Birds in the Iliad

Eurekalert informs us of an interesting dissertation from UGothenburg:

The birds in the Iliad help warriors and kings make difficult decisions and satisfy the basic human need for self-esteem and security. This is the conclusion of a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, that analyses 35 bird scenes in Homer’s Iliad from around 700 B.C.

In the Iliad, gods use birds to disguise themselves and as transmitters of messages to humans. Similarly, humans use birds as signs and symbols that they interpret to acquire knowledge about the presence and identities of gods and their intentions for the future. Birds therefore have a very important function as intermediaries between humans and their gods.

‘The birds are central in the event structure of the Iliad. They often appear in dangerous and important war situations and prior to risky journeys. Receiving a positive bird sign from the gods in those situations strengthened the warriors’ fighting spirit and ability to fight, but it also evoked a sense of relief since it indicated that the god was with them,’ says the author of the thesis Karin Johansson.

In her thesis, Johansson identifies the different bird species that are included in the Iliad and shows that they are carefully selected to fit into the particular situations and environments where they appear. The most common species are the peregrine falcon, the rock dove and the golden eagle, but also the so-called bearded vulture, with is very uncommon today.

‘It is important to identify the birds and pay attention to their behaviour and characteristics. The specific species are also chosen to convey and add specific information. If we neglect these details, we also lose important parts of the messages,’ says Johansson.

Johansson’s research on Homer’s birds is unique, since previous research mainly has focused on the symbolic functions of the birds and on whether a bird is a transformed god or should be interpreted as a mere metaphor. The ornitological identities, behaviour and characteristics of the birds have never been given much attention in the past. Johansson’s thesis sheds light on how the birds in the Iliad challenge the modern scientific division of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ and to some extent the way we think, since the birds are both birds in a zoological sense and signs and symbols at the same time.

‘Focusing on the birds in the Iliad helps us better understand the deepest wishes, reliefs and fears of the human characters, it also helps us understand how deeply rooted the birds are in the persons’ lives and way of thinking. The situations and events in the Iliad centre around war and others dangers in life, and there is no doubt that the birds are very important to the human charactersin those situations,’ says Johansson.

UGothenberg usually has links to their dissertations, but I can’t seem to find this one; it appears to have been written in Swedish (of course).

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Classics Threatened …. at Oxford?

Just saw this in the Australian (originally in the Sunday Times) … I think we need a few more details, but here’s the plan, apparently:

OXFORD UNIVERSITY has turned to wealthy philanthropists to raise tens of millions of dollars needed to rescue 75 key academic jobs threatened with the axe because of government cuts.

The university argues it will be unable to fund the posts, mainly in the humanities, such as classics and modern languages, unless wealthy philanthropists step forward to provide more than £1 million ($1.5m) each one.

The scheme is the latest example of universities relying on philanthropists to save endangered subjects.

They include Glasgow, which is to revive a professorship in ancient Greek this autumn. It emerged last month that Douglas MacDowell, the last holder of the chair who died in 2010, had left £2.4m in his will to endow the post, which had fallen victim to cost-cutting.

Under the Oxford scheme, donors will be approached to provide a total of £90m, with the university contributing £60m from the profits of its publishing arm. Each position will be allocated a £2m endowment with its income used to pay the academic’s salary.

Fellowships in ancient history and German at St John’s College, alma mater of Tony Blair, are among the posts that are part of the rescue plan.

Edward Hocknell, a partner at the Edinburgh-based investment manager Baillie Gifford, who studied at St John’s, and other donors have given £1.2m towards the ancient history post, with £800,00 coming from the university.

“The much-admired fellow, Nicholas Purcell, moved to another college. With the government’s emphasis on funding science and technology subjects, the university and college were unwilling to replace him,” said Hocknell.

“This is a big issue for less obviously utilitarian subjects like classics. The literature fellow is retiring soon; we might have to pick up the tab for him as well.”

Sir Michael Scholar, president of St John’s, who is also chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, said: “We were already getting into difficulties before the funding cuts were announced and those difficulties were greatly exacerbated by the government’s announcement that the funding for humanities teaching was ceasing.

“We have filled a post in German literature and language in the same way. It would not have been filled but we were fortunate to find a very generous donor who provided £1.2m to keep it going.”

Hocknell now plans to broaden his fundraising among other classics alumni to raise funds that could go towards expanding Latin and Greek teaching in schools.

The subjects have been enjoying a mini-revival in state schools. Figures released last year showed 511 comprehensive schools were teaching Latin, a fourfold increase since 2000.

Reviews from BMCR

  • 2012.02.25:  Kristine Louise Haugen, Richard Bentley: Poetry and Enlightenment.
  • 2012.02.24:  Lâtife Summerer, Alexander von Kienlin, Tatarlı: renklerin dönüşü / The return of colours / Rückkehr der Farben.
  • 2012.02.23:  Pier Luigi Donini, Aristotle and Determinism. (first published 1989 as Ethos: Aristotele e il determinismo). Artistote: traductions et études.
  • 2012.02.22:  Richard V. Cudjoe, The Social and Legal Position of Widows and Orphans in Classical Athens. Symboles, 3.
  • 2012.02.21:  Walter Burkert, Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche. Zweite, überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage (first edition 1977). Die Religionen der Menschheit Band 15.
  • 2012.02.20:  Tim Whitmarsh, Narrative and Identity in the Ancient Greek Novel: Returning Romance. Greek culture in the Roman world.
  • 2012.02.19:  Norman Austin, Sophocles’ Philoctetes and the Great Soul Robbery. Wisconsin studies in classics.
  • 2012.02.18:  Andrea Nightingale, Once out of Nature: Augustine on Time and the Body.
  • 2012.02.17:  Anthony Dykes, Reading Sin in the World. The Hamartigenia of Prudentius and the Vocation of the Responsible Reader.
  • 2012.02.16:  Gillian Clark, Body and Gender, Soul and Reason in Late Antiquity. Variorum collected studies series, CS978.
  • 2012.02.15:  Henrik Mouritsen, The Freedman in the Roman World.
  • 2012.02.14:  Marina Prusac, From Face to Face: Recarving of Roman Portraits and the Late-antique Portrait Arts. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, 18.
  • 2012.02.13:  Anna Modigliani, Patricia Osmond, Marianne Pade, Johann Ramminger, Pomponio Leto tra identità locale e cultura internazionale: atti del convegno internazionale (Teggiano, 3-5 ottobre 2008). RR inedita, Saggi 48.

This Day in Ancient History: idus februariae

idus februariae

  • Parentalia (day 1) — a festival for honouring/appeasing the dead began on this day with a number of signs: temples were closed, altars did not have fires burn on them, people were forbidden to get married, and magistrates set down the trappings of their office.
  • Fornacalia (day 1) — this was actually a “feriae conceptivae”, which means that it probably wasn’t always held on the same day. Originally, it was a feast of the curiae (an early division of the Roman people) which also seems to have involved a sort of banquet for the gods, although scholars are unsure which gods were specifically honoured. Then again, Ovid claims that rural folk would pray to a divinity called Fornax.
  • 196 B.C. — dedication of a Temple of Faunus on the Tiber island
  • 194 A.D. — Septimius Severus recognized as Emperor in Egypt
  • 250 A.D. — martyrdom of Polyeuctus of Melitene