THE STORY: (58 minutes) Hector proposes an audacious “exit strategy” to Agamemnon: a deal to end the war with just one man dead. Intense diplomatic negotiations follow. And just when it appears that Greek and Trojan have agreed to terms, a third, more powerful party, enters the conversation.
THE COMMENTARY: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OLYMPIAN GODS, IN UNDER 13 MINUTES! (12 minutes; begins at 58:00) I dedicate all of this post-story commentary to the Olympian Gods: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo and the lot. The gods require our consideration because, though they have clearly been players since Episode One: The Apple of Discord, they now begin to aggressively assert themselves into the plot. I start with a reminder that the Olympian gods are a fundamentally different sort of deity than are the god(s) worshipped in the 21st century. The Olympian deities are not the authors of creation, but are instead – like humans, animals, and plants – just another sort of life inside of creation. The Olympian deities did not create humanity, and as a consequence, they have no particular love, concern or sense of responsibility for us. In fact, the Olympian deities mostly view humans as poor, mortal wretches: “For there is nothing as miserable as humans among all the creatures that live and breathe on the earth” (Iliad Book 17, 443) is how Zeus sums us up. Which is possibly why the Olympian deities spend most of their eternal time treating human life with cavalier disregard: our lives, our families, our cities and our great conflicts are, from the perspective of a god’s timeless/ageless immortality, simply inconsequential. But on occasion we humans do provide splendid “entertainment” for the Olympians: “But now I (Zeus) will sit here at ease on a ridge of Olympus where I can watch, to my heart’s delight…” the human carnage on the battlefield below. (Book 20, 22). Not simply content to watch of course, the gods sometimes go “down to the fighting, on different sides” (Book 20, 31), and do their very best to manipulate the outcome of our inconsequential human wars.
After my (and I think, Homer’s) indictment of the gods, I briefly explore three differing contemporary “storyteller” approaches to dealing with these gods inside of the Trojan War Epic story. Some modern tellers choose to redact the gods from the storyline entirely, and present listeners with a Trojan War Epic grounded exclusively in human agency. In these versions, the Trojan War becomes simply another story of human geopolitics. Other tellers choose to include the gods in the story, but only as stand-in manifestations of human psychological conditions. So, for example, when the angry Achilles is ordered by Athena to not kill Agamemnon, tellers from this school explain that Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, isn’t “really there” speaking to Achilles. Rather, Achilles’ own “wisdom” causes him to reconsider his plan to kill Agamemnon. And Helen isn’t “actually hit” by an erotic arrow shot by Aphrodite: she’s just a teenage girl overwhelmed by horniness for a really hot guy! Finally, some storytellers opt for an approach called over-determinism. These tellers attempt to explain every event in the story through two different sorts of causation: human agency, and, deific agency. So the plague in the Greek camp is caused by 100,000 men living in close quarters without adequate sanitation facilities, but is also caused because Apollo is shooting plague arrows into the camp. I confess that this is my preferred approach. I find that it allows me to keep the story contemporary and engaging for a modern listener (by grounding it in human geopolitics), but also allows me to include the agency of the gods, at places in the plot where the story makes no sense without them. Let me know what you think. Do the gods add to, or detract from, the power of the story? Jeff