The War at Troy

Lindsay Clarke's 'The War at Troy' starts with a simple conceit. This account is one given by Odysseus to a friend (and bard) at Ithaca, complete with the bard's sympathetic additions and amplifications. Thus, it can avoid being simply a prose version of Homer's poem.

What it achieves is a remarkably confident panorama of the trails leading up to the war that honors the reality of the Gods, the drive of 'fate' and yet inserts sufficient psychological realism and backdrop to connect you, the modern reader, with the unfolding realities. They, the Greeks and Trojans, were different, their world view explicitly saturated in myth, a world enchanted; and, yet, they are like you because, however, differently perceived, many of their drivers are ours. We have tended to hide our myths, not a overly helpful practice, as the repressed, as Freud noted, always returns, often in more painful guises.

Meanwhile, we too fall in love with an alluring fantasy that drives you to particular acts that if not anchored in other (and subsequent) patterns of wisdom (honoring other gods) can only too easily come to grief. We wake, with the fantasy stripped away, and have not allowed ourselves to find, and to work at, a maturer pattern of love. We too embark on a righteous cause only to discover the costliness of achieving it slowly drains it of the very righteousness with which we began. We too allow our personal vanity, and hurt, to hold us back from coming to our neighbors' aid.  We live in a world where power disposes - and women and children, so often, are disposed.

Simone Weil calls the Iliad in her remarkable, "Intimations of Christianity among the Ancient Greeks", a poem of force and such it is both in the sense that it is saturated in both implicit and explicit violence - and because it gives an intense sense of a world operating under restraint - of convention, of honor, of omen or conspiracy, of the expectations of the gods. It is as fresh and as fascinating account of those realities that could be imagined, utterly contemporary.

Yet it is positively claustrophobic - except glimmeringly in the life by whom this particular telling is related namely Odysseus (aided by Penelope his wife). His self-reflection, cunning and, yes, wisdom, come as a welcome counterpoint enabling you to imagine another way, a road less traveled, that might elude the binding of the gods.

Ironically perhaps I found myself as I read being relieved that I were a Christian (or a Buddhist). This archetypal dimension of the world - of the imaginal or psyche - is profoundly rich, and navigated aright, enriching, but thank God (or Nirvana), it is not the end word (or world), that there is the possibility of a transcending point from which all may be well.

For the gods feel like the principalities and the powers, as described by St Paul, that though created good yet remain in crying need of redemption! No wonder, however powerful, in Buddhism, they are confined to one of the six wheels of samsara!


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