I have not made many notes on the course The Ancient Greek Hero with Gregory Nagy of Harvard for a while. The readings have been from The Odyssey and I saw no reason to document this work twice. Some of the readings have been from Hesiod’s Theogony which I also covered in my Greek and Roman Mythology course. Although in that course we spoke of Hesiod’s Works and Days we only skimmed the surface.
The key word for these readings is dikē, which means ‘justice’ long-term and ‘judgment’ short-term. In ancient Greek poetics, a primary metaphor for dikē is a flourishing field or garden or orchard or grove or vineyard or any other such place where vegetation is cultivated. The typical cult hero is an exponent of dikē. And the worshipers of the cult hero can view the presence of his or her corpse in the local earth as the cause of vegetal flourishing or thriving or blooming. The corpse of the cult hero, as hidden below in the local earth, is envisioned as a talisman of fertility and prosperity for the worshipers who cultivate that earth. Such a vision is a sign of dikēin the long-term sense of ‘justice’.
Some readings showing the importance of this word came from The Odyssey. An example was when Odysseus spoke to his wife whilst still disguised as a beggar. The same passage speaks of the kleos of Penelope as well so it is a very powerful passage.
|107 My lady, who among mortals throughout the limitless stretches of earth |108would dare to quarrel [neikeîn] against you with words? For truly your glory [kleos] reaches the wide firmament of the sky itself |109 – like the glory of some faultless king [basileus], who, godlike as he is, |110 and ruling over a population that is multitudinous and vigorous, |111 upholds acts of good dikē [= eu-dikiai], while the dark earth produces |112 wheat and barley, the trees are loaded with fruit, |113 the ewes steadily bring forth lambs, and the sea abounds with fish, |114 by reason of the good directions he gives, and his people are meritorious [aretân] under his rule. (Odyssey xix 107-114)
The Golden Generation Of Humankind
Works and Days (credit :wikimedia.org)
The Hesiodic Works and Days tells the story of the Golden Generation, a mythological category of humankind that corresponds to the positive aspects of cult heroes. We also find attestation of the idea of cult heroes as basilēes ‘kings’ .
|122 And they [= the Golden Generation of humankind] are superhumans [daimones]. They exist because of the Will of Zeus. |123 They are the good, the earthbound [epi-khthonioi], the guardians of mortal humans. |124 They guard acts of justice [dikē] and they guard against wretched acts of evil. |125 Enveloped in mist, they roam everywhere throughout the earth. |126 They are givers of prosperity. And they had this as a privilege [geras], a kingly one [basilēion]. (Hesiod Works and Days 122-126)
The white lupin [shrub] becomes a-karpos [= stops bearing karpos ‘fruit’] when it gets wood-crazy, as it were, and behaves with exuberance [hubris]. (Theophrastus About the aetiologies of plants)
The Silver Generation Of Humankind
|127 Then a second Generation, a much worse one, a later one, |128 the Silver, was made by the gods who abide in their Olympian homes. |129 They were like the Golden one neither in their nature nor in their power of perception [noēma]. |130 As a boy, each one was raised for a hundred years by dear mother; |131 each one was playing around, quite inept [nēpios], at home. |132 But when the time of maturing [hēbân] and the full measure of maturity [hēbē] arrived, |133 they lived only for a very short time, suffering pains [algea] |134 for their acts of heedlessness [aphradiai], since they could not keep overweening hubris |135 away from each other, and they were not willing to care for [therapeuein] the immortal gods, |136 not willing at all, nor were they willing to make sacrifice on the sacred altars of the blessed [makares] gods, |137 the way humans are required by cosmic law [themis] to behave, each group according to its own customs. Anyway, they too, when the time came, |138were hidden away by Zeus son of Kronos. He was angry at them because they did not give honors [tīmai], |139 no they did not, to the blessed [makares] gods who possess Olympus. |140 But when the earth covered over this generation [genos] as well |141 – and they are called the blessed [makares], abiding below the earth [hupokhthonioi], mortals that they are, |142 the Second Ones, though they too [like the First Ones, who are the Golden Generation] get their share of honor [tīmē]) (Hesiod Works and Days 127–142 )
The heroes of the Silver Generation are unable to achieve a stable maturity or hēbē. The heroes of the Golden Generation live in a Golden Age of stable fertility, as expressed directly by the word karpos ‘fruit’ (117). The Golden Age presents an idealized picture of wealth that is won by way of dikē: true and lasting, it is antithetical to the sudden and violent wealth that is won by way of hubris and that is destined not to last. the Golden Generation is a positive image of a cult hero, the Silver Generation is a negative image.
Back to Blade Runner
DR. ELDON TYRELL: You were made as well as we could make you.ROY BATTY: But not to last.DR. ELDON TYRELL: The light that burns twice as bright burn half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you, you’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize.ROY BATTY: I’ve done questionable things.DR. ELDON TYRELL: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time.
Two Further Generations Of Humankind
|143 And Zeus the father made another Generation of mortal men, the Third. |144 He made it Bronze, not at all like the Silver. |145 A Generation born from ash trees, violent and terrible. Their minds were set on the woeful deeds of Arēs |146 and on acts of hubris. Grain |147 they did not eat, but their hard-dispositioned heart [thūmos] was made of hard rock. |148 They were forbidding: they had great force [biē] and overpowering hands |149 growing out of their shoulders, with firm foundations for limbs. |150 Their implements were bronze, their houses were bronze, |151 and they did their work with bronze. There was no black iron. |152 And they were wiped out when they killed each other with their own hands, |153 and went nameless to the dank house of chill Hādēs, |154 yes, nameless [nōnumnoi]! Death still took them, terrifying as they were, |155 yes, black Death took them, and they left behind them the bright light of the Sun. (Hesiod Works and Days 143-155)
|156 But when this Generation too was covered over by the earth, |157 Zeus made yet another Generation on earth, which nurtures many, a fourth one. |158 This one, by contrast [with the third], was just [dikaion]. It was better. |159 It was the godlike generation of men who were heroes [hērōes], who are called |160 demigods [hēmi-theoi]; they are the previous generation [= previous to ours] who lived throughout the boundless earth. |161 These [demigods] were overcome by evil war and the terrible din of battle. |162 Some died at the walls of seven-gated Thebes, the land of Cadmus, |163 as they fought over the sheep of Oedipus. |164 Others were taken away by war over the great yawning stretches of sea |165 to Troy, all on account of Helen with the beautiful hair. |166 Then they [= this Generation] were covered over by the finality of death. |167 But they received, apart from other humans, a life and a place to live |168 from Zeus the son of Kronos, who translated them to the edges of the earth, |169 far away from the immortal gods. And Kronos is king over them. |170 And they live with a carefree heart [thūmos] |171 on the Islands of the Blessed [Nēsoi Makarōn] on the banks of the deep-swirling river Okeanos, |172blessed [olbioi] heroes [hērōes] that they are, and for them there is a honey-sweet harvest [karpos] |173 that comes to fruition three times each year, produced by the life-giving land.(Hesiod Works and Days 155-173 ).
|174 If only I did not have to be in the company of the Fifth Generation |175 of men, and if only I had died before it [= the Fifth Generation] or been born after it, |176 since now is the time of the Iron Generation.(Hesiod Works and Days 174-176)