Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of Gods and Men

Before I start, I am not being sexist, it's just that the title "Of Gods and Goddesses and Men and Women" doesn't sound right.
Also, this is a sorta serious post.
I just finished reading The Iliad. You know, the epic book by Homer? Back before 'epic' meant 3 million Youtube views. Anyway, I had a few thoughts on the subject, and I decided to share them with all three and a half people who read this blog.
So, my first thought on the subject is how stupid the ancient Greeks were.
I mean, they were clever, but also stupid. See, the whole story takes place in the bronze age. All the weapons are made of bronze, as evidenced many times in the narrative. "Pitiless bronze" "sharp-edged bronze" "as the sun rising over the sea glints off the waves so too did the gleam of the bronze spear points reflect back the sunlight".
Anyway, making weapons out of bronze is smart. Bronze is a relatively light and hard metal, and is good for making a sharp edge. Not as good as steel, but better than iron (easier to work with and not as heavy).
What was not so clever was that they made their armor out of gold! I mean, it looks nice and everything, but gold is very heavy, and very soft. No wonder so many of them died.
My second thought on the subject is how civilized their wars were.
Oh, they were bloody and gruesome and violent beyond measure, but they were also civilized.
I think this may be because all of the battles were fought face to face and up close and personal.
For example we can take the first battle depicted in The Iliad.
In the middle of the battle, people are killing each other left and right, they call a time out. Everybody sits down (both armies) and they watch as two champions (one from each army) decide to kill each other mortal-combat style. That will decide who wins the war.
It didn't work, but that is another matter. The gods screwed that one up.
Another example is two people approach each other and are about to throw their spears in a wholehearted attempt to kill each other. Suddenly, Diomedes (from the Greeks' side) recognizes the Trojan he is trying to kill. It turns out he's a dear friend of the family. They both make long speeches about the joy and sanctity of friendship (while there is a battle raging on around them) then they shake hands and part in friendship. Each goes off to kill other people now.
I mean, how civilized is that?
I did enjoy The Iliad very much.
The parallelism between man's struggles and the gods' little feuds, the contrast between the futility of war that must end in death and the gods' little squabbles that end peacefully. The constant meddling of the gods for their own amusement. The long speeches which counteract (and sometimes intersect) the gruesome battle scenes.
Also, the characters are always saying how they are ruled by the gods and fate, and nothing that they themselves do is of any singular importance. On the other hand, the reader gets the impression that the war is so much more important than whatever little shenanigans the gods get up to.
I also very much like how this was the tale of a 10 year long war, and all that is told here is about a month and a half, towards the end. But not the end of the war (no wooden horse). That is because the poet decided to focus on the human content of the war. His heroes are portrayed as real people with emotions, and the last few chapters, dealing with death of some of our favorite characters, are quite moving.
I read The Iliad for my own enjoyment, and strongly recommend that you do as well.

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