The Iliad Abides …

Nice little opEd  in the Irish Times by Helen Meany on the enduring appeal of the Iliad … here’s the first bit:

Amid the remembrance of the first World War, a poignant detail emerges. Many soldiers went to the Western Front carrying a copy of Homer’s Iliad. One soldier, Patrick Shaw-Stewart, inscribed a poem of his own on the flyleaf, in which he entreats the warrior Achilles to stand with him in battle, as a protector. “Stand in the trench, Achilles/ Flame-capped and shout for me,” it concludes. He was killed at Gallipoli in 1917.

Stand in The Trench, Achilles is the title of a recent book that traces classical references in the poetry of the war, not only by the celebrated war poets, but by men of all backgrounds, who were steeped in knowledge of Greek and Latin authors. Through close readings, the scholar Elizabeth Vandiver shows the extent to which Homeric ideas and images sustained the soldiers. Or more precisely, Homeric ideals.

Idealism endures, but it also mutates. The English writer and historian Adam Nicholson has Homer written on his heart. His new book, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, is a form of pilgrimage, “a passionate pursuit” of the origins of the poems: both a journey undertaken by him around the eastern Mediterranean and beyond, and a vivid history of their interpretation. Reading it, there is a sense of entering into a dialogue with all the commentators and translators of the epics who have gone before, and that those layers of interpretation have become almost as important as the Homeric texts themselves.

We are in an immensely rich period of creative re-workings of the Iliad, from this year’s version for the stage by poet Simon Armitage, The Last Days of Troy, to Christopher Logue’s poem sequence, War Music, and Alice Oswald’s Memorial, with what she calls her “reckless dismissal of seven-eighths of the poem,” omitting Achilles and Agamemnon entirely. Madeline Miller’s best-selling novel The Song of Achilles invented a youthful back-story for Achilles’s beloved companion Patroclus, and cast the two men, unambiguously, as lovers.

Oswald and Miller join other women writers such as Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad) and Christa Wolf (Cassandra) tilting the perspective on the Homeric texts, extracting the voices of minor characters, or presenting the narrative through the lens of the female characters.

The effect of these imaginative shifts is to create a Homeric world that is more palatable to our contemporary tastes. So, if reading the original Iliad makes us uncomfortable, there are multiple alternative versions, as well as new critical takes on the age-old question: does the Iliad glorify war?

American classicist Caroline Alexander in her recent book, The War That Killed Achilles, highlights the ways in which the Iliad emphasises the pain and destructiveness of war, pointing out that both the Greeks (Achaeans, as they are known in the poem) and the besieged Trojans long for the war to end and to return to their families. [...]

… the rest: Standing with Homer in the trenches of the Western Front

August 21 at Amphipolis ~ From the Ministry of Culture

HUGE tip o’ the pileus to Peggy Ringa (on facebook) for pointing me to the Ministry’s press releases. Here’s today’s activity in Greek (skinny to follow):

Συνεχίζονται οι ανασκαφικές εργασίες στο ταφικό μνημείο, στον Τύμβο Καστά από την ΚΗ Εφορεία Προϊστορικών και Κλασικών Αρχαιοτήτων, στην Αμφίπολη. Σήμερα, απομακρύνθηκαν, με άκρα προσοχή, χώματα τα οποία βρίσκονταν στο διάκενο και πίσω από τα αγάλματα των Σφιγγών, σε βάθος περίπου, δυο μέτρων , και σε πλάτος ανάλογο της εισόδου του τάφου, ήτοι 4.50 μ. ´Ετσι, προχώρησε, στο μεγαλύτερο τμήμα της η αποχωμάτωση του εσωρραχίου της θόλου.

