68. The Iliad, of Course

writing desk, wallace collection
Tereus’s desk had a series of bas-relief panels depicting scenes from the Trojan War.

Inglorion has several frivolous ideas about how he’d like to be portrayed — or, at least, ideas that he can’t explain, like posing in a corset — but he keeps thinking that, damn it, he wants Lawrence to draw him in a library with a copy of the Iliad. It’s far from an unusual desire. Famous men are always portrayed with what they believe to be the sources of their fame. If Horace Walpole appears with a bottle of ink and a stack of manuscript pages, and the Earl of Rokeby poses next to illuminated volumes from his collection, then, by God, Inglorion should be captured in the way he spends his leisure hours: Smoking and poring over a favorite passage in Homer.

At the moment, Inglorion lacks a library. His rented flat in Amakir has been shut up for months now. In any case, a library isn’t just a room to read in —it’s a place to store volumes and manuscripts accumulated over decades or centuries. By that definition, Valentine barely has a library, since his consists of overflow from the Shelawn collection; Marcus has an actual library in the full sense of the word. And, of course, Inglorion’s edition of Homer is no great thing: cheap, heavily annotated, and in Amakir. This is part of the problem. Unlike Reynolds’s subjects and his own father, Inglorion has always squatted in other people’s rooms, and borrowed their volumes. He tells himself, Look, it’s just a prop. For the purpose of posing, you could use an under-the-counter edition of Pamela.

At breakfast, then, he asks Valentine, “Can I borrow your copy of the Iliad? Mine’s in Amakir.”

Valentine looks blank for a moment, then says, “I’m not sure I have one. You’re welcome to poke around, but if you haven’t found it already, I doubt such a thing exists.”

Inglorion blinks at his cousin for a moment in disbelief. It’s as if he casually admitted that he doesn’t own a sword belt, or he never wears underwear. Then he thinks, Well, of course — Valentine doesn’t read for pleasure. He learned High Elvish late, and still reads it with some difficulty. He probably doesn’t know the Greek alphabet. 

Valentine continues, “I’m sure there’s one at Shelawn House. I can ask Marcus to send it over, thought he might not be able to put his hands on it easily. There’s no catalog for anything except the manuscripts.”

“I’d appreciate that. In Greek, not in translation,” he adds, since that might not be obvious to either his brother or cousin. 

That very afternoon, a footman brings over a compact eight-volume set, neatly wrapped in brown paper and secured with twine. When it arrives, Inglorion is poring over a map, planning an operation to begin early the following day. He decides to break for tea.

He feels a spurt of genuine anticipation as he teases the package open. The volumes are pretty and pocket-sized, and old, though not antique. He flips eagerly to the beginning of Book I, the familiar invocation of the muse. So much of the melancholy and horror of the story dwells in those first lines: “Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’s son Achilles — murderous, doomed….” Excited and happy, he opens the volume that contains the Embassy to Achilles, and the hero’s condemnation of war.

The edition is printed so that the left-hand pages are blank, leaving room for notes. As he flips through, Inglorion sees that someone has annotated portions of the volume, using a system of the scholar’s own devising. Various words and phrases are underlined, and the scholar has noted alternate meanings and subtleties of interpretation. There are lists of epithets with their metrical values — a handy resource, since they’re used to fill out hexameter lines, and shouldn’t be translated literally.

The handwriting is unfamiliar: Bold, slanted, with a few ornate flourishes. He checks the frontispiece, but there’s no name. For a moment, he’s puzzled. Who would have marked up a set from the Shelawn library with such familiarity? It’s not Marcus’s handwriting, and, in any case, Marcus’s scholarship is rudimentary. Aramil’s a sensitive consumer of visual art, but tone-deaf to poetry. Who then? Valentine’s father, Lucius? Lucius’s scholar-wife, Valeria?

Inglorion remembers with a shock that Marcus said Tereus produced an original translation of any text he cared about: “Livy, Caesar, Thucydides. The Iliad, of course.”

There’s no one else it could be. Inglorion feels a bit sick, though he doesn’t know why he should.

