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2nd Year: The Iliad and the Dynamics of Anger
This is a selection of student reflections on modern artistic responses to the Iliad.

Jump:

Catherine Cassels | Julia Albert | Alex Rozenberg

Victoria Burnett | Denise Zhu
You Make Me Iliad and Homer’s Iliad
Catherine Cassels


Mary Reid Kelley’s You Make Me Iliad conflates issues of gender, time, and authorship in a black and white portrayal of a German soldier and a Belgian prostitute in World War I. The artwork bridges ancient Greece and Greek writing, the lack of female authorship in World War I, and brings into question even more contemporary issues of representations of pride. Ried Kelley brings to the forefront issues of masculine domination and authorship in The Iliad to World War I, with the pride of the male poet and the exploitation of the female prostitute.

Reid Kelley pulls from The Iliad and its translations in her structuring of the production. She imitates the translation by Alexander Pope with the iambic pentameter, and carefully crafted lines, with layers of meaning embedded between words and visuals[1]. The look of the art itself mirrors the ancient Greek tradition of the masked actor. The eyes of the characters are covered, as well as mouths obstructed with black makeup, allowing the body language, and the carefully crafted stop-animation wordplay, to take center stage. The center of the storyline is the poet, a soldier, who can represent a multitude of the men at various points throughout the epic; Paris, with the possession of the female body; Achilles, storming out of the brothel when the prostitute threatens his pride; even Homer the bard himself, the narrator of the epic poem, with the “Sing, muse, your scribe has quill in hand! I write, I rhyme, I breathe at your command!”[2] mimicking the opening of the Fagles translation, “Rage - Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles…”[3].

However, male rage is not the center of this interpretation. While Aphrodite placated the rage of Helen in The Iliad, there is no one to placate the prostitute in You Make Me Iliad. She feels violated by the intrusion of the male poet into her mind, life and past, saying that it is only abuse of a different “orifice”[4] than her usual business as “a tragic female”[5]. Helen is sparsely referenced in The Iliad, denied by the Gods the right to free will, and even her thoughts and feelings. Reid Kelley ensures that the soldier knows how his objectification of the woman is making her feel. While the soldier is still the primary character, Reid Kelley cites this decision to be based on the lack of history written by women in the period of the War[6]. Reid Kelley did not want to invent and assign a background to a character incorrectly, so she “bookends” the prostitute with male characters to allow for an accurate, yet critical, interpretation of how this kind of interaction may have operated[7]. The prostitute prides herself on being independent and holds her own in intelligence as well.

The soldier, on the other hand, is also a rather proud figure. He feels entitled to her story as much as another customer would feel entitled to her body. He states that he has no interest in women, except for his personal use in writing, referencing how women lead to disparity, like with Helen leading to the demise of Troy. This reference foreshadows his death, brought on by similar exploitation of a woman. While the soldier dies in combat with mustard gas, the opening scene says he is not a proud soldier. Poetry is his pride, as he cannot stand to be in battle. This pride contrasts significantly with the ideas of ancient Greek’s, coming from power in battle, klēos, and timē, and adds a contemporary twist to the story. His pride comes from his authorship, and his presumed superior intelligence to that of the female. This context mirrors the underappreciation of female authorship in our contemporary times, as well as ideas of “mansplaining,” and persistent patriarchal structures, which remain in place thousands of years after The Iliad, and decades after World War I.

Issues of gender, power dynamic, and pride have always been prominent, as can be seen in both The Iliad and You Make Me Iliad. The use of ancient Greek techniques and storylines, the unique representation of the female body, and the different pride of the soldier allow for a fresh retelling, yet the central messages remain the same. Throughout all of history, these issues have been felt profoundly and grappled with by many, making The Iliad a genuinely classic story, with plotlines, characters, and morals that can be understood, enjoyed, and learned from across centuries, and for centuries to come.

