Saturday, January 07, 2006

Myth vs. Reality

Watched "Troy" last night, courtesey of Ewan's present of two months of movies. Great - all that leaping and balletic heroism. But it made me think about Achilles and my previous image of this particular hero. I never read The Iliad in Greek - not *that* well-educated - but I *did* study parts of Virgil's Aeneid in Latin, including Book 2: "Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem ...". From that, I had this idea of Achilles as almost super-human. Hector too, come to that, but with more pathos. Let's just say that Achilles cast a long shadow, and all the more so for being a fairly shadowy hero. Now, Brad Pitt's Achilles was all young man - muscles, brooding looks, sex appeal - and not at all shadowy. And to me, he was the less for our being shown him in his very human humanity.

And today is the feast of the Epiphany. The shadowy Magi enter the frame, leave their gifts and go home by another route. I know their symbolism - their story told by Matthew the Jewish writer to show how the Christ came for the Gentiles, just as the Gentile Luke told of the (Jewish) poor shepherds to represent the Jewish people. Symbols, and all the better for being mysterious. I don't want to know details - or even if there was any chance that they actually existed. This doesn't matter - because of the intrinsic truth of the symbolism.

Somehow, to me, these two examples are linked. What am I trying to say? Do we reduce everything nowadays to the ordinary and the comprehensible? Do we seek to make everything we touch familiar, ordinary, human? Do we refuse to have mysteries any longer?

I'll stick with a bit of mystery. Happy Epiphany!


  1. Anonymous10:15 PM

    You probably know that the Iliad is commonly referred to, as poems often are, by its opening words. Homer's first line is: "The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus' son Achilles." The Greek word translated "wrath" is "mĂȘnis", meaning, wrath, anger, malice, vengefulness. In this instance I would call it sulks or pique. He and Agamemnon had fallen out over a pretty captive slave girl whom Achilles wanted but Agamemnon insisted on having. In the second line Homer adds an adjective meaning destructive, baneful, deadly or accursed.

    I haven't seen the film, but maybe that will put things in perspective for you. At least it will tell you what Homer thought of Achilles and his huff. He reminds me of Ahab when Naboth refused to give him his garden.


  2. That's more or less how the film shows it - so my remembered impressions were probably based on not reading accurately!
    But don't we tend to divest mythic figures of contemporary qualities? Even though humans can't really have changed all that greatly?

  3. Anonymous11:26 PM

    The Superhuman is Superordinary