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The Iliad Hardcover – Oct 11 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (Oct. 11 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781439163375
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439163375
  • ASIN: 1439163375
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4.3 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #147,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“Stephen Mitchell’s magnificent new translation of the Iliad reminds us that there is always a new and different way to read and interpret the great classics, and that they need to be reinvigorated from generation to generation, just as we need to be reminded that they are, however venerated, above all stories: exciting, full of life and great characters, in short great entertainment, not just great monuments of culture or the Western canon. Mr. Mitchell has accomplished this difficult feat wonderfully well, and produced a book which is a joy to read and an Iliad for this generation.” —Michael Korda, D. Litt., author of Hero, Ike, and Ulysses S. Grant

“Stephen Mitchell has done a marvelous thing here: he has given fresh energy and poetic force to a work that perennially repays our attention. Without the Iliad the West would be a vastly poorer place; Homer’s achievement speaks to every successive generation with its unflinching understanding of the essential tragic nature of life. Mitchell’s translation is a grand accomplishment.”
-- Jon Meacham, author of American Lion

“Mitchell’s wonderful new version of the Iliad is a worthy addition to his list of distinguished renditions of the classics.” —Peter Matthiessen

“A sturdy, muscular, and nuanced translation that will surely bring many new readers to this great work.”—John Banville, author of The Sea

“Mitchell’s translation is a brilliant accomplishment. It captures the fierce energy, rhythms, and powerful narrative of Homer’s Greek in vivid and compelling English.” —Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels

“Mitchell’s five-beat line is a startlingly strong alternative to other translators’ attempts to capture the inimitably mellifluous flow of Homer’s Greek. Mitchell fits a meter to the poem, but also the poem to the meter, paring away words that could not work in English, aiming always to preserve the uncanny aesthetic distance and moral neutrality of the original at its full, thrilling, and horrifying depth. Read three pages, any three pages, and you’ll realize that, no, you are not yet done with Homer.” —Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography

”A strange, almost forgotten feeling overtook me as I first dipped into this new translation. I felt compelled to recite aloud! The poetry rocks and has a macho cast to it, like rap music. It’s overtly virile stuff, propelled from the time when music, language, information, and politics were not yet distinguished.” —Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget

About the Author

Stephen Mitchell is widely known for his ability to make old classics thrillingly new. His many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, the Iliad, GilgameshThe Gospel According to Jesus, The Book of Job, Bhagavad Gita, and The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. His website is

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By B. Chandler TOP 100 REVIEWER on Oct. 6 2013
Format: Hardcover
With many books, translations are negligible, with two obvious exceptions, one is the Bible, and surprisingly the other is The Iliad. Each translation can give a different insight and feel to the story. Everyone will have a favorite. I have several.

For example:

"Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
Murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many souls,
great fighters' souls. But made their bodies carrion,
feasts for dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles."
-Translated by Robert Fagles, 1990

"Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a heroes did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures for so were the counsels of Zeus fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles first fell out with one another."
-Translated by Samuel Butler, 1888

Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And let their bodies rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon--
The Greek Warlord--and godlike Achilles.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven Siffledeen on Sept. 24 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I definitely was happy with this book. It's a beautiful hardcover book, and even came with it's own ribbon book mark. Definitely more than I expected.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 38 reviews
121 of 132 people found the following review helpful
An abridged Iliad - good enough poetry, but hardly "The" Iliad Nov. 30 2011
By Christopher H. Hodgkin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I love the Iliad. Over the past fifty years I have read it in many different translations. And there are many to choose from; a list of complete translations of the Iliad includes more than 70 versions. [...]

In college, I of course read Lattimore, which at the time was (and indeed still is) the gold standard for scholarship. A few years later, I re-read it in the translation of Pope, initially a struggle, but once I got into the flow of it and of his somewhat archaic language, around the middle of book 2, magnificent. I have read most of the major modern translations as they came out. Robert Fitzgerald (I really like this translation and chose it to reread for a book discussion group a few years ago). Ian Johnson (an online translation, good for content and to my ear much as I think the original singers would have sounded, who as we know didn't repeat the poem word-for-word from memory but built it each time from stock phrases and filling in the gaps as they went, but not as smooth poetically as some other translations). Lombardo (I read about four books and skimmed the rest, finding his translation jarringly modernized with contemporary language and references that in my view seriously degraded the nobility of the original). Fagles (much celebrated, and enjoyable enough but not in my view as true to the feel of Homer as Lattimore and Fitzgerald). I have dipped into various other translations as they were available on line or as I visited university libraries that had these more obscure translations: Chapman, of course, because of Keats; Butler; and various others.

