#NANAIHB Who’s Ready for the Semi-Finals?

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

The Achaeans assembled in the late afternoon for the final match of the elite eight between Diomedes and Thersites. Diomedes was fully armed and standing with his shield at ready at the appointed hour as Sthenelos stood next to him, chattering about how much he was going to destroy Thersites. At first, the crowd seemed giddy at the prospect but as the moments stretched out to minutes and then approached half an hour, boredom slipped into frustration.

Once an hour had passed, Agamemnon spoke, and said, “Look, Greeks, Thersites didn’t show up because of his cowardice!*” He waited a moment for a laugh and then sighed at the silence, speaking up again only to call the match by forfeit to Diomedes who had remained motionless, shield at the ready the entire time. As soon as Agamemnon spoke, Diomedes roared, “Sthenelos, put on your weapons. Let’s spar. Sweat is the least price I can pay for victory.”

A few Achaeans laughed. Most shook their heads as they left the assembly. Achilles called as he was leaving, “Don’t bruise him too much, Sthenelos. Patroklos is going to wear my armor in the match. And you know how hard he already is to turn over!” At this, the Greeks laughed, unaccustomed to such bawdy banter from shining Achilles.

*διὰ τὸ ἀθαρσὲς αὐτοῦ [dia to atharsos] an easy punning on Thersites’ name which is likely built on the world tharsos/thrasos, “boldness”. From Agamemnon this is less than effective because everyone makes this joke and Atreus’ son thinks he just made it up.

NANAIHB Day 10

 

The Semifinals: The Semifinal matches were probably spun up by the Fates themselves. We get a rematch of the famous and tragic struggle between Ajax and Odysseus and an intriguing contest between Achilles’ replacement and his better half.

The Achaeans are taking the day off. The Semifinals will be the next two days, setting up a match for the coveted Second Best of the Achaeans title on Tuesday.

NANAIHB Day 10 (2)

 

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 4: Getting it on for Calydon!

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

Round 2, Match 3: Patroklos vs. Antilokhos

If there was something like a buzz in the air as Patroklos readied himself to face Nestor’s son Antilokhos, it came from the grumbles of assembled Achaeans who were hustled, bustled, and knocked to the side as Achilles paced along the sideline. He repeatedly muttered about how long this was taking as Phoinix readied Patroklos and Nestor tended to his son.

Agamemnon called the battle to begin and both younger heroes threw their first spear: Achilles watched as each  approached its apex and they brushed each other mid-air and flew off course, scattering the crowd on either side. Patroklos looked at Achilles, who nodded, and then dropped his second spear and drew his sword. He rushed screaming and swinging with such force that the surprised younger hero stepped back, driven one, two, and then a dozen feet into the crowd all while doing everything he could not to stop Patroklos’ sword with his face.

Under the weight of the relentless blows, Antilochus’ shield arm was quickly tiring and he made a quick feint with his sword only to have his opponent’s blade crash into his forearm. As Antilokhos fell to his knees and Patroklos raised his sword again, Nestor raised his mighty voice, shouting, “Stop son of Menoitios, what tale will your father hear?*”

Patroklos withdrew as Antilokhos yielded. Achilles walked away with him as the crowd dispersed.

*Παῦε, Μενοιτιου υἵε, τὶ κλέος Πατήρ τεὸς ἀκούσει; A pointed punning, since Nestor uses the two elements of Patroklos name: Pater [father] and story/fame [kleos]

NANAIHB Day 9

 

Today’s match: Thersites vs. Diomedes. Thersites is coming off a surprise victory over Ajax the lesser. This is Diomedes’ first appearance in the tournament. Does momentum matter?

NANAIHB Day 9 (2)

Today’s match sets up Diomedes, a victorious sacker of Thebes, against Thersites, who is, um, Thersites. There’s a bit of a family drama to the affair. Diomedes was born in Argos be ause his father was in exile after being deposed from Calydon by Agrios. Thersites and his brothers overthrew their uncle Oeneus to put their father Agrios on the throne. According to later traditions, Diomedes arrived there and killed Thersites’ brothers to install Oeneus as king again.

(Thersites was either not there or dead at Achilles’ hands.)

So, just in case it is unclear:. Agrios and Oeneus were brothers. Their sons Tydeus and Thersites were cousins. So, that makes this a battle between Diomedes and his father’s cousin. To say there is bad blood here would be an understatement. Diomedes is one of the greatest warriors in Greek epic and he has Athena on his side. Thersites is, um, Thersites.

What’s the over/under for minutes in the ring?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 3: A Contest for Achilles’ Love

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax,and Diomedes.

Round 2, Match 2: Idomeneus vs. Ajax

As the two massive warriors stood impassive on each side of the agora, Idomeneus raised up his voice, “Ajax, son of Telamon, you massive tower of a man. Come, let us put away our spears and bows and fight like men!” Ajax, smiling, gave no other answer then to pick up his castle-sized shield and draw his sword as he moved forward.

