Eris (“Strife”) is the oldest of the immortals, predating even sea and sky. All things are born in strife, even the Earth itself, and all expire in strife.
–Telamon of Arcadia.
Continuing our examination of the character of Telamon, the solitary mercenary, whom I see as a stand-in, not only for myself and the issues that torment me, but for most of us twenty-first-century males (and females too), trying to find our way both as individuals and within the greater collective in this world that, shall we say, challenges an easy definition of meaning.
We said in earlier episodes that …
Telamon is the supreme exemplar of the Warrior in terms of skill and martial virtue. But that he is a dark warrior, a disillusioned warrior.
We said that he fights as a soldier for hire, that he uses money to distance himself emotionally from any cause or flag.
And we said that he never dies. He appears in century after century, unaltered and unchanged, except in his mind.
There’s a fourth aspect to Telamon’s character.
He exists in the moment only. He operates devoid of belief in any golden future or any outcome or alteration that will “change” himself or the world.
The key point here is that he has not stopped fighting. He has not withdrawn from the necessity of conflict. Only that he sees this conflict without illusion, at least in his own mind.
I fight for the fight alone, tramp for the tramping alone, serve for the serving alone.
Telamon is a mercenary.
A soldier for hire.
To him, one war is the same as another.
Here he is from Tides of War, explaining his philosophy to his soldier comrades from Athens, during the Sicilian Expedition of the Peloponnesian War:
I use money but never permit money to use me. To serve for pay sets one at one remove from the object of his or his commander’s desire. This is money’s proper use; it renders service in its name a virtue. Love of country or glory, on the other hand, unites one to the object of his desire. This makes it a vice. The patriot and the fool serve without pay.
There’s a depth of despair to Telamon’s view of life. In how many centuries has he lived and fought? How many causes has he believed in, only to see them prove false or self-deluded? How many leaders or champions has he followed, only to find them in the end vain and self-interested?
He has his skill with weapons and he lives by it.
He has his detached worldview that, he believes, renders him beyond pain or disillusion.
When asked if he believes in the gods, Telamon acknowledges only one. The goddess Eris.
Eris is the oldest of the immortals, predating even sea and sky.
All things are born in strife, even the Earth itself, and all expire in strife.
In other words, Telamon is post-Spartan, post-Athenian, post-Alexandrian, post-Roman. He serves beneath no flag, believes in no cause.
His worldview is dark to the point of despair, yet he participates with passion in all the drama of his time.
The ideals of patriotism or glory that prior generations have embraced or aspired to carry no weight with Telamon. Will winning this particular war change the world? He doesn’t believe it. Another war will follow, and another after that.
Does some cause or ideology offer hope that the world will become any different than it is? Telamon would answer only with a smile.
He is alone and he knows it. The only constant in this world, as he sees it, is strife. No cause, however noble, will alter this reality, or redeem him personally or bring meaning to his life.
His view of life is hardcore in the extreme.
This world is the only one that exists. Learn its laws and obey them. This is true philosophy.
Do I believe that myself? Is this my philosophy?
But I understand where Telamon is coming from. I respect his conclusion, though my wish is to see him move beyond it.
It’s no surprise that Telamon has a dark view of the world; after 20+ years in the Legion fighting throughout the Roman Empire he’s spent his life seeing the worst of what humanity had to offer. And worse – every tribe / region seemed to have it’s own gods and goddesses, and what’s life like without needless religious bloody wars? Strife is the only constant in his life.
Maybe Telamon is dark because he has yet to find something substantial in which to believe?
I think you’re onto something there…
In previous lives, he’s been a soldier, an assassin, a mentor, a spiritual seeker. I was jotting down “the extraneous elements have been burned away: glory and conquest and all that.” And then you said, “boiled down.” I put my pencil down, with, “There it is…”
Whoever you have scouting your locations, you should give them a raise.
You really have an artist’s eye. I always return to the video after you mention the location/setting, and think, “Joe’s right again…and I didn’t even notice…”
Thank you for reminding me to pay attention to detail.
Telamon — is he really that alone? No friends, no comrades-in-arms? Surely there are women in Telamon’s life (lives), the great counterpoint to men’s fixations. Or has his ethic reached the point of an ascetic warrior-monk, cut off from everything except his own war-fighting craft? This character cut off from the normal bonds of life is both irresistible and terrifying.
