There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible—magic to make the sanest man go mad.
— Homer, Iliad
The Trojan War
The myth of the Tojan War dates back over 3,000 years to the early days of ancient Greece. The abduction of one of their queens, Helen, prompted the Greeks to wage a ten-year campaign against Troy. Many atrocities are committed. There are heroes and victims on both sides. The Greeks win, annihilating the great city. The story addresses universal themes of heroism and violence, love and loss, hope and despair. It is a powerful archetype for all wars. Its characters — fierce Achilles, dutiful Hector, beautiful Helen — are as alive for is today as they were for the ancient Greeks.
Homer’s Iliad (1st) concerns itself with “wrath” — the wrath of a man at arms. Homer’s Odyssey (2nd) is all about someone trying to get home from the Trojan War. Vergil’s Aeneid (3rd) is half Odyssey and half Iliad with some uniquely Roman elements added to boot.
Iliad shows the continual breakdown of human efforts to end violence — again and again peace is nigh and again and again something thwarts it. Then the poem turns blood red (or “blood black,” since blood is always “black” with Homer). Yet its epic similes imagine natural and domestic scenes. A rain of spears is likened to falling snow. Odyssey is an adventure story and a story of nostalgia and homecoming, but at its heart are the norms and decorums of civilization. The first sign we get that the Cyclops is uncivilized is that he asks Odysseus his name before showing his guests proper hospitality (feeding them, washing their feet, and so forth). The Odyssey’s simile-world is often the inverse of the Iliad’s: domestic matters are likened to wartime occurrences and phenomena.
The gods envy us because we are mortal and any moment may be our last; everything is more beautiful because we are doomed…
…You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.
— Homer, Odyssey
Aeneid has what we might describe as an imperial theme: the difficulty of founding an empire, the cost of empire, the horrors of violence and death, the paradoxical means by which these can arrive at a kind of peace: it is, in other words, a poem in an uneasy relationship to Augustan world (relating to or denoting Latin literature of the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus, including the works of Horace and Ovid alongside that of Vigil) for which it provides an aetiology (the investigation or attribution of the cause or reason for something, often expressed in terms of historical or mythical explanation). It makes us ask over and over: what exactly is civilization and, is civilization worth its weight in blood?
But the queen —
too long she has suffered the pain of love, hour by hour nursing the wound with her lifeblood, consumed by the fire buried in her heart; his looks, his words, they pierce her heart and cling
— no peace, no rest for her body, love will give her none.
— Virgil, Aeneid