Translator: Robert Fitzgerald
Edition: Oxford World’s Classics
The Iliad is the story of a few days’ fighting in the tenth year of the legendary war between the Greeks and the Trojans, which broke out when Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, abducted the fabulously beautiful Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. After a quarrel between the Greek Commander, Agamemnon, and the greatest of the Greek warriors, Achilles, the gods become more closely involved in the action. Their intervention leads to the tragic death of Hector, the Trojan leader, and to the final defeat of the Trojans.
But the Iliad is much more than a series of battle scenes. It is a work of extraordinary pathos and profundity that concerns itself with issues as fundamental as the meaning of life and death. Even the heroic wthic itself–with emphasis on pride, honour, prowess in battle, and submission to the inexorable will of the gods–is not left unquestioned.
I never really know how to do reviews of (translated) classic literature that’s been around this long. Everything’s been said and done by people much smarter and educated than myself. So I suppose this is going to be a noob’s review of one of the most epic poems ever written.
It was alright, I guess?
I picked up the Iliad because of (here we go again) The Song of Achilles, which is based on the Iliad. I don’t just have an undying thirst for knowledge and will happily read almost anything, but I also have a habit of looking up background information. Give me a rewrite of a story and I will find the original and Google every important character and their background stories while I’m at it. Charlotte: casually becoming an almost-expert in everything 2k16.
I was glad to have picked up this epic poem. The Oxford World’s Classics edition, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, is still in poetry form. It’s the only version of the story I’ve ever read, so I have nothing to compare it to. But this version was fairly readable, though it takes some getting used to. I fairly quickly decided to give up on any pretense of actually reading it in poetry form, and instead just read the sentences like they were in novel form.
As for the story itself, I noticed a couple of things.
Personally, I found the endless lists of people dying in gruesome ways not that interesting. I mean, it’s interesting to see the cultural differences in what people think of as “interesting”. I was aware that the ancient Greek and Romans, while having admiration for the human physique, especially enjoyed watching said physique get destroyed. I don’t know, it was a thing, apparently.
As someone who was mostly in it because of the Song of Achilles, the first half or so of the book was downright boring. Achilles played no part in it, Patroclus barely mentioned, and the war just kind of seemed to drag on and on. Which, come to think of it, might kind of be the point. War, after all, does just go on and on.
Still, that does mean that, for me, as soon as Patroclus started getting involved the story got much more interesting and dramatic – and easier to read, since the pace picked up quite a bit, too.
While we’re on the topic of war though, I did find it interesting to note that the Iliad starts and ends with a parent asking for the return of his child: a good reminder of all the losses of war, of all the children never returning to their parents, instead being condemned to a often nameless grave in a far away country.
Although I had my struggles with this book (it took me 4 months to read it), I’m definitely happy I read it. I’m glad to have more context about the happenings around the Trojan war. It was worth it to read it just for the sake of being able to place so many modern names into their old context (I used to sport at a club called Achilles, which never rang a bell to me before). Plus, it having taken so long, makes finishing the book feel like much more of a proper achievement, like something I can be proud of. Which probably sounds silly, but whatever.
I will get to the Odyssey at some point, even if just because people it’s more interesting (but also because: more monsters, and Madeline Miller (author of The Song of Achilles) has once said she’s writing a new book based on it).
I’m glad to have read the Iliad. But will I ever pick it up again?