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A Proper Burial

From the Iliad – Book 22 –

With this, Achilles drew his bronze-tipped spear from the corpse and laid it down, and as he began to strip the blood-stained armour from Hector’s shoulders he was joined by others of the Greeks, who ran to gaze at Hector’s size and wondrous form. Yet all who approached struck the body a blow, and turning to a comrade, one said: ‘See, Hector’s easier to deal with now than when he set the ships ablaze.’ With that, he wounded the corpse.

When noble Achilles, the great runner, had stripped away the armour, he rose and made a speech to the Achaeans: ‘Friends, leaders, princes of the Argives, now the gods have let us kill this man, who harmed us more than all the rest together, let us make an armed reconnaissance of the city, while we see what the Trojans have in mind, whether they’ll abandon the city now their champion has fallen, or whether they’ll fight on, though Hector is no more. But why think of that? There is another corpse, unwept, unburied lying by the ships, that of Patroclus, my dear friend, whom I shall not forget as long as I walk the earth among the living. And though in the House of Hades men may forget their dead, even there I shall remember him. So, you sons of Achaea, raise the song of triumph, and drag this corpse back to the ships. We have won great glory, and killed the noble Hector, whom the Trojans prayed to like a god, in Troy.’

So saying, he found a way to defile the fallen prince. He pierced the tendons of both feet behind from heel to ankle, and through them threaded ox-hide thongs, tying them to his chariot, leaving the corpse’s head to trail along the ground. Then lifting the glorious armour aboard, he mounted and touched the horses with his whip, and they eagerly leapt forward. Dragged behind, Hector’s corpse raised a cloud of dust, while his outspread hair flowed, black, on either side. That head, once so fine, trailed in the dirt, now Zeus allowed his enemies to mutilate his corpse on his own native soil.

What do you do with the body – the remains – of a terrorist?

Do you follow Achilles? Do we mutilate it? Do we take what once was a “wondrous form” and “trail it in the dirt”? Do we dump it at sea as we did with Bin Laden? Burial at sea being proper for death at sea or for a man who spent his life at sea, but how is that different than lashing the body to our war chariots and dragging it around the walls of Troy?

Isn’t don’t do that Homer’s point? The civilized had been made barbarian. The body of Hector for the body of Patroclus?

Regardless of the deeds of the person, the remains are the remains of what might have been. They are the wondrous remains of what God once fashioned good in his own image but what we have twisted. If we want to degrade ourselves, drag the body. Dump it in the garbage heap. You are not making a statement about the departed. You are making a statement about what you think we are. A better people would quietly put the remains to the ground with a few words to our tragic corruption of what was once so fine. This is how a strong and civilized people act, not with the bombs of corruption, nor with the calls for mutilation, but with a simple respect for what we all share.