Lesson 6



1. Clay & Skin

2. Gilgamesh

3. Acts of God

4. Genesis


5. Odysseus

6. Men like

7. Socrates

8. Alexander

9. Virgil

10. Paul


11. Krishna

12. Rama

13. Kalidasa

14. Buddha

15. Confucius

16. Lao Tse


17. Quran

18. Beowulf

19. Genji

20. Survival Itself


21. Dante 1

22. Dante 2

 23. Dante 3

 24. Chaucer

25. Journey to the West

26. New World

27. Indians

28. Don Quixote










1. Read Iliad selection: the Anger of Achilles Book 1-2, 18-19 (on englishare)

2. Skim the page below, and reflect for an hour in your journal.

3. Go to Angel, take the quiz, and submit your Journal to Dr. G.  


The Iliad and Odyssey depict the self-destruction of a cult modeled on the behavior of predatory animals. The pillage, killing and rape of the Trojan War and its aftermath earn the hatred of gods and doom the group.  Homer describes the tragic events from the detached point of view of a later era in which Greeks practiced Hellenism, a culture that  superseded the animal model of the dark age.

The Teiresias prophecy episode at the center of Odysseus' story in Phaeacia reflects the ancient practice of resurrecting the dead by means of hero ceremony [as described in Lesson 5]. These  necromantic rituals generally began with a sacrifice meal and libations, designed to attract ghosts and spirits with food offerings, and they often ended with "incubations,"  appearances of the heroes and gods in the celebrants' sleep (Ogden 11). From Homer we may infer that, like sacrifices and libations, early heroic songs were performed to call the dead with charming words prior to dreamtime. There can be no conclusive proof as to the original, historical context of the Homeric songs, but their hypnotic cadence, repetitive phrasing, and surrealistic presentation of action suggest that Homer borrowed parasympathetic techniques that had been developed by necromancers to recall departed souls.

The purpose in resurrecting the dead was to receive their wisdom (only the dead are wise, the early Greeks thought) and especially to get prophetic advice (the dead were often believed to know the future). Though Homer is no necromancer, he shares this advisory purpose of theirs. The Iliad , a nightmare of martial hostility and remorse, provides warnings to the Hellenes.





Figure left: Odysseus' sacrifice raises Teiresias' head from the underworld, Odyssey 11 as depicted on an ancient Greek vase (lighting effects added). Teiresias may have been a stock character in hero rituals.
















Figure left: Raphael's "Knight's Dream" (cir.1493), National Gallery, London.

Seeing Homer's gods
the machinery in Iliad book 1

Bring me your victims.In book 1,the story-teller of the Iliad sees what all-knowing prophet Kalkhas sees. Like Kalkhas, he sees that there is a plague, that the immediate cause of the plague is the god Apollo, that the intermediate cause is the priest Chryses' curse, and that the original cause is King Agamemnon's arrogant dishonor of the priest.

Here and elsewhere, Homer presents a vision of the whole story, not only the obvious action on the surface, the superficial part that an insensitive Agamemnon can see without any professional assistance, but all of its causes, both human (seen, normal) and divine (unseen, paranormal).

Homer can have this powerful vision of heaven and earth because the song itself comes from the goddess, the Muse (Iliad 1.1). The song takes us, without any ifs or maybes, to every place and time that a goddess can go, in and out of the ordinary world of normal human experience. Homer, the human singer or performer, is only the medium, like a radio or iPod, through which the music is received.

The Muse and the rest of the gods and goddesses are essential characters in Homer because they explain things that are not apparent on the surface of mortal experience. Asserting underlying realities that are hidden behind the illusion of puzzling appearances, Homer like Hesiod anticipates later Greek philosophy, metaphysics, science and medicine. From the beginning the genius of the Hellenes depended on the recognition that the world is not what it appears to be. What is it really? That's the Hellenic question.

Homer attempts in his art to give a deep  account of human behavior and social interaction.  The opening of the Iliad is characteristic, as soldiers are dying in large numbers from some unknown epidemic, while their leaders in high command are ready to kill one another over slave girls. The greatest Achaean army ever assembled seems to be completely helpless. Why? (Or, as Homer puts the question: what god has done this?) Homer posits a deeper, spiritual level of existence to join seemingly disparate and confusing elements into one coherent picture.

