Two thousand seven hundred and thirty years ago, somewhere on the west coast of Turkey, not far perhaps from Izmir, you are attending a feast. Although some of your neighbours are still noisily tucking in, the entertainment is due to begin. You have been looking forward to this. Your host claims to have secured the talents of the best singer in the world. Your cousin heard him in Chios three years ago and has been talking of nothing else ever since. The word is that for tonight, and the next few nights, he will be telling the tale of Troy. To fill so many evenings he will have to start right at the beginning, with another banquet, the nuptial feast of Peleus and Thetis. He will give lavish descriptions of all the wedding presents sent by the gods, a flattering or ironic commentary on the current festivities, but at some point in his song, a golden apple will appear on one of the tables, delivered by an uninvited guest. Athena will fight for it with Hera and Aphrodite, and before too long Paris, their adjudicator, will be seducing Helen and Agamemnon will be sacrificing his daughter to secure a favourable wind for Troy. There will follow long accounts of battles and heroic deeds, perhaps something on the untimely death of Thetis' son, Achilles, Odysseus' victory in the dispute over his arms, and the madness and suicide of Telamonian Ajax, the embittered loser. The bard will doubtless finish in the middle of next week, with the Wooden Horse and graphic descriptions of pillage and mayhem when the proud city falls. You are especially looking forward to the bit where Cassandra gets raped by the lesser Ajax at the altar of Athena and the other bit where Pyrrhus, son of Thetis' son, flings little Astyanax, scion of Hector's house, like a gammadion from the top of the city walls.
LRB 31 July 1997 | PDF Download