Make the Machine Sing

Christopher Logue's War Music: An Account of Homer's "Iliad"
By Michael Robbins

War Music: An Account of Homer's "Iliad," by Christopher Logue.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $28.00.

In 1937 Sergei Eisenstein noted an affinity between filmic montage and the imagistic sequencing Homer employed in The Iliad. Joanna Paul, in Film and the Classical Epic Tradition, traces several arguments "that certain pre-modern societies understand visuality in a way that can be equated to cinema." Paul Leglise, working from Lucretius's conception of vision, wrote in 1958 that "it is no paradox to claim that the new terms" of cinema "define very exactly certain literary techniques used by an ancient Latin poet." Leglise thought of Virgil, not Homer, as the first cineaste; in 1970 we find Alain Malissard arguing that Homer's poetry, but not Virgil's, anachronistically exemplifies the seventh art.

Obviously, it is problematic to liken ancient poetry to a medium that was invented around the same time as Coca-Cola. But I've been thinking of The Iliad in cinematic terms since I first read it in college, when I was also learning about Eisenstein and Dovzhenko, Godard and Nicholas Ray. Eisenstein, drawing on Lessing's Laocoon, isolates Homer's description of Hera's chariot, pointing out how the poet depicts the wheels in stages.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.