Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

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Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Fri Jun 14, 2019 7:55 am

Welcome to the Odyssey Reading Group! Anyone is welcome to join, regardless of their Greek ability. If you’re itching to explore Homer’s epic tale of survival, adventure, love, lust, kinship, betrayal and spooky dead people, hop on in, you’ll be very welcome. People who have some Greek but have never tried reading Homer before are doubly welcome.

Check the introductory thread for a description of how the group works.

There is now a separate Translation Workshop thread if you want help with specific problems or advice on translations.

Resources
We’re working from Geoffrey Steadman’s Odyssey Books 6-8, a freely-available pdf

An introduction to Book 6 and a list of resources for deeper study are available in the group dropbox folder

I've also been making flashcards to go with Steadman's text (vocab occurring >8 times in Books 6-8)

Week 2: Friday 14th June
Next week we'll be reading Book 6 Lines 48-70 – Nausikaa goes to Alkinoos
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Fri Jun 14, 2019 7:56 am

This week's text 24 τῇ μιν ἐεισαμένη προσέφη γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη· 25 “Ναυσικάα, τί νύ σ ̓ ὧδε μεθήμονα γείνατο μήτηρ; 26 εἵματα μέν τοι κεῖται ἀκηδέα σιγαλόεντα, 27 σοὶ δὲ γάμος σχεδόν ἐστιν, ἵνα χρὴ καλὰ μὲν αὐτὴν 28 ἕννυσθαι, τὰ δὲ τοῖσι παρασχεῖν, οἵ κέ σ ̓ ἄγωνται. 29 ἐκ γάρ τοι τούτων φάτις ἀνθρώπους ἀναβαίνει 30 ἐσθλή, χαίρουσιν δὲ πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ. 31 ἀλλ ̓ ἴομεν πλυνέουσαι ἅμ ̓ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφι· 32 καί τοι ἐγὼ συνέριθος ἅμ ̓ ἕψομαι, ὄφρα τάχιστα 33 ἐντύνεαι, ἐπεὶ οὔ τοι ἔτι δὴν παρθένος ἔσσεαι· 34 ἤδη γάρ σε μνῶνται ἀριστῆες κατὰ δῆμον 35 πάντων Φαιήκων, ὅθι τοι γένος ἐστὶ καὶ αὐτῇ. 36 ἀλλ ̓ ἄγ ̓ ἐπότρυνον πατέρα κλυτὸν ἠῶθι πρὸ 37 ἡμιόνους καὶ ἄμαξαν ἐφοπλίσαι, ἥ κεν ἄγῃσι 38 ζῶστρά τε καὶ πέπλους καὶ ῥήγεα σιγαλόεντα. 39 καὶ δὲ σοὶ ὧδ ̓ αὐτῇ πολὺ κάλλιον ἠὲ πόδεσσιν 40 ἔρχεσθαι· πολλὸν γὰρ ἀπὸ πλυνοί εἰσι πόληος.” 41 ἡ μὲν ἄρ ̓ ὣς εἰποῦσ ̓ ἀπέβη γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη 42 Οὔλυμπονδ ̓, ὅθι φασὶ θεῶν ἕδος ἀσφαλὲς αἰεὶ 43 ἔμμεναι. οὔτ ̓ ἀνέμοισι τινάσσεται οὔτε ποτ ̓ ὄμβρῳ 44 δεύεται οὔτε χιὼν ἐπιπίλναται, ἀλλὰ μάλ ̓ αἴθρη 45 πέπταται ἀνέφελος, λευκὴ δ ̓ ἐπιδέδρομεν αἴγλη· 46 τῷ ἔνι τέρπονται μάκαρες θεοὶ ἤματα πάντα. 47 ἔνθ ̓ ἀπέβη γλαυκῶπις, ἐπεὶ διεπέφραδε κούρῃ.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:03 am

Introduction to Lines 24-47

A great week for those interested in narrative structure! In this week’s section, we watch as Athena creates an anxiety dream for the Phaeacian princess Nausikaa (for those who haven’t read Books 1-5, this is the first time we meet her - the only character in Homer to be introduced for the first time while asleep). Dreams brought to mortals by gods are a repeated motif in Homer - there are seven of these god-dream sequences across the Iliad and the Odyssey, all of which follow a pretty regular pattern.

First, the god appears to the dreamer, either as themselves or in disguise, as in Nausikaa’s dream. The god chastises the dreamer for some kind of negligence. Then, the god explains what the situation is - in this case Nausikaa is made to feel negligent for not having washed her clothes when she is likely to be married soon, and is made to feel anxious that she isn’t living up to her parents’ expectations. Finally, the god offers advice to remedy the situation - in this case Athena, appearing as Nausikaa’s good friend, tells her to go to the washing pools to wash her clothes. As we learn very soon, this is where Odysseus is sleeping and so brings about their meeting.

Athena leaves to go to a particularly nice-sounding Olympus, described like a luxury weekend getaway, and at the very beginning of next week’s section (line 48) it is dawn and Nausikaa wakes up. The seven dream sequences in Homer all end with the god departing and Dawn arriving. We’ve already had one such sequence in Book 4, where Athena appears to Penelope in disguise, and we’ll get a very similar one in Book 15 when she appears to Telemachus. The dream itself is nestled inside a larger repeat structure in which the god arrives (in Nausikaa’s bedroom here) and then immediately departs after the dream.

