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  “genius” in Latin life
gary e. davis
May 2020
Romans BCE appropriated Greek lineage by transforming ancestral authority into authority by “genius” as chosenness by a selected god. Firstly, according to Harold Bloom’s Genius (2001), “genius” was “the family’s fathering force” (2). This became “each individual’s alter ego” (ibid.), which is literally Latin for “second I.” (Freud appropriated a common Latin notion.) For common parlance (14th century)—worth noting the obvious as plurality—that’s “1 : a second self…a : a trusted friend… b : a confidential representative… c : a guardian spirit…. d : the opposite side of a personality” and “d : counterpart.” In other words the ordinary notion of second self is nebulous (friend, representative, spirit, opposite, complement) in being nebulously relational (trusted, confidantial, guardian, or of a personality, kindred or not). To “be” one’s second self is resonantly ambiguous, generatively of oneSelf. The Self/self difference is nubulous: numinous and generative.

By the way, that “c : guardian spirit” for American English is a notion among First Peoples (“often represented in South and Central American Indian carvings”), which traces back to Siberian tribes (maybe even Polynesian) many thousands of years, perhaps more than ten millennia: “a guardian spirit often represented…by the figure of an animal on the head, back, or shoulders of a human being.”

I’m reminded of the 13th century English carving imaged on the cover of Derrida’s The Post Card: from Socrates to Freud, showing Plato behind Socrates, guiding the hand of Socrates writing. Of course, Socrates is a Platonic character (albeit known to living folklore), portrayed in the Dialogues as being documented. But actually, Plato is the genius of Socrates’ grammatology or writing-in-speech, i.e., being Socrates’ immanently-second self, as if there’s no difference for Plato between playwright and documentarian—which is Plato’s secret poiesis that discounts the poets! (Also, I recall the title of Derrida’s 2-volume Psyche: invention of the other.)

“But I digress” (a chirpy seque of funny Gail Collins at the NYTimes, writing about political theatrics.) Back in the Roman Empire… The notion of alter ego provides an emperor the chance to declare his self-chosen genius. That is, the emporer channels his chosen divinity. “In Plutarch,” writes Bloom, “Mark Anthony’s genius is the god Bacchus [Roman] or Dionysus [Greek]. Shakespeare, in his Anthony and Cleopatra, had the god Hercules, as Anthony’s genius, abandon him” (1).

Ergo, the notion of authority by divine genius, not simply by authority of sanctified ethnic lineage. Nonetheless, notes Bloom, “in ancient Rome, the concept of authority was foundational(2), in the sense of the prevailing sway of the past: “…authority [auctoritas] always depended upon augumenting [augere] the foundation, thus carrying the past alive into the present” (op. cit.: 2).

But the “carrying” was intergenerationally transformative, I would argue, because Hellenistic civilization had a protean genius for multicultural tolerance, which originated in the northcentral Mediterranean; and which the Roman empire, at its best, sustained (or at least tolerated).

A keynote for another day is that the acknowledgment of genius—whether posses-sed or embodied—made S/s authority integrally hermeneutical, which had cult-urally progressive efficacy.

next—> “genius” in creative odysseys



  Be fair. © 2020, gary e. davis