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by John Helmer, Moscow 

In a country which is collaborating in genocide, an ancient story of God-ordained slaughter, heroic soldiers, and pitiless blood lust is bound to be required reading in schools and universities, quoted by politicians, even churchmen, and celebrated as one of the greatest epics ever told.

Robin Lane Fox, an ancient Greek historian at Oxford University and the horticulture columnist for the Financial Times, has just published his 400-page proclamation that Homer’s Iliad is just so. This is a stunning defiance of the world around Fox which no gardener worth his salt would dare to claim about his garden.

Now that the English, Americans and others (including the Greeks) are about to commence their  third year of attempting to annihilate Russia on the battlefield, supplying the weapons, troop training, special forces, money, and propaganda; and the same alliance is assisting Israel in its attempt to do the same thing to the Palestinians, it’s time to ask how Homer’s Iliad  is to be interpreted  – and then  if correctly understood, whether it is uncivilized, brutish and immoral to think like Fox urges his readers to do.

From the Greek siege of Troy and their total destruction of the city and the Trojans, there is not so far to travel to Gaza – in geography and morality.

Fox titles the book, Homer and His Iliad,  but he means the Iliad as Fox has reconstructed it himself from every source, including the archaeology record back to the 13th century BC, and the most recent computer-driven analysis of the text and of comparable epic recitation texts from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to Serbia and Bosnia.  “None of these poems was of a quality to compete with Homer’s”, Fox insists. How Fox comes to that “quality” is revealed in his own text, and has nothing to do with Homer.

Left: the book was published on November 1, 2023Right: Robin Lane Fox.

The comprehensiveness of Fox’s research is missing one professional discipline – that’s military science. Why exactly the Trojan war was fought in the first place between the Greeks and Trojans — why the Trojans had built their fortification facing westward towards the sea, defending a hinterland, and why the Greeks sailed in from the west, not to capture the strongpoint but to destroy it — is missing from Fox’s reconstruction entirely. This frees him to judge Homer’s version of the casus belli to have been the elopement of Helen from the Greek Prince Menelaus’s bed to Paris’s bed inside the Trojan battlements; the argument over bedding slave girls Chryseis and Briseis between Menelaus’s brother, King Agamemnon, and Achilles, the Greek’s army’s dominant soldier; and the preference for fighting to bedding on the part of Hector, the Trojan army’s commander, towards his wife Andromache. In other words, the war of the poem is between men who are sex-mad and homicidal, supervised by the gods on Mount Olympus, who are much the same pathologically – sex-mad and homicidal – and who are ruled by their king, Zeus. It’s his divine word that is the final one which decides who lives, who dies on the battlefield, whose corpse is left to be eaten by the wildlife, or mutilated  and desecrated; what will happen to the Trojans after the poem ends, etc.

Fox’s evidence proves there was an historical Troy; in fact, at least nine of them, one settlement layer built on top of another from about the 1700s BC to about the 1200s BC, but no convincing evidence in any layer of the kind of destruction wreaked by the Greeks on Troy after Homer’s story is completed by other poets.

Fox also concludes it was the westward expansion of the Hittite empire to Troy that was worth fighting for, just as the Hittites also fought southward against the Pharaonic Egyptians. Fox thinks the Hittite empire had already collapsed by the time the Greeks landed to fight the historical Trojan war. The reason in military evidence that they did so when they did is a combination of military assets and technologies the Hittites had developed which the Greeks wanted and aimed to take by force – iron and steel smelting for weapons, and horses for battlefield mobility. The strategic calculation of the Greeks was that once they had both, no useful purpose was to be served (only risk) in preserving Troy or the Trojans, so they were wiped out.

The ancient Greeks were slow learners, at least at their practice of genocide.  Thucydides told the story of the siege of Melos and the killing of the Melians after their surrender in the Peloponnesian War about 300 years after Homer’s tale, but that liquidation served the Greeks little more than a decade. No Homer, no Fox to celebrate the lesson of that affair: that the politics of the slaughter of everybody is a short-term business, and these days it’s accelerating, as the US is learning in the Ukraine, Israel in Gaza.  Read that story here.  