For more on dream scenes in Homer, see:
Morris, 1983. “Dream Scenes” in Homer, a Study in Variation.
de Jonge, 2001. A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey p.153


So my question this week is: Do you think the poet creates a convincing-enough impetus for Nausikaa to go and wash her own clothes as soon as she wakes up through this dream sequence?


For me, the meaning of the following parts of the text, and their cultural context, heavily influence any answer to this question.
τί νύ… γείνατο μήτηρ (line 25)
σοὶ δὲ γάμος σχεδόν ἐστιν (line 27)
ἄγωνται (line 28)
φάτις ἀνθρώπους ἀναβαίνει ἐσθλή (line 29)
ἅμ ̓ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφι (line 31) - depending on the time of year!
οὔ τοι ἔτι δὴν παρθένος ἔσσεαι (line 33)
μνῶνται (line 34)
ὅθι τοι γένος ἐστὶ καὶ αὐτῇ (line 35)

As will always be the rule, please introduce your own discussion points if you have them.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Sun Jun 16, 2019 7:26 pm

I see my question has really set imaginations aflame! Please do step in and save this thread if you have a different (read: better) conversation starter, otherwise we might have to kick this one down the trap door.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by Paul Derouda » Sun Jun 16, 2019 8:01 pm

seanjonesbw wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:03 am
So my question this week is: Do you think the poet creates a convincing-enough impetus for Nausikaa to go and wash her own clothes as soon as she wakes up through this dream sequence?
No. It really seems like a pretext. Why would the princess need to go wash her clothes herself? And how is it possible that the city is built so far from running water? The whole point is that we need to get her meet Odysseus. The same goes for Telemachus' journey: it's utterly unmotivated, except from the point of view of the story (we get to meet Nestor, Menelaus and Helen). On both occasions it's Athene who's behind it all, so perhaps as a goddess she is particularly skilled at having people do stuff for no reason at all? :lol:

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by mwh » Sun Jun 16, 2019 9:25 pm

I’d say it’s “convincing” enough. Having had such a dream, she acts on it. That’s an experience I dare say most of us have had. And it’s the standard Homeric pattern, so we shouldn’t really expect anything else.

The prominent marriage motif sufficiently explains why she needs her clothes to be clean. There’s no plausibility to the details, but who cares? It’s obviously a contrivance on the part of the story-teller to get her and Od. together—and in such a deliciously embarrassing situation, as we’ll soon see. To look for “realism” would be a mistake.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:02 pm

And how is it possible that the city is built so far from running water?
I visited Cefalú in Sicily last year. There was a Lavatoio close to the beach but within the current town which has troughs for washing dating to the 16th century. Apparently the spring was known in antiquity. The ancient settlement is on a lofty hill a fair distance inland. Not quite as high as Acrocorinth but still quite a climb.

The whole set up and the proximity of the spring to the beach reminded me strongly of this scene.

Many ancient cities had cisterns and no running water from springs.

In any event I agree with mwh that to look for realism in Homer is to miss the point.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 17, 2019 2:15 am

I should have said “further realism.” Such basic human things as emotions and reactions are remarkably realistic, even when it’s clear that it’s the poet who’s in control.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Mon Jun 17, 2019 8:39 am

Paul Derouda wrote:
Sun Jun 16, 2019 8:01 pm
No. It really seems like a pretext. Why would the princess need to go wash her clothes herself? And how is it possible that the city is built so far from running water?
mwh wrote:
Sun Jun 16, 2019 9:25 pm
To look for “realism” would be a mistake.
seneca2008 wrote:
Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:02 pm
In any event I agree with mwh that to look for realism in Homer is to miss the point.
Thanks to everyone for joining in!

To play devil's advocate here - the reason I thought that this was interesting is that it's one of those passages in Homer where 'realism', at first, seems to have been suspended for the sake of the plot, when actually there would have been easy ways to alter Nausikaa's circumstances to make her arrival at the beach later in Book 6 more 'natural'. Which got me to thinking - what if these elements, which seem like mere contrivances at first, are actually much more convincing motivators in the social context of Bronze Age Greece (or whenever pre-700 you want to situate it)?
Sarah Pomeroy, 'Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves' p.30 wrote: "...heroic Greek society demanded that all mature women be married.."
"...upon meeting the princess Nausicaa, who is of marriageable age, Odysseus almost immediately expresses the polite wish that she find a husband and enjoy a harmonious marriage."
"Homer does not usually indicate the bride's views, but it was implied that Nausicaa would have some choice in the selection of her husband... despite the attempts of her male relatives to influence her" (βέλτερον, εἰ καὐτή περ ἐποιχομένη πόσιν εὗρεν ἄλλοθεν: ἦ γὰρ τούσδε γ᾽ ἀτιμάζει κατὰ δῆμον Φαίηκας," (6.282-4)
Nausikaa has to get married, but securing a good match requires some effort on her part. In the dream, it's clear that her reputation has some impact on who she'll marry, and that having sparkly clean clothes for her and her 'attendants' plays into this reputation.

