Here we are, almost two weeks out from the great event and it occurs to me that, surely, something should be recorded on this blog about how it all worked out. Let it be said then that:

  •  We had a full house, 150 people, most of whom came for the full day.
  • All the work and nail-biting that went into the preparation came together in ways beyond our wildest dreams. The voices of the tellers rose clear and strong, catching to the full the horror and the pathos, the courage; the moments of tenderness, moments of terror, moments of exhilaration, of fear, of indecision, of scheming and strategizing, of acting in wisdom and in frailty.
  • We did it! We brought not only the humans but the gods to life -- complex creations conjured in all their mystery, their majesty and their emotional scope.
  • The listeners were with us from the very first moments. They never wavered in their commitment to the tale.
  • The twelve hour Iliad brought a day that was unforgettable, a day when we gave ourselves over to a great work of literature and let it carry us. The applause at the end said everything. We had found transcendence as Homer had intended that we should.

I’ve read the story many times now, listened in the rehearsals over and over. Still something new leapt forth.  It came in Book 24, in the voice of Apollo who speaks of how there is suffering on earth but how it is manageable because “the fates have endowed mankind with enduring hearts.” If ever there are words to live by, those are the words for me.  I’m pretty sure they’ll stand me in good stead.

Further musings:;




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GO THERE, BE THERE, LIVE IT. That’s the task. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. As storytellers, if we want our listeners to be compelled by the strength and power of what we are telling, we have to walk its path. We have to make the journey, no matter how difficult. We have to have the story real.

With The Iliad that’s a particular challenge. There’s not a one of us performing June 14 who has ever actually been in a battle. We’ve heard the talk, we’ve read the books, we’ve seen the movies but we’ve never felt the adrenalin rush that comes with fighting, never known the terrors,  the intensity of emotion, the comradeship, the fury, the numbness that may fall. Not on any actual battlefield.

We’ve had to face this squarely and we’ve had to find a way. That way was unexpected. That way had nothing to do with conjuring the clash of weapons, yelling, shouting, seeking fierceness of intent. That way had to do with quiet. It had to do with Homer as we should have known it would.

It came through visualization, not of battles, but of men—men camped out at night as Homer describes them, the light of their cooking fires as many as the stars which dance within the heavens in the clearest of clear times. Men, as Homer dreamed them—each one an individual, each one with his own place.

We know them now—those who have fought one day and will fight again tomorrow. They are within us. Before we were prepared, now truly we are ready. We can promise you a day to stir the soul.

As I begin to write about the final set, I realize how odd that must seem to people who are visiting “Blogging The Iliad” for the first time. For that, I send apologies. All I can do really is to note that the post is part of a process. Starting at the beginning is not so mysterious. You just have to scroll down to the entry for April 28, entitled One Great Epic Evoked Anew

Here we go then--last set.

Priam and Achilles: Tom Lips

Book 24


Memories crowding, hot tears flowing down

cries to the gods, are they so hard-hearted?

ransom immense

messenger of hope


Those who dwell upon Olympus send their messengers. They would assist an old man in his anguish. They would guide him on a journey through the night. There are wrongs still to be righted, a terrible injustice to be ceased.



Priam and Achilles (cont.): Ellis Lynn Duschenes

Book 24 (cont.)


Black ships, a well-woven tunic

gold winged sandals

saffron-robed dawn


The journey takes much courage. It means entering the enemy camp, abandoning kingly pride for supplication. But that which is sought is so precious. Given, it will mean transcendence for the man who is the focus of the whole tale’s telling--Achilles, son of Peleus, who, in his wrath against his leader, has unleashed consequences more dreadful than he could ever have imagined. 

Such is the ending of the tale.



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What's to Know?

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To know? Maybe something of the cast of characters. Some, you'll probably be familiar with; others maybe not.

THE GREEKS come first:

Agamemnon, supreme leader of the Greek armies; Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, husband to Helen who is cause of the Trojan War; Achilles, son of Peleus and the sea-nymph, Thetis, leader of the Myrmidons, the greatest warrior the world has ever known; Patroclus, Achilles’ beloved companion and his charioteer; Briseis, slave girl to Achilles, captured in a far-off raid; Odysseus, always to be counted on for his wisdom; Ajax, son of Telamon and Ajax, son of Oileus, two great warriors; Gerenian Nestor, leader full of ancient tales; Helen, now living not-so-happily in Troy.

