Tag Archives: 2017

What Philosophy Is

With my presumptuous title, I imitate Arthur Danto’s What Art Is (2013), mentioned in my last post, “Some Say Poetry.” The book is fine, and I have learned from it; but Danto could have learned from Collingwood’s Principles of Art.

Picasso, The Tragedy (1903), National Gallery of Art, Washington Continue reading

Some Say Poetry

In a poetry review, a remark on being a student has drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

This is from the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017. After quoting Smallwood’s review, I want to say something about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics.

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

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Women and Men

This began as an update to “Confessions,” which concerns the man called G. H. Hardy and the woman called Sylvia Plath. I had originally included a photograph of the subjects’ respective books. On Hardy’s, the author poses reluctantly; on Plath’s, a woman applies powder in a compact mirror.

Plath’s book was the 2013 Faber and Faber 50th Anniversary Edition of The Bell Jar, and the cover is controversial. See Alexandra Topping, “The Bell Jar’s new cover derided for branding Sylvia Plath novel as chick lit” (The Guardian, Friday 1 February 2013). I learned of the controversy from Emily Van Duyne, “Sylvia Plath Looked Good in a Bikini—Deal With It,” in Electric Literature, hosted by Medium (October 9, 2017). Medium had promoted the essay to me when I read Brian E. Denton, “The World Will Not Quarrel: Day 282 of A Year of War and Peace.

Yesterday I happened upon a tweet juxtaposing the real cover of the British edition of Volume I of The Letters of Sylvia Plath with a fake cover of The Letters of Ted Hughes. Each cover shows the letter-writer posing in revealing swimwear on a beach, though the head of Plath’s husband seems to have been imposed on another man’s topless body. The text reads:

If male writers were marketed in the same way as female writers. Via Christopher Hamilton-Emery. pic.twitter.com/1IwN8MfckZ

— Jane Harris (@blablafishcakes) October 4, 2017

(I saw the tweet as retweeted by Jennifer Williams, but Twitter seems not to preserve this valuable information.)

The three real and one fake book cover shown above are all somehow undignified. More precisely, I would feel undignified to be seen reading such books. Hardy did not like having his picture taken, and it shows on the cover of A Mathematician’s Apology. On the cover of The Bell Jar, the compact mirror and powder puff suggest superficiality. But then Hardy’s image does reflect the uptightness that I see in his book. And Sylvia Plath did wear lipstick.

Her favored color was Cherries in the Snow, by Revlon. A devotee of Plath called Patricia Grifasi learned this only after buying the lipstick for herself. She wrote (in “The Rise And Fall Of Sylvia Plath’s Favorite Lipstick,” The Gloss, June 16, 2015),

Forget that Plath’s poetry is terrifyingly intimate, crowded with speakers who say things like, “I eat men like air” (“Lady Lazarus”). Forget that her journal entries describe how satisfying it is to scoop out a pesky glob of snot. In a weird way, wearing Cherries in the Snow allowed me to be even closer to a writer I admired than reading all those very personal things.

Thus the 50th anniversary cover of The Bell Jar may not be inappropriate. As for the bikini on the Letters, says Emily Van Duyne in the aforementioned Electric Lit article,

The reality, and it’s astounding to me that I have to write this sentence down, is that we can take a writer who wears a bikini seriously. I have three in my closet, the most recent of which is a vintage-inspired red-halter. I bought it because I love red; I love red partly because I love Sylvia Plath. I wear “Cherries In The Snow” lipstick to the classes I teach, to parties, to intimidating meetings with condescending men, and when I do, I invoke her, just a little bit—for inspiration. For luck. For permission, which she gave me, which she gives me—to be brave. To try and astound. To say the things no one wants to say, or hear. To be beautiful, and to be smart, and sexual, and to never, ever fall into the foolish trap that these cannot coexist.

I have read The Bell Jar just the once so far. Looking back at my copy with the garish cover, I see that I marked several passages, noting their page numbers at the back. The later passages are uses of the term bell jar, and for now I have nothing more to say about this term than I did at the end of my earlier article. Many essays have no doubt been written about the meaning of the title, and some of these will be available on line, perhaps for a price, so that you can turn them in to your teacher as if they were your own (perhaps after making enough changes to fool automatic plagiarism detectors).

The earlier passages that I marked may perhaps illustrate what Plath meant by the bell jar. In any case, since I found an electronic text on a New York high school English course web page, I am able to quote the passages at length with no trouble.

I hadn’t the heart to tell Jay Cee there wasn’t one scrap of space on my senior year schedule to learn languages in. I was taking one of those honors programs that teach you to think independently, and except for a course in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and a seminar in advanced poetry composition, I would spend my whole time writing on some obscure theme in the works of James Joyce. I hadn’t picked out my theme yet, because I hadn’t got round to reading Finnegans Wake, but my professor was very excited about my thesis and had promised to give me some leads on images about twins.

When I read this, I had not yet heard about and joined the project of Brian Denton (mentioned above) to read War and Peace over the calendar year, one chapter a day. Plath seems to make an ironical acknowledgment of what Robert Pirsig would write, in a passage of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I considered also in “One and Many”:

Schools teach you to imitate. If you don’t imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own.

Plath either understands this or betrays it. Her first person Esther later looks at herself: the emboldened clause is specifically what I had marked.

I started adding up all the things I couldn’t do.

I began with cooking.

My grandmother and my mother were such good cooks that I left everything to them. They were always trying to teach me one dish or another, but I would just look on and say, “Yes, yes, I see,” while the instructions slid through my head like water, and then I’d always spoil what I did so nobody would ask me to do it again.

I remember Jody, my best and only girlfriend at college in my freshman year, making me scrambled eggs at her house one morning. They tasted unusual, and when I asked her if she had put in anything extra, she said cheese and garlic salt. I asked who told her to do that, and she said nobody, she just thought it up. But then, she was practical and a sociology major.

I didn’t know shorthand either.

This meant I couldn’t get a good job after college. My mother kept telling me nobody wanted a plain English major. But an English major who knew shorthand was something else again. Everybody would want her. She would be in demand among all the up-and-coming young men and she would transcribe letter after thrilling letter.

The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way. I wanted to dictate my own thrilling letters. Besides, those little shorthand symbols in the book my mother showed me seemed just as bad as let t equal time and let s equal the total distance.

Would somebody call Plath’s Esther a snowflake? “Look, Honey, none of us like the idea of serving men, but we all gotta do it.” This could be said by another woman or by a man. That doesn’t make it fair. Plath is writing the truth, as a confession.

Finally Esther meets a psychiatrist and reveals her fantasy of what such a man might be like.

I hated him the minute I walked in through the door.

I had imagined a kind, ugly, intuitive man looking up and saying “Ah!” in an encouraging way, as if he could see something I couldn’t, and then I would find words to tell him how I was so scared, as if I were being stuffed farther and farther into a black, airless sack with no way out.

Then he would lean back in his chair and match the tips of his fingers together in a little steeple and tell me why I couldn’t sleep and why I couldn’t read and why I couldn’t eat and why everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end.

And then, I thought, he would help me, step by step, to be myself again.

But Doctor Gordon wasn’t like that at all. He was young and good-looking, and I could see right away he was conceited.

I would have to read the novel again, to think about how much irony is here.

Recently I was alerted (again by a tweet, as retweeted by Nicholas Christakis) to a theory described in a 2015 article in The Scholar’s Stage blog called “Honor, Dignity, and Victimhood: A Tour Through Three Centuries of American Political Culture.” The Iliad portrays an honor culture, but America passed from such a culture to a culture of dignity. Honor is given us by others; dignity, we can have on our own. Now that many Americans are sensitive to so-called micro-aggressions, the country may have passed to a culture of victimhood.

