Achilles as epic hero and the idea of total recall in song.
The key word for this hour is memnēmai, which means ‘I have total recall’ in special contexts and ‘I remember’ in ordinary contexts. The special contexts involve memory by way of song.
We looked again at a story within a story. This time the one told by Phoenix. There were five slow readings for this hour that we looked at in detail.
There were also three books or scrolls of the Iliad to read. I am not sure why III, VI and IX and not some in sequence. I read scroll II and it is mainly a list of all the Argives’ ships and who lead them and where they had come from. There was one story in there though that told of the prophesy of Kalkhas. He interpreted a snake eating nine sparrows as the nine years they would fight at Troy before taking the town. There is also the story of Zeus sending the false dream to Agamemnon which incites him to turn back and attack Troy. I thought that was worth reading and put some parts into context for me.
I totally recall [me-mnē-mai] how this was done – it happened a long time ago, it is not something new recalling exactly how it was. I will tell it in your company – since you are all near and dear [philoi].Iliad IX 527-528
This passage is important as it tells us about the medium of the Iliad. It is a medium of total recall in poetry, song and story that people are willing to die to be in the medium. The reason Achilles chose to die young was because he wanted to be in an epic that, as he predicted, would last for ever. The last word that is highlighted defines the audience Those who are near and dear will understand the tale more deeply, more meaningfully than others.
Text B (which includes Text A)
This is how [houtōs] we [= I, Phoenix] learned it, the glories [klea] of men [andrōn] of an earlier time [prosthen], who were heroes [hērōes], whenever one of them was overcome by tempestuous anger. They could be persuaded by way of gifts and could be swayed by words. I totally recall [me-mnē-mai] how this was done – it happened a long time ago, it is not something new – recalling exactly how it was. I will tell it in your company – since you are all near and dear [philoi].
Iliad IX 524-528
Although Rachel’s memories of her piano lessons are not her own when she plays the piano she becomes the music. It is her playing. Just as the story becomes the story of the teller and the memories become visual for the audience.
And now, tell me, O Muses, you who live in your Olympian abodes, since you are goddesses and you were there and you know everything, but we [= the Narrator] only hear the kleos and we know nothing – who were the chiefs and princes of the Danaans [= the Achaeans]?
Iliad II 484-487
He then sat down, and Nestor the prince of sandy Pylos with all sincerity and goodwill addressed them thus: “My friends,” said he, “princes and councilors of the Argives, if any other man of the Achaeans had told us of this dream we should have declared it false, and would have had nothing to do with it. But he who has seen it is the foremost man among us; we must therefore set about getting the people under arms.”
The two of them reached the shelters and the ships of the Myrmidons, and they found Achilles diverting his heart [phrēn] as he was playing on a clear-sounding lyre [phorminx], a beautiful one, of exquisite workmanship, and its cross-bar was of silver. It was part of the spoils that he had taken when he destroyed the city of Eëtion, and he was now diverting his heart [thūmos] with it as he was singing[aeidein] the glories of men [klea andrōn]. Patroklos was the only other person there. He [= Patroklos] sat in silence, facing him [= Achilles], and waiting for the Aeacid [= Achilles] to leave off singing [aeidein]. Meanwhile the two of them came in – radiant Odysseus leading the way – and stood before him. Achilles sprang up from his seat with the lyre [phorminx] still in his hand, and Patroklos, when he saw the guests, rose also.Iliad IX 185-195
Meleagros was angry at his mother Althea. He was laying down ‘nursing his anger’ “and he was lying around, next to his wife, whom he had courted and married in the proper way. She was the beautiful Kleopatra,” He was angry with his mother because she had been praying and ‘making curses in her sorrow over the killing of her brother by her son Mereagros. She prayed for the death of her son and her prayers were heard by a Fury and so battles broke out around the city walls. The elders of the city called out to Meleagros to come out and rescue them. Everyone was begging him to come out and help them including his sisters and his mother but he kept saying no. They promised him gifts but he still said no.
As for you [= Achilles], don’t go on thinking [noeîn] in your mind [phrenes] the way you are thinking now. Don’t let a superhuman force [daimōn] do something to you right here, turning you away, my near and dear one [philos]. It would be a worse prospect to try to rescue the ships [of the Achaeans] if they are set on fire. So, since the gifts are waiting for you, get going! For if you do that, the Achaeans will honor [tīnein] you – same as a god. But if you have no gifts when you do go into the war, that destroyer of men, you will no longer have honor [tīmē] the same way, even if you have succeeded in blocking the [enemy’s] forces of war.
- The Ancient Greek Hero – Hour One (louisecharente.wordpress.com)
- The Ancient Greek Hero – Hour Zero (louisecharente.wordpress.com)
- Chapter & Verse: The Iliad’s Civic Community (jhupressblog.com)