On Reading Homer.

Back in March (which seems like at least a year ago) I posted about a thought-provoking essay by Joel Christensen of Sententiae Antiquae called “On Not Reading Homer”; now he’s got a follow-up that’s even better, “On Reading Homer,” and I hope anyone who found the earlier post worthwhile will click through and read it. A few excerpts, as usual, to whet the appetite:

Advocates often imagine that the strongest argument for Homer is that Homer was influential in the “Western Canon” and that you need to be familiar with Homer to appreciate and understand everything that came after. I think that this argument sounds nice, but it overstates the existence of the “Western Canon” (which is relatively recent), ignores the motivations for enforcing it, and radically misunderstands the impact of Homeric epic in the development of European literatures.


The difference between what we actually have in the Homeric epics and what we find in later generations can help us unlearn what we think we know about literary traditions. This argument makes me nervous in general because it runs the risk of merely repeating the damaging “Greek Miracle” nonsense. But it is also an argumentum ex silentio. I don’t know that other works we lost were any less unique and different.


The Homeric epics are dialogic and aporetic and in these functions they teach us not what to do but how to think about what we do as communities. […] Homeric epic, like Platonic dialogue, invites its audiences to follow the folly and success of its characters and then to retrace them, to come to a deeper understanding of the conditions that put them in the position to fail. For Platonic dialogue, Laura Candiotto (2015) has argued that the state of aporia itself is transformative, that it forces us to “imagine an otherness” (242) but that this process requires shared or collective emotional and intellectual work. The shared work of interpreting epic with its characters is a kind of extended mind over time. When we read them and discuss them with others, we engage in the transformative process of creating community around the interrogation of the self. […] What makes Homer different from reading Game of Thrones together or spending semesters contemplating Marcel Proust’s associative sense of smell is the depth of interpretive traditions to add to the complexity of the community of meaning and the nature of epic poetry itself. Homeric ambiguity, interdeterminacy, and dialogism provides a capaciousness of time rare in any art form and the essential, irrefutable absence of the author provides the opportunity to think and rethink without that devils’ trap of authorial intention.

(Please, no complaints about technical terms like dialogic and aporetic; he’s not writing for the daily paper, and he defines them as he goes.) He links to various other material relevant to the topic, including Gregory Nagy’s Homer’s Text and Language (which I am eager to investigate), and in general provokes questions that make one think afresh. I have to say that the quote from Gladstone beginning “If the works of Homer are, to letters and to human learning, what the early books of Scripture are to the entire Bible and to the spiritual life of man; if in them lie the beginnings of the intellectual life of the world…” made me feel a little nauseated (though that may be the heat and humidity). I want to slap Gladstone around and tell him that spiritual life is not confined to inheritors of the Greco-Roman tradition; he didn’t have the excuse of not knowing any better, and still less do we. Homer is magnificent, but so are the classics of China, Persia, and other loci of civilization; the world is a big place, and none of us can absorb more than a tiny fraction of the available greatness.


  1. Bathrobe says

    I would love to read this but I keep getting this message:

    Invalid URL

    The requested URL “http://%5bNo%20Host%5d/2020/07/28/on-reading-homer/”, is invalid.
    Reference #9.2e8ec817.1595980323.e05a25e

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s working OK from here, at any rate.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    Gregory Nagy

    Here they say the Hungarian pronunciation of that name is “naj” (“j” as in “just”). Oui ou merde ?

  4. Stu Clayton says

    The requested URL

    Where did that “%5bNo%20Host%5d” come from ? “No host” ??

    I don’t think I’ve ever inspected the URL that appears in a browser after it can’t resolve the host name (identify the IP address) of what you entered or linked. Could just be that the DNS Server was temporarily unavailable.

  5. David Eddyshaw says
  6. Stu Clayton says

    Thanx. Yeah, German “a”.

    A nodge is as good as a wonk.

  7. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @Stu Clayton: having a Hungarian friend with the same surname (which he tells me is rather common in Hungary) I pronounce it as “nudge,” but I’m painfully aware that actually two phonemes out of three are not in my inventory. It’s probably /nɒɟ/. I cannot guarantee, but indeed neither /ɒ/ nor /ɟ/ are in my inventory, and their Wikipedia description is not obviously inconsistent with what my friend says.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    @Giacomo: two phonemes out of three are not in my inventory

    Mine is as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

  9. Bathrobe says

    It’s very strange.

    I’ve switched to a VPN and suddenly the page is available.

