The Human Horror Story

Alissa J. Rubin's recent NYT review of an exhibition in The Louvre reminded me of several pieces from my own recent reading:

From The Iliad:

Hektor hit him
with a stone in the head, and all the head broke into two pieces
inside the heavy helmet, and he in the dust face downward dropped...
Now he struck Sthenelaos, ...
in the neck with a stone, and broke the tendons loose from about it...
Bathykles ... It was he whom Glaukos stabbed in the middle of the chest, turning suddenly back with his spear as he overtook him...Meriones cut down...Laogonos...by jaw and ear, and at once the life spirit fled from his limbs, and the hateful darkness closed in about him.

...it was more an execution than a fight. The cavalry were mounted on tall horses, and every man had spent hours of saber drill learning how to cut, thrust and parry, but all they had to do now was slash with their heavy, wide-bladed weapons that were designed for just such butchery. Slash and hack, scream and spur, then push on through panicking men whose only thought was flight. The sabers made dreadful injuries, the weight of the blade gave the weapons a deep bite and the curve of the steel dragged the newly sharpened edges back through flesh and muscle and bone to lengthen the wound. Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Triumph: Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Assaye, September 1803 (Richard Sharpe's Adventure Series #2)

In one early battle of 1914:

Thousands of dead were still standing, supported as if by a flying buttress made of bodies lying in rows on top of each other in an ascending arc from the horizontal to an angle of 60 degrees. Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August .

We don't need examples from poetry or fiction or history to remind us of the horrors of which humans are capable. We collect them daily in images from Iraq to Missouri, from Nigeria to the aisles of Target. From the Gaza Strip to the South Side of Chicago.

As a long ago song once put it, it's still the same old story. My question is, what chapter are we on? How far can one species go in only 200,000 years? Is it a blink or a lifetime? Is there hope in a horror story?

To be continued ...