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.”

Why Start In Medias Res? (Hint: Liars Do This…)

Homer, Odyssey 9.14–15

“What shall I say first and then last—
When the Ouranian gods have given me many pains?”

τί πρῶτόν τοι ἔπειτα, τί δ’ ὑστάτιον καταλέξω;
κήδε’ ἐπεί μοι πολλὰ δόσαν θεοὶ Οὐρανίωνες.

Schol. T ad Hom. Od. 9.14 ex 1-12

“This is how he increases attention by creating expectation, which is a device one might use in a proem. For it is necessary that he acquire the goodwill of his audience for himself and attention for his speech so that they might welcome him as he speaks and they might internalize the things he says of the deeds and they might learn in what way Odysseus handled [everything] in general as he both praises himself but also demonstrates the number and strangeness of his experiences—this clarifies his purpose, from where he was present, and what he wants. This is why he begins the material of the longer narrative with “bringing me from Troy….”

τί πρῶτόν τοι ἔπειτα] ὅσα αὔξει τὴν προσοχὴν, προσδοκίαν ἐμποιῶν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τεχνικὸν ὡς ἐν προοιμίῳ· δεῖ γὰρ παρὰ τῶν ἀκουόντων ἑαυτῷ μὲν εὔνοιαν ἐπισπᾶσθαι, τῷ δὲ λόγῳ προσοχὴν, ἵνα τὸν μὲν λέγοντα ἀποδέξωνται, τῶν δὲ πραγμάτων ἐπιθυμήσωσι τὰ λεγόμενα καὶ μάθωσιν ὅπερ δι’ ὅλου κατώρθωκεν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἑαυτὸν μὲν ἐπαινέσας, τὸ δὲ πλῆθος καὶ τὴν καινότητα τῶν πραγμάτων ἐνδειξά-μενος δηλοῖ τὴν προαίρεσιν καὶ πόθεν παραγίνεται καὶ τί βούλεται, εἶθ’ οὕτως καὶ τὰ μείζονος διηγήσεως ἄρξηται “᾿Ιλιόθεν με φέρων” (39.). T.

Horace, Ars Poetica 148-149

“He always rushes to the action and steals
His audience to the story as if it is already known…”

semper ad eventum festinat et in medias res
non secus ac notas auditorem rapit

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 11.25-26

“For once he tried to describe the war which happened between the Achaians and Greeks, he did not begin from the beginning, but from wherever he chanced. This is what nearly all liars do, as they embellish and re-weave their tales, never wishing to speak in the order of events.

For, they are less than clear in this way; otherwise, they would be shown false by the tale itself. This can be seen happening now in the courts of law and other places where men lie with skill. But people who wish to show what has happened, as each thing occurred, report in this way: first thing first, second thing second and everything else in order.

This is one explanation for why Homer does not begin his poem naturally; another is that he wished to obscure the beginning and the end the most and to obtain the opposite belief about these things. This is why he does not dare to narrate the beginning and the end clearly, nor does he promise to say anything about them. If he does mention them at all it is in passing and brief and it his clear he is mixing it all up. For he does not dare nor was he able to address these things readily.

This is what happens with liars especially, when someone is saying many different things about a matter and going on about them, because they want to hide some part of it the most, they don’t speak in an organized way or appeal to their audience by ordering things in the same place but where they are most deceptive. This is because they are ashamed to lie and hesitate to proceed, especially when it is about something serious. For this reason, liars do not speak in a loud voice when they come to this moment. Some people stutter and speak unclearly; others act as if they don’t know the truth but heard this from others.

Whoever speaks something true does it fearing nothing. Nor then has Homer spoken about the abduction of Helen or even about the sack of the city simply or in a free manner. Instead, as I was saying, even though he was so very bold, he stumbled and swooned because he knew he was speaking the opposite to the truth and was lying about the very substance of his affair.”

