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 History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Wed 12 Mar 2014, 14:22

The real Mark Antony fits Ari's bill pretty well. He scores way low on the empathy side but that doesn't matter - the further towards his nemesis he careers the more scary the guy gets, so much so that in the end, a rather untypically dignified one for him, one can hardly suppress a sigh of relief that he's finally gone. Almost as many interlaced character faults as Oscar too.

It does however beg a question. If everyone is just relieved when a tragic hero cops it can it be classed as a tragedy at all?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Wed 12 Mar 2014, 15:37

Deleted.



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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Wed 12 Mar 2014, 15:56

Nordmann's correct in this case Temp, Antony was unstable (almost certainly an alcoholic). He was ok when JC was alive to keep him under control, but after his death Antony was an accident waiting to happen.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Wed 12 Mar 2014, 16:17

Deleted. Will give Shakespeare - and what Aristotle really meant by "pity and fear", catharsis etc.  in tragic drama - a rest. Wrong place. Sorry.

(But I am right about the fear thing.  Fighting )


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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Wed 12 Mar 2014, 18:52

Perhaps tragedy in real life comes when the onlooker senses the downward path first - hence all the proverbs and cliches such as 'Pride comes.....' my mother could churn these out daily with horrible accuracy. This seems to happen when talent is greater than the bearer so we painfully watched the downfall of other kings, Elvis, Michael Jackson, OJ, Tiger Woods, Paul Gascoigne, Mohammed Ali, George Best - though I doubt he ever had regrets; the sparkle was there to the end; perhaps it is the end of careers, the limitations of age and the awful sharp pinnacle of great success that herald the fall of such heroes. And perhaps I've got it all wrong. I reckon OJ is the only one I would fear but on the other hand he never became self aware, either.
 No one has mentioned Edward and Mrs Simpson. I just wonder if either ever had regrets.


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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 08:23

I don't think Edward VIII is a tragic hero - I suppose because he was always a weak, irresponsible and selfish man. He fails to qualify the way Charles I fails. No admiration for either of these two kings; no sense of a genuine greatness and nobility lost through error or flaw. The flaws and errors were there all right, but not much else. (Thinking about it, the same could be said of my previous candidate, MQS. I once read somewhere that someone - can't remember if it was a historian or not - said of Edward VIII:"The man was a Stuart.)
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 11:10

Well if not Hitler - and I certainly concur that you can't have him as a tragic hero, not even as a Aristotelian one -  then how about Albert Speer?

His fall from Reichminister to convicted war criminal and historian, and you don't come much lower than that  Wink  is certainly dramatic.

After his (in)glorious rise, his subsequent actions during and after his fall would appear to be largely commendable. At the Nuremburg Trials he was reported to be the one who "made the most straightforward impression of all and ... during the long trial spoke honestly and with no attempt to shirk his responsibility and his guilt". In prison, having narrowly escaped the hangman's noose, he turned his time to studying history, and in his writings spent much time exploring his own role  ...  and in creating a intricate garden within the prison grounds. He was largely shunned by his fellow prisoners. And when finally released he anonymously donated to Jewish charities supporting Holocaust survivors, most of the royalties he earned from his books.

Clearly a very intelligent man I wonder what really drove him to make his Faustian pact with Nazism ... since he rose so high he could never subsequently claim with any real credibility that he was, "just following orders". Was it personal ambition for power and influence? Yes, but at times I also get a sense of him just trying to impress those around him and to do well at what they wanted, be they his father, or the fuhrer. When a teenager he had passionately wanted to become a mathematician - he excelled at the subject and enjoyed solving maths' problems, but his father told him that if he chose this path he would "lead a life without money, without a position and without a future". So he acquiesced and dutifully followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and studied to be an architect. As "Hitler's Architect" he was certainly very good, and as Hitler's minister for armaments his organisational skills and technical competence enabled him to further increase production despite wartime bombing. 

But was he just swept along with the Nazi agenda for his own agrandisement, did indeed choose to not see what was happening, or did he really see what was going on but felt trapped and helpless to act? Or did just choose not to act because everything was going well? Possibly all these and more at different stages in his advancement and subsequent fall.

As I say his tale is good drama even if not the stuff of tragic heroism. But might he yet be considered an Aristotelean tragic hero?


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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 11:48

Erwin Rommel? - A hero to his troops - respected by his foes who served his country with patriotic dedication but denied the truths that drew on  it until he found courage to stand up against it. Many battle commanders  of greatness have probably eventually reflected  on the reasons for supporting an  unworthy cause blindly followed with ambition until their notion of self worth can stand no more and the rebel and fall in grace. Possibly Von Paulus is one of these but I am less sure of that than I used to be  after wider reading.
Overweening ambition has doubtless unseated many a great person
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12:21

I'll go along with Rommel ...and he was forced to take his own life too if he wanted to retain any of his honour ... all very graecio-dramatic stuff!