Then, there are THE TROJANS

Priam, king, Troy's ruler; Hector of the loud war-cry and the flashing helmet, Priam’s oldest son; Hecabe, Priam’s wife and Hector’s mother; Paris, son of Priam who won Helen’s love; Andromache, wife of Hector; Astyanax, Hector’s infant son; Cassandra, Priam’s daughter, destined to prophesy the truth but never be listened to.

The lists speak volumes. In Troy, there are women, families, the life of a city to be attended to. The Greeks live in an encapment. Apart from the slaves who have been captured and give service, it is a world of men

Finally, there are THE GODS:

Zeus, Son of Cronus, Father of All; Ox-eyed Hera, his wife; Pallas Athene, his daughter; Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty; Apollo of the Silver Bow; Artemis, the Archeress; Poseidon, the Sea-lord; Hephaestus, the Smith; Ares, God of War; Thetis, a sea-nymph, mother to Achilles; Iris and Hermes, messengers

All would seem to be members of the usual pantheon of classical mythology. Watch out, however. Homer uses the gods to his own purpose. They come down from the heavens, take human form, assume disguises. Their impact on the action is frequently surprising. They surprise the Greeks, they surprise the Trojans. They surprise the listeners to Homer's tale. They certainly have surprised the tellers, occasioning much discussion of their role. 

As for the tellers, I have to admit that at this point there are ups and there are downs—days when we’re sure we’re ready, days when we think we never will be, days of intense excitement as new insights come. That's the nature of performance. That's what pushes to work harder, speak the words to ourselves so often we’ve trained the muscles of our faces and our mouths; dig always that bit deeper for the riches that will come. Amazing to think that we are nearly there.

On then to what is promised for the first set of the evening after supper.


Achilles Fights the River: Katherine Grier

Book 21


Rampaging slaughter,

outrage of a river god

waters towering

banks ablaze

Havoc is wrought. Never has there been such bloodshed, not even in this war. Never has there been such anger, such determination that the enemy will be destroyed entire. The field of battle shifts as an army flees in terror. A river’s flowing waters are bloodied and defiled.


Achilles Fights the River (cont.): Jacques Falquet

Book 21

 Madness, vast and terrible

panic, courage, supplication, terror, deception, relief


As on earth, so in heaven. The gods fight with each other, hand to hand, down and dirty; monumental in their efforts. Floods pour from the river, fire rages. The army is in full retreat, the men are seeking shelter, looking to the safety of the gates.




 The Death of Hector: Jeff Wright

Book 22



duty, damned duty

acts unspeakable;

a father who must watch


There were so many who were fighting. Now there are but two. The outcome of the war depends on them. They are outside the city, two lone figures. One has prowess beyond imagining; the other sees this, knows its terror but seeks his cause to hope.



The Death of Hector (cont.); The Funeral of Patroclus: Daniel Kletke

Book 22 (cont.), Book 23

Groans, hair torn, libations

a wife unknowing

a spirit in a dream


A son is dead, his body foully treated, his royal parents left to grieve. His death brings victory to another, but that victory is without rejoicing.  A funeral pyre must be lit; a friend must be given burial with due pomp and circumstance. Grief cannot so easily be assuaged.


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Tickets: NAC Box Office

Last weekend was the run through – two days when all the tellers come together, when we start the story at the beginning and keep telling to the end. We give each other feedback, we seek to connect more strongly to the story’s arc, we look for inconsistencies and omissions that may have crept in somewhere along the way. It’s not anything like the end of the work we’re doing for the June 14 performance, but it is a step along the path.

Somehow as the day progressed I found my thoughts turning to an artist who changed the world of contemporary dance forever – one of my artistic heroes, Pina Bausch. There’s a film about her life, entitled Pina, made by Wim Wenders. I’ve watched it more times than I can count. Much of it is about her way of choreographing her dancers. Frequently, this involved asking them questions and creating space for them to dance the answers out.

