Istanbul/Beirut: “We were waiting for the apocalypse and the apocalypse finally came.”

And I have the unbearable feeling that my entire life won’t be enough to remove this drop from my soul.

And the thought haunts me that if I was burnt alive, this persistent moment would be surrendered last.

G. Seferis, London, June 5th, 1932

Κι έχω το ασήκωτο συναίσθημα πως ολόκληρη η ζωή που μου απομένει δε θα ‘ναι

αρκετή για να καταλύσει αυτή τη στάλα μέσα στην ψυχή μου.

Και με καταδιώκει η σκέψη πως αν μ’ έκαιγαν ζωντανό

αυτή η επίμονη στιγμή θα παραδινότανε τελευταία.

Gregory Buchakjian, Sursock Palace after the 4 August blast, 2020, photograph

“We were waiting for the apocalypse and the apocalypse finally came”. Those were the words of Gregory, the Lebanese art historian and photographer with whom I’ve corresponded for almost a decade, during which admiration gave way to friendship, and finally to complicity. He is locked in his apartment on Abdul Aziz street in Beirut, or at his parents’ home in the mountains near the city, avoiding the infernal traffic and the visual field where all the catastrophes of history blend with garbage, with tar, and with the vision of the Last Things. After that spectacular explosion that changed Lebanon forever, and partially destroyed forty percent of Beirut, with their homes shattered, people had to flock into the streets, to reclaim the city, to protest, to scream, to weep, to supplicate, to deny, to fight. There are some moments in history in which certain things can be done only collectively, even if they produce absolutely no result; this was one of those moments. It is necessary to bury Polynices’ body, even if it’s forbidden by law on punishment of death, and the tragic heroine is a whole city, dressed in its rubble.

The death penalty seems like an immaterial punishment in a situation like this; for in Beirut death wouldn’t mean to cross the threshold towards the indeterminate,  but rather and simply, a change of position within the same chessboard, without entry or exit permits. Gregory has spent the last ten years photographing the abandoned houses of Beirut, or at least those that have survived not only the wars (there have been a few of them), but also the reconstructions, restorations, or simply time itself. And that photographic labor, that at first dealt with a historical document, has become an obsession, a terrifying desire, and a species of invasive archaeology, hunting ghosts, recollecting their personal objects, and speculating about the past, as if it were possible this way, to rectify the present without canceling it altogether. All those who seek the truth are punished by the gods with doubt, that little fragment of discrepancy, in which the scientific method and theology meet face to face, for just one second.

After ten years (even though he had been photographing Beirut since his teens in the 1980s, during the first years of the civil war), this passion became a doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne in Paris, a book and two museum exhibitions. Then, the photographer, lost in his own distance from the images, has become also a forensic investigator. The corpse is always unprepared, and the circumstances of death unknown. Sometimes, shocking events take place: The dead rises to his feet while the autopsy is in course, and while his condition of being ‘alive’ is immediately recognized, it is also well known that he will never recover, and his identity cannot be verified – the state of decomposition is very advanced. How can matter decompose while being still alive? The generic term life seems to encompass an infinite number of contradictions between biology, inorganic chemistry and historical experience. This isn’t about a loss of memory, for memories are never lost, but they can become so disarrayed to a point where continuity and coherence are lost.

Gregory Buchakjian, Abandoned Dwellings. Tableaux_BF335-Ain el-Mreisseh_ 17’06’2012, photograph

A week after the explosion, Joana, another Lebanese artist and filmmaker, writes me from her shattered apartment in the neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, to say that she and her husband Khalil, survived miraculously without as little as a minor wound, but that they’re not really alive. How to differentiate between architecture, images, the body, living matter and rubble? When we say that everything else has been destroyed, it’s impossible to specify what do we mean by ‘everything’; in the absence of referents that place rational limits on reality, it’s no longer practical to classify particulars and universals as taxonomic categories. Brick dust and molten metal contain all the states of matter. In a video that Gregory produced with Valérie, his friend and companion in the journey of photography, work which resembles more an elegy to the fragment, to loss and disappearance, they meticulously organize and classify personal objects found in the houses. Gregory reads aloud from a found letter: “I shall miss the Orient all my life… People say I live in the past.”

Traveling from Occident to Orient, as metaphor and possibility, every day at dusk, I ride on a ferry boat, from Rumelia, the further corner of southern Europe, towards Anatolia, the Mediterranean border of the Orient with Europe. While on the ferry, I watch Gregory’s video on repeat every day. But it’s not a long journey, it takes not even 20 minutes, and we are still inside the same city: Istanbul. It’s a city larger than some small countries, and with a population more or less as big as Chile’s (some twenty million souls survive in this irregular and viscous space), and here it’s not possible to speak of history proper, except in extremes: Either a ridiculous and touristic version of history, that Turks themselves do not believe but to which they’re condemned, or the other version that is an interminable series of catastrophes and miseries – it’s impossible to count them all, there are not enough numbers. How to tell here the time, date, day and hour? One can leave the house casually to go somewhere and end up in some other day, another era, in some other life.

And since life itself doesn’t really work out here, because there’s too much bureaucratic paperwork for the twenty million souls, we have begun to believe in miracles. Not in the great miracles, like those of Jesus Christ, but in the very tiny ones: Every day you’re grateful that gravity still exists, and that amidst all this chaos, all this hate, all this disarray, all this cruelty, this motherfucking city hasn’t just fallen into the water, killing us all instantly. The city has tried to kill herself in all possible forms – conquests, fires, earthquakes, crises, recessions and evil winds, but nothing has worked out. Half mythological creature, half prostitute, this is a city that carries really deep wounds, but is at the same time immortal and sadly invincible. For all of these reasons, she doesn’t understand history or time, and she’s not even interested. Everything seems to her a foolish game, like an Aegean mermaid, diverting sailors lost at sea, or driving them to madness. But the history of the Homeric mermaids doesn’t end well; some medieval scholia say that they jumped to their deaths after Odysseus’ escape.

Valérie Cachard and Gregory Buchakjian, Abandoned Dwellings. Archive, 2018. Still from film. Cinematography: Malek Hosni.

I know all of this might sound very romantic, but the result is usually something very mediocre – a love without limits or horizons, is also a feeling without specific content, and without concrete promises to anchor it in the present. Everything happens in the optative mode of the verb. There’s a myth that goes like this: When the colonizers from Megara, a city in Ancient Greece, consulted the Delphic oracle, at Apollo’s temple, the Pythia warned them not to go to Byzantion (the first artistic name of Istanbul, in Archaic Greece), because the place was cursed. They didn’t listen though, and went on to found the city. But it’s also possible I’m making up this story or greatly exaggerating it, based on a misunderstanding of a Persian account. The important detail is that for a city so capricious and amnesiac, her greatest disgrace is being a prisoner of history. Sometimes it seems as if this weren’t a real city; its beauty is unbearable, exaggerated, terrifying, impalpable. That’s why she’s always threatened with destruction and bombarded with infernal skyscrapers.

