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A Modernization Of The Theme Of The Iliad


The director walked onto the stage, gingerly adjusting his
radiation mask in order to fit the microphone beneath it.
His nervous cough boomed through the hall. After shuffling
the papers on the podium before him, he began.
"Welcome ladies and gentlemen of the Pre-Apocalypse
Archaeological Society. We have called this session to
impart to you a matter of the utmost importance, a
discovery of the highest order. As you are aware, our teams
have only recently been able to sift through the debris of
the razed cities of our belligerent predecessors. Thanks to
the efforts of our colleagues at the Physical Research
Society who, with the aid of Allah, have made our task
infinitely easier. With the invention of a radiation suit,
our field workers have been able to work even in areas of
the highest radiation concentration: the cities of what was
formerly the United States of America. The discoveries are
literally pouring in, and we have our hands full
cataloguing the numerous finds. Our first find was a small
rectangular object, containing a spool of thin ribbon,
which one of our historians identified as what was known as
a cassette. Simply put, it was a device on which sounds
could be recorded. From its small size, our historian
conjectured that it was of a type designed for recording
the human voice rather than music. Armed with this belief,
we managed to convince the Censor Society to allow us to
reconstruct the primitive machine to play back the message
we hoped it would contain. They agreed; on the condition
that we did not do so until they had a chance to screen it
for the negative influences that caused the downfall of the
last corrupt civilization. They duly approved it and we are
now ready for its first public presentation.
Before we begin, I would like to explain some of the terms
used in the recording, for those of you who lack the
benefit of an historical training. The tape is evidently
the recording of a psychologist. You are all aware that the
sacrilege which led to the destruction of the Nuclear Age
was primarily caused by the decline in religious belief and
values. A psychologist was the person who supplanted the
role of the confessor in this blasphemous time. He labored
under the delusion that the immortal soul was accessible on
a scientific, human level; and, like most of the scientists
of the day, impiously discounted Allah as an unnecessary
complication. We found an infamous saying which pervaded
much of the Pre- Apocalypse literature: `Religion is the
opiate of the people'. Well, psychology became the new
`opiate of the people.'
The patient with whom the doctor is dealing with in the
recording, has been identified as a prominent businessman
of the day. He is what was called an arbitrageur. A man who
specialized in dealings on their stock market, a term I am
sure is known by all of you. In any case, an arbitrageur
bought and sold companies for a profit. In the few pieces
of literature we have been able to recover, it seems that
such men were regarded as the heroes of their age. I refer
of course to the numerous copies we have of the
autobiographies of Donald Trump, Robert Campeau and the
like. Evidently the culture considered these books to be of
great importance, for we found huge amounts of them in
large buildings. This was apparently for safekeeping since
the storage facilities were located well away from the
centers of attack in the event of a nuclear war. The
periodicals of the day also reflect the reverence in which
these men were held, as they are frequently mentioned. It
is another mark of the degradation of the society that the
primary estimate of a man's worth became the amount of
money he earned. It is difficult in this holy age to
conceive of such blasphemy, but it is necessary that we do
so in order to avoid the same traps into which they fell.
We have managed to reconstruct the scenario as far as was
possible, but we endeavored to retain all of the original
conversation in addition to our own narration. I don't
think that there is anything further that you need to know
about the recording, except perhaps that it appears to be
incomplete. I would ask that you remain as silent as
possible, because the tape is of very low quality and the
accent is very difficult to understand. If you are having
trouble, I suggest that you follow along in the transcripts
with which we have provided you." The Director signaled for
the tape to begin, and left the stage.
Dr. Zeis loaded the cassette into the machine and tested
it. It wouldn't do to have it chew up the tape again,
especially not for so important a patient: the sort of
patient who could make his career . . . or break it. He
knew he couldn't afford to squander his good fortune. As
his mind wandered over the seemingly endless ramifications
of success, the static crackle of the intercom interrupted
his reveries. It was his secretary warning him that Mr.
Reussi was on his way in. The doctor rewound the tape and
offered up a quick prayer that it would work. The door
swung open and one of the world's richest, most powerful
men strode in.
Mr. Oswald Achilles Reussi had made his fortune by taking
over companies and turning them around. He was able to
start at such a high level because of the substantial
inheritance he had received from his father. He was rich
enough to ensure that he received only the best sort of
publicity, and that was why he had been so irate when the
media learned that he was in therapy and had printed the
story with a glee that only those who made their living
from sordid details were capable of acquiring. Dr. Zeis had
regretted his indiscretion, but that sort of publicity was
simply too tempting to resist. He had only been able to
calm the fuming man by convincing him that it was essential
that he not be afraid of the stigma of therapy in order for
it to work for him. An old dodge, but it had performed its
function and placated the incensed patient.
Oswald crossed the room with a gruff greeting (Dr. Zeis had
learned early that this was not a man to waste time). He
took his customary position, sprawled on the couch. Dr.
Zeis did not place any value in Freud's theories regarding
the merits of the couch, but he didn't have the heart, or
the nerve, to object.
