How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishapen, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

See here for a handout for a talk using Thersites to explore Homeric poetry from the perspective of disability studies.

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

How Thersites Makes The Beautiful Body and The Beautiful Mind

Iliad 2.211-224

“The rest of them were sitting, and they had taken their seats.
Only Thersites, a man of measureless speech, was still declaring–
A man who knew many disordered things in his thoughts and who
Strived pointlessly with kings out of order,
–whatever he thought would be amusing to the Argives.
And he was the most shameful man who came to Troy.
He was cross-eyed and crippled in one foot. His shoulders
Were curved, dragged in toward his chest. And on top
His head was mishaped, and the hair on his head was sparse.
He was most hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus
For he was always reproaching them. Then he was shrilly cawing
At lordly Agamemnon again, as he spoke reproaches. The Achaeans
Were terribly angry at him and were finding fault in their heart.
As he shouting greatly, he was reproaching Agememnon.”

῎Αλλοι μέν ῥ’ ἕζοντο, ἐρήτυθεν δὲ καθ’ ἕδρας·
Θερσίτης δ’ ἔτι μοῦνος ἀμετροεπὴς ἐκολῴα,
ὃς ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾔδη
μάψ, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν,
ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον ᾿Αργείοισιν
ἔμμεναι· αἴσχιστος δὲ ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθε·
φολκὸς ἔην, χωλὸς δ’ ἕτερον πόδα· τὼ δέ οἱ ὤμω
κυρτὼ ἐπὶ στῆθος συνοχωκότε· αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
φοξὸς ἔην κεφαλήν, ψεδνὴ δ’ ἐπενήνοθε λάχνη.
ἔχθιστος δ’ ᾿Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ’ ἦν ἠδ’ ᾿Οδυσῆϊ·
τὼ γὰρ νεικείεσκε· τότ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονι δίῳ
ὀξέα κεκλήγων λέγ’ ὀνείδεα· τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αχαιοὶ
ἐκπάγλως κοτέοντο νεμέσσηθέν τ’ ἐνὶ θυμῷ.
αὐτὰρ ὃ μακρὰ βοῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνονα νείκεε μύθῳ·

Schol T. ad Il. 2.216a

“most shameful: this is also said of an ape.”

ex. αἴσχιστος: τοῦτο καὶ ἐπὶ πιθήκου.

Schol. BT [Aristonicus] ad Il. 2.217a

“pholkos: this is spoken once. Homeric pholkos means when the eyes are narrowed together, which means turned.”

Ariston. | Ep. φολκός: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηται. Aim b (BCE3)T | ἔστι δὲ Hom. φολκὸς ὁ τὰ φάη εἱλκυσμένος, ὅ ἐστιν ἐστραμμένος. Aim

Homer presents a overlap between ‘beautiful body’ and ‘beautiful mind’. This physiognomic category error pervades a great deal of classical Greek culture. In the Iliad, Thersites transgresses physical boundaries through his unheroic body and ethical boundaries by using the genre of rebuke upward in the social hierarchy. He is hateful to both Achilles and Odysseus because they exemplify in a complementary fashion the ‘center’ or ideal of the heroic person—Achilles is the beautiful body, Odysseus is a beautiful mind. But both of them stay within the boundaries of ‘normal’ in their own deviance (Achilles’ political straying, Odysseus’ aging, imperfect body). Thersites, labelled by many as a comic scapegoat, functions as an inferior in order to define the center as non-transgressive. This is, in particular, why he is hateful to Achilles and Odysseus: without him, their persons might be monstrous or disabled. And this also helps explain why Odysseus must physical beat Thersites in public.

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

5: “related perceptions of corporeal otherness” includes mutilation, deformation, crippledness, or physical disability…”

7: “..the meanings attributed to extraordinary bodies reside not in inherent physical flaws but in social relationships in which  one group is legitimated by possessing valued physical characteristics and maintains its ascendency and its self-identity by imposing the role of cultural or corporeal inferiority on others.”

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependency of Discourse. Ann Arbor. 2000. Cf. Wills, David. 1995. Prosthesis. Stanford.

57: “Whereas the “unmarred” surface enjoys its cultural anonymity ad promises little more than a confirmation of the adage of a “healthy” mind in a “healthy” body, disability signifies a more variegated and sordid series of assumptions and experiences. Its unruliness must be tamed by multiple mappings of the surface. If form leads to content or “embodies” meaning, then disability’s disruption of acculturated bodily norms also suggests a corresponding misalignment of subjectivity itself.”

