on 27 April 2011
It seems a little presumptive to try and review Homer's Iliad, a tale almost 3000 years old and one of the great epics, if not the greatest epic, that the ancient world produced. Nor does the story need any introduction: the world over, people know of the legend of the Trojan War, of the young lovers Helen and Paris, and the two champions of the Greeks and the Trojans destined to die, Achilles and Hector. Such has been the impact of this timeless tale of love and war over the millennia, that most people will have heard of it through sheer cultural osmosis and readily understand references to an Achilles' heel or Helen as the face that launched a thousand ships, despite the fact that few of those will have actually read The Iliad. So, this isn't going to be my usual review format, but more a collections of thoughts and comments.
Like any story it has both positives and negatives, and whilst I would recommend The Iliad to anyone, it's only honest to mention all the features. Homer introduces a very wide cast of characters into the story, even outside the main characters, some of whom are mentioned once and then killed, and it can be a challenge to keep track of all the different names, though the recurring characters are strong enough to be readily memorable. Secondly, a key feature of Homer's style has always been a propensity towards asides and stories-within-stories. As a result, there are frequent points where he diverges from the actual main plot of The Iliad and will recount another tale in brief, usually in the form of a character retelling their former adventures and exploits. Sometimes this occurs as part of heroic etiquette; characters facing off on the battlefield decide to exchange lineages and adventures stories before one of them kills the other. This is all part of honourable form in the epic poem, but it's a tad unrealistic right in the middle of a raging battle and it does drag the pacing down somewhat since it goes from fast-paced, heated battle scene to lengthy recitation of lineage and former deeds; as a reader, you're in that fired up, battle scene mindset, and suddenly you just have to reset and readjust.
But, I would urge potential readers to stick with the story, and keep with it despite those two points. At its core, The Iliad is a masterful tale of love and war and the fine line between those two themes. In many ways, The Iliad is such a classic of literature because it is an allegory of ideas and concepts that are still highly relevant to us today. The characters within this tale ask the same questions as us about the nature of love, friendship, family, life, death and honour, and for me that really hit home the knowledge which as an historian I've come to learn many times over the years but is always worth repeating: people in the past may have lived in different times and different cultures and societies to us, but they were human exactly like us, and they pondered the same questions and experienced the same joys, sorrows and angst as we do in the present day. I think a lot of people consider history to be something of a boring subject and assume that the people of the past are so wildly different from us as to be almost alien and unrecognisable, but that isn't the case at all, and reading The Iliad, a story almost 3000 years old, that fact really resonates.
Another key feature of Homer's style, and one of my personal favourites, is his penchant and talent for description. Homer's descriptions are always very vivid and evocative, and they really stay with you - a fact I picked up on when I first read The Odyssey as a child and the memory of which has always stuck with me. The Iliad is crafted with the same wondrous descriptions and attention to detail. Homer also doesn't shy away from describing in full detail some pretty gory death scenes, but these are few and far between, and the seriousness and horror of these scenes never crosses the line into unpalatable.
The Iliad really is a must for any classicist or historian, but I would recommend it to absolutely anyone.
A note on this translation and edition. The late E. V. Rieu's introduction discusses Homer's style and what we know historically about both Homer and any possible Trojan War (though since Rieu wrote his introduction such studies have considerably moved on), the importance of The Iliad and finally the universal themes contained therein far better than I have here.
on 3 November 2011
I really think this translation is wonderful especially for those reading The Iliad for the first time. Although in prose it sticks with the meaning of the original Greek quite well and this prose approach would make it more interesting for the first time reader. The ideas and themes explored by Homer as well as the turn of events make this a fascinating and readable epic!
This is a review of the E V Riue translation.
If you prefer your Iliad in translated prose rather than translated poetic form, then this edition by E V Rieu might be for you. First published in 1950, it might sound dated in places but the fact that it was reprinted by Penguin thirty-four times between 1951 and 1985 when I bought my copy is a testament to the strength of its text. I note that it is still being printed now in 2010!
The age of this translation means that the value of its fifteen-page introduction is perhaps not as great as it is now as it was then - Homer studies have moved on a great deal - but Rieu still has some valuable points to make. In addition, at the book's end there is a short glossary of personages. But those looking for a more up-to-date reference might prefer the recent Penguin edition translated by Robert Fagles, which received rave reviews when first published. I have not read it, but I have read within the last twelve months his fine translation of Virgil's `Aeneid'.
With many books, translations are negligible, with two obvious exceptions, one is the Bible, and surprisingly the other is The Iliad. Each translation can give a different insight and feel to the story. Everyone will have a favorite. I have several.
"Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
Murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many souls,
great fighters' souls. But made their bodies carrion,
feasts for dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles."
-Translated by Robert Fagles
"Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a heroes did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures for so were the counsels of Zeus fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles first fell out with one another."
-Translated by Samuel Butler
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And let their bodies rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon--
The Greek Warlord--and godlike Achilles."
-Translated by Stanley Lombardo
"Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men--carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another--
the Lord Marshal Agamémnon, Atreus' son, and Prince Akhilleus."
-Translated by Translated by Robert Fitzgerald
"Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son of Achilleus and its devastation, which puts pains thousandfold upon the Achains,
hurled in the multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood the division of conflict Atrecus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus."
-Translated by Richmond Lattimore
"Sing, goddess, of Peleus' son Achilles' anger, ruinous, that caused the Greeks untold ordeals, consigned to Hades countless valiant souls, heroes, and left their bodies prey for dogs or feast for vultures. Zeus's will was done from when those two first quarreled and split apart, the king, Agamemnon, and matchless Achilles."
-Translated by Herbert Jordan
"An angry man-there is my story: the bitter rancor of Achillês, prince of the house of Peleus, which brought a thousand troubles upon the Achaian host. Many a strong soul it sent down to Hadês, and left the heroes themselves a prey to the dogs and carrion birds, while the will of God moved on to fulfillment."
-Translated an transliterated by W.H.D. Rouse
You will find that some translations are easier to read but others are easier to listen to on recordings, lectures, Kindle, and the like. If you do not see information on specific translators, it is still worth the speculation and purchase.
Our story takes place in the ninth year of the ongoing war. We get some introduction to the first nine years but they are just a background to this tale of pride, sorrow and revenge. The story will also end abruptly before the end of the war.
We have the wide conflict between the Trojans and Achaeans over a matter of pride; the gods get to take sides and many times direct spears and shields.
Although the more focused conflict is the power struggle between two different types of power. That of Achilles, son of Peleus and the greatest individual warrior and that of Agamemnon, lord of men, whose power comes form position.
We are treated to a blow by blow inside story as to what each is thinking and an unvarnished description of the perils of war and the search for Arête (to be more like Aries, God of War.)
Troy - The Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
on 1 May 2013
I finally managed to read The Iliad and got hooked on it! I started this book at least ten or fifteen times before but never could manage more than just a few pages. As a matter of fact, I was always curious to find out why Alexander the Great thought so highly of Achilles and this book, keeping a copy of it with annotations by Aristotle under his pillow all throughout his life. Achilles, the hero of the Iliad fascinated him at a point that he wanted to emulate his very acts - all in all, reason enough for me to read it.
Lately they were showing the movie on Troy with Brad Pitt once again on TV. This picture upset me very much for the sun is rising in the morning over Troy while this old city is facing straight West. The more I see of this movie, the more confused I get! How can they make a historic movie with so many errors or mistakes? For instance, there is Patroclus being introduced as being Achilles' cousin, which he is not, just an attendant who grew up with him. There is Briseis, presented as a cousin of Hector's and priestess of Apollo. She was neither, only Achilles' booty which Agamemnon took away from him because his own girl, Chryseis, priestess of Apollo, had to be returned to her father in exchange for a lavish ransom. And then I am not even talking about the famous horse that never could be rolled over the sandy beach shown in the picture, etc. Well, so much for the movie but it pushed me to dig out the full and true story about Troy once and for all. What better source than Homer's Iliad?
The Iliad is generally attributed to Homer, who may have written it or not, or may simply have assembled old tales to create the Iliad at some time around 700 or 800 BC, although even these dates are subject to discussion. My book is a Pingouin Classics publication, translated by E.V. Rieu, revised and updated by his son D.C.H. Rieu and by Peter Jones to make it pleasant reading material without dreary old fashioned phrasing.
To simplify the complex story, I skipped most of the interference by all the gods and goddesses and I was amazed to find such thrilling reading material! To my surprise I learnt that four-fifths of the action in the Iliad occurs on a mere four days and nights, while one third of the book covers just a twenty-four hours' period! Such a short period of time when you know that the Trojan War lasted for about ten years. That never occurred to me!
In any case, the Iliad is written in the same way a story teller would present his tale to the general public as he traveled from one village to the next, repeating certain phrases and facts to make sure his audience would understand the essence to the fullest. Yet it is also filled with unexpected details. One such detail is when Patroclus is preparing the meat for Achilles' guests and adds salt! Isn't it amazing that this was already common practice three thousand years ago and maybe even before that, in the days of Troy? Then there is the description of Agamemnon's body-armor that was made of strips, ten dark-blue inlay, twelve of gold and twenty of tin, on either side of which three blue snakes rose up towards the opening of the neck. That must have been a breathtaking sight by itself, not to mention the other fancy parts of his outfit that is being described with the tiniest details!
