Skip to comments.The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander [reviews]
Posted on 12/23/2010 8:35:56 PM PST by SunkenCiv
...In the earliest days of their history, so the Greeks recorded, a city in Asia by the name of Troy had been besieged by their ancestors for 10 long years, captured, and burnt to the ground. Why? Responsibility for the conflict was pinned on Paris, a Trojan prince whose abduction of Helen, the fabulously beautiful daughter of the king of the gods, had set in train a truly calamitous sequence of events. Not only Troy had ended up obliterated, but so, too, had the age of heroes. War had consumed the world.
No wonder, then, that the Greeks should have been torn between a desire to find some meaning in this terrible conflagration and a suspicion that it had never had any meaning at all. In the 5th century BC, the historian Herodotus concluded that "the utter ruin of the Trojans, and their annihilation, had served to demonstrate to humanity how terrible crimes will always be met, courtesy of the gods, with a terrible vengeance". Elsewhere, however, he reported an entirely contrary view: that the rape of Helen had been barely a crime at all, and that the Greek response had been grotesquely disproportionate. The implication of this was potentially most unsettling: that the destruction of Troy, far from demonstrating the workings of a divine order, reflected instead a chill and unheeding universe. "Why should I call to the gods?" Such was the question that the Athenian tragedian, Euripides, put into the mouth of the queen of fallen Troy in his tragedy, The Trojan Women. "Long have I raised my voice to them, but they do not listen."
...it is hard to escape a nagging feeling that the image which Alexander sees reflected in the Iliad is too much her own...
(Excerpt) Read more at guardianbookshop.co.uk ...
The War That Killed Achilles:
The True Story of Homer's "Iliad"
and the Trojan War
by Caroline Alexander
Unabridged MP3 CD Audiobook
Audible Audio Unabridged Edition
sample chapter (NYT)
Although Caroline Alexander quotes chunks of the Iliad as translated in a plain, brusque manner by Richmond Lattimore, her gloss reads better with a complete text beside you. Her scholarship works as a theme-by-theme, not book-by-book, commentary -- an epic, running footnote, branching into its own footnotes, 40 pages of 'em, cross-referring to archaeology, legends of the eastern Mediterranean proved linguistically to have had origins in historical catastrophe, fictional back stories and their alternative versions, ditto sequels, psychological truths and the precise medical understanding of Homer (or sequential bards of the oral tradition anthologised into Homer). That is, he knew where the major organs were, but not what they did, only that a sword swipe or a spear thrust to them was fatal. She's at her best on Homer's -- and his fellow Greeks' -- bleak acceptance that death is it, the end, nothing beyond but shades flitting and twittering by the Styx, unable to luxuriate in war-earned glory, no fame worth an hour's real life. -- review by Vera Rule
Alexander's own interpretations aren't always persuasive. Achilles is at once a starlike demigod and a raging monster. In order to present him as an ideal commander, a serious theoretical critic of the social order and, most dubiously, a peacemaker, Alexander has to play down both his human flaws and his deeply disturbing Dark Angel aspects. Distracting, too, are the modern war parallels she draws -- from World War I, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq; fleeting and uninspired, they are, one suspects, an unnecessary effort to suggest contemporary "relevance." Yet, "the Trojan War represents Total War," Alexander insightfully maintains: by the end of the "Iliad," the cumulated grief of doomed Trojans, ordinary men, women and children, "is a match for the heroic and outsize grief" of godlike Achilles. This, after all, is the import of the epic's title, she writes: "The 'Iliad' relates the fate of the soon-to-be-extinct city of Ilion" -- and, by extension, the fate of the Mycenaean cities from which the distant ancestors of Homer's audience fled; the fate of Carthage and then of Rome, in the imagination of cultured Romans; and ultimately, the fate of any human society subject to the sword. -- review by Steve Coates
In the entirety of "The Iliad," she notes, "no warrior, whether hero or obscure man of the ranks, dies happily or well. No reward awaits the soldier's valor; no heaven will receive him." In the epic, "words and phrases for the process of death make clear that this is something baneful." The problem with "The War That Killed Achilles" doesn't lie in Ms. Alexander's intelligent readings, her combing through the text looking for ambivalence about, or fear and loathing of, war, even if she might have paid closer attention to what Chris Hedges, a former correspondent for The New York Times, has called war's enduring attraction -- which is that "even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living." The problem is that her book is such a dutiful walk-through of Lattimore's translation. Ms. Alexander quotes from, and summarizes, Lattimore's words so frequently that without them her book would threaten to collapse into a heap of thin if shapely sticks and twigs. -- review by Dwight Garner
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Unstoppable hotness, baby.
Troy has not been discovered...what an adventure awaits to find her walls..look for her and have the immortality of Achilles..
Troy has almost certainly been discovered tho there still is debate as to which one of the 9 or more layers of destroyed cities is the one of the Iliad.
So is the book just a translation and retelling of the ‘Illiad’, or does it tell the entire story of the siege?
The ruins of a small medieval fortification is not Troy.
The west coast of Turkey is full of them..
I’ll look forward to reading this book. When I first read The Iliad so many years ago, I felt Andromache’s pain - loving her husband so desperately and yet having no power to influence their fate. A woman’s interpretation of this great Classic is much to be desired.
The reviews make it sound as though giving this for Christmas is the literary equivalent of coal in the stocking.
Latest excavations at the presumed city of Troy reveal that was formerly thought to be the entire city was merely the citadel. The actual newly discovered perimeter of the settlement’s circuit walls which encompassed the entire city were immense and well bear out the story as presented by Homer in the Iliad.
I just looked briefly at the critique of this book and I don;t think I’m going to read it.
Each generation interprets history and stories and epics from their own perspective. And I think this presentation of an interpretation is perhaps the worst and well reflects the ideas of liberals of our time.
War is indeed terrible at any time and place.
But there are MANY MANY things WORSE than war - like slavery and oppression. And the founding fathers of this nation JUSTLY felt that under those circumstances war is indeed justified.
I read the Iliad in the original Greek and I came away with an entirely different feeling about the story.
It is a tragedy, but it combines many feelings and motives. Its HONOR which drives Hector to accept the challenge of Achilles. He could easily have stayed behind the walls. Compassion which moved Achilles to return Hector’s body to Priam. Greed which led Agamemnon to refuse to release the daughter of the Priest of Apollo and pride which drove him to take Achilles slave girl. And on and on.
Many different emotions. The opening titles of the First Book are ANGER and PLAGUE. And the opening line is about the wrath of Achilles and how it wrought woes a thousandfold on the Achaeans.
A great book. A Great story - and I mean the Iliad. And the real war and story a continuing intriguing mystery.
And the presumed site of Troy is a Medieval site - its a bronze age site.
OK, that was uncalled for.
Yeah, the book sounds like an op-ed of leftist agitprop.
Be sure to see my earlier reply.
It’s leftist screed, by the sound of it. These reviews were all favorable — I just included the stuff that wasn’t.
BTW, the Fagles translation is excellent.