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Copyright 1999, President and Fellows of Harvard College

Dialogue Number Five Now Posted.

This week's ichat was at 11am, EDT, Thursday, April 22, 1999. The transcript is here.

This page includes links to all of the RealVideo used in the course.

For viewing the video clips, you need the free software available from RealVideo. It's available as a download for PC, and Macintosh.

Current Real Video:

Dialogue Number One

Dialogue Number Two

Dialogue Number Three

Dialogue Number Four

Dialogue Number Five (new!)

Optional additional videos, taken from Prof. Nagy's core course "Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization," Fall, 1998:

Lecture Number One

(notes available here)

Lecture Number Two

(notes available here)

Lecture Number Three

(notes available here)

Lecture Number Four

(notes available here)

Hungarian Lament (audio only)

Lecture Number Five

(notes available here)

Lecture Number Six

(notes available here)

Lecture Number Seven (new!)

(notes available here)

Lecture Number Eight (new!)

(notes available here)


Also, click here for Poetic Justice's iChat common room (an on-line discussion space). The transcript from the first week is here. The transcript from the second week is here.

In order to use this virtual space, we recommend at least

for PC: A Pentium 100 Processor, 32 Megs RAM, Windows 95/98

for Mac: A PowerPC (100 mhz), 32 Megs RAM, System 7.6.1 or greater.

For the software, we recommend the latest version of either Internet Explorer or Netscape (currently 5.0 and 4.5 respectively, though 4.0 versions of both should work). Ichat gives you a choice of protocols for accessing the space, including Java script, HTML, and an iChat plug-in. In our experience, the Java script works the best, though it requires more processing power than the other methods. (Tom Jenkins has had good luck with the plug-in, so the optimum set-up may well depend on your own computing configuration). For those who cannot make the on-line chat, or who are unable to get the software to work properly for them, we hope to make available a transcript of the dialogue. If successful, we will implement more on-line chats during in the upcoming weeks, and with staggered timing so participants from other hemispheres can log-on at convenient moments.

Notes to earlier Dialogues are available here.

Dialogue Notes V

(Highlights of Dialogue Five)

As we reach Scroll 24, the hero of the Iliad has done a lot of learning. We saw that in Scroll 1, he was most concerned about his ego, his status, that his honor had been damaged. In Scroll 9, Achilles was worried about his life, how he would lose his life, but he was ready to make a priority of the epic that would preserve his honor and glory forever over his own life. Still, he dies hard--he does not want to die. By Scroll 18, he has experienced his own death vicariously by experiencing the death of Patroklos, and he is experiencing the grief over his own death. At this point, the value of a human life is harder to define. As we come full circle to Scroll 24, Achilles finds still another way to look at the value of a life, because he feels sympathetic and empathetic with the father of his deadliest enemy, that is, Priam, the father of Hector, who killed Patroklos.

Priam is offering *apoina*, compensation, for the body of Hector. Priam offers this compensation to buy the body back so he can give it a proper funeral and thereby ensure Hector's immortalization. But Achilles is learning that even the life of his enemy is worth the world to his enemy's father, and when he sees Priam weep over his son, Achilles makes the ultimate human connection. He thinks: if my father were here and I were the dead man, this sorrow would be for me, that old man could be my father, and the corpse of Hector could be me. Achilles identifies with Hector, the person he hates most. He learns the ultimate lesson in the value of a human life when he understands that value in terms of the person he hates most and wants to understand the least.

The progression from (1) ego and honor to (2) one's own life and death to (3) feelings of grief over one's own death to (4) sorrow over the death of one's deadliest enemy leads us to understand better the litigation scene with which we started. We come to terms with the shift in values of the hero as he lives through the experiences of the whole Iliad. In terms of the litigation scene, Achilles goes from plaintiff (suing over the death of Patroklos) to defendant (as the cause of Patroklos' death) to victim, ultimately. The dead man whose life is being weighed and evaluated is Achilles himself.

In my essay on the Shield which I shared with you I wrote: "The question is, however, what happens when the story draws to a close? Now the figures inside the Iliad become frozen into their actions by the finality of what has been narrated. This freezing is completed once all is said and done, at the precise moment when the whole story has been told. This moment, which is purely notional from the standpoint of Iliadic composition, gets captured by the frozen motion picture of the Shield. Time has now stopped still, and the open-endedness of contemplating the artistic creation can begin." In the long run, Achilles can be defendant as well as plaintiff. In the longest run, Achilles can be the victim in the scene.

The broadest limits of humanism can be seen in the Iliad, which does not call the shots about what is right and wrong: it lets the narration of the events help all of us decide what is right and wrong. The inner circle of elders who are competing about what is the best and most just formulation of what is right and wrong and the value of a human life is surrounded by the outer circle of on-lookers who, like us, debate whether the elders, the legal experts, have it right about who in this case is in the right and who is in the wrong. We can extend this circle out to include us, the immediate audience as readers of the Iliad. We, too, in a sense, have a chance to judge one more time about the rights and wrongs and about the true value of life. Again, in my essay on the shield, I quote Michael Lynn-George: "the process is a desire for a finality that is infinitely deferred." And I add: "In the end, then, the logic of the litigation scene spills over, paradoxically, into the logic of an ever-expanding outermost circle, that is, people who are about to hear the Iliad. These people, I argue, are to become ultimately the people of the polis." And further: "I repeat what I said earlier, this time going one step further. The logic of the litigation scene spills over into the logic of a surrounding circle of supposedly impartial elder adjudicators who are supposed to define the rights and wrongs of the case. Next, the logic of this inner circle of elders spills over into the logic of an outer circle of people who surround the elders, the people who will define who defines most justly. Next, it spills over into the logic of the outermost circle, people who are about to hear the Iliad. These people who hear Homeric poetry, as I said, are to become the people of the polis. Ultimately, these people are even ourselves."