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The Iliad - Book Review

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by Tammy Facey (subscribe)
Read. Write. Run.
Published September 11th 2013
When epic meant EPIC
Homer's classic poem, written and published in 854 BC, still resonates with modern readers and inspires the modern novelist (James Joyce's - Ulysses), and 21st century directors (Wolfgang Peterson - Troy).

The Iliad, Homer
The Iliad

The poem is set in a Trojan war and uses Greek mythology as part of the narrative. Zeus, Achillies and Agamemnon are among the great characters of the epic poem, but making sense of the less familiar characters can be difficult if you haven't studied Greek mythology.

It's funny how Greek myths inform our writing and understanding of man, and it is such a poem that inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Troy (2004). Interestingly, in the film, Agamemnon is never mentioned, instead the producers focus on Paris, played by Orlando Bloom, who is and portrayed as a love-sick anti-hero. Hollywood likes to twist original stories for success, but the true story is much more interesting as Homer makes a clear comment on the young man: egotistical, self-absorbed and someone who has a sense of entitlement. The true character of Agamemnon is shown in the poem when he takes what not is his: slave-girl Brises from Achillies. I won't ruin the story, but Homer's characters are cleverly created using Greek mythology merely as a guide for their tragic actions.

The Iliad, Book 1
The rage of Achillies

Homer can be considered as creating the virile young man who is full of grandiose aspirations, which can be perceived as a comment on the common man; those who think they are more than what they are, who have an arrogance, take what they like and behave in a base and inconsiderate manner will ultimately fall.

The most notable comparisons are between the film Troy and The Iliad, which is clearly the 'original' narrative, but funnily enough Homer's work is still prevalent in contemporary society. We only have to look to popular animation series The Simpsons to see character Homer the father of the Simpson family as an ironic representation. In the animated series Homer is the antithesis of the true poet, and thus becomes an ironic commentary by the producers.

The epic poem has been misconstrued over the centuries and been considered a 'love' story, when in fact it is a poem that is teaching a lesson to man.

The Iliad, Book 12,
Book 12

Contrary to modern-day phrasing, where many attribute the word 'epic' as a means of denoting a moment, elevating them to a sort of status, an 'epic' text meant a piece of writing that dealt with the profound, never mind the size or a meal, or something your friend has just 'done'.

To summarise The Iliad in a couple of paragraphs, or even a 20,000 word dissertation, would be difficult because it is such a dense piece of text. Homer's work deserves a thorough attempt - because all we can do is attempt to study his work - at examining the poem while appreciating his grammar, and form.

Lest we forget The Iliad is a poem, I consider Homer an artist as much as a poet, for it is some feat to create a poem of such length in dactyllic hexameter. He was an erudite character whose work will continue to inspire further narratives, invite questions, and to use a colloquialism, blow my mind.
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