Sunday, 16 November 2008

I’ve been reading Alberto Moravia…

I’ve been reading a few of the novels of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia – Conjugal Love, Boredom, Contempt and The Voyeur. They’re all good and share themes of intellectual, creative and male impotence. Boredom – about the obsession an artist develops against his instincts for a teenage girl – is the best of the novels; The Voyeur – about the intellectual, political and sexual antagonisms between a French literature professor and his father – is the least interesting.

Contempt is the novel Jean-Luc Godard filmed in 1963. I've previously written about Le Mépris here. The film is fairly faithful to the book and where it deviates from it, it enhances it. Le Mépris is, in fact, a sensational work of art. Both the film and the book, as I said in my previous post, are ‘among other things, a meditation on Homer’s Odyssey, [and] a celebration of Mediterranean landscape’. The story involves a struggling writer employed to write a screenplay of The Odyssey. He is unenthusiastic about the project, but takes it to earn money to impress his beautiful wife.

In the novel, the German film director Rheingold, explaining why he's interested in making a film of The Odyssey, says that ‘the Anglo-Saxon races have the Bible and you Mediterranean peoples, on the other hand, have Homer… To the Mediterranean peoples, Homer is what the Bible is to the Anglo-Saxons.’

Elsewhere in the novel, the writer Molteni objecting to the German director’s modern, psychological interpretation of The Odyssey says that the northern European wants to change Homer's ‘bright and luminous world, enlivened by the winds, glowing with sunshine, populated by quick-witted lively beings, into a kind of dark, visceral recess, bereft of colour and form, sunless, airless.’

Indeed, the ascendancy of the Bible over Homer is the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Greek civilisation. ‘Bright and luminous’ Greek culture was superseded by a culture formed in deserts and caves. In fact, if anyone wants to appreciate how repellent and un-Greek Biblical culture is, then one only has to read – as I have recently read – the climax of the Bible, Revelations, and compare the personality of John the Theologian and his nauseating, emetic ravings, with that of Odysseus, ‘a man’, as Moravia says, ‘without prejudices and, if necessary, without scruples, subtle, reasonable, intelligent, irreligious, skeptical, sometimes even cynical.’


Hermes said...

Very true. The Bible is largely repetitive and irritating. There are so many jewels in Homer. Check out this bit of marriage counselling in the Iliad...

Zeus has just made a deal with the lesser goddess Thetis to punish the Acheaens. However, his wife Hera catches notices of the plan and she naturally, as his wife, pesters him to know what is going on. But Zeus, like most men, needs a little space to do his own thing although he acknowledges she has first right to his thoughts:

"Zeus went inside his house. Their father present, all the gods at once stood up from their seats. No one dared stay put as he came in—all rose together. Zeus seated himself upon his throne. Looking at him, Hera sensed he’d made some deal with Thetis, silver-footed daughter of the Old Man of the Sea.
At once she spoke up accusingly:
“Which god has been scheming with you, you crafty one? You always love to work on things in secret, without involving me. You never want to tell me openly what you intend.”
The father of gods and men replied:
“Hera, don’t hope to understand my every plan.
Even for my own wife that’s dangerous.
What’s appropriate for you to hear about,
no one, god or man, will know before you.
But when I wish to hide my thoughts from gods,
don’t you go digging after them,
or pestering me for every detail.”
Ox-eyed queen Hera then replied to Zeus:
“Most dread son of Cronos, what are you saying? I have not been overzealous before now, in questioning you or seeking answers.
Surely you’re quite at liberty to plan
anything you wish. But now, in my mind,
I’ve got this dreadful fear that Thetis, silver-footed daughter of the Old Man of the Sea,
has won you over, for this morning early,
she sat down beside you, held your knees.
I think you surely nodded your agreement
to honour Achilles, killing many soldiers,
slaughtering them by the Achaean ships.”
Zeus, the cloud gatherer, spoke out in response:
“My dear lady, you’re always fancying things.
Your attention picks up every detail.
But you can’t do anything about it, except push yourself still further from my heart,
making matters so much worse for you.
If things are as they are, then that’s the way
I want them. So sit down quietly.
Do as I say. If not, then all the gods
here on Olympus won’t be any help,
when I reach out to set my hands on you,
for they’re invincible”"

john akritas said...

Compare what you have quoted from Homer to this drivel from Revelations, randomly selected:

'Then I saw a beast coming up from the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads the names of blasphemy. The beast I saw was like a leopard, and his feet as those of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority… Then the whole earth went in wonder after the beast, and they worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast…' ENOUGH.

We boast about Alexander and the spread of Hellenism, but we forget that conquerors as well as conquering often end up being conquered by their subject peoples; in this respect the Greeks both conquered and were conquered by the Jews. In many respects, we would have been better off staying at home in Hellas and leaving the East to the Persians.

Hermes said...

We were conquered to some degree by eastern mystical religious thought and feeling (Jews, Egyptians, Syrians etc) and all that entails. I read Castoriadis somewhere said that Alexander was a disaster for Hellenic civilisation. What is done is done I suppose.

john akritas said...

I've not come across Castoriadis referring at length to Alexander, but I know that in the essay The Crisis of Culture and the State he refers to the Alexandrianism of the Hellenistic period, the sterile culture of interpretation and copying, which Castoriadis argues characterises contemporary society too. I'm sure, however, that Castoriadis would detest Alexander, since Castoriadis regarded the Athenian democracy of Pericles and Themistocles as the high point of our civilisation and its demise – which he initially blames on Alcibiades and Cleon, but is confirmed by the Macedonians – as a disaster.