Reviewed by Rachel Hanby
Many people have heard of the Trojan War and its respected source, Homer’s Iliad. Unfortunately, in the apt words of John Dolan, the tale of this ancient struggle is “found only on undergraduate syllabi.” The Iliad is a pillar of ancient culture and civilization; however, Homer’s epic poem format can be a daunting endeavor for even the more experienced reader. To have this story frequently referenced but never read is an unfortunate modern reality. That is the beauty of John Dolan’s The War Nerd Iliad: It makes this ancient classic accessible. This modern prose translation of Homer’s Iliad revitalizes the story behind the Trojan War and restores the Iliad to Homers’ original intention: to have a story read and enjoyed by a large audience in a colloquial language.
The War Nerd Iliad transports readers to a world where gods walk among men (literally, they do that all the time) as heroes strive for immortality on the battlefield. There is a brilliant violence that permeates this novel and John Dolan never shies away from it. The modern prose enables readers to see the fallout of the Trojan War firsthand. Like the gods, readers have an omniscient perspective that enables them to understand both side’s decisions, innerworkings, and grief. War is a brutal endeavor and the Trojan War lives on as an infamous conflict. John Dolan pulls no punches when describing the actions and immediate consequences of a war that was doomed from the start.
Dolan explores a world of gods, kings, and heroes. Take Achilles, the mortal equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator; a hero destined for victory on any battlefield. Together with Odysseus, a recurring Homer character, Patroklas, the doting and moral companion, and Ajax, a giant among men, a death squad is formed with the sole intention of eradicating the Trojans. On the other end of the spectrum is Paris, the Greek prince with “the sexual ego of Pepé Le Pew” who catalyzes the war for the sake of infatuation. This is unfortunate news for Hektor, the older brother tasked with cleaning up young Paris’ mess. And, if you like the Greek gods, this novel is definitely for you. “The gods enjoy playing with humans;” and war is a great opportunity for them to air their eternal grievances. In The War Nerd Iliad, Gods weave through the hearts and minds of each combatant as Hades waits in the Underworld below, ushering in the new arrivals.
The War Nerd Iliad emphasizes how reputation and honor influence and drive an individual’s daily actions. As readers are left reeling from the mortal consequences of war, they can’t help but wonder how much of this carnage could have been avoided. The Trojan War was birthed in an attempt to preserve a sense of honor, yet it led to hundreds of deaths and acts of war-time depravity. It leaves readers conscious of their own attempts to save face and how these actions impacted their lives. This depiction of war also draws attention to the value of human life during international conflicts. While the immortal gods bicker amongst each other from a distance, hundreds of Greeks and Trojans are fighting for their life. This involved yet detached approach to war that the gods partake in is relatable to how modern society approaches warfare.
Overall, The War Nerd Iliad accurately captures Homer’s Iliad and refurbishes it for a modern audience. The trials and tribulations of war are described in such a way that readers are able to map every decision and interworking from both sides. Essentially, if you like to study warfare, this novel is definitely your cup of tea (or coffee if you prefer that sweet bean juice). Although TheWar Nerd Iliad is suited for a modern audience, it stays close to its roots. Each chapter begins with art befitting an ancient Grecian Urn. This art reflects the perfect balance Dolan creates between modern perspective and ancient tradition and custom. Readers are able to see these larger-than-life heroes in a newer, relatable light. Unlike eloping with the sister-in-law of Agamemnon, reading The War Nerd Iliad is an excellent idea, especially for any fans of Greek mythology, history, or just carnage.