“It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior’s life.”
Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the pre- and post-Christian eras
People ask me sometimes if there’s any one character in my books that I feel closest to … any character whose issues I particularly identify with or whose virtues I aspire to acquire for myself.
His name is Telamon of Arcadia.
Telamon appears in four of my books, including one coming up in March, called A Man at Arms.
What is it about this specific character that I find so compelling?
First, Telamon possesses consummate warrior credentials. He’s not a non-warrior, he’s not someone from a different persuasion. He is a man who can stand with the noblest of the Spartans and the most fearsome of Alexander’s Macedonians. (In fact, in my book The Virtues of War, he appears as a tutor of Alexander.)
He embodies all the virtues we’ve cited in delineating the warrior archetype—courage, fidelity, patience, selflessness, the willing embrace of adversity, the will to win, endurance, honesty, obedience, etc.
Here, as an example, is a description of him, spoken by Alexander in The Virtues of War, where Telamon appears as a tough old sergeant in the army of Alexander’s father, Philip.
This is Alexander speaking:
When I was a boy I had two tutors. Aristotle taught me to reason. Telamon taught me to act. He was thirty-three. I was seven. No one appointed Telamon over me; rather I fell in love with him and refused to be driven from his side. He seemed to me then, and does to this day, the perfect incarnation of the soldier. I used to trek the drill field in his train, aping his gait. The men pissed themselves laughing. But I intended no disrespect. I wished only to walk like him, stand like him, ride like him. Telamon was a sergeant then; he is a general now. Still I cannot bring him in from the field to the staff tent. He will not come. His idea of a good breakfast is a night march, and of a good dinner a light breakfast.
But Telamon, as he appeared on the page for me, has a distinct dark side. Not that he is cruel or barbaric. Quite the opposite. But he has seen the excesses and failings of the Warrior Archetype and these have made him a bit of a philosopher, or at least a philosopher of the trenches, a philosopher of the battle line.
Telamon thinks. He rejects conventional answers. His style of warriorhood is his and his alone.
Here is Alexander again:
I remember looking on as a lad of eleven, when Telamon (serving then under my father) formed up his company for the first march-out against the Triballians. He ordered each trooper to unshoulder his pack and set it upright at his feet. Telamon then proceeded down the line, rifling each kit, discarding every item of excess. When he was done, the men had, beside their weapons, nothing left but a clay cup, an iron spit, and a cloak and blanket.
There are further items, Telamon taught, that have no place in the soldier’s kit. Hope is one. Thought for future and past. Fear. Remorse. Hesitation.
So far in this series, we have explored the ancient Spartans—the consummate collective expression of the Warrior Archetype.
And we’ve studied Alexander the Great, the ultimate leader and commander.
Now, with the character of Telamon, I want to turn to the isolated individual.
The individual who has been through the wars.
The individual who is no longer a rookie, who has seen all the regular answers fail, at least in his own life … and has arrived at a darker, and deeper understanding of the nature of reality and of the fallible, mortal human being’s place in it.
In other words, he’s me, at least as I see myself. And I suspect he’s a lot of you too.
In the character of Telamon in the ancient world, we have the solitary soul who finds himself exactly where you and I find ourselves in the modern-a universe of conflict and confusion, where life is cheap and the forces of darkness and chaos threaten to overwhelm at every turn the aspirations to light and hope.
Telamon is the individual alone, dissevered from the conventional moorings of flag or nation or cause. He is the individual who at every moment battles the temptation to see the world as misbegotten and corrupt and to view life as random and void of meaning.
What answers has he come up with? Has he found hope? How? In what? How has he built his life? What gods does he believe in, if any?
Who is he?
Where is he going?
Again, my answer is he’s me.
If I were George Lucas, Telamon would be Han Solo.
If I were the writers of Assassins’ Creed, Telamon would be Bayek.
If I were Clint Eastwood, Telamon would be the Man With No Name.
The character of Telamon materialized on the page without my willing it, and he has come back in book after book. Speaking as a writer, when that happens … you pay attention. This character is coming from somewhere deep – and he has something to say. Though I never planned it or sought to make him central to what I was writing about, he became that in book after book.
He’s the payoff to everything we’ve been talking about in this series on the Warrior Archetype.
More in the next episode.
And we can’t leave out “Master Sergeant Vaughn Telamon of Arcadia, Mississippi…” in 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘳𝘰𝘧𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯. I’m also intrigued by “the character that seems to show up on their own.”
…his own; …her own; … their own. Werds is hard.
Joe; I’d forgotten! Seems I have some reading to do this weekend. All the best in the New Year// Andrew
You too, Andrew!
Reading A MAN AT ARMS. Enjoyed the Telamon quote at the beginning.
I might compare Telamon to Josey Wales; a modern-day warrior who accepts he has very little hope of surviving, yet it never occurs to him not to fight.
