essays, prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC
(now Vancouver Island University), are in the public domain, and may be used by
anyone, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge, provided the
source is acknowledged, released August 2005
listed below, which are a restatement of the argument laid out in The Ironies
of War, all deal with aspects of Homer's Iliad. They may be
read in any order, although the reader should probably be familiar with the
introductory note immediately below and the first essay in order to understand
the central thrust of each of the others.
from Homer's poem in these essays are from the on-line translation available
through the following link Iliad.
And all line numbers refer to that edition (for the reader's convenience I have
also, in most cases, included an approximate line reference for the Greek text,
which is given in square brackets). A bibliography for all the essays is
given in the final section.
essays here are a systematic attempt to explore the Iliad as a great
literary masterpiece, to see what it is holding up to us in modern North
America as a vision of experience which can illuminate important aspects of our
own lives. Hence, they pay little attention to any contextual matters,
like Homer's identity, the facts of Homer's own times, the treatment of Homer by
classical Greek traditions, and other historical issues. The assumption
here is that this is a vitally important poem for contemporary readers because
it speaks directly to their own age, not because it offers some interesting
insights into a old, long-forgotten, and irrelevant civilization. Those
readers seeking such a historical treatment of the work should look elsewhere.
central claim coordinating these essays is that Homer's vision is a fatalistic
view of war as a condition of life, that the best and worst human experiences
arise out of this condition, and that there is no way this condition will
change. The vision is thoroughly ironic, and thus there is no easy way to
sum it up with a simple moral judgment. In fact, the power of this poem
stems from its ability to challenge our faith in such judgments, in other words,
its power to disturb us, to complicate our understanding, to make us re-examine
some of our most cherished beliefs.
approach to the poem thus seeks to counter both the long tradition in Homer
scholarship of treating the poem merely (or primarily) as a historical document
and the tendency of much Homer criticism, still very much alive today, of
neutralizing the challenge of the Iliad by interpreting it to fit the
long moral traditions of a providential universe governed by a benevolent deity
or reason or progress or some other optimistic hope that the brutalities of life
are part of a consoling moral order.