Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TFTFBT: Bella Rophan at the Palmer House

I recently had the pleasure of staying in Chicago’s Palmer House hotel.  To quote the plaque on the statue named  Bella Rophan; “The focal point of our lobby elevator foyer is the dramatic bronze sculpture created in France in the mid 19th century.”  The artist was Emile Herbert 1828-1893.  The piece depicts a mythical Greek Warrior on a bridle-free stallion. The fact that the horse is not tethered has been interrupted that the creature is the spirit of the wind and that the warrior  simply along for the ride having no control over the winged steed.“ Which is odd because in Pindar, Olympian Ode 13 the poet states that Till Pallas [Athena], goddess maid, brought him (Bellerophon) the bridle and golden headband.”  I was reminded of the Helmet of Invisibility lent to Perseus, another flying hero.

The plaque continues with “ A curiosity of the work is the python around the warrior’s head, arms and hand. The inclusion of the serpent is puzzling and no explanation has been determined.”  Looking at the statue from the back side I noticed that the body of the “python” as it trailed down the warrior’s back, grew stouter, wider and shaggier.  I think most classicists would recognize this as the “Chimera, who snorted raging fire, a beast great and terrible, and strong and swift-footed. Her heads were three: one was that of a glare-eyed lion, one of a goat, and the third of a snake,” (Hesiod, Theogony 319)  Apparently Bellerophon didn’t want to take the whole beast back as proof of the kill and chose to return to King Iobates of Lycia with the smallest of the three heads. 

I thought the sculpture’s choice of weapons was interesting .  Legend holds that the Chimera was slain with a lead-tipped lance shoved into the fire-breathing head or shot to death from above by Bellerophon astride the flying Pegasus with his bow and arrows.   Instead the artist placed into the warriors hand and object to heavy and un-winged to be an arrow.  Maybe the business end of a broken ashen shafted, bronze tipped spear.  At first glance I was reminded of the double lotus blossom shape of Zeus’ lightning bolt, but that doesn’t really work either. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

TFBT: Heroes as Performers

"Do not try me like a simple child, or a woman, who does not know war-work.  I know well fights and man-slayings, I know to the right, I know to the left how to move my ox-hide shield that I own for warring. I know how to leap into the moil of swift horses,  I know how to dance to hostile Ares in the close fighting. "                                                                        Hector at Iliad 7.235-241
At Hour 25 our classical studies club is studying Richard Martin’s Language of Heroes.  Currently, chapter 3; Heroes as Performers.
After getting over;  being called “deracinated” and the romantic notion that Mycenean noblemen orated in dactyl hexameter, I found Martin’s analysis of each major character’s speeches, amazing!  I am just noting highlights and points new to me.  His analysis is much fuller and much more amazing that the gleanings here.
He starts with Nestor of course , which I’ve reviewed elsewhere.  I can add here that according to Martin; “Irony…is not in Nestor's repertoire nor is punning. And that “Nestor utilizes a diachronic rhetoric of tradition versus contemporary situation.”
I’ve always wondered about Thersites performances.  Martin says he is “ quite literally without meter in his performance. 
Agamemnon's speeches are driven by fear of  “ receiving a bad reputation”, that he is poor at apportioning moirai and has no clue that his extravagant gifts listed by the Ambassadors in Book IX will look like he is trying to buy Achilles.
Odysseus uses irony and puns.  In commands, he is inclusive, using a first-person plural.
Martin reads Diomedes' and Glaukos' storytelling on the battlefield as vieled threats as to what they will do to one another on the battle field.
Hector is “constantly preoccupied with the winning of reputation” and public opinion.  Maybe too preoccupied considering the conversation he had with himself before the walls of Troy as Achilles closed in.    Martin explains that Hector “knows that the gods cannot help him… so he cares nothing about whether the birds go rightwards to sun and dawn or to the left, to misty dusk"
 Martin demonstrates that Achilles is in command; “Achilles directs the Achaeans to ask … the cause of Apollo's anger … He authorizes speech … defends the speaker, Kalkhas. .. has taken the initiative to call an assembly, another indication of his respect for speech.”  He used words rather than the sword on Agamemnon; uses  scepter dramatically, tells a dramatic tale to his mother and “even coach her in techniques of argumentation to win him honor from Zeus.   His style is open, communicative, adaptable.  Achilles' perspective is larger.  His language likes Odysseus’ is inclusive and explanatory.  He also uses “The device of directing another to speak, so that we may both know" which  gives us the impression that Achilles cares about what his listener thinks.  “ Achilles uses command to pass on that authority to others,” From person experience as Crew Boss of the Santa Fe Hotshots, I can tell you this is an effective, flattering empowering technique.  this self-deprecating strategy fits with Achilles' preference for two-way communication between speaker and addressee. And of course, the denial of command only increases respect for the hero

