Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edward O. Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5: “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschall. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Aristotle Against the Machine

Aristotle, Poetics 1454a

“Clearly, the resolution of the plots should come from the plot itself and not, as in the Medea, from some divine contrivance or as in the Iliad during the rush to the ships (Il. 2.155). The divine device should instead be used for events that are outside the drama either for those that come before what people could know or those that come later which require prophecy and revelation—since we allow that the gods may see everything. There should be nothing illogical in the events, unless it comes from outside the tragedy itself as in Sophocles’ Oedipus.”

φανερὸν οὖν ὅτι καὶ τὰς λύσεις τῶν μύθων ἐξ αὐτοῦ δεῖ τοῦ μύθου συμβαίνειν, καὶ μὴ ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ Μηδείᾳ ἀπὸ μηχανῆς καὶ ἐν τῇ ᾿Ιλιάδι τὰ περὶ τὸν ἀπόπλουν. ἀλλὰ μηχανῇ χρηστέον ἐπὶ τὰ ἔξω τοῦ δράματος, ἢ ὅσα πρὸ τοῦ γέγονεν ἃ οὐχ οἷόν τε ἄνθρωπον εἰδέναι, ἢ ὅσα ὕστερον, ἃ δεῖται προαγορεύσεως καὶ ἀγγελίας· ἅπαντα γὰρ ἀπο-δίδομεν τοῖς θεοῖς ὁρᾶν. ἄλογον δὲ μηδὲν εἶναι ἐν τοῖς πράγμασιν, εἰ δὲ μή, ἔξω τῆς τραγῳδίας, οἷον τὸ ἐν τῷ Οἰδίποδι τῷ Σοφοκλέους.

Aristotle, Poetics 1460a26

“Narratives ought to prefer likely events, even if impossible, to improbable possible ones. Stories should not be made from illogical parts: in the best case, they should contain nothing illogical, unless it comes from outside the plot itself as when Oedipus is not aware how Laios died, instead of in the play itself, as when they report the events at Delphi in the Elektra or when the silent man comes from Tegea to Mysia in the Mysians. To say that otherwise the plot would be wrecked is ridiculous—it isn’t right to set up these sorts of events from the beginning. If a poet does this, and there is a more logical option available, it is strange. Even those illogical events in the Odyssey when Odysseus is put ashore [asleep by the Phaeacians] would have been manifestly intolerable if a lesser poet had created it. In the poem now, Homer softens and erases the strangeness with his other good traits.”

προαιρεῖσθαί τε δεῖ ἀδύνατα εἰκότα μᾶλλον ἢ δυνατὰ ἀπίθανα· τούς τε λόγους μὴ συνίστασθαι ἐκ μερῶν ἀλόγων, ἀλλὰ μάλιστα μὲν μηδὲν ἔχειν ἄλογον, εἰ δὲ μή, ἔξω τοῦ μυθεύματος, ὥσπερ Οἰδίπους τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι πῶς ὁ Λάιος ἀπέθανεν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ἐν τῷ δράματι, ὥσπερ ἐν ᾿Ηλέκτρᾳ οἱ τὰ Πύθια ἀπαγγέλλοντες ἢ ἐν Μυσοῖς ὁ ἄφωνος ἐκ Τεγέας εἰς τὴν Μυσίαν ἥκων. ὥστε τὸ λέγειν ὅτι ἀνῄρητο ἂν ὁ μῦθος γελοῖον· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ οὐ δεῖ συνίστασθαι τοιούτους. †ἂν δὲ θῇ καὶ φαίνηται εὐλογωτέρως ἐνδέχεσθαι καὶ ἄτοπον† ἐπεὶ καὶ τὰ ἐν ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ ἄλογα τὰ περὶ τὴν ἔκθεσιν ὡς οὐκ ἂν ἦν ἀνεκτὰ δῆλον  ἂν γένοιτο, εἰ αὐτὰ φαῦλος ποιητὴς ποιήσειε· νῦν δὲ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀγαθοῖς ὁ ποιητὴς ἀφανίζει ἡδύνων τὸ ἄτοπον.

Image result for Medieval manuscript deus ex machina

George Whiter, Deus Ex Machina

The Weakest Slave: The Millwoman’s Sorrowful Sign

In this often overlooked scene we find an unnamed slave at the end of a long night’s work. 

Odyssey 20.97-120

[Odysseus] carried it outside and then prayed
while raising his hands to Zeus,
“Zeus, father, if you have willingly led me
over the soil and swell to this land,
after you have made me a much lesser man,
let someone of those gathered within utter my fame
and let some other sign of Zeus appear without.”

