Name: ___________________________________ Period: __________ Date: _____________
1) Read the information below on the Greek Ideals.
2) Identify examples of each of the Homeric Greek Ideals within the myths we’ve read and explain your rationale.
3) Given these Greek ideals, what might an Ancient Greek Hero look like?
4) On a separate sheet of paper paraphrase, individually and in your own words, what you think the four ideals mean.
The cornerstone of ancient Greek values was reciprocity, or mutual exchange between two or more people. In Homeric Greece, there was no "national", formal system of government or trade. Greek-speaking people relied on reciprocity, a simple system of transaction. For instance, if I offered you a jar of olive oil for your spear, and if you considered this a fair trade, then both of us would benefit from this reciprocal transaction. On the other hand, if I was not a very nice person, I could hit you over the head and take the spear. This kind of trade is called negative reciprocity. Negative reciprocity only works if the victim cannot retaliate. Negative reciprocity took place because there were no national or local laws (or police) to govern behavior. The raiding of cities became an acceptable, allowable behavior.
However, there may be times when I may want to give a gift, not expecting something in return immediately. Suppose that something terrible happens to my home like a fire, or someone has stolen all my belongings. I might come to you and ask for some provisions. Since I have nothing to repay you, there is no question of an exchange. A long-term loan is not really practical because there is no writing at this time. So you reason that if you give me some food, I may not repay you, but some day if something terrible happens to you, I could help you out as you did me. You do this because you would like to rely on the kindness of others at some future date, which is still an act of belief in reciprocity. You are simply not expecting reciprocity at the moment. This is known as deferred reciprocity. This sort was used extensively by travelers (especially in The Odyssey). Deferred reciprocity, indeed any form of positive reciprocity, relies on the honor and good will of all participants. Honor, or areté, became an essential value for the ancient Greeks.
The idea of areté is perhaps the strongest and clearest value of Homeric Greek culture. Translated as "virtue", the word actually means something closer to "being the best you can be", or "reaching your highest human potential". From Homer’s time onwards, areté was applied to both men and women. Homer applies the term to both the Greek and Trojan heroes as well as the female figures such as Penelope, wife of Odysseus. In Homer’s poems, areté is often closely associated with bravery, but even more often with effectiveness. The man or woman of areté is a person of the highest effectiveness. They use all their faculties – strength, bravery, intelligence and deceptiveness – to achieve real results. In the Homeric world, areté involves all of the abilities and potential available to humans. The importance of areté implies that the Greeks saw their universe as one in which human actions are of extreme importance – that the world is a place of conflict and difficulty, and human value and meaning are measured against how effective each individual is in the world. In many ways, the Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are celebrations of areté. In Homer, even non-human beings such as noble horses and powerful gods may possess areté.
Areté became the ideal of human excellence, and quickly became fused to the ideal of leadership. The Greeks believed that the qualities areté and leadership were inseparable. Unusual or exceptional strength, and bravery or wit were seen as natural manifestations of both areté and leadership. Odysseus’ clever escape from and defeat of Polyphemus are examples of his natural areté, the qualities that make him a leader.
Two other values became intertwined with those of areté and leadership. Those values are kleos, or glory, and aidos, the sense of duty. A noble’s areté, in Homer, is illustrated by his skill and strength as an soldier in war, and as an athlete in peace. War provided the opportunity for the display of areté and the winning of kleos. Achilles is probably the Greek hero most closely associated with kleos as an aspect of areté – though Achilles often displays characteristics that the modern person may consider negative, the ancient Greek would recognize him as clearly possessing areté. The second important aspect of areté is aidos. In his personal conduct as a leader or noble, a Homeric heroine such as Penelope displayed this sense of duty as evidence of areté. Penelope remains true to her absent husband and cleverly avoids her impatient suitors (the old weaving trick – more evidence of her areté!).
