The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Comparison

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There is a lot of resemblance between history and literature especially on the exploration of humanity. While history focuses on narrating what actually happens in the past, literature uses the imagination of the reader and appeals to their sense of logic regarding what is likely to have happened. Notably, literary works are dependent on the possibility of the reader to see some larger truth about imaginary characters and events. The Iliad is a brilliant epic which has attracted significant attention and admiration considering the profound influence it has on European literature. It explores the legendary war between the Greeks and Trojans and portrays the heroic ethos in a mythic era examined through the character of Achilles.

Robert Fagles’ Translation of the Iliad

            Fagles’ translation of The Iliad is highly praised where he blends features of the contemporary language with the rhythms of the original work. The author begins with the hero of the piece, Odysseus, who is taken away from home in Ithaca for two decades. He marries the beautiful Penelope who is a kind man and great warrior who is skilled with his hands and praised as the best carpenter (Welsh 492). Also, he is a favorite of many people, including women, the mortal and immortal. However, he encounters his bad luck in life.

            Fagles’ story is divided into books where the narration from book 1-4 focuses on the events of a young man, the son of Odysseus, who has to deal with his mother’s suitors. There are more than a hundred men who desire to marry the queen. During this time, the society perceives hospitality as a moral obligation even though these men are taking over the control in the house. Telemachus has to grow up quickly and regain his position in the palace since the suitors want him dead seeing him as an obstacle.

            Books 5-8 explore the realms of the gods which reveal the background to the story of Odysseus and Poseidon. The reader also learns about Athena, who is always in Odysseus’ corner and convinces Zeus that it has reache3d time for the hero to be free of Calypso who has been taking him as a prisoner for a long time. However, Poseidon does not agree with this thought because Odysseus blinded his son. He intends to make the road home difficult for Odysseus.

            The challenges of Odysseus are properly described in books 9-12 where he meets more cannibals who sink all the companions ships together with the king. The lone ship reaches the premises of Circe, who has an ill perception toward men and does not uphold the culture of hospitality which is evident in the way he treats the king’s men. They eventually turn to porkers while the king becomes Circe’s lover for the next one year. He continues with his journey home and meets other obstacles along the way including the six-headed monster, and the visits accompanied by the dead mom. The king gets so frustrated that he tears out his hair after his men eat the sacred cattle of the god.

            In books 13-24, the theme of hospitality is officially restored after Odysseus conquers all the problems at home though the help of the servants, his son, and Athena.

Adaptation: “Troy” by Peterson

            “Troy” is an interesting film based on The Iliad by Homer. It portrays the assault on Troy by the Greek forces and the fates of the other people involved. The Trojan prince persuades Helen to leave her husband and accompany him back to Troy initiating the clash between two emerging nations. Hellen, the Queen of Sparta, is taken by the Trojans and the husband realizes this and initiates plans to get her back. He seeks the help of Agamemnon, the brother, who perceives this as an opportunity for power. They start the journey with 1,000 ships and 50,000 Greeks headed to Troy (Ebert para 1). Owing to the help of Achilles, the Greeks are in a position to challenge the Trojans but Hector interferes with the journey. The entire movie depicts the battle struggles and fate which remakes Homer’s story of The Iliad.

Character Changes

Achilles the Hero

            One of the most significant changes is the way the character of Achilles does not appeal to a modern audience. The character does not seem nice and even though that might not be a big issue, the development of the narrative elements which the script has drawn from the original source make it difficult to find sympathy for the cause. The contemporary audience only finds interest in films where they can sympathize with the primary character.

            The character in the film, Brad Pitt, is demonstrated as a sleek and narcissistic warrior who acknowledges and appreciates his combat prowess (Williams 172). The director makes Achilles a too complex character. In Greek drama, the heroes are normally introspective with no second thought for making certain decisions. Again, they are not conflicted but Pitt is modern and introspective, an aspect which is not necessary in this film.

            In the book, Achilles is described as the greatest warrior, and has an independent band of fighters. He advocates a unique diplomatic policy which resembles Ollie North. Also, he believes that Agamemnon is a poor leader and uses uncalculated strategies. Achilles’ cousin, Patroclus, dies in the battle which is disturbing: “The account of Patroclus' death, the battle for his body, and his funeral were all modelled on those of Achilles” (West 3). While Pitt is a great actor, he does not accurately inhibit the character of Achilles. Peterson treats Achilles as if he is human, rather than a larger-than-life creation of Greek myth. The events which take place in Greek myth cannot possible happen between psychologically plausible characters which is the objective of the myth.