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1. Mary Reid Kelley: You Make Me Iliad,” Pilar Corrias, September 10, 2010. Link.
2. Mary Reid Kelley, “You Make Me Iliad,” Mary Reid Kelley [Video], 12:57, 2010. Link.
3. Homer, The Iliad, Translated by Robert Fagles, Introduction and Notes by Bernard Knox (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 77.
4. Mary Reid Kelley, “You Make Me Iliad,” Mary Reid Kelley [Video], 7:23, 2010.
5. Ibid., 6:57.
6. Mary Reid Kelley: ‘You Make Me Iliad’| Art21 ‘Extended Play,.” YouTube video, 1:50, Posted by
"Art21," November 16, 2012. Link.
How Auden Engraves New Meaning from The Iliad
Julia Albert


In his ekphrastic poem “The Shield of Achilles,” written in 1952, W. H. Auden vividly describes the making of Achilles’ new shield with desolate and inhumane imagery, in juxtaposition to Homer’s joyous and civilized depictions. Auden distorts the images from their original context in order to comment on the idealization of war and to subvert the empty promises of political authorities who justify wars that often have no winner.

In Book 18 of The Iliad, Achilles’ best friend, Patroclus, has just been killed while fighting the Trojans on Achilles’ behalf. Upon hearing of his best friend's death, Achilles is distraught and covers himself with “soot and filth”, as if his grief has killed his soul and he wishes to bury his body, despite not having physically died yet (Homer 18.25). Achilles’ devitalizing grief at the loss of his best friend is echoed in Auden’s description of the victims of war, perhaps more specifically Holocaust victims and their family members, who “died as men before their bodies died” (Auden 46). Achilles’ deep sadness quickly turns into uncontrollable rage as he vows to kill Patroclus’ murderer, Hector, even if it means losing his own life. Meanwhile, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, asks “the god of fire”, Hephaestus, to make her son a new shield for his return to battle (Homer 18.720).

In Homer’s description of the shield, Hephaestus carves images of cosmic majesty, scenes of piety and morality, and illustrations of pastoral calm. In contrast, Auden paints images of irrationality and brutality, where “three pale figures” are executed seemingly arbitrarily, where “girls are raped” and where “boys knife” one another (40, 64). Writing after World War II, Auden is offering a political critique of fascist dictators like Hitler and Mussolini who insisted that war was the only answer in order to become prosperous and dominant countries again. Auden assumes his readers are familiar with The Iliad and that this juxtaposition between descriptions will demonstrate the stark contrast between the fascist propaganda and the horrific reality of the Second World War, which left millions of people killed, displaced, and morally distraught, as well as many women raped by Red Army soldiers in the aftermath of the war[1]. The insistence on war for the sake of restoring justice or reasserting dominance, as Hitler and Mussolini did, is much like the Trojan war, which was launched as an expedition to reclaim Helen, the wife of Meneleus, to the Acheans after she was abducted by the Trojan prince, Paris. Fascist dictators, like Greek warriors of the past, expertly weaved narratives into their reason for fighting and laid out idealized images of the worlds that would result from them winning the battle, like the ideal images Homer describes Hephaestus carving onto Achilles’ shield.

As is well known, the destruction of WWII left much of Europe and Asia in ruins, as many as 60 million people dead, and the ethical repurcussions of dealing with the murder of 6 million Jews[2]. Rather than the idyllic and fruitful images of the shield in The Iliad, Auden depicts the savagery and banal evil that transpired during WWII. He illustrates the lack of empathy that resulted from such fear and propaganda when he describes a young urchin child who does not understand a world “where promises [are] kept” nor where “one could weep because another wept” (Auden 60, 61).

In the 1950s, the Cold War became increasingly tense as the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies became more hostile. With this increased tension, the capacity for mass destruction on a global scale also became foreseeable, as each side innovated their nuclear weaponry. The irrationality and absurdity of the potential outcome of the Cold War, being nuclear annihilation, is also reflected in Auden’s powerful imagery. For instance, Auden describes the paradox of “an artificial wilderness”, which could never logically exist, just as humanity could not logically persist if the Cold War would have concluded as many individuals worried it might in the 1950s and 1960s (Auden 7). Auden’s description of a “sky like lead” might very well refer to the massive atomic and hydrogen bombs that both the United States and Soviet Union had the ability to drop from the sky during these tense times (Auden 8).

