Fall 2009 Exchanges (FAS and DCE): September
This page shares Exchanges among Professor Nagy, Head TFs Keith Stone and Dr. McGrath, section TFs — and students in both FAS and DCE courses. Most recent Exchanges are at the top of the page.
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On September 29 Rhonda Magnusson Pickens wrote:
In listening to the discussions about Sapho/Patroclus - weddings/death, I kept thinking about an explanation of the French term "la petite mort" I heard in a Shakespeare course many years ago. The professor said that the term was medieval and developed to explain to people what death would be like. They should not be scared of death because it was going to be an ecstatic experience. An orgasm was only a tiny bit as pleasurable, therefore it was only a "little death" whereas the actual death would be a union, a one-ness with God, therefore way beyond a mere orgasm. This seems very tied in with the Classical ideas you've discussed of la belle mort and of the bridegroom/bride becoming a god/goddess for a moment in ritual - becoming one with the god/goddess and of the intertwined nature of sex & death. Is this an apt comparison?
Dr. McGrath replied:
Yes, there are parallels here ... What we were doing in class was to show how the language of ritual (wedding song) is similar to the language of myth (epic performance): where love and death enjoin a similar terminology. How to connect with the world of heroes, in other words ...
P.S. I hope that You will allow our Webmaster Mark Tomasko, to post your comment on the Exchange board?
On September 25 Keith Stone wrote:
Re: Becoming divine
When I was talking with my sections this week about Patroklos becoming divine and confronting the divine, I found myself using the following language and would love to know your reaction to it.
To begin with something more clear: when you confront a divinity, you become like that divinity in some way. Your resemblance can be positive (e.g., when warriors have their most outstanding moments of fighting, their resemblance to Ares emphasizes their excellence at those moments), and it can also have a negative outcome (in the sense that you resemble the god so much that you become a competitor, as in the story of Arachne, who provokes Athena to a contest in weaving, and also as in this week’s passage, where we see Patroklos charging directly towards Apollo and Apollo fighting back). My question, then, is: when you resemble a god, could we say that the god is putting their mark on you, showing that you belong to them or at least to their realm? When the Homeric narrator says that Patroklos came out of the tent “looking like Ares himself” (and not knowing it), it seems like Ares is claiming Patroklos for his own in some uncanny or ironic way by imparting some of his own appearance to him. Kind of like when you see a doomed character in a movie with a red laser dot on them—you know something bad is about to happen.
Professor Nagy replied:
I like the idea that the god in a god-hero antagonism actually puts his mark on the hero, as in the passage to which you are referring, where Patroklos is marked, as it were, by the sign of Ares. In the case of Apollo and Achilles, the marking is I think even more overt. Consider, for example, the ephebic characteristics of Apollo...
He has no beard, he has unshorn hair, and so on. Achilles looks ephebic only in the context of his antagonism with Apollo - now that I think of it. In other contexts, Achilles does not look ephebic. I have seen representations of Achilles with beard and with short hair, and so on.
I will think more about it. Grateful for your insights,
On September 24 Jeff Emanuel wrote:
Re: Patroklos as a sacrificial lamb
Prof. Nagy (Greg) and Dr. McGrath (Kevin),
I found this week's Proseminar to be the most revealing, informative, and useful to date in this course. That is not to suggest that the previous
sessions have been wanting in any of those respects; it is simply to say
that this week's session touched on such significant topics, and provided
such understanding, as to be even more illuminating than usual. The image of
Patroklos as a sacrificial lamb (or, more correctly, *ram*) dying in place
of Achilles, both taking the brunt of Achilles' heroic antagonism with
Apollo and ritually taking his place on the altar of *kleos*, is an
extremely powerful one, which conjures up images other scenes of ritual
substitution, such as the ram taking the place of Isaac on the altar in
Genesis 22. Also, the idea that Achilles, who already feels more deeply than
a mortal man, suffers a fate worse than death (or, as Prof. Nagy put it,
"the ultimate death") through his sorrow over Patroklos' demise is one I
hadn't considered before. As the ultimate hero (or, as Sappho put it, "the
ultimate bridegroom"), the last thing I would have expected from Achilles
would have been for him to allow another to die in his place. Based on his
reaction to Patroklos' death, I think it's safe to say it's the last thing
