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by Alfred de Grazia




Before the Love Affair had been played and sung Odysseus was reduced to tears by Demodocus' singing of the Trojan War. And, later on, hours after the Love Affair has been played Odysseus offers a gift to Demodocus and addressed him:

Demodocus I proclaim you the most distinguished of all mortals. Either the Muse, daughter of Zeus, instructed you, or Apollo you directly. For you chant the fate of the Achaeans absolutely according to its proper ordering: What they did and had done to them and what distress they suffered - as if, in some way, you had been present yourself or had heard it from someone who was there [1] .

One may wonder whether, although Odysseus does not recognize it, the Love Affair, too, is sung "absolutely according to its proper ordering," and as if Demodocus "had been present" himself "or had heard it from someone who was there."

Strange it is that Odysseus, when the song is ended, has been transported and is joyfully at ease. One would imagine that the story of an adulterous love triangle might have reminded him of his own plight - long away from his palace and beset by rumors of his wife's unfaithfulness. One might believe that the song was in bad taste, or that afterwards he might gnash his teeth and rend his garments. Not at all. Homer and he obviously did not feel any such connection between the performance and his plight.

When the singer, Demodocus , "struck the chords in prelude," his audience was already entranced. He himself is blind; Homer, whose image he may reflect, is also called "the Blind." He is Homer's "good minstrel, whom the Muse loves above all other men, and gave him both good and evil; of his sight she deprived him, but gave him the gift of sweet song." [2] There is a hint here that ancient bards were sometimes blinded, as smiths were ritually lamed, and young singers castrated, to heighten their symbolic role and competence. No god might then envy the bard, especially not Apollo, and his blindness is an assurance that he will not see what is divinely forbidden to see. Athena, too, was known to play tricks with human sight [3] . Furthermore, his audience will not be discomfitted at being viewed in their musing mood by a sensibly alert musician. And, of course, a blind man may develop epic powers of memory. An alternative, less radical, would be to sing with eyes closed, or blindfolded.

The audience is settled around as an organized community, king and queen, nobles, council of state, the citizens and retainers, and the Hero, Odysseus. The dancers continue their movements, acting out the scenes of the sacred play. Those who have competed in sports rest, their aggressiveness dissipated, their minds relaxed to receive now a flow of aesthetic communication.

The singer carries the melody; it is sung in long, measured lines. His lyre was originally a gift of Mercury and Apollo, and is a beautiful instrument; its strings are attuned to the heavenly bodies, as Pythagoras will demonstrate mathematically a century hence. Although the earliest lyres held three strings, the age of seven-stringed lyres may have already arrived. The rhythms are supplied by the ballet who stress movements of the opera.

The production is a drama, not a ballad or folk song. Its plot is conventionally complete, perhaps the earliest of the dramatic plots of what is to become the literary history of Classical Greece, therefore a great invention, with a pair of protagonists, an antagonist, the development of a line of conduct, its interruption, a climax, a resolution, a disposition of participants and values. All happens in a time span close to what Aristotle discovered, centuries later, to be the ideal unity of dramatic time.

One notes particularly, in the jargon of literary analysis employed from the time of the early Greek tragedians, the "catastrophe." The word means "the climax," "the point of denouement;" in general, the word means "the turning-down point," and also "the end of a period of time." Yet it was historical experience that lent itself to the definition of plot, not plot of history. It was first an unconscious invention, then a conscious one, that ordained the classical climax of drama. The archetypical plot is that when the end of an age arrives, the gods foregather, and societies turn abruptly downward, after which the cycle begins once more. The Love Affair is a relic of the end of the Mycenean Age of Greece.


What has been made of the Love Affair? It is at least a song, for it was chanted to the chords of a lyre, to the accompaniment of rhythmic dancing. Perhaps, first off, I should stress that its 'songness' has been variously imparted. In the version by the famous Alexander Pope, one would sense a different spirit. The bard, Demodokos,

The loves of Mars and Cytherea [4] sings; How the stern god, enamour'd with her charms, Clasp'd the gay panting goddess in his arms, By bribes seduced

And as Hephaestus traps the lovers, Pope's Homer sings:

Stern Vulcan homeward treads the starry way: Arrived, he sees, he grieves, with rage he burns: Full horribly he roars, his voice all heaven returns. "O Jove, (he cried) O all ye powers above, See the lewd dalliance of the queen of love! Me, the awkward me, she scorns; and yields her charms To that fair lecher, the strong god of arms."

