No, Virginia…There is No Tragic Flaw

Aristotle, Poetics 1452e34-1453a9

“Since it is right that the structure of the best tragedy not be simple but be complex instead and evoking both fearful and pitiful emotions—for that is the particular power of this kind of artistic representation—as an initial principle, it is clear that decent men should not be  be shown undergoing a change from good fortune to bad fortune, for that is repugnant rather than pitiful or fearful. And it is also not right for depraved people to enjoy a change from bad fortune to good fortune, because that is the least tragic notion of all and has none of the necessary qualities. Such a plot does not create empathy and fails to produce pity or fear.

[Tragedy] should also not show an especially bad person falling from good fortune to bad—for this might engender empathy but without pity or fear since the first is felt for someone who is unworthy of bad fortune and the second is for someone who is similar [to us] (pity is for someone unworthy of suffering; fear is for someone like us suffering). The response to [a wicked person] falling is not pitiful or fearful. What remains [for tragedy] is the person in between. A person like this is not impeccable in terms of justice nor for his wickedness and evil, but he falls into misfortune because of some kind of mistake. This kind of person is from those well-known families, like Oedipus or Thyestes.”

γον, ἐφεξῆς ἂν εἴη λεκτέον τοῖς νῦν εἰρημένοις. ἐπειδὴ οὖν δεῖ τὴν σύνθεσιν εἶναι τῆς καλλίστης τραγῳδίας μὴ ἁπλῆν ἀλλὰ πεπλεγμένην καὶ ταύτην φοβερῶν καὶ ἐλεεινῶν εἶναι μιμητικήν (τοῦτο γὰρ ἴδιον τῆς τοιαύτης μιμήσεώς ἐστιν), πρῶτον μὲν δῆλον ὅτι οὔτε τοὺς ἐπιεικεῖς ἄνδρας δεῖ μεταβάλλοντας φαίνεσθαι ἐξ εὐτυχίας εἰς δυστυχίαν, οὐ γὰρ φοβερὸν οὐδὲ ἐλεεινὸν τοῦτο ἀλλὰ μιαρόν ἐστιν· οὔτε τοὺς μοχθηροὺς ἐξ ἀτυχίας εἰς εὐτυχίαν, ἀτραγῳδότατον γὰρ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ πάντων, οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔχει ὧν δεῖ, οὔτε γὰρ φιλάνθρωπον οὔτε ἐλεεινὸν οὔτε φοβερόν ἐστιν· οὐδ’ αὖ τὸν σφόδρα πονηρὸν συμβαῖνον. ὁ μεταξὺ ἄρα τούτων λοιπός. ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ὁ μήτε ἀρετῇ διαφέρων καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μήτε διὰ κακίαν καὶ μοχθηρίαν μεταβάλλων εἰς τὴν δυστυχίαν ἀλλὰ δι’ ἁμαρτίαν τινά, τῶν ἐν μεγάλῃ δόξῃ ὄντων καὶ εὐτυχίᾳ, οἷον Οἰδίπους καὶ Θυέστης καὶ οἱ ἐκ τῶν τοιούτων γενῶν ἐπιφανεῖς ἄνδρες.

This passage (and a few others) have been misread since the rise of Christianity to mean that the tragic protagonist “suffers a fall because of a tragic flaw”. This is essentially bogus for lexicographical and contextual reasons. In early Greek, hamartia means to make a mistake: it comes from an archery metaphor and is related to the verb hamartanô, which means “to miss the mark”. This is a mistake that is not connected to an essential character goodness or badness.

from Beekes 2010

hamartano

The Christian use of hamartia is “sin”, which, as we all know from our Sunday School, is innate and a sign of our essential badness. Wanting to have sex with people is a sin; driving badly and hitting someone from inattention is an accident. In my understanding of tragedy, hamartia means the latter. Yes, one might be distractable and an essentially bad driver and we may see this as in some way a flaw, but this is a cultural perspective that mixes determinism and responsibility in a strange way.

