Palaima: This season, put ourselves in the shoes of others
6:00 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014 | Print December 25, 2014
—Dr. Ronald Glasser’s classic book “365 Days” is distilled from his service as a surgeon during the Vietnam War.
—Palaima: We do not know how to see veterans as individuals, often with deep personal wounds.
Palaima: This season, put ourselves in the shoes of others
Posted: 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014
By Tom Palaima – Special to the American-Statesman
There are 365 days in our non-leaping years. Let us hope we have spent our days in 2014 well, because we are never getting them back.
In the days from Thanksgiving through the seasons of Hanukkah-Christmas-Kwanzaa, we naturally focus on our own families. But a discussion I have been having with someone to whom 365 days were so meaningful that he wrote a book of that title, published way back in 1971, invites us to think about others in a broader sense.
His name is Dr. Ronald J. Glasser. His classic book “365 Days” is distilled from his service as a surgeon to the most critically wounded soldiers during the Vietnam War. “365 Days” should be read and reread alongside other books containing the truths about war by those who have experienced war firsthand. But there is more to be done than reading and developing the classic feelings of sympathy and fear.
Dr. Glasser recommended to me Phil Klay’s “Redeployment,” about Iraq, being there and coming back. I read it.
He then told me that it and other books written by and about soldiers and veterans of our prolonged military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, no matter how powerful, felt to him like “individual efforts unconnected to anything else,” more or less about “our French Foreign Legion rather than our country,” where the things that happen are “all just kind of individual bad luck.”
This put into words some of my own feelings about how we have been invited to look at our ongoing “war on terror,” our “forever war,” to use the title of Dexter Filkins’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning book on the subject. When do we question publicly or privately whether we should support the loss of American and non-American lives in distant lands?
In “Redeployment,” a veteran meets up with a chaplain he knew over in Iraq. He is still seeking, almost unknowingly, help for his anger, sorrow, guilt and moral confusion. The chaplain points to the small cross on his collar, calls the cross on which Jesus died “a torture device” and declares that Jesus “only promised that we don’t suffer alone,” so long as we believe in Him. What the chaplain’s words imply about the isolation from all of us felt by many soldiers and veterans every single day is almost too terrible to contemplate.
Ron’s words made me hear again the invocation before a Texas A&M football game in College Station in November. We, over 100,000 strong, were invited to pray in thanks for the men and women “defending our country every day in foreign lands.” We were not invited to pray for peace or to ask God that our leaders might find a better way to use the lives of all those men and women for the good of our society and the world.
I have other new words to ponder, spoken by a new friend, Joseph A. Costello. Costello is 33 years old, the age scholars hypothesize Jesus was when he was tortured and died upon the cross. Joseph served in the U.S. Army in Iraq during the early phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is finishing a master’s in information science at the University of Texas at Austin as a prelude to doing graduate studies, he hopes, in social work. His goal is “to work with traumatized populations to help alleviate burdens of trauma related to issues such as combat experience.”
Joseph told me that, like many veterans, he has had trouble processing the guilt and shame about what we are doing with our soldiers and contractors in the Middle East. He finds it especially troubling when as a veteran he is thanked for his service by people who do not know, or even seem to want to know, what effects the chaos and violence and amorality and senselessness of fighting a “war on terror” have on the men and women who are doing the fighting and on the men, women and children in foreign countries who are in the way of our shocking and awful military power.
We do not know how to see veterans as individuals, often with deep personal wounds. We take the easy way out. We thank them all and ask God to bless them and us.
Let us all resolve to look at and think about war, soldiers and veterans and our own relatively peaceful lives differently on each of the 365 days we are given in the year ahead.
Tom Palaima is Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics at the University of Texas.
Longhorn football could learn a thing or two from Greek myth
The Daily Texan Published on-line September 18, 2013 Print edition September 19, 2013
By Tom Palaima
In my many years of teaching ancient mythology, I have absorbed, as I hope my students have, the important lessons about life that the original myth-makers embedded in their stories.
One lesson is to be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. A variant is to make sure you follow through on your side of whatever bargain you strike. A third is not to get too big for your britches — the Greeks called this hubris.
The immortal and ageless goddess Dawn falls in love with a handsome prince of Troy named Tithonus. She steals him away and asks Zeus to make him immortal. Zeus asks her, “Do you want anything else?” She says no.
Zeus makes Tithonus deathless, but not ageless. He grows older and older, shrivels up and finally turns into a chirping cicada—not what Dawn had in mind.
A similar fate befalls the Cumaean Sibyl. According to Ovid, Apollo loves the Sibyl so much that he offers to grant her one wish if she will make love with him. She asks to live as many years as the grains of sand she holds. When she later refuses to give up her virginity, Apollo gives her long life, but lets her, too, grow old.
Counterfactual history, like Winston Churchill’s famous 1931 essay “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg,” focuses on key moments and their consequences by wondering “What if?” What if Dawn had thought through her request? What if the Sibyl had followed through on her promise?
Given the major distraction that the poor performance of the Longhorns football team has become lately at our university, it is worth posing a big counterfactual historical question. What if Vince Young had not scored the winning touchdown with nineteen seconds left in the 2006 Rose Bowl, considered by ESPN the fifth greatest play in the history of NCAA football?
