Temporary Like Achilles #2
(for Leon Golden)
Inspired by Achilles’ own words
Iliad 1.149–171, 1.365–392, 9.308–429
'Rage,' Homer sings. 'Sing the rage of Achilles.' Twenty-three raids, twenty-three sieges of cities, all taken, feeding soldiers and the pride-lust of commanders. A true shepherd of the forces. Unique in speed afoot, strategic brilliance, endurance and making men endure and save themselves from themselves. Noble, caring even of spear captives. Briseis loved him. Phoenix and Patroclus, too. Good sound moral character. Knowing in the ways of war and what war does to hearts and souls. Respectful of the gods. Attuned to justice. Nine long years. And in the tenth He took her. Agamemnon did. And with her his honor. And all those men, high-ranked and low, whom he had kept from death nurtured, protected, guided, led out and back, rescued from plague, spears and arrows and their own weaknesses, fatigue, blindness, stupidity, despair, they let her be taken. She was his medal of honor, his war prize, Briseis. 'Rage' the poet asks the goddess to sing. Not the rage of the hand that grasped, but did not draw the sword. The rage that spoke and walked away.
This poem deals with what finally broke Achilles and what is lost in the focus of the Iliad on one aspect of his anger for having been publicly dishonored by Agamemnon, who took from Achilles the spear-captive Briseis.
Looking at the Iliad with too narrow a focus, all of Achilles’ stellar acts as a field commander fall away. His good moral character gets lost. But it is there in his care for his men. It is seen in his consideration in raising the issue of Agamemnon’s sacrilege against the priest of Apollo by doing so in a formal assembly and having a prophet speak to the background. It explains his restraint in not drawing his sword and slaying Agamemnon when he could have. In point of fact, no one “stood behind him when the game got rough.” Not one voice was heard in support of the truths Achilles was proclaiming judiciously in the assembly. Yet Homer tells us that all the soldiers knew what the source of the plague was –– Agamemnon’s dishonoring of the priest of Apollo — and what harm is caused.
Achilles withdraws from savage fighting that had long surpassed in duration and losses the tipping point that led Siegfried Sassoon to issue his “Non serviam” in World War I. He withdrew not just because Agamemnon insulted him and threatened to strip him of his war-captive Briseis, but because no one among the soldiers whom he had long protected and supported through his courage and leadership or among the other leaders who led troops from their regions to Troy stepped forward to back him up.
Leon Golden was, during his active scholarly career, a superb interpreter of the epic hero and of works of war, ancient and modern.
Kerouacts 1-6 with Prologues
March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969
—“I just can’t stand it; I like to be by myself.”
—“Stella, I’m Bleeding” October 20, 1969
Jack Kerouac, hodophiliac, hamaxomaniac, Catholic, Buddhist, anti-communist, made random stops on the road. Jack Kerouac, podophiliac, loved to feel his two feet as they beat wayward paths along life’s street. Jack Kerouac, logophiliac, long-distance writer-sprinter, fed ten feet of teleprinter and twelve times ten of tracing paper round the platen. Jack Kerouac, aniconophiliac, no one’s beatnik priest, “decadent and drunk, didn’t give a shit,” for any thoughts of where out on the highway. Jack Kerouac, dipsomaniac, took to the bottle, opened up the throttle, as his route curved down his throat. Jack Kerouac, God’s own good soul, took the road with no road back until the desolation angel put down her foot when the bleeding would not stop.