Wednesday January 18th
Today I read the Odyssey book 9. It was a fairly easy read with a simple but crazy plot line. I drew a map in my notes to help me keep track of what happened in Odysseus’s nostos. There are three events that are told in this book. They are:
1. While in Ismarus, after successfully defeating the Cicones, Odysseus’s men become greedy. They stay to plunder too long and end up getting attack by the Cicones and losing six men.
2. While in the land of Lotus-eaters the men eat fruit and end up wanting to stay on the island and Odysseus has to drag them back to the ship.
3. While in the land of the Cyclopes, two of the men get eaten by Polyphemus and Odysseus and the others end up trapped. They escape by stabbing out Polyphemus’s eye. Polyphemus calls on his father, Poseidon, to curse Odysseus’s journey home.
I really wonder what could possibly make this journey any worse than it already was going.
What I found to be interesting and would like to explore later is Telemos, the prophet who told Polyphemus about Odysseus years prior to this incident. Is there another story that addresses this?
Also I would like to explore the role of women in Odysseus’s story. He has a wife at home with whom he happily reunites at the end of the Odyssey. However at the start of book 9 he mentions Calypso and Circe wanting him to be their husbands but how they could not capture his heart. Odysseus has several encounters with women that can be analyzed to see how different character traits displayed in women correlate to how they end up.
Thursday January 19th
In class today we took our second quiz. The quiz focused on the beginning of Herodotus’s History with a few questions pertaining to the Odyssey.
Important lecture takeaways:
Mr. S. explained Herodotus’s focus on those in power. For Herodotus change happens in Greek city-states because of the decisions of those in power. The actions taken by leaders are what move history along according to Herodotus.
Odysseus is a trickster figure in Greek mythology. The trickster figure is someone who gets himself or herself into trouble for doing something stupid and gets himself out of it. As seen when Odysseus gets he and his men captured by Polyphemus, because he choose to linger in the cave. And Odysseus uses his cleverness to free he and his men.
Friday January 20th
Today I reread sections 1 to 88 of chapter one of Herodotus’s History as requested by Mr. S.
In class on Thursday Mr. S. explained to the class why he was having the class read the beginning of Herodotus’s History 3 times. One point had been that this was a new style of work for the students in the class. The fact that we will spend a majority of the course on this body of work means that we need a strong foundation before moving on to the rest of the novel.
Mr. S. pointed out that as we reread the work we should gain new insights. And see new connectivity in Herodotus’s work.
I actually found that this time when I reread the beginning of chapter one that it made more sense. I knew where the story was going, so this time I did not get so caught up in the names and trying to make sure that I remember what each proper noun meant. That one change alone, the change in my approach, made a huge difference.
I enjoyed Herodotus’s report more. For that is what this work is actually, I realized. It is not intended to be a story or a history lesson.
I applied a contextualist approach this time. Contextualism is a means of analyzing something while keeping in mind the context in which it was created. I was taught to do this with the bible in catholic school. I tried this method as an experiment.
I first noted that Herodotus wrote this in the 5th century BCE. I thought about who his intended audience was. I decided it would have most likely been other Greeks. I thought about what Herodotus was trying to present to those Greeks. It was not a history lesson or a tale but a report like I would read in a magazine or scholarly journal today.
I thought about how his audience, other ancient Greeks, would receive the work. The idea being that since that is his intended audience, Herodotus would tailor his writing for their minds. Authors often think about how their audience will receive their work before distributing it. This practice should in someway impact what Herodotus wrote, especially the style and structure of his work.
I am not yet done with this idea but so far I have come up with some basic assumptions:
1. The audience is as familiar with the people mentioned in the stories as I am with the United States presidents and Hollywood entertainers.
2. The audience knows their history and the different variations already.
3. The audience finds certain things to be important: lineage, conquests / adventures, the presence of fate or destiny at work in their world.
That’s what I have so far with this idea. I feel like this approach will allow me to begin to understand Herodotus, not so much his text, but what he wants me to take away.
