Chapter 2: Homer, The Iliad – Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity.pdf - Home Read Sign in Search in book … LITERATURE THE HUMANITIES AND

Chapter 2: Homer, The Iliad – Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity.pdf

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Home Read Sign in LITERATURE, THE HUMANITIES, AND HUMANITY CONTENTS Search in book Main Body Chapter 2: Homer, ! e Iliad Why have I read Homer’s Iliad fifteen or twenty times? The simple answer is that I have taught it many times and each time I teach a book I like to reread it. Of course, that answer is insufficient. I obviously could teach the book without rereading it, and besides, no one requires me to teach this particular book. So why have I read Homer’s Iliad fifteen or twenty times? A better answer is because I love it. As I said earlier, I like to think of books—the physical objects, books—as holding a world that I can enter; and as I also said, some of my best friends, some of the people I know best, live in books. When I read these books, I visit with these friends. Furthermore, I find The Iliad to be so profound, so true in what it says
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about being a human being and living in this world, that it never fails to make me see and understand the world differently and, I hope, better. For a number of reasons, The Iliad is different from most of the literature we are accustomed to, and it helps to know something about those differences and the reasons behind them before reading the poem. It is worth stressing, in the first place, that when we read The Iliad , we are reading a poem. There are many fine translations of The Iliad , and some of them translate the poem into prose. My feeling is that it is vital to read a contemporary poetic translation that captures the feeling of the original Greek. None does this as well as the translation by Richmond Lattimore, though, to my ear, the more recent translation by Robert Fagles is a close second. But The Iliad is not simply a poem the way, say, a verse work by Wordsworth is a poem, for the story of its creation was entirely different. To explain what I mean, I must condense the work of many scholars who know this material far better than I do. The Iliad is about the Trojan War, but was there really such a thing as the Trojan War? Apparently there was, at some time in the late thirteenth century BCE. Was it fought over Helen of Troy and did it include great heroes from all over Greece and Asia Minor? Probably not. Actually we know very little about the war itself. The site of the war, at a spot in Turkey now called Hissarlik, has been identified, but the war itself was undoubtedly a relatively minor trade war of the kind that took place fairly frequently. The Trojans and some ancient Greek tribes were fighting over who would have commercial ascendancy, and the war itself, which was certainly important to those who took part in it or to those who suffered from it, was hardly crucial for the course of world history. But out of that war grew a series of legends that, over the course of several centuries, became The Iliad and The Odyssey (and a number of other poems that have mostly disappeared but that constituted a whole cycle of poems about Troy and the heroes who fought there). How did that transformation occur and what does it mean?
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