Quite a long time ago I read Homer's Iliad, so the story is roughly familiar. It was Madeline Miller's retelling of the story of Achilles in The Song of Achilles, however, that started me on this Greek Mythology path on which I now find myself. Now having read Edith Hamilton's retelling of the Iliad I see just how closely Miller stayed true to the original, though of course she was telling just a part of the larger story. Hamilton bases her story on the original by Homer but enlarges things a bit by adding details found in plays by Aeschylus and Euripides.
Once again humans are at the mercy of the gods and their follies and whims. Life would have been so much simpler without their meddling, but they do make for great stories. It all starts with three jealous goddesses. When the goddess of Discord, Eris, is not invited to a banquet she decides to stir things up a bit. And it's an apple (apples do get a bad rap in history it seems) that gets the ball rolling. The apple is marked "for fairest of the fair". Of course each goddess believes it is meant for her, but in the end it comes down to Aphrodite, Hera and Athena. When Zeus is asked to decide which is truly the fairest he knows better than to pick one, so off they go to Mount Ida to let Paris choose. Zeus said Paris was an excellent judge, but Paris was more interested in taking the best bribe. In the end he picks Aphrodite who offers him the fairest woman in all the world.
Helen is the fairest but she already has a husband. She is so beautiful as a matter of fact that when her father was choosing amongst her many suitors he made them all promise to come to the aid of Helen's husband if later on anything disagreeable occurred. This is one way to keep things from getting messy between the losers. Menelaus won her hand, and when Paris came and carried her off, Helen's former suitors must make good their promise. A great fleet is readied to sail off to battle, but the winds won't cooperate. Once again one of the gods was affronted by a perceived slight so kept the winds calm until a sacrifice was made. The sacrifice comes in the form of poor Iphigenia who is led to believe she's being married off to Achilles. Instead, her father sends her to the altar but not as a bride.
For nine years the Greeks battle the Trojans in order to get Helen back. It's pretty messy stuff since the gods decide to get involved. They take sides and spur the humans on to do terrible things. Men being men, they won't budge and take revenge on each other. Nasty things happen like Plague raining down on the camps. So much hinges on honor and Fate. It's known ahead of time who will die, but once things begin happening there is no way really to stop them. The Iliad is truly an epic story. Imagine sitting around the hearth and listening to a storyteller tell of the great and ignominious deeds of these men. It must have been breathtaking really.
Had you asked me five years ago if I wanted to read the Iliad again I would probably have put you off, but I am quite excited at the prospect now. Timing is everything, right? I want to listen to it on audio first and then read it, but I plan on finishing Hamilton's Mythology first.
Next up: The Fall of Troy (in two week's time).