Ultimately, areté meant the union of intellectual and physical excellence – the realization of a person’s full potential. In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles is reminded by his tutor Phoenix to seek the aristocratic ideal of areté – he must be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
Xenia evolved from the simple fact that if a lone traveler is turned away from a house, he or she could die from starvation or exposure. Xenia ensured that a traveler would not be turned away from any house. The poet Hesiod illustrates the importance of the guest-friend’s relationship to the host by placing the murder of a guest-friend on a level with the most heinous crimes he could think of:
Has there not abounded in them murder of brothers and fathers and guest-friends; matricide and incest and begetting of children by sons with their own mothers; feasting of a father on the flesh of his own sons, plotted by those nearest of kin; exposure of infants by parents, and drownings and blindings and other iniquities so many in number that no lack of material has ever been felt by those who are wont each year to present in the theatre the miseries which transpired in those days? (Hesiod, Works & Days)
This society also valued ergon, or good hard work. Without it, no society can exist. The value of ergon became associated with areté, as Hesiod explains:
...work...so that Hunger may hate you, and venerable Demeter richly crowned may love you and full your barn with food...Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labor of the bees, eating without working; but let it be your care to order your work properly, that in the right season your barns may be full of victual. Through work men grow rich in flocks and substance, and in working you will be much better loved both by gods and men; for they greatly dislike the idle.
Work is no disgrace: it is idleness which is a disgrace. But if you work, the idle will soon envy you as you grow rich, for fame and renown attend on wealth. And whatever be your lot, work is best for you, if you turn your misguided mind away from other men's property to your work and attend to your livelihood as I bid you. An evil shame is the needy man's companion, shame which both greatly harms men; shame is with poverty, but confidence with wealth. (Hesiod, Works & Days)
Even for a kings like Odysseus and Priam, manual labor was seen as a sign of virtue. Priam built the palace at Troy with his own hands; Odysseus is an accomplished carpenter.
Name: ________________________________________________ Advisor: ___________________
MOYERS: You taught mythology for thirty-eight years at Sarah Lawrence College. How did you get these young women, coming to college from their middle-class backgrounds…how did you get them interested in myths?
CAMPBELL: Young people just grab this stuff. Mythology teaches you what’s behind literature and the arts, it teaches you about your own life. It’s a great, exciting, life-nourishing subject. Mythology has a great deal to do with the stages of life, the initiation ceremonies as you move from childhood to adult responsibilities, from the unmarries state into the married state. All of those rituals are mythological traditions. They have to do with your recognition of the new role that you’re in, the process throwing off the old one and coming out in the new, and entering into a responsible profession.
When a judge walks into the room, and everybody stands up, you’re not standing up to that guy, you’re standing up to the robe that he’s wearing and the role that he’s going to play [rather than the man himself]. So what you’re standing up to is a mythological character. I imagine some kings and queens are the most stupid, absurd, banal people you could run into, probably interested only horses and women, you know. But you’re not responding to them as people, you’re responding to them in their mythological roles. When someone becomes a judge, or President of the United States, the man is no longer than man, he’s the representative of an eternal office; he has to sacrifice his personal desires…in order to fulfill that new role that he now signifies.
MOYERS: So there are mythological rituals at work in society. The ceremony of marriage is one. The ceremony of the inauguration of a President or judge is another. What are some of the other mythological rituals that are important to society today?
CAMPBELL: Joining the army, putting on a uniform, is another. You’re giving up your personal life and accepting a socially determined manner of life in the service of the society of which you are a member. This is why I think it is obscene to judge people…[for their behavior during] a time of war. They were acting not as individuals, they were acting as agents of something above them and to which they had by dedication given themselves. To judge them as though they were individual human beings is totally improper.
MOYERS: You’ve seen what happens when…societies [like the Native American tribes of U.S history are uprooted by the conquest of another civilization.] They go to pieces, they disintegrate, they become diseased. Hasn’t the same thing been happening to us since our myths began to disappear?
CAMPBELL: Absolutely, it has.
MOYERS: [You’ve said in the past that myths across time and space share remarkable similarities.] Take the creation story in Genesis, for example. How is it like other stories?
CAMPBELL: Well, you read from Genesis, and I’ll read from creation stories in other cultures, and we’ll see.
MOYERS: Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
CAMPBELL: This is from “The Song of the World,” a legend of the Pima Indians of Arizona: “In the beginning there was only darkness everywhere – darkness and water. And the darkness gathered in thick in places, crowding together and then separating, crowding and separating…” [The Pima Indians had never read Genesis 1 when they invented this myth. There is no copying occurring. Yet, the similarities between the beginnings of both myths are startling.]
