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The War that Killed Achilles

The War that Killed Achilles

Author: Caroline Alexander
Rating: 6/10 (better for casual readers interested in the Iliad)
Last Read: August 2010

Quick Summary: When I originally picked up this book, I thought it was going to be a historical retelling of the Trojan War - however, I quickly realized this was meant to be an accessible interpretation to the story of the Iliad, drawing forth lessons and themes for the modern reader.  I studied the classics pretty deeply, so I was a bit disappointed in this fact.  

I recommend this book to anyone who is not familiar with the classic story of the Iliad - this is a highly accessible introduction to the themes that run throughout this ancient work, and perhaps after reading it you will decide to tackle the real thing.

Death: the Iliad is ever mindful that war is about men killing or men killed. In the entire epic, no warrior, whether hero or obscure man of the ranks, dies happily or well. No reward awaits the soldier’s valor; no heaven will receive him.

Further Reading: lliad, Odyssey, Aeneid

My Highlights

Remarkably, there are no accounts, in Greek epic or mythology, of the fall of any of the Greek cities; all emotional pathos was invested in the loss of the Asiatic settlement of Troy. --loc 347

Thus, drawing on its long tradition, the Iliad used conventional epic events and heroes to challenge the heroic view of war. Is a warrior ever justified in challenging his commander? Must he sacrifice his life for someone else’s cause? How is a catastrophic war ever allowed to start— and why, if all parties wish it over, can it not be ended? Giving his life for his country, does a man betray his family? Do the gods countenance war’s slaughter? Is a warrior’s death compensated by his glory? These are the questions that pervade the Iliad. --loc 379

Muhammad Ali’s famous refusal to fight in Vietnam: I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong. . . . No Viet Cong ever called me nigger. . . . I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people. --loc 467

Although the winning of glory in combat is the aim of the conventional hero of combat poetry, in the Iliad glory is usurped by sympathy for the human being, possessed of a family and life story, who has been extinguished. --loc 1189

His descendants, so the ancient prophecy runs, will inherit the Troad; it was in deference to this tradition that the Romans claimed Trojan Aineias as their founder—a tradition that has recently received new consideration in view of DNA findings that indicate that the Etruscans, the first rulers of Rome, originated from Anatolia. --loc 1212

Death: the Iliad is ever mindful that war is about men killing or men killed. In the entire epic, no warrior, whether hero or obscure man of the ranks, dies happily or well. No reward awaits the soldier’s valor; no heaven will receive him. The Iliad’s words and phrases for the process of death make clear that this is something baneful: dark night covers the dying warrior, hateful darkness claims him; he is robbed of sweet life, his soul goes down to Hades bewailing its fate. Again and again, relentlessly, the Iliad hammers this fact: The death of any warrior is tragic and full of horror. Even in war, death is regrettable. --loc 1279

“Man’s days are like grass, like the blossom of the field, so he blooms. For the wind passes over it and it is not there.” --loc 1322

As with the leafage flourishing on a dense tree—it drops, and puts forth others—so with the generation of flesh and blood. --loc 1324

Life is more precious than glory; this is the unheroic truth disclosed by the greatest warrior at Troy. --loc 1721

Life is more precious even than glory. Achilles never wavers in this judgment. It is not, after all, for glory that he sacrifices his life, but for Patroklos. --loc 3719

The recent DNA discoveries are reported in John Hooper, “Etruscan Mystery Solved,” Guardian, June 18, 2007, 23. --loc 4210

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