Monday, October 20, 2014

TFBT: Heroes as Performers

"Do not try me like a simple child, or a woman, who does not know war-work.  I know well fights and man-slayings, I know to the right, I know to the left how to move my ox-hide shield that I own for warring. I know how to leap into the moil of swift horses,  I know how to dance to hostile Ares in the close fighting. "                                                                        Hector at Iliad 7.235-241
At Hour 25 our classical studies club is studying Richard Martin’s Language of Heroes.  Currently, chapter 3; Heroes as Performers.
After getting over;  being called “deracinated” and the romantic notion that Mycenean noblemen orated in dactyl hexameter, I found Martin’s analysis of each major character’s speeches, amazing!  I am just noting highlights and points new to me.  His analysis is much fuller and much more amazing that the gleanings here.
He starts with Nestor of course , which I’ve reviewed elsewhere.  I can add here that according to Martin; “Irony…is not in Nestor's repertoire nor is punning. And that “Nestor utilizes a diachronic rhetoric of tradition versus contemporary situation.”
I’ve always wondered about Thersites performances.  Martin says he is “ quite literally without meter in his performance. 
Agamemnon's speeches are driven by fear of  “ receiving a bad reputation”, that he is poor at apportioning moirai and has no clue that his extravagant gifts listed by the Ambassadors in Book IX will look like he is trying to buy Achilles.
Odysseus uses irony and puns.  In commands, he is inclusive, using a first-person plural.
Martin reads Diomedes' and Glaukos' storytelling on the battlefield as vieled threats as to what they will do to one another on the battle field.
Hector is “constantly preoccupied with the winning of reputation” and public opinion.  Maybe too preoccupied considering the conversation he had with himself before the walls of Troy as Achilles closed in.    Martin explains that Hector “knows that the gods cannot help him… so he cares nothing about whether the birds go rightwards to sun and dawn or to the left, to misty dusk"
 Martin demonstrates that Achilles is in command; “Achilles directs the Achaeans to ask … the cause of Apollo's anger … He authorizes speech … defends the speaker, Kalkhas. .. has taken the initiative to call an assembly, another indication of his respect for speech.”  He used words rather than the sword on Agamemnon; uses  scepter dramatically, tells a dramatic tale to his mother and “even coach her in techniques of argumentation to win him honor from Zeus. “   His style is open, communicative, adaptable.  Achilles' perspective is larger.  His language likes Odysseus’ is inclusive and explanatory.  He also uses “The device of directing another to speak, so that we may both know" which  gives us the impression that Achilles cares about what his listener thinks.  “ Achilles uses command to pass on that authority to others,” From person experience as Crew Boss of the Santa Fe Hotshots, I can tell you this is an effective, flattering empowering technique.  this self-deprecating strategy fits with Achilles' preference for two-way communication between speaker and addressee. And of course, the denial of command only increases respect for the hero


  1. Nestor does not find the gifts offered by Agamemnon inappropriate.
    Do you think that anything Agamemnon would do could soften Achilles' wrath at this stage?

  2. Maya,
    in Greek myth a rash oath can not be undone. At the time of the Embassy Achilles had no choice but wait for the Trojans fire the ships or sail away.