The moment which always sends shivers up my spine comes when she says quietly, “What is all this longing? What is this yearning for?” There’s yearning aplenty in The Iliad: yearning for victory; yearning for peace; yearning for glory; yearning for salvation, for a wife returned, a comfortable old age; for riches, a body undefiled, a life that has been ended given back.

That yearning touches me deeply but it was the yearning of the tellers that struck me most. I’ve always known that a large part of the answer for those of us who are artists lies in the words, “It’s the yearning to do good work.” I felt that very strongly as my colleagues risked and dared. In each, I saw the longing to do Homer justice, the commitment to give of the very best. It’s the most that can be asked of anyone—to put aside all else for the benefit of the telling. It’s what we will be bringing our listeners. You can count on it.

A glimpse then of sets four and five

Achilles’ Decision: Kim Kilpatrick

Book 18


Fighting now distant, all-consuming grief

battle rejoined, advice from a goddess

chaos to come


Time for a hero to repent his actions—actions that have had such terrible consequences. Time for a hero to take up arms again. Pride must be abandoned, set aside, forgotten, but there has been such loss.






Achilles’ Decision (cont.): Anne Nagy

Book 18


Grief, rage, revenge 

A mother’s plea, the artistry of war.


In the heavens, the fashioning of an object of great beauty—splendour such as the world has never seen. The detailing is exquisite, the images so rich the music of flutes captured in gold and silver is heard upon the air.



The Feud Ends: Catherine Sheehan

Book 19


Restitution. Compensation. Justification.

Revenge sought. Troops rallied.

A woman grieving. Human comfort spurned.

Repentance brings reconciliation, grudges atoned for, but all is to one purpose. That purpose is vengeance—vengeance on the field of battle, vengeance almighty in the war.



Achilles on the Rampage: Kathryn Hunt

Book 20

Grief turns to violence.  

Arming, then gods, chaos, confusion,


There is no pity, none in the hero’s heart, none in his actions. His knees are clasped in supplication; his sword and spear still strike.


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Tickets: NAC Box Office

By now, on the great day—June 14--it will be 2 p.m. Listeners will have gone out, had lunch in some neighbouring restaurant, come back. I was nervous about this when we told The Odyssey, afraid that audience members would not be able to keep to the schedule, aware of just how tight our timing was. I need not have worried. Everyone was so eager. Once we had got started, no one wanted to miss a word. They were there in their seats, ready to continue on the journey, ready to live within them all that Homer could bring.

So what does come after lunch? As I write I am aware of how reluctant I am to give away the actual story. I note that I do not really wish even to name names. Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Priam—all are there, of course—but I am choosing not to deal in the specifics rather to seek to pull forth a more general sense of happenings, emotional impacts, binding threads.

Again, I’ve asked each teller to choose ten word to evoke their piece.

The Struggle Over Patroclus: Nicole Lavigne

Book 17

Summons, armour, glittering, fate,

defend, war-cry, gods, bronze, chariots


A body lies on the field of battle. It is the body of a hero, clad in splendid armour, armour which may be stripped and taken as a prize. But the body is prize itself. In the hands of the enemy, it will be defiled.


The Struggle Over Patroclus (cont.): Phil Nagy

Book 17

Fighting, fighting, fighting

havoc caused by Zeus

horses weep, Patroclus, the field

The body must be defended. Defended unto death?  The larger cause continues but for the heroes the body has become the focus of all efforts. They struggle shrouded in mist while elsewhere on the battlefield the sun shines clear. 




The Struggle Over Patroclus (cont.): Mary Wiggin

Book 17

Din incessant, fire uncontrollable

Hector’s helmet flashing

A goddess intervenes

The body is heavy. Two men are needed to carry while others must protect their path of retreat. News of the death spreads, grief goes with it. And still, as if unending, there is the thunder of chariots, the clash of spear and sword on shield.










The pictures come from a museum in the king's stables at Versailles. The first is a Greek soldier, the second is actually of the horses of Apollo but it made me think so much of those immortal horses of Achilles who weep. The third shows Menelaus with the body of Patroclus. So deep the grief.


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