And Other Classical Matters

By Christopher Fulkerson
Sayings not by CF are so indicated

CF's Composition Desk

Persistent Creatures I
Photographic Still Life by CF, 12/30/2009

"Homer makes us hearers, and Virgil leaves us readers." - Alexander Pope

"Nobody is better than Homer." - Iris Murdoch.

To a Hearer, as opposed to a Reader, the best evidence that the true "Trojan Horse" is, in fact, present in the Iliad is the fact that the last word of the entire epic is the word "Horses." MORE

The Iliad is about winning the war. The Odyssey is about winning the peace.

In Homer, actual meaning is always at variance with the literal meaning. Absolutely nothing is exactly as it seems.

Here is one of the most important teachings about the ancient world you will ever learn: the invocation to the patron deity, with which most ancient epics begin, is the signpost to an actual person known to the reader (including the reader himself), and if a specific time or moment is mentioned, it indicates a particular moment in the life of the reader. It is up to the reader (or listener or actor), to realize what moments in their lives are these moments directed by the work. MORE

Julius Caesar's first big job was as an aedile, which is a minor public official in charge of two things that at first seem, to us today, to be unrelated: grain distribution and administering public games. But the relation between these functions is very telling, and their cynical use as methods of public appeasment is still very much with us. For grain distribution on the one hand, and the public games on the other, were the "Bread and Circuses" that the Roman critic Juvenal lamented were all that the Roman people had for themselves after their money and power had been cyphoned off by the upper classes. To keep the populace pliant and satisfied with their lot, the Roman officials offered them food and entertainment. The modern equivalent would be beer and spectator sports. And the grain distribution was often cynically linked to elections, in such a way that if citizens voted according to who controlled the grain distribution, they would get more food. An equivalent modern politican would be any of those who popularizes himself by building a stadium or involving himself with the local sports team. For Caesar personally there was an attendent problem of his overspending on these self-propagandizing efforts, which made his name better known, but left him deep in debt; he paid off this debt using the typical Roman method of taking and selling slaves at a later stage of career, in his case, in his war in Gaul. It is interesting to note that even back then, the actual profitability of the games was not as advertised. Spectator sports have always been an expense: as we might say today, they are not a "breadwinner," but a charge to the fridge and the television.

There are variant versions of the manner of Achilles' death, which does not appear in Homer as an event. Of course it is hard to believe he died of a wound to his "achilles heel;" there is something else going on in this story. Among the variant versions is one in which Achilles tries to negotiate secretly with the Trojans and, in trying to do so, is murdered by them. But there is no reason to think that secret negotiations were necessarily wicked of him to attempt. He was after all a king and a general in his own right and perfectly qualified to do his own ambassadorial work. But there seems to be more than that to this ancient suggestion. There is internal evidence in the Iliad to suggest that Achilles was the only one among the Greeks who made flaming sacrifices, that is, in fire. And I think Achilles may have been the one teaching this to the Trojans, or at least encouraging it. When Priam told Achilles he wanted to hold a pyre over his son, Achilles made the surprising concession of a truce. Now, as I have tried to indicate in Operation "Trojan Horse Tamer", Achilles and the other Greeks violated this truce deliberately. And I think it may have been a strategy of Achilles's to get the Trojans into the habit of making burning sacrifices. I think Achilles was part of the Trojan religious practice.

The Shield of Achilles is probably a funerary shield, similar to the sort of thing that would be inscribed on the wall of an Egyptian tomb. At the time of its supposed creation it was known that the prophesied time of Achilles' death was imminent. It probably describes the underworld journey of a king, which we already know Achilles was. We know that the "writings of Homer" as we have them were collated by Egyptian scholars at the Library of Alexander during the Ptolemaic era. I therefore suggest that one place to look for evidences of Egyptian influence in Homer is in the iconography and meanings in the Shield of Achilles; I suspect these will be found to be largely Egyptian. In any case, the fact that it was Egyptians who collated Homer strongly suggests that the entire Homeric corpus has been manipulated to serve Egyptian, as well as, or even instead of, Greek ends. It may be that Homer as we have him is not really Greek, but Greek only through the lens of the Ptolemies, who were both Egyptian and Greek.

Herodotus was an initiate. Thucydides was a political and military insider. The more we learn about what they were trying to do with their work, the more we admire Herodutus.

The Greeks marched in silence. For them, then, marching to war was a meditation.

Heraclitus's identification of fire as the cosmic principal comes astonishingly close to the modern view of light as the single fundational element of the universe. Insofar as fire is light, Heraclitus was correct.

