Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Lack of Divinity in "Troy" Symptomatic of Current Culture

by Marian Kester Coombs

"Since the Enlightenment, any role for the divine or supernatural has steadily given way to naturalistic explanations ('Gravity did it') and human causality ('My mean parents made me do it').

Yet mere convention or superstition fail to account for the leading role accorded the gods by the Iliad. The late Julian Jaynes of Princeton University, in The Origins Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind (1976), argues that at the time the Iliad was composed, the two hemispheres of the human brain still functioned semi-autonomously, and that auditory 'hallucinations' of the Gods, emanating from admonitory wisdom stored in the right hemisphere, were experienced as divine, external voices advising and commanding, warning and encouraging.

'A coward in the Iliad is not someone who is afraid, but someone whose kradie [heart] beats loudly. The only remedy is for Athene to 'put' strength in the kradie (2:452), or for Apollo to 'put' boldness in it (21:547)' (book and line numbers of the Iliad in parentheses). In other words, there is no 'I' in the Iliad, no 'subjectification': Its men do not act, but are automata controlled by the gods.

By the time of the Odyssey, according to Jaynes, there has been such 'a gigantic vault in mentality' that we are clearly no longer in the age of whoever composed the Iliad. The Odyssey is 'a journey of deviousness. It is the very discovery of guile, its invention and celebration.' Its gods are 'like receding ghosts,' hard to contact and quite possible to ignore. In the Odyssey, the muses are 'narratizing their own downfall, their own fading away into subjective thought ... [T]he whole long song is an odyssey toward subjective identity and its triumphant acknowledgment out of the hallucinatory enslavements of the past."