Essay on The Implied Metaphysics of "bitterness" in Homer's Iliad

Essay on The Implied Metaphysics of "bitterness" in Homer's Iliad

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Homer's Iliad is replete with "bitterness," a term employed for its absolutist depictions of the ferocity and prolonged spite of ancient Greek warriors. The weight of this term is made apparent in the opening passage: "What god was it then set [Achilleus and Agamemnon] in bitter collision?" (I. 8). The seeds of bitterness have been planted and this story--an epical account of the Greeks pillaging the land of Troy in the final year of the Trojan War--is narrated not to recreate history, but to furnish a backdrop of wartime valor that brings to fore the struggles of pride entertained by Achilleus vis-à-vis Agamemnon. Their fueled interactions form the basis of The Iliad, advancing the plot-line and revealing peculiar insights into their self-absorbed and selfish natures--the ultimate focus of The Iliad.

The myriad shades of "bitterness," unfortunately, cannot be pinned in concise and pithy language. In the field of natural sciences, "bitterness" is used to characterize tastes and smells which are unpleasantly sharp or pungent--be they cough syrup, thick smog, or the scent of fresh garlic. The chemical makeup of these substances may be assessed against objective criteria to determine whether "bitterness," in this regard, is an accurate label. But when importing the term into the realm of psychology, this consistency in meaning is tragically lost. The bitter cold, a bitter struggle, and the bitter truth--phenomena which evoke an unpleasantness of the senses but elude precise and scientific analysis--may be understood subjectively but lose the bulk of their essence when articulated in abstract, universal terms. Clearly, "bitterness," as an emotional psyche, has a more personalized and nuanced meaning than its scientific counte...


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... of weakness. Homer's political goal of conveying the leaders of this age as unyielding, brutish, and henceforth virtuous is assisted through his linguistic constructions of "bitterness." The text of The Iliad, as cited previously, ranks "bitterness" on a higher scale of intensity than competing emotional states, such as the more superficial "frustration" or "annoyance." In addition to this, the existential nature of "bitterness" as a `living and breathing' subject that inhabits human beings "deep in [their] chest," treating them as empty-vessel proxies, is suggested (I. 83). Whether Agamemnon is abusing his political authorities, Achilleus is rejecting honest pleas for clemency, or either is vainly desensitized to the plight of their best warriors, an entire ethos--the moral fabric of ancient Greece--is communicated through a tailored use of "bitterness" in this way.

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