Saturday, October 4, 2014

TFBT: Within the Kyklos

I was pleased to attend lectures and participate in discussions on divine plans and poetic narrative in the Iliad and Odyssey, recently.   The symposium was called; Within the Kyklos: Whose Plan is This?

Our guest scholars were Efimia D. Karakantza (University of Patras, Greece), and Justin Arft (University of Missouri) at a Center for Hellenic Studies Open House with the citizen scholars from Hour 25.  You can enjoy the lectures too by clicking the link above.

Some highlights of the presentation by the unflappable Professor Karakantza include;

  • Although at 8.473 and 15.61 Zeus foretells the death of Patroclus, it is not part of Zeus’ plan.  In contrast, at 15.69 the son of Cronus says what he will cause. 
  • Achilles keeps changing the plot line.  At 9.649 he changes his demands from getting respect before he returns to battle, to not returning until the ships are on fire. I asked whose will was stronger, Zeus’ or Achilles’?  Karakantza said “The poet’s!”
  • Achilles has two fits of menis, one with the Achaeans and one with Hector, hence Homer addresses the Muses again at the beginning of the new plotline (16.120)
  • Patroclus (like Agamemnon) was trying to dishonor Achilles by attacking Troy and stealing his buddy’s glory
The roguish Professor Arft observed ;

  • The Odyssey isn’t just about Odysseus’ return but also figuring out who he was.
  • The return of Poseidon from Aethiopia in the Odyssey is comparable to Zeus awakening on Mt. Ida.  (It struck me that both the Cronides returns to “reality” occur about mid-way through the chronology, that is if you straighten out the telling of the Odyssey.  Which makes me wonder what insights might be gained by re-organizing the epic of Odysseus.   Hmm.)
  • Odysseus supplicating Arete is comparable to Thetis and Zeus
  • Both Penelope and Arete are vital to his safe return.  (It occurred to me or Justin said that Arete and Odysseus were xenios.  I find it humorous that Odysseus claimed the same relationship with Polyphemus; that didn’t end up as well.)
  • We discussed  Gregory Nagy’s lecture  Was there a future for the Phaeacians of the Homeric Odyssey?”  Arft wondered aloud how Poseidon could possibly doom the Phaeacians for fulfilling the will of Zeus. 
  • The will of Zeus is getting constantly screwed up by somebody or another all along the way
  • He urged us citizen scholars to “err boldly”. 
The dialogue ended with a moving speech from Professor Karakantza regarding Hector and Andromache’s final moments together, on the shallowness of the gods and profundity of the human condition . 
further discussion can be found at the Hour 25 forums  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TFBT: Random Notes from Iliad XVI

I read Book XVI today; the Death of Patroclus. It rained buckets naturally so it wasn’t difficult to decided to stay inside and read. Very sad. This time my emphasis was on looking for similes and metaphors. Particularly after just reading Rhesus I noted how often the Achaians are compared to a pack of wolves 155-164,276,351-355 making Dolon’s choice of apparel even more untimely and inappropriate. Here also glorious Homer compares men to trees; 482-4,632-5,765-771.  I noted with sadness that Patroclus and Hector are compared to wild animals fighting and dying “over a little spring of water” (825)


till I (Zeus) have accomplished the desire of the son of Peleus, according to the promise I made by bowing my head on the day when Thetis touched my knees and besought me to give Achilles, ransacker of cities, honor.” Iliad 15.74  I just find that pretty


have you had news from Phthia?” Iliad 16.13  In recent discussions at Hour 25, Janet asked if there weren’t any trips back and forth to Greece in all those long nine and a half years.  Achilles question above makes it appear that such travel was conceiveable thing to the Achaeans before Troy.

