Transnational Research Associates

The Iliad: General Observations

Art Madsen,M.Ed.

As the reader soon recognizes, Homer’s poem is epic in nature, by virtue of its length, scope, tone, style, and content.I was struck, in absorbing this account of the Trojan War, by the beauty of the versification. In our English language version, no attempt is made to achieve and actual rhyme, and yet the cadence and overall effect of Homer’s power and strength are readily communicated.The original Greek must have been spectacularly poetic, even musical.

After perusing the introductory and explanatory notes, I found myself asking as I moved toward the opening sequence dealing with the prayer of Achilles to Apollo for the release of his daughter, how magnificently Homer blends the Greek Gods, and the entire mythology for which his civilization is so famous, with aspects of war which were very real.

Throughout this narrative, Achilles turns to the Gods for support constantly, particularly when in battle. He kills his enemies mercilessly, even as he evokes his Gods for assistance.From a modern day perspective, I found this paradoxical, but very human.

As I moved toward segments focusing on the broadening of the war in The Great Gathering of the Armies, I began to see the scope and magnitude of this struggle.Not only was this Agamemnon versus Achilles, but battles over Troy, over neighboring lands, and even beyond the immediate theater of war were continuously raging. The implications of these battles for future generations were enormous (Book 2, Line 140), all the more so since, from his perspective within the war itself, Homer and his characters could see no end in sight, except perhaps upon sheer exhaustion after constant and universal destruction.

I was also struck by the flow of the narrative which simply “went on and on” from one battle or episode to the next.It was an uninterrupted string of events, always intermeshed with mythological figures, much the way we call upon God today to assist us in the midst of turmoil.

Unarguably, Homer excelled at description. I see flashing helmets (Book 6, line 135) and brotherly cooperation (Book 6, Line 120). There were meticulously crafted character portraits, as well, such as that of Hector later in the poem.Using detail, Homer blends action and emotions, combining them to form the near perfect poetic narrative that The Iliad has become over the ages.

Homeric narration, I noticed, also allows for a view of the “big picture.” We see the resurgence of one army and the defeat of another. There is a period when Agamemnon triumphs, and one for Achilles, sill another for Paris who ultimately kills Achilles (p. 631, note 19.494). Legends and mythology are fused, creating a magnificent tapestry.

Having praised this narrative poem, what valid questions might I ask? Homer generally answers most of them, as do his critics. I am left, however, as are some critics and scholars apparently, wondering how truthful this account actually is. What percentage of it is pure mythology and what percentage is verifiable history? That issue needs clarification, in spite of the universally recognized importance of this Homeric Epic.