Thursday, November 28, 2013

TFBT: The Hymn to Dionysus and 24.CB22.1x

This happy morning, I give thanks as the smell of baking turkey drifts through our home and wait anxiously for Santa Claus to appear at the Macy Day Parade.  This happy morning; this twilight moment between what was and what will be, I finished the final session of The Ancient Greek Hero in Twenty Four Hours. 

 In this session we studied among other things the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus.  It begins with the god apparently looking for a ride standing on “a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea…his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe.”   Back then only the wealthy could afford purple fabric.   Conveniently, a crew of pirates came upon him and “they thought that he was the son of a line of kings nurtured by the sky god.”  They snatch the young god up in hopes of a great ransom. 

Immediately the helmsman yells out “What kind of daemon possesses you all! What kind of god is this that you seized and tried to tie up…?  Elsewhere, I pondered the helmsman’s second sight.  I wondered if his hand on the rudder could sense the weight of the god affecting the boat.  Professor Nagy says of the helmsman’s clarity and vision; “…you have to have the mentality to get this.  And if you have the right mentality, then you're saved.”  The rest of the crew clearly doesn’t have the helmsman’s pious perspective.  The skipper over rules his arguments and tells him to keep to his work.  Immediately weird things started happening.  Dionysus turns into a lion, grapevines start growing up the mast and line, a bear appears on deck and the “fruitless sea” turns to wine, hence Homer’s wine-dark sea.  Naturally, “The men, terrified, were fleeing toward the stern of the ship, crowding around the steersman.”  Apparently, a bear on deck was the final straw and the crew leaped over board.  Dionysus turned them into the first dolphins.    The helmsman at his post till the end was about to follow them into the deep when the god saved him from doing so.  Dionysus said “Have courage, you radiant man, reached by a force that works from far away.   You have achieved beauty and pleasure   for my heart.” As Nagy explains in the textbook at 24.16 “Since Dionysus caused it to happen that the steersman ‘became the most blessed of all men’, I interpret this divine action as the transforming of a man into a cult hero.”

I had a different perspective this time while reading the textbook, studying the source material and listening to the lectures.  You see the federal government “furloughed” me.  Consequently, I was working at a local cannery located upon “a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea”.  My comrades were not a crew of pirates but neither were they sons “of a line of kings nurtured by the sky god.”  That is to say they did not live in the “rarified air” they believed I did.   One day while we trimmed fillets of salmon, we got some good news about our progress.

 “Praise God!”  I shouted.  “Oh, are you religious?” one of the guys asked innocently.  In the federal government if I began discussing my faith, the boss would have yelled at me and told me to keep to my work.  My cheeks blushed as though I’d drank too much red-wine.  I hesitantly answered, yes.  My comrades showered me with questions about my faith and church.  Then the conversation passed on to other things. 

At break my comrades would stand on the dock at the back overlooking the water.  That day as the afternoon break wound down and our comrades leapt back to work, one of them fled toward the stern of the cannery where I stood and crowded up to me.  He had a question about lying.  Being experienced in dialogue from this class and familiar with Odysseus I helped him work through the ethics of a bummed cigarette. As we returned to work he seemed satisfied with the conclusion we’d drawn, as though he had “achieved beauty and pleasure for (his) heart.”

This concludes my current adventure with version CB22.1x of The Ancient Greek Hero in Twenty Four Hours.  I have” turned the post” as we say.  But the race goes on forever.  After the holidays I will race with other graduates in “Hour 25” and God willing, I and my winged steads will race with others during version CB22.3x during the Summer of 2014.




Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TFBT: 23.CB22.1x, Phaedo and St. John

This wonderful week in the Harvardx online class called “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours” Gregory Nagy led us in dialogue on another book concerning the death of Socrates; The Phaedon.

The plot of Phaedon consists of a dialogue between two characters, Phaedo a disciple of Socrates and Echecrates of the town of Philius.  Echecrates ask about the death of Socrates and why it took place so long after his conviction.  He says no one visited Athens anymore and that “has been a long time since any guest from there has visited here.” (57b)  It is an interesting phrase used in conjunction with Death because lately in class we’ve been discussing the esoteric nature of “there” compared to the here and now of “here”.  Eschecrates is right, not too many people from there come back to visit here.

