Be careful what you wish for: The Return from Troy

Ends never justify means.

The Trojans fell not only for the deception of the Wooden Horse but Odysseus' promise to the collaborator, Antenor, that anyone who surrendered would be spared. But both Agamemnon's duplicity and the barbaric logic of pillage swept such a promise aside leaving behind carnage and a burned, destroyed city.

During the course of which Athena's temple is desecrated. Athena, until then a dedicated supporter of the Greek cause, turns and out of the jaws of victory falls defeat. Many of the winning kings return to find themselves deposed from their kingdoms and Agamemnon is murdered by his wife consumed by the suffering he has inflicted on her. Many of the men are lost on their way home in the storms that Poseidon, a stalwart of Troy, sends in retribution at its destruction.

Odysseus is cast adrift by his own guilt - and wanders forth on a circuitous journey that will only slowly return him to home after great trials.

All of which is deeply re-imagined in Lindsay Clarke's 'The Return from Troy', the companion volume to 'The War at Troy' Once again using the conceit of the story as related by Odysseus' bard, freeing him from the parameters of Homer, he can wage further and with poetic license and a modernising eye.

For Clarke, Odysseus' journey becomes a process of interior discovery and healing, aided, rather than hindered, by practitioners of the religion of the Goddess - the earlier religion that was, in fact, historically being replaced by the newer minted, arriviste Olympian gods/goddesses. Thus does Circe and Calypso (and the journey to Hades) fall into a pattern of encounter with this older, deeper pattern of being rather than simply be occasion for female enchantment and entrapment. There is a deeper reality to the feminine that Odysseus must taste if he is to be redeemed. It is as if Odysseus were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and must go on an archetypal journey of transformation before he can return to Penelope, Telemachus and a life of renewed, deepened domesticity.

It is skilfully woven - sufficiently mythical to resonate with its abiding context from Homer, significantly modern to allow a deeper identification. It is a class balancing act from an author that imagines that the gods live but not precisely after the manner that the original story tellers imagined.

Behind each and every particular individual journey is the abiding question of war.

The Iliad has been called the first great 'anti-war' poem. Simone Weil in her penetrating essay on it calls it a 'poem of might' that unsparingly explores the impact of the practice of power on the soul's disfigurement - both of the victim and the victor and how often are they rapidly juxtaposed?

Clarke's contribution - apart from simply laying bear in gifted prose the war's abiding costliness - is to notice that the seed of the conflict is sown when Eris, the sister of Ares, is not invited to Peleus and Thetis' wedding. All the gods are present except her. Eris is discord, friction: why would you want her at your wedding? Yet it is she who brings the 'gift' of the apple - bearing the legend for the fairest - that sets Hera, Athena and Aphrodite at odds and sets up the 'solution' that is the judgement of Paris (and the rest is history). But, as Blake noted, in opposition is true friendship. There can be no ultimate harmony that is not a continuous balancing and in that balancing the shadow of strife must always be allowed its place and say for to repress is to invite its return greatly amplified in horrors that may be un-navigable.

Odysseus begins to learn through the ordeal and gift of his journey home that there can be no true healing that does not embrace this shadow and that does not learn to bear the reality of division where it truly exists in each and every human heart rather than betwixt me and an other. The guile you need is not simply in directing the outward arrangement of men (and women) but in the inward arrangements of your own self-knowledge.


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