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Friday, May 25, 2007

Some Notes on the Home

posted by on May 25 at 12:18 PM

Few things in life make me happier than watching my daughter walk up the metal steps of the school bus. It is the passage for her transition from the family to the state. As the philosopher points out in almost all of his books: the ethical substance (society) is made up of two laws—one which is divine (the family) and one which is human (the state). Put another way: one which is oikos (the house) and one which is polis (the city). The steps on the school bus lead Delphinium (my daughter) from her father or mother (family) to school (state). For her, I’m nothing more than the given, the natural, the home (in short, all that Aeschylus’ trilogy, The House of Atreus, designates as bad); the polis, the fashioned, is the social space in which she gets to decide the self she wants to be (which is the self that will overcome the given). The house is about the underworld, the night; the polis is daylight and clarity. Her leaving me is leaving the dark limits of birth and death and entering the open universal, the larger community, the longer course of social history. Each step my daughter makes up and into the bus negates me. When the doors close behind her, I’m totally negated. The state is the power she has over me, the family, and nothing makes me happier than to see her little power grow.

When beautiful Cassandra steps down from the chariot and sees Agamemnon’s house, she screams: “No … no … a house. [a] house full of death, kinsmen butchered … heads chopped off … a human slaughterhouse awash in blood …” To Greek eyes, the home was a dark force because of its direct connection with the life and death forces of nature. And in Late Antiquity, Christianity began its long war against the home, the site of terrible crimes: fornication, murder, incest. When it completely defeated the family in the High Middle Ages, the powers of death were transferred from the home to the church. To understand this long struggle between the church and the home is to see one of the main reasons for the continuing Christian resistance to abortion rights. It is for the church a kind re-empowering of the home, which, as the the philosopher says in almost almost all of his books, is the domain of the woman. The substance of the popular novel The Da Vinci Code is this struggle that dates all the way back to the The House of Atreus.

My father to me, while driving to my mother’s grave: “In traditional Manica [or African] society, there were no big churches. Your hut was your church. The altar was in the hut. You didn’t leave the hut to pray. You prayed in your hut. When Christianity arrived and settled, that’s when you left the house to pray in the church.”

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for what its worth, orestes is the man. oresteia is the cycle of stories about him. if you must, it would be the house of orestes.

Posted by aeschylus | May 25, 2007 1:20 PM

Plus the home was where the unwanted women were exiled. to sit doing unproductive and monotonous tasks.

Posted by Vooodooo84 | May 25, 2007 4:37 PM

Indeed. Charles, if you're going to be a blowhard name dropper, at least get your titles/facts right. Aeschylus wrote no such trilogy which could even remotely be translated as "The House of Atreus". (Although you are right that it is the subject matter of the cycle.) Did you use some kind of internet ancient greek translating web page to write your column?

Posted by pissed of classicist | May 26, 2007 9:57 PM

Okay, I'm in a better mood now. You might like JP Vernant's Origin's of Greek Thought, if you haven't read it already.

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