Starting in September 2020, once a month Switch (on Paper) will publish an excerpt from Jean-Yves Jouannais’ Encyclopédie des guerres (The Encyclopedia of Wars). What started out as an experiment in oral literature is gradually taking the form of a book, scheduled for release in 2030. Until then, we would like to bring you a few excerpts, published here in alphabetical order like the entries in a vast atlas of wars. Today’s entry is The Mare (of Troy).
In that still hour Athena left the high mansions of the Blest, clothed her in shape of a maiden tender-fleshed, and came to ships and host. Over the head of brave Epeius stood she in his dream, and bade him build a Horse of tree.(Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica, translation by A. S. Way, Book 12)
When it comes to recounting the Iliad, nothing is spared in the tale of its fall and the subterfuge that caused it. And so we recount the episode with the Horse, but the Trojan Horse is not in the Iliad. It is in the Odyssey that the horse enters Troy, as recounted in song by Demodocos. The object was forced to enter a narrative it had nothing to do with in order to be written into legend. The horse is dragged into the Odyssey to be left there like another trap. The stratagem slips into a fable that was supposed to be about the return to, and forgetting of, a peaceful Ithaca. “You never return from war,” is what the beast symbolizes in a story meant to be a post-war story. The Trojan Horse, there where it can be found, is unseen. It is from everywhere else, from within other stories, that it is visible. Above all, the Trojan Horse does not exist in the time of men’s actions. It emanates, like a nightmare, from a parallel time. A mare in the night. The horse’s head looms over the sleeping city of Troy, infiltrating Trojan dreams of victory. They drank too much; their digestion spoils their reverie. The Greek Horse is their night Mare, creeping into their bedchambers and breathing terror into them. Just as depicted in Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare: the dozing body of a city persuaded it has avoided destruction, and through a crack in the curtain, the terrifying head of a Greek Mare, Ilion’s nightmare.
Morning at the Guermantes
One by one, they climbed into the horse’s belly. The first one in was Achilles’ son, then the illustrious Menelaus; Odysseus; Sthenelus; the divine Diomedes; Philoctetes; Anticlus; Menestheus; the valiant Thoas; the blonde Polypoetes; Ajax; Eurypylus; the divine Thrasymedes; Meriones; Idomeneus; the bold Podalirius; Eurymachus; the divine Teucer; the magnanimous Ialmenus; Thalpius, Amphidamas; the bellicose Leonteus; the divine Eumelus; Euryalus; Demophon; Amphimachus; the illustrious Agapenor; Acamas and Meges. Many others followed, as many as the horse could hold. Amongst them, the last to climb up, was Epeius, who built the horse and knew how to open and close its doors. That is why he climbed in last. He pulled the ladders up through the hole in which they came, and after carefully closing the doors, he waited near the opening. Then everyone remained enclosed in silence. The door now shut behind them, they were stripped of all their virtues and had no other task than to exhibit great patience. They could see themselves, they had time to see one another. And that is how they discovered each other. First, because they had never been so close, crammed as they were against the unpolished timber. During ten years in the phalanx, they had been at each other’s side every day, but they did not smell, hear, and see one another. Their helmets, which made them look like prehistoric arthropods, completely blocked their vision. Here, now, in the silence that was also a new phenomenon, they could see one another. And they did not recognize themselves. They no longer knew who was who in this affair that had gone on too long. Each their own narrator for In Search of Lost Time, arriving for a final morning at the Guermantes’, overwhelmed by the brutal ageing of people they’d known, the scandalous influence that time has wreaked upon their appearance.