So Nordy, do we get a C+ or a D-   

... or do we maybe get that much coveted sign of Miss Brown's approval when I was nine years old ... a gold star?!?!   Smile
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12:51

I like Rommel as a tragic hero - but what was the character flaw that accounted for his fall from grace? It seems that with Hitler one only had to be competent as a general to earn his distrust and that's hardly counted as a flaw normally. Ill-advised for a career officer in the Nazi regime certainly, but a flaw?

With Speer it's easier to see the fit with Aristotle's idea. The flaw there is dishonesty, especially about himself.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12:57

Oh bum .... so not even a E+ ... and sent to the back of the class to do colouring books while everyone else gets to do "The Greeks".

Bah!  Smile
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 13:15

MM wrote:
That's fear for and not fear of, that person, right?


Well, I think you deserve an A* for that, MM - I am really sorry I didn't pick up on what you said earlier (didn't read early posts carefully enough). You are right.

I keep putting my hand up and trying to ask Sir about that, but he don't want to know. I read in a book once that it's fear for, not fear of. Him and his bloody Greeks.

He can shove his gold stars. I'd rather do art anyway, so hand over the colouring sticks.






 Smile (Sort of.)
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 13:29

Fear for works for me too. But Aristotle didn't quibble in that regard. For him "... fear may be defined as a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of some destructive or painful evil in the future." So the important thing is that watching this character in action engenders such a feeling, be it on the character's behalf or not is entirely up to how much you veer towards empathy.

Really, don't get hung on this one. If you limit yourself to those who induce your empathy you'll be eliminating loads of candidates Ari wouldn't have.

Interestingly Aristotle discounted being thick or being bad as character traits in a person which could make one fear them (Rhetoric, Book 2 "for there are some evils, e.g. wickedness or stupidity, the prospect of which does not frighten us). For him it was a person's actions that might lead to great pain and loss that instilled in us a great fear, whether for them or for us.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 13:51

What about Napoleon?  A brilliant general beloved by his troops at the start who ended up invading Russia and dying in exile?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 14:08

But surely Napoleon is not a tragic hero according to Aristotle. The great N. ended up broken and defeated, true, but it was the British and their allies who broke him.

A tragic hero has to be defeated by elements within himself which he cannot, or will not, control.

Had Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo, he would have lived happily ever after, I think.

Is that right, Sir?  Smile (I bet it's not.)
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 14:32

I'm not the arbiter here, it's Aristotle who's in charge. There's a strong case I think for characterising Napoleon's absolute belief in his ability to always succeed despite previous evidence to the contrary as a flaw (Caesar suffered from exactly the same problem), though as you say he met his "Waterloo" only due to some belatedly astute strategy on Wellington and Blucher's part on the day. It could well have gone the other way and his "flaw" never exposed.

A tough one.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 18:19

Rommel - flawed in that he turned a blind eye towards the cause he was fighting for -is that flaw enough - or is it too common to reckon?

Writing fictional about character flaws and tragedy is easier than identifying realities- though it is interesting that Shakespeare did not write about HenryII - even Katherine was an interesting package.

I shall try to consider what flaws could thwart a great life that might later be regretted after failure and self awareness took its toll. There could be people of science in this too - those who refuse to accept new ideas perhaps - but my knowledge of science is tissue thin.

And another thing - who went over the lines in our back of the class colouring book, mm?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 18:40

I suppose Ney might fit the bill better than Buonaparte - his own loyalty to his erstwhile leader lead him to the scaffold for betraying the new regime.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Thu 13 Mar 2014, 20:10

Just as Caesar's most loyal lieutenants all came a cropper too - those who invested most in sustaining his own hype in any case. There were only about 15 years between his death and the senate's capitulation to Octavius by which time there was nearly no one left of his at one time extensive network of powerful supporters left standing. Octavius might have taken his adoptive father's name as a title but he certainly eliminated almost every other vestige of the man's power, including the lieutenants who had shared in the wielding of it.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 15 Mar 2014, 10:45

So does Marcus Junius Brutus qualify? According to Aristotle, a man who is too "eminently just and virtuous" is hopeless tragic hero material.

Influenced no doubt far too much by Shakespeare, I have always found Brutus to be the most naïve Roman of them all, rather than the noblest; and tragic heroes, although they have to be ignorant of their own true natures - at the beginning of the action, that is - should never be naïve or gullible. Ah, but what am I saying? Straight away I'm stopped in my tracks - Othello. Mmm. What a tough module this is proving to be.

Brutus' details, however, given here on the Encyclopaedia Britannica (which one assumes is trustworthy) site, suggest that the real man was not such a Goody Two-Shoes after all.

Contrary to the principles he espoused as a Stoic, Brutus was personally arrogant, and he was grasping and cruel in his dealings with those he considered his inferiors, including provincials and the kings of client states. He was admired by Cicero and other Roman aristocrats, and after his death he became a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Shakespeare found in the Parallel Lives of Plutarch the basis for his sympathetic portrayal of the character Brutus in the play Julius Caesar.


http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/82449/Marcus-Junius-Brutus

He is still - for me at least - easily eclipsed by Antony in the tragic hero stakes, but that could be because Marlon Brando was better-looking than James Mason.

