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War and the Iliad PDF, ePub eBook War and the Iliad is a perfect introduction to the range of Homer’s art as well as a provocative and rewarding demonstration of the links between literature, philosophy, and questions of life and death. Simone Weil’s The Iliad, or the Poem of Force is one of her most celebrated works—an inspired analysis of Homer’s epic that presents a nightmare vision of combat as a machin War and the Iliad is a perfect introduction to the range of Homer’s art as well as a provocative and rewarding demonstration of the links between literature, philosophy, and questions of life and death. Simone Weil’s The Iliad, or the Poem of Force is one of her most celebrated works—an inspired analysis of Homer’s epic that presents a nightmare vision of combat as a machine in which all humanity is lost. First published on the eve of war in 1939, the essay has often been read as a pacifist manifesto. Rachel Bespaloff was a French contemporary of Weil’s whose work similarly explored the complex relations between literature, religion, and philosophy. She composed her own distinctive discussion of the Iliad in the midst of World War II—calling it “her method of facing the war”—and, as Christopher Benfey argues in his introduction, the essay was very probably written in response to Weil. Bespaloff’s account of the Iliad brings out Homer’s novelistic approach to character and the existential drama of his characters’ choices; it is marked, too, by a tragic awareness of how the Iliad speaks to times and places where there is no hope apart from war. This edition brings together these two influential essays for the first time, accompanied by Benfey’s scholarly introduction and an afterword by the great Austrian novelist Hermann Broch.

30 review for War and the Iliad

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    An inexhaustible little collection, in which three heavyweights, all war refugees – Simone Weil, Rachel Bespaloff, and Hermann Broch – seek the meaning of their own “dark times” in the verses of Homer. For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as a historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is An inexhaustible little collection, in which three heavyweights, all war refugees – Simone Weil, Rachel Bespaloff, and Hermann Broch – seek the meaning of their own “dark times” in the verses of Homer. For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as a historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and loveliest of mirrors.* The three essays are coincident or directly responsive: Bespaloff knew of Weil’s, and Broch’s begins as an appreciation of Bespaloff’s. (The introduction also notes that Weil and Bespaloff rested in the same Swiss clinic, at different times, and that both were powerfully affected by an exhibition of Goya’s “Horrors of War” in Geneva in 1939.) If you have a taste for such mingling of intensities – and why would you not? – NYRB Classics also reprinted a collection of the letters Rilke, Tsvetaeva, and Pasternak exchanged in the summer of 1926. Weil’s “essay” is barely prose; it’s an infinitely resonant philosophic poem – smithed and honed – to be read in a single rapt sitting, or not at all – on the spiritual deformations of war and slavery. It is not the planning man, the man of strategy, the man acting on the resolution taken, who wins or loses battle; battles are fought and decided by men deprived of these faculties, men who have undergone a transformation, who have dropped either to the level of inert matter, which is pure passivity, or to the level of blind force, which is pure momentum. After the pointed perfection of Weil’s “The Iliad, or The Poem of Force,” Bespaloff’s “On the Iliad” at first felt meandering, merely literary criticism; but then she meanders through the ethical systems of the West, considering Homer alongside the Old Testament prophets, Plato, and War and Peace: Homer and Tolstoy have in common a virile love of war and a virile horror of it… When Homer and Tolstoy want to illuminate the fatality inherent in force – the inevitable glide of the creative will into the automatism of violence, of conquest into terror, of courage into cruelty – they do not fall into invective and moral indignation. An image suffices them, a contrast that remains forever present in our memories. At last there is Hermann Broch’s “The Style of the Mythical Age.” Broch intimidates me, certainly more than the other Central European philosophical fabulists – Kafka, Gombrowicz – I intend to tackle in the coming year, and who seem clever clowns next to Broch’s agon, what Hannah Arendt in Men in Dark Times called his “wearisome and unwearied search for an absolute,” a search whose synthetic seriousness made him scorn the “merely literary,” rue “the fate of being a poet in spite of oneself,” and demand that contemporary literature “pass through all the hells of l’art pour l’art” before it could aspire to the truly “ethical.” I don’t think I’m terminally belletristic, incorrigibly arrested in the hells of l’art pour l’art, or trivially enamored of bien ecrit, but Bespaloff’s and Broch’s philosophical vocabulary and effortless abstraction daunt me. ---- * The vast testimonial eloquence of the American Civil War is summed up in the Homeric remark of Union veteran and Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. : "But I do think that at present man is a predatory animal. I think that the sacredness of human life is a purely municipal ideal of no validity outside the jurisdiction. I believe that force…is the ultima ratio, and between two groups that want to make inconsistent kinds of world I see no remedy except force. I may add what I no doubt have said often enough, that it seems to me that every society rests on the death of men."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    -I : introduction I found this collection on the shelves of the library, technically I don't think it should have been there at all - it seemed to belong to the collection of another library, when I attempted to borrow it using one of the self-service machines (which are not librarian shaped), the machine rebuffed me and directed me to one of it's human co-workers, the non- robotic woman - despite (apparently) lacking the capacious spring loaded book holding shelf of her electronic counter part -I : introduction I found this collection on the shelves of the library, technically I don't think it should have been there at all - it seemed to belong to the collection of another library, when I attempted to borrow it using one of the self-service machines (which are not librarian shaped), the machine rebuffed me and directed me to one of it's human co-workers, the non- robotic woman - despite (apparently) lacking the capacious spring loaded book holding shelf of her electronic counter part or inbuilt light pen, was able to explain that some varlet had already reserved the book and that person had the right (and hopefully the legal duty) to read it before me, however in the lawful exercise of her librarian functionality she then reserved it for me, I wasn't so certain that I wanted to read it that much, but occasionally even I can recognise the hammer blows of FATE, some god or goddess, hostile or even friendly thrusts a volume upon you that in the unending war of classics versus moderns one is doomed to read... 0: general bit I assume (view spoiler)[ a bad habit, as it makes an ass out of u and me (view spoiler)[ sorry, an old joke - even if not Homerically old (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] that if I was to tell you that there was a collection of essays written during the second World War about the Iliad, that you'd form a certain impression of what those essays would be about, however I'm moderately certain that what one imagines - unless you already know of the authors would not give you a good idea of what these essays actually contain - they don't point to the reality of living through a war and reading a poem about war at the same time. The key feature instead that all three writers were of Jewish heritage, Broch converted to Catholicism, Weil's family had been Catholic, Bespaloff by contract had moved geographically rather than spiritually from Ukraine to France. There is a sense of them as singular figures from the margins looking for a centre and for the universal and general, my feeling is that these essays are not great or particularly helpful insights into the Iliad, rather the Iliad is an introduction to the philosophies and intellectual struggles of these writers. For Weil -her singular saintly self-destructive Catholicism (view spoiler)[ not that many people starve themselves to death as a matter of intellectual conviction (hide spoiler)] who finds in the relentless violence of the Iliad - pacifism, Bespaloff finds a unity of spirit between the ancient Hebrews and their nearish neighbours, the ancient Greeks, while Brock finds in the Iliad an escape from Max Weber's steel cage of the disenchanted existence of modernity. Perhaps that just goes to show that a really creative misreading of a book is a perfect mirror for the essayists well established pre-occupations and hobby-horses. I : War & the Iliad Simone Weil Surprisingly short, such a little essay. The introduction points to Weil's creative misreading of the Iliad, which the editor holds owed more to Goya's the Horrors of war series than to any edition of Homer. That emphasises the feeling that to read this essay is not to be brought into dialogue with Homer but with with Simone Weil's spirituality. A Catholicism which seems particularly curious asserting a link of genius between the Iliad and the Gospels (view spoiler)[ it is true that both feature central characters with one divine and one mortal parent (hide spoiler)] , throwing out with distinct vigour the Odyssey, the Aeneid and the Old Testament. One wonders quite what see liked about the Iliad. For her the absolute clarity of the Iliad as a poem about force and violence, leads in her view inescapably to pacifism and equality between people. This, I feel, is an amazing reading, the Iliad seems to assume a connoisseurship of single combat from it's readers, an appreciation of the use of broad bladed spear and of the sharp edged sword. I don't think she was entirely crazy in her reading in that the balance in the Iliad is near perfect, there is heroism everywhere, and as she points out it has a relentless clarity about violence, he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword (or spear as appropriate). II : on the Iliad Rachel Bespaloff This was a much wider ranging essay, according to the introduction Bespaloff had read the Iliad and had started writing some notes when she was shown Weil's essay and indeed Bespaloff picks up on her idea of 'force' though she specifically says that the Iliad is more than only a poem of force - contradicting Weil's dark vision, but rather like Weil she finds inspiration in it and draws links- in very vague terms - between the Hebrew Bible and ancient Greek writings, I felt here that there was a certain feeling of inferiority on her part and an assertion of cultural equality and worth between the Greek heritage - generally acknowledged to be great and world significance and Jewish tradition - and Bespaloff was writing during WWII after a period in which Judaism had been coming under criticism from various quarters. She linked the Iliad to Anna Karenina and Moscow to Troy, reading I remember this made some kind of sense but twenty or so hours after reading it seems an entirely crazy parallel that makes little sense - in this scheme Tolstoy is a new Homer, both in her view transcending mere literature and creating some kind of new cultural paradigm and new cultural values. Perhaps you find the notion inspiring, or merely puzzling, I find it burdened with heavy assumptions about Homer - a creature about whom we know nothing. In passing I noticed that for her the Occident was masculine and the Orient feminine, and although she was, I believe, a woman herself, she doesn't seem to intend this in a complimentary way. Maybe an example of how conventional and non-thoughtful our use of language can be. That war is always a conflict over Helen seemed a pregnant thought considering how often the nation is portrayed in female form - though one observes the homo-erotic tendency demonstrated by John Bull and Uncle Sam in that case. III : The Style of the Mythical Age Hermann Brock Brock's tiny twenty page piece is in direct response to Bespaloff. I liked it best of the three, although it too was joyfully insane in it's own way. I forget already if Brock cites Gramsci direct or simply channels his spirit (knowingly or otherwise) The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear, but that is the central point I feel of what Brock says, for him cultural paradigms are closed systems which at a certain point beyond maturity collapse and die. Homer is both for him the late product of a mature civilisation but also holds the potential to be the basis myth for a new cultural paradigm, the Force of Bespaloff's, which was Weil's way of talking about violence, I think suggests for Brock all the abstract forces in the modern world, a modern Hector or Ajax for him fights not fate but the power of gender roles or social hierarchy or structural inequalities, it suggests the nobility and dignity in fighting even in the face of death and acceptance that if one day you are the killer, the next you too will be killed. Victor becomes victim, it's all in the game. Perhaps on the other hand I feel personally that quite enough people already wake up every morning like Achilles - ' I am angry, I must kill - Mum, get me armour' - perhaps this shows that Brock was prescient.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Simone Weil's essay was brilliant, and I feel sorry for those poor authors who had their work put after it. Only partly a work of classical scholarship and more of a prose-poem on the dehumanizing use of force in war. It's powerful, tortured, a means for Weil to grapple with the events unfolding around her in France 1940.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

