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Rethink death in battle

October 04, 2008

Re "Give me liberty and give me death," Opinion, Sept. 28

P.J. O'Rourke wonders, "Why can't death ... be always glorious, as in 'The Iliad' "?

If it is any consolation, dying was not so glorious in "The Iliad" either. Only killing and winning were. Death in battle was always gross and usually shameful.

Here, in Ian Johnstone's translation, is Pedaeus, a relative nobody, meeting a typical end. Like plenty of others, including great Hector himself, Pedaeus died fleeing:

Then Meges killed Pedaeus, Antenor's bastard son.

Theano had raised him with all care, loving him

as one of her own children, to please her husband.

That famous spearman Meges, son of Phyleus,

coming up close, drove a sharp spear in his neck,

into the nape behind his head. The bronze point,

slicing under his tongue, smashed through his teeth.

He fell into the dust, jaws locked on the cold

bronze.

Gimme the nursing home and morphine drip every time.

Roger Netzer

Larchmont, N.Y.

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