So he spoke while praying and Zeus the advisor was listening to him.
He immediately thundered from shining Olympus
high above from the clouds. And brilliant Odysseus smiled.
A woman from the house near the mill released a sound [phêmê]
where the twelve mills were set for the shepherd of the host.
There were twelve women working there
regularly working the barley and the wheat, men’s marrow.
The others were sleeping, since they had finished grinding their grain.
But she alone was not yet stopping, since she was the weakest of all.
But then she stopped her mill and spoke, a sign for her master.

“Zeus, father, you who rule over the gods and people,
how you have thundered from the starry sky
where there is no cloud! In this you show your sign.
Now grant to wretched me this word which I speak:
may this be the last and final day on which the suitors
take their lovely feast in the halls of Odysseus.
These men wear the knees of tired, heart-pained me
as I make their meal. Let them dine now for the last.”

So she spoke and Odysseus took pleasure in the speech and the thunder. For he was thinking that he would pay the guilty back.”

θῆκε θύραζε φέρων, Διὶ δ’ εὔξατο χεῖρας ἀνασχών·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ μ’ ἐθέλοντες ἐπὶ τραφερήν τε καὶ ὑγρὴν
ἤγετ’ ἐμὴν ἐς γαῖαν, ἐπεί μ’ ἐκακώσατε λίην,
φήμην τίς μοι φάσθω ἐγειρομένων ἀνθρώπων
ἔνδοθεν, ἔκτοσθεν δὲ Διὸς τέρας ἄλλο φανήτω.”
ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος· τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε μητίετα Ζεύς,
αὐτίκα δ’ ἐβρόντησεν ἀπ’ αἰγλήεντος ᾿Ολύμπου,
ὑψόθεν ἐκ νεφέων· γήθησε δὲ δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.
φήμην δ’ ἐξ οἴκοιο γυνὴ προέηκεν ἀλετρὶς
πλησίον, ἔνθ’ ἄρα οἱ μύλαι εἵατο ποιμένι λαῶν.
τῇσιν δώδεκα πᾶσαι ἐπερρώοντο γυναῖκες
ἄλφιτα τεύχουσαι καὶ ἀλείατα, μυελὸν ἀνδρῶν·
αἱ μὲν ἄρ’ ἄλλαι εὗδον, ἐπεὶ κατὰ πυρὸν ἄλεσσαν,
ἡ δὲ μί’ οὔ πω παύετ’, ἀφαυροτάτη δὲ τέτυκτο·
ἥ ῥα μύλην στήσασα ἔπος φάτο, σῆμα ἄνακτι·
“Ζεῦ πάτερ, ὅς τε θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισιν ἀνάσσεις,
ἦ μεγάλ’ ἐβρόντησας ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος,
οὐδέ ποθι νέφος ἐστί· τέρας νύ τεῳ τόδε φαίνεις.
κρῆνον νῦν καὶ ἐμοὶ δειλῇ ἔπος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω·
μνηστῆρες πύματόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἤματι τῷδε
ἐν μεγάροισ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος ἑλοίατο δαῖτ’ ἐρατεινήν,
οἳ δή μοι καμάτῳ θυμαλγέϊ γούνατ’ ἔλυσαν
ἄλφιτα τευχούσῃ· νῦν ὕστατα δειπνήσειαν.”
ὣς ἄρ’ ἔφη, χαῖρεν δὲ κλεηδόνι δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
Ζηνός τε βροντῇ· φάτο γὰρ τείσασθαι ἀλείτας.
αἱ δ’ ἄλλαι δμῳαὶ κατὰ δώματα κάλ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος
ἐγρόμεναι ἀνέκαιον ἐπ’ ἐσχάρῃ ἀκάματον πῦρ.

This scene illustrates the extent to which minor characters exist and in fact suffer pointlessly for Odysseus’ benefit: we get the briefest glimpse into the life and suffering of one of the mill-working women in order to satisfy Odysseus’ own desire to hear that he is remembered.  For me, this scene is a metonym for the narrative’s use of marginalized peoples in the generic instrumentalization of another’s pain to satisfy Odysseus’ narrative ends.

Look How Much I Suffered! Odysseus Minimizes Slavery (And Eumaios’ Life Story)

Odyssey 15.494–485

Then god-born Odysseus responded to him with a speech:
“Eumaios, you have really raised the spirit in my thoughts
By saying each of these things, how much you suffered grief in you heart.
But Zeus has certainly added some good to your trouble
Since you came and have worked much in the home of a mild man,
Who provides food and drink rightly. You live a good life.
But I have come her after wandering through many cities of men”
So they spoke saying these kinds of things
And they stayed awake not much more, only a little.