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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 15 Mar 2014, 11:54

Actually, I rate Cassius rather than Brutus in this regard. Forget Shakespeare's version - try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaius_Cassius_Longinus
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 15 Mar 2014, 15:49

@Temperance wrote:
Contrary to the principles he espoused as a Stoic, Brutus was personally arrogant, and he was grasping and cruel in his dealings with those he considered his inferiors, including provincials and the kings of client states. He was admired by Cicero and other Roman aristocrats, and after his death he became a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Shakespeare found in the Parallel Lives of Plutarch the basis for his sympathetic portrayal of the character Brutus in the play Julius Caesar.




This is pretty much my understanding of Brutus, but I've never read Wobblyweapon's play.

I think it should also be remembered that Brutus's mother Servilia was longtime mistress of Caesar, and it was rumoured that they had a child together. There is a strong suggestion that it was Brutus rather than either of his sisters because of Caesar's patience with his stupidities, or that could merely be because of his fondness for Servilia. Either way, a long history of possible resentment toward Caesar on Brutus' part and Cato was also an uncle of Brutus (Servilia's half brother if I remember correctly), lord knows what rubbish that plonker planted in the head of Brutus over the years.

There is no way any child could be raised amongst this politicised nest of vipers and ever be naive.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 15 Mar 2014, 16:27

@Islanddawn wrote:
@Temperance wrote:
Contrary to the principles he espoused as a Stoic, Brutus was personally arrogant, and he was grasping and cruel in his dealings with those he considered his inferiors, including provincials and the kings of client states. He was admired by Cicero and other Roman aristocrats, and after his death he became a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Shakespeare found in the Parallel Lives of Plutarch the basis for his sympathetic portrayal of the character Brutus in the play Julius Caesar.





Temperance didn't write this, the Encyclopaedia Britannica did!


ID wrote:
This is pretty much my understanding of Brutus, but I've never read Wobblyweapon's play.


It was Shakespeare's Brutus who was a really decent man, a man far too honourable for his own good. Antony made mincemeat of him. (Cassius saw it coming - warned Brutus that Antony should be killed along with Caesar, at which Brutus (nice but dim) spouted all sorts of high-flown stuff: "Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers." Wonder why the real Brutus let Antony get away? Big mistake.)


Can't resist a little quote:

Cassius:            ...I think it is not meet,
Mark Antony, so well beloved of Caesar,
Should outlive Caesar: we shall find of him
A shrewd contriver; and, you know, his means,
If he improve them, may well stretch so far
As to annoy us all: which to prevent,
Let Antony and Caesar fall together.

Brutus: Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar:
Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 15 Mar 2014, 17:17

@Temperance wrote:
@Islanddawn wrote:
@Temperance wrote:
Contrary to the principles he espoused as a Stoic, Brutus was personally arrogant, and he was grasping and cruel in his dealings with those he considered his inferiors, including provincials and the kings of client states. He was admired by Cicero and other Roman aristocrats, and after his death he became a symbol of resistance to tyranny. Shakespeare found in the Parallel Lives of Plutarch the basis for his sympathetic portrayal of the character Brutus in the play Julius Caesar.





Temperance didn't write this, the Encyclopaedia Britannica did!

Pedantic Temp, but I did realise that. However the name of the poster automatically appears when the quote button is pressed.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 15 Mar 2014, 17:33

Yo ah didn't mean ta be pedantic - perhaps you be being uh whack too sensitive? Ya' know what I'm sayin'? Yo, chill out there,  bitch - er -  I mean old bean.  Smile 


PS Honestly, I wasn't being pedantic about the button thing. I had no idea about the real Brutus - that's why I had to look him up on the Encyclopaedia Brit.  He actually sounds quite a nasty piece of work, so perhaps he can be a T.H. after all.

PPS ID, I am joking, honestly - I'm on Season Three of Breaking Bad now, so I'm really getting into this street lingo.

PPPS Walter White is a superb tragic hero - sort of Macbeth and Dr Faustus combined. It's a brilliant drama.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 05:46

I still fail to see why an issue needed to be made of what name appears on the bloody quote box Temp, with exclamation mark and all. I fully realised whose quote it was, and as I said it is the only version of Brutus that I know, not Shakespeare's which is why it was quoted. Anyway onwards and upwards.

Brutus was a slimey little weasel, and JC made a big mistake giving orders that he not be killed after Pharsalus and then forgiving him of all things. Brutus also enriched himself extorting money (and other not so nice things) out of the locals when he was in Cyprus as assistant governor, Cilicia and then Gaul as governor.

PS. I beg you to drop the street lingo.  Smile 

PPSS Watch all five series before naming Walter White as a tragic hero. Another nasty piece of work, although he did eventually do the right thing in the end and redeemed himself somewhat to be fair.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 06:58

ID wrote:

PPSS Watch all five series before naming Walter White as a tragic hero. Another nasty piece of work, although he did eventually do the right thing in the end and redeemed himself somewhat to be fair.


