Currently Reading: The Iliad by Homer (translated by Alexander Pope)

I blame this on Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods.
I obtained a copy of the book and started obsessing over it. Though, it’s not entirely Rick Riordan’s fault.

For one, I’m a huge geek and I’ve been obsessing over Greek Mythology ever since I learned how to read. Second, I’m an even bigger fangirl. In general, that means I obsess a lot over things, events, people, and everything else that interests me. This obsession is alleviated by the fact that I’m a huge fangirl over the Percy Jackson series and I have just recently completed the last book in the of the Heroes of Olympus series …so, yeah, my obsession has really deep roots.

Now, back to Iliad.

I managed to get a copy of the book translated by Alexander Pope from Project Gutenberg. It’s a website dedicated to providing free ebooks to the public. These books, like The Iliad and The Odyssey, are already in the public domain and are no longer subject to copyright so it’s safe to say downloading from the site is legal and safe.

I’m already currently in Book III of The Iliad. That may not sound much, but there’s so much going on in each chapter it’s so hard to notice that I’m still reading the early parts of the book.

The Iliad is essentially about the war of the Aecheans and the Trojans. Helen, wife of Spartan King Menelaus, was taken by Paris, Prince of Troy, as his lover. Because of this, Menelaus requested the help of his brother, King Agamemnon, in enlisting several Greek warriors, kings and their kingdoms, to aid in getting Helen back.

“”Approach, and view the wondrous scene below!
Each hardy Greek, and valiant Trojan knight,
So dreadful late, and furious for the fight,
Now rest their spears, or lean upon their shields;
Ceased is the war, and silent all the fields.
Paris alone and Sparta’s king advance,
In single fight to toss the beamy lance;
“Each met in arms, the fate of combat tries,
Thy love the motive, and thy charms the prize.”

I must, say, I’m quite impressed by the translation of Alexander Pope. The words are translated beautifully into verse, so it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of it. I love good poetry, and Pope’s translation is really good. It reminds me of Bards singing songs of the tragedies of war, glorifying heroes and kings, then swigging down a pint of beer (I’m not very sure why that particular image comes to mind, but it does).

Still, I have to admit, I’m having a bit of difficulty comprehending what’s actually going on because the prose (for the sake of keeping accurate with the original Greek poetry by Homer) doesn’t go straight to the point. The poem also had to make use of a lot of older English and this makes it harder to fully comprehend what’s going on.

For example, in Book I, Thetis reminds Zeus of his debt to her so that he would bless Acchilles and bring the Greek army to ruin because the hero refuses to help the Greeks. Acchilles was pissed off because his beautiful slave, Briseis, had to be given to Agamemnon because Agamemnon’s slave had to be returned to her father (who happens to be Apollo’s priest…and Apollo unleashed a divine wrath on the Greek camp).

When Thetis pleads to Zeus, I honestly have to reread the poem again to comprehend that Thetis just reminded Zeus of the time his fellow Olympians (led by Hera) bound him in an act of rebellion. Thetis helped free Zeus by asking for the hundred-handed Briares to cut off Zeus’ bonds:

“When bold rebellion shook the realms above,
The undaunted guard of cloud-compelling Jove:
When the bright partner of his awful reign,
The warlike maid, and monarch of the main,
The traitor-gods, by mad ambition driven,
Durst threat with chains the omnipotence of Heaven.
Then, call’d by thee, the monster Titan came
“Whom gods Briareus, men Ægeon name),
Through wondering skies enormous stalk’d along;
Not he that shakes the solid earth so strong:
With giant-pride at Jove’s high throne he stands,
And brand ” brandish’d round him all his hundred hands:
The affrighted gods confess’d their awful lord,
They dropp’d the fetters, trembled, and adored”

Essentially, the point of the poem was simple, but it took a while to process. I wouldn’t have understood fully what was happening if not for the fact that I already knew about Thetis asking help from Briares to free Zeus because this was also referenced in the Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods book.

I love how it is written but since I have just started reading The Iliad, I want to understand what’s actually happening first before I continue on to appreciate the beauty of each prose.

That’s why I’m currently searching up the Robert Fagles translation since it’s written in contemporary English and it would greatly help in understanding what’s actually happening in The Illiad and, eventually, in The Odyssey before I continue on with the Alexander Pope translation.

At the moment, I’m going to hold off the Pope version because I need to find a simpler account of the story first.

Partial Rating: A




When the Spartan queen approach’d the tower,
In secret own’d resistless beauty’s power:
“They cried, “No wonder such celestial charms
For nine long years have set the world in arms;
What winning graces! what majestic mien!
She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen!
Yet hence, O Heaven, convey that fatal face,
And from destruction save the Trojan race.”

Okay, let’s stop and appreciate how beautifully written this prose is and how beautiful Helen was described.

She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen!

Okay, she’s gorgeous but other than that, Helen is also Spartan.

When the Spartan queen approach’d the tower

What does this mean? Why is it relevant that I have to point this out?

Because this shows that even if Helen is beautiful – goddess-level beautiful – this also shows that she’s more than just her face.

How could I say so? Because Spartan women are also provided with the requisite Spartan education, known for its very rigid military training. What’s more, Sparta’s patron god is Ares himself. They even had a statue of him chained to Sparta so that his fierce might will not leave their kingdom. Chaining Ares meant that the Spartans were very serious about war and military strategies.

What does this have to do with Helen? Helen grew up in a military household and in a military community. She is not to be taken lightly. Young women in Sparta were taught to fight as warriors since it was believed that this would help them sire strong Spartan warriors. This meant that Helen is a trained warrior educated in the many histories and aspects of war. For Helen, the Trojan war isn’t just about two men fighting for her affections, it’s a real-life lesson on war and of which she is familiar with.

This, I feel, is relevant to point out since Helen is more than the contemporary portrayal of her beauty. Helen is almost always portrayed in books and movies as this weak damsel in distress who simply followed her heart and, because of her beauty, has caused a war. No, it’s not that simple. Helen is a strong, independent woman who knows how to strategize her way out of any situation. She knew there will be a war. She knew her way around it. She knows how to get herself out of the situation she got herself in.

Because she is a warrior. Yes, her beauty started the war. Yes, her lust/love for Paris caused the Aecheans to attack the Trojans.

But she also knew when to stop. She decided as soon as she saw Paris fight that Paris is a weaker man compared to Menelaus and that the Aecheans have a better chance of winning…and she looked for a way to get out.

Helen is an admirable woman. She may not have shown her skills in battle, but I’m sure that, being Spartan, she knows how to hold her own. Oh, and yes, she also knows how to use her feminine charm and beauty to get her way.

Helen is definitely more than her looks.

The more people see that (and ignore the unjustified portrayal of her by contemporary media as a damsel-in-distress), then the more people will respect Helen’s role in the war. I actually think more women should look up to Helen’s strength as a woman and as a warrior and understand that true strength lies beyond beauty.

Oh, wouldn’t that be nice?



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