The god Apollo is the immediate and unseen cause, the magical agent, linking Chryses' curse with the deaths of the Achaeans from pestilence. The deaths are not accidental or coincidental. There's an explanation, even though it involves an invisible agency in which imaginative belief is required. Explanation is critically important because it allows the possibility of cure.

Science clearly has a more powerful explanation for plagues today, but in preliterate times, acts ritualized and programmed into human memories by traditional songs could indeed have helped to contain epidemics. In Homer, the cure is appropriate worship of Apollo, which includes not simply ritual songs in the god's honor but also important acts to be carried out simultaneously with the songs: washing, removal of all wastes, and burning of disease victims.  This is better medicine than the simple song-placebo composed by the Pied Piper many centuries later.

Artist's sketch of Athena in the Parthenon.The Iliad is filled with god-explanations of this kind, where gods are links in chains of causality that make sense of seemingly inexplicable events. Another example in scroll 1 comes when, due to Agamemnon's threat to take Briseis, Achilles (Iliad 1.185). He is drawing his sword to kill Agamemnon, right there in front of everybody in the council of war, when suddenly something seizes him. He has a vision that Agamemnon and the other Achaeans can't see. The restraining influence is the goddess Athena, grabbing Achilles by the hair and advising him that Hera loves Agamemnon as well as Achilles.

By revealing some of her perspective to Achilles, Athena prevents disaster. She is the civilizing influence, an enforcer of the fragile moral code that holds society together even under conditions that are very close to anarchy. In abstract, secular terminology developed centuries after Homer, she is "wisdom" or "reason." When Athena holds him by the hair, Achilles cools his anger. He puts down his sword.

If this little episode seems absurd, if Athena's hair-pulling doesn't explain how murderous anger is restrained, what does? The Muse could have left Athena out of the description, and said simply that "Achilles changed his mind," but these words would indicate only vaguely what went on in Achilles' head. They might also give the wrong impression that Achilles has good control over his impulses.

I like a man with hair.The elaborate spiritual description that Homer actually uses to describe Achilles' mental process reveals a real and important behavioral mechanism, how "fight" turns to "flight" in the mental operation that psychologists today call "the male fight-or-flight response to stress." Credit Homer with the earliest recorded observation of this characteristic male overreaction toward aggression and toward withdrawal. Homer merely uses an archaic terminology to describe this condition. He speaks of "Athena" where rationalists of later ages speak of "reason," and where medicine today speaks of "impulse" or "brain chemistry" or perhaps some set of genetically encoded behaviors.

Gods and goddesses are critical to understanding the Iliad, and all of ancient Hellenic civilization, even including its later rational developments in philosophy and science. The Hellenes did not presume that life is fragmented or inconsistent or meaningless, though that is how it appeared to their senses in ordinary experience. They presumed that ultimately the universe makes sense, and that our understanding of it is  incomplete. Their spiritual practices were meant to reveal the more complete picture. 

This mystical sense of a further reality is not necessarily at odds with modern science. Physicists have "discovered" phenomena that they have never seen: gravity, black holes, and the "dark matter" of the universe, for instance. Many things have their presence only in imagination, thought, concept or theory--but that certainly doesn't mean they don't exist. We can't see the gods, but Homer posits them to explain the causes of what we do see.





Figure left: the prophet Kalkhas, carved image from the temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.  
























Left: reconstructed bronze Apollo Parnopios (Apollo of the locusts), roughly 450 BCE. in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. In another manifestation, Apollo Smintheos, the same god protected against rats.











Image left:Phidias' huge statue of Athena once stood in the Parthenon at Athens. See mouseover.















Image left: "Athena and the Centaur" by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. A centaur stands in for Achilles. Athena becomes an allegorical figure for wisdom or reason, the tamer of the beast-man. Compare Enkidu and Shamash.















The Anger of Achilles (1819)
by Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825) reflects the artist's anger toward the French king
who exiled him as a revolutionary. The painting ultimately is based on Achilles and Agamemnon in Iliad book 1, but the "machinery" of Athena is dispensed with.

Seeing the gods, part two
Men like animals

Whew!The morality of the Homeric gods has long been questioned. Xenophanes of Colophon, the earliest of recorded Greek literary critics, noted: "Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men:  theft, adultery, and mutual deception . . . as they sang of numerous illicit divine deeds: theft, adultery, and mutual deceit" ("Xenophanes").  Whether or not impiety can be ascribed to Homer, Xenophanes' comments usefully point to the predatory acts that Homeric characters systematically attribute to the will of gods.

