TROY VI THE INVENTION OF ACHILLESThe Classics, it is the ClassicsWilliam Blake is said to have exclaimed, with pointed reference to Homer, that Desolate Europe with WarsBlake s exclamation might not be as atrocious as it sounds at first There might be some truth to this, a universal truth.Significantly however, this is not how the ancients understood it They understood war as the catastrophe that it is.Strabo, the Roman geographer, talking about the Trojan wars, puts it thusFor it came about that, on account of the length of the campaign, the Greeks of that time, and the barbarians as well, lost both what they had at home and what they had acquired by the campaign and so, after the destruction of Troy, not only did the victors turn to piracy because of their poverty, the still the vanquished who survived the war It is in this spirit that I chose The Iliad as my first read for The World War I centenary read.However, over the war hungry centuries throughout the middle ages and right till the World Wars, this sense of the Epic was twisted by manipulating the images of Achilles Hector Hector became the great defender of his country and Achilles became the insubordinate soldier officer the worst type , a cause for the war than even Helen herself Of course, Achilles romance was never fully stripped but Hector gained in prominence throughout as the quintessential Patriot.Precisely because of this the Blake exclamation might have been valid than it had a right to be This is why there is a need to revisit the original tragic purpose of the Epic most commentators would say that as above this original purpose was against ALL wars But there is much significance to the fact that the epic celebrates the doomed fight of two extinct peoples.The Iliad starts on the eve of war and ends on the eve of war Of a ten year epic war, the poem focuses its attention only on a couple or so of crucial, and in the end inconclusive, weeks for it does not end with any side victorious but with Hector s death.In fact, it opens with both both Hector Achilles reluctant and extremely ambivalent towards war And closes with both Hector Achilles dead by mutually assured destruction In that clash of the Titans, the epic defines itself and creates a lasting prophecy.However, before we explore that we need to understand Hector Achilles better and also the Iliad itself.In Medias ResThe Iliad opens in medias res, as it were, as if the epic recitation was already on its way and we, the audience, have just joined It is part of Homer s genius that he creates a world already in process The art of Iliad is then the art of the entrance, the players enter from an ongoing world which is fully alive in the myths that surround the epic and the audience.The poem describes neither the origins nor the end of the war The epic cuts out only a small sliver of insignificant time of the great battle and thus focuses the spotlight almost exclusively on Hector Achilles, narrowing the scope of the poem from a larger conflict between warring peoples to a smaller one between these two individuals, and yet maintaining its cosmic aspirations So the important question is who are Hector Achilles and why do these two heroes demand nothing less than the greatest western epic to define and contrast them The Long Wait For Achilles In Iliad, how single mindedly we are made to focus on Hector, but all the while, the Epic bursts with an absence that of Achilles After the initial skirmish with Agamemnon and the withdrawal that forms the curtain raiser, Achilles plays no part in the events described in Books 2 through 8 he sits by his ships on the shore, playing his harp, having his fun, waiting for the promised endThe man, says Aristotle in the Politics , who is incapable of working in common, or who in his self sufficiency has no need of others, is no part of the community, like a beast, or a god Hector is the most human among the heroes of The Iliad, he is the one we can relate with the most east The scene where Hector meets Andromache and his infant son is one of the most poignant scenes of the epic and heightened by Homer for maximum dramatic tension.On the other hand, Achilles is almost non human, close to a god But still human, though only through an aspiration that the audience might feel in identifying with the quest for kleos, translated broadly as honor Zeus like Achilles is the usage sometimes employed by Homer and this is apt in ways than the straight forward fact that he is indeed first among the mortals just as Zeus is first among the gods.Zeus and the Gods know the future, they know how things are going to unfold.Among the mortals fighting it out in the plains of Ilium, only Achilles shares this knowledge, and this fore knowledge is what allows him in the guise of rage to stay away from battle, even at the cost of eternal honor Fore knowledge is what makes Achilles who is the most impetuous man alive wiser than everyone else.Hector on the other hand takes heed of no omens, or signs, nor consults any