"Well Mr. Reussi," he began, glancing down at the few notes
he had been able to salvage from the previous session's
mangled tape, "last week, we established with a fair degree
of certainty, that you are suffering from an unresolved
Oedipus complex. This, in turn, has contributed to your
success, by engendering in you a sense of competition with
your father. The matter was not helped by the fact that you
frequently suffered comparison with him in your youth.
"This week I hope to confirm the conclusions we drew
through a brief examination of your present life. This
examination will, hopefully, yield manifestations of this
dysfunction, and then we may direct our efforts to its
resolution. So, perhaps you could tell me about what is
troubling you most at present." Oswald shifted
uncomfortably and seemed to be searching for a topic. He
eventually settled, and began.
"You've probably heard about my attempted takeover of
Trojan Inc., the rubber company. I was not in it for the
money, I suppose that all I really wanted was to complete a
deal of historic proportions. At any rate, I had submitted
a bid, and, because of the amount of money involved, didn't
expect to encounter any serious competition. The board of
directors was not very happy with the offer, but I knew the
shareholders would not allow such an opportunity to pass
them by. Just when I was hammering out the final details
and preparing to submit the offer to the Securities
Commission for final approval, a former friend of mine,
Alexander Atreides, came in and pulled a white knight,
right under my nose."
"I'm sorry," the doctor interrupted, "but I'm afraid you'll
have to explain technical terms to me; I'm not well versed
in the language of business. I don't understand what you
mean by a `white knight'."
" Oh, that's fairly straightforward. A white knight refers
to a strategy that companies use to prevent being taken
over by a hostile party. They find someone who they would
like to take over the company, and then they convince him
to undertake the attempt by promising him the endorsement
of the board of directors. Although in this case, Alexander
offered his services to the directors, convincing them with
guarantees of job security. So the board naturally jumped
at the chance, and he stole the company from right under
"How do you feel about his actions?"
"I was angry at first, but now he's in serious financial
trouble because his attempt to pull off `the greatest
takeover in history' is being stalled by the company's
Chief Executive Officer." "I read something about it in the
paper. He's attempting to take over Trojan, but the head of
the company, Hector Prince, won't let him."
"That's right," replied Oswald. "Trojan is the world's
largest manufacturer of condoms, and with the present scare
over social diseases, it's business is booming. They also
own several tire companies; basically, they own anything
that involves the use of rubber."
"Can you help Mr. Atreides?" asked the psychologist.
"Yes, but I'm not going to. I believe that this is some
sort of divine retribution. Fate is paying him back for
cheating me out of my company," said Oswald complacently.
"Did he do something illegal?"
"You mean in stealing Trojan from me?" The doctor nodded.
"Not really, but it's not the sort of thing one does to
one's friends. I mean he knew that I wanted the takeover,
and that this company was the target I had chosen over five
years ago. I had just been biding my time until an
opportunity presented itself; and when it did, he was right
there to take advantage of things I had told him as a
friend . . . confidential things." "Mr. Reussi, I have
heard nearly enough," the doctor said, putting down his
notebook, "but there is one more thing that I need to know.
If Mr. Atreides had not done what he did in the Trojan
takeover, would you help him to defeat Hector?" "I would
jump at the chance of making that dog Hector squirm. He's
one of the most despicable men I know. He never fails to
point out that my father married into money, while his
family is one of those that trace their ancestry to the
"Then, if I may, I suggest that you go to Mr. Atreides'
aid." The doctor knew that this would not be received
warmly and was prepared to defend it. "Why should I help
Alexander? He's as much of a bastard as Hector!" The doctor
cleared his throat.
"Firstly, it would be to both of your advantages to see Mr.
Prince out. You've already stated that you would like to
see him squirm, well here's your chance. And to top it all,
you would have a chance to be part of the largest takeover
in history. You stated yourself that this was your main
motive in the matter."
"It's true that I would like to see Hector squirm, but I
hate to have to save Alexander in the process," said Oswald
"Secondly, we have already established that you have an
unresolved Oedipus complex and-" "I'm not absolutely
certain that I understand what it is to have an `unresolved
Oedipus complex'," Oswald interrupted.
"I apologize for not clarifying my psychological terms for
you. An Oedipus complex, as you are probably aware, is a
normal childhood phenomena. Because of the child's natural
love for his mother, he views his father as being in
competition with him for that love, and, as a result,
develops a hatred of him. The complex is usually resolved
by the child's development of a `castration complex.' Two
primary reasons contribute to this: first the child is
frequently scolded for touching his genital area, and,
secondly he may see a naked girl and believe that she has
been punished for the same crime, by having the offending
organ amputated. In his irrational fear of castration, the
boy tries to compensate by ridding himself of all thoughts
of hatred by repression, and attempts to love his father.
Naturally, this is a drastically simplified explanation of
a complicated process. Do you understand now?" asked Dr.
Zeis. "Yes. You believe that I did not suffer from this . .
. uhh . . . "
"Castration complex?" offered the doctor. "That's it," said
Oswald, "and therefore I never overcame the sense of
competition with my father."
