Tuesday, July 24, 2012

VftSW; What’s Gone and Past

   My black labrador - hound mix and I strolled towards our usual destination this fine morning.  Derby moved along doggedly.  When not distracted she moves along like a man with a mission.  The big black dog that guards the corner of the road saw us coming and began to protest.  But, suddenly behind us, quite a ways behind became an unfamiliar yap.  Derby turned, mission and mutt ahead forgotten.  The new distraction was out of sight, at least a block and a half away.  Again, a few barks, Derby would not move forward, so eagerly did she peer behind.  So obsessed with what lay behind us, so unaware of the big threat near us and so oblivious as to why she wanted to “go for a walk” in the first place; I had to drag her away.  I wonder how often I get so wrapped up in what’s gone and past, that Somebody has to pick me up and once again, put me on the right path.

TFBT: Hyper-moron or Beyond Destiny, Part II

In Part One I discussed the conventional definition of “Beyond Destiny” that is beyond the dictates of fate; beyond one’s person destiny; “said of those who by their own fault add to their destined share of misery” (Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon).   Gregory Nagy adds a nuance to this definition.  He considers the phrase a literary device.   “Within the conventions of epic composition, an incident that is untraditional would be hyper moron  'beyond destiny'.” (Best of the Achaeans, chapter 2, §17)   
That is; “Beyond Destiny" also indicates something outside the scope of the story being told.  For example; the crucial point of The Iliad is Achilles decision whether to die early, be forever young and attain “unfailing glory” or live to a ripe old comfortable age as an obscure chieftain.  Achilles’ mother is the goddess Thetis and much of her care and concern centers on this question; one of the ultimate questions in life.  However in Ancient Greece there was a third option; a carefree afterlife in a paradise called the Isle of the Blest; Achilles could be wafted away after his death to the world's end, where the departed heroes live unlaborious days.        
Snow, tempest and thunderstorms never enter there, but for men's refreshment Earth encircling Oceanus sent out continually the high-singing breezes of the west   (Homer, Odyssey 4. 56o)  To live  again  untouched by sorrow along the shore of deep swirling Oceanus, happy (Hesiod, Works and Days 156). However, had Homer mentioned this option in The Iliad what would have been the point of the story?  So the topic of the Isle of the Blest becomes beyond the hero’s destiny, at least according to and unmentioned by Homer. 

More specifically, Poseidon intervenes and saves Aeneas, telling him that his death at this point would be "beyond destiny" (Iliad XX 336).  If the poet allowed Aeneas to die at this point it would have been a terrible inconvenience to Virgil when he wrote “The Aeneid” recounting Aeneas after this point in the Trojan War.  Plus it would a real point of contention to all the genealogists and heralds who trace most of the European families back to Aeneas post war son, Ascanius.  (Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae).  So his death becomes “beyond destiny”; beyond the realm of possibility in The Iliad.

Similarly when the Greek army before Troy briefly regains the upper hand and almost captures the city; this would-be event is designated as beyond the allotment of Zeus (Iliad XVII 321).   Once more not an option the story teller told for this tale. 

So framed by Nagy’s nuance, “beyond destiny” designates the unthinkable to the poet and the “twenty thousand smiling faces” listening to the retelling of the tale in Ancient Athens.  To consider for a moments any of the story elements that are designated Beyond Destiny is to consider the unraveling of The Iliad.  It is to ponder the demise of the very foundation of the Greek civilization.  It is to question the very foundation of our lives.  Maybe the gods were wise to make certain things beyond the destiny of mortal men.

Image provided by NYPL Digital Gallery

Monday, July 23, 2012

TFBT: Hyper-Moron or Beyond Destiny

My research in classical studies this last weekend centered on a phrase from The Iliad; “Beyond Destiny”.  Ironically the phase translates as “Hyper-Moron”.   

“Beyond destiny” denotes those paths Fate won’t allow us (or the  Greek gods) to go down.  Of course, us mortals (descended from the ancient heroes) often think about going down those paths anyway, just like the gods.  Only we know we shouldn’t.  We know certain things lead to disaster.   

Zeus at one point ponders rescuing one of this mortal sons from a gruesome death in battle upon the plains of Troy.  (Il. XVI 446) His wife Hera calmly points out that if he does, all the other gods will rescue their mortal sons; by implication unsettling the balance of the universe and not giving Death his due.  In response the mightiest god among the Olympians shed tears of black blood.  Zeus knew that to go down that road would be a form of madness (Ate).  Hence a few scholars using a Christian paradigm define “Ate” as the goddess of temptation. 

We all know those dim light paths we are tempted to go down from time to time.  With age we even recognize the bright and sunny paths lined with flowers that will eventually lead us to sorry and moments of dark tears.  My grandmother once said that as we get older, “We get less and less desirable and more and more particular.” She said it in a tone implying that this was an affliction of old age.  As I totter into old age, I’d suggest instead that her adage is a blessing of earned wisdom. 

