The Iliad by Homer

The Iliad

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....

Title:The Iliad
Author:
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Edition Language:English

The Iliad Reviews

  • Alison

    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 stic

    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 more thoughts, see my post:

  • Sparrow

    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

    and

    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

    and

    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

    , 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.

    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

    , 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

    fleshlights and jewelry. Mostly the

    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 more than justifying our own cruelty. I don’t think there is an answer to any of this in

    , 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.

  • J.G. Keely

    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 vi

    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 more 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.

  • Grace Tjan

    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 un

    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, more 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.

    * 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 more 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 more 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) Andromache

    But 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 more 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 more interesting than the actual war. The Greek gods are blissfully free of any human notion of morality --- which makes the problem of theodicy much more 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

    explanation.

    The story gets much more interesting in the last five books. The Olympian gods entered into the fray and the effect is sometimes like watching

    :

    “Bloody Ares lunged at it now with giant lance

    and Athena backed away, her powerful hand hefting

    a boulder off the plain, black, jagged, a ton weight

    that 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 acres

    sprawled the enormous god and his mane dragged in the dust.”

    Or maybe an episode of

    :

    “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 am

    when 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 knees

    and kissed his hands, those terrible, man-killing hands

    that 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 men

    live on to bear such torments ---“

  • Riku Sayuj

    ” William Blake is said to have exclaimed, with pointed reference to Homer, “

    Blake'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.

    Strabo, the Roman geographer, talking about the Trojan wars, puts it thus

    ” William Blake is said to have exclaimed, with pointed reference to Homer, “

    Blake'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.

    Strabo, the Roman geographer, talking about the Trojan wars, puts it thus

    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’, more 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 more 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.

    The Iliad opens in

    , 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?

    In Iliad, how

    we are made to focus on Hector,

    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 end.

    says Aristotle in the Politics

    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

    , translated broadly as “honor”.

    ‘Zeus-like Achilles’ is the usage sometimes employed by Homer - and this is apt in more 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 - “

    , 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.

    Like other ancient epic poems, the Iliad presents its subject clearly from the outset. Indeed, Homer names his focus in its opening word:

    , 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.

    One 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

     - 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 more 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 - “

    “  (9.502-4)

    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.

    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

    .

    This is because, that

    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

    !

    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 -

    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,

    , 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

    - when he lost himself to war fury: Hector’s first act of true savagery - towards Patroclus and his dead-body. “

    is how Homer describes Hector and his troops at this point of their triumph.

    Yet, Homer gives Hector one more 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 more than defend themselves - they tried to win eternal honor or

    - 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 words of The Iliad are :

    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 more 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, “

    ”.

    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.

    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,

    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 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.

    , 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

    It mocks optimistic pretensions. In The Iliad, the participants learn nothing from their ordeal, all the learning is left to the audience.

  • Scott

    After reading

    I faced a quandary- how do you review one of the most important and enduring works of creativity in human history? What can you say that hundreds of thousands of others haven't?

    My answer to this question is that I must join the chorus of those who have come before me and sing the praises of what is one of the best stories I have ever read, as fascinating and gripping now as it no doubt was when it was penned nearly three millennia ago.

    There are many reasons why this book

    After reading

    I faced a quandary- how do you review one of the most important and enduring works of creativity in human history? What can you say that hundreds of thousands of others haven't?

    My answer to this question is that I must join the chorus of those who have come before me and sing the praises of what is one of the best stories I have ever read, as fascinating and gripping now as it no doubt was when it was penned nearly three millennia ago.

    There are many reasons why this book has endured. It is a story of love, hate, vengeance, fate, pettiness, grief and war, bloody and prolonged war - a microcosm of human life and the furies that drive us to excess.

    You know the story. Paris steals Helen away to Troy. Agamemnon and the Greeks raise and army and lay seige to that great city. Achilles, the greatest warrior history has ever seen, fights and dies, a poison arrow embedded in his ankle. The Greeks roll a massive wooden horse up to Troy's gates, and the war ends in trickery and massacre.

