Last week I posted about listening to The Iliad on audio. I also read the book separately from listening and found that it was a great way to reinforce what I heard. But reading and listening are two different things. Reading allowed me to stop and think, to re-read, to mark passages and compare them to other passages, to go slowly and notice things.
One of the things I noticed is how Homer uses descriptions of nature to describe war. For instance, here is some description of the long fight that went on over Patroclus’ body:
Right behind them
the two Aenates held the Trojans off as a wooded rocky ridge
stretched out across an entire plain holds back a flood,
fighting off the killer-tides of the mounting rivers,
beating them all back to swamp the lowland flats–
none of their pounding waves can make a breakthrough.
It occurred to me while I was listening to the news not long ago about some tornado damage and the reporter described the damage as looking like a bomb had gone off, that these days we use descriptions of war to describe natural disasters. And I wonder how and why this has changed. Is it because in Homer’s time the audience wouldn’t necessarily know what a war looks like so he used images they would have seen? And nowadays because of photography and television and movies everyone knows what something looks like after a bomb has gone off even if we have never seen it in person. And how sad is that, that images of warfare have become our common descriptive touchstones instead of images of nature?
I also found the relationship between gods and men interesting. The gods have favorite cities and men and do favors and grant blessings but in the end, men are nothing but pawns and playthings. However the men make sacrifices for everything it seems and are always fervently praying. But what I found most notable was how the men rarely took responsibility for things. For instance, if someone fought well or made a narrow escape it was because a god had helped them. And watch how Agamemnon wriggles out of saying he was the cause of the argument between him and Achilles:
Often the armies brought this matter up against me–
they would revile me in public. But I am not to blame!
Zeus and Fate and the Fury stalking through the night,
they are the ones who drove that savage madness in my heart,
that day in assembly when I seized Achilles’ prize–
on my own authority, true, but what could I do?
A god impels all things to their fulfillment
He goes on to say that the goddess Ruin “blinds us all” and even blinded Zeus once so if a god isn’t even immune to such things, how could a lowly man be? Way to dodge the bullet Agamemnon! But he gets his when he arrives home after the war and I’ll have the pleasure of reading all about it when I eventually get to Aeschylus.
I very much enjoyed my Iliad experience and am glad I listened and read it both. It somehow feels more complete. My Bookman and I began listening to The Odyssey already and as many of you have said, it is very different. I plan on listening to and reading that one as well. Stay tuned…