Anybody who doubts the phallocentric theory of history need only hear the tale of the Athenian General Alcibiades (circa 450-404 B.C.)--as it is told, at least, by Alan J.M. Haffa, Ph.D., Director of Classical Studies at Phoenix College. Whitewashed as a character in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, Alcibiades was, in Haffa's words, "a wealthy young aristocrat. He's mentioned in Plato's Symposium as a lover of Socrates--though it's in debate as to exactly what that means--and his character there is that of a playboy.
"Alcibiades urged Athens to go to war with Syracuse. But before the army left Athens, there was an incident in which a group of young men committed sacrilege against the Herms," says Haffa.
Against the whats? "The Herms were small statues of the god Hermes with an erect phallus. These guys went around Athens and knocked these erections off," explains Haffa. The Athenians were not amused. It was a serious sacrilege, and so Alcibiades, who had reputedly taken part in the vandalism, had to flee. "He ended up joining his former enemies, the Spartans. But while he was there, he was accused of having an affair with the Spartan king's wife, so he had to flee again, back to Athens." Erections got this guy into trouble throughout his career.
This is only one of the examples with which Dr. Haffa plans to illustrate the history of political sex scandal in "Sex, Politics and Public Office: Athens, Rome, Washington, D.C." at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, September 17, at Phoenix College.
It need hardly be said that the lecture was inspired by the current tribulations of a certain inside-the-Beltway federal employee over his sexual shenanigans. "To me, it's interesting to note that there were similar situations in ancient Rome or Greece," says Haffa, who earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Classical Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "I don't have a conclusion, necessarily, I just want to draw the comparison and show that this is nothing new."
Another example, says Haffa, is that of Nero. "He was accused by his opponents in the Senate of wild orgies on the island of Capri. He did have an extravagant palace there, but all indications we have are that the charges were exaggerated."
In general, according to Haffa, Nero may not have been as bad as his rep. "He got a lot of bad press, of course, over the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 A.D., because he was supposedly cheering it on. The story probably grew up because he later built this extravagant personal palace on a public area that had been cleared by the fire." As always in politics, the mere appearance of impropriety is enough to hurt you.
Parallels with the non-libertine faction in current politics occur in ancient history as well. Says Haffa, "Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, was also interesting--in some ways, what he was trying to do was similar to what the Moral Majority is trying to do. He and his wife Livia were trying to restore traditional morality, largely because the decline of tradition was thought to be weakening the ruling class. So they had temples rebuilt, and passed laws to enforce religious observance, and to encourage the aristocracy to have children--they weren't having many--and to discourage divorce. Sort of 'family values' laws. But he probably wasn't as wholesome as the image he wanted to be perceived."
Unlike so many modern conservatives, however (our own John McCain among them), Augustus at least cannot be accused of softening his hard-line stand where his own family is concerned: "His daughter had an affair, and under the law both she and the man had to be exiled. So they were, to different places."
--M. V. Moorhead
Alan J.M. Haffa, Ph.D., will discuss "Sex, Politics and Public Office: Athens, Rome, Washington, D.C." at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, September 17, in the South Staff Lounge of the Hannelly Center on the Phoenix College campus, 1202 West Thomas. Admission is free. For more information, call 285-7538.
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