One of the oldest works of Western literature, Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem the Iliad has deeply influenced much of Western civilization. So much so that a Roman consul is said to have quoted the Iliad upon the destruction of Rome’s old nemesis Carthage:
“The day shall come when sacred Troy shall fall, and King Priam and all his warrior people with him.”
Reading a work of literature that was written more than 2,700 years ago, I’ll admit isn’t the easiest task. What fascinates me, though, is how the Iliad relates to history. According to the mythological founding of Rome, the Trojan hero Aeneas survived the Trojan War and went on to become the legendary father of Rome. Of course, not before fatefully meeting up with Dido, the legendary founder and first Queen of Carthage. Going even further, Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas, is said to be the legendary founder and first King of Britain. This begs the question: Why do so many foundation stories link back to the Iliad? Personally, I think it is because in many ways the Iliad and the Odyssey were equivalent to the Bible to the ancients. The ancients knew this, and liked the idea of being linked to such important literary works.
As you can see, I am indeed fascinated by the history of the Iliad and history in general. So much so, I alluded to Brutus in my poem “The Number.” As you may have noticed, I like dual meanings so Brutus of Julius Caesar fame fits as well. I suppose even Lucius Junius Brutus, who led the revolt that expelled the last Etruscan King from Rome, would fit too. Isn’t it wonderful how many compelling meanings can be extrapolated from one name? I think so. In the end, though, a poem’s meaning is always determined by the reader. That being the case, there is no right or wrong way to read a poem. In this case, no right or wrong Brutus to evoke. Whether it was written by me less than a year ago, or nearly three millennia ago, the meaning of a poem is always in your hands.
6 thoughts on “Poetic Influence No. 3: The Iliad”
Diomedes was a complete psychopath! Great poem, utterly compelling and of course was the foundation for the Aeneid. In a slightly unrelated note did you know that archaeologists found the actual Hades in Italy?
Good comment. I did not know about the Hades discovery. Thanks for the info. I looked it up and read an article about it. Quite fascinating.
Here is a link to the article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/04/130414-hell-underworld-archaeology-mount-olympus–greece/.
Thanks for the article, lots more to research now and that makes me a happy Ste.
Thanks for reminding me about Homer. I used to be engrossed in the Illiad when I was younger.
It’s always fun to dust off Homer from time to time. I’m glad you liked this post.
Fascinating topic. Take a look at Science and religion in archaic Greece by Roger Sworder. He too, says that the Odyssey and the Illiad were sacred texts comparable to the bible/Vedas.