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The Iliad
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on August 20, 2016
Set during the Trojan War, tension brews between Achilles and Agamemnon on the Greek side. Agamemnon steals Achilles’ war prize, Briseis, and Achilles then refuses to fight. The Trojans start to move in closer, under the leadership of Hector. Will Achilles fight or doom his comrades? The Iliad is a very bloody piece of literature. Warfare dominates almost every scene, and the book isn’t for the faint of heart. Besides the compelling human characters, gods play a part in The Iliad, and the gods just didn’t interest me at all. I had trouble following who was who, and which god was on which side, and I just didn’t care. But the human characters, especially Hector and Patroclus, I really loved. Definitely worth reading this piece of classic literature!
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on February 13, 2015
Do you like history? Do you like mythology? Do you like the movie Troy? Well, this tells the story of the epic battle of Troy, which might have happened at one point, we are not really sure, but the evidence seem to point that way.

The movie Troy is based on this book, although they have taken their liberties for sure, but I can say that if you've seen Troy, it's definitely a lot easier to follow the book as you know some of the relationships already.

As most Greek writing this story follows the dactylic hexameter, which is a form of structure/rhyme which can be a bit challenging to read if you're not used to it, so I would recommend re-reading some of the early pages until you get a hang of it.

I'm taking away one star because there are large parts of the book that really serves no purpose, as the chapter that goes on for page after page about the different Greek settlements and groups, that are never mentioned again.

After reading this book, go ahead and pick up the Odyssey.
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on April 16, 2014
There are probably at most a few hundred people in the world with the knowledge and competence to critique Robert Fagles' translation of the Iliad into English. First, one would have to be fluent in Greek and in particular the ancient dialects of Greek that Homer used to compose his poem. Since I am not in this exalted category of people I will have no comment on the translation. My interests lie more in the poem itself, its possible historicity, and other issues. Although I had read the Iliad long ago in college I had forgotten much. My recent foray to read it again had more to do with certain claims that Julian Jaynes made in his book "On the Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" which is an old classic of psychological literature from the 1970's. According to Jaynes the characters in the Iliad show no sign of modern consciousness but rather they are the playthings of the gods who issue commands which must be obeyed. Indeed, according to Jaynes' theory the gods are auditory hallucinations in people's heads and so we see Athena telling Achilles not to smite Agamemnon. After rereading the Iliad I don't find Jaynes' theory to be compelling. There are signs of human consciousness everywhere with both humans and gods judging and making decisions according to the best data they have available. So the characters seem to have an entirely modern consciousness as far as I can tell. Indeed, in Book 5 the Greek hero Diomedes attacks two of the gods in person (Aphrodite and Aries) and even wounds them. That certainly doesn't fit the bicameral mind theory.

So putting Jaynes' theory aside, the next big issue is why it is the Trojan War which is the historical event that Homer chooses to write about. From the archaeological record we know that the greatest historical event between Troy being attacked and Homer was the Bronze Age collapse which resulted in the complete destruction of the Mycenaean civilization. So why is that not the theme of the poem? Why not an invasion of barbaric Sea Peoples attacking the Achaean defenders who valiantly fight to defend their cities in a losing cause against superior numbers? Perhaps that topic was too raw emotionally to deal with and so Homer chose a more remote war in which the Greeks were victorious. There may be an echo of the Bronze Age collapse when Hera says to Zeus that he can destroy the three cities she loves the most which are Mycenae, Argos, and Sparta. Perhaps Homer's audience knows that these cities have indeed been sacked. Or perhaps Troy itself becomes the poetical equivalent of the entire Bronze Age Greek civilization which is doomed to die. We can probably never know for sure why the Trojan War was picked as the topic.

Another anomaly that the forward to the book points out is that the Iliad was likely first written down between 725 and 675 BCE not long after the Greeks adopted the alphabet from the Phoenicians. It is thus one of the first pieces of Greek literature to be written using the new writing system since Linear B had been long forgotten. We usually don't expect a masterpiece to be the first thing written, but rather several short stumbling efforts leading up to further sophistication and then the masterpiece. That is not the historical record of the Iliad. The masterpiece comes first with almost complete preservation and then we only have fragments of other Greek poems from the 7th century. So the history of Homer, the Iliad, and the Odyssey is indeed very peculiar and is not what we would expect from a Greece just recovering from a Dark Age lasting three centuries. Perhaps that is because of the genius of some individual named Homer or it has some other unknown cause, but we should rejoice that we have such an excellent and long piece of Greek literature from such an early age.

There are still plenty of mysteries regarding the Iliad and its author. Each generation can find its own particular enjoyment in these poems.

