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Lesson 6

This lesson exposes . . .        the cult of the Zeus-men!

We read the closing scrolls of the Iliad and finally learn why Zeus hates his followers.

The breakdown of magic
Iliad scrolls 20-24: link to story

Ajax rescuing the dead body of Achilles, image from a classical vase painting. Achilles' victories in battle bring no consolation. Killing Hektor and scores of other Trojans does not compensate for Patroklos' death. Apollo is Patroklos' real killer, and Achilles for all of his swift-footedness is unable to run down Apollo or to harm him in any way. In fact, Achilles knows that he is destined to die from Apollo's flying arrows (Iliad 21.272), like the plague victims back at the beginning of scroll 1. Even as Hektor draws his last breath he reminds Achilles of the day soon to come when Apollo will slay him (Iliad 22.355).

This part of the Iliad, when Achilles vents his rage on the battlefield, describes the brute ugliness of war. It shows a view of the creative creature in which we hardly see the creative side because of the creature's monstrous hulk. Magic has broken down. Words are ineffective.

Warrior image abstracted from a classical vase painting.Plenty of words are delivered, but they have no meaning, except to rouse contempt and anger. The Trojans Aeneas, Agenor and Hektor make their stands against Achilles in single combat because they are not afraid of his words when he threatens them. Nor does Achilles listen to any of his opponents' pleas for mercy or other talk. Warriors rant and bellow at one another, as when Achilles threatens dying Hektor that he will not allow Hektor's body to be ransomed, despite Priam's pleading for the body:

"Dog, talk not to me neither of knees nor parents; would that I could be as sure of being able to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill you have done me, as I am that nothing shall save you from the dogs - it shall not be, though they bring ten or twenty-fold ransom and weigh it out for me on the spot, with promise of yet more hereafter. Though Priam son of Dardanos should bid them offer me your weight in gold, even so your mother shall never lay you out and make lament over the son she bore, but dogs and vultures shall eat you up utterly." Iliad 22.344

This is a promise that Achilles can't keep because the gods are so offended by it. The speech has no magic or meaning, apart from self-expression.

It's as if, in this part of the Iliad, Homer is inventing the artless macho style of the modern "action movie" with its uncontrolled violence and ugly, abusive speech. Indeed our English word "hectoring" (which might better have been called achilling) means just this kind of bullying rant or bluster. It's an inverse of magic, a spell cast over the self to prevent perception, a self-deception that can empower the self to perform commit murder, robbery or other normally unacceptable acts.

Hektor is no dog, though Achilles calls him one. Animal name-calling in this part of the Iliad is a complex parody of the sacred sacrifice in which the animals received speech [recall Lesson 2]. Instead of humanizing animals, it dehumanizes people. Enemies are to be fed to animals, rather than fed by them. They are to be denied burial in the ground where they would be heroes. 

Hektor (in Achilles' armor in this battle scene) is the double in whom Achilles is seeing himself but not yet recognizing himself. The recognition will come only at the end of the Iliad, when Achilles at last begins to be released from his anger.


The dinosaur Achilles 

Humankind started out in the image of the almighty creator, Genesis says, but then it became clear that human creativity had to be limited to a significant degree. Because there was only one universe, people could not be entrusted with absolute power over nature. Because people multiplied, their powers had to be limited further by culture. Hence the creative creature originally shared God's powerful creativity but ultimately lost much of it. (Recall Lesson 1.)

Semi-divine Achilles follows the Adam-and-Eve pattern in this general way. He has the power of Zeus at his direction up to the point of the death of Patroklos at the Battle of the Ships, but then he loses spiritual favor as Zeus pursues broader interests that necessitate Achilles' death. As Achilles enters the fighting, he is not invincible. The limitations on his magic by nature and culture are represented by Skamandros and Aeneas, the two adversaries that Achilles can't defeat. 

The Skamandros/Xanthos River is a god, so it's an unequal fight for Achilles, a mismatch between man and nature. Homer doesn't have modern terminology to describe it as we would, but Skamandros is what we call time. Achilles tries to flee from it, but its wave is always catching him and pulling him down into the bloody waters filled with dead bodies.

Skamandros wants to bury Achilles to show that Achilles is not a god. He wants to draw Achilles down into an obscure layer of mud deep in the sedimentary record:

[I'll] make an end of this savage creature [Achilles] who is now lording it as though he were a god. Nothing shall serve him longer, not strength nor comeliness, nor his fine armor, which indeed shall soon be lying low in the deep waters covered over with mud. I will wrap him in sand, and pour tons of shingle round him, so that the Achaeans shall not know how to gather his bones for the silt in which I shall have hidden him, and when they celebrate his funeral they need build no tomb. Iliad 21.298).

Within the Iliad, for the time being, of course, Achilles is rescued from Skamandros when the river temporarily is vaporized in fire by Hephaistos, the immortal blacksmith. Hephaistos' fire is the funeral pyre for the Trojan warriors who have been slain in the river, and it anticipates the cremations of Patroklos and Hektor. Achilles knows that soon he will end in the fire, too, for he has made his heroic choice. Like Adam he knows that he must die.

