How this little gem has been so completely overlooked I simply do not understand. I have to confess that I am as guilty as the next person. As an inveterate reader of the Iliad in translation and of everything I can get my hands on about the Iliad, I had somehow missed this. I first saw it obliquely referenced in the New York Review of Books. I can not even remember what the book being reviewed was. But i Do recall that Griffin's book was mentioned in a footnote.
It took me a couple of weeks to read it -- though it clocks in at barely over 200 pages. Not because it it tough slogging, but because the ideas are so startling and so ingenious that you have to sit back, savour them, re-read them, and then press on. I kept my favorite translation of the Iliad to hand (Fagles) and spent hours cross-referencing Griffin and Fagles texts in their respective margins. Now when I pick up the Iliad in search of a memorable passage I have a note that takes me straight to Griffin's lucid, limip analysis.
As a society we do not understand death very well -- and we are not prepared for it. I first confronted this when my mother died. I ralized then that nothing I had learned, nothing I had ever read, prepared me properly for the event. I wish I had read Griffin on the subject before that fateful day. At one point he writes, "...the Iliad is a poem of death rather than of fighting. The subject of the poem is life and death, constrasted with the greatest possible sharpness."
He writes passionately at all times -- and, on ocassion, almost polemically. But his opinions are always founded on the most careful analysis of the text.
Here he is on the value of Greek myth:
"Greek myth is distinguished from others above all by the dominant position within it of myths about heroes....They illuminate...the potential and limitations of man in the world. In the noble speeches and tragic insights of a Sarpedon, a Hector, an Achilles, we see both the terrible and unalterable laws of life and death, and also the greatness which man can achieve in facing them. The loyalty of Penelope, the endurance of Odysseus, the self-sacrifice of Patroclus, even the tragic dignity of the guilty Helen: all show us that amid suffering and disaster human nature can remain noble and almost god-like."
Griffin also translates EVERYTHING. Many of his era, including the magisterial Syme, would hardly have deigned to do this -- assuming that even the lay reader should have a knowledge of Latin or Greek. But not Jasper Griffin. Thank you Jasper.....
If you love the Iliad, you will LOVE Griffin. I also discovered a reference to this book at the end of "Who Killed Homer". Now, depending upon your view of Hanson (I love him) that may either damn or exalt Griffin in your eyes. But for what it is worth, Hanson listed this little book as one of the ten books on antiquity that MUST be read. And he is right!!