These essays, prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC (now Vancouver Island University), are in the public domain, and may be used by anyone, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged, released August 2005.

For comments and questions please contact Ian Johnston.


The essays listed below, which are a restatement of the argument laid out in The Ironies of War, all deal with aspects of Homer's Iliad. They may be read in any order, although the reader should probably be familiar with the introductory note immediately below and the first essay in order to understand the central thrust of each of the others.

Quotations from Homer's poem in these essays are from the on-line translation by Ian Johnston available through the following link Iliad. And all line numbers refer to that edition (for the reader's convenience I have also, in most cases, included an approximate line reference for the Greek text, which is given in square brackets). A bibliography for all the essays is given later on in this page.

The essays here are a systematic attempt to explore the Iliad as a great literary masterpiece, to see what it is holding up to us in modern North America as a vision of experience which can illuminate important aspects of our own lives. Hence, they pay little attention to any contextual matters, like Homer's identity, the facts of Homer's own times, the treatment of Homer by classical Greek traditions, and other historical issues. The assumption here is that this is a vitally important poem for contemporary readers because it speaks directly to their own age, not because it offers some interesting insights into an old, long-forgotten, and irrelevant civilization. Those readers seeking such a historical treatment of the work should look elsewhere.

The central claim coordinating these essays is that Homer's vision is a fatalistic view of war as a condition of life, that the best and worst human experiences arise out of this condition, and that there is no way this condition will change. The vision is thoroughly ironic, and thus there is no easy way to sum it up with a simple moral judgment. In fact, the power of this poem stems from its ability to challenge our faith in such judgments, in other words, from its power to disturb us, to complicate our understanding, to make us re-examine some of our most cherished beliefs.

This approach to the poem thus seeks to counter both the long tradition in Homer scholarship of treating the poem merely (or primarily) as a historical document and the tendency of much Homer criticism, still very much alive today, of neutralizing the challenge of the Iliad by interpreting it to fit the long moral traditions of a providential universe governed by a benevolent deity or reason or progress or some other optimistic hope that the brutalities of life are part of a consoling moral order.



Essay 1: Homer's War
Essay 2: Homer's Similes: Nature as Conflict
Essay 3: The Gods
Essay 4: The Heroic Code
Essay 5: Arms and the Men
Essay 6: Hector and Achilles
Essay 7: Homer and the Modern Imagination
Essay 8: On Modern English Translations of the Iliad



The following titles identify works referred to in the eight Essays on Homer's Iliad and do not constitute a detailed bibliography of works on the poem.

Arnold, Matthew. "On Translating Homer." Matthew Arnold: Selected Essays. Ed. Noel Annan. London: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Atchity, Kenneth John. Homer's Iliad: The Shield of Memory. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.

Auster, Al and Dan Georghkas. "The Warriors: An Interview with Sol Yurick." Cineaste 9.3 (Spring 1979): 22-24.

Bespaloff, Rachel. On the Iliad. Translated Mary McCarthy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947. Rep. 1970.

Blackie, John Stuart. Homer and the Iliad, Volume I: Homeric Dissertations. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1866.

Boswell, James. Life of Johnson. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Bowra, C. M. Tradition and Design in the Iliad. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930. Rep. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977.

Burnett, John. Early Greek Philosophy. New York: Meridian, 1957.

Cahill, Thomas. Sailing the Wine-dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

Carne-Ross, D. S. "The Beastly House of Atreus." Kenyon Review NS 3.2 (Spring 1981): 20-60.

Clarke, Howard. Homer's Readers: A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1981.

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Dodds, E. R. The Greeks and the Irrational. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

Dryden, John. The Essays of John Dryden. Selected and edited by W. P. Ker. In 2 vols. New York: Russell & Russell, 1961.

Fitzgerald, Robert. "Heroic Poems in English." Review of The Iliad of Homer, trans. Richard Lattimore. Kenyon Review 14.4 (Autumn 1952): 698-706.

