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This Is How The Iliad Sounded When Its Original Readers Recited It


As an essentially oral poem, The Iliad is inseparable from the ancient Greek in which it was written.

In the West, one of the first poetic exercises of history was The Iliad, the epic poem that is traditionally attributed to Homer but, as occurred with much of literature until the modern age, it was probably a collective work. And which would correspond to the also collective vocation of poetry in that and later eras: an exercise that convoked people, a community practice that served to gather together people to share.

In this sense, The Iliad was a poem written to be read out loud. It is said, for example, that the known resource of the Homeric epithets (“Of patient mood,” for Odysseus, “Divine among gods,” for Athena, etc.) served as a mnemonic technique for the reader, like a pause in which, without ceasing to speak, they could concentrate on remembering the following lines of the poem that they had to recite.

What would The Iliad sound like? The only way to know this would be to partially recreate the conditions in which the poem was shared. The reading is under the leadership of Stanley Lombardo, a classicist at the University of Kansas, to whose wisdom and erudition regarding ancient Greek and Latin is added his dramatic reading, an indispensable element when tackling poems such as The IliadThe Odyssey and Aeneid, and which he has translated into English. In the case of the video we share here, Lombardo reads lines 62-107 from book 23, where he refers to the funeral of Patroclus and the funeral rites that Achilles organized in honor of his dearest friends.

Beyond comprehension, the sounds of ancient Greek seem to have the appropriate dignity for the message they transmit, as if the language had the qualities of that fictitious world that for a moment appears more real than this one.

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