Saturday, March 30, 2013

TFBT: Random Notes from the Iliad

Iliad 9: 50 “Nestor the charioteer rose to speak. “Son of Tydeus,” said he, “in war your prowess is beyond question, and in council you excel all who are of your own years; [55] no one of the Achaeans can make light of what you say nor gainsay it,”  Talk about buttering someone up!

 Iliad 9: 192 “Meanwhile the two of them came in - radiant Odysseus leading the way.”  In the Embassy scene here, the ambassadors are Phoenix, Odysseus and Ajax.  I’ve heard in the Greek that Achilles is using the “dual” tense; in affect totally ignoring Odysseus.  Note that in the ensuing conversation Phoenix recites Agamemnon’s offer pretty much verbatim, while Odysseus paraphrases Achilles response.    To further the dual tense argument note Achilles parting words to Odysseus, 310 “ ... As hateful to me as the gates of Hades is one who says one thing while he hides another in his heart; therefore I will say what I mean.”  Quite a difference from Achilles greeting (to Phoenix and Ajax) [195] … “All hail and welcome …you, …are still dearest to me of the Achaeans.”

Iliad 15: 264 “as a horse, stabled and full-fed, breaks loose and gallops gloriously over the plain [265] to the place where he is wont to take his bath in the river - he tosses his head, and his mane streams over his shoulders as in all the pride of his strength he flies full speed to the pastures where the mares are feeding –“

Iliad 15:580 “as a dog springs on a fawn which a hunter has hit as it was breaking away from its covert, and killed it. Even so, O Melanippos, did stalwart Antilokhos spring upon you to strip you of your armor; but noble Hector marked him, and came running up to him through the thick of the battle.”  Why did Homer switch to the second person tense?

Iliad 15:615 “ Now, however, he kept trying to break the ranks of the enemy wherever he could see them thickest, and in the goodliest armor”  Do Greek Heroes have the same culture as Aztecs; look for someone of rank and noble equipage, when you enter the fray?

Iliad 15: 730 Here he stood on the look-out, and with his spear held back Trojan whom he saw bringing fire to the ships. All the time he kept on shouting at the top of his voice and exhorting the Danaans. “My friends,” he cried, “Danaan heroes, attendants of Ares, be men my friends, and fight with might and with main.  [735] Can we hope to find helpers hereafter, or a wall to shield us more surely than the one we have? There is no strong city within reach, whence we may draw fresh population to turn the scales in our favor. We are on the plain of the armed Trojans with the sea behind us,  [740] and far from our own country. Our salvation, therefore, is in the might of our hands and in hard fighting.”  Great speech by Ajax.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

TFBT: Traveling Heroes by Robin Lane Fox

I skipped the first two hundred pages of this book and then reluctantly sat it down seventy-five pages later.  The first two hundred pages of Fox’s book consist of a thorough, dense, complete history of the ancient world from the sinking of Atlantis to the conquests of Alexander the Great.  (Yeah, Atlantis happen.  Those less romanticly inclined refer to the event as the “eruption of Thera”.)  I  praise Fox for an excellent account of the Ancient Greeks and the lands they visited and colonized.  (The retelling obsessively returns to the long island of Euboaea, Northeast of Athens.)   

Since my area of research is Greek mythology and since I felt comfortable with my knowledge of the history, geography and cultures involved, I started reading at Chapter 12.  
There’s lots of good stuff here.  Fox defines myth rather nicely; “…’myth’, our word for tales about named individuals, distncit from ‘folk tales’. And takes an contemproary approach to his study of Homer, “There are lots of  ‘tales with in a tale’, shorter tales of travel which Homer causes his heroes to tell, particularly in the Odyssey.  They lie off the main lines of the plot which he inherited…” 

Fox follows the legends of Heracles,Io, Daedalus, Perseus and Bellephron around the Mediteranean and best summarizes the approach to these studies with; “…the travels of Mopsus the hero are not evidence for a ‘migrant charismatic’ who was bringing widom fro the Near East to the Greek world.  Theuy ar evidence…for the flexibiilyt of of Greeks and their myths as they explained a newly found Asian kindom, responded to civi rivilaries and forged bonds of kinship between un related peoples” 