Achilles himself would have expected, as well; however, doomed as he is to
be unseasonal until it is his "time to die," Achilles is forced to live with
the unquenchable sorrow of having allowed his "alter-ego" to perish in his
place -- though he knows, and is reminded by Thetis in XVIII 95, that the
loss of "he whom [Achilles] valued more than all others" is a harbinger of
his own death (and his achievement -- finally -- of both seasonality and *
kleos*), as his *hora *is fated to come shortly on the heels of Hektor's
demise, which he himself will presently and purposely set out to bring
Though the rhapsode takes care to make nearly every battle death a personal
and emotional one to some degree (such as, out of myriad examples, V 12:
"Diomedes killed Axylos son of Teuthranos, a rich man who lived in the
strong city of Arisbe, and was beloved by all men; for he had a house by the
roadside, and entertained every one who passed; howbeit not one of his
guests stood before him to save his life" and V 151: "He then gave chase to
Xanthos and ThoÃ¶n, the two sons of Phainops, both of them very dear to him,
for he was now worn out with age, and begat no more sons to inherit his
possessions. But Diomedes took both their lives and left their father
sorrowing bitterly, for he nevermore saw them come home from battle alive,
and his kinsmen divided his wealth among themselves"), the death of
Patroklos seems to me to be the only one to this point that surpasses the
power and emotion of Sarpedon's demise in Scroll XVI (Hektor's death will,
in turn, surpass Patroklos'). The agonizing of Zeus, king of the gods and,
as Prof. Nagy said in the Proseminar, the "ultimate director," over the son
"whose doom has long been fated" (XVI 442) brings weight and emotion to this
scene. Further, the suffering Father Zeus endures as he accepts the fate of
Sarpedon -- an individual whom he "loves dearly" (XVI 434) -- sits in ironic
and *humanizing* opposition to his declaration of willingness to allow Troy
to be utterly destroyed for the simple reason that he "would not have [the
fate of Ilion] become a bone of contention between" himself and Hera (IV
37). Even the gods have their favorites, after all (though Hera's response
to Zeus -- "My own three favorite cities...are Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae.
Destroy them whenever you may be displeased with them. I shall not defend
them and I shall not care" (IV 50) is stunning in its lack of concern for
On an entirely unrelated note, something that struck me while reading the
epic was the difference in the *sound* of the Trojan and Achaean armies'
movements. The Danaans seem to move into battle silently -- not without
making noise with their (and their horses') footfalls, but without
verbalizing anything at all as they approach the battle line ("the Achaeans
marched silently, in high heart, and minded to stand by one another" (III 9)
and "The chiefs gave orders each to his own people, but the men said never a
word; no man would think it, for huge as the host of warriors was, it seemed
as though there was not a tongue among them, so silent were they in their
obedience" (IV 428)). Conversely, the Trojans seem to enter battle very
vocally; their sound is compared to "a flight of wild fowl or cranes that
scream overhead when rain and winter drive them over the flowing waters of
Okeanos to bring death and destruction on the Pygmies, and they wrangle in
the air as they fly" (III 3) and "that of many thousand ewes that stand
waiting to be milked in the yards of some rich master of flocks, and bleat
incessantly in answer to the bleating of their lambs; for they had not one
speech nor language, but their tongues were diverse, and they came from many
different places" (IV 433). That last analogy brought to my mind the image
of lambs awaiting the slaughter, particularly as it comes just over a
hundred lines before Diomedes is blessed by Athena "that he might excel all
the other Argives, and cover himself with *kleos*" (V 2). Just something to
Thanks very much, as always,
Dr. McGrath replied:
Dear Jeff and greeting to Greg,
Heavens ... this is fascinating and I am cc-ing our Webmaster, Mark Tomasko, hoping that he will put this on the Exchanges Board. I wish that You
were still with us in the Cambridge Section!
Professor Nagy replied:
Dear Kevin and hi to Jeff and Mark,
I second your wonderful idea. Bravo, Jeff!
On Sep 23, 2009, at 10:01 PM, Sherry Gong wrote:
Re: Sappho 31 and Patroclus's death scene in the Iliad
Hi Prof. Nagy,
I was thinking about the parallels that were being drawn between Sappho 31 and Patroclus's death scene in the Iliad, and how we were analyzing the relation between passionate love and violent death, and it reminded me of an episode of Star Trek Original Series, called “Amok Time”. In this situation a violent death is actually used as a direct substitute for passionate love. As a side-note, another part of this episode also illustrates an ascending chain of affection.
