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Heraclitus: Homeric Problems (Writings from the Greco-Roman World)

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Item description for Heraclitus: Homeric Problems (Writings from the Greco-Roman World) by Donald A. Russell, David Konstan & Heraclitus...

This is the first English translation of the only extended ancient treatise on Homer that survives today. It provides a detailed allegorical discussion of controversial passages in the Iliad and the Odyssey and is a mine of information on ancient approaches to allegory and to literary criticism.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Brill Academic Publishers
Pages   144
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.5"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Library Binding
Release Date   Jan 1, 2006
Publisher   Brill Academic Publishers
ISBN  9004130829  
ISBN13  9789004130821  

Availability  0 units.

More About Donald A. Russell, David Konstan & Heraclitus

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Donald A. Russell is Emeritus Professor of Classical Literature, University of Oxford, and Emeritus Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Classics > Greek
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Criticism & Theory > General
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Criticism & Theory
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > United States > History & Criticism > Literary Theory
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Greek & Roman

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Heraclitus the Stoic: In Defense of Homer  Aug 25, 2008
Little is known of Heraclitus the Stoic other than that he was a grammarian who wrote a treatise in defense of Homer around 100 AD. The Homeric Problems, then, aim at exonerating the great poet from the charge of impiety against the gods. Plato had banished poetry from his Republic (Resp., 398A.) and Epicurus had also ridiculed Homer: Plato, because he found little of moral and philosophical value in poetry; and Epicurus, because it was his style to make a mockery of mythology. Heraclitus could not comprehend how this was so, seeing that Homer's impact upon Greek literary and religious culture was so monumental and enduring. Heraclitus' solution to clear Homer of any accusation of sacrilege was to unveil the hidden truths and lift the screen of obscurity from portions of the two epics where there are found tales of inordinate desires, wars and passions amongst the gods. He attempted, therefore, to find a philosophical meaning in Homer and reveal what the bard really intended to portray. Consequently, Heraclitus' methodological scheme was centered on interpreting the questionable tales from the Iliad and Odyssey, allegorically. In his own words Heraclitus states, "It is a weighty and damaging charge that heaven brings against Homer for his disrespect for the divine. If he meant nothing allegorically, he was impious through and through, and sacrilegious fables, loaded with blasphemous folly, run riot through both epics. And so, if one were to believe that is was all said in obedience to poetical tradition without any philosophical theory...Homer would be a...Tantalus," a mythical figure who was proverbial for impiety (Homeric Problems, 1.1). Heraclitus then reminds his critics that he is amazed to see that inside the "temples and precincts...should have embraced Homer's impiety...and learned to chant his abominable stories from memory (H.P., 1.1)." And further, he remarks that man's fascination with Homer does not end in childhood; it only grows stronger, for the "only end for Homer is the end of life (H.P., 1.1)." Now Heraclitus finds the Iliad and Odyssey to be full of natural philosophy, science, wisdom, ethics and mystery. He gives Homer the epithets, "divine," "hierophant of heaven and of the gods" and claims that Plato himself and Empedocles learned a great deal from Homer in their philosophical endeavors. For example, Heraclitus demonstrates that Empedocles borrowed his four elements theory from Homer: compare (Il., 2.412+3.277-299) with Empedocles, (frg. 6) which says, "Bright Zeus, life-bringing Hera, Aidoneus/, Nestis, who wets with tears a mortal spring." Heraclitus claims that Empedocles adapted the Homeric verse and rendered it allegorically to nominate Zeus= "fire," Hera= "earth," Aidoneus= "air," and Nestis= "water." Another subtle discovery Heraclitus makes in this treatise is the War of the Gods in chapter 20 (Iliad). The author insinuates, for instance, that when Athena= "wisdom," defeated Ares= "madness and folly," this was really a victory of Wisdom over Folly. Yet these are just a few examples out of the dozens which will captivate and ignite reader's minds with new insights while voyaging through these two timeless epics. The Homeric Problems will be welcomed by literary critics, philologists, philosophers and classicists; and this edition is bi-lingual, making accessible to students and scholars alike. Before concluding, it must be said that the labors of Heraclitus were not in vain; his efforts helped shape the image of Homer as a theologian and high-priest--an image that endured in many philosophical traditions well into the M. Ages [see R. Lamberton, Homer the Theologian]. Platonists such as Porphyry would follow up on Heraclitus' investigations, for he wrote his own study entitled Homeric Questions, which is extant. All in all, Heraclitus' presence will always be felt in the dimension of allegory.


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