Homer

“Ἕκτορ μή μοι ἄλαστε συνημοσύνας ἀγόρευε:
ὡς οὐκ ἔστι λέουσι καὶ ἀνδράσιν ὅρκια πιστά,
οὐδὲ λύκοι τε καὶ ἄρνες ὁμόφρονα θυμὸν ἔχουσιν,
ἀλλὰ κακὰ φρονέουσι διαμπερὲς ἀλλήλοισιν,
ὣς οὐκ ἔστ᾽ ἐμὲ καὶ σὲ φιλήμεναι, οὐδέ τι νῶϊν
ὅρκια ἔσσονται, πρίν γ᾽ ἢ ἕτερόν γε πεσόντα…” Iliad 22:261-6

(Incessant Hector, hold off declaiming on covenants to me./There are no trusting oaths between lions and men,/nor do wolves and lambs have like-feeling hearts,/but thoroughly do they bear each other evils./Thus twixt I and thee is no regard, nor ‘tween us two/ will there be oaths, before one or other is fallen.)

Such was the wrath of Achilles.  If pressed for answer I would give, as the two defining aesthetic pillars of Western civilization, the Bible and Homer.  Perhaps the Bible is (and has been) more widely read but Homer’s influence preceded the spread of Christianity by several centuries and underlies its greatest literary monuments.  It is easy and somewhat intoxicating to praise Homer; consider Matthew Arnold’s  insurmountable estimation:  “…he is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and, finally, that he is eminently noble;” (On Translating Homer I:8).  While not an entirely unjust valuation, the wise reader would do well to counterbalance such effusions with the prophetic perspective of Simone Weil: “The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force.  Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away.” (from The Iliad or the Poem of Force).  So, which is it then?  Is Homer the magisterial foundation of all measured writing in the West or a glorification of man’s basest impulse?  It is both, which presents no obstacle to the rounded Mormon, who understands that all creation is a combination of finer and coarser materials, of higher and lower inclinations.  In terms of drawing out edification please recall the 91st section of the Doctrine and Covenants wherein is recounted the composite–true/untrue–nature of that set of extra-canonical books called the Apocrypha.  We are not turned away, as if the presence of a portion of untruth in a written work (or human being) is just cause for the flight of the righteous.  On the contrary, to successfully draw out spiritual and intellectual (the same?) nourishment from such a work bespeaks one’s enlightenment (D&C 91:5).  In this spirit I return to the above quotation from the Iliad.

Achilles was right: there could be no covenants between the likes of lambs and wolves, no covenant twixt man and lions, ’til one should fall.  But One has fallen, and by His death a covenant is giv’n by which a little child shall lead a young lion and the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb (Isa. 11:6, 2Ne21:6).  Furthermore, this community will be established in the context of a millennium of peace.  The force observed by Simone Weil will diminish for, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain” (Isa. 11:9; 2Ne21:9).

I rejoice, even glory, in Mormonism, because it calls me to seek after (and receive) all truth, by whatever means it finds its way to this world and my view.

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