The clashing of these two giants set a flutter even into the hearts of the gods who watched them. As Zeus gazed on the clanging of sword to sword and the pounding of shield to shield, he said, “Ah, my children, I see you on the earth, thundering in power like my thunder, but flashing as brief as lightning. I have not heard such sound since the giants tried to mount Olympos or the hundred-handers locked the Titans in their dusky home. Hermes, come, let’s save Idomeneus who is fated to fall to Ajax this very day.” Maia’s son, the divine Argeiphontes, disappeared, moving faster than the eyes of the father of gods and men.

The Achaeans watched eagerly as Ajax bashed Idomeneus down to his knees, alternating with shield and sword as the Cretan king could barely fend off his blows. Finally, they could see a tear in the covering of the shield and hear the crack of its frame breaking. Then Ajax dropped his sword and gripped his shield in both hands, bringing it down like a thunderstrike on Idomeneus’ head. But as it fell, his form swirled away like smoke, leaving nothing there, save the shattered wreck of his broken shield.

Ajax stood, blinking. His chest heaved. He looked around the crowd and his eyes fell, burning, on Odysseus. The clever son of Laertes shrugged. Ajax stomped toward his ships.

NANAIHB Day 8

 

Today’s match: Patroklos vs. Antilokhos.

NANAIHB Day 8 (2)

In the first round, Antilokhos handled the Aitolian Thoas in what turned out to be the second closest competition of the round. At the end, the greater speed and Nestor’s advice made a difference. Patroklos faced Makhaon, and made pretty fast work of the field medic who slipped into the competition to begin with.

There is a little intrigue this time: who will get Achilles’ favor? We all know that Patroklos and Achilles have a relationship so deep that the latter’s death provokes his rage to new levels in the Iliad. But Antilokhos’ death in the lost Aethiopis inspires Achilles to go on a rampage that ends in his death too.

So, who’s it going to be this time? The new boy, or the old? The wrathful son of Menoetius or Nestor’s precocious charioteer? Neither of them gets Achilles’ armor: can both of them have his love?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Match 2: Clash of the Giants

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces four heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax, Patroklos, and Diomedes.

Teucer Odysseus

NANAIHB Day 7

Round 2, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Teucer.

The Achaeans gathered and noticed that Odysseus was already seated in the competition grounds, looking off into the distance. When Teucer arrived, Odysseus stood up and said, “Welcome son of Telamon, pride of Salaminian land! I hail you as a friend and offer you my own bow as a sign of our guest-friendship.” Teucer squinted at the Ithakan king and said, “Odysseus, that would be a sign of enmity through theft, not friendship—your bow is much better than mine.” He stood to his side and spoke a few words to Ajax while Odysseus continued to stare.

When Nestor announced the contest’s beginning, Odysseus picked up his shield and a single spear. Teucer raised his bow and nocked an arrow. As he drew it back, the string broke, twanging off tune like a lyre string recoiling. Odysseus darted forward and slashed Teucer on the left army lightly, saying “Teucer, what should be done? The gods have made you unlucky!*”

Odysseus’ brother-in-law, Eurylochus, yelled, “Odysseus, that’s pretty harsh, even for you!” And Odysseus responded, winking at Ajax who was looming near Teucer, “Some ships are rowed without all their oars.” Teucer yielded.

* Odysseus toyed with Teucer’s name, saying, Ὤ Τεύκρε, τὶ τευκτόν εστί; οἱ σε θεοί δυστυχέα τεῦξαν! [ôh Teukre, ti teukton? Hoi se Theoi dustukhea teuksan!]

NANAIHB Day 7

Today’s match, Idomeneus against Ajax.

Homer, Iliad 3.230-231

“That there is the monstrous bulwark of the Achaeans, Ajax.
Idomeneus stands on the other side like a god among the Cretans.”

οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν·
᾿Ιδομενεὺς δ’ ἑτέρωθεν ἐνὶ Κρήτεσσι θεὸς ὣς
ἕστηκ’….

NANAIHB Day 7 (2)

Telamonian Ajax is reportedly the “best of men while Achilles was raging” (ἀνδρῶν αὖ μέγ’ ἄριστος ἔην Τελαμώνιος Αἴας ὄφρ’ ᾿Αχιλεὺς μήνιεν, 2.768-769) and it would be fascinating to fully understand the difference between being “best of men” and “best of the Acheans”. He is the son of Telamon: in most accounts Peleus, Achilles’ father, and Telamon are brothers. Broader myth puts these cousins together frequently: there is a much repeated image of the two playing a game in armor; Ajax is frequently credited with carrying Achilles’ body out of the battle (as he does with Patroklos); and Ajax’s emotional appeal to Achilles in book nine is often seen as instrumental in keeping him from returning to Phthia.

