Sunday, January 15, 2017

TFBT: Random Notes on Metamorphesis, Chapters 12-13.

The Monthly Book Club at the Kosmos Society  is reading Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Chapters 12-13.  I haven’t read the book in years except when looking up references.   But I know enough of it that I’ve come  across confusing “errors” constantly.  My friend Helene suggests that Ovid follows different traditions that Homer.  Rather I see sloppy plagiarism and typos.

The Dark Green Snake
At Aulis the heart-broken Achaeans in route to Troy  were trapped by adverse winds.  In reading Ovid’s description of what happen next, it sounded a lot like Homer’s. 
First Ovid;  “The Greeks saw a dark-green snake sliding into a plane tree that stood near to where they had begun the sacrifice.   There was a nest with eight young birds in the crown of the tree, and these the serpent seized and swallowed in its eager jaws, together with the mother bird, who circled her doomed fledglings.   They looked at it wonderingly, but Calchas, the seer, son of Thestor, interpreted the truth, saying: ‘We will conquer, Greeks, rejoice! Troy will fall, though our efforts will be of long duration,’ and he divined nine years of war from the nine birds.  The snake, was turned to stone,  (Ovid Chapter 12)”
Now look at Homer; “Then we saw a sign; for Zeus sent a fearful serpent out of the ground, with blood-red stains upon its back, [310] and it darted from under the altar on to the plane-tree. Now there was a brood of young sparrows, quite small, upon the topmost bough, peeping out from under the leaves, eight in all, and their mother that hatched them made nine. The serpent ate the poor cheeping things, [315] while the old bird flew about lamenting her little ones; but the serpent threw his coils about her and caught her by the wing as she was screaming. Then, when he had eaten both the sparrow and her young, the god who had sent him made him become a sign; for the son of scheming Kronos turned him into stone,  we stood there wondering at that which had come to pass. Seeing, then, that such a fearful portent had broken in upon our hecatombs, Kalkhas right away declared to us the divine oracles. ‘Why, flowing-haired Achaeans,’ said he, ‘are you thus speechless? Zeus has sent us this sign, [325] long in coming, and long before it be fulfilled, though its fame [kleos] shall last forever. As the serpent ate the eight fledglings and the sparrow that hatched them, which makes nine, so shall we fight nine years at Troy, but in the tenth shall take the town” Iliad 1.135
Not exactly plagiarism; but the keys elements and where they appear in the tale makes me a little suspicious that Ovid didn’t have a copy of the Iliad in hand as he wrote his version

Next Ovid was bad mouthing the famously kind Nereus, which made me think he knew less  about Greek Mythology than I thought. “Nereus continued to be boisterous on the Aonian waters,”.  Ovid Book 12 Most mythologist over the millennia have followed Hesiod who says

  “Pontus,  the great sea, was father of truthful Nereus who tells no lies, eldest of his sons. They call him the Old Gentleman (GerĂ´n) because he is trustworthy, and gentle, and never forgetful of what is right, but the thoughts of his mind are mild and righteous.  Hesiod, Theogony 233 ff  

Plus let’s keep in mind that it is the winds that make the sea Boisterous not the sea-gods as mentioned by Virgil in the famous “Quo ego” scene at Aeneid 1:135

Achilles famous Pelion spears
Another error struck me with Ovid’s description of Achilles famous Pelion spears. “Achilles examined the spear to see if the iron point had not been dislodged.”  Shouldn’t that be bronze?

It’s Thebe with No “S”!
Then Achilles said,  “when I caused Tenedos and Thebes, the city of Eetion…"  Really?  Confounding King Eetion’s city of Thebe with “Thebes” is common but I expected better Ovid.   Eeetion is the King of Placian Thebe in Cilicia and father of Hector’s wife Andromache.  (Homer Iliad 6.396 & 417)

Finally, we read that Nestor is over two hundred years old.  Really? Nestor speaking “have lived for two centuries and now am living in my third.”  (Ovid, Meta. Chapter 12) Homer accurately, universally acknowledged and more logical is Homer’s statement. Two generations of men born and bred in sandy Pylos had passed away under his rule, and he was now reigning over the third (Iliad 1.250] This is clearly plagiarism of the worst sort, sloppy!
Nice lines
  • “Tell on, old man, eloquent wisdom of our age,.
  • “they drew out the night in talk, and valour was the theme of their conversation. Of battles was their talk, the “enemy's and their own, and 'twas joy to tell over and over again in turn the perils they had encountered and endured 




Thursday, January 12, 2017

TFBT: Review of Dona F. Wilson

 I read “Ransom, Revenge and Heroic Identity in the Iliad” by Dona F. Wilson.  Not being a linguist and having little faith in Indo-European etymologies it is a hard read for me.  Very much a close reading.  And very worthwhile. 

True Love

I ran across something at lunch yesterday that darkened my romantic image of Achilles. 

