When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle. - Edmund Burke
By: sp34n119w, 10:40 PM GMT on January 05, 2012
When I was in High School I was required to read short passages from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. I don't remember much discussion about those passages, or even which bits we were to read, but I do remember being disappointed with the teacher's brief treatment. I read the Iliad and Odyssey in their entirety for my own sake, because I enjoyed myths and legends, and was glad I did. What I remember from those stories is the action scenes - monsters and gods and heroes – in part because they have been reinforced in the years since, through pop culture.
Several weeks ago, one of the catalogs I received from The Teaching Company featured deeply discounted lecture series on each of those tales and I couldn't resist. I bought them both and then realized that, after about thirty years, I didn't actually remember the details of those stories. So, off to gutenberg.org to find them. I had decided to start with the Odyssey even though that story takes place after the Iliad and, as it turned out, the wonderful volunteers for gutenberg.org have created an audiobook of Samuel Butler's translation of the Odyssey (not the best, maybe, but, it'll do). I listened to that first and then watched the lecture series.
Interestingly, as much as I again enjoyed the stories of derring-do, what struck me this time (and was completely ignored by my 15-year-old self) was the social interactions between Odysseus and those he encountered, along with the other characters, and the cultural norms that were illustrated by those interactions. They were odd, to say the least, and I thought them an invention, or an idealization, of Homer (whoever that was, or wasn't).
This is the value of experts. The lecturer, Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, has much more knowledge of the ancient Greek culture than I do, through the long study of other literature and art through the 20 or 30 centuries between Homer and me. She has context that I lack for interpreting the action in the Odyssey. Some of what I found strange and unlikely was, in fact, quite normal and natural for the people of the time, and made sense when considering the economic and political realities of small groups of people trying to function as a society, there at the beginning of civilization. In fact, I feel that this study provides insights into some current societies.
I'm thinking that middle age brings a different sensibility to these things.
Steeping myself in ancient Greek thought and mores has brought me back around to my general interest in ancient gods, myths, and legends, that never really goes away. This brings us to Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
Janus was Roman, of course, not Greek. So many of the Roman gods have analogs in Greek mythology (and there are analogs in cultures all around the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, of course, and most Greek gods are borrowed from previous or contemporaneous cultures ... I digress) that I assumed that Janus did, as well. That turns out not to be so. Though there are analogs for Janus in function, he seems to be a purely Roman construct, and likely predates even any concept of “Roman”, as we think of it. The two-faced god, god of doors and harbors and beginnings and endings, who sees the past and the future simultaneously, is truly ancient, yet lives in all times and all places …
OMFSM! Janus is The Doctor!!!
For the bigger picture, have a look at the NE Pac WVloop.
The Clouds of Janus:
It Will Rain It Will Rain It Will Rain: