Homeric psychology

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Paul Derouda
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Homeric psychology

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Aug 26, 2019 6:42 pm

This is a continuation of the ideas I expressed in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=22&p=206264#p206264

The exchange until now:
seneca2008 wrote:
Sun Aug 25, 2019 7:39 pm
Paul Derouda wrote:It's interesting how often in Homer whenever there is question of how people treat each other, the focus is on outward reactions rather than emotions. Here Laertes (not Odysseus!) avoided the anger of his wife by not sleeping with Eurycleia, while we would say that he didn't want to hurt her feelings.
An interesting point, although I have difficulty with the way you have formulated it. I don't see that avoiding someone's anger and not wanting to hurt someone's feelings are alternative ways of expressing the same thing. Perhaps that's not what you meant.

I wonder, however, if Laertes is motivated by not wanting to hurt his wife's feelings? Seeking to avoid an angry reaction seems to me to be about self-preservation rather than concern for someone else's feelings. If he were concerned about her feelings perhaps he wouldn't have bought and brought a female slave home, giving her equal status to his wife. Perhaps because what Laertes does is such an unusual course for a homeric hero it implies he does have conflicting feelings of care for his wife on the one hand and satisfying his appetite on the other. Perhaps it's a mixture of both feeling care and fear of wrath. The feeling of care is rather oblique.

At line 420 we do have an example where Telemachus says one thing but thinks another which gives some hint to his emotional state. So homeric characters do have an interior life which we can sometimes glimpse.
Paul Derouda wrote:
Sun Aug 25, 2019 8:33 pm
seneca2008 wrote:
Sun Aug 25, 2019 7:39 pm
I wonder, however, if Laertes is motivated by not wanting to hurt his wife's feelings?
That's a legitimate question, and I can't tell you for sure. There is no doubt that the characters have an interior life, as for example line 420 testifies. But I meant something different: I challenge you to find one single instance in Homer where a character says or does something to another character just in order to provoke an emotional response without immediate external repercussions. It seems to me that Homer simply has no way to say "he didn't want to hurt her feelings".

In the same way I don't think there are many instances where the inner sentiments of a character towards another character are described without an outward expression of those sentiments, or at least contemplated expression. φιλέω doesn't qualify, because it usually if not always means "treat with affection" rather than just "love" (hence the meaning "kiss", though I'm not sure if it exists in Homer). Phrases like κεδνὰ ἰδυῖα (Od. 1.428), ἀνάκτεσιν ἤπια εἰδώς (Od. 15.557) might qualify though. But even there it is question of loyalty, and the point is that these servants can be trusted should the need arise, it's not so much about their interior life.
seneca2008 wrote:
Mon Aug 26, 2019 4:39 pm
Paul Derouda wrote:But I meant something different: I challenge you to find one single instance in Homer where a character says or does something to another character just in order to provoke an emotional response without immediate external repercussions. It seems to me that Homer simply has no way to say "he didn't want to hurt her feelings".
I have thought about this but I am having difficulty in understanding the point you are making. Assuming you don’t exactly mean “just in order” which implies a rather gratuitous provocation, are you saying that Homeric characters always react explicitly and in a concrete way to interactions with other characters? If you are saying that doesn’t the example I quoted at 420 provide a counter example? Telemachus keeps his true thoughts to himself.

I am sure I have not understood you properly but it sounds like you are making an interesting point about Homeric psychology. Could you elaborate? Maybe this deserves its own thread?

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Aug 26, 2019 7:35 pm

Assuming you don’t exactly mean “just in order” which implies a rather gratuitous provocation, are you saying that Homeric characters always react explicitly and in a concrete way to interactions with other characters?
Well, it's not exactly that. This is rather complex and I must confess that I have not a ready-made theory about this. But compared to what we value in our interactions, the focus seems different, it's always on what people do concretely and the concrete results of their acts that is important. No one ever asks in Homer if someone is sincerely sorry about an offense, it's always about the offended party getting an adequate compensation. The level psychological abstraction is quite limited. Homer doesn't say things like "he made her fulfilled" or "he made her unhappy", he prefers to say "he always treated her well" or "he treated her badly", which basically means the same in less abstract terms and with a different focus.

