Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Siege of Troy

So I finally finished the Iliad, two moves after starting it. Part of the fault was misplacing it during the moves, but part of it was also getting bogged down in the middle. Homer requests to sing of the anger of Achilles, and it is his anger that structures the story: his anger at Agamemnon for stealing his girl that takes him out of the fight, and his anger at Hector for killing his best friend that takes him back into it. Frankly, Achilles is not admirable for much except his fighting; but that seems to be the primary qualification for a hero for the Greeks.

It is while Achilles is out sulking that the tale begins to drag. Why so much tedious detail on the mode of death and personal history of every soldier? Did Homer fear that if he left anything out, some outraged and heavily-armed latter-day Greek would rise and say, "How could you leave out how my ancester Peneleos slew Iloneous, son of Phorbas, wealthiest of the Trojans, by spearing him through the eye?"

An odd thing, from a modern perspective, is that there is simply no interest in the justice of one side over the other. It's not just that Homer, as an impartial later observer, helps us see the good and bad on each side; it's that nobody involved cares whether or not they are "in the right" in a cosmic sense. Fighting is just something people do, from personal motives, mostly, and because they apparently have nothing better to do with their time. You don't need a grand moral justification for going out and trying to kill other people; it's all the fault of the gods, anyway, who are finding things dull on Olympus and want to stir up a little trouble.

However, even if there is not a great war of good and evil to side with, there is the matter of whether you fight well or bravely, honorably or dishonorably; whether you stand your ground or act like a coward. Even that is not entirely within the power of mortals to control, but we can at least try.

7 comments:

Rose said...

Thank you!! Now I feel much better for never having read it.

Carrie said...

That was the most entertaining review I've read of the Illiad, I must say! =D And people say modern day tales have too much violence in them......

I hated that book. But I'm glad to say I read, if for no other reason than to gloat that I suffered through it. It's like a Badge of Honor in keeping with having read Moby Dick in its entirety. Which, btw, I have never done.

Anonymous said...

hmmm.. interesting...
I love the book !
I think the whole point about it the approach to Moral Choice.
Not much different from what the modern world imposes on all of us - we too blame it on the Lord, expect from him...
I enjoyed immensely the fashion in which is is written, and wish I could read the original...
In my opinion, Achilles was not out to be admired... it is a story about rage, and it looks at is as a natural emotion.
Above all, I really like the fact it is less hypocritical than most of the modern hero tales around !
Tammy

Queen of Carrots said...

I actually liked it fairly well, and certainly wouldn't discourage someone from reading it. You can always skim the battle scenes. The question of how much are our actions within our control and how much are they the fault of fate/God/the gods is always an intriguing one.

Sherry said...

We watched the documentary beyond the Gates of Splendor a few nights ago, and certain aspects of the Auca culture reminded me of The Illiad. In particular, the Aucas described how this or that man was speared in retaliation for a previous spearing, and they always told exctly where the spear went in and how much damage it did and where it came out. What seems like unnecessary detail to me was apparently very important to the Aucas ---and to Homer.

At A Hen's Pace said...

I've only read adaptations.

It was fascinating to read your take on it.

Jeanne

At A Hen's Pace said...

I've only read adaptations.

It was fascinating to read your take on it.

Jeanne