Contextually, Aristotle makes the specific point that the tragic hero should not be essentially wicked. If one is essentially wicked, the audience cannot make the key identification necessary to feel pity or fear. Now, one could argue that in a Christian context where everyone is flawed because of sin, the doctrine might still be said to apply. But this is not the Aristotelian context and this is not what Aristotle had in mind.

[The Wikipedia article is pretty good on this]

No, Virginia, There is No Tragic Flaw

Aristotle, Poetics 1452e34-1453a9

“Since it is right that the structure of the best tragedy not be simple but be complex instead and evoking both fearful and pitiful emotions—for that is the particular power of this kind of artistic representation—as an initial principle, it is clear that decent men should not be  be shown undergoing a change from good fortune to bad fortune, for that is repugnant rather than pitiful or fearful. And it is also not right for depraved people to enjoy a change from bad fortune to good fortune, because that is the least tragic notion of all and has none of the necessary qualities. Such a plot does not create empathy and fails to produce pity or fear.

[Tragedy] should also not show an especially bad person falling from good fortune to bad—for this might engender empathy but without pity or fear since the first is felt for someone who is unworthy of bad fortune and the second is for someone who is similar [to us] (pity is for someone unworthy of suffering; fear is for someone like us suffering). The response to [a wicked person] falling is not pitiful or fearful. What remains [for tragedy] is the person in between. A person like this is not impeccable in terms of justice nor for his wickedness and evil, but he falls into misfortune because of some kind of mistake. This kind of person is from those well-known families, like Oedipus or Thyestes.”

γον, ἐφεξῆς ἂν εἴη λεκτέον τοῖς νῦν εἰρημένοις. ἐπειδὴ οὖν δεῖ τὴν σύνθεσιν εἶναι τῆς καλλίστης τραγῳδίας μὴ ἁπλῆν ἀλλὰ πεπλεγμένην καὶ ταύτην φοβερῶν καὶ ἐλεεινῶν εἶναι μιμητικήν (τοῦτο γὰρ ἴδιον τῆς τοιαύτης μιμήσεώς ἐστιν), πρῶτον μὲν δῆλον ὅτι οὔτε τοὺς ἐπιεικεῖς ἄνδρας δεῖ μεταβάλλοντας φαίνεσθαι ἐξ εὐτυχίας εἰς δυστυχίαν, οὐ γὰρ φοβερὸν οὐδὲ ἐλεεινὸν τοῦτο ἀλλὰ μιαρόν ἐστιν· οὔτε τοὺς μοχθηροὺς ἐξ ἀτυχίας εἰς εὐτυχίαν, ἀτραγῳδότατον γὰρ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ πάντων, οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔχει ὧν δεῖ, οὔτε γὰρ φιλάνθρωπον οὔτε ἐλεεινὸν οὔτε φοβερόν ἐστιν· οὐδ’ αὖ τὸν σφόδρα πονηρὸν συμβαῖνον. ὁ μεταξὺ ἄρα τούτων λοιπός. ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ὁ μήτε ἀρετῇ διαφέρων καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ μήτε διὰ κακίαν καὶ μοχθηρίαν μεταβάλλων εἰς τὴν δυστυχίαν ἀλλὰ δι’ ἁμαρτίαν τινά, τῶν ἐν μεγάλῃ δόξῃ ὄντων καὶ εὐτυχίᾳ, οἷον Οἰδίπους καὶ Θυέστης καὶ οἱ ἐκ τῶν τοιούτων γενῶν ἐπιφανεῖς ἄνδρες.

This passage (and a few others) have been misread since the rise of Christianity to mean that the tragic protagonist “suffers a fall because of a tragic flaw”. This is essentially bogus for lexicographical and contextual reasons. In early Greek, hamartia means to make a mistake: it comes from an archery metaphor and is related to the verb hamartanô, which means “to miss the mark”. This is a mistake that is not connected to an essential character goodness or badness.

from Beekes 2010

hamartano

The Christian use of hamartia is “sin”, which, as we all know from our Sunday School, is innate and a sign of our essential badness. Wanting to have sex with people is a sin; driving badly and hitting someone from inattention is an accident. In my understanding of tragedy, hamartia means the latter. Yes, one might be distractable and an essentially bad driver and we may see this as in some way a flaw, but this is a cultural perspective that mixes determinism and responsibility in a strange way.