Achilles' power also is limited by culture, as shown in his useless attack on Aeneas, the Trojan prince who is protected by the gods and fated to survive the Trojan War. This is an important cultural point that Homer makes clearly but that readers often miss. Let's look at it closely.


Examination of the pedigrees

The genealogies of Achilles and Aeneas both begin with Zeus. That is, both are followers of Zeus. The Zeus cult is divided as its followers compete for the god's favor. Achilles is on the losing side of this cultural struggle.

The house to which Aeneas belongs, the descendents of Dardanos, has an older ancestry and priority over the house to which Achilles belongs, the descendants of Aiakos. The uneven score is seven mortal generations for Aeneas against only three generations for Achilles:

The lines of Aeneas and Hektor (7th generation Zeus-men):
Zeus * Dardanos * Erichthonios * Tros * Ilos & Assarakos *
           (From Ilos) Laomedon * Priam * Hektor
           (From Assarakos) Kapys * Anchises * Aeneas

The line of Achilles (3rd generation Zeus-man):
Zeus * Aiakos * Peleus * Achilles

Zeus is said to favor the house of Dardanos above all others. That is, the older clan has more members, and so in this way Zeus promises to preserve it into future generations. The god's favor is measured by the survival of offspring, just as it is in the Genesis story of Abraham, the ancestral father whose faith is measured in children as abundant as the stars in the sky (Genesis 22:17).

Within the Dardanos clan, however, the Priam/Hektor line is about to die out, giving way to the line of Aeneas. Why? The god Poseidon points out that Aeneas deserves to be saved because he is a guiltless man who has always offered the gods acceptable sacrifices. And besides:

It is fated, moreover, that he [Aeneas] should escape, and that the race of Dardanos, whom Zeus loved above all the sons born to him of mortal women, shall not perish utterly without seed or sign. For now indeed has Zeus hated the blood of Priam, but Aeneas shall reign over the Trojans, he and his children’s children that shall be born hereafter. Iliad 20.288 (emphasis added)

 Priam and Peleus are not only out of favor with Zeus but "hated," to use Poseidon's word. The god's hatred is measured in the same way as his favor. It is revealed when, unlike father Abraham, Priam and Peleus lose their children in advanced old age. In heroic terms, they won't be anybody's ancestors. When they are dead, nobody will remember to bring gifts and fair words to them at their tombs.

Bernini's Aeneas carrying father Anchises and the household gods from the burning ruins of Troy.Aeneas is the survivor who will be honored in after-times. He is the one who will be released through the flames of burning Troy. By later accounts after Homer, he will found a greater Troy, the eternal city of Rome. For that story, read Virgil's Aeneid (19 BC). The magical idea that Aeneas is a man of virtue, and consequently also of destiny, is stressed repeatedly in Virgil's moralizing epic, but it begins in Homer.

The future of the cult of Zeus does not belong to Achilles. There will be no marriage for Briseis. Achilles is not a model to be followed; on the contrary he has no future among the living. He is the dinosaur on the way to extinction, along with Priam, Hektor and Agamemnon.

Bernini's Renaissance statue, the Rape of Persphone. The rapist is Pluto, god of the underworld. Bernini's idea is the rape of life by death. Persephone came back to the upper world with the flowers every spring.The spread of the cult of Zeus around the Mediterranean is recorded in ancient stories about the many affairs of the god with mortal women who bear his heroic sons. The old cult grew its membership as well as its territorial control through conquest, raiding and forcible abduction of women.  

In the Iliad, the rapes of Helen and Briseis, and the anticipated rape of Andromache, belong to this Zeus-man tradition. Similar stories about captured or stolen women regularly appear outside of Homer too, in literature produced in the Hellenic world down through classical, Hellenistic and even Roman times. (For example, see the Roman legend of "the Rape of the Sabine Women," note 9 below.) Understanding these sexual objectives of the Zeus-men is a key to seeing why early Hellenic painting and sculpture so often depict these champions in the nude, with their male organs blatantly showing. 

The heroic genealogy, for each clan inseminated by Zeus, traces back the number of generations from the time of Zeus' philandering. The longer this genealogy is, the better the pedigree, the higher the social standing within the cult (because, again, the greater the number of offspring). Agamemnon's line of descent, for instance, is of intermediate length: a generation longer than Achilles' but three generations shorter than Aeneas' tree:  

The line of Agamemnon (4th generation Zeus-man):
Zeus * Tantalus * Pelops * Atreus * Agamemnon

Hence Agamemnon can claim privileges of age and rank against Achilles. He has genealogical priority, and more soldiers. Neither of these Achaeans, however, has the breeding of Priam, the dignified and aged figure who has the longest family lineage (also the most children--50!) and, apart from Aeneas, is accorded the greatest dignity of all characters in the Iliad.

Conversely, all of these lines of descent are longer than that of Sarpedon, the first generation son of Zeus who still is seen as a foreigner at Troy, a Lycian native who hasn't learned yet to speak perfect Greek.

The line of Sarpedon (1st generation Zeus-man):
Zeus * Sarpedon

To be a "Son of God," like Sarpedon, is to be on the lowest rung of the Zeus-man social ladder. Better to be a grandson, still better to be a great-grandson, and so forth.

