervous system that has no external connections “on the way out” (effectors), but only receptors, which means that we can absorb the sensations, but we cannot emit them from ourselves so that our fellows perceive them with their own receptors, and that’s why we can only communicate our sensual experience symbolically. Some of the theses expressed in the Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which I will analyze in the following pages of this book, are based on these very properties of the human cognitive-receptive apparatus.

85 The area of these discussions is sometimes referred to as “biocultural anthropology,” and its intellectual and institutional autonomy remains problematic so far because it is not clear whether it is to be a new sub-discipline of cultural studies or whether it is to become a synthesis of cultural and physical anthropology freed from the ballast of old discredited racial theories. Research tools of neuroscience and cognitive science also come into play here. Researchers interested in this issue highlight, for example, the possible influence of cultural factors (including the development of writing and visual images as carriers of symbolic meanings circulating in cultural communication) on changes in the structure of certain areas of the human cortex responsible for the recognition and processing of visual stimuli – this is one of the potential examples of changes caused by the presence of cultural phenomena in our anatomical structure. However, finding such changes does not give us an answer to the question whether and how our cognitive processes change under the influence of these phenomena. On the subject of biocultural anthropology, see e.g. Alan H. Goodman, Thomas L. Leatherman (eds.), Building A New Biocultural Synthesis (University of Michigan Press 1998); Daniel A. Segal, Sylvia J. Yanagisako (eds.), Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle: Reflections on the Disciplining of Anthropology (Duke University Press 2005).