This series has become quite an odyssey!
My initial thought was, “OF COURSE HE’S had women in his life…his philosophy is strife!!!”
Some lousy married humor…
Agree 100% about the series.
I think there’s room in the world for some “Telamon fan fiction.” Howzabout somebody do a Harlequin-romance-type novel? Tentative title:
“In the Arms of a Man-at-Arms”
We open with our hero, an ascetic warrior-monk with washboard abs, hair full like a lion’s mane, and teeth gleaming like gleaming white Chiclets. Telamon hoisted his kit to his shoulder and moved for the door. Apollonia, the milkmaid daughter of the village’s most prosperous falafel vendor, dangled a sandal from her scrupulously manicured big toe, and tossed back her artfully tousled bedhead with coquettish abandon.
“Look at me, Telamon,” she purred. “Look at my hair. Think of me as a Medusa that turns only PART of you to stone.” She let the bedsheets (500-thread count Egyptian cotton) slide down, revealing the swell and promise of glistening and suntanned flesh.
“Can’t I persuade you to stay another night? What must you do that is more pleasing than this,” as she ran a finger along her muscular thigh and pouted with her Angelina-Jolie-like pouty lips.
Telamon turned in profile, his chiseled face silhouetted by the rising desert sun. “I’ve got places to be. Things to do, baby. Plus, I told you never to ask me about my business.”
Y’all take it from here.
This had me howling. Best post of year (including 2020), hands down!
I heard some howling and was wondering what that was all about. I thought coyotes got into the neighborhood again.
Telamon makes a very cogent point about strife. My thought is there is no there there. There is no happily ever after. I guess the question becomes, in my mind, what are the battles/strife worth fighting, and which are the ones left alone?
I decided to take a ‘media fast’ starting Tuesday night. No news websites, no current events podcasts, no radio or tv (basically dropped all those 10 years back)—and it is really difficult. Mixed emotions. Questions about civic responsibility vs personal sense of efficacy and happiness…
I had a thought last summer running the stairs. Why? Why run stairs? Why try to be strong? Why sharpen sword.
What came to me was, “We get powerful to protect the vulnerable.” 100s if not 1000s of hours doing PT were dedicated to ‘big arms’…or some other ego-fed desire.
When I said that to myself, about 3/4 up a flight, the climb became easier. Not easy, but easier. I like Arbinger Institutes Outward Mindset (Martin Buber for those studious types…ahem Joe Jansen) about are people things or people.
I rarely maintain an outward mindset longer than a few hours to days before falling back into self-oriented thinking—but I do think this might be the point. When we fight or commit to a life of strife for others…it doesn’t hurt..as much.
Doing some mindless chores around the house and got to thinking…
I remember thinking that we were fighting to send little girls to school during OEF. 2 generations of educated women was what I figured it would take to pull Pashtunwalli out of the 7th Century.
Now, 15 years later, I also question that motive. Revenge was also part of it—and when we lost one of our guys, I was fully on board the revenge train. We knew who did it, and rolled them up.
Now I wonder if the young girl wanting an education in Wazeristan must decide if that is her strife to fight.
Considering Telamon also, somehow (weird how mind works and makes connections) a video I saw in high school. Is it always right to be right (https://youtu.be/LbWCjQ5L0ZY).
I saw this in 1984/5 as a freshman or sophomore in HS.
Pretty interesting to template this against 2020/2021. Person wells was ahead of his time, he mentions confirmation bias before we knew what that was.
Powerful, compelling, recurring image of life experience and the trials of war. The more the world changes, the more that strife finds new forms which must be battled. Fascinating series, Steven….
In light of what happened in our nation’s capital yesterday, I’m going to stop my RSS feed. I know that you’re not inciting violence, but at this moment I feel like I need to find some other way to connect with creativity that doesn’t have to do with soldiers and fighting.
This is your journey and that’s fine, but I’d rather find a way that doesn’t rely on any warrior archetypes going forward.
Matthew, I understand completely. See you when you feel the time is right.
I really love reading your blog. It is very well composed and easy to understand. Thanks very much!
Such a piece of important information. Keep it up.
I’m going to turn off my RSS feed in light of yesterday’s events in our nation’s capital. I understand that you are not encouraging violence, but right now I feel like I need to find another method to connect with creativity that does not include troops or combat. io games
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