Offers Tragedy, Sex, Drama, War
by Georgia Billingsley
Why are The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The
Aeneid worth reading? Why, out of all the books in our
many Eugene bookstores, should the works of Homer and Virgil
be bought over Tom Clancy or Stephen King's latest bestsellers?
Ultimately, ancient epics are menus for all tastes. They
have the elegance of Jane Austen with the scandal of Jerry
Springer. They wield the grace and suspense of Hitchcock with
the gore of Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan.
They tell one story and yet encompass every story ever told.
They are masterpieces and have lasted this long for a reason.
When I first read The Iliad, between the words, in
the white of the pages, I saw greedy Agamemnon and proud Achilles
argue in the firelight over a woman. The thick clouds of dust
on the battlefield made me choke. The gross, festering spear
wounds made my stomach clench. And my eyes squinted under
the merciless blaze of the sun that beat down on the men of
Ilium. The imagery alone is worth reading these epics, but
there is so much more.
Imagine a man well in his 40s, wealthy and famous, who bemoans
a fate of adventure-hopping around the world, constantly being
seduced by goddesses who make Victoria's Secret underwear
models look plain--and all because the one he really wants
is his wife at home.
This is Odysseus.
Imagine a war as horrific and terrible as any other, lasting
10 interminable years. And how does this war begin? Because
one of bin Laden's groupies abducts Dick Cheney's wife, who
in this scenario just happens to be the most beautiful woman
in the world.
This is the beginning of The Iliad.
Imagine a strong, intelligent and beautiful woman. She is
the founder and leader of an empire, and she torches a massive
pile of the things her boyfriend forgot to pack on his way
out the door, all because his excuse is, "But baby, I
gotta go or else Zeus is gonna get ticked."
This is Dido.
One of the greatest tragedies of life is when we begin to
view things as either beneath or beyond us. The world is too
fascinating and our minds are too capable for either. Yet
so many people look down at the stories of ancient Greece
and Rome as boring, dated, or too difficult to decipher. The
language is a path, not a wall, and for each of the epics
there are many different translations to fit personal reading
As unlikely as it may seem, there may come a time when many
of the brightest literary stars of our age will fade. While
Jack Ryan slowly disappears to the land of "unheardof"
and even the mighty towers of Hogwarts begin to crumble, Achilles
will still shout his war cry over the din of battle. Odysseus
will still chill on the beach with the lotus-eaters, and Aeneas
will time and again mesmerize his African queen. These epics
have lasted for thousands of years, and they will last much
longer. Ultimately, it is an eerie and humbling feeling to
know that the stories and characters in these classics endure
before and after this age.
The classics are worth reading because they existed before
my life, my family, my country, and the world as I know it
came to be. The classics are worth reading because they will
no doubt still exist after my life, my family, my country
and the world as I know it all end.
Georgia Billingsley II's
article first appeared in The
Oregon Daily Emerald, vol. 104.9, page 7 on July 25, 2002.
It is reproduced on this webpage with the author's permission.
Copyright 2002, all rights reserved by Georgia Billingsley.