While Lucian is surely messing with us here, I think there are many tomes of Homeric scholarship set aright through this one paragraph.
Lucian, True History 2.20
“Two or three days had not yet passed when I approached the poet Homer at a moment when we both had free time and I was investigated the rest of the matters about him, especially where he was from. For this is still examined by us to this day. He said that he was not ignorant that some people say he his from Khios and others say Smyrna while a majority claims he is Kolophonian. But he was saying that he is in fact Babylonian and was not called Homer among his people but Tigranes. Later on, after he was a hostage [homêreusas] among the Greeks he changed his nickname.
When I asked him about the lines which were considered spurious and whether they had been written by him, he was claiming they were all his. For this reason I started to believe that the grammarians Zenodotus and Aristarchus were guilty of the most close-minded logic. Since he had responded sufficiently on these matters, I was asking him next why he made his poem start with the “rage of Achilles”. He said that it just leapt into his head that way without any prior thought. Then I was eager to know that thing, whether he wrote the Odyssey before the Iliad as many claim. He denied this.”
“They report that Gaia, annoyed over the murder of the giants, slandered Zeus to Hera and that she went to speak out to Kronos. He gave her two eggs and he rubbed them down with his own semen and ordered her to put them down in the ground from where a spirit would arise who would rebel against Zeus from the beginning. She did this because she was really angry and set them down below Arimos in Kilikia.
But when Typhoeus appeared Hera relented and told Zeus everything. He struck him down with lightning and named him Mt. Aetna. This report works well for us not to have an issue that this is the Homeric Account. He names the grave a resting place euphemistically.”
“His accuser claimed that he selected the most wretched lines from the most famous poets and used them as proofs to teach his followers to be evildoers and tyrants. He is said to have used the line from Hesiod “there is nothing reproachable about work, but laziness is reproachable” (WD 311) to claim that the poet exhorted not to refrain from any work, unjust or shameful, but to do everything for profit.
Socrates, although he might agree that it is good and useful for a man to be a worker and harmful and bad for him to be lazy—that work is good and laziness is bad—he used to say that being a worker required people to do something good. Gambling or any other immortal occupation which takes from others he used to call laziness. Within these parameters, Hesiod’s claim that “there is nothing reproachable about work, but laziness is reproachable” holds true.
“Critoboulos, Some say that whenever the great king gives gifts, he calls in first those who proved their excellence at war because there is no advantage to plowing many fields unless they defend them. After them, he rewards those who prepare and work the land best, because brave men cannot survive unless someone works the land.”
“Let no one find fault with this line because wealth is made to be much praised ahead of virtue. Know that wealth here is the product workers get from their labors—it is a just portion gathered from their personal toil.”
“No mortal could rival me in work:
No one could best me at building a fire or heaping dry wood,
At serving at the table, cooking meat or serving wine–
All those tasks lesser men complete for their betters.”
“Eurymachus: I wish the two of us could have a labor-contest
In the height of spring when the days are drawing longer,
In the thickening grass. I would grip the curved scythe
And you could hold the same thing, so we could test each other
At work, fasting right up to dusk where the grass was thick.
And then the next day we could drive the oxen, the strongest ones,
Bright and large, both stuffed full with their food,
A pair of the same age, equally burdened, their strength unwavering.
I’d wish for a four-acre parcel to put under the plow.
Then you’d see me, how I would cut a furrow straight from end to end.
Or if, instead, Kronos’ son would send me a war today,
And I would have a shield and two spears
Matched with a bronze helmet well-fit to my temples.
Then you’d see me mixing it up in the front lines
And you wouldn’t bawl about, belittling my hungry stomach.”
“This is from filling the spirit/heart up to the top, from the word [river banks]. Or, it is from the word “burden”, the form “overburdened” which is a form of the aorist passive participle, as okhthêsas is.
There is, of course, at least one article about this:
Holoka, James P. “”Looking Darkly” (ϒΠΟΔΡΑΙΔΩ&# X039D;): Reflections on Status and Decorum in Homer.” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-) 113 (1983): 1-16. doi:10.2307/283999.
This selection from the Iliad begins with Agamemnon, ends with Achilles, and has at its center Briseis, a woman captured in war and warred over by the Achaean heroes.
Agamemnon did not threaten Achilles
and leave it at that. No, he told his able servants,
the heralds Talthybius and Eurybates:
“Go to Achilles’ hut, take Briseis by the arm,
and bring her here. If he won’t give her up,
well, I’ll go with more men and take her myself—
and all the worse for him.”
