Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

Archive for the category “The Iliad”

Book 21

“Odysseus strung the great bow. Lifting it up,
He plucked the string, and it sang beautifully
Under his touch, with a note like a swallow’s.”

Book 20

‘”You are shrouded in night from top to toe,
Lamentation flares, your cheeks melt with tears,
And the walls of the house are spattered with blood.
The porch and the court are crowded with ghosts
Streaming down to the undergloom. The sun is gone
From heaven, and an evil mist spreads over the land.”

Book 24

Another incredibly moving book.

Priam goes to Achilles to retrieve his son’s body.
“Never beneath my eyelids have my eyes closed
since the moment when my dear child died at your hands.”

Reading the Iliad has been a great experience.  I cannot recommend enough this translation.  Superb.

Book 23

“At the time when the morning star announces the daylight
all over the earth and dawn spread its saffron glow
upon the wide waters, the flames began to die down,
and the two winds flew back, and htey crossed the Thracian sea,
stirring it into a frenzy. Achilles turned
away from the smoldering pyre and sank down, exhausted,
in an instant sweet sleep descended upon him.”

Book 22

Achillles speaking says:
“There is a dead man lying inside my hut,
unmourned, unburied – Patroclus, whom I will never
forget, as long as I breathe and have life in my body.
And even if other forget thier dead when they go down
to Hades, I will hiim there as well.”

Book 21

“My beautiful streams are clogged now with dead men’s bodies,
and I cannot pour myself into the shining sea,
choked as I am with the dead. Enough of this brutal
slaughter, Achilles. Stop now. I am appalled.”

Book 20

Speaking of Achilles it says:
“Later on he must endure what Destiny spun
for him with her thread on the day that his mother bore him.”

Book 19

“As when snowflakes fly thick and fast as they fall from the heavens,
driven on by the chilling blast of the north wind:
so thickly did the bright helmets and shields and spears
and massive breastplates emerge from among the ships.”

Book 18

In Book 18 we read of Achilles’ grief over his friend’s death.

Any of us who have known loss will understand.  Another powerful book.

“A black cloud of sorrow enfolded Achilles.  He stooped
and with both his hands he picked up some soot and dust
and poured it over his head, and his handsome face
was filthy with it, and black ashes fell all over
his sweet-smelling tunic.”

Books 16 and 17

Since Book 16 deals with Patroclus dying, and Book 17 with the fight over his body, I’ve included them together.

Phenomenal books.

“And so they continued to fight, like a blazing fire.
You would not have thought that the sun and moon still existed,
so thick was the darkness that covered all the brave men
who had taken their stand around Patroclus’s body.”

Wonderful notion, “Sleep and Death, those twin brothers.”  (16.618)

Book 15

“Many spears lodged in the bodies of quick young men,
and many spears, hungry to glut themselves on white flesh,
stuck in the ground before they could reach it.”

Book 14

Of Hector:
“But when they came to the ford of the swirling Xanthus,
they lifted him out, laid him upon the ground,
splashed water over his face, and he came to
and opened his eyes and got up onto his knees
and coughed up dark blood, then sank back to earth, and night
covered his eyes, for the mighty blow still overwhelmed him.”

Book 13

“As they saw then come closer, tears welled up in their eyes;
they did not think they would ever escape destruction.”

The Ilaid depicts war as I imagine it actually is.  Besides the never-ending gory slaughter, there are the human emotions, which are never glossed over.

Book 12

“You tell me to put my trust in the flight of birds:
but why should I care which direction birds fly in – whether
to the right and the rising sun or the left and darkness.”

Book 11 (Questions)

1) Iphidamas fights on the side of the Trjoans, and we are told he died “trying to help his countrymen.” (11.239)  Yet it says he grew up in Thrace and later went to Troy.  Curious about the use of countrymen and wonder about what the word means in Greek.

2)  “With an onion as spice for the drink.”   (11.582)  Onion in a drink as a spice?

Book 11

“And then they captured a chariot with its riders,
the bravest men from Percote, the two sons of Merops,
an excellent prophet; he had forbidden his sons
to go to the war.  But they would not listen to him,
because the spirits of death were driving them onward.”

Book 9

Book 9, which tells the story of a group sent to try to get Achilles to reconsider his refusal to fight, is truly wonderful.

