Men of the Trojan War

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The Society convened Thursday as usual in the Philodemic Room to debate Resolved: Hector is a Better Man than Achilles. I am very pleased to announce that it was also the Society’s first induction of the year! Mr. Mac Dinneen (COL ’15) of Florida affirmed along with Ms. Annie Aleman (SFS ’15) of California, who made her induction. On the negation, Mr. Patrick Eisen (SFS ’17) also of California began, and Mr. Tyler Hunt-Smith (SFS ’16) of Alaska made his induction!

Mr. Dinneen started by clarifying that this was a literary debate about Hector and Achilles from the Trojan War, not meant to focus exclusively on The Illiad. Mr. Dinneen then informed the debate by giving us a brief summary of how the Trojan War began: Zeus asked Paris to judge whether Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite was the most beautiful. Aphrodite then successfully bribed Paris by promising him Helen of Troy if he chose her. Naturally, Helen’s husband wasn’t thrilled about her abduction, and so war broke out. Hector was the greatest fighter from Troy and Achilles was the greatest fighter from Greece as well as the greatest warrior of his age—the resolution, Mr. Dinneen explained, wasn’t meant to judge the men on those indisputable grounds. He also noted that Homer portrays Achilles as mighty, but simultaneously as a man who begs and pleads. Hector is described as “good” by Zeus. Additionally, Dante and Shakespeare saw Achilles as an arrogant traitor and Hector as the better man in the War.

Mr. Eisen defended Achilles, saying that he was indeed a demigod but we often forget his more mortal and vulnerable aspects. Mr. Eisen reminded us that Achilles only fights because Hector killed his best friend, Patroclus. His rage is simply too great to contain. Lastly, it cannot be ignored that Achilles knew his fate: he had the option of dying tragically with glory in war, or to live a long life and die in obscurity. Achilles’ tragic flaw, his rage, led him to fight, but he was also a loyal friend and a true leader.

Ms. Aleman continued the affirmation after thanking her mentor and all who helped her. Unlike the previous keynoters though, she opened her speech with a question: “What does it mean to be better?” She took a survey among her friends and found that the common theme surrounded being good or better is to have a positive or beneficial impact on others. As such, Ms. Aleman claimed we had to look to Hector’s and Achilles’ intentions. She boldly asserted that Achilles went to battle as “an egotistic and selfish jerk” whereas Hector went to battle to defend his homeland. Ms. Aleman closed by asking the audience to “look behind the actions of every man, look behind to their intentions.”

Mr. Hunt-Smith initiated his speech by reminding the Society that Achilles was the greatest warrior of his time, and even Hector only fought Achilles because Apollo was supporting him. Furthermore, Achilles had all the right reasons for fighting; even when Agamemnon degraded him (a huge deal in ancient Greece!) Achilles didn’t fight. Achilles only went to battle because of his unfathomable grief and rage over Patroclus’ death—Achilles was “not exactly the uncaring brute the affirmation would leave you to believe.” But what truly makes Achilles the better man is that Hector’s actions at the end of the Trojan War were arrogant and deliberately disrespectful whereas Achilles’ character continues evolving for the better, until he overcomes his hubris and becomes the better man by accepting his fate.

Then, as the keynoters took their seats, Mr. Schafer opened the floor. He said that we can look to how “Hector went down in history with glory and honor”, whereas Achilles went down for passion and infamy. Yet Mr. Naft disagreed, comparing Achilles’ death to his swan song, the most beautiful action he could have taken, and one that was in service to his country. Bringing up a rather different analogy, Mr. Musgrave compared Hector to Derek Jeter and Achilles to Alex Rodriguez, acknowledging that although A-Rod is more athletic, he’s clearly not the better person. With members apparently deep in thought, Mr. Andrew Shaughnessy (COL ’17) snagged an early chance to speak. He reminded us that military values are very different from civilian values and that neither man might be better or worse if each could be “operating on different mandates.” Ms. Hernick quickly responded to Mr. Shaughnessy though, by saying that we cannot rely on relativism and must examine “better” as it applies to actions and intent. Despite Ms. Hernick’s response, Mr. Fletcher still returned to the idea of military life and how soldiers are often dehumanized; how can we judge Achilles without knowing the burden of surviving a battle that your friends don’t?

