The Iliad by Homer ISBN-10: 0140447946. It took me quite wile before I finally managed to read The Iliad and I got hooked on it! I started this book at least ten or fifteen times before but never could manage more than just a few pages. As a matter of fact, I was always curious to find out why Alexander the Great thought so highly of Achilles and this book, keeping a copy of it with annotations by Aristotle under his pillow all throughout his life. Achilles, the hero of the Iliad fascinated him at a point that he wanted to emulate his very acts – all in all, reason enough for me to read it.
Lately they were showing the movie Troy with Brad Pitt once again on TV. This picture upset me very much for the sun is rising in the morning over Troy while this old city is facing straight West. The more I see of this movie, the more confused I get! How can they make a historic movie with so many errors or mistakes? For instance, there is Patroclus being introduced as being Achilles’ cousin, which he is not, just an attendant who grew up with him. There is Briseis, presented as a cousin of Hector’s and priestess of Apollo. She was neither, only Achilles’ booty which Agamemnon took away from him because his own girl, Chryseis, priestess of Apollo, had to be returned to her father in exchange for a lavish ransom. And then I am not even talking about the famous horse that never could be rolled over the sandy beach shown in the picture, etc. Well, so much for the movie but it pushed me to dig out the full and true story about Troy once and for all. What better source than Homer’s Iliad?
The Iliad is generally attributed to Homer, who may have written it or not, or may simply have assembled old tales to create the Iliad at some time around 700 or 800 BC, although even these dates are subject to discussion. My book is a Pingouin Classics publication, translated by E.V. Rieu, revised and updated by his son D.C.H. Rieu and by Peter Jones to make it pleasant reading material without dreary old fashioned phrasing.
To simplify the complex story, I skipped most of the interference by all the gods and goddesses and I was amazed to find such thrilling reading material! To my surprise I learnt that four-fifths of the action in the Iliad occurs during a mere four days and nights, while one third of the book covers just a twenty-four hours’ period! Such a short period of time when you know that the Trojan War lasted for about ten years. That never occurred to me!
In any case, The Iliad is written in the same way a story teller would present his tale to the general public as he traveled from one village to the next, repeating certain phrases and facts to make sure his audience would understand the essence to the fullest. Yet it is also filled with unexpected details. One such detail is when Patroclus is preparing the meat for Achilles’ guests and adds salt! Isn’t it amazing that this was already common practice three thousand years ago and maybe even before that, in the days of Troy? Then there is the description of Agamemnon’s body-armor that was made of strips, ten dark-blue inlay, twelve of gold and twenty of tin, on either side of which three blue snakes rose up towards the opening of the neck. That must have been a breathtaking sight by itself, not to mention the other fancy parts of his outfit that is being described with the tiniest details!
And then, last but not least, there is the making of Achilles’ shield by Hephaistos, the god of Fire! That description alone covers five full pages! What a superb piece of art this must have been, made of five full layers of imperishable bronze and some tin, and precious gold and silver on which he applied all sorts of decorations! It had a silver shoulder-strap, nothing less! No wonder Alexander the Great exchanged shields when he saw this one at the Temple of Apollo after setting foot on Asian soil!
Well, I couldn’t believe how excited I got, for beside the story itself it is so detailed in many ways. Another example is the in depth description of the Funeral Games for Achilles’ dearest friend Patroclus: the kind of games, who was competing against whom, what the prizes were, how the games were played, etc. I just heard recently that the Iliad is our only source when it comes to finding out about games in antiquity, so the more for Funeral Games!
And all of this interesting material and all these wonderful descriptions have been sleeping on my bookshelf for years! What a waste!