In this episode Spock, a half-Vulcan (which is usually a logical race), is undergoing the Pon-Farr, which is somewhat like going in heat, and means that he is biologically forced to return to Vulcan to marry his betrothed. He must do this within eight days to avoid dying of this heat.
(Here, there is a brief, but *fascinating* scene in which Spock broods while playing a lyre-like instrument, with traditional weapons decorating the scene behind him).
Kirk, the captain of the ship, risks his career to get Spock to Vulcan, and Spock asks Kirk and McCoy (a doctor, who is also friends with Spock) to accompany him to his wedding, despite outsiders being not allowed, citing the fact that he is allowed to bring his "closest friends".
However, Spock's bride challenges the marriage, with Kirk as her champion, so that Kirk and Spock would have to fight to the death. By now, the Pon Farr has driven Spock totally berserk, and in a ritualized and slightly homo-erotic fight scene he strangles Kirk, who (nominally) dies.
After Spock realizes that he has killed Kirk, he finds that he has lost all interest in his bride, and the Pon Farr ends. Thus is the fighting and the death of his near one that ends this condition which should technically only end with his marriage to his betrothed.
Anyway, it was just a random connection I wanted to share.
PS- I am not a Trekkie, but have a friend who is. “Amok Time” is one of only two episodes I have seen.
Profesor Nagy replied:
Wow! I love this, especially where you write about the "scene in which Spock broods while playing a lyre-like instrument, with traditional weapons decorating the scene behind him." I've got to see this! May we publish this exchange?
On Sep 21 Daniel Coulter wrote:
Re: coming on like a daimon
Something struck me in class today about what you called the specialized antagonism between Achilles & Apollo, specifically as it relates to focus passages A & B (Dialogue 05). I had wanted to mention it during today's dialogue, but my presence in the class is really as an observer and not as a participant. But when I first read that entire scene from Scroll XVI (l. 698-867), I thought about the concept of Patroklos as ritual "body double" for Achilles and I wondered if the theme of substitution extends to the entire battle scene and its principal players. I'm aware that my thinking may be more interpretive than close reading, but here's my thought process. When Patroklos clashes with Apollo, I look at Patroklos not simply as the Achaean warrior but also as the concept that his name embodies, "he who has the glory (kleos) of his ancestors" (i.e epic), and Apollo not simply as god of the sun intervening on the Trojans' behalf, but as Apollon Mousaget?s, the god who leads the muses and who oversees, or even determines, what will become music, poetry,and song.
I THINK THIS IS A VERY INTUITIVE ARGUMENT, AND I LIKE IT VERY MUCH.
In other words, I view the clash between Patroklos and Apollo on the battlefield, with all its attendant martial fury that comes on like a daimon through Patroklos, as symbolically linked to the internal struggle going on in the battlefield of Achilles' mind, with all its attendant fury that Patroklos tries to assuage with the help of some daimon (Scroll XI, l. 791, Scroll XV, l. 404). It is Patroklos' failure to persuade Achilles to reenter the battle and his subsequent failure and death on the battlefield that turns Achilles' anger from being internal (the battlefield of his mind) to being external (his reentry into combat). By redirecting his anger toward the Trojans and reentering combat, Achilles' internal struggle is coming to an end because he knows (and is beginning to accept) that he will not return home and will die at Troy, but he will win his kleos by doing so. I see this as an important component of his specialized antagonism with Apollo because Achilles' decision to reenter the battle and attain kleos by dying at Troy is what reconciles him with Apollo
I don't think you have to posit a reconciliation - at least, not within the epic.
because Achilles' kleos is the song of the Iliad, which is "governed" by Apollo. The medium is not only the message, it is Apollo's message, or better still, his province.
This interplay, or mirroring, of physical and psychological battles (and Achilles' eventual reconciliation with Apollo) is reinforced in Scroll XX l. 445-454 when it is Achilles who comes on like a daimon against Hector, but with a very different outcome from when Patroklos comes on like a daimon against Apollo in Scroll XVI, l.700-711. It is the similarity in the structure of the two passages that makes the different outcomes so noteworthy.
 Thrice did swift-footed radiant Achilles spring towards him spear in hand, and thrice did he waste
his blow upon the air. When he rushed forward for the fourth time as though he were a superhuman
force [daim?n] he shouted aloud saying, “Hound, this time too you have escaped death –
 but of a truth it came exceedingly near you. Phoebus Apollo, to whom it seems you pray before you
go into battle, has again saved you; but if I too have any friend among the gods I will surely make an end
of you when I come across you at some other time. Now, however, I will pursue and overtake other
You could say that Hector here is standing in for Apollo.
