Starting the Iliad

So I went with the Iliad after all, because sometimes seeing one’s reactions to poll results makes one realize what one wanted to do after all. In the Fagles translation, which is quite readable and lovely–much more so than the translation I read in high school, I’m pretty sure.

So, book 1 impressions:

Creepy, creepy gender politics. Did I notice this as a teen, reading it in school?

The entire Trojan war is about men being stupid about women. Not just the larger conflict, the stuff around Helen. The conflict that sets Achilles off into his famous rage at Agamemnon is all about the women they’ve both captured as war prizes: Agamemnon is forced to release the woman he’s captured, Chryseis, because Apollo has sent a plague among the Greeks and won’t lift it until Chryseis–the daughter of one of his priests–is freed.

Achilles is all for setting Chryseis free. Agamemnon says, fine, I’ll just take your war prize, Briseis, instead. Achilles also says fine, just see if I fight this war for you anymore, and goes off to sulk.

What Chryseis (who doesn’t even have her own name–her name here means “daughter of Chryses”, and Briseis think of the whole business of course never comes up–the most we get is a mention that Briseis’ steps are reluctant as she’s led from captor #1 to captor #2, hinting that maybe she preferred being imprisoned by Achilles over being imprisoned by Agamemnon after all.

But the part that really struck me was that not only the gods, but also the goddesses, have lots of sympathy for the men who want to hang on to their slaves, and none whatsoever for the women who are those slaves–even immortal women are, apparently, unable to figure at that mortal women just might be people rather than prizes.

There’s one brief moment, when Hera stands up to Zeus (though not about the whole business of kidnapping women–about the business of Zeus hanging out with other goddesses), that I got hopeful–maybe among the goddesses, at least, we’d have strong, sharp-tongued women who don’t stand up for any nonsense. But then Zeus pretty much said to Hera “shut up or I’ll beat you.” And Hera pretty much said “shutting up now” and scuttled away, clearly terrified. And just in case we didn’t realize yet that Zeus was the ultimate abuser, their son Hephaestus jumped in with, “Remember, Mom, the last time I defended you against Dad, how he beat me up too, flinging me down from Olympus and all? So please, please stop now.”

Most Dysfunctional Family Ever.

Nice poetry, though. Very readable. Looking forward to reading on.

Ninja replacement score thus far: 2. Chryseis and Briseis, of course.

Also: Since the odds of finding strong women in this story are looking kinda low, the saga reader in me is now holding out hope for witty decapitations instead. 🙂

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