Phaedon explains that the “ship of state” must sail to Delos every year for the great celebration and that the ship was “garlanded” that day. In the textbook  at “23§16 Nagy explains that “… the garlanding of objects or of persons is a way of delineating a ritual framework.” (That explains why tourists in Hawaii and people at Marti Gras wear leis and beads.) Phaedon explains that during this ritual period “they have a custom at this time of the year to purify the city and to refrain from publicly executing anybody before the ship goes to Delos and then comes back from there.” 

Nagy reminds us that Socrates good friend (Can we say therapon?) Chaerephon went to Delphi as a private person to determine, “whether there existed anyone more sophos or ‘wise’ than Socrates.”    I was about say that Socrates wasn’t too wise in the spiritual sense if he didn’t know that such hubris (vanity) was a big Bozo no no according to the gods.  Then I recalled other heroes that got the lightning bolt for their vanity; Capaneus upon the walls of Thebes, saying that not even Zeus could stop him from conquering the city now and Salmoneus who trailed bronze pots behind his chariot and threw firebrands at his subject. ) Both of whom got blasted and instant immortality.  So maybe Socrates lack of sensitive is just further evidence of his effort to go out with a bang.  See The Apology of Socrates” and 22.CB22.1x

Phaedo tells how all the disciples came to the prison and spent long days discussing philosophy.  Many topics are debated in grand style considering their host circumstance.  The day arrives when the boat has returned, so Socrates downs the hemlock.

As to that final moment Echecrates ask if Plato (the author of this two-man play) was in attendance, to which Phaedo replies; “.As for Plato, I think he was not feeling up to it.” (59b).   Off-handedly I thought about Peter denying the Lord three times for the cock crowed. (Matthew 26:75)  At which point I began noticing odd correlations with Jesus and his disciples.  Hey, speaking of which, at the very end Socrates asks one of his disciples to sacrifice a cock on his behalf.

As my Lord had four gospels written about him, so Socrates had two disciples write about his end; The Apology.  One by Xenophon and the other by Plato.  “Then he (Socrates) smiled and said, “It seems just now that I am speaking as an author of some piece of writing Still, what I am saying does hold, I think.” Plato Phaedo 102d.   But in reference to Socrates comment, Nagy concludes, at 23.24 “So, the dialogues that Socrates is having with his students in Plato’s Phaedo, for example, are really mediated by the writings of Plato. That is why Plato has to suppress himself as a writer. ” So should we assume that the red text in the Gospels are really the words of the Gospel writers rather than the Lord?

{Phaedo:} I will tell you. You see, I happened to be seated close to him, at his right hand. I was sitting on a kind of stool, while he was lying on a couch that was quite a bit higher than where I was. So then he stroked my head and fondled the locks of hair along my neck - he had this way of playing with my hair whenever he had a chance.   So this scene, the favorite seated on the right, the honored leader demonstrating his affection for his favorite sort of reminded of  the last Supper with Chris and the Apostle John.  John wrote of himself in the third person, I wonder if Plato did too.  In his Memorabilia Xenophon does not include Phaedon as one of the "true companions" of Socrates.   I wonder if “Phaedon” isn’t just a literary device as was St. John’s “the one whom Jesus loved best”.  (John 13:23) 

We’ve talked in this class about some of the requirements  to attain the status of “Hero” in order to attain heroic honors and the Isle of the Blest after death.  There’s one!  You got to be dead. You have to be larger-than-life, your existence has to have cosmic significance, it helps to have a little ichor in your veins and a god/hero antagonistic relationship with a god that is real similar to you.  In the New Testament Jesus does odd little things now and again in order to fulfill prophecy in the Old Testament, in other words to fulfill the requirement to be the Messiah to the Jewish People.  Maybe at the same time he is consciously fulfilling the requirement listed in The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours in order to be the Savior of the Greeks too.

