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Why ‘The Iliad’ still matters today


Listen to Jeffrey Brown interview Caroline Alexander, author of a new translation of “The Iliad.”

Many readers think of “The Iliad” as a daunting text. But Caroline Alexander, whose new translation of the classic work by Homer comes out Nov. 24, said she wants to bring the epic down to earth.

“I feel that the Iliad has been so appropriated by academia, that it has been made into this very different text that’s a sort of embodiment of high culture — the Everest of literature,” she told the NewsHour’s chief arts and culture correspondent Jeffrey Brown.

As she translated the work, Alexander said she wanted to break down that assumption for readers. “I felt it was so the opposite of that, and that there was a need to sort of give people, average readers with no classical background, the poem on its own terms,” she said.

As a classic text, “The Iliad” has its “own charisma,” she said, which has drawn readers for hundreds of years. Part of its appeal is that it deals with themes that are timeless — namely, war and mortality, she said. “It is actually saying something true about a dimension of our life that will always matter, and that dimension is mortality, and particularly mortality as it is most exposed, which is in times of war,” she said.

Caroline Alexander is the author of “The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of the Trojan War,” and the international bestsellers “The Endurance” and “The Bounty.” A contributing writer for National Geographic, her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Smithsonian, and Outside, among other publications. She received her doctorate in classics from Columbia University and was the founder of the Department of Classics at the University of Malawi in East Africa.

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