Ταυτόχρονα, συνεχίστηκε η αφαίρεση πέντε λιθόπλινθων , από την έκτη σειρά του τοίχου σφράγισης, με τη βοήθεια μηχανικού μέσου . Μετά την απομάκρυνσή τους, αποκαλύφθηκε κάτω από τη βάση των Σφιγγών, το ανώτερο τμήμα του μαρμάρινου θυρώματος.
Καλύπτεται με fresco σε μίμηση ιωνικού επιστυλίου. Φέρει διακόσμηση με
κόκκινο, μπλε και μαύρο χρώμα. Αμέσως, κάτω από το ιωνικό επιστύλιο, αποκαλύφθηκαν δυο ιωνικά επίκρανα των παραστάδων της θύρας, επίσης επικαλυπτόμενα με fresco και επιζωγραφισμένα με τα ίδια χρώματα. Οι εργασίες θα συνεχιστούν αύριο με προτεραιότητα την στερέωση και συντήρηση των σημερινών ευρημάτων.

The skinny is they cleared a bit behind the sphinxes and below the architrave they’re sitting on. There are some really nice ionic pilasters revealed, with easily visible traces of red paint (as well as black). Here’s a photo (click for larger). They’ve also found a doorway:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

… and another:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Folks who follow me on twitter know I was asking this this afternoon and I want to put it out there to the blog audience too: how do we know these are sphinxes when they don’t have heads? They might be griffons/gryphons/griffins (choose your spelling).

Rethinking Achilles and PTSD

From Manchester Metropolitan University comes a challenge to Dr Jonathan Shay’s work:

AN HISTORIAN from Manchester Metropolitan University has refuted one of the most long-standing theories about the link between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Ancient Greece.

In his book chapter Beyond the Universal Soldier: Combat Trauma in Classical Antiquity, Dr Jason Crowley argues against the commonly-held idea that sufferers of PTSD can be found as far back in history as Achilles and Odysseus.

The article will be published in the Palgrave Macmillan book Combat Trauma and the Ancient Greeks, in September.

Dr Crowley said that the roots of this belief in the universality of PTSD can be traced back to the end of the Vietnam War.

Universalist view

He said: “There is the view – and I think it’s quite appealing – that people are generally good. Generally good people, when they see horrible things, are upset and traumatised – that idea has an obvious human appeal.

“This idea was sharpened by the Vietnam War when a lot of men came back from South East Asia having lost the war and no longer able to function in society.

“When they came back, some veterans of World War Two unjustly ridiculed them because they won their war – a bigger, nastier, hotter war – and they put about the view that America lost this smaller war because the men fighting were morally weak.

This view of a morally weak generation was understandably rejected by the Vietnam veterans and those involved in their treatment, and they set out to prove that they were no different from any other soldier, and one of the first places they looked for proof was ancient Greece.

Achilles’ suffering

Scholars initially looked at the Illiad, the account of the doings of the “biggest, bravest soldier of them all” Achilles, and saw there what they believed to be evidence that the Greek hero suffered from PTSD.

This led to a wave of “retrospective diagnoses” on everyone from Greek heroes to bloodthirsty Spartans.

Dr Crowley said: “It seems harmless enough until you realise that the people treating our soldiers believed this and so treated everyone the same. I wanted to refute that idea so I modelled the cause of PTSD and what I noticed was that all the causes of PTSD are cultural.”

He said that unlike modern soldiers, Greek men believed that enemies existed simply to be killed and that a man’s worth could be valued by the number of enemies he had slain.

Protective factors

In addition, soldiers in ancient Greece didn’t suffer from social isolation, prolonged artillery bombardment or exhaustion in the way that their modern-day counterparts do.

He said: “One of the causes of PTSD is when you have no ability to take direct action – you can’t evade or remove a threat,. For example, sitting under shellfire is psychologically malignant. For ancient Greeks that wasn’t a problem – they could take direct action, they could either run away from their enemy or they could kill him.”

He added that there were also factors in the ancient world that could actually protect soldiers from PTSD, particularly the normalcy of killing created by living in an ultraviolent society.