TFBT: Ripped Apart and Eaten by Dogs

We are entering the final week of The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours an excellent on line class from Harvardx, hosted by my personal hero Gregory Nagy.
A “bacchae” is a frenzied female follower of the god Bacchus, also known as Dionysus.  It is also a famous Greek tragedy by Euripides.  One of the major characters in the play ends up dressed like a bacchae. This is King Pentheus of Thebes. 
Pentheus had an aunt named Semele.  Semele use to brag that she was the consort of the king of the gods; Zeus.  For her boast she got blasted with a thunderbolt.  Well at least that is what the Thebans believed.  One day a “man” arrives on the scene with a chorus of women from Asia Minor.  He looks remarkable like Pentheus.  This should have been a clue to the king.  In fact, this man was  Dionysus; the thrice-born god of wine and Pentheus’ first cousin.  The deceased Aunt Semele was in fact the consort of Zeus.  Dionysus’ embroyic body survived the fire that consumed his mother and survived. 
Things get really confusing at this point in the play. I will try to explain what comes next, meanwhile be aware that by the end of the play Pentheus is ripped to pieces by his frienzied mother and surviving aunts.  (As an aside,  legend says that at the end of his life the playwright Euripides was ripped to pieces by his patron’s dogs.)
Here is what happens between Dionysius’ arrival and Pentheus’ death.  Pentheus refuses to recognize Dionysius as prodigal cousin or as a god.  As a consequence the women of the royal household, go crazy and run off into the wild.  Professor Nagy point out in Chapter 21 of  “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours” at section 31 that the women of Thebes, the Theban bacchae “have lost control of themselves. But that does not mean that they are “out of control…. They are still under control, but the controller is now the god.”   At 21§32 he adds, “So, the possession of a woman’s mind by Dionysus is a positive experience when the woman possessed is performing a ritual”.
Greek Myths are often associated with particular rituals.  Ancient Greek tragedies are often based on myths. So plays often explain rituals.   Hence The Eumenides explains the trial by juror system.  Hippolytus explains initiation rituals in a town on the outskirts of Athens and Oedipus at Colonus explains rituals in the suburbs of Athens. So the Bacchae is explaining rituals too. What wasn't clear to me and unfortunately wasn't clear to Pentheus ; is that the Bacchae is demonstrating two rituals at once.
The Ancient Greeks staged tradegies with a handful of actors (if that ) and a chorus.  The chorus could represent the old men of a city, a group of woman concerned for the heroine or any other sort of homogenous peoples.  The chorus interacted with the actors and often voiced the questions they audience might have.  If you are a “Frankie Fan”; if you ever saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show  you know how a chorus works because the entire audience is the chorus for that film.
The women who came from Asia Minor with  Dionysus are the chorus for the play.  This play, this myth explains the orgins of the annual festival where the tragedies were performed.  This is the first Greek tragedy.  To use Nagy phraseology the women; “ are in a mental state of equilibrium or balance when they participate in the rituals of Dionysian theater by performing the myth that motivates these rituals.” ( 21.33)
With Dionysus help, Pentheus dresses like a bacchae, so he can observe their rituals.   His mind befuddled by the god, Pentheus  some how doesn’t realize that the chorus of  women he is going to spy on . “ is not the chorus of the Bacchae. It is not the chorus of Asiatic women who have followed Dionysus to Thebes - and who are the ritually correct chorus of the drama. Rather, this would-be chorus consists of all the women of Thebes. They have left the urban civilization of Thebes and have relocated themselves in the wilderness of the mountains,”
The women on the mountain are reinacting another myth and another much darker ritual.  Long ago Dionysus was called Zagreus.  He was the son of Zeus and heir to the throne of the universe.  The Titans, the elder gods enticed the child away from safety ripped him to pieces and ate his flesh.  This is the ritual that Pentheus sees reinacted upon Mt Cithaeron.  When the women see him, the result is common to the uninitiated that trespass on the mysteries; death.  Pentheus is ripped apart on the exact same spot his Uncle Acteon was ripped apart and eaten by his own hunting hounds. 
The play ends with the Pentheus’ mother accompanied by the other women proudly marching into town to show off  “this lion's head, my booty from the chase.”  As the frenzy fades, it is left up to Pentheus and Dionysus’ grandfather to explain the will of the gods.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

TFBT: Prometheus Kidnapped Hephaestus

(Zeus) hid fire; but that the noble son of Iapetos stole again for men from Zeus the counselor in a hollow fennel-stalk, so that Zeus who delights in thunder did not see it. (Hesiod W&D)  But what was the source of the fire that Prometheus (son of  Iapetus) stole from the gods.  Suggestions are from the forge of Hephaestus or the charior to Helios.  Being inspired by the references below I suggest the former.  Let me point out that in Greek Epic “Hephaestus”, the name of the smithy god, son of Zeus is often a synonym of  “fire”. 

