Monday

Men Without War Cries

Having recently finished a very dry and technical linguistic paper on the noun-epithets of one of Homer's most gloriously awesome characters--Diomedes--I feel called to wax rather more poetical about him than the boundaries of my research paper allowed. This is also influenced by our reading of C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man in Philosophy last week. But more on that later. As anyone who has gotten through the Iliad is well aware, Diomedes is generally known to the enraptured audience as "Diomedes, Lord of the War Cry" (which is more literally, but in a less cool fashion, translated as "good at the war cry"). Presumably this means he scared the living daylights out of his victims by screaming like a banshee before dispatching them. Besides apparently terrifying the Trojans more successfully than Achilles (see the prayer of the Trojan women to Athena in Book 6. It's actually hilarious) he also did something Achilles never dared to do: attacked not one, not two, but three gods in the course of a single book. As I look up from Homer's epic poetry and cast my gaze across campus, I realize that it's not exactly fair to begin comparing the average male college student with Diomedes, Son of Tydeus, Lord of the War Cry, Shepherd of His People, Horse Tamer, Spear-famed, the Staunch in Battle, best by far of the Achaeans. But I'm going to do it anyway. The first deity Diomedes confronts is Aphrodite. The goddess of love doesn't fair too well at his hands (she irritated him by removing his opponent from view) and retreats in panic after he gouges her arm with his spear. Would that we lived in a culture that made it easier for today's young men to deal thus with the lies that are so widely promulgated about the status of chastity. I have noticed that for whatever reason, it can be tentatively accepted that a girl might want to remain a virgin until marriage. Strange, but acceptable. But for men, to remain a virgin is somehow a sign of incompetence and weakness, a stigma to be mocked and a condition to escape at the earliest possible convenience. Tragically, for the herd of jocks (and their number is legion) that swaggers across today's college campuses, the realization that chastity requires far more strength and manhood than succumbing to animal instincts does not compute. This might have to do with the cranial capacity of guys who spend more time in the gym than in intelligible (not even asking for intelligent here) conversation. But I suspect it has more to do with popular culture, the sickening music and vile television shows that are given as entertainment and taken as gospel truth. After Aphrodite flees the scene, Diomedes turns his attention to Apollo (who caught the guy that Diomedes was originally trying to kill after Aphrodite dropped him...the situation gets a little out of hand). And here we have a situation I think I can relate more to my experience at this particular school than the problem with Aphrodite. I choose (for reasons having to with his job as Sun god) to associate him with badly formed philosophical minds. I am no philosopher; but my moral imagination is solid enough at this point to detect really bad taste. So when an ill-advised young man fishes a copy of Hegel out of his backpack and proceeds to expound upon the wonders to be found therein; or if another individual calmly tells me that he has found a fallacy in Thomas Aquinas' argument for Natural Law that dismantles the whole thing, I generally turn away and marvel in silence at the peculiar predilection in young men to philosophical posturing. This kind of posturing causes the young men I'm thinking of to defend everything from James Joyce to Rothko to Fight Club, not because they have any rational basis on which to ground these opinions, but because they want to seem on top of things. On the topic of literature, art, or film, the examples above will elicit an immediate reaction: the head tilts back, the eyes narrow, the back straightens, the hands come together, and in an unintentionally dramatic tone of voice, the young man will say something to the effect of "Ah, yes. Genius." I don't hear much else anymore; usually my head is buried in my arms at that point. The third god Diomedes meets and then causes to flee in terror is one which I hope in particular to best in battle, although its flight is no more likely than that of profligate jocks or pretentious sophists. Ares, although once the god of war, resembles to me nothing so much as the kind of politically minded students who are intent on crafting their GPA's and extracurricular activities for purposes of resume building rather than education. I have met young men who use the rhetoric of the Western Tradition without the slightest conception of the thought or real ideals behind it. Young men who understand America and their very lives as economic functions, and who hope to plunge into the Beltway directly after college with a shiny GPA and experience as president of the College Republicans as their ticket to fame and glory. This is the kind of young man who will read Plato's Republic because it is "the done thing" and is only another brick in his path to conservative power. This kind of person reads Plato without understanding that the worthiest to lead do not wish to lead, so that if ever he has the misfortune to be placed in a position of power, he will have absolutely nothing to offer her. He will have instructed rather than educated himself; and because he has a resume instead of an intellect, he will remain a politician and never amount to a statesman. There are those who have fought these evils, to be sure. But to be Lord of the War Cry you must be good at it. In a world of livejournals, blogs, online forums, and publications innumerable, your War Cry must stand out, preferably in such a way as to drive your enemies to "thoughts of terror". My hope is that as I progress through college, graduate school, and my doctorate, I will be able to hone my writing and rhetoric so that one day I will give the kind of War Cry that will inspire and animate the apathetic and silence Aphrodite, Apollo, and Ares.

3 comments:

John said...

Bravo! And there are none better at making men want to cry for war than women, women who look at their men cooly and say, "come back with your shield or on it". Another thing college-age men need to learn is that they must DO stuff. This sound obvious, but it seems that many men in college spend their time thinking about what ought to be done and forget that an essential part of that is learning how to DO it. You know, virtue. And practical wisdom. I'm not claiming to be exceptionally virtuous, but it seems that many think that having an intellectual solution to a problem is all that is needed. Nevermind thinking out how you would actually instantiate these ideas in the world and in your life, much less trying to live them. Hence, people still like Hegel.
endrant/

Cool quote: "Asked why it was dishonorable to return without a shield and not without a helmet, the Spartan king, Demaratos is said to have replied: "Because the latter they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of all." (Plutarch, Mor.220)"

izyperspective said...

Reading about the life of Rothko was somewhat a turning point in my journey to conversion. At one point, the divorced Rothko agonized on whether to purchase a short or a long coat. Shortly there after, he cut his wrist. Genius, painter of "the tragics," tormented by indicision between a short and long coat, cut wrist...I had to more than pause in my stunned reveries. Why, and how...Something was wrong with that picture. At that point I knew art will not be my god.

boinky said...

good essay.

FYI: Here in our rural town, a local politician is named "Diomedes"...so someone must still be reading the Iliad in the rural Philippines...

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