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The War That Killed Achilles Hardcover – 18 Feb 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (18 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571234291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571234295
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 505,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A remarkable re-telling of Homer's Illiad, the great anti-war poem of the Western world.

About the Author

Caroline Alexander is the author of seven books, including the best-selling The Endurance and The Bounty, and has written for the New Yorker, National Geographic Magazine and Granta. Born in Florida of English parents, Alexander has travelled extensively throughout the world and lived in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. One of the inaugural class of women Rhodes scholars at Oxford, she subsequently took her doctorate in Classics at Columbia University, in New York, specialising in Homeric studies, and established the Department of Classics at the University of Malawi in East Africa. She now lives on a farm in New Hampshire in the United States.

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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Jane-Anne Shaw, MA VINE VOICE on 4 April 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I originally saw this volume, my first reaction was: 'Oh, no! Not another book about Homer's `Iliad' ...' but the thematic pulse is as outlined on the inside of the front cover: 'Caroline Alexander's extraordinary book is not about any of the rational concerns that have occupied classicists for centuries. Its focus is both simpler and more radical' [...]; this book is about what the `Iliad' says of war'.

Basically, it is a concordance to the `Iliad', - specifically Richmond Lattimore's well-loved 1951 translation. The clear lucid writing is good enough to make one ignore the American spellings, and Alexander's apercus draw on both ancient and modern history as well as the textual sources. Although it's traditionally said Homer was blind, from the visually intense descriptions running through the epic, and the images the poet employs, this is unlikely: the high price of `kleos' (glory or immortal fame) is iterated and reiterated. Despite the Olympian gods overseeing the conflict at Troy, men die - 'the mortality of the Homeric warrior is never compromised' (p. 67), - bar the case of the Trojan Aineias (Virgil's Aeneas) who, having suffered a severely dislocated hip in Book 5 is still battling on in Bk. 20, which is medically impossible. (Rome would have had to find itself another foundation myth if Homer had killed off Aeneas, but, interestingly, Alexander mentions recent research (2007) which found Etruscan DNA originating from Anatolia.)

There is a clear distinction between history and poetry: while the former describes what took place, the latter sees what might be expressed as events which are `sub specie aeternitatis'. The book rehabilitates the fictional character of Achilles, who has suffered at the hands of writers down the ages, e.g., Wm.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Jun 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In her preface, Caroline Alexander writes that, "Now, as at any time, Homer's masterpiece is an epic for our time." The desire to reflect the events of the `Iliad' into contemporary times - whether they be Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, or the trenches of the First World War - is not new of course, and each generation will use its take on Homer's epic to suit its present agenda. Alexander is no exception, with apposite remarks on these later conflicts being made where appropriate, but these are couched within what seems to me to be the book's primary objective, namely to retell the story of the `Iliad' and be a guide to the new reader of Homer or to the less than knowledgeable reader. (I came to Homer via Michael Wood's book and TV series on the Trojan War of the 1980s, and it is good to see his book listed in the recommendations for further reading.)

That's not to say that Alexander does not have a valid argument beyond this primary task of being a companion to the reader of the `Iliad'. Again in her preface, she traces concisely the history of the epic's translation down the ages, noting how "the perception of the `Iliad''s central hero, Achilles, shifted, and so accordingly did the perceived meaning of the epic ... Thus, while the `Iliad''s poetry and tragic vision were much extolled, the epic's blunter message [she believes] tended to be overlooked." An example of her less war-as-heroism approach is to remark how Homer treats the deaths of Trojans and Greeks equally, humanising the enemy. And, in an interesting exploration of Achilles's unique background and place in the narrative, she argues that, "the ancient story of the Trojan War would not culminate as an epic extolling martial glory but as a dark portrayal of the cost of war.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Clive Viegas Bennett on 5 April 2010
Format: Hardcover
There has probably been more written about Homer than any writer other than Shakespeare. Yet Caroline Alexander manages to bring a fresh and invigorating perspective to a reading of The Iliad and, in particular to the character and dramatic place of its hero, Achilles. While not classics trained, I am moved by Homer's great works and their thrilling language and I found myself thinking about the themes and personalities of The Iliad in a new way. In particular, Alexander's focus is on Homer's radical portrayal of war. As she takes us through Homer's gripping story, covering a few weeks of the decade long campaign against the Trojans, she convinces us that rather than being the glorification and romanticisation transmitted to Public Schoolboys (yes, mostly boys) over many generations, The Iliad is really a stark and shockingly graphic diatribe about the stupidity and waste of war. She reminds us just how much Achilles was actually anti-establishment, how contemptuous he was of the hierarchy - his lord Agamemnon in particular - and how pointless and unjustified he thought the war. Readable as it is, her work is clearly deeply researched scholarship, not coffee table gloss. She reminds us that the stupidity of humans is only surpassed by the infantile irresponsibility of the Gods, in all their bloody playground bickering. My only quibble is that her attempt to make parallels with accounts of modern warfare feels forced and thinly supported, in contrast with the rest of her argument. I strongly recommend this book - if you love Homer, you can only gain from her clear insight; if you have never read The Iliad, this will make you want to go out and buy it.
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