Thrice did Patroklos charge at an angle of the high wall, and thrice did Apollo beat him back, striking his
shield with his own immortal hands.
 When Patroklos was coming on like a superhuman force [daim?n] for yet a fourth time, Apollo
shouted to him with an awful voice and said, “Draw back, noble Patroklos, it is not your lot to ransack the
city of the Trojan chieftains, nor yet will it be that of Achilles who is a far better man than you are.”
 On hearing this, Patroklos withdrew to some distance and avoided the anger [m?nis] of Apollo.
Professor Nagy replied:
I found your interpretation very engaging. May we share this exchange with the whole group on the website? I have written some comments, which you will see interwoven into your fine text.
On September 21 Mark Wells wrote:
re: Poseidon's Lecture Hall
Dear Professor Nagy and Dr. McGrath,
I'm a distance ed student in your class and I just wanted to take the time to say hello and share a picture I took last night that I thought you might enjoy.
About myself: I'm a large scale datacenter and storage area network architect/engineer. Big Brother's psychiatrist and brain surgeon if you will.
After more than a decade of spending days(and often nights) in high security data centers and the like, I decided I needed to expand my horizons, and finish my degree while I'm at it, so here I am.
I'm quite enjoying the lectures and readings, as I've always wanted to read Homer, but lacked the cultural and contextual background to begin to fully appreciate it. I'm happy to say the dialogues section videos seem to have largely remedied this.
I also wanted to pass along a link to the freely available(public domain) audio version of the Iliad at Librivox. Apologies if it's something you're already aware of, but in case you may wish to pass it along, it can be downloaded in its entirety, broken down by scroll, here:
It is the original Butler translation, but I find it quite interesting to compare the differences with the sourcebook revision as I listen. For the record, I like the sourcebook version much better.
Lastly, I thought you might appreciate the location near Vancouver Island from which I reviewed the dialogues today via wireless link. To that end, I have attached some pictures which I title "Poseidon's Lecture Hall."
Professor Nagy replied:
Dear Mark W. and hi to Kevin and all, including Mark T., our Webmaster,
Thank you so much the introduction and for the pictures. May we share with the web community out there? Mark T., our Webmaster, could post this exchange on our website
Professor Nagy replied further:
Dear Mark W. and hi to all,
I should have added that I'm very interested in the audio of Butler's Homer. Our own text of B's H has been considerably modified. For example, we've added translations of epithets. Also, we've changes the Latinized names, e.g. Jupiter and Juno, back into their Hellenic forms, e.g. Zeus and Hera. It would be great if we could commission the people who did the readings to do another version?
What do all of you think?
p.s.: I'm also cc-ing Soo-Young and Lenny, to see what they think.
Dr. McGrath replied:
Dear Greg et al,
I think that this would be wonderful, for then students could listen to the materials on an I-pod. I like the idea that much of the Course materials can be received audially, as well as visually.
Mark Wells replied:
Dear Greg and all,
Please - by all means feel free to share the pictures or use them in any
way you think appropriate!
I also wanted to tell you that I was thrilled by your Phil K. Dick
references - one of my favorite authors and a very nice way to
demonstrate timeless truths of the human condition(kleos?) using modern
stories.... about the distant future! I thought that was pretty neat.
Professor Leonard Muellner replied:
Hi Greg and Mark and all,
Librivox is all volunteers and free, so if we can organize a reading of the new Butler and record it, they'll put it up, I"m sure.
It's wonderful to see those pictures, Mark W. What a venue for learning about Homer from Greg!!
Here's a link to the details on the Librivox process -- it's more complicated than I thought, but still doable:
Mark Wells replied:
I'm so glad you liked the pictures!
People tell me I have a great "radio voice" all the time, so count me in to help with the reading, or any of the technical aspects - it's my stock and trade.
On Sep 16 Blair Gullick wrote:
Re: Iliad Readings
Hi Professor Nagy,
I had a quick question about something I continued coming across while reading the Iliad. When one soldier kills another, there is a great emphasis, and detailed explanation, about the victor attempting to take the armor and shield from the loser, often while he is still in the middle of battle or midst of fighting. This seems a great, and somewhat unnecessary, risk for simply a trophy. Is the collection of armor akin to Native American feathers, where it evinces your prowess as a warrior, or is there a deeper symbolism? Or am I just overanalyzing the whole situation?
