The Iliad of Homer by Homer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think it is a safe bet to say the only book I have read more than this is The Lord of the Rings. I have read this story in some form or another for a long time. First a child’s version, then Rowes’s prose translation and so on. I wanted to re-read the poem while I listen to the Great Courses lectures on it.
The Iliad is a poem about warrior but it is also a poem about love. Not Helen and Paris, for as the poem tells you, Helen seems to have regretted her choice of men, for she has fallen out of love/lust with Paris. So, the Hollywood version of two young lovers being pursued by a vengeful husband is a bit wrong. Paris, after all, was not a good guest.
No, it’s more about love for one’s country and people/friends/family. Though, not daughters, quite frankly there only seems to be one good father to a daughter in the whole of the poem. That’s why people always seem to root for the Trojans, because we are shown them as family oriented. Even Priam, who one could argue, is behaving rather stupidly by keeping Helen, loves his sons and, one presumes, his daughters.
It’s tougher with the Greeks because they are the invaders. They are attacking to get a woman back, but they are attacking a people who really didn’t do anything. The Trojans do seem to be aware of the silliness of the whole exercise, but they still do it.
Helen who should be a lover, isn’t. She is embarrassed by Paris, upset by him, and one wonders if she is a victim of both time and the gods. She doesn’t seem to be happy. Perhaps rape in both meanings of the word is an accurate description.
Yet, even as the Trojans symbolize or stand for family, in particular Hector, there is a family sense in the Greeks as well. In part this comes from Hera, whose accusations against Artemis who fights in the support of the Trojans. Hera is furious at Artemis and it seems to have more to do than simply Artemis being a product of Zeus’ unfaithfulness. Hera, the goddess of marriage is angry about the mothers who die in childbirth. She is with the Greeks in story because of the apple, but also because she is about preserving marriage.
Some critics argue that it is also about the humanity versus inhumanity as represented by Hector and Achilles, or about the old giving way to the young (the Greeks in particular). But it is about humanity and pathos, even in the smallest characters.
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