Essentially, Auden’s poem urges readers to reflect critically on the atrocities that humans are capable of committing if they fail to act rationally and lose the ability to empathize. He achieves this message by using the literary technique of ekphrasis, in describing the images on the shield that Hephaestus engraves for Achilles in The Iliad. In distorting Homer’s original joyous descriptions, Auden engraves new meaning into the shield of human history. He subverts political figures who idealize war, and instead demonstrates the illogicality and horror that results from unchecked power and subservient citizens, directly commenting on the political turmoil of his time. Just as no winners are alluded to in Auden’s poem, Homer’s Iliad consistently demonstrates the pain and suffering on both the Achaean and the Trojan sides of the war. Just as Auden yearns for a world where “one could weep because another wept”, Homer too calls for a world of empathy (Auden 61). He recounts the instance between Priam and Achilles in Book 24, when Priam weeps for the loss of his son, sparking Achilles to weep at the thought of his own father’s sadness once he inevitably dies. Ultimately, Auden successfully comments on the idealization of war and all the suffering that comes with it, in an effort to encourage a world of empathy and critical reflection.

~ * ~ * ~

P.S. In Auden’s poem “from In Time of War”, he remarks how “the hospitals alone remind us / Of the equality of man” (Auden, “from In Time of War”). I cannot help but think how the current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the equality of humans, who can each be affected by the virus, no matter our nationality, economic status, sexual orientation, religion, or race. Indeed, on CBC’s The Sunday Edition, Paul Rogers, an expert on international security, mentioned how tensions between Iran and the United States have lessened since the COVID outbreak, and a general diminution of tension in some parts of the Middle East, out of necessity for dealing with each country’s own medical situation. It will be very interesting to see how things progress and what other global conflicts will be put on hold. I wonder how things will resume, and whether we will go back to our old ways once the virus settles down, or learn an important lesson about international cooperation and unity going forward.


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1. MacMillan, Margaret. “Rebuilding the World after the Second World War.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Sept. 2009.
2. Ibid.
How Auden Engraves New Meaning from The Iliad
Julia Albert



In his ekphrastic poem “The Shield of Achilles,” written in 1952, W. H. Auden vividly describes the making of Achilles’ new shield with desolate and inhumane imagery, in juxtaposition to Homer’s joyous and civilized depictions. Auden distorts the images from their original context in order to comment on the idealization of war and to subvert the empty promises of political authorities who justify wars that often have no winner.

In Book 18 of The Iliad, Achilles’ best friend, Patroclus, has just been killed while fighting the Trojans on Achilles’ behalf. Upon hearing of his best friend's death, Achilles is distraught and covers himself with “soot and filth”, as if his grief has killed his soul and he wishes to bury his body, despite not having physically died yet (Homer 18.25). Achilles’ devitalizing grief at the loss of his best friend is echoed in Auden’s description of the victims of war, perhaps more specifically Holocaust victims and their family members, who “died as men before their bodies died” (Auden 46). Achilles’ deep sadness quickly turns into uncontrollable rage as he vows to kill Patroclus’ murderer, Hector, even if it means losing his own life. Meanwhile, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, asks “the god of fire”, Hephaestus, to make her son a new shield for his return to battle (Homer 18.720).

In Homer’s description of the shield, Hephaestus carves images of cosmic majesty, scenes of piety and morality, and illustrations of pastoral calm. In contrast, Auden paints images of irrationality and brutality, where “three pale figures” are executed seemingly arbitrarily, where “girls are raped” and where “boys knife” one another (40, 64). Writing after World War II, Auden is offering a political critique of fascist dictators like Hitler and Mussolini who insisted that war was the only answer in order to become prosperous and dominant countries again. Auden assumes his readers are familiar with The Iliad and that this juxtaposition between descriptions will demonstrate the stark contrast between the fascist propaganda and the horrific reality of the Second World War, which left millions of people killed, displaced, and morally distraught, as well as many women raped by Red Army soldiers in the aftermath of the war[1]. The insistence on war for the sake of restoring justice or reasserting dominance, as Hitler and Mussolini did, is much like the Trojan war, which was launched as an expedition to reclaim Helen, the wife of Meneleus, to the Acheans after she was abducted by the Trojan prince, Paris. Fascist dictators, like Greek warriors of the past, expertly weaved narratives into their reason for fighting and laid out idealized images of the worlds that would result from them winning the battle, like the ideal images Homer describes Hephaestus carving onto Achilles’ shield.

