One day during the Trojan War, Apollo and Athena decide to give the combatants a break. The general conflict is to be replaced with a one-on-one. The Olympians induce Helenus to tell his brother Hector to take on whichever of the Greeks is up for it.

Only Menelaus will accept the challenge at first. His brother Agamemnon makes him withdraw. When none of the other Greeks comes forward, Nestor chides them. After a story of his former prowess, he utters the words that Chapman renders as two couplets:

O that my youth were now as fresh, and all my powers as sound;
Soone should bold Hector be impugn’d: yet you that most are crownd
With fortitude, of all our hoast; euen you, me thinkes are slow,
Not free, and set on fire with lust, t’encounter such a foe.

Those lines are in Book VII of Homer’s Iliad. I have added some notes about them to my 2017 post about the book. Here I revise and expand on those notes, passing also to consideration of Plutarch and Freud.

“You are slow, not free and set on fire with lust,” Nestor tells the Greeks. He thus equates freedom with lust, or with the indulging of lust. This is the freedom called license, as opposed to the freedom that entails responsibility.

Such oppositions were the theme of “Antitheses.” They are oppositions that illuminate one another. Punishment is opposed to forgiveness, if you think punishment is something bad for the transgressor; but it should be doing something good, which is inducing the criminal’s repentance. Such has been the aim of the penitentiary, although this may have devolved into the pen, which is just a place to hold animals.

The word “license” stands in antithesis with itself, for naming at first (1) what is licit or lawful, but coming to mean (2) what exceeds the bounds of propriety.

Another such word is “automatic”: in Greek, αὐτόματος. This refers (1) to what is self-willed, but also (2) to what is not willed, at least not directly, by a being such as ourselves. These two senses are seen in the Iliad:

  1. In Book II, when Agamemnon calls a council of war, but does not call his brother to it, Homer tells us in lines 408–9:

    αὐτόματος δέ οἱ ἦλθε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Μενέλαος:
    ᾔδεε γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ἀδελφεὸν ὡς ἐπονεῖτο.

    As Chapman has it, in his lines 355–8,

    but at-a-martiall-crie,
    Good Menelaus, since he saw, his brother busily
    Employd at that time, would not stand, on inuitation,
    But of himselfe came.

  2. In Book V, when Juno and Athena are ready to fly down from Olympus to aid the Greeks, Homer tells us (lines 749–51):

    αὐτόμαται δὲ πύλαι μύκον οὐρανοῦ ἃς ἔχον Ὧραι,
    τῇς ἐπιτέτραπται μέγας οὐρανὸς Οὔλυμπός τε
    ἠμὲν ἀνακλῖναι πυκινὸν νέφος ἠδ᾽ ἐπιθεῖναι.

    Chapman renders this (his lines 756–9):

    the ample gates of heauen
    Rung, and flew open of themselues; the charge whereof is giuen
    (With all Olympus, and the skie) to the distinguisht Howres,
    That cleare, or hide it all in clowds; or powre it downe in showres.

The gates of heaven open automatically, like doors in the starship Enterprise, not to mention actual shop doors today.

For Aristotle, the automatic, τὸ αὐτόματον, is just chance. It is a genus of which luck, τύχη, is a species. Here is Physics Β6, in the translation of Hippocrates G. Apostle (Grinnell, Iowa: Peripatetic Press, 1980); the italics and bracketed additions are his; the bolding, mine:

The term “chance” differs from “luck” by being a wider predicate; for every effect by luck is also an effect by chance, but not every effect by chance is an effect by luck. Luck and an effect by luck belong also to whatever good fortune and action in general belong … inanimate things and brutes and children, having no choice, cannot do anything by luck

As for chance it exists in the other animals and in many inanimate things. For example … the tripod which fell [on its feet] is a chance [cause], for though its being on its feet is for the sake of being sat on, it did not fall for the sake of being sat on.

Here is the original (197a36–b18):

Διαφέρει δ’ ὅτι τὸ αὐτόματον ἐπὶ πλεῖόν ἐστι· τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀπὸ τύχης [197b] πᾶν ἀπὸ ταὐτομάτου, τοῦτο δ’ οὐ πᾶν ἀπὸ τύχης. ἡ μὲν γὰρ τύχη καὶ τὸ ἀπὸ τύχης ἐστὶν ὅσοις καὶ τὸ εὐτυχῆσαι ἂν ὑπάρξειεν καὶ ὅλως πρᾶξις … οὔτε ἄψυχον οὐδὲν οὔτε θηρίον οὔτε παιδίον οὐδὲν ποιεῖ ἀπὸ τύχης, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχει προαίρεσιν …

Τὸ δ’ αὐτόματον καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις καὶ πολλοῖς τῶν ἀψύχων, οἷον … ὁ τρίπους αὐτόματος κατέπεσεν· ἔστη μὲν γὰρ τοῦ καθῆσθαι ἕνεκα, ἀλλ’ οὐ τοῦ καθῆσθαι ἕνεκα κατέπεσεν.

