15 Sep 2011

Homer’s Iliad translated to the modern age

Channel 4 News reporter Katie Razzall explores a sudden flurry of interest in a story written two and a half thousand years ago.

I have a confession. I never studied Latin, let alone ancient Greek. And I’ve never read the Iliad. That probably puts me in the majority. However, I now want to. That’s down to Madeline Miller, an american classicist with a total passion for all things mythological.

Ms Miller has rewritten the Iliad as a gay love story. ‘Song of Achilles’ movingly tells the tale of the swift-footed warrior of the Trojan War and his relationship with his friend Patroclus. If you look back to Homer, it’s not a stretch to conceive of their relationship as a homosexual one (Plato did too). Achilles’ grief when his friend is killed in battle is always epic – tragic – even over the top.

Ms Miller seems to be tapping into a new interest in a story that’s more than 2,500 years old. There are three new translations of Homer’s Iliad out this month and next, plus an Iliad-related poem, Memorial, by Alice Oswald.

But the world of publishing isn’t alone in turning to the classics – there’s also a drive to get them back into schools. Classics For All – backed and funded by amongst others, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson – aims to get 100 extra state schools teaching the classics every year until 2020.

Who knows – perhaps one of those pupils will end up doing to the Odyssey what Madeline Miller has done to the Iliad – now what could you do with that tale?