The Trojan War represents a time of trauma for the Zeus-men, a point of self-destructive civil war within the cult. Predatory raping, that traditionally had served the cult well in terms of population gains, had become the cult's plague as the Zeus-men began poaching each other's wives instead of foreign women. The Zeus-men now were playing a zero-sum game. (Keep in mind that monogamy and conventions of romantic love, which tend to control internal cultural problems of this kind, had not yet been invented.)

When Paris/Alexander abuses his status as Menelaos' house-guest by abducting Menelaos' wife Helen, or when Agamemnon pulls rank on his mercenary Achilles by appropriating Briseis for his own harem, individual self-interests prevail over the group interest of the cult. The sex transgressors fail to respect their victims' standing as members of the cult, or they don't foresee the conflicts that they are unleashing within the cult. Stimulating awareness of this basic social problem, and proper identification and sympathy with victims, appears to be a main social point of the Iliad in its ancient context. 

The rape of Europa by Zeus in the form of a bull, as shown on a classical vase.The social problem is striking because, from any modern point of view, it is so utterly primitive. Clearly, the original model for the Zeus cult was the animal herd. Zeus and his champion descendants were the bulls. Their role was to acquire a stable of cows, through force or guile or any other means, and to mate with them to produce as many little Zeus-babies as possible. This was a Darwin-like formula for genetic survival, and its success should not be doubted. After all, the territory of the Zeus cult in pre-literate times extended across vast areas around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It almost became one huge gene pool sired by the progeny of Zeus.

There comes an evolutionary point in the social order, of course, when the animal-people must live together in broader communities, simply because there are so many of them, and the outdated herd model becomes counterproductive.  This is the historical point at which, it appears, we find the author of the Iliad. He sings of the ways that became "hated" by Zeus, the self-destructive ways that drastically reduced the cult's numbers. This group needed a new plan for survival.

Hellenism, or pan-Hellenic or all-Hellenic culture, was the new social order that eventually emerged from Zeus-man culture. It transformed the Greek-speaking world from its so-called Helladic "dark age" period (a time of chaotic violence dominated by piracy and marauding of the Zeus cult type, cir 1200 BC - cir 800 BC), to an enlightened time of renewal in the arts and religion, the age that historians call the "Greek archaic" period (cir. 750 BC - cir. 500 BC). 

In this new Hellenism, Hellenes learned common stories, including those of Homer and Homer's contemporary, Hesiod, and others. Perhaps the Homeric songs were part of an attempt to standardize the Greek language itself, which had been breaking down into local dialects, threatening communications among various groups--Ionians, Dorics, Aeolians and others. In any case, the stories of the common ancestors, told throughout the Hellenic city-states in a common tongue, were a much needed force for social cohesion.

All Greek speakers everywhere were identified with common cultural markings of Hellenism. A Hellene participated in Hellenic things; a "barbarian" didn't. The markings made it easier to see who was a member of the group and who was a foreigner. Hellenes shared new systems of writing and literacy, sculpture and painting. They built and used common religious temples, shrines and sanctuaries, and they generally acknowledged a common pantheon of gods and goddesses. Though they were not united as a nation under a single government, they settled locally in city-states of similar kinds, and they celebrated common pan-Hellenic festivals and games. 

Hellenism was a new culture that was not based on the ways of animals. Whoever invented it had asked and resolved some very basic questions. How do people differ from animals? How should people live? These were the questions of humanity at the dawn of post-tribal civilization. 



The showdown
Homer disappoints Hollywood one last time

In the combat between Hektor and Achilles, just before battle is joined, Hektor's requests a covenant with Achilles:

Let us, then, give pledges to one another by our gods, who are the fittest witnesses and guardians of all covenants; let it be agreed between us that if Zeus grants me the longer stay and I take your life, I am not to treat your dead body in any unseemly fashion, but when I have stripped you of your armor, I am to give up your body to the Achaeans. And do you likewise. Iliad 22.247

This is a good pan-Hellenic covenant; if there is to be war, at least let there be common rules of burial so that everybody's humanity is acknowledged in the end. But Hektor's idea of cooperation is premature. Note Achilles' harsh answer:

There can be no covenants between men and lions, wolves and lambs can never be of one mind, but hate each other out and out and through. Therefore there can be no understanding between you and me, nor may there be any covenants between us, till one or other shall fall and glut grim Ares with his life’s blood. Iliad 22.260).

The showdown with Hektor should be Achilles' finest hour. Instead, Achilles is an animal, treating his opponent as one. He is driven by uncontrolled hatred, unable to reach understanding not only with Hektor but himself.

The climactic fight itself is depicted as a contrivance of the gods in which Achilles has no claim to superiority over Hektor, other than a fate of longer survival. Athena quickly tricks Hektor to his death. Achilles manages to snatch a spiritual defeat from this physical victory by treating Hektor as an animal, even to the extent of threatening to eat him (Iliad 22.344) and then doing outrages to the corpse (Iliad 22.395).

