“I’ve always felt, with The Iliad, a real frustration that it’s read wrong,” Oswald says. “That it’s turned into this public school poem, which I don’t think it is. That glamorising of war, and white-limbed, flowing-haired Greek heroes – it’s become a cliched, British empire part of our culture. Every translation you pick up is so romantically involved with the main story that the ordinariness of Homer, which I love so much – the poem’s amazing background of peculiar, real people, just being themselves – is almost invisible.” In her version, the absence of the monolithic main characters leaves the histories of the footsoldiers who died in their shadows exposed and gleaming, like rocks at low tide.
Now who exactly reads the Iliad as a public-school poem that glorifies war? Haven’t come across those critics myself, though I’ve been reading Homer criticism for thirty years. And “monolithic” main characters? I know that’s the interviewer, not Oswald, but who would those be? Is Hector monolithic? Achilles?