Ajax came to Troy with 12 ships from Salamis and—according to the text of the Iliad we possess—lined them up with the Athenians (Αἴας δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν δυοκαίδεκα νῆας / στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ ᾿Αθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες, 2.557-558; Carolyn Higbie has a great article about how this text may have been manipulated in antiquity). But he is known for his own bad self, and not his people. He is the monstrous bulwark of the Achaeans (οὗτος δ’ Αἴας ἐστὶ πελώριος ἕρκος ᾿Αχαιῶν, 3.239)

When Priam sees him from the gates, he describes him as “that other big and noble man / head and shoulders above the rest of the Argives.”τίς τὰρ ὅδ’ ἄλλος ᾿Αχαιὸς ἀνὴρ ἠΰς τε μέγας τε / ἔξοχος ᾿Αργείων κεφαλήν τε καὶ εὐρέας ὤμους; (3.226-227). His shield is as big as a tower! (Αἴας δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθε φέρων σάκος ἠΰτε πύργον, 7.219). He’s brave (ἄλκιμος Αἴας), he’s shiny (φαίδιμος Αἴας), he’s really big (Τελαμώνιος Αἴας) and he walks big too (Αἴας…μάκρα βιβάσθων· 18.809).

Idomeneus is also huge—if he weren’t Cretan and if Ajax weren’t there, this son of Minos just might be the second best of the Danaans. He devastated Sthenelos in round 1. He has held battalions of Trojans at bay.

How does he match up against Ajax? Helen places them right next to each other. And who is a better judge of a man than her?

#NANAIHB Round 2, Archer-fest! Odysseus vs. Teucer

Welcome to the second round of the #NANAIHB (the Non-Atreid, Non-Achilles Iliadic hero Bracket), the definitive tournament to decide who really is the second best of the Achaeans. The first round saw six contests, most of which were blowouts. The second round introduces four heroes who received first-round byes: Odysseus, Ajax, Patroklos, and Diomedes.

NANAIHB (10)

Round 2, Match 1: Odysseus vs. Teucer. Ajax’s illegitimate brother gets to face the grandson of Sisyphus after quickly dispatching the braggart Heraklid, Tlepolemos, in the first round. All the smart money is in the tyrant king of Ithaca, but any archer’s got a chance, right?

“Homer made Achilles the best man of those who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the most shifty.”

φημὶ γὰρ Ὅμηρον πεποιηκέναι ἄριστον μὲν ἄνδρα Ἀχιλλέα τῶν εἰς Τροίαν ἀφικομένων, σοφώτατον δὲ Νέστορα, πολυτροπώτατον δὲ Ὀδυσσέα. #Plato

NANAIHB (11)

I know, I know. Laertes’ heroic son killed 108 unarmed suitors with Athena’s help when he got back home. And this is after he watched over the deaths of 12 ships of Kephallanian warriors! The man is a mighty machine of death. For sake of argument, let’s consider what Odysseus actually accomplishes in battle in the Iliad.

Book 1: Takes Chryseis Back to Chryses

Book 2: Gives a big speech, beats Thersites (and any other non-compliant commoner)

Book 3: Gets described by Helen as being like a snow storm when he speaks

Book 4: Agamemnon finds him hanging back from battle

Book 5: He decides between fighting “some Lykian” redshirts or Tlepolemos. He does not fight Tlepolemos (668-678)

Book 7: He does not win the lot to face Hektor

Book 8: He does not stop to help Nestor (8.97)

Book 9: We don’t have time to talk about Odysseus’ shenanigans in book 9

Book 10: He and Odysseus lie to Dolon, kill him, and kill Rhesus and his men in their sleep. Well, he has Diomedes do most of that

Book 11: He gets Diomedes to stay and fight with him

Book 14: He yells at Agamemnon for suggesting running away

Book 19: He tells Achilles that eating is good.

Book 23: He wrestles Ajax to a draw

Odysseus’ reputation is for his cleverness and lies. (He might be a necromancer too.)  He knows how to suffer and he knows how to get revenge. And I am pretty sure he would shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. (Yes, he’s a lot more than that. And, yes, I have a good deal to say about him. But we don’t have that much evidence he’s a great fighter.)

Let’s not forget that Teucer kills nine men in the pace of three lines in book 8 (273-275)! He may only be the second-best Salaminian, but is that nearly as good as being king of an island good mostly for goats.

So, go ahead, cast your vote for Odysseus like you want to, like you need to because he’s already in your head. But, remember, Teucer’s got an archer’s chance. And that’s something even Odysseus should worry about.

“I am called Odysseus for evil deeds correctly: For many who have been my enemy hate me.”

ὀρθῶς δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεύς εἰμ’ ἐπώνυμος κακῶν πολλοὶ γὰρ ὠδύσαντο δυσμενεῖς ἐμοί #Sophocles

The Cyclops Had Three Eyes and They Were His Brothers

John Malalas, Chronographia, V

“The wise Euripides put in his poetic drama about the Cyclops that he had three eyes, indicating by this that he had three brothers and that they cared for one another and kept a watchful eye on one another’s places in the island, fought together, and avenged one another.

