Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize poet laureate, and late-in-life classicist, translated a play by Sophocles entitled Philoctetes. He called it The Cure at Troy.
It is the story of a Greek warrior en route to Troy to join his countrymen in their epic siege at Troy. Their ship stopped at a small island on the way to offer sacrifices to the goddess and Philoctetes was bitten by a venomous snake. His malodorous wound so offended his shipmates that he was put ashore alone on the remote island of Lemnos.
There, alone and exiled, Philoctetes spent years suffering without companionship or news about the progress of the Trojan war.
Because of the war’s stalemate, the future wanderer of the ages, Odysseus, and a companion, Neoptolemus, the son of the legendary Achilles, backtracked to Lemnos to rescue Philoctetes and to convince him to return with them to Troy with his lone possession, a magical bow fated to overthrow the Trojans.
After much debate and discussion, in which Philoctetes berates Odysseus, guilty of his original exile, he is persuaded to accompany Odysseus and Neoptolemus back to Troy and help the Greeks win the war.
This is a classic redemption story in every sense of the word. Which of us, wrongly wounded and judged, has not sought exile in our loneliness. Who among us has not turned his back on an unfair society. Who has not turned away from involvement in politics at its cruelest.
But almost everyone has a magic bow of one kind or another, a talent that can help our community or our nation triumph over bitter adversity. And it is that talent, that contribution, that can redeem us from the injustices of our age and put our lives to productive uses.
America today is in need of cure. Our frustrations at inept leadership, selfishness, greed, and racial division require a cure and a healing.
In a matter of hours, it will be for our nation to summon justice to redeem ourselves for four years of monumental rejection of our heritage and our history.
In a matter of hours, we will not only select a national leader, we will conduct a national referendum on our character as a people, a society, and a nation.
Like the Biblical prodigal son, we will come home from squandering our inheritance and seek redemption in the eyes of history and the world.
This election is about history, justice, and hope. It is about who we Americans truly are.
Mr. Heaney’s translation of this story of redemption is best known today for the passage beloved of many candidates, including this one, and now Joe Biden on the eve of the 2020 presidential election:
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
This is where we find ourselves, longing for the tidal wave of justice, and praying that hope and history will once more rhyme again.