Hector’s Farewell (Why Homer Matters)

Not so long ago I read a book titled The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson. It is 250 pages long, followed by some fifty pages of notes. Today I read Hector’s Farewell, an article of 809 words (I had the computer to count it, I’m not mad!) by Arturo Pérez-Reverte – and it accomplished, without fail, what 250 pages couldn’t: viz. to convince me that Homer matters.

Not that I particularly needed convincing.


I started out blogging some three months ago with dashing off a paragraph lamenting the fact that somebody wrote a long article about Pride and Prejudice and only managed to say what could have been tweeted: that it was a good book. I blithely concluded that much writing about books is a complete waste of time, and then duly proceeded to waste time by writing about books. And now I seem to have come a full circle: I’m in danger of writing a post which, if I’m not careful, will be longer than the article it extols.

I’ll pass the word to Pérez-Reverte instead:

…I was going to see Hector to say farewell to Andromache in real life. And not only once, but many times.

…I saw him say goodbye in various places, with different faces and names, although it was always the same scene. The first time that I was conscious of this was in Cyprus in 1974, when I opened the window of my hotel in Nicosia and saw the sky full of Turkish parachutists. I went down into the street with my cameras hanging around my neck, and as I walked I passed dozens of men saying goodbye to their wives and children to go to battle: brown and moustachoed Greeks, with their shaken faces, hugged their families and then ran in groups, neighbours, relatives and friends, towards the centres of conscription. In the following twenty years I had occasion to see the same men – they were always the same men – in various places of the extensive territory of catastrophes that I traversed then: in the Sahara, Lebanon, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, the Balkans… I even witnessed a scene whose similarity to the text of Homer made me tremble, and still does…


…iba a ver a Héctor despedirse de Andrómaca en la vida real. Y no una, sino muchas veces.

…Lo vi despedirse en diferentes lugares, con rostros y nombres distintos, aunque siempre era la misma escena. La primera vez que fui consciente de eso fue en Chipre en 1974, cuando abrí la ventana de mi hotel en Nicosia y vi el cielo lleno de paracaidistas turcos. Bajé a la calle con mis cámaras colgadas del cuello, y por el camino me crucé con docenas de hombres despidiéndose de sus mujeres e hijos para acudir al combate: griegos morenos, bigotudos, que con el rostro desencajado abrazaban a sus familias y corrían luego en grupos, vecinos, parientes y amigos, hacia los centros de reclutamiento. En los siguientes veinte años tuve ocasión de ver a los mismos hombres -siempre son los mismos hombres- en diversos lugares de la extensa geografía de las catástrofes por la que yo transitaba entonces: Sáhara, Líbano, Salvador, Chad, Nicaragua, Iraq, Angola, los Balcanes… Incluso presencié una escena cuya semejanza con el texto de Homero me estremeció, y todavía lo hace…

Although Pérez-Reverte makes a living as a novelist now whose books have been translated into several languages (English included), it is certainly the former war correspondent speaking here. Which, however, does not make him any less convincing. So if you are ever faced with the choice between reading The Mighty Dead and Hector’s Farewell, choose the latter; you’ll save yourself much time. Except there’s a slight catch: you’ve got to be able to read Spanish. So, reluctantly, I amend myself: If you’re ever faced with a choice between The Mighty Dead and El adiós de Héctor – read whichever you can understand!

Throwback Thursday: Originally published on 3 November 2015
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11 thoughts on “Hector’s Farewell (Why Homer Matters)

  1. Since I don’t read Spanish and am unlikely to come across or read ‘The Mighty Dead’, I will take the third option and read your blogpost about it. I’m convinced! Did you translate the passage above yourself? I’m convinced; I really should read Homer one day.

