Monday, June 30, 2008

"Uber-responsible" types

Lifehacker, the home of "tips and downloads for getting things done," had a remarkably ill-advised post over the weekend, Get Drunk Faster. Oy. Some spirited (no pun intended) comments followed, one of which challenged readers to "name one …1… literal or fictional uber-responsible type that the opposite sex ultimately digs."

That's easy. In Homer's Iliad, there's the Trojan warrior Hector. His wife Andromache loves him, and Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world) seems attracted to him. In Iliad 6, when Hector and Helen speak, she wonders,

"But since the gods have ordained these evils,
Why couldn't I be the wife of a better man,
One sensitive at least to repeated reproaches?"
Like Hector? Helen then rebukes her keeper Paris by name and invites her "'Dear brother-in-law'" to sit with her. Hector's reply leaves little doubt about the undercurrent of feeling in this scene:
"Don't ask me to sit, Helen, even though
You love me. You will never persuade me.
My heart is out there with our fighting men."
Hector then tells Helen that he's off to see his wife and child. His wife and child. Get it? He's a family man, whom we see as a son, brother, husband, and father. Yet his responsibility to the people of Troy trumps even his devotion to family: when, in one of the most moving passages in the poem, Andromache pleads with Hector to consider his own safety in fighting the Greeks, he cannot honor her plea. The city is his responsibility, and he is his responsibility: his name means holder in Homer's Greek.

Aeneas, the hero of Virgil's Aeneid, one of the few survivors of the fall of Troy, is another "uber-responsible" figure with strong sexual appeal. Aeneas is devoted above all to what Virgil calls pietas, his duty — to the gods, his family, his people. Aeneas' departure from Troy gives us an emblem of that devotion: as Aeneas leads the band of survivors, he carries his father Anchises on his back. Aeneas is responsible too for his own son Ascanius: thus Troy's past and its people's future are both his responsibility. Dido, queen of Carthage, is smitten as Aeneas tells the story of Troy's destruction. She is, literally, love-sick, "a wound / Or inward fire eating her away," and she kills herself when Aeneas abandons her (not long after consummating the relationship) to find a home for his people.

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) at the end of Casablanca (1942) is a distant inheritor of Aeneas' sense of pietas: "But I've got a job to do too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of." Rick walks off into "a beautiful friendship" (not sexual of course) with Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), who has said that "well, if I were a woman and I weren't around, I should be in love with Rick." Thus the "uber-responsible type" might appeal not only to the opposite sex but to "all the sexes," as Ira Gershwin put it. Everybody comes to Rick's.¹

[Iliad translation by Stanley Lombardo (1997). Aeneid translation by Robert Fitzgerald (1983). Casablanca screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch.]

¹ Everybody Comes to Rick's: the title of the Murray Burnett–Joan Alison play that was the basis for Casablanca; also a line in the film, spoken by Louis to Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt).

Related posts
On the Iliad and Aeneid

comments: 5

T. said...

At the risk of sharing "too much information," I have to admit to finding uber-responsible characters WAY sexier than other types. I wrote in my 8th grade English class journal that I wanted to marry Atticus (I think I got my wish...!)

I dig Hector too, though...


j said...

that scene, where Hector says good-bye to his wife and baby son, is wonderful. once you've read it, you'll never forget it.

you can add Austen's Mr Knightly, Darcy, and Henry Tilney to the list

Elaine Fine said...

I'm proudly married to one too!

Michael Leddy said...

Great additions, T. and j.

Elaine, does that mean I have to pick up my stuff?

Elaine Fine said...