by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
There are many reasons — its cultural influence, its conservatism, its relevance to religious belief, and its portrayal of human virtue (and vice) — you should push this amazing text to the top of your reading list (and that of your kids!) in 2019.
The Iliad, which relates the saga of a ten-year war between Greeks and Trojans incited by Trojan prince Paris seducing and carrying off the wife of Greek king Menelaus, was one of the most well-known pieces of literature across the ancient world. Although likely composed in the Greek-inhabited areas of Asia Minor (where Troy, the ancient city the Greeks besieged, is located), it became central to pan-Hellenic identity.
Athenian schoolboys learned it like Puritan children knew their Bibles. Alexander the Great was capable of reciting “The Iliad” by heart, and modeled himself after one of its great heroes, Achilles. After Rome conquered Greece, it adopted “The Iliad” for itself, and the book’s themes (e.g., undaunted courage, military prowess and stratagem, controlling one’s rage), and characters — including Aeneas, whom the Roman poet Virgil claimed as a founder of Rome — became central to Roman identity.
Even though the Greek language, and the poem with it, was largely lost to the West when Rome collapsed, it remained central to Western European medieval culture and identity. European nations and royal houses traced their origins to “The Iliad’s” heroes. Even William Shakespeare used the poem’s plot as source material for “Troilus and Cressida.”