59: “If the “external effect” led directly to a knowledge of the “internal faculty,” then those who inhabited bodies deemed “outside the norm” proved most ripe for a scrutiny of their moral or intellectual content. Since disabled people by definition embodied a form that was identified as “outside” the normal or permissible, their visages and bodily outlines became the physiognomist’s (and later the pathologist’s) object par excellence. Yet, the “sinister capability” of physiognomy proves more complex than just the exclusivity of interpretive authority that Stafford suggests. If the body would offer a surface manifestation of internal symptomatology, then disability and deformity automatically preface an equally irregular subjectivity. Physiognomy proves a deadly practice to a population already existing on the fringes of social interaction and “humanity.””

60: “Elizabeth Cornelia Evans argues that physiognomic beliefs can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. She cites Aristotle as promoting physiognomic reasoning when he proclaims, “It is possible to infer character from physique, if it is granted that body and soul change together in all natural affections . . . For if a peculiar affection applies to any individual class, e.g., courage to lions, there must be some corresponding sign for it; for it has been assumed that body and soul are affected together” (7). In fact, one might argue that physiognomics came to be consolidated out of a general historical practice applied to the bodies of disabled peoples. If the extreme evidence of marked physical differences provided a catalog of reliable signs, then perhaps more minute bodily differentiations could also be cataloged and interpreted. In this sense, people with disabilities ironically served as the historical locus for the invention of physiognomy.”

 

See Odyssey: 1.302: “I see that you are really big and noble,  and be brave / that a man born in the future might speak well of you” μάλα γάρ σ’ ὁρόω καλόν τε μέγαν τε, / ἄλκιμος ἔσσ’, ἵνα τίς σε καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἐὺ εἴπῃ =3.199–200 (Nestor addressing Telemachus). Cf. 4.141–147 where Helen recognizes Telemachus because he looks like his father and Menelaos responds “I was just now thinking this too, wife, as you note the similarity: /  these are the kinds of feet and hands / the eye glances, and head and hair belonging to that man” (οὕτω νῦν καὶ ἐγὼ νοέω, γύναι, ὡς σὺ ἐΐσκεις· / κείνου γὰρ τοιοίδε πόδες τοιαίδε τε χεῖρες / ὀφθαλμῶν τε βολαὶ κεφαλή τ’ ἐφύπερθέ τε χαῖται, 4.148–150).

Cf. Achilles to Lykaon, Il. 21.108: “Don’t you see what kind of man I am, beautiful and big?” οὐχ ὁράᾳς οἷος καὶ ἐγὼ καλός τε μέγας τε;

 

Minchin, Elizabeth. 2007. Homeric Voices: Discourse, Memory, Gender. Oxford

167–8: Rebuke is a speech genre highly marked for social position: Penelope rebukes Eurykleia, Nausikaa rebukes her handmaidens. Melanthô should not rebuke Odysseus because it would transgress the normative boundaries for a slave to reproach a master.

 

On Thersites as a “bona fide satirist”, see Rosen 2003:123. Halliwell 1991:281 too draws attention to Thersites’ role as a “habitual entertainer”, and points to Plato’s shrewd description of him as a γελωτοποιός (Rep.10.620c3). For Thersites as a blame-poet, see Nagy 1979: 211-75. For Thersites’ in general see Lowry 1991 and Postelthwaite 1998.

Lowry, E. R. Thersites: A Study in Comic Shame.

Marks, Jim. 2005. “The Ongoing Neikos: Thersites, Odysseus, and Achilleus.” AJP 126:1–31.

Nagy, G. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans. Baltimore.

Postlethwaite, N. 1998.Thersites in the Iliad, in Homer: Greek and Roman Studies, eds. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, Oxford, = 83-95.

Rose, P. W. 1997. “Ideology in the Iliad: Polis, Basileus, Theoi.” Arethusa 30:151-199.

Rosen, R. M. 2003. “The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mock-ery.” Pallas 61:21–136.

Thalmann, W. G. 1988. “Thersites: comedy, scapegoats and heroic ideology in the Iliad.” TAPA 118:1-28.

Vodoklys, E.1992.. Blame-Expression in the Epic Tradition. New York.

Special thanks to David M. Perry for giving me a starter Bibliography for Disability Studies and to Dimitri Nakassis for adding to the bibliography on Thersites.

Male, Female and Monstrosity in Aristotle

Aristotle, Generation of Animals Book 2, 737a

“That [female] substance, even though it possesses all segments of the body in potential, actually exhibits none of them. For it contains those kinds of elements in potential by which the female is distinguished from the male. For just as it happens that at times deformed children come from deformed parents and at times they do not, so too in the same way sometimes female offspring come from females and sometimes they don’t, but males do instead. For the female is like a deformity of the male and menstrual discharge is like semen, but unclean.”

καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο περίττωμα, καὶ πάντα τὰ μόρια ἔχει δυνάμει, ἐνεργείᾳ δ᾿ οὐθέν. καὶ γὰρ τὰ τοιαῦτ᾿ ἔχει μόρια δυνάμει, ᾗ διαφέρει τὸ θῆλυ τοῦ ἄρρενος. ὥσπερ γὰρ καὶ ἐκ πεπηρωμένων ὁτὲ μὲν γίνεται πεπηρωμένα ὁτὲ δ᾿οὔ, οὕτω καὶ ἐκ θήλεος ὁτὲ μὲν θῆλυ ὁτὲ δ᾿ οὔ, ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρεν. τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον, καὶ τὰ καταμήνια σπέρμα, οὐ καθαρὸν δέ

Generation of Animals, Book 4, 767b

“These causes are also of the same. Some [offspring] are born similar to their parents while others are not. Some are similar to their father; others are like their mother, applying both to the body as a whole and to each part. Offspring are more like their parents than their ancestors and more like their ancestors than passersby.

Males are more similar to their father and females are more similar to their mother. But some are not like any of their relatives, but are still akin to human beings while others are like not at all like humans in their appearance, but rather like some monster. For whoever is not like his parents is in some way a monster because nature has in these cases wandered in some way from the essential character. The first beginning of this is when a female was born instead of a male.

But this is necessary by nature since a race of things divided by male and female must be preserved and since the male may at times not be in control because of age or youth or some other reason, it is necessary for species to have female offspring. Monstrosity is not necessary for any reason or specific ends, but it is necessary by probability of accident—since its origin must be considered as residing here.”

Αἱ δ᾿ αὐταὶ αἰτίαι καὶ τοῦ τὰ μὲν ἐοικότα γίνεσθαι τοῖς τεκνώσασι τὰ δὲ μὴ ἐοικότα, καὶ τὰ μὲν πατρὶ τὰ δὲ μητρί, κατά τε ὅλον τὸ σῶμα καὶ κατὰ μόριον ἕκαστον, καὶ μᾶλλον αὐτοῖς ἢ τοῖς προγόνοις, καὶ τούτοις ἢ τοῖς τυχοῦσι, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄρρενα μᾶλλον τῷ πατρὶ τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ μητρί, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδενὶ τῶν συγγενῶν, ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ γέ τινι, τὰ δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἀνθρώπῳ τὴν ἰδέαν ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη τέρατι. καὶ γὰρ ὁ μὴ ἐοικὼς τοῖς γονεῦσιν ἤδη τρόπον τινὰ τέρας ἐστίν· παρεκβέβηκε γὰρ ἡ φύσις ἐν τούτοις ἐκ τοῦ γένους τρόπον τινά. ἀρχὴ δὲ πρώτη τὸ θῆλυ γίνεσθαι καὶ μὴ ἄρρεν. ἀλλ᾿ αὕτη μὲν ἀναγκαία τῇ φύσει, δεῖ γὰρ σώζεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν κεχωρισμένων κατὰ τὸ θῆλυ καὶ τὸ ἄρρεν· ἐνδεχομένου δὲ μὴ κρατεῖν ποτὲ τὸ ἄρρεν ἢ διὰ νεότητα ἢ γῆρας ἢ δι᾿ ἄλλην τινὰ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, ἀνάγκη γίνεσθαι θηλυτοκίαν ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις. τὸ δὲ τέρας οὐκ ἀναγκαῖον πρὸς τὴν ἕνεκά του καὶ τὴν τοῦ τέλους αἰτίαν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ συμβεβηκὸς ἀναγκαῖον, ἐπεὶ τήν γ᾿ ἀρχὴν ἐντεῦθεν δεῖ λαμβάνειν.

τέρας: can mean ‘monster’ (as translated here) or divine sign/omen. In cognates and parallel forms it is also associated with magic and the unnatural.

πηρόω (πεπηρωμένον) is a denominative verb from the noun πηρός, which means “infirm, invalid” (hence: “blind or lame”)

Thomson, Rosemarie Garland. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York.

19: “Perhaps the founding association of femaleness with disability occurs in the fourth book of Generation of Animals, Aristotle’s discourse of the normal and the abnormal, in which he refines the Platonic concept of antinomies so that bodily variety translates into hierarchies of the typical and aberrant.”

20: “What this passage makes clearest, however, is that without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social and economic arrangements would collapse.”

20: “This persistent intertwining of disability with femaleness in Western discourse provides a starting point for exploring the relationship of social identity to the body. As Aristotle’s pronouncement suggests, the social category of disability rests on the significance accorded bodily functioning and configuration.”

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