Contextually, Aristotle makes the specific point that the tragic hero should not be essentially wicked. If one is essentially wicked, the audience cannot make the key identification necessary to feel pity or fear. Now, one could argue that in a Christian context where everyone is flawed because of sin, the doctrine might still be said to apply. But this is not the Aristotelian context and this is not what Aristotle had in mind.

[The Wikipedia article is pretty good on this]

Complete and Divine Success? On Thucydides’ Style

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 24

“I can summarize four the tools of Thucydides’ speech as follows: creativity in language, a variety of constructions, a harshness of order, and a swiftness of meaning. The character of his style includes density and thickness, bitterness and austerity, fierceness, and wonder and fear beyond all the emotional ranges.

This is what Thucydides is like from the character of his language in comparison to the rest. Whenever his intention and power coincide, his success is complete and divine. But whenever his force fails some and his power does not persist entirely, because of speed of his revelation, his expression becomes unclear and introduces another group of infelicities. For example, how it is right to express strange and synthetic language, how far to proceed before stopping, even though these are beautiful and necessary observations in all works, one should guard against it in all history.”

 ἵνα δὲ συνελὼν εἴπω, τέτταρα μέν ἐστιν ὥσπερ ὄργανα τῆς Θουκυδίδου λέξεως· τὸ ποιητικὸν τῶν ὀνομάτων, τὸ πολυειδὲς τῶν σχημάτων, τὸ τραχὺ τῆς ἁρμονίας, τὸ τάχος τῶν σημασιῶν· χρώματα δὲ αὐτῆς τό τε στριφνὸν καὶ τὸ πυκνόν, καὶ τὸ πικρὸν καὶ τὸ αὐστηρόν, καὶ τὸ ἐμβριθὲς καὶ τὸ δεινὸν καὶ (τὸ) φοβερόν, ὑπὲρ ἅπαντα δὲ ταῦτα τὸ παθητικόν. τοιοῦτος μὲν δή τίς ἐστιν ὁ Θουκυδίδης κατὰ τὸν τῆς λέξεως χαρακτῆρα, ᾧ παρὰ τοὺς ἄλλους διήνεγκεν. ὅταν μὲν οὖν ἥ τε προαίρεσις αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ δύναμις συνεκδράμῃ, τέλεια γίνεται κατορθώματα καὶ δαιμόνια· ὅταν δὲ ἐλλείπῃ τὸ τῆς δυνάμεως, οὐ παραμείναντος μέχρι πάντων τοῦ τόνου, διὰ τὸ τάχος τῆς ἀπαγγελίας ἀσαφής τε ἡ λέξις γίνεται καὶ ἄλλας τινὰς ἐπιφέρει κῆρας οὐκ εὐπρεπεῖς. τὸ γὰρ ἐν ᾧ δεῖ τρόπῳ τὰ ξένα καὶ πεποιημένα λέγεσθαι καὶ μέχρι πόσου προελθόντα πεπαῦσθαι, καλὰ καὶ ἀναγκαῖα θεωρήματα ἐν πᾶσιν ὄντα τοῖς ἔργοις, οὐ διὰ πάσης τῆς ἱστορίας φυλάττει

 

Image result for ancient Greek thucydides

Vergil’s Fans and Foes: Some Prep Work for AP Latin Week

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione, chp. 69

“A teacher should prefer Vergil above all other poets, since his eloquence and glory are so great, that they could be neither increased by anyone’s praises nor diminished by anyone’s censure.”

