Tickets NAC Box Office

So, we move on. Last week I set the scene. This time, we step into the developing of the story as the day takes shape. Why do I write about this? Partly because it is what the tellers are living with now as they intensify their preparations for June 14, Ottawa, NAC Fourth Stage; partly because I want to draw you in, to entice you with the story's progress--to let those of you who can be with us (and even those who cannot) know something of what the day will bring. I'd like everyone to catch a glimpse of who the tellers are and what they look like, to recognize this production will be a collective effort, tellers and listeners coming together, each dependent on the other, each crucial to success.

Here we go then, off once more, starting each time with ten words chosen by each teller at my requesting -- words that speak to them specially of their part of the tale.


The Greeks at Bay (cont.): Dean Verger

Book 15


Pike, ships, clash, fire, vow

edge,  brink, rally, tenderness, doom

A situation such as only war can bring. Life and death hang ever in the balance. There is fear and there is courage. Horses scream. Swords clash on shields, spears dig deep into human flesh. Voices are raised, inspiring others to stand steady. War cries summon followers forwards, onwards. It's like the greatest action movie of all time except that with Homer there is never merely action, there is always heart.


The Death of Patroclus: Marie Bilodeau

Book 16


Guts, fate, faith, pride

armour, battle, worry, imprisonment

friendship, family

Friendship. Friendship in battle means so much. Friendship and pride and hope for glory. Close they stand, the warriors, resplendent in their armour so mighty, yet so frail. Choices are made--great choices. Necessity also hammers at the door.


The Death of Patroclus (cont.): Marta Singh

Book 16


Betrayal, slaughter, metal

corpse, foot planted, darkening

blows upon blows

One minute a man breathes, has life and then the breath is taken from him. He goes into the darkness, to the place from which there is no return. The death in Book 16 is monumental. The Iliad pivots upon it. A stone drops into a pool, the ripples spread outward. That which had seemed immutable may be immutable no more.


Random thoughts 

Each time the tellers come together, awareness of the text is deepened, defining insights arise. We went into the battle this week and came out recognizing Homer’s even-handedness. None of us could name another war-story/history like it. “Always the winners get the heroes,” someone said. Not in Homer. Homer does not do that. Homer may have been a Greek but he has respect and empathy for all.

That led to talk about the heroes. “The heroes matter but it’s not only about them, is it?” someone added. “It’s about everyone. Each soldier counts.” Another unique feature of this tale.

So much that is unique; so much that says "this is the same old war--the one we've always fought." Another topic of discussion--the way that, for the span of it, war cannot be forgotten. It holds all in its sway.

Grist for the mill, realizations, issues we must hold within us as the work goes on. 


Jan Andrews


One Great Epic Evoked Anew

Setting the Scene: Jan Andrews

Books 1-14


Rich, vital, mysterious, eternal, tender

Fierce, spears, shields, battle-lines, war cries




Will we really begin at the beginning? The answer is yes and no.

No, because in its entirety The Iliad requires twenty hours of telling and we have only….well, actually eight and a half given that in our twelve hours of being together there must be breaks for meals, stretching, talk and other human needs.

No, because when we tried to do an edit that would allow us to proceed book by book, we knew that although we might be able to offer the bones of the story we could not bring Homer to our listeners. Not in his fullness and strength.

If you are going to have Homer, you must have the details—the descriptions of cups and shields and family heritages. You must have the long epic similes—the flies that swarm round the milk pails, the cattle driven to stampede by the lion. Similes that so often bear memories of that other life from which the battle-weary warriors have come.

Yes, because we will for sure and certain be rendering the complete scope of the tale.  How could we not? It’s crucial for The Iliad is not the story of the Trojan War, but of a hero’s anger and its disastrous consequences. We have to make that anger vivid, we have to give it life.

Setting the scene is my job – a daunting and awe-inspiring task wherein I have scope to reach also far off into the war’s origins, wherein I must sweep listeners up and carry them into the action at the place where truly we will begin to make the story happen as Homer intended--with Book 15.


The Greeks at Bay: Jennifer Cayley

Book 15


Treachery, power, oaths, anger, foolishness, heart,

Hoof-beats, horses, clashing, sprawling, dirt


An army flees, overwhelmed at least temporarily. Will the gods allow this rout? The gods who pull the strings; the gods who have their favourites; the gods who are so all-embracing in their majesty, their jealousy, their wrath. Zeus, Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Iris, Aphrodite. Gods of the Greeks and Trojans, but also gods of Homer--gods called into being to fulfill the needs of an artistic vision that has lasted through the centuries endowing us with a story that cannot fail to touch us all.