So to answer to your point, the idea is not that a character can't react otherwise than "explicitly and in a concrete way in an interaction with another character"; it's rather that characters do not interact with others with the purpose of creating a psychological response that has no immediate repercussions. An immediate repercussion can be an "explicit and concrete reaction", but it can be any other immediately relevant consequence, social or otherwise.

I don't know if I can express my thoughts with any kind of clarity.

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by mwh » Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:00 am

Let me see if I understand what Paul is saying. I expect we can all agree that “characters do not interact with others with the purpose of creating a psychological response that has no immediate repercussions.” Could we say that that’s because it’s the immediate repercussions, the immediate effect of a character’s words or actions on the other character (or on the situation, more generally), that matter, that carry the poem along? One thing leads to another, and right away.

And why should anyone be asked if they're sorry? If an offence has been committed, the offender must pay for it, as both parties recognize. Regret has to take concrete form. I take that to be your point, Paul, or a good part of it. And if someone does someone a good turn, treats someone well, there’s an obligation not just to say thankyou but to reciprocate—not immediately if circumstances don’t allow, but the relationship is then on a new footing, one of φιλία. Complementarily, you seek to harm your enemies, just as they seek to harm you. By definition. (None of this nonsense about loving your enemies.) Hate, like love, is not an emotion without repercussions, and it’s not the emotion itself but its results that are of interest.

Doesn't hurting someone’s feelings belong within this scheme of things? I think that is something Homer probably is capable of saying, using e.g. ἄλγος or cognates or other abstract notions. ἄλγος can take physical form but not necessarily. And whether or not Homer could say “he made her unhappy” surely he could say “he caused her grief” as well as more concretely “his actions/words made her cry.” Incidentally, does anyone hurt anyone’s feelings inadvertently? I guess it’s possible in principle (that would be an offence and change the relationship), but does it happen? I daresay Hector may have hurt Andromache's feelings by insisting on going to fight Achilles despite her pleas, but hurt feelings are hardly the issue. Each does what they have to do. You can physically hurt someone inadvertently (as in friendly fire, say), in which case you have to do more than apologize.

It occurs to me I’ve been thinking more in terms of the Iliad than the Odyssey, which is a soppier poem. In the Iliad people say what they mean, unless deceptiveness is expressly signalled. (Is this true? Maybe sarcasm is an exception, but that’s just a rhetorical trope that no-one misunderstands.) In the Odyssey there’s not only more sentimentality but more psychological subtlety (though only occasionally, I'd say). We’ve seen in bk.6 how Nausicaa’s father can understand what she has not actually said. Is there anything like that in the Iliad? And of course the Odyssey's Odysseus habitually lies (for what reason we are not told).

This is all off the top of my head, and may be completely off base. And is already more than enough for one post, so I'll stop there.

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by seanjonesbw » Tue Aug 27, 2019 9:53 am

I can't tell whether Paul means that Homer's narrative technique means that there is a focus on the outward effects of inward feelings rather than the feelings themselves, or that Homeric characters only value the outward effects and so would never do anything just to evoke an inner feeling in another character that doesn't lead to an immediate outward effect. The latter doesn't seem right to me, but then I suppose it depends on where you draw the line on "concrete results" and "immediate".

When Helen gives Paris a dressing down (ἐνίπτω but also literally) in book 3 of the Iliad (428ff) is it with the intention of making him feel like a coward or producing an immediate effect of him promising to fight Menelaus? Would she feel compelled to say more if she hadn't achieved this concrete result? I don't think it's clear. I'm also not sure what the outward consequences of Homeric boasts such as Od. 22.287 could be argued to be, yet they are surely expected to evoke feelings in others (unless we argue that they are only expected to evoke feelings in the audience in which case start a new thread).

I agree with what I think Michael is saying (though I expect to be told I've misinterpreted it) that narrative considerations are responsible for what we perceive as the general 'immediacy' of responses. Action-reaction.

p.s. I've enjoyed following this thread on my holidays so keep it up 😊
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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by RandyGibbons » Tue Aug 27, 2019 11:04 am

Michael asks,
Incidentally, does anyone hurt anyone’s feelings inadvertently?
To answer that for Homer's world, I'll leave it to you viri doctissimi. But for modern sensitivities, listen to the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes song Insensatez (In this clip Marcello is the insensitive one!).