The Iliad and Odyssey give an elaborate account of a dark age culture that is devoted to the god Zeus and attendant deities. The Zeus-men multiply the membership in their group by exterminating males of rival groups and enslaving the dead men's women for reproduction. Killing other men and raping their women (the Achilles-type Zeus-man), or secretly abducting other men's women (the Paris model), may seem natural in light of some modern genetic theories and animal studies [See note 3 below.] but in Homer's world "Father" Zeus is a psychological necessity for the victimizers and perhaps for their victims, too. All brutality is attributed to the god: attempting murders and rapes, the Zeus-men hope to find themselves "favored" by the god, carrying out his will. The men legitimize the offspring Where to this time, boys? of their enslaved women by calling them children of Zeus. In short, the Zeus-men live a fiction that allows them to cope with the heavy stresses of their predatory lifestyle.

The cult is organized as if it were a family: its members say that they share the blood of Father Zeus, but the political power structure within the group actually is based on seniority, not DNA. In this system, to be a "son of god" (i.e., son of a Zeus-man rapist of a barbarian woman) is to be situated on the lowest rung of the Zeus-man ladder of command, only a step above the excluded unfortunates whose parents are mere mortals not descended from Zeus. To be a grandson of the god (i.e. grandson of the rapist) is better, a great-grandson better still.

Zeus' earliest rape produced his most favored mortal son Dardanus, the ancestor of the revered Trojan leaders Priam and Aeneas. (See Iliad 20.215. See also genealogy chart,) And therein lies a main problem of the Iliad: the neighborhood of Troy is the cult's sacred birthplace, or holiest of holies, but Troy is about to fall. Why is Zeus allowing his once-favorite city to be destroyed?

The angry god problem in the Iliad is the same problem that was faced by the Hebrew prophets who had to explain the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BCE and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Lord's temple by Babylonians in 587 BCE [recall lesson 3]. But Homer's system is polytheist, so he can't explain the fall of Troy as the result of the worship of false gods. Unlike the monotheist prophets, he is forced to analyze what's wrong in non-religious terms.

So why must Troy fall? Homer's answer is not that the Zeus-men have forgotten Zeus. His answer is a cultural one. The doomed Zeus-men are no longer one big happy family. They have failed to distinguish between members of their cult and nonmembers. In the good old days before the Trojan War, Zeus-men had lived in harmony under one roof; they had welcomed one another into their private households according to their ancient custom of xenia. But after the rape of Helen and similar conflicts in time of the Trojan War, this old hospitality system has broken down. Unfriendly hosting and guesting appear in households everywhere, and Zeus-men massacre one another and poach each other's wives.

Zeus at times feels pity for these tragic children, but their fate is sealed. He is having as much trouble as Achilles in controlling his anger. He particularly hates the line of Priam (Iliad  20.300) because it is decimating his cult. The divine household on Olympus is absurdly at war with itself. 




Image left: early classical carving (cir 460 BC, Temple of Hera, colorized). In a comic scene from the Iliad, Hera seduces Zeus so that he can't keep watch over the Trojans.




and she wasn't always successful!








Left: classical drinking bowl with illustration usually described as the taking of Briseis from Achilles, but the scene could be Paris and Helen, Jason and Medea or some other rape. A god (in this case Hermes) assists the rapist.   Hellenic literature is full of rapes, all of which are designed in some fashion by gods.

Achilles and Ajax play dice while Athena dances; image from a classical vase.

Agamemnon's madness:
Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon

Achilles sits out much of the Iliad, brooding in his tent due to the insult of Agamemnon, but the death of Achilles' charioteer Patroklos at the hands of the Trojan prince Hektor and Apollo diverts this anger from Agamemnon. After Patroklos' death, Achilles intends to forgive and forget his quarrel with Agamemnon (Iliad 18.97). His reunion with Agamemnon is an uneasy one, however.

The public reconciliation ceremony is presented in scroll 19. All of the Achaeans from the camp, even the ships' helmsmen and the waiters, come to witness the show: 

  • Achilles publicly renounces his anger: "if we have been angry, necessity has schooled our anger. I put it from me: I dare not nurse it for ever" (Iliad 19.54). Yet clearly Achilles is still angry, and there is no personal reconciliation with Agamemnon. 

  • Agamemnon issues a public "apology" to Achilles. He doesn't say he's sorry for taking Briseis. He admits insanity (or demonic possession). The goddess Ate made him act blindly, he says. Agamemnon tells the story of how, once upon a time, even Zeus himself was afflicted by Ate.