    Is it something to do with Mongolia???? Or is the Chinese government hijacking Mongolia’s outgoing Internet traffic? (Before I got that notice I was informed that the site was unsafe and I should proceed at my own risk. When I did proceed at my own risk I got that notice about an “Invalid URL”.)

  10. Stu Clayton says

    I’ve switched to a VPN and suddenly the page is available.

    That’s the purpose of VPNs – they thwart surveillance of navigation and content.

    Or is the Chinese government hijacking Mongolia’s outgoing Internet traffic?

    Somebody’s interfering, that much seems clear. I suspect such activity is broadly effective in balking average citizens, who are not up to VPNs.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    OK, I’m now bored with the Homeric corpus. I am ignorant of the glories of old-timey Persian literature even in translation beyond the works of Omar Khayyam (or perhaps Pseudo-Omar) and Rumi (is he still trendy, or was that a ’90’s thing?). Where should I start? The Shahnameh is apparently so gosh-darn long that all of the English translations are abridgements, but that said, what’s the one to start with if one wishes to be impressed by the work’s aesthetic qualities?

  12. Stu Clayton says

    if one wishes to be impressed by the work’s aesthetic qualities

    Maybe that’s the problem right there.

  13. I must say I was disappointed when I read Tristan and Isolde many years ago. To find that the entire saga of deviousness, betrayal, and uncontrollable lust was due to a love potion.

    But looking back, maybe the love potion was just an excuse inserted by the storyteller to justify a saga of deviousness, betrayal, and uncontrollable lust….

  14. I read a sizeable chunk of the Shahnameh in translation a while back. Naturally, it was abridged, with prose summaries of the elided sections, but I could not really discern any pattern to the abridgement. The verse sections were of highly variable length, and I did not pick up on them having any thematic unity. I imagine they were selected based on the translator’s personal preference (what he preferred in the original and/or thought he* could do the best job rendering into English), but I was unimpressed by the whole thing and eventually gave it up.

    * I don’t remember the translator’s name, but I do know it was a man.

  15. I think Christensen’s rejection of storytelling and aesthetic pleasure as reasons to read Homer is wrongheaded, to put it mildly. Surely those are the main reasons for the poems’ popularity ever since their composition; to dismiss the fact that the epics are good stories as the “silliest” reason for reading them is, dare I say it, elitist. Pooh-poohing the aesthetic value of a work is arguably bad pedagogy, too — students are much more likely to come back to the Iliad later in their lives because they find it beautiful than because it can be interpreted allegorically or “teaches us how to think about what we do as communities”.

    (And what is he talking about when he calls Homer “multicultural”? Sure, the poems were produced in a multicultural environment, but you’d hardly know it from reading them.)

  16. AJP Crown says

    I say Nudge; I’ll try Nodge. The only time I ever use it is for Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus artist & photographer who is, amazingly enough, I read in wiki, the second-cousin-once-removed of Georg Solti, the conductor.

    I do like the idea of slapping Gladstone around a bit. There are plenty of reasons to do it.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    Is the Béroul version the one you read? See
    I feel the Wikipedia writeup is rather unfair, and that the author of the text was playing with the material and trying to subvert audience expectations.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    rejection of storytelling and aesthetic pleasure as reasons to read Homer is wrongheaded

    I agree.

    My Greek is poor nowadays (though I did A-Level) but I am one of the tiny number of people who learnt Latin well enough at school, without going on to study it at university, that I can still read it for literary pleasure rather than as an exercise in decipherment. As a child I was attracted by the exotic quality of the language (it really isn’t SAE at all) and still am; as an adult by the sheer skill with language of the great masters, along with the window into an extremely exotic worldview (pretty much as remote from our own as the traditional Voltaic cultures are.) The traditional “reasons” for valuing the Classics, which stress an often far-fetched continuity with our own culture, do (as Joel C implies) actually seem liable to detract from genuine appreciation of the literature in its own terms.

  19. I think Christensen’s rejection of storytelling and aesthetic pleasure as reasons to read Homer is wrongheaded, to put it mildly. Surely those are the main reasons for the poems’ popularity ever since their composition; to dismiss the fact that the epics are good stories as the “silliest” reason for reading them is, dare I say it, elitist.

    Yes, I thought that was the weakest part of his essay. But it’s hard to avoid going overboard when you’re trying to make a point.

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    I am not sure what you mean by exotic. Is it some or all of
    (a) ethos not (in)formed by Christianity
    (b) preoccupation with honour and fame
    (c) anti-work ethic
    (d) acceptance of slavery and inequality
    (e) corporal punishment
    (f) augury
    I would find all of this recognisable, unlike temple prostitution or human sacrifice, as practiced by contemporaries of the Greeks and Romans, or what i imagine as the pyramidal hive-like Ancient Egyptian or Chinese social organisation.

