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LESSON 2 - First Part / Second Part
ACHILLES' GRIEF - From Homer's Iliad 

by George Valsamis

 

ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT



History and poetry

 

WE OWE to Aristotle a crucial distinction between history and poetry, according to which, the former narrates what happened, while the latter discerns what might (always) happen (cf. Aristotle, Poetic art 1451a ff). However, poetry is not a philosophy of history. Poetry just sings a complete Act, letting us feel in the poet's choice of that certain act and, in all the events which belong essentially and necessarily to that Act, the meaning of history. Poetry as such demands instant understanding, understanding as feeling and action.

The written history of Hellenism began with such a choice made by Homer.   

 

Homer's interest

 

HOMER confined his Iliad to the last (tenth) year of the Trojan war and he saw in Achilles' wrath (μῆνις Ἀχιλλῆος) the main subject of his poem. In the very first verse of Iliad we see, that the poet is not interested in the cause and history of the war as such and in itself. He is interested primarily in two things, the life of men and the divine will. Singing about Achilles' wrath, Homer would give to the next generations the related events as an object of admiration, to help them live a life devoted equally to man and God. What is the meaning of this devotion?

 

The protagonist of all being

 

LOSS of Helen was the cause of war. Loss of Briseis made Achilles withdraw from the war. Loss of Patroclus was the cause of Achilles' grief and then of his entering again the war. Homer's main theme is the person (πρόσωπον, face). The protagonist of all being is a person's thirst for a person. By recognising in a personal relationship the reason of their life, people share the divine life, which is a personal life too, with Gods relating personally to each other and to each man.

 

Ἀλεξάνδρου πρόσωπον
(Alexander's
person)

 

TRADITION wants Homer to be blind. This is not very likely to be true, and yet it is characteristic. We said that in Homer the protagonist is the person, but, more specifically, or more foundationally, it is the loss of a person. Helen, Patroclus, Briseis, Penelope - they are all missing persons, persons to be found or persons lost forever. We can not offer now a full account of the concept of πρόσωπον in Homer, but the passage that follows, from Iliad's 18th rhapsody, will help us see some significant aspects.

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Cf. The Complete Iliad * The Complete Odyssey
Greek Grammar * Basic New Testament Words * Greek - English Interlinear Iliad
Greek accentuation * Greek pronunciation

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