Re: RARA-AVIS: THE ILIAD - Dirty Tricks Are Good

From: Jesse Willis (
Date: 28 Nov 2003

--- Michael Robison wrote:
> I guess that forming an opinion of it before I'm
> through is premature, but something I can't help
> doing. I've been reading mythology and myth-related
> literature for about 6 months now, and I'm making an
> effort to appreciate it all within context. I even
> did some background work on the mythology of the
> Trojan War which is left out of Homer's ILIAD. But
> consider the parts of THE ILIAD that I've read. The
> book starts with Agememnon and Achilles having a
> whine-fest about returning women that they've gotten
> as spoils of war. Then a big showdown is set
> between
> Menelaus and Paris over another stolen babe, Helen.
> This is purported to be the big wrestling match that
> will settle the Trojan War, and it ends
> inconclusively
> when Paris is spirited away by a goddess, and
> nothing
> more comes of it.
> From what little history I've read I know that
> Homer's
> ILIAD was a cornerstone of Greek education. I guess
> I
> expected a noble story of brave deeds and maybe a
> few
> stuffy platitudes about honor. But bravery and
> skill
> doesn't seem to weigh very heavy. A god tells a
> character to kick some butt and he goes for it. The
> motivations of Achilles and Paris and Hector and
> Agememnon seem petty and sniveling, and they appear
> to
> be mostly just pawns to the gods. I understand the
> Greek emphasis placed on the god's influence but I
> thought THE ILIAD was more about human heroes.
> I'll read more.

Sounds like you've entered the right paradigm Mike. One thing that I find very useful as a key to unlockinbg the different heroic dynamic of both the Iliad and the Odyssey is to remember that the ancient Greeks didn't have a Christian guilt complex overlayed by a "moral / immoral" behavioral code. Moral behavior for the Ancient Greeks is successful behavior. Witness Odysseus tricking the Trojans with the wooden horse: The lesson we learn from it is "beware of Greeks bearing gifts", simple and uninteresting except for a minor caveat emptor lesson. But for the Greeks especially exemplified by the Spartans the lesson is quite different, trickery if successful is very moral. For the modern paradigm it is considered immoral or at least shady, hence our the CIA "the dirty tricks squad", for us, well at least many of us, a dirty trick is an evil, even if it is a necessary evil. Good and evil are not terms Greeks would be well aquainted with, at least the way we think abou them. If a Greek were evil or good, from our persepective it doesnt matter to them in terms of eternal reward or eternal damnation, all the dead Greeks go to the same place when they die, regardless of their morality, they all go to Hades. To live, to survive to out-trick your opponent is the only good for them, thus Odysseus is the most "heroic" of all the Greeks of the two epics, surviving the long journey home even though he is the most underhanded and trickiest sonofabitch of them all! I think that's one of the reasons its so good.


P.S. if you still aren't enjoying it, try a different translation, that may help.

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