The Iliad is one of those epics you dodge in school, if you’re anything like George Bernard Shaw, who once opined that it was only useful as a missile to fling at another schoolboy’s head. But in her incredible essay about this ancient epic, Simone Weil brings out moments of illumination that she argues can best be understood as parallels to the moral vision of the Gospels. She sees in Homer’s poetry a vision of suffering that is so total that only the attentiveness to what is being lost in the violence gives the fabric of human experience meaning, in the context of a never-ending war. Even if you haven’t (and don’t intend to) read the Iliad, I highly recommend her essay, The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.
The 2004 adaptation of this story, Troy, doesn’t really capture this pathos, focusing instead on the egos of the protagonists, and their moments of glory. But it doesn’t entirely disregard the poem’s message that war is a fruitless enterprise, in which there are ultimately no winners – a message brought home the more vividly by the Greek tragedies detailing the fates of the Trojan women, Agamemnon and his family. But rather than foreshadow these gut-wrenching stories, the film’s ending focuses on the escape of Paris, Aeneas and the Trojan refugees, setting up the Aeneid’s triumphalist march to Rome in typical Hollywood fashion.
This quickie of a scrap of fan poetry, based on the 67th Psalm, just sets the scene for the Trojans’ rude awakening, the night after they admit the Greeks’ enormous statue behind the city’s protective walls.
Apollo grant us peace in our time,
and shine His face on Hektor’s sleeping son.
To countenance the ways of gods with men,
who look on high for rescue from the Fates.
Great nations bow to Apollo’s teaching,
and all men acclaim His arrows’ scourge.
The city of Troy can rejoice once more,
her prayers and offerings are well-received,
on her high walls Apollo’s blessing rests.
Even the savage Achaeans are awed,
all peoples of Greece acclaim our god.
The parting sea of ships has left a gift.
Apollo grant us grace – for we have won.
May this fell offering be brought inside,
to show our people how our god is feared.