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Pyrrho’s Sister

In response to:

'The Closing of the American Mind' from the March 31, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

I am somewhat surprised to find myself accused by Martha Nussbaum [Letters, NYR, March 31] of omitting a crucial part of the Diogenes Laertius passage since this is the very section to which I drew attention in my letter. The profession of Pyrrho’s sister has no relevance to the point I was making, namely that it was misleading of Professor Nussbaum to refer to part of the activities ascribed to Pyrrho in that passage as “marketing.” I should have thought that it was implicitly clear from the phraseology of my letter that I do not dissent from her view that the role ascribed to Pyrrho in Diogenes is one that diverges from “ordinary norms and expectations” in the ancient world.

David Bain

Department of Greek and Latin

University of Manchester

Manchester, England

Martha Nussbaum replies:

I am glad that David Bain and I agree about the ascription of a nontraditional role to Pyrrho. On the other point, I did not accuse Bain of any deliberate suppression of evidence, nor was my reply at all accusatory in tone. I am sorry that he has found it so. Bain had written: “The seclusion of women and the restrictions placed upon their public appearance in the Greek world is notorious”; and he had connected this observation with the claim that it was unremarkable that a man should do the shopping. In this context, I simply observed that one fact mentioned by Diogenes Laertius, but not by Bain in his summary of the passage, complicates the picture. For if the sister was, as Diogenes says, a midwife, she would obviously have had to go outside the house frequently; one cannot deliver other people’s babies in seclusion.

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