Review: Weil and Bespaloff’s War and the Illiad

I’m going to start by giving you a little hint: if you’re wandering through a used bookstore and you see a book published by the New York Review of Books, buy it. Don’t worry if it isn’t something you’ve heard of, or is about a subject matter you’re not particularly interested in. It doesn’t matter literally everything I have read from this publisher, everything from horror to experimental fiction has been absolutely top notch.

No surprise then that this book is remarkable. It collect two essays ostensibly on the Illiad by Simone Weil the other by Rachel Bespaloff, two Jewish women, caught in the snare of Nazi era Europe. These are essays about the Illiad, for sure, by writers who have read the text closely, but they are much more than that. They are meditations on the attraction and repulsiveness of war and the nature of narrative.

I’m in the midst of a long term engagement with Homer, and I found these essays illuminating not only for the insights they give to the poem itself, but also in how they show how Homer speaks to us across the ages, giving context and (perhaps) solace to two women fleeing the Nazis, or a father in Brooklyn terrified of what the next four years will bring.

Recommended.