Has Anybody Read The Iliad , If So These Two Assignments Are Questions On The Story.

Has Anybody Read The Iliad , If So These Two Assignments Are Questions On The Story.

Week Four

Guided Inquiry

The Iliad

In the Phaedrus, Plato bemoans the ‘absent’ status of writing when compared to the ‘presence’ inherent in speech. However, Ong is right to point out the essential paradox within this claim: the Phaedrus simply would not exist without the technology of writing. Our discussions of Plato (in your responses and my comments), we mentioned ways of thinking about the entire dialogue as a statement about the philosophical potential of knowledge that originates in material text. It is only because Lysias’s speech was written down that Socrates was able to hear it. It is only because of writing that Socrates was able to go back, re-read, re-assess Lysais’s speech to ground his criticisms of it in the context of a larger argument (i.e. what makes a good speech?). Socrates ‘close reads’ Lysias, incorporates evidence, and makes a claim. As much as this dialogue can teach you about strategies of analysis and argumentation, it also demonstrates ways to critique pieces of writing. This notion is supported by the long history and tradition of thinkers that use Platonic (and Aristotelian) methodologies in their own writing.

But what is writing? We will return to this idea in a week or so, but for now we can say that the activity of writing requires some form of technology, or an inhuman supplement. In other words, to make letterforms, we need tools that separate the idea from the ‘speaker.’ This is where the idea of ‘medium’ comes in: it is something that intervenes in the process of communication, a middle space between thought and thinker. We will begin our historical-philosophical understanding of this thing called writing by thinking about the tools and materials that enabled the coming into being of The Iliad.

We will talk more about this next week, but to start simply: all known texts of the Iliad were written on papyrus. Roemer’s essay discusses the specific details of this material, it’s origin, and it’s general significance in writings of the ancient world. We know from our readings this week that the medium of papyrus was part of a scribal culture that made texts by hand (as opposed to machines like the printing press). Its characteristics as a substrate (or, a surface that enables the coming into being of texts, in all its variant forms) enabled a wide range of expressive possibilities: it’s natural shade allowed the application of color inks, it’s shape (and production process) allowed for long, extended compositions, and it’s relative durability provided archival opportunities (as in the Hellenistic libraries at Pergamum and Alexandria). We can think of the papyrus roll as a text technology. In this way, we should also begin to think about the relationship between expression (i.e. a communicative gesture like the Iliad) and the technologies that enabled its coming into being. This line of reasoning is not limited to papyrus and Homer: what changes (or can change) about communication with the advent of the printing press? The movie camera? Expression and what we say about what has been expressed is dependent on the materials through which that expression is made possible. This will provide a way to build on the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle by enabling a theory of material alongside the words or images they carry. We will return to topics like these as the semester progresses, especially next week, but for now we can start by saying that the technology of papyrus enabled the production and dissemination of the text(s) of the Iliad.

From the practices within the textual culture of ancient Greece, or from within the thinking made visible with these practices, we have the origin of Western literature. The Iliad is the oldest surviving literary work of the ancient world, and the most pervasive in its influence on literature as a whole. It is the foundation stone of our entire literary edifice.

Response Questions

1) Parry will tell us that The Iliad was initially an oral composition. Describe three aspects (with evidence) of the epic’s style that warrant this theory. How do these observations relate to Plato’s stance on writing in Phaedrus?

2) Using Aristotle’s Poetics, describe why The Iliad should considered an epic in terms of genre. Use evidence to support your position.

3) What is the importance of the primary conflict in The Iliad between Achilles and Agamemnon? Use evidence to support your position.

4) Choose one passage from the first four books. Analyze it and make an argument that relates to questions 1-3.

5) From what you can determine so far, what is the theme of The Iliad? HINT: If you say “war” or “fighting” then you are not thinking hard enough.

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