I loved section today, also.
Thanks and have a great rest of the week,
B. Marjorie Gullick
Professor Nagy replied:
Beautiful question, and I hope you will give permission for us to post this exchange on the Heroes website.
Here is my take. The preoccupation that we see in the Iliad with the recovery of dead heroes' armor or even dead heroes' bodies (think of Iliad XVII, and all the efforts to recover the body of Patroklos) is matter of hero cult. This custom is linked with the idea that the hero's body - as well as extensions of the heroic body, including armor, helmet, and so on - is a talisman of fertility and prosperity for the community that worships it. In the historical period, people venerated what they thought were the entombed bodies of heroes and even the armor of heroes. This kind of veneration is analogous to the practice of venerating relics in various Christian traditions. We'll talk more about hero cult later on in the course. What fascinates me is that the Iliad already recognizes the practices of hero-cult in the attitude of heroes themselves toward the dead bodies of heroes. I find this kind of recognition a most fascinating subject for further study.
On September 15 Claudia Filos wrote :
Re: total recall and ascending scale of affection
In the spirit of the "Heroes" course, below are two items for non- historical comparison.
If you are interested, you might want to check out NPR's edition of "On Point" today (09/14/2009). The topic of the second hour was the use of computer technology to give us future access to our memories and personal history--in fact, the possibility of one day having "total recall." At one point, there was even a brief discussion about helping humans achieving a kind of immortality through this new medium and having future access to long dead ancestors--their stories, voices and images!
And since I'm writing... I think this (bad) 1970's pop song features an ascending scale of affection, along with the themes of lament and death! When I was little, my older brother would play this record just to make me cry. I'm embarrassed to say it worked every time! Anyway, Nirvana did a remake at some point too.
Info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasons_in_the_Sun
video and lyrics here: http://www.last.fm/music/Terry+Jacks/_/Seasons+In+The+Sun
Dr. McGrath replied:
That You for these; I find the first item especially interesting ... I am cc-ing our Webmaster, Mark, in the hope that You will allow him to post these on our Exchanges Board ...
On Sep 14, 2009, at 2:34 PM, Olivia Helen Clements wrote:
Re: A Man of Constant Sorrow
I was going to bring this up in Dialogue today, but the topic shifted before I had the chance. There's a film that you are probably aware of called "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", which is a really fun, modern retelling of the Odyssey starring George Clooney. In the film, this contemporary Odysseus character and his sidekicks end up forming a folk music group and their big success is the very song we were discussing in class! I just thought I'd let you know.
I think the concept of sorrow adds an interesting layer when comparing Achilles and Odysseus and how funny that this particular song connects them both. Here's a clip from the film, should you like to view it. The song begins at 1:25 :
Professor Nagy Replied:
I'm so grateful to you for this incisive observation. May we publish it on the Heroes website?
On Sep 14 Janling Fu wrote:
Re: one love/one heart
I noticed that when Chunhyang was before the governor and was asked for her confession, the translation given of these characters was "one love". This was no doubt to help contextualize for a Western, or non-Korean audience, of her confession of love. A closer and more literal translation of those characters though is "one heart", which speaks to the inseparability of the two halves of her beloved husband and herself although separated by distance. As you pointed out, within the movie this was earlier symbolized in the two halves of a necklace they shared and the apparent sundering of this bond when he had left her when she broke these precious objects. On the one hand, these could be considered only outward symbols of an inner reality, however, I like how beautiful this comes as her "confession". One could consider, on the other hand, that the breaking of these objects was a "ritualized" breaking of their relationship. If so, it may be that her declaration now in written form could be considered an oath and one that publicly re-establishes their relationship as man and wife and thus not culpable of the accusations leveled by the governor and potentially then raising her social status. A parallel context both of imagery and performative power is Adam's declaration of marriage to Eve accomplished by his spoken word encapsulated in Genesis "flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone".
Professor Nagy replied:
This is such an insightful analysis. And it reminds me of the semantics of the Greek word _sumbolon_, which of course gives us the word _symbol_. In this case as well, different pieces add up to a whole, the whole meaning.
More on this when we reach the _Oedipus Tyrannus_ of Sophocles.