Exactly. Walter's an Aristotelean tragic hero all right - a Common Man/Faust/Macbeth for our times. Vince Gilligan has done what Arthur Miller tried to do (and failed, although his Death of a Salesman is an excellent play) with Willy Loman. Willy was a Common Man all right - and a sad, even a tragic one - but not much else. Being a tragic character is not the same as being a tragic hero. That's what has to be understood here on this thread if we are really taking Aristotle seriously.

PS Yes, I agree about dropping the street lingo. In my real (?) life, I have been told that if I say "yo" one more time there will be blood.  Smile
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 09:54

Aristotle and Plato both struggled with the question of honour and virtue, not just what they actually were but why both could lead individuals and indeed whole societies into really bad places. The tragic hero is often an example of this predicament - the more they attempt to establish an honourable or virtuous path the more it leads to destruction of what they are trying to protect. Wilde's "each man kills the thing he loves" is more than just a pithy observation in Greek philosophy but an apparently unavoidable rule against which the actual value of virtue and honour must be measured.

When Aristotle dabbled in dramatic criticism he was doing more than defining a set of parameters by which to judge a tragic hero in plays but attempting to take the reasoning behind such a predicament beyond the then common "the fickle gods have it in for us". His obsession with identifying patterns led him to conclude that the character flaws identified in drama and used to exemplify this behaviour deserved as much scrutiny as, if not more than, identifying the true nature of virtue, honour and all the other character traits to which we are encouraged to aspire. His conclusion, if it can be simplified at all, was that we are programmed in advance to fail in our aspirations and place the value of "goodness" on that which experience shows we can never attain. The heroic bit comes from an individual's acceptance of this after a valiant attempt to short-circuit this programming. The attempt might lead to catastrophe for the protagonist and all around him but it has also increased our insight into the grander scheme of things. Knowledge was the only absolute goal to Aristotle, however it is obtained. Incurring hardship or death in doing so is what makes it heroic.

This essentially Platonic thinking which Aristotle only amplified lies at a very deep level within the religious narrative that ultimately appealed to the Hellenic portions of the Roman empire and then to the empire itself. This is no coincidence - the notion that real knowledge is revelatory and requires endurance of hardship to achieve was already ingrained in that significant section of society. Christianity is one of the few religions which places a tragic hero at its centre, though the character is complicated with several overlays designed to encourage belief in his divinity for those outside the Aristotelean mindset or familiar with that way of thinking generally. Yet it is interesting that even today when the character is being deconstructed in order to make him more "relevant" and understandable to modern sensibilities it is to the tragic hero elements within it that it is often reduced. Stripped of the miracles, resurrection and other fantastical elements like the ascension into heaven etc we are left with a man who followed Aristotle's trajectory for the tragic hero almost as if following a script. Some of us actually suspect that this is exactly what was intended too.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 11:55

Jesus of Nazareth? What?  Shocked 

Surely it's Satan who's the tragic hero in that particular narrative - Milton certainly made him a splendid one (without realising it, they say; I'm not so sure).

Wilde suggested that Christ was a supreme artist, but I really don't see how He fits the bill as a tragic hero.

But it's an extremely interesting idea. No time now - but I'll be mulling this over all day. What a pain you are, nordmann.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 12:39

Satan is certainly one of sorts, though in a Jewish narrative and context, not necessarily one that overlaps well with the Greek model (motivation for actions is rather lacking or ill-defined in the older portions of the mythological cycle represented in the OT, something that disrupts completely the "fear" element).

Judas of course is one from the newer portions who fits the bill probably even better than the man he betrays, though again this is not as explicit as Aristotle would have insisted upon in the story, and this is again down to the poor description of his motives which since the story was first written down has allowed him to be demonised with justification equal to that used when his character is approached more sympathetically. But the essential ingredients for a good drama with Judas as tragic hero exist. They just ever needed a better author to highlight them, I think, and even Aristotle himself would have been appreciative of the result.

Jesus fits the bill if one ditches the metaphysical etc and concentrates on the man. The amount of evil unleashed by and upon those who he attempted to instruct in virtue is phenomenal - an absolutely classic instance of good intentions with regard to being virtuous leading to a tragic outcome which carries on even now. As a prime example of how the value and true nature of virtue cries out to be examined in the light of actual experience you could not wish for clearer.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 14:48

Enkidu?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 16:10

@nordmann wrote:
Satan is certainly one of sorts, though in a Jewish narrative and context, not necessarily one that overlaps well with the Greek model (motivation for actions is rather lacking or ill-defined in the older portions of the mythological cycle represented in the OT, something that disrupts completely the "fear" element).


The Jewish Satan may be a vague figure, but the Christian - or certainly Milton's - Satan is not. Surely he overlaps very nicely indeed with the Greek model. Motivation is most definitely not lacking, and one does feel great pity and fear for Satan when one reads Paradise Lost. The poor so-and-so is so desperately, unhappily, eloquently defiant. You almost want him to win. And the Archangel Gabriel is such a tedious bore.

