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Iliad by Homer


by Homer, Butler

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The Iliad by Homer

  1. 210
    The Aeneid by Virgil (Hollerama)
  2. 222
    The Odyssey by Homer (Voracious_Reader, caflores)
  3. 80
    Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (benmartin79)
  4. 30
    Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giraudoux (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Giraudoux imagines the events in Troy when Paris shows up with Helen
  5. 30
    The Tain by Anonymous (inge87)
  6. 41
    Ransom by David Malouf (GCPLreader)
  7. 21
    The Dismissal of the Grecian Envoys by Jan Kochanowski (sirparsifal)
  8. 21
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (alalba)
  9. 12
    Troy [film] by Wolfgang Petersen (Waldstein)
    Waldstein: Very free interpretation (not adaptation) that in many ways improves on the original. No childish gods, no rambling digressions. Visually spectacular. The dialogue is a bit cringeworthy now and then, but it does have flashes of brilliance. Only for the most broad-minded admirers of Homer - or those who find the Greek bard unsatisfactory. PS Caveat: the Director's Cut is gratuitously gory!… (more)
  10. 12
    The Death of King Arthur by Simon Armitage (chrisharpe)
  11. 15
    Paradise Lost by John Milton (Torikton)
  12. 17
    The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (Jitsusama)
    Jitsusama: An ancient classic revolving around Greek Myth. A great help to better understand the mythology of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

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The Iliad

Collins Classics, Paperback, 2011.

lxx+648 pp. Translated by Alexander Pope, 1715-20. Preface [xlv-lxx] and Concluding Note [619-20] by the translator. Introduction by Theodore Alois Buckley [xiii-xliv]. Glossary [621-48].

This edition first published, 2011.


Life and Times
Pope Preface to The Iliad of Homer

Book I: The Contention of Achilles and Agamemnon
Book II: The Trial of the Army, and Catalogue of the Forces
Book III: The Duel of Menelaus and Paris
Book IV: The Breach of the Truce, and the First Battle
Book V: The Acts of Diomed
Book VI: The Episodes of Glaucus and Diomed, and of Hector and Andromache
Book VII: The Single Combat of Hector and Ajax
Book VIII: The Second Battle, and the Distress of the Greeks
Book IX: The Embassy to Achilles
Book X: The Night-Adventure of Diomed and Ulysses
Book XI: The Third Battle, and the Acts of Agamemnon
Book XII: The Battle at the Grecian Wall
Book XIII: The Fourth Battle Continued, in which Neptune Assists the Greeks: the Acts of Idomeneus
Book XIV: Juno Deceives Jupiter by the Girdle of Venus
Book XV: The Fifth Battle at the Ships; and the Acts of Ajax
Book XVI: The Sixth Battle; the Acts and Death of Patroclus
Book XVII: The Seventh Battle, for the Body of Patroclus. The Acts of Menelaus
Book XVIII: The Grief of Achilles, and New Armour Made Him by Vulcan
Book XIX: The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon
Book XX: The Battle of the Gods, and the Acts of Achilles
Book XXI: The Battle in the River Scamander
Book XXII: The Death of Hector
Book XXIII: Funeral Games in the Honour of Patroclus
Book XXIV: The Redemption of the Body of Hector

Pope’s Epilogue


The Iliad, or: Lost in Translation

You want to read The Iliad? Too bad! You have to learn ancient Greek. The chances are that everything else will be some sort of vague paraphrase, not even a close approximation, of the original (such as it is). Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know ancient Greek, either. All comments about translations below refer to them in relation to each other.

Whether or not Homer existed at all, and who he was if he did, I couldn’t care less. We know nothing about this and there is nothing we can do about it. If Shakespeare the man is a blurred figure in a foggy twilight, Homer the man is pure London fog on a moonless night. It really doesn’t matter. If tomorrow an authorised biography from the eight century BC turned up, this would hardly change anything. The poem’s the thing. Or, rather, the translation’s the thing. Or is it really?