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Aug 27, 2019 2:28 pm

As I said, I have no ready made theory, I just report what I believe to have observed.

We seem to be obsessed about the sincerity of our feelings, about our "true sentiments", which seems to be absent in Homer. We also care a lot about how other people "feel" about what we do or say to them, whereas Homer concentrates on how they react.

The monologue at the beginning of the clip linked by Randy would be a type example of something completely utterly impossible in Homer!

It might well be that narrative considerations are in part responsible, but not for everything, for example the word φιλέω, which usually doesn't exactly translate as "love", a word of doing not feeling, as shown by the semantic development "to kiss".

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by seanjonesbw » Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:23 pm

I think I get you. It might be useful to make a distinction, then, between whether characters in Homer are motivated to influence the feelings of others (with or without immediate consequences) and whether they have the language to express it in those terms.
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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by mwh » Tue Aug 27, 2019 8:26 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 2:28 pm
We seem to be obsessed about the sincerity of our feelings, about our "true sentiments", which seems to be absent in Homer. We also care a lot about how other people "feel" about what we do or say to them, whereas Homer concentrates on how they react.
Well, how can feelings not be sincere? In Homer it’s taken for granted that even professed feelings are genuine.
But then Homer knows nothing of “feelings” in the vague sense in which the word is used today, in the typical context of “hurt.” He knows a lot about particular feelings, and has a wealth of words for them. And those feelings, as you’ve pointed out, result in corresponding actions, which provoke reactions, and so on it goes. That’s true in life as much as it is in Homer, though in Homer the correlation is closer, more straightforward, more consistent, just as his society is more uniform (with the delicious exception of Paris, uniquely immune to shame!).

It’s just the same with φιλέω: resultant actions are entailed, both in and out of Homer. A kiss (φίλημα) might be one of them. There’s a mime (POxy 3700) in which a character says δος μοι φιλημα. What we call love is not necessarily involved. (The reaction is υ. “Wow!” or “Ugh!”?)

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Aug 27, 2019 9:19 pm

mwh wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 8:26 pm
Well, how can feelings not be sincere? In Homer it’s taken for granted that even professed feelings are genuine.
What I meant was for example those endless discussions we have on whether apologies were sincere. Or Jeanne Moreau’s wholly unHomeric desperation for no longer loving Marcello.

This does not mean that our experience of the world is completely different fron the Greeks, or that we could not share in their experiences. It’s rather a difference of emphasis.

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by jeidsath » Tue Aug 27, 2019 10:19 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 9:19 pm
What I meant was for example those endless discussions we have on whether apologies were sincere.
κρείσσων γὰρ βασιλεὺς ὅτε χώσεται ἀνδρὶ χέρηϊ:
εἴ περ γάρ τε χόλον γε καὶ αὐτῆμαρ καταπέψῃ,
ἀλλά τε καὶ μετόπισθεν ἔχει κότον, ὄφρα τελέσσῃ,
ἐν στήθεσσιν ἑοῖσι

But he is predictably insincere.
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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by mwh » Tue Aug 27, 2019 11:11 pm

Of course what people say by way of apology in movies or novels or especially today in real life ("I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings") may not be sincere. But in Homer, or in archaic Greece? And I thought we were talking about what people feel rather than what they say (though in Homer they generally coincide). I thought your point Paul was that in Homer—just as in ancient Greece—mere apology, whether sincere or not, is not enough, and hence is rarely expressed, and never without the corresponding action (payment of compensation) which is in fact its practical expression. I’d certainly agree with that. (“Apology” of course in our modern sense, not απολογία. Admission of fault is routinely avoided, and the blame shifted—onto Zeus or Ate, faute de mieux. No-one wants to lose face.)

Joel’s quotation (Kalchas to Ag. in Il.1) asserts, quite rightly, that action consequent on emotion is not always immediate. Didn’t we already acknowledge that? Someone can harbor a grudge—or bottle up a desire—and wait for an opportunity to act on it (so we could say that in the interim the action is potential). It has nothing to do with apologizing. (And surely Kalchas is “sincere,” while wanting to forestall Ag’s anger.)

I don’t really understand why we’re making so much of all this.

