Donaldus. The two oldest books in western civilization are also the best: the Iliad and the Odyssey. It really is the case that “all literature is a footnote to Homer.” My daughter and I both prize them at the top of our lists of favorite great books, and we both know both epics pretty well by now. We have both read chunks of the Iliad in ancient Greek, which is one of the supreme pleasures of life.
Yesterday, as we drove across the Peloponnese, we talk the story of the Odyssey to each other. First one of us would describe some situation with Nestor and Telemachus, or Menelaus and Helen. Then the other would pick it up from there and take the narrative farther. We did not tell the whole story of the two great epics, but we could have, because they matter to us that much. I regard the first four books of the Odyssey as the best of the epic, and we agree that book XXIV of the Iliad may be the greatest single episode in all of literature. (the ancient king Priam comes without military escort to the hut of Achilles and begs the man who killed his son (in fact, dozens of his sons) to release the body of Hector. There isnothing like it in the world, and those who say that the Homeric epics are not sophisticated works of art have not thought about the narrative and stylistic master of the last chapter of the Iliad.
Today we will tell each other the story of Helen. Catherine does not like Helen. I’m with the old men of Troy. You can despise her if you want, but if Aphrodite has decided she is the most alluring woman who ever lived, you had better just surrender to her beauty and charm.
There is nothing more satisfying than sharing a great text with someone you care about greatly. It is maybe the best thing in the life of a reader, and it is exceedingly rare, in my experience.
But we are in the heart of Homer’s landscape here, and we have invoked the Muses.