Since I don’t regard “newer” and “better” as synonyms, I have read complete only two translations of The Iliad, the one by George Chapman (completed in 1611) and the one by Alexander Pope (1720). Both are famous classics admired as much as translations as they are as original poetic works. Both have been criticised, but Pope much more violently, for the liberties they took with the “original”. Both are in rhymed verse. The interesting thing is that Pope’s translation amounts to 18 947 lines. Some 4500 longer than Chapman’s! How could two verse translations of one verse original differ that much in line numbers? I haven’t the least idea. True, Chapman’s lines are quite a bit longer, but still…

In the introduction to this edition, Theodore Alois Buckley praises “Chapman’s fine, bold, rough, old English” at the expense of Pope’s “elegant paraphrase”. I don’t know how accurate Chapman is, but to me he sounds turgid, verbose and hard to follow. Almost every passage is fascinating for striking turns of phrase or memorable imagery, but I find it difficult to digest the verse in quantity. It doesn’t flow. The lines are mammoth, the rhythm broken, the sense convoluted.

Pope’s translation is pure music; the perfect music. It has Mozartean grace, Beethovenian drive, Lisztian rhetoric and Wagnerian passion. It is astonishingly readable (listenable?) and, what is more surprising, astonishingly easy to understand. It has tremendous emotive power and unique grandeur that suit the subject to perfection. If it also has little to do with Homer’s original – well – so much the worse for Homer!

Translation is a delicate art. Translation of poetry is an impossible art. Chapman tried it and failed. Pope didn’t, and succeeded. If his translation is “bad” (i.e. inaccurate), and it certainly seems so in comparison with all of the rest, then he used Homer as a starting point for creating something new and greater. For my money, Pope captures the spirit of The Iliad better than anybody else, Homer included. Chapman’s considerably and consistently more florid rendition is a fascinating alternative of solid historical importance, but not something I would read for pleasure.

Obviously neither Chapman nor Pope conforms to the standards of modern scholarship. But judging by furtive Looks Inside, sometimes online and sometimes in bookstores, modern translations are no great shakes. If they, on the whole, come closer to Homer, then the Greek bard must rank as the most overrated poet in human history. I have glimpsed into Lattimore (1951), Fitzgerald (1975), Fagles (1990) and Lombardo (1997), and I have not been impressed. None of these translations is particularly beautiful or stirring. All of them suffer, in one degree or another, from ill-advised informality, redundancy, clumsiness and obscurity. They are too timid and humdrum. They may be more natural and readable than Chapman and Pope, but at the heavy cost of that epic grandeur which, for me, is the essence of The Iliad. They may be Homer all right, but they are no less boring for that.

Some alternatives are just awful. The colloquial prose translation by W. H. Rouse (1950), currently available as a Signet Classic paperback, turns a first-rate epic for grown-ups into a third-rate fairy-tale for slow-witted children. The back cover praises this translation as “the nearest contemporary English equivalent to the epic Homer’s audience heard at their banquets.” Thank you, but no. The new translation by Anthony Verity (2011) in the Oxford World’s Classics series is very different but just as disappointing. He claims to respect the original line by line and to allow “Homer to speak for himself”. The result is ugly, twisted, repetitive and incredibly tedious, neither poetry nor prose but a travesty of both.

In general, I don’t see the wit of prose “translations” or such that wilfully destroy the poetry. Can you imagine Shakespeare, Byron or Paradise Lost in prose? Just try! If you do need prose summaries of the books before you start the real thing, nearly all editions of The Iliad I have skimmed through have them, and so does the Web. The “arguments” in Pope’s translation do very much the same work. Chapman’s translation also has arguments, but these are in verse, apparently translated from a Latin source.

I’m well aware that judging the modern translations on such limited basis is a very foolish thing to do. Then again, life is short. And scanty experience was no hindrance in the cases of Chapman and Pope. Both drew me in from the first pages, although Pope was far more successful in leading me to the end. I might conceivably read some of the modern translations in the future, perhaps the praised-to-the-skies Fagles or Lattimore, but I am certainly not anxious to. Nobody, not even those fortunate enough to read the “original”, knows what the spirit of Homer really is, or was. Everybody must create their own version of it. For me, it is Pope.

