What did I think? I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would. Coming into the reading I knew three things about the Trojan War.
- I knew how it started. The story of Eris and the golden apple is one of my favorites of Greek mythology and has been ever since I first read the 'Illuminatus Trilogy'. I pushed for 'Helen' as a possible girls name. We had a fairly lengthy discussion of the name 'Paris' for a boy.
- I knew about the Trojan horse. I mean, really, who doesn't? If there is a more famous trick in western literature, I don't know what it is.
- I knew about Achilles' heel. About the weakness there. About his one vulnerability.
I found the interplay with the gods fascinating. Mere mortals had to contend with these wildly powerful folks and yet, doing so was very dangerous. The gods could obviously favor you. They could lie to you. The favor of one god could anger a different one. All you could do is offer up sacrifices and hope for the best. If you take a step back and think of the vagaries of battle, that suddenly doesn't seem quite so crazy. Why did this guy die and not that one? The gods, I guess.
Some of the action, especially the death scenes were so over the top as to be ridiculous. This one made me laugh out loud:
With that, Diomedes cast. His spear, guided by Athene, struck Pandarus on the nose beside the eye and passed through his white teeth. His tongue was cut off at the root by the relentless bronze, and the point came out at the base of his chin. He crashed from his chariot. His burnished scintillating armour rang out upon him, and the horses shied, thoroughbreds though they were. This was the end of Pandarus.I should say so! Catching a spear to the mouth will shorten your soldiering days considerably. Here is the poetic version of the same passage, if you're curious:
the spear, by Palas guided, struck
Beside the nostril, underneath the eye;
Crash'd thro' the teeth, and cutting thro' the tongue
Beneath the angle of the jaw came forth:
Down from the car he fell; and loudly rang
His glitt'ring arms: aside the startled steeds
Sprang devious: from his limbs the spirit fled
Once someone was killed, the victor would strip the armor as a prize. And a thrown spear would either kill the target or hit some unlucky guy behind him. And just about everyone was of noble or royal birth. Or a child of the gods. In fact, Zeus apparently inspired the Trojan war because he feared that there were too many children of gods in the world and he wanted to kill some off. Think on that for a moment. How monstrous is that, to want to thin out your children and the children of your closest family members. I think it's fair to say that the Greek gods were not to be looked up to for moral education.
I tried to think of another story like the Iliad and could only come up with one comparison (which I'll blog about later, though feel free to guess in the comment section). Think on that, too. Movie makers of today borrow and update endlessly from old stories. Stage adaptations simply delight in placing ancient theater in some kind of modern setting. But the Iliad resists that! Nearly three thousand years old, one of the wellsprings of Western literature and it is a story of its own time only.