J. Weissman on the Evidence for Bicamerality in the Iliad

Discussion of Julian Jaynes's third hypothesis - dating the development of consciousness to roughly 1500-1200 BCD in Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia (the transition occurred at different times in different places around the world). Includes analysis of ancient texts (such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Bible), linguistics, and archeological evidence from ancient civilizations as it pertains to the transition from the bicameral mind to consciousness.
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J. Weissman on the Evidence for Bicamerality in the Iliad

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I recently re-read Judith Weissman's discussion of the evidence for bicamerality in the Iliad and the Odyssey (in "Of Two Minds: Poets Who Hear Voices") and I thought some of the main points were worth summarizing here for discussion:

1. The legend of the Iliad was recited orally for centuries before being written down (or dictated) by Homer. It was not immediately written down in the manner someone would compose a poem today.

2. The Iliad only tells us about the end of the bicameral period, not the beginning.

3. Parts of the Iliad support Jaynes's theory, i.e. when the characters receive clear commands from the gods similar to command hallucinations experienced by schizophrenics.

4. Parts of the Iliad do not support Jaynes's theory, i.e. when the gods are speaking to each other and are not issuing commands. The discussion of the gods with one another show things like planning and deceit, seem to reflect a later mentality, and may indicate a later addition.

5. Different parts of the poem reflect different stages in human consciousness. It is difficult to know which sections of the Iliad reflect specific time periods, i.e. what were the later additions to the oral poetry of previous centuries.

6. The use of prayer and omens in the Iliad shows that people were no longer entirely bicameral (or these sections were added at the time it was written down). Furthermore, the omens are sometimes ignored.

7. The Odyssey contains important differences from the Iliad, including less reliance on direct commands from the gods, a growing dependence on prayer, omens, and divination, increased use of deception, the possibility of disobedience to the gods, an increased awareness of time, and less rules and more freedoms for both men and women.

According to Greek scholar Richmond Lattimore, the events that led to the legend of the Iliad probably took place somewhere around 1250–1150 B.C., and were recounted via singer-poets until written by Homer around 850 B.C. These dates are only speculative and based on statements by Herodotus (484 BC–ca. 425 BC) and others. Also, tradition holds that Homer was blind and that the poems were not actually written down by him, but may have been dictated to a scribe. This is also a matter of debate. Lattimore notes that Carpenter believes Homer composed orally and dates the composition of the Iliad to "close to 700 B.C." He also notes that "it is quite possible that the text was edited at Athens in the time of Peisistratos" (~560 to 528 B.C). Very little is known about Homer and some scholars question whether he actually existed. Also questioned is whether or not the Iliad and the Odyssey were written by the same person.

In conclusion, the Iliad can be seen as one piece of the bicameral puzzle, lending support to the theory in that the heros of the Iliad often rely on auditory commands from the gods. It must be viewed in the context of all of the other evidence for the bicameral mind theory, such as the evidence of hallucinatory commands found in modern voice-hearers, the ka as a hallucinatory voice in ancient Egypt, ancient texts from other cultures, idols, oracles, divination, hypnosis, spirit possession, the neurological evidence, etc.

Selected quotes from Weissman:

"Because the Iliad is both early and oral, composed by someone who already knew five centuries worth of heroic poetry, it both provides a unique test of Julian Jaynes's theory and also requires a special kind of dissection, for different parts of the poem originated in different stages of human consciousness. The appearances of the gods must be sorted and analyzed" (p. 2).

"The most important and most repeated relationships between gods and men in the Iliad occur when the gods, both male and female, do appear and speak briefly in a forceful and clear command. The gods speak directly to people more than thirty times in the Iliad, appearances more or less evenly distributed and all integral to the most emotionally moving parts of the story" (p. 6).

"These two commands, 'be brave' and fight and 'be careful' and prudent in doing so, the most frequent auditory admonitions in the Iliad, are convincing corroborations of Jaynes's theory" (p. 7).

"Another important difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey is the Odyssey's relative lack of types of divine appearances. Fewer gods appear, and they appear less frequently; when they do appear, they are not the same as their old selves in the Iliad. We know that a great change has occurred both in the poet's invocation to the muse and the first dialogue among the gods" (p. 17).

"Jaynes could not have invented better evidence for his theory than these stories that Homer invents for his hero Odysseus; the analog I is used in deceit, in a series of elaborate narratizations, in a poem about people who have just passed into consciousness" (p. 25).
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