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The Essential Types of Men according to Homer

BAP says that the ownership of space is the fundamental conflict. That conclusion follows easily from the fact that our world is one of limited resources, and that we are limited beings. And because, as Aristotle said, all men are members of polities (unless you are a monster or a god). Thus, the most fundamental conflict in politics is your group’s ownership of space versus another group’s ownership of space.

BAP likes to remind us of the inscription on the tomb of Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy:  “Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian, who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela; of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak, and the long-haired Persian knows it well.”  No mention of his poems. 

BAP also has said that the only free people are warriors.  So did Homer.[1]  According to Homer, Achilles and Odysseus embody the two essential types of man. 

     I.         Achilles and Odysseus—The Essential Men According to Homer

Of course, Homer did not write a thesis stating as much.  Homer shows, he does not tell.  So what does Homer show?  In the Trojan War, no two men contribute more essential, decisive acts for the Greeks than Achilles and Odysseus.  Crucially, and among other things, Homer shows Achilles killing Hector, which effectively saves the Greeks from destruction.  He also states that Odysseus executed the Trojan Horse tactic, which gives victory to the Greeks and destroys the Trojans. 

Homer also shows how important Odysseus was to his kingdom, Ithaca, revealing him as a better leader or, at least, administrator of homelands, estates, and households, than Agamemnon.  And Odysseus’ desire for a homecoming is the most powerful drive illustrated in the Odyssey, while the drive to glory and its attendant issues, embodied in Achilles, is the central psychological problem of the Iliad. 

Homer depicts Achilles and Odysseus as providing the essential actions for the Greeks’ survival and flourishing.  For Homer, Achilles achieves eternal fame through battle.  And Odysseus achieves eternal fame through a combination of battle, cleverness, and an uncompromising will to live and return home.  Unlike many other Greek chieftains, Odysseus is honored by his wife, son, dog, and many of his subjects, despite his absence.  Thus, Achilles and Odysseus are the essential men according to Homer. 

  II.         The Characteristics of the Essential Men

Though he “detest[ed] the doorways of Death,” Achilles forsook returning home in favor of pursuing immortality through glory in battle.  Conversely, Odysseus is a warrior who wishes to live and return home (if only to leave shortly thereafter).  Most precisely, Odysseus has a will to outlive himself through means other than solely through glory.  This distinction is key to understanding how both are, in their own way, the two fundamentally essential men. 

Achilles is the warrior par excellence.  He is not afraid to die.  He would rather die a hero and pour all of himself into killing his enemies.  He holds none of his spirit back, he is fully committed to battle, and he does not keep an eye out for an escape so that he might choose survival over glory.  Returning to domestic life is not a factor in his decision making. 

Achilles is an essential type because, if your group has this type of man, or more of this type than the enemy group, then your group takes the field.  Literally, your group will be able to drive off other groups from fields—i.e., terrain where “other things are equal” or close to it.  Your group can occupy and own space.  You cannot always outsmart your enemy.  Your group needs killers to clear and hold space.   

But “other things” are not always equal.  Uneven terrain, or other circumstances, may create advantages for your enemies.  And around the time of the Trojan War, a new technology developed—high-fortified walls.  Thus, you could not always destroy your enemy by simply taking the field.  With the emergence of fortifications beyond the capability of infantry to easily scale, the Achilles-type was no longer sufficient to destroy enemies.  Ingenuity and practical science became necessary.  Men like Odysseus became necessary. 

Odysseus is not as extreme as Achilles in his love of glory.  At some point, he wants to survive and go home.  But he is far from indifferent to honor, and he is an excellent warrior.  He wrestled Telemonian Ajax to a draw.  The Greeks regarded Odysseus as Telemonian Ajax’s equal in bravery, just below Achilles.  In Book VII of the Iliad, after Hector marauded through the Greek ranks (as Achilles pridefully excused himself from the fighting because of Agamemnon’s disrespect) and challenged the Greeks to select a champion to fight him, Odysseus (somewhat reluctantly) volunteered along with eight others to meet Hector’s challenge.

Yet Odysseus’s love of glory is tempered by a will to live and return home, which is established by the extraordinary return trip as told in the Odyssey, in which he killed or evaded vicious monsters, refused riches, and turned away from settling down with new women, including a Phaiakian princess, a beautiful sorceress, and a goddess.  His survival instinct manifests in a variety of ways, most especially in a will to seek clever and ingenious solutions, including what some might call “unfair” advantage.  He will scheme, as when he tricks and uncovers Achilles from under the disguise Thetis put on her son to prevent him from going to Troy.  He will employ strategy and tactics, as when he wrestles Telemonian Ajax.  He will kill people in their sleep, as when he leads an ambush of the Thracians in Book 10 of the Iliad.  In short, he will seek almost any advantage in conflict so that he might win, live, and ultimately go home victorious.  One can easily imagine that it was an Odysseus-type that thought to incorporate lying and stealing into the curriculum for Spartan youth.  Thus, naturally, Odysseus came up with the idea for the Trojan Horse, a clever, practical solution that illustrates the healthy Western interest in engineering and military technology.

