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Homer, Troy, and Dishonor

While standing in the deli today, I picked up on a chapter in a fantastic fiction writing book called “Stealing Fire from the Gods” by James Bonnet.

In his chapter on the Golden Paradigm, Bonnet’s discussing the concept of the “Value Being Pursued” in a story. Like real life, story takes us on a journey where we are pursuing certain cherished values, such as life, health, wealth, justice, democracy, freedom, wisdom, security, love, happiness, wholeness, equality, and honor. At the same time, we’re trying to avoid their opposites — scourges like death, disease, poverty, injustice, tyranny, ignorance, slavery, insecurity, unhappiness, alienation, inequality, and dishonor. These isolated components are the stuff that great stories are made of. It all begins with the pursuit of these values.

To illustrate such a pursuit with a real example, Bonnet uses Homer’s story of The Iliad and The Odyssey. In this case, the value being pursued is honor, and the scourge being avoided is its counterpart, dishonor. As I read this at the deli, I got to the end and laughed out loud. People turned to me, wondering what was so funny. While I didn’t take the time to explain it to them, I’ll do so here.

From Bonnet’s book:

In the larger whole story of The Iliad and The Odyssey the value being pursued is honor. Everything in that larger whole story is related to that one virtue. It begins at the wedding of King Peleus and the sea goddess, Thetis. There is a contest to determine which of the three goddesses, Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite, is the most beautiful. The Trojan, Paris, the handsomest living mortal, is chosen to judge the contest, and Aphrodite secretly offers to help him seduce the most beautiful woman in the world if he chooses her, which he does. How Hera and Athena, sensing correctly that the contest was rigged, feel dishonored by Paris’ choice, and they vow to take revenge on the father’s kingdom. Later King Menelaos feels dishonored when Paris, with the help of Aphrodite, seduces his wife, Helen, and they run off together to Troy. Hera and Athena help Menelaos and his brother Agamemnon raise an army. During the ten-year war with Troy that ensues, Achilles feels dishonored when Agamemnon takes away the girl, Briseis, his prize from the sacking of the city of Lyrnessus. Then Poseidon feels dishonored when Odysseus blinds his one-eyed son, the cyclops, Polyphemus. As revenge, the god delays Odysseus’ return home another nine years. Then Odysseus feels dishonored because the suitors who have taken over his estate in his absence are hounding his wife and son and squandering his wealth. And finally, Homer feels dishonored because of a movie they made of his story they call Troy.

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