Something unusual for today. Rummaging through my old papers it returned to my attention that I had never published my senior thesis. So I have put it on my website and am making it available: Richard Carrier, “Heroic Values in Classical Literary Depictions of the Soul: Heroes and Ghosts in Virgil, Homer, and Tso Ch’iu-ming,” Senior Honors Thesis UCB (1997; rev. ed. 2004). For the entry at my publications page at Academia.edu I wrote this description:
Compares the language, depictions, and explanations relating to ghosts (as souls of the dead) in ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese classics and finds connections between them and those cultures’ respective understandings of the ideal hero.
[BTW, anyone not already aware of my Academia.edu page might want to bookmark it, as it has become my main collection of entries for my more formal work online and in print; although just print publications I keep updated on my cv and publications list, which is the same list but without the rest of the cv. And all new publications I always announce, of course, here on my blog.]
In the paper itself, I explain the text now online with this leading remark:
The following essay was my senior honors thesis at UC Berkeley for the awarding of the Bachelor’s degree in History (minor in Classical Civilizations). It was originally written in 1997. In 2004 I reorganized and numbered its sections, updated its references, revised some sentences, and added some paragraphs, all with the intent to consider publication, but decided I was no longer confident in its core thesis. There are interesting insights and information here, but ultimately the evidence of afterlife beliefs and heroic ideals in ancient Greece, Rome, and China is a little more complicated than this. I am publishing it now only for the sake of what utility and interest in may have. But I no longer fully endorse all of its conclusions, and its treatment of the evidence is not adequately broad to be considered thorough. It’s quite good as an undergraduate thesis. It probably won me my doctoral fellowship. But it meets only minimum standards for graduate level work. — Richard Carrier, Ph.D.
To give you an idea of what’s in it, I will produce here a table of contents and some excerpts:
1. Introduction [p. 1]
2. Why Focus on These Classics? [p. 2]
3. The Classical Hero [p. 6]
3.1. Homeric Heroism [p. 7]
3.2. Chinese Heroism [p. 8]
3.3. Roman Heroism [p. 11]
3.3.1. Pietas as the Essence of Roman Heroism [p.12]
3.3.2. The Role of Homeric Heroism in Virgil [p. 14]
3.3.3. The Context and Cultural Message of the Aeneid [p. 16]
4. The Classical Soul [p. 19]
4.1. The Portrayal of the Soul [p. 20]
4.2. The Vocabulary of the Soul [p. 23]
4.3. The Metaphysics of the Soul [p. 27]
5. Conclusion — with Related Speculations from Cultural Science [p. 33]
Bibliography [pp. 38-42]
In the introduction, among other things, I explain that in this essay:
[I] examine three cultural classics, great works that lay at the origin and heart of the Chinese, Greek, and Roman cultures and thus reflect important fundamental differences among them. Western individualism is reflected, even exaggerated, in Homer, against an idealized Chinese communalism in the Tso Chuan. Yet Virgil’s Aeneid reflects a middle ground of tension between both kinds of perspective. In many ways, Roman cultural ideals regarding the hero and the soul were somewhat more like the Chinese than the Homeric, exhibiting an early attempt to reconcile such different ways of viewing the world, presaging modern cultural struggles between materialistic individualism and social responsibility.
In the conclusion, among other things, I summarize some of my findings as follows:
Homer saw heroism as involving bodily accomplishment and perfection, which was also by and large the most popular view among the early Greeks, and remains to a lesser but still notable extent in modern Western culture. The two most idolized types in the West today are the celebrity and the athlete, who each achieve their status through physical beauty or prowess, while in film and fiction the ultimate hero is not the wise elder, but the handsome loner righting wrongs through gratuitous displays of righteous force. Homer would approve.
But Homer also perceived the souls of the dead as feeble and fleeting. And this idea was strongly connected with the lack of a body, even with words implying the opposite of “body,” such as “image,” “shadow,” “dream,” [etc. ... ]. This does reflect the Western obsession with individualism and materialism, and in Homer we see the exaggerated roots of this mindset. However, our modern view of the soul has followed more in the footsteps of Virgil. Most Westerners imagine the dead as ‘better off’, free from the travails of the flesh, their souls perfected in heaven. Yet, like Virgil’s ghosts and unlike Chinese spirits, they are hardly able to meddle in earthly affairs.
In contrast, Tso Ch’iu-ming saw heroism as involving a “cultural” accomplishment and perfection rather than bodily perfection. He also perceived the souls of the dead as potent and energetic, an idea connected with the cultural role of the hero in his society, and his submission to communal duty. Thus, there is an evident connection in Homer and the Tso Chuan between the concepts of heroism and the soul. Even when other factors are at work, such as the ideology of ancestor worship in China (paralleled to a lesser extent in Rome), which logically entails a belief in the potency of departed spirits, we might expect a culture’s view of heroism and the soul will approach a logical consistency.
There is a section at the end about cross-cultural psychology and anthropology and its connection to the thesis just explored, and an extensive bibliography (though not even remotely complete, and only updated to 2004).