Friday, February 17, 2012

The Iliad: Half Way Point

So I'm reading The Iliad with a Goodreads group, so we're going at their pace- two books per week. Except I'm a week behind. And...I just...I don't...I don't CARE.

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Nothing about this epic poem is making me care. Lemme 'splain- The Iliad is a slice of the Trojan War pie, so when the reader enters into the scene the war has already been going on for a bit. Paris has already taken Helen away from the angry, angry Greeks and now the angry, angry Greeks are outside of Troy trying to make with the killing and the plundering and the hey hey. They have Achilles, The Greatest Killer/Plunderer/Hey Hey Hey-er in the history of same, but he's refusing to fight because another Greek stole his slave girl. So Angry Greek One is all "Gimme That Slave Girl" and Achilles is all "Hells to the No" and Angry Greek One is all "Except Yes" so Achilles is all "FINE BUT I AM GOING TO SPEND THE NEXT 200 PAGES SULKING WHILE YOU TALK ABOUT BRONZE ARMOR." And that is what has happened thus far.

Don't get me wrong, there has been much killing. Lots of "and the bronze spear went through his left nipple and the life went out of him," and "the bronze spear went through his helment and spilled his brains, and the life went out of him," etc. If your jam is battle scenes, THIS IS THE EPIC THING FOR YOU. There are also lots of interferences from the gods (their familial squabbling provides some of the most interesting parts thus far), and ONE very tender and small scene between Hector and his little family, just before he goes to war (there's also a small scene with Helen and Paris where Helen is essentially "Paris, you are a little bitch. Go defend your city because people are dying and it's your fault" which endears me to her a bit). Other than that, it's killings and very long speeches, Old Testament style. 

THAT IS NOT TO SAY that the poetry isn't beautiful because it is. It's just a chore, and I'm sort of bored, and I'm hoping that Achilles decides to get over the slave girl thing and kick some ass here soon. SO. Verdict at the halfway point: pretty words, lots of death-but-not-interesting-death, Achilles is a Whiny McWhinerson for being such an Epic Soldier of Great Renown. 

39 comments:

  1. It gets much better, though since you are my Antithesis-Woman, you will hate it in proportion to my love for smelly old books and the sound of the word 'gerbil'.

    My review here: http://eclectic-indulgence.blogspot.com/2011/09/review-iliad-by-homer.html

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  2. May I criticize you a bit Amanda? I DO IT OUT OF LOVE *hides behind a rock*

    Having followed your blog for a long time (helps keep me sane at work) I'm still surprised with how you apply contemporary prejudices and perspectives to classical works of literature. You’re obviously smart and experienced in studying classics, but this is something that I feel has gotten in the way of you appreciating works before. That is not to say you DON’T read works with the historical context in mind, but you seem to readily dismiss them if they don’t resonate with you personally.

    There is nothing wrong with this, and I’m not trying to undermine your opinion (I couldn’t even if I wanted to). But having followed the same Goodreads group on the Iliad I was overcome with how many excellent, insightful, and articulate discussions were going on the forums. The way different people brought up so many unique interpretations and analysis of the individual chapters (books) made me squeal in delight. You must have read them, because I think I saw you post in a few.

    But then I come here and you rehash the most general and common complaints of the Iliad, as told by your average high schooler. (Straw man your post): “It was long, and boring, and Achiles is a whiner, and there’s too much fighting.” Compared to your other work on this blog, which is brilliant and hilarious, when I saw this I was all like “Oh come onnnnn.”

    The fact is that the Iliad is one of those works that takes work to appreciate. I know for a fact that you’ve encountered (and mastered) these kinds of books before. So why you wasted your time reading it only to give the most superficial and elementary feedback seems to me like a letdown, not only to your loyal readers, but also to yourself.

    I apologize if this post was offensive, I didn’t mean it as such. I am more just interested in your motives for reading it. After all (minor spoiler) the second half of the Iliad isn’t *that* much better than the first half, so you still have a ways to go. You can either continue reading it like a “bore” to get through, or try and appreciate what it’s trying to say.

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    1. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I'm not really ready to apply any super-fancy-thoughts to it until I've finished reading it. These are just fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants impressions that I've had- and to be honest, I don't throw away my "contemporary prejudices" because most readers don't.

