From Epic to Hellenic: Part Two of Six

From Epic to Hellenic: Part Two of Six

Connecting Tradition with Heroism
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This is part two of a six part article exploring the Classical traditions of heroism. My high school philosopher teacher once remarked that one can perceive perfection as a balance. With that in mind, consider the idea that perfection in a hero is found in the balance of masculinity and femininity.

On the other hand, the Aeneid was written down the first time and was not a work of oral tradition. The differences in the actual composition of them are apparent, but the way that Homer was able to speak so eloquently in this composition and pass it down is quite remarkable. One must consider how much of the actual epics of Iliad and Odyssey were changed because of oral tradition whereas the Aeneid remains a fairly solid work as the only changes are done by monks at a later date.

The Homeric tradition could contribute to the way that the cultures define their heroes since the ones retelling would have the opportunity to add or emphasize characteristics.

Understanding how the Homeric tradition forms the works is essential to understanding the works themselves. “Homer uses a network of “words”, which scholars have called formulas, to support the making and re-making of the Iliad and Odyssey” states Foley regarding the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey (Foley). Foley’s assertion about Homeric epithets supports the idea that the actual composition of the word retained these epithets. Certain phrases such as “swift-footed Achilles” and “grey-eyed Athena” are universal in almost every translation and Athena is considered a driving force in the plotline of both epics.

Interesting to note is that Dalby asserts that the epics were not physically written down by a man, but rather than a female (Dalby). It is generally accepted that Homer’s blindness and illiteracy prevented him from physically writing down the words of the epics, but taking into account that it could have been a woman addresses the possibility that the fact that Athena cross dresses and controls the plot means that a feminist influence was present, not necessarily from Homer himself (Dalby).

While Homer stands as the cornerstone of the epics in regards to the heroism archetype, femininity could potentially play a role in Greek and therefore Roman heroism. Consider how the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey remains a mystery to everyone, now consider that the same way the composition of the epics is disputed, the role of femininity combatting masculinity could be derived from this as well. The beloved hero Aeneas is described as dressing extravagantly and luxuriously at one point in the Aeneid, which can be interpreted as feminine (Vergil). The femininity apparent in the Aeneid regarding Aeneas could parallel the femininity in the Iliad and Odyssey that came from the idea of a woman writing down the epics at a much later date rather than a man. In book one of the Iliad, Achilles throws a hissy fit over Briseis and the fact that Agamemnon wants her as well and refuses to fight (Homer).

This rejection of masculinity plays into the idea that part of the heroism archetype deals with femininity.

Furthermore, Odysseus feigned insanity by ploughing his fields and sowing salt. To prove his sanity, Palamedes places Odysseus’s infant son in front of the plow and thus Odysseus stops ploughing (Hunter). Traditionally, insanity correlates to femininity, so again there is an aspect of femininity in Odysseus’s heroism.

The fact that the Homeric epics could have been written down by a woman support the idea of femininity seeping into the heroism archetype of cultures since the Aeneid is based on the Iliad and Odyssey.

Cover Image Credit: On the Screen Reviews

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