The Iliad of Homer

From The Atlantic Monthly:Homer

Notes on the History of Fiction A Review by E. L. Doctorow. Historically, there was something like a Trojan war, maybe even several Trojan wars in fact, but the one Homer wrote about in the eighth century B.C. is the one that fascinates us, because it is fiction. Archaeologists doubt that any Trojan war began because someone named Paris kidnapped someone named Helen from under the nose of her Greek husband, or that it was a big wooden horse filled with soldiers that finally won the day. And those particularized gods running the war for their own purposes, deflecting arrows, inciting human rages, turning hearts, and controlling history, might have kept the Greeks and Trojans at it for years and years, but they have no authority in our monotheistic world, and you can find no trace of them in the diggings in northwest Turkey where the archaeologists turn up the shards and bones and sling bullets of what might have been the real Troy.

But Homer (or the stable of poets incorporated under the name Homer) was either given to polytheistic fantasy or was the genius adapter of a system of cosmological metaphors that no one — not Dante, not Shakespeare, not Cervantes — has ever matched for sheer imaginative insanity. Read Homer’s hexameters and you find gods made in the image of man — jealous, mendacious, erotically charged, vengefully disposed, gender-specific know-it-alls, with empowering aptitudes that they wield as weapons in heaven as they do on earth.

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