Back on Track…ish.

Published December 22, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I haven’t talked about my thesis for a while, so I’m gonna do that now, as I feel like I’ve been getting away from what I intended to be the primary subject matter of my post daily-posting blog.

So, the last time I talked about my thesis at any length, I was still struggling to turn the concept behind it from a literature review of the changes to the myth of the Trojan War over 2000+ years into a proper thesis.  And while that’s still, to a certain extent, true, I have a bit more of a grasp on it now.

I’m focusing on gender roles and the depictions of Achilles, right?  Part of my thesis is that — although modern people might expect otherwise, since he’s the “hero” of the war — Achilles was never truly a paragon of masculinity, having always a certain feminine aspect that left him unlike the other Achaians, and that in all progressive eras, he has continued to fail to reach the status of “truly masculine.”  Obviously, one part of my research will have to be discovering exactly what was “proper masculinity” in all the relevant eras.  (I have some good starting research on that subject from about a year ago, though.)  Anyway, that’s still just a literature review, and that’s about as far as I’d gotten last time.

Now I’ve added another step towards a proper thesis.  I’m going to have to postulate that there’s a reason — not a conscious one, I’m sure — that he fails to achieve “full masculinity” in all these different eras, and that said failure tells us something about those eras, and/or about the human condition, gender roles, gender interactions, whatever fits the evidence.  Obviously, right now this is the “then a miracle occurs” step in the old cartoon:

(c) Sidney Harris (Click for image source.)

But for the moment, I think it’s okay to have a “miracle” step in my planned thesis, ’cause it’s still just a planned thesis.  I can’t actually graduate for some time yet, and since I’ll need to prove competence in a (modern) foreign language, I have a long time yet that I’ll need to be studying.  (In fact, I’m thinking I might want to grit my teeth and take the painfully early, five days a week German courses on campus, and save the summer work at the more expensive university to re-learn Latin and Greek, since trying to re-learn them on my own isn’t working.  Well, okay, Latin would probably work if I could just remember to actually, you know, do it, because I was actually pretty good at Latin back in the day.  Greek…I was never very good at to begin with, so a classroom setting would probably be better/necessary.)

It still bothers me a little that I can’t quite figure out what would be the reason — maybe the cause would be a better way of phrasing it — that one of the “heroes” of Greek myth would be perpetually liminal, not quite fully masculine, but not truly effeminate, either.  Probably it changes from era to era:  the effeminate angle in ancient Rome, for example, would be that the Romans liked to say that everyone who lived to their east was effeminate, including the Greeks.  (Maybe they were compensating for how dress-like their togas were. 😛 )  Of course, if the reason is different in every era, I’m not sure what that’ll do to my thesis.  I’d have to find a common thread, something that tied all the different reasons together.  That or I’d have to find the reason that this is the case for Achilles, but not for the other major human figures of Greek myth.

That’s probably the route to take, focus on what makes his presentation different from that of, say, Odysseus or Heracles, or…probably best to keep it to just a few, actually.  Odysseus is a good choice, being from the same war, and the hero of his own Homeric epic, and Heracles is also a good choice, being a fellow demi-god, who was also bisexual (as we would now call it), and also associated with Troy.  (In fact, there are tons of points of comparison with Heracles:  Heracles and Peleus were both Argonauts, Heracles was closely associated with Aias Telamoniades, Heracles had either a doomed romance or a battle (or both) with an Amazon queen, Heracles and Achilles were both deified after death (much later in Achilles’ case than in Heracles’, of course), et cetera.)

So I guess if I take that route, I’ll also need to compare how Heracles and Odysseus are presented in the various eras.  That shouldn’t be difficult, though; Odysseus, after all, will be present in almost all the same texts as Achilles, and Heracles has never been short of representations in art and literature.  (And although I’m going to be including Hollywood movies, I absolutely draw the line at watching that Disney travesty of the Heracles myth.  Bad enough that I won’t be able to get out of watching Troy; I’m not subjecting myself to anything else on that level of destruction-of-myth.  If I must have a Hollywood interpretation relatively contemporaneous with Troy, then I’ll use the Hercules TV show with the hunky actor instead; I’ve been repeatedly assured that it’s not as ignorant of the myth.  Besides, I’m told its Hades is an overworked bureaucrat, and that’s a pretty fun interpretation of the character.  Also, it’s got Bruce Campbell.)

The cool thing about this thesis topic is this:  although I’ll still have to read a lot of analytical texts to determine the definitions of gender roles in each successive era, the bulk of the argument will actually be based on original works of myth-based fiction and art.  So while other people doing graduate theses on ancient Greece might have to be struggling to translate Thucydides, I’d just be struggling to translate Homer.  And even that would only be for the passages I needed, rather than the whole thing.  (Admittedly, at my university, no one would need to be reading in the original language anyway, but…I think they do urge you away from classical antiquity if you don’t have the languages.)

A down side, though, is that I have absolutely no clue what subcategory of history I’m working in here.  Cultural?  Gender?  Intellectual?  It’s probably a hybrid of Cultural History and Gender Studies, but I’m not even sure.  I don’t think it’s Intellectual History, but…well, I’m taking a course in that next semester, so I guess I’ll find out then.  (Not gonna be a fun course, btw.  But I feel like it’s important to take it.  And I like the professor.)

Okay, so…I guess that’s enough rambling about what my eventual thesis will be about.  Sorry if it’s been boring to read, but sometimes writing it all out like this really helps me think.  (Not sure why.  Talking about it is rarely useful, but typing it…that’s useful.  I guess I just think better with my fingers than with my mouth.)

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