  • Agamemnon offers gifts (including the return of Briseis) to Achilles. Achilles admits Agamemnon's right to give gifts or to withhold them. He is impatient to fight and doesn't want to waste the day arguing over "trifles." Nevertheless, the gifts are brought out, in the view of all the Achaeans, and Achilles receives them.

  • Agamemnon swears a formal oath, sealed with the sacrifice of a boar, that he has not had sexual relations with Briseis. 

  • Achilles publicly accepts Agamemnon's insanity defense, which he uses to excuse his own desertion from the war: "Father Zeus, truly you give atÍ to men and bane to them. The son of Atreus had not else stirred me to so fierce an anger, nor so stubbornly taken Briseis from me against my will. Surely Zeus must have counseled the destruction of many an Argive" (Iliad 19.266). 

Both men seek to save face by blaming their actions on the gods. The public ceremony of reconciliation specifically recalls the opening of the Iliad, the council scene of scroll 1 where Achilles and Agamemnon first fall out. In that opening scene, If you see this lady, be careful not to offend her.Achilles' anger is traced back through Apollo and the priest Chryses to Agamemnon, but it isn't clear what's wrong with Agamemnon: he is seen only from a distanced point of view, the view of Achilles.  Now in scroll 19, Agamemnon provides a self-diagnosis. He blames Zeus, Hera, and their oldest daughter, a peculiar spirit of unwitting self-destruction called AtÍ

Agamemnon claims that he was possessed, struck with mental derangement, a behavioral disorder he describes as atÍ:

AtÍ, eldest of Zeusí daughters, shuts menís eyes to their destruction. She walks delicately, not on the solid earth, but hovers over the heads of men to make them stumble or to ensnare them. Iliad 19.74

Agamemnon doesn't apologize. Although he was out of control, the fault was not his but AtÍ's.

Where does this demon or mental disease come from? Why should it exist? Agamemnon tells the Argive assembly about it at length. His story is instructive in revealing the political organization of the Zeus-man cult:

Zeus begets sons of mortal women in city-states all over the Hellenic world. These activities keep Hera busy because she is the goddess of childbirth: that is, she delivers Zeus' babies not as his wife but as midwife. So she does not love all of these little Zeus followers with a mother's love, and she is glad enough to see strife among them. It's quite a complicated arrangement.

One day, as if to establish a unified Hellenic nation for all time to come, Zeus announces that one of his sons will rule over all of his sons. This favorite son will be mighty Heracles who is scheduled to be born on that very same day in Thebes. Seeing her opportunity, Hera asks Zeus to re-word the great and irrevocable decree that he is about to announce: the ruler of the Hellenes, he should say, will be the infant who will be born today (omitting to name names). Zeus rashly agrees to this small, seemingly meaningless revision of his commandment. Sure, why not?

Hera then goes to deliver babies. She takes a detour from Thebes and stops first at Argos where she delivers prematurely the infant Eurystheus (a great grandson to Zeus through the house of Perseus). Then she goes to Thebes where she postpones the birth of Heracles indefinitely. Returning to Olympus from her rounds, she mentions Eurystheus' birth to Zeus. Zeus is grief-stricken and furious that Eurystheus is to rule the people. Mighty Heracles now will have to perform a lifetime of hard labors for wimpy Eurystheus! In his anger over this matter, Zeus seizes AtÍ by the hair and hurls her down to earth where she must reside forever among humankind because Zeus won't let her back into heaven. 

Insofar as Agamemnon offers this story as an excuse for personal misconduct, it simply means that "everybody makes mistakes," even Zeus, at least when AtÍ is nearby. 

There is considerably more to the story, however. It is a political myth that explains the subordination of the Achaean city-states to Argos. Argos is identified with Hera. She was the principal goddess of Argos (the city of Menelaos and Helen, the city later known as Sparta), also nearby Mycenae (Agamemnon's city), and the Argive plain between and around them. Hera's power derives not from physical strength, or from Zeus' favors, but through control of birthright. Eurystheus rules because he is older than Heracles, certainly not because he is stronger or better in the eyes of Zeus.

The modern name for Zeus' commandment (the Hera edition) is the law of primogeniture, which picks heirs without regard to power, merit or natural selection. Primogeniture settles succession always on the first born. A pre-Darwinian of sorts, Zeus doesn't like it because it does not guarantee that the fittest individual comes out on top. Primogeniture can make a premie more powerful than Heracles.

