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FUMARE

Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rumination: "The Son Is Far Better than The Father."

One of the most tender scenes in the world's literature is that of Hector and Andromache in Homer's Iliad. In a scene that has been played over and over during the passing of the centuries, Hector--the Trojan soldier--is about to leave for battle. On his way to war, he says what ultimately will be his last goodbye to his beloved wife Andromache and his little infant son Astyanax. The whole passage is worth reproducing:

When he had gone through the city and had reached the Scaean gates through which he would go out on to the plain, his wife came running towards him, Andromache, daughter of great Eetion who ruled in Thebe under the wooded slopes of Mount Plakos, and was king of the Cilicians. His daughter had married Hektor, and now came to meet him with a nurse who carried his little child in her bosom--a mere babe. Hektor's darling son, and lovely as a star. Hektor had named him Skamandrios, but the people called him Astyanax , for his father stood alone as chief guardian of Ilion.

Hektor smiled as he looked upon the boy, but he did not speak, and Andromache stood by him weeping and taking his hand in her own. "Dear husband," said she, "your valor will bring you to destruction; think on your infant son, and on my hapless self who ere long shall be your widow--for the Achaeans will set upon you in a body and kill you. It would be better for me, should I lose you, to lie dead and buried, for I shall have nothing left to comfort me when you are gone, save only sorrow. I have neither father nor mother now. Achilles slew my father when he sacked Thebe the goodly city of the Cilicians. He slew him, but did not for very shame despoil him; when he had burned him in his wondrous armor, he raised a barrow over his ashes and the mountain nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, planted a grove of elms about his tomb [sêma]. I had seven brothers in my father's house, but on the same day they all went within the house of Hades. Achilles killed them as they were with their sheep and cattle. My mother--her who had been queen of all the land under Mount Plakos--he brought hither with the spoil, and freed her for a great sum, but the archer--queen Artemis took her in the house of your father. Nay--Hektor--you who to me are father, mother, brother, and dear husband--have mercy upon me; stay here upon this wall; make not your child fatherless, and your wife a widow..."

And Hektor answered, "Wife, I too have thought upon all this, but with what face should I look upon the Trojans, men or women, if I shirked battle like a coward? I cannot do so: I know nothing save to fight bravely in the forefront of the Trojan host and win renown alike for my father and myself. Well do I know that the day will surely come when mighty Ilion shall be destroyed with Priam and Priam's people, but I grieve for none of these--not even for Hecuba, nor King Priam, nor for my brothers many and brave who may fall in the dust before their foes--for none of these do I grieve as for yourself when the day shall come on which some one of the Achaeans shall rob you for ever of your freedom, and bear you weeping away....May I lie dead under the barrow that is heaped over my body ere I hear your cry as they carry you into bondage."

He stretched his arms towards his child, but the boy cried and nestled in his nurse's bosom, scared at the sight of his father's armor, and at the horse-hair plume that nodded fiercely from his helmet. His father and mother laughed to see him, but
Hektor took the helmet from his head and laid it all gleaming upon the ground. Then he took his darling child, kissed him, and dandled him in his arms, praying over him the while to Zeus and to all the gods. "Zeus," he cried, "grant that this my child may be even as myself, chief among the Trojans; let him be not less excellent in strength, and let him rule Ilion with his might. Then may one say of him as he comes from battle, 'The son is far better than the father.' "


This passage is beautiful on many levels, but I wish to focus on the last thing that Hector says here: "The son is far better than the father." How many fathers have wanted this of their sons from time immemorial! This sentiment is as old as the human race itself and is, what Belloc would say, one of "those enduring things." Does our culture so rooted in the history of the West still believe this? Do we want what's best for our children? Do we want them to do better than ourselves? Or do we want children at all? This recent study has disappointing news. How do we get back to these "enduring things?"

There is a maxim in theology: "Grace builds on nature." We need to nail down the nature part of things--i.e., rekindle that natural desire for and joy in having children in a stable and loving marriage. Then we can convert the heathen and take care of that grace part.

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