Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thinking About War

I ear-read (Carol's term for audiobook listening) The Iliad a couple weeks ago.   It occurred to me then that all war is about wealth, be it money, property, power or combinations thereof.  Back then though the kings were warriors.  They went to battle along with the troops, suffered wounds, killed, and were killed.  All for wealth and power.

If you've never read The Iliad, I recommend it.  Though it seems endless when you first get into it, it is a compelling narrative of the cruelty, stupidity, and overall cost of war.  It is also a chronicle of monumental egos, manipulative gods, and the general irrationality of men.

There are probably as many translations of The Iliad as there are recordings of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.  The one I listened to was by Caroline Alexander.

Here's the gist of the poem as my old brain has processed it - with apologies to Homer.

The Achaeans (Greeks) are almost a decade into a war with Troy,  nominally over the abduction of Helen, wife of Menelaus, King Agamemnon's brother.  During this time Agamemnon and the Achaeans take a side trip to sack Chryse.  King A. claims beautiful Chryseis, the daughter of Chryses, a priest of Apollo, as his prize, while Achilles claims equally stunning Briseis and promptly falls in love with her.

When Chryseis' dad tells Apollo about this, the big guy drops a plague on the Achaeans.  Agamemnon consults a prophet and finds out that it's the priest's doing, so he returns Chryseis to her dad.  Desiring a gorgeous prize fit for a king, Agamemnon then demands Briseis from Achilles, who relents but gets really pissy and returns to his tent refusing to fight anymore.

Without Achilles the Achaeans are getting the crap kicked out of them.  Turns out the head God, Zeus, decided to make the Trojan warrior Hector invincible ... until Achilles got over his hissy fit, at which time Hector was toast.  There's more but I don't want to spoil the ending.

It is evident in this story that, other than as warriors, the principles: have the intelligence of pocket lint, egos  as enormous as DT's, and no clear idea why the war is happening.

 "All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal."  claims John Steinbeck.  It was true then and it's true now, we just have bigger spears.