I thought reading The Iliad by Homer (translated by Robert Fagles) would be a chore. Even after I reviewed four different translations and chose one I felt was “best,” I told myself I would have to read at least one chapter a day, just to get through it before it was due at the library. I thought The Iliad would be horribly boring.
I was wrong.
I admit that the first few chapters were hard to get into – I wasn’t used to the characters, and because it began in medias res, I felt a little lost; also, it is a poetic style I am not accustomed to reading. Besides, the second chapter included a list of the boats and characters (a back story) that seemed to drag on and on.
But by the fourth or fifth chapter, I found myself immersed in the story: not only did I empathize with the characters and enjoy the somewhat morbid action-packed battle scenes, but I loved the lilt and feel of the poetry. And while I can’t say whether or not Fagles’ translation was the most accurate of all translations, I certainly found the poem to be beautifully poetic as well as highly readable.
All of that said, I feel I have a love/hate relationship with this book.
Note: As I said yesterday, there may be “spoilers.” But, considering the gods reveal most of the “ending” in the beginning of the book, I don’t think this should be a huge issue.
Love and Hate
I loved Hector. I disliked Achilles. Meeting Hector’s wife and infant son just made him a human. He was so good! But Achilles: am I supposed to like Achilles? Did anyone else like him at all? He was a horrible!
I loved the lengthy family details given about each person as they are killed (even those characters I’d never met before). I disliked how many thousands of names there were. Even if I don’t know the character, before he dies, Homer tells about his father and mother and a number of interesting details about his childhood. As he is stabbed or his limbs are cut off, I can almost hear his parents weeping for him. But why does everyone need three names? (For example, Agamemnon is also called “son of Atreus,” as well as “Atrides,” which derives from his father’s name. He has a brother who is also called “son of Atreus” and “Atrides,” because they have the same father.) Add 100 more people with three names and another 100 killed in detailed battle, and yes, it’s a bit confusing.
I loved the language of the poem. I disliked that I found it a challenge. More about this tomorrow…
I loved the “family squabbles” among the gods. I disliked not being familiar with mythology and who each god or goddess was. I especially liked it when the goddess Hera overpowers Zeus. Zeus may be the god of all, but he still has a weakness: sex. But Greeks were expected to know all about the gods and goddesses: I had a hard time because I didn’t know a lot of the back stories.
I loved the gory details of how each person was killed. I didn’t like it when my favorite characters were killed in battle, even when the gods told me of their fate in the beginning of the book. To give you a better idea of what I mean by gory details, here’s an example:
With that, just as Dolon reached up for his chin
to cling with a frantic hand and beg for life,
Diomedes struck him square across the neck –
a flashing hack of the sword – both tendons snapped
and the shrieking head went tumbling in the dust. (Book Ten, lines 523-527, page 291)
Why did I like the gore? I have no idea. But it was heart breaking when the person at the receiving end was someone I met, even just briefly, for each person had a mother and father weeping over them. As is the case with war, much of the killing was senseless.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that I cried. Overall, I really and truly did love to read The Iliad.
What do you love and hate about The Iliad?
Because there is so much I want to share about The Iliad, this is part two (Love and Hate by Mostly Love) of a three-part series about reading The Iliad. Also in the series:
- The Story
- Reading the Iliad (Fagles translation) (to come)