Sunday, April 20, 2014

TFBT: “Hippota Nestor” by Douglass Frame

I attended a video conference with the suave Professor Frame at Hour 25.  We discussed Hippota Nestor.  Afterwards,  I was greatly excited to read his thick book about Nestor, the aged wise counselor of the Greeks during the Trojan War.  Frame studies Nestor’s appearances in both Homeric epics using the  “Indo-European Twin Myth” as his analytical tool.


If you research the genealogy of the characters in Greek mythology you will find an overabundance of male twins.  Those heroes without a twin will have a younger brother, nephew or close companion to share their adventures with.  The technical term from the Greek is “therapon”.  (Robert Graves used the Celtic term “tanist”)  Many cultures within the Indo-European language group show this tendency, hence “Indo-European Twin Myth”.  Frame postulates that Nestor had a twin, who was never fully acknowledged by Homer or Hesiod, but whose myth impacted their poems extensively


As to the “Indo-European Twin Myth” I have two comments here. 

  • My experience with using the structure of a particular myth for analytical purposes is that it works well on the material at hand and a few associated topics.  But as the argument continues it often veers far from the original source or intent.  By the end of my reading of this book every hero has a twin whether he wants one or not and it is sometimes the goddess Athena.
  • When you start your argument based on the intricacies of a hypothetical grammar of a hypothetical language dead for three thousand years, you are going to lose me.  Hence, I was not successful in following Frame’s argument. 


Though I did find some interesting insights along the way. 

  • Frame in Hippota Nestor “ proposes an interesting correspondence between Helios and Augeias the man of many herds who figured in the Labors of  Heracles. 
  • I observed that  the only twins among the “gods” are Apollo and Artemis, brother and sister rather than the twin males Frame requires.   Maybe Prometheus and Epimetheus.  Otherwise we have to wait for the appearance of the demi-gods Castor and Pollux.
  • Frame discusses a pair  Vedic demigods ( Endnote 1.2) Their patron attempts to include them in the divine sacrifice and “A violent dispute erupts between the gods and the sages and the sages create the demon Māda, “intoxication,” whereupon the gods are forced to yield to the sages’ superiority. It struck me here that marginalized gods benefit from divine warfare; Heracles in the Gigantomachy,  Cadmus when the gods battled Typhon, Hecate, the Hundred-handed Ones, Cyclops and Styx in the Titanomachy
  • §2.116 ” It is remarkable how the Phaeacian genealogy in Book 7 (of the Odyssey), from beginning to end, selects significant details to create an unmistakable correspondence to Nestor and his  family.”


In an interesting metaphor he states at §3. 3 “The Phaeacians are like performers in a play of which this is the synopsis, and which Athena stage-manages.” He continues by pointing out that the goddess introduces both Nausicaa and Arete, and then quits the stage in a way that correlates with the each. ” In her first departure Athena flies to Olympus and takes her place in her father’s household; this destination is appropriate to Nausicaa… Athena’s second destination is appropriate to Arete, a married woman, …” It is as if the two mortal actresses  “are in some sense the same person as Athena, and she therefore cannot appear with them in the same place at the same time.”  Personally, I was reminded of the Duel scene in the Iliad, which Helen is summoned to watch.  As soon as Zeus’ daughter gives off weaving about the battle before Troy, it stops


Frame makes some interesting observations on a possible relationship between the giant Tityos who attempted the rape of the Titaness Leto and Rhadamanthys, judge of the dead

Even if it is farther away than Euboea,
which is said to be farthest off by those of our people who saw it
when they took fair-haired Rhadamanthys
to see Tityos, Earth’s son.
(Odyssey 7.321–324):

The upshot is that the Phaeacians and Rhadamanthys lived near each other at the ends of the earth,” (2.117.n 156) and “If Rhadamanthys indeed inhabited the Elysian Fields he was already dead when he visited Tityos.“  (2.118. n157)


Now we come to the part where I quit reading the book.  My disenchantment began when Frame wrote, “ I do not make the suggestion of interpolations in the Homeric text lightly.” (§2.135)  The current view in mythological circles is that the Iliad and the Odyssey are oral compositions performed in front of a live audience.  Prior to this era when most classicists assumed that Homer “wrote” his epics, the experts were divided into two camps.  In those days many authorities believed that the epics were full of “interpolations” by other hands.  That is that other people had added , corrected or edited parts of Homer’s masterpieces.  Frame calls these people  khōrízontes or “separatists,”. 

The other traditional school of thought about the Homeric epics are the Unitarians.  Who believe that the epics were more or less composed by one person or a group of person and that the current version is pretty true to the original.  