Ἐπιχειρήσας γὰρ τὸν πόλεμον εἰπεῖν τὸν γενόμενον τοῖς Ἀχαιοῖς πρὸς τοὺς Τρῶας, οὐκ εὐθὺς ἤρξατο ἀπὸ τῆς ἀρχῆς, ἀλλ᾿ ὅθεν ἔτυχεν· ὃ ποιοῦσι πάντες οἱ ψευδόμενοι σχεδόν, ἐμπλέκοντες καὶ περιπλέκοντες καὶ οὐθὲν βουλόμενοι λέγειν ἐφεξῆς· ἧττον γὰρ κατάδηλοί εἰσιν· εἰ δὲ μή, ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ τοῦ πράγματος ἐξελέγχονται. τοῦτο δὲ ἰδεῖν ἔστι καὶ ἐν τοῖς δικαστηρίοις καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις γιγνόμενον οἳ μετὰ τέχνης ψεύδονται. οἱ δὲ βουλόμενοι τὰ γενόμενα ἐπιδεῖξαι, ὡς ξυνέβη ἕκαστον, οὕτως ἀπαγγέλλουσι, τὸ πρῶτον πρῶτον καὶ τὸ δεύτερον δεύτερον καὶ τἄλλα ἐφεξῆς ὁμοίως. ἓν μὲν τοῦτο αἴτιον τοῦ μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἄρξασθαι τῆς ποιήσεως· ἕτερον δέ, ὅτι τὴν ἀρχὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸ τέλος μάλιστα ἐπεβούλευσεν ἀφανίσαι καὶ ποιῆσαι τὴν ἐναντίαν δόξαν ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν. ὅθεν οὔτε τὴν ἀρχὴν οὔτε τὸ τέλος ἐτόλμησεν εἰπεῖν ἐκ τοῦ εὐθέος, οὐδὲ ὑπέσχετο ὑπὲρ τούτων οὐδὲν ἐρεῖν, ἀλλ᾿ εἴ που καὶ μέμνηται, παρέργως καὶ βραχέως, καὶ δῆλός ἐστιν ἐπιταράττων· οὐ γὰρ ἐθάρρει πρὸς αὐτὰ οὐδὲ ἐδύνατο ἐρεῖν ἑτοίμως. συμβαίνει δὲ καὶ τοῦτο τοῖς ψευδομένοις ὡς τὸ πολύ γε, ἄλλα μέν τινα λέγειν τοῦ πράγματος καὶ διατρίβειν ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς, ὃ δ᾿ ἂν1 μάλιστα κρύψαι θέλωσιν, οὐ προτιθέμενοι λέγουσιν οὐδὲ προσέχοντι τῷ ἀκροατῇ, οὐδ᾿ ἐν τῇ αὑτοῦ2 χώρᾳ τιθέντες, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἂν λάθοι μάλιστα, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὅτι αἰσχύνεσθαι ποιεῖ τὸ ψεῦδος καὶ ἀποκνεῖν προσιέναι πρὸς αὑτό, ἄλλως τε ὅταν ᾖ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων. ὅθεν οὐδὲ τῇ φωνῇ μέγα λέγουσιν οἱ ψευδόμενοι ὅταν ἐπὶ τοῦτο ἔλθωσιν· οἱ δέ τινες αὐτῶν βατταρίζουσι καὶ ἀσαφῶς λέγουσιν· οἱ δὲ οὐχ ὡς αὐτοί τι εἰδότες, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἑτέρων ἀκούσαντες. ὃς δ᾿ ἂν ἀληθὲς λέγῃ τι, θαρρῶν καὶ οὐδὲν ὑποστελλόμενος λέγει. οὔτε οὖν τὰ περὶ τὴν ἁρπαγὴν τῆς Ἑλένης Ὅμηρος εἴρηκεν ἐκ τοῦ εὐθέος οὐδὲ παρρησίαν ἄγων ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς οὔτε περὶ τῆς ἁλώσεως τῆς πόλεως. καίτοι γάρ, ὡς ἔφην, ἀνδρειότατος ὢν ὑποκατεκλίνετο καὶ ἡττᾶτο ὅτι ᾔδει τἀναντία λέγων τοῖς οὖσι καὶ τὸ κεφάλαιον αὐτὸ τοῦ πράγματος ψευδόμενος.

Image result for Medieval manuscript in medias res

Miniature of Sinon from the Vergilius Romanus. He was a liar too.

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.

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Myth: Shaping Our Minds Through Pleasure and Fear

Strabo, Geography 1.2.8

“For every illiterate and uneducated person is in some way a child and delights in the same way in stories—similar as well is the case of a person educated moderately. For this person is not ruled by reason, and this is the custom from childhood. Since the marvelous is not only sweet but also frightening, there is a need for both types for children and those in the next age. We use the sweet stories to encourage children and the the frightening ones to discourage them. The Lamia, for example, is a story like this, as is that of Ephialtes and Mormolukê.

