Several years back, during the darkest hours of the US’s involvement in two wars, I revisited an ancient war. I reread The Iliad. I don’t know if it was because of the political atmosphere or a more mature outlook, but my interpretation of the poem was completely different from any I had had or seen before.
I can’t go into all of the details, but I bring up a few points about my different interpretation of this old classic.
A silly question: How long had the Greeks actually been in front of Ilium when the poem starts? I would say not very long. The boats are just pulled up on shore. There are a few temporary tents set up, but there isn’t the type of village that would have sprung up if they’d been there 10 months let alone 10 years. There were no fortifications. When they talked about past battles, they were always at other cities. Priam needed to ask Helen to identify the main Greek players, which means they had just got there. Most of the people are young. There may have been a 10 year war between the two sides, but the current war with 1000 ships had only been going on a short time and the ships had only just arrived after having knocked over all of Troy’s allies.
More important, at least to me, is that the story can be read as antiwar. Characters from both sides are treated sympathetically with respect and compassion. Think of poor Hector. He didn’t want to fight. He only did it out of duty to his father. The typical death sequence is telling. Until the end, when a person is killed Homer gives what at first seems like just a formula description. But think about it: the soldier is given a name and a home city. Then he is given an occupation away from the war and a family. After he is turned from just a nameless casualty into a real person he dies a gruesome and painful death. It doesn’t matter the side, the poet is saying real people were ripped away from their homes to die on a distant battle field for no real good reason, because a handful of jerks are quarreling. And Homer makes Agamemnon, Menelaus and Paris out to be real jerks, the only people he singled out to be treated this way.
From the beginning the common people really don’t want to be fighting this war. Not just the common people, but Achilles himself.
There are Greek stories about Achilles dressing as a woman to avoid the draft. Odysseus catches on and tricks Achilles into reveling himself, but in truth, he didn’t want to fight in the war.
Most of our ideas about the players come from the Roman sources. If you remember, Rome decided to write themselves into the history by saying Romulus and Remus were descended from Aeneas. Nowhere is this Romanization of the story more pointed than with Achilles. Odyssus doesn’t count in their eyes because to them he is a false person who relies on tricks and ruses to win. As I said, Agamemnon and Menelaus are already jerks. Achilles, though, he is different. He can beat the best of the Trojans, i.e. he can beat the Romans in a fair fight. So they had to make his strength a trickery. The Achilles Heel is 100% a Roman invention. There are no Greek myths or legends about his mother making him invincible. To the Greeks he was a just a man, but a very strong man and the best soldier the world had ever seen.
Of course, the whole Iliad is started because he is a good soldier and a good leader of men, just a bit too headstrong. He was the most successful of all of the Greek leaders on the lead up to the final battle at the gates of Ilium. Agamemnon had to knock him down a few pegs or risk losing his leadership position. The whole Briseis thing was just a huge political smack down to assert control.
Which brings us to this song.
As I said, after rereading the book I came up with some new interpretations. This inspired me to write a cycle of poems. This song cycle is all written from Achilles’ point of view. It adds some of the other Greek legends and ignores all of the Roman additions. I spent weeks researching it before writing a word. I was then going to set it to music.
Well, the music never happened. I stopped writing “classical” music and the song cycle really didn’t fit in anywhere else.
Or so I thought.
One day I sat down and took the first poem, “Brisies (That Was Yesterday)”, and turned it into a song. It’s not rock, it’s not classical; it’s just “Trent”.
Note: this is a demo. I would need a real drummer to put in the percussion parts – don’t tell me the drum part is bad, I know. I would also like to have a real lead vocalist sing. I hate the way my voice sounds. Most of the music, though, is what it will eventually sound like. “Eventually” meaning if I ever do anything with it.
Without further ado, here it is:
Yes, I know it’s weird that write music based on old classics (my last Third Monday post was on the Hamlet Symphony).
Hope you enjoy.
Image of Briseis being taken from Achilles from Naples Museum on Pompeii (image found on Wikimedia Commons)
Oh, BTW, my parrot makes a cameo. See if you can hear her in a silent section (I did use some effects on her cries).