Monday, May 24, 2004

Book 1 thoughts

Before I start, let me state something I might not have mentioned. I've never read The Iliad in its entirety. I know most of the basic story from an interest in Troy and Greek mythology, but I'd never actually had to read the poem. I think my high school focused on crafty old Odysseus and the The Odyssey, rather than Hector and Achilles.

So I finished reading Book 1 of The Iliad yesterday in the Fagles edition. It took me awhile to get used to the constant barrage of repetitions, including even whole sections. I've seen repetition in poetry before for style's sake, but it seemed different here, knowing it was meant to be recited aloud. The epithets were confusing at first. I was grateful the edition included a generous glossary of names and places so I could realize eventually "Duh! All these references refer the same characters".

I'd met Agamemnon before when I read Aeschylus' play about his dear murderous wife Clytemnestra. From the casual reference, he doesn't seem to regard her too highly even in Homer. But Agamemnon irritated me more in Homer. He compounded the problems on his troops with his actions and then worried about his honor being disgraced? Maybe Achilles' descriptions swayed me too much, but Agamemnon seemed a great one for talking, not doing, whereas Achilles seemed to prefer actual deeds. Yet Agamemnon was rated the greater king with the greater honor.

I really hadn't had any knowledge of Achilles other than the usual stuff about his heel. So seeing him in action was an eye-opener. I had never realized he was so outspoken against Agamemnon. When we hear about stories from the Iliad out of context, they usually show Achilles in the heat of battle as a warrior/hero. Then again I hadn't thought of "king" as "clan chieftain" or "commander in chief", so on some level, Achilles is more of a peer, if set apart by his parentage.

The gods were interesting. Some of them were what I expected. Others were showing their more vengeful side, like Apollo. In particular, we think of Apollo as the pretty boy Adonis with the lyre, forgetting how he treated Cassandra. In her commentary, Amanda reminded us while, yes, Apollo was god of medicine that was a double-edged sword. The Greeks prayed to these gods for respite from illness. However, if he was provoked or unsated, Apollo could still bring plague if provoked. Such are the petty and spiteful ways of the Greek pantheon. "The white-armed" Hera seemed all concerned for the Greeks and their kind, until we see her arguments with Zeus. Thetis, at least, has the concerns of a mother at heart, even if it brings her into conflict with the others.

I'm looking forward to the next book with the "catalogue of ships". One of my favorite parts of the In Search of Trojan War documentary was when Michael Wood was tracing the various cities and locations that sent ships to Troy. "In Search of a Thousand Ships" would have made a great episode in itself, but maybe after umpteen Mycenaean ruins, it might have gotten tiresome.


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