    You know all this, but trust me, you don't know it the way

    tells it. This is a glorious read, the brutal blows and shrieks of war leap from the page, and the human passions that drive the protaganists are vivid and compelling. You will read this book and wonder at how something from another time, translated from it's original tongue, can so totally enthrall a modern reader.

    It's powerful, heady stuff.

    So many images from this story are carved into my synapses. Hector and Achilles stalking the battlefield like avatars of death, scything down opponents in their tens. Priam begging Achilles for the return of his son's mangled body. Heroes cut down mid-fight, their souls headed for the underworld, their deaths mourned even by the gods on Olympus, who watch and guide the battle from above.

    There are a handful of books that every reader must experience - books that are milestones in human culture.

    is one of these books. I don't know how I lived more than three decades before I read it, and it makes me nostalgic for a time I never lived through, when a high school education in the classics was something that everyone received.

  • Ana

    I have conquered The Iliad. I can truly call myself a Greek Mythology lover now.

    Angst, love, honor, angst, family, drama, death, angst. Did I mention angst? No, I'm not talking about Beverly Hills, 90210. Oh Ancient Greece, you were a very mixed up angsty place.

    This is basically how it went down. (These memes are dark and full of spoilers)

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. I was born too late. Where's the Tardis when you need it?

  • Araz Goran

    الالياذة وهوميروس يجعلان منك طفلاً صغيراً تتحدث مع نفسك طيلة ايام قراءة الملحمة تمارس الهلوسة الهوميرية بكل جنونها، تستفيق هواية المعارك في مخيلتك، تتحمس، تغضب،تشارك بعقلك وانفعالاتك، تبكيك مشاهد مصرع الابطال، تلهبك ساحة المعارك المكتظة بصليل السيوف وتدافع الاجساد المتعطشة للدماء والمجد قبل كل شئ، يتلاعب بك هوميروس كيفما يشاء هو وآلهته الخالدة وأبطاله شبه المجانين ، يرتحل بك في العالم القديم في بلاد الاغريق، في طروادة، في معبد دلفي، في جبال الاولمبوس.. نادر أن تشعر بالغربة وأنت تقرأ في الملحمة ن

    الالياذة وهوميروس يجعلان منك طفلاً صغيراً تتحدث مع نفسك طيلة ايام قراءة الملحمة تمارس الهلوسة الهوميرية بكل جنونها، تستفيق هواية المعارك في مخيلتك، تتحمس، تغضب،تشارك بعقلك وانفعالاتك، تبكيك مشاهد مصرع الابطال، تلهبك ساحة المعارك المكتظة بصليل السيوف وتدافع الاجساد المتعطشة للدماء والمجد قبل كل شئ، يتلاعب بك هوميروس كيفما يشاء هو وآلهته الخالدة وأبطاله شبه المجانين ، يرتحل بك في العالم القديم في بلاد الاغريق، في طروادة، في معبد دلفي، في جبال الاولمبوس.. نادر أن تشعر بالغربة وأنت تقرأ في الملحمة نادراً ما تجد نفسك بعيداً هناك، لم يكن من الجيد أن تقوم بإخفاء نفسك خلف جدران طروادة العظيمة، لم يكن لك الحق في التخلي عن المعركة ،فهنا إما أن تكون أو لا تكون، هيكتورياً أو مواكباً لغضبة " أخيليوس " سريع القدم المتدثر دائماً بلباس الحرب والغضب معاً، لقد ولد مع الغضب وارتحل مع جنونه اينما حل.. حينما سمع بمقتل " باتروكلوس " كاد أن يجز رقبته بخنجره لولا أن قبض على يديه ومنعه إبن نيستور الحكيم..