He said: “They were surrounded by violence and death in their daily life. You were conditioned to deploy violence and that wasn’t seen as transgressive, it was seen as the morally right thing to do. Modern soldiers, if they kill an enemy soldier have the unjust feeling of doing something wrong. That feeling, that ‘I’ve done something I shouldn’t have’, was entirely absent in ancient society.”

Dr Crowley concluded by saying: “PTSD is not universal – it’s historically and culturally specific and when we treat soldiers we should do so on that basis, not that everyone is the same. The people who compared the Vietnam veterans to Achilles meant well, but they are doing the soldiers a disservice.”

So which came first, PTSD or ultraviolence?

Quick Amphipolis Update: Significant Fragments

Quickly reading (or more properly, google translating) some of the Greek press this a.m., it appears some significant finds were made yesterday as they cleared the door. The skinny: the sphinxes are made of marble from Thassos, archaeologists found the detached  wing of one of them, and perhaps even more important, a bit of the back of the Lion of Amphipolis were also found. Here’s the brief bit from News247 which mentions all this:

Η πλήρης αποκάλυψη των μαρμάρινων Σφιγγών που βρέθηκαν στον Τύμβο Καστά στην Αμφίπολη, η εύρεση τμήματος από τη ράχη του Λέοντος, καθώς και μικρού τμήματος της ανωδομής του μνημείου, είναι τα νέα δεδομένα από τις ανασκαφές που διεξάγει η ΚΗ΄ Εφορεία Προϊστορικών και Κλασικών Αρχαιοτήτων στην περιοχή, σύμφωνα με ανακοίνωση του υπουργείου Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού.

… and here’s the sphinxes … Ministry of Culture photo:

Ministry of Culture photo via in.gr

Ministry of Culture photo via in.gr

Photo via: Αμφίπολη: Εντυπωσιάζουν οι Σφίγγες στην είσοδο του αρχαίου τάφου (in.gr)

 

UPDATE (a few hours later): an excerpt from eKathimerini’s coverage:

[...]

The two sphinxes, which apart from being headless also have broken wings, are believed to have been crafted “by the same hands” as those which made a 16-foot-tall marble lion which is thought to have sat atop the burial site, archaeologists working on the dig told Kathimerini.

The sphinxes, each weighing around 1.5 tons and with traces of red coloring on their feet, will not be removed from the entrance to the tomb as archaeologists clear away stones and earth to gain access.

The sphinxes are 1.45 meters high and would have been 2 meters high with their heads, the Culture Ministry said in a statement.

Pieces of the sphinxes’ wings were found on the site, as was a large section of the back of the lion sculpture, archaeologists said.

Experts working on the excavation were also examining a section of the tomb wall which bears traces of red and blue coloring, in two shades. A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.

A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.

Technical work began on Monday at the tomb to avert any structural damage as archaeologists attempt to enter the tomb and discover what lies inside.

Some experts believe the site has been raided in the past but archaeologists cannot yet confirm this. [...]

… I wonder if the mosaic is a pebble mosaic or proper tesserae …

Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews ~ 08/20/14

 

  • 2014.08.35:  Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz, Taxing Freedom in Thessalian Manumission Inscriptions. Mnemosyne supplements. History and archaeology of classical antiquity, 361.
    2014.08.34:  Thomas F. Tartaron, Maritime Networks in the Mycenaean World.
    2014.08.33:  Rosaria Vignolo Munson, Herodotus: Volume 2, Herodotus and the World. Oxford readings in classical studies.
    2014.08.32:  Ilenia Achilli, Le ali di Clio. Massimo di Tiro e il pensiero storico classico. Biblioteca di Sileno, 5.
    2014.08.31:  Michele Alessandrelli, Il problema del λεκτόν nello stoicismo antico: origine e statuto di una nozione controversa. Lessico Intellettuale Europeo, 121
  • 2014.08.30:  Leonid Zhmud, Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans. (Translated from Russian by Kevin Windle and Rosh Ireland; first published 1994).