And he also adds that he made the Cyclops drunk and unable to flee, because Odysseus made that very Cyclops “drunk” with a ton of money and gifts so he would not “eat those with him up”, which is not actually to consume them with slaughter.

He also says that Odysseus blinded his one eye with torch fire, really meaning that he stole away the only daughter of Polyphemos’ brother, a maiden named Elpê, with “fire”, which means he seized her on fire with burning lust. This is what it means that he burned Polyphemos in one of his eyes, he really deprived him of his daughter. The very wise Pheidias of Corinth provided this interpretation saying that Euripides explained this poetically because he did not agree with what the wisest Homer said about the wandering of Odysseus.”

ὁ γὰρ σοφὸς Εὐριπίδης <ποιητικῶς> δρᾶμα ἐξέθετο περὶ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι τρεῖς ἔσχεν ὀφθαλμούς, σημαίνων τοὺς τρεῖς ἀδελφοὺς (50 F 2) ὡς συμπαθοῦντας ἀλλήλοις καὶ διαβλεπομένους τοὺς ἀλλήλων τόπους τῆς νήσου καὶ συμμαχοῦντας καὶ ἐκδικοῦντας ἀλλήλους. (2) καὶ ὅτι οἴνωι μεθύσας τὸν Κύκλωπα ἐκφυγεῖν ἠδυνήθη, διότι χρήμασι πολλοῖς καὶ δώροις ἐμέθυσε τὸν αὐτὸν Κύκλωπα ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς πρὸς τὸ μὴ κατεσθίειν τοὺς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ, <τουτέστι μὴ καταναλίσκειν σφαγαῖς>. (3) καὶ ὅτι λαβὼν ᾽Οδυσσεὺς λαμπάδα πυρὸς ἐτύφλωσε τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν ἕνα, διὁτι τὴν θυγατέρα τὴν μονογενῆ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ Πολυφήμου ῎Ελπην, παρθένον οὖσαν, λαμπάδι, πυρὸς ἐρωτικοῦ καυθεῖσαν ἥρπασε, τουτέστιν ἕνα τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν τοῦ Κύκλωπος ἐφλόγισε τὸν Πολύφημον τὴν αὐτοῦ θυγατέρα ἀφελόμενος. (4) ἥντινα ἑρμηνείαν ὁ σοφώτατος Φειδίας(?) ὁ Κορίνθιος ἐξέθετο, εἰρηκὼς ὅτι ὁ σοφὸς Εὐριπίδης ποιητικῶς πάντα μετέφρασε, μὴ συμφωνήσας τῶι σοφωτάτωι ῾Ομήρωι ἐκθεμένωι τὴν ᾽Οδυσσέως πλάνην.

Ok, this story might be totally nuts, but there was a scholiastic debate about how many eyes Polyphemos had.

Wild and Desolate: The True Story of Odysseus’ Journey Home

Joannes Malalas, Chronographia, 5.20, p. 121

“After he left from Circe’s island, Odysseus arrived at another island, tossed up on it by struggling winds. Calypso, Circe’s sister welcomed him there and considered him worthy of a great deal of help. She had sex with him almost as if in marriage.

He went from there to a massive lake near the sea which was called the Nekyopompos. The people who live around that lake are prophets and they told him everything that had happened to him and what would happen in the future. When he left there, he was thrown from the sea when a great storm arose onto “the Sirens,” rocks which have that name from the peculiar sound that comes from waves crashing around them. Once he freed himself from there, he arrived at the place called “Charybdis,” a wild and desolate territory. He lost all his ships and his army here.

Then Odysseus was carried alone on a ship’s plank in the sea, waiting for a death from violence. But some Phoenician sailors passing by saw him swimming in the water and saved him in their pity. They took him to the island Crete to Idomeneus, a leader of the Greeks. When he saw Odysseus naked and impoverished, he sympathetically gave him a great of gifts because he had been a general with him at Troy along with two ships and people to guard him safely home. He sent him back to Ithaka like this. Wise Dictys wrote these details down after he heard them from Odysseus.”

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς νήσου τῆς Κίρκης ἐξορμήσας ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς ἀνήχθη εἰς τὴν ἄλλην νῆσον, ὑπὸ ἀνέμων ἐναντίων ἐκριφείς. ὅντινα ἐδέξατο καὶ ἡ Καλυψὼ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς Κίρκης καὶ πολλῆς θεραπείας ἠξίωσεν αὐτόν, συμμιγεῖσα αὐτῶι καὶ πρὸς γάμον.