“Wealth in Homeric society appears to be organized into four spheres; subsistence goods, prestige goods, persons and cultural wealth… They (women) are located in the sphere of persons when they are figured as belonging to a kinship and marriage group, but when viewed relation to their captors they are located in the sphere of prestige goods…redefining a (slave) woman in terms of familial relationships as - Agamemnon and Achilles shall be seen to do in the quarrel - locates her in the spheres of persons and augments the compensation on my demand for her loss.” 

So all that stuff about Agamemnon preferring the daughter of Chrysies to Clytemnestra, his wedded wife and Achilles comparing his relationship to Briseis to that of the Atreides and their wives; “Are the only mortal men in the world who love their wives the sons of Atreus?” (Iliad 9.341) All that was so much posturing for greater compensation (and honor).  True love takes another hit!  Darn! 

Institutional Misrecognition of Compensation

 Wilson’s book is very much about revenge, ransom, the economic system of compensation that underlies them and the elite warriors that use the system.  Wilson also demonstrates that that there is an “institutionally organized failure” to recognize how the system truly works. The heroes think “compensation, as in gift exchange…the system is primarily symbolic as opposed to economic.”  

Wilson divides wealth in Homeric society into four categories; materials wealth, prestige goods, persons and cultural wealth; 
·      Prestige wealth is…confined to elite intercourse; as gift exchange, distribution of honorific prizes, raiding, and purchase from foreign traders.”

·      Examples of cultural wealth are might in battle, skill as an orator, priesthood, a god for a parent and a gold studded “scepter handed down from Zeus.” 

·      Material wealth is represented by gold, slaves, cows, tripods, etc.

But the institutionalized misrepresentation of the economic system means that aristocrats fail to recognize the connection between material wealth and prestige.  They think they have great herds back home because they are great kings not vice versa.  So kings like
Nestor (Iliad 1.277-79) speaks from a perspective that there exists a natural, divinely legitimized relation between Agamemnon’s cultural wealth, specifically the scepter and the (prestige) privileged status he enjoys as commander-in-chief of the armies gathered at Troy. We may say therefore that Nestor misrecognized the relation between Agamemnon’s scepter and his status. “  
Glaucus and Diomedes were family friends because their grandfathers had eaten together and housed one another.  Meeting on the battle field and discovering their relationship; they exchanged gifts.   Glaucus seeing no connection between material wealth (his gold armor) and prestige happily exchanges his armor for the armor of the famous Diomedes conqueror of Thebes (prestige wealth).  Meanwhile, Homer not being a Mycenaean prince, but rather someone who literally sings for his dinner, doesn’t understand the exchange by Glaucus and Diomedes. (Iliad 6.199ff)


The narrative of Lykaon and Achilleus illustrates the ideology of reciprocity claiming implicitly that because they had eat together when Achilles captured him (the first time) their commensality makes rejecting is plea (that his father pay ransom for him) impossible.”  Achilles slew the Trojan prince at his knees begging for his life.  Clearly Achilles did not consider Lycaon a family-friend (xenos) and maybe not even an elite warrior, plus his famous wrath was in full-swing.  However, “the single most important factor in the success of an offer of ransom (is) whether the offer is made/in the time of the primary fabula, between Chryses’ arrive in the Achaean camp in Book 1 and Priams’ in Book 24…All offers of ransom in the time between Chryses’ and Priam’s offers fail.” (pg 31)

 Other Interesting Thoughts

·      The Iliad aligns accepting material settlements including ransom and limited revenge with the male and culture and denying material settlements and/or limits on revenge with the female and nature.”

·      “All relations between men are reducible to their honor and consequently (following his abuse by Agamemnon)…Chryses’ anguish (over loss of honor) is more important than his daughter.”

·      “Life and honor are not the property of the individual only, but also of his or her family.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

TFBT: Review of "Initiating Heracles"

I recently received an invitation to read a paper at Academia by Jan Bremmer.  The topic was "initiating Heracles".  I was excited by this; I had been considering the topic for Heracles and Achilles. After some confusion on my part, I finally figured out the topic.  Bremmer was not discussing Eleusis or Samothrace, but rather the more mundane rite-of-passage from youth to adulthood.   

Naturally, this discussion requires a lot of background discussion on the youth of the demi-god.  As Bremmer points out, most of the tales are overshadowed by his labors and adventures as an adult.  As part of the rituals’ separation-from-society motif, Bremmer says, “Naturally, while shepherding in the mountains these youths offered excellent occasions for nymphs and goddesses to take advantage of them.”   I am just saying,  “take advantage of” is a phrase most guys I know would never us. 

Rhadamanthys is the son of Theban Europe  Europa’s brother Cadmus was the founder of Thebes, but I don’t see how that make Rhadmanthys’ mother a Theban.