As is well known, the destruction of WWII left much of Europe and Asia in ruins, as many as 60 million people dead, and the ethical repurcussions of dealing with the murder of 6 million Jews[2]. Rather than the idyllic and fruitful images of the shield in The Iliad, Auden depicts the savagery and banal evil that transpired during WWII. He illustrates the lack of empathy that resulted from such fear and propaganda when he describes a young urchin child who does not understand a world “where promises [are] kept” nor where “one could weep because another wept” (Auden 60, 61).

In the 1950s, the Cold War became increasingly tense as the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies became more hostile. With this increased tension, the capacity for mass destruction on a global scale also became foreseeable, as each side innovated their nuclear weaponry. The irrationality and absurdity of the potential outcome of the Cold War, being nuclear annihilation, is also reflected in Auden’s powerful imagery. For instance, Auden describes the paradox of “an artificial wilderness”, which could never logically exist, just as humanity could not logically persist if the Cold War would have concluded as many individuals worried it might in the 1950s and 1960s (Auden 7). Auden’s description of a “sky like lead” might very well refer to the massive atomic and hydrogen bombs that both the United States and Soviet Union had the ability to drop from the sky during these tense times (Auden 8).

Essentially, Auden’s poem urges readers to reflect critically on the atrocities that humans are capable of committing if they fail to act rationally and lose the ability to empathize. He achieves this message by using the literary technique of ekphrasis, in describing the images on the shield that Hephaestus engraves for Achilles in The Iliad. In distorting Homer’s original joyous descriptions, Auden engraves new meaning into the shield of human history. He subverts political figures who idealize war, and instead demonstrates the illogicality and horror that results from unchecked power and subservient citizens, directly commenting on the political turmoil of his time. Just as no winners are alluded to in Auden’s poem, Homer’s Iliad consistently demonstrates the pain and suffering on both the Achaean and the Trojan sides of the war. Just as Auden yearns for a world where “one could weep because another wept”, Homer too calls for a world of empathy (Auden 61). He recounts the instance between Priam and Achilles in Book 24, when Priam weeps for the loss of his son, sparking Achilles to weep at the thought of his own father’s sadness once he inevitably dies. Ultimately, Auden successfully comments on the idealization of war and all the suffering that comes with it, in an effort to encourage a world of empathy and critical reflection.

~ ~ ~


P.S. In Auden’s poem “from In Time of War”, he remarks how “the hospitals alone remind us / Of the equality of man” (Auden, “from In Time of War”). I cannot help but think how the current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the equality of humans, who can each be affected by the virus, no matter our nationality, economic status, sexual orientation, religion, or race. Indeed, on CBC’s The Sunday Edition, Paul Rogers, an expert on international security, mentioned how tensions between Iran and the United States have lessened since the COVID outbreak, and a general diminution of tension in some parts of the Middle East, out of necessity for dealing with each country’s own medical situation. It will be very interesting to see how things progress and what other global conflicts will be put on hold. I wonder how things will resume, and whether we will go back to our old ways once the virus settles down, or learn an important lesson about international cooperation and unity going forward.

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Performing Healing with the Iliad: Peter Meineck and the Aquila Theatre Company
Alex Rozenberg


Many people are first introduced to the world of Homer in its written form. It might have been the Odyssey that loomed menacingly from grandfather’s wooden bookshelf, or perhaps it was the Iliad which cast its selective shadow over an ambitious required reading list. Either way, in modern times we often sit down to read the words of Homer instead of hearing them spoken or sung as they would have been in ancient times. Notably, in the Iliad there are many references to the necessity of singing the tale of anger, the first lines of the epic poem declaring “Rage— goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles” (1.1-2).