The Iliad, or: Lost in Battle

As for The Iliad proper, so far as one can obtain any idea of it in English, it is very much like the Bible. Massive historical importance hides indifferent literary quality. The matter is great, but the manner is atrocious. This is not a flawed masterpiece. It is a flawed work that never made it to masterpiece. It is flawed on so many levels that it’s hard to decide where to start.

First of all, it was a considerable disappointment to discover that The Iliad is unfinished, or simply mistitled. It ends with Hector’s funeral! No Trojan horse, no sack of Troy, no death of Priam. It concentrates, in general, far more on Achilles, whose anger starts the whole thing, than on anybody else. The title really should have been “The Achilliad”. But then it would have been unfinished, too. Achilles doesn’t die in the end, while his greatest achievement is obscured by the funeral of his nemesis. On the other hand, it may be argued that Achilles’ sudden bout of magnanimity and compassion is a pretty decent, if decidedly un-heroic, conclusion. Other alternative titles include “The Acheaid” and “The Olympiad”, for the Greeks and the Gods are quite prominent. Ironically, it is the Trojans, the citizens of Ilion and their allies, who most often remain in the background.

Homer seems almost pathologically incapable of developing one storyline and one set of characters. Digressions abound, and so do repetitions. I don’t see why Achilles should tell his mother what she and we already know, and what he knows that we already know. “To tell my woe / Is but to mention what too well you know” (I.476-7), he says, and then wastes some thirty lines to repeat in condensed form the first part of Book I. In the next book, Agamemnon’s dream is similarly repetitious. If this was some stratagem to increase the drama, it was a complete failure. Again in Book II, which by the way is the second longest and one of the six to consist of more than 1000 lines, occurs the notorious “catalogue of the forces”, surely the greatest digression in the whole work. For almost 500 (!) lines, Homer describes the Greek and Trojan armies in the manner of the phone book. Who needs this stuff, O Muse of Dullness? I understand Homer wanted to show the epic scale of the war. Fine. But he could have done it in one tenth of this space.

The wanton excess of characters is staggering! Countless names are mentioned only never to be heard of again, or to be slain in the next line. Sometimes really good material is wasted on unnecessary characters. The brilliant description of the bitter Thersites (II.255-74) and the affecting death scene of Simoisius (IV.542-61) may serve as examples. Many minor characters are unduly prominent. Diomed and Idomeneus have whole books dedicated largely to their “acts”, but we never see them anywhere else but on the battlefield. The former kills Pandarus and dares to wound Venus, the latter slays plenty of Trojans, and that’s that. Why are they so important for the work as a whole? On the other hand, it is surprising to see how seldom some of the “major” characters appear. Most notable by their absence are Helen, Paris and Priam.

Homer’s glorification of war is agelessly indefensible. It will never do to get away with the old, and by now so hackneyed, excuse that “Homer’s world was completely different”. So it was, but the men and the gods who populated it were basically very much the same. Otherwise the work would never have survived to the present day, would it? The only ambition of Homer’s heroes is to leave their names in the annals of history, which is commendable, but the only way they know for doing this is the carnage on the battlefield, which is deplorable. Genocide is their passport for eternity. Not creating a work of art, not adding to human knowledge, not raising a family, not peacefully shaping the destiny of a society, but slaughtering thousands of people for dubious reasons. Greed is the driving force behind Agamemnon and Achilles, greed for gold or greed for glory, but greed all the same.

Homer’s gloriously detailed descriptions of battles are the finest sleeping pills in the world. Not even Pope’s gorgeous verse can save passages as dreadful as these. Enormous part of The Iliad – I repeat: enormous part – is occupied with battle scenes. Look at the table of contents and tell me how many books have “battle” in their titles? Yes, that’s right. Ten! Nor is this all. The fifth book doesn’t have “battle” in its title, but that’s what pretty much all of it is occupied with. It is the longest book of all. 1121 lines of carnage! People are speared, stabbed or arrowed in all parts of their bodies, bleed profusely but heroically, fall down gracefully, water the sand with their noble blood, and finally die as great heroes. Page after page, book after book! Who needs this stuff, O Muse of Gore?