Inter heroicos Vergilium cunctis praeferat, cuius tanta eloquentia est, tanta gloria, ut nullius laudibus crescere, nullius vituperatione minui possit.

Donatus, Vita Vergilii

“Asconius Pedianus wrote a book against Vergil’s detractors, but he nevertheless adds some objections of his own, mostly dealing with Vergil’s narration and the fact that he had taken much from Homer. But he also says that Vergil was accustomed to refute this latter criticism thus: ‘Why did they themselves not try to do take some verses from Homer? To be sure, they would learn that it easier to take Hercules’ club than to lift a verse from Homer.’ Yet, Asconius adds that he decided to retire so that he could do everything to the satisfaction of his malicious critics.”

Asconius Pedianus libro, quem contra obtrectatores Vergiliis scripsit, pauca admodum obiecta ei proponit eaque circa historiam fere et quod pleraque ab Homero sumpsisset; sed hoc ipsum crimen sic defendere adsuetum ait: cur non illi quoque eadem furta temptarent? Verum intellecturos facilius esse Herculi clavam quam Homero versum subripere”; et tamen destinasse secedere ut omnia ad satietatem malevolorum decideret.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 6.2

“I fear that, in my eagerness to show how much Vergil accomplished from his reading of the ancients, and what blossoms and what ornaments he poured forth from all of them into his own poetry, I may accidentally offer an opportunity for criticism to those uncultured and malignant fools who censure such a man for his usurpation of other’s works, not considering that this is the fruit of reading: to imitate those things which you approve in others, and to turn the sayings of others which you marvel at into your own use by a fitting turn. Our poets have done this among themselves, just as much as the best of the Greeks did. And, to avoid talk of foreign precedent, I could show with numerous examples how much the authors of our ancient canon have lifted from one another.”

Etsi vereor me, dum ostendere cupio quantum Virgilius noster ex antiquiorum lectione profecerit et quos ex omnibus flores vel quae in carminis sui decorem ex diversis ornamenta libaverit, occasionem reprehendendi vel inperitis vel malignis ministrem, exprobrantibus tanto viro alieni usurpationem, nec considerantibus hunc esse fructum legendi, aemulari ea quae in aliis probes et quae maxime inter aliorum dicta mireris in aliquem usum tuum oportuna derivatione convertere, quod et nostri tam inter se quam a Graecis et Graecorum excellentes inter se saepe fecerunt. Et, ut de alienigenis taceam, possem pluribus edocere quantum se mutuo conpilarint bibliothecae veteris auctores.

Vergil, Aeneid 2.796-798

“And here, I was shocked to find an overwhelming
Flood of new companions, mothers and men,
A band assembled for exile, a pitiable crowd.”

“Atque hic ingentem comitum adfluxisse novorum
invenio admirans numerum, matresque virosque,
collectam exsilio pubem, miserabile vulgus.

Image result for Ancient Roman Vergil

Ridiculous Poet, Grumpy Critic: Some Homeric Critiques from Zoilos the Zealot

Iliad 5.4

“A tireless fire burned from his helmet and shield…”

δαῖέ οἱ ἐκ κόρυθός τε καὶ ἀσπίδος ἀκάματον πῦρ

Schol. D ad Il. 5.4

“Zoilus the Ephesian criticizes this passage and he blames the poet because he composed this in too ridiculous a fashion, fire burning from Diomedes’ shoulders. For the hero runs the risk of burning up in flames! Therefore some say that it needs to be taken as it is, according to the habit of the fire. Others struggle about the fire—that it is the image of fire, not really fire.

Τρωσίν. ᾿Ακάματον. Πολύ. Ζωΐλος δὲ
ὁ ᾿Εφέσιος κατηγορεῖ τοῦ τόπου τού-
του, καὶ μέμφεται τὸν Ποιητὴν, ὅτι λίαν
γελοίως πεποίηκεν ἐκ τῶν ὤμων τοῦ Διο-
μήδους καιόμενον πῦρ. ἐκινδύνευε γὰρ κα-
ταφλεχθῆναι ὁ ἥρως. ῎Ενιοι μὲν οὖν πα-
ρειλῆφθαί φασι τὸ ὡς, κατὰ συνήθειαν
τῷ Ποιητῇ. ὡς καὶ ἐν ἑτέροις. ῞Ως οἱ
μὲν μάρναντο δέμας πυρός. ὡς πυρὸς
φαντασίαν, οὐκ εἰδικῶς πῦρ.