To Peter Meineck, the Iliad is still meant to be heard aloud. With his theatre company, Aquila Productions, Meineck produces dramatic readings with war veterans in order to bring the words of the ancients to life in a modern context. He was inspired by the work of Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who noticed that the Vietnam veterans he worked with bore a striking psychological resemblance to the Iliad’s warrior Achilles. The point Shay makes, is that the story of Achilles is a universal tale of trauma and anger. This universality, combined with the need to heal from such widely experienced emotions, necessitates communal healing. Ancient Greek theatre then, was like a group therapy session, with shows being performed for and by war veterans. With this idea of “cultural therapy” in mind, Meineck’s Warrior Chorus facilitates “town hall” type meetings in order to encourage conversation and healing around the subject of war and anger.

At its essence, the Iliad is meant to be performed. As Meineck writes, “a theatre performance is an extra-textual event where the spectator experiences the words and actions of a play in the moment, as part of a collective audience”[1]. Therefore, reading the Iliad can help us understand war in ancient times, but the experience is “singularly personal”[2]. When the Iliad is performed, the audience is forced to consider the material as part of a community. In Meineck’s performances, the Iliad is used to orient the members of the audience and provide them with an emotional access point for relating to the material.

This emotional access point is the crux of Meineck’s efforts in the Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives program, and the relatability of his performances comes from their anchoring idea: “the homecoming of the warrior”[3]. While the Iliad’s main characters are male warriors, the reality of war is that everyone is affected, including the spouses of warriors and their families. The idea of homecoming in the Iliad underlines the importance of preserving one’s humanity in the face of constant conflict. Similarly, Meineck thinks about the importance of ritualized events in bolstering humanity and promoting healing when designing his performances, citing the ancient Greek Festival of the City Dionysia as a point of inspiration. The festival he writes, “is in many ways, a locus for the staging of returns”[4].

Meineck’s public readings end up being a similar “staging of returns”, as the depiction of war and “its effects on women, children, households, and the community at large” provides audiences with the opportunity to bring the ideas of ancient Greece to their modern lives[5]. Presenting the possibility that homecoming is not always joyous and has historically been “fraught with the complexities of combat trauma”, allows veterans to come to terms with their own, possibly tragic, nostoi[6]. In this way, Meineck is presenting trauma, and proposing humanity.

The Iliad is a book of war, with catalogues of ships and dead warriors; but it is also a song, meant to be repeatedly sung. Much like combat is a performance with its carefully choreographed formations, healing is as well. It must be practiced —ritualized— as a community, like it was at the Festival of the City Dionysia in order to remember humanity in the face of war. Meineck’s readings respond to the Iliad by presenting passages as stories of war and complicated homecoming to warn, to understand, and to heal. Through Meineck’s programming, it is clear that war is fought as a collective and therefore must repair itself as one.

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1. Meineck, Peter. "Combat Trauma and the Tragic Stage: 'Restoration' by Cultural Catharsis." Intertexts, vol. 16 no.
1, 2012, p. 7-24. Project MUSE
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
The Song of the Iliad
Victoria Burnett


Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, published in 2011, follows the events of Homer’s Iliad, while including circumstances that occurred prior to the disagreement between Achilles and Agamemnon. Miller brings the classic story of the Trojan War, told exclusively from Patroclus’ point of view, to a modern young adult audience. A notable difference in her retelling, beyond the change in narration styles, is the marked absence of anger and assuredness in Achilles’ portrayal. Instead, Achilles is presented as a naïve child throughout a significant portion of the novel, who is still worried about the honor of his position, but more so about his relationship with Patroclus and how his power can be used to shield the two of them. Granted, as Achilles progresses through his character arc, he does appear to mature and ground himself in the stubbornness, foolishness, and selfish reasoning that is familiar to a classical reader.

Achilles acts the physical embodiment of anger throughout the Iliad, but as The Song of Achilles is narrated by Patroclus, the reader is introduced to the softer half of the famous duo. Miller examines the tragic circumstances that led to him being placed under the care of Peleus and subsequently becoming the official companion of Achilles. By waiting until Chapter 17 for the two protagonists to reach the beaches of Aulis and meet the other Greek kings before sailing to Troy, Miller takes the time to engage in what youth readers would recognize as a “slow burn”, wherein the romantic feelings between the two boys is developed and deepened over time and the trials that they experience before even reaching the battlefield. This allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of what motivates Achilles and Patroclus in Troy, and translate their pain into something that a person unfamiliar with loss in war will be better able to understand. In order to make the overwhelming grief that Achilles feels after the death of Patroclus more palpable to the modern audience unfamiliar with the ancient Greek ideals of honour, Miller appears to make the grief and revenge on Hector more explicitly tied to those emotions of love for the other boy as opposed to the blight on his honour incurred by losing a companion bearing his own armour.