    "Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians, hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood in division of conflict Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus." Three vastly different essayistic approaches to The Iliad are united in this collect "Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians, hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood in division of conflict Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus." Three vastly different essayistic approaches to The Iliad are united in this collection. Through Homer’s epic poem, its authors – Weil, Bespaloff and Broch - try and make sense of the disconcerting threat of militaristic Nazism they perceived in Continental Europe, which they all eventually left behind for the United States. There they would remain, never to return to native soil. Weil, in solidarity with her people in occupied France, went on a hunger strike, thus exacerbating her tuberculosis, from which she died in 1943. Six years later Bespaloff, sporadically suffering from fits of clinical depression, suffocated herself by sealing her kitchen doors with towels and turning on the gas. Broch met his end in considerably more peaceful circumstances in 1951. While Weil and Bespaloff never met each other, and had no knowledge of the fact each was writing on The Iliad, both their essays were written roughly at the same time, if not published simultaneously. It is clearly established Weil’s appeared at the eve of war in 1939, and Bespaloff’s just a few years later in the midst of the occupation, yet there is still some doubt of whether Bespaloff had read Weil’s attempt – often considered a pacifist manifesto - and modified her own text, turning it into a subtly stated call to resistance. Broch on the other hand used Bespaloff’s essay as a springboard for expounding his own theory of the “mythical style”. More prose poem than essay, Weil’s The Iliad, or the Poem of Force concisely sets up the theme of her sweeping piece in the first couple of lines: "The true hero, the true subject, the centre of the Iliad, is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man's flesh shrinks away. In this work at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relation to force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to." This theme indeed is woven through the entire fabric, and is eloquently portrayed as a near unavoidable corrupter of the human spirit, if wielded callously and with little understanding: “Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it.” Consider this for its warning to those who momentarily hold yet abuse their power: “But at the time their own destruction seems impossible to them. For they do not see that the force in their possession is only a limited quantity; nor do they see their relations with other human beings as a kind of balance between unequal amounts of force. Since other people do not impose on their movements that halt, that interval of hesitation, wherein lies all our consideration for our brothers in humanity, they conclude that destiny has given complete licence to them, and none at all to their inferiors. And at this point they exceed the measure of the force that is actually at their disposal. Inevitably they exceed it, since they are not aware that it is limited. And now we see them committed irretrievably to chance; suddenly things cease to obey them. Sometimes chance is kind to them, sometimes cruel. But in any case there they are, exposed, open to misfortune; gone is the armor of power that formerly protected their naked souls; nothing, no shield, stands between them and tears. This retribution, which has a geometrical rigor, which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force, was the main subject of Greek thought. It is the soul of the epic.” And there can be few better passages in existence that explain what makes The Iliad still so poignant, so exceedingly relevant to us than this: “The wantonness of the conqueror that knows no respect for any creature or thing that is at its mercy or is imagined to be so, the despair of the soldier that drives him on to destruction, the obliteration of the slave or the conquered man, the wholesale slaughter – all these elements combine in the Iliad to make a picture of uniform horror, of which force is the sole hero. A monotonous desolation would result were it not for those few luminous moments, scattered here and there throughout the poem, those brief, celestial moments in which man possesses his soul. The soul that awakes then, to live for an instant only and be lost almost at once in force’s vast kingdom, awakes pure and whole; it contains no ambiguities, nothing complicated or turbid; It has no room for anything but courage and love. Sometimes it is in the course of inner deliberations that a man finds his soul: he meets it, like Hector before Troy, as he tries to face destiny on his own terms, without the help of gods or men.” Andromache Mourning Hector, Jacques-Louis David (1783) The splendour and importance of Simone Weil’s essay cannot be overstated. Quite indispensable, while also serving as a commandment, as an impetus to seek out more of her work by me. As Weil’s punch to the gut is a rather tough act to follow, Rachel Bespaloff’s perhaps more traditionally academic On the Iliad doesn’t quite reach the same heights. However, her dedicated analyses of principal actors and interpersonal dynamics are invariably interesting, and did add some more texture to my understanding of the poem. The one on Helen in particular was highly illuminating. Furthermore, she draws some interesting comparisons between Homer, the Bible, Plato and Tolstoy, though I’d need to read more of those to decide whether I agree with her points or not. This passage rung especially true to me: “Nietzsche is wrong when he says that Homer is the poet of apotheoses. What he exalts and sanctifies is not the triumph of victorious force but man’s energy in misfortune, the dead warrior’s beauty, the glory of the sacrificed hero, the song of the poet in times to come – whatever defies fatality and rises superior to it, even in defeat.” With Hermann Broch’s The Style of the Mythical Age, a decidedly more dense, philosophical angle is adopted, as one enters into the realm of abstraction, which I doubt The Iliad is the right vehicle for. Employing an overly analytical mindset when coming to grips with it would detract from its visceral nature. Perhaps it makes more sense to someone with actual academic knowledge of modernist criticism, but I didn’t quite connect with it. With some more theory under my belt, I might one day decide to return to it though. If The Iliad touches you on a deep human level, this collection will surely further enrich that experience. My re-read is scheduled for the very near future already. If only every essay on a book could achieve such a feat.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I don’t own a copy of this book, and so I was able to read only Simone Weil’s essay (available online as a PDF), not Rachel Bespaloff’s. Weil’s essay, however, is beautiful and thought-provoking, as well as something I probably shouldn’t attempt to comment on at 7 in the morning, not having slept much. For now, all that comes to mind is a quote from Goebbels: ‘even if we lose we shall win, for our ideals will have penetrated the hearts of our enemies.’ The listing is a bit confusing- or it was to I don’t own a copy of this book, and so I was able to read only Simone Weil’s essay (available online as a PDF), not Rachel Bespaloff’s. Weil’s essay, however, is beautiful and thought-provoking, as well as something I probably shouldn’t attempt to comment on at 7 in the morning, not having slept much. For now, all that comes to mind is a quote from Goebbels: ‘even if we lose we shall win, for our ideals will have penetrated the hearts of our enemies.’ The listing is a bit confusing- or it was to me, anyway. The title of Weil's essay is not War and the Iliad but rather The Iliad, or the Poem of Force: http://biblio3.url.edu.gt/SinParedes/...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    Simone Weil’s essay in this collection is brief and impassioned. She argues that force turns people into objects in various ways; most obviously by killing, but also through the threat of force apparent in relations of domination. Weil does not argue that this destroys the “soul”, but that the soul must be in agony when forced to “live inside” an object. To me this seems quite descriptive, preventing the argument from falling totally into abstraction (“[the slave’s] situation keeps tears on tap Simone Weil’s essay in this collection is brief and impassioned. She argues that force turns people into objects in various ways; most obviously by killing, but also through the threat of force apparent in relations of domination. Weil does not argue that this destroys the “soul”, but that the soul must be in agony when forced to “live inside” an object. To me this seems quite descriptive, preventing the argument from falling totally into abstraction (“[the slave’s] situation keeps tears on tap for him”). The arbiter of force is also its object, intoxicated by the illusion of invulnerability. In The Iliad, she points out, everyone is at some point forced to “bow his neck to force”. The power of the classic lies, I think she is saying, in making us “feel with sharp regret what it is that violence has killed and will kill again”. Weil admires in the Greeks the “spiritual force” that allows them to avoid self-deception, and mourns that this spirit was not transmitted to the Romans or to Christianity. She concludes:… nothing the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem that appeared among them. Perhaps they will yet rediscover the epic genius, when they learn that there is no refuge from fate, learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate. How soon this will happen is another questionSimone’s lucid blaze of rage is partly echoed by the calmer, longer, wider ranging essay of Rachel Bespaloff, but possibly I prefer the former, which represents a radical view, a refusal of violence, whose purity I want to hold onto. Bespaloff is perhaps more practical; for example in naming Hector the “resistance hero” she suggests that violence might be needed to defend “the perishable joys” that Weil also finds under threat in The Iliad. She is also less insistent on the dehumanising power of violence, I think, when she points out that the gods preserve Hector’s body – if he is a “thing”, then he is a thing divine or at least adored. Both writers are impressed by the lack of partiality in The Iliad, the absence of race-ism or nationalism (of course, in a way it is aboutnationalism, but the author position is free from it – everyone is equal and equally human in Homer), and Bespaloff elaborates this in her interpretation: All [people] live in affliction: there is no basis for true equality. This seems to me an accurate reflection of The Iliad’s world, but not necessarily a helpful position. While Weil’s essay sometimes inspired me, Bespaloff’s was only interesting, probably because I couldn’t always follow the links she was making between such broad topics. I agree with her statement that “the ethical experience lives only in the acts that embody it” and argument that poetry is important because it offers a way to reprise that experience, but I lose the trail somewhere in the comparisons between classical fatalism and the Bible, Homer and Tolstoy. Trying to hold on to Being and Becoming in such texts is still a struggle for me; I hope I will become more proficient. At the end of the edition is an essay called ‘The Style of the Mythical Age: on Rachel Bespaloff’ by Hermann Broch, but it is hardly about Rachel Bespaloff at all as far as I can tell, apart from some off-handed head-patting, but about the genius of certain white, male artists in their old age. It defines a “style of old age” which is characterised by a loss of vocabulary and reliance on syntax, whatever that means. Broch is clearly really keen on this style, and sees Homer as a great exemplar of it. You may enjoy skipping…

