Hoi Polloi

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What an interesting week. Got notes from my agent on the Byrne Miller Project. It’s wonderful when her team tells me they want to know more about Byrne! Specifically, her intellect. She offered so much love and artistic insight to all her “adopted children” that it’s easy to focus on the emotional. And I do. Still do. Even though she’s been gone nine years.
But there was so much wisdom behind those strengths that she passed along. I started jogging my memory about philosophers she quoted, books in her library, records on her turntable and – of course – reached out to my brothers and sisters by Byrne.
They came through! Dennis Adams – some of you know him as the guru of the Beaufort County Library – was one of Byrne’s extended family. He helped me decipher one of the strangest phrases Byrne dropped into everyday conversations: hoi polloi.
Turns out it’s Greek – describing the masses or commoners. Of which she was definitely not. In the book, here’s the quote I’m now adding:
“Physical pain is something I have learned to accept. All dancers do. To fear pain is for hoi polloi.”
At the time, I didn’t ask her what it meant. I was too distracted by seeing, for the first time, the scars of five different spinal surgeries. Some of you might know, as she did, that a back injury ended my Olympic gymnastics quest. She had listened to my story many times, never “one-upping” me with what must have been ten times worse. Five spinal surgeries! Never an “organ recital” in the years that I knew her.
Dennis has his own theory – which he emailed me the other day. He thinks she used language like hoi polloi intentionally – she was a stoic, as if from some ancient other culture that valued stoicism in contrast to “hoi polloi” – or the Anglo-American way of complaint and excuse. True Dennis, so true.

2 thoughts on “Hoi Polloi

    Dennis Adams said:
    March 19, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    On the Stoic theme (and despite the Greekness of “Hoi Polloi”), the more I think of Byrne, the more she reminds me of what an ancient Roman lady must have been. If not exactly that, she had what it would have taken to deal with Roman ladies of the aristocratic or higher merchant ranks. What offended so many of Byrne’s contemporary Beaufortonian neighbors is probably the emotional “tool box” of that past era: self-assurance to the point that it oozed out of every pore, a dose of pitilessness (but hardly cruelty), that fearlessness of pain that you mentioned (I can see her carrying out a suicide demand from an emperor calmly, after a good meal with her faithful Duncanus), a ready wit and appetite for conversation, intellectual cultivation and an impatience for dolts (even useful ones).

    And a Roman lady would have known her Greek ;->


    gary geboy said:
    March 23, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    Wish I had met her earlier.


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