Translation of the Odyssey are numerous. One that interested me to the point of inquiry was by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679,) prepared when he was in his eighties. His long life as natural philosopher and political scientist carried him through the extensive revolutions and religious debates of the times and up to Newton and Whiston. This was the Hobbes whose view of mankind included the famous phrase that in a state of nature man's life was "nasty, brutish, and short." Poetically, I must agree with Pope, who said that Hobbes' version of Homer was "too mean for criticism." [5] But did he treat the Love Affair in some unusual way? Not at all - though it contains a touch of unwarranted political expertness:

And the judges rise In number nine, who had elected been By public-vote, of games to hold assize, And order took for large room in the middle, And made it to be planed well and even. [6]

But, as a I shall explain, even if beautifully rendered, the lines of Homer must read as the pale representation of their original pronouncement and context.

Experts upon Homer have generally denied serious consideration to his song about a love affair. It seems to be what Alexander Pope makes it out to be, burlesque entertainment for a visiting sailor. One seems to hear the typical commentator: "A bit scandalous, but then you know how lightly the Greeks took their gods and goddesses!"

One translator, Professor Murray, indicates conscientiously that "the whole passage was on moral grounds rejected by some ancient critics." [7] Walter Otto tells us that "even in antiquity many readers, Plato among them, found this story offensive, and in modern times it is generally regarded as a frivolous burlesque." [8] Professor Finely, an expert upon the society and economy of Homeric Greece, speaks of "the little pieces, like the myth of the adultery between Ares and Aphrodite" [9] that infiltrate the Odyssey. George Sarton, the encyclopedic historian of science regards the whole of the Odyssey, indeed, as a story of peace, a gentle romance [10] . Such observations can only reflect the nostalgia for one's school-days: the blood and guts spilled in the Odyssey, and the terrors entailed, would put to shame the authors of a typical evening of violence and horror on American commercial television. T. B. L. Webster mentions the possibility that "the light-hearted treatment of the gods in some Egyptian stories may have influenced Demodokos' lay of Ares and Aphrodite in the eight book of Odyssey." [11] E. V. Rieu, introducing his translation of the Odyssey, says that "in the famous Lay of Demodocus" Homer provides "a treatment that we can only regard as humorous."

This merely betrays, he claims, "a very tolerant understanding of their motives and frailties," not an absence of respect for the power and beauty of the gods [12] .

But, then, the distinguished Robert Graves, premature women's liberationist that he is, says: "though masquerading as an epic, the Odyssey is the first Greek novel; and therefore wholly irresponsible where myths are concerned." Graves tends to agree with Samuel Butler, author of the utopia, Erewhon, who, in another book, Authoress of the Odyssey, ascribed the work to a young and talented Sicilian noblewoman of the district of Eryx [13] .

Experts can be piled "Ossa upon Pelion" without reaching heaven. Otto's elaborate concern over reason and respect reminds one of a prude explaining why his sister is loitering on a Piraeus street corner. "The story is naturally not a moralizing sermon, but that does not make it frivolous. Its tone of lofty humor removes it from both moralizing and frivolity." Ares is a bloody savage, disliked by everyone. "All interest centers upon the discreditable role played by Ares... And Aphrodite? If we consider the story carefully we suddenly realize that she receives no attention whatsoever." His final gaff regarding Poseidon is monumental: "Poseidon is so touched by Ares' situation that, unable to laugh, he prevails upon Hephaestus to release his hapless victim and is so kindly as to provide a guarantee for him." [14] This comment would perhaps have made the surly Poseidon laugh for once.


One cannot be satisfied with these explanations: a little piece, a casual ballad, a joke at the expense of the gods, or a pardonable escapade. Suppose the passage is reread, beginning with the paragraph before the song commences.

"Sacred commands of Alcinous." Do godlike kings incite simple public pornography?

"Quickly arose a lithe herald, seeking to find and to fetch him the resonant harp from its palace place." Are treasured instruments of music employed casually? "Rising as well were a chosen nine, men who were Lords Ceremonial, publicly called, whenever the people foregathered and needed an ordering." These are nobles. They are nine, the magic number of days in the week may then have existed or once existed in a 36-day or 27-day month [15] . They are chosen representatives of the community, a council of ministers of public order. Are these august personages activated for the sake of a ditty?

"They cleared out space for the dancing to come; they measured a broad ring." Is a large dancing ring being readied without apprehension and excitement?

Demodocus "moved in the midst of the young boys." He is the star performer, blind, revered, also godlike (of these qualities we read in other passages). "All of them skilled in the dance though they blossomed with fair youth." This is not to be improvised. The performers know their places. They have all achieved high competence.

"Down stamped their feet on the floor." The rhythms begin, even before the lyre sounds. "Spellbound Odysseus marveled as dancing feet twinkled in mid-air!" The little song is introduced, it is clear, as a full court opera. The preliminaries portend a significant event. Odysseus, and the rest of the audience, have become transformed by the rhythm, flashing movements, and apprehension into an unusual state of mind, a new mood.

