Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raasch: The 2016 Campaign as Greek Mythology

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raasch: The 2016 Campaign as Greek Mythology

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * As the presidential campaign roared ahead 11 months ago, David Schenker, chairman of the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Missouri, held a seminar on how ancient Greek literature, filled as it was with mythology and outsized characters, could help people understand the election of 2016.

"My goal in the Homer and voting talk was entirely selfish," he said, "trying to get as many people as possible to pay attention to Greek literature. And it worked out OK for that."

The event, entitled "Homer's Handy Voting Guide: Using the Ancient Epics To Choose Our Next President," sparked debates about whether Donald Trump was Achilles, the mythological hero of the Trojan War, felled by a poison arrow to his heel. Was Hillary Clinton the Odysseus-like figure, the hero of Homer's epic poem, "The Odyssey," who endured shipwrecks and decades of travails before finally going home?

Little did Schenker know how prophetic that seminar would turn out to be in the ensuing year of outsized personalities and outrageous claims, of characters and character flaws writ large, many surrounding Trump.

It's been a year in which mythologizing has sometimes trumped truth-telling, and the script can feel like the fantasies of the poet Homer or the comic character Homer Simpson.

As an employee of the university, Schenker has to be careful about not appearing to take sides. He says it's important to teach students the relevance of Greek, Roman and other ancient literature, because our republican government emanates from those cultures.

"Even as the individuals change, the leadership style can be tracked right back to some of these individuals in antiquity," he said.

"Can we see qualities of any of our candidates in these ancient models? If so, does past performance give us any idea about future results?" Schenker asked. "I didn't draw any firm conclusions, but the ensuing discussion was fun. And I hope a few of those people went back to read Homer."

Almost a year later, Trump makes the comparisons easier.

"Donald Trump is such an outsized figure, representative of one particular leadership style and, yeah, that made me think of it," Schenker said. "He is a guy who makes these extraordinary claims, and that is something we found in antiquities, in some of these heroic figures: Achilles, Agamemnon. …

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