The blurb states regarding Sri Aurobindo's poem Ilion that it "ranks as one of the world's masterpieces among heroic epics. A magnificent composition in hexameter, unique in English poetry, its lines carry a musical melody uplifting the reader to heights of enchanting ecstasy. Its nobility and grandeur are brought out in beautiful imagery and exquisite poetical language abounding in figures of speech. The characters in the poem are of a high calibre and the references to Greek Mythology add to the depth and richness of the poem." "... human nature itself in its range and subtlety is revealed in the poem." The author's commentary "takes the reader into a journey of discovery. His deep study and detailed analysis highlight the subtler dimensions of poetry, revealing new depths of meaning. His lucid explanations of prosody and the science of versification help us to enter new realms of poetic appreciation."
Homer the Asiatic Greek composed two epics: lliad and Odyssey. Sri Aurobindo also wrote two epics: Savitri and llion. V.Murugesu, the author of the book under review, writes a full-length commentary on llion, a maiden venture. Homer composed his lliad about 750 B.C., and Sri Aurobindo contemplated the composition of his llion in 1894 and finished it by 1915. The name of Troy has different versions as: Troe, Troia, Troy, llios and llion. Sri Aurobindo is known popularly as only a philosopher, but he is first and foremost a poet. Now llion opens the window to the West to discover the epic-poet and the master-craftsman in Sri Aurobindo.
English poets like Pope, Cowper and others translated lliad, but without much success. Sri Aurobindo's llion is a recreation; a reinterpretation of human life. The ancient epics are composed on the themes of `honour' or `revenge'. It is felt that the Trojan war came about not for the very reason that Paris had stolen Helen but because in doing so he had violated the sanctions of guest-friendship.
Sri Aurobindo has composed his epic in nine books the ninth is incomplete. llion begins where Homer's twenty-fourth book stops. llion deals with the painful events that took place on the last day of the decade- old war the fall of Troy. The hero or the heroine of this epic is neither Achilles nor Penthesilea but llion itself.
No ancient epic ever came to a finish without the intervention of Gods. So Zeus pronounces:
Troy shall fall at last and the ancient ages shall perish. ...Let not one Nation resist by its glory the good of the ages...
At dawn on Troy's last day, Achilles sends his emissary Talthibius for a settlement of the issue. The Trojans debate the proposal critically and prominent Trojans like Antenor and Cassandra warn the rulers and disclose the impending doom:
"...the high gods watch in their silence ...the doom may be swifter and greater ...the sword was prepared for our breasts and the flame for our housetops... ...Hear, O Ye deaf, the sounds in your ears and the voices of evening!"
But to no avail. Talthibius returns. Later the superhuman Achilles swears not to enter his tent till he defeats the last of the Trojans. Later the unconquerables too perish, like locusts, in the fire of his mythical ire. This is the way all the heroic battles have been fought since time immemorial, and Sri Aurobindo remarks:
"All that is born and destroyed is reborn in the sweep of ages; Life like a decimal ever recurring repeats the old figure; ... Evil once ended renews..."
llion is indeed a crisis poem (present warfare echoes his words).
Homer composed his epic in "Quantitative hexameters". Even poets like Tennyson did not succeed in adapting it to the English language. To an extent Robert Bridges and H.W.Longfellow succeeded. Then the problem of understanding. Sri Aurobindo himself said, "my hexameters are intended to be read naturally as one would read any English sentence...". And Sri Aurobindo succeeded fully in his experiment.
Murugesu divides his commentary into eight chapters and the ninth is a map of ancient Troy and its surroundings. He deals with "Sri Aurobindo, the poet" and "Poetry" in general. His analysis of the epic runs bearing the titles as given by Sri Aurobindo: "the Herald", "the Statesman", "the Assembly", "of Partings", "of Achilles", "of the chieftains", "the Woman", "the Gods" and "the Battle" (last named not by Sri Aurobindo). The events of the last day of Troy are embedded in these nine books.
Murugesu intersperses in his running commentary and exposition, passages and parallels from Savitri and the Indian epics, as well. While doing so, it seems the critic has in mind both the scholar and the abecedarian.
Further to enthuse the reader, he explains the rules and basics of Rhetoric and Versification. He tags up a chapter "Appendices" to gloss the topics as "Dreams in llion", "Penthesilea", "Gods", "Beauty", "Woman", "Love" and so on.
Perhaps a glossary of names in llion would have made the book integral and comprehensive.
Years ago Amal Kiran, Prema Nandakumar, Jesse Roarke and C.N.Devy wrote critical articles on llion and they were published in the Ashram magazines. Murugesu's Commentary would serve the student and the scholar to better appreciate the epic llion.
In the commentator's opinion, "llion is a unique poem and its words and phrases, lines and sentences roll with a mantric content words and phrases producing something that is overhead, resounding and lines becoming magical formulae creating a speck and charm that seep into the soul."