The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 5, 1937
That Horse Is Here Again:
Chris Morley's Greeks
--Reviewed by W. J. Cash
Christopher Morley, who has invoked the celebrated wooden horse under a modern spur.
(As originally appearing with article.)
Site ed. note: For two other Cash articles on the writings of Christopher Morley, see "Bartlett's Quotations" - November 7, 1937 and "Of Time and the Writer" - November 14, 1937.
THE colored dust covers which publishers put around their new books are usually as great liars as those gaudy posters the moviehouses plaster over the town. You look upon a ravaged vision of some exquisite lovely practically in the altogether and go rushing in all a-pant--to find that the story actually deals with the need for a larger understanding in the warden at San Quentin penitentiary, or the heart-throbs of a young lady sociologist in Seventh Avenue.
But the Lippincotts have done better by Mr. Christopher Morley's "The Trojans Horse", which they published in Philadelphia last week, to sell for two and a half smackers. That dust cover shows a terraced town in which obelisks, temple propylae reminiscent of the restorations of the Acropolis, and towered gates like those which figure in the Hittite sculptures are ranged side-by-side with Empire state buildings and Gothic church spires--in which a New York street cleaner, a Tammany cop, and gents in Tyrolese hats and homburgs stroll side-by-side with tribunes of the people in well-greaved hoplites in the shadow of a horse that looks at once like the conventional representation of the fraud old Odysseus contrived on the shore of the wine-dark sea, and the mount upon which William Tecumseh Sherman more or less eternally sits.
AND THAT'S IT
And that's exactly what, in outline, Mr. Morley's book is like.
What Morley has done is to take Chaucer's "Troilus and Cressid" as the starting point for dealing with a story that sometimes fascinated Shakespeare and Boccacio also, though it got no great notice from the ancients themselves. To that he has added large chunks of Homer, but the rule of treatment remains always that of Chaucer. The latter, of course, dealt with his ancients purely in terms of his own times, except when now and then he reminded himself that he knew a piece of what he took for archaeology which had to be worked in. His Troy was an English town of the 14th century, with memories of the Italy the author himself had seen. His Greeks were knights and his priests of Apollo and Athena, fat monks, "fond of venery."
Similarly, Morley's Greeks are primarily football players in the shower rooms, though they make some gesture toward archaeology by wearing tunics over their BVD's and using sandals instead of brogues. They lapse bewilderingly into poetry now and then, to be sure, and on occasion even pipe the heroic strain, "And his armor changed upon him," but by and large you know that the boys will graduate somewhere along from 1938 to 1941. The gal--Cressida talks with a Southern accent, including "you all." There is a coon, Fucus, who can be found around any training quarters from Davidson to Harvard. Autenor does very well as a coach and Kid Achilles is a whiz in the shoes of Andy Bershak. As the trimmings for the footballers there are other people, of course, just as you would naturally expect. In our colleges we have faculties, if you will remember, and boards of trustees. Well, in Morley's Troy there's the stuff-shirt or two like old Priam, and some brass hats--good ROTC men. And there's the professionally heart-breaking wench, whose mug Kit Marlowe alleged to launch a thousand ships, pretty darn dumb. And besides there's Troilus himself. A pretty fair footballer himself, but with a fast line when he gets a gal under the moon.
But perhaps I wrong Morley to run on in this fashion. As I suggested to begin with, the things I am suggesting make up the bare outline of the book. And it would not do at all to let you think that this is only another one of those somewhat stupid attempts to be comic with the ancients. The book as it stands I like immensely. For it is a bewildering extravaganza, full at once of charming wit and beautiful poetry. I hope you read it.
"My dear," says Cassandra, "I know it's painful to admit, but you're only a fortuity."
"I'm not at all," (says Helen of the Fair Hair), "I'm only 33!"
"It is earth's most famous town, so it belongs to everybody, and at all times at once. You must build it in your own mind. Put it on a rocky hillside above a channel of shallowing green water. Put over it your own favorite skies, give it your most familiar birds and flowers, sounds and savors. Just for a moment concentrate on essentials--the wide freshness of sunny air, the breath of pine and fern and cedar, the clear blue spread of distant sea, the snake on the stone, still warm at dusk and..."
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