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Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours 2ed

by Gregory Nagy Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press
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Pbk 656 pages
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What does it mean to be a hero? The ancient Greeks who gave us Achilles and Odysseus had a very different understanding of the term than we do today. Based on the legendary Harvard course that Gregory Nagy has taught for well over thirty years, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours explores the roots of Western civilization and offers a masterclass in classical Greek literature. We meet the epic heroes of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, but Nagy also considers the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the songs of Sappho and Pindar, and the dialogues of Plato. Herodotus once said that to read Homer was to be a civilized person. To discover Nagy's Homer is to be twice civilized.




I. Heroes in Epic and Lyric Poetry

Introduction to Homeric Poetry

Hour 1: The Homeric Iliad and the Glory of the Unseasonal Hero

The Meaning of Kleos

The Kleos of Achilles as Epic ‘Glory’

A Much Shorter Version of Epic ‘Glory’

The Immortalizing Power of Kleos as Epic ‘Glory’

The Meaning of Hora

The Need for Heroes to ‘Script’ Their Own Death

Herakles as a Model Hero

The Labors of Herakles

Herakles and the Meaning of Kleos

Herakles and the Idea of the Hero

Achilles and the Idea of the Hero

Achilles and the Meaning of Kleos

Hour 2: Achilles as Epic Hero and the Idea of Total Recall in Song

The Meaning of Memnemai

Phoenix and His Total Recall

The Idea of Kleos as a Medium of Total Recall

The Idea of Kleos as Epic Narrative

An Epic Tale Told by Phoenix

The Form of Epic Poetry

To Sing the Klea Andron, ‘Glories of Men’

The Klea Andron, ‘Glories of Men’, as Heroic Song

The Concept of a Speech Act

Back to the Epic Tale Told by Phoenix

The Emotions of Fear and Pity

The Story of Meleager and Kleopatra

Plato’s Reading of the Iliad

The Epic Choice of Achilles

Hour 3: Achilles and the Poetics of Lament

The Meaning of Akhos and Penthos

A Man of Constant Sorrow

Achilles and Penthesileia the Amazon

The Essentials of Singing Laments

A Conventional Gesture in Women’s Laments

A Typological Comparison of Laments

The First Lament of Andromache

What Achilles Sang

The Song of Kleopatra

Hour 4: Achilles as Lyric Hero in the Songs of Sappho and Pindar

The Meaning of Aphthito-

The Imperishable Glory of Achilles in a Song of Pindar

The Lyric Glory of Achilles

The Imperishable Glory of Hector and Andromache in a Song of Sappho

Achilles as a Bridegroom

Achilles as a Focus of Lament

The Unfailing Glory of Achilles

Contrasting the Artificial and the Natural

The Unwilting Glory of Achilles

Achilles as a Model for Singing Lyric Songs of Glory

Models of Lament

Hour 5: When Mortals Become ‘Equal’ to Immortals: Death of a Hero, Death of a Bridegroom

The Meaning of Daimon

The Expression ‘Equal to a Daimon’