Achilles' treatment of Hektor as an animal parallels Odysseus' treatment of the people of Kikones after the Trojan War (Odyssey ix. 39; recall Lesson 2). It does not lead Achilles into the cannibal Cyclopes' cave, like Odysseus, but it brings down upon him a similar role-reversal into victim. There is no end to his suffering. Suffering is what the animal model produces.

Achilles and Hektor are sharply differentiated so that it is easy for them to be enemies. Hektor represents the social life of the city and family, where Achilles is the raving wild man of the tents, dissociated from family life and from the political structure. There's a great gulf between them, widened enormously by Hektor's killing of Patroklos, but Achilles must come to identify with Hektor if he is to appease the anger of Zeus. There is more and more to admire in Hektor as Hektor approaches his end: his respect for his adversary, his dignified acceptance of fate, and his self-sacrifice in defense of his people. He is beloved and cared for after his death. 


The ransoming of Hektor

In the last two scrolls of the Iliad, the fighting and killing are over (for the time being). This leaves only the bodies of the dead and the grief of the survivors. The funerals of Patroklos and Hektor are contrasted in scrolls 23 and 24, but they have one important feature in common. The survivors act out the passage of death.

Achilles follows Patroklos in death. He must die because Patroklos is dead (Iliad 18.97). After fighting Patroklos' enemies, Achilles lies on the ground, smeared with dirt, in pain and suffering. He ceases the biological functions of life, such as eating and sex. The urn and monumental funeral mound that receive Patroklos' ashes are seen by Achilles as receptacles for his own remains (Iliad 23.82). In the darkness Achilles then finds the spirit of Patroklos in his mind and talks with him as if he already were in Hades. Patroklos' spirit gives Achilles instructions, as the shade of Tieresias gives instructions to Odysseus on his journey to the underworld in the Odyssey. (Recall Lesson 2.) 

All of these are ritual acts of sympathetic identification. Yet, Patroklos' funeral does not bring about closure, rest or relief. It leaves Achilles in an altered state of consciousness, a state of mental derangement that is unpleasing to Zeus. Achilles drags Hektor's corpse behind his chariot at Patroklos' tomb every morning. He's not well. He's stuck in revenge mode.

Youth and age, from a classical vase painting.The contrasting funeral, the one that brings the Iliad to its unhappy but beautiful ending, is Hektor's funeral in scroll 24. All of Troy mourns, and soon will follow Hektor into death. Priam leads the way.  With Hektor dead, Priam wants to die because Troy cannot survive:

As for me, let me go down within the house of Hades, ere mine eyes behold the sacking and wasting of the city. Iliad 24.228

Priam's spiritual descent into the underworld is his night journey into the Achaean camp in search of his son's body. Having covered himself with dirt, he rebukes Paris and all of Hektor's surviving brothers, "heroes of the dance" who have chosen life over self-sacrifice, and he bravely sets out at sundown toward the municipal tomb beyond the gate, with a few friends following behind for only a short part of the way "wailing and lamenting for him as though he were on his road to death" (Iliad 24.327). He will return with the undecaying body at sunup, after a night of miracles.

Zeus sends Hermes to guide Priam's lonely and terror-filled journey. Hermes is the perfect choice for this mission. Among this god's other roles in ancient belief, he escorted souls of the dead to Hades, accompanying them on the final journey as far as the ferry boats to eternity across the River Styx. Hermes also figured as a god of magic and mystical revelation of eternal life. 

The ransoming of Hektor, from a classical vase painting by Makron.The house of death in Priam's journey is of course Achilles' lodge where Priam expects to die unless Zeus somehow pities him. Sent from Zeus, Hermes provides Priam with magical instructions for dealing with Achilles, much as Hermes instructs Odysseus on how to charm Circe so that she will restore his men to him. (Recall Lecture 2; Odyssey 10.132.)

Priam is instructed to remind Achilles of his own father. The charm is one of identification. Achilles thinks of Peleus while he looks at Priam grieving. Peleus and Priam both are mourning for sons who never will return from the war. The parallel of sympathetic identification awakens Achilles from his mad obsession with revenge. He gains a broader perspective in which he sees a spiritual basis for his suffering. As he weeps with Priam, Achilles blames Zeus for the misfortunes of the fathers Peleus and Priam:

The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow. On the floor of Zeus’ palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Zeus the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune, but he to whom Zeus sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men. 

Even so did it befall Peleus; the gods endowed him with all good things from his birth upwards, for he reigned over the Myrmidons excelling all men in prosperity and wealth, and mortal though he was they gave him a goddess for his bride. But even on him too did heaven send misfortune, for there is no race of royal children born to him in his house, save one son who is doomed to die all untimely; nor may I take care of him now that he is growing old, for I must stay here at Troy to be the bane of you [Priam] and your children.

