I finally finished The Iliad yesterday after having it slowed a bit by reading Pride and Prejudice. It was a phenomenal book, but tended to get a bit repetitive in parts. But there is even a reason for that, and it's one I can understand. What the story does really well is portray some characters very deeply, and make them really connect with the reader. I'll break this review down into the good and the bad.
First, the bad: the battle scenes tended to blend in my mind. Though the battles themselves are described in incredible detail, the acts of heroism become redundant after a while. I get that big Ajax is really quite strong. As is Hector. As is Agamemnon. As is Patroclus. As is... you get the point. There are only so many times I want to read something along the lines of "He challenged the son of _____ and called on (insert God here) to help him. He let fly his spear and it hit the buckler in the middle and pierced through. The dark death fell over _______'s eyes." Unless I am invested in the person, why do I need to know their background?
Now, there's a reason for this. The Iliad is a sort of history, but it was also originally sung or recited. The repetitiveness makes two things possible: comprehensiveness and flow. So that's why, while it bugged me, the nitty gritty wasn't a dealbreaker with this story. Which leads me to...
The good: the breadth, emotion, horror, and beauty of this story are unbelievable. Those characters that do play major roles are well-developed. You can't help but feel terribly as Achilles weeps over the death of his friend Patroclus. And the same goes for Priam as he tries to regain the body of Hector. The Iliad really doesn't hide the emotion and pain of war at all, be it through graphic descriptions of killing or heart-rending passages about those affected by the war. There is a reason this story has survived for thousands of years: it's incredibly compelling. Sure, in our modern time some of it seems unbelievable, but I think that added to it. Two armies fighting seems stupid. Two armies fighting while a group of gods do the same on the same field? That seems epic, and as if it is somehow more important. Does it make sense that way? Not really. Nevertheless, that's what I ended up feeling when I read this.
If, like me, you've waited this long to read The Iliad, don't hesitate any more. Go out and get Robert Fagles' translation (it was amazingly good, and never got bogged down in weird turns of phrase) and read it soon. At some point in the near future, I'll be diving into his version of The Odyssey, so expect a report from that in the next couple of months. I need a break from epics for a bit though. So next up will be P.G. Wodehouse's Right Ho, Jeeves, which I'm already halfway through. Look for that soon!