He flips through the volume, almost with a sense of shame, as if it’s pornographic. The purpose of the markings is clear: Tereus was noting areas of difficulty, interest and ambiguity, and strategizing about how to handle them in an elegant, satisfying way. Inglorion’s impressed to note that Tereus intended to preserve the hexameter verse structure — the rhythms and intonation of High Elvish don’t lend themselves to precise measures of syllable length and accent. The more common — and far easier — choice would be to adapt it to a specifically High Elvish heroic form. Inglorion himself would have avoided hexameter — he feels it’s arbitrary to use a poetic form from the original language, and it can force inelegant results. He’s a relatively inexperienced translator, though. He’s often wondered if he’s rationalizing his own laziness and ineptitude. 

Inglorion can see that Tereus was sensitive to the challenges of the task. Since the product itself isn’t recorded in any of the volumes, he can’t tell how gracefully he resolved them.

He thinks back on his eight years living in Shelawn House. The library was reserved for Tereus’s use. That’s why Marcus set a separate office from which to manage the estate. Houseguests wandered in there at their own risk, and woe betide the housemaid who mis-shelved books after dusting them. The collection is huge and uncatalogued, but Tereus had a system, and could tell if anything had been moved. Inglorion actually feels sympathy for this — he’s forbidden Ancilla to touch his books because she can’t — or won’t — grasp the simple principles of how to alphabetize by author and title. 

Tereus holed up in the library for hours or days at a time. Towards the end, he used it exclusively to smoke, drink, and indulge in bouts of rage and self-pity. During Inglorion’s teens, however, he was probably engaged in actual scholarship. It’s strange to think of Tereus earnestly toiling away with a grammar and lexicon. Where had the set been shelved? Was it next to his desk, or even on it? In Amakir, Inglorion kept his Iliad on a shelf next to the bed, with whatever he was reading, what he planned to read next, and a handful of books that calm and reassure him, that he opens a few times a year.

He wonders what became of the actual manuscript translation, and how many of Tereus’s papers were preserved. He can’t believe that Marcus would throw them out; they have historical value. 

His memories of the library are imperfect, and there’s much he can’t bear to remember. He thinks of it almost as a stage set. He can name the scenes enacted there, but he handles each memory as if it were a full slop bucket, with his eyes averted, holding his breath, feeling his gorge rising. 

The walls were oxblood red; the moldings were hardwood, stained or painted black. The desk was topped with black-veined white marble. It had a series of ornate, bas-relief panels. A collection of Greek red-figure vases lined the tops of the bookshelves; the housemaids were forbidden to touch them. The carpet and hangings must all have been terribly valuable — Inglorion merely remembers them only as a rich and glowing backdrop. The ceiling would have been coffered, and probably included hand-painted murals.

How strange that Marcus and Penelope live in rooms that, to Inglorion, still feel like the scene of a crime.

Unless Marcus has changed all the locks, Inglorion could probably sneak into Shelawn House through the back stairs that open out onto the formal gardens. He smuggled girls in all the time, and even got a blow job under the orange trees from a sweet half-elf parlormaid named Claudia. But he can’t just walk over to Shelawn House, enter the library, browse the shelves, stand on the hearth, sit at the ornate desk. 

He could ask Marcus to show him the library. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, or if he’d find anything of significance. He’d want to do it alone. Perhaps he’ll ask. Marcus might not understand, but he would probably indulge his half-brother’s curiosity.

Inglorion has to shelve the plan, compelling though it is. The Magnificent Five is forced to ride out almost daily, and there’s little time to eat and sleep, let alone to indulge his curiosity about the past. He and Lawrence find time for two more sittings; after that, Inglorion is given over entirely to Sir Noix and Lord Carlyon’s abolitionist campaign.

Inglorion’s adventure in the orangery is told from Tereus’s perspective here; Marcus and Inglorion discuss their memories of growing up in Shelawn House here and here.

For the first episode of Inglorion’s adventures,click here.

For a linked table of contents that lists all of Inglorion and Valentine’s adventures, click here.

One thought on “68. The Iliad, of Course

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s