Simone Weil was one of the transcendent geniuses of our time. The archetypal intellectual/activist - the clarity of her insight and the depth and weight of her oeuvre is remarkable, incredible for anyone - no less someone in their twenties and early thirties. A brilliant comet of a being, coursing luminously through the profanity and darkness of the mid- twentieth century to an early end, mercilessly, intensely engaged in the vortex of social change, yet seen by her contemporaries only from a distance - she died at a mere 34!
Weil mastered Ancient Greek in her teens and used to correspond with her brother in Attic script. She even contemplated translating the Iliad, which she considered "the purest and lovliest mirror" of the human condition. But the onslaught of Hitler's armies turned her efforts toward a more focused reflection of the critical moment in which she lived and how its essence was distilled in Homer's storied epic. Her writings on Greek thought, eloquent and profound, are collected in a svelte volume, 'Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks' Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957. Wonderful as it is to have these works in English in one volume - the product of her teaching career (she taught Greek literature and ideals at High School and undergraduate levels)- The Holoka is the best translation of her noted masterpiece, 'The Iliad, the Poem of Force'. Not only does the Holoka translation capture the honed edge of her prose (which other, more dolled up versions fail to do), but exhibits admirable fidelity throughout. Holoka also provides Weil's original French text, as well as the Greek texts of all citations (Holoka is a Classsics scholar), a solid introduction, commentary, and thorough references.
Here are some essential exerpts of the translation:
'The true hero, the true subject matter, the center of the Iliad is force. The force that men wield, the force that subdues men, in the face of which human flesh shrinks back' (p. 45).
'From the power to change a human being into a thing by making him die there comes another power, in its way more momentous, that of making a still living human being into a thing. He is living, he has a soul; he is nonetheless a thing' (p. 46).
'As pitilessly as force annihilates, equally without pity it intoxicates those who possess or believe they possess it. In reality, no one possesses it' (p. 51).
'Though all are destined from birth to endure violence, the realm of circumstances closes their minds to this truth. The strong is never perfectly strong nor the weak perfectly weak, but neither knows this' (p. 53).
'Thus violence overwhelms those it touches. In the end, it seems as external to the one who wields it as to the one who endures it. Here is born the notion of a destiny under which executioners and their victims are similarly innocent; conquerors and conquered are brothers in the same misery . . .' (p. 57).
'Thus war expunges every concept of a goal, even the goals of war. It expunges the idea of an end of war. The possibility of a situation so violent is unthinkable outside that situation; an end to it unthinkable within it' (p. 59).
'When the beaten man begs to be allowed to see another day, what response can this meek wish for life find . . .? The very possession of arms on one side and their lack on the other divest the imperiled life of nearly all its significance' (p. 60).