The Iliad by Homer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an old review, from GoodReads. I wanted it on my blog, so I am posting it here.
When I read The Iliad the first time, a few years ago, I read the Samuel Butler translation, alternating between reading and listening to the LibriVox audio recording. (Also, I read Christopher Logue‘s excellent retelling of The Iliad last year: War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer’s Iliad.)
This is the Robert Fagles translation. I took the time to read a few passages out loud, and this translation works really well for that. It was absolutely worth the reread, and I’ll probably read this again eventually. I’m very glad I came back to it; I think I was more emotionally invested this time, since I was more familiar with the story. There’s just so much going on that it’s hard to fully appreciate the first time around. I might want to try the Alexander Pope translation next time.
My favorite characters are probably Odysseus and Hector. I also want to reread The Odyssey but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it. Probably next year…
from Bernard Knox’s introduction:
“Everywhere in Homer’s saga of the rage of Achilles and the battles before Troy we are made conscious at one and the same time of war’s ugly brutality and what Yeats called its terrible beauty. The Iliad accepts violence as a permanent factor in human life and accepts it without sentimentality, for it is just as sentimental to pretend that war does not have its monstrous ugliness as it is to deny that has its own strange and fatal beauty, a power, which can call out in men resources of endurance, courage and self-sacrifice that peacetime, to our sorrow and loss, can rarely command. Three thousand years have not changed the human condition in this respect; we are still lovers and victims of the will to violence, and so long as we are, Homer will be read as its truest interpreter.”
some of my favorite passages:
One and the same lot for the man who hangs back
and the one who battles hard. The same honor waits
for the coward and brave. They both go down to Death,
the fighter who shirks, the one who works to exhaustion.
So under Atrides’ onslaught the Trojans dropped in flight,
stampedes of massive stallions dragged their empty chariots
clattering down the passageways of battle, stallions
yearning to feel their masters’ hands at the reins
but there they lay, craved far more by the vultures than by wives.
So the illustrious son of Priam begged for life,
but only heard a merciless voice in answer: “Fool,
don’t talk to me of ransom. No more speeches.
Before Patroclus met his day of destiny, true,
it warmed my heart a bit to spare some Trojans:
droves I took alive and auctioned off as slaves.
But now not a single Trojan flees his death,
not one the gods hand over to me before your gates,
none of all the Trojans, Priam least of all!
Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?
Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you.
And look: you see how handsome and powerful I am?
The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life
a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you,
death and the strong force of fate are waiting.