One of the foundation pieces of literature in the western canon, Homer's ‘The Iliad’ is a remarkable piece of work. Dramatic in scope, blood-thirsty, moving and yet suprisingly accessible (Perhaps largely in part to the excellent translation), it is a classic tale set sometime during the ninth year of the Trojan war.
Events prior to the actual story itself concerns Paris, Son of Priam King of Ilium, plucking Helen, wife of the Greek Menelaus, across the Aegean Sea back to Ilium, incidently sparking a massive Greek expedition to the very shores of Troy in order to retrieve her.
From there, the story unfolds with Achilles, the undisputed champion of the Greeks, withdrawing from the fighting and taking his contingent of Myrmidons along with him. With Achilles gone (later to return in the last few chapters of the book), the burden of propping up the flailing Greek war effort against the resurgent Trojans, capably led by Hector and Aeneas (protagonist of Virgil's ‘The Aeneid’), goes to Ajax, Diomedes, Odysseus (protagonist of that other epic by Homer – ‘The Odyssey’), Nestor, among many others (including scheming Gods).
The story itself is an insight into the heroic mindset – Raising, if not asking, the question of what, in it's essence, constitutes a hero? Is it the unyielding will and might of colossal Ajax and Diomedes? Is it the soaring pride, piousness and unrelenting wrath of the god-like Achilles? Or is it the warriors of Illium and their Trojan allies led by the valiant Hector, defending everything they hold dear – their homes, their families, and their honour?
The Gods of Olympus are frequent, flawed and vaguely humanistic, characters in the story, constantly interfering and manipulating the events out on the battlefield on both sides of the conflict, further adding to the mystique and sense of history of the story.
Rich, textured and important, ‘The Iliad’ is essential reading for those who appreciate the debt owed by the writers of today to those of the past.