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Mythology > Blindness in Myths

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message 1: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
From German Freedom and the Greek Ideal: The Cultural Legacy from Goethe to Mann:

When the fearful apparition of Care confronts him in the following scene, he refuses to rely on magic to avoid being harmed. This results in his being blinded, but his personal loss brings inner enlightenment. He declares, “Deep falls the night, in gloom precipitate;/What then? Clear light within my mind shines still;” Faust’s blindness represents an appropriate punishment for the moral weakness that caused the Baucis and Philemon tragedy, (his vain desire “To look on all that I’ve achieved”), and, more positively, it indicates that inner reason will henceforth prevail over the temptations of the external world in determining his actions.
Following the moral philosophies of J. J. Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, Goethe presents Faust as achieving true freedom by learning to control his selfish impulses in favor of the common good of society. Blinded to the outer world, Faust relies on the inner light of moral reason to enunciate his last great vision of the future:


I work that millions may possess this space,
If not secure, a free and active race...
A paradise our closed-in land provides,
Though to its margin rage the blustering tides;...
Here wisdom speaks its final word and true,
None is of freedom or of life deserving
Unless he daily conquers it anew...
Such busy, teeming throngs I long to see,
Standing on freedom’s soil, a people free.

Freedom results from self-imposed order, which channels and controls selfish emotional energies just as the dikes control and utilize the aimless power of the sea.



message 2: by Lia (last edited May 06, 2018 10:05AM) (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Source: The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology p.62: Polyphemus

The power of the Homeric simile in advancing the plot of epic is evident in the Odyssey as well. A most striking example is the simile that describes the blinding of the Cyclops called Polyphemus: when Odysseus and his men thrust into the single eye of the monster the fire-hardened tip of a wooden stake they had just crafted, the sound produced by this horrific act is compared to the sound produced when a blacksmith is tempering steel as he thrusts into cold water the red-hot edge of the axe or adze he is crafting (9.390–94). From a crosscultural survey of myths that tell how a hero who stands for the civilizing forces of culture blinds a monster who stands for the brutalizing forces of nature, it becomes clear that such myths serve the purpose of providing an aetiology for the invention of technology (Burkert 1979: 33–4). (On the concept of aetiology, see BA 16§2n2.) It is no coincidence that the three Cyclopes in the Hesiodic Theogony (139–46) are imagined as exponents of technology: they are identified as the three blacksmiths who crafted the thunderbolt of Zeus (Burkert 1979: 156n23). Thus the simile about the tempering of steel in the Homeric narration of the blinding of Polyphemus serves the purpose of contextualizing and even advancing that narration by way of highlighting aspects of an underlying myth that is otherwise shaded over.




Source: The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology p.72: Polyphemus, Calypso, Odysseus

[...]the stratagem of crafting the false name Outis> succeeds: when the blinded Cyclops answers the question of his fellow Cyclopes, perhaps someone has wronged you? (9.405, 406), he uses the nonmodal form of the pronoun, saying ou tis > ‘no one’ has wronged me (9.408). Still, though this stratagem succeeds in rescuing Odysseus (and, for the moment, some of his comrades), it fails to rescue the hero’s past kleos > in Troy. In fact, the stratagem of Odysseus in calling himself Outis> ‘no one’ produces just the opposite effect: it erases any previous claim to any kleos > that the hero would have had before he entered the cave of the Cyclops. Such erasure is signaled by the epithet outidanos > ‘good-for-nothing’, derivative of the pronoun ou tis > ‘no one’: whenever this epithet is applied to a hero in the Iliad, it is intended to revile the name of that hero by erasing his epic identity (as in Iliad 11.390). Such erasure means that someone who used to have a name will now no longer have a name and has therefore become a nobody, a no one, ou tis >. In the Odyssey, the Cyclops reviles the name of the man who blinded him by applying this same epithet outidanos > ‘good-for-nothing’ to the false name Outis> (9.460). The effect of applying this epithet completes the erasure of the hero’s past identity that was started by Odysseus when he renamed himself as ou tis > ‘no one’. The name that the hero had heretofore achieved for himself has been reduced to nothing and must hereafter be rebuilt from nothing.
It is relevant that the annihilation of the hero’s identity happens in the darkness of an otherworldly cave, in the context of extinguishing the light of the single eye of the Cyclops, thereby darkening forever the monster’s power to see the truth unless he hears it. In the poetics of Greek myth, both epic and lyric, the identity or nonidentity of a hero matches the presence or absence of light: in the words of Pindar (Pythian 8.95–7), the difference between being tis ‘someone’ and being ou tis > ‘no one’ becomes visible when a burst of light and life coming from Zeus himself illuminates the void of darkness and death (Nagy 2000: 110–11).
It is just as relevant that the master narrative of the Odyssey situates Odysseus in the darkness of another otherworldly cave at the very beginning of that narrative. At the point chosen for the beginning of the actual storytelling (1.11: entha ‘there’), the first detail to be narrated is that Odysseus is at this moment being deprived of his nostos (1.13) by a goddess called Calypso (1.14) who is keeping him concealed in her cave.



message 3: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Source: The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology p.60 - The Blind Bard

The conceit of lyric poetry is that it can see the truth that it tells, whereas epic poetry only hears what it tells, and what epic hears may or may not be true. A prime example is a song known as the palinode or recantation of the lyric poet Stesichorus (F 193): in this song, the poet rejects the myths that tell how Helen allowed herself to be abducted by Paris from her home in Sparta, substituting another myth that claims she never left Sparta. This alternative myth about Helen, which highlights her status as a goddess, is grounded in local Dorian traditions (Pausanias 3.19.11; PH 14§§13–21), and it is complemented by a myth about Stesichorus himself: according to this complementary myth, the poet had been blinded by the goddess for having defamed her by perpetuating myths affirming her abduction by Paris – but then the goddess restored the eyesight of Stesichorus in order to reward the poet for unsinging, as it were, his previous song by way of singing his palinode or recantation (Isocrates Helen 64; Conon FGrH 26 F 1.18; Plato Phaedrus 243a).
There is a parallel myth about Homer: this poet too had been blinded by Helen for having defamed her by perpetuating myths affirming her abduction by Paris (Life of Homer 6.51–7 ed. Allen); unlike the lyric poet Stesichorus, however, the epic poet Homer never recants and he stays blind forever (Plato Phaedrus 243a). Unlike lyric poetry, which privileges the metaphor of seeing the true myth, the epic poetry of Homer privileges the metaphor of hearing from the Muses the kleos ‘glory’ of the myths that he tells (Iliad 2.486); as we have seen, even the word kleos, derived from kluein ‘hear’, proclaims the privileging of this metaphor of hearing (PH 14§19).



message 4: by Lia (new)

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Ancient audiences understood that the poet’s ability to see and describe [Achilles’] shield was linked to his divine gift for poetry. One ancient biography, for example, gives the following account of Homer’s blindness:
‘When the poet arrived at the tomb of Achilles, he prayed to behold the hero as he appeared when he went off to battle adorned with the second set of armour. But when he saw Achilles, Homer was blinded by the brightness of the armour. Pitied by Thetis and the Muses, he was honoured by them with the gift of poetry.’
As in several other ancient legends, blindness and poetic vision go together: the poet can describe for us an object that, in the Iliad, ordinary mortals cannot bear to observe in detail.



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