20 August 2010
Homer's Timeless Truths
Is Homer's The Iliad relevant to today's society? Is this work a timeless parable depicting universal human truths transcending time and context or merely a superbly-crafted epic poem to be studied and admired for its stylistic brilliance? Has the text endured simply because of Homer's dramatic verse or because of the timeless human truths it conveys? Was it written to persuade readers to question the moral implications and savagery of war or simply to provide provocative entertainment? These questions have been posed for centuries yet rarely have been sufficiently answered. However, an astute student of contemporary politics, media, and entertainment cannot fail to notice that many Homeric themes, such as the celebration of war, the corruption of power, and man's desire for personal glory are as apparent in contemporary American life as they are within the pages of The Iliad. Though it is unknown whether or not the blind Greek poet intended to create a work that would have such an enduring impact on Western man, clearly the poem's underlying themes and the ominous questions it raises remain relevant in the twenty-first century.
One of Homer's primary themes, the glorification of war and violence, is clearly relevant today. The celebration of war is omnipresent throughout The Iliad. To Homer's characters, battlefield courage, skill, and savagery are seen as both the ultimate means of serving one's country and of proving personal strength and integrity. War is depicted more as an opportunity to achieve a greater good and demonstrate individual valor than as a necessary evil to gain a larger political purpose. Homer's heroes focus more on the craft of battle itself than on the geopolitical goal they hope to obtain through the protracted bloody combat. In one scene, Hector responds to his army's reluctance to fight by proclaiming, “Fight for your country! That is the best, the only omen! You, why are you so afraid of war and slaughter?” (Homer 333) As a leader and a prince of Troy, Hector has been raised to embrace war as the only true chance for glory. For Hector, war brings honor to both his soldiers and the country for which they fight. Although he regrets the possibility of not living to see his son grow up, he believes that his purpose is to serve on the battlefield. Because of his integrity and willingness to die for Troy, Hector is the pride and joy of his family and of the Trojan army. His brother Paris, however, is widely scorned as a weakling and coward for his constant refusal to kill. At a time of war, pacifism is simply not an option. On high school campuses across the United States, we celebrate aggressive football stars and wrestlers far more than intellectual artists or peace activists. The parallels between Homer's depiction of a war-torn society and our own collapsing world are both unmistakeable and highly disturbing. There is, and always has been, a human fascination with violence and sadism. Just as the ancient dramatist Homer depicts carnage with vivid detail and precision, contemporary Hollywood filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, and Oliver Stone, while conveying the cost of war, also appeal to their audience's unquenchable blood lust. Despite their intentions or supposed “social commentary,” there is no denying that it is ultimately the gore that sells the tickets. The internet, television news programs, newspapers, and magazines garner far more advertising revenues depicting images of violence and destruction than anything with any sort of redeeming value. It is telling that two of the events from recent history that have sold the most books are the Holocaust and the Manson murders. In short: violence sells. The reprehensible slasher film “Saw” was a blockbuster. The family-oriented comedy “The Kids Are Alright” lagged in ticket sales. Without a doubt, we live in a culture in which violence...