    صراع محتدم بدأ بإختطاف الجميلة "هيلينا" من أرض الاغريق على الكسندروس "بارس" ذاك الشقي الذي جلب الويلات لبلاده الذي وصفه هيكتور ذاته مرة " ايها المعتوه، ليت الارض قد بلعتك من قبل أن ترى النور في مدينة برياموس" ..أتفق أن باريس كان هواياً للنساء مفتونا بجماله ومحباً لهذا النوع من المغامرات التي تدفعه نفسه إلى خطف النساء والرجوع بهن إلى طروداة كـ سبيات وأسيرات في قصره، لم يخطر أنه قد جلب الوبال على شعبه قد تسبب في هلاك أمته ومحوها من خريطة العالم حين أفتتن بـ " هلينيا" الجميلة زوجة مينلاؤس شقيق الملك أجامنون، إختطفها من القصر وأبحر بها إلى طروادة لتصبح محظية له هناك..

    ما أن أدرك مينلاؤس ذلك الذي حدث حتى قام بتحفز أخيه على تجهيز العدة وشن غارة على طروادة التعيسة، أجابه شقيقه إلى ذلك بل وأجتمع جميع قبائل وملوك وسادة الاغريق على مشاركة الحملة الساعية أولاً لأرجاع زوجة مينلاؤس وثانياً نهب كنوز طروادة التي كانت ذائعة الصيت في مقدار كنوزها وغناها التي كانت تتباهى بها في العالم القديم..

    وصل المدد من كل مكان واحتشدت القوات الاخيبة والدانائيين مجتمعين لبدء الحملة والسطو على طروادة المجيدة معقل هكتور ومن قبل ذلك برياموس ذلك الشيخ الهرم حبيب الالهة.. بعد تسع سنوات من الابحار ومكابدة العناء كما تصف الملحمة، وصلت الحشود العظيمة يتقدمها أجاممنون الملك بنفسه ومع شقيقه المترف الأحزان، وسيد الغضب والقتال سريع القدم كما يصفه هوميروس " أخيليوس " أو أخيل البطل الاغريقي الخالد الساغي دائماً وراء المجد وتحطبم اسوار المدن العتيقة والابنية الشاهقة على رؤوس اصحابها وسبي اجمل نساء البلاد الاخرى.. أخيليوس الذي لم يداهمه يوماً الشبع من قتل الابطال في صيحات القتال ولا منازلة الجبابرة وسحقهم في مشاهد درامية كثيرة، كان آخرها مع هكتور صاحب طروادة..

    أخيليوس هناك جالساً في خيمته غاضباً تغني إلهة الشعر نفسها في وصف عنفوان غضبه، يصب اللعنات على اليوم الذي قرر فيه الابحار ومقاتلة اهل طروادة، ذلك لم يكن بسبب تلك المحظية التي قرر اجاممنون أن يبقيها لنفسه، خريسئيس الفاتنة التي عشقها أجاممنون وتمرد على بطله اخيليوس وانتزع تلك الجميلة من بين ذلك الاسد الهائج المسمى أخيليوس..

    أخيليوس وحيوان الغضب في داخله تحولا إلى جبل لا يتزحح قرر فيها أن يترك الآخيين ليواجهوا مصيرهم في مواجهة الطرواديين الذي كانوا يتلهفون لمثل هذا النزاع المؤدي إلى فصل اكبر قوة عن ميدان ابناء الاغريق، الذي قرروا ان يواصلوا الحرب بدونه..

    تلك الغضبة هي التي تأسست عليها الإلياذة - اي غضبة أخيليوس - وهي التي كانت البداية لكتابة هذه الملحمة الخلابة.. والتي مطلعها :-

    ما أن بدأت بقراءة هذا الأبيات الأولى حتى شعرت بألفة غريبة تجاه ما أقرأ وكأنها منحوتة لتبقى خالدة وعصية على النسيان وعلى ظهر الحياة تدب كلماتها ورونقها الساحر الملئ بالمتناقضات والجنون، مساحة كبيرة من الخيال والشغف تمنحها لك الأبيات الأولى وهي تقنتص عمداً مخيلة القارئ للذهاب بعيداً جداً حيث لا وجود إلا لتلك الثلة من الأبطال والمدن الحصينة والسفن المقوسة التي تحمل على ظهرها ذلك العدد الهائل من المقاتلين المطالبين بالمجد، تلك السفن السائرة في ضباب البحر ومشاهد الغروب الخالدة..

