Hush Up and Pass the Cliffs Notes

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In one of my classes, we have to get to read almost all of recorded Greek literature. This is an exciting opportunity for me, since I normally never get time to read fiction, and here I am in a class where reading several thick volumes of ancient fiction is required. Unlike most of my contemporaries, I have yet to dive into books like The Odyssey and The Iliad—other than having seen the Wishbone version back in my early childhood.

I’m a creative writing major. In theory, I should have a working knowledge of the English language and how to pull a plot out of a complicated story. But so far in my journey of hacking through the literary jungle that is Homer’s Iliad, my only conclusion is that it’s all Greek to me.

Pun intended.

Thankfully, the characters do a fairly good job of summarizing the plot as it progresses from page to page. The initial conflict of the book is restated at least once during the course of the first few sections, often much more succinctly than it was stated at the beginning. A good thing, too, because by the end of Page One I was completely lost.

As well as I could figure, the central struggle of the first few sections could be boiled down to the oldest of human conflicts: two dudes duking it out over a girl. Some brute named Agamemnon (imagine trying to learn how to spell that in grade school) steals Nice Guy Achilles’ girl and Nice Guy Achilles is understandably riled. With the intervention of a few sympathetic gods, Achilles goes on a mission to either A) get back his woman—the poor girl is given no more consideration than a side of beef throughout the narrative—or B) get revenge on Gag-amemnon or C) all of the above.

Part two is a little less straight-forward. There’s something about stopping an army from knocking out either the Trojans or Gag-amemnon; I wasn’t certain. Most of part two appears to be the guest list for a party worthy of Gatsby himself, except instead of guests there were soldiers and instead of being a party it was an army. This party must have been strictly BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat), since the section is nothing but a catalogue of who showed up to the soiree and how many boats they brought. One gets the distinct impression that everyone was trying to out-boat each other.

In any case, all of these unpronounceable warriors seemed to be in the same boat (I’m full of them tonight, aren’t I?), since they all got together to follow Mr. Achilles into a battle against either the Trojans or Gag-amemnon (ten billion pages later, I still wasn’t sure). By the end of the tonight’s assigned reading, the action finally got going and a few linen-clad warriors started hacking each other to pieces. Maybe. Why they ran into battle wearing only table cloths, I am not sure. I was of the understanding that steel armor is usually better for deflecting sword blows, but, hey, I’m neither Greek, nor ancient, nor male, so what do I know?

In summary: 1)I’m being forced to read fiction, which is awesome; 2) The Iliad will take several wade-throughs before I fully understand it; and 3) Cliff’s Notes will be my life raft in a sea of Greekness for the rest of the semester.

Hear that sound? That’s Homer flipping in his grave.

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13 responses »

  1. You had me literally laughing out loud here. . . and I am reading in UU’s Library, where, as you know, noise is a no-no. 🙂 I shall have to remember to read your blog elsewhere in the future. Your version of the Iliad is funny. I have read both Iliad and Odyssey before, but don’t remember much of them, as I read them several years ago. And I read them just for fun!

  2. Come, come now. The Catalogue of Ships was one of the most popular parts of the Iliad for the Greek audience. (Such nuggets of wisdom I learned from that class.) Just keep moving forward with it and don’t get too bogged down. If if helps you, just keep a running list of the two sides, the gods for/against Troy. Maybe getting that down will help you focus. 🙂

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