But, perhaps because she's a teenager (plus ça change), she's not got round to doing it. I thought the idea of Nausikaa washing her own clothes was a bit silly but Sarah Pomeroy raises the good point that
Sarah Pomeroy, 'Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves' p.18 wrote: "Clothing was made, from start to finish, in the home, and in this task royal women and even immortals were engaged" (every high-status woman in Homer is weaving at some point)
"The Nausicaa episode demonstrates that even a princess considered the laundering of clothes an obligation as well as an accomplishment."
To me, this makes sense. Clothes take a lot of work, and if these are the clothes she is going to wear to her wedding then they must be special in some way. Later in Book 6, Nausikaa leads a little troupe of clothes washers, which smacks of noblesse oblige, reinforcing that idea that this is more than a chore.

With Seneca's very interesting point about the placement of washing pools being dependent on geography, this all suggests to me that actually there's not much in this passage that is necessarily fanciful. A teenage girl, anxious to please, making a show of cleaning her lovingly-made wedding clothes seems to me very 'realistic' and I can believe she would have had this kind of dream even without a god handy. Psychological realism, but perhaps literary realism, too.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Mon Jun 17, 2019 8:48 am

When it behoves one to get down and dirty... https://mashable.com/2015/04/22/queen-e ... urope=true
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 17, 2019 1:29 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:02 pm
In any event I agree with mwh that to look for realism in Homer is to miss the point.
I agree, and that was the whole point of my post, but I thought you would sort of read it between the lines... :)

Talking about no running water in the city, I should have known that it's not a good argument. Defensibility would have been the top priority. The Phaeacians have no enemies, but even their city has a defensive wall. I actually think that the island of Santorini/Thera depended entirely on rain water and cisterns, as it doesn't have any kind of springs or other natural sources of fresh water other than rainfall. I guess they didn't wash their clothes a lot, or maybe they did it with sea water?

Come to think about ancient Thera, there also the citadel (where you can see ancient cisterns) is built on a lofty hill. I visited it with a friend 11 years ago. We walked the whole way up almost from the shore. Even with the modern road, it took us an hour or two. That's the correct way to visit ancient fortified towns, in my opinion - otherwise you're missing the whole topography of the place. Also, taking the tourist bus right in front of the acropolis in Athens is just wrong if you're fit enough to walk: you're supposed walk the whole way up from the city like the ancients did with their processions!

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:48 am

I visited Thera many years ago and I think I took a bus or cab up a tarmac road but I walked down by another route passing a charming little chapel which reminded me of Leonora's hermitage in La Forza del destino. This always seems to me the most sensible approach to visiting sites on a high elevation. I failed however to locate the erotic graffiti on the so-called terrace of festivals perhaps because the sun was too intense. I can see no reason not to walk up to the acropolis in Athens its not that difficult. On the other hand I have never walked up to AcroCorinth. But have always admired the who do as I glide past in a cab. Last time I was there I was content to admire it from afar.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Jun 18, 2019 11:15 am

A teenage girl, anxious to please, making a show of cleaning her lovingly-made wedding clothes seems to me very 'realistic' and I can believe she would have had this kind of dream even without a god handy. Psychological realism, but perhaps literary realism, too.
I have a great deal of difficulty with this kind of analysis.

As Mary Beard (amongst many) observes the one thing we know about the ancient world and its inhabitants is that they were utterly unlike us. Thats one of the attractions of studying them.

I have argued elsewhere about reception theory. I think we would all benefit from an awarenesses that all our interpretations are acts of reception and no different from other acts of reception in the past.

In this case projecting the apparently simple idea of "teenage girl" itself a construction of the twentieth century onto Homer is fraught with difficulties.

The idea that a text which depicts supernatural beings intervening in human affairs can be described as "realistic" or "naturalistic" is difficult to say the least. That there are parts of the text that we can engage with and characters with whom we can have some kind of empathy is a testament to the richness of the text and our imagination. The hope that we may discover some "historical" truth about "motivators in the social context of Bronze Age Greece (or whenever pre-700 you want to situate it)" shows more about a complex attitude to contemporary literary values than it does about the text.

As I have said many times I am in favour of a plurality of views. I would, however, like those views to to be accompanied by some awareness of the hidden assumptions we make when we offer views about the past. To many this will seem obvious and unnecessary. I wonder?

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Tue Jun 18, 2019 4:13 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 11:15 am
I have a great deal of difficulty with this kind of analysis.
Blimey, you’ve raised enough questions here for a lifetime of PhDs. Without refighting the entire history of literary criticism, there are a few fundamental contradictions in this way of thinking that it’s worth pointing out.

That the people of the ancient world are “utterly unlike us”, you say, is their attraction. How are we to determine that they were “utterly unlike us” in the first place? Not from their physical remains (I can wear a χιτών or build an aqueduct while remaining myself), so surely this conclusion is based on the written evidence left by these people about themselves? Well, already implicit in “utterly unlike us”, then, we have the assumption that Mary Beard, in the 21st century, is able to decide whether these people were similar to or different from her.

