Form and Content

The Iliad: Or, The Poem of Force was written early in World War II and first published (under the pseudonym Emile Novis) in December, 1940, and January, 1941, in Cahiers du Sud, a journal published at Marseilles, where Simone Weil had moved after the occupation of Paris in 1940. This essay of some thirty pages is normally treated as literary criticism, but it actually lies at the intersection of several paths of intellectual inquiry. It testifies to a continuing love for the Greek classics and an unshakable confidence that they held precious enduring truths. Its argument—that Force is the true subject of the epic—advances by commentaries on particular passages quoted from Homer’s Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.). Interspersed are more general reflections that suggest wider implications regarding the harmful nature of power in the social and political life of all times and places. Finally, the essay contains penetrating insights into the sinister psychological changes that force works upon both its victims and its supposed possessors.

Weil’s varied writings are chapters in an autobiography of the mind. They are most fully understood in the light of the zeal with which she lived life and expressed her thoughts. When she wrote The Iliad in 1939, Weil was only thirty years old. Yet she had already wrestled with a whole range of fundamentally important issues on an intellectual plane and carried...

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