κἀκεῖθεν ἀνήχθη ἔνθα λίμνη ὑπῆρχε μεγάλη πλησίον τῆς θαλάσσης λεγομένη ἡ Νεκυόπομπος, καὶ οἱ οἰκοῦντες ἐν αὐτῆι ἄνδρες μάντεις· οἵτινες ἐξεῖπον αὐτῶι πάντα τὰ συμβάντα αὐτῶι καὶ τὰ μέλλοντα.  καὶ ἀναχθεὶς ἐκεῖθεν χειμῶνος μεγάλου γενομένου θαλάσσης ἐκρίπτεται εἰς τὰς Σειρῆνας, οὕτω καλουμένας πέτρας αἳ ἐκ τῶν κρουσμάτων τῶν κυμάτων ἦχος ἀποτελοῦσιν ἴδιον.  κἀκεῖθεν ἐξειλήσας ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν καλουμένην Χάρυβδιν, εἰς τόπους ἀγρίους καὶ ἀποτόμους· κἀκεῖ πάσας τὰς ὑπολειφθείσας αὐτῶι ναῦς καὶ τὸν στρατὸν ἀπώλεσεν, αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς μόνος ἐν σανίδι τοῦ πλοίου ἐν τῶι πελάγει ἐφέρετο, ἀναμένων τὸν μετὰ βίας θάνατον. τοῦτον δὲ ἑωρακότες τινὲς ἀποπλέοντες ναῦται Φοίνικες νηχόμενον ἐν τοῖς ὕδασιν ἐλεήσαντες διέσωσαν, καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἐν τῆι Κρήτηι νήσωι πρὸς τὸν ᾽Ιδομενέα, ἔξαρχον ῾Ελλήνων. καὶ ἑωρακὼς τὸν ᾽Οδυσσέα ὁ ᾽Ιδομενεὺς γυμνὸν καὶ δεόμενον, συμπαθῶς φερόμενος <καὶ> δῶρα αὐτῶι πλεῖστα δεδωκὼς ὡς συστρατήγωι αὐτοῦ καὶ δύο νῆας καὶ διασώζοντας αὐτόν τινας, ἐξέπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς ᾽Ιθάκην. ἅτινα καὶ ὁ σοφὸς Δίκτυς παρὰ τοῦ ᾽Οδυσσέως ἀκηκοὼς συνεγράψατο.

File:Sirens and Odysseus by Francesco Primaticcio.jpg
Sirens and Odysseus by Fracesco Primaticcio, 1560

On Not Reading Homer

Xenophon, Symposium 3.5

“And what about you, Nikêratos—what kind of knowledge do you cherish?” And he said “My father, because he wished for me to be a good man, compelled me to memorize all of Homer. And now I can recite the whole Iliad and Odyssey.” Antisthenes said “Has it escaped you that all the rhapsodes know these epics too?”

ἀλλὰ σὺ αὖ, ἔφη, λέγε, ὦ Νικήρατε, ἐπὶ ποίᾳ ἐπιστήμῃ μέγα φρονεῖς. καὶ ὃς εἶπεν· ῾Ο πατὴρ ὁ ἐπιμελούμενος ὅπως ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γενοίμην ἠνάγκασέ με πάντα τὰ ῾Ομήρου ἔπη μαθεῖν· καὶ νῦν δυναίμην ἂν ᾿Ιλιάδα ὅλην καὶ ᾿Οδύσσειαν ἀπὸ στόματος εἰπεῖν. ᾿Εκεῖνο δ’, ἔφη ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης, λέληθέ σε, ὅτι καὶ οἱ ῥαψῳδοὶ πάντες ἐπίστανται ταῦτα τὰ ἔπη;

Over the past few weeks there has been a bit of a frenzy over Oxford University’s potential move to drop Homer and Vergil from their required curriculum for Classics. We have heard the typical cries of “O Tempora, O Mores” in articles lamenting the fall of education and the decline of the west. This news even made The Blaze!, quoting only a student who calls it “a fatal mistake” because “Homer has been the foundation of the classical tradition since antiquity.”

(And you know that if a cultural question got Blazed. it is of real, deep, ethical concern.)

The ‘terrible’ nature of this decision is not just blamed on “diversity” but also on the inability of modern students to cope, supported by cherry-picked quotations from faculty. And this has also been characterized as part of a “diversity drive” with the adjective there used as a dog-whistle for cultural supremacists and not a sign of progressive, inclusive intent.

You know what I haven’t heard much of? People defending this proposal. Well, here I am, and that’s what I am going to do.

I am a Homerist. I have spent more than half my life reading, teaching, and writing on Homer. To say that I love the Homeric epics is such an understatement that it breaks my basic constative ability to do so. But this proposal makes sense. Let me tell you why.

Leonardo Bruni de Studiis et Litteris 21

“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.”

