The bloody prequel: a triumphant new translation of the Iliad

There is an ancient comment (on the work of a grammarian with the terrific moniker Dionysius Thrax) that the performers of the Iliad and the Odyssey changed costume according to which poem they were reciting: a dark blue crown for the sea of the Odyssey, red for the blood of the Iliad. Emily Wilson, whose brisk and clear-eyed translation of the Odyssey became a bestseller, has now switched her sea-blue crown for her blood-red one. Even the covers of the two books – the Odyssey had a blue-dominated cover depicting the Minoan fresco of ‘Ladies in Blue’; the Iliad is red and gold, with an image of Thetis giving Achilles

What really happened at Troy?

Heinrich Schliemann had always hoped he’d find Homer’s Troy. Although he had no archaeological background to speak of, he did have money, and spades, and in the 1870s this would do. Tipped off as to the probable location of the ancient citadel — beneath Hisarlik on the west coast of modern Turkey — the Prussian businessman got zealously to work, pushing through the soil until he struck what he assumed to be the treasure of King Priam himself. In the Iliad the Trojan king lived lavishly. His palace was ‘surpassingly beautiful’. Its 50 rooms were built of ‘polished stone’. The terracotta wares Schliemann lifted from the ground did not quite

Myths ancient and modern

Six remarkable stories shape this book. Tracing the trajectories of the Odyssey to the Icelandic Njals Saga, via the Kosovo Cycle of heroic poems, the French Chanson de Roland, the German Nibelunglied and our own home-grown epic Beowulf, Nicholas Jubber’s new work is at once a travel journal, a meditation on the idea — and ideal — of Europe, and an exploration of a pivotal moment in the author’s own past. Following the 2016 referendum, Jubber sets off to the Greek island of Chios, perhaps Homer’s birthplace, and now at the front line of the Mediterranean migrant crisis. After a month volunteering in a refugee camp he works his way

Ovid’s last laugh

‘My spirit moves me to speak of forms changed into new bodies,’ proclaimed Ovid at the beginning of the Metamorphoses: a glorious compendium of classical mythology stretching from the creation of the universe to the Emperor Augustus. Metamorphica is a collection of 53 versions of classical myths as told by Ovid, Homer and the Greek tragedians (Mason’s first novel was The Lost Books of the Odyssey). They are inspired less by Ovid’s content than by his technique of ‘moving lightly through the ancient sources, taking up what he liked and reinventing it’. Metamorphica takes the bare premise of an ancient myth as the starting point from which to create a

The greatest story ever told

Did the Trojan War really take place? The Foreign Secretary certainly thinks so. ‘The Iliad must have happened,’ Boris Johnson once told me. ‘That description of the Trojans attacking like birds is so chilling, it must be true.’ Boris was referring to the beginning of Book 3 of the Iliad, where the Trojans ‘advanced with cries and clamour, a clamour like birds, cranes in the sky, flying from the winter’s storm and unending rain, flowing towards the streams of the ocean, bringing the clamour of death and destruction to Pygmy tribes, bringing evil and strife at the break of day’. You only have to stand on top of the ruined

Sex on legs

That joke about the young bull who tells the old bull, ‘Hey, Dad, see all those cows — let’s run and get one of them,’ and the old one replies, ‘Let’s walk and we can have the lot,’ is of course far too politically incorrect to tell these days. But it did creep into my mind last week watching Birmingham Royal Ballet’s double bill of Frederick Ashton’s masterworks, The Dream and A Month in the Country. He’s the old bull, and after the Duracell rogering in Christopher Wheeldon’s Strapless the other week, the serene, sly, ceaselessly sensuous way Ashton seduces you in those ballets, with choreography that never stoops to

Off the page

Dance has its own archaeological periods, and 2016’s schedules are confirming what 2015 indicated — that the era of dances with scientists is over. If you’ve an aversion to digital fidgets and have felt left out in recent years, you will wallow in stories galore this year. There are big new ballets coming about The Odyssey, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre; of which Mark Bruce’s boldly miniaturised The Odyssey, launching into Britain’s county theatres next month before fetching up at Wilton’s Music Hall, is a most alluring prospect. Last year we saw from both Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon, the Royal Ballet’s master-stylists of crisp abstract ballet, an enthusiastic rush to reinvent

Island, by J. Edward Chamberlin – review

‘Tom Island’ — that was the name I was given once by a girl I met on an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Of course, she broke my heart in due course. Turned out to be a lesbian, or so she claimed. But I liked the nickname, and as I think about it now, my life seems to be defined by islands of one sort or another (even putting aside England, which isn’t one). I live, at least part of the time, on the Greek island of Corfu. (It’s de rigueur, these days, for writers to ‘divide their time’ rather than be so dull as to live in just one