Many of those who live in cities are compelled toward certain action by incitements of myths when they hear the poets praising the mythical courageous deeds—the deeds of Herakles or Theseus—or the honors accorded from the gods or when they see Zeus in a picture, or cult image, or images signaling the mythical tale in some way. To discourage them, they have tales whenever there are punishments from the gods and fears or threats or things they have received through some tale or unexpected punishment even if they believe it has happened to other people.

For it is not possible to persuade the mass of women and every kind of common person by reason with philosophy and to encourage them to piety, and righteousness, and fidelity; but it is necessary to do this through fear. And that is not [possible] without myth-making and wonder. For the lighting, aegis, trident, torches, dragons, thyrsis-shaking, weapons of the gods, the myths and all the ancient theology, these are all things those who found states use as bogeymen for childish minds.

This was myth-making and it was a good support for the commonwealth and the political arrangement of life and the inquiry of the way things really are; the ancients pursued their childhood’s education into their later years and they supposed that every age could become sufficiently prudent through poetry. In later years, the writing of history and then philosophy entered our consciousness. But these work only for the few; poetry is more useful to the public and can fill the theaters. The poetry of Homer supersedes: but the first historians and natural philosophers were myth-makers as well.”

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 ἡδὺ 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: ἥ τε γὰρ Λάμια μῦθός ἐστι καὶ ἡ Γοργὼ καὶ ὁ Ἐφιάλτης καὶ ἡ Μορμολύκη.

οἵ τε πολλοὶ τῶν τὰς πόλεις οἰκούντων εἰς μὲν προτροπὴν ἄγονται τοῖς ἡδέσι τῶν μύθων, ὅταν ἀκούωσι τῶν ποιητῶν ἀνδραγαθήματα μυθώδη διηγουμένων, οἷον Ἡρακλέους ἄθλους ἢ Θησέως, ἢ τιμὰς παρὰ θεῶν νεμομένας, ἢ νὴ Δία ὁρῶσι γραφὰς ἢ ξόανα ἢ πλάσματα τοιαύτην τινὰ περιπέτειαν ὑποσημαίνοντα μυθώδη: εἰς ἀποτροπὴν δέ, ὅταν κολάσεις παρὰ θεῶν καὶ φόβους καὶ ἀπειλὰς ἢ διὰ λόγων ἢ διὰ τύπων ἀοράτων τινῶν προσδέχωνται, ἢ καὶ πιστεύωσι περιπεσεῖν τινας.

οὐ γὰρ ὄχλον γε γυναικῶν καὶ παντὸς χυδαίου πλήθους ἐπαγαγεῖν λόγῳ δυνατὸν φιλοσόφῳ καὶ προσκαλέσασθαι πρὸς εὐσέβειαν καὶ ὁσιότητα καὶ πίστιν, ἀλλὰ δεῖ καὶ διὰ δεισιδαιμονίας: τοῦτο δ᾽ οὐκ ἄνευ μυθοποιίας καὶ τερατείας. κεραυνὸς γὰρ καὶ αἰγὶς καὶ τρίαινα καὶ λαμπάδες καὶ δράκοντες καὶ θυρσόλογχα τῶν θεῶν ὅπλα μῦθοι καὶ πᾶσα θεολογία ἀρχαϊκή: ταῦτα δ᾽ ἀπεδέξαντο οἱ τὰς πολιτείας καταστησάμενοι μορμολύκας τινὰς πρὸς τοὺς νηπιόφρονας.

τοιαύτης δὲ τῆς μυθοποιίας οὔσης καὶ καταστρεφούσης εἰς τὸ κοινωνικὸν καὶ τὸ πολιτικὸν τοῦ βίου σχῆμα καὶ τὴν τῶν ὄντων ἱστορίαν, οἱ μὲν ἀρχαῖοι τὴν παιδικὴν ἀγωγὴν ἐφύλαξαν μέχρι τῶν τελείων ἡλικιῶν, καὶ διὰ ποιητικῆς ἱκανῶς σωφρονίζεσθαι πᾶσαν ἡλικίαν ὑπέλαβον: χρόνοις δ᾽ ὕστερον ἡ τῆς ἱστορίας γραφὴ καὶ ἡ νῦν φιλοσοφία παρελήλυθεν εἰς μέσον. αὕτη μὲν οὖν πρὸς ὀλίγους, ἡ δὲ ποιητικὴ δημωφελεστέρα καὶ θέατρα πληροῦν δυναμένη, ἡ δὲ δὴ τοῦ Ὁμήρου ὑπερβαλλόντως: καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι δὲ ἱστορικοὶ καὶ φυσικοὶ μυθογράφοι.