astrologer For him, famously, the only sign required is that his city needed saving and that is omen enough for me , as he declares He is the rational man He is the ordinary man Roused to defense.But everything Hector believes is false just as everything Achilles knows is true for all his prowess, Hector is as ordinary a soldier as anyone else except Achilles , privy to no prophecies, blind to his own fate Elated, drunk with triumph, Hector allows himself to entertain one impossible dream notion after other, even to the extent that perhaps Achilles too will fall to him That he can save Troy all by himself.Hector Achilles The MetamorphosisLike other ancient epic poems, the Iliad presents its subject clearly from the outset Indeed, Homer names his focus in its opening word menin, or rage Specifically, the Iliad concerns itself with the rage of Achilles how it begins, how it cripples the Achaean army, and how it finally becomes redirected toward the Trojans But, it also charts the metamorphosis of Achilles from a man who abhors a war that holds no meaning for him to a man who fights for its own sake.On the other side, it also charts how the civilized Hector, the loving family man and dutiful patriot Hector becomes a savage, driven by the madness of war.Before that, an interlude.The Other Life Of AchillesOne of the defining scenes of the Epic is the Embassy Scene where a defeated Agamemnon sends Odysseus co to entreat Achilles to return to the battle That is when Achilles delivers his famous anti war speech This speech of Achilles can be seen as a repudiation of the heroic ideal itself, of kleos a realization that the life and death dedicated to glory is a game not worth the candle.The reply is a long, passionate outburst he pours out all the resentment stored up so long in his heart He rejects out of hand this embassy and any other that may be sent he wants to hear no speeches Not for Agamemnon nor for the Achaeans either will he fight again He is going home, with all his men and ships As for Agamemnon s gifts, I loathe his gifts This is a crucial point in the epic Achilles is a killer, the personification of martial violence, but he eulogizes not war but life If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies true, but the life that s left me will be long9.502 4 Hector Achilles The Battle Royale Notwithstanding Achilles reluctance and bold affirmations of life, slowly, inevitably, Homer builds the tension and guides us towards the epic clash everybody is waiting for But though it might seem as preordained, it is useful to question it closely The confrontation is crucial and deserves very close scrutiny We must ask ourselves What brings on this confrontation On first glance, it was fate, but if looked at again, we can see that Homer leaves plenty of room for free will and human agency Hector had a choice But not Achilles instead, Achilles choice was exercised by Patroclus.This calls for a significant re look at the central conflict of the epic it might not be Hector Vs Achilles Patroclus and Hector instead are the real centerpiece of the epic Achilles being the irresistible force, that is once unleashed unstoppable It is a no contest Hence, the real contest happens before.This is because, that unleashing depended entirely on Hector and Patroclus the two heroes who only went into battle when their side was in dire straits to defend Both then got caught up in the rage of battle, and despite the best of advice from their closest advisors, got swept up by it and tried to convert defense into annihilation of enemy pursuing kleos It is worth noting the significant parallels between Hector and Patroclus, while between Hector and Achilles it is the contrasts that stand forth.Hector, instead of just defending his city, surges forth and decides to burn the Achaean ships Now, the Achaean ships symbolize the future of the Greek race They constitute the army s only means of conveying itself home, whether in triumph or defeat Even if the Achaean army were to lose the war, the ships could bring back survivors the ships destruction, however, would mean the annihilation or automatic exile of every last soldier Homer implies that the mass death of these leaders and role models would have meant the decimation of a civilization.Which means that the Achaeans cant escape in effect, Hector, by trying to burn the ships is in effect calling for a fight to the death This decision was taken in the face of very strong omens and very good advice In the battle at the trench and rampart in Book Twelve,The Trojans Storm the Rampart, Polydamas sees an eagle flying with a snake, which it drops because the snake keeps attacking it Polydamas decides this is an omen that the Trojans will lose He tells Hector they must stop, but Hector lashes out that Zeus told him to charge he accuses Polydamas of being a coward and warns him against trying to convince others to turn back or holding back himself.Hector is driven on by his success to overstep the bounds clearly marked