This is the same Mary Beard, it’s worth reminding ourselves, who is also willing to make assertions like “the Romans would not have understood the concept of an illegal migrant. That would have been baffling to them” and that “they would have been horrified that some of the worst bits of what’s going on in the crisis over migration is happening in what was the Roman empire” - at a distance of 2000 years.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Tue Jun 18, 2019 4:15 pm

How are we able to perform this magical feat of divining what Greeks and Romans thought? Well, like you say, in one sense we’re not. These are the literary remains of dead people in a very different social context from our own, and our reception of these texts is inevitably coloured by our 20th/21st century experience, sometimes in ways that we become self-aware of and sometimes in ways that we don’t even consider.

And yet…

We have that depth of common human feeling that lets us feel we understand Achilles’ anger at the death of Patroclus, even if we’ve never fought alongside a friend on a foreign shore. We are able to come to our own conclusions about these people that we feel strongly are true, even if we can’t time travel and ask them to confirm or deny our assumptions.

This is always where the schoolboy interjection comes in - “but Miss, you don’t know that Shakespeare meant all those things!”. But we do, don’t we? Lear wandering the heath is “utterly unlike us”, and yet when we have a bit of life experience under our belt we begin to understand the truth in his situation. We are also bound to draw conclusions we later think of as mistakes - that Juliet is asking “where are you, Romeo”, to use a trivial example - when we learn more about the historical context of such texts.

So yes, the past is a foreign country, and those who live there are often “utterly unlike us”, but I don’t think that this presents a practical or theoretical obstacle to us feeling the truth (or lack thereof) in the literature of any age using our own experience of being human, and I don’t think it is a mistake to use “historical truth” (itself a construct of the present day, let’s not forget) to inform what we think is literary truth, realism or naturalism.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Tue Jun 18, 2019 4:18 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 11:15 am
The idea that a text which depicts supernatural beings intervening in human affairs can be described as "realistic" or "naturalistic" is difficult to say the least.
Franz Kafka and Gabriel García Márquez would beg to differ. The realistic and magical are sitting alongside each other in this passage quite amicably, it seems to me.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Tue Jun 18, 2019 7:13 pm

seanjonesbw wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 4:15 pm
How are we able to perform this magical feat of divining what Greeks and Romans thought? Well, like you say, in one sense we’re not. These are the literary remains of dead people in a very different social context from our own, and our reception of these texts is inevitably coloured by our 20th/21st century experience, sometimes in ways that we become self-aware of and sometimes in ways that we don’t even consider.

And yet…

We have that depth of common human feeling that lets us feel we understand Achilles’ anger at the death of Patroclus, even if we’ve never fought alongside a friend on a foreign shore. We are able to come to our own conclusions about these people that we feel strongly are true, even if we can’t time travel and ask them to confirm or deny our assumptions.
I often introduce this topic with the observation that at times the ancients seem very familiar to us and at other times frighteningly alien.

One of the reasons they feel familiar is that there is essentially an unbroken cultural tradition from their time to ours. It has been fed by many other streams, and over the centuries has been twisted and bent in many directions, but there are still going to be commonalities based on inherited cultural tropes and memes.

Then there is the literary tradition. We actually can read what they wrote, and we can read it in their own words. We feel like we can understand it. There's a connection. At times it's baffling and challenging. But is is really any more baffling and challenging than cross cultural encounters in modern times? Speaking of which, with some effort, we can attain to a certain level of understanding with the most alien of modern cultures. We can learn other languages. We can successfully communicate. It happens all the time, and we can successfully "communicate" with ancient writers as well, even if the communication is rather one sided. Why can we do this? Because there are certain universals that all human beings share in common, and that makes mutual understanding possible, though often with great effort. And don't forget archeology, and the framework it can give us better to understand the overall context of the literature that captures our interest.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Wed Jun 19, 2019 11:00 am

seanjonesbw wrote:
Mon Jun 17, 2019 8:39 am
Sarah Pomeroy, 'Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves' p.18 wrote: "Clothing was made, from start to finish, in the home, and in this task royal women and even immortals were engaged" (every high-status woman in Homer is weaving at some point)
"The Nausicaa episode demonstrates that even a princess considered the laundering of clothes an obligation as well as an accomplishment."
To me, this makes sense. Clothes take a lot of work, and if these are the clothes she is going to wear to her wedding then they must be special in some way. Later in Book 6, Nausikaa leads a little troupe of clothes washers, which smacks of noblesse oblige, reinforcing that idea that this is more than a chore.

With Seneca's very interesting point about the placement of washing pools being dependent on geography, this all suggests to me that actually there's not much in this passage that is necessarily fanciful. A teenage girl, anxious to please, making a show of cleaning her lovingly-made wedding clothes seems to me very 'realistic' and I can believe she would have had this kind of dream even without a god handy. Psychological realism, but perhaps literary realism, too.
Iliad 5:

733 Αὐτὰρ Ἀθηναίη, κούρη Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο,
734 πέπλον μὲν κατέχευεν ἑανὸν πατρὸς ἐπʼ οὔδει,
735 ποικίλον, ὅν ῥʼ αὐτὴ ποιήσατο καὶ κάμε χερσίν·
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Jun 19, 2019 11:49 am

“Barry Hofstetter” wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 7:13 pm
Why can we do this? Because there are certain universals that all human beings share in common, and that makes mutual understanding possible, though often with great effort. And don’t forget archeology, and the framework it can give us better to understand the overall context of the literature that captures our interest.
I think you strike at the heart of it here, Barry. What, after all, is the purpose of discussing these texts in a reading group or thinking more deeply about them under our own steam, if not to find ‘truth’, ‘justice’ and ‘reality’ (imperfect as all of these terms are) in places that we haven’t found them before?