"Yes," confirmed the psychologist, "that's it in a
nutshell. You see, you were never really around your
parents when you were a child, and because they spent so
little time with you, they were loathe to scold you. Also
you said yourself that you frequently suffered comparison
with your father when you were a child, and this served to
enhance the sense of competition. So now I am attempting to
suggest a therapy that will aid you in overcoming your
dysfunction." "But how will helping Alexander accomplish
anything?" asked Oswald dubiously.
"The only way to triumph over the problem is to consciously
avoid behavior that it causes. And the scenario you have
just presented to me involving your friend, Mr. Atreides,
is just such behavior," explained the doctor. 

"You mean to say that I am merely acting under a compulsion
when I refuse to aid Alexander?" asked Oswald dubiously.
The doctor nodded. "But wouldn't you do the same thing if a
friend of yours stabbed you in the back like he has done to
me? and stolen my dream?" asked Oswald.
"I anticipated this objection," said the doctor
complacently. "That is why I have a third reason. Ask
yourself, if you were in his position would you have acted
"Well . . . " hesitated Oswald.
"You see that such behavior is common in the business
world, and you would probably have done the same had the
roles been reversed," said the doctor triumphantly. "What
you must realize is that all these years of competition
have made you unable to accept defeat. The only way you can
accept losing to Mr. Atreides without causing yourself
considerable mental anguish, is by being a factor in his
destruction, taking your revenge."
"I still don't know," said Oswald doubtfully, "I can't-"
The sound of a telephone ringing broke into the
conversation. A look of anger passed across the doctor's
face as he stood up to answer it.
"I apologize Mr. Reussi," he said. "I thought I told my
receptionist to hold all my calls." "No need to apologize,"
said Oswald, pulling a handsized, rectangular object from
his pocket. "I believe it's my phone." He unfolded the
phone and extended a concealed antenna. "Yes?" he said
tersely, and listened for a few seconds, his face growing
taut. "Are you sure?" he asked. After listening for a few
more seconds, he folded the phone back up and folded the
"That was a friend of mine," he explained, "Robert Patrolo,
telling me that his company was just taken over by Trojan.
Hector's first move upon gaining control was to have him
removed from the chairmanship. Hector knew that would get
me." He remained seated for a few seconds and then stood
up, pulling on his jacket.
"I believe you are right doctor," he said. "I am going to
help Mr. Atreides; and when we succeed I'm going to throw
Hector out like a dog." and so saying, he left the room.
The doctor sat down again. He wondered over the man's
motives, and came to the conclusion that he had not
accomplished very much. All Reussi was doing was
transferring his wrath from Mr. Atreides to Hector.
"Ah well," he thought, "I shall have to try a different
approach next week." He pressed the stop button on his tape
The Director returned to the stage and signaled for the
tape to be stopped. "I believe, gentlemen, that you are all
aware of the profane theories of Sigmund Freud?" he glanced
around the auditorium observing their nods.
"Well, for the first time, we are able to see those
fanciful theories in actual application, rather than in
text. The members of the Censor Society have graciously
permitted us to listen to this recording in order to allow
us to see the depths to which rationality can plunge. We
must remember, as we attempt to rebuild our society, that
the only way is God's way, as specifically set out in our
sacred Books. I hope that you have gleaned the dire lesson
that this recording has to offer. We must, at all costs,
avoid the unplumbable depths of depravity to which the
Nuclear Age descended, and construct our Society in
accordance with the decrees of God. Praise God!"
The audience rose and emphatically returned his farewell,
well aware that they were being closely observed, and that
any failure could result in the severest consequences.
The first order of business seems to be to acknowledge my
debt, both in order to avoid accusations of plagiarism and
subsequent litigation. The difficulty is that my debt
extends to every book I have read since the age of five. I
can, however, endeavor to mention the more obvious ones.
The idea of couching the main story in a larger context of
a later civilization is borrowed from Margaret Atwood's The
Handmaid's Tale, and the main story is an attempt (an
enormously presumptuous one at that) to compress and
modernize Homer's Iliad. I also owe a great deal to Sigmund
Freud's writings, although I am certain that he would not
admit to being the source of this perversion of his
theories, were he alive to object. All that now remains is
to offer a brief explanation of the story itself, perhaps
something along the lines of Dante's letter to Can Grande
Della Scala. The story is basically a modernization of the
themes of the Iliad. In order to retain the father-son
theme, I used an unresolved Oedipus complex. Achilles'
wrath is again shifted from Agamemmnon to Hector, although,
as they say, the names have been changed to protect the
innocent. I was at a loss to include an invocation to the
Muse, but I eventually came up with the idea that a tape
recorder might be a solution to the problem. What else is a
tape recorder if not an aid to memory? "In fulfillment of
the will of Zeus" is another theme of the Iliad. In order
to include it, I interpreted the gods as psychological
phenomena, and, therefore, the compulsions of the
unresolved complex which affects Achilles behavior is the
re-internalization of Homer's externalization of internal
psychic activities. (I think drawing a diagram may help you
decipher that last sentence.) The last theme, of corpses
being left as carrion for the dogs, was relegated to a
minor position: a few gratuitous remarks of Achilles to the
way he was going to treat Hector. 


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