Glory of the Gods: working on the Iliad

We’re having our first big rehearsal for the Iliad in a couple of weeks, so I am starting to work on my piece of the story. I will be telling the fight for Patroclus’ body, after Hector has killed him and stripped off Achilles’ armour, which he had been wearing. It’s an interesting part in the story, because it’s when the battle really starts to get ugly. The niceties of war, such as they were, are getting abandoned. But what I love most about my piece is how Zeus reacts to Hector donning Achilles’ famous armour. In short, Hector be screwed. Hector has killed Achilles’ buddy Patroclus and is now wearing Achilles’ own notable armour, making him really easy to find on the battlefield. And Zeus watches this and says, fine, I’ll let you get away with it, but you’re gonna be screwed. I may be paraphrasing somewhat.

One thing that stands out about the Iliad, and a few of my fellow tellers commented on this during our first meeting in December, is that the gods are very human. They fight and bicker amongst each other. Half of Olympus is siding with Troy and the other half is in favour of the Greeks. They come down to Earth and influence things to go how they want and frequently appear disguised as the fighters’ comrades in order to tell them what to do, hopefully without being noticed by their fellow gods. I’ve always loved mythology and you see this sort of thing all the time, be it Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Celtic mythology. Many a Greek myth centres around the fact that Zeus can’t keep it in his pants and thus pisses Hera off. The gods have a lot of children and grandchildren that they conceived with mortals running about. At one point Zeus even comments that there so many of them running about that they can’t protect every single demi-god in battle or there would be no battle.

One of my favourite moments is sadly not going to be in the show. The Iliad is so long we can’t tell the whole thing in a day without resorting to summary and losing the essence of Homer. Zeus has made it clear that none of the gods are allowed to interfere in the battle, but Hera is determined to have her own way. So she gets the help of Aphrodite and Sleep to seduce Zeus, her own husband. And when Zeus sees her, wrapped in Aphrodite’s charms, he says, “Come, let us to bed and the delights of love. Never has such desire, for goddess or mortal, flooded and overwhelmed my heart; no, not when I loved Ixion’s wife who bore Peirithous, wise as the gods; or Danae of the slim ankles, daught of Acrisius, who gave birth to Perseus, the greatest hero of his time; or the far-famed daughter of Phoenix, who bore me Minos and godlike Rhadamanthus; or Semeke, or Alcmene in Thebes, whose son was lion-hearted Heracles, while Semele bore Dionysus, mankind’s delight; or lady Demeter with her lovely hair, or incomparable Leto; or you yourself – never have I felt such desire for you, or has such sweet longing overwhelmed me.” Nothing can sweet-talk your wife like listing all the women you’ve cheated on her with. It’s a prime example of the fact that, while the gods may be all-powerful, it certainly does not make them all-perfect. Also, it’s hilarious. I can just picture Hera standing there, biting her tongue while he says this and trying to keep her eyes from rolling or her hand from slapping him and giving him bedroom eyes instead.