Sing the Rage: The Iliad

Triumphant Achilles. Source.

M y post-Beowulf lull allowed the new month to steal upon me and catch me unawares. I am therefore underprepared this time around and haven’t yet had a chance to put together a proper introduction. This brief post will have to suffice.

The cruellest month is dedicated to The Iliad, one of the two great epics of Classical Greece, attributed to Homer. It tells the story of the final weeks of the ten year long Trojan War, and begins with a focus on a feud between Achilles and Agamemnon. Just as important, however, is what it doesn’t cover. Those who should know better, but have for whatever reason only pretended to read The Iliad, cite the Trojan horse as a favorite scene, but this of course does not appear anywhere this month’s text. It makes a brief appearance in The Odyssey (which is May’s text), but we will have to wait until June to get a fuller account by way of Virgil, in the Aeneid.

Thematically, The Iliad shares much with other epics. Glory in battle is, perhaps unsurprisingly, among the most prominent of these, followed by honor, homecoming, and fate. But the opening lines of the epic set the overall tone:

Rage — Goddess, sing of the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighers’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.

Rage is where we begin, and rage is what informs the events that follow.

This is my second reading of The Iliad. I will be using the Fagles translation, which presents the epic in a delightfully readable language that should engage most modern readers.

Note: This is part of a series of posts dealing with the reading of one sacred/epic work per month in 2017. See below for more information on what I’m doing and how to follow along.

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