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lark Benobi

    This soaring and glorious meditation on the Iliad made me feel I’d learned something that only Simone Weil could teach me. In a way though it made me sad to read this essay, because I realized once again how few women write like this, absolutely sure of their superior intellect and expertise, and with absolute authority, and without a hint of apology for taking command of their thesis and telling the reader what’s what. No throat clearing clauses like “I’m not sure but” or “It’s possible that…”. This soaring and glorious meditation on the Iliad made me feel I’d learned something that only Simone Weil could teach me. In a way though it made me sad to read this essay, because I realized once again how few women write like this, absolutely sure of their superior intellect and expertise, and with absolute authority, and without a hint of apology for taking command of their thesis and telling the reader what’s what. No throat clearing clauses like “I’m not sure but” or “It’s possible that…”. Just a rush of knowledge written without doubt or equivocation. Susan Sontag wrote this way. So did Gertrude Stein. Camille Paglia writes this way. In her case I disagree with most of what she writes but I still love what I would call her …a word comes to mind…see, here is the problem, the word that comes to mind is “I love her ballsy-ness.” My language for the act of writing with unapologetic authority is corrupted by a learned cultural sense that to write this way is inherently male. That's bad.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    Mary McCarthy's translation of Weil's "Iliad, or the Poem of Force" I first read in a house McCarthy had visited, as had Elizabeth Bishop; it was the house of their Vassar '33 classmate, and my departmental colleague Rhoda Sheehan on River Road, Westport Harbor. I noted that even the quotations of the Iliad (trans. from French) are the best I'd read. McCarthy enlightened with her expert French, as did Rhoda with her German major (she had seen Hitler in his car as she walked in Berlin after curfe Mary McCarthy's translation of Weil's "Iliad, or the Poem of Force" I first read in a house McCarthy had visited, as had Elizabeth Bishop; it was the house of their Vassar '33 classmate, and my departmental colleague Rhoda Sheehan on River Road, Westport Harbor. I noted that even the quotations of the Iliad (trans. from French) are the best I'd read. McCarthy enlightened with her expert French, as did Rhoda with her German major (she had seen Hitler in his car as she walked in Berlin after curfew). For forty years I depended on Weil's provocation here when I taught Homer with my small Latin (well, maybe 12oz.) and less Greek. (I also depended on the distinguished fellow AmColl graduate, and fellow student of T Baird, R Fagles.) The Odyssey is a breeze in a classroom; just aloudread either Fagles or the narrative genius of R Fitzgerald. The Iliad, I never got, because I never served as did my cousin martyred in Viet Nam, or my room-mate hero, surgeon at Da Nang; nor did I grow in neighborhoods where gangs, competing for death and beauty of graffiti, ruled. Weil wrote just after the fall of France; she directs toward acute anti-dreamers, "who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, [with] the Iliad the purest and loveliest mirror." She writes with a novelist's insight about behavior in the presence of those who have power of life and death, "In their presence, people move about as if they were not there." "He that takes the sword, will perish by the sword. The Iliad formulated the principle long before the Gospels did, and in almost the same terms: 'Ares is just, and kills those who kill.'" My Andrew Marvell put this principle best in his Horatian Ode on Cromwell's Return: "Those same Arts that did gain/ A Pow'r must it maintain." Weill finds mostly no time in battle for reflection, and: "Where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence." The main subject of Greek thought is "This retribution, which has a geometrical rigor, which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force…" It is the soul of the epic, Aeschylus's Nemesis, etc. The Iliad battles, a continual see-saw which the personae do not recognize, overpress advantage, etc: "The auditors of the Iliad knew that the death of Hector would be but a brief joy to Achilles, the death of Achilles but a brief joy to the Trojans, and the destruction of Troy but a brief joy to the Achaeans." This picture of uniform horror would result in"Monotonous desolation were it not for those few luminous moments, scattered here and there throughout the poem, those brief, celestial moments in which man possesses his soul" moments of love, or hospitality, etc. Buddhists seem to have the Greek idea of virtue and limit, but the Occident "no longer even has a word to express it in any of its languages: concepts of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life are, in the West, restricted to a servile function in the vocabulary of technics." Someone I know, a rarity, values "balance." [My/Rhoda's '75 edition: Pendle Hill: Wallingford, PA, 1956]

  9. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Just prior to World War II and in the early years of the war, as the world tipped into chaos, two remarkable writers, Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, wrote independently and brilliantly about the Iliad. Their insights were similar and yet looked at the poem from completely different angles. Simone Weil was concerned with force and the Iliad as a story of war. The hero is force, she says, the ways in which men oppress other men. The Iliad is about power but the truth is no one in the poem really Just prior to World War II and in the early years of the war, as the world tipped into chaos, two remarkable writers, Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, wrote independently and brilliantly about the Iliad. Their insights were similar and yet looked at the poem from completely different angles. Simone Weil was concerned with force and the Iliad as a story of war. The hero is force, she says, the ways in which men oppress other men. The Iliad is about power but the truth is no one in the poem really possesses it because every character, mortal or god, and therefore everyone in history, has to submit to it. Everyone is victim. Force creates things, and things are corpses. He who uses force does so in only a limited quantity which is exhausted and then the seesaw, Weil's great analogy, will totter the other way into victimhood. What was vitality, success, and a time of boast becomes a time of facing the death contained in all of us. In this way war, force, victory, loss, slavery, and victimhood can be seen as the same thing. The conquering soldier and hero is a slave because he's possessed by his need for war. The force he exerts reduces him to a thing, and that is the end result of war. Human suffering is seen as present in both conditions and is the way, Weil writes, how Greek tragedy morphed into the Gospels. The great segue was Greek tragedy to the Roman gladiators and eventually to the Hebrews, who saw it as sin. All this Weil sees as at odds with the poet. Rachel Bespaloff's concern is with the difference between poetry and history. The poet is the creator of heroes greater than gods and more human than men. She has some things to say about force, too, describing it as divine in that it arises from a contempt for death and a willingness to sacrifice oneself. She transmits her ideas through the actions of the Iliad's characters--Hector, Thetis, Achilles, Helen, and Priam. The heart of her essay, though, compares Homer (poetry) with Tolstoy (history) and therefore Helen with Anna, Troy with Moscow. Both Homer and Tolstoy loved war. War represents all the epics of nature and all cosmic upheaval. Just as it does Patroclus and Hector, war places Prince Andrey between heaven and time, actors and managers of the drama locked together so that glory is created for the Greek and faith for the Christian, both true. By becoming nothing they become as holy as Troy and Moscow. In the final essay the Great German novelist Hermann Broch, commenting on Bespaloff's essay sums it up as Homer being at the point where myth is refined into poetry, Tolstoy at the point where poetry moves back into myth. This is sketchy, doesn't begin to address the web of ideas Weil, Bespaloff, and Broch have spun. I doubt it's possible in one or two readings to grasp every nuance of their rich examinations of the Iliad, let alone do justice to them in the space allotted here. But if you love the Iliad as I do, and if you love intelligent writing encompassing history, myth, philosophy, literature, and religion, then this will be essential reading. For me it was a reread, but I know I have more reading to do here and know I'll never reach the bottom of it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Neal Adolph

