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Life Arts    H4'ed 11/7/15

Conservative Journalist Tod Lindberg's New Book (REVIEW ESSAY)

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The invocation of "the will of Zeus" involves, in effect, what monotheists refer to as the will of God and so-called divine providence that somehow moves men and women toward its end.

But the famous opening words announce and advertise that the theme of the poem is rage -- "the rage of Peleus' son Achilles."

Lindberg correctly notes that the poem involves Achilles' rage at Agamemnon for dishonoring him publicly and Achilles' even stronger rage at Hector and the Trojans for the death of Achilles' Myrmidon comrade-in-arms Patroclus. But Achilles' rage over Patroclus' death appears to be even stronger than Achilles' rage over Agamemnon's dishonoring him publicly.

No doubt Achilles had a strong attachment to his sense of honor.

No doubt Achilles also had a strong attachment to Patroclus.

When we experience the loss of a strong attachment, we understandably undergo the process of mourning our loss, and the process of mourning a significant loss involves rage, as Susan Anderson points out in her self-help book THE JOURNEY FROM ABANDONMENT TO HEALING (2000). By definition, significant losses involve abandonment feelings. However, she repeatedly indicates that the mourning process involved in mourning non-death losses (such as Achilles' experience of being dishonored publicly by Agamemnon) is not exactly the same as the far more profound mourning process involved in mourning the death of a significant person in one's life (such as Achilles' mourning Patroclus' death). But both mourning a significant non-death loss and mourning the death of a significant person in one's life include rage.

Later in his book, Lindberg turns his attention to "the survival of the modern world itself and the egalitarian ethos that underpins it" (page 198). He says, "We [in the civilized modern world] may be done with the slaying hero [such as Achilles]. But the slaying hero may not be done with us" (page 198).

Lindberg says, "The modern world is, in short, very good at weeding out and breeding out those of a classically heroic bent [such as Achilles] who might seek to impose the old slaying ways in service to the personal sense of self [as Achilles does]" (page 198).

Then Lindberg articulates one possible problem that comes close to Knox's point: "What if an old-school slaying hero [such as Achilles] decides to conquer the world, that is, our [modern] world -- to conquer and subjugate us?" (page 199; Lindberg's emphasis).

Of course this is just typical conservative fear-mongering.

Thus far, the United States is the only nation in the world that has dropped atomic bombs on another country. Therefore, to this day, all the other countries in the world should fear the United States.

In conclusion, if Lindberg had quoted Knox early on in his book, Lindberg probably would have written a somewhat different book -- or perhaps no book at all.

For a well-informed discussion of Aristotle's thought about heroic greatness, see Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins' "Interpretive Essay" in their book ARISTOTLE'S NICOMACHEAN ETHICS (University of Chicago Press, 2011, pages 237-302).

For an instructive discussion of shifting concepts of greatness in Western culture, see Maurice B. McNamee's book HONOR AND THE EPIC HERO: A STUDY OF THE SHIFTING CONCEPT OF MAGNANIMITY IN PHILOSOPHY AND EPIC POETRY (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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