Published to an audience that has been reared on a YA genre saturated with novels reimaging the modern political climate in ways similar to Harry Potter (1997-2007) and The Hunger Games (2008-2010), it is not a surprise that Miller followed a similar route when reimaging the ancient Greek culture described in the Iliad. In the film adaptations of the aforementioned series, there was often a primary focus on the role that romantic interests and entanglements played in the sociopolitical decisions. This was done in opposition to the much more politically charged source material found in the books. Miller choose a similar method of taking the complex world of tradition, social hierarchy, and honour and creating a focus on the romantic ties between Achilles, Patroclus, and the people that interact with them such as Deidameia and Briseis.

While The Song of Achilles follows the cinema-based precedents of putting the prominence on the romance aspect of a story in favor of the political circumstances it is navigating, Miller does so in a way that still integrates these points. Her Classics education aided in this translation of ancient to modern well, as at multiple points Patroclus gives the background as to why certain things are important to understanding the plot. One example is just how the Greek language works in terms of gendered words, and how the use of the masculine form of an insult by Deidameia plays a role in exposing Achilles’ cross-dressing ruse. Another is the hierarchical clashing of the many kings in the Achaean army, and how that interplays with Achilles’ maternal divine ancestry. The most important example is how Patroclus communicates to the reader how Briseis is the physical embodiment of Achilles’ honour and what it meant for Agamemnon to take her away.

While Miller does take artistic liberty in her retelling of the Iliad, she does so for a handful of reasons, one being to attempt a better communication of a social system that is unfamiliar to a modern audience. Another reason is to follow the precedents of the YA genre that she is being published in, namely by added romantic intrigue and the negative reactions of homosexual affection felt by Thetis that would be familiar to a queer reader finding a point of connection with an ancient tradition. It appears that Miller had a goal of making the Iliad more accessible by rewriting her interpretation of the events through a voice that is a side character for much of the original epic, and by making more explicit connections for modern readers to have with what is often considered a high-brow piece of art, in this goal, I find Miller to be quite successful.

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“Oral Cemetery”: A Response to Alice Oswald’s Memorial
Denise Zhu


The Iliad is often described as an epic poem that recounts a period of the Trojan War and the significant figures involved in it. Namely, people remember the stories of Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Helen, Hector, Paris, and the involvement of the Greek gods. Homer’s Iliad is perceived as a narrative that examines war, anger, and grief, but according to Alice Oswald, The Iliad can also be considered an “oral cemetery”. Oswald’s conception of an “oral cemetery” stems from the origins of The Iliad as part of an ancient Greek oral tradition. Ancient Greeks honoured the dead through oral ritual lament, and this lament manifests in The Iliad through the biographies of soldiers as they meet their deaths. Alice Oswald’s rendition of The Iliad, Memorial, strips away the majority of Homer’s poem to capture the essential “atmosphere” of Homer’s poem rather than its narrative. In doing so, Oswald reveals how The Iliad is truly a poem about honoring the dead, and how it is capable of reinvigorating the living.

In Memorial, The Iliad is no longer a story about the Trojan war and its heroes, but rather a lesson about humanity. The list of names in the beginning acts as a typical war memorial – all of the names are consolidated and presented line by line, fixed in the order that they died. They may have already been honoured in The Iliad, but Oswald uses The Iliad as a foundation to remember the fallen once more, without the other narrative elements getting in the way and with a newly imagined emphasis on life and death in general. The superficial message seems to be that everyone meets death, and while the string of biographies have the potential to become monotonous, they do not. Instead, Oswald’s integration of similes among the biographies conveys a profound message about the beauty of life and death with the mention of every name, for soldiers and civilians alike.

