Tuesday 12 January 2010

Review Post 2 - The Iliad for Dummies

The famous name of Homer is, to many people now,
Best known from television shows, so I will tell you how
Just thrice one thousand years ago a poem he did write
In which were rang'd both men and gods laid bare in all their might
Nine years of brutal, bloody war had stain'd Troy's sandy beach
Where fell full legions to the ground, of pain and sadness each
Of these proud nations had their fill, the Trojans and the Greeks,
As Paris guards the golden prize whom Menelaus seeks
Apollo frowns now on the Greeks and will not heed their pleas
'Til Agamemnon fair Chrysa (as prize whom he did seize)
Returns to noble Ilion, to which he doth assent
But only if his loss is made good from another's tent
And thus takes he Briseis from Achilles' fair-won spoil
(for which upon the bloody fields of Troy did he long toil)
On hearing this the demigod retired with all his men
Forebearing help until his prize be given him again
This argument between the kings thus sets the bloody scene
Achilles' lack upsets the scale of parity between
The wrong'd Greek defenders and the house of Ilion
And causes the invaders grief the more the war draws on

Of course this famous story was described in the film Troy
(A fairly silly movie which was written just for joy)
And in the film the main place where it is so well at odds
With the poem is how it lacks all mention of the Gods
And yet The Iliad is more a story telling when
Olympus saw internal feuds than one of warlike men
The warriors are playthings for the deities above
Who plot and help their favourites (when not held back by Jove)
Thus thwarting the dear plans of the scheming heav'nly throng
While sending noble warriors to deaths retold in song
Minerva, Juno and Neptune all back the Grecian quest
While Phoebus, Mars and Venus help the Trojans foil their best
Efforts to breach the Illian walls, to regain what they lack
And end the near decade-long fight by winning Helen back
The Iliad tells but one short part of the long Trojan war
With focus on the consequence of wrath Achilles bore
Toward King Agamemnon for his regal pride and greed
Which settled death and sorrowing on many men indeed
A tale of bitter, bloody war it is, but still it sings
Of noble deeds and sacrifice for country and for kings

Although in many varied forms in English has been told
This story, I eschewed the prose and chose to be so bold
And read George Chapman's famous verse translation (as you see,
Writing fourteen full syllables per line rubbed off on me!)
His whole life's work this noble task he did decide to make
Translating Homer's famous work for posterity's sake
Believe you me, it's not as simple as you would expect
To fit ideas you wish to say (and not be indirect)
Into the chosen length of line, but Chapman used the gimick
Of squeezing awkward names in place by use of patronymic
Hence Agamemnon, King of Kings, the most important Greek
Is known as strong Atrides did poor Chapman more space seek
This can be quite confusing for a modern reader who
Unused to Grecian customs is (at times I knew not who
Was killing whom upon Troy's fields). The writer also tries
To use both Greek and Roman names his issues to disguise
With deities and syllables and keeping perfect time -
I sympathise with poor Chapman and his efforts at rhyme.
As we reflect upon the fate of these unfortunate sods
The moral of the story is DO NOT FUCK WITH THE GODS...