The Iliad by Homer

HomerIliadPackageCarton27Mar06.inddFiction — audiobook. Translated from the Greek by Stanley Lombardo. Read by Stanley Lombardo and Susan Sarandon. Parmenides Audio, 2006. Originally published 800 BC. 15 hours, 13 minutes. Library Copy.

Grouped into twenty-four books (or, chapters), Homer’s saga covers a series of battles during the final year of the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states lead by King Agamemnon. The war was launched because the Trojan prince Paris took Helen from her husband and the King of Sparta, Menelaus, after the goddess Aphrodite made Helen fall in love with Paris as a reward for him naming Aphrodite the prettiest of the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite.

Interference into the affairs of men on the part of the gods and goddess continues throughout the war, including a plague sent by Apollo on behalf of one of his priests, the Greeks facing near destruction at the hands of Zeus they realize how much they need Achilles, Aphrodite saving Paris from being beaten to death, and so forth. The loyalties of the gods shift throughout the battle reacting not the actions of man but to the actions of one another. So much vanity and territorial infighting! At one point, Zeus prohibits the gods from interfering but, of course, the gods come up with creative ways of indirectly championing for either the Greeks or the Trojans.

The complete removal of free choice is maddening. One army may finally gain the upper hand after ten long years of war or develop a brilliant strategy of war, but their advancements are completely undone by a plague or a flood. Of course, these events may very will be natural occurrences — diseases spread in unhygienic, cramped conditions and major flooding tend to occur in cycles — but like modern-day individuals, both sides utilize the existence of a higher power to justify the bad in their life.

*spoilers*

The central figures of The Iliad are the eldest Trojan prince, Hector, and Achilles, a notorious warrior. Although his dismayed at what his brother has wrought, Hector vows to defend Troy and is the only one to show kindness to Helen, who has seen public opinion towards her change as the war drags on.

For his part, Achilles is a rather unwitting fighter; he has little stake in Agamemnon’s war and, as covered in the first book, is displeased with Agamemnon for taking his captive, Briseis, from him. He refuses to participate in battles, but lends his armor to his cousin, Patroclus, so he can defend the Greek ships from being overrun by the Trojans with stern instructions not to pursue the Trojans directly. Ignoring the warning, Patroclus decides to pursue Hector and is set upon by the god Apollo and the warrior Euphorbos.

Overcome with grief, Achilles vows to take revenge upon Hector much to the horror of his mother, Thetis, who knows that Achilles will die in his quest for vengeance. Seeing Achilles’ determination, Zeus lifts his ban on the gods interfering in the war (not that the gods had been following it) and Athena tricks Hector into turning towards Achilles’ spear in battle. Following his death, Hector’s body is dishonored by Achilles repeatedly and Zeus, disgusted with Achilles’ behavior, decides Hector’s body must be returned to his father, Priam, for a proper burial.

The scene between Priam and Achilles where Priam begs for his son’s body was my favorite part of the novel. I was very nearly moved to tears as Priam and Achilles shared a meal and tried to grapple with their grief. Neither of them wanted this war; neither of them had a role in launching it. Yet both experience the collateral damage of war, and listening to these two men on opposite sides lament how war has cost them both the person they love most in this world was the perfect conclusion after so many gruesome, descriptive depictions of men dying in battle.

*end of spoilers*

Lombardo’s translation is noted for “adding dramatic significance to Homer’s conventional and formulaic language”. I’m not sure I can comment specifically on this statement, but I did find his translation far more engaging than E.V. Rieu’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. And my apprehension over the translator also serving as the narrator turned out to be unfounded as Lombardo’s reading was on par with other audiobook narrators I have loved.

I also appreciated the recaps of each book as read by Susan Sarandon that are inserted at the beginning of the chapter. These summaries not only established expectations of each book, but they made it easier to start and stop the audiobook when needed. I would often re-listen to her one to two minute recaps after setting aside the audiobook in order to reorient myself with the story. It would be great if all complicated classics included these refreshers!

The infamous Trojan Horse does not feature in Homer’s tale, which was a bit of a surprise after listening for fifteen hours and expecting it to appear in the very next book. So now I will have to add The Aeneid by Virgil to my to-read list in order to experience that part of the war.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles

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