And what are the pieces of evidence we use to decide on the ‘truthiness’ (to borrow a phrase) or otherwise of things we find in these texts?

One is whether things that happen in the texts is justified in terms of the rest of the text (internal validity, as they call it in scientific journals). There are famous examples in the Iliad and Odyssey of ‘narrative inconsistencies’ where we don’t find this kind of ‘truth’ - Pylaemenes being killed in Book 5 but returning in Book 13, Schedios being killed twice, Chromios being killed three times, Homer ‘forgetting’ about the embassy to Achilles in Book 5 - which appear to provide insights into oral transmission, but which we don’t feel are ‘justified’ in terms of the rest of the text. On the other hand, we have Oedipus blinding himeself, which could either be considered alien, gratuitous, Greek body horror, or considered as justified by the narrative build-up to this event. We can enrich our understanding by arguing which it is.

Then we have those “universals that all human beings share in common”. We have to be careful here about projecting our own experiences onto a culture which can’t answer back (and with a mind to postcolonial theory), but our experience of a text is only made richer, I would argue, when we find these things in common. How are we to find ourselves moved by Odysseus weeping as he sees his son again for the first time in twenty years, except by connecting this with our own experiences? I can’t know if a Greek would have felt the same thing as me, but then I don’t know if what I call ‘blue’ is the same as what my wife calls blue and she's sitting next to me.

Lastly, there are those cases where our attempts to empathise don’t succeed, and we’re just confused. As Barry says, archaeology (and historiography) can step in to give us new ways to access these texts. Who hasn’t thought about Greek tragedy differently after they’ve read more about the technology of the Greek stage, the history of Greek festivals, the function of the chorus? Or had their perspective on Josephus changed when thinking about the audience he was writing for?

I will agree that anything we aren’t able to empathise with after exhausting all of these strategies can be considered truly alien to us - I find E.R. Dodds is a good guide up that particular mountain.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:50 pm

How are we to determine that they were “utterly unlike us” in the first place?
Well I guess the first step is to discover what we mean by "us" and then narrow down who the "they" is. Just as "we" are not a homogenous group neither are "they".

I am not sure your first post in reply to me does "point[ing] out" "a few fundamental contradictions in this way of thinking".

Because The Greeks and Romans were "utterly unlike us" it doesn't mean that we can't know something about them and have opinions. So "illegal immigrants" means something in a system of nation states (largely a 19th century invention) but to a Roman who believed that Roman citizenship was available to all regardless of ethnicity or place of origin or indeed whether your patents were ex-slaves it is not a helpful/meaningful concept. Rome's foundation myth relies on immigrants. I don't see anything in Beard's claim that one could take exception to. But it seems to me obvious that the Romans in this example to whom the idea is meaningless are nevertheless the Romans of our own reality.
I think you strike at the heart of it here, Barry. What, after all, is the purpose of discussing these texts in a reading group or thinking more deeply about them under our own steam, if not to find ‘truth’, ‘justice’ and ‘reality’ (imperfect as all of these terms are) in places that we haven’t found them before?
If you are seriously interested in understanding the problems of "discovering some kind of objective meaning or truth" in the texts we read I would recommend that you read Martindale's "redeeming the text: Latin poetry and hermeneutics of reception" 1997. Alternatively you could read Gadamer "Truth and Method". We are stuck in our own time and culture and there is nothing we can do about that - there is simply no methodology for recovering the past in the way in which you hope for.

There are many other points made here that I disagree with especially the idea of that "there are certain universals that all human beings share in common". I think its an attractive theory because superficially it seems plausible and it means that the "reality" we create for the past is somehow discrete from ours. Unfortunately there is no unmediated access to "reality" and such claims are bound to fail.

I don't pretend that what I am trying to say is easy. I had to read Martindale several times before I could grasp his arguments.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by jeidsath » Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:43 pm

Somehow "utterly" seems to mean "not utterly" here. A different word might have been more appropriate.

Also, this thread seems like a terrible place to have a discussion about illegal immigration and the Romans.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:45 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:50 pm
"discovering some kind of objective meaning or truth"
Who are you quoting here? I haven’t mentioned objective truth and don’t lay any claim to it. I am also not hoping to “recover the past” - these are your words, not mine.

My claim was this: that through consideration of the extreme care which is taken over the production of woven fabric in the Odyssey, the expectation by a character who has never met her (Odysseus) that she is going to be married soon, the apparent agency she has within text over the choice of husband, and her apparent young age, I found the character Nausikaa's actions don’t lack “plausibility” and that they are not “obviously a contrivance on the part of the story”, as mwh argued and you agreed.

Implicit in my claim is that this way of thinking could lead others to the same conclusion, which they may find enriches their reading. I make no claim that I have discovered some truth about young girls in antiquity as a result, merely that my own experience of the text is enriched through the discovery of this perceived plausibility.

