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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics is committed to the progress and proliferation of scholarship in the field of Classics and to providing a common medium through which undergraduates from all relevant disciplines can actively engage in one another’s work. In order to establish a channel for interdepartmental exchange and collaboration, we seek to publish exceptional papers and translations from a wide range of fields pertaining to Classics and the world of the ancient Mediterranean.

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The Political Nature of Plato’s Symposium

The dramatic setting of Plato’s Symposium obscures its function as a discourse that establishes the political philosophy of its author. The effort to identify the political within an ostensibly apolitical dialogue reflects the ancient attempt to use the casual and leisurely as a tool for prying open the more serious. I want to suggest that readings of the Symposium which do not attempt to uncover fully the political achieve only a partial understanding of Plato’s program within the work. I also want to establish the possibility that Plato relies on a historical and literary intertext with writers such as Thucydides and Aristophanes in order to key the reader into the underlying, and potentially dangerous, political nature of the dialogue. When such historical intertext goes unnoticed or is dismissed, the reader constructs, I submit, an insurmountable obstacle for the understanding of the work. On the other hand, only when the reader recognizes Plato’s use of historical material, can the Symposium be viewed properly as a forum for the development of political philosophy in the guise of a literary drama.

Witchy Woman: Power, Drugs, and Memory in the Odyssey

In the Odyssey of Homer, one recurring trope is the use of drugs by one character to gain power over another. The two most prominent examples of the trope are Helen and Circe. Helen uses a drug to assuage the grief of Telemachos, while Circe tries to use drugs to seduce and capture Odysseus and his men. Both drugs are described as causing men to forget their homes. At the same time, Helen uses rhetoric to rewrite history, and Circe is mysteriously able to narrate Odysseus’s future. A comparison of the two incidents, and of the women’s other deceptive actions, reveals that these memory-altering drugs are part of a more general pattern of divine women having the ability to manipulate reality, along with the constant threat their beauty poses to the familial stability of mortal men. When the analysis is broadened to include other uses of drugs in the poem—those of the Lotus-Eaters and of Odysseus—their significance becomes more complex. They are associated with the danger of forgetting family, but also with godlike powers forbidden to mortals, and, finally, with the sort of deceitful intelligence and dishonorable fighting techniques employed equally by Helen, Circe, and Odysseus. Thus, an analysis of the instances of drugs in the poem reveals unexpected ideas about the protagonist. His position on the continuum between men and gods, and between male and female, becomes oddly unstable.

The Interface between Christian and Classical Tradition: An Examination of Logic in the Writings of Cyril of Alexandria

Perhaps one of the most significant features of Late Antiquity is the diverse interaction between different ethno-religious groups. Alexandria, quite a cosmopolitan city during this time, was no exception, and a home for Jews, Christians and pagans alike. In Alexandria, interactions between these groups ranged from peaceful, scholastic exchange at academies to outbreaks of public violence, most notably the destruction of the Serapeum in 391.  Further evidence of the tense interaction between these groups can be found in an examination of the city’s intellectual history: namely, Christians’ fraught relationship with the classical tradition. On one hand, Homer and other classical authors for over a century had formed the educational canon; on the other, these pagan works contained what Christians believed to be questionable morals. In this paper I examine the use of the logic tradition in the polemical writings of Cyril of Alexandria. Logic was developed primarily by Aristotle in the Organon and further expanded by his followers and later philosophers. I argue that Cyril does not use logic out of any great admiration of its efficacy, but merely because it is the tool that his opponents use in their own polemical writings: he essentially attempts to beat his enemies with their own weapons. Understood this way, Cyril’s use of logic demonstrates a rather ambivalent attitude toward the classical tradition – indeed, the direct quotation of Aristotle and the creative use of his tools, but seemingly without any great admiration for Aristotle or the logic tradition.

Genital Depilation and Power in Classical Greece

Throughout Classical Greece, the superficial artistic conventions of pubic hair illustration illuminate deeper insight into contemporaneous Greek life. In nude male statuary, the evolution of carefully sculpted and stylized pubic hair to unbridled tufts reveals the shifting definition of masculinity. No longer valuing the ostentatious pubic ornamentation of aristocrats, the newly founded Greek democracy turns to embrace the pubic hair of the everyman. With this change, every citizen can attain bodily austerity just as he can attain influence in his government. In a true reflection of the Classical ideal, his self-containment endows him with masculine power. He  suppresses any potential threat to this power, a mindset not limited to merely his rival men. One also can apply this concept of patriarchal dominance to the practice of female genital depilation; the most powerful and therefore most threatening women remove greater quantities of pubic hair, while the more innocuous females need not practice such depilation. This applies to the goddesses, who lack pubic hair completely; the wives, who take pride in their neatly pruned genitalia; the hetaerai who partially depilate to augment eroticism; and the common slaves, who as harmless property do not groom extensively. The man’s pubic dominance remains unattested, however, in vases that include scenes with other males. While these subjects could threaten the patron with a masculine proliferation of pubic hair, they instead juxtapose him with their relative hairlessness. Through this portrayal, the artist simultaneously avoids ominous castration allusions and provides the viewer with youthful homoerotic erômenoi who assure him of his eternal dominance. The accumulation of both textual and visual evidence elucidates how pubic hair in Classical Greece reflects the contemporaneous zeitgeist, visually portraying the ideals of both public and private spheres.