less knowledgeable than I was, while he played the role of the professor and then segued into seduction. It was the realization that I played
along, becoming more and more the ingénue until it came time to say
no, which convinced me finally that it wasn’t worth the hassle. I made
a patently phony excuse to send him packing and never saw him again.
I remember it, though—the confusion, the anger—and the regret every
time the MacArthurs are announced.
CULLITY: Who has been your most essential literary influence?
BURROWAY: The most direct and profound influence that any piece of
writing has had on my way of working, and especially on my fiction,
was a few pages of critical introduction to a translation of a Greek text.
I would prefer to have been inspired to learn my craft by Shakespeare or
George Eliot or Virginia Woolf. But no, in Palmer Bovie’s sophomore
Great Books class at Barnard College in the autumn of 1956, in Volume
Aeschylus I of the University of Chicago Complete Greek Tragedies, Richmond Lattimore talked about the “symbol complex” of the Oresteia, and
that made all the difference. After sixty years, the richness of this discovery is still alive for me.
Here’s the dry passage that changed my life:
By “idea” [Lattimore says] I mean motive, theme, or subject, or type
of situation which is dominant in the dramatic action. By “symbol” I
mean a particular thing, usually material, which may be taken to represent the idea. And by “complex of symbols” I mean a group of such
objects which are related to one another in their nature or use.
It was a paradox, and perhaps one that has made me
see pretty much everything through the lens of para-
dox, that I was fiercely determined to be a writer and
also obsessively eager to be “nice”—to women as well
as men in power.