I confess to being insufficiently interested to read all of the sociology. I know what is happening in America, only from a distance. Plath’s Esther seems to have been hoping for help from a man. In recent tweets, I see women asking men to help fight abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein and the like. This is not victimhood, if victimhood is something to be perversely proud of, the way one might be proud of one’s honor or one’s dignity. The requests for help are recognition that we are all connected, and life might be better if we did not have to defend ourselves from attack, all of the time.

This sounds like the sort of thing that I have tried to work out, as in the article “All You Need Is Love,” where the topic is education—as it often is for me, and as it is in a good part of The Bell Jar. For Pirsig, rather than being imposed on you, education is something you ought to demand for yourself. But there is a middle way. Quoting my own email, I wrote,

Perhaps it is best to learn because one understands it as one’s role in the community that one is happy to be a part of. Here again is something that Pirsig may miss. Pirsig is the individualist, the lone wolf, and this is a reason why I like him. But education is not just something one achieves for oneself. It means joining an educated community; it means helping others join that community.

Life can be cooperative and not just adversarial. There are things you can learn on your own, or demand to learn, like a prosecutor examining a witness for the defense. If you can learn them, you may well be smart. Let me then end with one bit of tweeted wisdom:

History of full of stories of catastrophe brought about by people who are smart only in only a narrow domain, and lack humility and remorse.

— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) October 6, 2017

Fascism As Abetted by Realism

Fascism is class warfare waged on behalf of the capitalists. This should be realized by anybody who is attracted to accidental features of Fascism such as nationalism, racism, or militarism. The Fascists are not on your side, even if they share your nationality or “race” or fascination with weaponry and military discipline.

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At the end of Shakespeare’s romance called The Tempest, Prospero plans to retire to Milan, where “Every third thought shall be my grave.” I remember these words from reading the play in school and college. I also have thoughts of my grave, and their frequency may increase as the years pass. However, for each of those thoughts, I seem to have more thoughts that are based on memories of youth and childhood.

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NL XXV: The Three Laws of Politics

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The the three laws of politics are that (1) within the body politic, there is a ruling class, which is a society proper; (2) the ruling class can take in members from the ruled class; (3) the ruled and ruling classes will resemble one another, so that e.g. rulers of slaves will become slavish themselves. I compare such laws with physical laws, as discussed by Einstein; but on this subject, a look ahead to Chapter XXXI, “Classical Physics and Classical Politics,” would be in order. Meanwhile, by the Second Law, the body politic, or its ruling class, can be a permanent society; Nazi claims about the youth or senility of different states are bogus. There are further gradations within the ruling and ruled classes, according to strength of will; a weak will can be strengthened by another person’s stronger will through induction.

A pervading theme of the New Leviathan is freedom of will. Whether we actually have it is only a pseudo-problem (13. 17). Some persons have been fooled into thinking it a problem, perhaps by the misleading myth that free will is a divine gift, like life itself, breathed into our nostrils when, in Genesis 2:7, God forms us of the dust of the ground. As Collingwood observes at the end of Chapter XXIII, “The Family As a Society,” we are born neither free nor in chains. We have to grow up. Growing up is becoming free.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb (New York: Norton, 2009)

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book IX

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Note added May 5, 2019; edited and augmented, December 20, 2020. This may be the post I return to the most, of those on the books of the Iliad through Book XIV. I began the original post with Chapman’s four-line “Argument”; but for now, his two-line “Other Argument” serves better:

Iota sings the Ambassie,
And great Achilles sterne replie.

The stern reply is that Achilles will not fight, and his mind will not be changed by material gifts. Agamemnon has violated the “general laws of virtue,” according to lines 610–9 (of which I originally quoted all but the first two):

He answerd; Noble Telamon, Prince of our souldiers here:
Out of thy heart I know thou speakst, and as thou holdst me deare:
But still as often as I thinke, how rudely I was vsd,
And like a stranger for all rites, fit for our good, refusd:
My heart doth swell against the man, that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place: not for my priuate bane;
But since wrackt vertues generall lawes, he shamelesse did infringe:
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and giue mine anger swinge,
Without my wisedomes least impeach. He is a foole, and base,
That pitties vice-plagu’d minds, when paine, not loue of right giues place.

Achilles defends not only virtue, but his own right to disrespect somebody who lacks virtue. This may not be the “blow for civilization” that I attribute to Achilles, unless perhaps punching Nazis is also such a blow (and it may be).

The moral investigations are specific to Chapman, who makes ten lines out of Homer’s six (643–8), even while passing over most of the first one of these:

τὸν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς:
“Αἶαν διογενὲς Τελαμώνιε κοίρανε λαῶν
πάντά τί μοι κατὰ θυμὸν ἐείσαο μυθήσασθαι:
ἀλλά μοι οἰδάνεται κραδίη χόλῳ ὁππότε κείνων
μνήσομαι ὥς μ᾽ ἀσύφηλον ἐν Ἀργείοισιν ἔρεξεν
Ἀτρεΐδης ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην.”

In Murray’s literal prose, some words of which I rearrange, to make lines corresponding to Homer’s:

Then in answer to him spake Achilles, swift of foot:
“Aias, sprung from Zeus, thou son of Telamon, captain of the host,
all this thou seemest to speak almost after mine own mind;
by my heart swelleth with wrath whenso of this
I think, how hath wrought indignity upon me amid the Argives
the son of Atreus, as though I were some alien that had no rights.”

Here the adverbial clause, “as though I were some alien that had no rights,” correponds to ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην. According to Beekes (2010), the noun μετανάστης occurs in Homer only in the phrase ἀτίμητον μετανάστην, as here in line IX.648, which repeats as line XVI.59. The ninth and sixteenth letters of the Greek alphabet being Ι and Π, the books are called also by those letters; but Beekes writes “I 648 = P 59” by mistake. He says Herodotus and contemporaries

already understood the word as ‘wanderer’, and connected it (as μετ-ανά-στη-ς) with μετ-ανα-στῆ-ναι ‘to move, emigrate’, μετανάστασις ‘removal, emigration.’

Beekes thinks the etymology wrong, but that the word is better analyzed as μετα-νάσ-της, coming from an unattested compound *μετα-ναίω.

Cunliffe (1963/1924) has the same analysis, but reads μετά as indicating change here, rather than being among. By itself, ναίω means “to live, inhabit,” and (by Beekes’s account) is possibly connected with ναός “temple, house of a god, sanctuary.”

As for ἀτίμητον, the formation suggests the meaning, “not capable of receiving τιμή.” The standard translation of τιμή seems to be “honor”; but the root sense may be of value or price, and Cunliffe gives the meaning of ἀτίμητον as

Despised; or perh., to whose life no blood-money is attached, whom anyone may slay with impunity.

This is plausible, since at the dramatic time of our passage, Ajax has been pointing out that the brother or father of a slain man will accept blood-money for the crime. That argument does not work for Achilles, against whom Agamemnon has committed a crime worse than murder. A slain man still has rights, but Achilles has none that Agamemnon feels bound to respect.

Despite the possibility of such an interpretation, for ὡς εἴ τιν᾽ ἀτίμητον μετανάστην,

  • Lattimore has “as if I were some dishonoured vagabond”;

  • Alexander has “as if I were some worthless vagabond.”

Such translations may be wrong, if they suggest that Achilles denies being a kind of person that he himself dispises. It may be better to liken him to the professor not named with her title, when a male colleague is named with his; see language: a feminist guide on that issue.

Even for Herodotus, μετανάστης is not “vagabond” in the sense of an isolated rootless individual. He has Athenians describe themselves as (VII.162)

μοῦνοι δὲ ἐόντες οὐ μετανάσται Ἑλλήνων

who alone among the Greeks have never changed our place of habitation.

They are not settlers who have ever lacked the rights of the native population. They are not the “outlanders” described in the note of Benner (1903) on μετανάστην at Iliad IX.648:

The South African Uitlander (outlander) affords a suggestive modern instance of the prejudice against the intruding foreigner.

