“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes.”
— James Joyce, Ulysses
It has been a given for some time that “Homer” “the author” of the Iliad and the Oddesy, may not have existed and that if he did, he was in fact several people not one seminal genius.
Written perhaps somewhere between 1200 BC and 800 BC* the epics were rewritten, shuffled, added to, subtracted from, fragmented, and rebuilt over centuries by many hands.
The Cypria, which we would now call a backstory, origin story, or prequel, is an example of this palimpsest process, that tells of the events that led to the Iliad but it survives only as a fragment.
A curious aspect of this puzzle is the etymology of “Homer.”
It likely means, either, hostage or pledge or both being derived from the word, Homeros.
This possible meaning offers an intriguing course.
Using Julian Jaynes theory of bicameralism as a starting point, we posit a centuries’ long transition period in which bicameralism ebbed and flowed. As food and more stable trade routes multiplied, barley cults increased.
Rather than the more diffuse and fluctuating ergot infected episodes of barley and wheat ingestion resulting in spasms of external voices of command, per Jaynes, we see a growing codification or ritualization of the process.
We go from Gilgamesh suddenly and for no discernable reason, slaughtering people, to the vacant eyed automatons of the Iliad as Jaynes describes them.
The transitional period takes in for example the clash between bicameral and post bicameral cults as described in the Old Testament.
Bicameral cults, “hearing” “external” voices of command experienced god as random, arbitrary, and full of rules. This god appears from nowhere, but is everywhere, and for example, commands Abraham to kill his son.
This god speaks from both a whirlwind and a burning bush but at his choosing.
Then there is the Tower of Babel which is undoubtedly a metaphor meant to represent a grain or food storage facility at the center of a barley cult.
The tower being synonymous in the ancient mind with the consumption of vision and voice inducing food – infected with ergot but understood then only as “sacred” because it created voices – external and all powerful leading to an ability to summon god versus being summoned by god.**
At the same time we find the rise of prophets who appear to come in from the wilderness to denounce the evil of cities.
Cities being ever larger cult centers in which the previously random arbitrary god has been brought inside and regulated in both temporal appearance and through intermediaries or priests or warrior priests.
The prophets in contrast demand obedience to a random wild and arbitrary god of whirlwinds and burning bushes.
The other classic example of this schism is the Trial of Socrates.
Charged with blasphemy for worshiping the “wrong” gods he was of course found guilty and sentenced to death.
Various descriptions tell us that Socrates (a possible invention of Plato) would randomly be taken over by his “Daemon” and obey its commands.
We posit “Socrates” as a cut out for a throwback to a bicameral mind confronted by the increasing ubiquity of ritualized visions in post bicameral cults.
These official cults like the famous Elysian Mysteries, were state sponsored, state controlled, and held regular hours with rules and administrators.
More similar to the SOMA of Huxley’s Brave New World than not, these cults represented a transformation from random to ritualized.
“Socrates” had to die because the state had taken the gods in hand and brought them within the city walls.
Other examples of this tension abound including but not limited to famous plays depicting clashes between random dangerous but liberating “nature” (i.e., outside the regulating and regulated city) in the form of Dionisius and the Maenads.
And here “Homer” as “Hostage” and/or “Pledge” becomes intriguing.
Consider the social tension inherent in tribes and cults as they transition spasmodically from a Jaynesian bicameralism with its vacant-eyed robotic violence to a more regulated “civilized” culture.
As food sources fluctuated, and the power of priests and assorted kings ebbed and flowed and bad harvests or blights, or wars or weather events or earthquakes all contributed to a wild back and forth between relative post bicameral calm and a more “barbaric” bicameralism, it is not unreasonable to imagine a cult dedicated to a calming ritualized story telling within a ritualized practice designed to explain, sooth, exorcise and control the otherwise out of control members of the tribe.
While there are hundreds of crucial important moments in the epics, consider the one in which Ulysses orders his men to tie him to the mast so that he can endure and experience hearing the Sirens.
Consider the Sirens as metaphors representing the experience of bicameralism and its inducing of uncontrolled fury.
” He was filled with such a fury of desire that he swelled his mighty muscles, burst the raw hide bonds like thread and dashed for the rail.”
” For now he heard the whistling gargle of a whirlpool, and he knew that they were approaching the narrowest part of the straight, and must pass between Scylla and Charybdis”
Multiple interpretations are possible but consider a rising culture wide sense that post bicamaerlism was better suited to stability even if at a great emotional cost.
And, then Scylla and Charybdis, as a binary danger encountered right after the Sirens is a reflection of a slowly growing realization that the individual is split between two impulses – two voices and with potentially deadly and catastrophic results.
Then as a “pledge” and “hostage” emerges “Homer” – they who are the embodiment of the transitional ordeal both bicameral and post bicameral, expressing the journey of the lunar/solar hero who in turn, tied to the crucifying mast, endures on behalf of the tribe, and the cult, the passion.
This hostage is held by various cults as a pledge to repeat the ritual of the transition but as hostage and pledge to not engage in bicameral spasms of violence, offers a safer, ritualized progression towards, in theory, stability.
“Homer” then would have been a living reliquary taken out during specific holy days, ritualized, and as a hostage and pledge, returned, until the next lunar or solar phase required their return.
As they returned to tell the story of the return of the hero who endures tests of uncontrolled bicameralism (Sirens, and being transformed into an animal by Circe, etc) only to return to the relative stability and predictability of Penelope and Ithaca.
Food, one might say, for thought.
*Estimates vary with much contemporary scholarship placing the composition closer to 800 BC.
** The catastrophe of The Tower of Babel is then contextualized as a reactionary narrative written or orally curated by anti-city bicameral cults who worshiped a god that was random, arbitrary and all powerful and saw cities as blasphemous.
For a look at our previous excavation of antiquity, ergot and Julian Jaynes, see the following:
Addendum: As a look at the comments section reveals, our colleague, David Benjamin Steel raises several interesting points and questions. Prompted by those issues we add the following:
The extant record of rituals and myths about solar heroes is extensive. A consistent feature across ancient cultures and over centuries, is of the hero for a year – the inevitably sacrificed vegetation demi-god, the fisher king, the man (usually though not always as Ariadne is of course a sacrificial female) who is elevated to an exalted position, provided women, food and comfort and then brutally sacrificed.
This sacrifice is in different forms ranging from being pulled apart by horses, cooked alive, tossed into a bog, or, nailed to a tree.
The body is then usually dived and consumed and the process is repeated.
While returning from defeating the Minotaur, Theseus accidentally raises the wrong flag (a false flag) and taking this as a prearranged sign of failure, his father, the king, jumps to his death from the Acropolis.
Following the problematic if still useful method of Robert Graves in his seminal work, The White Goddess, it is likely that this is a later addition or overlay of a much older mytho–poetic narrative.
In the older version the king probably would have either been compelled to jump or would have been ritually tossed off the cliff after a year of being feted as the solar hero.
In this possible reading, “Homer” as “Hostage/Pledge” makes perfect sense.