The mood is not vulgar or profane. It is not lecherous. Something more profound is to occur. The audience has experienced it all before; their contagion affects Odysseus. The incident, from its very beginnings, portends an affair of state, not a moment of minstreling, a story of significance rather than cocktail hour music. It is to be even rather sacred, I think.

Perhaps reassurance is needed. Is this behavior, this kind of performance, unanalyzed in science? Not at all. It is universal and has been generalized. Mircea Eliade, a distinguished religious ethnologist, would lend his support:

All dances were originally sacred;... they had an extrahuman model... The model may have been revealed by a divinity (for example the pyrrhic, the martial dance created by Athena) or by a hero (cf. Theseus' dance in the Labyrinth). The dance may be executed to acquire food, to honor the dead, or to assure good order in the cosmos. It may take place upon the occasion of initiations, of magico-religious ceremonies, of marriages, and so on... What is of interest to us is its presumed extrahuman origin (for every dance was created in illo tempore, in the mythical period, by an ancestor, a totemic animal, a god, or a hero.) Choreographic rhythms have their model outside of the profane life of man; whether they reproduce the movements of the totemic or emblematic animal, or the motions of the stars; whether they themselves constitute rituals (labyrinthine steps, leaps gestures, performed with ceremonial instruments) - a dance always imitates an archetypal gesture or commemorates a mythical moment. In a word, it is a repetition, and consequently a reactualization, of illud tempus, 'those days. '" [16]

The Love Affair appears then as a sacred song, not bawdy lyric; or at least its context is unmistakably holy, putting aside its plot and words. One cannot be sure of either its full context or words, of course, because Demodocus tells of another, apparently long operatic ballet that we are not privileged to watch and hear.


The Phaeacian audience is in illo tempore. It is in Holy Dream-time, a state of being in the past and in the present, where a great event is happening and still away from it in the here and now, in the presence of those who were involved in the action. One cannot watch the Phaeacians as R. M. Berndt did the aboriginal Australian Wonguri in a similar format and mood [17] , or as other anthropologists have observed primitive tribal performances; one must imagine them with the aid of all the evidence that can be brought to bear upon the scene. If one is successful, it will be owing to another scholar, in this case Giovanni Patroni, whose total immersion in ancient Mediterranean sources has permitted him elaborately to reconstruct the format of the song of Demodocus. He says:

The most important observations that the singing of Demodocus merits (and has too long awaited) concern the generic type of the song, its aim and function in Homeric and pre-Homeric society, the probable frequency and importance of recitations analogous to that we see held in the agora of Scheria by Demodocus with the aid of a corps de ballet or a chorus that will interpret the narrative of the singer (but we do not mean exclusively) through the medium of movements and dance figures.

This is not epic poetry. Nor is it a song, nor a fragment of a song, nor an episode of an Achaean saga... Neither, for that matter, notwithstanding that its subject concerns exclusively the gods, a sacred hymn. If it is the last, it reflects the higher personal, profound and polemical religiousity of Homer; in this sense it should be entitled: 'The triumph of Mediterranean religion over the foolish and sacrilegious heresy of Olympia. '" [18]

By this, Patroni means that Homer adores the ancient Great Goddess, detests the single-minded destructive god Ares, and upholds the peaceful sovereignty of the female principle that antedated the barbarous incursions of the Achaeans into Minoan and Mycenaean civilization.

In effect, says Patroni, the Song is not sacred poetry because one could not come out openly and formally to the greater glory of Aphrodite, even though the Song carried her through a tedious trial at the hands of a repulsive husband and a mindless warrior lover.

So Patroni classifies the cantata of Demodocus as "opera theatre," midway between our ballet and melodrama with dance, a musical satire perhaps.

But, in fact, Patroni goes beyond his own real interpretations, so prejudiced for the archaic Mediterranean religion is he (and alike to Robert Graves in this regard). We must insist that he stay with his own judgement - it is sacred poetry even if influenced by the personal religion of Homer. It is sacred enough, as he points out immediately, to prompt extraordinary preparations, measure the magic circle, place the venerated poet in the center that is to be occupied many years later by an alter of Dionysus, use the sacred instrument of religious and funereal singing of the Minoans, and employ the incredible acrobatic dancing of the bull-leapers of Tyrins and Knossos. The song, he knows, is the abbreviation of a long performance, and takes place in the halls of the prince. Indeed, such is the enthusiasm of Patroni for what he believes must have occurred in the opera-theater of the Love Affair that he uncovers ultimately the vast majority of criteria that for anthropologists and psychologists denote the Holy Dreamtime. And he forgets that he has for a moment faltered and said that the hierarchs could not allow a religious character to be granted the triumph of Aphrodite.

