Book IX of the Iliad is a masterpiece of rhetorical theory and action. It’s too bad we today have no actual statesmen, and so few politicians who are true orators. Mostly what we have are base braggarts, like Agamemnon early in Book I: “My opponent is trying to steal my honor! Well, I’ll just make sure I steal his first; show him who’s best and strongest and rightest!”
Our public debates aren’t like the ones Achille’s friend Phoenix mentions. Our debates, that is, are not occurrences “where men acquire distinction.” Instead we have men who, in Achilles’ words, have had their wits stolen by divine power, men who “say one thing while thinking something else which stays hidden in their minds.”
In our words, Right or Left, Red or Blue, Conservative or Liberal, Capitalist or Socialist, our political debates are for the most part run by Sophists: people who use words to deceptively entrance the hearers with appearances of reality, not make the hearers healthy with reality itself.
But that just begs the question, doesn’t it? Why do we, the hearers, keep participating in this farce political cycle after political cycle? Maybe if we knew our Homer better, we would have a chance at being wiser.