In the evolution of Greek culture from the menis (cholera/rage) of Achilles to the metis (astuteness) of Odysseus we see a new power emerging in our species – the power of consciousness; the power of the mind. It is Odysseus and not Achilles who vanquishes Troy.
If Jaynes’ analysis of Homer and thymus is correct[i] and that an evolutionary leap took place between the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey, showing us a literary expression of the transformation of the Bicameral unconscious man (Achilles) and the Conscious man (Odysseus), thymus and menis could also be regarded as biological facets of our temperament that were necessary to the unconscious man in his bicameral state, but became only a troublesome element for the conscious intelligence of our non-bicameral minds.
It is not the Achilles figure bursting with menis, or Hegel’s aristocrat hero sacrificing himself for his slave who should be posited as candidates for the title of the First Man, but rather the wily Odysseus. Odysseus is the first man, the first figure in world literature, who would be the first to display the tremendous advantage of consciousness and the astuteness that that consciousness empowered him with. Rather than a step forward, Fukuyama’s Hegelian idea of the triumph of thymus and the megathymotic instincts of liberal-democracy and capitalist society is in actual fact a backward leap in ontological evolution.
The Iliad man is slave to passions, which are not his passions but drives instilled by gods. It is Achilles’ thymus, stirred by Apollo, that makes him rise, leave his tent and go to battle. Achilles is a kind of schizophrenic automaton. He doesn’t think of himself but only acts when the gods tell him to act or when they stir his thymus. He is a patient potency that will explode when ignited. He will sit and wait, absorbing the world until he is called to act. He is an archetype for the invulnerable power of the masses. The masses who are stirred via their own thymus: the thymus of all religions and all nationalisms; loyal to all flags; the champion of all victims of any injustices. Achilles evolved into the masses and his thymus and his menis were preserved for anyone cunning enough to tap into to use.
Achilles, the archetypal hero of all who act when they are stirred, is a robot warrior. He is superseded in homo sapiens evolution by Odysseus, the genius survivor. As the archetypical automaton-man, Achilles is the first example of Nietzsche’s Last Man. The gods of Olympus are no longer the instigators and thymus stirring invisible protagonists of our current unfolding tragedy. They have been replaced by the cunning sons of Odysseus who learned the art of domesticating all Achilles-men. But now Achilles’ descendants, the Last Men, also have consciousness, or at least a latent consciousness, and the new god-king race of the Odysseus family must apply even more ingenious methods of manipulation to maintain the Achilles-masses automaton-slave condition.
The historical process has become a struggle to manipulate the Achilles-automatons, and keep them unconscious by convincing them that they are really free. But in between the Odysseus-god-kings and the Achilles-automaton-slave-masses are the other classes of men and women. Strange Odysseus-like creatures who use their intelligence not for cunning and manipulation but for knowing and teaching. They evolved in the post-Homeric times of poetry and philosophy (and Homer himself belonged to this same class). They stand on the outskirts of the prayer process of history, part of it, but never really accepted by it or accepting of it. They try to reshape it, redirect it.
If Jaynes is right, mankind as a consciously thinking species, as a true homo sapiens, has only existed for some four thousand years. Hegel saw life as a long process of becoming. A tedious but necessary process. We know that evolution has had its failures and there have been countless extinctions, so how should we imagine mankind in one or four thousand years’ time? If we were to meet such a person time-travelling back to our era we would probably not consider them human any more, just as we would probably have trouble relating in any meaningful way to Achilles. We are always in the middle of what we once were and will eventually become.
In the 1960s, when science-fiction writers tried to envisage an evolved humanity they gave us huge hands and long fingers. But our next great evolutionary leap will probably be like our last, not a physical change but a leap of consciousness. In the future men and women will have a more quantum awareness, perhaps with greater sensitivity to electromagnetic fields and, certainly, areas of the brain will be activated that we have never consciously used up to now. The shift from Jaynes’ bicameral Achilles to conscious Odysseus involved a shutting down of the bicameral activity and an activation of that part of the brain that makes us aware of the I.
We have evolved and we will evolve again if we survive extinction. “The goal is Spirit’s insight into what knowing is,”[ii] wrote Hegel. And for the Spirit to know through mankind then mankind’s perception will have to grow more acute and more finely tuned to nature. In the meantime, we must struggle against the bi-polarising of society into a conscious and unconscious one and the maintenance of that bi-polarised status quo. We still have a segregated society of Odysseus-royal-elites and Achilles-slave-masses, and a power struggle between the two. The automaton class tryies to preserve its dignity by demonstrating that it has clear consciousness, while the royal elite amplifies the servility of its multitude through the machinery of religions, patriotisms, publicity, spectator sports and other spectacular events for the masses.
[i] Julian Jaynes, THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND, First Mariner Books, 2000
[ii] G. W. Hegel, PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT, p. 17