The Siege and Fall of Troy
A re-issue of Robert Graves’ retelling of the Homeric myths is always welcome, and the new introduction by Dan-El Padilla Peralta makes the point that we are still familiar with the issues ‘that confronted the heroes of myth,’ today. Graves tells the tales of the Iliad and the Odyssey in a fast-paced, accessible style that pulls no punches. What he adds to them are the multiple legends that accumulated around the great poems, telling sometimes contradictory versions of, for example, Odysseus’ return and the fate of Helen. The ambiguity works well in our modern age of false endings and unreliable narrators but could frustrate those who like a clear structure. No character is ever always morally right or wrong, and some actions are unresolved: when Helen walks around the Trojan Horse, calling out the names of the Greek warriors hiding within it, is she hoping to save Troy, or warn the Greeks their ruse is suspected? Her motive remains opaque. Odysseus comes out badly in this account, and Agamemnon is more sinned against than sinning.
The prose is confident and businesslike; the brutality of war graphically described. The language and metaphors used are often those of Homer himself: Thersites is ‘bandy-legged, hunch-backed and almost bald’, while Achilles at the death of Patroclus, howls ‘like a lioness whose cub has been killed’.
A single criticism might be that the voices of the women are often omitted, though they provide some of the most poignant and poetic episodes in the original. An action-packed narrative is ensured, but perhaps at the cost of some emotional depth. An eye-opening read for young teens (12 – 16).