Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Homer (again)

1) Homer (again), 2) Legendary Men vs Mythical Gods

He is our main authority on the Trojan War. Our only early authority on Ulysses' return after it. He was neither Christian nor Hebrew, but a Pagan with primary belief in "Homeric gods" it would seem - possibly unlike Virgil who lived after Lucrece.

I think he was in general a good recorder of past facts.

Troy and Mycenae were found by Schliemann, whereas Dörpfeld, Leaf and others have given accounts of landscapes and ruins and harbours talked about (but for the ruins they were not talked about as ruins) in the Iliad and Odyssey.

One could object that his false theology would make his history incredible. But when he introduces the gods, this is not so much history as interpretation of history. Sometimes it could even be some facthood behind: when Apollo lures a battler away to his ruin, when Athena counsels Ulysses ... either natural or supernatural explanations might come to mind. And "Hermes" telling such and such to do so and so might be real guardian angels or real conscience of people.

Nevertheless, his theology is bad. The one true God (who directed the events behind the Iliad and Odyssey as and insofar as they happened) is unknown. When false gods like "Zeus" and "Athena" or "Hermes" get sacrifice from heathens, Homer approves. These gods are wrong because they are not holy, they quarrel, like Zeus with his wife Hera, like Athena with her uncle Poseidon.

Some of the gods show clearly demonic traits in their actions (which can therefore be real sicne demons are real): Apollo and Aphrodite in Iliad, Poseidon in Odyssey, all three in Greek tragedy (Oresty and Thebaid* for Apollo, Hippolytus for Aphrodite and Poseidon). Nevertheless, to Homer they are simply gods and entitled to worship.

The descent to Hades is either Homer's conceit or an illusion experienced by Ulysses, but it is shown as "reality" of the beyond.

Circe may have had the power to make men look like swine and (as any hypnotist with a well "conditioned" victim) behave like them and think they were such, but she could certainly not make them such in their nature.

Thanks to the Divine Revelation, we can know where Homer is wrong on Theology. But where he is not contradicting Revelation, his word should usually be accepted. However, we may have other ancient sources giving us reasons to believe things he left out or contradicted.

He left out that the Achæan Greece and Phrygian Troad were both Hittite dependencies. After what Leaf writes about Achæans under Hittites this may be a very merciful thing to leave out. He sometimes uses words about iron and iron weapons and tools which were probably not standard in Mycenean times. But in general this does not make his story incredible.

We know from Holy Writ, as Christians, that giants have existed and been beaten. Homeric accounts may be either true or plagiarised from King David or Caleb.

The sun did not stand still or go over earth the wrong way for Thyestes' sake ... as Homer did not know, the earth is round, so in that case somewhere the sun would have been seen halt from its westward way and start going east. Which is not the case.

But whether Homer understood that or not, Agamemnon knew the Sun had stood still and on what occasion since he tried in vain to pray for the same thing. Since he could not repeat Joshua's feat, there was an immediate interest on his part (and plenty of time up to Homer and the Tragedians) to plant a false story to contaminate the real memory of the real sun miracle.

The present day low rating of Homer's historic accuracy is due to its confirming in general a worldview and a view of history in which supernatural things happen and in which morality counts in physical results, that the "Enlightenment" apostasy opposed.

It is not due to any inherent improbability in Homer getting things mainly right over three or four centuries of tradition, nor to any inherent improbability that Providence punished Helen's infidelity but also Agamemnon's pride, or punished the pride of the Suitors and rewarded the fidelity of Penelope.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Mary Salomé

*Thebaid is the landscape? Sorry, meant Theban Cycle of course!


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Note carefully the difference between me and the heretical Naasseni.

According to St Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book V, Chapter 3, as available on Newadvent:

Home > Fathers of the Church > Refutation of All Heresies (Hippolytus) > Book V
scroll down to chapter 3

... the Naasseni call Homer their prophet:

Adopting these and such like (opinions), these most marvellous Gnostics, inventors of a novel grammatical art, magnify Homer as their prophet— as one, (according to them,) who, after the mode adopted in the mysteries, announces these truths;

But for my part I do not at all consider him, nor the poets of Mahabharata or Puranas as true prophets. I consider them as tolerable historians.

Homer had access to traditions from the Trojan War and to traditions from Ithaca. This makes him a tolerable historian of Iliad and Odyssey without him being a prophet.

I hope I have made the distinction crystal clear?

Because some idiots are bent on glueing any heresy to my back which they can give any stray and erratic support in any of my writings or more probably words taken out of contexts, titles used without regard as to whether I answer a question affirmatively or negatively or with qualification, quotations abused as my own opinions and flights of pure fanciful association.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Chapter 20. The Cosmogony of Justinus an Allegorical Explanation of Herodotus' Legend of Hercules.

Herodotus, then, asserts that Hercules, when driving the oxen of Geryon from Erytheia, came into Scythia, and that, being wearied with travel-ling, he retired into some desert spot and slept for a short time. But while he slumbered his horse disappeared, seated on which he had performed his lengthened journey. On being aroused from repose, he, however, instituted a diligent search through the desert, endeavouring to discover his horse. And though he is unsuccessful in his search after the horse, he yet finds in the desert a certain damsel, half of whose form was that of woman, and proceeded to question her if she had seen the horse anywhere. The girl, however, replies that she had seen (the animal), but that she would not show him unless Hercules previously would come along with her for the purpose of sexual intercourse. Now Herodotus informs us that her upper parts as far as the groin were those of a virgin, but that everything below the body after the groin presented some horrible appearance of a snake. In anxiety, however, for the discovery of his horse, Hercules complies with the monster's request; for he knew her (carnally), and made her pregnant. And he foretold, after coition, that she had by him in her womb three children at the same time, who were destined to become illustrious. And he ordered that she, on bringing forth, should impose on the children as soon as born the following names: Agathyrsus, Gelonus, and Scytha. And as the reward of this (favour) receiving his horse from the beast-like damsel, he went on his way, taking with him the cattle also. But after these (details), Herodotus has a protracted account; adieu, however, to it for the present. But what the opinions are of Justinus, who transfers this legend into (his account of) the generation of the universe, we shall explain.

In other words, St Hipploytus is, like myself, quite OK with Herodotus speaking of Hercules, locally in Scythia and temporally the generation before the Trojan War. What he hates like the plague is how Justinus mistreats this as an account of the Universe.