  21. David Eddyshaw says


    All of the above, and more. As a schoolboy in 1960s Glasgow, however, I had not yet had the pleasure of acquaintance with many other exotic cultures.

    What I take to be your underlying point, viz that it is our modern Western culture that is in absolute terms particularly exotic, I am in complete agreement with.

    Oh, wait: you’re saying the opposite: you’re saying that ancient Greek and Roman culture was actually much like ours …

  22. Bathrobe says

    @Plastic Paddy

    No, it was the Penguin translation, I think. A long time ago.

    I don’t remember a lot of it but at the time the antics of the “lovers” acting under the influence of a love potion seemed lame to me. It’s not Homeric by any means but the whole plot and the story’s moral universe seemed alien.

    It’s only in hindsight that I realise that the love potion was a very thin cover for a shockingly immoral story. Even then shockingly immoral stories must have been regarded as more interesting than staid moral ones.

  23. PlasticPaddy says

    I think it boils down to (a) what the individual can comfortably imagine or absorb and (b) how conformist the “exotic” society is. For example you could live in Holland or Japan and choose not to eat raw fish. But for example, it might be harder to live and work as a minister in Africa and not marry.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    Even then shockingly immoral stories must have been regarded as more interesting than staid moral ones.

    That’s why “they all lived happliy ever after” is an ending formula rather than a beginning one.

    I think it’s artistically difficult to make morally good characters interesting, or indeed, anything other than annoying. Dickens often uses the artifice of making particularly moral characters also a bit ridiculous, so that they sneak under your guard.

  25. Dostoevsky, of course, agonized over the problem, doing his best to solve it with Prince Myshkin (who certainly comes across as a bit ridiculous, though perhaps not by authorial intention).

  26. The use of the preposterous neologism “unlearn” signifies immediate banishment to the Dead Essay Office…

  27. David Marjanović says

    [nɒɟ] is it; there is a front unrounded [aː] in the language, but that’s á as in László.

    I think it’s artistically difficult to make morally good characters interesting, or indeed, anything other than annoying.

    Mickey Mouse actually comes closest, and even he is much less popular than Donald Duck.

  28. David Marjanović says

    preposterous neologism

    Fills the lexical gap for verlernen, except that is usually unvoluntary ( = forgetting how to do stuff, not actively unlearning it).

    Umlernen. Transferring the status of having learned it from one skill to another.

    See also: hopefully “hoffentlich”.

  29. The OED has numerous citations for unlearn back as far as sixteenth century. The earliest is from a translation of The Imitation of Chirstby Thomas à Kempis: “Withstonde þyne inclinacion & unlerne evel custom,” where “unlearn” is used to translate Latin “dedisce.”

  30. “Unlearn” is perfectly cromulent word.
    Eleven years and two days ago I used it in a blog comment:

    “Once in law school, [students] have to unlearn most of what they’ve learned in philosophy, or history, or lit crit, because the fundamentals of legal reasoning are rooted in 19th century modes of argument and understanding. You can’t use modern humanities critical techniques and expect to succeed in law school or in a courtroom.”

  31. John Cowan says

    the love potion was just an excuse

    More precisely, it was a MacGuffin, something that sets the plot in motion but has no direct relevance to its unfolding. (The list of “See Also” links at the bottom of the WP page for MacGuffin is curious: alien space bats, Big Dumb Objects, a movie actually called The Double MacGuffin, the Sampo, the Schmilblick, Stanley Elkin (who strikes me as about as relevant to MacGuffins as Raoul Mitgong), and unobtainium.)

    preposterous neologism

    Hardly. The OED’s first quotation is from a 1500 translation of the Imitation of Christ: “Withstonde þyne inclinacion & unlerne evel custom.” Only slightly later is a dialogue by Lyly between Alexander and Diogenes: “How should one learn to be content?” says the first, and the second replies “Unlearn to covet.” The term has been in use ever since in a variety of closely related senses.

    I am not sure what you mean by exotic.

    Plastic Paddy’s list of points here makes me wonder how Irish people feel about the Táin (the people who have read it, anyhow): is there a sense of continuity with this Homeric work in the way that Modern Greeks feel a continuity with Homer?

  32. I say Nudge; I’ll try Nodge.

    For what it’s worth, my memory is that his brother (Joseph Nagy, also a mythologist, but specializing in Celtic/Medieval Irish mythology) pronounced it something like “nahzh”. (I took some mythology & folklore classes from him in the early 1990s.)

