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Of the Rage of Achilles

A brief psychopolitical discussion

The Rage of Achilles by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
The Rage of Achilles by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

I cut off the epigram of my last article too early:

Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.

I'm no Charlie Scrabbles, so I like my philosophy as soundbite-y as possible. But I think I got the gist. And I think Homer Bailey did too.

The "Homer/Homer" pun is good and all, but Homer the Younger has now entered mythology. Baseball players, by dint of our society, take on a sort or pseudo-godliness. They are very much like the Greek myths that form the foundation of our storytelling tradition: too petty and goofy for godliness, but not nearly human enough to be familiar. AC Slider wrote wonderfully earlier today about how some media types think that they are in the same rarefied air, clearly confusing themselves for Thucydides rather than Icarus. But lets talk about Homer.

I'll never be able to shoot an arrow through 12 iron rings. And I'll ever have a baseball leave my hand at that speed and with that heavy funk to it.* It is simply beyond my understanding, a feat of strength and cunning that is literally no more within my grasp than wrestling giants or killing a lion. And of course, Homer Bailey has done all four.

*= How fascinating was that single answer Hanigan gave about his discussion with Homer after the walk. The assembled masses thought that this was an emotional thing, that Homer had to be calmed down. No. Homer was simply throwing the ball with too much run. He was throwing the ball too well and Hanigan, like Lucius Fox tinkering with the Batmobile, had to make a minor adjustment in order to keep the hot path of destruction from careening out of control. Hanigan is fascinating.

Peter Sloterdijk is a German philosopher, so he says things that are very complicated. And I didn't get to finish Rage and Time. But I'm picking up what he's putting down, that Rage is a political force. Not anger, disgust, frustration, shame, or any of those negative emotions. Rage, rather, allows us to burn down the boundaries hemming us in. It's why Sloterdijk is a philosopher and Chris Hedges is a talking head. It isn't about war. Rage is the force that gives us meaning.

Rage, Sloterdijk's argument goes, begins as a holy force. The first words of the Iliad speak of Rage and it's ability to make people supercede their bounds. Rage is initially purely the reserve of the Gods, it is in fact what makes them Gods, able to change peoples' lives through action and not passive-aggression. Perhaps the "fire" that Prometheus stole from the Gods was metaphorical. After all, one can't "steal" a fire. But there exists an argument that Prometheus was something of a prophet of modernity, taking away the Raging Fire from the Gods and giving it to humans. The Gods can no longer change the world, but humans can.

The Rage of Homer is a terrible thing. He has been angry, frustrated, and plenty of other emotions, but it looks like he has finally tapped into his Rage. It's a dangerous, holy, force of course, but one cannot see those fastballs leave his hand and think that there's anything human in that. Look, I did really poorly in physics, but watch the contact that is made: those baseballs are hit like they weigh 15 pounds. A human can't throw a 15-pound ball 95 miles-per-hour. A human doesn't have Homer's Rage.

Homer has been told to be someone different for a while now. He's found success in, rather, just being more of himself. "Homer can't be so angry," was the argument. "He has to calm down, mix it up, 'throw instead of pitch'" and the like. You can't watch his interviews after the game without realizing that Homer learned, sure, but he didn't back down ever.

Most of us are told - and internalize at some point - that we have to back down. That we have to be normal, that we shouldn't be angry, that complacence and getting-by are the only acceptable paths, that Rage is the path to destruction. A lot of us believe this: there's a reason that Wrigley Stadium sells out.

Homer never did. And I love the Reds for having a whole staff full of rageful motherfuckers. Mat Latos is loathsome to strangers, Johnny Cueto ended a career, and Tony Cingrani throws the ball like he wants to be the reason the first person retires from baseball whilst in the batters' box. Joey Votto has promised to never take an at-bat off, Brandon Phillips fields the ball - in Jon Miller's wonderful word - "disdainfully" - and Ryan Hanigan most definitely has a drawing room full of bubbling beakers and glass vials and is known throughout Devonshire for his masterful handling of The Woolsmith Case last winter. The Reds have a teamful of men who operate on a higher plane generally but are operating on the peaks of that higher plane a good portion of the time, which is thrilling to watch.

Yes, thrilling. As in, making the heart soar and the mind dream. Homer Bailey, second no-hitter in tow, is a protagonist dispatching lesser Gods and ravenous demons. He has gotten himself beyond the human scale, as seen by the disdain with which he treats the humans who have tried their best to topple him in years past.

Homer's not perfect: he did fuckin' walk a guy after all. But he is getting there through his Rage and his fastball. None of us will likely be perfect, but there's hardly a reason to stop trying. The columns talking about how Homer symbolizes patience for fantasy leaguers are missing the point. Homer symbolizes the perspicacity with which we must attack our goals if we ever want to achieve them.

This perspicacity, tenaciousness, stubbornness, whatever...that's the divine Rage that kept Achilles alive as he dispatched Trojans. It's what keeps Homer mercurial, sure (SO WAS ACHILLES!), but at times wonderfully invincible. Homer operated beyond the human scale tonight. He's done it before and now, he'll be continually expected to do it again.

Sports take us, too, beyond the human scale, and beyond our pettiness as we gawk at these men do things we could not imagine. Let's not retreat back to humanity by the time the press conference kicks off, but try to make our lives resemble it. Let's shirk off our personal demons and our individual P-Docs and create a better Cincinnati in which to celebrate the Rage of Achilles and of Homer. Let's light a fire to memorialize Prometheus in Fountain Square in October.