Classicists are obssesed wit the songs of Homer.  Many of the tales that and his almost comtemporary poet Hesiod tell, are oddly familiar to tales of gods in the Near East.  Here’s Fox’s take on that; “…Hittite and Canaanite stories date back at least to 1200 BC…If Greeks ever picked up these tales…They had to learn them  from conversations….By a remarkable accident of survival, we have evidence for the formal telling of one group of stories in a specific place.  It survives in fragmentary Hittite texts which date back  the late theirteenth century BC …they are list of cult-offereings in honor of Mount Hazzi…Among the honours were the ‘singing of the song of kingship’…’”  Which Fox goes on to equate with Zeus’ overthrow of Cronus and the Middle Eastern tales of the storm god overthrowing the elder gods.   

Sadly at this point I closed the book.  I just started an on-line course at Harvard from edX; The Ancient Greek Hero and must spend my reading time on my studies.  But, I hope you will find time   for “Traveling Heroes” 




Tuesday, March 26, 2013

TFBT: Send Me to Some Man in Phrygia or Fair Maeonia

From the ramparts of doomed Ilion Helen’s heart yearned [Iliad 3:140] after her former husband, her city, and her parents…”   Sitting with her father-in-law King Priam  she says (Iliad 3:235) “…many other glancing-eyed Achaeans whose names I could tell you, but there are two whom I can nowhere find, Castor, breaker of horses, and Polydeukes the mighty boxer; they are children of my mother, and own brothers to myself. Either they have not left Lacedaemon, or else, though they have brought their ships, they will not show themselves in battle for the shame and disgrace that I have brought upon them." She knew not that both these heroes were already lying under the earth in their own land of Lacedaemon.” 

From the city wall Priam and Helen watched the winner-take-all duel between Menelaus, Helens’ former husband and Paris (Alexander) her current husband.  It rapidly becomes clear that Paris will lose the fight. 

Just before Menelaus drags the Trojan prince into the ranks of the Achaeans, the goddess Aphrodite snatches her favorite (Paris) from the victor’s grasp.  Then she takes the form of Aethra, mother of Theseus an elderly handmaiden “of whom she (Helen) was very fond. Thus disguised she plucked her by perfumed robe and said, (Iliad 3:390] "Come here; Alexander says you are to go to the house; he is on his bed in his own room, radiant with beauty and dressed in gorgeous apparel. No one would think he had just come from fighting, but rather that he was going to a dance or had done dancing and was sitting down." 395 With these words she moved the heart of Helen to anger “   When she marked the beautiful neck of the goddess, her lovely bosom, and sparkling eyes, she marveled at her and said, "Goddess, why do you thus beguile me?  (Iliad 3:400) Are you going to send me afield still further to some man whom you have taken up in Phrygia or fair Maeonia? “

Why would Helen think;
1.     she was going to be given away again?
2.     And why to some man in Phrygia or fair Maeonia?

Why Helen assumed she would be going to Phrygia or Maeonia (Lydia) might most easily be explained by  a conversation at Iliad 18:285 “In the old-days the city of Priam was famous the whole world over for its wealth of gold and bronze, [290] but our treasures are wasted out of our houses, and much goods have been sold away to Phrygia and fair Maeonia.”  In other words everything else the Trojans had of value ended up in these two nations to support the war effort  Why not golden Helen?.   Walter Leaf (Troy: a study in Homeric geography) suggests Helen infers that Aphrodite intends to  send her to the slave markets there, but that’s not really event in the text and we know that is not the goddess’ intention.  However, Helen might have a different perspective on this issue.  We will get to her unique perspective on slave auctions shortly.  It could also be that she was referring  to Aphrodite’s claim to  being a princess from Phrygia (The Homeric hymn to Aphrodite 106)

As to why Helen assumed she was going to be given to some man again; that’s probably because that’s what happen last time someone kidnapped her.     The previous time some man kidnapped Helen it was Theseus King of Athens.  Theseus handed the underage Helen off to his mother Aethra for safe keeping and went off on other adventures.  The Sparta army led by her brothers Castor and Polydeukes defeated Athens and took  their sister home.  (Apollodorus Epitome 1.23) A few months later she was of marriageable age and all the princes of Greece gathered at Sparta plying her father with gifts in hopes of obtaining her hand.  Even if Helen got to choose her husband which seems doubtful , the whole affair could look like nothing but a fancy slave auction.