Zoilos is most often said to be from Amphipolos and appears in Aelian’s Varia Historia 11.10

Zôilos of Amphipolos, who wrote against Homer, Plato and others, was in attendance at a speech of Polycrates. Polycrates wrote a diatribe against Socrates. Zôilos himself used to be called the rhetorical Dog, and he was this kind of man: he had a beard though he shaved his head and he wore a coat above his knee. He loved to carp in public and he spent his time picking fights with many men: he was a complaining, mean-spirited man. When some educated man asked him why he spoke poorly of everyone, he said: “I cannot do them harm when I want to.”

Ζωίλος ὁ ᾿Αμφιπολίτης ὁ καὶ ἐς ῞Ομηρον γράψας καὶ ἐς Πλάτωνα καὶ ἐς ἄλλους, Πολυκράτους μὲν ἀκουστὴς ἐγένετο· οὗτος δὲ ὁ Πολυκράτης καὶ τὴν κατηγορίαν ἔγραψε τὴν κατὰ Σωκράτους. ἐκαλεῖτο δ’ ὁ Ζωίλος οὗτος Κύων ῥητορικός. ἦν δὲ τοιοῦτος. τὸ μὲν γένειον αὐτῷ καθεῖτο, κέκαρτο δὲ ἐν χρῷ τὴν κεφαλήν, καὶ θοιμάτιον ὑπὲρ τὸ γόνυ ἦν. ἤρα δὲ ἀγορεύειν κακῶς, καὶ ἀπεχθάνεσθαι πολλοῖς σχολὴν εἶχε, καὶ ψογερὸς ἦν ὁ κακοδαίμων. ἤρετο οὖν αὐτόν τις τῶν πεπαιδευμένων διὰ τί κακῶς λέγει πάντας· ὃ δὲ ‘ποιῆσαι γὰρ κακῶς βουλόμενος οὐ δύναμαι.’

Schol ad. Il. 10.274b

“Zoilos was called the scourge of Homer and was from Amphipolis. He was the teacher of Isocrates and he wrote Against Homer as an exercise since the sophists where in the custom of writing exercises on the poets. He criticized Homer for many other things….

Ζωίλος ὁ κληθεὶς ῾Ομηρομάστιξ γένει μὲν ἦτ ᾽Αμφιπολίτης, τοῦ δὲ ᾽Ισοκρατικοῦ διδασκαλείου, ὃς ἔγραψε τὰ καθ᾽ ῾Ομήρου γυμνασίας ἕνεκα, εἰωθότων καὶ τῶν ῥητόρων ἐν τοῖς ποιηταῖς γυμνάζεσθαι. οὗτος ἄλλα τε πολλὰ ῾Ομήρου κατηγόρει…

Schol. D. ad Il. 5.20

“Zoilos also criticized this passage. For, he says, the poet composed this too ridiculously, that Idaios fled, abandoning his horses and chariot in order to flee. For he was more capable of fleeing upon the horses. But it must be said, that he leaps upon the chariot to guard his brother. After he faced war in this way, he rushed into flight.”

Κατηγορεῖ καὶ τούτου τοῦ τόπου Ζωΐλος.
ὅτι λίαν, φησὶ, γελοίως πεποίηκεν ὁ Ποι-
ητὴς τὸν ᾿Ιδαῖον, ἀπολιπόντα τοὺς ἵπ-
πους καὶ τὸ ἅρμα, φεύγειν. ᾿Εδύνατο
γὰρ μᾶλλον ἐπὶ τοῖς ἵπποις φυγεῖν. ᾿Αλ-
λὰ ῥητέον, ὅτι κατέθορε μὲν τοῦ ἅρματος,
ὡς ὑπερασπίσων τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ. Εὐλαβη-
θεὶς δὲ τὸν πόλεμον, εἰς φυγὴν ὥρμησεν.