Else, Gerald F. "The Old and the New Humanities." Daedalus 8.3 (Summer 1969): 803-808.

Grant, George. Technology and Empire: Perspectives on North America. Toronto: Anansi, 1969.

"Four Shots at The Deer Hunter." Film Quarterly 32.4 (Summer 1979): 10-22.

Gould, John. "On making sense of Greek religion." Greek Religion and Society. Edited P. R. Easterling and J. V. Muir. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Rep. 1986: 1-33.

Griffin, Jasper. Homer. New York: Hill and Wang, 1980.

Griffiths, Trevor. Comedians. New York: Grove Press, 1976.

Hadas, Moses. A History of Greek Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950.

Herodotus. The Histories. Translated Aubrey de Selincourt. Revised A. R. Burn. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Avon Books, 1980.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1990

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1974.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Margin Hammond. Bungay: Penguin, 1987.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by E. V. Rieu. Bungay: Penguin, 1950.

Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers. New York, Random House, 1950.

Homer. The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Richard Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Ian Johnston.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Letter to A. W. M. Baillie (10 Sept. 1864). Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. W. H.Gardner. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967.

Howard, Michael. War and the Liberal Conscience. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1978.

Hughes, Robert. "God of the Nomads." Time. 21 April 1975: 54.

James, William. "The Moral Equivalent of War." War and Morality. Edited by Richard Wasserstrom. Belmont Wadsworth, 1970: 4-14.

Jaynes, Julian. The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

Kael, Pauline. "The God-Bless-America Symphony." When the Lights Go Down. New York: Holt Reinhart and Winston, 1980: 512-519.

Kirk, G. S. The Songs of Homer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962. Rep. 1977.

Knight, Douglas. Pope and the Heroic Tradition A Critical Study of His Iliad. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951.

---. "Homer." The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: I: Greek Literature. Edited by P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985: 42-91.

---. The Iliad. A Commentary: Volume I: Books 1-4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Lawrence, D. H. Kangaroo. London: Heinemann, 1923. Rep. 1974.

Lenson, David. Achilles' Choice: Examples of Modern Tragedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.

Logue, Christopher. War Music: An Account of Books 16 to 19 of Homer's Iliad. New York: Farrar, 1987.

McCary, W. Thomas. Childlike Achilles: Ontogeny and Phylogeny in the Iliad. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Michalopoulos, Andre. Homer. New York: Twayne, 1966.

Mueller, Martin. Review of Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Iliad. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 6 (1979) 428-35.

Myres, Sir John L. Homer and His Critics. Ed. Dorothea Gray. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958.

---. "Knowledge and Delusion in the Iliad." Essays on the Iliad: Selected Modern Criticism. Ed. John Wright. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978: 105-123.

Paley, F. A. The Iliad of Homer, with English Notes. In 2 vols. London: George Bell, 1866.

Redfield, J. M. Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

Schein, Seth L. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer's Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Scott, John A. The Unity of Homer. New York: Biblo and Tannan, 1965.

Silk, Michael. Homer: The Iliad. Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Smith, Geoffrey S. "Vietnam Without Fear." Queen's Quarterly 90.4 (Winter 1983): 972-982.

---. "Vietnam Post-Mortem." Queen's Quarterly 94.2 (Summer 1987): 415-426.

Swerdlow, Joel L. "To Heal a Nation." National Geographic 167.5 (May 1985): 555-573.

Turner, James. "Recovering the Uses of History." The Yale Review 70.2 (Winter 1981): 221-233.

Vivante, Paolo. The Homeric Imagination: A Study of Homer's Poetic Perception of Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

West, M. L. "Homeric and Hesiodic poetry." Ancient Greek Literature. Ed. K. J. Dover. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1980: 10-28.

Whitman, Cedric H. Homer and the Homeric Tradition. New York: Norton, 1965.