Homer’s gravitational pull

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The Greek camp in the Ambrosian Iliad, a 5th-century AD manuscript containing a fully illustrated copy of Homer’s Iliad,  (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Cod. F. 205 Inf).

All European philosophy may be a gloss on Aristotle, but all European fiction is a gloss on Homer. It seems to me that all the genres we enjoy reading in books and watching on  screen are distant or less distant echoes of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The adventure story, the destructive love affair, the war scenes, the heroic complex packed with self-importance and tragedy, the cliffhanger resolved by a clever ruse, the interpersonal conflict, the ethnic confrontation, the fantasy and the miraculous, the little finger overcoming the fist, the power of forgiveness, the irresistible forces of nature, the ineluctable eroticism, the monstrous and the banal, the power of rhetoric, the defeat of hybris, the lust for blood, the hunger for closure, the sea and the plain, the city and the forest, the comfort of home and the pull of the wild, the ecstasy of gold and the affirmation of dignity, the vulnerable heel and the unbreakable breastplate, the feast and the hunger, all of it, absolutely all of it, has always been bundled up for almost three thousand years in two of the world’s foundational epic poems.

There is little that the Iliad and the Odyssey leave out that we cherish, no matter how small, no matter how great. The next novel you’ll read, the next movie you’ll see is a tribute to the Homeric myth. Good stories survive because we keep telling them over and over again, but we don’t just tell them because we have to. We tell them because, like celestial bodies, they disrupt the fields they pass through. And when we set these stories in orbit, they fashion their whole system from which no pebble or thought can escape. They are irresistible through the power they have to shape everything they touch. And, although we may think we’ve forgotten them, they are still with us. They haven’t forgotten us.

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