(Dionysius) raising high the fiery flame from the pine torch  bursts forth from the stalk [narthēx],” (Bacchae 145-147)   “Dionysus literally ignites the singing and the dancing as he leaps out, in an elemental burst of flame, from inside the fennel stalk or narthēx   (The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours;  21.50)

Hephaestus refused to listen to any other of the gods save Dionysus -- in him he reposed the fullest trust - and after making him drunk Dionysus brought him to heaven."( Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 20. 2-3)
In summary; Prometheus steals the fire and Dionysius returns it.

TFBT: “The Apology of Socrates”and 22.CB22.1x

This week in "The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours" we studied Plato. He wrote “The Apology of Socrates”  It  is sort of  a one man play based on the swan song, the final speech  of Plato’s beloved teacher Socrates. 

Like Oedipus before him, just an enigmatic response of Lorixas was enough to send Socrates racing down the road to his doom.   Socrates friend Chaerephon went to the Oracle at Delphi and asked if Socrates was the wisest man in the world.  The pythia (the prophetess and priestess in the Temple)) replied “Yes.”   Socrates being Socrates couldn’t resist dialoguing with everyone to discover it this is true or not.  In other words he bragged himself up and when his listener had doubts  Socrates proved he was smarter than everyone else.  One of the great things about a democracy is that you can vote to kill annoying people.  So, they drummed up some charges and put him on trial. 

Fellow student Wjkim; comments on the god/hero antagonism that Socrates had with Apollo.  The antagonistic mood between the two exists in the accusations Apollo's Oracle causes against Socrates in the society and Socrates' constant wandering to test and challenge Apollo's words. However, the two figures are also very similar in that they are both icons of wisdom and seekers of truth.”. Paraphrasing the words of Achilles;  another hero/antagonist of Apollo Socrates says death would be better “rather than stay behind here by the curved ships, a laughing stock and a heavy load for Earth to bear( 28b-d)

The self-described “gadfly of Athens” defends himself by saying that he has a daemon, (a guardian angel, a conscious) that alerts him when he is doing something wrong and it never alerted him that wandering around humiliating people was a bad thing, so he must not be guilty. 

Socrates says, “I must perform for you the tale of my wandering…”  ( 22a), as though he was Odysseus in an assumed identity entertaining the Phaeacians.  As Professor Nagy says in The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours at 22.14 “Socrates now turns his attention to men of his own time, especially to the ...jurors who condemn him to death. He speaks to them ironically and even sarcastically:”

Naturally, it’s thumb down for Socrates.  He then talks about the World to come, philosophy and his hopes for his sons.  His actual death is taken up the in the sequel in Hour 23; Phaedo.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

VftSW: Euripides’ Hippolytus and 20.CB22.1x

I am still participating in “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours starring Gregory Nagy and a chorus of enthusiastic teaching assistants.  It in a free on-line class from Harvardx.  This “Hour” we studied Hippolytus by the Ancient Greek playwright Euripides. 

If you don’t know the story; Hippolytus is out about in the suburbs of Ancient Athens.  Either he is participating in a major public event or else exercising naked on a remote beach, in either case his stepmother gets an eyeful and falls madly in love.  Hippolytus has two problems with her obsessive affection; 

1) Well, it is his step-mother! 

2) Hippolytus is madly in love with the virginal invisible goddess Artemis.   

Hippolytus picks flowers for Artemis and weaves them into a headband for the goddess.  Explaining that the blossoms are from “a place where it is not fit for the shepherd to pasture his flocks, nor has iron yet come there, but it is unspoiled” (Euripides Hippolytus 75) The above is an euphemism for an “untrod meadow”.  In other words Hippolytus is a virgin.  This is a problem among the Ancient Greeks, particularly when Hippolytus forsakes his dutiful worship at the altars of mighty Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex.   

