Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Phineas, Ferb, and Homer

If you are looking for a "three cartoon characters walk into a bar..." joke, look further! (And don't bother googling it, I already tried)

My daughter is a avid fan of the Disney television show Phineas and Ferb. In the show, the two titular boys spend their summer vacation building fantastic contraptions and otherwise having fabulous adventures. In the episode Troy Story, their older sister Candace is struggling through that classic of Greek literature, The Iliad. To help their sister out, Phineas and Ferb decide to reenact the Trojan War in their back yard, following the plot of the epic poem. They build the walls of Troy and put their own spin on events from the book.

Recruiting for the Greek army

While watching the episode on a tablet in our front room, my daughter asked if The Iliad is a real book. Having read it in college low those many years ago, I went over to our bookshelf and pulled it down to show her. She was amazed and wanted to read it right away. I said we should wait for bed time. Candace had a hard time staying awake while reading it, so what better bed time reading could there be?

We don't have the colorful cover anymore

That night, we started with Book One of The Iliad. My daughter's first question was why the sections were called "books" and not "chapters." I answered that it was the style back then which didn't really satisfy her. I wish I had taken a cue from Calvin's dad and told her that chapters hadn't been invented yet, so they could only divide books into smaller books.

Then we got into the story. The first thing that happens is the priest Khryses comes to the Greeks to ransom his captive daughter from Agamemnon, the main Greek general. The soldiers all agree with the priest but Agamemnon doesn't want to give up his plunder and sends the priest off without returning his daughter. My daughter's next question was why the priest had a daughter. Being Catholic, our priests are celibate (not counting some rare exceptions). My answer was that ancient priests were allowed to be married. Greek and other Eastern priests still are allowed to marry today. She was satisfied with this.

Happily, my daughter did not ask about Agamemnon's intentions with the girl, which are pretty clear from line 34:
Give up the girl? I swear she will grow old
at home in Argos, far from her country
working my loom and visiting my bed.
I was fully prepared to give my daughter the "she'll be a domestic servant, making his bed, etc." routine but didn't have to resort to that.

The priest naturally called on the god Apollo to intervene. Apollo saddled up and started shooting arrows (I explained he was an archer god) causing a plague for the Greeks and their animals.

She started reading the poem by herself and got confused around line 99:
The diviner then took heart and said:
                                                                    "No failure
in hekatombs or vows is held against us.
It is the man of prayer who Agamemnon
treated with contempt...
My daughter missed the "No failure" part and was confused why they started a new sentence without a capital letter. Also, the sentence didn't make sense to her. I explained that the poetic style was to finish out a line's length before starting a new line. I almost got into dactylic hexameter, but I didn't want that getting confused with hekatombs and vows. Progress was slow enough.

She then asked when the war was going to start. I said it already started before the book began and the Greeks were camping out, besieging the city of Troy. We talked about whether the war was real (yes), the Greek gods were real (no), Helen was real (maybe), the soldiers like Agamemnon and Akhilles were real (probably, but not with the magic skin). etc.

After one evening's reading, my wife checked our local library and found a kid-friendly illustrated version of The Iliad, which my daughter is now reading by herself. She's had no further questions so far.

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