So, here stood Helen upon the windy ramparts of her current kidnapper’s capital, a white shawl across her head and shoulders.  Surely during the extensive ceremony preceding the duel, she realized her brothers were dead.  They had rescued her before.  Every Achaean prince   stood  before the city.  She would have jumped to that sad conclusion.  Next she was publicly humiliated when her cowardly kidnapper/husband fled the field of battle.  By the terms of the truce Menelaus had won.  Based on passed previous experience  she would go home with him and a few months later be given to someone else.  This hurricane of emotions might explain the anger and vehemence of her response to the goddess of beauty and why Helen assumed Aphrodite was going to “send (her) afield still further to some man whom you have taken up in Phrygia or fair Maeonia”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

TFBT: Agamemnon's Ungracious Apology

The “Iliad” starts with an argument. 
Homer asks the Muse about the “strife” within the first six lines.  King Agamemnon, leader of the Achaeans, Argives and Danaans besieging ancient Troy, insulted Achilles; the greatest warrior of the age.  This moment in the story gave birth to the Wrath of Achilles; “disastrous anger” which became the primary theme of the Iliad and lead to
 countless pains for the Achaeans  and many steadfast lives it drove down to Hades, heroes’ lives, but their bodies it made prizes for dogs  and for all birds”.

Eighteen chapters later Agamemnon realizes he made a big mistake.  I’d like to offer here a little insight into what Gregory Nagy refers to as Agamemnon’s “ungracious” apology.  I use the translation by A. T. Murray 1:76-138

[76]. And among them spake the king of men, Agamemnon, even from the place where he sat, not standing forth in their midst:

This is getting off to a bad start.  He won’t even stand to address the crowd and Achilles as tradition dictates.  He follows this up with vague comments on the difficulty of publics speaking, then;

Full often have the Achaeans spoken unto me this word, and were ever fain to chide me; howbeit it is not I that am at fault, but Zeus and Fate and Erinys, that walketh in darkness, seeing that in the midst of the place of gathering they cast upon my soul fierce blindness on that day, when of mine own arrogance I took from Achilles his prize. [90] "But what could I do? It is God that bringeth all things to their issue. Eldest daughter of Zeus is Ate that blindeth all

In other words, “Everyone is blaming me, but it’s not my fault.  The gods made me do it.”  In particular Agamemnon is blaming the goddess Ate.  In an old reference I can’t find anymore I read “ate” defined as “temptation”.  The author probably meant that in our pride we are tempted to do something stupid.  Hubris tempts us to folly.  Pride comes before the fall. 

“she blinded Zeus, albeit men say that he is the greatest among men…

I kind of wonder who Agamemnon was looking at as he spoke this line.  Achilles was the greatest among men.  Nagy wrote an entire book about this “Best of the Achaeans”.  Agamemnon then describes how Zeus got into a lot of trouble because of his women, sort of like Achilles did.  The woman in Zeus’ case was his wife, Hera:

Olympian, swear me now a mighty oath that in very truth that man shall be lord of all them that dwell round about, whoso this day shall fall between a woman's feet, even one of those men who are of the blood of thy stock.’ So spake she; howbeit Zeus in no wise marked her craftiness, but sware a great oath, and therewithal was blinded sore.

