Myth – Poetry - Truth The Ancient Quarrel
Chronology • Late Bronze Age Aegean (c.1400s-1100s) • Iron Age • Protogeometric (c.1100-900) • Geometric (c.900-700) • Archaic (c.700-480) • Classical (480-323) • Hellenistic (323-146)
Late Bronze Age Aegean (LBA) • Mycenaean Culture • The historical events depicted in Iliad occur • Massive (fortified) citadels & palaces on mainland Greece and throughout Aegean (e.g., Crete, Troy) • Spoke an early form of Greek • Wrote in a script known as “linear B,” a syllabary rather than an alphabet.
Protogeometric (c.1100-900) • So-called because of the predominance of proto-(almost, pre-, early) geometric pottery. i.e., the style of the painting on pottery. • Often referred to as the “dark age” of Greece because there is no written record from this time. Linear B disappeared with collapse of Mycenaean LBA cultures • History, philosophy, etc. were all passed-on through word of mouth and were a part of oral/lyric tradition: i.e., derived from “stories” and “myths”
Geometric (c.900-700) • Pottery painted with “geometric” style. • Writing returns to Greece (the Iliad and Odyssey) • Written in Greek alphabet (not Linear B – although it has been proven that the language was basically the same, just using a different script) • Poetry/lyric tradition continues to dominate; institution of writing simply canonizes the “stories”
Archaic (c.700-480) • A great deal of writing. Poetry continues to dominate in terms of ideology, but there are also many other sorts of inscriptions, usually religious (e.g., tombstones) or political inscriptions (e.g., land markers) and the rest personal (usually names of painters and names on vases) • Very late in the Archaic period (last 40 or so years), pseudo-histories (mythographies) crop-up • Poets dedicate poems to athletes • Tragedy is born in Athens
Classical (480-323) • History and philosophy, as the disciplines we know them today, come into being. • History • Herodotus & Thucydides • Philosophy • Pythagoros, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle • Rhetoric (oratory) • Gorgias, the sophists, Pericles, Aristotle, Demosthenes • Tragedy flourishes • From 480 to 404, all the great classical tragedies are composed and performed at Athens for the Great Festival of Dionysus • Plato is alive near the end; Aristotle doesn’t arrive on the scene until the 300s.
Myth and Truth • There is a progression: • Myth/poetry are the only game in town. They convey history & philosophy, basically truth. • Writing codifies poetry/myth, but it also transforms it. New genres develop (odes, hymns, paeans, dithyrambs, and eventually tragedy). • Tragedy is a hybrid of writing and performance/song. • History soon develops as a wholly textual practice that eliminates the “dramatization” inherent in tragedy (and comedy) • Philosophy (literally “love of wisdom”) eventually asserts primacy over both in relation to truth because it is both accurate and universal, whereas poetry is universal but inaccurate and history is accurate but only applicable to particulars – this is Aristotle’s argument. (also, Socrates wrote nothing, but Plato and Aristotle wrote prodigiously) • So at the end of the line, myth/tragedy (and poetry in general) is stripped of its claim to universal truth by the competing claims of history and philosophy. This is what Plato refers to as “the ancient quarrel.”
Iliad C.740 BCE Greece “composed” (sung) by Homer, a bard Communicates historical past through epic verse/poetry. That is, Homer writes history from myth. Aeneid First century CE Roman Empire Composed by Virgil, a Roman poet (i.e., writer) Commissioned to write a national epic by Augustus, Virgil writes myth through history. Iliad & Aeneid
Aeneid • Virgil operates from a completely different premise than that of Homer. When the Homeric epics were composed, there was no such thing as “history.” Those poems WERE history. When Virgil writes, however, poetry and history are two distinct entities. • Virgil sets-out to recreate the Homeric epic, and his poem is extremely reminiscent of the Homeric texts, but it is a conscious reinvention / recreation of the genre. It is, in effect, epic poetry in a textual medium. Of course such a work would be written with the expectation of being recited for an audience, but consider the difference between the performance of a song versus the performance of a poetry reading. The terminology betrays it all: the song is sung; the poem is read.
Myth and History • Iliad & Odyssey inscribe history into myth • Aeneid inscribes myth into history