Medusa Bernini 1638/1648

Bernini’s Medusa

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.”

Amazing, Wonderful Lies: Isocrates, Odysseus–Correspondence and Coherence

Isocrates, Helen 1-3

“There are some people who get puffed up if they manage to talk about something tolerably after they have themselves selected a strange and impossible subject. Men have also grown old claiming that it is impossible to say or disprove a lie or to speak two ways about the same matters. Others claim that courage, wisdom, and justice are the same thing, that we have none of these by nature, and that there is a single knowledge about them all. Others waste their time in conflicts which bring no benefit, which can only create more trouble for those who approach them.

I, if I saw that this superfluity had only just emerged in speeches and that these men were eager for honor in the novelty of what they discover, I would not be a surprised at them. But, now, who is such a late-learner that he does not know Protagoras and the sophists who were active at his time and that they left to us these types of things and speeches even more excessively composed than these? How could anyone overcome Gorgias who dared to say that nothing exists at all or Zeno who tried to demonstrate that the same things are possible and impossible or even Melissos who—although some things are countless in number—tried to provide a proof that everything is one!”

Εἰσί τινες οἳ μέγά φρονοῦσιν, ἢν ὑπόθεσιν ἄτοπον καὶ παράδοξον ποιησάμενοι περὶ ταύτης ἀνεκτῶς εἰπεῖν δυνηθῶσι· καὶ καταγεγηράκασιν οἱ μὲν οὐ φάσκοντες οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι ψευδῆ λέγειν οὐδ᾿ ἀντιλέγειν οὐδὲ δύω λόγω περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν πραγμάτων ἀντειπεῖν, οἱ δὲ διεξιόντες ὡς ἀνδρία καὶ σοφία καὶ δικαιοσύνη ταὐτόν ἐστι, καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἔχομεν, μία δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καθ᾿ ἁπάντων ἐστίν· ἄλλοι δὲ περὶ τὰς ἔριδας διατρίβουσι τὰς οὐδὲν μὲν ὠφελούσας, πράγματα δὲ παρέχειν τοῖς πλησιάζουσι δυναμένας.

Ἐγὼ δ᾿ εἰ μὲν ἑώρων νεωστὶ τὴν περιεργίαν ταύτην ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ἐγγεγενημένην καὶ τούτους ἐπὶ τῇ καινότητι τῶν εὑρημένων φιλοτιμουμένους, οὐκ ἂν ὁμοίως ἐθαύμαζον αὐτῶν· νῦν δὲ τίς ἐστιν οὕτως ὀψιμαθής, ὅστις οὐκ οἶδε Πρωταγόραν καὶ τοὺς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον γενομένους σοφιστάς, ὅτι καὶ τοιαῦτα καὶ πολὺ τούτων πραγματωδέστερα συγγράμματα κατέλιπον ἡμῖν; πῶς γὰρ ἄν τις ὑπερβάλοιτο Γοργίαν τὸν τολμήσαντα λέγειν ὡς οὐδὲν τῶν ὄντων ἔστιν, ἢ Ζήνωνα τὸν ταὐτὰ δυνατὰ καὶ πάλιν ἀδύνατα πειρώμενον ἀποφαίνειν, ἢ Μέλισσον ὃς ἀπείρων τὸ πλῆθος πεφυκότων τῶν πραγμάτων ὡς ἑνὸς ὄντος τοῦ παντὸς ἐπεχείρησεν ἀποδείξεις εὑρίσκειν;

Theogony 26-28

“Rustic shepherds, wretched reproaches, nothing but bellies,
We know how to say many lies similar to the truth
And we know how to speak the truth when we want to.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Od. 13.256-273

“I heard of Ithaca even in broad Krete
Far over the sea. And now I myself have come
With these possessions. I left as much still with my children
When I fled, because I killed the dear son of Idomeneus,
Swift-footed Orsilokhos who surpassed all the grain-fed men
In broad Krete with his swift feet
Because he wanted to deprive me of all the booty
From Troy, over which I had suffered much grief in my heart,
Testing myself against warlike men and the grievous waves.
All because I was not showing his father favor as an attendant
In the land of the Trojans, but I was leading different companions.
I struck him with a bronze-pointed spear as he returned
From the field, after I set an ambush near the road with a companion.
Dark night covered the sky and no human beings
Took note of us, I got away with depriving him of life.
But after I killed him with the sharp bronze,
I went to a ship of the haughty Phoenicians
And I begged them and gave them heart-melting payment.”