On September 9 Olivia Helen Clements wrote:
Re: A Modern Achilles?
My name is Olivia Clements and I'm a sophomore. I'm very excited to be taking your Heroes course! I love the Iliad and especially the Odyssey (I have a great fondness for Athena).
For a while now I've been intrigued with the whole Achilles immortality complex--with the idea that the only true way to achieve immortality is to be remembered and that a memory or lasting name is like an imprint that stays behind even after death.
Part of Achilles' unfading fame/glory seems to be linked not only to his amazing ability but also to the fact that he died young, before achieving a full life (i.e. kids, old age, etc.). Preoccupied by all this, I was wondering if there is any modern figure who has achieved similar status through similar means (incredible ability and untimely death) and I instantly thought of one of my favorite actors--James Dean. This prompted me to search online for a poster of him for my dorm room and take a look at what I found:
A very Achilles-esque quote. Looks like both Dean and Achilles were aware of their immortality while in the process of achieving it.
Olivia (needless to say, I bought the poster)
Professor Nagy replied:
Thank you for your kind words. And I liked very much the analogy you draw. James Dean has fascinated me, too. Especially in the film Rebel without a Cause (1955). By the way, have you seen Suddenly Last Summer? In that one, he plays a psychiatrist. Later on in the course, I hope to be showing a clip from that film. May I ask you for a favor? Would you be willing to let us publish this exchange on the Heroes website?
On September 9 Daniel Coulter wrote:
Re: ProSeminar 1 Comment/Question
In the first ProSeminar, there was a discussion about Saussure's
concepts of syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis, and Jacobson's
corresponding horizontal axis (combination) and vertical axis
(selection) that I found very interesting, but initially hard to
grasp. The links below helped me sort these concepts out, so I
thought I would share them.
I also have an observation about the metaphor of the cicadas from my
close reading of the passage that builds off something Sasha said
about vision and visualizing being the index for Helen, and voice
being the index for the elders. When I first read the metaphor, it
was not the obvious visual of the elders sitting high up on the tower
just as cicadas sit high up in a tree that came to mind, but the
sound, or the voice, of the cicadas; a voice that is instantly
identifiable by anyone who has spent a summer in Greece. As I
thought about my own experience of listening to the endless buzz of
the cicadas, its intensity fluctuating with the heat, something
about the "chirrup delicately" description/translation struck me as
odd. I thought of the cicada's voice more in terms of a song, and
not a delicate one, but a mildly annoying one that seems to drone on
forever; and how the initial annoyance of their voice dissipates over
time to become white noise in the background capable of being blocked
out almost completely. But then suddenly, after there has been a
lull in their singing, they start up again and so does my hearing
them. But this time my ear has become accustomed to the sound of
their song and I find something calming about its rhythm and
cadence. So by thinking (really hearing) in terms of voice, I see
the correspondence in the text of "...that chirrup delicately" with
"...they said softly to one another". But at the same time, I
cannot let go of the initial annoyance I often feel when I first hear
the buzz of the cicadas and I connect this feeling of annoyance to
my many experiences of having endured the seemingly endless, droning
speeches of my own elders, not matter how fluent an orator they may
have been. Often times it was that fluency (from the Latin verb to
flow, often abundantly) that made their speeches seem so monotonous
to my ears and, subsequently, in much need of being blocked out. I
see a suggestion of this kind of "blocking out" with Priam's action
of bidding Helen to take his side (can this be considered a speech
act?). And even though Priam himself is one of the Trojan elders,
in this passage, I don't consider his voice to be part of the choral
voice of the other "cicada elders". The reason for this is that when
Priam bids Helen to come to his side, it is immediately after the
other elders say (and for some reason I think here it is only
Ucalegon and Antenor), "...or she will breed sorrow for us and for
our children after us." (Iliad III, l. 160). The connecting word
that negates and "blocks out" the previous line, while at the same
time shifts the camera's POV is , "But": "But Priam bade her
nigh. "My child", said he (note: "said he" cw "chirrup
delicately" cw " said softly to one another" ), "take your seat in
front of me that you may see your former husband, your kinsmen and
your friends." (Iliad, III, l. 161-163). Priam speaks so that Helen
may see. For me, this interplay, or more accurately, this
counterbalance of voice and visual is not just an index to the elders
(voice) and to Helen (visual), but also to the Trojans versus the
Achaeans. This leads me to believe that the metaphor of cicadas for
the wisest men of Troy might have been intended as an insult to the
Trojans, enemy of the Achaeans. Greg had mentioned the mythological
connection of cicadas to Tithonos, but even before the story of
Tithonos' transformation into a cicada, the association of old age
and the droning, endless voice that often accompanies it is seen in
the following passage about Tithonos from the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite:
But when hateful old age was pressing hard on him, with all its might,
and he couldnâ€™t move his limbs, much less lift them up,
then in her thumos she thought up this plan, a very good one indeed:
she put him in her chamber, and she closed the shining doors over him.
