Arriving at the British Museum on the morning of 14 August, all I knew was that The Iliad project was going to be huge and mind-boggling in its scale and logistics. As a classicist, university lecturer and theatre-enthusiast, I was to base myself in a downstairs space at the Museum, a Green Room where the readers would prepare, available to answer questions about pronunciation, a small cog and in a whizzing, whirring, spectacular machine.
At 9am I started answering questions and doing what I could to reassure readers as they came in – there are, after all, a great many ways of pronouncing Greek when transliterated into English. My priority was helping performers to find how to articulate Homer’s language most clearly for the audience.
But from the outset I found myself having conversations about the poem itself – about people’s favourite lines and obscure characters from the epic. I saw how strings of multi-syllabic Greek names can be used to create aural fireworks (thanks Noma!) and swapped favourite gross-out moments in the many descriptions of killing in the poem (thanks Lorna!). For the next 16 hours, I was fuelled by the thrill of doing this with those actually taking on the challenge of performing this age-old text and making it sing in our modern air.
Going through the entire poem more than once with Associate Director Anthony Almeida in preparation for this event was brilliant for my own knowledge of the text. But so much more powerful in my memory will be seeing reader after reader returning to the Green Room as if fresh from battle, Homer’s visceral and human text still dancing in their eyes.
Lucy Jackson is a classicist who assisted on The Iliad.