One clear distinction between us in the modern West and the Homeric Greeks is that they freely admit that superficial traits heavily inform their opinion of what a person says. This is shown in the first book of the Illiad when we we are told of Thersites:
Thersites of the endless speech…knew within his head many words but disorderly: vain, and without decency, to quarrel with the princes…this was the ugliest man who came beneath Ilion. He was bandy-legged and went lame in one foot…his skull went up to a point with the wool grown sparsely upon it…now at Agamemnon he clashed the shrill noise of his abuse…
What is to be hated about this man is that he is ugly and weak, and despite this he questions his superiors. Here is what he says:
Son of Atreus, what thing further do you want, or find fault with now? Your shelters are filled with bronze; there are plenty of the choicest women for you within your shelter, whom we Achaians give you first of all whenever we capture some stronghold. Or is it still more gold you will be wanting…is it some young woman to lie with in love and keep her all to yourself apart from the others?…My good fools, poor abuses, you women, not men, of Achaia, let us go back home in our ships and leave this man here by himself in Troy to mull his prizes of honour…now that he has dishonoured Achilleus, a man much better than he is.
A brief recap of what preceded; Agamemnon has taken the war bride of Achilleus to compensate himself for loosing his own. In response Achilleus has pulled himself and his men out of Agamemnons army. Agamemnon then gives a war speech containing the first written record of a (shockingly bad) attempt to deploy reverse psychology:
Now [Zeus] has devised a vile deception, and bids me go back to Argos in disshonor having lost many of my people…And this shall be a thing of shame for the men hereafter to be told, that so strong, so great a host of Achains carried on and fought in vain a war that was useless against men fewer than they, with no accomplishment shown for it…Come then, do as i say, let us all be won over; let us run away with our shops to the beloved land of our fathers since no longer now shall we capture Troy of the wide ways
Anybody who reads the first two books of the Illiad would see words like disloyal, bully, childish, greedy, shithead fit well in any description of Agamemnon. He is a bad king. So when this bad king is called out for what he is by Thersites what is the response?:
Odysseus swiftly came beside him scowling and laid a harsh word upon him: “Fluent orator though you be, Thersites, your words are ill-considered. Stop, nor stand up alone against princes. Out of all those who came beneath Ilion with Atredies I assert there is no worse man than you are…If I find you once more playing the fool as you are now…[I will] take you and strip away your personal clothing …and send you thus bare back to the fast ships, whipping you out of the assembly place with the strokes of indignation.” So he spoke and dashed the sceptre against his back and shoulders, and he doubled over, and a round tear dropped from within him…and he sat down frightened, in pain and looking helplessly about wiped off the tear-drops. Sorry though the men were, they laughed over him happily, and thus would speak to each other…”Odysseus has done excellent things by thousands…but now this is far the best thing he ever has accomplished among the Argrives, to keep this thrower of words, this braggart out of assembly. Never again will his proud heart stir him up, to wrangle with the princes in words of revilement.”
Odysseus is an enforcer. We can understand his actions as an attempt as a general to keep order in the ranks. In the context of a ‘just war’, we could see his actions as noble. But what we see here is violent suppression of shared grievance with the king. Odysseus can twist the situation, associating dissenting ideas with the ugly, crippled Thersites and the violent suppression of those ideas with the godlike Odysseus. By way of his magic the men are tuned back into war mode. They have fresh energy for the fight. It no longer matters what Agamemnon did to Achilleus or how his war has torn a huge chunk of their lives from them. Be like Odysseus and smash Thersites, be excellent and push away those stray ideas that Agamemnon is a man unworthy of your sacrifices. They pull themselves together and march on Troy.
So how does this relate to us? Let me start with an image:
Here we have the modern day Thersites. While a lot things said by the OWS movement makes sense, getting past the fact that its these people saying it is like getting past a six foot wave breaking in front of you. And whilst there was no Odysseus to deliver a silencing welt, there were many arms offering a sharp cain. I see the complete dissolution of this movement as a result of these cainings. Whilst they probably had much support initially- as, i’m sure, did Thersites as he spoke- the superficial things, loud young people, some with pink or blue hair, decrying capitalism with Starbucks in hand, left us with the satisfaction of the Greek soldiers to see them (verbally) beaten into silence. The message was simple; don’t be one of these, push away those stray ideas that the established system isn’t functioning properly, that’s how they think, your not like them, you work hard for honest pay. Suck it up and crack on with your life and its worsening condition. Now, as then, the bad king keeps his bride and continues his war.
But there is a twist. Whilst one radical political movement was settling dust, another began to emerge. This movement could not be contained with cains and septres because this was the movement of the soldiers. And what soldiers like is simple ideas. Ideas like building a large wall to control immigration or banning people from countries with a Muslim majority to stop terrorism. Simple and effective. Let Thersites cry out his protests, their Odysseus had arrived.
No more would political correctness keep violent feelings down. No more human rights for people who want to kill us. Donald Trump would see to it that American would be strong AND flex her muscles. But Trump had another trick to play. He would load some of the OWS grievances onto his stout shoulders, grievances that the soldiers had felt but had pushed aside when they pushed aside the movement of dirty protesters. Now they had a man who turned his sceptre on both Thersites and Agamemnon and it was euphoria.
Both were beaten back into chaotic retreat. Neither had seen the signs of the fury the soldiers had inside. Trump and his supporters took the field where they now hold their position. Skirmishes with the republican establishment and the left have proven the mettle of the man so widely mocked. But like all raging bulls slow, so too does Trumps rampage. The targets that seemed fat and slow turned out to be ghosts and what we are now seeing is what a lack of strong commitment to abstract ideas in an incomprehensible world brings: disappointment, confusion and an unsettling feeling that maybe the world is not as simple as we would like to think it is. What the soldiers really wanted was to give a few hard slaps, teach ‘them’ a lesson and go back to living in a normal world, improved for their efforts. Now they have a leader who only knows how to use the sceptre or nothing, a poor inventory of skills for such a complicated position.