Primogeniture serves a useful social function, because open warfare and power struggles can be avoided, at least when everybody obeys the law. There's always friction, however, when "the best of the Achaeans" is a younger Achilles or Heracles, not an elder Agamemnon or Eurystheus. Superiority of the younger individual fosters envy in the younger, the sense that the elder heir is undeserving because inferior. Heracles and Achilles may be "the best" but they are burdened by their labors, their sense of life's unfairness in dealing rewards. Obviously, the superiority of the younger also produces fear in the older individual whose nominal power always seems threatened. 

A fluke in the order of births, when Eurystheus was born prematurely before Heracles, has resulted in Argos' leadership of the Achaean league. It has made Agamemnon and Menelaos the Achaean leaders at Troy. The Trojan War expedition is conducted for their benefit (Helen is a queen of Argos). Achilles serves in this war, resentfully, only as a paid laborer or mercenary. He deserves better, he thinks, because he's the one who's doing most of the plundering. When he isn't paid (when Agamemnon takes Briseis away), he doesn't work.

Recognizing his inferiority to Achilles, Agamemnon has pulled rank to demonstrate that he's the boss. Seeing himself as "the best of the Achaeans" Achilles can't accept a subservient role. The interaction between the two powerful men is dysfunctional as both of them harm themselves while trying to hurt the other. (Again recall the favorite Homeric theme of identification, that the blow delivered is the blow received.)

The restoration of Achaean unity seems to require the offering of fair gifts and fair words that are prescribed in heroic society to appease angry spirits. Yet the gifts given to Achilles are "trifles" since Achilles knows that he is about to die and lose all of them, including Briseis. And the words spoken to Achilles in the public reconciliation scene are not satisfying either, since Agamemnon can't bring himself to admit that he was wrong. 

Achilles is impatient with the ceremonies and masquerades of Argive unity. He won't eat with the Argives. He has found motivation only in the memory Patroklos and the spirit of revenge.





Image left: Achilles and Ajax play dice, before setting off for Troy where both will die. Dancing Athena as goddess of battles can't wait to get started. Image based on a classical vase.
































Left: classical image of Hera, she who must not be offended, a difficult mother goddess of childbirth.




























































The raging Achilles 
nature and culture defeat him

Ajax rescuing the dead body of Achilles, image from a classical vase painting.As Achilles re-enters the fighting, Homer's surreal descriptions wonderfully express the madness of martial fury. Achilles'  grotesque fantasies on the battlefield shield him from any perception of his own brutality. Nevertheless, he is not invincible. In a general way, Achilles follows the Adam-and-Eve pattern [recall Journal 4]. He has the power of Zeus at his direction up to the point of the death of Patroklos, but then he loses favor as Zeus pursues broader interests that necessitate Achilles' death. Achilles' limitations by nature and culture are represented by Skamandros and Aeneas, the two adversaries that Achilles can't defeat in battle. 

The Skamandros/Xanthos River is a god, so it's an unequal fight for Achilles, a mismatch between man and nature. Achilles tries to flee from it, but its wave is always catching him and pulling him down into the bloody waters filled with unidentifiable bodies.

Skamandros wants to bury Achilles to show that Achilles is not immortal. He wants to draw Achilles down into an obscure layer of mud deep in the sedimentary record where he can be a hero to nobody:

[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).

Achilles is rescued from Skamandros only 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 choice to fight. 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 generally miss. Let's look at it closely.


Examination of the pedigrees:
the Zeus cult explained

The genealogies of Achilles and Aeneas both begin with Zeus. When the Father's descendants decide to fight each other to the death, the Father can't answer all of their prayers. His usual course is an aristocratic solution: he blesses those with the longest pedigrees.

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 childrenís 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 speak fair words to them at their tombs. They will never be raised from the dead.

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) (Lesson 9). 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 Hektor's wife 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 Roman times. 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. More ancestors equals more heroes, and more living relatives equals more power.

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 barbarian 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.This 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 descendants of god 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 Black Seas. This area 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 old herd model becomes counterproductive.  This is the historical point at which the Iliad takes place. This is a song of the ways that became "hated" by Zeus, the self-destructive ways that drastically reduced the cult's numbers. The story is encoded in memory because of its great importance. This group needed a new plan for survival.

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 big people create jobs for the little people!



