A few other comments are in order concerning historicity. Book 2 of the Iliad concerns the catalog of ships and how many came from various places in Achaea (Greece) and who their commanders were. So we see Agamemnon commanded 100 ships from Mycenae which was the biggest contingent. On the Trojan side it says that the allies of Troy speak a thousand different tongues and they come from all over Asia Minor. This matches the historical record of Asia Minor in the 13th century BCE which was dominated by the Hittite Empire in the center but with many satellite kingdoms surrounding it, each with its own language. There is some speculation that the language of Troy (called Wilusa by the Hittites) was Luwian, not Greek. And there would have been as much religious diversity as linguistic diversity although the poem does not show this. So the catalog of ships has always struck scholars as peculiar as a literary form unless it has some historical basis. It seems that most of the places listed in Achaea as sending ships were actual Bronze Age settlements so the catalog of ships may be historical.

Also, strewn throughout the Iliad are hundreds of combat sequences which go like this. A, son of B whose father was C killed D, son of E whose father was F. And for the most part A, B, C, D, E, and F are never mentioned again in the poem. These numerous examples seem to have no purpose in furthering the plot. They seem to be filler material that could have been left out. So why include them? They seem to be very specific in terms of who killed whom and what genealogy each person had. Since this filler material does not advance the plot at all it would seem that the only reason this material is included is because it is historical or at least Homer thinks it is. Now, whether this material dates from the actual Trojan War of the mid 13th century BCE or from the later Iron Age is anyone's guess. My overall opinion is that the Iliad is probably much more historical than we generally think although events may have been moved in time to suit the poet's whimsy.
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VINE VOICEon October 27, 2009
I have several points to make in this review. The first is to explain why I recommend the Fagles translation over that of Lombardo. The choice of translation is at one and the same time easy, personal and fraught with consequence.
It is easy because all the translations that I am familiar with (Fitzgerald, Fagles and Lombardo) are excellent and have their own excellencies. It is personal because because I believe it is largely a matter of individual aesthetic. But it is fraught with consequence.
Let me explain that last part. In Homeric Moments, Eva Braan points out the passage in Book 18 when Achilles first talks to Thetis after hearing that Patrocles has been killed by Hector. Fagles (p. 470, Line 96) translates the line as "I've lost him". Lombardo parses the line as "And I killed him" (Lombardo, p. 357, Line 86). Braan suggests that the alternate to lost should be "destroyed" (Braan, p. 11). This crux epitomizes my loss at not knowing Greek and having to read translations. I lose out on those moments, those flashes of shifting insight that knowing that the word I am reading can imply loss, guilt and transgression all at the same time.
Knowing that there are trade-offs of insight to win or lose on the choice of a translation, I recommend you read several. Pick a main translation. And at the moments of consequence in the story, consult the others. Lombardo is flat out better at making Book 2(the catalogue of ships) not only readable but purposeful. Homer in that one chapter is giving all the islands, all the kingdoms and cities of Greece a place in the national epic of the country. He is giving everyone in Greece a hero to look back on as their own.
But in general I find Lombardo to be, for lack of a better term, coarser. And, I think it has a lot to do with his methodology. I read his intro as saying that he works his translation out over the coarse of time by performing it (fair enough since we are reading Homer, the singer of epics). But, as a result of those readings perhaps, his translation has passages that are real clunkers.
For example, I laughed out loud when I read this:
"Well let me tell you something. I guarantee
That if I ever catch you running on at the mouth again
As you were just now, my name isn't Odysseus..." (Lombardo, p.28, Line 279-281)
I read those line and what I see is young Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones not Odysseus.
Compare Fagles:
"I tell you this, so help me it's the truth:
If I catch you again, blithering on this way,
let Odysseus' head be wrenched off his shoulders" (Fagles, p. 108, Line 301-303).
That line count is also an issue- Lombardo's methodology leads him to leave out words, phrases
and lines because they are unneccessary to performance. I can't go with that.
I could go on but I think you see my argument. To sum up: I don't read/speak a bit of Greek. My ear when reading aloud leads me to prefer the Fagles translation but the Lombardo is a valuable adjunct to that reading. Since both translations are also interpretations, to read them both is to probably get a little closer to Homer.
And, by the way, both contain useful introductions although I think Knox's intro to Fagles' translation is better than Murnaghan's to Lombardo's translation.
Finally, why should you care? I have hinted at it in my review title and my remark on the catalogue of ships. Homer's poetic style reveals so much more than an epic on force or whatever the critical summation de jour is. He creates a world. Not just a world at war but through his similes a world of crafts, work, weddings, births, murders, kinships, friendships, of gods, of monsters, of countries and of history. Toward the end of the book, the God Hephaestus creates for Achilles a new shield. Homer describes in detail the working on the shield, the two cities, one at war, one at peace and the whole universe that surrounds them. It is the perfect simile for the effect of Homer's poem as a whole.