Quid Homero deest, quominus in omni sapientia sapientissimus existimari possit? Eius poesim totam esse doctrinam vivendi quidam ostendunt, in belli tempora pacisque divisa

First, the brouhaha mis-characterizes the proposal which is to make Homer and Vergil optional. From years of teaching Homer to undergraduates, I know that fewer are prepared to read something of this length and depth. They have read little in pre-collegiate classes of this length and intricacy. And we do not have the time in class to move from understanding a sentence to its relationship to the whole to its critical engagement with cultures over time.

The worst thing I see happening—and I know this happens at Oxford—is teaching Homer badly. Students don’t have the cultural frameworks, or the training to understand what they’re looking at. And this is in part because many people who teach Homer have a backwards idea of what the epics are and how they work.

These backwards ideas come from a teleological perspective that has over time selected from the past only works that conform to certain expectations and then force them to conform to others. Teaching Homer badly is objectively a bad thing. It turns students off to Homer; it gives them misconceptions about the ancient world; and it harmfully enforces the history of European literature.

Homer contains some nasty stuff. Taught in the wrong way, it glorifies violence, perpetuates misogyny, oversimplifies “heroes”, their faults, and gives terrible lessons on life and death. “Reading” a text is not merely passing one’s eyes over it or uttering the words aloud. It requires patience, contemplation, identification, alienation, communion with others and repetition

This is about the way we teach Homer as a holy, simple thing, with clear messages and heroes who can be understood in a few lessons. Homeric epics are dialogic, they are complex creations between audiences and the words themselves and without time, deep learning, and space, they function to advance a simplistic, but powerful policy of canon-enforcement

Henry David Thoreau, from his essay Walking (1862)

“The poet to-day, notwithstanding all the discoveries of science, and the accumulated learning of mankind, enjoys no advantage over Homer.”

Homer as often taught as canon—which is the main argument in many articles—is a product not of antiquity but of the time between antiquity and now. To disentangle the layers of interpretation and the centuries of misunderstandings that have accrued, students need sensitive reading skills and agile teachers.

Before reading Homer, students need to learn to read, to understand the relationship between text and audience, and the operation of literature—and especially the literary canon—as part of cultural discourse. We are better off by spending time teaching students a few poems by Sappho or lyric and elegiac poets, if what we want to learn about is Greek culture and poetry.

(And all of this sidesteps what modern program in Classical Studies is for. If we have only a small handful of credit hours to enlighten the mind and prepare it to engage fruitfully with the world it encounters, is slogging through an epic the best use of our time?)

But if you read even passively, the stalwart Homeric defenders aren’t really interested in the past. They are interested in Homer as a marker of their own culture. And look at the way people defend it! In one piece, the author cries that Homer is the beginning of a Trojan war story that made London “New Troy”. No cultural supremacy or appropriation there.

Yes, understanding Homer can be important for cultural literacy of the past, but it is not the only way to gain this (and most Renaissance paintings based on myth are not Homeric). Yes, Homer poses important questions about what it means to be a Human being—but Homeric universality is wildly overplayed. Who gets left out?

Werner Jager, Paideia (tr. Gilbert Highet, pp.35-36)

“We are right in feeling such bare utilitarianism to be repulsive to our aesthetic sense; but it is none the less certain that Homer (like all the great Greek poets) is something much more than a figure in the parade of literary history. He is the first and the greatest creator and shaper of Greek life and the Greek character.”

Homer, as taught in many places, is a ‘genius author’ who laid the foundations of western literature. Homer “wrote” the Iliad and the Odyssey and handed down the guidebook for mimetic narrative and human achievement. These ‘facts’ are demonstrably false and yet the way many teach Homer and position the epics as canon are based on these premises.

The ‘lie’ of Homer is an originary tale of ‘authenticity’ and cultural hegemony which intentionally overlooks that the Homeric epics are products and well as producers of this culture. This is deeply connected to how easily the Classics can be appropriated by white supremacists.

They are classics because they have been selected and handed down as such. This “tradition” (Latin for “handing down”) reinforces its own authority and aesthetics in the process of transmission and reception.

And the ‘Homer’ we possess is one of our own creation. There is a fundamental problem here in the concept of the word “authentic”, a quasi-religious belief and consequent search for the original, authoritative, and authentic form of Homer which goes back to antiquity (once “Homer” was separated from its performance context and reassembled by Hellensitic authors) and which is reborn and supercharged in that overlapping space between Classical and Biblical philology. M.L. West’s, an Oxford prodcut, posthumous text of the Odyssey, for example, operates on the principle that there was a single author and a single text and that the task of a textual critic—and philology at large—is to help us get closer to that original, that authentic, that divine genius.

And there is a Christian, revelationist stance in some of the philology that emerges from this background. In his recent commentary to Odyssey book 1, Simon Pulleyn, rejecting the idea of an oral tradition as critical to the epic we possess, tradition, revealingly combines belief in God with belief in Homer: “Just as the faith once put in God reposes nowadays largely in committees, so we are invited to see the epics not as masterpieces of an individual artist but as the product of numerous generations of bards each contributing their bit. We are asked to rid ourselves of anachronistic notions of the genius of individual authors” (2019 39).

