polutrope: (Default)
Well, I'm actually almost done with this epic thing: book five is rather short, because I'm no good at battle scenes.
Book V! )
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
So I was totally writing an Epic Iliad AU, in which Achilles totally disregards what Athena tells him to do and kills Agamemnon in book I. And I guess I took a fairly long break. But anyway, book IV is
here )
polutrope: (Default)
So Book III is kind of really long. but anyway, here it is.
Book III )
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So I'm taking this class called Gore and Glory: Early Heroic Literature. And, well, I shouldn't really be taking it, because we're reading the Iliad on such a shallow level, and I'm pretty sure most of the people in the class are just there to get their literature and the arts credit. But good things are born from the mediocre, I suppose: something sparked me thinking about what would have happened if Achilles had actually killed Agamemnon in Book I. And so I've decided to write it. (with some help from A.T. Murray's translation) Book I is basically summary, though.

So heres Book I )
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
Because I'm a sucker for anything set before 1500 and written before 1990, I read Miranda Seymour's The Goddess, which is about Helen of Troy. It was kind of a letdown: I was picturing awesomely bad, and it gave me mediocre. Also I have realized that I probably shouldn't read anything with Homeric characters because I will probably nitpick it TO DEATH.

The main problem was that her characterization was all over the place. It was really hard to tell if Seymour knew that her main characters were kind of unpleasant people or not, which is always annoying. Like, Paris sleeps with everyone (and so does Helen) and by everyone I mean everyone. For Paris it's Penthesilea, for Helen Odysseus. And neither of those makes much sense, especially Odysseus. I MEAN. This is not the place to go into My Ideal Odysseus (ok, it's basically Homer's minus the infidelity), but I think it's a big deal that he turned down Helen.* And I'm pretty sure that the deal with Penthesilea is that, well, she doesn't really have a point, but whatever. Not sleeping with Paris.

So anyway, she sort of reinvents Paris as this great warrior, in the face of all Homeric characterization. Remember that time* when Paris destroyed Menelaus in a duel and Menelaus had to be saved by Aphrodite? I don't either, because exactly the opposite happened. Also evidently Paris is the first to think of using archery from horseback, which I am pretty sure would be difficult with no stirrups. Also remember when Helen gets sick of Paris and doesn't want to sleep with him? Yeah, that doesn't happen.

Which brings us to oddities in the storyline. It starts out with Helen's childhood, and a poor man's Renault/Graves female vs male cult. Seymour can't seem to decided between Helen being basically nice but inhumanly beautiful or actually a bad person. She may or may not have gotten Castor and Pollux killed by encouraging them to go out on a raid (but really Menelaus killed them. or something). Skipping the oath Odysseus makes everyone take to go to war if Helen is ever kidnapped, which you might think would be kind of important, Helen marries Menelaus but he humiliates her and is really upset when she turns out to be barren and then he sleeps with a slave girl and Helen is miserable.

And then Paris comes and, you know, is kind of a douche (actually we get a taste of his douchitude when he's growing up and then when he actually goes to Troy. And I really can't tell if she knows he's a douche or not.) and Takes Her Away From All This. So they go to Troy and chill there for a while. The start of the war isn't actually in Homer so I don't really care, but then she decides to condense the ten years of the war into about two, which bothered me in the movie and bothers me now. And she skips Diomedes and Odysseus' night raid, which is quite important to the fall of Troy. And Helen doesn't fall out of love with Paris.

I know I'm harping on that a bit, but it's a fairly important part of her Homeric character that she feels bad about going (Many men have been slain for the sake of bitch-face me) and that she doesn't love Paris anymore.

Also I really hate her Hector and Andromache. Actually I just hate her characters in general. To really follow Homeric characterization, you'd have to have everyone be basically good: Hector is especially good, Agamemnon sometimes less than good. But Homer doesn't do villains (except Thersites) or just nasty people, which Seymour does a lot of.*

In any case, Helen helps Odysseus come up with the Trojan Horse idea, when she meets him disguised as a beggar (and then sleeps with him). This episode, if not the conceiving of the Horse, is purely Homeric and show a thing that happens very often: Seymour mixing good Homeric events and weird things that didn't happen. So then Helen goes home with Menelaus, his slave girl kills him, Helen gets exiled and then hanged as an offering to the Goddess by her old childhood friend. Really.

The end is basically a whirlwind tour through all the myths about Helen's return: Odysseus and Menelaus make up the Helen in Egypt story to save face, the Helen Dendritis thing is her being sacrificed by the friend.