Professor Nagy writes in Chapter 20.41 of the textbook “  So, what is the trouble with Hippolytus? The answer is, Hippolytus himself simply cannot make the transition from the phase of virginity into the phase of heterosexuality.” Then at “20§42. “facilitated in the ritual of initiation, leading to social equilibrium, this same transition is blocked in myth (that is the myth of Hippolytus that we studied), leading to personal disequilibrium for the hero and, ultimately, to catastrophe. ”  In other words, like Peter Pan, Hippolytus doesn’t want to grow up. 

At line  87 the young hero says “That is the same way I should go round the turning post, heading toward the end of life just as I began it.“ He came into this world a virgin and he wants to rather unnaturally to go out that way.  The problem is the “turning post”.   

As I discussed elsewhere, in the next to last book of the Iliad Nestor gives a very long speak his son Antilokhos on  how to win a chariot race.  If involves how to turnabout the the turning point.  Two thousand and five hundred  years of scholarship termed that Nestor’s speech had nothing to do with chariot racing.  Neither do Hippolytus’ words.  

Hippolytus loves to drive his chariot along the beach practicing his skills as a chariot driver.  The turning post is what chariots turnabout during a race or contest.  And let’s be honest any time you go anywhere in life, once you go “there” and come back you aren’t the same person.  For Hippolytus, his figurative “turning post” would be the move into adulthood and marriage.   

Nagy says of Hippolytus’ virginity and relationship with the huntress goddess Artemis at 20.58 “Only Aphrodite allows female and male experiences to merge, but that merger can happen only in the adult world of heterosexuality, not in the pre-adult world represented by Hippolytus.” 

One of our lecturers for the hour is Douglas Frame.  He says of this Euripides comments on this turning post.  “he’s just not explicit about it. There's something called an absent signifier here, which means that the audience isn't being told everything.   But the absent signifier is something that you can supply if you just think it through”.  As to Hippolytus chariot racing metaphor, Douglas Frames says, “this metaphor at this point, about reaching the end of his life, turning. It's going to be a crash. He doesn't know that yet.”  

So his step-mother commits suicide and leaves an accusatory note.  Hippolytus whips the horses in hopes of getting away.  But his father believing the suicide note curses his son, the horses are freaked by a bull running up out of a wave, Hippolytus is tangled in the reins and dragged to death.  Bummer, eh?  But after all this is a tragedy. 

Now for the good news.  Artemis asks her nephew Asclepius to resurrect Hippolytus from the dead.  Artemis transplants the now immortal Hippolytus to Italy and gives him the name Virbius to disguise this little trick they played on the fates.  As to Artemis’ nephew: Nagy at 20.30 explains “As the story goes, Zeus incinerated Asclepius with his divine thunderbolt.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

M&R: The Smell of Something Sweet

The smell of something sweet baking in the oven filled the family’s summer cabin.

“Love and forgiveness is always right, meanness and pettiness is always wrong.” Roxanne quoted. 

She’d choked on her own words, but got them out.  Her tone was firm, but voice weak.  Her chapped tear-stained cheeks and swollen eyes did nothing to empower her hopes.  Her sister Maeve took breathe to ask tartly if Fanny Flagg’s rule applied to absolut e evil, but out of the love and respect the dark haired woman made no reply.  Roxanne’s brother-in-law wore a tear-stained face twisted with rage.  Her own husband, her rock,  was stone faced. 

Roxanne took her sister’s unblemished left hand.  Her grasp was not tenative.  Turning to her brother-in-law she said, “The most important thing for you John is to help Benny and his wife take care of your brave little grandson.”

The brown haired man took a breathe. As he exhaled it was as if the storm was swept from his features.  “Yes, he agreed.” As though her words had settled everything.  “ A little hypnosis should help there.”  He rocked forward in his chair as if departing on his mission until he say the still murderous look in his wife’s dark eyes and thought better of leaving.  He didn’t have to look at his wife’s brother-in-law.  As he resumed his seat at the kitchen talbe his right hand settled onto Stan’s left thigh to insure the big man seated next to him stayed seated. 

“Dearie!” Roxanne continued with a false cheeriness.  Everyone looked up at her.  She was speaking to her husband.  “You need to go and impress upon Benny and his brother’s that the law is handling this situation.  And handling it well.” 