Did I notice Homeric plagarism?  Preparing for a discussion tomorrow I re-read Book XVI of the Iliad and found;  “the mighty slayer of Argos was enamored of her as he saw her among the singing women at a dance held in honor of Artemis the rushing huntress of the golden arrows; he therefore – Hermes, giver of all good – went with her into an upper chamber,”  Iliad 16.181  Now compare to the Homer Hymn to Aphrodite 117 “But then, the one with the golden wand, the Argos-killer, abducted me, taking me from a festival of song and dance in honor of Artemis, the one with the golden arrows.”

They came swarming out like wasps whose nests are by the roadside, and whom silly children love to tease, whereon any one who happens to be passing may get stung – or again, if a wayfarer going along the road vexes them by accident, every wasp will come flying out  in a fury to defend his little ones- even with such rage and courage did the Myrmidons swarm from their ships, Iliad 16.259  Just another line of poetry I thought pretty. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

TFBT: Random Notes on Rhesus

Here are some random notes on my studies of the tragedy “Rhesus” seemingly written by Euripides.  I preferred Lattimore’s translation.
Will it ever happen again that our ancient Troy will know the day-long revelries the love pledges and companionship, the strumming of the lyres and the wine cups circling, passed to the right, in sweet contention while on the open waters the sons of Atreus make for Sparta, gone from the shores of Ilium?” Beautiful line, sounds a lot like the Isle of the Blest on the Zephyr blessed shores of the deep -whirling River Ocean.
Hector to Rhesus; “Yet here are others, who are not our kin by blood.”  Just in case you were curious, based on their riverine heritage; Rhesus and Hector were first cousins thrice removed.  The Rivers Strymon and Scamander (Xanthus in the divine language) were brothers.  Scamander's daughter Strymo was the mother of Priam, Hector's father. 
Rhesus to Hector “You seem content to be acted on, not to act.  This could have a double meaning.
Euripides’ Rhesus recounts times when Odysseus was in and out of Troy during the previous ten years.  Ten years!  Really?  What were these people doing all this time?  The Achaeans seem to have no clue on how to lay siege or of any siege craft.  The level of slaughter we seen in The Iliad at the final stages of the war would have eradicated both armies if maintained for ten years.  Based on the bragging and speeches upon the battle field between the nobles I wonder if it had been nine years of ritual warfare.  At Troy it was all rattle and roar, with a few duels and the real fatalities happening on night raids to over whelm smaller towns and ambushes to catch the unwary. 
Hector to the guards “death by flogging or by the headsman’s ax awaits you.”  I don’t recall any mention of corporal punishment or threat of such in Epic.  (Excepting Odysseus and Thersite's of course.)  Is this demonstrating barbarian despotism?
Starting around line 200 Dolon and the Chorus offer prayers for his success.  None of these prayers are proper by Epic standards.  No overly flattering epithets, no reminder of relationship and obligation and no promise of thighs burned on an altar.  (See “Proper Pray and Personal Conversations in the Iliad for further discussion.)
When Dolon set out on the task that would win him Achilles’ horses he wore a wolf skin.  When Rhesus’ charioteer dreamt of the theft of his master’s horses, the thieves were wolves.  What’s that all about?
We can overrun the camp and walls of the Achaeans, fire their ships and that this sunlight that begins to climb brings us of Troy our day of liberty.”  Of course Hector is wrong, but a nice analogy between firing the ships and the rising of the sun. 
Chorus speaking of Agamemnon’s severed head in Helen’s lap says “he lead the thousand ships” I thought the first reference to “a thousand ships” was Christopher Marlowe in Doctor Faustus!  Learn something new every day.