There is a twofold reason why I return now (in 2019) to Book IX and this post:

  1. The book has words such as Julian Jaynes cites, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, to argue that Agamemnon and Achilles are not conscious.

  2. There is a counterargument in the Finnish movie Upswing, which the post mentions.

In Book XIX, Agamemnon will attribute to Zeus the taking of Briseis from Achilles. For Jaynes (on pages 72–3 of Origin), “this was no particular fiction of Agamemnon’s to evade responsibility.” That seems right, but not the conclusion that Agamemnon “did not have any ego whatever.” In our terms, Agamemnon’s abnegation is an accepting of responsibility for an ego that caused the Greeks to suffer. Responsibility is shown by self-humiliation.

Book IX of the Iliad is easily summarized. Chapman does it in four lines.

TO Agamemnon (vrging hopelesse flight)
Stand Diomed, and Nestor opposite:
By Nestors counsell, Legats are dismist,
To Thetis sonne, who still denies t’assist.

These lines hide a wealth of thought. To suggest some of the gems of the book, I expand the summary.

Dog and seaweed on shore opposite Lesbos, 2017.09.14

Seeing the Greeks hard pressed, Agamemnon proposes to give up the fight. Diomedes ridicules this. Nestor proposes further to send to Achilles an embassy consisting of Ulysses, Ajax Telamon, and Phoenix, the last having been Achilles’s teacher. The embassy will offer gifts if Achilles will return to the fight.

Ulysses details those gifts to Achilles, who declines them. He knows from Thetis his fate: a short glorious life, or a long anonymous one. He chooses the latter.

Achilles’s father took in Phoenix, after events that symbolize male adolescence, if not the Oedipus complex. Phoenix plies Achilles with a theology of prayers, these being personified as daughters of Zeus. Phoenix cites precedent for burying the hatchet, notably in the story of the Calydonian Boar and the ensuing but belated defense of Calydon against the Curetes by Meleager, despite his feud with his mother. Still Achilles will not budge.

Ajax simply cannot understand how a man can turn down the wealth embodied in the proffered gifts. Agamemnon took one woman from Achilles, but now offers seven! Achilles tries to enlighten Ajax. This will bear consideration at length. I therefore turn now to the details of Book IX.

From Book VIII, we know that the Greeks are pressed by Jove and Troy. They are pressed, as if by the North and West Winds, Boreas and Zephyrus, which drive onto the shore the seaweed that farmers use to manure their crops. The specific likening of the two winds to the two powers of Jove and the Trojans seems to be Chapman’s embellishment of Homer. So does the stated practical use of seaweed blown onto land. I am no longer reading by the seaside; but when I was there, south of the Troad, on a windy day, the sea would indeed drive strands of weed onto the shore, and a man would come rake them up.

The Greeks are terrified (lines 2 and 3):

The feeble consort of cold feare (strangely infusde from heauen)
Griefe, not to be endur’d, did wound, all Greeks of greatest worth.

Agamemnon speaks privately with the Greek leaders. They have come to Troy, neither for his own glory nor his brother’s revenge, but for the honor of their country. They would not have come, had Jove not given signs of approval. Evidently they have lost his approval, and so they should flee.

Diomedes recalls how Agamemnon belittled him in Book IV, to goad him to fight. Diomedes forbore to object; now he will give Agamemnon the same treatment. Diomedes and Sthenelus will fight till Troy is conquered.

Nestor commends the speech of Diomedes, despite his youth. Nestor recognizes the responsibility of Agamemnon for the welfare of all, and he recommends that Agamemnon host all of the Peers in his tents for supper with wine.

For this meeting to take place, seven captains of the watch are appointed:

  1. Nestor’s son Thrasymedes,

  2. Ascalaphus,

  3. Ialmenus,

  4. Meriones,

  5. Alphareus,

  6. Deipyrus, and

  7. Lycomedes, son of Creon.

If only for euphony, Homer refers to the second and third as sons of Ares; Chapman does not make use of this information.

At the council of the peers, Nestor observes diplomatically that Jove has given Agamemnon the scepter whereby he commands. It is right that Agamemnon should speak—but also listen, particularly to Nestor, as he failed to do, back in Book I, when Nestor recommended not taking Briseis from Achilles. Now Achilles should be enticed to rejoin the battle with “kind words and pleasing gifts.” Here is how Chapman has Nestor put it (lines 107–18):

For me; what in my iudgement stands, the most conuenient
I will aduise; and am assur’d, aduice more competent
Shall not be giuen: the generall proofe, that hath before bene made
Of what I speake, confirmes me still; and now may well perswade,
Because I could not then, yet ought, when thou (most royall King)
Euen from the tent, Achilles loue, didst violently bring,
Against my counsell, vrging thee, by all meanes to relent:
But you (obeying your high mind) would venture the euent,
Dishonoring our ablest Greeke, a man th’immortals grace:
Againe, yet let’s deliberate, to make him now embrace
Affection to our generall good, and bring his force to field:
Both which, kind words and pleasing gifts, must make his vertues yeeld.

Agamemnon admits his error. Jove has shown that the Greeks need Achilles. Overlooking the recommendation of ἔπη μειλίχια, pleasing words, Agamemnon thinks Achilles will be drawn by δώρα ἀγανά, mild gifts. I note that ἀγανός here has no known etymology, according to Robert Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Leiden: Brill, 2010); in any case, here is what Agamemnon says (lines 124–6):

Yet after my confest offence, soothing my humorous spleene,
Ile sweeten his affects againe, with presents infinite,
Which (to approue my firme intent) Ile openly recite.

The presents included tripods, talents of gold, cauldrons, horses—and women, taken from Lesbos by Achilles in the first place, along with Briseis herself. With her will come what Agamemnon may consider to be kind words: he has not had his way with her (lines 132–8):

Seuen Lesbian Ladies he shall haue, that were the most select,
And in their needles rarely skild: whom (when he tooke the towne
Of famous Lesbos) I did chuse; who wonne the chiefe renowne,
For beautie from their whole faire sexe; amongst whom Ile resigne
Faire Brysis; and I deeply sweare (for any fact of mine
That may discourage her receit) she is vntoucht, and rests
As he resign’d her …

Without any textual evidence, I nonetheless see no reason why Agamemnon’s denial of any relations with Briseis would not be entirely pro forma, and strictly a lie. Such a denial is made, and accepted, along with a parade of gifts, in a wonderful Finnish movie called Nousukausi or Upswing, from the seventh Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival in Ankara in 2004. In the film, a young professional couple take a new kind of holiday by forswearing their wealth and living in a slum. Formerly suppressed by bourgeois life, primitive urges like those of the Greeks at Troy start to come forth in the couple; but the expression of these urges has its own conventions within the pair’s new working-class apartment building.

For the record, Ayşe and I have so far kept the catalogue for the 2004 Flying Broom festival, along with the catalogues for a number of other years, not to mention other film festivals. I remembered neither the year nor the name of Upswing, but only that we had probably seen it in Flying Broom. Checking a few catalogue indexes for Finnish directors was not successful. I would have needed to find Johanna Vuoksenmaa, born six months after me. The way I ultimately found Nousukausi was by entering a plot description at What Is My Movie, an amazing website that turns out to have been developed in Finland as well. Thus it is not clear that we need give space to all of those catalogues, though they may still serve as souvenirs.

