Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Iliad

I decided I should read the Iliad before I start on the Odyssey. I have the Robert Fitzgerald translation and it is wonderfully easy to read. After trying to read the Elizabethan English version of Hamlet, this is a breeze. My only issue is the spelling of names that Fitzgerald uses. I was reading the Wikipedia summary before I realized that Aia in the book is actually Ajax. For the first 15 Books I slowed down every time I read Achilleus.

I admit that the scene in Hamlet where the actor reenacts a scene where Hecuba is mourning the death of Priam also encouraged me to give this book a go as the first one read in 2009.

The story is familiar but I’ll recap here. We come in during year 9 of the Trojan War. Without mentioning it all directly, just referencing events and people, we do learn that it all started because Paris, a prince of Troy, went out to see the world in his ships and returned with the stolen bride of Menelaus, the King of Sparta. Helen left quite willingly, taken by the beauty of Paris. She left her child, her family, everything. Menelaus chose to take offense at this (imagine that). He called on is brother Agamenmon, the King of Mycenae. (Agamemnon had tried for Helen’s hand once, lucky he lost I guess). The two of them call on all the other Kings of the Greek area to come together and make war on the city of Ilium in the region of Troy. That’s how we get Achilles, King of the Myrmidions, Odysseus, King of Ithaca, Diomedes, King of the Argos, and other warriors such as Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Lesser.

They arrive on the shores of Troy in a whole lot of black ships (Book II catalogs who all came and how many ships they brought). Defending Ilium we find King Priam, his son Paris (also called Alexander, the one who started all this), Priam’s son Hector (a true Prince and a much better man than Paris), along with a whole bunch of other sons and guests. There are, of course, women as well. We don’t hear much of the women left behind in Greece. In Troy we have Helen (who launched a thousand ships), Hecuba, Queen of Troy and wife to Priam, Andromache, Hector’s wife, and Cassandra, daughter of Priam who was punished by Apollo by seeing the fate of Troy and her own death but powerless to do anything about it.

The real instigators of all of this, and the ones who keep it going when it looks like common sense might end the ridiculous butchery, are the gods. Poseidon, Hera and Athena are for the Greeks, but Aphrodite, Ares, and Apollo are for the Trojans. Zeus gets involved because Achilles gets mad and asks his mother to have Zeus help the Trojans push the Greeks to the brink of disaster so they come begging Achilles to return and fight with them. Zeus does his job very well.

Homer certainly described the battles well. He moves around, shows the various individual battles that occur, and always keeps the interference of the gods clear. A lot of people get wounded or killed while trying to steal the goods off of a fallen warrior. Greed could be a major theme of this book.

One thing I liked about the book (that I was afraid of when I started) is how well the text does clarifying what side each person is on. There are so MANY names mentioned in this book. But usually each time a name or conflict is mentioned something is said to help point out who is with the Trojans and who is with the Greeks.

I am happy to report this was an enjoyable read, but at 588 pages it should be planned, not a quick read to get in at the end of a week.

You can find me at The Imperfect Blog.


  1. Good recap Laura. This one has been sitting on our shelves a long time. One of my husband's old books from college days. Haven't been able to bring myself to read it... yet.

    Thanks for the review.


  2. Thanks for posting this review Laura. I read it as a set text at university but I really struggled with all the battle scenes. I much preferred the more other-worldly adventure story 'The Odyssey'. I wonder if my Cecil Day Lewis translation was too dry. Your translation sounds far more readable, apart from the spellings - those might drive me crazy too.


Thank you for your kind comments.