Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Homer's Heritage


On Homer's Trojan War · Homer's Heritage · Homer's "Illiad" as it was misspelled - a Quoran asked on accuracy

Hans-Georg Lundahl
2:12 A historical account doesn't become inherently totally garbled and inaccurate, just because some of the magic the historiographer believes in is false, and therefore some of his explanations for events are false. ...

Rest of
above comment, and a first reply and my reply to it, are on the post:

Assorted retorts from yahoo boards and elsewhere : On Homer's Trojan War
https://assortedretorts.blogspot.com/2022/05/on-homers-trojan-war.html


Mordirit
@Hans-Georg Lundahl the issue you're forgetting when it comes to Homer's historicity is a gap of around half a thousand years between fact and recording. While I have time and again been dumbfounded by the incredible skill oral cultures have of keeping stories unaltered through time, the same can't be said at all about writing societies, and that is part of the tragedy with the Illiad: it was written hundreds of years after the fact, having been kept alive as an oral tale in a predominantly written society.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no telling how accurate Homer's writing is when compared to fact. If I started writing a poem right now about the events of the first Portuguese colony in Brazil roughly 500 years ago, I would probably get the plot of my epic poem pretty close to fact, since I've studied that for over a decade... But what if you yourself, after being permitted walking the streets of Brazil for about a year collecting whatever the public at large happens to think of this, also wrote a poem about it? Do you think it would have the same level of accuracy?

Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which of those two realities comes closer to what happened with the Illiad. It might have been an incredibly well preserved story that mostly hits factual beats although fantasized through the lenses of the writers' beliefs. It might as well have been entirely made up fiction derived entirely from a handful of peripherically relevant facts. The biggest problem is, we haven't found conclusive proof either way around, and probably never will.

So, in this situation, the safest way to derive more knowledge from the matter is to treat the Illiad as highly questionable evidence. For instance, the Tawagawala Letter implies heavily that the Hatti king wasn't interested in an escalation of the conflict. Now, it doesn't even matter if you conclude the Hatti were the Greeks or the Trojans from the Illiad: the attitude found in that letter is nowhere to be found among the monarchy of EITHER side in the poem. So, since it is impossible to know how much (if any) of the poem is historical, and since the other evidence being weighted against it is historical (in that it was originally created with the intention of documenting a given event), taking the Illiad's side and concluding that both "Agamennon and Priam" really really wanted a bloody war, Priam's son didn't and almost managed to avert open conflict, but a crazed, demon possessed or god touched archer ended up breaking the cease fire and made things become an open battle... Well, it wouldn't exactly be the most logical of decisions.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Mordirit There is one major point against your reasoning.

"having been kept alive as an oral tale in a predominantly written society."

It was not.

The Linear B was not in common use, you do not find graffitis in Linear B, it was a tool for tax collectors.

Homer would have remotely heard of them (they were gone) and in one episode (which may be a fairy tale inserted as a very short aside, unless some demon acted the Chimaera), he called them "semata lugra" - this may be context, the text would have condemned Bellerophon to death if he hadn't changed it, but it may also have been the general feeling of the general public against a tax collector tool like Linear B.

Semata lugra means baleful signs.

The Kadmean letters didn't come into use to about the time of Homer, were not equally used everywhere, and would certainly not have interfered with the professional skills of aoidoi, from whose number Homer was.

I answered very quickly, and if there is anything in your reply which this does NOT take care of, please tell me, you needn't repeat it, just say what paragraph.

And by the way, the Homeric poems (still on this point) very definitely do show very clear signs of oral composition and recitation from memory.

The songs are around 5 or 600 lines, and they are riddled with set formulas and set passages, where the poet-performer need only recall the onset to have a few seconds in which to recall the next bit.

The findings of Milman Parry are perfectly applicable.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Mordirit I was unfortunate enough to actually try html when copying this to a post, so I couldn't miss some of your other points.

"But what if you yourself, after being permitted walking the streets of Brazil for about a year collecting whatever the public at large happens to think of this, also wrote a poem about it? Do you think it would have the same level of accuracy?"

Well - did Homer get his info from "the public at large" or was he heir to aoidoi having handed down shorter poems?

He certainly very clearly suggests aoidoi existed in the times he described, and Demodocus comes to mind.

He is also pretty familiar with Ithaca, if Dörpfeld was correct about the Santa Mavra identification. Could he have used family traditions from a somewhat royal ancestor, like Ulysses?

And 800's BC was a time when not all (confer Sparta) but lots of Greek city states lost their monarchy in favour of oligarchy or aristocracy depending on how you chose to describe it.

Speculation? Yes - but so is your bet on his having what you would consider "bad sources."

Brazil - a first trip by French Calvinists who came into conflict with Indians, the French had other issues than continuing (and the Calvinist was impopular at home) the Portuguese saw an opportunity. On the streets of Sao Paolo, in one year, I could certainly collect episodes and names for the Portuguese who came and what king.

It would at least be as accurate as a children's story book about it.

Since the equivalent is the worst you honour Homer with, I think we have a somewhat garbled but not totally way off account.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Mordirit "It might as well have been entirely made up fiction derived entirely from a handful of peripherically relevant facts."

For the "main plot" of the Iliad, around Hektor, this is an option already mentioned by Walter Leaf. Possible. But also possible, some descendant of him arrived in Ithaca.

On Hektor getting killed by Achilles, it's perhaps 50 / 50 % either way.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Mordirit "For instance, the Tawagawala Letter implies heavily that the Hatti king wasn't interested in an escalation of the conflict."

Irrelevant, if the letter was from a century before the Trojan War.

There were appeasements between France and Germany in a much shorter time between 1870 and 1914.

"Now, it doesn't even matter if you conclude the Hatti were the Greeks or the Trojans from the Illiad:"

In Walter Leaf's view, both Achaeans and Trojans were "satrapies" of the Hittite Empire. Obviously ignoring Hattusha, if so, by making a civil war.

Another possibility is, the Trojan war took place after Hattusha was already down (according to "dark lords of Hattusha" after a civil war, btw).

So, the Tawagawala letter was absolutely no reason against Homeric truth. It's like making the French invasion in Germany in 1813 a proof that France started world war II.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
@Mordirit I was sloppy with references, the "Another possibility is" that of Eberhart Zangger.

He considered Luwians took down Hattusha before Achaeans took down Troy.

Probably still does.

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