Flying Broom catalogue, 2004

Back in the Iliad Book IX, what Agamemnon will offer Achilles does not end with a declaration of not having slept with his woman. Should the Greeks prove victorious over Troy, Achilles shall choose:

  • for concubinage, the twenty most beautiful Trojan women after Helen (whom Chapman here calls Tyndaris, Tyndareus being her nominal father, in the way that Joseph was the father of Jesus), and

  • for a wife, the fairest of Agamemnon’s three daughters—

    1. Laodice,

    2. Chrysothemis, and

    3. Iphianassa

    —whose dowry shall be seven cities:

    1. Cardamyle,

    2. Enope,

    3. Hire,

    4. Pherae,

    5. Antheia,

    6. Aepeia, and

    7. Pedasus.

Is it clear to the listener that the offer of Agamemnon will not be accepted? He seems to emphasize the point himself, unwittingly, when he says critically of Agamemnon Achilles (lines 161–4),

Let him be milde and tractable: tis for the God of ghosts
To be vnrul’d, implacable, and seeke the bloud of hoasts;
Whom therefore men do much abhorre: then let him yeeld to me;
I am his greater, being a King, and more in yeares then he.

The god of ghosts is for Homer simply Hades (Ἀΐδης, the Homeric form of Ἅιδης or ᾅδης). Agamemnon does not understand that the very point at issue is whether he deserves to be a king.

Nestor recommends that Phoenix, Ajax Telamon, and Ulysses should be the king’s legates, with Odius and Eurybates as heralds. In Book I, it was Talthybius and Eurybates who were sent to take Briseis from Achilles.

In discussing Book VII, I lamented the prevalence of recorded popular music as inhibiting the memory of serious music. The mighty warrior Achilles makes his own music. The legates find him strumming a harp (lines 189–90):

To it he sung the glorious deeds, of great Heroes dead,
And his true mind, that practise faild, sweet contemplation fed.

Chapman has here expanded a single verse of Homer’s, which happens to have the same number, 189, as the first in Chapman’s couplet:

τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δ᾽ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.

Lattimore renders this as

With this he was pleasuring his heart, and singing of men’s fame.

In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), Julian Jaynes describes the key term θυμός as referring to

a mass of internal sensations in response to environmental crises. It was, I suggest, a pattern of stimulation familiar to modern physiology, the so-called stress or emergency response of the sympathetic nervous system and its liberation of adrenalin and noradrenalin from the adrenal glands … [p. 262]

Homer’s words are truly echoed in the first line of Congreve’s Mourning Bride, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast.”

The word θυμός is distinguished in its accentuation from θύμος, which is either the thymus gland or (as a variant of θύμον) the herb thyme. The Liddell–Scott–Jones lexicon observes that, in the Cratylus (419e), Plato “rightly” derives θυμός from the second of the two verbs θύω, namely the one that means to seethe or rage, rather than to make a burnt offering.

At “the quarter of the Myrmidons” (line 183), Ulysses stands in view. Achilles sees him and calls for wine. Patroclus and Automedon prepare a feast, which is described in some detail. Ajax signals impatience to Phoenix; Ulysses sees this and speaks up.

The question now is not whether the Greeks can take Troy, but whether they can save their own skins. With his thunderbolts, Jove has shown his favor of the Trojans. Ulysses recalls how Achilles’s father told him to let the gods use him for their own ends (lines 248–55):

O friend! thou knowest, thy royall Sire, forewarnd what should be done,
That day he sent thee from his Court, to honour Atreus sonne:
My sonne (said he) the victory, let Ioue and Pallas vse
At their high pleasures; but do thou, no honor’d meanes refuse
That may aduance her; in fit bounds, containe thy mightie mind;
Nor let the knowledge of thy strength, be factiously inclind,
Contriuing mischiefes; be to fame, and generall good profest;
The more will all sorts honour thee; Benignitie is best.

Ulysses details the gifts that Agamemnon offers. If these do not sway Achilles, let him pity the other Greeks and earn the glory of killing Hector.

It’s no good, says Achilles; Agamemnon has missed the point (lines 303–8).

Not Atreus sonne, nor all the Greeks, shall winne me to their aid:
Their suite is wretchedly enforc’t, to free their owne despaires;
And my life neuer shall be hir’d, with thanklesse desperate praires:
For neuer had I benefite, that euer foild the foe;
Euen share hath he that keepes his tent, and he to field doth go;
With equall honour cowards die, and men most valiant.

The spoils of war have been equally distributed, but not the pains. The kind words recommended by Nestor would acknowledge the injustice of the Greek system—or of Agamemnon’s perversion of the system, by taking Achilles’s share.

Cunliffe, A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963)

When I was young and the Bell System was broken up, I doubted it was progress that we now had to spend energy deciding which long distance provider to use. When I had my own telephone line in Hamilton, Ontario, in the 1990s, I accepted the local provider’s long distance service. After a while, another company called me up, offering better rates. I accepted the offer. Then the first company tried to lure me back with lower rates. I declined. I didn’t care about the money, I cared about fairness. Evidently the first company could have charged me less all along. They had done me an injustice.

This is Achilles’s response to Ulysses (if I may say so; but see “Homer for the Civilian”). It’s not the wealth, it’s the respect. In Chapter XXI of the New Leviathan, Collingwood observes that inequalities between the members of a society can be compensated or turned into assets. The superior strength of Achilles has been an asset to the society of Greek warriors, but Achilles himself has not been properly compensated. In a remarkable simile for a warrior to use, Achilles has been like a mother bird feeding her chicks, only to be left with no food for herself. Achilles has taken twelve towns for the Greeks. Though he has stayed behind at Troy, Agamemnon has taken the best prizes for himself, distributing others to “Optimates and Kings” (line 322). Now Achilles alone has been bereft of his prize. The war has been fought over the theft of the wife of Menelaus; now the brother of Menelaus has stolen the woman whom Achilles could marry (lines 324–33).

But so he gaine a louely Dame, to be his beds delight,
It is enough; for what cause else, do Greeks and Troians fight?
Why brought he hither such an hoast? was it not for a Dame?
For faire-hair’d Hellen? and doth loue, alone the hearts inflame
Of the Atrides to their wiues, of all the men that moue?
Euery discreet and honest mind, cares for his priuate loue,
As much as they: as I my selfe, lou’d Brysis as my life,
Although my captiue; and had will, to take her for my wife:
Whom, since he forc’t, preuenting me; in vaine he shall prolong
Hopes to appease me, that know well, the deepnesse of my wrong.

Tomorrow Achilles will make sacrifice, set sail, and, in three days—Inshallah—make Phthia, where what he has won at Troy will only add to his gold, brass, women, and steel (lines 354–7).

These will I take as I retire, as shares I firmly saue;
Though Agamemnon be so base, to take the gifts he gaue.
Tell him all this, and openly; I on your honors charge,
That others may take shame to heare, his lusts command so large.

The father of Achilles shall choose his wife. Freedom is better than Mammon. Lost wealth can be regained, but not life, after we have breathed it forth (lines 389–95).

Not all the wealth of wel-built Troy, possest when peace was there:
All that Apollos marble Fane, in stonie Pythos holds,
I value equall with the life, that my free breast infolds.
Sheepe, Oxen, Tripods, crest-deckt horse, though lost, may come againe:
But when the white guard of our teeth, no longer can containe
Our humane soule, away it flies; and once gone, neuer more
To her fraile mansion any man, can her lost powres restore.

Achilles knows his destiny, but still has a choice (lines 396–402).

And therefore since my mother-queene (fam’d for her siluer feet)
Told me two fates about my death, in my direction meet:
The one, that if I here remaine, t’assist our victorie,
My safe returne shall neuer liue, my fame shall neuer die:
If my returne obtaine successe, much of my fame decayes,
But death shall linger his approach, and I liue many dayes.
This being reueal’d, twere foolish pride, t’abridge my life for praise.

Achilles is going home. Phoenix may come with him or not: that is his choice.

Phoenix asserts his moral authority. Peleus sent him to Troy to instruct Achilles (lines 422–3),

That thou mightst speake when speech was fit, and do, when deeds were done;
Not sit as dumbe, for want of words; idle, for skill to moue.