With more than 70 translations of the Iliad available, do we really need another one? The answer is that this isn't really another Iliad as we know it. This is, instead, an abridgement of the full Iliad based on the highly controversial work of Martin West, who claimed to have identified and excised substantial parts of the standard text which he argued were not in the original version, whatever that was, but were later additions. West's work has been well discussed both in scholarly circles and in a very accessible review in the November 7, 2011 edition of the New Yorker.

Mitchell's translation has been praised as fast moving, modern, highly accessible. From my reading of the first three books (as long as I could spend in the bookstore reading it) this is a fair comment, though I frankly don't find it any particular improvement over Fitzgerald or Fagles.

But my primary complaint is that it is deceptive in purporting to the first time or occasional reader to be "The Iliad," when in fact it is, when compared with every other translation available, an abridgment of the Iliad. There is nothing on the covers of the book to suggest to one who finds it in the bookstore or on line that this is not the same Iliad that every English student and past reader of the Iliad has known. There is nothing to suggest that substantial portions of what has for centuries been accepted as the Iliad are totally missing. There is nothing to suggest that a student who chooses this translation to read for a course in Homer will be missing substantial portions of the text that other students will be reading (and that the professor will presumably expect the students to have read and be prepared to discuss).

If a reader or purchaser is aware that this is an abridgment and that they will not be getting the full Iliad, and chooses to read it anyhow, that's fine. It is a perfectly acceptable translation, though in my view not any better than several other choices. But for the work to claim to be the Iliad when it simply is not is, I believe, deceptive and dishonest and cheats the reader who wants to read the same Iliad that his parents, his grandparents, and everyone who has read it before Mitchell has known and loved.

If you have not yet read the Iliad, skip this translation and get one of the quality translations of the full work -- my own recommendations are Lattimore, Fitzgerald, or Fagles. If you already know the Iliad and are interested in knowing what West and Mitchell have stripped from the standard text, then go ahead and read this abridgment and see whether you think they have improved the work or not. But don't buy this is you want to read the Iliad. Because it isn't.
63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Readable translation, but... Nov. 14 2011
By stephen liem - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are 2 ways to comment on Stephen Mitchell's new translation of Homer's Iliad. One, is to comment on the technical aspect of his translation; and, two, is to comment on the readability of his translation in ordinary English language (by the way, this is one of the main points that Mitchel is making: that his translation is more contemporary and captures the current way that we use the English language).

First, on the technical aspect of the translation. I will not say too much here since I am not a Homeric scholar and I am sure that there are many other experts out there who will debate this point. Nevertheless, it will be useful to give a background on how Mitchel came about translating this. His translation is based on Martin L West's edition of Homer's Iliad. It should be noted that West's edition is controversial because he made a distinction between "original" text as written by the author of Iliad ("Homer"), and subsequent additions to that original text. West has stipped away all text that are not "original" by his own standard and criteria. As a result, the entire Book X, for example, has been banished, and so have many lines, and phrases that are deemed "additonal". As I mentioned before, Micthel's translation also left out those "additional" text that are not "original". I can imagine that scholars can and undoubtedbly will, debate what is "original", and what is "addition" for a very long time. (By the way, Daniel Mandelshon in The New Yorker magazine Nov 7 2011, has a review of this book that explains just how silly the definition of "original" versus "addition" can be. Highly recommended to read.)

Second, now, on to the readability of his translation. Here, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that Mitchel's translation add nothing new to the readability of Homer's Iliad that has been done by other contemporary translators, notably Stanley Lombardo. In other words, if you are looking for a contemporary translation with readable and common English, Lombardo's work will do just fine. In fact Lombardo's translation adds something new with how he structured the similes, which in Iliad are everywhere. Of course if you are looking for poetic beauty, Fagles' translation is still the book to read.

Here is a comparison between Fagles, Lombardo and Mitchel:

- Fagles (Book 19, 254):
"You talk of food?
I have no taste for food - what I really crave
is slaughter and blood and the choking groan of men!"

