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The Rage of Achilles by Terence Hawkins

Reviewed by Andrew Bowen


ISBN-10: 1-934081-20-5
ISBN-13: 978-1-934081-20-4
Casperian Books, 2009

 

In a time of persistent reproductions of classic literature through various media, it’s rare that one surfaces with such buoyancy as Terence Hawkins’s take on TheIliad in The Rage of Achilles.

Choosing prose over the epic poem, Hawkins begins where Homer did, at the fore of the 10-year struggle between the invading Achaeans and the defending Trojans. After Achilles violates a slave girl’s mouth and bludgeons her to death, he interrogates his best friend, Patroclus, and reveals the source of anger that will shape the outcome of the war.

“Did you know he (Agamemnon) would do this?” Achilles asks.

“Do what?”

“Take her.” Achilles’ voice is surprisingly level. “Take my prize. My prize. My Briseis. My Briseis. My Briseis.” He is howling now. “You knew, you knew.” Patroclus, alarmed, see that Achilles’ rage is making him hard again.

Through a variable troop of characters, Hawkins displays how unbridled rage and jealously affect both the individual characters of Homer’s epic and the two armies to which they belong. Each cast member offers a glimpse into the prism that is the human condition against the backdrop of war. From Achilles’ anger, Menelaus’ jealousy, Hector’s pride, to the chorus of three Achaean soldiers whose cavalier disposition offers reprieve from conflict, Hawkins employs broad and fine strokes to bring this ancient tale into contemporary light and relevance.

Hawkins offers one such sobering reality to the often petty reasons for war through the perspective of the slighted Menelaus.

…The younger brother, old husband of a beautiful young wife stolen by a beautiful young man, turning to big brother for help. Then, for nine years, waking up every morning to realize that you are where you are because someone else is fucking your wife,and your friends are dying every day because of it.

Odysseus also shares the scene as the King of Ithaca offers portents to the Achaeans and slapstick to the reader at every opportunity. In the following passage, Hawkins, through Odysseus, brings to light man’s use of religion in war, often to justify it, and the conclusion drawn from employing a little rationale.

Agamemnon speaks again. “Three nights ago the Lord of Lightning came to me in my sleep.” The lords murmur; more look skyward. “He came to me not in disguise as a speaking bull or my father, but as himself, King of Olympus, seated on clouds, thunder in his hands.” Odysseus wonders briefly how you can hold a sound, but lets the thought go.

And here, in a timeless example concerning the waste of war, the narrator observes:

So over the ramparts they go, sliding into the ditch on their asses or jumping in feet first to contest a hundred square yards of dirt for no better reason than to deny it to their enemies.

The Rage of Achilles reminds us, as The Iliad has for more than two millennia, of the manifolds of war and how it mirrors the human condition. With prose at once elegant and terse, Hawkins helps us taste the bloody fields of Troy, the sea on which those one thousand Achaeans sailed, and the bitter tinge of what it is to be divine and human alike. The fresh breath of modernity used to propagate this account earns TheRage of Achilles a seat next to The Iliad as both companion and commentary.

 

 

Visit Casperian Books on the web at http://www.casperianbooks.com/

 

Andrew Bowen's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, elimae, Metazen, decomP, Pic Fic, Bartleby-Snopes, and The Legendary. He is founder of Divine Dirt Quarterly. Visit his blog here: www.sabowen.blogspot.com

 

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