out for him by Zeus He hears Polydamas threefold warning yes, there were two other instances too, not addressed here , yet plots the path to his own death and the ruin of those whom he loves.Thus, sadly, Hector pays no heed and surges forth Which is the cue for the other patriot to enter the fray for Patroclus.And thus Hector s own madness going beyond success in defense in the face of sound advice brought on a crises for Achaeans to which their prime defender and patriot, Patroclus responded and then paralleling Hector s own folly, he too succeeded and then went beyond that to his own death Thus Patroclus too shows that knows no restraint in victory his friends too warned him in vain, and he paid for it with his life By this time Hector had no choice, his fate was already sealed Achilles was about to be unleashed.The most important moment in Iliad to me was this prior moment when Hector lost it when he lost himself to war fury Hector s first act of true savagery towards Patroclus and his dead body lost in folly, Athena had swept away their senses,is how Homer describes Hector and his troops at this point of their triumph.Achilles, Unchained.Yet, Homer gives Hector one chance to spurn honor and save himself and diffuse stall the mighty spirit of Achilles that had been unleashed on the battlegrounds In his soliloquy before the Scacan gate, when he expects to die by Achilles hand, he also has his first moment of insight he sees that he has been wrong, and significantly enough Polydamas and his warnings come back to his mind But he decides to hold his ground for fear of ridicule, of all things So even as all the other Trojans ran inside the impregnable city walls to shelter, Hector waited outside torn between life and honor contrast this with Achilles who had chosen life over honor, the lyre over the spear, so effortlessly earlier Hector instead waits until unnerved, until too late And then the inevitable death comes.Thus the Rage was unleashed by two men who tried to do than defend themselves they tried to win eternal honor or kleos the result is the unleashing of the fire called Achilles his rage which burns itself and everything around it to the ground What better invocation of what war means I ask again, what better book to read for the centenary year for The World War I The Last BookThe last words of The Iliad areAnd so the Trojans buried Hector, breaker of horses Thus, fittingly, Homer starts with the Rage of Achilles and ends with the Death of Hector This is very poetic and poignant, but it is time for questions Again, why start and end on the eve of battle Because that is the only space for reflection that war allows Before the madness of the fury of war or of disaster descends like a miasmic cloud To use Homer s own phrase, war gives little breathing room.Thus, we end the Epic just as we began it in stalemate, with one crucial difference both sides best men are dead The two men who could have effected a reconciliation , who had a vision beyond war, are dead Homer s Prophecies It is made very clear in The Iliad that Achilles will die under Trojan roofs and that Hector will find his doom under the shadow of the Achaean ships or, both are to die in enemy territory.Though Iliad leaves us with full focus on Hector s death and funeral, there is another death that was always presaged but left off from the story That of Achilles own Why Achilles death is left to the audience to imagine, over and over again, in every context as required The saga of Hector Achilles, of the doomed to die heroes, leaves one death to the imagination and thus effects a very neat prophetic function.Once Hector committed his folly, once Patroclus rushed to his death, and once Achilles is unleashed, the rest is fixed fate, there is no stopping it So Homer begins and ends in truce, but with destruction round the corner as if the cycle was meant to be repeated again and again, stretching backwards and forwards in time Troy I, Troy II, to Troy VI, Troy VII, where does it end Homer knows that the threshold is crossed, the end is nigh even Troy s destruction is not required to be part of the epic with Hector s death, the death of Ilium is nigh too and so is Achilles own death and past the myths, the death of the Greek civilization, and maybe of all civilization The epic leaves us with the real doomsday just over the horizon, horribly presaged by it, in true prophetic fashion The Pity of War The pity of war is The Iliad s dominant theme, but it uses themes such as love, ego, honor, fear and friendship to illuminate the motive forces behind war In another ancient epic, Gilgamesh, the death of a friend prompts a quest which ends in wisdom and an affirmation of life in The Iliad, the death of the fabled friend leads to a renunciation of wisdom and a quest for death itself In Gilgamesh, the hero learns the follies of life and rebuilds civilization in The Iliad, Achilles comes into the epic already armed with this knowledge and moves towards seeking death, choosing to be the