Alice Oswald — Memorial
Oswald describes this as “an excavation of the Iliad”, she takes all the deaths and associated biographies — relatively straight translations thereof — and intersperses them with loose interpretations of the Iliad’s other repeated trope, the pastoral similes (all repeated twice). The effect is hypnotic, not being a big poetry reader the closest experience I can think of is the kind of intense doomy psychadelic drone mantras of bands like SunnO))) and Sleep. As Oswald mentions in the introduction “ancient critics praised [the Iliad] for its enargeia, its ‘bright unbearable reality’” and she does a good job of capturing this aspect of the poem. There are moments where she does a kind of fourth wall breaking thing, dropping mention of a lift (elevator) into one of the similes, or a motorbike. These rare moments might threaten to break the poem’s illusion but instead they just increase the epic dimensions of the piece making us aware of the 3000 years between us and the dead being catalogued.
Awesome in the Old Testament sense
In Greek, whose color lexicon did not stabilize for many centuries, the words most commonly used for blue are glaukos and kyaneos. The latter probably referred originally to a mineral or a metal; it has a foreign root and its meaning often shifted. During the Homeric period it denoted both the bright blue of the iris and the black of funeral garments, but never the blue of the sky or sea. An analysis of Homer’s poetry shows that out of sixty adjectives describing elements and landscapes in the Iliad and Odyssey, only three are color terms, while those evoking light effects are quite numerous. During the classical era, kyaneos meant a dark color: deep blue, violet, brown, and black. In fact, it evokes more the “feeling” of the color than its actual hue. The term glaukos, which existed in the Archaic period and was much used by Homer, can refer to gray, blue, and sometimes even yellow or brown. Rather than denoting a particular color, it expresses the idea of a color’s feebleness or weak concentration. For this reason it is used to describe the color of water, eyes, leaves, or honey.
Michel Pastoureau, Blue: The History of a Color (via emmaylor)
"Glaucous" means pale blue/green/grey-ish and waxy — when I look it up in English it seems mostly be used to describe feathers, leaves, the powdery-waxy natural coating on fruit like plums and grapes. Which is interesting because in French, "glauque" also means "mordid, depressing, sinister." (Actually, when I think about it, the French word tends to be used synaesthetically. "Glauque" is what you might use to describe corpses’ eyes or the paint on prison walls.)
Matthew Arnold praised the Iliad for its ‘nobility’, as has everyone ever since — but ancient critics praised it for itsenargeia, its ‘bright unbearable reality’ (the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves). To retrieve the poem’s energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story, and her account focuses by turns on Homer’s extended similes and on the brief ‘biographies’ of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably - and unforgotten - in the copiousness of Homer’s glance.
derektimmbrock asked: this is fucking great. you are a champion of the achaeans.
Phew! Well there you go then, I think that’s the last one.
MASSIVE thanks to everyone who followed along and liked and reblogged; I hope you enjoyed it. If you haven’t read the Iliad I really do recommend it, quite apart from the bone crunching, skull splitting, marrow bubbling violence, it’s full of real beauty and humanity— it’s one of those things where everyone says it’s great and it turns out when you read it finally that actually it really is great. Fagles’ translation is the one I’ve been using here and, from my (admittedly very limited) exposure to the alternatives, I think it’s the one to get .
Also kudos to Kate Bell who set up our Iliad book group and to the other members for making it super amazing.
I’ll still be posting some bits and pieces here over the next few months. My usual tumblr is ToffeeMilkshake
PS. Cassandra appears in the Iliad only briefly, this ABBA song deals with events quite a bit after the end of the poem i.e. the aftermath of Troy’s sacking.
Now come, you sons of Achaea, raise a song of triumph! Down to the ships we march and bear this corpse on high— we have won ourselves a great glory. We have brought magnificent Hector down, the man the Trojans glorified in their city liek a god!”
So he triumphed and now he was bent on outrage, on shaming noble Hector. Piercing the tendons, ankle to heel behind both feet, he knotted straps of rawhide through them both, lashed them to his chariot, left the head to drag and mounting the car, hoisting the famous arms aboard, he whipped his team to a run and brakneck on the flew holding nothing back. And a thick cloud of dust rose up from the man they dragged, his dark hair swirling round that head so handsom once, all tumbled low in the dust— since Zeus had given him over to his enemies now to be defiled in the land of his own fathers.
So his whole head was dragged down in the dust.
254: Achilles kills Hector
Death cut him short. The end closed around him. Flying free of his limbs his soul went winging down to the House of Death, wailing his fate, leving his manhood far behind, his young and supple strength. But brilliant Achilles taunted Hector’s body, dead as he was, “Die, die! For my own death, I’ll meet it freely—whenever Zeus and the other deathless gods would like to bring it on!”
With that he wenched his bronze spear from the corpse, laid it aside and ripped the bloody armour off the back. And the other sons of Achaea, running up around him, crowded closer, all of them gazing wonder-struck at the build and marvelous lithe beauty of Hector. And not a man came forward who did not stab at his body, glancing toward a comrade, laughing: “Ah, look here— how much softer he is to handle now, this Hector, than when he gutted our ships with roaring fire!”
254: Achilles kills Hector (…)
Struggling for breath, Hector, his helmet flashing, said, “I beg you, beg you by your life, yor parents— don’t let the dogs devour me by the Argive ships! Wait, take the princely ransom of bronze and gold, the gifts my father and noble mother will give you— but give my body to frined to carry home again, so Trojan men and Trojan women can do me honor with fitting rites of fire once I am dead”
Staring grimly, the proud runner Achilles answered, “Beg no more, you fawning dog—begging me by my parents! Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw— such agonies you have caused me! Ransom? No man alive could keep the dog packs off you, not if they haul in ten, twenty times that ransom and pile it before me and promise fortunes more— no not even if Dardan Priam should offer to weigh out your bulk in gold! Not even then will your noble mother lay you on your deathbed, mourn the son she bore… The dogs and birds will rend you—blood and bone!”
At the point of death, Hector, his helmet flashing, said, “I know you well—I see my fate before me. Never a chance that I could win over.. Iron inside your chest, the heart of yours. But now beware, or my curse will draw go’s wrath upon your head, that day when Paris and lord Apollo— for all your fighting heart—destroy you at the Scaean Gates!”
254: Achilles kills Hector (still more to come…)