Most recent update:6/1/2004; 5:08:54 AM

 Tuesday, May 18, 2004

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7:58:02 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Thomas Palaima on Troy

Now that I have learned about, annoying newspapers which require subscription -- like the Austin American Statesman -- are somewhat more accessible and we can read things like Classicist Thomas Palaima's comments on the Iliad and documentaries about Troy:

Do you know what a man is? Is not / birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, / learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, / and such like, the spice and salt that season a man?"

-- Shakespeare, "Troilus and Cressida"

"But Hippolochus / Bore me, and I am proud he is my father./ He sent me to Troy with strict instructions / To be the best ever, better than all the rest, / And not bring shame on the race of my fathers."

Homer -- Iliad 6.211-215, Lombardo translation

A few years back, very wealthy donors wanted to back a project to promote Hellenic culture in the United States. I had an idea. I invited my friend Bill Broyles to lunch. Bill is an intelligent man, directly experienced in the ways of war and the ways of the world. He is plain-spoken and wise. Some of you may recently have read his splendid editorial on the virtues of mandatory national service. The former Austinite is also a good myth-maker. His Hollywood screen-writing credits include "Castaway" and "Apollo 13."

I asked Bill, "Could Hollywood do an Iliad?" I explained that it had never been done, that two readable and moving translations of Homer's epic had just appeared, that part of one translation had been successfully staged off-Broadway. We then discussed what we both already knew.

The Iliad contains everything about war: real courage, real cowardice, real command failures, real command genius, real self-seeking, real self-sacrifice, real equipment malfunction, real logistical mistakes, real supply shortages, real bad luck, real good luck, real love of family, real love of friends, real love of brothers in arms, real love of country, real hatred, real sorrow, real pity, real wisdom, real folly, real enemies, real death, real ugliness, real beauty, real fog and real clarity, and, yes, even real gods. Let me repeat that: real gods. Just as real as the God proclaimed in Exodus (King James version): "The Lord is a man of war: The Lord is his name." Real gods who inscrutably shape and shake human lives.

The Iliad is real, and it taught Greeks, young and old, what they needed to know about war. It helped them to understand what it is like to attack in an army and to be attacked. Because they knew the Iliad, Greeks who were coming of age for obligatory military service knew what war was. War was a grim necessity. War could confer honor and glory and make a man a hero, a woman a heroine. War could break and ruin good human beings, forever, and bring death to innocents.

This is why I spend four weeks on the Iliad in my mythology classes. This semester, students who are veterans back from Iraq, or husbands or wives or friends of soldiers there, told me that the Iliad helped them understand their own experiences and feelings.

Bill thought a bit and said, "It could be done, but it would have to be done as 'Planet of the Apes' or something like that."

What Bill meant was that a high-dollar Hollywood production would be ruinous. Economic forces would make the film a spectacle, rather than a valuable myth. But if the story were translated into a different setting and filmed at a modest budget, the core values of the Iliad might be communicated.

Alas, Bill has proved more accurate than the Greek seer Calchas. I have been involved in a Discovery Channel documentary related to the film "Troy," and I saw the film last night. Economic forces turned a potentially fine documentary into a two-hour promotion for the film, with four or five good moments of edu-tainment. [more]

7:56:38 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Troy - Iraq Parallels

We knew they'd be coming ... here's one from Maureen Dowd in the Pioneer Press:

Oblivious of the consequences, the impetuous black sheep of a ruling family starts a war triggered by a personal grudge. The father, a respected veteran of his own wars, suppresses his unease and graciously supports his son, even though it will end up destroying his legacy and the world order he envisioned.

The ferocious battle in the far-off sands spirals out of control, with many brave soldiers killed, with symbols of divinity damaged, with graphic scenes showing physical abuse of the conquered, and with devastatingly surreptitious guerrilla tactics.

Aside from dishing up a gilded Brad Pitt with a leather miniskirt and a Heathrow duty-free accent as he tosses about ancient insults, such as calling someone a "sack of wine," "Troy" also dishes up some gilded lessons on the Aeschylating cost of imperial ambitions and personal vendettas.

The Greek warriors question their sovereign's reasons for war, knowing he has taken an incendiary pretext (Paris' stealing Helen from Sparta) to provide emotional acceleration to his real reasons to settle old scores and forge an empire through war.

When Mars rushes into Achilles' soul in his battle with Hector, as Alexander Pope wrote in his translation of Homer's "Iliad," "the springs of fate snap every lock tight."

But Barbara Tuchman, in her book "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam," observes that while the Trojans reject advice to keep that dagnab nag, as Rummy might put it, out of the walled city, "the feasible alternative that of destroying the Horse is always open."

Cassandra and others warned them. (The always ignored Cassandra is left out of the movie, but she must have sensed that was coming.)

"Notwithstanding the frequent references in the epic to the fall of Troy being ordained, it was not fate but free choice that took the Horse within the walls," Tuchman writes. " 'Fate' as a character in legend represents the fulfillment of man's expectation of himself."

A State Department official noted last week that if any of the Bush hawks had read Tuchman's dissection of war follies, her warning about leaders who get an "addiction to the counterproductive," they might have been less rash. [more]

7:45:56 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

CHATTER: Rome-Total War Redux

Apologies if these next few posts are only semi-coherent ... I'm still dealing with lingering allergy effects. Anyhoo ... apparently rogueclassicism wasn't the only one impressed with the visuals in Rome: Total War. According to Wired Magazine, the History Channel will be using the visuals in an upcoming series called Decisive Battles ....

7:15:29 PM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

... and now things aren't posting ... again
9:00:18 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

apologies ...

Allergies have set me back a few hours ... I'll try to get some updates in during the day ...

7:33:12 AM    Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

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