destroyer instead of the creator.The Iliad is an epic of unlearning. It mocks optimistic pretensions In The Iliad, the participants learn nothing from their ordeal, all the learning is left to the audience. Iliad, Homer The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer Set during the Trojan War, the ten year siege of the city of Troy Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.Characters Ajax, Odysseus, Helen of Troy, Menelaus, Paris, Hector, Achilles, Agamemnon, Aeneas, Sarpedon, Priam, Cassandra, Patroclus, Diomedes, Ajax Oileus, Andromache, Briseis, Hecuba, Nestor, Akhilleus 1973 1334 720 08 1377 579 9643053865 1381 1385 1387 9789643053864 08 The Iliad Is One Of The Two Great Epics Of Homer, And Is Typically Described As One Of The Greatest War Stories Of All Time, But To Say The Iliad Is A War Story Does Not Begin To Describe The Emotional Sweep Of Its Action And Characters Achilles, Helen, Hector, And Other Heroes Of Greek Myth And History In The Tenth And Final Year Of The Greek Siege Of Troy as a native english speaker, im not exposed to translated books very often so this reread is the first time where i have truly comprehended the significance of a translation and how it can either make or break a story i first read parts ofthe iliadback when i was in school and i just remember the text being very stiff and formal it did not hold my attention at all because i couldnt understand it but as i have come to love this story over the years through retellings and other media , i decided to give this another try after a lot of research, i chose this edition and translation, and i cannot stress enough how it has made all the difference the epic ofthe iliadhas its roots in oral storytelling and i am so impressed at how the flow of the language in this feels like someone is sitting next to me, personally telling me a tale about the best of greeks and their plight against the trojans its a really neat feeling to experience such an authentic nod to homer and how he told this story, almost to the point where i feel as if i have been a part of this epics great history 5 stars I m often kept up at night brooding on my troubles, wishing I could find some solace that would help me sleep But now I know that the best way to keep insomnia at bay is to get out of bed, hitch up my chariot, tie the corpse of my mortal enemy to the back, and drive around for a few hours, dragging him, until I cheer up and can go back to sleep The Iliad is unmatched, in my reading, for works that describe the bloody, ridiculous, selfish lengths people will go in order to feel better The sticks and stones fly and gouge out eyes, smash skulls, slash livers and veins until the blood sprays this poem is definitely not for the squeamish , but the real weapons of the Trojan War are name calling, cheating at games, and stealing your best buddy s girlfriend or mixing bowl or ox Most of the action occurs when somebody gets his feelings hurt, the baddie won t apologize, and the sensitive one throws a fit, which can involve letting all of his friends die while he gets an olive oil massage, or else razing a city, raping the women, and joyriding over other men s bones The Iliad suggests that even at its most glorious, war can be advocated only by people with the emotional lives of spoiled four year olds.For thoughts, see my post At my college graduation, the speaker was a gruff professor He was one of those older men whom people somewhat patronizingly describe as a teddy bear to convey the idea that while he looks like Santa Claus, they wouldn t be surprised to see him arraigned on assault charges at the local courthouse I liked this professor in general, and his graduation speech was a grand warm congratulations on a crisp early summer day He decided to inform us, however, that anyone who had not read The Iliad and The Odyssey should not be graduating from college I was one of those lucky lucky folks, like an illiterate kid graduating from high school I decided to rectify the situation as soon as possible, and I spent an indefinite number of hours in the next few, sunny weeks laying in a hammock on my porch, the boy I loved commiserating with me about this wonderful book It is a warm, sharp memory That was mumble mumble years ago, and this summer, I thought that since I just graduated again, I would read it again It was a good choice Warm, summer days in the hammock with limb chopping, flashing helms, and mountain goats rushing down the hillside.I can t find this quote I m thinking of, but I m pretty sure it s from Beowulf, and it goes something like, Brave men should seek fame in foreign lands Google does not think that quote exists, so maybe I dreamed it, which is really neither here nor there, but kind of weird Something about that quote, about this book, and about the way this book reminds me of that quote, makes my blood beat close to my skin I get this feeling that my heart grows too big for my ribs, and my eyeballs get tight, as though I m going to cry But, my