The Sorrow of War

“And there he dropped and slept the sleep of bronze, poor soldier, striving the help his fellow Trojans, far from his wedded wife, his new bride…” (read on to see where these lines come from)

Homer’s “Iliad” contains many detailed and gory depictions of death in the hand-to-hand combat style of 3200 years ago. This element of the epic is off-putting to some (including me) but it’s offset by something else–the soldiers are described first as individual men. They’re this person’s son, or that person’s father, or that person’s husband, not just a nameless casualty. The reader feels all the more horror and sorrow for knowing something about each soldier’s life. In some cases, Homer goes into great detail, such as for the Trojan soldier Iphidamas–not a big name in the legends, but he receives over thirty lines of the “Iliad.” You learn who his family was, that he was beloved, and something of his fiery personality and deep patriotism. You learn that he died far from his wife and home–and you feel more grief for him than you would have without knowing those details:
“Iphidamas, the rough and rangy son of Antenor bred in the fertile land of Thrace, mother of flocks….once he hit the stride of his youth and ached for fame, [his grandfather] tried to hold him back, gave him a [wife] but warm from the bridal chamber marched the groom, fired up by word that Achaea’s troops had landed. [He fights against Agamemnon and dies]. And there he dropped and slept the sleep of bronze, poor soldier, striving the help his fellow Trojans, far from his wedded wife, his new bride…” (11.256-81; trans. Robert Fagles). Homer’s words haunt us because he lets us get to know Iphidamas–and then takes him away from us. He’s a vivid painter of the cruelty of war.

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