To be sure, there is more in these books than galore of gruesome deaths. But not much more! An astonishing amount of The Iliad is not about war, much less an inquiry into the meaning of war or something like that. It is war, rendered in excruciating detail and exclusively on battle level. The only possible reaction is a Scarlet tantrum: “Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war; this war talk’s spoiling all the fun…” So it is.

The Iliad would have been a far greater work without the gods. This is one place where the movie Troy (2001) is Pope-like: a great improvement over the original. Since the Greek gods are just as vain, petty, vindictive and tiresome as human mortals, what is the point of having them at all? What was Homer trying to say, if anything? That gods are human? That humans are divine? Did he just use the gods as a sort human subconscious? Isn’t that a trifle jejune? Perhaps it’s permissible occasionally, but all the time? It’s an amusing spectacle to see the critics racking their brains, trying to make some profound sense of what is merely a lame excuse. I don’t even want to mention Hector and Paris disappearing in clouds of Apollo and Venus respectively, the petty games of Jove and Juno, and so on and so forth, the numerous godly shenanigans that aren’t even on prep-school level.

Worst of all, the gods often have disastrous effect on the main characters. What does Achilles, the mighty hero, do when he is frustrated? Why, he cries to his mommy, and she in turn cries to Jove, to bring defeat to the Greeks! Some hero, indeed! A coward who can’t handle the consequences of his own actions! And not a great warrior either, if the Greeks need divine intervention to lose their battle without him. God knows what would have happened with him if Minerva hadn’t helped him with Hector. Why should Apollo send a deceitful vision to Agamemnon? Couldn’t the mighty King suffer from his own delusions? Hang it all, even Paris and Helen would not have hit on each other without the expert hand of Venus.

In short, if the mortals are merely puppets of the gods, how am I supposed to care about them? And fiction that fails to make you care about the characters is a failure. In the first book, Jove wisely asks (I.672-5) why he should interfere with what is none of his business and Vulcan finely remarks that “The wretched quarrels of the mortal state / are far unworthy, gods! of your debate” (I.742-3). All the same, Jove grants Thetis’ request and his immortal colleagues continue to play with Trojans and Greeks for the next twenty-three books. The gods’ constant meddling in mortal affairs makes The Iliad look like a cheap fantasy.

“Rob human beings of their heavenly and their infernal importance, and you nab your characters of their individuality.” So Graham Greene once pompously wrote. If we reasonably assume that he wanted to portray human beings in his books, The Iliad proves how monumentally wrong he was. The truth is precisely the opposite. The more you harp on the otherworldly significance of your characters, the less individual and the less interesting they become.

The Iliad has its moments, of course; but they are few. Some scenes are deeply moving and/or dramatic – the clash between Achilles and Agamemnon (I.126-401), Hector taking leave of Andromache (VI.505-47), Menelaus defending the body of Patroclus (XVII.1-74), Achilles’ lamentation of Patroclus (XVIII.25-40, 99-162), Priam requesting Hector’s body (XXIV.584-843) – and they add whole new dimensions to the characters. It is stupid to make the gods compel Achilles to relinquish Hector’s body and Priam to go in his adversary’s tent, but the scene between them is a stroke of genius. At least the main characters – Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector, to a lesser extent Odysseus, Menelaus, Patroclus and Priam – come off as agreeably complex and contradictory, yet believable, personalities. (The gods are not characters; they are capricious entities and convenient plot devices; nothing more, nothing less.) One must admire Homer’s objectivity. He sides neither with Greeks or Trojans, nor with gods. He shuns nothing, he spares nobody. He presents the glory and the horror of war, the nobility and the baseness of his characters, with dispassionate impartiality. All this is surely admirable. But for this very reason, among others, The Iliad is a work difficult to get on intimate terms with.

In Conclusion…

In the final run, it seems that the translation is not that important. I do like Pope best of all, for I think he conveys the epic scale and the emotional intensity better than anybody else, and thus elevates The Iliad above the mediocre war fantasy which in fact it is, but even his translation – for it is a translation, albeit a free and imaginative one, no matter what the Homeric purists may say – still cannot cover the poem’s inherent defects.

