Saturday, April 6, 2013

Where did Agamemnon Come Up with That?

When Agamemnon prays that the sun may not set until he has slain Hector and destroyed Troy, we are told that his prayer is not to be answered.

Source of quote, John A. Scott, 1965: The Unity of Homer (p. 259 where he is discussing the technique of Homer) - I have not looked it up on the Iliad, so I take it on trust from a scholar.

So, how come Agamemnon even had the idea?

Was he overreacting only, as some have said of Joshua's long day? Those Theologians argue that Joshua overreacted, asked for he knew not what, and was heard by a God not sharing his cosmological prejudice. If Agamemnon was simply overreacting, that would of course be a parallel.

If Agamemnon had heard of Joshua's long day, on the one hand that would not be a parallel to the supposition of those Theologians, but Agamemnon would be asking a favour he already knew to have been granted once, and on the other hand it would be confirmation of the miracle from an independent source.

We have no definite evidence for which it is. If Agamemnon knew of Joshua's long day, later Greek Storytelling does not. And this passage in Homer is our only clue that Agamemnon ever had the knowledge. How, if so, was the knowledge lost? Well, Agamemnon was in a position to suppress unfavourable comments about himself. And having tried and failed the Joshua move was unfavourable enough. So, was the knowledge of the long day totally lost? No, rather it was, in that case, deliberately transformed - into, most probably, Helios rising in the West and setting in the East (which up to then had been only a laughable misunderstanding of Joshua's long day) on occasion of either Thyestes' usurpation and duty to give the throne back to Atreus (Agamemnon's father) or the horror at Atreus' revenge at Thyestes. If he could not repeat the miracle of a Hebrew, he could misattribute the memory thereof to his own family history.

He had more totalitarian power in precisely Greece than anyone after him up to ... probably Philip and Alexander, if not even later. It seems Achaean Greece and the Phrygian Troad were two marginal provinces of the later disappeared Hittite empire. This Empire was also in contact with Hebrews as is clear from Uriah the Hittite, whose widow King David married. So, Greeks - both Achaean invaders into Greece and the autochthonous which some have called Pelasgians - would have remembered a funny behaviour of the sun in different versions, one of which was the sun going backwards over the sky. And Hittite power would have furnished the explanation about Joshua. Which Agamemnon first tried to emulate and then to shut up.

Very successfully so, since we do not know. We only have a passage in Homer - which I haven't read last decades and only know best now from Scott - which I find strangely suggestive.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
BU Paris X/Nanterre
Saturday of Easter Week

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