When speaking about history, therefore, Turks are really bad, they only tells lies and slander. The more natural version of what is known as history, is the intrigue and the rumor, which they probably learnt from the Byzantines, great experts in gossip, conspiracy and self-destruction. Time here is completely out of joint, and it already was eight years ago when I arrived in this country as a temporary visitor, en route to some other country, and I ended up stranded like many Syrians, Afghans and Iranians. In those days, when this was a rich country (that also turned out to be a lie), there was a rage in the streets, so desperate, that I was surprised I didn’t get poisoned by breathing the same air as them. But then the protests began in 2013, and since then, we have lived in something similar to a diet version of hell: with room service, currency exchange and stunningly beautiful views of the city, when you stand on fashionable rooftops, posing like fine people, parading yourself on the catwalk of amnesia, enjoying the sunsets.

Hell here is not a metaphor for fire, or even for suffering, it’s more about the interminability of everything that is taking place. The pandemic took us by surprise, but not too much. People are so used to bad news, and they know how to fall on all four without getting hurt too much. The curfews and states of emergency were well known, from the military dictatorship in the 1980s to the self-coup in 2016, and in a city of this enormous size, you have always been alone, and it’s difficult to forge lasting friendships in an atmosphere of so much paranoia and lack of trust. Locked in the house, we began to drink, and to accumulate bottles of wine to mark the passage of time, since the clock no longer had any use. But that experience of being outside of history is not new. That’s why I find it funny when they speak of the end of the world (or capitalism), the end of history, the end of time. The world never ends, insofar as human conversations continue, and time is a temporal structure, not only in the sense of pure time but also of permanence.

Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Neither in the Sky nor on the Ground, IFA, Berlin, 2019, photograph by the author

Biblical literature leaves us precise instructions: Time will not last. So in that sense, the end of history is a thesis as ridiculous as the death of God, how can something end of which we have no certainty whether it ever began? If by history we mean the veracity of historiographic accounts, then we are in trouble. But if this refers to the historical experience of human beings, to the conscience of historical contingence, all these concepts are very new and it could be very well possible that history is just beginning. The end of history is the experience of a kind of void, the inability to conceive the future, so that we return to the past obsessively, in order to rebuild it, hoping that this may eventually reorganize the future. But this strategy always ends very bad for Istanbul. When they were building one of the metro lines near the old city, the excavations lasted for a few years and when they reached the layer of the sixth millennium BC, they decided to stop. It’s impossible to live with so much rubble, with so many broken vases. A famous archaeologist used to say that sometimes you find so many things buried in this city, that you need to bury them again in order to continue living.

One of the happiest days of my life was the end of the pandemic lockdowns, and then we got on a ferry to travel to the Princes Islands with Greek artists Mirsini and Mairi who had spent a few months quarantined in the city during an artist residency and who had never seen the islands before. There we walked a few kilometers between the sun and the Marmara sea on the island of Halki, until we reached the monastery of Terk-i Dünya that is translated as “Abandon the world!” (in imperative), and on a certain corner, where there is an eternal tree, quite magical, I directed a long gaze at the infinite blue. I toyed with the idea that some kind of freedom was still possible. But the history of this place is also sad: The islands were places of exile during the Byzantine period, and that tradition continued during the Ottoman empire, at the same time that the monastic foundations began to wither and the islands became summer residences for the elite, and eventually, a district for minorities – Greeks, Armenians, Jews. But then the massacres began again, the exiles, the expropriations, the deep burials, the rotten wood, the lost memory.

Here you need to forget everything, if you want to live even one day. But we don’t want to forget. And that’s why I need to return to Joana: A few years ago, she and Khalil traveled to Izmir, an ancient city on the coast of the Asia Minor in Turkey, on the Aegean Sea, to make a film with the writer Etel Adnan, about the exile of the Greeks of Anatolia that arrived in Beirut in the year 1922 (including Joana’s grandfather). They became very curious about the many headless Greek and Roman statues at the archaeological museum, and they documented them carefully to utilize the footage at a later date.

Terk-i Dünya, Halki, Istanbul, June 2020, photograph by the author

During the pandemic lockdown in Paris, Joana and Khalil assembled the images into an spectacular video on the background of which a fragment of a poem of Seferis (one of the great Greek poets of the 20th century, who was also born in the Izmir area) is read aloud:

They were telling us you will win once you surrender.

We surrendered and found ashes.

They were telling us once you abandon your life, you will win.

We abandoned our life and found ashes.

G. Seferis, London, June 5th, 1932

Μας έλεγαν θα νικήσετε όταν υποταχτείτε.

Υποταχτήκαμε και βρήκαμε τη στάχτη.

Μας έλεγαν θα νικήσετε όταν εγκαταλείψετε τη ζωή σας.

Εγκαταλείψαμε τη ζωή μας και βρήκαμε τη στάχτη.

The first time I heard about this video was in a letter from Gregory, and then I wrote to Joana…

Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Where is My Mind, 2020, installation views, “I Stared At Beauty So Much…”, FRAC Corsica.

My letter was sent on the 1st of August, and for a week an answer didn’t come. The 4th of August there was the massive explosion in the port of Beirut. Then a week later, Joana understood my letter as if it had been sent after the explosion… and after finally seeing the video, I also found only ashes. The ashes of the rubble of Beirut.

A year prior, I myself traveled to Izmir, and was also moved by the headless statues, and documented them as well. Soon afterwards, I traveled to Germany to give a lecture about Seferis’ poetry, in which I used images of the statues as visual support material and metaphor for the survival of history through time, deep memory and transmission of trauma:

Our country is a closed place, all mountains

roofed over by the low sky day and night.

We have no rivers we have no wells we have no springs,

only a few underground tanks, empty too, that echo and

we treat as sacred.

G. Seferis, Mythistorima X

Ο τόπος μας είναι κλειστός, όλο βουνά

που έχουν σκεπή το χαμηλό ουρανό μέρα και νύχτα.

Δεν έχουμε ποτάμια δεν έχουμε πηγάδια δεν έχουμε πηγές,

μονάχα λίγες στέρνες, άδειες κι αυτές, που ηχούν και που

τις προσκυνούμε.

This lecture performance was part of an exhibition in Berlin about the history of Pergamon (with reference to both the ancient city and the Berlin museum) by another artist friend, Hera, who lives on the island of Halki – there I spent that precious day after the end of pandemic lockdowns. A few weeks later, in the same venue in Berlin where Hera’s exhibition took place and where I had earlier spoken, Joana and Khalil would present another video, on the intimate relationship between archaeology, architecture and the destruction from the Lebanese wars, a video which is today more pertinent than ever and that hauntingly, ends with a long aerial shot of the Port of Beirut, now destroyed.

