Thersites

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In Greek mythology, Thersites (Θερσίτης) was a soldier of the Greek army during the Trojan War. In the Iliad, he does not have a father's name, which may suggest that he should be viewed as a commoner rather than an aristocratic hero. However, a quotation from another lost epic in the Trojan cycle, the Aethiopis, gives his father's name as Agrius.

Homer described him in detail in the Iliad, Book II, even though he plays only a minor role in the story. He is said to be bow-legged and lame and to have shoulders that cave inward. His head is covered in tufts of hair and comes to a point. Vulgar, obscene, somewhat dull-witted, he "got up in the assembly and attacked Agamemnon in the words of Achilles [calling him greedy and a coward] . . . Odysseus then stood up, delivered a sharp rebuke to Thersites, which he coupled with a threat to strip him naked, and then beat him on the back and shoulders with Agamemnon's sceptre; Thersites doubled over, a warm tear fell from his eye, and a bloody welt formed on his back; he sat down in fear, and in pain gazed helplessly as he wiped away his tear; but the rest of the assembly was distressed and laughed . . . There must be a figuration of wickedness as self-evident as Thersites-- the ugliest man who came to Troy-- who says what everyone else is thinking". [1] He is not mentioned elsewhere in the Iliad, but it seems that in the lost Aethiopis Achilles eventually killed him "for having torn out the eyes of the Amazon Penthesilea that the hero had just killed in combat."[2]


In his Introduction to The Anger of Achilles, Robert Graves speculates that Homer might have made Thersites a ridiculous figure as a way of dissociating himself from him, because his remarks seem entirely justified. This was a way of letting these remarks, along with Odysseus' brutal act of suppression, remain in the record. In fact, Thersites was venerated by Marxist literature in Soviet times.[citation needed]

In later literature

Thersites is also mentioned in Plato's Gorgias (dialogue)(525e) as an example of a soul that can be cured in the afterlife; and in The Republic he chooses to be reborn as an ape: "There he is not so much the typical petty criminal as the typical buffoon; and so L describes him"[3]

Along with many of the major figures of the Trojan War, Thersites was a character in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (1602). He begins as Ajax' slave, telling Ajax, "I would thou didst itch from head to foot and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece." Thersites soon leaves Ajax and puts himself into the service of Achilles (portrayed by Shakespeare as a kind of bohemian figure), who appreciates his bitter, caustic humor.

In Part Two of Goethe's Faust (1832), Act One, during the Masquerade, Thersites appears briefly and criticizes the goings-on. He says, "When some lofty thing is done / I gird at once my harness on. / Up with what's low, what's high eschew, / Call crooked straight, and straight askew," [4] The Herald, who acts as Master of Revels or Lord of Misrule, strikes Thersites with his mace, at which point he metamorphoses into an egg, from which a bat and an adder are hatched.

In British fiction of the 1950s, such as Ngaio Marsh's Singing in the Shrouds, Thersites is used to describe quarrelsome characters.

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