Category: Homer

Unavoidable atmosphere

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ian McKellan, Gandalph, reading Homer’s Odyssey while cross stitching, brings out the gods’ comforting words during despair, a mother’s incomparable love for her son, a son’s equal jealousy on his departed father’s behalf, a female god’s lust for a mortal man and his unhearted capitulation, the inspiration of lovely things, the great appreciation of shelter from storms, and the great relief of sleep. How human.

Regarding his capitulation, although loyal to his wife, he is not unaffected by his bodily circumstances. We don’t like this devision between the heart’s devotion and one’s unwilling(?) subjection to the senses. The Greeks, later(?), prized the intellect’s transcendence above the senses. But literature isn’t about that. Even Plato set sensual scenes of banquets as backgrounds to intellectual discussions.

War Memorial

by Andrea Elizabeth

War and Peace (4)

Tales of war flood my consciousness this Memorial Day weekend from listening to PBS (mostly D-Day) commemorations, playing Age of Empires, and reading War and Peace during my convalescence. Firstly, in order to face oncoming bullets, successful warriors ignore the danger to their person and see the enemy as a holistic unit, not a myriad of individuals, that must be subdued. In modern terms, one must have the ‘eye of the tiger’. Here’s how Tolstoy describes how Commander Tushin saw the oncoming French,

As a result of the dreadful rumbling, the noise, the necessity for attention and activity, Tushin did not experience the slightest unpleasant feeling of fear, and the thought that he could be killed or painfully wounded did not occur to him. On the contrary, he felt ever merrier and merrier.

[…] owing to the sight of all these [horrible] things, there was established in his head a fantastic world of his own, which made up his pleasure at that moment. In his imagination, the enemy’s cannon were not cannon but pipes, from which an invisible smoker released an occasional puff of smoke.

“Look, he’s puffing away again,” Tushin said to himself in a whisper, as a puff of smoke leaped from the hillside and was borne leftwards in a strip by the wind, (p. 193)

Secondly, I have noticed several times how Tolstoy likes to present contradictory images when describing something, usually people. Matthew talks about defamiliarization in his very interesting parts one and two, though he describes it as a different technique that seeks to use words in a self-conscious, or at least uncomfortable way that makes one look at familiar things more critically, if I’m understanding the concept correctly.Where one looks past appearance and finds a deeper reality.

I’ll pick out two striking examples in the text of contradiction used to the same end to illustrate my point, then go to Aaron’s post where he speaks of the contrast between war and beauty more generally.

First is at the dance during the Rostov’s namesday feast for the Natalia’s:

The count danced well and knew it, but his partner could not and would not dance well at all. Her enormous body stood straight, her powerful arms hung down (she had given her retiule to the countess); only her stern but handsome face danced. What was expressed in the whole round figure of the count, in Marya Dmitrievna was expressed in her ever more smiling face and ever more thrust-up nose. On the other hand, if the count, who got himself going more and more, fascinated he spectators by his unexpectedly deft capers and the light leaps of his supple legs, Marya Dmitrievna, by the slightest exertion in moving her shoulderrs or rounding her arms while turning or stamping, produced no less of an impression by its merit, which everyone appreciated in view of her corpulence and perpetual severity. (p. 69)

So does she dance well or not? On deeper examination, yes! And now to a wartime description, no less dance-like:

On the left flank, closest of all to Bagration, marched a company commander, a round-faced, stately man with a stupid, happy expression on his face, the same one who had come running from the lean-to. He was obviously thinking of nothing at that moment but the fine figure he would cut as he marched past his superior.

With a parade-like self-satisfaction, he marched lightly on his muscular legs, as if floating, holding himself straight without the least effort, and distinguishing himself by this lightness from the heavy tread of the soldiers who marched in step with him. He carried by his leg an unsheathed, thin, and narrow sword (a curved little sword, not resembling a weapon), and he lithely turned his whole strong body, looking now at his superior, now behind him, without losing step. It seemed that all the forces of his soul were aimed at marching past his superior in the best possible way, and, feeling that he was doing it well, he was happy. (p.184)

Skillful perhaps, but not done well. Yet during Tolstoy’s more critical moments, I can’t help feel a bit of a lack of charity towards the less dimensional secondary characters such as this one (his descriptions of the major characters are more balanced). Maybe because I’m reading it with the critique of Tolstoy’s pride provided by Christopher’s Orrologion who also sites Aaron’s Logismoi, in the back of my head.

