Tag Archives: Julian Jaynes

On Translation

Achilles is found singing to a lyre, in a passage of Book IX of the Iliad. Homer sets the scene in five dactylic hexameters; George Chapman translates them into four couplets of fourteeners.

I wrote a post about each book of the Iliad, in Chapman’s version of 1611. As I said at the end, I look forward to reading Emily Wilson’s version. Meanwhile, here I examine the vignette of the lyre in several existing English translations, as well as in the original.

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On Being Given to Know

  1. What if we could upload books to our brains?
  2. What if a machine could tell us what was true?

We may speculate, and it is interesting that we do speculate, because I think the questions do not ultimately make sense—not the sense that seems to be intended anyway, whereby something can be got for nothing.

View from Şavşat

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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. This may be the post I return to the most, of those on the books of the Iliad so far (through Book XIV). I begin with Chapman’s four-line “Argument,” but his two-line “Other Argument” for now 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, in the modernized spelling of the Wordsworth Classics edition (2003):

He answer’d: ‘Noble Telamon, prince of our soldiers here,
Out of they heart I know thou speak’st, and as thou hold’st me dear:
But still as often as I think how rudely I was us’d
And like a stranger, for all rites fit for our good refus’d,
My heart doth swell against the man that durst be so profane
To violate his sacred place; not for my private bane,
But since wrack’d virtue’s general laws he shameless did infringe,
For whose sake I will loose the reines, and give mine anger swinge,
Without my wisdom’s least impeach. He is a fool, and base,
That pities vice-plagu’d minds, when pain, not love of right, gives place …’

Achilles defends not only virtue, but his own right to disrespect somebody who lacks virtue. This is not really part of the “blow for civilization” that I shall attribute to Achilles, except insofar as it results in inaction rather than action.

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 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.”

A twofold reason why I return now to Book IX and this post:

  1. The book’s words such as Julian Jaynes cites, to argue that Agamemnon and Achilles are not conscious.
  2. The post’s mention of the Finnish movie Upswing, which offers a counterargument.

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

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book I

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

“Achilles’s baneful wrath” is to be resounded by the Goddess, whom the poet invokes.

The story will be the strife between Achilles and Agamemnon. By Homer’s account, it begins not with the men themselves, but with Apollo, who has plagued the Greek army. There is no reason to suppose that Homer denies responsibility to the army or its leader. Apollo has plagued the army, because Agamemnon insists on keeping a man’s daughter as his slave. The woman’s father is a priest of Apollo called Chryses; we shall come to know the daughter’s name only as Chryseis. She has evidently been taken in a Greek raid on her home town, which will be called Chrysa. We shall hear more about the raid later in Book I, when Achilles tells the story to his mother. Thus Homer’s narrative is not sequential. In a technique that will become standard in literature, we start in medias res.

Chryses offers ransom for his daughter. He also utters the wish that the Greeks will conquer Troy. In Book XXIV, when Priam goes to ransom his son’s corpse from Achilles, we shall know how nervous Priam is. In Book III, he will be too nervous to see his son Paris fight a duel with Menelaus. But now I see no clear indication of nerves on the part of Chryses, even though Chrysa has presumably been sacked because (or with the excuse that) it is allied with Troy (Chapman’s lines 15–21):

… Great Atreus sonnes (said he)
And all ye wel-grieu’d Greekes; the Gods whose habitations be
In heauenly houses, grace your powers, with Priams razed towne,
And grant ye happy conduct home: to winne which wisht renowne
Of Ioue, by honouring his sonne (farre-shooting Phoebus) daine
For these fit presents to dissolue, the ransomeable chaine
Of my lou’d daughters seruitude …

Possibly Chryses has the confidence of one who knows he can summon up divine power. But then, if Chryses can really do such a thing, why did he not keep his daughter from being taken in the first place?

In their simple piety, if not greed for the ransom offered, the soldiers all agree to grant Chryses’s request; but we do not know whose prize Chryseis is, until Agamemnon declares that he will take her back to his court in Argos. He tells Chryses to get lost. Chryses obeys, and Homer (or Chapman) does allow that he “trod off with haste and fear.”

