Male Pneuma Masculinity

From: Wagers, Will (
Date: Wed May 29 1996 - 23:03:32 EDT

Pneuma has a role to play in Greek philosophy -- it is the life-
(animation-)giving breath of the Cosmos. As a pure, divine force
impregnating matter, it is "male". Regardless of whether god is
identified with this ethereal force or with the creation animated
by it, that god is necessarily "male" in the Greek (and other) systems.
This "maleness" is a *philosophical abstraction*, a categorization, like
grammatical gender. However, vulgar thinkers then, as know, tend
to take their abstractions literally. Thus, it is often person-ified as a
male "man". It is, however, a "person", only in the ancient sense -
which has no modern counterpart in thought or grammar - that it has
a unique "substance", yet another technical, philosophical term with no
modern counterpart.

Rightly, then, unpersonified Pneuma derives it's "sex" from its place
in Greek philosophical categories, i.e. "masculine". Personified Pneuma
is already a mistake, possibly compounded in some senses, by making it
a male person - a man. However, the almost irresistible tendency is to
make the sex of personifications agree with their philosophical roles,
again, an error of the same type as using grammatical gender to
determine sex. It's a natural, category name mistake like thinking that
quarks actually come in a variety of "colors" - a purely arbitrary and
whimsical category name.

As Edward Hobbs suggests, the world would have been saved a lot of
trouble, had neutral category names been selected at the outset, i.e.
alpha, beta, and gamma. He goes on to stress, "GENDER OF NOUNS IN
GREEK IS ONLY TENUOUSLY RELATED TO SEX, and then mostly when referring
to humans (but not always then)." To this I would add, GENDER OF GODS
IN GREEK (philosophy) IS ONLY TENUOUSLY RELATED TO SEX, and then mostly
when referring to personifications (but not always then).

So, one can rightly argue both the grammatical gender and the
categorical gender if one keeps the two worlds separate. However,
to argue that Pneuma is either a person or a male in the modern,
English senses, on any grounds whatsoever, is, quite simply, ignorant.

One could theoretically have a masculine philosophical category which
is grammatically neutral and personified as a woman. All of which might
be translated into English as "he", or worse (?), "he", "she", and "it"

Since I am very interested in writing about Greek philosophy and its
effects on Christianism, I would welcome ideas about how to translate
such concepts unambiguously into English. Of course, they were hardly
unambiguous in the original Greek, and by the time of the writing of the
New Covenant, all were hopelessly jumbled up with each other and with
local concepts of deity.

It seems to me that leaving grammar out of it cannot be the solution:
the original writers didn't leave grammar out of it. Likewise,
disregarding the Greek gender when choosing the appropriate English
pronoun may be translationally pure, but is unlikely to extract us from
this morass, and can conceivably exacerbate the difficulties. Why not
transliterate untranslatable nouns, and refer to all of them as "it"s ?

In my *hyperliteral* mode, I would argue for retaining *their* - not our -
genders, so that the Greek differences would be more apparent. At
least, people wouldn't try to use the translation to argue gender = sex.
There seem to be many situations - notably those dealing with Greek
philosophical and scientific terms - where one might translate
faultlessly according to rule, yet end up with a product which totally
misrepresents the original. There are many words (e.g. god, person,
substance) which when translated properly, according to rule, are
actually wrong and lead a reasonable person to incorrect conclusions !
I believe it is also a mistake to translate a single Greek word into a
variety of English words based upon context. This removes all cues
that we are dealing with an alien (to our culture), i.e. untranslatable,
concept. Generally, it is a serious mistake to translate ideologically
*foreign* material into English in such a way as to make it seem normal.

Are there any voices like mine in the world of translators ? If there
are, I would appreciate references.


Will Reality is the best metaphor.

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