Archive for March, 2012

An Interesting Discussion of the Iliad

Posted in Homeric, Philosophy with tags , on March 19, 2012 by Joe Callahan

Edward Luttwak is a writer, strategy and security consultant, as well as historian.  I first encountered his work many years ago with “The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third”.  He has generated no small share of controversy but he is always interesting.  He recently wrote a very good article about the history of the Iliad, its continuing relevance and why the new Mitchell translation has problems.  As much as I’ve enjoyed Mitchell’s other work, like his Tao Te Ching translation, I think Luttwak is on the mark here.

Since I look to the Homeric epics for a foundation of ideas I discuss, I found the article worth a read.  Aside from his comments on the translation, he makes some striking observations about the work itself.  Two paragraphs were particularly noteworthy to me:

“That is the supremely enhancing vision that has always been offered by the Iliad: human dignity at its fullest, undiminished by piety or deference to gods or kings. In recent centuries, the Iliad could also offer another kind of freedom, from the collective obligations levied on individual freedom by patriotism, and from the more intense compulsions of nationalism, both all the more destructive of freedom when entirely voluntary. Achilles is angry and therefore refuses to fight, and nobody tells him that it is his duty to fight for the Achaean/ Danaan/Argive cause because he is Achaean/ Danaan/Argive, nobody calls him a deserter because there is no presumption of any obligation to serve.”


“Spears cut through temples, foreheads, navels, chests both below and above the nipple. Even despised bows kill, and heavy stones appear as weapons. Joyful victors strip their victims of their armour and gain extra delight from imagining their weeping mothers and wives. Yet the Iliad is a million miles away from the pornography of violence offered by many lesser war books, battle paintings, martial sculptures and most obviously films, in which the enemy bad guys are triumphantly trampled or gleefully mown down, because the humanity of the victims, their terror and their atrocious pain, are fully expressed. The powerful affirmation of the warrior’s creed – we are all mortal anyway so let us fight valiantly – coexists with the unfailingly negative depiction of war as horrible carnage.”

You’ll form your own opinions on his thoughts but it is worth checking out.

Coffee, Gadgets, Change

Posted in Stoicism, Uncategorized with tags , on March 7, 2012 by Joe Callahan

I bought a coffee machine today.  The previous machine churned out black gold for over twenty years.  In this age of disposable everything I have no complaints with it.  But this morning I got up and wandered out to the kitchen and looked at the plastic auto-barista.  I realized I’d stared bleary-eyed at the same machine when I was a twenty something with hair down to my shoulders.  Given all the mileage and wear and tear from there to here, it struck me suddenly as depressing.

I resist buying a lot of new gadgetry because I think most of it is bull.  I’m sort of a techno-Calvinist who assumes most new innovations are part of a giant conspiracy to lull us into becoming pod people providing BTUs to the Matrix.  Yes, I know this is ironic since I work in internet based marketing.  Maybe I know something you don’t?  Probably not.  However, I do think most technology gadgets are unnecessary fopistry.

True, since getting a Droid phone I’ve discovered it’s a handy tool for anyone who wants to be free of sitting at a desk all day.  There are exceptions to my Luddite ways.  In the case of the coffee machine I was startled and awed like some cargo cult native to learn that I could set the thing to have coffee ready when I wake up.  It also self-cleans which, I confess, makes no sense to me and may be the work of Satan.  I know the oven self-cleans but I’m unclear how the coffee machine could do the same.

Whatever.  I’m guessing that coffee waiting in the morning may do more to get me up and moving than any philosophical motivations.  The machine also has the virtue of being shiny and looks good in the kitchen.  Hey, aesthetics count.  The Agathoi of the epics would have fought single combats for a good shiny coffee machine.

I suppose the Stoics would say that taking pleasure in a coffee machine is an indifferent; fine as long as I don’t grow overly attached and find harmony disrupted by its absence.  I think I am good with that.  I don’t truly care about the cool new machine.  What interested me was the old machine came to represent baggage.  I associated it with some not entirely pleasant days of my life.  Perhaps the Stoics would say that I should not have let it evoke any emotion at all.  It is, after all, merely an object.  But sometimes I think we need to engage in a little closet cleaning and let in something new.  Stagnation is death.

Introspection aside, the real test will come tomorrow when I see if the thing actually makes good coffee. That is, after all, what will really matter.