heart doesn t pound, and no tears come.That is how this book feels to me.This story is about what Homer doesn t describe as much as what he does, and reading it evokes some kind of mirroring response from my body The Iliad is the almost death of Achilles, the almost destruction of Troy, and reading it is an almost panic attack, an almost sob It is the absent top step in a flight of stairs But, oh man, that flight of stairs How do you even make that It s not possible to spoil this story because Homer is always one step ahead, tripping you up about what story he s telling So, just because I think it s fun and, also because it seems kind of absurd to write a review of The Iliad, so I m wandering in the dark here , I m going to give a brief summary This story is about a bunch of guys fighting over some women fleshlights and jewelry Mostly the women fleshlights Everyone s been at this war for nine years sidebar weirdly, when I read that it was nine years, I thought, NINE YEARS WHO WOULD FIGHT A WAR FOR THAT LONG Oh, wait As you probably know, the war initially started because Paris, a Trojan, stole Helen, who was the iPhone 5 of fleshlights, from Menelaus, an Argive The Argives are at their ships the Trojans are in Ilium, behind the city walls There s lots of blood and guts and pillaging throughout This story, Homer clearly tells us, is about Paris and Helen s betrayal of Menelaus, and it is about the death of Achilles The story opens with Agamemnon, the king of the Argives, having stolen a fancy new fleshlight from Achilles, who is a child of a water nymph Achilles refuses to continue fighting if Agamemnon is going to take his fleshlight Then, Achilles has this beautiful, beautiful moment where he questions the very nature of fighting over fleshlights We are all pawns in the petty squabbles of the gods.The gods are easily my favorite parts of this story, though it is not really about them in a certain way It is not really about them in the way that any discussion of a god is not really about the god On the one hand, it is about how our lives are just pawns in this squabbling, incestuous, eternal Thanksgiving dinner in the sky On the other hand, it is still about the pawns The gods are compelling on their own, but my heart tries to escape my chest not because of their story, but because, yes, humans do live and die by some kind of petty lottery run by a rapist married to his sister Yes And maybe there is someone bold and wonderful in the sky, like the grey eyed Athena, but we still live and die by the thunder of a maniacal drunk uncle Yes, that seems true.So, in the midst of the chopping of limbs, the shatteringly beautiful similes, death after death, and the machinations of the dysfunctional immortal family, this story is about the betrayal of Menelaus and the death of Achilles The thing that is absolutely, hands down the most insane about this story to me is that those two events are deeply vivid in my mind in connection to this book, but neither of them actually happens here How is that possible How do you plant enough seeds about an event in a reader s mind that when she closes a book, those seeds grow into whole, robust images about the event My blood does that thing where it tries to get out of my skin just from thinking about that I can picture Achilles s death so vividly, picture lying in that hammock and reading it after I graduated from college, but that never happened Homer just planted the seeds of his death in my brain, and they grew from my constant pondering over them Helen and Paris sailing away grew in my mind through Helen s beautiful regrets.This is a story that I could think about for days Helen s mourning, like the women I ve seen apologize for causing their husbands abuse no, you didn t cause this war, and the futility of killing each other, as though we are controlled by the Kardashians of the sky What causes violence We say women cause violence because they push our buttons, so we re driven to maim and kill because of the betrayals and button pushing We say that something eternal, God or the gods, cause violence because they control our fate, they appear to us as birds and as wisdom and lead us on our night blind path of life, but they lead us erratically drunk, hysterical drivers and us with no seat belt, so we grasp for mere survival Homer describes those motivations for violence so beautifully.But, ultimately I think that is all bullshit, and I think the bullshitness of it is there in this story, too It is there in Achilles challenging Agamemnon It is there in Achilles mourning Patroclus Oh, Patroclus, about whom I haven t even freaked in this review What a shame Anyway, though, people are not violent because we were betrayed or because of supernatural trickery Our violence is ours it is our choice and our responsibility Life is barbarous and cruel around us, but that is its nature, and we can only shape ourselves through and around it When we expect life to be gentle and obedient, we are usually doing nothing than justifying our own cruelty I don t think there is an answer to any of this in The Iliad, but it is beautifully told in both the positive and negative space It is blood poundingly, eye achingly told As my professor said, everyone should read this, and if you can read it in the sun, lying in a hammock after your graduation, all the better. Everyone knows the Iliad And everyone talks about it But here, I only want to discuss one forgotten element of it An element ESSENTIAL to constructing a valid modern worldview for EACH of us.I always evaded applying this element to my daily life But I was wrong so wrong.Rei Pasa Those two words sum it all up.They were written by a Greek gentleman who was roughly the contemporary of Homer Heraclitus, the ancient pre Socratic philosopher.Rei pasa everything changes Inevitably.As Heraclitus explains elsewhere, You can t step into the same river twice EVERYTHING is in movement.So it is with Homer In this epic, everything takes place In Medias Res right, smack dab in the middle of the chaos of everyday life.That s where we all start in our OWN lives And finish.And that s the ONLY place we ll ever find Peace.Now, that seems odd, doesn t it And it seemed that way for me, tooBack in 1985 I was harried to the Max by my new furiously high powered career I couldn t find any place of peace in my life That s the year I started to find solace in Eastern philosophy and New Age Music.Hey, with this stuff you could get blissed out in no time So I weakly thought.But then the frenetic pace of the workplace speeded up And kept accelerating all the way to retirement I felt trapped.By 1999 I was burning out I was frazzled Fried But on an April day exactly twenty years ago I realized I had no choice but to let it all go and give it to God.THAT was when I really knew what In Medias Res REALLY meant It s not OUR world It s His Let Him do what He wants for a change and sit back for the RIDE OF YOUR LIFE.You ll never experience the eternal mutability of life until you get to that point There s just NO WAY because YOU, unchanging you, are otherwise always center stage You have to let it go and give it away.Just like Achilles loses it and becomes his Fate.And that s why Homer is so colossal.There s just no other way to peace At the Eye of the Storm Did you really LIKE the Iliad, mum My son has just finished reading it, and his question is valid Do you really LIKE to read line after line of gory murder, repeated endlessly from song to song I evaded the question, speaking of fantastic opening lines, of classic art and immense influence on other authors And then I capitulated a little The Odyssey is much interesting as a story I said So you didn t like it then I liked reading it And we agreed that some books just ARE As a reader, you will want to tackle them at some point, and the rules you apply to recent works of fiction don t count You award yourself 5 stars for finishing, for knowing than you did before starting But then my son killed the Iliad with a spear as sharp as those of Homeric warriors He compared it to Greek tragedy And that is where I stumbled those ARE too but I also LIKE reading them They are thought provoking, exciting, and classic Troy s fall from the perspective of Philoctetes is pure literary bliss The Iliad is not But it remains What I learned from this book in no particular order 1 Victory or defeat in ancient Greek wars is primarily the result of marital spats and or petty sibling rivalry in Zeus and Hera s dysfunctional divine household.2 Zeus the father of gods and men is a henpecked husband who is also partial to domestic abuse.3 If you take a pretty girl who is the daughter of a priest of Apollo as war booty and refuse to have her ransomed, Apollo will rain plague on your troops And he won t be appeased until you return the girl and throw him a ginormous BBQ party involving hundreds of cattle at his temple.4 If an arrow or a spear were thrown at you in battle, often than not, it would land on your nipple or thereabout Or alternatively, it would pierce your helmet and splatter your brain.5 Paris is a proper guy s name, not just a name for capital cities or bratty heiresses.6 Brad Pitt in man skirt Achilles is the badassest warrior there ever was.7 Real men eat red meat, specifically a sheep chines b fat goats and c the long back cuts of a full grown pig, marbled with lard.8 The most valuable booty are in no particular order a bronze tripods each worth 12 oxens and armors b swift war stallions and c pretty women each worth 4 oxens, if also skilled in crafts Lesbians are particularly prized 9 There is nothing glorious for a warrior than to sack enemy cities, plunder their wealth, kill all their men, bed their pretty women and enslave their children 10 The only men who matter are warriors, but if you are a woman, the range of roles that you could play is rather diverse You could be a a runaway wife who sparks a cosmic battle between your thuggish hubby s city state and your cowardly boyfriend s 1 b a war booty