We both remembered a future yet to arrive then, through inhabiting a space with images and words, an idea central to Hera’s delicate treatment of historical narratives across long spans of time. In the forest of time, all movements are circular, and we always return to the same starting points; that long lost gaze towards the infinite blue.

Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Palimpsest, 2017, still from film. Part of Unconformities.

But during the pandemic, I also found my own ashes: Locked in my apartment with Musab for a few months, I began a very long correspondence with Arca (it’s pronounced Arja) that lasted for something like half a year, in between curfews, prohibitions and lockdowns, punctuated by fear and uncertainty, even though we were at a distance of only about 7 km. And the correspondence encompassed millions of words, that always reminded me of what Joana said to me in 2017, after a major terror attack in Istanbul: “You have to remember the light!”, and in between so many letters, invented memories, fragile promises and intervals, during which life seemed more or less possible, the idea of an encounter acquired certain aura of hope.

In those moments of doubt about the reality of things that occur so naturally during an event as perplexing as a pandemic, we’re not even dealing here with love or feelings, but more with the possibility of reaffirming reality through confirming the existence of the other, who is present beyond yourself, since we don’t have an authentic history without shared memories.

It was a beautiful day in October, when the encounter finally took place in an almost cinematic set: The rays of sunlight filtered through the trees, moving back and forth slowly with the fresh breeze of the end of summer, followed by many hours of casual conversations, without any trajectory – time disappeared until sunset. And that was the last time. The next letter remains unanswered, it turned to ashes.

Lives are complicated, the histories, the bets of luck and chance, the crossed destinies, the fears, and above all, the feeling of having lost the world to a certain degree. We have only fragments left. At the end of the video with Seferis, another part of the poem:

It remains to find our life again,

Now that we have nothing left anymore.

G. Seferis, London, June 5th, 1932

Μένει να ξαναβρούμε τη ζωή

μας, τώρα που δεν έχουμε πια τίποτα.

But there’s another fragment of the poem that Joana and Khalil didn’t include:

I imagine that he who will find life again, out of so many papers, so many feelings, so many disputes, so many lessons, he will be someone like us, only less forgiving in memory.

G. Seferis, London, June 5th, 1932

Φαντάζομαι, εκείνος που θα ξανάβρει τη ζωή, έξω από τόσα χαρτιά, τόσα

συναισθήματα, τόσες διαμάχες και τόσες διδασκαλίες, θα είναι κάποιος σαν εμάς,

μόνο λιγάκι πιο σκληρός στη μνήμη.

Notes and letters, March-October 2020, photograph by the author

And like this the apocalypse came to pass, and passed. Without having told him the story of Arca, I wrote to Gregory a few days ago: “I don’t think there’s a viable way to ‘fix’ our lives at this point. But we have to re-inscribe them poetically, I think this is what Joana meant by ‘Remember the light!’”. And also like this, we return to the starting point, within the same history, like our cities, like the ashes of our cities. We have to find again our freedom, in the metaphysical and in the political sense (we’ve lost even the freedom of movement).

On that same week, I wrote to Nektaria, a Greek writer from Istanbul: “Nobody is condemned to history, to time, to the circumstances. One can always break free. Freedom is really hard, you fall all the time, there’s so much vertigo, it’s mostly a series of accidents and errors, but there’s just no other way.” Nektaria had published recently a novel about Daphne, a Greek-American woman traveling to modern day Istanbul in search of her roots. She had signed a copy of the novel for Arca’s birthday, a few weeks in advance, and that I brought with me to those spectacular hours among the wallowing trees. Is our eviction from the world perhaps a punishment for having constantly violated the rules of time?

As Joana told me in an interview in 2016: “When you superimpose so many temporalities, so many images, little by little there is a kind of duplicity, so you have many suns appearing. Things were happening to some people; this idea of multiple suns when you feel this chaotic time. It’s not only what’s happening to men; it’s affecting nature, it’s affecting the universe, and it’s affecting everything.”

Back in April I was daydreaming with Arca, from the depth of the confinement: “We are still in Beirut, maybe we went to Abu Hassan for dinner, got very drunk, and you met Gregory and Joana and Khalil. It was a beautiful day.” A long human chain now connected us all: The colonizers from Megara, a Hadjithomas grandfather on a journey from Izmir to Beirut, Gregory, Joana and Khalil, Daphne’s journey on the other direction to Istanbul, Hera, Arca, and me (alongside many known and unknown others). A long human chain, connecting these two cities, through a series of long winding promises, made near the end of the world.

But still Nektaria answered with fire: “If Arca or anyone in your life feels condemned to circumstances, then perhaps he is not for you. I have heard so many people use the circumstances excuse (and I have used it myself). It’s a mirage if the person believes it and an excuse if he doesn’t. We can always be free if we choose freedom. Anything else is rubbish.”

Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Where is My Mind, 2020, installation views, “I Stared at Beauty So Much”, FRAC Corsica

Note: This piece was originally written in Spanish for literary magazine El Imparcial and translated into English by the author, presented here with substantial edits and additions. The text is part of the extended research of the author for the exhibition “Beirut is a Fragment”, Istanbul, April 2021. Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige’s exhibition “I Stared at Beauty So Much…” at FRAC Corsica, ran from July 7th through October 24th.

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He’s also tweeting about Classics, continental philosophy, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece.

On Reading Homer

In what feels like a lifetime ago, I responded to a mostly online fandango about Oxford no longer requiring Classics majors to read Homer with a cleverly titled post On Not Reading Homer At the time, some takes justifiably interpreted it aselitist while others eventually straw-manned it as a super PC Homerist cancelling Homer. In the middle, some people asked to hear more. And then the world went to hell.

As anyone who reads this blog will know, I have not always talked about my discipline in the kindest fashion. But under the combined force of an era-defining pandemic and the largest political movementin our lifetimes protesting white supremacy and the state-managed killing of Black people, it felt simultaneously small and yet urgent to think about Homer.

Why read Homer if the world is coming to an end? Why teach Homer if the Homeric epics have been instrumentalized as part of colonialism and white supremacy? These are not idle questions. They are the questions that need to be answered if the discipline of Classics to continue in any form at all.

I expressed some of these views early on and was, again rightly, criticized for inserting such navel gazing was taking space away from BIPOC classicists. In the meantime, I have been thinking and working at my own institution (virtually) with Homer always somewhere near. There will never be a time when my voice, embodied as it is in the privilege and experience I bring with me, does not drown out others. I feel a responsibility to think about this and use the space I have to advocate for the change I can. As a Homerist, even if I am not one of great renown, I think it is my duty to think and write critically about my field and to help make space for others.