And you too, O Priam, I have heard that you were aforetime happy. They say that in wealth and plenitude of offspring you surpassed all that is in Lesbos, the realm of Makar to the northward, Phrygia that is more inland, and those that dwell upon the great Hellespont; but from the day when the dwellers in heaven sent this evil upon you, war and slaughter have been about your city continually. Bear up against it, and let there be some intervals in your sorrow. Mourn as you may for your brave son, you will take nothing by it. You cannot raise him from the dead, ere you do so yet another sorrow shall befall you. Iliad 24.513 (emphasis added)

This is the moment of recognition that both Peleus and Priam are "hated" by Zeus, though both once were favored. They have seemed to be in control, in their day, but now the magic is gone. They are trapped as victims. Power has been transitory.

This is classic tragedy, like the moment of recognition for King Oedipus that he has never left home. (Recall Lesson 4.) In the end, before death, the life story that was intended all along finally can be read.

The Iliad leaves Achilles, having broken bread and tasted wine with Priam, sleeping with Briseis. He is following his mother's last advice:

My son, how long will you keep on thus grieving and making moan? You are gnawing at your own heart, and think neither of food nor of woman’s embraces; and yet these too were well, for you have no long time to live, and death with the strong hand of fate are already close beside you. Iliad 24.120 (emphasis added)

This is standard advice of ancient poetry--before and after Homer--to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you will die. Carpe diem: seize the day!

And yet Homer doesn't end altogether here. There's more in the story of the Odyssey, to which we return in the next lesson

Lesson Summary: In this Lesson we have reconstructed the cult of Zeus, at least as Homer assumes it to have been. Bulls were sacrificed and eaten by warriors who became bulls. The goal of these Zeus-men was to increase their numbers by stealing women and mating with them, as Paris rapes Helen or as Achilles rapes Briseis. However, the cult foundered and lost numbers (Zeus was angry) when the men poached one another's wives. This is the self-destructive social problem that the Iliad portrays directly.


Additional related readings
 and journal topics

1. Divine fire: Hephaistos' fire is a reminder of the flames by which Thetis, according to legend, tried to burn away the mortal flesh of infant Achilles to make him immortal, like herself. Water of course also plays an important part in Thetis' story; unlike the gods and goddesses of Olympus she resides in the sea where she experiences the human realm of drowning,  impermanence and sorrow. (Recall the story of Peleus and Thetis.)

2. Funerals: Describe a funeral that you have witnessed. Or compare and contrast the funeral ceremonies of the Iliad

3. Funeral games, the original Olympics: After Patroklos' body has been burned, Achilles holds funeral games in his dead friend's honor. Competitive events include running, chariot racing, spear throwing, stone hurling, wrestling, boxing and more. If you would like to read more, link here to this episode in scroll 23.  Note the war-like quality of all of these events. Note also that the competitors strive for prize possessions, such as the armor that Patroklos so recently won from Sarpedon.

What are these very ancient funeral games? A method for redistributing possessions to the fittest heir, a less violent method that substitutes more friendly competition for deadly fighting? This interpretation fits the idea that the Olympics and other games were installed as part of the pan-Hellenic movement to tame the wild Zeus-men. 

On-line info on the Olympic Games: http://www.greecom.org/olympics/

Could these games hold a clue to an original purpose or justification of warfare: the allocation of goods and resources to the best competitor? Can you analyze warfare as an economic system, much like capitalism, socialism or communism today?

Does might make right? Should it? Doesn't nature prescribe this harsh rule for all creatures? 

4. Hermes: Hermes was a son of Zeus, born of the goddess Maia (her name means "mother"; our word May is derived from it because her festivals were held in that month in Roman times). Hermes became the god of cattle robbers and "prince of thieves"-- important professions in the early cult of Zeus. See Norman O. Brown, Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth (Vintage, 1947). Hence, he's the right spirit for Priam's secret break-in at Achilles well-guarded camp.

A classical Hellenic herm.It is in his role as the god of travelers that Hermes protects Priam on his journey. The god's popular associations with traveling and with male sexual fertility appeared in everyday Hellenic life, humorously, in short phallic pillars called herms. Herms were posted as road markers and property signs. They pointed the way. It's not clear what Hermes thought of these herms,  but thieves often stole them.

Hermes was thought to escort the dead to the underworld, and he was associated with magical dreams in which the spirits of the dead were contacted. Hence, his wand that puts people to sleep and awakens them, moves consciousness back and forth between the realms of the dead and the living.

When Hellenism merged internationally with other cultures in Hellenistic times, scholars equated Hermes with the Egyptian god Thoth. The descent into the underworld was one of the most widespread of all stories in Egypt; compare Thoth's role as a spiritual guide in The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

5. In the nude: In Greek art through early classical times, male gods and heroes normally are depicted nude, and always in their sexual prime, while females are depicted also in their prime but fully clothed. Big changes took place in these conventions during the classical and Hellenistic periods. The male forms gradually shriveled away into figures of impotence while the female figures were more and more undressed in the fashion of the old-time heroes (e.g., image right: the Venus de Milo belongs to this later period). Can we say that this broad development in art reflects a cultural shift from male dominance toward greater female influence?