So I didn't hate it, but it wasn't very good at all, and not even entertainingly bad. But it did make me think about characterization in Homeric novels. You, the generic Bronze Age listener, wouldn't raise your hand, in the circle around the fire, listening to the bard, and say "Excuse me, honored bard, but last week we had a guy here who insisted that Odysseus was faithful to Penelope. And clearly he is righter than you." So why do we hold modern writers, who are essentially carrying on the bardic tradition in written form, to higher standards? Except that Paris' unmanliness probably would have been constant.*

Indulging a bit here, I've always been Team Menelaus at least a little bit, and I don't know why. But really, is there anything wrong with her liking him? Menelaus is not a bad guy in Homer, really. He's a typical warrior, but he doesn't do anything actively douchey, unlike pretty much anything else.

IN SUM: I don't know if I'd recommend it. Maybe if you had free time and wanted to take my copy off my hands.*

---
*Actually quite a bit of what I'm complaining about isn't Homeric and I'm not sure of the sources for it (it was in d'Aulaire's!) Like, did you know that the thing about Thetis dipping Achilles in the Styx was a 1st century AD thing? I did not.
*Iliad 3, 1-37
*Especially women, which is a whole other story. Look, I understand your point that all the women hate Helen for her beauty, but it's still kind of awful that none of your women have characters outside Helen or their husbands.
*Seymour has him fighting with a bow, and being praised for it. People. The Greeks thought that bow-fighting was unmanly for, like, ever.
*This is me steadfastly not mentioning that kind of embarrassing and pointless scene in which Chinese people and Nubians show up to be Trojan allies. Yeah, I dunno either.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
So clearly there is a lot of good poetry about Odysseus and Penelope.

And I can't get behind it, or most of it, 100%. I love the Merwin, for example, - As though he had got nowhere but older? amazing - but that must needs conflict with my love for what I believe is Homer's Odysseus, who wants nothing more than to go home. And much as I enjoy Stallings' bitter, perhaps unfaithful Penelope's voice, I like her faithful*.

My favorite writing on Odysseus is in fact in Plato's Myth of Er: "There came also the soul of Odysseus having yet to make a choice, and his lot happened to be the last of them all. Now the recollection of former tolls had disenchanted him of ambition, and he went about for a considerable time in search of the life of a private man who had no cares; he had some difficulty in finding this, which was lying about and had been neglected by everybody else; and when he saw it, he said that he would have done the had his lot been first instead of last, and that he was delighted to have it." And this is projecting onto the character no less than the later poems. Odysseus is still very much a Homeric hero, concerned with his kleos. Yet it is telling that he was initially unwilling to go to war, and that it was a threat to his son that forced him to go.

Any writing on a character that you have not yourself created is a kind of projection: I am sure that every version of Arthur, for example, bears with it something of the author, though his or her name be lost to time. And it is easy enough to project dissatisfaction, though heroic dissatisfaction onto Odysseus (To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield). He is the eternal traveler; he leaves places where he has been happy - but, it is often ignored, not for the unknown but for the known.

Why do I project the desire for homecoming and for a calm and quiet love for his wife onto Odysseus? for though it is Homerically justifiable, it is projection nonetheless. I think I want at least one happy couple in the corpus of Greek mythology,* and happy not just on a superficial fairy-tale level: Penelope and Odysseus are no longer children. They are linked by mental compatibility; Homer states that they "think the same." They have faced dangers to be with each other, to lie in each others' arms, as they do in Book 22. They complete each other.

I want their happiness because they are the first couple I really believed in. And so while I can admire the poems as poems - many of them are really spectacular - there is always something that keeps me back from loving them wholeheartedly.

---
*This has its own problems considering Odysseus' infidelity, nor do I excuse his: I would have preferred them both patient.
*The other candidate is Alcestis and Admetus.
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YouTube comments are kind of nutty, eh? someone said "I feel shipwrecked upon the green water of his glance" in the comments to this Jarrousky song (which is nice, though the commenters are right about the quality.
Hereunder is commentary on a novel )
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
So I'm pretty sure I'm on the Analyst, book-nine-is-an-insertion side. And that's unfortunate, because it's clearly less interesting than trying to fit in Achilles' characterization here and in the rest of the Iliad, but I really think it just doesn't work. Maybe Achilles, as characterized in book I, would start to question the values of the society; I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. But he wouldn't question the entire concept of trading blood for material objects. For one thing, the quarrel is one that he's started, over a material object. For another, his plea to his mother is "make the Achaians come to me with threefold gifts" once they realize that they can't live without him.

Then there's the fact that he claims that Agamemnon has not offered him anything in book 11; you could excuse this as a slip of the poet's mind, except that book 9 is kind of long for that. A classmate of mine argued that Achilles is so angry that "in his reality" there has been no embassy, and that, much as I respect him, just makes no sense - perhaps in a 19th or 20th century novel, but not now. As a general rule, Homeric (and actually, most fictional characters for a very long time) are telling the truth unless it's specifically noted that they're lying; such a manipulation of the truth would be unthinkable.