Chryses prays to Apollo, mentioning, as being within Apollo’s domain, Chrysa, Cilla, and Tenedos. The last is on, or is, the island today called Bozcaada: I visited it ten years ago. Probably Chrysa and Cilla were on the mainland, but I don’t suppose we have any idea just where.

Apollo hears Chryses and plagues the Greeks (lines 50–1):

The fires of death went neuer out, nine daies his shafts flew hot
About the armie …

None of the dead are named. They wouldn’t be, at the beginning of a story. On the tenth day, Achilles calls a council. There is a vague suggestion that Hera is behind it. Achilles knows that Apollo has sent the plague, but does not admit to knowing why (lines 57–60):

… Let vs aske, some Prophet, Priest, or proue
Some dreame interpreter (for dreames, are often sent from Ioue)
Why Phoebus is so much incenst? If vnperformed vowes
He blames in vs; or Hecatombs …

If Achilles can recognize the hand of Apollo in the plague, can he truly not know the cause? Or would it just not be politic to be the one to state it? The augur Calchas Thestorides offers to state it, provided he be given protection from the wrath of Agamemnon (lines 74–8):

… When a king, hath once markt for his hate,
A man inferior; though that day, his wrath seemes to digest
Th’offence he takes; yet euermore, he rakes vp in his brest,
Brands of quicke anger; till reuenge, hath quencht to his desire,
The fire reserued …

Achilles offers protection, and then Calchas reveals that Chryseis must be returned to her father for no ransom, and with sacrifices to boot.

Is it all a set-up? Agamemnon accuses Calchas of delighting in making offensive auguries. He says he loves Chryseis more than he does his wife Clytemnestra. (As Aeschylus tells the story in the Oresteia, Clytemnestra will kill Agamemnon when he gets home.) Agamemnon will make the great sacrifice of returning Chryseis to her father, provided Agamemnon himself be supplied with another prize in her place.

Achilles tells Agamemnon to do what the god commands. As the Greeks themselves do not command it, so Agamemnon should take nothing from them. There is little in the “common treasury”: most of what was taken from “our razed town” has been distributed to the men, and to take this back “Were ignominious and base.” There is honor among thieves! Zeus has promised them all the prize of Troy (lines 128–30):

all losse thou sufferst thus,
Will treble; quadruple in gaine, when Iupiter bestowes
The sacke of well-wall’d Troy on vs; which by his word, he owes.

Agamemnon points out that while Achilles may be fleeter of foot, he is not so smart. Agamemnon will not be convinced to harm himself. If the Greeks give him no recompense for Chryseis now, he will take it for himself, be it from Achilles, Odysseus, or Ajax. Meanwhile, any of these three, or Idomeneus, is invited to perform the service of actually returning the woman to Chrysa, with sacrifices, as the god requires; in fact it would be good for Achilles to perform the service.

I recall here two bits of popular culture:

  • “The President Is a Lot Smarter Than You Think!”, the second Doonesbury collection, from 1972: the President is Nixon, and according to B.D., he will be smart enough to keep the Vietnam War going. (I read this book countless times as a child, because it was lying around the house in West Virginia where I had many holidays.)
  • The “Anniversary” episode of Fawlty Towers, in which Basil continues to refuse to decide whether to give Polly the advance she has asked for, even as he demands her help for a surprise party for his wife Sybil. (At the present writing, this little vignette has not been considered worthy of the summary in the Wikipedia article on the episode. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” Polly mutters ironically.)

Achilles observes that the Trojans never did him any harm. He and the rest of the Greeks offer their lives for the vengeance of Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus. Achilles does the most work, and what recompense the Greeks have given him is little compared to what Agamemnon gets; and now even that little does Agamemnon propose to take from him. He will go home to Phthia, rather than lose here his treasure and his honor.

