Adam Nicholson Talks To Paul Cartledge
As a first stop in a long weekend of lectures and debates, starting off with a discussion of Homer at 10am on a Saturday morning in the torrential rain can be daunting. It’s quite something to turn up to a literary festival after a full week of exams and remember that people are not only here voluntarily but also that they are enjoying learning.
And yet listening to people who are extraordinarily interested in their chosen subject can totally invigorate even the most boring of subjects. And Homer is not boring. As a Classics student, you learn pretty quickly that much of what you know is a theory, and so it was no surprise when the two speakers (one Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University and the other an accomplished author) began to argue about Homer’s influences and when, exactly, it was that he wrote his epics.
But they did agree that the stories are still relevant as a study of human beings and the way in which different cultures, or in the case of the Greeks and Troy (note that one, according to Adam Nicholson, is a people and the other an entity), civilisations view and interact with one another.
I was also interested to discover the differing viewpoints in the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. While the Iliad is about the courage and achievements of men (in the gendered sense, not the ‘mankind’ one), the Odyssey lends itself more to the capabilities of women – after all, any book containing characters such as Circe and Penelope can only send a message that women can be just as formidable opponents as their male counterparts.
I have grown up knowing the stories of the Odyssey, but most of my knowledge of the Iliad comes from watching ‘Troy’, and that stars Brad Pitt as Achilles so no one’s really very concerned with accuracy. As it turns out, the Iliad truly is a study of people as much as it is about the fall of Troy (which, incidentally, happens not in the Iliad but at the beginning of the Odyssey).
It’s so enticing, because everyone has different ideas about Homer and his poems, the reality, culture and timespan of the people the story depicts. Everything can be disputed when it comes to Classics, except maybe that the subject has been and always will be incredibly important.
Clara is 15 and enjoys Homer, but is an unabashed fan of Harry Potter.