On Performance Style


     Very little written information exists on how “The Iliad” might have been performed. Some references are made to Homer “singing” “The Iliad”, some illustrations show him seated with a harp in his lap indicating he accompanied himself with music.

    Michael Wood in his TV documentary on Troy, and the Trojan War showed tape of present day Turkish “bards” or story tellers performing accompanying themselves with guitars, or mandolins, and singing the story. He also showed an Irish storyteller chanting a saga.

   It is interesting to note in these tapes the reaction of the audience. They were not looking at the performer, but were staring at a fixed point in space as if they were watching a movie taking place in their minds eye. The storyteller was a rhythmical, monotones background noise guiding them through the scenes they were seeing in their imagination.

    In my earliest attempts at performing The Iliad I followed these hints as to how it would have been presented. I stuck closely to the meter of the poetry. I kept myself (or the narrator) out of the story, I made no attempt at characterization of the speakers. Though I had no musical accompaniment I “sang” the story.

    This approach was an utter failure. The contemporary audience trained on TV, special effect movies, and Video games, had almost no ability to translate spoken words into visual imagination. They were frequently confused as to who was speaking. They felt the presentation lacked excitement and action. And while it may very well be great literature, it was boring. “Remember,” they said, “the mental age of an audience today is twelve years old!”

    In later reading I came across references to Homer’s style being dramatic rather than narrative, and that he was the first story teller to give characters in his story extended speeches in the first person, present tense.

   Working on Book One, I began playing around with vocal and physical characterizations of the speakers, and letting the narrator get emotionally involved in the story he’s telling. I worked with a professional stage director to prevent my going too far. Instead he encouraged me to go even further. As I did, The Iliad began to come alive in ways we had not imagined possible. It’s scary. It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s populated by real human beings who are coping with real life and death issues. Now, when Achillius asks Agamemnon if he is threatening to take Achillius girl by force, its no longer just a challenging question, now the fate of the Akhian forces hangs on the answer. When Hera questions Zeus about his secret plans we see clearly the prototypical domestic comedy scene played over, and over by Jackie Gleason and Audry Meadows, by Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnez.

    Recently a professor of the classics referred to The Iliad as the first play, and The Odyssey as the first novel. How right he was, The Iliad is a play, a one man play in which the narrator no longer just narrates the story, he becomes all the characters. With the use of voice, and body language, he allows the audience to see deep into the heart and sole of the characters. Their hidden agendas are visible. Their passions are palpable. The internal logic of their behavior is understandable.

    I now believe Homer, or any “son of Homer”, or any of the many “Rapsodes” who made their living performing The Iliad during its first period of popularity could not have done it any other way.


Promo Tape  Iliad as Theatre  |  Homer and The Iliad  |  The Actor and The Iliad 
Book The Show  | 
Books and Reviews  Comment  |  About The Show
Home   |  Contact  |  FAQ  |  Links  |  
Performance Dates  |  Biography
Homer Productions