Source: https://johnhelmer.net/the-politics-of-the-slaughter-of-everybody/ 

The reason in military evidence for the siting of the Greek naval landing on the Troad (now Biga) peninsula, the Greek siege camp, and the Trojan positions on a hill is that without the means to demolish the walls and fortifications, the Greek attackers had to entice the Trojan defenders out of their walls and to fight on the river plain in between the camp and the city. Homer doesn’t provide the motivation for the Trojans to do that except to mobilize the gods in their situation room on a high point to the south, as well as in the clouds above, to dictate the operational plan.       

Left: the Hittite empire from about 1700 BC to 1200 BC; click on source to expand to the original. Right: map of likely route of the Greeks to reach Troy. To enlarge, click on source.

“The notion that Homer drew on accurate memories of a Greek siege of Troy is…highly implausible,” Fox concludes early in the book. “Some 400-600 years had passed since any level at Wilusa [Hittite name for Troy] which might have been destroyed in a siege. For most or all of this intervening period, Greeks had been illiterate, except on Cyprus, and had no ability to read anything which might have been written…Homer’s version…is manifestly fiction.”

Fiction about war is as old as warfighting itself. Older than Homer. But his example is repeated century after century to brain-washable, if no longer illiterate audiences. The Anglo-American versions of the wars of the past two or three centuries have appeared to be more successful fictions than those in German or French, but that’s because the latter have mostly lost their wars, while the Anglo-Americans have contrived a way to make their defeats appear to be victories. This is an epic achievement but not of “a quality to compete with Homer’s”.

This is not a case which Fox readily argues. Instead, Homer is depicted as dramatizing, heroizing and poetizing a set of warmaking values and practices which he told his Greek audiences had been ordered by the gods, by Zeus no less. Homer’s Greek successors – reciters as well as writers and readers – elaborated on the fiction to keep up the values. The Romans, especially the poet Virgil, then romanized the story to suit their empire’s origins and wars. This is a process which continues to this day. Fox doesn’t realize the role he is playing.

Nor is he modern enough to consider the null hypothesis of his research – that Homer’s poem was no fiction, it was warmaking propaganda to rally his audience. It represents killing, displacement, enslavement, destruction as a national duty, ordered by the nation’s god whose favour the nation enjoys in exclusivity — or so it says in its epic poetry, er propaganda.

The method of interpretation Fox applies to the Homer text is tendentiousness taken to an extreme. Fox assumes what must be proved by citing as his evidence sources whom he endorses with adjectives of approval. The result is something Fox, who has written original and lucid books on ancient Greek navigation and Homer’s Odyssey, the origins of modern medicine in Hippocrates, and the life of Alexander the Great, has not displayed before. This is adjectivorrhea.

Clinically speaking,  logorrhea (from the ancient Greek meaning “word flow”) means using streams of words which in the rapidity and repetition have lost their meaning and become incoherent to a listener, if not to the reciter. It is treated these days as a symptom of brain injury aphasia, catatonia, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.

But adjectivorrhea is different. Applying streams of adjectives to nouns is an influencing technique. It is widespread among some peoples. In the case of Australian writers it indicates a combination of cultural cringe, financial desperation, and low self-esteem. In French literature it was much the same until Gustave Flaubert came along to try to stop it. In Fox’s case, the purpose is to prove about Homer’s Iliad what cannot be proved without Fox’s highly selective, partisan sourcing.

Every source Fox cites comes with an adjective pinned to his chest like the Queen’s Medal for policemen. In the fifth paragraph of the preface as the book opens, an influencer called Jasper Griffin is reported to have given Fox “transformative lectures”. He was followed at New College, Oxford, by four names identified as “fine teachers of Homer” with “expert grasp”. The adjective is italicized to identify its function in Fox’s mind and script. The reader of this piece is invited to delete the adjective in order to see what meaning remains.