    Can I do that thing where I give this book three stars but now tell you that I would much rather give it 3.5? I suspect my judgement will settle down towards a more comfortable 3 as times passes, though. In this short collection of three essays, two of which mostly focus on The Iliad and one of which attempts to explain one of the essays, there are about two great essays. One is spectacular - Simone Weil's is wonderful, and adds substantially to my appreciation and understanding of the great epi Can I do that thing where I give this book three stars but now tell you that I would much rather give it 3.5? I suspect my judgement will settle down towards a more comfortable 3 as times passes, though. In this short collection of three essays, two of which mostly focus on The Iliad and one of which attempts to explain one of the essays, there are about two great essays. One is spectacular - Simone Weil's is wonderful, and adds substantially to my appreciation and understanding of the great epic. Indeed, it makes me anxious to read it again (this time, surely, I'll read it in a new translation though). Her ideas about Force, about war, and the constant intrigue of human self-destruction are worth the price of this book. This is a five-star document. An essay whose form is exciting, whose writing is incisive and clear, whose argument and topic is utterly convincing. One is merely passably good - Rachel Bespaloff's work. It also adds substantially to my appreciation and understanding of the great epic, The Iliad. But it does so with a great deal more effort, and with a great deal more confusion - and it will require a second, more careful reading if I can find the patience for it. Broken up into smaller examinations of characters and narrative technique, this essay brings some of the humanity into Homer's work. And it also talks about Tolstoy, too (which makes me want to read that man's work all the more). These are the good aspects of the essay. Her understanding of Hector is wonderful - a pleasant, complimentary foil to Weil's. But the essay ends with a section that, oddly, somehow, and in a very poor manner, discusses the role of the poet in society, and the prophet too, and relates the two to a discussion of how Homer's work and The Bible are similar and dissimilar. This last section comes across as mostly nonsensical, mostly unsure of itself, mostly incapable of speaking with an ounce of clarity. Perhaps her mentor should have told her that depending on "it" instead of defining "it" is one of the great sins in writing an essay. Perhaps, though, her mentor was far more intelligent than I. The third essay - by Hermann Broch - is good, without being great. And it is at its best when it is discussing the role of art in society, and the ways in which art changes and, as a result, changes society. This is lovely, actually, if somewhat romantic. It is exciting, though, to see an explanation for the innovation which has been essential to art - the effort to explain art and mythology in new languages and new methods. Perhaps a little excessively romantic, a bit too general of an argument, but still a pleasant one. As an effort, though, it fails to explain the Bespaloff - particularly the last section. I'm glad that the NYRB printed these essays, and that they printed them together. Two of them added to my love of a great poem, and one of them made me wonder about art as a reflection and factor in society. Nothing to complain about in there.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This book consists of two essays: Simone Weill's "The Iliad, or the Poem of Force" and Rachel Bespaloff's "On the Iliad," together with a shorter essay by the Austrian novelist Hermann Broch entitled "The Style of the Mythical Age: On Rachel Bespaloff." While I found the Broch essay misfiring at times, the Weil and Bespaloff essays -- written around the same time -- complement each other beautifully. In Homer's The Iliad, Weil sees an image of the violence that Europe was falling into before and This book consists of two essays: Simone Weill's "The Iliad, or the Poem of Force" and Rachel Bespaloff's "On the Iliad," together with a shorter essay by the Austrian novelist Hermann Broch entitled "The Style of the Mythical Age: On Rachel Bespaloff." While I found the Broch essay misfiring at times, the Weil and Bespaloff essays -- written around the same time -- complement each other beautifully. In Homer's The Iliad, Weil sees an image of the violence that Europe was falling into before and during World War II. She is not above twisting the words of the epic to prove her point, but her point is a valid one. War creates its own reality: "Thus war effaces all conceptions of purpose or goal, including even its own 'war aims.' It effaces the very notion of war's being brought to an end." Less of a philosopher and more a great literary critic, Bespaloff examines selected characters and scenes from the epic, and brings her own thoughts to bear on the relationship between Homer's world of Fatum or Fate, and the world view of Christianity. I find her argument convincing that "Homer's characters are infinitely more complex than we suspect if we let the concentration and voluntary abbreviation of the classical style lead us astray."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    Liked this one. Love books that give you angles on things and this one gave a few interesting, well more than a few interesting angles on the Iliad which I haven’t read but seen films and documentaries about. The freaky / really interesting thing about the book was that it comprises 2 essays that were written at about the same time with approximately the same message just around the start of WW2 by 2 super intellectual female writers; but neither of them knew that the other one was writing the s Liked this one. Love books that give you angles on things and this one gave a few interesting, well more than a few interesting angles on the Iliad which I haven’t read but seen films and documentaries about. The freaky / really interesting thing about the book was that it comprises 2 essays that were written at about the same time with approximately the same message just around the start of WW2 by 2 super intellectual female writers; but neither of them knew that the other one was writing the same type of essay. It was as though history was being hacked to pieces by Hitler and his muppet crew and these 2 ladies gave voice, simultaneously, to what was clearly in the air around the chthonic madness that was taking place in Europe then! Even more interestingly was the fact that they both drew parallels from Achilles’ attack on Troy. They both likened Achilles to Hitler in that they both had a thirst for the destiny they saw themselves to be a part of! At times a bit too intellectual for me but here were some of my best bits straight from the book: • The critic Kenneth Burke once suggested that literary works could serve as “equipment for living” by revealing familiar narrative patterns that would make sense of new and chaotic situations. • It need not be stressed again that owing to its loss of religious centrality, the present world, at least of the West has entered a state of complete disintegration of values, a state in which each single value is in conflict with every other one, trying to dominate them all. The apocalyptic