The Iliad doesn’t actually cover the fall of Troy.  That’s left to other books in the Epic Cycle.  The synopses we have of the “Cypria” suggests that Zeus too learned wisdom over the years.  After the death of Sarpedon, he pulled a veil between mortals and immortals. (Hesiodea, Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Classical Quarterly, vol. 9, page 75)  The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite suggests he taught love goddess the foolishness of forcing gods and mortal women to mix.  Her son Aeneas was the last of the demi-gods. (Cytherica: Aesthetic-Political Essays In An Aphrodisian Key, Josef Chytry, page 134)  Zeus sternly closed off the path of the divine siring the eventually dying.

I pray I have such Olympian strength when I try to avoid trying temptation and following foolish paths beyond my destiny. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

TFBT: Gleanings of Jørgensen’s Law

I have been an independent researcher of Greek Mythology my entire life. Hence, it was with great surprise that I learned about “Jørgensen’s Law” in J. Marks excellent “Zeus in the Odyssey”. I quote the definition that Marks provides.
“Jørgensen’s Law” That is; the Homeric narrator and divine characters are as a rule aware of the divine agent responsible for any given act or circumstances in the narrative. Human characters by contrast, remain ignorant of the actions of the specific gods unless they are informed by a divine character or, in the case of seers and singers, possess special powers.”
I performed a Google-search and found Jørgensen’s Law much quoted and referenced. Erwin F Cook invokes the law five times.[i] De Jong a dozen.[ii) Ruth Scodel refers to it as a “rule”. [iii]However, I could find no biography for Ove Jørgensen nor a translation of his article establishing the law. I have gathered what little information I could find below.
Ove Jørgensen a friend to Carl Nielsen; Denmark’s greatest composer and Frederick Poulsen an archaeologist and competitor wrote an article in [iv] in 1904. Hermes, founded in 1866, is a German peer-reviewed journal, focusing on classical studies. Jørgensen’s article, which George M. Calhoun [v] refers to as “a very acute study” and PV Jones (1985) calls “eye-opening” was entitled “Das Auftreten der Gotter in den Buechern i-m der Odyssey”. Which www.babylon.com translates as “The Occurrence of the Gods in the Books 9-12 of the Odyssey”.
The Odyssey, of course, is the account of the return home from the Trojan war of the Greek hero Odysseus. Traditionally, the (possibly blind) singer Homer is credited with creating the story; or more accurately weaving it together from various traditions. Books 9-12 cover the recital by Odysseus of the many wiles of his adventures;
  • His fateful encounter with a one-eyed, giant cannibal called a cyclops and named Polypheus;
  • stay with the sorceress Circe,
  • visit to the Underworld,
  • the subsequent disaster when his men ate the sacred cattle of the sun-god Helios
  • finally his long stay with the goddess Calypso.
The actual returning home part happens after these books.
Ove Jørgensen showed, that in the Odyssey Homer carefully distinguishes between his own knowledge of divine affairs and that of the poem’s mortal characters. His voice and the gods themselves always name the specific god responsible for an event, the poem’s mortal characters use the general terms daimon (spirit), theos (the gods) or “Zeus,” unless they are acting on specific knowledge.  [vi] Odysseus for example, can only recount an exchange between Helios and King Zeus because, “I heard these things from fair-haired Calypso: and she said that she had heard them herself from the guide Hermes”.[vii] Homer seldom uses the term daimon when speaking for himself, though it is frequent in the mouths of his mortal characters.[viii]

The fact that Zeus is the only god regularly named by mortals “explains another recurrent phenomenon in the Odyssey; humans regularly blame Zeus for their troubles when they know that another god is in fact responsible.” [ix] The habit on the part of mortal men might also explain the use of Dios (the God) for Zeus in the Iliad. Some scholars have extended this “law” to include the Iliad [x Of specific interest to me upon contemplation of Jørgensen’s Law is a comment made by Prof. Kevin McGrath during a lecture at Harvard. McGrath suggested that around 80% of the Odyssey is narrated by Odysseus rather than Homer. It strikes me as odd that even a notorious liar like Odysseus would comply with Jørgensen’s Law even during his narration of the tale. That is some powerful law!

 [i]The Odyssey in Athens; Myths of Cultural Origins. (2006)
[ii] A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey, Irene J F de Jong (2001)
[iii] Ruth Scodel review of “Staged Narrative” Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.12.05
[iv] Hermes volume 39 pages 357-382 (1904)
[v]  George M. Calhoun “The Divine Entourage in Homer” American Journal of Philology Vol. LXI, 3
[vi] Erwin F. Cook, Odyssey in Athens.
 [vii]  Jonathan L. Ready in Character Narrator and Simile in the Iliad.(2011)
 [viii]Aufstieg und Nieergang der Romischen Welt, Part 2, Volume 18 edited by Hildegard Temporini
[ix] Erwin F. Cook Odyssey in Athens.
[x]Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Volume 52, page 53 1972