Thursday, February 11, 2021

Miscellaneous thoughts on the "Classics"

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are the earliest Classics.  The Iliad is about a war and the Odyssey is about a veteran of that war during the process of his returning home.  The war was fought with spears, swords and shields.  Virgil’s Aeneid is about another veteran of the Trojan war.  This veteran goes off to found a new nation. 

War in Homer’s and Virgil's days was fought from or against city-states and city-states we learn from archeology were a sociological advance over villages.  Going back further in time we find only hunter-gatherer tribe and those tribe members didn’t know how to write and left us no classics. 

The Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid were valued as epic poems.  Milton didn’t strive to create a classic, he strove to create an epic poem that would stand with the earlier three.  Others have striven to write epics.  Hart Crane’s Bridge is a recent example, but no attempt since Paradise Lost has been considered a success. 

The list of “classics” includes more then these epic poems.  A Classic might be a well-told story about a war, War and Peace, for example.  A Classic might also be a well-told story about an individual, Crime and Punishment for example.  It might also be a story of a great event, Moby Dick and Red Badge of Courage are examples.

A problem for good novelists, novelists seemingly capable of writing classics is that the circumstances of our societies changes rapidly.  I’m currently reading Nelson DeMille’s Wild Fire.  In it he has an ATTF (Anti-Terrorist Task Force) agent attempt to infiltrate a home-grown terrorist organization.  The agent is described as taking with him a very expensive 12 MP Nikon camera equipped with a 300 mm lens.  I suspect this is the Nikon D700 camera which was expensive in its day.  It is still an excellent camera, but most would consider it obsolete.  Wild Fire was published in November 2006.  The world of technology has changed dramatically since 2006.  Shall a novelist then play it safe and not mention technology?  Perhaps DeMille thought he was doing that by not mentioning the Nikon model, but his mentioning 12 megapixels gives it away.  Perhaps he thought 12 megapixels was going to be as good as it gets.  I thought that back then.  We were wrong. 

Also, from Wikipedia, “As of 2020, right-wing extremist terrorism accounted for the majority of terrorist attacks and plots in the US and has killed more people in the continental United States since the September 11 attacks than Islamic terrorism.  Thus, DeMille writing about a Right-Wing Terrorist organization attempting to trick the U.S. government into thinking it has been attacked by Islamic terrorists is a much-used plot.  But perhaps it was not over-used when DeMille wrote in 2006.  Nevertheless, while I am only 17% through Wild Fire I am not very excited about reading a novel with a plot that was subsequently over used.  On the other hand this prejudice isn't fair to a novelist who was the first to use this theme.  The Wild Fire American terrorists seem a bit like some of Ian Fleming's evil villains.    

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