Which brings me to the largest, and yet most redemptive contradiction yet from Aaron’s W&P part two:

Thus, we can see that War & Peace is not even among ‘the grimmest modern realism’. As Prince Mirsky notes, ‘The philosophy of the novel is . . . profoundly optimistic . . . The optimistic nature of the philosophy is reflected in the idyllic tone of the narrative. In spite of the horror—by no means veiled—of war, . . . the general message of War & Peace is one of beauty and satisfaction that the world should be so beautiful.’ [19] It is for this reason that Tolstoy’s charactres are so surprised by the horror of war—it fits ill with the beauty of the world, which must exist in ‘spite’ of it. Think of Part 2 of Volume I of War when, superficially wounded, Nikolai Rostov thinks to himself of the approaching French, ‘Who are they? Why are they running? Can it be they’re running to me? Can it be? And why? To kill me? Me, whom everybody loves so?’ [20] Then, recall by contrast the resignation of young Patroclus in Il. XVI, ll. 988-97, struggling for breath when Hector has speared him through the bowels:

His scholarly post makes me very glad that I recently finished the Iliad.

A sick friend, the Iliad, and Avatar

by Andrea Elizabeth

A very dear young friend of our family has been seriously ill, so I’ve had a lot on my mind and heart these past couple of days. Prayers for her are appreciated. I just heard that she is improving, praise the Lord.

I’m still plugging away at the Iliad. Achilles is finally thinking about joining the fight and Hector’s finally having some competition, so the tide’s changing. We went to see the visually overwhelming  Avatar in 3D, and I found it somewhat compelling, Native sympathizer that I am. It was pretty stereotypical though. The most obvious thing to me was that the “American” soldiers, in striking contrast to the warriors in the Iliad, had no revealed home or family, except the protagonist. They were killing machines, period. In the Iliad, each soldier on both sides has a father, some a mother, a homeland, and a community which combine to make them human. In the Iliad the specifics of each person’s injuries are impressively and surgically detailed, and the effects of having to withdraw into the ranks, recover in their ships, or to succumb to darkness is purposely detailed. As gruesome as these things are, it is a respectful telling. I don’t get the impression that it is for shock value, as such scenes are in today’s movies. Perhaps Saving Private Ryan comes closer to the Iliad in this respect. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, and I may have a different impression today.

I heard in the news last night that some Avatar devotees are seriously wanting to escape to Avatar’s Perelandra-like planet called Pandora. The 3D beautiful plant-life are quite impressive. So is the story-line of how the natives, their ancestors and the plants are all connected. I didn’t get the impression they were pantheistic, but that there was perhaps something orthodox about that aspect. I’d like to know what the more discerning, theologically correct would think about it.

Back to the Iliad

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dang it, I can’t continue reading Kierkegaard’s Concept of Irony because he’s talking about Plato’s Symposium as if his readers have already read it. And now less than half-way through the Symposium, he’s giving away what happens with Achilles and I haven’t finished the Iliad yet. So much for trying to read more than one thing at a time.

How can a former staunchly young earth creationist believe in evolution deep down?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Perhaps black and white, or sepia rather, photography can make one think that color is a new invention and that stiff faces are vacant faces. Or maybe it’s my Protestant upbringing that made me think that Jews and pagans were too dumb to believe in Christ, and so the Church only lived one generation until Martin Luther saw the light and resurrected it only 1500 years later.

I’ve heard that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were smart, but Galileo was apparently waaay smarter than they (I wont get into how telescopic technology is really the mark of advanced placement), so evolutionary advancement must be a fact, right? How then can The Iliad, written in 800 B.C. be such an impressive work?

I am working through it pretty slowly and only read one page today in the dentist’s waiting room, which last week was decorated in brown, red and orange, and this week is decorated in green and red (see this Logismoi post for inspiration to put off decorating for Christmas). I’ll try to remember to bring a canned good when I go next week, and the next week I’ll probably just drop the older kids off, no wait, the fifteen year old is having a cavity filled so I better go in. Hopefully that wont be the next time I read from The Iliad.