The same sexual revolution simultaneously occurred in Greek literature. There was a later feminizing development in classical comedy (e.g., Aristophanes' Lysistrata, where the women of Athens gain control over the city to stop the men's silly war), in classical tragedy (good examples are Euripides' Medea and Sophocles' Antigone), in Hellenistic epic (Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica), and in the world's first novels, Hellenistic Greek romances such as Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and Heliodorus' The Ethiopian Story. In these interesting novels, pirates still capture the young heroine, but the story is told from the view of the girl and her romantic boyfriend who in the end are reunited and live happily ever after. The viewpoint of the pirate has been abandoned.

What purpose (if any) does nudity serve in contemporary art? What statement does it make? Is censorship appropriate?  

The Zeus-man obsessively hid their women, to keep them from the sexual advances of other men, and this protectiveness was not simply a matter of dress. Women of reproductive age were often kept indoors and (except for prostitutes) not permitted to attend drinking parties. They were active in religious duties outside of the home, but strict sexual prohibitions always accompanied these events.

Wounded Amazon, classical statue.6. Battle of the sexes: Ladies, instead of male bashing in the same old way, using "male chauvinist pig" or some other stale comment, why not try "Zeus-man" instead? If the target thinks it's a compliment, you'll have even more fun with him!

Militant feminism seems to have arisen among Hellenic women, in resistance against the Zeus-men. These early female champions were known as Amazons, legendary lady warriors who fought against Heracles, Achilles, and the guys, sometimes successfully. Images of Amazons, like the famous statue of "the wounded Amazon" shown left, could take on heroic qualities comparable to images of male warriors.

How do Homer's women cope with their circumstances? Are the Zeus-men still among us, thousands of years after Homer? If so, how should women respond to them?

7.Thine enemy: who is your enemy? (Think of a specific individual, other than yourself.) Describe this person in as much detail as you can.

8. Zeus-men and biology: The ideal Zeus-man is one who kills lots of other men and rapes their wives (the Agamemnon model), or at least abducts other men's wives and rapes them (the Paris model), perfectly natural behaviors according to modern genetic theories.

A good source for modern theory is Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford, 2nd ed. 1989), where the human body and all living bodies are said to be the products of the genes. Genes need bodies in which to live, so the genes that provide the strongest instructions for survival and reproduction of bodies are those that tend to be naturally selected to survive and become "immortal," passed down through the generations. For the genes, the quest for immortality is mostly a numbers game; the more seed that ripens the better.

The god of the Zeus-men, Zeus in the form of a bull, may have emerged as a powerful god, precisely because his instructions to his cult were so closely aligned with the instructions of well-coded genes (at least as genes were instructing bodies for survival in a natural environment prior to the development of complex civilizations). If other gods at that time taught sexual abstinence, homosexuality, monogamy, methods of birth control, sodomy or any kind of "deviant sex," they would have been less closely aligned with good genetic programming for the environment of the day, so their immortality would have been less well assured.

9. The Age of Chivalry: the emergence of the social order from the model of animal life did not happen only in the development of Hellenism out of Zeus-man culture. 

There's a later parallel in Europe in the development of chivalry during the Christian Dark Ages. Chivalric stories of this period (known as romances) often feature destructive adulteries between the most powerful knight at court and the queen who passionately loves him more than she cares for her husband, the king. The famous example is the troubled triangle of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot that destroys the fellowship of the Round Table.

We look at medieval romance in this way in Lesson 16.

10. "Rape of the Sabine Women" in early Rome, according to Titus Livius (Livy), History of Rome 1:9 - 1:13:

The Roman State had now become so strong that it was a match for any of its neighbors in war, but its greatness threatened to last for only one generation, since through the absence of women there was no hope of offspring, and there was no right of intermarriage with their neighbors. 

Acting on the advice of the senate, Romulus sent envoys amongst the surrounding nations to ask for alliance and the right of intermarriage on behalf of his new community. It was represented that cities, like everything else, sprung from the humblest beginnings, and those who were helped on by their own courage and the favor of heaven won for themselves great power and great renown. As to the origin of Rome, it was well known that whilst it had received divine assistance, courage and self-reliance were not wanting. There should, therefore, be no reluctance for men to mingle their blood with their fellow-men. However, nowhere did the envoys meet with a favorable reception. Their proposals were rejected. Rome's neighbors felt alarm at the power of Rome so rapidly growing in their midst. The ambassadors were dismissed with the question, "whether they had opened an asylum for women, for nothing short of that would secure for them intermarriage on equal terms." 

The young men of Rome could not accept such insults, and it looked as if force would be necessary. To secure a favorable place and time for such an attempt, Romulus, disguising his resentment, made elaborate preparations for the celebration of games in honor of "Equestrian Neptune," which he called "the Consualia." He ordered public notice of the spectacle to be given amongst the adjoining cities, and his people supported him in making the celebration as magnificent as their knowledge and resources allowed, so that expectations were raised to the highest pitch. 

There was a great gathering; people were eager to see the new city. All of the nearest neighbors--the people of Caenina, Antemnae, and Crustumerium--came, together with the whole Sabine population, including their wives and families. They were invited to accept hospitality at the different houses, and after examining the situation of the city, its walls and the large number of dwelling-houses it included, they were astonished at the rapidity with which the Roman state had grown.