Why read Homer? I think I made clear some feelings about why reading Homer badly is counterproductive. This may be a surprise, but I do think there is a good reason to read Homer. First, let us get through the reasons people typical give I find disagreeable. I have listed them in my opinion of silliest to most serious. Let me be clear: I think that there is some truth and utility to each of these, but there are challenges too.

Homer by Mattia Preti (1635)

Entertainment: The epics are good stories! This argument is related in part to the aesthetics of literature (although the pleasure of a good yarn is different from the aesthetics I talk about below). Sure, the epics can be riveting, but there are parts that even seasoned readers can find challenging: for example Iliad 13-15, Odyssey 2-4 and 12-16. I suspect that many people who make this argument have not had the challenge of leading students through a whole epic from beginning to end. I also think that many people who make this argument may have not read the epics in their entirety. (P.S. it is perfectly ok to read excerpts).

Homer is historical: I just can’t get on this train. The Homeric epics are no more historical than Arthurian legend. They can give us ideas about the values of the historical peoples who formed their audiences, but even this is not simple: which version of Homer and which audiences at which time radically challenge anything we can say. My favorite formulation about what Homer is vis a vis history belongs to Hans Van Wees who calls the Iliad a “fantasy of the past” (Status Warriors, 1992). Anyone reading this who believes there was an actual Trojan War in some way corresponding to the events of our Iliad will be sorely disappointed by my stance.

As far as I can see it, from Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations to more recent excitement about Hittite names, the importance placed on historical correspondence is almost entirely due to the interest and enthusiasm of the interpreter who desires to make a positivistic identification between some mythical past and material remains. This is not to say that the Homeric epics can’t be useful in talking about the past, but that they have been used almost exclusively to see Ancient Greece in a particular way and have been an obstacle for this reason. Trevor Bryce’s work (e.g. “The Trojan War: Is There Truth behind the Legend? “Near Eastern Archaeology 2002, 65: 182-195) has marshaled a lot of the evidence, concluding in part that even if there is some historical ‘truth’, the creative work of the poems far exceeds and surpasses it (and Bryce is one who relies on the idea of a genius poet). Anyone familiar with the fine work of H. L. Lorimer a half century earlier would reach a similar, even bleaker confusion (Homer and the Monuments, 1950).

 

“I am not contending for the morality of Homer; on the contrary, I think it a book of false glory, tending to inspire immoral and mischievous notions of honor” Thomas Paine

Sculpture of Homer (1886) by Harry Bates, ARA.

It was most excellently set down that a student’s reading should begin with Homer and Vergil, even though one needs a firmer judgment for understanding the virtues of those poets, for there will be time to develop it, since they will not be read just onceQuintilian

Noble Values: Read Homer for the heroes? They are a bunch of amoral shitbags. Perhaps we can learn by reading Homer that oftentimes the people in positions of power are there because they are in it for themselves and they don’t care if all of their people perish. Read the epics: Agamemnon, Achilles, Hektor, Paris, Odysseus all make choices that increase the death toll of their people without increasing their chance of success. One of the real strengths of epic is what I will call below its indeterminacy. The problem with texts of indeterminant meaning is that audiences will disambiguate complexity and choose to take away simply recognizable or facile lessons.

In one of our most famous early responses to myth and Homeric poetry, Plato has his Socrates banish tales of civil strife, children punishing parents, and gods warring with one another. Such tales, Socrates continues, “should not be allowed into the state, even if they were composed with secret meeting or without secret meaning. For a young person is incapable of judging what is allegorical meaning and what is not, but whatever opinions they take up during their young are hard to rinse off and tend to become unchangeable (ὅσας  Ὅμηρος πεποίηκεν οὐ παραδεκτέον εἰς τὴν πόλιν, οὔτ’ ἐν ὑπονοίαις πεποιημένας οὔτε ἄνευ ὑπονοιῶν. Ὁ γὰρ νέος οὐχ οἷός τε κρίνειν ὅτι τε ὑπόνοια καὶ ὃ μή, ἀλλ’ ἃ ἂν τηλικοῦτος ὢν λάβῃ ἐν ταῖς δόξαις δυσέκνιπτά τε καὶ ἀμετάστατα φιλεῖ γίγνεσθαι, Republic 378d-e).

Any sense of this passage must take the purpose of the Republic into consideration: Socrates apostrophizes Homer and asks, “What city was governed better thanks to you?” (λέγε ἡμῖν τίς τῶν πόλεων διὰ σὲ βέλτιον ᾤκησεν, 599e). For the Republic’s Socrates, Homer cannot provide instruction for governing a city any more than he can instill proper morals and opinions in individuals. But this is because, according to Plato, people don’t understand Homeric hyponoia, literally something like “sub-meaning, under-meaning, secret meaning”, translated cleverly in the most recent Loeb edition as simply “deeper meaning” (replacing the older allegorical).

Even today, we often find people claiming that reading the epic can give readers good values. Homer can teach you to be loyal, manly, brave, etc.! The problem with literary exemplification like this is that good examples come with counter-examples and it is often hard to tell the difference. Further, any praising of Homeric epics for positive values needs to acknowledge that they are filled with horror and danger too from Agamemnon’s greed to Odysseus’ murderous vengeance. (In addition, this does not even include the deep structural problems of gender and class.) This is at best a naïve approach to literature: most readers project values onto a text and select what they want to see (or what they avidly don’t want to see). As with most of these points, this argument suffers from a limited sense of what ‘reading’ is and how it works.

The noble values also work the other way. Many have been justifiably moved by Simone Weil’s The Iliad, or The Poem of Force, written in Nazi-occupied France. She reads the poem with “force” as the “true subject” and moves that the Iliad may be a “historical document” illustrating “force….at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and the loveliest of mirrors.” Perhaps, intentionally or not, Weil channels Aristotle’s attribution in the Rhetoric that “Alcidamas called the Odyssey a fine mirror for human life”. I do not disagree with Weil about Homer—indeed; this influential essay has done more to show Homer’s depth than much of Homeric scholarship. Nevertheless, I do think that Weil’s context and experience trained her gaze in a particular way. See this passage from the end of the essay:

Weil bit

While I almost giddily agree with Weil’s sentiment on Vergil, I think her take on the Odyssey is less generous and shaped by her identity and the moment of writing. How much sense can an epic of return, survival, and renewed life make when German tanks are rolling down your city’s streets? In a way, Weil’s comments on the Iliad as a mirror for human life also reflect how interpretation works. The way we read a work is a reflection of who we are and what we bring to it.

In the smartest thing in all the Star Wars movies (ok, maybe the only smart thing), the Empire Strikes Back brings us a Luke Skywalker in training, lured into a cave on Dagobah where Yoda tells him the tree is “strong with the dark side of the Force. A servant of evil it is. Into it you must go”. To Luke’s question, “what’s in there”, the Jedi Master responds, “Only what you take with you.” The subsequent scene has Luke taking his light saber in with him and facing an ersatz Darth Vader who turns out to be….himself.