    وكم كان قلب أخيليوس قاسياً حينها وهو يجدف في حق أصحابه هناك ويتركهم سريع القدم وهم يُقتلون على يد هيكتور أبن برياموس وبقية الطرواديين، صرخات نيستور الحكيم تملأ ساحة القتال منادياً بالويل على من ينسحب من المعركة ويذكرهم بالمجد في كل حين،أجاممنون في حالة الغضب والرثاء وهو يشاهد حشود الطرواديين متقدمة نحو سفن الآخيين منذرة بإحراق السفن نفسها.. أوديسيوس ربيب الآلهة يصيد أرواح الطرواديين برحمهه الذي لا زال يخترق الأجساد الطروادية، الثنائي أياس يتضرعان للآلهة أن لا يمنح النصر للطرواديين، ومازالت رماح الآخيين تنحرف عن مسارها بإرادة " زيوس " الذي لم يكن يأبه لتلك التضرعات الذي قدمها أجاممنون ومن قبله نيستور الحكيم ولا للقرابين التي تم ذبحها لهذا الإله القاسي الذي مكن الطرواديين من الغلبة في الكثير من الجولات حتى كاد أجاممنون أن يعلن الانسحاب نحو السفن خوفاً من إحراق السفن المقوسة والوقوع في شرك أعدائهم، لولا يقظة الثنائي أياس الذين استبسلا للدفاع عن السفن والذود عن آخر ما تبقى من المعنويات للآخيين المتمركزين عند السفن، نقطة التحول حدثت عندما هب باتروكلوس يحض أخيليوس على القتال ويذكره بمآل الاغريق الذي سيكون بشعاً على يد الثائرين من اهل طروادة ومن خلف بعض الآلهة التي كانت ترغب في سحق الجيش الاغريقي.. باتروكلوس حاول ان يسكن غضبة اخيليوس، لم يستطيع ذلك الشقي ان يفعل شيئاً سوى يتدرع بدرع اخيليوس ويواجه حشود الطرواديين وحده..

    ولقد علم اخيليوس هنالك معنى الالم معنى الغضب لأول مرة، معنى الفناء، معنى العدم، معنى الخواء، معنى ان تفقد كل شئ لأجل لا شئ.. معنى أن تكون محبطاً حتى من نفسك، من يقينك انك قد عاينت احزان العالم في قلبك، استجواب ذرات الحقيقة الخافتة التي تنادي بك إلى العالم الفاني.. لم يكن غضباً بل حزناً دفيناً وكأنه كان يعلم أن الايام تخبئها له وهو على أرض طروادة.. أخيليوس تمزق هناك ومزق ماحوله..

    *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

    هذه الملحمة أستطيع أن أقول من أجمل ما قرأت وما سأقرأ حتى، تحفة أدبية مذهلة حقاً وهي تحكي تلك الأحداث بصورة مشوقة ساحرة عصية على الادراك أنها كلمات مجردة ،كأنها أستخرجت من بئر الجمال القابع في سحر هذا العالم كله.. مذهلة تبقى هذه الملحمة في مخليتي صعبة النسيان والتأليف مرة أخرى.... عاطفي تلقائي غريب ساحر بارع .. ليست مجاملة بل هي حقيقة، بل وقطرة ساكنة من بحر جمال هذه الرائعة الانسانية..

    وأدرك تماماً أن لو اجتمع ممثلوا وفنانوا العالم على أن يجسدوا هذه الملحمة على أرض الواقع أو كلوحة أو لما استطاعوا إلى ذلك سبيلا..

