Sunday, 10 February 2019
Michael Motia: “Language is the author of all these emotions:” Greek Novels and Christian affect in Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa frames Christian perfection as an intensification (epitasis) and expansion (epektasis) of desire for God. While much work has been done on the philosophical and medical sources for Gregory’s theory, this paper examines Achilles Tatius’s Platonic novel Leucippe et Clitophon and its discussion of language, eros, and affect. Byzantine tradition would even claim that Tatius become a Christian bishop after writing the novel.Tim Whitmarsh recently argued that Greek Novels emphasize “dirty love,” or a union that transcends traditional Greek identity. The novels, that is, mediate on desire, specifically meditate on the way desire can break and reform bonds of community. This mix desire and remaking traditional social bonds are also central to Gregory’s project. In Leucippe et Clitophon, the most popular of the extant novels, for example, we see Clitophon returning home, and yet feeling increasingly restless.More specifically, Tatitus’s discussion of the way “language” authors affective sates, I argue, is central to Gregory’s project of shaping the proper forms of desire. “Bloodless are affect's lacerations, though deep their penetration,” Tatitus writes. Gregory’s sermons on the Song of Songspicks up this line of thinking and transforms it into a series of ascetic practices aimed at Christian perfection. By invoking, theorizing, and transforming tropes found in Leucippe et Clitophon, Gregory provides his audience a vivid image of Christian perfection theorized as a “purified” erotic relationship.