Tag Archives: psychology

Phineas and Ferb meet Greek Tragedy

Sorry I have been away, but this blog is back and up and running. This is probably my favorite post yet because I am truly a kid at heart.

I was recently watching the wonderful cartoon Phineas and Ferb. For those of you who haven’t seen it you must it is quite funny even for someone who is only a kid at heart. The show is about two kids, Phineas and Ferb, who are constantly building something or having some sort of adventure. They have an older sister Candace. Candace will be the focus of this post. Her role is as a stock character who is never believed, classicists reading this already know where I am going with it. She is always correct in her observation, especially when she is trying to show her mom what Phineas and Ferb are up to, but she is either not believed or whatever they are doing has magically disappeared by the time Mom gets there and she calls Candace crazy.

The connection to classics is the tragic character Cassandra. Cassandra was cursed with the gift of prophecy but the additional problem that no one will ever believe her prophecies. The most famous account of this is in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon where Cassandra gives the account of her curse herself.  She explains that Apollo came to her with desire and she accepted that she would be his if he would give her the gift of prophecy: “I promised I would be his, but I cheated him of that” (Agamemnon, 1208).  She goes on, “Once I had wronged him, I could persuade no one. They believed nothing” (Agamemnon, 1211). Due to this portrayal in Greek tragedy characters have been described as having Cassandra syndrome or a Cassandra complex (note: there is deeper psychology associated with this complex than I am giving here which has to do with the way relationships determine rationality).

While Candace, of Phineas and Ferb, does not see the future she is privy to a select knowledge due to her closeness to her brothers. This knowledge is often unique because others do not have access to it. In this way Candace is a modern adaptation of Cassandra and fits into the pantheon of archetypal characters which have been influenced by the ancient Cassandra.

To become further familiarized with the role of Cassandra you might turn to Homer’s Iliad, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, and Euripides’ Trojan Women and Electra. For more information about the Cassandra complex in psychology you can look at studies by Melanie Klein and Laurie Layton Schapira.   

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Cicero, Socrates, and YOLO in Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

                I just finished reading the New York Times Bestseller Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. I picked this book up with no knowledge of the fact that it was rife with classical references. I should have known that it would have to be, but honestly in my time studying classics I had never even heard of the Ad Herennium. The book is about memory. Joshua travels through a grueling training regiment in order to compete in the USA Memory Championship; another thing I didn’t know existed. Throughout this journey the book explains the way memory works and how memory has changed from an internal process to an external process.

                When the ancients were telling stories and giving speeches they had no choice but to memorize large amounts of information. Books took a long time to compose and weren’t readily available to most of the population which was illiterate anyway. The Ad Herennium is a treatise on how to remember. There has been much debate about who wrote this mysterious work. Cicero was originally thought to be the author of this work because of his other extensive work on memorizing speeches, but this has since become commonly seen as untrue.

                The importance of the book is not in its author. Foer points out that the memory techniques in the ancient text are the same techniques used by professional mnemonists today. Yet in classrooms we avoid these techniques and choose rote memorization instead. I have read various reports and definitely heard many times (mostly from my grandparents) that each generation is getting dumber. This statistically does not seem to be the case, but I believe as far as critical thinking is concerned the difference between us and the ancients is stark. Foer makes a point that in order for connections to be made in the brain there has to be a memory of the two points being connected. This connection cannot occur when using external memory like books, internet, etc.  While he agrees that his party-trick memory skills are not really that convenient for remembering his friends’ phone numbers and keeping his to-do list, he makes it clear that there is a different way of thinking that comes with increasing the ability of one’s memory.

                This book is filled with great classical references from Cicero’s memory of speeches to Socrates’ disdain for the written word to the reason ancient epics were more epic,  and everyone should read it for that fact alone, but everyone should also read it because it shows a different way of approaching the world. In order for things to stick in our minds they must have meaning and therefore (since we are in the fad of YOLO) every second should be lived with meaning. If one fully experiences every aspect of every situation one will be a better thinker, mnemonist, and possibly the next USA champion. So to use an expression I loathe simply for the fact that it is an unnecessary acronym, YOLO, and another which is so commonly misused (post to come later), Carpe Diem. Experience everything to the fullest and remember it all at its ripest.

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