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    من الملاحظ عدد الشخصيات في الملحمة كبير جداً جداً لا يمكن حصرها ، أسماء كثيرة لمقاتلين وآلهة وأبطال معظمها تأتي كشخصيات هامشية لا وزن لها في عملية بناء الملحمة ،إن هي إلا مجرد ورقة يلقي بها هوميروس في صيحة الحرب فأما أن تتعرض للقتل مباشرة بعد ذكرها وهو غالباً مايحدث، أو أنها تتعرض للنسيان من قبل هوميروس وكما قال النقاد " أن هوميروس كان يغفو أحياناً أثناء تأليفه للملحمة " ، ومن الجدير بالذكر أن هناك شخصية تعرضت للقتل في بداية المعارك التي أشتعلت بين الطرواديين والدانائيين ثم ذُكر بعد ذلك وهو يقاتل ثانية في صيحة الحرب وللسوء حظه قُتل مجدداً .. ذلك ما يضفي في رأيي جواً من البراءة والغرابة في القصة وكأنها تجري خارج حدود الزمن.. ونصيحة لا تحفظ إلا أسماء الشخصيات الرئيسية في الملحمة وإلا سيختلط عليك الشخصيات ويصيبك نوع من الملل تجاه الكتاب، تابع دائماً ولا تهتم، جمال الملحمة في الاستمرارية ومواكبة جنون وحالات هذيان هوميروس..

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    يكفي أن أقول أن الترجمة التي قرأتها لا توجد كلمات تصف مدى اتساقها وجمالها وأبداعها الادبي والذوق الرائع في إختيار المفردات والجمل وعمق حقيقي في الترجمة، المترجم أحمد عتمان ومعه عدد من المترجين الآخرين قضوا سنوات عدة ليخرجوا بهذه الطلة البهية الراقية، من أجمل الترجمات التي قرأتها، يستحق الثناء والتقدير والشكر لهذا المجهود الجبار الذي هو بالفعل تحفة لا يقدرها إلا أصحاب الذوق الأصيل في الأدب..

    ..............

    ليست مراجعة هي تلك التي كتبتها، بل مجرد خواطر عن الكتاب راق لي أن أضيفها هنا..

  • Michael Finocchiaro

    The story of the siege of Troy is one of heroism and tragedy. There are so many unforgettable characters here - both gods and heroes - that it is like watching an old black and white movie with those incredible crowds like in Ben Hur. You can see the vast encampment of Greeks around Troy, you can smell the cooking fires and hear the laughter in the camp - the jeers at the wall and the frustration on both sides as the siege goes on and on. The epic battles near the end the claim the lives of some

    The story of the siege of Troy is one of heroism and tragedy. There are so many unforgettable characters here - both gods and heroes - that it is like watching an old black and white movie with those incredible crowds like in Ben Hur. You can see the vast encampment of Greeks around Troy, you can smell the cooking fires and hear the laughter in the camp - the jeers at the wall and the frustration on both sides as the siege goes on and on. The epic battles near the end the claim the lives of some of mythologies greatest heroes - Achilles and Hector - are beyond description. The Rouse translation is a bit dry but still does a great job of bringing this classic tale to life. I would love to hear from commenters on alternate translations, but this one which is a bit of a classic is the only one I have tried.

  • James

    3+ out of 5 stars to

    , a Greek lyrical work written around 800 BC by

    . Ah The Trojan War. We all know of the horse, but how did it come together? Who was at war? And why? You'll need to read The Iliad & The Odyssey to figure all that out... of the two, I preferred the Odyssey. I still found the story fascinating and enjoyed the read. But it's a lot to digest. It's amazing when you realize these works are almost 3000 years old. Such beauty in his words. And to thi

    3+ out of 5 stars to

    , a Greek lyrical work written around 800 BC by

    . Ah The Trojan War. We all know of the horse, but how did it come together? Who was at war? And why? You'll need to read The Iliad & The Odyssey to figure all that out... of the two, I preferred the Odyssey. I still found the story fascinating and enjoyed the read. But it's a lot to digest. It's amazing when you realize these works are almost 3000 years old. Such beauty in his words. And to think about everything we've learned over the years... about war... and the Trojan horse... both the virus and the trickery. There are some valuable lessons in this work. If only more would give it a chance!

    For those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at

    , where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.


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