  33. @John Cowan: The potion in the story of Tristan and Isolde is not a MacGuffin at all, because its function is key to the plot. A MacGuffin is something which needs to be obtained, controlled, or whatever, because it has value. That may value may be from an important function; however, that function does not actually come into play in the story. Characters may come into conflict over the MacGuffin, but they will never use it.

    A very pure MacGuffin example is the ATAC unit in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only;* the function of the device is explained, which shows the audience why the Soviets want to obtain it. However it never actually does anything in the story; the plot is ultimately just about who has possession of it. In fact, the ATAC unit is not even really that useful to the British; they can replace it, and they really just want to keep it out of enemy hands. Once Bond recovers the ATAC, he simply destroys it. “That’s detente, comrade. You don’t have it. I don’t have it.”

    * For Your Eyes Only is felt by many to be the best of the Roger Moore era James Bond films, and it was probably the of the last films to be based primarily on plots by Ian Fleming.

  34. The story of Tristan and Isolde is a relative of the Irish story of Diarmuid and Gráinne, which does not have a love potion. It does have a sleeping potion, though. At her betrothal feast with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, Gráinne drugs everyone except Diarmuid. And then they have a geis (a sort of magical compulsion) put on them never to sleep two nights in the same bed. The ruins of Neolithic chamber tombs in Ireland are often called Beds of Diarmuid and Gráinne.

  35. Back to the Shahnameh, there’s a good translation by Dick Davis for Penguin. It is, of course, abridged, and what is translated varies between prose and poetry. The original is entirely in verse, and Davis wanted to give a taste of this, so translated whatever sections he felt he could into poetry — but he didn’t undertake the monumental task of rendering even an abridged Shahnameh entirely into verse. Probably also a wise choice for modern audiences, who can appreciate tasters of verse, but are generally less used to reading many hundreds of pages pure narrative poetry.

    It reads well as a translation. Excellent stories, a deft emotional touch, lots of turning of fortune. From what I’ve heard, and from my still unfortunately very limited grasp of New Persian, it conveys the aesthetics of the original as well as can be expected.

  36. PlasticPaddy says

    Re the Táin, my understanding is that the Red Branch Cycle did not penetrate to the popular consciousness in the way the stories of the Fianna did. I think also that the stories of the Fianna at least engaged with a Christian worldview. So they would be less foreign. Even these however are probably generally viewed as a vanished world. There is an expression “Oisín i ndiadh na Féinne” referring to a person who has outmoded views or expectations once (but no longer) shared by others.

  37. Trond Engen says

    David M.: Mickey Mouse actually comes closest

    Erast Fandorin?

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    I’m all in favour of impeccable heroes called Erast (a name which runs in my own family, though happily not as far as me …)

    My most recent forbear of that name was impressively polyglot, though (as far as I know) not in fact a Russian detective. Still, master of disguise …

  39. David Marjanović says

    Erast Fandorin?

    Quite possible – I had no idea.

  40. Crawdad Tom says

    Mickey Mouse may be more popular than we realize. See the beautiful Micky Mouse katsina on p. 116 of the pdf linked at “Rethinking Hopi Katsina Tithu.”

  41. Well, even Mickey started off as somewhat naughty ; I don’t know when he became the goodie-two-shoes that I remember from reading the comics during my childhood in the seventies.
    Other examples for mostly flawless but popular heroes would be Tintin or Lucky Luke; the secret is letting them have interesting adventures and surrounding them with colourful characters. And another point is probably that such heros appeal more to children than to adults.

  42. What of Bilbo and Frodo?

  43. Well, Bilbo has a mischievous streak and is deceiving his companions for some time, and the Hobbit was written as a children’s story, which seem to tend to have less flawed heroes. As for Frodo, he has his moments of weakness and in the end he gives in to temptation.

  44. Of the four principal heroes in The Lord of the Rings, three of them follow fairly conventional heroic archetypes: Frodo is the martyr, Aragorn the warrior, and Gandalf the magician.* Each of these roles has strengths, but also potential weaknesses. The major character who does not fit one of these molds so well is Sam, and Sam actually explicitly disclaims interest in such heroic modes in “Flight to the Ford”:

    “I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard—or a warrior!”
    “I hope not,” said Sam. “I don’t want to be neither!”

