The Iliad

A scrawled note in the margin of a much-read copy of Moby Dick screams, “What’s so great about Homer, anyway?” as I vented my frustration with being inundated with Homer references throughout literature. Eventually, I caved into curiosity and picked up Robert Fagles translation, a wonderfully readable and poetic work. The fact that my high school mascot was the Trojan and I wasn’t required to read this then is a glimpse into the priorities of public school.
Bernard Knox’s introduction was helpful, setting the stage for the story, explaining the repetition of phrases, explaining the mixture of dialects through the work (oral poets chose the best word for the line, inserting new stuff when it fit better).
In a nutshell, the Iliad is a book packed with poetic descriptions of violent deaths during the war between the Acheans and Troy. Helen was an Achean woman stolen by Paris (Troy), and armies of men sail to Ilium to protest. At the beginning, we see Achilles’ raging/pouting because he had a woman (Briseis) stolen from him by Agamemnon. War rages on and Achilles refuses to take part, hanging out in his ship while his allied armies battle to the death with Troy. The battle shifts back and forth, Hector (Troy) gaining glory through slaughter. The Olympian gods meddle with events, sometimes taking the battlefield against each other. Achilles finally sends his best friend Patroclus to fight in his stead, Patroclus dies, Achilles is beyond grief, rages against the Trojans, singles out Hector when the rest of the army has fled inside the city walls, and Achilles (what?) CHASES Hector around the city walls three times before Hector turns and fights, dies. Hector’s body is dragged back to the ships, paraded around Patroclus’ grave three times a day, and funeral games (think Olympics– wrestling, running, chariot races) are held. Hector’s dad Priam is granted safe passage into the enemy camp by the gods in order to save Hector’s body. Achilles gives Priam twelve days to mourn Hector and then war begins again.
Random thoughts:
* Sacrificing to the gods was merely an excuse to have a BBQ and get drunk, sing songs.
* These guys were overly concerned with “proper” burial instead of being eaten by carrion or worms. The battle over Patroclus’ body killed a bunch of folks on each side.
* Seemed like the only difference between this war and some of the more recent wars is the naming of every single person who dies. So and so, son of so and so.
* “Even a fool learns something once it hits him.”