Friday, November 10, 2006

Homer's Rumsfeld

From a brief interview with Robert Fagles, whose translation of the Aeneid was published last week:

"I was asked by a reporter, 'Is there a Rumsfeld in the Iliad?' I said, 'I don't think so, but isn't one enough?'" Fagles said. "He laughed and didn't print it."
That reporter may have been hoping that Fagles would liken the Greek leader Agamemnon to Donald Rumsfeld. The similarities are not difficult to work out: when the Iliad begins, the Greek forces are in an ever-worsening situation, dying of a plague sent by the god Apollo. Is Agamemnon doing anything to change that? No. Moreover, he himself has caused the problems the Greeks are facing, by refusing to honor the priest Chryses' plea for the return of his daughter Chryseis, now Agamemnon's war prize. When the Greek prophet Calchas explains what is happening and what must be done to appease Apollo -- return Chryseis and make sacrifices, Agamemnon is furious. Here's a particularly Rumsfeldian bit of arrogance and cranky complaint about the media (or the medium):
                                                    "You damn
You've never given me a good omen yet.
You take some kind of perverse pleasure in
Doom, don't you? Not a single favorable omen ever!
Nothing good ever happens!"

(Iliad 1, translated by Stanley Lombardo)
A reader interested in exploring broad parallels between Homer's world of war and our own should investigate Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.

Fagles brings Aeneas into modern world (

Exploring Combat and the Psyche, Beginning with Homer (article on Jonathan Shay, New York Times)

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