Friday, November 29, 2013

The Prequel

In January, when I read The Odyssey by Homer, I was left wanting more.  Luckily,  I had Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller on my TBR list, and The Iliad sitting in my nightstand.  I read Song of Achilles first, and liked it, and now I have just finished The Iliad.

The Iliad seems to be a book by which people define themselves.  Sometimes when I am reading reviews, the reviewer will say something like, "yeah, but I'm also one of those people who likes The Iliad better than The Odyssey, so take that for what it's worth", implying that most people, or normal people at least, prefer The Odyssey.  For a change, I think that I am in the "normal" camp, in that I preferred The Odyssey too, which I didn't expect.

After reading Helen of Troy by Margaret George, I was excited to read The Iliad, since I expected it to cover all of the same material:  Helen's engagement to Menelaus through the fall of Troy.  I was surprised when Homer started his story after the war over Helen had already begun.  In fact, although the version that I read covers 594 pages, The Iliad takes place over just a few weeks during the last year of the Trojan War.  We actually end  before we hear about the Trojan horse.  Homer's works are only two of the eight books of The Epic Cycle, including four that cover the period from when The Iliad ends until The Odyssey begins. Homer's version also differs from George's in the extent to which the gods are involved.  Homer treats the mortals as pieces in the gods' chess game, while George involves the gods only when the humans need an excuse.

While I really shouldn't question Homer's writing style, given that we are still reading him centuries later, I have to say that large portions of The Iliad read more like a census report than a poem.  Countless times, Homer mentioned a character for the first time only to tell us who his father was and how the character was killed.  For example, we have "Aphareus, son of Kaletor, Aineas hit his throat as he turned toward him and cut it with his sharp spearpoint . . . " and ". . . Teukros shot Glaukos, powerful son of Hippolokhos, with an arrow . . . "

So yes, check the box, I read The Iliad, and you probably should too.  But if you'd like a more interesting version of the same story, you should try either Helen of Troy by Margaret George, or Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller first.  This brings me one step closer to completing the Off The Shelf Challenge.

Next Up On CD:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Still Reading:  Upload by Mark McClellend

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