Saturday, April 25, 2015

TFBT; Homeric Moments, Part II

TFBT; Homeric Moments, Part II

I am still enjoying Eva Brann's book, but it is inter-library loan and must be returned today. 


I really enjoyed her rather poetic observation on the effect of wearing Achilles armor on those who did it.   “Hector stripped and donned Patroclus’ armor… (so) Achilles sees before him Patroclus as he looked when Achilles last bade him goodbye! But there is something more eerie; He is confronting himself, as he looked before his friends’ death - Achilles, son of Peleus, dressed in his father’s armor…As he spear finds it way into Hector’s collarbone, it is not the hated other alone whom he transfixes, but two intimate beings besides; his dead friend and his old self.”


Famously the Cypria informs us that Zeus and Themis conspired to ignite the wars at Thebes and Troy to relieve the earth of the burden of the tribes of men.  Specifically the demi-gods.   Their plot is the much discussed "Will of Zeus" in the Iliad.  What was the Will of Zeus in the Odyssey.   Brann says “the odyssey is a foregone conclusion. Polyphemus remembers an old Cyclopean seer’s prophecy that Odysseus would come to blind him, only he didn’t expect so puny a creature. Circe has been told of his coming by Hermes and the Phaeacians have an old prophecy about him"  Admittedly just because something is foretold doesn't mean it is pre-ordained.  But later she says, "…Aelous angrily refuses (to) help; he cannot aid a man who was come, "as you have,hated by the gods.”  Aelous is a bit of a god himself and not talking about Poseidon, but rather which ever of the gods put the idea into the heads of Odysseus' foolish men to open the bag of contrary winds.  So is there more to the story of the Odyssey?    


Odysseus himself, as he tells his tale, never calls on the Muses…Homer sings though Odysseus only tells - lyreless.”  Which explains the beginning of the Odyssey where Homer asks the “Muse to tell” the story rather than asking the “Goddess to sing” as he did in the Iliad.  Recall too that 80% of the Odyssey is told by Odysseus rather than Homer.


Other interesting notions;

  • Nestor’s name means “returner” from nostos 
  • Helen is never more beautiful than when she give this boy the recognition that make him Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, a young man. “  
  • Helen seduced Odysseus at Troy! “by bathing and oiling him and his telling her all the Greeks plans. 
  • Every skipper has a problem with sleep, but (Odysseus) sleeping is perfectly timed for disaster  
  • With the deftness of a minstrel he strings his great ancestral bow, with the easy smooth motion of a skilled singer who inspects his lyre, trying the tuning of the instrument, and “its sang easily under his fingers, like a swallow in voice. “  
  • “Achilles is fully conscious of exchanging worldly time for underworldly fame.”  
  • Indeed, Odysseus, who is in fact called “hero” only once in the Odyssey.”
  • “The report of her courage has reached Nestor’s palace and so it only makes us smile to notice that she is never mentioned in Helen’s house.”  
  • “Someone might say that these lost men, including finally the crew of Odysseus’ flagship itself, are only the mostly faceless and nameless extras of the voyage.”  
  • “Grain- or bread-eaters is what the Greeks call mortals.”  
  •  “Zeus is nothing to this son of Poseidon(Polyphemus)” 
  • “Heracles’ phantom has gone down to Hades forever, but “he himself is with the immortal gods

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TFBT: The Father of Telemachus

Why is Odysseus called "the father of Telemachus" while all the other Homeric heroes are remembered as "the son of" somebody or another?  When Odysseus begins telling his tales to the Phaeancians he is introduced as the “son of Laertes”. I thought that odd because he is so often referred to as “the father of Telemachus”. I wondered about contrasting the use of “son of Laertes” vs “father of Telemachus”? For example; I read once that any time the epithet Cronides (Cronion) is used of an elder Olympian it is to remind the audience that they are their father’s children and just as capable of being cruel and abusive of authority as he. So is there any significance in Homer’s unusual of “son of Laertes” on occasion? What do we know about Laertes that might apply to Odysseus? 

Maybe we are asking about the wrong parent, here.   As we have noted before in Hour 25, Homer goes to great lengths in both epics to hide the darker aspects of Odysseus.  Like the betrayal of Palamedes,  the attempted murder of Diomedes and possibly Odysseus’ bastardy.  

"Sisyphus came to him and identified the cattle he had stolen by their hooves, and took them away. While he was delaying there, he seduced Anticlia, the daughter of Autolycus. She was later given in marriage to Laertes, and bore Ulysses. Some writers accordingly call him Sisyphean; because of this parentage he was shrewd. " Hyginus, Fabulae 201

Euripides (Iphigenia at Aulis)  and Sophocles (Philoctetes) both knew the rumors of Odysseus’ parentage. It appears that those characters in the epics who wanted to praise Odysseus could call him “son of Laertes” and flatter him.  Those that wanted to shame him could call him “son of Laertes” as a way of reminding him he wasn’t.  Meanwhile, the famously non-judgmental Homer take the high road and gives Odysseus the epithet of “father of Telemachus” to avoid any implication or inference of scandal. 