Too much of what we call “classical studies” and canon are retrograde assumptions about the world and what it means to be human. They reduce everything to divinely-derived aesthetics and marginalize people and creeds who do not confirm to “Western” measures (as defined after the age in which the epics were formed). When we talk about what we should teach as the foundation of Classical Studies, we need to think about what our goals are, what we want students to be able to do when they are done.

When one author writes “Within attempts like this to increase access to higher education lies a short-sighted philistinism as destructive as anything that emerged from the Trojan horse,” he is really decrying the collapse of a simplistic and counterfeit system of values based on the idea of Homeric poetry rather than the thing itself.

Seneca, Moral Epistles 88.20

“Why do we train our children in the liberal arts? It is not because these studies can grant someone virtue, but because they prepare the soul for accepting it.”

Quare ergo liberalibus studiis filios erudimus?” Non quia virtutem dare possunt, sed quia animum ad accipiendam virtutem praeparant.

Making Homer optional is not “watering down” the curriculum. It is opening up our education to do what we are supposed to do: critically and pointedly examine the past. Sure, advanced students, graduate students, professionals in the field, they should probably read Homer, but should everyone?

I am not saying that we should not have students reading Homer—but that if we only have a small collection of classes, they can acquire critical language, reading, reasoning, and cultural skills in other ways. This is important both in focusing on what our undergraduate learning goals are and in thinking about what we want classical studies to become in the future.

Are we going to merely perpetuate the same training, beliefs and ideas over and over again without reflecting on where they come from or what they mean? Are we going to ignore the fact that our histories of the Mediterranean have been figuratively and literally whitewashed in the service of colonial, nationalist, and racist discourse? Or are we a field where we train people to think critically, to re-frame the past, and then reclaim it?

As a Homerist, I think I’ve found myself in part by searching for “Homer”—and I think this is indeed one of the most salubrious effects of literature. But this is not the only goal and this is not the Aristotelian end for Classical Studies. We need students to enter with the world with the ability to question and reframe the worth of the pasts we have inherited.

Because if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, it is not going to turn out well. And soon.

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione

“The ancients decided that reading should begin from Homer and Vergil, though it requires a firm sense of judgment to understand their virtues.”

Veteres instituerunt, ut ab Homero atque Vergilio lectio inciperet, quamvis ad intelligendum eorum virtutes opus esset firmiori iudicio.

File:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Homer and his Guide (1874).jpg
Adolphe Bouguereau Homer and His Guide

The ‘Wives’ of Telemachus

Tell me of Telemachus, Muse, and the tawdry tales
of his trio of tender-ankled temptresses

Hesiod, Fr. 221 (Eustathius in Hom. (π 117—20) p. 1796. 38)

“Well-belted Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor Neleus’ son, gave birth to Persepolis after having sex with Telemachus Thanks to golden Aphrodite.”

Τηλεμάχωι δ’ ἄρ’ ἔτικτεν ἐύζωνος Πολυκάστη
Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη κούρη Νηληϊάδαο
Περσέπολιν μιχθεῖσα διὰ χρυσῆν ᾿Αφροδίτην

This resonates with one moment in the Odyssey (3.464-5):

“Then pretty Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor
the son of Neleus, bathed Telemachus”

τόφρα δὲ Τηλέμαχον λοῦσεν καλὴ Πολυκάστη
Νέστορος ὁπλοτάτη θυγάτηρ Νηληϊάδαο.

Dictys, BNJ 49 F10

“And Telemachus took the daughter of Alkinoos as bride, her name was Nausikaa.”

λαμβάνει δὲ Τηλέμαχος γαμετὴν θυγατέρα Ἀλκινόου Ναυσικάαν ὀνόματι.

Proclus (?), Chrestomathia 324-330

“And then Telegonos went sailing in search of his father; once he stopped in Ithaca he was trashing the island. Odysseus shouted out and was killed by his child because of ignorance.

Once Telegonos understood his mistake he returned the body of his father along with Penelope and Telemachus to his own mother. She made them immortal. Then he lived with Penelope and Telemachus lived with Kirke.

     κἀν τούτῳ Τηλέγονος ἐπὶ ζήτησιν τοῦ πατρὸς πλέων ἀποβὰς εἰς τὴν ᾿Ιθάκην τέμνει τὴν νῆσον· ἐκβοηθήσας δ’ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ τοῦ παιδὸς ἀναιρεῖται κατ’ ἄγνοιαν.

     Τηλέγονος δ’ ἐπιγνοὺς τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τό τε τοῦ πατρὸς σῶμα καὶ τὸν Τηλέμαχον καὶ τὴν Πηνελόπην πρὸς τὴν μητέρα μεθίστησιν· ἡ δὲ αὐτοὺς ἀθανάτους ποιεῖ, καὶ συνοικεῖ τῇ μὲν Πηνελόπῃ Τηλέγονος, Κίρκῃ δὲ Τηλέμαχος.

