Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Iliad and Me: The Why, The How, The Book


I recently started reading the Iliad, which I found to my pleasant surprise, was a book that I enjoyed greatly. The Iliad and the Odyssey have been on my list of books to read for a while, and I have only just now reached The Iliad. I have read the first six books (can't wait to reach the tenth book) and I am enjoying it. I remember when I first started it I was surprised to reach the end of the first book, which means that I was enjoying it so much I didn't notice how fast I was going. I highlight passages, descriptions, phrases, names and dialogue as I go. A lot of them have to do with horses, and I am surprised at how much emphasis it puts on horses in it. Horses or something of and related to horses is mentioned on nearly every page. It makes me realize what a huge part horses were of the culture and the need to survive back then, kind of like a car is now, except horses were probably a bit more intimate. I think that the men must have grown some attached to their horses, as we grow attached to dogs. Dogs and cats are a huge part of our culture, and we keep them as pets. It's almost a family necessity, although many families go without it; but it is something that (and I'm just guessing here) that about 85% of Americans have in their household. As such, most people (at least nearly all the fighters and noblemen) had horses. Tolkien also put a lot of emphasis (for that kind of a book) on his horses. He gave them names, created special races, and extraordinary mounts for the characters. Apparently, horses were also a big part of life in Middle-Earth. Rohan, home of the horse-lords especially. Eomer and Eowyn both have names with Rohan (horse) heritage. When I began to realize this, I thought to myself: "If Tolkien and Homer did it, why can't I unveil it?"
Meaning: If Tolkien and Homer wrote about times of great war, where the horses were important, where they had minor (but important) parts in the story....what about how they came to meet? What about why those horses and that man (and that woman) have a special relationship that is generally of and pertaining to fantasy? Why not write how and why it happened? I don't feel guilty about making horses a huge part of the book. I'm still struggling with the idea of Ebony and the other horses talking, at all or ever. I think I might do a commentary from the horses' side: he can't talk out loud, but he can make things known. If you have any opinions on talking animals and why or why not, leave me a comment. I'll have a poll on this soon.
The Iliad, besides the constant reference to horses, also describes armour and chariots in great detail. I wonder if this was part of their honour or pride? Horse-hair plumage was often found on their helmets (in the Lord of the Rings movies, Eomer's helmet and probably several others were depicted with horse hair plumage coming out the top.) The Iliad, so far, also mentioned a 'god or goddess' on nearly every page as well. Tolkien does have better world-views, although the Iliad is a great book. So far. :) The 'gods' that so many Trojans and Archaens worship did not even create the peoples in the book; I think it was their gods or their parents that did, and thus they might have been created in that way themselves. I am not sure. This is my first time reading the Iliad, and I don't know a whole lot about Greek Mythology. Now I know why Historygeek knows so much about Greek mythology! The Iliad is ripe with it. If I ever need to know something about Greek Mythology, I just ask Historygeek. The Iliad isn't exactly a fantasy, I don't think, but more of an epic. Lord of the Rings is also an epic, but it has an obvious fantastic epicus about it. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is not an epic. I'm not even sure I can call the Narnia tales epics; those are Chronicles. :)
Many of the characters in the Iliad have immoral tastes as well. I have been told that it is very violent and gory; I haven't gotten to any good battles yet. The footnotes, although not part of the original translation, as far as I know, have been helpful in helping understand the story, and very interesting. The story of Pegasus and his rider Bellerophon was briefly mentioned in book six, which I am vaguely familiar with. I don't feel as guilty about the horses anymore, since the word is mentioned on nearly every page in the Iliad. Even Tolkien didn't mention the horses as often, if I recall properly. I am really enjoying the Iliad. I try to read a book a day, so I can get through it easier. I don't like leaving off in the middle of a chapter or a book. I think I heard that the Iliad took up about eight scrolls to write. I am not sure that Homer even wrote it. I read that he only told the tales, and they became so well known that people could write them down, in Greek. It is now (obviously) translated into English, but Historygeek says he might eventually end up reading it in Greek, to read it in its most original state. Sounds like hard work, but it is fun work. If you do something that you like, you'll never work a day in your life. I quote...somebody. Can't remember their name. The Iliad and the Odyssey have influenced dozens (hundreds?!) of writers through the ages. Harry Potter may or may not be a product of Iliad influence. Tolkien was, I think, and probably Lewis. I think Paolini probably was as well. If he read Beowulf, he had to have read The Iliad. I give the Iliad five stars (four if you go by amazon rating). I'll post more thoughts on it soon.
Anna Elizabeth Hedges

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