@nordmann wrote:
The amount of evil unleashed by and upon those who he attempted to instruct in virtue is phenomenal - an absolutely classic instance of good intentions with regard to being virtuous leading to a tragic outcome which carries on even now. As a prime example of how the value and true nature of virtue cries out to be examined in the light of actual experience you could not wish for clearer.


I'm still fretting about Jesus of Nazareth, but, although I really hate to admit it, I do see what you are getting at.

So, what about Martin Luther? Not an obvious candidate, but then neither is his Master. I know he ended up married with six children and died of a heart attack, but even so...

What you say above has made me think of Cordelia's words in the final act of King Lear and of her father's reply. I keep apologising for quoting Shakespeare, but the man did understand a fair bit about tragedy, despite his "less Greek".

Cordelia:        We are not the first  
Who, with best meaning, have incurr’d the worst.  
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;  
Myself could else out-frown false Fortune’s frown.  
Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?
       
Lear:  No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison;  
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:  
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,  
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,  
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh          
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues  
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,  
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;  
And take upon ’s the mystery of things,  
As if we were God’s spies...




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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 17:54

Enkidu as an historical example of tragic hero might be stretching things a bit - just like Satan, I suppose (we'll give Jesus and Judas the benefit of historical doubt for this one, I think).

Martin Luther I can't see at all, either in terms of tragedy or heroism (as defined by Aristotle). The man stubbornly, even arrogantly it could be said, held firm in his views to the end and as far as I am aware did not ever comment on whatever negative fall-out his actions might have engendered in society. Not oblivious to it I am sure but certainly not one to even contemplate changing either his religious or his self-opinion one jot based on circumstances he had to a huge extent helped create.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 20:07

Perhaps you dismiss my suggestion a little too readily; however, it was just a suggestion. I have probably not understood your earlier post at all.

That said, may I recommend (if you have not read them already) two biographies of the man: Luther by Richard Marius and Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther by Derek Wilson. Both writers suggest that we should try to look beyond the obvious - the man's violent language, his unyielding dogmatism, his arrogance - and consider Luther's doubts. They were many, and they were agonising.

Here's Wilson:

"...his most devastating affliction was what he called Anfechtung, a psychosomatic disorder for which the word 'depression' is an inadequate translation. Mystics call it 'the dark night of the soul', a state of alienation in which God seems to be absent, leaving the believer prey to doubts and despair. Luther's bouts of inner turmoil had not come to an end with his discovery of salvation by only faith. Sometimes during his spiritual journey he would fall by the wayside, incapacitated by questions to which he received no easy answers - was he really right and the world wrong?...In the loneliness of his private devotion Luther wrestled with angels and demons - sometimes not sure which was which. On these occasions he was gripped by the fear of losing faith and, therefore, having nothing to look forward to but death, the complete annihilation of body, mind and spirit."

More telling - and perhaps more relevant to the topic - is Marius' comment that "Luther was willing to admit that he had made errors himself...It is true that among his last words were these: 'We are still beggars and that is the truth.' "

Perhaps that sentence and others claim a certain humility in principle, although it must be admitted it is rare indeed to discover that humility in Luther's practice.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 16 Mar 2014, 21:09

Yes, but what was the catharsis or cataclysm this Anfechtung pushed him towards? He may have wondered at times how could he be right and the world wrong but it would appear he always settled on the same answer each time. My gut says there was nothing actually tragic going on there - nothing obvious in any case that might rouse a bit of trepidation in most observers. I'll check and see what Aristotle might have said about moments of depression and self-doubt, but I reckon Luther would have had to go a bit further to match Ari's criteria for tragic heroism.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 07:34

@nordmann wrote:
Yes, but what was the catharsis or cataclysm this Anfechtung pushed him towards?


Isn't it the audience/spectator/onlooker who is supposed to undergo the process of catharsis, not the protagonist of the tragic drama?

I brought up Luther after reading what you had said about Jesus of Nazareth. Did Luther's Anfechtung bring him to his knees, make him question the worth of his whole life? Perhaps not. But knowing that your intellect - or rather your intellectual pride - has plunged the world into chaos and has led to a fight to the death - and the death of many - cannot have been easy. (Melancthon too was tormented and turned to Luther for advice on how to handle his depression - the blind leading the blind there.) Luther's final word may have been "Yes" in answer to the question, "Reverend father, are you prepared to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and confessing the doctrine you have taught in his name?" but the friends who surrounded his deathbed had had to "shake him awake", according to Marius, and the crucial question had to be "shouted" at him. I wonder if, like the dying Christ, Luther's final thought could have been "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" We do not - cannot - know. Remove him from the list by all means.