“πυνθανόμην ᾿Ιθάκης γε καὶ ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ,
τηλοῦ ὑπὲρ πόντου· νῦν δ’ εἰλήλουθα καὶ αὐτὸς
χρήμασι σὺν τοίσδεσσι· λιπὼν δ’ ἔτι παισὶ τοσαῦτα
φεύγω, ἐπεὶ φίλον υἷα κατέκτανον ᾿Ιδομενῆος,
᾿Ορσίλοχον πόδας ὠκύν, ὃς ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ
ἀνέρας ἀλφηστὰς νίκα ταχέεσσι πόδεσσιν,
οὕνεκά με στερέσαι τῆς ληΐδος ἤθελε πάσης
Τρωϊάδος, τῆς εἵνεκ’ ἐγὼ πάθον ἄλγεα θυμῷ,
ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων,
οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ οὐχ ᾧ πατρὶ χαριζόμενος θεράπευον
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ἀλλ’ ἄλλων ἦρχον ἑταίρων.
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ κατιόντα βάλον χαλκήρεϊ δουρὶ
ἀγρόθεν, ἐγγὺς ὁδοῖο λοχησάμενος σὺν ἑταίρῳ·
νὺξ δὲ μάλα δνοφερὴ κάτεχ’ οὐρανόν, οὐδέ τις ἥμεας
ἀνθρώπων ἐνόησε, λάθον δέ ἑ θυμὸν ἀπούρας.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τόν γε κατέκτανον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
αὐτίκ’ ἐγὼν ἐπὶ νῆα κιὼν Φοίνικας ἀγαυοὺς
ἐλλισάμην καί σφιν μενοεικέα ληΐδα δῶκα·

This is the first ‘lie’ Odysseus tells upon his arrival on Ithaca. He does not know that he is speaking to Athena and a scholiast explains his choices as if he were speaking to a suitor or one who would inform them.

Scholia V ad. Od. 13.267

“He explains that he killed Idomeneus’ son so that the suitors will accept him as an enemy of dear Odysseus. He says that he has sons in Crete because he will have someone who will avenge him. He says that the death of Orsilochus was for booty, because he is showing that he would not yield to this guy bloodlessly. He says that he trusted Phoenicians so that he may not do him wrong, once he has reckoned that they are the most greedy for profit and they spared him.”

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ κατιόντα] σκήπτεται τὸν ᾿Ιδομενέως υἱὸν ἀνῃρηκέναι, ἵνα αὐτὸν πρόσωνται οἱ μνηστῆρες ὡς ἐχθρὸν τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως φίλου. ἑαυτῷ δὲ ἐν Κρήτῃ υἱούς φησιν εἶναι, ὅτι τοὺς τιμωρήσοντας ἕξει. καὶ τὸν ᾿Ορσιλόχου δὲ θάνατον λέγει διὰ τὴν λείαν, δεικνὺς ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐκείνῳ παραχωρήσει ἀναιμωτί. Φοίνιξι δὲ πιστεῦσαι λέγει, ἵνα μὴ ἀδικήσῃ, λογισάμενος ὅτι οἱ φιλοκερδέσταται αὐτοῦ ἐφείσαντο.
V.

In studying memory systems, Martin Conway suggests that there are two forces in human memory: correspondence, which is about equivalence between details of ‘reality’ (or experience) and details of a story and coherence, which means that details make sense together in a narrative. When it comes to the way these systems operate in the human mind, not only does he argue that the memory systems have different neuro-anatomy, but he suggests that the episodic memory system (which prizes correspondence) developed earlier and is more basic to day-to-day survival than the autobiographical memory system which focuses more on coherence and is essential for the development of a goal or ‘identity’ driven self. The two systems are not exclusive—autobiographical memory selects from episodic memory in the creation of a coherent self.

Perhaps rather than considering these moments from the Theogony and the Odysseyas reflections of a tension between “fact and fiction”, we might find the relationship of correspondence and coherence more illuminating. Just as the Theogonic narrative selects from the range of mythical episodes to create a coherent narrative that is goal-driven, so too does Odysseus select and reintegrate details throughout books 13–19 in order to reintegrate into his community and complete a narrative of vengeance.

Image result for Ancient Greek Memory

Some things to read

Martin A. Conway. “Memory and the Self,” Journal of Memory and Language 53 (2005) 594-628.

Charles Fernyhough. Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Past. London: Profile, 2012.

David C. Rubin. “The Basic-systems Model of Episodic Memory,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1 (2006) 277-311.