The Homeric poems are powerful shapers of perception, but in the end, they contain so much that we come away from them with very different notions of the poem. The Iliad is about force, but it is also about scarcity, anger, desire, love, loyalty and how people value one another. Moreover, it is a prolonged contemplation on when we choose to use force as opposed to when we have to. To pull one melody out of a multi-day symphony is to block out the  majority of the composition as mere sound. We each hear our own Iliad and even these changes over time.

“You want a horse race? There is a fine one in Homer. Go get your book and read through it. You hear them talking about dancing pantomimes? Forget them! The children dance in a more manly way among the Phaiakians. You have there the citharist Phemios and the singer Demodokos. There are plants in Homer which are more delightful to hear of than to see.” Julian

Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) – Homer Reciting his Poems

Aesthetics: I have argued elsewhere that an approach to literature and art with a primary focus on aesthetics can be corrupting in encouraging us to think about things and peoples as aesthetic objects too. Our pursuit of pleasure too often neglects to consider how we as interpreters and agents were shaped to experience pleasure by our cultural context.

Now, as someone thoroughly drawn to Epicurus, I cannot say that aesthetics and pleasure are not important, but that that they are symptomatic of both effective works and those that appeal to our weaknesses. There is a circuitous and replicative process in the aesthetic process that enforces traditional normative ideals and dis-incentivizes meaningful change. Therefore, when people say they love the beauty of Homer, I worry that they are selecting and privileging parts of Homer that have been culturally marked as attractive and have shaped their expectations for literature.

 

“Our poets steal from Homer; he spews, saith Aelian, they lick it up,” Robert Burton

Canon: Advocates often imagine that the strongest argument for Homer is that Homer was influential in the “Western Canon” and that you need to be familiar with Homer to appreciate and understand everything that came after. I think that this argument sounds nice, but it overstates the existence of the “Western Canon” (which is relatively recent), ignores the motivations for enforcing it, and radically misunderstands the impact of Homeric epic in the development of European literatures. If one is studying the history of ideas (especially the history of the idea of literature and canons) this “argument” is a good question as a starting point (I.e., how influential was Homer actually on European literatures?) but it is deeply insufficient for building a curriculum.

It is not that Homer was not and has not been important, but that the idea of Homer was far more influential than the epics in their entirety. For most of the history of the reception of the epics, they were read in summary or in part. For most of the history of education in the west, they would be mined for rhetorical excerpts. I think that relatively few readers in the ancient world had access to full texts and that when people talk about Homer in the ancient world we are really mostly talking about the sum total influence of Trojan War narratives and Greek myth on the development of culture and literature. In this category, a myth handbook like that of Apollodorus or Hyginus or the epics of Ovid and Vergil have been much more directly influential on later authors and tradition. The fact is, outside of the Byzantine Empire, Homer was not read that much in Northern and Western Europe prior to German Philhellenism, a period in which Northern philologists did everything they could to try to discredit, ignore, and de-center continuity and authority in Greek culture.

 

And the true bards have been noted for their firm and cheerful temper. Homer lies in sunshine; Chaucer is glad and erect; and Saadi says, ‘It was rumored abroad that I was penitent; but what had I to do with repentance?’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Universalism:  I will not easily dismiss the assertion that the Homeric epics reflect and advance essential ‘truths’ or visions about what it means to be human. I do have structural and intellectual quibbles with this approach, however. First, I wonder about the universal humanistic appeal of a text that denies full humanity to a majority of the human race (all those who are not aristocratic men). This leads into my deeper concern, namely that appeals to universalism can appeal easily to observer effects and selection bias. Whose view of humanity is assumed universal in this approach? Who counts as human in the world projected and received?

Further, I think that universalism assumes a unitary or singular point of view. If this argument is that the Homeric texts are polyvalent and reflect the pluralism of human experience in a multicultural and changing environment, then I can agree. Nevertheless, I think that this is not what people mean. Instead, universalism is too often a series of general bromides ignoring detail and saying more about the interests and assumptions of the interpreter than anything about the text.

 

“What is lacking in Homer, that we should not consider him to be the wisest man in every kind of wisdom? Some people claim that his poetry is a complete education for life, equally divided between times of war and peace.” Leonardo Bruni 

Homer is unique and different! This assertion introduces some inextricable problems about defining difference. In some forms, I find this argument somewhat convincing but probably not in the same way that many others do. I think that the polyvocal, oral-derived, multilocal background of the Homeric epics renders their tone, perspective, language, and impact both quantitatively and qualitatively different from anything I have ever read. The problem with this approach is that it tends to be teleological: ‘Homer’ is positioned as a unitary and foundational genius whose DNA has spread majestically throughout the artwork of later generations.

The difference between what we actually have in the Homeric epics and what we find in later generations can help us unlearn what we think we know about literary traditions. This argument makes me nervous in general because it runs the risk of merely repeating the damaging “Greek Miracle” nonsense. But it is also an argumentum ex silentio. I don’t know that other works we lost were any less unique and different.

I think we are also conditioned by the tradition and our received aesthetics to see unique difference here only and not to look for it or see it in traditional poetry elsewhere, the epics of India, the philosophy and poetry of China and oral traditions in the Middle East and Africa. Instead, what I want to emphasize is that the Homeric epics developed through and because of the Rationalizing Revolution and contributed to it in turn. I will return to this more below, but my point is that history and cultural context were formative in the epics’ development. And, in turn, they contributed to a shifting in the cultures that hosted them.

While I don’t agree with all he says about Homer, Adam Nicolson puts it well when he summarized Homer as “Multiple in origins, multiple in manner and multiple in meaning, Homer in this light both knows the deep past and moves beyond it (2014, Why Homer Matters).

 

“With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his.” George Bernard Shaw

Why read Homer? 1: Homer is Multivocal and Multicultural

The biggest problem with what most people say about Homer is that it is based on a ‘modern’ view of Homer that projects upon the past post-Christian and post-Renaissance notions of authorship, genius, and identity on a past tradition. This is probably not the best place and time to talk about what Homer is, but it is worth a few sentences to say what Homer isn’t.

Homer was not an individual who wrote two epics. The epics we have are the process of a long period of formation in different linguistic groups over different regions over a long time in a performance context in which audience participation and response was significant in shaping the contents, interests, and tones of the poems. I think two good places to start reading about this are Nagy’s Homer’s Text and Language, Casey Dué’s recent Achilles Unbound: Multiformity and Tradition in the Homeric Epics, and Graeme Bird’s Multitextuality in the Homeric Iliad.