That said, I should like to quote, if I may, another paragraph from Richard Marius. There is perhaps profound irony in the final sentence:

"Luther considered man utterly wretched and miserable, and though he could respect human reason for devising ways for society to exist on earth, he felt utter contempt for the claims of philosophy to unravel the enigma of the universe and the nature and destiny of man. He was always tremendously awed before the mystery of things. Aristotle, with his explanation of everything under the sun, was to Luther a charlatan, a kind of huckster of the intellect, offering a worthless tonic to cure a deadly sickness. Luther always knew God as a person with a name and a will, acting, speaking, giving grace, withholding grace, sustaining the world by His power and directing it till doomsday. Aristotle's God never spoke, never listened, never comforted, never judged, never interfered with the orderly course of nature. Christians had begun to rediscover Aristotle's thought by about the year 1000, and many were entranced by his rules for logic which made orderly and systematic thought possible. Everyone recognised that there were dangers to the faith in his philosophy, but many believed that they could sort out the benefits from the perils and use Aristotle's help in the coherent expression of the Christian doctrine. But to Luther, mixing Aristotle with Christianity was as foolish as mixing poison with water. Aristotle taught an excessive pride in human reason: Luther thought such pride kept men from God and damned them to hell."

Mmm. But, what's this to do with the thread, this Monday morning, you may well ask? So, onward and upward, as ID urged; or, at least, onward and sideways.

PS Have a read of George Steiner's The Death of Tragedy. "The Judaic vision sees in disaster a specific moral fault or failure of understanding. The Greek tragic poets assert that the forces which shape or destroy our lives lie outside the governance of reason or justice. Worse than that: there are around us daemonic energies which prey upon the soul and turn it to madness or which poison our will so we inflict irreparable outrage upon ourselves and those we love...To the Jew there is a marvellous continuity between knowledge and action; to the Greek an ironic abyss." Mmm and mmm again. Steiner argues that tragedy in the Aristotelian sense is "that form of art which requires the intolerable burden of God's presence. It is now dead because His shadow no longer falls upon us as it fell on Agamemnon or Macbeth or Athalie."

I don't agree with that: tragedy has simply altered in style and convention. No More Heroes? Let's have a quick burst as we ponder that one.

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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 08:24

We have to stay away from the metaphysical to stick strictly to Aristotle's criteria so it is difficult to incorporate crises of conscience induced by theological struggles within his framework. It is also difficult to divorce the principal subject of tragic heroism from the cathartic or cataclysmic effect of his or her actions when imposing the criteria for what constitutes heroism upon their actions. An audience might go along for the ride but often empathically on the subject's behalf, as agreed earlier in the thread. For these reasons I'll take a rain check on Luther as a tragic hero. There is certainly a case to be made for presenting his life dramatically in that light - much like Bolt's treatment of Thomas More in "A Man For All Seasons" which we know to be liberal with its treatment of historical detail in order to prosecute precisely that case on More's behalf. Excellent drama, dodgy history, but Aristotle wouldn't have minded that, I think, except maybe he might judge More in terms of personal vanity and excessive pride - ironically enough given what Luther thought about him, as you pointed out.

However in the context of this thread I had hoped to avoid historical "cheating" and find examples of people who - without any requirement for dramatic embellishment or selective assessment by others afterwards - exhibited the features and fulfilled the criteria recquired by Aristotle (except the noble birth bit of course). There is much that can be surmised about Martin Luther, and he is indeed a far more complex man than either his supporters or detractors tended to portray, but the same could be said for Oliver Cromwell who - if one is selective in one's reasoning - can also be dramatically portrayed as a tragic hero in certain lights. Grey areas indeed.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 08:49

@nordmann wrote:
We have to stay away from the metaphysical to stick strictly to Aristotle's criteria so it is difficult to incorporate crises of conscience induced by theological struggles within his framework.


Quite the opposite, I should have thought.


@nordmann wrote:
It is also difficult to divorce the principal subject of tragic heroism from the cathartic or cataclysmic effect of his or her actions when imposing the criteria for what constitutes heroism upon their actions.


Catharsis is not the same as cataclysm. The audience has to undergo the one -  the purgation process -  as they contemplate the spectacle of the other - the protangonist's downfall.

Just as Tim - in some despair, I think - declared that he believed that you had been reading a different version of the New Testament from the one he had been reading, I'm beginning to think your copy of Aristotle's Poetics is very different from mine. But then, as Derrida or someone once said: "It's not what we get from the text; it's what the text gets from us."

Cromwell's a very interesting one. On that I do agree - also with what you say about Bolt's More.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 09:13

Temp wrote:
Catharsis is not the same as cataclysm. The audience has to undergo the one -  the purgation process -  as they contemplate the spectacle of the other - the protagonist's downfall.

Hmm ... yes sometimes they might but there is no imperative regarding where the catharsis arrives in the story - it can be through witnessing the dramatic hero's downfall certainly, but it can equally be when still in the pre-crisis stage of the narrative as the subject digs deeper the hole from which we know he will never emerge unscathed. If you read the Poetics you notice, for example, that Aristotle gradually replaces "catharsis" with another word "rhaumaston" (wonder or awe), almost as if he himself realised that purgation of our fears or anxiety did not always have to be so instantaneous, even in response to a dramatic representation. To Aristotle the tragic hero brings his audience through the tragedy with him and whatever the outcome for himself leaves the audience feeling better for the experience. His downfall is not an absolute requirement, though some form of crisis point may be.

