Becoming Achilles

Becoming Achilles : Child-sacrifice, War, and Misrule in the Lliad and Beyond

By (author) Richard Holway

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Viewing the Iliad and myth through the lens of modern psychology, Richard Holway exposes sacrificial childrearing practices at the root of competitive, glory-seeking ancient Greek cultures. The Iliad dramatizes and cathartically purges not only strife within and between generations but knowledge of sacrificial parenting. Holway's analysis yields a new reading of the Iliad, from its first word to its last, and a revised account of the family dynamics underlying ancient Greek cultures.

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  • Paperback | 270 pages
  • 149.86 x 226.06 x 25.4mm | 362.87g
  • 17 Nov 2011
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD
  • English
  • 0739146912
  • 9780739146910
  • 1,078,582

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Author Information

Richard Holway has a PhD in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. The history and social sciences editor at the University of Virginia Press, he teaches in the Department of Politics and the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program at the University of Virginia.

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Review quote

Holway's evaluation of the Iliad in light of attachment theory and Freudian interpretations of family dynamics represents a valuable contribution to a series of interdisciplinary Greek studies edited by Gregory Nagy. Holway (Univ. of Virginia) posits that Achilles' glory-seeking temperament developed because his mother attempted to use him to retaliate against Zeus for rejecting her, providing illuminating insight into the psychological underpinnings of Greek hero-mythology and Greek culture more broadly. Greek hero literature is literally built on such examples of 'parents sacrificing children's needs to their own.' Dysfunctional families abound in the Homeric tradition, and the deleterious effects on people and institutions match up well with the family psychology literature. Holway pursues these connections to explain heroic violence and glory-seeking (chapter 2), patterns of patriarchy and misogyny (chapters 5 and 6), and even Socrates' actions during and after his trial (epilogue). While the analysis relies heavily on a portion of contemporary psychology to explain much about ancient Greek society, the book is an excellent resource for numerous fields of study. Summing Up: Highly recommended. CHOICE There exists a view that in order to be truly great you must sacrifice domestic happiness, perhaps even your life, in pursuit of your goal. In this interesting work by Richard Holway it is argued that the Iliad encourages this unhealthy acceptance of self-destruction as the natural pre-requisite of greatness. Using a psychology-based approach, with particular reference to infant attachment theory, Holway dissects the familial patterns in and around the Iliad to explore why its warriors willingly risk death. Bryn Mawr Classical Review Holway offers a reading of the Iliad focused on destructive and dysfunctional kinship relations, and above all those of father-daughter and mother-son. The anxieties of these relations are, Holway argues, ultimately redirected in a cathartic process through Achilles' savage menis...This is a provocative and interesting book. The Journal of Hellenic Studies Holway's book has many strengths. First among these is the novel reading of the Iliad and its background myths motivated by an interest in attachment theory...Becoming Achilles is a worthy addition to the literature on the pedagogical effects of epic or tragedy...Holway's book is to be recommended for the way it comes at well-worn material with a fresh perspective. More importantly, the book has much to teach us about the connection between familial and cultural violence, and the interpenetration of the micro and macro forces that shape human communities. Polis By applying the current psychology of attachment theory to the Iliad, this book illuminates Homer and Greek myth. What we see is a culture that depends on and perpetuates child-sacrifice and destructive family dynamics. -- Grace Ledbetter, Swarthmore College A profound and timeless study of the psychological consequences of being raised in a martial society that values the defense of honor-personal and collective-above all else. -- Randolph Roth, Ohio State University This book is not only good to think with: it is also good, very good, to talk about. (From the foreword) -- Gregory Nagy, Harvard University

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