This commentary will focus primarily on the theme of respect for the warrior code, while also examining how Logue’s diction at specific points aids in developing not only the aforementioned theme, but the plot and the flow of the epic poem itself. I have chosen a passage (from page 95 “Dear Ek” to page 97 “Agreed”)1 that I feel accentuates the theme of respect for the warrior code; it also features speeches by both Menelaos and Paris which serve as useful points of comparison in order to learn more about the warrior code.
Before I begin, I feel it necessary to attempt to define this code by stating some key features of it: a warrior takes responsibility for his actions, he has an almighty respect for the gods and their superiority, a respect for combat as a way of settling a conflict, a respect for rank and seniority, a respect for ancestry and older generations, and a respect for an opponent. This warrior code is universal and is held sacred by all warriors and heroes alike. The theme of respect for the warrior code is developed by the behaviors, words, and attitudes of Paris and Menelaos throughout this passage.
The first instance of this theme is seen as Paris does not try to hide his culpability, “How right you are. I brought the Greeks”(95). Shortly hereafter, Paris’ respect for the gods and his awareness of their control over the lives of mortals is revealed as he states, “Not to have fallen in with Helen / Would have been free, original, and wrong”(95). Later as Paris makes a point of addressing the Greek lords, which shows his respect for rank, he explains how he will fight Menelaos “… till / The weaker one, and so the wrong, lies dead”(95).
The reader sees how combat is a suitable means to resolve this conflict, in fact the only possible means in my opinion. When Menelaos responds, his words augment the theme of respect for the warrior code as one of the first things he does is admit fault as he humbly says, “Everyone here has suffered for my sake”(96). His subsequent behavior may seem in discordance with the warrior code as he does not trust his fellow warrior Paris, but his suspicion is justified as Paris betrayed his trust when he was a guest at Menelaos’ home nearly ten years before this.
However any doubts about Menelaos’ respect for the warrior code are removed as he calls for the involvement of Paris’ father, the great Trojan king; Priam, in the conflict. It is not only significant that Menelaos respects and trusts the older generation more than the younger, but it is the style in which he speaks of Priam which stresses his respect for the warrior code. It is his use of the patronymic “Laomedon’s son”(96) which emphasizes the significance of ancestry, a feature of the warrior code.
Menelaos then states that “only [Priam] is King enough to make / Certain that Ilium keeps what Ilium gives”(96/97) and continues that “only [Priam], the Lord of Holy Troy, / Adding his voice to ours, can turn those words / Into an oath so absolute / The Lord our God may bless it with His own”(97). These two declarations serve to expose Menelaos’ respect for rank while also revealing his respect for the gods; these two aspects of Menelaos’ character are essential components of the warrior code.
In this passage, both Paris and Menelaos make speeches; this offers the opportunity for comparison. Four key features are found in both speeches: the imperative nature of word “shall”, the requirement of a sacrifice, the mistrust of the opposing side that they will not stay true to their agreement, and the incertitude with which the outcome of the fight is described. Paris tells the Greek Lords sternly, “As for yourselves: you shall, before we fight / Baptize your truce with sacrificial blood, / And pray that you may keep the word you give”(95/96).
Similarly Menelaos firmly states, “Priam shall… offer Heaven their blood, / For only he is King enough to make / Certain that Ilium keeps what Ilium gives”(96/97). Logue intentionally parallels these speeches so closely to show how universal the warrior code is in that these two characters, which are distinct and quite different, both react similarly when confronted with the situation of single combat. The fourth key feature of the two speeches is the most interesting as it reveals one of the most integral components of the warrior code: respect for an opponent.
Paris’ words “No matter who shall live”(96) are analogous to Menelaos’ words “It does not matter which one dies”(96) in that neither of the characters outwardly display confidence of victory, which reveals their mutual respect as warriors, thus a mutual respect of the warrior code. Furthermore, this theme of respect for the warrior code is not isolated to these two major characters; it is prevalent in the behaviors of the armies of both sides. The first mention of the Greek army in this passage is after Paris has addressed the Greek lords: Logue simply states, “They hated [Paris]”(96).
The next mention of the armies is not made until after Menelaos has spoken when Logue concisely states “Agreed”(97). The agreement of the two armies is significant because it shows their mutual respect as they are both willing to allow this war to be reduced to a microcosm of itself, single combat between one representative from each side, which will lead to the resolution of the conflict. Coming back to the Greek army’s hatred of Paris, a few pages later it is shown that they simultaneously respect him; this dichotomy of hatred and respect is in accordance with the warrior code.
The diction used by Logue at points in this passage primarily serves to add to the flow and readability of the piece, but secondarily the diction reveals more about the theme of respect for the warrior code. Logue’s description of Paris, “So debonair! “(95) not only acts as character development as it describes Paris’ nature, but it also develops the significance of ancestry. The word “debonair” stems from the french de bon aire which means of good lineage, or of good birth.
Logue’s purposeful use of “debonair” is apparent as the idea of Paris being of good birth is not only true, but it ties into a major theme of the poem as awareness of ancestry is a key feature of the warrior code. In another instance, Logue’s use of an anachronism as part of an epic simile towards the end of this passage provides the reader with clear images and describes the events of the poem in a lucid manner while simultaneously developing the ambivalence of the situation in which these opposing armies settle into a state of neutrality.
The aforementioned epic simile is from “Now dark” to “opposing slopes” on page ninety-seven in which “the ripples across the Iwo Jima Deep” are introduced as the vehicle, but then a schoolgirl’s velveteen is added as a second vehicle, then the tenor is revealed as the armies, stripped of their bronze, lie beside it on the ground. Literally, Logue is describing the appearance of bare-skinned soldiers sitting next to shining armor by using ripples in water, which when viewed from above, by aircrews more specifically, would have a similar pattern of darkness then brightness.
However when examined deeply, Logue is highlighting the contradictory nature of how these opposing armies, represented by the reference to the Second World War, have somewhat reconciled themselves and formed a bond of trust through their agreement, which is shown by the duality of velveteen in that it can be both bright and dark. This deeper meaning of Logue’s epic simile is textually supported as the representation of the armies by opposing colours has already taken place in the form of the sacrificial lambs, “a black for Greece, a white for Troy”(96).
There is an alternate deeper meaning of the epic simile in my opinion and it has to do with the superiority of the gods. The point of view of the aircrews over the Iwo Jima Deep is analogous to that of the gods over the Trojan War. To extend this comparison, the tsunamis seem very major at the water surface just as the Trojan War seems major to the armies, but from the aircrew’s perspective the tsunamis are merely ripples just as from the god’s perspective the war is inconsequential and they can control the outcome just as easily as the schoolgirl can flick her velveteen from bright to dark.
The significance of this passage to the poem War Music is clear as close to every sentence in it ties into a major theme of the poem; a respect for the warrior code. The text develops the theme most predominantly in the form of dialogue and behavior, but Logue subtly uses diction to extend the significance of this theme to the piece as a whole.