Orthodox -- Unification Dialogue -- Constantine N. Tsirpanlis Editor 1981


Dr. Demetrius: I'll answer any questions I can.

Belmonte Vianale: If I understand it right, tragedy is not accomplishing your goals...

Dr. Demetrius: You have to have a tragic sense of life. I listed three characters who have revealed this quality in their struggles to conquer life. Toil, at the highest tragic level, is what made Athens great. The force of agony helps man to reach his goals. Tragedy means that you have experienced some problems of great magnitude, like Oedipus and Electra had to face. Greek drama isn't Shakespearean. Shakespeare creates some great pieces of poetry and characters, but sometimes I feel his art stands still. Both in Hamlet and Macbeth Shakespeare does not keep me in suspense as Greek drama does. Greek dramatic artistry is always suspenseful, until something has exploded. Some parts in Hamlet bore me and I seek the reason for this boredom. Some pieces just don't seem to jell together. But in Greek drama there is such a fantastic struggle in the depth of the soul of each protagonist, and the result of this struggle catapults each one to eternal fame. When they asked Euripides how one achieves fame, he replied that there must be an issue of great magnitude, that the action must be majestic, and that the protagonist must have his gaze focused on immortality.

So tragic means that you must have an issue of magnitude. The plays on Broadway are not at all tragic. We have scenes where young actresses sing and dance, but nowhere do they contain issues of magnitude. These plays are quickly forgotten. Tragedy means you must struggle with some problem that will make you live immortally through the ages of mankind. What was Oedipus' reaction when it was revealed that he had married his mother? And he didn't even know that he had killed his father. The magnitude of each problem has led each Greek protagonist to sublimity.

Reread Homer, his Iliad and his Odyssey, and see what new conclusions you may come to, but please try to read these epics from the point of view that we have espoused here this evening. Homer's characters have become immortal because they sought fame and immortality; the characters became immortal because they believed in a different set of values than those we believe in today.

Unidentified speaker: One of the most intelligent things that has been said is that feeling without practice cannot exist; it has no meaning. So let's see what the theory of Homer, the practice of this theory, actually is in trying to examine history. There is not too much said about his theory.

Dr. Demetrius: I know. I have already read the epics and the vast criticism written about them. I leave everything up to you. You read the epics and you come to whatever conclusions you want. This isn't the place to discuss and to explore all the crucial thought that may be found in these epics. I specialize in Greek scholarship; and Marx, from my point of view, is not a profound thinker. Marx's writings reveal what he has borrowed from ancient philosophers, particularly Plato. He has produced nothing original. I can't cover all this vast territory here now, but as I have stated, you read the epics and you must come to your own conclusions.

Now, pre-Socratic philosophers have related to this Homeric doctrine. Thales, in particular, has expounded on it and you can locate this in his Fragments. I have traced Homeric influence throughout the ages, and his doctrine has clearly made man the center of the universe. This form of humanism has influenced every important writer and artist throughout the annals of history. Marx has no elements of Homeric humanism in his works.

Unidentified speaker: I studied initially the Iliad and the Odyssey in Rome, and I know Homer somewhat. The problem for me now is how to look at man from this Homeric point of view. Your interpretation differs from what I learned when I was a student in Rome.

Dr. Demetrius: Well, let me tell you, Roman philosophy has been related to Homeric excellence. Cicero himself is so very Homeric. The Romans borrowed the idea of excellence from the Greeks. They sent their children to study at Greek institutions. Horace, in his treatise on poetry, borrowed from Greek sources. Rome, and even the Etruscans, borrowed from Athens in art and literature. If you study Roman art, architecture and literature, you will be amazed at the Greek influence. But much of this has to go back to the fountainhead, and this is Homer. Homer relied on man, his inspirations and potentialities. Homer created humanism, and Homeric humanism has been the backbone of European civilization.

Unidentified speaker: Can we say that Christianity's concept of forgiveness and sacrificial life seem to be Homeric? I am not a classicist...