Those that recognize “interpolations in the text” are generally pointing at a particular clause  that doesn’t fit their current theory.  The general problem I see in questioning the unity of the epics, is that if you start picking out pieces that you don’t want, the whole beautiful tapestry comes unraveled.  At another point where the facts don’t meet Frames needs he suggests that the scholar in question, “therefore seems to have slightly misquoted the first line of the passage.” (§2.139)   Finally for me he writes at  §3.8. “There is in fact explicit evidence that Athena was worshipped as a mother goddess in at least one city, namely Elis in the northwest Peloponnesus, which had a cult of Athena Mḗtēr. This of course does not mean that Athena Polias in Athens was a mother goddess, only that she may have been.  Or it could mean that a bunch of grateful mothers expressed their thanks to Athena.  (Graves, 138.g)


Apparently, I am not smart enough to read this book.  At this point what with its heavy reliance on the Indo-European language, Nestor’s absence twin and the abundance of interpolations I was too confused to read further.





Saturday, April 12, 2014

TFBT: Footnotes from the Best of the Achaeans

In May participants at Hour 25 will be studying  “The Best of the Achaeans” and speaking with the author Dr. Gregory Nagy. As you probably know, Nagy is my hero and I have read the book several times.  The book rambles far beyond which was the greatest of the Greek heroes at Troy.  (Hint: Achilles!)  In hopes of adding something to the conversation that I haven’t offered before, I opened my cherished copy and began reviewing the footnotes and my personal notes in the margins.  (I remember hours of delight as a child, lost in the footnotes in the glossy pages of “Classic Myths” by Gayley!) 

So, below for you amusement are quotes and insights from the footnotes to “The Best of the Achaeans.”  Page numbers reflect the electronic version available at Hour 25. 

At preface footnote  2, the author is explaining the insertion of a new foreword in the 20th anniversary addition.  My present Foreword is a substitute for the original 1979 foreword written by James M. Redfield, which I will treasure forever. I have exchanged here the old gold for new bronze, which I need as armor for restating my own case.”  Isn’t that an incredibly gracefully explanation!  For those to don’t recognize the classical reference here, it is about Diomedes and Glaucas.  They met on the battlefield before Troy, Diomedes for the Achaeans, Glaucas ally to the Trojans.  In the usually bragging and macho displays prefacing a duel, they discovered that their fathers were friends.  In honor of the friendship, they switched armor and promised to avoid one another hence forth.  Homer and all his audience think Glaucus was crazing for giving away golden armor.  But, for the two warriors the relationship was more important concerns of  greed.

“ areas not included in the world of the Pythian Apollo correspond to the areas not included in the Homeric Catalogue of Ships in Iliad II"  “The Best of the Achaeans: Intro footnote 22.

Page 129 “2§11. In the First Nekuia of Odyssey xi, when Odysseus meets the shade of Achilles, he addresses Achilles as ‘best of the Achaeans’ . But the Odyssey then has Achilles saying that he would rather be alive and the lowliest of serfs than to be dead and the kingliest of shades ". Kevin McGarth  points out in class, (Section #7 at Harvard Extension School’s Open Learning Initiative, )   that seventy to eighty percent of the Odyssey is told by Odysseus.  Hence Homer is not reporting Achilles comment but rather that liar Odysseus.

If you are not familiar with the “duals” argument in the Embassy scene, here is a short explanation.  In English we have the word “you” it is used for the second person, singular and plural.  Sometimes for the plural, we say, “you all”.  In the Greek they had singular, dual and plural, as in “you two”.   When the two heralds and three emissaries enter the tent, he only speaks to “you two”.  On page 203 Nagy states, “Thus I am still bound to understand the dual constructions of Iliad IX 192 as referring to Ajax and Phoinix.”  I follow Nagy in this particularly in light of Achilles use of philo and presumed animosity with Odysseus. As to the heralds I would point out that in a "classed" society one does not include the "help".  For a better understanding of Achilles'/Homer's use of the dual form, try it! Talk to a group of people and by body language, eye contact and word choice  exclude someone from the conversation.
Page 283, footnote 17 “It is traditional for an archaic poem to begin with a word that names the main subject of the narrative in the manner of a title (in this case, mênis at Iliad I 1), followed by an epithet and a relative clause setting forth the relationship of the title word to the main subject (in this case, how the mênis of Achilles was baneful and caused devastation for the Achaeans, at Iliad I 2–5). Consider also the openings of the Odyssey, Theogony, Works and Days, Little Iliad, and nearly all the Homeric Hymns.”

818 “15§2. In the heat of battle, the Trojan hero Deiphobos suddenly finds that he needs help from his ally Aeneas, and he goes to look for him: ""And he found him standing hindmost in the battle for he had mênis always against brilliant Priam, because he [Priam] did not honor him [Aeneas], worthy that he was among heroes." Iliad XIII 459–461 There is a striking thematic parallelism here between Aeneas and Achilles, who likewise had withdrawn from battle because he had mênis against Agamemnon . The king had not given the hero tīmḗ 'honor'—even though Achilles is not just "worthy among heroes" but actually the "best of the Achaeans" These themes of mênis/withdrawal/ tīmḗ/excellence are not only” “present in the Iliad; they are in fact central to it, permeating the composition in its monumental dimensions.”

