Iliad

Carlos Zilio, 1970, day after day, 50x35
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By TRAJANO VIEIRA*

“Afterword” by the translator of the new version of Homer’s work

Unlike the Odyssey, in which the hero's adventure is responsible for the romantic nature of the poem, the Iliad has a – we would say – metaphysical dimension, which revolves around values ​​of the heroic code. Among the most important are community recognition of feats of achievement and the role of Philia, friendship.

These relatively fixed values ​​are far from resulting in a linear narrative. Although Aristotle (Poetics, VIII) identifies a common trait in both poems, the unity of action, one cannot fail to notice that the Iliad, despite the structural consistency over more than 15 verses, uses many other resources, such as digressions and side episodes, which are equally relevant. Achilles' decision to abandon the war plays a central role in the poem.

In the tenth year of the conflict at Troy, the period in which the Iliad, the character leaves the battlefield because he considers himself discredited by Agamemnon and the other Argive leaders. The dishonor he suffers, having been forced to hand over Briseis to the Atrid leader, tarnishes his glory. Disrepute affects the main reason a hero fights: hoarding, in addition to rewards (Geras) in recognition of his honor (timid), narratives about his deeds of greatness.

Much has been written about whether Achilles' attitude would be exaggerated or not, but this line of interpretation seems less interesting to me than noting that it is thanks to his behavior that the hero acquires the characteristics that make him unique: voluntarism, restlessness, haughtiness, explosive temper, impetuosity. It can be argued that his inflexible personality caused the death of countless Greeks, but, as the character himself observes on more than one occasion, he was not the one who started the war, nor did he have a personal reason to fight the Trojans.

Aristotle's commentary defines, in addition to the action, the coherence of the character himself, maintained throughout the entire work. One aspect to highlight about this point is that Achilles returns to war no longer to defend the honor of the Greeks, but to preserve his friendship with Patroclus, murdered by Hector. It is, therefore, because of an attitude that seals the bond between the heroes that Pelida returns to face the Trojans.

philia is a complex term about which there are many studies. If its affective dimension seems undeniable, there is also the fact that the character sees himself somehow reflected in the other, that the other is somehow his own image, insofar as both represent the defense of the code of conduct that transcends them, defined by courage and admiration. Narcissism and competitiveness are distinctive traits of the Homeric character. The heroes have seemingly unlimited splendor, or rather, their actions are the result of the admirable vigor that, at different times, seems to exist to highlight its opposite, fragility and unavoidable death.

This is the paradox that constitutes what we could call the ontological dimension of the Iliad: the heroes perform successive extraordinary actions, but the closer they get to the limit to which a man can reach, the more the urgency of death becomes evident. The drama of the passages in which the theme of the fragility of life is mentioned has never been surpassed in Western literature. As is known, the Greeks often resorted to the polarized structure to expose an existential situation or a theoretical question. A Iliad it is the earliest example of this procedure that will have a strong impact on later scientific and philosophical thought. It does not surprise us, therefore, that the gods participate much more in Iliad than gives Odyssey.

Odysseus plays with human precariousness, devising unusual solutions that guarantee his survival. In the novel's plot Odyssey, the hero's joy stands out, which reflects his satisfaction in testing his intellectual capacity at all times in the face of the unexpected. Odysseus finds fulfillment in the search for the most complex strategies to get around mishaps, as the episode of the Cyclops Polyphemus reveals. The exercise of ingenuity satisfies the character, which is constituted from the awareness of transience. He has no illusion that the immediate event is fleeting, nor that it will not be repeated in its entirety.

The hero's distinctive trait lies in knowing how to deal, as an expert juggler, with the originality that particularizes each phenomenon he encounters. These aspects help us to better understand the passages of the Iliad in which Achilles displays little affinity with Odysseus. The first is idealistic; the second, analytical. Achilles' rage is, as they say, visceral. Even after carrying out actions that would appease any other hero, such as carrying out the funeral of Patroclus and the death of Hector, Achilles is unable to control his anger, and returns to vilify the antagonist's corpse.

It would be hard to imagine Odysseus acting like this. If, on the one hand, the unreflected power of Achilles' aggressiveness is unavoidable, on the other hand, it is insufficient to place him on a different level from his peers. Achilles is the best of the Achaeans, but this recognition does not change his awareness that nothing he does will guarantee him a different status from the others. His tormented, anguished and obsessive nature finds in uncontained strength the resource to make kleos, renown and fame prevail throughout tradition.

