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Homer the Greek and his lock-downs

I know, this will be somewhat controversial, this view of mine about Homer, I mean but, oh well, let the controversy explode and let’s see where the bits and pieces fall!

Not Homer Simpson but Homer the blind bard, I mean. That Homer who sang some 300,000 words which he accompanied with a lyre, about a war and a hero’s tortuous and torturous, adventure-packed journey home. That was Odysseus.

That war was called the Trojan War even though it had taken place in Ilium and even though it hadn’t taken place at all. Such are the perplexities of mythology, especially the Greek kind. Rest easy, though, after those 48 songs (or rhapsodies as the Greeks called them) there were no more myths, no more heroes and all wars were real, brutal and deadly, as brutal and deadly as Homer the blind bard described them. There were also no more heroes, other than those on the footy fields of Australia and the canines who drag their masters out of sink holes.

Nor was there a Homer, supposedly born around the Western shores of modern-day Turkey around the 8th century BCE. No Homer, no war, no heroes, just scrumptious stories of bronze spears driven through the eyes of men, swords thrust mightily through throats of loud war-cry, of spines being torn away from men’s backs, bronze helmeted heads lopped off bodies, of bodies tied to the back of chariots and dragged around the walls of Troy at the peak speed of stallions, and so on, and so on and so on. A pleasant sojourn around a battlefield heaped with blood and gore!

Oh, look, there’s Athena whizzing Paris away from Agamemnon‘s blood-soaked sword! She flies him to his bedroom where he can polish his spears. His new wife, well, by now a ten-year long marriage, Helen screams at his cowardice which only makes him horny.

And oh, look! There’s Ajax falling on his sword, ashamed by grey-eyed Athena who loved Odysseus!

And, who will it be, who will dare fight the Trojan warrior, Hektor? Will it be Diomedes, Achilles or Ajax?

And so on, and so on, and so on!

But the Iliad is not about any of this. Nor is the Odyssey about a punishing adventure.

And yes, it’s true, Homer did not exist!

And how do I know that? That Homer did not exist, I mean?

Because his name has been concocted to fit just too conveniently with the two epics. The name Homer, in Greek, (Ὅμηρος,) means “hostage” and being a hostage is the very essence of these two great works. Everyone in these two huge operas is dealing with the fact that they are a hostage. The war is not between the Trojans and the Greeks -in any case, around that place and around Homer’s time, they were all Greeks and Herodotus couldn’t see what all the fuss about the abduction of a mere woman was. Such a thing happened all the time by sailors from all around the world. They’d dock their ship at some port or other, girls would be enticed to go up and check out its cargo and before you know it, the ship would be sailing away with them on board! Nothing unusual, certainly nothing to bring on a war over.

But, Homer is trying to say that this war was between Man and his Fate, Man and his inescapable condition, which is to be a hostage. Nietzsche’s “homo!”

Homer is singing in no uncertain notes the true nature of Man, his inability to escape his condition as a hostage. His weakness, his insignificance, his place in the Cosmos as a hostage to it: to the gods, to fate, to the stars, to kings and queens, to beauty and to ugliness, to terror and to horror, to the telly and the dirty book, to things beyond his reach or strength or ken.

“We are all in lock-down,” he sings. “In an eternal lock-down and the exit is most firmly deadlocked!” In another book, by another wise man, he’d put it in different words, “were you a camel (the thickest type of rope) you wouldn’t be able to get through the exit’s eye.”

The Trojans have been hostages to the Greeks for ten years before all the men were slaughtered and all the women – bar one- were taken to Greece as slaves. The one who was freed from enslavement was Polyxena. She was spared the enslavement but instead, she was sacrificed on Achilles’ tomb by his son, Neoptolemos, a man judged by all to be, like Achilles, a man of virtue. By all the Greeks, I mean.

The Iliad begins, in res (in the middle of things) on the tenth year of the war when Chryseas, the father of a young priestess, Chryseis, loads his cart with valuable things, goes to the Greek camp and asks to have his daughter, Chryseis returned to him for all the wealth on his cart. She was held as war-prize by the leader of the Greek army, Agamemnon who, in spite of all his men calling him to return the young woman to her father, he doesn’t. The beautiful Chryseis is a hostage to Agamemnon, and he says he’ll take her home to be his and his wife’s slave.

The distraught father leaves the camp and when he gets back to Apollo‘s temple, prays to the god and he, in answer, punishes the Greeks most severely.

Muse, sing about Achilles’ rage! Peleus’ son and his bellowing rage

which sent immeasurable misery upon the Achaeans, their glorious souls to Hades and their bodies to the teeth of dogs and the talons of birds of prey.

