While she does not indulge in crass equivalences, it is hard not to be alerted by her reading to the devastation caused by the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Today's students at West Point, the elite US military academy where one may minor in "terrorism studies", study The Iliad as part of their literature course. In her book Soldier's Heart , Elizabeth Samet, literature professor at the institution, recalls a visit by the late translator-poet Robert Fagles, who recited, in Greek, the first lines of the epic. The 1, plebes in his audience must now be in command positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military language of the conflicts even brings with it distant echoes of Homer: Operation Achilles was a Nato offensive in aimed at clearing Helmand province of the Taliban. Instead, the subject of the poem is menis , fury — specifically, the wrath of the Greeks' best warrior, Achilles.
Achilles, his pride and honour outraged, withdraws from the fighting and persuades his mother, the goddess Thetis, to ask Zeus to turn the tide of war against the Greeks, knowing that they will suffer appalling losses. He joins the fighting, and begins a lengthy and pitiless slaughtering spree. Finally, he kills Hector in single combat and attaches the corpse to his chariot, dragging it triumphantly around the walls of the city. In , the bodies of American contractors were attached to the backs of cars and dragged through the streets of Fallujah.
At the end of the poem Hector's frail and eldery father, Priam, enters the Greeks' camp and persuades Achilles to restore to him his son's body. Not all soldiers have seen the point. TE Lawrence esteemed Homer sufficiently to translate him rather unsatisfactorily , but he was scornful of the poet's knowledge of military affairs.
Homer, he thought, must have been "very bookish" and "a house-bred man". This is the section known as Agamemnon's aristeia — his day of glory in the field.
Here, as throughout, the translation is Fagles's for Penguin Classics. The onward rush of these almost joyful descriptions of slaughter in The Iliad might cause some modern readers to question the values of the poem, or at least to measure out the long distance between us and the society from which it sprang.
Homer was no peacenik. It is futile to look to Homer for a condemnation of war: "People make war, they put up with it, they curse it, they even praise it in songs and verses, but it is not to be judged any more than destiny is. But it's easy to see why Lawrence struggled to admire The Iliad 's descriptions of battle. The agony of death-throes, the cries of pain from soldiers too wounded to move, are absent from the poem.
We set our faces in the direction of the sea, quickening our pace to pass through the belt of this nauseating miasma as soon as possible.
It was a wounded infantryman. Nor do the heroes of The Iliad suffer the long-term consequences of injury — a fact for which the disparity between ancient and modern medical practice cannot alone account. Yet The Iliad still has much to say about war, even as it is fought today. It tells us that war is both the bringer of renown to its young fighters and the destroyer of their lives. It tells us about post-conflict destruction and chaos; about war as the great reverser of fortunes.
It tells us about the age-old dilemmas of fighters compelled to serve under incompetent superiors. It tells us about war as an attempt to protect and preserve a treasured way of life. It tells us, too, about the profound gulf between civilian existence and life on the front line; about atrocities and indiscriminate slaughter; about war's peculiar mercilessness to women and children; about friendships and sympathies across the battle lines.
It tells us of the love between soldiers who fight together.
At the centre of the poem's most urgent observations on the nature of war is its hero, Achilles, an extreme character in all senses — The Iliad 's most bloodthirsty warrior, the quickest to anger, but at times the most tender. He is tinged with the supernatural: his mother is a goddess; his armour is forged by the god Hephaestus; even his chariot-team consists of immortal horses, the gift of Zeus. He sees the war with an enhanced perspective; as Alexander points out, he is clear-eyed about the utter pointlessness of the conflict.
During his outburst to Agamemnon in book one, Achilles says:.
T he Odyssey is a poem as full of twists and turns as the mind of its wily hero, Odysseus. It contains flashbacks, embedded narratives, exotic locations, fairytale characters and a chronology — sometimes stretched, sometimes compressed — that covers a decade. The Iliad , in contrast, is a linear tale, circumscribed in geography and time-frame: we are placed variously in the Greeks' camp, the plain outside Troy, the city itself, and in the gods' home on Mount Olympus. Its characters are nearly all soldiers and gods, with mere bit parts for women, children and other non-combatants. It covers about 40 days during the 10th year of the war.
