Saturday, November 08, 2008
Home Truths about Homer
Yesterday I attended the First Friday Lecture sponsored by the Basic Program of Liberal Studies at The University of Chicago. I was filled with anticipation not so much because of the topic but because the lecturer would be A. P. David, a former instructor in the Basic Program, with whom I had studied in several classes in the early nineties reading Plato and Tolstoy among others. I was fortunate to meet him and say hello before the lecture and find that he he did remember me almost ten years after leaving the program. While obtaining his PhD from the Committee on Social Thought his specialty was Homer so I expected the lecture would be exceptional and I was not disappointed. David shared a list of Home Truths about Homer and provided brief arguments in support of each of them. In doing so he demonstrated his thorough knowledge of Homer and other writers; for example at one point he invoked Jane Austen's Mansfield Park as an example to support his argument.
There were twelve 'Home Truths' and while I will not list them all I will mention some of them. They included some well known and accepted (I believe) truths like the fact that we know nothing about Homer's life, that the Greeks are not mentioned in Homer, and the fact that Homer does not mention Iphigenia, the supposed daughter of Agamemnon who is so important to later Greek dramatists such as Aeschylus. More interesting were some of his less well-known truths such as the poet known as Homer was female, Aphrodite is real, and there is no soul in Homer's poems. Most interesting was his argument for the origin of Homer's poetry in the 'Dance of the Muses' for which he shared a video presentation of a dance version of Homer read in the original Greek. The Lecture as a whole was both impressive and inspirational. It provided many ideas to spur my rereading of The Iliad.