It was Saturday night and my wife was out, incredibly she had managed to secure tickets to watch Strictly Come Dancing. She had offered to take me along but I had calmly explained that I would rather sandpaper my meat and two veg than sit through fifteen (count them 15) couples gyrating around Elstree studios.
Anyway, home alone I was stuck with a glass of wine, some fish and chips and a choice of DVD. I chose Troy, the recent epic starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana that tells the tale of the Trojan War.
Countless volumes have been written on the causes, the outcomes, the historical accuracy and the characters of the Trojan War. Scholars have argued for 30 centuries about the themes that Homer wrote about – is the poem about love (Paris’ tragic love for Helen), about war (the greatest armies ever assembled), about pride (Agamemnon and Achilles falling out) or is it about the Gods themselves. Well, watching the film and remembering the book I think they’re all wrong. The Illiad is about fatherhood.
Why? Because Homer himself tells us.
The poem begins with Chryses, an old man, a father, coming to see Agamemnon, the king of kings and the leader of the Greek forces. Chryses, begs the great king for the return of his daughter who has been captured and enslaved by Agamemnon. Seeing the distress of this man, a father begging for the life and freedom of his daughter Agamemnon relents and releases the girl thereby setting in chain the events that form the central story of the poem.
The very last act of the poem comes when Priam, the noble and aged King of Troy escapes the attention of the Greek forces and makes his way into the Greek camp one night. He is looking for Achilles who has killed his beloved, eldest son Hector, the hero of Troy. Achilles in his wrath has sworn to deny Hector the funeral rites accorded to a warrior and hero and is holding his body in spite. Priam finds Achilles and weeps as he describes his love for his son. He begs to be allowed to take his body back to Troy and to allowed give him the honours that he so richly deserves. Achilles is moved to tears and communes with Priam, acceding to his wishes.
The earliest epic of western civilisation is topped and tailed by fathers begging, prostrating themselves in front of other men for the love of their children: One alive, the other dead. This isn’t a book about love, war, pride or the Gods. It’s a book about the everyday experience , the everyday worry that fathers (and mothers) feel for their children and how great and powerful men are moved by this experience, this love to empathise and offer solace to fellow fathers.
With what is going on in the news right now it’s a message that resonates as loudly today as it did 3200 years ago.
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