Some of the lines reminded me of Ecclesiastes, which I’ve often thought the best thing ever written.

“A man gets no thanks for his tireless
struggle against the enemy, day in, day out.
We all get just the same portion, whether we hang back
or fight with all our strength in the front lines of battle;
cowards and brave men are treated with equal respect.”

Book 8

I was struck by the horses in Book 8.

“And the Seasons touched the beautiful manes of the horses,
unyoked and tethered them at their celestial stalls,
and leaned the chariot against the bright wall of the courtyard.”

“A thousand watch fires were burning upon the plain,
and around each, fifty men sat in the glow of the firelight,
and the horses stood alongside the chariots, munching
white barley and oats, and waited for dawn to arise.”

Book 7 (Question)

“And soon, Menelaus, your life would have come to an end”

Am I supposed to read this as the poet speaking?

Book 7

“The sun was just now beginning to light up the fields
as it rose from the slow, deep-flowing stream of Ocean
to climb the sky, when the armies met on the plain.
It was hard to know whom the corpses belonged to, covered
with gore as they were and mangled, until the soldiers
with buckets of water washed off the clotted blood;
and they lifted them onto the wagons, shedding hot tears.”

Book 6

“No we must leave not a single
Trojan alive, not even the baby boy
that his mother still holds in her womb-not even one
must slip from our hands now. All the males must be slaughtered,
every last male in Troy, unmourned, unburied.”

That expresses things fairly succinctly.

It brings to mind examples in the Old Testament such as I Samuel 15:3  in which Saul is told by the Lord to “kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

It’s interesting to note that a little later in Book 6 (6.216-240) Diomedes and Glaucus although on opposite sides are not able to kill each other since their grandfathers were friends.

Book 5 (Ichor)

I still have images from childhood of books I read on the Greek gods and goddesses. Later in school, there were the difficulties trying to correlate the Roman gods (mostly known from the planets) to their Greek equivalents.  A similar feeling was felt toward the campaign in full charge at the time to Go Metric.  It’s interesting the things one remembers and forgets.  Speaking of which, ichor is the blood of the gods.

Book 5

We are told Athena infuses Diomedes with strength and bravery.

“He swept across the wide plain like a winter torrent
whose rushing water has bursts its embankments; the thick-built
dikes cannot hold it back, nor can it be halted
by the walls of the flourishing vineyards, when heavy rains
suddenly make it spill over, and farmers watch
as their beautiful fields of grain are destroyed beneath it;”

Book 4

We start off with a council of the gods.  If you don’t find that delightful, I swear there’s no hope for you…

At any rate, I liked it quite a bit, and it builds nice and slowly and to my mind reaches its climax with these spectacular lines:

“As when the sea’s swell keeps pounding against the shore,
wave after wave, hard driven before the west wind –
far out, it rises into a crest, then it breaks
on the land with a thundering roar, and around the headlands
it arches and comes to a peak and spits out the salt foam:
just so, on that day, did the Argive battalions move,
row after row, unceasingly, into battle.”

There are more lines to the poem, and from line 428 until the end we get the names of the killed, who killed them, and how they were killed.  While it’s a lot better than Book 2’s The Catalogue of Ships, there is certainly a degree of repetitiveness.

Book 3 (The Duel)

War is insane, and there is no particular reason why thousands of soldiers should lose their lives when one or two can.  I’d much prefer they’d shoot craps but blood in some form seems to be required.

You know the quote from Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun?”

Were Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr familiar with the story? The differences are, of course, multiple. Although era and choice of weapon available are obviously important, I can’t help but think of the Deist God most of the Founding Fathers believed in and the gods of the Greeks, who it seems never miss a chance to be involved. In this case, most strikingly, Aphrodite skirting Paris off.

Book 3 (Impression)

I really liked Book 3.

“Quickly, my dear – come look at the wonderful thing
that is happening on the plain. Achaeaens and Trojans
are no longer killing and dying. Look: they have halted
this dreadufl war; they have stopped their fighting; they stand
and lean on their shields, with their long spears stuck in the ground.”

Book 2 (Dreams)

And whoever said the gods were fair?

Old Zeus sends a dream to Agamemnon that takes on the appearance of Nestor.  Good news!  Attack the Trojans, and you’ll be victorious!

