Forces Mortal and Immortal: Homer’s Iliad

Running Attic Warrior/Walters Art Musuem

Running Attic Warrior/Walters Art Musuem

Western literature’s first great work is a magnificent poem that takes an unflinching look at the nature of war. Homer’s Iliad recounts the story of the Trojan War, covering just a few weeks near the end of the Greek army’s ten-year siege of the mighty city of Troy.

Homer portrays a world in which his characters are pulled by forces most of which seem beyond their control. On the human plane, they are driven by loyalties to comrades, fidelity to an oath, responsibility to family and city, subordination to authority, and the lure of fame. Above them, the Olympian gods exert influence both benevolent and malign. Looming over everything is the obscure force called Fate. Homer’s warriors come face-to-face with the question of what is worth living and dying for, and whether they ultimately have any real say in the matter.

Though memorable for its scenes of bloody battle and the squabbling of gods on Olympus, the Iliad exudes an intense humanity, infusing a tragic longing for peace amid the seeming inevitability of war and destruction. The Iliad challenges its readers to look at war in all of its human dimensions, from the degrading to the ennobling. It confronts us with questions about honour, community, justice, love and loyalty as the story’s characters search for meaning in a world of chaos.

“Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls …”

– Homer, The Iliad (tr. Robert Fagles)


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Mark Cwik is education manager for Classical Pursuits. He is a longtime leader of seminars at Toronto Pursuits and has been a seminar leader and organizer of community-based great books discussion groups for 25 years. Mark currently lives in London, England, where he leads seminars with the London Literary Salon, and he is on the teaching staff of Classical Pursuits partner Great Discourses.

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition in order to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

The Iliad by Homer, trans. Robert Fagles
(Penguin Deluxe Edition, 1990)
ISBN-13: 978-0140275360

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