“The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force.” The first sentence of The Iliad thus proclaims Weil’s principal thesis with a directness typical of her writing. Nearly everything that follows is evidence adduced to support the thesis. The piece is very lean in that sense.
The first paragraph also contains a second thesis, one less expressly propounded but whose truth emerges as a subtext or corollary of the main argument: Some readers have thought Homer’s poem a historical document of a more primitive and more brutal stage of civilization, but for those “who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and the loveliest of mirrors.” It is a mirror reflecting the social and political realities of modern times.
Force is that which turns people literally into things, that is, corpses: “Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all.” The world conjured up in Homer’s epic is one of graphically depicted carnage, of hundreds of individual deaths portrayed in unflinching and gruesome detail. While valiant Hector’s mutilated body lies on the battlefield, his wife Andromache orders a hot bath for the husband who will never return: “Far from hot baths he was indeed, poor man,” Weil observes, adding “nearly all human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths.”
There is, however, a more...
(The entire section is 1215 words.)
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