Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tales From the Noble Library

I just finished reading The Iliad. I have wanted to read it for a long time now (along with 50 million other books) but have only just got around to it. The translation was done by Robert Fagles, a noted expert on Greek literature. His translation was easy to read and engaging.

The poem was definitely enjoyable and it is easy to see why it has survived for as long as it has. The story is epic. The characters are larger than life while still feeling human. The violence is gritty and real, indeed I'm not sure I've read about more splattering blood and guts anywhere. Few people die without a graphic depiction of the spear or sword tearing through their bodies. Philosophies of war and battle are debated and argued.

It can be dry at times. Indeed, chapter two took me awhile to get through as it was mostly a list of various captains and which army they were leading. There are times, too, when the violence is just overwhelming it becomes numbing. If I was reading late at night, the battles would sometimes start to blend together and I couldn't remember who was leading what charge and who was fighting who and who was currently winning. Overall, though, the poem moves along well and is very engaging.

One of the most striking aspects to me was the deeply tragic nature of events due to the lack of control by the human characters. They are at the mercy of the gods who scheme and manipulate everything in an attempt to achieve the outcome they desire. They take part in the fighting, disguise themselves as mortals, grant some people immunity and strength, whisk a favorite away to prevent his death. I came away feeling sorry for all of the characters, unable to do as they wish, puppets on the strings of Zeus and his cohorts. Is this a natural human feeling? I don't think anybody living today would blame their ills on Hera, but I do think many people feel that they are not in control of their lives. How sad. It must be very frustrating and the source of much anger to not feel as though you are in control of your life. While their may be some things that happen to us in the course of our lives we cannot control, I firmly believe we can control how react to those situations.

The other book I have been reading is Watership Down. I have been reading it to my daughters, a chapter or two a week, when they are here. I have read it before and it is a favorite. My girls are definitely enjoying it, too. It is a very engaging book. Unlike many books featuring anthropomorphic animals, the rabbits of Watership Down are very recognizable as rabbits. They do not dress in clothes, carry tools, and live in houses. In fact, they are almost what one would expect real rabbits to be like if one could talk to them. Highly recommended reading.

I think the next book I am going to read for myself is Song of Kali by Dan Simmons.

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