Sing the song from that moment when anger split apart the two men,

King Agamemnon and brilliant Achilles.

The two leaders one, of men, the other of the battlefield, are now hostages to their pride and thus, their soldiers become hostages to them also. So are all the armies that had gathered around the walls of Troy, trying to free another hostage, Helen, ex-queen of Sparta, a hostage now of her lover, Paris and of her beauty, identical to that of the goddess Aphrodite. She was handed over to Paris in a deal between the goddess and the Prince. She was a hostage but then so were all the women at the time. Bereft of any freedom to choose or do anything.

Homer does a divinely inspired job (after all he calls for the help of the muse) in describing Helen’s torment as a hostage and why the Trojan elders understand her predicament and the predicament of all the Trojans and Greeks alike, in effect, their hostage.

So I’ll jump to what the author of these two massive books, The Iliad and The Odyssey is describing for his audience. He is describing the travails of being a hostage. Man’s existential condition. We are all locked up – or “locked-down”- to use the modern vernacular; the Trojans, not for a few weeks, as we are in modern-day Australia but for ten years! No wonder whoever gave him his name he thought of the most appropriate one for him: Homer. Hostage.

We are hostage to the strength and weakness of our bodies, of our minds and of our hearts. We are hostage to the will and whim of others, more powerful than us and we are hostage to this moment and this place.

The worst question one can ask about any work of art, be it sculpture or Music, or Literature or origami is “what is it about?” It’s an insulting question because it reduces all that immeasurable inspiration it took to create that work into a single, deplorably miserable sentence. “Oh, it’s about war!” or “Oh, it’s about peace?” or “it’s about the abduction of a queen,” or, “oh, it’s about love!” etc, etc, etc.

But the core message, the greatest picture we get when we read these works, is the one that merges when we plunges deep into own soul, much like when Odysseus was guided down to Hades before he left the shores of Calypso’s island and headed for home. It’s a picture that psychologists try to see but never can because, as Homer describes it, it is a huge picture, ever evolving, yet ever a hostage.

It is the picture of Man as a Hostage, Pontius Pilates man, when he uttered the words “ecce homo.” And it is a picture that emerges out of the fog of chaotic clamour and groans of pain. The poet’s sermon says that man is a hostage right from his first breath.

Astyanax, Hektor and Andromache‘s baby boy was thrown over the sky scraping walls of Troy to his death, by – another irony! – Neoptolemos, the “virtuous” son of “virtuous” Achilles who had also cut Polyxena’s throat upon his father’s tomb. Some virtuous man! That’s what baby Astyanax was hostage to; a male, the son of the most prominent man in Troy, Prince Hektor and of the turn of the battle between two peoples about whom he knew nothing.

Being a hostage brooks no logic.

The Odyssey, too, begins with Odysseus, his name means “someone hostage to acute mental pain,” begins with this man being hostage to the Queen/goddess Calypso and to Poseidon‘s anger because – well, for many reasons but primarily because Odysseus had blinded Poseidon’s beloved son, the cyclops, Polyphemus.

Back in Ithaka, Odysseus’ wife, Penelope was hostage to 108 suitors waiting for her to pick her husband from one of them and they, the suitors themselves, were hostages to her will. They became hostages (and target practice) to Odysseus when he had returned after ten more years on the sea, twenty years altogether from the day he left for Troy (23 actually, because the fleet was held in Aulis, hostage to Artemis who would not allow favourable winds to fill the sails of the 1000 ships). There, the young girl Iphigenia was also held hostage and had her throat slit because of her father’s indiscretions.

Homer gave us the greatest insight about us: we are all hostage to this planet, to this time, to this place in the Cosmos. Both, place and the cosmos are magnificent. Yes, we are in lock-down but, luckily – some religiously minded will say, purposely – we are locked-down in a great resort. The best that Nature can offer. So let’s not destroy it, let’s not fill it up with destructive rubbish of our flaws, hubris, greed, gluttony, crime. Let’s just enjoy it. It’s a holiday.

Homer sang for us the quintessential lesson about our life as humans: We are all hostages and then we die. We must live knowing that.

Plato called him “the teacher of Greece” and a number of scholars said that he was not merely a footnote in the pages of History but History itself.

“But, come now! Let us you and I enter the bliss of love for never was my soul captured so mightily by desire…

You make me so horny when you’re angry!” Iliad Book 3.438) (The last line is my paraphrase).

NOTE: All translations from ancient Greek are mine.

