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All Day Permanent Red
The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad - Rewritten
By Christopher Logue
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
HC, 51 pgs. US$18
ISBN: 0-3741-0295-3

Men at war

By Steven Martinovich
web posted April 21, 2003

All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad - RewrittenOnly the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare may be more important to western literature then Homer's The Iliad, his retelling of the final days in the ten year war between the Greeks and Trojans some 3 000 years ago. It began life as oral epic poetry, recited over what took days in villages across Greece before someone put ink to paper to preserve the work, at least in the form that it existed at the time, for posterity. It's not unfair to declare it as a foundation stone of everything that has come after it.

It's a brave person then that attempts to reinterpret The Iliad. Since the 1960s, British poet Christopher Logue has been doing just that. All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad - Rewritten is the fourth excerpt from his ongoing project and draws mainly from books 5 and 6 of The Iliad. At this point in the story the godlike Achilles remains in his tent, angry at Agamemnon's taking of one of his slaves, and the Greeks and Trojans were preparing for another battle in their long war.

Logue's version of those events is nothing less than a marvel. With spare sentences and vivid imagery he tells a story familiar to us but one he's changed, adding new scenes and reworking others. Ancient events are mixed with contemporary references, doubtless something that will disconcert traditionalists, illustrating a tale of human values set against the backdrop of a brutal and perhaps senseless war. He manages this extraordinary feat without treading on the legacy of Homer.

Consider, for example, how Logue paints his vision of Bronze Age warfare -- an era where men were quite literally reduced to sides of beef being cleaved by spears and swords:

"Drums in the dust. Inside its mid-ridge overcast
Flags tossing above agitated forms.
Chylabborak, holding the centre firm.
Blurred bronze. Blood? Blood like a car-wash:
'But it keeps the dust down.'"

Brutal though it was, the warriors of The Iliad also reveled in their power over themselves and other men. War, though horrifying, was also akin to orgiastic joy for them. Logue captures that with lines like "The Uzi shuddering warm in your hip/Happy in danger in a dangerous place." As both Homer and Logue both seem to understand, as terrifying as war is to its participants, it also makes reality even more real even as it slips into an insane surrealism. It's perhaps the only explanation for being happy in such a dangerous place.

The Iliad and All Day Permanent Red, however, are more than just about war. They are stories about men and the values they hold, values that thrown into a spotlight by conflict. Life, death and every conceivable issue that surrounds them are explored in Homer's Iliad and superbly reinterpreted by Logue. Three millennia divide the events of Troy and our own modern era but what it means to be human, explored by both men, clearly hasn't changed. We kill ourselves more efficiently these days but the same themes dominate our lives.

It's unfair to cast Logue in the role of competitor to Homer, an impossible task in any event. Rather than attempt the unattainable and surpass the original text, Logue instead underlines and emphasizes both the elements we are familiar with and those that we sometimes overlook. All Day Permanent Red is an example of what happens when reinterpreting a classic is done properly and with a respect for what the original was striving for.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

Buy Christopher Logue All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad - Rewritten at Amazon.com for only $12.60 (30% off)

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