The Iliad is a brutal war epic, perhaps the war epic. I started reading it back in August 2019. During the reading, I attended two seminars to discuss the book, and completed it in November. It was a hard read for me. That may have been because of the constant, grinding, unreal level of violence portrayed. Though this was my first reading of The Iliad, I will hazard a summary to crystalize my understanding. The Iliad, in my reading, is a book about pride, rage, humility, the nature of men, and the horror of war, at least. The work illustrates amply the folly of rage and pride, as embodied in the characters it portrays.
Pride is a factor in various plots and schemes throughout. For example, Apollo, angered at the pride of Agamemnon, uses that pride against him to sow dissent with Achilles. This causes the death of many. In turn, Achilles own pride causes the death of his best friend, Patroclus. The moral I take from this is that humility, as shown by Priam in this story, can avoid unneeded violence. Hector, as I see it a hero of the story, is killed due to his sense of duty. This, combined with pride, in thinking he can face Achilles alone. Ultimately he dies in vain. Pride and vanity go hand in hand, a recurring theme.
One part of the book, which was brought to my attention in seminar, is the parrallel narratives of the gods and men, with two seperate conflicts taking place. One conflict of the gods, the other of men, who are used as pawns of the gods. The gods, as portrayed by Homer, are as flawed as humans, or moreso. It is the plots, vendettas and favoritism of the gods which are shown to drive the war forward. It is, of course, easier to blame the gods, rather than our own flawed nature.
There are sundry other topics treated in the story, such as the malleability of fate in the eyes of the ancient Greeks. This work, like many of the greats, is something you could come back to again, and again. I think you’d keep finding more depth. In fact, since reading, I see echoes of this story in every war movie. The men here are half comic book hero, half real and flawed human.
About the Translation
The long journey of reading this work started with a short walk, down to a local bookstore. The store, named Logos, seemed a fitting place to purchase my paperback copy of the Robert Fagles translation. I’d be interested to reread this in the Pope translation. Though I found the Fagles translation enjoyable, I have heard that Pope is worth a read. To that end I might also give the Pope edition a listen on Audible.