Review: War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad

War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad by Christopher Logue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a retelling (not quite a translation) of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of the Iliad. This is my second time reading it. Reading more about Christopher Logue, I found out that he returned to this project to write more of it, which is published in War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad.

I re-read this to prepare for reading the Emily Wilson translation of the Odyssey.

From the introduction by Gary Wills:

Since Logue does not call his work a translation of Homer but an account of him, some think he is just offering his own Trojan story, as Chaucer and Shakespeare did in their poems. But Logue is striving to reach the essence of Homer, the things most easily jettisoned if one is inventing a contemporary entertainment. Homer without theophanies, animal sacrifice, catalogues, epithets or repeated speeches is not Homer. That is why Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is not Homer, or anything like Homer…

Logue has all of Simone Weil’s disgust for war. But Weil could not admit the fierce joy in battle, which means that much of Homer was a closed book to her. Logue sees injustice and valor, reality and transcendence, all dancing warily about one another. In Homer’s world, the familiar and the strange look at each other in mutual incomprehension and respect.

(Wills is referring to Simone Weil’s The Iiad, or the Poem of Force which I read last year as part of War and the Iliad.)

In general, I don’t mind Logue’s use of anachronistic language. As the introduction points out, Homer did something similar:

One reason for the magic distancing achieved by Homeric similes is that the main action is remembered from a heroic past while the similes draw on the daily life of Homers contemporaries. Milton understood that, and used a Homeric simile to link the cosmology of the Bible with the most advanced scientific work of his own day.

But even with that in mind, some of the stylistic choices don’t make sense to me.

O cheesey Lung,
I know as much, in likelihood much more,
about the use of force as any here…

(That’s from an exchange between Achilles and Agamemnon — what is this image supposed to mean?)

Also, the misogyny of ancient Greece seems more extreme in Logues version than in the traditional translations I have read. (I’ve read two translations of The Iliad: Samuel Butler and Robert Fagles). Logue pretty much ignores any distinction between free women and slaves, as far as I can tell.

There were some powerful images and speeches, though. Some bits I liked:

Thetis delivering Achilles’s armor:

And as she laid the moonlit armour on the sand
It chimed;
And the sound that came from it
Followed the light that came from it Like sighing
Saying:
Made in Heaven.

And those who had the neck to watch Achilles weep
Could not look now.
Nobody looked. They were afraid.

and a bit later:

Moments like these absolve the needs dividing men.
Whatever caught and brought and kept them here
Under Troy’s Wall for ten burnt years
Is lost: and for a while they join a terrible equality,
Are virtuous, self-sacrificing, free;
And so insidious is this liberty
That those surviving it will bear
An even greater servitude to its root:
Believing they were whole, while they were brave;
That they were rich, because their loot was great,
That war was meaningful, because they lost their friends.

View all my reviews

Published by Beth @ Beth's Bookish Thoughts

This blog is for my thoughts on reading. A couple of my friends on GoodReads have blogs, so eventually I decided to start one myself. I hope to get involved in the book blogging community and become a better reader and writer! I am not accepting copies of new books for review, but I would be interested in new editions or new translations of classic authors. Find me on Upwork (as an editor) in the profile link. From September 2018 to October 2020 I blogged at Blogger.

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