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Who Is to Blame for the Spectacle of Black-Uniformed Holy Warriors Conducting Human Sacrifices?

We moderns subscribe to the doctrine of "root causes," but the ancient Greek and Roman poets subscribed to no such thing. The ancients believed in the power of evil. They considered that evil forces were capable of rising up unbidden and wreaking destruction for no reason whatsoever. The people in their poems fly into rages and insanely murder their children, or slaughter enemies, or exterminate populations. The poets recounted every last ghastliness with an air of wide-eyed fascination, and they went about it systematically, too.

They adhered to the requirements of their own discipline. They applied the structures of verse to the permutations of horror. They were prosodists of derangement. But the ancient poets never tried to explain what they recounted. They operated on the assumption that unbridled urges for slaughter and destruction are a human impulse, or, in the case of the whimsical gods, who manipulate the mortals, a more-than-human impulse, and there was no reason to look for underlying causes. Nor did the poets try to demonstrate that outbreaks of evil are something other than outbreaks of evil.

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Author:Berman, Paul
Publication:Tablet Magazine
Date:Oct 8, 2014
Words:197
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