Mr. Kim, however, audaciously called Achilles a 12 year old, saying that he was blatantly uncivil and that Hector was the more authentic character. But Mr. Edgar stopped all of the speakers, by proclaiming that we were missing the facts! Aside from being deservedly arrogant and very complex, Achilles was also the only man who stayed true to his emotions, to his true love for Patroclus. Ms. Burke also agreed with Mr. Edgar…except that by choosing to go into battle, Achilles knowingly negated life, and that is unpardonable. Mr. Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) brought Ms. Burke a reality check though, declaring that good man cannot be equated with life in a war context and then posed a very interesting question: is it better to be the invincible savior, or the man who confronts him, knowing he will die? Then Mr. Young took over the floor, urging us all to abstain because it is the gods’ fault that two similar men are pitted against each other! And really, isn’t abstention the side that we’re on?

The non-members widened the ideas on the floor even more, with Mr. Jeremiah Fernandez (SFS ’16) proclaiming that “Hector exists as a shadow of Achilles” and that only Achilles tragically faced his enemy: fate. But Ms. Mallory Vial (COL ’18) asked us to consider the men’s actions when they killed an enemy, noticing how Achilles disgraced his victim while Hector returned the body. Ms. Katherine Landau (SFS ’17) brought in a twist: better can only be viewed in context of what each man was raised to be, and in that sense only Achilles fulfilled his destiny. Ms. Alex Weissman (SFS ’18) supported Ms. Vial’s point, saying that Achilles only returned Hector’s body for a ransom after having mutilated it, and that Hector was defending his homeland while Achilles was going on a rampage.

Mr. Rosenberger then restarted the member speaking time by mentioning an older version of the Trojan War where Achilles chooses to run away with Patroclus, choosing love, the highest goal. However, Mr. Greco keenly pointed out that Hector also loved and that Achilles was destructive. Then, after demonstrating that Hector was only defending his homeland because he was the one being invaded, Ms. Krawczyk further observed that if both men are equal, it’s a vote for the negation. The beauty in Hector for Vice President Wilson though, stemmed from his humanity and how he shows us that even petty humans have an impact.

Subsequently, Mr. Mouch returned to the idea of military values; the men should be judged on who preserved the most lives, and Achilles clearly did that. Yet Hector would be the man with “self-interest rightly understood” as Toqueville had it, proclaimed President DiMisa; he would be the one to fit into society better. Ms. Grace again rebutted the President, saying that Achilles knew his role in the community better than Hector did, and made sure his life was worth leaving. Instead, Mr. Willis again directed the debate towards the military code, telling Mr. Mouch that Achilles actually ignored the war for the majority of it, letting his men die futilely.

Mr. Perez-Reyes then changed the tone of the debate by positing that the best man is the one that embraces death, not succumbs to it, referencing the tale of the three brothers from Harry Potter. But Ms. Christensen thought of better as who she would want to share life in some way with and she “would still rather claim a connection to [Hector] than Achilles”.

With that last speech, Mr. Hunt-Smith thanked everyone and cleared up a few misconceptions. First, Hector was prevented from desecrating Patroclus’ body and Achilles had a better reason to kill anyway. Next, the Greeks were present to punish Paris and Hector was actually the one to leave his men behind. Hector’s pride increases throughout the War, whereas Achilles’ only decreases.

Ms. Aleman followed her fellow inductee, claiming that like runner Steve Fontaine, Achilles simply has too many flaws to ignore. In order to be better Achilles had to prove that he could go beyond himself. Unfortunately, he could not do that for motivations aside from lust. On the flip side, Hector did go beyond the self and was not the better warrior, but certainly had better morals.

Mr. Eisen closed the negation by saying that Achilles chooses death in the name of Patroclus’ vengeance, evincing his level of care for him. Even in an Indian epic, the god Krishna does not let the hero choose life over duty. The warrior is forced, like Achilles, to fight and meet his fate. And, Achilles, as the more complex character was indeed the better man.

Finally, Mr. Dinneen ended the night by saying that although Achilles may not have had a true choice according to Greek destiny, either way he was living the good life: a long comfortable life, or death as a legend. Hector had no choice—he could stay and fight to die, or run away as a coward. The only hope Hector had was of the afterlife, and Achilles told Hector before killing him that he would desecrate Hector’s body, keeping him from enjoying eternal life.

This resolution was then solidly affirmed with a vote of 30-6-15!

Again, a hearty congratulations to Ms. Aleman and Mr. Hunt-Smith. They are wonderful additions to the Society and I know everyone is thrilled to have them!

ELD,

Rosa Cuppari

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