 

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14 comments

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  1. Roswell

    Very interesting read, George. I learned much.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Doctor Wu

    Yes indeed George. A thoroughly researched and very insightful interpretation of the human condition. Many students of ancient Mediterranean societies know that the Trojan War was actually over control of trade through the Bosphorus and not at all about Helen and Paris. Reading it cast some new light on the formative mythologies contained in many “histories” – especially since I have just read Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad”, which tells the story of Odysseus’ return home from the perspective of Penelope and her handmaidens. Thanks George.

  3. George Theodoridis

    Doctor Wu, yes, Atwood is great with the ancient material and her wise eye on women and their treatment back then.

  4. Paul Smith

    Magnificent! Who said mythology was inferior to scripture? Ignorant bigots, that’s who.

  5. Josephus

    Wonderful article, especially having loved Margaret Atwood’s multilayer play the Penelopiad on stage recently. The play updates the story of Penelope while retaining the mythical elements.
    The deeper, timeless story of our entrapment in cruel time with no release but death has been retold last century too : Sartre’s huis clos (no exit) and in waiting for Godot. Others will add to these. Atheism while most congenial to the modern mind can only despair. Replace vengeful gods with vengeful humans or , as in the above plays, with cruel fate that just is , or / and vile humans who inflict wars on ordinary people.
    At present viruses, nuclear arsenals, plastic seas, human plagues ; add your own fears. I think most humans feel helpless and hopeless right now; but it was ever thus. Pills and miracle beauty treatments are illusory but plagues and tyrants are not.

  6. George Theodoridis

    Thank you, Josephus and well put especially about replacing vengeful gods with vengeful humans. Euripides did this with his every tragedy. His earlier colleagues, Aeschylus and Sophocles (and most probably other, non-extant playwrights) harped on about sins committed by mortals against the gods. Euripides told his fellow Athenians to forget about the gods; they are suffering their tragedy because they had sinned against their fellow mortals. Stop hurting one-another!
    And, indeed, we are hostage to our idiocy and to our own moral flaws. Nuclear arsenals, plastic seas, plastic, uneducated, hollow lives… that strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more, signifying nothing – to paraphrase Shakespeare.

  7. wam

    Happily you have gained one definition of ‘a homer’ with this story(I have long been another)
    History has always been as passed on, one interpretation at a time and dispersed with contemporary political truths accompanied by some convenient facts.
    The truth is as you believe and that depends on whether you can ask as well as listen.
    Locked down with a smattering of locked out and a pinch of locked up is Australia With scummo et al firmly in the last two???

  8. Bill

    True Josephus; thanks George, you saved me from revisiting Homer which was over my head first time around.
    So really, not much has changed in 3000 years.
    Re “hostage . . of our minds”: a hostage release program of sorts is available, ie. see through the game that captive mind, so thoroughly indoctrinated by modern systems of ‘education’ or rather inducation, got enticed into and trapped within at an early age.
    Re lock-down measures, ironically, some may be doing good in ways that the agents of implementation never envisaged. For example, the upside of the anti-common-sense restriction of requiring healthy people to wear a placebo device that increases carbon dioxide levels in the body and turns the lungs into a virtual petri dish for a range of pathogens may well be a complementary evolutionary vector that quickens the awakening by a large number of people thanks to the extra time to research mind as an over-arching principle and the extra time to analyse the unscientific basis of many of the restrictions declared by medical dunces incapable of understanding studies such as this June 2021:
    11 ‘Dangerous pathogens found on children’s face masks’ –

    Dangerous pathogens found on children’s face masks

  9. DrakeN

    Bill,
    Have you considered the huge number of extremely dangerous pathogens which have been identified on babies’ diapers?
    “Germs” have been the principle selling points for all kinds of dangerous products ever since their discovery.
    “Dangerous pathogens” are in the very air we breathe – in every breath we take and on every surface which we touch.
    Attempting to eliminate them has been accompanied by the elimination of much of the beneficial biosphere upon which our very existence depends.
    But the propagation of the “news” of invisible dangers serves our “masters” well by increasing popular fear and insecurity which they can more easily manipulate us simple souls.

  10. Bill

    DrakeN, the study above refers to pathogen accumulation in children’s masks, not the experience of wearing soiled diapers on face 5-7 hrs a day. George, what would Homer have said about wearing soiled diapers as face masks I wonder? Were Greeks ever that stupid, and if some were, do you think their genes migrated to modern policy wonks in Health Depts? What is cringeworthy now is watching childish news readers and breakfast show hosts pushing the ‘children should wear masks @ school’ talking point. While some might say it is good to throw children under the bus of poor health advice so that some shallow adults can feel less anxious, those making this kind of call to harm children are cowardly imo.

