Warriors greedy for glory and the wealth of foreign land; an arrogant king, reckless with the lives of his soldiers; ordinary men capable of extraordinary courage and self- sacrifice; a lust for vengeance; a city ablaze; men cut down in the bloom of youth; the wails of widows and parents. . . . 2,700 years have not altered the great themes of war that Homer captured in The Iliad.
On Monday, March 7, the 92nd Street Y presents The Rage of Achillesthe world premiere of Kathryn Walker's adaptation for the stage of Robert Fagles' translation of The Iliad. Kathryn Walker directs a cast that includes Kate Burton, Keith David, George Grizzard, Paul Hecht, Mary Beth Hurt, Maeve Kinkead, Griffin Mathhews, and Larry Pine in this staged reading with a minimalist set. Robert Black, River Guerguerian, and Diedre Murray of Bang on a Can perform original music. Walker's 90-minute adaptation draws on selections of The Iliad that she considers "the essential action of the poem: the rage of Achilles that leads inexorably to the death of Hector." This performance is presented in association with Diane Wondisford of Music-Theatre Group.
Tickets are available from www.92y.org.
First published in 1990, Robert Fagles' translation of the The Iliad is considered the definitive contemporary translation, widely praised for the velocity and beauty of its language. In The New York Times Book Review, Oliver Taplin called the translation "more readable than Lattimore or Fitzgerald, and more performable. .. . plain, direct, noble and above all rapid." This is not the first time Dr. Fagles has collaborated with Kathryn Walker or the 92nd Street Y Poets Theater: Kathryn Walker and Jason Robards performed selections from Fagles' translation of the Odyssey at the 92nd Street Y in 1998. They later took the Odyssey to Harvard and Princeton. Of the upcoming performance at the 92nd Street Y, Dr. Fagles' says, "The Iliad is the world's most famous tale of war, now performed during a time of war, and directed by the brilliant Kathryn Walker with her fine troupe of actors, people with clarity, passion, and humanity. I would not miss it."
It's likely that Homer composed The Iliad sometime between 725 and 675B.C. and that the epic poem was performed orally for generations before it was written down. Though some scholars view The Iliad as relentless in its glorification of violence, Kathryn Walker does not see it this way. She notes that throughout the epic, images of brutal bloodshed are juxtaposed with poignant memories of peace:
The wives of Troy and all their lovely daughters
would wash their glistening robes in the old days
the days of peace before the sons of Achaea came. . .
Walker believes that The Iliad is as much about the suffering war engenders as it is about the glittering feats of warriors. She remarks: "Homer is never sentimental about the reality of war. While combat and heroism are glorifiedGreece was after all a warrior culturethe terrible suffering inflicted by extreme violence and the agony of individual death is equally powerfully described. Homer does not take sides with the Trojans or the Greeks. In a situation as savage as war, all parties are affected and degraded. As Simone Weil suggests in her fine essay about The Iliad, the real theme of the poem is force, force that reduces subjects to objects -- corpses and slaves." Walker notes that one of the main ideas of The Iliad is that violence rebounds on its perpetrators. She points to the words of the Trojan hero Hector, "The god of war is impartial: he hands out death to the man who hands out death."