Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The elements of the original that Logue abandons in his version give some indication of how he wants the poem to be read. There is considerably less spiritual meddling in the poem, save for the rescue of Sarpedon’s corpse and Apollo’s attack on Patroclus late in the work. Logue focuses the poem on the conduct of the men without having the constant diversion of the gods manipulating the action. The same desire to narrow the field of vision is behind the tendency in the poem to abandon the very long poetic passages of description and involved, detailed accounts of the battles. In the original much is made of the other warriors and their struggles; here the Patroclus tale is really the only story being told. For instance, little is made of Hector’s desertion from the battle and his later return in Logue’s version, since he does not want the story to wander, and the narrative is sharply cut back to concentrate on the Achilles-Patroclus-Hector triangle of mutual destruction.

Logue is primarily interested in the ironic nature of how men make their own fate, whereas the Homer poem makes more of how much they are the playthings of the gods. The heroes of the original are Achilles and Hector, who set the standard of heroism for their respective societies. Logue’s poem shows how little power they have over their destinies. Patroclus takes the place and costume of Achilles, and in such is killed by Hector, who strips him of the armor that he should not be wearing—and is not worthy of wearing. Hector in turn will be killed by Achilles for so doing, and Achilles, in turn, will die young, since his fate has already been decided by the gods.

This sense of inevitability and disdain for military prowess is peculiar to the late twentieth century. Logue turns the Homer poem upside down, stripping it of its triumphs in the face of the grim reality of mindless slaughter and the waste of life occasioned by the male enthusiasm for egotistical, deadly conduct. Logue seems to suggest that even at their best, the men are there to kill and be killed. People of the twentieth century, with its loss of spiritual connection, cannot blame the gods for their bloody conduct.