Leslie's Reviews > The Iliad

The Iliad by Homer
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Aug 28, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: university-scholars
Read from January 23 to February 07, 2012

Known as being the first in the pair of Homer's greatest epics, the Iliad certainly lived up to its expectations. The whole book was one epic fight after another, whether it was gods throwing words and dishonor at each other or men actually sparring with bows and swords. Often, the gods descended to the mayhem before Troy and added their own style to the bloodbath and carnage. In Hunger Games, you don't want to become attached to characters because their fate is uncertain, but you become attached anyway. In the Iliad, you know you shouldn't get attached, and thankfully you don't. Homer was first and foremost a poet of epic proportions, and this book is not heavy on the character development or literary style. Furthermore, as in Greek tradition, men are honored for arrogance, and women are supposed to be nothing more than chattel. Still, I took offense at both, for arrogant men are hard to cheer for, and women acceptant of their lowly position are hard to pity.
I often found myself comparing this epic to the movie Troy, which let's just say took severe liberties with the story. The movie is more empathetic toward Troy and especially Hektor, but Achilles is also portrayed well. Patroklus is shown as foolish, and Paris is shown to be a complete pansy. In the actual story, Hektor is still a tragic hero, but his haughtiness, especially when he kills Patroklus, somewhat demeans him. Even so, the reader can't help but feel jarred when Hektor alone stands to protect his country, home, and Troy's women and children against the formidable Achilles. Then the reader feels outrage at Achilles rude treatment of him. Achilles, however, is more sympathetic in this book I think than in the movie. For most of the epic, he is sitting out the war, nursing his anger against Agamemnon for the humiliation the king brought against him by stealing Briseus. Unfortunately for the Trojans, he eventually decides to help the Achaeans anyway. His cruelty to Hektor and all the Trojans is repulsive, but he somewhat makes amends by not only releasing Hektor's body back to Priam but also embalming it before he does. Interestingly enough, Patroklus is probably one of my favorite characters. He doesn't overdelight in killing, but he simply does what needs to be done in war and does it well. And he is properly if not overly mourned by his best friend Achilles. Paris is, though slightly less so, still a pansy, and I hold to my belief that Troy should have given him up to the Greeks with Helen and the ransom treasures instead of signing away their city and men. Bad judgment on their part, if not slightly admirable. Then again, sheltering pansies is not necessarily admirable.
The greatest issue I had with this book is with the gods. Aside from brief, humorous encounters, they mainly act by interfering. Their interfering drove me up a modern art building. The battle was bad enough without them siding with their favorites and casually causing deadly blows to glance off the heroes. Athena is responsible for Hektor's death. The gods' involvement shows just how sad and dark Greek belief must have been, for the god that bore you and protected you your whole life could just as easily fall to peer pressure and agree to kill you after all the sacrifices you'd given. It's no wonder Socrates and Plato had problems with them, since the gods seemed to be worse than man! (Although Hera's dragging Aphrodite off the field by her ear was amusing.)
There you have it. I took a couple paragraphs to say what Homer said in freaking 600 pages. But just to make sure, let me recap. Paris stole Helen from the Greeks. The Greeks declared war on Troy. Achilles sat it out and kept threatening to leave. The gods talked. The gods made the Greeks win, then the Trojans win, then the Greeks win. People with such and such fathers died like there was no tomorrow. The gods plotted. More killing and arrogant speeches. Hektor kills Patroklus. Achilles gets mad and swears to kill Hektor. (It's war, Achilles. People will die.) Achilles kills Hektor, and about 500 other Trojans. Funeral for Patroklus. Funeral for Hektor. The story ends, but there's obviously more killing to come since Troy still stands...
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01/26/2012 page 213
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