Normally, John dealt with the parenting of the children they’d all raised together, but Rugen had been a special case.  Roxanne was staring pointedly at Stan’s clenched right fist laying on the table before him.  Its veins pulsed.   

He relaxed his massive shoulders enough to reassure his red-headed wife. “I can handle that.”  He agreed pleasantly. He nodded to John and they rose from the table

Maeve’s fair brow twisted a little, preplexed over her sister’s new found strength in this crisis.“What about me?”

“I am making Swedish Tea Rings.  You and I are going to take one over there to that poor woman and her children.”

“That poor woman should have known.” Maeve began hotly. “Should have known what her husband was capable of.”

Roxanne’s dough encrusted right hand squeezed Maeve’s hand.  “None of us knows what dark things could lie in the heart of the people we love.” Roxanne whispered this kindly and innoncently, then gazed into her sister’s soulless black eyes.

 Maeve burst into futile tears for the first time.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

TFBT; Oedipus Tyrannos and 19.CB22.1x

                         Why was I to see, when eyesight showed me nothing sweet?"
                                                           Oedipus in Oedipus Tyrannos

With great joy, I continue my on-line class from Harvard; The Ancient Greek Hero in Twenty-Four Hours”.  Even on the second reading I still enjoy the textbook by the same name. This session we studied Oedipus Tyrannos composed by the great Athenian playwright Sophocles.  

The play opens with the priest announcing to King Oedipus that something has descended on the buds of the fruit trees, upon on the herds of cattle grazing in the pastures and upon the pregnant women, producing lifelessness.   The god of Delphi, Apollo has swooped down. He is the hateful plague-god afflicting the city.   

According to Nagy’s translation,  the citizens say to their beloved king of the last twenty years or so, “Come, best   among mortals, resurrect our city. Come! And do be careful, since now this land here calls you a savior.”  Doesn’t this line just set-up Oedipus for failure?  Calling a person the “best among mortals” and “savior” will doom any subsequence effort on their part as substandard.  This is particularly true in the Ancient world where the gods were petty, jealous and intolerant of excessive pride (hubris) in mortals.  

Oedipus sent his brother-in-law to Delphi to ask of the god what the problem was.  Ends up Oedipus’ predecessor on the throne was murdered and the city is accidently sheltering the murder or murders.  They either have to kill or exile them.  Oedipus asks, “Where on earth are they? Where will this thing be found, this dim trail of an ancient guilt?”     

As you probably know or can guess by now the murderer is Oedipus himself.  The play reveals that the god at Delphi (him again?) predicted that baby Oedipus would grow up to kill his father Laius.  So, King Laius and his wife maimed the baby and left him for the wolves.  Oedipus survives and grows into a strong, lame, young man.  The two men, unknown to one another, meet and have words.  Laius dies.  Oedipus continues on his way, destroys as lion-bodied siren devouring the youth of Thebes.  Consequently they happy citizens give the hero the crown and the hand of the queen.  Unknown to everyone the queen is his mother!  Ugh!  She hangs herself when she realizes she’d bedded her own son and produced four more from that polluted bed.  Our studies raced to the end of the story as rapidly as Oedipus rushed to his doom.   

There is no way to describe this better than Sophocles did and Nagy translated;  

"Oedipus tore from her clothing, those gold-worked brooches of hers, with which she had ornamented herself, and, holding them high with raised hand, he struck his own eyeballs."  

Sophocles adds some pretty gory details after the above line and if that isn’t enough, Professor Nagy adds in lecture “I should tell you that, in Euripides' version of this primal scene, the brooch that she's wearing in her hair had also being used to pierce the feet of (Baby) Oedipus.” 

Naturally the good citizens freak out at the site of their king’s gouged out eyeballs and beg to know what daemon1 convinced him to do it.

Oedipus responds, “It was Apollo, dear ones Apollo who brought to fulfillment these evil, experiences of mine. But no one with his own hand did the striking. I myself did that, wretch that I am! Why was I to see, when eyesight showed me nothing sweet?" 

That is pretty much the end of the sad story.  Professor Nagy adds in lecture that, “…people have thought that Oedipus, in the sense that he will eventually be expelled from his native city of Thebes…in the sense that he becomes the scapegoat, who, in this case, isn't killed, but expelled from the community.” 



