Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Contest

Stephen and I spent this last week at the Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Boston. We started out the week staying in town, but finished it off commuting. As we stayed at the Seaport Hotel at the beginning of the week when we knew almost no one, we didn’t take advantage of the social atmosphere, but were happily sequestered in our room. After getting to know a few people, we dined, drank, and were generally merry with those few.

Through the classes, general sessions, and referenced symposiums (in the ancient Greek sense), I left with a calmer sense of purpose, renewed motivation, and a smoldering desire to make the world a better place. By firmly placing the moral foundation under the tremendous achievements of the Founding Fathers first in my own mind, I then hope to help do so in the minds of others who have chosen the fundamental alternative to live, turning that smolder into a bonfire.

One of the most immediately motivating things I learned at OCON this week regards the light that lyric poetry of
Archaic Greece shines on that important period in the advancement of thought. Dr. John Lewis’ presentation of this period was enlightening and inspiring. I will be exploring this period through poetry further, but for now, offer a link to a later bit of interpreted poetry describing the key differences in the archaic poets Homer and Hesiod.

After these verses had been spoken, all the Hellenes called for Homer to be crowned. But King Paneides bade each of them recite the finest passage from his own poems. Hesiod, therefore, began as follows:

'When the Pleiads, the daughters of Atlas, begin to rise begin the harvest, and begin ploughing ere they set. For forty nights and days they are hidden, but appear again as the year wears round, when first the sickle is sharpened. This is the law of the plains and for those who dwell near the sea or live in the rich-soiled valleys, far from the wave-tossed deep: strip to sow, and strip to plough, and strip to reap when all things are in season.' 3703

Then Homer:

'The ranks stood firm about the two Aiantes, such that not even Ares would have scorned them had he met them, nor yet Athena who saves armies. For there the chosen best awaited the charge of the Trojans and noble Hector, making a fence of spears and serried shields. Shield closed with shield, and helm with helm, and each man with his fellow, and the peaks of their head-pieces with crests of horse-hair touched as they bent their heads: so close they stood together. The murderous battle bristled with the long, flesh-rending spears they held, and the flash of bronze from polished helms and new-burnished breast-plates and gleaming shields blinded the eyes. Very hard of heart would he have been, who could then have seen that strife with joy and felt no pang.' 3704

Here, again, the Hellenes applauded Homer admiringly, so far did the verses exceed the ordinary level; and demanded that he should be adjudged the winner. But the king gave the crown to Hesiod, declaring that it was right that he who called upon men to follow peace and husbandry should have the prize rather than one who dwelt on war and slaughter. In this way, then, we are told, Hesiod gained the victory and received a brazen tripod which he dedicated to the Muses with this inscription:

'Hesiod dedicated this tripod to the Muses of Helicon after he had conquered divine Homer at Chalcis in a contest of song.'

The contest highlights the importance of productive work and demonstrates a focus on the natural world, not just the constant strife of war well-known of this period. The works of Hesiod are more fragmented than those attributed to Homer, but offer, perhaps, a more important view into the nascent thoughts on the morality of man.

Hesiod and the Muse, by Gustave Moreau (wikipedia)

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