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

Re-Telling Myths as Experiential Learning

“Many words of the ancients still ring true:
Their stories are fine medicine for mortal fear.”

καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν πόλλ’ ἔπη καλῶς ἔχει·
λόγοι γὰρ ἐσθλοὶ φάρμακον φόβου βροτοῖς. –Euripides, fr. 1065

We all know that the young readers–and many older ones–are moved by and identify with stories that draw on myth. Modern authors are part of an ancient tradition of reception, participating in the tradition of giving myth new life by adapting it for new contexts. And students can benefit from engaging in this process on their own.

In partnership with my campus’ Office of Experiential Learning and Teaching I re-designed my myth course this semester to focus more on myth as discourse and training for coping with or responding to discourse. Here is the statement I included on my syllabus:

[Myth] is designated as an experiential learning course. In the pursuit of storytelling as a discourse that shapes the way we think, see, and impact our world, the study of Classical Myth facilitates a reconsideration of where we come from as a human community and a reconfiguration of our understanding of how we shape where we will and can go. The study of myth in this capacity is fundamentally experiential: as a type of cooperative learning, it shows how storytellers and audiences—alongside teachers and students—are partners in the creation and perpetuation of the narratives that define their worlds; it is both relevant and authentic in providing students with the ability to understand the impact of mythmaking on the ancient world and in their own lives. From this perspective, the study of myth can also be transformative in providing students with the ability to sense, to decode and to reuse storytelling to understand and act as participants in their own world.

In keeping with the spirit of mythmaking and reception, this class will also engage in active learning frameworks which include, in addition to regular individual and group interpretation of myth, the telling and retelling of stories for different audiences. The process of interrogating the use of storytelling in the ancient world helps us gain agency over narratives in our own lives, understand our place in a larger human community connected by discourse, and develop greater competence in identifying the social effects of storytelling.

Image result for Ancient GReek myth performance

Periodically during the semester I would break from the typical myth course’s reading and lectures to have students work in groups or individually (1) discussing myths they liked; (2) isolating myths that made them uncomfortable; (3) discussing different versions of myths and reasons for their development; and (4) identifying narratives that had been influential in their lives. In the final weeks of the semester, I used a grant from the Experiential Learning committee to bring a storyteller to campus to work with students of different approaches to storytelling.

This work culminated in a final assignment that had students re-author an ancient myth for a modern context. In this process, I have been influenced by the work of psychologist Michael White who has focused on the importance of identifying the effects of discourse on our lives and regaining control (agency) over our own narratives by retelling our own stories.

Here’s the assignment:

Final Project

Stories (‘myths’) influence our lives from our earliest moments by shaping our expectations about the world and our own lives. Who tells what story has a profound effect on the choices we can make in our lives and the roles we think we may play in the world. In this course we have focused on the variability and reception of myth, emphasizing as well myth’s function as discourse. Cultural discourse is not just an important aspect of our identities vis à vis one another, but it also shapes our sense of agency. Philosophers, social theorists, and psychologists have argued that a sense of agency—most often mediated by types of storytelling—influences the way we interpret past events, impacts our behavior in the present, and constricts our ability to make plans for the future. Retelling stories—both personal narratives and cultural discourses—provides an opportunity for individuals and groups to reconsider and reclaim agency.

This final assignment will ask students to retell stories from Ancient Greece from their own perspectives (meaning individual, temporal, cultural etc.) as part of a practice of reclaiming discourse and learning how to receive and adapt paradigmatic narratives for new purposes. Students may work alone or in groups. The assignments must be submitted by the last day of finals.

Options
Written: Rewrite a classical myth as a short story, either introducing a new variant that changes the narrative to make it applicable to different audiences/agencies or adapting it contextually to a different culture and time (preferably our own). The rewritten narrative should be 1-2 pages (minimum; 3-5 max) with a 2-3 page essay (1) identifying the specific sources you adapted, (2) isolating and explaining the creative choices you made, and (3) discussing any challenges or limitations you encountered when completing the project. This essay is self-reflective and evaluative—it is an essential part of the process. (Note: this option is best for students who would like to work alone; if completed by a group, each member must contribute a separate essay.)
[There were two other options, a video or a recording, and nearly all the students chose to write a story]

Some of the results of this project were absolutely phenomenal. Here’s a selection of what some students did:

Continue reading

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.

Odysseus begins his song (Homer, Od. 9.14-20)

“What shall I say first and what shall I say last?
The Ouranian gods gave me so many pains.
But first I will say 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, 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.

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