The function of the gods is not limited to establishing the parameter of eternity in relation to perishable heroes, but has to do with the narrative structure of the episodes. Decisions, interventions, setbacks, suffering, plans, contemplations reveal the dynamics of a society relatively similar to the human one. This comes to light above all in the stratagems that the numerals arm against or in favor of the two armies in conflict. The involvement is so great that there are times when a god is criticized by another inhabitant of Olympus.

After all, why would you want to participate in the fate of characters whose suffering seems so insignificant from the perspective of eternity? It would not be a mistake to assume that the curiosity of the gods for men is due to the fact that they possess something that the former are unaware of: the sense of transience. That is, eternity does not guarantee completeness, even if the missing aspect has a negative character. In a sense, it is ontological difference which, from the Olympian perspective, leads the gods to participate so keenly in the human universe.

There is something so unreasonable about this participation that it often triggers laughter in the society of the blessed. Humor, absent from the heroic universe, is recurrent on Olympus, and precisely reflects the meaninglessness of the intense divine participation and, from the perspective of eternal temporality, the meaninglessness of the conflicts in which an immense number of heroes, fundamentally identical, are involved. . The equivalence between opposites appears in the episode of the encounter between Glaucon and Diomedes (VI, 145-236). After listening to the Lycian warrior's account of his own lineage, Diomedes recalls that 986 an ancestor had hosted the ancestor of his antagonist. At that moment, the heroes realize that there would be a bond of friendship between them, sealed by the rite of hosting between relatives, and that, in a way, they would be identical.

Note that this scene opens with Glaucon's extraordinary reflection on the fragility and brevity of life, probably the oldest comparison in Western literature between human destiny and the plant cycle, taken up, for example, by Mimnermo (fragment 2 West) and by Simonides (fragment 8 West: “The most remarkable thing said the man of Chios:/ as the generation of the leaves, so also the generation of men”). The episode revolves around two related themes: the institution of ksenía (“hospitality”) and reciprocity. In his long digression, Glaucon alludes to his ancestor Bellerophon. Guest of Proitos, Bellerophon is accused of harassment by the queen, after avoiding her amorous advances. Unable to kill a guest, Proitos sends him to his father-in-law Iobates, who is also prevented from murdering him, for the same reason.

Iobates gives Bellerophon a series of seemingly unrealizable tasks (killing the Chimera, the Amazons), which he succeeds in, being rewarded by the king. It is at this point in the story that Diomedes remembers that Bellerophon had been a guest of his grandfather, Oineu, which would make it impossible for him, Diomedes, to face Glaucus. Then follows the decision to exchange weapons, an act that reaffirms the pact of family friendship. It is noted, therefore, in this episode, that the function of Philia, on which the heroic military code is based, prevails even over circumstantial disagreement.

The pact of friendship between enemies is also present in Canto VII, in the scene where Hector and Ajax face each other. With the approach of night, both the Greeks and the Trojans exhort the two heroes to suspend the duel, which in fact occurs, not without the exchange of arms, whose function is to sign a pact of friendship (philotes): “In the war that devours the heart they dueled,/ but fraternal now the pair separates” (VII, 301-2). The digressive moments follow one another in the poem and are an important resource in the characterization of other aspects of the heroic experience, as is the case of the poignant encounter between Hector, Andromache and their young son, or the extremely dramatic scene in which Helena identifies the Greek heroes on the tower beside Priam.

Situations like this suggest a certain autonomy between the chants, which, at the limit, could reflect the context of rhapsodic presentations, in which the poem was not recited in its entirety in a single day. This is one of the traits of the author's genius, who does not lose control of the internal coherence of a very extensive work, although it consists of a large number of peripheral episodes that gravitate around the core: the effects of Achilles' anger and the expectation of your feedback. Interestingly, in the very first song, Achilles not only expresses his decision to abandon the war, but also to return immediately to his native country. In Canto IX, he reaffirms his plan to Odysseus, Ajax and Phoenix, who try to convince him of the opposite, making use of very well calibrated rhetorical strategies and arguments with strong emotional appeal.

