I recently finished The Iliad, and all I can think to say is: thank God for the movie Troy. Being able to picture Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Brian Cox, and Sean Bean in my mind’s eye as I slogged through the text about Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, and Odysseus was tremendously helpful. Although, on the few bits with Hector’s wife Andromache, I thought less about Saffron Burrows and more about Charlize Theron, because her character in The Old Guard is named Andromache.
When I write “the few bits with Hector’s wife,” I mean it. The Iliad is very male-centric. Even though they were apparently fighting the Trojan War over a woman (Helen), she does not factor into the story very much. What does factor into the story? LOTS of fighting. And some Olympic-type sports. And the Greek gods behaving like Grade A A*holes. I read a version translated by Alexander Pope, where Zeus, or Jupiter, was referred to as Jove. And Jove gets mentioned everywhere, by jove.
The description of the fighting was pretty evocative, and might be the only thing I really enjoyed about this read. Catch this: “He fell heavily to the ground, and the spear stuck in his heart, which still beat, and made the butt-end of the spear quiver till dread Mars put an end to his life.” What a picture! (Although this time Mars gets the attribution, not Jupiter.)
Spoiler alerts ahead: there are two bits of ancient history that I kept expecting to encounter in The Iliad, but they never came up. The first was the death of Achilles. His death in Troy is foretold throughout the story, but the story ends with Hector’s burial, and Achilles apparently very much alive. According to an article by Philip Chrysopoulos in Greek Reporter: “The death of Achilles is not mentioned at all in The Iliad. His killing by Paris, who had discovered the one weak spot of the Greek warrior, comes from another ancient legend, which says that Paris shot Achilles in the heel with an arrow and killed him.”
The second was the Trojan Horse. It is referenced in The Odyssey (which I’m currently reading), but not in The Iliad. And unless it comes up again in more detail, all the reader finds out is that it was Odysseus who kept everyone quiet when they were hiding in the wooden horse. Given all the visceral action sequences in The Iliad, I would have liked to read a depiction of what happened when they came charging out of the horse.
But while these two Greek classics are not proving to be favorites, I definitely feel I’m benefiting from the experience. Getting a first-hand sense of these stories, foundational to so much of western thought, seems to be having a clarifying effect on me. That’s it for now!