Homer on the Soul

Here we present and analyze two excerpts from Rhapsody I of Homer’s Iliad.


In ancient Greek: «ουδ’ εί μοι τόσα δοίη όσα ψάμαθός τε κόνις τε, ουδέ κεν ώς έτι θυμόν εμόν πείσει’ Αγαμέμνων, πρίν γ’από πάσαν εμοί δόμεναι θυμαλγέα λώβην»

In English: «not even if he offered me as much as the dust and the sand, not even like this Agamemnon could soothe/calm my soul» (Verses. 385-387)

(Note: the word ‘θυμός’ is often translated as ‘soul’, while its literal meaning is different. The translator we follow seems to be correct in this case though)

NovoScriptorium: Achilles receives an offer from Agamemnon so that they put an end to their conflict. To support his offer, Agamemnon offers many invaluable objects to Achilles. Achilles though anwers with the above words. Through these words Homer offers us his theological view that the soul of man is way above any material thing. Its value cannot be equalized to any material thing, even if we talk about invaluable objects so many as…the dust and the sand! Such is the value of the soul for Homer. ‘And why is this?’, one might ask. Well, the answer is rather obvious. The soul is a present from God to Man (it would help to read our article on the Monotheism of the Orphics here; soon there will be a translation of it in English). It is the part of our existence that continues to exist even after the end of material life. The soul is eternal. The Philosophers’ effort had been to help the soul obtain all the necessary supplies that will be useful to it for Eternity. We are talking about the Virtues here. They deeply believed that there is ‘judgement of the soul’ by God after material death. Hence, in order for the soul to be placed somewhere ‘better’, it is self-evident that Man should live in an analogous way. This way is concluded in this stance of life:  Select the Divine instead of the human things in each and every act. Then the soul ‘takes the shape’ of the Divine and will eventually be placed near the Divine after material death.

In ancient Greek: «ληιστοί μέν γάρ τε βόες καί ίφια μήλα, κτητοί δέ τρίποδες τε καί ίππων ξανθά κάρηνα. Ανδρός δέ ψυχή πάλιν ελθείν ούτε λεϊστή ούθ’ ελετή, επεί άρ κεν αμείψεται έρκος οδόντων»

In English: «because one can steal oxen and fat lambs and obtain tripods and horses with blond hair. But man’s soul cannot come back neither by stealing, neither by grabbing, once it passes the barrier of the teeth» (Verses. 406-409)

NovoScriptorium: The first teaching here is that in whatever Man does, he should give priority to what outcome his actions will have upon his soul. Matter in general is better to be placed in a second place. The most interesting though from these particular words is that it appears, clearly and beyond any doubt, that Homer believed – as a theological view- that the soul of every man is unique and that once it ‘leaves’ once, it never returns. In other words, he did not believe in ‘reincarnation’, contrary to some later thinkers-Philosophers. The certain thing is that the ‘true’/’genuine’ Greek view, unaffected by foreign ideas – mainly Eastern- is the one that Homer puts forward, as it is much older.

Isidoros Aggelos


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