For further thoughts on Rhesus, please see 


TFBT: Jasper Griffin’s “The Epic Cycle”

On a long flight after a great get-away weekend with my wife, I delighted in re-reading The Epic Cycle and the Uniqueness of Homer by Jasper Griffin.  I found this fourteen page essay somewhere on my Nook.  You can find it at JSTOR by clicking the link above.  (If you do not have institutional access to JSTOR you can read it on line simply by registering at MyJSTOR.) 

If you take the glory of Homer for granted, here is the place to renew your sense of awe and appreciation for “the exceptional genius which went into the creation of …the Iliad.   

Griffin insists that between Homeric and Cyclic a distinction did exist. “The strict, radical, and consistently heroic interpretation” of the Iliadic world made it quite different from the Cycle, with its miracles, un-tragic attitude towards mortality, exoticism, romance and flattering, flowery, less-dense style of composition.   If you need proof of his opinion; the second half of the essay is a careful analysis, stylistically of Cyclic fragments.  

He observes “The Iliad is notably more cautious with the fantastic.” Then uses Aristotle to point “out that Homer puts many things into the mouths of his characters, when he himself does not wish to vouch for their truth, most notably in the stories told by Odysseus… The fantastic, the miraculous, and the romantic, all exceeded in the Cycle the austere limits to which the Iliad confines them.” 

“Even more, in the accommodating world of the Cycle death itself can be evaded.”  My friend Maya M1 refers to this phenomena as “scholia as savior”.   Griffin then summons Patroclus’ ghost, (Iliad 23. 69) to expound that in Homeric epic “the dead do not return”.  “For the Iliad, human life is defined by the double inevitability of age and death; for the gods, men's opposite, immortality and eternal youth are inseparable.  Men must die:” 

Just a sampling of contrasts he notes are that The Iliad 
  • excludes low human types and motives.
  • knew and suppressed the story about Achilles’ impenetrable armor.  Hence the reason Apollo knocked it off Patroclus (Iliad xvi) so Hector can kill him. 
  • Fragments xviii and xix of the Cypria explain Chryseis was captured by the Achaeans when her city of Chryse was not because she was visiting Thebe at the time.
  • In the Cycle, but not in Homer, homicides need to be purified; Griffin suggests this is due to the influence of Delphi.

The contrasts help to bring out the greatness and the uniqueness that is Homer.



1 Maya M is the blogger at Maya Corner  where  “ I write about things that interest me, in as politically incorrect style as I like.”  She is a frequent contributer to Bill’s Classical Studies.  She writes “ I had some interest in mythology as a child, and "Ancient Greek Legends and Myths" by Nikolay Kun was among my favorite books. However, this interest was nothing out of the ordinary. My education had no leaning to classics, except for the mandatory review of ancient Greek literature in 9th grade. I was truly engaged only about 2 years ago, when a kid to whom I am a teaching aide got to the above mentioned 9th grade. My student seemed just bored by mythology and ancient literature, but I looked at them with new eyes and was fascinated. My background in biology naturally predisposed me to science-fiction rewriting of some myths, but I try also to understand what they meant to their original audience in the pre-scientific, "daimon-haunted" world.




Friday, September 19, 2014

TFBT: The Race for Rhesus

 The tragedy group at Hour 25 currently studies “Rhesus” a play by Euripides.  First I must point out the irony of studying a play of questionable authorship based on the book of the Iliad least likely to be composed by Homer.[i]  That out of the way, on with the play. 
King Rhesus of Thrace arrives late to the battle-fields before Troy and beds down for the night outside the city walls. “Rhesus like a god upright behind his horses in the Thracian car. The golden balance of a yoke enclosed the necks of his young horses and they were whiter than snow. The buckler on his shoulders glowed with beaten plates of gold and upon a goddess’ aegis; the bronze face of a gorgon on the horses’ frontlet shields glared and with bells beat out a clashing sound of fear. (301 Lattimore trans.)  We’ll hear more about Rhesus from himself and otherwise along these lines.  Lattimore points out in the introduction that “If a man is too confident, even if that confidence is justified or if other speak too well of him, his is doomed to destruction.” 