events of the last decades are nothing but the unavoidable outcome of such dissolution • And how can it be said that we brought culture to the Arabs when it was they who preserved the traditions of Greece for us through the middle ages? • It is not the planning man, the man of strategy, the man acting on the resolution taken, who wins or loses a battle. Battles are fought and decided by men deprived of these faculties, men who have undergone a transformation, who have dropped either to the level of inert matter, which is pure passivity or to the level of blind force, which is pure momentum. • Thus violence obliterates anybody who feels its touch • Perhaps they will yet rediscover the epic genius when they learn that there is no refuge from fate, learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate. How soon this will happen is another question. • The sport of war, the joys of pillage, the luxury of rage, when it swells in a human breast, sweeter than honey on a human tongue, the glitter of empty triumphs and mad enterprise – all these things are Achilles. Without Achilles men would have peace, without Achilles they would sleep on, frozen with boredom, till the planet itself grew cold. • The Japanese painter Hokusai reaching the peak of his mastery at about ninety had only this to say: “now at last I begin to learn how one draws a line”. • For the myth is the first emanation of the logos in the human mind, in the human language, and never could he human mind or its language have conceived the Logos had not the conception been already formed in the myth. Myth is the archetype of every phenomenal cognition of which the human mind is capable.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    By bringing together Weil's impassioned exploration of violence and Bespaloff's celebration of the domestic heroism of the Hospitality code, Christopher Benfey creates one of the most satisfying and beautiful works of criticism I've ever read. Both of these essays are a joy to read; Though Weil's essay may not be convincing criticism, it is a powerful example of the way in which a critic's personal experience and cultural location influence the way we read a text. This book offers me a model of By bringing together Weil's impassioned exploration of violence and Bespaloff's celebration of the domestic heroism of the Hospitality code, Christopher Benfey creates one of the most satisfying and beautiful works of criticism I've ever read. Both of these essays are a joy to read; Though Weil's essay may not be convincing criticism, it is a powerful example of the way in which a critic's personal experience and cultural location influence the way we read a text. This book offers me a model of faithful, Christian criticism, if only we can find what Bespaloff calls "a certain way of telling the truth, proclaiming the just, of seeking God and honoring man, that was first taught us and is taught us afresh every day by the Bible and by Homer."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Perhaps all men, by the very act of being born, are destined to suffer violence; yet this is a truth to which circumstance shuts men's eyes. The strong are, as a matter of fact, never absolutely strong, nor are the weak absolutely weak, but neither is aware of this. They have in common a refusal to believe that they both belong to the same species: the weak see no relation between themselves and the strong, and vice versa. The man who is the possessor of force seems to walk through a non-resista Perhaps all men, by the very act of being born, are destined to suffer violence; yet this is a truth to which circumstance shuts men's eyes. The strong are, as a matter of fact, never absolutely strong, nor are the weak absolutely weak, but neither is aware of this. They have in common a refusal to believe that they both belong to the same species: the weak see no relation between themselves and the strong, and vice versa. The man who is the possessor of force seems to walk through a non-resistant element; in the human substance that surrounds him nothing has the power to impose, between the impulse and the act, the tiny interval that is reflection. Where there is no room for reflection, there is none either for justice or prudence. Hence we see men in arms behaving harshly and madly. We see their sword bury itself in the breast of a disarmed enemy who is in the very act of pleading at their knees. We see them triumph over a dying man by describing to him the outrages his corpse will endure. We see Achilles cut the throats of twelve Trojan boys on the funeral pyre of Patroclus as naturally as we cut flowers for a grave. These men, wielding power, have no suspicion of the fact that the consequences of their deeds will at length come home to them -- they too will bow the neck in their turn. If you can make an old man fall silent, tremble, obey, with a single word of your own, why would it occur to you that the curses of this old man, who is after all a priest, will have their own importance in the gods' eyes? Why should you refrain from taking Achilles' girl away from him if you know that neither he nor she can do anything but obey you? Achilles rejoices over the sight of the Greeks fleeing in misery and confusion. What could possibly suggest to him that this rout, which will last exactly as long as he wants it to and end when his mood indicates it, that this very rout will be the cause of his friend's death, and, for that matter, of his own? Thus it happens that those who have force on loan from fate count on it too much and are destroyed.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Two essays: Simone Weil's "The Ilaid, or the Poem of Force," and Rachel Bespaloff's "On the Iliad." (There's also a small third essay that's a discussion of the Bespaloff piece.) The Weil essay is a hard-edged consideration of the psychological and emotional effects of war, not just on warriors, but on everyone it touches. It argues that the Iliad, unlike any work of Western literature since, truly lays bare the brutal consequence of exposure to indiscriminate, violent death. This essay has a pla Two essays: Simone Weil's "The Ilaid, or the Poem of Force," and Rachel Bespaloff's "On the Iliad." (There's also a small third essay that's a discussion of the Bespaloff piece.) The Weil essay is a hard-edged consideration of the psychological and emotional effects of war, not just on warriors, but on everyone it touches. It argues that the Iliad, unlike any work of Western literature since, truly lays bare the brutal consequence of exposure to indiscriminate, violent death. This essay has a place in any discussion of PTSD, "resilience," and war-related mental health, but it goes beyond those issues in its broader consideration of humanity (or, more accurately, its absence) in war. It seems obvious that it was heavily colored by the author's personal experience of the horrors of modern industrial war in the Spanish Civil War and the first months of WW2. A fair familiarity with the Iliad will enable the reader to engage with the particulars of the argument more effectively. I may just not be smart enough for the Bespaloff essay, because 90% of it seemed like bloviating self-consciously artistic gobbledygook to me. Four stars for Weil and 1.5 for Bespaloff.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David