Suda

“Zoilos of Amphipolis was called the “Scourge of Homer” because he mocked Homer. For this reason, those who live near Olympia chased him and threw him from the Skironian cliffs.”

Ζωίλος, ᾽Αμφιπολίτης· … ὃς ἐπεκλήθη ῾Ομηρομάστιξ, ὅτι ἐπέσκωπτεν ῞Ομηρον. διὸ αὐτὸν διώξαντες οἱ ἐν τῆι ᾽Ολυμπίαι κατὰ τῶν Σκιρωνίδων πετρῶν ἔρριψαν.

Schol. ad Il. 21.256

“He fled behind the flows…” Zoilos carps that, even though he has immortal horses, he does not use them at an opportune time.”

φεῦγ’ ὄπισθε ῥέων] Ζωΐλος αἰτιᾶται ὅτι ἀθανάτους ἵππους
ἔχων ἐν τῷ ἀντικειμένῳ καιρῷ οὐ χρᾶται.

Schol. ad Il. 21.447

“wide and very fine”: Zoilos writes [instead] “both wide and very large.

εὐρύ τε καὶ μάλα καλόν] Ζωΐλος γράφει· «εὐρύ τε καὶ μάλα
μακρόν».

Schol. Il. 18.22-5

“Zoilos writes that it is strange to see Achilles now. For he knew previously that it was necessary that the dangers of war are shared, and that it was not right that he consider death so terrible, and to grieve so much in a womanly fashion. Thus, not even a barbarian would behave. And, certainly, Hekabê is nothing of this sort in her mourning over Hektor.”

τι πεπονθότων (cf. ib. 387 d 5). Ζωΐλος (fr. 31 Friedl. = FGrHist
71,11) δέ φησιν ἄτοπον νῦν εἰδέναι τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα· προειδέναι τε γὰρ
ἐχρῆν ὅτι κοινοὶ οἱ πολεμικοὶ κίνδυνοι, τόν τε θάνατον οὐκ ἐχρῆν δει-
νὸν ὑπολαμβάνειν, τό τε οὕτως ὑπερπενθεῖν γυναικῶδες. οὕτως οὔτ’
ἂν βάρβαρος τι<τ>θὴ ἐποίησεν· καί τοι ῾Εκάβης ἐπὶ τῷ συρμῷ ῞Ε-
κτορος οὐδὲν τοιοῦτόν ἐστιν (cf. Χ 405—7).

The Iliad is Of the Body; The Odyssey is of the Mind

Pseudo-Plutarch, De Homero 31–32

“Of these poems, the Iliad features the acts of the Greeks and the Barbarians over the abduction of Helen, especially the valor demonstrated by Achilles in that war; the Odyssey details Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War and how much he endured wandering during his nostos and how he avenged himself on those plotting against him in his home. From these summaries it is clear that the Iliad is really about the bravery of the body while the Odyssey concerns the nobility of the soul.

It is not right to fault the poet if he does not only present virtues in his poem, but includes as well weaknesses of spirit, pains, pleasures, fears and desires. For it is necessary that the poet show not just noble characters but weak ones too—without these unexpected accomplishments do not appear—from all of these it is possible that an audience will choose the better ones.”

ὧν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἔχει τὰς ἐν ᾿Ιλίῳ πράξεις ῾Ελλήνων τε καὶ βαρβάρων διὰ τὴν ῾Ελένης ἁρπαγὴν καὶ μάλιστα τὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τούτῳ διαδειχθεῖσαν ἀλκήν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀνακομιδὴν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἀπὸ τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου καὶ ὅσα πλανώμενος ἐν τῷ νόστῳ ὑπέμεινε καὶ ὅπως τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ ἐτιμωρήσατο. ἐξ ὧν δῆλός ἐστι παριστὰς διὰ μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἀνδρείαν σώματος, διὰ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ψυχῆς γενναιότητα.