I definitely think that reading Achilles as a hero defending his principles doesn't work; through the rest of the poem, he's very invested in the system of time. Why, all of a sudden, would he reject the system he fights to uphold? The only reason to withdraw from fighting over Briseis is because it's a mortal insult; but if you can't trade goods for a man's life, and death comes to all equally, then how is it such a great insult?

On another note, I kind of read Achilles' statements in the beginning of his speech as sour grapes, but I think that's anachronistic too.

This is the situation in which that time machine would be very useful.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
So this is probably not quite fair, but it's also probably not all that far off. In terms of accuracy, getting historical information about the Bronze Age from Homer is about the same as getting 17th century history from Dumas.¹ That is to say, he's quite a bit after the period he's writing about (and if he is actually Dark Age, he has only filtered cultural memory) and his main concern is telling a good story.

This is not to say that you can't get something out of it - cultural attitudes, what kleos is and what it means, usw. But it's not totally historical, and if you get into the mindset "Homer was writing about facts and he was always completely factual about them" you will be led down a very bad path.
----
¹ I mean, I totally do this. But we also have real history books.²
² OH MAN THAT WOULD TOTALLY WORK - Nestor is clearly Athos, Achilles is D'Artagnan, Diomedes (or maybe Ajax the Greater?) is Porthos, and Odysseus is Aramis. Agamemnon can be Cardinal Richelieu.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
A Reminder from my Odyssey professor (All caps as is!):

REMINDER. Our exam is tomorrow at 9 am in EP 027 (the bottom floor). PLEASE SET YOUR ALARMS and don't OVERSLEEP.
see you then. (hope to have your papers then too).
BON COURAGE

Oh Professor Zeitlin. You may be kind of cranky and dogmatic, and you may have called me a drama queen for not knowing what to write about, but ilu!
polutrope: (moar academia)
This paper is now about Väinamöinen. Once upon a time there was a man named Väinamöinen who lived in Finland. He really didn’t have all that much to do with Vergil except that their names start with the same letter and also a crazy Italian man said that the Homeric epics really took place in Finland. Väinamöinen is kind of like Odysseus in a way because they’re both smart but Väinamöinen didn’t do well with women like that time when he married a girl and then she jumped into the North Sea and then he tried to make a wife out of gold and it didn’t work. They are also very different because at the end Väinamöinen represents the old gods and that does not happen with Odysseus, because there was no Christianity in archaic Greece. Also Odysseus didn’t have an illegitimate son who he then abandoned and then had some issues involving marrying his sister by mistake and then she killed herself and then he killed himself too. But that didn’t happen in Homer because he was not Balkan.

[The paper is really about the motivation of Athena in the Odyssey and Venus in the Aeneid. Thesis: the motivations of the goddesses reflect the overall goal of their epics: Athena likes Odysseus personally, while Aeneas, although he is Venus' son, is more important to her as the founder of the empire than as a person. Unfortunately I am having some (that is, a lot) trouble coming up with a good beginning]

(other option for starting this paper: “on a bright day in semi-historic semi-Greece…”)
polutrope: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] dolique
Penelope's Despair

It wasn't that she didn't recognize him in the light from the hearth: it wasn't
the beggar's rags, the disguise - no. The signs were clear:
the scar on his knee, the pluck, the cunning in his eye. Frightened,
her back against the wall, she searched for an excuse,
a little time, so she wouldn't have to answer,
give herself away. Was it for him, then, that she'd used up twenty years,
twenty years of waiting and dreaming, for this miserable
blood-soaked, white-bearded man? She collapsed voiceless in a chair,
slowly studied the slaughtered suitors on the floor as though seeing
her own desires dead there. And she said "Welcome,"
hearing her voice sound foreign, distant. In the corner, her loom
covered the ceiling with a trellis of shadows; and all the birds she'd woven
with bright red thread in green foliage, now,
on this night of the return, suddenly turned ashed and black,
flying low on the flat sky of her final enduring.