with a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome 2 c a manipulative uber bitch who also happens to be a goddess 3 d a long suffering wife and mother 4 1 Helen 2 Briseis 3 Hera 4 AndromacheBut whatever role you choose to play, you will still be the bone of contention between men and the armies that they lead All the major conflicts in the story are triggered by women, or specifically by their sexuality Helen s elopement with Paris launched a thousand Argive ships against Troy Agamemnon s desire to bed Briseis, Achilles lawful prize, caused a nearly unhealable rift between them and Hector s desire to protect his wife from the dismal fate of being an Argive sex slave inspired him to fight Achilles to the death Homer s mortal women might be meek and mild, but his goddesses can kick ass with the best of them, and even occasionally best their male counterparts Zeus is not above being manipulated by Hera, and Ares the God of War actually got whacked on the head by Athena Troy, Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Warner Bros 2004.What I find most surprising about the Iliad is the amount of graphic, X rated violence that it contains The violence is not the biblical slaying and smiting, but something much voyeuristically gory the one Peneleos lanced beneath the brows, down to the eyes roots and scooped an eyeball out the spear cut clean through the socket, out behind the nape and backward down he sat, both hands stretched wide as Peneleos, quickly drawing his whetted sword, hacked him square in the neck and lopped his head and down on the ground it tumbled, helmet and all But the big spear s point still stuck in the eye socket I imagine that this kind of anatomically precise, brain splattering, gut spilling action scenes made the Iliad popular with the Romans, who routinely went to the Colosseum to watch gladiators hack each other to death, but there is only so much of it that I could take in one sitting, which is why it took me almost three months to finish it It is not that I m particularly sensitive to fictional death and dismemberment and after all, this book is a war book but the sheer amount of such scenes, as well as their mind numbing repetitiveness made for tedious reading It doesn t help that many of these deaths happened to seemingly throwaway characters, barely introduced in three or four lines, merely to be summarily and gorily dispatched in another half a dozen lines on the same page The Iliad is assumed to be the written version of a much older oral poem, and such characters might represent collective memories of real Bronze Age warriors, but by Zeus, hundreds of pages of them being hacked, cleaved and skewered to death almost did me in.Now, what is the purpose of such meticulously catalogued carnage Was Homer trying to present War with all its attendant horrors to shock his audience into pacifism Or was the old guy just trying to write an 8th century BCE equivalent of a blockbuster action adventure movie with enough gore to satisfy his young male demographic The Iliad both celebrates and laments the warrior spirit the haughty pride and terrible thirst for vengeance and plunder that set men to distant shores, intent on razing cities and putting its inhabitants to slaughter, but also the stark, tragic consequences of such acts I actually find the gods politicking and manipulations interesting than the actual war The Greek gods are blissfully free of any human notion of morality which makes the problem of theodicy much simpler to solve than in the Judeo Christian model The Olympian gods do not move in mysterious ways they are moved by caprice and petty grievances Why did we suffer such an ignominious defeat, despite all that we had done to win Zeus favor Well, it happened that just before the battle was about to begin, Hera seduced him and subsequently put him to sleep with the help of Hypnos, whom she bribed with one of the Graces A perfectly logical and very human explanation.The story gets much interesting in the last five books The Olympian gods entered into the fray and the effect is sometimes like watching WWE SmackDown Bloody Ares lunged at it now with giant lance and Athena backed away, her powerful hand heftinga boulder off the plain, black, jagged, a ton weightthat men in the old days planted there to make off plowland Pallas hurled that boundary stone at Ares, struck his neck,loosed his limbs, and down he crashed and out over seven acressprawled the enormous god and his mane dragged in the dust Or maybe an episode of Super Friends How do you have the gall, you shameless bitch,to stand and fight me here.But since you d like a lesson in warfare, Artemis,just to learn, to savor how much stronger I amwhen you engage my power The gods are deathless , so you know that there won t be any lasting harm from their catfight, but the cost of battle to all too mortal men is heavy indeed This was a time when war was as elemental as they come no mercy was shown to the enemy on the battlefield, save one that