The Iliad tells the story of Achilles’ anger, but also encompasses, within its narrow focus, the whole of the Trojan War. The title promises “a poem about Ilium” (i.e. Troy), and the poem lives up to that description. The first books recapitulate the origins and early stages of the Trojan War.
The Ancient Greek gods are all the things that humans are — full of emotions, constantly making mistakes — with the exception of their immortality. It makes their lives and actions often comical or superficial — a sharp contrast to the humans that are often at their mercy. The gods can show their favor, or displeasure; men and women are puppets in their world.
Given its central role in Ancient Greek culture, various poignant moments in Homer’s The Iliad can be found on the drinking cups, water jars, mixing bowls, vases, plates, jugs, friezes, mosaics, and frescoes of ancient art. Each depiction dramatizes an event in the epic poem in a different way (sometimes inaccurately).
Homer’s The Iliad is filled with references to the gods and other creatures in Greek mythology. The gods regularly interfere with the Trojan War and the fate of various Achaean and Trojan warriors. In the following slideshow, images from Barry B. Powell’s new free verse translation of The Iliad by Homer illustrate the gods’ various appearances and roles throughout the epic poem.
The Iliad was largely believed to belong to myth and legend until Heinrich Schliemann set out to prove the true history behind Homer’s epic poem and find the remnants of the Trojan War. The businessman turned archaeologist excavated a number of sites in Greece and Turkey, and caused an international sensation.
Every generation and culture needs its own version of The Iliad — one that capture the spirit of the original for a contemporary audience, whether Alexander Pope’s rhymed verse of the 18th century or dense Dickensian prose of 19th-century translations. Barry B. Powell’s new free verse translation of The Iliad was written with the modern English speaker in mind, and with the idea that the language Homer uses was colloquial and accessible to his contemporaries.
The ancient Greeks were enormously innovative in many respects, including art and architecture. They produced elaborate illustrations on everything from the glory of the Parthenon to a simple wine cup. Given its epic nature and crucial role in Greek education, many of the characters in the Iliad can be found in ancient art. From the hero Achilles to Hector’s charioteer, these depictions provide great insight into Greek culture and art.
While The Iliad is a fictional tale of the Trojan War between the Trojan and Achaean warriors during the Late Bronze Age (circa 1500-1200 BC), it is set in a real location: the eastern Mediterranean, along the Aegean Sea. We present a brief slideshow of maps from Barry B. Powell’s new translation of the ancient epic, which illustrate the geographic regions mentioned, from towns and cities, to character origins, and even allied battle grounds.
Browsing my parents’ bookshelves recently, in the dog days that followed sending Anna Karenina off to press, I found myself staring at a row of small hardback volumes all the same size. One in particular, with the words Romola and George Eliot embossed in gold on the dark green spine, caught my attention.
By Anthony Verity
There must have been hundreds of English versions since Chapman (c.1560-1634), a good many of them on bookshop shelves today. The usual answer is that great literature needs frequent reinterpretation. If students of antiquity and curious general readers are being urged today to return to the first work in writing in the Western canon, those who can read Greek will continue to translate the Iliad for their benefit, in the hope of recreating something of the “feel” of the original.
Homer, despite being the author of the hugely influential The Odyssey and The Iliad, remains a bit of a mystery. We know very little about his life, but what we can see is the huge legacy that he has left behind in art, music, philosophy, literature, and more. By examining both of his epic poems, we can begin to understand more about this mythical figure. In the extract below Barbara Grazosi takes a closer look at Odysseus’ journey to the Underworld.
Although a man named “Homer” was accepted in antiquity as the author of the poems, there is no evidence supporting the existence of such an author. By the late 1700s, careful dissection of the Iliad and Odyssey raised doubts about their composition by a single poet. Explore more about the “Homeric question” and the influence of these epics in the infographic below.
In the first book of The Iliad, Homer calls for a muse to help him recount the story of Achilles, the epic Greek hero of the Trojan War. The poet begins his account nine years after the start of Trojan war, with the capture of two maidens, Chryseis by Agamemnon, the commander of the Achaean Army, and Briseis by the hero Achilles.
The failures of leadership… the destructive power of beauty… the quest for fame… the plight of women… the brutality of war… Such themes have endured for over 2,700 years in Homer’s classic The Iliad — from the flight of Helen and Paris, to the fury of Menelaus and Agamemnon, to the fight between Hector and Achilles. We sat down with Barbara Graziosi and Anthony Verity, the writer of the introduction and translator respectively, to discuss the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Iliad.
By Fiona Cox and Elena Theodorakopoulos
When George Steiner was musing in 2002 (in his review of Logue’s War Music) on the shapes and forms that responses to Homer seemed likely to take in the new millennium, he welcomed the work of Louise Glück and Jorie Graham as the first shoots of a female reworking of Homer. In Glück’s Meadowlands (1998) we find a lyric Odyssey in the depiction of a modern marriage disintegrating, while in The End of Beauty (1987) Graham’s Penelope delights in unravelling and thereby deconstructing earlier poetic forms. The fact that both writers draw on the Odyssey rather than the Iliad appears to lend substance to Samuel Butler’s conviction, remembered by Steiner, that the Odyssey is ‘woman’s work.’
Listen to season two of The VSI Podcast for concise and original introductions to a selection of our VSI titles from the authors themselves.