Fragments of Frank: “The Argument…”

10.6.10 (con.)

The Argument We’ve Been Presenting

Remember how we described one of the characteristics of Homeric poetry? Something that is related to the way they make the poems? The poems are “retarded” in the sense that the dramatic action doesn’t determine what is said or what the words are? So a person could say…The best example is in Book I when Achilles picks up the staff and is going to swear on the basis of his crook, which is a sign of his authority as a prince. As he picks it up the poet describes the crook in six or seven lines: “the wood came from Mount Pelion! It was carved carefully!” And there he his, he’s holding the damn thing still while the poet describes it. The action: the way we would experience that in real life, is “retarded,” that is, slowed down. [A chuckle from the group.] Yes, slowed down. The only reason I use the word “retarded” is because the person who wrote most about this called it “Homeric retardation,” not that there was something wrong with it, but that it just holds back the dramatic action. Now if you read Herodotus he does the same thing. He stops to describe things. And significantly–at length. It isn’t as dramatic as the Homeric poems where people are giving speech after speech and you’re following the action of the characters in a much more focused and deliberate way, but it still holds back this story. It still seems like—and the examples which I picked out, the foreshadowing of Thermopylae, for instance—you see lots of places where there are huge catalogs, like, for instance, where he describes where all the people come from. That’s a big giant ethnography. If you read Book 2 of Homer, it’s the catalog of warriors. It’s almost the exact same thing as what you read in Herodotus. So you have these elements which are not directly part of mytho-poetic tradition. But the point of the mytho-poetic methodology…Herodotus is doing something very similar to the poet. You have to juxtapose that, the ethnographic piece. And remember: don’t trash the poets so much that when they do their own ethnography, they’re not doing real ethnography. Just for the sake of discussion, remember that Havelock’s argument is that it was the cultural encyclopedia. It’s what people understood about the world. That’s what they found in Homer. His understanding doesn’t have so much to do with the content, it has to do with the state of mind that everyone’s in as they learn the content or provide the content. But they don’t have that capacity to move into that objective position as knowers. That’s the argument we’ve been presenting.

Reading Thucydides

The word that Thucydides uses at the beginning, he says “I want to write.” The Greek word is “sun graphe.” First of all, let me tell you something. We haven’t talked about this yet. If you were to read Thucydides in Greek it is staggeringly difficult. It is staggeringly difficult. This is self-reported. You could be studying Greek for 4-5 years and when you get to Thucydides it’s a different universe. It’s a very complex and difficult…the process of rendering it into English is a challenge. Most of the people who really know how to read Thucydides really will never know whether they really know how to read Thucydides. Because they’ve already read Thucydides, and it took such pain to read it, that they could never know whether they’ve read Thucydides or not. There’s nothing else written by Thucydides and there’s nothing else that’s as hard to read. The word “sun graphe” is a word that’s made up. You can’t understand it by looking at the other uses of it. You can’t figure out what the semantic field was for that word. You have to figure it out. The word “sun” in Greek means “with” or “together.” It’s like our “communicate” or “compose”: it’s the “com” part. Which always means “together” or “bringing together.” So somehow he created a word which means “bringing everything together” and “writing.” “Graphe” means writing. So he really saw himself as a writer. Even though later he’ll talk about people listening to his work, because he knows that despite the fact that he wrote it, that it will be read and listened to more probably than any other way, just simply because of the basic logistics of being able to reproduce something at that time, which was so difficult. We’ll talk about that more when we get to the printing press. So “sun graphe” is his word. That seems to imply that he’s doing to do something that some people would describe as giving you a “complete view.” Based on his analysis. He talks about his analytic efforts: in that first passage, after he does his little review of the history for which there are no sources. He basically trashes his own history with no sources, and he says he’s going to do everything looking forward despite that, and how careful he’s going to be.

The First, Most Powerful Statement of Something That Never Made Any Sense To Me

Herodotus he uses a different word, which I haven’t studied as closely in preparation for today, but it’s “apodeixis,” which means “display.” So he’s going to lay out in front of you something you can see. The word is often used in the context of the rhetorical tradition. People who are learning to be great artists, who are practicing speeches, where they’re learning to display themselves. Or if they were doing something like…If I were to use the adjective in English, “apodeictic”: for Thucydides it would be the funeral oration of Pericles. Which is an effort to create in your mind two distinct images. One of them is a powerful state and the other image is of an ideal citizen, all directed at convincing people that it’s okay to die for your country. That’s the first, most powerful of statement of something that never made any sense to me.

 

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