Tag Archives: Iliad

Kleos for Antony the Great?

​I was reading Athanasius’ Life of Antony for one of my classes, and I came across something really interesting. Here’s the text that struck me:

Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Antony’s wrestling [with demons], but was at hand to help him. So looking up he [Antony] saw the roof as it were opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help, and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, “Where wert thou? Why didst thou not appear at the beginning to make my pains to cease?” And a voice came to him, “Antony, I was here, but I waited to see thy fight; wherefore since thou hast endured, and hast not been worsted, I will ever be a succour to thee, and will make thy name known everywhere.” Having heard his, Antony arose and prayed, and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly. And he was then about thirty-five years old.

(Athanasius, Life of Antony 10. From NPNF, second series, vol. 4. Emphasis added.

I think it’s interesting how Athanasius portrays Antony here; it’s as if Antony is a Christian form of a hero from ancient Greek epic. First, Antony secures divine favor specifically because he is a courageous fighter against his enemies, the demons — later, he even squares off with Satan himself and is victorious (Life of Antony 41). Second, God promises Antony fame on Earth for his bravery in battle. Now, one would expect God to promise Antony with a heavenly reward for being so courageous when fighting his demonic adversaries, so it’s a little surprising to see God offer him Earthly fame instead.

God’s promise of everlasting fame for Antony sounds remarkably like the heroic goal of kleos (“fame,” “repute”). For instance, Achilles’ goal in fighting as bravely and as fiercely as he did in the Trojan War (as narrated in the Iliad) was to win kleos on the earth, since after death, all that awaited him as a shadowy existence in Hades.

Moreover, Athanasius’ focus here is all the more interesting, since just a few paragraphs before, he has Antony hearing and obeying verses from the Gospel of Matthew, which has a strong focus on believers getting rewarded for their righteousness in the “kingdom of Heaven.” It seems strange to me that Athanasius would have Antony immediately obeying Jesus’ commands in Matthew, but would put Antony’s rewards on Earth, not Heaven. Thus, it’s my conclusion that Athanasius has God promising Antony kleos, in the same sort of way that Greek heroes, like Achilles, sought kleos while they were alive.

Further, I see two possible outworkings of this conclusion. First, Athanasius seems okay with earthly fame, at least for people who are worthy of it. Second, in setting up Antony as a model to be followed (his explicit goal, Life of Antony 94), Athanasius is also implicitly a share of
kleos for anyone who lives the same sort of life as Antony.

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Redaction Criticism and Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about redaction criticism lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the folly of assuming that a book of the Bible was composed by a single author simply because it has traditionally been attributed to a single author. For instance, the Pentateuch was most probably edited from several source documents over the course of a few centuries, rather than being written all at once by Moses (with Joshua adding a tag at the end). It is also highly likely that 1 and 2 Corinthians have at least a couple interpolations, from marginal notes being copied into the text. Interestingly, the sample problems are being explored in Homer scholarship, too — whether the Iliad and the Odyssey were written by Homer (who may not even have existed) or were composed over the course of a long period of time and only later attributed to Homer.

(As a sidebar, I do wonder if conservative Christians during the early 1900s rejected historical criticism not for the methodology so much as for the results, which they saw as an attack on their faith, and, rather than thinking through  the evidence, shooed it away and declared it anathema. But that’s another post for another day.)

Let’s take a contemporary example of redaction and interpolation: Wikipedia. We all know that no one single person is “the author” of Wikipedia. However, let’s imagine a time, maybe 1000 years in the future, where the original Wikipedia was lost to the ravages of the Internet, but someone had the foresight (or luck) to preserve a print copy of some of Wikipedia’s entries, which was then, through some miracle of history, meticulously copied and transmitted for 1000 years. Over the course of a millennium, a tradition has cropped up regarding Wikipedia, assigning a single author to each of the articles.

By this time, a group of Wikipedia scholars has cropped up. However, because the only remaining evidence of Wikipedia is the collection of articles, which have no authorship attached, but which also show clear signs of multiple authors, there is a lively debate in this niche of scholarship about Wikipedia’s authorship. On the one side, some scholars claim that, because each article is a unified source, each article must have been written by a single person. On the other side, other scholars claim that they have determined, through redaction and linguistic criticism, that the articles were, in fact, written by several people over the course of time. (Thankfully, scanners and photocopiers kept the number of textual variants to a minimum!)

We all know, of course, how silly it is to assert that a given Wikipedia article, especially one of the featured articles, has been written by a single author. But, assuming all we had was the text of major Wikipedia articles, would it be any more valid to say that Wikipedia articles are the work of a single author? Of course not.

The implications of this Wikipedia principle are, I would hope, very clear. In the case of a text like the Pentateuch, or the Iliad and the Odyssey, or even our hypothetical Wikipedia, multiple authorship is infinitely more likely than single authorship. It is invalid to perpetuate a tradition in the face of contrary evidence.

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