Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.11.14
Stamatis Avlonitis, Το λυκόφως των ηρώων στην Ιλιάδα (Ραψωδίες Α-Μ). Βιβλιοθήκη Σοφίας Ν. Σαριπόλου 113. Αθήνα: Πανεπιστήμιο Αθηνών Σαριπόλειο Ίδρυμα, 2010. Pp. 546. ISBN 9789605260194.
Reviewed by Parthena N. Karatzoglou, Centre for the Greek Language in Thessaloniki (email@example.com)
[Read the author's response to this review on the BMCR blog.]
[Table of Contents at the end of the review]
From ancient times secondary literature has characterized the Homeric Iliad as an epic that narrates the deeds of heroes who possess power, martial virtues and divine favour and who are seeking glory and honour. According to most scholars the aim of the epic is to highlight and to praise this heroic ideal and the whole system of values that it embodies. Nevertheless, there are also those who have been sceptical about the role that the epic plays and who have expressed their doubts about the acceptance of that heroic ideology while at the same time stressing its antiwar tone.1 Although individual comments assert that the Iliad contains indirect criticism of the heroic ideology, almost no one has considered the presentation of its story in toto. In that respect the author of this book offers a new perspective in the study of the Homeric epic. He argues that the Iliad is an antiheroic epic with a unique narrative that describes the downfall of the heroes as a result of their martial values and their self- centered behaviour. In this way the title of the book The twilight of the heroes seems fitting.
Avlonitis carefully studies books 1-12 and he builds his argument about the Iliad’s anti-heroic content systematically by examining four aspects: the presentation of the myth and the interpretation of the attitude of the heroes, the plan of Zeus mentioned several times in the Iliad, comparison with other epic traditions as well as with Hesiod’s Works and Days and the poetics of the epic. These four aspects are studied in separate chapters, and individually for each book of the twelve.2 Each of these chapters, however, has a title that may often prove to be confusing to the reader. Moreover, the four aspects mentioned are intermingled with other additional aspects and are investigated in more than one chapter, the relevance of which is not always clear. For example, in chapter 1.β. (the beginning of the war, pp. 63-125) not only are the actions of Agamemnon evaluated, but also Hesiod’s Works and Days is juxtaposed with the Iliad, even though there is a whole chapter on the juxtaposition between the Iliad and the tradition—regarding books 1-4 (Chapter 1.Γ. pp.198-232). Due to the large size of the book the location of the chapters can be confusing, not to mention that many pages of the book could have been omitted, since the same ideas are repeated.
In general, the study of the Iliad is presented in a linear way. The author starts from the prologue (Book 1, 1-7) and continues with the rest of book 1, book 2, etc, presenting each time the main characters and their actions as well as the literary decisions, while at the same time evaluating them. Lines from the text or their translation are usually cited, but a good knowledge of the text on the part of the reader is helpful and sometimes even necessary. Still, the main ideas and arguments can be followed by a non-specialist, since most of the times the author presents a coherent argument and states his main ideas clearly and repeatedly.
Avlonitis argues that the Iliad is critical towards the heroic mentality. His main argument is that this criticism is evident in the presentation of the myth right from the introduction, where human responsibility for what is to follow is highlighted. The individual selfish aims of the leaders, regardless of the side to which they belong, put in danger the common welfare of those around them. Agamemnon’s greed and Achilles’ anger endanger the lives of their soldiers in the same way that Paris’s erotic passion will bring about the destruction of Troy. The inaction of both communities is in turn evidence of their culpability. Avlonitis continues his argumentation in the same vein in the fourth book: through the study of the plan of Zeus, the author makes it evident that the god’s plan does not really seek to bring about the end of Troy but rather the end of the hybris of the heroic world in total.
Contrary to the selfish attitude of Agamemnon, Achilles and Paris, Diomedes is given special importance in book 5 as a universal ideal hero who fights against the war and immorality in general (fighting against Ares and Aphrodite). Later, in book 6, Hector is a responsible and wise citizen, protector of his own people and family. However, all customs and institutions of civilization that are elevated and praised in the previous two books are torn apart by the cruelty and ferocity of the war as it is presented in books 11 and 12. Here, the words used, especially those describing the previous lives of the victims, carry an emotional burden that reveals the poet’s negativity toward the war.
Books 7 and 8 reinforce Avlonitis’ arguments in a different way. They both have a unique style as far as the language and the treatment of the myth are concerned. Avlonitis suggests that the poet of the Iliad wanted to draw parallels between his work and other epic material vaguely known from the Epic Cycle in order to emphasize the Iliad’s exclusivity and its indirect disapproval of heroic values. However, the fragmentary state of the epic material renders the author’s research extremely difficult and his arguments weak. As he himself states (pp.488-9), it is difficult for a contemporary reader to make the relevant connections that would have been more effortlessly obvious to the listeners of the epic. The reader of the book may find some connections, for example the parallel made between the battle of Ajax against Hector and the battles of Achilles against Kyknos, too farfetched, and as a result, the arguments based on them unconvincing. Other connections, like the role of Diomedes in book 5 in comparison with that of Heracles in an epic about the latter, seem to be more plausible. In book 12 (3-32), the author makes a very interesting connection between the fate of the wall built by the Greeks to protect their ships and the fate of the heroes in general. With this last observation, the author reinforces his interpretation by putting emphasis on the end of the heroic world due to the heroes’ moral degradation.
