As much as I hate to admit it, the Odyssey is really the only classic epic poem that I had to read for high school. Also - I am even less proud to admit that I skipped most of it, finding it repetitive, violent, and boring. I also had the tendency in high school to read only novels written by Piers Anthony or Terry Goodkind (science fiction and fantasy), so you can see where my literary criticism skills were. It was really cool to see Professor Esposito-Frank use passages from the Iliad and the Aeneid to explore her topic: "Lines of Pain" this past Tuesday.
At first, I was wary. I knew that there was going to be a focus on these classics, and I was prepared to be bored. This is no reflection of Profesor Esposito-Frank, because she seems charismatic and bright. I just think about poetry in a very different way. My favorite poems come from much more contemporary sources for the most part. e.e. cummings, Lucille Clifton, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes - I have just tended to expose myself to poetry that seems to speak to me. I assumed that anything too ancient was bound to be somewhat irrelevant. The only book I've ever read all the way through that is anywhere near as old as the Iliad is the Bible, First and Second Testament. And we all know what a thrilling read that is. All the begetting and thou shalts don't exactly get me all worked up into a literary frenzy. Plus - these epic poems WERE about religion as much as anything else. Or so I thought.
As it turns out, the passages we read together from these epic poems were, for the most part, very valid in comparison to current pain imagery and displayed emotion. We discussed Priam begging for Hector's body back to give him a proper burial - which is something I know is still done today between warring factions or countries. We witness Hector's wife, Andromache, lament his death in three ways - as a foreshadowing, as a heart-broken widow, and as a pissed-off ex. We can certainly find timely ideals here. I now have a summer mission - to read some of these epics all the way through and find just how much ancient pain mirrors contemporary interpretations.
I have actually decided to do my honors thesis about contemporary coping with pain. This material could help me a lot in gaining some perspective.
As a side note - that Saba poem, "The Goat" - rocked me. I love all of the different translations, and I think it was a really fun way to end a kind of heavy lecture. That goat to me is a Jew, a Human, Humankind, the poet, and a Goat all at the same time. Brilliant.