    * These come from a typology developed by Carol S. Pearson, with six character archetypes: innocent, orphan, martyr, wanderer, warrior, and magician. I remember the last four especially for each of them behaves when they encounter the Campbellian Dragon. The martyr dies; the wanderer flees; the warrior slays the Dragon; and the magician converts it. Pearson was interested particularly in the roles those archetypes play in people’s everyday lives. (Her book included a quiz to determine which archetypes were currently active in your own life.) Her approach was obviously therefore heavily influenced by Jung, but without Jung’s original misunderstanding of the nature of the subconscious.

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    No need for a quiz; I know mine already:
    Wanderer if I flee quickly enough; martyr if I trip over my own feet trying to escape.

    Dragons just want people to believe they can be slain or converted. Warriors and magicians contain all the vitamins a dragon needs.

  46. Trond Engen says

    Bilbo is interesting because he’s a little naughty and out of his depths. Frodo is the least interesting of the major characters in the Lord of the Rings.

  47. David Eddyshaw says

    I think Frodo is a good example of just how difficult it can be to make a morally good character interesting. Sam, on the other hand, actually shows that it can be done; the Faithful Retainer is probably easier to pull off than the Spotless Hero. (Sam Weller is an exceptionally well done Faithful Retainer, now I think of it; moreover, he’s funny instead of ridiculous. More of an option for Faithful Retainers, perhaps.)

  48. Owlmirror says

    I wonder what Pearson’s “convert” the dragon means?

    I see that the archetypes no longer number six, but rather a more archetypically zodiacal twelve:

    Creator, Ruler, Magician, Sage, Jester, Idealist, Realist, Caregiver, Warrior, Seeker, Lover, Revolutionary

    The new PMAI® is the product of several years of research, working with data from user results since 2003, and extensive psychometric testing to ensure the validity of the scores. Three of the archetype names were adjusted to make all of them equally positive.

    (PMAI® = Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® )

    In-deed . . . !!.

  49. Owlmirror says

    I don’t think Sam Gamgee is ridiculous.

  50. David Marjanović says

    My reaction to a dragon? Coward: Warrior if I can bring a gun to a whipfight, Wanderer otherwise.

    “First win, then go to battle.”
    – Sunzi of course

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t think Sam Gamgee is ridiculous.

    Nor do I. I put it clumsily. With “ridiculous” I was harking back to an earlier comment, not aspersing Sam G, who is a good example of an interesting Good character. I wonder if his batman-like (not Batman-like) role somehow made it more possible for Tolkien to keep him both interesting and likeable.

  52. @Owlmirror: Gandalf’s interaction with Theoden is a perfect example of the magician’s conversion. When the characters arrive at the golden hall, the reception is hostile, but Gandalf turns Theoden from seemingly hostile to a devoted ally.

    I thought Pearson’s original six archetypes were already possibly too many, and there was always a conflict between Pearson’s view of archetypes in literature and as styles of living. It’s no particular surprise that she decided to go all-in on the self help side, which must be more lucrative than literary criticism.

  53. John Cowan says

    Le Guin from her Jungian perspective says that the hero of the L.R. is Frodo/Sam/Slinker/Stinker, because in fantasy such personality fragments become distinct persons. C. S. Lewis makes a similar remark that I can’t quite remember at the present.

    In Tolkien’s Beowulf essay he says: “Even to-day (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who yet have been caught by the fascination of. the worm.” By the heroes that non-ignorant men (such as himself) have seen, he means specifically the men he commanded (briefly) on the Western Front. As Shippey says, the Battle of the Somme has become a byword for futility, but Tolkien did not see it so.

  54. Owlmirror says

    @Owlmirror: Gandalf’s interaction with Theoden is a perfect example of the magician’s conversion. When the characters arrive at the golden hall, the reception is hostile, but Gandalf turns Theoden from seemingly hostile to a devoted ally.

    Ah, it’s one o’ them mettyforical thingys! Not a firebreathing giant scaled winged “for you are crunchy and good with ketchup” Dragon, but a grumpypants human “dragon”!

    And what was Theoden’s archetype from his perspective during that encounter, I wonder? Since it doesn’t seem like “Dragon” is a distinct archetype, by Pearson’s schema.

    And presumably, the archetype can be different for different encounters? When Gandalf confronts the Balrog, he isn’t doing so as a Magician (archetype), because no conversion is possible, but as a Warrior (archetype), who must fight and kill? Or was he instead/also a Martyr (archetype), because his then-form was also killed?

    (Maybe stories, and lives, are more complicated than Pearson’s schema allows for?)

  55. John Cowan says

    Gandalf and the Balrog are fundamentally equals: White is mightier than Black, but not by much. They are both something we don’t see nowadays: incarnate angels, who have physical bodies with an angelic spirit inside.

