Friday, October 01, 2004

I got this note from Jack 

...and while he doesn't write here very much, he's still very much a part of the blog's life. We were chatting about something I shared with him that he said reminded him of a piece from the introduction to Fagle's translation of The Iliad. True confession: I have not read it since college. One of the themes of the Iliad is the desire of the Trojans to pay ransom to their attackers. Troy pays and pays yet never seems to want for gold. And it never finds peace. Fagles wrote:

The repeated appeals to accept ransom are not only indicative of Troy's immense wealth, they are also a reminder of Trojan attitudes: they believe, typical of rich, civilized cities, that wealth can always buy a solution, and the illusion that civilized ways of warfare -- quarter for disarmed men or men who surrender, ransom and exchange of prisoners -- are laws as valid and universal as the laws under which their own civilization lives. Inside Troy the manners of civilized life are preserved; there are restraints on anger, there is courtesy to opponents, kindness to the weak -- things that have no place in the armed camp on the shore. ...

Unfortunately for Troy, the Trojans have the defects of their qualities: they are not so much at home in the grim business of war as their opponents.

Jack writes to me, "And wouldn't you love to read [this] to everybody in Italy and Spain. A four-thousand year old war is so very modern (and looking pertty good for Islam)."

Or to the candidates. Fagles quotes from Simone Weil's The Iliad or the Poem of Force that one's view of the epic depends on one's view of force.
The human soul, in this poem, is shown always in relation to force; swept away, blinded by the force it thinks it can direct, bent under the pressure of the force to which it is subjected. Those who had dreamed that force, thanks to progress, now belonged to the past, have seen the poem as a historic document; those who can see that force, today as in the past, is at the center of all human history, find in the Iliad its most beautiful, its purest mirror.
Do the candidates view the Iliad in the same way? Do appeals to "global tests" sound like the words of a man who thinks force is forever present in the world, that evil has not been consigned to history? What about the fellow whose policy prescription is "the best way to protect this homeland is to stay on the offense"? Or "But to say that there's only one focus on the war on terror doesn't really understand the nature of the war on terror."

A man with a tragic vision of the world says "You know my opinion on North Korea. I can't say it any more plainly."

I don't know if there are two Americas, but there surely are two candidates now.

I will add Fagles' Iliad to my nightstand. Thanks, Jack.