One of its most arresting characteristics, however, is the way it casts us forward and back, hinting at both a lost, peaceful world "back home", and the horrors of the post-conflict world to come. This is a quality that does much to lend the poem its pathos, and its constant sense of loss. Take its regularly used epithets: these familiar phrases "wine-dark" sea, "rosy-fingered" dawn have often been seen as simply as the more or less meaningless metrical building blocks that would have helped a bard to improvise lines of verse on the hoof.
The last line of the epic is "And so they buried Hector, breaker of horses.
Empirical Dynamics Of International Conflict The military language of the conflicts even brings with it distant echoes of Homer: Operation Achilles was a Nato offensive in aimed at clearing Helmand province of the Taliban. International Actor And Situation 7. Your email. Achilles, his pride and honour outraged, withdraws from the fighting and persuades his mother, the goddess Thetis, to ask Zeus to turn the tide of war against the Greeks, knowing that they will suffer appalling losses. On Causes of International Conflict 16B.
Breaking horses is a gentle art, the occupation of peacetime even if those horses are being readied for future war. None of that for Hector now. There's a curious resonance between that line and an account, again published in Carey's collection, by a young farmhand who fought on the other side of the Dardanelles, in Gallipoli, in The lad is on sentry duty in the trenches.
I remembered him in Suffolk singing to his horses as he ploughed. Now he fell back with a great scream and a look of surprise — dead. Lost peacetime is, however, most often conjured up through the poet's imagery — in which we are often invited to imagine an act of great violence with the help of similes drawn from a pastoral world far from the battlefields of Troy. In the 11th book, the Greek warrior Ajax slowly withdraws from a bout of hand-to-hand fighting:. In book 13, an arrow bounces off Menelaus's shield like chickpeas off a shovel; the following book has a boulder thrown by Ajax that sends Hector "whirling like a whipping top".
Such humble, almost humorous images have a cumulative effect, creating a lightly sketched vision of a parallel world that sits at the back of the mind as we absorb the "foreground" action of the battle for Troy. Occasionally, such images contain their own violence, blurring into to the scenes they are helping us conjure. In the 12th book, the armies are said to fight like farmers rowing over a disputed a boundary stone — war writ small.
It is the Trojans, meanwhile, who provide the most obvious focus for the fragility of civilian life, and the horrors that await the city's old, its women, and its very young. One feature of the poem is that it accords equal dignity to both sides in the war: the Trojans are not dehumanised into "ragheads" or "gooks". This is a passage of tenderness and tearing grief, as we witness the hero's love for his wife and hers for him; and the sweet fragility of their child.
It is this passage that helps Samet find in Hector the blueprint of the "citizen soldier", a warrior fighting to save his home and his values — a neat Americanisation. Andromache appeals to her husband to use defensive tactics, to stop leading his men from the front. She is already a victim of war: her father and seven brothers have been killed in a previous conflict by Achilles himself; her mother is dead, too. It is not so much the pain of his parents, his brothers, dying that haunts him, he says. The child Astyanax recoils at the sight of his father's frightening plumed helmet.
Hector picks him up, and Andromache smiles through her tears. He prays that the boy might one day be prince of the Trojans, their best fighter, better even than his father, "a joy to his mother's heart". We know that Andromache will, yes, be dragged into slavery. It is perhaps in the relationships between the combatants that modern soldiers might most readily see their own emotions mirrored.
He argues that Achilles is suffering from what we would now call combat trauma, the death of Patroclus causing his character fatally to unravel. In particular, Shay compares the comradeship and passionate loyalty of American soldiers in Vietnam to that between Achilles and Patroclus — who grew up together, fought alongside each other, and whose relationship is the subject of some of Homer's most tender writing. When limited air strikes in late May resulted in nearly peacekeepers being taken hostage, a consensus quickly emerged within the U. This sent the not-so-subtle message to the Bosnian Serbs that they were now free to pursue their preferred strategy.
The Bosnian Serbs implemented their strategy with horrifying results. In July, Serb forces turned their focus to Srebrenica, a small village near the eastern border with Serbia swollen with some 60, Muslim refugees. It was there that the then-U. I will never abandon you. Within 10 days, tens of thousands of Muslim refugees streamed into the Muslim-controlled city of Tuzla.
Missing from the stream of refugees were more than 7, men of all ages, who had been executed in cold blood — mass murder on a scale not witnessed in Europe since the end of World War II.