From there his voice pours out - it seems never to end - and he has
no strength at all,
the kind he used to have in his limbs when they could still bend.
Also in terms of voice, I think it is important to point out that the
Ancient Greek word for cicada, is onomatopoetic (this
is even more pronounced in its Modern Greek counterpart), which reinforces this association of never-ending
speech that fades out as white noise. I may be way out on a limb
here, but if we "hear" the voice of the cicada, this idea doesn't
seem so far-fetched.
And as a counterpart to Helen's cataloguing the Achaean heroic
lineage (i.e. vertical axis of selection/paradigmatic), I believe
that embedded in the cicada metaphor is not only the cataloguing of
some of the Trojan heroic lineage, but also an implicit message of
the superiority of the Achaeans (and their lineage) over the
Trojans. If, as Greg pointed out, the cicada would have had
mythological resonance to an Athenian audience of the Fifth Century
BCE, then the association with Tithanos would have conjured up a host
of stories and images for them. For me, the first and foremost
image is the depiction of Tithonos in Black and Red figure painting
as a rhapsode; with lyre in hand and laurel wreath adorning his
head, at first he calls to mind Apollo and Achilles (see the two
images attached). But that's where the similarity begins and ends
for me. In the first image, Tithonos is being chased by Eos (versus
Apollo's chasing Daphne) and in the second image, an effete Tithonos
is being carried away by Eos, something impossible even to imagine
for a masculine warrior hero like Achilles, but perhaps calling to
mind Helen's being carried off to Troy (even though I believe Helen
went willingly). The cataloguing of both Trojan and Achaean lineage
is set up in the very beginning of the passage with the introduction
of the concept of relationship:
Meanwhile Iris as Helen's sister-in-law, wife of the son of
Antenor, for Helicaon, son of Antenor,
had married Laodice, the fairest of Priam's daughters." (Iliad III.
In that one line we have a succession of relationships that is
interconnecting and, like a web, all tangled up: sister-in-law, wife,
son, husband and wife, daughter. I think this web of relationships
is reinforced in the subsequent line with the web Helen is
embroidering of the struggles between the Trojans and the Achaeans,
and plays out in the entire passage with a series of signals or
triggers, some overt and others embedded in symbols like the cicada
(i.e. Priam and Heketon are symbolically joined on the tower with
their brother Tithonos). And while the relationships that are first
introduced are blood relations, what follows is a collection of every
kind of relationship imaginable. There are relationships by
association like the "brother" warriors Ajax and Odysseus,
relationships between the gods, relationships between the gods and
mortals, "off-screen" relationships with degrees of separation
(Ttihonos-Achilles-Memnon). But at the heart of this web of
relationships is the confused relationship of "Helen as wife", which
the horizontal narrative promises to lead us.
One quick note on the white veil of Helen. While I view the white
veil that Helen dons as a sign of her innocence in the eyes of Priam,
I also think that the symbol of the veil connects the audience to the
golden veil embroidered by Hesione (Priam's sister) that Priam gave
to Herakles in exchange for his life. I think there is something
about this veil as ransom that is very important and connected to
this scene, the least of which is that the golden veil not only saved
Priam's life, but the symbol of veil as ransom resulted in his named
being changed from Poadakes to Priam, which is etymologically linked
I wanted to do this exercise to see if I am on the right track in
doing a close reading.
Dr. McGrath replied:
Well ... this is quite a reading! I am cc-ing our Wembaster Mark Tomasko, in the hope that You will allow him to post this on our EXCHANGES Board? We shall be discussing these two axes more as we move through the course: metaphor and metonymy are perhaps one way of viewing this fabric, this weaving of signification and meaning. As for the Cicadas, this is a powerful image. If You look at the Dialogue Phaedrus of Plato, the Cicadas are well-connected with the Muses. Let us see what You come up with for the Klea Andron tomorrow!