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” 

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