“This world is the only one that exists. Learn its laws and obey them. This is true philosophy.”
–Telamon of Arcadia
Are warriors essentially the same in all times, in all armies, in all lands? I think they are.
I think the American endurance athlete or firefighter or Army Ranger would have no trouble fitting in with Napoleon’s cavalry or Caesar’s legions or in the ranks of Alexander’s phalanx.
They would think the same way.
Act the same way.
Aspire to the same goals and virtues.
Let me return to the recurring character in my books—Telamon of Arcadia—whom I was talking about in the last episode. I described him in that episode as the consummate warrior in the sense of supreme skills, self-command, courage, endurance, all of the warrior virtues.
But he is also a disillusioned warrior.
Experience has stripped him of all illusion. He doesn’t believe in glory, he doesn’t believe in any cause or flag. He follows no leader. And yet …
And yet he remains a warrior.
In fact he has carried the ideal of the warrior to a place way beyond the citizen-soldier or the champion or the hero.
The character in film who is closest to Telamon (other than Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name) is the samurai Kyuzo in Seven Samurai. Do you remember him? He is the supreme swordsman, the man of few words, who lives only to perfect his swordsman’s skills and his supremacy in combat.
But Telamon is beyond that too.
Here’s another aspect of his character:
He’s a mercenary.
He fights for money.
He’s a soldier for hire.
He wasn’t always. Telamon had been, once upon a time, a believer in causes and flags and leaders.
But time has changed him.
Then there’s another aspect to Telamon’s character (we’ll get into this in greater detail in subsequent episodes.)
He doesn’t seem to be able to die.
He appears in one century, looking to all purposes to be a certain age … say, forty.
Then he appears a century later, in a different war, a different army. But he is still forty.
Again, one of the things that seized me about Telamon (speaking as a writer now) is I didn’t plan him. He just appeared on the page. He showed up fully formed, without me having thought about him or plotted him out. When something like that happens, a writer pays attention.
Something is going on.
Telamon appears in my books, as I said, in different centuries, unchanged. He doesn’t seem to be able to die, or if he does, he comes back fifty or a hundred years later, in another uniform, in another conflict. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps Telamon committed some terrible crime in ages past and this relentless round of warfare is his penance or purgatory.
To my further surprise, Telamon has appeared as the final image in two books (this is a very big deal because a book or a movie’s final image is in many ways its “statement,” it’s what the book or movie wants to leave you with). Again this was unplanned. And even odder because Telamon was only a minor character in each book.
In TIDES OF WAR he appears as the image of the Universal Soldier. The book is about the 27-year struggle between Athens and Sparta called the Peloponnesian War. This conflict was the equivalent in its day of a world war, because virtually every nation on earth was drawn into it. It ended with all parties exhausted by conflict and wishing never to see a sword or a shield again.
Yet this character, the solitary mercenary Telamon, remained, in the book’s final image, shouldering his kit and weapons and setting forth on foot for the harbor at Athens to ship out on another campaign. In other words, he symbolized the eternal nature of war … and the ongoing glamour and fascination of the Warrior Archetype. Here’s the final paragraph of the book:
As the mercenary trekked down toward the farm’s gate, a huddle of gawkers tracked him with their gaze, arrested by his appearance and his kit. This following was comprised not alone of lads but of maids and even husbandmen and dames breaking off at their labors. As the warrior approached the farm’s gate, two boys dashed ahead to open it for him, that he not be put to trouble by the latch. These youths would clearly have trailed him a distance down the lane, or to the harbor itself, had not their fathers hailed them back. I, too, was held by this apparition, unable to turn apart until he had vanished along the avenue of holm oak, whose blossom yields the scarlet dye that colors ever the soldier’s cloak of war.
Why do I cite this? Because this character is an archetype in the most ancient and the most modern sense.
One, he’s timeless. He could be a centurion from Caesar’s legions or a Gunnery Sergeant of US Marines from Afghanistan.
Two, he’s solitary. His story is not a family story or a community story or a national story. The demons he’s fighting live inside his skull. They are his and his alone.
Three, he is his role. He has no other vocation. He embodies the Warrior Archetype on every level.
Four, I identify with him. He’s me, even though I’m not packing a spear or shield or heading off to the harbor to ship out on campaign.
Or am I?
We’ll talk about this more in the next episode.