    Weil's essay is utterly brilliant, and it also caused me to appreciate the Iliad much more so than I did as a child. Bespaloff's essay is good, but it really can't compare to Weil's strong philosophical take on mankind and force. I thought about buttering up this review with more flowery language, but there is no need. It's simply brilliant. I wish Weil's work was not so difficult to get a hold of (financially speaking).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Fairweather

    An incredible collection of essays on the Iliad. Written in 1939, Simone Weil's approach to The Iliad is more a powerful statement ruminating on the circularity of force—violence begets violence—rather than a sharp analysis of The Iliad. Force is ruthless in that it leaves neither the victim nor its victor unmolested. The humanity of both players is destroyed as they are transformed into pure passivity, inert matter, as blind force as its way. Weil's essay is Europe's last cry for help, appealin An incredible collection of essays on the Iliad. Written in 1939, Simone Weil's approach to The Iliad is more a powerful statement ruminating on the circularity of force—violence begets violence—rather than a sharp analysis of The Iliad. Force is ruthless in that it leaves neither the victim nor its victor unmolested. The humanity of both players is destroyed as they are transformed into pure passivity, inert matter, as blind force as its way. Weil's essay is Europe's last cry for help, appealing to the everlasting legacy that is Europe's first and greatest epic, The Iliad. Rachel Bespaloff's essay provides a much more thorough understanding of the epic, in all its contradictions of war and friendship, the mortality of the subject, and the eternity of his story. Bespaloff provides the reader with a complex Iliad, which cannot be reduced to any single idea. Breaking her essay into short chapters, she is able to touch upon the tender relationship of Achilles and his mother Thetis, the contemplative coldness of Helen, the chilling and brief cordiality between Priam and Achilles as he asks for the body of his son to be returned, and the failure of the gods themselves to challenge fate. The poem is a celebration of valor and nobility in times of extreme hardship and misfortune, that misery and toil are but preconditions to joy and justice—surely, in this way especially, is Bespaloff responding directly to Weil's essay in its, perhaps unexamined, full-on rejection of force. Bespaloff reminds us that force will always be frustrated in its quest for omnipotence. Bespaloff's essay should be regarded as an essential companion to understanding the Iliad in all its varieties of imagination. However, at this point in time there is something about the character of Simone Weil's essay which will be stewing in my mind for a very long time. I had Hannah Arendt's reflections on forgiveness in the back of my mind for almost the entire time I read Weil's essay. That forgiveness is a truly sublime, yet contingent act, which appeals to the *who* not the *what*. The Who always requires consideration of forgiveness... the What may never, perhaps. I think a rereading of *The Orestia* looms near!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Seward Park Branch Library, NYPL

    An incredible collection of essays on the Iliad. Written in 1939, Simone Weil's approach to The Iliad is more a powerful statement ruminating on the circularity of force—violence begets violence—rather than a sharp analysis of The Iliad. Force is ruthless in that it leaves neither the victim nor its victor unmolested. The humanity of both players is destroyed as they are transformed into pure passivity, inert matter, as blind force as its way. Weil's essay is Europe's last cry for help, appealin An incredible collection of essays on the Iliad. Written in 1939, Simone Weil's approach to The Iliad is more a powerful statement ruminating on the circularity of force—violence begets violence—rather than a sharp analysis of The Iliad. Force is ruthless in that it leaves neither the victim nor its victor unmolested. The humanity of both players is destroyed as they are transformed into pure passivity, inert matter, as blind force as its way. Weil's essay is Europe's last cry for help, appealing to the everlasting legacy that is Europe's first and greatest epic, The Iliad. Rachel Bespaloff's essay provides a much more thorough understanding of the epic, in all its contradictions of war and friendship, the mortality of the subject, and the eternity of his story. Bespaloff provides the reader with a complex Iliad, which cannot be reduced to any single idea. Breaking her essay into short chapters, she is able to touch upon the tender relationship of Achilles and his mother Thetis, the contemplative coldness of Helen, the chilling and brief cordiality between Priam and Achilles as he asks for the body of his son to be returned, and the failure of the gods themselves to challenge fate. The poem is a celebration of valor and nobility in times of extreme hardship and misfortune, that misery and toil are but preconditions to joy and justice—surely, in this way especially, is Bespaloff responding directly to Weil's essay in its, perhaps unexamined, full-on rejection of force. Bespaloff reminds us that force will always be frustrated in its quest for omnipotence. Bespaloff's essay should be regarded as an essential companion to understanding the Iliad in all its varieties of imagination. However, at this point in time there is something about the character of Simone Weil's essay which will be stewing in my mind for a very long time. I had Hannah Arendt's reflections on forgiveness in the back of my mind for almost the entire time I read Weil's essay. That forgiveness is a truly sublime, yet contingent act, which appeals to the *who* not the *what*. The Who always requires consideration of forgiveness... the What may never, perhaps. I think a rereading of *The Orestia* looms near!