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. 










































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.

Homer and the invention
of the west

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 (cir 1200 BC - cir 800 BC), a time of chaotic violence dominated by piracy and marauding of the Odysseus and Achilles type. The new less-violent time saw renewal in the arts, sports, religion and speculation: this was the age that historians call the "Greek archaic" period (cir. 750 BC - cir. 500 BC). 

Archaic age Hellenes learned common stories, including those of Homer, Hesiod, and others, which helped to stabilize the Greek language, which had been breaking down into local dialects, threatening communications among various groups--Ionians, Dorics, Aeolians and others. The tragic stories of the common ancestors, told throughout the Hellenic region in a common tongue, would have been a much needed force for social cohesion.

All Greek speakers everywhere were identified not only by language but by common cultural markings of Hellenism. A Hellene participated in Hellenic things; a "barbarian" didn't. The distinctively Hellenic 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, pottery, sculpture and painting that were unlike those outside Hellas. Multiculturally, 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 around the Mediterranean, and they were brought together by common pan-Hellenic festivals and games. Aristocrats continued to claim privileges due to the blue blood running in their veins, but the humanistic notion had dawned that a society can be unified simply by ideas and practices, even when the members differ in ancestry.

Hellenism was a new culture that was not based on the ways of animals. Those who invented it asked and resolved some very basic questions. How do people differ from animals? How should people live? What should  post-tribal culture consist of?

Beyond archaic Hellenism and early classical Hellenism came the apostle Paul, Luke the Christian gospel writer, and others who converted the Greek world with new interpretations of the "son of God." (These matters are covered in Lesson 10.) European Christians furthered the criticism of the Zeus-man cult begun in Homer and later Hellenic writers. The temporal sense in these writers is not that people need to return to the old ways of the ancestors, as in Jeremiah and other Jewish prophets. It is instead that the old ways are superseded by progress as new times bring new challenges. The foundation for all of this new historical sense appears to have been Homer.


Suggested journal topics
and optional readings

1. The dead: where are they? what do they have to say?  Story-telling began in the sacrifice of animals (see Journal 5), but other disciplines evidently developed from the same source. One example in classical civilization was augury, a practice of reading the body parts of sacrificed animal victims to find encoded spiritual messages, especially predictions about the future. Western medicine is likely to have developed after the extension of augury to pathological practice in classical Greece. The coroner's post-mortem report, the journalist's obituary or death notice, and the funeral eulogy or sermon also seem to be modern survivals of the very ancient practice of listening to voices of the dead.

Consider someone who has died recently. What's the meaning? What do people say that it is?

2. The ancestors: how important is ancestry? To what extent do ancestors shape our identities?

3. God(s): Do you believe in God or gods? Why or why not? 

INSTRUCTOR'S DISCLAIMER: This course on literature necessarily takes a literary view of all questions about God, gods, spirits of every kind, spiritual practices and spiritual ways of life. That is, spiritual activity is regarded here as simply one way of describing or explaining events--and it is not considered to be inherently better or worse than other ways of describing or explaining happenings that are mysterious, hidden or speculative. As to the existence or non-existence of spirits, apart from the realm of literature, this course expresses no opinion whatsoever.

4. Zeus-men and biology: A good source for modern genetic 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 relatively "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 non-reproduction, they would have been less closely aligned with good genetic programming for the environment of the day.

The practices of the Homeric Zeus-men are much like those of harem males in various mammals, including lions, monkeys and baboons, wild horses and various rodent species, where alpha males kill or drive off their sexual rivals and kill their rivals' offspring, including unborn ones, to promote their own genetic legacy. For animal behavior, see Sapolsky, 124-131.

5. The death of Hektor. 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 5]. 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 otherwise become heroes who could be called from the dead. 

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.
























I found that it was Hera fouling up my microchips!

6. The fight of Aeneas and  Achilles, from Iliad scroll 20:

.Apollo set Aeneas on to attack the son of Peleus, and put courage into his heart, speaking with the voice of Lykaon son of Priam. In this disguise, he said to Aeneas, "Aeneas, counselor of the Trojans, where are now the brave words with which you vaunted over your wine before the Trojan princes, saying that you would fight Achilles son of Peleus in single combat?"