The feelings of a boy for his mother and father form a complex, which Freud named for the adopted son of the King and Queen of Corinth. He might just as well have called it the Phoenix Complex. Phoenix had been asked by his mother to sleep with the concubine of Amyntor Ormenides, his father, so that the attentions of the latter might be returned to his lawful wife. Chapman gives the concubine or “harlot” the name Clytia, but this information seems to come from a scholium to Homer’s text. The plan of Phoenix’s mother backfired. Amyntor prayed the Furies that no woman would love Phoenix, nor give him offspring. “The Deities obayd / That gouerne hell: infernall Ioue, and sterne Persephone” (lines 438–9). Infernal Jove is Ζεύς καταχθόνιος, Zeus of the nether world: Hades or Pluto.

Phoenix wanted to run away, but his friends kept him under guard at home. They drank Amyntor’s wine and ate his meat. On the tenth day, Phoenix broke free and fled to the court of Peleus, who treated him as a son.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Dover, 1994)

Phoenix hoped in turn to make Achilles his son. It is not clear how this is an argument for why Achilles should stay and fight; but Phoenix makes it anyway (lines 463–6).

Much haue I sufferd for thy loue, much labour’d, wished much;
Thinking since I must haue no heire, (the Gods decrees are such)
I would adopt thy selfe my heire: to thee my heart did giue
What any Sire could giue his sonne; in thee I hop’t to liue.

The real argument for why Achilles should accept the offer of Agamemnon is that it would be accepted by the gods themselves, who are not so strict as Achilles (lines 469–73).

The Gods themselues are flexible, whose vertues, honors, powers,
Are more then thine: yet they will bend, their breasts as we bend ours.
Perfumes, benigne deuotions, sauors of offrings burnd,
And holy rites, the engines are, with which their hearts are turnd,
By men that pray to them; whose faith, their sinnes haue falsified.

It is a bogus argument, since as William Blake reminds us, “All deities reside in the human breast.” This is the culmination of Plate 11 of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell (which I shall make use of also in “Antitheses”):

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity.

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounced that the gods had orderd such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

Even Homer constantly reminds us that the gods may not hear our pleas. Nonetheless, Phoenix persists, with an obscure tale. As Collingwood reminds us in Chapter XXIII of the New Leviathan, we are born neither free nor in chains, but

a red and wrinkled lump of flesh having no will of its own at all, absolutely at the mercy of the parents by whose conspiracy he has been brought into existence.

This is roughly what prayers are, in appearance, for Phoenix. These are the Λιταί, the Litae: pleas for forgiveness.

I suspected a connection with liturgy, λειτουργία, as if this word meant prayer work; but it means public work, the first element coming from λαός, people: English gets from this lay, as in laity. However, litany does come from λιταί or its singular form λιτή (which in turn is from a verb λίσσομαι “beg, pray, implore,” whose etymology is unclear, according to Beekes).

Just as the newborn babe cries out for attention, so too, it seems, do the Litae, according to Phoenix; and the cries should be respected (lines 474–81):

For, prayers are daughters of great Ioue; lame, wrinkled, ruddie eyd,
And euer following iniury; who (strong and sound of feet)
Flies through the world, afflicting men: beleeuing prayers, yet
(To all that loue that seed of Ioue) the certaine blessing get
To haue Ioue heare, and helpe them too: but if he shall refuse,
And stand inflexible to them, they flie to Ioue, and vse
Their powres against him; that the wrongs, he doth to them, may fall
On his owne head, and pay those paines, whose cure he failes to call.

Chapman here twists English almost completely out of shape. Being strong and sound of foot, Injury flies through the world, afflicting men; but Prayers follow. By believing in prayers, it seems, men get the certain blessing of having Jove hear them and give help, at least to those who love this seed of Jove, namely prayers. Chapman’s Injury is Murray’s Sin and Lattimore’s Ruin. Here is Lattimore, whose lines, unlike Chapman’s, follow Homer (lines 502–12):

The Iliad of Homer, tr. Lattimore
(University of Chicago Press, 1961)

For there are also the spirits of Prayer, the daughters of great Zeus,
and they are lame of their feet, and wrinkled, and cast their eyes sidelong,
who toil on their way left far behind by the spirit of Ruin:
but she, Ruin, is strong and sound on her feet, and therefore
far outruns all Prayers, and wins in every country
to force men astray; and the Prayers follow as healers after her.
If a man venerates these daughters of Zeus as they draw near,
such a man they bring great advantage, and hear his entreaty;
but if a man shall deny them, and stubbornly with a harsh word
refuse, they go to Zeus, son of Kronos, in supplication
that Ruin may overtake this man, that he be hurt, and punished.

Ruin here is Homer’s Ἄτη. She is originally a stupor; hence mental blindness, which leads to harm; hence that harm itself. Does this harm come to those who are deaf to the prayers of others, or to the atheists who decline to pray for themselves? Phoenix seems to intend at least the former. At the beginning of the book, Agamemnon said Jove had sent the confusion called Atê, giving him the idea that the Greeks would be victorious at Troy. True to Phoenix’s tale, the Litae now come to Agamemnon, or from Agamemnon: he prays Achilles will return to battle. Did Agamemnon not back up his prayer with offer of gifts, Phoenix would not entreat Achilles to hear the prayer; but Agamemnon did, so Phoenix does.

Jane Austen, Emma (Oxford World’s Classics, 1980)

Other worthies have been amenable to prayer, though perhaps too late. Phoenix tells an elaborate story of Meleager, son of Oeneus, King of Aetolia. Because he failed to offer her first fruits (τά θαλύσια), though he gave hecatombs to other gods, Diana sent a boar to ravage Oeneus’s fields and orchards. Meleager slew the boar, but not before many men were killed. Diana then sent the Curetes to beseige the Aetolian city of Calydon. While Meleager fought, the Curetes could not approach the city walls. However, Meleager gave off fighting, like Achilles, because of strife with his mother, whom Homer names as Althea, though Chapman does not. Meleager had killed his mother’s brother, under circumstances unspecified by Homer, and was cursed by his mother for this. So Meleager withdrew with his wife Cleopatra, daughter of Marpessa and Ideus. Marpessa was also called Alcyone, apparently after the plaintive sound of the ἀλκυών, the kingfisher, because her friends—apparently friends in the sense of Jane Austen, whose Emma ends with a description of the marriage of the title character and Mr Knightley:

the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union

—such friends of Marpessa could not keep her from being raped by Apollo, though Ideus fought the god because of this. Meleager hid himself away with Marpessa’s daughter, since his mother had it in for him, to the point of pounding on the ground to bring the attention of Pluto and Persephone; even Erinys heard in Erebus. But when the Curetes started breaking into Calydon, even his mother entreated Meleager to help the Aetolians. He responded only when his own tower was attacked; but by now, the gifts he had been offered had been destroyed. Achilles should not wait so long to help his countrymen.

So says Phoenix, but the mind of Achilles is made up. He does have a bed made up for his mentor.

Ajax cannot believe his ears. Others are not so stubborn, even over men taken from them (lines 598–604).

Another for his brother slaine, another for his sonne,
Accepts of satisfaction: and he the deed hath done
Liues in belou’d societie, long after his amends;
To which, his foes high heart for gifts, with patience condescends:
But thee a wild and cruell spirit, the Gods for plague haue giuen,
And for one girle; of whose faire sexe, we come to offer seauen,
The most exempt for excellence, and many a better prise.

Like too many persons today, Ajax cannot understand why having more is not always better. Achilles tries to explain yet again his beef with Agamemnon (lines 612–9):

But still as often as I thinke, how rudely I was vsd,
And like a stranger for all rites, fit for our good, refusd:
My heart doth swell against the man, that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place: not for my priuate bane;
But since wrackt vertues generall lawes, he shamelesse did infringe:
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and giue mine anger swinge,
Without my wisedomes least impeach. He is a foole, and base,
That pitties vice-plagu’d minds, when paine, not loue of right giues place.

