Husbands and All Day Permanent Red are the fourth and fifth volumes in Christopher Logue’s version of Homer’s Iliad, covering respectively Books 3 & 4 and “The first battle scenes” of the original. The first two Homeric volumes, War Music and Kings were quite tremendous, lifting me off my feet with their power, rawness and imagination – Homer, always a favourite, had never been this exciting. So I was keen, after a gap of many years, to try these volumes too.
The Husbands is principally an account of the attempt to bring the Trojan war to an end, by single combat, as ten years' strife had not resolved the issue. Agreement is reached, sacrifices are made, and oaths taken, and the combat begins between Paris and Menelaus, the rival Trojan and Greek husbands of Helen, peerless among women. But when Paris is wounded, the gods carry him off to save him, and cause treachery in the Trojan ranks, ensuring that the war will go on – and, eventually, that Troy will be destroyed. Logue’s rendering is free, modern, and imaginative:
Hera and Athene hear of the plan to stop the fighting by making a common sacrifice to Him (Zeus, lord of the Gods):
“Peace – after the way that Trojan treated us?” [Paris had judged Helen more beautiful than either of them]
“Peace, home, friendship, stuff like that.”
“It must be stopped.”
And so, with faces like NO ENTRY signs they hurried through the clouds.
All Day Permanent Red is a vigorous account of some of the early battle scenes of the Iliad, and captures well the chaos and brutality of war, and the drunken glorying in combat of glory-intoxicated men, often in a fierce modern idiom:
Drums in the dust. Inside its mid-ridge overcast
Flags tossing above the agitated forms.
Chylabborak, holding the centre firm.
Blurred bronze. Blood? Blood, like a car-wash:
“But it keeps the dust down.”
Both of these volumes are full of excitement and wonderful lines, but they’re not, in my view, the best volumes of Logue’s Homer; I find them harder to follow than the earlier ones, but it’s full of life and energy, and of modern, lively images that bring the Greek concepts and passions very alive. If you’re new to Logue’s Homer, you mustn’t be put off by this – it’s fantastic reading and the narrative force and glorious poetry of War Music is an utterly wonderful achievement.