There be dragons!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Troy redux

It occurred to me that we are living in Troy again. Not that we have the high walls or the Scaean gates, or that we are located on the plain of Ilium, rather that the situation in which we currently find ourselves with respect to the terrorist enemy is much like the Trojans facing the Achaeans. How much Homer understood. The ancients held that the true character of a man was known only in defeat. This doctrine of heroism in the face of immanent annihilation was best expressed by the Anglo-Saxons in their great works of poetry “Beowulf” and “Maldon.” But I’m convinced that Homer saw it too and incorporated into the theme of his work. Hector, besieged by barbarous and murderous men who seek only the ruination of his city, fights to protect all that he holds dear; wife, son, civilization itself. All around him he sees his army composed of cowards and mercenaries. And his defeat is assured when Achilles, the young savage now bent on revenge, enters again into the fray. We fight an enemy whose cultural memory extends far into the past. Hilaire Belloc notes this in his great work on Muhammadanism in the larger context of “Great Heresies.” Islam, he notes, has suffered a decline for almost 400 years. Technically behind the West they have retained their tribal sense and historical memory of injuries done them many years ago. Belloc points to one date in particular, that of 1683. The Muslim empire had swept through the north of Africa, up through Spain and over the Pyrenees into France. Corsairs from the Barbary coast had established forts on the south of Ireland. Ottomans in the East had surged around the fortress of Constantinople and up to the very walls of Vienna. Though the Spanish kings drove out the Moors after 200 years of Reconquista (in 1492, no less; freeing up the cash which Isabella could give to Columbus so he could “do something”), the East was under constant threat. Islam’s stated goal was to wipe out the infidel and conquer all of Christendom; enslaving the children, killing the men, making concubines of the women. In 1683, the Viennese were facing a three month siege which they knew they could not break. No help was in sight and the end seemed imminent. But the king of Poland (God bless him) raised an army, marched south, and drove the Muslims away from Vienna. Not soon after the Muslim Empire suffered a long and humiliating decline. Thus the memory of that battle burns in the imagination like a firebrand. The date? September 11, 1683. Belloc suggests that Islam will undoubtedly rise again. The barbarism, cruelty, and unremitting violence of the Achaeans will not soon leave our shores of Ilium. The nuke will detonate, the EMP will send us back to a colonial era culture, the murders and assassinations will increase. What then? Are we to be Paris and immerse ourselves in oblivious self-indulgence? Are we to be like Agamemnon and become merciless ourselves? Are we to be Achilles and seek only glory for our own name? Or are we to emulate Hector, who, knowing that he will die, seeks to fight to the last drop of his blood to protect civilization, his beloved wife, and the dear little Astyanax who eagerly awaits his daddy’s return home?

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what WILL be. Every time I try to look, all I see is the cities burning, for hundreds and hundreds of miles. But I distrust the future. Here in the PRESENT, I know people who fight against the enemy. Not just the Islamic foe, for the enemy is much more widespread than that. Actually, I don't think of it in the image of Troy anymore, but rather in the image of Ragnarok. There, too, did Thor and Odin stand bravely against the tide of the Jotuns and the Muspelheim, knowing that they were doomed to die. Out of that effort, two survived, one man and one woman. And her name was "Life" and his name was "The Will to Live."

    I'll take up my spear next to Odin. I hope others will join me, for after all, I am just a teacher.