Surrendering The Iliad

In recent years, new translations of classic works by women translators have been hitting the shelves. That inspired me earlier this year to listen to the latest translation of The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson (and narrated by Claire Danes).

As I listened, I realized I was looking for a feminist telling of the tale. The book's forward provided the story's historical perspective and examined the role of women in this ancient society. Aaaaaand, that was it. The rest was Odysseus sexing Greek goddesses and killing lots of people — oh, and whining about how tough his life was.

As I listened, I wondered: What makes this story a classic for today? Does it stand the test of time? What about it is relevant and culturally significant today? I met some Greek gods, very interesting. I learned the background of some cultural touchstones and concepts, interesting.

When I didn't quite understand the story, I turned to the graphic novel by Greg Hines. I shared that book with my friend Melanie, who also listened to the dulcet tones of Claire Danes (and got lost once or twice along the way).

In the end, Odysseus' bloody battles and reading cultural references in the original text didn't inspire me. Although I could say I read The Odyssey, I couldn't honestly say I enjoyed it, or found it culturally relevant and inspiring.

Homer's first tome, The Iliad, also recently was translated by a woman. Caroline Alexander tackled the story about the last year of the Trojan War, so I figured I'd give it a try.

And I tried. I tried to care, I tried to understand it, and I tried to appreciate its cultural relevance to the modern Indo-European society.

Yet, my mind kept asking me why I was reading this book: Because everyone said it was a classic? What makes it a classic? And do I have to spend my time reading it?

In the end, the answer is no, I don't have to spend my time reading The Iliad. Cultural significance changes. The same people who kept The Iliad in the halls of academia also thought Lolita was culturally imperative — and that fact alone gives me permission to think outside the canon.

I may come back to it someday. I may read a chapter here and there. Never say never (except about Lolita, and I can't emphasize that enough), but if it is never, I am okay with that.

Are you in Camp Iliad? Why or why not? Leave your comments below, or email me your thoughts, and I'll share them with the rest of the group.