Open letter to David Kotter of the Gender Blog,
In your post of Jan. 15, 2008, you cite John Mark Reynolds who wrote,
- I should make one comment about the general discussion in popular circles about the status of the Greek word for “head.” Too often arguments have turned on meanings found in a wooden manner by looking in lexicons.
A lexicon is a useful tool, but it cannot substitute for examining the particular figurative usage of a term in its literary context. Context can give definite clues to the author’s intent in using a particular word.
Dr. Reynolds resumé does not indicate that he has ever studied classical Greek as a language, or read Plato’s Republic in Greek. That would be the only viable alternative to using the lexicons.
Reynolds then remarks with reference to Plato,
This is a misrepresentation of the facts. Since I have read the Republic in Greek, let me respond.
In Republic (I) he is using “head” as an image of religious authority. The father (the Head) must leave the discussion or pious young men will not be free to engage in the intellectual discussion they need. Socrates must become their new head.kephale.
In the opening of the first book of the Republic, the character is Cephalus, (this name derives from the word kephale - “head”) This is who Reynolds is referring to when he says "the Head."
Cephalus is the real name of an real historic personage. Cephalus was a resident alien in Athens and a retired wealthy arms manufacturer. He had three sons. He was in old age in this dialogue and discussing the end of life. He represents "piety" in the discourse. He leaves the house and goes to offer sacrifices to the gods.
There are several reasons why the name Cephalus may have been used.
First, Plato may have wanted to write about the real person, Cephalus.
Second, Cephalus was the father, now aged and passing on his wealth and business. Cephalus was the head of the family in that he was the father, (not the ruler.) There is no indication that the discourse takes place in Cephalus' house rather than in the house of one of the sons.
Third, Cephalus opened the discourse. He was the heading to the story. He was the opening. The word kephalaion is the word for the heading of a chapter in Greek.
Fourth, there has been some discussion that Cephalus may have represented logos vs eros, or logos vs thumos. This would set up a contrast between reason and mind, two elements of the soul. This does not mean that one is the religious authority. The thumos would be more likely to make the decision.
The only sense in which Cephalus represents "religious authority" is that as one of the older generation he is pious and still worships the old Greek gods with sacrifices. He is most emphatically not himself a religious authority, nor does his name Cephalus mean religious authority. The entire mention of "religious authority" is conjecture in this context.
While Reynolds mentions that Plato believes the head is the “divinest part of us which controls all the rest” I do not think that Reynolds is proposing that men are more divine than women or that men should control their wives. Gender blog needs to guard against false and dangerous teaching in this respect.
Reynolds also does not present the alternative, that Aristotle, who clearly believed that women were without authority, did not use the word kephale to express this, but simply the word βουλη meaning “will.” He said that the will of a woman was without authority (ακυριος) That is Aristotle, not Paul. For Aristotle the heart was the central organ, and the most suitable seat of the soul. He did not use kephale to refer to the reasoning part of the human. I would argue, however, that Aristotle is the more likely candidate as someone whom Paul would have been familiar with, than Plato.
Some Greeks also believed that sperm was stored in the head and that the head was the generative part of the male human. Zeus gave birth to Athena from his head. So the head is the progenitor.
Reynolds does not accurately record the different alternative interpretations of the word kephale, in Greek. As one who has read a great deal of Greek, both classical and Hellenistic, I do not find the argument for authority to be convincing. The Greeks, for the most part, located the “will” of a person, the decision-making part, outside of the head. Philo may be an exception to this.The evidence is overwhelming against the notion that kephale means authority. It is used in reference to Zeus as the beginning, it is used to refer to a small and mobile raiding partly in the army, not the general, it is used to describe the first person in a clan, the progenitor, not the ruler. It is used in many other ways and I have no intention of recreating the various studies. Many people propose it is the source, or the visible or prominent representative. That is also possible. Kephale is not typically used to refer to the person at the top of an organization, as caput was in Latin.
I see no decisive evidence that kephale must mean authority, and much against it.
I would appreciate the Gender Blog admitting that there is a variety of possible interpretations available. There is no need for the remark that those who have experienced a solid education in the Greek language are guilty of “wooden” interpretations, while those who have little education in classical Greek as a language are not. Such unfounded comments are surely counter-productive.