Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Homeric Warfare

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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