  56. @Owlmirror: The “Dragon,” as a term of art in Joseph Campbell’s description of the “hero journey,” which Pearson was elaborating from, is the powerful enemy (prototypically a monster) that the hero needs to get past. Specifically, the Dragon is normally not the hero’s ultimate challenge but a secondary one, often (but not always) in the service of an even greater, but less physically threatening, foe. In more elaborate tales, there may be multiple secondary antagonists filling the Dragon role. Campbell chose the name based on the characteristics of the typical European dragon, which is a beast that guards and hoards things (most typically wealth and women) that it cannot itself use.

    For example, the first Greek mythical hero Cadmus, at the end of his wanderings, slew the water dragon that prevented everone from drinking from its magical spring. However, his final challenge was not that, but was creating the Boetian people and their city of Thebes, then granting the people writing. In Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, the actual dragon, Maur the Black, is by far the strongest physical foe the heroine faces. However, although it almost kills her, Maur is really nothing more than a raving beast, used as a cat’s paw by the more dangerous evil, the protagonist’s sorcerer uncle Agsded.

    Of course, characters evolve from one archetype to another, and different roles may be more important at different times. (Frodo covers all six of Pearson’s original list at various times. Martyr is his most important, but he is a warrior against the barrow-wight and, less successfully, a magician when dealing with Gollum, etc.)

    The Dragon may also play the role of the “threshold guardian,” which the hero must pass on the way to the realm of adventure. The hero journey begins typically with a “separation” phase, in which the protagonist is forced (by the “call to adventure”) from his (traditionally, such monomyth heroes are almost always male) homeland. The threshold guardian marks the separation between old realm and the new. If guardian is the Dragon itself, the hero will flee from his first encounter, entering into the wanderer phase. Only later does he return to face the Dragon again, slaying it (warrior archetype) in the most conventional storyline, but sometimes also convincing it to join the quest (magician).

  57. John Cowan says

    Which is why Beowulf is an elegiac hero: he slays the dragon all right, but the dragon slays him too, and the result is ruinous for his people.

  58. cambell has always seemed the chomsky of myth and folkloristics to me: so enamored of his abstractions that he loses sight of everything interesting (varied, flavorful, specific…) in the material he works with.

    but there are a lot of fascinating things to be said about the transformations and uses of the idea of eternal archetypes in the lineage from the evola/eliade/campbell zone of single-structure-seeking study of myth and folklore to the many flavors of self-help literature and new age thought that use them (overtly or covertly)… hadn’t come across pearson’s version before!

    (and lest i seem purely a hater: i assume there are other folks here who share my love for robertson davies’ The Manticore, which is the best novel i know written in the form of a jungian analysis…)

  59. @John Cowan: That’s another feature of the hero journey. After a summer-like period of prosperous rule, a hero is typically forced back into conflict. The hero dies a tragic death, and the land may be laid waste. Sometimes, the fall is the hero’s fault, sometimes not. Bellerophon tried to fly to Olympus in hubris, but he was thrown from Pegasus, blinded by falling in a thorn bush, and died ignominiously of rage or starvation.

    Often, but not always, the seeds of the hero’s final fall may be planted much earlier, during his rise. And when earlier failures are not part of the original story, they are often retconned in. Cadmus’s loss of Thebes in ignominious last days were a relatively old part of his myth; blaming his fate on the wrath of Ares, to whom the dragon was sacred, was probably a later addition. King Arthur perished in battle, supposedly against Mordred, who was probably one of Arthur’s own war band in actuality! However, over time, Mordred was made Arthur’s embittered nephew, then his embittered son, then (incestuously) both.

  60. i assume there are other folks here who share my love for robertson davies’ The Manticore, which is the best novel i know written in the form of a jungian analysis


  61. David Marjanović says

    he slays the dragon all right, but the dragon slays him too, and the result is ruinous for his people.

    That sounds familiar.

    (Outdated in that the saga is now in the third generation: Jenny Clack died earlier this year, although two papers she coauthored have come out since, and there will be many more.)

  62. What a tale!

  63. David Marjanović says

    Also missing: another paper on the vertebral column (2013), and two on the upper arms of Ichthyostega and others (2009, 2011). But most of the animal has not been redescribed, and I had to cite the 1996 monograph for a bunch of things in what ended up as the 2019 paper. Jarvik (1996) often simply did not describe features that are interesting in comparison with tetrapods, his drawings are highly idealized, and his photos (which sometimes contradict the drawings) are black-and-white and coarse-grained. And yet, the most surprising feature Jarvik described (and drew but did not photograph), a tiny tube-shaped bone in the nostril that has been lost and not found again and would fit his theoretical preconceptions suspiciously well, is probably real because it was found in another early limbed vertebrate in 2018…

  64. John Cowan says

    the saga is now in the third generation

    The definition of saga in the Hacker’s Dictionary is ‘a cuspy but bogus raving story about N random broken people’, where almost every content word is hacker jargon, including N. Clicking on the link will take you to the “Ginger! The spice that makes rotten meat taste good!” example of the form.