He gives, actually, a full set of stage directions for the production of the Disastrous Love Affair of Mars and Moon. Dancers leap high into the sky. The Sun mandates a messenger to Hephaestus (for the sun, reasons Patroni, cannot move from its course). Direct quotations are sung by actors, the rest by Demodocus. The climax brings together all of the actors to determine the resolution of the plot, and the finale must be beautiful and ecstatic; Ares is summarily dismissed, but Golden Aphrodite, unabashed, flies to her island where she is perfumed, beautified, and made virginal altogether.

The goddess - impersonated by an actor - hid herself momentarily in the base of the tower that had been put at the disposition of the spectacle, while the music and ballet entertained the audience; and, from another exit that gave upon the sea (at Scheria the agora was next to the arsenal: it was the same in all the maritime cities; elsewhere the sea was simulated by pulling a boat with a pulley) she embarked on a boat kept in readiness and reappeared from the other side, landing and reentering the arena with all of her cortege, quickly then joined by the entire corps de ballet which, having given further proof of its unmatchable competence, composed itself for the final scene. And what could be the meaning of the scene if not: The Triumph of Aphrodite?

The answer to his rhetorical question would disappoint him. It could be, it was, the Triumph of Athena the Producer and Director of the opera. Zeus said to Hera in the Iliad when Hera proposed to fight Ares: "Go to it then, and set against him the spoiler Athene, who beyond all others is the one to visit harsh pains upon him." [19]

The chorus of this Mycenaean drama moved directly into the classical Greek chorus, says Patroni (p. 250). Here is one more indication of the interface between Mycenean and Greek, rather than a five hundred year chasm of barbarism. The circle we see in Scheria, too, persisted in the theatre at Epidaurus.

Patroni's informed visions of the dramaturgy of Homer are captivating. The production of the Love Affair in Scheria was complete and elaborate, as much so as the Dreamtime production of the Moon and the Dugong that I mentioned above, though relative to the culture of the indigenous Australians. Patroni's assertions, that Homer was heir to the Minoan and Mycenaean theatre, and that he was a fully experienced choreographer and dramatist, are acceptable too.

The anthropological and mythological evidence should induce Patroni to acknowledge his own immense cultural panorama and to grant that the "marveling" and "spellbound" Odysseus, along with the Phaeacian audience, was in the state of Holy Dreamtime, midway between the pomp and circumstance of the religious "mass" and the nearly secular games that preceded the spectacle.

Here Emile Mireaux has hit the target briefly and sharply:

Choral lyric poetry naturally remained closer to its religious origins. It was really the poetry of the sacred songs, with their accompaniment of music and dancing... (It included the hyporcheme which involved mime dancing. The mischievous story recited by Demodocus... may be simply a hyporcheme... All these collective displays were designed to 'inspire' the community and lead to the exorcizing of the 'demons' of envy, discord and civil strife [20] .

The Olympic Games themselves, agglomerates of athletics and poetry, had been instituted in the year -776, and no one doubts their religious and cultural aims. Then and at the time of the Love Affair, the Greeks, of many ethnic subcultures with local versions of the gods, and with all manner of archaic and foreign vestiges, were pulling themselves together. The divine Homer was striving to lead them.

Notes (Chapter 5: Holy Dreamtime)

1. Odyssey, VIII,* s. 487-91.

2. VIII, I. 62-4; V. I, 263 in Murray, op. cit.

3. Graves, I, 23: I, p. 87.

4. Cytherea is one of the epithets given Aphrodite. Cytherea was the holy island which the newly born goddess touched while floating towards her destination of Cyprus.

5. The English Works, Vol. X (London: ed. 1677; John Bohn, 1844, W. Molesworth, editor), p. iv.

6. Ibid, p. 376.

7. Op. cit., p. 276.

8. The Homeric Gods, trans. by Moses Hadas (London: Thames and Hudson, 1954).

9. M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1954, 1967, 1972), p. 40.

10. A History of Science: Ancient Science through the Golden Age of Greece, 1958 (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964), p. 135.

11. From Mycenae to Homer (New York: W. W. Norton, 1958, 1964), p. 88.

12. Page 5.

13. The Greek Myths, 2 vols. (New York: Braziller, 1957). Cf. v. II, pp. 376,365.

14. Op. cit., p. 245.

15. Immannuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, hereafter cited simply as W in C, (New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1950), pp. 343-4.

16. The Myth of the Eternal Return, originally in French, 1949( Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1954, 1965), pp. 28-9. As a well worked out case, see R. M. Berndt, "A 'Wonguri-Manzikai Song Cycle of the Moon-Bone," XIX Oceania (September, 1948, 16-50)

17. Ibid., and see my note on this song in The Burning of Troy.

18. Commenti Mediterranei all'Odissea di Omero (Milano: Marzorati, 1950), p. 249

19. Richard Lattimore, The Iliad of Homer( Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 148.

20. Daily Life in the Time of Homer, trans. by Iris Sells from the 1954 French edition (New York: MacMillan and Company, 1959), p. 102.

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