Zeus swears a rash oath just like Achilles did in I:28 “But I will speak out to you, and will swear thereto a mighty oath:” namely that he was going to go sulk in his tent until they were all dying around him.  The consequence of which was the death of his best friend Patroclus.   The consequence of Zeus oath was  he beheld his dear son in unseemly travail beneath Eurystheus' tasks.” Agamemnon continues

 [134] "Even so I also, what time great Hector of the flashing helm was making havoc of the Argives at the sterns of the ships, could not forget Ate, of whom at the first I was made blind. Howbeit seeing I was blinded, and Zeus robbed me of my wits, fain am I to make amends and to give requital past counting

Finally after refusing to stand and address the insulted Achilles, after whining that it wasn’t his fault, after a round about story comparing his and Achilles situation to that of  Eurystheus and Heracles, after implying that Achilles was a big a fool as Zeus had been once upon a time, after implying that the suffering of Heracles was due to the foolishness of Zeus and by that logic the death of Patroclus was Achilles fault, he finally makes his ungracious apology and promises gifts.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

TFBT: Iliad 1:393 and John 11:21

The Gospel reading at church today was about the resurrection of Lazarus.  I was struck by the similarity of Martha’s words to Jesus and those of Achilles to his mother. 

John 11:21-22 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  Meanwhile at Iliad 1: 393 "Achilles speaking to his goddess mother Thetis says, “… Help your brave son, therefore, if you are able. Go to Olympus, and if you have ever done him service in word or deed, implore the aid of Zeus”.    I noted during the reading how both Martha and Achilles seem confident that through their divine intermediary, their prayers will be granted by the high god. 

During the sermon Father Thomas mentioned Mary, Martha’s sister,  holding Christ’s ankles and reciting the prayer that her sister prayed before.  I immediately thought of the famous painting by Ingres of Thetis kneeling at Zeus’s feet.  So, we have John 11:32 "When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Thetis similarly at Iliad 1:500 “She sat herself down before him, and with her left hand seized his knees…saying, "Father Zeus, Lord of Sky, if I ever did you service in word or deed among the immortals, hear my prayer."

In scripture; John 11: 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping; he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled."  In Iliad 1:517 "Then Zeus was much troubled and answered..."

So in summary we have both Martha and Achilles confident that through their divine intermediary, their prayers will be granted, Mary and Thetis kneeling in supplication, Thetis had to ask twice while Martha and then Mary made the same request and finally a “troubled” deity answers their prayers.    What we don’t see in scripture that we do see in the Iliad is the, “if I ever did you service in word or deed” clause.
Elsewhere I’ve shared my studies on prayer in Greek mythology  and certainly others presented better findings then mine. Laura Slatkin (The Power of Thetis page 62,) speaking on Meullner’s Meaning of the Homeric EYXOMAI says the “typical structure of prayer” in epic is; the invocation of the divine, a reminder of the reciprocal obligations between the god and man and the specific request.

Thetis uses a similar formula when asking of Zeus the favor that her son Achilles never quite finished formally; Iliad 1.498.

1.     she found the far-seeing son of Cronus sitting apart from the rest upon the topmost peak of many-ridged Olympus.
2.     So she sat down before him, and clasped his knees with her left hand, while with her right she touched him beneath the chin, and she spoke in prayer to king Zeus, son of Cronus: called his name or invoked him, "Father Zeus...
3.     reminded him of their relationship, “if ever amid the immortals I gave you aid...
4.     grant me this prayer and Zeus nodded.

Likewise Martha and Mary used this formula for a request that they never actually verbalize.

1.     John 11:18-20 Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him and then when she told her sister, Mary left the mourners behind, she got up quickly and went to him. John 11:30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
2.     John 11:32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him; she fell at his feet and said, Lord…
3.     John 11:1-3   A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.”
4.     The sisters never specifically ask for their brother’s resurrection, but Jesus easily infers it; John 11: 23 Jesus said,Your brother will be raised up.” 