We can ask ourselves why Achilles does not carry out the project. Perhaps the answer lies in Canto IX itself, more precisely, in the activity that the best of the Achaeans perform on the arrival of the ambassadors. It is surprising to see him performing the role of aed, resonating the lyre. Homer alludes to the theme of his song: kleos aphthiton (413), an expression that defines the object of the Iliad itself: imperishable glory. Achilles performs a traditional chant, along the lines of the Iliad, like the one that Homer himself probably interpreted throughout his rhapsodic activity. When singing a poem like the Iliad, responsible for maintaining heroic renown throughout tradition, Achilles realizes that, at some point, he must return to war to become, in the future, a character in the poem.

There is, therefore, equivalence between military action and participation in the epic work. The eternity of the feat depends on the literary representation. Without the latter, the former fades and is lost in oblivion. By placing a work along the lines of the Iliad in the mouth of the poem's main character, Homer in a way highlights the function of poetry itself for the preservation of actions over time. This conception will have great relevance in the Greek literary tradition, especially in Pindar, whose odes link sporting prowess to literary achievement.

Unlike the Odyssey, the strong point of Iliad it's not the unusual episodes, but the tension that comes from a very high number of debates (7.018 verses, corresponding to 45% of the total, appear in direct speech) and the portentous detail of the conflict scenes, with cinematographic moments of passages in which prevails the descriptive synecdoche. No description beats that of Achilles' new weaponry in canto XVIII, manufactured by the lame god Hephaestus. 988 The verbal efficiency of this passage concentrates what is most original in the poem.

Scenes succeed each other before the reader, as the laborious god composes his different motifs. The accumulation of plastic elements offers different scenarios, which make us think of the collage of modern painting: young people celebrating a wedding that is about to take place, a king who happily observes the abundance of the harvest, an intriguing debate that has to do with the origin of institutions law in the West. On this subject, the structure of the quarrel that is established in an environment that has been maintained, in general terms, throughout the tradition, is in fact surprising: there is a dispute about a fine, due to a murder. One of the parties claims to have paid the debt, the other denies having received it. A judge conducts the proceedings amidst the noisy atmosphere of the divided jurors.

These elements just alluded to indicate that even remotely (we accept that the poem was configured in the middle of the eighth century BC) there would be traces of dialogism that would reach its apex in the Athenian democratic environment, several centuries later. If the archaeological data according to which the polis Greek would have emerged in the eighth century BC, the precocity of the legal institution in Greece is admirable, with the functionality represented in the shield.

Achilles' shield is the microcosm of a civilization and also synthesizes a poetic practice, the prevalence of the paratactic structure, the centripetal tendency of expansions that are never lost in randomness, thanks to the author's remarkable narrative control, as Aristotle well observed in the passage mentioned above. previously. Studies on orality, mainly the pioneering and, in many aspects, unsurpassed work of Milman Parry, have shown fundamental mechanisms of this extremely sophisticated and functional clockwork of Homeric language.

From the point of view of the language, there are several registers of different dialectal forms of the same word (the dative of “pé”, for example, appears in both Ionic Posí and Aeolian Podessi), a fact that suggests, at least at a certain time, that the poem may have been written in different regions or by poets from different regions of Greece. This is an issue that remains open to discussion among specialists. What few disagree with is that the poem, mainly due to the great recurrence of formulas, pays tribute to the long oral tradition that left admirable marks on the text we know: great efficiency of the communicative dynamics, choice of functional motifs in the quick 989 characterizations, expansions subjected to cuts sudden shifts and agile displacements of scenarios, realigned in the narrative flow always attentive to the progression of the main motif.

Allow me to conclude on a brief personal note. I remember a comment that Haroldo de Campos used to make in our weekly meetings, during the ten years in which I had the opportunity to accompany his work of translating the Iliad. Haroldo used to say: “The Iliad has no filler”. Indeed, the difficulty of translating Homer is due to the high quality that does not cool down, not the verbal difficulty. I believe that a new foray into the text, with a view to the project of poetic reconfiguration, after Harold's admirable undertaking, is justified if we admit that this type of challenge to the original is, above all, an opportunity for rigorous reading. The possibility of rereading the poem from the angle of someone who seeks to reimagine it in a parallel configuration was what motivated me to translate it again, under the aegis of pleasure.

*Trajano Vieira is professor of Greek Language and Literature at the Institute of Language Studies at Unicamp.

Reference

Homer. Iliad; bilingual edition; translation, afterword and notes by Trajano Vieira. São Paulo, Publisher 34, 2020.

 

 

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