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The Iliad is one of the most enduring creations of Western Civilization and was originally written to be recited or chanted to the accompaniment of various instruments. Properly performed, this work today is just as meaningful, just as powerful, and just as entertaining as it was in the ninth century BC, and it casts its spell upon modern listeners with the same raw intensity as it did upon the people of ancient times.
As you listen to this great work, you feel yourself to be in the presence of a grandeur that suffuses the very air. There is no question that the poet, whether his name was Homer or not, was one of the supreme artists of all time and all civilizations. But this wonderful piece of poetry is not merely a catalog of events of the Trojan War. Specifically, the poem deals with the bitter dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, and how the Greeks were almost destroyed by their hubris. Hovering about, the Olympian gods watch the unfolding events with keen interest, sometimes lending help and encouragement on one hand, or spreading fear and hatred on the other.
The Iliad is ultimately about the free will of man and his ability or failure to make rational choices in the face of conflict and chaos. Unlike the gods, men must face death, which gives their decisions a spiritual meaning which is absent on Olympus. The great legacy of The Iliad is its shattering revelation of what it means to be human in the face of life's uncertainty and fleeting mortality.
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Translated by Richmond Lattimore
Though I do not know Greek, I have read the translations by E. V. Rieu (published by Penguin), Stanley Lombardo, and Richmond Lattimore. I have also listened to Lombardo's audio version of his own translation. And this version, narrated by Charlton Griffin and translated by Richmond Lattimore is by far my favorite.
Lattimore's translation is dignified, while being very easy to read for a modern reader. It has a wonderful poetic flow that often leaves me in awe, both in reading, and in especially in listening. Lattimore's translation was recommended in the book "Who Killed Homer?" by Hanson and Heath (also highly recommended). The structure of this translation reminds the reader that the Iliad was a poem, while not being a slave to the original Greek poetic structures. It is more of a free flowing poem, and is accessible to modern readers.
I personally found Lombardo's translation to be somewhat grating at times. In book one of Lombardo's translation, Achilles says to Agamemnon, "You keep your goddamn hands off, you hear?" (1. 315) Damnation is largely a Christian idea, and this is really a modern way of speaking. Phrases like this lack dignity to me.
However, Lombardo's translation might be better for first time readers of the Iliad. To gain appreciation for the Iliad, I believe one must read it or listen to it several times, as it is overwhelming at first. In fact, a good place to begin is to watch the movie "Troy". This isn't a very good movie, but it does give a broad outline of the Trojan War. After watching this, read the Iliad, and remember that the Iliad only covers a few short months near the end of the ten year Trojan War. The Iliad ends with King Priam begging Achilles for the return of Hector's body. Also remember that any ancient readers or listeners to the Iliad would have been very familiar with the fact that Achilles would eventually be killed by Paris. It was part of the experience to know the tragic end of Achilles.
I very much enjoyed Griffin's reading of Lattimore's translation. He has truly excellent diction, rhythm, and modulation. His voice is clear, and changes subtly for different characters. I find myself constantly impressed by the beauty of Lattimore's translation read so clearly by Griffin. In my opinion, this translation is the finest way for modern listeners to properly appreciate the Iliad.
Not available in Canada
I have tried to buy and download this great audiobook only to be notified that it was not available in Canada. And frustrating trying to get money back after an hour.