The poems we have, moreover, reached the shapes we have during a period when the people who told their stories were engaged with the local pluri-vocality of their own amalgam culture and the multicultural influence of the migratory and trade routes of the eastern Mediterranean. The ritual, religious, linguistic, narrative, and artistic traditions of Archaic Greece were indisputably influence by Ancient Africa (including but not exclusively Egypt) and the Ancient Near East. They were also likely influenced by innumerable lost stories and languages of cultures from around the Mediterranean who stories have been lost to time.

In addition, the epics came much closer to the form we have them during the period we call the ‘Rationalizing Revolution’ which was defined by philosophers/scientists coming from the Greek states of Asia Minor and moving west under political pressure (Persian expansion?). It was no accident that these thinkers hailed for so long as originating geniuses came out of cosmopolitan, multicultural cities: where do we think they got their ideas from?

We too often treat Homer as being suddenly ex novo and sui generis. Instead, the Homeric epics we have come at the end of a long process of differentiation and integration. They are unique insofar as they were uniquely successful in surviving the past. Accepting them as standard is falling into the trap epic sets for us: part of epic style is to assume its own supremacy and superiority. We know from mythography, that Homeric detail is often out there on its own and in service of its own ends. (Elton Barker and I talk a lot about this and how to interpret Homer in our recent Homer’s Thebes.)

 

“If the works of Homer are, to letters and to human learning, what the early books of Scripture are to the entire Bible and to the spiritual life of man; if in them lie the beginnings of the intellectual life of the world, then we must still recollect that that life, to be rightly understood, should be studied in its beginnings. There we may see in simple forms what afterwards grew complex, and in clear light what afterwards became obscure; and there we obtain starting-points, from which to measure progress and decay along all the lines upon which our nature moves.” William Gladstone

Antonio Zucchi (1726-1796) – Homer Crowned as Poet Laureate

Why Read Homer 2: Transformation  

There’s a lot more to say and there’s not a Homerist alive who won’t take issue with the way I have framed some of this. The real reason I think people should read Homer is that the process of doing so—especially with other people—is transformative. How and why this transformation happens is a little involved, so I am about to get really annoying. But, to put it simply, Homeric epic refuses to give its audiences simple answers and forces us to think deeply, if we do it right.

Again, to Nicolson: he concludes that Homer matters…”because Homer…understands what mortals do not….That is his value a reservoir of understanding beyond the grief and turbulence of a universe in which there is no final authority” (2014, 244). I think that this is partly right, that the epics hold out the Siren call of knowledge, but that there is something much more important here. Homer offers up a mirror to life for us to inspect but it is a fragmented funhouse mirror in a nightmare.

We get partial pieces of information about greatness and loss about nobility and ugliness and are repeatedly told nothing about which paths we should choose. Again, Nicolson is right that Homer “provides no answers” but his closing recourse to poetic rhetorical questions misses the opportunity to articulate the significance both of why Homer provides no answers and of how the origins of Homeric poetry make it necessary for the poems to be this way. The Homeric epics are dialogic and aporetic and in these functions they teach us not what to do but how to think about what we do as communities.

Before I talk about the poems as dialogues and proto-philosophical experiences leading to states of aporia, let me just return to their origins for a moment. I think that the sophisticated, even therapeutic nature, of the poems is likely a historical accident of the demands of the performance context rather than some testament to the genius of the poems. In this, I do not deny the impression of genius or the magnitude of these epics’ monumental impact over time, but rather that their character was a product of environment rather than intention (an argument for a different space, I believe).

Homeric poetry is what others have already called dialogic, as Anna Bonifazi describes dialogism, following Mikhail Bakhtin’s analysis, is when texts show a “a multiplicity and stratification of voices” or, to use Bakhtin’s words, a “plurality of consciousnesses” ( Bakhtin 1984:81). Homeric poetry, as Egbert Bakker has described it is intensely dialogic because of its development over time in multiple contexts and for multiple audiences over time (2006b). In addition, some of my favorite modern scholars who write on Homer like John Peradotto  (who also calls it heteroglossia, 1990, 53-58) foreground the multiplicity of meanings that emerge from dialogism. This is part of what makes Homeric poetry feels different: it channels untold numbers of voices for an equally unknown number of ears.

Such characteristics make it necessary that Homeric poetry will show empathy and understanding to multiple perspectives while refusing to take sides or give clear answers. Earlier literary theorists like William Empson struggled to describe the power of ambiguity or what someone else might call indeterminacy as the most potent of poetic forces. Whereas modern theorists debate the source of indeterminacy in reception or creation (i.e. is it authorially intended or created in reader response), Homeric indeterminacy is part of the poetic tradition from the level of utterance all the way through structure.

Now, I just mixed and rendered equivalent three terms that many literary theorists would prefer to keep separate: dialogism, the quality of multivocality in a text; ambiguity, when a text can have multiple meanings at once; and indeterminacy, when multiplicity of meaning cannot be disambiguated even to certain options. Rather than seeing these descriptions as overlapping, I think they help to identify different ways in which the multiplicity of Homeric meaning can translate into polysemy, multiple meanings at different times and for different audiences. As with the example of Simone Weil above, we bring our own experiences and eras to bear on the epics; but we as interpreters can also change while reading, because of reading, or over time when we return to a poem with new life experience.

In addition, the multi-vocal nature of the epics helps us to understand that despite their structural misogyny, classism, and latent justification for slavery, they still offer moments of deep empathy and understanding for those out of power: Andromache’s speeches about her son; similes about men struggling over scarce land; the almost lost image of the mill-working enslaved woman, desperate and exhausted. Eumaios is apostrophized by the narrator to a similar effect—just as the Homeric epics stand apart from most other war narratives in expecting their audiences to see the shared humanity of the Trojans, so too are they deeply sensitive to different positions in life.

The danger of this is its very intoxication, however. Andromache’s lamentations distract from the silence of all the other Trojan women; Eumaios’ valorization obscures his suffering and total surrender of agency; and the mill-woman’s prayer recenters Odysseus’ vengeance and leaves us wondering if despite all her trials, she still might be one of the women brutally hanged after cleaning up their dead lovers’ corpses.

But the different types of polysemy I mention above also help to produce what I think is one of the most important functions of Homeric poetry, the creation of aporia. Most people who know what aporia is will associate it with the early Platonic dialogues. Aporia—literally, “pathlessness”—is that state reached after the end of a dialogue like the Lysis when Socrates announces that despite their philosophical turnings they still do not know what friendship is. Such a moment emphasizes process over product and directs the audience to go back to the beginning and think the whole thing through again.