Achilles after Dying
He was very tired - who cared about glory any longer? Enough was enough.
He had come to know enemies and friends - purported friends: behind all the admiration
and love they hid their self-interest, their own suspicious dreams, those cunning innocents.
Now, on the little island of Leuce, alone at last, peaceful,
no pretensions, no duties or tight armor, most of all without the humble hypocrisy of
heroism, hour after hour he can taste the saltiness of evening, the stars, the silence, and that
feeling - mild and endless - of general futility, his only companions the wild goats.
But here too, even after dying, he was pursued by new admirers - these, usurpers of his
memory : they set up altars and statues in his name, worshipped, left.
Sea gulls alone stayed with him; now every morning they fly down to the shore, wet their
wings, fly back quickly to wash the floor of his temple with gentle dance movements. In
this way a poetic idea circulates in the air (maybe his only justification) and a
condescending smile for everyone and everything crosses his lips as he waits yet again for
a new pilgrims (and he knows how much he likes that)
polutrope: (moar academia)
The traces of the ancient doctrine of Homer's infallibility linger on in contemporary criticism. If something in Homer is not absolutely correct, it must be justified, and cannot by any means be ascribed to poetic license or a slip of the poet's tongue. Felice Vinci takes this idea to its farthest ends in The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales.

A Long Review )
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
Why I hate the part of Book Nine of the Odyssey we're reading now:

It's not because of the farming terms, though god knows there's too many of those.
It's not because of the sailing terms.
It's not because my grammar is sadly lacking.

No, it's because I have no visual imagination and thus have very little idea what's going on. "The line," say my notes [that is, 'he threw the rock in front of the ship and it struck the rudder'], "is absurd here: a stone falling in front of the ship would not nearly touch the steering oar." I suppose it would be, if I had any idea what was going on the in the first place!
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elissa_elicopis is now [livejournal.com profile] polutrope ! Different name, same great rambling!

Tripods

Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:49 am
polutrope: (work habits)
Because this is totally better than actually working on my paper due in four hours:

There is no reason for Achilles to refuse Agamemnon's gifts in Book Nine. By giving Achilles gifts, Agamemnon admits that he needs him, and that he was wrong to take Briseis. The gifts, by the way, are worth much more than the slight merits - (from memory) seven tripods [and one tripod, as we learn from the contest, is better than a woman], seven Lesbian women as well as Briseis, one of his daughters to wife, and seven cities. (I think it's a feature of Agamemnon's character that he goes too far in everything: his wrath against Achilles was excessive, but so are the gifts he is willing to give in order to appease him.) Further, Agamemnon subtracts from his own kleos by giving up his own prizes, which the Lesbian women are. He's admitted that Achilles is greater than him and he is willing to lose kleos, which is what Achilles wanted - for Agamemnon to honor him. There's no point in asking Thetis to ask Zeus to destroy the Argives if he's not going to go into battle (unless he actually wants all of them to be killed, which I doubt he does).

Since Achilles has what he had prayed for, the only reason for him to refuse is plot. If he went back to the war at this point, Patroclus wouldn't have to go for him, and would'nt be killed. But the only reason for Patroclus to die is for Achilles to go back into the war, which, if he had gone already, wouldn't need to be forced.

Sure, Achilles states reasons for not going back into battle: because he thinks that Agamemnon is still taking too great a share, because he himself has no quarrel with the Trojans - but then why doesn't he go home? One could argue that it's because he does want to fight, and that his reasons are really excuses, but then why doesn't he leap at Agamemnon's offer?

Depending on how you feel on the authorship of the Iliad, it's a case of et annuit Homer or of a place you could point to as evidence for multiple authors. Say the scene of the embassy is in one version, and the compiler[s] liked it very much and wanted to keep it, but also liked the Patroclus situation we know and love. Perhaps in a different version Achilles took the offer and got killed, as was his fate anyway.

Whether or not it points to multiple authorship, I do think it's interesting that Achilles doesn't take the offer. Maybe I'll write my extra credit paper one that.
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Today was the first day of my action-packed second semester, and by "action-packed" I mean that I'm taking five courses. I had all but one of these today.

Russian was fun, of course, although Christine, the grad student who helps teach, has apparently decided that since it's second semester, we obviously understand when she speaks Russian. Which is true - for the most part. However, the textbook hasn't arrived yet, so we're using photocopies. Flipping through pages is fun

Homer wasn't as bad as I thought it would be - I realized looking at my book last night that I could actually sort of remember some of my vocabulary, and he's taking it really slow.

Balkan/East European Oral Tradition will be a great class. (And it's Slavic Studies/Comparative Literature/History/Hellenic Studies. Really. [Also, at this point I've got more of the requirements for a Slavic Studies major than Classics.]) There are four of us, one of whom is a grad student, so the room we're in is oversized, to say the least. But the topic is very interesting, at least to me, and the professor seems really nice.

And my writing seminar, which is on the Inquisition, is not as bad as I thought it would be, although I still think that my professor has *ahem* intimate experience with practice of inquisitors.

(This is a production of Rossini's Cenerentola, with Joyce DiDonato. Her singing is very good, but the real point of this is to make fun of the production. Let's just say that I know what they were aiming for, but it doesn't quite get there.)

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