Monday, March 19, 2012

Short Takes

A short post to highlight two interesting items I ran across this weekend, both of which are worth your investigation.

First on the list is a post at Volokh by Kenneth Anderson that announced the launching of ConText, a site that will "crowd source" James Madison's notes of the 1787 Constitutional Convention:
Organized like the Talmud, ConText surrounds the Notes with layers of commentary - commentary on the history (what was going on in the room), current events (how these events relate to current politics), theoretical and philosophical issues, and subsequent constitutional interpretation and dispute. Like Wikipedia, that commentary will be written by a scholarly community that develops around ConText: historians, constitutional scholars and practitioners, and interested students and lay people. Both the text and the commentary are fully searchable. And anyone can get an account and begin contributing.
For those of you who are unaware of them, Madison's notes are "the most important document in American history that nobody ever reads."  This looks like a tremendously exciting - and valuable - project.

Second is a wonderful article by Edward Luttwak entitled Homer Inc. Although the article purports to be a review of a new English translation of the Iliad, the review is simply a launching pad for a wide-ranging essay on the Iliad, touching on its historical roots, method of transmission and later codification by Aristarchus and others, and concluding with a deeply felt appreciation of the poem's terrible beauty, including the following:
Spears cut through temples, foreheads, navels, chests both below and above the nipple. Even despised bows kill, and heavy stones appear as weapons. Joyful victors strip their victims of their armour and gain extra delight from imagining their weeping mothers and wives. Yet the Iliad is a million miles away from the pornography of violence offered by many lesser war books, battle paintings, martial sculptures and most obviously films, in which the enemy bad guys are triumphantly trampled or gleefully mown down, because the humanity of the victims, their terror and their atrocious pain, are fully expressed. The powerful affirmation of the warrior’s creed – we are all mortal anyway so let us fight valiantly – coexists with the unfailingly negative depiction of war as horrible carnage.
 Read, as they say, the whole thing.

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