The Iliad is a visual book: unapologetic in its clarity on the battle field, unfathomable in the sheer quantity of characters and their specific genealogies; connections to specific land, family relations, trauma, and “fates.” If this level of depth and detail is an illusion; if these characters are inventions, figures in a “novel” and fictional, then how would a poet or writer, in a spoken performance or collected in written form, achieve this astounding act of creation? What is even more incredible is that objects are characters: helmets, swords, horses, chariots – each has an identity created by its history. That is not any helmet; that is the helmet won by the father of a specific warrior, at a specific battle, and it is recognized by a detailed physical description.
In other words, there is nothing abstract or generic about The Iliad. What may seem tedious or improbable, such as lengthy side stories and background, or speeches made in the midst of battle are absolutely necessary to Homer’s audience. The world that he presents is literal, factual, scientific and specific: “101” ways to die; with the anatomical details supplied. The body is revealed and never denied: hormones, adrenalin, fear and stress are consequences of existence. A man must do this terrible thing – be a killer, because he will be known by a personal history of kills, trophies and bravery. Otherwise, he simply does not exist. In addition amazingly accurate descriptions of natural processes are included as “demonstrations” of forces at work in nature and in human lives.
The Asperger “visual” brain is maligned by modern social humans, but the Iliad may capture what a visual brain can accomplish.
There are no apologies; war is about booty – armor and weapons stripped from corpses; horse, cattle, sheep and pigs are stolen; women are sought as slaves and trophies. These are specific women who have names, personal histories and attachments, genealogies and traumas. Modern people reject the idea that thousands of men, ships and provisions, and years of warfare and death would be expended on “rescuing” Helen, even if she is the wife of a king. That’s not the point at all. She is Helen of Sparta, and to her husband she is not generic, but a “prize” in her own right and an irreplaceable component of his glory – literally a part of him, whether we see it that way or not.
The Greek gods are peculiar: humans with power that tempts them to be foolish, childish, out-of-control, vindictive and remarkably subject to physical wounds and pain. They are really not gods at all, but early abstractions in human thought. Their only claim to godhood is immortality; immortality indicates depth of existence. Ancestors became collective models synthesized from real people. A pantheon is a family of characters whose origin recedes beyond memory, who exist as archetypes that benefit mortal individuals, influencing them through physical means. The female gods are barely different from the males in their behavior, and other than Zeus, act as they see fit. There is no lack of deference to the goddesses on the part of the warriors either. Athena’s power is no joke.