I've been trying to read the classics, and there's nothing more classic than the Iliad. There are a wealth of translations available. As with my choice of translation for Aristotle's *Poetics*, I wanted one that was as similar to the original as was reasonable. To that end, I selected Lattimore's translation. As he says:
Rather than strive for poetical language, he aims for a plain and direct translation, as to better reproduce Homer's directness of language:
So, what's this Iliad thing all about, then?
In short, when the story begins, the Trojan war has been on for nine years. Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, has been captured by Agamemnon, and he quite rudely refuses to ransom her back. As a result, Apollo punishes the Achaians. To placate Apollo, Agamemnon agrees to return Chryseis to her father, but only if he is given Achilles' captive, Briseis, in her place. This offends Achilles greatly, so he asks his mother, Thetis, to entreat Zeus to punish the Achaians in order to demonstrate his worth.
The bulk of the epic is a description of the battles between the Greek forces (particularly a few main actors such as Agamemnon, Odysseus, Diomedes, Ajax, and Nestor) and the Trojans, led by Hector, over the course of which the Achaians are pushed back to their ships, as Achilles begged of Zeus. Afterward, Achilles' friend, Patroklos, is killed by Hector, and Hector is in turn killed by Achilles.
When the epic ends, the Trojans have been driven back into their city, which is yet uncaptured, and Achilles, though still alive, is soon to die.
The story is usually entertaining, but there are several sections which present the genealogy of some character or other, which I found to be of little interest, and the battles are often long strings of "Foo, son of Bar, beloved of Zeus, was struck by the spear under the nose, and it pierced through. The darkness closed over both eyes, and he fell to the ground, thunderously, and his armor clattered upon him." Even bloody battles can be made dull by too much of this.
The most interesting part, I think, is how recognizable the characters' motivations are. Achilles is motivated by anger at being slighted, and in the end by grief and rage at the death of Patroklos. Or take Athena, who is upset with Aphrodite. She grants Diomedes the ability to recognize who among the combatants are gods, and tells him:
Or when Diomedes is struck by an arrow shot by Paris, who brags of his success, and replies with this boast:
Lattimore's translation is generally very easy to understand, though it would benefit greatly from footnotes, particularly when a characters is first referred to by some new epithet. Lattimore's choices for writing names can take some getting used to, as well: he renders Ajax as "Aias" and Achilles as "Achilleus", for example.
The direct, unpoetical language has its benefits, I suppose. The translation is never confusing by fault of overly florid language. But all the same I find myself a little disappointed how much it reads like ordinary prose; I enjoyed the more lyrical style of Cowper's translation, though it was a bit harder to follow.
Overall, I enjoyed the Iliad and was satisfied with Lattimore's translation. Even if it weren't an important work of literature, I think the Iliad would still be worth reading. It's not a quick read, by any means, but it needn't seem intimidating, either. If the Iliad is on your reading list, go for it!