And then, last but not least, there is the making of Achilles' shield by Hephaistos, the god of Fire! That description alone covers five full pages! What a superb piece of art this must have been, made of five full layers of imperishable bronze and some tin, and precious gold and silver on which he applied all sorts of decorations! It had a silver shoulder-strap, nothing less! No wonder Alexander the Great exchanged shields when he saw this one at the Temple of Apollo after setting foot on Asian soil!
Well, I couldn't believe how excited I got, for beside the story itself it is so detailed in many ways. Another example is the in depth description of the Funeral Games for Achilles' dearest friend Patroclus: the kind of games, who was competing against whom, what the prizes were, how the games were played, etc. I just heard recently that the Iliad is our only source when it comes to finding out about games in antiquity, so the more for Funeral Games!
And all of this interesting material and all these wonderful descriptions have been sleeping on my bookshelf for years! What a waste!
on 11 February 2013
This is a review of the E.V. Rieu prose translation of `The Iliad', revised by D.C.H. Rieu, published by Penguin Classics.
I never thought that the day would come, but here I am, much to my dismay, writing a largely unfavourable review of one of mankind's greatest achievements, Homer's `The Iliad'. Before you chastise me and call me an uneducated cretin (and I don't blame you if that's exactly what you're thinking right now), please allow me a chance to emphasise just how much I wanted to love this, to give it a five star review, and to heap praise upon praise onto this monumental piece of work. However, try as I might, I'd be lying to myself if I did that to this particular translation.
E.V. Rieu's translation of `The Odyssey' was actually the very first Penguin Classics book and so, from a historical perspective, it should come as no surprise that that and his `Iliad' are considered "classics" in of themselves. But times have changed since Rieu first opened up these cornerstones of Western civilisation to the masses. Scholarly research has progressed, the English language has evolved, and so Rieu's son, D.C.H. Rieu, was charged with the task of revising his father's original translation for a modern audience. As far as a prose translation of `The Iliad' goes, then, you probably can't do much better than this.
However, this begs the question, why exactly would you want to read a prose translation of `The Iliad' anyway? It is, after all, supposed to be a poem, not prose. Buying this book a few years ago, but not reading it until very recently, I chose to read a prose version because, in my naïve youth, I thought it would be easier and more accessible than a poetic equivalent. And, indeed, it probably is. But, at the expense of lively and flowing language, we now have "accessible", but extremely dull, prose. You're not supposed to read `The Iliad' like a normal book, but that's all you can really do with a prose translation like this. What we're then left with is one of the most tedious, repetitive stories you'll ever encounter in your life, and something that does a serious disservice to Homer. Okay, I haven't actually read the whole of a poetic translation of `The Iliad' to compare this to, but I have spent a lot of time, since I started this book, looking inside other editions, comparing the language, and being struck at how the words in some of the modern poetic versions jump of the page and come to life. That didn't happen here. One good point I can say about this translation, however, a very real saving grace, is that having now read this, I'll be in a better position to tackle a poetic translation by myself when I do inevitably rise to the challenge.
But it's still `The Iliad', a story which I love and always will, though certainly a story that isn't for everybody. And, if you absolutely must read a prose translation, Rieu and son have done about as much as they can for it. The language is modern and readable, it's definitely accessible, and the powerful moments in the story have been expressed wonderfully. But, looking through other translations, I can't help but feel that the prose form has destroyed the "epic" beauty that some other editions have, and has reduced this great work into something very dull indeed.
on 23 April 2009
This is the third time I've read this. Well, the third time I've started reading it, and the second time I've finished it. The first was when I was at school, when we had to translate the first book from Latin into English. I hated it because I resented "wasting my time" on Latin - something that I deeply regret now. The second was an English prose translation, and I hated it, for reasons that I shall enumerate later. This time was, again, an English prose translation and this time the things that I hated previously were merely irritating.