Four hundred pages of the syndrome follows. An 1830s source for the geography of Homer’s Troy mapped on to Ottoman Turkey, Anthony Kinglake, is adjectivized as an Old Etonian. There are several of these in the book, endorsed for no better reason than Fox himself says he approves going to school there as a boy, as he did himself. Alexander Pope’s 1716 translation of the Iliad is “stately”, with “awesome grandeur” which “the ancient critic Longinus [1st c Century AD] well appreciated.” Sir Ronald Syme is “the great Roman historian”. Gilbert Murray is “the impassioned Hellenist” who “argued with wonderful force.” A London banker named George Grote makes an appearance as “a fine Greek historian.” Wilhelm Radloff, a St Petersburger who did fieldwork among Central Asian poem reciters, produced a “great book”. He was followed by an ethnographer and folklorist, “the gifted Arnold van Gennep”. He was succeeded in Paris by Antoine Meillet, “a fine linguistic scholar”. Then `”the expert Homeric scholar Richard Janko;  “the eminent Greek historian in Oxford, Theodore Wade-Gery”; Patrick Shaw Stewart,  “a supreme classical scholar pre-eminent at school [Eton] and university [Balliol College, Oxford]”; Hans van Wees, who counted 170 as the number of battlefield combats Homer described, and found just 6 which involved more than a single blow, was an “expert scholar”; Daniel Prior is cited for his “fine prose translation”; in 1959 there was “the great Homeric critic Wolfgang Schadewaldt”; a reader of 1936, Edward Forster, was “scholarly”; Hermann Frankel was “a careful reader”; Simone Weil gave an “emphathetic reading”; Alice Oswald wrote “an admired poem pay[ing] tribute to the pathos of deaths in the Iliad; A.D. Nuttall was “the great Shakespearian critic”; C.S. Lewis is cited for his “masterly Preface to Paradise Lost” who “devoted fine pages to the Iliad”; and close to Fox’s ending, “Nick Lowe has well remarked”.

The clinical adjectivorrhea becomes maniacal when Fox applies the superlative form to what he wants readers to believe about Homer and his poem; that’s to say, adjectivizing to the extreme upper limit of a quality. Without a computer to count through a digital version of the text, it’s impossible to give a precise calculation for this super-adjectivorrhea. Here’s a sampling, including repetitions and adverborrhea: “marvellous beginning”; “brilliantly, he linked them”; “awesome grandeur”; “marvellous episode”; “beautiful verses”; “the finest such run in poetry”; “remarkable day in all poetry”; “the utmost skill”; “consummate, eloquent brevity”; “fine conclusion”; “superb book 6”; “four fine similes”; “the magnificent speech of Hector”; “a complex, brilliantly flexible metre”; “wonderful verses”; “brilliant twist”; “artful direction”; “supreme art of saying much by saying little”; “exceptional élan and its marvellous combination”; “exceptional pathos”; “immediate authority”; “exquisite use of words and phrases”; “profound power”; “supreme episodes”; “marvellous pathos”; “cardinal insights”; “brilliant change of tone”; “superb scenes”; “supreme wonders”; “amazing run”; “highest control”; “superb scene”; “brilliantly compares”; “supreme for vivid detail”; “marvellously rich”; “transcendental power”; “magnificent speeches”; “matchless sequence of action”; “it [performance of the poem] is perfect”; “cleverly catches”; “striking presentation”; “fine simile”; “this scene is brilliantly placed”; “unusually self-aware”; “profoundly moving change”; “exquisite beauty”; “singular art”; “exquisite courtesy”; “superb touch”; “brilliantly presented”; “beautifully imagined”; “superb speech”; “exceptional poignancy”; “magnificent speech”; “consummate skill”; “supreme pathos”;  “superb comparison”; “brilliant simile”; “superbly observed simile”; “beautifully observed”; “brilliant exploiter of contrasts”; “fine triple simile”; “marvellous scene”; “wonderfully alive”; “final superb scene”; “marvellous vividness”; “profound concision”; “outstanding pity”; “supremely poignant meeting”; “brilliant use of contrast”; etc., etc.

What is left when the adjectivorrhea is removed and the clinical symptoms disinfected?

Was there a war – yes, but long before Homer composed the Iliad. Was there a single poet named Homer – yes, but some bits of the poem were added to the currently accepted text by others – “I have argued,” Fox summarized, “for a Homer who could neither read nor write, who had practised oral poetic composition since his earliest boyhood and then, c750-740 BC, performed versions of one long Iliad, culminating in the one which he dictated for his family’s future use, whose text, I believe, is the foundation of ours.”

In his analysis of that, it’s not Homer’s Iliad but Fox’s which is on display. This has three passions, or fetishes to use the language of the modern psychopathology clinic – killing, riding horses, desiring women.