The well-known constellation is the Great Bier, not the Great Bear. We know that the Greeks navigated by the constellation Ursa Major, the Phoenicians, by Ursa Minor. It is imagined that this is a "Big Dipper," or a bear facing right, called the Great Bear. It is neither of these things. It is a chariot, facing left. That is why the leftmost star, Eta Ursae Majoris, has a name which means "The Leader of the Daughters of the Bier." This much seems clear to me, and not speculation. The tail of the bear is not any kind of "leader." Now, I will offer speculations, firstly: the Bier that is meant is perhaps what is discussed as the funeral chariot of Hektor. Secondly, the three stars of the "handle of the Big Dipper," Alkaid, Mizar, and Alioth, are called "the Mourning Maidens." This is probably because the mourners at a bier, or chariot on which a body or casket is placed, would be in the position of pulling the bier... forward, to the left. The Greeks, therefore, reckoned positions according to the parts of a chariot. Third Speculation: It is of interest that when King Arthur was taken away it was by three maidens on a barge. It seems to me that this is a reference to this constellation, which is not the Great Bear, but the Great Bier. Fourth speculation: the figurehead on the prow of a ship is probably the leader of the Mourning Maidens, Alkaid. This entry was first made on July 6, 2010.

Philosophy began in Ionia, among the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, that it to say, in the part of the Greek civilization most threatened by Persia. Using the example of the religions of nearby Egypt and Mesopotamia, these Greeks learned to speak about matters of import without saying what they were really talking about. From its very inception, philosophy has been a way of communicating in the midst of enemies. This should be no surprise; the entire Judeo-Christian religious tradition, certainly the Jewish part, has as one of its foundational elements the practice of conquest through spying.

I can tell you this as a fact: the invocation of the Muse, that appears in ancient literature, always corresponds to a certain moment in the life of the reader. One certain method of self-initiation is to read all of Homer. MORE.

Probably the most practical evidence we have that Homer, himself, wrote the epics that bear his name, or some important portion of those epics, is that according to tradition he went blind. From time out of mind, until Thomas Edison, blindness was the occupational hazard of scribes. It is the last word in knowledge about Homer, one could say it is unutterably Homeric, that the significance pf the blindness is communicated through other than direct means.

Homer is to the Understanding what Fishing is to Food.

The meaning of Zeus's defeat of his father Kronos, who is Time, is that he is no longer limited to reckoning OR ACTING according to the linear course of time's arrow. Once Zeus defeats his father, he can, to choose an example that is coarse but easy to understand, treat a future event as though it happened before a past event. That is how Zeus rules. One way to exercise this sort of power is to realize that history is not a record of what has happened, but a supratemporal code that happens to be written out on time's arrow. When most people discuss history, they limit themselves to facts having to do with that which is other than themselves. Many people think that is the only proper way to discuss history. But that is not what history is about. History is not a part of the past; it is a component of the present. Disputations about history are really disputations about the wills of the participants. The better you know what you are doing, the less the will of others matters.

The cult of the Cretan Bull is about Crete itself - notice that the "big island" is in the shape of a bull. The bull is facing West, and those promontories are its horns there on the upper left. I am skeptical that "Bull-leaping" was ever really a sport, "to leap the bull" probably meant what mariners did when they stopped over in Crete between Greece and Egypt.

"Homer" means "Hostage." There is probably a teaching in this. At any rate, the meaning of his "name," and the fact that it is probably not a name at all, puts into a curious light the fact that the Homeric works that we currently have, and which were compiled by scholars in Alexandria in the Second Century B.C., were written by a group of men, each of whom was called "Homer" on the manuscript preserving his work. It might simply be that the ancients had a profound understanding of how society casts its artists into social darkness, economic imprisonment, and stigma, when it does not do worse things to them. Or, there might be a terrible secret about what it means to become, of all artists, a "Homer."

Homer is both greater, and more important than Shakespeare. Shakespeare is the most successful writer of all time. If these two statements seem contradictory, give some more thought to what may be meant by "greater."

My contribution to the cult of Bacchus is to observe that the name of the ancient Roman god of the grape, "Liber," is the same as the word for "book." If a grape is a book, then a bottle of wine is a library.

It may be that by the time of Alexander the Great, the selection of the name "Darius" for the Persian king was perceived as a threat to Greece, since that had been the name of the Persian king who had first invaded Greece. To the present day, king's names usually reflect state policy or tradition (which can be seen as the same thing).

Alexander's kingdom was divided so as to make it as difficult as possible for any future Persian army to march to Greece.

At Saqqara, in Egypt, some stone facings fell off the wall of an ancient site, revealing very clear images of a helicopter, a space capsule, and another object that looks like some other kind of similar technological anachronism. The image of the helicopter is the clearest; it seems irrefutably to be what it looks to us today to be. The tour guides have been instructed NOT to show it to the public or discuss it, and that section of the site has been closed off to public traffic.

The Spartans: "When the going gets tough, the tough do their hair." The Athenians: "No mind? No matter. No matter? Never mind."


First posted on November 1, 2009. Most recent update: 8/31/2010.