There be dragons!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rage, Chaos, and song

The idea being here (and hopefully fleshed out) that the bard is likening rage (menin) at the beginning of the Iliad to Chaos (Xaos), that is the black pit of nothingness that swallows all.  

This is Hesiod in his "Theogony" (first in Greek):

 τοι μὲν πρώτιστα Χάος γένετ᾽αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
Γαῖ᾽ εὐρύστερνοςπάντων ἕδος ἀσφαλὲς αἰεὶ
ἀθανάτωνοἳ ἔχουσι κάρη νιφόεντος Ὀλύμπου,
Τάρταρά τ᾽ ἠερόεντα μυχῷ χθονὸς εὐρυοδείης,
ἠδ᾽ Ἔροςὃς κάλλιστος ἐν ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι,
λυσιμελήςπάντων δὲ θεῶν πάντων τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων
δάμναται ἐν στήθεσσι νόον καὶ ἐπίφρονα βουλήν.

ἐκ Χάεος δ᾽ Ἔρεβός τε μέλαινά τε Νὺξ ἐγένοντο:
Νυκτὸς δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ Αἰθήρ τε καὶ Ἡμέρη ἐξεγένοντο125
οὓς τέκε κυσαμένη Ἐρέβει φιλότητι μιγεῖσα

(and in translation):

Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros (Love), fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. 

For Hesiod the oneness, static, pit of chaos leads to the dyad of "Erebus and black Night" - brother (Erebus) and sister (Night) who comingle as with liquids their essence and create all other things.  The masculine force and the feminine force mix as oil and water and thus produce (from unity to duality) children who are opposite of their parents (Erebus + Night vs. Aether + Day); consequently multiplicity of things as the night and day create the cycles of time.  As a psychological work this seems to indicate that out of that nothingness of chaos the first inkling one has is of the change of night into day; "let there be light"; and one begins to recognize the multifarious beauty of the world around one.

For Homer, though, the question seems different (slightly). His question is a question of rage, menin, mania and how that youthful rage against the machine of the world might be cured.  How do we answer that black pit of chaos that wells up in human nature and threatens to consume the world?  How do we stop the cycle of human violence that makes all history seem like one damn thing after another?  Perhaps Homer is suggesting that art alone has this ability - that the answer to chaos, darkness, hopelessness, and violence is not philosophy but song & art.  The only cure for rage, Homer seems to indicate, is song (aeide) and the proximity of the two words at the beginning of the poem sets this tone.  

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώωναὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε 
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι,

The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus' son, Achilles, that destructive wrath which brought countless woes upon the Achaeans, and sent forth to Hades many valiant souls of heroes, and made them themselves spoil for dogs and every bird;
Iliad I: 1-2

Out of the menin emerges the song and the goddess - from them comes a man, a human, the son of Peleus; the protagonist who must reclaim himself from an all-consuming rage; to stop seeing people as enemies and start seeing "men walking like trees".  

This same connection seems to appear again when Achilles is calming himself in his tent using song (aeide):

Μυρμιδόνων δ᾽ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δ᾽ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃἐπὶ δ᾽ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετ᾽ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας:

τῇ  γε θυμὸν ἔτερπενἄειδε δ᾽ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.

And they came to the huts and the ships of the Myrmidons, and found him delighting his soul with a clear-toned lyre, fair and richly wrought, whereon was a bridge of silver; this had he taken from the spoil when he laid waste the city of Eëtion. Therewith was he delighting his soul, and he sang of the glorious deeds of warriors; 

Iliad IX: 189

Again the song of the bard (aeide) appears in the city on the shield that protects Achilles; the city of peace:

παρθενικαὶ δὲ καὶ ἠΐθεοι ἀταλὰ φρονέοντες
πλεκτοῖς ἐν ταλάροισι φέρον μελιηδέα καρπόν.
τοῖσιν δ᾽ ἐν μέσσοισι πάϊς φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
ἱμερόεν κιθάριζελίνον δ᾽ ὑπὸ καλὸν 
λεπταλέῃ φωνῇτοὶ δὲ ῥήσσοντες ἁμαρτῇ
μολπῇ τ᾽ ἰυγμῷ τε ποσὶ σκαίροντες ἕποντο.

And maidens and youths in childish glee were bearing the honey-sweet fruit in wicker baskets. And in their midst a boy made pleasant music with a clear-toned lyre, and thereto sang sweetly the Linos-song with his delicate voice; and his fellows beating the earth in unison therewith followed on with bounding feet mid dance and shoutings. 

And lastly at the "song" of wailing that both Achilles and Priam engage in at the end of the epic:

ὣς φάτοτῷ δ᾽ ἄρα πατρὸς ὑφ᾽ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο:
ἁψάμενος δ᾽ ἄρα χειρὸς ἀπώσατο ἦκα γέροντα.
τὼ δὲ μνησαμένω  μὲν Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο
κλαῖ᾽ ἁδινὰ προπάροιθε ποδῶν Ἀχιλῆος ἐλυσθείς,
αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς κλαῖεν ἑὸν πατέρ᾽ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε
Πάτροκλοντῶν δὲ στοναχὴ κατὰ δώματ᾽ ὀρώρει.

So spake he, and in Achilles he roused desire to weep for his father; and he took the old man by the hand, and gently put him from him. So the twain bethought them of their dead, and wept; the one for man-slaying Hector wept sore, the while he grovelled at Achilles' feet, but Achilles wept for his own father, and now again for Patroclus; and the sound of their moaning went up through the house. 

Iliad XXIV: 507-512

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