The battlefield killing in the poem, according to Fox, extends over more than a thousand verses, identifying by name 54 of the KIAs.  “The majority”, again in Fox’s interpretation, are despatched technically, methodically. “Not a word conveys their pathos and nothing is made of the victims’ death…This part of the Iliad occupied about two hours of the poem’s performance…They are far more concerned with…the passage of weapons into the body than with any tragedy of life and death”.  This is killing without warmaking purpose or intelligence, out of anger and lust. In short, in contemporary terms, the stuff of action comics and video games. “They do not relate to big questions of life and death at all”, Fox acknowledges. But he doesn’t admit that Homer’s poem has nothing to do with those big questions either.  

Homer’s horses are understood— by Fox too, he explains — as an upper-class, polo-playing, riding to hunt, and Ascot-racing type of vocation. In a symptomatic identification of himself with the ancient poet, Fox describes Homer on Chestnut, Achilles’s warhorse: “the words resonate with anyone who has had horses as close companions”. Fox adds: “I like to believe even more that at some point in his life he [[Homer] drove a racing team himself”. What is there to like about believing such a thing, the clinician might ask of such a patient.

Then there is the sex obsession which, like spears penetrating bodies and mounting fast horses, was the ultimate ancient audience pleaser,  for it’s the poet reciter’s rationale for telling his story and the reason he gives for the war itself. Teaser is the more accurate clinical term than pleaser,  because in Fox’s reconstruction of the text, the objects of sexual desire in the story are either the two slave girls, Chryseis and Briseis who are loved for nothing more than  opening their legs, never their mouths;  or Helen, Hecuba and Andromache, the three women with speaking parts.  As for their beauty, Fox notices, Homer “does not give it specific adjectives”. For a serial adjective abuser like Fox, this should be telling but it isn’t. “Helen”, Fox reports, “is long-robed, long-haired, and, no doubt [sic], white-armed, the arms being the one part of a woman’s body which showed from her dress… He never refers to her breasts, though they were so beautiful, later poets said.”  

Helen in the bedroom and elsewhere is depicted as doing a lot of talking, She is “the first inconsistent lady in poetry”, Fox claims ruefully. For reinforcement of this conclusion, he cites, not Eton, but another English public school, Rugby, for the “exquisite pathos” of Helen’s last words, “the most touching thing in Homer, perhaps in all profane poetry.”

This is the female object without regard for the face, breasts, or other particulars – objects of desire for an audience of men and boys whose minds were fixed on their spears and stallions.

In the Old Etonian almanac, this mental focus appears to be unchanged. In this almanac, according to Fox, Homer’s poem is “about anger and loss and about battle seen from two sides, chilling, hateful and fought with brutal physical detail, but also capable of inspiring bloodlust and offering glory to men.” The brutality is the stuff of Boy’s Own papers; in current comic books even Captain Marvel has War Machine as his love interest.

“Offering glory to men,” left to right: Captain Marvel, War Machine, Paris, Helen.

Is this what Fox is doing in his retelling of the Iliad? Is this the manly virtue Fox is celebrating today for his Anglo-American audience as they cheer and pay for their two genocides under way in parallel – in the Ukraine and in Gaza?

Fox explains that his book’s origin is a man Fox thanks at the beginning for proposing a book “on how Homer’s poems came about”. Fox names him as Anthony Cheetham. He is a well-known publisher and he may be the moneybag underwriting Fox’s time and effort in this work. He’s also an Eton old boy. Money for the celebration of wanton killing – is this the level to which the Anglo-Americans — Eton,  Oxford,  and the Financial Times — are rising or sinking nowadays?

About the epics of recent genocides, two things can be said in answer. The first is that when the Germans did it to the Jews, they had their Achilles-type hero warriors, but Adolf Hitler didn’t invoke the Christian god to justify what he and the rest did. When the Turks did it to the Armenians, they too didn’t invoke their Islamic god, and they have tried to conceal the evidence of the orders from the military command to do what was done. At the moment, the war in the Ukraine is to those who support it a war against the godless Russians, but Christianity isn’t being promoted as the moral justification. In Gaza, however, the Israelis are distinguishing themselves in history for declaring genocide of the Palestinians is their god’s commandment.

This is putting the Jewish religion between  something of a rock and a hard place, out of which the biblical heroes of the Israelite tribes and Hebrew kingdoms cannot sing their way out —  at least not with the superb and supreme brilliance of a quality to compete with Homer.

This is also the second thing that can be said about genocide and Homer.

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