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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Iliad

The Iliad
by Homer, approx. circa 825 BC
translated by Robert Fitzgerald, published 1994
audio book: 16.75 hours

This post will be a bit lengthy because there is simply so much to say about this book. I do hope you enjoy it in spite of the length, and that you get something out of it. And just so you know, I'm going to keep referring to Rebecca's posts because she did an excellent series about this book last year.

*** About the Book/Epic Poem ***

This book is a classic in the truest sense of the world. It is attributed to the ancient Greek poet, Homer. [Rebecca wrote about the disputed existence of Homer.] The original poem was meant to be recited to an audience. The poem is likely based on actual events, embellished to include the intervention of the Greek gods.

*** The Story ***

I'm going to explain the entire story (spoilers and all) because I think it is almost common knowledge. Plus the major events in the story are foretold by the gods long before they actually happen, so there are really no surprises in the poem.

I assume that most people have at least HEARD of Helen of Troy and of the Trojan War. THE ILIAD tells the story of one part of that war. In brief, the Spartans have besieged the city of Ilian in Troy. Their attack is in retaliation for the kidnapping of Helen of Sparta, wife of the Spartan king's brother, by a prince of Ilian. By the time the story begins, the siege has been going on for 10 or more years (I can't recall the details exactly). The Spartan hero Achilles has a falling out with his king, Agamemnon, and in anger he decides to sit out the rest of the war. But when his best friend is killed in the fighting, Achilles goes on a rampage and kills Hector, the most beloved prince of Ilian.

Throughout all this, the gods and goddesses conspire against each other to support their chosen side in the war. Their actions are the focus of a large portion of the story.

(Rebecca gives a more in depth look at the story in this post.)

*** My Thoughts ***

I truly enjoyed listening to this one. It was huge and epic and amazing. At times, especially in the extended battle scenes, my mind wandered a bit but my attention was always drawn back when the characters I loved came on scene.

*** Thoughts on the Human Characters ***

Many of the characters are people I’ve heard of before. (Since I’ve seen the movie Troy I kept picturing Brad Pitt as Achilles whenever I was listening to his portion of the story – he was quite sexy in that movie!) But even had they been unfamiliar to me I think I would have connected with them just the same. I loved hearing about Achilles and about Helen, about Ajax and Odysseus, Agamemnon and Menelaus, Hector and Paris (although I didn’t like either of them that much), Priam and Hecuba. My favorite of all the characters was King Priam of Ilian.

One thing though … What is it with characters who have alternate names?! For example, Paris is the Trojan prince who runs off with Helen. But sometimes he’s called Alexandros. Thankfully I’d experienced this before in other books otherwise I’d have been completely confused in parts.

*** Thoughts on the Gods and Goddesses ***

The Greek gods and goddesses play a huge role in this story. They take sides in the war, protect the humans they like, and bicker between themselves as to who will win in the end. This is clearly where some of the inspiration for the TV shows Hercules and Xena and the movie Clash of the Titans came from. (Every time Ares, god of war, came on scene I pictured his character from Xena and I had to smile.) I loved this “otherworldly” aspect of the book. I wrote about these shows in comparison to THE ILIAD recently, and I included videos clips in case you aren't familiar with them.

*** Thoughts on the Battles ***

I must admit, I was expecting more of a story and less battle descriptions. I really liked all the battle stuff but I would have loved more story. That said, the battles do make up the majority of the book and they are very interesting.
  • The battle scenes are very extensive and quite detailed. You hear how each man is killed – with what weapon, where it hit him, what damage it did, how he fell, and then “darkness veiled his eyes.” I came to love the beauty of that simple phrase amid all the carnage. I wonder if the wording is the same in other translations?
  • The battles were almost a litany of names. As each fighter came to the fore, you learned about his background and his family. If you believe as I do that this poem is historical then this is a record of real people. I loved learning about their lives, even briefly. There were so many names mentioned that I don’t think it is importance to keep track of them, just simply to know they existed.
  • A huge theme in this book is the revering vs. the defilement of corpses. Each side in the war has rituals for dealing with dead heroes and each side also wants to capture the corpses of enemy heroes. Much of the conflict in the book stems from that simple issue.