The Trojans previously sent out beguiling Dolon to spy on the Achaeans forces.  In exchange for his services Hector promises him the horses of Achilles; They are immortal, born of an immortal strain who bear the fighting son of Peleus, the king of the season Poseidon, broke them once and tamed and gave them to Peleus (185)  The Achaeans dispatch “that big mouth, Odysseus” and Diomedes as spies also.  They intercept Dolon; sneak into “golden-armored" Rhesus' camp, kill the king and his companions leap into his chariot and return to the Achaean camp.  The horses from the Thracian chariots, so white that you can see them through the dark gleaming, as if they were the wings of swans on the water.” (617)    In other words Rhesus’ horse are pretty special themselves; glowing in the dark and being compared to winged creatures upon the surface of the water.  Is it always like this?  In every Greek myth do we always end up talking about a chariot race and Nestor’s sage advice for living life?  (Iliad 23.326–343)  Shoot in line 383-386 of this play Rhesus is even called a stallion with sleigh bells and all.  Is every myth about a chariot race where the hero crashes and dies at the far end of the course or makes the turn and comes back behind a pair of immortal horses?
As of late when studying the tragedies I’ve taken a different approach ( Rather than concentrate on the mortal story line I’ve found some other key element and followed it through the play.  I also try to avoid reading commentaries prior to re-reading the plays for fear of reading something into the text rather than getting something out if it.   However, I had a hint of things to come, (oracular heroization of Rhesus) so I looked for olbios; blessed.  Olbios indicates good fortune now and, according to Gregory Nagy, good fortune in the world hereafter. (Pindar’s Homer 8.45-46)  For example;
  • Line 107 “each has his own special excellence” That is a special blessing or divine gift or calling for each mortal, which suggest we all have a chance at immortality.
  • Line 196 “Blessed will be your (Dolon’s) name.”  Which based on Lattimore’s observation above about “if others speak too well of him” this is the kiss of death for Dolon, but at the same time he has attained unwilting glory in Achilles epic.
  • Although Rhesus is not specifically called “blessed” the way the chorus goes on and on about “ a monarch to behold”, the way he brags about his might and forces, and Hector’s enumerations of his territory you get the impression this boy is living the good life.  Even after death his mother declares that “Rhesus will not go to the black meadow in the earth.” (962) but rather “he shall live on, a human spirit” (971) 
In the process of searching out these lucky mortals I kept stumbling I kept stumbling across hyper-morons.  (Sorry, I can never resist that pun!)  Within the conventions of epic composition, an incident that is untraditional would be hyper moron  'beyond destiny'.” (Best of the Achaeans, chapter 2, §17)    Beyond destiny" also indicates something outside the scope of the story being told and contrary to the Will of Zeus.  It is the line mortal cross at their peril.  It is the moment when the gods fear their rights and privileges are being infringed upon.  Their response can be horrific.  For example;
  • “The great Thracian singer and we blinded him, Thamyris, who vilified our craft of song.”  This reminds me of both of the singing contest between the muses & sirens and the poet Stesichorus of Sicily.  The singing contest ended with the daughters of Achelous getting their wings torn off. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 34. 3 ) In the latter case Stesichorus vilified the mortal Helen for her behavior regarding Paris; the goddess Helen blinded him as a result.( Isocrates Hel. 64)  He regained his vision when he wrote a lengthy poem admitting that Helen never went to Troy.  The Achaians and Trojans in fact fight and dying for a phantom. 2
  • At line 457 and 467 both the chorus and Rhesus offering prayers hoping to avoid the resentment of the gods to the Thracian’s brag, acknowledging they are over-reaching in their hope, offending the gods and defying destiny
  • At lines 634 and 607 Athena makes it clear that certain acts are beyond Diomedes and Odysseus’ destinies. 
In short, god-like Rhesus arrives in the night like a dream, as substantial as Helen upon the ramparts of Troy. Then he and his army are snatched away before dawn.  The whole sta- lit event drawing a line in the sand for Troy.  As Hector reports;   
But these diviners, these educated men who know
The mind of heaven, persuaded me to wait…  

[i] Based on reading and conversing with Casey Dué and Mary Ebbott, that the Doloneia is a legitament part of the Iliad
2 Hmm, Thamyris, Stesichorus, traditionally Homer, and Demodocus all blind poets