[86] And Aeneas answered, "Why do you thus bid me fight the proud son of Peleus, when I am in no mind to do so? Were I to face him now, it would not be for the first time. His spear has already put me to flight from Mount Ida, when he attacked our cattle and sacked Lyrnessos and Pedasos; Zeus indeed saved me in that he granted me strength to flee, or else I had the fallen by the hands of Achilles and Athena, who went before him to protect him and urged him to fall upon the Leleges and Trojans. No man may fight Achilles, for one of the gods is always with him as his guardian, and even were it not so, his weapon flies ever straight, and fails not to pierce the flesh of him who is against him; if heaven would let me fight him to the finish [telos] on even terms, he should not soon overcome me, though he boasts that he is made of bronze."

[103] Then said great Apollo, son to Zeus, "No, hero, pray to the ever-living gods, for men say that you were born of Zeusí daughter Aphrodite, whereas Achilles is son to a goddess of inferior rank. Aphrodite is child to Zeus, while Thetis is but daughter to the old man of the sea. Therefore, bring your spear to bear upon him, and let him not scare you with his taunts and menaces."

[110] As he spoke he put courage into the heart of the shepherd of his people, and he strode in full armor among the ranks of the foremost fighters . . .

[161] Aeneas strode to the forefront in attack, his doughty helmet tossing defiance as he came on. He held his strong shield before his breast, and brandished his bronze spear. The son of Peleus [Achilles] from the other side sprang forth to meet him, like some fierce lion that the whole population [dÍmos] has met to hunt and kill - at first he bodes no ill, but when some daring youth has struck him with a spear, he crouches openmouthed, his jaws foam, he roars with fury, he lashes his tail from side to side about his ribs and loins, and glares as he springs straight before him, to find out whether he is to slay, or be slain among the foremost of his foes - even with such fury did Achilles burn to spring upon Aeneas.

[176] When they were now close up with one another Achilles was first to speak. "Aeneas," said he, "why do you stand thus out before the host to fight me? Is it that you hope to reign over the Trojans, partaking of the honor [timÍ] of Priam? Nay, though you kill me Priam will not hand his kingdom over to you. He is a man of sound judgment, and he has sons of his own. Or have the Trojans been allotting you a demesne of passing richness, fair with orchard lawns and wheat lands, if you should slay me? This you shall hardly do. I have discomfited you once already. Have you forgotten how when you were alone I chased you from your herds helter-skelter down the slopes of Ida? You did not turn round to look behind you; you took refuge in Lyrnessos, but I attacked the city, and with the help of Athena and father Zeus I sacked it and carried its women into captivity, though Zeus and the other gods rescued you. You think they will protect you now, but they will not do so; therefore I say go back into the host, and do not face me, or you will rue it. Even a fool may become wise with experience."

[199] Then Aeneas answered, "Son of Peleus, think not that your words can scare me as though I were a child. I too, if I will, can brag and talk unseemly. We know one anotherís race and parentage as matters of common fame, though neither have you ever seen my parents nor I yours. Men say that you are son to noble Peleus, and that your mother is Thetis, fair-haired daughter of the sea. I have noble Anchises for my father, and Aphrodite for my mother; the parents of one or other of us shall this day mourn a son, for it will be more than silly talk that shall part us when the fight is over. Learn, then, my lineage if you will - and it is known to many.

[215] "In the beginning Dardanos was the son of Zeus, and founded Dardania, for Ilion was not yet established on the plain for men to dwell in, and her people still abode on the spurs of many-fountained Ida [on Crete]. Dardanos had a son, king Erichthonios, who was wealthiest of all men living; he had three thousand mares that fed by the water-meadows, they and their foals with them. Boreas was enamored of them as they were feeding, and covered them in the semblance of a dark-maned stallion. Twelve filly foals did they conceive and bear him, and these, as they sped over the fertile plain, would go bounding on over the ripe ears of wheat and not break them; or again when they would disport themselves on the broad back of Ocean they could gallop on the crest of a breaker. Erichthonios begat Tros, king of the Trojans, and Tros had three noble sons, Ilos, Assarakos, and Ganymede who was comeliest of mortal men; wherefore the gods carried him off to be Zeusí cupbearer, for his beautyís sake, that he might dwell among the immortals. Ilos begat Laomedon, and Laomedon begat Tithonos, Priam, Lampos, Klytios, and Hiketaon of the stock of Ares. But Assarakos was father to Kapys, and Kapys to Anchises, who was my father, while Hektor is son to Priam.

