"Wars cast their shadows before them and leave emotional disturbances behind them," scholar E. R. Dodds observed as he reflected on the catastrophic war 2500 years ago that destroyed Athens. The aggressors in that reckless campaign--the Athenians themselves--modeled their sense of honor on their culture's foundational epic, the Iliad. In that brutal narrative, however, glory is brief and arbitrary; there are no victors, and no one is spared terrible suffering. We can't know, of course, if the epic was Homer's glorification of vengeful rage or a lesson on the senselessness of war. But to the Athenians who campaigned--and lost in the Peloponnese--many centuries after the Iliad was written down, Homer's epic seemed intended to celebrate the sorrows of orphans and widows, and to sanctify every warrior who died in battle. As Pericles said in his funeral oration at the end of the first year of the war, no words could adequately praise the beauty of a warrior's death. In the winter of 1940, Simone Weil understood the Iliad differently. Watching the rise of Hitlerism, she wrote: The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force....In this work, at all times, the human spirit is
Manoa – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Dec 4, 2008
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