The Spoils of War

In November 2009, thanks to Multnomah County Library’s Read the Classics program, I made an important discovery: The Iliad is the best story ever written. I quit after 15 pages when I tried to read it in middle school, but - whether it was the translation that I read this time (by Robert Fagles), or the enlightening introduction (by Bernard Knox), or the 20-so years of life experience since my first reading - this time something clicked. The beauty of the images and metaphors, the simplicity and yet incredible depth of the story, the oh-so-human and identifiable characters. The utter symmetry of it. I don’t think any book before has moved me so much or stuck in my mind, like a bronze spear point, with so much force. 

Since developing this Iliad-philia, I have been noticing related works everywhere I turn: 

British poet Christopher Logue eschews simple translation of Homer, and instead has been retelling the books of the Iliad in his own radically modern verse. The Husbands is his adaptation of books 3 and 4, and the cover alone makes me want to read it. 

Ransom is a new literary novel by David Malouf in which he retells the events of book 24 of the Iliad, where King Priam goes to Achilles and tries to ransom the body of his son, Hector. 

Margaret George’s Helen of Troy is a novelization of the war from the perspective of the woman who caused those thousand ships to be launched. 

The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander presents a new reading and analysis of the Iliad, and argues that the primary purpose of the poem is to convey the utter devastation of war. 

Achilles by Elizabeth Cook is a short novel, almost a prose poem, about the entire life (and death) of that legendary hero, and the reverberations of his story. 

And in Ilium by Dan Simmons, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest as well as The Iliad, these classic works of literature are building blocks for a complex science fiction epic: the gods live on Mars, a race of sentient robots has specialists in literature, and the battle of Troy is being fought once again.

I am sure that this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the vanguard of the legion. What are your favorite Iliad-inspired works?