Homer and violence

Many years ago I read a book called “uncommon law” by A.P.Herbert. Herbert wrote imaginary court cases which could conceivably happen if the law was applied to the letter. One of his imaginary cases was the crown against the headmaster of Eton where the headmaster was being prosecuted under the obscene publications act for allowing Homer to be taught and available to boys in his school. I suppose there are passages in Homer that are mildly racy but nowadays we could hardly say there are things in Homer that even mildly obscene.

However if we can’t get Homer on obscenity, there are plenty of examples where Homer is contrary to the morality and sensitivities of our times and you could make a case that he should not be read by impressionable young boys or girls.

I will post on other examples in future posts but one case is his portrayal of extreme violence. In this passage Peiros kills Diores and then is killed in his turn by Thoas. In the translation it doesn’t seem too bad but in the Greek you can hear and picture the guts pouring out of him (chunto chamai cholades). Such scenes in a film would be given an X rating and parents would be horrified that their children were being forced to read it.

ὃ δ᾽ ἐπέδραμεν ὅς ῥ᾽ ἔβαλέν περ
Πείροος, οὖτα δὲ δουρὶ παρ᾽ ὀμφαλόν: ἐκ δ᾽ ἄρα πᾶσαι
χύντο χαμαὶ χολάδες, τὸν δὲ σκότος ὄσσε κάλυψε.
τὸν δὲ Θόας Αἰτωλὸς ἀπεσσύμενον βάλε δουρὶ
στέρνον ὑπὲρ μαζοῖο, πάγη δ᾽ ἐν πνεύμονι χαλκός:
ἀγχίμολον δέ οἱ ἦλθε Θόας, ἐκ δ᾽ ὄβριμον ἔγχος
ἐσπάσατο στέρνοιο, ἐρύσσατο δὲ ξίφος ὀξύ,
τῷ ὅ γε γαστέρα τύψε μέσην, ἐκ δ᾽ αἴνυτο θυμόν.

Peiros who had hit him ran up and pierced him with his spear by the navel and all his guts poured out on the ground and darkness covered his eyes. But Thoas the Aetolian hit him as he leapt back in the chest above the breast and the bronze spear was fixed in his lung. Thoas came up close to him and pulled the mighty spear out of his chest then drew his sharp sword and struck him in the middle of his stomach and took away his life.

Iliad 4.524

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2 Responses to Homer and violence

  1. You said it. The use of onomatopoeia in Greek literature is a PhD topic all in itself. One can bathe in sound, which makes the text come alive with the story. A fascinating subject. You are not wrong either in saying parents today would denounce the violence in Homer. I have run into many translations of Greek plays which flat out omitted sexual references. Even to the point of removing references to Hymen, such as in translations of Trojan Women.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Homer and feminism | platosparks

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