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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 me." "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 Mayflower." "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 doubtfully. "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 similarly?" "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 antenna. "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 recorder. 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. Epilogue 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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