Homeric Tradition and the Individual Hero - A theory on why Lights do not get to be King
This article will discuss the evolution of man as a hunter and how that has led to our perceptions of the Individual Hero and the role of a leader in society. From this will be extrapolated the possible ‘human evolutionary programming’ that has led to only Heavy Fighters being given the opportunity to be King in the SCA organizational structure.
In the manner that Eastern military tradition looks to the work of Sun Zhu, so to does Western military tradition follow the works of the Greek writer Homer. In the classical age when the blind poet wrote the Iliad little did he realise he was putting into words an unspoken military tradition that would dominate formalised violence in the West for the next two thousand years.
For the Greeks of Homers' era the writings of Homer were a rule to live by, expressing their moral status and indeed their entire social structure. As time passed and the Iliad permeated into other cultures of the West, what is effectively a fine story, created the culture of the Individual Hero.
The strong man or headman was not a new concept to humanity. As man began to hunt in groups it would become clear that one member of the group was the strongest, fastest, bravest and he would become the ‘head man’ by virtue of dominance and prowess. What Homer introduced was cultural and behavioral traditions that formalized what had evolved from this inherited structure of primitive man. Certain Homeric traits developed to become the norm of behavior for the strong man or Individual Hero amongst combatants. This remained the accepted standard of behaviour until the introduction of massed projectile firepower as a decisive battlefield effect with the arrival of the gun.
The use of direct contact weapons is a key characteristic of the hero in the Homeric tradition. With the notable exception of Robin Hood almost all pre-medieval and medieval heroes bear direct contact weapons such as spear, swords and axes and only hunt with projectile weapons. Examples include Achilles, Arthur, Charlemagne and Roland. This requirement for direct contact weapons can be traced to primitive group hunting techniques.
When taking down a larger animal a primitive human hunting group may commence an engagement with their prey using thrown or slung rocks and perhaps primitive bows. The effect of these techniques on a significantly sized animal is likely to be inconclusive given the available projectile power of the human body and the very weak and simple nature of the sling and bow tools in use at the time. At this stage of the hunt there is the option to compromise on the size of the prey and seek out a smaller target that can be conclusively engaged with projectile weapons or to use direct contact weapons. Common sense would dictate decisively engaging smaller prey with projectile weapons safely from a distance as the preferred technique. This is modified by the law of depreciating gain where the smaller the prey the more animals will have to hunted to provide the same volume of meat as one large animal and the less efficient the hunting process (O’Connell 1989 , p. 20). The other option is to close with the larger prey and decisively finish it with direct engagement weapons such as the club, spear or axe. This incurs significantly more risk, as the prey has to opportunity to defend its self, but also carries considerable gain in the weight of prey that can be taken for the effort expended.
Therefore the Individual Hero is one who is prepared to lead the direct attack on the prey and is not only demonstrating individual bravery through the acceptance of personal risk but also proving to be the primary provider of the group. Only the bearer of direct weapons can fulfill this role.
“You archer, foul fighter, lovely in your locks, eyer of young girls
It is no real surprise that Paris in his role as the adulterer in the Iliad is also the only featured archer in the tale. (O’Connell 1989, p48)
In all group conflict scenarios there will be always be Individual Heroes, and those who wish to fulfill that role. This Individual Hero is not necessarily the group leader, although this is often the case. The Individual Hero is the individual who stands alone as the finest and seeks out his equivalent among his opponents. He may slay some minions in the quest for a peer but will only seriously engage an opponent of equal prowess. In Homer there is significant posturing and boasting prior to lethal action to establish that the opponent is ‘worthy’ prior to direct engagement. In the medieval jousting or tourney scenario there is the heraldic declaration of nobility, prowess and pedigree to be permitted to enter the field and before combat. This serves to establish prior to the engagement that all involved are of the required standard. During the Crusades the European knight failed to find this suitable single opponent amongst the heathens and in some cases substituted volume by taking on ridiculous odds to fulfill his individual heroism role.
This is not an unworkable manner of warfare in the absence of effective projectile weapons. Engagements between the French and the English in the brief period of longbow supremacy proved that a group of Individual Heroes can fall victim to their social inferiors under the correct conditions. The coming of gunpowder and projectile firepower as the primary weapon of warfare made the battlefield dominated by massed projectiles a constant reality and doomed the age of the individual hero in his role as the cornerstone of military power.
All Kings are Heavies by default due to the manner of their selection. However no one can deny the Individual Hero status of a King as he or she swaggers across an SCA battlefield swatting aside lesser fighters while seeking out Knights and worthy foes amongst the enemy. In this display the King places him or herself in the leading role that reaches all the way back to the group-hunting scenario that appeals to both the classical and primitive aspects of leadership in a violence ridden societal structure.
Aside from the SCA manner of selection of Kings, a Light does not have the opportunity to display this form of Individual Heroism on the battlefield, regardless of how authentic their techniques, proficient their skills or chivalrous their actions. Within the SCA there is far more to being a King than the battle and tourney fields, but on some sub-conscious levels our understanding of societal structuring that pre-dates our present models of good leadership models allows us to understand the status of the King as an Individual Hero through his actions and achievements in tourney and war.
There is no logical reason Lights can not make good Kings, the question is how to compare them to Heavies. In what manner can they prove themselves worthy in a primitive display like the full contact chest beating of a Heavy in tourney? SCA Kings are chosen in a process seemingly dictated by tradition rather than logic, but it is a tradition so deep seated in human psyche that the SCA, as a social organization, allows for its short-comings and persists with it because we understand the logic from a primitive perspective. On some deeper level we still appreciate, and raise up, the individual who demonstrates the primitive skills, risk taking behaviour and preparedness to get close to the big dangerous prey and club it to death for the greater good of the tribe. No offence intended your Majesty.