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Homer’s Epic of the Family

Homer's Epic of the Family

That is the final message of Homer’s two epics: The place household is discovered, life is discovered. The place household is discovered, true magnificence is discovered. The place household is discovered, piety is discovered. The place household is dissolved, solely demise and destruction follows…

The Trojan Conflict, for our Homeric heroes, begins with marital infidelity and succumbing to temptation, however ends with marital constancy and overcoming temptation. Whereas the gods are ever current in the Iliad and Odyssey, I want to look at the in any other case purely human facet of Homer’s two nice epics and the way they relate to household, and the position of marital infidelity and constancy because it pertains to wholeness and life. In any case, household is one of the nice Homeric considerations.

The Iliad and Odyssey might be learn as standalone works. Nevertheless, the two nice poems must be learn collectively. Each works revolve round the Trojan Warfare. Each tales are intimately tied collectively as one story, particularly via the individual of Odysseus who’s a serious character in the Iliad and the namesake of the Odyssey.

Pseudo-Apollodorus introduced Odysseus’ hand in the origins of the Trojan Conflict by fostering the compromise which might lead all of Greece to go to warfare towards Troy. The suitors of Helen would swear an oath to help the eventual husband of Helen irrespective of who would grow to be her husband. Thus, Odysseus’ legacy as a household man is sustained properly after Homer. And if Pseudo-Apollodorus’ chronology of Odysseus is to be accepted merely on literary grounds, Odysseus was thought-about to be a household man previous to the Trojan Warfare.

The place of household find the which means of life is greatest mirrored by the two heroes of the Iliad, Achilles and Hector. Achilles abandons his mom and out-of-wedlock son to win his immortality via the fame that may are available conflict. The sword decides all, and the concept that achievement in life may be discovered by the glory of conquest and struggle is all too well-known to the historic world. However, Achilles was torn by his want for the battle-cry and his weeping mom; he ultimately sides in favor of the name of the battle-cry, however not with out some consideration to his household.

Against this, Hector is the tragic hero of the Iliad. Hector is an upstanding father and family-man, a patriot, reverent to the gods, and an honorable man. Earlier than Virgil depicted Aeneas as the upstanding determine who embraced filial piety to the uttermost, Homer casts Hector in a very pious mild; Hector is dedicated to his household, religion, and fatherland (and Aeneas is usually by Hector’s aspect inheriting Hector’s virtues). Who can’t be moved together with his teary goodbye to Andromache and his comforting actions to his new child son whom he cradles in his arm as he prays to Jove? Hector just isn’t solely bodily current together with his spouse and son; he’s emotionally and spiritually current together with his spouse and son earlier than going off to battle. The intimate second between Hector and his household is shifting exactly as a result of of its humanness; the love mirrored by Hector to his spouse and son the final expression of the chic.

It was Hector, not Achilles, who was thought-about one of the 9 worthies of the medieval age and one of the virtuous pagans in line with Catholicism. Hector was remembered for his honor; Achilles for his savagery. Hector fights to defend his household and fatherland; Achilles fights for himself and his personal vainness. The person worthy of reward was the man counted amongst the worthies and immortalized in the music “British Grenadiers.” Hector dies taking a look at his beloved metropolis—his fatherland—for which he gave his life; a fateful but superb dying if there ever was one in the midst of the carnage that was the Trojan Warfare.

Whereas the story of pious Hector ends outdoors the partitions of Troy, the story of Achilles and his revelation regarding the significance of household (and life) reaches fruition in the Odyssey. Homer reveals his hand that the household is the highest good available in life when Odysseus descends into the underworld and reunites with the heroes of the Trojan Warfare. Odysseus’ descent into the underworld additionally leads him to see the many lovely and free-loving queens and princesses of Greece; their magnificence a temptation that lesser males would fall for (as Paris did Helen). The truth that magnificence is introduced so loosely as Odysseus comes throughout Antiope, Alcmena, Megara, Epicaste, and Chloris, amongst others, can’t be misplaced on the reader given the location of the place Odysseus is presently journeying—the abode of the lifeless. Homer presents magnificence as the femme fatale in his works. Thereby equating magnificence with a type of management—not that magnificence ought to be shunned, however that there’s a nice line between magnificence as an attract bringing about salvation and wonder as a controlling drive that finally brings about demise and destruction. Homeric magnificence is said to the household, the false hope of magnificence present in the particular person minimize off from filial relationships.

