By Meteor Blades
The History News Network has reprinted from the Austin American-Statesman a provocative essay by Thomas G. Palaima - a professor of Classics at the University of Texas - on why we need a new Iliad:
Ironically, prominent historians of classical Greek warfare such as Victor Davis Hanson and Donald Kagan have argued for preemptive warfare and unilateral assertion of power, in direct contradiction to the lessons that most thinking human beings derive from the fate of classical Athens in the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. And they, like us, have not addressed what damage an all-volunteer army - something tantamount to a mercenary force and rightly unimaginable in the ancient Greek city-states - will eventually do to our country's social and political fabric.
We really do need an "Iliad" to bring us back to reality. The movie "Troy" held promise, but its director thought that the key to understanding the meaning of the quintessential Western story of war was that Achilles is Superman and Hector is Batman. So "Troy" gave us entertaining costume epic and soap-opera emotions and special effects. …
"The Iliad" gives an honest picture of all aspects of warfare: betrayal of "what is right;" egotistical high command foul ups and their consequences for the common troops; a wide range of behaviors, from cowardice to courage; the tragedy of war for civilians in a city under siege and ordained to be taken and destroyed; "berserker" rage; fellow feeling for the enemy, most famously in the private "truce" between the Trojan ally Glaucus and the great Greek warrior Diomedes; the truly human affections of a king named Priam and a queen named Hecuba for their son Hector, affections that are publicly displayed in gut-wrenching personal terms with no thought for political delicacy or spin; the love of Hector, whose very name means "holder" or "preserver" of his city, for his son Astyanax and his wife Andromache - and her fierce attachment to Hector; the gory, clinically accurate violence of over 200 detailed combat deaths; war for less than noble purposes; betrayal by the gods and the ineffectuality of piety; the joyful pleasure battle can give some men; the role of blind luck in combat; and even what von Clausewitz, more than two millennia later, called the "fog of war."
"Superman" and "Batman" had some great sword fights in Troy, the only good thing about that movie.