The crowning argument is the connection between Hesiod’s Works and Days (156-73) and the Iliad. The final annihilation of the race of the heroes was a tradition well known to the audience. According to Hesiod, the heroes’ race (the fourth or bronze race) had reached its decline and so the way for it to be eliminated was through war, either the Theban or the Trojan. The selfishness of the leaders destroyed their communities and, as Hesiod predicts, a probable destruction of the fifth or iron race will caused because of its moral degradation. Only a peaceful moral life can guarantee the continuation of the fifth race. The Iliad is the dramatized confirmation of the teaching of the Works and Days. The destruction of the people follows in the wake of their own mistakes. The war and the heroic ambitions that brought about the decline, the dissolution of institutions, as well as destruction and ferocity are an example for contemporary people of what to avoid. This last argument is extremely convincing.
Despite the fact that some of his arguments are not so persuasive and some of the parallels are implausible, Avlonitis has made a unique contribution by looking at the Iliad from a different perspective, regarding it as a whole, dealing with its ideology with consistency and clarity. He works in an orthodox fashion using the method of neo- analysis, placing the epic within the heroic tradition and trying to identify the extent to which the Iliad made use of earlier poetic material concerning the Trojan war. This is not an easy venture if one takes into account the scarcity of the traditional epic material and the 15,000 lines of the Iliad as well as the mass of relevant secondary literature, which is adequately covered (especially Greek, English and German sources).
One would expect the research to continue with the following books of the epic and to examine any evidence present in relation to the imminent end of the world of heroes. An explanation of that omission would at least have made amends for the lack of almost any reference to the remaining books.
At the end of the book there is an appendix with a two-fold role. First, the author succeeds in placing his work within the contemporary secondary literature whilst underlining the distinctiveness of it. Second, he explains some of his choices, such as the close examination of book 5 due to its unique style and its juxtaposition to the tradition. Here, he fails to avoid repetitions and in truth does not explain the lack of discussion on book 10—there is however a short reference to it (p. 513). Finally, there is a summary of the book in English, very comprehensive and useful for non Greek-speakers. Typographical errors are absent and citations are present when necessary.
In conclusion, this is a book that gives an interesting perspective to the study of the Iliad and through which the reader becomes acquainted with the epic tradition through the wide range of its author’s knowledge. However, its length due to repetitions and some confusion between the different chapters make it to some extent unattractive to the non expert.
Το προοίμιο της Ιλιάδας 19
Πρώτο Τμήμα (Α-Θ): Παθολογία της ηρωικής κοινωνίας και απομυθοποίηση του ηρωικού πολέμου
Ι. Α. Η αμφίπλευρη υπαιτιότητα του τρωικού πολέμου (Α-Δ) 37
1. α. Η «αχαϊκή προϊστορία» του πολέμου: Η ηγετική προτεραιότητα της
καταξίωσης ως αρχή κακών για την κοινότητα (Α) 37
1.β. Η «έναρξη της αχαϊκής εκστρατείας»: Ο πόλεμος ως πλάνη της ηγεσίας και χειραγώγηση της κοινότητας (Β) 63
2. Η προϊστορία και η έναρξη του πολέμου από την τρωική πλευρά (Γ) 125
3. Ο πόλεμος ως ισορροπία ολέθρου (Δ) 149
Β. Αποκάλυψη εν δράσει (Α-Δ): Η προοπτική της συντέλειας176
Γ. Αντιπαράθεση της Ιλιάδας προς την παράδοση (Α-Δ) 198
ΙΙ.Α.Η ηρωική και παραταξιακή απέναντι στην οικουμενική θεώρηση του πολέμου (Ε-Ζ) 233
1. Η αχαϊκή πλευρά (Ε) 233
2. Από την αχαϊκή στην τρωική πλευρά (Ζ) 273
3. Η ολοκλήρωση της ιλιαδικής εκδοχής για την αρχή του πολέμου (Η) 315
Β. Αποκάλυψη εν δράσει (Ε-Η): Η προοπτική της συντέλειας 334
Γ. Αντιπαράθεση της Ιλιάδας προς την παράδοση (Ε-Η) 340
ΙΙΙ. Το προανάκρουσμα της κύριας δράσης της Ιλιάδας σε αντιδιαστολή προς την..παράδοση (Θ) 375
Δεύτερο Τμήμα (Ι-Ρ) Το λυκόφως των ηρώων
Ι. Α. Η κατάπτωση των ηρώων ως επακόλουθο του πολέμου (Ι, Λ, Μ)399
1. Η αχαϊκή πλευρά (Ι, Λ) 399
1. α. Το κατώφλι του Αχιλλέα: Το έσχατο τίμημα της ηρωικής τιμής (Ι) 399
1. β. Η πλευρά των Αχαιών ηρώων (Λ) 412
2. Η πλευρά των τρώων ηρώων (Μ) 452
Β. Αντιπαράθεση της Ιλιάδας προς την παράδοση (Ι, Λ, Μ) 474
Περίληψη στα Αγγλικά 521
1. Selected bibliography of scholars that have expressed doubts about the pure heroic ideals presented in the Iliad is given by the author himself in pp. 499-502 in the Appendix of his book.
2. There is the exemption of book 10. For his choice not to study it, he only gave a short note that book 10 is considered to be an addition of the 6th century and that its content does not fit with the structure of the whole epic. However, in the same time he recognizes the peculiar and unique style of books 5, 7 and 8 but he includes them in his argumentation. He proves that their disparities reflect elements from other traditional epics with the same context drawing thus attention to the Iliad’s antiheroic, peaceful and humanistic perspective. In the same way he could have examined book 10.