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by jeidsath » Wed Aug 28, 2019 1:46 am

And surely Kalchas is “sincere,” while wanting to forestall Ag’s anger
I was being unclear. I meant that a king's ἔχειν κότον after a temporary καταπέψαι of his χόλον is a predictable sort of insincerity.

In shame societies, people are insincere apologizers, but they are predictably insincere apologizers. They aren't really even apologizing, as a Westerner would understand it; they are humiliating themselves before others. The humiliation is humiliating whether they mean it or not. And in a shame society there is really no insincerity at all, because everyone is assumed to act the same as anybody else would in their situation. In Homer, there are not good or evil people, just people who understand what the gods want and those who do not. Hypocrisy is a fundamentally impossible attitude in Homeric Greece or in Japan.

It's us guilt society residents that are strange. We are fundamentally unpredictable to each other, because we do things based on undiscoverable, non-shared, convictions of right and wrong.

The other objection that I have to any theory about a lack of inner sentiments, is that empathy clearly exists in Homer.

οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ᾽ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν·
αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν·

And the poet is constantly demanding it of us as well.
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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by mwh » Wed Aug 28, 2019 4:13 am

It was the anthropological shame:guilt differentiation that I had in mind, though I wasn’t aware that it still enjoyed such currency as it did when I was a student (and reading Dodds’ Irrationality book, which I recommend). You make the same point that I did about sincerity and societal uniformity, but I’m glad you backtrack on your opening about insincere apologizers and I wouldn’t make understanding what the gods want such a linchpin. But I won’t quibble. Certainly Homer is a prime example of a shame culture—with the single and singular exception of Paris, who knows neither shame nor guilt, like Donald Trump but more lovable in his lack of ego and his outrageous nonchalance.

Of course I agree about empathy. But the poet has more than the characters do.

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Aug 28, 2019 7:22 am

I think we've strayed quite a bit here. I don't think Paul was saying that characters in Homer lack inner sentiments (in fact he's said the opposite a couple of times), but that he feels characters don't try to appeal to or influence other characters' feelings for its own sake.

Dodds's (or Dodds' in deference to his classical scholarship) book really is an excellent read if you like sustained close reading, especially the exploration of ate. He introduced me to the shame/guilt distinction which I was convinced of at the time but I think I'm now a convert to Cairns's view (discussing aidos) that the distinction is meaningless.

If you go looking for one or the other, you'll find what you're looking for. Should we judge the society described by Chaucer as a shame culture or a guilt culture? Well, a bit of both and none of either. And can we consider it consistent with the society of Piers Plowman? Only if we reject the idea that a society has to be one or the other. I can't help feeling that the desire to give a whole society a single label leads us down, if not racist, then at least othering and 'primitivist' byways.
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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by mwh » Wed Aug 28, 2019 2:20 pm

As to othering, Homeric society is different from ours, just as it's essentially the same. And in some ways it is primitive (Dodds, Burkert), just as ours is. But there’s nothing primitive about the poet’s sensibility.

But yes, pinning on a single label is bound to be simplistic and reductive (reductivist?).

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by RandyGibbons » Wed Aug 28, 2019 5:24 pm

Italians are hot-blooded.

Since antiquity we've had a Herodotean curiosity about the physical and ethical differences among inhabitants of different geographies, among ethnicities and races, among people living in different social and political circumstances. Naturally the Greeks even went beyond curiosity and tried to understand these differences scientifically. Witness the "ethnographic" half of Airs, Waters, Places from the Hippocratic Corpus, generally dated as roughly contemporaneous with Herodotus (and also written in Ionic Greek), which begins (c. 12):
βούλομαι δὲ περὶ τῆς Ἀσίης καὶ τῆς Εὐρώπης δεῖξαι ὁκόσον διαφέρουσιν ἀλλήλων ἐς τὰ πάντα καὶ περὶ τῶν ἐθνέων τῆς μορφῆς, ὅτι διαλλάσσει καὶ μηδὲν ἔοικεν ἀλλήλοισιν. ... τὴν Ἀσίην πλεῖστον διαφέρειν φημὶ τῆς Εὐρώπης ἐς τὰς φύσιας τῶν συμπάντων τῶν τε ἐκ τῆς γῆς φυομένων καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων. πολὺ γὰρ καλλίονα καὶ μέζονα πάντα γίνεται ἐν τῇ Ἀσίῃ, ἥ τε χώρη τῆς χώρης ἡμερωτέρη καὶ τὰ ἤθεα τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἠπιώτερα καὶ εὐοργητότερα. τὸ δὲ αἴτιον τούτων ἡ κρῆσις τῶν ὡρέων, ὅτι ...
It is undeniable that human beings perceive these differences. In discussing and trying to understand them, we naturally generalize. The Hippocratic author regards it as a given that the character (τὰ ἤθεα) of Asians (sc. inhabitants of Asia Minor) is milder and more gentle (ἠπιώτερα καὶ εὐοργητότερα) than that of Europeans (along with, in his thesis, the land and its vegetative as well as human growth, all of which are due to differences in climate).

