Greek children are brought up on mythology—the shenanigans of the gods on Mount Olympus, the battles of the Trojan war, the travels and adventures in the Odyssey. However, although I knew how the story ends, I really enjoyed this backstage view of the Iliad by Pat Barker.
The tale is told from the point of view of Briseis, a princess who becomes a slave, awarded to Achilles as his prize after he sacks her city, slaughtering her father and brothers. She ends up in the camp of the Greeks besieging Troy, together with many other women. This is their voice, their side of things.
Pat Barker is a master of writing about war, as evidenced in her Regeneration Trilogy—the reek, the noise, the far-flung effects on everyone involved, however remotely. Here we are placed firmly in the camp—we see the cooking fires, smell smoke and roasting meat, unwashed bodies. We are inside the weaving huts, where the women are shut up and made to work all day, or the hospital hut, where bloodied and maimed men are brought in after the battle.
The women’s situation is horrifying, and their treatment at the hands of the men is appalling, yet Barker manages not to veer into one-sidedness. The men are not one-dimensional brutes, but have a human side, and some passages are from their point of view as well, since they are the ones fighting the war.
The pace is kept up throughout, so that I found the book unputdownable. For anyone interested in the lives of the Ancient Greeks, give it a try.
Amazon link here