Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Iliad by Homer, translated by Andrew Lang



Listening to Fantasia by Ralph Vaughn Williams, one of my favorite composers.    You can listen here.


It's November 3rd and finally down to 75 degrees.  I mean here in my house with the air conditioning on.  It's still hot outside.  Clouds have finally covered up the sun and it is beginning to look a little bit like fall in Texas so maybe we can finally enjoy some cooler weather.  I'd put my guinea pigs in their pens outside but the acorns are falling pretty hard.  I'd hate for any of them to get beaned.  I had to come inside from reading on my swing for fear of getting pummeled myself.  Where's Piglet?  He needs to come to my backyard with a big basket.


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The Iliad

I vaguely recall reading The Iliad in high school but all I remember is that Achilles chased Hector round and round the city of Troy before finally catching him and killing him.  I remember feeling sorry for Hector.

I believe most people know the basic theme of the Iliad but in a nutshell:

Iliad or "Ilium" is another name for Troy and this epic poem starts about ten years into the Trojan war against the Greeks.  Homer is credited with writing it but it is likely that he compiled older oral lore and put it all in poem form.  The reason I think this is because there are parts of the tale that are not included in the poem, such as Paris kidnapping Helen, or the death of Achilles.

Let me first admit that I'm not a big battle scenes fan and this is what The Iliad largely is.  My translation is by Andrew Lang and it is beautifully poetic and eloquent.  It also seems to take forever to say anything.  "Then Achilles put on his bronze shoes and his breast plate.  He put on his fine helmet, engraved with gold and many fine stones, he picked up broad shield, inlaid with beautiful designs..."  I'm paraphrasing, but couldn't we just say "Achilles got dressed and bounded out for war"?

There are long (very lovely!) descriptions of the battles, the glory of conquest, the warriors' armor, the banquets, the lamentations and the glorious funerals honoring the fallen.  There are also some pretty horrific descriptions of the merciless treatment to the victims as well as animal sacrifices, which have always bothered me.

I could not help but contrast it with animal sacrifices in the Bible mandated by God.  God's animal sacrifices were reparation for sin and consequently gave the people to understand how awful sin was and that it led to death. The innocent animal was receiving the death sentence the person deserved.  This ritual pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the one and final innocent sacrifice to make reparation for the sins of the world. 

 In Greek mythology and probably their culture,  animal and sometimes human sacrifices were to get the gods to do what the people wanted.

In The Iliad it is interesting to note that the gods took sides.  Practically all of them, led by Athena and supported by Hera, take the side of the Greeks.  Zeus, however, and also Aphrodite and Ares take the Trojan side. 

Before reading The Iliad, I never before appreciated how powerful Athena was portrayed.  She is the one most involved the war, coming down in the form of humans to advise, encourage and exonerate.  She physically overpowers and conquers Artemis, and Aphrodite and even Ares, in fact, she gives them all quite a bruising.  Aphrodite and Ares she even throws down to earth.

Considering the status of women in Greek culture I find this amazing. She seems to be second in power only to Zeus, and even then, her side wins.  I would like to study this more and find out the origins of the cult of Athena and how a woman came to be so powerful as a goddess, while the human women seemed to be so helpless, especially around Zeus.

Death and war seemed to be so much a part of life back then (as opposed to now, ha, ha) and caused so much suffering.  Elaborate funerals were developed unto an art form.  

The lust for battle and conquest are given places of honor, something we can see even in Arthurian legend and Viking lore.  And what about today?  What are everyone's favorite scenes in Star Wars?  My son, when he was young, used to fast forward through the scenes with any dialogue straight to the light saber fights.  He'd fight along with his own saber.  He still does that, only now he makes movies with light saber scenes which qualifies it as a serious art form and not playing anymore (wink).

I'd be interested in reading other translations to see if they are easier to read.

Does anyone else like the Iliad and have a favorite translation?



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6 comments:

  1. I have long been partial to Robert Fitzgerald's translations of Homer. Richard Lattimore is always worthwhile. Homer -- whoever he, she, or they might have been -- has much to teach us about character and honor.

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    1. Hi R.T. I am very interested in comparing translations. Lang's was poetic but kind of a slog.

      I do like learning about the values of a bygone era and what they respected and what the despised.

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  2. I've only read re-tellings so far - Rosemary Sutcliff, Olivia Coolidge & Padraic Colum but I've just bought the Robert Fagles translation...don't know how I'll go reading it!

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  3. Hi Carol. I think that a retelling could be enjoyable and maybe easier to get through. I am interested in looking up the Fagles translation and see how it compares.

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  4. Shamefully, I have yet to read an adult or original version. : ( I've read wonderful children's versions, but they are not without worth b/c they have helped introduce my children and me to this story. We have fallen in love with it, although my teenager had to read a Lattimore translation, and she hated it. And she hated the battle scenes. Oh well. But we still love the story. I am holding out b/c the Iliad is in the poetry section of TWEM list.

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    1. Hi Ruth! I agree with you about versions of classic literature adapted for younger readers. I have practically all the illustrated classics. My son read them when he was in elementary and even into middle school.

      The Lang translation is not bad but I understand that there is also a translation by Alexander Pope and I'm interested to compare.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.