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    1. arwen1968

      Homer is great actually – although I personally am not keen the poetic translations (I’d definitely avoid Alexander Pope’s). But there are plenty of prose translations out there, including modern ones. I read The Iliad from the Gutenberg Project on my Kindle a few years ago… There’s a link to it in one of my posts: http://philturton.dscloud.me/wordpress/2015/08/25/from-ransome-to-keats-to-homer/ if you want to give it a try before spending money on buying a book. 🙂 Although I think most people prefer The Odyssey. I wrote several posts that deal with Homer in what way or another actually, at the moment it seems to be one of my recurrent themes (that and Herodotus). 🙂

      Regarding Hector’s Farewell, yes, I translated the excerpt myself – I hope it’s correct! – I’d have loved to share the whole article but there’s such a thing as a copyright…

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  2. A very odd coincidence – I came across your blog and was reading this article while you were going through mine. Iliad is one of my favourite books and Hector’s farewell one my preferred sections. This is the first time I have seen a blog refer to either. Its a good feeling 🙂
    Thanks for this.

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    1. arwen1968

      I love the Iliad – can’t relate to the Odyssey in the same way although I think I should give it another chance because it’s been years… One’s taste changes, one grows in understanding, &c. 🙂 A lot of people think it’s the whole story of the Trojan war and of course, it isn’t; it’s a great dramatic piece really, of a carefully selected episode only.
      One of the reasons is why I keep this blog is because I got tired of not meeting people who shared my taste in reading – so it’s really nice to come across who likes the Iliad! I had a similar experience recently when I found out that Mario Vargas Llosa liked War and Peace: http://philturton.dscloud.me/wordpress/2015/09/05/tolstoy-mario-vargas-llosa-my-grandmother-and-me-on-war-peace/

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  3. I have lost count of how many times I have put the Odyssey down without even turning a single page…I just felt that it would just not match up to the Iliad. Just prejudice, no other reason. 😛

    I just read the other post you mentioned and its beautiful! Good thing you set up this blog – please keep posting…

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  4. Pingback: Real Neat Blog Award | Scribbles n' Smokes

  5. Thanks for giving me the link to this post! It has been a very good experience for me to read the words of Pérez-Reverte in English. I don’t read The Iliad yet, but looking for some more info about it I discover a prose adaptation of the book that I want to read. Do you know if worth reading the prose adaptation? Or if I don’t read the original version in verse not worth reading it? Thanks!

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    1. I don’t know about it in Spanish but I found both in my native language and in English that the verse translations were dreadful… 🙂 And I do love The Iliad. So I’d say don’t worry about it being in verse. By all means, if there’s a verse translation, have a look at it, but if you don’t like it, don’t feel bad… Again, I don’t know in Spanish but if somebody turned the story into a contemporary novel, again I see no harm in approaching it from that way. David Malouf wrote an excellent book titled Ransom on one episode of The Iliad (on the ransoming of Hector’s body) which I do recommend. It’s been translated into Spanish, the title is Rescate.

      The Iliad itself is only a small part of a huge set of stories anyway (some fifty days in a ten years war). A lot of people get disappointed because it doesn’t include how Paris ran off with Helen or the Trojan Horse or the death of Achilles… So if you’re not familiar with the background, you might want to read some Greek myths first.

      If you want to work on your English at the same time and don’t mind children’s literature, you could try reading Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff which tells the whole story of the Trojan War beginning with the golden apple where the whole thing started. If you have an e-reader, you could always just download Samuel Butler’s prose translation from the Gutenberg Project, it’s 19th century English but it’s a good translation (as long as you don’t mind that he calls all the gods by their Roman names).

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      1. Thanks for your multiple recommendations! I appreciate them. So long ago I’m reading instructional text in English (I’m a web developer and most of the info about this is in English), but more recently I tried to read fiction novel in English too and this is more difficult. I thought read bilingual versions or English books that I’ve read in Spanish before.

        I like History and I think the good way to start to read in English is reading topics I like, so I’ll read prose adaptation of The Iliad, but previously I’ll read David Malouf’s book that you’ve recommended to me.

        Thanks for your time! You’re nice!

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