Posted: December 2nd, 2009
Caroline Alexander – The War That Killed Achilles

The story of the Trojan War is immortalized in Homer’s epic of epic poems, The Iliad and brought to life in Caroline Alexander’s The War That Killed Achilles – a work that Ken Burns calls “a triumph.” Through the hero Achilles, The Iliad draws on the true nature of what it means to be a soldier, to fight a conflict whose hallmarks are hardly honor and glory, but rather deception, betrayal, pride, violence, and the inescapability of fate. The War That Killed Achilles is a poignant dissection of the epic poem that is relevant to all wars, from ancient Greece through today’s Iraq.

Caroline Alexander is the author of the international bestsellers The Endurance and The Bounty and has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Smithsonian, Outside, and National Geographic. She studied philosophy and theology at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and has a doctorate in classics from Columbia University.

This event was a presentation of the Patron Network of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, in cooperation with The New York Society Library.  For more information on the Patron Network and its many benefits for supporters, please click here.


Benita Eisler, Author
Caroline Alexander, Author, The War That Killed Achilles
Simon Prebble, Narrator and Voice Actor

Recorded at Temple Israel, October 29, 2009. Runtime: 60 minutes.

Read the related blog post by Sara Elliott Holliday from the New York Society Library.

  • David Seuss

    I highly recommend The War That Killed Achilles to anyone interested in The Iliad or in the Trojan War. I have read most every published book on the topic, travelled to Troy and Myceanae, and carried a copy of the Iliad around the walls of Troy three times. Ms. Alexander’s book is fresh, compelling, and powerfully written. One question I would ask Ms.Alexander if I had the chance, “Don’t you think The Iliad is really about Hector, and not about Achilles?” My argurments are that the epic ends with the funeral of Hector and the funeral orations of his family and Helen are the last spoken words. Hector is the moral character Homer holds up high, literature’s very first moral character, a “hero” in the 21st-Century sense who defends his family, home, and nation against what The Iliad goes to great lengths to present as murdering raiders only out for plunder, power, and fame. It seems to me that Homer was presenting Hector is the example for mankind. The Iliad is about him, not about Achilles. But Homer had a Greek audience, so he pulls a fast one to make the work popular. He has the good man go down and the Greek warrior win, as unadmirable as he is. As a result, the Greeks loved it, and because they loved it, we are still reading it today. Homer thus arranged for his ethics lesson, delivered by the example of Hector, to be as vital today as it was thousands of years ago.