pertained to a warrior s honor, which was to be buried with full honors by his family and comrades When mighty, stallion breaking Hector finally succumbed to Achilles in a strangely anticlimactic duel, his father Priam went to Achilles camp and kneeling down beside Achilles, clasped his kneesand kissed his hands, those terrible, man killing handsthat had slaughtered Priam s many sons in battle Troy s old king begged for his son s body, and in the magnificent, poignant last book, Homer showed us the real cost of war, both on the vanquished and the triumphant By the will of the gods, Achilles death would soon follow his destiny was ultimately no different from the rest of tragic humanity, fated to suffer and die by callous, immoral gods for causes that were entirely beyond their ken So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched menlive on to bear such torments Pablo Picasso spent his entire life trying desperately to do something new, something unique He moved from style to style, mastering and then abandoning both modern and classical methods, even trying to teach his trained artist s hand to paint like a child.In 1940, four French teens and a dog stumbled upon a cave that had lain hidden for 16,000 years Inside, they found the walls covered in beautiful drawings of men and animals When the Lascaux caves were opened to the public, Pablo Picasso visited them, and as he stared at the prehistoric hunting scenes, was heard to remark in a despondent tone We have invented nothing.The Iliad is equally as humbling to a writer, as complex, beautiful, and honest as any other work The war scenes play out like a modern film, gory and fast paced, the ever present shock of death Though some have been annoyed at how each man is named or even given a past before his death, this gives weight to the action Each death is has consequence, and as each man steps onto the stage to meet glory or death, Homer gives us a moment to recognize him, to see him amidst the whirling action, and to witness the fate Zeus metes.The psychological complexity and humanism of this work often shocked me Homer s depiction of human beings as fundamentally flawed and unable to direct their own lives predicts existentialism The even hand he gives both the Trojans and the Argives places his work above the later moralizing allegories of Turold, Tasso, or even Milton.Of course, Homer s is a different world than theirs, one where the sword has not yet become a symbol for righteousness In Homer, good men die unavenged, and bad men make their way up in the world Noble empires fall to ravenous fire and the corpses of fresh limbed young men are desecrated.Fate does not favor the kind, the weak, the moral, or even the strong Fate favors some men now, others later, and in the end, none escapes the emptiness of death Though Homer paints some men as great, as noble and kind and brave, these men do not uphold these ideals for some promised paradise, but simply because they are such men.There is something refreshing in the purity of the philosophy of living life for yourself and yet expecting no entitlement for your deeds A philosophy which accepts the uncontrollable winds of fate that when the dark mist comes across our eyes, no man knows whence he goes.Later traditions make other claims that the righteous will be rewarded, that the lives of good men will be good and the bad will be punished In thousands of years of thinking, of writing, of acting, have we gained nothing but comforting, untenable ideals Then Picasso was wrong, we have invented something, but it is only a machine which perpetuates itself by peddling self satisfaction I read and enjoyed the Fagles translation, which may not be the most faithful, but strikes that oft discussed balance between joy of reading and fidelity He makes no attempt to translate the meter into English, which is a blessing to us The English language does a few meters well, and Homer s is not one of them The footnotes were competent and interesting, though I could have stood a few of them perhaps I am in the minority I also thoroughly enjoyed Knox s introductory essay I would normally have had to research the scholarly history of the book myself, and so Knox s catch me up was much appreciated.
is considered the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest of ancient Greek epic poets These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is unknown Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at around 850 BCE, while other ancient sources claim that he lived much nearer to the supposed time of the Trojan War, in the early 12th century BCE Most modern researchers place Homer in the 7th or 8th centuries BCE.The formative influence of the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the teacher of Greece Homer s works, which are about fifty percent speeches, provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval Greek worlds Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds.
- 683 pages
- 11 November 2017 Homer