ONe more similarity I ran across.  For those that don't know, the thing that Achilles wanted, the thing his mother promised him at Iliad 9:412-13was "If I stay here and fight at the walls of the city of the Trojans, then my safe homecoming will be destroyed for me, but I will have a glory  that is imperishable."  The Gospel writer Matthew also tells the whole story of Mary massaging the Lord's feet with aromatic oils and then wiping them with her hair. of this Jesus says at 26:13 "Verily I say unto you, where so ever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done be told for a memorial of her."
In conclusion; Achilles and one of the sisters are promised endless fame. There seems to be similarity between Martha and Mary’s supplication to Jesus in John:11 and that of Achilles to his mother in the first scroll of the IliadMartha and Mary along with Achilles appear confident that through their divine intermediary, their prayers will be granted, Mary and Thetis kneel in supplication, Thetis had to ask twice as did Martha and Mary and finally a “troubled” deity answers their prayers.   The sisters use an almost “epic” formula in their request. 

I wonder if I should be looking for other examples of the formula elsewhere in the Holy Bible.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

TFBT: Week Zero CB22x

These are random notes from my readings for “Week Zero”  of Harvard’s CB22x on-line  “The Ancient Greek Hero” course in conjunction with EDX

Introduction to Homeric Poetry Nagy 0§31. “…Greeks, given such alternative Homeric names as Achaeans, Argives, Danaans, all three of which are used interchangeably.”  I’ve read several papers that said the names were not interchangeable.

Introduction to Homeric Poetry Nagy 0§46. “Homeric song oscillates from one emotion to another. Here is the way the rhapsode describes his audience: As I look down at them from the platform on high, I see them, each and every time, crying or looking terrified, filled with a sense of wonder at what is being retold. Plato Ion 535e “  Plato’s twenty thousand friendly faces fascinates me like the 100,000 waiting in the dark of Paris for Lindberg or the two or three weeping faces at the finale of my recital of Eddie Foye upon the stage of the Iroquois Theatre.  

Iliad 1:132 You shall not overreach  The Titans are accused of this often.  I need to look up the Greek and better understand this word.

Iliad 1:283 Achilles, who in the day of battle is a tower of strength to the Achaeans."  I love Nagy’s translation of the phrase “tower of strength”

Iliad 1:343 Agamemnon is mad with rage and knows not how to look before and after

Iliad 1: 476 when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared they again set sail for the army of the Achaeans. Apollo sent them a fair wind,  so they raised their mast and hoisted their white sails aloft. As the sail bellied with the wind the ship flew through the deep blue water, and the foam hissed against her bows as she sped onward. When they reached the wide-stretching army of the Achaeans. Beautiful!  And ironically when I compared Nagy’s translation to the hardcopy of Lattimore, the previous owner of the book had highlighted the exact same phrase.

In his Intro to Homeric Poetry Professor Nagy compares Patroclus' death to the sacrifice of a cow at section 12. Interesting! I will look forward to that reading too. As I recall it takes a god and two mortals to bring him down. Plus I think by then he is disarmed and naked.

Iliad 1:424 refers to feasting on the banks of the great river Ocean. Isn't that how the Odyssey started too?

I am enjoying re-reading the Iliad. 1: 189 refers to Achilles’ shaggy chest. He usually is portrayed as a pretty boy and the youngest of the Greek heroes, hence Brad Pitt in the latest movie. I will read more closely this time for his physical description. Also, he could see Athena and no one else could. I will be interested in seeing if he always has the sight.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

VftSW: Ancient Advise for the Current Crisis

A fragment by Alcaeus of Mytilene on a Storm in the State; “I cannot understand how the winds are set against each other.  Now from this side and now from that the waves roll.  We between them run with the wind in our black ship driven, hard pressed and laboring under the giant storm.  All round the mast-step washes the sea we shipped.  You can through the sail already where there are opening rents within it.  The forestays slacken…” Here the fragment ends. 

But the citizens themselves in their wildness are bent on destruction of their great city and money is the compulsive cause.  The leaders of the people are evil-minded.  The next stage will be great suffering, recompense for their violent acts.”  Solon 

“I gave the people as much privilege as they have a right to.  I neither degraded them from rank nor gave them free hand and for those who already held the power and were envied for money I worked it out that they also could have no cause for complaint.  I stood there holding my sturdy shield over both the parties.  I would not let either side win a victory that was wrong.”  Solon