Book 2 (The Catalogue of Ships)

On reading this section, I was reminded of the time when as a young boy I decided to read the Bible.  Neither my family nor I were religious.  It was more out of curiosity than the feeling my soul was in jeopardy.

The only Bible available was the one that sat unread on a shelf in my parents’ closet. It was very old, and the pages were brittle.  I started with Matthew.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get past all the names to line 18 where the story actually begins.  If you think that’s bad, I challenge anyone to read Chapter One of First Chronicles and enjoy it.  One reads dreaming of an oasis, each name another sand dune. When you encounter, “he began to be mighty upon the earth” or “in his days the earth was divided” it as if you’ve found a resting place and fresh cool water and shade. I had nearly the same feeling reading this section of Book 2 and seeing:

“…he stood in their midst,
preeminent, splendid in armor of gleaming bronze,
the greatest of leaders.”  (2.540-542)

The Catalogue of Ships has been addressed by the thedancingprofessor here.

Book 2 (Initial Impression)

It started off briliantly, and I was certain it was going to be a glorious replay of Book 1. But then a little after the halfway point came The Catalogue of Ships.

Here are a few lines from the first part:
“And as the west wind sweeps through the high-standing grain
with its violent blast, and the ears all shudder and bow:
just so was the army shaken, and in the uproar
men rushed toward the shore, and the dust from beneath their feet
rose high and hung in the air.”

Book 1 (Questions)

What struck me most about Book 1 was that Achilles would have killed Agamemnon had Athena not intervened (1.195-205), and later Nestor telling Achilles not to defy the king as he was his superior and that Zeus had granted his kingship. (1.276-281)

Was Nestor’s view of kingship granted by Zeus the prevailing one?
How rigid was the social order?

Book 1 (Initial Impression)

It is told so clearly that even someone not familiar with the storyline would have little difficulty. The language is superb and the words flow so readily it was as if I were reading Wordsworth’s The Prelude.

Thetis says to her son Achilles:
“If only you could have stayed by the ships, without tears,
without pain, since your life is destined to be so short.
Not only must you die young, but your fleeting days
are doomed to be full of sorrow beyond all others.”

The Introduction

Mitchell’s insight that we all bring something of ourselves and our own experiences to a poem is an important one. How else is it possible to understand such widely divergent opinions as Simone Weil who saw the Iliad as an indictment of war and of Alexander the Great who said it was “a treasury of military virtue?”

In Ancient Athens we are told, readings of the Iliad drew enormous crowds (20,000!) from all walks of life.

I loved the excerpts from the poem he quotes, which give us an idea of Homer’s masterful use of language and “points to the pleasure we find everywhere in the poem.”  If the quality is such throughout, this is going to be one wonderful experience.

Consider these two:

“As, in the night sky, around the light of the moon,
the stars emerge, when the air is serene and windless,
and the stars shine bright, and the heart of the shepherd rejoices:”

“and his head drooped, like a poppy in a spring garden
weighed down with seeds and a heavy rain: so his head
leaned to one side beneath the weight of his helmet.”

Translation (The What)

I’ll admit it’s important. However, I also know arriving at the best text is an extremely complicated matter. Seeing I’m not a classicist, am not able to read the Iliad in Greek, and know nothing about the texts under consideration, I will just have to plead ignorance.

Knowing that the earliest full text of the New Testament dates to the 4th century AD, I was very surprised to learn that for the Iliad (Venetus A) it is the 10th century AD.

I really liked what Mitchell says in his Introduction:

“I am under no illusion that I have translated the original text of the Iliad, as written or dictated by the anonymous poet called Homer-just the most intelligent attempt we have at getting back to an original, and a text that I could use as the basis for the most intense possible poetic experience in English.”

The Translator

Here is one link and another for those who are interested in learning somethng about Stephen Mitchell, the translator, of the Iliad.

Translation (The How)

To begin, consider these two entries from Wikipedia:

Sense-for-sense translation…fundamentally means translating the meaning of each whole sentence before moving on to the next, and stands in normative opposition to word-for-word translation (also known as literal translation), which means translating the meaning of each lexical item in sequence.”