  65. How Dead Languages Work
    Coulter H. George
    Gives non-specialists a good idea of what it’s like to read ancient Greek, Latin, Old English, Sanskrit, Old Irish, and Hebrew without requiring a technical grounding in these difficult languages
    Grounds broader examination of linguistic features in discussion of specific ancient texts, with accompanying translations
    Draws linguistic and historical connections between superficially disparate languages, such as Sanskrit and English


  66. AJP Crown says

    juha, it sounds good. Have you read it?

  67. It does indeed!

  68. I like the section title “The eccentricities of the Irish language.”

  69. Have you read it?

    Just starting.

  70. Terrible title though. What Extinct Animals Were Like, anyone?

  71. David Eddyshaw says

    Daily Lives of the Peoples of the Prehistoric Remains.

  72. Multiple preverbation in Homeric Greek: A typological insight


  73. Here’s a summary, which is too theoretically/terminologically dense for me to really grasp:

    The present paper is a spin-off from my own PhD research (Imbert, 2008a) and intends to complement those works by exploring a system of multiple preverbation in Homeric Greek. This system is described here as involving “relational” preverbs and “satellite” preverbs, and as exhibiting grammaticalization from relational preverb to satellite preverb. This system has received some attention in the literature, often in sections devoted to “prepositions” (Schwyzer et al. 1950 ; Kühner et al. 1904) or “double prepositions” (Monro, 1891; Chantraine, 1963). A semantic analysis for this phenomenon generally remains fairly undeveloped, mostly considering the hypothesis of the intensification of the first preverb (the one closest to the verb stem) as does Chantraine (1963:144-145) or Monro (1891, emph. CI) who says: “It is characteristic of Homer to form species of compound by combining two Prepositions […]. In all these instances the meaning and construction are mainly determined by the first of the two Prepositions. The second does little more than add some emphasis.” On the morphosyntactic level, the literature is mostly concerned with identification and categorization matters (as will be addressed later here, in section 2.3).

    The hypothesis proposed in this paper, inspired by earlier work on Amerindian languages (Craig & Hale 1988; Craig 1993, Grinevald 2003) and general typology (Bybee 1985), sees multiple preverbation as an emergent system of Path coding that involves (a) a morphosyntactic system of “relational preverbs” and (b) strict semantic constraints on the order of affixation of the preverbs on the verb stem. The analysis also reveals interesting interactions between semantics and morphosyntax: overall, the preverb that is closer to the verb stem is relevant to the determination of the Figure and its Path, while the preverb that is farther away from the verb stem is relevant to the determination of the Ground. Morphosyntactically, the latter preverb is also systematically the one that introduces the oblique verb argument, which is the overt expression of the Ground.

  74. Aw. The opening of the titular essay is such a sad worldview:

    There will never be a time when my voice, embodied as it is in the privilege and experience I bring with me, does not drown out others

    There’s eloquence to the discussion of Homer as such that follows (or the earlier essay), but it seems to me that once you grant whataboutism free reign, concede that your (career’s or field’s) entire existence is a slight against others and should be apologized for, there can be no stable defense and the only endgame for this would be the eventual elimination of “the Classics” from the American university system; or at least of Classics scholars who subscribe to this type of attitude. I mean I probably would not notice if it had gone missing already (at some point one starts to wonder how many scholar-millennia does it take to have studied Homer to sufficient exhaustion?), just a shame for the future of the people currently wrapped up in it. And maybe tangential bad news to people in fields where it might be useful to know something about Homer. (Not that, say, IE studies is really represented in the Americas either though.)

    And then despite the attempt, do I find this inspiring me to read Homer either…? Probably not, or no more than I already have. (Back as a tiny preteen nerd I had a passing special interest in Greek mythology, in retrospect perhaps more accurately described as an interest in theogony; this scored me first an abridged prose Odysseus and later the full poetic version as well as the Iliad in my possession. The former was a fun enough fairytale, the latter two were a giant slog that sailed right past my head. One might expect this phase to have informed an eventual interest in linguistics but in practice only by nudging me slightly towards Tolkien a few years later.) Today it probably would prove more readable, but I’ve got way more than enough other things bookmarked already to check out one day maybe. Even just in major poetic epics I can think of about five other things I’d probably prioritize ahead of it.