     Εἰ δὲ μὴ μόνον ἀρετὰς ἀλλὰ καὶ κακίας ψυχῆς ἐν ταῖς ποιήσεσι παρίστησι, λύπας τε καὶ χαρὰς καὶ φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας, οὐ χρὴ αἰτιᾶσθαι τὸν ποιητήν· <ποιητὴν> γὰρ ὄντα δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι οὐ μόνον τὰ χρηστὰ ἤθη ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα (ἄνευ γὰρ τούτων παράδοξοι πράξεις  οὐ συνίστανται), ὧν ἀκούοντα ἔνεστιν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ βελτίω.

 

Image result for Odysseus ancient greek statue

Another ancient author saw complementarity in the Homeric epics, but of a less positive kind

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power.  Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience. It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που  προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

On Reading without Prior Convictions

Aristotle, Poetics 1461a31

“Whenever some word seems to mean something opposite to what it means, it is best to examine how many things this might mean in the place is used. For instance, “by which the bronze spear was held”—someone might figure the best way by considering in how many ways is it possible to be hindered. This approach is opposite to what Glaukon says, that some people accept a position illogically and then make arguments based on their prior convictions and then, should anything seem to contradict them, they find fault with the poet because he meant something opposite to what they thought. The matter of Ikarios is an instance of this. For people suppose that he was Lakonian, so it is strange that Telemachus does not meet him when he goes to Sparta. But perhaps it is instead as the Kephallenians claim. For they say that Odysseus married one of their people and that his name was Ikadios not Ikarios. That the issue comes from a mistake is probable. Generally, impossible details should be credited to poetic character, to fashioning a better tale, or to keeping with popular belief. Poetic license should make something plausible but impossible more acceptable than something implausible yet possible.”

δεῖ δὲ καὶ ὅταν ὄνομά τι ὑπεναντίωμά τι δοκῇ σημαίνειν, ἐπισκοπεῖν ποσαχῶς ἂν σημήνειε τοῦτο ἐν τῷ εἰρημένῳ, οἷον τῷ “τῇ ῥ’ ἔσχετο χάλκεον ἔγχος” τὸ ταύτῃ κωλυθῆναι ποσαχῶς ἐνδέχεται, ὡδὶ ἢ ὡδί, ὡς μάλιστ’ ἄν τις ὑπολάβοι· κατὰ τὴν καταντικρὺ ἢ ὡς Γλαύκων λέγει, ὅτι ἔνιοι ἀλόγως προϋπολαμβάνουσί τι καὶ αὐτοὶ καταψηφισάμενοι συλλογίζονται, καὶ ὡς εἰρηκότος ὅ τι δοκεῖ ἐπιτιμῶσιν, ἂν ὑπεναντίον ᾖ τῇ αὑτῶν οἰήσει. τοῦτο δὲ πέπονθε τὰ περὶ ᾿Ικάριον. οἴονται γὰρ αὐτὸν Λάκωνα εἶναι· ἄτοπον οὖν τὸ μὴ ἐντυχεῖν τὸν Τηλέμαχον αὐτῷ εἰς Λακεδαίμονα ἐλθόντα. τὸ δ’ ἴσως ἔχει ὥσπερ οἱ Κεφαλλῆνές φασι· παρ’ αὑτῶν γὰρ γῆμαι λέγουσι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα καὶ εἶναι ᾿Ικάδιον ἀλλ’ οὐκ ᾿Ικάριον· δι’ ἁμάρτημα δὲ τὸ πρόβλημα †εἰκός ἐστιν†. ὅλως δὲ τὸ ἀδύνατον μὲν πρὸς τὴν ποίησιν ἢ πρὸς τὸ βέλτιον ἢ πρὸς τὴν δόξαν δεῖ ἀνάγειν. πρός τε γὰρ τὴν ποίησιν αἱρετώτερον πιθανὸν ἀδύνατον ἢ ἀπίθανον καὶ δυνατόν·

