Hellenistic utopianism and conlanging
|From:||Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>|
|Date:||Saturday, October 6, 2001, 18:35|
[Sally, I hope you're getting this, because you might be
So, as some of y'all may have noticed, I've lately been reading
Peter Green's massive tome _From Alexander to Actium_, a superbly
written and bitingly cynical 970-page survey of the Hellenistic age.
[University of California Press, 1990.] His basic thesis is that
after Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC, his Successor
generals' (the _Diadokhoi_'s) plumbing of the depths of autocracy and
systematic exploitation of the populations of the Near East had
widespread social and intellectual side-effects: "the loss of
self-confidence and idealism, displacement of public values, the
erosion of religious beliefs, self-absorption ousting involvement,
hedonism masking impotent resentment, the violence of despair, the
ugliness of reality formalized as [artistic] realism, the empty
urban soul starving on pastoral whimsy, sex, and _Machtpolitik_"
(337). These were all ways in which the public nature of civic
involvement was hollowed out and replaced with inward reflection
and contemplation, and this resulted in the kinds of philosophies
we see: Stoicism, Epicureanism, [philosophical] Cynicism, etc. but
also in Utopianism, which was in effect a form of escapism.
Hellenistic utopianism was much like some of those of the 19th
Century: found a colony that operated under different rules than
those of the matrix culture, rather than trying to remake the rest
of society along idealistic lines. Now, here's the relevant thing
for Conlangers: what appears to be among the earliest exponents of
this utopian movement was also a conlanger. I'll quote the relevant
"Besides Iambulus, Euhemerus  also presented an ideal society,
lodged, again, on an island (Panchaia), somewhere in the Indian
Ocean, purged of nature's more savage elements, and functioning
in a blissful void under the watchful solar eye of heaven -- but,
we may note, like Hippodamus' model , firmly tied to a static
three-class social tiering: priests and administrators first, then
farmers, with soldiers and herdsmen at the bottom of the heap.
Hardly a communist paradise. With the possible exception of
Aristonicus , no one, so far as we can tell, ever thought of
actually putting these ideas into practice. The one case we hear
of is, as we might expect, a private venture on the part of an
eccentric, with no revolutionary violence involved, an
Epicurean-style withdrawal from society supported by ample funds.
Cassander's  brother Alexarchus is said to have founded a city
named Ouranopolis, "The City of Heaven", on the Athos peninsula:
it would be nice to think that the monastic tradition there owed
something, even if only indirectly, to his example. [...] More
interestingly, he was a linguist, who invented a language for his
foundation: a specimen preserved by Athenaeus looks like the Greek
equivalent of Anthony Burgess' Nadsat in _A Clockwork Orange_,
foreign loanwords oddly compounded. But this dotty (and obviously
financially secure) contracting-out has more in common with
Coleridge's dream, in 1794, of Pantisocracy on the banks of the
Susquehanna than with any kind of organic movement to change the
fundamental structure of Hellenistic society" (395).
Iambulus and Euhemerus both wrote what were ostensibly travel
pamphlets about ideally governed islands in the Indian Ocean.
Iambulus made his a communal paradise, while Euhemerus' claimed
that the Olympian gods were originally just mortal kings on this
island, and through heroic acts had been divinized.
 A Milesian utopian, whose planned egalitarian society was really
more like Spartan timarchy than communism.
 A slave who revolted at Pergamum in 132 and aimed, not at
abolishing slavery but rather at inverting the position of master
 Cassander was one of the successor-generals who became
a de facto monarch after Alexander's death.
So, this Alexarchus may well be the first known conlanger in
history. What strikes me is that glossopoiesis, that infection
that we all have, seems to have fundamental roots in the way
human beings see their world, through language.
A search for this reported work of Athenaeus didn't turn up much
on a websearch. I'm going to be looking around for this, and when
and if I find anything, I'll report back to the list. (If only
there were a scholarly journal for conlanging, this would make a
good contribution to the literature!)
Thomas Wier <trwier@...>
"If a man demands justice, not merely as an abstract concept,
but in setting up the life of a society, and if he holds, further,
that within that society (however defined) all men have equal rights,
then the odds are that his views, sooner rather than later, are going
to set something or someone on fire." Peter Green, in _From Alexander
to Actium_, on Spartan king Cleomenes III