From inconsistent similes to debated omens, to interpretive crises like the split assembly and the amnesty at the end of the Odyssey the epics do not only fail to provide us with easy answers, but they produce the conditions for nearly endless debate. Not an interpretation of the epics in two thousand years has decisively argued for Agamemnon or Achilles in Iliad 1; no one has as yet fully unpacked the meaning of the meal shared by Priam and Achilles and the latter’s strange tale of Niobe taking a break from mourning to eat. Will any conversation convince us Odysseus is superior to Achilles or vice versa? Will any group ever agree over the ethics of Odysseus’ slaughter of the suitors and his failure to bring his companions home? As Mark Buchan argues in The Limits of Heroism, “…these disasters offer us an invitation to rethink the kind of unreflective assumptions that produced them” (2004, 4).

Homeric epic, like Platonic dialogue, invites its audiences to follow the folly and success of its characters and then to retrace them, to come to a deeper understanding of the conditions that put them in the position to fail. For Platonic dialogue, Laura Candiotto (2015) has argued that the state of aporia itself is transformative, that it forces us to “imagine an otherness” (242) but that this process requires shared or collective emotional and intellectual work. The shared work of interpreting epic with its characters is a kind of extended mind over time. When we read them and discuss them with others, we engage in the transformative process of creating community around the interrogation of the self.

Now, I would be so bold as to say that this last step is possible with many different kinds of art and narrative traditions—the importance of community and group minds in interpretation and the creation of meaning is almost always underappreciated, especially in an aesthetic paradigm that privileges the author as a divine creator and prizes some interpreters as having exclusive access to that providential mind. What makes Homer different from reading Game of Thrones together or spending semesters contemplating Marcel Proust’s associative sense of smell is the depth of interpretive traditions to add to the complexity of the community of meaning and the nature of epic poetry itself. Homeric ambiguity, interdeterminacy, and dialogism provide a capaciousness of time rare in any art form and the essential, irrefutable absence of the author provides the opportunity to think and rethink without that devils’ trap of authorial intention.

The act of judgment is central to epic poetry from lexical through thematic levels. Homeric poetry provides many clues that it privileges the act of interpretation over all else. In addition to the stories, omens, and similes left unexplained throughout both epics, the Iliad presents a fascinating study on the surface of Achilles’ shield:

Homer Il. 18.496-508

“The people where gathered, crowded, in the assembly where a conflict (neîkos)
had arisen: two men were striving over the penalty for
a man who had been killed; the first one was promising to give everything
as he was testifying to the people; but the other was refusing to take anything;
and both men longed for a judge to make a decision.
The people, partisans on either side, applauded.
Then the heralds brought the host together; the elders
sat on smooth stones in a sacred circle
as they held in their hands the scepters of clear-voiced heralds;
each one was leaping to his feet and they pronounced judgments in turn.
In the middle there were two talents of gold to give
to whoever among them uttered the straightest judgment.”

λαοὶ δ’ εἰν ἀγορῇ ἔσαν ἀθρόοι· ἔνθα δὲ νεῖκος
ὠρώρει, δύο δ’ ἄνδρες ἐνείκεον εἵνεκα ποινῆς
ἀνδρὸς ἀποφθιμένου· ὃ μὲν εὔχετο πάντ’ ἀποδοῦναι
δήμῳ πιφαύσκων, ὃ δ’ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι·
ἄμφω δ’ ἱέσθην ἐπὶ ἴστορι πεῖραρ ἑλέσθαι.
λαοὶ δ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπήπυον ἀμφὶς ἀρωγοί·
κήρυκες δ’ ἄρα λαὸν ἐρήτυον· οἳ δὲ γέροντες
εἵατ’ ἐπὶ ξεστοῖσι λίθοις ἱερῷ ἐνὶ κύκλῳ,
σκῆπτρα δὲ κηρύκων ἐν χέρσ’ ἔχον ἠεροφώνων·
τοῖσιν ἔπειτ’ ἤϊσσον, ἀμοιβηδὶς δὲ δίκαζον.
κεῖτο δ’ ἄρ’ ἐν μέσσοισι δύω χρυσοῖο τάλαντα,
τῷ δόμεν ὃς μετὰ τοῖσι δίκην ἰθύντατα εἴποι.

Here, we find two parties arguing over an act of interpretation. The reward set out for either side does not go to the combatants but to the interpreters themselves: there is a prize dedicated to whoever can present the most just judgment for the aggrieved parties. The frozen moment of the shield, however, can no more resolve what the best judgement is any more than the poem can decisively tell us to prefer Agamemnon over Achilles in book 1 or whether the suitors’ families were ultimately better off in not trying to kill Odysseus in the final book of his epic. (And there are historical parallels from the Ancient Greek world for privileging judges and interpretation from West Lokris and Chios). The shield anticipates a world of conflict and judgment where people use their intelligence and their shared community to navigate their challenges through interpretation and deliberation.

 

Why Read Homer 3: Allegory

If I dismissed traditions of reading Homer earlier, I did so because the way we read Homer in schools—for facts of the story, for models to apply to later texts, for pleasure—is a recent departure from ancient traditions that beyond the moralizing of Plato saw in the Homeric epics opportunities for enlightenment. And, again, I apologize for the likely alienating tour through some theoretical terms and bibliographies above, but my journey to these conclusions has come from despising Homer in high school to dedicating now half of my life to figure out why I respond so deeply to Homer in Greek.

As Robert Lamberton argues in his 1986 Homer the Theologian complexity and opacity of meaning were assumed by ancient audiences and critics. Before Plato took on Homer by taking him out of the Republic, Pythagoreans saw allegory for the body and soul in the Iliad and Odyssey and contributed to interpretive traditions that extended well into the Christian era.

Our literalist and formalist approaches hail back to the scholarly pursuits of Alexandrians (and Hellenistic philologists) who worked in establish authoritative texts. Their insistence on establishing authority stood opposed by the later “Porphyry’s assertion of the existence of numerous valid possibilities in the interpretation of a single text ”…which was by no means evidence of a lack of clearly defined principles of interpretation, but rather a logical consequence of Neoplatonic psychology and epistemology” (Lamberton 1986, 127).

Ancient interpreters who pursued this could be quite adventurous as when Porphyry—as recorded by Stobaeus (i. 44. 60)—explains that the events of book 10 centering around Kirkê are really a coded message about reincarnation and the way the soul’s rebirth in corporeal form is dictated by its relationship to its desires—its ability to balance the rational (to logistikon), the emotional (thumoeides) and physical (or appetitive) desires (epithumêtikon). In this reading, these parts (ta merê) of the soul may be governed—or at least ameliorated—by education and philosophy. For Heraclitus the allegorist, Odysseus’ entire journey was an allegory for our navigation through virtue and vice, a metaphor the Neoplatonist Proclus echoes. The Homeric scholia are filled with records of allegorical meanings and an ancient tradition makes even Paris’ between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite an allegory about human lack of self-control (Lamberton 1986, 2; Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 42).

