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I was having an argument with someone recently about epic poetry and I held fast to my belief that The Iliad is hands down the greatest epic I have ever read. (And I've read a lot). And now I feel compelled to post about it.

Reasons why:

1. The opening word: anger (actually wrath as the word used is only used of the anger of the gods and Achilles). Homer (or whoever formulated the work) never backs away from both the grandeur and the pettiness of Achilles' wrath, never pretties it up. Achilles is anger, pure and simple, and it is in that that his heroic nature lies. Without anger he would be nothing - and this is why I hate, hate, hate moral interpretations of him learning the error of indulging in his superhuman rage.

2. Book 6 and the parting of Andromache and Hector for the last time. At the end, Hector, dressed in full armour, goes to pick up his son and his son cries because he is afraid of his helmet, so Hector takes it off and picks him up and prays that he will make his mother proud and look after her if his father dies. It's so terrible because not only will Hector be dead soon but his son will also be killed by the Greeks. And for good measure Andromache will be given to Achilles' son. Even worse: you know that Andromache really knows this as she mourns him even while he is still alive and heading out to battle.

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August 2011

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