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Archive for October, 2010

Divine Interference

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

It must be frustrating having all of the different gods constantly interfering in your life. In The Iliad, no matter how honorable anyone battles or how hard they try, there’s always the possibility that their efforts will be trumped by a god or goddess whenever they felt like sticking their nose in.

Agamemnon actually cleverly uses divine intervention as an excuse in Book 4:

My kin were glad to oblige and grant them their requests –

till Zeus changed our minds with a flash of bad omens.

He says that he really wanted to help out Tydeus, but Zeus changed his mind. Maybe interference isn’t so bad after all. What an excuse at your fingertips: Yeah, I did that, but it’s not my fault – Zeus made me do it.

It’s like Flip Wilson’s comment ‘The devil made me do it’, but better.

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Paris Ailing

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I can’t stand Paris. There’s absolutely nothing to like about him. Not only is his adulterous affair with Helen the sole cause of war between the Argives and the Trojans, he constantly flaunts himself like a peacock then retreats behind other soldiers at the first sign of danger.

The two lovers of Helen – Menelaus, her old husband, and Paris, the man who stole her away – meet to battle face to face in a winner take all fight to the death at the end of Book 3. Halfway through the battle, with both armies watching, Menelaus’ sword breaks. Yet even with the distinct advantage of having a defenseless enemy, Paris can’t even lay so much as a finger on him. Menelaus actually ends up grabbing him by the helmet and tossing him around like a rag doll. Seeing that Paris’ loss is inevitable, the goddess Aphrodite swoops in to his rescue and sneaks him off the battlefield to lay him down gently in his bedroom.

This has got to be one of the most humiliating things imaginable. It also serves to make me and everyone else hate Paris even more. After her dishonorable actions, Aphrodite panics and does the one thing she does best: Stir up sexual feelings. She runs off to find Helen and gets her to visit Paris in his bedroom… but Helen isn’t falling for it this time.

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The Pride of Achilles

October 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t think that Achilles went overboard when he first left the fighting. Agamemnon took his prize and left him with nothing. Achilles was rightly upset by this. Agamemnon was free to take whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. To fight for such a man is less than meaningless.

Leaving the battle is fine. It’s what Achilles does next that puts him over the line.

Achilles asks his mother, the goddess Thetis, to go to Olympus and persuade Zeus to cause the Achaeans (his allies) to start losing the war. The reason he wants his own side to lose is because he wants Agamemnon to realize how much he needs him – Achilles wants to hear Agamemnon beg him to come back.

Now this is ridiculous. This same tactic is something I used to think about doing as a ten year old whenever I was upset about not getting my way. I fantasized that maybe if I ran away or something, then everybody would start missing me and finally realize how wonderful I was.

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Nice Guys vs. Jerks

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Any guy could tell you that the nice guys never get the girls. Girls always seem to gravitate towards jerks who are full of themselves. Homer seems to have understood this fact as well. Consider the chain of events at the end of Book 1 of The Iliad.

Here are the characters:

  • Zeus (the jerk)
  • Hephaestus (the nice guy)
  • Hera (the girl)

The scene starts with Zeus and Hera arguing. Hera is accusing Zeus of going behind her back and making a deal with another goddess against her wishes.

Zeus tells her that she is always suspicious of everything he does and to stop whining (even though Hera was right – He really did go behind her back). But Hera keeps pushing the matter. Finally Zeus tells her that even if she is right (which she is), there’s nothing she can do about it.

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Agamemnon, lord of men

October 22, 2010 1 comment

The Iliad is a poem about the rage of Achilles and his degeneration into inhumanity (more on this later). It’s interesting to note then, that what sets Achilles down this path is a classic struggle between the ruled (Achilles) and the ruler (Agamemnon).

To set the stage, the Achaeans, led by Agamemnon, have sacked a city near Troy. One of the places in that city was a shrine to the god Apollo. After the battle, the Achaeans took the loot from the city and divided it up between them. The most prized possession from the attack was the daughter of the temple priest, Chryseis. And since Agamemnon was the ruler, he took her as his own.

Shortly after, Chryseis’ father begs Agamemnon to return her, but Agamemnon refuses. Being a priest of Apollo, Chryseis’ father implores the god for revenge. Apollo obliges, and afflicts the Achaeans with plague, forcing Agamemnon to return her.

Okay, fine. Agamemnon had to give her back. He lost out, but it was for the good of his people (they were dying of plague). Agamemnon lord of men doesn’t stop there, however. He thinks it’s not fair that he lost his prize, so he makes Achilles give up his own prize so that Agamemnon won’t be empty-handed (as it turns out, Achilles prize was a woman named Briseis). Understandably, Achilles feels this is a bit unfair. That’s actually an understatement. Achilles thinks it’s an outrage.

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The Judgment of Paris

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

If you reversed the gender roles in ‘The Judgment of Paris’, the story wouldn’t make sense anymore.

The Judgment of Paris is what sets into motion the events depicted ‘The Iliad’. Paris, the prince of Troy, has to make a decision: Who is the most beautiful woman – Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite? The winner gets a golden apple. There is a famous painting by Rubens in which Paris asks the three ladies to disrobe so he can judge better (clever guy).

But if the gender roles were reversed, the story wouldn’t make any sense. I can’t see Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo lining up in front of some woman to determine who is the most handsome. I think this has to do with the different manner in which men and women each determine their own self-worth.

Most women tend to define themselves by the opinion of other men, not from other women. Whatever way in which men think of them, tends to be the way which they view themselves (sadly).

Men, however, don’t define themselves by the opinion of women. Men do seek approval from women, but they do it differently. Instead of seeking approval directly from the opinion of women, men seek approval by getting a woman.

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Finding the Best Translation of The Iliad

October 18, 2010 11 comments

There are several considerations to keep in mind when deciding on an English translation of The Iliad. Most of these are universal concerns for any ancient writing, some are specific to Homer.

First of all, the question ‘What is the best translation of The Iliad’ is itself a bad question. Although there can be many ‘good’ translations of a work into another language, there is no such thing as ‘the best’ translation. There are three reasons for this:

  • Our knowledge of Ancient Greek is ever changing (hopefully for the better). This means that a good translation might be proven to be inaccurate as our knowledge of the original language changes over time.
  • Our own language is ever changing. The English we are speaking right now will sound hopelessly old-fashioned in two hundred years time. So that what might be a good translation now will be unreadable in the future.
  • There are many different ways to translate from one language into the next. Not any one way can ever be considered ‘better’ than another. Each method depends on the purpose of what the translation will be used for.

To explain this last point, it’s easier to ask the major questions you’ll need to answer before settling on a translation.
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