- Lombardo (Book 19, 225):
"Nothing matters to me now
but killing, and blood, and men in agony."

- Mitchell (Book 19, 215):
"I cannot think about eating. All I can think of
is slaugther and bloodshed and the loud groans of the dying."

From a poetic perspective, Fagles is more dramatic ("crave", "choking"), but from readability perspective, Lombardo's is fine enough. Thus, I find Mitchel's translation sits in somewhere between Fagles and Lombardo: not as poetic as Fagles, but, not as innovative as Lombardo's either.
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
The ground is dark with blood Dec 25 2011
By bernie - Published on
Format: Hardcover
With many books, translations are negligible, with two obvious exceptions, one is the Bible, and surprisingly the other is The Iliad. Each translation can give a different insight and feel to the story. Everyone will have a favorite. I have several.

For example:

"Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
Murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many souls,
great fighters' souls. But made their bodies carrion,
feasts for dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles."
-Translated by Robert Fagles, 1990

"Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a heroes did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures for so were the counsels of Zeus fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles first fell out with one another."
-Translated by Samuel Butler, 1888

Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And let their bodies rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
Begin with the clash between Agamemnon--
The Greek Warlord--and godlike Achilles."
-Translated by Stanley Lombardo, 1997

"Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men--carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another--
the Lord Marshal Agamémnon, Atreus' son, and Prince Akhilleus."
-Translated by Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, 1963

"Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son of Achilleus and its devastation, which puts pains thousandfold upon the Achains,
hurled in the multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood the division of conflict Atrecus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus."
-Translated by Richmond Lattimore, 1951

"Sing, goddess, of Peleus' son Achilles' anger, ruinous, that caused the Greeks untold ordeals, consigned to Hades countless valiant souls, heroes, and left their bodies prey for dogs or feast for vultures. Zeus's will was done from when those two first quarreled and split apart, the king, Agamemnon, and matchless Achilles."
-Translated by Herbert Jordan, 2008

"An angry man-there is my story: the bitter rancor of Achillês, prince of the house of Peleus, which brought a thousand troubles upon the Achaian host. Many a strong soul it sent down to Hadês, and left the heroes themselves a prey to the dogs and carrion birds, while the will of God moved on to fulfillment."
-Translated and transliterated by W.H.D. Rouse, 1950

"Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom,
and such the will of Jove!"
-Translated by Alexander Pope, 1720

"Achilles sing, O Goddess! Peleus' son;
His wrath pernicious, who ten thousand woes
Caused to Achaia's host, sent many a soul
Illustrious into Ades premature,
And Heroes gave (so stood the will of Jove)
To dogs and to all ravening fowls a prey,
When fierce dispute had separated once
The noble Chief Achilles from the son
Of Atreus, Agamemnon, King of men."
-Translated by William Cowper, London 1791

"Achilles' baneful wrath - resound, O goddess - that impos'd
Infinite sorrow on the Greeks, and the brave souls loos'd
From beasts heroic; sent them far, to that invisible cave*
That no light comforts; and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave:
To all which Jove's will give effect; from whom the first strife begun
Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis' godlike son*"
-Translated by George Chapman, 1616

"The Rage of Achilles--sing it now, goddess, sing through me
the deadly rage that caused the Achaeans such grief
and hurled down to Hades the souls of so many fighters,
leaving their naked flesh to be eaten by dogs
and carrion birds, as the will of Zeus was accomplished.
Begin at the time when bitter words first divided
that king of men, Agamemnon, and godlike Achilles."
-Translated by Stephen Mitchell

"Sing now, goddess, the wrath of Achilles the scion of Peleus,
ruinous rage which brought the Achaians uncounted afflictions;
many of the powerful souls it sent to the dwelling of Hades,
those of the heroes, and spoil for the dogs it made it their bodies,
plunder for the birds, and the purpose of Zeus was accomplished__"
-Translated by Rodney Merrill

"Sing, goddess, the anger of Achilles, Peleus' son,
the accused anger which brought the Achaeans countless
agonies and hurled many mighty shades of heroes into Hades,
causing them to become the prey of dogs
and all kinds of birds; and the plan of Zeus was fulfilled."
-Translated by Anthony Verity