This could be a stronger blow for civilization than the Greek seige of Troy. While considering the treatment by Menelaus of his prisoner Adrestus in Book VI, I cited Collingwood in describing civil behavior as abstention from arousing a passion that would diminish anybody’s self-respect. Agamemnon has aroused such passion in Achilles—at least according to Achilles’s own representations. It might then be counted as an advance to thwart Agamemnon’s uncivil actions by inaction.

If we think civilization has to do with how a society treats its weakest members, we must observe that, for Achilles, a woman is still a slave. After Ulysses and Ajax depart, and Phoenix is put to bed, whatever Achilles may have felt about Briseis, he still takes advantage of a concubine (lines 632–6):

Achilles lay in th’inner roome, of his tent richly wrought;
And that faire Ladie by his side, that he from Lesbos brought,
Bright Diomeda, Phorbas seed: Patroclus did embrace
The beautious Iphis, giuen to him, when his bold friend did race
The loftie Syrus, that was kept, in Enyeius hold.

Ulysses reports to Agamemnon. Diomedes wishes the embassy had not been sent, for Achilles will now burst with pride.

November 15, 2017: Having been reading Jaynes on the so-called bicameral mind, I have reread and edited the present article (keeping one indicated correction of Agamemnon to Achilles as a sign of this). I am considering how Jaynes’s notions of consciousness can affect one’s reading of Homer. It may be indeed be useful to keep in mind the physical meanings of words like θυμός (I wish Jaynes used the Greek letters, instead of writing thumos, but I suppose they might scare readers). However, the reading that I have undertaken here is specifically of Chapman’s version of the Iliad.

December 2, 2020: I have added references to Beekes’s etymological dictionary of Greek, and that “litany” is from λιτή. Mainly, where before I said

The spoils of war have been equally distributed, but not the pains. The kind words recommended by Nestor would acknowledge the injustice of the Greek system

—meaning, if those words really were kind, they would acknowledge the injustice—I have added the qualification that the system as such may not be injust, but “Agamemnon’s perversion of the system” is.

The system is that spoil is booty, meaning it is to be shared. The Grolier International Dictionary (1981) does not preserve this sense of “booty,” but defines it as “plunder taken from an enemy in time of war.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (6th edition, 1976) qualifies booty as: “Plunder or profit acquired in common and to be divided”; this is a slight abridgement of what the full Oxford English Dictionary calls the original definition.

Spoil should be shared, and still Agamemnon has taken away the share of Achilles, in the injustice that started everything in Book I.

John Prendergast has drawn my attention to the issue here in his essay, “How to Choose the Best Translation of the Iliad: Revealing the Quality and Fidelity Compared to Homer’s Greek.” Among other examples, Prendergast takes up lines of Book IX including 318–22, which Caroline Alexander renders (in her 2015 translation, which I acquired recently):

the fate is the same if a man hangs back, and if he battles greatly,
in equal honor are both coward and warrior;
and they die alike, both the man who has done nothing and he who has accomplished many things.
Nor is there any profit for me, because I have endured affliction at heart,
ever staking my life to do combat.

A problem is that the Greek for “profit” here is only a pronoun, which in Prendergast’s plausible argument refers back to “fate” and “honor,” and the former ought rather to be rendered as “portion” or “share.” Achilles is complaining, not that he gets no more than others, but that Agamemnon has left him with no share at all.

The text at Project Perseus reads:

ἴση μοῖρα μένοντι καὶ εἰ μάλα τις πολεμίζοι:
ἐν δὲ ἰῇ τιμῇ ἠμὲν κακὸς ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσθλός:
κάτθαν᾽ ὁμῶς ὅ τ᾽ ἀεργὸς ἀνὴρ ὅ τε πολλὰ ἐοργώς.
οὐδέ τί μοι περίκειται, ἐπεὶ πάθον ἄλγεα θυμῷ
αἰεὶ ἐμὴν ψυχὴν παραβαλλόμενος πολεμίζειν.

In Prendergast’s word-for-word version,

Equal the portion for staying, and if very much one would battle,
and in one honor, whether bad or good,
he dies the same, he the unworked man and he the much worked?
And not any around me lies, after I suffered pains in heart,
forever my life casting aside to battle!

Prendergast observes about the middle of these five lines,

Achilles in line 320 expands his complaint about his lack of an immediate reward with the principle of an ultimate reward. This slight digression is tricky as it separates the connection between his thought about honor in 319 and the pronoun that refers back to his honor in 321. To avoid confusion from this disconnection, it is important to translate 320 exactly as written in Greek.

Alternatively, one may elide line 320, if one agrees with the note that Project Perseus supplies from those of Allen Rogers Benner, dated to 1903: “This line looks like the interpolation of a gnomic poet.” Perseus does not explain the source further, but evidently it is Benner’s Selections from Homer’s Iliad: With an Introduction, Notes, a short Homeric Grammar, and a Vocabulary (New York: D. Appleton, 1904). The book is available from the Internet Archive, and Benner’s Preface explains:

This edition of the Iliad includes the books commonly required for admission to American colleges, and in addition liberal selections from the remainder of the poem,—in all, the equivalent of nearly eight books. It has been long felt as a defect of Homeric study in our schools that the average student obtains no just conception of the unity of the Iliad as a work of literature and of art; this is particularly true, of course, when not over a year is given to the study of Homer and when the reading of the Iliad is not carried beyond the sixth book.

Benner signs himself, in May, 1903, as being at Phillips Academy.

NL XXIV: The Body Politic, Social and Non-Social

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018): The subject of political theory is the kind of community called a body politic. For the Ancients, this is a society, composed of, for example, the citizens of Athens, excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners. In medieval times, all human beings in the community compose a body politic, which is thus non-social, though having within it the societies called estates; sovereigns rule by force (e.g. by the bribery called the granting of liberties), but may in turn be ruled, as is the husband, sovereign of the wife. For Hobbes, a sovereign can also rule by authority. An eristic argument would insist that only one of these accounts of the body politic is correct; but the world is in the flux described by Heraclitus, and the way to come to terms with it is not eristic, but dialectic, as described in the Meno of Plato.

Dialectic is the way to come to terms with a world of constant change. On the internet in particular, too many persons engage in eristic, staking out a position like the Greeks at Troy, who built a wall around their ships on the shore and tried to defend it against all comers.

Dogs stake out their positions in the shade,

In the argument of the New Leviathan, we pass from the family to the state, which Collingwood calls the body politic. This is what political theory must give a scientific account of (24. 1). We consider three phases of political theory:

  1. ancient,
  2. medieval, and
  3. modern.

Continue reading

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book VIII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

In the eighth of the twenty-four books of the Iliad, the battle is even all morning, until Jove weighs out the fates of the two sides. The fate of the Greeks is heavier. They are driven back to the wall around their ships. Juno and Pallas try to help them, until warned off by Jove. The Trojans camp outside the Greek wall, lighting fires, at Hector’s command, so that they can see through the night whether the Greeks are trying to escape.

Altınova 2017.09.13

In the fourteenth of the sixteen chapters of the 1884 novel Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (in the translation by Margaret Mauldon, Oxford World’s Classics, 1998/2009, from the French original, A rebours), the narrator describes as follows a thought of the main and indeed only character; it is connected to the aim of the present series of articles on the Iliad.

Many times had Des Esseintes reflected upon the thorny problem of how to condense a novel into a few sentences, which would contain the quintessence of the hundreds of pages always required to establish the setting, sketch the characters, and provide a mass of observations and minor facts in corroboration. The words chosen would then be so inevitable that they would render all other words superfluous; the adjective, positioned in so ingenious and so definitive a manner that it could not legitimately be displaced, would open up such vistas that for days on end the reader would ponder over its meaning, at once precise and manifold, would know the present, reconstruct the past, and make conjectures about the future of the souls of the characters, as these were revealed by the light of that single epithet.