Saturday January 21st
Today I went over the Iliad book one with a focus on character names. I noticed for the first time just how many conflicts were occurring simultaneously in this one chapter.
Man versus Man
For example: Achilles versus Agamemnon
Achilles and Agamemnon are in disagreement in regards to giving Apollo’s priest, Chryses, his daughter Chryseis back.
Achilles and Agamemnon are in disagreement about Agamemnon taking Briseis, who is Achilles’s woman.
Achilles almost attacks Agamemnon but is stopped by Athena.
Agamemnon takes Briseis at the end of the chapter, leaving Achilles and Agamemnon in state of conflict.
God versus Man
For example: Apollo versus Achaeans
Chryses is Apollo’s priest. After Achilles refuses to return Chryseis when her father comes to ransom for her return, the father calls upon his god. He asks Apollo’s to smite the Danaans. Apollo does so by sending a plague that kills many of the men.
God versus God
For example: Zeus versus Hera
After Achilles is slighted by Agamemnon, he calls upon his mother, Thetis, for help. Thetis, in her desire to aid her son, goes to Zeus and asks him to aid Achilles in his desire for revenge. Zeus agrees. This puts him in conflict with his wife, Hera. Hera likes Agamemnon and wants to see the Greeks successful in their campaign against the Trojans. When Hera confronts Zeus he explicitly warns her off.
Man versus Self
For example: Achilles versus Achilles
During his disagreement with Agamemnon Achilles is in conflict with himself to hold back his desire to attack Agamemnon, after his conversation with Athena.
After his disagreement with Agamemnon, Achilles finds himself alone with his thoughts. He engages in an internal battle in regarding several issues:
1. Allowing Agamemnon to take Briseis peacefully.
2. Whether to fight with the Achaeans when he is so clearly disrespected although he is their best warrior.
3. How to get payback against Agamemnon.
Man versus Fate
For example: Achilles versus Predestined death
In the portion of the Iliad covered in this course we did not cover Achilles’s death prophecy. However this is a conflict that has to be playing out in the background of all else that his happening. By participating in this war Achilles is going directly up against fate. And in an interesting manor too, by not attempting to avoid this foretold fate, as we often see in mythology.
Sunday January 22nd
Today I went over the Odyssey book 9. I applied the idea of conflict I noticed yesterday:
Man versus God
For example: Odysseus versus Zeus
While Odysseus is telling his tale to his majesty Alcinous, he mentions the wind on several occasions. In Greek mythology Zeus is associated with the sky, thunder, and the wind. One can infer that the wind that interferes with Odysseus’s journey home is an agent of Zeus.
Something tells me that in book 10 there will be a new man versus god conflict. Not Odysseus versus Zeus, but Odysseus versus Poseidon.
Man versus Monster
For example: Odysseus versus Polyphemus
After discovering Odysseus and his men in his cave, Polyphemus, a one eyed Cyclopes, is very hospitable. He treats his guests well before helping himself to his guests. He eats two of the men right away and traps Odysseus and the others to save for later. Odysseus launches an intellectual battle against Polyphemus that he does not even know he is a part of. Odysseus gets Polyphemus drunk and unconscious. Odysseus uses that reprieve to launch a planned attack against the Cyclopes. Resulting in Polyphemus losing an eye, his only eye, and appearing crazy to his neighbor’s for causing a disturbance when “nobody is killing” him.
Man versus Self
For example: Odysseus versus Odysseus
After Polyphemus eats two of his men and effectively traps the others, Odysseus is beyond bloodthirsty. He is enraged with Polyphemus’s actions and instantly is rather to go on the attack. However even in his rage he is still capable of deductive reasoning. If Polyphemus is killed there will be no one who is strong enough to open the entrance to the cave. This means that taking immediate action is not the answer.
Sophrosune is the Greek term for self-restraint.
Odysseus displays this when he keeps his calm and bides his time before attacking Polyphemus.
Man versus Man
For example: Odysseus’s men versus Cicones
In Ismarus Odysseus’s men are successful in their endeavor against the Cicones. As victors they have earned the right to reap the spoils of war, in this case they have earned the right to plunder.