I am impressed with how the motivations and tide turnings in the battle are brought out. A lot of the momentum has to do not only with the waxing and waning interventions and fickleness of the gods, but with the rhetorical, as well as the sword wielding, skills of the heroes, the former of which doesn’t always work. I am in deep suspense about when, and I’ll say if  (though I’ve seen Troy, but it was a while back and it seems different) the sulking Achilles will join the fight. I guess I’m used to one mighty though simplistic skirmish and then a clear victor is declared. Or at least a clearly defined good guy and bad guy. I think I’ve already mentioned how the Trojans aren’t vilified, even though Paris, who sometimes comes out and shoots an arrow or two, is a coward. Hector isn’t. It’s clear who Homer is rooting for, but that’s okay as long as he presents a worthy opponent. Now I see how more modern great authors like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, C.S. Lewis, and even J.K. Rowling undoubtedly benefited from their classical educations. (Here’s a good explanation of why)

From today’s page,

So long as Hector lived and Achilles nursed his anger and so long as the city of Priam remained untaken, the great wall of the Achaeans stood firm; but when the bravest of the Trojans were no more, and many also of the Argives, though some were yet left alive – when, moreover, the city was sacked in the tenth year, and the Argives had gone back with their ships to their own country – then Poseidon and Apollo took counsel to destroy the wall, and they turned on to it the streams of all the rivers from Mount Ida into the sea, Rhesus, Heptaporus, Caresus, Rhodius, Grenicus, Aesopus, and goodly Scamander, with Simois, where many a shield and helm had fallen, and many a hero of the race of demigods had bitten the dust [please forgive this parenthetical: “Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on Thursday September 5th 1946 on the small spice island of Zanzibar. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were both Parsee (Persian). His father, Bomi, was a civil servant, working as a High Court cashier for the British Government. Freddie’s sister, Kashmira, was born in 1952. In 1954, at the age of eight, Freddie was shipped to St Peter’s English boarding school in Panchgani, about fifty miles outside Bombay. It was there his friends began to call him Freddie, a name the family also adopted.” where would we be without Queen’s lead’s classical education?], Phoebus Apollo turned the mouths of all these rivers together and made them flow for nine days against the wall, while Zeus rained the whole time that he might wash it sooner into the sea. Poseidon himself, trident in hand, surveyed the work and threw into the sea all the foundations of beams and stones which the Achaeans had laid with so much toil. He made all level by the mighty stream of the Hellespont, and then when he had swept athe wall away he spread a great beach of sand over the place where it had been. This done he turned the rivers back into their old courses.

This was what Poseidon and Apollo were to do in after time; but as yet battle and turmoil were still raging round the wall till its timbers rang under the blows that rained upon them. The Argives, cowed by the scourge of Zeus, were hemmed in at their ships in fear of Hector, the mighty minister of Rout, who as heretofore fought with the force and fury of a whirlwind. As a lion or wild boar turns fiercely on the dogs and men that attack him, while these form a solid wall and shower their javelins as they face him – his courage is all undaunted, but his high spirit will be [I’d better stop here].

It’s not just might, and speech, and the favor of the gods either, it’s also how a fighter’s comrades and his enemies regard him and his connections that determines a person’s just rewards. It’s much more complex than I expected.

Broken and bound ties

by Andrea Elizabeth

There are a few interesting parallels in Homer’s account of Glaucus and Diomed in Book VI of the Iliad and the Biblical account of Joseph’s being sold into slavery in a foreign land, his rejection of Potiphar’s wife, and eventual reunion with his kinsmen. I am finding Homer’s style, at least this prose edition, to be pretty engaging.

[Glaucus:] “There is a city in the heart of Argos [Greek land], pastureland of horses, called Ephyra, where Sisyphus lived, who was the craftiest of all mankind. He was the son of Aeolus, and had a son named Glaucus, who was father to Bellerophon, whom heaven endowed with the most surpassing comeliness and beauty. But Proetus devised his ruin, and being stronger than he, drove him from the land of the Argives over which Zeus had made him ruler. For Antea, wife of Proetus, lusted after him, and would have had him lie with her in secret; but Bellerophon was an honorable man and would not, so she told lies about him to Proetus. ‘Proetus,’ said she, ‘kill Bellerophone or die, for he would have had converse with me against my will.’ The king was angered, but shrank from killing Bellerophon, so he sent him to Lycia [Trojan land] with lying letters of introduction, written on a folded tablet, and containing much ill against the bearer. He bade Bellerophon show these letters to his father-in-law, to the end that he might thus perish. Bellerophon, therefore, went to Lycia, and the gods convoyed him safely.