In his encounter with Agamemnon, Odysseus is shocked to see the ghost of the nice king who led the Greek military to overcome Troy. Agamemnon solutions that it was not misfortune decreed by the gods that introduced his demise, however marital infidelity that led to his homicide. “Odysseus, mastermind of war, I was not wrecked in the ships when lord Poseidon roused some punishing blast of stormwinds, gust on gust, nor did ranks of enemies mow me down on land—Aegisthus hatched my doom and my destruction, he killed me, he with my own accursed wife.”

Agamemnon continues to recount his homicide by Aegisthus and betrayal from his personal spouse, Clytemnestra. It’s fascinating to watch that Agamemnon was killed at a banquet feast. The literary theme of dying by consuming can also be one thing that must be well-familiar to a Christian readership, in addition to to readers of historic folktales.

It’s at the dinner desk the place betrayal or poison happens—the place the place people are to really feel comfy and cozy, merry and drunk, loosening their fears and embracing the pleasure of firm. The affiliation of hedonism with destruction, for it’s in a second of pleasantry once we are simply caught off guard, is an historic trope that begins with Homer. Agamemnon ought to have been residence, protected and safe, however as an alternative is extra weak than ever as a result of of Clytemnestra’s infidelity finally resulting in his demise.

Euripides’ tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis presents Agamemnon in his bare vainness (whereas additionally casting Odysseus in a extra unfavourable mild than Homer does). Agamemnon sacrifices his pretty daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods to acquire protected passage to Troy. Agamemnon’s personal bloodline is expendable if the glory of victory in battle is secured. Agamemnon’s wanton and willful sacrifice of his daughter is however one other instance of filial destruction—one thing Yahweh forbids in Genesis and establishes the precept of the sacredness of life in the Abrahamic custom. Many times, whether or not it’s in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and even different Greek performs and poems, the dissolution of the household is all the time accompanied by dying.

Agamemnon’s homicide which was, partially, brought on by Clytemnestra’s infidelity, results in a collapse of belief in Agamemnon when he tells Odysseus to not inform his spouse, Penelope, the complete fact in all issues. The betrayal of belief in relationship is the worst of sins in Christian custom. Dante positioned such traitors in the ninth circle of hell: Those that betrayed their pals, their countrymen, and extra horribly, their household. Whereas Homer foreshadows Odysseus’ triumph when Agamemnon quips that Penelope won’t ever betray him, the injury to Agamemnon is full and irreversible. Not solely is he lifeless, he can’t belief anybody as indicated in his dialogue with Odysseus—furthermore, he can’t belief the one that must be trusted most (one’s partner). The relational animus of man’s social nature is destroyed and achievement by way of a relationship can by no means be consummated for many who have belief points.

Upon leaving Agamemnon and assembly Achilles, Odysseus showers the nice warrior with reward. Achilles, nevertheless, scoffs at Odysseus’ reward. Achilles rebuffs the laurels bestowed on him by declaring he would relatively be alive as a poor slave tenant farmer, together with his mom, and together with his son, than be the lord of the lifeless. Actually, household is the solely factor on Achilles’ thoughts upon assembly Odysseus as he asks about his son, “I’d rather slave on earth for another man—some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—than rule down here over all the breathless dead. But come, tell me the news about my gallant son.”

Homeric irony is on full show right here, particularly if the Odyssey is learn after the Iliad as companion items. Achilles, the man who didn’t concern himself with life and selected warfare (dying) over household comes to know the significance of household, and subsequently life, solely when he’s in the abode of the lifeless. This revelation for Achilles comes too late for his soul. He’s trapped endlessly as grasp over the “breathless dead.” As Achilles’ lament goes on, he weeps to have the alternative to return to his father’s house and to show males the methods of life relatively than lust and conquest.

Grieving, Achilles is comforted by Odysseus as he informs him what has turn out to be of his son (Neoptolemus). This can be a touching second, the distinction to Hector’s goodbye in the Iliad that brings about the completion of the distinction between the two heroes of that work. However Hector held his son in his arms and comforted him in all his feebleness; the power and braveness of Hector giving power and braveness—consolation—to Astyanax. The scene of Odysseus telling Achilles the destiny of Neoptolemus is touching as a result of it’s the revelatory second for Achilles about the significance of household. Achilles eagerly waits to listen to the information of what has turn into of his son as a result of he can’t watch his son to know himself. With tears coming down his eyes he had begged Odysseus to inform him what any father needs to know: What has turn into of his son.