Achilles and Patroclus

            Notably, one of the most notable character changes is the fact that Achilles and Patroclus, in the film, are cousins instead of lovers. In Homer’s Iliad, the nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is linked with the Trojan war. The relationship is deep and meaningful where the warrior is very warm to Patroclus, but arrogant to other people. Although Fagles does not explicitly cast the two as lovers, the exact nature of the relationship between the two approves this idea. Their relationship creates a speculation that the two might be homosexuals although it is also confusing that each has a lover: “Patroclus slept with the sashed and lovely Iphis by his side” (Fagles 274), while Achilles has his woman.

            In “Troy”, the director creates very close kinship link between the characters making it impossible that erotic feelings would develop between the two. Patroclus undergoes a straightening process making the movie sensitive to the modern audience as this would have created a lot of controversy and criticism in the case that there was tension between these characters.

Theme changes

            The film fails to romanticize the love story between Paris and Helen adequately. The romance, which motivates the entire Trojan war is simply not believable and does not precisely capture the imagination or the emotion of the audience. Orlando Bloom, who plays the character of Paris, is disappointing in the way he plays as being a coward and idealistic character. It is simply not possible to comprehend why Hellen falls for this character and how even the war came about because of the two. The love of the two commences from a one-night-stand which is not really believable.

            In the book, Hellen describes Paris as “never yet to be depended upon, nor never will be, and he will surely reap what he has sown” (Butler 76). Similarly, he is perceived as a weak and naïve man although the more significant aspect regards Helen’s character who is questionable in many ways. In the Iliad, after she ends up in Troy with Paris, she starts wishing for her husband. The failure of the director to make the romantic story between Helen and Paris interesting is challenges the reader’s comprehension of how it all results in the war.

Human Body

            In Ancient Greece, the people treasured the human body and idealized it in ways which are different for the contemporary society. Today, the society completely sexualizes and fetishizes the body. Again, people only wore the least clothes when they were involved in athletics, a practice which was highly respected and honored. Additionally, the heroes in Greek art were portrayed in physical forms.

            The way the Greek art is portrayed in the heroes of the Iliad is not in any way similar to Petersen’s film. The minimal nudity in the movie only appears for some few seconds, and the fact that one may even notice a Greek hero shirtless is ironical. The characters wear a lot of clothing, probably because any nudity in the modern society implies sex and implies something negative in the mind of the viewer. As such, it is questionable how the view of the human body is not as healthy as one of the ancient Greeks.

            Homer’s Iliad reveals a significant part of history of the ancient Greeks, especially having to deal with the human body. The people are not sensitive to nudity and in fact appreciates it, which is the key reason the gods are completely nude. On the other hand, there has been a lot of change in culture and people’s beliefs such that people are overly sensitive to any nudity. Man’s nakedness only indicates sex and there is no appreciation at all to the human body.


            Homer’s Iliad is a fascinating literary work which explores the lives of the ancient Greeks and art. Peterson’s adaptation of this literary piece, “Troy”, is not perfect especially because it has to consider the changing practices and perceptions in the modern society. Particularly, Brad Pitt does not accurately fill in the role of Achilles, for being a weaker and introspective character. Again, nudity is a sensitive issue which is not sufficiently explored in this film, owing to the changing perceptions of the modern society. Overall, while the events leading to the Trojan war are different for the film and book, both serve the same purpose which is the battle between the nations. 

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. Troy. 14 May 2004. 20 November 2018. .

Fagles , Robert. The Odyssey. Penguin Books, 1996.

Peterson, W. (Director). (2004, May 14). Troy [Video file]. November 6, 2018. .

Welsh, Alexander. "Living happily however after."Social Research: An International Quarterly 77.2 (2010): 491-552.

Williams, Michael. "Nostalgic Impulses, Falling Idols and the Adoration of Achilles in Troy (2004)."Film Stardom and the Ancient Past (2018): 169-202.

West, M L. “Iliad and aethiopis.” Classical Quarterly 53.1 (2003): 1-14.

November 24, 2023


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