The Booker-winning novelist knew when she read the Iliad that she would write about Briseis one day

In The Human Stain Philip Roth describes the Iliad as the source of European literature. All European literature starts, he says, with a fight. It’s a fight between two great and powerful men: Agamemnon, commander in chief of the Greek army which is laying siege to Troy, and Achilles, the greatest of the Greek fighters. What are they quarrelling about, these “violent, mighty souls?” It’s as basic as a barroom brawl. They’re fighting over a woman. A girl, really. A girl stolen from her father. A girl abducted in a war.

I think this passage was the one that finally persuaded me to read the Iliad. I’d always put it off because I thought I’d be bored by the endless lists of shipping and repelled by Homer’s graphic descriptions of wounds and killing; and I was right on both counts, but the poetry, the characters and the conflict more than made up for that.

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