(urth) Honor

James Wynn thewynns at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 26 20:55:34 PST 2005

>The captain may not have had a reserved seat in the church choir,
>but he was definitely a victim of naked, unprovoked aggression on
>the occasion of his first encounter with Able.

Yes. But something very significant has happened since then. If Arthur
Ormsby's account is to be believed, then he--by his initiative and actions-- 
saved the entire ship, its crew, *and* the captain. Had the captain had his
way, Able would not have been on that ship and it would have been lost and
the captain would have been toast (not merely a metaphor considering that he
would have been someone's breakfast). There is simply no getting around the
very objective determination that the captain *owed* Able his ship and his
life. While Able had done nothing to prove that he deserved the captain's
cabin when he came on the ship, he definitely had earned it by the time the
captain attempted to kill him AND ROB HIM.

To assert, "Well, Able saved his own life too"  would have been
reprehensible ingratitude by anyone actually on that ship.

Able didn't murder the captain either. It was self-defense and Able did
everything he could to warn the captain off such an engagement. The captain
attempted to sucker-hit Able and the result was a fight that ended in the
captain's death.

Able is a complex character, but the captain is not. His treatment of Able
after the sea battle was villainish and everyone on the ship recognized it
as such.

As for Able's treatment of the livery hands, I don't see any possibility for
reconciliation on this question. Some see a parent using corporal punishment
on their child as "bullying" and others see invaluable instruction. There's
no way one side is going to convince the other, but is it seems probability
on which side Wolfe would fall.

As for the "might makes right" rule, didn't TH White already argue on the
logic for "trial by arms" in "The Once and Future King"? King Arthur says
(paraphrasing) "How else should we settle such disputes? By arguing the
facts? Then whoever is the better debater will always win. How is that

Of course, we see this in our modern "civilized" judiciary all the time.
Those who can afford the best arguers can get away with practically

Part of the problem with the story, is that Wolfe has presented a world in
which it is not self-evident that the Overcyns intervene in trials by arms,
and people don't seem to expect them too. This muddles the primary purpose
of the practice I think. Ancient people seemed to believe that God (or the
gods) expressed their judgment through trial by arms...that God gives
strength to the Right and that the along with their physical strength, God
has given them to strength of character to choose rightly. But not always:
In "The Song of Roland" (written in the 9th or 10th century), the villain
Ganelon has the best swordsman in France serve as his champion and loses
anyway...even though a council of judges has determined that he was in the
right. But the champion is defeated, because, the implication is, God had
judged against him.


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