For the first few moments, Ulysses could not understand why it is so hard to recognize his companions, and why each one seems to be “making a face”, since they generally wore powder, making them look completely different. He did not know what little Thalpius, son of Eurytus, hailing from Eleia, had put on his face, but while others had grayed, some in their beards, others only their mustaches, he, not bothering with dyes, had managed to cover his face in wrinkles, his eyebrows spiky, and all of this did not become him, it aged him so much that he no longer appeared to be a young man. And he was shocked, too, when he then heard someone call a little old man with a silver mustache “Euryalus”, and it was only by the look in his eye that he recognized the handsome man with whom he’d set off for war. A name was spoken to Ulysses and he was astounded that it could apply at the same time to the spry warrior he once knew and the bulky veteran that now heaved next to him. His rosy complexion and a name, those were perhaps the only things the two men had in common, two men as different—the man from his memory and the one in the horse’s belly—as a ravishing ephebe and an old pot-bellied codger. To “know” somebody, and then be unable to recognize them only to then identify them once again, is two think two contradictory things under the same name, and admit that the person we remember is no longer who he was, he is a person we no longer know; it is to think a mystery almost as troubling as death, at whose doorstep he, like all others, now stood. And now, “much-enduring” Ulysses realized what it meant to reach old age—the old age which, of all realities, is perhaps the one that remains purely abstract for so much of our lives, as we watch friends get married, raise children, without realizing what it means, perhaps out of fear or laziness, until the day we come across an unknown silhouette, like that of our best friend, who informs us that we live in a new world. Yet, for what must have seemed like hours inside the belly of that horse in the heavy heat, then the coolness of night embalmed by the freshly oozing pine, then the stink of vomit on the squares of Troy, in the sound of waves that made them need to piss, and then in the lurch of the machine before the Scaean gates, it was, for each of them, an immobile parade, an intimate conversation in the gallery of time, a time they surmised had not acted like a force exerted onto their body’s exterior, but that they had “incorporated”. So many of them were already gone: Protesilaus, the first to disappear, Anchiale, Orsilochus, Bergotte, Creton, Teuthras, Orestes, Patroclus. Proust would later re-baptize them Swann, Vinteuil, Uncle Adolphe, Saint-Loup, Aunt Léonie and above all Albertine, the one who had vanished the most, “Saint Albertine of disappearance” and who so very much resembled Briseis, with the same beautiful cheeks, loved on the beach like her, such that another jealous hero sought to imprison her in his home.
Ulysses also observed that their physical shortcomings came accompanied with a decline in their wits. Watching them, he waited for a glint of intellect. But they remained mute. Surely because the situation demanded silence. But perhaps it also suited them to keep their mouths shut, because war had made them thick skulled and they knew it. If they were to talk, they would say ineptitudes; grumble some drab and offensive opinions. So their lips simply hung. They looked like washed-up cretins. Only Ulysses, who fancied himself the enlightened witness of this sorry lot, believed he was unchanged. Or at least it contented him to think so. But the others came to realize with time, terrified, that he was by far the most damaged of all, with senile looks that betrayed a most debilitated intelligence.
General Lyautey, the Resident Police Chief of Morocco, has come to a head with the resistance of rebel tribes. To make them submit, he organizes a huge funfair in Fez, 1915. One disobedient chief on the northern front who showed the most stubborn resistance, upon hearing the fair described, is overtaken by curiosity. He asks for a cease-fire and permission to attend the fair, following which the fight against the French may resume. Strange though the request seems, it is honored. He is welcomed as a guest and, after his visit, voluntarily submits along with his tribe. In Fez there are mountainfolk who have lived as dissidents ever since the massacres. Some of them submit for a chance to ride the wooden horses at the Fez funfair. These horses on the Fez carousel, Anti-Atlas rebels galloping on their backs, are the descendants of the great Greek Horse.
“What do I look like?”
Although General Junot’s insanity is widely known, what is less known is that his father believed he was the Trojan Horse. His entire life, Jean-Andoche Junot remembered him as a man in a turban of rolled shavings, draped in wallpaper, dressed in a mane of mops, donning clogs made of plaster. His father constantly asked, “What do I look like?” while pointing to a pair of protuberances on top of his head, a kind of funnel made of lacquered wood. The child must have imagined they were meant to be ears, horse ears of course, since his father’s human ears were still perfectly visible beneath the mane of mops. Little Junot stammered, searching for a word to pretend, to cover up his incomprehension, his fear, but this word apparently had never been invented. Nobody had ever needed it before that day, before every one of those days, as it was a daily occurrence for his father to ask him, upon returning from school, “What do I look like?”
Translation: Maya Dalinsky
Cover: Johann Heinrich Füssli, The Nightmare, 1781