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Mary Margaret Mackenzie THE TEARS OF CHRYSES: RETALIATION IN THE ILIAD1 ATHEORY of punishment is a systematic justification of the practice of punishment. Before the emergence of true penology in classical Greece—in Plato's Laws for example—penal transactions are associated only with pre-philosophic rationalizations. But such rationalizations must, nevertheless, be regarded as the antecedents of a formalized theory of punishment. In order to understand the classical approach to punishment, therefore, we should look to the early literature for evidence, descriptive or evaluative, of the penological antecedents. To begin at the beginning, this article will consider the Iliad. Yet this procedure begs questions. First of all, a critic might deny the propriety of the use of literary evidence in a study of a philosophical problem. The objection is twofold—both against the treatment of literature as philosophy and against the assumption of continuity in the transition from non-philosophical to explicitly philosophical sources. To this the answer lies partly in the nature of Greek culture. Until the sophistic age there existed no moral philosophy as such—and yet the Greeks were capable of considering and solving moral problems, such as the questions surrounding the practice of punishment. Thus while we should distinguish between this unphilosophical approach and the systematic analyses of the philosopher, the problems with which they deal remain the same. Second, Homer depicts a fictional society: it is a common contention that we therefore have no grounds for attributing consistency or historical reality to any of the institutions described in the poems. Thus the proposition is that, not content with inventing a story to tell, Homer imagined all the trappings of the fiction as well—the conventions and the sentiments bear no relation to conventions or values of his own or any other time. The same argument might be applied to other literary works which make no claim to historicity. But its plausibility depends upon an inflated notion of fiction in which nothing of the 4 Philosophy and Literature story approaches the familiar experiences of its hearers. It is, of course, more reasonable to suppose that fiction generally derives its impact from familiarity, and that Homer's popularity was founded in his appeal to the audience's imagination in the context of their own lives. Thus while the story itself is fiction, it is associated with fact in its detail—the commonplaces of social life and human reaction among which the heroes move. Our task is to look to the commonplaces, for here will be found the social practices and the assumptions which Homer's audience would take for granted. Finally, we may generally suppose that the context of a particular source is determined chiefly by its antecedents. If, however, we are to treat the Homeric poems as the earliest Greek literary sources available to us, there is a major difficulty in this establishment of context: the absence of antecedent. The discussion of Homeric society has been severely hampered by the lack of contemporary referents and by the consequent temptation to import our own values as yardsticks for the measuring of the idiosyncracies of Homeric thought. To a large extent this is a useful enterprise; it is possible, for instance, to point out the differences between Homeric military structure and our own, or between the kingship system and the political structures of later Greek societies. On the other hand, as soon as the discussion turns to values, the issue becomes complicated; to compare two values, in our own society and in the Homeric poems, tends to presuppose some common ground where there need be none, to assume that the way we might translate a word reflects significantly upon its original use. This third difficulty gives rise to an eristic dilemma, common in the history of ideas: how do we know that a transaction is a punishment unless we already know that it is a punishment? Or if we are uncertain whether punishment occurs (and if we have no common language to help in the identification), where should we look for it? Further, having established the area in which punishment should occur, what criteria are to be employed to determine whether in fact it does? The first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 3-22
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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