Just a reminder that the Center will host a panel discussion in midtown Manhattan tonight on religious liberty at the US Supreme Court. The discussants will be myself and Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. Details and RSVP info are here. CLR Forum readers, please stop by and say hello!
Essential as it was in the classical Greek world to honor the citizen-soldiers who had died for the city, it was also considered important, indeed commanded by the customs of war, to bury the bodies of enemy soldiers who had died in combat, or at least to permit the enemy recover and bury them himself. The custom was not, of course, universally followed, and indeed some have argued that the practice of the world that Homer dramatizes was contrary to it. But by the fifth century, and certainly by the time Euripides’ Suppliants was staged, the practice had congealed into a customary norm. So compelling was that norm, in fact, that it was taken to be a defining mark of Hellenism and of civilization. We cannot begin to understand the moral universe of The Suppliants until we grasp the centrality of this norm and the horror that attended its violation.
The obvious starting place is Homer’s Iliad. The Greek hero Achilles, seething with anger at the insult offered him by the Greek king Agamemnon, has withdrawn from combat, leaving the Greek forces to their own devices. Without Achilles, the war goes badly for the Greeks. They send an embassy to Achilles, offering compensation for Agamemnon’s offense, appealing to his fellow-feeing for his erstwhile comrades-in-arms, and seeking to persuade him to rejoin them in the struggle against Troy. Achilles will not be mollified. But his loyal comrade and intimate friend Patroclus persuades Achilles to permit him to enter the fray, bearing Achilles’ armor, so that the Trojans may be deceived into thinking that Achilles himself has returned to fight them. Achilles agrees, but only after setting strict limits to how and when Patroclus may fight. Disobeying Achilles’ instructions, Patroclus is speared and killed by the Trojan prince, Hector. On learning of Patroclus’ death, Achilles’ grief and remorse have no limits. The loss of Patroclus, Achilles says, wounds him as much as the killings of his own father or son would: “Nothing could more afflict me: fame relating the foul deed/Of my dear father’s slaughter, blood drawn from my sole son’s heart/No more could wound me. Cursed man, that in this foreign part/(For hateful Helen) my true love, my country, sire and son,/I should thus part with.” (Iliad Book XIX, ll. 318-22).
Achilles composes his differences with Agamemnon and the Greeks and rejoins the battle against the Trojans. He seeks Hector out for single combat. Hector’s mother Queen Hecuba implores her son to withdraw into the safety of the walled city of Troy, warning him that Achilles will defeat and kill him, leaving his unburied body for the dogs: “our tears shall pay thy corse [corpse] no obsequy./ Being ravish’d from us, Grecian dogs nourish’d with what I nursed” (Iliad Book XXII, ll. 74-75). Despite knowing Achilles to be far stronger and more powerful, Hector, fearing shame more than death, remains outside the city, to confront the vengeful Achilles. Hector proposes to Achilles that whichever of them kills the other do no outrage on the defeated man’s dead body:
Let vows of fit respect pass both, when conquest hath bestow’d
His wreath on either. Here I vow no fury shall be show’d
That is not manly, on thy corse; but, having spoil’d thy arms,
Resign thy person; which swear thou. (Iliad Book XXII, ll. 219-22).
Although Homer characterizes Hector’s terms as “fair and temperate,” Achilles angrily refuses them: he says that he and Hector can no more reach an agreement than lions and men, or wolves and lambs, could. Achilles can only urge Hector to feel what he himself feels: “Hunger for slaughter, and a hate that eats thy heart to eat/Thy foe’s heart” (Iliad Book XXII, ll. 232-33). Achilles’ anger transports him to the levels of a beast and a cannibal: in his wrath, he tramples down the barriers between the civilized and the barbaric, the human and the bestial, the cooked and the raw. He is waging a war for the utter annihilation of his enemy, a war without mercy or limits, war in the form that Clausewitz was later to call the “pure concept” of war. (See On War, Book One, c. 1, sec. 23, in which Clausewitz says that “the pure concept” of war is that of “a complete, untrammeled, absolute manifestation of violence”).
The degradation of Hector’s body
Achilles slays Hector, pierces the dead body’s “Achilles’ tendons,” straps the body to the back of his chariot, hauls it back to the Greek camp, and drags it in the dust twelve times around Patroclus’ funeral pyre. Addressing the dead Patroclus, Achilles boasts:
Hector lies slaughter’d here
Dragg’d at my chariot, and our dogs shall all in pieces tear
His hated limbs. Twelve Trojan youths, born of their noblest strains,
I took alive, and (yet enrag’d) will empty all their veins
Of vital spirits, sacrific’d before thy heap of fire. (Iliad Book XXIII, ll. 16-21.)
Then Achilles lays Hector face down in the dust before Patroclus. This, Homer says, was shameful, “unworthy” of Achilles.
Despite Hector’s death and the degradation of his body, Achilles’ thirst for revenge remains unslaked: “with Hector’s corse his rage had never done” (Iliad Book XXIV, l. 16). Even the gods begin to pity Hector. Apollo denounces Achilles Read more
In November, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Islamic Traditions of Refuge in the Crises of Iraq and Syria” by Tahir Zaman (Center for Research on Migration, Refugees & Belonging (CMRB) at the University of East London, UK, and SOAS, University of London, UK). The publisher’s description follows:
The intersection of migration and religion has received little systematic investigation in the social sciences with scant attention paid to the lived experiences of refugees. Weaving together narrative analysis within a Bourdieuian framework, this book addresses this shortcoming in the literature. The constraints and opportunities Iraqi refugees encounter in emplacing themselves indicate contesting notions of religion. The challenges of facing a protracted exile and a protection impasse in Syria mean Iraqi refugees are compelled to reflect upon their specific experiences of religion and to mobilize their understandings of religious traditions in innovative ways in order to construct inhabitable worlds – in the process refugees move beyond the management and care of institutional actors. The study has immediate relevance – contributing to our understanding of power relations in the humanitarian field. Continuities are drawn between the crises of Iraq and Syria to better illustrate the role of religion during displacement crises.