Menis is generally translated as wrath.  Primarily, Homer’s usage is restricted to the gods and Achilles.   Page ??? footnote 18. The only exception is the mênis of Aeneas against King Priam  which must have been the central theme of another epic tradition—this one featuring Aeneas as its prime hero.”  Generally speaking menis is anger with cosmic consequences.  Of what possible consequence to priam could Aeneas' anger be ? Priam was destined to lose everything.  How could Aeneas sitting out a battle screw that up? On the other hand how could arguing with priam screw up Aeneas' destiny as ancestor of Rome?  I didn’t see the cosmic consequences here until I realized that Aeneas being angry at Priam kept him away from the front lines and therefore alive to fulfill his destiny later on.

Page 289 “. In other words, it is untraditional, since whatever runs counter to the traditional plot of the narrative is conventionally designated as ‘beyond destiny’:”.  Page 284 foot note 6, “Poseidon personally tells Aeneas that his death at this point in the narrative would have been hupèr moîran 'beyond destiny'. In effect, then, it would be untraditional for the narrative to let Achilles kill Aeneas in Iliad XX, since there is a poetic tradition that tells how Aeneas later became king of Troy; accordingly, Poseidon intervenes in the narrative and keeps Aeneas alive for further narratives about his future.”. I love how, over reaching; going beyond your destiny, not knowing your place is being a "hyper-moron".


Achilles about to duel with Aeneas points out (page 822) “Priam will not place the géras [honorific portion] in your hand on that account. He has children,"  Nagy calls this, "An ironic understatment"

Page 436. “Moreover, the melíē functions as the word for both ‘ash tree’ (e.g., Iliad XVI 767) and "ash spear”.  Hence Hesiod Theogony 180 “all the bloody drops that gushed forth Earth received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Giants with gleaming (bronze?) armour, holding long spears in their hands and the Nymphs whom they call Meliae all over the boundless earth.”

Page 523 “The Bronze Men are nṓnumno i 'nameless' in that their deeds cannot be glorified by poetry;”. I have no Greek, but I wonder if in addition to "nameless" nonumno could mean "unsung"?   

Page 526 footnote 38.” Note in particular that the area by the Hellespont is explicitly smoothed over by the flooding rivers . I suspect that this volunteered detail is consciously offered as a variant of the tradition that tells how the Achaeans had made a funeral mound for the dead Achilles by the Hellespont ). There is then an ironic fulfillment of the dire threat made by the river Xanthos/Skamandros to bury Achilles under a mound of silt, as if the funeral mound of Achilles were to be in the end simply a natural formation adorning the landscape of the Troad. I draw attention to the irony that the River calls this mound the sêma 'tomb' of Achilles  from which the Achaeans will not even be able to recover the hero's bones I would argue that this not irony, but an example of a divine oath being non-revocable.  For example page 501 footnote 48 “Athena was about to confer immortality upon Tydeus, father of Diomedes, as he lay dying from wounds inflicted in his duel with the Theban hero Melanippos, who had also been mortally wounded. What stopped the goddess from fulfilling her initial design was her sheer disgust at what she saw: Tydeus was eating the brains of Melanippos. Here, then, is the grisly deed that deprived Tydeus of an immortality that could have been his—but was passed on to his son Diomedes. "

Page 542 “We recall the absence and presence of díkē in Generations II/III and I/IV respectively” 

Page 578 “that the waters of the Styx are an elixir of life. The lore about the cosmic stream Styx applies commensurately to the actual stream Styx in Arcadia, and in fact the belief prevails to this day that whoever drinks of that stream's waters under the right conditions may gain immortality. ” 


Page 581 footnote 60 “We are immediately reminded of the poetic tradition that tells how Semele became immortalized as a direct result of dying from the thunderbolt of Zeus ).”   Well more specifically Dionysius rescues  Semele from Hades and snuck his mom into Olympus under the name Thyone. But that doesn't negate the law of lightning and immortality.

Page 587 “immortal and unaging, just as the gods are. (Hymn to Aphrodite 214)”.  Page 649 footnote 70. “These words are the "correct" formula for immortalization; when the words are "incorrect," as in the myth of Eos and Tithonos, then the immortalization is ruined by the failure of preservation.”

Page 690 “Here is my tentative list, surely incomplete, of alternative ways for the hero to achieve immortality:
1.Being struck by the thunderbolt of Zeus
2.Plunging from a white rock into the deep”.

(I personally would add;
3. Descendant of Gorgophone or Telephassa
4. Married to Helen or Harmonia or Calypso
5.  Defeat death

Page 657 “We may note that heroes who have been immortalized attract the epithet xanthós 'blond': e.g., Rhadamanthys in Elysium and Ganymedes in Olympus . Menelaos is the hero who attracts this epithet by far the most frequently in the Iliad and the Odyssey —and he is the only Homeric hero”

Page 677 “1. Memnon's immortalization is actually unique, to the extent that the realm in which he lived before his death as a hero is also appropriate as the setting for his afterlife. For Memnon, the afterlife is by implication a homecoming.