[ExI] re Odyssey, hero

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Wed Sep 30 16:49:44 UTC 2015

On Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 8:11 AM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com>

> ​If we can assume that Homer's epics underwent no change,

Presuming they were based on oral poetry, they were more akin to rivers
than statues, no? I mean with oral poetry, each performance is its own
thing. It's not a verbatim replication of another performance. But the core
part you're interested in -- Odysseus doing thuggish things -- was probably
a constant here. I doubt there were any readings where Odysseus is a
pacifist who never uses or condones violence.

> I can assume that the morals of that society were barbaric.

I'm not sure you can draw that conclusion. And at which time? Periclean
Athens? Or some other part of Ancient Greece at another time? If you're
going to expand the net wider to folks who enjoyed that epic, then you'd
have to include people up to today who enjoy it.

>   OK< so Greeks have had great philosophers, but that says little about
> the common man.

Right, though that applies today too, no?

> I am not lacking understanding of viewing things according to the
> historical context, but nothing prohibits me from viewing them according to
> me, either.​

Me neither, though your comments seem to show a disregard for how the rest
of the audience takes something, including folks long ago and far away.

​I assume that great writers know their readers, so including a lot of
> violence is sure to please.

It might have worked that way, though the particular epic we're talking
about is not as a violent as the earlier one, no? And these epics were set
in a war and its aftermath. I would expect them to deal with violence.

> Did you know that there is a theory that Homer did not 'write' those
> epics?  That they were written by another blind poet also named Homer?​  I
> am not quite sure what this says about English departments, but it's not
> good.  (I am so happy that I did not choose to be among them when I fled
> law school.)

Um, there are a lot of theories floating around, but I believe the general
view today is the poems were probably composed by the same person based on
textual analysis, though they derive from a prior oral tradition. This
falls under the rubric of the "Homeric Question." Anyhow, if you're just
going to say there are wild theories out there and that makes the whole
enterprise suspect, then you you must dismiss much else today to be
consistent, no? And I mean in science in general -- not just stuff about
who composed what.

And, strictly speaking, Homer would be a hot topic in classics departments
-- not English departments. Recall, Homer is not English literature -- at
least, not until it's translated. :)

> In the context of the epic, you are right about all of it, but seem
> determined that I am missing the 'correct' interpretation.
> Do you really want to say that?  I have to doubt it.

I have no problem saying an interpretation is incorrect. Remember, I'm
sympathetic toward there being objective standards. :) I'm not a
relativist. And my comments were about understanding why others might see
Odysseus as a hero. Recall me stating:

"...if you want to understand why others might think Odysseus was a hero
and the epic based on his story is one with a happy ending, especially if
those others lived thousands of years ago and were members of a culture
very different from ours, then it might not be helpful to apply
contemporary moral standards as if they illuminate. You think of Odysseus
as a thug, but that wouldn't have been so for Homer's ancient audience in
my understanding. They would see him as offering up a moral example as well
as his story being entertaining and would likely be rooting for him against
his myriad enemies, including the Suitors."

Recall also my reaction to "Henry V." I can also separate -- as can many
I'm sure -- my moral evaluation of a character in a story from my esthetic
evaluation or narrative analysis of the story. I'm sure many people have
also enjoyed stories that involve bad people. Or: a story can be good or
even great (for me or maybe even objectively) without the characters in it
being morally good.

Let's step away from this. Is it really hard to answer something like,
"Who's the hero of story X?" without getting bogged down in whether you
agree with the hero's particular worldview or morality? Yes, you can still
say, "Well, Y is the hero of story X, but he isn't all that heroic in my
view." It shouldn't be such a big deal.

​If Rand is saying that art should project a moral ideal, then she and I
> have little in common.​  I would never put 'should' in any aesthetic
> context.  The Stalinists did, and look what they got from it -  people like
> Shostakovich being told he had to rewrite some of his music.

Putting a "should" anywhere makes no one a Stalinist. That cheapens the
Stalinist label. Stalinism involves using force as well, no? I can say,
"You should actually read some of the scholarship on Homer before
dismissing the whole field." Would that make me a Stalinist? And Stalin
himself didn't merely say, "You should do X." He backed up his demands with
violence or the threat of violence -- carried out, of course, by his

> Bottom line:  I just hate violence, even if it seems justified.  It lowers
> us all to torture, for example.  The only moral war we've had is WWII
> (don't really know much about WWI).  Everything else has been a chance for
> Halliburton and the like to profit from mass killings.  Eisenhower did warn
> us.

This is a long way from Homer. If you don't like violence, even when it's
depicted in art, then that's your taste. I'm not going to try to convince
you to like it. This is where Rand's theory is informative. She would say
your reaction to art is based on your sense of life, which here seems to
include a strong antipathy toward violence. Anyhow, you can read her essays
on art and sense of life to see if I'm right here.

By the way, many have linked love of war and violence to reading Homer. I
think Herbert Spencer took that position in the 19th century. If memory
serves, he attacked the British education in the classics as extolling
violence and war. And quite a few people have used that to explain the
level of violence in WW1. (Recall that was a war where many Brits of the
classics-educated elite lined up to charge machine gun-held positions.)

IMO, Eisenhower warned only after he helped put the whole mess together.
Kind of similar to Reagan's fears about big government: Reagan seemed to
love make government bigger every chance he got.

> So I avoid all literature and movies which are violence oriented.  I guess
> my testosterone level has just sunk, because I used to love boxing and all
> the rest.
> In my book, which I suppose I will have to get someone to co-write if it
> will ever see the light of day, hormones get turned on at 6 p.m. and off at
> midnight.  So the war planning that was done last night looks disgusting
> the next day.  Whoopee!
> In other words, we are animals that need reprogramming to get us out of
> this tribe versus tribe mentality.

Ah, but it seems there you do share something with Rand. Art is important
here because? And to change that mentality, do you think art should remain
the same? Then people's tastes do matter and should be open to change?


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