The War that Killed Achilles, By Caroline Alexander

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The Independent Culture

In her preface to this exegesis of Homer's Iliad, Caroline Alexander notes that the recent killing of US Rangers in Mogadishu and the dragging of their bodies behind Jeeps through the streets echoes the fate of Hector at the hands of Achilles. Her thesis is that Homer's epic is of continuing relevance because war is a continuing fact of life; and, moreover, that Homer's poem does not celebrate war, but shows it for the tragedy it is.

She argues that The Iliad is not a conventional epic, but a revolutionary departure from that form, humanising the characters through intimate, domestic scenes, showing the brutality and suffering of war, and evincing sympathy for the vanquished Trojans.

Alexander quotes large chunks of Homer and follows them with detailed commentary, offering explanations of such puzzles as why Hector, for all his reputation, seems to be so mediocre a warrior. She shows that The Iliad is sharply relevant to conflicts of our own day, as well as a key to understanding the distant world of the Bronze Age.