The abstract nominal form of αὐτόματος is αὐτοματία, and English turns out to have a corresponding word: “automacy.” There is a definition, not useful in itself:

The condition or state of being an automaton; automatic quality.

Thus the Oxford English Dictionary, which thinks the word is “probably” modelled on the French automatie. The Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales has a good definition of automatie:

Faculté d’agir indépendamment de la volonté divine (comme l’automate fonctionne, une fois construit, indépendamment de la volonté humaine).

According to the CNRTL, the word is “Attesté dans la plupart des dict. gén. du xixes. ainsi que ds Quillet 1965”; I do not find it among the sixty thousand words touted as constituting the 2006 edition of Le Nouveau Petit Robert that I bought in Ankara.

To serve for αὐτοματία in English, we could say “fortune,” in allusion to the Roman goddess Fortuna, also known as Automatia; in Greek she is Tyche, Τύχη, and one of her epithets or surnames is Αὐτοματία.

The Corinthian general Timoleon had a shrine to her in his house. This is by the account of Plutarch. In the Dryden translation, the goddess is Good Hap; but the Greek is Αὐτοματία.

I have now enjoyed reading the Life of Timoleon; but after starting out on paper, I felt I needed an electronic version, which has become a page of this blog, with highlighted passages that can be read as a summary of the whole work.

In my old Modern Library edition of Plutarch’s Lives, the lines of text seemed too long and closely spaced. But let me quote a passage from “Timoleon” that is illustrated by such articles as, “For insulting Erdogan, over 3,800 sentenced to prison in Turkey in 2019” (this in the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al Arabiya). Here is Plutarch, in the lines of the Modern Library edition:

So true it is that men are usually more stung and galled by reproachful
words than hostile actions: and they bear an affront with less patience
than an injury; to do harm and mischief by deeds is counted pardonable
from the enemies, as nothing less can be expected in a state of war;
whereas virulent and contumelious words appear to be the expression of
needless hatred, and to proceed from an excess of rancour.

Those lines are not too long on my screen; but vertically, they are 25% more widely spaced, by my calculations, than in Modern Library.

Plutarch’s general theme is a question about men such as Timoleon:

whether they owe their greatest achievements to good fortune, or their own prudence and conduct.

πότερον εὐποτμίᾳ, μᾶλλον ἢ φρονήσει τὰ μέγιστα τῶν πεπραγμένων κατώρθωσαν).

Here is yet another word for luck. Εὐποτμία is that which falls out well:

  • “eu-” as in euphoria and euphemism,

  • πότμος, from πίπτω “to fall,” seen in words like symptom, asymptote, and peripety.

What for Dryden is prudence and conduct is given in Greek by the single word φρόνησις, which is, etymologically speaking, thoughtfulness.

Plutarch’s question is illusory, if fortune is automatic, and the automatic is the self-willed or deliberate.

The word “deliberate” is related to the Latin lībra “balance,” rather than to lībĕr “free” or lĭber “book, inner bark of tree.” The three similar words occur in the motto of St John’s College:

Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque

I make free men out of children by means of books and a balance

I find a good explication of the motto in “Freedom, Responsibility, and the Liberal Arts,” a lecture delivered in 1938 by Stringfellow Barr, one of the founders of the New Program at the College:

The daily papers suggest that Hitler and Mussolini are doing most of the choosing, most of the deciding, most of the willing these days. The day’s news suggests that liberal democracies are paralyzed. If they are, it is because we twentieth-century liberals have missed the point of our own faith. We have slithered into the belief that liberty meant being left alone, and nothing else. We have come to no longer distinguish between authority and tyranny. We have forgotten that the mind that denies the authority of reason falls under the tyranny of caprice.

I think of those persons who resent wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.

In Latin, as far as I understand, free men and children are named by the same masculine plural form liberi.

  1. The men are free to enter into contracts.

  2. The children are free to run around.

Freud takes more basic examples of words like “license” and “automatic” and “free” and liber from the work of Carl Abel:

In Latin, such ambivalent words are:

altus = high or deep. sacer = sacred or accursed.

As examples of modifications of the original root, I quote:

clamare = to shout. clam = quietly, silently, secretly.
siccus = dry. succus = juice

and, in German, Stimme = voice. stumm = dumb.