But is Odysseus Homer’s second essential type only because occupying the field is not sufficient to destroy one’s enemies?  No, if the Odysseus-type is essential only for that reason, Homer would not have needed to write the Odyssey.  Instead, Odysseus is essential because he is a warrior who possesses a will to outlive himself through means other than solely through glory, and this kind of will produces benefits abroad and at home. 

Abroad, this will manifests in finding easier and ingenious ways to overcome obstacles to killing enemies.  But at home, properly directed, this will aims to cultivate loyalty and order.  Homer shows that Odysseus managed his personal relationships, his estate, and his kingdom of the Greek Ionian Islands (Ithaca, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Corfu, and Lefkada) with exceptional skill.  Odysseus, among the many Greek chieftains, cultivated a love in his wife, son, dog, many of his fellow men, and some of his servants, that survived his absence for 20 years, even against their own apparent self-interest.  Those relationships are not cultivated through the sole and unrelenting pursuit of glory, but through some tender moments, and charm and social graces of which Odysseus is a master but which Achilles disdains.  (Achilles: “For as I detest the doorways of Death, I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another.”)  Thus, Odysseus embodies the traits necessary for keeping one’s home. 

But focus on Odysseus’s cleverness or charm should not obscure that he was a cold-blooded killer and “sacker of cities.”  What did Penelope pine for most?  For Odysseus to vanquish the suitors and take back his estate.  She loved him as a warrior and a source of order.  At the assembly of the men of Ithaca in the beginning of the Odyssey, Odysseus is spoken of as “gentle and kind” and “one whose thought is schooled in justice,” but that the suitors who were abusing Odysseus’ home were wagering or “lay[ing] their heads on the line.”  That prediction proved true.  Thus, crucial to keeping one’s home on both the individual and group scale includes not only charisma, but a warrior nature, ruthless to enemies but “schooled in justice” among friends, and the ability to inspire faith that one is not dead or dying, but rather a crucial part of history and the future.

Both Achilles and Odysseus, the two essential men who are different in their own ways, share a fundamental common trait:  They are, at base, superb warriors. 

III.         Warriors as the Foundation of the West

Recall the inscription on Aeschylus’s tomb lacks any mention of his poems.  That omission is not to say that the Greeks thought—or that we should think—that poems are worth nothing.  The Greeks held contest after contest for the best recitals of Homer and Hesiod.  But it is to say that the warrior is the foundation of any group that wishes to cultivate civilization.  Without the warrior foundation, no group can own space.  And without space and “breathing room,” one cannot cultivate the extraordinarily time-consuming arts that comprise high civilization. 

Conflict is the essential condition of life, for both individuals and groups.  Reflect on any individual and it becomes clear that his life has meaning in relation to the conflicts he has faced—his “overcomings.”  No story is complete without a conflict.  The Greeks understood this, and that is why so much of their life revolved around competition—the singing of songs, dancing of dances, all athletics, argument and philosophy, etc. 

BAP says that the ownership of space is the fundamental conflict.  That conclusion follows easily from the fact that our world is one of limited resources, and that we are limited beings.  And because, as Aristotle said, all men are members of polities (unless you are a monster or a god).  Thus, the most fundamental conflict in politics is your group’s ownership of space versus another group’s ownership of space. 

The West cannot exist without its warriors.  Without warriors, a civilization cannot defend its honor.  Thus, it has no honor which any other group is bound to respect.  And so, without honor, it cannot have any form of self-worth that does not involve obeisance to outsiders (to the extent this counts as self-worth at all).  In other words, unless it is a warrior society, it will have no honor, it cannot have genuine self-respect, it is cucked.  Without warriors, the ability and the will to hold space will disappear, and so will the distance required to cultivate high civilization. 

Thus, there is only one choice:  Revivify the ancient warrior foundation of Western civilization or lose everything.  That requires mass retraining in individual hand to hand combat, modern military tactics, piracy, a new (yet rather old) understanding of “justice” and a corresponding set of norms, and beyond.  So lift, learn to box and ground fight, read Homer and listen to BAP, among other things. 

IV.         Conclusion

Homer depicts Achilles and Odysseus as, of all the Greeks, the most capable of overcoming the limitations of mortality.  Achilles and Odysseus’ actions, their way of being, lead to them owning physical space—battlefields and Troy itself, and, in the case of Odysseus, his wife and home more than, say, Agamemnon.  In addition, they, more than any other Greek in the Iliad and Odyssey, owned space in the hearts and minds of the Greeks, and in the history of the West.  The fact that they own so much space gives further proof that the warrior—both the warrior par excellence and the clever, survivalist, or scientific warrior—is the key to longevity for any civilization that wishes to outlive and overcome its own contemporary existence.  Putting those two at the center of Western man’s imagination and way of life, and reorienting Western man toward his most ancient archetypes, is the only way forward.


[1] This post speaks of Homer as one man, which I believe to be true, but the argument holds whether he was one man or not. 


by L. van der Man

2 replies on “The Essential Types of Men according to Homer”

Great spirit, but tragically wrong about Achilles vs. Odysseus as the two essential types and the only ones capable of overcoming the limitations of mortality. There are others, and one in particular that Western man was meant to emulate. Re-read The Iliad and see if it jumps out at you.

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