Taken as a whole, The Iliad is extremely uneven, rambling and badly paced, an odd mixture of several sublime moments and lots of unspeakable drudgery; one of those classics nearly everybody dully pays lip service to, but few actually bother to read. It is still a classic. But it’s getting rusty, and it may soon become dusty. (Just take a look at the LT Popularity statistics.) For me, personally, The Iliad falls in the “glad to have read, gladder never to repeat” category. It’s a work better known by scholarly gossip and spin-offs in other arts. The original, such as it is, tends to ruin one’s illusions. It certainly did mine.

Note on the Collins Classics edition

Collins is a publisher whose motto, apparently, is “If it’s really cheap, it can’t be really good.” It’s wonderful that they chose to reprint Pope’s translation, for it is not readily available on paper otherwise, and it’s even more wonderful that they retained his lengthy preface, never mind that the translator is credited only in extremely small font on the copyright page. Perhaps next time he will have earned a decently notable credit on the title page. Line numbers would have been nice, too. They make references much easier. The Glossary in the end is of dubious value. It is never mentioned where the words occur in this text (if they do!) and the examples of their use are always given from other works, often enough far removed from Pope’s age. The few words I searched for (e.g. hecatomb, coursers, libation) I didn’t find.

There is absolutely no indication when the introduction by Theodore Alois Buckley was written. If it seems too long and ponderous for a modern essay, this is because it is not. I have not been able to discover the exact year of its first publication, but it was certainly in Victorian times. I don’t see the point of reprinting today this tedious piece of dated scholarship. Collins had at least the sense to leave out Mr Buckley’s copious footnotes; both his essay and Pope’s text were originally riddled with them. They should have omitted the last paragraph of the introduction as well; there the notes are mentioned as “drawn up without pretension, and mainly with the view of helping the general reader.” Some of them are indeed helpful. But you won’t find any of them in the Collins Classics edition.

That said, the Collins Classics edition is quite nice for its almost indecently cheap price. The text is complete and the layout is easy to read. There is ample space to pencil your own line numbers and running commentary. The Life and Times section by one Gerard Cheshire provides decent background for perfect beginners. ( )
  Waldstein | Dec 23, 2014 |
Bought from a newsagents at Athens airport, as it was the only English-language book they had.

Impossible to rate, because of its stature in history and literature. I read Martin Hammond's prose translation (1987), which is perfectly serviceable (and loyal to the original so I'm told), but is sometimes overly clunky in its syntax, and occasionally lacks "oomph".
  sometimeunderwater | Dec 4, 2014 |
Penguin ed., tr. Robt. Fagles; intro. Bernard Knox

I'd like to like the Iliad.
It would be convenient to like the Iliad, for discussions about the canon and such.
I like several other epic poems. I like old war films. But this? So much of it is just a bloody casualty list (pun more or less intended), plus a soap featuring the gods (sometimes amusing, depending how detached I felt). I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it a lot more in a film version where you could see movement and action; on the page these endless lists of how so and so, son of old you-know-who, got a spear in the lung, get boring. At least they serve the entirely worthwhile purpose of preserving a historical record.

I've simply never been that interested in Greeks and Romans - with the odd exception such as Catullus, I'd rather hear about the barbarian tribes further north. That must be one of the reasons I rarely got emotionally involved; some speeches and scenes had a pull, sometimes there were moments of excitement and involvement but not with real meaning to me, and they soon passed: it was like watching a match in a sport you're not that bothered about, with teams from places you don't care about either way.

The Iliad's extended rural metaphors of hunting, shepherding and farming were fascinating though, with a vividly Mediterranean sense of place. The frequent mention of lion attacks makes it feel thrillingly close to prehistory. To the default image of non-combatant Greeks as urban chiton-wearers something more atavistic is added. Visualisations of countryside I took from My Family and Other Animals. (Not being a big fan of books from hot places, I haven't read much based around there in between.) Emotions of grief and loss are turned up to 10 in a way that could be seen as Mediterranean, as ancient, or both.