1 “daemon” according to Webster’s New World Dic, 2nd College edition is “any of the secondary divinities ranking between the gods and men”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

TFBT; Oedipus at Colonus; A Tale of Old men

With great joy, I continue my on-line class from Harvard; The Ancient Greek Hero in Twenty-Four Hours”.  Even on the second reading I still enjoy the textbook by the same name. This session we studied Oedipus.  Professor Nagy describes the hero in “Oedipus at Colonus” by Sophocles as;

“seeking to be purified of the unholy pollution he has already experienced in his most wretched life.” ( HSH 18.9)

You know Oedipus.  He killed the Sphinx with the answer to a riddle.  He killed his dad and married his mother.  Things went downhill from there.  Considering the unthinkable crimes and tragedy that hounded Oedipus,  Professor Nagy’s description above kindly sidesteps the issue of how much Oedipus knew or not of what he did.  For at this point in the cycle of myths surrounding Oedipus, he is “blind old man”, “care worn”, exiled by his sons, cast out by his city of Thebes, doomed  to “wander, an outcast and a beggar evermore” in “filthy clothing.”  He arrives at Colonus a suburb of Athens hoping to make peace with the goddesses of vengeance who have hounded him these many years and to find a resting place. 
The place he came to is described   as;

this land of fine horses you have come to earth’s fairest home, the shining Colonus. Here the nightingale, a constant guest, trills her clear note under the trees of green glades, dwelling amid the wine-dark ivy and the god’s inviolate foliage, rich in berries and fruit, unvisited by sun, unvexed by the wind of any storm. Here the reveler Dionysus ever walks the ground,  companion of  the nymphs that nursed him. And, fed on heavenly dew, the narcissus blooms day by day with its fair clusters; it is the ancient garland of the Great Goddesses.  And the crocus blooms with a golden gleam. Nor do the ever- flowing springs diminish, from which the waters of Cephisus wander, and each day with pure  current it moves over the plains of the land’s swelling bosom, making things fertile. Nor have the choruses of the Muses shunned this place, nor Aphrodite of the golden rein. 

In addition to the shrine to the Hero Colonus, this is the home of the same goddess of vengeance Oedipus is trying to escape; the Eumenides. 

The lame old man explains to the local ruler,  King Theseus; “ I come to donate this wretched body of mine   as a gift to you   - a gift that seems not to be important when you look at it. But it has   benefits coming out from it that have more power than any form of beauty.”  Professor Nagy continual leads us in discussions about how a peaceful fallen Hero is connected to the fertility of the land in which he lays.

All the ancient tragedies were performed at a festival in Athens.  Now Sophocles is no fool.  He and his fellow playwrights wrote for the mob.  In their plays, Athens is the ideal city state, often set during the reign of the most ideal of King, Theseus.  Theseus in the plays is portrayed as heroic, righteous and almost saintly. 

The King quickly assures Oedipus of proper burial ceremonies.  So the purification ceremonies begin.  Then Oedipus’ maternal uncle (and brother-in-law) arrives;

Gentlemen, noble dwellers in this land, I see from your eyes that a sudden fear has troubled you at my coming;   but do not shrink back from me, and let no bad utterance   escape you. I am here with no thought of force; I am old, and I know that the  to which I have come is mighty, if any in Hellas has might.   No, I have been sent, aged as I am, to plead with this man to return with me to the land of Kadmos ( He means Thebes.  Cadmus is the founder of Thebes). 

