The Iliad and the American Civil War

I’ve heard the American Civil War being called the American Iliad. I think that’s very apt in its own way.

Homer’s majestic epic depicts Greeks vs. Trojans; the Civil War is North vs. south. Yet in many ways Greeks and Trojans are similar, and, in some ways, the Trojans seem preferable than the more pirate-like Achaeans (at least the Trojan side doesn’t seem to be raping wives or kidnapping them, as the Achaeans are known to do).

The Trojans have that misfortune of their prince Paris having stolen the wife of Menelaus, Helen. That’s a mistake. A serious violation of hospitality, and adultery to boot. Yet collective warfare burns the city to the ground and annihilates it.

The Southern side had slavery. Very sad. Yet the Northern side had its serious flaws – not to mention the wicked Sherman’s March of brutality (almost sounds like something of an Achaean total-war scene out of the Iliad). 
Yet though Homer the poet depicts the Achaeans/Greeks as superior, he doesn’t demonize the Trojans. He treats them with respect and dignity. Hector and Priam and Andromache are some of the best people, almost like paragons of Southern hospitality.
Contrast Homer’s respect for both sides to the triumphalism that reigns in our views of the Civil War as the godly North’s victory over the godless South. I think we could take more out of Homer’s pity at the end of the Iliad – pity over the lives lost, the wasted opportunities, the good that was lost, the great bloodshed.


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