Love & War - 'Troy' is loos retelling of Homer's 'The Iliad'

Friday, May 14, 2004

Missouri's own Brad Pitt is making a return to the big screen after a two-year absence with "Troy," one of the first big blockbusters of the summer. The film, which opens today, is a loose retelling of what is considered by many to be the greatest work of western literature, Homer's "The Iliad."

It's safe to say, though, that studio executives and theater owners are banking more on Pitt's fanbase than on the fans of the 3,000-year-old epic about the Trojan War. The movie, directed by Wolfgang Peterson, reportedly cost nearly $200 million to film.

Pitt said he hadn't read the "The Iliad" until being cast in the movie, but it seems unlikely that movie-goers will undergo similar immersion before heading to the theaters.

Not many students read "The Iliad" before college, said Dr. James Ermatinger, chairman of the history department at Southeast Missouri State University. He said it's more common to read "The Odyssey" in high school because it's more of an adventure story.

Abigail Beckwith's freshman English classes at Central High School in Cape Girardeau read excerpts from "The Odyssey" and briefly discuss the Trojan war.

Beckwith also lists "The Iliad" as a must-read for students going on to college.

The movie is set in 13th century B.C. Greece after Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) abducts Helen (Diane Kruger), the wife of Greek King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), thus sparking a war between the cities.

The Greeks' greatest hope lies in Achilles (Pitt), a godlike warrior, while the Trojans are lead by the king's son, Hector (Eric Bana).

Unlike in "Troy," it is nine years into the Trojan war when "The Iliad" begins. The story begins with the break in the relationship between Achilles and the Greeks' military leader Agamemnon, followed by Achilles' refusal to fight. Achilles is then missing for much of the poem until the death of his friend, Patroclus, in battle spurs his anger and his return to the war.

The death of Achilles and the Trojan horse never make an appearance in "The Iliad." Achilles' death was recounted in stories known as the Homeric hymns, produced after "The Iliad" in an attempt to tie up loose ends and the story of the Trojan horse is mentioned in "The Odyssey."

A good deal of "Troy" apparently focuses on big battle scenes, which is a big part of "The Iliad," but leaves out the presence of the gods, which is a large part of Homer's poem.

Ermatinger said there are two battles in "The Iliad": one between the Greeks and the Trojans and one between the gods, who choose sides and constantly interfere with the progress of the war.

The movie also apparently forgoes much of Achilles' close friendship with Patroclus (his cousin in the movie) and focuses more on his relationship with Briseis (played by Rose Byrne), a concubine he has won in war and who Greek military leader Agamemnon takes from him.

While "Troy" presents Achilles more as a protector of Briseis, "The Iliad" sees her as part of the spoils of war that is divided up among the Greeks.

"What upsets him is his honor over having to lose his property," Ermatinger said.

As to what makes the story still worth telling thousands of years later, Ermatinger said it is because it deals with human emotions and war, which are always with us.

"'The Iliad' is a story about individuals who are faced with true life-and-death situations that go with being in a war. In many ways it's a timeless story about what individuals face when they go to war," he said. "It really is, in many ways, a story about human emotions, and that is why it is timeless," Ermatinger said.

Although he does not plan on seeing the movie, Ermatinger said he is not at all upset by the apparent changes the story makes from poems to screen.

"If an individual sees 'Troy' and becomes interested and reads 'The Iliad,' to me it's done a service," he said. Besides, Ermatinger said "Gladiator" was very historically inaccurate and he loved the film.

According to Kerasotes Theaters spokesman Scott Cottingham, who has seen some of the movie, "Troy" bears some resemblance to "Gladiator" and he is hoping "Troy" replicates the success of the Ridley Scott Oscar-winning blockbuster.

Anticipating similar success, Kerasotes will show "Troy" on four of five screens at its Cape Girardeau theater.

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