Apollo as Divine Antagonist of Achilles

Ares as Divine Antagonist of Achilles

Achilles as Ideal Warrior and Ideal Bridegroom

The Historical Background of Sappho’s Songs

Transition to Sappho’s Songs

Ares and Aphrodite as Models for the Bridegroom and the Bride

Song 31 of Sappho

Song 1 of Sappho

The Ritual Background of Song 1 of Sappho

The Maiden Song of Alcman

A Typological Comparison of Initiation Rituals

Song 16 of Sappho

Another Song of Sappho

Back to Song 16 of Sappho

Back to Song 31 of Sappho

Epiphany and Death

Eros and Ares

Ares as a Model for Achilles

Achilles the Eternal Bridegroom

Briseis as a Stand-in for Aphrodite

The Merging of Identity in Myth and Ritual

Distinctions between Real Death and Figurative Death in Lyric

Apollo as Model for Achilles

Fatal Attraction

Hour 6: Patroklos as the Other Self of Achilles

The Meaning of Therapon

Patroklos as Therapon

Anatolian Origins of the Word Therapon

Early Greek Uses of the Words Therapon, Theraps, Therapeuein

The Therapon as Charioteer

The Therapon as a Ritual Substitute

Ares as Divine Antagonist of Patroklos and Achilles

The Therapeutic Function of the Therapon

Patroklos as the Other Self of Achilles

Ramifications of the Idea of Another Self

Simone Weil on Sacrificial Substitution

Hour 7: The Sign of the Hero in Visual and Verbal Art

The Meaning of Sema

The Sign of the Hero at a Chariot Race

The Sign in the Visual Arts

Selected Examples of Signs in the Visual Arts

Hour 7a. Myth and Ritual in Pictures of Chariot Scenes Involving Achilles

Hour 7b. Apobatic Chariot Racing

Hour 7c. Apobatic Chariot Fighting

Hour 7d. Distinctions between Chariot Fighting and Chariot Racing

Hour 7e. Homeric Poetry at the Festival of the Panathenaia in Athens

Hour 7f. Signs of Alternative Epic Traditions as Reflected in Athenian Vase Paintings

Hour 7g. The Apobatic Moment

Hour 8: The Psychology of the Hero’s Sign in the Homeric Iliad

The Meaning of Psukhe

The Psukhe of Patroklos in the Iliad

The Psukhe of Patroklos in the Picture Painted on the Münster Hydria

Achilles and Patroklos as Cult Heroes of Apobatic Chariot Racing

An Athletic Event at Eleusis

Achilles and Demophon as Cult Heroes of Festivals

Achilles as a Model of Rhapsodic Performance

Achilles and Patroklos as Cult Heroes of a Poetic Event

The Prefiguring of Achilles by Patroklos

Heroic Immortalization and the Psukhe

The Psukhe as Both Messenger and Message

A Fusion of Heroic Myth and Athletic Ritual

Back to the Glory of the Ancestors

Back to the Meaning of Patroklos

Hour 8a. About the Ritual Origins of Athletics

Hour 8b. The Meaning of Athlos / Aethlos

Hour 8c. Back to the Panathenaia

Hour 8d. Patroklos as a Model for Achilles

Hour 8e. The Mentality of Re-enactment at Festivals

Hour 9: The Return of Odysseus in the Homeric Odyssey

The Meaning of Nostos

The Roles of Odysseus

The Complementarity of the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Heroic Mentality of Achieving Nostos

A Nostos in the Making

Echoes of Lament in a Song about Homecoming

Hour 10: The Mind of Odysseus in the Homeric Odyssey

The Meaning of Noos

The Interaction of Noos and Nostos

The Hero’s Return to His Former Social Status

The Hero’s Return from the Cave

The Return to Light and Life

The Journey of a Soul

Hour 11: Blessed Are the Heroes: The Cult Hero in Homeric Poetry and Beyond

The Meaning of Olbios

Signs of Hero Cult

Different Meanings of the Word Olbios for the Initiated and for the Uninitiated

How a Homeric Hero Can Become Truly Olbios

The Death of Odysseus

A Mystical Vision of the Tomb of Odysseus

Two Meanings of a Sema

An Antagonism between Athena and Odysseus

Conclusion: The Seafarer Is Dead and the Harvest Is Complete

Hour 12: The Cult Hero as an Exponent of Justice in Homeric Poetry and Beyond

The Meaning of Dike

An Occurrence of Dike as ‘Justice’ in the Odyssey

The Golden Generation of Humankind

Hesiod as an Exponent of Justice

Metaphors for Dike and Hubris

The Silver Generation of Humankind

Two Further Generations of Humankind

Hesiod in the Iron Age

Back to Hesiod as an Exponent of Dike

A Reconnection of Generations in an Orchard

II. Heroes in Prose Media

Hour 13: A Crisis in Reading the World of Heroes

The Meaning of Krinein

A Story about the Meaning of Olbios in the Histories of Herodotus

Another Story about the Meaning of Olbios in the Histories of Herodotus

Variations in Discriminating between the Real and the Unreal

Variations in Discriminating between Justice and Injustice

Heroes as Exponents of Justice in Poetry after Homer and Hesiod

Hour 14: Longing for a Hero: A Retrospective

The Meaning of Pothos

Testimony from the Heroikos of Philostratus

Longing for Protesilaos in the Homeric Iliad

The Sacred Eroticism of Heroic Beauty

The Beauty of Seasonality in a Modern Greek Poem

The Beauty of the Hero in Death

A Beautiful Setting for the Beautiful Cult Hero

Paroxysms of Sentimentality in Worshipping Cult Heroes

Back to the Tumulus of Achilles

Longing for Achilles: You’re Going to Miss Me

Longing for Patroklos: I’ll Miss Him Forever

Hour 15: What the Hero ‘Means’