τὸν δ’ αὖ διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεὺς ἠμείβετο μύθῳ·
“Εὔμαι’, ἦ μάλα δή μοι ἐνὶ φρεσὶ θυμὸν ὄρινας
ταῦτα ἕκαστα λέγων, ὅσα δὴ πάθες ἄλγεα θυμῷ.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι σοὶ μὲν παρὰ καὶ κακῷ ἐσθλὸν ἔθηκε
Ζεύς, ἐπεὶ ἀνδρὸς δώματ’ ἀφίκεο πολλὰ μογήσας
ἠπίου, ὃς δή τοι παρέχει βρῶσίν τε πόσιν τε
ἐνδυκέως, ζώεις δ’ ἀγαθὸν βίον· αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
πολλὰ βροτῶν ἐπὶ ἄστε’ ἀλώμενος ἐνθάδ’ ἱκάνω.”
ὣς οἱ μὲν τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἀγόρευον,
καδδραθέτην δ’ οὐ πολλὸν ἐπὶ χρόνον, ἀλλὰ μίνυνθα·

Schol. HQ ad Od. 15.488

Q. “But Zeus did not give you only evil, but good too.
H. He added some good to your misfortune.

ἀλλ’ ἤτοι σοὶ] ἀλλὰ σοὶ μὲν ὁ Ζεὺς οὐ κακὸν μόνον παρέθηκεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀγαθόν. Q. τῇ δυστυχίᾳ σου παρέθηκε τι ἀγαθόν. H.

This is the response Odysseus gives to Eumaios’ story of his enslavement as a child.

Eumaios’ Story: Odyssey, 15.389–484

Then the swineherd, marshal of men, responded:
“Friend, since you have asked me and inquired truly of these things,
Listen now in silence and take some pleasure and drink your wine
While you sit there. These nights are endless. There is time for sleep
And there is time to take pleasure in listening. It is not at all necessary
For you to sleep before it is time. Even a lot of sleep can be a burden.
Let whoever of the rest the heart and spirit moves
Go out and sleep. For as soon as the down shows itself
Let him eat and follow the master’s swine.
As we two drink and dine in this shelter
Let us take pleasure as we recall one another’s terrible pains.
For a man finds pleasure even in pains later on
After he has suffered so very many and survived many too.
I will tell you this because you asked me and inquired.

There is an island called Suriê, if you have heard of it,
Above Ortygia, where the rays of the sun rise.
It is not too filled, but it is a good place
Well stocked with cows, sheep, with much wine and grain too.
Poverty never curses the people there, nor does any other
Hateful sickness fall upon the wretched mortals,
But when the race of humans grow old in the city
Apollo silverbow comes with Artemis
And kills them with his gentle arrows.

There are two cities there and everything is divided between them.
My father used to rule both of them as king
Ktêsios the son of Ormenos, a man equal to the immortal gods.
The ship-famous Phaeacians used to to frequent there
Pirates, bringing countless treasures in their black ships.
There was a Phoenician woman in my father’s house
Beautiful and broad and skilled in wondrous works.
The devious Phoenicians were corrupting her.
First, one of them joined her for sex while she was washing clothes
Near the swift ship—these things mix up the thoughts
For the female sex even when one of them is work-focused.

Continue reading

Homer’s Tales and The Narrative Animal

Strabo, Geography 1.2.7-8

Homer tells precisely of not merely the neighboring lands and Greece itself—as Eratosthenes has claimed—but many other places farther afield too and he tells his myths better than those who followed him. For he does not offer every tale for wonder only, but also to contribute to knowledge—especially in the wanderings of Odysseus—he allegorizes, provides warnings, and delights [his audiences]. This is something [Eratosthenes] is really wrong about when he asserts that the poet and his interpreters are fools. This is a subject worth speaking on to a much greater extent.”

The first point is that it is not only poets who used myths, but cities and lawmakers did too for the sake of their usefulness, once they noted the native disposition of the story-oriented animal. For Humans love to learn; loving stories is a prelude to this. This is why children start by listening and making a common ground in stories.

The reason for this is that story/myth is a novel-kind-of-thought [to them] which helps them thing not about what they already know but about different kinds of things too. To children we are obliged to hold out such enticements, in order that in riper years, when the mind is powerful, and no longer needs such stimulants, it may be prepared to enter on the study of actual realities.

There is sweetness in novelty and what someone does not already know, This is the very thing that also creates a love-of-learning. Whenever something amazing and ominous is present, it nurtures pleasure, which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years it is necessary to use these types of attractions, but when age increases toward the study of things as they really are, then the understanding has advanced and no longer requires flatteries.”

