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Chapter 5

Comic Recovery of the Hero-Artist

In contrast to the tragic heroes of the last chapter, Homer’s Odysseus has the power to counter death-in-life, to recover from the compulsion of events and win through to life, thus surpassing even the deeds of Heracles.

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La Rochefoucauld writes, “Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder fixément”: “Neither the sun nor death can be stared at (looked at fixedly)” (Maxim 19, edition of 1678.)  In each case seeing would undo sight.  But impossibility is apt to be disregarded.  We may think of the peril of raising one’s eyes to the Sun King; or of a philosopher who, following Socrates, practices dying and being dead (Phaedo 64a), until he becomes unable to see life as others do.

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A night (νύξ) in Homer is dark, especially in the Iliad, even black, murky, moonless (μέλαινα, ἐρεβεννή, ὀρφναίη, κελαινή, δνοφερή, σκοτομήνιος, ἐρεμνή).  It may be baneful, bad, sleepless, cold, a source of pain, especially in the Odyssey (ὀλοή, κακή, ἄυπνος, πηγυλίς, δυσκηδέα).  Black night will cover the earth, or a battle, perhaps drawn over it by a god; it enfolds the eyes of men slain.  In the night men and gods sleep or wake, dreams come, Zeus rains and blows, or thunders and devises evil; men feast, lie awake pondering, walk about to rouse others, or lament their dead; lions menace flocks, fires burn, ships sail or come to harbor, wanderers are a danger; Odysseus lies with Calypso, Penelope unravels her web.  There is one great nighttime adventure, the daring raid by Odysseus and Diomedes in Iliad 10.

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