MOYERS: Genesis 1: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’
CAMPBELL: Now, this is similar to a legend from the Bassari people of West Africa: “Unumbotte made a human being. Its name was Man. Unumbotte next made an antelope, named Antelope. Unumbotte made a snake, named Snake…And Unumbotte said to them, ‘The earth has not yet pounded. You must pound the ground smooth where you are sitting.’ Unumbotte gave them seeds of all kinds, and said: ‘Go plant these.’” [Once again, the Bassari never read Genesis, and yet both myths share remarkable similarities.]
MOYERS: Why are there so many stories of the hero in mythology?
CAMPBELL: Because that’s what’s worth writing about. Even in popular novels, the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.
MOYERS: So in all of these cultures, [the appearance or personality of the hero matters less than the deed?]
CAMPBELL: Well, there are two types of deeds. One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous acts in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero [comes to the deepest understanding of his or her spiritual beliefs] and then comes back with a message.
MOYERS: [Are all heroes men?]
CAMPBELL: Oh, no. The male usually has the most conspicuous role, just because of the conditions of life [for most men throughout history.] He has, traditionally, been out in the world, and the woman has been in the home. But among the Aztecs, for example, who had a number of heavens to which people’s souls would be assigned according to the conditions of their death - the heaven for warriors killed in battle was the same for mothers who died in childbirth. Giving birth was definitely a heroic deed, in that it is the giving over of oneself to the life of another.
MOYERS: Don’t you think we’ve lost that truth in this society of ours, where it’s deemed more heroic to go out into the world and make a lot of money than it is to raise children?
CAMPBELL: Making money gets more advertisement…So the thing that happens and happens and happens, no matter how heroic it may be, is not news. Motherhood has lost its novelty, you might say.
MOYERS: That’s a wonderful image, though – the mother as hero.
CAMPBELL: It has always seemed so to me. That’s something I learned from reading these myths.
MOYERS: What’s the significance of the trials, and tests, and ordeals of the hero?
CAMPBELL: [One way to think of these trials] is that they are designed to see to it that the person claiming to be a hero should really be a hero. Is he really a match for this task? Can he overcome the dangers? Does he have the courage, the knowledge, the capacity, to enable him to serve?
If you realize what the real problem is – losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another – you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves…we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.
MOYERS: So does heroism have a moral objective?
CAMPBELL: The moral objective is that of saving a group of people, or saving a person, or supporting an idea. The hero sacrifices himself for something – that’s the morality of it. Now, you might saw that the person or idea for which this hero sacrificed himself should not have been respected, but it doesn’t destroy the fact that the hero sacrificed himself for that idea or person.
MOYERS: Do you have a favorite mythic hero?
CAMPBELL: When I was a boy, I had two heroes. One was Douglas Fairbanks; the other was Leonardo da Vinci. I wanted to be a synthesis of the two. Today, I don’t have a single hero at all.
MOYERS: Does our society have a single hero?
CAMPBELL: It did have. It had Christ. He paid the ultimate sacrifice in giving himself to death for the sake of mankind. And then America had men like Washington and Jefferson and, later, men like Daniel Boone, who sacrificed themselves for the larger American idea. But life today is so complex and it is changing so fast, that there is no time for anything to constellate itself before it’s thrown over again.
MOYERS: We seem to worship celebrities today, not heroes.
CAMPBELL: Yes, and that’s too bad. A questionnaire was once sent around one of the high schools in Brooklyn which asks, “What would you like to be?” Two thirds of the students responded, “A celebrity.” They had no notion of having to give themselves in order to achieve something.
MOYERS: They just want to be known.
CAMPBELL: Just to be known, to have fame – name and fame because the end goal. It’s too bad – because being a hero once meant so much more. It required sacrifice.
MOYERS: But people ask, isn’t a myth a lie?
CAMPBELL: No, mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical – it represents ideas, people and situations that go beyond the actual text. When a person thinks in mythological terms – they consider their life in terms of the myths we read – they learn to recognize the positive values in what appears to be the negative moments. These negative moments are now seen as heroic tests. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.
MOYERS: The adventure of the hero?
CAMPBELL: Yes, the adventure of the hero – the adventure of being alive.
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