The touchdown won the national title for the UT Longhorns, just weeks after William C. Powers, then dean of the UT Law School and long a sports enthusiast, was officially named the 28th president of UT Austin.
Winning the national championship was for head coach Mack Brown the NCAA sports equivalent of being head of a team of researchers awarded the Nobel Prize. As national champions, the football program brought in a bonanza in revenues from marketing souvenirs and our UT trademark.
The chief financial officer of the self-operating UT athletics program Ed Gobles has proclaimed, “We eat what we kill.” Translation: whatever monies athletics raises, it spends. Athletics director DeLoss Dodds has crowed, “We are the Joneses.”
The die was cast. From the Vince Young Rose Bowl onward, there has been no restraining athletics. Hubris has prevailed.
Stadium expansions, large salary increases coaches — not only in football, and a $1 million annuity for the athletics director were approved by the cronies within the UT sports silo, the regents who attend football games in the president’s skybox or their own, and the wealthy donors who, according to a local sportswriter, really decide whether head coaches are hired and fired.
The sense was that we would win another national title.
And we almost did. The Longhorns lost to Alabama 37-21 in the national title game following the 2009 season. Trouble was, right before that loss, Mack Brown was given, over the strong protest of a core of faculty leaders, a $2-million raise. That set in motion the decamping of his heir apparent Will Muschamp.
Without Muschamp’s defensive coaching genius, the Longhorns fortunes have faded. Talk now is of winning Big XII titles. But this hope is almost counterfactual, given that teams coached by Mack Brown have only been Big XII champions twice in his fifteen years at UT (2005 and 2009).
One more counterfactual thought. If UT had lost the 2006 Rose Bowl, perhaps Vince Young would have played another year of college football, reined in his hubris about his own abilities, and faced the transition to the fame and fortune of professional football with more maturity.
One positive fact: Young has now earned his degree in Youth and Community Studies and has a loving wife and child. He can do some real good in the world before old age overtakes him, as it overtook Tithonus, and overtakes us all, even our greatest athletes.
Palaima is the Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics.
Palaima: If Mack Brown were on the tenure track
By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor
The big questions in Austin right now are what grade do we give Mack Brown for his performance as head coach of the University of Texas football team, and who gives him his grade?
Sportswriters are giving out C’s, D’ and F’s for play on the field. Here let me propose that it would be much better if decisions about coaches, expenditures, admissions and academic standards were made with a wider range of voices, perspectives and values.
Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
In The Riddle of the Labyrinth (Ecco Press), author Margalit Fox gives us an inside look at the life of Alice E. Kober through first-hand sources. This was in part possible through “the newly opened archive of her papers at the University of Texas” at the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory, where her letters, manuscripts, and notes are carefully stored. In the summer of 2012, Zachary Fischer, a graduate student in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin, digitized Kober’s archived correspondence and made it available on the University of Texas Digital Repository.
With the publication of the book and the publicly-accessible documents, I have compiled a selection of letters as a companion to The Riddle of the Labyrinth so that readers and visitors can experience and see for themselves Kober’s words preserved in ink from over sixty years ago. The selections below are not comprehensive and visitors are encouraged to search the collection for themselves: the PDFs have had OCR applied and so one can search for typed phrases in the original documents.
We hope to be able to digitize more of Kober’s files as well as other documents from the Ventris and Bennett archives here in PASP over this summer.
Please feel free to leave a comment below!
Margalit Fox’s new book The Riddle of the Labyrinth (Ecco Press) will be released on May 14. http://www.harpercollins.com/books/The-Riddle-of-the-Labyrinth-Margalit-Fox?isbn=9780062228833&HCHP=TB_The+Riddle+of+the+Labyrinth
The Times Sunday Review for May 12, 2013 has a biographical essay about Kober by Fox: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/sunday-review/alice-e-kober-43-lost-to-history-no-more.html?pagewanted=all
Margalit used the PASP archives and the School of Information resources at UT Austin in order to tell the story of the decipherment of Linear B. She places the the work of Alice Elizabeth Kober in the context of the research done on the Aegean linear scripts from 1900 through the decipherment of Linear B in 1952. As Margalit quotes:
“Kober was ‘the person on whom an astute bettor with full insider information would have placed a wager’ to decipher the script.” —Thomas Palaima
Margalit also gives us a way of grasping Kober’s sense that work on the scripts was what we might call ‘a sacred duty’. For her working with other serious scholars like Johannes Sundwall and Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., and John Franklin Daniel was a life calling (alongside her full-time obligations as a professor with major teaching obligations). But it was also deeply satisfying, worth all the painstaking effort, and fun.
In short, Margalit gives us Kober as a full human being.
I have read every page of the manuscript in draft and proof stages. The Riddle of the Labyrinth is a fine book, well-documented, fascinating and humanly engaging. It makes clear how Kober’s work was related to the work of Sir Arthur Evans, Michael Ventris, Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., Johannes Sundwall, Sir John Myres and others.
