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Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival by Jeffrey Hart

By Jeffrey Hart

Even supposing the fundamental books of Western civilization are not any longer primary in our classes or in our techniques, they preserve their skill to energise us intellectually, says Jeffrey Hart during this strong booklet. He now provides a consultant to a couple of those literary works, tracing the most currents of Western tradition for all who desire to comprehend the roots in their civilization and the root for its achievements. Hart focuses at the efficient stress among the classical and biblical traces in our civilization-- among a existence in response to cognition and one in accordance with religion and piety. He starts off with the Iliad and Exodus, linking Achilles and Moses as Bronze Age heroic figures. heavily studying texts and illuminating them in unforeseen methods, he strikes directly to Socrates and Jesus, who "internalized the heroic," keeps with Paul and Augustine and their Christian synthesis, addresses Dante, Shakespeare (Hamlet), Molière, and Voltaire, and concludes with the radical as represented through Crime and Punishment and the nice Gatsby. Hart continues that the dialectical tensions urged via this survey account for the restlessness and singular achievements of the West and that the fundamental books can give you the substance and effort presently ignored by way of either scholars and trained readers.

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Agamemnon has insulted him and in so doing denied the meaning of his existence. Yet Achilles’ rage goes far beyond righteous wrath, is condemned by his friends and peers, and becomes destructive madness. Perhaps it would have been better to have killed Agamemnon right there in the heat of justified anger, during the quarrel, and despite Athena. That might have been better than to have precipitated the sequence of events that now unfolds. The passionate Achilles plunges into a downward moral spiral and spreads destruction around him.

Helen thus becomes, remarkably, a perfect fit for her queenly role. She has learned tragically the destructive power of the erotic (the goddess Aphrodite). But Achilles remains the greater figure. There remains something deeper and more disturbing about him. Homer presents him as fulfilling his choice of dying young, killed by an arrow shot by Paris, of all people, who at that moment has heavenly favor. The Olympic gods may not be entirely reconcilable to Achilles, nor he to them. Unlike Helen, Achilles can step into an abyss outside the very possibility of civilization.

By the time these narratives were written down they probably were too well known to have admitted of much variation. For the civilization of Greece, these poems became more than magnificent narratives. They had much of the character of scripture. Schoolboys read them with care, memorized passages, and commented on them from an ethical perspective. The Iliad and the Odyssey, along with much else, were part of the Greek paideia, or character-shaping curriculum. The goal of the curriculum was areté, a special kind of excellence.

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