When the hour for the games had come, and eyes and minds were alike riveted on the spectacle, the preconceived signal was given and the young Romans dashed in all directions to carry off the maidens who were there. Most were carried off indiscriminately, but some particularly beautiful girls who had been marked out for the leading patricians were carried to their houses by plebeians as directed. One, conspicuous amongst them all for grace and beauty, is reported to have been carried off by a group for a certain Talassius, and to the many inquiries as to whom she was intended for, the answer was given, "for Talassius." Hence the use of these words in our marriage rites today.

Alarm and consternation broke up the games. The parents of the maidens fled, distracted with grief, uttering bitter reproaches on the violators of the laws of hospitality and appealing to the god to whose solemn games they had come, only to be the victims of impiety. 

The abducted maidens were quite as angry and despondent. Romulus, however, went to them in person, and pointed out to them that it was all owing to the pride of their parents in denying right of intermarriage to their neighbors. They would live in honorable wedlock, and share all their property and civil rights, and--dearest of all to human nature--would be the mothers of freemen. He begged them to lay aside their feelings of resentment and give their affections to those whom fortune had made masters of their persons. An injury had often led to reconciliation and love; they would find their husbands all the more affectionate, because each would do his utmost, so far as in him lay, to make up for the loss of parents and country. These arguments were reinforced by the endearments of their husbands, who excused their conduct by pleading the irresistible force of their passion--a plea effective beyond all others in appealing to a woman's nature.

The feelings of the abducted maidens were now pretty completely appeased, but not so those of their parents. They went about in mourning, and tried by their tears and  complaints to rouse their countrymen to action. They also flocked from all sides to Titus Tatius, the king of the Sabines, and sent formal deputations to him, for he was the most influential king in those parts. The people of Caenina, Crustumerium, and Antemnae were the greatest sufferers; they thought Tatius and his Sabines were too slow in moving, so these three cities prepared to make war conjointly. 

Such were the impatience and anger of the Caeninensians, however, that even the Crustuminians and Antemnates did not move quickly enough for them, so the men of Caenina made an attack upon Roman territory on their own. While they were pillaging and destroying the countryside, Romulus came upon them with an army, and after a brief encounter taught them that anger is futile without strength. He put them to a hasty flight, and following them up, killed their king and despoiled his body, and took their city at the first assault. Then he led his victorious army home and displayed his achievements. 

Romulus mounted to the Capitol with the spoils of his dead foe borne before him on a frame. He hung them there on an oak, which the shepherds looked upon as a sacred tree, and at the same time marked out the site for the temple of Jupiter. Then he addressed the god by a new title with the following invocation: "Jupiter Feretrius! these arms taken from a king, I, Romulus a king and conqueror, bring to thee, and on this domain, whose bounds I have in will and purpose traced, I dedicate a temple to receive the 'spolia opima' which posterity following my example shall bear hither, taken from the kings and generals of our foes slain in battle." 

Such was the origin of the first temple dedicated in Rome. And the gods decreed that though its founder did not utter idle words in declaring that posterity would thither bear their spoils, still the splendor of that offering should not be dimmed by the number of those who have rivaled his achievement. For after so many years have elapsed and so many wars been waged, only twice have the "spolia opima" been offered. So seldom has Fortune granted that glory to men.

While the Romans were thus occupied, the army of the Antemnates seized the opportunity and made a raid. Romulus hastily led his legion against this new enemy and surprised them as they were scattered over the fields. At the very first battle-shout and charge they were routed and their city captured. 

While Romulus was exulting over this double victory, his wife, Hersilia, moved by the pleas of the abducted maidens, begged him to pardon their parents and receive them into citizenship, for so the State would increase in unity and strength. Romulus readily granted her request. He then advanced against the Crustuminians, who had commenced war, but their eagerness had been damped by the successive defeats of their neighbors, and they offered but slight resistance.

Colonies were planted in both places. Owing to the fertility of the soil of the Crustumine district, the majority gave their names for that colony. On the other hand there were numerous migrations to Rome mostly of the parents and relatives of the abducted maidens. 

The last of these wars was commenced by the Sabines, and it proved the most serious of all, for nothing was done in passion or impatience. They hid their plans until war had actually commenced. Their strategy was aided by craft and deceit, as the following incident shows. Spurius Tarpeius was in command of the Roman citadel. Whilst his daughter had gone outside the fortifications to fetch water for some religious ceremonies, Tatius bribed her to admit his troops within the citadel. Once admitted, they crushed her to death beneath their shields, either that the citadel might appear to have been taken by assault, or that her example might be left as a warning that no faith should be kept with traitors. A further story runs that the Sabines were in the habit of wearing heavy gold armlets on their left arms and richly jeweled rings, and that the girl made them promise to give her "what they had on their left arms," accordingly they piled their shields upon her instead of golden gifts. Some say that in bargaining for what they had in their left hands, she expressly asked for their shields, and being suspected of wishing to betray them, fell a victim to her own bargain.

However this may be, the Sabines gained possession of the citadel. And they would not come down from it the next day, though the Roman army was drawn up in battle array over the whole of the ground between the Palatine and the Capitoline hill. Finally, exasperated at the loss of their citadel and determined to recover it, the Romans mounted to the attack.