[241] "Such do I declare my blood and lineage, but as for valor [aretÍ], Zeus gives it or takes it as he will, for he is lord of all. And now let there be no more of this prating in mid-battle as though we were children. We could fling taunts without end at one another; a hundred-oared galley would not hold them. The tongue can run in every which direction and talk all wise; it can go here and there, and as a man says, so shall he be gainsaid. What is the use of our bandying hard like women who when they fall foul of one another go out and wrangle in the streets, and shout half-truths and lies, as rage inspires them? No words of yours shall turn me now that I am fain to fight- therefore let us make trial of one another with our spears."

[259] As he spoke he drove his spear at the great and terrible shield of Achilles, which rang out as the point struck it. The son of Peleus held the shield before him with his strong hand, and he was afraid, for he deemed that Aeneasí spear would go through it quite easily, not reflecting that the godís glorious gifts were little likely to yield before the blows of mortal men; and indeed Aeneasí spear did not pierce the shield, for the layer of gold, gift of the god, stayed the point. It went through two layers, but the god had made the shield in five, two of bronze, the two innermost ones of tin, and one of gold; it was in this that the spear was stayed.

[273] Achilles in his turn threw, and struck the round shield of Aeneas at the very edge, where the bronze was thinnest; the spear of Pelian ash went clean through, and the shield rang under the blow; Aeneas was afraid, and crouched backwards, holding the shield away from him; the spear, however, flew over his back, and stuck quivering in the ground, after having gone through both circles of the sheltering shield. Aeneas though he had avoided the spear, stood still, blinded with fear and grief [akhos] because the weapon had gone so near him; then Achilles sprang furiously upon him, with a cry as of death and with his keen blade drawn, and Aeneas seized a great stone, so huge that two men, as men now are, would be unable to lift it, but Aeneas wielded it quite easily.

[288] Aeneas would then have struck Achilles as he was springing towards him, either on the helmet, or on the shield that covered him, and Achilles would have closed with him and dispatched him with his sword, had not Poseidon lord of the earthquake been quick to see, and said forthwith to the immortals, "Alas, I feel grief [akhos] for great Aeneas, who will now go down to the house of Hades, vanquished by the son of Peleus. Fool that he was to give ear to the counsel of Apollo. Apollo will never save him from destruction. Why should this man suffer grief [akhos] when he is guiltless, to no purpose, and in anotherís quarrel? Has he not at all times offered acceptable sacrifice to the gods that dwell in heaven? Let us then snatch him from deathís jaws, lest the son of Kronos be angry should Achilles slay him. It is fated, moreover, that he 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, while Aeneas shall reign over the Trojans, he and his childrenís children that shall be born hereafter."

[309] Then answered Hera, "Earth-shaker, look to this matter yourself, and consider concerning Aeneas, whether you will save him, or suffer him, brave though he be, to fall by the hand of Achilles son of Peleus. For of a truth we two, I and Pallas Athena, have sworn full many a time before all the immortals, that never would we shield Trojans from destruction, not even when all Troy is burning in the flames that the Achaeans shall kindle."

[318] When earth-encircling Poseidon heard this he went into the battle amid the clash of spears, and came to the place where Achilles and Aeneas were. Forthwith he shed a darkness before the eyes of the son of Peleus, drew the bronze-headed ashen spear from the shield of Aeneas, and laid it at the feet of Achilles. Then he lifted Aeneas on high from off the earth and hurried him away. Over the heads of many a band of warriors both horse and foot did he soar as the godís hand sped him, till he came to the very fringe of the battle where the Cauconians were arming themselves for fight. Poseidon, shaker of the earth, then came near to him and said, Aeneas, what god has egged you on to this folly in fighting the son of Peleus, who is both a mightier man of valor and more beloved of heaven than you are? Give way before him whensoever you meet him, lest you go down to the house of Hades even though fate would have it otherwise. When Achilles is dead you may then fight among the foremost undaunted, for none other of the Achaeans shall slay you."

[340] The god left him when he had given him these instructions, and at once removed the darkness from before the eyes of Achilles, who opened them wide indeed and said in great anger, "Alas! what marvel am I now beholding? Here is my spear upon the ground, but I see not him whom I meant to kill when I hurled it. Of a truth Aeneas also must be under heavenís protection, although I had thought his boasting was idle. Let him go hang; he will be in no mood to fight me further, seeing how narrowly he has missed being killed. I will now give my orders to the Danaans and attack some other of the Trojans."

Instructor: gutchess@englishare.net 
Copyright © 2007