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    Simone is one of my heroes. In this book which contains her essay "The Iliad, a Poem of Force" she points out the damage of war does to those touched by it. She tells how the poem informs her pacifism. A very powerful book

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Clewett

    I bought it for the Weil and was so disappointed that I put this down for a week. Weeks later I remain horrified at the possibility that this might have languished for years between other unread and unfinished NYRBs, because the rest, short but dense pieces by Bespaloff and a review of both authors by Bloch, are some of the best literary essays I've read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    August

    Simone Weil's slim volume is all Christopher Hedges' needed in order to write his book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Rouse

    THE ILIAD, OR THE POEM OR FORCE Simone Weil The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force by which man's flesh shrinks away. To define force - it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who per THE ILIAD, OR THE POEM OR FORCE Simone Weil The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force by which man's flesh shrinks away. To define force - it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and the loveliest of mirrors. Page 1 Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it. The human race is not divided up, in the Iliad, into conquered persons, slaves, suppliants, on the one hand, and conquerors and chiefs on he other. In this poem there is not a single man who does not at one time or another have to bow his neck to force. Page 11 We are only geometricians of matter; the Greeks were, first of all, geometricians in their apprenticeship to virtue. The progress of war in the Iliad is simply a continual game of seesaw...victory is a transitory thing. Page 16 The auditors of the Iliad knew that the death of Hector would be but a brief joy to Achilles, and the death of Achilles but a brief joy to the Trojans, and the destruction of Troy but a brief joy to the Achaeans. The violence obliterates anybody who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim. And from this springs the idea of a destiny before which executioner and victim stand equally innocent, before which conquered are brothers in the same distress. Page 19-20 But what actually is Helen to Ulysses? What indeed is Troy, full of riches that will not compensate him for Ithaca's ruin? For the Greeks, Troy and Helen are in reality mere sources of blood and tears; to master them is to master frightful memories. It the existence of an enemy has made a soul destroy in itself the thing nature put there, then the only remedy the soul can imagine is the destruction of the enemy. Page 24 Such is the nature of force. Its power of converting a man into a thing is a double one, and in its application double-edged. To the same degree, though in different fashions, those who use it and those who endure it are turned to stone. This property of force achieves its maximum effectiveness during the clash of arms, in battle, when he tide of the day has turned, and everything is rushing toward a decision. It is not the planning man, the man of strategy, the man acting on the resolution taken, who wins or loses a battle; battle are fought and decided by men derived of these faculties, men who have undergone a transformation, who have dropped either to the level of inert matter, which is pure passivity, or to the level or blind force, which is pure momentum. Herein lies the last secret of war, a secret revealed by the Iliad in its similes, which liken the warriors either to fire, flood, wind, wild beasts, or God knows what blind cause of disaster, or else to frightened animals, trees, water, sand, to anything in nature that is set into motion by the violence of external forces. Page 26 Whatever is not war, whatever destroys or threatens, the Iliad wraps in poetry; the realities of war, never. No reticence veils the step from life to death...The cold brutality of the deeds of war is left undisguised, neither victors nor vanquished are admired, scorned, or hated. Page 32 ON THE ILIAD Rachel Bespaloff HECTOR War devours differences and disparities, shows no respect for unique. Call him Achilles or Hector, the conqueror is like all conquerors, and the conquered like all the conquered. Page 46 Force reveals only in an abuse that is also self-abuse, in an excess that expands its store. It reveals itself in a kind of supreme leap, a murderous lighting stroke, in which calculation, chance, and power seem to fuse in a single element to defy man's fate. Herein lies the beauty of force, which is nowhere so well shown as in Homer-with the exception, possibly of the Bible, which glorifies it in God alone. When Homer celebrates the beauty of his warriors, he does not intend to stylize or idealize them; Achilles and Hector are beautiful because force is beautiful, and because the beauty of omnipotence, converted into the omnipotence of beauty, can make man acquiesce utterly in his own destruction, can exact from him that flat submission that delivers him over to force, prostrate in the act of worship. Page 47 With Homer, there is no marveling or blaming, and no answer is expecting. Who is good in Iliad? Who is bad? Such distinctions do not exist; there are only men suffering, warriors fighting, some winning, some losing. The passion for justice occurs only in mourning for justice, in the dumb avowal of silence. To condemn force, or absolve it, would be to condemn, or absolve life itself... Against the eternal blindness of history is set the creative lucidity of the poet fashioning for future generations heroes more godlike than the gods, and more human than men. Page 50 THETIS AND ACHILLES In the last analysis, it is not through action that Homer reveals man's profoundest nature but rather through man's ways of loving and choosing his love. For Hector, love is the forgetfulness of self. For Achilles, self is at the center of love. Page 53 HELEN Of all the figures in the poem she is the severest, the most austere. Shrouded in her long white veils, Helen walks across the Iliad like a penitent; misfortune and beauty are consummate in her and lend majesty to her step. For this royal recluse freedom does not exist; the very slave who numbers the days of oppression on some calendar of hope is freer than she. Page 57 Meanwhile, Helen stands helplessly watching the men who are going to do battle for her. She is there still, since nations that brave each other for markets, for raw materials, rich lands, and their treasures, are fighting, first and forever, for Helen. Page 63 Everything that happens has been cause by them [the gods], but they take no responsibility, whereas the spic heroes take total responsibility even for that which they have not caused. Where the free individual is not asserting himself against Fate, responsibility has nothing to grasp. Page 65 For what the Greek, in all piety, asks of his gods, is not love but goodwill - the consecration of human effort that has reached harmony through the sufferings of excess and the negations of the extreme Page 66 We remember the scene on which the Iliad ends: Priam has come to Achilles to reclaim his son's body. Prone at the feet of the victor, he assumes a majesty that does not derive from his office. By a new investiture, the king of Ilion has become the "king of suppliants." From now on, this majesty is inviolable; in the calm that bathes total disaster, it rises above injury and attains to saintliness...In insisting on his right to pity, the vanquished is not bowing down to destiny in the person of the man he is entreating. The unheard-of ordeal he inflicts on himself equal to the love that sustains him, has nothing base about it. Page 79 With Achilles, cruelty is not a technique, still less a method, but a sort of paroxysm of irritation in pursuit and counter stroke. It seems to be his only means of renewing the illusion of omnipotence which supplies him with his reason for living. The perfect conformity of his nature to his vocation of destroyer makes him the least free person there is; but it gives him in return a bodily freedom which is in itself a magnificent spectacle. One does not have to lower oneself to admire this "great proud soul" that is its own prisoner in a sovereign body. But if Priam admires Achilles, Homer does not tell us that he honors him. We do not see him in any way subjugated by the prestige of the hero, though misfortune has made him bow to him. He would certainly not set him as an example for his people or his sons. The two adversaries can exchange looks without seeing each other as targets, as objects which there is merit in destroying. Thanks to this detachment, private life, the love of the gods and of earthly beauty, the frail and obstinate will of whatever defies death to flower and bear fruit - all of those things that rage has trampled down - are reborn and breathe again. Page 81 All men live in affliction: there is no other basis for true equality. Page 82 Archetype of all human cognition, archetype of science, archetype of art - myth is consequently the archetype of philosphy too. There exists no philosophy which, in its structure and modes of thought, could not be traced back into the parent province of myth Philosophy is a constant struggle to achieve mythical stucture in a new form, a gith against the metaphysical convention and a struggle to build a new metaphysics; for metaphysics, itself bounded by myth, bounds philosophy, which without thee boundaries would have no existence at all. The myth of Jacob who fought against the angel in order to be blessed by him is the myth of philosophy itself. Page 108 When myth through enactment has come to be religion, then art (along with other aspects of existence) becomes of necessity the handmaid of the central religious values, its function being to resymbolize these values which symbolize the world. In this way art is relieved of the labor which otherwise would be required to build its universal structure. It is left free for other tasks, and the human individuality, at first immersed in myth, is now progressibely liberated to become the preoccupation of art. The muth of Christ in the art of the Middle Ages is set amidst a landscape of intimate sweetness, of maternal love, of masculine dignity, which embraces the whole scale of human feelings. Thus after the Dark Ages the rigid grandeur of the myth became increasingly domestic and human, as it was swathed in the charms of legend; for this is the principle means by which it is brought closer to the daily lives of the people. Art, by this means, fulfills its serving task of being educative and social. So in legend the closed system representing the myth reaches a climax of humanization; but it is still a closed system, and for preciesly this reason the art of such a period (the fifteenth-century Gothic, for example) renders in full the style of the epoch and in that style, though only in the style, the epoch in its entirety. Page 109-110 "The heroes of the Iliad attain their highest lucidity at a point when justice has been utterly crushed and obliterated" - Rachel Bespaloff