I add a Latin example that is particularly relevant to the Iliad. Either of hostis and hospes refers to the stranger: an enemy and a guest, respectively. The words give us the two of the three kinds of host in English: (1) an army and (2) an entertainer of guests. The host as (3) consecrated bread is from hostia “sacrificial victim,” said to be of obscure origin. The common Indo-European root of hostis and hospes is *ghos-ti-; this comes to us also through Germanic as “guest.”

Freud takes up such words in the Eleventh Lecture, “The Dream-Work,” of A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Above I quoted the Joan Riviere translation from a paperback that is as old as I am (Washington Square Press, 15th printing, 1965). Here is a selection from the edition of Project Gutenberg (said to be the translation of G. Stanley Hall, who had written a preface to the Riviere translation):

One of the most surprising discoveries is the manner in which the dream-work deals with those things which are opposed to one another in the latent dream. We already know that agreements in the latent material are expressed in the manifest dream by condensations. Now oppositions are treated in exactly the same way as agreements and are, with special preference, expressed by the same manifest element. An element in a manifest dream, capable of having an opposite, may therefore represent itself as well as its opposite, or may do both simultaneously; only the context can determine which translation is to be chosen. It must follow from this that the particle “no” cannot be represented in the dream, at least not unambiguously.

The development of languages furnishes us with a welcome analogy for this surprising behavior on the part of the dream work. Many scholars who do research work in languages have maintained that in the oldest languages opposites—such as strong, weak; light, dark; big, little—were expressed by the same root word.

I don’t know any more about the linguistic research referred to here, or what more (if anything) Freud does with it. As for representation by opposites in dreams, I find the following in the next lecture, “Examples of Dreams and Analysis of Them”:

  • Blood from hitting one’s head on a chandelier stands for blood from the opposite end of the body, through menstruation or a torn hymen. The dreaming patient had alopecia, and her mother had told her her head would be as bald as her buttocks.

  • Open theft of material lying about in public symbolizes masturbating in private.

  • The other person in a dream may be yourself.

  • The unknown can stand for the known:

    When stress is laid upon the fact that people in a dream are unknown to the dreamer, or that he has forgotten their names, they are, as a rule, persons with whom he is intimately connected.

  • The many are the one:

    The going through a number of rooms … we have already learnt to know as a symbol of marriage (the expression of monogamy according to the rule of opposites).

  • Going up stairs or down a shaft, it’s all the same:

    I, on my own account, offer the remark that going-down as well as going-up stands for sexual intercourse.

Heraclitus said that too, except for the sex part:

Ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή.

The road up and the road down is one and the same.

Whether the road is up or down depends on whether we are going up it or down it. If something else is going up or down, on its own, we can see it in two ways, corresponding to the two senses of “automatic”:

  1. It moves itself the way we move ourselves.

  2. It moves independently of us or anybody like us.

We have seen Sense 1 in how Menelaus comes automatically to the war council of his brother. In his “Commentarivs” on Book II of the Iliad, Chapman says of the relevant passage,

a passing great peece of worke is pickt out by our greatest Philosophers, touching the vnbidden coming of Menelaus to supper or Counsell, which some commend; others condemne in him: but the reason why he staid not the inuitement, rendered immediatly by Homer, none of thē will vnderstand …

If I understand Chapman, what the greatest philosophers do not understand is that Homer’s explanation for why Menelaus comes uninvited is ironical. I have figured Menelaus was sensitive enough to save his brother the trouble of summoning him; but perhaps he also knows he can get away with being where his big brother doesn’t really want him.

Plutarch recognizes Homer’s irony (says Chapman), in Question II, “Whether the entertainer should seat the guests …,” of Book I of the Questiones Convivales (which Chapman calls Symposium):

Menelaus is accounted absurd and passed into a proverb, for pretending to advise when unasked; and sure he would be more ridiculous that instead of an entertainer should set up for a judge, when nobody requests him or submits to his determination which is the best and which the worst man in the company; for the guests do not come to contend about precedency, but to feast and be merry.

Menelaus may be clueless, but he is a good sport. In the passage that we started with, where Nestor criticizes the Greeks for lacking the passion to fight Hector, he obviously does not mean Menelaus, who has already offered to fight, saying (lines 80–7),

Aye me, but onely threatning Greeks, not worthy Grecian names:
This more and more, not to be borne, makes grow our huge defames,
If Hectors honorable proofe, be entertaind by none;
But you are earth and water all, which (symboliz’d in one)
Haue fram’d your faint vnfirie spirits: ye sit without your harts,
Grosly inglorious: but my selfe, will vse acceptiue darts,
And arme against him; though you thinke, I arme gainst too much ods:
But conquests garlands hang aloft, amongst th’immortall gods.