 

 

The Odyssey is Like a Comedy in Structure: Aristotle, Poetics 1453a

[Today the Almeida Theater in the UK is presenting a live reading of the Odyssey. Duly inspired, we are re-posting some of our favorite Odyssey themed posts]

1453a

“Second is the plot which is preferred by some, the story that has a double structure like that of the Odyssey which terminates in opposite ways for the better and worse men. If it seems to be first it is due to the feebleness of the audience. For poets follow the audience in crafting a tale according to their wishes. For there it is not the same pleasure that comes from tragedy, but that which is properly suited to comedy, since in that genre the most opposed men in myth, like Orestes and Aigisthus, depart at the end after becoming friends and no one is killed by anyone.”

δευτέρα δ’ ἡ πρώτη λεγομένη ὑπὸ τινῶν ἐστιν σύστασις, ἡ διπλῆν τε τὴν σύστασιν ἔχουσα καθάπερ ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια καὶ τελευτῶσα ἐξ ἐναντίας τοῖς βελτίοσι καὶ χείροσιν. δοκεῖ δὲ εἶναι πρώτη διὰ τὴν τῶν θεάτρων ἀσθένειαν• ἀκολουθοῦσι γὰρ οἱ ποιηταὶ κατ’ εὐχὴν ποιοῦντες τοῖς θεαταῖς. ἔστιν δὲ οὐχ αὕτη ἀπὸ τραγῳδίας ἡδονὴ ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον τῆς κωμῳδίας οἰκεία• ἐκεῖ γὰρ οἳ ἂν ἔχθιστοι ὦσιν ἐν τῷ μύθῳ, οἷον ᾿Ορέστης καὶ Αἴγισθος, φίλοι γενόμενοι ἐπὶ τελευτῆς ἐξέρχονται, καὶ ἀποθνῄσκει οὐδεὶς ὑπ’ οὐδενός.

The Secrets Hidden In Poetry: Varro, On the Latin Language VII 1.2

“Even though one adds these devices for the sake of divining the intent of the author, many other things still remain secret. But if poetic form, which has preserved in song many ancient words which still survive, had also preserved why they are, poems would be able to bear more fertile fruit. As in prose so too in poetry not all words can be said to possess their most ancient forms, and there are not many which one can read unless he spends his nights in deep study.”

Cum haec amminicula addas ad eruendum voluntatem impositoris, tamen latent multa. Quod si poetice quae in carminibus servavit multa prisca quae essent, sic etiam cur essent posuisset, fecundius poemata ferrent fructum; sed ut in soluta oratione sic in poematis verba non omnia quae habent etuma possunt dici, neque multa ab eo, quem non erunt in lucubratione litterae prosecutae, multum licet legeret.

Making Men Better in Art: Aristotle, Poetics 1448a 8-14

“In the way it is possible to develop stylistic contrasts in dance, flute-playing, and kithara-playing, so too in the art using speeches and recited poetry, for example Homer makes men who are better than people are, Kleophôn renders men who are equal, Hêgêmôn of Thasos who created parody makes them worse and so does Nikokharês who wrote the Deiliad.

καὶ γὰρ ἐν ὀρχήσει καὶ αὐλήσει καὶ κιθαρίσει ἔστι γενέσθαι ταύτας τὰς ἀνομοιότητας, καὶ [τὸ] περὶ τοὺς λόγους δὲ καὶ τὴν ψιλομετρίαν, οἷον ῞Ομηρος μὲν
βελτίους, Κλεοφῶν δὲ ὁμοίους, ῾Ηγήμων δὲ ὁ Θάσιος τὰς παρῳδίας ποιήσας πρῶτος καὶ Νικοχάρης ὁ τὴν Δειλιάδα χείρους•

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