"Of Peleus' son, Achilles, sing, O Muse,
The vengeance, deep and deadly; whence to Greece
Unnumbered ills arose; which many a soul
Of mighty warriors to the viewless shades
Ultimately sent; they on the battle plain
Unburied lay, to rav'ning dogs,
And carrion birds; but had Jove decreed,"
-Translated by Edward Smith-Stanly 1862

"Sing, goddess, of the anger of Achileus, son of Peleus, the accrued anger which brought uncounted anguish on the Achaians and hurled down to Hades many mighty souls of heroes, making their bodies the prey to dogs and the birds' feasting: and this was the working of Zeus' will"
-Translated by Martin Hammond

"Sing, Goddess of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus-
that murderous anger witch condemned Achaeans
to countless agonies and threw many warrior souls
deep into Hades, leaving their dead bodies
carrion food for dogs and birds-
all in the fulfillment of the will of Zeus"
- Translated by Professor Ian Johnston, British Columbia 2006

"The rage, sing O goddess, of Achilles, son of Peleus,
The destructive anger that brought ten-thousand pains to the
Achaeans and sent many brave souls of fighting men to the house
of Hades and made their bodies a feast for dogs
and all kinds of birds. For such was the will of Zeus."
- Translated by Barry B. Powell

"Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles Peleus' son, the ruinous wrath that brought on the Achaians woes innumerable, and hurled down into Hades many strong souls of heroes, and gave their bodies to be a prey to dogs and all winged fowls; and so the counsel of Zeus wrought out its accomplishment from the day when first strife parted Atreides king of men and noble Achilles."
- Translated by Andrew Lang, M.A., Walter Leaf, Litt.D., And Ernest Myers, M.A.
Books I. - IX. . . . . W. Leaf.
" X. - XVI. . . . . A. Lang.
" XVII. - XXIV. . . . . E. Myers.

Another translation is by Ennis Samuel Rees, Jr. (March 17, 1925 - March 24, 2009)

Greek Latin
----- -----
Zeus. Jupiter.
Hera. Juno.
(Pallas) Athene. Minerva.
Aphrodite. Venus.
Poseidon. Neptune.
Ares. Mars.
Hephaestus. Vulcan.

You will find that some translations are easier to read but others are easier to listen to on recordings, lectures, Kindle, and the like. If you do not see information on specific translators, it is still worth the speculation and purchase. Right after the translation readability and understanding, do not overlook the introduction which gives an inset to what you are about to read.

The Stephen Mitchell translation goes though each of the major characters so well that you think you know them before you starts reading. Other introductions explain the struggle between different types of power. Rodney Merrill's 28 page introduction focuses on singing.

The Oxford University Press Barry B. Powell has an extensive introduction with real "MAPS". Also there is information of the finder Schliemann. We even get annotation on the meaning being conveyed.

Our story takes place in the ninth year of the ongoing war. We get some introduction to the first nine years but they are just a background to this tale of pride, sorrow and revenge. The story will also end abruptly before the end of the war.

We have the wide conflict between the Trojans and Achaeans over a matter of pride; the gods get to take sides and many times direct spears and shields.

Although the more focused conflict is the power struggle between two different types of power. That of Achilles, son of Peleus and the greatest individual warrior and that of Agamemnon, lord of men, whose power comes form position.

We are treated to a blow by blow inside story as to what each is thinking and an unvarnished description of the perils of war and the search for Arête (to be more like Aries, God of War.)

Troy - The Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Not your High School edition (or experience) of The Iliad Oct. 22 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have bad memories of struggling though Homer in High School, you're in for a real treat. The language in this new translation is so beautiful and so readable you won't be able to put it down. As you might imagine, I wasn't searching for a new edition of the Iliad when I learned about this new edition. I learned of it on the radio. I heard a fascinating interview of Steven Mitchell by Michael Krasny on KQED radio that I highly recommend you listen to, too: [...]. This interview inspired me to order the book. I was somewhat sheepish about ordering it as I knew there was a reasonable chance it would go unread. But order it I did and I am not sorry. After reading the first dozen pages, I called my husband into the room to share in my excitement. I began to read the first few pages and he sat down and suggested I continue reading. We finally stopped at the end of the first book and agreed to read the full book aloud. When was the last time you wanted to hear any book read aloud? Buy this book. Be delighted. Enjoy (finally) one of the greatest stories of all time. And don't miss that interview!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An Eerie Experience June 24 2013
By Mark Edward Bachmann - Published on
Format: Paperback
Trying to review the The Iliad is a presumptuous and probably futile exercise. It was created for purposes that have little to do with any modern notion of literary pleasure, and there is no standard to hold it to. Having just gone through it again after a thirty year interval from my first exposure, however, I was once again hypnotized from beginning to end, and now I can't get it out of my head. I'm hence writing not to review it so much as to help myself figure out what's really going on here. Why does the piece still have such uncanny power when there are so many odd things that make it confusing and unpalatable today?

