Saturday, October 4, 2014

TFBT: Within the Kyklos

I was pleased to attend lectures and participate in discussions on divine plans and poetic narrative in the Iliad and Odyssey, recently.   The symposium was called; Within the Kyklos: Whose Plan is This?

Our guest scholars were Efimia D. Karakantza (University of Patras, Greece), and Justin Arft (University of Missouri) at a Center for Hellenic Studies Open House with the citizen scholars from Hour 25.  You can enjoy the lectures too by clicking the link above.

Some highlights of the presentation by the unflappable Professor Karakantza include;

  • Although at 8.473 and 15.61 Zeus foretells the death of Patroclus, it is not part of Zeus’ plan.  In contrast, at 15.69 the son of Cronus says what he will cause. 
  • Achilles keeps changing the plot line.  At 9.649 he changes his demands from getting respect before he returns to battle, to not returning until the ships are on fire. I asked whose will was stronger, Zeus’ or Achilles’?  Karakantza said “The poet’s!”
  • Achilles has two fits of menis, one with the Achaeans and one with Hector, hence Homer addresses the Muses again at the beginning of the new plotline (16.120)
  • Patroclus (like Agamemnon) was trying to dishonor Achilles by attacking Troy and stealing his buddy’s glory
The roguish Professor Arft observed ;

  • The Odyssey isn’t just about Odysseus’ return but also figuring out who he was.
  • The return of Poseidon from Aethiopia in the Odyssey is comparable to Zeus awakening on Mt. Ida.  (It struck me that both the Cronides returns to “reality” occur about mid-way through the chronology, that is if you straighten out the telling of the Odyssey.  Which makes me wonder what insights might be gained by re-organizing the epic of Odysseus.   Hmm.)
  • Odysseus supplicating Arete is comparable to Thetis and Zeus
  • Both Penelope and Arete are vital to his safe return.  (It occurred to me or Justin said that Arete and Odysseus were xenios.  I find it humorous that Odysseus claimed the same relationship with Polyphemus; that didn’t end up as well.)
  • We discussed  Gregory Nagy’s lecture  Was there a future for the Phaeacians of the Homeric Odyssey?”  Arft wondered aloud how Poseidon could possibly doom the Phaeacians for fulfilling the will of Zeus. 
  • The will of Zeus is getting constantly screwed up by somebody or another all along the way
  • He urged us citizen scholars to “err boldly”. 
The dialogue ended with a moving speech from Professor Karakantza regarding Hector and Andromache’s final moments together, on the shallowness of the gods and profundity of the human condition . 
further discussion can be found at the Hour 25 forums  


  1. I disagree, however, about the death of Patroclus not being in the plan of Zeus. See the Iliad 16:645-655. You have mentioned in an earlier post that Zeus here "plots revenge" against Patroclus for the death of Sarpedon.
    And what is actually the point of Patroclus' participation in the battle, in the armor of Achilles, if not to get killed, redirect Achilles' menis and finally improve the relation of Zeus with his pro-Greek family members?
    Generally, I think we must be on the alert every time when Zeus foretells something. He has little if any prophetic ability, so the things he foretells are mainly events that he has planned and will organize himself. At some moment, he warns Thetis that Achilles can have a long and uneventful life in peace but if he seeks glory, he must fight in the Trojan War and in the end be killed by Apollo. We have discussed before that Apollo likely acted under the command of his father who feared Thetis' genes. Patroclus is also killed by Apollo.

    Do you thinks that gods are always shallow? To me, some words of Thetis suggest otherwise.

  2. Patroclus, as an exile after committing a murder, is a devalued person doomed from the beginning. We understand that he is not entitled to things that Achilles would want.
    However, as a thought experiment, let's imagine that another Greek hero was doing the feats described in the Patrocleia. How do you think, could this hero also be charged with "stealing Achilles' glory"? Was the killing of Hector somehow reserved for Achilles and removed from public domain?

  3. I am happy that I found a PDF version of Prof. Nagy's lecture. I even sought and found a good photo of the Corfu rock that is allegedly the petrified ship:
    In the text under the photo, it is said that "(the Phaeacians') ships are the stuff of fairy tales, crossing the seas without the work of steersmen or oarsmen" and, two lines below, Alcinoos is cited telling Odysseus that "(Phaeacians) are not good boxers or wrestlers, but fast runners and unrivaled oarsmen". No comment on the contradiction.
    I have read the beginning of the Odyssey in pirate transcripts of a translation, but I haven't yet bothered to read it entirely. I cannot enjoy very much a story, no matter how great, if it is told from the viewpoint of a person whom I do not like. (The same reason makes me dislike Catch 22.) Also, I hate the massive deaths in the Odyssey, this mortality rate so inappropriate for peacetime. And I pity the poor Phaeacians. I hate the way they are abandoned by the poet to an uncertain fate, as if they are of no importance to him. (Though, as Prof. Nagy explains, some scholia saved them :-).) And I have a strong suspicion that their story is a cautionary tale illustrating that women messing in government bring disastrous results.