*** The Audio Book ***

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I listen to lots of audio books. You also know that there are some books that just don't work for me in audio form. When I decided to tackle THE ILIAD I knew that I simply had to do the audio version based on the history of this poem. After all, it was originally meant to be listened to, not read, and I thought that I'd get more out of it by experiencing it as it was meant to be experienced. And I was right in that. I very much enjoyed HEARING this epic tale ... and I don't know that I would have enjoyed reading it in the same way.

The narrator, George Guidall, did an excellent job. I've listened to other books he's done and I always enjoy his style. Definitely look for books that he's worked on - you can't go wrong with him as your narrator.

*** The Translation ***

After reading Rebecca's post detailing several different translations, I really wanted to get the Robert Fagles version. It sounded like the most popular among readers and I like the language he used. However my library only had one version of the audio book, and that was the version translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Although I did truly enjoy it I felt like it was lacking the poetry that the poem was supposed to have. It didn't "feel" poetic to me. Epic, yes. Poetic, no. I'd like to eventually listen to the Fagles version and see if it has a different feel to it. If you've read/listened to it, did it feel poetic to you?

*** Miscellany ***
  • Here's an excellent article about the history that we can learn from THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY.
  • The story ends before the whole episode with the Trojan horse. I'm telling you this in case you decide to read/listen to THE ILIAD - I would have been disappointed had I not known that ahead of time.
  • These people have too many children! Every time I turned on the tape, another of Priam's sons was being killed. At the end he says that he had 50 sons, 19 by the same woman. Whoa.
  • I know that author Robert Jordan took many of the names and themes in his Wheel of Time series from standard mythology, but I still got a kick out of hearing the names Ilian (which he calls Illian) and Aginor and recalling their importance in the Wheel of Time.
  • I enjoyed hearing about Odysseus and Aeneas because I know I can continue their stories in THE ODYSSEY and THE AENEID, both of which I hope to tackle this coming year.

*** Other Reviews ***

If you've reviewed this I'd be happy to add you here as well.
  • Rebecca Reads - she's the reason I decided to take the plunge on this one
  • S. Krishna - she's read several translations and loves this book
  • Books 'N Border Collies - says if you are not ready to tackle this, first try AN ILIAD, a modernized and shorter version which she enjoyed

*** Your Thoughts? ***

Here are my questions for you, dear reader:
  • Have you read this or considered reading it?
  • Did my post influence you one way or the other?
  • Do you see any value in reading/listening to ancient stories like this? Why or why not?
Of course, you can comment about anything you like but those are the questions on my mind at the moment.

If you made it to the end of this extremely long post, CONGRATULATIONS!!! I hereby award you the Queen (or King) of AWE-Summm!!! award - you deserve it for your awesome reading skills and your amazing patience with my rambling thoughts. Feel free to post it on your blog and pass it along. :)


Lezlie said...

Thanks for the link, Heather!! "An Iliad" is a book deserving of attention in addition to "The Iliad". :-)

I thought of Troy a lot, too, as I read The Iliad. The movie actually helped me have a little more sympathy for Achilles than I might have had otherwise. But even without that, I thought the scene with Priam and Achilles at the end it very affecting.

I listened to the same audio version, and I'm considering buying it. I also thought it was excellent!

Of the three, The Iliad is my favorite, but The Aeneid comes in a close second. I can't wait to see what you think of that one!

I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

Alyce said...

I read this in college for a literature class, otherwise I don't think I would have tackled it. I know that there are different translations available, and the one that we read was supposed to be a drier, classical translation. Let me say that it lived up to the dry part. I definitely think listening to it would have helped a lot.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm seriously impressed. I tried to read this (when I was coaching an Academic Decathlon team). How sad is it that the coach couldn't even finish?

Rebecca Reid said...

Oh I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the link.

I think I may go for Fitzgerald the next time I read it -- and I may try listening to it. I read both Iliad and Odyssey but I'd love to listen and see how it compares, because you're right, it's meant to be heard.

I haven't read the Aeneid ever yet, though, so I'll probably do that first.

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