Image result for Ancient Greek vase Circe

Odysseus, Scammer

Philoxenos of Cythera 818  = Synes. Epist. 121

“To Athanasios, wine-diluter: Odysseus was persuading Polyphemos to release him from the cave: “I am a sorcerer and it is the right time for me to help you in your lack of success in maritime love. I certainly know chants, binding spells, and love-magic which it is unlikely for Galateia to resist for long. Just promise to move the door, or, more, the door stone. It seems the size of a cliff to me. I’ll swim back faster than this word itself, once I have compelled the girl. What do I mean by compelling her? I will show her here to you once she is easier because of the magic.

She will beg you and plead with you and you will act shy and be bashful. But something still gives me pause here. I am worried that the goat-reek of your blankets will be displeasing for a girl used to luxury, who bathes often during the day. It would be great if you cleaned everything up, sweeping, washing, and fumigating your place. It would be even better if you readied some ivy and bindweed to crown yourself and the girl when she gets here. Why are you wasting time? Why don’t you open the door now?”

In response to this, Polyphemos cackled as loud as he could and clapped his hands. Odysseus believed that because he was expecting to gain this girl quickly he was not able to restrain his joy. But Polyphemos rubbed his own chin and said, “No-man, you seem like the slickest fellow, a polished little businessman. Work on some other elaborate scam. You will never get out of here.”

Ἀθανασίῳ ὑδρομίκτῃ. Ὀδυσσεὺς ἔπειθε τὸν Πολύφημον διαφεῖναι αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ σπηλαίου· ‘γόης γάρ εἰμι καὶ ἐς καιρὸν ἄν σοι παρείην οὐκ εὐτυχοῦντι τὰ εἰς τὸν θαλάττιον ἔρωτα· ἀλλ᾿ ἐγώ τοι καὶ ἐπῳδὰς οἶδα καὶ καταδέσμους καὶ ἐρωτικὰς κατανάγκας, αἷς οὐκ εἰκὸς ἀντισχεῖν οὐδὲ πρὸς βραχὺ τὴν Γαλάτειαν. μόνον ὑπόστηθι σὺ τὴν θύραν ἀποκινῆσαι, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸν θυρεὸν τοῦτον· ἐμοὶ μὲν γὰρ καὶ ἀκρωτήριον εἶναι φαίνεται· ἐγὼ δὲ ἐπανήξω σοι θᾶττον ἢ λόγος τὴν παῖδα κατεργασάμενος· τί λέγω κατεργασάμενος; αὐτὴν ἐκείνην ἀποφανῶ σοι δεῦρο πολλαῖς ἴυγξι γενομένην ἀγώγιμον. καὶ δεήσεταί σου καὶ ἀντιβολήσει, σὺ δὲ ἀκκιῇ καὶ κατειρωνεύσῃ. ἀτὰρ μεταξύ μέ τι καὶ τοιοῦτον ἔθραξε, μὴ τῶν κωδίων ὁ γράσος ἀηδὴς γένηται κόρῃ τρυφώσῃ καὶ λουομένῃ τῆς ἡμέρας πολλάκις· καλὸν οὖν εἰ πάντα εὐθετήσας ἐκκορήσειάς τε καὶ ἐκπλύνειας καὶ ἐκθυμιάσειας τὸ δωμάτιον· ἔτι δὲ κάλλιον εἰ καὶ στεφάνους παρασκευάσαιο κιττοῦ τε καὶ μίλακος, οἷς σαυτόν τε καὶ τὰ παιδικὰ ἀναδήσαιο. ἀλλὰ τί διατρίβεις; οὐκ ἐγχειρεῖς ἤδη τῇ θύρᾳ;’ πρὸς οὖν ταῦτα ὁ Πολύφημος ἐξεκάγχασέ τε ὅσον ἠδύνατο μέγιστον καὶ τὼ χεῖρε ἐκρότησε. καὶ ὁ μὲν Ὀδυσσεὺς ᾤετο αὐτὸν ὑπὸ χαρμονῆς οὐκ ἔχειν ὅ τι ἑαυτῷ χρήσαιτο κατελπίσαντα τῶν παιδικῶν περιέσεσθαι. ὁ δὲ ὑπογενειάσας αὐτόν, ‘ὦ Οὖτι,’ ἔφη, ‘δριμύτατον μὲν ἀνθρώπιον ἔοικας εἶναι καὶ ἐγκατατετριμμένον ἐν πράγμασιν. ἄλλο μέντοι τι ποίκιλλε· ἐνθένδε γὰρ οὐκ ἀποδράσεις.’

Jakob Jordaens 009.jpg
Jakob Jordans, 17th Century