Go ahead, says Agamemnon. He himself trusts in Zeus. He observes that Achilles’s strength comes from the god and is therefore nothing to be proud about. This is a fine teaching, when one offers it to oneself. Agamemnon, however, will make like Apollo (lines 185–91):

Since Phoebus needs will force from me, Chryseis; she shall go;
My ships, and friends, shall waft her home: but I will imitate so,
His pleasure; that mine owne shall take, in person, from thy tent
Bright-cheekt Briseis; and so tell, thy strength how eminent
My powre is, being compar’d with thine: all other, making feare
To vaunt equalitie with me; or in this proud kind beare
Their beards against me …

The last line continues: “Thetis sonne, at this stood vext.” Achilles does not know whether to restrain himself or kill Agamemnon now. Here is one of the moments that are important for Julian Jaynes in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977). Achilles on his own is drawn in two directions; but then Athena comes, making herself visible to Achilles alone, and tells him to use not his sword, but his words. What Agamemnon now will take, he will later offer back threefold. So says Athena—or so says Achilles to himself, by Jaynes’s account, though Achilles cannot recognize the speaker as himself.

Achilles agrees with Athena (or with himself): “my soul must conquer th’angry part” (line 216). But when Athena goes back to heaven, Achilles cannot hold his tongue. How often do we have this experience? Achilles’s vow now is not to go home, but to refuse to help the Greeks. He makes his vow on a scepter, which was once a tree trunk, but which will no longer grow and bear branches or green leaves: it has been stripped of its natural ornaments with iron (it now has “golden studs,” line 244), and judges use it to defend “their laws, received from Jove” (line 236).

As a result of Achilles’s speech, “Atrides’ breast was drowned In rising choler” (lines 244–5). Nestor steps up as peacemaker. He declares his credentials. He is older than Achilles and Agamemnon put together, and has counselled better men than they are. Agamemnon should not take Achilles’s prize, and Achilles should not oppose the king (lines 279–82):

… King of men
Command thou then thy selfe; and I, with my prayres will obtaine,
Grace of Achilles, to subdue, his furie; whose parts are
Worth our intreatie; being chiefe checke, to all our ill in warre.

Agamemnon responds first, saying Nestor is right, but Achilles is too hot-tempered.

Achilles threatens Agamemnon. Agamemnon can take Briseis, since Achilles will not draw blood for a woman; but he will draw blood, if Agamemnon takes anything else.

Does Achilles speak from principle, or calculation? Would Achilles really be more willing to fight over a piece of bronze or gold than over a woman? Or does he say the most threatening thing that will not actually lead to a fight? Achilles can beat Agamemnon one-on-one, but Agamemnon does presumably have the support that he boasts of. In Turkey today, I frequently see men try to fight, but other men always hold them back: I imagine this may be the only reason why the principals were willing to try to fight in the first place.

Achilles returns to his tent, while Agamemnon outfits the ship that will return Chryseis to her father. The ship is loaded with a hecatomb. The men who will stay behind at the camp also make sacrifice (lines 312–6):

… To heauen the thicke fumes bore
Enwrapped sauours. Thus though all, the politique king made shew
Respects to heauen; yet he himselfe, all that time did pursue
His owne affections. The late iarre, in which he thunderd threats
Against Achilles, still he fed …

It sounds as if Calchas was right about how kings respond to offence.

Agamemnon sends his heralds to fetch Briseis from Achilles’s tent. They go, but can say nothing to Achilles. He tells them he has nothing against them. He has Patroclus hand over Briseis, while he reminds the heralds that his refusal to fight for the Greeks is a matter of honor. Agamemnon is raving mad, he says (lines 342–8),

Nor sees at once, by present things, the future; how like waues,
Ils follow ils; iniustices, being neuer so secure
In present times; but after plagues, euen then, are seene as sure.
Which yet he sees not; and so sooths, his present lust; which checkt,
Would checke plagues future; and he might, in succouring right, protect
Such as fight for his right at fleete; they still in safetie fight,
That fight still iustly …

It sounds as if Achilles believes in karma. Briseis weeps. So does Achilles, when he goes to the shore to call to his mother. Thetis comes from the sea and asks what is wrong. Achilles says she already knows, but—conveniently for us—tells her anyway. He gives her an executive summary of what we know, but adds the detail that Chryseis was taken in the sacking of “Thebs, the sacred towne, of king Eetion” (line 365): that’s Cilician Thebes, Eetion being the father of Andromache, whom we shall meet in Book VI. Perhaps Chrysa should be understood as a village attached to Thebes, which is in turn attached to, or allied with, Troy.

