The Iliad: A New Translation by Caroline Alexander by Homer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Description (from back cover copy):
Composed around 730 B.C., Homer’s Iliad recounts the events of a few momentous weeks in the protracted ten-year war between the invading Achaeans, or Greeks, and the Trojans in their besieged city of Ilion. And, as told by Homer, this ancient tale of a particular Bronze Age conflict becomes a sublime and sweeping evocation of the destruction of war throughout the ages.
Carved close to the original Greek, acclaimed classicist Caroline Alexander’s new translation is swift and lean, with the driving cadence of its source—a translation epic in scale and yet devastating in its precision and power.
Wrath – sing, goddess, of the ruinous wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles
that inflicted woes without number upon the Achaeans,
hurled forth to Hades many strong souls of warriors
and rendered their bodies prey for the dogs,
for all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished;
sing from when they two first stood in conflict —
Atreus’ son, lord of men, and godlike Achilles.
Homer’s Illiad is a Classic-with-a-Capital-C. I think I must have read some of it as part of a comparative literature course in college, but I don’t remember it at all, so aside from vague recollections of Greek mythology and a middle school play about the Trojan War (mostly memorable for a joke that none of us understood at the time), I came to it without any background.
I really appreciated Arnold’s introduction, which went over what is known about Homer and the Epic Cycle, as well as the historical setting and the major players in the drama. The map and family trees provided were a helpful reference – for some reason, I had particular difficulty remembering that Alexandros is Paris, and who was related to whom on which side of the war.
War is the center of this poem, and it is not pretty. There is chapter after chapter of This-Guy-Son-of-That-Guy-Brother-of-This-Other-Guy-King-of-That-Land slew That-Guy-Son-of-This-Guy-Nephew-of-That-Other-Guy-Ruler-of-Such-and-Such-People in graphic ways that emphasize the absolute brutality of battle (even if the grasp of anatomy is questionable). And there are lots of animal sacrifices described in detail.
The sacrifices are meant to keep the favor of the gods, who are busy squabbling amongst themselves on Olympus. That both sides are performing sacrifices and praying to the same fickle gods is also a factor, it seems.
The last few chapters, in which Achilles is finally prodded out of his truly epic sulk and joins in the fighting, take the stakes up a notch, but in the end, the war still hasn’t reached its conclusion. So much horrific bloodshed, and this is only a tiny portion of the Trojan War.
The Iliad is one of the books on my Classics Club list, which I have been neglecting. It’s one of the earliest works on my list, and an important text in Western Literature and History, but I suspect it’s never going to rank among my personal favorites.
Source: Purchased at The Last Bookshop, Los Angeles, February 2020
Challenges: Back to the Classics: Classic Set in a Place You’d Like to Visit (we’re going to assume visiting the modern-day site counts, since I don’t particularly wish to visit the last year of an epic war, thanks); Official TBR Pile Challenge; Mount TBR; and Classics Club.