Τετάρτη, 12 Ιανουαρίου 2011

HOMER, THE SUN THAT NEVER SETS του Τίτου Χριστοδούλου


The plot is ingenious, the magnitude 'epic', the complexity masterly, the structural technique novel, the narrative engaging, the unity binding the monumental compositions striking, the grandeur and beauty of the solemn poetic diction superb, the theme eternal, the appeal for scholarly quest undying. The age: primordial. The relevance imperative. Α most engaging teaching of what it is to be human.

With the Iliad and Odyssey, Greek poetry - indeed Western poetry -has started with nothing less but two monumental masterpieces. Whether they are the culmination of a long line of oral tradition contributing several lays of distinct, recitable tales, as is universally accepted since the time of F.W. Wolf's pioneering work on the Homeric question in 1795, or represent the reworking by a commanding genius (Homer), the Iliad and the Odyssey have all the merits of brilliantly finished art. ∂merging at the very dawn of the perceived Western poetic tradition, Homer has been universally celebrated as the 'founder and father-figure of the Classical tradition.'

Generation after generation have been fascinated by the vividly real and colourful yet dramatic fairy-tale of the heroic, Homeric world. The Iliad unravels the appeal of the tragic but inspiring heroic life, where 'out of hopelessness grows not hope but glory', and human weakness stands up to unshakeable Fate to snatch the glimpse of victory, burdened each time with the foretelling of impending doom. It is the story of the quest for excellence within the perils of mortality. The human story, told with a dramatic, indeed tragic intensity unsurpassed. The most striking desctiptive poetry ever written

In Odyssey the story is not that of the event of a terrible sentiment, 'menis' (rage – μήνις) around which the plot is weaved, unfolding its tragic consequences. It is the story of a man, 'andra' and his unflinching pursuance of a single goal, the return home, battling the waves and the anger of their venomous master God, Poseidon, on a flimsy raft, to rest finally on his ”rooted raft”, the marital bed. Here we admire displayed human endurance and inventiveness against all odds - with or even against the Gods, in the pursuit of that unwavering goal: the return, nostos, νόστος, a notion of such profound metaphoric resonances that assured it the unending recurrence in world's literature. Odyssey is 'the epic turning into a novel', prominence being given to the elusive character of the man: 'andra polytropon', his versatility, outwitting prowess, craftiness and soft tongue, the all important virtue of metis (μήτις). The 'Quest for Ulysses' has not ended, through the ages in world's art and literature, as W. Stafford's brilliant monography has unfolded.

And if according to the pseudo-Longinus' essay on Style in the Odyssey (with regards to the Iliad) one could compare Homer with the setting sun, who retains its size without losing its vigour, the Odyssey, considered to be the earlier of the two, is the rising sun of poetry. A beginning embracing all the splendour that poetry had in store for poetic imagination. 

It is the Odussey...Tenderness, fancy, irony, lyricism superior to that of the Iliad but not the same poetic intensity. 

'Ulysses gaze', to mention the most recent artistic 'celebration' of the eternal theme in Angelopoulos film, reconstitutes our historic and personal identity in the motion of traversing the foggy landscapes of return.

There are indeed reasons to still celebrate Homer. 

A passage from the Presocratic Philosopher Xenophanes, traces his contemporaries' (religious) beliefs back to Homer's teaching. His wording is revealing: ‘εξ αρχής, καθ’ Όμηρον μεμαθήκασι πάντες...' (ex arches kath' Homeron epei memathekasi pantes - from the beginning, having all learned from Homer'). It is a telling passage, attributing to Homer the beginning of knowledge and the commonly held beliefs of the Greeks.

Twenty eight centuries later, the quest for Ulysses goes on. Homer is still teaching us.

Titos Christodoulou

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