Achilles asks Thetis to have Zeus allow the Trojans to drive the Greeks home. Zeus should listen to Thetis, since he owes her: when he had been bound by his sister-wife Hera and his daughter Athena, Thetis brought Briareus to the rescue. Achilles knows this, since Thetis would boast of it in the court of Peleus his father.

Thetis boasts now that she will achieve Achilles’s wish. She does grieve to have given birth to a man fated to die young, when in that short life he is given such woe. She also tells Achilles he must be patient, since Zeus and his court are off visiting the Ethiopians. Here seems as good a time as any to recall the words of Robert Graves in the Introduction of a little book called Greek Gods and Heroes (1960):

These myths are not solemn, like Bible stories. The notion that there could be only one God and no goddesses did not please the Greeks, who were a gifted, quarrelsome, humorous race. They thought of Heaven as ruled by a divine family rather like any rich human family on earth, but immortal and all-powerful; and used to poke fun at them at the same time as offering them sacrifices. In remote European villages even today, where a rich man owns most of the land and houses, much the same thing happens. Every villager is polite to the landlord and pays rent regularly. But behind his back he will often say, ‘What a proud, violent, hasty-tempered fellow! How he ill-treats his wife, and how she nags at him! As for their children: they are a bad bunch! That pretty daughter is crazy about men and doesn’t care how she behaves; that son in the Army is a bully and a coward; and the one who acts as his father’s agent and looks after the cattle is far too smooth-tongued to be trusted … Why, the other day I heard a story …’

That was just how the Greeks spoke of their god Zeus, his wife Hera, his son Ares the War-god, his daughter Aphrodite, his other son Hermes, and the rest of the quarrelsome family.

I used to go to school in Washington in a car pool with a few other Virginians. There was an older girl in the group named Emily Graves, and one day she had holes in the cover of her French dictionary. Her brother Robert had gone crazy with a hole punch. He had even punched holes in Emily’s book of Greek myths. “I bet you don’t know who wrote that book,” Emily said.

“Whoever he is, he’s an idiot,” said Robert Graves of Robert Graves.

This is what I happen to associate with the poet. I gather he has a controversial theory of the origin of the myths. The words that I quoted do not necessarily describe the origin of the myths. They do seem to describe the gods themselves.

While Achilles waits for the gods to come home from Ethiopia, Odysseus returns Chryseis to her father. The sacrifices are made, and Chryses prays for the plague to be removed. The Greeks feast on meat and wine. The sun is pleased to hear their paeans. The soldiers sleep till dawn, then sail back to their camp at Troy.

When he has been fed and put to bed by Achilles in Book XXIV, Priam definitely does not sleep till dawn, but returns to the city within the walls.

When Zeus is back in his throne, Thetis appeals to him. When he is silent, Thetis demands to know for sure that she is the one goddess whom he will dishonor.

Zeus is only thinking of what Hera will say when she learns what he will do to satisfy Thetis. He tells Thetis to leave before Hera sees her. Hera does see her though, “and straight her tongue, had teeth in it” (line 521).

Zeus tries to explain: —Look, Honey, you will always be the first to know of anything that others can know!

Zeus may however have plans that he can reveal to nobody. Even if Hera learns them, she can do nothing about them, and she had better not try.

Hephaestus speaks up. —Dad is right, Mom: remember how he threw me out of heaven, and I fell all day till I hit the ground?

Hephaestus fell to earth on the island of Lemnos, where “The Sintij cheard, and tooke me vp” (line 576)

Now Hephaestus serves nectar to the gods. They laugh at his ability to do this ably, even while lame. I imagine lameness was common for the Greeks. It is common Turkey today. I am not aware that disability is ridiculed there, though it is hardly accommodated. Turks are surprised to visit Europe and see how many people in wheelchairs there are; the Turks don’t realize that there are just as many disabled folks in Turkey, only they can hardly leave the house.

Apollo plays the harp, the Muses sing along, and the gods go to bed.

Note added September 27, 2019: This article originally incorporated “On Uploading Books to One’s Brain.” After this was separated, the article had the following introductory remarks.

It was ten years ago when I first read the entirety of Homer’s Iliad in George Chapman’s 1611 translation. This was the translation celebrated by Keats in his 1816 sonnet, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”:

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