Homer as Bible: What a Comparison Produces
The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Doing of Homer
πλάνχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways [polutropos], who was driven
far journeys, after he sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
In Hebrews, however, the triumph belongs to the suffering, versatile hero and to those who recognize his true nobility in midst of his debasement.
This is ultimately, in Hebrews, the means of maintaining solidarity with Jesus and thus of entering, as part of his train of freedpersons, into the heavenly temple.
[ back ] The two “accounts” share a similar merging of experience with the text of Homer, that is, an actualization of Homer in the here and now. Moreover, both locate this experience as an early stage in entering into an intimate relationship with the hero, in one case Protesilaos (seen in the dialogue as the true authority in matters Homeric), the other case the poet Homer himself. On language of religious devotion, intimacy, and initiation in relation to the poetic tradition, see Gregory Nagy, “Prologue” in Flavius Philostratus: Heroikos (trans. and ed. Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean and Ellen Bradshaw Aitken; SBLWGRW 1: Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001), xxii–xxxv; and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean, “Jesus as Cult Hero in the Fourth Gospel,” in Philostratus’s Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century c.e. (ed. Ellen Bradshaw Aitken and Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean; SBLWGRW 6; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 195–218.