Heaney’s The Cure At Troy


The Cure At Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ PhiloctetesSeamus Heany
I learned about this initially from Bill Clinton’s contribution to “By the Book” in the New York Times, a place where I’ve found scores of books to read, though none perhaps as powerful as this one. Here, Heaney retells the story of Philoctetes, who on the way to war suffers an injury and is abandoned by his fellow Greeks. He’s left to live along on a island until the Greeks return, first to trick him, and then to beg him, to returning with them to Troy to finish the war.

Will Philoctetes wallow in his righteous anger or will he mitigate his hatred for the good of his country? These are the issues Heaney struggles with in this short, deeply moving play about what it means to forgive, atone, and move on, and whether any of those things are really possible. Beautifully written and with so much to think about in such a short work, why wouldn’t you pick it up?

Recommended.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

Book Review: Miller’s Song of Achilles


The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

If you’ve read the Iliad (and you really should read the Iliad) you know the basic outlines of Achilles life and, if you really paid attention, you remember Patroclus, his friend and consort whose death finally brings Achilles out of his moping to wage war on the Trojans.

Miller’s book, a retelling of sorts of the life of Achilles takes as its central idea that Achilles and Patroclus were not just friends, but lovers, and she then reinterprets all the events of their lives based on this fact. In a reworking of one of the central plot points of the Iliad, for instance, Achilles isn’t upset because he lost a slave girl he wanted to rape, rather he is upset because he was protecting said slave girl (and using her as a beard of sorts).

This kind of “shipping” (to borrow a term from science fiction fan fiction) is common. Too often, it’s also poorly done. But here, Miller knows her original sources intimately (she has an MA in classics after all), and gracefully re-reads them to tell her story. I found myself not only impressed with the ingenuity of her reworking of the well known stories of the life of Achilles, but also genuinely moved by the love story she develops between Achilles and Patroclus.

A clever book, a joy to read, especially if, like me, you’re a bit obsessed with the Homeric epics.

Recommended.

Book Review: Cline’s The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction

The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction

Eric H. Cline

The title says it all. This introduction is focused on the history of the war itself, and the changing nature of our knowledge of it, and doesn’t spend much time on the literary aspects of the works (Iliad, et al) which have arisen around the conflict. What we really know about the war is scarce and contradictory. We’re not even sure there was a single war. We are sure, today, that Troy existed, and we are sure wars were fought around it, but beyond that, its mere conjecture.

Incredibly, even that level of understanding of the war is of a very recent vintage. Before Schliemann’s discovery in the 1860s, most viewed the stories of the war, and of ancient troy, as legend. Turns out, as with most things about the classics, the story of Troy is much more complicated.

This book gives us a nice, brief overview of those complications looking at the archeological record of troy and ancient Greece in general as well as the stories and histories of the Greeks (i.e. the Iliad and other Homeric epics) as well as the stories and myths of the Hittite and other cultures.

 

A great starting point for someone (like me) looking to get into the Trojan War and the Iliad. Worth it for the bibliography alone.

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

the walls of ancient troy

The walls of troy