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Tuesday, October 22, 2013
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.
St Mary Salomé
*Thebaid is the landscape? Sorry, meant Theban Cycle of course!