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alvaro de Menard

    The Weil essay is astoundingly bad. There's a lot of verbiage, but it basically comes down to two ideas: 1) the Achaeans are Nazis, and 2) Homer is a pacifist. She stops just one inch short of calling Homer a Christian. The Gospels are the last marvelous expression of the Greek genius, as the Iliad is the first: here the Greek spirit reveals itself not only in the injuction given mankind to seek above all other goods, "the kingdom and justice of our Heavenly Father," but also in the fact that hum The Weil essay is astoundingly bad. There's a lot of verbiage, but it basically comes down to two ideas: 1) the Achaeans are Nazis, and 2) Homer is a pacifist. She stops just one inch short of calling Homer a Christian. The Gospels are the last marvelous expression of the Greek genius, as the Iliad is the first: here the Greek spirit reveals itself not only in the injuction given mankind to seek above all other goods, "the kingdom and justice of our Heavenly Father," but also in the fact that human suffering is laid bare, and we see it in a being who is at once divine and human. The fact that such a badly argued, blatant misreading can achieve prominence reflects the abysmal standards of scholarship in the academy. The essay abounds in the typical moves of French frauds, including deliberate misquotation, just making stuff up, etc. If you need a demonstration that anything, no matter how idiotic, gets a pass as long as it ticks the right ideological boxes, look no further. The Bespaloff essay is solid and additionally enjoyable because she smacks down Weil. But it goes beyond that. Bespaloff has read Nietzsche (and cites him a lot), and so avoids many of the foolish pitfalls that Weil falls into. She starts by analyzing Hektor, Achilles, Helen, and the Gods. Then moves on to some more general remarks.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dylan

    *I'll start this short review with the disclaimer that I did not read the final essay by Hermann Broch, and I skipped a chapter in Bespaloff's essay entitled "Troy and Moscow. I quite enjoyed Weil's essay; I found it accessible, the was language intelligent, and the topic focused. It was short enough to where I wasn't laboring to read it, but long enough to carry an argument/statement with considerable weight. Weil's prose is beautiful, and engaging to its reader; you feel rewarded for reading it *I'll start this short review with the disclaimer that I did not read the final essay by Hermann Broch, and I skipped a chapter in Bespaloff's essay entitled "Troy and Moscow. I quite enjoyed Weil's essay; I found it accessible, the was language intelligent, and the topic focused. It was short enough to where I wasn't laboring to read it, but long enough to carry an argument/statement with considerable weight. Weil's prose is beautiful, and engaging to its reader; you feel rewarded for reading it. I did not, however, get Bespaloff's essay; I personally believe that this is because I'm frankly not smart enough to understand her, or haven't experienced the texts she had and used while writing her essay. This is why I skipped the chapter comparing Homer and Tolstoy; I haven't read Tolstoy, or Nietzsche, or many of her other sources, and I think this really lead to the confusion I felt with her writing later in the essay. I am CERTAIN my distaste with her work is my fault, not hers. I can see intelligence laced through her writing, where my admittedly developing mind could understand it. I just felt overwhelmed, and I'm not going to hide that. But I would recommend the book, just understand it may take some time to fully understand Bespaloff's intelligent essay if you're not highly educated/ are trying to have the breadth of knowledge she obviously possesses.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    3.5 I'm not gonna lie, I didn't fall in love with Simone Weil's essay like everyone else did, but I respected it as an essay. It's one I could even see myself reading again despite disagreeing with the thesis. Rachel Bespaloff's character studies are what really got me, and are the real reason I'll keep this book on my shelves. My only issue with her is that her last essay, comparing Christianity and the Iliad, felt like the odd one out. I skimmed that one at best, and at worst skipped the last f 3.5 I'm not gonna lie, I didn't fall in love with Simone Weil's essay like everyone else did, but I respected it as an essay. It's one I could even see myself reading again despite disagreeing with the thesis. Rachel Bespaloff's character studies are what really got me, and are the real reason I'll keep this book on my shelves. My only issue with her is that her last essay, comparing Christianity and the Iliad, felt like the odd one out. I skimmed that one at best, and at worst skipped the last few pages. As for Christopher Benfey's contribution? Well let's just say I wish it hadn't been included. For an essay Rachel Bespaloff and her work, it really lacked Rachel Bespaloff. Every once in a while she'd be mentioned but it didn't really seem to be related to the rest of the essay, but for the most part the whole thing seemed to wander in no one direction. Maybe there were connections between the various topics discussed but by that point I was skimming and only wanting to get to the end. So for me, it was an overall mixed bag of essays; I respect Simone Weil's work, loved Rachel Bespaloff's work save for her last essay and found Christopher Benfey's contribution included rather pointlessly in the book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    In school I read the Iliad as a story of heroes, along the lines of the Greek myths. Weil's essay, charged by the devastation of France in the World Wars, reveals another side of that story: the cycles of dehumanizing violence. She effectively presents this theme in Homer with clear examples. However, despite the strength and style of Weil's essay, some points left me unconvinced. While Homer depicted brutal violence, he also presented glory gained in battle in a way not present in Weil's interpr In school I read the Iliad as a story of heroes, along the lines of the Greek myths. Weil's essay, charged by the devastation of France in the World Wars, reveals another side of that story: the cycles of dehumanizing violence. She effectively presents this theme in Homer with clear examples. However, despite the strength and style of Weil's essay, some points left me unconvinced. While Homer depicted brutal violence, he also presented glory gained in battle in a way not present in Weil's interpretation. Also, the final section of the essay in which Weil theorizes that the love and justice of the Iliad were the source of the love and justice of the Gospels felt like a departure from the thesis of the essay and provided a weak conclusion, especially as the theme of "justice" presented earlier hardly carried a Gospel quality. Although the essay has its flaws, the core thesis effectively presents the philosophical effects of violence, showing how Homer's work can be relevant to a modern audience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Inés Chamarro

    Weil and Broch are interesting not so much for their interpretation of the Iliad itself as for how they project into it and reflect about their own times, in a similar way as the rewriting of Antigone by Anouilh in the same era (WWII). Bespaloff, I am sorry to say, lets herself be influenced by her own background into linking things that have no business being linked. Comparing Helen of Troy to Anna Karenina is all well and good if you are studying Tolstoy, but not the other way around.

  28. 5 out of 5

    E7boehm

    Both essays are good but flawed. Their chief flaw is not thinking the Iliad merits a true analysis and instead they wish to shoe horn the book to fit their needs. The book centers on Achilles and Hector but Achilles becomes force in one and a secondary character in the second. His rages are not discussed in detail even though the muse is asked to sing them in the first line of the poem.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shivani Maurya

    This turned out to be quite an illuminating companion read to the Iliad. I will definitely read it again after finishing Iliad, and expand on my review. But this has definitely stoked me to check out Weil's other works.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ata

    the Bespaloff essay was a hot mess but Weil's piece was beyond incredible so 5 stars i guess?

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