Further thoughts on The Iliad by a contemporary poet:


Tickets NAC Box Office


See you June 14!  Jan Andrews






Wondrous things happen. For our telling of The Iliad, June 14, (18 Storytellers, 12 Hours, 1 Great Epic) we are using the translations created by E.V. Rieu and revised by his son, D.C.H. Rieu as our foundation. For me, these have a particular significance. They are the translations I had in university, my way into Homer's great work.

There's more to it than that, however. E.V. Rieu started translating Homer during the Second World War. He began with The Odyssey and would read passages in English to his wife and daughters in the evenings -- their support in getting through the blitz.

He went on to become the initiator and editor of the Penguin Classics Series because he wanted to make the great classics of every language available to the average reader (and the Penguin Classics were available -- they were paperbacks, they were cheap.) During his tenure he oversaw the publication of 160 volumes and himself produced translations of the Gospels, Virgil's Pastoral Poems and other master works. His translation of The Iliad was published in 1950 and still stands among the best.

For our telling, as we had done for The Odyssey, we wanted to get permission for use from the Rieu estate. Once more, I approached the estate through Penguin but this time contact seemed to be more difficult. Then, a week or so ago, a letter arrived. It came in a small, square envelope like letters I remember from my youth. There was a sticker on the back saying the sender had applied "insufficient postage" for airmail so the letter had been sent by "alternative service" -- presumably by sea. Date on the letter is January 14.

It comes from The Cottage, Rushden, Mill End, nr. Buntingford, Herts. and is hand-written by someone who is clearly elderly. "Dear Madam," it says, "I am happy to give the permission requested. Best wishes for the performance. Wish I could be there but I am almost bed-bound. Yours truly, Penelope Rieu."

I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes. I feel we are very privileged to have this direct link to E.V. Rieu and his work. I know we will carry him with us when the great day comes.

Rehearsals are on-going. For the eighteen tellers involved, The Iliad is part of our daily living now. It is a story of war. It does have its horrors but in that it connects us ever more strongly to our own humanity -- a connection we will strive to bring to our listeners when we step onto the Fourth Stage of the National Arts Centre, each of us contributing the part that is especially ours.

Further thoughts -- Ringing True by Jacques Falquet



What of Achilles?





Here we are, at the initial gathering of Iliad tellers, back in January. This one was mainly for getting together and for discussion. There were fears to be allayed with regard to telling this great and tragic story. Would there be too much carnage for our listeners? Or...was Homer being Homer -- a creator with whom no word is wasted, a storyteller who knows just what to bring forth and what to hold back. It was interesting because the more we talked, the more we found ourselves imbued with a sense of Homer's genius; the more we felt confident that we had made the right choice.

Inevitably, there was much concern with Achilles? Questions abounded. Is he really a hero? The hero? What does all his savagery amount to? Is he worthy? How can we better understand him? How can we find means fully to acknowledge his humanity even when he acts in ways we hate? All this brought forth an article in the Ottawa StoryTellers newsletter by Jeff Wright who spends his life telling of the Trojan War to high school students and who will be dealing with the Death of Hector on June 14 -- the great day. I post the link for those who are interested. Turn to page 3.

Jan Andrews


The Journey Begins

On June 14th, 2014, from 10:00 in the morning to 10:00 at night (with breaks for meals etc.) the Ottawa Storytellers will be telling Homer's Iliad at the NAC 4th Stage. A hardy band of storytellers spent this past weekend working collectively on bringing this seminal story of Western culture to life. The work has just begun: parts must be edited, tweaked, learned, refined, practised again and again. Funds must be raised. This unique storytelling performance must be marketed and publicized -- tickets must be sold, so that we will not be telling to empty chairs. Most of all, this rich, violent, complex, tragic story must be internalized, felt, understood, transmuted into a collective performance. But what a wonderful start! Already we can feel the different chapters growing together, the many voices weaving into one big tapestry of story. Already this epic, which seemed at first to be "just" an interminable battle scene, is revealing its depth and winning us over. I am so happy to be part of this adventure with my fellow storytellers.

Ottawa storyteller, Tom Lips, posted this to Facebook on Monday marking the beginning of what will truly be an epic journey for all involved. As always, I am awe-struck at just how deep is Homer's work and how much richness he brings to his evocation of human life. I commend you also to the words of teller, Marie Bilodeau, at You may find yourself wanting to weep (as I did a number of times throughout the day) but even if you do not you will know that this is a story to stir you to the soul. Yes, it is a tale of war but war is always with us. We may not like it, we may wish we could avoid it but it is part of who we are.

During the course of the day I found myself telling a family story -- of one of my grandmothers standing in what was left of her bombed-out house, singing and doing the dishes during the London blitz. It's a story that has stood by me all my life: an example of simple strength and courage such as we will all of us need at times in our life. The Iliad brought that to mind. The Iliad speaks to all of us and for us all as well.

Jan Andrews, Privileged to share the role of Artistic Director with the other of the Two Women -- Jennifer Cayley

Page 1 2