There be dragons!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thoughts on Iliad

I love having a job where I can not only teach writing but in the process of teaching writing work out new ideas about works which I love.

On the Iliad:

1st

Achilles is spiritually blind.
Oedipus is spiritually blind.

Achilles has a, um, interesting relationship with Thetis, his mom.
Oediups has a, um, interesting relationship with his mom.

Achilles father, Peleus, is absent from the epic, spoken of only when asking if he is dead.
Oedipus has killed his father.

Achilles has a spiritual awakening only after an intense experience of pain and loss.
Oedipus has a spiritual awakening only after an intense experience of pain and loss.

So is Achilles another Oedipus? Was Homer aware of the myth? Or is Oedipus Achilles? Was Sophocles aware of the epic?

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2nd
Briseis mourns over Patroclus' body in book 19 saying that the dead man was gentle and good to her; "you were always kind."
Helen mourns over Hector's body in book 24 (the last of three female mourners, Andromache and Hecabe, and the penultimate human voice in the epic poem) saying that the dead man was always gentle and good to her; "you with your gentle words and your gentle ways"

Both are slaves; both are left utterly alone at the end of the work (Helen b/c she lives with a lout and Briseis b/c Achilles soon will be dead).
Both are mourning over the "good man" character who is now dead.
Both are mourning over the Achilles duplicate (Patroclus and Hector connected by the wearing of the armor)

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3rd
Homer makes the gods look ridiculous, undermines them, shows that they are not worthy of worhsip - but some of the humans who fail and die are. Homer elevates the humans to a position superior to the gods.
Why does he do this?
Hypothesis: He does this to

1. show that screwing up in life is not the worst thing possible

a. with perfect, unyielding and aloof gods who cannot experience the human condition the standard to which we hold ourselves makes us psychotic and homicidal (or suicidal)

2. smash the hold that the priesthood had on the lives of laypeople

a. a priesthood beholden to perfect gods would have held that perfection over laypeople like a cult or cabalistic master/slave relation

b. much like the scribes and Pharisees

c. Christ does later what Homer does here.

3. force the reader to find new gods (or god)

a. if these gods, these passions, are not to be worshipped as the God then who is? Deus ubi est?

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