The story “Palais de Justice” by Mark Helprin is about a defense attorney who has a substantial amount of experience in racing sculls. He’s a rather old fashioned man and when he is challenged by a young man whom he calls a “Spartan”, his knowledge of the waters allows him to navigate his scull with ease and ultimately defeat his opponent. But what does the attorney acquire at the climax of the race? Some might say death and others a greater sense of the risk that one must take when in battle. So one of the prominent themes in the story is that sometimes people are willing to fight for what they believe in.
The defense attorney’s knowledge of the waters could be compared to that of an Athenian because the Athenians were the heart and soul of the naval forces. For example, page 6
“He was lucky, because he knew the river so well that he had no need of turning to see where he was headed. So precise had the fifty years rendered his navigational sense that he did not even look when he approached bridges, and shot through the arches at full speed always right in the center.”
What differentiates a Spartan from an Athenian is that a Spartan possesses brawn and is young and an Athenian, posses wisdom and is old. Spartan officers are also considered to be admirable opponents “the ultimate fighter” and were considered to be role models or leaders for the armies they commanded. So one could say that there is a battle that exists in the story, both physically and mentally. If the indeed the attorney defeats the Spartan officer then that was considered to be a victory for his own self. Thus creating an epic battle between the two opponents. An example of how the race could be portrayed as an epic battle would be on page 5
“The defense attorney knew that once he had it he would again pour on speed in the excessive way youth allowed, and so the defense attorney husbanded his strength, going as fast as his opponent but with the greatest possible economy. This he achieved by relaxing, saying to himself, “Easy. Easy. The fight is yet to come. Easy now, easy.”
Here the attorney is being strategic by matching the speed of his rival but creating the illusion that he is not...