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Inspired by the Iliad
on March 29, 2000
Some of the language in War Music is exceptional--Her breasts so lovely that they envy one another-- And he quit being-- His soul crawled off his tongue and vanished into sunlight-- And from its silver, sea-dark wine had crossed your lips (such a nice turn on Homer's wine-dark sea)-- Dawn stepped bare-footed from her lover's bed (Homer's rosy-fingered Dawn has become rosy-toed).
However it must be said further that this work seemed exhausting and extremely difficult to follow, except in the broadest outlines. Who is doing what to whom, and when and with whom, were questions constantly in mind while reading. Obviously this work does not purport to be a translation of Homer in the usual sense, but it is indeed a powerful and arresting poem in its own right, an inspired and original adaptation, which is of course what Logue intends. The introduction of modern words and non-Homeric references (Bikini, Iwo Jima, Napoleon, binoculars, etc.) is bothersome not because they are there per se, but because they seem so unnecessary to the context and tone of the poem. The seem like jolting anachronisms. Other images and words found within the Homeric world would have done just as well. And where on earth does he get some of the proper names--Bombax, Famagusta, Opknocktophon, etc.? If these are intended to provide a background of humorously named lesser characters, as in Shakespeare, perhaps reading the classics leaves one unprepared for them in this context and precludes appreciating them as such.
Logue's insight into the major themes comes across well. We see the wrath of Achilles wreaking its consequences. We know that when Patroclus goes out to die, Achilles will follow him. And we see foreshadowed that when Hector falls at the hands of Achilles and the doom of Troy is sealed, so too is Achilles own fate assured. Through all these themes the immortals are weaving their way, full of apparent fallibilities and indecisivenness themselves, playing their favorites, and never hesitating to interfere in the affairs of men, in which they take a great interest.
Logue's inspired poem is good and perhaps will lead some to Homer himself, especially if this version is heard aloud (as the mention of the BBC suggests), where the power and rhythm of the language can be demonstrated and felt to its fullness.