LECTURE 6 The hero's tomb and the athlete's ordeal.

1. sêma, pl. sêmata 'sign, signal, symbol; tomb'; sêmainô (verb) 'indicate, use a sêma'

1a. Review how we started the course: memnêmai 'I have total recall' (IX 527-528)

{Notice that I am now regularly indicating the "scrolls" or "books" [= papyrus rolls] of the Iliad via roman numerals only.}

  • 1b. The opposite of 'total recall' is lêthê. "Lethe" is also the name of a river in the underworld that separates the living from the dead, those awake from those asleep, those conscious from those unconscious..
  • 2. ainos 'authoritative utterance for and by a social group; praise; fable'; ainigma 'riddle'

    2a. One of the clearest examples of ainos is the klea andrôn of IX 524 (Sourcebook I p. 76: "glories of heroes"), referring to the narrative that is "totally recalled" by Phoenix for Achilles and the other assembled philoi. The ainos here is signaled by what anthropologists call an "index" word (houtô 'thus' [left untranslated in the Sourcebook] at IX 524). Here is an example of an "index" expression in English: "once upon a time..."

    3. Three qualifications for understanding a sêma or an ainos: sophoi/agathoi/philoi.

    A) sophos 'skilled' or 'wise' indicates MENTAL qualification

    B) agathos 'good' or 'noble' indicates MORAL qualification

    C) philos 'near-and-dear' indicates EMOTIONAL or AFFECTIVE qualification

    4. Review from Lecture 3: ascending scale of affection in the Meleager narrative (compressed equivalent of expanded Achilles narrative) = klea andrôn hêrôôn 'glories [= kleos plural] of men, heroes [hêrôes]' (IX 524-5), which is told in the midst of philoi (IX 528) {that is, the narrative is told to an audience who are presumed to be philoi}

    5. Review: philos and the ascending scale of affection: elders, priests, father, sisters, mother, companions [hetairoi], {wife}

    6. Meleager's wife is Cleopatra = Kleopatra

    7. Patroklês or Patrokleês

    8. The klea andrôn of IX 524-5 means Patroklos

    9. The Kleopatra/Patroklos variation is itself an ainos

    10. For ancient Greek song culture, "reading" [= listening to song] can be an "initiation" or "ordeal," and these three qualifications are the requirements: sophoi/agathoi/philoi.

    11. The Iliad does not explore the relationship of Achilles and Patroklos on a sexual level, any more than it explores the relationship of Meleager and Kleopatra on a sexual level.

    11a. Patroklos is not just the dearest hetairos 'companion' of Achilles: he is his "alter ego." The relationship between these hetairoi is represented by the Iliad as even more intimate than sexual: it operates on the mentality of "I will die for you."

    12. The "message" of the "code" of the narrative of Patroklos: that he is for Achilles the most philos of them all (as in XVIII 80-82).

    13. Having considered a case where Patroklos is the message of an ainos, let us now consider a case where Patroklos is the message of a sêma

    14. Note what the poet Simonides said: a picture is silent poetry, poetry is talking pictures.

    15. Chariot race of XXIII; athletics as ritual

    16. Iliad XXIII 326 sêma 'sign'

    17. Iliad XXIII 331 sêma 'tomb, grave-mark'

    18. same line, 331: terma 'turning point', English borrowing term.

  • XXIII 326 sêma: I will tell you a clear sêma, and there will be no lêthê for you.
  • A world of metaphors! Compare English "turning point."

  • Symbolism of left turn in chariot race: Right/Left balance, impetuousness/restraint

    XXIII 331 sêma: "Either it was the grave-mark of someone who died long ago, or it was set as a turning-post [nussa] by men who lived before our time. Now swift-footed Achilles has made it the turning point [terma] round which the chariots shall turn."

  • Again, the turning point is terma, as in term.

    19. If there was a name that meant "the grave-mark of someone who died long ago," what would it be?

    20. Note the take-it-or-leave-it attitude in Homeric narrative: either grave-mark or turning point.

    21. Note that Antilokhos does not interpret the sêma literally himself!!! Consider the narrative: how does he drive his chariot?

    22. Antilokhos is destined to die for his father: Aithiopis, p. 375 in Sourcebook I.


    Note again the meaning of Patroklos' name.

    23. Compare the metaphor of "sudden death" in athletics. Also the saying "keep to the left and drive like hell" (Indianapolis 500).

    24. The athletics in Iliad XXIII are a "one-shot" event.

    25. In the "real life" of ancient Greek customs, they were seasonally recurring, like the Olympics.

    26. Compensation for death of hero: athletic "ordeal" or "labor" = agôn or athlos

    27. athlêtês

    28. Why is it so important to have athletics as a reaction to death, as a compensation for death?

    29. A key is the way Simone Weil (Lecture 5) uses the word exactly in describing this feeling: I want you to suffer exactly the way I suffered.

    30. To go through this process, as an athlete, is to re-enact a prototypical ordeal.

    31. To go through this process, as a warrior, is to re-enact a prototypical ordeal.

    32. To go through this process, as an audience, is to re-enact a prototypical ordeal.

    33. Remember, the word I translate as reenactment is mimesis.

    34. Actually, every individual has his or her own way of going through an ordeal. This is reflected in the Iliad. Look at the staggering varieties of death in the Iliad.

    35. The process of reenacting an ordeal is catharsis.

    36. Aristotle puts mimesis and catharsis together (Sourcebook II):

    "Tragedy is the mimesis of a serious and complete action that has magnitude, with seasoned speech,...by performers instead of through narrative, bringing about through pity and fear the purification [katharsis] of such emotions [pathos]."

    37. Pity is attraction, fear is repulsion.

    38. The hero as dynamic, not static.

    39. The turn around the turning post is reenacted by Achilles, with his excessive force and restraint

    40. Achilles' brutality is as shocking to the Greek audience as it is to us. Fear and pity.

    41. Aristotle thought that the Iliad is a tragedy.

    42. Note that Achilles finally gets out of the depths of brutality precisely by way of identifying with his deadliest enemy.

    43. A father's tears are what finally moves him. He thinks of his own father.

    44. Achilles' god-hero antagonism has to do with the father he could have had.

    45. Achilles' potential as son of Zeus.

    44. Nightmarish vision of Achilles: Iliad I 401-406: a son more powerful than his father.

    45. Zeus is the father that Achilles never had.

    46. The "Phaethon syndrome": try to duplicate the father.

    47. "Memorial Hall" as a sêma for people who died for a cause.

    48. Postponed from Lecture 5: Pindar's Pythian 8, Sourcebook I pp. 463 and following.

    49. Note especially Pindar's words at p. 467: "man is the dream of a shade."

    50. The worst threat to a hero's identity: lêthê. See #1a above.



    From Walt Whitman, in Crossing Brooklyn (1892):

    I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many
    generations hence,
    Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
    Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
    Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I
    was refresh'd,
    Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I
    stood yet was hurried
    . . .
    I too and many a time crossed the river of old
    . . .
    Closer yet I approach you,
    What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you - I laid in my
    stores in advance,
    I consider'd long and seriously of you before you were born.
    . . .
    Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for
    all you cannot see me?


    Allen Ginsberg "A Supermarket in California"

    What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked
    down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon
    In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon
    fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
    What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at
    night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!
    --and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
    I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
    among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
    I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?
    What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
    I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you,
    and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
    We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy
    tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
    Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour.
    Which way does your beard point tonight?
    (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
    Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
    Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
    Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America
    did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a
    smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of
    Berkeley, 1955