Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridge! This island of learning amid the bleak fenlands of ignorance. This citadel of the mind, where the brightest and the best can devote themselves to the study of the most arcane and rarefied of topics. Unchanging and untouched by the modern world.
That’s the stereotype, anyway. But sometimes even academics don their glad-rags and spend their Friday nights devoting some serious thought to pick-up techniques. And so it was at this week’s Graduate Interdisciplinary Seminar. Following the paramount success of last week’s double-barrelled Ovid headshot, this week we had another one-two hit of thematically-linked talks. This time we were musing on the parallels between ancient and modern advice on seduction.
Our first likely lad was Michael Withey, who gave us the evening’s paper, entitled ‘Pick-up or Protreptic: on Socrates’ First Speech in the Lysis’. We all know what it looks like when boys try to pick up Socrates, but what about the other way around? How good were Socrates’ suggestions for how his friend Hippothales might win the heart of the boy Lysis? Physically, Socrates was famous for his lack of gorgiasness and his personality seems to have been about as irritating and unwelcome as an infestation of lice is; nevertheless he apparently had both a wife and lovers, so presumably he knew something about turning on the charm. Who knows, maybe he owned a medallion.
Delving through the Lysis’ strata, Michael argued that Socrates’ proposed technique – a philosophical cross-examination aimed at breaking down the youth’s self-esteem (reminiscent of the ‘negging’ tactic employed by present-day self-styled pick-up artists) – ultimately fails as a pick-up method. We agreed. Michael proposed an alternative, however: despite its inadequacy as a chat-up line, was Socrates’ gambit actually more successful as a call to take up philosophy, and thus more in Lysis’ best interests? Opinions, I sensed, differed on this. I for one can aver that nothing Socrates ever said has ever made me more likely to take up philosophy.
If this is something of a bare-bones summary, then I beg your forgiveness. It was not that Michael did not present with élan ‘cos he did. But hard though I tried, I’m not a philosopher either by training or inclination and I confess that I became lost in parts of the rapid-fire exposition of the Platonic arguments. I fear any attempt on my part to offer a more detailed summary of the discussion on the subject of το οἰκειον would likely result in me getting my hippie ass kicked. So instead, I’ve drawn this picture:
Our Snippet this week was by Rachel Cunliffe, who continued our recent Ovidian run by sharing her thoughts on how the poet – among other Classical authors – is cited as an authority within modern pick-up artist culture. While most academics now read Ovid as at least partly ironic, and shape their interpretations through a post-feminist lens, among pick-up artists his words are repeated out-of-context and straight-faced as learned instruction on how to secure your intended. An example of such a self-help guide inspired both horror and hilarity among Seminar attendees, who were also able to offer Rachel much advice on how she might develop her ideas as an MPhil essay.
Owing to a formal hall, there was no official GIS pub-trip this week. Normal service will be resumed next week, although possibly at a new venue.
As a final note, those members of the Faculty who know Michael may have been surprised and dismayed by the lack of wordplay this renowned punslinger managed to fit into his presentation. While I cannot hope to explain this punfortunate lapse in Michael’s normally punfailing lexical powers, I have attempted to remedy it by crowbarring as many bad puns as I can into this post. Gotta catch ‘em all!