Saturday, February 22, 2014

TFBT: Anchises, Casanova and Muellners Proto-Event

I woke early and checked the website several times.  As promised, Harvard published my article on the Hour 25 website a few minutes after noon their time.  (8:00am my time.)  Here is the link; Is Anchises a Casanova?    My editors said many flattering things as did my fellow members of the semi-circle.  Apparently, they like my sense of humor.  (I don’t hear that often at work!)  They also said nice things about my blog.  I am the first “guest blogger”.  Oh, in case you are wondering the little is “Is Anchises a Casanova?”  Anchises was an elderly Trojan prince in the Iliad.  His son Aeneas survived the final days of Troy and led the survivors to Italy where their descendants would found Rome.   I am really excited about this.

Fellow participant from Hour 25,  Edgreen has notion that gods can experience a pseudo-death. This ties in nicely with Muellner’s proto-event theory in “The Anger of Achilles” He suggests that the first time an event happens, we don’t recognize it because we have no context or concept. So, Uranus was not the first King of the Gods, because, no one knew what a king was or who “gods” were. For example Julius Caesar was never crowned Caesar, Augustus was the first Caesar.   

Likewise, with the pseudo-death experienced by the gods was not the first “death” because they didn’t know what was going on. Cronus bound the Cyclops and hundred handers and threw them into a dark miserable place under the earth. In due time, mortals too would be tossed into a similar hole. Of course, by then humans knew what death was because of the myths about the Titans, Cyclops and hundred handers going down below.   

Let’s continue the pseudo death idea of Ed’s by adding the resurrection.  Who among the gods knew they could escape “death” until Zeus attempted the rescue.  Eventually gods thrown into Tartarus ended up in Olympus (Cyclops and hundred-handers) or the Isles of the Blest (Cronus) which ends up being an option for demi-gods and initiates into the mysteries. Cool.




Thursday, February 13, 2014

TFBT: Muellner’s Menis

I recently enjoyed reading “The Anger of Achilles; Menis in Greek Epic  by Leondard Muellner. I laughed when this slim volume arrived and thought to myself, “A whole book for one small word?”    You are probably laughing at me right now.  I joined in when I flipped to the index and saw the first and most frequent entry there was “Achilles”.  Yes, we already have a book about menis; Achilles own epic the Iliad. 1

Leonard Muellner writes five chapters in his book. Like Hesiod’s five metallic ages of man interrupted by the “Heroic Age”, Muellner’s five chapters on menis are interrupted by an appropriate one on metis.  His enjoyable narrative and frequent quotes from source materials are peppered with key words in the original Greek and inline definitions.   

Menis as Wrath 

Muellner’s subject is most finely translated in the word, “wrath” with all its violent and divine connotations.  Although generally divine in nature, it is anger with cosmic consequences.  But menis is not just a term for an emotional state.  It is a sanction meant to guarantee and maintain the integrity of the world order by;
1. maintaining Zeus’ sovereignty over other gods or
2. enforcing the limit that keeps mortals from becoming gods”
The consequence of menis can be “massive, indiscriminate devastation.”   3 

1.  Maintaining Zeus’ Hegemony 

In the Iliad, one continual source of this menis with its potential for massive, indiscriminate devastation is Zeus’ conflicts with his ever feuding family.  In Book I, Achilles recalls a time when Zeus was bound by his relatives.  The King of the Gods is rescued by Achilles’ very mother Thetis.  It is notable that in Achilles’s telling of the tale, there is no resistance to the Nereid’s attempt to rescue her foster mother’s husband.  No threat or negative words is said then or ever after about the gentle sea goddess.  It is as if the rebels are about to embark on some course they dread and Thetis is in fact rescuing them all.  At the end of the Iliad, Apollo and Aphrodite are objecting to Achilles continued and unimpeded desecration of  Hector’s body.  In the grandest arc of the ring theory, Muellner points out “it is striking that the group of gods opposed to Apollo consists of the same three divinities who wished to bind Zeus…in Book 1…Thetis was instrumental in averting menis and protecting the divine order from violent disruption; here in book 24 Zeus chooses her for the same role.”4 

2.  The Limit That Keeps Mortals from Becoming Gods 

Muellner observes that “gods and mortals are not, as Apollo said to Diomedes, the same class.  The traditional role of Apollo in making just this distinction and reinforcing it…”  He documents several places in epic  where  “…Apollo is the god who presides over the limits who transgression incurs menis”2 

Zero, Once, Forever  

Muellner has an interesting theory on proto-events.  The first time an event happens can’t actually be the first time it happens, because there is no context, no one knows what “this” is; until it happens again there is no content.  There has to be a proto-event, a prophesy or a foreshadowing.  So for example; Julius Caesar was never crowned Caesar.  The first “Caesar” of Rome would be Augustus, after which all sorts of princes would be Caesar all the way down to Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas till WWII.  Both titles evolving from the word “Caesar”.   Before I offer Muellner’s own words let me throw out a few quotes that helped with understanding; 

“Chaos (the god) is a kind of tangible nullity.”   This almost a Kabbalah tenet, but it helps us to acknowledge that “Chaos” the parent of the gods is not exactly a god.  Certainly, not a sky god like Uranus the ancestor of the Olympic gods and celestial titans to come.  