      If a book is long and boring, it's fine to say so. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the book's history, or what it did for literature, or even "what it's trying to say" (whatever that subjective thing is- [which, who really knows, except Homer, who is very dead, and left no annotations]). And maybe when I've finished the whole thing, I'll talk about those things. But I'm also going to talk about what a struggle I found it to get through, and how irritating Achilles is, and how I spent a lot of time doing laundry to avoid reading it. Because (as the title of the blog shows), I'm not big on REVERING a book for REVERENCE'S sake. If I don't like it, I don't like it.

      And I can assure you, I haven't let myself down- I'm impressed with myself that I've powered through half of the book.

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    2. Right on, keep us updated!

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    3. Oh I will. You know how I love spreading my opinions all around ;)

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    4. Does taking some time to think about what the author was trying to do, and why they maybe made the choices they made, and then seeing if there is actually some real pleasure and excitement to be had if I keep those things in mind, automatically mean I am being "reverent?"

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    5. No, and I never said it did. I do all those things. Just not usually when I'm in the middle of the book, and those things also don't make me enjoy something more if I'm finding it a slog.

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  3. I never understood the love affair for Achilles. He acts like a child on a temper tantrum.

    I had a lot of fun reading Iliad though. Hector is now one of my favorite characters.

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    1. I enjoy Hector- I especially enjoy his telling-offs of his brother, who I want to smack quiet hard.

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  4. Hilarious and awesome as usual. If you can stand it, I highly recommend Christoper Logue's War Music -- his take on the Iliad -- it's what hooked me on the story. My previous experiences with the Iliad has been marked mostly by lots of eyeball rolling.

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    1. SO MUCH EYEBROW ROLLING. Also, the Greek gods are not very godish? They're all OH A THING HAPPENED AND I AM SURPRISED and I am all, wait. Aren't you all knowing or something? Le sigh.

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    2. EXACTLY! I mean, I'm all for exploring fallibility and failing faith and the weakness of men blahblahblah but, I dunno, this never really grabbed me. Logue's version was the first to get me to sort of enjoy the story although I still don't understand the swoons over it.

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    3. "Also, the Greek gods are not very godish?"

      You know, that exactly the sentiment that got Socrates killed. He complained that the Greek stories about the gods were false, since by definition God must be perfect. He was charged with corrupting the youth--in part because that argument discouraged belief in the gods.

      So, you've got an honorable precedent there. Oh, and in disliking The Iliad. Socrates wasn't a fan apparently: based on what he saw as the pernicious untruths of Homer's work, he wanted to ban all poets from his ideal republic.

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  5. This post actually makes it sound pretty interesting. :) I'm probably going to read this with Virgil and The Odyssey later this year.

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    1. I think I'll enjoy The Odyssey much better. Fantastical things! Trips! Ships that are moving! Yeah!

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  6. I think you are great for even trying it - it has sat on my self for years unread and there it will remain for eternity, unread. I'm just not up to it.

    So keep going, you can finish it!

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    1. That is the situation with Ulysses in my house. Sad, sad Ulysses.

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  7. YOU USED AN ELEVEN GIF

    And this is where I admit that I like the movie Troy, the watching of which takes much less time than the reading of this, and it has pretty people like Rose Byrne and Eric Bana.

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    1. I am with you. Orlando Bloom=great wussy casting decision.

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  8. I giggled the entire time I was reading this. Its funny, I was just watching the movie Troy the other day.
    I've never read The Illiad and I'm not sure that I ever will. But I love your take on it and how you can summarize it in such simple terms.
    I am a huge fan of your blog :]

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    1. F*ck yeah, Troy! Brad Pitt is in my brain this entire time.

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  9. Oh, oh, oh! oh! Please take a look at Song of Achilles, which is a book coming out in March of this year by Madeline Miller (you live in the US, no? it's already out in the UK). I was never enamored of the Iliad, or the Odyssey for that matter, but what she does in Song of Achilles is make everything achingly personal and human and intimate and it's a book that can break your heart a little bit. I've got a review of it up on my blog a few months' back, but my review is nothing compared to the outstanding one that Laurie at What She Read wrote.

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    1. OH fun! I love literary commentary! I will definitely check it out.