The Meaning of Semainein

What Protesilaos ‘Means’

The Mystery of a Cult Hero

What Herodotus ‘Means’

More on the Mystery of a Cult Hero

Back to the ‘Meaning’ of Protesilaos

Initiation into the Mysteries of a Cult Hero

The Descent of an Initiand into the Nether World of a Cult Hero

A Brief Commentary on the Text about the Descent

The Oracular Consultation of Heroes

An Initiation for the Reader

The Personal Intimacy of Experiencing a Heroic Epiphany

Ritual Correctness in Making Mental Contact with the Cult Hero

How the Cult Hero Communicates

More on the Oracular Consultation of Heroes

Coming Back Once Again to What the Hero ‘Means’

The Cult Hero as a Medium

III. Heroes in Tragedy

Introduction to Tragedy

Hour 16: Heroic Aberration in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus

The Meaning of Ate

The Oresteia Trilogy of Aeschylus in the Larger Context of His Other Tragedies

The Ate of Agamemnon in Epic and Tragedy

An Ainos about a Lion Cub

Predators as Agents of Dike

Predators as Agents of Deeds Contrary to Dike

A Sequence of Symbols

The Symbolic Wording of the Watchman

Three Further Examples of Symbolic Wording

Hour 17: Looking beyond the Cult Hero in the Libation Bearers and the Eumenides of Aeschylus

The Meaning of Time

The Agenda of Athena

Pouring Libations for Cult Heroes or for Ancestors

What Stands in the Way of a Ritually Correct Libation by Electra

Transcending the Spirit of Vendetta

A New World Order for Athens

Hour 18: Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus and the Power of the Cult Hero in Death

The Meaning of Kolonos

More on the Meaning of Colonus

How to Imagine Colonus

Colonus, Land of Running Horses

Further Perspectives on the Meanings Connected to the Word Kolonos and to the Name Kolonos

Oedipus as Cult Hero at Colonus

The Mysterious Death of Oedipus

Scenarios for Dying and Then Coming Back to Life

The Mystification of the Hero’s Tomb in the Oedipus at Colonus

Personalizing the Death of Oedipus

Hour 19: Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus and Heroic Pollution

The Meaning of Miasma

The Pollution of Tyrants

A Look inside the Psukhe of Oedipus

The Pollution Caused by Oedipus

Oedipus as Savior

A Second Look inside the Psukhe of Oedipus

Purifying the Pollution in Tragedy

The Reaction of Oedipus to His Own Pollution in the Oedipus Tyrannus

Hour 20: The Hero as Mirror of Men’s and Women’s Experiences in the Hippolytus of Euripides

The Meaning of Telos

Two Contexts of Telos for Hippolytus

Hippolytus as a Cult Hero in Athens

Hippolytus as a Cult Hero in Trozen

Comparing the Trozenian and the Athenian Versions of the Hippolytus Tradition

Two Conventional Patterns of Thinking about Hippolytus as a Cult Hero in Trozen

Hippolytus in Epidaurus

Euripides Recapitulates a Trozenian Ritual

Love Song and Song of Laments

The Trouble with Hippolytus

The Complementarity of Artemis and Aphrodite

From Native Trozenian Ritual to the Drama of Athenian State Theater

Empathy for Female and Male Experiences

The Death of Phaedra

Epilogue: The Death of Phaethon

Hour 21: The Hero’s Agony in the Bacchae of Euripides

The Meaning of Agon

The Agon of Pentheus

The Meaning of Pathos

Staging the Dismemberment of Pentheus

The Staging of Dionysus

The Subjectivity of Dionysus

Staging the Bacchants

Staging Pentheus

A Divine Prototype for the Passion of Pentheus

Tracking Down the Origins of Tragedy

Hope for a Reassembly of the Body after Its Dismemberment

IV. Heroes in Two Dialogues of Plato

Hour 22: The Living Word I: Socrates in Plato’s Apology of Socrates

The Meaning of Daimonion

The Subversive Threat of ‘the Superhuman Signal’

