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Martin Mueller, The Iliad

(Bristol Classical Press, Second Edition, 2009)

Illustration by Drea Cofield.
Illustration by Drea Cofield.

For poetry lovers, the pleasures of parataxis (collage, fragmentation) are well-established. For example, this snippet from Tom Raworth’s “Errory” (from Clean and Well Lit, 1996):

the foundation
desirable to guard against
relative soundness of approach
including human shapes
used by the dealer
connecting them
to a sense of common
unforeseeable properties of relics

Note, amid the difference, the continual suggestions of connectivity.

The Iliad is paratactic, made of bardic, formulaic materials (line + line + line snapping together like Legos); but it uses these to a construct a vibrant, intricate plot (think Ulysses). See Martin Mueller, The Iliad for detail.

The idea in Books Three & Four (out of twenty-four) is to toy with short-circuiting the big epic. Paris challenges Menelaus to single combat and loses. It should be the end of the story: Greeks win; Helen goes home. But no. The Trojan Pándaros breaks the truce, shooting at Menelaus. Here’s that moment (which also contains the weirdest Homeric simile):

Menelaus, the deathless gods kept you in mind. [4.127]
Athena protected you from that blood-thirsty arrow.
She stood in front of you and saved your life,
brushing that arrow away like a mother shooing a fly
from the cradle where her baby lies sweetly asleep.
She brushed that arrow into your belt where the gold buckle was,
the arrow pushed through this and through the corselet,
through the linen, just grazing your thigh
where your bright blood immediately started flowing.
Think of the fanciest Phoenician cheek-piece, hand-stained in Maeonia [4.141]
and stored carefully in the treasury. Any horseman would want it,
but there it stays in your storehouse, ready to give glory
to you and your horse when you go out riding.
Menelaus, that’s to give you an idea of how
your precious blood stained your well-muscled thighs
and kept dripping down on your strong ankles.

[Translated by Bob Perelman.]


Bob Perelman


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2017

All Issues