Tuesday, July 24, 2012

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

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