Whereas undoubtedly shifting, this scene stands in stark distinction with Hector. Hector, as talked about, was bodily, emotionally, and spiritually current with Andromache and Astyanax in an unforgettable human second. Achilles does eagerly wait to listen to the information of his son. However he’s indifferent, a gnostic ghost with no physique who can’t present heat and luxury to his son; neither can he assist him nor congratulate him. Achilles is left in anguish from his newfound information of what is actually necessary in life and the place the want of man is made entire.

Achilles left his mom and son to win immortality in struggle. It was this immortality to be gained in warfare that Achilles thought would satiate his wishes. Solely in demise does Achilles see by way of the veil that no quantity of demise and conquest can fulfill man’s yearnings. As an alternative, it’s the easy life—the household life—a life spent in relationship with partner, youngsters, and associates (and countrymen) the place want is contented.

This revelation as to what the which means of life is comes roughly at the half-way level of the Odyssey, thus setting the stage for the relaxation of the journey residence. And house is the place the household is. Agamemnon ought to have been protected at house. Reuniting together with his spouse and kingdom, Agamemnon’s parousia is turned towards him as he’s lured right into a lure set by a scheming usurper and untrue spouse. In demise, Achilles learns that the glory he sought in struggle was useless and that the life of happiness is present in the sensible knowledge and love of the easy life with household that he’s now disadvantaged of. The fates of the different heroes of the Iliad are a pointy distinction with the forthcoming destiny of Odysseus.

The Odyssey is a story of a journey house. Extra importantly, the journey house just isn’t merely to a bit of land to settle and name residence. It’s a journey to an already established house and to a household. Residence, for Odysseus, shouldn’t be merely (or merely) Ithaca. House is the place Penelope and Telemachus are; house is the place Odysseus’ household resides. House is the place Odysseus’ roots are.

Penelope and Telemachus aren’t merely characters afar referenced by Odysseus in his musings, however are given necessary roles in the story. They’re people whom the reader can relate to only as Odysseus pertains to them as husband and son. That’s to say they’re actual. Penelope and Telemachus have names and faces hooked up to them. Odysseus’ love for Penelope attracts him ever nearer to her and provides him the power to persevere by way of temptation and imprisonment, whereas Penelope’s love for him retains her trustworthy to him towards the myriad of suitors who regard Penelope as an object of social development to inherit Odysseus’ kingdom and their very own standing in Greek society.

Odysseus’ captivity to Calypso is the prototypical false heaven provided to males: Eternity with countless intercourse, snug pleasures, and bliss by way of objectified magnificence (in the type of Calypso herself). Calypso, for her half, additionally treats Odysseus as an object of her wishes and merely seeks to make the most of Odysseus as an instrument of her divinity. Nevertheless, it’s the love of the actual, and the constancy that pulls man and lady collectively, which permits Odysseus to beat his shackling to Calypso as Hermes involves his rescue. Odysseus is married to Penelope, is the king of Ithaca, and the father to Telemachus; individuals depend upon him and he has duties and obligations to satisfy.

In overcoming the temptations of Calypso’s (false) paradise, Homer additionally explicitly informs us that man is a social and relational animal and never a solitary, remoted, and atomized particular person looking for easy bodily pleasures. No atomized individualistic hedonist might flip down what Calypso provided. And what did Calypso symbolize aside from the life of pure self-pleasure? Odysseus’ love for Penelope and Telemachus, in addition to his duties to his countrymen as king, wins out. He breaks the constrictive energy of the divines for the love between people.

Whereas Odysseus slept with Calypso and Circe there are a number of issues to recollect earlier than dashing to sentence the supposed infidelity of Odysseus. Each ladies will not be actually ladies in any respect however goddesses, nymphs, who are usually not equals with Odysseus however his superiors. Gods and goddesses intrude in human affairs all of the time in the Greek (and Roman) myths as a result of people usually are not sovereign individuals as in Abrahamic anthropology, however the fated playthings of the gods. Their “love” is not any love in any respect provided that Odysseus grows ever colder towards Calypso and ever hotter in his need to be with Penelope over the years. As with Circe, however the threats concerned of their encounter, Odysseus’ actions towards one other goddess—who shouldn’t be a human lady—is aimed toward saving his fellow countrymen, whom he loves as their patriotic king.

Odysseus feels an obligation to attempt to shield them and see them residence. It’s all the extra spectacular that Odysseus overcomes Calypso and Circe for Penelope. Every little thing that Odysseus does is motivated by his love for Penelope and his love for his fellow countrymen.

