Four good men

Four good men

Hemingway’s protagonist goes recruiting and chooses quality over quantity. Trust is what sorts the good men from the ‘undependables’.  ‘I could use twenty more men, to be sure,’ Robert Jordan said.‘Good ones do not exist.  You want...
Sing what you cannot say

Sing what you cannot say

In January 1942, a score of Verdi’s Requiem was smuggled into Theresienstadt concentration camp and performed by prisoners, conducted by Rafael Schäcter.Starting with about 150 singers, the numbers dwindled as they disappeared into this or that hellish ending....
Like a burst of hope

Like a burst of hope

A heartening simile in a vivid, gripping narrative of humans ground between the shifting tectonic plates of contradictory but equally totalitarian ideologies. There is neither much sunshine nor hope in the book, but such hope as there is is tenacious and connected to...
Beware the Idomeneus spear

Beware the Idomeneus spear

Famed with good reason – see his bringing another warrior to meet his ‘dark-named destiny’.  However, the most graphic and distressing spearing I recall from the Iliad is by Patroclus, Achilles’ great pal.  And that’s before we let loose...
Voice communications

Voice communications

Consider the vital role of the herald before mechanical forms of broadcast, and how important the quality and strength of their voice.  Here, like leaders before and for millennia after, Agamemnon relies on heralds to summon his men. Another age-old though unlamented...
Bronze-armoured Achaians

Bronze-armoured Achaians

The Trojan war was a Bronze Age affair, magnificently evoked in different sea-surrounded places by two books of Adam Nicolson. His Sea Room touches on the Bronze Age in a remote island off the coast of Scotland, while Why Homer Matters brings it into vivid view in...
Strategic consideration

Strategic consideration

The wild card of ancient Greek military planning was the existence and randomness of divine intervention. You never knew which god was backing your enemy, or when or how they might suddenly rouse themselves in wrath and take destructive action against you. Hence, the...
On pointless hatred

On pointless hatred

In with the gore and glory of Homer’s war-words, there are repeated expressions of sorrow at human hatred.  ‘Soul-perishing’ echoes our more commonly used ‘soul-destroying’. Either way, to be avoided if possible.  See other such pleas by...
Heart-breaking hostilities

Heart-breaking hostilities

Homer’s Iliad pulsates with war and violence, sometimes wrapped in glory but often shrouded as much in sorrow. Here, hostility and quarrel are portrayed as heart-breaking, or as we might say, soul-destroying. The second stretch simile is particularly a plea...

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