Dr. Demetrius: There are sacrificial things in Homer (viz. Patroclus' actions -- he sacrifices his life for a great cause. Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter is another example.) Socrates' utterances reflect a great deal of Homeric influence, and Socrates did give up his life, as Jesus did. These are sacrifices. Unidentified speaker: What I'm asking is, is there forgiveness in Homer?

Dr. Demetrius: There is forgiveness. Menelaus forgives Helen, and even Achilles bows before Priam. There are many elements of Homeric forgiveness. Circe forgives Odysseus, and she sends him back to his wife. But there is one thing that Homer does not forgive, and that is the tampering with another person's wife. Three generations of Laerte's family stand toe-to-toe as they destroy the suitors.

... today means sin... in Homeric times it meant that a human mortal had missed the mark. But if the issue was of great magnitude, the deed was recorded in poetry and drama (viz. Prometheus, Antigone). Greeks did not bother with "forgiveness," in our sense of the word. They craved immortality and they relentlessly pursued a course that would bring them close to this ideal. The ancient Greeks were never guilt-conscious to seek forgiveness.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Dr. Demetrius, the ideal of forgiveness is quite different, as you say, in the Homeric Iliad than our forgiveness. For example, the whole epic of the Iliad is woven, is written around the idea that Achilles does not forgive Agamemnon for his inconsistency. Agamemnon stole the spoils of war from Achilles, and Achilles became so offended, his personal name and pride especially.

Dr. Demetrius: In spite of all this, they forgive and become friends once again. There is a sense of forgiveness. Whether it is absolute forgiveness or conditional forgiveness, there is forgiveness, although it is not in the same sense as our religious forgiveness. Jesus' forgiveness is not Homeric. There is quite a difference. What Homer intended to do with the characters he had created was to show their fierce individuality. Undaunted in spirit, these men fought to their deaths for the beliefs they espoused. The cult of individuality was more important than the element of forgiveness.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Is the concept of personal pride, or consistency, the ideal of ancient Greek morality?

Dr. Demetrius: It is Homeric, for the concept was fluid to accommodate each hero.

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Indeed, it is typically Greek also. If tragedy is missing the mark...

Dr. Demetrius: We must study the Homeric code and we must understand that it was very fluid. Each individual embraced it as he saw fit to do, and he did so because he was a fiercely dedicated individual. Look at the example of Antigone. She was ordered not to bury her brother, but she went ahead and did so. There was no question of hubris. She had overstepped her limits (2 + 2= 5), and this overstepping resulted in her tragic death. This tragic element in life created immortal drama. Prometheus' struggles against Zeus is another example.

Belmonte Vianale: So I don't understand how that differs from Freud making a list of one's fears or slips of the tongue.

Dr. Demetrius: Freud had captured the scene of analysis for a number of years, but now he is gone with the wind. What is there in Freud? If you know, please tell me so that I may profit too. Freud depended so much on Euripides for ideas and thoughts. Freud analyzed, but there was never any sense of the tragic in his writings. His analyses are common and trite, and devoid of any element of greatness.

Belmonte Vianale: My question is, I don't understand where dwelling on tragedies in people's lives differs from Freud's dwelling on people's lives.

Dr. Demetrius: With Greek thought, we are not dealing with tragedies in people's lives. There were funerals every day in Greece. These funerals did not always furnish the theme for a great tragedy. What we deal with in Greek drama is the tragic point of view, a tragic point of view which, because of its sublimity, becomes immortal. Sophocles isn't going to immortalize a man getting struck by a car. The theme has to be much more majestic, like the tragic sense of life to be found in Prometheus, Oedipus, Antigone, Electra.

Belmonte Vianale: Didn't you just say that tragedy is missing the mark, also?