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  10. I've read The Iliad and the Odyssey multiple times in my life - most recently, last summer.

    The Iliad is a long-winded snuff film that teaches bad behavior as a virtue, and is somehow held up as a shining example of something(?). It's the kind of mentality that allows beaming generals to dismiss the consequences of their actions and look directly at the cameras when they say words like "collateral damage". These dead white guys make the living white guys feel heroic and justified in their violence.

    No stars out of Achilles...

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    1. Wow! Never thought of it that way...I've been thinking about the war bits (hard not to, since it's most of the book) and I must say I am firmly side Trojan. I would probably violently defend my city if it were under attack because our mayor stole the wife of the mayor of Raleigh or something...weak analogy.

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    2. *Awesome* analogy. I see a modern-day rendition in the works...

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    3. And you should probably impeach your mayor for stealing the Raleigh mayor's wife in the first place...

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    4. "that teaches bad behavior as a virtue"

      While I agree, I think it's only fair that this is not a literary weakness in the book, but a point of ethical disagreement: the view of virtue found in Homer's work was the dominant view throughout the ancient and classical eras.

      So, while I agree that the dominant moral views of those civilizations were mistaken, to be fair, members of that world would say the same about the dominant moral values of the contemporary world. So it's a matter open to reasonable debate who would be right.

      So, while it's fine and interesting to debate the ethical content, I don't think you can casually dismiss an entire civilization's ethical norms without argument (as though we, in the contemporary world, have come to complete, certain agreement about ethical questions), and you cannot discount the *literary* value of the work just because you disagree with the moral beliefs of its writer and audience.

      I'd add I agree with your linking of this concept of virtue to modern attitudes toward warfare. But here remember that our civilization has dual roots: both in the ancient world of classical Greece and Rome and in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. So, we often use these dual origins conveniently: when we want to justify violence, we draw on the manly warrior ethos of the ancient world. When we want to condemn the other side's use of violence, we call on the virtues of forgiveness, charity, etc. that characterize our other tradition.

      But the point is that this is a product of our cultural identity, not the fault of one writer produced by one of those traditions. Jane Austen didn't invent Christian virtue any more than Homer invented classical virtue.

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  11. Love it!! I just love reading your posts, and the comments as well. The comments are way more interesting than any comments I've read on anyone else's blog. I think the Odyssey's more interesting, personally.

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    1. Right? It's a party up in this hizzy.

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  12. I had an audiobook by DEREK JACOBI OMG HIS VOICE (except there is no truth in advertising and unpredictable parts were done by a woman with an undistinguished reading style) and even that and the occasional hugely long-tailed simile could not keep me interested.

    I can read long things, but not EPIC long things, I guess.

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    1. Oh, the long epic things. I am not good at them. I usually wait until the Goodreads group tackles them. That's how I read Paradise Lost, which I also wouldn't have finished...

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  13. How anyone sat through the Iliad as an oral performance still mystifies me (really good actions perhaps?) - Also yes, Achilles and Paris are whiny brats, bless Hector for at least bitching Paris out a bit.

    I confess, I'm a huge fan but it's because I'm super geeky about the bronze age and its end and the Iliad is essentially the last great swansong to that era - strip it of that context and it's good poetry and 'war is a nasty business' over and bloody over. The Odyssey is much more fun and adventurey.

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    1. the Iliad is essentially the last great swansong to that era -- oooh, very interesting -- I hadn't known that. The perk, I suppose, of reading classics like this with a class or a group with context. That does make it something else.

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  14. Gah! I read The Odyssey a little over a year and really enjoyed it so I tried The Iliad. I got about 2 books in and put it down. Like your gif, I just don't care. I'm sure I'll eventually pick it up again but not now. I'm not in the mood for the slog.

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  15. Oh my goodness I agree! If they're not lopping off someone's head, they're whining about their girlfriend and bitching to their mommies! My one consolation in that whole thing is knowing that Agamemnon gets his eventually.

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  16. Although I can appreciate the beauty of the poetry in this and the Odyssey, it's a little like Beowulf--too much of a dudefest and dudetastic things and it's all so bromantic....which is why one of my favorite takes on the Trojan war is Euripides' play "Trojan Woman" about the few named women in the story and what their fates are afterwards.

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