Is the father reference for polymetis Odysseus significant in the same way as the ‘son of Kronos’? We’ve seen before at Hour 25 where the names of sons, were but aspects of their fathers.  Well Laertes is NOT “the craftiest of all humankind”, but Sisyphus is.  (Homer, Iliad VI.151)




Sunday, April 19, 2015

TFBT: Broiled Fish and Baby Brains

In "The Politics of Olympus" Jenny Strauss Clay says of the new-born god Hermes, "Hermes' precise status has remained in doubt: Is he a god or a mortal?...Hermes' identity crisis is only resolved when he finds himself unable to swallow the meat (the immortal cattle of Apollo) he had just prepared for himself.  With this unmistakable evidence of this divinity Hermes returns to Maia's cave."  So in short the gods can't eat of the grain or cattle of the earth. They are stuck nectar and ambrosia and the heady savory aroma of the burnt offers made in their honor.  So image my initial surprise in church today when the reading  as Luke 24:36-48.  The risen Lord reappears in the mists of his shocked and awed disciples. That aren't nature if they are seeing a ghost Or what.  He asked " Have you anything to eat?"  They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and He took it and ate it in their presence.  Before I wrote that the gossip writers had to address the then universal paradigm about demi-gods.  So now, Luke's  presented a god who can eat!  Oh wait that is why Christ is both fully man and fully God!

I got to thinking about the epithet; Cronides (also Cronion). It means Child of Cronus. Cronus was the King of the Titans and brutal father of the Olympian gods. Generally it refers to his sons Zeus and Poseidon, but can be applied to any of the elder Olympians. Supposedly it's usage is to remind the audience that they are his children and camp be just as cruel and abusive of their authority as he was.    If you don't know Cronus' story he ate all his children at birth; brains and all.   Zeus  "consumed" two of his own children Athena and Zagreus/Dionysus.  Athena was still in the womb at the time!  Wow, rough crowd!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

TFBT: “Homeric Moments” Part I

Eva Brann, subtitled her book; “Clues to delight in reading the Odyssey”.  She starts with “I wrote this book because…I was full of small discoveries and large conjectures.”  That she wanted to share with first-time readers.  I so know what she is talking about and consequently happily joined her on her rather confident journey to display these delights.  I’m happy half-way through the book and still happy I jumped onboard the chariot.  Around page 21 Brann says “…the poet will say, “When they had put from themselves the desire for food and drink…”, where we would say; “When they were full…”  One gets used to these graphic and noble formulas, however and ends up wondering why we can’t talk like that.”   In point of fact Brann does write that way.  It is one of the joys of reading the book.  On the other hand sometimes I get so carried away that I am not reading critically. 

I love her unquenchable faith in the genius of Homer; Homer’s inexhaustibility. “Homer is first in time, first in enduring effect, first in breadth of use, first in force of inspiration.”  She sees that genius and inspiration in the fact that the Taphians live to the “north in the vicinity of the legendary entrance to Hades that Odysseus is using just Mentes the Taphian visits Telemachus in Ithaca.    She explains that Achilles is a swift-footed runner, and that swift-footed is so intrinsic to his nature his actuality, that he is swift-footed even when he is sitting.  It is a reasonable faith that there is a responsible author, a maker, who leaves an inexhaustible wealth of intentional small signs meant to be picked up by any reader as evidence from the lines of what is being said beyond and between the lines.  These intimating clues take the form not only of metric anomalies, signifying visualizations and double meanings…but also of apparently misapplied epithets, homonyms…suggestive descriptions ..but above all, of pregnant silences and significant omissions.   In other words if Homer nods, it is with a wink to those in the know. 

She points out the lack of  un-named dead in the Iliad something I’ve found in sharp contrast to the Odyssey.  The surfeit of killing is perhaps mitigated by the fact that each recital is a remembrance: that this dead warrior has his name ancestry, place of origin and manner of armament forever set in the greatest of all war poems.”   

She finds a moving correlation between Hephaestus the lame smithy who creates the famous shield of Achilles and the blind bard who sings of it.  And claims that Homer is mightier than the god for that reason.  “I think that Homer’s alleged blindness betokens the extraordinary visual acuity of his poetry, “  

“Homer thinks of  swift-footed , swift fated Achilles as the being who makes possible the poetry that makes the full world visible…Alexander (the Great) who wanted to reincarnate Achilles but lacks a Homeric Muse, merely conquered the world for a moment, while his avatar Achilles captivated the ages.”

Here are some of her discoveries so far;

  • “Homer’s inexhaustibility”  
  • “Tragedy is in the present tense, spoken by impersonating actors; it is fast-paced, taking place, by a very apt Greek convention; within one day; “ 
  • “Tragic heroes tend to undergo sudden catastrophic shifts of fortune – their fate – which leave them transformed but also dead” 
  • On intertextuality; “readings of the word without the world”  
  • “Odysseus becomes the weaver of a fairyland…”   
  • “We might well read the Iliad without knowing the Odyssey, but to rad the Odyssey without reference to the Iliad would be to read under a handicap.”   
  • On Poseidon; “he is a resentful god whose persecution of Odysseus is an obscure reflection of his resentment against Zeus”   
  • Achilles’ old armor had to be shrunk by the god to fit Hector”   
  • “Hector has just reached the first Greek ship, the very one from which the first Greek leaped onto Trojan soil to be also the first to die.”   
  • Brann on Patroclus; “Homer does him, more often than anyone else, the rare honor of the intimacy of addressing him directly.   
  • Of Hector, “In Chaucer’s words, the verray parfit, gentil knyght.”  
  • “The mules carry Priam and Hector’s body toward the gates of Troy, unseen by any but Cassandra, the seeress.”   
  • On Priam’s ransom of Hector’s body; “So ends the terrestrial enactment of a descent to Hades, a Herculean labor of trial for the old king.   
  • One hundred and ten or so generations…separate us from Homer”