Homer; translated by Stephen Mitchell
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". . . leaner, faster read . . ."
Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Homer’s epic, The Iliad, is accessible with modern language, yet faithful to Homer’s rhythmic style as it was extemporaneously performed nearly 3,000 years ago in Greece, “a contemporary poem in the parallel universe of the English language.”
This story is about a barbarous war between the Achaeans (Greeks) and the Trojans driven by sacred moral and cultural norms such as the law of hospitality when hosts and guests are required to maintain mutual respect, a rule violated by Paris, son of the Trojan King Priam, who is blamed for the ten-year conflict. Paris abducted the beautiful Helen from his host, King Menelaus, and whisked her to Troy. In retaliation, Menelaus’ brother, Agamemnon, King of Greece, gathered a vast army and attacked Troy.
Also held sacred was a man’s honor. In an added plot, after years of warring with the Trojans, Agamemnon humiliates Achilles, the strongest Achaean warrior and son of a goddess, by taking away Achilles’s war-prize, a beautiful slave girl. With “heart-wrenching anger,” Achilles withdraws from the fighting saying, “Agamemnon…is treating me like some filthy tramp or some outcast who has no rights.” Achilles rejoins the battle when his beloved friend, Patroclus, is killed by Hector, son of Priam, defender of Troy. In the final of 24 books (sections), Achilles kills Hector and savagely drags his body for days around Patroclus’ funeral mound.
While Homer depicts the horrors of war—chariots careening over bodies, arms and legs sliced off, skulls shattered and “eyeballs fell to the ground,”—he also dwells on the warriors’ pleasure in war and pursuit of glory often guided by gods and goddesses, who flutter amongst the morals manipulating their destiny. In one passage a Trojan prince is hit by and arrow and is dying,“his head drooped, like a poppy in a spring garden weighted down with seeds and a heavy rain: so his head leaned to one side beneath the weight of his helmet.”
This captivating version of The Iliad includes Mitchell’s instructive introduction, and notes on his omissions and the poetic rhythm selected. This irresistible book meets Mitchell’s objective to be accessible (leaner, faster read), especially for those previously intimidated by this legendary epic who might now be drawn toward a more scholarly translation for comparison.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla