Kathryn's Reviews > The Iliad

The Iliad by Homer
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's review
Oct 26, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: great-books, on-my-nook
Recommended for: People who are really into spearing
Read from October 24 to November 02, 2011

Yes, the rating is purely subjective.

There's an epigram that, like many epigrams, is often attributed to Mark Twain: "A classic is a book that everyone wants to have read and no one wants to read." Personally, I've never seen any truth in that saying. For the most part, books become classics for a reason, and it's not because English teachers want to torment kids. Take David Copperfield - it's hilarious. Or The Old Curiosity Shop, which was like the Harry Potter of its day. People literally met the ship from England to get their copies of the latest chapter (it was published as a serial) because they wanted so badly to know what happened to Little Nell. And then there's Hamlet, which is made of win, and The Jungle Book, which is exciting and fun (and jingoistic, yes), and of course Pride and Prejudice, and Middlemarch...I could go on. My point is that typically, a book that has earned the label "classic" is fascinating and interesting and fun.

The Iliad, however...Well, I know Homer must be a great poet, because he managed to make the Trojan War boring. I would have said that it was impossible to make a huge Greek war with interfering gods and goddesses and a giant wooden horse boring, but Homer managed it. About 80% of the Iliad is lurid descriptions of gruesome deaths; many bit characters are introduced and given a bit of background (parents, wife, children, home, etc.) only so that their upcoming death at a hero's hands will have more meaning. It gets very repetitive; as with poorly-written sex scenes, there are only so many ways to describe one guy spearing another.

There's even one section in which the warriors keep hurling spears at each other and missing, so A aims at B but hits C, and C's buddy D gets mad and throws his spear at A, but he misses and hits E, and E's buddy F howls in pain and rage and casts his spear at D, but D makes his Reflex save and the spear hits G, and...This sequence went on for a couple of pages. About 15 people died due to poor aim before the story returned to the regular action.

And then there's the pages and pages of intense description of exciting action...on a shield. Really, Homer? Really? Out of all the material to cover in the Trojan War, a shield makes the cut? Okay, granted, it's Achilles' special shield hand-wrought by the god Hephaestus, but still.

There were some parts I did like. The various god squabbles were fun, and I loved the scene between Hector and Andromache. But there was way too much spearing and nowhere near enough...um...non-spearing.

The Iliad is important due to its influence on Western literature, I'm told, but honestly, I couldn't see how it influenced anything other than the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Ok, just kidding - I actually was reminded of Lord of the Rings quite a bit. LOTR has a similar Loads and Loads of Characters problem, and Tolkien also introduces minor characters only to kill them off a few pages later (e.g., Halbarad, Aragorn's standard-bearer). He also spends a lot of time on epic battle sequences, and he probably learned that Talking Is a Free Action from the Iliad. But other than that, I felt like the Iliad was about 20 interesting pages interspersed with 400 pages of dudes getting speared.

I feel so unsophisticated.

26 Oct - Picking back up on the Iliad. (I'm actually reading the Barnes & Noble Classics edition, translated by Ennis Rees, but I can't find that translation on goodreads.) It's surprisingly boring given the subject matter and the importance of the work. Maybe it gets better later - right now, I'm reading a repetitive section in which we follow a hero as he carves through his opponent's army, then once he gets taken out of the action, we switch to another guy doing the same thing, etc., etc. As with poorly written sex scenes, there are only so many ways you can describe a guy getting speared before it all begins to sound quite similar.

31 Oct - I just read a section that went like this: "Greek dude A hurled his spear at Greek dude B, who saw it coming and leapt out of the way. Yet Greek dude A's spear was not cast in vain, for it killed Greek dude C in a violent and gruesome way. Greek dude D saw Greek dude C die and, in vengeance, cast his spear at Greek dude A. Greek dude A made his Reflex save, so that the spear slew Greek dude E. Greek dude F cried out in sorrow and cast his weapon at Greek dude D..."

A good 15 people were killed by poor aim before we got back to the regular spearing.
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