I haven’t read Martindale’s book - thank you for the introduction. To quote him at length from an essay discussing the book at 20 years distance:
Charles Martindale. Reception — a new humanism? Receptivity, pedagogy, the transhistorical wrote: Reception on this model (which derives from the work of the Constance School, led by Hans Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser) makes it more difficult to fall into one of two opposed illusions common in literary interpretation, which we may call vulgar historicism (the view that we can know the past as it really was, untainted by what came after) and an equally vulgar presentism (the view that everything is wholly adapted to what we think in the present).
You seem to be calling me a ‘vulgar historicist’, rather than a ‘vulgar presentist’. But you misunderstand me - I am not trying to discover historical truths in these texts. I am trying to recognise things that I already know to be true from my own experience. I know that people, including me, have dreams about things they are anxious about. I know that sometimes people are sufficiently motivated by these dreams to act on them, but often not. I have no reason to believe that this is not true for every human being who has ever lived (am I not allowed to imagine the sensation of hunger when a Greek says they haven't eaten for a week?).

What I am trying to establish is whether I find the contents of Nausikaa’s dream sufficient to make her traipse all the way to the washing pools based on my own experience and the evidence I find in the text itself. I am reading the Odyssey for pleasure, and my pleasure is disrupted by lapses in plausibility.

You seem to want to deny me this pleasure by saying that I’m not allowed to identify this plausibility (or ‘truth’, as I have called it) based on my own experience of being young, of being anxious to please other people, of feeling that I should take care of things that are lovingly-made for me, and the context given in the text, because my own experience is so “utterly unlike” Nausikaa’s that such an interpretation is facile.

Yet at the same time you afford Mary Beard this luxury. On what basis is she able to say the Romans “would have been horrified” by the migrant crisis except that she makes analogy between her own experience of ‘being horrified’ by things which she thinks are egregious and pasting it onto her perception of the Roman character? Am I not permitted to say that “Nausikaa would have been persuaded to go to wash her clothes” by the same token?

To quote Martindale again (I promise I will read his book, but for now his essay):
Charles Martindale. Reception — a new humanism? Receptivity, pedagogy, the transhistorical wrote: It is a central insight of the German hermeneutical tradition culminating in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method that interpretation always takes place within history. But it is equally important to insist that we can have a dialogue across history. Interpretations demonstrably change over the course of history, but they do not change completely, and they continue to bear the traces of earlier meanings. ‘Our’ moment is not insulated from other moments, though access to past moments may be problematical in all kinds of ways.
I would be interested to know more about what Martindale thinks these immutable parts or ‘traces’ are, but his point here seems clear that dialogue with these texts (and the interpretations that lie between me and them) is possible, and I see no objection in his essay to me coming to my own interpretation as long as I remain aware of how such interpretation might be “problematical”. As I have said, I don’t wish to recover the past, but only, following Forster, to connect.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:59 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:50 pm
There are many other points made here that I disagree with especially the idea of that "there are certain universals that all human beings share in common".
If you don't believe this intuitively in your very bones then I can't convince you of it.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Wed Jun 19, 2019 8:52 pm

This thread will become unwieldy if I respond to every point made.

Scare quotes around something indicate that the thing quoted doesn’t (to me) make sense. It’s not a quote but I thought it summed up what you were trying to say.

I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment and as I said before I am in favour of a plurality of views. But it doesn’t mean I agree with your views nor that I find them coherent. You can project as much as you like onto the text, as much as you find “plausible”. That’s what reception is.

I seem to have touched a nerve and I am sorry about that. I am only interested in an exchange of ideas. That you have said things which I think are misguided is not meant at all personally. If it comes across like that I apologise.

I will be interested to hear your views once you have read Martindale.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:41 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 8:52 pm
I will be interested to hear your views once you have read Martindale.
It seems a bit unfair to leave me in suspense until I've read the whole thing.

Can you at least give me a taster of how I should approach the question of plausibility in this passage if not the ways I've suggested?
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Thu Jun 20, 2019 12:26 am

I would be interested to know more about what Martindale thinks these immutable parts or ‘traces’ are, but his point here seems clear that dialogue with these texts
I think you have introduced the words "immutable parts" where Martindale says "Interpretations demonstrably change over the course of history, but they do not change completely, and they continue to bear the traces of earlier meanings." I think what he has in mind is that when we read Virgil we do so inevitably and unavoidably through for example Dante and Milton (whether we have actually read these texts or not because others who we read have). He certainly does not mean that that there is "something" in an ancient text which remain unchanged by its reception. We cannot escape the way Virgil has been read in the past and it is as if those readings are already and always part of the text.

Its difficult to argue about plausibility. You have set out your methodology as internal reflection and close reading of the text but ultimately while the results may satisfy you they are hardly likely to convince others. Maybe that doesn't matter. I find the whole idea of plausibility an attempt, however, to normalise the text to make it fit our literary expectations.

