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Pothos and eyes of blank stone longing and absence in ancient Greece

John Michael Degener, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Pothos, "longing" or "absence", is identified as the singular topos accounting for both the origin of tragedy and the origin of ontology from the epic and pre-Socratic narratives of the tragic crisis in Mythos. In Homer's Iliad it is the pothos of Achilles' curse upon the Achaeans which distinguishes the genius of Homer's Iliad from the Iliadic tradition whence it arises in supplanting the tradition theme of menis, or "wrath". As substance of the curse, Achilles' pothos, or "absence" from battle, ultimately redounds back upon him in his pothos, or "longing" for his surrogate Patroclus. Although pothos per se recedes into the background among the pre-Socratics, its repercussions are evident in the disarticulation of the integrity of Mythos in the unfolding developments associated with the limit (peras), from Anaximander through Parmenides and Empedocles. It is in this context that the origins of ontology are discovered as arising in Hesiod. The putatively metaphysical dicta of Anaximander, and even Parmenides' positive apodeixis of Being are interpreted against the tragic backdrop of the end of epic and as anticipating in a singular historical development the origin of tragedy proper. The retrospective orientation of Parmenides to the archaic Dike, "Justice", of Epic is overextended. The apparent positivity of his apodeixis of Being, is over-determined and belies the now advanced and ineluctable crisis of the tragic. Aeschylus' apotheosis of tragedy in the Oresteia emerges from the penumbra of the transit of Being (einai) before Mythos, and will thus be written in the shadow of what was objectively 'revealed' in Parmenides' noetic transcendence to the open sphere of Dike. This is evident first in the disaesthesis of the archaic symbolon in the active Empedoclean optics of the gorgonic epiphany of the graphe in the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, in which the enigmas of the parodos of the Agamemnon are cledonographically revealed. This disaesthesis is, however, but the obverse of the opsis, or "image", of Helen's phasma which appears, hypostatized, independently of human experience hovering above Aeschylus's inversion of Empedocles's cosmogonic whirlpool of Love and hate, hovering over the cosmophthoric abyss of pothos.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Philosophy|Classical studies

Recommended Citation

Degener, John Michael, "Pothos and eyes of blank stone longing and absence in ancient Greece" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9823728.