᾿αλλ᾽ οὐδὲ τὰ σύνεγγυς μόνον, ὥσπερ Ἐρατοσθένης εἴρηκε, καὶ τὰ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν πόρρω πολλὰ λέγει καὶ δι᾽ ἀκριβείας Ὅμηρος καὶ μᾶλλόν γε τῶν ὕστερον μυθολογεῖται, οὐ πάντα τερατευόμενος, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἐπιστήμην ἀλληγορῶν ἢ διασκευάζων ἢ δημαγωγῶν ἄλλα τε καὶ τὰ περὶ τὴν Ὀδυσσέως πλάνην, περὶ ἧς πολλὰ διαμαρτάνει τούς τ᾽ ἐξηγητὰς φλυάρους ἀποφαίνων καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν ποιητήν: περὶ ὧν ἄξιον εἰπεῖν διὰ πλειόνων.

καὶ πρῶτον ὅτι τοὺς μύθους ἀπεδέξαντο οὐχ οἱ ποιηταὶ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ πόλεις πολὺ πρότερον καὶ οἱ νομοθέται τοῦ χρησίμου χάριν, βλέψαντες εἰς τὸ φυσικὸν πάθος τοῦ λογικοῦ ζῴου: φιλειδήμων γὰρ ἅνθρωπος, προοίμιον δὲ τούτου τὸ φιλόμυθον. ἐντεῦθεν οὖν ἄρχεται τὰ παιδία ἀκροᾶσθαι καὶ κοινωνεῖν λόγων ἐπὶ πλεῖον.

αἴτιον δ᾽, ὅτι καινολογία τίς ἐστιν ὁ μῦθος, οὐ τὰ καθεστηκότα φράζων ἀλλ᾽ ἕτερα παρὰ ταῦτα: ἡδὺ δὲ τὸ καινὸν καὶ ὃ μὴ πρότερον ἔγνω τις: τοῦτο δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστι καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν φιλειδήμονα. ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων.

Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

123: “The most general implication is that a culture is constantly in process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members. In this view, a culture is as much a forum for negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action. Indeed, every culture maintains specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this “forum-like” feature. Storytelling, theater, science, even jurisprudence are all techniques for intensifying this function—ways of exploring possible worlds out of the context of immediate need. Education is (or should be) one of the principal forums for performing this function—though it is often timid in doing so. It is the forum aspect of a culture that gives its participants a role in constantly making and remaking the culture…”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

73: “The claim that stories have the power to save us is audacious, yet it is one that can be validated by neuroscience. This article demonstrates that the brain is hard-wired to process stories in a most fundamental way, indicating the evolutionary priority that storytelling has had in human development, and the importance it has in forging a future humanity.”

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

51: “The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation, which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness. Our minds consist of storytelling.”

Jonathan Gottschalk. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012.

58: “The psychologist and novelist Keith Oakley calls stories the flight simulators of human social life.”

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Children and the Uneducated Need Scary Stories

Strabo 1.8

“Whenever you also consider the amazing and the disturbing, you amplify the pleasure which is a magic charm for learning. In the early years, we must use this sort of thing to entice children, but as their age increases we must lead them to a knowledge of reality as soon as their perception has gotten stronger and they no longer need much cajoling. Every illiterate and ignorant person is in some way a child and loves stories like a child. The one who has been only partially educated is similar, for he does not abound in the ability to reason and, in addition, his childish custom persists. Since not only frightening but also disturbing tales bring pleasure, we need to use both of these kinds of tales for children and those who are grown up too. For children, we provide pleasing fictions to encourage them and frightening tales to deter them.”

ὅταν δὲ προσῇ καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν καὶ τὸ τερατῶδες, ἐπιτείνει τὴν ἡδονήν, ἥπερ ἐστὶ τοῦ μανθάνειν φίλτρον. κατ᾿ ἀρχὰς μὲν οὖν ἀνάγκη τοιούτοις δελέασι χρῆσθαι, προϊούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἐπὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων μάθησιν ἄγειν, ἤδη τῆς διανοίας ἐρρωμένης καὶ μηκέτι δεομένης κολάκων. καὶ ἰδιώτης δὲ πᾶς καὶ ἀπαίδευτος τρόπον τινὰ παῖς ἐστι φιλομυθεῖ τε ὡσαύτως· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ πεπαιδευμένος μετρίως· οὐδὲ γὰρ οὗτος ἰσχύει τῷ λογισμῷ, πρόσεστι δὲ καὶ τὸ ἐκ παιδὸς ἔθος. ἐπεὶ δ᾿ οὐ μόνον ἡδύ, ἀλλὰ καὶ φοβερὸν τὸ τερατῶδες, ἀμφοτέρων ἐστὶ τῶν εἰδῶν χρεία πρός τε τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τοὺς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ· τοῖς τε γὰρ παισὶ προσφέρομεν τοὺς ἡδεῖς μύθους εἰς προτροπήν, εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δὲ τοὺς φοβερούς.

