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10 Reasons to read (or re-read) The Iliad

The Iliad

More than three thousand years ago, two armies faced each other in an epic battle that rewrote history and came to be known as the Trojan War. The Iliad, Homer’s legendary account of this nine-year ordeal, is considered the greatest war story of all time and one of the most important works of Western literature. In this stunning graphic novel adaptation — a thoroughly researched and artfully rendered masterwork — renowned illustrator Gareth Hinds captures all the grim glory of Homer’s epic.

In the lead up to the March 12, 2019 release of Hinds’ take on the classic tale, Candlewick Books has provided us 10 reasons you should read (or re-read) The Iliad.

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1. It’s a stirring tale of action, drama, romance, and tragedy.

2. It’s our best window into life in Bronze Age Greece, three thousand years ago. Ancient Greece is extremely important because the Greeks developed many of the core pillars of western civilization, including democracy, philosophy, mathematics, phonetic writing, and more! Their civilization is within and around us every day.

3. It’s one of the best early sources of Greek mythology, and it contains a lot of great mythological stories we don’t find in other places. For instance, in The Iliad we learn that Hephaestus made humanoid robots to help him out in his workshop!

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4. It gets better each time you read it. (At least that’s my experience, and everyone I’ve talked to who has read it multiple times has told me the same thing.)

5.  It gives us insight into universal human truths. Achilles and Agamemnon may seem like sulky babies, but within their cultural context they have compelling reasons for their actions — and I think it’s enlightening to examine those reasons and try to see not only why they might act that way, but why they feel they have no other choice. That’s significant because it’s the kind of problem we still see in politics and group dynamics in modern society, when people feel trapped in a situation and they escalate conflicts, “dig in”, “double down”… and if we want to move away from war and toward peace, we have to look at why we sometimes behave that way.

6. It looks unflinchingly at life, death, and mortality.

7. The Iliad is the archetypal war story, and at the same time it is an anti-war story. It shows us the heroism and also the tragedy and senselessness of war. It is the prototype of all wars and all war stories. It puts human faces to the struggle and the suffering.

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8. It inspired The Aeneid, which is another amazing piece of literature, and which tells us how Rome came to be founded. Which is important because the Romans spread their civilization all over the Western world, and in so doing they handed down to us some of the best parts of Greek civilization plus their own important ideas about philosophy, science, politics, strategy, money, etc.

9. …or as William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.”  Understanding The Iliad is a key component of understanding our past, and our present.

10. The Iliad shows us “heroes” in many different molds, with their strengths and their flaws. It invites us to consider whether we want our standard of heroism to be that of Hector, Achilles, Odysseus, Patroclus, etc. It poses the question of what it actually means to be a hero, what is worth dying for, and how to reconcile with someone we see as an enemy.

THE ILIAD. Copyright © 2019 Gareth Hinds. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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