No specific example of such an adjective is offered, though it is said that Baudelaire and some poems of Mallarmé meet the contemplated standard, and the chapter has already quoted French verses that Des Esseintes appreciates. What Des Esseintes comtemplates is the prose poem.

Of all literary forms, the prose poem was the one which Des Esseintes preferred. In the hands of an alchemist or genius, it should, he believed, contain within its small compass, like beef essence, the power of a novel, while eliminating its tedious analyses and superfluous descriptions.

I do not contemplate writing a prose poem here, though I may wish to recognize sequences of a few verses of Homer, or Chapman, that serve as poems in themselves, or the gist of poems.

Des Esseintes is a recluse, holed up outside Paris with his books, his servants, and his ancestral wealth. He slowly goes mad. Because he has trouble with his digestion, a doctor prescribes enemas that include the beef essence described above. Des Esseintes is delighted to be able to avoid having to eat. He does retain enough wit to obey, when the doctor ultimately tells him, in the fifteenth chapter,

he must abandon this solitary existence, return to Paris, get back into ordinary life, and try to enjoy himself, in short, like other people.

He does however protest,

But I don’t enjoy the things other people enjoy!

I could say that myself. I could say further that I don’t see much in the way of people actually enjoying themselves in an active sense, during my ongoing holiday at a beach opposite Lesbos. I spend the morning, before it is light, writing these articles; I read on the beach, after it is light. A few persons have their morning constitutionals along the shore, or a dip in the water, but practically nobody sits on the beach in the morning. They sit there in the afternoon, which makes me wonder what they have been doing all morning. What can be so enjoyable in their cottages?

The life of Des Esseintes is relevant to my “Ahtamar Island” article, insofar as this concerns solitary life. At the beginning of the sixteenth and final chapter of Against Nature, Des Esseintes objects to his doctor’s prescription of city life:

there are people who live alone, never speaking to a soul, who lead a wholly inward life, isolated from society, for example prisoners in solitary confinement and Trappist monks, and there’s no evidence to suggest that those poor devils and those saints ever become lunatics or consumptives.

I doubt Des Esseintes is right about the prisoners, at least in an American supermax prison. If he is right about the monks, I think it is because, unlike himself, the monks have a purpose, beyond mere amusement of themselves, even though this amusement be achieved with the help of the finest literature of the ages.

Let me turn again to Book VIII of the Iliad now, leaving open the question of whether I do so merely for my own amusement (lines 1–4).

THe chearfull Ladie of the light, deckt in her saffron robe,
Disperst her beames through euery part, of this enflowred globe,
When thundring Ioue a Court of Gods, assembled by his will,
In top of all the topfull heights, that crowne th’Olympian hill.

Jove commands that none shall cross his sovereign will; for he is so strong that he can win any tug of war, even if all other deities are against him, along with the earth and the seas (lines 16–25):

Indanger it the whiles and see: let downe our golden chaine;
And, at it, let all Deities, their vtmost strengths constraine,
To draw me to the earth from heauen: you neuer shall preuaile,
Though with your most contention, ye dare my state assaile:
But when my will shall be disposd, to draw you all to me;
Euen with the earth it selfe, and seas, ye shall enforced be.
Then will I to Olympus top, our vertuous engine bind,
And by it euerie thing shall hang, by my command inclind:
So much I am supreme to Gods; to men supreme as much.
The Gods sat silent, and admir’d; his dreadfull speech was such.

Thus Jove believes in an absolute frame of reference; otherwise how can the difference between the two outcomes be told? Today we say, if a heavenly body pulls the earth, the earth pulls just as much.

Pallas wants at least to be able to help the Greeks in an advisory capacity. Jove would seem to wink at this (lines 34–5):

He smil’d, and said; Be confident, thou art belou’d of me:
I speake not this with serious thoughts, but will be kind to thee.

It will be seen that this is not quite right.

Jove flies down to Ida, to Mount Gargarus in particular, in order to watch the action. The Greeks eat breakfast quickly. The Trojans, fewer, taking arms to defend their wives and children, run out of the gates of their city. Throughout the morning, equal numbers die on each side. At noon, Jove brings out the balance (lines 58–62).

But when the hote Meridian point, bright Phoebus did ascend,
Then Ioue his golden Ballances, did equally extend:
And of long-rest-conferring death, put in two bitter fates
For Troy and Greece he held the midst: the day of finall dates
Fell on the Greeks: the Greeks hard lots, sunke to the flowrie ground.

The Greeks can apparently tell what has happened. Thunder is heard and lightning seen. the bravest Greeks retreat: Idomeneus, Atrides (either Agamemnon or Menelaus, or both), and both the Ajaces. Nestor too wants to flee, but his horse is struck in the head by an arrow from the bow of Paris. Nestor tries to cut the horse loose, but Hector will kill Nestor, except Diomedes sees and comes to the rescue. Though asked, Ulysses will not come help, but Diomedes offers to Nestor his chariot, pulled by the horses taken from Aeneas. Diomedes cannot help pointing out the strength of his youth (lines 92–5).

Then let my Squire leade hence thy horse: mine thou shalt guard, whilst I
(By thee aduanc’t) assay the fight; that Hectors selfe may trie
If my lance dote with the defects, that faile best minds in age,
Or find the palsey in my hands, that doth thy life engage.

Eurymedon and Sthenelus take the reigns of Nestor’s chariot, to drive Diomedes to Hector. Diomedes slays Hector’s charioteer Eniopeus. Hector is sorry, but cannot stop to mourn; he takes a new charioteer, Archeptolemus.

After all of this, Nestor is apparently still close to the scene. Jove is not only seen and heard, but smelled (lines 114–5):

A dreadfull flash burnt through the aire, that sauourd sulphure-like,
Which downe before the chariot, the dazled horse did strike.

Nestor can see that this is the Trojans’ day, and so Diomedes should just retreat. Diomedes fears that Hector will boast that he frightened him. Nestor says none of the Trojans would believe this, knowing how many he has already killed. Diomedes flees, and indeed Hector taunts him for this, saying the Greeks will now treat him like a woman. He wavers. Jove’s thunderbolts tells him what to do: defer to the Trojans, for now (lines 139–42).

This, two waies mou’d him; still to flie, or turne his horse and fight:
Thrise thrust he forward to assault; and euery time the fright
Of Ioues fell thunder draue him backe: which he proposd for signe
(To shew the change of victorie) Troians should victors shine.

Hector is drunk with success. He boasts of the favor of Jupiter and expects fame from his ultimate victory (lines 145–52):

I know, beneuolent Iupiter, did by his becke professe
Conquest, and high renowne to me; and to the Greeks distresse.
O fooles, to raise such silly forts, not worth the least account,
Nor able to resist our force; with ease our horse may mount,
Quite ouer all their hollow dike: but when their fleet I reach,
Let Memorie to all the world, a famous bonfire teach:
For, I will all their ships inflame; with whose infestiue smoke
(Feare-shrunke and hidden neare their keels) the conquerd Greeks shall choke.

We have seen horses divine, and horses slain in battle; now we see horses with names, horses fed on bread and wine by Andromache, who feeds them even before she feeds her own husband. They are Xanthus, Podargus, Aethon, and Lampus, and Hector urges them to help him take Nestor’s golden shield and Nestor’s Vulcan-made cuirass.

Juno is not pleased. She tries to raise the ire of Neptune, reminding him of what the Greeks have sacrificed to him “in Helice and Aegae.” He will not be tempted to strive with Jove.

