The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem by Homer, which presents his interpretation of the events that took place during a few weeks of the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. Homer’s tale of the Trojan War runs from the time of Achilles’s falling out with the Greek King, Lord Agamemnon, and shunning from the war to the time when he re-enters it and kills the Trojan hero, Hector, to avenge the death of his friend and companion, Patroclus.
After my reading of The Odyssey, I felt I need to revisit The Iliad. The thought that I might not have fully appreciated it kept on nagging me. I first read a prose version, but this time I resorted to the poetic translation done by Alexander Pope. And I have to confess that the result was surprising. Not only I understood it well, but I also came to fully appreciate the extent of Homer’s artistry. In this new light, I’m obliged to amend my former review to express my truest thoughts on this amazing classic.
In my first read, I’ve misunderstood the role of Gods. I thought that they dictated and interfered unjustly in the men’s war and hindered their valor. But after my reread, I now understand it was fate that governed it all, and that the Gods’ role was to facilitate the course of fate. Of course, the Gods supported their chosen camp, some siding with the Greeks, who they believed to have been injured by the treachery of Paris of Troy, and others siding with the Trojans, for their faithful reverence of mighty Olympian Gods. But not any of them, not even the all-powerful Zeus could alter what the fate decreed on the mortal men. When I understood fully the role of God, men, and fate, I was able to view the whole thing through new eyes and appreciate and enjoy the tale for its true worth.
The Iliad is a tragedy. The main themes of this tragic tale are honour, loyalty, glory, and revenge. It was not the pleasantest read. Too much importance is given to the descriptions of gruesome details of war. The dramatic quality with which Homer has knitted his poem made so vivid a portrayal of battle scenes and horrific deaths that I found many passages hard to stomach. At the same time, I couldn’t help admiring the ability of Homer to draw such realistic pictures through his finesse writing. And even more, I could sense the fury of men of both camps as they lunged at each other with their weapons drawn; I could hear their war cries. I could also hear the sound of the wheels of the chariots taking the warriors to the battle, the clanging of the weapons, and the groans and moans of the dead. It was truly more than a reading experience.
The narrator of the tale, while taking us through the present events, also fills in the gaps of the past and makes predictions for the future. This method of recounting the story gives a complete picture of the tale, although in the strictest sense the poem only describes a few weeks of the final year of the Trojan War. The writing is quite descriptive. Whether it is a battle scene, weapons, the general setting, or characters (both men and God), nothing has escaped Homer’s minutest scrutiny. Even the pedigree of each of the characters is described! Although these details are quite overwhelming at times, they nevertheless are helpful to understand the story better.
It is amazing that how this epic poem, which is said to have been written in the 7th or 8th centuries BC (or BCE), has fascinated and keeps on fascinating generations of readers. That in itself is proof of the true mastery of its author. When all things are considered, it is a little wonder that Homer is regarded as the pioneer of the Western Classic.
A word must be said about the translation. Personally, I think it is one of the best. As the translator himself has said, the essence of a translation is to capture the true spirit of the work which he translates without being too much burdened with the strict accuracy of the meaning. When compared with the first translation I’ve read and my respective response with my present perception, I quite see the wisdom of Pope. It is the spirit that matters.