Moreover, Calypso and Circe symbolize figments of the creativeness—imaginary want and lust producing the most chic of objects of the human thoughts. Their divinity is their unreality. They’re, to the human creativeness, good. They’re all the things that fallen man wantonly craves—lovely, sexual, and vivacious objects of want.

Odysseus overcomes each Calypso and Circe, and his love for Penelope grows ever stronger. Odysseus’ overcoming the temptations of Calypso and Circe will not be moments of weak spot or hypocrisy, however moments of triumph and constancy. Not even the most good of beings can maintain Odysseus away from Penelope.

The truth that Odysseus overcomes the temptations of Calypso and Circe shouldn’t be misplaced upon the reader. The nice and cozy and mutual love of two people in the reciprocating bond of marriage is superior to the false love between an object of perfection that one can’t have an genuine relationship with. That is represented by the proven fact that Odysseus is a person and Calypso and Circe are nymphs.

Odysseus is in a special class than Calypso and Circe—an inferior one at that. From Odysseus’ perspective, Calypso and Circe are objects of want fairly than relational topics of therapeutic and wholeness. They don’t symbolize the liberation of Odysseus’ longings however characterize the enslavement of Odysseus’ yearnings. From Calypso and Circe’s perspective, Odysseus is an object of their fantasies and lusts. Odysseus is an object whom they need to management—which is exactly what would occur if Odysseus had fallen for them. He would have been an object of their enslavement. (Right here, I feel, Homer can also be reflecting upon man’s enslavement to the passions.) As compared, the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope is unbreakable. The lads in search of Odysseus’ throne can’t break Penelope, and the lady whom Odysseus loves is the solely lady who can name him house. Calypso and Circe can’t name Odysseus residence however solely forestall him from returning residence.

Whereas Agamemnon returned house solely to be murdered as a result of of marital infidelity, this destiny doesn’t befall Odysseus as a result of of the constancy and genius of Penelope. Penelope is simply as crafty as Odysseus as the story makes clear. Penelope isn’t just a trustworthy spouse, she is an ideal companion to Odysseus—as Eve was meant to be for Adam—and collectively the two are made entire; indivisible. Astute Christians also needs to see the nature of the love between Penelope and Odysseus since their marriage is an indissoluble bond. Their togetherness in love, sanctified via their marriage, can’t be damaged by man or the gods. They really are indivisible. From the perspective of marital constancy and the life-giving spirit it entails, Penelope is the heroine of the Odyssey. If she was not trustworthy to Odysseus, he would have returned “home” and suffered a destiny just like Agamemnon.

The damaged marriages in Homer’s epics result in conflict and demise at a scale by no means seen earlier than. Homer appears to emphasise the cruelty and bloodshed as a result of this can be a story of what occurs to man and society when household and marriages break down. Paris betrays his father and nation in seducing Helen, and Helen breaks the bond of marriage between her and Menelaus in escaping to Troy with Paris. Agamemnon is betrayed by Clytemnestra which permits Aegisthus to homicide him. Achilles abandons his household to hunt glory in struggle solely to comprehend in demise that household is the most essential factor that issues in life—for household is what provides life and the place life is discovered.

That is the final message of Homer’s two epics. The place household is discovered. life is discovered. The place household is discovered. true magnificence is discovered. The place household is discovered, piety is discovered. The place household is dissolved, solely demise and destruction follows. Homer’s message of the which means in life couldn’t be clearer.

Odysseus doesn’t discover peace till he returns residence and reclaims his house from intruders. Obligation to household is the highest name of women and men in the Iliad and Odyssey. It’s becoming that the Iliad and the origins of the Trojan Struggle begins with the dissolution of household whereas the Odyssey ends the Trojan Conflict with the reconciliation of a household. The reconciliation is made much more triumphant given the trials and temptations that beset each Penelope and Odysseus.

Homer’s epic of the household is profoundly conventional in its advocacy. It’s unsurprising that Christianity, the faith of love and household, took a liking to Homer’s works and themes. Moreover, Homer’s Odysseus is a profoundly conservative determine. Odysseus is moved by love for household and fatherland, the love of the actual, and want to be reunited with Penelope with whom he shares an indissoluble bond regardless of the interference of goddesses and different ladies. Odysseus’ odyssey started as a result of of the dissolution of a household, it involves an finish—lastly bringing him the completely satisfied relaxation he seeks—when he reunites together with his household. Residence, in line with Homer, is the place the household is.

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Editor’s Word: The featured picture is “Homère chantant ses vers” (1834) by Paul Jourdy (1805-1856), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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