First, though, what are the oddities and the sources of vexation? For one thing, as with the books of the Bible, nobody's quite sure who wrote it, or if "Homer", its purported author, even existed. From accounts I've read, the story and text were passed down via an ancient "oral tradition", meaning that it was recited or sung to music by generations of anonymous bards, who committed it to memory after learning it from earlier practitioners. Eventually it was transcribed into the characters used to represent the ancient Greek language and from there repeatedly re-transcribed and eventually translated into virtually every modern written language on our planet. The particular version that I experienced was an English translation done in 2011 by Brooklyn-born poet Stephen Mitchell, who worked from text compiled sometime earlier by British scholar Martin West, who in turn was amalgamating whatever sources he considered appropriate, apparently deleting much that he judged to be the result of latter-day embellishment. Finally, I didn't read The Illiad this time but listened to it as an audiotape performance by British actor Alfred Molina, who brought to bear on the material yet another independent influence.

Our contemporary vantage point on this convoluted process at least this gives us a useful term to describe it: The IIiad, in whatever form we get it today, is the result of "crowd sourcing" over the course of two and a half millennia or so. Countless people from radically diverse backgrounds made their individual contributions to the story that came to me through my earphones in 2013. All of them would have had talent, and some surely were brilliant, but none of them as individuals were likely to have been literary or philosophical geniuses. The thing is a stylistic mishmash, and it is impossible to know what relationship it has to whatever the original ancient source may have been.

Another problem is the irritating temporal structure, undoubtedly resulting from the way the poem evolved. The narrative assumes the listener already knows the bizarre story of the mythological 10-year Trojan War, and other than through disjointed allusions, little attempt is made to clarify the history or the plotline. I once knew a fair amount about Greek mythology but have since forgotten much of it and had to do lot of Googling to keep things straight. The entire action takes place during a few weeks at the end of the long war, but the poem terminates abruptly before the end actually occurs or Troy falls. We know of course that a sequel is coming in the form of The Odyssey, but that's not much help for modern readers/listeners who might be expecting this piece to stand on its own normally with a crescendoing plot and satisfying climax.

Then there is the problem of values. It's been decades since I read any literary discussions of the Iliad, but I can only imagine what modern-day feminists have had to say about it. Helen is supposedly the central figure here, but she only makes a few brief appearances, generally moping around the Trojan royal palace and repeatedly describing herself as a "bitch" for having caused the War. She thus assumes blame for everything, even though the account directly ascribes to her no role other than that of victim to an abduction. Meanwhile, we're led to admire the hoards of testosterone-addled lunatics who have leapt happily into a ten-year bloodbath, obviously seizing on any old excuse to have at one another.

Along a parallel thread, another passive woman stands at the center of the main dramatic tension in the poem, which is the bitterness between King Agamemnon and the warrior prince Achilles. It seems that sometime earlier after conquering an Anatolian city, Achilles had claimed its leading princess as his prize but was forced to yield when Agamemnon demanded that the hapless damsel be handed over instead as his prize. Achilles lacks the political clout to countermand the king, but he seeks his revenge by taking to his tent for a sulk and withholding his allegiance from the impending siege of Troy. Eventually fearing that he might lose the war without the service of his most ferocious fighter, Agamemnon reconsiders and as an inducement attempts to hand the princess back to him, along with some cattle, some gold, and a few other captive women. Like a pouting brat, Achilles spurns the overture now, and only after hearing that his best friend has died in combat does Achilles re-enter the fray for revenge against the killers. Achilles, of course, is meant to be the story's shining star and the guy we look up to. The narrative gives no indication whatsoever about what the captive ladies think about him or any of the other fellows who have arrived to bring such grace into their lives. It doesn't seem to matter.

