Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hillary Clinton and kleos

I'm teaching the Iliad and the Odyssey in a four-week summer session for undergraduates: two hours of teaching in the morning, five days a week, and preparing for the next class at night. So I have Homer on the brain, and I find myself thinking about the Democratic presidential race in terms of κλέος. Kleos, "what is heard," or, less literally, "fame," "glory," is one of the great moving forces in Homer's Iliad. When, for instance, the Trojan warrior Hector challenges any Achaean to fight him, he promises if victorious to return his opponent's corpse for funeral rites,

"So someone in generations yet to come
Will say as he sails by on the darkening sea,
'That is the tomb of a man long dead,
Killed in his prime by glorious Hector.'
Someone will say that, and my fame [kleos] will not die."

[Iliad 7, translated by Stanley Lombardo.]
To seek kleos is to seek a cultural afterlife in memory and speech.

Kleos in Homer is always a good thing, but as the Greek-English Lexicon points out, kleos can also refer to any reputation, good or bad. So what kleos might Hillary Clinton's actions in the Democratic race attain for her? What will the future say? That she gave her all in an effort to push back the barriers against women's full participation in political life? That when she saw the math against her, she worked to support her party's inevitable nominee and further the cause of racial reconciliation? Or that she damaged her party's chances by taking every chance to characterize her opponent's success as illegitimate? The future is listening, now.
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comments: 4

JuliaR said...

I am curious about what you thought of Bill Clinton before he became president (and after). As a dispassionate Canadian. :) And in 25 words or so, given the whole Homer homework thing. :)

Michael Leddy said...

In 25 words:

I voted for him twice, with great enthusiasm. But I now see him as arrogant, dishonest, exploitative, narcissistic, reckless. I am no longer a fan.

JuliaR said...

I remember when he was running for president and my intuitive radar told me he was a lying liar. If he told me the sky was blue, I'd go outside to see for myself. I couldn't believe how no one else seemed to see that. I suppose that people can make effective leaders even if they are lying cheaters but he was just so blatant about the womanizing that to me, it made for a fundamental personality flaw that I couldn't get over. Hillary seems to want to be president because she thinks she deserves it - that entitlement thing that I think is at the root of much of society's malaise these days.

Michael Leddy said...

Julia, you got there long before I did.

The claims of entitlement, now morphing into the charge that Obama has somehow stolen the nomination (and "hijacked four delegates," to use Harold Ickes' language, which seems designed to produce a slight echo of September 11, while allowing a later disclaiming of that intention), make for a pretty toxic atmosphere.

There's a revealing portrait of Bill Clinton in Vanity Fair, now online: The Comeback Id.