Image result for Ancient Greek vase monsters

Impossible Plausible Events are Better than Implausible Possible Ones

Aristotle, Poetics 1460a26

“Narratives ought to prefer likely events, even if impossible, to improbable possible ones. Stories should not be made from illogical parts: in the best case, they should contain nothing illogical, unless it comes from outside the plot itself as when Oedipus is not aware how Laios died, instead of in the play itself, as when they report the events at Delphi in the Elektra or when the silent man comes from Tegea to Mysia in the Mysians. To say that otherwise the plot would be wrecked is ridiculous—it isn’t right to set up these sorts of events from the beginning. If a poet does this, and there is a more logical option available, it is strange. Even those illogical events in the Odyssey when Odysseus is put ashore [asleep by the Phaeacians] would have been manifestly intolerable if a lesser poet had created it. In the poem now, Homer softens and erases the strangeness with his other good traits.”

προαιρεῖσθαί τε δεῖ ἀδύνατα εἰκότα μᾶλλον ἢ δυνατὰ ἀπίθανα· τούς τε λόγους μὴ συνίστασθαι ἐκ μερῶν ἀλόγων, ἀλλὰ μάλιστα μὲν μηδὲν ἔχειν ἄλογον, εἰ δὲ μή, ἔξω τοῦ μυθεύματος, ὥσπερ Οἰδίπους τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι πῶς ὁ Λάιος ἀπέθανεν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ἐν τῷ δράματι, ὥσπερ ἐν ᾿Ηλέκτρᾳ οἱ τὰ Πύθια ἀπαγγέλλοντες ἢ ἐν Μυσοῖς ὁ ἄφωνος ἐκ Τεγέας εἰς τὴν Μυσίαν ἥκων. ὥστε τὸ λέγειν ὅτι ἀνῄρητο ἂν ὁ μῦθος γελοῖον· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ οὐ δεῖ συνίστασθαι τοιούτους. †ἂν δὲ θῇ καὶ φαίνηται εὐλογωτέρως ἐνδέχεσθαι καὶ ἄτοπον† ἐπεὶ καὶ τὰ ἐν ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ ἄλογα τὰ περὶ τὴν ἔκθεσιν ὡς οὐκ ἂν ἦν ἀνεκτὰ δῆλον  ἂν γένοιτο, εἰ αὐτὰ φαῦλος ποιητὴς ποιήσειε· νῦν δὲ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀγαθοῖς ὁ ποιητὴς ἀφανίζει ἡδύνων τὸ ἄτοπον.

Say My Name: Odysseus begins his song, (Homer, Odyssey 9.14-20)

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

“What shall I tell first and what shall I tell last?
The Ouranian gods gave me so many pains.
But now I will announce my name so that you all will know it
since I have avoided a pitiless day and have come
to join you as a guest in these halls.
I am Odysseus, the son of Laertes who is known among all men for tricks:
my fame reaches even up to heaven.”

τί πρῶτόν τοι ἔπειτα, τί δ’ ὑστάτιον καταλέξω;
κήδε’ ἐπεί μοι πολλὰ δόσαν θεοὶ Οὐρανίωνες.
νῦν δ’ ὄνομα πρῶτον μυθήσομαι, ὄφρα καὶ ὑμεῖς
εἴδετ’, ἐγὼ δ’ ἂν ἔπειτα φυγὼν ὕπο νηλεὲς ἦμαρ
ὑμῖν ξεῖνος ἔω καὶ ἀπόπροθι δώματα ναίων.
εἴμ’ ᾿Οδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.

Homer’s Gods and Men: Longinus “On the Sublime” (9.7)

Longinus, On the Sublime 9.7

“It seems to me that Homer, in bringing to the gods a range of suffering including internecine conflicts, grudges and vengeance, tears, and bondage during the Trojan War has made his men into gods in terms of strength and his gods into men.”

῞Ομηρος γάρ μοι δοκεῖ παραδιδοὺς τραύματα θεῶν στάσεις τιμωρίας δάκρυα δεσμὰ πάθη πάμφυρτα τοὺς μὲν ἐπὶ τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν ἀνθρώπους ὅσον ἐπὶ τῇ δυνάμει θεοὺς πεποιηκέναι, τοὺς θεοὺς δὲ ἀνθρώπους.

Longinus was a fan of Homer...

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