 “Uranus actions towards his children are a prefiguring of death, in which created beings are relegated to the space below the earth and cannot emerge.“  But at the time he abuses his wife and children there is no concept yet of “womb” or “tomb”.  It is possible that the sky hovered so low over this lover, that there was no concept of “above” or “below” the earth.   It is Cronus that splits earth and sky and plunges his elder brothers beneath the earth.    

 Muellner writes of a “ metonymic nominalism… whereby a notion such as kingship is capable of being name on the occasion of its second manifestation     Uranus is not the King because the notion didn’t’ exist during his reign.  One can see, then, that in as much as Uranus was a “zero-degree” king and Cronus a primitive one, Zeus is the “evolved” version, a true king presiding over an evolved and proliferating domain.“   5
“Menis is the opposite of friendship” 

Muellner argues convincingly that menis is generated by the breaking of the relationships  and mutual obligations that define the structure of divine and mortal societies.    Hence, “Heracles…liberation of Prometheus which took place not against Zeus’ desire because he had relented from the anger he had harbored since Prometheus started competing with him in trickery  So, Zeus’ anger was not due to the consequences of that contest.  In the end what cares a god if mortals have the better portion of the sacrifice and fire to cook it with?  Zeus was hurt by Prometheus’ betrayal.   

Likewise, Achilles wasn’t hurt by the loss of Briseis.  For all his protestations of love, he certainly didn’t rush to reclaim her when events allowed.  He was not hurt by the loss of honor, his place in the hearts and estimation of the Achaeans and gods remained secure.  Achilles was hurt by Agamemnon’s betrayal.  That line of logic makes so much more sense of the Embassy scene.  As Muellner explains, “The Shield of Achilles …depicts a figure in a legal dispute who is violently refusing to accept the compensation offered for a slain relative, exactly as Achilles is refusing to accept Agamemnon’s.  His list of prizes is not a sign of friendship or a tangible recognition of Achilles’ value but… an assertion of the givers’ prestige.  If Achilles were to accept these gifts from Agamemnon, he would effectively accept subservient to him for life.  Because they are intended to be beyond Achilles’ ability to reciprocate.  This why when Achilles actually does receive even a reduced portion of the gifts in Book 19, he does not receive them from Agamemnon himself.   At Odysseus’s suggestion, by then he has apparently understood what is at stake, Agamemnon now brings them in to the middle of the assembly. the compensation of Achilles in binds the social group as a whole to Agamemnon and then reinforces Achilles bonds to the group. 

This is an amazing book full of great insights, much better explained than I have here.  I recommend it highly.


-1  A little aside here; Muellner suggests that because “The explicit central theme of the Iliad is the menis of Achilles…Homeric tradition will not validate the menis of any other (mortal) hero”  thus this Iliadic theme aides in “the traditional mutual differentiation process” with its Odyssean counterpart.

-2 “The divine enforcement of prohibitions is not… a moral and ethical functions to epic gods.  At issue is world maintenance, asserting and preserving the prevailing order of the cosmos, not an individual’s right or wrong behavior. “  Muellner points out “that rules of morality coexist and randomly conflict” with divinely enforced taboos meant to limit humanity.

-3  Muellner restricts his analysis to Homeric epic.  Leaving out the menis of Orestes of which Apollo worries in the “The Eumenides” nor does he addresses the Erinnyes, whose role in the universe is to maintain the integrity of the old world order.  .

-4. Muellner's logic seems to provided even greater and broader powers to Thetis than envisioned by Laura M Slatkin in “The Power of Thetis”.    Thetis; the rescuer of Zeus, the rescuer of Hephaestus (Homer, Iliad 18. 369), the rescuer of Dionysius(Homer, Iliad 6. 135) now becomes the rescuer of the integrity of the world order from the  massive, indiscriminate devastation that could follow should some god exercise that menis.   If Muellner’s theory about menis’ indiscriminate devastation, is accurate, I have to wonder if Thetis is rescuing Hephaestus from the wrath of Zeus or rather she is saving the cosmos from the revenge of Hephaestus the weapons maker.

-5  Jenny Strauss-Clay (The Politics of Olympus, 1989) says similarly of Apollo, “as he did the first time and as he will forever.”  See also my article Once and For Always.