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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Achilles, Satan, and My Year with the Classics


Apparently this is going to be the year that I read (or in a few cases, re-read) the classics of western civilization.  Earlier this year I read, for the first time, Homer’s IliadThis prompted me to then pick up Homer’s sequel to it, The Odyssey at the public library along with the Roman poet, Virgil’s sequel The Aeneid.  And now as I’m just halfway through The Odyssey I realize I’m going to have to re-read Milton too.

The realization came to me when I read Achilles’ words to Odysseus in Hades:

“By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man -
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive -
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.” (The Odyssey 11. 556 -558)

and I recognized Milton’s reflection of those words put into the mouth of Satan in Paradise Lost:

“…Here at least
we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” (Paradise Lost 1.258-63)

And then I compared the opening lines of The Iliad with the opening lines of Paradise Lost:

The rage of Achilles—sing it now, goddess, sing through me
the deadly rage that caused the Achaeans such grief
and hurled down to Hades the souls of so many fighters,
leaving their naked flesh to be eaten by dogs
and carrion birds, as the will of Zeus was accomplished. (The Iliad 1. 1 – 5)

"Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat
Sing, Heavenly Muse…(Paradise Lost 1. 1 – 6)


What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  Apparently a lot more than Tertullian was willing to allow.

So here’s the plan (so far):  I’m going to finish reading The Odyssey and then begin The Aeneid.  After that I’ll launch into Pharsalia by Lucan (also known as Civil War).  My friend, Joel Watts, and I may be collaborating on some writing about that one; Joel believes that an appreciation of Lucan can give you a better understanding of the Gospel of Mark.  After that, I’ll re-read Paradise Lost 

After that? Who knows – perhaps some Sophocles, Oedipus the King, or Antigone (which I’ve seen performed on the stage, but haven’t read…) Maybe some Aristophanes – The Frogs (Brekekekèx-koàx-koáx...) and Lysistrata, maybe? Dare I try Dante again?  I’ve started The Inferno three times…

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