The metaphysical, I would still believe, cannot precipitate such crisis alone - at least not by Aristotle's reckoning. Its contemplation is rather pure in terms of thinking versus action whereas it is the human interaction the subject undergoes that drives everything else in a tragedy. That is why Luther for me remains a grey area - his original motives might be explicable in metaphysical terms but the drama arose when the political implications of thinking such thoughts made themselves apparent and real. Socrates' "city of thought" is a rather sparsely populated one, normally not extending beyond the thinker himself. It is when one ventures into the real cities of this world that the proverbial hits the fan and the opportunity to become a dramatic hero arises. Luther, unless he was a complete moron, knew this too and therefore his motive to so venture out into the real world armed with his metaphysical weaponry is what Aristotle would have been interested in. Thinkers aren't heroes - thinkers who communicate their thoughts are what drive drama, in real life as well as on the stage.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 13:22

Oscar Pistorius?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 13:30

He has the flaw leading to the downfall alright, or at least so it appears. Whether he engages our empathy, understanding or even prompts loose identification with him and his plight however is questionable, MN. Or, as Temp might say, would you undergo an emotional catharsis whichever way the verdict pans out? I think with him it's the sense of "goodness" that's lacking. Even if there was a burglar in the bathroom could the action of shooting him through the door be deemed "well intentioned"?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 13:45

Perhaps to a man with no legs, the sense of vulnerability in the case of robbery is much greater and the consequent action therefore more drastic.  South Africa while beautiful can also be a very violent place.  I have worked with people from there who have had relatives killed by robbery and some who have been held up at gunpoint on the roads.  I just feel there is something very tragic about the whole thing.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 14:27

Actually I take back what I implied above and you're right, MadNan - Pistorius actually hits almost all of Aristotle's buttons regarding the character of the hero and the plot:

We must observe a hero who is relatively noble going from happiness to misery as a result of error on the part of the hero. Check.
Our pity and fear is aroused most when it is family members who harm one another rather than enemies or strangers. Check.
In the best kind of plot, one character narrowly avoids killing a family member unwittingly thanks to an anagnorisis that reveals the family connection. Sort of check.
The hero must have good qualities appropriate to his or her station and should be portrayed realistically and consistently. Check - though station in terms of a no-legged world famous athlete is difficult to pinpoint.
Since both the character of the hero and the plot must have logical consistency, Aristotle concludes that the untying of the plot must follow as a necessary consequence of the plot and not from stage artifice. Will check when the verdict comes in.


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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Mon 17 Mar 2014, 15:10

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Aristotle's Poetics. Not really relevant to this thread - they actually only start talking about tragedy about 18 minutes into the programme and nothing really about the tragic hero. However, the comments on catharsis are interesting.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xw210
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Wed 19 Mar 2014, 08:40

One last quotation. It's from Oscar Wilde ("The Picture of Dorian Gray"):

“The ugly and stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live - undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet. They never bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it from alien hands. Your rank and wealth, Henry; my brains, such as they are - my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks - we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly.”

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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 22 Mar 2014, 17:10

@Islanddawn wrote:


PPSS Watch all five series before naming Walter White as a tragic hero. Another nasty piece of work, although he did eventually do the right thing in the end and redeemed himself somewhat to be fair.


Just finished my Breaking Bad box set binge, ID; no question about it - WW died as a true tragic hero. You may be interested to read this article; not the most academic of reviews, but Aristotle is mentioned:

http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/walter_white_vs_macbeth/



What I’m waiting for in the final season is Walt’s awakening. The Greek term is anagnorisis: that moment when a character understands something he didn’t before. If Walt recognizes his own loss of conscience and is remorseful, he will have a noble end. But he may, like Macbeth, throw himself deeper into the abyss, believing that he has rendered his life meaningless through so many foul acts. Either way, Walt must have new understanding if Breaking Bad is to end with the excellence that has been its hallmark.


And of course it did come, that crucial moment of self-understanding or of "seeing things plain": we know this when Walter admits to Skyler that he was not driven by the love of his family, but by the thrill of doing wrong - and of becoming powerful. ("I liked it. I was good at it. It made me feel alive.")

But let me return swiftly to the thread.

Perhaps James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the third husband of Mary Queen of Scots, could be seen as a tragic hero? He is usually viewed as a thoroughly bad egg, but that is not the whole story. Bothwell was a man who started out well, as tragic heroes do. He was unswervingly loyal to Mary's mother, Marie de Guise, and was possibly the only member of the Scottish aristocracy who refused a pension from London: he was determined to fight for Scotland against the English, a nation he loathed above all others. He did everything - at first - to help Mary Stuart against the machinations of Moray, Morton and Darnley. He was a courageous fighter and a superb sea-captain (Bothwell was Lord High Admiral of Scotland). But, like Macbeth, his ambition proved to be greater than his loyalty. He was undoubtedly involved in the murder of Darnley (who wasn't?), but whether he raped Mary and forced her into marriage is open to debate.

His downfall was terrible. He was incarcerated at the infamous Dragsholm Castle by Frederick II of Denmark and was kept a prisoner there for ten years in appalling conditions. He died in his cell in 1578, having gone, it was reported, quite insane.