It has its moments too, in the tales of life in the Greek camp, and in Priam's palace, of ancient customs and a time in history, burning torchlight and the imagined sound of drums, and a precipitous life. But I didn't find the poetry as rhythmic and redolent as that of, say, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and there were more times when I thought instead of the chore of learning the thing by rote which thousands, possibly millions have done over time. Fagles is known as the best contemporary translation, and I chose it from a handful of others in bookshops when I was still at university. The handful of recent idioms don't intrude but it's still a little too prosey for my liking. The first half seemed to feature more repetition as I remember (read in January), though I read the rest more quickly (November). Probably the original just doesn't lend itself quite so well to the sort of verse I now hope for in epic poems - all of which I've read since I first got a copy of Fagles' Iliad.

Also very interesting - and undoubtedly long familiar to classicists - is one of the ideas mooted in Bernard Knox's excellent introduction, that the gods are nothing like gods as one might think of them after being raised in a fairly fluffy version of 20th century Christianity - the actions they make mortals do are a way of explaining irrational impulses and those actions that feel beyond our control, such as falling in love. Some later Greek thinkers appear to imply that man should strive to be better than the gods.

Achilles is interpreted quite differently in adult discussion - the introduction, other commentaries, informal comment like GR reviews - from the way he was shown in the children's versions I knew, or how the story was descibed by teachers (including at primary level). In the junior versions he was quite simply a hero - but otherwise he is criticised a lot, as essentially a brat. He may be a warrior, but I see parallels with the decadent doomed genius artist figure. He's at least as temperamental. However he's characterised, one of the handful of scenes I found really moving was his hearing of Patroclus' death.

Sometimes there are questions in history I can hardly be bothered with because they seem absolutely unknowable and thus just pawns for contemporary opinion. Helen's volition is one of those, and far more reflective of the times of its discussion than, say, the Princes in the Tower. If she existed in the first place, did she run off with Paris or was she kidnapped? We have no access to her own opinion, sometimes contradictory sources written down after centuries of oral tradition of ultimately unknown provenance, a wariness of how a male dominated culture may have recorded her - and her own thoughts, feelings and expectations could have had quite different paradigms from ours.
At any rate here, she isn't the passive kidnappee of the junior versions - she wants Paris, even if she has regrets over the political implications.

Then there is that popular quote "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are": my first and instinctive interpretation of Briseis is that she didn't get on with her family and was glad to see the back of them - it's not as if there were any other legitimate ways for her to escape them at that time - and Patroclus was attractive and (by the standards of the time), nice to her. It's unknowable. We don't even know if these people were real or if these scenes happened.

The history of the text and its reception and influence interests me more than significant portions of the contents: the research into the Yugoslav oral tradition that helped date it, interpretations such as the above, its role in modern and early modern European schooling for the last c.500 years. I had more questions, but wasn't interested enough to read another whole book on it. Did it anyone before the mid 20th century say it encouraged boys to fight at school? To what extent is it part of imperialism, as inspiration?

This is, in a way, to colossally miss the point, - as is my frustration that we never hear anything about the rank and file soldiers: what are they even doing whilst Achilles and co are holding games? - but the ending feels inconclusive, like it's in the wrong place. Doomed Achilles still lives. But people have surely known about cliffhangers long before there was writing.

With apologies to classicist friends. ( )
1 vote antonomasia | Nov 13, 2014 |
The Iliad is a mixed bag. It is the very wellspring of Western culture, for good and for bad. The storied Olympian gods and heroic mortals who participated in the Trojan War are still alluded to in the written word three thousand years later. But the brutal behavior of those same gods and mortals in that war are also memorialized in the six hundred pages of Homer's epic.

The verse translation by Robert Fagles reads very well — like a novel, in fact. The rhythm, the beat is prominent, and presumably if you took the time to read it aloud, it would be powerful indeed. Despite this, The Iliad is not an easy read thanks to the almost one thousand names and epithets of characters and places about which the action takes place and through which that action is conducted. Many of these names are very familiar, some vaguely familiar, but most by far are new to us. The Fagles edition blesses us in this department by providing a pronouncing vocabulary which gives a brief identifying statement about each one. Without this or something like it, The Iliad would be a bewildering swirl of confusion to the modern reader. The Introduction, notes and maps are also helpful.