But rather than abandon "plausibility" perhaps you should interrogate what you actually mean by it and why you privilege it. I find almost nothing in the Odyssey which makes me think about the "plausibility" of what happens. When you read Ariosto or Tasso do you demand plausibility? The fantastical demands other responses form us.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Thu Jun 20, 2019 9:05 am

seneca2008 wrote:
Thu Jun 20, 2019 12:26 am
...but ultimately while the results may satisfy you they are hardly likely to convince others.
Ah, the nub! The proof of the pudding is rather in the eating here - I think there are many people who would benefit from such a close reading and who find characters and their actions to be plausible or implausible. You disagree. Shrug.
seneca2008 wrote:
Thu Jun 20, 2019 12:26 am
But rather than abandon "plausibility" perhaps you should interrogate what you actually mean by it and why you privilege it. I find almost nothing in the Odyssey which makes me think about the "plausibility" of what happens.
I don’t feel I need to interrogate this any more for my own purposes based on what we’ve talked about, but I’m happy to do so for the purposes of the discussion.

As you know, Aristotle in the Poetics argues that character should be consistent (ὁμαλός). However we choose to translate the passage below in 2019, the effect it has had on writers of fiction in the ‘West’ over the past two millennia has been to consider this ‘consistency’ important for ‘good’ fiction, and ‘inconsistency’ as evidence of ‘bad’ fiction (Kate Mosse has read her Aristotle!). This consistency is what I mean by plausibility.
Poetics, 1454a.15- wrote: περὶ δὲ τὰ ἤθη τέτταρά ἐστιν ὧν δεῖ στοχάζεσθαι, ἓν μὲν καὶ πρῶτον,
….
τέταρτον δὲ τὸ ὁμαλόν. κἂν γὰρ ἀνώμαλός τις ᾖ ὁ τὴν μίμησιν παρέχων καὶ τοιοῦτον ἦθος ὑποτεθῇ, ὅμως ὁμαλῶς ἀνώμαλον δεῖ εἶναι.

ἔστιν δὲ παράδειγμα πονηρίας μὲν ἤθους μὴ ἀναγκαίας οἷον ὁ Μενέλαος ὁ ἐν τῷ Ὀρέστῃ, τοῦ [30] δὲ ἀπρεποῦς καὶ μὴ ἁρμόττοντος ὅ τε θρῆνος Ὀδυσσέως ἐν τῇ Σκύλλῃ καὶ ἡ τῆς Μελανίππης ῥῆσις, τοῦ δὲ ἀνωμάλου ἡ ἐν Αὐλίδι Ἰφιγένεια: οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔοικεν ἡ ἱκετεύουσα τῇ ὑστέρᾳ.
You ask “When you read Ariosto or Tasso do you demand plausibility?”. I answer “Yes, and I find it!”, and without it they would be long forgotten.

Why should a character who rides a chariot to the moon not also be ‘consistent’ and ‘plausible’? I find many of the characters in the Lord of the Rings to be plausible, but many of those in Martin Amis’s novels (ostensibly ‘real’) to be implausible. I find the first 7 seasons of Game of Thrones to be plausible, but season 8 to be implausible. I want to read the work of Bram Stoker, but I don’t want to read penny dreadfuls. Is this clear?

It is plausible to me that Raskolnikov kills Alyona Ivanovna in the context of the opening chapters of Crime and Punishment, but implausible that
Game of Thrones Series 8 Spoiler Alert
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Jon Snow kills Daenerys Targaryen the way he does in the context of the first 7 series (apologies if you haven’t seen the series, other examples of this kind abound)
, and for Aristotle it is implausible that Iphigenia the supplicant becomes Iphigenia the sacrificial lamb. Not because any of these things is physically impossible, but because they seem implausible for these characters.

I privilege these considerations because they are the beating heart of the way I experience fiction. Without the potential for plausibility, a text is dead, and I struggle to see how any other approach provides any satisfaction.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Thu Jun 20, 2019 11:45 am

If you wish to continue this I suggest you open a new thread, in true Odyssean fashion we have wandered far. I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding between us which I see no way of bridging in a short time in this thread.

I think you labour under the apprehension that I think there are there are right and wrong answers here. That said I think that if we are to share our views on public forum then we owe it to ourselves at least to interrogate those views.

I don't find the appeal to Aristotle at all persuasive. It is interesting and enriching (and of course unavoidable) to read literature through Aristotle's lens, but that is only one among many competing views. I don't think characters in literature have to be consistent just as people in real life are not consistent. But if they are that's fine too. I suppose it depends what game you are playing. When we read detective fiction there is an implicit contract between writer and reader about how the action will be played out. Richer examples of the genre play with and subvert that contract.

I think I understand why "plausibility" and"consistency" are important to you. In my view there are so many other important ways of understanding a text that I think you miss out on the richness of what you read.

I will try in future to confine my remarks to Homer.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seanjonesbw » Thu Jun 20, 2019 2:00 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Thu Jun 20, 2019 11:45 am
I don't think characters in literature have to be consistent just as people in real life are not consistent.
That's fine - I think that's what "ὅμως ὁμαλῶς ἀνώμαλον δεῖ εἶναι" (fun to say) is intended to cover for what it's worth - unless you're suggesting people's actions can be truly random. I agree that we're shouting at each other across a gulf here, but I've enjoyed the debate and I think what we've been obliquely discussing is "what is the purpose of a reading group?" - something useful to discuss here, even if it's turned into a grand tour of epistemology in the process.

