|The Iliad by Homer|
Some of the oddities (for a modern audience) of The Iliad's narrative become very apparent very quickly. For example, the author appears as much interested in providing otherwise irrelevant genealogies in the middle of a frantic battle scene as he does in describing the battle. This could become tedious, as it did for me at times, for a modern reader. Yet, I felt it provided an interesting insight into what societies of that age valued. Honor and glory was inextricably linked with family and duty. Knowing which Trojan slew which Achaean (Greek) was critically important. Furthermore, readers of today may assume they know certain elements of the story and be somewhat surprised by the "true" story. For example, the love affair between Helen and Paris is hardly mutual. Helen despises Paris, as do most of the Trojans, for the misery of war he has brought upon both peoples. (At the start of the story, which actually chronicles the end of the war and ignores its beginning, the Achaeans are debating over and struggling with what I couldn't help but see as the sunk-cost fallacy). There is no "true love" story to be found here between the two individuals at the center of the war.
Moving beyond the story's antiquated elements, the myth is as compelling as one would expect. There is both admirable heroism and repulsive cowardice on display in this tale. I admit I really enjoy these "Sword and Sandal" stories, especially those which emphasize attributes not usually heralded in modern culture. (Gates of Fire was my favorite fiction book in 2015). When I read the following statement from Odysseus—"Though cowards quit the field, a hero, whether he wound or be wounded, must stand firm and hold his own"—I am moved by the courage and honor of a bygone era. Subscribing to the Joseph Campbell school of thought, I think The Iliad showcases those elements of The Hero's Journey we're still witnessing in story after story after story. To my earlier point, although The Iliad's structure and pacing is odd to us; it's not all that different from our modern stories. Reading The Iliad not only provides insight into an ancient culture and ancient peoples, it provides insight into ourselves. We are not all that different from our distant ancestors.
The Iliad is wonderful. It is, in my opinion, as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded. True, a reader may have to sift through seemingly irrelevant elements of the story, but the fundamentals of this story—love, loss, war, hate, honor, and, yes, even faith—are as compelling today as they were thousands of year ago.
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Gates of Fire
Reflections: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture
Brow Bruising Reads: The Hardest Book I Have Ever Read