Achilles and Hector: The Homeric Hero (review)

Journal of Aesthetic Education 40 (3):115-119 (2006)
  Copy   BIBTEX


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Achilles and Hector: The Homeric HeroBryan R. WarnickAchilles and Hector: The Homeric Hero, by Seth Benardete. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 2005, 140 pp., $17.00 cloth, $10.00 paper.Seth Benardete (1930-2001) was one of the twentieth century's premiere scholars of the classical world. His prominence was largely due to his technical excellence in both ancient philosophy and classical philology, a rare combination that allowed him to become, as Harvey Mansfield has written, "Our greatest student of the relation between poetry and philosophy."1 He wrote groundbreaking discussions of Greek literature (especially the tragedies) and the Platonic dialogues. His work culminated in his study of The Odyssey, The Bow and the Lyre (1997), a book that compared the plot of epic poetry to the development of a Platonic dialogue.Before Benardete achieved lasting fame, however, he was a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, working with Leo Strauss and the Committee on Social Thought and developing friendships with people like Allan Bloom. The writing of his dissertation is the stuff of scholarly legend. According to the story, it developed from a pile of nonsensical notes on the Iliad to a work of budding genius in four weeks. This dissertation, "Achilles and Hector: The Homeric Hero," was published in St. John's Review in 1985, and it has now been reprinted so that we can examine for ourselves the significance of Benardete's early work.As the title suggests, Benardete's dissertation looks at the theme of heroism in Homer, focusing on the Iliad. He examines the relationships between the poem's smallest parts and its largest themes. The book is divided into two sections. In the first section, Benardete grapples with how the small components of the Iliad, the epithets and similes, work together meaningfully to inform the larger heroic themes of the epic. The second section examines Homer's view of the tragic hero through an analysis of the plot. The analytic skill exhibited in both sections is fascinating: some parts of the study are brilliant, others strained, but none are boring.Benardete's purpose in the first section, he says, is to "vindicate the epithets" (135). This vindication is necessary because, as scholarship on the oral nature of the Homeric epics has developed, the significance of the smaller components has seemed to diminish. The epithets and similes have come to be seen as mere crutches for the oral poet; they are linguistic tools whose characteristics allow them to be plugged into Homer's unrelenting dactylic hexameter whenever a particular rhythmic pattern is needed. The poet uses the epithet of "swift-footed" Achilles, then, not so much because he particularly wants to say something meaningful about Achilles' swiftness, but because the particular rhythmic pattern of the epithet is a handy way to complete a line of poetry. The meaning of things like the epithets in any particular moment, it has seemed to many, should therefore be taken with a grain [End Page 115] of salt. In contrast, Benardete wants to argue that each particular use of an epithet has a significant meaning that informs, and even constructs, the epic's larger themes (for Benardete's purposes, the theme of heroism).Benardete's success in this goal is somewhat uneven, as even he later came to realize. A few of his conclusions appear rather stretched and neglect to consider the whole in the analysis of the parts. For example, Benardete looks at the Trojan epithets megathymoi ("great spirited") and hippodamoi ("tamers of horses") and finds them to be two manifestations of a constant Trojan character. One epithet is for the activities of war (megathymoi), the other one for peace (hippodamoi). But for Benardete, they both say the same thing about the constantly emotional, almost animalistic nature of Homer's Trojans, who are perfectly defined by passionate warfare: "The Trojans are more readily affected than the Achaeans, who can remove their armor and be different in peace than in war: but the Trojans cannot so easily shake off their temper" (21). While certainly interesting, such an analysis neglects to take into account prominent scenes like the one in which Astyanax, Hector...



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 91,069

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Achilles and Hector. [REVIEW]Steven Berg - 2006 - Review of Metaphysics 60 (2):387-389.


Added to PP

26 (#535,314)

6 months
3 (#503,027)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references