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An Iliad by Alessandro Baricco
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An Iliad (2006)

by Alessandro Baricco

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Showing 5 of 5
Unlike Homer's Iliad the gods do not interfere in the affairs of the men who are battling each other in this version of the story. Modern motivations consume these humans as they make ancient history. The story is told by multiple narrators, including Odysseus, Achilles, and Nestor--familiar to those who have read the original. The New Yorker magazine wrote Baricco's retelling of the epic is "defiantly modern," but I would encourage you to see for yourself. It is certainly good read even if you have not read the original. ( )
  jwhenderson | Apr 26, 2012 |
I must start this book review with a confession; I’ve never read any classical works. It’s shameful, I know. I’ve devoured plenty of historical fiction about ancient Greece and Rome and some biographies of famous men, but never read any writers from those times. Terrible. I admit it. There’s no excuse, but there are reasons. First; I hate poetry. Second; I’m suffering from a delusion that the ancients won’t be readable. Third; translations make me wary.

So, why did I start with a translation of a translation with writing 180 degrees from the original that also left out huge chunks of the story? Because it was there. I bought it in 2006 and had never read it. It’s been languishing on my shelf that long and now I’m glad I read it. It’s made me want to find a more closely translated version to read, too.

The thing that attracted me to An Iliad (an important distinction to The Iliad) was that it wasn’t in poetic verse. It’s in prose. Woo hoo! No rhyming. No awkward (to my ear) cadences that obscure meaning. Straightforward prose. Real sentences. No rhymes.

I didn’t know when I bought it that it left out the gods though and I’m not sure how I feel about that. My first reaction is that if Homer put them in there, who has the right to take them out. That’s certainly a much bigger liberty than changing from verse to prose or from omniscient 3rd person to first person (which was also done). Seemingly unforgivable, but my modern sensibility appreciates it. I’m an atheist and would no more worship Zeus than I would Allah and so the mythical nature of the gods’ intervention would only serve to distance me from the actual story. With the gods stripped out it seems much more a factual tale than myth. With recent archaeological discoveries it seems the war between the Trojans and Greeks was probably true anyway and putting gods in to make things happen would detract from that realism. Whenever humans take full responsibility for their actions and decisions it has more bite, more heft. It matters. Gods running around moving us like pieces on a chessboard just makes me roll my eyes.

What’s left is a story of man’s most base nature. And I do mean man literally. The men in this novel are appallingly self-centered, narcissistic and weak. The whole species of them. To despise and fear women so completely as to render them property reduced to sexual organs only shows me how weak in mind and character they were. Probably still are if they had their way. As a modern female I can help but see this as an overarching theme even if an unintended one. I can’t believe the whole of Western literature is founded on who gets to put his dick into whom. And even more importantly; who doesn’t.

That aside this is a story of war, but one told from the inside. No battle tactics or troop formations. No general’s machinations and planning. No bird’s eye view. Here is close combat told with a personalization that was startling. Not just men were killed, but how they were killed; specifically. And who was killed; by name. And who did the killing; also by name. So many Greek names as to be dizzying. After a while it almost became like a dance, which I suppose was the point. To make us find beauty in war. It’s there, although you have to really force the metaphor to find it.

I’m no classical scholar, so a lot of high-falutin’ stuff probably eluded me, but I did enjoy reading this in a strange, voyeuristic way. I did it to get a better understanding of Achilles, Hector and Odysseus; names so often referred to in the rest of literature as to be almost without meaning. Over and over they’re used to prop up or illustrate one point after another; some clashing ideas together and creating that confusion. I will probably go on to read other classical works like The Odyssey and The Aeneid; both tales of heroes after the war, but I don’t think I’ll stop reading the companion modern fiction though. ( )
  Bookmarque | Mar 7, 2011 |
So beautifully done-- welcomes a more contemporary audience, less stilted and stifling than the original. Provocative absence of the gods in his telling. Beautifully done, mesmerizing. ( )
1 vote karstelincoln | Aug 24, 2008 |
What is the purpose of this book? If you take away all Gods' actions, what is left in the Iliade? ( )
  nakiki | Nov 12, 2007 |
Not fully convincing (but it is a translation!); the language of the original is beautiful however anachronistic it might sound now. Nice reflection at the end on the necessity of finding a powerful aesthetic of peace, as much as the Iliad shows that there's definitely an aesthetical appeal in war. ( )
  alv | Jun 10, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030726355X, Hardcover)

A bold reimagining of our civilization’s greatest tale of war, by the author of the acclaimed best seller Silk.

Alessandro Baricco re-creates the siege of Troy through the voices of twenty-one Homeric characters in the narrative idiom of our modern imagination. Sacrificing none of Homer’s panoramic scope, Baricco forgoes Homeric detachment and admits us to realms of subjective experience his predecessor never explored. From the return of Chryseis to the burial of Hector, we see through human eyes and feel with human hearts the unforgettable events first recounted almost three thousand years ago—events arranged not by the whims of the gods in this instance but by the dictates of human nature. With Andromache, Patroclus, Priam, and the rest, we are privy to the ghastly confusion of battle, the clamor of princely councils, the intimacies of the bedchamber—until finally only a blind poet is left to recount, secondhand, the awful fall of Ilium.

Imbuing the stuff of legend with a startling new relevancy and humanity, Baricco gives us The Iliad as we have never known it. His transformative achievement is certain to delight and fascinate all readers of Homer’s indispensable classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:16 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Alessandro Baricco re-creates the siege of Troy through the voices of twenty-one Homeric characters in the narrative idiom of our modern imagination"--Cover p. [2].

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Canongate Books

Two editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1841959014, 1847671039

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