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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sat 22 Mar 2014, 19:55

I didn't know that last fact till quite recently and it still comes to me at random times, to fill me with horror.  He was kept chained, they said.  Does it help to go insane, do you think?  Or does it mean that you can't escape these demons at all? 

The thought of this is bad enough when I apply it to myself - when I think of it happening to young active men (aka my sons) it seems many times worse. I can't quite imagine what it was like for the ambitious, thrusting, energetic Bothwell.

As regards the thread subject, would he ever have felt he was wrong though?
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Sun 23 Mar 2014, 08:42

Yes, a terrible fate for a man of action like Bothwell - a man who spent most of his time riding free - and fighting -  in the wild moorland of the Border country around Hermitage Castle (he was Lieutenant of the Border) Either that, or on board a warship patrolling the Northern seas.

Did he regret anything? We have two documents allegedly written by him: Les Affaires du Comte de Boduel and a later "Testament". He confesses (and regrets) all in the latter, but, unfortunately for my desire to offer him as a tragic hero, it is almost certainly a forgery:

http://www.marie-stuart.co.uk/BothwellMemoirs.htm

http://www.marie-stuart.co.uk/BothwellTestament.htm





PS It is ironic that Bothwell, a man who (it is alleged) did use women very badly,  met his Fate - his Erinyes rather - in the form of three real women: Mary of Scotland, Elizabeth of England and a Norwegian girl called Anna Throndsen. The latter was actually responsible for his being handed over to Frederick of Denmark. Anna was a woman scorned if ever there was one, and it was her vengeful anger that consigned Bothwell to the hell of Dragsholm. I may post something about her on the Hell Knows No Fury thread.
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Tue 25 Mar 2014, 09:43


Caro, you may be interested to read this article about Bothwell from the Guardian. Seems other people see Bothwell as a bit of hero too, although that, of course, does not necessarily make him an Aristotelian tragic hero. Calling him "a forgotten Braveheart" is going a bit far. And hasn't the Guardian got the wrong miniature? The picture I've always seen presented as Bothwell (miniature painted at the time of his marriage to the beautiful Jean Gordon) is the one below.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/dec/26/mary-queen-scots-earl-bothwell

Elizabeth I was said to fear him as the one man whose allegiance she could never buy. At one point he was the only Scottish nobleman not on her payroll. And after his death, the mention of his name could still reduce her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, to tears.Now a new book claims that history has much maligned James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell (1534-1578). It argues that he was in fact another Braveheart who deserves a place alongside Celtic heroes such as Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. And, spurred on by the prospect of a full and glorious rehabilitation for the 16th-century Scot who died a horrible death in exile in Denmark, one of his descendants is campaigning to repatriate his body.

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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Fri 27 Jun 2014, 14:51

Writing a post about 13 year old AEJ Collins on the "This Day ..." thread prompted me to reflect on the manufacture of tragic heroes on an industrial scale between 1914 and 1918. So many of them, especially in the first few years, driven by nothing more complicated or hugh-falutin' as a sense of duty to one's country and bolstered by a sense of comradeship, streamed in endless lines from Britain, France, Germany, Austria and beyond to meet a death as violent as it was inevitable. It is actually so tragic, I think, that it meets criteria even Aristotle could never have dreamed of. In his day a warrior could expect to fight an opponent who at least could be seen. Industrial deathmongering's first great flourish of anonymous annihilation of an entire generation is Aristotelean tragedy magnified. Philosophy fails ...
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PostSubject: Re: History's True Tragic Heroes - an Aristotelean Survey   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 09:08

I'd like to see a tragedy written about Rupert Brooke. So ardent, so dutiful, so completely wrong.

He probably doesn't qualify as a tragic hero though, as he died before seeing any real action; he probably never underwent the terrible experience of anagnorisis - that awful realisation: "How could I have been such a bloody fool?" .

So typical of the man that he ended up being buried on a beautiful Greek island - he would, wouldn't he? - but killed by a mosquito.

Certainly a savage irony in that death.

I sat with Rupert. At 4 o’clock he became weaker, and at 4.46 he died, with the sun shining all round his cabin, and the cool sea-breeze blowing through the door and the shaded windows. No one could have wished for a quieter or a calmer end than in that lovely bay, shielded by the mountains and fragrant with sage and thyme.

Peace. (1914 Sonnet sequence)

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,  
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,  
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,  
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,  
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,  
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,  
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,  
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there's no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save4 this body, lost but breath;  
Nothing to shake the laughing heart's long peace there  
But only agony, and that has ending;  
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

Rupert Brooke



I sometimes imagine an encounter between Owen and Brooke in the afterlife; but I don't think Owen would be bitter, although Lord knows he had reason enough to be so. Of the two, I think it was Owen who actually had the nobler - certainly the more perceptive - soul.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmetsjust in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud  
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen


And Owen's line "And bugles calling from sad shires" - Anthem for Doomed Youth - always reminds me of Thomas's "all the birds/Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire."

But this is quite enough from me about this or anything.
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