But on to the work itself. It is a story of a small part of the final stages of a war in antiquity between the peoples of Greece (confusingly called by three different interchangeable names none of which is "Greeks" - irritation number one) and the Trojans, who are these days thought to be Hittites living in what is now Turkey. This took place (and there is some archaeological evidence for the war of the story being at least partially based on real history) in the late 1100s BC, when bronze was still the metal of choice with iron being rare and valuable - at one point a noble defeated in combat says "take me alive ... and you shall have a ransom ... of gold, bronze and wrought iron". There are no iron weapons. The story concentrates on relationships between people, interspersed with bloody combat, the most important relationship being between Agamemnom, leader of the Greek army, and Achilles, his mightiest warrior. Agamemnon dishonours Achilles, who then instead of fighting goes and sulks in his tent. His absence allows the Trojans, lead on the field by Hector, to almost drive the Greeks into the sea, while the Greek leaders spend at least as much time sulking, arguing, and trying in vain to patch up Agamemnon and Achilles' relationship. Eventually, Achilles permits his close friend Patroclus to fight wearing Achilles' armour. Hector kills Patroclus and so Achilles' desire for personal revenge overcomes his hatred of Agamemnon, so he rejoins the fight, which immediately swings back in the Greeks' favour, and kills Hector. The story ends not with the famous wooden horse and the sacking of Troy (that is covered in other Homeric-era works), but with the funeral of Patroclus and the ransoming and funeral of Hector's body, and the hitherto cold-hearted Achilles thawing somewhat. While the details are obviously archaic, the broad outline - a war serving as background for a study in human weaknesses and stupidity, punctuated by colourful battle scenes - wouldn't be out of place in the ouevre of many a modern writer.
Another strand throughout - less important, but it still adds depth to the tale - is the human players' petty jealousies and bickering being mirrored amongst the gods. They aren't the wise all-knowing beings that modern readers might expect, they are mirrors of humanity, subject to all their faults and while powerful they are still limited by Fate. While they do interfere in the affairs of men, they cannot, when someone is fated to die, do anything about it.
But on to the irritations. There are three major ones. First, characters are not referred to by consistent names. Sometimes Achilles is Achilles, but at others he is "the son of Peleus", for example. This makes it harder for the reader - or in Homer's time the listener - to keep track of who's doing what to who, at least at first. Perhaps this was done to maintain the poet's desired meter in the original, but no modern writer would do it.
The second is that some of the battle scenes degenerate into something similar to the Bible's Book of Begats. These are often of the form X slew Y son of Z, who [biographical note, sometimes quite lengthy], and his armour rang rattling around him. Then X slew P son of Q, who [another biographical note], and his armour rang rattling around him. Then X slew A son of B and C, who [oh god, another biographical note about a minor character whose only appearance is when he gets killed here], and his armour rang rattling around him. If some bard was to narrate that part of the tale at one of my feasts, I'd be shouting "Get on with it!". Again, no modern writer would expect to get away with this - if he tried it, his editor would slap him down.
And finally, there's so much waffle. As the poem was originally delivered orally, I presume that the bard was paid by the hour, and repetitive waffle served to fill his wallet without much work, while also serving to make the story seem comfortable and familiar to the audience. But even so, some of the waffle is really over the top. For example, at one point Hector is looking for his wife Andromache, so asks his women-servants "women, tell me, and tell me true, where did Andromache go when she left the house? Was it to my sisters, or to my brothers' wives? or is she at the temple of Minerva where the other women are propitiating the awful goddess?". Of course, if this episode ever happened, what Hector actually said was "do you know where my wife is?". At another point, Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon, after pausing during the battle to take his freshly dead victim's armour (valuable booty! - remember, bronze, while being a useful substance for armour and weapons was also highly valued), he hangs around for even longer to make a great speech, wittering on for almost a page before rejoining the fray. In reality, he would have said "Hah!". But silliest of all, at a few points, someone will be going on and on and on about how he just killed someone, or how he's about to kill someone, and one of his colleagues will shout "Get on with it!" - only his version of "Get on with it" will be more like "Meriones, hero though you be, you should not speak thus; taunting speeches, my good friend, will not make the Trojans draw away [blah blah long speech blah]".
But those are just irritations. Since the last time I read it, I have gained a greater appreciation for the era and the text, so they no longer really spoil it for me. I can ignore them, skipping over the most tedious bits. I commend this work to you.
on 21 October 2015
It's The Illiad.
What more can you say.
This edition is well presented, but in essence it's The Illiad.
If you enjoy this, there's always The Odessey.
Goes to show that even three thousand years ago they were dealing in sequels.
on 8 February 2014
Good condition upon arrival and it arrived on time. the explanation in the front was a trifle wordy and those younger students might find it harder to understand but to an adult it was very useful.
on 11 December 2014
My 4th 'Iliad' - after the brilliant verse translations by Fitzgerald and Fagles and the inspired prose version by Robert Graves - and my favourite. E V Rieu (here revised by his son D.C.H. Rieu) has produced a prose translation which like his equally excellent 'Odyssey' reads not like a translation but something written originally in English while remaining true to the original Greek poem. The hardback book with its beautiful design is a rare guilty pleasure just as the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition 'Odyssey' which is also highly recommended.