With that harsh instruction, he sent them on their way.
Reluctant, they walked the shore of the barren sea
to the Myrmidon encampment. And there they found him,
Achilles, idling by his hut and black ship,
not glad to see them. Frightened, awestruck,
they stood before the king saying nothing,
asking nothing. But, in his heart he knew.
He spoke: “Greetings, heralds. Messengers of Zeus and men,
come closer. You’re not to blame; Agamemnon is.
He’s the one who sent you for the girl, Briseis.
Come then, Zeus-born Patroclus, bring the girl out.
Give her to them to take away . . .”
And so Patroclus obeyed his dear comrade:
he brought Briseis from the hut and gave her over
to be led away. The men went back the way they came,
along the Achaean ships. The woman, reluctant,
went with them. Achilles was in tears.
He left his comrades, sat down on the grey sea’s shore,
and looked out on the boundless waters.
I want to highlight a word which occurs twice in the passage: ἀέκων, which I translate “reluctant.” Homer uses it to describe the heralds as they go to collect Briseis from Achilles. Some lines later he uses it to describe Briseis as the heralds return with her to Agamemnon.
What to make of this symmetry? Does it make sense to suggest the heralds and Briseis are in the same boat? The heralds seem to be reluctant because they fear Achilles. But Briseis is unconsenting in a more fundamental way: she’s a sex slave; all that’s happening is against her will. In other words, there’s reluctance, and then there’s reluctance. Homer, I suspect, is neither so monstrous nor so obtuse as to elide the difference.
So try this: in the passage above, reluctance isn’t a disposition of minds, but a disposition of bodies. Whether it’s the heralds or Briseis we’re talking about, the phenomenology of reluctantly going someplace would be largely the same: dragging feet; nervous glancing; head down; unsmiling expression, etc.
That’s one way to justify the symmetry suggested by ἀέκων (“reluctant”), but is that satisfying? I can’t resolve the matter. But what I’m sure of is that conundrums of this sort contribute to the Iliad’s claim on our attention.
“Then when Briseis, like golden Aphrodite herself,
Saw Patroklos run through with sharp bronze,
Poured herself over him while she wailed and ripped
At her chest, tender neck, and pretty face with her hands.
And while mourning the woman spoke like one of the goddesses:
“Patroklos, you were the dearest to wretched me and
I left you alive when I went from your dwelling.
And now I find you here dead, leader of the armies,
When I return. Troubles are always wresting me from troubles.
The husband my father and mother gave me to
I watched run through with sharp bronze in front of the city,
And then the three brothers my mother bore,
Dear siblings, all met their fate on that day.
But you would not ever let me weep when swift Achilles
Was killing my husband and when he sacked the city of divine Munêtos—
No, you used to promise to make me the wedded wife
Of divine Achilles, someone he would lead home in his ships to Phthia,
where you would light the marriage torches among the Myrmidons.
So now I weep for you, dead and gentle forever.”
So she spoke, while weeping….
“So I was speaking, but [the Kyklops] did not answer me because of his pitiless heart.
But then he leapt up, shot out his hands at my companions,
Grabbed two together, and struck them against the ground
Like puppies. Brains were flowing out from them and they dyed the ground.
After tearing them limb from limb, he prepared himself a meal.
He ate them like a mountain-born lion and left nothing behind,
The innards, the meat, and the marrow-filled bones.”
My perplexity over this passage provides a good example of how Twitter can be used for good. Last year, I asked a question about killing puppies got some great responses. One found a later passage that deals with puppies and has some interesting thematic resonance with Odysseus’ development:
I think that all of these ideas are essential to a full interpretation of this passage. But, I do wonder if, in addition, we should consider ancient Greek practices of puppy sacrifice. I know that the following accounts are later, but what if we imagine the simile used here as evoking ideas of purification through sacrifice?
I'm not certain about puppies, but there are dog bones in the Heroon at Lefkandi… I will think about whether I know of any other early examples of possible puppy sacrifices (although I'm not myself convinced that there's anything in that passage besides pathos/a familiar image)
“Nearly all the Greeks made use of the dog in sacrifice and some still do today, for cleansing rituals. They also bring puppies for Hekate along with other purification materials; and they rub down people who need cleansing with the puppies.”
“Here, each of these groups of youths sacrifice a puppy to Enyalius, god of war, because they believe that it is best to make this most valiant of the domesticated animals to the bravest of the gods. I don’t know any other Greeks who believe it is right to sacrifice puppies to the gods except for the Kolophonians. For the Kolophonians sacrifice a black female puppy to the goddess of the Crossroad. The sacrifices of both the Kolophonians and the Spartan youths take place at night.”