To which Oedipus knowingly replies “You have come to get me, not to bring me to my home but to plant me near your borders, so that your city might escape uninjured by evils from this land”. 
At which point, the “old”, “aged” perpetual regent of Thebes makes it clear, that he is taking Oedipus home dead or alive.   How old is Creon at this point?  He is clearly a generation older than “blind old”, “care worn” Oedipus.  Creon  saw all his sister’s grandchildren grow to maturity and will shortly be the regent for his sister’s great-grandson!
Theseus saves the day, the ceremony continues, most of the celebrants (and the audience)  are sent away, “ He of the Earth Below made a thunderclap.” and theoretically Mother Earth opens and  with loving arms welcomes the weary hero home.  A messenger appears on stage shortly thereafter to tell the citizens of Athens what happen.  In describing the death scene the messenger says of Oedipus,
 “he stopped still at one place where paths were leading in many directions, 1593 near the Hollow Crater, which was where Theseus and Peirithoos had made their faithful covenant lasting forever.”   
The line strikes me strange because in the storyline, King Theseus and his best friend Peirithoos haven’t made this pact yet.  This is something King Theseus will do later, when he is an old man.  Many sources say around age fifty, both men found themselves bachelors again and determined that the only suitable wives would be Helen for Theseus and Persephone for Peirithoos.  Helen, not even a teenager was easily snatched up and left with Theseus’ mother for safe keeping.  Then off to Hades for Persephone.  Peirithoos never returned. By the time Theseus got home (thanks to Heracles)  the Spartans had rescued princess Helen, overthrown Theseus and sent the old man into exile.   (Fabulae 79 by Hyginus)
This is a lot of aged male characters in exile.  Oedipus at Colonus hit the stage, the year father Sophocles died.  Here is what Leonard Meullner and Gregory Nagy had to say about the playwright in lecture for 19.CD22.1x 
“ Sophocles dies in his nineties, he lives to a ripe old age -- he is so respected by his city, he did just about everything that you would ever want to be able to do in Athens. He realized all his ambitions. He was a general. He was a statesman, besides being a performer in tragedies, -the greatest master of tragedy and a performer in tragedy. He did everything. And then after he died, his people did transform him, so to speak, into a cult hero.  And he was worshipped as a cult hero.

Just as Oedipus was at Colonus.






Friday, November 8, 2013

TFBT: Homer Gives a Nod to Hesiod

Walking home from work yesterday, it occurred to me that if we accept Emily Schurr's Subtext, there might be broader implications about Homer and Hesiod.  Let’s look at some examples of Homer giving a nod to other epic traditions.

In "The Best of Achaeans" Nagy points out that Homer gives a nod to the group of myths about Aeneas (the future Aeneid) when the gods whisk him of the battle field for the sake of his future epic.[1] 

I think we can infer the power of Thetis in the Iliad, that she is someone special.  Thetis can turn the Will of Zeus with a touch to the chin, unbind supernatural bonds, summon forces far greater than the combined strength of the Olympians and do it all without a complaint from her opponents to her face.  Maybe that great favor afforded to a mere mermaid is Homer's nod to Spartan poet Alcman's creation myth in which Thetis is the creatrix.[2]

By her association with mighty Thetis, Eurynome would be Homer's nod to "Orpheus" who makes Eurynome one of the primordial gods. [3]

“Monro's Law” which states that the Odysseynever repeats or refers to any incident related in the Iliad." [4] would suggest that the composer of the Iliad was showing respect to the Odyssey by not trespassing on it. 

Hera’s visit (Iliad 14.200) to Oceanus and Tethys (from who all the gods proceed) could be a nod to a theogony we are not even aware of. (Also Iliad 14. 244)

Okay, having tossed all that out as example, let me ask the question.  Does Schurr's subtext represent a Homeric nod to the Hesiodic Succession myth?    I can’t find in the Iliad anywhere that Homer is as clear about the succession myth as Schurr's subtext suggests .  I am not suggesting Homer is giving a nod to the Theogony, but rather to the collection of myths that Hesiod chose from in composing his own epic. 

[1] Best of the Achaeans, Gregory Nagy 15.3  “There is a conflict going on here between Achilles and Aeneas as warriors in battle and also between the epic traditions about each of the two heroes. Moreover, the Iliad here is actually allowing part of the Aeneas tradition to assert itself at the expense of the Achilles tradition”
[2] Page 179,  Knox, Bernard M. W., “Archaic Choral Lyric,” in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, Vol I. Greek Literature, ed. P.E. Easterling. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. 1989  Also “The Power of Thetis” (Hellenic Studies) Laura M. Slatkin. Page 82
[3] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 503 :"He [Orpheus] sang of . . . How, in the beginning, Ophion and Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus, governed the world from snow-clad Olympus; how they were forcibly supplanted, Ophion by Cronus, Eurynome by Rhea; of their fall into the waters of Okeanos."
[4]   by Michael Gilleland, scroll down to “Monro’s Law” Excellent article. Also Monro, 1901 “Homer’s Odyssey” page 325