Today I was reading John Fine’s breezy introduction to the ancient Greeks. This is history writing at its best as a first rate scholar goes right ahead and makes assertions without getting bogged down wit too many footnotes. Academic labor can suffer from two faults: either being assertive, but ignorant, or too careful to be interesting. Fine is the rare balance between the two. Fine gets one thinking . . . and that is praise worthy indeed. His views on Homer and history were provocative. He traces the swing between the views that Homer was pure myth to taking Homer as history. At present (if Fine is to be believed) scholars are in the middle position. Homer is describing a war that happened and even some of the details are correct. However, much of the story is more a reflection of the ninth century B.C. than of the time of the Trojan War. One ‘anachronism’ he cites is the description of Ajax and his armor which is “earlier” than the time of the War. I paused. Any time someone takes the middle position in a scholarly book, my warning lights begin to flash. Too often middle positions are incoherent muddles that succeed only in stealing the weaknesses of both extremes while avoiding their strengths. Ajax always seemed a dullard to me in Iliad, the Hulk without a trace of Bruce Banner. Might such a man be backwards, intentionally anachronistic? Of course, he might. And so we are left with the text and best guesses. Isn’t best to assume the text is accurate? Much of the rest of the assault on Homer seemed equally flimsy to me. I have little tolerance for the culture of cultivated skepticism that surrounds much of the academy. We do not believe without confirmation. Since confirmation of our father’s tales will rarely be found, we end up with a limited and pedestrian history. Instead, I have decided to believe that there were fairies in the glen, if my ancestors say so, than to adopt the fruitless skepticism that doubts such a thing without a fairy to dissect. And the doubters would dissect a fairy, make no mistake. Of course, the elite intellectuals never sneer at themselves only at love of God, country, and family. They are, I think, mostly bitter losers forced by an inability to compete to live in the socialist habitat of academic cloisters tearing down men and women who could thrash them in a fair fight. I think the time is long past when we began to trust the stories of our grandmothers more than the latest jargon ridden papers of the authorities.
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