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The War That Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander
© 2012 James LaFond
The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War
Caroline Alexander, Viking, 2009, 296 pages
A Review by James LaFond from July 2012
This book is a rare find; an academic work written with flare, nuance, and texture by a gifted writer. The author is a person I would love to have coffee with. The War That Killed Achilles is a revolutionary deconstruction of The Iliad, the seminal work in Western literature. Like the Bible and the Koran, the Iliad has been used over and over again to justify and glorify war. War and its glorification and the glory of being a warrior [a high-status killer], as the author points out, is the central premise of epic poetry. While the work of Homer—which was handed down to him by generations of poets—does follow all of these conventions, Homer also subverts the accepted message with his own humanistic protest.
In much the way that Beowulf subverts the idea that kings stand above heroes, in a poem dedicated to kingship, Homer subverts the master status of the hereditary autarchy of his time via the insertion of an irresistible hero [Achilles] whose words and actions carve a subversive subtext within the kingly plot.
The author makes a convincing case that The Iliad is indeed the first antiwar epic ever written—an iron age All Quiet on the Western Front set in the heroic bronze age of the poets that pioneered his art. Without giving away the author’s message, let me just say that she made a believer of me. If you are researching ancient Western martial arts, this is a must read. If you are simply interested in understanding epic poetry, leadership, tragedy or war, reading Caroline Alexander’s view on the Trojan War will be enlightening.
The lady can write. I will look up her other titles.
Sorrow-of-the-People is a translation of the name Achilles, which has also been translated to mean spear-lord, which I, and the professor that checked my work believe to be inaccurate.
A Hungarian, a Texan, and Alexander the Great?
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