“I think you miss out on the richness of what you read” seems a little pitying, I have to say, though I'm sure you intended it to sound more neutral than it comes across. I don’t think I’ve suggested that the appreciation of plausible characters precludes other ways of interacting, but then you’ve not been generous enough to suggest what these other ways are so perhaps they are ‘richer’ than my own, in which case I envy you your experience. I am always open to new avenues if you can suggest them.

I will ask one more question here, if you're willing to answer it, and I promise no reply (there's a new thread coming tomorrow after all).

You say that "if we are to share our views on public forum then we owe it to ourselves at least to interrogate those views", which was the same thing you said at the beginning of this discussion. I'm still not clear whether you mean that views on this forum should be accompanied by some kind of disclaimer saying "though I am aware of X theory, I believe that ...." or "of course I might be wrong, if we consider this in terms of Y", or whether you are simply saying we should think more deeply before posting? Or a third thing?
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Thu Jun 20, 2019 2:27 pm

I agree that it's best to stick to Homer. When in doubt, stick to the Greek (or even when not in doubt)!

But doubt seems to be the theme of the interaction here. I too will make these brief comments on the subject of epistemology my last.

Gadamer -- read him in graduate school, along with Heidegger (sometime in the last millennium), required reading. Lot's of fun, historically significant and worth studying, but fatally flawed, as is all skeptical epistemology. What's that fatal flaw? It can be summarized as "stuff happens" and "things exist." The human universals I referred to earlier are really rooted in that concept -- let's abbreviate it SHTG. Or maybe not. :)

Think about it. We may say that there is no objectivity, but people simply don't live like this. We all agree that New York City exists and that it happens to be in New York state. People who deny that are usually viewed with suspicion. But do people in Japan interpret that the same way? Of course, and all cultural groups and ethnicities also know that Tokyo is in Japan. People who think it's in Montana also may be sent to get some help. When I wrote Montana, what came to mind?

Or consider language. We all know what a tree is. To an ancient Greek, is a δένδρον the same thing? It may be that the semantic range of the word in either language is not identical, but if both the ancient guy and the modern dude look at this:

Image

And he says δένδρον while I say "tree," then maybe we are onto something.

Now, this is not to say that there can't be huge cultural divides, and a distant culture historically is even more difficult. But that doesn't mean that we can't get things right. Businesses and governments do this all the time. We learn the languages, we figure what the negotiators on the other side of the table really want, we make an offer, they accept. Voila! Nobody worries about post-modern notions of meaning and reality -- they just conduct their lives as though meaning and reality are real things.

The reductio ad absurdum of the skeptical approach is that none of this is possible. It always sounds attractive as theory, but all it is is a hypothetical thought construct.
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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by seneca2008 » Thu Jun 20, 2019 3:31 pm

@Barry

If this is what you thought I was saying I either ought to write nothing (cheers!) or explain myself more clearly (groans). I don't think Gadamer argues that things don't exist in the sense you are using it. Understanding depends on a series of cultural assumptions and all I want to do is to interrogate those assumptions. The meaning of texts like everything in the world is contingent. I hope that you use Martindale's book in your teaching. It certainly opened up my eyes to what I thought I was doing in reading a text.

Reductio arguments always make people look silly. Thats why no-one except school children use them.

@seanjonesbw
I don't mean to be " pitying" but it seems to me that it must be a difficult approach to reading to apply a particular yardstick (eg "plausibility") to all the literature that you read and not to be able to enjoy that which falls short of your measure. By richer I mean amongst other things more ambiguity and of course readings which expand our way of looking at a text. I will try to give an example when we consider the next passage.

This is a free speech forum and you can say what you like within the rules we all sign up to about civility etc. You include in your opinion whatever you like and whatever you think is appropriate.

Tone and meaning are often hard to interpret. We have an opportunity here to ask each other about what we mean. You may see things in what I write that I say I didn't intend. It doesn't mean it isn't there. Interrogating the past is scarcely any easier.

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Re: Odyssey Reading Group: Book 6 Lines 24-47

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Thu Jun 20, 2019 3:57 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Thu Jun 20, 2019 3:31 pm
@Barry

If this is what you thought I was saying I either ought to write nothing (cheers!) or explain myself more clearly (groans). I don't think Gadamer argues that things don't exist in the sense you are using it. Understanding depends on a series of cultural assumptions and all I want to do is to interrogate those assumptions. The meaning of texts like everything in the world is contingent. I hope that you use Martindale's book in your teaching. It certainly opened up my eyes to what I thought I was doing in reading a text.

Reductio arguments always make people look silly. Thats why no-one except school children use them.
99% of communication is clarification (that's hyperbole to make the point). Sometimes it takes more work than at other times. Again, I'd rather get back to Homer, but of course understanding rests on cultural assumptions. My point is that it's possible to learn about other cultural assumptions and achieve real mutual understanding even when cultures have radically different frameworks. The route may be winding and the problems complex at times, but people still do it.

And I disagree -- a reductio may well be useful in pointing out when there is a surd or two mucking up the argument.

And I figured out how to insert images in posts. For me that was worth the entire exchange... :lol:
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