Force in the Iliad

“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad, is force. Force as man’s instrument, force as man’s master, force before which human flesh shrinks back. The human soul, in this poem, is shown always in its relation to force: swept away, blinded by the force it thinks it can direct, bent under the pressure of the foce 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.”

“Force is what makes the person subjected to it into a thing.”

-Simon Weil, “The Iliad, or The Poem of Force”

*In his introduction to Robert Fagles’ translation of the Iliad, Bernard Knox notes that Weil’s essay was scheduled to be published in the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, but “before it could be printed Paris was in the hands of the Nazis.” Weil knew of what she spoke.

 

Source

Knox, Bernard. Introduction. The Iliad, by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1990, pp. 3-64.

Imprudent Marriages

“Imprudent marriages!” roarded Michael. “And pray where in earth or heaven are there any prudent marriages? Might as well talk about prudent suicides. You and I have dawdled round each other long enough, and are we any safer than Smith and Mary Gray who met last night? You never know a husband till you marry him. Unhappy! Of course you’ll be unhappy! Who the devil are you that you shouldn’t be unhappy, like the mother that bore you? Disappointed! Of course we’ll be disappointed! I, for one, don’t expect till I die to be so good a man as I am at this minute, for just now I’m fifty thousand feet high, a tower with all the trumpets shouting.” (31)

–Michael Moon proposing marriage to Rosamund Hunt in the novel Manalive by G. K. Chesterton

 

Source

Chesterton, G. K. Manalive. 1912. Dover, 2000.

Communities are not Artificial Constructs

Jake Meador on the problem with the de facto liberal view of what a community is:

The claim of liberalism’s defenders is that the crisis of our day is something less comprehensive than the liberal social order. So we can resolve the problem without tampering too much with the markets or modern ideas about religion or free speech. The sources are fine, they tell us. The problem is something different. You can distinguish, we are told, liberal proceduralism from liberal ideology. You can attack some lesser form of idolatry or false religious belief and retain our current market systems.

To which the post-liberals respond: The logic of contemporary progressivism is that human communities are artificial constructs. Identities are not given; they are manufactured. Any community that hinders the work of an individual narrating their own identity across their life is thus unjust and evil and should be socially marginalized at the least. This is the justification for progressive extremism on abortion and their historically unprecedented sexual revisionism.

 

This is not Vanity

The final lines from Ezra Pound’s “Canto LXXXI:”

What thou lovest well remains,
                                                  the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                                            or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
        Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
         Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
                                        Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.
“Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”
       Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
                        How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
                        Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
                       I say pull down.
But to have done instead of not doing
                     this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
               To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
         Here error is all in the not done,
all in the diffidence that faltered  .  .  .

And here’s a video of Ezra Pound as an old man reciting these final lines:

Fathers and Megalomaniacs

A second post in one day!

I’ve fallen behind in reading the series of newsletters I read on a weekly basis. And this most recent cycle has been very good.

Martyn Wendell Jones has a great newsletter, Dang, where he reflects on having recently become a new father. As a new father myself, it’s been a wonderful reading companion.

From last week’s edition:

I want to be a father who stays; I already want Fox to stay as well. As our culture continues moving into decadence and repeating crisis—as I watch Fox roll with sudden ease, raise himself on his elbows, and look to the walls—I wonder if his hungry life will take him far away from me someday, too.

Starbuck couldn’t deter Ahab from his fate; perhaps it’s telling that the first mate’s name has taken on a more primary association with a massive corporation, the owner of which wants to pilot the ship of government simply because he thinks he’s the right one to do it. This world makes seaborne megalomaniacs of us all.

 

History that begins with Confession

A timely and insightful argument from Matt Anderson on the relationship between evangelical and LGBT communities:

As an evangelical Christian, taking history seriously means beginning with something like confession. If the LGBT community is in fact motivated to constrain religious expression out of vindictiveness, the question naturally arises whether we Christians deserve it. Any sober answer can only acknowledge the misuses and abuses of power and politics by conservative Christians in their defense of traditional marriage. As legitimate as concerns about the importance of marriage to the common good are, the argument was sometimes pursued by activists and ordinary citizens (even if not by lawyers or other leaders) in ways that undermined our credibility with those we were ostensibly seeking to persuade. At the same time, our failures to uphold appropriate sexual norms within our own communities—such as the Catholic sex scandal, or rampant divorce within evangelicalism—made us too easily susceptible to charges of hypocrisy. Moreover, we required instant transformation of gay and lesbian individuals within our own communities, burdening them with wildly unrealistic expectations and subsequently exhausting them.

Read the whole thing and subscribe to his newsletter.

Friendship and Society

From Micah Mattix’s recent Prufrock newletter:

I’ve finished the final lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The final two treat friendship and action. Friendship according to Aristotle is the “most necessary” virtue. I won’t go into Aristotle’s types of friendship (those founded on utility, pleasure, and virtue), but I appreciated his view that friendship is one of the foundations of civilization. It is what binds a city together. We see this idea in classical and modern literature, too. Friendship and hospitality (which is welcoming a stranger as a friend) are quintessentially human attributes in The Odyssey, for example, which are not shared by the gods or the sub-human cyclops. These two ideas—that friendship is the basis of civilization and a touchstone of humanity—are also found in Francis Bacon’s short essay “Of Friendship,” which is obviously drawn from classical sources. Whatever “delights in solitude,” Bacon writes, “is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” It’s not that solitude is bad or unnecessary. It is that to live only in solitude is to live a sub-human life. Without friends, Bacon continues, the “world is but a wilderness.”

It seems to me that we’ve lost this high view of friendship as an aspect of human identity, which we now regularly confuse with personality or view as a discrete construction of the autonomous will rather than as something that is composed of universal attributes. So, it is no surprise that our lives increasingly look like those of the cyclops. We live in caves, in fenced-in back yards, and “consume” each other—on television, in movies, on Facebook and Twitter. And because our lives (I’m speaking generally here about American culture) are ordered around maximizing physical pleasure, not virtue, they must end in suicide when the body’s capacity for physical pleasure wanes. The opioid crisis starts with this low view of human nature and won’t end until a grander view is recaptured, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

The themes of friendship and hospitality have been coming through loud and clear as I’ve been rereading the Odyssey this summer. I’m teaching The Odyssey and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics next year to a group of high school freshman. Discussing the idea of “friendship” seems like a great place to start analyzing and understanding both works…not to mention the myriad of other connections to the other books we’ll read as well (e.g., The Iliad, The Aeneid, The Metamorphoses, etc.). It’s going to be a great year!