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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
 

OUR HUMANITY

RYAN_SAUVE

Arts & Entertainment

If you haven't read the Iliad or the Odyssey, you should. No other literature, except for the Bible, has done more to shape the course of Western society. This may sound too epic of a definition, but it's not -- these two texts have defined what the word epic means.

Why are the Iliad and the Odyssey so important?

First, they are really old -- probably the oldest texts we have in the West. In other words, they are the beginning of Western literary tradition. It's true that something really old doesn't necessarily have authority; just like something really new doesn't necessarily have value.

The fact that we still have the Iliad and the Odyssey in 2009 says volumes about their worth. Before the printing press, stories had to be copied by hand -- a tedious and painstaking task, no doubt. But it's not like these stories first appeared in the written word, either. Before the alphabet, stories had to be put to memory. No one knows the exact date that the tales of Achilles and Odysseus came into existence as we know them today, but we do know they existed in the oral tradition well before they were ever inscribed onto a scroll.

Simply put: if the Iliad and the Odyssey failed to resonate with people throughout the centuries, they would have been lost. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to find a scholar who would dedicate so much time and effort into copying and translating a text that no one cared to study. These epic poems merit some kind of respect for remaining compelling after nearly 3000 years.

Second, you should read the Iliad and the Odyssey because their influence is everywhere in our culture. Unless you know them, you can't fully appreciate what exists in the present day. For most of Western history, these texts have been the foundation of education. All the eminent philosophers, historians, painters, composers, architects, poets, and so on were well versed in the classics, and their work is a result of it. To think ideas and beliefs come into existence without context is flaccid thinking.

These days, many university classes have silly subject matters. In a larger sense, many departments seem to believe that ancient history has little relevance to modern problems. They seem to think the best way to understand what is happening right now is to investigate only what is happening right now. After events like the Reformation, the Enlightenment, two World Wars, and the advent of the internet, they assume humans are radically different than their ancestors, rendering the past irrelevant. If this is the case, how could the Iliad and the Odyssey be of use in current times?

If you think people no longer cherish family and friendship; if you think people no longer value courage over cowardice; if you think people no longer suffer at the hands of others; and if you think people no longer try to escape death with their deeds in life, then perhaps the classics are no longer pertinent. But I see no evidence of this. If we can still relate to the struggles, dilemmas, and questions of the ancient Greeks, perhaps time hasn't separated us as much as we'd like to think.

If you want to discuss how best we can be human in our Western climate, you can't do it without the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Responses:

Alamir
As pointed out in his last article, it takes a very valuable story to be able to survive millenniums. Yet, I've found that many of even my bookish...

Comments

Alamir

Alamir

As didactic as everyone finds the Greek myths, I feel as though they're some of the best ones I've come across. Even on a "moral" level.

Which is funny, because modern day writers try to only suggest and insinuate what they believe as ethically correct. Many of them refuse to give a clear ethical grounding even and bury their "moral message" in a thick story. So in this regards, it's almost refreshing to read some of the ancient texts that say "This is what the author believes is right" and "This is what the author believes is wrong."

Bringing out the moral of a story is now a literary device that has been limited to only children stories. I think it would take a great writer to resurrect it.

Hmm.. I should write an article response with a few of my favourite Aesop fables.

Ryan_Sauve

RYAN_SAUVE

Somewhat related to what I was saying: Tragic Heroes.



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