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Booknotes: Why Homer Matters

January 16th, 2015 · No Comments

Why Homer Matters

One of the best perspectives on Homer is to see him in the context of the historical model of WHEE where we see that the Homeric corpus is one of the most spectacular instances of the action visible in the Axial Age. We fail to see the way the Old Testament and the Homeric corpus emerged in an eerie parallelism. Our distinctions of ‘sacred/secular’ were not honored in the dynamic of the Axial period which seems to amplify the cultural strains of multiple ‘civilizations’ in parallel, in a time-slice of their longer absolute histories or streams.
This induces the irony of the contrast of cultures and the unique status given to the Israelite, which was actually as primitive at its core as the world of Homeric Greeks. The reciprocal ironies of sacred/secular and archaic/modernized flit back and forth between the two worlds of the Greeks and the tribes of Canaan.
The world of Homer is only the beginning of a rich sudden eruption of poetic grandeur and Homer is soon followed by a rich legacy of poets from Archilocus onwards to the final majestic phase of greek tragedy, often thought of as set of ‘slices’ out of Homer.
Homer begins the query that is never final in the series from Aeschylus to Euripides, what is the tragic? and this riddle sinks into the background only to resurface in modern times with Shakespeare (and Racine).
We can see that ‘tragedy’ is the riddle of riddles in the ‘evolution’/history of art/literature, and appears twice in two successive ‘transitions’ in the ‘eonic sequence’. That is a puzzle that stands beyond the sacred and secular and unites both in a genre that is counterpoint to the theodicies of monotheistic religion. This contrast is often the source of commentary either for religion as transcending tragedy or as a secular barb against religion in a expose of the theodical dreamworks of religion. I think that in the context of the Axial Age we confront the strange parallel emergence of the Greeks and the Israelites, and more in the further parallels of the Indic/buddhist and the world of China with its Confucian/Taoist choral parallel, an extraordinary synchrony of cultures.

The emergence of Greek Tragedy is thus one of the rival ‘design’ sagas to challenge the Judaic, but in its peculiar way of turning archaic polytheism into art. http://history-and-evolution.com/whee4th/chap5_2_5.htm

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