We all know the story of The Iliad — or at least we think we do. Surprisingly to me at least, after nine years of the siege of Troy by the Achaeans, it only covers a brief period of 45 days, and within that the bulk of the poem takes place over six days and nights of intense climactic fighting in which the greatest heroes on both sides are killed. A few of the most famous are left standing: Aeneas, will eventually be the lone survivor of Troy who will go on to found Rome; Odysseus famously takes another twenty years to reach his home in Ithaca; and Achilles, who has slain Troy's greatest hero Hector, is destined beyond the confines of The Iliad to be killed by Paris, the culprit who stole Helen from Menelaus and started the entire conflict to begin with.

There are no spoilers here. The destinies of the great and near great are announced early and often throughout the pages of The Iliad. The power of the poem lies not in suspense but in the drama of battle. That drama is conveyed through the driving verse which honors its heroes in the process of butchering them. Battles wax and wane with the rhythm of the poetry. The great Homeric similes, sometimes piled on top of each other, churn and froth with soaring images. Here is an example; italics highlight the "like … so" pattern:

"Achilles now
like inhuman fire raging on through the mountain gorges
splinter-dry, setting ablaze big stands of timber,
the wind swirling the huge fireball left and right—
chaos of fire—Achilles storming on with brandished spear
like a frenzied god of battle trampling all he killed
and the earth ran black with blood. Thundering on,
on like oxen broad in the brow some field hand yokes
to crush white barley heaped on a well-laid threshing floor
and the grain is husked out fast by the bellowing oxen's hoofs—
so as the great Achilles rampaged on, his sharp-hoofed stallions
trampled shields and corpses, axle under his chariot splashed
with blood, blood on the handrails sweeping round the car,
sprays of blood shooting up from the stallions' hoofs
and churning, whirling rims—and the son of Peleus
charioteering on to seize his glory, bloody filth
splattering both strong arms, Achilles' invincible arms."

What sets off the episode of The Iliad is a microcosm of the whole arc of the Trojan War itself. The war occurred because Paris, a prince of Troy and a guest at the home of Menelaus, stole Menelaus's wife Helen and spirited her off to Troy together with a vast amount of spoils. Most of the battling within The Iliad occurs without the aid of Achilles who ironically has been humiliated by the brother of Menelaus, warlord Agamemnon, who insists on taking the beautiful Briseis from Achilles for daring to challenge Agamemnon who has behaved badly in capturing the daughter of a priest of Apollo and refusing to give her back, thereby causing the god Apollo to shower down a plague on the Achaeans. Thus The Iliad boils down to an epic tale about men fighting over women!

Agamemnon at the beginning of The Iliad is not an attractive figure. Toward the end, Achilles' great friend Patroclus is killed by Hector and that finally brings Achilles into action, particularly as the Achaeans seem to be losing and Agamemnon sees the error of his ways and agrees to return Briseis to Achilles.

When The Iliad is reminiscing about the great deeds of one hero or another, it is quite affecting. A great deal of mythology is encompassed here, and the jealousies and machinations of the Olympians behind the scenes are both amusing and annoying.

But the battle scenes sometimes amount to a catalog of killing and brutality that go beyond the pleasurable. And while the poem as a whole makes for compelling reading, the blood and gore take it over the top. Compared with The Odyssey, it seems much more primitive in its motivation and unrelenting gratuitous violence. I am glad I read it, and I acknowledge its importance in the literary canon, but it is not one of my favorite reads. Because I personally have a distaste for this level of bloody mindedness doesn't mean it isn't worth reading. Everybody really should read it, and all congratulations go to Robert Fagles for his excellent translation. ( )
2 vote Poquette | Oct 25, 2014 |
Quite the epic adventure. I love The Iliad, but it sure is long and tedious. All those battle scenes get old. And all that wailing in grief.

