Hector’s Farewell (Why Homer Matters)

Not so long ago I read a book titled The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson. It is 250 pages long, followed by some fifty pages of notes. Today I read Hector’s Farewell, an article of 809 words (I had the computer to count it, I’m not mad!) by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – and it accomplished, without fail, what 250 pages couldn’t: viz. to convince me that Homer matters.

Not that I particularly needed convincing.

I started out blogging some three months ago with dashing off a paragraph lamenting the fact that somebody wrote a long article about Pride and Prejudice and only managed to say what could have been tweeted: that it was a good book. I blithely concluded that much writing about books is a complete waste of time, and then duly proceeded to waste time by writing about books. And now I seem to have come a full circle: I’m in danger of writing a post which, if I’m not careful, will be longer than the article it extols.

I’ll pass the word to Pérez-Reverte instead:

…I was going to see Hector to say farewell to Andromache in real life. And not only once, but many times.

…I saw him say goodbye in various places, with different faces and names, although it was always the same scene. The first time that I was conscious of this was in Cyprus in 1974, when I opened the window of my hotel in Nicosia and saw the sky full of Turkish parachutists. I went down into the street with my cameras hanging around my neck, and as I walked I passed dozens of men saying goodbye to their wives and children to go to battle: brown and moustachoed Greeks, with their shaken faces, hugged their families and then ran in groups, neighbours, relatives and friends, towards the centres of conscription. In the following twenty years I had occasion to see the same men – they were always the same men – in various places of the extensive territory of catastrophes that I traversed then: in the Sahara, Lebanon, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, the Balkans… I even witnessed a scene whose similarity to the text of Homer made me tremble, and still does…


…iba a ver a Héctor despedirse de Andrómaca en la vida real. Y no una, sino muchas veces.

…Lo vi despedirse en diferentes lugares, con rostros y nombres distintos, aunque siempre era la misma escena. La primera vez que fui consciente de eso fue en Chipre en 1974, cuando abrí la ventana de mi hotel en Nicosia y vi el cielo lleno de paracaidistas turcos. Bajé a la calle con mis cámaras colgadas del cuello, y por el camino me crucé con docenas de hombres despidiéndose de sus mujeres e hijos para acudir al combate: griegos morenos, bigotudos, que con el rostro desencajado abrazaban a sus familias y corrían luego en grupos, vecinos, parientes y amigos, hacia los centros de reclutamiento. En los siguientes veinte años tuve ocasión de ver a los mismos hombres -siempre son los mismos hombres- en diversos lugares de la extensa geografía de las catástrofes por la que yo transitaba entonces: Sáhara, Líbano, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, los Balcanes… Incluso presencié una escena cuya semejanza con el texto de Homero me estremeció, y todavía lo hace…

Although Pérez-Reverte makes a living as a novelist now whose books have been translated into several languages (English included), it is certainly the former war correspondent speaking here. Which, however, does not make him any less convincing. So if you are ever faced with the choice between reading The Mighty Dead and Hector’s Farewell, choose the latter; you’ll save yourself much time. Except there’s a slight catch: you’ve got to be able to read Spanish. So, reluctantly, I amend myself: If you’re ever faced with a choice between The Mighty Dead and El adiós de Héctor – read whichever you can understand!