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Reading at 50
Crackpot Mailbox: James and James Discuss Achilles and Dontavean
An email from a new reader is always a high point of the day for cracked pottery.

The Iliad and some new fanboi appreciation
James [redacted]
Sun, Jan 19, 8:16 AM (8 days ago)
Dear Mr. LaFond,
Thanks to The Third Rail, I have recently been introduced to your work. I’ve been following your blog and podcast since and have gone back and listened to the Myth of the 20th Century episodes you’ve been on.
Also picked up your ancient Greece sourcebook.
I felt I had to comment on the recent blogpost you had regarding reading different books at different points in your life. Particularly your comments on the Iliad.
At the ripe old age of 49 I decided that I’d had enough of absorbing the content of the Great Books through secondary sources and should begin reading the originals, in chronological order as much as possible. The first book was the Iliad.
And I can confirm, that as a middle-aged man, the scene with Achilles and Priam (as well as the scenes with Priam leading up to that point) struck me as the main point of the Iliad. I quite often find myself meditating on the two warriors sitting together quietly commiserating in their separate grief. No need to speak.
Almost every other part of the action falls into the background for me when I think of the Iliad.
I fell away from trying to read the Great Books for a while, but as I recently turned 50, decided to pick it up again. Now I’m on the Odyssey.
Thanks for your dispatches from Baltimore. I left suburban Atlanta, and the United States, in the mid-90s, and I saw the first symptoms arise of the malaise you describe in the last couple of years I was there.
I was subject to an attempted mugging on my way to work once, and was then jumped by one of my would-be muggers a few weeks later. Luckily they weren’t armed, and I came out of it with a few bruises and the ripped shirt of my attacker 😊, which I had been pulling to bring him close enough to land a few untrained punches on his face. It has left me with a reflex for being ready for something to go down whenever I hear footsteps coming up behind me.
My little brother, on the other hand, had to deal with weekly attacks in the following years. Not wanting to have to become a wigger to survive turned him into a certified badass. Finally, my parents decided that they would finally join the rest of the white flight to where MARTA couldn’t reach. (I went away to the Navy and never came back.)
Anyway, all the best, and I look forward to reading more from you.

Sir, congratulations on finding the Navy and refinding what we share at the deepest levels, which is, as readers, our oldest surviving books. I did all of my reading of the Iliad while being hunted on the streets by ebon foes: first like the spear-dodger from Mount Ida, then like a stolid Diomedes, then like a harried Hector, and finally like old Nestor—so I thought, only to morph into something of a dastard Odysseus in the last six months, finding evil within my soul and using it to make my wary way around Baltimore this past autumn. Through all of that, I have much admired men like your brother and cannot forget that the savage enemies set on me by our political and financial master classes have managed to define me, vapid as they are, redesign me, witless as they are, and forge me, soft and womanly as they are.
I have been called a wigger, a race cuck, a race traitor and an apologist for the very mindless primates who have hounded my entire extended family of some 80 souls [we got a head count at Aunt Madeline's funeral] from the city of our birth, a city that the Irish strain of my mother's family have called home for over 370 years!
That should be a subject of some familial grief. But I alone of my people have resisted the social programing which assigned me a role as a macro-zoological economic unit, thanks largely to the fact that I left last, stayed the longest, three years ago was stubbornly arguing with readers about why I should remain in my homeland. But eventually the fate of Nestor befell me and the grief of Odysseus [Grieved-lord] has followed me wherever I wander.
Yet still, I owe these savages.
They forced me to become what I am, are more integral to my identity than the "White" identity I was offered from birth, that I was nothing but the sum of my economic achievements, that my station of high privilege [somehow arrived at on the shoulders of my slave ancestors in this churned land] bound me to an ethos of comprehensive spiritual, masculine, racial and familial extinction as the steward of disembodied alien tribes which I somehow supposedly oppressed before my birth.
Dontavean and his ilk relived me of that delusion and armed me through hard experience with the realization that they are a collective Achilles—for I well knew, as Hector did that I could not outrun these fastest of men as I was harried about the dark and empty harrows of my besieged home.
Whatever I am, I am in spite of the Whiteman telling me that I am him and therefore nothing but a conduit of lineal collectivism.
Whatever I am, I am partly because dark savages who believed the Whiteman's lies hunted me like the perils of the world stalked the heroes of old.
Of Priam and Achilles, that feeling strikes me when I read it in the same way that the inspiration for my novel Poet struck me. I forget the man's name now. He was an excellent amateur boxer who I had barely known from a gym when he saw me walking between bus stops in downtown Baltimore one Sunday morning on my way to spar with Charles on the Eastside. He waved made over and we sat on a bench for a while, me letting my bus go, because he was obviously interested in me based on seeing the fencing mask and had no idea that he once gave me a tip in Mister Frank's old gym on the stage of the old elementary school gymnasium where we boxed.
He was now broken in many ways, a dark man some years my senior, far superior as a boxer, and now fading into the uncaring city that had spawned us even as I made my pale way in a high state of fitness.
He quizzed me about stick-fighting and smiled in a reverie. He then showed me his smart phone, given to him by his daughter as a means of contact—for he was homeless on the street—and its screen was broken in the brawl with the pack of young thugs who had tried to take it from him the previous night, a pack he had fought off with his big fists. He was almost in tears over his plight, knowing that he was going to have to face another night, and another, and another alone in that terrible place.
Then, when I told him about my writing he ended up chanting a rhyme to me that he made up on the spot as a good-luck sendoff, a vote of confidence. I can't recall a bit of it and hope it is buried in my writing somewhere from that period, which I think was 2012-13, but am not sure. In any case, I cannot read or recall Achilles and Priam considering their losses without thinking back to sitting on that Baltimore city bus stop bench with that man, whose name I can no longer recall, but whose, big, crooked, white teeth, big chocolate hands and teary-eyed worry that he might fail to protect the one momento he had from his estranged daughter the next time he was attacked—and that the last words he said to me were positive wishes for good fortune in training my fighter and becoming a better writer.
So here I sit, in a mobile home that is a gift of hospitality, 3,000 miles from there, wondering if a man whose name I cannot recall, whose eyes and teeth and hands flash across my mind's eye, who once had kind words for me when my star was still rising and his was sinking, even remains among the living.
That's how the final act of the Iliad echoes in my lonely well.
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