As Inkwell readers know, the Other Charlotte and I are fiendish advocates of the study of dead languages and the notion that there is such a thing as a canon of Western literature that should be studied by all educated men and women.
Pretty close to first, and possibly the very first, entry on said canon is Homer’s Iliad. 

The Iliad is the seminal epic poem, the precursor of Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid’and most recently Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy, a movie adaptation starring Brad Pitt (!) as Achilles (and no doubt playing at a theatre near you).

Despite a number of flaws, I’m urging you to take the kids to see Troy. It’s definitely an Iliad for today, as opposed for the ages, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

First the good news: No, no, they don’t make peace and found the United Nations on the plains of Ilium.

The good news is that there’s enough of the classic in the film to send viewers to a translation of the Iliad and that the movie is quite beautiful.
The ‘topless towers of Ilium’ (as Christopher Marlowe described Troy’s architectural oddities) never looked so good, and the war scenes, with the small chariots of the commanders, archers and foot soldiers, are brilliantly choreographed.

Brad Pitt as the hero Achilles was another big surprise.
I agree with James Bowman, who wrote, ‘Though I have never been a fan of Brad Pitt’s, his portrayal of the icy menace and feline grace of Achilles worked very well I thought.’

Peter O’Toole as Priam, the fatherly king of Troy, was also terrific, but I can’t say much for Diane Kruger as Helen of Troy, whose face launched the thousand ships that look so lovely sailing across the sea. Stephen Hunter of the WaPo (thanks Other Charlotte for pointing this out to me) said she was more like a 450 ship face than a thousand ship face.

Helen is a bored housewife, eager to escape Menelaus for the cuter Paris in the movie, whereas in the Iliad Helen was a a bit of a Greek sympathizer–she pretended not to recognize Odysseys when he entered Troy on a reconnaissance mission–who, after all the carnage of war, returns to hubby Menelaus. (In the movie, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon, commander of the Greeks, are slain. Too bad for subsequent Greek theater.)  
The most disappointing performance was that of Julia Christie, as Thetis, the water nymph mother of Achilles. Christie was a frumpy, middle-aged nymph. Do you think water nymphs let their hair go gray in streaks?

The Iliad (and arguably literature itself) begins with the words, ‘Sing, Goddess, of the wrath of Achilles.’
The wrath of Achilles’directed at Agamemnon who has taken the fetching Briseis, a woman captured from the Trojans from him’remains, of course, the basis of the plot, but the movie opens with a meditation on Achilles’ quest for immortality through great deeds in war.
While this form of immortality was certainly important to the Greek heroes, the movie turns it into a meditation on war. There’s an anti-war stream of thought that, for all their recognition of the awfulness of war, the Greeks would find alien.

Achilles is seen struggling with his destiny as a warrior. When he tells Briseis, “You gave me peace in a lifetime of war,” it feels modern. Briseis, by the way, seems to want to turn Achilles into Mr. Sensitive Guy. When he utters some nihilistic nonsense, she says, ‘And I thought you were just a hunk.’ (This isn’t exact, but it’s pretty durned close.)

In the Iliad, Patroclus is a warrior who goes out to meet his fate in battle, while in the movie he is an innocent youth destroyed by war. In the epic, he’s Achilles friend and comrade in arms, while in the other he’s a cousin who inspires Achilles’ protectiveness.        

Some of the dialogue is jarringly contemporary. “If we leave now, we lose all credibility,’ the wily Odysseys argues; ‘if the Trojans can beat us so easily, how long before the Hittites invade?”

The movie ends with the sack of Troy, and Aeneas, soon to have a starring role in Virgil’s Aeneid, is seen leaving Troy. Though the movie presents Aeneas as an obscure Trojan citizen instead of the famous warrior he was, it’s a nice touch.

Love to see Mr. Peterson follow Aeneas to Rome. If Peterson makes the Aeneid, though, I’d hope for just a tad more fidelity to the original.