[ExI] re Odyssey, hero

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Fri Oct 2 19:58:31 UTC 2015

On Thu, Oct 1, 2015 at 6:20 AM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com>

> On Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 10:44 AM, Flexman, Connor <
> connor_flexman at brown.edu> wrote:
> ​Here is all I am saying and it is inarguable:  I can judge the ILiad,
> Odyssey, the Bible, or absolutely anything any way I want to.  I do not
> disregard others' view or put them down.  They have the same right I do to
> judge.

Bill does indeed have a right to judge. I'm not sure anyone's saying he
doesn't. But does he also accept that others may judge his judgment on
anything he cares to share his judgments about?

Also, I brought up _The Odyssey_ NOT as an example of fine moral teaching
we should all try to follow, but as an example of a work of literature that
the cultural elites see as great and that has a happy ending. My bringing
it up was aimed at Bill's earlier statement about how cultural elites -- or
literary critics or whatever -- say only works with tragic endings are
great art. Note that I did not use _The Iliad_ but _The Odyssey_ as my
example too -- for the obvious reason that the former work has a pretty
tragic or at least unhappy ending.

> We are talking about the actions of human beings, though fictional.  Why
> should I not be able to approve or disapprove of the actions of my
> species?  No doubt that if the Odyssey were real and happened last week,
> there would be many who approve of everything about it.  I am not one of
> those.

There's nothing wrong per se with morally judging a character in a work of
fiction or in real life. (Putting this another way: one need not be
restricted to judging a work of art merely by esthetic standards. In fact,
in many works of art, moral or political concerns seem essential. A few
days ago, I saw ""Two Days, One Night," a film about workers choosing
whether to keep their bonus or allow a fellow employee not to be laid off.
That moral dilemma is central to the film. I think it would be very hard
for most people to see this film as not having moral content and even
crying out for the viewer to judge the actions of her fellow workers. That
was part of the enjoyment of the film for me.) But the point was to see why
some, in fact a great many readers of _The Odyssey_ might see Odysseus as a
hero rather than a pure thug. (Of course, in terms of the Heroic Age
morality, Odysseus is a very problematic hero -- but not because he's a
thug. Rather, he's problematic because he uses his wits rather than just a
straightforward contest of strength. Recall, in the other Homeric epic,
Achilles beats Hector not by outwitting him but simply because Achilles is
stronger, has more stamina, and better with a spear.)

> Our species is, or at least can be, barbaric, and I hate that.
> Dan's justification of the actions of Odysseus do not float with me.  To
> me he is a thug.  Period.

Dan is wondering where he _justified_ the actions of Odysseus here. :) I
ask Bill to present the actual passages where I justify those actions --
and which actions.

Also, inside this particular epic, what are the particular actions of
Odysseus that are thuggish? His journey home? What did he do in particular
on that that would be the actions of a thug even by modern standards? It's
been a while since I read the poem, so maybe I missed something.

And when he does get home, the actions seem more vindictive than thuggish.
Yes, I would NOT condone that kind of thing either, but the Suitors and the
household members who side with them were not exactly good people doing
only just things. The Suitors were there to forcibly marry Penelope and
likely to kill her son Telemachus. They were also eating her out of house
and home. (That said, we can argue that Odysseus' house and home were built
on the backs of peasants, but the Suitors and the servants siding with them
were not there to bring about a revolution, but merely to place themselves
in power.)

I've also pointed out that I have moral issues with many characters in
fiction. I brought up the example of Henry V in Shakespeare's play. Henry V
is the hero of the play and he seems depicted as a hero, yet I was repulsed
by many of his actions. (And his actions in the play are more overtly
thuggish, though they're also mixed. He's not purely cruel -- unlike, say,
Richard III in Shakespeare's "Richard III.")

And many people can enjoy a work of fiction yet judge the main character
(if there be one) as morally repugnant. One of my favorite plays is
"Macbeth." Yet I don't take the title character to be a paragon of

> Now if any of you are saying that there is one and only one correct
> interpretation of fiction, the Bible, Obama, or reality in any sense, then
> we have a whole new discussion.

I see nothing wrong with the view that there might be one correct
interpretation in fiction or whatever, though I know that view has been out
of favor. But let's say there is more than one valid interpretation of a
work of art. I have no problem with that, though it doesn't rule that even
with many different valid interpretations there might also be an inequality
among interpretations and even that some interpretations might not only be
less correct than others but even simply and plainly wrong.

Settling this for any serious work would likely be a long discussion. One
might apply inference to best explanation or Bayes here. In _The Odyssey_
(I notice Bill is silent about the other great epic I mentioned as having a
happy ending: Dante's _Divine Comedy_), I think it's plain to see it has a
happy ending in how this is meant conventionally by people today: the
protagonist succeeds or wins by winning. (I bring this up because there are
works where the protagonist wins by losing -- is ultimately frustrated by
learns afterward that the prize wasn't worth the candle and they still have
the candle -- or loses by winning -- gets what they want only to find it
not worth it.) The best explanation seems to be what here?

> So, Anders et al, to me there are no shoulds involved in perception of
> fiction or reality.  Perhaps the only 'should' is that we should leave
> ourselves open to others' views.  I certainly have changed mine a zillion
> times in trying to adapt to the world​.  I appreciate that my views may not
> be those of the ancient Greeks, and they are certainly not in line with
> many people of today.
> You got a problem with that?

No, but I disagree about shoulds. I have no problem with using should here.
And like Bill, I remain open to changing my mind. But I don't anyone here
-- Bill, Anders, Connor, Adrian, Rafal -- who said they would never ever
change their mind on something. Were someone to say that, I would think
they were joking or setting themselves up for a fall.

It's also funny that to morally judge a character on one hand and castigate
others for using (or implying) "should" on the other. (Well, even the bald
fact of implying one should not use should seems irony enough.:)


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