“When he reached the river Xanthus, which is in Lycia, the king received him with all good will, feasted him nine days, and killed nine heifers in his honor, but when rosy-fingered morning appeared upon the tenth day, he questioned him and desired to see the letter from his son-in-law Proetus. When he had received the wicked letter he first commanded Bellerophon to kill that savage monster, the Chimaera, who was not a human being, but a goddess, for she had the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent, while her body was that of a goat, and she breathed forth flames of fire; but Bellerophon slew her, for he was guided by signs from heaven. He next fought the far-famed Solymi, and this, he said, was the hardest of all his battles. Thirdly, he killed the Amazons, women who were the peers of men, and as he was returning thence the king devised yet another plan for his destruction; he picked the bravest warriors in all Lycia and placed them in ambuscade, but not a man ever came back, for Bellerophon killed every one of them. Then the king knew that he must be the valiant offspring of a god, so he kept him in Lycia, gave him his daughter in marriage, and made him of equal honor in the kingdom with himself; and the Lycians gave him a piece of land, the best in all the country, fair with vineyards and tilled fields, to have and to hold.

“The king’s daughter bore Bellerophon three children, Isander, Hippolochus, and Laodameia. Zeus, the lord of counsel, lay with Laodameia, and she bore him noble Sarpedon; but when Bellerophon came to be hated by all the gods, he wandered all desolate and dismayed upon the Alean plain, gnawing at his own heart, and shunning the path of man. Ares, insatiate of battle, killed his son Isander while he was fighting the Solymi; his daughter was killed by Artemis of the golden reins, for she was angered with her; but Hippolochus was father to myself, and when he sent me to Troy he urged me again and again to fight ever among the foremost and outvie my peers, so as not to shame the blood of my fathers who were the noblest in Ephyra and in all Lycia. This, then, is the descent I claim.”

Thus did he speak, and the heart of Diomed [Greek] was glad. He planted his spear in the ground, and spoke to him with friendly words. “Then,” he said, “you are an old friend of my father’s house. Great Oeneus once entertained Bellerophon for twenty days, and the two exchanged presents. Oeneus gave a belt rich with purple, and Bellerophon a double cup, which I left at home when I set out for Troy. I do not remember Tydeus, for he was taken from us while I was yet a child, when the army of the Achaeans was cut to pieces before Thebes. Henceforth, however, I must be your host in middle Argos, and you mine in Lycia, if I should ever go there; let us avoid one another’s spears even during a general engagement. There are many noble Trojans and allies whom I can kill, if I overtake them and heaven delivers them into my hand; so again with yourself, there are many Achaeans whose lives you may take if you can; we two, then, will exchange armor, that all present may know of the old ties that subsist between us.”

With these words they sprang from their chariots, grasped one another’s hands, and plighted friendship. But the son of Cronus [Zeus] made Glaucus take leave of his wits, for he exchanged golden armor for bronze, the worth of a hundred head of cattle for the worth of nine.

Homer’s gods walk among the people

by Andrea Elizabeth

Then surely the Argives would have returned after a fashion that was not fated. But Hera said to Athene, “Alas, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, unweariable, shall the Argives fly home to their own land over the broad sea, and leave Priam and the Trojans the glory of still keeping Helen, for whose sake so many of the Achaeans have died at Troy, far from their homes? Go about at once amont the host, and speak fairly to them, man by man, that they draw not their ships into the sea.”

Athene was not slack to do her bidding. Down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus, and in a moment she was at the ships of the Achaeans. There she found Odysseus, peer of Zeus in counsel, standing alone. He had not as yet laid a hand upon his ship, for he was grieved and sorry; so she went close up to him and said, “Odysseus, nobel son of Laertes, are you going to fling yourselves into your ships, and be off home to your own land in this way? Will you leave Priam and the Trojans the glory of still keeping Helen, for whose sake so many of the Achaeans have died at Troy, far from their homes? Go about at once among the host, and speak fairly to them, man by man, that they draw not their ships into the sea.”

