‘Shame on me. A study of the notion of ‘shame’ in Greek epic within theframe of an ethic of alterity.’
Author: Bárbara Álvarez Rodríguez, PhD. in Philosophy, ‘Clarin- COFUND’ postdoctoral researcher in the Classics Department at Stanford University, specializing in Homeric poetry and alterity studies.
In this work, I make use of the ethic of alterity developed by the Lithuanian Philosopher E. Levinas, and followed by the Spanish Philosopher G. Bello. According to Levinas, the relationships with the Other should be based on the responsibility of the ‘I’ with the ‘Other’ and not in the domination (the ‘I’ over the ‘Other’). Within the frame of an ethic or philosophy of alterity and with Levinas and Bello as a starting point, I study different scenes of both the Iliad and the Odyssey in which shame, responsibility and acknowledgment appear governing the relationships with the ‘contemporaneous others,’ those with whom the heroes share time and community –understanding it in a narrow sense as small-scale local group or in a broader sense as the whole group of Achaeans. I will integrate such new insights into Homeric poetry with the work of E. R. Dodds, who was the first to show that the society depicted in Homeric poems could be understood as a ‘shame-culture,’ as opposed to a later ‘guilt-culture.’ That the feeling of shame explicitly involves the Other will be analyzed in this paper through several prime examples (i.e. Il. 5.529-532, Il. 5.887, Il. 15.657-658, Il. 15.661-662, Od. 20.169-171, Od. 20.343- 344, Od. 21.323). In addition to the observations by Dodds, I utilize the work of E. Benveniste, who has noted that every moral term in Homeric epic has, in fact, a social role; and also that of W. Jaeger (1986), regarding the position of Homeric man and his awareness of value only through recognition of the society to which he belongs.
Through an interdisciplinary framework, I study Greek antiquity in order to combine contemporary alterity studies with literary analysis. I argue that Western society has been structured in a ethnocentric, androcentric and hierarchical way since its beginning.
Thus, my objective is to suggest, through the lens of the philosophy of alterity, how we might reach a more ethical consideration of the Other in the study of classic literature.
Key words: Ethic of Alterity, Shame, Responsibility, Homeric epic, Ancient Greece.
This work has been done thanks to the funding of ‘Clarin-COFUND’ postdoctoral fellowships, Principally of Asturias (Spain)