THE STORY (65 minutes) Homer’s Iliad opens with the storyteller’s invocation to the Muse: “The wrath of Achilles – sing it now, goddess, sing through me ….” When Achilles learns that his beloved Patroclus is dead – at the hands of Hector –Achilles “snaps”. What follows is a powerful, disturbing and truly horrifying podcast episode.
THE COMMENTARY: WHAT HAPPENS TO US AFTER WE DIE? (25 minutes; begins at 1:05) This post story commentary is dedicated to Bronze Age beliefs about death and the afterlife. I explore what warlords like Hector, Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus would have believed about death, about funeral rites and burial, and about what was waiting for them “on the other side”. To do so I follow the psyche (soul, spirit) of a man from the moment of imminent death (when the living man gains the gift of prophesy), through the dying man’s final breath (when the psyche is exhaled through the mouth), and then on to the psyche’s journey to the entrance to Hades – the land of the dead. I provide a bit of mythological back story on Hades the deity, who rules over Hades the place. I offer a caution to my listeners raised in the Judeo- Christian tradition — Hades the deity is not Satan, Mephistopheles, or any other form of malevolent horned demon – we need to take care to not graft onto one mythology the beliefs of another. Once at the gates of Hades, we follow the dead man’s psyche across the river (Styx or Acheron: sources vary, and we are regrettably short on empirical evidence) via the assistance of the able ferryman Charon. Our dead man’s psyche then enters the Fields of Asphodel, where it spends eternity in the company of every other human being who has ever lived. I note that the Bronze Age Greeks did not believe in any sort of post-life judgement by a god, followed by some sort of eternal reward or punishment. All psyches spend eternity on the Fields of Asphodel, a grey place of eternal blandness. I do note that some psyches (usually humans whose parent was a god) get to travel instead to a place called Elysium, which, apparently, offers a significant upgrade in post-death accommodations from those offered in Asphodel. But very, very few individuals every make it there: even the greatest of Homer’s warlords were ultimately destined to the Fields of Asphodel. I then discuss the other afterlife option: a place of eternal torment and suffering called Tartarus. But I again warn my Judeo-Christian listeners that this is not Hell (a place for people who are particularly bad or unrepentant on Earth). Rather, Tartarus is reserved as a series of personal, customized “hells”, designed by Zeus for particular individuals who personally annoyed Him. I provide examples of such individuals – Tantalus, Sisyphus and Prometheus – and describe their various customized “hells”. Finally, I discuss the Bronze Age Greek belief that a dead man’s psyche could not depart from the land of the living and travel to the land of the dead, unless the dead man’s body had been provided with the appropriate funeral rites (cremation first, followed by internment of the bones). A man mutilated and killed in battle, or killed and then mutilated, was doomed to spend eternity “trapped” in the land of the living in ghost form, wounds and all, until the appropriate funeral rites were performed. Which, I conclude, explains why the threat, or the actual deed, of desecrating corpses and refusing to allow appropriate funeral rites for those corpses, was of such deep concern to men like Hector and Patroclus.