Thursday, October 25, 2012

TFBT: The Limen Between War and Art in “The Divine Audience”

During my re-reading of “The Divine Audience” I began to notice phrases referencing divine  “sublime frivolity  and events “intended as plays for the gods” . These reminded me of the Bards words "That all the world is a stage...”    And J. Huizinga’s observations that “The “consecrated spot” cannot be formally distinguished from the playground, the arena, the card table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice… are all in form and function play-grounds, forbidden spots, isolated hedged around, hallowed…”[i]   I began to recognize the limnality documented in here; the thin line between war and art.
I’ve spoken elsewhere about my appreciation of Models of Reception in the Divine Audience of the Iliad” by Tobias Anthony Myers. Myers studies the relationship of Zeus and his divine audience on Olympus as he orchestrates the Trojan War to Homer interacting with a mortal audience as he composes the Iliad.  Zeus’ performance mirrors the poet’s: through Zeus, the poet stages” within the war the tale of Troy. In so doing Myers steps back and forth over the limen between the reality of Zeus’ war and the art of Homer.  Virtually all the that follows I took verbatim from Myers.

Myers likens the events at Troy to a sporting event.  “Moments of distraction from the story encourage the poet’s audience to follow all the more closely, for such moments are typically associated with events unwanted by the god in question. Like sports fans convinced that if they miss a second of play their team will lose, the poet’s audience is prodded to stay alert by the negative consequences of wandering attention.   Homer invites his audience to understand their participation in terms of attendance at a live spectacle at which viewers play – or can feel that they play – a more active role than movie-goers or admirers of already crafted imagery.” The Iliad “constitutes a well-defined space into which the audience is invited to enter.   It is by entering the sacred space in which the action occurs that individuals assume the role of actors.”

This sacred space corresponds to the “middle” space in which Menelaus and Paris duel. “They marched into the middle of the Trojans and Achaeans, glaring fiercely – and wonder held those watching.  Crossing the boundary limned by Hector and Odysseus, marks the beginning of the action: it is by their entry into the arena, their separation from the viewers who remain outside, that viewers and actors assume their roles in earnest.” When Aphrodite plucks her boy-toy from the scene, “Athena leaps onto the hallowed ground and into the sacred space. She leapt into the middle, and (again)wonder held those watching – the horse-taming Trojans and the well-greaved Achaeans.  They recognize a divine portent and wonder what the gods decided.”

Blurring the lines between reality and theatre, Zeus sends a false dream to Agamemnon urging him to test the army with a proposal to go home.  Zeus is taunting his divine audience; provoking his fellow deities to demand the continuation of the performance of the war; that they must not go beyond destiny; that the play must go on. Homer set up his audience to be resistant to the possibility of the Greeks departing before victory.   Blurring the roles between Homer and Zeus, the poet is able to speak to his audience without ever ceasing to play the role of Zeus speaking to the gods. 

Helen does not even acknowledge the significance of reality.  Helen attributes “what for her is a cruel and arbitrary fate to the demands of poetic performance – song-worthiness.”

Myers uses language like “theater of war”. He compares warriors to athletes. Hector and Odysseus “measure out” the space in which the duel will be performed as though architects.   He talks about funeral games, how victory in the games prefigures his victory in the arena of combat.  He compares to Achilles to a horse in a race and Priam as a fan at the track.

“As Troy corresponds to the arena of the duel, Olympus – the usual site of the gods’ viewing – corresponds to the area of passive viewing outside the duel’s “marked off” space. While the gods play many fundamental roles, the action of the poem takes place not on Olympus but at Troy. Of course, the gods themselves are not always passive viewers: in fact, the Iliad sometimes presents the conflict at Troy as the expression of a divine conflict.  Yet the gods never attack one another except within the arena of activity, the Trojan plain, it is striking that when the gods want to act within the story of Achilles’ wrath they first literally enter the arena.”   

  In conclusion reading Myers is to enter a liminal event.  Myers compares the Trojan War to a sporting event, he speaks of the “middle space” as a stage, Homer/Zeus play with their prospective audiences, Helen declares the war nothing but fodder created for the poets and Myers discussed the roles of the gods that can only be performed within the “arena of the duel”  And finally the most telling  observation of all, “ The implication that the divine audience could decide even at this moment of “performance” to call off the slaughter if they really wanted to communicates complicity beyond that shared by viewers of a staged theatrical performance."

[i] Homo Ludens, J.Huizinga

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