Part of Steve’s excellent example of Telamon stripping down his soldier’s kit, is that a soldier needs to discard his hope. But not exactly abandoning hope of survival; it’s more of a warrior’s acceptance of his possible death. And I mean accepting it on an emotional and spiritual level, versus an academic level.
I didn’t want to get whacked when I was overseas, but after being in a humvee IED’d in Ramadi, I was viscerally aware it could easily happen again. Yet I went out again, because that was my St Paul-to-Damascus moment, when I simultaniously I realized: 1-OMFG; I’m really in combat, 2- I had a son and grandson and really didn’t want to get whacked, 3-No way I was going to be a puss and not go out again, so 4: might as well accept it, go out, do the best I could, and hope it worked out. Did I abandon hope? No, but I accepted it might not work out – and I was OK with that result.
It’s a challenge to write the above and think people will say, ‘of course; that makes sense’, because I’m sure to most it does not. But if you think of the scene towards the end of the movie when Josey is talking to the Indian Chief Ten Bears, and they’re discussing life and death – and they promise each other life. No emotions, no hysteria, just 2 warriors being honest with each other. Telamon’s the same, life is preferable, but you live rough, you stay ready, and you live a life w/no regrets. Like that photo of the cold and raqged young Marine at the Chosin Reservoir; when asked by photographer David Duncan Douglas what he wanted, “Gimme tomorrow’ the Marine replied. Yeah, Telamon would have replied the same.
Well done, Andrew..!
That was poetry. Happy New Year.
The same reason I’m re-enlisting with the Guard after an injury forced me out ten years ago.
I hear you.
My military experience was post-draft. We were all volunteers. Contracted. I enlisted because I was Jeff Spicoli who got an ‘F’ in bookkeeping, after I had dropped accounting. Bookeeping was easy, then I stopped going to class because it was right after lunch, and this little Mexican restaurant would serve us beer–and got too drunk to do to class for a week straight. I thought the prof would drop me. He didn’t. He failed me.
It was the first time I had ever received an actual ‘F’ on anything. “Why didn’t you drop me?” I asked. “Why didn’t you talk to me me?” he answered. Shame.
I enlisted, even talked another kid (he was a year older, and even a bigger turd than me at the time) to join with me. We didn’t discuss it with anyone. I was certain my bestie, Ralph, would have taken one big drag, said, “The Army?!?!” and I would have reached over to grab the joint and say, “You’re right, dumb idea.”
There was nothing noble about my intentions, nor in the way in which I joined the Army. My recruiter, after telling him how many drugs I had ‘experimented’ (if that means 3-5 times a week for the past couple of years…) said, “We don’t take druggies, but the Army cannot afford to do an FBI investigation on every recruit. Let’s start this questioning over…” So, we completed a new application.
The best way to describe my next 8 years of service was ‘ETSing (Expiration of Term of Service) for 8 years’. I never fully committed. It was a means to an end. I thought I wanted to be a businessman. Wealth was my primary value.
When I left active duty I became a businessman, while doing one weekend a month. It didn’t take long for me to FINALLY recognize that the Army Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage meant much more to me than chasing the Dollar.
It took a few yeas to recognize that prescription for life I learned in the Army: get up early, do PT, professionally develop, develop those around you, show up, be on time, be informed…were applicable outside of the military as much as when I was actively serving. I found my way back into the full-time military, and more importantly found a home I had denied for 8 years.
Telamon is right. There is a big difference between studying war, and living the warrior’s life. I have seen 100s of Veterans turning their back on what they learned in the military, “I’ll never run again…I’m gonna smoke so much weed…I’ll never get up before dawn again…”
The Warrior’s Life is simple but not easy. Clear. Puts others ahead of oneself. In so many ways, it models the path outlined in most spiritual traditions.
I don’t think a Warrior’s Life is much different than ‘Adulting’ or ‘Turning Pro’. I am so grateful for what I learned (probably slower than most who served) from my military experience. At times I think a conscripted service would do our nation so much good. If only having a collective ‘American Experience’ from which we can all understand one another.
Long post, but it is the end of the year. We can all learn from, and embrace the Archetypal Soldier in our civilian lives, and I think we would all be much happier/satisfied. The irony is that all ‘war stories’ include misery, suffering, extreme elements–but when retold, our eyes light up and we laugh and laugh about them now. It is never the 4 day pass we discuss.
Brian- well said! We’re all products of our experiences; the difference between us and the Spicoli’s of the world is we had the interest to see what was beyond the next ridge. My plans include Norway and France; I hope you keep looking in 2021!! Happy New Year// Andrew
Brian- well said! We’re all products of our experiences; the difference between us and the Spicoli’s of the world is we had the interest to see what was beyond the next ridge. My plans include Norway and France; I hope you keep looking in the New Year// Andrew
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