Advancing before the rest, Mettius Curtius, on the side of the Sabines, and Hostius Hostilius, on the side of the Romans, engaged in single combat. Hostius, fighting on disadvantageous ground, upheld the fortunes of Rome by his intrepid bravery, but at last he fell; the Roman line broke and fled to what was then the gate of the Palatine. Even Romulus was being swept away by the crowd of fugitives, and lifting up his hands to heaven he exclaimed: "Jupiter, it was thy omen that I obeyed when I laid here on the Palatine the earliest foundations of the City. Now the Sabines hold its citadel, having bought it by a bribe, and coming thence have seized the valley and are pressing hitherwards in battle. Father of gods and men, drive hence our foes, banish terror from Roman hearts, and stay our shameful flight! Here do I vow a temple to thee, 'Jove the Stayer,' as a memorial for the generations to come that it is through thy present help that the City has been saved." 

Then, as though he had become aware that his prayer had been heard, he cried, "Back, Romans! Jupiter Optimus Maximus bids you to stand and renew the battle." They stopped as though commanded by a voice from heaven. Romulus dashed up to the foremost line, just as Mettius Curtius had run down from the citadel in front of the Sabines and driven the Romans in headlong flight over the whole of the ground now occupied by the Forum. He was now not far from the gate of the Palatine, and was shouting: "We have conquered our faithless hosts, our cowardly foes; now they know that to carry off maidens is a very different thing from fighting with men." 

In the midst of these vaunts Romulus, with a compact body of valiant troops, charged down on him. Mettius happened to be on horseback, so he was the more easily driven back, the Romans followed in pursuit, and, inspired by the courage of their king, the rest of the Roman army routed the Sabines. Mettius, unable to control his horse, maddened by the noise of his pursuers, plunged into a morass. The danger of their general drew off the attention of the Sabines for a moment from the battle; they called out and made signals to encourage him, so, animated to fresh efforts, he succeeded in extricating himself. Thereupon the Romans and Sabines renewed the fighting in the middle of the valley, and the Romans were prevailing.

Then it was that the Sabine women, whose wrongs had led to the war, threw off all womanish fears in their distress. They went boldly into the midst of the flying missiles with disheveled hair and rent garments. Running across the space between the two armies they tried to stop any further fighting and calm the excited passions by appealing to their fathers in the one army and their husbands in the other not to bring upon themselves a curse by staining their hands with the blood of a father-in-law or a son-in-law, nor upon their posterity the taint of parricide. "If," they cried, "you are weary of these ties of kindred, these marriage-bonds, then turn your anger upon us; it is we who are the cause of the war, it is we who have wounded and slain our husbands and fathers. Better for us to perish rather than live without one or the other of you, as widows or as orphans." 

The armies and their leaders were alike moved by this appeal. There was a sudden hush and silence. Then the generals advanced to arrange the terms of a treaty. It was not only peace that was made, the two nations were united into one State, the royal power was shared between them, and the seat of government for both nations was Rome. After thus doubling the City, a concession was made to the Sabines in the new naming of Quirites (districts), from their old capital of Cures. As a memorial of the battle, the place where Curtius got his horse out of the deep marsh on to safer ground was called the Curtian lake. The joyful peace, which put an abrupt close to such a deplorable war, made the Sabine women still dearer to their husbands and fathers, and most of all to Romulus himself. Consequently when he divided the people into the thirty curiae, he gave their names to the curiae... 

Powers of Literature

Instructor: gutchess@englishare.net 
Copyright © 2001, 2002


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Genesis creation story goes from God's magical let-there-be's to the gibberish at Babel, so the story of Achilles moves from his powerful prayer to his despair, from control over Zeus to Zeus's "hatred."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image left: design on an early archaic vase found at Thebes (Greece) believed to show Paris abducting Helen. In art history, the abstract style of scenes like this is called "geometric," because it features shapes and patterns and the human figures are undifferentiated, except as to sex and social class (class is represented by size, as in Egyptian art: the larger the figure, the higher the social class). The Homeric songs may have been composed when this simple geometric style of painting was in vogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure left: Aeneas carries his father Anchises, as they escape the flames of Troy, image based on Bernini's Renaissance sculpture. Pious Aeneas is the only Trojan who has a future for he and his father to be remembered in.

 

 

 

 

 

Image left: Bernini's Renaissance statue, The Rape of Persephone. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zeus cult was modeled on animal-likeness; the heroic society of old had been an animal herd of males brawling for mating opportunities. Homer and later classical Hellenes see the tragic consequences of the animal model. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure left: Father Zeus in the form of a bull, a favorite image of classical art that Homer rejects in favor of Zeus as lord of thunder and fate, a thoughtful god who maintains order in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure left: animal Achilles offends the gods by abusing his victim, Hektor. Recall from Lesson 2 how story-telling begins in the celebration of victims. In his anger Achilles flouts the deepest traditions of respect for the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Image left: old man among young warriors, scene depicted on a Hellenic vase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image left: the ransoming of Hektor, from a classical vase. This scene was perhaps the most popular of all Homeric images, as a number of examples still survive.