What Happens to Socrates after Death

A Heroic Timing for the Death of Socrates

Socrates and Achilles

An Odyssean Way for the Journey of Socrates

The Swan Song of Socrates

Hour 23: The Living Word II: More on Plato’s Socrates in the Phaedo

The Meaning of Theoria

The Symbolism of Theoria in Plato’s Phaedo

The Garlanding of the Theoric Ship

Revisiting another Theoria

Theorizing about Theoria

Socrates, Master of Poetry as well as Dialogue

A New Way to Imagine Immortalization after Death

V. Heroes Transcended

Hour 24: The Hero as Savior

The Meaning of Sozein and Soter

Theseus as a Savior for the Athenians

A Metaphorical Use of the Word Sozein by Plato’s Socrates

A Metaphorical Use of the Word Sophron in an Archaic Hymn

Achilles as Saved Hero and as Savior Hero

Achilles, Hero of the Hellespont

Three More Glimpses of Heroic Salvation

The Living Word of Plato’s Socrates

Core Vocabulary of Key Greek Words



Index Locorum

“[Nagy’s] analysis is fascinating, often ingenious… This book is a valuable synthesis of research finessed over thirty years… Complemented by a free online sourcebook, edited by Nagy, containing translations of all the ancient texts discussed, like an ancient hero it will provide a lasting legacy beyond the hora of its publication.” - Francesca Wade, The Times Literary Supplement


“There’s a vital subject at the heart of the book - more vital perhaps now than ever, since the concept of the ‘hero’ has been so overused and distorted in the 21st century that it scarcely has any meaning anymore, applying equally to Armed Services employees working in an accounting office in Qatar and elementary school teachers doing what they’d be fired if they didn’t do. Nagy exuberantly reminds his readers that heroes - mortal strivers against fate, against monsters, and, as we’ll see, against death itself - form the heart of Greek literature, the vital counterweight to the gaudy gods and goddesses who so often steal the limelight. He surveys the incredible feast of Greek literature from Homer and Hesiod to the tragedians (his extended analysis of Euripides’ Hippolytus, for instance, is a wondrous highlight of the book’s final marches) and overlays on top of that feast a neat but thin conceit of ‘hours’ characterized by certain ancient Greek concepts like Kleos, Memnemai, Akhos, Penthos, and Aphthito. The comprehensiveness of his coverage allows him to bring in every variation on the Greek hero, from the wily Theseus to the brawny Hercules to the ‘monolithic’ Achilles to the valiantly conflicted Oedipus, and that same sweep puts him in a perfect position to spot the linking factors and expound on them.” - Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly


“The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours is Gregory Nagy’s MOOC book. The massive open online course is one of the most significant developments in higher education in years and Nagy is one of the foremost Homerists of his generation, so the book deserves attention both as an academic publication and as a pedagogical experiment. Scholars already familiar with Nagy’s work will not find radically new insights here. What they will appreciate is a systematic and exceptionally lucid statement of the research he has carried out over the past four decades… One of the greatest achievements of Nagy’s research is that it powerfully illuminates the relationship between myth and cult.” - Barbara Graziosi, Times Higher Education


“Backed by formidable learning and a vast ecumenical sweep embellished with details - yet written in a winningly readable informal style - The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours offers to us penetrating considerations of the ways in which Greek classics continue to make themselves felt in our lives even today.” - M. S. Nagarajan, The Hindu


“This volume is a summation of the insights of a scholar who has devoted his life to these materials, and who has a deep, learned, and personal vision of the ancient Greek psyche, its values, and its manifestations in song and prose. The result is a stimulating tour of ancient Greek literature.” - P. Nieto, Choice
Gregory Nagy is Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.