I always try to carefully choose the last book I read each year. Often it also becomes the first book of the new year. This year I have decided to read The Iliad again. My favorite translation of the first line of the poem is:” Sing, O, Muse…” It is as if the whole story immediately plays before our eyes in the pathos of the desperate desire for remembrance captured in those first tiny words. The muse sings and we listen and we do remember. For 2500 years we have played her song over and over again. Why? It is not The Odyssey, full of story and adventure, the longing for hearth and home. The Iliad is just another story of men (and gods) fighting one another. It is so entirely futile that we hardly know whom to root for. Achilles may be big, strong and handsome but he also has the singularly unattractive trait of self-pity. The only truly sympathetic characters are Hector and Andromache who seem to have something to lose in this strange, long war.
But once again we hear the words “Sing, O, muse…” and our hearts swell. These are desperate words begging us to understand. They are the words of the unredeemed, men who must write their own song, whose only hope for redemption is that we hear their story and remember their deeds. They have picked their muse well. If The Iliad was just another story of war and remembrance I am convinced it would not be remembered, but running through the story is another fine thread- The story of a mother, Thetis, who did everything in her power to make her son invincible and in the end failed; the story of a father, Priam, who spoiled his son Paris and lost his son Hector.
The story not only carries the universal themes of honor and war, but the universal love of parent for child and the deep longing and pain parents experience as part of their fate. It mirrors our own desperate efforts to save our children from the pangs of sin and suffering- the desire to control what cannot be leashed, the human spirit – the pathos of parenting.
And so the muse sang her song and if it had only held the clash of resounding arms I do not believe they would have resounded for long. The song would have been buried in the ruins of Troy. But instead we have a cradle song, a song not only for fathers but for mothers, a song that has endured to remind us of why we and our children need to be redeemed and the futility of life without Christ. It is a song that reminds us that we cannot convert our own children, there is no river Styx in which, by our own parental efforts, we can render them invincible. Achilles had his heel and our sons have theirs. It is the deep, sad song of sin. Sing, O, muse. We, the redeemed by the fountain that flows from Calvary’s side, will listen and remember.