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Tony Grist

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Homeric Warfare [May. 18th, 2004|08:40 am]
Tony Grist
Homer establishes the convention that during any battle the biggest cheeses will seek one another out and indulge in speeches and hand to hand combat without any interference from the plebs.

It's the beginning of an unbroken tradition that passes through Shakespeare to modern Hollywood. In Mel Gibson's The Patriot, our righteous Mel seeks out the opposite commander on the battlefield (they have a history) and engages him in single combat. It is purely Homeric.

There is of course the slight difference that Homer didn't play favourites. Everyone in his scheme of things, Trojan and Greek, is equally amoral and equally tragic. In Mel's film, he (Mel) is noble and patriotic and a man of the people, while the enemy is a rancid, hi-falutin sadist. This kind of moralism is foreign to true epic (which derives honour from honouring the enemy.) It seeps into the tradition through Christianity.

Another thing about Homeric battles: when the two heroes engage one another normal time stops. A space is cleared- though the battle is still raging round them- and they have leisure to go through a ritual that always ends with the vistor stripping his victim's body of its armour. Think about it: you're in the middle of a battle and you're fiddling with straps and buckles and heaving a corpse about and no-one takes advantage of this to stop and skewer you with their spear.

Homer's sense of time is like the sense of space in pre-renaissance paintings. The more important you are, the more time you take up. There is always enough time for a hero to strip his victim. The hero exists in a bubble of ritual time that is isolated and protected from the much faster time of the rabble.
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Comments:
From: archyena
2004-05-18 02:31 am (UTC)
Actually, I think it would be pretty neat to depict it like that in film, as if they occupy their own time. With a battle raging in slow motion around them as they fight at "normal speed" and then in reverse when the focus is on the main battle.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 08:32 am (UTC)
Yes. that would be interesting. More interesting- by all accounts- than anything in the Troy film.
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[User Picture]From: beentothemoon
2004-05-18 06:46 am (UTC)
This comparison can also be made with Milton, who exists out of time and space as icons and ideals versus Shakespeare, with his vivid and fluid characters.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 08:37 am (UTC)
Even so, when Hotspur and Prince Hal fight it out at the Battle of Shrewsbury it's exactly like a Homeric duel.

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[User Picture]From: beentothemoon
2004-05-18 08:46 am (UTC)
Which still doesn't mean you can have your very own Satan's Cheerleader for Christmas.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 08:53 am (UTC)
Not even a very little one?
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[User Picture]From: beentothemoon
2004-05-18 08:56 am (UTC)
no the little ones are the most venomous. You are, however, welcome to take your pick out of any of my burlesque troupe once we get off the ground (The Killer Tomatoes)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 09:11 am (UTC)
Perhaps you could post a picture so I can choose.
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[User Picture]From: beentothemoon
2004-05-18 09:15 am (UTC)
no, that would put you in the awkward and unreccomendable position of accidentally selecting someone who wasn't me. Plus, we don't have photos (or enough girls) yet.
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-05-18 07:09 am (UTC)
I think I attempt to mimic the Homeric battle style in my life. How delightfully absurd a notion, but so... appropriate.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 08:43 am (UTC)
Yes indeed. Why should we submit ourselves to the tyranny of clocks?
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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2004-05-18 07:40 am (UTC)
Beauty has ritual time, too.

Homer takes time to have someone stop and admire and spell out the lineage of staffs and helmets and trees quite often.

So does heritage--two guys at some point meet in battle and realize that they're cousins, so instead of fighting to the death they drop down and have tea in the middle of a battle. No, really.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 08:42 am (UTC)
Is it just an artistic convention or did Homer (and his contemporaries) actually experience time differently?

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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2004-05-18 08:44 am (UTC)
I think it's probably a little of both. It's definitely a Homeric device, but at the same time, we think such things are useless and not worthy of line space, whereas the Greeks thought they were massively important and as deserving of wordage as battles.

Greeks did conceive of time differently--that's a long conversation--but The Iliad is indeed a story involving gods and the hero battles are usually presided over and protected by gods, hence the ritual space.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-05-18 08:51 am (UTC)
The Troy film expunges the gods. It seems to me that this was a mistake (and a betrayal.) I can see why they chickened out, but what a fascinating artistic challenge!

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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2004-05-18 08:52 am (UTC)
No kidding. I knew it was going to be...icky when I heard that.
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