“Indeed, the ancients did not consider this animal to be clean either: it was never sacrificed to one of the Olympian goes, but when it is given to Hekate at the cross-roads, it functions as part of the sacrifices that turn away and cleanse evil. In Sparta, they sacrifice dogs to the bloodiest of the gods, Enyalios. In Boiotia, it is the public cleansing ritual to walk between the parts of a dog that has been cut in half. The Romans themselves, during the Wolf-Festival which they call the Lupercalia, they sacrifice a dog in the month of purification.”
Here’s a bit of something different: I’d like to talk about new book my a good friend. Emily Austin’s Grief and the Hero: The Futility of Longing in the Iliad was released a few months ago. As anyone who has published something during the pandemic knows, there’s not much room for something as simple as a book in all the noise.
But this is a book I think people should read. Now, I read a lot of books about Homer. It is not just a job, it is something I have done as a hobby since I first read Gregory Nagy’s The Best of the Achaeans and Richard Martin’s The Language of Heroesas an undergraduate. I often ignored homework assignments in graduate school in favor of reading books like Donna Wilson’s Ransom and Revenge or Hilary Mackie’s Talking Trojans. See, before I started working on the Odyssey,I was all Iliad all the time.
D Schol. ad ll 1.1
“Sing the rage..” [People] ask why the poem begins from rage, so ill-famed a word. It does for two reasons. First, so that it might [grab the attention] of that particular portion of the soul and make audiences more ready for the sublime and position us to handle sufferings nobly, since it is about to narrate wars.
A second reason is to make the praises of the Greeks more credible. Since it was about to reveal the Greeks prevailing, it is not seemly to make it more worthy of credibility by failing to make everything contribute positively to their praise.”
Everyone knows the Iliad starts with the “rage of Achilles”. What that rage means and how it shapes the poem is not so universally understood. My first Greek teacher and now friend of two decades, Leonard Muellner, wrote one of the best books on this topic. In his The Anger of Achilles: Mênis in Greek Epic, Lenny shows how Achilles’ anger has cosmic implications and is rooted in a thematic pattern shared by gods like Demeter and Zeus. He also notes that there may have been versions of the poem that put Achilles’ rage alongside Apollo’s
The proem according to Aristoxenus
Tell me now Muses who have Olympian Homes
How rage and anger overtook Peleus’ son
And also the shining son of Leto. For the king was enraged…”
What I love about Emily Austin’s book is that she enters into a deep and ancient discussion and asks what seems like a simple question: what about the cause of rage? Starting from the premise that the absence of things, longing, what a Lacanian might call a “lack” (my words, not hers), Emily offers a reading of the epic that doesn’t countermand the importance of rage, but instead, decenters it, looking at how longing (pothê,) shapes the poem and its audiences expectations.
Here’s Emily talking about her book:
In Grief and the Hero, I set aside conversations about the Iliad’s composition and authorship, and instead consider the poem as narrative poetry. The heart of my book is Achilles’ experience of futility in grief. Rather than assuming that grief gives rise to anger, as most scholars have done, Grief and the Hero traces the origin of these emotions. Achilles’ grief for Patroklos is uniquely described with the word pothê, “longing.” By joining grief and longing, the Iliad depicts Achilles’ grief as the rupture of shared life—an insight that generates a new way of reading the epic. No action can undo the reality of his friend Patroklos’ death; but the experience of death drives Achilles to act as though he can achieve something restorative. Achilles’ cycles of weeping and vengeance-seeking bring home how those whom we have lost will never return to us, yet we are shaped by the life we shared with them. In Grief and the Hero, I uncover these affective dimensions of the narrative, which contribute to the epic’s lasting appeal. Loss, longing, and even revenge touch many human lives, and the insights of the Iliad have broad resonance.
I am not a disinterested party in this book. I read an early manuscript and recognized early on that this was an original contribution to an old debate. There is an urgency to longing and the absence of what we need to complete ourselves that motivates the actions of the poem and feeds the timeliness of this book. In a year of violence, disruption, and isolation, it is a perfect time to think about the causes of the things that set us apart.
Grief and the Hero provides a perfect complement to Muellner’s analysis of the thematic function of Achilles’ rage; it also functions as a corrective for many responses to Homer that shy away from the grand themes and the big stages of human life. There are a few dozen books about Homer I think a Homerist must read; there are only a handful I think everyone should try. Emily’s Grief and the Hero is now one of them.
