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Gossip was a powerful tool for the powerless in Ancient Greece
Through calculated use of gossip, women, non-citizens, or slaves wielded a potent weapon against those who wronged them.
At the heart of the greatest works of Ancient Greek literature are mighty acts of revenge. Revengers overcome their enemies through superior physical prowess, as when Achilles kills Hector in a single combat to avenge the death of his comrade Patroclus; or through their employment of trickery and deceit, as when Medea slays Creon and his daughter by using poisoned clothing in revenge against Jason, her unfaithful husband. But how could a person lacking in physical strength, magical abilities or supportive friends take revenge?
Low-status women without strong family connections were among the weakest in Ancient society but they wielded a powerful weapon in ensuring the demise of a hated enemy: gossip.
Idle gossip or rumor is personified by the Ancient poets. In Homeric epic, rumor is said to be a messenger of Zeus, rushing along with the crowds of soldiers as they muster, conjuring an image of the way she speeds among people from mouth to mouth, spreading through crowds. Hesiod also portrays her as in some way divine, but equally something of which to be wary, "mischievous, light, and easily raised, but hard to bear and difficult to be rid of." The fourth-century Athenian orator Aeschines alludes to gossip about private matters being spread seemingly spontaneously through the city. Ancient people from all walks of life, men and women, free and slave, young and old, were thought to indulge in gossip, ensuring its swift passage to all corners of the city. The propensity for a huge range of members of society to gossip opened up conduits between the lowliest and the mightiest, the weakest and the most powerful.
While Aristotle suggests that gossiping was frequently a trivial, enjoyable pastime, he also makes clear that gossiping could have malicious intent when spoken by someone who has been wronged. This evaluation of words as weapons in the hands of the wronged is particularly pertinent when thinking about how the Athenians made use of gossip in the law courts in Athens, because Ancient court cases were based heavily on character evaluation of those involved in the case rather than on hard evidence. In the absence of professional judges, the aim of the speakers was to discredit their opponents' characters in the eyes of the jurors, while presenting themselves as upstanding citizens. The power of gossip was feared by ancient litigants, so they carefully outlined how the negative stories the jurors might have heard about them weren't true, and had been spread intentionally by their mendacious opponents.
From the Ancient orators, we learn that public places such as shops and marketplaces were useful locations to spread false rumors aimed at discrediting an opponent because of the crowds that gathered there. In one case, written down by Demosthenes, Diodorus alleges that his enemies spread false information by sending newsmongers into marketplaces in the hopes of swaying public opinion in their favor. Demosthenes himself accused his opponent Meidias of spreading malicious rumors. And Callimachus is said to have repeatedly told the crowds gathered in the workshops a sorry tale of his harsh treatment at his opponent's hands. In these instances, the intention of the gossipers is to spread false information across the city to generate an impression of the individuals involved that will help them win their legal cases.
The law courts in Athens were the preserve of men, so women needed to rely on male relatives to act for them. However, the Ancient sources make clear that women's ability to gossip could be a useful tool in attacking an enemy. In order to demonstrate his opponent's bad character in court, the speaker of Against Aristogeiton 1 describes an incident involving Aristogeiton's violent and ungrateful behavior towards a resident alien woman named Zobia, who had apparently helped him when he was in trouble but, as soon as he regained his strength, he physically abused her and threatened to sell her into slavery. Because she was a non-citizen, Zobia had no access to the official legal channels in Athens. She did, however, make full use of the unofficial channels by telling her acquaintances about her maltreatment. Despite her gender and lowly status, Zobia's use of gossip to complain about how Aristogeiton treated her meant that his reputation as untrustworthy and abusive spread through the city. This gossip was employed in court by a male litigant in order to display Aristogeiton's poor character to a jury made up of men. So women's gossip could be used effectively to discredit the character of an opponent in court — and a low-status woman, with no access to legal modes of retribution could, through gossip, achieve a form of vengeance.
Another example of women's gossip being cited in court appears in Lysias 1 On the Murder of Eratosthenes. In this speech, the defendant Euphiletus claims to have legally killed Eratosthenes because he caught him committing adultery with his wife. Euphiletus tells a story about how an old woman approached him near his house to inform him of his wife's affair with Eratosthenes. This story functions in part to highlight the supposedly naïve character of Euphiletus, who needs someone to point out his wife's infidelity explicitly, and in part to demonstrate the appalling behaviour of Eratosthenes who is cast by the old woman as a serial adulterer.
According to Euphiletus, the old woman did not come of her own accord, but was sent by a jilted lover of Eratosthenes. In composing this part of the speech, Lysias draws on the vocabulary associated with revenge acts in Ancient Greek literature when he characterises the deserted woman as angry and hostile towards her lover, and wronged by his behavior towards her. The implication is that this woman intentionally passed on gossip about Eratosthenes' involvement with Euphiletus' wife in order to urge on someone with the ability to act against Eratosthenes either through official legal channels or through his own strength. A woman with no ability to seek retribution for such a wrong, and no power to act against her enemy, can achieve revenge through the power of her speech.
Athenians were well-aware of the calculated use of gossip to launch attacks on their enemies, and they made careful use of gossip in rhetoric to cast aspersions about their opponents in the law courts. The presence in legal cases of women's gossip, including gossip spread by low-status members of society, demonstrates that the Athenians did not discriminate about the source, but took advantage of all kinds of gossip in their attempts to defeat their adversaries. Through calculated use of gossip, women, non-citizens or slaves with no access to official legal channels wielded a potent weapon in their attempts to attain revenge against those who wronged them.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>