Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Divided Self in the Iliad

The Iliad contains within it, I think, a very interesting, and perhaps psychologically sensitive, concept of the person, the self. It is a self that is composed of multiple elements that are divided against themselves. This divided self can be found in the formulae regarding internal deliberation--and I think it is significant that the Iliad actually has formulae of internal deliberation.

The first type of formula has to do with the division within a particular element of the person: these elements include the heart, the mind, and the spirit. It first appears with regard to Achilleus in 1.188ff:

So he spoke. And the anger (achos) came on Peleus' son, and within
his shaggy breast the heart was divided two ways, pondering
whether to draw from beside his thigh the sharp sword, driving
away all those who stood between and kill the son of Atreus,
or else to check the spleen within and keep down his anger (cholos).
Now as he weighted in mind and spirit these two courses....
(trans. Lattimore)

In this scene, Achilleus contemplates whether to kill Agamemnon for taking Briseis from him. Athene comes (where the ellipses begin) to dissuade Achilleus from killing the son of Atreus, and rather just verbally abuse him. I should also note my objections to the translation: there are several words used throughout the text (menis, menos, cholos, achos, etc.) that Lattimore translates simply as "anger." The two words here--achos and cholos--refer to grief and bitterness respectively. In this scene, we find that bitterness resides in the spleen, while deliberation can occur with the mind, the heart, and the spirit, which are divided within themselves. The two courses, moreover, remind and foreshadow the revelation of Achilleus' choice of destiny, which is also of two ways--short life and undying glory or fame (kleos) or a long life without glory (9.410-416). Similar deliberations occur with other characters. For example, Odysseus ponders two ways in mind and spirit (5.671ff). Compare Diomedes in 8.167ff, Nestor in 14.16-26, and Hera in 14.159ff. Yet Achilleus is the only one who deliberates in all three: mind, spirit, and heart.

Yet this internal division within the mind, within the spirit, and within the heart only occurs in the first half of the Iliad (the last being in book 14). From there, the terminology shifts. Although it first occurs with Menelaos and then Zeus (17.90-105; 17.198-208, 441-55), let us look at this new formula with regard to Achilleus again:

Disturbed, Achilleus spoke to the spirit in his own great heart


Now as he was pondering this in his heart and his spirit.
(18.5, 15)

In this opening scene to book 18, Achilleus does not yet know that Patroklos has died, but just subsequently, he will learn the bitter truth and go into deep mourning. The form, here, however, is what is interesting to me. Achilleus not longer is divided within his heart or spirit, but he--his self--speaks to his spirit, which is within his great heart. This shows a new division within the self. Instead of just contemplating within one's spirit, one speaks to one's spirit. The final line of "now as he was pondering..." also typically shows up in this formula. On the other hand, it misses one typical element of the formula. The example of Menelaos is more typical:

Deeply troubled, he spoke to his own great-hearted spirit


Then why does my own heart within me debate this?


Now as he was pondering this in his heart and his spirit.
(17.90, 97, 106)

Menelaos debates whether to stay and protect Patroklos' body, being outmatched, or to seek help from Aias (Ajax). Note the additional formula: "Then why does my own heart within me debate this?" Again, the heart is internally divided, yet the self appears separate from this as well, as one speaks to one's own great-hearted spirit, again equating heart and spirit (as with Achilleus one is within the other). For additional examples, see Zeus (17.198-208, 441-55), more Achilleus (20.343, 21.53), Agenor (21.549-70), and Hektor (22.98-130). This all reminds me of the ancient Egyptian text, The Dialogue of a Man with his Soul (or "Ba"), where a man talks to his "ba" or soul. As with the Egyptian conceptions of the person, the Iliad shows that the person is more of a confluence of elements rather than a unity. Those elements can be divided both within themselves and against one another. One element can speak to another, but also deliberate within. One can speak to one's soul/heart/mind/spirit or within them. Indeed, with such a divided self, the Iliad does demonstrate psychological sensitivity already with the first piece of Greek literature, and, since it is expressed in the formulae themselves, this sensitivity most likely long predates the writing of the Iliad with the oral bardic tradition.

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