My point in going through this even in brief is that there are ancient traditions of Homeric interpretation which find deep, ethical, psychological, and even mystical meaning in the texts. Classical studies of recent centuries has tended back to what Seneca the Younger calls “that sickness of the Greeks” (Graecorum iste morbus, Brevitate Vitae 13) to focus on pedantic detail over and above a greater search for meaning, seeking in desperation for “Homer’s homeland” (Moral Epistle 88), striving not to “nourish our soul but to sharpen our wit” (ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium, EM. 108). Even Cicero asks “what impact does this ‘grave’ and ‘acute’ stuff have on the pursuit of the highest good?” (ed, quaeso, quid ex ista acuta et gravi refertur ad τέλος? Ep. To Atticus 12.6)

It is fine to read Homer in translation, in summary, or in excerpt. It is fine to read Homer out of curiosity about peoples in the past, to understand the history of our ideas about literature, to think about claims of universal humanism or that literature can give us values and ennoble us. Whatever brings you to Homer, the reason I think you should read the Iliad or the Odyssey is to be transformed by powerful narratives that seek to make you try to understand more of the universe inside and through yourself. I dare say you may not even require teachers to do this, but it does help to have friends to read with you.

No Man Should be An Exile — Plutarch on World Citizenship

While looking up some random phrases about the healing power of literature, I found myself reading Plutarch this morning.  His words on citizenship and exile our powerful and pertinent in our transatlantic crisis of Politics (xenophobia and racism from the right) and Wars (the refugee crises and responses in Europe and Asia). Though his words are of course influenced by his experience of the Roman Empire, there is an essential humanity to them and a belief in common good and shared existence that is too often lost in modern discourse.

But don’t take my word for it, you can always read the whole essay.

Plutarch, De Exilio 600e7-601b5

“This is the character of your current exile from your customary country. For we have no country by nature, just as we have neither home, nor field, nor blacksmith’s, nor doctor’s office, as Aristôn said. But each of these things develops or, rather, is named and called so by the man inhabiting or using it. For a human being, as Plato says, “is not earthly born and immovable but comes from heaven” just as if the head raises the body up straight from its root stretching towards the sky. So Herakles said well “Am I Argive or Theban? I do not claim / one—every citadel in Greece is my homeland”. But Socrates put it better saying “I am neither Athenian nor Greek, but a citizen of the world,” as someone might claim to be Rhodian or Korinthian, because he did not lock himself within Sounion, Tainaros, or the Keraunian mountains.

As [Euripides] puts it: “Do you see the boundless light above / and the earth opening below with damp embrace?” These are the boundaries of our countries and no man is an exile, foreigner or stranger where there is fire, water, air; where we find the same rulers, overseers, and presidents: the same sun, moon, and star at day’s break; where the same laws exist for all under one order and single government: the summer and winter solstices, the Pleiades and Arcturus, the seasons of planting and harvesting that rise and set for us all; and where there is one king and ruler, god, who knows the beginning, middle and end of everything; who travels through all, guiding it with a straight force. Justice is his attendant as an avenger for those who transgress divine law. We all by nature follow this law in treating all people as our fellow citizens.”

 

Οἷόν ἐστιν ἡ νῦν σοι παροῦσα μετάστασις ἐκ τῆς νομιζομένης πατρίδος. φύσει γὰρ οὐκ ἔστι πατρίς, ὥσπερ οὐδ’ οἶκος οὐδ’ ἀγρὸς οὐδὲ χαλκεῖον, ὡς ᾿Αρίστων (St. V.

Fr. I 371) ἔλεγεν, οὐδ’ ἰατρεῖον· ἀλλὰ γίνεται μᾶλλον δ’ ὀνομάζεται καὶ καλεῖται τούτων ἕκαστον ἀεὶ πρὸς τὸν οἰκοῦντα καὶ χρώμενον. ὁ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος, ᾗ φησιν ὁ

Πλάτων (Tim. 90a), ‘φυτὸν οὐκ ἔγγειον’ οὐδ’ ἀκίνητον  ‘ἀλλ’ οὐράνιόν’ ἐστιν, ὥσπερ ἐκ ῥίζης τὸ σῶμα τῆς κεφαλῆς ὀρθὸν ἱστάσης πρὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀνεστραμμένον. ὅθεν εὖ μὲν ὁ ῾Ηρακλῆς εἶπεν (Trag. adesp. 392)

‘᾿Αργεῖος ἢ Θηβαῖος· οὐ γὰρ εὔχομαι
μιᾶς· ἅπας μοι πύργος ῾Ελλήνων πατρίς.’

ὁ δὲ Σωκράτης βέλτιον, οὐκ ᾿Αθηναῖος οὐδ’ ῞Ελλην ἀλλὰ κόσμιος εἶναι φήσας, ὡς ἄν τις ῾Ρόδιος εἶπεν ἢ Κορίν-θιος, | ὅτι μηδὲ Σουνίῳ μηδὲ Ταινάρῳ μηδὲ τοῖς Κεραυνίοις ἐνέκλεισεν ἑαυτόν.

‘ὁρᾷς τὸν ὑψοῦ τόνδ’ ἄπειρον αἰθέρα,
καὶ γῆν πέριξ ἔχονθ’ ὑγραῖς <ἐν> ἀγκάλαις;’ (Eur. fr. 941, 1. 2)

οὗτοι τῆς πατρίδος ἡμῶν ὅροι [εἰσί], καὶ οὐδεὶς οὔτε φυγὰς ἐν τούτοις οὔτε ξένος οὔτ’ ἀλλοδαπός, ὅπου τὸ αὐτὸ πῦρ ὕδωρ ἀήρ, ἄρχοντες οἱ αὐτοὶ καὶ διοικηταὶ καὶπρυτάνεις ἥλιος σελήνη φωσφόρος· οἱ αὐτοὶ νόμοι πᾶσι, ὑφ’ ἑνὸς προστάγματος καὶ μιᾶς ἡγεμονίας τροπαὶ βόρειοι τροπαὶ νότιοι ἰσημερίαι Πλειὰς ᾿Αρκτοῦρος ὧραι σπόρων ὧραι φυτειῶν· εἷς δὲ βασιλεὺς καὶ ἄρχων· ‘θεὸς ἀρχήν τε καὶ μέσα καὶ τελευτὴν ἔχων τοῦ παντὸς εὐθείᾳ περαίνει κατὰ φύσιν περιπορευόμενος· τῷ δ’ ἕπεται Δίκη τῶν ἀπολειπομένων τοῦ θείου νόμου τιμωρός’ (Plat. Legg. 716a),ᾗ χρώμεθα πάντες ἄνθρωποι φύσει πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὥσπερ πολίτας.

 

Aeneas
Aeneas was a refugee..

But Plutarch’s sentiments may be alive and well in Canada…