Watch All 18,225 Lines of The Iliad Read by 66 Actors in a Marathon Event For an Audience of 50,000

Despite its ancient ori­gins, The Odyssey is an epic for moder­ni­ty. The Greek poem gives us the hero as a home­sick wan­der­er and uproot­ed seek­er, an exile or a refugee, sus­tained by his cun­ning; he even comes across, writes schol­ar Deirdre McClosky, as “a crafty mer­chant type,” while also rep­re­sent­ing “three pagan virtues—temperance, jus­tice, and pru­dence.” He’s a com­pli­cat­ed hero, that is to say—most unlike Achilles, his antithe­sis in the pri­or epic The Ili­ad, the “foun­da­tion­al text,” says Simon Gold­hill, “of West­ern cul­ture.”

Gold­hill, a Cam­bridge clas­sics pro­fes­sor, intro­duces an under­tak­ing itself admirably epic: a read­ing of The Ili­ad fea­tur­ing “six­ty-six artists, 18,225 lines of text” and—on the day it took place, August 14th of this year—an “audi­ence of more than 50,000 peo­ple across the world, watch­ing online or in per­son at the Almei­da and the British Muse­um.” Now you can watch all 68 sec­tions of the marathon event at the Almeida’s web­site until Sep­tem­ber 21, 2016. (Access the videos on pages One, Two, and Three.) Just above, see a short video that doc­u­ments the mak­ing of this his­toric read­ing.

Gold­hill goes on to say that the epic poem, “puts in place most of the great themes of West­ern lit­er­a­ture, from pow­er to adul­tery.” In a way, it’s fit­ting that it be a huge com­mu­nal event: If The Odyssey is nov­el­is­tic in many ways, as James Joyce’s Ulysses seems to have defin­i­tive­ly shown, The Ili­ad is like a block­buster com­ic book film. Achilles, writes McClosky, “is what the Vikings called a berserker”—his motive force, over and above com­pan­ion­ship or love—is kleos: fame and glo­ry. The one ques­tion that dri­ves the “whole of The Ili­ad,” says Gold­smith, is “the ques­tion of what is worth dying for. For Achilles, the answer is sim­ple.”

Undoubt­ed­ly we admire Achilles even as we cringe at his fury, and we cel­e­brate all sorts of peo­ple who run head­long into what seems like cer­tain death. But we also find fig­ures who embody his vio­lence and cer­tain­ty dis­turb­ing, to say the least, both on and off the bat­tle­field. Though crafty Odysseus tem­porar­i­ly stays Achilles’ rage, the war­rior even­tu­al­ly kills so many Tro­jans that a riv­er turns against him, and his abuse of Hector’s body makes for stom­ach-turn­ing reading—or lis­ten­ing as the case may be. Prag­mat­ic Odysseus may have giv­en us the mod­ern hero, and anti-hero, but pow­er and glo­ry-mad strong­men like Agamem­non and Achilles may be even more with us these days, and The Ili­ad is still an essen­tial part of the archi­tec­ture of West­ern grand nar­ra­tive tra­di­tions.

After Goldhill’s intro­duc­tion, see “great­est stage actor of his gen­er­a­tion” Simon Rus­sell Beale pick up the text, then younger actors Pip­pa Ben­nett-Warn­er and Mari­ah Gale, fol­lowed by gruff Bri­an Cox. (Find the read­ings on this page.) Few of the read­ers are as famous as Scot­tish film and stage star Cox, but near­ly all are British the­ater-trained actors who deliv­er stir­ring, often thrilling, read­ings of the Robert Fagles trans­la­tion. See the remain­ing 63 read­ings at the Almei­da Theatre’s web­site here.

h/t @EWyres

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Homer’s Ili­ad Read in the Orig­i­nal Ancient Greek

Homer’s Ili­ad and Odyssey: Free Audio­Books & eBooks

An Inter­ac­tive Map of Odysseus’ 10-Year Jour­ney in Homer’s Odyssey

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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