Fast forward to today's social sciences, like anthropology and social psychology, which study, more methodologically, the same differences. Certainly there are differences. But in the twentieth century we became much more aware of stereotyping and its real and potential dangers (especially, for example, in the field of genetics), and for good reason students in those disciplines today are trained to be sensitive to this in their discourse and presentations. As we have been as citizens (to the chagrin of the re-emergent neo-Nazis).

Most of these studied differences are external, externally observable. When it comes to internal phenomena like the notions of motivation and sincerity, I'm sure these are studied by cognitive science - studied in animals as well as humans -, but I'm not aware of them being studied, or capable of being studied, historically (I could well be wrong). Being studied in the social sciences, that is. Which leaves us with literature, beginning with the eternally fascinating Homer.

But on a different note. I have a superpower, though I normally don't like to admit to it. I can read other people's minds. It happened that I was reading Joel's mind last evening, and I happen to know he mentally composed the following, but still so tired from falling out of canoes and so stuffed with Michigan cherries after putting the girls to bed, he couldn't muster the energy to actually post it.

"Dear Textkitters,

Thanks so much for being there for me as I stripped down to the bare essentials, literarily speaking, on my vacation in the country. I can assure you my motivation was not to start any trouble or to trigger such a far-flung discussion of "Homeric psychology", and I sincerely apologize if I have unduly distracted any of you.

Sincerely,

Joel"

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by seanjonesbw » Thu Aug 29, 2019 6:32 pm

Randy, thank you for your thoughts. You're absolutely right that we can't help ourselves making generalisations about groups of people - I only hope that we all understand the importance of challenging those generalisations, especially when we have limited first-hand experience and when the people we're talking about tell us we're wrong. Sadly Homer's characters don't talk back (if they do, please seek help), but the Japanese have not been silent on Ruth Benedict's characterisation of them as a shame culture without having learned Japanese or visited Japan.

Fel Cymro (being Welsh) I'm used to generalisations about my language and culture based on zero first-hand experience, which makes me very wary of doing the same to others. Incidentally, my extremely cool-blooded Italian grandmother 😉 was the same after being constantly told she must be in thrall to the mafia.
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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by mwh » Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:53 am

Well, we all know that the Welsh can call spirits from the vasty deep.
I once spent a year in Wales, if Cardiff counts as Wales. The Welsh sat in a little bunch in the corner casting nasty glances at Anglos like me, understandably enough, given all that the English had done to suppress the language. But thanks to a Welsh friend I did actually learn a bit of Welsh. But I never saw a single leek.

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Re: Homeric psychology

Post by seanjonesbw » Fri Aug 30, 2019 7:49 am

mwh wrote:
Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:53 am
Well, we all know that the Welsh can call spirits from the vasty deep.
OK fine, some generalisations are true.
mwh wrote:
Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:53 am
But thanks to a Welsh friend I did actually learn a bit of Welsh. But I never saw a single leek.
Da iawn ti Michael! If you ever return to Cardiff, which absolutely, definitely counts (I'd claim the whole of the Highland Zone for Wales if I could), I'd be very pleased to continue your education in the hen iaith with a few choice phrases to offer to those giving you nasty glances. As for you being an Anglo, the Welsh language has a long memory - Englishmen are Saeson (Saxons) and the English language Saesneg (Saxonish). I suppose this makes you a saxophone.
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