This post is just great, and continues to deepen our appreciation for the character of Telamon and what he represents (apart from him as a man). Speaking of Telamon’s other appearances, the one scene that comes to mind is the final scene in 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘝𝘪𝘳𝘵𝘶𝘦𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘞𝘢𝘳 , where Telamon is embarking on that transition from archetype to archetype that Steve has talked about:
As the party turned back towards camp, Telamon, the Arcadian mercenary, presented himself before the king. Apparently he and Alexander had an understanding of many years — that of all the army, Telamon might alone claim his discharge at any time, any place. This he now did.
Alexander reacted first with surprise and regret, at the prospect of being deprived of his friend’s much-loved company, yet he at once recovered, offering to load the man down with treasure. What did Telamon wish? Money, women, an escort-at-arms? With a smile, the Arcadian declare that he bore on his person all he required. This, one could see, was nothing but a staff, some utensils, and a modest pack. Alexander, struck by this, asked the mercenary where he intended to go.
Telamon indicated the high road east, up which a number of Indian pilgrims then trekked. ‘These fellows interest me.’ He wished, he said, to make himself their student.
‘To learn what?’ Alexander enquired.
‘What comes after being a soldier.’
That line rings like a gong, doesn’t it?
Yes, the virtues and mind-set is universal over the ages, but I’d caution that it hold true for volunteers, and not draftees. Part of my pride in enduring extreme cold, heat, rain, exhaustion, et al, is 1-I volunteered to be there, 2-It was yet one more way to challenge myself, 3-I was with a squad of Marines who were as cold, hot, fatigued as I was, and there’s dignity in serious shared discomfort. And multiple times daily we used “Livin the dream’ and ‘another day in paradise’ as both a question and an answer.
I’d also add that warriors (as opposed to brutes) such as Telamon, the gunslingers of the Magnificent 7, or the aging heroes of The Wild Bunch picked and chose their fights. Do you die defending poor farmers in a Mexican village, or retrieving your compadre Angel from a corrupt general? Sure; it’s a far more worthwhile and noble cause than getting shot-up for bags of washers.
“…and there’s dignity in serious shared discomfort.” This is totally speaking my language, probably one of my core beliefs.
Even the race we put together as a fundraiser for our animal rescue has the tagline: GRIT CITY EFFORT + SHARED STRUGGLE = KINDRED CONNECTION.
My wise wife said “Collective suffering” (my favorite description of what you wrote above) wouldn’t ‘sell’. “We actually want people to attend…” GRIT CITY is one of Tacoma’s nicknames, and Kindred Souls Foundation is our animal rescue–so we could tie everything together with the message we want to deliver.
It maybe a pipe dream, but this is how I’m trying to unite our community up here.
Brian – Au contrare; ‘collective suffering’ does sell, if it’s marketed correctly, and it will sell well. Look at the great Marine recruiting commercials: ‘Which will will you run?” Using Droplick Murphy’s ‘Amazing Grade ‘ as the young man runs thru a cornfield and ends as a Marine…all on YouTube; all still motivating. Runners! You think 40,000 people train for the NYC Marathon for a t-shirt and having to get up at 0330 to make your way to the starting buses? No, it’s a challenge they’ve decided to meet, and will train for months in order to finish/finish well. It’s their version of combat. ‘Animal rescue is equally worthwhile, but it’s more than adopting a cute kitty – the question is how do you promote adoptions beyond puppies and kittens for Christmas.
Grit City’ is a great banner under which you can promote various grit-related events that visibly make Tacoma a stronger community socially, academically, economically. Good luck!
As for the samurai Kyuzo in Seven Samurai (1954), his Western equivalent was James Colburn’s character Britt, the knife expert in The Magnificent Seven (1960). However admirable Kyuzo / Britt was as a refined, self-contained warrior, this guy was not sufficiently ego-defeated enough to spare his opponent’s life in the challenge-by-loudmouth-bully scene. That is to say, instead of declaring ‘You lost’ in the face of his belligerent opponent’s insistence on having won, he could have lied (‘Yes, you were faster than me and I lost’) and walked away with a defeated look.
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Telamon understands what it means to be a soldier. But does he think love can bloom, even on a battlefield?
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yes i do the warrior spirit is inherant to mankind,and if the powers at be stay focused they surely will have there universal soldier. but who will the enemy be but of course there is always the people.
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This television show is amazing. Please continue to send them. I find this idea of the “universal soldier” to be quite intriguing as a soldier, and I definitely see Telemon as a representation of outstanding NCOs I’ve encountered. Already on pre-order is your next book.
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Telamon and the things he stands for (apart from him as a man). The concluding scene from The Virtues of War comes to mind while discussing Telamon’s prior appearances.