Dynamic and formal equivalence are terms for methods of translation coined by Eugene Nida. The two terms have often been understood as fundamentally the same as sense-for-sense translation (translating the meanings of phrases or whole sentences) and word-for-word translation (translating the meanings of individual words in their more or less exact syntactic sequence), respectively, and Nida did often seem to use them this way. But his original definition of dynamic equivalence was rhetorical: the idea was that the translator should translate so that the effect of the translation on the target reader is roughly the same as the effect of the source text once was on the source reader.”

Setting Sail

Having recently completed Gershom Scholem’s monumental work on Sabbatai Sevi, I think I can safely begin.

Scholem’s introduction to the Sabbatian movement was 102 pages long.  Well done, I say. I’ve always thought trying to get proper bearings was necessary before setting sail, which is what I’ll be trying to do.  I know the analogy is better suited to The Odyssey but always having had a strong pacifistic streak, I feel a little awkward saying sharpening my swords – unless, of course, they’re being made into plowshares, which I am pretty sure is not the case in The Iliad.


One of the two mentors I was fortunate to study under was a translator. For a while, I played with the idea of becoming one myself. I’ve always been fascinated by translation – the give and take – something added, something lost – the delicate balance necessary to pull it off.

Why such talk? For those who don’t remember, a number of us agreed to read the new Stephen Mitchell translation of The Iliad. Unfortunately, as fate (that’s what I’m calling it anyway) would have it, I ordered the wrong copy and the right one took forever to arrive in my little neck of the woods. In fact, it just got here. Everyone is so far ahead that even if I decided to stop working, and read night and day I would still not be able to catch up. If I were a speed reader it might help, but I can assure you I’m not, and have, in fact, always found the notion of speed and read in the same sentence let alone combined into one word nothing short of sacrilegious.

I have, however, been keeping myself up to date with their posts, and hopefully, through their insights I’ll be better able to appreciate the work.

But in order to do it justice I’ll first finish the books I’m reading as well as one I haven’t started but have had my eyes on. I also really do need to get working again on my second novel, which possibly might come out this year seeing that it’s about 70% finished – like the last one it was started long, long ago…

The idea is to immerse myself in The Iliad, post on it, and perhaps related subjects – depending on if and when the spirit moves.

I claim absolutely no expertise – just an immense love and respect for the written word.

Wrong Edition

For those who are planning to read The Iliad, please do not make the same mistake that I did, and get the wrong version!

They both have the same cover but the one everyone else is reading is  The Iliad: (The Stephen Mitchell Translation) by Homer and Stephen Mitchell while I mistakenly got  The Iliad by Homer and Stephen Mitchell.

I’ve just discovered that a Kindle edition isn’t available to me, so that means I’m going to have to wait.  I have the idea everyone will have finished, and I’ll have only just begun.

On Mitchell’s Introduction to The Iliad

“The ancient epic poems by Homer and Virgil, the medieval French epic The Song of Roland, Shakespeare’s Henry V, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22— each of these works takes war as a mirror of human nature, in all its fear and hope. But of all great literature about war, none concentrates more fiercely than Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Iliad on the dark, pointless brutalities that are part of human combat.”

Catch-22 is an interesting inclusion.

However much The Iliad concentrates on “pointless brutalities” I don’t think Mitchell is claiming it is anti-war in the sense we might think Aristophanes’ Lysistrata was.

“Legend has it that he was blind, but there is no actual evidence to support this.”

The idea of being blind, of course, meant he could really see.

“…blindness in Ancient Greek culture. Deprivation of light is almost as undesirable as death, yet blindness bestows a status of distinction in a culture where choice between light and honor is difficult.Blindness is punishment for breaking the limits of human knowledge, yet it is also the means to insight (truth-vision of metaphysical light). The (polluted) blind seers and poets enjoy the highest religious, social and political powers.”

The lliad

I received  an email allegedly from a well-known mobile phone company on Tuesday, whose name will remain undisclosed, and while I’m not sure they actually did send it, considering the number of text messages and calls we receive desperately pleading with us that we are losing out, one does have to wonder.

Yesterday, I finally got round to ordering The Iliad in Kindle format.

Last night, while running an anti-virus scan, what should I discover but….a Backdoor.Trojan. Yes, from the email I had received but deleted.

In case you’re interested, there are a number of us who are going to be reading The Iliad, and posting and commenting on it as we see fit.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a scholar though I do have great respect for those who are. My idea is just to begin posting impressions of it as and if they come.

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