Bremmer does a great job of surveying all the evidence for Heracles’ rite of passage.  But it is all by inference.  Her survey is convincing.  But we have that issue to the mysterious connection between myth and ritual.  Why did no ancient poet or mythographer not tell us a myth about some hero’s  rite of passage and actually call it that?
Good article.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

TFBT: The Ongoing Antagonism

 “The confrontation between Apollo and the Fates may echo an ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities, see Eumenides 723 where the Furies perhaps in solidarity to the Fates, condemn this behavior of Apollo’s Samatia Dova

For those that are unaware “Eumenides” is a euphemism for “Furies” and “Erinyes”.  The Ancient Greeks like many societies had an aversion to accidentally summoning unpleasant things and would use euphemisms instead.  The Erinyes are born of the primordial goddess of the night, Nyx or born from the drops of Uranus’ blood fallen to Earth.  They are older goddess with powers and prerogatives established before Zeus’ reign and the dispensation at Mecone. What Dova is discussing in Greek Heroes in and out of Hades, is;

Eumenides: “You [Apollo] did such things also in the house of Pheres, when you persuaded the Moirai (Fates) to make mortals free from death.”
Apollo: “Is it not right, then, to do good for a worshiper, especially when he is in need?”
Eumenides: “It was you who destroyed the old dispensations when you beguiled the ancient goddesses with wine."

I pondered Dova’s assertion of “ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities”.
·      I thought of Herakles squeezing the rib cage of Thanatos[i] (Death) until he agreed to give up Alcestis.   (Euripides, Alcestis 839)  But there was no antagonism here prior to the wrestling match.  
·      Hypnos’ fear of Zeus recalled from a previous occasion when Nyx (Night) rescued him.  But what Zeus felt in addition to anger over some trick that Hypnos played was awe of thrice-prayed for, most fair, best beloved Night.  No indication of ongoing antagonism (Iliad 14)
·      Zeus tossed Ate and Momus[ii] out of Olympus,[iii]  but, he tossed other gods Hephaestus for example Hom. (Il. i. 590)  And once again no ongoing antagonism

But then I recalled some research I did “TFBT: The Eumenides of the Oresteia”  This is the story of the first trial in Athenian history.  During the course of the play we hear the Erinyes say;
  • “We are awesome and hard for mortals to appease...we stand apart from the gods” (385)
  • “You, (Apollo) a youth, have ridden down elder female daemons    (150)
  • “These duties were granted to us at birth, and it was also granted that the deathless gods hold back their hands from us”   (349)
  • “ My prerogative is ancient” (389)
  • “Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and snatched them from my hands!  
Now that sounds like ongoing antagonism!  Particularly when the “younger gods” threaten them.  Apollo threatens them with his little golden arrows.  Athena casually mentions she has the keys to her father’s arsenal.  In case you were wondering the dread daughters of Night are not impressed by their threats.

Further evidence of ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities, might include;
  • ·      Erinyes checking the voice of Xanthus, son of Zephyrus (god of the West Wind) (Il. xix. 418.)
  • ·      The daughters of Pandareus whose parents the gods had slain were being tended by Aphrodite, “Hera gave them beauty and wisdom… chaste Artemis gave them stature, and Athena taught them skill in famous handiwork.”   Apparently these Olympian goddesses had big plans for these girls, but “the spirits of the storm (Harpies) snatched away the maidens and gave them to the hateful Erinyes to deal with.”  (Homer, Odyssey 20. 61)
  • ·      Lyssa, goddess of madness of noble parents is called upon by the gods to assail Heracles.  She objects to her prerogatives being used in this way and gets a very terse and unsatisfactory response from Iris, messenger of the gods.  (Euripides Heracles 815)
There is ongoing debate as to how much influence the Fates had over the Olympians.  Surely some of it was galling to the children of Cronus and their descendants. 
  • Zeus appointed his mortal son Minos to be a judge in Hades, “yet he could not exempt him from the decree of the Fates." [iv]
  • "The gods were moved; but none can break the ancient Sisters' [the Moirai's] iron decrees." (Ovid, Metamorphoses 15. 781)
  •  "Zeus thundered and brandished his thunderbolt, but the Fates and Themis stopped him." Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 19

In summary, Dova’s suggestion of “an ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities,” is clearly true when we look at confrontations with the Olympians and the Erinyes, the Olympians stand in awe of Mother Night and often seem to be subservient to the Fates.   

I will have to keep an eye open for other evidence.  Recommendations will be welcome.

[i] Oddly, this was the same technique he used on Death’s co-worker; “And wishing to provide the souls with blood, he slaughtered one of the kine of Hades. But Menoetius, son of Ceuthonymus, who tended the king, challenged Hercules to wrestle, and, being seized round the middle, had his ribs broken. (Apollodorus Library 2.5.12)
[ii] (Children of Nyx or her daughter Eris)
[iii] Iliad 19 and Aesop respectively
[iv] (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8. 7)