But despite all the repetition, it really is good. Lots of bickering gods, vengeful heroes, and, well, wailing. ( )
  BrynDahlquis | Oct 24, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (154 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Homerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baskin, LeonardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bendz, GerhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Björkeson, IngvarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bruijn, J.C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Butler, SamuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chapman, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cullen, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De La Motte, Monsr.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Devecseri GáborTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Due, Otto SteenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fagles, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitzgerald, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flaxman, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graves, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hammond, MartinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holland, TomAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobi, DerekNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knox, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lagerlöf, ErlandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lang, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lateur, PatrickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lattimore, RichmondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leaf, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linkomies, EdwinForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lombardo, StanleyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manninen, OttoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell. StephenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Monti, VincenzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Myers, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perry Jr., William GTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rees, EnnisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rieu, Emile VictorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rouse, William H. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stawell, F. MelianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stolpe, JanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Svenbro, JesperForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Timmerman, Aegidius W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vosmaer, C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Voss, Johann HeinrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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There thou shalt hear and learn the secret power
Of harmony, in tones and numbers hit
By voice or hand, and various-measured verse,
Aeolian charms and Dorian lyric odes,
And his who gave them breath, but higher sung,
Blind Melesigenes, thence Homer called,
Whose poem Phoebus challenged for his own.

--Milton, Paradise Regained, IV. 245
(Rouse translation, 1938)
These dull notes we sing
Discords neede for helps to grace them

(Lattimore translation)
To the memory of my father and my mother
and for Lynne, Katya and Nina ...

(Fagles translation, 1996)
To all times future this time's mark extend,
Homer no patron found, nor Chapman friend
Ignotus nimis omnibus
Sat notus moritur sibi.
(Chapman translation)
For Sarah, and for Ughetta, Benedict, Maria, Michael, Barnaby, and Caterina
(Fitzgerald translation)
(Lattimore translation)
First words
Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Achilles' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Achaens loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men - carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
(Fitzgerald translation, 1974)
Rage - Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaens countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
(Fagles translation, 1996)
Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.
(Lattimore translation, 1951)
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks

Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls

Of heroes into Hades' dark,

And left their bodies to rot as feasts

For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done
(Lombardo translation, 1997)
Achilles' banefull wrath resound, O Goddess, that impos'd
Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls los'd
From breasts heroique; sent them far to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave:
To all which Jove's will gave effect; from whom first strife begun
Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis' godlike son.
(Chapman translation, 1598)
"The worst cowards, banded together, have their power but you and I have got the skill to fight their best" -- Poseidon's encounter with Idomeneus at the turn of the battle for the ships
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Disambiguation notice
Due to the "dead language exception" copies of the Iliad in the original Greek should not be combined with modern language translations. Also, individual volumes should not be combined with other individual volumes or with the complete work.
The original Greek title is “Ἰλιάς”
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[Prior description deleted. Note this field applies to the work and should not be used for edition-specific information]
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140275363, Paperback)

This groundbreaking English version by Robert Fagles is the most important recent translation of Homer's great epic poem. The verse translation has been hailed by scholars as the new standard, providing an Iliad that delights modern sensibility and aesthetic without sacrificing the grandeur and particular genius of Homer's own style and language. The Iliad is one of the two great epics of Homer, and is typically described as one of the greatest war stories of all time, but to say the Iliad is a war story does not begin to describe the emotional sweep of its action and characters: Achilles, Helen, Hector, and other heroes of Greek myth and history in the tenth and final year of the Greek siege of Troy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:23 -0400)

(see all 11 descriptions)

The centuries old epic about the wrath of Achilles is rendered into modern English verse by a renowned translator and accompanied by an introduction that reassesses the identity of Homer. In Robert Fagles' beautifully rendered text, the Iliad overwhelms us afresh. The huge themes godlike, yet utterly human of savagery and calculation, of destiny defied, of triumph and grief compel our own humanity. Time after time, one pauses and re-reads before continuing. Fagles' voice is always that of a poet and scholar of our own age as he conveys the power of Homer. Robert Fagles and Bernard Knox are to be congratulated and praised on this admirable work.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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6 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140268863, 0140275363, 0140445927, 0140447946, 0140444440, 0451530691


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