Dr. Demetrius: You create tragedy when you miss the mark. This prohibits the use of common issues. The theme is majestic and the protagonist is immortal. You lose a ten dollar bill and you are a tragic figure? You are not! I myself feel sorry that you lost the bill, and please let me assure you that Homer would not waste a line on you, and he would not waste a line on Freud. I do not believe there is anything in Freud that merits our serious attention. I feel that Freud misled so many people with his demented analyses. I have learned more from Homer and how to face life with its numerous problems, than I have from any other artist; for this I say, thank God!

Unidentified speaker: I agree with you that American youth has lost its sense of direction.

Dr. Demetrius: In life we must study and read important documents, the best books that are available. Our American forefathers devoured the classics, particularly the ancient Greeks of the fifth century. On the other hand, so many ideas have been borrowed from Homer. Webster and Clay were leaders in this type of classical borrowing. There wasn't a forefather who had failed to select ideas from ancient Greece. Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence relied a great deal on ancient documents -- so too Washington, Madison, and a host of others. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address borrows heavily from Pericles. If you study the great documents across the ages, you would be amazed at what has been borrowed from the classics. People should study the classics, as our forefathers did. When you seek great ideas, the road leads you back to Greece and Rome.

Unidentified speaker: Is it true that Jefferson wanted to make Greek the main language of the United States?

Dr. Demetrius: Well, he had given some thought to this. He majored in the classics at the University of Virginia. He did know Greek and Latin very, very well. I'm working on a book now, Greek Studies in Europe and through this media I have examined in detail this vast borrowing of our forefathers from the annals of Greek and Roman history.

Patricia Gleason: Don't you think it is possible that two people in different parts of the world at different times could find the same idea and not necessarily copy each other?

Dr. Demetrius: They may, they may. There may be similar ideas -- but Homeric humanism is not Chinese humanism. Sometimes ideas may be closely related, but I don't believe it is true in this case. Homer is the only one who illuminated the world with this doctrine. The Iliad and the Odyssey are the most original texts that the human mind has ever conceived.

Before I leave this rostrum, I wish to say something directly to you. I'm very proud of your activities and I am extremely proud of your very great character which you displayed to me here today.

Dr. Cavarnos: I think what you said, point by point, confirms the Orthodox view...

Dr. Demetrius: It is a continuation.

Dr. Cavarnos: You stressed attainment, and this is precisely what the Church teaches, the Eastern Church, the Church Fathers -- true Christianity. Another thing that relates to this is that labor, hard work and toil lead to achievement, and that's precisely what is taught by Christian morality. Spiritual indolence is one of the chief obstacles to salvation. You laid so much emphasis on work -- and I did too when I brought out the Eastern Orthodox view here. Then I mentioned two kinds of work: bodily work and spiritual work as a necessary condition of salvation. I think your talk was a confirmation. I also said that according to the Eastern Orthodox view, individuality is not destroyed in the Christian pursuit for salvation. In fact, I said it is intensified, because man attains integration of his inner faculties. I could go on, but I might make one more remark -- that Basil declared: "All Homer's poetry is a praise of virtue."

Dr. Demetrius: That is correct. Homer was quite a man. I think he was very much misunderstood by the critics. What we must really look at is this curtain of Homeric humanism and we must not forget the lesson which he preached with so much eloquence.

Dr. Matczak: Socrates had some objection to the Homeric presentation of God.

Dr. Demetrius: Socrates object to Homer? Don't you believe it! Don't you believe it! Plato took more from Homer than he would care to reveal. Homer's excellence is found in Plato.

My friends, I want to thank you so very much for allowing me to present my topic to you. It really has been one of the nicest moments of my life! (Applause)

Dr. Tsirpanlis: Dr. Demetrius, thank you very much for your most illuminating and instructive lecture, which really gave us excellent knowledge. Thanks to you my headache is over. (Laughter) I really admire all of you -- you are fantastic people. How could you suffer us? How could you be so patient for so many hours -- to hear so many difficult concepts and terms and theological problems -- all so very classical. I salute the extraordinary knowledge of my colleagues! 

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