The interesting thing is that this man versus man conflict those not stop there. The Cicones return in great number and begin their own endeavor against Odysseus and his men. The result is two different conflicts, with the same parties involved.
I really like this game of identifying the conflicts. It is helping me to keep the literature fresh in my mind.
Monday January 23rd
Today I prepared for a new week of class. I went over Herodotus’s History sections 1.1–1.88, as well as my class notes from the beginning of the course to last Thursday.
Tuesday January 24th
In class today Mr. S. introduced an interesting notion, that in life things can be classified into two categories:
“ends in themselves”
— or —
“means to an end”
Herodotus’s history can fall under both categories and Mr. S. challenged the class to allow it to do so for us.
As an “ends in themselves” we can simply enjoy the work for the art form that it is as a body of literature.
As a “means to an end” allow the work to guide you in gaining and strengthening skill sets. Such as reading and comprehension or simply how to attempt to understand complex systems.
Today I read Hieron for Thursday’s class. This text was a conversation between Simonides, a poet, and Hiero, a despot who was born a private citizen. The text begins with Simonides asking Hiero to explain how despots and citizens differ in regards to joy and sorrow. The two proceed to go back and forth in who has the harder life the despot or the citizen.
Some interesting points brought up were:
1. Those who possess fine things all the time lack the pleasure of anticipation.
2. The greatest pleasure comes from taking from an enemy against their will.
This statement reminded me of the Iliad. When Agamemnon takes Briseis from Achilles just because he can do so and because he knows that Agamemnon will not be happy to give her up. For as Agamemnon says he cannot be the only one without.
3. What is more than enough is much, and what is less than enough is little.
Those in power require more to sustain what they have. So they are actually all the poorer for possessing so much. Ha! That is actually true.
4. Those in power fear others who are brave, wise, and upright.
So they have to kill them out of fear. Leaving them with only the unrighteous, vicious, and servile.
5. The needier the people, the humbler [the despot] thinks to find them.
This concept is ingenious. I was blown away by how right and wrong this was. If I think of the French revolution, I would say this statement proved false. But just the right amount of need and for the just the right thing this could prove to be a powerful tool for a ruler. Like seen in the United States have September 11th, 2001. The citizens felt that they needed protection at home so they gave up many of their liberties with no thought.
6. True men desire honor and praise. This is what sets them apart from mere human beings.
This statement by Simonides to me went along with the idea of “kelos.” Kelos is the ancient Greek term for glory. Mr. S. said that in ancient Greek society you were your kelos. This idea is seen in other ancient Greek texts where characters are praised for dying in battle. It is why Achilles chose to partake in the Trojan War knowing that doing so would be the precursor to his early death.
7. A despot cannot give up his position because he cannot afford to pay the price for the ill deeds he as done while in his position.
8. The most interesting thing about this story is that a clear winner is not established.
The story ends with Simonides giving Hiero suggestions on how to deal with the main issues that plague a despot. He gives really good suggestions at that. I point this out, because it makes me wonder what was Simonides’s true intention when presenting that first question to Hiero.
Did he set it up so that he could influence Hiero to take the actions that he suggests?
Did he know already what truly affected the despot?
For Hiero pointed out, “But what does seem surprising to me is that men like you, whose intelligence is supposed to give you a clearer view of most things than your eyes, should be equally blind to it.”
Simonides abandoned his role of defending the misery of the citizen towards the end. Instead he switches to being the all knowing one, who provides Hiero with the perfect solution to gain all the true affection his heart desires. A solution that just so happens to benefit all the “citizens” and “enrich [Hiero’s] friends.
Is Simonides not one of Hiero’s friends?
Maybe I am reading to much into this but it is not the obvious response to this work.
Wednesday January 25th
Today I studied the characters and plot in Herodotus’s History and Hieron in preparation for tomorrow’s quiz.
Today I worked on my Medium week two journal entry. I went for more of an academic feel this time around. It wasn’t as fun to write but this style has served as a catalyst to explore the texts in different and meaningful ways.