  11. leefe

    Bill

    First: The issue of ‘dangerous pathogens’ is easily dealt with: change or wash masks regularly. It’s not hard.
    Also, kids get dirty, no matter what they wear and what they do. Can you actually point to any children who have become ill as a direct result of these ”dangerous pathogens’?
    And, again, if the ”dangerous pathogens’ are on the inside of the mask, it’s because they were already in the child’s respiratory system. If they are on the outside, it means the mask works.

    Point 2: There is more dead air space in a SCUBA regulator than a mask. Medical staff wear masks for many hours at a time and have been doing so for ages. It doesn’t affect their competence because it doesn’t affect their blood oxygen levels.
    There is a very small percentage of people who have serious medical conditions that mean they can’t wear masks. Everyone else can do so with impunity and should from basic consideration for other members of society.

    There is nothing like cherry-picking a few basic facts and launching yourself into orbit with them to create an illogical, inconsistent and utterly ludicrous conspiracy theory. Enjoy, but don’t expect any rational people to come along for the ride.

  12. guest

    Good points well made, leefe. I could not find anything on the Rational Ground people except more of the same, but there is plenty online about tests done on the use of masks.

    A ripper is one by Bruce Y Lee in “Study Claiming Face Masks Harmful, Increase CO2 For Children is Retracted” (forbes.com, 17/7/2021):

    “You know that mask study that Tucker Carlson featured on his Fox News show? That one was originally published as a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics? Well…JAMA Pediatrics has retractd the study…

    “It’s not as if children have never warn masks over their faces before the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic. There is this thing called Halloween, for example. Carlson, by the way, has about as many medical degrees as your average alpaca: zero.”

    I liked that because it debunked someone like Carlson. There are so many people who write/speak rubbish about the epidemic, just as there are deniers or fiddly nitpickers who seek to quibble about irrelevancies with regard to climate change, such as seen in IPA publications .

    It is a pity to interrupt the fine work done here by George, who is a skilful professional translator.

  13. Doctor Wu

    Indeed Guest … And it is also a pity that the AIM moderators allow the sort of drivel propagated by the likes of Bill to be published in the midst of a very interesting discussion about ancient mythology and the insights it might ential. There are other threads for that sort of material. That informed discussions can be hijacked by conspiracy theorists, and interesting information can be so easily dismissed by a statement to the effect of “Look over there” reminds me of the tactics employed by Scummo et al, and makes me think twice about offering my opinions on AIM.

  14. guest

    Thank you, Doctor Wu, for noticing. I wish that I did not have to intrude on George’s post. Those ancient stories have been so influential in Western thinking, literature and education – from Vergil’s “Aeneas” to Joyce’s “Ulysses” and beyond.

    But I was drawn to George’s Homer as “hostage” as well by what he said about us all knowing that we must die but also by what I had just read about John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist, who is quoted by a reviewer of his life and work, Zackary D. Carter (Random House, 2021).

    Keynes said this: “In the long run we are all dead”,adding that his fellow economists “set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons [let us say, in time of a pandemic] they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.

    “It is foolish, in other words, to expect populations to weather hunger, unemployment, and unrest waiting wall-eyed for markets to adjust.”

    And I took notice because the present government has done something Keynesian which has been roundly criticised by the Murdoch pundits – it ha acted strongly and spent money for the people.

    Keynes believed economics should serve the people, not the other way around, Not so in Murdochland.

    I could write at length about the heartless propaganda of the Murdoch scribes who say that the pandemic is just an alarmist ploy to take control – and the same for climate change. Yet it is the Murdoch propaganda machine that is alarmist. You do not have to look far to see it. Look at the scaremongering about the debt.

    Remember the “Ax the Tax” chant, which Peta Credlin later admitted was not a tax at all. Both Credlin and Tony Abbott later received gold gongs for their work in politics.

    Think about the Murdoch view of climate change, driven largely by the IPA. The editor of “Climate Change: The Facts 2017” tells us there are contradictions in the essays, but hopes they will be reconciled. Conradictions will be reconciled?

    The 2020 edition tells us the CO2 hypothesis is wrong, and what now data must be collected to show climate change is about natural cycles. They know that already?

    So we look at the world and see predicted effects of climate change are ll around us. Huge wildfires in California for example.

    And George will have especially noted: the Parhenon in Athens locked down in wildfires.

    Murdoch makes my blood boil.

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