The trench dug by the Greeks by the ships is filled with men and horse. Jove would allow Hector to burn the fleet, did not Juno inspire Agamemnon to rally the troops. “His ample purple weed / He wore to show all who he was” (lines 183–4). Standing near Ulysses’s ships, whence his words can reach the ships of Ajax and Achilles, Agamemnon reminds the Greeks of the boasts they made in Lemnos, presumably while drunk on such Lemnian wine as they drank last night, as described at the end of the previous book. He reminds Jove of the “fat thighs of beeves” (line 203) that he has burnt for him. He asks but the favor of letting the Greeks escape with their lives. Jove sends a eagle as a sign of acceptance (lines 208–15):

To this euen weeping king, did Ioue, remorsefull audience giue,
And shooke great heauen to him, for signe, his men and he should liue:
Then quickly cast he off his hawke, the Eagle prince of aire,
That perfects his vnspotted vowes; who seisd in her repaire
A sucking hinde calfe; which she trust, in her enforciue seeres,
And by Ioues altar let it fall, amongst th’amazed peeres,
Where the religious Achiue kings, with sacrifice did please
The authour of all Oracles, diuine Saturnides.

Nine Greeks come forth to fight:

  • Diomedes,
  • the two Atrides,
  • the two Ajaces,
  • Idomeneus and friend Meriones,
  • Eurypylus,
  • Teucer.

Taking advantage of the shield of Ajax, Teucer (lines 232–3),

He far’d like an vnhappie child, that doth to mother run
For succour, when he knowes full well, he some shrewd turne hath done.

With his arrows, Teucer kills eight men:

  1. Orsilochus,
  2. Ormenus,
  3. Ophelest,
  4. Daetor,
  5. Chromius,
  6. Lycophon,
  7. Amapaon, and
  8. Melanippus.

Agamemnon is impressed. He praises Teucer’s father Telamon for having brought him home to be raised, though his wife was not the mother. If victory over Troy is granted, Agamemnon will honor Teucer next after himself (lines 252–3).

Teucer right nobly answerd him: Why (most illustrate king)
I being thus forward of my selfe, dost thou adioyne a sting?

The sting seems to be that, despite killing eight men with eight arrows, he has not been able to reach Hector. He does go on to strike Gorgythion, whose head then inclines like a poppy flower filled with seed. Apollo deflects the next arrow, which strikes not Hector but his new charioteer Archeptolemus. Hector is able to hit Teucer with a stone, but his half-brother Ajax rescues him.

The Trojans are now in the game again, Hector in the vanguard (293–7).

As when some highly stomackt hound, that hunts a syluan Bore,
Or kingly Lion, loues the hanch, and pincheth oft behind,
Bold of his feet, and still obserues, the game, to turne inclind,
Not vtterly dissolu’d in flight: so Hector did pursue;
And whosoeuer was the last, he euer did subdue.

Juno invites Pallas to interfere, observing (lines 310–1),

Hector Priamides now raues, no more to be indur’d;
That hath alreadie on the Greeks, so many harmes inur’d.

Raving was part of the just war theory adumbrated by Pallas in Book V: Mars has just rule only in just war; “otherwise he raves, not fights,” and in this case the goddesses are justified in interfering—which is what Pallas says now, recalling how she rescued Jove’s son Hercules “in labours of Eurystheus” (line 319), namely “To hale out hatefull Plutoes dog, from darksome Erebus” (line 324). Had she known what her father would allow to happen now, “He had not scap’t the streames of Styx, so deepe and dangerous” (line 325).

The goddesses suit up and fly from the gates that are tended by the Hours; but Jove spies them and sends Iris to warn them: he will give his daughter wounds that will not heal in ten years, though with his wife he is more forgiving (line 354–5):

… she doth not so offend,
T’is but her vse to interrupt, what euer I intend.

Iris passes along the word (line 365–7):

… for sometimes childeren
May with discretion plant themselues, against their fathers wils;
But not where humors onely rule, in works beyond their skils.

Juno figures she and Pallas had better abort their plan and go back to Olympus, where Jove tells them ironically, “Ye should haue held your glorious course” (line 396), and presently (lines 403–5),

But thunder should haue smit you both, had you one Troian slaine.
Both Goddesses let fall their chins, vpon their Iuorie breasts,
Set next to Ioue; contriuing still, afflicted Troyes vnrests.

Juno complains some more, but Jove reveals the grand plan to let Hector prevail, even to the slaying of Patroclus, so that Achilles will then come out to fight. Jove recalls how he came to power by overthrowing his father, as if he could do it again to anybody. He does seem to suggest that he himself is subject to fate (lines 414–25).

Greeue not (said Ioue) at all done yet: for if thy faire eyes please,
This next red morning they shall see, the great Saturnides
Bring more destruction to the Greekes: and Hector shall not cease,
Till he haue rowsed from the Fleet, swift-foot Aeacides:
In that day, when before their ships, for his Patroclus slaine,
The Greekes in great distresse shall fight; for so the Fates ordaine.
I weigh not thy displeased spleene; though to th’extremest bounds
Of earth and seas it carrie thee; where endlesse night confounds
Iapet, and my deiected Sire; who sit so farre beneath,
They neuer see the flying Sunne, nor heare the winds that breath,
Neare to profoundest Tartarus: nor thither if thou went,
Would I take pittie of thy moods, since none more impudent.

The Trojans are sorry that night falls before they have routed the Greeks (lines 430–2).

Hector (intending to consult) neare to the gulfie flood
Farre from the Fleet; led to a place, pure, and exempt from blood,
The Troians forces …

He calls for the felling of much wood, to light fires so that night will not hide the Greeks’ escape. It is not enough for him that the siege of Troy should be broken. Hector is still the best man in the Iliad, or the most completely drawn man that one can emulate. His pride shows his humanity. He will die in the Iliad, and thus we shall be able to judge his life as a whole. As Herodotus reports Solon to have said, let no man be judged happy until he has died.

After calling for fires to be lit within Troy itself, lest the Greeks have a surprise attack planned, Hector does wish he were a god (lines 476–9):

O that I were as sure to liue, immortall, and sustaine
No frailties, with increasing yeares, but euermore remaine
Ador’d like Pallas, or the Sunne; as all doubts die in me,
That heauens next light shall be the last, the Greekes shall euer see.

Like the summer ending now for me, pride goeth before a fall!

(To explain. In the days before widespread use of the internet, in the early 1990s, I induced my uncle to subscribe to The Nation, for the sake of the cryptic crossword. I myself accepted the offer of the puzzle writer to send his ground rules in return for a stamped, self-addressed envelope. As an extreme example, he suggested that the clue “Summer?” could have the answer “Pride,” since each of them goeth before a fall.)

NL XXIII: The Family As a Society

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 11, 2018):

The society at the nucleus of the family is temporary, ending with the death of one of the two members.
The family has a life-cycle, with three phases: (1) before children; (2) after children, but before they have free will; (3) after the children have free will.
The community consisting of husband and wife is now a society. It was not a society when a marriage was arranged by the groom or the groom’s father and the father of the bride. The non-social aspect of a marriage survives in the custom of formally “giving away” the bride.
If today a bride and groom do not quite recognize themselves as forming a society, they may come to do so in time.
Contraception helps clarify that a marriage is normally for the sake of having children.
In order to grow up and leave the nursery, the child must be educated. The work of this is both the child’s and its teachers’. Parents must also allow the child to leave the nursery and join their society.
There are three possible needs, and they are distinct: (1) to have a baby, (2) to have a child, (3) to have a grown-up child.
Any of those three needs is fulfilled by an act of will; there is no parental “instinct”—not a scientific term anyway, though it is used popularly for an appetite or desire.
Born without free will, we are not born in chains either, since this would mean suppression of a will that didn’t exist.

The last chapter was called “The Family As a Mixed Community,” because the family consists of both a society and a non-social part, called the nursery. Now we are looking at “The Family As a Society.” We are not in contradiction, but are in the flux that Heraclitus observed in all existence (24. 62). The inmates of the nursery normally grow and join the society of their parents: the family as a whole is a society in this sense.

Altınova bazaar, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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