Which book of the Iliad to start on.

When you study Greek at school as opposed to university, you never read works in their entirety but a chapter here or there. For example one book of the Iliad, one book of the Odyssey, a book of Thucydides etc. This is the way it has to be. The first book I had to read of the Iliad was book 24 – the last book. This is where Priam makes a dangerous journey into the Greek camp to ransom his son Hector. Now this is a fine book but for a schoolboy I think there are better books for your first introduction to Homer. A lot of the power of the last book comes from the release of tension after the excitement of the pervious books. If I had to choose a book, it would be book 16 where Patroclus persuades Achilles to let him go out and fight. This book is full of dynamism and battle scenes which would appeal to a young person. And it is very exciting. An alternative could be Book 23 where the funeral games for Patroclus are held. For example this excerpt from the chariot race where Antilochus, determined to overtake Menelaus puts both their lives at risk.

So he spoke and the horses fearing the command of their master ran faster for a short time and then right away Antilochus saw a a narrow place in the hollow road. There was a break in the road where the winter rain had gathered and broken away part of the road and the whole place was hollowed out. There Menealaus was driving his chariot preventing anyone from riding alongside him. But Antilochus turned his single-hooves horses aside and drove then outside the track, and carried on his pursuit while a little to one side. The son of Atreus (Menelaus) got alarmed and shouted out to Antilochus.

“Antilochus, you are driving recklessly; restrain your horses. You are driving too widely. Careful you don’t destroy us both with a collision.”

ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, οἳ δὲ ἄνακτος ὑποδείσαντες ὁμοκλὴν
μᾶλλον ἐπιδραμέτην ὀλίγον χρόνον: αἶψα δ᾽ ἔπειτα
στεῖνος ὁδοῦ κοίλης ἴδεν Ἀντίλοχος μενεχάρμης.
ῥωχμὸς ἔην γαίης, ᾗ χειμέριον ἀλὲν ὕδωρ
ἐξέρρηξεν ὁδοῖο, βάθυνε δὲ χῶρον ἅπαντα:
τῇ ῥ᾽ εἶχεν Μενέλαος ἁματροχιὰς ἀλεείνων.
Ἀντίλοχος δὲ παρατρέψας ἔχε μώνυχας ἵππους
ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ, ὀλίγον δὲ παρακλίνας ἐδίωκεν.
Ἀτρεΐδης δ᾽ ἔδεισε καὶ Ἀντιλόχῳ ἐγεγώνει:
‘Ἀντίλοχ᾽ ἀφραδέως ἱππάζεαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἄνεχ᾽ ἵππους:
στεινωπὸς γὰρ ὁδός, τάχα δ᾽ εὐρυτέρη παρελάσσαι:
μή πως ἀμφοτέρους δηλήσεαι ἅρματι κύρσας.

Iliad 23.417

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2 Responses to Which book of the Iliad to start on.

  1. I’ve always thought book one was my favorite as it gives us a great introduction to the characters. The main characters stay pretty consistent after book one (with sone exceptions).

    Like

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