Of course, I’m biased here. I’ve learned so much from talking to Emily about literature, loss and grief over the past few years that I am certainly not objective. But I asked a couple other friends for their thoughts too.
Emily Austin has written a rare and welcome contribution to recent Homeric scholarship: a “robustly literary” meditation on grief and the Iliad. In her reading, the Iliad shows how anger born of grief is never satisfied. It cycles on, relentlessly forward. Peace that comes from vengeance is illusory, and the yawning chasm of loss can only be repaired by letting go.
I have spent the better part of three years living inside the characters of the Iliad as I composed and now perform the Blues of Achilles, my first-person song cycle adaptation of the epic. I found Grief and the Hero exhaustingly resonant with what I’ve come to vividly understand as the core emotional arc of Achilles and those caught in his orbit. Grief and the Hero works for me on multiple levels: academic, creative, and, most importantly, human, so beautifully teasing out the most powerful and universal theme of the poem that I only began to fully discover and appreciate as I wrote my songs: the resolution of grief.
“In addition to providing a novel interpretation of the Iliad‘s narrative and applying close readings of phraseology and structures, Emily brings new depths to the character of Achilles that all subsequent interpretations will need to consider. Her approach is a perfect balance of careful scholarship and elegant interpretation.. She has challenged me to think about the human dimension of the stories.”
Those of us in academia have missed some minor things during the pandemic: book release parties, dinners to celebrate tenure, long talks away from loud conferences with friends. These are so insignificant compared to the losses of the past year that I feel bad even mentioning them. But loss is part of what makes us who we are.
Take a chance on a book; let’s make Emily’s year special.
and some epigrammatic humor to end the post
Palladas of Alexandria, Greek Anthology 9.169
“The Rage of Achilles has become the cause for me
a grammarian, of destructive poverty.
I wish the rage had killed me with the Greeks
before the hard hunger of scholarship killed me.”
Hippias: “I can’t really agree with you on these things, Socrates.”
Socrates: “Huh, I can’t agree with myself either. But it seems like our current discussion must go there, at least.
This is what I haven been saying for a long time—I wander back and forth on these topics and they never seem the same to me. Really, it is not a surprise at all that I or any other normal person find ourselves adrift. But if you and the other experts get lost too, then it is pretty frightening for us since we can’t stop our wandering even after coming to you.”
“And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free”
“These things seem quite entertaining to me, but they are not true. I have also heard another reason for the bit, much more credible. I am happy with what is said by those who generally agree in Greece, who believe that the goddess is Hera and the work was made by Dionysus. For Dionysus went into Syria on the road that goes to Ethiopia. There are many signs left by Dionysus in the Shrine, among them are foreign clothing and Indian stones and Elephant horns which Dionysus brought from Ethiopia. There are also two really big phalluses that stand up at the entrance gates. This epigram has been inscribed upon them. ‘Dionysus dedicated these phalluses to Hera, his stepmother.’
This remains enough for me, but I will tell you of another oddity in the temple of Dionysus. The Greeks bear phalloi in honor of Dionysus, and they carry something in front of it, a little man carved out of wood which has huge genitals. These are called puppets. There is also one of these in the temple. On the right side of the temple, there is a small bronze man that has giant genitals.”
According to the Greek Anthology there was a temple to Apollônis, the mother of Attalos and Eumenes, at Cyzicos. The temple had at least nineteen epigrams inscribed on columns with accompanying relief images. All of the epigrams have mothers from myth and poetry as their subjects. The Eighth Epigram is on Odysseus’ mother Antikleia.
On the eighth tablet is the underworld visit of Odysseus. He addressed is own mother and asked her for news of his home (Greek Anthology 3.8)
“Wise-minded mother of Odysseus, Antikleia
You didn’t welcome your son home to Ithaka while alive.
Instead, he is shocked when his glance falls upon his sweet mother
Now wandering along the banks of Akheron.”
Of course, this scene plays upon book 11 of the Odyssey doubly: the image recalls Odysseus describing his mother in the Odyssey and it also plays upon the Odyssey’s catalogue of heroic mothers motif, which it in turn shares with the fragmentary Hesiodic Catalogue Of Women.
“Then came the spirit of my mother who had passed away,
The daughter of great-hearted Autolykos, Antikleia
Whom I left alive when I went to sacred Troy.
When I saw her I cried and pitied her in my heart,
But I could not allow her to come forward to touch
The blood before I had learned from Teiresias.”