Odysseus knew the voice as that of the goddess: he flung his cloak from him and set off to run. His servant Eurybates, a man of Ithaca, who waited on him, took charge of the cloak, whereon Odysseus went straight up to Agamemnon and received from him his ancestral, imperishable staff. With this he went about among the ships of the Achaeans. (p.25,26)

[…] Then Odysseus rose, scepter in hand, and Athene in the likeness of a herald bade the people be still, that those who were far off might hear him and consider his council. He therefore witrh all sincerity and good will addressed them thus: (p.28)

I am strangely comforted when the gods come down and hold converse with the humans in this story. Or when the gods are discussing the humans up on Mt. Olympus. It is nice that they are intimately involved. Fate is mentioned above, but it is not in a fatalistic, deterministic way. People still have a choice and must be motivated to carry it out. The gods’ part, and the god-like human’s, is to convince.

Homeric Dialectics

by Andrea Elizabeth

The translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (different cover) that I have at home is by Samuel Butler. My son and daughter bought it as a Christmas present last year for my other son who is attending a liberal arts college. They did not know he had to have different editions for his class. After rereading the first page numerous times to try to determine who was who, as they are named both by their names and by whose son they are, and where was where, as places also have numerous names, I am finding the subsequent 20 pages (so far) to be, as Plato says, charming.

The most delighted reaction I have so far is the lack of inflammatory dialectics against genuinely opposing forces. The introductory list to the gods and goddesses reveals that some of them are for the Greeks: Poseidon, Hera, and Athena, and some are for the Trojans: Apollo, Artemis, and Aphrodite, for example. To have gods on both sides legitimizes both. It seems that supplications to said gods, with the virtuous or not characters of the individual humans petitioned for, are what sway events. And these change based on the situation.

The old man [the wronged priest, Chryses] feared [Agamemnon] and obeyed. Not a word he spoke, but went by the shore of the sounding sea and prayed apart to King Apollo whom lovely Leto had borne. “Hear me,” he cried, “O god of the silver bow, that protectest Chryse and holy Cilla and rulest Tenedos with thy might, hear me, O thou of Sminthe! If I have ever decked your temple with garlands, or burned your thighbones in fat of bulls or goats, grant my prayer and let your arrows avenge these my tears upon the Danaans [the third name for the Greeks]. (p. 8 )

This lack of wholesale delegitimization of a person or group is also born out in the argument between Achilles, who wants Chryse freed, and Agamemnon, who does not want to free his prize.

And Achilles answered: “Most noble son of Atreus, covetous beyond all mankind [it’s possible to be honest and respectful at the same time], how shall the Achaeans find you another prize? We have no common store from which to take one. Those we took from the cities have been awarded; we cannot disallow the awards that have been made already. Give this girl, therefore, to the god, and if ever Zeus grants us to sack the city of Troy we will requite you three and fourfold.”

Then Agamemnon said: “Achilles, valiant though you be, you shall not thus outwit me. You shall not overreach and you shall not persuade me. Are you to keep your own prize, while I sit tamely under my loss and give up the girl at your bidding? Let the Achaeans [the second name for the Greeks] find me a prize in fair exchange to my liking, or I will come and take your own, or that of Ajax or of Odysseus; and he to whomsoever I may come shall rue my coming. (p. 10)

[after Agamemnon declares he will take Achilles’ prize, Briseis] The son of Peleus [Achilles] was furious, and his heart within his shaggy breast was divided whether to draw his sword, push the others aside, and kill the son of Atreus [Agamemnon], or to restrain himself and check his anger. While he was thus in two minds, and was drawing his mighty sword from its scabbard, Athene came down from heaven (for Hera had sent her in the love she bore to them both), and seized the son of Peleus by his yellow hair, visible to him alone, for of the others no man could see her. Achilles turned in amaze, and by the fire that flashed from her eyes at once knew that she was Athene.

[…] Cease, then, this brawling, and do not draw your sword. Rail at him if you will, and your railing will not be vain, for I tell you – and it shall surely be – that you shall hereafter receive gifts three times as splendid by reason of this present insult. Hold, therefore, and obey.”(p. 11,12)

It is an interesting mix of uninhibited expression and circumspect restraint. The treatment of women is also interestingly mixed – prized possession, or influential goddess.