Michael Silk’s New Things about the Iliad

Iliad

Reading Michael Silk’s interpretation and critical analysis about Homer’s epic Iliad, I find that some points he actually emphasizes deserve to be given a considerable time to ponder on.  He starts his discussion about the epic by giving us the feel of the milieu of the ancient times, from which he first raises a significant observation that Homer is not made of a singular entity, but Homer is presented as a ‘multiple author’ with ‘different voices’.  One of the characteristics of an epic includes the fact that it came from oral tradition, and so Silk emphasizes in his analysis that because of this the oral transmission must have changed overtime, and when it was finally written down there might have been some changes. The oral-improvisory technique is possible for these alterations.

Another relevant remark that Silk lays out is the fact that Iliad is not a tight, organic structure in Aristotelian terms, or organically whole like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.  The actions do not follow a causal logic, but the epic is organized into a circular structure referred as ‘ringform’ – “it begins with a ransom and argument and ends with a comparable sequence in reverse” (the A-B-A shape).  It’s a full circle, sort of.  Also, there are sections in the narrative where there’s a tendency towards autonomy, that defiled the Aristotelian concept of ‘organic whole.’

The epic poem also embraces the structural technique which the critic calls as ‘illusionist’, where readers are given a kind of illusion of the length of time.  With regards to style, the poem employs extended simile, but the use of metaphor, according to Silk, is largely absent in the Iliad.

In terms of themes and heroic ideology, the character Achilles is presented as the embodiment of the ‘poet’s theme’, the warrior who fights for glory.  In a section that discusses about the character Achilles, Silk highlights that Achilles is the only character that can be considered as a ‘round’ character (with depth) in a modern sense.  Other characters are only defined through stock epithets and were differentiated in their own capabilities, but generally not considered as ‘men with multiplicity of traits and interest’, and therefore considered as static.  These characters show no capacity for development and are not affected by any subsequent experience. They are contrasted with the character of Achilles, which becomes the focus of interest in the poem mainly because even though there have been times when divine interventions affect him, there are also times when he had the chance to reveal himself – his true qualities without the external pressures (like war and divine intervention).

Silk observes that for all the battle scenes, heroic deaths and defeat, the epic poem’s emotional flavors are restrained due to the author’s style.  Homer wrote objectively, and so in terms of emotions, the readers may feel distant.  Homer’s characters does not expressed their feelings explicitly but conveys them either through the observations of other people or through detailed descriptions in things.  The latter can be associated with Eliot’s objective-correlative technique, which is a modern day concept.

Lastly, the critic states that the epic is primarily celebratory, not exploratory.  It presents to us the experience of certain types of people, and lacks the in-depth emotional exploration (with exception to Achilles) of some characters.  Silk likens reading the Iliad as watching sports, him (and the readers) as an spectator.

To further explore more about the Iliad, read Michael Silk, on The Iliad.

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Dr. Faustus

 

“If we say that we have no sin
We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.
–Faustus to himself, Dr. Faustus

 

 

No one can deny Dr. Faustus remains to be one of Christopher Marlowe’s famous plays. Personally, I think the play The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus is far better than any plays of Shakespeare and can be equated with the standards of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

The story is about Dr. Faustus, a famous scholar in Wittenberg, whose obsession was to know more, and whose passion geared towards studying necromancy, or conjuration of the spirits of the dead. While he was still in his study, the good angel and the bad angel went to him. The good angel persuaded him to stop his ambition to become a necromancy practitioner and fear God, while the bad angel persuaded him that by studying necromancy he could be rich and powerful above all. Things got really dark when Faustus told Mephistopheles that he was ready to surrender his soul to his master Lucifer in exchange of luxurious life and power for 24 years. And so, Faustus made a pact with Lucifer, and for 24 years he traveled the world with evil in his mind. Some of these were drugging the Pope’s ministers with a sleeping potion, convincing the Pope to condemn a man named Bruno, performing annoying tricks to some people, and most of all, condemning the existence of God.

After 24 years, Lucifer and Mephistopheles were now ready to take Faustus’s soul. Although throughout the play he was bothered with repentance and fear of damnation, it was in the end that he finally realized the folly of his actions. But it was already too late for him.

What’s good about Dr. Faustus is that Marlowe incorporated the conflict of the good and evil in the form of good angel and bad angel, and this conflict became Faustus’s internal struggle. But due to his insatiable desires and thirst for more knowledge and supreme power, Faustus is bound to be damned. The readers would feel his moments of contrition, but since he always ended up choosing evil in the end, then we also feel that he should be doomed. He was too driven with greed and ambition.