“Inter arma silent Musae”, says the wisdom, which is neither old (a presumably modern paraphrase of a quote from Cicero) nor true, as countless examples prove. When arms speak, muses are silent – but no, neither the muses, nor Eros, nor Apollo, nor Pallas Athena, nor the other deities have withdrawn, in fact they are having a great time amidst the clash of arms, see Iliad.
When I was a child, one of the main world-political phrases was “demilitarization”. In principle, the Cold War had just ended, everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the evil had fallen, good had won, Armageddon had been averted, and it was time to disarm. And now, still in the final hours of my youth, I see that the prefix “de-” has slowly worn off, and everyone is equipping, buying and supplying weapons, developing armies, recruiting soldiers, etc. etc. etc. . Of course I understand, the other started it, this is only to preserve peace, and it’s a necessity and let’s face it, but, really, let’s finally read history. You don’t even need to go back to Cicero, just flip open a history book at any point and you will see how all “well-intentioned” armaments did a crescendo into ever bigger and bloodier wars. The real rifle is only Chekhov’s rifle: if it appears in a play, sooner or later it will be fired, so despite all the childhood hopes, I (and my children) will probably live in times of war. There it is, let’s get over it.
The point is not that, anyways, but what deities are playing with while people are killing each other? The Iliad, when reading it and letting the dust kicked up by Achilles’ and Hector’s horses settle, we will see no heaps of bones or a pool of blood above the ruins of the fallen bastions of Ilion or the ruins affording a lamentable spectacle after the blaze, but two beautiful love stories, set within the most human and ancient scenery by the great director, and that scenery is the war.
But what remains is pure art, the muses rejoice and weep, their weeping merges with the lament of Achilles, who is hunched over the body of Patroclus, heedless of war, history, heroic death, just weeping, and from his weeping Western art is born. And of course, the other brilliant doorstop, War and Peace is not about war and peace, not in the least. It’s about Prince Andrei looking at the sky, Natasha and the many faces of happiness and unhappiness, Pierre’s pathfinding, the many questions before end comes. And this is what makes it beautiful, that the answers are nowhere to be found, and the questions can be asked in the noise of gunfire, and perhaps they echo longer than in times of peace.
Art is not dead, it’s regaining strength. Just listen.
Author: Máté Hámori