The Iliad (Homer, trans. by Fagles)

“And they buried Hector, breaker of horses.” The question remains – why does a book that starts with Achilles’ anger end with Hector’s burial? But what a beautiful ending.

I haven’t read the book since sophomore year of English class. I remember getting a good grade for comparing the ‘cast’ of The Iliad with the cast of M*A*S*H (Hawkeye as Achilles, etc.).

It didn’t read as well I remembered. The scene where Achilles tries to hug the ghost of Patroculus was still moving, but I was surprised by how brief it was. I remember the funeral games, but I thought more was made of how Achilles treats Hector’s body. In general, Achilles, once a hero of mine, came off as more petulant than I remembered. The night scene (perhaps stolen by Shakespeare for the pre-battle scene in Henry V) is quite good. I remembered the long lists, so they didn’t bother me. There was just much more space between set pieces than I remembered. It’s not that I expected the women to come off well here, but calling Helen a ‘whore’ seems harsh.

I can’t recommend this translation. Fagles seems particularly obsessed with the words ‘bitch’ and ‘nipple.’

I read this because a class I’m working with wants to try to respond to the question – What is a classic?

So, is this a classic? Is it less of a classic than The Odyssey? Do we just like The Odyssey more because it’s a better story? Because we like the protagonist (not really a candidate for Man of the Year either) more? Because it has more action in its familiar structure (i.e., a journey story)?

Do these books just remain as classics because we have them and are enchanted by the idea of a blind poet reciting them? If they were written today, would they be published? If we replaced ‘Homer’ with ‘Schmendaman’ (a point Steve Martin makes in his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile) would we still buy them much less teach them?

Help me help my students. Is The Iliad a classic? Why or why not?

This is a great adaptation of it. What is our story of war today?


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