The Iliad by Homer
3 stars – Ending was a Bit of a Disappointment
This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I’ve had it and the Odyssey on my shelf, and since I found readings on Spotify, I’ve been more motivated than ever to read them. I started reading on October 3, 2022.
Finished reading on October 9, 2022.
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Sometimes Confusing, Sometimes Amazing
This is the famed last year of the siege of Troy by the Argives. Battle upon battle by the heroes Agamemnon, Ulysses, Hector, Ajax, and more as they are aided on both sides by the Roman gods of Olympus.
My main complaint about this book is of course about the part of the ending that I was expecting to get to that wasn’t included. I don’t know where I would find that part of this famous myth, as the “sequel” book, The Odyssey, is a completely different story altogether. I’d say I’m mainly peeved because I’m confused by this. Funnily enough, my family has a house guest over, and I happened to finish reading this book just as she asked Google to turn off all the lights in the house by mistake. I went up to my mother to complain about the ending of the book, and the house guest was so worried that I was upset about her. It was kind of funny.
Anyway, not only that, but this book, as a very old myth normally told verbally by poets, was never really meant for book form, and, being so old, it was slightly difficult to read. I’d say it was about 25% names like “So-in-so, son of so-in-so”. People who showed up just to be killed were named, and it was so hard to keep track of everyone, but at least it was easy to know some of the main characters (mentioned above).
As for those characters, I’d say that Achilles was my favourite, if only because he’s the one I know the most history about. I liked his story arc as well. Seeing as this is the last year of a ten-year siege. Not many other characters had room for growth, and Achilles is the only one who goes through any change. He doesn’t fight in the battle for most of the book for a specific reason, then, for another reason, he joins in the battle and absolutely decimates the Trojans as expected. He is, of course, famously known to die in this battle by an arrow through his Achilles tendon (which is why it is named such), and I was disappointed that this scene wasn’t included. (I suppose if I’d known, I would’ve been less disappointed.)
I especially loved Achilles’s relationship with Patroclus. It’s one of the big questions of Greek mythology—were they lovers or just platonic friends? Patroclus is described by Achilles as ‘the man I loved beyond all other comrades, loved as my own life’, which is the basis for this belief, and the way they interact in general within the story further contributes to this belief. However, historians are wont to straight wash history (see “Sappho and her friend”). Personally, I read this as a romantic relationship, though there is no definitive proof for or against that belief. Of course, these are both characters of fiction, not history, so nothing can be confirmed unless Homer himself came back to life to say so (and it’s still unknown if he is the definitive author). I have found an article asking the question about Achilles’s and Patroclus’s relationship if you’re interested in looking deeper. Click here to read that.
Moving onto the quality and style of the writing—I’m not sure I’m qualified to give an opinion on this. It’s one of the classics, and I have to say that it was definitely made to be told aloud. It feels a lot more like the epic tale that’s told around a fire than something written and carefully revised by an author, as the sentences were very simple and often “he killed him and he killed him” on the battlefield since it’s very hard to write chaos in a way that’s understandable and still entertaining. Bottom line: this is a story meant to be acted out rather than read.
Still, listening to the book being read aloud, and finally getting to this classic that I’ve always heard about and been interested in (especially after discovering the Percy Jackson series in second grade and learning all about these myths in seventh) was an invigorating experience for me. Reading this book felt like a big accomplishment—simply to say “I did it”, and I think I enjoyed it all the more for that. I liked the characters and character development, and even though I didn’t understand precisely what they were saying at all times, I could infer a lot from the long speeches they gave, and the action was certainly entertaining.
I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction—especially Greek myths.
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