I’ve been a lit major for nigh on six years now, and so I thought it only fair that I use this week’s Top Ten Tuesday ‘Back to School’ theme to share some of the wisdom I’ve managed to gain. So I’ve decided to share ten texts I think every new lit major should try and read at some point in their university careers. Don’t be alarmed if these texts at first seem unnecessarily confusing, pointless, and/or completely and utterly useless. That’s more or less precisely how they’re supposed to be.
Okay, everybody. I’m going to try to remain calm. I’ve only just spent the past two months tackling one of the most famous texts in the history of Western civilisation. Because I’m just cool like that.
Honestly, I’m still a little amazed that I’ve finished. When you’ve been reading a book for more than a month, you begin to shudder at the sight of its oh-so-familiar cover, taunting you with your laziness. It almost seems to take on a life of its own, glaring at you from across the room. My copy of the Iliad spent most of April giving me significant looks and asking, ‘are you really going to re-read your favourite Terry Pratchett novel for the upteenth time, instead of reading me?’*
I just want to stress, people, that I do not usually feel like my books are alive. Or that they speak to me. Apart from in the perfectly healthy way that their authors originally intended them to. But the Iliad came close to breaking me.
The Iliad begins with what might very well be the most epic hissy fit in all of history.
Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
-Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus.
I’ve studied both literature and classics for many years. I’ve always loved pottering around ancient ruins, unsuccessfully trying to imagine what they would have looked like in their heyday. So when we decided to go to Turkey, my sister and I agreed we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a site that had captured our imaginations years before, while we were still wide-eyed first-years at university.
The ancient city of Troy (or Ilium) features in one of the oldest surviving texts in the world; Homer’s Iliad. It’s one of the best-known legends of all time, although Homer doesn’t actually mention the most famous part; the Greek soldiers, after ten years of unsuccessfully besieging the city of Troy, leave a giant wooden horse on the beach where their camp was and sail away. The Trojans, quick to believe that after ten years of a mentally and physically gruelling siege the Greeks simply gave up (my psychology professors would chuckle at this bit), wheel the giant horse into the city. Celebrations ensue. The Trojans get ridiculously drunk. Night falls on the city and everyone lies fast asleep. The Greek soldiers hidden in the horse creep out and open the city gates to let in the rest of the army. Massacres ensue. Troy falls.