I just met today with Sue Trombley, director of consulting at Iron Mountain, a digital records management company. In 2003-2005, Sue preserved and organized the Kober archives, writing the first finding aid for the materials. Sue did the Kober-like work of going through each and every one of the cigarette-carton and other files (over 180,000 items) making sure each one was not in a destructive environment (removing all sorts of intrusive matter) and housing all assemblages of items in archivally sound environments.
Here is the commentary piece Sue and I wrote in 2003 about Alice Kober and her archives. It gives some sense of the human side of Alice that going through her records gave to Sue (and vicariously to me):
Margalit thanks Zachary Fischer, who put the Kober and Ventris letters up on-line in summer of 2012. He and Sue are happy to see Alice’s story told primarily from the materials they worked hard to preserve and make available.
Zachary reports that as of May 2013, UTDR (University of Texas Digital Resources) usage statistics are that the collections have good use by visitors. In the last nine months or so, SMID has had ca. 1155 views and the main Kober page has had ca. 1245 views!
Christy Costlow Moilanen has done the complete finding aid to the PASP Kober, Ventris and Bennett materials (mainly in 2007-2008).
Many PASP assistants have helped in keeping the Kober materials well-organized and fully accessible to visiting scholars. Margalit Fox, in her acknowledgements (pp. 347-349), explicitly thanks Dygo Tosa. Dygo has worked with these materials for three years now. Dygo has finished his M.A. degree and is now finishing his certification in the University of Texas at Austin’s UTeach Program. Dygo is a mainstay of PASP, a bright young mind and an inspiring teacher. He has written and given papers on Minoan language and linear scripts.
Margalit also thanks, as do I, Alison Fell, whose engrossing novel, The Element -inth in Greek (Sandstone Press 2012) tells in a fully human way some of the Kober story.
Alison investigated the life of Kober and provided PASP with documents pertaining to Kober’s life, for example, her birth and death certificates, photographs, and the ship’s manifest marking the arrival of Alice’s mother and father in the new world. Alice’s mother was already in her first trimester of pregnancy with Alice. Alison also provided us with census reports showing where the Kobers lived after they arrived in the new world.
The Kober archives were in the possession of the late Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., since soon after Alice’s death (May 16, 1950) until the late 1980’s when he entrusted them to my personal care. I have made them available to PASP and have supplemented them with the kinds of materials I have mentioned above. Here are links to materials.
Thanks to everyone involved. In a few days Alice will step into the spotlight at last, something she was ever reluctant to do when she was alive and when work took priority over any concern for any kind of fame connected with her work.
The late Robert Graves said, “I write poems for poets…. For people in general I write prose, and I am content that they should be unaware that I do anything else. To write poems for other than poets is wasteful.”
Mutadis mutandis, this describes Alice E. Kober’s mindset, spirit and work. She wrote beautiful, exacting, sound and serious scholarship for serious scholars.
Tom Palaima May 10, 2013
ALSO OF INTEREST TO STUDENTS OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION BY MARGALIT FOX:
Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind (Simon & Schuster, 2007)
THE NEW YORK AEGEAN BRONZE AGE COLLOQUIUM
will meet at The Institute of Fine Arts One East 78th Street
Friday, October 12, 2012 @ 6:30 PM
will speak on
"Gold into silver? 65 years of Mycenaean Palaeography"
Senior Fellows Honors Program School of Communications BMC 5.208 TUESDAY NOVEMBER 13 12:30-1-45
“Second Last Thoughts on Bob Dylan’s ‘Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie'”
A talk by Tom Palaima, professor of Classics, University of Texas at Austin
On Jan. 29, 1961, Bob Dylan, 19 years old, took a bus to Morris Plains, New Jersey, where he met for the first time his idol and inspiration Woody Guthrie, 48 years of age, who, almost five years before, in May, 1956, had been ‘involuntarily checked into’ Greystone Park Hospital with advanced Huntington’s Chorea.
On Feb. 14, 1961, Dylan wrote “Song for Woody” (SFW). Two years later, on April 12, 1963, at New York’s Town Hall, before 900 people, Dylan recited a poem of five pages, “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” ((LTOWG). Guthrie would live four and a half more years after Dylan had his “last thoughts.”
In this talk, professor Palaima will examine these two tributes, considering the following questions: What would Woody Guthrie’s condition have been when Dylan met him? What impact might Dylan’s finding out at this time about the range of Guthrie’s genius have had on Dylan? What might Guthrie’s end condition have taught Dylan about what is important in life with regard to fame, music, personal choices, creativity, society and the human heart and soul? And how might this have affected, in large or small ways, where Dylan was heading with his life and his music?
Tom Palaima is Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics and has written commentaries, reviews and articles about musical figures like Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy LaFave, Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. He teaches and writes about war song and music as social commentary.
See, for example: http://www.texasobserver.org/archives/item/15265-2665-alive-and-singing-the-truth and
Contact: Dave Junker, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-773-0673
See for other senior fellows talks: http://communication.utexas.edu/senior-fellows/public-events-and-lectures-2012-13
Here is the amazing discovery of an early epic fragment painted on cloth that refers to a hero named Rapineus.