We, of course, also have to wade through the violence that pervades The Iliad. I have read a fair amount of military history and consider myself a fan of military fiction, but even I have rarely read anything exhibiting quite this degree of bloody intensity. One after another, long, extravagant passages overflow with medically explicit details of horrendous wounds and painful deaths. Swords pass in between ribs and out though gashes that let livers and other organs slither onto the ground. Spears sail through the air and splatter brains after severing tongues and crunching skull bones. Teeth and eyeballs keep popping out sockets. Yuch! The poem's other disagreeable features include it's proclivity for wondering off into long diversions only marginally connected to the plotline, or descending into mind-numbing minutia. The famous "catalogue of ships", for example, goes on forever and ever with the names, ethnicities, and family histories of all the invading Greek captains. There surely were a lot of them.

However much all of this grates against modern sensibilities, though, none of it seems to matter once you give yourself over to The Iliad's mesmerizing rhythm. This thing rises up and sucks you into itself, making you take off your editorial hat and accept the unacceptable. So looping back to my original question, what is the source of this inexplicable magic? The answer I think lies with the drive we all have, conscious or otherwise, to re-experience our roots. In a way that's not possible through a modern work of historical fiction that only tries to re-imagine the past, this poem satisfies that primal desire because it actually arises from the past. It's crowd-sourced origin offers the sensation of hearing our ancestors speak to us collectively, as from a hidden chorus. You start feeling the world, however dimly and fleetingly, the way the ancient Greeks must have felt it.

Cognitive psychologists have theorized that the brains of ancient peoples were actually wired differently from ours, giving them an interior reality that would have been entirely foreign to us. The Iliad tugs at our modern neurological wiring and seems to be trying to reconnect some of the old lost circuits. It's scary. Religion is a major force here, and the Greeks experienced religion in a more immediate way than most of us can. They may quite literally in their heads have heard the voices of their gods, in much the way that schizophrenics hear voices. Part of the experience of reading The Iliad is entering into the Greeks' polytheism. It's always been a conceit of modernism that contemporary religious doctrines or intellectual fashions supersede everything that came before, rendering it childlike and foolish. A close reading of The Illiad can't help but give one a new respect for the power of ancient cosmology.

Believers in any of the modern monotheistic religions have, or perhaps should have, a hard time understanding war. Why does God allow it, and whose side is He on? Beset by continuous warfare as they were, the ancient Greeks developed an ingenious framework for coming to grips with these questions: The various gods from their pantheon were aligned on opposite sides! As an ancient Greek, you can start sorting out the violent chaos around you once you accept that remarkable premise. In The Iliad we see the gods repeatedly intervening in combat on one side or the other, albeit in disguise, and on a couple of occasions actually suffering wounds. But then later on we see them all gathered together on Olympus, arguing about the day's events in relative repose, as if over cocktails and cheese. They themselves are immortal, and it's all a game to them.

The Greek gods were often jealous, underhanded, cruel, and petty, while at other times they could be wise, compassionate, and fair. In short, they were like humans, except with superpowers and infinite life expectancies. Even the supposedly omnipotent Zeus struggles against his personal flaws and limitations. He tries to maintain an even hand in the war while his divine underlings squabble like adolescents on a play-yard. He's unable to control even his devoted and generally loyal wife Hera, who at one point gussies herself up and seduces her husband to distract him long enough for the Achaeans, whom she favors, to gain a temporary upper hand in the fighting. When Zeus comes to his senses and sees the trick, he erupts in fury and threatens to send her tumbling into Hades, although nothing of the sort in fact happens. The old king's bark is often worse than his bite.

Listening to this passage, I could not restrain myself from laughing out loud. And it's in thinking back to this moment in the narrative that I believe I can begin to discern the elusive secret to The Iliad's power. Crowd-sourced and thus representing a collective reality, the poem intermeshes the darkest of tragedy with the most sublime comedy. The two blend seamlessly into an experience that resonates so deeply because it captures something that is core to our being.

The Iliad is neither an easy nor a pleasant read, but for anyone willing to put up with all the unpleasantness discussed above, this strange classic is worth the effort.