It is a question whether Chapman get Homer’s meaning better than a literal translator such as Murray. Again, the words that Chapman puts into Nestor’s mouth are:

O that my youth were now as fresh, and all my powers as sound;
Soone should bold Hector be impugn’d: yet you that most are crownd
With fortitude, of all our hoast; euen you, me thinkes are slow,
Not free, and set on fire with lust, t’encounter such a foe.

Broken into verses corresponding to Homer’s, Murray’s prose in the Loeb edition reads:

Would I were now as young and my strength as firm,
then should Hector of the flashing helm soon find one to face him.
Whereas ye that are chieftains of the whole host of the Achaeans,
even ye are not minded with a ready heart to meet Hector face to face.

“Not minded with a ready heart”! It sounds funny, but the references to heart and mind have technical justification.

The adverbial phrase “with a ready heart” comes from προφρονέως, which might be rendered more literally as, “with heart in front”: heart taking the lead, heart making free.

We saw the stem φρον- above in φρόνησις, which Dryden rendered as prudence and conduct.

The root word, φρήν, can be read as the heart, but not necessarily the blood-pumping muscular organ. It is something in the trunk, but it could be a lung. I talked more about the possibilities in “On Translation.” (I was able to find that post by searching my site for φρήν in Greek letters; the post on Book I of the Odyssey also came up in this search.)

In his Greek etymological dictionary, Beekes finds it plausible that φρήν is connected to φράζομαι “to think, consider.” This word is the origin of our “phrase.”

Murray’s verb “to be minded” corresponds to the Greek verb used in the perfect form μέμονα (though Cunliffe defines it under the unattested present form *μάω). The Indo-European root is *men- “think,” which is the origin of our “mind.” Beekes derives from the root

  • μιμνήσκω “to remind (oneself), remember, heed, care for, make mention”;

  • αὐτόματος.

So we are back to the automatic.

Homer’s lines 157–60 of Book VII of the Iliad read in full:

εἴθ᾽ ὣς ἡβώοιμι, βίη δέ μοι ἔμπεδος εἴη:
τώ κε τάχ᾽ ἀντήσειε μάχης κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ.
ὑμέων δ᾽ οἵ περ ἔασιν ἀριστῆες Παναχαιῶν
οὐδ᾽ οἳ προφρονέως μέμαθ᾽ Ἕκτορος ἀντίον ἐλθεῖν.

With the last two lines, I think one can be even more literal than Murray, thus:

Of you, who even are best of all [you] Greeks,
Not—who are with heart in the lead—are you minded to go opposite Hector.

This does not read so well, but aims to use “who” to correspond to the nominative plural pronoun οἵ, which occurs on either line and is third person, unlike the two second-person forms that appear:

  • the genitive plural pronoun ὑμέων “of you,”

  • the verb that, isolated, would be μέματε “you are minded.”

Actually ὑμέων doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense unless joined with the Παναχαιῶν “of Panachaeans” (or all the Achaeans) at the end of its line. But then I would still connect προφρονέως—even though it is an adverb—with the οἵ that precedes it; otherwise, why is οἵ there? So I get the meaning,

Even those who are best of all you Greeks, those who have heart in front: you are not minded to face Hector.

However, like Murray, the professional line-by-line translators construe προφρονέως μέματε as a unit:

  • Lattimore:

But you, now, who are the bravest of all the Achaians,
are not minded with a good will to go against Hektor.

But you men who are best of all Achaeans,
not even you with good heart seek to go against Hector.

These translations seem automatic in the sense of mechanical.

There is something mechanical about composing in meter in the first place. The poet follows an algorithm that picks words according to the lengths or stresses of their syllables.

The words come with meanings as well as sounds, and the meanings are supposed to fit the context. Chapman would seem to take them especially seriously.

13 Trackbacks

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  3. By On Plato’s Republic, 10 « Polytropy on November 7, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    […] wrote a blog post almost a year ago about what is spontaneous or rather automatic, like the growing up here: it can be self-willed or not willed. As for the form ἀκούσης, it […]

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  5. […] “Automatia” I investigated the ambiguity of words like “automatic” and […]

  6. […] In the previous post, I could have noted at the top how, in ¶ 20.8, Arendt paradoxically distinguishes between the automatic and the mechanical. Today we might use either word for activity without passion or thought. However, etymologically speaking at least, if something is mechanical, that means we can work on it; but the automatic goes its own way. I investigated this in my notes last time, in part because I had already done so, at least regarding the automatic, in the post named for the goddess Automatia. […]

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  9. By On Homer’s Iliad Book VII « Polytropy on January 14, 2023 at 9:26 am

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