Date of Degree
Access restricted until 07/13/2019
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This dissertation offers new answers to the ethical questions posed by Homer’s epics by implementing interdisciplinary methods and perspectives. Drawing insights from anthropology, literary criticism, philosophy, and psychology, I construct an ethical model, which evaluates ethical systems not primarily as a means of regulating conduct but as a means of endowing particular actions with exemplary significance. My methodology, which is based on this ethical model, approaches ethics as a complex system that can never be adequately described in its totality but only in reference to specific human problematics. The problematic I investigate is death: how it serves as an opportunity for Homeric heroes to pursue the most significant kind of life they can in light of their mortality.
The Homeric hero is obliged to protect his “lot” in life as his birthright and property in the divinely-governed world; he is obliged also to recognize the limits of his lot and respect the lot of other noblemen by rendering them due honor. Not all lots are equal, of course, and certain ethical sensibilities are required to negotiate the social domain properly. The Iliad and Odyssey illustrate what ethical sensibilities come into play as their exemplars struggle against a diverse range of human vicissitudes. Three sensibilities are especially important: (1) a sense of culturally appropriate restraint out of fear of retribution, (2) a sense of culturally appropriate anger upon seeing shameless behavior, (3) a sense of culturally appropriate love/friendship and pity that opens a path for even strangers to be treated as intimates, i.e. to have their needs met.
Corresponding to these sensibilities are battle customs and civic customs. A heroic death garners significance from occurring either under the auspices of battle customs or under the auspices of civic customs. The Iliad illustrates good death in war as a “beautiful death,” and the Odyssey illustrates good death in the community as a “gentle death.” Death is the culmination of one’s living actions, and glorious actions are worthy of being remembered by a community in song. Even when a hero no longer can act in the world, he is able, if his actions are preserved in memory, to participate in the life of the community. To be remembered and honored “equally to a god” is the greatest good a mortal can have, insofar as it approximates the immortal existence of the gods. In my conclusion, I also discuss methods of researching the reception of Homeric ethics, especially by Plato.
Anthropology, Death, Epistemology, Homer, Narratology, Psychology
ix, 289 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 280-289).
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