Monday, May 16, 2011

The Iliad Readalong Post 1: Books 1-12.

Welcome to Post 1 of the May 2011 Readalong of Homer's The Iliad hosted here at A Literary Odyssey!

I know that I was excited to dive into this one since The Odyssey is one of my all-time favorite books, and I am not disappointed. Homer is truly coming alive in this, and I am LOVING it.

I'm reading from the lovely Robert Fagles translation (that makes up our image), and I truly love the voice and lyricality he gives to Homer's story. While I know he is not true to the meter of Homer's original tale, I truly believe that he captures the sense and mood of Homer's original story.

After reading a number of translations of The Odyssey in college, I definitely fell in love with Fagles. I feel like he truly "gets" how Homer and other bards would have told this story.

And going into reading The Iliad, I have kept this in mind. This was not a story that was read. It was a story that was performed to the masses by a bard. The bard would chant and give dramatic flair to the story and battle scenes. It wasn't just a reading in someone's head, but a form of entertainment.

Reading this, I try to capture that sense of the dramatic in my own mind. I try to "perform" the story as it unfolds. This has truly made it come alive. It has made some of those long battle-filled passages come alive! Try reading this passage once in your head and once aloud to see what I mean,

"Sing to me now, you Muses who hold the halls of Olympus!
You are goddesses, you are everywhere, you know all things-
all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing-
who were the captains of Achaea? Who were the kings?
The mass of troops I could never tally, never name,
not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths,
a tireless voice and the heart inside me bronze,
never unless you Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus
who shield is rolling thunder, sing, sing in memory
all who gathered under Troy. Now I can only tell
the lords of the ships, the ships in all their numbers!"

So dramatic and lovely, especially when read out loud.

I was reading little bits and pieces aloud on Saturday while working at the park. While they were laughing at my dramatics, it made the story jump off the page and come to life-something you just don't get when you read inside your head. I also enjoyed reading this little line out loud,

"And Thetis answered, bursting into tears,
'O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?
All I bore was doom...'"

So gloomy. But wonderful.

For those of you reading along, read a passage or two out loud when you continue on and see the difference it makes in the story. It is worth it, believe me.

As for the story, I am enjoying it. Even though I already know I will love The Odyssey more for sentimental reasons, this is just as passionate and as thrilling. I love the scenes in the beginning between Hera and Zeus. Like The Odyssey, the gods and goddesses interfere in the lives of the mortals more than they probably should. But I feel like we get to see them interact more than we did in Odysseus' tale (maybe they learned to butt out then), and their influence is rampant in the amount of sacrifice going on.

The hardest part for me in reading this first chunk was in Book 2, when the bard begins to recall the men there to fight and those who came with the big heroes. Lists of names, numbers of ships, etc. It seemed like it would never end. Plus, I had no idea who anyone was. But, I soldiered through and it has been wonderful since then. I have VERY high hopes for the remainder!

How are you all feeling here at the halfway point? Ready to plunge through the second half? Leave a comment here with a link to your post so I can link it!

See you on May 31 for your final thoughts!


  1. Book 2 was BRUTAL! But it's so good! And I love Robert Fagles...

  2. I hated Book 2!! It was horrible... and I was scarred because I thought my professor would ask all those names on the exam!!

  3. Would love to have seen you perform it, lol. Although I have a different translation I do know what you mean. It's definitely lyrical. The words just seem to flow which makes it all the more readable.

    I have to admit I've learned to brush over the lists of names since most of them are killed off on the same page. Another book blogger warned me about book 2 before I started reading it.

  4. I'm so glad you are hosting this readalong. This is my second attempt now to read The Iliad... and I actually get it this time! I also have the Fagles translation and I really like it.

  5. I must admit, at the half way point I am really liking it, but I love The Odyssey more. Where this is a huge war book, The Odyssey is a personal story. I get a bit frustrated with the incredibly stubborn and selfish decisions some of the leaders make. I do love the language and the epic scale of things. On to the second half!

  6. I haven't got half way yet and I'm going to carry on reading just a little bit at a time. However your point about book two gives me hope as that's where I lost a little bit of interest. I love the stories of the Odyssey and I think the war and gloating and arrogance is putting me off a little. I do know who most of the characters are but it's not drawn me in at all.

  7. I'm a bit late posting here, but couldn't get to it earlier. I am really enjoying the Fagles translation. In university we read Lattimore, who also writes in poetry, but is more old fashioned. I remember even the profs grumbling about book 2 and the catalog of ships - often they would let us skip that part. I am so glad I found this blog and am rereading the Iliad. It feels so good to read it for pure enjoyment this time.

  8. I read The Iliad for the first time last year and was blown away. Such an excellent tale! (I don't have my book with me so I don't know what translation it is.) Since then I've kind of been reading books of the Trojan War off and on, but the only one that I've come to like on the scale of Homer's epic has been Lindsay Clarke's The War at Troy... have you read it?