The other reason you should read this book is the central conflict between Hector and Achilles. Both men are doomed and know it. Both are aware that the success of their side is dependent on them.
Achilles is the more god-like but Hector is the better man, the more humane human being. You should care about reading about these two because in their conflict, they are tracing out what is was for the men of ancient Greece to live and to die. And their story continues to carry the weight of the ways that they faced their fate down to our own time.
Which brings me to my final reason for preferring Fagles over Lombardo. Brando in The Wild Ones was a marvel. There is nothing wrong at all with Brando from The Wild Ones. Brando from On the Waterfront was even better. But Brando is not Hector, he is not Achilles, he is not Odysseus or Diomedes or Great Ajax. To my ears, all too often Lombardo give us Brando. Fagles gives us the Greeks. At least, to my ears and my soul. Try the two of them out and let me know how you feel. And if anyone wants to argue the merits of different translations in the comments, have at me.
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on March 16, 2004
Set in the ninth year of the war between Troy and Greece the Iliad is an epic poem covering 41 days of this tragic war. The story centers around an argument between the two main heroes of the Greek side (or the Achaeans as Homer called them): Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and commander of the Greek forces, and Achilles, the most powerful warrior in the Greek army. The affront to Achilles by Agamemnon wounds Achille's pride. He vows to stay out of the war and in doing so Zeus tilts the scales of fate to the Trojans. With the Greek army facing almost certain defeat Achilles sends Patroclus, his closest friend, to help the Achaeans. He warns Patroclus, however, not to push the Trojans back to their walls, but Patroclus didn't listen. He was killed in battle by Hector, the Trojan commander. This Trojan victory would, however, bring Achilles into the war and turn the tide of battle.
The Iliad brings the horrors of war with startling detail. Men slashed to pieces on the Trojan plain aren't just nameless enemies they are real people. Homer tells us who they were. We know their names; we know something of their family. Homer makes us care about them. He gives us a clear insight into the mind of the soldier in the ancient world. With tales of courage, honor and principle one can almost feel the horror of this titanic battle.
Robert Fagles does a masterful job in translating this epic poem; now more than 2700 years old. I found the reading easy and quite enjoyable but one would do well to set aside plenty of time for reading. The story is over 15,000 lines in length. Fagles provides a nice introduction, covering the major themes of the story, and a glossary of names and a pronunciation guide at the back of the book. I highly recommend the book as one that belongs on everyone's book shelf.
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on September 12, 2016
This translation is used by Hillsdale College in their free online course, Great Books I. I had been "meaning to" read the Iliad for 40 years. Now I have. The book is worth it just for the introduction alone. I now find that not a day goes by that I don't here some reference to the Iliad, on the news, in conversation, or even on my son's Xbox game (apparently some of the gods that can save him are named Athena, Apollo, or other Greek gods).
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on October 1, 2014
Paperback. Got it for an English class. It arrived early and undamaged. It was the same quality as my classmate's books that were bought at the campus bookstore. The paper has a nice texture to it and the edge opposite of the spine is cut in a way that it has an old-world feel to it. My classmate's books were this way as well so this is not a flaw. There's a decent amount of room on each page to make notes and what not. There's some beautiful royal-blue foil on the spine which makes for a handsome display on the bookshelf.

Great book. It's a keeper.
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on October 24, 2014
Fine book and was interesting to see life from two thousand years ago. The storyteller is riveting and the perspective of counting dead bodies and listing all their relatives gives one insight into their lives and how different they are to ours. Didn't spend much time at all with families if you were a soldier. Their expectations were so different from ours. I know that seems like so obvious, but it is still one of the best reasons to pick up a book. This was not required reading as I grew up in Hawaii.
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on August 1, 2014
Nicely presented, and coherently translated with notes that help explain some ambiguities. The overall story has little of what most people think of when asked about Troy. Achilles doesn't die, there's no Trojan Horse, and the whole story takes place in a few weeks. The action is quite random and there seems to be little reason that we are being told only of this tiny fraction of the full story. Still, it's amazing to read such ancient work.
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on August 18, 2014
I'm reading this edition alongside my daughter who has to read Lattimore's translation for a class. Every time she gets hung up on a passage, this edition helps her understanding. This translation is so much clearer! I'm thoroughly enjoying the story and even laughed at Zeus lecturing Hera about being a nag. If you're trying to decide between this translation and Lattimore, my vote definitely goes to Fagles!
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