  75. at some point one starts to wonder how many scholar-millennia does it take to have studied Homer to sufficient exhaustion?

    Never mind analysis; insofar as there is a living tradition of reading Latin and Greek texts in the original, that tradition is worth maintaining even if those texts have been exhaustively and perfectly understood. Though I do wonder how many classicists can actually do that.

  76. No objection to that from me. Current university practices seem to not quite agree though, in generally demanding their experts to be also researchers producing papers for the paper throne and then asking to also individually justify the need for these papers. Since “grant applier” is basically already a position, one wonders when departments start having specialized positions for “existence justifiers”? (Might not be too doable however, insofar as that would often end up as a position defending departments not just against external funders’ apathy but also against the university’s own management.)

    Homer of course isn’t all of antiquity and we do see most Classicists calling themselves that, not just Homerists.

  77. David Marjanović says

    papers for the paper throne

    Day saved for the next 40,000 years.

  78. That would often end up as a position defending departments not just against external funders’ apathy but also against the university’s own management

    And About Damn Time, too. Time was, almost in living memory, when the administrative people were chosen by the Faculty (capitalization of respect), from the Faculty, to serve the Faculty, often at a heavy cost to themselves. But in a Hegelian reversal of the Anti-Dühring, those chosen for the “administration of things” have arrogated to themselves the “governance of people”. The distinction between faculty and staff is now a purely internal class distinction that nobody else cares a hoot about. Teachers and researchers, who need peers and mentors, not bosses, are reduced to (admittedly haut) proletarian status.

    Etc. (regretfully chokes off rant)

  79. David Marjanović says

    Completely different development over here: the faculty is the administration. The faculty does administration on the side, no matter if it gives them burnout syndrome.

    Long gone are the times when every full professor had a secretary, too. Nowadays there’s about one per department.

  80. David Eddyshaw says

    If I too may rant: I don’t think meaningful reform in NHS hospital administration is going to happen so long as Hospital General Managers (an honourable and valuable job) continue to be called Chief Executives.

  81. I enjoy all of your rants. (Insert rant here about the humble Personnel Department transmogrifying itself into the all-powerful Human Resources in the corporate world.)

  82. Andrej Bjelaković says

    “Completely different development over here: the faculty is the administration. The faculty does administration on the side, no matter if it gives them burnout syndrome.

    Long gone are the times when every full professor had a secretary, too. Nowadays there’s about one per department.”

    Same thing over here.

  83. There are actually a lot of similarities between the way universities and hospitals in America are managed (at least for non-profits; for-profit businesses in both areas are very different). Both have conceptions of shared governance between the body of “providers”—the professors or physicians—and the “administration.” At the lower (departmental) levels, the faculty or doctors largely manage themselves and their departmental employees, with the departmental leaders who oversee their colleagues selected by higher-level administrators. Many key higher administration positions were also traditionally filled by members of the faculty or staff physicians. However, there has been movement away from this in recent years, as more and more upper-level administrators are drawn from the outside managerial class. I remember a colleague of my father’s bemoaning how it was becoming, in the early 2000s, commonplace for hospitals to have chief executive officers who were not doctors, as the administration and budgeting processes were coming to be seen as too complicated to be led by physicians.

    We recently, at the University of South Carolina, had something analogous with our president. Our most recent president, Robert Caslen, did not have a doctorate. He did not come from a managerial background however, but from the military. He had previously been superintendent at West Point,* which is one of the country’s most atypical institutions of higher education. There was a great deal of inappropriate political interference surrounding his hiring (with the Republican governor and legislators pushing for somebody who was not a regular academic), angering both the faculty and our regional accreditation agency. Caslen actually did a fairly creditable job, even in the midst of the pandemic, but he was evidently unhappy. As soon as there were some internal protests** about him plagiarizing part of a graduation speech, he upped stakes and quit, leaving our previous president to come back to be interim*** president for another year.

    * That’s metonymy for the Unites States Military Academy, which is our dedicated institution for training army officers. (At certain points in the past, graduates have also been eligible to be commissioned in other services.)

    ** These protests were spearheaded by the interim*** chair of my department, who is actually an outsider from the philosophy department, appointed by the interim*** dean of our college, who is also an outsider, who came over from the law school.

    *** Literally everyone who is above me in the university’s (complicated, non-tree) organizational chart is currently serving under an interim appointment. Literally everyone.

  84. On all of this, see David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.

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