Classics Department hosts 24-hour performance of Homer’s ‘The Iliad’

Rebekah Young

The Grand Valley State University Classics Department is transforming how students perceive classic literature with its third HOMERathon event starting today.

“It’s a chance to be a part of something completely grand and lovely,” said Devin Lagasse, secretary of the GVSU Classics Society. “It’s a way to connect to an ancient culture and experience something unique.”

Beginning at 4 p.m. this afternoon and ending at 2 p.m. Wednesday, HOMERathon3 is a live performance event of Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad.” Located in the Cook-DeWitt Center and lasting almost 17 hours, the reading is free and open to the public.

It is a casual event that students can drop in and out of at any time, Lagasse said.

Considered one of the earliest works of Western literature, “The Iliad” tells the story of the Trojan War and the Greek warrior Achilles.

“‘The Iliad’ is primarily a war text,” said Dakota Jarvis, president of the Classics Society. “It seems to focus on the siege of Troy, but it is also about Achilles’ rage and the things he does to work through that rage.”

William Levitan, professor of the Classics Department, described Homer’s poems as “absolutely magnificent pieces of literature.”

“But they were originally composed to be presented orally, out loud,” he said. “By returning them to their originally-intended state, the stories make more sense and come alive.”

More than 90 GVSU students, administrators and faculty members— including President Thomas J. Haas and Dean Frederick J. Antczak of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, among others— are participating as readers for the event. They will perform the first 23 chapters of the Homeric poem.

“Suddenly, the poems become clear, moving, dramatic and compelling in ways that they’re simply not on the page,” Levitan said of the live reading. “The students listening are blown away.”

Along with the live readings, HOMERathon3 includes other scheduled events.

After the first segment of reading in the Cook-DeWitt lounge, the Classics Society is hosting a midnight pizza break tonight. A four-hour break is also scheduled after the second reading segment ends at 3:45 a.m. on Wednesday.

“‘The Iliad’ is the story of the Trojan War, which took 10 years,” Levitan said. “People had to take showers. There will be some breaks.”

At 7:46 a.m., the dawn ceremonies at the Cook Carillon Plaza will include the reading of an ancient Greek hymn to the sun, translated by a Professor Diane Rayor of the Classics Department. Reading will resume from 8:00 a.m. until 12:15 p.m.

The event will end with its feature presentation: a performance of the 24th and final book by award-winning translator Stanley Lombardo, who also appeared at the last two HOMERathons. A professor of Classics at the University of Kansas, Lombardo will perform at 1 p.m. in the Cook-DeWitt auditorium on Wednesday. His translation of “The Iliad” will be featured throughout the event. A reception will follow his performance.

“Lombardo’s reading is a very unique experience,” Jarvis said. “He is world renowned. He brings passion to it.”

“Students who don’t have time for it all should make time for him,” Levitan said, adding that Lombardo’s climactic reading always “leaves everyone in tears.” Though, he suggests coming early. “Last time, there was standing room only.”

Levitan said the reading event will be beneficial for students studying Greek literature, but he also encourages those who may not be familiar with Homer’s work to stop by.

“Homer is not an acquired taste,” he said. “He is wonderful. His poems are about the real world and living in it. They are exciting, funny, tragic and real. Everyone who has this experience knows it. Everyone who comes near Homer enjoys Homer.”

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