In her retelling, Oswald draws from the biographies found in The Iliad, but enhances them with images of mortality in relation to nature. Whereas The Iliad honours the dead through proclamations of lineage and accomplishments, Oswald’s rendition contradictorily highlights the beauty of life by appealing to humanity through natural imagery in her juxtaposition of gory, violent deaths: “Like an oak tree struck by lightning / Throws up its arms and burns / Terrifying for a man out walking / To smell that sulphur smell / And see the fields flickering ahead of him / Lit up blue by the strangeness of god” (19). Oswald’s tumultuous images of nature compliment the tumultuous nature of soldiers’ lives and deaths, forging a connection between man and nature that demonstrates every man’s eventual return to nature through death. In contrast with the metallic, fleshy deaths found in the biographies, Oswald’s similes bring about an awareness and healthy fear of death that is elegantly addressed through natural imagery; man ‘smell[ing] that sulphur smell’ and ‘see[ing] the fields flickering ahead of him’ is an inescapable, mortal realization.

Deaths are honored in Memorial through acknowledgements extracted from The Iliad, but with the addition of musings about man’s connection with nature, as death is seen as the predator to humanity’s prey: “Like the hawk of the hills the perfect killer / Easily outflies the clattering dove / She dips away but he follows he ripples / He hangs his black hooks over her / And snares her with a thin cry / In praise of her softness” (23). In portraying death through natural imagery, Oswald encourages an acceptance of death and an appreciation of the beauty of life before death: “Like leaves / Sometimes they light their green flames / And are fed by the earth / And sometimes it snuffs them out” (11). Oswald’s rendition of The Iliad thus evokes a sense of humanity that is ever-present in the original, but magnified through concentrated similes depicting human struggle: “Like when a mother is rushing / And a little girl clings to her clothes / Wants help wants arms / Won’t let her walk / Like staring up at that tower of adulthood / Wanting to be light again / Wanting this whole problem of living to be lifted / And carried on a hip” (15). Nature reflects the cycling of human lives, as little girls reach adulthood only to eventually die, and leaves, once green, eventually return to the earth. By removing the extraneous narrative parts of The Iliad and focusing solely on the deaths, the fleeting beauty of each soldier’s moment of passing is memorialized.

More than a response to The Iliad, Oswald’s pointed retelling of Homer’s story draws attention to the beauty and brevity of life by honoring the deaths of soldiers who symbolize all of the people we have lost or will lose. Memorial is not about war, but rather humanity. In mitigating the emphasis on heroes, glory and anger, what remains is an affirmation that dying is natural and that living must be valued. The role of divine intervention in fate and death is present in Oswald’s rendition, but the role of the gods is lessened significantly to accentuate mortality; no longer are the gods an active part of the story, because they do not need to be memorialized in the same way that humans do – they are immortal. In reducing the presence of divinity, there is a greater emphasis on the frailty of being human, as is brought up by Thetis and Achilles on multiple occasions in The Iliad due to Achilles’ mortality despite the fact that his mother is immortal.

Oswald concludes Memorial with poetry filled with natural imagery that speaks to the transient beauty of mortal life and how it naturally progresses toward death: “Like when god throws a star / And everyone looks up / To see that whip of sparks / And then it’s gone” (80). Brief yet dazzling, humanity is remembered through individual stories that make up the whole. Memorial is not only about the soldiers who died in The Iliad, but rather about how humans are “being born and reborn and shimmering over fields” (76). Oswald’s linking of man and nature works to explain the human life cycle as it has remained unchanged: “…spring breathes new leaf into the woods / Thousands of names thousands of leaves / …Dead bodies are their lineage / Which matter no more than the leaves” (70). Like leaves, humans are given life, but must eventually return to the earth. The Iliad honors those who fought and died, but Memorial builds upon that in order to honor all those who lived (‘dead bodies’) and continue to live (‘leaves’). Thus, through the negation of narrative elements and the inclusion of natural imagery, Memorial simultaneously honors the dead and encourages the living to revel in being alive while it lasts, as the human condition dictates an inevitable awareness of death that results in an attachment with life and its beauty.

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7. Ibid., 2:03.